• Daniel Klassen

Losing Your Soul While Answering the Critic

If you observe the popular attitude of Christians and the cultural climate they create amongst themselves, it is clear that they are fluctuating between two extremes. You could say there are two settings on their thermostat. Sometimes a generation is just fine where everything is at, and so they leave the thermostat. Other times, a generation doesn’t like the temperature, and so they grab hold of the lever in order to push it all the way to the opposite extreme. There is no stopping in the middle. One thing is sure; there are always Christians living in this room of two extremes. Indeed, there are many Christians who find their way into this room, and its effects on Christianity are never positive.

On the face of this thermostat, we find its name: Man the Measurer. Coincidentally, the room shares the same name. The reason being this room is where answers to the big questions and ethical questions for life are answered according to the standards of men. No one in this room asks for God's answer – even though they believe in Him and say they love Him. On the thermostat in this room, there are two opposite settings. The one extreme is called Reason; the other is called Experience. When the thermostat is turned to Reason, the temperature of the room becomes intellectual and cognitive. The focus is on the power of reason and intellect. When the thermostat is turned to Experience, senses and emotion flood the room. The focus, then, is the reality of the experience.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, these two extremes became prominent in the academic world and would eventually trickle down into every sphere of life. They were not new ideas but had only been brought to the forefront. These extremes did not stay at the forefront, nor would they stay philosophical ideas, they would soon start to be seen in the culture. When it comes to the present, there are two names you ought to familiarize yourself with: Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (G.W.F. Hegel, or Hegel for short).

Immanuel Kant tried to have both reason and experience coexisting but ended up on the side of experience. He saw the critic's intellectual claims against the Christian faith as impossible to answer, and so he set off to prove that no one could intellectually know of God unless it was learned through the senses or experiences. For Kant, religion could not fit properly into the rational sphere, and so it was banished to be a personal, individual, and private practice. Your religion was yours and yours alone because your experiences are yours and yours alone.

G.W.F. Hegel pushed the lever to the opposite side. He believed that human reason could measure all things. Emotions and experience seemed unreliable to him, but reason seemed firm. However, he had to resort to a kind of Pantheism (everything is God) because his philosophy placed human reason on the throne. Since he could not prove God by his reason, he was forced to resort to the same kind of religion as Kant. According to Hegel, your religion was yours because you were on your own journey to find the ultimate mind (his version of God).

Kant tried to save religion from the intellectual critics, Hegel tried to free religion by his intellect. Both succeeded (or failed, depending on how you look at it), although not without the help of another. Friedrich Schleiermacher was the man for the job. He had grown up in church, studied theology, asked all the questions, and found few agreeable answers for himself. However, in Kant and Hegel he found what he was looking for, he found the thing that would silence the critics. That was his mission, to save Christianity from all those who criticized it.

What he found was that he could fuse both Kant and Hegel into one so to appease both Reason and Experience. With Hegel, he could keep in step with the intellectuals, and with Kant, he could keep up with the romantics (those set on feelings, experience, and aesthetics). He had an answer for all the critics, but something was still amiss. The critics remained critics, and the skeptics remained skeptical. In fact, the outworking of Schleiermacher's philosophy we see today has only fuelled the critics and skeptics in their animosity towards the Christian faith.

The reason for this was that he had stepped out of the arena where Scripture is the ultimate authority and into the room where man is the measure of all things. He determined whether God was right or wrong by his own standards. Religion was to be understood within the limits of human reason (not according to Scripture), and so human experience and intuition determined the validity of the religion. If it looked good, sounded good, or felt good, it was good. The human spirit could now be free from the doctrines and dogmas that Scripture produced. However, this was still a doctrine and a damning one at that.

Where else could Schleiermacher go except to this conclusion? If God was not the authority, and His Word held no sway on teaching us ethics and the meaning of life, who would? We would, of course. At first this seemed like an incredibly powerful idea to Schleiermacher. It was hard to debate because everyone had their own experiences and ideas. It was universal because all that mattered was being absolutely dependent on something or someone (the basic religious experience), and everyone had a sense of that. No one could reason against feeling, and so Schleiermacher thought he was now invincible to the critics.

The problem was that he lost Christianity in the process. In trying to save the Christian religion, he lost it. He was unable to step into the world's arena, fight using the world's weapons, and win the battle. No one can, for if you do so, you must rid yourself of the authority of Scripture and its doctrines, and embrace the authority of human reason and experience, both which cannot persuade the critic.

How many of us follow in the steps of Schleiermacher today? Where we turn to tradition, we turn away from Scripture. Where we turn to our feelings, emotions, and experience, we turn away from Scripture. Where we turn to our reasoning and intellect, we turn away from Scripture. Where we turn to aesthetics, we turn away from Scripture. Whatever it may be, if it is not the inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God, we have no power to silence the critic, be they without or within us.

Paul understood how to deal with critics of the faith – he had plenty experience to prove it. Critics who hated him tried to kill him, others imprisoned him, and still, others mocked him. Yet, he stuck to God's Word. He told the Corinthian church that his message was unimpressive and foolish to the critics. It was simply the gospel; it was simply Christ that he proclaimed. "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:22-23).

Why? So it would be shown that God was the one who saves and not man; so the power of God, not human reason or experience,[1] would be seen in the lives of the critics who became persuaded. Paul could go out proclaiming this gospel without the fear of losing his soul, and with the greatest hope of persuading the critic.

What this boils down to is our perspective of the critic. Do we see the critic as someone capable of reasoning or experiencing their way to God as Schleiermacher did? Or do we see the critic as being lost in sin, blinded by their sinfulness as Paul did? Our answer will determine our method. Will we fight with the weapons of God or the weapons of man? Christianity will never win when the weapons of man are used, but when the weapons of God are employed, Christianity will always win – even if it doesn’t silence the critics.

[1] This is not to say that our reasoning faculty or our experiences cannot be beneficial, or used for the purposes of understanding Scripture and growing in faith. Rather, when we turn to reason or experience without regard to God’s Word, we misuse and misapply them. They do not possess any benefit for salvation apart from submission and obedience to the revealed Word of God.

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