Fundamentalism: Whence? Where? Whither? Part 3

NickOfTime

Fundamentalism Common Sense

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

By definition, Fundamentalism does not concern itself with the whole counsel of God. As the name implies, it concerns itself with fundamentals, i.e., with those matters that are essential to the bare existence of Christianity. Fundamentalists may, and many Fundamentalists actually do, go beyond this limited concern. When they do so, however, they are no longer acting merely as Fundamentalists, but as Fundamentalists who also happen to be something else.

On one hand, as an actual, historical movement, Fundamentalism has often tended to settle for an abbreviated form of Christianity. Though clear exceptions exist, it has often sacrificed doctrinal breadth and detail. On the other hand, Fundamentalism has also tended to add elements that are not necessary to any form of biblical Christianity. Over the next few essays, I wish to explore three of these additions: Common Sense Realism, populism, and sentimentalism.

Common Sense Realism was a reaction to and development of Enlightenment philosophy. It was articulated by Thomas Reid of Aberdeen (later Glasgow) and sold to the philosophical world by Dugald Stewart of Edinburgh. A relatively late development, Common Sense Realism represented an attempt to circumvent several philosophical impasses. Continental rationalism had never been able to move convincingly beyond solipsism. British empiricism had led to the subjective idealism of Berkeley and the skepticism of Hume.

Reid hoped to get past these problems by grounding knowledge in a core of self-evident common sense. Where earlier thinkers had distinguished appearance from reality, Reid posited that people perceive reality directly. Normally, perceptions can be relied upon as accurate and trustworthy. For Common Sense Realism, reality is transparently available to the perceiving subject.

How did Reid justify this appeal to common sense? In a way, he refused to. He argued that the truths of common sense cannot be established by deductive proofs. Common sense is properly Reid’s foundation, his axiom beyond which no appeal is possible. It cannot be proven, nor does it need to be. Opinions that reject common sense always end up in absurdity.
For Common Sense Realists, common sense is the final court of appeal in all matters of intellect. No special training or philosophical ability is required. Matters of common sense lie within the purview of common understanding. Every person is a competent judge.

Many Christians embraced Common Sense Realism, particularly in America. It became a powerful force in American theology before the Civil War. It was still influential in the proto-Fundamentalist milieu of the 1870s through the 1910s. Proto-Fundamentalism is the social and ecclesiastical environment out of which the Fundamentalist movement emerged around 1920. Not surprisingly, Fundamentalists inherited and were profoundly affected by Common Sense categories. The Fundamentalists who were most affected tended to be those who were convinced that they had no philosophy at all.

Scottish Common Sense Realism proved to be a mixed blessing for Christians. On the positive side, it provided evangelicals with a handy defense against the skeptics of the early Nineteenth Century. Indeed, by embracing Common Sense Realism, evangelicals found themselves in the forefront of a leading intellectual fashion. They were able to speak from a position of respectability.

Their moment of prestige was short-lived, however. During the second half of the century the philosophical winds shifted. Because they had invested heavily in Common Sense Realism, evangelicals now appeared outmoded and irrelevant. Furthermore, since Christians had committed themselves so heavily to Common Sense, they ended up defending it as if it were the Faith itself.

Theologically and ecclesiastically, Common Sense lent itself to theories that emphasized human autonomy and ability. It provided no mechanism for assessing the noetic effects of sin. It also tended to produce contempt for disciplines (including theological disciplines) that relied upon specialized knowledge and a high degree of training. Combined with Baconian method, it led to a vision of theology in which the Bible is essentially a warehouse of disordered but transparent theological facts, which the theologian’s task is to organize. In short, the Bible became a jigsaw puzzle, a game at which everyone was equally qualified to play.

Common Sense Realism is now more than two centuries old. So thoroughly did Christians accept its categories, however, that it remains influential among many evangelicals and most Fundamentalists. The conflict between Fundamentalists and Modernists was not merely a conflict over theology, but also was a conflict over philosophy. Theological Modernists had moved away from Common Sense into a philosophy that was more influenced by Romanticism and Kantian Idealism. Fundamentalists found themselves defending not merely orthodox doctrines but also Common Sense ways of thinking.

Therein lies one of the great ironies of the Fundamentalist movement. Common Sense is simply a slightly older form of Modernism. It is an Enlightenment philosophy that accepts all of the modern assumptions about detached, objective observers, clear and distinct foundations for knowledge, and neutral common ground as a starting point for discourse. Like nearly all evangelicals of the early Twentieth Century, most Fundamentalists were Modernists. If they objected to the Modernism of William Rainey Harper and Shailer Mathews, it was only because they wished to assert an alternative Modernism in its place.

Fundamentalism is a great idea. In the actual development of the Fundamentalist movement, however, the idea of Fundamentalism was confounded with other ideas. One of those ideas was Scottish Common Sense Realism. To the extent that Fundamentalists were (and are) committed to defending the categories of Common Sense, they were (and are) adding something to the Faith. They are confusing their Christianity with a very recent philosophy.

The practical consequences of Common Sense Realism were serious. One of the worst was that Common Sense provided an intellectual accelerant for a version of populism that was already becoming widespread. In the next essay, I wish to explore how Fundamentalism has added not only Common Sense Realism but also populism to its vision of the Christian faith.

Holy Father, Cheer Our Way

Richard Hayes Robinson (1842-1892)

Holy Father, cheer our way
with thy love’s perpetual ray;
grant us every closing day
light at evening time.

Holy Savior, calm our fears
when earth’s brightness disappears;
grant us in our later years
light at evening time.

Holy Spirit, be thou nigh
when in mortal pains we lie;
grant us, as we come to die,
light at evening time.

Holy, blessèd Trinity,
darkness is not dark to thee;
those thou keepest always see
light at evening time.


This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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I first read about Scottish Common Sense Realism (SCSR) in one of George Marsden’s books during seminary. He claimed that the Fundamentalist movement was heavily influenced by SCSR—so heavily influenced that it probably would not have occurred without this philosophy at the core. I was a little skeptical of the idea the time. I’ve since grown far more skeptical.

I have five questions for Kevin or anyone inclined to agree with his analysis here. First, a disclaimer: I haven’t studied SCSR. What I have read are very concistent summaries of the gist of it. So what I’m going to say about SCSR here is mostly about “the gist,” not the whole body of Reid’s system of ideas.

1) Why exactly should we believe SCSR influence is a liability?
I would really love to read a point-by-point case against SCSR from someone who is not recommending an even worse alternative (for example, post-modernists are vehemently opposed to anything like SCSR, but what they’re offering is hardly any better).

Kevin does point out a weakness here: that SCSR left no room for the noetic effects of sin. Exalting direct perception as it did, there was presumably not much room for the idea of special revelation either. But I’m pretty sure every philosophy that has followed SCSR (and quite a few that preceded it) also suffers from this flaws to one degree or another.
Certainly all sense—common or otherwise—is damaged by the Fall, and Reid’s system included multiple serious errors.

But “the gist” of SCSR (perhaps what Kevin means by “categories”) appears to me to be what everyone actually lives by. You’re crossing the street, you see a semi approaching rapidly. You figure you’ll get creamed if you attempt the crossing, so you stay put. Is that Common Sense or just common sense? Which leads to my next question. But first this: can we agree that elements of SCSR that were in obvious contradiction to Scripture were not embraced by Fundamentalists. So whatever form of SCSR they bought was not the whole package. Maybe what they mostly bought was lower-case common sense.


2) Hasn’t common sense been around pretty much since Adam started pulling weeds beyond the exit of Eden?
People have been mostly believing what they see—and what they could deduce simply from what they see—for thousands of years. And they’ve known for thousands of years that thinking this way doesn’t always work out well, but usually does.
To be sure, the SCSR formulated in the 18th century had not been around that long, but Everyman’s reasoning that tells him to come in out of the rain overlaps SCSR by a huge margin (unless even SCSR’s critics have overstated its wisdom).

This matters because many seem inclined to dismiss SCSR (or heavy barrowing from SCSR) on the grounds that …
a) Somebody just dreamed this up a little while ago;
b) It’s just Enlightenment Modernism in slighly more appealing form.
But how do we know several chunks of Enlightenment thinking are not simply common sense (lower case) in less appealing (i.e., distorted and idolatrous) form?


3) Given that lower-case common sense has been around for a very long time and looks and smells a whole lot like Reid’s Common Sense Realism, how are we to know how much early Fundamentalism was shaped by SCSR rather than its much older cousin?
Maybe George Marsden’s thesis should not be so quickly embraced. Doesn’t the fact that very few Fundamentalists ever read Reid or sat through a class in SCSR suggest maybe something more universal influenced their thinking?
(Yes, I know—you can absorb a philosophy without having a class in it. That’s how 95% of people their philosophy. But given the difficulty of separationg common sense from Common Sense, maybe early Fundamentalists owe more to School ‘o Hard Knocks than School of Stewart and Reid.)

(Note: here’s
We all believe and defend alot of things without suggesting they are part of the Faith. And if early Fundamentalists had believed something other than SCSR, wouldn’t that alternative philosophy also be “adding something to the Faith”?

If, again, there is no neutral ground from which to approach Scripture and interpret it, doesn’t anyone who fights for Scripture (as they understand it) also have to fight—to some extent—for the philosophical grid they are bringing to enterprize?

I guess I’ve got more than five when you count up all the sub-questions. The subject strikes me as extremely important, and I’m willing enough to be convinced that Kevin is right. But I do not yet have enough information to go along. If the early evangelicals and Fundamentalists unwittingly bought large portions of the philosophy of their day, isn’t it likely that their critics today have also drunk deeply from the philosophical notions of our own time? And if so, what are the odds that today’s thinking is “better”?

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Ryan's picture

I don't remember where I heard it first, but I always liked the statement, "The problem with common sense is that it is often neither common nor sense."

I begin with a disclaimer that though I am interested in philosophy and its effect on theology, I have never formally studied it. I to am relying on secondary info.

Aaron, I too was first introduced to Common Sense Realism through Marsden's evaluation of Fundamentalism, Fundamentalism and American Culture. I suppose I was more inclined to accept his thesis which seems to be echoed by Bauder here. Certainly many of the Fundamentalists of the past, especially the more "popular preachers" like Moody, Sunday, et al. would have had little exposure to any kind of philosophy, let alone to evaluate between differing philosophies. But if I remember correctly (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong), Marsden was making the point that early theologians which were the predecessors to the actual fundamentalist movement were influenced by SCSR. Men such as the Hodges and Warfield etc, would have had more systematic philosophical training and Common Sense affected their exegesis and theology. I think the point is that it resonated so well with the common man because it was "common sense." I remember as I was reading Marsden thinking that there was much that was commendable in this philosophy as opposed to its predecessors, except for (as Dr. Bauder pointed out) the problem of the noetic effect of sin. The problem that Fundamentalism got itself into was that it so relied on Common Sense and Bacon's method that when those two things found a seemingly better choice in Darwin the whole house came tumbling down. Now unsaved man's common sense seemed to have the upper hand with Darwin and so American evangelicals were faced with Science or the Bible...and the rest is history.

All that to say that I was more persuaded by Marsden and thus find myself in more agreement with Bauder than you seem to be. But I certainly could spend some more time thinking through this as it seems you have given it quite a lot of thought.

Jeff Brown's picture

Very, very well said, Aaron. And I missed any references by Kevin in this section to substantiate what he is saying about the connection Between Fundamentalism and SCSR. I too, have read Marsden, but simply to restate him leaves one unconvinced. I would guess that all through church history one will find common sense reasonings which sound like SCSR. In fact, one can find plenty of these statements in the Bible itself.

To be sure Natural Science, in many respects in agreement with much of Enlightenment reasoning, has heavily influenced modern medical science. Nearly every medical doctor is a "Modernist" in Kevin's sense of the word. Modern medicine has saved multiplied millions of lives. Perhaps "Modernist" fundamentalists have been just as much a boon to Christianity as medical science has been to the treatment of disease. That would be an interesting idea to pursue.

Jeff Brown

Charlie's picture

This may be the most interesting post I've seen on the refurbished Sharper Iron. Whenever I read Bauder, I think that he must be a frustrated person. He is trying to write on the popular level about ideas that are, by definition, not particularly accessible to people who have never studied them. What he is doing is similar to posting a Calculus II lecture on a public blog. Fascinating, but a bit misplaced. So, he gets bombarded from one side for being an intellectual elitist, and on the other for not providing a full stack of references.

Aaron, I would like to address your questions, but will not do so in a tightly organized fashion. I also do not promise to answer all of them sufficiently. One thing that I think needs to be pointed out is that the version of Common Sense Realism that came to America bears something of a resemblance to Thomas Reid, but was heavily modified toward Baconian inductivism and American populism. In fact, Bauder's whole article can be summed up in the idea, "Common Sense provided an intellectual accelerant for a version of populism that was already becoming widespread." Outside of perhaps the Princeton theologians, SCSR really just became slogans for already existing American ideals.

In America, since the rise of Jeffersonian Republicanism, egalitarianism and pragmatism rule as the prevailing ideologies. This has been pointed out not only by Marsden, but by Mark Noll, David Wells, and Nathan Hatch, among others. Nathan Hatch's The Democratization of American Christianity is the best resource I know of for proving these features in post-colonial America, whereas Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and Wells' No Place For Truth are probably the best at showing its effects.

Basically, American common sense populism (there's my term for the whole ethos) views everyone as equally qualified in matters of government or religion. Independence, autonomy, and supreme confidence in the individual (Army of One) are prized values. Around 1800 in America, for the first major time in Western history, people decided that they were just going to make up their own religious options. Most of them used the Bible, but they decided that the best way to get to God was to simply sit in a room by themselves and read the Bible. Many people did just that, and then went on to make their own religious movements: Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, Joseph Smith, etc. It was an era where going to an expert, or being formally trained in theology, was scoffed at. After all, the Bible is a book and everyone knows how to read, right? So, the emphasis moved from corporate, historical, church theology to "me and my Bible." Looking back in hindsight, we see exactly what happens when people "just read their Bible" without any guidance, direction, church connection, etc. You get the Disciples of Christ, the Church of Christ, the Mormons, the Methodists, the Pelagian New Haven theology, crazy Baptist micro-sects (i.e., John Leland), etc.

The error, as I see it, is not in assuming that the Bible is intelligible. That is quite correct. The error is assuming that all parts of the Bible are equally clear and that all people, no matter their current state or background, are equally able to apprehend its meaning. If one were to question the interpretation of someone steeped in this, the reply would probably be something about the Holy Spirit leading into truth. The Holy Spirit, though, as I understand it, was given to the Church corporate and His gifts are diffused throughout the body so that to cut oneself off from the corporate body (both geographically and chronologically) is to miss out on a portion of His gifts. On another note, these populists always make the Bible "easy" and act as though it is simply a book of proof-texts unhappily arranged out of order, and the interpreter's job is to copy-paste them into the correct topical categories. There is little understanding of the Bible as a literary creation, or thought given to discourse analysis or even the historical circumstances of the writing. Study of historical theology is seen as wasted time, and study in the original languages is merely an elitist curiosity, because after all, the Bible is so "easy." Alexander Campbell in particular was convinced if anyone would just "read the Bible like you've never seen it before," they would join his movement. The irony that always occurs in these situations is that the leader doesn't want other people to listen to "men's words," except for his.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

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Charlie,
I look forward to more from you on the subject. I hope I can see some more direct answers to the questions, though. The most important of them to me, personally, is probably the difficulty of distinguishing Common Sense from common sense... but maybe even more importantly: why are the parts of SCSR embraced by most Americans untrue? It seems to be enough for most critics to reject it by association... it's associated the Bad Ideas of Enlightenment, populism, egalitarianism, therefore, it's bad, bad, bad. But I believe it's very hard indeed to prove that anyone who abandons common sense lives for very long!

A couple of clarifications since my first post was so long and many won't have the patience to wade through it.
1. I realize "common sense" is often neither. It is, however, effective the vast majority of the time.
2. I'm no populist or egalitarian. The idea that all are equally qualified to have political opinions, make the decisions that govern us, or interpret Scripture is deeply repugnant to me. That said, I am also not anything close to an elitist. I do not believe in dismissing anyone's thoughts on the grounds that their "I Have Read" stack of books is not high enough, or earned degrees too few or insitutions where they earned them not widely enough respected etc.

I see two extremes clashing here...
1) Sentimental, populist anti-intellectualism
2) (This one I still lack concise terms for) Scholarship-adoring, analysis-loving, philosophy-enamored, pro-intellectualism (intellectualism for its own sake)

The first often favors certainty over truth. The second often favors uncertainty over everything (not surprising since the moment one arrives at an Answer, there is nothing to philosophize about anymore). There is absolutely nothing "as plain as the nose on your face" to the second group, and almost nothing that requires study by experts to those in the first group.

They're both off track by approximately equal margins in my opinion.

I'm not putting Kevin or you, Charlie, in the second group, but far too close to it at times, it seems.
I'm interested in seeing Fundamentalism become less populist, sentimental and anti-intellectual. I'm not interested in seeing it become dazzled and awestruck by philosophy and weilders of obscure words.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Joseph's picture

I have stayed out of these discussions until this piece by Bauder because I wanted to avoid certain misperceptions that may have arisen had I commented on Part 2. I wasn't then as confident as I am now about the substantial agreement in content and emphasis between Bauder's series and many of the precise and more general points (e.g. about populism, Common Sense realism, etc.) that I have previously made concerning these matters.

Let me say a few things as preliminary remarks for anything further I may say on this thread.

First, people, including historians, ought to be much more careful about closely lumping Reid in with "Common Sense realism" with respect to its American influence. Reid was a great philosopher and hsi philosophy itself has little do with what goes under the name "Common Sense Realism" in contexts like this. Wolterstorff classes Reid with Kant as one of the two great eighteenth-century philosophers. Moreover, in listing some of the reasons Reid isn't studied, he says: "For one thing, the reception of Reid's philosophy both trvialized and misunderstood him. It trivialized him by giving looming importance to his doctrine of Common Sense; it misunderstood him by failing to see the radicality of his rejection of the prior tradition of modern philosophy and treating him as if he justified us in forgetting Hume and returning to Locke." (ix, "Thomas Reid and the Story of Epistemology," This is a very good but very demanding study of Reid's thought).

Second, Charlie is right to emphasize the peculiarly combustive mix of populism, naive Baconian inductivism, and other American characteristics with Scottish philosophy. Scottish Common Sense philosophy also had a significant influence in Germany, especially on the "popular philosophy" of the German Enlightenment, and it produced something very different than what we see in American under the name "Common Sense realism" (the study here is by Manfred Kuehn).

Third, this discussion will tank right away if people refuse or are unable to distinguish what people call "common sense" from the specific influence of Scottish philosophy on American cultural and intellectual life. They are different and if one can't see that that is not a good reason to doubt the difference. Read Wolterstorff's study of Reid, or Reid himself, and you'll soon see the difference.

Essentially what people like Aaron and Jeff mean by "common sense" is a form of philosophical populism, the gist of which is that the way that regular folk see things is pretty much right; sometimes we get things wrong, but by and large reality accords with our common sense. There are some things true in this, and a number of very important things false in it, as anyone one with a modicum of responsible training in philosophy or any theoretical discipline knows. The point here is simply that no one who has studied this topic, historians or philosophers, confuses the historical movement "Scottish Common Sense Realism" with so-called "common sense," and getting that distinction straight is a necessary condition for having a good conversation about Bauder's essay.

(People who have a naive view of common sense would benefit from studying the sociology of knowledge to see how common sense works, is constructed, etc. See Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman's "The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge.")

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Joseph wrote:
Third, this discussion will tank right away if people refuse or are unable to distinguish what people call "common sense" from the specific influence of Scottish philosophy on American cultural and intellectual life. They are different and if one can't see that that is not a good reason to doubt the difference. Read Wolterstorff's study of Reid, or Reid himself, and you'll soon see the difference.

My contention is that those who are trying to communicate on a popular level and convince us all that Fundamentalism bought heavily into SCSR--and that this is bad--are going to have to explain what the difference is between common sense and Common Sense. It's not enough to assert it and think that because you study philosophy and we don't, we're going to go "Ah, I see."
We're just asking for explanation and evidence here.

Edit: to put it another way, burden does not fall on those who see no difference to provide a reason for the difference. The burden falls on those asserting a difference to demonstrate the difference. Since us non-philosophers didn't bring it up, "go read so and so" is not a good answer.
When philosphers talk to non-philosophers they are going to have to give their readers/listeners reasons to believe them... just like everyone else.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Joseph's picture

Aaron,
When you admit your ignorance you're hardly "just asking for explanation and evidence." You're asking for an education, an introduction to empiricism and Reid's thought.

And I'm certainly not going to give a crash course on the history of modern empiricism and Scottish philosophy on an internet forum. Wolterstorff, for example, is far more qualified to do that anyway, and I've already recommended his book. Moreover, that people are even suggesting that there's not a difference indicates their ignorance of Reid's philosophy because any substantial knowledge of it would make it self-evident that Reid's thought is a direct response to Hume, and is as such embedded in a debate about the empiricist tradition's notion of "ideas" and the way that representation works, which by itself suffices to lift its significance and meaning out of the everyday world of "common sense." Reid appeals to something he calls "Common Sense" in his philosophy, but the role this plays in his thought, its significance, and whether Reid is justified and successful in the way he uses it are all properly philosophical issues, and therefore have no direct connection to "common sense" as a kind of philosophical populism, a way of avoiding philosophical problems and issues by pre-supposing the reliability of "common sense," with a determinate set of contents and deliverances, which is, of course, to beg most major philosphical questions.

People who invoke or invoked "Common Sense Realism" as a way of not responding to skepticism seriously, or, after Kant, of not bothering to study him, have nothing really to do with Reid, for he took Hume with the utmost seriousness, as did Kant, and he represents one of the major ways of trying to undercut Hume's skepticism. Wolterstorff thinks that Reid is unjustly ignored, and that's probably true; even so, many now don't find Reid's responses to Hume to be fully convincing. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good article on Reid that will make it quite clear that his philosophy, while obviously related to "common sense" is in no way identical to it. Indeed, Reid's task was to try to defend common sense, and he made a number of philosophical assumptions, say about human nature, to do that. It's all very interesting, if one likes philosophy, but it's hardly to be equated with common sense, particularly because Reid, just as much as any philosopher, makes arguments that need to be assessed before one could adopt Reid's position.

To have to say all this is frustrating, and it's why I said this difference has to be understood. The people who know what they're talking about see the difference; the people who don't should just study the issue or take the word of those who have or not bother talking about it.

Rev Karl's picture

Joseph wrote:
To have to say all this is frustrating, and it's why I said this difference has to be understood. The people who know what they're talking about see the difference; the people who don't should just study the issue or take the word of those who have or not bother talking about it.

This sounds very close to, "Sit down, be quiet, and let the grown-ups talk."

In my place of employment, we recently had an analysis of our MRP system. The bottom line analysis of the auditor was that we were totally ignorant of our job responsibilities with reference to industry standards. Of course, the auditor then offered to teach us.

During our "training", I came to discover that we performed and understood every principle of material management which the auditor/trainer presented. We just did not use the terminology preferred by the auditor, and it was the AUDITOR who was unable to recognize the skills, abilities and successful work of the staff in place.

It sounds like, in the posts above above, if we have not read our requisite stack of qualified books, learned the language of classical philosophy, certified our knowledge in a quantifiable way... we should all just sit down and let the truly learned among us take the lead.

I guess that would have disqualified such "unlearned" men as Peter and Andrew...

EDIT: for better or worse, we are ministering to people who (for the most part) have no knowledge or understanding of classical philosphical thought. If this is going to be useful to the minister of the Gospel, it needs to be presented in such a way that those who have no training in philosophy (nor the desire to emabark on a years long program of such training) will be able to comprehend it. Otherwise it is of little use in the real world.

I will now sit down and be quiet, so the grown-ups can talk.

Joseph's picture

Rev Karl,

Responses like yours are common but uncharitable, as is often the case when readings start with "It sounds like you're saying" or "This is very close to" rather than actually focusing on what the person said. What I said (in what you quoted) is so plain and, dare I sare, common-sensical, that no here disagrees with it.

Here' sn example. I have no idea what an MRP system is. So suppose I say that the MRP system does not seem any different from some other, common sense, system that I am familiar with, even though I just admitted that I don't even know what MRP is. Now, I then say, you know Rev. Karl, I just don't see the difference between MRP and this other system, and I just want some evidence and explanation so I can see the difference. Then suppose you say, well Joseph, I obviously know what the MRP system is because it's part of my field, and I also know this other system you're talking about, and I, and everyone who knows both these things, can tell you they're quite different. Then suppose I keep haggling for evidence, and you have spend your time explaining what MRP system is because I never bothered to study it before I claimed it wasn't any different from this other system.

Then you say, You know, it's a little silly and frustrating that I have to do all this explaining when you didn't even bother studying what the MRP is. To which Is say, Amen.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Joseph,
It's really not that hard to understand. Here's the scenario:
Person A who knows something about apples writes an essay or post to person B (who doesn't know) to inform and/or persuade him that apple breed x is not good.
Person B expects evidence for Person A's assertions (especially since he has a bowl with lots of breed x apples mixed in it on his dining room table... and Person A knows that)

As it turns out, I got off track on post #7, anyway, because in my first post, I did not deny that there is a difference between common sense and Common Sense Realism. Most of my post is predicated on there being a difference. What I said is that there is much overlap between lower-case common sense and the SCSR philosophy. This assertion I base entirely on the descriptions of SCSR I have read by those "with a modicum of trianing in philosophy," i.e., Marsden, Noll, Bauder, and just about any definition of Common Sense Realism you can google.
(Most of what I know about SCSR I know from its critics!)

Anyway, Kevin's thesis (and Marsden's and others') is that early evangelicals and Fundamentalists were infected with this philosophy and it hurt them. In my five questions, I'm asking--among other things--to know what evidence there is that evangelicals and Fundamentalists bought into what is unique to SCSR and not simply expressions of ordinary common sense. I'd also like very much to know what philosophy they should have embraced instead of the alleged SCSR philosophy and why that would have been better.

The thing that cracks me up in these conversations is how students of philosophy tend to relate to non-students of philosophy. It's like different rules should apply than apply to any other conversation. When students of philosophy write to other students of philosophy, they demand evidence and explanation. When they write to non-students they bristle at being asked for the same thing. Suddenly it's "Just believe me because I've studied philosophy and you haven't." Ridiculous.

Joseph, what if I started telling you that Linux is the best operating system on the planet and that using Windows and Mac OS are both rotting your brain (nevermind for a second that Mac is built on Unix). You'd want evidence. I'd be naive to tell you, "You should believe me because I've studied operating systems and you haven't." And then when you react, claim "You should go educate yourself about what I'm asking you believe." Thinking people do not change their minds about anything because an expert told them they should. Period.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Greg Linscott's picture

Quote:
Thinking people do not change their minds about anything because an expert told them they should. Period.

Not sure that's true. I know several thinking people who make major decisions because their medical doctor ("expert") told them they should. Period.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Greg Long's picture

Common sense tells me I might not have anything to contribute to this thread.

Scottish Common Sense Realism tells me Ah micht nee hae anathin to contrrribute to tha wee thrread, raelistically.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Charlie's picture

Aaron,

I'd like to see where Bauder is going. I, like you, am not sure that SCSR is really the issue. Like Joseph, I am firmly convinced that the American use of SCSR is not really SCSR itself, which may undermine Bauder's thesis somewhat. To me, "common sense" and populism are far more dangerous than Reid's sophisticated alternative to Kant. I believe that Bauder *might* be influenced by Neo-Calvinist theologians and philosophers, such as Kuyper, Van Til, or Dooyeweerd. I say that because followers of these people are usually critical of SCSR.

The problem I see with populist "common sense" is that it usually works really well at the base level of every discipline, but extremely poorly at higher levels. For example, the rotation of the earth is repugnant to "common sense." I don't feel the earth moving. "Common sense" might serve for addition, but not for calculus, which is necessary for most of the engineering marvels that the common man uses every day. The problem, then, is the lack of stratification.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Bob Hayton's picture

I found the link to Joseph's recommended article on Thomas Reid in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Here's a quote on Scottish philosophy's Common Sense from the same encyclopedia above in an article on Scottish thought.

Quote:
[George ] Campbell was a leading member of the school of common sense philosophy. For him common sense is an original source of knowledge common to humankind, by which we are assured of a number of truths that cannot be evinced by reason and “it is equally impossible, without a full conviction of them, to advance a single step in the acquisition of knowledge” (Philosophy of Rhetoric, vol. 1, p. 114). His account is much in line with that of his colleague James Beattie: “that power of the mind which perceives truth, or commands belief, not by progressive argumentation, but by an instantaneous, instinctive, and irresistible impulse; derived neither from education nor from habit, but from nature; acting independently on our will, whenever its object is presented, according to an established law, and therefore properly called Sense; and acting in a similar manner upon all, or at least upon a great majority of mankind, and therefore properly called Common Sense” (An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, p. 40). We are plainly in the same territory as Reid's account: “there are principles common to [philosophers and the vulgar ] which need no proof, and which do not admit of direct proof”, and these common principles “are the foundation of all reasoning and science” (Essays on the Intellectual Powers, ed. Hamilton, vol. 1, 230A-B).

Finally, a word to Joseph. You have some good things to say and people are interested in hearing what you have to say. Unfortunately you obfuscate matters, and can't communicate your ideas well. It would do you good to try to come down to the level of others here and communicate to them understandably. It would help your own humility, as well as help out those here who are scratching their head. Find links, not books to throw at us. Provide teasers and small snippets from the linked articles. Explain in a general sense what your talking about. And stoop to trying to answer questions when you can. Oh, and these things would help me too, I'd like to learn as well.

In Christ,

Bob

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Greg Linscott wrote:
Quote:
Thinking people do not change their minds about anything because an expert told them they should. Period.

Not sure that's true. I know several thinking people who make major decisions because their medical doctor ("expert") told them they should. Period.


And most likely, if they truly are thinking people, their decision to follow their docs recommendations are based on trust gained by experience, not because they don't think for themselves. Demanding trust because one claims expertise is a bit presumptuous.

C. D. Cauthorne Jr.'s picture

Charlie,

As a Virginian and a Baptist, I must ask what you meant by naming the patriot and preacher John Leland as an example of "crazy Baptist micro-sects?" Would you label such groups as the FBF, GARBC, BBF, IFCA, etc. as "crazy Baptist micro-sects?"

Any literate, saved person can pick up a Bible and, with the help of the Spirit, understand EVERYTHING he NEEDS to know about God. I hope this basic truth of Wycliffe and Tyndale's Christianity is not in dispute as "Common Sense Realism" is discussed. A friend of mine who graduated from Christian College with me, but recently joined the Russian Orthodox Church, stated that Wycliffe and Tyndale were doing something dangerous by putting the Word of God into the commoner's hands. Hopefully, that line of thinking is not being promoted here.

"Me and my Bible" sounds like something gospel preachers ought to be promoting. Times of personal devotions, family altars, etc. would bring great revival to our churches and communities.

Charlie's picture

In addition to these sections from Hatch's The Democratization of American Christianity, I will also note that Leland was against the practice of professional medicine and taught that parents had no right to enforce their religious convictions upon their minor children (such as making them go to church). He also believed that no type of church association is biblical, including ordination.

“Leland’s credo of lliberal individualism differs in several respects from the outlook of his older Baptist colleague Isaac Backus. Backus and Leland were linked in their efforts to gain full legal standing for Baptist churches in New England, but their concerns diverged because of their differing ages. Converted in 1741 under George Whitefield, Backus clung to the theology of Jonathan Edwards, the issue of infant Baptism excepted. Leland, however, could never reconcile the problem of predestination and free will and sneered at ‘polemical divinity’ as futile and coercive…. Leland’s opposition to creeds and confessions was also a function of his firm identification with a popular audience, an instinct that Backus did not appreciate. Backus had defended his positions with learned tracts addressed to civil and religious elites. He opposed ‘high and new things’ in religion and was suspicious of rallying popular opinion. Leland relished a common audience, peppering his speeches and writings with blunt common sense and earthy humor…. The greatest difference between Backus and Leland was their contrasting views of the social order. While Backus never doubted the right of all to worship as they pleased, he was unconvinced that laymen could articulate their own theology…. Leland, on the other hand, rejected the idea of natural inequality in society – as if some were set apart to lead and others to follow.” (99)

“Leland was too iconoclastic to permit a religious structure to form around him; even his relationship with his own congregation was troubled over his refusal, as a matter of conscience, to administer the Lord’s Supper. Leland defended his position by saying that in thirty years of practical experience he had never seen the ordinance move a single sinner to conversion.” (100)

“John Leland is also important because he turned a quest for self-reliance into a godly crusade. He believed that individuals had to make a studied effort to free themselves of natural authorities: church, state, college, seminary, even family. Leland’s message carried the combined ideological leverage of evangelical urgency and Jeffersonian promise. Using plain language and avoiding doctrinal refinements, he proclaimed a divine economy that was atomistic and competitive rather than wholistic and hierarchical.” (101)

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Greg Linscott's picture

Susan R wrote:
Greg Linscott wrote:
Quote:
Thinking people do not change their minds about anything because an expert told them they should. Period.

Not sure that's true. I know several thinking people who make major decisions because their medical doctor ("expert") told them they should. Period.


And most likely, if they truly are thinking people, their decision to follow their docs recommendations are based on trust gained by experience, not because they don't think for themselves. Demanding trust because one claims expertise is a bit presumptuous.

That doesn't change the fact that they are trusting someone else's expertise that they themselves don't possess. We do that with many other things, too- cars, appliance and home repairs, etc etc...

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Greg Linscott wrote:
Susan R wrote:
Greg Linscott wrote:
Quote:
Thinking people do not change their minds about anything because an expert told them they should. Period.

Not sure that's true. I know several thinking people who make major decisions because their medical doctor ("expert") told them they should. Period.


And most likely, if they truly are thinking people, their decision to follow their docs recommendations are based on trust gained by experience, not because they don't think for themselves. Demanding trust because one claims expertise is a bit presumptuous.

That doesn't change the fact that they are trusting someone else's expertise that they themselves don't possess. We do that with many other things, too- cars, appliance and home repairs, etc etc...

But that trust is still based on some evidence that the person in question is trustworthy, and we are always free to walk away and put our money back in our wallets without our intelligence being called into question. Anyway, I thought the objections being raised here were about the demanding tone of the "I'm an expert- trust me you ignorant peasants" crowd, of which we should all be wary until we spend some time in the Word and have a tete-a-tete with the Holy Spirit for verification. The standard against which we measure every philosophical POV is still going to be the Bible.

I'm heading back to the bleachers. http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys.php ][img ]http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys/smiley-eatdrink062.gif[/img ]

Rev Karl's picture

Let me see if I can say this in a clearer, less offensive manner:

For better or worse, we are ministering to people who (for the most part) have no knowledge or understanding of classical philosphical thought. The people we are trying to reach - in and out of the church - are not going to have any desire to invest years of time and wads of $$ to educate themselves up to the point at which they can understand only the most basic precepts of this philosophy (and others).

If the principles being discussed here are going to be useful to the minister of the Gospel, they need to be presented in such a way that those who have no training in philosophy (those in the congregation, those in the Sunday school class, those we meet at work or on the street, and even some of us who stand in the pulpit) will be able to comprehend it.

Otherwise it is of little use in the real world.

Joseph's picture

Bob,

A few things.

First, one can never fully take into account the diversity of background knowledge people have; no matter what I write, some people will find it too obscure or difficult; that doesn't mean I communicated poorly - maybe I did, maybe not. Being a critical reader means not only reading writing well but also realizing the extent to which one's one background affects one's understanding of the writing. That kind of reading I appreciate, as I'm glad to learn how I can more effectively communicate to someone. Even then, changes made for that person may futher "obfusate" or even over-simplify the matter for someone else. This is a difficult process, and it's why I'm so chary about forums. Second, if you don't think I communicate things well on SI, fine; often perhaps I don't. Two further things should be noted here. First, that doesn't mean I can't communicate well; my current position in school as well as all of the opinions of professors and editors of papers/conferences who have read what I write indicates that I can, in general, communicate fairly well, at least in the areas in which I write serious papers (philosophy, theology, and literature) So, it's probably not legitimate to make global assumptions about people's communicate skills based on one's reception of their forum writing. Second, what it means to "communicate well" on a forum is by no means self-evident; there is an inherent tension between writing focused, letter-like responses to people (like I'm writing now) or writing short-essay-like, more general responses that people often seem to ignore (e.g. on the dispensationalism thread). It's a challenge, so patience is appreciated.

Second, being clear doesn't mean providing links/quotes (I gave a lot of quotes on the dispensationalism thread, incidentally); not everything I talk about is well treated on the internet ; one of the things I do that irritates people is inform people when something actually requires a degree of study not commensurate with the internet. There's no way around that; stuff is complicated, and it's not to a person's credit if they can't distinguish between when something requires a lot of background and when it doesn't. I'd much rather have somebody find my book recommendations irritating than make an idiot of myself and waste people's time by trying to discuss something that I know will be misunderstood, get a poor hearing, or simply create confusion. Given that I have a decent background in certain areas, like philosophy, I don't make statements or recommendations "out of the blue" or because I'm an elitist, philosophy-adoring, obfuscator par excellence (although I know some people seem to think this). Frankly, I love when people give recommendations; someone may find it in the short-term irritating, but if they are seriously interested in the topic, they'll be grateful for having some resources to look to. I have over twenty wishlists on Amazon, so much do I love book recommendations.

Third, it's not nearly as simple to write in the way you want me to as you seem to think. You want me "to come down" to people's levels; are you unaware that many people would feel that I'm being condescending in "coming down" to their level? Not everyone is willing to admit the implications ot their ignorance on a topic, and consequently resist having someone "come down to their level," because they think their level is adequate to judge the matter. So, it's lose-lose; you either overshoot too many people in the audience, or you get some group angry at you for "being condescending."

Fourth, writing well takes a long time, and I spend probably more time writing posts like this than I should, so that's a serious consideration as well.

Finally, I am glad you are concerned enough to address me directly about problems you see in my posts; if you ask me a question, I'll try to answer it. I'll also tell you if the question itself seems problematic to me. All I've offered so far are preliminary remarks that have been contested. So I have no general point thus far, save what I've already said. And, if someone really wants clarification, pm-ing may be much more effective than a forum discussion, especially if they actually want to understand something and think I'm being obscure (maybe I am).

Todd Wood's picture

"Basically, American common sense populism (there's my term for the whole ethos) views everyone as equally qualified in matters of government or religion. Independence, autonomy, and supreme confidence in the individual (Army of One) are prized values. Around 1800 in America, for the first major time in Western history, people decided that they were just going to make up their own religious options. Most of them used the Bible, but they decided that the best way to get to God was to simply sit in a room by themselves and read the Bible. Many people did just that, and then went on to make their own religious movements: Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, Joseph Smith, etc. It was an era where going to an expert, or being formally trained in theology, was scoffed at. After all, the Bible is a book and everyone knows how to read, right? So, the emphasis moved from corporate, historical, church theology to "me and my Bible." Looking back in hindsight, we see exactly what happens when people "just read their Bible" without any guidance, direction, church connection, etc. You get the Disciples of Christ, the Church of Christ, the Mormons, the Methodists, the Pelagian New Haven theology, crazy Baptist micro-sects (i.e., John Leland), etc.

The error, as I see it, is not in assuming that the Bible is intelligible. That is quite correct. The error is assuming that all parts of the Bible are equally clear and that all people, no matter their current state or background, are equally able to apprehend its meaning. If one were to question the interpretation of someone steeped in this, the reply would probably be something about the Holy Spirit leading into truth. The Holy Spirit, though, as I understand it, was given to the Church corporate and His gifts are diffused throughout the body so that to cut oneself off from the corporate body (both geographically and chronologically) is to miss out on a portion of His gifts. On another note, these populists always make the Bible "easy" and act as though it is simply a book of proof-texts unhappily arranged out of order, and the interpreter's job is to copy-paste them into the correct topical categories. There is little understanding of the Bible as a literary creation, or thought given to discourse analysis or even the historical circumstances of the writing. Study of historical theology is seen as wasted time, and study in the original languages is merely an elitist curiosity, because after all, the Bible is so "easy." Alexander Campbell in particular was convinced if anyone would just "read the Bible like you've never seen it before," they would join his movement. The irony that always occurs in these situations is that the leader doesn't want other people to listen to "men's words," except for his. "

Good historical thoughts, Charlie.

Of course, Mormonism in the third millennium is not the same as Mormonism in the early 1800s. LDS General Authorities administrate the Church with smooth, effective business savvy. But the LDS scholars are looked to for scriptural interpretation and apologetics. LDS academia is growing stronger. It is much more robust in America - a switch from 150 years ago, while missionary effectiveness is tapering. Philosophical theology in LDS academic internet saturates a lot of discussion.

But I still like the free-thinking of the Baptist under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the empowerment to laymen in the use of the glorious Word of God. Smile

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Greg Linscott wrote:
Quote:
Thinking people do not change their minds about anything because an expert told them they should. Period.

Not sure that's true. I know several thinking people who make major decisions because their medical doctor ("expert") told them they should. Period.


You've got me there. We all pick and choose when we will think for ourselves and when we will deligate a belief-decision to someone we believe is likely to steer us well.

However, I'm going to stick w/the point I was illustrating there that when a person well-versed in any subject attempts to write or speak to those who are not, he should expect his listeners to engage in critical thinking, and expect to have to give them reasons to believe him.
But I'm also going to be a little stubborn on the "thinking people" part of it. To the degree a person uncricitally accepts what an expert says just 'cuz he says so, he is not a thinking person. So when it comes to trusting my doc, I'll confess that I choose to abandon thought on the topic and do a "Yeah--what he said."
But even then, I ask some questions and I expect some oversimplified but still intelligible answers. A doc who responds to my questions with "Because I said so and I'm an MD and you're not" will only briefly be "my doctor."

So I probably overstated my point a little there, but not by much.

Anyway, I'm still waiting for someone to take a stab at my five questions... pick one. How about "What philosophy should the early evangelicals and Fundamentalists have embraced instead of whatever it was we're accusing them of having embraced?" (Modified that a little to accommodate those who are now basically saying "Well it wasn't SCSR after all, it was a sort of popular and dumb version of SCSR" ... fine, the question stands.)

Charlie, your point about common sense having limitations when it comes to the more complex questions... I don't think I disagree with you there. I'm personally not of a mind to say that all questions are equally answerable by everybody. That's pure populism/egalitarianism and it irks me just as much as the worst elitism.
But wouldn't many of the early evangelicals/fundamentalists also agree with that? And I think Reid himself did not teach otherwise in his idea of Common Sense (from what I've read so far). So the idea that the ordinary sense of ordinary folks is all sufficient in itself... I think it would be hard to prove that such a belief was endemic to early 20th century Fundamentalism.

Which would suggest that what all this fuss is really about is that Fundamentalism has suffered from too many who truly were extreme in their suspicion toward matters of learning and extreme in their belief in individualism and the abilities of the ordinary untrained person. I wouldn't dispute that at all. But that really has nothing to do with believing in common sense (of a believer) as a basic approach to Scripture.
Will have to chew on this some more and see if I can explain myself better.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Caleb S's picture

Dr. Bauder, I appreciate your article, and I am anticipating the next installment. Perhaps, some of the confusion in this thread is based upon not wanting to wait for your next article, and time will tell.

Charlie and Joseph,
While I don't have a huge philosophical background, I do have some; and I prefer to leave things generally stated. I found your comments to be helpful and understandable. Joseph, in particular, could have been a whole lot more obscure if he wanted to; and I am thankful for what you did in explaining things. I can relate very easily to your frustration Joseph. If someone wanted me to justify a second year Greek assertion, then I would find it very, very burdensome to have to try and explain all of the first year fundamentals, and then I would have to tell them that the first year fundamentals are for words "apart" from context. Second year Greek deals with words "in" context, so then we see many of the first year's rules broken. But for the person who has adopted a skeptical stance toward your position--with not even a first year knowledge of Greek, but rather a smattering of personal study (granted, some personal study is really good)--to then demand that you explain things to them is the equivalent of them wanting you to write "volumes" of information that you don't have the time for. With the time allotted to you, you then recommend resources to the other to help them. In both (Charlie & Joseph) of their postings, I have seen the distinction made between common sense and Common Sense, and I've seen the great shortcomings of common sense.

Here is a thought,
How about the corporation view of the church emphasized over the organic view of the church? Hey, it is just common sense to view a group of people in a market driven perspective (I don't agree with this obviously). Common sense corporation view of people is the way to go. It doesn't matter what those people think that read their Bibles say. I can just label them as being elitist because they want me to be confined within the bounds of Scripture rather than my common sense view of business. And so I build a church based upon my common sense. It thrives well as a business; I use a few verses here and there to add a Biblical flavor to the gatherings, and I use some popular feel good comments to the people that accords with the common sense of the age.

So I have to ask, which common sense is common? To what culture, sub-culture? To which education level? Doesn't it seem that "common sense" is too fluid of a term to mean much of anything?

The average heathen, who does good things, thinks, "hey, I do good things, I'm not a sinner." This is just common sense, or is it?

Red Phillips's picture

@Charlie #4, I see your point, but I would not lump Joseph Smith in with the rest. Whether right or wrong, Campbell and Stone for example were sincerely trying to interpret the Bible as they saw it. Smith was not doing that in a straight forward way. He was making stuff up, and was either a charlatan and/or a bit crazy.

Rev. Karl, I don't think that everything discussed here has to apply directly to the pulpit and ministering to people. SI seems like a thoughtful website intended to provoke thought and discussion among preachers and others (professional and lay) who are just interested in such matters. That said, Joseph, I think you set a threshold for discussion that is impossible to meet. Most people here couldn't read all the books you recommend if they wanted to. But that doesn't mean they can't have a semi-intelligent discussion about these matters.

I am a doctor. If there was thread on illness x, it wouldn't do anyone much good if I started babbling on and on about gross pathophysiology and micro-science minutia, and then if people didn't get it refer them to some two pound text. It is an important skill in and of itself to be able to communicate on their level with people other than equally trained professionals.

I have never much cared for philosophy beyond where it intersects with politics and theology because I find much of it an exercise in mental ... hmmm ... err ... well you know what I mean. Given that predisposition, what I do know about Common Sense Realism, which isn't much, is appealing.

But let me see if I can boil down what Dr. Bauder is getting at to a very elementary level. Whatever its merits, SCSR is still a form of post-Enlightenment rationalism that has a high view of what fallen man can discern. I presume that Dr. Bauder would prefer something that is more Revelationistic (did I just create a new word?) and less rationalistic. With that I would generally concur.

Without resort to philosophy speak that is beyond all of our training, am I close?

Joseph's picture

Aaron,

A number of your questions are exceedingly complex, but let me very briefly and inadequately address what you say at the end of Q. 5.

There are are least two senses in which people hold philosophical notions about things. First, there are the historically particular conceptions that, when internalized by a group of people, become that through which they see things, and thus their common sense beliefs about the world, those beliefs that they refer other beliefs to and hold so deeply they see through them, rather than look at them, generally speaking. Unearthing these beliefs is hard, and sociologists, anthropologists, and (cultural) historians are often the people whose help we need to discover these beliefs. SCP exercised influenced at this level, I think, in America.

Second, there is the sense in which someone formally studies a philosophy and approves of it, thus intentionally ro unintentionally incorporating tenets and frameworks from that philosophy into their other intellectual work. One of these two things, or both, happens inevitably in theology, as you rightly point out.

That said, besides the question of inherently superior philosophical positions to be adopting, the problem with SCSR is not, I think, that it influenced the Princetonians or Fundamentalism. It was, rather, that its influence was not properly appreciated, and therefore made the subject of critical scrutiny. Sharply contrasting with this is the consensus of patristic scholarship, which holds that, in general, the Church Fathers adoption of Greek philosophy was anything but uncritical, but was in fact a highly critical, biblically influenced, very careful appropriation of core concepts in Greek philosophy. Common Sense philosophy lends itself to sliding under the rader of critical awareness by virtue of its emphases and its lack of an obvious metaphysic (which is unavoidable in Greek philosophy), and I think people like Marsden and Noll, and probably Bauder, based on this article, would say that this uncritical influence/adaption is what is, irrespective of the philosophical validity of SCR, partially, if not wholly, what is so problematic abou its influence on Fundamentalism, etc . A secondary problem would be that, when one considers its emphases and the things it seems to support, it does seem to encourage or support ,in the way it was received in America, a number of negative trends in American Christianity.

Bob Hayton's picture

Thanks for not taking my comments too harshly. I understand the difficulty of online communication. My "humility" comment was not meant to say you are "proud". Rather, taking pains to be understood would be a good exercise for anyone in your position, in the sense it would help promote "humility". I can think of areas which would build humility for me too.

Again, I'm seeking to learn here too, and at times I wish I could open up what you're saying more, or hear you finish your thoughts that you say you can't finish. Smile

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Bob Hayton's picture

On the ideas Charlie raised about everyone and a Bible leading to all the cults and etc., I would add the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses to the mix too.

And that really is the point, isn't it? Anyone can understand the Bible but that doesn't prevent people from instead reading the Bible and becoming cultists. Obviously revelation is needed, but so is the safeguard of teachers.

Biblically, teaching is an office of the church. If everything is equally plain and accessible to everyone, why teach? Why do we have to submit to teachers? Why are prophets subject to prophets? Why are prophesyings to be judged and dispensed with if they are not sound?

We are not to have any "private interpretations". All of this is a call for holding historical theology importantly. Teachers from the past have been given to the church of today, as well.

I'm not sure how exactly Bauder is applying this. I think the Fundamentalist actions in the 20s were generally correct, unless he thinks The Fundamentals covered non fundamental issues due to common sense realism. Also, the common sense theme could be seen in the development of dispensationalism obviously, and I don't think Bauder's thinking that either. So, like many here, I'm waiting for the next part.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Charlie's picture

First, thanks to everyone for pointing out the incongruity of Joseph Smith. As Bob Hayton added, I meant to say William Miller, leader of the Millerites (later known as 7th Day Adventists). However, Smith's mother is herself an interesting case of populism. Disgusted by the multiplicity of denominations, she eventually found a pastor who would baptize her as a "simple Christian" based on her belief in Jesus and the Bible as she understood it. She didn't even attend church, preferring a private religious experience. So, Joseph Smith grew up in the ultimate "me and my Bible" household. Moving on...

Aaron, I'd like to look at this quote from Bauder as part of an answer your first question: "Common Sense is simply a slightly older form of Modernism. It is an Enlightenment philosophy that accepts all of the modern assumptions about detached, objective observers, clear and distinct foundations for knowledge, and neutral common ground as a starting point for discourse. Like nearly all evangelicals of the early Twentieth Century, most Fundamentalists were Modernists." I will only touch on one of these aspects, the objective observer. If the Bible is viewed as a straightforward, linear instruction manual, a compilation of facts to be received by the intellect, then systematic theology and historical theology sure do seem like pedantic exercises in academic fencing. After all, when I put a bookshelf together, I don't go look up the history of how people have interpreted the instruction manual, or ponder what philosophical commitments with which the writer of the manual approached his task. That's...silly.

But, the Bible is not like an instruction manual, and biblical interpreters are not like bookshelf builders. First, it is not written in sequential, orderly fashion, in the way that our minds necessarily seek to resolve it. As Van Til said, it is impossible not to think in terms of coherent systems; the human mind will not purposely allow contradictions and disharmony to stand. Second, the Bible is a big book that talks about a lot of things, so there is a fair quantity of information involved. Third, the Bible touches upon matters that are central to the human soul. Because of this, we all have reasons NOT to interpret the Bible correctly. No one wants to be wrong about things that are truly important, so our tendency is to seek to justify our thoughts, behavior, and lifestyle. This is true of "gay Christians" and "American patriot Christians." One wants the Bible to support his sexuality, the other his political identity. All of us have this desire to self-justify. Fourth, we Christians know that we are fallen, sinful creatures who tend to make mistakes, exercise partiality, reduce complex matters to simplicity out of laziness or apathy, and generally make mistakes. If so often I can't read through an SI post without misunderstanding someone or explaining myself poorly, why should I think that I suddenly become Superman when I go to interpret the Bible?

This is where historical theology comes in. I wanted to say this in an earlier thread, but it spiraled out of control beyond my ability to participate profitably. We don't read historical theology in order to find out what to believe. It is not the basis of our faith. Rather, it is the humble realization that we are highly flawed interpreters and that in an abundance of counsel, there is safety. Historical theology is like asking your trusted friend to help you think through a problem, but it is better, because people of past generations are not influenced by the same forces at work in the present (they have their own flaws, of course), so sometimes they allow you to "step outside" your context and view things in a different light. They will also bring up passages of Scripture that aren't being focused on in present discussions, and provide arguments that may not have occurred to me. I read theologians in order to participate in a discussion, as it were, not to have theology dictated to me. Ultimately, it is my own realization that my "common sense" is heavily flawed that leads me to seek counsel from a broad variety of sources, contemporary and historical. Of course, if someone thinks he is a right decent Bible interpreter all by himself without any help, he will tend to sneer at both contemporary academic theology and historical theology.

I actually have an even more serious concern about "common sense," but it will have to wait until tomorrow.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

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