Templates of Understanding

For all practical purposes, everything has a starting point. In searching for beginnings, we are ultimately led to one of two premises: God or not God. Many in our age argue that science naturally leads to not God, and if “religiously” followed, exposes, according this position, the folly of transcendent belief, especially the rigorous Judeo-Christian system of a personal, though transcendent God, the One who both is and is at hand.

The problem those who follow position of scientific naturalism run into is the puzzle of where they got their understanding, the template of understanding that allows the science they depend on to exist at all. In a recent article at the Belmont Club, The critique of unreason, Wretchard discusses Lee Harris’s (Weekly Standard) examination of Pope Benedict XVI’s defense of reason. There is a section in the article that speaks to my point:

Modern scientific reason says that the universe is governed by rules through and through; indeed, it is the aim of modern reason to disclose and reveal these laws through scientific inquiry. Yet, as Schopenhauer asks, where did this notion of a law-governed universe come from? No scientist can possibly argue that science has proven the universe to be rule-governed throughout all of space and all of time. As Kant argued in his Critique of Judgment, scientists must begin by assuming that nature is rational through and through: It is a necessary hypothesis for doing science at all. But where did this hypothesis, so vital to science, come from? … [Emphasis added.]

The rational universe, with laws that govern reality and keep everything spinning in its proper place (from electrons to planets), is fundamental to science. Lately there are those who argue that the rationality on which science so fundamentally depends comes from Intelligent Design. This is an interesting conundrum, since science itself has argued, using the concept of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics that things move from order to disorder, not the other way around. So where did all of this order, these working laws and limits that allow both a rational universe and the science to apprehend it come from, if not externally, from a designer?

At its beginning, science required a rational template of understanding, inherited from the theology of a trustworthy and rational creator-God, to even exist. While we of faith may look at this and smile at our wayward naturalistic brothers, we ourselves are just as dependent on similar templates to understand our own faith (what goes around comes around). Christianity does not spring wholesale, ex nihilo into being for those who come to belief. Christians apprehend a faith “once delivered to the Saints” (Jude 3). That once delivered faith finds its foundation on the promise given to Eve in Genesis 2:15, which over time was fleshed out by the prophets and eventually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That fulfillment was further fleshed out by the apostolic writings as God revealed some of the context of the mystery. However, through it all, the developing understanding of that “once delivered faith” fit into a specific template of understanding.

That template did not come from us, or from our inherited rationality. It came from the source of all wisdom. All templates of understanding that appropriate truth, come from God Himself. That is why, despite the Reformation’s argument of Sola Scriptora, there is more to our faith than the Word alone. We are totally dependent on the Word being given context, a vehicle of understanding by God. Historically, the knowledge of faith grew as God revealed more of the mystery, culminating in the greatest mystery of Christ, the transcendent God becoming man, existing in limited flesh. But with each step, each new moment of revelation, we are dependent on the template of understanding God has given us to place these revelations in context.

One of the purposes of systematic theology is to try and uncover that basic template and then make everything fit into it, working backward from the text to the template that gave it form. No easy task, one that has consumed the lives of many scholars, though none have succeeded and probably no one will ever do so. We have the great outline of the template, but so many things are missing. Some of this due to revelations not yet given (the secret things that belong to God, Deuteronomy 29:29), to antinomies that make limited sense to our current abilities to apprehend the truth God has already given, but mostly to our own willful sinfulness that seeks to make our own way. That is despite, as Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 13:12, we see dimly and only know part of the story. We are still tempted to stake out our independent claims.

So, what does this all mean; what point am I trying to make? In short, we are dependent. Nothing comes to us ex nihilo. All of our understanding requires everything that has come before, and all of that being consistent, in effect, unchanging. Just as science depends on the laws of the universe to be consistent since the beginning, in order for anything to make sense, or possibly even to exist, so does the nature of God remain consistent since the beginning (James 1:17). His moral laws, like the laws of the natural universe, do not change, since they both spring from the same source, our eternal, unchanging God.

As a result, any attempt to change what God has revealed, both in faith and nature, is to go against the purpose of God, which places us in opposition to Him in whom we live and move and have our being. So, to think we can come up with a “new” faith, change the absolutes of the delivered faith, or redefine the God with whom we have to do (i.e. making him emergent), is like trying to change the glue that holds the universe together (God). It cannot be done, though many have tried and still try, possibly to their damnation. In the end they will discover that the templates of understanding have existed from before creation. God eternal has used them to write the story of our existence and not one jot or tittle will be altered by anything we do. To borrow from Kansas, we are dust in the wind, assaulting the mountain of the Most High.

May God give you the grace you need to learn from His instruction, apprehend His truth, and use His templates to undergird your understanding of both yourself and Him. May you, in coming to know God, learn, in a real and practical way, where the source of that knowledge actually resides. Amen.

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