Friday, September 25, 2015

Charles Hodge not a rationalist

The question is not first and mainly, What is true to the understanding, but what is true to the renewed heart? The effort is not to make the assertions of the Bible harmonize with the speculative reason, but to subject our feeble reason to the mind of God as revealed in his Word, and by his Spirit in our inner life. [Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Hendrickson, 2001), 1:16]

Philosophy, in its widest sense, being the conclusions of the human intelligence as to what is true and the Bible being the declaration of God, as to what is true, it is plain that where the two contradict each other, philosophy must yield to revelation; man must yield to God. (1:58)

In the first place, reason is necessarily presupposed in every revelation. Revelation is the communication of truth to the mind. But the communication of truth supposes the capacity to receive it. (1:49)

If it [thing, theory] is seen to be impossible, no authority, and no amount or kind of evidence can impose the obligation to receive it as true. Whether, however, a thing be possible or not, is not to be arbitrarily determined. ... The impossible cannot be true; but reason in pronouncing a thing impossible must act rationally and not capriciously. (1:51)

In some circles, Charles Hodge, and Old Princeton in particular, has been marked as rationalists, in putting reason before revelation. In his systematics, the last two quotes given seem to support the idea of Hodge being a rationalist, while the first two seem to suggest otherwise. Is there a contradiction here, or are his accusers reading him wrongly?

I would suggest that those who see rationalism in Hodge have a strong aversion towards Systematics as a whole. As it can be noticed, the second quote come AFTER the other two quotes that seem to support the case that Hodge is a rationalist, which suggest that Hodge conceives of the priority of revelation through using reason. Reason is the tool used to evaluate theories, not Scripture, and that is the key point. Reason receives revelation, and therefore we can evaluate theological theories using reason as a tool, but that is totally different from saying we can reject or redefine biblical truth if it seems irrational to us. Using reason as a tool imply that we reject theories with contradictions in them, like claiming that God is both one person and three persons, or that God who is sovereign dies for all but saves only some.

An attack against reason as a tool is therefore an attack against systematics and consistent theology, in favor of irrational theories and mysticism. Perhaps that is why people prefer to tar Hodge as being a rationalist, because they reject his theology and anything that leads to Calvinism.

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