Friday, February 23, 2024

The problem with the new scholasticism - "Retrieval of classical theism"

According to the philosopher, the people on the first story have no visible stairway by which they may walk up to the second story and actually see the nature of who God is. They can look at pictures that God the owner has placed on the first story. Some of the pictures are very good and very beautiful. But it is still all the first story. The philosopher, however, is like the manager of the house. He knows about a secret, hidden back stairway, used only by the manager of the house.

He has been up the stairway, by means of reason and Aristotle’s categories. He has special qualifications. He can tell us what the actual situation is. The secret back stairway is an exciting discovery because of its intellectual power.

But does the secret back stairway actually exist? Or is the philosopher himself under an illusion? …

[Vern S. Poythress, The Mystery of the Trinity: A Trinitarian Approach to the Attributes of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2020), pp. 336-7]

There is concealed a pride, a self-satisfaction, and a knowing superiority to ordinary Christians who have not achieved such heights of reverence for the Almighty. (p. 460)

The fourth response, classical Christian theism, attempts mediation by prioritizing transcendence, that is, prioritizing the second story. But to do this prioritizing, we must first have adequate knowledge of the second story itself. And so the back stairway enters the picture. (p. 487)

In his book promoting a form of "classical Christian theism," a phrase which up till now seems amorphous, Vern Pothress cautioned against the over-use of philosophy in understanding the doctrine of God. Without pointing out anyone today in particular, Poythress points out the problems with utilizing Aristotelian categories to understand God. Of course, the rest of us can be less restrained, and point out the arrogance and superiority mindset that infects modern day neo-Thomists, who insist that anyone rejecting Thomas Aquinas's doctrine of God are heretics who should be de facto excommunicated from the Church.

The main problem with the new scholasticism promoted by Matthew Barrett, Carl Trueman, Craig Carter et al. is not so much whether they think that a Thomistic doctrine of God is good, but that that is the only way one must conceive of God. While claiming the Creator-creature distinction, and holding the distinction between archetypal/ ectypal theology, they undermine it with what Poythress call their "secret, hidden back stairway," where they can behold God as He truly is. They are the only ones who truly know God; the peons must just bow down to their superior intellect, and don't you dare question the Great Tradition™ !

God is God; he is beyond all human comprehension, and that applies to philosophers and theologians. Instead of thinking that we must have it correct, Christians especially should understand that the only reason why we can know God is that God reveals Himself to us. Instead of trying to recover "Natural Theology," wwith the idea that Man can somehow grasp a knowledge of God by His own intellect, we should understand that total depravity extends to the intellect. We are sinners, even in and especially when we think, and the idea that somehow we can climb a hidden back stairway to understand God is a mockery of the God who reveals Himself to us.

Therefore, we should be humble in our assertions of who and what God is. By all means hold to Thomstic views if that is what one is convicted of, but do so with humility. A little less pride and more humility, more teachability, will go a long way in preserving the peace and unity of the Church.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)

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