Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 3 - The Enlightenment (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-003 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE REST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> NICK: Good afternoon, professors. My name is Nick. I've been looking forward to moving into the 17th century in our studies for this is when so much activity occurred in my own field of study, science. It is during this time that the world began to see the influence of such men as Descartes and Kant beginning to have an impact on scientific study and philosophy. I taught high school students the scientific method for years and know fully the impact rationalism had on the world of knowledge. I'd like to know how rationalism affected the churches. Rationalism, among other things of course, led to the enlightenment. What was the impact of the Enlightenment on Christianity? >> SPEAKER: Nick, some people have said that since the Enlightenment, the world simply hasn't been the same. This is a paradigm shift that we experience in the 17th and into the 18th centuries both because of the Enlightenment and its partner: namely, rationalism. And as you�ve very well identified, these things do inform one another. What is the Enlightenment? What is rationalism? Well, in terms of the latter, rationalism is the belief that human reason is the final judge as to the truth or falsehood of a claim. There is no outside authority in the sense that one can turn to the scriptures, as the church had been doing for centuries before this, to establish this truth and falsehood. Rather now, the scientific method was employed. And what the scientific method said very simply was: The hypothesis was asserted it if it could be proven via scientific experiments. That is to say that consistent data could be produced and regularly interpreted, then something was true. Now when that comes to the Christian Scriptures, to the Bible itself, things began to take some interesting turns. For example, what do you do with the stories in the Gospels of Jesus' birth? The Christian church�s teaching of the virgin birth was viewed by some with suspicion. It was viewed by some as a myth, shall we say. And increasingly, those who were committed to the scientific method began to apply the principle of rationalism and said literally, not only did the virgin birth not happen; it simply could not happen. Why? Well, scientific experiments, the scientific method, established things otherwise. This being the case, some basic, basic teachings of the church began to be tested, the virgin birth to name one example, the resurrection of Christ, the doctrine of the atonement, and many, many others all came into question. Now, that's not to say that all people who were inclined toward rationalism simply dismissed the witness of the scriptures. Some said we can find a balance point between the two. John Locke, for example, said there are those things that are contrary to reason, those things that agree with reason, and those things that are above reason. Those things that are above reason cannot be proven true or false on the basis of the scientific method. They simply must be accepted by faith. Yet, said Locke, these things also are not at odds with human reason, simply beyond our capacity to understand. For many, that was a sufficient answer. Others, however, said, no, this won't do it. The scientific method provides a tight, inherently explainable world. That is to say, things simply make sense. This component of what is the larger Enlightenment would transform western thinking and certainly transform the church as well. The Enlightenment, as a movement, as a perspective, really implied that humankind had been lost in darkness for thousands of years. And in fact, because of the church, said some Enlightenment thinkers, man was in a self-incurred tutelage, had placed himself into bondage and had, therefore, not fully developed to the fullest of his capabilities. The Enlightenment simply means shedding light where there was darkness before. And the place of darkness was oftentimes attributed to the work of the church and its pronouncements through the priesthood of what was to be believed and what was not to be believed. What the enlightenment encouraged was autonomy, radical autonomy, in the sphere of the individual. Self law, law unto one's self, self realization, the opportunity to encourage human beings to be all that they could be, rather than keeping them down through church teachings. In this respect, one of the components of the Enlightenment mind was the denial, or at least the downplay, of the doctrine of Original Sin. Many Enlightenment thinkers said very simply by emphasizing the sinfulness of human beings, the church had, in fact, kept human kind from developing as it should. Rather, the Enlightenment proposed a very optimistic notion of the capabilities of humans saying that if human beings where left, were encouraged and left free, to pursue their own ends, to pursue knowledge for the sake of itself, to use their minds to the fullest of their capacities, that great things would result. And this optimistic message, this emphasis on the capability of human beings to achieve, struck a chord and resonated with the people of 17th and 18th century Western Europe. The church found itself in a bit of a predicament, not surprisingly, have been on the basis of the scriptures taught that man is inherently sinful, comes into this life in a state of sin, now there was a competing philosophy that said, no. Human beings are not culpable for anyone else's sin, only the actual sins that they themselves commit. Better put, said the Enlightenment thinkers, simply to emphasize human capabilities. So, said the Enlightenment thinkers, the church has kept society, culture, and individuals from developing into all they could be. The church has, in fact, hampered the development of humankind. The church has imprisoned the human spirit. Therefore, it is now our responsibility, as modern Christians, Christians in the 17th, 18th centuries, to break ourselves free from this bondage and to move forward into everything that is available to us. Not surprisingly, the church had to respond. Some members in the church said, this is a horrific development. This is an improper understanding of human capability and must be resisted with all vigor. Others uncritically adopted the perspective and said, unless the church gets with the times, it will be left behind. And then another group said, we can engage rationalism, the Enlightenment critically seeking to find ways in which the church can maintain its faithful confession while understanding a basic and fundamental cultural shift has occurred. As these differing perspectives on how to interact with the Enlightenment challenged the church, many within the church found themselves pressed, and in fact, the church itself began to fragment somewhat. So the church was fundamentally challenged by the Enlightenment. Its own perspective was shaped and formed by a different and outside and external force. And the answers the church gave were mixed. No longer would there be a simple unity of confession on the part of Christianity. There would likely be division. And that was the story of the church in the latter part of the 17th and into the 18th centuries. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****