Apologetics After The Enlightenment

On The Verge of The Future: Humanistic-Secularistic


We are here concerned with a brief resume of the theological trends from the Enlightenment to the present. See the following bibliography: Wm. Dyrness, Christian Apologetics in a World Community. Inter-Varsity Press, 1983; my “Idolatrous Absolutes”; Bernard Ramm, After Fundamentalism—The Future of 'Evangelical Theology, MY: Harper and Row, 1983; Peter Gay, The Enlightenment, 2 vols, MY: Knopf, 1967; Henry F. May. The Enlightenment in America, MY: Oxford University Press, 1976;  Roy Porter and Mikular Teich, eds., The Enlightenment in National Context (Cambridge University Press, 1981; leun Ellis, Seven Against Christianity: A Study in "Essays and Reviews" (Leiden E. J. Brill, 1980 - critique of Frederick Temple, et.al. Essays and Reviews London: Parker, 1860.


The survival of any society depends on its maintenance of commonality, or, to borrow Hannah Arendt's phrase—"consensus universalis"—common language, traditions, values, interests, goals, and assumptions about human existence (agents of socialization). A people's worldview is their basic model of reality. Five major functions are:


1. The explanation of how and why things got to be as they are and how and why they continue or change.

2. The worldview of a people serves as an evaluational—a judging and validating—function.

3. The worldview of a group also provides psychological reinforcement for that group. At points of anxiety or crisis in life it is to one's conceptual system that one turns for the encouragement to continue or the stimulus to take other action.

4. The worldview serves an integrating function. It systematizes and orders for them their perceptions of reality into an overall design.

5. A group's worldview does not completely determine the perception of all its members at all times.


I. From Enlightenment to Fundamentalism


A. Autonomous Method: Mathematics and Man (Matter/Motion/Measured/Mathematics)


B. Autonomous Man

1. Old and Mew Testament biblical criticism challenged the traditional and cherished views of Scripture, its divine origin, its inspiration, and its traditional mode of interpretation.

2. The rapid development of historical science led to many serious doubts about the historical integrity of Holy Scripture.

3. The universe as pictured by modern astronomy reduced Earth to the status of a particle in the cosmos and by implication trivialized both humanity and Christianity.

4. The new geology developed by Charles Lyell embarrassed the story of creation as narrated in Genesis 1, especially if the latter were understood as a ‘scientific account’ of origins.

5. The theory of evolution stated in Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) was a major across-the-board challenge to the traditional Christian theology of creation.


6.  The scientific understanding of the nature of events, and the nature of scientific historical knowledge, created deep skepticism about the' historic Christian supernaturalism and its doctrine of miracles.

7. The philosophies of Kant, Hegel, and British neo-Hegelians offered a better way of understanding religion.

8.  The standard great apologists of the past were both rejected and undermined by the emerging new opinions.(Jackson, Butler, Paley)


II. Secularism


Secularism expresses the world-view which values the well-being of mankind in the present condition, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in life after death; based in Newtonian mechanics of total explanatory power of the scientific enterprise, eg. of negative sense, belonging to the present or visible world as distinguished from God's created universe.  (See the following works:  G. J. Holyoake, Secularism, the Practical Philosophy of the People (London. 1854; P. A. Verhalen, Faith in a Secularized World (NY: Paulist Press, 1976; my syllabi:  Making the Contemporary Mind; Naturalistic, Secularistic Humanism; Christian Faith and the Development of Biological Theories of Evolution; also the 1982 symposium opposing Creationism,  "Science and Belief," American Assoc for Advancement of Science;

Science (June 13, 1980).




a.  Saeculum in Christian Latin meant generation, age, the world, especially as opposed to The Church.  Belonging to the world and its affairs as distinguished from the Church and religion; civil, lay, temporal. Often used in a negative sense of hostility toward God, Church, etc. (see Oxford English Dictionary. Vol. IX, S-Soldo, Oxford, 1933, p. 365f).

b.  Originally secularization meant the process by which something that served a "sacral" purpose was taken over for "secular" use.

c.  Secularization is the process by which "the transposition of originally Christian ideas, insights and experiences into those of human reason in general" (F. Gogarten, Despair and Hope For Our Time (Boston: Pilgrim Press, E.T. 1970), p. 9.

d.  Secularization is "the loss in social significance of the Christian supra-empirical definition of reality" (Leonardus Laeyendicker, "A Sociological Approach to Secularization" Concilium Roger Aubert (ed.) NY: Paulist, '69)

e.  "The deliverance of man first from religious and then from metaphysical control over his reason and his language" C. A. van Peursen (H. Cox, The Secular City. NY: Macmillan, 1965), p. 1).

f.  "The process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols." (P. Berger, The Sacred Canopy (NY: Doubleday & Co., 1969), p. 107.

g.  Secularization implies an irreversible historical process in which society is delivered from closed religious and metaphysical views.  While secularization ia a liberating process affecting all men sociologically and historically, secularism is the name for an ideology or a composite of competing ideologies (Cox, p. 18).


III. Naturalism: (Egs., Materialism, Marxism, Deism, Positivism)


Tthe first scientific revolution created the Deism of the 17th and l8th centuries. This position implied a naturalist concept of God, as non-personal cause of the world without any actual relation to the world or man. The fixed system of causality which excludes the possibility of revelation and grace and reduces all positive religion, especially Christianity, to the elements proper to 'natural religion.'  The absolute freedom of the transcendent/immanent creator-redeemer, who manifests Himself in history, is radically incompatible with Deism, which is basically an acosmic naturalism but does not really exclude atheism (eg. Hegel—see my syllabi: God: Creator/Redeemer; Creation. Covenant and Redemption)


Scientific Naturalism seeks total explanation of all phenomenon within the schema of 'space-time'; therefore, rejecting the need of an ultimate explanation of the world and man outside the region of pure experience, but does not per se exclude authentic Christian Theism.  It only becomes atheistic when it goes beyond the proper field of the experimental sciences and pretends to reduce all reality to what is verifiable by experimental methods, as in positivism.  (See syllabii Christian Faith and the Development of The Physical Sciences; God. Creation. Rationality and the Development of Science with Special Attention to T. Kuhn's Theory of Scientific Progress).


IV.  Humanism


The denial of God is not the principal thesis of humanism; it is rather the affirmation of man as creator in freedom.  For all forms of modern and contemporary humanisms, the full-blown reality of man is incompatible with the existence of God as they have come to understand its implications in the light of their experience within a Christian faith context (L. Dewart, The Future of Belief (NY: Herder & Herder, 1968, esp. 52ff). Atheism accords as the postulate of their humanism and one of The Signs of the Times (Marxist Humanism, Secular Humanist, cf. The Humanist and The Humanist Manifesto, compare with Schaeffer's Christian Manifesto).  J. P. Van Fraag, Chairman of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, attempts to define "Humanist Outlook" on the assumption that 'Humanism' only makes sense when it clearly set apart from religious creeds and therefore from anything like a 'Christian Humanism.' The fundamental orientation is constituted by a moral conviction based on the strictly human.  It relies on man's resources alone to realize what is characteristic of our common humanity.  Humanism not only makes man central, it posits him as the only foundations of his own existence, excluding any recourse to the 'divine.'


Dr. Van Pragg proposes ten postulates as a distillation of the presuppositions accepted by all modern humanists, regardless of their subsequent divergencies. "The world is complete and does not imply an upper or outer world.  Completeness is not perfection, but means that the world is not thought of as dependent on creator, nor is there an empty place left vacant by an absent creator." (P. Kurtz and A. Dondeyne, eds. A Catholic-Humanist Dialogue (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1972, pp 309).  The ten postualtes are:(1) Equality, (2) Secularity, (3) Liberty, (4) Fraternity, (5) Reason, (6) Experience, (7) Existence, (8) Completeness, (9) Contingency, and (10) Evolution.  The Christian Gospel affirms that the presupposition of "autonomous humanism" is an irrational claim which is unaware of its perimeter of validity.  J. P. Van Praag acknowledges that Humanism gives no final answer to the problems of Evil, Suffering, and Death.  Humanism affirms that this 'life' is its own goal. Evil, suffering and death are part of the very fabric of human existence whose temporal and contingent character is not denied or neurotically avoided by recourse to other-worldly ends or goals.


V.  Fundamentalism and Beyond


A.  What's in a Name?  The Fundamentalist/Modernist/Fundamentalists Debate 1920's/1930's

B.  Reactions within our Heritage

C.  Neo-Orthodox 1940's/1950's (Barth, Brunner and R. and R. Niebuhr)

D.  Barthian's Influence and Neo-Evangelicalism


Barth makes three statements about the relationship of philosophy and theology:


1.  No interpreter is free from philosophical presuppositions.  Both amateurs and professional philosophers bring their philosophy to the text.  There is no philosophically innocent interpretation of Scripture,

2.  No human philosophy is the perfect correlate of the Word of God. Therefore no philosophy is the perfect correlate and handmaiden of divine revelation.  Note that this statement is not an attack on philosophy or a demeaning of philosophy, but, on the contrary, a profound theological observation.

3.  Every philosophy may potentially illuminate the Word of God.  This is the very point Smith underplays to the point of distortion. First, if all philosophies may potentially help us to clarify the Word of God, we must know them all or at least a good number of them. Secondly, philosophies as a matter of fact have been of service in theology.  Materialism warns us against any ascetic or gnostic or overly spiritualized interpretation of our faith, and idealism reminds us of the transcendental element in the human person.


E.  Resurgent Enerrancy/Infallibility/Authority Controversy:  Scriptures, Humanity and Divnity - Word - God - Word of God (Communication, Community and Contextualization)


1.  Humanity of Scripture and Biblical Criticism

2.  Divinity of Scripture - Authoritative Word of God.  Authority is in the person of God - not in the audience (cf. Contemporary Homiletics and Communication Theory—Audience); see my Biblical Models of Preaching.




James D. Strauss

World View Studies


Lincoln Christian Seminary

Lincoln, IL  62656