by George, I think I’ve got it

Last Wednesday I had the privilege of meeting George Marsden, the author of Jonathan Edwards:  A Life and elder statesman of evangelical historians.  George came by to speak to the faculty at Cornerstone University—which I should say is poised to become a significant Christian school with Joe Stowell and Rick Ostrander (provost and author of Why College Matters to God) at the helm.  These are challenging times for private colleges, but I’ve never been more excited to be a part of the Cornerstone family.  Stay tuned.

During our brief conversation I had the opportunity to ask George about the comment which I hear from some evangelical philosophers.  When I cite Luther and Calvin to support my claim that beliefs are necessary for salvation, I am sometimes told that the Reformation over-emphasized the head at the expense of the heart.  Unlike Augustine, who possessed a more holistic view, the Reformation treated people as minds only rather than as whole people.  The philosophers then claim that they are simply returning the church to a time when beliefs were not as important as I and the Reformers thought.

I was skeptical of this claim since I didn’t remember learning it during my Th.M. in historical theology or my Ph.D. in systematic theology, and I chalked it up to philosophers speaking outside their area of expertise.  But to make sure, I asked George, “You’re a historian.  Is there anything to this claim?”  He told me that there wasn’t and added that the philosophers who make this charge are guilty of the fallacy of the straw man.

So there you have it.  The next time you hear someone say that, unlike the Early Church Fathers, the Reformation over-emphasized the rational or the role of beliefs for salvation, you can tell them that George Marsden says that just isn’t true.


Add yours →

  1. What’s the opposite of a ‘straw man’ argument? A ‘man’ argument? A ‘tin man’ argument? Oh, a LION argument!

  2. An honest question because I have no idea: does this false characterization (over-emphasize the rational) fit the 17th century descendants of the Reformation? I’ve heard this charge against Westminster, Dort, Turretin and the like. Is that true or is it also bunk?

  3. Brian:

    I think that popular idea has been debunked by Richard Muller, which is sort of his life project. Certainly the Protestant Scholastics of the 17th century would emphasize the rational side, inasmuch as they are doing a school theology, but I’m confident that Muller would say that they kept in line with the Reformers.

    As an example of their affect side, my favorite line from Dort is when it encourages us to be “promiscuous” with the gospel. Sort of like what I’d expect if Paris Hilton had 5 points.

  4. But it would be fair to state that not everything from a reformed perspective gets equal attention. The reformers and most in the tradition continue to place a higher value on the mind of God and the thoughts of humans than the feelings of God and the emotions of humans…

    Feelings are not supposed to be trusted in the reformed tradition — something that seems odd given that we are created in the image of God and all things are capable of being redeemed by God. Yet, somehow our minds are purified while our feelings continue to remain suspect?

  5. I do not want to go back to the state that I was in prior to being born again – and I am not speaking of Michigan. I received a new heart. I have the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to guide me. Would a blind man who truly received the gift of sight wish to be blind again?

  6. Yooper: you speak in parables, sir. What does your message mean?

  7. Adam, My condition prior to trusting Christ is vivid in my memory – I knew nothing of God or His Word. I question those who claim to be “Christian” and yet prefer the dark. Get it? Got it? Good.

  8. ” I am sometimes told that the Reformation over-emphasized the head at the expense of the heart.”

    The “head” is black and white, whereas the “heart” is fickle (to say the least) and subjective – esp. looking back from the perspective of our current culture, to that of those who do not seek the praise of man when doing “good works”.

  9. Yooper, I’m confused about where you’re getting those categories of head and heart, and how you’re characterizing them.

    Full disclosure: I do not speak Greek.

    Now, some Greek-speaking professors at Dr. Wittmer’s seminary have taught me that the NT usage of the word “heart” is almost always closer to “mind” than “feelings.” So the intended meaning of NT Bible passages about “the heart” are actually about a man’s thought life. Do you have reason to disagree?

    Or are there any ‘Grecians’ listening who can fill us in?

    PS — I don’t want to misunderstand you; are you implying that some of the writers here prefer the dark?

  10. Adam, I was reading the context in which the quoted passage was taken, and merely commenting.

    The “heart” of those who do their charitable deeds in secret, and that of those who proclaim their deeds with trumpet can both be misinterpreted.

  11. Hmmm… I’m trying to decide how large an amount I would bet that Randy Buist has never even *read* the Reformers and is just rehashing stuff he’s read on the blogs of other emergents who have never really studied the Reformers.

  12. Z – that’s not fair. Everyone knows that if something is repeated enough times on enough blogs – or if it reaches Wikipedia, the holy of holies, than it must be true. Stop trying to force your notion of “truth” as based on actual, verifiable facts and what someone actually said/wrote on the rest of us!

    Oops, I forgot my brackets.

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