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.