Philosopher and Evangelical Dr. J. P. Moreland goes on is his recent paper to answer the question as to ‘Why are Contemporary Evangelicals Over-committed to the Bible.’
Moreland’s answer is to briefly describe the shift in Western thinking in the 20th century by using the University illustratively. Moreland briefly traces the demise of the University in the 20th century to its abandonment of objective categories that informed all men about the nature of reality (i.e. — Natural Moral Law). Moreland insists that the Evangelical problem of over-commitment to the Bible stems from what he considers a wrong reaction to this shift in 20th century thinking. According to Moreland, Christians abandoned natural moral law theory because academia had putatively proven natural moral law theory wrong. Moreland then contends that the only place for Christians to maneuver to was a over-overcommitment to the Bible. Moreland thus makes his analysis of the over-overcommitment to the Bible to be historical and sociological, believing that Biblically and Theologically Christians had a grand legacy in natural moral law theory. In brief Moreland surmises that the shift to a over-commitment to the Bible by Christians must be accounted for by using other categories then theological or biblical opting to use historical and sociological considerations as lenses to explain the unfortunate overcommitment to the Bible that has arisen.
Before pressing on to more core concerns we must insist that Dr. Moreland’s methodology is questionable. By insisting that historical and sociological tools of analysis are superior tools to answer the question as to ‘Why Evangelicals are over-committed to the Bible’ then Theological tools Moreland is setting up the kind of over-specialization that he later bemoans in his paper. Moreland insists that the curse of the shift in University thinking in the 20th century is that because of the abandonment of the Christian God, who was the source of all truth because He is a single unified mind, the curriculum in Universities no longer had a single integration point and thus Universities became Multi-versities. This resulted in over-specialization where there was little or no relation between one discipline and another as taught at the same University. Now, what I hear Dr. Moreland saying here is that Theology is the Queen of the Sciences and we jettison sanity when we give up the Biblical God. I agree with that but if that is true then why does Dr. Moreland insist that Historical and sociological tools are better fitted to analyze the problem he is considering then Theological tools? If History and sociology are dependent upon Theology (and they are) then the best tool to analyze any sociological or historical problem is a Theological tool. Is Dr. Moreland’s appeal to Historical and Sociological tools as means of analysis over against Theological tools not indicative that he himself has fallen into the over-specialization that he so rightly abjures? Are not sociological shifts beholden to Theological shifts? Dr. Moreland should have given us the Theological reasons why Christians shifted away from a natural-moral law theory and thus became over-committed to the Bible. Dr. Moreland insists that Christians didn’t need to shift to over-commitment to the Bible since they had such a deep history of natural moral law theory to rest in and yet they became over-committed to the Bible. Dr. Moreland gave us the Historical-Sociological reasons for the shift but the question still remains, if we believe in a unified field theory of knowledge; ‘What were the Theological reasons for this shift that has been described historically and sociologically?’ If that question would have been answered then we might have been able to ascertain whether those Theological reasons were Biblical.
Another methodological problem that besets Dr. Moreland’s paper is his failure to realize that the Universities didn’t lose a unified field theory of knowledge. The shift that Dr. Moreland Chronicles in the University life is not a shift from a God who provides a coherent integration of knowledge to no god but rather it was a shift from a God who provides a coherent integration of knowledge to a god who provides a incoherent integration of knowledge. God is an inescapable category and the fleeing from the God of the Bible is not a fleeing into nothing but rather a fleeing into the arms of some other god or god concept. So whereas the God of the Bible provided coherence precisely because every academic discipline was beholden to His interpretation of reality the new god of the University system yielded incoherence precisely because it was the god of humanism where each discipline is beholden to the law word of the sovereign individual who has the most clout in any one of the Universities departments. This kind of campus god created chaos as potentially the Romanticists could own the literature department and the Marxists the economics department and the Transcendentalists the politics department and the Existentialists the philosophy department and the Augustinians the Theology department, etc. etc. etc. It may be seen as quibbling but the University retains a unified field theory of knowledge and that unified field theory is that only in chaos can we find a genuine unified field theory. This is embraced because the god the University has embraced is the author of confusion. The chief reason I make this observation is so as to insist that Theology remains the queen of the sciences at the University today — a very bad theology but theology still.
It is at this point that we should return to Natural moral law theory. Dr. Moreland contends that Natural moral law theory should have never been abandoned by Christians but this assertion doesn’t seem to take into account a Christian Natural moral law theory only makes sense inside of a Christian World view. For example, it might be argued that the logical positivists who pushed the fact vs. value distinction had a Natural moral law theory of their own. They held that it was self-evident (a key component of Natural moral law theory) that fact vs. value was true and that no religion (except their own) had cognitive features that needed to be taken seriously. What Dr. Moreland hasn’t seemed to discover is that Natural moral law theory really didn’t go away but rather what was seen as being taught by nature was that nature taught that all there is, is nature. The point is that in many respects we have not moved away from Natural moral law theory but rather have transitioned to a Natural moral law theory that is consistent with pagan beliefs and Theology. Dr. Moreland doesn’t seem to realize that Natural Moral law theory is only as good as the presuppositions with which it begins. If Natural moral Law theory begins with the presupposition that the God of the Bible is then the Natural moral Law theory that we end up with will be broadly Christian. Conversely, if the Natural moral law theory begins with the presupposition that God is a non-cognitive value then the Natural moral law theory that we end up with will be broadly pagan. At this point, even at the cost of being over-committed to the Bible, the only point of appeal is God’s Word.
Dr. Moreland ends this section by saying,
By and large, Evangelicals responded during this shift by withdrawing from the broader world of ideas, developing a view of faith that was detached from knowledge and reason, and limiting truth and belief about God, theology and morality to the inerrant Word of God, the Bible. If I am right about this, then Evangelical over-commitment to the Bible is a result of the influence of secularization on the church and not of biblical or theological reflection.
First, it would have been helpful if Dr. Moreland could have given some names of who those who withdrew from the broader world of ideas. Second, one wonders if Dr. Moreland considers any Christian who disavowed Natural moral law theory as one who developed a view of faith that was detached from knowledge and reason. Third, it seems that Dr. Moreland defines ‘knowledge and reason’ in keeping with a Thomistic model. Fourth, any theory of Natural moral law that is disconnected to the the question of presuppositions is defective and will never get off the ground. Fifth, Dr. Moreland doesn’t seem to take into account that Christians may have retreated from Natural moral law theory because they began to realize the implications of what it means for the unbeliever to suppress the truth in unrighteousness and they began to appreciate that a proper understanding of general revelation (that which Natural moral law theory is pinned to) is only as good as a right understanding of special revelation.
Criticism on Moreland’s Third and final point later.