The Roots of Western Culture. Chapter 4: Faith and Culture
33 min read
33 min read
Thus far we have seen that the relations between the historical aspect and the later aspects of reality become transparent in the process of cultural disclosure. We have traced these relations through the jural aspect, finding that with the “judgment of God in world history” historical development points forward to the jural aspect of the divine creation order. Beginning again with the juridical relation, we shall now examine these relations in more detail.
The connection between law and history reveals itself in a typical way in political life. In war, for example, the government’s neglect of national defence avenges itself. According to its typically inner nature and order, the state is historically founded on a monopolistic organization of the power of the sword within its territorial area. Only on the basis of this power can the state fulfil its typical destination as the public-legal community of government and people. Before all else the state ought to obey the historical political norm to actualize and maintain the typical foundation of its legal existence as an independent power. If the state fails to protect this foundation it does not deserve independence. Thus Hegel’s claims that a nation proves its right to exist in war and that history reveals a “higher justice” contained a moment of truth. But unfortunately these claims rested on a dangerous confusion of might and right, a typical consequence of the historicistic view of reality. Hegel denied the validity of international law, arguing that international relations were governed simply by the “right of the stronger.” National socialism later elevated this hegelian position to the status of unquestioned dogma.
As such, historical might can never be identified with legal right. Nevertheless, the norm God established in historical development for the formation of power by a state cannot be understood outside of its connection with the jural norm. Everywhere the ordinances of God which obtain for the various aspects of created reality display an indissoluble, mutual coherence, for their root unity lies in the single religious commandment that we love God with all our heart. Here the creation order reveals its integral character. Only by recognizing the demands of law [recht] as a unique aspect of society can one speak of the execution of a divine judgment in history revealed in the historical power struggle. Indeed, this struggle would never exhibit the features of a historical judgment without a connection with law [rechtl
Earlier we found that the violation of the norm of cultural economy based on excessive expansion of power belonging to a specific cultural sphere necessarily avenges itself in history. We then assumed that the differentiated life spheres of disclosed culture possess an original right of their own. Juridically too, then, the life spheres are sovereign in their own sphere. To phrase it negatively, the life spheres do not derive their right to develop according to their own inner nature from the state. A state law which fundamentally violates the juridical sphere sovereignty of nonstate spheres cannot be viewed as valid law, for God did not give the state an absolute and unlimited juridical power. Rather than absolute sovereignty over nonstate life spheres, the state possesses sovereignty only within its own sphere, limited by its specific nature and order Uevenswet] granted by God. Only in connection with each life sphere’s juridical sphere sovereignty, as divine legal ordinance, can one legitimately speak – with reference to the aspect of the development of culture – of a world-historical right belonging to the differentiated spheres based on a recognition of their respective spheres of power.
Only a recognition of this historical right of culture can lead to the unfolding of a love of culture which in turn is the first condition for a harmonious development of civilization. Only when science, art, and commerce follow their own law of life freely does cultural love flourish, while without a moral zeal for fulfilling a historical task a culture shrivels up and withers away. If science and art are bound to a totalitarian state or church, they soon lose their inner authenticity. No longer inspired by love for their cultural task, the scientists and artists become instruments in the hands of a tyrannical regime which denies them their own right to cultural life.
The love of culture opens up the bond between the historical and moral aspects of reality. The core of the moral aspect is the principle of love insofar as love reveals itself in the temporal relationships of life. In accordance with the various life spheres, the principle of moral love differentiates itself into neighbourly love, love for parents and children, patriotic love, love of scientific truth, love of artistic beauty, and so forth.
The last and all-controlling relation which discloses itself in the process of historical development is the link between history and faith. Ultimately, the faith of the leading cultural powers determines the entire direction of the opening process of culture. The religious ground motive behind all cultural development in a phase of history manifests itself within time first in the faith of those who are called to form history. The connection between faith and history requires special attention because of the exceptional place the aspect of faith occupies in the temporal world order; lying at the boundary of time and eternity, this aspect is the last in temporal reality.
Although the faith function stands at the edge of time, it may not be confused with the religious root unity of the heart, soul, or spirit of human existence. The statement “out of the heart are the issues of temporal life” includes the issues of faith. For all men faith is a subjective function of their inner consciousness, whether one is a believer in Christ or whether one’s faith lies in the direction of apostasy. In terms of direction and content, faith is either an apostate faith or the faith that is active in man through the Holy Spirit. Both faiths operate within the same structure of the temporal function of consciousness which God gave human nature at creation. Both are enclosed within the “boundary” aspect of temporal reality.
All temporal creatures other than man function objectively in the aspect of faith. All temporal things are objects of man’s subjective faith function, just as their colour and taste are objects of sensory perception and their logical characteristics are objects of conceptualization. The majestic words that open the book of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” ought to determine the content of our faith with reference to creation; for heaven and earth, together with all that has unfolded in them, are within time objects of either this faith or an apostate faith that turns away from the revelation of God’s Word.
By relating the origin of all things to an eternal flux of life, the pagan nature religions made all creatures the objects of their primitive faith. The same holds for the modern evolutionist, who believes that whatever lives has come forth from one original source. Similarly, for anyone who believes the scriptures, all things are the objects of faith in creation.
More pointedly, there are many concrete things which are characterized by an objective faith function; that is, their distinctive destination or quality is intrinsically related to subjective human faith life. For example, the entire structure of a church building is characterized by its objective liturgical destination. Or consider the bread and wine of holy communion. In the faith life of the partakers, bread and wine are objects of faith as symbols of the crucified body and shed blood of our Saviour. As faith symbols they are a means for strengthening the believers’ faith. All of this would be without meaning if the reality of the bread and wine were closed off in the physicochemical aspect of these entities. This is not the case. These entities display an object function in all post physicochemical aspects, including the aspect of faith.
We must thus make clear distinctions between the following:
Our subjective faith function is subject to God’s revelation, to the norm for faith. Moreover, it issues from the religious root of our temporal life; namely, the heart, soul, or spirit of man. Because of the fall into sin, the heart of man turned away from God and the religious ground motive of apostasy took hold of man’s faith and of his whole temporal life. Only the Spirit of God causes the rebirth of our hearts in Christ and radically reverses the direction of our temporal function of faith.
Abraham Kuyper was probably the first to regain for theology the scriptural insight that faith is a unique function of our inner life implanted in human nature at creation. Scholasticism had forsaken this insight completely under the influence of the unscriptural ground motive of nature and grace. Roman catholic scholastic thought identified faith with belief in roman catholic doctrine, arguing that faith was the supranatural gift of grace to the intellect, by means of which the intellect accepted the supranatural truths of salvation. Thus the faith function became a supranatural extension of the logical function found in human nature. Faith consisted in a purely intellectual acceptance, but by means of a higher light that transcended the limits of natural reason. The insight into the unique nature of the function of faith within the boundary aspect of temporal reality had completely disappeared from this scholastic conception.
The Greek conception of human nature, which was shaped by the religious form-matter motive and which the scholastic thinkers had accepted, was the reason for this disappearance. In the light of this Greek conception, the scholastic thinkers viewed “human nature” as a composition of a “material body” and a “rational soul” (characterized by the logical function of thought). The soul was considered the immortal form of the material body. From the outset Greek philosophy depreciated faith, relegating it to the lower realm of sense perceptions. In the Greek view theoretical thought was the only road to truth; “belief” was merely subjective opinion fdoxa] which rested on no reliable ground. When scholasticism accepted the Greek view of human nature, its only alternative was to transfer faith to a supranatural realm, since in the Greek conception the faith function did not deserve a place in the “rational soul.” The scholastics thus put faith completely outside of “human nature” by placing it in the “realm of grace.”
Today’s dialectical theologians (Barth, Brunner, and others) have not escaped from the unscriptural ground motive of nature and grace despite the fact that their view of “natural life” is not Greek but more in line with humanism. They identify “nature” with “sin.” As a result they can indeed acknowledge that the humanistic view of nature is radically sinful in its pride, and at the same time not replace the humanistic view with a scriptural approach. Barth explicitly maintains that an absolute gap divides “nature” from “grace.” For him the christian faith, a divine gift of grace, does not have a single point of contact with “sinful human nature.” He understands faith as the exclusive activity of God which occurs entirely without human input.
Kuyper’s scriptural view of the faith function must be firmly upheld against all such departures from the revelation of the Word. The status of the faith function has a decisive effect on our view of the scope of the antithesis in temporal life and on our view of history. Consequently, we must investigate the nature and place of the function of faith in temporal life further.
The connection between faith and history led us to examine more closely the place of the faith aspect in the entire order of the aspects of reality. The exceptional place of faith in temporal life is misunderstood completely if its position as the boundary between time and eternity is not grasped. Faith is both the boundary aspect of temporal reality and the window facing eternity. oriented to this revelation. In unspiritual and ambiguous use of language the term belief often has the meaning of “opinion” and “uncertain knowledge.” (In a sentence like this, for instance: “I believe that I have met you before.”) This was the preferred usage in Greek philosophy, as we have already seen. True faith, however, is the exact opposite of uncertain opinion; for in the core of its meaning it is ultimate certainty in time with respect to the sure ground of one’s existence, a certainty acquired when one is grasped in the heart of one’s being by a revelation from God, the origin of all things. No matter how deeply it has fallen away from the truth, faith is always oriented to divine revelation. Therefore terms like “intuitive certainty” and “evidence” do not sufficiently describe the nucleus or core of faith.
Divine revelation connects the temporal with the eternal. God is the eternal one who reveals himself to man in time. Christ Jesus, the Word become flesh, is the fulness of divine revelation. It is precisely this revelation that represents the great stumbling block for the arrogant thought of the apostate; man does not desire God’s revelation because it threatens his pretended self-sufficiency. He wants to hold God at an infinite theoretical distance in order to speculate about him in peace as the “most perfect Being,” a “Being” who stands far removed from whatever touches temporal life. But God does not respect the theoretical, humanly contrived division of time and eternity. He reveals himself in the midst of time. Sinners redeemed by Christ who hear this revelation pray: “Lord have mercy upon us. We have covered your world with hatred, anger, blood, and tears. And look, you are there and you see it all!” This is the revelation of God in his Word and in all the works of his hands! Revelation throws the fire of the antithesis upon the earth. It divides parents and children; it sets friend against friend; it drives rifts within the nation; it turns man against himself. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth,” says the Saviour; “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” [Matthew 10:341]
It is the unbreakable connection between the revelation of God and the function of faith (along with the faith aspect in which this function works) that accords faith its position as the boundary between time and eternity. As such, the faith function is encompassed within the temporal world order. It belongs to temporal life just as the organic, psychical, logical, and lingual functions do. The structure of the faith aspect itself demonstrates that faith stands in time; like the structures of all the other aspects, its structure expresses a coherence with every other aspect of temporal reality. The aspect of faith is the last in the temporal order. The others precede it. Nevertheless, it is related to what transcends time; namely, to the absolute ground and origin of all temporal life.
Thus the nuclear moment of the structure of the aspect of faith points beyond time to the religious root and origin of our temporal existence. At the same time, this nuclear moment is bound up inseparably with a whole series of moments that point back to the nuclear moments of all the earlier aspects. Consider, for example, faith’s relation to the moral aspect. Faith in the real sense of the word is not possible without adoration or worship. Faith has a moral analogy in adoration which refers to love, to the core of the moral aspect. But adoration is naturally directed to God. If it is directed to a creature it becomes idolatrous. This orientation of faith also implies that magic – found among pagan nations as well as in medieval Christendom and at the time of the Renaissance – is not really an authentic religious phenomenon. Certainly magic is impossible without some kind of faith. But as such it is directed at “controlling” natural forces with improper means. In essence therefore it is not a religious act directed to the adoration of a deity.
The structure of faith also exhibits a juridical analogy that points to the connection between the faith aspect and the jural aspect. The God who reveals himself to man has the right to adoration of faith. Certainly, this right is not a “right” in the original jural sense. It is not comparable with the right of a buyer to his goods or the right of an owner to his property. Rather, it is a juridical analogy within the meaning of faith which, like a moral analogy, points beyond time to the religious relation of dependence that characterizes the bond between God and man.
The scriptural reference to justification by faith is also a juridical analogy. This justification should never be understood in a technically legal sense but, like the other juridical analogies, its faith meaning can be grasped only through its coherence with the jural aspect of reality, which is one of the aspects that binds the aspect of faith to the temporal order. Divine revelation first of all directs itself to the heart, to the religious centre of existence, and from there it moves to one’s whole temporal life in the total coherence of its aspects. Thus God’s righteousness, the meaning of which is given in faith, cannot be understood without reference to the jural aspect.
The structure of faith displays a further analogy with the aesthetic aspect whose nuclear kernel is beautiful harmony. In faith we find a moment of harmony through which man is brought into true communion with God. This is not aesthetic harmony, and every attempt to conceive of faith aesthetically leads to its denaturing. But precisely because faith orients all the aspects of reality toward God, the aspect of faith is interwoven with the aesthetic aspect.
Faith also reveals a structural, inner coherence with the economic aspect of reality. True faith is always accompanied by a readiness to sacrifice. Even among pagans sacrifice is an essential expression of faith life. True sacrificial readiness of the christian faith rests upon man’s evaluation of either temporal or eternal treasures. Christ’s answer to the rich young man who asked, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” was this: “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” [Matthew 19:16f.l Here the economic analogy within faith comes clearly into focus. All temporal possessions outside of Christ cannot be compared with the treasure guaranteed us in the Kingdom of God. They must be sacrificed for the “pearl of great price,” as Christ proclaimed in the parable. Again, the valuation that occurs in faith is not economic, but it is inseparably interwoven with economic valuation.
Also essential to the structure of faith is an analogy with the aspect of social intercourse. Inherent in faith is the believer’s communion with God and with fellow believers. Fellowship in faith is of a spiritual nature. It cannot be reduced to intercourse in the social sense, which is subject to the uniquely social norms of politeness, tact, good manners, courtesy, respect, and so forth. But fellowship in faith does refer back to the nuclear moment of the social aspect.
A lingual analogy also belongs to the structure of faith. In the core of its meaning the lingual aspect is symbolic signification accomplished through the use of signs (words, gestures, signals, and so on). Inherent in faith is a symbolism in which the revelation of God is “signified,” made plain to us. The lingual analogy within the meaning of faith is not reducible to the original function of language. Holy Scripture signifies for us the true revelation of God’s Word. This revelation can be understood only through faith guided by the Holy Spirit who operates in the religious ground motive of God’s Word-revelation. If we read scripture with an unbelieving heart we may indeed grasp the lingual meaning of its words and sentences, but their true faith meaning [geloofsbetekenis] escapes us. Thus the exegesis of scripture is not simply a linguistic matter that is the concern of expert philologists. It is not even a purely theological affair, which only presupposes solid scientific, theological knowledge. A Jewish rabbi reads Isaiah 53 differently from a believing Christian, and a modernistic theologian does not fathom its prophecy of the atoning suffering and death of the Mediator. Whoever does not understand the religious ground motive of scripture lacks the key to faith knowledge. This biblical ground motive is not a theoretical truth which one can understand scientifically. Rather, it is the all-controlling, dynamic power of God’s Spirit who must open our hearts to what God has to say to us, and who, with our hearts thus opened, must unveil the faith meaning of Holy Writ. But again, even though the lingual analogy lying within the structure of faith cannot be reduced to the original meaning of language, faith cannot exist without it. Exegeting scripture may not be a merely linguistic matter, and yet it is not possible without linguistic analysis.
It is hardly necessary to explain the dangers of the “allegorical” exegesis of scripture practised by gnostics and Greek church fathers in the first centuries of the christian era. Allegorical exegetes are fond of quoting Paul: “the letter kills, the Spirit makes alive” [cf. II Corinthians 3:6]. But God bound his Word-revelation to scripture, thereby linking faith meaning to lingual meaning. Whoever severs this bond does not follow the guidance of God’s Spirit but merely his own arbitrary views. As a result he cannot understand the faith meaning of scripture.
Earlier we discussed the unbreakable bond between faith and history, which we approached from the structure of the historical aspect. We established that faith driven by a religious ground motive leads the opening process in historical development.
Viewed from the side of faith, we find that the structure of the faith aspect expresses a coherence with the historical aspect by means of a historical analogy. This analogy consists in the formation of faith in harmony with the pattern of development of divine revelation as the norm of faith. This formation occurs in the doctrines of faith. As living possessions of the church, these doctrines may not be confused with dogmatic theology, the scientific theory concerning doctrine. Only ecclesiastical authority based on the Word of God can establish and maintain the teachings of the christian faith. Authority of theological theories concerning these doctrines can never equal ecclesiastical authority, both because science lacks authority with respect to doctrine and because the church lacks authority in the sphere of science.
The confusion of ecclesiastical dogma (articles of faith) with theological dogmatics (scientific theory about dogma) is a continual source of division and schism within the church. Ecclesiastical dogma has its own historical development that is closely linked to the historical power struggle between Christ’s church and heresy – a struggle of life and death for maintenance of the scriptural ground motive of the christian religion. Heresy constantly arose in theological and philosophical circles that were susceptible to unscriptural ground motives. As a result the church was forced to seek theological advice in formulating its dogma. But in such matters the key issue was always the upholding of the disputed articles of faith, not the binding imposition of a theological theory concerning them.
Since the fundamental task of church doctrine is to give positive expression to the religious ground motive of the Word of God, it is always accountable to that Word. But with respect to its faith aspect, divine Word-revelation itself maintains an inner coherence with history. Revelation displays a progression from the Old to the New Testament, and the New Testament itself is historically founded in the appearance of Christ. This progression, however, does not mean that in its function as the norm for faith God’s revelation is a historical phenomenon. Such a misconception is the fundamental error of historicism, which denies every solid ground of truth by absolutizing the historical aspect of reality. Only when the inherent nature of faith and its inner coherence with the aspect of historical development are seen, does this error become fully transparent. The structure of the faith aspect displays an analogy with history, but this analogy-this “link” -maintains its faith character. God’s Word-revelation maintains its eternal truth for faith, which in its core points beyond time. With respect to its temporal aspect as norm for faith, the divine Word-revelation displays a progressive disclosure -from Old to New Testament-of divine truth. This disclosure is historically founded. But also in this progressive character the divine norm for faith maintains its own nature in distinction from that of historical development.
Faith also exhibits a logical analogy in its structure, which guarantees faith’s unbreakable connection with the aspect of logical thought. By nature faith is the sure knowledge that rests on spiritual discernment. It is not blind suggestion, for it is able to give account of its grounds. Thus faith cannot exist without a foundation in logical distinction, and yet faith’s discernment of the truth in principle is different from logical conceptualization. It is oriented to the eternal matters that transcend human concepts, matters that, according to Paul, can only be “spiritually discerned” [cf. I Corinthians 2:141 Spiritual discernment is possible only when one’s heart is given in full religious surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
By nature the spiritually discerned, sure knowledge of faith is linked with firm trust. This moment expresses an analogy with the aspect of feeling within the faith aspect. The trust of faith is never without a feeling of security, but this trust is not itself an emotion, for emotions undergo changes and depend on moods. The trust of faith seeks its reliable ground not in feeling and in mood but in the Word of God alone.
All these traits assure the peculiar nature of a true life of faith, which expresses the link between faith and the organic aspect of human existence. The life of faith, which has a maturation of its own from childhood to adulthood, is inseparably joined with the organic development of life. Nevertheless, it retains its own irreducible character and obeys its own law. It is spiritually nourished by prayer, by the preaching of the Word, and by the use of sacraments. “Spiritual nourishment” must be related to the developmental stages of faith life, as the apostle Paul indicated when he spoke of “feeding with milk” the children of faith who cannot yet bear “solid food” [cf. I Corinthians 3:21 The relation, explicitly mentioned by Paul, between the faith function and the organic function also includes the intimate relation between faith and the senses: “faith comes from what is heard” [cf. Romans 10:171. Greek thinkers, who held that philosophic theory was the only true way of knowing God, would have considered this statement sufficient proof for their judgment on the worthlessness of faith for knowing the truth. For them the “rational soul” had to disengage itself from the deceptive appearance of reality produced by the senses.
In conclusion, the relation between faith and history, viewed from either side, places us before very difficult questions. We have shown that the life of faith is susceptible to disclosure and deepening, just as the historical life of culture is subject to a process of disclosure. In every aspect of reality prior to faith we can distinguish a closed and an open condition. An aspect is closed when it only displays relations which point back to earlier aspects of reality. An aspect is opened when also those moments are unfolded which point ahead to the later aspects of reality.
For example, the emotional life of an animal exists in a closed condition. Bound rigidly to the senses of the living organism, it cannot rise above the sensory level. In the case of man, on the other hand, one can speak of an opened emotional life, since logical feeling, historical feeling, lingual feeling, aesthetic feeling, juridical feeling, etc. manifest a relation between the aspect of feeling and subsequent aspects.
At this point in our inquiry two problems immediately present themselves. In the first place, how are we to conceive of an opening process with respect to the life of faith? How are we to think of faith in a closed condition, when the aspect of faith, the last aspect, stands at the border of temporal reality? No later aspects follow it. And related to this problem is the second question: how is it possible that genuine cultural opening takes place under the direction of an apostate faith that is governed by an idolatrous ground motive? What influence does apostate faith have on the manner of cultural disclosure in historical development? Not until these two extremely important questions have been answered will we understand the significance of the antithesis between the christian religion and apostate ground motives for historical development.
Let us briefly set the context for the first problem. Cultural disclosure in history is led by faith. Like any other aspect, the historical aspect of reality is either closed or opened. In a closed state an aspect reveals itself only in its inner coherence with earlier aspects; it is therefore rigidly bound to them. The inner connections with the later aspects of reality unfold by means of an opening process which deepens the entire meaning of the earlier aspect.
It is beyond doubt that also primitive cultures, in their strictly closed condition of undifferentiation, are wholly in the grip of a particular faith. Whoever studies the life of primitive pagan peoples is always struck by the close connection between their entire society and its religion and conceptions of faith. How is it possible that also in this situation faith gives guidance to life while this guidance does not lead to real disclosure in the cultural and later aspects of society? Can we speak of a closed and open state also with respect to the aspect of faith?
Christian theology has always distinguished between the general revelation of God found in “nature” (meaning the whole of God’s work of creation) and the general and special Word-revelation. While it may seem reasonable to look to the revelation in “nature” for our starting point in discussing the specific sense of the “closed” structure of the faith function, we must be attentive to the original relation between God’s “natural revelation” in all the works of his hands and the general Word-revelation. By creating the world, God revealed himself in creation both in its religious root (the heart of man) and in its temporal order and coherence. But from the very beginning the revelation of God in all the works of his hands was upheld and explained by the Word-revelation which, even after the fall, directed itself not to a few persons in particular but to the whole of mankind. An independent line of development in Word-revelation which was no longer directed to the whole of mankind began first with Abraham. Of this “special revelation” the people of Israel became the provisional separate bearer until the appearance of the Word itself in the flesh.
In this Word-revelation God speaks to man, and man is called to listen in faith. For only by faithfully listening to this Word of God can the true meaning of God’s revelation in the “nature of creation” and in “all the works of his hands” disclose itself. The fall from God began at the point where man no longer listened to the Word, for in turning his heart away from the Word he closed off the human faith function to the voice of God.
As a result of the fall, God’s revelation in creation, but especially his revelation in the heart of man, took on the character of a judgment. Where the heart shut itself in and turned from God there also the function of faith closed itself off from the light of God’s Word. Nevertheless, the faith function still remained in the boundary position between time and eternity. According to its very nature it remained oriented to the firm Foundation of truth and life who revealed himself in creation. After the fall, however, man sought this firm foundation within creation itself by idolatrously absolutizing what is relative and in-self-sufficient. Man’s direction became apostate, and natural faith became unbelief before the Word of God.
By the “closed structure of faith,” then, I mean the limit of faith’s capacity for apostasy: faith fallen to its deepest point. In the light of the revelation of God’s Word this limit can be detected in the order of creation itself. It is to be found at that point where apostate faith prevents the disclosure of both the historical aspect and the later normative aspects. If this is indeed the final limit in the apostate direction of faith, then we have arrived at the answer to our first question, whether we can speak of a closed and an open condition of faith. It is important for one’s view of history to gain insight into the final limit of the apostasy of faith, for only in terms of that limit can one understand primitive cultures. In its closed structure, faith can never be the starting point for a positive development and opening of the faith function implanted in man at creation. Rather, the closed condition of faith is the limit of its decline, degeneration, and deterioration. Yet it is possible that such a closed structure may function as the starting point for disclosure in the process of apostasy. This issue we will discuss later.
The starting point for positively opening and deepening the life of faith to the fulness of the christian faith must be sought in the structure of the faith function as it was originally created in man. It must be uncovered in its original openness before the divine revelation of the Word. Because of the fall, this positive disclosure is possible only through God’s Spirit, who in grace opens man’s heart. The Spirit does not create a new faith function in man but he opens the fallen function of faith by radically transforming faith’s direction. This is a conversion dependent upon the rebirth of the heart, a conversion that fallen man himself can never bring about.
If even at the limits of apostasy the faith function always operates within the structure of the aspect of faith as such, and if in apostasy faith still remains bound by its law – namely, divine revelation – then the question arises as to what principle of divine revelation normatively controls the faith that falls to the deepest level. As I mentioned above, this revelational principle may be found in the temporal creation order itself under the light of God’s Word, for the closed structure of an aspect is always characterized by its rigid and inert dependence upon the earlier aspects of reality. On a closed level of historical development all cultural life is bound statically to the emotional and organic aspects of reality. Accordingly, the apostate faith that grips a primitive culture deifies the mysterious and closed “forces of nature” that control not only life and death but fertility, sterility, and in general the entire biological and sensual aspects of primitive society. Because of its rigid ties to emotional drives, its belief in gods is frequently founded on fear, though one must certainly not attempt to explain the origin of primitive religion in terms of fear. Similarly impossible is the attempt of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim to explain the origin of primitive religion from the standpoint of social organization.* It is the incomprehensible revelation of God that fills man with fear and trembling.
Deifying the closed forces of nature chains the normative functions of human existence to “irrational nature.” The “night of nature” covers a primitive community. Through the deification of an endless stream of life the Greek matter motive of the old nature religions filled primitive Greeks with a fear of the blind fate of death (Anangke). Inevitably and unpredictably fate struck them and cut off every hope for a better future. The revelational principle of this closed state, the norm for the function of faith, was a deity which revealed itself immanently within the “closed forces of nature.” It demanded worship with sacrifices and rites.
A closed revelational principle becomes a curse and a judgment for man in the degeneration of his faith. Nevertheless, this principle is still grounded in the divine creation order and thus stands above human invention and arbitrariness. Therefore the revelation of the Word, which finds its fulfilment in Christ Jesus, does not eliminate a closed revelational principle (God indeed reveals himself also in the forces of nature). Rather, the Word-revelation uncovers the true meaning of the closed revelational principle by relating it to the ground motive and the root unity of divine self-revelation: creation, fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ.
Primitive faith often gives shape to its closed revelational principle – the revelation of God in the forces of nature – in the most fantastic ways. When man’s heart and faith are closed to revelation, man begins to interpret the divine revelational principle, the norm for faith, on his own. Deifying uncomprehended forces of nature stimulates his imagination in many ways; he spins wild and barbaric myths around his primitive nature gods. These myths often strike the “enlightened” westerner as strongly pathological. To add to his “superiority,” western man prefers to “explain” primitive mythologies in a rational, natural scientific way. But such attempts at rational explanation are utterly unsound. Goethe already ridiculed them in his Faust when he let the “enlightened” thinker, filled with powerless indignation over man’s faith in demons and in ghosts, say these priceless words:
Ihr seid noch immer da? Nein, das ist unerhort. Verschwindet doch! Wir haben ja aufgeklart!
You still are there! Oh no! That’s without precedent. Please go! Have we not brought enlightenment?Goethe’s Faust, Walter Kaufmann, lines 4158-4159.
Over against the enlightened westerner we hear the word of our Lord: “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting” [Matthew 17:211 Indeed, whoever holds that modern science has radically eliminated the belief in natural demons has forgotten that a whole array of “modern” demons stands ready to occupy the vacant places in today’s apostate faith. Superstition is stronger than natural science; its origin lies not in the mind but in the religious root of human existence alienated from the divine revelation of God’s Word.
Faith is in a closed condition when at the uttermost limits of its apostasy from the revelation of the Word. At that point it has fallen to a primitive deification of the incomprehensible forces of nature that control the sensual and biological aspects of society. In a closed condition of faith man lacks any awareness that he transcends the inorganic, plant, and animal kingdoms.
The disintegration of a sense of human personality, present among many primitive, pagan peoples, expresses itself in a particular way in the so-called mana beliefs. The well-known ethnologist Robert Codrington first called this belief to the attention of the scientific world in his book on the Melanesians (1891 – See Robert Codrington, The Melanesians: Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore (New Haven: HRAF Press, 1957)). Since then it has been shown that the mana belief exists under different names among various primitive peoples across the face of the earth. From the lively debate that ensued after its discovery one can distil these tentative results: the mana faith is characterized by a peculiar fluidity, by a strange interflux of the “natural” and the “supernatural,” and of the “personal” and the “impersonal.” Mana is a mysterious life force. It rises above the familiar, everyday face of life and embodies itself fragmentarily in mythical figures which can be either plants, animals, spirits, a whole clan or tribe, or unusually shaped inorganic things (rocks, stones, and so on).
Totemism is markedly influenced by mana belief. In it an animal or plant is worshipped as the male or female ancestor of a clan or family. The clan members identify themselves with the totem; they are eagles, or kangaroos, or date palms, and so forth. This identification clearly shows how diffuse and dispersed the awareness of personality is in a closed structure of faith. Here again the truth of the unbreakable relation between self-knowledge and knowledge of God comes to the fore.
Apparently many primitive peoples entertained a vague notion of a highest deity alongside a belief that bewilderingly revolved around a mysterious life force. This deity had no direct dealings with man and he was not worshipped in an organized fashion. Should we nevertheless understand it as a remnant of the general revelation of the Word among these peoples? One should be cautious at this point, for information is often too vague and too contradictory to warrant such a conclusion. In any case, the primitive conception of a “highest god” had no discernible influence upon primitive society. The truly operative beliefs were in a closed state.
Now we turn to our second main problem: the disclosure of faith in an apostate direction. How must we understand this kind of disclosure? How is it possible? A discussion of this problem is of eminent importance for our idea of historical development, since the latter always takes place under the guidance of faith.
It cannot be denied that an apostate faith of pagan peoples which eventually became leaders in world history underwent an opening process after an initial period of primitive and diffuse “nature belief.” This process was directly related to the fact that such peoples went beyond their more or less primitive cultural conditions. Among the Greeks, for instance, we observe a clear transition from originally primitive nature religions, which worshipped the impersonal and formless stream of life, to a culture religion, in which the gods became idealized cultural powers of personal, superhuman form and shape. In this process of development and opening, apostate religion transcended the primitive belief in nature and oriented itself to the revelation of God in the normative aspects of temporal reality. Giving cultural form to his idolatrous faith, fallen man began to conceive of his gods as idealized, personal shapes. Led by this unfolding of faith, the norm of historical differentiation began to work itself out in Greek cultural development. This in turn was accompanied by an individualization of culture, which took place in the more encompassing national cultural community.
The famous German scholar Ernst Cassirer called attention to this state of affairs from a quite different point of view. He observed that in primitive societies the whole completely swallows up the individuality of its members. But as soon as the belief in personal gods arises, the individual begins to free himself from absorption within the relations of society. At last the individual receives a certain independence and “personal face” with respect to the life of the clan and the tribe. Moreover, along with the trend toward the individual arises a new tendency toward the universal; more embracing and differentiated societal entities rise above the narrower unities of the tribe and the group. Personal culture gods were indeed the first national gods of the Greeks, and as such they created a common hellenic consciousness. As the universal gods of the Greek tribes they were bound neither to a single district nor to a specific place of worship. Thus the liberation of personal consciousness and the elevation of national consciousness takes place in a single disclosure of apostate faith. Indeed, an opening of faith in apostasy from divine revelation of the Word can be understood only as a process whereby man becomes self-conscious in his apostasy. The structure of the faith function has no moments that are related to later aspects of reality; as a result, apostate faith must reach to the apostate religious root of human existence – namely, human self-consciousness – in order to achieve disclosure.
When man becomes conscious of the supremacy of his “rational” functions over the “irrational” forces of nature, faith in its apostate direction rises above the rigid confines of primitive faith in nature. Seeing himself and his gods in the light of the “rational” or normative aspects of temporal reality, man takes science, culture, art, and morality as his objects of deification. This is a transition whereby fallen man comes to increasing self-awareness in faith. Man gradually becomes conscious of his freedom to shape his historical future in accordance with a design, in distinction from the rigidity of a closed society in which tradition is nearly omnipotent.
Inscriptions in Egyptian pyramids are probably the oldest existing records that document the gradual development of apostate faith from a closed condition to a deification of the jural and moral functions of the human personality. These inscriptions show how belief in immortality increasingly accentuates the ethical conception of the human ego. For example, in the older texts, Osiris, god of the dead, was still a half animal who, by magical formulas, was implored to accept the souls of the dead. But gradually he was conceived of as the judge of good and evil. Increasingly, the power of magic was replaced by a plea, made before the divine judge, for immortality of the soul.
The outcome of this development is as follows: guided by an apostate disclosure of faith, a process of historical opening takes place which also moves in an apostate direction. As a result we must ask: how does historical opening in the direction of apostasy reveal itself? Thus far we have seen only that it is possible for the life of faith to open itself in a direction away from revelation. Our task now is to discover how an opening in historical development takes place under the guidance of apostate faith.
The apostate direction of faith always reveals itself in deification and absolutization of certain aspects of creation. If apostate faith leads the opening of culture, then it breaks the norm of cultural economy, which results in a sharp disharmony in cultural life.
Let us briefly summarize our earlier discussions dealing with the norm of cultural economy. Searching for a criterion to distinguish a healthy progressive direction from a reactionary direction in historical development, I pointed out that God placed historical development under norms and standards. These norms must be discovered in the complete coherence of the divine creation order; that is, they must be explored in the various relations that tie together the historical and the other aspects of temporal reality. We noted that in a closed and primitive condition culture displays an undifferentiated character. It is utterly closed off from fruitful cultural intercourse with nations that are included in the process of world history. Tradition is all-powerful in such cultures, and the entire communal life of primitive peoples is in the grasp of a pagan belief in nature which in its closed state makes a true opening of culture impossible.
We also found that the first criterion for detecting a genuine opening of culture lies in the norm of differentiation. This norm consists in the creationally grounded principle of sphere sovereignty which holds that God created everything after its kind. Specifically, we found that the principle of sphere sovereignty reveals itself in its historical aspect through the norm of cultural differentiation which holds that a true opening of culture is possible only when it unfolds itself into the differentiated spheres of the state, the church, science, art, industry, commerce, and so forth. Although each differentiated sphere reveals its own inherent nature and possesses its own historical power sphere, a differentiation process, according to the order established by God, can unfold only if the norm of cultural economy is obeyed. This norm, which expresses the coherence between the historical and economic aspects of reality, implies that every excessive expansion of the power of a given differentiated sphere conflicts with harmonious cultural development and occurs at the expense of a healthy growth of other spheres. Because it incites a reaction from the threatened spheres, cultural disharmony avenges itself in the world judgment of history. At this point we can pull our argument together: the excessive expansion of power within a given cultural sphere always occurs under the guidance of an apostate faith which absolutizes and deifies such a cultural sphere.
Consider, for instance, the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, when a humanistic faith in the omnipotence of the modern science of nature dominated western culture. The Enlightenment ideal was to control reality by discovering the laws of nature. It was assumed that such control was possible because natural laws determined the course of events in a closed chain of cause and effect. The method of the new science of nature was foisted on the other sciences. It consisted in analyzing complex phenomena into their “simplest parts” whose relations could be determined by mathematical equations.
One can hardly deny that the natural sciences developed immensely under the influence of Enlightenment humanism. But behind the investigations stood a religiously dynamic force: the humanistic science ideal. It influenced even christian scientists, although some – think of Pascal – strongly protested the overextension of natural-scientific methods.
The historical influence of the science ideal was not limited to the cultural sphere of science. Driven by faith, the ideal reached out to every other cultural area. “Enlightenment” through advance in science was the slogan of the day. All “progress” of humanity was expected from the rational explanation of science. Every aspect of human society was viewed in terms of the “natural-scientific method.” Society itself required dissection into its “simplest elements”: individuals. The new method led to an individualistic view of human society that was oblivious to the inner nature of different societal relationships, such as the church, the state, and the family. Moreover, morality became thoroughly individualistic, built on the superficial ethical principle of utility. Enlightenment faith entered the churches in the form of “modernism,” ruining the christian faith wherever it gained influence. In economic life it enthroned the homo economicus, the fictitious person motivated exclusively by private economic self-interest. Even art did not escape the influence of this new faith; it was straitjacketed into the rigid, rationalistic forms of “classicism.” In short, healthy, harmonious development of culture was prevented by the impact of natural science which went far beyond its limits at the expense of other spheres of western civilization.
There is indeed another side to our assessment of the Enlightenment faith. We would be entirely amiss if we failed to recognize its great significance for the unfolding of western civilization. The Enlightenment was formative in history and active in opening culture beyond the scope of natural science and technology based on that science. With respect to economics it opened the way for developing individual initiative which, in spite of its originally individualistic emphasis, greatly advanced industrial life. With respect to the legal order it pleaded untiringly not only for the establishment of the individual rights of man, which form the foundation of today’s civil law, but also for the elimination of undifferentiated juridical relations that treated parts of governmental authority as “commercial objects.” The Enlightenment also laid many cornerstones for the modern constitutional state (Rechtsstaat). In the area of criminal law it contributed to the introduction of more humane treatment, to the abolishment of the rack, and to the elimination of witch trials. Without ceasing it pleaded for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. In all these areas the Enlightenment could contribute to authentic historical formation because it followed the path of genuine cultural disclosure. Its revolutionary ideas, in their actualization, had to be adjusted to the divine ordinances. In its power struggle against tradition, these ideas were bent under the pressure of the norm of historical continuity, with the result that they lost their moments of subjective arbitrariness. The Enlightenment also had to adapt itself to the influence of the Reformation which, even though it played only a secondary role, still asserted itself in historical development.
But the dark side of the Enlightenment contribution to the disclosure of western culture consists in the dissolving impact of its individualism and rationalism which resulted in a severe disharmony of western society. The “judgment” in world history was executed over the Enlightenment and quite understandably elicited the reaction of historicism with its overestimation of the human community. However, a truly biblical view of history must not, in its battle against Enlightenment ideas, seek accommodation with historicism which opposed the Enlightenment in a reactionary manner. A truly scriptural view of history cannot deny the fruitful and beneficial elements of the historical influence of the Enlightenment. Like the sound elements of the historicistic view of reality, they must be valued as the fruits of common grace.
Every cultural movement, however inimical to God in its apostasy, must be properly acknowledged for its historical merits to the extent that it has indeed contributed to cultural disclosure -a matter that must be assessed in the light of the divinely posited norms for the development of culture. For a truly scriptural view of history cannot be bigoted and narrowminded. It shares neither the optimistic faith in a rectilinear progress of man nor the pessimistic belief in the imminent decline of the West. Behind the great process of cultural development it recognizes the battle in the root of creation between the civitas Dei and the civitas terrena, the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus and the kingdom of darkness. It knows that this battle was decided at Golgotha and that the victory of the Kingdom of God is sure. It knows that the great antithesis between the ground motive of the divine revelation of the Word and the ground motive of the apostate spirit operates in the power struggle for the future of western civilization. It knows too that God uses the apostate powers in culture to further unfold the potentials which he laid in the creation.
Through blood and tears, through revolution and reaction, the process of historical development moves on to the day of judgment. The Christian is called, in the name of Him to whom all authority in heaven and on earth was given, to take part in the great power struggle of history with the commitment of his entire personality and all his powers. The outcome is sure, and this gives the Christian, no matter what turn particular events may take, a peace and rest that befit a conqueror.
We have seen that the ground motive of the christian religion – creation, fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ is a spiritual dynamic which transforms one’s entire view of reality at its root as soon as it lays full claim on one’s attitude to life and thought. We have also seen that the Christian ground motive moulds our view of history, for it offers us a criterion to distinguish truly progressive and disguised reactionary trends. We have recognized the all-embracive significance of the christian ground motive for the burning issues of the “new age.” We have understood how this ground motive unmasks today’s dangerous community ideology and its totalitarian tendencies. We have noted that the christian ground motive posits the unshakable firmness of God’s creation order in opposition to the so-called dynamic spirit of our times which refuses to recognize firm foundations of life and thus sees everything “in change.” We have come to know the divine radicality of this ground motive that touches the religious root of our lives. We have, I hope, come to realize that the christian ground motive permits no dualistic ambiguity in our lives, no “limping with two different opinions” [cf. I Kings 18:21l
Consider the cost of taking this radically scriptural Christianity seriously. Ask yourself which side you must join in the tense spiritual battle of our times. Compromise is not an option. A middle-of-the-road stance is not possible. Either the ground motive of the christian religion works radically in our lives or we serve other gods. If the antithesis is too radical for you, ask yourself whether a less radical Christianity is not like salt that has lost its savour. I state the antithesis as radically as I do so that we may again experience tlie full double-edged sharpness and power of God’s Word. You must experience the antithesis as a spiritual storm that strikes lightning into your life and that clears the sultry air. If you do not experience it as a spiritual power requiring the surrender of your whole heart, then it will bear no fruit in your life. Then you will stand apart from the great battle the antithesis always instigates. You yourself cannot wage this battle. Rather, the spiritual dynamic of the Word of God wages the struggle in us and pulls us along despite our “flesh and blood.”
My effort to impress upon us the scope of the antithesis is also directed at committed Christians. I believe that if Christianity had held fast to the ground motive of God’s Word, and to it alone, we never would have witnessed the divisions and schisms that have plagued the church of Christ. The source of all fundamental schisms and dissensions is the sinful inclination of the human heart to weaken the integral and radical meaning of the divine Word. The truth is so intolerable for fallen man that when it does take hold of him he still seeks to escape its total claim in every possible way.
The creation motive strikes this fallen world so awesomely that man sees himself in utter desolation before God, from whom he can never escape. Think of the powerful words of Psalm 139:
Whither can I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither can I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there.
Man cannot sustain one atom of his existence before the creator as his own property. Nowhere in creation can man find a refuge which might provide a hiding place for his sinful existence independent of God. Man cannot bear this.
The threefold ground motive of the Word is an indivisible unity. When one slights the integral character of the creation motive, the radical sense of fall and redemption becomes incomprehensible. Likewise, whoever tampers with the radical meaning of fall and redemption cannot experience the full power and scope of the creation motive.