Science in Christian Perspective


Robert D. Knudsen, Th.M.

From: JASA 6 (September 1954): 26-27.

From the first the church of Jesus Christ has been confronted with the problem of rapport with contemporary culture. As soon as it emerged from its period of early growth and had time to look around, this problem occupied its thought. Unfortunately, the solution taken was largely one of accommodation, and we find an invasion of Greek ideas into the church. Even a gigantic figure as Augustine was not free from this influence, in his case Neo-Platonism. With the revival of Aristotelianism and the development of Thomism there was the conscious synthesis of Greek and Christian motives which was the mark of the high Middle Ages.

That the church should busy itself about the problem of culture is not surprising. Not of the world, it is yet in the world. Not only do its members find themselves taken up with worldly preoccupations, but they also meet the problems of witness, of understanding the spiritual movements in the non-Christian world in such a way as to show the relevance of the Christian answer. This has become of supreme interest since the Renaissance and Enlightenment because of the powerful secularization of Western culture. It is a question that has magnified in urgency since the decline of the West has turned into a fall and the humanistic faith both theoretically and in practice has taken severe shock.

Remembering the perennial importance of witnessing, a deeper question, determinative of the rest, must not be ignored. That concerns the inner connection of the gospel with culture. This question is not going unnoticed. The neo-orthodox claim that Modernism capitulated to the Enlightenment secularization of our culture. In their way they again seek to disentangle Christian faith from this involvement. With Barth this has meant setting an impassable gulf between the gospel and culture, so that it is spoken forth without any attempt to find a point of contact (the "kerygmatic" position). With Brunner, Niebuhr, et. al., there is an attempt organically to relate the Christian faith to culture (the "apologetic" position) without surrendering to the god of secularization. Have they succeeded? Orthodox protestants are becoming more aware that despite their attempts to let Christianity come to its own, the neo-orthodox have offered us a denatured Christianity, perhaps even more so than Modernism.

Orthodoxy or Fundamentalism does not take a homogeneous attitude toward this problem. Fundamentalism wears a coat of many colors. As I see it, the prevailing attitude is that of a dualism between the gospel and the "world-" All culture is merely "secular," which means here that it is under the domination of the prince of darkness. A rift in this kind of otherworldliness is appearing. In spite of its obvious insufficiencies, which the author himself would be glad to admit, Carl Henry's The Uneasy Conscience of Fundamentalism is a hopeful portent. But so far. the cloud is no longer than a man's hand. I believe that one reason for this slow development is that Fundamentalism has not by and large penetrated to the basic question. It has not asked about the organic relation of faith and culture. When it deals with the Christian and culture, it most often fixates at the practical prob em of how to reach the world with the gospel. This apologetic and missionary zeal is commendable, but the realization is lacking that this practical problem depends on the. deeper question we have indicated.

To the present that deeper problem has been approached from the conservative side almost exclusively by Reformed Christendom. The problem has not been solved here to everyone's satisfaction, as the current dispute on common grace would indicate, but it is being clearly and forcefully posed and discussed.

The plan for this discussion stems from the revival of Reformed thinking under the leadership of the gigantic figure, Abraham Kuyper. Of  him B. B. Warfield could say, "For many years now Dr. Kuyper has exercised a very remarkable influence in his own country. As leader and organizer of the Anti-revolutionary party, and chief editor of its organ ... as founder, defender, and developer of the Free University of Amsterdam . . . as a religious leader whose instructions in his weekly journal, De Heraut, are the food of hundreds of hungry souls ... as a force in Church and State in whose arms those who share his fundamental principles trust with a well-founded hope of victory, Dr. Kuyper is probably today the most considerable figure in both political and ecclesiastical Holland" (E'ncyclopedia of Sacred Theology. New York: Charles Schribner's Sons, 1898. pp. xi-xii.).

Kuyper avoided the dualistic position, with its worldwithdrawal, and advocated a healthy world-affirming faith. This was not an affirmation of the "world, the flesh, and the devil," to be sure, but an affirmation nourished on the faith that in spite of the present distortions and corruptions of sin, God had created the world good, and that the meaning of redemption is not a flight from the world but a repristination (palingenesis) of it at its center, and from its center to its farthest circumference. Kuyper did not withdraw from culture, but sought the inner reformation of culture in the light of the gospel for the King of the Church.

The latest product of ecumenical Reformed thought is the proceedings of the International Reformed Congress, held in July, 1953, at the Free Faculty of Protestant Theology, Montpelier, France. This is the same congress that has met at various intervals and in different lands since 1932. The latest gathering discussed the secularization of modern life, and has published its reports in La revue reformee, V (1954), nos. 1 and 2.

The intense interest in the question of Christianity and culture is seen by the topics discussed: H. J. Stob, "The Liberty of Man"; Gerhard Wienands, "La notion du travail"; D. V. Ormel, "La secularisation de-la conception de la propriete"; Andre Schlemmer, "La secularisation de la cure d'ames"; H. Dooyeweerd, "La secularisation de la science"; Rudolph Grob, "La secularisation de la charite"; W. Stanford Reid, "The Secularization of the Family."

The volume is stimulating reading. There is an up-to-date treatment of the relevant problems. It is not above the lay reader. but is yet stimulating for the technically trained. The text is complete in French, either in original or in translation. To each lecture delivered in French is appended an English summary.

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August 3, 1954.