All About the Cognitio Dei Insita

All About the Cognitio Dei Insita

The orthodox have usually maintained a threefold theology, what Francis Turretin called a “threefold school of God,” that of: nature, grace, and glory (Institutes, vol. 1, p. 5). The theology of nature, or natural theology (theologia naturalis), has as its object the created world through which God has revealed Himself (Rom. 1:18-20). And as such it is performed inevitably by the unregenerate in some measure. The theology of grace, or pilgrim theology (theologia viatorum), belongs to the church and has as its primal object the Scriptures, yet obviously does not exclude natural theology. And the theology of glory (theologia beatorum) is the beatific vision received by the saints at their glorification.

Continuity Between the Writings of Francis Turretin & Herman Bavinck

Within the first category of natural theology, Turretin understood there to be a bifurcation between two distinct sub-categories of natural knowledge: innate knowledge and acquired knowledge (Ibid., p. 7). There has been a lot of chatter over the last week, and certain is it to increase in the coming month, about the nature of this innate or “inborn” knowledge of God. The Reformed of the post-Enlightenment era, especially those in the 20th century, emphasized this innate knowledge leaning heavily upon John Calvin’s sensus divinitatus, (the divine sense). Herman Bavinck says:

Calvin made a distinction between general and special grace and explained all the good still left also in sinful humans in terms of the former. He specifically believed that an ‘awareness of divinity’ (sensus divinitatus) was present within the human mind “by natural instinct (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, pp. 61-62).”

Bavinck goes on to understand this sense or awareness as a “conviction” that there is a God “naturally inborn.” Quoting Calvin further, he says, “people cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him.” He goes on to clarify, “‘Implanted knowledge of God’ does not mean that all people are immediately endowed by God himself with sufficient knowledge so as to be able to dispense with revelation… we possess both the capacity (aptitude, faculty) and the inclination (habitus, disposition) to arrive at some firm, certain, and unfailing knowledge of God.” Speaking to how humans obtain and develop this knowledge, Bavinck writes, “Human beings gain this knowledge in the normal course of development and in the environment in which God gave them the gift of life.”

There is no evidence Bavinck understood the innate awareness of God to be a kind of pre-downloaded ectypal revelation of God, which some other theologians and philosophers in the 20th century would refer to as immediate knowledge. And in this way, there is continuity between Bavinck and Turretin on this point. Turretin, after all, held that, “it is certain that no actual knowledge is born with us and that, in this respect, man is like a smooth tablet (tabulae rasae) (Institutes, vol. 1, p. 6).” Turretin, like Bavinck, did not think of this knowledge in terms of rationcination or discursive per se, but neither did he think of it as inborn, pre-downloaded content, calling it instead, “apprehensive and intuitive knowledge.” It is an indemonstrable form of knowledge which still must arise, and is thus not immediate. The creature finds themselves believing in various moral principles and a higher power, not originally but intuitively.

The Discontinuity Between Turretin, Bavinck, & Other 20th Century Theologians

Another branch of speculation formed in the 20th century off the same concept used by Turretin and Bavinck, the sensus divinitatus. Though the concept of epistemic immediacy comes into Bavinck’s corpus, as we’ve seen above, he tempers such language with the orthodox understanding of the cognitio Dei insita (innate knowledge of God). This would not be the case with those such as Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen, both of whom would make knowledge of God immediate in the apparently Socinian sense. Where this divide becomes quite apparent is in the notion of derived vs. underived knowledge. Both Van Til and Bahnsen thought immediate knowledge, in terms of which they understood innate cognition of the divine, was underived in terms of one’s possession of it. They thought it was content original or natural to the creature. Bahnsen, for example, says, “Unbelievers have a true knowledge of the existence and character of God, which is justified by the evidence directly apprehended in God’s clear and inescapable natural revelation of Himself (Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 261).”

Notice, Bahnsen does not say the unbeliever has this knowledge through the evidence directly apprehended in God’s natural revelation, but only that the unbeliever’s knowledge is justified by such. In the same place, he calls this “immediate knowledge,” and opposes it to derivative knowledge, “This is immediate knowledge, rather than knowledge derived by inferences and discursive arguments.” Van Til says, “In the sensus divinitatus, then, we find a welling up within the consciousness of man an immediate awareness of the fact that God is the creator and sustainer of the world (Ibid., 186).” But Bahnsen had just described Van Til’s doctrine of natural revelation as consisting of “the created order… a medium of constant, inescapable, clear, preinterpreted information about God… (Ibid., 185).”

This is odd because Bahnsen wants to insert a medium into an equation concerning immediate knowledge. These two things are mutually exclusive. One cannot have immediate knowledge and have mediate knowledge at the same time and in the same relationship. Such would be a violation of the law of noncontradiction. Van Til appears to agree with Bavinck and even Turretin in the above quote until he equates the sensus with immediate knowledge. If Van Til believed that, according to the sensus divinitatus, rational creatures find welling up within their consciences an awareness of a God, as Bavinck likewise held, then he would certainly be incorporated into the canon of Protestant Reformed orthodoxy on this point. But he did not.

The Significance of Immediate Knowledge

There are massive implications for asserting an immediate knowledge of the divine, rather than a derivative knowledge through one medium or another. The greatest implication is perhaps a slip into pantheism. Pantheism holds that God and the world are identical in essence. To know the world is to at once know God because God and the world are the same thing. For one to have immediate knowledge, it would seem the world would itself need to be God, either the conscience of man is God, or the stars in the heavens are God, or both. Either God and the stars are the same thing, leading to immediate apprehension. Or God is known through the stars leading to mediate apprehension. But these propositions cannot both be true.

The precommitment to immediate knowledge is, perhaps, one reason why Van Til irrationally makes the ontological Trinity both the starting point and the conclusion of the theistic proofs, “To be constructed rightly, theistic proof ought to presuppose the ontological trinity and contend that, unless we make this presupposition, all human predication is meaningless (Ibid., 621).” A surprising statement to be sure. On this assumption, the trinity must be known through nature. And for Van Til, that would mean innately so. Why is this the case? Because if something is presupposed in an ultimate sense, then it is not concluded in any sense. It is held prior to and in back of any and all discursive or intuitive conclusions. This begs the question of the place of faith and the function of Scripture. And it gives the impression that Van Til thought the doctrine of the trinity is a mixed article (revealed in both nature and Scripture rather than Scripture only), right along side the goodness, power, and wisdom of God.

More importantly, however, it shows the subjectivism baked in to Van Til’s line of thought. Unless a mental presupposition is made, then all predication is meaningless. Thus, the ontology referenced by the predication would also be meaningless unless the proper epistemological disposition were to be adopted. How can this not end in utter relativism at best or magic at worst? When one thinks rightly (presupposes the right thing), predication becomes meaningful, or so thought Van Til. In his attempted escape from “neutrality” Van Til has banished any and all common objectivity. This is why we hold that Van Til has confused epistemology with ontology. At bottom, the validity of ontological statements are determined by epistemological posture.

Van Til reveals a capitulation to Hume’s skepticism when he writes, “The words ’cause,’ ‘purpose,’ and ‘being,’ used as universals in the phenomenal world, could not be so used with meaning unless we may presuppose the self-contained God (Ibid., 621-622).” The meaning, not only of the words, but necessarily the concepts they signify, are completely reliant upon our thought. This, of course, is not all Hume’s influence. For our purposes here, Hume only cast doubt upon causality, a doubt which Van Til erroneously appears to take seriously. But the influence upon Van Til is also Kantian (and critical) evinced by the assumption of a separation between objective meaning and phenomenology. What would reconcile the noumena to the phenomena, for Van Til, is a belief or presupposition.

Conclusion

The rejection of immediate “inborn” knowledge by the Reformed orthodox was more than a mere nuance of thought, indicative of their quasi-scholastic leanings. It was a conscious effort to rightly place human knowledge within the context of reality by maintaining, implicitly or explicitly, the distinction between epistemology and ontology. Van Til and Bahnsen’s rejection of derivative knowledge was more than just a minor mistake, confusing the implicit rationale and intuition with explicit argumentation (another Van Tillian confusion to be sure). It is a total confusion if not identification of the phenomenal with the noumenal, the epistemological with the ontological. And this, I believe, was unintentional on Van Til and Bahnsen’s part, but it is most certainly an example of what happens when mistaken assumptions are (almost) taken to their logical ends. Would Bahnsen ever say reality depends upon what we think of it? My guess is he would answer, “No, but our interpretation of reality depends upon what we think of it,” or something along those lines.

There is, therefore, a blessed inconsistency here. Van Til and Bahnsen are certainly not pantheists or relativists, nor do they claim Kantian idealism. However, the things they’ve said would most certainly land them in all three camps if they were being logically consistent. If meaning is determined by what we think of it, then there is no objective meaning at all. For this reason, I believe the Reformed Scholastics of the 17th century, and those who maintained continuity with them on this point, among whom were Bavinck, Warfield, and Hodge, did a much better job at holding epistemology in its proper place in relation to ontology than do Van Til and Bahnsen. And one of the ways they did this was properly defining and situating the cognitio Dei insita, or the innate sense of the divine. If immediate, implied is pantheism. If not, then men know God mediately through common or shared inborn principles. The former we reject, the latter we affirm.

 

Natural Theology & Natural Revelation

Natural Theology & Natural Revelation

With the recent and rapid uptick in discussion revolving mostly around natural theology, it is not uncommon for well-intentioned brothers and sisters to oppose natural revelation to natural theology, as if the former is to be preferred over and against the latter. For example, after describing the historical Reformed view of natural theology, the retort will likely be, “But that’s natural revelation, not natural theology.” The problem? Neither natural theology nor natural revelation were historically understood to be mutually exclusive alternatives to one or the other, e.g. a one-or-the-other situation. Instead, the terms refer to distinct, yet complimentary, ideas—ideas with far-reaching consequences.

The Biblical Distinction

Before moving to some historical source material, I want to point out that Scripture itself makes the distinction between our knowledge and God’s objective revelation. In Psalm 19:1-10, the psalmist offers a litany of revelational realities which exist regardless of whether or not we want to acknowledge it. This is nothing short of natural revelation. But in vv. 11-14, the theological imperative is found, or the necessity of knowing or acknowledging God as Lord of the universe. Moreover, in Romans 1:18-20, God’s revelation which comes through what is made (v. 20) is known, or is the object of knowledge according to v. 21, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made… although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

The term for their thoughts in v. 21 could be translated to their reasoning. Now, their thoughts, everyone would hopefully agree, are distinguished from “the things that are made,” through which they “understand” or derive “thought” about God in the first place. The creaturely thought about God is what is often termed natural theology in distinction to God’s revelation of Himself through creation, or natural revelation. The latter serves as the object of the former.

Natural Theology

According to the Protestant Reformed and the Particular Baptists, natural theology refers to natural revelation as it’s apprehended by the mind. Franciscus Junius implies this distinction when he writes, “Natural theology is that which proceeds from principles that are known in relation to itself by the natural light of the human understanding, in proportion to the method of human reason (A Treatise on True Theology, 145).” Natural theology proceeds epistemically, i.e. from known principles, that is, in the intellect. Natural theology is performed “by the natural light of the human understanding,” he says. This is, of course, distinguished from natural revelation when he calls natural theology “knowledge of divine matters.” The former is theology, i.e. science or knowledge; the latter is revelation.

Herman Witsius, the Dutch Reformed Puritan, says, “Besides innate knowledge of God, of which man has the principles in his own mind, there is another argument arising from the consideration of the various other creatures around him (Apostles’ Creed, vol. 1, 78).” For Witsius, there is a distinction, albeit not a separation, between the “consideration” and the object of the consideration, i.e. “the various other creatures around him.”

In the broadest sense of the term, “theology” refers to both being and knowing, as Francis Turretin aptly points out, “So the nomenclature embraces the twofold principle of theology: one of being, which is God; the other of knowing, which is his word.” Yet, he says, “When God is set forth as the object of theology, he is not to be regarded simply as God in himself… but as revealed and as he has been pleased to manifest himself to us in his word, so that divine revelation is the formal relation which comes to be considered in this object (Institutes, vol. 1, p. 16).” The revelation, then, is the object of theology. In terms of natural theology, the object is natural revelation, or that which God has revealed of Himself in man and through creatures surrounding man (aka. innate and acquired species of knowledge).

John Gill writes, “There is a knowledge of God by the light of nature.” The knowledge, we say, is the theology, and the object of that knowledge or theology is the light of nature through the work of creation (A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, Primitive Baptist Press, 1976, p. 513).

Natural Revelation

Dr. Richard Muller writes, “Most simply stated, God alone is the subject or material of theology, inasmuch as all theological discourse must be conducted sub ratione Dei, with reference to God as its governing principle.” Quoting Gomarus, he writes, “The material with respect to which, or the object of theology is God openly revealed according to his own goodness, under whom all things that belong to theology are considered, not indeed as parts, species or incidental properties, but as they are either God himself or ordained in some way by God (Post-Reformed Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 316-317).”

Junius writes, “Theology is wisdom concerning divine matters (p. 99).” Natural revelation serves as the object of our theology. This distinction is vitally important because we do not want to make the mistake of conflating objective revelation (i.e. what is) with our knowledge of it. Our knowledge may be insufficient or incomplete, but this could never be said about God’s objective revelation. The second we identify our theologizing with God’s infallible revelation, both through nature and Scripture, we end up in a world of subjectivism, where revelation becomes dependent upon our knowledge of it.

The Magical Jab & the Unfalsifiable Premise

The Magical Jab & the Unfalsifiable Premise

This will not be a terribly long post. I have sermon preparation to do. Nevertheless, as I parsed the river of thought running through my mind, it occurred to me that I probably need to throw out into the public a response I’ve been making in my head to a mainstream argument coming from the immuno-vangelistic propaganda. This argument is typically used by those experiencing breakthrough cases of COVID 19, and it goes something like this, “I’m sick, but it would have been way worse if I hadn’t been jabbed!”

The general population, vastly under-equipped to spot logical incoherence in any given statement, let alone carefully crafted propaganda, will likely miss the terrible line of reasoning in the above example. What is wrong with it? It proffers an unfalsifiable premise. There is no reason to believe the statement is true because there is simply no way to verify its truth. They could just as easily say, “Good thing I took the jab. If I didn’t COVID may have turned me into a zebra!” Even though we might intuit the absurdity of that statement, there is no formal way to investigate whether or not its true. It would be like claiming the USA has a secret space base on the other side of the moon. The person making that statement has a right to his opinion, but there is no way his skeptical friend could prove it false. The moon is tidally locked to the earth after all.

Just because a person makes a claim, it does not mean said claim is true. At the end of the day, it must be verified by others if indeed those others are expected to take it seriously. My wife and I had COVID 19 some months ago. We were not vaccinated. And many of the breakthrough instances occurring in vaccinated persons appear to come with the exact same duration and intensity of COVID 19 symptoms. By making the claim breakthrough COVID patients are better off with the vaccine because their symptoms are more palatable is to make a claim beyond the scope of proper verification, and thus does nothing formally to boost the reputation of the mRNA shot.

 

Applying “Motive” to Government

Applying “Motive” to Government

When police discover a lifeless body, the first move is to ascertain the cause of death. If naturally caused, no more police work proceeds from that point forward beyond a report. If, however, investigators determine the situation to be a crime scene, casting the now-dead person as a murder victim, the question becomes, “Who did it?” Assuming the answer isn’t clear, police usually move to the question, “What relationships did this person have?” and, “Out of those relationships, who might have the motive to so something like this?” If a spouse goes missing, suspect #1 is typically… you guessed it… the other spouse. Why? Because of something called high-value insurance policies. Insurance policies have historically served as motives for one spouse to kill the other (we live in a fallen world after all). If, for example, the husband can make the murder look like an accidental death, or a farce disappearance, then he could make off with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

Motive

The concept of motive is helpful because it allows investigators to ask targeted questions in a way that doesn’t necessarily assume guilt. Through the question of motive, authorities can narrow the gaggle of possible suspects from what might have been 50 to just 5. However, before we seek to apply motive to anything other than true crime, we need to formally understand it.

Motive comes from the Latin movere, or “to move.” In scholastic literature, motive might be referred to as the moving cause. “What explains or causes the motion of this or that thing?” would be the question. Legally, motive answers the question of what might have caused a suspect to act in a particular way. Simply put, motive is the reason a suspect may have committed the crime in question.

Applying Motive

Motive doesn’t solve all the questions equitable justice demands. It does, however, narrow the gambit, and it narrows the gambit precisely because it allows police to quickly ascertain suspects who most likely committed this or that crime. A multimillionaire is most likely not stealing the chocolate bars from the snack stand; but the 9-year-old with a sweet tooth most likely is.

For months I’ve been asking the question, “Why don’t Americans, especially discerning Christians, apply the principle of motive to their government?” According to Aristotle, monarchies are naturally self-preservative. But this could apply to any central authority, no matter the species, with any sort of motive to perpetuate its own existence. Why, then, do we not look at the federal government with the same skeptical eye as we would a husband with a murdered wife who just happens to have a $1 million life-insurance policy annexed to her name?

The federal government has, in point of fact, much more motive for wrong-doing than does the husband whose wife has bookoos in insurance money. We’re talking about a government whose management not only has personal wealth at stake, but also the prospect of global dominance, personal glory, and generational legacy. People do not understand the way in which the ruling class thinks. Most Americans think it’s cool when they can afford a new car. They dream of winning millions in the lottery, and the houses and sportscars they’d buy with it, or perhaps the family members they’d help out. But, most of us belong to a class in which those things are totally unrealistic, or at best distant hopes. This is not so for the current Aristocracy. They already have all of the glitz and glam. And even if their personal net wealth isn’t listed on the Forbes list, the friends, allowances, and the “kick-back” incentives they receive would cause the local millionaire to salivate.

What everyone needs to understand about the current ruling class is that many of them have a distant, historical and deeply entrenched pedigree. We think of them as idiots, and a truer adjective may not apply. However, these people have been raised in a culture similar to that of a royal child in England. They’ve most likely never known even a single middle-class person beyond who they’ve employed. They were raised with maids, nannies, and butlers. And if this is not the case, at some point, they’ve been brought into a context that is entirely cordoned off from “normal” America. And should anyone become confused, this applies to both Democrat and Republican politicians; to the Clintons just as to the Bushes.

The higher these people climb, be it in the governmental or subsidized corporate realms (if we can even make that distinction anymore), the more motive they accumulate for doing something incomprehensibly wicked. But the societal dissonance on this point is astounding. The average American can discern who most likely knocked off the helpless young lady on “Forensic Files” by looking at the motives and evidence of each suspect. But, for some reason, when it comes to an institution that moves billions of dollars worth of gold, green backs, and real assets on the daily, the American people lose this ability.

A Healthy Skepticism of Centralized Government

Because the federal government has so much motive (and often distributes that motive to lesser powers), we would do well to maintain a posture of constant skepticism toward it. The federal government should never be trusted at face value.

Ever.

If this sounds like a bold claim, perhaps you’ve failed to consider the vast amounts of motive. Unless there is evidence, unless there is some way by which a person might test their word, there is no good reason to trust them (again, given their motive). The federal government, in the minds of the American people, should always be guilty until proven innocent instead of innocent until proven guilty. “Why is that?” you ask. Because of motive. Forget the power and the money; what about the scandal? The flight manifest of Jeffrey Epstein’s private jet revealed some pretty powerful motive for at least one of the most powerful political families on the globe. And we all know how covered in scandal that (Clinton) family is!

Therefore, we shouldn’t allow the cat to run away with the tuna so quickly.

There is some serious motive in the current situation. Vaccines, mandates, lockdowns, social distancing, masking, etc., must be understood in light of motive, namely, the motive of those at the highest levels forcing the issue. Are we really so willfully ignorant so as to not think there is money changing hands between Washington and Merc, Moderna, and Phizer? No doubt, a real virus exists. No doubt, it has made a certain demographic vulnerable to pneumonia. No question this pneumonia has resulted in the death of thousands of people. However, remember (1) this virus was undoubtedly created by a foreign superpower in the Wuhan lab; (2) evidence has shown the lion share of current mandated measures make little to no difference in terms of the spread of the virus; and (3) the mandated measures continue to exist, and there is little sign they will be relegated to the history books anytime soon. The only question remaining is: Why? What is the motive? The answer to that question would keep a person occupied for a very long time.

It is time to start treating the American government not as a naturally honest entity, but as a suspect with the highest level of motive there ever was. It is time to start treating the American government as a criminal.

 

Thomas Aquinas on Gender

Thomas Aquinas on Gender

The context of this post is an ongoing discussion concerning the identity of the human person. Previously, I’ve made a distinction between the substance of a thing and the accidental properties which accrue to that thing. This “thing,” in this case, is the human person, which I’ve described as the imago Dei in terms of substance, the accidents being those things which do not determine essential or substantive identity yet change from time to time, i.e. black hair turns to grey, skin becomes tan, etc.

If we consider human nature, in general, in terms of the individual man, the above seems somewhat easy to put together. A man can be the same man substantially even though some of his accidents may change. Easy enough, right? But, this simplicity dissolves whenever we consider gender, or the distinction between male and female. As Christians, we would obviously deny that a person would be the same person if they were able to switch from male to female. Gender, after all, is not only accidental, but seems substantially determinative of a person’s identity, more so than eye color, hair color, skin color, life circumstance, etc.

I believe Aquinas can help sort out this difficulty by making the proper distinctions. In ST, 93.4, Thomas “steel mans” (represents to the best of his ability) the following objection—

It would seem that the image of God is not found in every man. For the Apostle says that man is the image of God, but woman is the image (Vulg., glory) of man (1 Cor. xi. 7). Therefore, as woman is an individual of the human species,  it is clear that every individual is not an image of God.

He answers—

The image of God, in its principal signification, namely the intellectual nature, is found both in man and in woman. Hence after the words, To the image of God He created him, it is added, Male and female He created them (Gen. i. 27). Moreover it is said them in the plural, as Augustine (Gen. ad lit. iii. 22) remarks, lest it should be thought that both sexes were united in one individual. But in a secondary sense the image of God is found in man, and not in woman: for man is the beginning and end of woman: as God is the beginning and end of every creature. So when the Apostle had said that man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man, he adds his reason for saying this: For man is not of woman, but woman of man; and man was not created for woman, but woman for man.

Therefore, we should consider both man and woman under human nature, while at the same time understanding that, individually, man and woman have more specific, individual natures, i.e. male and female. Man is substantially distinct from woman in that sense, and this is predominantly seen in the distinction between the final causes of either. Man’s end, in terms of the male nature, is God; woman’s end, in terms of female nature, is man (1 Cor. 11:9). But when both male and female are considered under, more generally, human nature, their combined end is God (cf. WSC, Q.1).

So, gender introduces more into the equation. Generally, there is one human nature. More specifically, however, human nature might be considered under male and/or female natures, each of which have distinct ends (purposes, roles, etc.). The same cannot be said with respect to skin color, height, etc. Man’s formal and final causes remain the same regardless of height, skin color, eye color, or any other accidental properties. This is not the case with gender.

The Amalgamated Man

The Amalgamated Man

Something about humanity has drastically changed over the last few centuries. Consider the contrast between the 17th century man and the 21st century man. At the risk of overgeneralizing, the 17th century man accomplished more in forty years than the 21st century man might accomplish in a lifetime. Often, twelve-year olds were more educated than today’s average adult, having a rather large vocabulary and even a multilingual education. Prior to the 18th century, it was not altogether uncommon to find men of the educated class who were experts in multiple fields of study. Today, everyone seems to be relatively educated, but almost no one could consider themselves as an expert in multiple career fields. Today, even individual sciences have further specifications the average schoolman might master.

Little to none of this massive shift should be attributed to genetics. Nor should we venture to blame it solely on the rise of technology (although it is not altogether unrelated). The cause seems instead to rest within the rise of modern psychology as a primary interpretive or observational science of man. Though observational in nature, psychology has, relatively recently, taken a formative role in terms of how man thinks about himself. What’s worse is the extent to which man’s psychologically-driven understanding of himself is anachronistically imposed upon figures from the past. In other words, history has been affected by man’s contemporary understanding of his current self.

Modern psychology tends to see man as an amalgamation of traits, properties, or attributes. It doesn’t begin, per se, with personhood defined as imago Dei (image of God). Instead, it approaches man as a conglomerate of personality traits and passions (especially sexual, a la., Freud). More than this, it inadvertently casts individual persons into personality molds. Once psychology assesses a person’s personality at any given life-stage, it issues a decree: “This person is X, Y, or Z.” The (perhaps unintended) effect? The assessed person goes on casting themselves as an X, Y, or Z personality. Much like a placebo, modern psychology, in its mere exercise of observation, inevitably begins to shape a person’s beliefs about him or herself.

Imagine, for example, a young boy who, throughout grade-school, is constantly berated for his love of the arts. “You’re gay!” his classmates might jest. Or, “You’re weak!” the jocks might shout in the hallway. It is no wonder a boy who hears such descriptions of himself for years on end might begin to actually believe them. Something similar happens within modern educational and psychological structures (which permeate almost every institution). In education, for example, there is now the concept of specialty. Gone are the days when medical doctors address multiple aspects of the human body. Increasingly, they concern themselves only with neurology, to name one example. And then, even within neurology, there are sub-specialties. This doesn’t only occur within the medical field, where complexity may demand more refined areas of study and thus more laborers. It also occurs in the liberal arts. Now, we could speculate as to why this is. It certainly doesn’t hurt the profit margin of colleges and universities, does it? But I’m more interested in what this has done to the modern man—

A white-collar man is now assumed to be aloof from all blue-collar work. Blue-collar men are too “simple” to converse with the white-collar class. And often times this is truly the case. But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. There was a day when this was not the case. Those who had access to the tools of education were often not distant nor ignorant of various, practical trades. For example, William Kiffen, a Baptist minister in 17th century England, was an astute and pastoral theologian. Yet, he was one of the more wealthy men in England, granted his skillful business arrangements as a merchant. Benjamin Keach was a brewmaster (of all things), and made part of his living from such. John Owen, the good doctor himself, was chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and was with him in the Scotch-Irish conquests. Moving backward in time, Albert the Great was a medieval physician, theologian, and philosopher. Of course, the most popular example of a man who concerned himself with multiple sciences is Leonardo DaVinci, but he wasn’t an island unto himself. There were others before and after the Renaissance who understood themselves as capable images of the divine.

We now have all sorts of personality assessment tools used in the corporate and academic world. These may be helpful in terms of communication and work-relationship improvement. But they’ve almost become definitive of how people think of themselves. If the test says the person is a strong personality, prone to less relatability having a more task-driven bent, that person may think, “This is my personality, and none else.” They implicitly trick themselves, thenceforth, into thinking they are unable to adapt to circumstances which may not conduce to their “personality type.”

As alluded to above, this thought process has been anachronistically superimposed upon Christ. In his recent, somewhat helpful, book, Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund struggles to centralize the Person of Christ around a single quality, i.e. His lowliness. But this struggle is a self-inflicted wound made by the knife of modern psychology. If modern psychology sees man as an amalgamation of qualities, properties, or emotions, then it follows one such property must win out. This is a struggle arising from the faulty starting-point of modern psychology, where the nature is almost entirely absent from the conversation, while behavioral traits are the sole definitional factors in determining the nature of a person. Instead of nature giving way to various accidents and behavioral characteristics, behavioral characteristics and emotional dispositions define and even determine the nature. This is backwards, and it explains the constant teetertotter in Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly, where he wants to affirm the centrality of Christ’s gentleness, but also wants to avoid detracting from other crucial properties of His Person (cf. ch. 3).

Modern psychology apparently sees man much like a playdough figurine. He’s compose of all different colors of playdough, some colors being more prevalent than others. The modern psychologist, upon observing what he thinks to be more prevalent colors, makes a diagnosis, and this diagnosis declares the man to be a static instantiation of his most habitual color. He cannot escape that diagnosis, no matter how hard he might want to. He is simply stuck that way. Such is the way of the contemporary opposition toward “deconversion therapy” of homosexuals, and the oft-parroted licentious statement, “I was born this way! I cannot change!” The psychologist has defined his patient, and now his patient must always think of himself according to the psychologist’s definition.

In closing, what if we stopped thinking of mankind this way? What if we understood each an every person to be, first and foremostly, a creation of God which bears God’s image. And then, what if we defined God’s image according to what God actually says it is? If we did that, I think we would have another Renaissance. And given the unprecedented availability of resources today (contra to the 17th century), we wouldn’t only have a few Leonardo DaVincis or Albertus Magnuses, we’d have countries full of them. The change agent in all of this, of course, is the gospel. It is the gospel which teaches us who man was, what man’s problem is, and where man’s restoration and glorification is found, i.e. in Christ Jesus alone (who, by the way, was a carpenter, a fisherman, a peripatetic philosopher-teacher, and orator—a nice blend of blue and white collars).