Yesterday we looked at one way the Renaissance and Reformation were similar: their emphasis on returning to ancient texts as a source of authority and truth. But they diverged in significant ways as well. We’ll be considering those differences today.
How Were the Renaissance and Reformation Different?
Humans in Progress
We mentioned yesterday how the Renaissance set its sights away from “the medieval world of unseen spirits—angels and demons” and onto the world of humans. The Renaissance had a very optimistic view of the goodness of humanity and its potential to explore and improve. Above all, it was humans’ ability to use their reason and free will that gave the Renaissance such a positive view of humankind. Where for the scholastics (like Aquinas, whom we looked at earlier) reason was to be used to serve faith, for the Renaissance, reason served human independence and progress. Humans could use common sense and observation to think their way into life’s meaning and find true happiness. Because God was no longer needed to explain the world and its operations, faith became a private affair that was “confined to church, home, and heart.” That “secular” mindset is still one we live in today.
Humans in Recovery
But the Reformers, instead, preached original sin. According to the biblical story, humans’ ability to use their reason and to make decisions became distorted after they were kicked out of the garden of Eden. While humans could still use their God-given reason to discern some of God’s truth, they ultimately depended on God to reveal truths about Himself. We can’t reason our way into knowing about Christ’s resurrection from the dead, for example. We have to be told. Truths like these have to come through Scripture, not through scientific discovery.
Even in scientific discovery, it’s only because of the way God has ordered the universe that we can even use our reason to come to truth. Science and faith are sometimes pitted against each other today, but in reality, they go hand in hand. Belief in a God who has created the world in an orderly way so it obeys certain laws of cause and effect, and who has created us as creatures who perceive the world through our senses, provides the necessary framework for scientific c discovery and analysis. It’s unlikely that modern science could have come to existence without a Christian foundation.
Yesterday we considered how God’s truth can sometimes resonate with ideas circulating outside the bounds of the church. But today we considered how, at the same time, God’s truth must be distinguished from the world’s reasoning. The Renaissance told the story of a reason-driven humanity at the center of the universe who was only bound to progress and improve. Their view of God was “Deistic,” which means they saw God as an impersonal watchmaker who set up the universe and lets it tick by without interfering. The Reformers countered that view with the story of Scripture: humans had rebelled against the Author of the universe and stood in need of His grace; therefore, God chose to be intimately involved with the story of His creation, and even entered into it in the person of Jesus Christ in order to redeem and restore His relationship with humanity.
What’s the story the world tells today? How should the church respond with the story of the gospel?
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