Exploring The Roots of our Church Practices
By Frank Viola and George Barna
Page 201: Four Stages of Theological Education
“Throughout church history there have been four stages of theological education. They are: episcopal, monastic, scholastic, and seminarian (pastoral).”
Page 204: “Contemporary theology cut its teeth on the abstraction of Greek philosophy. University academics adopted an Aristotelian model of thinking that centered on rational knowledge and logic. The dominating drive in scholastic theology was the assimilation and communication of knowledge. (For this reason, the Western mind has always been fond of creedal formulations, doctrinal statements, and other bloodless abstractions.)
“One of the most influential professors in the shaping of contemporary theology was Peter Abelard (1079-1142). Abelard is partly responsible for giving us ‘modern’ theology. His teaching set the table and prepared the menu for scholastic philosophers like Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).
“Distinguished by Abelard, the school of Paris emerged as the model for all universities to follow. Abelard applied Aristotelian logic to revealed truth, though even he understood the tension between the two. . . He also gave the word theology the meaning it has today. (Before him, this word was only used to describe pagan beliefs.)
“Taking his cue from Aristotle, Abelard mastered the pagan philosophical art of dialectic—the logical disputation of truth. He applied this art to the Scriptures. Christian theological education never recovered from Abelard’s influence. Athens is still in its bloodstream. Aristotle, Abelard, and Aquinas all believed that reason was the gateway to divine truth. So from its beginnings, Western university education involved the fusion of pagan and Christian elements.”
Page 205: “Seminary theology grew out of the scholastic theology that was taught in the universities. As we have seen, this theology was based on Aristotle’s philosophical system. Seminary theology was dedicated to the training of professional ministers. Its goal was to produce seminary-trained religious specialists. It taught the theology—not of the early bishop, monk, or professor—but of the professionally ‘qualified’ minister. This is the theology that prevails in the contemporary seminary.”
Page 206: “Concerning the seminary, we might say that Peter Abelard laid the egg and Thomas Aquinas hatched it. Aquinas had the greatest influence on contemporary theological training. In 1879, his work was endorsed by a papal bull as an authentic expression of doctrine to be studied by all students of theology. Aquinas’s main thesis was that God is known through human reason. He ‘preferred the intellect to the heart as the organ for arriving at truth.’ Thus the more highly trained people’s reason and intellect, the better they will know God. Aquinas borrowed this idea from Aristotle. And that is the underlying assumption of many—if not most—contemporary seminaries.
“The teaching of the New Testament is that God is Spirit, and as such, He is known by revelation (spiritual insight) to one’s human spirit. Reason and intellect can cause us to know about God. And they help us to communicate what we know. But they fall short in giving us spiritual revelation. The intellect is not the gateway for knowing the Lord deeply. Neither are the emotions. In the words of A.W. Tozer: ‘Divine truth is of the nature of spirit and for that reason can be received only by spiritual revelation. . . . God’s thoughts belong to the world of spirit, man’s to the world of intellect, and while spirit can embrace intellect, the human intellect can never comprehend spirit. . . . Man by reason cannot know God; he can only know about God. . . . Man’s reason is a fine instrument and useful within its field. It was not given as an organ by which to know God.’”
Page 207: “Today, Protestants and Catholics alike draw upon Aquinas’s work, using his outline for their theological studies. Aquinas’s crowning work, Summa Theologica (The Sum of All Theology), is the model used in virtually all theological classes today—whether Protestant or Catholic.”
Page 208: “Without a doubt, Aquinas is the father of contemporary theology. His influence spread to the Protestant seminaries through the Protestant scholastics. The tragedy is that Aquinas relied so completely on Aristotle’s method of logic chopping when he expounded on holy writ. . . . Regardless of how much we wish to deny it, contemporary theology is a blending of Christian thought and pagan philosophy.”
As a seventeen-year-old atheist, my bible was Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. Being an atheist and embracing Aristotle just made sense.
Revelation from God is superior to reason; Christ is superior to Aristotle and Aquinas.
“On this rock [of revelation knowledge—not reason] I will build my church and the gates of hell [the strategies of hell] shall not prevail against it.”