Thursday, June 17, 2010
Scottish Enlightenment and Empty Spaces
A great deal was achieved by the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century, but not without sacrifice. The Protestant Reformation occurred several centuries prior and much of the Church of Scotland clergy was well-versed in its tenets and doctrines. They were holistic in their university teaching as well, casting a worldview saturated in a high view of Biblical Christianity and the lordship of Christ.
This prefaced the rattling of the 18th century Enlightenment and influential ideas of philosophers like David Hume. In a lecture on Christianity and the Scottish Enlightenment, Dr. Samuel Gregg suggested that one of the huge successes of the new ideas introduced in Scotland at this time was a greater tolerance of the free market and commercialism; that it aided the Popular Party (Evangelicals) in developing a more holistic understanding and use of the market, instead of strictly adhering to a sort of quietism.
While this may have been a positive, I would argue that the collateral damage was heavier. Dr. Gregg stated that because of this greater incorporation of clergy in commercial society, "Scotland became more religious." This picture of the burial site of John Knox is one evidence of the collateral damage. Where vibrant, Christ-centered, God-exalting communal worship once occurred on a weekly basis, there is little more than a parking lot and a church turned museum. Knox was a leading force in the fight for a robust, Bible-centered Christianity and was unwilling to capitulate core doctrine (i.e. substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture). His mark on Scottish history was indelible and his desire to see the Lordship of Christ over all spheres, unswerving. The clergy during the 200 years leading up to the Enlightenment were viewed as intellectual equals with their academic counterparts. It wasn't until the church was marginalized and relegated to its own sphere by the greater scientific body that we began to see such a marked change in cultural mores and ethos.
It can be evidently seen that Christian conversion has a transformational impact naturally on the culture at large. The dying of churches and fading of men proclaiming the Gospel has resulted in a dearth of that transformation. There maybe a broad "religious" feel to inherent unbelief. But this feeling will not last over time. Its arbitrariness will rise and fall on the whims of those holding the feeling. The Gospel as defended by Knox and dwarfed by the Enlightenment, was and is essential to any hope for cultural renewal. While the Enlightenment may have encouraged globalization and promoted the exchange of ideas, much substance of the Christianity that made Scotland great was lost.