More On Inspiration

It actually does seem to me that some of our earlier defenders of Inspiration were a bit “wooden headed” in their own literalism (not just Lindsell, but Allis and Young, and even Warfield) and did partake a bit in the quest for “photographic accuracy.” They had themselves not quite gotten over the Kantian barrenness and desert.

But, there were some remarkable people in the decades of the 20s, 30s, and 40s of the 20th Century who leaped the chasm quite deftly.

The early Wittgenstein in THE TRACTATUS was just an update and application of Russell and Whitehead’s PRINCIPIA MATHEMATICA, and its quest for an “ideal language.” But both Wittgenstein and Whitehead later made the escape and realized that such ventures could never succeed, and both tried to escape a “picture theory of language.” How successfully is another question. (It strikes me that all of Wittgenstein’s “puzzling” and finding everyday language “odd,” is really a quest to recover transcendence, which everyday language gives witness to everywhere.) C.S. Lewis and company (headed I suppose by Owen Barfield) really did escape and realized that language was both literal and symbolic at the same time. One cannot make that leap really, unless one re-escapes to orthodoxy. So of course the other person who escaped most supremely was Cornelius Van Til.

On a purely Kantian basis, symbolism is surely an impossibility; at least symbolism that matters. Pray tell what could be symbolized? The noumenal is completely unknowable, so all that anything in the phenomenal realm could symbolize would be other phenomena, and what fun would that be? Hence, the attempt to escape THIS dilemma (which is no small thing to anyone who cares about a high culture–like all the great Germans did) must be the great project of all the great neo-Kantians of the 19th and 20th centuries (PHILOSOPHY OF THE SYMBOLIC FORMS–Ernst Cassirier, for example–but how successful could they be without Christian revelation?) Polanyi of course was doing the same thing in showing how unreal the descriptions of people from Beacon to Russell were in describing the real human endeavor of doing science. No one can function in the barren wilderness of the Enlightenment.

But in truth, it is only Christians with a full blown doctrine of inspiration who can make this escape.

Two more short things. One, it seems to me to be true that earlier commentators and theologians (even popular figures like Matthew Henry) are far more interesting than the great 19th century figures like Joseph Addison Alexander on Isaiah, precisely because the earlier ones are entirely unencumbered by the Kantian literal barrenness and function very naturally with symbolism. And this is what makes a figure like Vos so important, and James Jordan so interesting (and important). We are close to getting over it.

And secondly, in two or three thousand years, it will be entirely obvious that “proto-Wittgenstein and Whitehead” and “Deutero-Wittgenstein and Whitehead” are entirely different figures separated by at least several centuries. Look at the differences in style!  And the vast differences in mental outlook make clear they are from entirely different places and cultures and eras, if not different planets. Such a vast change in mental outlook would require a great many years, even centuries. Some things do get more and more clear with the passage of time.




  1. Thanks, Rich! I would ‘like’ these, but I’d have to sign in to WordPress, which I may do in the future, but I wish to remain unencumbered at this time.

  2. Mike Bull said

    James Jordan as a sign (symbol) of recovering health!

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