Returning for a moment to the pages of THE PRESBYTERIAN in 1924, there is this brief article by the Rev. Albert Dale Gantz, who was at that time pastor of a church in New York City. Here Gantz accurately diagnoses the root problem of modernism as one of epistemology. With such diagnosis then, little wonder that rising seminarians like Clark and Van Til chose to focus on epistemology as that place where the battle was fiercest.
A Diagnosis of Modernism
by Rev. Albert Dale Gantz
An analysis of symptoms is necessary to a diagnosis of the pathological condition. From a careful observance of the symptoms of so-called “modernism,” the conclusion has been borne in more and more upon my mind that the difficulty—the real source of infection is not so much in theology—our God-given knowledge of the Supreme Being, as with epistemology—or man-made philosophy of religious experience.
Modernists are cramped by a theory of knowledge which limits all religious knowledge to experience. They cannot admit any fact into their mind except through the single, narrow door of experience. They talk loudly about “the open mind,” when, as a matter of close observation, I find that their minds are closed to all truths which cannot enter in through the one narrow door of experiment. In other words, all knowledge is reduced to the terms of experience, and must be tested, so to speak, by the laboratory method, applicable only to certain branches of physical science ; and so by limiting themselves to one method of obtaining knowledge all truth not capable of treatment under laboratory methods is rejected. It is very easy to see, therefore, that the trouble with the modernists is with his epistemology. He has not yet perfected an apparatus for knowing truths in the vast realm where the test-tube and the Bunsen burner are inadequate.
To illustrate the inadequacy of knowledge that is confined only to what is discoverable by experience is not difficult. Take, for example, knowledge of God. The modernist cannot affirm the eternity of God or the pre-existence of Christ, because forsooth these great truths are beyond his experience. He is unable to affirm the creative act of the Almighty in bringing the cosmos into existence, because he cannot bring the mighty cosmic acts of omnipotence into the small door of his own personal experience. Likewise, because he has no personal experience of the mode by which the Supreme Being operates to create life, the modernist feels that he cannot accept any revelation on that matter. In other words, the modernist has set for himself such artificial and prescribed boundaries to the acquisition of knowledge that he has closed the avenues of his mind to those great realms of truth which are spiritual discerned, and has reduced all knowledge to that which is physically discerned. His limitations, therefore, are not in the realm of theology, but primarily in the realm of epistemology. He is cramped by a theory of knowledge.
Curiously enough, he exhibits the same pathological symptoms that were exhibited in a kindred malady which appeared in the first century, under the name of gnosticism. This was also a theory of knowledge which came into conflict with the truth of divine revelation, and which affected its devotees with the same symptoms as those appearing to-day in modernism—a kind of egotism or megalacephal—as the Bible says of them, “professing themselves wise they became fools.” Claiming a kind of superior scientific knowledge—which Paul describes as “science falsely so-called,” they plumed themselves in a sort of esoteric eclecticism. They selected a little branch of science, erected it into a false standard of their own, and regarded themselves as composing a choice inner circle of the initiated, from which all the vulgar and common were excluded. They became vain in their imaginations, their foolish heart was darkened instead of being illuminated, and they changed the truth of God (as far as they themselves were concerned), they changed the truth of God into a lie. The truth of God cannot be changed. It is unchangeable, and unchanging. But they changed it for themselves into a lie. And worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator. Men, to-day, are repeating this old sin—worshipping and serving some creature—some man, some vain creature of the imagination—”science,” “critical analysis,” “modern thought,” “the most recent discovery,” more than they are worshipping and serving the Creator, who is God over all, blessed forever. John McNeill calls it, Flunkeying to science. And he is right. Men are flunkeying to science, making a fetish of scientific research, and cramping their capacity for receiving and believing the whole counsel of God by a narrow and pathetically meager theory of knowledge. They think their trouble is with theology. Not so. Their knowledge of theology is entirely too scanty. Their real trouble is with false philosophy of religion, and their disease, however humiliating to them it may be to break the news, is a sort of epistemological cramp.