One of the things that struck me in my work on the ecumenical movement was the extent to which social factors influence the sense of fraternity that Christians feel about one another.
I’ve often been confused that Christians of a more liberal bent, whether theological, political, or otherwise, come across as far friendlier and more aligned with their secular counterparts than fellow believers of a more conservative, traditionalist, or (gasp!) fundamentalist disposition. Try to find a progressive or liberal Christian professing unity (mystical, spiritual, or otherwise) with someone like Jerry Falwell. I’d be glad to see an instance of it. The same is true, by the by, for many more conservative Christians. They are far more amenable to the likes of a professed atheist or agnostic secular conservative than many progressives.
In some sense if Machen is right, that liberalism and Christianity are two different religions, then the reason for this is explicable, at least to a point. But I do think there are social sources of factionalism that are not so theologically motivated or principled.In conversing with a friend on this phenomenon the other day, he noted in passing what was a kind of charitable interpretation of young earth creationists relative to that of atheists in Alvin Plantinga’s magisterial Warranted Christian Belief. Consider this, then, a kind of comment from Plantinga relevant to the sort of thing on display in the recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.
It comes in footnote 25 on p. 217 of WCB (or footnote 260 in this online version), in which Plantinga is discussing the noetic effects of sin. The model to which Plantinga refers is his “sensus divinitatis” model, according to which “the most important truths about [people] is that we have been created by the Lord and utterly depend upon him for our continued existence.” Here Plantinga notes:
In this connection, consider the despised creationists, who believe that the world is only ten thousand years old: they are ignorant, pitifully ignorant about when God created the world. From the point of view of the model, this ignorance pales into utter insignificance compared with that of many of their cultured detractors, who foolishly believe that there is no God and thus (naturally enough) are ignorant of the vastly more important fact that the world was, indeed, created by God.
Perhaps not a ringing endorsement of someone like Ken Ham, but it is at least an acknowledgment of the relative unity of creationists of any kind as compared to that of creationism’s “cultured detractors.”