Lutheran theology has suffered these last 200 years from a turning away from nature towards a single-minded concentration upon value. The work of the German Protestant theologian Abrecht Ritschl (1822-89) is characteristic of this turn. Ritschl held that God is knowable only through Christ, and that theology must therefore concentrate on ethics and repudiate metaphysics. Of course, by repudiating metaphysics, Ritschl found it difficult to situate divine reality into the reality of nature. Metaphysics is concerned with those most basic generalities presupposed by experience as such. If God’s reality is denied metaphysical reality, then God is not part of the “basic generality” of what is, and if this be so, then God clearly cannot connect to nature.
The disconnect between God and nature in Ritschl is just the working out of the trajectory set by Kant a hundred years before. God is, for Kant, clearly not the kind of being who can sustain causal relationships with natural entities, or that can be ingredient in natural states of affairs or events. By placing God within the Ideals of Pure Reason, Kant took Him out of nature entirely. Such a de-divinization of nature nicely left nature as a natural object to be studied and explored on its own. Following previous Enlightenment thinkers, Kant’s move gave nature autonomy over and against the divine. Though Kant struggled mightily in the Critique of Judgment to bring back teleology and the non-natural generally into the world, much of the subsequent philosophical, scientific, and theological trajectory did not buy it. Theologians in general had to find a place for God outside of nature; they had to find a place for God within human experience generally, within the ontological depths of the structure of human being itself.
Lutheran theology has drunk deeply from the trough of Kant. In so doing, it has paid precariously little attention to nature for the last two hundred years. Although it can claim one of the greatest of all scientists, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), it has for centuries been quite unconcerned with natural reality, preferring the safety of reflecting on human experience. In thinking about this, it now occurs to me that the general marginalization of Lutheran theology may have everything to do with this disconnect from natural science. If God cannot be found in nature, why think He can do much even - - if He is somehow found in the depths of the self?
I believe the time is right for Lutheran theology to retrieve the early Enlightenment idea of there being two books: the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. If the Book of Scripture can be reclaimed as something that has a particular internal clarity which places Christ as its center, why cannot the Book of Nature be read with an internal clarity that places the Creator God at its center? Of course, there are many reasons not to read either book in that way. My point is, however, that if Lutheran theology wants to retain a discourse that is to survive, it has to give its discourse robust truth conditions. These conditions are given when claims can be made about Christ that are finally not indexed to claims about communities reading a text in a certain way, or when claims are made about divine causality that themselves are not indexed to claims made about individuals interpreting things in a particular way.
What would happen if we began with the presupposition that the whole of Scripture interprets its parts, the parts support the whole, and that the whole is about Christ? What would happen if we began with the presupposition that the whole of nature interprets its parts, the parts support the whole, and that the whole is finally about a God who creates?
Now, of course, there are all kinds of wonderful arguments about how misguided these approaches would be. There is no slam-dunk evidence after all that God is required as a theoretical causal entity within a most basic scientific theory of nature. I readily concede this and add that, thinking in this way, there is no evidence as well that Christ is required as the central notion of all of Scriptures, and that such a Christ actually justifies the ungodly. Critical reflection seems to dislodge the centrality of Christ from Scripture just as it takes a creator God out of the universe.
But, of course, we should not be surprised that critical reflection does such a thing. The primal question of all of humanity is the question of the serpent, “Did God really say it?” Yes, indeed, did God really speak in Scripture, and does He say anything in nature? We have as Lutheran theologians assumed that he speaks only in the first book, and rather obscurely there at that. But what would happen if we started with the assumption that He does so speak? Why would it be any more difficult to find God the Creator working in and through nature than God the Redeemer working though and in Scripture? It all has to do with how we read things. Can we speak about the “internal clarity of nature” analogously with the “internal clarity of Scripture?” I see no reason ultimately to justify the assertion that the serpent’s question is more effective against the former rather than the latter. It is time to get serious about theology again, or simply to move onto other projects. I am not moving on.