The Self-Evident Proposition, Part 1

If my explanation is logical and true, it follows that only Christian education delivered throughout the course of human lifetimes—and delivered with Lutheran attentiveness to the verbatim Word of God—is the way to know the self-evident truth for ourselves.

“We cannot continue to send our children to Caesar for their education and be surprised when they come home as Romans.”1 When God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, says, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17), He is telling us something crucial about the education of our children and grandchildren—about the education of everyone’s children and grandchildren. He is, in so many words, speaking to us about the indispensability of Lutheran education in America in the twenty-first century. In this three-part essay I first explain how and why Lutheran education has a mission-critical role regarding the Self-Evident Proposition of the Declaration of Independence, the essence of our one nation under God with liberty and justice for all, expressed and ratified in one statement of fact. Secondly, I elaborate the reason why the Self-Evident Proposition is today not self-evident to most Americans, which is due to an educational and moral failure. Thirdly, I conclude with a consideration of how the Creator cited as the norm of the Self-Evident Proposition becomes a person’s way of life, but only in terms of what Kierkegaard calls repetition.

That Self-Evident Proposition is, of course, the proposition that “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights …” If my explanation is logical and true, it follows that only Christian education delivered throughout the course of human lifetimes—and delivered with Lutheran attentiveness to the verbatim Word of God—is the way to know the self-evident truth for ourselves. By “delivered with Lutheran attentiveness” I mean (1) that the Bible is taught as the means by which the Creator makes Himself known to us in His own words (see Psalm 119, for example) and (2) that His own words, the verbatim text of the Bible, are taught in such a way that all of us, parents and children, benefactors and teachers, are engaged in these Scriptures in a particular way that the Lutheran existentialist Søren Kierkegaard refers to as repetition (of which the biblical book of Job, our Lord’s Prayer, and each of the Psalms are examples). These three aspects of Lutheran education form the three parts of my essay on the Self-Evident Proposition.

First, though, there is a preamble proposition. A generation or two ago, when our Lutheran church body was in danger of rejecting its founding texts in favor of a progressive agenda based on elevating scientific methodology over the biblical texts, Kurt Marquart observed, “Science has neither use nor room for privileged authorities or sacrosanct texts. It recognizes only observations, experiments, logical inferences based on them, and, reluctantly, whatever axioms or assumptions are necessary to sustain these operations.” Marquart was addressing an alien form of biblical hermeneutics (that is, a non-biblical way of reading and interpreting the Bible) that imposed scientific methodology over and against the plain reading of God’s own words, the words of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.

That parochial Lutheran education problem in Marquart’s generation is manifest as the universal problem with education in our own generation. Public education, government education, Caesar’s education—education more or less committed to the Pragmatic philosophy of John Dewey, which in turn embraces the scientific progressivism of Charles Darwin, which in its turn undergirds the progressive politics of Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt, which dominates the national conversation on American history and education today—this kind of education “has neither use nor room for privileged authorities or sacrosanct texts.”

The education which Caesar provides in our public, government-run schools and universities—which manifestly has no room for sacrosanct texts and divine authority—is in theory and in practice antithetical to the authoritative declaration of Jesus the Messiah in the last paragraph of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. It is also antithetical to the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Caesar’s education has no room for the authority of these two types of sacrosanct texts for one reason, namely, its rejection of the ultimate authority of the incarnate God in the Person of Jesus the Messiah. See Psalm 2 regarding this Progressivist philosophy of education.

On a close reading, these two texts, the Bible and the Declaration, are sacrosanct in different but related senses. That is, the Declaration (the thesis of which is the Self-Evident Proposition) is sacrosanct in the sense that it is regarded as sacred and inviolable, being the universal, self-evident, and congressionally ratified bedrock of the United States of America. The text of the Bible is preeminently or superlatively sacred and inviolable, being the very words of God.

Further, the Declaration depends upon the Creator for the establishment of its unique and exceptional principle that all men are created equal. By the way, men in this foundational and self-evident truth is a reference to human nature universally and therefore in its individual particularity. It is, as repeated throughout the Western tradition until about the end of the nineteenth century, a racially inclusive doctrine that embraces every human being as a member of the human race, familiar and available to intellectuals and to us common folk since at least the time of Aristotle. Thus, every human being—regardless of ability or disability, age or youth, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, what have you—is endowed by his Creator with the enumerated human rights by virtue of his human nature. This is a very different deduction from the inference that human beings are, naturally, part of the biosphere and thus vaguely subject to laws of nature or to evolutionary happenstance.

In summary to this point, I am saying that both the Bible and the Declaration are sacrosanct texts. The Holy Scriptures are maximally and unsurpassably authoritative by virtue of being God’s verbatim words to us all (2 Timothy 3:16). The Declaration is also sacrosanct, but in a dependent sense. In effect (and in terminology that we Lutherans love to teach and share), God’s Word is the absolute norm while the Declaration is a normed norm. It is exactly this relationship to which we now turn in order to understand that the Self-Evident Proposition is self-evident and normative for human life.

Still to come in Parts 2 and 3 – Secondly, I elaborate the reason why the Self-Evident Proposition is today not self-evident to most Americans, which is due to an educational and moral failure. Thirdly, I conclude with a consideration of how the Creator cited as the norm of the Self-Evident Proposition becomes a person’s way of life, but only in terms of what Kierkegaard calls repetition.

End Notes

1 Voddie Baucham, Jr., Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk with God (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2007)

2 Kurt Marquart, Anatomy of an Explosion: A Theological Analysis of the Missouri Synod Conflict (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), 120

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on email
Email
Share on print
Print

Gregory Schulz

Rev. Gregory P. Schulz, D.Min., Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor.

Subscribe to
Christian Culture

Christian Culture is the magazine of Luther Classical College. Visit lutherclassical.org for more information about the college.

Keep Subscriptions to Christian Culture Free

Make a donation today!