Rom 2:14-15: Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have
the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even
though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are
written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now
accusing, now even defending them.
II Kings 6:15-17: When the servant of the man of God got up and went
out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city.
"Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" the servant asked. "Don't be afraid,"
the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with
them." And Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the
LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and
chariots of fire all around Elisha.
|As literary movements, European and
Euro-American Realism and Naturalism believe the world to be an essentially closed
system. Both approaches take their direction from the success of the modern
scientific movement, and both attempt to describe the world as they believe it actually
exists. Naturalism tends to be the more extreme of the two, for it posits a world of
evolutionary determinism where humans are but products of biological and social forces and
where the world is essentially in a state of competition. But both stress that the
actual world is the physical, tangible world only. As a result, Realism and Naturalism can
be deeply reductive ways of seeing and describing reality.
The Christian view of reality admits the metaphysical and spiritual.
Equally, the Christian view of nature suggests that "nature" is more than just
the physical and biological realms; it is also the ethical and metaphysical. When
Paul in his epistle to the Romans wrote that the Gentiles "by nature" practiced
the business or work of the law, he was invoking both Jewish and Greco-Roman notions of
the world. He had in mind the Jewish idea that God has designed and constructed the
world via his own wisdom and that such wisdom is present in the creation for humans to
learn from and abide by. The Greek word for nature, physei, used by
Paul also touches on Stoic notions that humanity and the world are uniquely fitted for
each other. In both cases, "nature" includes the physical and biological
worlds, the human and social worlds, and the metaphysical realm that gives structure to
the rest. In the Naturalist worldview, the social is simply a deterministic product
of the physical. For the Christian, it is the exact opposite. This would seem
to suggest that Christians should be wary of descriptions of the world, even fictional
ones, that tend to overlook such essential elements of the picture as God and his divine
It would be a mistake, however, for Christians not to learn from
Naturalism. Different predispositions to belief shape the way we ask questions of
the world, as well as the evidence we tend to notice. Thus, a naturalist might pick
up on socio-psychological stresses on a person, while a theist might tend to look more
closely at the moral and spiritual crises behind those stresses. The scientific
movement has proven extraordinarily successful in its ability to describe certain aspects
of the creation. And the realistic novelists tend to hone sharp portraits of the
human individual's psychology. While the theist should be wary of some of the
naturalist's assumptions, he or she can also learn from such a one's particular insights.
George Marsden has argued that, instead of accepting this sort of
reductive "methodical atheism" that requires us to act as if the world were only
a product of natural forces, we can choose a functional version of it, a
"methodological secularization" that allows us to borrow from the strengths of
such a model without abandoning the larger insights our faith also offers:
"Methodological secularization means only that for limited ad hoc purposes we will
focus on natural phenomena accessible to all, while not denying their spiritual dimensions
as created and ordered by God or forgetting that there is much more to the picture"
(91). A Christian can learn to ask questions as a naturalist might for the sake of
highlighting part of the picture.
Yet if we cannot afford to avoid learning from the naturalist's view
of the world, neither can we adopt it wholeheartedly. In fact, from a Christian
perspective, realist characterizations, plots, and themes may reveal as much about the
spiritual repression of the author as they do about what is actually there.
At some point we must pray like Elisha to see the hills full of horses and chariots
* * * * *
Central Insight: Euro-American Realism
and Naturalism offer certain insights of a biological and psychological nature about the
world, but they can also act to hide certain other aspects, especially those of an ethical
and/or spiritual nature.
Suggestions for Application: Focus on
the particular insights that the realism and/or naturalism of an author offers. Or
focus on what aspects it tends to suppress. If possible, show a connection between
Marsden, George. The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. Oxford: Oxford