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Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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February 3, 2024 12:01 am


Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 3, 2024 12:01 am

Is it possible for God to become more glorious or perfect than He already is? Today, R.C. Sproul interacts with the dialectical ideas that G.W.F. Hegel had about God and history, ideas that greatly influenced 19th-century thought.

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For Hegel, the absolute subject, who is God, is not absolutely divorced from His creation. In fact, His creation is Himself, which immediately moves us into a kind of complex view of pantheism. That history does not simply reveal God, but history is God in the sense that it is the unfolding of the absolute Spirit in time and space. Did you catch that?

It's okay if you didn't. Dr. Sproul called Hegel's views one of the most complex and difficult systems of philosophy, but his views did have a significant influence on the church and 19th century liberalism. So I encourage you to stay with us as we consider the errors and influence of his philosophical thought. This is the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind as we spend some time considering the consequences of the philosophical ideas that have shaped the world that we live in, many ideas whose echoes are still heard today. You can own this series used by many homeschool families including my own when you give a donation of any amount at So who was Hegel and how did he try to answer the dilemma posed by Immanuel Kant that we learned about last week?

Here's Dr. Sproul to explain. When I was a seminary student back in Pittsburgh many, many years ago, one of my classmates would take time frequently from his studies to work at the local educational television station WQED and his concern and passion was to have a ministry to children. And I doubt if you've ever heard of this fellow, but he has made the wearing of sweaters in video telecasts acceptable.

It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood, but my wife's out of town and I forgot my coat, so I took a tip from Fred Rogers today. And perhaps we need something to be a little bit more casual and relaxed today because the subject we have is one of the most difficult in the whole history of philosophy and that is the philosophy of Hegel, G. W. F. Hegel. And Hegel dominated the scene of Western philosophy at least for the first half of the 19th century and perhaps it could be said that the consequences of his thought shaped the whole of the 19th century.

Now we recall that with Immanuel Kant we were left with this huge wall, the wall of separation between the numinal realm and the phenomenal realm and Kant said that there was no way that we can get from this realm to the numinal realm. Now Hegel's perhaps most important work was entitled The Phenomenology of Mind. He was responding not only to Kant but also to some other philosophers in the early part of the 19th century who had focused their attention on the supremacy of mind over the material realm, the so-called idealists such as Fichte and Schelling. Now what happened with Hegel and with the whole drift of thought in the 19th century was attention was placed on the phenomenal realm and as a result of this a whole new chapter emerged in the history of philosophy. And this new chapter in the history of philosophy was that philosophy began to move away from being preoccupied with issues of metaphysics and of epistemology and now focused its attention on the meaning of human experience, experience that takes place in this realm. Now to simplify that, what emerged was an attempt to construct in the history of philosophy a philosophy of history. This is what dominated the thinking of Hegel and certainly his successor Karl Marx. The whole question was what is the significance and the meaning of the sum total of human experience, not only my experience and your experience but the experience of the race in our experience of history. Now Hegel developed what was called a dialectical view of history, a dialectical view of history, and we can call Hegel's philosophy dialectical idealism.

Now for many people they've never heard that term before, dialectical idealism, but they probably have heard a term that's very close to it called dialectical materialism, which is the sophisticated title for the philosophy of Karl Marx. Now as I say this whole system that Hegel developed is one of the most complex and difficult systems of philosophy that the world has ever been asked to digest. Again when I was in graduate school in Amsterdam after I went to Europe in May and spent the entire summer studying the Dutch language, the very first lecture that I had to attend at the university was a lecture in a philosophy course I was taking on Hegel. At the end of the lecture the professor being very kind and gracious came up to me knowing that I was an American student and so on, and he said to me, how did it go with Hegel? Or he asked me how did it go, you know, with being able to translate what he was saying, and I said, I found it very difficult. Of course what I meant was it was difficult for me to follow a professor lecturing in a foreign language in my first baptism in it. And he shook his head and smiled and he said, Ja, he said, Hegel, he is muehlic in eder atal. That is Hegel is difficult in any language.

So I don't appreciate Hegel for having put me in that embarrassing situation in graduate school. But again once the attention was on the phenomenal world, on this world, what happened as a result of this was that the locus of attention for philosophy and theology in the nineteenth century was on what's called eminentism as opposed to transcendence. Before Kant and before Kant put up this barrier between this world and the next, the overarching emphasis in Christian theology was on the transcendence of God, that God must always be differentiated from His creation.

The churches believed that God was imminent in the sense of being present in the world through His Holy Spirit, by way of creation, through His providence, and through history and so on. But at the same time, history was never ever to be confused with God, and creation was never to be confused with God. There was this absolute distinction between the transcendent being of God and the created structure of His work. But now in nineteenth century philosophy, that significant difference between the transcendent God and His creation begins to become obscured. And one of the most important philosophers to bring that about was Hegel, who becomes the chief architect in the nineteenth century for a philosophy of eminentism.

In the German, it speaks of God's being die Seidig, or the die Seidigheit from God, which literally means this-sidedness. Now, where Hegel differed sharply from Kant was this, where Kant showed that antinomies or contradictions or tensions between various views of reality drove Kant to skepticism and agnosticism with respect to having any understanding or knowledge of God. Hegel tried to solve that problem with his dialectical system, and he sees that we can't get over the wall from the phenomenal to the nominal. But Hegel said that distinction is a false distinction, a false dilemma, because in the one sense, the nominal can get over the wall into this world.

And the way the nominal realm comes over the wall into the phenomenal realm is by virtue of God unfolding Himself in and through nature. Now, I'm going to explain that a little bit more in a second. But we've talked several times in our study of the history of philosophy of the so-called subject-object problem. I am a subject. I have a mind, and I have experiences. And my experience is always an experience of what's happening outside of myself, and that is what we call the objective realm. Now, what the philosophers of all of the centuries have tried to do is find some way to reconcile the subjective realm to the objective realm, and nobody has really been able to solve the problem that's inherent in that. Now, the earlier idealists tried to reduce everything to the subjective side so that the objective realm, the outside realm, is simply a projection of the mind and doesn't really exist. Or some have tried to say that the mind is simply a part of the material world, and it doesn't exist. In other words, when people try to solve the tension between the external world and the internal world, the tendency or the trend is to do what?

Is to go to one pole or the other and let that pole swallow up the other one. Well, again, the way Hegel constructed his philosophy of history was through this process called the dialectic. And the dialectic works like this. In all the different areas of human experience that we have, such as art, philosophy, theology, music, economics, physics, astronomy, whatever, we find a process taking place that involves tensions that are overcome on the plane of history.

And it goes like this. Somebody will come up with a thesis, like Parmenides, everything is being. And that thesis invariably evokes an antithesis, that is a theory that is in polar tension to it, such as we saw with Heraclitus and Parmenides.

One said everything is being, the other one said, no, everything is becoming. So now the progress of philosophical development is stifled. There's a blockade here because you can't get past this tension until somebody comes along and resolves the problem by creating what is called a synthesis. We saw that, for example, when Plato sought to reconcile Parmenides and Heraclitus by creating his synthetic philosophy of the two realms and so on, and then that synthesis becomes the new thesis, and invariably that thesis provokes what? Another antithesis, such as we saw with Aristotle challenging Plato. Now, then what happens is that this creates a roadblock for a certain period of time until somebody else comes along and takes ideas from both of these sides, works them out together, and creates another synthesis. Now, of course, what happens with that synthesis is that new paradigm or that new system or that new philosophical viewpoint becomes the basis for a new thesis.

And what does that do? It provokes what, Roger? What would you guess? Another what? Antithesis, that's right.

You got it. And as you can see, I'm running out of blackboard space here, but this then is resolved in another synthesis, and we can see this pattern go on and on and on. Well, it's much more complicated than this simple illustration I've just given to you here with respect to philosophy, but you also have the relationship between religion, for example, and art, and there's a tension there, which is then resolved in philosophy. And then you have conflict between philosophy and science, which is then resolved in political theory and so on. So you have a whole grid of these dialectics working themselves out. And what Hegel is looking for in the process of history is what he called the Aufgehoben. Now, that's just a fancy German word for something's being elevated to the next level. You rise above the current dilemma into the next stage of development, where you transcend the current difficulty and resolve it into a new thesis. The synthesis is the experience of the Aufgehoben.

Now, let me try to talk about this in simple terms if you can, and anytime you try to speak simply about Hegel, you're taking enormous risks because there's very little, as I said, that is simple about him. Take, for example, music or art. We're familiar with art history or the history of music, and we see different movements taking place, for example, in art. You have classicism, then you have the response of romanticism, and then you have neoclassicism, and then you have impressionism and expressionism and cubism and all these different advances, and so it is in the history of music. I'm interested, for example, in the history of jazz that began in very simple terms with the blues and with the ragtime beat and the turkey trot and the cakewalk, and then you've progressed from there to Dixieland jazz and then to progressive jazz and so on, and these new geniuses come on the stage of history and they push the paradigms of music or of art into a new direction by creating a new synthesis. In a sense, what happens with these geniuses is they challenge the assumptions of previous generations. They see the problem of the tension that has held things in a kind of paralysis until they challenge the assumptions and create a new paradigm, but that's not limited simply to art or to music.

It's also true in the physical sciences, as we've seen in the history of physics, in the history of astronomy, always moving away from former tensions and trying to seek resolutions of problems that had been there in the past. Now, as I said a moment ago, perhaps the most deeply felt philosophical problem historically is the problem between the subject and the object. And it's the supreme problem because the subject is thinking about something outside of itself, the object.

And how can you ever resolve that? Well, for Hegel, the resolution of this problem is resolved by his concept of the absolute subject, or what he calls the absolute spirit. Sometimes this is referred to as reason with a capital R. Now, what's going on in this schema is this, that the absolute spirit is not ultimately distinct from the world. The absolute subject, who is God, is not absolutely divorced from His creation. In fact, His creation is Himself, which immediately moves us into a kind of complex view of pantheism, that history does not simply reveal God, but history is God in the sense that it is the unfolding of the absolute spirit in time and space. So that what history is is simply the dynamic of God working Himself out, thinking about Himself, experiencing Himself in space and time. So for Hegel, for example, he would not deny that Jesus was the incarnation of God. However, if you would say that Christ is the unique incarnation of God, he would have disputed that because all of history is the incarnation of God, and all of history is the revelation of God.

So you don't look for a delivered Word from on high from a transcendent God who inspires prophets and have them be conduits of revelation in a propositional sense like we have in our Bible. In one sense, for Hegel, all revelation is general revelation or natural revelation because all of nature is God's experience of Himself. And so in this dialectical way, God works Himself out so that God is not an immutable being, but He is a God who is in process, in process of development. And the development of God, the development of this process is history.

So in a very real sense, history itself is divine. Now, this approach, as I said, is called dialectical. And that's one of the things that makes it so difficult because a dialectic involves a tension between seemingly disparate ideas.

I remember listening to a conversation that the late Cornelius Van Til had with a philosopher from Holland. And Van Til was quizzing this philosopher about his views, and Van Til was having a hard time understanding them. And when he would ask questions, this philosopher would say, well, it's a dialectic. And finally, in frustration, Van Til looked at this philosopher and said, will you please tell me your theology just once without the dialectic so I can understand what you're talking about? Because what Van Til is saying is the contradictory ideas are really never intelligible. But again, for Hegel, the dialectic doesn't necessarily involve an absolute contradiction, but a seeming contradiction of tension which is capable of being resolved. But it's not resolved by logical speculation.

It's resolved simply by experience and the whole experience of human history. Now, the impact of this on the church was radical because out of Hegel came the whole development of the so-called religious historical school. And the whole emphasis in 19th century theology, liberal theology, was on immanentism, where God was bound up with the world, and his transcendent otherness was being more and more obscured in 19th century theology. And the buzzword in theology as well as in philosophy of 19th century thought was the word evolution, which speaks in terms of progress, not simply in the biological realm, but in all of the realm of nature, in all of history, there is a progressive movement and the assumption is, as I would say, that the movement is making progress, that you start with the simple and you move towards the complex. And that movement is always an upward movement. As you build these triads, one upon each other, everything is moving in an upward direction. So, for Hegel, history is the evolution of God. God himself is an evolutionary being, and everything is in this process of development. Now, this provoked a very strong sense of optimism in the 19th century with respect to human history that the world was getting better and better and better as more and more problems were being resolved and questions were being answered. And this world is moving towards a kind of omega point of greatness and perfection as God himself is realizing his own potential in the sphere of human history.

That was R.C. Sproul on this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind from his series The Consequences of Ideas. This 35-message series is designed to help you trace the history of Western thought, the influences of the past, and the old ideas that some are trying to make new again. And, of course, to help you see where these ideas deviate from the truth revealed to us in God's Word. Own this popular study tool used in schools, home schools, and small groups when you give a donation of any amount at You receive the special edition DVD plus the digital study guide to help you ensure you understand each message and can retain what you learned. This offer ends at midnight, so give your gift while there's still time at A name that is perhaps more familiar to you than Hegel was is Karl Marx, and that's who R.C. Sproul will teach on next Saturday, here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-10 18:35:35 / 2024-02-10 18:43:13 / 8

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