The dominance of Christianity of various degrees of orthodoxy shaped the imaginations and therefore the perspectives of men after and even before the printing press and then previous to the Enlightenment. Men saw through their imaginations the unseen hand of God. God was working. God was doing His will. God was operative in causation of events and outcomes, even if there was little to no human reasoning. God was the explanation for what and why things happened. Both bad and good related to God.
That pre-Enlightenment culture related everything to God and saw the world through a Divine prism that was reflected in its art, its music, its architecture, its government, and more. Those people saw kings as having authority from God and yet receiving a Divinely formed consent from their subjects according to God ordained inalienable rights. A major fire was a work of God. A loss in battle was a lesson from God. A child was a gift from God.
Some today call those of this era of such transcendent sentiment to be superstitious. They defined themselves according to their view of God. They explained occurrences relative to God. This way of thinking is even seen in the writings of that time's theologians and preachers. There was more God-centeredness in their theology than there is today. They could believe that God was doing what He said He would do even when they didn't have the "facts" to back it up. The proclivity of that day was assuming the teaching was true without other "objective" criteria to back it up.
We live in different times post-Enlightenment. Man became the measure in men's perspective. Now we allow the "evidence" to lead us to the truth and we're not honest unless we believe the "facts." A seven twenty-four hour day creation, yes, but then enters science, and then no. God preserved every jot and tittle, inerrancy in the apographa, then enters textual criticism. That now couldn't mean what God said. Now it's only superstition, a lack of objectivity. Unless I can feast my eyes on a hand-written manuscript, unless I can put my own fingers in those wounds in His side, I won't believe. My new doctrine must agree with what I can see.
The change in perspective, outlook, and point of view overall in culture influenced bibliology. The Westminster divines had doctrinal certainty about the preservation of Scripture and therefore textual certainty. Today's "textual scholars" act as though they were the first ones to discover differences in hand-written manuscripts. They are the first to be truly "honest with textual evidence," not allowing any theological presuppositions to cloud their understanding of the text of Scripture. This is the new, post-Enlightenment, "objective," modernistic interpretation of the "facts."
The Westminster divines and those like them came to hand copies shaped by a transcendent view of everything. God said He would preserve to the jot and tittle, so He must have done so. And that's the position they took. That's the view that believers took. It wasn't until after the Enlightenment that another view even came along.
Instead of being guided by the doctrine of preservation, theologians are led by what they call the facts. William Combs, professor at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote the following with regards to Matthew 5:17-18:
I wonder how it could be anything else but hyperbole? Taken literally, it would seem to demand perfect preservation, which, of course, the evidence flatly refutes.
Matthew 5:17-18 can't mean what it says it means. It must be hyperbole. Why? The evidence refutes it. "It would seem to demand perfect preservation." Yes. I wag my head. This demonstrates a post-Enlightenment, modernistic imagination with relations to bibliology. He can't envision God doing what He said He would do. And when he says "evidence," he doesn't mean the verses of Scripture, but the "science" of textual criticism.
How would transcendent thought correct his imagination? Matthew 5:17-18 does mean what it says it means. It isn't hyperbole. There is no grammatical reason to think so. The text will fulfill its theological presuppositions, because God does not deny Himself.
Just recently on his Dividing Line internet program, James White displayed this same lack of faith in God during questioning from a caller to his show, Will Kinney**. Here's a transcription of the beginning of their conversation (one which started at 17:30 and ended at 29:55 in the embedded youtube video below):
I can understand the discomfort James White has with the question, unwilling to answer, because that answer, guided by human reasoning, would clash with a biblical and historical presentation of the perfect preservation of Scripture. It's a simple question with a simple answer if shaped by a pre-Enlightenment belief in Divine providence. But White cannot any longer allow biblical presuppositions to lead him to a conclusion. He is a man of his times.Will Kinney**: First question though, you never answer this: do you believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God?James White: Of course I do.Will Kinney: What are you referring to when you say that?James White: Uh, what God gave us when He inspired the Bible.Will Kinney: So in other words, the originals only.James White: Uuuum.....that's what's inspired, yes, God's writings, yes. Uh-huh.Will Kinney: But do you, sah, you used a present tense verb, the Bible is, you said you believe, the Bible is...James White: Yes, I believe God has preserved His word for us, yes.Will Kinney: Do we have the originals, sir?James White: No, we do not, of course not.Will Kinney: So then what are you referring to when you say the Bible is the inerrant Word of God?James White: Well, for a man who says he has read my book four or five times, it's shocking to me that you wouldn't know what I mean.Will Kinney: You....(interrupted by White)James White: I explained it! I explained....Will Kinney: You're talking around the issue, you're not answering the question.James White: Mr. Kinney, Mr. Kinney....Um, everyone on the audience right now, has, knows that I have refuted your allegations and that you have acted in a....Will Kinney: That's in your own mind, sir.James White: acted in a very boorish manner, so that if you'd like to have a conversation, we can do that.Will Kinney: You won't answer the question.
Pre-Enlightenment theologians would have an answer: the text received by the churches. A perfect text, because God inspired and then preserved a perfect text. God the Spirit would point to a text. It would be the one. They would not stagger in unbelief because their God works unseen to fulfill what He promised.
**I don't know whether Will Kinney takes an English preservationist position or not. I haven't read his materials. And he never says in this dialogue with James White. That is not the biblical or historic doctrine of preservation, which is original language preservation, the doctrine held by believers before the Enlightenment, if it is in fact the position Kinney holds. However, one can see his dialogue here is guided by a theological presupposition.