Archive for the ‘Epistemology’ Category

Examining John 17 and Christian Disunity

December 16, 2009

On his personal blog, Roman Catholic Bryan Cross has a post that consists of a flowchart (link to post). If you examine his flow chart, you’ll notice that in the upper right hand corner he asks the reader to “Go read John 17.” The reason to go read that chapter, per Bryan’s flow chart, is if one thinks that “Christ intended the present disunity of Christians that is due to their interpretive disagreements.”

I. Perspicuity and Interpretation

We do appreciate Bryan’s implicit assertion that John 17 is perspicuous and his implicit concession that everyone is competent to interpret John 17. Sometimes we find Roman Catholic who argue that one needs the Roman Catholic church in order to properly understand Scripture, or that private judgment is an unreliable way to interpret Scripture.

One wonders, though, whether Bryan is aware of the fact that he is attempting to build the authority of the Roman Catholic church on the authority of private judgment and personal interpretation of Scripture. This ends up being problematic, because Rome demands that the individual submit to Rome’s judgment and interpretation – but one who follows Bryan’s path to Rome would not have accepted Rome’s judgment or interpretation except on the authority of his own private judgment and personal interpretation of Scripture. As such, Bryan is setting up his proselytes to be in a self-undermined position. They have accepted Rome on the basis of private judgment and personal interpretation, but they are told by Rome that they cannot trust their private judgment and personal interpretation any more.

II. Actual Content and Text of John 17

Nevertheless, whether Bryan is strategically wise to encourage folks to read Scripture, reading Scripture is actually good. Here is John 17:

(1) These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: (2)as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. (3) And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

(4) I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. (5) And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. (6) I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. (7) Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. (8) For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. (9) I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. (10) And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

(11) And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. (12) While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. (13) And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

(14) I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (15) I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. (16) They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

(17) Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (18) As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. (19) And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. (20) Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; (21) that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (22) And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: (23) I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (24) Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

(25) O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. (26) And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

So, that is the whole chapter. We will proceed to the analysis of the chapter in the following sections.

III. Determining Christ’s Intent in General

The passage doesn’t come right out and say “I intend [X].” If it did, it would much easier to answer Bryan’s question from the text. The text, though, does have several purposive statements. Those purposive statements are statements that are in the form “[Y] so that [X]” or more simply “[Y] that [X] may or should occur.”

1. the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee (vs. 1)
2. thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him (vs. 2)
3. keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are (vs. 11)
4. those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled (vs. 12)
5. now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves (vs. 13)
6. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil (vs. 15)
7. for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth (vs. 19)
8. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (vss. 20-21)
9. the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me (vss. 22-23)
10. I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me (vs. 24)
11. I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them (vs. 26)

Finally, notice that Christ once directly speaks to what he wants. In verse 24 (and at item 10 above), Christ says “I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am,” which means essentially that Christ is say that this is what he wants. Nevertheless, in other instances we see implicit that Christ wants something, which should be clear from the fact that Christ is praying to the father for something.

IV. Determining Whether Intent Met in General

Bryan’s question asks us to determine whether Jesus intended the way things are today. This raises the general question of how we determine whether Jesus’ intent in John 17 is met. There are several ways that we might judge this by comparing the facts of history to various senses in which Jesus might intend or will something.

Having read the passage in general, we note that there are no commands from Jesus to men. After a brief introduction, the entire chapter is a long prayer from Jesus to the Father. Thus, if we are using John 17 as the standard, the question is not whether Christians are obeying Jesus’ commands, since there are no commands, as such, to obey stated in the text.

Another way to analyze God’s will is from the standpoint of his decree of Providence. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions. Roman Catholics, at least in theory, agree that everything turns out in God’s Providence according as God has foreordained. While open theists might imagine a world where Christ is disappointed by the way things turned out, Roman Catholics have to admit that God is both omniscient and omnipotent, and that consequently things do not turn out in a way that frustrates Providence. Even things that violate God’s commands are used by God, in His Providence, for good (Genesis 50:20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.). So it cannot be the case (regardless of what John 17 says) that things have not turned out the way that God wanted in the sense of His Providence.

What other general sense could be meant by Bryan’s question? We’ve already addressed the secret (Providence) and revealed (Commands) wills of God. There doesn’t seem to be much left upon which to analyze whether things are the way that Christ intended, at least in general terms. There may, however, be one further consideration.

Jesus is here praying to the Father. Jesus Christ is asking the Father for various things. Bryan’s question, viewed in light of the fact that John 17 is a prayer, sounds as though Bryan is asking whether the Father granted the Son’s request. If the Father would not grant the prayers of His Only-Begotten Son, whose prayers would the Father grant? It seems impious to even leave open the possibility that the Father might refuse to hear the Son’s prayer and grant him these requests.

What would be even more impious, however, would be to suggest that though Jesus was praying to the Father for something, mere mortals could stand in the way and prevent the Father from giving the Son what the Son wanted. Shall we ascribe to mere men a power greater than that of the Father and the Son? Surely such an ascription is nothing short of blasphemous.

It might appear from the demonstrations above that every avenue by which one might ask, even in general, whether God’s will had been done has been foreclosed. There is, however, one general sense in which one could ask whether the present scenario is what Jesus Christ intended. That sense is the sense of the timing of the matter. After all, it may be that Jesus’ requests will be fulfilled but have not yet been fulfilled. We will discuss this possibility when we consider each of the eleven statements of intent found in the chapter.

V. Considering Each Statement of Intent

1) The first request that Jesus is makes is for the Father to glorify the Son so that the Son may glorify the Father. Given that this request is prefaced by “the hour is come,” we may understand that this request was granted by the Father in that Jesus was offered up on the cross, died, was buried, rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven.

2) This statement is not a request. It declares that Jesus has been given universal jurisdiction so that he can save the elect (those that the Father has given Him).

3) This request is that God would keep those given to Christ, so that they would be “one, as we are.” This is the first request that relates to unity. More discussion on this request in the next section.

4) This statement is not a request. It declares that Jesus lost Judas so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

5) This statement seems to be a hybrid between a request and a bare statement. Jesus explains that the purpose of his prayer is so that the world might experience the joy of Jesus.

6) This request is that God would keep Jesus’ people from the evil without removing them from the world.

7) This statement is not a request. It declares that Jesus sanctified himself so that his people might be sanctified through the truth. This is the first statement that involves the issue of truth, which is as close to interpretation as we are going to get in the passage. More discussion on this in the next section.

8) This is another hybrid, though this statement leans more toward being a request. The point of the statement is that Jesus is not praying only for those who presently believe on him, but for all those who will ever believe on him, that they all may be one. This is the second unity-related request, and we’ll address it further in the next section.

9) There are a chain of statements in this section, none of which is specifically a request. First, Jesus indicates that he has passed on the glory he received from the Father to his people so that they would be one, and made perfect in one. Then Jesus indicates the further desire that the world would know that the Father had sent Jesus and loved the world as He loved Jesus. This third unity-related statement will be addressed further in the next section.

10) This request is that the elect would be with Jesus so that they would see the glory the Father gave to Jesus. Notice the similarity between this request and the first statement above, about glory.

11) This statement is not a request. In this statement Jesus declares that he and the love of the Father will be in the elect. Notice the connection as to love between this statement and the request at item 9 above.

VI. Focusing on the “Unity” Statements

Items 3, 8, and 9 each deal with unity. Here they are again:

3. keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are (vs. 11)
8. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (vss. 20-21)
9. the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me (vss. 22-23)

Notice that the unity is expressed in three different relations: in relation to the Father’s preservation (3), in temporal relation (8), and in relation to glory/divinity/love (9).

A. In Relation to the Father’s Preservation (vs. 11)

The first of three unity statements in the prayer comes in verse 11. In context, that verse says:

John 17:10-12

(10) And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. (11) And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. (12) While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.

Notice that in the context, the issue is that Jesus, who has been keeping his people here (except Judas, for whom there was a different plan) is asking that as he goes away out of this world, the Father keep those people. The unity that Jesus is asking for seems to be a unity of love for God. The reason for supposing this is that the only one not kept by Jesus is Judas. Yet Judas departed from unity in betraying Jesus, not in starting a separate sect, or anything like that.

B. In Temporal Relation (vss. 20-21)

The second of the three unity statements comes in verses 20-21. Those verses state:

John 17:20-21
(20) Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; (21) that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

The new feature that is brought into this discussion of unity is one that transcends time. Jesus is not asking simply for the current believers to be unified, nor that future generations of believers be unified, but that all believers both then and now be unified. What is interesting about this is that the unity that Jesus is talking about is something that is not specifically tied to this present life. If it were, death would destroy the unity that Jesus is requesting, but Jesus is asking that “they all may be one,” which suggests that death does not terminate it.

Furthermore, we can see why death does not terminate, when we observe that the unity is not necessarily unity of physical location, but unity in the Godhead: “in us” Jesus says. That kind of unity is a unity of love for the Father and the Son, a unity that is visible to the world, yes, but not a unity that is specific to this life.

C. In relation to Glory/Divinity/Love (vss. 22-23)

The third statement about unity comes in verses 22-23. In fact, this immediately follows the statement above, so I will simply continue from where I left off above, with the context immediately following:

John 17:22-24
(22) And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: (23) I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (24) Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

Notice that the way in which Jesus had brought about unity was by giving the glory that the Father gave to the Son, and that the aim of this glory giving was the process of being made perfect in unity. Again we see mention of the world seeing what has happened, and in this case they are specifically to see the love relation between Jesus and the Father reflected in the love relation between Jesus and his people. Notice as well that verse 24 ties the love and glory together again.

What then is the unity that Jesus is talking about here? It is a unity of love for the Father and the Son. It is a unity in which we are growing, and which will have its ultimate fulfillment in heaven.

VII. Going Back to the Big Picture

Focusing on the statements about unity can cause one to lose site of the big picture. It is important to remember that the statements about unity are part of a bigger picture. They are part of an overall flow of a prayer in which Jesus is thanking God for giving him some men, asking that God would keep them, stating his own intention to fill them with the love of the Father, and asking that they eventually be brought to where Jesus is so that they may see His glory. The overall theme is highly Calvinistic, but even if one seeks to find some other view of the text, the overall theme is one whose highest fulfillment is found in the life to come. It is in the life to come that we will find perfect unity, perfect love, perfect joy, perfect knowledge of the truth, and complete glory. All those things go together in the text. Here on earth those things are not complete, but we are still kept by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from the evil until we are made perfect in love, joy, knowledge of the truth, and unity.

This big picture is clear, when we do not seek to impose Roman Catholic ecclesiology on the text, and when we do not seek to treat portions of the text in isolation from the entire prayer. The prayer as a whole is practically triumphal. Jesus is aware of the glory that he will presently receive with respect to the cross, and wishes out of great love to give a good gift to his people, those whom the Father has given Him.

VIII. Conclusion

The unity that Jesus is talking about in the text is specifically a unity of love for the Father and the Son among believers. This is what Jesus intended, and what Jesus intended is being fulfilled. In this life, that love is still imperfect, but it will be made perfect in heaven, when Jesus’ request that his people join him in heaven is granted. Thus, the unity that Jesus has in mind has nothing to do with forming sects, having large numbers of denominations, or the like. In fact, the unity that Jesus is talking about is perfectly consistent with a large number of denominations, provided that believers in any denomination love the Father and the Son and glorify them. With Bryan Cross, I encourage people who disagree to read John 17. If one reads it without imposing one’s ecclesiology on the text, it becomes clear that the text has nothing to do with ecclesiology.

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Knowledge of God

May 29, 2009

How do we know God? The answer to this is two-fold: through the external ministry of the word and the internal ministry of the Spirit. The external ministry of the word is the preached gospel. It is a proclamation of that which has been handed down to us from the prophets, evangelists, and apostles – those men who were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Paul tells Titus:

Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; but hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour;

(Titus 1:1-3). This passage, among many others that could be provided, demonstrates that God, and especially Jesus Christ, is made manifest through the preaching of the Word of God. We are not Paul, but we too preach the gospel and bear witness to the truth.

Paul has another explanation of the way by which this knowledge of God is conveyed in Romans 10:

For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.

(Romans 10:11-21).

One of the points that Paul is making is that the knowledge of God is by faith, faith in the preached word of God. There is sadly today a school of apologetics that seems bent on undermining or downplaying the necessity of faith for the knowledge of God. I don’t think the motivation of those men is to undermine the necessity of faith, instead I think they have the commendable motivation of trying to provide a more persuasive defense (apologetic) of the faith.

“You’re asking them to just believe that the Bible is God’s word?” they ask incredulously, but that is mostly right. I’m not asking folks to believe it on blind faith. There are certainly reasons to recognize the Bible as God’s word. These reasons, though, don’t amount to “proof.” If one could prove the faith, it would not be faith.

Recall, for example, when the Corinthians wanted proof that Christ was speaking in Paul. What did he tell them?

This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare: Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you. For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates.

(2 Corinthians 13:1-6).

His proof is their faith! Paul doesn’t appeal to the authority of men (as the Romanists do) or to an attempted logical proof (as some of our misguided brethren seem to do) but to the testimony of the Spirit in the life of the believers. They know it is the word of God by faith, by the testimony of the Spirit and the experience of the power of the Spirit in their life.

That brings us to the second aspect of how we know God: the testimony and work of the Holy Spirit. The Prophet Jeremiah put it thus:

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

(Jeremiah 31:33 – quoted as well in Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16).

Paul explains that some portion of this is, by general revelation to all mankind, written in the hearts of all men:

Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

(Romans 2:15).

We see again this internal testimony of the Spirit in Paul’s epistle to the Romans: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:” (Romans 8:16).

And John tells us the same thing: “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.” (1 John 5:6)

Scripture explains as well that that this is the heart-opening work of the Spirit:

And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

(Acts 16:14).

This is the work of regeneration, as Paul teaches:

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

(Romans 8:5-9).

And the fruit of the Spirit’s work includes, among other things, faith:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

(Galatians 5:22-23)

As indeed, all goodness, righteousness and truth comes from him: “(For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)” (Ephesians 5:9).

So then, what is the proof of the faith? What is it that makes the knowledge of God certain? It is faith. Scripture declares: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1).

Through the power of the spirit, men receive (by faith) the word of God as such, and not merely as men’s words: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

And as a result of this faith, we can have full confidence and complete assurance of what is said, because the words of Scripture are the words of God:

Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

(2 Peter 1:15-21)

It is the Spirit of God that permits us to hear, to know, and to remember the Word of God. It is by faith in him that we can know anything with absolute confidence, for it is written: “God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” (Romans 3:4) and again “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” (1 John 3:20). God’s testimony on something is more to be trusted than that of any man, even the consensus of mankind, and even than our own heart. We must strive to have the faith of Job, who declared: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). For God has delivered, is delivering, and will deliver us from the second death (2 Corinthians 1:10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; ) of which we may have confidence through the work of Christ (Ephesians 3:12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. & Acts 17:31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.)

Will men claim this is “fideism” and “anti-intellectual”? I cannot say, and while derogatory words can sting, I will press on and faithfully declare the gospel delivered by the apostles, evangelists, and prophets of old.

-TurretinFan

Epistemology – Some More Thoughts

May 22, 2009

1. Certainty about information being true is properly justified according to the source of that information.

2. God is the ultimate and only infallible source of information.

3. Therefore, certainty in the strictest sense is only possible via revelation from God.

4. Perspicuity is important to certainty.

5. Scripture is the highest form of revelation, because it is the most perspicuous.

6. Scripture is not God’s only revelation to men, for Scripture itself testifies clearly to general revelation.

7. General revelation may not teach much clearly, but it does clearly teach the existence of God, time, space, general morality, and logic (inter alia).

8. General revelation is manifest in one way by the imprint on the human heart of the knowledge of the existence of God, [one’s own existence – the existence of other minds], time, space, general morality, and logic (inter alia).

8. If Scripture teaches a proposition, that proposition is necessarily true.

9. No other teacher besides Scripture (at the present time) both provides propositions and shares this quality of infallibity.

10. Therefore, nothing can be known with absolute certainty aside from what is taught in Scripture [or General Revelation] or what is properly deduced from Scripture [and/or General Revelation].

11. Men, however, are capable of using imperfect knowledge.

12. Some knowledge is more imperfect than other knowledge.

***

Hopefully this list of 12 items spells out a framework of epistemology that is understandable, even if not everyone agrees.

-TurretinFan

Paradoxes and the Christian Faith

April 28, 2009

Those following the Reformed blogosphere have no doubt witnessed occasional fireworks over the issue of paradox between my brethren who prefer the philosophy of Gordon Clark (whose most prominent disciple was John Robbins) and those who prefer the philosophy of Cornelius Van Til (whose most prominent disciple was Greg Bahnsen). As one might expect from fireworks, a great deal both of heat and light have been generated, and the occasional spectator has been injured or at least annoyed by some of the falling ash.

What is the primary issue? The primary issues seems to be over the issue of “paradox.” There are places in Van Til’s writings where it seems he simply loves paradoxes, whereas Clark is firmly opposed to paradoxes.

How can the two sides disagree? One area where the two sides disagree is over the semantic range of “paradox.” If one reads Clark, one may get the distinct impression that Clark views “paradox” as only referring to real logical contradictions, whereas those who follow Van Til seem to think that Van Til is using “paradox” to refer only to apparent contradictions.

But is that all? No. Of course, that is not all. Clark more or less explicitly eschews the idea of paradox, where as Van Til (and/or his followers) seem to embrace it. Clark’s followers view the followers of Van Til as irrational, and the view from the opposite direction is of Clark as excessively dependent on human reason.

What are the impacts? Clark and Van Til appear to differ in their understanding of the knowability of God. Van Til, for example, appears to permit there to be “paradoxes” that cannot be resolved with the human mind, but which can be resolved with the divine mind, because men and God think in qualitatively different ways. Clark would reject this, suggesting that any apparent paradoxes are more likely due to error, a lack of human effort, or a lack of revelation to provide the resolution.

To me the approach of Van Til sounds as though it magnifies God (by describing his knowledge as qualitatively different from ours) but it seems to contradict the Scriptural testimony that suggests that God wishes to communicate clearly truth to human beings. If what we know is not qualitatively the same as what God knows, how can anything we know truly be said to be “truth”?

I realize that perhaps this is only an apparent contradiction. However, for us to function, I think Clark’s model is more reasonable: do not posit that there are irresolvable “paradoxes” because this may amount simply to throwing up one’s hands when faced with a challenging problem. We should not welcome “paradox” but rather be concerned by apparent contradictions, because apparent contradictions may be actual contradictions, in which case at least one thing we previously held was false.

For Christians in particular, the lesson is that we should search the Scriptures diligently to confirm doctrines. If the Scriptures contradict the doctrines we hold, we must be careful not to simply wave our hands and call this a “paradox.” Rather we need to carefully investigate whether or not the Scripture really contradicts our doctrine (in which case, our doctrine must change) or whether the initially perceived contradiction was simply apparent.

I have tried to be fair both to Clark and Van Til in the preceding paragraphs. Nevertheless, I welcome those of their contemporary disciples who would wish to disabuse me of my perceptions, should I be in error. I suppose I would consider myself a student of Clark’s to a greater extent than Van Til (having read more books by the former than the latter), and I do not mean to write off everything good that Van Til may have had to say about other subjects by this criticism on the issue of paradox and the difference (alleged to exist) between the quality of man’s knowledge and of God’s.

-TurretinFan

Why Does Scripture have Epistemic Priority? Carl F. H. Henry Explains

August 5, 2008

“The scriptural revelation takes epistemological priority over general revelation, not because general revelation is obscure or because man as sinner cannot know it, but because Scripture as an inspired literary document republishes the content of general revelation objectively, over against sinful man’s reductive dilutions and misconstructions of it.”

-Carl F. H. Henry (God Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1, 1999, p. 223)

What is general revelation? It is the revelation discussed here:

Romans 1:18-23
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

This is in stark contrast to special revelation, which is the kind of revelation discussed here:

Hebrews 1:1-4
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

Praise be to God for not leaving us with general revelation alone!

-TurretinFan


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