Here is a very good piece relating to the error which can happen if we try to defend God’s Sovereignty without due regard to the philosophical implications. Although the writer doesn’t speak of it, his objection to Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle’s position in their Erasing Hell, that “God can do anything He wants” is an example of what is often called “Divine Command Theory” – an explanation of the relationship between God’s will and ethics one often comes across in Calvinist theodices (defenses of God in relation to evil). While I would disagree with the author’s view that God’s essence is “fundamentally unknowable by human beings” (Scripture does not support a radical approach to our knowledge of God), he makes his point well.
The article is posted at The Jesus Creed and is a bit of a hard read. It’s by David Opderbeck and is called “God can do anything he wants!”
This post, while being very relevant to the context of my previous post and the one coming fast on its heels, is a “stand-alone.” I apologize for the formatting.
When the Christian sets forth his outlook he will stress the kind of God to whom he is committed, the nature of the world in relation to God, and the nature of man as God’s creature. The Christian God is totally self-sufficient, and in Him there is an equal ultimacy of unity and diversity (being Triune). Everything outside of Him derives its existence, character, meaning, and purpose in light of Him and His sovereign counsel. – Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, 16.
Logic/Reason…..precondition ……. God who is immaterial perfect rationality
Morality…………..precondition ……..God who is righteous
Truth……………….precondition ……..God who is unchanging Truth
Uniformity……….precondition ……..God who upholds regularity (providence)
Order………………..precondition ……..God who imprints His order on creation
Subject-Object….precondition ……..God creates us (body/soul), the world for us
Love………………….precondition ……..God who is Love and demonstrates it
Beauty………………precondition ……..God who is artistic & gives us aesthetic abilities
Language…………..precondition ……..God who speaks
Good………………….precondition ……..God who is perfectly Good
Evil…………………….precondition ……..God who permits declension from Himself
False Beliefs………..precondition ……..God who (for now) allows rebellion
Personality………….precondition ……..God who is Personal
Relationship………..precondition ……..God who is social
One & Many…………precondition ……..God who is both One and Many (Trinitarian)
Science………………..precondition ……..God who gives skills & conditions for analysis
History………………..precondition ……..God who created & guides with a telos in view
Number……………….precondition ……..God who is Triune and infinite
Ecology………………..precondition ……..God who gives us oversight of His creation
Salvation………………precondition ……..God who reconciles humanity in His Son
Worship………………..precondition ……..God who evokes praise in the saints
Hope……………………..precondition ……..God who raises Christ from the dead
Meaning………………..precondition ……..God who made us in His image
Glory to God alone!
I am still having a spot of bother getting the “new look” looking right. Lack of time and lack of ability are the culprits. I have some material to put up when the new look comes (DV soon!), but this piece is probably worth another airing.
The Christian must take his or her position upon the words of Scripture. Not after it has been granted that the Bible really is the very Word of God, but it must be the great presupposition, the ultimate commitment of every child of God. We must insist that there is, in fact, no alternative to the Bible when it comes to an infallible and certain source of knowledge available to humanity. It is the “frame” into which all of mans thoughts must fit if man is to know anything for certain. Natural theology can only provide an immanent base upon which to build a theology, which would require that God’s Truth would always have to submit itself to the judgment of men. Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff describes this wrong turn taken by evangelicals in the modern (i.e. Enlightenment) era:
Theology in the modern university is under pressure to cast its argumentative structure into a very different mold. Natural theology can no longer occur as an occasional insertion into the framework of scripturally based sacred theology, as the necessary foundation thereof. Until that foundation is firmly laid in the deliverances of our human nature, there can be no going beyond. And the “going beyond,” from natural theology to scripturally based sacred theology, can occur only if the theologian, appealing solely to the deliverances of our human nature, has succeeded in establishing that the Christian Scriptures are indeed the revelation of God. Natural theology, conducted as a generically human enterprise, is thus to be followed by inquiry into the revelatory status of Scripture, also conducted as a generically human enterprise. If the result of this last inquiry is that Christian Scripture is likely to be (or include) God’s revelation, then one can construct the remainder of one’s theology on the basis of that revelational content – with the proviso that one’s interpretation of the meaning of Scripture is also to be conducted as a generically human enterprise.
If the believer starts by arguing to the reliability, inspiration, and authority of Scripture he will never get to where he can plant both feet solidly on all of its teachings. Our purpose at this point is to examine what is perhaps the most disruptive fallout of an adherence to natural theology, and that is the bifurcation of knowledge into that which can be known by reason alone, and that which can only be known by reason acting in tandem with faith.
A. The “Two Spheres”
In his book about the fortunes of modern atheism in the West, the Oxford scholar Alister McGrath highlights the unfortunate outcome of churchmen in the time of the Enlightenment trying to prove God’s existence from philosophical reasoning alone:
Convinced that the scientific discoveries of their day could be harnessed to serve the needs of the church, Descartes and his colleagues abandoned any appeal to religious experience in their defense of the faith. The secure proofs of religion lay in philosophy and the natural sciences – in the reasoning of this world rather than the intrusion of the next. Philosophy alone could establish the necessity and plausibility of the Christian faith.
With the benefit of hindsight, this was not a particularly wise strategy. The English experience suggested that nobody really doubted the existence of God until theologians tried to prove it. The very modest success of these proofs led many to wonder if God’s existence was quite as self-evident as they had once thought. A well-meaning defense of God ended up persuading people that the case for God was surprisingly uncertain.
As it turned out, the very arguments used by Theists to combat atheism were put into service by Atheists and used as reasons not to believe in God.
The reason why it backfired on these Christians is not too difficult to divine. Read more »
A Case Study: Harold Netland and the Demand for Neutrality
As we further consider whether reason should be categorized separately to faith as properly functioning independent of it, I cite the example of an article by Harold Netland entitled, “Apologetics, Worldviews, and the Problem of Neutral Criteria.” In Netland’s 1991 article we see an able but, I believe, misguided critique of presuppositionalist John M. Frame’s epistemology as set forth in his book The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. The overall burden of Netland’s complaint is clear, there must be some mutually shared neutral criteria that all people, whether Theist, Atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Humanist, or whatever, can use to judge each other’s positions. It is the possibility of this neutral ground that Frame, in common with other biblical presuppositionalists (including the present writer) denies.
The first stratagem of Netland is to label Frame’s position “theological fideism,” which quickly becomes “fideism” as the article proceeds. Having done this he presents his position as the one that will use reason instead of eschewing it. The main question he wants answered is this: “Given our religiously pluralistic world an obvious question arises…‘Why should one accept the Christian presupposition instead of the Hindu or Buddhist presuppositions?’” Behind this question is his assumption that Frame is claiming that, “ultimate presuppositions (commitments)…can be accepted or rejected at will.”
It should not take a hard-core Van Tilian to point out that this is exactly the opposite of what theologians like Frame are saying. Read more »
This and the following piece are old posts to which I am giving more daylight.
It appears to me that one of the first things a faithful theologian needs to do is to straighten out the confusion brought about by the world’s separation of faith and reason. This relationship is so vital to a biblically fastened worldview that to neglect it will involve the believer in a host of conflicting beliefs and practices. For it is just here that the negligent Christian theologue will be attacked. To the average man in the street, “faith” is that “I really hope so” attitude that many people employ when their circumstances get tough. It is that blind trust that things will turn out all right in the end. Faith thus defined is the opposite of reason. “Reason” deals with the cold hard facts, so it goes, and is what we have to use in the “real world” – in business, in science, in education.
One Christian writer has put the matter in the form of a question: “Is it rational for us to believe in God? Is it rational for us to place our confidence in Him and his revelation to man? Can a person believe in God without performing a sacrifice of his intellect? ”
According to many people, faith and reason are polar opposites. Faith deals with hopes and aspirations and dreams and ‘religious stuff’, while reason concerns itself with the facts of day to day experience, the world in which we live and do science learn about what is and what is not so. As the late Harvard paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould stated it, in what has become a mantra among secular scientists, “religion tells us how to go to heaven; science tells us how the heavens go.” To put it in less deceptive terms, “religion deals with gods and heaven and pixies and UFO’s; while science (which knows these things are non-existent) concerns itself with what is so.” Gould even thought up a nice anagram for his concept: NOMA, or “non over-lapping magisteriums”. Secular science gets all the facts; faith gets all the pink elephants. Or as one astute critic observed,
The power to define “factual reality” is the power to govern the mind, and thus to confine “religion” within a naturalistic box. For example, a supposed command of God can hardly provide a basis for morality unless God really exists. The commands of an imaginary deity are merely human commands dressed up as divine law…[N]aturalistic metaphysics relegates both morality and God to the realm outside of scientific knowledge, where only subjective belief is to be found.
It is because of misconceptions such as these that the matter deserves more attention than it gets. We must begin by defining our terms. Gould and his followers are so impressed by their formulation of the issue because they have defined faith away while reconstituting reason so that it mirrors their own opinion of themselves and what they think they are doing. The first thing that any person should do, therefore, is to know what he means when employing specific terminology.
I will define reason along with theologian-philosopher John Frame as, “the human ability or capacity for forming judgments and inferences.” This is employing the word in a descriptive sense. Frame goes on to narrow the definition down to a normative sense “to denote correct judgments and inferences.” The important thing to notice about Frame’s definition is that it houses no built-in biases against supernaturalism. While being itself a perfectly good description it does not contain anything in it with which the secularist can control the debate. Read more »
Non-biblical philosophies have a way of creeping into even the best Christian writing. Given the reality of the Fall this is perhaps unavoidable. Still, Christians should regard it as their duty to their Lord not to be reliant upon any unscriptural underpinnings in their theology. The Apostle Paul, who knew the philosophers (Acts 17), sees it as one of his obligations to remind believers how they ought to think (e.g. Rom. 12:1-2; Col. 2:8). Ones ultimate criterion of thought, the most basic appeals to facticity, affect the outworking of ones worldview. This is to be seen more clearly in some scholars than in others. Those I have in mind in this piece are men who take a view of the Bible which runs counter to what the Bible itself permits, and whose scriptural vision is duly impaired.
Scripture always and everywhere presents itself as the Word of God. This is either assumed, as in the opening verses of the Book of Genesis, or it is stated explicitly (e.g. 2 Tim. 3:16). The Lord Jesus Himself is quite matter-of-fact in the way He assumes the Holy Scriptures to require no other human response but that of belief (e.g. Jn. 5:39-47). The Bible is self-attesting (Isa. 66:2b).
When once a person has become a Christian he has entered upon a true relationship with the Author of the Word which, by supernatural working, he has believed and by which he has been given light with which to search it and think about it. He has not acquired saving knowledge by anything within himself. He has not come to know the Author of life and the Creator of time and space unless he has come to know Him through His Word, and the true significance of the Word. Saving knowledge opens our eyes to all other knowledge – or at least it should. Thus, Scripture is seen as the touchstone of all veridical truth. We begin our knowing anew in light of God’s Word (Psa. 36:9).
Of course, to operate this way one must be like Jesus and the Apostles and accept the outside-Word from God without placing it through the wringer of empiricism. Faith, for sure, is what brings the testimony of the Spirit with it to give certainty. But whether faith is present or not does not alter the provenance of the Bible, and thus its ultimate authority or its right to provide the first principles of knowledge. If “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psa. 24:1), then a biblical perspective, not just on sin and salvation, but on every other subject under the sun is demanded. If this is not done the rights of theology will be circumscribed by the creature to the detriment of a proper Christian worldview. Read more »
N.B. Some of this material has appeared in a previous post.
Many moons ago evangelicals could be relied upon to hold a generally agreed-upon opinion on the revelatory character of Scripture.There were some who tried to formulate the “Scripture Principle” using evidentialist apologetics (Warfield, Sproul, Pinnock), and others who laid stress upon the Divine initiative in revelation by employing ‘presuppositionalist’ approaches (Turretin, Kuyper, Van Til), but, for all that, the Bible was thought to contain God’s verbal disclosure in propositional form.
Sadly, this is no longer true.Since Karl Barth there has been an incessant attempt to treat propositionalism as naïve and rationalistic.The alternatives put forth as replacements have all advertised themselves as more dynamic then the older view.And they have joined chorus in their efforts to disabuse the church of its “static” view of the Bible.
Certainly, it is true (as I have pointed out) that 19th century theologians sometimes portrayed the Bible as a repository of retrievable proof-texts to fit any question.But even then it has been demonstrated that such men as Charles Hodge can be construed more charitably than has often been the case in the books and articles of their opponents.I believe the issue of whether the Bible comes to us as propositional revelation is crucial for Christians and ought to be settled in the affirmative.Here, then, are some of my thoughts on the matter: Read more »
Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
Another thinker whose world and life view has influenced millions of people is Soren Kierkegaard, “the father of Existentialism.”
In contrast to Kant, whose life was marked by pedestrian regularities, Kierkegaard led a rather tortured existence. He was greatly disturbed that the Enlightenment, instead of liberating man, ended up stealing his soul, and, as Kierkegaard thought, obliterating man’s individuality.
His response to this was to teach the complete freedom of the individual’s will as it progresses through the stages of life to eventually realize its need of God. But his God was really only a figment of his biblically informed imagination. For Kierkegaard, truth, like living, was more subjective than objective. He did not repudiate objectivity, but he inveighed against the sort of detached assent to reality which he saw in men like Hegel. This led him to assert that what one must do “is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.” This is no more than is repeated today by the majority of college students. Read more »
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
A paradigm shift began with Immanuel Kant, who influenced most of the Western world to believe that our minds are the organizers and rationalizers of a reality which is unknowable “as it is.” The mind of man becomes the final adjudicator in the interpretation of the Universe. In Kant’s system, it cannot be any other way. Further, the empiricist in him put everything not open to the senses behind a cognitive wall in a realm he called the Noumenal. This noumenal realm is the place that “things as they are” (the external world) inhabit prior to being categorized and interpreted by our minds. And the only way our minds can obtain the data of the external world is through sense-experience. As Kant himself said, “All conceptions, therefore, and with them all principles, however high the degree of their a priori possibility, relate to empirical intuitions, that is, to data towards a possible experience.” So sense-data are necessary for any “fact” to be presented to the mind, but once perceived that data is given form or structure by the mind. Read more »
The last post on “The Frame of Knowledge” asserted that the revelatory viewpoint of Christian-theism provides the only acceptable “frame” in which reason and experience can be understood for what they are – i.e. gifts of the true God. I further tried to show that Christians, therefore, ought to begin and end their thinking from within this frame. I closed out with the observation that unless Christians rethink their approach to epistemology in more biblical, which is to say revelatory terms, they will aid and abet the non-Christian world in their never-ending attempts to “shove God in to the margins” of life.
The only way to fight back against this is for the Church to once again let the voice of the LORD be heard as it should. Christians must begin all predication by sanctifying “the Lord God in [their] hearts” (2 Pet. 3:15), and they must further insist that nothing that can be called knowledge can really be known outside of the supernaturalistic “frame of knowledge” provided in the Bible. They must forever abandon the two-storey truth model and instead interpret every fact biblically and theologically. Their epistemological foundations must comport with their theological conclusions. This must be done while mounting a resolute and sustained offensive on all non-Christian alternatives. Theology should always be on the front foot![i]