2 Stars Out Of 5
Problems with Mixing Christianity and Philosophy When It Comes to Truth
November 15, 2017
Age: Over 65
This is The Gospel Coalitions (hereafter TGC) booklet on truth which is part of a series dealing with matters foundational to the Christian faith. Regrettably, while addressing todays crisis of truth, TGC is at certain points on the wrong side of that crisis. That is, if the challenge to truth in our time is the belief that truth is subjective, relative, and not objectively accessible to everyone, then TGC in its statement on truth is part of the problem and not the solution. For instance, to the question which serves as title for this book, Can we know the truth?, TGC replies: (1) because of human finitude, truth is subjective, partial, and selective (p. 14); (2) because of sins effect on the mind, humans are no longer able to know truth truly at all (p. 14); and (3) there is no objective epistemological ground between believers and unbelievers that does not require Christians to ignore the lordship of Jesus (p. 8)which is to say, truth is relative to the Christian perspective (broader implication: all knowing is relative to ones perspective).
It is not insignificant that all these conclusions are in conflict with what a number of respected groups and individuals (both Reformed and evangelical) believe about the concept of truth, such as, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, the Truth Project with Del Tackett, D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Os Guinness, R.C. Sproul, Art Lindsley, David Wells, Norman Geisler, Ravi Zacharias, Douglas Groothuis, J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, R. Scott Smith, and others.
More importantly, these conclusions derive not from Scripture but modern epistemology (particularly the succession of theories of knowledge from Descartes to Kant), which holds that objective truth or reality exists but is unknowable directly or as it is in itself; it is only knowable indirectly and subjectively based on how the mind views things. (That is, human knowledge cannot be verified against external reality itself.) What TGC is doing is a Christian spin on this epistemology. They have exchanged the humanly centered knowledge of modern epistemology for (as they conceive it) the Christ-centered knowledge that comes subjectively by regeneration through the Spirit, which, in turn, enables them to understand Gods Word. Since God knows everything objectively and perfectly, regenerate persons (again, based on Scripture) escape their unknowing. That is, Gods people only know truth insofar as they know Scripture by the Spirit --- a view of truth which is more narrow than the understanding of truth assumed in Scripture.
There is, of course, truth to what they are claiming but it is an unbiblical exaggeration. For instance, when Moses provides a test for identifying a true prophet (Deuteronomy 18:21-22), he says that if what the prophet predicts come to pass, then the prophet is from God. If it doesnt come to pass, the prophet is not from God. If we think of the prophet as a potential author of Scripture, then consider what God is saying here. In order to confirm such the people had to know the meaning of what the prophet said and know whether or not it came to pass. That is, there is in this case an underlying assumption that the prophetic text had meaning and people could reliably and objectively know it. There is also an assumption that the small sliver of history involved in confirming (or not) that the prophecy was true was also reliably, objectively knowable. Do we understand what this means for knowing? The people were obviously finite and sinful, yet God is commanding them through Moses to use their minds to know the meaning of the prophecy and determine through empirical observation whether or not the prophecy came true. What does God not say? He doesnt tell them to rely on regeneration or the inner confirmation of the Spirit to determine whether or not the prophecy was from God. (Not that the Holy Spirit doesnt do this in believers.) He also doesnt point them to Scripture, since what qualifies truly as Scripture is what is at issue here. So, the point is that due to the latter, the people couldnt rely on Scripture as a condition for knowing in general that would provide presuppositions necessary to determine whether or not someone was truly a prophet. Apparently, being made in the image of God as knowers and sustained by His providential goodness for knowledge, the people were ableagain, finite and sinful though they wereto reliably and objectively know whether or not a prophecy had come to pass and, hence, whether or not a particular person was a prophet from God.
Consequently, TGC has, in my judgment, mistakenly associated human finitude and the effects of sin on the mind with a general errancy or defectiveness for knowing which, again, derives from philosophy but is foreign both to the assumptions of Scripture and our common experience. The difference between God as infinite and humans as finite entails no innate necessity that our knowledge of things like 1+1=2 or at what temperature water boils, etc. is defective or errant. And the effects of sin on the mind does not mean people cannot know truth in any sense. Obviously, we regularly observe unregenerate persons (scientists, doctors, professors, construction workers, etc.) knowing truth at some level. I suggest that sins effect on the mind concerns not whether people can know truth but what they do with it.
In general, TGCs apparently adopting modern epistemologys problems for knowing for explicating human finitude and sin shifts the Bibles diagnosis of the problem of humankind from that of sin (which involves, at some level, successful knowing as Romans 1-3 clearly demonstrates) to that of knowledge. Accordingly, the solution to this problem (as TGC presents it) is not, as a matter of priority, a Savior from sin but a way of knowing (the basic tenets of Christian belief) which first makes truth or knowledge possible in general and, second (or afterward), appropriately frames the belief that Jesus is Lord. Hence, when modernists and postmodernists claim that truth is relative, in a sense, TGC agrees with them. Only TGC would say that truth is relative to Christian presuppositions. This also means that when unbelievers reject TGCs invitation to, Please try our way of knowing, they will tend to walk away feelingprecisely because of this approachjustified and confirmed in their own relativism.
The crisis of truth in our time, I suggest, is not all that different from what was in the air in the first century due to ancient Greek thinkers like Plato, Protagorus, Pyrrho, and the Sophists. Jesus and the apostles did not respond to such a crisis of their age by accepting or integrating some of its problems for knowing (certain skeptical tenets) with what Scripture teaches about human finitude or sin. A bit more bluntly, Jesus and the apostles (including the apostle Paul who was no doubt familiar with such) ignored what the Greek philosophers said about truth. They held, for instance (in contrast to what skeptics have always believed on this), to the important, even foundational, role of the witness (what we might call a knowerness or knower in state) for grounding truth (see what Jesus says in John 5, for example). This contrasts starkly with the view stated in TGCs booklet on truth: With the postmoderns we are skeptical that finite, fallible humans are agents of truth (p. 12). (That is, TGC is saying: we are skeptical that people can be witnesses for truth.)
If one does nothing more than study carefully the apostle Peters sermon in Acts 2 and notice that there is no indication that the unregenerate persons to whom he is addressing himself are unable to know things generally or reliablythat there is no objective ground for truth between him and them. Peter doesnt, first, make an indirect appeal for Christianity as a belief system or perspective before presenting his argument for Jesus as the Messiah. He directly builds his case for the latter explicitly noting that the people to whom he is preaching (though unregenerate) knew certain things, such as, that the languages they were seeing (as tongues of fire over heads) and hearing were miraculous; that Jesus had worked miracles among them as a divine attestation to his ministry; that King David died, his body was in the tomb they all knew about, such that the prophecy, you will not let your holy one see corruption, must have been intended not for David but for one of Davids sons. Peter then claims that he and the other apostles and disciples were eyewitnesses (yes, as in a court room, agents for truth) that Jesus, a descendant of King David, had been raised from the dead. Peter then closes his sermon with: let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus both Lord and Christ.
Three thousand people were persuaded by the compelling case Peter made that day for the verdict that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. The presentation of the case demonstrates that Peter, regenerate as he was, nevertheless saw himself as on the same objective ground for truth with these unregenerate people. The established truth that Jesus is Lord became the basis, then, for a change in presuppositions held previously by the people. Importantly, however, their unbelieving presuppositions did not prevent them from intelligibly encountering the truth as Peter presented it. (We can know things that dont fit our presuppositions.) What happened to those persuaded of this truth, afterward, is that a whole new set of presuppositions began to be developed (that is, the appropriate Christian presuppositions).
Therefore, however, we conceive of regeneration by the Spirit and knowledge gained through Scripture, it must not conflict with apostolic assumptions and practice as found in places like the Book of Acts. Undoubtedly, the unregenerate do not know the truth as it is in Jesus with the life-changing, spiritually enlightening power that the regenerate experience. But there is a sense in which trutheven the truth of the good news of Jesus Christis public truth and as such is knowable for everyone. This is what makes people accountable for disobeying that message (2 Thessalonians 1:8), since they would not be so, if for lack of Christian presuppositions they were entirely ignorant or did not understand its truth in any sense.