Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Gospel Coalition's Claim that There Is No Christ-Honoring Common Ground for Objective Truth between a Believer and Unbeliever (Part 3)

          In my last post, I stated that the claim that there is no common objective ground (no neutrality or, as Van Til says, “point of contact”) between a believer and unbeliever is inseparable from the claim that there are no “brute facts.” I argued that this view (what I also called “hard presuppositionalism” or “epistemological idealism”) conflicts with our common—actual and routine—experience of knowing. We can indeed, as I suggested, observe and identify the properties of things in themselves. I called this Interpretation 1 and illustrated it with a lectern, beef stew, and a toothpick. Our knowing, then, as humans is not confined, exhausted, or totally determined by our presuppositions, as “hard presuppositionalism” (or what I called Interpretation 2) maintains. Put differently, there is a decisive role for the non-mental (that is, external reality itself) in determining truth, which means that reality has a physical, non-mental, or material aspect to it that is what it is objectively regardless of what the human mind attempts to make of it subjectively.

             As is perhaps evident by now, my general concern is that the adoption of this kind of integration of philosophy with Christianity/Reformed theology was not, in the first place, critical enough from a biblical standpoint. I suggested earlier that in a quest to enhance Reformed theology, philosophy in its arrogance seemed to offer an understanding of knowing so centered and absolute in the human mind (“all knowledge is human knowledge”) that were one to substitute that centeredness with the mind of God (“all knowledge is divine”—and known for believers through regeneration and Scripture), it would seem to glorify God all the more. One could extend, thereby, the dimension of sin to include a problem of unknowing in general due to the absence of knowing God’s mind. Consequently, the gospel would be construed as first addressing this problem of unknowing by putting in place what Christians believe (based on Scripture) as the condition for knowing anything at all. The only problem, however (as I’ve been arguing), is that the theory so used to create this hybrid of philosophy and Christian/Reformed theology is itself wrong or untrue to the nature of the reality of knowing as we commonly experience it.

             There is, however (and as already indicated), another (even more important) test on which, I trust, we may agree: Whatever our epistemology, if we find that it is inconsistent with biblical assumptions or apostolic practice pertaining to truth, should we not prayerfully reconsider it? That is, if the hybrid doctrine of Christian/Reformed theology and philosophy I’ve been examining is true and from God, would it not have always been so? Would it not, therefore, be reflected in biblical assumptions or apostolic practice? Or are we as the church today claiming to know something about the nature of truth that the apostles and prophets didn’t know—that the Spirit never guided them to recognize in Scripture? Moreover, did the church have to wait until that succession of modern philosophers from Descartes to Kant (the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries)—wait even longer until Van Til interpreted them for Christian/Reformed purposes in the twentieth century—to get an upgrade on how best to glorify God in its apologetics? That is, did the church wait almost two thousand years before it discovered that there are no “brute facts,” that external reality (or objective truth) is not directly knowable, that there is no public or universal truth for—no common or neutral ground between—believers and unbelievers? If so, do the Scriptures truly make “the man of God” complete, fully prepared for every good work? If so, what about the work of defending the faith? And do we truly have the whole counsel of God in Scripture (the assumption behind the historic Reformation appeal to sola Scriptura)? Or did the church have to wait, late in its history, until certain philosophers came along to inform us (with the help of Christian/Reformed theology) that there cannot be common ground for truth between a believer and unbeliever? If so, what else will the church learn in the future from the philosophers? And should we not be encouraging the church to start reading the philosophers—not just the Bible—to build ourselves up in our most holy faith? If we as the church, for lack of philosophical insight, have been always so deficient in understanding on such an important matter throughout our long history, why would we not get wise to the situation and start devoting outselves not only to the apostles’ but also the philosophers’ teaching?

             I don’t believe that TGC council members would support that. But, sadly, even in Christian/Reformed academic circles (colleges and seminaries) one often finds the view that philosophers are the experts on things like knowledge and truth, because it is thought that the Bible simply has nothing to say about such things. This is why we may not discern the nuance in a statement like that made by TGC, when it says (at its website under its Confessional Statement on “Revelation”) that Scripture is “final in its authority over every domain of knowledge to which it speaks [emphasis mine—jnp].” I mean that for Christians who respect the Bible as God’s Word and, hence, authoritative and final as truth over all the fields of learning, it may not be readily understood that there are Christian leaders and scholars (and I am not implicating TGC here but just speaking generally) who might say things like: “Yes, the Bible is the final judge and standard of truth in our belief and practice but the Bible does not intend to give us knowledge about things like how the world began (cosmology) or what we are to do with the philosopher’s questions about knowing (epistemology).” That is, if it has been determined that the Bible does not speak to a particular domain of knowledge (let’s say, a scientific or philosophical theory), then it is perceived as having no authority as truth on that matter. (As someone has said, “the Bible is not a little black book of theories.”)

             However, one problem with this approach to biblical authority in relation to the various fields of learning is that apparently it assumes the Bible has to raise certain questions and deal with them as the various fields of learning do in order to be understood as offering knowledge on such. We seem to be claiming that if on any question the Bible does not play, for instance, philosophy’s games or dance to its theoretical melody (didn’t Jesus encounter that sort of challenge in his public ministry?), then, again, it doesn’t have anything to say in that regard. But does the Bible, for example, have to treat ethics the way philosophy does to have a divinely authoritative position on ethics? Does the Bible have to theorize about history as philosophers do to have a divinely normative philosophy of history? (Obviously, Augustine didn’t think so.) And more pertinently, does the Bible have to entertain the questions philosophers have about knowing in order to have a view—even a decisive and normative one—about knowing?

             Here is my concern: if we let philosophy, based on its methods, set the standard for what qualifies as real or true knowledge, then it isn’t just truth which is at stake (as if that were not enough!) but nothing Christians believe is safe. For instance, the Bible never handles the question of whether one person can die for others (what is central to the atonement of Christ) in the sophisticated manner Kant does in his Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. Does the Bible have a theory on this matter? It does not in the sense that it does not treat this subject matter as Kant does. But does it have a position on such? I’m sure we would agree that it certainly does. On the other hand, what is the conclusion of Kant’s philosophical treatment of this particular question? That as a matter of justice, the vicarious suffering and death of one man on behalf of others is simply not rational. As such, therefore, the doctrine of Christ’s atonement is, on Kant’s account, unworthy of an enlightened human race.

             There are many other things to be considered on this question of biblical authority, epistemology, and philosophy. But this is not the appropriate context to enlarge on such. However, I could not proceed with a presentation of biblical assumptions and apostolic practice without anticipating a dismissal of everything I am about to say based on a prior decision that the Bible has nothing to say about epistemology. What this tends to mean, as just stated, is that philosophy will in some sense (however slight or limited) occupy the driver’s seat for epistemology. The net result will be the real risk that certain biblical prerequisites for the self-disclosure of the God of truth to people on earth will be altered, adversely affecting the dynamics of its reception at the level of human knowing itself. Whereas Christian conservatives today, thankfully, are quick to stand against schemes that charge the Bible with errors—knowing the negative effect this would have for confidence that we can know God and his will—we seem naive or strangely gullible to the possibility that essentially the very same loss occurs when we accept philosophy’s skepticism (cloaked as “Reformed theology”) about human knowing itself.

             But I leave that topic and proceed by restating the question already introduced: Whatever our epistemology, if we find that it is inconsistent with biblical assumptions or apostolic practice pertaining to truth, should we not prayerfully reconsider it?

 Biblical Assumptions about Knowing

            Let’s consider, first, biblical assumptions. As already stated in different ways (such as my tri-level illustration for knowledge) that the Bible clearly and consistently treats truth similarly to the way we understand truth in a court room or every day life: it is knowable, can be discovered through evidence and witnesses, can be (contrary to Phillips) reliably known and carried successfully by humans to others, etc. For example, the ninth commandment which forbids bearing false witness about one's neighbor and implies positively a command to bear true witness (be faithful or reliable agents of truth) that way presents us with a God who is not so much concerned (as philosophers are) with the question of how we know as much as he is with that we know—and what we do with what we know. From that standpoint, there may even be a problem with bearing false witness about knowing itself—that is, what we indeed do know and know that we know under God's common grace (as quoted earlier, what Calvin calls “common experience”) outside the philosopher's shade—under which, I repeat, neither the Old Testament prophets nor the New Testament apostles ever sat. This seems especially true if our questions about knowing are encouraging us as Christians to bury our epistemic talent or not act on or be faithful to what we know—or be fully engaged in making it known (talking, reasoning, preaching, etc.) to others—perhaps because we think our Lord, like many philosophers, is a hard epistemological taskmaster.

             Unquestionably, Scripture presents everywhere on its sacred pages an epistemic confidence about ordinary knowing and truth-telling in general. Indeed, the Bible assumes what is called “epistemological realism” throughout its pages. By the latter, I mean the view that, first, knowing is not just mental but also physical in nature—that contrary to Descartes and others in the modern tradition, the relationship between the mind and the body (or physical world) is not so substantially different that there is no overlap, connection, or relatability between them. As you know (and I often tell my students), quite different from the ancient Greek thinkers to whom Western philosophy is greatly indebted—Hebrew epistemology is “the kind of knowing that makes babies.” (I might add: one doesn’t make a baby by thinking about it.) Second, by “epistemological realism” I mean that knowing involves, positively, a correspondence, accord, or match between the mind and the body (or physical world) such that by God’s common grace (being made in his image and sustained by his goodness) we ordinarily and reliably do know the truth—and can tell the truth—about many things.

             This God-given ability for truth is also implied in the assumed integrity of the relationship between simple seeing and knowing in the quite significant role of the witness in relation to God’s standard method of establishing truth. That is, for instance (and as we know), under the Law of Moses every charge had to be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut. 19:15; 2 Cor. 13:1). Now if we consider an answer to a particular query concerning truth as similar to ascertaining what something weighs, we might say that having “two or three witnesses” to confirm the truth of a matter is what God has appointed as scales for weighing it.  Accordingly, if “a false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight” (Prov. 11:1), would it not follow that if truth by virtue of human finitude (not to speak of sin) is necessarily “subjective,” “partial,” or “selective” and that even one witness, on that account, would be defective for ascertaining truth—not to speak of the additional problems that would result from compounding the testimony of two or three persons thus defective—wouldn’t God, in that case, hate—certainly not command—reliance upon such witnesses to weigh the truth of a matter? Is there not, therefore, an implied divine, though qualified,[1] vote of confidence here in the “scales” of human knowing? And are we not even called by God to recognize, if not uphold, that epistemic confidence when as a church we follow the Lord’s instruction requiring two or three witnesses to confirm any charge (2 Cor. 13:1)?

             What all this clearly implies, from a biblical standpoint, is that there must be in some sense a reliable overlap in what the philosophers call “substance” between levels one and two (respectively, body and mind) of my earlier tri-structure illustration for knowing. However, as we know, this is precisely what Descartes in his own epistemology rejects from the outset in favor of his mind-body dualism (as inseparable from his subjectivity with all its problems for truth). Nonetheless, this philosophically innocent relationship of simple seeing with knowing is necessary, from a biblical standpoint, to give epistemic weight or value to what a witness knows.

             Hence, in contrast to the foundational, first-person knowing (the “I think therefore I am”) of Descartes and his modern successors, the Bible is third-person oriented throughout. The Bible teaches us to say: “God is, therefore, I am.” It teaches us to look away from ourselves—not within—to get to the foundation for knowledge. “Thus saith the Lord,” as the prophets declared, is integral to their task as witnesses for God—a third-person way of speaking.[2] Or: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” is, again, a third-person way of knowing. We begin not with ourselves but God—one who is other to us. In short, God is the foundation for knowledge that Descartes exchanges for his own subjective consciousness. As knowers, we always open our eyes, first of all, to the God who powerfully shines through all that he has made. We hear what is written, “In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth.” Babies see, first of all, not themselves but their mothers. Life is objectively oriented by nature. It takes deliberate, contrived, self-conscious effort to become (allegedly for the sake of knowledge) introvertedly subjective in the manner of a Descartes and the entire modern, philosophical tradition that succeeds him. By virtue of creation, knowledge does not come that way to us naturally. All this third-person confidence for knowing throughout Scripture, to be sure, is why one also finds there, as already indicated, the significant, mostly problem-free role of witnesses for establishing truth. Indeed, such a confirmation for truth is designedly not subjectively centered but, as just indicated, depends on at least two or three persons who are objectively other to us.

             Unsurprisingly, this is also why modern philosophy in the tradition of Descartes undermines the role of the witness (this plays out even more in Locke and Hume); it is because its own first-person knowing (whether rationally based as in Descartes or empirically based as in Locke and Hume) provides its foundational confidence for what it knows. This is why the famous question as to whether or not other persons even exist arose in the first place. If their very existence is in question, where does that leave their testimony to truth as witnesses? Hence, anything (the external world, other persons, etc.) outside that inner, subjective consciousness amounts to a reality radically less certain and ultimately unverifiable objectively as truth.

             On the other hand, under Hebrew realism, there is no such skepticism. For instance, this is evident in the original word for “witness,” which is ed. This word means simply: “to repeat” or “re-assert.” The implication is that a “witness” has the epistemic potential or ability to make what they have experienced as reliable knowledge (or truth) occur again in a sense for others through words. It is not complicated. In the Greek, the word for “witness” is martus, which means, “one who attests to or reports what he has seen or heard.” It can be applied to a person, such as what was required of an apostle in Acts 1:22, namely, that he had seen Jesus after he was raised from dead. The implication is that, when someone sees or hears something related to a case where truth is needed and yet is uncertain (as in a court of law), a witness tells, repeats, or attests to what they know (along with evidence and testimony from other witnesses) as part of a discovery process designed to ascertain that truth. Hence, I offer the following definition:

 A “witness” is one who by the ordinary powers of intelligence or perception has seen or heard something and therefore knows something of interest—occupies the role of an agent for truth in that regard—and offers it as testimony to others in a particular veridical quest.

 When I speak of a “witness” as one who “has seen or heard something and therefore knows something,” I mean, to go a bit deeper, that in the Bible and everyday knowing, there is an operating assumption which both modern and postmodern philosophy reject, namely, that we as humans made in God’s image have a direct (or unmediated), epistemically reliable relationship to external reality. Philosophers in the modern-postmodern mold deny that there is an “immediate beholding” between a knower and the known. They maintain that our “beholding” is mediate or that all knowing is mediated by subjective ideas, representations, or “sense data.” That is, the only direct relationship had between the mind and its world are these inner states or conditions which supposedly derive in part from the real world but mostly have more to do with the way our minds subjectively process things. Consequently, on this view (as I’ve been saying), how we process or interpret external reality cannot be checked against that reality itself. This has been called the “egocentric predicament” or the “categorio-centric predicament.” The former holds that knowing is centered in (or locked into) the ego, while the latter maintains that the way our minds see or categorize the world is not something we can escape or get outside of to verify if how we see things truly corresponds to the way things really are.

 However, one has only to insert such a skeptical notion into a biblical context to see how alien it is to the confidence for knowing one commonly finds there. Imagine, for example, Moses responding to the Lord’s “What is that in your hand?,” with: “I have a categorio-centric predicament, Lord. I don’t know what’s in my hand.” Or: imagine Jesus Christ saying something like, "It seems to me (though I realize others may have a different perspective on this) that I am the way, the truth, and the life." Or: what if John the Baptist said: "To my mind, you perhaps may want to think through the possibilities of repentance; for it appears to me (and this may just be me talking here but) many people in our culture seem to feel that there is a high degree of probability that the kingdom of heaven is—all things being equal—at hand!"? Or: consider what a more skeptical apostle Paul might say in his last letter to Timothy: “My dear Timothy, I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to claim either that ‘I know whom I have believed,’ or that ‘I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.’ I will only say that, in my view, what really counts, in the midst of all my doubts and uncertainties about God and everything else, is to just keep believing. Faith is, as I’ve often said, what you do when you don’t know. Do you understand, Timothy? We make the road we are walking.”  

           As I was saying, there is a strong biblical emphasis on the role of the “witness” in relation to truth. There is also something interesting about its composition as a word. It combines “wit,” which, as we know, means (among other things), “a knower or something that conveys knowledge,” and “ness,” which is a suffix meaning “the quality or state of something.” In the current, skeptical atmosphere, it might be helpful, therefore, instead of “witness” to employ a somewhat awkward expression, such as, “a knower in state.” Keeping in mind my earlier definition, what I mean by a “knower in state” is someone who we have grounds to believe is in a state of knowing or truth with respect to a particular matter—one which is of particular interest to others who do not have that same knowledge, and for whom the absence of that knowledge has created a problem or urgent need. Of course, I would be quick to recognize that there are problems with witnesses (imperfect memory, lying, wrong motives, a political agenda, etc.). However, the Bible, our court system, and every day life (for example, reporting the news or what happened at school or who said what on the political stage) all provide contemporary weight and justification for the ongoing and important role of witnesses.

Henceforth, also, I will mostly use the expression “knower in state” instead of “witness” as I consider the use of this important word in Scripture to emphasize the importance of truth as objective, reliable, or trustworthy knowledge both in terms of God’s self-disclosure and in what Scripture assumes about what humans can have or grasp as truth both generally and particularly with respect to the truth of the gospel. That is, contrary to Phillips’ statement that “with the postmoderns, we are skeptical that finite, fallible humans are the agents of truth,”[3] the Bible assumes that humans are and can be such agents in situations where public truth is needed. My purpose in all this is to juxtapose biblical assumptions or confidence in objective knowing with what I interpret as Phillips’ (and TGC’s) variety of biblically qualified skepticism or subjectivism, as I seek from TGC a reason or justification for this disparity.

I begin with what God says about himself: "I am the one who knows, and I am a knower in state, declares the Lord" (Jere. 29:23). Here God equates “one who knows” with a knower in state. Moreover, that God is all-knowing in his role as a knower in state is spoken of elsewhere in this way:  "The eyes of the LORD are in every place" (Prov. 15:3); or in another verse, "all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). In this anthropomorphic understanding of what it means to know (and, again, contrary to what many philosophers believe), seeing is knowing—that is, there is an implied successful or reliable correlation between physical seeing and mental seeing such that truth or knowledge is the result. Of course, it isn’t that this correlation is always right or always results in reliable knowledge; rather, that there is the assumption that it ordinarily does so when there aren’t internal and external conditions that might distort perception (such as drunkenness, intent to lie, darkness, etc.).

Obviously, as already stated, God's self-description here is an anthropomorphism. Importantly, however, it is an anthropomorphism God has chosen to make himself known to us. It indicates a direct relationship between human seeing and knowing, I say, which seems to have an integrity sufficient to provide an apt analogy for God's own knowing. Similarly, we see this same correlation of seeing and knowing when Jesus says to Nicodemus: "we speak of what we know, and bear knowledge in state to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony" (Jn. 3:11). Or John the Baptist's description of his task of testifying to Christ: "I have seen and borne knowledge in state that this is the Son of God" (Jn. 1:34). Conversely, if there were (as many philosophers maintain) a radical problem for human knowing, such that there is no simple or unmediated seeing, would God have used this anthromorphism to disclose the certainty of his own knowing? More to the point, if Phillips were right that human finitude in itself means that human knowledge of truth is only and always “subjective,” “selective,” and “partial”—if this sort of errancy was the constitutive state for mental seeing (that is: “seeing is not reliable knowing”)—again, would God have borrowed this feature of what it means to be human to assure us that he, too, sees and knows

I realize that there is an immediate counter to this last statement: “Yes, but God also uses anthropomorphic features like anger to reveal himself but in no way associates himself with the humanly negative or sinful aspects of such.” This is true. But when that occurs, Scripture tends to make such clear or obvious. For instance, there is a human anger which is righteous (“Be angry but sin not; don’t let the sun go down on your wrath”—Eph. 4:26) and unrighteous (“the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”—Jas. 1:20). However, Scripture never identifies constitutive or innate human problems with seeing and knowing (or pertaining to physical and mental seeing) itself—that is, problems pertaining to every day matters of observation and truth, in the manner of the philosophers.  

Now, to take this a step further, as one considers the way in which God discloses himself in the Bible, it is also apparent that he condescends to people on earth by placing himself on trial not only through his Son in an actual trial with its subsequent verdict and ultimate result but also epistemically with respect to his truth as revealed in the Bible concerning his Son. Although in his sovereignty, God could have simply declared his Word and left it to the Holy Spirit to confirm that word directly as his Word in the hearts of his people, God did not do that. Undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit does confirm the Word to the heart but does so, according to God’s own counsel, in conjunction with and through his own appointed evidence, testimony, or witnesses of various kinds. I repeat: by God’s own sovereign design, he has not appointed his truth to be believed based merely on his own authority as God or the internal witness or work of the Holy Spirit.

             We may think that this is unworthy or unspiritual of God as God to do such a thing—that is, to make himself subject to such a trial. We may say to ourselves, "All God has to do is tell me something. I don't need evidence for it. I don’t need his miracles. I don’t need his witnesses. His Word is true, and that's all I need." But if God himself has sovereignly given such evidence and summoned us to this trial, who are we to reject what God has appointed? Admittedly, it is wrong to put God to the test, for example, in the way that Satan tempted Jesus to jump off the temple so as to confirm that God would catch him. On the other hand, when God commands us to test him, for example, in the giving of tithes and his promise to bless us for such or when he says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good," it amounts to sin or unbelief if we don’t.

  Moreover, this kind of testing as testimony or confirmation of his truth is consistent in general with God's way of dealing with us.  For example, when Paul says to those in Lystra, "He did not leave himself without knowledge in state" (Acts 14:17), this is true not just when it comes to God's faithfulness to maintain seasons of the year but true in general of God's entire way of revealing himself through the prophets and the apostles:  That is Heaven's first century verdict issued by the apostles beginning at Jerusalem and spreading throughout the entire world, namely, that Jesus is God's Messiah, came through apostles who had been prepared and appointed by God to be knowers in state—people who had seen and who knew things about Jesus of Nazareth, the way other people know things by hearing and seeing and touching (see 1 Jn. 1:1-3).  Jesus had said to the apostles: "You will be my knowers in state in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8; see also Acts 10:41).

             Furthermore, their role as knowers in state or “agents for truth” was simply the last stage in which God spoke to the world through His Son who is himself identified as "the faithful knower in state" (Rev. 1:5). The apostolic testimony as knowledge in state had itself been preceeded by over 1,500 years of testimony in which God spoke through the prophets who were also God's knowers in state for the coming Messiah: "To Him all the prophets bear knowledge in state" (Acts 10:43).

             Having heard this, someone once objected that the apostles were given by the Spirit special faculties of hearing and seeing. They were made infallible, therefore, not merely in what they taught or wrote but also in the use of their senses. God gave them abilities different from the rest of us. Hence, when they saw Jesus after his resurrection, what they saw, heard, and touched—their ability to exercise sensory perception—was supernatural. And this is what commends their testimony as witnesses and makes it reliable. Now I hope the problem such a hypothesis presents is obvious. Besides the fact that this shows how far some have gone to accommodate modern and postmodern skepticism and that Scripture nowhere indicates that the apostles had special sensory powers, the more significant problem with such a proposal is that the only reason a witness has a role in discovering or confirming the truth in relation to others (in quest of the same) is as a kind of surrogate knower for them.[4] That is, there is a fundamental assumption behind the role of a witness in helping us arrive at the truth of a matter: such a person knows what they know in the same way others could have known had they been there to witness the same things. As I stated at the beginning, if a witness claims a special knowing for sensory matters, their testimony is not useful for attaining the needed truth (that is, the judge would throw it out). This is because, in that case, for everyone else (the judge, the other attorney, the jury, etc.), the problem of what they need to know gets compounded by the introduction of a way of knowing to which they are strangers. That is, such a witness is disqualified as a surrogate knower. It is true that prophets and apostles have many things to say that “no eye has seen or ear heard or the heart of man conceived” (1 Cor. 2:9). However, when the apostle John says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 Jn. 1:1-2), he is claiming to be (along with the other apostles) a surrogate knower in an ordinary sense (as in a court of law)—a compelling and convincing knower in state—so as to assure our hearts that his testimony about Jesus Christ is wellfounded, true and reliable. This just means that knowledge proceeding from God and by the Spirit through regeneration in the heart—as truly supernatural as it is—has by God’s design and for its confirmation a natural, external, or physical aspect to it. Consequently, God’s truth is not full-orbed or fully biblical unless we recognize this public, even ordinary, dimension.

             Furthermore, what we see with the apostle John in the passage just quoted is just the culmination of God’s way of showing himself as God to all the nations. And he does so (again, contrary to Phillips) in a way that assumes a common epistemological ground not only between believers and unbelievers but also between himself and the nations (that is, mostly unregenerate people). We see this, perhaps most graphically in Isaiah 43:8-12 and 44:6-8, where we find God looking at earth and all its history, again, as a kind of court room process in which all of earth's inhabitants (including Israel) are under a divine subpoena to show up as knowers in state. What God does here is evidence of his concern for discovery (similar to the court room) on the part of all people with respect to an ultimate veridical quest to know who the true God and Savior of the world is. He turns to the nations themselves (that is, other than Israel) and challenges them to look at their history. They are asked to consider whether they can produce as knowers in state the evidence of fulfilled, predictive prophecies that one finds with God's prophets or Scripture itself.  "Let them declare what is to come and what will happen" (Isa. 44:7), God says to the nations gathered in his court room. And again, he says, "Let them bring their knowers in state to prove them right, and let them hear and say, It is true" (Isa. 43:9). Then, in that same court room, God turns to assembled Israel and says, "You are my knowers in state [i.e., you have seen my prophecies fulfilled, you know these things are true]...that you may know and believe" (Isa. 43:10).

             Later, God challenges Israel in its state of apostasy to argue with him, again, as in a court of law: "Let us argue together," God says, "set forth your case, that you may be proved right" (Isa. 43:26). He is asking them to pit their own knowledge in state against the knowledge in state of prophecy or Scripture and see what the veridical results might be. Therefore, to both the nations and Israel God is declaring that the miraculous aspect of fulfilled, predictive prophecy is itself a knowledge in state supportive of the truth that he as the God of Israel is indeed God alone, that what his prophets are saying is true and truly from him. The implication is that the nations of the earth can produce no testimony or knowledge or truth either equal or opposite to God's testimony so as to overturn the verdict established by God's own knowledge in state that He alone is God and there is no other.

             In Jesus' earthly ministry, this planetary court room process orchestrated by God himself continues in that final period of time in human history known as “the last days”:  the verdict to which the process was aimed is that he is truly the Messiah, the Son of God. We see this especially in John's Gospel (5:30-47), where Jesus supports the statement, "my judgment is just" (concerning his identity as the Son of God), by pointing to an array of weighty knowers or knowledge in state. It is indeed very much like he is conducting a trial:

 (1) John the Baptist: There is another who bears knowledge in state about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne knowledge in state to the truth (5:32-33).
(2) The Miracles of Jesus: The testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear knowledge in state about me that the Father has sent me (5:36).

(3) The Father Himself: And the Father who sent me has himself borne knowledge in state about me (5:37).

(4) The Holy Scriptures: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear knowledge in state about me (5:39).

(5) Moses: Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of [bore knowledge in state about] me (5:45-47).

John sums up his gospel with the words: "These things are written that you might believe" (Jn. 20:30-31); and, again, "This is the disciple who is bearing knowledge in state about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true" (Jn. 21:24). In Luke's gospel, we find Jesus saying, "That you may know [emphasis mine - jp] that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins," [he said to the man who was paralyzed] "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home" (Lk. 5:24).

            Therefore, what the Bible says about the evidential role of fulfilled prophecy, miracles, and knowers or knowledge in state in relation to its verdict that the Bible is the Word of God and that Jesus is the Christ, would seem to indicate that arriving at the point of belief in the verdict or truth itself is not merely a result of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, imparting faith. If it had been so, all that would have been necessary is for God to declare by his own sovereign authority that Scripture is his Word and Jesus, his Christ.  Instead, what we find in the Bible is that belief (again, as in a court of law) includes rational persuasion based on evidence, which in turn, depends upon the reliability of ordinary knowing (what is common to everyone) based on knowers or knowledge in state with their ordinary or "simple seeing" regarded as reliable knowing. The Bible does not, in this sense, set up an antithesis between faith and ordinary or natural knowing of a "simple seeing" sort; surely, faith involves more than ordinary or natural knowing (such as eyewitness testimony to the miracles or resurrection of Jesus) but just as surely not less than that.

             Ultimately, therefore, it seems that what we do with respect to evangelism comes down to this broader, underlying question of epistemology: Does God intend for the truth or knowledge of the gospel of His Son to be understood—particularly with respect to unbelievers—as non-public or objectively inaccessible? As only true under (or relative to) Christian beliefs or presuppositions? Or accepted as true merely on divine authority or because of the direct operation of the Spirit on the heart? Is it, again, a kind of witness or testimony with a special, group-oriented, or private way of knowing (reflecting a coherence theory), which would be thrown out in a court of law or which is different from how we understand and seek truth generally?

              I have noted repeatedly that Phillips makes this claim of no objective truth between believers and unbelievers—again, as he does with his claim that truth is subjective—without direct Scriptural support.[5] He merely delivers it, quite confidently and dogmatically. Whereas in other places in his booklet, Phillips seems concerned about an appropriate reserve or humility with respect to any claim of knowledge. In this particular case, however, Phillips seems unconcerned about any possible charge of arrogance in making such a claim. He seems to know for certain—seemingly, based on a firm, common, objective ground for truth which is the same and knowable for everyone—that there is no firm, common, objective ground, etc., for truth. Notably, neither finitude nor sin keep him from being confident on this. Somehow he is in this one respect impartial and non-selective. Somehow he has clarity now, indeed knows the truth truly about one of the most momentous questions one could ask about the nature or concept of the truth of the gospel itself: Is such knowledge “true truth” (as Schaeffer says)—objective and accessible to all—and consistent with an ordinary court room epistemology or what is actually, universally, knowably there in reality? His answer is distinct and clear: No. However, biblical assumptions, as just presented, indicate otherwise.

 Apostolic Practice and Knowing

           Now let’s consider apostolic practice. When Peter stood up with the other eleven apostles on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he was facing thousands of Jews and devout people from all over the world, who did not share his presuppositions (or religious “as-structures”) as a Christian. There were, however, certain facts or realities (“is-structures”) that, like the toothpick or the lectern in earlier illustrations which, for these people, were universally knowable and not negotiable for reality. Obviously, Peter did not see it as his task to first convince the people to adopt a “way of knowing” or what Christians generally believe such that the crowd might have the necessary presuppositions to know anything, including that Jesus is Lord. Instead, he directed their attention to something objectively available and reliably knowable by all, namely, the miracle presently being witnessed by everyone, as the small company of the Lord’s disciples with tongues of fire over their heads were declaring the works of God in languages they had not learned. To state the obvious, this was something the people were experiencing firsthand, as Peter himself indicates: “for he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (2:33). And, obviously, there is no indication of some philosophical mind-body problem here that would make (whether through finitude or sin) what they knew, to that limited extent, unreliable as knowledge, or even errant. 

He says to the crowd, “These people are not drunk,” as some had supposed, “since it is only nine o’clock in the morning” (2:15). Notably, the apostle is making an inductive argument here with people who did not share his presuppositions concerning Jesus Christ. That is, there is an implication here that it never entered Peter’s mind that he could not reason with these people about the gospel because (a) they had no basis for knowledge, (b) they did not share his rational framework or view of truth as a Christian, or (c) it would—because of (a) and (b) and, thus, through an inappropriate presumption about knowledge itself—dishonor the lordship of Jesus Christ. Instead, Peter’s argument at this point assumes such ground, as it relies on probability derived through common experience. That is, most people do not drink and get drunk at nine o’clock in the morning. Peter could also have said (again, based on a commonly shared knowledge about life) that drunk people, however otherwise creative they may be in that state, are not able to speak fluently languages they have not learned. Next, though, Peter goes directly to the point that what people were observing that day with this small company of believers was a fulfillment of Joel 2, where the Lord says that in the last days he would pour out his Spirit on all flesh. So far, then (and, again, similar to my illustration with the lectern and the toothpick), Peter presents an objective, non-negotiable reality true and knowable for everyone, regardless of their presuppositions.

Let’s listen now as Peter continues:
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know [emphasis mine—jnp]" (2:22).

Again, is there anything here that would make us think that Peter (as speaking to unbelievers) didn’t believe these people had the appropriate presuppositions or “as-structure” for reality necessary to understand or reliably know the things he is presenting concerning the gospel? Is he not, again, assuming a basic and common objective epistemological ground shared between himself as a believer and the unbelievers to which he is preaching? Does he not, even by the Spirit, clearly affirm that they indeed had knowledge (“as you yourselves know”) of these things—even the attestation of Jesus of Nazareth by God through miracles? Were they regenerate at this point? There is no indication that they were. How, then, did they know such things? Undoubtedly, these people didn’t know things the way Christians or the regenerate do and yet, in some important sense, they knew what Peter was talking about. The Holy Spirit, I’m sure we would agree, would certainly not have led Peter to say something untrue about the state of knowledge these people had, even though they were, at this moment, unbelievers and unregenerate. 

            Was Peter just ignorant of epistemology? Did he need the modern philosophers to educate him on the nature of knowing (that is, through human finitude, its alleged subjectivity)? And was he unaware of the effects of sin on the mind (as Phillips says, “humans are no longer able to know truth truly at all”)? Why is Peter seemingly assuming that these finite, sinful humans can know truth?

            But let’s continue with Peter’s sermon:

"—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it" (2:23-24).

 This Jesus,” Peter says. In God’s wisdom and foreknowledge, a simple word from Scripture like “this” may become very important. As we know, “this,” is a demonstrative pronoun. In the present context, “this Jesus” refers to the one of whom Peter had just been speaking—that is, Jesus of Nazareth through whom God had worked miracles in the midst of the people to whom Peter was speaking. Again, that much of what Peter wishes to communicate to his audience is indisputably (between him and the people) and in some important sense shared knowledge. It is, indeed, the truth—even the whole, objective, and absolute truth—particularly, if it serves as the answer to the question: “Did Jesus of Nazareth in fact work miracles in the midst of these people to whom Peter is speaking and did they, as a result, commonly and reliably know this much to be the case?” Therefore, to claim, as Phillips does, that humans are finite (or limited)—as these Jews and devout people were—such that their knowledge can only be “subjective,” “partial,” or “selective”—or that humans are sinful—as, again, these Jews and devout people were—such that they cannot know truth truly at all—is belied or flatly contradicted here by what Peter both assumes and boldly declares to be true.  

             When Hegel, consistent with modernity’s epistemological idealism, says that the demonstrative “this” from a common sense standpoint and as reflective of what is objectively gathered by the senses is empty, he means that it only gains its richness as knowledge through subjectivity.[6] That was his way of saying, “there are no brute facts” or (by implication) there is no shared neutral ground for knowledge among the various worldviews. By so claiming, Hegel agrees with the modern philosophers in the succession of Descartes to Kant that the mind is primary for knowing. Hegel differs from Kant, however, in that he believes the phenomenal is the noumenal (or all there is for reality).  And whatever possibility an objective “this” has had, it is not, in Hegel’s view, what actually makes things rich, interesting, or valuable as truth. Instead, it is what we as humans subjectively and creatively (that is, in the spirit of what the Bible calls “the wisdom of the world”—1 Cor. 1:20) bring to what is there in reality—not what is there outside and apart from us (such as, facts, God, absolutes, Scripture, etc.)—which constitutes its real value as meaningful.

             On the other hand, what Peter says with his repetitive use of the word, “this,” in Acts 2 implicitly assumes precisely the opposite to all this. No doubt these Jews and converts to Judaism gathered before Peter as he is preaching brought with them their own subjective view of what it means to please God. And no doubt, their subjective view was interesting and valuable to them. Indeed, it was their rationality, perspective, or way of looking at things. The only problem was that, up to that point, such subjectivity did not include Jesus as Messiah and Lord. The apostle Paul will later speak of unbelieving Jews who had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge (Rom. 10:2). Paul could have said their zeal was not according to truth or reality. Clearly, it isn’t that these people did not have knowledge at all—nor that they did not consider such interesting or valuable, subjectively speaking. It is just that they were wrong, as Paul implies.

             We observe this same attitude in Peter, as he is preaching in Acts 2. Peter did not regard “this Jesus” as a reality completely unknown or unknowable to his audience. We could even say that Peter is deliberately working with and from this level of knowledge common to all—what they already knew—in order to supplement it with more knowledge intended to convince them that “this Jesus” they crucified was not (as they thought) an impostor or blasphemer but indeed the very Messiah he claimed to be.

             After Peter speaks of how God had raised “this Jesus” from the dead, he quotes King David’s prophecy recorded in Psalm 16:8-11, as further confirmation of this fact:

 "I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence."
 Peter had already drawn the correspondence between the prophecy in Joel and the outpouring of the Spirit the crowd was witnessing. Referring to the disciples speaking in languages they had not learned, Peter had said “this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel” (2:16; emphasis mine—jnp). We might say that, throughout this sermon, Peter is matching certain “this” statements with “that” statements, not only for explanation but also as confirmation of the ultimate conclusion that Jesus is Lord. And so what is the “that” to which “this Jesus” (the miracle-working Jesus attested by God—things of which the people already knew, as Peter says in 2:22) corresponds? That is, if the tongue-speaking (the people were witnessing) corresponds to the outpouring of God’s Spirit foretold in Scripture (Joel 2), to whom does the miracle-working Jesus, the people had also witnessed (in that sense, “knew”), correspond in Scripture? This is the direction Peter is going.

            Admittedly, there is a difference to be noted at this point. The people directly heard the tongue-speaking and could relate it to the aforesaid prophecy highlighted by Peter. On the other hand, they were not witnesses to the apostolic claim (2:24) of the resurrection of Jesus. The apostles, however, were. And Peter was speaking to a crowd of people who generally knew that God had said in Scripture that when a matter comes to trial every truth shall be confirmed by two or three witnesses. There were, indeed, twelve apostles serving as such witnesses. There were also, presumably, many (or all of the) others in the small company of 120, who served as witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, not to mention other witnesses, such as (in another context) the 500 brothers and sisters Paul identifies in 1 Corinthians 15.   

             To continue, it was Peter’s concern in this part of his sermon to show the correspondence between Psalm 16 (a prophecy concerning a “Holy One” whose body would not be left in the grave to decompose like other dead bodies do) and the risen Jesus (its fulfillment), just as earlier it was his concern to establish a correspondence between Joel 2 (a prophecy) and the disciples who were miraculously declaring God’s works in languages they had not learned (its fulfillment). Peter is connecting, in both cases, the truth of something present with the truth of something past. The past involves what God has both predicted and purposed to happen in “the last days.” The present is the time when these predictions are coming or have come true.

             After quoting from Psalm 16, where it is said that God would not let his “Holy One see corruption” (v. 10), Peter says,

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. (2:29)

The “confidence” Peter speaks of pertains to the quality or state of his knowledge. He could have said, “I know for certain that David died, was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” He also is saying something not only he but his audience confidently knew. They could have said: “We know for certain that David died, etc.” Again, their different presuppositions did not prevent this. Their finitude and sin did not prevent this. I repeat: in terms of knowledge and beyond dispute, Peter is on common objective epistemological ground here with the people (the unbelievers) to whom he is preaching. He is setting forth public truth, truth that everyone shared.

             Now this fact that David is dead, of course, presents a problem for what is written in Psalm 16:8-10. We read there: “You will not let your Holy One see corruption.” That is, you will not let your chosen king die and stay in the grave. About whom is God speaking here? Clearly, King David died, was buried, and is still in the grave. The prophecy could not have been referring to King David personally. It had to be indicating something true of the Messiah who was in his lineage. And this is, indeed, what Peter argues, as he says of David:

Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned in Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. (2:30-31)

            Hence, Peter is now ready to wrap up his case for Jesus as the Messiah. What he has told the people so far, as I’ve been indicating, amounts to a pairing of things they knew (tongues-speaking people, Jesus’ divinely attested through miracles, and David’s tomb) with Scriptural prophecies they could also know. The one thing left is to pair this Jesus whom they knew as divinely attested by miracles with the fact that he is not only from God but Israel’s long-awaited Redeemer and Hope, indeed the Messiah of God. That is, he is the very one about whom David is speaking in Psalm 16.

             But there is one more item of knowledge necessary to make this final pairing, namely, that “this” miracle-working Jesus the people knew is the Psalm 16 Messiah raised from the dead they did not know. Accordingly, Peter supplies this missing piece, as he finishes his case:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucifed. (2:32-36; emphasis throughout mine—jnp)    

The last item of knowledge supplied, then, completes the pairing of the Jesus they knew with the Jesus they didn’t know, who is the Messiah of Psalm 16—the “Holy One” raised from the dead. As knowledge, it comes to the people not directly but indirectly through the apostles who were divinely appointed witnesses. These witnesses are good witnesses, prepared as such, by the Lord. They are persons in a state of knowing (or agents for truth) which is as reliable as a good set of scales (what God loves) and what they have to offer is, therefore, of interest to others for what they don’t know but need to know. In this case, what they don’t know is that this Jesus they crucified is indestructibly, eternally alive and is now King of kings and Lord of lords. Everything Peter has been saying has gone toward arriving at this final conclusion, about which he exhorts “all the house of Israel” (and by implication, the whole world) to “know for certain.”

             Admittedly, “hard presuppositionalism” maintains that the unregenerate cannot possibly piece together what they already know with what they need to know in order to be saved. This is because, according to that view, without Christian presuppositions such persons cannot know anything (or anything appropriately)—that none of the pieces can make sense the way they need to. The conditions necessary to know anything at all (that is, at least the basic tenets of the Christian perspective itself) are not in place. But, contrary to that assumption (though there is some truth in it), is this not precisely what Peter is doing here? Piecing together what unregenerate people knew with things they didn’t know? Is Peter not demonstrating, what I indicated earlier (with my tri-structure for knowing), that there is no problem at the first two levels of knowing (physical and mental seeing)? That even if the knowledge they had was not integrated and appreciated the way it is for those in Christ, yet, it was sufficient for the apostolic purpose of establishing that Jesus is the Christ? No doubt, he and the other apostles knew that there would be people who would hear this same case for Jesus as the Messiah—have it all pieced together for them successfully at these first two levels for knowing—and still not know it in that third level sense of spiritual knowing, which occurs only with regeneration and is necessary for salvation.

             And what is the result of this strong, argumentative case for Jesus as Lord and Christ? The people are “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and say to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” As it says later in Acts 17:4 concerning others who also had been convinced by apostolic argument that Jesus is the Messiah, they were “persuaded.” The Bible presents no problem between faith arrived at through reason and evidence and faith as a gift from God through regeneration by the Spirit. Nor should we. Surely, for those three thousand who were baptized in Acts 2, being convinced by empirical evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead was no less important for truth than the authoritative declaration of God’s Word that Jesus indeed is the Messiah. Consistently throughout the pages of Scripture itself, the authority of Scripture as God’s Word or truth is never pitted against external evidence and reason in support of that truth. Again, why would we accept some view of epistemology that emboldens us to slight the latter, presumably to exalt the former, when Scripture never does?

             The apostle Paul, of course, provides another example of apostolic practice with respect to epistemology, particularly, with his reasoning about the gospel among the Greeks. The latter were undoubtedly influenced by philosophical trends quite similar to our own modern/postmodern trends. With his education, there is no doubt that Paul was well versed in Greek philosophy. His world, in that sense, was very much like our own in the Western world today. But whether encountering the skepticism of thinkers like Pyrrho (who held that reality is not knowable and our unverifiable interpretation of the same is conventional or cultural in nature) or the relativism of Protagorus (with his “man is the measure of all things”) or, in general, the ideas of the Sophists who were quite similar to postmodernists in our time (as both Lyotard and Derrida maintain), do we ever find Paul telling the church, “We live in an era which is skeptical of truth, and we ought to learn from their insights as well as recognize how the Spirit remedies or compensates for the philosophical problems of our age?” Or do we ever see Paul, in relating to the Greeks, following Phillips’ recommendation of not preaching, not reasoning, but merely handing people an Old Testament scroll with perhaps another scroll containing his apostolic message concerning Jesus as the Messiah? Can we even imagine Paul making a subjective or experiential appeal with such people, again, as Phillips does: “Jesus promises that his Spirit will give understanding to anyone who sincerely seeks the truth in God’s Word”? Would Paul not (if what he did in Athens is any indication), rather, open his mouth—reason with them and preach the truth of the gospel directly to them—regardless of their philosophical bias or conditioning? Would he ever say something like, “Here, try on these Christian presuppositional glasses, first, so you can know things in general; second, that you might know something in particular, namely, that the gospel is the truth”? Or: “I am not going to tell you what I know until you accept how I know it”? Rather, did he not simply (and faithfully) relate the same case God had already made through fulfilled prophecy and the eyewitness testimony of the apostles for the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah? Whether Paul or the other apostles, were they not by the Spirit fully committed to make this same court-like case (the case God had already made) as faithful stewards and in a simple, even philosophically unadorned, naive manner? And is this not why we hear them saying things (as Peter did) to those they would evangelize (who, again, often had the wrong presuppositions), such as, “Know for certain that this is the truth!”?  Or, as Paul says to Greeks in Athens: “What you therefore worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23)? Did the apostles not demonstrate in this way of relating to unbelievers a certain confidence that the “what” (the case made or truth defended) would bring people, if they were brought at all, to the “how” (the appropriate Christian perspective with its biblical presuppositions)? Was not the apostolic approach to evangelism somewhat similar to what any of us would do if we lived in an apartment building that was on fire? Even if there were people who lived there who were skeptics about reality or who (from an Eastern influence, let’s say) thought life was just a dream or illusion, would we hesitate to cry out, “Fire! Fire!”? Not that their message was that simple but that whatever presuppositions the people may have had, the apostles seemed confident that by a faithful, passionate proclamation of the truth as well as the heart-work of the Holy Spirit, all those who were going to believe would believe. Those who did not believe were, nevertheless, considered accountable or disobedient to the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8)—neither of which would be possible, if there were no common, objective epistemological ground between believers and unbelievers. (As I said before: one cannot disobey something one does not understand in some sense.)

                In sum, when we apply the litmus test of biblical assumptions and apostolic practice to the three claims Phillips (or TGC) makes about knowing—namely, that due to human finitude truth is subjective, due to sin truth is not knowable, and due to the relative or perspectival nature of truth it is not universal for believers and unbelievers—all fail as foreign to or inconsistent with those standards. Additionally, if these claims TGC and Phillips are making were true, then all that the Bible says about the witness in relation to truth is naive and misguided. Moreover, the apologetic work of Peter and Paul (for instance, their assumption of common ground for truth with unbelievers) would at best, appear in a poor light. It would also mean that, in that respect, they did not appropriately honor the lordship of Christ. Projecting the future into the past, it would mean (to employ the jargon of presuppositionalists) that the apostles were the first “modern evidentialists.” Because they clearly did not require unbelievers to first accept Christian presuppositions (or a Christian worldview) as a framework for, first, knowing anything at all, and, second, accepting Jesus as the Christ. To the contrary, employing neutral, or universal standards of truth (oblivious to the concerns of epistemological idealists), the apostles made a public case for the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, apparently knowing, that once Jesus is lord of one’s heart through believing the gospel and regeneration by the Spirit, a life of coming to know the tenets or presuppositions of the Christian faith (devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching—Acts 2:42) will have begun. Once the cornerstone is in place, then the edifice is built. Therefore, selling people on the coherence of the Christian perspective (as if the truth of the gospel is only indirectly knowable relative to a framework of Christian beliefs) is not the same as directly making a public case for Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. A correspondence view of truth—with a universal access (in some sense) to knowing reality as part of that view—has the potential to challenge or take us outside of our presuppositions. It is, admittedly, more minimal than that, and yet, as minimal, can bring great change in our presuppositions. It can be (as it is with the truth of the gospel) the very stone on which everything (including the main tenets of the Christian faith) is built.

[1] I say, “qualified,” because God requires not one but two or three witnesses to confirm the truth of a matter. Allowing one witness as adequate to establish the truth of a matter, though it is technically all that is needed, seems to be an arrangement too easily abused in the event that someone has an agenda to harm another. This doesn’t mean that two or three might not also conspire to lie in a particular case (as we know, this happened at the trial of Jesus).
[2] I am not, of course, intending to minimize first-person knowledge of God or second-person knowing, for instance, the relationship of a child of God who by the Spirit relates to God through Christ and says, “Abba, Father.”
[3] Can We Know the Truth?, p. 12.
[4] If a “friend” is, as Aristotle says, “my other self,” perhaps we could also say that a “witness” is “my other knower”—the knower I would have been had I been there.
[5] By “direct Scriptural support,” I mean that there is nothing in what Scripture plainly says or in the relevant examples it provides that would support the idea that there is no “epistemological common ground” between a believer and unbeliever. Instead, Scripture teaches just the opposite.
[6] G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 58-66.

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