Monday, September 2, 2013
A Presuppositional Defense of Scripture - Conclusion
In my last post, I introduced the concept of sovereignty in my argument for a presuppositional defense of the claim that the Bible is the Word of God. This is a critical component in the argument because it is indelibly linked to the nature of the God that is, that God that we have already shown to exist due to the impossibility of the contrary. I have said that only Christian theism provides the preconditions necessary for human predication as well as the intelligibility of human experience.
One by one the efforts of the non-Christian worldview have taken their place in the section of philosophy reserved for irrational beliefs. This will continue to be the case with any view that attempts to contradict the truth claims of Christian theism. The reason is really quite basic: Christian theism is true. The subject of our present series however, is how do we as Christians move from the truth of Christian theism to affirming that the Bible, the book of Christianity, is the Word of God. And how do we do that while remaining faithful to Scripture and consistent with the presuppositional framework I have set forth?
First, we must inquire what Christian theism affirms about the question. If Christian theism is the only true worldview that humanity should embrace, and if this system is the only essential expression of truth and the only way for man to possess genuine knowledge, then it follows that we must look to this system to see if it furnishes some assistance around the question we are tackling.
There is no philosophical argument available that will bring a person to genuine knowledge that the Bible is the Word of God. Recall that we said knowledge, properly defined is 1) It is in fact the case; 2) I believe it is the case; and 3) I have reasonable grounds for believing it is the case. One may wrongly infer that (3) asserts that a person can and should arrive at the conclusion that the Bible is the Word of God by rational means. That would be reading more into (3) than is necessary. Second, (3) will turn on how one defines “reasonable grounds.” To defend the claim that the Bible is the Word of God, we have no recourse but to turn to Scripture itself. The reason we must turn to Scripture itself is due to the fact that Christian theism contends that Scripture is self-authenticating, self-vindicating, authoritative, our final source of appeal for what qualifies as true knowledge, that it is in fact the standard and source of how humans know anything at all not only about the world, but how we should go about constructing our very theory of knowledge to begin with. By what standard then do we call into question the precise basis for how we know anything?
To where then do we turn to put forward the case that the Bible is the Word of God? It could rightly be said that we are dealing with a question that maybe does not require an answer. Some theologians believe that those who know the truthfulness of this statement do not need an argument based in logic or human reason to support their belief and that those who do not, cannot possibly be convinced by any argument put forth for the claim regardless of it cogency or rational persuasiveness. This is a fair and perhaps keen observation to which we shall return shortly.
Writing some 500 years ago, John Calvin said, “Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” [Calvin, Institutes, I.i.1] For the reformer, the key to knowledge rests in our knowledge of God and our knowledge of ourselves. This begs the question, how do we possess this knowledge? “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty.” [Ibid. I.iii.1] Christian theism asserts that human knowledge comes, not through empiricism nor through a bankrupt system of autonomous human reason, rather, all knowledge comes through divine revelation. God makes Himself known to man and reveals to man, makes available to man everything that man understands about Himself, the created order, and God. While God’s self-disclosure serves as the basis of all knowledge, it is true that not all knowledge is acquired in the same manner. This Christian theism admits. Some things we know by way of induction and inference. We know that the Sun will rise tomorrow. Other things we know by experience. We know that fire is hot, ice is cold, and they each provide a unique experience when encountered in certain ways. Just as we know these things in their own respective way, we also know God according to His own method of self-disclosure. We know Christ in this way. We have not so learned Christ from the philosophers, or, the logicians, or the scientists. Should it come as a surprise that we should learn the Scripture as the Word of God any differently?
What I have been driving at is the fundamental difference between the nature of Scripture as the Word of God and the proposition that Scripture is the Word of God. The former dictates how we should go about finding our answer to the question. One philosopher argues, “…theists are right in affirming the reality of God but wrong in insisting that His reality is capable of proof.” [Halverson, A Concise Introduction to Philosophy, 174] We must stare the traditional response in the face and ask if it is proper for the Christian to attempt to prove that Scripture is the Word of God by means of scientific reason. Is this the way we ought to tackle the question? I do not think it is.
All of reality, to include human reality is a manifestation, a disclosure of sorts. There are categories of disclosure, such as physical reality, and the reality of human minds, and also the reality of moral law. That there are different ways for how these disclosures appear to us is indisputable. For example, the reality of other minds is beyond the ability of scientific reason to verify. But it is nonetheless true.
The traditional approach to the question of Scripture as the Word of God attempts to put this fundamental awareness of the reality of Scripture and its nature into a form of argument that is acceptable to scientific reason and to autonomous human logic. It is because both of these methods are exactly the wrong category, and because both of these methods employ, in the unbeliever’s worldview, presuppositions that are dismissive of the claim prior to even having the discussion, that the effort is doomed before the project can even get going. Just as science and reason have their starting point, the foundation for what qualifies as knowledge, so too we may say the same about Scripture. We do not place the nature of the claim into a class and then subject it to scrutiny. Instead, we acknowledge, just as we acknowledge the tree outside the window, that Scripture is the Word of God. Scripture is not only the product of divine revelation; it is divine revelation. How then do we acquire this knowledge that the Bible is the Word of God?
Jesus Himself addressed this explicitly in John 10:3-5. The sheep hear the voice of God, and they follow Him. The sheep follow Him because they know His voice. The sheep, by nature, will not chase after the voice of a stranger. So then, how do these sheep know God’s voice? The sine qua non of embracing the Bible as the Word of God is simply this: He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” (John 8:47) Only those who have been born again can, and will genuinely affirm the Bible to be the Word of God.
From a presuppositional standpoint, all knowledge comes through divine disclosure. God discloses knowledge about Himself, His creation, and humanity to humanity. This revelation takes two distinct forms: natural and special. The natural revelation of God has been disclosed to all humanity by means of man’s conscience and by means of the creation all about him. Man knows God, himself, science, reason, logic, morality, love, etc. because they are components of natural revelation. Justification for revelation is unnecessary since revelation is the ground to which the chain of justification is anchored. It is on the ground of God’s revelation that justification serves rather than legislates.
In the same way that the unbeliever knows that God exists, what we call the sensus divinitatis, the believer knows God’s word. He recognizes God’s voice just like a sheep recognizes the voice of His shepherd. He knows it. He knows it not because he has subjected it to empirical, historical, and rational scrutiny and argumentation. He knows it because God has made sure He knows it the same way God makes sure that every human knows He exists.
Paul informs us that the gospel of Christ is one thing to the believer (power of God unto salvation) and quite the opposite to the unbeliever (foolishness and scandalous). (1 Cor. 1:18) Paul also informs us that it will not be through intellectually compelling and persuasive arguments that the world will come to believe this truth about the Bible. (1 Cor. 1:21) You see the linchpin of this question is not science, it is not historical evidence, it is not human reason. Instead, the linchpin is faith. (1 Cor. 2:4-5) 1 Thess. 2:13 tells us that the believers in Thessalonica received the Bible for what it really is, the Word of God.
The demand for justification according to the standards set forth by science, and by autonomous human reason cannot be imposed on the Christian claim with any legitimacy. It is no secret that science and reason serve as their own foundation for human knowledge and they too reach a place where justification is not offered and for that matter, not possible. The Bible is the Word of God and this Christian theism affirms without hesitation. If you want to convince men of this truth, the only way to go about it is to give them the gospel. Only God, through divine intervention can bring one to the place where they are not blind to the tree outside their window. The Bible is not subject human testing and judgment so that we can know that it is the Word of God. If it were, it would not be the Word of God. Quite the contrary, because the Bible is the Word of God, it is the standard by which all other claims to knowledge must be tested.
Christian theism is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. God is the necessary precondition for the intelligibility of human experience. Without God, human predication would be impossible. God has disclosed Himself to us in nature and in Scripture. Without these disclosures, humanity would be hopelessly ignorant of anything and everything around him, including itself. I will defend the nature of Scripture when unbelievers can defend the basis of their attack against it. And this they cannot do. If the history of philosophy has proven anything, it has proven that man simply cannot account for reality and for human knowledge as we experience it apart from God.