Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Revelation and Reason: Revisiting the Dialectical Movement [Conclusion]


There is good news however to be found in the second man Adam, who came to rescues man not only from sin and death but also from ignorance, from futility, and from blindness.
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;[1]

The Christian can attain true knowledge of God. This true knowledge comes as a result of being in Christ. Paul tells us that all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Col 2:3). Paul says that Christians have attained to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding and that this results in a true knowledge of God’s mystery (Col. 2:2). Clearly the apostle Paul taught by divine revelation that an epistemological antithesis exists between the believer and the unbeliever. He went on to say that Christians are being renewed to a true knowledge (Col. 3:10). The antithesis between what Paul said about the unbelieving mind and the Christian mind is unambiguous.

In Acts 16:14 we find the conversion of Lydia, a woman from the town of Thyatira. Luke informs us that the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things that Paul was saying. Here we see reason and revelation in the context of Christian conversion. Paul was preaching about the revelation of Jesus Christ, the gospel of truth. Christ opened Lydia’s heart so that she was able to reason correctly about the revealed truths of Christ. The result of this inward work on the human person was that Lydia was able to reason correctly about the facts of the Christ event and the truth of her need for repentance. In Lydia’s case we see that it was not revelation or reason, it was not faith or reason, but it was revelation and reason. In this case, Lydia’s reasoning was instantly the product of a new intellect, a regenerate mind.

Paul, in writing to the Church at Colossae informs us that the “new self” is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the One who created him. The Greek word there is epignosis and it means a definite and full knowledge. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians was that God would give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:17). Concerning the false teachers, Paul tells Timothy they are always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7). Clearly there is a distinction to be made between the sort of reasoning that is unredeemed and that which has been redeemed through the work of regeneration.

Peter tells us His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge that is in him who called us by His own glory and excellence (1 Peter 1:3) According to Peter, only the work of God on the human heart can produce true knowledge of the truth. It is the genius of Protestantism to make the God of the Scriptures the final reference point of all predication.[2] 

In the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ we see that revelation and reason are not opposites. Faith and reason are in truth intimately related to each other. In Christian theism we see human reasoning in service of God’s gracious gift of faith. Man can only begin to reason correctly when he understands who he is in relation to his Creator. That is to say that man can only reason correctly when he understands he is a sinner in rebellion against God. This is the beginning of knowledge.


Reason is considered the source of knowledge through which all experience is interpreted and that such knowledge can be obtained through reason alone.  It would mean that spiritual events and all experiences would be subject to the limits and parameters of rational examination.[1] 

To this we add that God is the source of reason by which humans engage in the predication necessary to arrive at true knowledge.

The Christian understanding of revelation is that God has revealed the facts of reality to humanity through what we call natural and special means. God has revealed Himself in the human person by way of the imago dei. We are all created in the image of God and therefore the sense of the divine remains etched upon the human conscience.  God has also revealed facts about reality and Himself in the created order. We see God’s fingerprint everywhere we look. The revelation of God is indeed inescapable. God has revealed Himself in the characteristics and qualities of the human person, not the least of which is the human experience of predication. Every time we engage in the process of reasoning, we put on display the God who is there. God has also provided human beings with a divine and miraculous revelation of Himself in Christ and in Scripture. This revelation reveals truths about God that may be hidden from natural revelation. The act of God’s self-disclosure is an act of profound grace.

As stated above, revelation is the giving of facts and information. It is essential divine communication. God wanted man to possess certain facts about Himself and the created order. God ensured that man would come into possession of these facts by revealing them to him directly and indirectly and by making that revelation unambiguous. From the very beginning man possessed the intellectual capacity to reason correctly about what God had revealed. Revelation was as much a part of reason then as science is today.

From the beginning man was created with the ability to reason correctly about the revelation of God around and within him. Man thought about creation correctly because he understood himself to be a creature contemplating that which was created by a Creator. Man recognized his dependence on God for all knowledge and understanding of his world. The process of human reason itself was entirely dependent on and revelatory of the triune God.

The attempt then to separate faith and reason, revelation and reason, is a vain and hopeless project. If we can prove that men can reason rightly about their world apart from God, we end up showing that revelation is not necessary. And if we show that revelation is unnecessary, we destroy revelation. On the other hand, if we prove that reason has nothing to say about revelation, no role to play in interpreting God’s revelation, we destroy reason. If God’s revelation is beyond reason, then it is unintelligible. A revelation that is unintelligible is a revelation that does not communicate meaningful facts about anything that can be understood. The dialectical movement then that seeks to separate revelation from reason, that seeks to disintegrate the relationship between faith and reason ends up not only destroying Christianity, it destroys knowledge.

The special revelation of God to man came not only by way of intellectual information. It came both as word and as deed. In theophany and in miracle, we have facts of revelation rather than words. But these facts needed to be explained by God himself. Sinful man cannot and will not explain them truly. Sinful man would be sure to misinterpret them. He would regard them as mere accidental occurrences. Men sometimes believe the resurrection of Christ as an historical fact, and then fit this fact into a pragmatic conception of history. According to a pragmatic philosophy of history anything may happen and nothing will have any particular and universal meaning. On the other hand word revelation without fact revelation would hover in the air and not reach reality. Special revelation needed actually to dip into this sinful world with redemptive power. Hence special revelation could not come to man in the form of a book dropped from heaven. Revelation had to be historically mediated.[2]

[1] "Carm," , http:/​/​carm.org/​.
[2] Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1979).

[1] Ibid. Col 1:9–10.
[2] Cornelius Van Til and Eric H. Sigward, The Pamphlets, Tracts, and Offprints of Cornelius Van Til, Electronic ed. (Labels Army Company: New York, 1997).

Monday, August 25, 2014

Revelation and Reason: Revisiting the Dialectical Movement [Part 5 of ?]


The question we are dealing with is a question of epistemological primacy. Is reason primary in epistemological matters or is revelation primary? How can these two methods, seemingly contradictory to each other, ever be brought together? It appears that revelation and reason are headed to divorce court with irreconcilable differences. So the fate of this relationship from the early middle ages forward appears dreary.

On the one hand we read “Credo quia absurdum” which is the outcome of Tertullian’s statement 

“The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.[1] 

On the other hand we read,

For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue.[2]

In the former case we understand Tertullian to be completely divorcing revelation from human reason and in the latter, Justin Martyr places primacy on reason, apparently believing that the pagan Greek philosophers were Christians without knowing it. That is to say that Justin seems to be placing reason above revelation, and by doing so, he unwittingly places reason above faith.

The tradition of the dialectical movement existed almost immediately in the history of the Christian religion. This is due to the fact that pagan Greek philosophy had become immersed in logic and enjoyed tremendous influence in the world. Reason was prepped and ready to enter the Christian faith as soon as it sprang on the scene. The choice early on would be either to baptize revelation and faith in human reason, in Greek philosophy or to baptize human reason in divine revelation. Either faith would be subject to autonomous human reason or human reason would become purged of its pagan elements and become a tool in service of the faith, in service of divine revelation.

The problem of course is not much different than it is today. The very idea of revelation is held with disdain because it represents something over which the autonomous mind has no control. Because of this lack of control, the Christian message is mocked. The idea of a revelational epistemology is dismissed prior to the conversation. In response, many apologists have attempted to accommodate the unregenerate mind by using a method that is deemed to be less offensive and supposedly more sophisticated. “In the tradition of Aquinas, some apologists made it their goal to show Christianity to be worthy of belief for reasonable men; yet others like Brunetiere, proclaimed that faith was most powerful as a heartfelt response apart from reason.”[3] 
Clearly then, there is a presumed antithesis between revelation and reason or as it is sometimes described, between faith and reason.

I cannot remember ever encountering an atheist that did not eventually accuse Christianity of belief without evidence or of believing in something without proof or of being a fideistic leap in the dark.

Enter the great Moslem philosopher Averroes and the double truth theory. Reason and revelation can contradict one another because they are not dealing with the same object. The truths of religion have nothing to do with the truths of this world. For example, in the world of reason, one may believe that the universe is eternal while at the same time holding to the faith claim that the world is created. For Averroes this was not a problem since reason and revelation were dealing with separate matters.  
After Thomas Aquinas had done all he could to thoroughly baptize Christian revelation in Aristotelian logic, John Duns Scotus served to reinforce Thomas rationalistic approach.

“The English Franciscan, John Duns Scotus gave greater weight to the extrinsic evidences in supporting the judgment of faith. While stoutly maintaining that God alone was the true motive of faith, he insisted that this act could be objectively justified before the bar of reason in such wise as to refute adversaries and to prepare the way for inquirers to believe.”

Such thinking suggests that autonomous human reason is in a position to be the judge and jury of the source of its very existence. The antithesis between revelation and reason continued to find a place in the minds of the best thinkers throughout not only the history of philosophy, but also the history of the Church.

[1] Tertullian, “On the Flesh of Christ,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 525.

[2] Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 164.

[3] Greg Bahnsen, "Socrates Or Christ: The Reformation Of Christian Apologetics," in Foundations of Christian Scholarship, ed. Gary North (Vallecitto, CA: Ross House Books, 1976), 193.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Revelation and Reason: Revisiting The Dialectical Movement [Part 4 of ?]

What exactly do we mean by “human reason?” What does it mean to reason? What do we mean when we say, for instance, that truth claims must be reasonable? What do we mean when we say that a particular position is unreasonable or irrational? One suggestion is that reason is a tool by which we measure true knowledge. That is to say that reason provides the necessary components by which we create the criteria of justification for beliefs. In one sense reason is defined as a cause, explanation, or justification for an event. In another sense reason is the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process we call logic. Reason is an activity of the human mind on the one hand. On the other hand, reason seems to transcend the human mind. We often speak of reason as if it were some law to which human thinking ought to submit. We describe one view or belief as reasonable and another as unreasonable. But we can also say that a belief ought to be reasonable. Philosophers appeal to reason as a source of authority to which human predication submits when such predication is engaged in correctly.

It is important to distinguish between the objective nature of reason, reason as an intellectual behavior among human beings, and what the Christian Scripture teaches about reason. These are three aspects of reason that deserve attention in their own right. The objective nature of reason is felt in the fact that philosophy imposes on all beliefs a requirement for rational justification. Reasonable views are views that are justifiably embraced. If a belief cannot be rationally justified, it ought to be abandoned. Reason is the process by which such beliefs come to be justified. Hence, our aim is to hold a philosophical view that is reasonable. In other words, we want to be philosophically justified in our belief. This raises the question as to how a belief is either reasonable or unreasonable. A person that gives reason priority of place philosophically speaking is called a rationalist. Rationalism sees the human mind as having authority over the senses, and any other epistemological theories as far as they go.

There can be little doubt that we are dealing with epistemic authority when we talk about things like justification and rational thought. So then, what is the authority to which we can appeal in order to claim that we can rest our case that a particular position is reasonable? It would seem to me that there are only two viable options: human autonomy or the Divine Mind. The problem even with my theory is that I already have some criteria in mind for why I limit the possible answer to two options. The unavoidable challenge here is what we call “presuppositions.” This raises the problem of the criterion. We must already have an idea of what the standard must be before we even introduce the standard. If human beings ought to think or behave intellectually according to some objective standard, how is it that we know this to be the case? And is that view itself reasonable? Nevertheless, we in fact do know even if some of us might not be able to escape this vicious circle due to our basic presuppositions. The nature of human reason then is both universal and objective. As such, it imposes itself on human predication much like a guardian, making sure that our intellect is behaving, as it should. Given some presuppositions then, rationality cannot account for itself by its own standards and appears to be reduced to mystery. But a mystery it is not! At least it is not entirely a mystery. Christian theism is capable of demonstrating the reasonableness of reason. In fact, it is the only worldview that can.

Reason is a human behavior. Human predication is an activity in which human beings were designed to engage. Since it is a behavior, it has a moral element that should not be ignored. Humans ought to think in a certain way. This seems uncontroversial. The human ability to reason is as much an expression of divine revelation as anything else in the created order. All of God’s creation is included in God’s divine self-disclosure. Humans were created to think by God and for God’s glory. Human reason is itself divine revelation. It reveals information and truth about God. Reason is, we might simply say, is the process of humans predication. Quite simply, it is how we think. It is an unavoidable element of human experience. Reason is what separates the human species from the animals. To be human then, to one degree or another, is to reason.  

Scripture talks about human reason. One of the first words that come to mind as it relates to the activity of reason is the Greek word δοκιμάζω. Paul uses it in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 where he commands the Christians there to examine everything carefully. By everything, Paul clearly meant every claim to truth. The sense of this word is test. It carries the notion of examining a claim, or trying to test the genuineness of views that claim to be true and worthy of belief. It is translated analyze, test, examine, and even approve just to mention a few. The word is used in 1 John 4:1 in the context of testing every teaching carefully to make sure they are correct.

In addition to Scripture commanding Christians to engage in the behavior of human reason, it also commands Christians to love God with their entire being which includes the human mind, or intellect. In Matthew 22:37 Jesus tells us that the greatest of all the commandments is to love the Lord our God with our entire mind. The mind is the faculty of thinking, comprehending, reasoning according to one prominent lexicon. The point of Jesus’ command is that Christians are to love God with their entire being and this obviously includes the intellect. To love God with one’s intellect is to think according to the Christian ethic.

A few things are becoming apparent as we journey through our analysis of the dialectical movement, which separated faith or revelation from human reason. The first is that revelation contains information about which humans must reason. Much of divine revelation is contained in propositions of human language requiring us to reason about the content of such propositions. Another fact is beginning to emerge and that is that human reason, or the act of human predication itself, is found in the very content of divine revelation. If this were true, it would hardly seem appropriate to attempt to separate two things that are so closely bound up in one another. In addition, human reason is clearly a human behavior and as such is subject to an objective standard. Since the human person is subject to this standard, it is difficult to understand how he could, at the same time, author the standard without falling victim to the notion that the standard is merely arbitrary or highly subjective. This would be a tragic end for reason and one that most philosophers would understandably like to avoid. At this point it seems that the attempts to separate revelation and reason as if the two refer to entirely different and unrelated things should be avoided. In fact, it is hard to see how one can make a hard separation between the two without at the same time destroying both. I will return to this idea shortly.