Sunday, February 21, 2016
Christian Belief: Justification, Rationality, and Warrant
From Thales to Socrates to Plato to Aristotle to Epicurus to Descartes to Kant to the Enlightenment, philosophers have been attempting to construct a view of the world that satisfies man’s insatiable appetite for understanding both, who we are, and what this state of affairs in which we find ourselves, is exactly. Indeed, these philosophers have produce more intellectual fodder than one can possible keep track of. As one might expect, Christians have been exposed to these diverse philosophies as well. This exposure has produced some good results but it has also had devastating consequences in numerous areas of Christian belief and praxis. You see, these philosophies have been, for the most part, entirely pagan, attempting to arrive at an answer to the question of our world apart from, without relying on, God for their answer. And this is exactly the sort of influence that the Christian must guard against according to the apostle Paul: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8)
Recently, I told a young man studying philosophy at a local seminary that the basis of Christian belief is not philosophical arguments, or historical evidence. He was stunned and I was stunned that he was stunned. We both were stunned. He wanted to know what the basis of Christian belief is if it is not those things. So the point of this post that I want you to get if you get nothing else is this: the basis for Christian belief, what makes it justified, rational, and warranted, in essence, what makes it real knowledge, is the revelation of the Christ event in Scripture. And make no mistake about it, the entire corpus of Scripture is pointing us to the Christian event. If that is not what makes Christian belief justified for you, rational for you, warranted for you, knowledge for you, then there is nothing Christian about your Christian belief. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle cannot lay the foundation for Christian belief. They were not capable of providing such a foundation for something so majestic, so spectacular, and to be clear, so supernatural. Christianity is a supernatural belief, a transcendent reality, and only a supernatural foundation can serve as the foundation for such a thing as Christianity. This means that a supernatural experience is required in order to impart the sort of knowledge necessary if Christian belief is going to be justified, rational, and warranted.
Cornelius Van Til writes, “From these considerations, it follows that if we develop our reasons for believing that a true knowledge of God and, therefore, also of the world, is possible because actually given in Christ, we have in fact given what goes in philosophy under the name of epistemology.” [Survey of Christian Epistemology] The basis of Christian belief is the Christ event that is Christian Scripture. If the basis of Christian belief is something other than Scripture alone, then that Christian belief is not a belief that is Christian. Rather, it is a belief that is formed within the presuppositions of pagan philosophy. And pagan philosophy, at its core, is antithetical to Christian belief. Pagan philosophy rests on a foundation that is hostile to Christian belief. In fact, pagan philosophy, by nature is antithetical to Christian belief. The apostle Paul tells us that pagan philosophy is on par with “empty deception,” and is according to the tradition or standards of men, rather than according to, or in accord with Christ. Christian apologists in modern Western Christianity have to a large degree uncritically accepted the wisdom and philosophy of men like Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. And this explains why, when someone says to them that the basis of Christian faith is not rational arguments, they are stunned. They spend hours studying pagan philosophy and minutes reading Paul. This trend is deeply disturbing because these men are filling our churches, becoming pastors, youth leaders, and Sunday school teaches and they are passing on their unbiblical methods to unsuspecting and poorly equipped Christians.
So what is a Christian to do when someone challenges your beliefs? There are two types of challenges you should prepare for: 1) De jure challenges the rationality of Christian belief while 2) De facto challenges the facts of Christian belief. I am dealing with the former challenge that says, in general, that something is basically wrong with Christian belief. The claim is that Christian belief is irrational or not justified. There is apparently not enough evidence to not a good argument for Christian belief. How does the Christian prepare to deal with such a challenge? Let me say for starters that you do not run out and study The Organon in hopes that this will help you. It will not. What then is the Christian to do? You are to stay true to your belief and here is how you do just that.
First, you must remember what produces Christian belief in the human person to begin with. Christian belief is not produced by unaided human reason upon reflection about the events of Scripture. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (Jn. 6:65) Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” (Matt. 13:11) I could produce dozens of places in Scripture that testify to this truth: Christian belief is granted to those whom God regenerates and to no one else. Christian belief is for the Christian, basic. To say that a belief is basic is to say that it is not believed based on some other proposition or belief. It is self-evident. This is why Christian theism holds that Christian Scripture is self-justifying. We do not believe the Bible is “God speaking” based on an argument but rather based on the inward testimony and the Holy Spirit we know it immediately.
Alvin Plantinga says it well when he writes,
“The deliverances of the sensus divinitatis are occasioned by the circumstances; they are not conclusions from them. It does not work by way of an argument. My apprehension and experience of the beauty of nature of the moral guilt involved in the conscience are not evidences for God. It is that I simply find myself with the belief that God is disapproving of my behavior. It is in that circumstance that my belief arises, or better, is revealed, uncovered, becomes obvious.”
The ability that a Christian has to form Christian belief is not the product of natural cognitive processes. Those processes are held in bondage to the curse of sin. Man cannot and is not willing to see the truth of Christian belief so long as he is dead in his trespasses and sins. It is only when the Holy Spirit comes rushing in to instigate a rebirth that our cognitive processes are now able to see and know the Christ who died for us properly. And this belief arises immediately, not because someone made a great argument or preached a wonderful sermon but because God has called that sinner out of darkness into His glorious light, into His kingdom, indeed, into His family.
We should not worry that the unbeliever is going to object to our model. He has his own model and that model comes with its own set of presuppositions and standards. This is not to say that we have an equal stand-off with the Christian having his system and the unbeliever his own. The Christian can and should demonstrate to the unbeliever how, on his own principles and presuppositions, his system, when all is said and done, is reduced to skepticism or irrationalism. But that is not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is to remind the Christian what is the basis for Christian belief. It is the Christ event that is Scripture. We know this because God the Holy Spirit regenerates our heart and mind, making it known to us. Otherwise, we would never know that Christian belief is true knowledge. We do not examine evidence and study argues and from these things infer God. It is in within the circumstances of regeneration that Christian belief arises in the heart by the sole work of the Holy Spirit. From that circumstance we know immediate that all that the Scripture testifies about is true. After all, the Spirit of God, God Himself, witnesses to the things that are in His own word. What greater argument or evidence could anyone ever present than the testimony of God?
Christian belief then is formed in the heart by the Holy Spirit as He works the miracle of regeneration within God’s elect. As a result, our cognitive faculties are delivered from the bondage of sin, and regenerated so that now we can receive instruction, think correctly, understand, and know the things which God has prepared for us. It is impossible for the Christian to explain this in such a way that an unbeliever will not object to it. Because the experience transcends human reason, the unbeliever, so long as they are an unbeliever will reject this model. Some will give it lip service, but in their heart they will not receive it because only God can make them capable of receiving it.
In the end, the Christian has to be concerned, not with the unbeliever’s de jure objections, but rather with being faithful to the gospel, to basic Christian theology. It isn’t the reaction of the world that should shape how we deliver the truth or how we defend the faith. Our primary concern has to be what says the Scripture. God regenerates through the foolishness of preaching. Unless we keep this ever before us, we will always find the seductive methods of pagan philosophy irresistible because of how they are received and how that reception makes us feel about ourselves.