Monday, October 10, 2016
How Do We Know that Christianity is True?
Unless you accept the belief that all knowledge is revelational in nature, and that Christian knowledge is due to special revelation and divine illumination in particular, you cannot know that Christianity is actually true. The best you will be able to do as far as Christianity goes is to conclude that its truthfulness rests somewhere on the probability scale. And to know that something is probably true, even highly probably true, is not the same thing as knowing that it actually is true. Any view of Christianity that has, as its maximal state, the conclusion that Christianity is highly probably true is a view of Christianity that is not shared by the first Christians, by the apostles of Christ, or by Christ Himself. Now, any and all views of Christianity that differs from the view of Christ and His Apostles is a view of Christianity that ought to be rejected and abandoned.
How do Christians come into true knowledge that Christianity is true? One popular method claims that we have all sorts of evidence that Christianity is true. Well, yes we do. But the overwhelming majority of intelligent people reject this evidence as weak and not warranting Christian belief. Why is that? It is because we do not have external evidence, evidence apart from the Bible, that assures us the claims of Christianity are true. We do not possess the right “kind” of evidence, evidence that meets a certain criterion. We have some corroborating archeological evidence that the Bible records a number of things correctly. But that says nothing about the actual claims of Christianity. The book of Mormon and the Qur’an got some things right too. Does that mean these things serve as evidence for their truthfulness? Surely not! But there are miracles in the Bible that validate the claims of the writers of Scripture. This is no doubt true. But that does nothing to prove the claims of Christianity are true. This was no doubt useful to those who experienced those miracles but for us, it is not the same. You and I have never experienced the miracles of the Bible. They are confined to the Bible. What we have as far as miracles are concerned are witnesses to miracles, a record that miracles took place. But we do not have the experience itself. I am not saying that historical evidence, archeological evidence, or miracles have no role to play in answering questions or challenges to Christianity. They surely do. The problem is that bad theology, influenced by worldly philosophies, has been guilty for a number of years now of assigning a far more important role and a place of prominence to the evidential approach. Frankly, I do not believe it can live up to its reputation, logically speaking. If you are going to take this approach of defending Christianity, all you have is a book written by a handful of Jews in the first century who made some very outrageous claims indeed. That’s right. Your only source for answering whether Christianity is true or not, and whether we can know if it is true, is a Book. Now what? This means that the credibility of Christianity is only as credibility as the credibility of the Book from which its origin and teachings are drawn. Obliterate the integrity of the Bible and you have shattered the credibility of Christianity. If this paragraph has given you cause to pause, and perhaps even made you a little nervous, good. You won’t be nervous long, if indeed the Spirit of Christ reigns in your heart.
We are going to do something quite radical now. We are going to reject the definition of knowledge handed down to us by Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. You see, Christian actions should see to honor God at all times. Knowing is an epistemic act. Therefore, our knowing should seek to honor God at all times. How can Christians know that their knowledge of truthfulness of Christianity is true knowledge versus mere opinion? Out of this quest for knowledge over the centuries came the idea of rational certainty. I can only really have true knowledge of a something, if and only if I am certain about it. But the problem with this way of thinking is that if we cannot be certain that true knowledge requires certainty, this house of cards collapses. In other words, how could we ever be certain of that true knowledge must be certain knowledge? The fact is that the models of knowledge offered up by unregenerate philosophers have all failed to provide a workable explanation for human knowledge. These models to the philosophy, fail to consider the point of view that knowledge is revelational in nature. Human knowledge is possible because of divine revelation.
Man is born with the innate capacity to know things about himself and his world. Apart from innate knowledge, knowledge is impossible. Pagan philosophies do not account for the first acts of knowing. Knowledge had to start somewhere. We cannot talk about knowledge without possessing knowledge. Man, being created in the image of God is created knowing and with the capacity to know his Creator and his world. Sin enters the equation and knowledge becomes the current complicated formula that it is today. Christ enters the world and redeems ungodly men. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to the hearts of those whom God has chosen! The God who hides himself from sinners has revealed himself to us in history, in the person of Christ. And that history has been captured in Scripture. However, sin impedes our ability to see, to understand, and to know that revelation. We cannot see it and we do not want to see it. We have been in a tragic accident that has altered our appearance in shocking ways. We do not want to look into the mirror. We want to go on pretending we are beautiful. But we are not. The accident has left ugly scars that we would rather not acknowledge. But there is good news! The great Restorer of our hope has come and done his work. Not only can we look into the mirror to see our need for reconstructive surgery, the great Surgeon is here. So, what does this have to do with how a Christian can know that Christianity is true? Everything!
The presuppositions of the philosophers in question would be convincing enough if it could be proved that our cognitive faculties are in their primitive state of integrity. [Lecerf, An Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics, 38] Surely the cognitive faculties of humanity have been radically impacted by the fall. Paul makes it abundantly clear that the cognitive faculties of unregenerate human beings cannot be trusted with spiritual matters: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.
They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Eph. 4:17-18) For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom. 1:21) This makes is plain that the unregenerate mind is not only unwilling to accept the truths of God, but as well, it is unable. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:4) The unregenerate mind is described as futile, its understanding described as darkened, and again, it is described as being blind.
How then shall the claims of Christianity be measured and judged by men who are described by the Christian Scriptures as being futile, darkened, and blind in their cognitive faculties? How do Christians come to know that Christianity is true? Positive faith is not the product of an act of man. It is indeed an act of man, but this act is determined by an efficacious movement of grace. Faith is the gift of God. [Lecerf, Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics, 38] And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20) We know because the Son of God has given us understanding. If the cognitive faculties of men are such that they can gain this understanding of the truths of Christianity apart from God, then in what sense does the Son of God have to come and give us anything? We already have all we need! Let us not rob God of his gracious act on our behave. When we claim we can know these things through unaided human reason, are we not guilty of unwittingly robing Christ of the credit that only He deserves? I think John would say that we are doing precisely that.
The true starting-point for a philosophy of religion is to recognize faith as religious capacity restored by grace, as an organ of knowledge: faith which sees in Scripture the source and rule of its knowledge. [Lecerf, Ibid., 39] The writer to the Hebrews said, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Heb. 11:3) Faith enables us to understand that the visible universe was created by something invisible, namely, by the word of God. [Ellingworth, NIGTC, Hebrews] The Christian assurance of true knowledge then comes through the organ of the gift of faith. This word, understand, means that we grasp or comprehend on the basis of careful thought, perceive or apprehend. In other words, true biblical faith is a means of knowledge just as much as rational analysis or even more so. In fact, faith is the means by which our rational analysis is improved upon. We interpret nature and the order of things rightly only when we interpret them through the lens of biblical faith. “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.” (1 John 2:20) “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” (1 John 2:27) Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45) The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14) Col. 2:2 says that we have been given a “true knowledge” of God’s mystery. Not only this, but God withholds this knowledge from men: And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (Matt. 13:11) Jesus said, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (John 6:45) For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:33-34) Everyone that God teaches comes to Christ.
Christians are in possession of a kind of knowledge that is clearly not available to the world. Christians do not “obtain” knowledge that Christianity is true like a school child obtains knowledge of science or mathematics. Instead, the knowledge of God grips the Christian’s entire being, cognitive faculties and all. The Holy Spirit takes aim at the sinner’s being, He rips out of that heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, opens the eyes that were blind, implants the gift of faith and the immediate response of the sinner to believe and repent. He does so because he knows the gospel of Jesus Christ is absolutely true. And he knows this truth with greater conviction than he knows himself.
Christian knowledge is not knowledge about some set of propositions even though propositional knowledge is unavoidably included. Christian knowledge is knowledge of what is behind the proposition. That God that is there. That God who speaks in Scripture to us. And we know that everything he speaks to us in Scripture is true because we know that Scripture is God speaking. Put this way, Christian knowledge is radically different from the pagan philosopher’s idea of knowledge. It is unavoidably true then that when we talk about knowledge and when the unregenerate talk about knowledge, where Christianity is concerned, we are not talking about the same thing. And even when we talk about knowledge in general, we are not talking about the same thing but that is different post for another day.