21 December 2007

How Can I Be Sure?

In a World That's Constantly Changing...
by Phil Johnson



ere's an exercise for you: Next time you meet a young post-evangelical who is zealous about contextualizing Christianity for these postmodern times, tell him you're completely certain about something spiritually important—preferably a doctrinal proposition he has already expressed uncertainty about. (If he is the type of postmodernist who prefers to express no opinions whatsoever on doctrinal topics, try substitutionary atonement, inerrancy, sola fide, or something of similar import.)

If you can get him to discuss the issue for longer than a sound bite, I predict within ten minutes he'll tell you you're too much of a "modernist."

So give him a look like, "Huh?" and remind him that the position you are defending has historically been associated with a point of view that is known for its militant opposition to modernism. Then ask if he understands what "modernism" is.

He'll most likely respond with a condescending look and tell you in an exasperated tone that—while this all is probably far too complicated for you to understand—you have naively bought into foundationalist epistemology; your worldview has recently been totally discredited; and you need to acquire some epistemic humility.

See, he's familiar with the reductionistic argument that lies at the heart of Beyond Foundationalism, by Stan Grenz and John Franke. Perhaps he has even read the book (or a review of it). At the very least least he'll have seen some of the many Emerging/Emergent/Post-evangelical books or blogs that parrot Grenz's and Franke's all-you-need-to-know-about-epistemology script—namely, that any point of view which is not postmodern (and squeamish about certitude) is nothing more than an outmoded relic of modernity and rooted in foundationalist epistemology.

Earlier this week, a question came up in one of our comment-threads about foundationalism, modernity, and the dripping-faucet accusation that if it weren't for a set of modernist presuppositions you probably don't even realize you have imbibed, you could not possibly justify holding specific theological opinions with any kind of settled conviction. I gave a thumbnail reply to that comment and said I'd try to write a somewhat longer post about it later in the week.

I really don't have time to write a fresh, detailed post on the subject, so here's an excerpt from an e-mail exchange I recently had on the subject. My correspondent had expressed discomfort with the postmodern drift at a certain Christian college, and a professor there gave him the standard Grenz-Franke post-evangelical dodge. After reading something here at PyroManiacs where we expressed concern about the decline of confidence in what the Bible says, he wrote to ask for help:

Phil, the Christian college my church supports seems to be leaning Emergent, and when I talked with some of the professors I was accused of being a "Classic Foundationalist" and that "no one believes that kind of framework anymore"...

If you have time for an answer, just a one sentence answer is really all I am looking for...

I would like to ask, do you have a dominant epistemological view? If so what is it? (would it be “Classic Foundationalism”?)


No. "Classic foundationalism" is inherently rationalistic. Descartes, of course, believed it was possible to lay a foundation for all knowledge with a handful of "self-evident" truths—starting with our own existence ("I think, therefore I am")—and then build a rational system on that foundation. But I reject every worldview and/or epistemology that begins with man as a starting point.

It's very popular these days (especially in circles where people are enthralled with postmodernism) to pretend that if someone doesn't accept postmodern skepticism, that person must be a Cartesian foundationalist. But that's a ridiculously reductionistic view and demonstrably false.

Ask your professor this: Where did pre-enlightenment and early-Reformation minds think their knowledge came from? Specifically, how did the Reformers explain their knowledge? Calvin answered that question in detail at the very start of his Institutes some 70 years before Rene Descartes was even conceived, and Calvin's answer was neither rationalistic nor man-centered.

So it's both a lie and a total anachronism to label the historic Calvinist understanding of human knowledge "foundationalism"—even though that's become an extremely popular pastime in certain Emerging circles.

Contemporary epistemology per se is a hobby of philosophers and rationalists who have already rejected the only sound starting point for knowing truth, i. e. that God has revealed Himself, and the fear of Him is therefore the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).

Remember, some knowledge of God and His truth is innate in every human soul because God placed it there (Romans 1:19-21). He has amplified that knowledge with the more explicit revelation of His Word (the Bible), which He Himself assures us is true, and absolutely certain.

In other words, the postmodern notion that no one can really know anything for sure is the fruit of suppressing one's own innate understanding and conscience while denying what God Himself says. (And ironically, the fact that people do this so stubbornly is a fulfillment of what God says in Romans 1).

Anyway, that's why the pervasive uncertainty of the postmodern worldview is dangerous. When that point of view is used as a lens through which to read Scripture, it becomes a positively sinful way of thinking and is utterly irreconcilable with biblical Christianity.

I don't think there's a fancy name for the view of knowledge the Reformers and other biblically-oriented Protestants held, other than "basic Christianity." Call it "Calvinism" if you like. Or you can label it "the Proverbs 1:7 view" to be even more accurate.

Phil Johnson
http://www.spurgeon.org/

Phil's signature

84 comments:

the postmortem said...

"In other words, the postmodern notion that no one can really know anything for sure is the fruit of suppressing one's own innate understanding and conscience while denying what God Himself says."

That's really good. It took me a few hard months to realize that...but you're right, and I appreciate the way you put it.

DJP said...

Okay, now that song is going though my head. Instead of the bit of Handel's Messiah I was humming!

The Doulos said...

Oooh, I gotta find me a post-evangelical emerg*** type today and try this experiment on 'em.

Good post Phil, thanks for succinctly sorting out some of these philosophical terms that get tossed about without clarity. Intentionally, in most cases.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Yes, post-e's love to throw out the jargon, don't they? And profs in the ivory tower love to believe that "frameworks" are obsolete. Why? Because they say so! And they have the education!

The whole "postmodern" move is academic nonsense and personally I'm not buying it.

I'm also not buying the demise of foundationalism. There are different shades, but Thomas Reid (who was a major influence on 19th Century evangelicalism) is still sticking around. There has been no philosophical knock out of Reid's "common sense realism".

All this pomo skepticism is an academic FASHION. That's it. It's like elbow patches on coat sleeves. At one time, you just HAD to wear them.

Pomo, post-evangelicalism, emerg*** -- these are "all the rage" right now. But they have no content. There is no "there there." It's a conversation among many emperors, none with clothes on. They've been playing strip poker with the truth, and losing.

Writing and Living said...

I'm with Dan. I'm going to be singing that song all day, too. But thanks to another blog I read I have been singing the Diff'rent Strokes theme song, so this is, I think, an improvement.

Chris Hemmelman said...

One of the things I find so amusing about postmoderns/emmergents is their historical and philosophical ignorance (not to mention their theological ignorance). I've had too many of these conversations where I had to smack them upside the head with history.

What many of them fail to see is how postmodernism is actually the fruit of classical foundationalism. As God was pushed out as the foundation of knowledge, and replaced with a man centered foundation, the foundation deteriorated into the mess that is postmodernism.

C.S. Lewis pointed out that order in thought lasts only inasmuch as one holds God as the foundation. Remove God and disorder ensues. Prophetic.

Benjamin Nitu said...

Wow!
I'm impressed, Phil!
Great answer!

It wasn't for no reason that Carl FH Henry named his first volumes in his "God, Revelation and Authority": "God who speaks and show"

Here are some of his quotes:

“The mind of man is not veiled divinity. Transcendent divine revelation, not human reasoning, is the source of truth; publicly shared reason is a divinely gifted instrument for recognizing truth ”

-"Not only the apostate abandonment of revelation as the basic Christian axiom in epistemology, but weak and fallacious views of divine revelation as well, needlessly obscure the truth of evangelical theism. The truth of revelation is dimmed also by an unbelief in the authority and reliability of Scripture, since this dilutes God's Word and speech"

"-Either divine revelation is a source of intelligible knowledge or it is not, and if it is - as inspired biblical writers insist - then its content cannot be codeduced from secondary sources, and we are limited to what God has revealed of the intricacies of his plan"

philness said...

From a Romans 1 stand point the progression of suppressing the truth has a built-in or default desire to become a homosexual. Seems God helps those along their way who reconstruct His truths.

steve said...

What a wonderful note on which to end a week of quotes from Truth War.

Thanks, Phil, for sharing your correspondence with this college student. My heart goes out to him, and I hope he finds encouragement (and is emboldened) by your response. The professor's response is a perfect real-world example of the great damage taking place in our midst. How sad!

And of course, is it worth mentioning where that infamous Grenz and Franke article appeared?

Thanks for all you're doing to keep more ships from wrecking upon the cliffs of Pomoland.

kwekeljo said...

Top shelf Phil!! all around great answer. They sometimes confuse "we can't know everything" with "we can't know anything for sure", equivocating omniscience with certainty. Our human finitude applies to the former more than the latter. Like you said, that is the whole purpose of God REVEALING Himself to us so that we can have some type of certain knowledge about Him, Salvation and the Church. Thier imaginary epistemological fog is annoying.

S.J. Walker said...

Brothers (and Sisters, for I unintentionally excluded you yesterday :-), please pray for me. I have been in battle much of the night. Pray, raise your hands like Moses so that the Lord will prevail on my conflict.

God Bless you all. I always know that I can sharpen my Sword here.

I know this may seem off topic, but it isn't.

In Christ.

philness said...

Steve,

(not to take this seriously)

It sounded as though you were giving a nice tidey-up conclusion to the discussion of Truth Wars, as if this were the last day.

From my stand point I hope it is not because I am a slow learner and need all the help I can get.

4given said...

I have gained so much from this conversation. I have honestly gotten a bit weary of the truth war. It is in my face so much and rather exhausting. People I love and care about deeply have bought into this celebration of uncertainty and as much as I would like to slap them and scream "WAKE UP!!!!" I have to trust that God will grow His own in the grace and knowledge of Himself. Which does not mean that I can just sit by and do nothing... say nothing... though that does sound way too appealing to my flesh.

SolaMeanie said...

Phil,

Super answer, and very timely, considering a contretemps that's been going on over at my place this week. I had to shut the comments down because things got out of control, but I think I'll post a link back to this. Wonderful.

Smug philosophy professors. I go between wishing I could deport them all to Athens and wanting to pull their beards through an old Maytag clothes wringer. My blood pressure almost sends the mercury through the glass even thinking about it.

Jacob Douvier said...

As someone with a piece of paper that says he studied philosophy, I think Anselm of Canterbury said it best:
"I do not understand so that I might believe, but I believe so that I might understand. For if I did not believe, I would not understand."

If we want to talk about the epistemological context of Calvin and the Reformers, look to Augustine's and Anselm's Illumination epistemology.

As a side note, it is sad how many Christians ignore the rich philosophical heritage we have in the Middle Ages.

steve said...

Philness wrote: Steve,

(not to take this seriously)

It sounded as though you were giving a nice tidey-up conclusion to the discussion of Truth Wars, as if this were the last day.


I was simply thanking Phil for ending the week on a high note--his blogpost today had superb content that was prompted by a real-world example of the deadly havoc emergents are wreaking upon the faith. Knowing Phil, I suspect he's just getting warmed up.

I myself would love to see the Truth War excerpts continue for the next few weeks. I suspect there are many lurkers who feel likewise and are benefiting from these posts more than we'll ever know.

Solameanie wrote: Smug philosophy professors. I go between wishing I could deport them all to Athens and wanting to pull their beards through an old Maytag clothes wringer.

I vote for the latter. It'd make for a better comic book cover or poster.

donsands said...

Another helpful post. Thanks.

We wrestle not against flesh and blood.
We have to wrestle the good spiritual wrestle of faith in Christ.

I have shared with a student of Erwin McManus, who sees doctrine as a wall keeping people out of the Church, and I need all the help I can get.

Do you think doctrine can, in any way, be a wall which hinders people from coming to Christ?
Just thought I'd throw that out for any thoughts. Unless this would be a rabbit path.

ajlin said...

chris h. said:
"One of the things I find so amusing about postmoderns/emmergents is their historical and philosophical ignorance (not to mention their theological ignorance)."

-This statement may seem harsh (and I'm not sure amusement should be our response), but nevertheless I think Chris is demonstrably correct.

For example: Just think of Todd Friel's interview with Doug Pagitt. Pagitt kept charging Friel with being influenced by Plato. I kept hoping that Friel would ask Pagitt to refer to a specific work of Plato, because I honestly don't think that Pagitt knows Plato any better than he knows the Bible. For it is Pagitt, in his denial of heaven as a place, that was dividing the spiritual from the physical and denigrating the importance of the physical in an almost Platonic fashion.

Mike Ratliff said...

"But I reject every worldview and/or epistemology that begins with man as a starting point."

Amen brother! That is the crux of the issue. Unless we start with God and then make sure that our understanding lines up with His truth then we have departed godly reason and taken on humanistic reasoning which is contaminated by the fall.

In Christ

Mike Ratliff

Josh said...

I think many in the EC movement have bought the concept that Truth is stranger than fiction, and that since truth seems so strange they rely on fiction.

If anyone is using an improper method of examining Scripture they are indeed victims of the Kantian rose colored glasses.

When the Holy Spirit removes those glasses for us and helps us to see the Word objectively - truth is never stranger than fiction, rather it makes fiction (or false doctrine)unappealing in every manner.

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear

S.J. Walker said...

Fellas,

I got into this sort of thing with our friend Drew and my blog. That is what I was referring to a little while ago.

Can I get an "amen" from all of you to pray for him? To pray that the Word will cut his world-view, his whole being apart. That it will discover his condition for him.

The post-modern though process, if one could cal it that, is eating these men's flesh, dragging their dead spiritual corpses to be burned.

I am brokenhearted today because of what this ideology does to men like Drew.

We should also pray for his flock.

Tim Bertolet said...

"If we want to talk about the epistemological context of Calvin and the Reformers, look to Augustine's and Anselm's Illumination epistemology.

As a side note, it is sad how many Christians ignore the rich philosophical heritage we have in the Middle Ages."


Let's not forget about Post-Reformational reformed orthodoxy too. They developped the notion of God as the ground of being, and then the idea that Scripture is the external ground of knowledge which goes hand-in-hand with the Spirit as the internal ground of knowledge. (I think that is what you were getting at Josh, great throught). Both were needed (some evangelicals have minimized the illumination of the Spirit; others in the EC exalt the "spirit" over the Word).

Chis and Ajlin,
DITTO. I think there is a lot of "Plato" this and "modernist" that without a lot of reading. And so there is never really a probing of how confessional evangelical theology resisted Kant and Descartes and others. Makes me think I need to go back and read these guys a little more than just my college and seminary introduction.

One other thought, I think that some ECers have this notion that evangelicals think that revelation brings exhaustive knowledge, but for Calvin and the Reformed tradition, revelation was truth made known to the creature through God's condescension. He "lisps baby-talk".

Some ECers seem to think either (1)we know "as God knows" or (2)we "don't know" and with the latter they go to apophatic theology. Of course, we don't know truth as the Creator since He knows as the originator... we are only the re-knower, the covenant keeper. But the evangelical option seems to be neither (1) or (2) but rather: (3)we know as God has condescended. This condescension is both in the written Word and the Word made flesh.

Phil,
Thanks for the great post. I have often found a "Calvinist" epistemology avoids both modernism and postmodernism; and more importantly is the Biblical teaching. I'd loved to see you expand this into a series.

CalvDispy said...

It seems to me that if Pomo's are attacking the typical Evidentialist epistemology and labeling it foundationalism they may have a slight point to make. However, what Phil seems to be advancing in his post is a presuppositionalist epistemology. In my mind, that is unassailable. But since there are so few Evangelicals that actually hold to thorough-going Theocentric epitemology perhaps the Pomo's have gone after easier prey. I wonder if they really understand who falls under foundationalism - maybe some strains of 19th century Princeton, but certainly not 20th century Westminster.

SolaMeanie said...

I hope this isn't off topic, but I don't think it is.

One of the things that troubles me about the ongoing "conversation" is just that. It's ongoing..and going..and going..and going. Nothing is ever resolved. No matter what point you make, and how solidly you have made it, you just keep going round and round. I suspect part of it is a Hegelian exercise intended to move the interlocutors to the eventual desired conclusion, but part of it is just plain stupid.

At what point is it appropriate to say, "All right, that's it. This horse has been beaten to death, embalmed, taxidermed, resurrected and then beaten to death again. No more "dialogue." You are wrong, and you are rejected."

In case anyone wants to upbraid me for the notion of rejecting anyone, remember that we are told . . . "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning." (Titus 3:10) With some of these people, "factious," or hairetikos is a good label.

If it sounds like my patience is beginning to wear thin, it is.

S.J. Walker said...

Solameanie,

That is exactly where I am coming from. Preach it, but don't lose patience, I need your HELP! :)

MentalVelocity said...

When an emergent type tries to pull the whole "foundationalism" argument, I usually ask them what they think about Plantinga's argument on epistemic warrant (which in turn pulls strongly from Calvin and Aquinas). Usually it'll shut them up, or if not, it might get them to read someone better than Kreeft!

DJP said...

Sola and SJ — Looks like you're wondering, "When is an argument over?"

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

Phil,
That's a pretty kewl way to flesh out epistemology. I usually just quietly mention to them (postEs) that their fly is down.
Then say, "MADE YOU LOOK"

It's kinda juvenile- but effective

__________________________________
Centu- Tee camiseta material, ¿no?

It does no good to get on the
"right track" if your headed in the wrong direction.

steve said...

Solameanie wrote: One of the things that troubles me about the ongoing "conversation" is just that. It's ongoing..and going..and going..and going. Nothing is ever resolved.

Which is why I'm very interested in what Brian McLaren will say when his five-year moratorium is up. This moratorium is a supreme example of where the postmodern epistemological fog takes people.

I do hope he will be held to account.

SolaMeanie said...

Dan..

Wow (with apologies to Pagitt)!

How did I miss that post of yours? Thanks for linking to it. I am keeping that one in my archives for future reference. I really needed to see that, because I was just about ready to throw my computer into the woodburner this morning.

I can take this in consolation. Romans 3:19 talks of a time when every mouth will be closed. I know that will incense the "conversationalists," but that's a good thing.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

At what point is it appropriate to say, "All right, that's it. This horse has been beaten to death, embalmed, taxidermed, resurrected and then beaten to death again. No more "dialogue." You are wrong, and you are rejected."

Solameanie, you are funny! While being utterly serious! I like it and I like your resolution!

----

SJ Walker, if it's possible to issue a short prayer for someone you don't know... well you and Drew have received a prayer.

----

Phil, thanks for the post! Thanks for the refutation of the false accusation of Descartesian Foundationalism. I wish you had more time for a more thorough debunking, but it's the week before Christmas! All us TeamPyro readers are thankful that you're carving out some time for us all!

Pax in the Advent Season.

SolaMeanie said...

Ha..I say "how did I miss it," and then see that I even commented on it at the time.

I am getting old and senile.

DJP said...

Oh my, I have that sort of thing happen to me so often. I read some wonderful statement "for the first time," then notice I'd already highlighted. I get some Biblical "insight," go to put it in my BW notes... and it's already there, word for word.

I could go on and on, except I've forgotten the other examples.

Happens all the time, though.

chicagolandmark said...

Do you think doctrine can, in any way, be a wall which hinders people from coming to Christ?

Positively. In part, it has always served this purpose. The teaching of the Scriptures, its doctrines, have always been hard to beleive (as MacArthur might say). Biblical doctrine is antithetical to the unregenerate mind.

In the wilderness, the doctrine was given, And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Yet, overwhelmingly, this was ignored and in a generation or two the result was, In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

The rejection of doctrine caused Isaiah to cry, Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

Jehoiakim would have none of the doctrine presented to him by Jeremiah via Baruch and, in fact, cut the scroll with a knife as it was read and threw it into the fire. The result? Therefore, this is what the LORD says about Jehoiakim king of Judah: He will have no one to sit on the throne of David; his body will be thrown out and exposed to the heat by day and the frost by night. I will punish him and his children and his attendants for their wickedness; I will bring on them and those living in Jerusalem and the people of Judah every disaster I pronounced against them, because they have not listened.

And it goes on and on.

For the same reasons, Jesus himself lamented, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

It's heartbreaking, but the natural disposition of man is so pridefull that rejection of ANY doctrine that doesn't comport with the desires of his heart is the default. Biblical doctrine most of all.

Thank God that by His mercy and grace alone any of us are called out from the dead and receive His word with joy.

The most efficacious thing any of us can do, is to preach the word. In season, or out of season. God does the rest, for His purposes, His sake, and His glory.

S.J. Walker said...

Dan "jael" Phillips,

How dare you point me to the Word! Thanks brother, I am so constantly reminded of my humble and irrefutably dense (and proud) nature. My heart burns for PMs, but I can't fall into the thinking that I love them more than God. He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy.

Thanks Brother,

Chris Kammerer said...

The emergents are the modernists, not those of us who hold to biblical Christianity. They only apply their "truth is subjective" epistemology to religious and ethical claims. They abandon it when it comes to other things such as scientific knowledge.

Consider what Dr. William Lane Craig said in his "Reasonable Faith Podcast" (Reasonable Faith Book-pt. 6). In this podcast he addressed this issue and had some very interesting things to say. When asked how often he runs into postmodernism on the college campuses that he speaks at he said this...................... "My answer might surprise you, the fact is, no, I never run into this. And I do not think that this kind of debate that has gone on in academic highly intellectual circles has had a cultural influence. And therefore I disagree fundamentally with people who say we live in a postmodern culture and that therefore we need to adopt new methods to reach postmoderns in our day and age. A postmodern culture would be an impossibility. It would be utterly unlivable. Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the label on a medicine bottle and the label on a box of rat poison. If you have a headache you better believe texts have objective meaning, otherwise your gonna risk your very life. So what people are relativistic about is not science and technology and so forth, what they are relativistic about is religion and ethics. But you see, thats not postmodernism, thats modernism. Thats just old line verificationism and positivism, which says that if you cant verify it by your five senses, its just an expression of emotive tastes and personal preferences. So I think out culture is deeply deeply modernist not postmodernist. And therefore people who say that appeals to logic, rationality and evidence are ineffective and we need to abandon these and just tell our narrative are prescribing a suicidal course of action for Christianity. If we lay down our best weapons of logic evidence and argumentation and just share our narrative, whats going to happen is that Christianity will just become one more competing voice in a cacophony of voices each one sharing his narrative and none of them claiming to have the objective truth about reality. While scientific naturalism marches on to tell us the facts about the way the world really is. So i think it's just vital in terms of doing social analysis that we not be mislead by all these people who say we live in a postmodern culture and have to adopt new methods to reach folks."

Mark B. Hanson said...

Reading solameanie's "wish" to run the philosophy professor's beard through the ringer, a photo of that could be yet another emergent poster. At the top: "Postmodern Epistimology". At the bottom: "Of course, we have no basis to know whether pain is real. All we have is subjective experience."

Steve Lamm said...

Dan,

Great post "WHEN IS AN ARGUMENT OVER." I've been a pastor for several years and I have come to see that the argument is over much sooner than I thought when I was a lot younger for the reasons you stated.

I have one thing to add - when pastors come on a blog like this and put forth heresy, they ought to be called on it (as you all do) and then given the opportunity to repent. If they persist in their heresy, then they ought to be soundly rebuked and then left to answer to God.

Many of the dissenters that frequent this site will cry "foul" and accuse us of being "mean" and "unloving." I say that's just tough.

A pastor who denies for example, the inerrancy of Scripture is leading his own flock astray and should be strongly rebuked and opposed. I'm frankly more worried about the spiritual health of the poor people under his care than I am about his sensibilities. I believe that is why John MacArthur writes the kind of books he does. He's concerned about the health of the Lord's church. I don't think he cares a whit about scoring points in a debate.

In addition to the texts you cited in your old post, here are a few more texts that keep me mindful of the limits of an argument with any particular doubter: 2 Tim. 2:23-25;Titus 1:9.; and finally Matthew 7:6!

Blessings Brother

agonizomai said...

Several commenters have agreed with Phil on the true underlying nature of postmoderity. I agree, and have always treasured the truth contained in the following:

"Post-modernity is proving to be the unfolding of the final stages in modernity, in which, as it were, the beast, now sickened and deranged, has fallen and begun to consume its own innards." David F. Wells "God in the Wasteland" (1994)

There are also echoes of Francis Schaeffer's "line of despair" in the pathalogical dance that postmoderns sometimes seem to be doing in order to avoid the inevitable nihilism that is the logical final result of their view.

This blog is consistently fine food for the discerning, and for those desiring to be, and my thanks go out to all the Pyros and their readers. May all have a truly blessed Christmas.

Bill Honsberger said...

I am glad that you have brought this one up as well Phil. As one who has been in a pomo/continental philosophy swamp for years as a grad student, I am amazed at the poor reading of both philosophical and theological history that is characteristic of Grenz and others. As if nobody talked about truth and certainty in knowledge before Descartes (or the most evil person in the history of the planet as he is called in the pomo types of circles.
I would also add one does not need to abandon evidentialist arguments as well, as they are not a weak spot in our apologetic, but rather the apostles and disciples themselves refer to it. e.g. (What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life, and the life was manifested and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life... I John 1:1-2, "We did not follow cleverly devised tales (("narratives" - sharing our stories yuk yuk) when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (oops again sorry all Zane Hodges fans!) but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty...and we ourselves heard the utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain" 2 Peter 1:16,18, "I have seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her" John 20:19, ad nauseum.
And like Craig said, most are not even real relativists, mainly religious and I would emphasize SEXUAL relativists. Try shorting Franke's or Ricouer's paycheck and see if they really believe the author is dead and in the boundlessness of word interpretation!
Just a thought or two
Bill

Kent Brandenburg said...

The answer to the question, Phil, I believe, is ad fontes, "to the sources." Pre-Biblical criticism, men were sure about the Word of God. You talk about being sure in a changing world, but how can people be sure with a changing Bible?

You say that Scripture is "absolutely certain" (your words). I don't disagree. Skepticism, however, arises with an admission of error. Are there errors in Scripture? I say, "no." Perhaps you say, "no," too. How we define truth is inexorably tied to Words, not concepts or ideas. We even argue letters ("seed" not "seeds"), but we preach Words. We say they are inspired by God. Most today say, "Well, in the original manuscripts," but besides that, a state of perpetual restoration. And if we haven't settled on what the Words are, then how can we decide on what the Words mean?

[All: This is bullseye on topic and I myself would want to keep it that way. In other words, no pejoratives or name-calling, please.]

Phil Johnson said...

Kent:

Nice try, but KJV-onlyism is not on topic here. Save it for a different thread.

Tim Bertolet said...

When an emergent type tries to pull the whole "foundationalism" argument, I usually ask them what they think about Plantinga's argument on epistemic warrant (which in turn pulls strongly from Calvin and Aquinas).

Has anybody tried referencing Vanhoozer's Is There Meaning in This Text? for his trinitarian grounding of hermeneutics against the postmodern chaos?

Kent Brandenburg said...

I think that "truth" and "the words" are one in the same. That's my point. I was trying not to turn it into KJVO. Where is the uncertainty then? Is it solely perspecuity? I don't know why this isn't part of the discussion. I preach the original language text. I pose that the unsurety comes because men aren't sure about the words. Am I wrong? Aren't you exhorting surety somewhere? Is it in doctrines? Is it in history? Is it in a movement? I think this is legitimate. Ignoring or demeaning does not make it so.

wordsmith said...

Chris Kammerer:

Good quote. I think Dr. Carson makes essentially the same point in one of his conference lectures on postmodernism (don't remember which one; I've been listening to several over the past few days, and they've kind of blurred together) - the case can be made that postmodernism is nothing but modernism gone to seed, and not really a new philosophy. Phil has also called it Modernism 2.0 for the same reasons.

Josh said...

I say back to the pit with your NIV and ESV for they are tools of Satan

Off topic yes - hysterical that we are still having debates about a translation that contained many errors (KJV 1611 anyone)

As a Canadian let me tell you this debate cracks me up because it could only exist in the english speaking world

In Quebec where they speak French they use the LSV (Louis Second Version)

You never hear them say LSVO or burn!

Michael Dewalt said...

hey i was looking for your email and did not find it so i decided to post mine here. mmdewalt@gmail.com i was wondering if you could email me so i could ask you a few questions about blogs. i maintain two of them now and was wondering if you could aid me in them, as far a publicizing them.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Josh,

They also speak French in Niger; thanks for the heads up on Quebec.

pastorbrianculver said...

Thanks alot! Now I am singing Different Strokes!! Could be worse, it could be "I'm Henry the Eight, I am, Henry the eigth I am I am..."

thanks for the post, It can be intimidating to go up against professors at seminary and bible colleges. I wish more colleges were like John MacArthurs, Master's!

Phil Johnson said...

Kent: "I think this is legitimate. Ignoring or demeaning does not make it so."

Fine. Take it up on your own blog. The debate about Bible versions is not the subject of this post.

If a JW came into the meta, he'd argue that the question of certainty is also relevant to the deity of Christ. And on a certain level, he'd be quite right about that. But I wouldn't let him turn this comment thread into a referendum about Arianism.

This post was not about that, and it's not about KJV-onlyism, either. It's about epistemology, modernity and postmodernism.

That's the last time I'm going to explain that, BTW.

Tyler said...

This is going to sound real stupid, but I think I love you a whole lot right now.

Kent Brandenburg said...

JWs haven't amplified the innate knowledge of God in their soul with the explicit revelation of His Word, and in so doing they've rejected the only sound starting point for knowing truth.

We're not foundationalists. Thank you.

donsands said...

"Do you think doctrine can, in any way, be a wall which hinders people from coming to Christ?

Positively. In part, it has always served this purpose."

Thanks for the thoughts 'chicago'.

I agree, that the Gospel offends. I also am a very doctrinal kind of Christain. we need never apologize for the Good News of Christ, and the truth of Scripture.

I was just wondering if sometimes the Church isn't too doctrinal?

I saw a Church sign that declared who they were and also stated: "We are Pre-millenial". It was a Presbyterian Church BTW. I felt they went a little over the top with this sign.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

A race without a course and without a destination is not a race, it is a wandering which cannot be followed. We have many such doctrinal wanderings and they grow by the day.

The exitement of not knowing has replaced the security of understanding God's inerrant communication. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to guide us into truth personally and without partiality.

Going deeper into the truth we know is our journey, but doubting that we can know is a cancer that is rapidly infecting many corners of evangelicalism. We may disagree on points of dctrine, but God deliver us from postmodern roundtables whose discourse is proudly based on the presupposition that nothing can ever be accurately known.

Curiously, though, many who parade uncertainty with the left hand construct revisionist Biblical truth and claim certainty about it all. Does the word deception come to mind?

SolaMeanie said...

Mark,

Tee hee. Good idea. I hope Phil gets his graphic artist busy on that one.

Tyler,

Thanks a lot. Now I am going to have THAT song on my mind all night. First Phil and Dan hint at the Young Rascals, and now you have to unintentionally hint at the Partridge Family. Aggh!!

Kent,

Didn't you mean, "We art not foundationalists. Thank thee?" Just kidding. Sort of.

Rick,

I sort of liken it to God sending a "strong delusion so that they will believe a lie." While that particular verse certainly has an eschatological aim, I believe God certainly allows people who are stubbornly intent on rebellion to be deceived even further.

That has been coming home to me very vividly of late. In several "conversations" with EC-types, I am seeing that it doesn't really matter what you say to them in terms of a sound biblical argument. They simply will not see or acknowledge what you are saying. It's either genuine blindness, willful obtuseness, divine judgment or a combination of all three.

I am waiting for Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt or some other guru to discover this movie discover this movie. If they do, it will give them an idea for their next worship service pattern.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Yes SM - and the classic irony is that in order for you to claim that no one can know God's truth for sure, you must be sure!

4given said...

Henry wrote: Curiously, though, many who parade uncertainty with the left hand construct revisionist Biblical truth and claim certainty about it all. Does the word deception come to mind?

Actually what comes to mind is confusion and Shrek... well, Pinocchio in Shrek:

Pinocchio said, when asked if he knew where Shrek was: "Uh. Hmm, well, uh, I don't know where he's not... It wouldn't be inaccurate to assume that I couldn't exactly not say that it is or isn't almost partially incorrect... I'm possibly more or less not definitely rejecting the idea that in no way with any amount of uncertainty that I undeniably ...do or do not know where he shouldn't probably be, if that indeed wasn't where he isn't. Even if he wasn't at where I knew he was... That'd mean I'd really have to know where he wasn't."

There is just something about that that reminds me of the EC.

Christian buzz said...

whoa, this blogsite is freakin awesome

do you guys get paid to do this thing???

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Phil, I'm glad you mentioned Beyond Foundationalism in the post. I think it is in the top three of books influencing evangelicalism. It is a must read for this debate, IMO.

S.J. Walker said...

Christian buzz,

Paid? No. They're slaves. Otherwise they'd sound like Rick Warren...


ahem...I mean, like market stategists..but I repeat myself.

Sorry, Phil,Dan, all you guys
I didn't meant to speak for you.

And thank to all of you for the prayers and humbling advice today.

God bless.

chicagolandmark said...

donsands,

I think there are many churches that are too doctrinal, but only in as much as they emphasize the doctrines of men. Legalist nonsense being a prime example...can't drink, can't smoke, can't go to the theatre, etc., and be a Christian. Or, the EC nonsense of everything is a mystery, certitude equals arrogance, it's impossible to truly know what the Bible means, etc.

The example you shared wouldn't bother me at all. I'd see it as truth in advertising. I actually think we could do with more of that. I know that when I moved to the city I live in now, it would have saved me some Sunday mornings if a number of the local churches had signs out front that said, "We don't believe the Bible to be inerrant or authoritative."

donsands said...

Good thoughts chicago. Thanks.

Would a sign with, "We are Post-Mill" be good? or A-Mil?

chicagolandmark said...

Would a sign with, "We are Post-Mill" be good? or A-Mil?

It would at least give you an idea of what that local church is all about. Pre-mill, post-mill, a-mill...If you were looking for a church, that could certainly help you to decide whether to walk through the door, or pass on by.

So many churches have websites that publish their statement of faith, or doctrinal statement, that in reality bares little resemblance to what they truly practice. I think something short and direct on the sign out front would be a great service to everyone.

SolaMeanie said...

Don and Chicago,

Even "windmill." What is taught depends on what winds are blowing.

And since we have a mention of eschatology, do you notice how uncomfortable most ECers are with the notion of a premillennial outlook? Such notions get in the way of Belinda Carlisle theology. Heaven is a place on earth, don't you know?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Solameanie,

Ebonics, right? You seem to have a gift you're cultivating there. Congratulations. Just kidding, sort of.

donsands said...

"So many churches have websites that publish their statement of faith, or doctrinal statement, that in reality bares little resemblance to what they truly practice."

Ain't that the truth.

Thanks for the discussion.


Seems many churches say they value sound doctrine, and yet really don't. They say they are Christ-centered, and yet are people-centered. They say it's all about the glory of God, but it's about results.

I agree the Church is slowly and steadily turning to an earthly-focused Church, whereas the soul of the Church is a pilgrim in this land, and needs to an Heavenly-focused Body.

4given said...

Jesus...the Rock, the tried foundation of the church (woe to him that attempts to lay any other!)declared that He would build His church.It brings me much assurance, in spite of how determinedly the world is to undermine and contort the authority of God's Word of Truth, that, as it says in Mt. 16:18, the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Though we are in the midst of a war, we do know the ending. God is faithful and our hope in His truth, His promises are sure. Resting in that helps me to press on because I often feel enshrouded with smoke.

kim said...

You guys are great! Your posts are funny, smart, helpful...I could go on. I needed this so much today. I get so discouraged in my discussions with emergent folks because as solameanie said, "they just go on and on and on." They can't or won't see, and it breaks my heart.

You have lifted the spirit of this Christian sister, and I thank you. oops, sorry for another song reference. LOL

4given said...

My husband has a busy call schedule this weekend and sent this to me in the midst of it. I just had to share it with you all.


Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?


Sure I must fight if I would reign
Increase my courage, Lord,
I'd bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by the Word.
--Isaac Watts

Robert Easter said...

Phil, I appreciate both the depth of thought behind this article and my own need to further my own understanding of such things. One question, though, You stated that to understand God (and, as I take it, Life, the Universe, and Everything) we must start with God's revelation of Himself. Is not the first revelation we receive from Him actually from within our own selves? As He said, "In the image of God created He them," and that Christ is "the true light, that enlightens everyone who comes into this world.(para.)" God is good. All that is good is from Him, and in ourselves we can only speculate to try and define "good." Yet in ourselves we see that "good" is preferable, we know "good" when we see it, and we only encounter "good" when God meets us.

Gilbert said...

Solameanie, The Planet's Coolest Meanie(tm), doth stated:

>One of the things that troubles
>me about the >ongoing "conversation" is just
>that. It's ongoing..and
>going..and going..and going.
>Nothing is ever resolved. No
>matter what point you make, and
>how solidly you have made it, you
>just keep going round and round.

Isn't the definition of insanity doing something or thinking the same way over and over again and expecting a different result or outcome, if almost by magic?

I have to admit, quite a bit of the language in these replies goes over my head. What I do know, however, is this:
There is but One Way, One Truth, and One Life. That is absolutely certain. That Way leads to life; those who do not follow that Way do not have eternal life in Heaven. There is no re-imagining or uncertain anything about it. I am, by primary trade, a meteorologist; if anyone wants to hear about uncertainty, error, what the possibilities are, where things are and where they could be headed, talk to me. The Bible is not a spiritual weather forecast. There are no chances, no probabilities, no ranges of possibilities. No "this might be the outcome/answer". Leave that line of questioning and reasoning to that which is naturally expected in a scientific discussion. It is one thing for a weather forecaster to be paid handsomely to get it right considerably more than half of the time; it is damnable heresy that the certainty of the Gospel should be taught with less than absolute authority, from the Word itself.

And as for you, Phil, your chances of a white Christmas, by my reckoning, are somewhere between 0% and 100% at this time. :-)

S.J. Walker said...

4given,

Isn't that the hymn "Am I a Soldier of The Cross"?

Good stuff.

Phil Johnson said...

Robert Easter: "You stated that to understand God (and, as I take it, Life, the Universe, and Everything) we must start with God's revelation of Himself. Is not the first revelation we receive from Him actually from within our own selves?"

What I said was "Remember, some knowledge of God and His truth is innate in every human soul because God placed it there (Romans 1:19-21). He has amplified that knowledge with the more explicit revelation of His Word (the Bible), which He Himself assures us is true, and absolutely certain."

The innate knowledge we are born with is a kind of general revelation. So in a real sense, everything we know starts with revelation.

SolaMeanie said...

Kent,

Ebonics? No, it's actually Ebola.

Phil:

The innate knowledge we are born with is a kind of general revelation. So in a real sense, everything we know starts with revelation.

That's perhaps the most "spike in the head" statement in this whole meta. If I had the means, I would dump leaflets with that statement on them via airplane over each EC flock in the country.

You are now running for Dan's "Jael" status.

polycarp said...

Phil: Awesome post brother! Your biblical and doctrinal knowledge is fine-tuned indeed! I'm always impressed when you spot error, especially when certain coyotes try to sneak it into the discussion unawares!

Johnny: Yes, you are entirely spot-on correct in your assessment of the EC's strong foothold in pagan, secular academia. While I make no claim to having the theological expertise of Phil or the other members of team pyro here on this blog, my Master's is in English Literature and my Doctorate is in Education (Higher Education Leadership: Philosophy, Theory, and Practice). Sadly, these degrees were pursued and earned when I was in a prodigal state of rebellion against the Lord of creation. In light of all I've discovered about the EC in the last year or so, I've come to discover God's purpose for allowing such an experience: that I might speak with ethos, as one who has been immersed in two very liberal programs, about the direct parallels between the EC and PAGAN academics. One of the many problems with the EC, however, is that most of these postmodern devotees of the movement lack the academic credentials to know where the origins of all their rebellious nonsense comes from (which is a characteristic of the cults is it not?)

Robert Easter said...

Phil, the wild thing is that both Calvinists and the rest of us agree that the knowledge of God begins with Revelation. A typical Calvinist would make that starting point at the moment of Election, and then from the Bible. Anyone outside the Elect is excluded from any revelation,being "blinded by their sins." What is known today as "Wesleyan" theology sees that General Revelation as illuminated by the Holy Spirit as God's grace "draw(ing) all people" to Christ. Of course, not all will be saved, but all who will will be. God's grace comes to us because of His holy love which essentially defines Him throughout eternity, and that holy love is the one thing that makes the difference in human life: Holiness, without love, is a merciless furnace; love, alone, is cloying promiscuity- equally deadly. Holy love is the basis for creation, for the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Return, really for every work of God. It's what Christmas is all about. Hallelujah, and merry Christmas!

Phil Johnson said...

Robert Easter: "A typical Calvinist would make that starting point at the moment of Election, and then from the Bible. Anyone outside the Elect is excluded from any revelation,being 'blinded by their sins.'"

No, I don't think you understand what Calvinism teaches, or what I've said in this post. My point is that some knowledge of God is implanted in every human heart. In other words, not from "the moment of Election," but from birth.

And everyone, elect and otherwise, tries to suppress that knowledge. In the case of the elect, God awakens the heart and sovereignly overrules that willful blindness.

Robert Easter said...

Philip, I can’t claim to be an expert on Calvinism, though what little I have learned tells me that Calvin’s view of “Total Depravity” has Mankind absolutely bound and blinded under sin*. In fact, when the Calvinist seminary professor Jacob Hermann (Latin, Arminius) “remonstrated” that the Lord does reveal Himself to every heart so that, “whosoever will, may come,” Calvin heir Theodore Beza’s reaction led to the Synod of Dort, which drafted the 'TULIP" in reaction, and sentenced one of A.’s friends to death, another to life in prison, and everybody who believed with him to be driven out of town, to the loss of home, kin, and livelihood.

You mention God “sovereignly overruling” our “willful blindness.” When we speak of God as “sovereign,” we have to recognise that that describes His position of power. What we really mean is that He is effectively greater than whatever we are talking about in relation to Him. When we say that God, Who is holy, is love, we are quoting His Word in saying that love is the one quality that truly defines His Nature. We don’t ever read in Scripture that He is (consists of) omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, wisdom, etc., though these all surely describe Him; but, most essentially, God is love!

Philip, I assume that you are married. I doubt if that lady became your bride because you “sovereignly overruled” her “willful” reservations about you. I think that, inasmuch as you loved her, rather than just lusting momentarily, you wanted above all things for her to love you- freely, from her heart. If you had “sovereignly overruled,” perhaps using a 9mm when you proposed, then your “help meet” would hardly be your friend! Do we presume that God loves us any less, or that He is so insecure about His ability to reveal His love to us that He would have to resort to coercion to find His Son a bride?

The holy God is love, and He invites us all to join Him in that love. Love must be free, or be less than love. “Whom the Son sets free, is free indeed!"


*This might be as to say that “Man is (consists totally of) sin,” In this case we would have to say that God love sin. Is sin any more than a spiritual darkness, the lack of righteousness as darkness is a lack of light? And Christ “lighteneth every man that cometh into the world,” so there is hope for all of us!

Phil Johnson said...

Robert:

I'm not even going to try to untangle what you just wrote. Let me just point out that this post is dealing with the question of where knowledge comes from, not the ordo salutis. You're confusing those things and thus pushing the thread off topic. If you want to defend Arminianism, please save it for a thread where that's the topic.

Leaving the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism aside for a moment, Scripture says God has placed some innate revelation of Himself in the human heart. In the context of Romans 1, Paul is actually describing the reprobate and citing a reason why their condemnation is just. (All Calvinists affirm the truth of Romans 1, BTW. In fact, it's a key passage on human depravity and guilt. The reason our sin's guilt is so egregious is that it involves the deliberate suppression of our innate, God-given knowledge of His eternal power and deity, leaving ALL sinners without excuse.)

However, my point (which is not at all about any of the issues where Calvinists and Arminians disagree) is simply that God has given humanity a certain basic knowledge that cannot be explained by recourse to godless epitemological theories. It includes a basic knowledge of God and sense of duty to Him and is the reason we feel guilt in our conscience when we do wrong.

The point is neither subtle nor complex. Set aside your eagerness to dive into debates about Calvinism for a minute, and you will see it, I think.

S.J. Walker said...

Robert,

You may want to read this:

this

It is long, I'll warn you. But it was an amazing study.

Robert Easter said...

Phil, a merry rest-of-Christmas to you!

I’m sorry for the confusion. The original plan was to comment on the fact that, by the Lord’s grace, you were seeing the Scriptures more clearly and plainly than many.

If that post (which was mainly agreeing with you) was too long, maybe a short question would at least be good thought fodder: Does our dogma (primarily) inform our worship, or the worship our dogma?

Robert Easter said...

Sam Walker-

Thanks for the reference. I haven't read the whole page, but it looks like some heavy thinking went into it. Say, especially you being Cowboy, look over on the new post on my blog and give me your opinion!

Lance Roberts said...

Phil

Kent was right on, it all gets back to words, when we allowed the modern liberal textual critics to change them as they pleased it contributed to the modernist landslide that dumped us into the pit of postmodernism. After all, all postmodernism is doing is creating their own Bible version, one that doesn't say anything definite.

Josh,

You need to do more research.

4given said...

My Husband Shared this with me this Morning. It is an excellent excerpt from an 1800's book I found at a garage sale for 25cents.

...there are gentlemen alive who imagine that there are no fixed principles to go upon. "Perhaps a few doctrines," said one to me, "may be considered as established. It is, perhaps, ascertained that there is a God; but one ought not to dogmatise upon His personality: a great deal may be said for pantheism." Such men creep into the ministry, but the are generally cunning enough to conceal the breadth of their minds beneath Christian phraseology, thus acting in consistency with their principles, for their fundamental rule is that truth is of no consequence.