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Epistemology: A Search for Truth

Summary Principles

 

* The following are not necessarily in priority order.

1. Simple subject and first principle. Epistemology for the Bible-believing Christian is a simple subject. He accepts the Bible as the very word of God written. If one claims to be a Christian and does not accept the Bible in this way, he is not a Christian. The Holy Spirit who regenerates cannot deny the Word that He wrote. Consistent with living a life in the Spirit, a Christian will be involved in a life-long, diligent study of the Bible (Hebrews 11:6).

... the first principle of the Christian system is biblical infallibility, or the proposition, "The Bible is the word of God." From this first principle, the theologian proceeds to construct a comprehensive system of thought based on infallible divine revelation. To the extent that his reasoning is correct, every part of the system is deduced by logical necessity from the infallible first principle, and is thus equally infallible. And since the Bible is the verbal revelation of God, who demands our worship and commands our conscience, a system of theology deduced with logical validity is authoritative and binding. Therefore, to the extent that this book is accurate in presenting what Scripture teaches, its content summarizes what all men ought to believe, what Christians have pledged to believe, and what is objectively true."  (Vincent Cheung, Systematic Theology, page 9.)

Evidences of this acceptance include a) the Biblical account of Creation and rejection of evolution, including theistic evolution; b) acceptance of a worldwide Flood; c) special revelation as the final interpreter of general revelation, d) Biblical law as the interpreter of natural and any other source of law; e) Biblical truth having authority over all psychological theories and practice; f) the role of the church in individuals, families, society and state governments; g) the priority of worship as “the chief end of man”; h) identifying the two most important divisions of mankind: the saved and the unsaved; i) sexuality being permitted only in marriage between a man and a woman; and j) existence of supernatural beings, especially Satan, known as both the Prince of Darkness and The Angel of Light.

This is not an exhaustive list, but one that is sufficient to challenge those who might consider themselves Bible-believers. “The Lord our God is one,” and His Word stands or falls as a whole. (See appropriate Worldview Areas for substantiation and discussion of these broad and basic concepts.)

2. Objectivity and ultimate hope. The Bible is, epistemologically, the ultimate hope of all serious and careful philosophers in history: an objective source of truth that governs and interprets all other claims of truth, never changes, and has a global acceptance as truth (as the gospel advances throughout the earth).

If truth is not objective, then truth does not exist because the only other means of epistemology is to accept one authority over all others or to let a majority vote (vox populi, bureaucracy, committee, legislative body, council of popes, etc.). Since individual authorities and votes change, truth by definition as never changing, cannot exist by this means.

3. Truth, Knowledge, Valid Knowledge, and Non-contradiction. The most valid knowledge of any object includes a serious Biblical knowledge of that object by a regenerate mind (person), as well as rational and empirical inquiry. When correctly understood, Biblical knowledge and any other knowledge never conflict or contradict the other. There is no separation into “sacred” and “secular” within a Biblical system. God, as a unity, created the entire universe as a unified whole.

Relevance of subject. Fullest consideration should be given to Biblical understanding of any subject, even those that seem objective, for example, mathematics, physics, and chemistry. The Bible’s relevance in many areas of scholarly study is often easily dismissed or overlooked by many Christians. The direct relevance of the Bible progresses from (perhaps) minimal influence on the objective sciences to a necessary and controlling influence on the sciences that interpret what man is and what he does (for example, sociology and psychology). See Stob, Theological Reflections, pages 21-22.

Influence of time. Knowledge that seems valid or “true” at one time and place may be replaced by more careful and complete study. Only truth (see above) never changes. The attitude of modernists that truth is only found in modern times is blatantly false.

“Progression” of Biblical truth . While the content of the Bible never changes, Christians’ understanding may change. Indeed, there is a sense of progressive revelation in which Christians build on the work of those who have gone before. For example, John Calvin greatly advanced Augustine‘s ideas and discussion of predestination. See The Mind of Christ.

Depth and breadth. With serious study and reflective thought, the depth and breath of any subject from a Biblical perspective can be considerable. For example, two of the authors of this website have developed a comprehensive worldview in medicine. See www.bmei.org.

Truth. The Bible is truth that both the regenerate and unregenerate can understand, as its words are read in the same way as any other book. It is truth, as reality, not an analogy of truth or correspondence to reality. However, the interest, understanding, and obedience of the regenerate mind should immeasurably exceed that of the unregenerate mind. The themes and definitions of particular words must be interpreted by Scripture itself. See Regeneration above. (See Stob, Theological Reflections, page 236.)

4) The Unregenerate. Unregenerate man cannot know truth, except as he willing and able to understand clear statements of Scripture. For example, he may understand “Trinity,” that God is three Persons in One, as that simple statement (proposition) conveys a truth. He may not know as much fullness of that meaning as a regenerate person and embrace its personal significance, but the statement (proposition) is true whether understood by a Christian or a non-Christian.

The first chapter of Romans is clear that even the unregenerate have an inexcusable knowledge of God and his moral law. Precisely what is that knowledge is debated. Yet, Christians should interact with the unregenerate on the basis that he has a responsible understanding of these concepts.

Unregenerate man can know a great deal of facts (functional or valid knowledge) about various subjects to the extent that he can achieve great accomplishments from a human perspective.

5) Regeneration. Regeneration imparts no knowledge, not even knowledge from the Bible. Regeneration is of the heart, not the mind. See Regeneration. Therefore, a Christian is called to a lifetime of serious Bible study “that he may be transformed by the renewing of his mind” (Romans 12:2). That is, that his mind may fully inform the heart what God requires of him. (See Stob, Theological Reflections, page 236.)

This “transformation” of the mind does not mean that man can know truth in the way that God knows truth. Even when we no longer “see through a glass darkly,” we will not have omniscience, knowing everything or anything exhaustively, as God does. This difference is both quantitative and qualitative, yet this difference does not diminish the reality that man can know truth, as truth, not an analogy of truth.

6. Non-contradiction. Knowledge (within general or special revelation) that seems contradictory is wrongly understood. Serious and systematic study in both areas, particularly special revelation can often resolve these apparent contradictions.

7. Hermeneutics. Knowledge of the Bible must conform to certain basic rules of interpretation. I strongly believe, along with many other pastors and theologians, that many disagreements among Christians and churches could be resolved by following these rules consistently. See Hermeneutics - Principles.

Danger of “agreeing to disagree.” “Agreeing to disagree” is a most serious and divisive step for Christians. The Mind of Christ is one mind. Within the constraints of other responsibilities, Christians should work harder to resolve these differences.

8. Full-orbed Christian life. A full life of faith and practice in all the areas (family, church, vocation, etc.) to which God has called His people enables a depth and breadth of knowledge that can be developed in no other way. That “practice” includes serious Bible study with theological helps (commentaries, lexicons, concordances, etc.).

9. Influence of age and culture. Even the best theologian and Biblical scholar cannot escape the influence of the general thinking of his age and culture. The challenge is to apply the Biblical worldview to each generation.

10. Only two worldviews. Ultimately, there are only two philosophies or worldviews: Biblical Christianity and all others. Or, the two categories could be: Biblical Christianity and individualism, as the content of the Bible is fixed, while all other religions and philosophies are subject to the choosing of the individual. (See Clark, A Christian View… 3rd Edition, page 53.)

11. Synonyms. The quest for truth is not as complex as secular philosophy seems to make it. Words that denote a quest for ultimate truth and are virtually synonymous in concept are: religion, worldview, ethic, reality, ultimate reality, value, fact, ontology, metaphysics, cosmology, epistemology, faith, knowledge or valid knowledge, facts, being, critical philosophy, essence, existence, monism, speculative philosophy, substance, and ground of meaning. Again, there are “ultimately” only two: Biblical Christianity (in all the fullness of sound theology and worldview [ethics]) and all others.

12. Unexamined worldviews. The large majority of worldviews, held by individuals including Christians, are unexamined. Principles and “facts” are simply accumulated over one’s lifetime, randomly existing in one’s mind, and applied situationally with inconsistency and according to personal desires.  Socrates said that "the unexamined life was not worth living."  While certainly the Christian life is "worth living" (on earth and in heaven), even for those who are mostly Biblically illiterate, they will lack the power and love of God that brings about the "abundant life" of power, peace, love, and good works that God calls His people in "working out their salvation."

13. Presuppositions. All worldviews, religions, and philosophies are based upon “givens,” also know as presuppositions, premises, axioms of life, first principles, etc.

14. Person. Ultimately, truth is both objective and subjective, a Person, Jesus Christ. “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”

15. Science. Science (in its modern sense) is always (A) a construct of axioms, theories, premises, and other assumptions and (B) strict limitations of experiment. As such, science is never a source of truth, while it may achieve great functional value.

Further Study

For a full discussion of truth, Scripture, and epistemology, see The Bible and Truth: Comprehensive Review

Cheung, Vincent.  www.vincentcheung.com

Clark, Gordon. God’s Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics. Chapter 2. An excellent review of the Bible as truth, based upon epistemological considerations.


 

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