God, Revelation & Authority Vol. 1, Chapter 14 Part 3/5

Posted: February 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

Today we continue to unpack the main thesis of Carl F.H. Henry’s God, Revelation & Authority, which is as follows:

Divine revelation is the source of all truth, the truth of Christianity included; reason is the instrument for recognizing it; Scripture is its verifying principle; logical consistency is a negative test for truth and coherence a subordinate test. The task of Christian theology is to exhibit the content of biblical revelation as an orderly whole.

Henry goes on to break this thesis down into 6 sub-parts.  Today we hit number 4/6, in which Henry argues, “Logical consistency is a negative test of truth and coherence a subordinate test.” 

Henry quickly anticipates objections, writing:

Some may think that tests of revelation or truth are highly inappropriate, and that human creatures ought to accept the divine without question. But tests of truth are wholly appropriate. The Old Testament required the people to distinguish prophets from pseudoprophets; Jesus warned of false christs (John 5:43); and the early Christians had to discriminate true from false apostles. Tests of truth will not only serve to refute as spurious the natural man’s objections, but also show that the alternatives they propose do not hold up and lead rather to skepticism. Rational tests will also exhibit the logical and psychological superiority of the Christian revelation as a world view that best meets all human needs.

Christ and the prophetic-apostolic writers assumed the canons of rationality and expected men to exercise the logical laws requisite to meaningful thought. They did not authorize and introduce new and unheard of tests of truth, or some new and peculiarly Christian technique of understanding.
 
Henry goes on to state that, “Without noncontradiction and logical consistency, no knowledge whatever is possible. Christianity insists that verification answers the question, “How can I know that this claim is true?” and not the question of personal preference. To rational minds, the credibility of a religious claim, like any other, rests upon the availability of persuasive evidence and adequate criteria. The importance of intellectuality in theology, of cognitivity and concepts, of valid propositions, of logical system, therefore dare not be minimized.”
Barthians (and today pop philosophers like Peter Rollins) object that logical consistency  is a man made construct that is inappropriate to apply to the things of God, which are surely above our petty ways of thinking.  Yet, Henry points out that such a belief contradicts the rational character of revelation itself.  The Christian faith lends itself easily to understandable propositions because God is a rational god. 
 
Thus, we return to the need to test all truth claims by the law of non-contradiction and coherence in this order.  Henry writes,
Consistency is a negative test of truth; what is logically contradictory cannot be true. A denial of the law of contradiction would make truth and error equivalent; hence in effect it destroys truth. How else except by persuasive rational evidence that unmasks the inconsistencies of other views and exhibits the rational consistency of Christian claims shall we make it apparent to the nonbeliever that his alternative, however fantastic are its promises, lacks the intellectual compulsion of the Christian view? Surely one cannot appeal only to instinct or to custom and tradition or to feeling and sentiment or to sensation or pragmatism. Attention to logical consistency will clarify that nonbelievers thrust aside the Christian revelation not because of any illogicality of Christian truth, but because of their own personal illogicality and sinfulness. Logical consistency alone can ajudicate whether any alternative is worthy of one’s commitment. When scholars hold divergent starting points, each claiming his to be logical, we must not throw logic to the winds thinking thereby to serve Christianity, but rather must show that the nonbiblical alternatives are futile, and that to bow to God’s revelation is not to go against the truth but rather to acknowledge it. The Christian system of doctrine prizes internal consistency. The truths of revealed religion do not contradict each other; the theorems derived from the axiom of revelation are self-consistent.
 
Henry then anticipates the objection, “But everyone claims they are logically consistent! Who is right? The Marxist? The Thomist? Nearly every philosophical system claims to be consistent! Who is right? Doesn’t it all depend on your starting point? Therefore, should we test the starting points empirically and reject statements like, ‘I presuppose that the Bible is the Word of God?'”
 
Henry begins his response to the objection by noting that logical consistency is a negative test of truth.  He then argues that competing philosophical systems are not truly logically consistent but that Christianity passes the test as well as being coherent so that all people everywhere can easily understand it. 
 
Henry ends the section by arguing the following,
 
Christian revelation is formally intelligible to all men; it convincingly overlaps ineradicable elements of everyman’s experience, and offers a more consistent, more comprehensive and more satisfactory explanation of the meaning and worth of life than do other views. How shall the unbeliever recognize the superiority of Christian claims if the logical weaknesses of his alternative are not exposed, and the superiority of revelational truth in confronting the basic issues of reality and life are not exhibited? The reluctance to give proper scope to consistency and coherence militates against a swift elimination of misconceptions.
 
Christianity supplies impetus for a comprehensive and consistent interpretation of reality and it is applicable to all the experiences of life. It embraces knowledge of the ultimate world and anticipates man’s future destiny. It exhibits the wonder of the cosmos, the meaning and worth of individual existence, the purpose of history and the role of society and culture, the grip of moral values and the power of love. All this it does in the context of the worship and service of God. It best “saves the appearances,” that is, besides avoiding logical contradictions and disconnections in its fundamental principles, it accounts most adequately for human experience. But to insist that the truth of revelational theism most consistently and coherently explains the empirical data is something very different from professing to validate the core-commitments of Christian theism wholly on empirical grounds. Christian theism nonetheless promises incomparably rewarding experiential consequences in the lives of those who personally appropriate the truths of revealed religion and its eschatological end-time encompasses a universally irresistible confirmation of its validity.
 
If Henry was right, and I believe he was, then all pastors should be immersing themselves in theology and apologetics in order to clearly and gracefully explain the consistency of Christianity and the inconsistency of any other worldview.
 
Stay tuned for part 4/6.
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