God, Revelation and Authority Vol. 1, Chapter 15

Posted: February 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

Just as the question “Do electrons exist?” makes little sense, says J. C. C. Smart, unless one can point to an affirmative example, so the question “Does God exist?” lacks clear meaning for the unconverted…In their statements about God, we are told, Christians point to nothing that might refute their affirmations and hence might just as well be speaking of an invisible elephant.

But need we exhibit a concrete example in order to define a term? Surely we can define a dinosaur or a witch, even if we have never seen one. Such definitions, moreover, are intelligible to atheists and theists alike. The idea of God is not at all as nebulous, even for the unconverted, as some critics would have it.

-Carl F.H. Henry

Chapter 15 of God, Revelation and Authority is one of the longest and densest of the prolegomena.  I will do my best to condense it to under a 1000 words as well as offer my own thoughts.  As always, feel free to correct me if you think I’m mistake.

Henry asserts that because we Christians claim to possess truth then we should not avoid the question of verification.  Yet, he offers the following caveat:

We have argued that a logical system—and Christianity claims to be a logically consistent system of revelational truths—must depend on undemonstrated axioms. Even logical positivism assumes and does not verify its fundamental axiom…Yet in the area in which any postulate claims truth, the demand for verifiability by an appropriate methodology is wholly proper. There must, of course, be agreement on applicable rules and on what evidence is capable of defeating a theory. It is arbitrary to require verification by an alien methodology or in areas in which truth is not claimed.

 In other words, Christianity has nothing to fear from the quest to verify its truth claims but the methodology must be appropriate to the discipline.  Secularists have long argued that the claims of the faith are nonsense because they cannot be verified with the scientific method but Henry argues the problem is with the method not the faith.  Moreover, as Henry has repeatedly noted, the scientific method doesn’t purport to set forth “truth” but “knowledge” because according to the scientific method nothing can ever be verified absolutely for all findings are subject to revision.

According to Henry, the demand by secularists to arbitrarily subject the faith to a method that is “empirically verifiable” frightened theists into retreating from the public square. Henry retorts, “[b]ecause theological and ethical statements cannot be verified by empirical methods does not mean, as the positivists erroneously and arbitrarily conclude, that they are beyond verification. Such a judgment stems purely from the metaphysical theory that only empirical experience supplies evidence about reality.” 

Henry argues that the key is right thinking not the objective use of the sense for, “The Hindu, the Christian and the logical positivist have similar sense experiences (not identical, to be sure, because every individual’s perceptions differ). The essential difference between them occurs not in what they see, hear, smell or taste, but in what they think about reality. The positivist thinks that sense data alone can relate us to the real world; the Hindu thinks that sense data are illusory and lead away from the real world; the Christian thinks that the phenomenal world is a real creation that witnesses to its Creator. The Christian speaks of God who in some way transcends the universe and who cannot be reduced to the orderly processes of nature or to tangible entities probed by empirical science. The Judeo-Christian religion insists that God is invisible and immaterial Spirit, and in no way identical ontologically with the created universe; this emphasis ranges biblical theism squarely against pantheism and naturalism.”

Henry doesn’t dismiss empirical analysis such as the scientific method for it has given us so many wonderful discoveries that bless us all. Yet, the rightful popularity of the scientific method has seduced the majority of us to believe that all truth claims may be validly adjudicated by it and this is a mistake.

Henry goes to great lengths to debunk the notion that modern methods such as post-enlightenment approaches to history are appropriate to verify the faith.  He also rejects experience as the proper tool.  Henry does not dismiss history or experience as wholly unimportant but simply asserts that they are not dispositive.  In the end, as one committed to presuppositional apologetics, Henry argues that if one presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation than one may demonstrate its logical consistency and coherence.  All worldviews rest on presuppositions, so it is then a matter of adjudicating which is consistent and coherent and Henry is comfortable in setting forth Christianity as the only worldview that can rise to the occasion.

Henry ends the chapter writing, “[t]he Christian faith is a rational faith that rests on revelational fact and truth, a faith grounded in the self-disclosure of God in Christ as the ultimate reality and the ultimate reason. It calls therefore for reasonable reflection, reasonable decision, and reasonable service.” 

Henry is following his intellectual mentor Gordon Clark in arguing that if one accepts Christianity as defined by Scripture then it is the most comprehensive and coherent explanation for all of existence. 

In my liberal Emergent days, I rejected presupositionalism as a way of saying, “you have to play by my rules to play at all” but now I see the errors of such a dismissive attitude.  In a time when the new atheists are gaining traction on campuses, this is not the time to embrace Peter Rollins return to Barthian paradox but to meet the challenge head on.  The new atheists will cry foul as we argue for presuppositionalism but we can quickly show that they too have their presuppositions (e.g., the scientific method can explain everything) but, as Clark would say, our worldview is simply a more complete and comprehensive explanation for all of existence.  We can win this fight.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s