God, Revelation and Authority Vol. 1, Chapter 20

Posted: March 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

Historic Christian apriorism was confidently metaphysical. Whether one turns to Augustine or Anselm, to Luther or Calvin, he finds there no sympathy for the transcendental dismissal of genuine knowledge of the supernatural world. Not until Kant influences the philosophical science is theological apriorism discussed in a reactionary transcendental mood rather than in terms of cognitive knowledge of transcendent reality. Traditional Christian apriorism does not dismiss metaphysical knowledge as alien to the spirit and scope of divine revelation.

-Carl F.H. Henry

What Henry is saying above is that there was a time when theologians confidently entered the public sphere with a comprehensive explanation for every corner of existence.  The confidence was rooted in an apriorism, which recognized that God had given us the inherent ability to recognize the truth of divine revelation. 

Henry points to Augustine as the first and most important early thinkers who contended for a theological transcendent apriorism.  Augustine encountered opposition from those who argued that all Christians could stand upon was  mathematical probability or reason informed by the senses. Augustine rightly retorted that the external world alone relies upon the divine gift of logical categories instilled in us by our creator. 

But Augustine also believed we are sinful creatures, so how does that affect our ability to know? Henry writes,

What Augustine suggests is the existence of one truth on various levels. Each level requires a different degree of preparation for its reception, according to the effect of the ethical state of the soul upon knowledge. The soul, although finite, can indeed know “perfect” knowledge, that is, it can attain truth, yet it is not omniscient. Yet even when we know in part, we may have unlimited certitude. As subject to creaturely development, man in advancing from immaturity achieves adequate knowledge only gradually, and only with external assistance; some outreach others in knowledge. Authority and faith are preparatory provisions for more comprehensive reason. When the soul’s refraction of truth reflects not only this finitude and limited development, but also the impediment of sin, a right perception of the truth becomes impossible. Finiteness and mutability limit knowledge, but sin distorts the apprehension of it. With the passing years the effects of sin worsen rather than alleviate this condition, so that human faculties become so impaired by sin that the natural man is precluded from the ascertainment of truth. The soul is plagued by an obstacle to knowledge which it cannot itself overcome.

Knowledge of God, the supreme knowledge, requires the maximal human adjustment. Only special revelation and grace, which aim to restore man to the knowledge for which he was created, can master the noetic effects of sin. Already dependent on God alone for existence, and continually sustained as a rational creature by the activity of God, the sinner is restored to light and life only through special divine intervention. Once the natural human situation of finiteness and development is compounded by ethical rebellion, the miscarriage of man’s reason can be overcome only by a divine work of salvific rescue. Augustine proceeds therefore to the exposition of special revelation and redemption, noting the significance of the Scriptures and the witness of the Holy Spirit in regeneration as factors integral to the realities of Christian knowledge.
In other words, all true knowledge is from God and our ability to receive it depends on our relationship with God.
Luther stormed on to the scene and insisted that every atom of humankind has been so adversely affected by sin that our intellect is unable to recognize truth without regeneration but he still insisted on an innate knowledge of God connected to the image and likeness of our creator.
Calvin then strolled into history.  Of Calvin, Henry writes, “[t]o posit man as a knower is therefore also to posit God as revealer. “There cannot be found,” Calvin writes, “the least particle of wisdom, light, righteousness, power, rectitude, or sincere truth which does not proceed from him, and claim him for its author” (Institutes I, 2, 1).”  For Calvin, all knowledge is grace so that there is absolutely no room for boasting by anyone–believer or not.  Calvin argues that God gives knowledge to enable worship and obedience not academic speculation that only brings glory to the proponent.
God reveals Himself generally to all in creation.  Humankind cannot help but to feel a transcendent power and the need to be reconciled.  Hence, we are all inherently “religious.”  Yet, in our rebellion, we become idolatrous and, in the inspired words of Paul, worship the creation rather than the creator.  We need the special revelation of Scripture and the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit to obtain true knowledge.
Next up, chapter 21.

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