God, Revelation and Authority Vol. 1, Chapter 23

Posted: March 7, 2011 in Uncategorized


Religion is not a private option; it is a personal necessity and cultural indispensability. Man is inescapably and incurably religious. A spiritual outlook pervades his personal life and shapes the cultural milieu in which he lives and labors. No society long exists without spiritual cohesion, even as the individual life soon falls apart when man no longer considers anything absolutely true or worthwhile.

-Carl F.H. Henry

The last few centuries have witnessed numerous attempts, sometimes quite bloody ones, to eradicate religion.  Secular thinkers have argued that religion is nothing but a waste product of psychology but, as Henry points out, its existence in each and every culture in all of history points to the very centrality of religion and a reality far beyond a western collective delusion.  Religion is as natural to humankind as is agriculture and love.  Thus, it is not a leap to identify religion as an a priori form or idea.

Yet, why is the religious there? As Henry argues, one must either speculate along the lines of Plato, Leibnitz and Hegel or adopt a divine revelational model.  Henry, of course, opts for the latter. He argues that divine revelation simply better accounts for reality than does the secular model.  Henry writes, “Conjectural apriorism does not decisively work out the relationship of the various experience forms—theoretical, ethical, aesthetic and religious—to each other, to the supernatural, and to the question of the truth and value of the historical religions. The history of philosophy has found the explanation of the coordination of the ideas or forms which make experience possible a vexing problem.”

Henry does not dismiss secular philosophy out of hand as secular philosophers dismiss theologians.  Henry states,

The question of religious a priori factors thus forces upon theology and philosophy of religion the larger theme of divine revelation. The Bible does not, to be sure, supply us with a full-formed religious epistemology, although its teaching contradicts many representations of the secular philosophers and its didactic statement about the role of the Logos in relation to man and the world provide extremely helpful clues in expounding a Christian view and maneuvering through the secular alternatives. It is not that the logical validity of Christianity stands or falls on the issue of an innate knowledge of God, for Christianity has its distinctive right to life in and through special historical revelation. No quest for a faith-foundation which wholly displaces the historical as an arena of revelation can be considered authentically Christian. The Bible holds special redemptive revelation always at the center, and keeps the philosophical-religious question, in contrast with the theological-revelational, on the periphery.

Henry goes on to argue that the a priori is bound up with our context as divinely created beings.  He writes,

But Christianity does not dispense with the a priori by considering it simply an inference from experience. While Christianity has its unique basis in special historical revelation, it must not on that account be disjoined from the rational nature of man grounded in the creation imago. Faith is locked into a priori constituents of human nature; man’s nature on the basis of creation serves to explain his religious disposition. The relationship of Christianity and the non-Christian religions is best clarified when religion is seen to have its basis in man’s creation in the image of God, and man’s plight in sin seen through his violation of general revelation, his devotion to nonbiblical religions seen as a struggle to lift himself above this shabby plight, and the biblical revelation grasped as a gracious divine address to his otherwise hopeless predicament.

The a priori character of religion is evidence for the reality of divine revelation.  It connects all experience and knowledge into a clear and coherent whole rather than the skeptical a priori of secular philosophers, which atomizes life into a disconnected subjective mess. The reality of God, His creation and our imago dei grounds the ability to truly know.

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