Category Archives: Philosophy

The Problem with Empiricism

In line with other recent response to agnosticism, unicorns, and atheism, I’d like to raise some questions about the approach to knowledge known as empiricism. Empiricism is a tradition which teaches that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience. That is, if something is not, at least in principle, able to be tasted, touched, seen, heard, or smelled, then it does not count as a potential object of knowledge. This view of knowledge, the seeing-is-believing- approach, is fairly standard in a secularizing culture and so Christians should know a thing or two about how to respond to this claim.

So first we’ll discuss the claims and difficulties of empiricism. Then, I’ll argue, contrary to the intentions of the empiricist, empiricism can be a vital ally in apologetics, because, when consistently applied, it takes the empiricist to places they do not want to go.

Help from David Hume

The best way to understand empiricism is to learn a little about one who adhered to it with near-perfect consistency.  The philosopher David Hume had a two-pronged approach to sifting through knowledge claims. Picking up what a tool of analysis from Leibniz, Hume’s “fork” (at the late Ronald Nash called it) for sifting truth claims is the “analytic/synthetic” distinction.. Analytic statements are relations of ideas, and to deny them necessarily leads to a contradiction (laws of logic, definitions such as “all bachelors are unmarried men”). These are usually what we think of as a priori truths (truths that known apart from sense experience). Hume’s (hereafter H) attack on analytic statements was that they are tautological, i.e. they add nothing new to knowledge. H believed that his rationalist philosophical counterparts (ex. continental rationalists such as Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz) were building philosophical systems in mid-air, with nothing empirical to ground their flights of fancy.

slide_27Synthetic statements are those which can be empirically explored and verified. An example of such a statement would be “Molly’s dress is green.” How can we truly “know” that this statement is true? By checking it out, it must be subject to an empirical inquiry.

Radical Doubt

In light of H’s empiricist epistemology, he uses this fork to sort out all philosophical issues. Only synthetic statements lead to true knowledge. So, H asked of the traditional questions of philosophy, are the answers given merely in the realm of relations of ideas, i.e. analytical ? If so, then they are tautological and offer us no help. But since H only accepted as worthy of study and consideration beliefs based on verifiable experience by at least one of the five sense, he lapsed into his notorious skepticism.

Here is a list of things Hume doubted because they cannot be verified by appeals to the five senses:

  • The existence of God. God is a spirit, so this should be obvious.
  • A continuing self through time. When was the last time you experienced your “self”? Looking into a mirror won’t help, because all you see is a body, not the “self.”
  • Causation. We never actually “see” a cause. We see one event followed by another, but we cannot experience in any way the necessity of the procession of events. In philosophical terms, we “see” a succession of events-ball A moves after ball B strikes it- not causation. Remember, H is being a consistent empiricist.
  • The uniformity of nature. There is no empirical –and non question begging!- reason to believe that the future will be like the past. We have had no experience of the future, and hence cannot really be sure. An anti-toxin that cures today may poison tomorrow. Of course apart from the uniformity of nature science cannot proceed.

Of course the truth is that David Hume never said that the above mentioned things do not exist, or even that he himself didn’t believe in them. His point was to demonstrate that autonomous reason has no logical reason for believing these things. Again, his point was that empiricists cannot sufficiently ground the belief in anything in the above list given their commitment to an empiricist epistemology.

According to Hume, beliefs in the uniformity of nature and the necessary relationship between cause and effect are rather grounded in our psychological make-up, a “habit of the mind.” Thus, being that Hume rejected the rationality of belief in God, causality, a sustained “self”, etc, he attributed the belief in such things to the irrational aspect of humanity. Without, for instance, a Christian conception that God creates both the world around us and our minds to understand it (being created in His image), Hume had no assurance that the objects of our knowledge and our perceptions of them cohere.

Turning the Tables: The Apologetic Benefit of Radical Empiricism

In David Hume, many philosophers believed they were witnessing the end of philosophy. Immanuel Kant stated the it was Hume that arose him from his “dogmatic slumbers” and driving him to develop his own creative epistemology. Notwithstanding Kant’s evaluation, Hume’s radical empiricism is a great help to Christian apologetics.  Hume pushes empiricism to its logical[ly absurd, yet consistent] limits.

Though Hume thoroughly discredited epistemological empiricism hundreds of years ago, most outspoken forms of atheism (ala Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins) are “religiously” empiricist. Likewise the average “man on the street” unbeliever functions on the basis of a “seeing is believing” epistemology. When we encounter unbelievers with this framework we should always ask the same questions and hold them to the same level of consistency.

First is the issue of consistency. Ask the empiricist unbeliever to be absolutely consistent with their theory of knowledge.  Politely question them on whether they believe in true and objective moral standards, justice, laws of rationality and mathematics, human dignity, beauty, and real cause-and-effect relations. Now, surely most will. Even those who see where you’re going and attempt to deny these things (by saying, for example, that they are merely social constructs) should be reminded that their everyday actions betray that they really do believe them.

Second, we need to ask revealing questions. Empiricism as a theory of knowledge and truth largely depends on materialism and naturalism (the belief that only the physical realm exists, only matter in motion coming together in strange ways). So, here are some questions to ask the empiricist:

  • Have you tasted, touched, heard, smelled, or seen a law of logic? (hereafter i’ll substitute “tasted, touched, heard, smelled, or seen” with “sensed”)
  • Have you ever sensed a law of mathematics such as A2 +B2= C2?
  • Have you ever sensed a number? (and here I don’t mean a numeric inscription such as 1 or I, 2 or II, but the number itself)
  • Have you ever sensed “human dignity”?
  • Have you ever sensed caused and effect? (I don’t mean succession-I covered in the first post-I mean causation)
  • Have you ever sensed the chief empiricist principle, “all knowledge comes from sense experience”?

By asking such kinds of questions, you’re simply asking the empiricist to be consistent with their principle that all knowledge comes from the five senses. After all, the answer to all the questions above is a resounding No. The naturalist worldview denies a basis for affirming these things and hence cheats when it tried to “borrows” these concepts for it’s anti-God project. And if the empiricist approach doesn’t even provide a sound basis for it’s chief principle (the last question above), then it disqualifies itself as a serious theory of knowledge and challenge to Christianity.

Now, naturally the Christian rejects the principle of empiricism, though we do not deny the need in many cases to be empirical regarding study, research, science, etc. (cf. 1 John 1:1).

The Problem with Agnosticism

You’ve likely experienced this. You speak to someone and it becomes apparent that you’re a Christian and they are not. Instantly you’re viewed as strange and maybe even backwoods in light of their enlightened secularism. Now, they probably won’t put themselves out there and say, “I don’t believe in God,” or “God doesn’t exist.” They live as atheists, but they prefer to identify as agnostics.

What is agnosticism? An agnostic is one who claims they don’t know about God’s existence, or the truth of any religious claims, whether true or false. Agnosticism can come with a religious veneer (“spiritual but not religious”), but is usually tied pretty close to a secularist and naturalistic worldview. For this type of person it is self-evident that religious claims, and usually specifically Christian claims, are absurd and Christians hold to magical or childish views of the universe. Christians can often feel frustrated speaking to folks like this because it is always they who are on the defense. The agnostic isn’t claiming anything, so it is believed. In fact their views are just natural. It’s simply what any rational person should hold.

The truth is agnosticism is in fact a view of the universe. It does reflect a worldview, and that worldview, whatever its stripe, is anti-Christian and should be shown to be so. But there are some important tactics we should remember when engaging these kind of agnostics. First, we ask clarifying questions, questions that agnostic may not have thought of themselves.

Ask, “What kind of agnostic are you?” There are essentially two kinds of agnostics, hard and soft. Hard agnostics believe that we cannot know religious truths. It is not within the ability of man to pierce through the veil of metaphysics. This is clarified when contrasting them with soft agnostics. A soft agnostic does not claim we cannot truth religious truths, only that they themselves have not come to know religious or metaphysical truths. Hard agnosticism is an epistemological claim about what is true for everyone. Soft agnosticism is merely a statement of where the person is at that moment.

Make the agnostic aware of this distinction. This distinction gets you out of the hot seat, stuck defensively answering all questions, turning the tables on any potential secularist superiority complex.  Depending on their answer, we can move the conversation in an apologetic direction.

Hard agnostics. Hard agnostics are actually committed to truths about the nature of reality. They are married to views, whether self-consciously or not, of what is possible and impossible. For them, the religious cannot be known to be true, so whatever reality is like, we cannot know if God exists, whether he is Trinitarian, whether man is morally opposed to him, etc. etc.  But this is in fact a denial that God is as the Bible portrays him. The Bible depicts God as a speaking God, a God who isn’t hidden. The Biblical God is one who is revealed in every fact of creation. To deny this by a universal appeal to mystery or ignorance does not change the fact that it is an anti-Christian bias.

b4ddd7aca9b2f25902ebb5ca2bfc209fTo draw out the hard agnostic, ask questions. What about our knowledge makes them believe that we simply cannot know religious or metaphysical truths? In answering your questions, you will help draw out their actual beliefs. Don’t necessarily call them on their consistency (starting with an appeal to ignorance at first, only to divulge their beliefs upon questioning), at least not yet. If you’ve got them talking this is good enough.

Soft agnostics. Again, ask a question: When you admit ignorance about religious truth claims, are you open to seeking the truth? Would you say there’s a chance Christianity is in fact true, even if you don’t have certainty just yet? Again, draw them out. Hostility or aggression is a surefire way to kill dialogue. Ask them: When it comes to religious claims, you say you don’t know. Would you like to know?

On the other half, a person might self-identify as a soft agnostic, only to be revealed as a hard agnostic upon questioning. Again, ask questions. Once you shift the burden of proof back on to the agnostic by asking about the hard/soft agnostic question, you have placed them in the position they so often what you to be: The hot seat.

Always keep in mind that you aren’t the only one who needs to account for what you believe.

Naturalism, Worldviews, and Epistemology

As I’ve argued before, the rise of modern science came about from the conviction of the Bible’s presentation of metaphysical realism teaches that the external world was really there, not merely a projection of our minds, and detailed study of it could lead to a true understanding of the world rather than merely biographical insights (opposed to eastern influenced worldviews that teach reality as maya, illusion.). This is grounded in the Biblical notion of a Creator/creature distinction.

Naturally, this may lead to an objection: What of those who practiced a kind of science before the rise of modern science? What about Lucretius? What about Democritus? Didn’t they say the same kinds of things?

Well, let’s ask a couple of question. Did Lucretius believe in a Creator/creature distinction? Great! Wait…no? Did he believe that the external world was really there? Great! My point isn’t that non-Christians don’t believe in an external world. The nub of the issue is whether their worldview provides a basis for believing those things. The issue is worldview. The rise of modern science is owed to Christian theism.

It’s not enough that someone, somewhere (ex: Lucretius) agreed with a single point that Christians later held. Rather is was a collection of beliefs that made modern science possible. Even Alfred North Whitehead, not exactly a friend to historical Christianity, said in Science and the Modern World:

Faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology.

The point? Even those who reject Christianity acknowledge its role in the development of modern science.

Let’s think of some other problems for naturalism. Epistemologists for centuries have noted what I’ve called the problem of the knower. That is, how do we know that our measuring, thoughts, etc. match up to the external world? Our measuring, observations, etc may work (they may provide pragmatic usefulness), but how do we know that they lead to truth? Personally, I can understand how on a materialistic worldview they lead to the first (pragmatic usefulness), but not how they can secure the second (truth).

You see, this is also called the subject/object problem. But, one of the reasons for the problem (and the issue here, again, is how does one justify, integrate, harmonize, provide the philosophical preconditions for these assumptions. I’m not doubting that the assumptions (i.e. that our measurements reflect the external world, etc.) are valid, I’m questioning naturalism’s philosophical foundation for such beliefs. Naturalists have failed to provided an epistemological norm or standard for these foundational beliefs. For Christians the standard is the Bible. Lots of work has been done to unpack the philosophical implications for metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, etc from the teachings of the Bible, like John Frame’s  Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (P&R Publishing), and Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford). This “norm” serves as a presupposition in the sense that it acts as the filter, lens (insert analogy here) through which evidence will be understood. This norm isn’t easily refuted or correct by a simply appeal to “the facts” either, because it’s the standard by which evidence is interpreted. So the battle between naturalism and Christianity is a clash of worldviews. This clash was made explicit in the now infamous book review by Richard Lewontin:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, IN SPITE OF its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, IN SPITE OF  the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a A PRIORI adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

– Richard Lewontin,”Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, Jan. 4, 1997, 31. Emphasis in original, though they were italicized, not caps

This speaks volumes, and I’m convinced that this worldview clash is what dictates so many of the arguments against, for example, the intelligent Design movement. It’s a commitment to methodological naturalism, and as Lewontin notes, and a priori commitment at that.

Conclusion. What’s the Christian response to the philosophical issues noted above? In a nutshell, it’s found in biblical doctrines of creation and anthropology. Since the same God created both me and the world around me, there’ s a correlation between the two. God has created the world with a rational structure and likewise has modeled our thinking to match this rational structure (not perfectly, but truly).

Presuppositions and Lordship

What do Reformed apologists mean by a presupposition? Too often it is mistakenly believed that Van Tillian or presuppositional apologists use the word ‘presupposition’ to refer to either a starting axiom or a mere assumption. John Frame helpfully parses out the nuances of a Van Tillian usage of the term:

A presupposition is a belief that takes precedence over another and therefore serves as a criterion for another. An ultimate presupposition is a belief over which no other takes precedence. For a Christian, the content of Scripture must serve as his ultimate presupposition…This doctrine is merely the outworking of the lordship of God in the area of human thought. It merely applies the doctrine of scriptural infallibility to the realm of knowing. – The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1987), 45.

Frame elaborates further:

The lordship of Christ is not only ultimate and unquestionable, not only above and beyond all other authorities, but also over all areas of human life. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we read, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (cf. Rom.14:23; 2 Cor. 10:5; Col. 3:17,23; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Our Lord’s demand upon us is comprehensive. In all that we do, we must seek to please him. No area of human life is neutral. –Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1994), 7.

Review of Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous (Part 2)

Critique. I have several criticisms of W. Jay Wood’s book, not all of them substantial. I’ll start them off from what I find the least important to the more important.

First, though his way with words is fantastic and normally his arguments flow together kind well, a difficulty with the structure of the book is that essentially it seems as if it were two books in one. The first half of the book focuses on the nature of epistemic virtue and vice. Here Wood has some truly wonderful things to say. His elaborations on seeking knowledge in the wrong way, as well as his discussion on how our biases effect our evaluation of topics, is well worth the price of the book. Often I was lead to serious contemplation regarding my thoughts and attitudes toward those with whom I disagree.

Unfortunately, the second half of the book, that which deals will more technical epistemological models, seems to start off abruptly. A helpful “segway” chapter would have greatly prepared his readers for the craggy twists and turns of academic epistemology. Throughout the second half of the book Wood continually refers to the virtue epistemology taught in the first half (as to not allow the readers new-found knowledge to fall by the wayside), nonetheless, I find these ocassions insufficient to overcome the rather harsh transition from the first to second half of the work.

Next, I think the jump from ancient “virtue” views of epistemology straight over to foundationalism without taking the time to define at least the classic schools of thought in epistemology of rationalism and empiricism (the former whose numbers include Socrates, Plato, Augustine [somewhat], and Descartes, with the latter including Aristotle [somewhat], Aquinas, Locke, and Hume). Both fall under foundationalism, yet broad brushing the movement without acknowledging the difference may serve to confuse readers later on down the road, so to speak. I also wished he would have, at least briefly (though it would indeed be quite a task to be brief about!), Immanuel Kant’s transcendentalism.

My chief object to Wood’s presentation of a Christian virtue epistemology is what seems to me as an inconsistency between his statement, “Altered affections thus often bring an end to one way of seeing and thinking and the beginning of a new one,”  and the manner in which he presents case for virtue epistemology.  As Christians we believe that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Col. 2:3). All systems not build on the rock of God’s word are ultimately foolish and vain attempts to escape the authority of their Maker. Wood’s statement above indicates some level of awareness that one’s epistemic pursuits are driven by the passions of their heart, yet the need for regeneration in one’s thinking (including ever other aspect or faculty of man) is not mention until the eighth chapter and is discussing the views of another thinker, namely Jonathan Edwards.

A biblical epistemology acknowledges that the reason people establish godless and false worldviews, which are intricately tied them with their epistemology, is chiefly for moral concerns (sinful rebellion to God’s rightful rule). The epistemological issues are logically subsequent to the moral (see Rom. 1:21-23). When one rejects God as the epistemological bedrock for all intelligibility then naturally another foundation for knowledge will be sought. Scripture calls these idols. Wood rightly expounds the teaching that there are oughts to epistemology, right ways and wrong ways to seek knowledge and wisdom. Unfortunately he does not say that these norms are found in the Bible. Rather it seems, to this author at least, as if Wood calls Christians to think “Christianly” simply because we ought to live within our professed tradition.

Perhaps it is simply my own apologetic disposition that causes me to desire Wood to expand on the antithesis between Christian and non-Christian epistemology. We as creatures of God have an innate knowledge of our Creator. Yet, we sinfully suppress this truth (Rom. 1:18). Though many people profess an epistemological agnosticism toward God, everyday their unguarded actions actually prove that they do know10 the God of the Bible. For instance, the infinite personal God of Scripture is the only logical and coherent ground for laws of thought, the uniformity of nature, the dignity of humanity, love, and moral absolutes.

The non-believer’s epistemological assumptions must be challenged. Any epistemology that does not presuppose the truth of God’s word in Scripture will render any form of true knowledge nonsense, and unintelligible. The non-Christian is not only spiritually but epistemologically lost.

Wood seems to blur this epistemological antithesis, perhaps for the sake of political correctness, when on page 72, “In the lives of devout Buddhists there is a consistency, and integrity if you will, between what they sincerely believe to be true and what they profess and do.” Just before this he sets up this statement by saying, “…we don’t call a committed Buddhist a fool.” Yet for apologetic and philosophical reasons I cannot fully broach here, I can indeed call a committed Buddhist a fool, at least in the sense in which Scripture uses the term. Buddhism in its mainstream form is generally atheistic, denying the necessity or existence or any God, let alone the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture states the “the fool has said in his heart there is no God.” Secondly it is impossible for any religious or philosophical system to attain 100 percent systemic consistency. This is because we are God’s creation, made in His image, living in His world. At any and all points in which non-Christians affirm a truth (regarding anything at all) it is because the are borrowing “Christian capital.”

Conclusion. Despite of differences of views regarding Biblical epistemology I may have with the author, nonetheless I would fully recommend Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous. The author’s emphasis on moral virtue being vital and crucial to intellectual pursuits is a message that we need to hear more often. Wood’s chapter on the relationship between proper thinking and proper subjectivity was quite reminiscent of C. S. Lewis in his The Abolition of Man. As opposed to a common misunderstanding by those who follow after intellectual pursuits Wood draws our attention to the fact that feelings can be viewed as value-laden seeing. Without proper feelings one cannot be said to truly understand a given situation.

Review of Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous

In 1998 W. Jay Wood, associate professor and chair of the philosophy department at Wheaton College in Illinois, released Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous. The book is an introduction to the philosophical study of knowledge, or epistemology, and, more specifically, a primer in what has come to be known as virtue epistemology.

Few Christians seem to believe that the benefits of studying epistemology outweigh its difficulties. It seems dry and detached from everyday life. Wood sets out to shows that a proper understanding of epistemology leads one to consider intellectual virtues as intricately woven with moral virtues.

What is Virtue Epistemology? Our pursuit of knowledge has a profoundly ethical dimension. In fact epistemology is properly understood as a subdivision of ethics. This is a crucial. While worldview thinking has become quite popular in Christian circles, unfortunately few see thinking itself as subject to the teachings of the Christian worldview. John M. Frame argues a similar point in his Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. As opposed to a generic virtue epistemology both Wood and Frame call Christians to view our intellectual lives as subject to the authority of the Bible.

Truth-seeking is a matter of seeking it in the right way, for the right reason, using the right methods and for the right purposes. A completely unbridled quest for truth- one indifferent to right motives and means- is degenerate from its inception…Knowledge, like wealth, cannot be sought at all cost but is itself subject to moral restraints.

Wood reminds his readers that this is nothing new in the history of philosophy. Prior to the Enlightenment all acclaimed philosophers believed that, “…we should situate the life of the mind within a larger framework of motives and ends.”

As opposed to foundationalists and internalists who state that S is justified in believing p if they have fulfilled epistemic duty X, and reliabilists and externalists who argue that S is warranted in believing p if S is in such and such an environment suited for X type of epistemic output, virtue epistemologists argue in this fashion, “S is justified in believing that p if and only if S’s believing p is the result of S’s intellectual virtues or faculties function in an appropriate environment.”

Content. Christians who want to think clearly about their faith will find this book a great service. It is also a good introduction to epistemology. With all the literature piling up yearly one hardly knows where to begin. Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous is an excellent place to start. The book is not overly long, in fact it is a barely over 200 pages (a good week’s read). Within the span of this short work the author plows through issues such as intellectual virtue and vice (what are they, how do we obtain them, and how they can help or hamper our growth, etc.), foundationalism in its various forms, epistemic justification, reformed epistemology, and the battle between internalist and externalist camps of epistemic justification.

It was this last debate that I found especially helpful. Before I had read Wood’s work I was aware of the distinction between justification and warrant (Alvin Plantinga’s term), but wasn’t t aware of the content of that distinction. Wood’s explanation is brilliantly done. Simply put justification normally is thought of what gives the person a right to hold a certain belief. Knowledge has historically been defined as justified, true, belief.

The debate between internalists and externalists is in whether this justification should be see as the knower fulfilling certain “epistemic duties”, i.e. the knower’s right to hold certain beliefs because they formed in a reliable, belief-producing environment. The latter is what the externalist asserts.  Externalists such as Alvin Plantinga desire to distance themselves from the historical baggage of justification language, since it is almost always tied together with an internalist view of duty, and instead offer the term warrant.

Method. Wood’s writing style is very clear and his arguments flow into one another very well. His target audience seems to be college students (such as his own pupils) as well as educated laypersons who seek to integrate their faith with intellectual sophistication and articulation. He reaches his goal quite well. He normally doesn’t spend too long on one school of thought, and, quite consistently, shows how a virtue epistemologist, such as himself, would respond and critique the competing schools.

Next I’ll offer my criticisms of the book and provide a conclusion.

Review: What Would Jesus Deconstruct?

I just finished reading John Caputo’s What Would Jesus Deconstruct?. Below is the posted book review that I put up on my Facebook account. My opening comments are referring to this review:

Caputo’s other books have been light in a dark place, and this series of books looks promising. But this particular volume strikes me as poorly written and poorly reasoned, surprising for Caputo. He rails against an undefined “religious Right” in a way that Brian McLaren, in the preface, describes as “hospitable” but which I can only describe as straw-man hostility. He takes Derrida to have something to say about religion, which is fair enough and true, I think. But he never here makes the case for why we should listen to Derrida, or why Deconstruction is a desirable Biblical hermeneutic. In the end, he has very little to offer other than his opinion. I say this as one who usually finds his opinions interesting and his philosophy worth reading. This time, however, I think Caputo writes sloppily. He either does a disservice to the views he espouses, or else exposes them as largely empty of _theological_ content. When he talks about the key themes in Derrida’s work, he’s lucid; when he talks about what they mean for us, his wordplay seems to mask a lack of argument. This is unfortunate

The review above is superb and right on target. I read this work because I do believe that deconstruction can be appropriated in useful ways by Christians. When Caputo is explaining what deconstruction is and it’s concerns, the work is insightful and helpful. The 2nd half of the work is nearly useless (at least to me). Rather than writing a long of a review, allow me to bullet point my areas of concern:

  1. Caputo seems to have a difficult time speaking specifically of Christianity without the discussion soon degenerating into a discussion of ‘religion’ in general.
  2. His disgust with the ‘Christian’ or ‘religious’ right is evident on every page, while he has nearly nothing to correct on the Left.
  3. He pits Paul against Jesus, and nearly always isolates Jesus from the overall biblical narrative, especially the Old Testament (i.e. the Hebrew Bible).
  4. Many of his arguments aren’t arguments at all but not-so-subtly hidden biases against traditional Christian views (on human nature, homosexuality, abortion, penal substitution, etc).
  5. He, at least in this book, shows no familiarity with discussions on his chosen topics that come to conclusions other than his own.
  6. Most of his arguments against the “Christian right” are aimed at a straw-man fundamentalism. I kept asking myself, ‘who believes that!?’ The classical Christian position on abortion and homosexuality, for instance, should be represented by it’s best thinkers, not by extremes…if Caputo doesn’t appreciate it when this is done against Derrida (and I agree), then he shouldn’t do it against Christianity.
  7.  The audience of the book isn’t completely clear. Baker academic is primarily an evangelical Protestant publishing house. Caputo slips back and forth between attacks on Evangelical views, and then attacking Roman Catholic views (many attacks of which Protestants would agree). The lack of focus is very frustrating.
  8. Tying in with point 4, Caputo’s writing also suffers from the ‘saying it’s so doesn’t make it so’ fallacy. Saying that Jesus would probably endorse homosexual love if he lived today (while ignoring Jesus high view of Scripture with all that it approved and condemned) doesn’t make it so.

So many logical and theological problems plague this book that i’ll have to stop here, lest I go on for several pages. There are paragraphs here and there are that so good that they push you on to finish the entire work, but overall i’m a little surprised that Baker decided to go ahead and publish a book like this. Eerdman’s I’d expect, as well as Brazos (Baker’s more ‘radical’ imprint, but not Baker Academic. James. K. A. Smith’s first volume in this series was fantastic. Smith endorses much of postmodernism, but is nevertheless critical. Caputo, on the other hand, would change the very face of historic Christianity if he had his way.

Summary: This book is for the discerning. Read it with care. But, if you believe the Bible is the actual verbal revelation of God Himself, brace yourself for a pretty high dose of frustration as you trek through it.

Review: How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, Part 2

In the first part of my review of Crystal Downing’s How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, I noted what I think are the strengths of the book, and why I think it’s one of the most helpful introductions on the subject for Christians to read. Now, I point out what I think are the weaknesses of her work.


Let it be known now, before I say any word of critique, that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a good deal from it. It’s among my favorite Christian books on postmodernism by far. But, the book does have some weaknesses, and they’re not minor. 

Insufficient view of Scripture. In a nutshell, I strongly get the impression that Downing denies the inerrancy of Scripture. That is to say, she does not necessarily believe that the Bible contains no errors (whether historical, scientific, etc.). She seems to equate the doctrine of inerrancy with the modernist worldview that undergirded much of Christian fundamentalism. There’s one major problem: the teaching of the errorless-ness of Scripture (though the term  “inerrancy” wasn’t used until relatively recently) dates far, far before modernism. Augustine, living in the 3rd and 4th centuries spoke of God’s word as true in all that it teaches.

The sad part of Downing’s portrayal of inerrancy is that she nowhere interacts with the vast literature on the subject by competent, historically informed evangelicals. here I’m thinking of works like Scripture and Truth, God’s Inerrant Word, and Inerrancy (edited by Norman Geisler), and more recently (just released) Greg Beale’s The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism. Perhaps the best single work refuting the view that inerrancy is a later theological development from modernism-influenced Princetonians is John Woodbridge’s Biblical Authority. Ironically, considering postmodern’s emphasis on justice toward the “other,” Downing (at least in this work) pays no attention to “other” approaches to this important issue.

Inclusivism. Inclusivism is the view that states that while salvation cannot be found apart from the work of Christ, someone can be saved apart from a conscious knowledge of Jesus Christ. Recounting the ending of C. S. Lewis’s work, The Last Battle, Downing implies that a fundamentalist Christianity insists on exclusivism (the view that says salvation comes only through a conscious knowledge of, and faith in the person of Jesus Christ), while an open, postmodern-chastened Christianity will realize that salvation doesn’t come through a formula (i.e. the baptist, pentecostal, presbyterian [etc] understanding of the gospel) but instead will be inclusivist. But, no one I know that maintains an exclusivist faith reduces the gospel to their particular confession of faith. And few (read: none) of the people with the educational background and interests to be reading Downing’s book with make the error of believing that salvation depends on a “formula.” Maybe some do reduce salvation to a particular creed, but Downing should interact with the best presentation of a view. I for one think that the Westminster Confession of Faith is perhaps the best and most precise creed ever developed in the history of Christianity, but I would never presume to say that those who do not adhere to it aren’t saved (of course, some chapters in the confession of more essential to salvation than others. For instance, if someone rejects it’s teaching on the person and work of Christ they cannot rightly be called a Christian.).

Another sad thing in this regard is that Downing doesn’t really engage the texts that are most often cited against her position (Acts 4:12, and others that place a heavy emphasis on the name of Jesus). D. A. Carson has addressed this issue pretty exhaustively in his book, The Gagging of God. Inclusivism simply cannot be made to fit the whole texts and plot-line of the Bible without forcing upon it a number of postmodern sensitivities.

Truth. Now, this issue is a bit sticky. Groothuis and others have made the truth issue central to all discussion on postmodernism. This, of course, isn’t a bad thing. Many “postmodern Christians” find it much easier to speak of Christ as the Truth (cf. John 14:6). So far, so good. But it normally stops there. Unfortunately, many times a sad reductionism of the truth issue is employed when we choose only to affirm the absolute truth of the incarnate Word, but shy away from confessing the same of the written word of Scripture. The propositions of the Bible are divinely given propositions, it’s questions are authoritative and demand to be answered, and  it’s declarations demand to be believed. We need to reject a false dichotomy between the incarnate and the written word. Jesus Himself said to the Father in John 17, “Your word is truth.” Paul develops arguments regarding the work of Christ based on the form of a particular word (“seed”) in Galatians (showing that the very words of scripture, and not merely it’s broad message, were crucial for hearing God), and Christ said that those who did not heed His words will be like a house built on the sand.

She may very well believe in the absolute truth of the words of scripture, but she isn’t very clear on the matter. And her troubles with inerrancy makes the matter worse.

Idiosyncratism. In her discussion on the various forms of relativism, her final form in described as building relativism. This is the kind of relativism that states that we access to many truth is relative to a number of circumstances (gender, location, intellect, biases, etc, etc), but is still compatible with a belief in absolute truth. But, once you finish the book you realize that she never mentions “building relativists” (what I would call perspectivalists) that hold to views different from her own. So, it would seem, that building relativists are open to theistic evolution, opposed to the “modernist doctrine” of inerrancy, and are inclusivists.

But is maintaining these views necessary to be a serious Christian thinker that can fairly, and without hostility, access competing worldviews? What about those that believe in a 7 day creation? Surely she doesn’t believe they are all dumb fundamentalists. I most certainly give her the benefit of the doubt in that regard. Does everyone who believes that the text of the Bible contains no errors have to be influence by modernist foundationalism? If so, what about Augustine?

Conclusion. Perhaps her positions are formed as a (over)reaction against forms of Christianity that presented the above mentioned doctrines in an unattractive manner. I cannot say. But, she should have spent more time engaging her fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who sincerely, and strongly disagree with her on such vital matters.

Like I said, these are not minor errors. And they serve to mar an otherwise fantastic book. Is the book worth the time? Certainly. But even a helpful book like this one demands that it’s reader search the Scriptures “to see if these things are true.”

Review: How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith

 Just a week ago, I finished reading Crystal Downing’s work, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith. The work represents a shift in Christian writing on the topic of postmodernism. Though Downing’s work isn’t the first in this trend, the trend is that of works that see postmodernism as a boon for Christian witness. Many books published 10-12 years ago have an us vs. them feel about them. Mostly noticeable of the “older” books on pomo is Douglas Groothuis’ book, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity against the Challenge of Postmodernism (ironically, also published by InterVarsity Press). Groothius has many helpful things to say, but overall he find little helpful about postmodernism and links it to some of the strangest aspects of contemporary culture. What Downing brings in her book is a take on the issues from someone who’s actually read the key thinkers of this movement (and this isn’t meant as an indictment against Groothuis). Also, she moves (somewhat) beyond the typical impasse of so much Christian analysis, epistemology.


Clarity, flow, and readability. One of the greatest strengths of this book is Downing’s ability to take complex topics, like the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida, and explain it in a) concise terms, and b) in thought-forms that Christians are familiar with. For instance, in discussing Derrida’ notion of binary opposition, she uses the modernist binary of reason/faith, science/religion, and fact/feeling. Christians are used to hearing these oppositions in our culture, and for that clarification Downing should be applauded.

Familiar examples, and reoccurring stories and references make the flow throughout the book very smooth, and helpful. It’s a fun and easy read (of course, by that I mean about as easy as your can imagine given the subject matter!).

Sympathetic Approach. I will continue to use Groothuis’ books as an example. Personally, I found his book, Truth Decay, to be very helpful on a number of issues related to postmodernism. His appendix on television was alone worth the price of the book in my eyes. But, one thing that hurts the work overall is that he doesn’t seem to have any sympathy for postmodernists and their “plight.” Nearly everything in our culture that he finds disturbing is labeled as a result of postmodernism. But, as a scholar on Blaise Pascal, he should know that it is sympathetic analysis that’s most helpful. Imagine how he would appreciate a book on Pascal written from someone who’s worldview is radically opposed to that of Pascal himself (and I’m sure Dr. Groothuis has had to read more than a few of those)?

In How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, Downing lays her chips on the table in the very name of the book! She finds pomo helpful to her faith, and believes that many of it’s teaching, understood at their best, can aid in developing a stronger Christian faith. Largely, I agree, though I have some strong disagreements with what she believes is a robust Christian faith (see part 2). Only be tracking along with a thinker’s concerns and arguments can we be opened to the way they perceived the world, even if initially it seems strange and foreign. If we do not do this, 9 times our of 10 we are prone to dismiss someone’s thought and find them to be crazies.

Next we’ll look at the negatives of this otherwise helpful book…

Books I’ve Found Particularly Helpful in Grasping and Interacting with Postmodernism

The Relativity of Relativism

Though in our day we must wrestle with the postmodern expression of relativism, relativism itself is nothing new. Protagoras of ancient Greece, philosophical nemesis of Plato, held that “man is the measure of all things.” So, if relativism is an old enemy of God’s revelation, why tackle it here…again? Crystal Downing, in her recent work, How Postmodernism Serves (my) Faith, notes that speaking about relativism is a tricky matter. Not all forms of relativism are opposed to the Christian message. She notes at least three forms of relativism, with the second having three expressions.

The first form of relativism that Downing mentions is what she calls Bird relativism. This view approaches the matter from a bird’s eye view, assuming that it can understand the nature of truth from a non-situated position. This is the type of relativism that most people fear and denounce. It’s the view that says all views are equally true, or equally false.

BrainThe second form of relativism is Brain relativism. This form acknowledges that because of the plurality of human experiences, cultures, religions, etc., people think differently (“Brain”). There is therefore no way to enter in sympathetically to another’s perspective. In effect, we are trapped in our sphere of interpretation. Downing notes three sub-divisions of Brain relativism, namely the bouncing, bombardment, and lastly, the boundary form. Bouncing relativism calls us never to settle on a particular interpretative community, instead calling us to bounce around and “find ourselves” through multiple identity-forming communities. Since no one true interpretive paradigm has it all right, any attempt they make to totalize life under their scheme is inherently oppressive. In order to free oneself from the tyrannical control of just one worldview, the bouncing relativist must free themselves and “dip and dab” in various schools of discourse.

The bombardment relativist, like Stanley Fish, holds that discourse is always played according to the language games of our community. Since we live in a particular ideological commune our ultimate commitment is to that party, and we should radically defend our view of the world. While from a Christian perspective, at first glance this view may seem appealing, we must recognize that Fish’s sword cuts both ways; for a Muslim to question their towers of influence is inherently wrong. There is seemingly is no way to mediate between perspectives, we simply think about the world differently (this is way it is a subdivision of brain relativism). “If we endorse the bombardment position of Fish, we cannot say the that the actions of al-Qaida are universally immoral; we can only say that they are immoral according to our tower’s language of morality.” They took the notion of bombardment quite seriously.

richardrorty_narrowweb__300x3800Richard Rorty, the (im)famous American neo-pragmatist philosopher, is Downing’s representative of Boundary relativism. Immediately one will notice the parallels with the boundary and bombardment schools of relativism. Boundary relativism argues that one ought to cultivate the virtue of solidarity with one’s community. Why do Americans prefer freedom and democracy? Because those are American values. To break solidarity with the society’s paradigmatic view of the world is to be immoral. We ought to remain within our society’s boundaries because they work for us. Rorty is not concerned with the “how do you know?” question that has plagued western philosophy for centuries. He freely admits to parasitically feeding off of the Judeo-Christian worldview when he condemns cruelty and injustice. Were we to ask him why should he hold these standards as opposed to others, he would simply reply, “These are the values that have shaped America.  And I’m an American.” Before moving on, I note that such a view of truth, morality, and solidarity, the notion of a social, intellectual, or ethical reformer is rendered unintelligible; by definition to reform is to break solidarity according to Rorty, and hence is immoral (i.e it doesn’t ‘work’). Martin Luther King Jr., William Wilberforce (who fought to end the slave trade in England), and Einstein (who rejected the Newtonian scientific paradigm of his day) would have to be remembered with disrepute rather than honor.

nestle-building-canadaLastly, Downing writes of Building relativism. Here she makes use of the word building as both a verb and a noun. As a noun the term building speaks of the structures, or towers, as she likes to call them, that act as ideological paradigms (such as fundamentalist Christianity, Reformed Christianity, Roman Catholic Christianity, progressivist Christianity, etc.). These towers serve as our worldview forming communities. As a verb, it speaks of the action of moving upward toward a truth that transcends our perspective. Thus, Building relativism is not mutually exclusive with a belief in absolute truth.

I find her distinctions compelling. Her nuanced presentation of relativism fleshes out the notion that not all postmodern relativists are of the same stripe. Rorty is of the boundary stripe, while Fish is of the bombardment type. Though I would be less inclined to call this last type a form of relativism, and more to call it a form of perspectivalism. But, I would argue that behind much of the reactionary rhetoric of so many evangelical responses to postmodernism is a genuine recognition that without a transcendent God- One who is not subject to the limitations of human finitude- and His perspicuous verbal revelation- to serve as our ultimate presupposition-there is no way to escape enslavement to a creaturely authority structure. But, these power structures, these “truth regimes,” need not always be our only suzerain.

As has been expounded time and again by Cornelius Van Til, and other thinkers, our slavery is often to our own sinful passions. Relativity reigns when standards of truth, beauty, and goodness fluctuate from individual to individual. Unfortunately, many advocate an aggressive acquiescence to just such an enslavement.

Review: Postmodernism 101

I’m now reading through Heath White‘s Postmodernism 101: A First Course for Curious Christians. Many books over the last decade put out in response to postmodernism, have, in my humble opinion, have been fairly reactionary. They usually have pointed all things perceived as wrong in the movement (if we call call postmodernism a movement), while acknowledging the “benefits” in an almost pat-on-the-head manner. in this work, White sets out to trace 7 themes in postmodern thought, while contrasting them with pre-modern and modern thought.

One of the benefits of White’s book is his charitable explanation of views he doesn’t hold. In laying out the postmodern position on a number of topics, White is careful to try to show his reader at least why people who hold these positions find them appealing. There is none of the flippant dismissals I’ve seen in other works.

Another helpful aspects of this book is it’s language. As can be gathered by the title, Postmodernism 101 is an entry -level book, and probably the most helpful one on the market today for laying out, in fairly popular language, what postmodern theorists are saying. So, with maybe 1 or 2 exceptions, in the entire book you rarely read White say, “According to Derrida,” or “According to Foucault, Lyotard, Rorty,” etc. He’ll just explain the themes that are most common among postmodern writers. This makes for clearer, and faster, reading.

I have about 2 chapters to go, and no major complaints. At one point, White seems to advocate an allegorical interpretation of some parts of Scriptural. I can understand how he may want to move away from so much of the literalism that pervades works like the Left Behind series. I would advocate a typological method to many of the parts White may apply allegory to, but that’s another issue for another day.

If you’re a Christian who’s ever wondered what exactly is thing phenomenon that is called postmodernism, pick up Postmodernism 101.

Was Cornelius Van Til a Foundationalist?

One reoccurring critique by postmodernists is this: the dominant epistemological model of modern period, classic foundationalism, is a hopelessly doomed project. Many analytic philosophers have conceded the fact that foundationalism, in the sense critiqued by postmodernists, is not workable or realistic. In response to this critique many such epistemologists have proposed a modest foundationalism. This approach opens up space for for defining a “properly basic belief.” Is Cornelius Van Til’s epistemology subject to the postmodern critique of classic foundationalism? Is it even accurate to categorize Van Til’s position as foundationalist? I am tempted to say both yes and no.

First, let’s examine what I mean what I answer “no” to the question above. Classical foundationalism seeks some epistemological bedrock upon which their entire epistemological structures could be erected. Traditionally, there are 2 major camps under the larger foundationalist umbrella (though, in reality, there are literally dozens of ways of cutting the foundationalist pie). Theses schools of thought, empiricism and rationalism, despite their differences, shared methodological commitments to certain and indubitable knowledge.  The rationalists rooted their position in clear and distinct ideas, while the empiricists looked to basic sense impressions on the “blank-slate” of human consciousness. If some aspect of human knowledge could be proven to be beyond doubt, self-evident and subject to open inquiry the trustworthiness of human knowledge would be maintained. The problem with this project, from a Van Tillian perspective, is that both schools seek an epistemic  pou stou 1) apart from the God’s word, and 2) as a way of preserving sinful autonomy (i.e. intellectual independence from God and His authority).

Van Til clearly rejects this project and instead presents the self-attesting revelation of God in the Scriptures as our epistemic bedrock. We shouldn’t look to anything in creation to ground knowledge.  No finite thing can provide epistemic certainty. Instead, despite our finitude and sin, we are to turn to Scripture for guidance and be content with the supernatural certitude that comes only by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.

But does Van TIl’s approach leave us hopelessly agnostic, lacking any kind of confidence regarding the veracity of our knowing? No, Van Til was no relativist. Instead, he presents us with a theological framework for making sense of our everyday confidence in our cognitive faculties. This leads me to the affirmative aspect of my answer to our original question.

Is it even accurate to categorize Van Til’s position as foundationalist? Perhaps, but not in the sense open to postmodern criticism. Recall that classic foundationalism is an epistemological position. But, we’ve seen above that Van Til rejects the modernist’s notion of rooting certitude in anything in creation. Instead, we find our confidence in the living God. Van Til’s position is that knowledge is “saved” because God exists and we are created in His image (in fact for VT this fact is turned into a powerful theistic argument. For handy summary of VT’s “argument from unity of knowledge,” see James Anderson, “If Knowledge, then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Plantinga and Van Til,” Calvin Theological Journal, April, 2005.).

God providentially guides and preserves our knowledge to an overwhelmingly great degree. Thus, for theological reasons, we can have confidence in our knowledge. But this is no onto-theological leap by which VT calls God into the picture simply to fill in the gaps of his philosophy. Instead, this lies at the very heart of VT’s philosophy. Functionally, because of our creationally constituted knowledge of God, we are always, whether believer or non-believer, in contact with God. The reason why VT’s epistemology escapes the postmodern barbs against modernist foundationalism is because, though we have metaphysical confidence, epistemologically we have no direct or unmediated knowledge of the world. We all have baggage, whether that manifests as misleading worldviews or inconsistent heart-commitments. Of course, this is not to say that our situatedness in an inherent impediment against obtaining true knowledge (cf. Vern S. Poythress, God-Centered Biblical Interpretation, 66.), but this is a point against attaining the impenetrable, philosophically certain knowledge modernism sought. Secondly, how the surpressed knowledge of God concretely plays out in our lives is very difficult to express. It’s so common to our everyday experience that reflective contemplation of it is akin to a fish examining the water it swims in. Though this is a rough-and-ready term, perhaps we can call this cognitive intuition.

Instead, we can categorize Van Til as a soft foundationalist, which is not open to postmodern critique. So, our confidence is in the power of God, and not our epistemic equipment. Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.

Sartrean Existenialism (3 of 3)

Responsibility. Here is somewhere that I think Sartre can be a great help, his notion of personal responsibility. But even here, I think that his overall existentialist approach undermines his intended goal, which is to spring people into action. Sartre taught that we are all radically responsible for our actions. We cannot blame chance, desires, human nature, or God for our choices. Like I said last time, we can’t “pass the buck.” We, on Sartre’s account, must acknowledge that we create who we are by way of our personal choices, and must stand up and own them. Now, before I support this notion, a word of critique.

Responsibility implies two factors, 1) persons and 2) a relationship. I can only be responsible to a person. I have no ultimate responsibility to a rock, a tree, or a knat (I, as a Christian, believe that I have some level of responsibility to them, but more on that shortly). No non-personal thing or force can bind my conscience or demand my allegiance. Likewise, responsibility implies a relationship. The level of the intensity in a relationship and it’s “closeness” determine the level of responsibility I owe. I am responsible to my boss up to a certain degree, I am responsible to my brother even more so, and my mother and father even more. But to what, or more appropriately, to whom is ultimate responsibility and loyalty owed? Well, if responsibility implies relationship and persons, then ultimate responsibility implies a relationship with an ultimate person. This of course is exactly what the Bible teaches.

And this is exactly what Sartre rejects. But, in rejecting this notion, he has effectively cut off the branch he’s been sitting on. With no ultimate Person to whom we are responsible, we have not derivative responsibility to each other. This is especially true of Sartre’s golden rules (live in good faith and be authentic). Why should we think that Sartre has tapped into some metaphysical law that (ethically) governs human behavior? We shouldn’t, these are Sartre’s rules, or better yet, his preferences. Ultimately, on his wordview, they reduce to no greater than a hunch.

Nevertheless, I agree that we ought to treat people as ends and not as means, and as subjects rather than objects. I agree that we cannot “pass the buck” regarding our actions, and that we need to “own up” to our decisions. I affirm all these things, but I do them not because of Sartrean existenialism, but rather because I reject Sartre’s project and affirm Christian theism.

I believe that because there is a Creator, rather than because He doesn’t exist, that there are objective moral laws. Sartre wants binding standards without God; I say this is impossibility. He may reduce the number of obligations, but that misses the point.

I affirm the notion of a human nature; the Bible affirms this notion as well. Now, of course, the Bible doesn’t teach human nature in the same way we may be accustomed to think of the subject in our western, scientifically advanced world. So, to hold the Bible up to this standard is to force an alien standard upon the Biblical writers, one that they were never seeking to hold themselves up against. Many who deny Christian theism would quickly point out that human and primates share over 80% of bodily mechanics and biological makeup. Is this true? Well, insofar as we’ve been able to discover via genetic research, Yes, it is. As a Christian, I have no problem affirming this. The Bible doesn’t make any claims on this matter to the contrary that modern science has “disproven.” What marks out humanity as special in the creation account is the status of mankind, not it’s genetic fingerprint. Humankind is the only creature that is created in the imago Dei, the image of God. Chiefly, this points to humanity’s position as vice-regent of creation (under God, the supreme King). In the Ancient Near East, the vice-regent was the embodiment of the primary King’s authority. So, much more could be said here, but some of this has been covered elsewhere in my brother’s entries. (Here, here, and here).

As a last point of critique here, it should also be noted that something else is basic, and essential to human nature (at least since what Christian theologians have called The Fall in Genesis 3), and that’s our moral proclivity to do things we know aren’t good, i.e. sin. With this in mind, we need to acknowledge two senses in which something can be considered “natural” for humans. I’ve dealt with this briefly here.

Now for my support of this notion of responsibility. I think Sartre was unto to something here. Once placed on a Christian footing, human responsibility makes perfect sense. And here I’m not speaking primarily of the notion that if we don’t obey the “Big Man upstairs” is going to throw a lighting bolt down on us. Far from it. The concept of responsibility is rooted in our humanity, in the very imago Dei itself. God has placed me in this world to reflect his love, glory, and justice. Since this world has fallen into sin, we need this ever more so. We are stewards of God’s realm. We are to beautify and develop this world in order to present it to God as an offering of devotion and love. Other human beings are likewise God’s vice-regents, and I should treat them as ends in themselves and not simply means because they aren’t sludge or some other morally insignificant thing, but royalty. Likewise, I have a responsibility to be a good steward over the earth, and how I use it.

People aren’t “things,” objects to be moved around and manipulated like so much furniture. As Sartre said, we are subjects! We have hopes, dreams, aspirations, and in classical Christian language, we have vocations, callings to which God has given us both desires and abilities. I am responsible to others because the development of human flourishing is essential to what it means to be human. When I act in irresponsible ways, when I pass blame for my actions, and fail to acknowledge how my choices shape both who I am, and as a result, who others will become, I’m not living up to my full humanity. In fact, it’s flat out dehumanizing.

This is one of the main reasons why when someone becomes a Christian, that is to say, they are born again because the Spirit of God graces them with new spiritual life, the Bible speaks of them being “renewed in the image of Christ.” Christ is the image of God, par excellance. He walked as God’s man, healing the sick, loving the outcasts, feeding the needy, atoning for our sin and brokenness, etc. While on earth, Christ lived a fully robust human life, and to this we are called.

A Primer on Perspectivalism

Several months ago, I revised my summary of John Frame’s perspectival approach to both theology and philosophy (from Wikipedia, though what’s up now is slightly different from what was originally posted.). I don’t think it’s half bad, but of course you can’t beat getting it straight from the the man himself. Here’s a great primer to his overall approach, written by Frame himself. In his summary, Frame shows the greatest implications and foundations for his approach, as opposed to mine which stuck closer to the realm of epistemology.