Secularism: A Short Christian Response, Part II

In the previous post I explained what secularism is and why it doesn’t work. In this post I (very) briefly delineate why we need a “revelational epistemology” and why it is superior to secularism.

What We Need

 We need an authoritative standard outside ourselves against which to measure our thoughts and actions. In the words of Stephen Wellum, we need a “revelational epistemology.”[1] We need a word from outside ourselves to tell us what is true, what is really there—a God’s-eye point of view. “Leave man to guess God’s mind and purpose,” J. I. Packer says, “and he will guess wrong; he can know it only by being told it.”[2] Thankfully, God is a communicative being who has disclosed himself in Scripture![3] As Millard Erickson rightly notes, our doctrine of Scripture “is the most important for epistemological purposes.”[4]

Scripture, therefore, is our “epistemological warrant” for knowing what is true. Thus, as we live in a great contest of narratives, Christians cannot cave to relativism, rather we are to relativize all reigning plausibility structures and evaluate them in light of biblical revelation.[5] If our views are castigated for being out of accord with “reason,” then we must tell our conversation partners that their understanding of “reason” is flawed. Yes, we use our reason when we think and read and analyze, but “reason” itself is not a source of information. Thus, when “reason” is erected as a criteria of truth, then “reason” is misunderstood.[6] Please understand: The Christian worldview is not opposed to reason; we simply maintain that God’s self-revelation is the source of all truth.[7]

We need a biblically informed understanding of the human person. We are limited, finite creatures. Yet God has gifted us with the ability to think and reason, but we are not to exercise our reason autonomously. For starters, as created beings, “any claim to autonomy relative to God is mere pretense”;[8] secondarily, exercising our reason autonomously essentially nullifies the Word of God, making it unnecessary.[9] We receive his Word in humility and read it in humility.

A biblically informed understanding of the human person also gives us confidence that we can comprehend God’s Word as we read it. This conclusion follows if we understand the plotline of Scripture. Here’s what I mean: Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer notes that redemptive history consists of a series of “gracious communicative initiatives,” whereby God seeks to share his love and life with us.[10] God’s Word is a “gracious communicative initiative”—an element of the missio dei, the mission of God.[11]

In light of this reality, God reveals himself in such a way that we can understand his Word. Because language is capable of communicating truth, we read Scripture carefully. As we read, we keep each passage in context. We seek to remain cognizant of where the passage fits within each human author’s argument. We read it in light of its canonical context—where it fits in the unfolding drama of redemption. We pray for understanding as we read and study. No, this doesn’t mean that we will understand things the way God understands things. Nevertheless, we can really know things. Just because our understanding isn’t comprehensive doesn’t mean we throw our hands in the air in disgust and embrace the nihilistic notion that no truth exists—a notion, incidentally, that is on its face self-defeating and contradictory.[12] Whenever Lesslie Newbigin confronted someone who held such a position, he would wonder to himself, “How does the doubter know so much about the unknowable?”[13] Hence, you can’t be skeptical and dogmatic at the same time.

Our Creator-covenant Lord has revealed himself to us in Scripture. The Scriptures are an element in the economy of redemption whereby God communicates with his image-bearers. Given the way he has made us, we can trust that he has equipped us to receive, read, and understand his Word. Our doctrine of Scripture as well as our doctrine of humanity help us to steer clear of both rationalism and skepticism.

Conclusion

In these two posts I have tried to underline the weaknesses and inconsistencies of the secular worldview and demonstrate the superiority of the Christian worldview. In this current cultural climate Christians should engage those with a secular outlook, confident that our worldview has the moral capital to make sense of life and reality and account for human rights and human dignity. Given the superiority of the Christian worldview, we must teach it to our children and congregations.

____________________________________________________________

[1] Language and concept taken from Stephen J. Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 69 et. al.

[2] J. I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (1958; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 92, emphasis mine.

[3] John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 42.

[4] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 480.

[5] See further Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 57.

[6] Ibid. as well as N. T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today (New York: HarperCollins, 2013), 81, 86.

[7] See further R. Albert Mohler Jr., “A God-Centered Worldview: Recovering the Christian Mind by Rediscovering the Master Narrative of the Bible,” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, eds. Sam Storms and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 351-366. See esp. 355.

[8] R. Scott Clark, “Whosoever Will Be Saved: Emerging Church, Meet Christian Dogma,” in Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church, eds. Gary L. W. Johnson & Ronald N. Gleason (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 120.

[9] Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 131.

[10] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016), 62.

[11] Graham A. Cole, “Why a Book? Why This Book? Why the Particular Order within This Book? Some Reflections on the Canon,” in The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 459.

[12] D. A. Carson, Christ & Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 10-11.

[13] Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 21.

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