Thursday, August 25, 2011

Implications for the Doctrine of Revelation from Free Will- orThe Bastion of the Secular Mindset

Ever since I read Martin Luther's "Bondage of the Will" (having picked this out of a bunch of titles he authored merely out of curiosity) I have been thoroughly amazed at the response of people to any challenge focused on human autonomy. It's like "Whoa take off your shoes you're standing on holy ground".

The following is a sad testament to the influence of one of the worlds most influential philosophers- Immanual Kant. Kant's influence in the Western world is huge, and is no less apparent in Evangelical circles as it is in any secular sphere. In the quote below- John Frame the J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida juxtaposes the philosophical starting point for all thinking (from Kant's "transcendental method") with Cornelius Van Til's own account and transcendental starting point:

"Although Kant professed a kind of theism and an admiration for Jesus, he was clearly far from orthodox Christianity. Indeed, his major book on religion, “Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone,” has as its chief theme the thesis that the human mind can never and must never subject itself to any authority beyond itself. In other words, to Kant, the human mind must be autonomous, subject only to its own law. Kant radically rejected the idea of authoritative revelation from God (either in nature or in Scripture) and asserted, perhaps more clearly than ever before (although this had always been the view of secular philosophers), the autonomy of the human mind. The human mind, that means, is to be its own supreme authority, its own criterion of truth and right."

"Kant’s philosophy explicitly presupposes human autonomy. It adopts human autonomy as the root idea to which every other idea must conform."

"In his other works, Kant argued that what makes our experience intelligible is largely, perhaps entirely, the work of our own minds. We do not know what the world is really like, we know only how it appears to us, and how it appears to us is largely what we make to be. Thus, the mind of man not only is its own ultimate authority, but also replaces God as the intelligent planner and creator of the experienced universe. And, to Kant the human mind is also the author of its own moral standards. Kant saw, of course, that none of this could be proved in the usual sense of proof. He adopted what he called the ”transcendental method,” which seeks to determine the necessary preconditions or presuppositions of rationality. He reached his conclusions concerning human autonomy not by proving them by the usual philosophical methods, but by showing our need to presuppose them. Kant’s philosophy, therefore, does not merely assert or assume human autonomy, as did many previous philosophers; it explicitly presupposes human autonomy. It adopts human autonomy as the root idea to which every other idea must conform. That is what makes Kant unique and vastly important: he taught secular man where his epistemology must begin, his inescapable starting point for all possible reflection. So Kant is widely regarded as the most important philosopher of the modern period. He showed “modern man,” secular, would –be autonomous man, what he would have to presuppose about knowl­edge and the world in order to be consistent with his presumed autonomy. In other words, Kant made the modern sectarian “epistemologically self-conscious.” If modern man is not to bow to God, he must bow before himself; to that extent at least, he must be a Kantian."

"we can at last define the essential philo­sophical differences between the Christian and the non-Christian worldviews"

"If Kant taught the world of secular belief the essentials of its own (until then, subconscious) theory of knowledge (“epistemology”), Van Til did the same for the Christian. As Kant said that we must avoid any trace of the attitude of bowing before an external authority, so Van Til taught that the only way to find truth at all is to bow before God’s authoritative Scripture. As Kant presented his view transcen­dentally, as the inescapable ultimate presupposition of human thought, so Van Til made and defended transcendentally the same claim for the revelation of God: that God’s Word is the only presupposition that does not destroy the intelligibility of human thought.Because of Van Til, we can at last define the essential philo­sophical differences between the Christian and the non-Christian worldviews. If Kant’s achievement makes him the most important secular philosopher of modern times, should we not say that Van Til’s achievement makes him the most important Christian thinker of modern times?"

"God’s Word is the only presupposition that does not destroy the intelligibility of human thought."

According to Kant (and those who have come under the influence of his philosophical outlook), mankind by the unaided power of his own mind and reason has come of age. All things must be measured by his own rule, his own evaluation of reality. To the Kantian then, if God exists at all He must be subjected to the rules of human measurement. God does not reveal himself in and through Christ so much as man examines the claims of Christ under the rubric of humankind's own terms and he or she is the only one who decides in any final sense whether the claims of Christ are valid. Unfortunately this self confidence in a native ability to discern all truth and apprehend a true hierarchy of value judgments and ideas has had tragic results. To hear the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God debated in a scholarly way listen here to Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Stein as they hammer out their worldviews. Greg Bahnsen was one who most successfully and skillfully represented Van Til's apologetic system. 

How good are we at discerning truth? How confident are we in our ability to discern things of value?  When the Washington Post recently conducted a social experiment in the foyer of a large metro station the answer to these questions became all too obvious: 

"No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars."  
And hardly anyone noticed...

More than 300 years ago the eminent Bible commentarian Matthew Henry said:
"Many have such an opinion of their own capacity as to think that that cannot be proved which they cannot believe; by wisdom they knew not Christ."
Henry predated Immanuel Kant by a generation or so, one wonders what he would think today!
Again quoting the above:
 "the mind of man ...replaces God as the intelligent planner and creator of the experienced universe"
One can readily see an example of this symbolized in Wikipedia's logo: the World as a partly completed jigsaw puzzle. The most common presupposition of almost every scientist today is that it is by mankind's own efforts alone that he has rendered almost everything imaginable- intelligible. The order and "apparent design"
in the universe is only a result of mans ordering mind- not explicit in the universe itself. Or so they assume. In the mad rush to know more, the largely unexplained, unsearched and presupposed reality of why the Universe is intelligible to mankind is conspicuously overlooked by the "neutrality" of science.

One can readily see then the influence of Kant's views and the consequences of this way of thinking on the ways Christians do evangelism. The appeal is almost invariably to the incontrovertible supreme authority of man's free will. The emphasis is often much more about appealing to human autonomy and freedom to choose- that is his own will to make a decision "for Christ" than it is by convincing a person of their enslavement and bondage to sin, and slavish regard for doing it "my way".

Whether then, one has undergone a complete change of life principle as in the "new birth" or not is irrelevant.  To quote the above:
the human mind can never and must never subject itself to any authority beyond itself"
In a strange twist of providence Kant agrees with God on at least one level. One can see the depravity and hubris in the above quote when compared to the scripture:
 "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Romans 8:7
The autonomy of the human mind is for Kant the supreme authority and must never bow before another. God- through St. Paul- sees it in quite a different light- though the result is the same. It is just because mankind holds his own authority over and above that of his Creator that he has put himself in a position unable to see beyond his own view of reality. It is only through the goodness of God that we, by Grace are enabled by an intervention into our self imposed restricted view that we can:    
 "according to the riches of his glory,... be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what [is] the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." Ephesians 3:16-19
In short then it is only by revelation, that is, it is the self disclosure of God in Christ that we are able to know him.

"This life's dim windows of the soul,
 distorts the heavens from pole to pole,
 and leads you to believe a lie,
 when you see with and not through the eye." 
William Blake.

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