GOD, REVELATION AND AUTHORITY VOLUME I GOD WHO SPEAKS AND SHOWS Preliminary Considerations – by ArchBishop Uwe AE. Rosenkranz

God, Revelation and Authority



Preliminary Considerations



Fifteen Theses






Dedicated to my wife


and to our children


who helped and heartened in many ways

Copyright © originally copyrighted and published in 1976. This edition copyright © 1999

by Carl F. H. Henry.

This edition published by Crossway Books

A division of Good News Publishers

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Published in association with the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. For more information concerning the Henry Institute, contact Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40280; or call toll free, 1-800-626-5525.

The publisher gratefully acknowledges the support of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, in helping to underwrite the publication of this new edition of God, Revelation and Authority.

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ISBN 1-58134-080-X (Set of 6 volumes: hc)

ISBN 1-58134-056-7 (Set of 6 volumes: pbk)

Bible quotations from Revised Standard Version, copyright © 1946, 1952, 1971, 1973 by the

Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.

Bible quotations marked kjv are from the Authorized or King James Version.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Henry, Carl Ferdinand Howard, 1913–

God, revelation, and authority/Carl F.H. Henry.

p. cm.

Originally published: Waco, Tex.: Word Books, c1976–c1983.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

Contents: v. 1. God who speaks and shows, preliminary considerations—v. 2–4.

God who speaks and shows, fifteen theses—v. 5–6. God who stands and stays.

ISBN 1-58134-081-8 (v. 1:hc) ISBN 1-58134-041-9 (v. 1:pbk)

ISBN 1-58134-082-6 (v. 2:hc) ISBN 1-58134-042-7 (v. 2:pbk)

ISBN 1-58134-083-4 (v. 3:hc) ISBN 1-58134-043-5 (v. 3:pbk)

ISBN 1-58134-084-2 (v. 4:hc) ISBN 1-58134-044-3 (v. 4:pbk)

ISBN 1-58134-085-0 (v. 5:hc) ISBN 1-58134-045-1 (v. 5:pbk)

ISBN 1-58134-086-9 (v. 6:hc) ISBN 1-58134-046-X (v. 6:pbk).

1. Evangelicalism. I. Title.

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Series Preface

God Who Speaks and Shows

Volume I

Preliminary Considerations


Introduction to Theolory

1.    The Crisis of Truth and Word

2.    The Clash of Cultural Perspectives

3.    Revelation and Myth

4.    The Ways of Knowing

5.    The Rise and Fall of Logical Positivism

6.    The Countercultural Revolt

7.    The Jesus Movement and Its Future

8.    Secular Man and Ultimate Concerns

9.    The Meaning or Myths Man Lives By

10.    Theology and Science

Supplementary Note: Science and the Invisible

11.    Theology and Philosophy

12.    Is Theology a Science

13.    The Method and Criteria of Theology (I)

14.    The Method and Criteria of Theology (II)

15.    Empirical Verification and Christian Theism

16.    Man’s Primal Religious Experience

17.    A Priori Explanation of Religion

18.    The Philosophical Transcendent A Priori (I)

19.    The Philosophical Transcendent A Priori (II)

20.    The Theological Transcendent A Priori

21.    The Philosophic Transcendental (Critical) A Priori

22.    Transcendental Religious Apriorism

23.    Reflections on Religious Apriorism

24.    The “Common Ground” Controversy


God Who Speaks and Shows

Volume II

Fifteen Theses, Part One

Introduction: Divine Revelation: Fifteen Theses

Thesis One: A Supernatural Initiative

1.    The Awesome Disclosure of God

Thesis Two: For Man’s Benefit

2.    A Place in God’s Kingdom

3.    Not by Good Tidings Alone

Thesis Three: Divine Transcendence

4.    The Hidden and Revealed God

5.    Self-Transcendence and the Image of God

Thesis Four: Coherent Disclosure

6.    The Unity of Divine Revelation

Thesis Five: An Amazing Variety

7.    The Varieties of Divine Revelation

8.    Divine Revelation in Nature

9.    The Rejection of Natural Theology

10.    The Image of God in Man

11.    Recent Conjectural Views of Revelational Forms

Thesis Six: God Names Himself

12.    Divine Revelation as Personal

13.    The Names of God

14.    God’s Proper Names: Elohim, El Shaddai

15.    God’s Proper Names: Yahweh

16.    Jesus: The Revelation of the New Testament Name

Thesis Seven: Historical Revelation

17.    Divine Revelation in History

18.    The Leveling of Biblical History

19.    Faith, Tradition and History

20.    Revelation and History: Barth, Bultmann and Cullmann

21.    Revelation and History: Moltmann and Pannenberg

22.    Revelation and History in Evangelical Perspective


God Who Speaks and Shows

Volume III

Fifteen Theses, Part Two


Thesis Eight: God’s Personal Incarnation

1.    The Disclosure of God’s Eternal Secret

2.    Prophecy and Fulfillment: The Last Days

3.    Jesus’ View of Scripture

4.    The Only Divine Mediator

5.    The Content of the Gospel

6.    Jesus and the Word

7.    Jesus Christ—God-Man or Man-God?

8.    Shall We Look for Another?

9.    The Resurrection of the Crucified Jesus

Thesis Nine: The Mediating Logos

10.    The Intelligibility of the Logos of God

11.    The Biblically Attested Logos

12.    The Living Logos and Defunct Counterfeits

13.    The Logos as Mediating Agent of Divine Revelation

14.    The Logos and Human Logic

15.    The Logic of Religious Language

Thesis Ten: Revelation as Rational-Verbal Communication

16.    Revelation as a Mental Act

17.    Cognitive Aspects of Divine Disclosure

18.    Wisdom as a Carrier of Revelation

19.    The Origin of Language

20.    Is Religious Language Meaningful?

21.    The Meaning of Religious Language

22.    Religious Language and Other Language

23.    A Theistic View of Language

24.    The Living God Who Speaks

25.    Neo-Protestant Objections to Propositional Revelation

26.    Linguistic Analysis and Propositional Truth

27.    The Bible as Propositional Revelation


God Who Speaks and Shows

Volume IV

Fifteen Theses, Part Three

Thesis Eleven: The Bible as the Authoritative Norm

1.    The Modern Revolt against Authority

2.    Divine Authority and the Prophetic-Apostolic Word

3.    Modern Reductions of Biblical Authority

4.    Divine Authority and Scriptural Authority

5.    Is the Bible Literally True?

Thesis Twelve: The Spirit as Communicator and Interpreter

6.    The Meaning of Inspiration

7.    The Inerrancy of Scripture

Supplementary Note: Barth on Scriptural Errancy

8.    The Meaning of Inerrancy

Supplementary Note: The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

9.    The Infallibility of the Copies

10.    The Meaning of Infallibility

11.    The Spirit and the Scriptures

12.    The Spirit as Divine Illuminator

Supplementary Note: Calvin on the Spirit’s Work of Ilumination

13.    Are We Doomed to Hermeneutical Nihilism?

14.    The Fallibility of the Exegete

15.    Perspective on Problem Passages

16.    The Historic Church and Inerrancy

17.    The Uses and Abuses of Historical Criticism

18.    The Debate over the Canon

19.    The Lost Unity of the Bible

Supplementary Note: Scripture as Functional Authority

20.    The Spirit and Church Proclamation

Thesis Thirteen: The Spirit, the Bestower of New Life

21.    God’s Graven Image: Redeemed Mankind

22.    The New Man and the New Society

Thesis Fourteen: The Church as the New Society

23.    Good News for the Oppressed

24.    Marxist Exegesis of the Bible

25.    The Marxist Reconstruction of Man

Thesis Fifteen: God and the End of All Ends

26.    The Awesome Silences of Eternity


God Who Stands and Stays

Volume V

Part One


Introduction: God Who Stands and Stays

1.    The Reality and Objectivity of God

2.    The Being and Coming and Becoming of God

3.    The Living God of the Bible

4.    Methods of Determining the Divine Attributes

5.    Relationship of Essence and Attributes

6.    God’s Divine Simplicity and Attributes

7.    Personality in the Godhead

Supplementary Note: The Feminist Challenge to God-Language

8.    Muddling the Trinitarian Dispute

9.    The Doctrine of the Trinity

10.    God the Ultimate Spirit

11.    God the Self-Revealed Infinite

12.    Divine Timelessness or Unlimited Duration?

13.    The Modern Attack on the Timeless God

14.    Divine Timelessness and Divine Omniscience

15.    The Unchanging, Immutable God

Supplementary Note: Anthropomorphism and Divine Repentance

16.    The Sovereignty of the Omnipotent God

Supplementary Note: Sovereignty and Personality

17.    God’s Intellectual Attributes

18.    Shadows of the Irrational

19.    The Knowability of God

20.    Man’s Mind and God’s Mind

21.    Reflections on the Revelation-and-Culture Debate


God Who Stands and Stays

Volume VI

Part Two


1.    Shall We Surrender the Supernatural?

2.    God’s Transcendence and Immanence

3.    The Resurgence of Process Philosophy

4.    Election: The Freedom of God

Supplementary Note: Contemporary Debate over Divine Election

5.    God the Sovereign Creator

6.    Creation Ex Nihilo

7.    The Six Days of Creation

8.    The Crisis of Evolutionary Theory

9.    The Origin and Nature of Man

10.    Angels, Satan and the Demons, and the Fall

11.    The Goodness of God

12.    God and the Problem of Evil

13.    Evil As a Religious Dilemma

14.    The Fatherhood of God

15.    The Holiness of God

16.    God’s Incomparable Love

Supplementary Note: On Finding Christ in Nonbiblical Religions

17.    The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

18.    The God of Justice and of Justification

19.    Justice and the Kingdom of God

Supplementary Note: The Christian and Political Duty

20.    God Who Stays: Divine Providence

Supplementary Note: Auschwitz As a Suspension of Providence

21.    God Who Stays: The Finalities


Series Preface

Authentic Christianity is always rooted in a sense of God’s sovereign timetable. We cannot be indifferent to the past, nor to the future—embracing as it does the new millennium and, in due season, the Lord’s return. Likewise, we dare not be indifferent to the present—as each generation of Christians is responsible for its own spiritual decisions, and upon these, destiny revolves.

Having lived through most of the twentieth century, I have touched the course and conflicts of modern theology in a variety of contexts: first as an unrepentant churchgoer, later as a questioning newspaper reporter and editor, still later as an inquisitive seminarian, and eventually as an academician pursing the exposition of evangelical distinctives.

The six volumes of God, Revelation, and Authority represent my effort to challenge the course of modern theology. In 1978 Time magazine recognized that the series offered far more than mere commentary on religious events. God, Revelation, and Authority is a challenge to the fluctuating theological outlook of a century that lacked religious compass bearings.

My intention was to confront the vacillating liberalism that had overtaken the spiritual arena. In a plea for recovery from this directionless outlook, the project issued a call to reconsider and reevaluate the forfeited distinctives of the biblical heritage. Here was a serious attempt to state the scriptural revelation on its own terms—fully aware of the issues at stake both in the history of Western thought and in contemporary theology.

Just thirty years before the publication of the first volume of God, Revelation, and Authority, I had called conservative Christians to reenter the cultural arena from which most of them had retreated (see The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Evangelicalism, 1947). By the late 1970s, a growing army of disappointed modernists and apprehensive Barthians recognized that a comprehensive world-and-life view must underlay any recovery of Christian social activity and reaffirmation of a revelatory theology. The 1960s—when even some professing Christian theologians had insisted that “God is dead”—attested only that the surviving liberalism was built on quicksand.

By then it was evident that Barthianism—no matter how aggressive—could not sustain a permanent theological outlook. With its welcome of higher criticism and its marginalization of history and nature, Neo-orthodoxy lacked consistency and the power to prevent the degeneration of humanism to raw naturalism. In the end, Barthianism accommodated the collapse of modernism into postmodernism, and its vengeful repudiation of any objective conception of deity, truth, and goodness.

My ambition in God, Revelation, and Authority was not, however, merely to note the enfeebling weaknesses and costly consequences of modernized theology. I aimed to exhibit the logical power of truth and the permanent relevance of the scriptural alternative.

It is sometimes said that ancient philosophy grappled with the problem of being and becoming, medieval philosophy with the problem of guilt and redemption, and modern philosophy with the epistemic problem of probability and truth. The concerns of philosophy in the postmodern era are innumerable. Yet, the spirit of our end-of-an-era age longs for hope. Unfortunately, not all that passes for hope is genuine. The New Testament exhortation is for Christians to be always ready to defend our claims against anyone who asks a reason for the hope we hold (1 Peter 3:15). Hope without reason has little in common with the Christian hope—which is focused on Jesus Christ, who has come and is coming again. True Christian hope is always Christological in its foundation.

This is immensely different from modern liberation theologies that tend to view the Kingdom of God in terms of immanent evolution, and the eschatological millennium as a human achievement. In contrast, Christian hope anticipates the sudden and unpredictable transformation of all earthly values through the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in fullness.

The Christian hope is diluted whenever theology clouds the reality of humanity’s twofold eternal destiny. Among the ironies of our time is the fact that some quasi-evangelical theologians profess to honor the love of God by denying the divine justice. A distorted view of God’s character is made to excuse the most horrific evils. A loving God thus becomes indifferent even to monstrous wickedness.

Some theologians who acknowledge an evil reality akin to Satan nonetheless have no room for the doctrine of an eternal hell. God’s unconditional love is said to close hell’s doors from access. Yet, so violent have been the evils of our times—terrorist bombings and mass murder, chemical weaponry and nuclear warfare—that these are not reducible to the personified wickedness of our era. These evils cry out for God’s righteous justice.

The attempted assimilation of these evils under a comprehensive divine love and into a doctrine of final reconciliation and universal salvation is a direct subversion of the scriptural message. The Apostle Paul’s comments on God’s comprehensive rescue and redemption appear in a context in which he pleads for personal faith in Christ as the only alternative to doom.

It was gratifying that the six volumes of God, Revelation, and Authority were welcomed as a long overdue exposition of evangelical theology and its cognitive defensibility. At the time, most contributions to theology were variants of the current confusion.

Systematic theology had been neglected as much in evangelical circles as among nonevangelicals. Since then, perhaps under the stimulus of God, Revelation, and Authority, over a dozen systematic projects have appeared. Some are more worthy than others, of course. A few are concerned to exhibit a single denominational track. Some seek points of mutuality with nonevangelical theologies, thus conceding evangelical essentials through recourse to Narrative Theology and Postmodernism.

If I were writing God, Revelation, and Authority today, I would add material to address these new concerns. I did address those issues in Toward a Recovery of Christian Belief (Crossway, 1990), which was based upon my Rutherford Lectures delivered in 1989.

It is specially gratifying that God, Revelation, and Authority has retained its interest among a new generation—holding steady for the faith once for all delivered. A corps of devout and intellectually dedicated young leaders are themselves now making effective contributions to theological scholarship. Not a few of them I met and encouraged in their student days—among them R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Timothy George, Mark Dever, and Mark Peters. Many have been in touch across the years by mail and by small colloquies in our tiny Wisconsin apartment, where not only young theologians but business executives, lawyers, and pastors have eagerly pursued conversation about the condition of our churches and the difference dedicated Christians can make.

Those who have been frustrated in seeking God, Revelation, and Authority—often going to extraordinary lengths in their search—will join me in expressing appreciation to Crossway for this new edition.

At eighty-five years of age, given the encroaching infirmities of old age, I can no longer turn our modest apartment into a place of dialogue. But I am grateful that the conversation can continue through God, Revelation, and Authority.

Carl F.H. Henry

Watertown, Wisconsin

January 1999


There were times when completion of this writing project seemed remote if not unlikely. But God has granted mental vigor, a full life, and the necessary disciplines to serve him in a spiritually and academically convoluted age. I am grateful to now present the concluding segment of the series. Just as were volumes one and two in 1976 and volumes three and four in 1979, so volumes five and six, which deal with the doctrine of God, are issued as a unit.

On no theme should a theologian speak with greater awareness of human limitations than when investigating transcendent spiritual realities. And on no theme must he so candidly declare himself ready for correction by God’s scriptural revelation. The Bible alone is the lifeline of evangelical belief and behavior.

Always the peril of theology is that of saying too much or too little about God, and in either case, of personally appropriating less than one knows, a concern that falls under the rubric of sanctification. May the God of the incarnation be clearly exegeted not only by word but also by life.

In earlier volumes I have mentioned my debt to various persons who did me the service of reading certain sections. Here I must add to the list. Dr. Ronald Nash of Western Kentucky University examined the material on divine eternity and temporality. Dr. R. David Cole, professor of biochemistry at University of California/Berkeley and Dr. Henry Morris, director of the Institute for Creation Research, read the chapters on the creation-evolution conflict. Dr. Phillip R. Johnson, professor of law at University of California/Berkeley, currently guest professor at Emory University, reviewed the material on justice and God’s kingdom. Dr. Gordon H. Clark, my revered former professor and astute philosopher-friend, read the entire work and gave invaluable help and encouragement. None of these persons subscribes to every jot and tittle in these pages, but all have graciously helped and improved the project. To my remarkable wife, Helga, for selfless editorial help, and to my children, Dr. Paul Henry and Dr. Carol Bates, for prayers and prodding, I also owe deep gratitude.

For many years I have been persuaded, and remain so as much as ever, that unless the study of theology finds its rightful preeminence among the priorities of modern learning there will be no authentic rescue or salvation for modern society. Only as other academic disciplines are related to theological principles will they succeed in achieving a stable and unifying overview of human thought and life.

Through their lack of consensus and increasing bent toward empiricism, modern speculative efforts to replace revealed theology by secular philosophy as the intellectual mediator between disciplines have brought technological methods and criteria to prominence for probing reality, and have exalted impersonal processes and events as the center of cultural enterprise. Technical reason so much preempts the necessary and legitimate interests of a sensate society that its idolatrous spokesmen view theology as irrational. Scholars for whom statistics and computerization exhaust intelligible aspects of reality classify the God of the universe and miraculous Redeemer of mankind with elves and flying saucers. Secular humanism hails scientific-technological developments as modern culture’s climax and crown, and promotes scientific empiricism as the preferred alternative to revealed religion and metaphysical philosophy.

Yet it is precisely these scientific and technological achievements that have multiplied the human dilemma almost to the breaking point, and that threaten, in the absence of moral constants and theological sureties, to plunge man’s fortunes into despair and civilization to destruction. Few features are more evident to discerning students of modern Western history than the fact that its ideological displacement of supernatural theism unwittingly invited the emergence of profane religions like Naziism and Communism which imposed their own preferred “values” and readily sacrificed the lives and the freedom of innumerable millions of humans. Rejecting every alternative to totalitarian control as retrogressive they arrogated to themselves the redefinition of progress and truth and right.

Our space-age attempt to resolve the counterclaims of rival cultures and religions that now confront each other cheek to jowl is of fundamental importance for mankind. Langdon Gilkey’s proposal that we must find truth and grace in each of these traditions is doubtless an inviting option in a pluralistic society with academic religion departments that take tolerance as a prime virtue to mean that no option can be considered final and that none can be considered true in a way that declares others false. But the proposal is as unhelpful as the contradictory view that in none of the historic religions do we really find truth and grace. The former approach extends to other views a respect that it denies Christianity and hence preserves a place for Judeo-Christian theology only by destroying its essential claim to once-for-all revelation and redemption. The latter approach absolutizes its own prejudices even while it professes to disown finalities. Gilkey proposes “a new relativity of truth and grace, which yet cannot itself be wholly relative” (“The AAR and the Anxiety of Nonbeing: An Analysis of Our Present Cultural Situation,” p. 16). I do not find in this proposal any authentic echo of the Judeo-Christian heritage.

It seems far preferable to me to state the theology of the Bible on its own terms, and to reject it, if one must, than to conform it to alien principles that make scriptural truth something less than Moses, Isaiah or even Jesus recognized it to be. The biblical insistence that the true and living God still speaks in universal general revelation, and that the fall of humanity requires special once-for-all revelation as well, illumines our world dilemmas, I believe, more consistently and coherently than any and all rival views. Only the self-revealing God can lead us even now toward a future that preserves truth and love and justice unsullied; all other gods are either lame or walk backward.

Carl F.H. Henry

Thanksgiving, 1982



Preliminary Considerations


Introduction to Theology

1.    The Crisis of Truth and Word

2.    The Clash of Cultural Perspectives

3.    Revelation and Myth

4.    The Ways of Knowing

5.    The Rise and Fall of Logical Positivism

6.    The Countercultural Revolt

7.    The Jesus Movement and Its Future

8.    Secular Man and Ultimate Concerns

9.    The Meaning or Myths Man Lives By

10.    Theology and Science

Supplementary Note: Science and the Invisible

11.    Theology and Philosophy

12.    Is Theology a Science

13.    The Method and Criteria of Theology (I)

14.    The Method and Criteria of Theology (II)

15.    Empirical Verification and Christian Theism

16.    Man’s Primal Religious Experience

17.    A Priori Explanation of Religion

18.    The Philosophical Transcendent A Priori (I)

19.    The Philosophical Transcendent A Priori (II)

20.    The Theological Transcendent A Priori

21.    The Philosophic Transcendental (Critical) A Priori

22.    Transcendental Religious Apriorism

23.    Reflections on Religious Apriorism

24.    The “Common Ground” Controversy



When in 1933 I received Christ Jesus as personal Savior and Lord, I had not the slightest notion of ever writing a book; least of all did I envision serious work in theology. Ours was an immigrant family, rich neither in things nor in spirit, although not consciously miserable nor unhappy. No one in our home was an evangelical believer, no one had attended college or expected to do so, and our main interest in the world was to eke out a tolerable survival.

After becoming a believer I wanted to learn more about the ultimately real world and a truly rewarding life, about human history and the role of science, and especially about the nature of God and his purpose for me and for the world. These interests spurred me on as a young Christian journalist to seek a liberal arts education and to grasp the essentials of the Christian life-world view. I ventured into graduate and postgraduate schools, some of them friendly, some hostile, others indifferent to evangelical concerns, to pit and test Christian claims against rival religious and philosophical views.

In the course of my training, teaching and writing I have spent memorable hours with twentieth-century luminaries like Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, G. C. Berkouwer, Geoffrey Bromiley, Gordon Clark, Donald MacKinnon, Leon Morris, Charles F. D. Moule, Anders Nygren, Hermann Sasse, Cornelius Van Til, Gustave Weigel and others. These scholars represent much of the wide spectrum of contemporary theology; some are revered mentors and friends.

Evangelical theology is heretical if it is only creative and unworthy if it is only repetitious. That it can be freshly relevant for each new generation of persons and problems is a continuing asset. One often hears that nonevangelical theology seems to speak more directly to the dilemmas of the age but that its message forfeits the timeless biblical heritage. Evangelical theology, on the other hand, while preserving the Judeo-Christian verities all too often fails to project engagingly upon present-day perplexities. Obviously before one can address the contemporary scene one must know what the moderns are thinking and saying and doing. This investigation often involves speaking a language strange to past generations and to the public at large, a language sometimes idiosyncratic in meaning and in need of revision. But unless one knows this language and what it depicts, one can hardly engage in effective conversation. Contrary to what some people may think, it is not because they sleep on Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary that theologians are now trapped in a vocabulary strange to twentieth-century gospel songs. The fact is that words like demythologize, dialectical, existential, linguistic analysis, and so on, have become part of the inescapable vocabulary of serious religious discussion in our generation. To ignore what these terms mean and involve is to cut oneself off from articulate theological discussion with those most in need of evangelical perspectives.

On the other hand this professional tendency to speak in enigmatic tongues contrasts sharply with the lucid proclamation of the biblical revelation to ordinary mortals. The Christian message is good news for the masses, and unless theologians are intelligible in the public mart and in the public press, both will ignore them. Even in Germany, where formal university training imparts greater familiarity with the history of ideas than does most American learning, more than one professor has observed that the intricacies of contemporary theology are so complex that its subleties are lost on many an entering divinity student. Only the inescapable importance of the issues involved can therefore justify our ongoing interest in them.

I am deeply indebted to scholars of various traditions, especially to competent philosophers under whom I have studied like Gordon H. Clark, W. Harry Jellema and Edgar S. Brightman. Since the early days when Edward John Carnell and I became seriously interested in evangelical literary engagement, I have been challenged and enriched by many theologians and others with whom I have dialogued and whose works I have read. My indebtedness to them is expressed wherever I specifically recall it, although a few instances may have eluded me. I remember, for example, happening upon Nygren’s untranslated Religiöst Apriori and meeting Saturday mornings in Los Angeles with a Swedish pastor who worked through it with me. To no contemporary do I owe a profounder debt, however, than to Gordon Clark, as numerous index references will attest. Since the thirties when he taught me medieval and modern philosophy at Wheaton, I have considered him the peer of evangelical philosophers in identifying the logical inconsistencies that beset nonevangelical alternatives and in exhibiting the intellectual superiority of Christian theism. He has offered helpful comments on many of the chapters.

In sections of Chapter 5 (“The Rise and Fall of Logical Positivism”) and in the Supplementary Note to Chapter 10 (“Theology and Science”) on “Science and the Invisible,” I acknowledge helpful use of Peter Genco’s unpublished Ph.D. dissertation on “Verification, Falsification, and the Language of Christian Theism”; in Chapter 15 (“Empirical Verification and Christian Theism”) I am somewhat critical of its approach.

To my beloved wife Helga I owe a debt beyond words. She has patiently and sacrificially read much of this material, offering literary suggestions and clarifying the expression of thought, and now and then even elucidating notions that I had not intended. Her facility with modern languages has been a boon; long before it was available in English translation we worked together, for example, through Brunner’s Die christliche Lehre von Gott.

I am highly grateful also to World Vision International which has encouraged my completion of this effort in time not preempted by teaching and lecturing commitments and, after the completion of Volume One, made available to me secretarial help that I have not had since leaving Christianity Today in 1968. Providentially, the retirement to Monrovia, California, of Irma Peterson, my long-time secretary, permitted her to resume this relationship at an airmail distance of 3,000 miles.

This four-volume effort represents hitherto unpublished material on which I have worked on and off during the past twenty-five years of teaching, researching and lecturing. It is no overnight venture. A year of postgraduate research abroad at Cambridge University as well as an earlier period at New College, Edinburgh, contributed to its preparation. Some of the content has served along the way as lecture material either in academic series or when serving as visiting professor at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and also abroad in 1974, 1975 and 1976 at the Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission in Seoul, Korea. I should also note with appreciation various campuses on which I have presented one or several units of this work in brief lecture series: Asbury Theological Seminary, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Albion College, Eastern Mennonite College, Grand Canyon College, Greenville College, Mars Hill College, Mount Vernon Nazarene College, Olivet Nazarene College, Pacific Union College, Trinity Christian College, Northwestern University, Ball State University, Loma Linda University, Pacific Lutheran University, Valparaiso University, University of Delaware and Western Kentucky University. In addition some lectures were given in Latin America, at Central America Mission in Guatemala City; Latin America Biblical Seminary in San José, Costa Rica; Evangelical Seminary of Lima, Peru; Instituto Biblico in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Baptist Seminary in Recife, Baptist Seminary in Rio de Janeiro, and Baptist Seminary in Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Seminario Evangelico Asociado, Maracay, Venezuela. Some were given in Asia at the Chinese Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong and China Evangelical Seminary in Taipei, Korea Baptist Theological Seminary in Daejeon, Presbyterian Theological Seminary and Seoul Theological Seminary in Korea, and at the 1974 training sessions of Evangelism International in Singapore. In New Zealand lectures were given at Auckland University and Bible College of New Zealand; and in Australia in Moore Theological College of Sydney, Baptist College of New South Wales, Ridley College of Melbourne, Bible College of South Australia, Baptist Theological College of West Australia, and Perth University.

If God be pleased, and may it be so to his glory, Volumes One and Two are scheduled for publication by Word Books at Thanksgiving, 1976, and will be followed by Volume Three at Thanksgiving, 1978, and hopefully by Volume Four at Thanksgiving, 1980.

Carl F.H. Henry

Arlington, Virginia 22207

New Year’s Day, 1976

Introduction to Theology

Speak of an introduction to God, or to the science of God, and some people are sure to look for the nearest exit. An introduction to sex techniques—now there’s a best seller! Or a manual (not on avoiding the rise and fall of the American empire but) on turning Dow Jones averages into a John Doe windfall—that’s practical religion, that’s heaven on earth. What dangles a more fascinating future, after all, than the tips of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith, or of Johnson and Masters?

But what future has theology? If the future is any longer foreseeable, don’t astrological horoscopes now publish the truth and the way? Have wise men stopped reading the stars? A future for theology? Has it even a present? Haven’t theologians themselves been telling us that God is dead? Is theology a viable and serious intellectual pursuit at all?

A century ago the French author Jules Verne wrote extravagantly imaginative stories in which he foresaw many remarkable scientific achievements of our own day, such as submarines, aircraft and television. What he did not foresee was the loss, equally remarkable, of what was once almost everywhere taken for granted, the reality of God. For our generation, is not theology a questionable concern at best? Contemporary man is far more sure of the landing of astronauts on the moon than he is of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ, more sure of scientists propelled into outer space than of the Logos “that came down from heaven” (John 3:13, kjv) as the eternal Word become flesh (John 1:14). To secular Western man in the late 1970s, no world seems more remote than that of theology.

Religion now has become “everyone’s own kettle of fish”—a matter of personal preference rather than a truth-commitment universally valid for one and all. The notion seems to be widespread that theology—whether Christian or not—is not truly a rational enterprise at all, but rather an outmoded superstition, like alchemy or astrology, that has unfortunately survived from the ancient past or from the Dark Ages. Religious propagandists themselves for so long have recommended decision not for truth’s sake but for the personal consolation and social stability it brings that untruths are increasingly thought to be the lifeblood of religion. Even neo-Protestant theologians today assert that divine revelation is to be believed without questioning, and that it cannot be integrated with any unified system of truth. One can more readily forgive Tertullian, who wrote to Marcion that because Christian assertions are absurd they are to be believed, than he can modern dialectical and existential theologians who uncritically espouse the same nonsense seventeen centuries later. So much has the leap of faith been exaggerated into a virtue that contemporary religionists have become more noted for their ingenious hurtling over rational objections than for their intelligible confrontation of the issues. That theology simply prepackages a platter of ideas to be hurriedly ingested rather than carefully savored by intellectual gourmets is a standard complaint of modern atheists and agnostics. The world religions offer, they say, a variety of man-made convenience frozen foods awaiting the moment when harried individuals run into unforeseen emergencies and are therefore willing to eat anything rather than starve.

If theology, then, is not dead, is it sheer bunk? Are we merely chasing a will-o’-the-wisp? Has theology not been taught for centuries by men ordained by the various world religions to raise their own flag? Is it, as someone has suggested, a specialized and rather bogus form of philosophy in which the conclusions are laid down before the argument begins? Is it a spurious form of philosophy that sets out with unquestioned and unquestionable assumptions, refuses to face problems, and corrals its converts into an irrational commitment that is academically closed and intellectually dishonest? Is the skeptic’s doubt about Christianity to be overcome by a hurried appeal to Pascal’s “wager”—a gambling of life on the view that even if a person is intellectually mistaken he stands to gain more by betting on God than on not-God?

Theology, we shall insist, sets out not simply with God as a speculative presupposition but with God known in his revelation. But the appeal to God and to revelation cannot stand alone, if it is to be significant; it must embrace also some agreement on rational methods of inquiry, ways of argument, and criteria for verification. For the critical question today is not simply, “What are the data of theology?” but “How does one proceed from these data to conclusions that commend themselves to rational reflection?” The fundamental issue remains the issue of truth, the truth of theological assertions. No work on theology will be worth its weight if that fundamental issue is obscured. Durable theology must revive and preserve the distinction between true and false religion, a distinction long obscured by neo-Protestant theologians. Either the religion of Jesus Christ is true religion or it is not worth bothering about. True worship is what Jesus demanded: “God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24, rsv). Jesus broke with Jewish religious leaders in his day on the ground that they were falsifying the Old Testament revelation; he came very close, in fact, to denouncing some of the influential religious spokesmen of that time as liars (John 8:44 ff.). That strategy was hardly calculated to win him any brotherhood awards, but it did maintain top priority for truth as a religious concern.

Even a theologian who wrestles the case for Christian theism in the context of ultimate truth must on that very account remain acutely aware of his own finitude and faults. But he may hope and pray that his work at least will make it more difficult for inquiring minds to evade an introduction to theology, and that God may himself be pleased to honor a dedicated witness.

The structure of this work is as follows. Volumes One, Two and Three, titled God Who Speaks and Shows, expound the nature of religious knowledge. This initial volume deals largely with theological prolegomena; Volumes Two and Three will develop each of the fifteen theses on divine revelation summarized in the introduction to Volume Two. Volume Four, titled God Who Stands, Stoops and Stays, expounds the nature of God.


The Crisis of Truth and Word

No fact of contemporary Western life is more evident than its growing distrust of final truth and its implacable questioning of any sure word. The prevalent mood, as Langdon Gilkey tells us, is “sceptical about all formulations of ultimate coherence or ultimate meaning, speculative as well as theological” and “doubts the possibility both of philosophical knowing and religious faith” (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 24). The “man from Missouri” long lampooned as a provincial doubting Thomas has now found a well-nigh universal and sophisticated counterpart. So widespread is the current truth-and-word crisis that, according to some observers, the night of nihilism—a new Dark Ages—may be swiftly engulfing the civilized world, and particularly the West which long has vaunted itself as the spearpoint of cosmic progress.

Underlying this clash over what and whose word is worthy flares a deep disagreement over which of the diverse media everywhere facing mankind reliably discloses the true nature and course of human events. In particular, two powerful forces—in many ways the most fantastically potent influences known to the history of man—are today pursuing and competing for the beleaguered human spirit.

On the one hand, the God of Judeo-Christian revelation, whose truth and Word nullified pagan deities in the ancient past, still holds modern secular man wholly answerable to the theistic exposition of human life. The living God of the Bible inescapably and invincibly shows up and speaks out; the divine Logos is the round-the-clock and round-the-world channel of supernatural revelation. The self-disclosing God attributes human defection from truth and wobbling with words solely to man’s devious ways, and continuingly implores a disaffected humanity to lift hearing ears and seeing eyes to his proffered revelation and redemption.

On the other hand, the secularizing speech of audio-visual technology more and more sets the tone for human thought and conduct. Deliberately and universally the mass media encroach upon modern man. Enhanced by color and cunning, television or radio or the printed page makes every last human soul a target of its propaganda. So astonishingly clever and successful have been these media in captivating the contemporary spirit—haunted as it is by moral vacillation and spiritual doubt—that Yahweh’s ancient exhortation to beware of visual idols would seem doubly pertinent today.

The mass media, to be sure, make no overt or covert claim to play God, far less to specify timeless truth and unchanging commandments. They do not pretend to function as para-Logos, a surrogate medium of ultimate revelation. It would therefore be misleading to align God against the modern media as if Satan, that insidious “angel of light,” had now ingeniously dissolved himself into television technology. The media are “not the cause, but the expression of contemporary vacuity,” writes Malcolm Muggeridge in Esquire (Jan. 1973, p. 52). Marshall McLuhan, he adds, “when he delivered himself of his famous dictum that the medium is the message, overlooked the fact that the medium has no message. In the last resort, the media have nothing to say.…”

Yet to say that the mass media are but highly polished mirrors reflecting today’s spiritual mindlessness can be challenged on two grounds. Something more must be said than simply that whereas the Logos of God as the divine medium of ultimate revelation both has and is the message, the mass media neither are the message nor have one. Obviously the mass media have not originated the bewilderment of our age; they have, however, indubitably widened and compounded the crisis of truth and word.

For one thing, in reply to critics who charge newscasters with fabricating the facts, media spokesmen assert that—in distinction from special interest groups such as government, industry and labor—the networks portray the modern scene (in Walter Cronkite’s reassuring sign-off) the way it is. The media claim to convey truth and fact as they are. The Watergate-related exposure of illegalities and moral wrongs that contributed, however painfully, to the conviction of Nixon aides and the resignation of the president himself, remains a tribute to a free and bold press that a badgered communist regime would surely have stifled. For all that, the media seldom grapple seriously and in depth with ultimate principles. Where, even in the Watergate context, was equal time given for such facets of reality as the inflexible nature of the moral order; the insistent biblical demand that “yes be yes and … no no” (James 5:12, rsv; cf. Matt. 5:37); the connection of all equivocation and falsehood with the Evil One; the inviolable commandments of God that whenever we think we can break them with impugnity in fact break us? Final truth, changeless good, and the one true and living God are by default largely programed out of the real world. Despite occasional ethical commentary and some special coverage of religious events and moral issues, the media tend more to accommodate than to critique the theological and ethical ambiguities of our time. Their main devotion to what gratifies the viewing and reading audiences plays no small part in eclipsing God and fixed moral principles from contemporary life.

Defenders sometimes reply, moreover, that the mass media have no special mandate to provide norms or standards by which society is to judge itself. Television, after all, is primarily an entertainment medium. This response is superficial and evasive; indeed, it is doubly disappointing at a time when the wild, licentious winds of modernity have all but stripped away any sure Word of God. Such response caters to the assumption that there are many gods, and that unchanging truth and the good are fictions. Whether acknowledged or not, no one lives for a moment without theologico-ethical commitments, however superficial. The media themselves profess to honor codes of good telecasting, broadcasting and journalism. Why cannot such codes also underwrite a concern for the truth and the validity of values? The American tradition of church-state separation, it is sometimes stressed, precludes a partisan public commitment to a preferred theological-moral framework; synagogues and churches should therefore not expect the entertainment industry to promote their particular tenets. All this may be true. On the other hand does church-state separation bestow a license to denigrate the right and the good? By conditioning the public to an acceptance of moral decline, the entertainment media strangle the disposition to self-judgment and conceal the approaching doomsday of civilization. Malcolm Muggeridge observes “that what is called Western Civilization is in an advanced state of decomposition, and that another Dark Ages will soon be upon us, if, indeed, it has not already begun. With the Media, especially television, governing all our lives, as they indubitably do, it is easily imaginable that this might happen without our noticing … by accustoming us to the gradual deterioration of our values” (“Living through an Apocalypse,” p. 4).

Whether they profess to tell the unadorned truth or to be necessarily indifferent to the truth of truth, the media seem in either case to abandon God and morality to the skeptics. Television has often been suspected of breeding violence and of carrying commercials that are misleading; it has seldom if ever been accused of breeding incisive theologians and ethicists. In many respects the crisis of truth and word shapes up as a conflict between the Logos of God as the medium of divine revelation, and the modern mass media as caterers to the secular spirit. Alongside sporadic and seldom persuasive fragments of ultimate concern, the media lend themselves to dignifying sham gods, spurious values and pseudotruth. By clouding the reality of God and the fixity of truth and the good, they abet the storm of skepticism that inundates contemporary civilization and abandons modern man to relativity in ethics and to a multiplicity of false deities. Yet their colossal power over modern life makes of the media an almost superhuman force. Only a recovery of the truth of revelation can therefore still the wayward winds that these media accommodate. But if no effective counterthrust can be marshaled through these influential agencies themselves, then it appears quite unlikely that any remedy can hope to succeed apart from or independently of them.

When listeners or viewers turn on radio or television they expect immediate and direct access to whatever is important in the contemporary world. For that reason secular man is all the more prone to demean Christianity as second-hand religion that conditions human salvation upon events consummated long ago and far away. To say that biblical religion excludes direct relationships between God and man is, of course, ill-founded. While the God of the Bible may be known only through a mediated revelation, he is nonetheless everywhere directly knowable, and calls man everywhere to indispensable decision in the present. On the other hand, the popular notion is preposterous that television or radio can mesh anyone directly and at once to the objective course and meaning of the external world of events. While viewers may indeed feel that they have a ringside seat on all facts and events, the camera severely limits the viewers’ field of vision; viewers are actually restricted, in fact, to what producers schedule and depict, and what program monitors select. What’s more, viewers do not even actually see what commentators and cameramen see, since each person’s sense impressions are of necessity his and his alone.

Liberty in reporting, in selecting and interpreting media content, varies widely from culture to culture. How totalitarian tyrants exploit the power of the media to enslave the masses by seizing control of radio, television and the press is well known. In communist countries the party line dictates what the public has a right to hear and see; the media are a tool for extending Marxism. No less aware of the media’s pervasive influence are free world entrepreneurs who enlist Madison Avenue to promote products, personalities or principles of varying merit or demerit. According to Burt Zollo some seventeen hundred public relations agencies and sixty thousand promotion specialists are engaged to establish the public image of corporations and executives in the United States and to stimulate sales (The Dollars and Sense of Public Relations, p. 2).

Fantastic myth-making possibilities hover over this technocratic world of magic whose creative imagination and artful visualization seem able to shape a new reality almost at will. Periodic warnings suggest the awesome possibility of manipulating entire masses of people by careful contrivance. Certain countercultural radicals have charged, for example, that a military-industrial complex controls the American media even though, in fact, the media have often and boldly challenged the military by critical and even unsympathetic reporting. Black revolutionaries for their part assert that Euro-American white cultural values saturate the media. Others suggest that so-called Western-white values are often insinuated so overpoweringly that the intelligent viewer is frequently turned off to other alternatives.

The crisis of word and truth is not, however, in all respects peculiar to contemporary technocratic civilization. Its backdrop is not to be found in the mass media per se, as if these sophisticated mechanical instruments of modern communication were uniquely and inherently evil. Not even the French Revolution, which some historians now isolate as the development that placed human history under the shadow of continual revolution, can adequately explain the ongoing plunge of man’s existence into endless crisis. Why is it that the magnificent civilizations fashioned by human endeavor throughout history have tumbled and collapsed one after another with apocalyptic suddenness? Is it not because, ever since man’s original fall and onward to the present, sin has plummeted human existence into an unbroken crisis of word and truth? A cosmic struggle between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, shadows the whole history of mankind. The Bible depicts it as a conflict between the authority of God and the claims of the Evil One. Measured by the yardstick of God’s holy purposes, all that man proudly designates as human culture is little but idolatry. God’s Word proffers no compliments whatever to man’s so-called historical progress; rather, it indicts man’s pseudoparadises as veritable towers of Babel that obscure and falsify God’s truth and Word.

We need therefore to abandon the notion that modern science and its discoveries are the major obstacles to a living faith in the God of revelation and redemption. In earlier prescientific times, men negotiated their spiritual revolt just as vigorously and did so without invoking science and technology as a pretext. Oscar Cullmann writes with discernment: “We must reject the false notion that our separation from the biblical witnesses has been caused by the progress of modern science, so that today we cannot believe in salvation history because our world-view has changed. We must see clearly … that the most recent discoveries … in no way make faith in salvation history more difficult than it was for men during the days of early Christianity. This faith was just as difficult for men at that time and for philosophers of that age as it is for us, even though their philosophy was different from that of our age” (Salvation in History, pp. 319 f.). In other words, the modern crisis of truth and word is not something historically or culturally unique.

Despite the agelessness of man’s predicament, its modern guise exhibits something new, however. Scientific ingenuity and technological genius have added novel and overwhelming dimensions to our spiritually imperiled life. By their worldwide coverage of breakthrough events, the mass media lend to the scientist a cloak of omnicompetence and latent omniscience. The atomic bomb erasure of entire cities like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the incredibly accurate propulsion of missiles and men onto the surface of the moon, and the virtual resurrection of the doomed and dying to life by organ transplants attest the scientist’s astonishing access to secrets of the external world. At distances ranging from hundreds and thousands of miles on our own planet to hundreds of thousands of miles into space, earthlings can witness the ongoing scientific penetration of new frontiers and hitherto obscure boundaries. An estimated 528 million television viewers watched the departure of the first astronauts for a mission on the moon. The fact, however, that the last moon mission lacked sufficient audience interest to justify full network coverage of the return to earth indicates how quickly the novelty of new scientific spheres is absorbed into people’s everyday expectations. The man in the street quickly absorbs the secular humanist’s trust in scientific ingenuity and technocratic planning as the only guarantee of a rewarding future; he buries heretofore unknown possibilities for human destruction under the prospect of earthly utopia.

It alters nothing to emphasize that the Christian doctrines of God and of a creation pervaded by intelligible continuities long supplied metaphysical supports for Western scientific developments, and did so without issuing in notions of scientific omnicompetence. There was indeed a time when a crowning belief in the acting and speaking God of prophetic-apostolic revelation, supremely manifested in the resurrection of the crucified Jesus, held far greater fascination for the mind and will of the multitudes than does even technological science today. Not only the common people but also the noblest and most discriminating began the day with prayer, offered thanks to God at table, welcomed scriptural guidance amid the daily pursuits and exigencies of life, walked in fellowship with God throughout the day, and faced death with sure confidence in a blessed afterlife. Today, however, many accept not the Spirit-breathed Word of God but the experimentally based pronouncements of science as the one and only avenue to truth and life.

So fantastically powerful have the mass media themselves become that their globe-spanning activity influences life and thought with an almost uncanny mystique. However conspicuously short they may fall of being able to produce a new humanity, they have nonetheless left their sure mark on modern man, and have shown themselves able to alter the mood, the social customs, and even the morals of people. Whatever one may think of McLuhan’s thesis that the medium is “the message,” the fact remains that as image-makers the communications media have unmistakably molded the thought, conscience and will of our generation by superimposing one set of culture-values upon another with great subtlety and sophistication. Especially reprehensible are false masochistic values that promise a “new me” in exchange for repudiating one’s own cultural inheritance for misleading alternatives. (Blacks are not alone in resenting the emphasis that “blondes have more fun” and that identifying with the so-called Euro-American woman’s life style promises an elevation of consciousness.) What people consider the ideal image inevitably reflects their view of God and ultimate values—whether it be shaped by a modern communications medium or by the medium, of divine revelation. Inescapably important, therefore, is the question whether enduring concerns of spirit, conscience and truth are granted audibility and visibility—or whether men suppress the Word of the living God. Not alone human culture, but human destiny as well, depend on whether sight and sound are reserved only for human speculation and transitory happenings, or are lent equally to the Word and truth of God.

That God is a nonsensory reality is not what gives him “a poor press”; justice, love, human rights and much else that makes the news are also nonsensory. But by thrusting upon viewers and auditors the Israeli-Arab tensions, the Sino-Soviet cleft, the economic dilemma, and the energy crisis as the decisively real world, the media foster an almost purely sensate misunderstanding of reality. Their loud and vigorous competition for audience interest tends to focus on secular issues alone as being important. All communications media force upon their followers a mood of perpetual crisis in the sociopolitical sphere rather than in the ethico-spiritual realm. No reflection is here intended on the honesty and integrity of professional journalists, no implication that taken as a class newscasters misrepresent the facts as they see them. The free world press has faults, but its outstanding reputation for dedicated and effective coverage cannot be gainsaid. The legal and moral issues surrounding the Watergate events during the Nixon administration were, in fact, boldly pursued by the news media in the face of highly adverse pressures. Yet the reporting of international hostilities, of the deployment of incredibly destructive weaponry, of routine on-target delivery of missiles at vast distances, and of the tumult on the domestic scene batters the individual into a confused identification with what he hears. This aspect of the modern crisis of truth and word pushes the human spirit almost to the breaking point, inasmuch as man’s own survival and destiny seem up for grabs in a world vexed by credibility gaps and seeming meaninglessness.

On the one hand, therefore, the vivid coverage of events heightens individual response almost to the point of personal engagement; on the other, the constant repetition of emotion-laden experiences, and the exposure to incessant barrages of superpowered appeals, drives listeners to steel themselves against emotional exhaustion and dulls their desire for personal involvement. Sydney A. Ahlstrom notes that this exhausting impact of media presentation tends also to rob religious confrontation of the effectiveness it once enjoyed: “Moonshots, nuclear testing, discussion of an ABM defense system, and the stark possibility of human extinction drain away the vitality of traditional belief” (“The 1960s: Radicalism in Theology and Ethics,” p. 13, n. 28). The mass media devotee thinks that religion should dispense the same emotional wallop as the launching of a moon missile, or whatever else has replaced the first excitement of Cape Kennedy extravaganzas. The longing “for miracle words as for miracle drugs” of re-creative power (cf. Medical Economics, Mar. 2, 1970, p. 111) may evidence a generation that not only has lost the life-giving Word of God, but also turns readily to the demonic and occult to fill the vacuum in human experience. The fading from prime time of effective presentations of the biblical heritage is a significant fact of our television age. Public service time allocated to religion is mainly absorbed by ecumenical agencies whose interest centers more in social activity and religious novelties than in the historic faith of the Bible. As exposition of the spiritual and moral heritage of Western civilization diminishes, the media give increasing prominence to other religious expressions. Often belief in the supernatural is correlated with superstition.

The mass media, in summary, are amazingly adroit in supplying new dimensions to the age-old crisis of word and truth. Their indecision about spiritual realities, their deference to moral relativism and spiritual vagabondage, and their obvious accommodation of a materialist and sexcentered view of life are familiar devices for gaining attention and manipulating minds. The present crisis is far more complex and cuts distressingly deeper than this, however.

Few times in history has revealed religion been forced to contend with such serious problems of truth and word, and never in the past have the role of words and the nature of truth been as misty and undefined as now. Only if we recognize that the truth of truth—indeed, the meaning of meaning—is today in doubt, and that this uncertainty stifles the word as a carrier of God’s truth and moral judgment, do we fathom the depth of the present crisis. When truth and word remain as the accepted universe of discourse, then all aberrations can be challenged in the name of truth. Today, however, the nature of truth and even the role of words is in dispute.

The breakdown of confidence in verbal communication is a feature of our times. More is involved here than simply a call for sincerity and integrity in verbal exchange. The widespread manipulation of and disenchantment with words is increasingly thrust upon politicians who are elected on one platform and then chart a contrary course, and upon religious groups that profess one thing in doctrine and display contrary social attitudes, or even receive funds for one purpose and expend them for another.

Such preference for the nonverbal is especially conspicuous among the younger generation who increasingly surmise that words are a cover-up rather than a revelation of truth; that is, words are used to conceal, distort and deceive. Marshall McLuhan’s theory of communication assumes the obsolescence of words.

If we probe the reasons for this mood, we cannot escape some reference to the mass media as manipulators of the word. They reflect on a colossal scale the license taken by advertisers in promoting consumer wares, fortunately increasingly regulated by government (in the absence of voluntary controls) insofar as it endangers health and borders on consumer fraud. A Newsweek survey (Aug. 16, 1971, p. 9) shows marked public disbelief of television commercials: even “as early as the second grade, children indicate ‘concrete distrust of commercials, often based on experience with advertised product’ “; “by the fourth grade they have ‘distrust for specific commercials and “tricky” elements of commercials’ “; and “by sixth grade they show ‘global distrust of all commercials except public service announcements.’ ” On the edge of this trend toward cynicism as early as the second to the fourth grades, Newsweek raises the question of “the violence commercials may do to a child’s capacity for trust.” According to current network estimates, the typical American child has watched over twenty-five thousand hours of television and viewed about three hundred fifty thousand commercials by the time he reaches his eighteenth birthday. Early disbelief of verbal claims, because of indifference to truth—let alone disregard for health—has already evoked demands for policing or banning commercials on children’s television programs. What bearing this distrust may or does have on the hearing of religious claims poses interesting problems also for those who underscore the connection between Christianity and capitalism but do not criticize the misdeeds of free enterprise.

Promoters exploit religious and ethical terms to commend potentially injurious products—not only physically harmful items such as cigarettes and alcohol, but culturally questionable commodities as well. Cigarettes, for example, are proclaimed “a real good thing” and the problem with calling a Winston “good” is reduced to a debate over grammar, not a concern of ethics and truth. In striving for sales success, Madison Avenue thus abuses words as a vehicle of truth. Sometimes even Bible terminology is wrested from its hallowed spiritual and moral context and deployed to promote what is merely mechanical, ethically dubious or physically harmful. Two obstacles are thereby interposed for comprehending spiritual and moral concepts; words are emptied of traditional meaning, and are sales-pitched toward questionable ends. As an audience manipulation technique, such commercial tactics often smack of a radical approach that retains noble concepts for motivational value but avoids any definition of terms. This procedure can so distort the good that, as Francis Schaeffer has somewhere remarked, a young man is encouraged to become “christlike” by sleeping with a girl that “needs” him.

Had they effectively championed the integrity of truth and word in the public arena, the Christian churches could and might have challenged the prevalent misuse of words to conceal and distort the truth; they might have made the twentieth-century mass media more serviceable to the gospel of Christ than was even the printing press during the reformation. But many modern churchmen, confused by higher criticism and enamored of existential theology, have themselves contended that the content of the Word of God cannot be formulated in words. Young theologians have promoted emphases like Sigmund Mowinckel’s that “God’s word is not utterances, nor verbal expression of ideas, concepts and thoughts, but deed” (The Old Testament as the Word of God, p. 42) or the tenet of kerygmatic theologians that God’s Word consists in personal divine presence incapable of formulation in words.

Neo-Protestant ecumenism, moreover, put its own premium on verbal ambiguity as being useful for promoting ecclesiastical unity. Such semantic juggling is not unlike the commercial practice of abusing sacred symbols for the sake of pushing sales. Editorial revisers have similarly welcomed and relied on verbal obscurity to advance the cause of church merger; long-standing creedal differences are glossed over by artful generalities. If linguistic games played by secular politicians deflated confidence in democratic processes, the consequences were no less devastating where ecclesiastical bureaucrats relied on religious double talk to promote vested interests. As a consequence, churchmen were hardly in any strategic position to protest a worldly misuse and abuse of religious symbols.

Nonverbal communication now increasingly clamors for attention if not priority. We often hear it said today that the time for words has passed, that for modern man words have lost their meaning and power. In deference to the consequent anti-intellectual and existential approaches to life, radio and television programs now often concentrate on sound and imagery to secure emotive rather than cognitive audience response. The misimpression grows that ordinary language is inadequate to express truth and to depict reality. Music and the arts become subjectively introverted and tend to lose significance as a realm of shared experience and communication. When the notion flourishes that words are not to be trusted as carriers of the truth, and religious connotation terms are allowed to run wild and wicked, Christianity, because it is a religion of verbal revelation, suffers more than do other world religions.

But the modern cult of nonverbal experience poses a challenge not only to revealed religion; it makes trivial the whole cultural inheritance of the Western world as well. To strip words of any necessary or legitimate role as a revelatory resource denies not only the intelligibility of revelation, but also the very rationality of human existence. Nonverbal experience cannot supply today’s generation with fruitful alternatives to the spiritual emptiness of the times; the cavernous silence of a speechless world echoes not a single syllable of hope. To deverbalize an already depersonalized society is all the more to dehumanize it. Community life reduced to an inarticulate charade is merely a human Babel overtaken by mental and verbal exhaustion.

Those who resort to words to tell us that words distort reality and truth engage either in a futile or self-refuting activity. Radical theologians who decry Christian verbalization themselves often employ a torrent of words to demean or undermine the importance of words for theology. If words are considered intrinsically untrustworthy, then the future of a theology of verbal revelation and of verbal proclamation of the gospel—or for that matter of any other written or spoken formulation—is dim indeed. Judeo-Christian religion centers supremely in the living God selfdisclosed in his Word and this biblically attested Word is communicated intelligibly in meaningful sentences. If the only thing that can be said about the mass media is that their communication of man’s speech undermines its trustworthiness, then Christian theology and all other rational-verbal communication have very poor prospects in a technological age. But biblical Christianity has the least reason of all for accommodating itself to an antiverbal or to an antimedia approach to life. The claim of Jesus of Nazareth to know and proclaim the Word and teaching of God is nonsense if words are inherently distortive and deceptive. The delusiveness of the verbal would reduce his claims to chicanery: “The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John 14:10, kjv); “He that is of God heareth God’s words” (John 8:47, kjv). Jesus’ reminder that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35, kjv) should reassure evangelicals that not even the most powerful technology can dissolve or destroy the force of the prophetic-apostolic Word.

Blanket judgment of the mass media per se as inherently evil, or even as specially culpable, would be a seriously mistaken reaction to the cult of the nonverbal. All human culture, including that propounding the nonverbal, displays ingredients of man’s revolt against the Word and truth of God; the media are not uniquely prone or alone serviceable to evil. To forfeit the media to unregenerate control renders them highly vulnerable to dubious use and ends. Lacking responsive leadership they easily serve the dilution of truth and the whims and wiles of words. But to judge them as inevitably traitorous to word and as per se hostile to truth manifests an unpardonable suspicion and distrust. Carried forward logically, such a view requires totally avoiding the media as channels by which modern man can be confronted intelligibly by either the Word of God or by the words of men.

Were Christians to forsake the media as “tools of the devil,” resourceful advocates of non-Christian and anti-Christian ideologies would have great reason indeed to be grateful. Jesus taught his disciples not by deeds alone, but by words also, and expected them to promulgate his message verbally as well as to appropriate it as a way of life. Indeed, he charged them to proclaim the good news to the ends of the earth, so that preaching and discipling constitute the church’s primary responsibility in the world. Protestant Reformers hailed the printing press as a divine provision for giving all men access to the inspired Scriptures; no less would they have hailed radio and television as means for further extension of the gospel. Christians have a mandated responsibility for verbal proclamation and rational persuasion. The printing press, radio, television and every mechanical help can be missionary tools not only for diagnosing the terminal illness of modern civilization but also for proclaiming world-wide the abiding truth and power of God. If God has given the church “the Job of bannering the headlines that the Son of God came to the planet called earth,” as literature coordinator C. Richard Shumaker of Evangelical Literature Overseas remarks (“Our Unsurpassed God,” p. 6), then a mass communications era should settle for nothing less in fulfilling the Great Commission than an earth-circling satellite that proclaims the truth of God.

Evangelical Christianity today has inherited an unprecedented challenge to employ the media for proclaiming the truth and Word of God so that the tacit assumptions of the modern word-business and of the antiword revolt are themselves put to rout. The media traffic mainly in bad news; this does not mean that they are sold out to bad news, however, or are hostile to good news. Better than anyone else the evangelical ought to understand why world news tends to be bad, since he has no easy doctrine of sin or blithesome doctrine of progress. The Christian task is to exhibit the newsiness and newsworthiness of the Christian message, for the gospel is News—big news, good news, true news.

History’s most unusual and momentous news continues to be the message that the holy God provides sinful man a way of escape from the damning consequences of sin, and proffers him a new kind of life fit for both time and eternity. This ongoing global news is more important than the Allies’ rollback of Hitler and the Nazis, or modern technology’s putting a man on the moon, or scientific research’s latest medical breakthrough. The gospel’s offer of spiritual rescue and renewal that leads to life in Christ’s image and an eternal destiny in God’s holy presence is earth’s best news. It is astonishingly true news; it may even strike some men as “too good to be true.” Small wonder that Jesus’ own disciples at first thought it beyond belief. Luke tells us that when the crucified Jesus showed himself alive, some of the eleven disciples were “still unconvinced, still wondering for it seemed too good to be true” (Luke 24:41, neb). Never has this good news been so misconstrued as in our own time, while all the while it alone holds out more hope and promise than any other message.

The modern world of words has toppled from its divine intention. The authentically biblical four-letter words—free, good, true, holy, love, and others—have yielded to cheap and carnal imitations. Only by restoring human speech to the Word of God can the present futility of words be canceled and contemporary idiom be rejoined to truth and reality. According to a recent theory, the essence of communication is no longer to be found in the truth or falsity of statements but rather in the medium or means of communication. If the truth of truth is lost, then obviously the final import of each and every word vanishes also. We are left with only a multiplicity of “latest words,” none of them fixed and final. So an elite cadre of Athenian intellectuals devoted to novelty soon breeds an entire generation “ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7, kjv). When truth is lost, falsehood no longer exists; everything becomes relative to its own situation. But the church of Christ knows that the positive, good and creative Word of God stands behind us and above us and ahead of us.

More is sacrificed by defecting from the truth of revelation than simply the truth about God and man and the world; loss of the truth and Word of God plunges into darkness the very truth of truth, the meaning of meaning, and even the significance of language. To sever the concerns of reason and life from the revelation of God as the final ground and source of truth and the good accommodates and accelerates the contemporary drift to nihilism. It is not merely Christianity that stands or falls with the reality of revelation. To avert a nihilistic loss of enduring truth and good, only the recovery of revelation will suffice. It should tell us something that amid American abundance four to eight million Americans suffer from mental depression, and that the wish for death plagues multitudes gripped by psychological poverty. Relativism begets pessimism, and pessimism begets nihilism. There is an abiding lesson in the scriptural sequence of the serpent’s “Yea, hath God said …?” and the Lord’s query to fallen man, “Adam, … where art thou?” (Gen. 3:1, 9, kjv). The stench of moral death hovers over a generation that seals itself against enduring concerns of truth and conscience. A culture that welcomes its own glaring inconsistencies as inescapable will inevitably suffocate for lack of spiritual oxygen and find human existence devoid of worth and meaning. It is man who dies, not God, when the truth of truth and the meaning of meaning evaporate.

The mass media, especially television, have become the most influential intermediary between the outer world and the modern viewer; they serve in the lives of many as a hypnotic medium possessing almost oracular power. Strategically interposed as the supreme interpretative intermediary, the media cloud the agency of divine revelation, dim the disclosure of God in nature and history, and shroud the claim of the eternal spiritual and moral order on reason and conscience. An electronic intermedium, whereby a technocratic age has shaped unprecedented possibilities of massive misbelief and unmanageable unbelief, obscures the Mediator, the veritable Logos of God. The media are modern civilization’s mightiest middlemen, through which the gods of this age charm and captivate a vagrant generation. More neglected by the children of light than exploited by the children of darkness, these powerful media are free to enslave the hollow heart of a rootless society which desperately and most of all needs to be liberated for the truth and life of the Word of God. The concerns of spirit, holiness, conscience and truth are after all, the hinge on which the stability and survival of any society ultimately turn. Loosed from the Word, a welter of words can spawn only a derelict destiny.

The world today vibrates under a communications cacophony. Twentieth-century technology has shaped a global village in which human beings are bombarded with more sights and sounds than in any previous generation in history. Words and events recovered from the ancient past, words and events of the pulsating present, words and events projected at tomorrow’s frontiers clamor for attention and hearing. No generation since Babel has faced so massive a communications problem, and to none has belief in transcendent divine disclosure seemed more suspect, and the sense of divine authority less clear.

Yet neither scientific searching nor secular philosophizing has compensated for the tragic loss of revelational realities, nor have these realities been done to death. For our generation no less than for any other there remains the promise of a better prospect: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared …” (1 Cor. 2:9, kjv). Nothing can now relieve the modern crisis of truth and word other than a reconciliation and restoration of the media of human communication to the Mediator of divine disclosure in order to transcend the present costly conflict between the two. The Logos of God is the one ultimate medium of truth and the good; the mass media are multiple human means for reflecting and echoing the world of sound and sight in the context of either the truth and Word of God or of merely secular perspectives. The evangelical aim is to restore the wayward vocabulary of modern man to the clarity and vitality of the Word of God. The living God is the God who speaks for himself and shows himself. That God the Creator and Redeemer addresses good news to man in a verbally intelligible way and that the invisible Lord has become enfleshed and visible are emphases found conjoined in Christianity alone; to reborn modern men they are still more fascinating and rewarding than the technocratic marvels of our time.

If the church is to evangelize a world of four billion people, she must recover a theology abreast of divine invasion. This earth has indeed been invaded—from outside its own being, outside its own resources, outside its own possibilities; it has been and, moreover, continues to be invaded by the transcendent Logos made known in divine revelation. In this mass media age, the church’s main mission is to overcome the eclipse of God. It must engage earnestly at the frontiers of human news and persuasion to uncover the currently obscured Word and truth of God. It must enlist technocratic means themselves so that listening and viewing multitudes may hear the echoing voice of the incarnate Logos. It must lift impoverished multitudes to the renewing grace of God and must place our scientific culture itself into the strategic service of the universal and unrelenting claims of the Lord of the Cosmos.


The Clash of Cultural Perspectives

A hurried survey of the history of philosophy will illustrate the conflicting convictional frameworks through which Western man has affirmed the meaning and worth of human existence, and will illumine the distinctively Christian understanding of history and life. The terms we so routinely use—ancient, medieval and modern—themselves remind us that Western history has, in fact, been divided into these various periods not simply for chronological or academic convenience but as an ideological necessity. The reason for this tripartite division of history is intellectual or philosophical. Every culture is seen to have its own motivating impulse and sense of values, raises its own special questions and provides its own distinctive answers. Each culture relates itself to reality by its own peculiar methodology—be it reason or revelation or empirical observation or tentative hypotheses or subjective decision or whatever else.

When we speak of the ancient mind, we mean that outlook on reality and life that was shaped by the classic Greek philosophers, especially Plato (427–347 b.c.) and Aristotle (384–322 b.c.). Ancient idealism—the philosophy on which Greco-Roman culture rests—came into being through a direct confrontation and refutation of a naturalistic theory of the universe. The spokesman for naturalism, Democritus (c. 460–370 b.c.), reduced nature to the interplay of countless atoms ruled by chance. In short, he held that nature, or atoms in motion, is the only reality; man is a complex correlation of such atoms and, consequently, is not immortal; truth and the good, like everything else, are changing and relative. Democritus’s theory rules out purpose or teleology; everything evolves from a combination of necessity and chance. Democritus did not ignore the idea of God, however, nor deny religious experiences; he simply redefined the gods as very fine atoms of great durability (hence as virtually eternal and imperishable) and said that natural phenomena which impinge upon man’s subconscious in his dreams account for the notion of the Divine. In fact, Democritus thought man’s soul to be a complex mass of specially mobile atoms, and man’s thoughts and feelings to be physical reflexes. This theory is still espoused today by behavioristic psychologists who propagandize it as twentieth-century scientific insight.

The ancient Greek philosophers were quick to see that if nothing endures, as Democritus said, if chance and change permeate all reality, including truth and goodness, so that man himself is simply a crafty animal, then human life loses meaning and purpose and culture is impossible. In the fifth century before Christ, Democritus’s concepts were challenged by Plato and Aristotle, who would also have contested Edmund Leach’s thesis in A Runaway World? in the twentieth century after Christ. Against scientism in our day, as against the naturalism of Democritus, the Greek idealists consider both what things really are and why they are as equally important, and ultimately more important than how they assertedly behave (cf. F. M. Cornford, The Unwritten Philosophy and Other Essays, p. 87). Apart from universally valid principles of truth and justice and changeless structures of law and order, warned the Greek idealists, every society is haunted by instability, and every civilization is doomed to disintegrate.

The Greek idealists did not, however, confine their energies to demolishing a naturalistic theory of man and the world. Instead, they elaborated a persuasive alternative view. Not matter, they said, but mind, spirit, reason, idea, is the ultimate principle of explanation. Classic idealism affirmed, in brief, that beyond the visible natural world of time and change is an invisible moral and spiritual world that is eternal and unchanging. While man is physically an animal, limited by space and time, said the Greek idealists, he is essentially or spiritually more than an animal: his mind is an aspect of God’s mind, and hence is indestructible and immortal. Truth and the good, moreover, are not relative and changing distinctions but are eternal and unchanging realities.

To substantiate this eternal world the classic philosophers appealed to philosophical reasoning. So convincingly and powerfully did they persuade their contemporaries, that Greco-Roman culture—literature and the arts, politics, and all realms of learning and life—was predicated henceforth on the premise that ultimate reality is spiritual, that truth and goodness are objective and eternal, that man is qualitatively unique, that human existence has ultimate meaning and purpose. The Greek populace thus anchored its expectation of a purposive, reliable and intelligible life in the confidence that an objective order structures our world, an order not derived from or dependent on our experienced cosmos, but one, rather, on which the cosmos and man depend for meaningful existence.

In time this classic ancient mind was replaced by the medieval mind. One major development above all others accounted for this change, namely, the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. When Christ came, the ancient view, to be sure, was already creaking under heavy strain from its internal defects. The more insistently its philosophers had asserted an invisible spiritual world, the greater had been the demand for information about God’s nature and ways. And since the philosophers were abstruse, and often disagreed deeply among themselves, multitudes turned to the mystery religions to satisfy their inner yearnings. The classic philosophers had assumed, moreover, not only that finite man could know the truth apart from special divine revelation, but also that even in his present moral condition he could achieve the good apart from special divine enablement. But both these expectations collapsed through the weaknesses of human unregeneracy. Such internal tensions were matched and multiplied by external disunity and disorder. The costly wars between the Greek city-states disrupted national cohesion and accelerated social decline.

The Christian message broke upon the Greco-Roman world not simply as a preferable philosophy or speculative conceptuality of life and the world, but as a dynamic message of divine revelation, as a sure Word of God. It did not posit God as the ultimate clue discovered by a brilliant philosopher-sleuth, as a necessary presupposition of cosmic order that unravels the final mystery of the universe. Nor did it see him as the climactic X that completes a grand tic-tac-toe whose outcome would otherwise yield the victory to 0–0–0 or some enigmatic alternative. Although Christianity shares the Greco-Roman confidence in the reality of the supernatural, the uniqueness of man, and the objectivity of truth and right, it delineates this perspective with such profound differences that the ancient mind was disowned as speculative. For all its high emphasis on objective truth, eternal right and human dignity, classic Greek philosophy was repudiated as pagan theory. Christianity charged Greek world-wisdom with subtly placing sinful man autonomously at the center of God’s creation, and mislocating the hope of human well-being and ultimate worth in the speculative ingenuity of man himself.

The medieval alternative appeals not to philosophical reasoning but to divine disclosure, to the truth about God revealed supremely in Jesus Christ. This confidence in the true and living God who has made himself known in mighty saving acts, and has communicated his holy will in the prophetic-apostolic Scriptures, increasingly crowds out the ancient polytheistic projections, until the fall of the Roman Empire at last gives mute testimony to the spent force of the ancient mind and ancient culture. For more than a thousand years, until modern philosophy raised its head, the shaping ideals of the masses are rooted in this spiritual understanding of reality and life.

While Jesus Christ constitutes its very center, the so-called medieval view does not rise solely from Jesus’ birth. It reaches behind the New Testament to and through the Old Testament to the very beginning of things as a comprehensive revelational account of origins, history and destiny. In summary, the medieval mind affirms that God is the ultimate sovereign and personal Spirit, the free Creator of the cosmos; that by creation man bears, God’s unique rational-moral image for the intelligent obedience and service of his Maker; that man voluntarily fell into disobedience and only by repentant reliance on divine grace can now escape the power, guilt, and penalty of sin that issues in final doom; that God has mercifully revealed himself in his election-love for Israel and fulfilled his promise of salvation in the divine gift of his Son; that as incarnate, crucified, risen and exalted, Jesus Christ is the living head of the regenerate church enlivened by the Holy Spirit; that the risen Redeemer is the first-fruits of a general resurrection and pledges and guarantees a final outcome of history involving his second advent and messianic reign as Prince of Peace, the vindication of righteousness, conformity of all believers to his glorious image, and the final doom of the impenitent.

One simple device will show the astonishing difference between the medieval mind and the ancient mind, notwithstanding their broad agreement on the ultimate priority of spirit, the uniqueness of man, and the objectivity of truth and right. Imagine, if you will, a Platonist asking a medievalist to identify the ultimately real, to indicate the true nature of things. The medievalist would say: “I believe in God, the Father almighty [the Greeks did not know God as ‘Father,’ and they compromised the almightiness of God both by the eternity and the obduracy of matter], Maker of heaven and earth [the Greeks had no doctrine of creation], and in Jesus Christ his only Son [the Greek notion that matter is inherently evil in principle precluded a divine incarnation] … the third day He rose from the dead [the Greek idea that the body is evil likewise excluded the prospect of a blessed immortality in terms of bodily resurrection] …” and so forth.

In his volume Medieval Thought (pp. 13–14), Gordon Leff sketches the contrast this way: “Christian belief … revolved round the simple tenets of a God who by His love and freely of His own will had brought into being His creatures and who, as a result of Adam’s transgression, had sent His only-begotten son Jesus Christ to redeem mankind from its fallen state. It therefore recognized a supreme being whose providence guided and directed all His creatures.… This view of creation as the free act of a God who is the supreme being, the fount of all love and goodness, was a very different one from the pagan philosophies of Greece.… Although Plato went a good part of the way in seeing an immaterial source of reality, it was far from approaching the Christian position: he accorded no place to a creator; there was no explanation of the way the forms came into being or whither they led; there was no sense of movement or development, simply a timeless process without raison d’être; there was no eschatology: the soul itself pre-existed and migrated to different bodies, but it never met a last judgement or an eternal life.… Aristotle holds … a first cause … not a personal creator” and this unmoved mover “has no interest in His creatures.…” Aristotle’s God, moreover, “plays no providential role; He is not responsible for matter any more than Plato’s God; and the process of being is an eternal movement without beginning or end” (p. 15).

Tested by the Christian view, the most important emphasis in Platonism was its recognition of the need to transcend the world of change in order to reach the ideal and eternal, yet classic Greek thought expounded this emphasis in a way that Judeo-Christian revelation explicitly disowns. Among the most objectionable features of classic idealism was its connection of human reason in a privileged way with a supposedly autonomous world of order and meaning. Central to the New Testament is the Christian conviction of a divinely structured creation whereby the transcendent Logos sustains the cosmic order and supplies the direction and universally valid meaning of all things. The contrast can hardly be overstated between this view and Greek notions of an immanent rational a priori ungrounded in the transcendent Creator and unrelated to the created structures of the universe. Christianity expounded its world-life view on the basis of the transcendently revealed Logos of God, and grounded the universal order of existence and meaning in the self-disclosed Creator and Lord of all. Greek philosophy had insistently asked what speculative reason is driven to affirm about ultimate reality, about being and becoming. Medieval philosophy abruptly and remarkably begins rather with the question, How is divine revelation related to human reasoning? Christianity affirmed that through chosen spokesmen and their inspired biblical writings the living God had intelligently proclaimed his redemptive purpose, thus publishing to all men the prospect of divine redemption. In gracious incarnation the Logos himself stepped into history to unveil God in the flesh and to show himself the sinner’s Savior. From its beginnings this confidence in a rational-verbal and incarnate divine disclosure, in the fully revealed Word of God shapes the Christian outlook.

The medieval scholastics did not assign to the abiding order of the universe an autonomous existence independent of a divine Creator. They revived, however, particularly through Thomas Aquinas, an optimistic doctrine of human reason and stated the case for biblical theism in a way that attracted speculative doubt. The movement of Western philosophy away from the biblical outlook may be summarized as a decline of faith in the existence of an objective, transcendently created structure of law and order. Replacing this view is a speculative projection of autonomous structures that are directly accessible to human reason independent of divine revelation, and are discontinuous with the sense world (cf. Hendrik Hart, The Challenge of Our Age, pp. 42 f.). Despite their assertion of a transcendent Creator, the medieval scholastics failed to recast effectively the classic Greek emphasis on immanent structures of truth and order. Instead they incorporated into their exposition of a Christian world-life view speculative elements that widened the possibilities of human autonomy. Christianity had discounted the Greek emphasis on an immanent rational a priori in mankind; but by synthesizing a revelationally grounded theism with the classic Greek view of Aristotle, medieval scholasticism indirectly hastened a philosophy of the autonomy of man and nature independent of the Logos-structured meaning and law of creation.

The rise of modern philosophy dates from René Descartes (1596–1650), and signals the erosion of medieval convictions. Thomas Aquinas (1225?–74) had already shifted the case for the existence of God, the soul, and immortality, from special divine revelation to universal experience. Even some medieval scholars, notably Duns Scotus (1265?–1308), “regarded Aquinas as having compromised himself … and as having maintained points of view under the influence of Aristotle which a Christian theologian should not have maintained” (F. C. Copleston, Aquinas, pp. 66–67). In The Waning of the Middle Ages (pp. 317–18), Johann Huizinga comments: “The Middle Ages had always lived in the shadow of Antiquity, always handled its treasures, or what they had of them, interpreting it according to truly medieval principles.… Now, by an inward ripening, the mind, after having been so long conversant with the forms of Antiquity, began to grasp its spirit.… Europe, after having lived in the shadow of Antiquity, lived in its sunshine once more.” In this ideological inversion, the West lost its confidence in the reality of the living self-revealed God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible, the God and Father of Jesus Christ. From this point modern philosophy expounds its world-life view without granting any priority whatever to special biblical revelation, and becomes increasingly independent of it.

The terms medieval and modern are in fact valuational; they reflect a quickly entrenched conclusion that the Christian outlook held only a temporary significance exhausted in the Middle Ages, and that the alternative—propounded by Descartes and his successors—could presumptively be hailed as “the modern view.” This verdict was remarkably onesided. Protest against the medieval outlook had been voiced not only by so-called modern philosophers opposed to any priority for special revelation, but also by Christian theologians—such as Luther and Calvin in the Protestant Reformation—who were distraught that medieval scholasticism supplanted the biblical mind by assimilating the revealed mind of God to the papacy and the teaching hierarchy. Medieval scholasticism, they felt, by its speculative metaphysics and religious superstitions, prompted a reactionary reformulation in modern terms. The “modern” mind was, in fact, destined soon to become double-minded, and to issue finally in the forfeiture of any sure mind at all and in the abandonment of metaphysics to intellectual chaos.

In its beginnings, from Descartes to Hegel (about 1600–1800), the modern mind shows itself remarkably like the ancient mind, that is, the pre-Christian classic mind. It affirms what the great Greek philosophers had also affirmed: the reality of the supernatural, the uniqueness and immortality of man, the objectivity of truth and right. But the modern mind forsakes almost all of the Apostles’ Creed except its opening articles: “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.…” To be sure, post-Christian theism or idealism could no longer believe—contrary to the classic Greek thinkers—that matter is evil or eternally self-subsistent. Although it dispenses with the God of special miraculous revelation, post-Christian theism assigns to its own phantom God a watchful eye on the cosmos so that everything will ultimately turn out happily. When evolutionary theory raises its head, developmental emergence replaces divine creation, while evolutionary progress replaces divine providence. Consequently all that now remains of the historic creed is a feeling of confidence in the fatherliness or benevolence of nature.

In its beginnings, modern philosophy was not intentionally naturalistic; it was, on the contrary, determinedly theistic or idealistic. As a devout Catholic Descartes had conceived his Discourse on Method as a bridge between modern and Christian thought. But so marked are the broad similarities of the early modern and the ancient mind, that one might think not of three successive “minds” at all, but simply of one ongoing tradition of philosophical idealism temporarily penetrated and interrupted by medieval Christian theism. The modern understanding of man is rationalistic in the Greek idealistic sense; the revelational activity of the transcendent Logos, on which the Bible insists, is no longer in view. The external world is presumably structured by immanent mathematical laws, and man’s mind simply on the basis of man’s own identity is assumed to be a storehouse of prefabricated concepts, and to possess universally valid knowledge. Reason as a human a priori is independent of transcendent divine revelation as a special source of knowledge and now confidently speculates about reality on its own.

The differing theories of René Descartes, Gottfried von Leibniz and Baruch Spinoza are in turn challenged by John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume as being discontinuous with daily life and experience. This challenge is made not in the name of revelation nor even in the name of philosophical reasoning, but by an appeal to sense experience alone. The effort of idealists, particularly of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), to mediate between rationalists and empiricists, only widened the broadening emphasis on human autonomy, and thus extended the concessions already made by medieval scholastics. Kant viewed the forms of reason as wholly immanent; he connected moral and religious postulates with the practical reason only; the content of knowledge he connected with sense experience alone. He held, moreover, that reality gets whatever order it has from the mind’s own creative activity in the whirlpool of sense experience.

As we have seen, both the early modern rationalists and Kant opposed any notion of man’s creative determination of the structure and order of the universe solely on the basis of hypotheses derived from sense experience. They nonetheless prepared the way for this sensory development by detaching man’s rationality from the transcendent Logos as the ultimate ground of truth and source of order, and by asserting the complete autonomy of human reasoning. With Auguste Comte (1798–1857) we have the inauguration of the era of so-called positive science, where reason is reconnected with reality now understood solely as the phenomenal world.

So the modern mind soon gains a viewpoint all its own. Over against both the classic ancient and the medieval minds it declares that nature is the ultimate reality, man is essentially a time-bound animal, truth and the good are relative and changing. Almost overnight convictions influential for more than two thousand years are thrown on the defensive; everything traditional is now called in question, dissent becomes the order of the day. Georg W. F. Hegel (1770–1831) reacts to the pantheistic extreme of saying God or the Absolute is everything, a perspective Karl Marx (1818–83) revises by making economic determinism the absolute and God a mere fiction. Kant had argued that because man’s mind is limited he cannot know the supernatural; the naturalists argue that there is no supernatural to know. The naturalistic spirit, extending evolution into a world view, no longer distinguishes man from the animals in kind but only in degree, and asserts that truth and morals are relative.

The early modern mind, having forsaken the revelation of the living God, had discovered that it could then no longer cling to supernaturalism. Now the later modern mind—the naturalistic temper—soon discovered that it also had unwittingly borrowed more than it dared retain from the biblical heritage. For, although it had rejected the supernatural, even the naturalistic modern mind at the turn of the century nonetheless retained the notion that reality is structured by rational order, by an intelligible pattern, which science presumably could discover by empirical observation and experimentation. And while it rejected man’s qualitative difference from the animals, it still retained the notion that nature has reached its apex in the appearance of man as a rational creature, and viewed reason as man’s highest faculty; rational methodology was expected to promote man’s power over nature and to demonstrate his superiority and autonomy. While it rejected an eternal, unchanging truth and good, the naturalistic modern mind insisted nonetheless on universal norms such as scientific objectivity, human brotherhood and democracy, and even assumed that human progress implies standards normative from generation to generation.

The twentieth century stripped away the quasibiblical remnants. The naturalistic modern mind now veers away from any and every recognition of the universe as a rational network of laws. Man is no longer viewed as nature’s final climax, nor reason as necessarily man’s highest faculty, nor ethical behavior as necessarily related to objective principle as opposed to situational decision. The emphasis on evolution, on change and progress, undercuts even the modern insistence on immutable, unchanging a priori aspects of human rationality. Whatever binds man firmly to the past is now viewed as a threat to his freedom and autonomy; man faces a wholly open future, whose outcome and general course assertedly depend upon man’s creative ingenuity.

Science today makes no claim to tell how reality is actually structured, nor does it presume to discern “the laws of nature.” Instead it ventures only to depict “how things work,” and that merely in terms of statistical averaging. For its interpretations of nature it relies increasingly on creative postulation. Professor W. H. Thorpe points out that many if not most of the influential theories advanced by recent Nobel prizewinners were first projected as leaps of imaginative insight rather than as consequences of experiment or observation; e.g., the concept of the double helix bearing on the unity of life; Paul Dirac’s quantum metaphysics; and Niels Bohr’s concept of complementarity (“Why the Brain Is More than a Computer,” p. 9). Nature is presumably haphazard, and man’s own creative ingenuity imposes intelligibility and direction upon the environmental sense-flux.

When scientific operationalism does assert itself as a world view it boldly denies that any universally valid law-order transcends and structures man’s experience. To a cosmos which assertedly lacks a universal law-order, it imparts its own order by way of postulation, a created order that is subject to continual change.

What happens to God in this view? God is no longer Reason as the mathematical structure of nature, nor even as the moving front of the evolutionary process. If “God” is still viewed as other than man or mankind, then “god” is the Irrational. In this turn of things, some moderns hear Zen-Buddhism calling: the Irrational is to be worshiped. Even recent Christian theology has been tainted by the god of Ultimate Paradox. For others, the mysterious Beyond is simply the not-yet-manageable, and the most promising orderer of this environmental flux is the likeliest contemporary candidate for divinity: in the communist world it is the State, in the Free World the Self (cf. Dirk Jellema, “The Rise of the Post-Modern Mind”). Edmund Leach’s A Runaway World? invites the scientific humanist to shape the destinies of man and the evolving cosmos.

Today the Self may be the new god, but this god’s immortality, let alone eternality, is in dire doubt; worse yet, even the permanent survival and significance of the human species are unsure. In one of his later books Bertrand Russell asked: “Is it possible for a scientific society to exist, or must such a society inevitably bring itself to destruction?” He then added that only if man can achieve a stable world by overcoming war, can this “latest of species … still an infant” “look forward to a future immeasurably longer than his past” (Has Man a Future?, pp. 20, 127). In an earlier work Russell had noted that an evolving universe provides no guarantee whatever that man alongside future species yet to appear may not some day be as insignificant as the primal protozoa from which he is presumed to have evolved. Yet some contermporary thinkers presume to nominate man—particularly the technocratic expert—as god of the cosmos, despite the evolutionary relativizing of all reality.

What is it that distinguishes man in the contemporary view? Man’s uniqueness is found not in his special relation to a transcendent Creator, nor in an immanent rational a priori, nor in a relation to a rational order in nature nor even in man’s methodological thinking. His uniqueness, rather, is seen in subjective decision and in the self’s freedom to shape the future. Put in other words, man’s uniqueness consists in the possibilities of an empirically based autonomy whereby he repudiates both a transcendent law-order and objective reason, and imposes upon his senseless environment his own goals and means. In the field of ethics, as Dirk Jellema points out, this assertion of human autonomy expresses itself either as the self’s conformity to the crowd or in the self’s repudiation of society. Truth and the good become merely what the pack or the herd wills, or what the individual prefers on his own in the age of hippiemorality.

With these developments the modern mind is no longer clearly a mind, but a temperament, a mood subject to frequent changes. Some interpreters think that Western culture may yet have a future of sorts on the basis of pragmatism, that is, a secular pluralistic mind. Pragmatism is the last stand for a culture that has lost a true center; in the welter of speculative disagreement and moral confusion it seeks a cultural pattern by dignifying every kind of divergence as a form of creativity. At the moment it enjoys undeserved reinforcement as a theory of life because of the spectacular practical successes of experimental science. But one scientific experiment with morality such as the Nazi barbarisms is too much, and one misadventure of atomic warfare may be too late. Pragmatism in any event contains the seeds of its own undoing. It professes to be tolerant of all views, but its concealed intolerance becomes clear when, confronted and seriously challenged by the Christian absolute, it dogmatically refuses to reconsider any return to universally valid truth and objective principle.

The final choice for modern man is between Christianity and nihilism, between the Logos of God and the ultimate meaninglessness of life and the world. The practical successes of experimental science presuppose in the long run the transcendent Logos of God, but so do the validity of truth and right, the meaning and worth of life, and the universal law-order upon which the durability of any culture depends. Autonomous modern man views reality merely in terms of nature as a matrix for gratifying his preferences and pleasures. But the loss of life’s meaning will quickly follow the loss of cosmic meaning. The relativistic outcome of modern philosophy has been knocking at the front door of contemporary man with loudening insistence. It has overtaken modern life not only in the area of sexual morality, but it has swept over entire segments of modern culture such as literature and the arts. It increasingly provides the conscious basis of contemporary man’s outlook on life and existence: what contemporary man considers normative in experience becomes the only criterion for postulating the real world.

In the realm of morals, John Stuart Mill (1806–73) had already emphasized that the goodness of God must be tested solely by man’s own criterion of the good. In our time, man’s own moral sentiments supply the framework of a new ideal of the good life to which God and permanent moral principles are irrelevant. In the realm of philosophy, logical positivists sought in our generation to impose the method of empirical science as the sole arbiter of the meaningfulness of assertions and reduced statements about God and moral principles to meaningless nonsense. In the realm of historiography Van Austin Harvey (The Historian and the Believer) espouses historical positivism in the name of the morality of modern knowledge, insisting that supernatural intervention cannot be admitted in the historian’s explanation of the past because he has no present experience of miracles. Christ accordingly sinks forthwith into the swamps of myth and legend. At the frontiers of science Edmund Leach calls the scientists themselves to reshape the face of the universe and to decide who shall survive to inherit it. His Reith Lectures see the predicament of modern life not through this generation’s loss of the Logos of God, but through its deprivation of the larger wisdom of the scientist.

Modern scientific culture thinks that the great problem of human history is the control of man’s external environment and that man himself has the wisdom and skill to achieve an ideal heaven and earth. Christianity holds that the problem of the universe centers in man himself, contemporary man included, who does not recognize the revelation of his transcendent Creator and Lord, and who subdues nature not according to God’s spiritual mandate and purpose but in quest of his own comfort and wealth. Man the sinner presumes to displace the divine Creator; he exploits nature for his own use, indeed, for personal security in flaunting moral and spiritual imperatives. He shuts his eyes and heart to the revelation of the Logos in nature and conscience and reason, as well as in the Word incarnate and written.

Influential emphases in the philosophy of the recent past, however important for our own generation, are but momentary whitecaps on the surging sea of contemporary confusion. One speculative infatuation after another has its half-day impact. There is every indication that our generation is now shrugging off both existentialism, which thrived in recent decades on the Continent, and logical positivism, which has thrived in England, although nobody can be sure for just what alternative. The prejudice shared by both theories was that philosophy cannot give us valid rational truth about transcendent metaphysical realities—existentialism because it insisted that reality cannot be grasped by objective reason, and positivism because it insisted that metaphysical assertions are unverifiable by empirical scientific method. Both these theories are now being swept out to sea, and the low tide of metaphysics may be again on the rise.

We stand at the threshold, it may be, of an exciting renewal of philosophical activity, a development which could shape the outlook of world thought in the twenty-first century and beyond. The human mind, just because man is by nature a spiritual-rational-moral agent, will not and cannot forever shun the larger issues of truth and reality; the nonmetaphysical and antimetaphysical eras always turn out to be transition interludes. The Sophists may have regarded themselves as the liquidators of schematic philosophy, but Plato and Aristotle demonstrated its vitality. Kant may have considered himself the mortician of rational metaphysics, but Hegel in the nineteenth and Alfred North Whitehead in the twentieth century gave it new life. Existentialism and logical positivism may have viewed themselves as demythologizers of descriptive metaphysics, but it is they who are now being exposed as being covertly and arbitrarily metaphysical.

Metaphysics tomorrow will be either Christian or non-Christian, but metaphysics there will be. While Christians hesitate to expound an authentic world view, Marxists will continue to expound an artificial one. If modern man, the conqueror of outer space, does not make up his mind, he will vacillate intellectually to a gypsy’s grave. The task of Christian leadership is to confront modern man with the Christian world-life view as the revealed conceptuality for understanding reality and experience, and to recall reason once again from the vagabondage of irrationalism and the arrogance of autonomy to the service of true faith. That does not imply modern man’s return to the medieval mind. It implies, rather, a reaching for the eternal mind, for the mind of Christ, for the truth of revelation, for the Logos as transcendent source of the orders and structures of being, for the Logos incarnate in Jesus Christ, for the Logos as divine agent in creation, redemption and judgment, for the Logos who stands invisibly but identifiably as the true center of nature history, ethics, philosophy and religion.


Revelation and Myth

Every culture and society exudes a certain convictional glue, an undergirding outlook on life and reality that preserves its cohesiveness. When that adhesive bond deteriorates, the sense of shared community tends to come apart at the seams.

Recent modern thinkers define this bond of conceptualities or value-constellations as myth, that is, man’s representation of the transcendent or divine in human or earthly terms.

The most critical question in the history of thought is whether all the convictional frameworks through which different peoples arrive at the meaning and worth of human life are by nature mythical, or whether perhaps at least one of these perspectives stems from divine revelation and has objective cognitive validity.

Many modern theologians set aside any emphasis on intelligible divine revelation (that is, the view that God communicates to mankind the literal truth about his nature and purposes); they affirm, instead, that God uses myth as a literary genre to convey revelation in the Bible and perhaps elsewhere as well. To them the biblical accounts of creation and redemption are written mythological representations of transcendent realities or relationships that defy formulation in conceptual thought patterns.

Could the God of the Bible have used myth as a literary device? Surely we must allow the sovereign God of Scripture complete freedom among the various possible means of expression. But whether God has in fact used myth as a revelatory means is quite another question. The answer turns in part on whether revelation is objectively meaningful and true, and if so, whether God would and could have employed myth as a communications technique.

There is no doubt that Jesus made striking use of parable as an effective form of communication. The Bible, moreover, frequently represents God anthropomorphically. The entire content of Scripture is in fact conveyed not in some superhuman tongue but in ordinary human language including metaphorical, analogical and figurative expressions. But for all that, does the Bible include “mythical speech” as well? Is the biblical message couched in “mythical semantics”? Does the God of the Bible communicate through myth as a literary genre? Has the scriptural narration of creation and redemption the character of mythological representation? Is the verdict appropriate and necessary, or is it gratuitous and arbitrary, that God’s work in history and nature and in human affairs is scripturally depicted in mythical form?

If myth is broadly defined as any representation of the transcendent “in human or earthly terms,” the fact that human thought and language are the only means of interpersonal communication available to human beings can hardly be made a definitive basis for settling the issue. If myth is any form of representing God, then conceptual language is myth, and conceptual thought likewise. To emphasize in the interest of the inescapability of mythology the obvious fact that human language is composed of symbols would hardly disadvantage religious language in any special way, since language about anything and everything falls under the same restriction. To categorize theological statements as mythical solely on the ground that they are linguistically stated in terms of human language which is intrinsically symbolical in character therefore can hardly be singularly devastating to the message of the Bible. For if this circumstance is considered decisive, it may be quickly added that the very definition projected of myth is itself mythical, so that it ought not to be used like some Archimedean lever to enjoy privileged status as an explanatory principle.

The precise definition of myth is therefore crucial if we are to answer the indicated questions intelligently. Decisive for the evaluation of myth are how one relates myth to objective truth and to external history, and what religious significance one attaches to rational truth and historical events. The basic issues reduce really to two alternatives: either man himself projects upon the world and its history a supernatural reality and activity that disallows objectively valid cognitive statements on the basis of divine disclosure, or a transcendent divine reality through intelligible revelation establishes the fact that God is actually at work in the sphere of nature and human affairs.

Two considerations are sure: first, the biblical witnesses repeatedly indicate that the revelation they communicate was divinely addressed to them by the living God not in cryptic mystery form but in intelligible statements that convey publicly identifiable meaning; second, they speak of myth only in a disapproving way. The New Testament refuses to lower discussion of myth to a level where the prophetic-apostolic representations correspond to pagan representations of the divine. As Giovanni Miegge emphasizes, “the supposed neutrality of those who offer only a formal definition of myth itself conceals a presupposition, and … this involves bringing Christian faith down to a level of pagan forms of worship, treating the one as commensurable with the other. This is exactly what the New Testament itself refuses to do” (Gospel and Myth in the Thought of Rudolf Bultmann, p. 101).

To say that myth relates to what is not historically factual and not literally true assumes a category of representation that can be applied to the scriptural revelation only by destroying its essential claims. In Gustav Stälin’s words, “if the concept of myth is brought into antithesis to both historical reality and to truth as such, and if reality and truth are thought to be essential to genuine revelation and the only possible basis of faith, myth can have no religious value. The result is either that the NT stories are dismissed as myths, as errors and deceptions, or that there is a sharp cleavage between the Gospel and myth. The latter is the judgment of the NT itself.… The Christian Church, in so far as it is true to itself, accepts this judgment that myth is untrue, and consequently of no religious value (“Muthos,” 4:765). Stählin adds: “One is either on the side of myth or that of NT truth” (p. 786).

We must keep in mind that myths in all cases are championed by their proponents not as imaginative representations but as accounts of some actual divine incursion or participation in the affairs of man and the world. This agrees completely with the biblical representation that the divine Creator is universally revealed, but that man in sin subverts and reduces the truth of God into myriad alternatives. It accords also with the scriptural emphasis that the Creator-Redeemer God, who has specially revealed himself in Judeo-Christian history, exposes all false gods as spurious inventions of a wayward humanity.

In the ancient world, even outside the sphere of special Old Testament revelation the Greek philosophers also held a dim view of the value of myth with the single exception of Plato, who regarded myth as serviceable to theological inquiry at the upper or outer horizons of philosophical reasoning. The Stoics, to be sure, classified myth as elementary philosophy but assigned it only rudimentary value. Plato conceived of myth not as intellectual abstraction, but as going beyond the boundaries of conceptual knowledge, extending logos into a realm of discovery by a unique inner vision that capped the heights of philosophy with some sort of final wisdom. In short, myth for Plato is a conceptualization of the other world at the outer borders of philosophical inquiry. In the Phaedo he used myth to talk about a problem he could not then solve and when he had solved it, in the Republic or Timaeus, he dropped that myth and went on to another. He is no champion of the traditional religious myths, however, and regards these as deficient in both truth and ethical value. On the basis of inner illumination he nonetheless ventures to expound in myth form his excursions into metaphysical theology (Eros in the Symposium, the higher world in the Phaedo and elsewhere, the creation in the Timaeus, the invisible world and the soul in the Phaedo and the Republic). Basic to this positive orientation given to myth by Platonism, and in a much lesser way by Stoicism, is an idealistic or pantheistic knowledge theory which considers the human spirit to stand in some immediate relationship to transcendent reality.

The other philosophers of antiquity view myth not as a source of information or truth but as something fanciful or imaginative. Except for Platonic philosophy, classic Greek thought equates myth with polytheistic religion, that is, as uncritical imagination by the masses concerning the invisible world.

While mythology frequently intrudes into its pages, the Old Testament never employs the term myth. Mythology in the Old Testament is always depicted as a forbidden pagan environment and as a religious compromise to which the Hebrews themselves were vulnerable from time to time. This compromise occurred despite the fact that the God of Israel was known to stand in a very different relationship to nature and history than did the polytheistic divinities.

The prophetic writings and warnings supply clear evidence for these observations about Old Testament myth. We need not, however, uncritically follow the view of Hermann Gunkel, Hugo Gressmann and many others that, as an intrinsic aspect of the development of Old Testament religion per se, Israel shared mythological elements that were common to the ancient Near East. Even the view of Oscar Cullmann and Giovanni Miegge that the Old Testament creation narratives arose as a demythologization of the ancient myths implies more of a developmental dependence than the scriptural records clearly support.

Many scholars deplore the ascription of mythical language to Scripture as entirely unjustifiable and arbitrary. G. Ernest Wright observes that “the absence of the modern scientific view of the universe scarcely makes the literature in itself mythology” (God Who Acts, p. 128). Wright stresses that myth is characteristic of the polytheistic, and of nature-worship religions in which man, nature and the gods blend into a single continuum; it is not, he insists, aptly descriptive of biblical religion (p. 125). In the polytheistic religious cults a cyclical view of nature and history replaces the linear view of the movement and direction of the whole of things found in the Bible. In Scripture, the transcendent Creator rules and judges all and initiates the revelation of himself and his purposes, and history is a sequence of meaningful epochs.

R. K. Harrison remarks that although some Old Testament passages appear to be influenced by Near East myth, what survives is only a remnant of the myth form, that is, a name devoid of its mythological implications: “the mythological content is so attenuated as to justify the conclusion that it was merely employed as dead verbal imagery whose origins were even then almost completely forgotten” (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 451). Moreover, a vast difference of interpretation distinguishes Israelite from pagan mythological terminology; the Israelites ridicule mythological terminology and contrast the truth of revelation with myth (as in Job 7:12, Ps. 74:13). “Where the language of myth was countenanced in the O.T. writings, it carried with it a very different meaning for the Hebrews than for the pagan nations of the Near East” (p.452). Where the Old Testament appears to reflect any pagan myths, contends Harrison, the references are poetical and figurative and not to be taken literally, as in Job 41:1 ff., where Leviathan is not a mythological foe of Jehovah but in actuality a “crocodile” (rsv).

“Since pagan god-stories concern not history but nature,” writes James I. Packer, “and since Scripture recounts nothing of Yahweh like the celestial goings-on of these god-stories, it seems clearer and sounder to follow Scripture’s own usage and reject myth as a non-Biblical category.” Scripture relates God to the historical, “to the outworking of his purposes in and for this world, and this is a fact which myth-talk can only obscure.… Since myth is at best a category not of divine disclosure but of human interpretation, the more Biblical narrative one classifies as myth the less certainty there can be as to whether what purports to be God’s deed and command really is so” (“Myth,” p. 442). Indeed, myth can hardly be distinguished even as human interpretation, since human interpretation is always conceptual and myth in its contemporary representation is held to be not cognitively significant.

The word myth occurs in the New Testament only five times and always in rather late writings (the Pastoral Letters and Second Peter); in no case does the word here share the approving Platonic perspective. Myth is fable (1 Tim. 1:4, 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4). As such it is contrasted with faith and true doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6), with truth (Titus 1:13–14), and with eyewitness verification of historical events (2 Pet. 1:16). Over against revelational truth, myth is emphatically repudiated; there is no reason to think that any exception would have been made if the Platonic myths predicated on philosophical reasoning were intended, since Paul’s verdict that “the world by wisdom knew not God” (1 Cor. 1:21, kjv) can be taken to include both philosophical theory and myths. Moreover, the contrasted truth of the gospel centers not only in revelationally reliable information and historical fact, but also and especially in the majestic reality of the divine Word made flesh of which the apostles personally were eyewitnesses.

The classic treatment of the New Testament attitude is Gustav Stählin’s essay on muthos in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Stählin here emphasizes the evident New Testament disdain for myth. The Bible approves no role whatever for myth, whether as symbolic or parabolic or as direct impartation of religious truths (4:793). While ancient Greek and Roman attitudes toward myth ran the gamut from popular acceptance to literary caricature and philosophical criticism, the New Testament elucidates a fundamental and total repudiation of myth on religious grounds (4:779, 781). “No matter how the term is understood, and no matter how it is extended,” Stählin writes, the concept of myth involves “an inherent antithesis to truth and reality which is quite intolerable on NT soil” (4:794). Whatever myth or myths may be in view the New Testament knows but one genus of muthos, one that is antithetical to the truth and historical factuality of the gospel revelation.

Giovanni Miegge holds much the same view: “In the Bible the instrument for the communication of divine truths is the Word of God; the concern of the Bible is with that which God says and does” (Gospel and Myth, p. 105). “Myth can belong only … to the pseudo-religion of human desires and values raised to the level of the divine; faith, in contrast to the world of myth, finds its expression in the ‘word of God,’ the proclamation of the Incarnation as an event in history. This proclamation constitutes the judgment on all myths’ (p. 100).

Although Karl Barth’s concessions to saga and his costly locating of revelation in superhistory rather than in history compromise the stability of his position, Barth too deplores the confusion of revelation with myth. Myth, he emphasizes, is the projection of a split in the human consciousness whereby the transcendent aspects of experience are imaginatively turned into other-worldly realities; it pictures human, historical, and natural elements in terms of the supernatural, superhistorical and superhuman. In revelation, however, the living God addresses man and in fact judges the vain imaginations characteristic of man’s quest for religious reality. The radical difference between myth and the biblical records centers in the fact that the Gospels point to a definite period in time and space and describe real, historical situations: “The gospels do not speak of a passion which might just as well have been suffered in one place as another, at one time or another, or in a heavenly or some purely imaginary space and time. They indicate a very definite point in world history which cannot be exchanged for any other. They point to its earthly theatre. They do not speak of a passing moment in the occurrence of a myth which is cyclic and timeless and therefore of all times. They speak of a unique occurrence for which there is no precedent and which cannot be repeated” (Church Dogmatics, IV/2, p. 245).

Walter Künneth too insists that the message of the Bible is a call not to the task of demythologization but of translation: “The concepts and pictorial ideas of the New Testament … do not need demythologization, but only translation into the language and conceptual world of any given time” (“Bultmann’s Philosophy and the Reality of Salvation” p.115).

Adolf Köberle joins in the rejection of myth as a genre of revelational literature. He writes: “The history of salvation that is directly linked to the name of Jesus is fundamentally different from the world of myth” (“Jesus Christ, the Center of History,” p. 65). Philip E. Hughes emphasizes the incompatibility of myth with the biblical emphasis on historical and rational revelation. The use of myth in the framework of untruth or unfactuality in contrast to the truths of the Christian revelation “is in complete harmony with the classical connotation of the term which from the time of Pindar onwards always bears the sense of what is fictitious, as opposed to the term logos, which indicated what was true and historical.… The Christ of the Bible is The Logos, not a mythos” (“Myth,” pp. 368, 371). Logos, says Stählin, is “the absolutely valid and incarnate Word of God on which everything rests, the faith of the individual, the structure of the Church. If the Logos is replaced by myth, all is lost; the Word is betrayed” (“Muthos,” 4:786). Stählin insists that “the firm rejection of myth is one of the decisions characteristic of the NT. Myth is a pagan category” (4:793).

If the category of myth is a form of expression for events occurring outside the limits of earthly history, then to apply the term to the Word made flesh inverts not simply the traditional sense of the term, but all linguistic usage as well, and all customary linguistic associations and implications. The notion of myth is not native to the Bible, and those who seek to superimpose the concept upon revealed religion are motivated neither by biblical precedent nor by any indirect encouragement that Scripture supplies. When the biblical writers speak of a revelational activity of the Creator-God in the very history of humanity, and of redemptive historical events, supremely the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they depict something totally alien to rival religions. Myth is the product of man’s religious imagination, not the consequence of prophetic-apostolic revelation. Quite in keeping with this, Oscar Cullmann contends, and rightly so, that interpretation of the “Christ-event” is more aptly called “prophecy” than “myth” (Christ and Time, pp. 96 f.). Hermann Sasse insists that the New Testament needs no demythologization “because it contains no myth” (Flucht vor dem Dogma, p. 162), and Edmund Schlink similarly contends that “the Bible … witness is totally and wholly demythologized, since God’s Word, penetrating men’s language in the revelation, broke through the myths of men” (Studium Generale, p. 203).

Günther Bornkamm deplores this whole line of objection to myth as a “biblicist argument” aimed “to drive the problem from the field … in one fell swoop” (“Myth and Gospel,” p. 179). Bornkamm considers the case against myth unpersuasive even where scholars not only appeal to the fact that Scripture inveighs against myths as mere fables, but also stress the gospel’s historical basis. He contends with Rudolf Bultmann that the New Testament itself involves “a mythological mode of conception” (p. 180), and in fact makes a recognition of this mode a precondition for preserving the quest for Christian truth. In this he follows the Bultmannian insistence that the New Testament presents a mythological conception which is not to be selectively accepted or rejected, but must be retained as a unit in order to bring out the profound significance that underlies the whole as its real intention. In Bultmann’s words, “The mythical view of the world must be accepted or rejected in its entirety” (“New Testament and Mythology,” p. 9). Both Bultmann and Bornkamm assume that the gospel call for faith excludes any revelation of objectively valid truths and of supernatural events in external history Gustaf Aulén similarly contends that the biblical revelation of God is wholly given in mythical, symbolical and metaphorical language (The Drama and the Symbols).

Those who today speak approvingly of Christian myth often set out from the positive idea of myth found in the Platonic writings and consider myth the natural form for depicting religious experience. It should be noted that Plato was not interested in religious experience but in epistemology and science. But myth is now held to be the literary framework through which man describes what cannot be expressed in rational or historical categories. The operative assumptions are that (1) transcendent reality is not conceptually or historically revealed or knowable; (2) myth is the only form in which the reality and nature of the invisible spiritual world can be expressed; (3) myth properly understood demands not elimination but interpretation of its function; and (4) believing acceptance of the myth involves an inner encounter that leads not to secret information or valid knowledge but to vital awareness of divine presence.

Late Hellenistic writings had used myth as a form of parabolic expression. But the New Testament, as Stählin notes, employs parable as a distinct genre that has nothing to do with myth. While parable is a nonfactual pictorial representation employed to explicate the transcendent, it is never imagined to be anything else; as E. L. Mascall puts it, parables were “never intended to be factually true” and their point is altogether unaffected by their factual truth or untruth (Words and Images, p. 56). Although Jesus considered parable an effective teaching technique in some circumstances, he did not consider it an indispensable mode for communicating truth about the invisible world; in fact, he looked ahead to dispensing with it (John 16:25, 29). No New Testament basis exists for the term “Christ-myth,” a term popularized by Formgeschichte scholars.

The modern defense of the value of myth began with Protestant modernism which identified large segments of the Bible as myth but emphasized that this procedure was compatible with Christian faith and in some respects serves the cause of faith. Modernism applied the concept of myth first to the creation narratives and the patriarchal accounts, and then extended the approach pervasively to the transcendent miraculous elements of Hebrew religion. Finally, beyond that, although at first with somewhat more reserve, the Gospel accounts were declared to contain many legendary elements and the apostolic writings were said to incorporate many of the mythical ideas of the age both in respect to world view and eschatology. Some radical critics professed to find Greek analogies for the divine sonship and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This was accompanied, however, by a quest for a “spiritual truth” “beneath” “the nature-history fables.”

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) found the essence of religion in inner feeling, but insisted that the religious consciousness stands in a relation to the religious reality even though we can pronounce no objective judgments about that reality. Although Hegel looked to philosophical metaphysics to supply the cognitive content of religion, he too rejected transcendent revelation, and held that the religious mind invariably thinks in symbols, representing the divine pictorially rather than as it truly is. Given the declared absence of transcendent rational disclosure and of valid propositional truth about God, the situational possibility soon arises of internal sentiments, symbolic expressions or mythical formulations which are believed to be in touch with the ultimate religious reality, even though they can lay no claim to objective truth or historical factuality. That is to say, myth gains a positive value “as the language appropriate to religious faith,” as Miegge notes, “in a line of thinkers for whom religion is not predominantly … rational … is not rational at all, or rational only in a particular way” (Gospel and Myth, pp. 114 f.).

Consequently a new attitude arises whereby, beyond the Platonic and Stoic traditions, myth becomes a linguistic device whose function transcends the ordinary use of language by speaking of ultimate reality allusively and indirectly, rather than logically and ontologically.

The influence of Rudolf Bultmann has pervaded neo-Protestant theology with the emphasis that the mythological not only permeates the biblical view from beginning to end, but especially that the mythological is intrinsic (rather than dispensable as Protestant liberalism had thought) and must be interpreted to exhibit Christianity as an existential response rather than in terms of objective literal truth and historical fact. The three-tier universe, with the Holy Spirit, heaven and angels above and Satan and demons and hell below, framing the bodily incarnation and resurrection of the Logos, is a mythological portrayal of an anthropological event, telling us not about God but about ourselves. For many kerygmatic theologians, who renounce objective cognitive and historical revelation, myth has become the framework in which the message of the Bible assertedly is set and confronts us. To oppose myth as a revelational medium is held to obscure or to misconstrue the meaning itself. The mythological is therefore not a feature of first-century Christianity from which twentieth-century Christians must or may free themselves; it is a basic form of revelational communication to which the scriptural message is divinely accommodated.

Alfred Jeremias asserts that “the prophetic and apocalyptic style of the biblical narratives is completely mythological.… The biblical writers make use of myth for the purposes of their writing of history. Myth … is the narration of a heavenly process which evolves in a logically determined series of motifs, and is reflected as in an image in the event which actually takes place” (Das alte Testament im Lichte des alten Orients, 4th ed., p. 5, quoted by Miegge, Gospel and Myth, pp. 109 f., from Kerygma und Mythos II, p. 52). Friedrich K. Schumann finds in the message of Greek plays like Aeschylus’s Eumenides and in the apocalyptic imagery of the book of Revelation, a common use of mythological language as the ideal form of expressing the writer’s intention. Jesus is declared to have employed mythological elements, and any removal of such myth “would, so far from elucidating the meaning destroy it completely” (“Can the Event of Jesus Christ Be Demythologized?” p. 189). Regin Prenter contends that the Platonic myths are centrally interested not in understanding ultimate reality but in man’s salvation, and that this exemplifies myth’s real function to mediate divine power and redemption rather than information about the transcendent world. He states that “it is impossible to avoid using the symbolic language of mythology, since the reality with which it deals cannot be conceived in other than a mythological form” (Kerygma und Mythos II, pp. 81 ff. quoted by Miegge, Gospel and Myth, p. 117). To eliminate the mythological elements is to transmute a living picture of God into an abstract idea or feeling, or into some other sentiment that subtly reintroduces metaphysics instead of preserving the mythological intention.

In comments like those just cited, rival conceptions of the mythological seem to bisect each other, sometimes uncritically. On the one hand, some biblical scholars in line with many secular anthropologists and secular philosophers consider the mythological a basic form of universal human experience. On the other hand, they view the Christ-myth as a special revelatory event that encapsulates man’s authentic being and consequently bears decisive spiritual significance.

Helmut Thielicke notes a certain similarity between the modern justification of the mythological as a universal pattern for grasping supersensible religious reality and the innate categories adduced by Kant as engendering man’s distinctively human experience of knowledge (“The Restatement of New Testament Mythology,” pp. 158 ff.). Much as for Kant an unknowable “thing-in-itself” or noumenal reality is presumed to evoke our phenomenal perceptions, which in turn are conditioned by innate categories, so here a “heavenly process” gives rise to our mythological reflection, in this case expressed in subjective forms borrowed from man’s imagination. But the Kantian categorization of experience issued in synthetic a priori judgments, whereas the mythological does not disclose itself in human experience in any formal, homogeneous pattern, a fact that argues against this line of explanation (Ian Henderson, Myth In the New Testament, p. 52). The contention that the phenomenon of myth is necessary to human existence has also been developed in other ways. Some scholars identify as collective myth the conceptuality wherein each cultural outlook grounds its conviction of human meaning and worth. “Modern man too lives by ‘myths’ concerning the origin and eradication of his fault and expressing his faith about his destiny,” writes Langdon Gilkey (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 258). Just as evolutionary utopianism or communism have fascinated twentieth-century masses, so other myths in the past provided social cohesiveness to unify otherwise disparate societies.

But if the mythological is in actuality a basic form of human reflection, then, as Thielicke observes, Greek mythology has no less objective validity than has biblical mythology. The Bible, on the contrary, explains pagan mythology in terms of man’s voluntary revolt against the living God (cf. Rom. 1:22 f.), and not as a necessary form of human reflection of which the biblical view is but one variety. Well aware of this, Thielicke criticizes the severe downgrading of historical aspects of Christianity in the writings of Bultmann and others, although he himself also labels the virgin birth and bodily resurrection accounts as legendary. Instead of fully wrestling the modern prejudice against transcendent cognitive revelation and supernatural miracle, Thielicke accommodates the notion of religious myth in his own particular way. He asks, for example, whether, over against the radical immanentism of recent modern thought, the mythology of the three-story universe may not have been divinely intended as a symbolical means of preserving man’s openness to the transcendent (“The Restatement of New Testament Mythology,” pp. 162 ff.). But if radical immanentism is fallacious, as we assuredly believe it is, then an alternative for refuting it must exist that is far superior to a mere mythology of the transcendent. If we concern ourselves only with nonliteral symbolic values, then no valid reason can indict radical immanentism as being religiously less serviceable than any other mythology, nor can we claim more truth-and-fact significance for a revered past mythology than for modern alternatives. To contend only that “biblical myth” has lost none of its traditional value glosses over the fact that its prejudicial identification as myth cancels its value for communicating factual information and valid truth. By concentrating on symbolism and myth, one not only eclipses the objective truth significance of scriptural representations but also evades a rational critique of modern misrepresentations of the ultimately real world.

Current theological discussion of myth is complicated not solely by ambiguity over whether biblical myth is viewed merely as a special variant of universal myth, or whether on the other hand it has any absolute significance. Those who insist on the normativity of the Christian myth encumber that claim by admitting elements of general myth into the biblical framework, and thus inherit the task of separating the content of Scripture into indispensable and dispensable myths.

W. G. Kümmel distinguishes in the New Testament writings between essential mythological elements and secondary and dispensable mythological elements. He considers the resurrection of Christ an essential mythological element because the New Testament everywhere depicts it as “a real divine intervention, which took place in this world at a determinate moment of time” yet at the same time it is mythological because “this intervention, … precisely because it cannot be literally described, can be expressed only in the language of mythology” (quoted by Miegge in Gospel and Myth, pp. 117–18, from Kerygma und Mythos II, pp. 161 ff.). Many details of the resurrection narratives vary in importance and are dispensable, says Kümmel, and must be evaluated in view of the main message. In a similar way Kümmel emphasizes that while the future judgment is the central mythological message in eschatology, and in contrast with other ancient views reflects the biblical understanding of time and history, such emphases as the return of the Son of Man with the armies of heaven to establish his kingdom may be eliminated as in-essential.

According to Miegge (Gospel and Myth, p. 122), the canonical New Testament contrasts notably with the Apocrypha in that the latter makes extensive use of imaginative and even mythological notions to depict the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, and speaks of “a double development the earliest Christian faith; one in the direction of theological meditation, the other in that of mythological imagination.” Yet Miegge also admits “pictorial elements of a mythological character” into the New Testament, albeit “very few,” and these apart from “the two chief episodes of the Christological drama, the incarnation and the resurrection” (p. 121). He writes that “the resolution of mythological elements into expressive symbols is most complete and most deliberately carried through” in John’s Gospel (p. 122).

These differing views are highly illuminating, not least of all for exhibiting the various ways of comprehending myth and the remarkable inconsistencies of interpreting and applying it. Common to recent views, among other features, is their assumption that man has no cognitive knowledge of transcendent realities, and that even on the basis of divine revelation (general and special) he can, in fact, have none. They assume, moreover, that language used of the invisible world communicates a message that is literally untrue, logically inconsistent, and ontologically void of meaning. For all that, such language is nonetheless considered symbolically significant in terms of one’s inner religious responses. Miegge notes that those assigning significant religious content to myth do so from a desire to “avoid the complete identification of myth with the ‘fables of antiquity’ ” since these possess no truth whatever (Gospel and Myth, p. 111).

At this point theological myth loses what Platonism values in myth, namely, the conviction that man is rationally in touch with ontological reality. By contrast recent notions of myth correlate man with transcendent religious reality in a manner that excludes all cognitive predication and emphasizes instead some kind of personal faith-response. The “meaning” of mythological language (the term meaning is exasperatingly ambiguous here and is more properly interpreted as subjective significance) is not to be expounded in valid theological concepts. So Bultmann insists that demythologization requires not elimination but interpretation, to exhibit the existential prospect the Christ-myth conveys in the absence of supernatural truth and reality. This “truth” is not, of course, concerned with objective propositional validity, or historical factuality, or supernatural ontological reality, but consists for Bultmann in the transcendent presence of the Word assertedly experienced in personal decision.

For all that, recent expositors of Christian myth readily assume the external reality of the religious object. Bultmann’s main emphasis is that the New Testament symbolically expresses a transcendent reality that is not mythological, a reality experienced in personal faith. The biblical myth at this point is not fable but semantically coded truth summoning us to faith in nonmythological reality. Such manipulation of the category of myth provides the evangelical critic with only tendentious and arbitrarily selected facets of revelational theology preserved incompatibly with what has previously been declared to be the noninformational character of myth. To whatever degree any indispensable factual content or authentic message is asserted on a previously indicated mythological basis, to that extent the current emphasis on the positive religious value of myth reflects an inner emotional or volitional attachment to impoverished remnants of Christian faith. When noncognitive myth is interpreted, translated, demythologized or otherwise manipulated as a linguistic device to convey Christian revelation, or to express any kind of universally valid religious content, myth becomes merely an apologetic artifice.

Having forfeited the external miraculous and the cognitive and propositional nature of divine revelation, neo-Protestant theologians utilize myth to retain and deploy the entire biblical witness to a spiritual significance other than literal truth about the living God and his deeds. The notion of Christian myth thus becomes the most recent epistemic pretense in a succession of abortive proposals that begins with Kant’s postulational divinity, Friedrich Schleiermacher’s God-only-in-relation-to-us, Albrecht Ritschl’s value-judgment religious experience, and Karl Barth’s non propositional person-revelation, all of which share subjective faith in a religious reality that allows no objectively valid propositional truths. A great deal of mythology has undoubtedly encroached upon Christianity through the imaginative projections of venturesome theologians, in our generation no less than in earlier times. Nineteenth-century higher critics eagerly turned much of the Bible into fable and myth—accounts of the creation, of man’s fall, of the patriarchs and the Hittites, of Moses and the Red Sea exodus, and even of Jesus of Nazareth have all suffered the critics’ caprice. Kerygmatic theologians of this present century have thrust into the core of Christian faith sporadic encounters with a supercognitive Word, interior Word-events whereby man allegedly finds authentic being, and other novelties issuing finally and inevitably in death-of-God byways and in such nebulous comments as Fritz Buri’s that “God is the mythological expression for the unconditionedness of personal responsibility” (How Can We Still Speak Responsibly of God?, p. 27). It was the dubious distinction of twentieth-century neo-Protestant theologians that they not only turned the whole biblical drama of creation and redemption into myth, but also and moreover represented this transformation as necessary to one’s comprehension of the Christian faith, rather than acknowledging such manipulation to be a compromise with unbelief.

Standing outside this theological movement, Karl Jaspers too insists on the permanent value of myths as a “cipher” of the invisible transcendent world. But in a highly important respect he differs from many other recent expositors of myth. To be sure, Jaspers contends that whereas scientific language copes with empirical concerns, mythical language alone can handle existential reality and communicate the content of faith (Karl Jaspers and Rudolf Bultmann, Myth and Christianity, p. 17); mythical statements have an existential significance. But one finds in Jaspers no distinction between essential and inessential myth, between myth that is historically factual and historically unfactual. Nor does one find a translation of myth into any permanently valid symbolic meaning or normative inner significance. The only legitimate replacement for a myth is another myth, not an inner meaning or event behind the myth. Giovanni Miegge reflects Jaspers’s view: “Myths may clash and contradict one another, may drive one another out or be substituted for one another; but the only thing that can be substituted for a myth is another myth” (Gospel and Myth, p. 118). Miegge himself implies that myth has a necessary function in religion, but shuns a discussion of the value of symbols in religion. He remarks that “symbols, insofar as they are recognized as symbols, implicitly admit the necessity of interpretation” (p. 122), yet he recognizes that symbols “cannot be interpreted by means of other symbols—otherwise we become involved in an infinite regression” (pp. 122 f.). But how can they be legitimately interpreted in non symbolic categories?

Their disbelief in rational divine revelation has encouraged neo-Protestant theologians to amalgamate the biblical world-life view with the perspectival myths in general, and to dismiss the cognitive significance and truth-status of Scripture’s witness to transcendent realities. On the assumption that transcendent reality is suprarational, myth thus becomes a category for linguistically representing what cannot be logically known or described. Mircea Eliade asserts that primitive myth expresses man’s participation in what he presumes to be the nature of reality but is in no way intended to be a rational explanation (Myths, Dreams and Mysteries). Fritz Buri holds that existentialist interpretation issues in the proper use of mythology as “the language of Transcendence” (How can We Still Speak Responsibly of God?, p. 27). Robert H. Ayers defines myth as any “value-charged story expressing to some degree the life orientation of a group and or individual” (“Religious Discourse and Myth,” p. 77). Many scholars who relate life orientation and myth share Thomas J. J. Altizer’s emphasis that myth “as a mode of encounter with the sacred” is not at heart a “conceptual category” (“The Religious Meaning of Myth and Symbol,” p. 93). Ayers (p. 79) considers it “clearly a mistake to emphasize explanation as the chief feature of myths” and then on that account, moreover, to assume that they are “primarily conceptual in nature.” He further notes: “If we understand myth as a value-charged story expressing to some degree the life orientation of a group and/or individual, then the very presuppositions of our truth criteria are themselves mythical. Thus … the problem for theologians is not demythologizing but remythologizing … It is logically impossible … to be free of some degree of mythical language” (p. 86).

Like Eliade, Paul Ricoeur insists that modern man, if he is to understand himself, has not outgrown the need for religious symbols. He affirms, moreover, that philosophical interpretation of religious symbols is required, that philosophy must itself be instructed by myths, so that religious symbols provide the basis for philosophical thought and beyond that for man’s cultural activities. “In the age when our language has become more precise, more univocal, more technical in a word … we want to recharge our language, … to start again from the fullness of language” (The Symbolism of Evil, p. 349). The appeal to religious symbols turns on abandoning precise univocal language such as used in science or rational philosophy. Without “the language of symbols,” says Ricoeur “what is experienced as defilement, as sin, as guilt … would remain mute, obscure, and shut up in implicit contradictions” (p. 161). Ricoeur espouses a distinctive hermeneutics of religious symbols (see “The Hermeneutics of Symbols and Philosophical Reflection,” pp. 191–218). He considers words “the light of the emotions,” lifting our imprecisely felt experiences to sharable meanings.

Whereas post-Bultmannian exegetes like Gerhard Ebeling and Ernst Fuchs mean by hermeneutics an analysis of the Word-event known only to faith, and deny any existing reality behind the “linguisticality of reality,” Ricoeur looks to religious symbols for an analysis of general experience. The symbolic and mythical representation lifts into our awareness deeper meanings beyond those immediately apparent. “What is myth if it is not gnosis?… The symbol … opens up and discloses a dimension of experience that, without it, would remain closed and hidden” (The Symboslism of Evil, p. 165). The concrete character of man’s being can be conceptualized only as essential potentialities are comprehended through religious symbols and myths. “By its triple function of concrete universality, temporal orientation, and finally ontological exploration, the myth has a way of revealing things that is not reducible to any translation from the language in cipher to a clear language” (p. 163).

The term myth has therefore acquired a bewildering ambiguity of connotation in respect to religious thought. It has, in fact, become a “tramp” word of uncertain identity and even contradictory nuances. Traditionally the term was used of any fanciful account of some supposed truth or event, or of persons and events existing only imaginatively but believed by their proponents to represent the actual relationship occurring between divine being or beings and the world and human concerns. But contemporary neo-Protestant scholars do not use the term to designate a false and fanciful story believed by some to be true and factual. They employ it as a linguistic device to depict supposed aspects of reality not empirically verifiable and not conceptually accessible. And they profoundly disagree over what the mythical symbols symbolize. The fact is that on their premises they could never know what if anything the myths symbolize.

Over against Jaspers, who contends that one myth can be translated only into another myth, Bultmann considers the New Testament account of the crucified and risen Jesus a semantic coding for an internal experience of new being, and thus universalizes the existential significance of the so-called Christ-myth. Bultmann defines myth primarily as that form of imagery in which what is not of this world, namely, the divine, is represented as though it were of this world and therefore human (“The New Testament and Mythology,” p. 10, n. 2). In this mood he champions not the elimination of myth but its anthropological interpretation in existential categories: he translates the mythical into the nonmythical.

Despite his contention that revelation is cast in mythical form and involves no communication of factual information or universally valid truth, Bultmann in two respects seems to violate his own concept of religious myth. On the one hand he insists on its retention for purposes of translation into existential (nonmythical, anthropological) categories as its only and permanently valid sense, thus reflecting the philosophical influence of Martin Heidegger. On the other hand, much in the mood of D. F. Strauss’s Life of Jesus, Bultmann critiques as prescientific fable or untruth certain aspects of the biblical account (e.g., its supposed geocentric view, three-story universe, incarnation, bodily resurrection, Holy Spirit, angels and demons). When Bultmann writes that “all our thinking today is shaped irrevocably by modern science” and that “a blind acceptance of the New Testament mythology would be arbitrary” (“New Testament and Mythology,” pp. 3 f.), he implies that the causal view of the world in modern science discredits the New Testament view of miracles as false. But if myth is necessary to the New Testament as a linguistic coding for an inner existential experience, then the question of its factual truth or falsity in part or whole would be entirely irrelevant. Yet it is clear that Bultmann uses the term myth for a prescientific outlook on the cosmos and life as well as for a symbolical or pictorial representation of reality.

Moreover, in regard to symbolic representations of reality, it should be noted that Bultmann’s own definition of reality incorporates mythological elements. For to call expressions about the fatherhood, love, and acts of God analogical and not necessarily symbolic (Jesus Christ and Mythology, p. 68) rests upon an unpersuasive distinction of analogical from mythical language and, on Bultmann’s own presuppositions, involves him in curious inconsistency. If talk about God is mythical, why is not such (analogical) talk likewise; if such talk is not mythical, why are other (symbolic) affirmations necessarily nonanalogical?

When a scholar insists, as Bultmann does, on religious myth as a basic comprehensive category beyond cognitive knowledge and truth, and then deplores particular elements as prescientific and therefore fanciful and outmoded in contrast to modern knowledge, and moreover insists on the actual ontological reality of what transcends the experiment although it is cognitively inaccessible, he obviously weights the discussion of religious myth with multiplied confusion. Bultmann is, in fact, triple-minded about myth: (1) although he projects biblical myth as an alternative to literal and valid truth about the invisible transcendent world, (2) he eliminates, because supposedly discredited by modern science, some myths that he considers factually untrue, while at the same time (3) he attaches to the Christ-myth as a symbol of the existential experience of authentic being a normative validity of literal truth. Bultmann thus violates his primary definition of myth: he rejects as objectively untrue certain elements of supposedly biblical myth because they are contradicted by scientific philosophy and he validates the Christ-myth as existentially true because it is presumably confirmed by contemporary existential philosophy.

More surely than he knew, Bultmann’s process of demythologization led inevitably to the eclipse of God. For, as Thomas Altizer says, “the very word ‘myth’ indicates a loss of the meaning—or reality—to which myth points” (“The Religious Meaning of Myth and Symbol,” p. 91). R. W. Sleeper notes, moreover, that Bultmann’s own definition of myth cannot avoid being itself mythical by his own criteria; if all talk of acts of God is analogical, and analogical talk, as Bultmann concedes, is a species of mythological language, then “no logical possibility of demythologizing remains” (“Sense and Nonsense in Theological Myths,” p. 385) for speech becomes superfluous.

While Bultmann tries to vindicate the experience of transcendence, he cannot on his own premises convincingly turn aside the charge of psychologism, inasmuch as he cancels the noetic status of what he insists is real. Clarence I. Lewis pointedly notes that what is “given” in immediate experience (including Bultmann’s sporadic awareness of the transcendent) can neither be true nor false. Truth or falsity characterizes only what is additionally affirmed, e.g., assertions concerning the nature and description of that experience. As Sleeper puts it, “The dilemma of Bultmann and any demythologizer stems from the fact that the reports of the mystics are so often made effable by couching them in the language of myth. On the one hand the truth of kerygma must not be made logically dependent upon mythic thought and language lest the meaning of transcendence be lost when mythic thought collapses. On the other hand there seems to be no way of expressing the meaning of transcendence except in terms of myths and analogies of which the metaphysical grounds are open to serious question” (pp. 394 f.). Sleeper seeks a way between the horns of this dilemma by insisting that “notions such as transcendence are logically independent of specific myths” (p. 395). But even his notion of the transcendent Divine falters on analogy (or the logic of anagogy, as he prefers to put it). For in order to legitimate both anthropomorphical myths of origin and personal reports of mystical experiences, he leans on transcendence in presence, which can hardly resolve the question of the objective validity of a believer’s claim.

Bultmann, as noted, proposes to eliminate myths as supposedly discredited by science while preserving myth as a semantic coding for a normative existential experience. Paul Tillich on the other hand tries to eliminate the assertedly mythical representations of Scripture in the interest of existential-ontological philosophy. As for Reinhold Niebuhr he considers the interpretation and reinterpretation of the so-called Christian myths (e.g., the creation, fall, incarnation, atonement, resurrection) as an ongoing task in which their myth nature is never overcome. Whereas Bultmann aims to translate Christian theology into literal truth (existentialism), Tillich affirms that literally true statements would destroy religious language. Both Tillich and Niebuhr reject Bultmann’s demythologizing, because they consider existentialism, partly because of Its shallow view of sin, inadequate for expressing the Christian gospel. Tillich sought to communicate the Christian message in ontological rather than merely existential categories. Niebuhr, on the other hand, while commending Bultmann’s elimination of prescientific myths, criticizes any effort to translate such myths into present-day scientific or philosophical concepts as an inadequate way of dealing with permanent myth.

Tillich characterizes myth as “a whole of symbols, expressing man’s relation to that which concerns him ultimately, the ground and meaning of his life” (“The Present Theological Situation,” p. 306). Mythical concepts and language are necessary to faith and to reflection on transcendent reality, in contrast to the literal descriptive discourse used in scientific evaluation of observable phenomena. To translate religious belief into scientific categories would “deprive religion of its language” (Systematic Theology, 2:152). Theology must be liberated from taking religious language literally, hence the call is for “deliteralizing” rather than demythologizing. But, as Ayers notes, when Tillich transmutes the Genesis account of the fall into a universal human experience or sketches the “new being” which appears in Jesus Christ in existential-ontological terms, his deliteralizing differs little if at all from demythologizing (“Religious Discourse and Myth,” pp. 87 f.). Tillich himself long held that the only nonmythical or nonsymbolic statement we can make about ultimate reality is to declare that the Divine is Being-itself, and that myth not only does but must cling to all other religious assertions. But consistency in the application of his presuppositions about the symbolic nature of religious language finally drove Tillich to yield even Being-itself to the category of symbol.

If myths and symbols can be evaluated only in terms of other myths, on what basis are some writers thought to express ultimate being or concern more adequately than others? To say, as Tillich did, that God is whatever concerns one ultimately supplies no criterion whatever for distinguishing between objects of ultimate religious concern as to their actual reality and truth. William P. Alston notes, and rightly so, that what psychologically concerns a person ultimately need hardly coincide with what is in fact and truth ontologically ultimate (“Tillich’s Conception of a Religious Symbol,” p. 21).

Niebuhr affirms that in its religious form, myth “seeks to comprehend facts and occurrences in terms of their organic relation to the whole conceived in teleological terms” (“The Truth in Myths,” p. 119). He contends that religious myths are verified both negatively and positively—negatively by the fallacies about man and history to which alternative views lead, and positively by an inner transscientific encounter with God. But the concept of verification is here stretched beyond justifiability, since the criterion which Niebuhr adduces involves no publicly shared evidence, nor does it supply an adequate basis of predictability. A certain redundancy is evident when Niebuhr asserts, “That ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself’ is verifiable in the experience of everyone who experiences the mercy and new life which flows from true repentance in the encounter with God” (The Self and the Dramas of History, p. 97). The problem is not only how a twentieth-century internal experience can verify an event that took place in the first century, but also whether the truth here asserted can be verified by those who have not yet had the experience but seek persuasive reasons for doing so. Although Niebuhr speaks of the permanent necessity for religious myth, he nonetheless, as Ayers complains, implies the actual objective existence of transcendent realities beyond the believer’s inner convictions (“Religious Discourse and Myth,” p. 91). Gordon H. Clark reminds us that the assertion of an unknowable, whether by Kant or his modern successors, really asserts nothing. To know that X is the limit of knowledge requires the knowledge that Y is beyond the limit; but then Y is not completely unknowable.

Niebuhr found in the symbol of God’s creation of man and the world the idea that the world’s rationality is limited and that purely natural causality is insufficient to explain irrationality. In the symbol of original sin Niebuhr saw an inevitable although not necessary corruption of human freedom. Miegge interprets this as evidence that religious symbols do not necessarily lead by way of explanation to “a clear concept; but, apparently in the majority of cases,” myth merely signifies “a limit to logical and rational concepts. The logical equivalent of symbol is paradox” (Gospel and Myth, p. 123). But the same myth may well inspire more than one and quite divergent interpretations, especially if, as Niebuhr does, one translates symbols into forms of rational explanation. Niebuhr concedes, therefore, that no one interpretation can claim universal validity; ongoing reinterpretation of myth is a necessity. Bultmann thinks he escapes this necessity only because he arbitrarily translates the religious symbol into nonrational experience or internal decision in accordance with an existentialist view of reality.

While neo-Protestant theologians championed “Christian myth” and deprived Christianity of its historical and objective cognitive basis, secular thinkers opted instead for very different myths. John Macquarrie protests that Bultmann’s too narrow definition of myth excludes purely secular faiths such as the Nazi myth of a master Nordic race or the Marxist myth of a proletarian utopia (An Existentialist Theology, p. 167). Given the loss of fixed and final truth—whether due to religious myth that considers spiritual reality beyond cognitive accessibility or to secular myth that infuses all reality with time and change—no reason remains whereby to vindicate the permanent value or significance of any myth, or to condemn the Nazi myth and a call to embrace it, or any other myth. Myths are alterable or exchangeable whenever the end justifies some other means, or for the sake of some different end, since no myth holds objective factual validity. If myths do not tell what is cognitively or historically the case, why should not the “Christian myth” and the Marxist myth be quite interchangeable? If the supremely important concern is that man have bread to live, as even some neo-Christian activists would have it—and not that abiding truth and the Word of God alone can assure a meaningful life—then the hour has perhaps struck for a myth that eclipses the truth and Word of God and stocks the human granary with its own “living bread.”

If myth lacks objective cognitive validity and historical factuality, no reason can in fact be adduced why one myth should be considered either more or less expressive than others of nonfactual, noncognitive reality. How are we to distinguish between myths in terms of truth or falsity, in whole or in part, if myths are held to be neither cognitively nor historically informative? What valid reason remains for preferring one myth over another, or for not dismissing them all, or for not retaining them all as equally significant? No rational basis then exists for distinguishing between the various mythological representations of reality in respect to truth and adequacy. No principle can be set forth against preferring one myth to another, or for preferring none to any and all. One myth may be translated into another, or exchanged with another. But since myth only symbolically represents what is cognitively inaccessible and historically nonfactual, the laws of logic preclude assigning to any and all myths any objective meaning-significance or event-significance that transcends mere human subjectivity.

Indeed, the religious theorists who contend that myth is essential to discourse about transcendent reality themselves contradict each other about which myths if any are to be superseded, which if any is or are to be retained, or which is or are permanent. Ayers holds that it is not their “myth character which makes them false” since myth, he insists, is “not just a fanciful or false story or belief.… The theme … of … life orientation may transcend falsifiability and thus be expressed in a different mythical language which is not falsified or falsifiable” (“Religious Discourse and Myth,” pp. 92 f.). But, in that event, neither can their myth character signal their truth (whether interpreted existentially as by Bultmann, ontologically as by Tillich, or in any other way).

Niebuhr contended that any demonstrably false portion of a myth is unacceptable, and he affirmed the pragmatic verifiability of what is acceptable. But if myth is essentially noncognitive, how can any of its elements be demonstrably false? Truth or falsity must then pertain only to the nonmythical. Ayers falls back on Niebuhr’s appeal to a pragmatic justification of myth acceptance, seeking to strengthen this by the additional criteria of internal consistency, coherence, and comprehensiveness (ibid., pp. 93 f.). But the fact that one myth is more grandiose than another implies nothing about its truth; and if truth is beside the point, comprehensive illusion is no better or worse than comprehensive imagination or mystical intuition. Unless truth is a relevant consideration, consistency and coherence too are extraneous considerations. To be sure “it certainly would make no sense”—as Ayers emphasizes—”to accept the biblical myths of the one God and at the same time to accept the Greek polytheistic myths” (p. 94). But is sense a significant concern if myth is not as such answerable to truth? Indeed, Ayers insists that religious discourse is “never without some element of myth or the mythical” (p. 82), and he proffers no criterion for confidently distinguishing the nonmythical from the mythical. Ayers rejects the notion that religious convictions should be justified on the basis of absurdity, but he presents no logical basis for vindicating religious myth in terms of truth or objective verifiability. He pleads that we cannot consider any perspectival myth true or false because human methods change in “distinguishing fact from fancy, truth from falsity. It would be presumptuous indeed to claim that the methodology of the present will be that of the future” (pp. 79 f.). But this appeal would in effect destroy the truth or falsity of any assertions, including those made by Ayers about myths or about methodology or, for that matter, about anything else.

To insinuate any objective intellectual import into a symbolic or mythical view involves a confusion of categories and ignores either myth or logic. To be told that “the mythical” concerns a realm of reality that is cognitively inaccessible and therefore not logically falsifiable, and in the next breath to be informed what its alleged meaning is, so that myth becomes intellectually explanatory, intrudes conceptual content into an arena that prior restriction has declared off limits to reason and is gross inconsistency. What makes a myth “Christian”—if there be any such thing—can hardly be its literal truth or historical factuality.

This pursuit of meaning, even in such illogical fashion, attests that man’s religious concerns include an irrepressible desire for knowledge of God that can be intelligibly and propositionally expressed. Such “distillations” of “revelational truth” from myth are actually broken fragments or selections of revealed propositions borrowed from a wholly different view of divine disclosure. If myth by definition stands for what can never be cognitively informative, so let it be; but those who resort to myth ought then not to assign it an explanatory role, presuming to find in it some objective or normative meaning. If one rids himself of literal truth in the interest of a mythical alternative, one cannot at some subsequent stage serviceable to his own theological or ideological or mythological preferences reintroduce a valid cognitive significance which the concept of myth is asserted to carry. Not an iota of literal truth can be gleaned from a linguistic device that is first defined as an alternative to factually and cognitively informative truth. What is intrinsically mythical can be neither historically factual nor literally true. Even if individuals assign a particular sense to myth, and through influential lectures and writings create the impression that this sense is normative, others are free to sponsor a different sense simply because myth carries no fixed normative meaning.

Insofar as divine revelation is declared to employ myth as a mode of communication, such myth might indeed convey a fascinating galaxy of impressions, but the one thing that myth cannot communicate is literal truth about God or about anything else. If a literary genre communicates some literal truth, it is not myth; if it is myth, it can at best, as Gordon H. Clark somewhere suggests, communicate myth about myth, but whatever it communicates cannot be valid information.

Anthropologists note that myths, wherever held, gain religious significance only through man’s belief that divine being or beings are literally at work in human affairs and have actual relationships to the world. Where myth is not believed to represent what actually transpires, it is, in fact, disbelieved; myth loses all religious significance when it is considered merely imaginary and symbolical and unworthy of belief. However much Bultmann derogates the biblical miracles as prescientific fable and the so-called Christ-myth as a linguistic technique, the fact is that apostolic Christianity championed the content of faith not as myth but as historical event and literal truth. Neither the Old Testament prophets nor New Testament apostles nor Jesus of Nazareth himself considered the creation narrative to be factually uninformative and simply an example of those religious traditions about human beginnings found in nearly all cultures. One would be hard pressed indeed to find in ancient Israel a single Hebrew who viewed the creation account as does Fritz Buri: “not an epistemologically and scientifically questionable—and also unbiblical—creatio ex nihilo at the beginning of time; rather, and in the genuine biblical sense, the experience occurring in one’s own historicity of the unconditionedness of a creative beginning which creates order in the midst of chaotic relativities” (How Can We Still Speak Responsibly of God?, p. 28 f.).

The neo-Protestant representations of religious myth create a special new category, one where theological realities are considered neither literally true nor false nor historically fact nor fable. Distinctions are made between “religious truth” and logical and historical concerns. In some instances myth is related to the realm of “transcendence” (Bultmann, Niebuhr) and in others to that of “depth” (Tillich). Edmund Leach’s comment concerning this new category is wholly appropriate: “If we accept this latter kind of definition, the special quality of myth is not that it is false but that it is divinely true for those who believe, but fairy-tale for those who do not” (A Runaway World?, p. 54).

Bernard Ramm has recently proposed an evangelical redefinition and relocation of the concept of myth. He firmly disapproves Bultmann’s notion that biblical supernaturalism needs to be demythologized and understood existentially, and laments the fact that Strauss and Bultmann have given the concept of myth a bad name in the theological arena (The Evangelical Heritage, p. 164). But he approves the View of Brunner and Niebuhr that myth is the essential character of theological language, and endorses Ricoeur’s contention that myth is the only way that the universal and transhistorical character of religious experience can be expressed. Ramm notes that “myths in Holy Scripture presented no offense to such evangelical literary geniuses as C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot” but, in their view, “enhanced the power of Scripture to communicate” (p. 165). He concludes that “evangelicals must come to terms with modern linguistics, modern theories of communication, and contemporary linguistic or analytic philosophy” (p. 166), and thinks that computer science will force them “to rethink the entire problem of the authenticity of Scripture (the power of Scripture as a written document to function as the Word of God)” (p. 166).

These remarks are in some respects nebulous and ambiguous, since to rethink need not mean to revise. Ramm shuns “a capitulation to modern mentality” but seeks “a restatement or reformulation or reconceptualization of the biblical message … which does not surrender the uniqueness of the scriptural revelation and at the same time remains in real communication” with one’s own generation (ibid., pp. 168 f.). It could be that Ramm’s openness to myth in Scripture reflects an extension of his earlier positions about the nature of the revelatory Word. In The Christian View of Science and Scripture, his exposition of the Genesis account subordinates the creative work of the Logos of God (“and God said … and it was so”) into a pictorial representation. But he insisted that “the writers of the Bible are free of the grotesque, the mythological, and the absurd” (p. 71). Ramm nonetheless considers propositional revelation too narrow a concept to be theologically normative for the Bible.

When once a symbolic value is given to what has long been considered predominantly factual, as in the case of the creation of man, then the transition to myth is not difficult. One expositor, for example, may hold that the Genesis writer was divinely inspired to record a story that communicates the creation of the world and man symbolically, but this is not literal truth, since a transcendent divine will operates by orderly stages. Another may insist that the process as explained by scientific naturalism as the emergence of man from a material universe by evolutionary stages may be religiously depicted in a mythical statement of what is empirically unobservable and cognitively inaccessible. Since the mythical account carries forward the content of a narrative no longer taken literally, with what consistency, it may be asked, should the notion of a transcendent divine being and of a purposive creation be considered anything more than symbolic? Is symbolic truth only what a mediating theologian dislikes in the way of literal traditional beliefs but refuses to yield to naturalism as an explanatory principle? To be sure, the events of the creation narrative are of such a nature that no record of them can in the strict sense be considered historical, inasmuch as they antedate man and human writing. But factual information about the remote origin of things or about their final destiny is not impossible to or through divine disclosure; the successive toledoth (“these are the generations”) of Genesis imply an awareness of historical continuity from the very earliest experiences of mankind. Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether historical significance in the creation narrative is today set aside on the premise that the language is mythical and therefore does not and cannot depict what is factual, or whether modern scientific or historical research—despite their lack of empirical access to the Genesis phenomena—are nonetheless held to have disproved its factuality.

The question of literal or symbolical significance is not as decisively important for some religions as it is for Judeo-Christian revelation, which insists on the ultimate significance of certain past events—including the fact of the divine creation of man and the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. To say that such beliefs are symbolical only of general truths, and that the literal truth of those occurrences is dispensable, emasculates the Christian religion. Were man merely an evolutionary oddity and accident, it would be no less difficult to imagine the effective survival of the Christian religion than if the incarnate Logos of Nazareth were shown not really to have existed.

To introduce the concept of myth in no way relieves us of the burden of asking what beliefs are literally true—even those concerning man’s origin—and on what cognitive basis we affirm this to be the case. Contemporary neo-Protestant writers seem to employ the term myth as a linguistic device for evading the problem of truth. But truth in religion, and particularly in respect to the Christian religion, is not an avoidable issue. The mythmongers obscure the fact that the Logos of divine revelation is a cognitively knowable and historically disclosed ontological reality; instead they elaborate a mythological gnosis.

Novel and diverse indeed as are the convictions mankind has entertained throughout human history, the Christian perspective differs fundamentally in its insistence upon intelligible divine revelation as its governing principle. The special merit of Christianity lies in its deliverance of fallen man from mythical notions of God and its provision of precise knowledge concerning religious reality. Christianity∙ adduces not simply mythical statements but factual and literal truth about God. In freeing religious experience from only symbolic imagery and representations, Christianity manifests its superiority by providing valid propositional information: God is sovereign, personal Spirit: he is causally related to the universe as the Creator of man and the world: he reveals his will intelligibly to chosen prophets and apostles: despite man’s moral revolt he shows his love in the offer of redemption: he is supremely revealed in Jesus Christ in once-for-all incarnation: he has coped decisively with the problem of human sin in the death and resurrection and ascension of the incarnate Logos.


The Ways of Knowing

Learned scholars have held a variety of views about the sources of man’s spiritual beliefs and have reached very different conclusions about the nature of religious reality and about the method or methods by which these are to be verified. Their many conflicting answers to questions about God reflect at bottom a sharp disagreement over the ways of knowing and of validating religious concerns.

This chapter will attempt to indicate the claims made in behalf of divergent approaches, and asks what method, if any, specially commends itself in the field of theology or religious philosophy. Almost everyone seems ready either to concede or contend that religious assertion is peculiarly a matter of faith. But what relationship if any does such religious faith bear to knowledge? Is faith essentially emotive, volitional, moral or intellectual? Do religious assertions rest on authority, intuition, experience, speculation, or personal preference and prejudice?


That religious reality is known not by sense observation or by philosophical reasoning but by intuition or immediate apprehension has been asserted by various thinkers who insist that God is to be found in one’s own inner experience as an instant awareness of the religious Ultimate. Some exponents have championed rational intuition, and others sensuous intuition, but in recent generations proponents of religious intuition have fallen mainly into the category of religious mystics.

1. Religious mysticism depicts intuition as a way of knowing that contrasts with both reason and sensation, and therefore also with intelligible divine revelation. Mystics claim that direct insight into the invisible world is available through personal illumination as a means of access to the Divine allegedly transcending all ordinary levels of human experience. The Divine, we are told, is ineffable—that is, not knowable in terms of criteria applicable to daily life; God transcends distinctions of truth and falsehood and is beyond good and evil. Personal concentration on the Divine through psychic transcendence of the categories of space and time, truth and error, and good and evil, blends the worshiper’s consciousness into the infinite All and leads to ecstatic union and identification with the Ineffable.

Since the mystic’s immediate union with ultimate reality assertedly supersedes the categories of thought and experience, the religious reality is held to be unverifiable by ordinary ways of knowing applicable to other human relationships.

Now, if what is said about God must be self-contradictory or paradoxical—that is, beyond the criterion of truth and falsehood—then it would appear to critics of this view that we cannot speak intelligibly about the Divine at all. The mystic may consider that the failure of reason to validate or square with his claims attests reason’s inadequacy in respect to religious matters. But ought he not rather to question the truthworthiness of metaphysical insights that supposedly require the suspension of reason? What criterion of truth and error remains if God is beyond truth?

The insistence that the self is totally absorbed into the religious infinite, in an ecstatic union that transcends subject-object distinctions, would moreover seem to cancel out the mystic’s ability to give a personal report of the actual state of things. For lapse of self-consciousness can only mean the surrender of any personal knowledge whatever.

The mystic must, of course, respect the canons of reason and the conventions of logic if he is to communicate anything whatever about ineffable reality. And yet, ultimate reality either is capable of intelligible representation, and in that case ineffability is a misnomer, or it is not, in which case the mystic has no ground whatever for speech about the Ineffable. It is one thing for a person to claim that he has seen a flying saucer, and on that basis to argue—contrary to those who have not—that such weird mechanisms exist, but it is more preposterous for someone to describe a reality which is said to be inherently inexpressible. It simply makes no sense for anyone publicly to claim that he has intuited the inexpressible. The mystic cannot formulate the experience which other men should have, if they would share his belief, since in the case of an “inexpressible intuition” nobody could know what anybody else’s experience was.

Nor has the mystic any assured basis for belief that the supposedly Ineffable is other than a figment of imagination or a mere limiting concept depicting whatever, if anything, may exceed man’s ability to know. No legitimate basis exists for turning paradoxical and contradictory experiences into claims about the nature of ontological reality. The alleged ineffableness of the religious experience betrays more about the discomfiting limitations of mystical method than it truly tells us about the nature of God. Our transcendence of space-time relationships is a psychological distortion due to concentrated abstraction; it is not an open sesame! to intelligible information about supernatural reality. Champions of so-called negative theology, who like the mystics promulgated the thesis of divine ineffability, contend that God is, yet declare that we cannot say affirmatively what God is. But how can that about which we can literally affirm nothing be held actually to be? What assured basis has the mystic for insisting that God is, that God is ineffable, that time is unreal for God, that God is all and that therefore evil is unreal?

It is wholly legitimate, of course, for any individual to insist that he has very different thoughts about God than do other persons. Yet the mystic would not consider his beliefs worth much could he alone hold them. But if one claims universal validity for any affirmations about the Divine, he must introduce criteria for judging between alternative views; simply to claim that one pursues a private epistemology no more entitles him to a sympathetic hearing than a pyromaniac is due exoneration because he acts on his own unique moral code. Doubtless many religious people do have exhilarating experiences carrying an inner conviction of the truth of positions for which they can adduce no logical support, even as many others have strong “hunches” that cannot be rationally justified but which may or may not conform to fact. Although experiences of this kind, however widespread, may supply data for popular treatments of the psychology of religion, they are of no primary theological or philosophical interest.

Nineteenth-century romanticists—F. H. Jacobi (1743–1819), Friedrich von Schelling (1775–1854), and Friedrich Schleiermacher—contended that contact with ultimate reality is to be made not intellectually or conceptually but intuitionally, mystically, immediately. The Absolute is to be felt, not conceived. As a result, these men wrote not of God as the Religious Object, but of their own religious sentiments. Schleiermacher, founder of Protestant liberalism, in effect substituted the psychology of religious experience for theology, or the science of God. The first edition of his Reden (1799), or Addresses on Religion to Its Cultured Despisers, stressed intuition—a direct perception of the religious reality immediately confronting the mind—equally with feeling, and viewed the universe as its evoking divine cause. Later Schleiermacher shifted the whole weight of religious experience to feeling alone as a direct and immediate relationship. Both approaches abandoned discursive reason and an objectively given divine revelation as instrumentalities of the soul’s access to Deity. Instead, Schleiermacher’s emphasis fell on immediate self-consciousness behind reason and will. The insistent question remains how one then knows what he intuits or feels, how one is to vindicate as truly objective anything beyond his own interior sentiments. Schleiermacher’s critics rightly emphasized that the Christian religion is not just a special kind of feeling, but proffers valid information about God as he truly is.

As a theory of religious knowledge, mystical intuitionism is implicitly pantheistic. It obscures both the transcendence of the Creator-God and man’s moral waywardness. It assumes in man’s self-consciousness a secret latency for God-consciousness, for an immediate awareness of God through the self’s absorption into the Infinite. Hence it rejects a mediated and objectively given divine revelation. While the Bible assuredly insists that man still bears the divine image, although impaired by his fall into sin, it nonetheless stresses God’s ontological as well as moral and noetic otherness; divine revelation is not manipulatable through man’s initiative and mystical techniques, but is mediated everywhere at God’s initiative through the Logos of God. The Bible, moreover, represents this mediated divine disclosure as rational and objective, and not as transcending logical distinctions and the sphere of truth-and-error. That the Logos of God is central to the Godhead is an unyielding scriptural emphasis. While there is a mystery side to God, revelation is mystery dispelled and conveys information about God and his purposes.

Nor is the self-revealing God of the Bible beyond good-and-evil. The righteousness of God and the wickedness of human sin are emphases integral to the disclosure of the living God.

Nor is the God of Scripture to be discerned only beyond space and time. The God of creation reveals himself throughout the space-time universe and in the very history of humanity; the created cosmos declares his glory, and the happenings of history reflect his purpose.

Thus almost every point of emphasis peculiar to intuitional mysticism precludes our speaking of “Christian mysticism” to avoid profound misunderstandings. That some people have ineffable religious experiences we need not question, although the Pauline survey of world religions (Rom. 1) catalogues them with human distortions suppressing the revelation of the true God. The New Testament doctrine of union with Christ is not at all a variety of religious mysticism, but an alternative to it. Intimate as is the believer’s relationship to Christ, it involves no loss of selfhood and identity, nor does it issue in absorption into the Divine. The character is profoundly altered by the new birth, but the “I” or “me” remains an ontological reality (“I have been crucified with Christ: the life I now live is not my life, but the life which Christ lives in me; and my present bodily life is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20, neb). The Bible moreover prescribes no mystical exercises or occultist techniques for approaching deity; it proclaims instead the intelligible comprehensibility of divine revelation and approves intelligible verbal prayer to God, as Jesus himself exhorted his followers to address the Father (Matt. 6:9 ff.). The Bible nowhere accommodates the speculative notion that ontological disjunction from the Divine is the central human problem, to be overcome by man’s pursuit of ecstatic union with the Ineffable; rather, the basic problem is that of overcoming man’s moral alienation from his Maker, and a revelation and atonement that God himself provides opens the way to the restoration of spiritual fellowship.

2. Although intuition carries the sense of “immediate apprehension,” such apprehension may be depicted not only as mystical and superrational but, instead, as rational (so Plato and Descartes, for example; or Augustine and Calvin, on the basis of the divine imago in man). Those who espouse rational intuition insist that human beings know certain propositions are immediately to be true, without resort to inference; in other words, that all men possess certain underived a priori truths without any process of inference whereby these truths are derived. Rational intuition must therefore be clearly distinguished from mystical intuition.

Some secular rationalists have contended that man has intelligible intuitions on the basis of either the soul’s preexistence (Plato), or of a direct identity of the human and divine minds (Hegel). Early modern rationalists, like their classic Greek forerunners, viewed human reason as secretly divine.

In the Timaeus, Plato holds that intellectual intuition alone can deliver us from what, at best, is merely true opinion about certain absolute realities or their existence. While Aristotle rejected the possibility of innate truths, and derived all knowledge through sensation, he held that intuition and demonstrable knowledge are certain; even the conclusions of demonstration, he averred, rest on first premises more certain than these conclusions, and intuition grasps these principles. At times Aristotle seems to equate intuition with the active intellect viewed as something more than a human function.

Descartes too contended that the mind possesses faculties productive of intuitive knowledge, including the certainties of self-existence and mathematics. From the intuitive certainty of self-existence he tried to derive all other truths. He contended that intuition and deduction give us knowledge beyond risk of illusion; intuition he defined as “the conception that an unclouded and attentive mind gives us so readily and distinctly that we are wholly freed from doubt about what we understand … more certain than deduction itself, in that it is simpler.” Descartes adduces no basis, however, for saying that intuition is more trustworthy than sensation and, while elsewhere he insists (Meditation III) that the perception of God must precede the perception of myself, he nonetheless makes the Cogito or intuitive certainty of human self-existence the first truth of his system.

Whereas Descartes begins with the Cogito, Baruch Spinoza (1632–77) begins with the ontological argument, but in explicitly pantheistic manner views rational definition or mathematical consistency as the very mind and being of God.

3. Modern empiricists, on the other hand, do not derive so-called intuitive knowledge from some innate faculty that provides man with first principles, but ascribe all knowledge to inferences from observation. Other than “God exists,” a standard example of noninferential knowledge adduced by rationalists was that “every event has a cause.” In line with his insistence that human knowledge consists solely of sense perceptions and memory images, David Hume (1711–76) denied that causality has any external or objective basis and presumed to find only a subjective psychological necessity for causal connections. As Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), Émile Durkheim (1858–1917), and William James (1842–1910) applied an evolutionary explanation of the intellect, man’s basic ways of thinking, including even the categories of thought and the laws of logic, were regarded as but one of a number of developmental possibilities; however presently serviceable, they are considered replaceable by other categories and other logics. John Dewey (1859–1952) rejected any reference to an intuitional a priori in order to derive all truth from experience. Logical positivists held that supposed intuitive truths are simply analytic truths derived by following the conventions of logic, although this explanation fails to cope with claims that man has prelinguistic intuitive knowledge, and moreover confuses the acquisition of knowledge with the linguistic ability to express it.

Kant forcefully contended that Humean sensationalism leads to skepticism. An empirical basis of knowledge, Kant stressed, not only sacrifices all norms, but universally valid reason as well, and it cannot rationally vindicate its own position. His influential Critical Philosophy defended intuition of a special kind—sensuous intuition rather than intellectual intuition. Human knowledge does not include innate truths, he contended, but it does presuppose innate categories of thought and forms of perception, which confer on sensually given objects the status of cognitive knowledge. Even the propositions of mathematics, which combine innate categories and the a priori intuitions of space and time, become knowledge only if and as sensory objects exist to which this epistemic equipment is applicable.

Kant defined intuition as “knowledge that is in immediate relation to objects.” By “immediate” he meant “without the mediation of concepts,” so that no judgments are possible concerning the truth of intuitions. His postulation of a cognitively unknowable god encouraged the notion that one may experience what cannot be conceptually defined, that is, the ineffable. Intuition is therefore for Kant, in contrast to the view of rational intuitionists, not a means of cognitively knowing God.

Kant’s profoundest insight is that whoever professes, with Hume, to derive the categories of thought from experience, cannot consistently escape epistemological skepticism. He emphasized that human knowledge is possible only because of innate thought categories which guarantee the universal validity of human knowledge, and provide the basis for the truths of mathematics. But his theory of knowledge needlessly sacrificed much on which another school insisted, that is, a minimum of a priori truth about God and the possibility of cognitive knowledge of metaphysical realities because of the ontological relevance of human reason as an aspect of the image of God in man.

Hegel sought to overcome the metaphysical limitations of Kant’s views, but his profoundly unbiblical exaggeration of the reason of man into the very mind of God was self-defeating. His theory insisted that we immediately intuit concepts rather than truths. Human reasoning then combines these concepts into propositions, and mediates knowledge. Truth is expressed only in a system, for knowledge is conceptually systematic. But, by equating the Absolute with the reflective self-consciousness of human minds, Hegel obscured any real created existence. For mankind in the image of God he substituted God externalized as the universe, so that destruction of man and the world would obliterate divine being and life. Hegel made God an inescapable reality by divinizing man, and thereby he caricatured both.

The difficulty with mystical intuitionism was that it was either rationally insignificant or violated its devotion to ineffability whenever it ventured to verbalize any intuitional content. The problem with sensuous intuition was that it forfeited the metaphysical to the suprarational and did not, for reasons to be noted, successfully overcome skepticism. The dilemma of rational intuitionism was that its sponsors either predicated human intuition on divergent metaphysical presuppositions, or articulated no persuasive basis for intuitive certainty; moreover, they disagreed widely over which propositions are intuitive, and over the extent of intuitive knowledge. Since not every human being intuited what the various philosophers insisted is a matter of universal intuitive knowledge, the secular theories carried little conviction.

4. The proponents of rational intuition, however, include a distinctive group of scholars—foremost among them, Augustine (354–430) and John Calvin (1509–64)—who predicated the case for a priori knowledge on God’s preformation of man in his image. They formulated the whole possibility of human knowledge in the context of transcendent divine revelation, and avoided correlating their emphasis on a priori truth with extravagant claims such as those of Descartes, who sought to derive all the content of knowledge from the intuitive certainty of human self-existence. Their position needs to be carefully distinguished from that of secular philosophical rationalists, who depicted human reason as an immanent source of ultimate truth, or that of the medieval scholastic Anselm, who considered the human mind independent of divine revelation a source of information not only about God’s existence, but also about the Trinity and the incarnation and atonement of Christ. Such extreme claims provoked a reaction by medieval philosophers against any and all assertions of a priori knowledge.

Augustine held that on the basis of creation the human mind possesses a number of necessary truths. Intellectual intuition conveys the laws of logic, the immediate consciousness of self-existence, the truths of mathematics, and the moral truth that one ought to seek wisdom. Moreover, he held that in knowing immutable and eternal truth we know God, for only God is immutable and eternal. As knowers all men stand in epistemic contact with God. Calvin too held that man’s knowledge of self-existence is given in and through a knowledge of God’s existence, and that the created imago Dei preserves man in ongoing epistemic relationships to God, the world, and other selves.

The one theory that combines intuitive or a priori knowledge with a Christian view of man (in contrast to an idealistic or rationalistic divinization of reason) is the view of preformation. According to this view, the categories of thought are aptitudes for thought implanted by the Creator and synchronized with the whole of created reality.

Kant strangely thought that if the categories of thought were God-given aptitudes preharmonized with the laws of nature they would not be a priori. He objects to God-given concepts on two grounds: (1) one could never in that case determine where such predetermined aptitudes cease to be relevant; (2) the categories would then lose their essential character of necessity.

Gordon H. Clark rightly notes the ambiguity of the first complaint (Thales to Dewey, pp. 410 f.). Does Kant here have misgivings that the categories might then be applicable not only to sense experience, but to God and the supernatural?—which is precisely what a theistic epistemology would affirm! Or does he mean that we would not know which category or categories explain any concrete empirical situation?—a difficulty that equally faces Kant’s own theory of a priori forms.

Kant’s second complaint is that, if the categories were implanted at creation, one could not then say, for example, that effects and causes are necessarily connected, but only that ” ‘I am so constituted that I can think this representation as so connected, and not otherwise.’ Now this is just what the skeptic wants.” But Kant is very wrong in thinking that divinely implanted categories of thought would invalidate their necessary application to reality. The fact is, rather, that Kant’s own view—that we cannot think otherwise than we think, alongside which he denies that we can know the objective structure of external reality—ultimately undercuts the necessary relevance of the categories.

Although Kant shunned Hume’s view that the categories are merely the judgments of the individual knower, and insisted rather that they are structuring elements of a world of thought that is common to all experiencing subjects, his failure to connect the categories with more-than-finite mind left his theory vulnerable to the same skepticism about external reality as Humean skepticism. Hegel sought to escape this difficulty by reintroducing the notion that finite minds are differentiations of a divine Mind, a universal Mind immanent in all finite minds. Thus, for Hegel, the categories are not empty forms of possible experience, nor do they become valid because we impose them on experience. Our minds constitute reality, on his view, because they are the very activity of the Absolute Mind. But nobody who has read Sigmund Freud or heard of Adolf Hitler today seriously entertains the notion that the human psyche is God in manifestation, nor did the early Christians, or the Hebrews before them, aware as they were of the sinfulness and finitude of man. Yet the image of God in man nonetheless bears noetic implications that have constrained some of Christianity’s profoundest theologians to insist that God is the source of all truth, that the human mind is an instrument for recognizing truth, and that the rational awareness of God is given a priori in correlation with man’s self-awareness, so that man as a knower stands always in epistemic relationships with his Maker and Judge.


The empiricist rejects the mystic’s call for intuitive illumination of transcendent reality, and the philosophical rationalist’s call for human reasoning, and considers sense observation the source of all truth and knowledge. Empiricists do not wholly reject reason, since reason must relate sense perceptions in an orderly way, but all truth is held to be derived from experience.

The definition of empiricism has been revised frequently throughout the history of philosophy. Mystics sometimes argue that the range of human experience is artificially narrowed, unless the definition is expanded to include their ineffable experiences. Not all persons, they point out, have the technical skill necessary to validate scientific conclusions in their own experience, yet they accept such conclusions on the testimony of competent authorities. Why then should mystical experience be ruled out, simply because it is not universally shared? But contemporary empiricists emphasize that perceptual experience is the only reliable method of gaining information about the world of human experience, and that sound conclusions are verifiable in the lives of all persons.

Modern scientific empiricism differs in significant respects from Aristotelian empiricism. By empiricism Aristotle designated perceptual induction from which the observer assertedly elicits clear truths that serve to guide scientific demonstration. Following this lead, the medieval scholastic Thomas Aquinas appealed first to sense observation of objects and events disclosed in common experience, preliminary to rational demonstration of metaphysical realities. Thomist philosophy is empirical in the Aristotelian sense, stressing that causal explanation is objectively valid, that finite realities require an effective cause qualitatively superior to all effects, and that teleological explanation is metaphysically sound. It professes to give a logically demonstrative proof of God’s existence, and of the existence and immortality of the human soul, simply by observational inferences from the universe, and independent of supernatural revelation. Thomism rests all further revelational claims about the supernatural upon this natural theology as a supportive empirical base.

The new empiricism shaped by modern science departed extensively from these earlier views. No longer could the empirical approach be considered merely ancillary or preliminary to a distillation of truth by philosophical demonstration; it now became essential and central to the establishment of truth. Moreover, it gained the indispensable role of experimentally validating and confirming rational deductions, and stressed experiences available to all people. Even after such validation has occurred, the decisive importance of the empirical requires that the resultant hypotheses or rational explanations be considered tentative rather than final. The special interest of empiricism, moreover, is to identify events for the sake of the prediction and control of perceptual experience, rather than to render them comprehensively intelligible in relation to metaphysical reality (cf. Edwin A. Burtt, Types of Religious Philosophy, pp. 197 ff.).

Once these developments dominated the empirical outlook, philosophy of religion applied the same criteria to theological concerns, and it declared itself increasingly skeptical or agnostic in relation to supernatural realities which could not be confidently validated by empirical tests. For more than two centuries the modern mind has been empirically oriented. Even Kant, in attempting to refute Hume’s skeptical empiricism, denied to metaphysical claims the cognitive status he conferred upon sense phenomena. The most influential neo-Protestant theologian of the nineteenth century, Friedrich Schleiermacher, readily abandoned any appeal to a higher than human sanction and based Christian commitments wholly upon religious experience rather than upon revelation. With the rise of modern evolutionary theory and new dynamic models of reality, exponents of the so-called scientific world view predicated on the assumption that the final test of truth is verifiability by sense perception, increasingly deployed the term God to designate the universal World-substance (as did the nineteenth-century [1834–1919] biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel in The Riddle of the Universe) or to some aspect of the spacetime process, or merely stated their theories without reference to religious concepts. The modern spirit has opted for empiricism as its way of knowing the externally real world, and the inevitable consequence of this decision is secularity.

It was David Hume who first among the moderns formulated empiricism as the all-inclusive criterion of truth and applied it to theological assertions with an agnostic outcome. Hume’s theory struck hard at the Thomist case for Christian theism, which, in contrast to the Scriptures, rests its argument on empirical considerations rather than divine revelation. Hume insisted that effective scientific inquiry is thwarted unless finite effects are correlated with equivalent causes only, rather than with an infinite cause; moreover, he denied any objective status to causality in nature. The Humean assault on Christian theism is therefore specially directed against the Thomistic contention that the existence of God, and the existence and immortality of the soul, are logically demonstrable simply through empirical considerations independent of divine revelation. Hume’s contention was that those who profess theological beliefs on empirical grounds have no right to such beliefs unless they produce requisite perceptual evidence, and that in the absence of demonstrative empirical proof, belief is unreasonable.

Schleiermacher boldly identified the empirical method as adequate to deal with religious concerns and decisive for the fortunes of Christianity, yet he sought at the same time to broaden the definition of empiricism so that—contrary to Hume’s skeptical analysis of theological claims—an appeal to the religious consciousness could yield a positive and constructive verdict. Schleiermacher considered feeling rather than cognition the locus of religious experience, and he applied the empirical method hopefully to the claims of Christian theism. Rejecting the historic evangelical emphasis that the truth of revelation rests on an authority higher than science, Schleiermacher broke with miraculous Christianity and held that all events must conform to empirically verifiable law. He shifted the center of theological interest from God as a metaphysical object—asserted by Hume to be incapable of empirical verification (a verdict that would hardly have surprised Moses, Isaiah, Jesus and Paul)—to a correlation of God with inner spiritual experience (an alteration that obscured transcendent divine revelation). Aware that empirical considerations would not yield a fixed definition of ultimate metaphysical reality, Schleiermacher nonetheless believed that experiential considerations can offer tentative and flexible conclusions about God in relation to us.

Schleiermacher’s approach involved nothing less, as Burtt remarks, than a profound revolution in Christian dogmatics and religious philosophy. Setting aside the accepted method of expounding Christian theology reaching back to the ancient church fathers, he substituted another methodology. For Schleiermacher the study of theology begins “not with a metaphysical definition of God and proofs of his reality, but with human experience of whatever has religious significance to people” and then defines theological concepts only tentatively in view of these subjective considerations (Types of Religious Philosophy, pp. 288 f.). Although God is not objectively defined, nobody can earnestly question his religious reality, since he is viewed as an evident aspect of universal human experience. The essentially tentative character of the empirical method, however, requires that “no concept—not even the concept of God—has any absolute rights, all definitions being liable to revision in the light of continuing human experience.” God’s place as the ultimate principle of theology or central datum of religion is now taken by human religious experience. “The religious experience of men and women becomes the decisive fact and final court of appeal by which we test the validity of any theological concept—the concept of God along with others” (p. 288).

Although Schleiermacher did not explicitly identify himself as an empiricist (he speaks of the “religious consciousness” rather than of religious experience as his twentieth-century successors do), yet his method is empirical and his theology empirically grounded. He does indeed criticize the understanding of empiricism regnant in his day for its Kantian limitation of the content of human knowledge to sense percepts. Schleiermacher concedes that we cannot have cognitive knowledge of God as he objectively is, but he insists that the religious consciousness gives us knowledge of God-in-relation to us. He also diverges from Kant in holding that religious doctrines are not certain but—conformably to the empirical approach—are tentative explanations, subject to revision by future experience. Absolute truth is excluded in theological as fully as in all other matters. The finality of any religion is left in doubt, and the Christian religion is shorn of its historic claim for God’s transcendent cognitive revelation and of external miraculous attestation.

The “religious consciousness” which Schleiermacher presumes to analyze is actually neo-Protestant Christian in nature. But his orientation of all theological interests to this religious consciousness—more explicitly, as Schleiermacher would have it, to the “feeling of absolute dependence”—means that God is no longer an absolutely revealed cognitive reality but an experiential factor whose meaning is derived from our inner responses. God is not a being whose existence is inferred from otherwise neutral empirical considerations, either as a higher cause or as an explanatory principle; he is a factor disclosed in the unqualifiedly dependent consciousness. While God is held to be objectively real, we lack all knowledge of him as he objectively is. Traditional doctrines such as the Trinity and the divine attributes are taken not as cognitive descriptions of God-in-himself, but as illuminating religious experience or God’s relationships to us. The significance of Jesus of Nazareth is no longer found in the incomparable incarnation of the eternally preexistent Logos and his substitutionary death and bodily resurrection for sinners, since scientific empiricism cannot validate these. Schleiermacher translates religious feelings into theological language, so that the man’s inner stress and disunity become his sense of sin, while the sense of redemption is the feeling of integrated selfhood achieved in following Jesus—a modernist version that divorces the “new birth” from any necessary dependence upon miraculous revelation and redemption.

Increasingly apparent was the fact that no claim at all can confidently be made about God as the religious reality if we can speak definitively only of man’s religious consciousness. In The Christian Faith Schleiermacher insisted that God is originally experienced in feeling, and never directly apprehended, but is always mediated by some finite element of the world, so that we have no strictly objective cognitive knowledge of him. But how then does one know what he feels, and whether we ought to feel concerning God as we do? F. R. Tennant insisted that religious experience cannot be authenticated unless it rests on well-grounded cognitive assertions about God (Philosophical Theology, 1:329 ff.), and he rightly doubts that these can be derived from religious feeling. What firmly grounded cognitive statements about God are to be made solely on the basis of the not-God?

Many erstwhile modernists defected to humanism when it became evident that Schleiermacher’s empirical Christianity was decidedly less scientific than he considered it to be. The example of Jesus, Schleiermacher held, more effectively than any other, advances the integration or unification of discordant human personality, by delivering all who follow his religious and moral stance from the sense of inner strain to the sense of serene devotion to God. Yet the empirical method could not consistently be invoked either to limit the religious good to Christ or to vindicate his superiority as a personality-integrating factor. Some liberals, in fact, equated deliverance from inner discord with an intellectual peace assertedly brought about by the modern mind’s rejection of super-natural beliefs for empirically testable positions, although it should have been clear that empiricism promises no settled repose even to modernists.

Humanists insisted that the scientific approach disallows any implicit claim of finality for Jesus of Nazareth or for any other religious personality—whether a contemporary figure or one from the biblical past. If God is defined experientially, they contended, then God is whatever in man’s experience delivers the distraught self from inner personality tensions and secures its harmonious relationship to man’s total cosmic environment. Spiritual experience, they added, often reflects considerable ambiguity and fluctuation, since individuals are prone to interpret similar fortunes and misfortunes in terms of divergent religious prejudices. What Jesus does for devotees in Christian lands may equally well be attained elsewhere by following the way of Buddha or Confucius. Indeed, one’s life devotion to some great ideal such as world peace, pacifism, brotherhood or beauty might well be equally productive of a unified self, and might in some cases provide a superior framework for achieving it. Humanists considered the contention that Jesus’ person, teaching or example is somehow incomparably final a breach of empirical validation. The openness of scientific empiricism rather requires us to dignify as the religious reality whatever ideal, movement or cause, or personality which exerts upon any human life a maximal integrative influence.

But if humanists were prone to regard modernists as clinging uncritically to facets of a fundamentalist past in view of the centrality they assigned to the Nazarene (albeit the human Jesus), it soon became apparent that humanism too was invoking its empirical appeal in a prejudiced way favorable to its own partisan claims. What empirical facts indisputably bear on the question of religious reality? How is religious experience to be confidently distinguished from human experience generally? Is its essence to be found in cognitive beliefs, or in internal dispositions, or perhaps in forms of ritual? Mystics in past generations were often charged with social passivity because they located the essence of religious experience in inner ecstatic illumination. Is the essence of religion to be found not in inner satisfactions nor in divine provisions but rather in social activism, in meeting the physical needs of others, as some contemporary ecclesiastics think? Or may not the presently demonic be the authentic wave of future religion? Should scientific empiricism not be wholly open to reality and the future by not closing the door permanently on any possibilities whatever?

Indeed, can scientific empiricism provide any definitive answers at all to religious questions? Can one really validate even the human values on which the humanist insists by the empirical method? That one ought to pursue truth and beauty and to promote brotherhood—these are compelling ideals, yet hardly more so than that one ought to love God with his whole being, and his neighbor as himself. But how does one arrive at a permanently valid ought, at fixed norms of any kind, by the empirical method of knowing?

Despite all that has been said about tentativeness as the badge of modern empiricism, it must be noted that some empiricists have been as dogmatically and arbitrarily committed to certainty as have representatives of rational, intuitional, and authoritarian approaches. Nineteenth-century scientists like William K. Clifford (1845–74) and Thomas H. Huxley (1825–95) considered the presuppositions of mechanistic science as the absolute truth, and they imputed immorality to theologians whose contrary beliefs they judged to be based on inadequate evidence. Karl Pearson (1857–1936) not only held that “the scientific method is the sole gateway to the whole region of knowledge” but even regarded its results as yielding “absolute judgments” (Grammar of Science, pp. 24, 6, cited by Gordon H. Clark, Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 65).

Common sense requires modern man’s recognition of the scientific method as a spectacularly useful instrumentality for transforming our environment. Respect and gratitude are indeed due the scientist for many comforts and conveniences furnished to modern living, often as the fruit of painstakingly sacrificial research and experimentation, although in recent times not often without financial reward. This practical success of science inclines many persons to a tacit acceptance of the scientific world-picture of external reality as a realm merely of impersonal processes and mathematically connectible sequences. Charles H. Malik observes rightly that all too often the highly merited prestige of scientists in their own fields of competence is transferred to areas of publicly expressed opinion in which they are novices. “In the present euphoria about the wonders of science you find many scientists, individually and in groups, arrogating to themselves rights that do not strictly flow from their scientific competence. They pass high judgements on … God and man, on good and evil, on culture and justice, and on the deepest issues of human destiny. And their prestige as scientists, which is in no doubt whatever, illicitly carries over in the mind of the public to these extrascientific pronouncements” (“The Limitations of Natural Science,” p.385).

When, for example, A. J. Carlson (“Science and the Supernatural”) arbitrarily assumes that the positivistic context is the only one in which the question of evidence for any and every claim can be resolved (“the method of science” he considers to be “in essence … the rejection in toto of all non-observational and non-experimental authority in the field of experience”), we ought not to be surprised that he adds: “When no evidence is produced other than … ‘the voice of God’ the scientist can pay no attention whatever except to ask: How do they get that way?” A demand that theology furnish appropriate evidence for its claims, and expound its way of knowing and adduce its criterion of verification, is wholly proper and necessary, but Carlson has made God inadmissable because he will not submit to a test appropriate only to the not-God.

Malik thinks the secret fear of an ultimate judgment enters into the natural scientist’s disposition to thrust aside revealed religion as resting on alien and unacceptable principles: “While the Gospel and the great traditions of art, literature, philosophy and spirit are around, even the man to whom all the secrets and power possibilities of nature are unlocked will be judged by them. That is why so many scientists, fearing this inevitable uncomfortable judgement, or rather misunderstanding it (because once they understood it they would welcome and rejoice in it and never fear it), either dogmatically proclaim from narrow existential self-defence, that religion, philosophy and the arts are nonsense, or arbitrarily reduce them to some alien scientific technique” (“The Limitations of Natural Science,” p. 381).

Logical positivists arbitrarily insisted—and the judgment they passed on others finally returned to their own house—that what is unverified by observation remains merely a hypothesis, and that assertions intrinsically unverifiable by sense observation cannot possibly qualify as truth. Logical positivism not only affirmed the validity of scientific methodology and insisted on the autonomy of scientific empiricism, declaring it to be the sole means for obtaining knowledge about the world disclosed by our senses, but it also further asserted scientific empiricism to be the only valid means of knowing, the exclusive index to the whole realm of cognitively valid statements. It thus tapered empiricism so narrowly that not even its own confidently launched vessel could make it through the sea of human experience. By elevating scientific empiricism as the test of all truth, logical positivism unwittingly destroyed its own basis of credibility.

Not a few important scientists detected in logical positivism a covert extension of scientific method as a promotive cover for cherished anti-metaphysical prejudices. For even the so-called facts of external perception often prove to be far less objective than their empiricist sponsors have made them out to be. Indeed, our perceptions are capable of serving very different principles or explanations, and of supporting divergent conclusions. For those who seek to provide an empirical basis for belief in God, there is in any event the difficulty of any sure inference and transition from internal religious experiences to a transcendent ontological reality as their source. Do not our feelings tell us more about ourselves than about God, and our perceptions more about sense realities than about the supersensible? Indeed, can they tell us anything final and authoritative about God? Taken by itself, the empirical method provides no basis for affirming or denying supernatural realities, since by definition it is a method for dealing only with perceptible realities. It cannot, therefore, validate supraperceptible being; nor can it validate moral norms either or confirm past historical events in present public experience. The empiricist must acknowledge that his method leads finally to one of many possible views, and not to final certainty about anything.

However much the empiricist may boast of a humility that avoids final commitments in order to explore an ongoing clarification of spiritual realities, an empirical religious philosophy by the same token abandons the opportunity of telling us the unchanging truth in respect to religious claims. Concerning “claims of intellectual humility and accusations of intellectual pride” which often color interdisciplinary disputes between scientists, philosophers and theologians, Dorothy Emmet has this to say: “In my judgment neither pride nor humility is specifically characteristic of either (philosophical or theological) activity; they are characteristics of human nature and may come out in both of them.… There is no immunity against pride in either theology or philosophy” (The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking, p. 154). If God truly exists, especially as a living personal being, are not revelational considerations more significant than our own inner feelings and outer perceptual probings? And if divine revelation—a possibility still to be considered—provides an authoritative basis for religious faith, does not an insistent reduction of all knowledge to empirical factors become a prideful—that is, worldly wise—justification of unbelief in a transcendent revelation? If there be a God, he could scarcely desire from human beings a commitment only to empirical tentativeness about his reality.


The superiority of reason over all other proposals for gaining information about the ultimately real world has been asserted from antiquity. The rationalistic method of knowing considers human reasoning as the only reliable and valid source of knowledge.

The rationalist insists that truth can never be self-contradictory, hence he suspects that mysticism has somehow missed the truth in the emphasis on ineffability and paradox. He likewise considers empiricism an inadequate and unstable means of illuminating the true nature of reality, for its conclusions are always tentative; hence the empiricist can never be sure he has found the truth. Even the so-called “facts of experience” on which the empiricist dwells are unintelligible but for the operation of reason. Reason must, in any event, formulate all universal statements, and these are not perceptually verifiable since experience is fragmentary and changing. Sense experience may disqualify the claims of reason, but it cannot actually accredit and justify them. Modern rationalists are more ready to regard sense perception as significant for excluding what cannot be the case about the detailed behavior of nature, and are sometimes ready to take sense experience as a starting point. But they emphasize that empirical data is compatible with a variety of explanatory principles, and that the most significant advances even in modern science have arisen through the mental projection of comprehensive new perspectives that have correlated the data with novel explanations.

The underlying assumption of philosophical rationalism is that the mind of man—simply in view of its latent potentialities, or veiled divinity, or the human mind’s explicit and direct continuity with the mind of God—possesses an inherent potentiality for solving all intellectual problems. This immanent rational capacity is variously explicated by leading philosophers.

Plato held that the eternal ideas innately inhere in the soul of man. The inward eye of reason is a faculty whereby man can grasp the unchanging eternal “forms” and “ideas” that constitute the ultimate world. By this faculty of reason men can rise cognitively to the idea of the Good which is the source of all knowledge. In some passages, God is for Plato an intermediary being distinct from the idea of the Good; in others, the Divine Mind holds ultimate cosmic significance. But man’s reason is considered inherently divine and immortal, an aspect of the divine Mind.

Although Aristotle held that knowledge is won by building upon sense perception, rather than turning away from it, pure form causes reason in man to seek its apprehension and comprehension. God as self-thinking thought lures the active reason in man to the complete actualization of reason’s capabilities; this active reason, crowning the cognitive process, functions as a disembodied universal function unaffected by time and individuality.

There is here no glimmer of the Hebrew view of the transcendent intelligible Creator who actively reveals himself, and who has preformed man for knowledge and service of the Divine, nor of man as a fallen sinner whose capabilities are warped by sin and its consequences. Classic Greek thought prepares the way, therefore, for the rational pantheism of Roman Stoicism, according to which the intelligible order is a necessary part of God, and in which the Logos is expanded into the World-Soul. Plotinus (205–270) modifies this notion, insisting that the human soul, still conceived as part of the World-Soul, lapsed from contemplation of the eternal forms by shifting its interests to the material realm, so that only mystical or superrational union now can restore man from sensuous desires to his proper vocation.

What is lacking in these ancient representations of reason is any awareness of transcendent cognitive revelation of the biblical doctrine of creation and fall of man and a gracious divine redemption, elements which crowd the discussion of philosophy only after the rise of Christianity. Augustine does not hesitate at all to use reason, but he does so always—after his spiritual conversion—in the context of God as Truth and of man’s dependency on divine revelation in view of transcendent creation and redemption. Aquinas, however, again put medieval philosophy on the side of greater confidence in the powers of independent human reasoning, and unwittingly prepared for a revival of an optimistic view of the intrinsic power of the human mind apart from revelational dependence. Increasingly the scholastics (as for instance Hugo of St. Victor [1096–1141], author of the encyclopedic Eruditio Didascalica) emphasize that revelation is necessary only for what is above reason, and that reason on its own adequately deals not only with natural concerns, but with many supernatural themes as well. Human reasoning now becomes the first court of appeal, and establishes all man’s beliefs up to the desperation point where revelation becomes additionally necessary.

The early modern philosophers expound a theistic world view without any significant role whatever for transcendent revelation. If the theme of revelation is retained, the rationalists submerge it in the process of human reasoning. The competence of the mind to know metaphysical truth now means that, apart from any dependence on and necessity for divine disclosure, man is in his present condition able by rational inquiry to arrive at the whole truth about reality and life. On the basis of innate truths held to stock the human mind independently of revelation (contrary to Augustine), mathematical rationalists expected mathematical inquiry to demonstrate the nature of the externally real world and to unveil the secrets of its inner behavior. In Spinoza’s view, man’s clear intuition of truth is the equivalent of divine intuition; not transcendent revelation by a divine Mind but mathematical reasoning, which assertedly penetrates to the essential structure of the ultimately real world, is the decisive criterion of truth.

The turn is now readily made to the view that knowledge gained from human intelligence is more trustworthy than what is presumably derived from revelation. Many philosophers next insist that the legitimacy of metaphysics depends upon the exclusion of divine revelation as a source of truth and reliance only upon reason uninformed by revelation. The eighteenth-century deists elaborated their case for an “Author of Nature” on the ground of rationalistic reflection alone. Religious philosophy henceforth considers revelation a bothersome and discomfiting motif except it be viewed—as by Hegel—as simply another term for human discovery. Unwavering confidence is nourished in the capacity of the faculty of reason to guide man toward a realization of the kingdom of God on earth, without special supernatural assistance; and the practical successes of science are thought to reinforce this view.

Although Kant, like Hume, retains the term revelation in its traditional understanding, he does so only to reject it, and allows it no more formative cognitive significance than did Hume. For the philosophical rationalists, knowledge is certain and beyond need of correction revelationally or empirically in view of the secret divinity or intrinsically necessary constitution of the human mind. The historic Christian emphasis that man’s created finitude requires his dependence on transcendent revelation, and that the consequences of the fall for man’s ways of thinking make this dependence all the more imperative, is swept aside.

From the time of Hume forward the pretensions of philosophical rationalism are more and more put in the limelight. The rationalists readily assumed the infallibility of their own postulations, dignifying them as clearly apprehended principles. Such unqualified confidence in the competence of human reasoning was shaken, however, by the empirical contradiction of prevailing interpretations of the cosmos. Many empiricists were now increasingly content if explanation did not presume to render the realm of reality comprehensively intelligible, but rather identified universal laws that permit the dependable prediction and confident control of future events. The excesses of philosophical rationalism therefore encouraged an empirical reaction that boldly substituted a new method of knowledge alternative to reason, but one which was as hostile to transcendent revelation as was the rationalistic option, in view of the emphasis that the content of knowledge is supplied not by human reasoning but by sensation alone.

Kant becomes influentially decisive for a whole movement in philosophy that erases the significance of cognitive reason for metaphysical realities. The categories of thought are correlated only with empirical data. All thought is time-bound and space-bound because time and space are universal conditions of human experience. By the very limits of human reason as Kant stipulates these, man is cut off from any possession of transcendent truth. God is indeed an indispensable postulate, a regulative ideal demanded by the moral nature, contends Kant, but not an objective of cognitive knowledge. The only certainty that man can attain is the moral certainty that every human personality has inviolable worth, but no human being has or can have valid metaphysical knowledge. All claims by the metaphysicians about the objective nature of the ultimate world are considered invalid and outside the range of human knowing.

The one great post-Kantian rationalist is Hegel, who combines philosophical pantheism with an evolutionary view of reality as a developing logical process. The progressively manifested Absolute, he contends, comes to reflective self-consciousness in human minds in a dialectical development that is open to the future. Rudolf Lotze (1817–81) and other personal idealists identify only the cosmos, not human minds, as a part of God, contrary to Hegel, but they nonetheless hold an optimistic view of reason and submerge the priority of divine revelation in evolutionary considerations. Hegel did not view theology as an illicit enterprise; like Kant and Schleiermacher, he contended that religion and belief in God are universal and necessary. But whereas the others denied objective cognitive knowledge of God, Hegel held that religion gains rational significance if one translates its otherwise imaginative pictorial representations into idealistic metaphysics. Revelational theology is therefore regarded as a parabolic expression of what the Hegelian philosophy transposes into univocal language and categories of thought. The way is thus prepared for philosophers of religion to hold that theology traffics in religious symbols not literally true, while valid assertions about transcendent reality are reserved for philosophy.

Some philosophical idealists, with an eye on the progressive historical manifestation of Hegel’s Absolute, sought to vindicate the legitimacy of theology on the ground that it deals earnestly with the historical facets of religious experience, whereas philosophy expounds the general characteristics of the world and experience. Against those who demeaned historical facets of the Christian faith, William Ernest Hocking (1873–1966) commendably emphasized that Christianity cannot be disjoined from the life of its founder. Yet whoever understood the premise of his argument—that religious affirmations arise in the context of a particular religious history—recognized that Hocking intended no once-for-all claim for biblical religion, since he was saying also that Islam could not be dissociated from the Prophet nor Buddhism from the moment under the Bo tree when Buddha grasped a way of release from finite restlessness. Idealistic philosophers inevitably subordinated all particularities to a general scheme which disallowed a theology of God’s special disclosure, not only because they correlated metaphysical truth solely with the universally immanent activity of the Absolute, but also because they superimposed an evolutionary pattern that tolerated no final differences in the history of religions.

Long after it had peaked in Germany during the nineteenth century, Hegelian influence remained powerful in England, and then in America, its spell stretching over several decades. But new and startling voices appeared—among them Nietzsche, Freud and Marx—to insist that human reasoning largely rationalizes man’s underlying biases, whether conscious, or unconscious, or rooted in class interest. As long as the West remained exuberant over liberal-democratic social changes, the influence of these views was restrained. But after the outbreak of World War I, and later with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, the expansive ambitions of totalitarian communist rulers, and the waning credibility of political democracy, the prevalent trust in reason was deeply shaken, and the hope of social change was more and more correlated with coercion and violence.

The strength of philosophical rationalism lay in its insistence that the principles of logic and the mathematical sciences are not derived from experience, but make experience possible, and that truth is self-destructive unless noncontradictory and governed by the canons of reason. Yet the “impartial truth” which rationalist philosophers extolled was something far more elusive than they thought. Although emphasizing the priority of reason, the most brilliant rationalists had themselves produced a spectacular array of impressively competitive and conflicting world views, each highly consistent with its postulated first principles, yet diverging from the others despite the high claims made for certainty, consistency and coherence. Such disagreements among the early modern rationalists, no less than the correction of some of their contentions by empirical evidence, had already lent force to the counterviews of the scientific empiricists. The early modern era of philosophical theism gave way to the post-Kantian era of philosophical idealism, and that in turn to the age of philosophical naturalism, with its leading thinkers all the while justifying their conflicting schemes by an appeal to the demands of human reason.

It would therefore be uncritical simply to dismiss out of hand the complaint of logical positivists that talk about metaphysics is unintelligible nonsense. By the very test of noncontradiction on which rationalists insist, much of philosophical metaphysics must be false, even if little of it may be meaningless. Idealistic metaphysics even represented man’s thoughts as God’s thoughts, and man’s doings as God’s doings, premises all the more difficult after Freud and Hitler illuminated them. Some idealists insisted that time and the world of sense perceptions are unreal, while others identified the structure of the real world with their own mental perceptions. The annals of philosophy include much to provoke the charge that metaphysicians often assert what simply cannot be true. One need only think of the panorama of different divinities strenuously affirmed by eloquent advocates of speculative cosmologies and the diverse views of the ultimately real world soberly propounded in the name of disciplined and systematic reflection on the nature of things. Not only the logical positivist demands for verifiability but the Christian promulgation of revelation as well gains a certain sympathy from this wide-ranging disagreement among rationalistic metaphysicians.

So extensively has faith in the role of reason faltered during the past generation that the champions of philosophical reasoning have in many quarters been put to evident rout. “Confidence in reason among Western thinkers has for a couple of decades or more been steadily undermined,” Edwin A. Burtt states, “and … the undermining in many cases has amounted to a complete collapse. Feeling unable to save himself from impending catastrophe, and no longer trusting reason as a guide to the true and the good, Western man is easily led to hope that a supernatural source of truth and goodness may break in to save him from himself” (Types of Religious Philosophy, p. 375). This latter hope Burtt decries as an escape to “the cult of unreason.” Yet among those for whom reliance on reason has all but come to an end, the yawning chasm of nihilism widens. The intellectual depletion of philosophical rationalism is an open invitation to despair, if no revealed Word, no truth of revelation, exists to shatter man’s pervasive fear that his noblest beliefs will inevitably be falsified, that all our best effort will empty into ultimate purposelessness, that the good is simply a man-made illusion.

Human reason is not a source of infallible truth about ultimate reality. For human intelligence is not infinite, and left to itself man’s reasoning all too evidently reflects his finitude. All speculative interpretations of reality and life projected on the basis of human insight and ingenuity—modern no less than ancient—are merely provisional in character. Whether arrived at by sustained scientific inquiry or disciplined philosophical reasoning, they are destined inevitably to revision and replacement. So limited is human life that no man has time or opportunity to gather all the information relevant to a comprehensive world-life view, and even if he could, volitional or emotional pressures upon the human spirit prejudice every man’s interpretation of the data. This best explains the fact that brilliant minds using the same canons of reason interpret reality in amazingly diverse ways, and expound competing views with compelling force.

The problem is not one of fundamental intellectual incompetence, or men could know nothing at all. Nor is it that the canons of reason and forms of logic are irrelevant to ultimate reality. Were that the case, we would be doomed from the outset to ontological skepticism. Rather, man the thinker, for whatever reason (Judeo-Christian theology would point to the fall and sinfulness of man) employs his intelligence to formulate comprehensive explanations of reality and life that not only rival each other, but together stand exposed as inadequate, inordinate world-wisdom when evaluated by the transcendent cognitive revelation which Judeo-Christian truth affirms. The human spirit slants its perspectives in a manner that does violence to the truth of revelation, while its very formulations are at the same time made possible because reason is a divine gift whose legitimate and proper use man has compromised.

These speculative world views gain a presumptive power over against the biblical explanation of life and reality in part because of what Christian theologians call the epistemic predicament of finite and sinful man, it being a sign of human unregeneracy that, despite the high mortality rate of all secular conceptualities alongside the ongoing relevance and power of the Christian revelation, intellectual frontiersmen so routinely assume that the scriptural outlook is obsolescent. This prejudice is further nurtured by the circumstance that, however much the numerous speculative alternatives conflict with each other, they conspire as a group to reinforce the leading tenets of the age. Secular metaphysical schemes more often put on parade the spirit of contemporary culture, setting its ruling assumptions in the context of comprehensive theory, than they question the controlling ideas of the present period. When these interpretative formulas are challenged by the premises of revealed religion—in accord with the Christian demand that the presumptions of every cultural era be tested from the standpoint of transcendent revelation—the whole gamut of secular world views (though individually canceling out each other) rallies in mutual support of the reigning tenets of the day. Secular theories falling far short of logical demonstration commend themselves as self-evident to the “mind of modernity” because they are intrinsically congenial to the contemporary mood. It is remarkable how frequently in the history of philosophy a metaphysician who thinks that he has a revolutionary insight into the true nature of things succeeds only in projecting the spirit of the times on a cosmic scale.

So, for example, Harvey Cox warns us in The Secular City against the pitfall of embracing another exclusive world view, a warning that serves to move Christian supernaturalism to the margin and to make way for Cox’s vigorous espousal of secular pragmatism. One hallmark of the secular city, Cox writes, is radical openness or tolerance of all view-points; no one viewpoint is taken as authoritative, for all inhabitants share a common structure. But this pluralistic tolerance is patently more apparent than real, for as Hendrik Hart incisively notes, Cox offers us “a religious position which claims to be nonreligious and a metaphysical stand which professes to be anti-metaphysical” (The Challenge of Our Age, p. 114, n. 45). After acknowledging that metaphysical rationalism has lost its lease on life in the current scene, Cox then offers us a subtle version in the form of functional and operational pragmatism, a specious “religious” world view humanistically rooted and intolerant of any religion that challenges human autonomy.

The plight of the reflective man lacking anchorage in revelational realities is reflected in Dorothy Emmet’s well-phrased observations: “Our minds seem impelled to seek or to create significance in their world as a whole in terms of concepts originally formed to express relations within experience. But, we ask, what warrant have we to suppose that the world views which result are more than the products of the mind’s own impulse towards the creation of forms in which the imagination can rest, and a feeling of significance can be enjoyed?… May not such world views, whether metaphysical or theological, prove in the end to be simply word patterns, drawn by developing the implications of ideas, such as the idea of ‘Being,’ the idea of ‘Perfection,’ the idea of the ‘Good’; ideas which have indeed the power of evoking emotional response, but which are nonetheless merely ideas, and do not say anything about reality transcending appearance?” (The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking, p. 3). Miss Emmet adds: “Religious thinking may well have other concerns besides the epistemological question of the relation of our ideas to reality beyond ourselves. But here, if anywhere, this question cannot be avoided, since religion loses its nerve when it ceases to believe that it expresses in some way truth about our relation to a reality beyond ourselves which ultimately concerns us” (p. 4).

The insistence of the classic Greek philosophers that some knowledge is foolproof and unfailingly accurate came to naught in their case, because induction and rational demonstration did not fulfill the high claims made for them. But that is no basis for insisting, as modern empiricism does, that man possesses no fixed and unrevisable truth whatever. Gordon Clark’s comment is noteworthy: “It is consoling to know that at least part of the time we cannot be mistaken, if only we knew which part of the time it is” (Thales to Dewey, p. 121). The Judeo-Christian view proffers guidance: when divine revelation gets through, man has an ultimate and final word.

The secular withdrawal of reason from revelation shapes the illusion among many modern thinkers that a reliance on revelation implies, as Burtt thinks, an enthronement of the irrational. The false notion that reason must in principle be antirevelational then gains credence. No profounder misconception of Judeo-Christian actualities is thinkable. A deity related to man only in terms of contradiction and paradox can serve neither the cause of revelation, reason or experience. In the biblical perspective even the role of rational consciousness and cerebral cognition is something more than the life of Reason (capitalized as by the nineteenth-century idealists); that reductive mumpsimus long obscured the transcendent Logos and the intelligible disclosure of the Living God, before technocratic scientism wholly mechanized the life of the mind.

By “reliable knowledge” evangelical theology does not mean universal formulas that are “scientifically sound” because technocratic experts expect reality to respond to a prescribed manipulation with impersonal predictability that is empirically verifiable. Nor does it mean comprehensive schemas about the whole of reality postulated by this world’s profoundest intellectual giants. To be sure, it strenuously insists that reason is the test of truth. But by true knowledge it means nothing more or less than truth as God knows and reveals it, and that will include whatever any philosopher and any scientist says without need of retraction.

Metaphysics is not a matter only of grandiose theories about the inter-relationships of all existence; even the barest assertions about reality are implicitly metaphysical. The Christian revelation concerns both the entirety and the minutiae of life and reality. G. C. Berkouwer reminds us that man stands in a universe in which he is addressed—”over against nihilism it must be asserted that human life bears an answering character”—and that, whether conscious of it or not, man’s whole life is a reply to the revelation of God (“General and Special Divine Revelation,” pp. 16 f.). In this context we can understand both a generation that ventures positivist “proofs” of God’s nonexistence, and one that mounts ill-advised “proofs” of his existence. The deep skepticism that disowns the meaningfulness and purposiveness of the cosmos and speaks mainly of the anxiety and anguish of human life can be seen not simply as a human questioning of reality, but as a divine questioning of modern man through an ultimate revelation that forestalls any absolute defamation of created existence.

Yet so influentially have towering theologians in the recent past withdrawn from the rational validity of metaphysical commitments, that their emphases are rightly designated as dialectical and/or existential to emphasize their departure from evangelical rational theism. Not infrequently the protestations of such theologians against metaphysics coalesced with the negations of the logical positivists,3 and some rejoiced prematurely and uncritically in the discomfiture of all philosophers, little aware that the destructive firebombs dropped on such massive terrain would soon encircle the theological sector also. Worse yet, dialectical and existential theologians unwittingly helped to fortify positivist positions. For their front-line of advance against the claims of metaphysicians was the thesis that man has no cognitive knowledge of transcendent reality; many neo-Protestant theologians, however contrary their ultimate intentions, asserted this as vigorously as positivist philosophers.

Rationalism has swerved between two radical extremes in its attitude toward revelation. There is the widespread present admission that reason is barren as a source of final truth, but that it would be a sell-out to madness to invoke revelational theology. But a very different tradition in the history of philosophy, not without recent representatives, holds that philosophy finds its ideal intellectual expression and summit in theology. For Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus and even Spinoza, philosophy is at its apex an intellectual love of the Divine. It is this regard for theology as “the inner side of a philosophy,” to use Miss Emmet’s phrase (The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking, p. 150), that turns some systems of metaphysics into a religious faith, albeit a false one. Such outlooks on the surface eliminate a direct clash between philosophy and theology. But, insofar as theology is viewed as the capstone of speculative philosophy, they do so only by denying the comprehensive intellectual implications of revealed theology, and in principle even deny to theology its own right of survival on the basis of special divine disclosure. Sooner or later—and usually sooner than its advocates think—this view works itself around to the other, in which rationalists suspect and disown all theology, only to discover at last that in doing so they have both idolatrized reason and emptied it into a vain thing.

“The nature of metaphysical method and the sense, if any, in which metaphysics can be called knowledge, is an open question as it has been at no time since Kant wrote his Critique,” writes Miss Emmet (ibid., p. 2). Few today, she adds, propose “some positive way of interpreting the nature of things … in the full sense perhaps only Whitehead and Alexander, and these belong to the passing generation.…” Such formulation of a comprehensive world-life view has been out of fashion and favor in the recent past not solely because of philosophical preoccupation with method and analysis, since numerous examples might be given of the exaltation of method itself into metaphysics, not least of all Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology and logical positivism’s conflation of the question of meaning into that of verification. Nor is this avoidance of a comprehensive system due only to the pervasive modern doubt that man’s cognition can reach to the nature of God and metaphysical realities. It is due primarily to the squandered biblical conviction that the Logos of God is the coordinating reality that holds together thought, life and experience. Through the forfeiture of this mass idea rational philosophy has become impoverished to the point of nihilistic exhaustion.

Christianity depicts itself—essentially theological though it be—not as a supremely constructed metaphysical theory, but as a revelation, differing in kind from secular philosophies grounded in rational reflection. This revelational alternative can lift the philosophical enterprise once again above theories that are essentially irrational, and can restore reason to indispensable importance, without abetting rationalism; it can overcome the current addiction to the nonobjectivity of knowledge, and rout the notion of intellectually fatigued commentators that no coherent coordination of theology, ethics, science, art and socio-economic principles is any longer possible. At the same time, the theology of revelation offers something other than a revival of mere metaphysical dogmatism; Christianity has no desire to play in the same league with communist, logical positivist, or process philosophy theoreticians. Its basic premise is that the living God should be allowed to speak for himself and to define the abiding role of reason and the meaning of revelation. The mystical approach inexcusably shrouds the self-revealed God in ineffability. The empirical approach cannot arrive at the truth because it is committed to an unending search (the New Testament speaks of those who are “ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth,” 2 Tim. 3:7, kjv). The rationalistic approach subordinates the truth of revelation to its own alternatives and has speculated itself into exhaustion. If we are again to speak confidently of metaphysical realities, the critically decisive issue is on what basis—human postulation or divine revelation?


The Rise and Fall of Logical Positivism

In the early 1920s the Vienna Circle propounded a criterion for verification that recognized as “meaningful” only statements2 that are either analytic or in principle supportable by observation. All other assertations were considered “nonsensical”—although in some cases perhaps important nonsense.

F. Waismann in 1930 was the first to formulate explicitly the “verifiability principle.” It elevated the problem of the meaning of beliefs from a threshold issue to central concern; the sense of statements as “God created the world” holds logical priority over their truth. Positivists held that unless one indicates how such statements “could be known either to be true or to be false,” nothing either true or false is expressed by them.

The declining importance outside Germany of Martin Heidegger’s existentialist analysis or “atheistic transcendentalism” opened new opportunities for logical analysis and atheistic secularism. Many philosophers influenced by Hume and Comte turned to logical positivism to discredit metaphysics and to stigmatize theology as nonsense. Controversies soon raged in many places over the role, meaning and plausibility of the verification-principle.

Convinced positivists were saying not merely that our scientifically preoccupied generation lacks a lively faith in God, or that assertions about God’s reality are open to serious question, or that multitudes now acknowledge only vague intimations of deity. What they especially affirmed, rather, is that statements about the supernatural simply cannot be regarded as factual, that religious language lacks objective cognitive validity, and that assertions about God are meaningless nonsense. Logical positivists applied the terms meaningless and nonsensical not simply to demarcate statements about nonempirical reality, but also to belittle all but empirically verifiable statements as cognitively vacuous. They held that cognitively meaningful propositions must involve empirical observations that lead either to their acceptance as true or their dismissal as false.

Theological assertions like “God exists,” literal expositions of God’s nature and attributes, affirmations like “Christ died for our sins” and moral claims such as “murder is wrong” were declared meaningless nonsense statements because they are not observationally verifiable. Metaphysical assertions, it was held, cannot even be rejected as false because they assertedly belong to another world than that of intelligible truth. In a volume now often called the manifesto of logical positivism, A. J. Ayer, the leading exponent in England, said, “No sentence which purports to describe the nature of a transcendent God can possess any literal significance.… The religious utterances of the theist are not genuine propositions at all” (Language, Truth, and Logic, pp. 115, 117). Logical positivists, in short, left Christian theologians no option for meaningfully identifying theological assertions except as either tautologies (in that case belittling them as factually uninformative expressions) or as empirically verifiable statements requiring observational support.

Whatever others may think about the main tenets of biblical Christianity, evangelical Christians have from the first regarded these semantic formulations not merely as aesthetic or poetic devices but rather as propositions calling for rational belief. The sacred truths of Scripture are the epistemic bedrock of historic Christianity. If these theological assertions were shown to be not factually true, orthodox believers would be the very first to abandon their faith.

Moreover, insofar as the verificationist asks what evidence can be offered for metaphysical assertions, he simply echoes a question that has motivated Christian apologetics across many centuries. Committed to the singular truth of revealed religion, the evangelical apologist is always grateful when due attention is given to canons of verification. Whatever differences Christian theism may have with other perspectives of reality and life, including that of logical positivism, it does not reject wholesale the call for verification. Instead, it presses the question of what epistemological tests are appropriate to every indicated object of knowledge. Anything that will rescue modern society from ill-founded assumptions about the nature of reality should be warmly welcomed, especially at a time when the metaphysical claims of philosophers and religionists are so multitudinous and so contradictory that the truth of any seems questionable.

How are theological assertions about the invisible transcendent Spirit and other central tenets of the Christian religion to be verified? Logical positivists held, and quite rightly, that it makes sense to declare a statement meaningful, that is, a true-or-false statement, only if conditions are specified that validate or invalidate its cognitive claim. But they went beyond this. They arbitrarily rejected the cognitivity of theological sentences on the ground that empirically unverifiable statements lack meaning and are nonsensical. They recognized only an empirical or sensory verification of meaning and truth.

Evangelical theologians protested that logical positivism prejudicially narrowed the scope of meaningful cognitive statements. Many of them called for an appropriate alternative test of theological assertions, but some religionists tried instead to satisfy the demand of logical positivism for an empirical criterion or test. Those who bowed to empirical verifiability as a valid criterion of factual meaning found it necessary to state what decisive tangible difference the truth or falsity of theological assertions would make. Some restated the great biblical doctrines solely in terms of ethical, existential or emotional significance, thereby scuttling the claim for the cognitive truth and validity of Christian theological positions; others, however, sought to vindicate at least some of the biblical core-commitments.

John Hick, for one, observed that the meaning of verification is less obvious than logical positivists were prone to assume, and that the empirical verifiability of statements allows a variety of possibilities. He asked, “how public … must verification be?” before theological claims may be considered verifiable or verified (Faith and Knowledge, p. 171). Is verification in the experience of one individual sufficient, or must others also—perhaps everyone—be capable of verifying a theological statement? Few persons today have the requisite technical training let alone intellectual capacity to verify critically important claims in astronomy, biology, chemistry and physics. Are statements meaningful if verifiable by those endowed with appropriate means and method, however incomprehensible and unverifiable they may seem to others?

Hick emphasized that God-talk is destined for universal eschatological verification in the divine consummation of history (p. 173). Such theological sentences as “God created the universe” and “God loves mankind” are factually assertive statements—and hence meaningful; they are either cognitively true or false, and are not to be dismissed out of hand as nonsense. But only an eventual future eschatological verification can remove rational doubt about such religious assertions; verification will be publicly given only in the life to come (John Hick, “Comment,” pp. 22–24). Since God-talk is in principle verifiable, albeit in the future, contends Hick, theological utterances are not factually vacuous; indeed, the choice between theism and atheism is real and “not a merely empty or verbal choice” (Faith and Knowledge, p. 178).

Hick insists that the decisive difference between theists and atheists is found not in their experiences in this life but rather in their divergent interpretations of those experiences and of reality. The theist comprehends a divine purpose in life and anticipates a divine consummation of history; although man’s present ambiguous experience cannot provide factual confirmation now, the believer is confident that compatible with New Testament teaching theism will be openly verified in an afterlife. The atheist, on the other hand, does not relate history to God’s providence and to a particular end-state (Faith and Knowledge, pp. 178 ff.).

I. M. Crombie supported Hick’s appeal to eschatological verification. Since we are able to indicate conceivable tests for verification, theological utterances should be considered meaningful (“Arising from the University Discussion,” pp. 109–130).

Eschatological verifiability is nevertheless not the same as present-day verifiability upon which logical positivism suspended the meaningfulness of God-talk. John Hospers argues, furthermore, that an appeal to eschatology for prospective evidence of God’s existence is untenable. An afterlife would simply be surprising evidence that man survives death and not empirical evidence that God exists. Those who think, moreover, that seeing God face-to-face in the life to come implies sense perception, forget that the God of the Bible is immaterial and invisible Spirit. A resurrection body might perceive many things, but surely not a deity who is by definition imperceptible. Hospers contends that until believers resolve this difficulty “we shall have to conclude that there is no evidence for an ‘unobservable divine being’ the way there is for unobservable protons and electrons” (An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, 2d ed., p. 490). Paul F. Schmidt likewise challenges the emphasis on eschatological verification (Religious Knowledge, ch.4.).

The life to come, moreover, cannot be invoked as decisive verification if the life to come as a theological utterance is itself presently an empirically unverifiable claim. Peter Genco stresses that if eschatological verification is to be significant for present discourse, Hick and Crombie must not beg the question of an afterlife but must demonstrate the truth of this core theological assertion (“Verification, Falsification and the Language of Christian Theism,” p. 52). A belief that reaches beyond conceivable present means of being tested can hardly be invoked to ascertain the truth of other presently held beliefs. To suspend the verification of the proposition “God is” on the verification of the proposition “There is an afterlife” seems like putting the cart before the horse; Genco therefore remarks that “Christian theism can make no crucial claim that is verifiable through the operation of getting into position to decide it by dying” (p. 57). But Hick was responding to a demand for the specification of in principle verifying conditions of truth or falsity. While his argument is existentially of no help to one who thinks he must wait for an afterlife to discover he has been wrong in debunking theistic claims, it is philosophically correct.

John Wilson is another who tries to correlate biblical commitments with logical positivist demands. He insists that God is real and that religious statements are intended to be informative and verifiable “in the same sense that scientific statements are informative and verifiable” (Language and Christian Belief, p. 65). Neither by touching, seeing nor feeling God can and do men experience him. Rather, the knowledge of God, Wilson insists, is a personal “knowing by direct acquaintance,” not a propositional “knowing how” or “knowing that.” Nonetheless, the believer’s assertion in a religious context that “God is” includes cognitive claims that are verifiable in the sense that science is, except that verification is private or subjective rather than public and objective; the nonbeliever need only personally meet the prescribed conditions. Such verification, Wilson contends, is distinguishable from hopeless subjectivity by the intersubjective correlations of subjective verifications. The corroborative testimony of an adequate number of reliable persons who report similar experiences is the “minimal necessary condition” for establishing the cognitivity of religious experience (pp. 13 ff.).

Wilson’s response is inadequate, and Genco faults it on three counts. For one thing, Wilson’s proposed procedure whereby nonbelievers may enter into certain religious experiences offers “no satisfactory method for having or discovering genuine experiences of the supernatural” (“Verification,” p. 28). That is to say, Wilson proffers no objective criterion for distinguishing true from false religious experience, although it is the cognitivity of theological assertions that Wilson hopes to defend. Furthermore, once God’s existence is suspended upon existential experience, the truth-value of the statement “God exists” is necessarily left unsettled for all those for whom the prescribed program fails to bring about the indicated religious experience. It follows, then, that the type of “truth” claimed for the assertion “There is a God” must be something significantly less than universal validity (p. 32).

Yet Wilson was basically concerned not to demonstrate the truth but to specify conditions that would count for the truth or falsity of propositions about God for them to be meaningful. Genco’s third criticism appropriately deals with the weakness of experiential argument (cf. Ayer, Language …, Chapter 7, where he insists that verification conditions must be public, and that internal experience counts only for or against a state of consciousness and not for an external reality). Even if all religious aspirants experienced certain inner effects, since the God they affirm is not himself these subjective experiences, but rather presumably sustains a causal relationship to these experiences, can one—on Wilson’s approach—really claim a direct encounter with God as distinguished from internal experience? Unless Wilson can convincingly trace the inner experiences of peace, power and love to God as their transcendent source, he still makes belief in God a matter of disposition rather than of verification. Genco rightly emphasizes the incompetence of all philosophical or theological attempts to demonstrate the objective existence of a transcendent being on the basis of inner religious experience. What conclusion can be ventured about a reality beyond one’s experience on the basis of evidence consisting solely of internal experience (“Verification,” pp. 35 ff.)? When Wilson contends that religious statements are no less informative and verifiable than are scientific statements, he unfortunately obscures the explicit prepositional content and the verifying method appropriate to theological assertions. His proposals become useless for vindicating the cognitive basis of Christian assertions about God.

David Cox enlarges this verifiability horizon from religious experience to human experience, supposing that this expansion of the empirical test fully meets the logical positivist’s verification demand (“The Significance of Christianity,” pp. 209 ff.). But he does not escape the positivist insistence that internal experience does not count for or against the meaningfulness of religious beliefs, even if religious experience must be correlated with the whole range of human life. Cox further exaggerates the cognitive verifiability that can be derived from human experience. To assimilate the case for the reality of God to human experience repeats Wilson’s error of assuming that we can demonstrate God’s existence as an independent and objective Being merely from experience as experience. Moreover, Cox glosses over the positivist demand for sense verification. Man’s “meeting” with God he compares to a “meeting” between invisible soldiers whose battle is mediated by artillery fire in the absence of sense experience (“A Note on ‘Meeting’,” p. 259). To this Thomas McPherson replies that military conflict is in principle open to public confirmation and that only sense verification could actually verify a “meeting” of the type Cox here depicts (“The Existence of God,” pp. 545 ff.). W. D. Glasgow stresses, on the other hand, that sense experience cannot corroborate the putative statement “I met God” insofar as the term God refers to an independently existing Being (“D. Cox: The Significance of Christianity: A Note,” pp. 101 f.)

To stretch the empirical testability of truth-claims by assuming that inner religious or human experience meets the demands of positivism and overcomes its adverse consequences for theology overlooks the positivist requirement for meanings that are “sense-representable” and interpersonally confirmable by sense evidence (C. L Lewis, An Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation, p. 171). Positivism accredits assertions about human or religious experience as cognitively significant by making them answerable to the empirical scientific method. Since nothing less than empirical verifying evidence can in principle satisfy the positivist criterion in regard to the meaningfulness of theological core claims, theologians and religious philosophers who try to vindicate the cognitivity of Christian beliefs within the governing assumptions of logical positivism must rely on empirical factors to make their case for the cognitive significance of theistic statements.

To shift the basis of faith from external evidence to internal responses forfeits any objective criterion for distinguishing authentic from inauthentic religion, true from false spiritual sentiments, and genuinely religious from spurious values. Since immediate experiences of divine encounter cannot be publicly tested, they carry no claim to cognitive meaning for others, no matter how subjectively significant they may be. The dialectical-existential emphasis that divine revelation conveys no propositional information about God and his ways, but rather is personal and internal, simply gives the positivist added license for treating God-talk trivially. Not only does such emphasis fail to meet the (arbitrary) demand for sense verifiability, but it also escapes the (legitimate) demand that the content of any “revealed truth” be formulated intelligibly.

The question arises whether the epistemic bridge that logical positivists constructed for theologians to cross could in any event lead at last to the indicated destination—that is, to meaningful or cognitively significant theological assertions. Equally important was the question whether the positivist methodology could bear the weight of all the intellectual traffic that was detoured its way. It makes little difference what lies on the other side if the bridge we are compelled to take is sure to collapse before we cross it. Instead of acceding to positivist demands, the far more discerning course—dictated by the inherent requirement of evangelical beliefs and by the nature of the real world—was to expose how implausible as the test of meaning was the positivist theory of verifiability. In their searching scrutiny and criticism of the arbitrary positivist criterion for the cognitive significance of metaphysical assertions, Christian theologians soon found ready and effective allies among contemporary philosophers.

The theistic counterattack drove advocates of logical positivism to espouse compromises that ranged from an insistence on “strong verification” to “weak verifiability” in principle. The former unwittingly excluded as meaningless some obviously meaningful sentences, the latter disbarred almost none as meaningless. Before long the mounting controversy over verification involved also the countercontroversy over the nature of cognitive significance. In response to logical positivist claims that the basic Christian beliefs are cognitively vacuous because empirically unverifiable, more and more scholars pressed for a clarification of the terms meaningfulness and verifiability, and emphasized the distinction between (1) meaningful or unmeaningful sentences, and (2) sentences that are true or false (cf. Hospers, Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, p. 78).

The question of meaning, it was pointed out, holds logical priority over that of verifiability. So-called informative or informational sentences were declared to be cognitively significant if they assert a thesis that may be adjudged either true or false. If it makes sense to declare a statement either true or false, it may be regarded as having cognitive significance. If verifiability is exalted as the criterion of meaning, then obviously all unverifiable statements are pointless nonsense.

The positivists were never very clear as to whether the verification principle was a criterion of meaning or of meaningfulness but seemed to equate them. Obviously this is false. If verification is a criterion of meaningfulness, it can merely specify that a proposition has meaning; if it is a criterion of meaning, it additionally stipulates how it has meaning.

The positivist conflation of meaning and evidence was reflected notably by Moritz Schlick. A guiding light of the Vienna Circle, he stressed that “the meaning of a proposition is the method of its verification.” This tenet was the distinctive feature of logical positivism during its influential formative years. As Schlick put it, “there is no way of understanding any meaning without ultimate reference … to (experience) or (possibility of verification)” (“Meaning and Verification,” p. 48). For Ayer and other logical positivists, a statement of the meaning of a proposition was simply a statement of conditions under which the proposition is true. Not only are meaning and verification here connected, but verifiability is postulated as the necessary and sufficient condition of cognitive import; verification and meaning become interchangeable. But the meaning or cognitive content of a statement is not determined by verifiability. For example, even were the sentence “God loves me” unverifiable, it need not on that account be meaningless. The truth or falsity of the statement does not determine its meaningfulness. If the meaning of all sentences is first suspended on empirical testing procedures, then statements about moonrocks were meaningless before cosmonauts saw and handled them.

Positivism was logically vulnerable, since instead of regarding the meaning of a sentence as a consideration distinct from and prior to evidential verification of its statements, it assumed that verifiability establishes meaning. Simply modifying the empirical criterion could not correct this weakness, for empirical description is neither adequate nor necessary to decide the meaningfulness of sentences. Logical positivism finally collapsed because of the inability of the positivists to formulate a criterion that was neither too restrictive nor too inclusive. Reformulation became a way of life among positivists in their stipulation of restrictions on the conditions attaching to verifiability. The conviction grew that the analysis espoused by Ayer and his followers had, as E. L. Mascall put it, “fallen into the snare in which the empiricists customarily claim to find the metaphysicians, that of packing into their principles the conclusions which they want to get out of them” (Words and Images, p. 8).

Positivism was countered on two fronts: first, by showing that the meaning of a sentence can be known before knowing its verifying criteria, and second, that the conditions of testing can be known without knowing the meaning of a sentence. Schlick had fused “reference to ‘experience’ and possibility of ‘verification’ ” as adequate and necessary conditions of sentence-significance. This formulation unwittingly excluded as meaningless sentences which the positivists themselves considered meaningful. The criterion of meaning was consequently modified into an alternative condition, namely, stipulating what verificatory procedures other than “experience” (or actual sense verification) would establish cognitive meaningfulness. To this critics effectively replied that neither “experience” nor “possibility of verification” is a necessary condition of the meaningfulness of sentences. One cannot even begin to verify a given sentence, they said, unless one already knows its meaning. Verification is connected not with establishing the meaning of sentences but with establishing the truth or falsity of intelligible propositions.

Moreover, one can know testing conditions without knowing the meaning of correlated statements. A computer operator need not know the underlying meaning of the statistics he manipulates, but can nonetheless test the data (whether the information it conveys is about stocks and bonds or about the movements of a space missile). Stipulating the testing conditions that would support the truth or falsity of a proposition is an operation very different from identifying the meaning of a given sentence. The meaning of a sentence is not synonymous with testing procedures but is distinguishable from those tests, and knowledge about relevant testing conditions cannot be made a necessary and adequate criterion of sentence significance. Indeed, one may know the meaning of a sentence without also knowing appropriate testing procedures for that sentence, or one can understand the necessary verificatory criteria without knowing the meaning of a related assertion.

The positivist manifesto was further weakened when the meaningfulness of sentences was next suspended, not on empirical verification nor on knowledge of relevant testing procedures, but on the “possibility of experience”—that is, an indication of what testing procedures could in principle be considered necessary and sufficient to identify a sentence as meaningful. Hick disputed the suggestion that cognitively significant sentences must in principle be verifiable by others, on the ground that the phrase in principle is ambiguous—does it refer to direct or to indirect verification or to both? How in any event can anyone conducting an experiment verify that his sensations were just like those of someone else? The sentence, “Death involves the extinction of consciousness,” Brand Blanshard noted pointedly, does not gain its meaning through a consideration of whether it is in principle verifiable. Indeed, it is logically impossible, argues Blanshard, to envisage descriptive empirical testing procedures in this case since no one could be conscious of the extinction of his consciousness. Nor can the invisible existence of others after death be ruled out (Reason and Analysis, p. 224). Here then is a sentence whose meaning is evident but which, if propositionally true, would in principle preclude empirical verifiability; to stipulate scientific procedures capable of verifying that one has not consciously survived death is in principle impossible. Hospers remarks that if meaning depends on verifiability, then the statement that one has survived bodily death is meaningful, because it is logically capable of verification; on the other hand, the denial of consciousness after death would be meaningless. Neither statement, in fact, involves more meaning-difficulty than the other (Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, p. 267). If the sentence “one has survived death” is meaningful whereas “I have not survived death” is not for lack of in principle verifying conditions, then, as some have argued, not only metaphysics and theology but the very foundations of logic are eroded.

The problem is created therefore by the positivist’s arbitrary criterion of meaning. “In principle testing conditions” are simply not a necessary requisite of sentence significance. Logical positivism consequently had no logical basis for insisting either on testing conditions, or on a knowledge of relevant testing procedures, or on a stipulation of in principle testing procedures, as necessary conditions for sentence significance. Instead of viewing testability as simply a sufficient condition of the meaningfulness of sentences, logical positivists instead inflated testability into a necessary condition of sentence meaningfulness and transmuted a proposition’s meaning into its method of verification. But if one understands what tests of observation are to be devised, must he not already know the meaning of the sentence in question? Genco remarks that the venture into verification already presupposes a recognition of meaningfulness. “Knowing that a sentence is testable or has testing-procedures is thus a sufficient condition for knowing that the sentence is meaningful—whether that sentence be about electrons or God” (“Verification,” p. 85).

Not even major concessions in the notion that the cognitive import of a sentence is identical with its testing procedure, or even with in principle verification, satisfied the most astute critics of positivism. As the stultifying effects of positivist theory were more and more recognized, contemporary philosophers increasingly assailed its basic premises. The positivist contention that theological sentences are cognitively vacuous because they do not satisfy an empirical verificatory demand became more and more suspect. The verification principle was doomed to slow but sure dismemberment and to eventual demise.

Although driven to abandon verifiability as the mode of testing for cognitive import, positivism’s antimetaphysical bias emerged in a new and somewhat milder form. It became painfully evident that the verifiability thesis, if valid, destroyed much more than its advocates suspected. Critics noted that neither in practice nor in theory could it be expanded to cover statements of universal law, that is, unrestricted scientific generalizations embracing both the observed and unobserved, whether past, present or future, and their meaningfulness would be sacrificed for lack of positivist verifiability.

Positivists were already in disarray when Karl R. Popper championed the principle of falsifiability as an alternative to verifiability lest “the radical positivist … destroy not only metaphysics, but also natural science” (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, p. 9). By emphasizing the principle of “falsifiability” Popper sought to preserve the significance of scientific laws; not empirically verified as universal explanatory principles but having survived elimination over against alternate theories, they nonetheless in principle and actuality remain falsifiable.

Antony Flew applied the principle of falsifiability to theological concerns. Popper had adduced falsifiability only as a criterion for distinguishing scientific from nonscientific theories, and never advanced it as a falsifiability-principle in the positivist sense of a criterion of meaning or meaningfulness. But some positivists saw in what Popper was saying a hopeful means of saving their own program. Flew elevated it into a determinative criterion of meaning or meaningfulness. Theologians were now forced either to indicate what occurrences would falsify their God-talk, or to concede that theological language has no factual content. Language about God was declared cognitively vacuous unless open to refutation; God-talk was considered meaningless because incapable of falsification. Flew set the issue in a provocative adaptation of John Wisdom’s parable of two explorers, one a believer and the other a skeptic (“Gods,” 1:187–206). “Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?” asked Flew (“Theology and Falsification,” p. 96).

Because Flew presumes to establish meaningfulness on the basis of falsifiability, he can readily reduce three distinct statements of this question to equivalent claims. Since he attaches the same empirical expectations throughout, and no gardener is observable by various empirical tests (observation, electrified fencing and bloodhound patrols), Flew considers the sentences equally meaningless. Yet many critics have pointed out an underlying ambiguity in Flew’s three statements and that they actually convey distinguishable meanings. The first, “an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener,” implies a nonempirical gardener, while the reference of the second to “no empirical gardener” may be taken to indicate “no gardener, empirical or nonempirical.” While a positivist would attach the same empirical expectations to all statements, can it be truly maintained that neither statement says more or less than the other? The first statement intends to assert that “a nonempirical gardener tends this plot.” To this the believer would attach none of Flew’s empirical expectations that bloodhounds and electrified barbed wire could apprehend the invisible One. The second statement intends to deny in the unbeliever’s name that any gardener tends the plot. The unbeliever similarly attaches no expectations to empirical testing procedures. But how then can it be maintained that the two statements mean the same thing? Flew’s argument clearly suffers from internal weaknesses and inconsistencies, no less than from residence in a mistaken theory of meaning.

Raeburne S. Heimbeck elaborates the weaknesses of Flew’s use of falsification in great detail. He notes that the sentences involve contrary causal agency, and in concept can be attached to God for whom the invisible gardener stands in, but not to an imaginary gardener (Theology and Meaning, pp. 80 ff.). In the first statement the verb tends implies a causal relationship between the gardener and the plot, whereas in the context of the third statement causal relationships are not in view; in the second statement causal factors may be in view and variously accounted for, or may be excluded. The statements not only have different meanings, but they also imply different verificatory criteria.

Flew’s assault on theological sentence significance rests on mistakenly equating the meaning of a sentence with the negative empirical expectation of an assertion’s negation. Even when this mistaken conflation of meaning and empirical evidence is applied, the conclusion is not forthcoming that the meaning of the three sentences is identical. In brief, Flew has not shown that core theological claims in principle exclude other factual statements. Such claims retain their eligibility as cognitively significant sentences.

Even as some theologians had earlier sought to defend religious claims within the positivist demand for verifiability, so now others sought to square theological claims with the theory of falsifiability. Accepting Flew’s insistence that God-talk is in principle unfalsifiable, R. M. Hare declared theological sentences to be a perspectival blik on life rather than factual statements. Flew chided Hare for forfeiting the profounder intentions of religious language, and noted that if perspectival bliks exhaust the significance of theological statements, then any rational defense and support is a waste of time and energy (see also H. J. N. Horsburgh, “Mr. Hare on Theology and Falsification,” pp. 256 ff.). While Basil Mitchell insists on the factual claim of theological sentences he points to pain, evil and untoward world events as contesting in principle the assertion that, “God loves mankind” for all that, Mitchell contends that religious claims cannot be decisively falsified because in practice the believer has met God. But neither in that case, it would seem, can theological statements be decisively true, since purely at the critical level of observation of empirical existence the verdict is ambiguous. Flew remarks that if no circumstances can conclusively falsify the statement, then the assertion “God loves us” has only psychological and not logical significance. A. C. Ewing suggests that a wholly evil world would count decisively against the statement “God loves all human beings” (“Religious Assertions in the Light of Contemporary Philosophy,” pp. 206–218). As incompatible with the same theological statement, F. C. Copleston proposes the counterstatement “God wills the eternal damnation and misery of all human beings” (Contemporary Philosophy, pp. 100 ff.).

Flew contends that “anything which would count against” a theological assertion “must be part of (or the whole of) the meaning of the negation of that assertion” and that “to know the meaning of the negation of an assertion is … to know the meaning of that assertion” (“Theology and Falsification,” p. 98). This not only perpetuates the positivist conflation of meaning and evidence, but also broadly and ambiguously considers any incompatible assertion as part or all of the meaning of the negation of an assertion’s negation. But, as Genco remarks, if Flew means that knowing the evidence for or against a statement is equivalent to knowing its meaning, then he confuses negative evidence with the meaning of the negation of a statement (“Verification,” p. 9). Moreover, Flew’s reliance on falsification as the criterion of meaning faces him with a dilemma which Basil Mitchell puts incisively: “Either (i) theism is meaningless because unfalsifiable or (ii) it is meaningful but in fact falsified (because of the existence of evil in the world)” (The Philosophy of Religion, p. 2). Flew contends that to negate the claim “God loves all human beings” is logically impossible because theologians consider nothing incompatible with the truth of this claim. Yet he simultaneously demands that theologians stipulate what must take place or must have been or must be the case to constitute a disproof of this claim: “Just what would have to happen not merely (morally and wrongly) to tempt but also (logically and rightly) to entitle us to say, ‘God does not love us’?” (“Theology and Falsification,” p. 99). If theistic assertions deny nothing factual they can hardly be said to affirm anything factual.

Insofar as Flew requires theologians to adhere to the logical law of double negation he is on firm ground, for the meaning of sentences must exclude both what contradicts them and what they contradict. To deny a negation of a given statement is indeed equivalent to the meaning of that assertion. But Flew is mistaken, Genco insists, when he treats this principle “as a rule which discloses the meaning of an assertion to be expressed in part or whole by any incompatible assertion” (“Verification” p. 92). Says Genco, Flew fails to recognize that “a statement may very well be incompatible with a given statement and yet not express the meaning of the negation of that statement” (pp. 92 f.). Hence Flew is misled when he implies that theologians must disregard the principle of double negation because theistic core claims are inherently semantically deficient. Flew insists that the sentence “God loves all human beings” is meaningless on the mistaken complaint that it does not satisfy the demands of the principle of double negation.

The analysis by which Flew considers “God loves all human beings” to be meaningless would equally reduce all other statements to meaninglessness. Flew not simply invokes the principle of double negation but he also extends it beyond its legitimate role as a logical rule applicable to meaningful sentences; he converts it into an erroneous and arbitrarily imposed criterion of meaning. Flew sets out to show that the principle of double negation entails the meaninglessness of the sentence, “God loves all human beings”; then, by a discussion of evidence, he shifts interest from the meaningfulness of theistic sentences to their truth. However proper and legitimate may be a demand for evidence, evidence has no bearing on the question of the cognitive significance of theistic statements to which Flew attaches it. Even on Flew’s censurable premises, however, one could not know that a negation is incompatible in meaning with a given assertion unless one already knows the meaning of the assertion.

Into the debate over the cognitive significance of “God loves all human beings,” Copleston injected the necessary reminder that meaning and verification in the ordinary sense are distinct and not conflatable issues. Evidence accumulated to support or refute a statement will either verify or falsify it, but does not establish or convey its meaning. Sentence significance and testing conditions are not to be conflated as if they were one and the same matter. Flew’s argument involves the tenuous assumption, however, that a sentence is cognitively significant only if evidence exists for or against it, and that identity or difference of meaning among sentences stems from identity or difference of evidence.

As indicated, logical positivists had earlier been forced to abandon the principle of verifiability because it reduced to nonsense much that they themselves wished to preserve as cognitively significant. Now they were forced to abandon falsifiability as well as the criterion of meaning. It became increasingly apparent that falsifiability as a criterion of meaning would alter the fundamental principles of logic, and that the falsifiability criterion harbors both overrestrictive and overinclusive deficiencies. C. G. Hempel clearly shows the inadequacy of the falsifiability criterion to differentiate cognitively significant from cognitively vacuous sentences (Révue Internationale de Philosophie, January 1950, pp. 46 f.; “Problems and Changes,” pp. 170 ff.). Since empirical falsification is never complete, no finite range of statements from observation can achieve universal refutation. Because the universal proposition “There are no half men and half beasts” cannot be empirically confirmed, the indefinite statement “There exists at least one centaur” cannot be falsified. Both hypotheses are meaningless on positivist premises since neither statement is in principle falsifiable. But since both statements are declared to be meaningless, the criterion is clearly overrestrictive. The overinclusiveness of the principle of falsifiability becomes apparent when it is applied to two conjunctive sentences only one of which is completely falsifiable. Suppose one uses the conjunction and to unite into a single sentence the two statements “All copper expands when heated” and “God loves all men.” The second statement (which by itself is declared meaningless because empirically unfalsifiable) is now along with the first held to be meaningful because the entire sentence is in principle completely falsifiable through empirical negation of the first statement.

A choice between the controversial positivist theory of meaning and the laws of logic is therefore clearly implicit: one either espouses the absurd positivist notion that while a universal affirmation makes sense, a statement denying the same proposition is neither true nor false but nonsense; or one subscribes to the logical rule that if a proposition is true, its contradictory must be false, and conversely, if a proposition is false, its contradictory must be true. Blanshard’s verdict is that “to give up logic itself for the sake of a controversial theory of meaning would be irresponsible” (Reason and Analysis, p. 229).

The principle of falsifiability came therefore to be rejected also as an invalid test of the meaningfulness of statements. Positivists had won but a hollow victory when they segregated empirically verifiable or falsifiable statements from theological and metaphysical statements and declared the latter meaningless. They had illogically and indefensibly confused and conflated the factors of meaning and evidence.

It became increasingly apparent, moreover, that to insist, as positivism did in its earliest formulations, that metaphysical assertions are unverifiable in principle and therefore cognitively vacuous was self-defeating and self-destructive. The demand for empirical verifiability of truth-claims did much more than downgrade to unverifiable speculation those theological and philosophical affirmations of a metaphysical nature that were distasteful to the positivists. For on this same basis—namely, the indispensability of empirical scientific veriftability—all statements about ethics (ought-assertions), including statements affirming universal human rights or requiring integrity in scientific research and experiments likewise become mere speculation. Not only all theological and ethical statements, but all statements about past historical events, because empirically unverifiable, are shorn of truth-status. Assertions about past memories or about present subjective psychological desires and intentions lose cognitive validity for the same reason. The fatal blow lay in this, however, that on positivist premises not even the basic positivist thesis—that only empirically verifiable statements are true—could be cognitively accredited, since it too, was empirically unverifiable. Logical positivists were convinced that they had leveled statements about God, sin and salvation to sheer nonsense; now they found themselves at the mourner’s bench, lamenting the death of their very own dogma. Theologians had been accused of speciously presuming to have knowledge about an invisible spiritual world. Now positivists were indicted of arbitrarily vetoing all metaphysical assertions except their own unverifiable epistemological bias. The searching questions about confirmation and verification were now turned back upon the positivists, who had sought unsuccessfully to guarantee their own solvency simply by bankrupting all rivals.

While the Christian theologians had really nothing to fear from brash positivist dismissals of theological discourse as cognitively meaningless, what they had every reason to deplore was the arbitrary restriction of meaning to empirically verifiable or falsifiable statements. Theology as a discipline was in no way doomed to a silent death in the abyss of meaninglessness. Neither the call for empirical verifiability nor that for empirical falsifiability had disqualified metaphysical statements as cognitively meaningful possibilities. The positivist contention that God-talk is nonsense because it is not amenable in principle to any empirical test was itself a superb instance of nonsense.

Yet no Christian theologian dare rest content because positivist demands have not eroded the meaningfulness of the core theological assertions of theistic belief. For the Christian calling consists not only in promulgating theistic beliefs; it includes an exposition of the distinctive Christian way of knowing, and attention to the testing procedures and verificatory criteria that commend its core-claims to reflective contemplation.


The Countercultural Revolt

What was first demeaned in the mid-1960s as simply a “hippie and drug” fallout of adolescent malcontents soon became a formidable countercultural revolt that aggressively challenged many of the perspectives prevalent in modern Western society. The easy acceptance of war, with its maiming of the young, as the readiest solution of international hostilities; the widespread resignation to long-standing patterns of racial animosity and discrimination; materialistic affluence as the chief goal of life; and a work ethic that views the daily job mainly as a means of accumulating more things than one’s neighbor possesses and of personal advancement to executive prestige and privilege—these were special targets of countercultural dissent. Beyond all this, however, and of even deeper significance, was the counterculture’s faulting of the so-called scientific world view which more than any other vision of reality has shaped the outlook of twentieth-century intellectuals. This proud achievement of recent generations the counterculture criticized and caricatured as the grandiose mythology of modern man, the fiction to which Western intellectuals are specially disposed. Not only did countercultural youth opt out of careers in science, but they questioned the indispensability of technocratic science to human well-being, and denied that the secular empirical world view tells the truth about the ultimately real world.

Those who take wholly for granted the finality of technological culture and share its priorities do not readily grasp the larger significance of the youth revolt and can only view its devotees as a strange and unstable cult. Its social criticism and moral indignation were also largely lost upon the merely curious and camp followers, whose episodic attachment to the countercultural movement marked them as nomads in quest only of sporadic “happenings,” and who simply made it an opportunity to express their frustrations and discontents without any real dedication to philosophical concerns.

The entrenched culture, moreover, moved quickly to minimize the mood of protest. Political leaders depicted the counterculture in terms of a vociferous minority and sought to defuse its revolutionary potential by encouraging change within the system. The mass media concentrated on colorful and dramatic sociological aspects more than on critical philosophical implications of youth’s radical critique of a scientific-mechanistic view of life and the world. Madison Avenue exploited the current vogue as a new commercial opportunity, a transitional life style and mode of dress here today and gone tomorrow. And middle-aged swingers fraternized with beleaguered youth while maintaining their own deep personal ties to a money-and-things culture.

To be sure, the countercultural revolt was in some respects an ambiguous phenomenon with an unsure identity; it wore a coat of many colors. One could assess it in terms of its recent genealogy or its current affiliates or, as time passed, even of double dropouts from culture and counterculture alike. Doubtless many of the disaffiliated young were victims of a generation lacking a sure sense of ultimate authority and nurtured on permissive self-expression. Given over to self-indulgent and undisciplined adolescence, they asserted their personal freedom and pleasure first against their parents, then against college authorities, next against government, and finally also against technological conformity. Hence the countercultural revolt is indeed, as Theodore Roszak remarks, “much more a flight from than toward” (The Making of a Counter Culture, p. 34). Adrift from the larger claims of reason, it was vulnerable to counterfeit infinities and sham divinities.

Yet the profound significance of the countercultural revolt lies in its radical critique and rejection of the reigning scientific-mechanistic view which reduces reality to the empirically observable, in its protest against defining the real world only in impersonal technocratic categories, in its challenge to the reductive naturalism which, as Roszak well puts it, assimilates to technological civilization “the whole meaning of Reason, Reality, Progress and Knowledge” (ibid., p. xiii).

For many decades, perceptive theologians and philosophers have warned that technology is encroaching ever more fully on human life and eroding the transcendent purposes and aims of human existence and a sensitivity to human values. But their dark verdicts on the “coming scientific megalopolis” have gone largely unheard. The youth counterculture has, however, publicly and openly opted for an alternative. It insists that the modern blind trust in the scientific enterprise is leading not to “an emerging technocratic paradise” but, as Roszak phrases it, to “Samuel Beckett’s two sad tramps waiting forever under that wilted tree for their lives to begin” (ibid., p. xiv)—that is, to fast-approaching technocratic domination and totalitarian dehumanization of man. Whether that wilted tree speaks of technological genius in the service of atomic devastation, ecological pollution of the earth, computerized intelligence, or simply in a more general way of the scientific depersonalization of everything human, counterculture youth has forsaken “that wilted tree” and is hopefully pitching its nomadic tent by rivers of new life.

Evangelical theologians have long insisted that the externally real world is not reducible to impersonal events expressible in calculable continuities. Their doctrines of the reality of a transcendent supernatural being, of man created in the divine image, and of a providentially ordered cosmos, preclude any such attenuation of reality. Yet twentieth-century evangelicals have been unable rationally to lift this generation to a clear vision of the reality of the supernatural, not simply because of human unregeneracy but because of their withdrawal into pietistic ghettos and their hurried call for spiritual decision which often leaps over an effective intellectual confrontation.

The youth counterculture has nonetheless existentially repudiated the reigning modern alternative to the Christian view of things, that is, technocratic scientism, with its reduction of reality to what can be known and charted by the empirical scientific method.

If the externally real world consists solely of mathematically connectible sequences of impersonal events, then it excludes personal intelligence, personal decision, personal agency, providence and purpose. In short, in that event it cannot accommodate personal reality or activity of any kind, whether divine or human; neither man nor God then belongs to the world of ultimate reality. The externally real world, therefore, consists only of quantifiable continuities without any reference to or role for personal thought, will or agency. God, or as many gods as one wishes to accommodate, if any, then belongs only to an inner world of faith, but has no standing in the ultimately real world. Man may see himself as different from nature, but that is nothing more than a faithstance lacking any basis in the external realm of process and events.

The youth counterculture is in quest of a new consciousness, a mode of consciousness beyond the merely empirico-scientific way of knowing. It embodies a longing for a reformulation of personality, for a transformation of the deepest sense of selfhood. It calls for a new constellation of values. It insists that human values belong to the ultimately real world, and that a good society has its basis not in impersonal mathematical formulas of scientific theory but in human sensibilities, personal worth and the realm of spirit—in brief, a good society is a psychic task.

Whoever has studied philosophy and the world religions knows how often it has been said before that the problem of a good society is really spiritual rather than physical, and that a sensate view of life and the universe dissolves the meaning and worth of human existence. Even the ancient Greek and Roman idealists and pantheists, whose perspectives the early Christians regarded as pagan, said this. The early modern philosophers also said it, and others like Pitirim Sorokin have said it in the recent past; indeed, it is capable of many different formulations with divergent implications for human life and action. But nowhere has it been said more frequently and insistently, in its own distinctive way, than in evangelical churches. The biblical revelation proclaims from start to finish that the old self is a lost cause, and that man faces the future with hope only as a new creature, as a reborn self, spiritually enlivened to the supernatural world; that God is immaterial and invisible Spirit; and that only human perversity will narrow the externally real world to what can be known and charted by empirical observation.

Not a few observers have even likened the countercultural stance to the New Testament’s adverse judgment upon the cultural outlook of the Greeks and Romans. Doubtless there is some shadow similarity to the early Christians in the evident disdain of disaffiliated youth for a spectacular culture whose colossal achievements stagger human imagination—global radio and satellite television, round-the-world jet travel, space ships and men walking on the moon. To dismiss this as unimpressive and irrelevant is somewhat like the apostle Paul’s demotion of the philosophical and cultural achievements of the ancient Greeks to “world wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:19, 22, 27). But there is also a conspicuous and irreducible difference. The modern forging of an alternative in terms of what one social critic calls “a scattering of suggestive ideas, a few crude symbols, a desperate longing” (Roszak, Making of a Counter Culture, p. 43) contrasts all too obviously with the apostolic certainty of divine revelation, the fresh news of the resurrection of the crucified One, and the awareness of personal redemption. The early Christians evinced none of the modern attachment to the magical and mystical, to spells and incantations and to every imaginable admixture of religious aberration. The New Testament vision of the kingdom of God is no plunge into existential subjectivity, no phantasmagoric anti-intellectual experience, nor is it like being “turned on” by LSD even though ventured, as Timothy Leary would have it, as a sacred rite. Only because most of the youth, like their modern parent generation, know so little about Christian realities can the catch-phrases of Zen be so readily likened to a recovery of biblical transcendence. The spiritual contrast is also obvious in the “hippie” welcome for the sexual amorality of Zen. Although Christian morality is not to be confused with Victorian priggishness, the pornographic crudity and unblushing profanity clinging to much of the counterculture can hardly be welcomed as a sure mark either of evangelical virtue or of a balanced reaction to prudery. The recent fascination with contemporary poets of spontaneity, which exalts Allen Ginsberg into a modern Amos or Isaiah, rests on a misconception also; these gurglings of modernity are not divinely inspired, and sorely need prophetic correction. Counterculture religiosity more often reflects what many Christians had been before turning to Christ than what they have since become.

To be sure, Christianity called for a complete opening of man’s soul to the transcendent world and for full devotion to supernatural revelation. But it is futile to turn, as did much of the counterculture, to occult mysteries or to hallucinatory drugs to enhance the significance of the “I.” Zen and LSD both point to an ultimate erosion of personal identity, the former because it looks toward Nirvana and the latter because hallucinatory drugs tend to become addictive and are more restrictive than expansive of consciousness. Neither the hallucinatory nor the occult can definitely unveil a realm of reality behind the statistical averaging to which scientism is devoted. One will not find authentic human values simply by exhuming the nonrational aspect of man’s nature. The emotionally manipulated irrationalities provide no access whatever to the worth and wisdom of the ages. Appeals to noncognitive levels of personality will not supply the rational guidance without which freedom becomes not only permissive but lawless. No anti-intellectual alternative can in the long run serve the countercultural challenge to technocratic omnicompetence.

Roszak rightly notes that, despite the scientific quantification and depersonalization of the supposedly real world, the human self is unable to shrug off its sense of moral responsibility and much else besides. He brilliantly satirizes technological proposals to automate human responses in the name of scientific progress. But he proves, nonetheless, an ineffective guide in elaborating an alternate theory of knowledge, a way of knowing reality other than that proffered by technological scientism. Every man must find the missing experience for himself, Roszak tells us. Moreover, he adds, the larger world of reality cannot be rationally expounded and is to be grasped by our nonintellective powers (The Making of a Counter Culture, p. 235). “Truth ought not to be seen as the property of a proposition, but of the person” (p. 236). (Presumably Roszak wants us to see truth as the property also and particularly of the foregoing proposition!) This appeal is unlikely to commend itself to the rational reflection either of technocratic scientists or anyone else, since it ventures to replace the myth of “scientific objectivity” by a variant grounded in subjective decision. In effect Roszak’s approach abandons objectively valid truth altogether, since technocratic scientism cannot transcend empirical tentativity, and “personal truth” cannot lay claim to universal validity. After protesting the scientific monopolization of truth, Roszak seems ready to yield truth nonetheless to exclusive definition by secular naturalism: “Were we prepared to accept the beauty of the fully illuminated personality as our standard of truth—or (if the word ‘truth’ is too sacrosanctly the property of science) of ultimate meaningfulness—then we should have done away with this idiocy of making fractional evaluations of men and of ourselves” (p. 237). But how can “ultimate meaningfulness” forfeit truth to scientific empiricism and escape reductionistic naturalism? Thus Roszak too fails to recognize the larger role of reason and perpetuates a basic defect of technocratic scientism, its deprivation to reason of comprehensive significance. Instead of calling for the release of reason from technocratic bondage and the restoration of universal truth, he accommodates these to the restrictive prejudices of scientific naturalism, while seeking anchorage for human values in a mystical sphere of transcendent personality.

The counterculture lacks a compelling rationale, and this want of doctrinal logic is no asset but a high liability. The youth revolt has a sharper eye for the cultural enemy than for any rationally strong alternative. Its weakest facet is its own intellectual incoherence and mindlessness. Its alienation from reason places it in revolt also against the rational revelation of God; it is adrift both from the claims of reason and from intelligible divine revelation. There is a better way than this to protest the technocratic reduction of reality to mathematically expressible continuities of nature.

Biblical religion no less insistently than the counterculture deplores the reduction of external reality to impersonal categories. In the name of God and of divine revelation the Bible disputes any total correlation of reality, reason, meaning and progress with the providence of empirical scientific methodology. To speak of reality only in terms of mathematical continuities is indeed to indulge in mythology, as the counterculture contends. But it is no less mythological to think that transcendent human values can be vindicated apart from God and transcendent reason, and that they can be floated in a mystical stratosphere detached from intellectual coherence. Hence the youth revolt is related to mythology not only by way of revolt, but also by way of concession, through its replacement of the technocratic myth by still another, the myth of durable human values grounded in existential subjectivity and mysticism. Mythology is therefore not simply something against which the contemporary counterculture deliberately revolts, but something to which it also unwittingly commits itself.

If we ask what nurtured the illusion that only in this way can human values be vindicated, the answer is to be found in the total assimilation of reason and reality to empirical scientific methodology. The failure of the counterculture to counter that correlation except in terms of internal commitment misled and betrayed the youth revolt into anti-intellectual approaches to life and reality. If by the rational one means only what is empirically identifiable, then no transcendent reality can be regarded as rational. The technological reduction of reality and reason to mathematically connectible sequences created the illusion among countercultural youth that only the mystical and abnormal consciousness remains to express a larger reality. Instead of challenging the technocratic correlation of the real and the rational solely with what corresponds to empirical scientific methodology, disaffiliated youth reached for an inner mystical reality, transcending scientific method, which they hoped would provide anchorage for human values.

But one makes a basic and costly compromise with technocratic scientism if he confers on it crown rights to illumine reason and knowledge and to define outer reality, and merely resorts to the balancing mythology of an inner world of unreason in which values are thought to be secure. To compensate for the technocratic chaining of reason to scientific quantification, the counterculture correlates the human spirit with nonintellectual mystical irrationalities. But the counterculture cannot hope to hold its ground if the myth of “scientific objectivity” is replaced only by values grounded in subjective decision. One throws away not merely one-half but two-thirds of his victory over the professedly “objective consciousness” of the scientific world view if the case for human values rests on an appeal merely to existential subjectivity in a context not of ideological confrontation but of a reactionary isolation from technocratic scientism.

When scientific method is depicted as alone supplying an access to reality that provides man with “objective consciousness”—that is, with a knowledge of existence free of personal involvement and subjective distortion—the claim must not go unexamined and undisputed. Its express assumptions are (1) that this scientific consciousness yields truly objective knowledge; and (2) that no objective knowledge is available except by scientific inquiry. Much as the counterculture exposes the crude myth of “objective consciousness” to which the post-Enlightenment era of science and technology subscribed—so that the real external world was presumptively identified in terms of mathematically relatable events alone—the counterculture formulates no convincing rival view. The counterculture repudiates the technocratic myth only to champion personal-existential-mystical experience as somehow in confident touch with reality. But one cannot effectively challenge the scientific-technocratic deportation of reason to a land of empirical concerns by the countercultural subordination of technical reason to feeling, since this wholly forfeits the larger possibilities of valid and objective truth to technocratic reduction. Existentialism bequeaths to scientism a sovereign right to illumine reason and rationality and to define the outer world. And its existential grounding of personal values is no less an imaginative projection than is the “objective consciousness” of technocratic science. The youth revolt differs from technocratic scientism at this point only in its countercultural elevation of feeling over technical reason, in contrast to the technocratic exaltation of scientific reason over personality which the counterculture deplores. The counterculture therefore desperately needs guidance in elaborating another way of knowing reality besides scientific empiricism; it requires an adequate alternative theory of knowledge.

Behind the technocratic shriveling of reason to mathematical-scientific quantification lay its loss of the rationality of God, and of the intelligible revelation of the Creator, and of man illuminated by the Logos of God and of nature structured and supported by that same Logos. Scientific naturalism encouraged a dichotomy between secular reason as the sovereign surrogate of external reality and God, purpose and personal values which survived only in subjective decision or feeling, that is, in an inner world of subjectivity. The Trojan horse which sabotaged the youth counterculture was its unwitting acquiescence in the scientistic kidnapping and confinement of reason as a hostage whose sole objective role is to define reality in terms of mathematical relationships, since that is the only language-game secular science sponsors. The counterculture offers no structured argument against this technological hijacking and imprisonment of reason for communication about the real world solely in mathematical sign language.

But the encroachment of reductive scientism can be defied only if sound reason is given for transcending technocratic quantification and computerization of the external world and of the psychoanalytic depths of human existence. The values of personality and of human community to which alienated youth assign priority over scientific, technical and industrial values cannot long survive all abandonment of their reasoned defense. They require, in fact, a vindication of the rational significance of man himself. Without allowing a higher role to reason, and to revelation in the context of reason, the countercultural alternative can only take the form of a countermyth, another pretentious construct which, as a further transitional episode in the history of man, affirms in its case the central importance of personal and community values. Sound reason for human decision supplies the surest bond of social life; without this, any society soon loses its most significant sensibilities. If personal values are to be persuasively vindicated rather than mythically postulated, the role of the intellect dare not be evaded. A decisive transcultural anchorage for the priority of personal values can be provided only by showing that a given view of reality is in touch with the truth. What the present outlook desperately demands is knowledge widened beyond its technocratic restriction to empirically observable phenomena, reason freed for the claims of divine revelation, and the human will unstuck from its enslavement to inordinate self-interest.

Some observers may insist that one prong of the youth revolt is in fact consciously and deliberately rational. Whereas the counterculture may not deplore the technocratic enslavement of reason, the New Left nevertheless demands political liberation from the consequences of the scientific world view and frequently voices sharp disapproval of existing collectivist and capitalist societies alike. Following either Herbert Marcuse or Norman Brown, it often appeals first to the so-called “Marxist humanism” of the early (in distinction from the later) Marx—a contrast many scholars find unjustifiable—and then (in opposition to traditional Marxism) affirms that man’s consciousness determines his social being, rather than that sociology determines his consciousness.

Yet even in this public extension of its insistence on personal sensitivities, the New Left champions something less than an identifiable ideology of fixed principles and less than an articulate political platform and program. The personalism of the New Left easily channels into sentimental humanism, and just as easily, through frustration over a failure to achieve desired social changes by political activism, into inhumane violence in the guise of righteous indignation. Its confrontational politics lacks objective norms to control revolutionary propensities, even as it lacks objective criteria for escalating or deescalating a reliance on force to promote the preciousness of personality. In short, the New Left runs the risk of simply substituting confrontational politics for technocratic science as the instrument for establishing the ultimately real world. Were the New Left to seek a rationale for action, it could avoid deteriorating to the Old Left only by an explicit alternative to communist ideology which deliberately subordinates reason to a materialistic dialectic and to secular capitalism which elevates things over persons. Despite its withdrawal from technocratic science, the New Left cannot convincingly challenge a materialistic outlook while personal values remain suspended in midair and ungrounded in the external world. If the hive of political New Left gadflies are to become a constitutive political force, they must confront and challenge specious theories of reality through a reasoned and persuasive alternative, rather than merely opt out of the contemporary conflict over world-and-life view.

The Christian religion calls for an alternative that confronts both technocratic scientism and the alienated youth culture, one that restores reason to its true context in the Logos of God and in rational divine revelation. It stoutly endorses the countercultural protest against the pretensions of sovereignty and omnicompetence underlying technocratic scientism. The world view of secular empiricism is a mythological construct. The final faith in scientific technocracy is indeed a form of idolatry peculiar to the twentieth century. The externally real world of reality is not reducible to mathematically connectible impersonal processes, nor are all problems capable of technological solution. But only the theological vindication of a critically important and indispensable role for reason can decisively challenge the technocratic restriction of reason and expose as arbitrary and presumptive the implicit demand of the scientific world view for absolute trust solely in technological expertise. The magnificent myth of modernity is that, in relation to the objectively real world, scientific method is the all-knowing and all-powerful sovereign. The obvious corollary of this grandiose assumption is that all human problems are capable of technological solution. Only if human needs are purely technological in nature can technical specialists meet those needs by mechanical manipulation. In that case, the only “gods” destined to survive are material things and comforts, except for the sovereign technocrat. But this life style not only obliterates all landmarks in the spiritual world, but inevitably brutalizes man himself by treating him ideally as an animated mechanism. No society can long live humanely if it dispenses with reason in respect to what is significantly human and seals the mind of man against the revelation of God.

In welcoming the growing youth protest against merely technocratic reason, Christianity dare not accommodate a massive transition to contemporary irrationalism. Whatever its insights over against the depersonalizing consequences of the scientific world view, nothing is gained for man and society if one extends even further, as the counterculture does, the modern revolt against reason and intellectuality. In dismantling the specious claims of technocratic reason to identify and manipulate the real outer world, we must not allow a new generation to smash the truly larger significance of reason, as if in the name of human values one should or could lynch the laws of logic, corral the law of contradiction and confine the claims of coherence. That would be simply another route to cultural suicide and to the sure forfeiture of all those values of human existence one might wish to preserve.

Long before the contemporary youth culture, evangelical Christianity rejected the validity of the technocratic world view as a definitive explanation of the ultimately real world. The truth of God does not collapse man’s intellectual horizons, nor does it minimize the role of rational consciousness and cerebral cognition, nor forego rational coherence in viewing life and the world. Evangelical Christianity contends that empirical scientific knowledge, however serviceable, is always less than objective. The monopoly of “objective consciousness” by technocratic scientism is an arrogant totalitarian claim. Moreover, evangelical Christianity insists that divine revelation alone mediates final truth about man and the cosmos. The life of the spirit is for Christianity a participation in enduring realities through the mediatorial agency of the Logos of God who stands as the crux of pure religion. The Christian revelation promotes and preserves the ultimate rationality of reality that reductive scientism would destroy and that the youth counterculture ignores, and its eminently consistent and coherent view of man and the universe provides the only secure haven for lasting personal values. Moreover, it exhibits the durable human values in the context of Christ the incarnate Logos of God.

The evangelical churches therefore need more than ever to proclaim the revealed nature and purpose of the rational God of creation, the final reality of the Logos of God in contrast to the pretenses of “anti-Word reason,” the liberating reason of the revealed Word of God, the redemptive power of the Logos become flesh. This requires a Christian ministry deeply devoted to the study and statement of the truth of God. It requires Christian colleges and seminaries dedicated not simply to overthrowing the secular empirical philosophy and its arbitrarily restrictive verifying principles, but dedicated equally to preparing a generation of evangelical scholars skilled in proclaiming the Christian way of knowing God and the means of verifying truth about the whole of reality. It demands nothing less than an exhibition, in the context of the Christian knowledge of revelation and creation, of an authentic world-life view in which all the sciences, theology included, fulfill their legitimate role.


The Jesus Movement and Its Future

Mushrooming from within the contemporary counterculture a small but vibrant vanguard of young people in just a decade outstripped the youth rebellion and moved to imprint its cause upon the world.

The “Jesus People,” as they called themselves, confidently claimed to be the bearers of “the Jesus revolution” a superthrust into contemporary history assured of final triumph. They saw secular culture as drifting toward an inescapable judgment and doom which even the counterculture was powerless to prevent and to which the counterculture also remained vulnerable. When it became apparent that the countercultural revolt was unlikely to crest in a social revolution that would fundamentally alter the prevailing pattern of society, the “Jesus revolution” took over the initiative once held by the larger protest movement and gave to it a missing spiritual and moral dimension. It furnished the modern generation with a more specific and penetrating alternative than the countercultural revolt supplied. The secular counterculture had already emphasized the importance of a celebration of human life, but only in the context of a mechanistic culture. The so-called Jesus movement now brought to this celebration a dimension of holy joy, born not only of deliverance from despair and disillusionment in a drug culture but also of personal fellowship with the risen Jesus.

Modern social critics and historians have cited various reasons for the seeming failure of the countercultural protest to achieve any basic restructuring of society. For one thing, its own inner aspirations were divided; while alienated young whites repudiated the spirit of affluence engulfing their parents, alienated blacks longed for the so-called white privileges that they had not experienced. Personal survival needs, moreover, curtailed the number of those who voiced their discontents by addiction to drugs, and forced still others to find work within the very industrial-economic structures that they deplored. Most young marrieds—although not all—were readily reassimilated into the prevailing economic system when a home for their children could no longer be deferred. The alienated young wanting a college education found it difficult to ignore jobs if they were to survive on campus.

In other ways as well, alienated youth were forced to piggyback on the culture they disowned, since to turn back the clock of the Industrial Revolution was virtually impossible. While many who deplored the scientific-technocratic pollution of the environment may have shifted from large to small cars or to bicycles, few opted for horses, and if they had, the problem would only have been side-stepped. Furthermore, when political protest failed to achieve many of its anticipated objectives, public demonstration simply expired in disappointment and disillusionment. Even at their height, public protests revealed that the countercultural movement depended for its main initiatives upon a woefully limited leadership. While the youth demonstrations gave an impression of massive support and pervasive enthusiasm for social revolution, virtually all major demonstrations seem to have depended uponthe same few highly mobile and visible radical activists. When the entrenched culture and system seemed unyielding and impervious to change simply because of protest, a number of activists devoted to world-changing turned instead to “pot and rock,” and waited for “the system” to crumble under its burden of inherent weaknesses.

The prime reason, however, that the protest movements could not hope to achieve an effective cultural alternative lay, as noted earlier, in a lack of doctrinal logic and of resources adequate to cope with human unregeneracy.

Many in the Jesus movement (the name originated with the February 1971 issue of Look magazine) boldy identified themselves with much of the general countercultural protest against contemporary social trends. They deplored racial discrimination and wanton pollution of the environment. They lamented a pursuit of problems and of solutions to those problems indifferent to personal values. They disowned technological totalitarianism which assumes that human needs are primarily technical in character and which by social engineering manipulates and depersonalizes human beings.

But the Jesus movement declared that sin, and not technocracy, is the root of all evil, and disputed the countercultural assumption that man is basically sound and needs only to be liberated. It proclaimed unapologetically that “Christ is the answer.” It boldly emphasized that the Christian gospel carries in it a divine revelation and redemption absent from the counterculture no less than from the technocratic society it assailed. It was aware that historic Christianity is by nature both counterculture and counter-counterculture, indeed has less the character of a protest movement than of a witness movement that affirms Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

Within half a decade the Jesus movement advanced from its spectacular initiative to become a formative frontier youth movement in America. On the other hand, the broader countercultural revolt from which it emerged has gradually receded into an amorphous operation. Detractors of the Jesus people first referred to them as “Jesus freaks” who, having earlier freaked out on drugs, were now thought to be freaking out on religion. But even some hippies identified with the broader counterculture came to declare Jesus as their hero, although that was very different from espousing salvation in Christ. Jesus’ name was often invoked for quite the wrong reasons. Long hair, for example, represented for them not cultural inheritance but cultural protest; Jesus’ neighborlove they readily extended into pacifism in international hostilities (particularly in the Vietnam War); in his limited possessions they saw an ethical requirement of the community of goods. Much else that was simplistic from the standpoint of a mature understanding of biblical theology and ethics these hippies associated with Jesus. Doubtless some within the Jesus movement shared such views in whole or in part. For all that, the Jesus movement gained noteworthy significance. Not only in the United States but also overseas as in England, and even in Korea where secular countercultural youth had little impact, the call of the Jesus movement was for a new way of life in the context of biblical verities. In Europe, its counterpart is the charismatic renewal movement.

However much the Jesus movement differed from the broad countercultural protest, it was nonetheless in many respects a phenomenon of coalescing as well as diverging strands. In its ranks were university students converted to Christ on the edge of secular studies who were turned off by ecclesiastical institutionalism as much because of its conservative dead orthodoxy and lack of living faith as because of its liberal preoccupation with political and social issues concerning which campus professors were usually more literate than clergy. These converts divided into those who, in the context of efforts like Campus Crusade for Christ, considered personal evangelism alone to be the Christian mission, and into those devoted as fully to Christian social concerns as to personal evangelism. This latter group not only criticized the “ecumenical establishment” for neglecting individual regeneration, but they criticized the “evangelical establishment” as well for neglecting public issues.

Another segment, coming mainly from the newer churches and from charismatically oriented groups, sought to recover New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit. Roman Catholic charismatics at Notre Dame were vigorously active in this sector. To this pursuit of pneumatology they coupled their institutional structures, intellectual tradition and sense of history, factors absent from other charismatic groups. Moreover, they found the emphasis compatible also with their church’s interest in Lourdes, Fatima and ongoing miracles. Some charismatics emphasized healing, others glossolalia as well; some considered apostolic miraculous powers to be the legitimate inheritance of all Christians in all ages. Some of the Jesus people came from conservative churches and evangelical colleges after succumbing to the drug culture and then finding a deeper faith on the rebound. Others were high school students who met in private groups to discuss and await the end of the world and who opted out of seemingly irrelevant classroom studies; still others because of heightened commitment and motivation accelerated their academic endeavors.

Those whose background included an exposure to the counterculture were familiar, in greater or lesser degree, with the key names revered by alienated youth, notably Herbert Marcuse, Norman Mailer, Norman Brown, Timothy Leary and Theodore Roszak. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were the counterculture’s poets; its religious interests were Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Krishna, psychedelic cults and transcendent mysticism. Its magazines were Ramparts, Liberation and MAD, its newspapers The Berkeley Barb and The Village East Other. Its overall aim was Utopian social order based on community fulfillment. This potpourri of interests and emphases eased the way for mystical religions reminiscent of ancient Greece; for psychedelics and hallucinogens; for confrontation politics as the means for shaping a utopian society; and for sexual amorality despite charges of depersonalization against the Playboy philosophy. The countercultural mood was “life to the full” every moment; this meant delaying as few gratifications as possible and calling for immediate solutions to all problems.

The widespread Jesus movement also had its key names that represented an array of Christian emphases: Lonny Frisbee who turned from LSD to founding Jesus-movement communes such as The House of Acts; Arthur Blessitt, minister of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip (The Gospel Night Club); Linda Meissner, who after a vision in Hong Kong gathered a following in Seattle and after working with Dave Wilkerson joined the Children of God; Jack Sparks, holder of a doctorate from Michigan State and founder of the more sophisticated Christian World Liberation Front whose noncharismatic orientation distinguished it from many other youth groups. Alongside were such longer established evangelical efforts as Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, active mainly in promoting group Bible study for evangelical university students on secular campuses; Campus Crusade for Christ, dedicated to campus evangelism; Young Life, reaching out to high school students with an evangelistic witness; and Youth for Christ which maintained ties with evangelical churches as a base of operations. Some Jesus movement participants funneled into these older groups for inspiration and challenge. Particularly stabilizing have been the triennial missionary conventions in Urbana sponsored by Inter-Varsity with their emphasis on Christian vocation and learning at a time when neo-Protestant ecumenism has seen its campus ministries fade away as it has called for a moratorium on missionary commitment. While David Wilkerson’s Teen Challenge ministry in New York’s inner city predated the Jesus movement, its influence through the book The Cross and the Switchblade motivated many “straight” adults to reach out to countercultural youth. Led by David Berg, The Children of God, whose followers left jobs and schools and opted for communal living, were more a marginal cult than an authentic prong of the Jesus movement.

Wilkerson estimated that in 1971 the Jesus movement already numbered three hundred thousand young people. This figure assumed that the various groups within a loosely knit whole might somehow be simultaneously massed despite evident differences between groups in California, Texas and on the East Coast. The array of local groups, moreover, stood in very diverse relationship with or dissociation from existing churches. While for the most part critical of organized religion, Jesus people participated, although somewhat clannishly, in local congregations that were evangelically virile and hospitable. Wherever local groups of the Jesus movement wished on a nonprofit basis to receive tax-deductible gifts or to acquire property, they were forced into some organizational pattern of their own. Such independent gatherings tended to be “one generation,” that is, one age group meetings.

The Jesus movement was in some respects as much a product of the times as a manifestation of the Spirit of God. The depersonalizing aspects of rationalistic and technocratic cultural excesses triggered a reaction from which not even the Jesus movement escaped. On the whole the movement was experience-centered and antihistorical in respect to Christian tradition. Theological orientation was minimal, but that was not unlike the plight of many congregations whose pastors were more socially oriented than biblically illuminated. Some Jesus followers no doubt came to know more about the nature ofGod than their former Sunday school teachers. Although the Jesus-only unitarianism of the United Pentecostals was consciously rejected, the central doctrinal emphasis was either Jesus Christ or Jesus and the Spirit, rather than an evident trinitarianism. Apart from the Bible, religious reading was sporadic and usually centered in a motley assortment of currently popular volumes. Virtually no group followed a comprehensive theological system, although some Jesus followers attended schools like L.I.F.E. in Hollywood, a charismatically oriented campus, and more recently Melodyland in Anaheim, California, a dispensationally oriented training center. On the whole, religious enthusiasm seemed to make up for theological paucity; in some cases the movement’s anti-intellectualism was scarcely discernible from existentialism. The ancient Jews carried reverence to a costly extreme by suppressing the name of Yahweh; the Jesus movement expressed evangelical fidelity not by affirming the Apostles Creed but by shouting Jesus cheers (“Give me a J! Give me an E!…”).

Several developments early in the 1970s tended both to clarify and to confuse the Jesus movement’s central commitment to Christ as Savior and Lord and to the Bible as God’s authoritative Word.

One factor was Explo ’72 in Dallas, Texas, a massive rally sponsored by Campus Crusade and addressed by Evangelist Billy Graham who had had early ties with the Youth for Christ movement. Successful, big-city evangelistic crusades throughout a quarter century of American history, and similar mass meetings in Europe and elsewhere orbited Graham—whose evangelical supporters funded the weekly Hour of Decision broadcast, periodic telecasts, and the attractive house organ Decision in several languages—as America’s most prestigious religious personality. The Dallas turnout of seventy thousand included as many high school teenagers, for the most part active in Young Life, as it did college students for whom Explo ’72 was primarily intended. Dallas also served not only to popularize to the Jesus movement the “four spiritual laws” promulgated by Dr. Bill Bright, Campus Crusade founder, but also to identify the movement prominently with Graham’s evangelistic theology, and thus it subordinated a variety of ecclesiastical or other differences.

A somewhat later development was equally important. From the first, the Jesus movement fostered an outreach through underground publications similar to those originally launched by countercultural protest organizations. Right On was the first of many Jesus papers. Soon after its appearance and aided by First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, Duane Pederson issued the Hollywood Free Paper. A large diversity of Jesus periodicals soon amassed a circulation that far exceeded that of revolutionary underground publications and that reflected notable creative ingenuity.

Much of this diffuse movement had little if any relation to social rebellion, however, and much of it was simply faddish anomic behavior in a media-dominated age. The movement in these later years would not have recognized itself in such publications as the Post-American (now published as Sojourners) edited by Jim Wallis or in The Other Side, an older effort edited by John F. Alexander. These papers were dedicated to social change, cultural interaction and political reform no less than to personal evangelism, and have never been Jesus movement publications per se. They refused to identify young evangelical energies solely with personal religion in line with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Campus Crusade. They insisted, rather, on the need to change social structures no less than persons, and correlated evangelistic Christianity with an irreducible confrontation of secular American society. Both at its beginnings and at its zenith, the mainstream Jesus movement, as reflected by Ted Wise, rejected in principle any alignment of Christianity with social and political action as advocated by Ronald Sider, Jim Wallis and the “young evangelicals” committed to social change. Unlike the New Left, the Jesus movement sloughed off the counterculture’s political opposition to the status quo while retaining much of its cultural alienation, and took little interest in how sin manifests itself corporately.

Parts of the Jesus movement were readily snapped up by conservative political groups. The Jesus movement considered sociopolitical concern an extension of borderline preoccupations that had originally contributed to its disillusionment with much of the ecumenical establishment. Only recently have such emphases gained more sympathetic hearing within the movement. Those who lament this trend say the new openness largely stems from the Christian World Liberation Front’s shift from the original Jesus movement orientation. These more open positions are reflected by evangelicals associated with Right On, the Berkeley-based paper of the CWLF whose spokesmen for “evangelical radicalism” now no longer regard themselves part of the Jesus movement.

The Jesus movement was therefore only marginally involved in the 1973 Thanksgiving Workshop of Evangelicals and Social Concern which issued in what is now known as “The Chicago Declaration.” The participants, a coalescence of young and not-so-young evangelicals, were convinced that the long-standing “uneasy conscience” over withdrawal from public issues should be accelerated beyond general principles of concern into a specific policy and program of engagement. Participants were critical of false pretenses and injustices in the American political and economic systems—although not everyone shared the extremist stance of the Post-American (now So journers) which assumed that the American system is beyond reform and requires replacement.

While Campus Crusade and the Graham Association endorsed “the American way”—a combination of democratic government and economic free enterprise—and were supported by evangelicals largely sharing this stance, the “young evangelicals” voiced greater dissatisfaction with American politics and greater openness to Marxist economics (in distinction from Marxist philosophy as a comprehensive system) (Carl F. H. Henry, “Revolt on Evangelical Frontiers” pp. 6 ff.). Graham’s personal ties to the White House were criticized because they precluded timely and incisive public disapproval of political illegalities and moral compromises that led eventually to President Nixon’s resignation under threat of impeachment.

During Explo ’74 in Seoul, Campus Crusade was similarly charged for approving President Park Chung Hee’s regime which imposed harsh penalties on Christian and other critics of his restrictive rule and of his revised constitution. While Park justified his suppression of dissent on the ground of subversive inroads by North Korean communists, many Korean church leaders considered the restrictions both repressive of civil rights and promotive of totalitarian powers. Dr. Bright’s declaration that the imprisonments were solely for political and not for religious reasons was deplored as evangelistic opportunism. Ongoing public and Christian protest induced Park, the week after Explo, to mitigate the situation by lifting two emergency decrees that had clapped 171 dissidents convicted of antigovernment activity into prison for terms up to fifteen years and had even sentenced some to death. While possibilities of communist intrigue and violence in South Korea are very real, they hardly justified Park’s strong-armed cancellation of any and all recourse to protest. The trend of Park’s regime to totalitarianism eroded good will among American and other political allies who, in the interest of democratic constitutional government and at great cost, had supported South Korean resistance against North Korean communist ambitions.

It is noteworthy that, together with communist activists, some neo-Protestant churchmen more interested in socio-political change than in biblical theology or personal evangelism have readily castigated evangelical activities that are uncritical of imperialist political and economic forces (by this they almost invariably mean not totalitarian communism but American democracy and capitalism). When evangelicals planned the 1966 World Congress on Evangelism in Germany, a spokesman for the National Council of Churches (USA) encouraged West Berlin churchmen to view the congress participants as not unlike German Christians who wanted the church to stick to “business as usual” (traditional evangelistic priorities) while the Nazis slaughtered six million Jews. But Bishop Otto Dibelius, whose bold stand for Christian liberty against East Berlin communist pressures was well known, rejected such slurs and identified himself openly with the congress; moreover, he lamented the failure of theWorld Council of Churches’ executive committee to espouse the cause of mass evangelism.

Three years later, in accord with the opening call even at Berlin for comprehensive emphasis on “The God of justice and of justification,” the 1969 U.S. Congress on Evangelism in Minneapolis reflected, particularly in the address by Graham’s successor-designate Leighton Ford, a fuller interest in socio-political relevance than had been characteristic of most evangelical preaching. Evangelical social and political concern was, moreover, repeatedly echoed in the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, where Graham conceded that a danger of his own ministry had been to identify the gospel with a particular political system and culture. He spoke, moreover, of the need to work for improved laws, but hedged on the subject of the gospel and social structures (cf. Carl F. H. Henry, “Footnotes: The Gospel and Society,” p. 62). The Lausanne congress implemented an emphasis on social concern by a covenant that included a statement, revised and strengthened at the insistence of many participants, that in essence struck a compromise between Graham’s views and those of the “young evangelicals.”

Overall, the relationship of the Jesus movement as such to socio-political concerns remains ambiguous. The young evangelicals, by contrast, tartly designate as “evangelical establishment” such umbrella agencies as the National Association of Evangelicals, Billy Graham Evan-gelistic Association, Christianity Today, Wheaton College and whatever else is currently considered mainline evangelicalism. The enthusiasm of these agencies for the Nixon administration, not only during the first term but also throughout the reelection campaign and in some cases even during the Watergate era, despite public insistence that their Christian priority was evangelistic rather than socio-political, was disillusioning; moreover, it virtually forfeited a confrontation of public conscience at a time when the United States was passing through the worst crisis of political morality in its history. The young evangelicals put out a call for fuller evangelical involvement in political affairs, more initiative in confronting racial discrimination and problems of poverty and unemployment. Even more important, they demand not simply “improved laws” but a change in social and political structures wherever these perpetuate glaring injustices.

A third factor bearing on the future of the Jesus movement concerns its ecclesiastical independency and possible future relationships to organized Christianity, whether denominational or interdenominational. No deep sympathy for institutional Christianity on the part of the Jesus movement was nourished either by its Graham association and Campus Crusade ties, or by its thin lines to the Chicago Declaration evangelicals. Much of the Jesus movement has no more substantive relation to the organized church than does the counterculture.

Some “young evangelicals” react against the individualistic emphasis of crusade evangelism—which directs its call to evangelize to individuals rather than to the church; they champion a higher role for the institutional church in evangelism, and particularly stress a total parish ministry in the community. Their emphasis is that the church is called to be the evangelizing instrument no less than individual believers. To be sure, both the young evangelicals and the Jesus movement tend to handle both neo-Protestant ecumenism and evangelical church commitments cautiously, although there has been a growing liaison between young evangelical politico-economic leftists and ecumenical politico-economic leftists having inclusive theological sympathies.

Institutional ecumenism as represented by the World Council of Churches and by the National Council of Churches in the USA, is currently in conspicuous disarray, having forfeited much of the enthusiasm once elicited from churchgoers. Only where mainline churches locally preserve a significant evangelical ministry does denominational Christianity tend to flourish. But because the National Association of Evangelicals includes within its ranks very few of these evangelical congregations of mainline churches, the interest of young evangelicals tends toward the long-established denominations; and because the ecumenical movement has at least ventured into social and political criticism—even if frequently from a debatable perspective—their interest is whetted toward ecumenical agencies. While ecumenism is now widely considered an unpromising climate for promoting personal evangelism, as the nationwide effort Key 73 attested, a National Council of Churches agency led by Dean Kelley, author of Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, publicly commended the Chicago Declaration for its social concern.

On the local level followers of the Jesus movement tend to identify with congregations—denominational or independent—that reflect their concerns and welcome their active participation, but exit quickly from those that view them with disdain. They are likely also to penetrate those congregations open to evangelistic renewal. The young evangelicals are more prone to consider church affiliation as a base for promoting social change alongside personal evangelism; some even think of themselves as Christian subversives within both ecumenical and evangelical congregations.

The Jesus movement tends to chart its own course in respect to charismatic concerns, often probing a life in the Spirit that reaches beyond emphases acceptable to evangelical congregations. Not infrequently it invokes its followers—at least temporarily—to pursue special gifts, particularly tongues and healing. Many young people who have turned to Christ from obsession with sex and drugs have a vivid sense of the human body as an instrument to be placed in the service of the Spirit. In some instances young people have been victims of demon-possession, and are open to more dynamic manifestations of Spirit-possession than the traditional churches encourage.

Most Jesus people—although not all—deplore the fundamentalist reduction of the spiritual life to a list of “don’ts.” Churches prone to such negation displayed the weakness of their own traditions when they refused to welcome young believers simply because, after accepting Christ, they retained long hair and mod dress characteristic of the counterculture. The Jesus movement wanted above all else to be known by its love for God and man. Its greeting to others became “God loves you.” Whereas deference to evangelical traditions ran the risk of straight-jacketing the Spirit, the experiential approach of the Jesus movement ran the risk of spiritual aberration and left many young believers vulnerable to cultic excesses. The ecumenical movement with its focus on “what the Spirit is saying to the churches” rather than on what the inspired Scripture ongoingly says, has meanwhile been more open to an emphasis on charismatic renewal than on a recovery of the Reformation.

To prognosticate the future of the Jesus movement is therefore more difficult than to calculate the statistical odds for success or failure of the secular countercultural thrust. The Christian church always moves into its future through a younger generation. Yet it would be wrong to think that because the Jesus movement has taken the initiative among young people that Christian youth have arrested or countered the counterculture, for that is far from the case. For all its elements of enthusiasm, the Jesus movement has reflected deep, even though not fully articulated, spiritual yearnings within both the secular culture and the counterculture. To resolve these yearnings, however, calls for nothing less than evangelical rebirth and renewal. But at the present, while it lacks intellectual roots and is isolated from the visible church, the Jesus movement seems hardly distinguishable from many another religiously motivated ideological rebellion. Some observers believe, however, that the Jesus movement is slowly being absorbed or reabsorbed into traditional evangelical churches through active young people’s groups and other mediating efforts. What currently has some marks of possibly being a momentous event in the church history of the last third of the twentieth century may on the other hand within a decade show itself to have been a mere passing phenomenon. The problem is that the Jesus movement differs as much from genuine Christianity—with its fixed theological basis and institutional structures—as it does from the secular counterculture. Its individualism (no less evident in secular culture) offers no firm guarantee that it may not be as readily reassimilated by the counterculture, or even by secular culture, as it may find secure ecclesiastical and theological haven.

There can be little doubt about the present evangelistic vitality of the Jesus movement. Critics have too often ignored the fact that if their own congregations reflected the spiritual earnestness characteristic of these young people—their interest in the Bible, their prayer meetings, their outreach to others—local pastors would soon experience revival in their churches.

Nevertheless the theological sterility that pervades many congregations, except for isolated and surface intellectual concerns, characterizes much of the Jesus movement also. While Jesus people recognize the reality, revelation and authority of the God of the Bible, the movement is vulnerable to doctrinal inconsistencies and spiritual imbalance. Those who charged the movement—because of its Jesus-centeredness—with fostering a new unitarianism were doubtless wrong, although a conscious orientation of Christian trinitarianism is indeed lacking. Its doctrinal content as a whole is rather minimal. For this reason it easily falls prey to certain emphases in evangelism that hurry over problems of the mind in calling people to spiritual decision; faith is somehow thought to dispense with valid syllogisms or to cover invalid ones. For all its thrust beyond the evangelical establishment churches, the Jesus movement tends to be intellectually shallow and doctrinally tolerant, accommodating subbiblical and even heretical concepts for the sake of “Christian love.” In different places the Christ of the Jesus movement was the Dropout Carpenter interested in the invisible world, theLeader of a Commune on a nomadic pilgrimage, the Critic of the Establishment, and undoubtedly for a goodly number the Strong Son of God who proffers divine salvation to repentant sinners.

Recent surveys show that young people generally hold sharply negative attitudes not only concerning church and religion, but also concerning God, and that the climate of academic conviction today on high school and university campuses is anything but hospitable to supernatural theism. Where evangelical faith exists, it does so often in isolated intellectual communes. Despite this discouraging atmosphere, the Jesus movement keeps adding to its ranks other young people for whom life has turned prematurely gray. There is some evidence, moreover, that as the movement is beginning to mature, its early disinterest both in intellectual concerns and in social change is increasingly being questioned among some of its own members. The previously mentioned Urbana missionary conferences have influenced some Jesus leaders through their balanced interaction with student missionary interest, social concern, and intellectual earnestness. Many examples can be cited of those who have emerged through and from the Jesus movement into academic prowess and social involvement. The extent to which this represents not merely a passing trend but a decisive turn will determine whether the Jesus movement will ultimately be viewed as simply cultic, or whether, through growing interest in the Christian world-life view and its comprehensive implications, it formulates a vigorous alternative to the culture myths of modernity.

From one biblical perspective the Jesus movement, the Chicago Declaration of young evangelicals, independent fundamentalist churches and even the so-called evangelical establishment, no less than the ecumenical movement which promoted structural church unity, all suffer a basic lack, namely, public identity as a “people,” a conspicuously unified body of regenerate believers. Evangelical Christians in their fragmented condition no less than ecumenical Christians in their structural affiliation seem to lack the realization that Christ’s church is to be a “new community” united in love for God and neighbor and identifiably functioning in the world as light and salt. Such a corporate fellowship of believers will have a vanguard of scholars to exhibit the truth of revelation with an intellectual power that confronts non-Christian ideologies; it will have a biblically rooted laity that withstands the heresies of the age; a mature lay leadership that takes Christian initiatives, counsels the burdened, and ministers to the needy. It will bring both male and female and the Christian home fully into the experience of Christian fulfillment. And above all it will as a community be committed to Christ in radical discipleship, exhibiting God’s truth, love and righteousness in personal and public dimensions.

The Jesus movement’s revolt against institutional religion has issued in no clear alternative in the way of a united Christian front. It is vulnerable therefore to personality cults and to fads that lack the stability of a viable permanent movement. Its stance is basically isolationistic and escapist with regard to society, and its life style is countercultural. Some biblical wrestling with the nature of community in the light of the doctrine of the church was ventured by those devoted to pacifism or to a communal life style, but on the whole the Jesus movement was not inclined to serious academic investigation, particularly by those who recognize that communes have not demonstrated themselves to be the family of the future in view of the evident breakdown of open marriage.

The Chicago Declaration group has more intellectual leadership and is theologically and philosophically more articulate. Someone has said that, instead of washing its hands of contemporary society as the Jesus movement is prone to do, the Chicago group wrings its hands in active concern to reform existing social orders. While the Chicago Declaration evangelicals formulate their range of objectives more specifically, they are no less prone than the Jesus movement to reflect the highly individualistic mood of American evangelicalism. Participants represent a coalescence of concerns but they manifest no basic and indissoluble commitment to each other. Both the Jesus movement and the Chicago Declaration group are highly dissatisfied with institutional life in general, in both its sacred and secular forms. The Jesus movement is highly anti-institutional in format, whereas the Chicago group seeks either to change institutional structures from within or to replace them. Neither venture seems wholly alert to the New Testament depiction of the Christian community as a unified body of believers living identifiably in the world as light and salt.


Secular Man and Ultimate Concerns

Radically secular man admits no alternative whatever to a naturalistic explanation of the whole sweep of reality. He therefore refuses to align himself with the countercultural appeal to an inner realm of decision and transcendence, or with social activists who concentrate on so-called practical matters while avoiding questions of ontology and epistemology. He deliberately refers all that is and all that will be—life, man, culture and history included—to natural processes and events alone.

The world view of Western secularism and that of Sino-Soviet communism both acquiesce in this dilution of the real world to impersonal processes and events. This underlying naturalistic reduction dwarfs all their other distinctives concerning nature and history and man. Their basic difference lies in the fact that alongside its atheistic outlook the communist world clings to the myth of dialectical materialism and an assured triumph of the proletariat, whereas Western secularism has now broken with the myth of evolutionary utopianism.

We shall first expound more fully the world view of those who contend that all existence has a naturalistic ontological foundation, and note especially how this secular vision of ultimate reality characterizes man and the universe. Then we shall emphasize that what contemporary man says about himself and his world does not always accord with what he does or thinks about external reality. Finally we shall focus on the dilemmas inherent in the naturalistic view, and allow revealed theology to illumine the contradictions it provokes in the lives of those who champion secular theory.

The conviction that nature is man’s widest and deepest environment now dominates virtually the entire Western intellectual world. The contemporary conceptualization of reality is deliberately antitheological and antisupernaturalistic. The cultural Geist is tied wholly to natural processes and events; no category of transcendence is admissible except on naturalistic presuppositions. Notions of the eternal and divine, of revelation and spirit, are shoved aside as strange and shadowy.

The secular perspective superimposes its basic attitudes not only on the cosmos but on the whole of existence. The monodimensional vision sees reality only in terms of the finite and contingent. It focuses reflective thought and language solely on the realm of change and development wherein nothing endures unaltered, that is, on perceptually given events. It perceives no marks of permanence; all the forms of life and being are declared flexible and fluid. The presumption that we can know only contingent processes and events is coupled with a congruous theory of knowledge and view of worth. Its knowledge theory grounds reliable cognition in what is directly perceptible and testable, that is, in sensory observation of the physical world and of the persons around us. The value-scheme cherishes empirical reality above interest in the invisible and transcendent. Since empirical science is thus valued as the most reliable index to ultimate reality, the view of existence that it accredits, namely, that the world and man are by-products of impersonal forces and events, is considered to be more intelligibly based than are projections that ground or anchor human values in some invisible spiritual context. Only what is scientifically investigable has rational significance; everything else falls outside the scope of reality.

When ultimate reality is thus understood impersonally and finitely, no sacred or unconditioned realm of being remains beyond the space-time world, no God or divine disclosure, no absolutely given norm of reason and right in the cosmos and history, no transcendent offer of salvation or prospect of divinely grounded hope. The ultimately nonvisible (Jesus, for example, declared that “God is spirit,” hence immaterial and invisible) is considered mythical—whether one speaks of divinity, creation, providence, redemption, or a final judgment—since such notions are beyond empirical verifiability. All finalities are deposed, all absolutes are relativized in a universe, to use Langdon Gilkey’s descriptive phrase, populated by “only whirling stars and circling atoms, and other men as lost as ourselves” (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 164).

The secular outlook postulates man’s being and destiny solely in view of finite forces, the interrelatedness of all cosmic processes, and the relativity of all historical events. It affirms that nature alone has produced man. This carries with it a special understanding of man’s place in the tangible world and bears upon all the central elements of human existence. All that man does and achieves is shadowed by transience and relativity. Within this context of existence his station and role and all his sociohistorical institutions are conditioned by his social environment, which alone shapes and sharpens his capacities. Nothing traditional is sacrosanct. The supposed ultimate givenness of all past patterns—even the family—is open to challenge by experimental alternatives. No objectively given order of reality seems wholly impervious to his manipulation; technology has enabled him to rearrange his once apparently uncontrollable environment to serve his own interests and desires. All convictions and creeds are considered to be culture-bound, all commitments of truth and morality tentative. The very possibility of human progress on an empirico-scientific basis is held to require the human revaluation of all standards and structures; change alone is the way into a hopeful future. Secularism sponsors a new self-consciousness which divorces man from a dependent relationship with God. In a world without objective reason and purpose, man needs autonomous freedom to create and re-create his own meaning and security. Man is viewed as a creature competent without gods to cope with all problems through social rather than supernatural resources, and all his powers and choices are contingently grounded.

This replacement of biblical theism by naturalistic scientism entails a colossal alteration of cultural mood; it is, in fact, one of the most radical restructurings of convictional perspective in the history of human thought. Secular man has disengaged himself from what he considers the mammoth myth of revealed religion and the Bible. He has evicted the God of creation and repudiates an eternally given order of meaning and worth for creaturely reality, setting all existence, life, truth and value in a context that is exhaustively conditional and provisional. No longer does Yahweh the sovereign Lord create life and define truth and the good; reality is redefined without any sacred dimension whatever. Radical secularity thus moves far beyond Darwin’s halting accommodation of the biblical Adam in physical respects to evolutionary naturalism, and refers not simply the human body but the entirety of existence to non-teleological considerations. Whereas Darwin, as Gilkey notes, enlarged the “antiteleological view of nature to cover the question of the origin of man’s form and thus to include all of our relevant environment, and ourselves, within the blind mechanism of nature” (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 40, n.4), the contemporary view exempts nothing whatever from impersonal processes and events as their definitive referent. God the Creator, the incarnate Logos, the atonement and resurrection of Jesus, the Word of God and inspired Scripture, and a future divine judgment, are all dismissed as pious fictions; there is no gospel truth whatever. Secular naturalism recognizes that this denial of any revelational referent not only exposes man and the world to wide reaches of chance and change, but that it actually deluges reality with comprehensive contingency, total transiency, radical relativity and absolute autonomy.

Does secular naturalism then adequately account for the data of reality and for human experience? Our answer requires us to focus more critically on its implications for thought and action in the concrete world of man’s daily existence.

The secular theory of comprehensive contingency, that is, of the merely provisional character of all reality, allows no transcendent dimension to existence. Divine being and divine providence are denied. Every assertion of an objectively existent deity is nullified. God is exiled from the cosmos and history, even as a real object of thought; no category of divinity, whether transcendent or immanent, or of any divine ground of life, retains cognitive significance. The biblical heritage is thrust aside as fictitious, and the Christian church with its other-worldly concerns is but a grand delusion. No validity remains for any religious faith that affirms God’s reality, or for any portrayal of spiritual relationships between man and God. Religious entities survive only as facets of man’s psychic experience, as symbols of human imagination or idealization.

Comprehensive contingency means not only the death of God, but the expiration also of transcendent cosmic supports and an inherent created order. The universe and man are not to be explained in terms of intelligible and purposive causes. There is no decisive reason for the universe and man, no ultimate plan or design, no creaturely answerability to primal structures of coherence and value, no transcosmic anchor for human concerns. We live in an environment lacking ultimate meaning and goodness.

The contingency of the externally real world has become the controlling premise of contemporary philosophy. Karl Löwith identifies contingency—the idea that all is finite and mutable—as the basic characteristic of modern man’s view of existence (Nature, History and Existentialism). A century of evolutionary theory has set man in a context solely of chance and possibility, of the conditional and accidental, rather than of fixed and final purpose. Beyond the immediately given it sees only the ultimately arbitrary. The human environment is considered a bundle of provisional factors; everything is dynamic and moving and changing. Comprehensive contingency means, in short, that reality is inherently irrational, nature is blind, history is unpredictable and chaotic.

Linked with contingency is the modern sense of the total transiency of reality and experience. Affirmations of divine eternity, of eternal life and transtemporal eschatology, are dismissed as groundless. The category of eternity is considered irrelevant except for the mental abstractions of logic and mathematics and for imaginative and mythical constructs. Time is presumed to be the ontological structure of all being; becomingness and mortality are held to pervade all reality. Temporal process is the essence of nature and history, of existence as a whole, and leaves nothing unchanged. The nontemporal is considered unreal. Ever since Hegel, modern theologians have been prone to consider even deity as essentially dynamic and in process, and numerous recent writers of differing schools (e.g., Oscar Cullmann, Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg and Schubert M. Ogden) reject the supertermporality of God. Openness to the future is understood in terms of possibilities of historical—especially sociopolitical—change. Man himself is time-bound, and the temporal that pervades all reality thrusts him ever more menacingly and defiantly towards old age and death.

Along with comprehensive contingency and total transiency, the secular outlook champions the radical relativity or interrelatedness of the entire historical process. It affirms the relativity of all truth, values, and events to their changing cultural context and historical situation. Man’s total existence is held to be embedded in historical relativity, and all human phenomena are therefore evaluated in terms of natural processes. This demolition of any significant category of cultural transcendence implies that Christian doctrine is no more to be regarded as fixed truth of revelation than any rival tenet. Explanation in terms of divine reality is considered a kind of superstition. That all life, structures, cultures and events stand within a nexus of essential interrelationships is the basic assumption alike of modern physics, biology and the psychological and social sciences. Not only are all world religions and philosophical systems held to be relative to the historical process, but the very categories of reason and morality and beauty are also considered historically relative. Therefore no claim to ultimate truth can be ventured, no offer of ultimate salvation extended, and no ultimate allegiance solicited. Implicit in radical relativism is the rejection of all authoritative norms, and the inevitable obsolescence of all ethical standards and moral codes.

A correlative implication of this theory of the comprehensive contingency, total transiency, and radical relativity of all reality and experience is the absolute autonomy of man. Man alone remains, self-sufficient and autonomous, to rescue the cosmos from absurdity and worthlessness. No divine sovereign places human life under unchanging commands, no divine revelation tells man what is true and trustworthy, no divine book stipulates what is permanently right and wrong. External reality supplies no transcosmic supports for human security. A clean break is required with all transcendent, heteronomous absolutes as alien and arbitrary. Man does not need God either to know the truth or to do the good but is considered inherently capable of coping with all concerns nonreligiously, whether he wishes to walk on the moon, cure cancer, or bring peace on earth. Man’s problem is not one of recovering a forfeited selfhood, a lost relationship to an eternal order of meaning and value, but rather one of freely fashioning his life, history and nature through self-creativity. Man must not depend on a sovereign Creator-Redeemer God and on transcendent revelation; he should instead refuse to accept anything as true or good simply on the ground of superior authority or power. Reliance on external authority, it is held, destroys the human spirit and man’s creative initiative, whether such authority be political, societal or supposedly supernatural. The irreducible price of self-realization and personal uniqueness is modern man’s right to doubt the presence of permanently given norms and structures, and also the requirement that he reject all outside or external authorities to which his freedom must conform. Transcendent religion is not the basis of but rather a barrier to inner health and creative culture. Any transcendent source “above man” that predetermines the possibilities and limits of human freedom and gives fixed moral commands is considered a repressive threat to the ideal creativity of the creaturely.

Langdon Gilkey captures this contemporary mood of human self-sufficiency: “No power outside of himself is authoritatively and finally to determine for him his thoughts, his standards, his decisions, or to create his meaning.… Autonomy, or coming of age, in a secular context … means moving from the tutelage of the external authority of some ‘other,’ some authority or Lord, to self-direction … regarded as the sole level of creative humanity” (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 155). Man is “on his own in a cosmos whose character is unrelated to his spiritual and moral life” (p. 189).

Recent psychoanalytic and existentialist theory reflect and reinforce this emphasis on man’s inherent capacity to establish his own meaning, to create his own values, and to decide what is true and good. So do modern democratic views of sociopolitical institutions, and the scientific technological confidence in the manipulation of nature for human ends. Man is seen as essentially capable of coping with all concerns. Man creates his own future by exercising inherent powers of mind and will.

To acknowledge once again an external divine authority, a sacrosanct law or code, an authoritative state, a scriptural rule of conduct, would mean a sad relapse to immaturity and a forfeiture of autonomy. In Richard Rubenstein’s words: “We stand in a cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos unaided by any purposive power beyond our own resources” (After Auschwitz, p. 49). Man must rely solely on his own powers of thought and will, and on the social and historical values he sponsors and sustains, if the spatio-temporal environment is to be desirably refashioned. Naturalism considers every man his own lord, setting his own standards and implementing them by his own powers. Man alone is able to decide his life’s course, he alone is the source of what truth he affirms and of what good he champions. Human self-realization is predicated on self-determination, not only on the basis of man’s own decision and consent, but also of creativeness: man alone stipulates the ideal structures and determines the acceptable meaning of the self, society and all reality. To come of age in terms of secular modernity means to be radically self-creative in respect to truth, morality, social order and all else.

We now wish to emphasize that wherever secular man tries to live consistently by these convictions, he drains his own life of meaning and worth and progressively empties his existence of everything that makes human life desirable.

To bring the secular naturalist’s ideological inconsistency into focus, we should look, for one thing, at the existential stresses in his daily life style. The naturalistic credo, we said, commits him to unmitigated contingency, transiency and relativity. In view of this, Löwith asks the crucial question: “How can one feel at home in a universe which is conceived as the chance result of statistical probabilities and which is said to come into existence through an explosion? Such a universe cannot inspire confidence or sympathy, nor can it give orientation and meaning to man’s existence in it” (Nature, History and Existentialism, p. 28).

Yet the secularist portrays man as endowed with an exultant sense of personal potentiality. Despite the subjugation of man’s total existence to historical relativity, the atheistic humanist assumes nonetheless that man is free to shape an open future that provides at least some objective foundation for human concerns. For all the emphasis that cosmic reality is a natural process wholly indifferent to human purposes and values, secular man devotes himself energetically to human welfare, social justice and human dignity. While insisting that the cosmos respects no human aspirations except as self-interest prevails on its own, secular man champions self-giving and service to others, elevates love for neighbor and pursuit of justice as inviolable ends, proclaims a positive view of the earth as an object of ethical duty, and finds the core of human life in man’s moral commitments. Hence, secular man adjusts his life to norms of truth and value which the naturalistic outlook cannot validate or accommodate. What, after all, has this emphasis on universal justice and neighbor love and cosmic duty to do with the prior commitment to comprehensive contingency, total temporality, radical relativity, and absolute autonomy—except to compromise them?

Secular naturalism can hardly reconcile these confident assertions of the meaning and worth of human life—whether on the basis of humanism or the New Left or whatever else—with its relativization of reality and life. The notion that we are finally nothing is nourished by the transitoriness of all life and meaning and worth. Ultimate transiency and relativity provide no court of appeal from the simple verdict that “that’s the way it is.” Only disillusionment remains in prospect if we refuse to acknowledge the hopelessness that must engulf human selfhood and disintegrate the significance of all that we do and think.

Yet secular man rallies to collective idolatries—communist utopianism or newer eschatologies like black power—wherein the myth still survives that progress is a general law of reality, and that everyone “doing his thing” will flourish into invulnerable creative achievements. Secular man refuses to see himself as merely an animated cog or self-asserting animal, having no real future but only a day after tomorrow empty of lasting life and purpose, a temporary phenomenon without substance and weight that finally succumbs to and in nothingness. Instead of acquiescence in such rote existence and instead of accepting the sheer temporality of his being, he buttresses his personal survival by whatever guarantees for the future may be devised by financial, social or political means. He shores up his being against the threat of nonbeing, generating from his own energies whatever holds promise of self-preservation. Reinhold Niebuhr and others have noted how in this respect man faces the future with far more than a sheer animal will to live; he seeks in fact an infinity of power or influence or substance that will assure his placid ongoing, and even enslaves himself to demonic ultimates in the hope of thereby gaining future security. Never does he fully rest in or enjoy the present in whole-hearted gratitude for what he has in the way of health and food and raiment; an unsure future beclouds his anxious heart and ever beckons him to forfeit the best of the present in order to provide for an uncertain tomorrow. He must protect himself against sickness he may never have, poverty he may never experience, hunger he may never endure, and unemployment he may never face.

But what basis exists for the meaning of what we do if all the values we associate with home, work, and society channel inevitably into ultimate meaninglessness, and if all relationships with family and friends and folk in general are grounded in self-interest alone? Not even our expectations from the future can undo the hard realities that erode all possibility of significant survival. Langdon Gilkey is surely right when he says: “A future created randomly or arbitrarily provides no grounds for the meaning of what we do now.… Total relativity is felt of even our small meanings, as the anxiety of meaninglessness (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 346). The daily prospect of my soon nonbeing, the feeling of human worthlessness in the total scheme of things, remains to haunt every hope of a bright tomorrow.

Men and women nonetheless strive to exhibit a special meaning in their individual lives, to establish themselves as personally unconventional and unique, and therefore irreducible to the mass in which all selves become but statistical averages. The artist seeks to set reality to a new symphony of color and melody; the scientist to unveil the still hidden secrets of cosmic behavior; the professional man to attain a proficiency unrivaled by his peers; the athlete to notch his name in the hall of fame with the all-time greats; the business executive to advance to corporate leadership and prestige. Men will sacrifice everything for a career or profession that dignifies life with prominence and meaning, and subordinate all else to it, pitifully unaware how much this idolatrous ultimate mirrors their deepest self-interest. Even those who inherit the bonus of boredom in an affluent society seek to endow their blanched lives with special meaning via the multifaceted social whirl. The importance of public image even where it masks the truth, the competitive struggle for rank and reputation, the amassing of wealth and power and prestige as if an impersonal destiny could never at any given moment unpredictably destroy them or us or both, all divulge man’s refusal to reconcile himself to a merely transient and essentially futureless existence.

The dilemma of secular man is this: In order to escape the nihilism and personal worthlessness implicit in naturalism, he invests his life with sequestered meanings and values that naturalism cannot sustain. To escape the spiritual decisions required by revelational theism, that is, by the God of the Bible, he substitutes a private commitment to finite ultimates. Rather than live his life moment-by-moment under the shadow of nonbeing, he secretly struggles and strives for self-security. Since however nothing finite can provide absolute security, secular man readily escalates to infinity whatever human resources are available, hoping thereby to guarantee his own future. In science, for example, he now finds the welcome prospect of repairing physical breakdowns through organ transplants, of enhancing human evolution through genetic mutation and cloning, and even of deep-freezing the human body for future medical resurrection.

Strangely enough the commitment to scientific empiricism that once eroded modern man’s confidence in absolutes is now welcomed by contemporary secular man to bolster his optimistic expectations and convictions concerning man’s ultimate value. Gilkey pointedly notes: “The science which has, more than anything else, taught man his contingency and relativity in the world, has, ironically, led him to forget that contingency, and relativity, and seriously to consider himself the potential master of his fate” (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 256). This development is the more bizarre when one recalls that the great philosophers of the past found in the doctrine of the ultimacy of change no basis whatever for optimism about human concerns.

The colossal self-confidence that man exudes when he first demolishes all absolutes in order to establish his own personal meaning and worth must inevitably crumble within the confines of a naturalistic world-life view. No logic of naturalism can vindicate man as the master of his fate. With or without science, man is not omnipotent over the cosmos and history. He lacks the vast knowledge, power and freedom essential for determining historical existence. That he now exercises considerable power over forces once thought to be beyond his control is indubitable. Even biblical theism envisioned man’s dominion over the earth, although not simply for his own mechanical whims. Yet nothing is clearer than that man cannot finally control the stream of history and determine its climax. Even the greatest world powers and the mightiest totalitarian tyrants sooner or later attest this. The sociopolitical problem is not a puzzle of physics and mechanical engineering, but of rational and moral impingement upon human relationships and public institutions. The very knowledge and powers that scientific secular man has laboriously amassed are deployed by unforeknown persons for incalculably destructive ends. The unpredictability of political history even in contemporary times evidences how fragmentary is man’s control over the larger course of events. More remarkable still is the fact that modern man cannot control even himself. Nowhere in the creaturely world is there a more frustrated species than homo sapiens, and nowhere among his many frustrations is his ineptness and incapacity more conspicuous than in respect to moral goals. Not only his cosmic environment, but also and especially man’s own nature stands in the way of his doing the good that he would.

The secularist drains away his own significant being when he relinquishes personal meaning and worth. But his commitment to all-embracing contingency disallows him any special status amid the blind and faceless cosmos that he has constructed; the world of naturalistic theory is indifferent to personal interests and empty of purpose. This dilemma can be resolved on naturalistic premises in either of two ways: one way makes nonsense of everything, the other superimposes meaning on man and his world.

Atheistic existentialism resigns itself to the despair of pessimism: external reality is simply irrational fate, and there is no alternative to nihilism. Meaning and worth have no objective basis and they can be sanctioned internally only by returning postmythological man to mythological fantasies. Man’s vaunted autonomy has not conquered his awareness of impersonal fate and human meaninglessness; even his technologically based hopes yield at last to contingency. That everything is time-bound means also that everything is doomed to perish. We too, mere mortals with a limited span of years, die as do other animals; every man has his final day. The suicide rate has increased notably among those who contend with a pervasive sense of the meaninglessness of human survival in an incoherent and irrational cosmic environment steeped in accidental flux and impersonal process. Naturalism offers secular man the option of a final suicide of personal significance or of intellectual insanity to preserve it. Since the world view he champions in principle terminates personal worth, he can pursue significant human existence only through a delusion.

Yet modern secular man refuses to be reconciled to his own professed nothingness. The prospect of personal death is one to which he, like other men, seems least able to reconcile himself. Much as naturalistic theory characterizes him as a conditioned fleck of space-time energy, man seeks a link to the unconditioned, if not in respect to his origin, at least in respect to his destiny. He refuses to bow resignedly to the limits that secularism sets for his life, and continues to entertain the hope that he is something special. He thrusts out of mind the notion that he is helpless to reverse his rendezvous with nonbeing, and invests his existence with a secret conviction that he differs in kind and in fate from the range of other finite things. He shunts the relativizing of his energies in a way that would snuff out the sense of life’s ongoing meaning and purpose. He declines both to ponder the sure prospect of death and to resign himself to be the cipher that current theory computes him to be. He shares the almost universal refusal to look upon old age and personal nonbeing with equanimity. Unsuccessful as is the attempt, he tries nonetheless to anesthetize awareness of the inescapability of death, and when he buries his loved ones he even camouflages death’s reality with the niceties of funereal trappings. Despite the threat of nonbeing he celebrates his own existence and searches for inviolable individual security; he seeks a singular meaning for his life, and settles for nothing less than a sense of lasting personal significance and worth.

The world of unbelief often points an accusing finger at professing Christians and, noting the incompatibility of some actions with the tenets of biblical theism, declares them to be woefully inconsistent in the life of faith. But the life style of the secular modern man privately compromises the world-life view he publicly professes not only to the point of logical contradiction but to the point also of spiritual gullibility.

As we have seen, secular modern man refuses to live by the naturalistic world-life view or conceptuality he espouses. The reason for this inconstancy lies not simply in sentiment but rather in a range of reality and experience that man cannot manipulate, but which secular theory glosses over. Man is not born with the naturalistic prejudices about reality, and they go against his deepest intuitions and his own essential humanity. The secularist is an intellectual abstractionist who has elaborated a network of premises that even the majority of modern men consider artificial. The dilemmas and ambiguities of his personal experience are such that secular man himself does not practice his naturalistic commitments with life-and-death seriousness. Instead, secularists themselves repeatedly contradict their own naturalistic claims in their daily lives, and adjust their private affairs to quite different presuppositions.

Secular man therefore lives by a double standard—by the naturalistic credo which he affirms and reveres when it serves his purposes, and by hidden alternatives for action that he readily accepts whenever he prefers. His private life gives unwitting testimony to the omissions and inadequacies of a naturalistic outlook. In this broken allegiance to a secular stance there is evidence of God’s unyielding claim upon his creatures, even amid their intellectual and moral revolt. In certain aspects of his ambiguous experience much corresponds in a broken way to transcendent divine revelation. Man’s sense of personal worth and peculiar destiny derives from remnants of the created imago Dei in man, and beyond that from the ongoing universal revelation of the Creator.

Man’s being bears meanings and values which he neither creates nor controls. “We cannot create the meaning of our lives any more than we can create their security,” writes Gilkey (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 350). Transcendently given meanings and values constitute the basis and extent of man’s capacities. The sense of the eerie emptiness of life if man answers to nothing transcendent is but a negative sign of man’s true nature, while his search for substitute ultimates to provide a sense of value, direction and destiny indicates how pathetically lost he can become.

Modern man has actually a much wider range of experience than the naturalistic credo acknowledges. The secular world view clouds and covers experientially inescapable aspects of divine revelation. That revelation exposes both the arbitrariness of the secular view and man’s culpable estrangement from his Maker. Modern man’s difficulty is not due to the unintelligibility or incredibility of the reality of God, but arises from the secularist’s intellectual postulations and commitments which render the biblical view personally powerless.

Yet the modern spirit is torn to the breaking point by the tensions between the secular Weltgeist and the refusal to dismiss personal concerns as emotive rubbish. At the same time, modern man refuses to relate these personal claims (as he ought) to transcendent divine revelation of man’s nature and real being. Yet he is pushed to the vistas of ultimacy by such gnawing questions as “What will become of me?” “Who and what am I?” and “What ought I to be?” The halting compromises within man’s secular stance involve ramifications that align him with the ultimate transcendent dimensions of reality and existence. The struggle over meaning and worth and destiny attests the presence of ineradicable elements of general divine revelation.

Modern secular man wavers between secularity as a conceptualization that excludes supernatural reality and divine revelation, and a standpoint of personal significance and worth that meshes him with the truth of revelation. Despite the overt dismissal of God and revelation as archaic and now defunct categories, modern secular experience stands in inescapable relations to transcendent revelation. The contours of secular life relate the contemporary naturalist to a horizon wider and deeper than his narrow theory of reality permits. Both his attitudes and actions show the contemporary secularist in his authentic selfhood to be a much more complicated being than naturalism itself allows. At the critical point of the nature and destiny of man, he refuses to accept the authority of secular thought, and evaluates other human beings and estimates himself by a standard remarkably different from the naturalistic perspective. The undeniable contrast between man’s actually lived experience and the basic naturalistic world view which the secularist claims to accept, his pursuit of behavior patterns incompatible with this secular Weltanschauung, supply evidence that the contemporary materialistic criterion does not finally and absolutely determine his self-understanding of human existence in the modern world. In the course of daily reflection, decision and action, secular man is involved in concerns of reality, truth and value that exhibit him as a character with an ongoing role in a larger theatre of being and life than his secular perspective would suggest.

Nowhere does this nonsecular dimension reveal itself more conspicuously in secular life than when men judge the moral wrongs done to them by others. Even the secular man insists that an ethical ought binds and obligates humankind and that anyone who would disadvantage him violates life’s deepest sensibilities. An empirical outlook, of course, cannot establish or sustain any norms, least of all objective moral norms; it is descriptive and at best can detail only what is perceptibly observed. To be sure, every society presupposes certain standards of human behavior and secular culture can survive only by a commonly accepted convictional frame of beliefs and behavior. Human life and culture are considered decadent wherever such commonly accepted norms are disregarded. But in his moral judgment of others, the secularist is not content to regard ethical strictures as matters either of individual preference or of cultural prejudice. He is unwilling to debunk all moral norms as vestiges of an antiquarian world view, or as adolescent superstitions that our fellow-humans must yet outgrow. He invariably expects more of others than merely creative freedom when their lives touch his. He considers moral commitment as integral to the uniquely human character of man’s life. Something given and inviolable is thought to be defamed when others treat the secular naturalist as a mere thing, an impersonal object. Our neighbors—however benighted may seem their theistic beliefs—are not merely animated atoms or blind impersonal mechanisms when they do us wrong, but rational-moral agents responsible for their motives and accountable for their acts.

The contemporary demand for social justice and for environmental responsibility, the concern for the poor and the oppressed, the priority of the personal over the technological, and much else on the secular agenda presuppose the universal and permanent dignity of man as man. Norms bearing both on personal security and the meaning of life are adduced as valid for man’s individual and social existence. Binding relationships and commitments are held to constitute selfhood and humanity, and the core of man’s nature as man, his humanitas, is said to consist in his recognition of moral duty.

In all these expectations nonsecular postulates are apparent. The question “Who am I?” involves man inescapably in statements about the larger human community in which his freedom is to be expressed, and beyond that in statements about the obligatory imperatives which transcendently judge him, and the moral duty to which he considers other humans as well to be unreservedly committed in their relationships.

But what has all this to do with absolute autonomy, radical relativity, total transiency and comprehensive contingency? How are we to reconcile universal ethical duty and moral culpability and judgment with personal uniqueness and self-realization defined solely in a context of individual liberty? What happens to creative individual autonomy when we are told that mature personal selfhood presupposes man’s social and community interdependence—as in the family and in socioeconomic and political affairs—and that such community relationships depend on common meanings and duties, on love of other persons and devotion to justice, on fulfilling one’s moral obligations in good conscience, and on approbations of self-denial that recall Jesus’ emphasis on self-crucifixion as the only roadway to true selfhood? The refusal to settle for total relativity forces upon the secularist such questions as “What makes my existence legitimately creative?” and “What kind of life is authentically human?” He is forced to acknowledge that standards are indispensable to creative living, and that to transcend senseless existence, man’s self-hood must be squared with externally given norms. But when we are told that only within such boundaries is life lived in an authentically human and legitimately creative way, we may well ask how empirical inquiry discovered and validated these restrictive absolutes.

These specially masked elements of experience—values and norms to which the secularist is driven contrary to the secular conceptualization of reality—prepare the way for exhibiting the form and content of the divine general revelation that marks human experience as we know it. Fallen man’s neglect of the transcendent source of the serenity and security of life impoverishes human experience to daily anxiety and continual idolatry. He grapples the ultimate only in sporadic and spasmodic moments, seeking merely to allay his fears, not to concentrate on life’s true and enduring joys. He fails to perceive that all man’s knowing and valuing, all his reality, identity and destiny, have God as their presupposition, even if he be unacknowledged, and that all his deeds are daily under the judgment of the God who calls all prodigals home. Yet the secularist’s daily life is crowded by situations in which he deliberately compromises his speculative commitments by deviating from mainline naturalistic perspectives. He declines to square his actions with what secularism considers the inflexible nature of external reality. He manifests an openness toward and a nostalgia for convictions that transcend a positivistic interpretation of nature and history, however incompatible they may be with the secular conceptuality. Despite his public proclamation of naturalism as valid, he probes and pursues private alternatives and commits himself pragmatically to them.

We shall now emphasize that secular man knows far better than his secular credo would suggest, and why this is so, and why he nonetheless puts reason on the side of naturalism.

The reality of God as depicted in his revelation best explains why secular man refuses to order his life exclusively by the naturalistic world life view, while the fact of sin best explains why he refuses to order his life exclusively by the truth and will of God. In his ordinary day-to-day experience the secular man who boasts that the perspective of modernity far excels any vision of the supernatural secretly confers upon his beleaguered life elements that derive actually from theism and not from naturalism. Reason, we are told, requires the secular perspective; faith in God is derided as emotive or volitional in character. The plain fact is, however, that naturalism is not a demand of reason but reflects an arbitrary conceptualization of reality. It is inexcusably limited as an account of the ultimate world and is grounded in a perverse will and rebellious heart. God in his revelation is no mere lurking shadow dogging secular man for recognition; he is a reality with whom secular man is thoroughly involved even if he makes an evasive and oblique response to nonsecular reality. God is not at all as alien to secular man as the atheistic naturalist would have us believe, even if naturalistic theory writes him off as a fiction.

To insist that the living God of the Bible is inescapably an aspect of everyday experience may strike the man “come of age” as nonsense, since the very possibility is excluded by his definition of reality and his delimitation of experience. Nonetheless his conscience and behavior remain much more ambivalent than his secular presuppositions imply, and his mind itself is in touch with transcendent divinity. Although dismissing the nonsecular in theory, the secular man betrays in his practice a self-awareness that incorporates and acknowledges the nonsecular; his everyday life mirrors a dimension of the ultimate that gives meaning to those very religious symbols he has professedly discarded. His conduct, moreover, reflects private assumptions about personal interrelationships and the given character of external reality that sharply contradict the naturalistic framework.

Everyman’s cognitive processes include in fact a primordial ontological awareness of God as the ultimate given. Not even the secularist lives without implicit and explicit references to the living God. Any analysis of experience that obscures the rational and moral revelation of the Logos of God in the cosmos, in history, and in the life of man universally, reduces the human situation as objectionably as does the secular world-life view. To concentrate, as Gilkey does, on merely noncognitive as against cognitive awareness, and on ontic as against ontological responses in respect to ultimate reality is not enough. Instead of expounding God in his transcendent revelation such abstracted and subtracted experiences become mere footnotes in the psychology of religion. By saying that we cannot know God as he truly and objectively is (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 465) Gilkey condemns man to religious symbols whose literal truth and propositional validity are suffocated by doubt. The mind even of secular man harbors not merely conceptually vacuous feelings about deity but a secret knowledge of moral accountability to the eternal Sovereign, a sense of personal guilt and vulnerability to final judgment for wrongdoing. Secular emancipation to human autonomy has not canceled or conquered this guilt feeling, this conviction that not only my neighbors but that I myself live in the presence of moral wrath and ultimate judgment on ethical misconduct. The poignant efforts of contemporary psychology and psychiatry attest that reconciliation remains among the most pressing concerns of a secular age. Man seeks for an ultimate acceptance and approval as the framework of his living, one that he himself cannot generate and that neither nature nor society is adequate to guarantee. Psychiatry offers differing explanations and solutions for resolving these anxieties; biblical religion clearly associates this sense of alienation with sin, and reconciliation with divine for givenness.

Scripture reveals the complex factors of response and revolt that explain secular man’s vacillation between a bold resort to naturalism and his daily dilution and compromise of it. The Bible sets forth the cognitive levels of experience wherein God maintains a revelational initiative, and it discloses at the same time man’s oblique and broken response to that divine confrontation. But man stands in relationship to God not only in Scripture. Man’s being has a significance surviving the climactic end-time through its anchorage in divine creation and providence. His every thought and act has general revelation as its background. However idiosyncratic and idolatrous his behavior, his experience presupposes this actual though violated revelation of God. If man made for God will not live by the truth of God, he will nevertheless venture on his own to invest his life with sense and security by serving false gods. Without some conceptuality that deciphers his place in the whole of things, man cannot survive meaningfully. To escape the shattering emptiness of a life unyielded to the living God he resorts to idolatry in his quest for an unconditioned ultimate that will give direction to his existence and hopefully assure his destiny. His frantic self-striving to invest existence with meaning and security is an idolatrous response to God’s revealed purpose for mankind. The objective givenness of man’s life-situation is such that the real choice facing human experience is a choice not between man’s valuelessness and value, but between spurious and genuine values. If his human postulations strip him of personal meaning and worth, he will breach them in deference to a haunting intuitive sense of his role in the real world.

This intuition is, in fact, supported by the cosmic revelation of the Creator and its comprehensive import expounded in the biblical narratives. The Logos of God lights man by creation, rescues him by redemption, renews him by sanctification, and sustains man’s sense of meaning and worth, purifying his notions of the good, and reinforcing his conviction of personal value even in the face of death. The recognition of God in his revelation is the only premise through which secular man can both understand his behavior and misbehavior, and consistently escape the descent to despair implicit in a naturalistic view of reality and man. Only God’s purpose and assurance made known in his Word can displace doubts about man’s historical significance; only the recognition of man’s divine creation and the factuality of redemption can banish the shadows of skepticism and cynicism.

We are under no Christian necessity, however, to limit human cognition of God only to those with a special experience of salvation, including some whom their former cohorts may demean as a few mentally exhausted and emotionally frayed naturalists who have turned to religion. An obituary for God is assuredly always premature, but that is not solely because even some secularists come to forgiveness of their sins and new life in Christ, thereby sharing in the redemptive vitalities of biblical theism. For even those who maintain an allegiance to naturalistic theory have, like all other human beings, individual case histories translucent with divine confrontation. Man’s experience of the Eternal, his knowledge of the sovereign judge of human motives and deeds, pierces the human heart not in periodic crises only, but involves all human decisions and actions. To introduce considerations of general revelation without correlating them with all the complexities of man’s daily life, and without connecting them with modern man’s search for meaning in the contemporary world, would inexcusably overlook important elements of experience that mesh even the secularist with the call and claim of the Eternal. Not only his secret alternatives to meaninglessness, but also his distressing anxieties concerning personal worth, imply presuppositions that touch upon man’s responsible relationship to his Maker. The ongoing revelation of God and remnants of the imago Dei in man supply the continuing conditions of man’s humanity. The ineradicable convictions we harbor about the character of reality and the way we frame the fundamental questions of our lives reflect, however unwittingly, a response to God’s revelational confrontation of his creatures. The universal disclosure of God penetrates deeply into all man’s confidences and doubts. God is the Eternal with whom unrenewed man, in all his experiences, has a vagabond relationship. Evidence of God’s reality and power and truth and goodness is ongoingly refracted into the course of man’s daily life.

Behind and beyond man’s conceptualization of created reality on his own premises lies a more primary activity of human cognition involving him in knowledge not only of himself and other selves and of the cosmos but equally of the eternal sovereign Ruler and Judge of all. This ontological awareness underlies and pervades all the other unconditional elements and commitments in human experience. Man intuits external reality as objectively given and structured by a meaning and worth, an ultimate coherence, not of his own devising.

The secular conception of reality does not account for the totality of secular man’s experience. In fact, it does not adequately account for any of his experience. The revelation of God pervades all man’s thoughts, motives and deeds, all his comings and goings, as indispensable to his humanity. Not a judgment, not a decision, not an action takes place without reference to the horizon of ultimate claims upon man’s life. Secular man does not miss out on general revelation, but he misses out on the joy of God and the goal of life.


The Meaning or Myths Man Lives By

The fiercest debate in theology today concerns the origin, nature and validity of the general categories that shape human experience.

The contemporary view regards man’s conceptual apparatus as a byproduct of experience shaped by the evolutionary past. Moreover, it claims to derive all the content of human knowledge solely from empirical considerations. Ever since Darwin, man’s reason has been routinely assigned an animal ancestry, and since Freud the deepest commitments of his psyche have been anchored in myth.

Many scholars now dismiss all culture-conceptualities and schematic interpretations of history as mythological constructs. Religion, philosophy and science alike are said to be grounded in mythopoeic imagination. While these scholars concede that cultural cohesion would crumble without some common convictional framework, they consider all notions of human significance and worth or of fateful historical events to be but an artful invention that confers special import and abiding value upon the human species. All motivating assumptions that underlie social stability are given a naturalistic and psychological explanation; man’s metaphysical assertions are said to be creative and imaginative ways of ascribing transcendent meaning to his history.

The basic controversy concerns the legitimacy or illegitimacy of this contrabiblical explanation of the form and content of human knowledge. Biblical theologians contend that divine revelation provides the one and only reliable exposition of human meaning and worth. The pattern of biblical history begins with God as sovereign creator of the worlds and of man who promptly profanes the moral-spiritual purposes for which he was divinely made. It centers in God’s gracious offer of redemption pledged in the call of Israel and fulfilled in the gift of Jesus Christ, now the risen head of the church. It focuses on a global society of redeemed and renewed persons whose present mandate is to proclaim to all men the divine offer of life abundant in God’s kingdom and whose future inheritance includes sharing in God’s triumphant divine vindication of righteousness. Man is made to know and love and serve God and, under God, is to reclaim the earth and mankind for the Creator’s holy purposes. Only if man lives in the light of this scriptural perspective can he escape ensnarement by ancient or modern myths.

Mythometaphysical alternatives to the biblical view raged not only in the ancient world into which Christianity came. The modern world also to which the gospel is proclaimed so echoes with a diversity of religious, philosophical and scientific claims that no one can deny the ongoing role of creative imagination in elaborating the nature of man and the significance of the world in which we live. It is in the civilized modern West that a nation within our lifetime harbored the Hitlerian myth of Nordic superiority. It is in the civilized modern West that multitudes of literate and sophisticated contemporaries espouse the technocratic myth of the externally real world being only an amalgam of impersonal processes and events. The spreading communist myth likewise debunks supernatural religion as obsolescent and imposes materialistic categories upon the cosmos and man, but it also depicts human history as so entrenched by economic determinism that a proletarian world revolution is inevitable.

Since World War I many German and French scholars who interpret man in contemporary categories of human freedom locate man’s real being simply in personal decision; it is man’s own faith-perspectives that surmount the impersonal world of science and assertedly create and shape historical reality. Then there is logical positivism; it considers meaningful only assertions that are empirically falsifiable and therefore dismisses all statements about God as cognitively vacuous nonsense. The “God is dead” secular religionists claim to speak for frontier Christianity and within the church declare what once had been affirmed only by enemies of revealed religion like Nietzsche. It is evident then that, from the myth of evolutionary utopianism to that of radical secularity which looks upon the universe as the chance product of a galactic explosion, the contemporary world is no less replete with myths than was the world into which Christianity came.

It is noteworthy that champions of each of the competing world religions, or of one of the many divergent philosophical perspectives, or of contemporary scientism, usually assume the superiority of their particular truth-claim, and often indict as inferior an entire category of alternatives. Secular philosophers have long practiced and preferred metaphysical theorizing over an interest in religious systems that seem to them naïve and unsophisticated. Was not Socrates already in ancient times condemned to death because his philosophical views eroded popular faith in the crude polytheistic myths? Religion, said Hegel, has its roots in imagination, and mirrors ultimate concerns only in metaphorical language. Philosophical reflection, on the other hand, he claimed, expresses metaphysical realities in true concepts. For all that, the temper of Western philosophy over the long run has nevertheless been more often religious than antireligious and atheistic; some eminent philosophers (with perspectives as diverse as those of Plato and Spinoza, not to mention Augustine) have in fact considered theology the inner soul of philosophy. To distinguish secular metaphysics absolutely from religious myths is very difficult if for no other reason than that no philosopher can long avoid some traffic in absolutes. Conflicting visions of spiritual reality raise grave doubts, moreover, that even the most brilliant philosophical reasoning escapes those very subjectifying influences that are often disparagingly imputed to religious partisans. Furthermore, a number of world religions venture a sustained rational apologetic. This is contrary to current philosophical discourse which tends to stress other than cognitive considerations, a complaint long lodged against certain religious outlooks. At the same time, many contemporary philosophers of science hesitate to convert their experimental models of nature into ontological claims about the essential structure of the real world, since all too frequently in the recent past such explanatory theories have proved to be nothing but short-term myths.

The biblical writers make no absolute distinction between religious mythologies and conjectural metaphysics and, by extension, the scientific outlook. The New Testament judges the world-wisdom of secular philosophy no less adversely than it does the idolatry of nonbiblical religions. The apostle Paul’s classic evaluation of pagan religions in Romans 1:21–25 matches his awesome verdict against Greek world-wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18–25. The apostle disdains misleading philosophical traditions (Col. 2:8) no less than religious idols which, he says, the spiritually enlightened know to be “nothing in the world” (1 Cor. 8:4, kjv). The Bible considers neither world religions nor secular philosophies an ally in the cause of truth. False gods are born and bred in the intellectual underworld of man-made schemes of salvation.

Christianity approaches religious and philosophical traditions no less diffidently than does modern linguistic analysis. It does so, however, from a strikingly different perspective, and brings even the analytical movement within its purview. Voicing frustration because the history of philosophy and of religion exhibits as marked differences and disagreements today as in past centuries, many linguistic philosophers contend that as contrasted (supposedly) with scientific inquiry, philosophy and religion have made no progress toward truth. According to many analytical critics the underlying cause of this undeniable conflict of ideas is that traditional philosophy and the world religions all raise the wrong questions, and therefore discuss unreal and insoluble problems. This error, they say, occurs because linguistic bewitchment detours theologians and metaphysicians to seek the sense of language elsewhere than in empirical scientific confirmation. But, as Gilkey comments, “nothing is so unclear in the otherwise clear analytical movement as its understanding of what sorts of language traditional philosophy was composed of, and consequently nothing is so wide of the mark as the reasons they give for their own dogmatic reactions against all such forms of philosophical discussion” (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 439, n. 14). Whereas many linguistic philosophers are prone to dismiss the Judeo-Christian revelation-claim as simply another brand of metaphysical theorizing, the Judeo-Christian revelation lays bare the presumptuous dogmatism of linguistic philosophy and exposes its mythological pretensions. When positivistic analysis arbitrarily exalts itself into the authoritative exponent of the meaning of all philosophical language, it reveals not the empirical tentativity it professedly cherishes but rather a dogmatic stance more compatible with the absolute revelationalism it deplores.

Yet the Judeo-Christian revelation also expressly repudiates the modern notion that all philosophical world-and-life views, all religious outlooks and scientific schematizations of reality, are at bottom nothing but mythopoeic conceptualizations and subjective projections of the special meaning and worth of human life. In a previous chapter it was necessary to emphasize that Judeo-Christian revelation has nothing in common with the category of myth. Here it is important to note that this same revelation refuses to dismiss nonbiblical religions and philosophies as rooted solely in imaginative creativity. This verdict does not follow simply from the fact that the Bible insists, alongside the many conceptualities held by conjectural metaphysicians and founders of religions (and in principle by modern scientific theorists as well), that there exists one outlook anchored in transcendent divine disclosure and that in the light of this revealed truth all other perspectives are to be judged. For the Christian view not only disqualifies the vast multiplicity of man-made theories—whether religious, philosophical or scientific—but it also refuses to write off as mere myth-spinning the universal human quest for a comprehensive overview of reality. The Christian revelation pits itself against positivistic analysis no less than against other non-biblical philosophies and religions, but it hardly dismisses the problems raised by the history of philosophy and of religion as simply a tragic deception, even if it considers the nonbiblical solutions too simplistic and defective to be acceptable. Christianity accounts on its own premises for man’s ongoing pursuit of multiple gods and explanatory hypotheses and for the steady appearance of competitive contrabiblical views.

The Christian revelation offers a striking elucidation of fallen man’s proclivity to false faiths. Strange as it may seem, it explains everyman’s faith-constructing energies partly in the context of divine revelation and God’s creation of man. Man is a creature made for God, for relationships transcending the finite world of nature. The fact of man’s divine creation nourishes his ongoing quest for an apprehension of ultimate reality. In his divine givenness man is a creature of faith. Unlike the lower animals, his life and hopes are shaped by an ineradicable sense that he somehow is related to the ultimately real world. He is a “belief-ful” creature; he does not and cannot live in a faith vacuum. The decisive question is not whether faith is a necessary condition of human life but rather in whom or in what that faith reposes. If he does not trust the living God, false gods and fake divinities preempt Yahweh’s place.

It is the same with society, the human collectivity. The cultural enterprise rests invariably on a secret or explicit faith. Behind every socially entrenched morality some underlying life-and-world view presumes to identify what reality is, and what aspects of reality are considered sacred. Such collectively held beliefs and values establish the coherency of any culture. Shared convictions are what give a cultural enterprise its stability. Widespread loss of confidence in its integrating frame of commitment and action is a signal that a given society is culturally ailing, perhaps even terminally ill. Any generation lacking convictional assurance about the nature of reality is not only snared in its doubts but drifting toward nihilism and despair. The times of social breakdown are those in which the populace defects from what it has long thought to be ultimately real and sacred, and is unsure what if anything to put in its place. When individuals can no longer make up their minds about important issues, or about what if anything is important, we isolate them from society. When society as a whole lacks consensus on what is true and sacred, then that society or culture is surely staggering toward intellectual chaos, spiritual deterioration and moral ruin.

The debate in theology today, we have said, is being waged most fiercely over the significance of the competing cultural frameworks and interpretations of human meaning and worth. In keeping with the modern erosion of faith in the supernatural, the decline of confidence in reason, and the nonontological orientation of contemporary science, secular scholars now routinely explain the universal phenomenon of convictional frameworks in terms of historical contingency. No culture, they say, can live without its myth, and the cultural myth is at bottom an optional framework in which each society has chosen to invest its notion of human meaning and value.

While this particular explanation no doubt illuminates much of human experience, evangelical Christianity denies its adequacy to explain human history in toto or even the history of any particular culture, and that for three reasons: (1) This secular theory arbitrarily excises the transcendent revelation of the living God from the history of men and nations; (2) it denies human answerability to and accountability for that revelation; and (3) it presumptively explains all human history by the mythology of an antisupernaturalistic modern world view.

The claims currently made in behalf of technocratic scientism impart a special orientation to the age-old conflict between revealed religion and world-wisdom. Just as in Old Testament times revealed religion had often to cope with claims made in behalf of false and idolatrous gods, and as early Christianity confronted polytheistic religion and the prevalent secular philosophies, so evangelical faith is specially called upon today to challenge the positivistic mood engendered by scientific naturalism. The crosscultural clash reaches a zenith in this conflict between Christian theism and an empirical ideology that considers belief in supernatural reality the mark of an uneducated and unscientific man. Subordinating all beliefs to the premise of evolutionary development and historical contingency, radical secularity insists that no view, the Christian revelation-claim expressly included, is absolute and final; all guiding visions of the real, the good and the true it explains as time-bound perspectives. The modern scientific world view identifies as mythical whatever entities cannot be validated by its trusted way of knowing, namely, an empirical methodology that ideally exhibits events as mathematically connectable sequences. Empirical scientism thus deliberately dethrones Jesus Christ as the final Savior figure by declaring all supernatural claims to be mythological.

Arrogating to itself sovereign sway over the whole of external reality, and thus implying omnicompetence to disclose its hidden secrets and to define whatever may be said about it, scientific empiricism has been hailed as the great demythologizer whose reliable way of knowing unmasks all the legends and myths of the past in order to substitute authentic knowledge. As Theodore Roszak remarks, what distinguished the scientific revolution as “a radically different if not final cultural episode” was precisely its claim to demythologize, on the ground that “with the advent of the scientific world view, indisputable truth takes the place of make-believe” (The Making of a Counter Culture, p. 210). But cultural scientism was blind to the peculiar idolatry to which it fell prey. While relativizing all human conceptualities as mythological it nonetheless regarded the scientific world view as permanently and universally valid, that is, as the ultimate conceptuality. The Western scientific revolution came to consider modern culture as the final stage in the history of civilization, distinct from all antecedents because enlightened by the empirical method.

Today the scientific world view stands charged with a grandiose remythologization of reality. The “objective consciousness” affirmed by scientific culture is in actuality, Roszak contends, “an arbitrary construct in which a given society has invested its sense of meaningfulness and value. And so, like any mythology, it can be gotten round and called into question by cultural movements which find meaning and value everywhere” (ibid., p. 215). Why should not the terminology of cultural myth so eagerly applied by secular empiricism to the collectively held central beliefs and values of successive social and cultural manifestations be appropriately applied also to the supposedly “objective consciousness” that technocratic society claims for itself when it identifies the real external world solely in terms of mathematically chartable impersonal events? Roszak’s remarks are wholly to the point: “If the culture of science locates its highest values not in a mystic symbol of ritual or epic tales of faraway lands and times, but in a mode of consciousness, why should we hesitate to call this a myth?… Is it possible that … scientific culture is uniquely a-mythical? Or is it the case that we fail to look in the right place—in the deep personality structure of the ideal scientist—for the great controlling myth of our culture?” (p. 215).

Not only does the attempted reduction of all culture conceptualities and interpretations of history simply to transient myths rest upon an arbitrary contemporary philosophical perspective, but it also capriciously obscures the revelation of the living God from the cosmos and human affairs and denies man’s universal answerability to that revelation. Revealed religion insists that, whatever their religious or philosophic or scientific commitments may be, men in all times and places stand in ongoing responsible relationships to the Creator of the universe. The biblical view explains man’s faith-constructing energies and his faith-history—however right or wrong his religious and philosophical perspective—in the context of an indissoluble link to ongoing divine revelation. Man’s world-and-life stance is always and everywhere a personal response to inescapable divine confrontation. Whether one be a professional philosopher or a Hyde Park ranter, his view of life and reality not only reflects his individual credo but also involves a highly personal response to the revelation and call of God.

No discerning theologian will deny that much of man’s multiform religious history and life deserves a bad press, and the ancient biblical writers did not hesitate to provide it. What more severe indictment of pagan Gentile religions can be found than in Paul’s letter to the Romans (1:21 ff.)? Karl Barth even depicted religion as the godless man’s obstacle to genuine faith. Religious world culture that mirrors human enterprise even at its noblest reflects the creative ingenuity of sinful man no less than the changeless glory of the one true God. But to commit modern secular learning to evolutionary naturalism demands the superficial verdict that all man’s gods are merely aspects of the finite universe imaginatively endowed with higher powers. This secular or naturalistic thesis the theology of revelation assails as a destructive exaggeration, and hence as an uncritical misconception of man’s religious nature and its presuppositions. The theology of revelation insists that not only the religious man’s whoring after false gods but also the naturalist’s perverse contempt for all religious reality as a mere reflex of nature can be adequately explained as the sinful response of man to the reality of divine revelation.

Even the pagan and secular devotees of myths doubtless are in some way in touch with the God of the Bible. This is not to say that the myths provide an objective revelation or reflection of the true and living God, for they constitute in fact a subjective compromise and evasion. The inventors of these myths nonetheless thought themselves to be somehow in real contact with the true God—as do those still who ongoingly cherish these myths—even if the myths themselves misrepresent this God and the nature of the salvation experience. But the myths exist only as reductions and subversions of the claims of the living God of revelation. They owe their origin both to that revelation and to man’s revolt against God. While revelation evokes faith, revolt blurs its legitimate content. Over against the modern tendency to regard the mythological as a basic form of human experience, the mythological appears as an evasive response by fallen man to the self-revelation of the living God.

Despite its radical criticism and rejection of nonbiblical religions and speculative philosophies, including the mythology of scientism so prevalent today, Christianity affirms the revelation of the living God as the context that evokes the rise of all religion and all philosophy and the modern scientific enterprise as well. Man is by creation made to worship. Religion and philosophy and science as human endeavors are responses to the ultimately real world and find their presupposition in God’s universally pervasive revelation, in the Creator’s address and call to man.

The self-revelation of the sovereign God and Creator of all, as biblically attested, is given externally in cosmic reality, in the events of human history, and internally as it confronts the mind and conscience of every man. The apostle Paul insists on God’s universal self-manifestation: “The invisible things of [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20, kjv).

Hendrik G. Stoker urges us not to forget that the living God not only reveals himself to man through the creation and Scripture, but that he universally reveals the created universe (including man) to man (“Van Til’s Theory of Knowledge,” p. 30). In this sense revelation reaches beyond the disclosure of God’s own nature to God’s revelation to man of the universe as a divinely created and ordered reality. Stoker’s point is that all knowledge is revelationally grounded in the Creator and his plan, and that in the universe all men are daily confronted with an orderly creation that reveals the divine Planner. Thus the approach to the universe, including man himself, whether on the scientific level of its mathematically connectible continuities or on the level of philosophical speculation over its finiteness and limitation or on the level of religious contemplation and awe, involves personal decisions that ongoingly correlate man with both God’s self-disclosure and his works-disclosure. God addresses and calls man through nature, bids him know its plan and the Planner, and invites man to fulfill God’s calling, that is, to employ his knowledge in serving God and fellowmen. The answer that mangives in respect to the meaning of nature and reality is not something wholly different from man’s answer to the revelation of God’s plan and person. Man’s knowledge and action constitute a response or answer to God’s revelation of himself. In Stoker’s words, the truth of man’s knowledge lies in its “answering to the knowable” (p. 32), that is, to God and his plan revealed both in created reality and in his redemptive Word.

What relationship then should be postulated between the vast range of nonbiblical religions and so-called world-wisdom or philosophical theorizing, and the revelation of God? Does every religious system, every philosophical outlook, and perhaps even every scientific theory have some identifiable point of contact with the truth of revelation? Can we specify in some if not all pagan religions and secular perspectives, truths and values with which Christianity should make common cause? Shall we perhaps even relate world religions and philosophical systems to the New Testament in some shadow Old Testament role that is preliminary to and preparatory for special revelation, and perchance even apologetically serviceable for expounding the truth of revelation?

Such questions bring us face-to-face with the important issues of general revelation, the divine image in man, the noetic effects of sin, and natural theology. At this point, we merely note that while revealed religion insists that man as created is inescapably conscious of God and of his transcendently ordered cosmos, that is, of the incomparable power and deity of the Cosmic Planner, his response to the revealed God known in his revelation is broken and evasive. Man can indeed know the God of creation and created reality—not exhaustively, to be sure, but nonetheless truly. Yet as sinner he frustrates the divine revelation that penetrates into his very mind and conscience, and in significant respects also dilutes and even suppresses the revelation in created reality. For all that, man even as sinner is aware of the living God and of created reality as a divinely given order and as an arena of divine disclosure, even if he throws himself athwart this revelation and responds to it obliquely. In Stoker’s words, “the sinner has contact with this plan itself; but he does not fully meet it … in a truly answering fashion; his presuppositions are wrong; he perceives … the knowable in wrong perspectives; he directs his faith wrongly; he ‘derails’ his thinking by forming wrong concepts, judgments, theories, and so forth; he thus perceives the knowable in accordance with wrong theoretical constructions” (ibid., p. 33). “His knowledge no longer answers freely to the knowable, but falsifies it” (p. 34) It is necesssary therefore to maintain the distinction between the individual who bears the imago Dei by creation and the schematized response he makes to the revelation of God and his created reality.

But created reality does not confront man simply with an enigma which he is left to decipher, a question that awaits his definitive answer; it confronts him from the first as a revelation, a declaration, a calling, to which inevitably he makes either a proper or improper response. And the beggarly effort to intuit the mystery of the universe in terms of one’s mystical identification with ultimate reality, or to unravel its secrets by philosophical theorizing, or to chart its behavior pattern by technocratic scientism or historical positivism, deletes from the external world the decisive reality, decision, initiative and agency of God. For the revelation that confronts man from the first echoes God’s voice: “You are Adam—man!—and only in knowing your Maker do you truly know yourself!” Man replies, “I am man indeed” (the multiple religions and culture-conceptualizations are schematizations of this special significance and worth), “but who or what is God?” On his own initiative man proceeds to answer a question that he raises in his own way: God becomes the multinamed object through which the meaning and value man now postulates for himself are conceptually assured.

It is a needless concession to empiricist theory therefore to encourage man the sinner to ask only whether reality (which he already arbitrarily limits) may not perchance possibly, or in some one respect probably, or even very probably, confront man with a larger horizon than the one within which modern secularism prefers to pontificate. To be sure, all the evidence an empirical scientist claims for his theories, insofar as he is in touch with reality, is also unacknowledged evidence for God, a handling (and manipulation for abstracted objectives) of God’s revelation to man of nature as his creation order. But God must not first be arbitrarily set aside, and the quest for him then later introduced (if at all) in terms of humanly devised techniques for detecting whatever mystery fringe may lurk at the outer borders of our special interests. Human existence is not primarily a vocation in which the modern experimentalist addresses questions to the universe. It is one, rather, in which created existence, and the God of creation, addresses us. We are addressed by a transcendent reality that elicits recognition. We are confronted by a divinely given environment that demands our decision and awaits our fulfillment of a calling.

Scholars who do not espouse Christian beliefs of course have liberty to say what they wish about cultural and historical perspectives. But if a positivistic bias prompts their dismissal of all historical interpretation as mythical and all metaphysical affirmations on which human cultures rest as postulational, they should be reminded that no legitimate prerogative exists for arbitrarily extending such grandiose and universal judgments to include the biblical representation, or for arbitrarily exempting their own peregrinations. Radical critics turn myth into a comprehensive principle for dismissing the miraculous and supernatural core of revealed religion. This deepening of the unbelief of predecessors who in an earlier generation ventured only to identify this or that segment of the scriptural narrative as myth has unfortunately been encouraged by Bultmann’s notion that the apostolic kerygma centers in myth, that the resurrection of the crucified Jesus is merely a cryptic linguistic coding for an inner existential experience of new being. Van A. Harvey concludes that “the content of faith can as well be mediated through a historically false story of a certain kind as through a true one, through a myth as well as through history” (The Historian and the Believer, pp. 280 ff.).

But the Old Testament explicitly differentiates the worship of Yahweh from the cultic myths of the ancient world deplored as false religion, and the New Testament expressly distinguishes the basis and content of Christian faith from myth. As J. Gresham Machen notes, “If any one thing must be clear to the historian, it is that Christianity at the beginning was founded squarely upon an account of things that had happened, upon a piece of news, or in other words, upon a ‘gospel’ ” (What Is Faith? p. 149). The apostolic writers lived in a world where responsible men did not ignore the distinction between myth and reality. They were themselves persuaded of the factuality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead despite their own initial reactions of its incredibility. The apostle Paul, as do the other apostles, presents the content of Christian faith as consisting essentially of historical facts and divine truth and not of myth (1 Cor. 15:14, 20). They aggressively oppose mythical and speculative notions on the basis of the sound historical foundations of their own faith. The apostles, in fact, energetically indict the mythical alternatives to Christianity by bannering the superiority of what is true and factual: “We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16, kjv). Christianity claims to offer not merely a philosophical conceptuality of history that is universal and final (Marxism and other views also make this claim) but more especially insists that its controlling truths and convictions are grounded in God’s transcendent revelation historically given and scripturally attested.

The Christian knows the divine hinge on which history ultimately turns, and Jesus of Nazareth to be the center and final issue of its redemptive plan; moreover, he knows that between creation and judgment the particular providence of God works actively and decisively in cosmic and human affairs. R. G. Collingwood thinks that early Christian writers took over from Greco-Roman historians the providential interpretation of history, enabling them to see the history of the world as a whole, even if this orientation of events to the purpose of man might conflict with the objective purposes of God (The Idea of History). Donald M. MacKinnon notes, however, that Collingwood makes this distinction because he does not think, as did Augustine, that the writing of history is actually concerned with what is truly the case (The Journal of Theological Studies, 48:250). For Collingwood history is mainly the historian’s doing, a view that reflects an underlying subjectivist bias in knowledge-theory. “In Collingwood’s own phrase, it is through the work of the historian, in part at least, that the past is ‘incapsulated’ in the present. But what principles are to govern that ‘incapsulation’?” asks MacKinnon (pp. 251 f.). What places the historian under obligation toward events is that his own judgments of importance do not in fact constitute the external situation; actually, if he is to be worthy of professional respect, he must be concerned with a response to historical evidence.

The transcendent revelation of God’s sovereign purpose as it is scripturally attested gives to historiography the one referent that keeps history from becoming assimilated to an almost infinite variety of interpretative reconstructions. Finite human beings have no “purely” objective history that can elaborate the detailed significance of events. Nor does the Bible present us with a detailed exposition of the interconnections between all historical developments. What it offers, rather, is a comprehensive framework within which the purpose, survival and destiny of men and nations are decisively related to the Lord of history. Christianity resists narrating the past simply in correlations of events that are shaped by a selective principle postulated by the secular historian; no less does it refuse to surrender the future to palmists, stargazers and horoscopes.

If man himself is ultimately the creator of all meanings and values—the meaning of the self and the worth of society, the meaning of history and the worth of life, the meaning of the cosmos and the worth of truth—and even the meaning of meaning and the value of values—then a vast spectrum of myths, modern no less than ancient, are free to dominate the field of interpretation unchallenged. In that event no one should claim more or less validity for one such myth than another, whether it be the Hitlerian myth, the Marxist myth, the Maoist myth, the myth of evolutionary utopianism, that of radical secularity, that of black power, or that of the counterculture which ventures to vindicate the value of the human self in terms of mystical transcendence. The differences in human commitment reduce then simply to which myth—religious, philosophical, historical or scientific—one subjectively prefers. To be sure, the radically secular outlook reflected in the God-is-dead mood, as Gilkey notes, “expresses apparently a terminal stage in the process of secularization, in which the divine has finally absconded from immanence as well as from transcendence” (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 189). What also recede in this instance are truth, value and hope. What looms ever larger is the encroachment of nihilism and despair, an existence empty of any pervasive and enduring sense of the significance and worth of man.

Those who provided the mediating transition to this radical outlook were the theologians who abandoned all history to secular criteria; positivist standards consequently governed the interpretation of all historical and cosmic events. Despite their emphasis in many cases on “God who acts” and “saving events,” all such acts became isolated from the plane of objective history and were assimilated instead to the arena of spiritual interpretation or personal faith-stance. In this way religious history gained the aura of myth or saga or legend—something very different from the concrete events of historical reality that the Bible declares manifest the living God who speaks and acts.

The God who acts and speaks in the biblical attestation does so in the external affairs of men and nations, in objective historical reality. The exodus from Egypt, the founding of the Hebrew nation, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the founding of the Christian church are not simply internal spiritual perspectives; they are historically factual occurrences, and in truth the very cornerstone of history when seen in comprehensive context.

The Christian revelation contends that the meaning of the cosmos and man and history is transcendently given in the form of intelligible divine disclosure. On this basis Christianity professes to supply the enduring conceptuality that alone makes possible an ongoing unity of theology, philosophy, history and science.


Theology and Science

Modern man has more and more opted for the scientific method as the source of trustworthy knowledge about the real world. For several generations some scholars contended that theology and philosophy could both be put on a firmer basis if these disciplines were empirically grounded. But over the long term the outcome of this trend has hardly been what its early champions expected. Contemporary man is staggered not only by the evident triumph of secularity, but also by the proliferation of skepticism in all realms of inquiry.

For many persons today—and not only among professional philosophers—the distressing question concerning religion is no longer, as Schubert Ogden remarks, “whether the theologian can make assertions that conflict with science, but whether he can make any meaningful assertions at all” (The Reality of God and Other Essays, p. 9). The regard for empirical method as alone significant and the consequent deference to observational science as decisive for knowledge of all life’s basic concerns, implied the noncognitive significance of theology. The empirical approach to ethics, which investigated religion in the light of autonomous morality, likewise implied the nonultimacy of spiritual concerns. In a rapidly secularizing society the status of theology as a science became increasingly suspect. In some circles theological study has now been so long considered inferior to scientific study that theology is seldom any longer given its traditional connotation, the science of God.

The view that modern empiricism dissolves the cognitive significance or intelligibility of talk about God underlay much of the God-is-dead mentality. So, for example, Paul M. van Buren asserted that “the empiricist in us”—presumably in the typical contemporary man—leaves us dumb struck in the presence of God-talk: “We do not know ‘what’ God is, and we cannot understand how the word ‘God’ is being used” (The Secular Meaning of the Gospel p. 84). Van Buren goes on to dispense with the reality of God as inconsequential for the Christian religion and, moreover, considers this denial of the Deity to be compatible with the gospel and desirable for its modern extension.

Not infrequently contemporary scientists, particularly those of a humanist bent, allude to Christianity only in a highly pejorative way. Even the Cambridge anthropologist Edmund Leach seems unable to depict Christianity except in a caricature that would hardly gain an anthropology student a passing grade were he no more accurate in portraying some primitive religion. The God of Christianity, Leach writes in A Runaway World?, is “the creator who first set the cosmological clock in motion” (which sounds as if he had been reading the eighteenth-century deists rather than the Bible). Moreover, he tells us, this God is “a kind of trickster who intervenes in human affairs ina quite arbitrary way so as to test the faith of the righteous” (which reads as if it came from Voltaire or some other such unprejudiced source). One recalls a comment by Martin Buerger, world-renowned crystallographer and former head of the School of Advanced Studies of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that modern scientists so much concentrate on the minutiae of their own fields of specialization that they tend to be ignorant of a great deal else, not least of all the world of the Bible.

The organized church readily accommodated itself to the primacy of the so-called modern scientific world view. It eclipsed the Genesis creation story except for moral generalizations and exorcised the supernaturalism of the Gospels in the name of nonmiraculous modernism. It accepted released-time religious education, deferring to the scientific world view as the indispensable center of public school instruction, while Christianity, like arts and crafts, became an optional leisure-time activity. Where Christian teaching in German universities was tolerated at the price of a Nazi salute, in American public education it was accommodated at the price of an implicit salute to the technological mainstream. College-age church discussions were detoured to matters of piety, while a whole generation influenced by the secular academic trend reached for new personal identity, new sexual mores and family patterns, new community structures and a new society.

Almost a century ago James Orr emphasized in The Christian View of God and the World (Kerr Lectures) that truth is universal, and that the revelationally based Christian world view therefore will not and does not conflict with anything that philosophy or science can establish with certitude. But “all that is certain and established in the results of science” is in our time far less imposing than early twentieth-century scholars thought. What William James hailed as a scientific relationship to reality based on “irreducible and stubborn facts” is today seldom celebrated. Even the most comprehensive formulations of empirical theory are now considered revisable.

There is presently a notable fallout from the infatuation with science characteristic of the recent past. This growing disenchantment is not due simply to the fact that virtually all its insights can be deployed by barbarians for malevolent ends, nor to the circumstance that every conclusion of empirical science is in principle refutable or revisable, nor to observations like Karl Popper’s that 90 percent of what is done in science is a waste of time. It has more to do with science’s unfulfilled promise to ennoble man’s spirit and elevate the quality of human life. Bertrand Russell said a half century ago that “science can, if it chooses, enable our grandchildren to live the good life by giving them knowledge, self control, and characters productive of harmony rather than strife” (What I Believe, p. 87). But the grandchildren of whom he spoke now attest that, however comfortable and sometimes convenient modern science has made human existence, it has bestowed neither character nor the good life, and the kind of knowledge it confers is something other than wisdom. The modern credibility gap has widened to embrace not only theology, or theology and philosophy, but science as well. The youth counterculture explicitly assails modern faith in technocratic scientism as the monstrous legend that has beguiled Western secular man.

Furthermore, the relation of the scientific enterprise to the realm of truth is also in debate. So elusive a goal is truth that even the champions of science now frequently define its aspirations less ambitiously in terms merely of utility: scientific hypotheses are useful methods of summarizing and organizing our past experiences of nature. Logical positivists located the essential content of scientific theories in empirical verifiability or falsifiability; American pragmatists (John Dewey notably) in “what works”; operationalism in statements about procedures or operations that the scientist can perform with proper equipment. Even the view that the aim of physical laws is to predict the outcome of experiments reflects this overall tendency to displace truth as the goal of science.

David Bohm points out that views like positivism, pragmatism and operationalism, which assume that truth is relative, can on that premise supply no reason for preferring one criterion of importance to another; in actuality, he adds, they consider “that their notion of the relativity of truth is the true one, and in this way they bring in absolute truth by the back door” (“Truth and Understanding in Science,” p. 219). This constant reintroduction in contemporary disguise of the notion of revelatory knowledge—equated with what is “universally accepted” by “up-to-date” scientists or historians or philosophers or religionists—is in fact a curious feature of the scientific revolt against transcendent revelation.

Karl Popper assails the flight from truth and seeks in his own special way to restore the notion of truth to scientific inquiry. He deplores the logical positivist attempt to substitute verifiability for truth, and argues that induction cannot verify scientific theory but can only falsify it, and even that not conclusively.

Yet the present-day attempt to resurrect truth in science is now coupled with an explicit rejection of the ideal of absolute or “fixed, definitive and final” truth. The objectivity allegedly attaching to the scientific method of knowing is more and more questioned in a way that disputes all objectivity. Bohm asserts that the externally changing character of the world and of our related experience condemns us to knowledge of only partial validity. The reduction of truth to verifiability, falsifiability, instrumentalism, or whatever else, he remarks, reflects a desire to rest conclusions on a positive foundation, but in a changing universe, he adds, truth may have “no fixed and final forms or limits within it, so that it cannot be known in its totality nor approached nor accumulated nor even referred to some definable criterion by which it can be recognized.” Presumably we are nonetheless to credit these sentiments as gospel truth. In Bohm’s approach “truth itself and the methods and criteria for establishing it must be understood fresh from moment to moment, because everything is always changing, so that the problem is, in some respects, fundamentally new on each occasion on which the question of truth is to be considered” (“Truth and Understanding in Science,” pp. 218 f.). But in that event Bohm’s view of the situation a decade ago can hardly be credited today. Yet since he himself intends us to regard his analysis of the problem as definitive, it would be interesting to learn by what private revelational technique he discerned his supposedly basic principle of truth. If the laws of logic do not remain constant in our supposedly continuously changing and evolving environment, the whole possibility of truth collapses. And can the notion of partial validity on Bohm’s premises, or on any other, really escape moment-to-moment skepticism?

For all modern science’s refinements and advances, the complexity of phenomena notably forces upon many scholars a remarkable sense of man’s staggering ignorance. Karl Popper says that “the more we learn about the world, and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance” (“On the Sources of Knowledge and Ignorance,” p. 60). Warren Weaver thinks that science does not in an ultimate sense advance in unraveling “the totality of the unsolved”: “As science learns one answer … it also learns several new questions, … The volume of the appreciated but not understood keeps getting larger. We keep, in science, getting a more and more sophisticated view of our ignorance” (“A Scientist Ponders Faith”). With such acknowledgments in view, F. A. Hayek states that “it is high time … we take our ignorance more seriously … We have indeed in many fields learned enough to know that we cannot know all that we would have to know for a full explanation of the phenomena … What we must get rid of is the naïve belief that the world must be so organized that it is possible by direct observation to discover simple regularities between all phenomena, and that this is a necessary presupposition for the application of the scientific method” (“The Theory of Complex Phenomena,” pp. 348 f.).

That faith is an inescapable element of all human understanding, not excluding that of scientists who may be tempted to categorize it as unpardonable ignorance, is now more readily conceded than a century ago. W. J. Neidhardt declares faith to be an integral feature both of scientific and religious thought. “The intellectual mood of our age has presented to us the distortion that faith is the height of irrationality. Science has been portrayed as a cold, analytical discipline devoid of faith or metaphysical content; human and spiritual values cherished as unique are now claimed to be reducible to psycho-chemical explanations.” But, Neidhardt suggests, “Faith correctly viewed is that illumination by which true rationality begins …” Faith is, in fact, a necessary component of scientific as well as of religious experience (“Faith, the Unrecognized Partner of Science and Religion,” pp. 92, 90).

Faith does not supply the data of knowledge, Neidhardt emphasizes, but it provides the “keystone idea” or pattern that best fits and explains the data. Max Planck, whose projection of quantum-energy ended the classical era of physics predicated on the assumption of the absolute continuity of nature, wrote of the role of “imaginative vision and faith” in the scientist’s sponsoring of new hypotheses (cited in Stanley L. Jaki, The Relevance of Physics, p. 353). Whatever notions concerning nature as an unordered chaos are currently advanced by radical secularists, Neidhardt emphasizes that Planck and Albert Einstein, like Isaac Newton, were strongly motivated by faith in the orderlinessof nature, and he correlates the contributions of Michael Faraday, James Maxwell and P. A. M. Dirac with their faith in the interconnectedness and symmetry of nature. Michael Polanyi remarks that the scientist moreover assumes the basic soundness of scientific method and doctrine as unquestionably accepted premises (Science, Faith and Society, pp. 15, 45).

The biblical representation of faith, Neidhardt notes, is not connected exclusively with redemption in Jesus Christ and personal religious concerns, but includes also a wider reference: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1, rsv). “A biblical aspect of man’s nature, necessary for gaining knowledge of God and other people, is also required to gain knowledge of a purely scientific nature as well” (“Faith, the Unrecognized Partner of Science and Religion,” pp. 92 f.). Faith as an inherent aspect of all human endeavor is subscription to convictions for which empirical warrants are lacking. What distinguishes blind faith from authentic faith is that the latter has adequate evidential supports, empirical or nonempirical. Biblical faith differs from other faiths through its evidential grounding in the God who speaks a Word not subject to human revision and redemptively centered in Jesus Christ.

When Francis Bacon (1561–1626) repudiated the then-reigning Aristotelian metaphysics as an impediment to learning, he viewed this turn—almost ina prepositivist mood—as the rejection of all metaphysics. Not that Bacon opposed metaphysics because of its abstract character. But any methodological priority for metaphysics, he held, would undermine authentic science. Science was said to be based solely on observation and induction, which were to be ventured in the complete absence of pre-conceived ideas; the postulation of any theory in advance of observation and induction would only lead to a superstitious reinforcement of speculations about reality. The procedure of observation and inductive inference would finally yield a scientific metaphysics, or scientific certainty.

The triumph of Copernicanism and of the Galileo-Descartes metaphysical perspectives obscured the inevitable importance of metaphysics because of the scientific preoccupation with experiment. Moreover, the desire to avoid religious controversy, which metaphysics necessarily entailed, encouraged this antimetaphysical mood. Descartes defended scientific metaphysics in a highly specific way: he depicted his own principles—although based on a priori reasoning rather than on induction—as a body of certain knowledge which precedes rather than crowns scientific inquiry.

The significant inversion was proposed by William Whewell (The Poverty of Historicism, p. 121): scientific theories are not the result of inductive inference; rather, they are a product of creative imagination, and these imaginatively invented explanatory hypotheses are then tested empirically and either verified or disqualified. Any coherent metaphysics is a possible source of creative explanatory hypotheses. In Karl Popper’s words, “Science … cannot start with observations, or with the ‘collections of data’, as some students of method believe. Before we can collect data, our interest in data of a certain kind must be aroused: the problem always comes first.” Popper’s analysis of the logic of science shows that there can be no justification of inductive inference, but that scientific knowledge is based on the hypothetical-deductive model, so that its laws and theories can never be verified but only refuted. Even the most revered scientific knowledge-claims do not transcend this status of being in principle revisable. Popper has therefore revived and refined Whewell’s thesis thus: metaphysics is a legitimate source of scientific inspiration, but any scientific theory (as distinguished from pseudo science) must be testable—yet, to accredit itself as scientific, it need not, as Whewell added, be vindicated by the facts.

The day is now long past when science can claim special honor on the ground that it does not traffic in metaphysical concerns. The fact is that science can hardly get under way nor can it get very far without some metaphysical assumptions, and the more it penetrates its announced sphere of interest the more it bisects the larger metaphysical themes that crowd the history of ideas. This scientific propensity for pursuit of metaphysical issues has not gone unobserved: “I do not know why the significant events in the history of science should be metaphysically significant, but I have so far found it almost always to be the case. I suggest the theory that significance with regard to (pure) science is usually significance with respect to science’s metaphysical frameworks … Most (pure) scientists are more interested in metaphysics than they seen to be” (Joseph Agassi, “Scientific Problems and Their Roots in Meta physics,” p. 210). Much as the majestic metaphysical realities fall far outside the scope and competence of empirical observation, the ongoing desire of many scientists to illuminate these very concerns is a patent feature of the history of science.

To contrast science, defined as nonspeculative (because based supposedly on inductive inference from facts), with metaphysics as speculative (because based on preconceived ideas), therefore, incorporates a double misunderstanding. Not only does science inevitably borrow metaphysical assumptions, but some of the most noteworthy experiments in modern experimental physics have been engendered by imaginative metaphysical theories. The history of science is a history of metaphysical frameworks, some until now of continuing importance and many already forsaken.

Another striking difference now often said to distinguish scientific from theological inquiry is that scientists comprise a worldwide community of scholars sharing an agreed methodology and criteria of verification, whereas theologians are woefully at odds over the nature and reality of God, the ways of theological knowing, and the role and meaning of verification. This variance permeates even the most elite theological circles, including the prestigious membership of the American Theological Society, for example. Would the American Medical Association receive into membership a surgeon who denies the existence of man or a physician who denies the fact of human sickness? Would a geological society welcome into membership a scholar who insists that the earth is unreal as insistently as God-is-dead theologians exclude the ontological reality of divine being?

Even the most ardent proponents of science concede that in times of catastrophic change scientists do show fundamental disagreement on the object and methods of their study, but in ordinary times, they emphasize, scientists exhibit an impressive consensus. But is their lack of consensus over basic concerns confined only to those infrequent occasions when some great new explanatory hypothesis overtakes the scientific scene? Professional psychologists have long included in their ranks behavioral scientists who deny the reality of the soul or psyche in distinction from the body. In the case of psychology, however, virtually the whole profession has lost its soul, although there are notable exceptions. But is agreement on what exactly scientific method is, and what precisely constitutes verification, as universal and absolute as is generally believed? Progress in science depends in fact upon the ongoing revision of all its frontier commitments. The perpetual refinement of science does not place it beyond the possibility of some redefinition of object, let alone some revision of method. Only an unscientific dogmatism can preclude these eventualities.

Theological inquiry is said to differ also from the natural sciences in the, way it relates to our personal anxieties and hopes. The scientist pursues his studies, it is asserted, with cool, detached objectivity, whereas the reality of God cannot be contemplated apart from our own interest and commitment. Without question, our contemplation of God involves us in a range of experience beyond that of impersonal physical relation ships, and brings into purview such concerns as eternity, spirit, sin, life after death and much else. But scientific study is by no means wholly detachable from one’s understanding of life. For example, without basic honesty in reporting experimental results, scientific research would be wholly unfruitful. And are man’s personal fortunes and anxieties as wholly marginal to scientific inquiry as has often been presupposed? Have the questions of who will get there first if we do not, and what are the consequences for human history, had nothing to do with the priority given the space program by the United States and the Soviet Union? Is the concentration on ecological concerns merely an accident of scientific inquiry and unmotivated by personal anxieties? “Unsatisfied by a caricature of science … devoid of all personal passion,” writes Neidhardt of the countercultural revolt against technocratic impersonalism, “some of our brightest youth have adopted an extreme form of existentialism in which feeling alone is meaningful and rational analysis of no significance” (“Faith, the Unrecognized Partner of Science and Religion,” p. 92). One might perhaps better note that scientific knowledge and theological knowledge can be used for personal and social benefit, but that neither scientific formulas nor theological truths are on that account reducible to expressions of personal desire. Theology has sometimes been supposed acceptable or unacceptable—depending upon the stance of the evaluator—because of its accommodation of hope or fear. Yet the presence of personal preferences neither settles the question of truth nor wholly precludes the possibility of objective study. To pursue the study of theology one need hardly subscribe to the claim now frequently heard that God is never knowable as rational Object but only existentially as Subject.

A further advantage that science is often said to hold over theology is that it deals with empirically observable realities whereas theology is preoccupied with nonempirical metaphysics. The force of this representation depends, obviously, on a covert assumption that, because they are not empirically observable or verifiable, metaphysical realities are less significant or less real. But might one not with equal force insist that theology has over the physical sciences the advantage of dealing with invisible spiritual realities?

Scientific study is not nearly as disengaged from metaphysical commitments as it is often represented to be. The fact of causality, for example, was for a long time as dogmatically affirmed in the study of physics, and with far less justification, as is the reality of God by theologians. More recently, due to the evident limitations of empirical method, many physicists concede that causality is a nonexperimental idea, and they speak more guardedly of observed sequences of events. Yet contemporary science is nonetheless replete with metaphysical postulations. Who has ever seen anatom or an electron? It will be replied, of course, that vast differences separate the celestial beings with which the ancient religions filled the invisible world and natural selection, gravitational fields, electrons and other postulates of modern science. For one thing, science is a method of knowing that accepts nothing as final (let it be said with finality!) and stands always ready torevise its findings (the word findings may itself be less than accurate). But if we remember that mathematical formulas reflect statistical averaging, the question arises whether the reported mathematical connections have in all or in some cases ever been observed and whether nature per se corresponds to them. Surely it will be pointed out that the empirical scientist does not simply assume metaphysical realities (a biblical theologian can only welcome reassurance at this point), but instead postulates them for purposes of explanation and then seeks to disprove his hypothesis, whether one speaks of a gravitational field or of electrons. If this is intended to imply that metaphysical affirmations become rationally significant only when both evidence and criteria of verification or disproof are introduced, the emphasis is no less welcome in theology than in empirical science. But if it implies that the empirical scientist additionally has a special way of testing the truth of metaphysical assertions, it is wholly suspect. Moreover, the claim that scientific constructs have the advantage of being correlated with sense verification is giving rise to new doubts. Operational science does not assume but denies the reality of an electro magnetic field. The scientist has on the basis of empirical methodology no legitimate metaphysics at all. Electrons in distinction from centaurs permit deductions which seem at present to sustain rather than to refute them, but whether natural selection and electrons are less imaginative than centaurs may well depend upon which generation of scientists one asks.

Thomas Kuhn reflects the growing academic skepticism that contemporary science is progressively refining “the truth” about the real world. Scientists maintain the impression of progress, he notes, by rewriting their textbooks frequently and eliminating errors, and their newer hypotheses are not based nearly as much as scientists presume on rational or empirical supports (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). Because of limitations of method, science has so little basis for fixed and final truth about reality that it must stand ready to alter every pronouncement it makes and then to alter that alteration ad infinitum. But Christian theology has historically identified such affirmations not as scientific truth, but as dated opinion.

The desire for authoritative certainty, which the Judeo-Christian movement grounded in the divine disclosure of a sure Word of God, modern philosophy and science sought to anchor elsewhere: Descartes and Kant in a priori reasoning and Francis Bacon in empirical observation and inductive inference which would presumably lead to scientific metaphysics. Yet philosophers of science were driven to concede that no number of confirming or verifying instances can prove any theory true. A metaphysical doctrine does not necessarily entail confirming instances, nor does it follow from such, unless the induction is exhaustive. And a doctrine which deliberately relates its first principle to various points in time and space in not wholly uniform ways cannot be required to meet the test of uniformity.

One way in which Christianity and the natural sciences might be related is to distinguish Christianity as not a science in the modern meaning of that term, in view not only of the professedly empirical character but also of the lack of finality and necessary tentativity of observational science. It could then be argued that science is highly refined opinion, but not really knowledge, and that any assimilation of the truth of revelation to this frame of understanding is inherently a distortion of Christian knowledge. Even though the ongoing “refinement” of all frontier emphases leaves some commitments unchanged longer than others (for instance, quantum and relativistic physics accept the validity of conservation of energy, momentum and change no less than does classical physics), this fact does not alter the tentative nature of all empirical explanation. Assuredly, the evangelical Christian lays no claim to omniscience, nor even to have the whole truth about some empirical concerns. But he claims nonetheless to have, on adequate grounds, a sure and final Word on certain crucial matters, and that is something more than worthy of a hearing in a scientific age. This approach emphasizes the absolute character of revelation while it views the assertions of science skeptically.

The question is, in fact, sometimes insistently asked today whether science itself is rational, not merely in view of its results, but in view of its nature. The term scientist was indeed first used in relation to comprehension of the environment by rational means. The designation of sciencewas therefore welcomed by theologians, philosophers and scientists who pursued their respective objects of study in the interest of rational beliefs. If rational means logical reasoning, science can be both rational and tentative. The best known phenomena of light were deduced from the wave theory, then other phenomena were discovered, and others remain to be deduced, from some other theory—yet the process is as rational as mathematics. But, as empirical investigative enterprises made superior or exclusive claims to truth, the interest in and approach to “other” realms was pejoratively depicted as mystical or aesthetic and, by way of reaction, the rational was soon widened by some to include everything but the irrational. In some quarters this has now led on to the notion that positive rationality is a myth, yet that science alone combats antirationality. Since, however, many persons seem presently to define science to their own liking, the possibility even of an irrational science is advanced. It will do little for theology to insist that its discipline is scientific if this implies a marginal role for rationality. There is little ground for gratification in Husserl’s verdict that man is becoming irrational because all his theories of rationality have collapsed. The degree of rationality that science exhibits is increasingly questioned, since rationality has two aspects, viz., conduciveness to finding truth and purposeful action. The limitation of empiricism to observing what works rather than identifying what is and why, and the inability of observational science to prevent the destructive deployment of its insights suggest that empirical science can be ranged comprehensively on the side of reason only through wisdom and power that it cannot itself achieve or provide. It is time that we take a new look at the theories recently in vogue and see where and why they have served so unsatisfactorily.

Scientific operationalism prescribes operational models of reality solely on the authority of man’s experience and denies that science describes nature itself. Percy Bridgman refuses to assert that there is anything in nature such as an electromagnetic field; the equations represent how a physicist operates in the laboratory, they do not say how nature performs (The Logic of Physics, p. 57). Hendrik Hart insists that “by itself science does not give any knowledge whatever, precisely because the hallmark of all scientific products is abstraction, diversification and not integration” (The Challenge of Our Age, pp. 53 f.) Yet abstraction, or something akin to it, would be avaluable way of getting information, were it not frustrated by other factors. There is a profounder reason why science gives no knowledge of nature, viz., the fact that its methodology cannot yield more than revisable opinion. Gordon Clark indicates that science provides no premises from which one can logically deduce either the philosophy of mechanism or any other general philosophy; its methodology cannot establish either determinism or Heisenberg’s indeterminism (The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, pp. 91 ff.). Hart is near the mark when he concludes that science supplies disintegrated bits of information, whereas knowledge is integrally associated with meaning and a fully integrated vision of man in relation to God, the cosmos and society. Scientific method may explain a great deal, he emphasizes, but it cannot establish the meaning of events and relationships. The fact is that empirical science has no firm basis whatever on which to raise objections to Christianity, not because scientific and historical concerns are irrelevant to revelation and faith, but because scientists must allow for possible exceptions to every rule they affirm, and for the empirical vulnerability of the rules themselves.

Supplementary Note: Science and the Invisible

Classical Newtonian physics professed to deduce its basic concepts and laws from empirical observation. But in recent years the cognitive status of both scientific theoretical terms (e.g., photons, neutrons) and observational terms (e.g., water, hydrogen gas) has been vigorously debated. Scholars divide over whether theoretical and observational terms refer in fact to different kinds of “objects” and whether any referential meaning attaches to either or both. “We must now seriously ask ourselves,” Israel Scheffler remarks, “whether scientific objectivity is not, after all, an illusion, whether we have not, after all, been fundamentally mistaken in supposing empirical conceptions capable of responsible control by logic and experience” (Science and Subjectivity, p. 8).

The two-tier structure of science developed by Ernest Nagel depicts theoretical statements as rising out of foundational observational statements (The Structure of Science, pp. 91 ff.). As Rudolph Carnap puts it, the postulates of physics are preserved from “a splendid isolation from the world” or empirical vacuousness by the interrelationship of the postulates and experimental concepts; axiomatic terms like electron, field, and so on, “must be interpreted by correspondence rules that connect the terms with observable phenomena” (Philosophical Foundations of Physics, p. 237).

The main problem confronting two-tier science is that of distinguishing and of connecting the observational-experimental and the theoretical. If theoretical terms are not somehow linked with the observational, and lack referential significance in terms of empirical testing, they are akin to nonreferential theological and metaphysical terms. Is the empiricist then to concede the propriety of metaphysical assertions in theology and philosophy generally?

Contemporary scientific theory emphasizes the creative postulation of the scientist and recognizes that explanatory hypotheses are neither merely descriptive of observable facts nor deducible from them. F. S. C. Northrop says candidly that deduction in scientific method “runs not from facts to the assumptions of the theory but from the assumed theory to the facts and the experimental data.… In short, any theory of physics wakens more physical and philosophical assumptions than the facts alone give or imply” (introduction to Werner Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy, pp. 3 f.). Although Popper adds falsifiability to verifiability for adequate empirical testing, he states the same point when he calls scientific theories not “the digest of observations” but rather “conjectures boldly put forward for trial, to be eliminated if they clash with observations” (Conjectures and Refutations, p. 46).

But if the basic terms are nonreferential, and their scientific-objects are postulates whose meanings are not fixed by experimental procedures, and whose warrants or correspondence with physical realities are subsequently to be adjudicated by experiment, then, in what sense can, e.g., electrons or protons, be said to exist other than as symbolic theoretical constructions?

The scientific instrumentalist Frank Ramsey proposes to restate and replace theoretic terms by statements of existentially quantified variables: hence the observational features would remain, while electrons are dispensable (cf. Nagel, The Structure of Science, p. 142). Yet Rudolph Carnap remarks that the question of the exact meaning of the term electron is not so easily discardable, and as a descriptivist replies to instrumentalists that “no sharp line” separates “an observable, such as an apple, from an unobservable, such as a neutron” (Philosophical Foundations of Physics, p. 255). While some consider theoretic terms as short hand expressions for a pattern of observable events, descriptivists do not hesitate to speak of the existence of electrons on the ground that their consequences are empirically observable. The sentence “electrons exist” is considered verifiable because some attributive existential statements are or can be verified; an ontological commitment is made to something in the external world that has the properties that physicists ascribe to electrons. Descriptivists retain theoretic terms like “magnetic field” and “gravitational waves” referentially of actual entities; postulated entities, when well supported by observational data, are regarded as no less objective than physical realities attributed to empirical objects.

More is here at stake than a semantic dispute, although both Nagel and Carnap view the controversy as basically linguistic. The fact is that the distinction between theoretical postulates and physical objects is increasingly blurred. To be sure, both scientific theoretical and observational statements are in the long run justified by empirical consequences. Yet modern science recognizes that no one sees physical objects per se; the knowledge of so-called physical objects is said to derive wholly from sense experience, by way of inference from sense perceptions. But in that event so-called physical objects are not actually and objectively given. Indeed, individual sense data are neither verifiable nor falsifiable, since nobody can have another’s sense experiences, and no two successive experiences are wholly identical. Peter Genco therefore observes that, on positivist premises, sense experience ought to be dismissed as a bogus concept, whereas instead positivists make it a referent for cognitive meaninglessness (“Verification,” p. 147, n. 150).

What is apparent, therefore, is that inferred entities are involved in the case both of physical objects and of theoretical objects. In Willard Quine’s words, physical objects and theoretical objects are alike “conceptionally imparted into the situation as convenient intermediances” or “irreducible posits” which, Quine comments, are “comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer” (From a Logical Point of View, p.44). Quine insists that these “intermediances” or “posits” are not postulated to meet the demands of our experience; rather, our ontological commitments instead serve to make our experiences intelligible. Whether one opts for physical objects, theoretical objects, or Homeric gods, “one’s ontology is basic to the conceptional scheme by which he interprets all experiences, even the most commonplace ones” (p. 10). The critically decisive importance of the overall theoretical framework is attested by difficulties encountered when attempts are made to incorporate experimental laws into a new conceptual scheme; the various theories have their related experimental laws, and this casts doubt on the determinate character of such laws. A change of ontological context will involve a change of meaning in all subsidiary explanation, even as Einsteinian relativity as a new conceptional network required a revolutionary displacement of Newtonian concepts and laws.

Paul K. Feyerabend goes so far as to reject the two-tier approach with its principles of deducibility, invariable meaning and consistency, and champions the alternative of partly overlapping, mutually inconsistent theories each giving its own contextual meaning to empirical observations (“How to Be a Good Empiricist—A Plea for Tolerance in Matters Epistemological,” pp. 3–38). The door is thus open to inconsistent and incommensurable theories, the predictive success of each presumably accounting for some range of empirical data. The notion of objectivity is here abandoned, for the meaning of events is imparted solely by their theoretical incorporation; no claim of universality or finality attaches to any conceptional theory, and while subjectively a pragmatic basis is affirmed for preferring one conceptional framework to another, objective controls for evaluating frameworks are dropped. Much the same point is made by Thomas S. Kuhn who considers the introduction of a “neutral language of observations” a “hopeless” venture (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 125), and by Wilfrid Sellars, who declares that “the thesis of the inviolability of observation concepts … is false” (“The Language of Theories,” p. 74).

Kuhn and Sellars, like Feyerabend, abandon the notion of an onto-logical dichotomy between referents of theoretical generalizations and of observational generalizations, and acknowledge only a methodological destination in the schematic representations of theoretic interpretation. They would insist, to be sure, that conceptual explanation in terms of electrons is quite different from interpretation by reference to elves or other such imaginary agents, on the ground that imaginary beings do not in concept sustain any causal relation to the observable world and, moreover, the empirical events can be explained without resort to them. But that is suspiciously reminiscent of the way logical positivism dispensed with God and all theological assertions, and of Flew’s assimilation of the invisible gardener to an imaginary gardener or no gardener at all. To turn the argument against the empiricist rather than against the theologian, we may ask whether imaginary elves are in actuality distinguishable from theoretical concepts which although postulated for a time to explain empirical events are later recognized as truthless and are superseded by alternatives? And if the empiricist insists on nonempirical abstract entities which are nonimaginary, on what ground will he dogmatically and arbitrarily exclude as an explanatory concept God as a nonimaginary existence sustaining a causal relationship to empirical events? The answer, of course, will be that the concept of God does not give rise to any mathematical equation that can be tested by experiment and, further, that scientists have no place for causality.

If the explanation of empirical events depends upon the metaphysical presuppositions or theoretical concepts one uses in interpreting experience, and the theologian likewise insists that an invisible divine Will best explains all the order the scientist can discover, including whatever predictable continuities the scientist is able to adduce, and moreover that this explanatory principle rests on more than pragmatic considerations, what endows the empiricist to specially interdict this theoretical concept? Whether one opts for materialism, idealism, speculative theism, or the God of the Bible is never dictated by one’s empirical observations. Indeed, scientific no less than theological interpretative frameworks derive from other considerations. Since different frameworks offer diverse perspectives through which the “facts” are to be comprehended and understood, no proffered framework can be tested independently of the metaphysical assumptions through which it “sees” reality.

Any methodology that imposes an advance verdict on the complexity of reality and the kind of conclusions that can be reached about it is suspect. For conclusions can be readily predisposed simply by methodological considerations. There is a tainted ancestry for the emphasis that logical consistency issues only in formal systems empty of factual content, and that only by empirical scientific inquiry can one reach conclusions about reality. If one holds the faith that physiochemical processes can explain man’s total behavior, as does J. C. C. Smart in his commitment to an identity theory of mind-body relations (“Sensations and Brain Processes,” p. 143), no explanation will seem so simple and adequate, even if a competitive theory will account for all the facts, and indeed even if some facts are not at all currently explicable by the naturalistic theory. The validity of religious experience, supernatural interpretation, the occurrence of miracles can all be swept aside merely on the ground that ordinary nonmiraculous experience accounts for so much of the data that the law of parsimony—i.e., a naturalistic explanation!—is the preferable course; as Frank B. Dilley puts it, all “explanations in terms of trans-empirical causes will be unparsimonious” (“On Arguments for a Transcendent God,” p. 143). One sharp stroke of Occam’s razor then swiftly cuts away God, the supernatural, miracles, and much else.

Dilley contends that all basic belief systems, including religious and nonreligious systems alike—are “logically and factually irrefutable” (p.145). He considers William C. Shepherd’s argument that religious belief systems are unanswerable (“On the Concept of ‘Being Wrong’ Religiously,” pp. 66 f.) unjustifiably restricted to religion; religious and nonreligious belief systems alike, he contends, have resources for coping with all reality, events and data. Dilley distinguishes belief systems from knowledge systems: belief systems are “sets of propositions about how reality is to be interpreted, based upon viewing the world from the angle of vision which is believed to yield the true story about the world” (“On Arguments for a Transcendent God,” p. 145). Consciously or unconsciously, belief systems rest on fundamental assumptions which decisively and comprehensively interpret all reality and life.

Whether one insists that a value-determined universe or that impersonal processes best account for experience, whether one’s basic axiom is theological or materialistic, the respective theories of adequacy are metaphysically biased. The interpreter’s vision of importance surfaces the “decisive facts.”


Theology and Philosophy

“The question of the nature of theology, particularly in its relation to philosophy and to history, seems to be in for a drastic overhaul at present,” remarks Dorothy Emmet (The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking, p. vi). “It is impossible not to sense a real crisis in philosophical, and particularly in metaphysical thought” (p. 1). Miss Emmet thinks the antitheses now so frequently drawn between philosophy and faith, metaphysics and theology, are based on an objectionable view of what metaphysical philosophy is. The conflict arises no less, we might add, through inadequate notions of what theology is, and related questions over the nature of theological truth and how it differs from other truth.

The relation of theology and philosophy has been depicted at various times in terms of the intellectual illegitimacy of one or the other discipline, or of the necessary subordination of one to the other, or of their coordinate value to the sphere of truth. The apostle Paul’s warning, “See … that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy or empty deceit” (Col. 2:8, rsv), is clear evidence that early Christianity did not assume the compatibility of revealed theology with any and every shade of philosophy. Through the Christian centuries, theology and philosophy have alternated between relationships of love and hate for each other.

The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1967) carries no separate essay on “Theology” but in his essay on “Philosophy of Religion,” William P. Alston contrasts the two disciplines this way: Philosophy of religion, he writes, “is distinguished from theology by the fact that it takes nothing for granted, at least nothing religious; … it takes the liberty of calling anything into question. Theology, in the narrow sense of that term, sets out to articulate the beliefs of a given religion and to put them into systematic order, without ever raising the ultimate question of their truth” (6:287). This halts short of stating that theology centers in unreflective commitment; it calls to mind, nonetheless, the claims of logical positivists who debunked all metaphysics, theology and philosophy of religion alike, as nonsense. Yet Alston clearly implies that philosophy has crown rights to reason and truth and that theology thrives in a climate of unreasoning prejudice.

On the other hand, neoorthodox and existential theologians not only disparage philosophy as an illegitimate discipline for knowing God, but seem sometimes even to welcome recent attacks on metaphysics in non theological circles whose negations extend to historic Christian theism no less than to speculative philosophy. Karl Barth emphasized that the theology of revelation has exclusive access to the truth of God and his redemptive self-communication, in contrast to philosophy (including the philosophy of religion) which is an autonomous human pursuit of the divine and therefore futile. The Word of God is known, Barth declares, only through God’s sporadic encounter of responsive and obedient sinners; it is hidden from those who seek God by human reasoning. The God of the Bible and the divinity of the philosophers are as distinct as the living God and the myths of mankind.

In the long history of Christian thought, revelation and reason have in fact been depicted as standing in three remarkably different relationships, sometimes designated as the “three ways”—that of Tertullian, of Augustine, and of Aquinas.

The Tertullian way—never typically Christian until elevated to prominence in the present century by dialectical and existential theologians—sharply contrasts revelational truth with metaphysical and scientific knowledge. Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220) cherished paradox and contradiction, and even contended that the incarnation of Christ “is certain because impossible” (De Carne Christi, ch. 5). Literary hyperbole may however enter into such statements since Tertullian did after all try to argue cogently and without contradiction to prove premillennialism and other religious doctrines. While he often considers philosophy a foe of religion, there are passages also in which he regards them as allies; the frequently quoted line “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” must be paralleled by “Seneca is often one of us.” Yet Tertullian’s dominant emphasis falls not simply on the priority of faith, but rather on the disjunction of faith and reason: Christianity requires belief in what to the unregenerate mind seems absurd.

Whereas Clement of Alexandria (2d–3dc) and Origen (182?–254?) sought to synthesize Hebrew and Hellenic categories of thought, Tertullian asserted “an absolute and radical discontinuity between Christianity and philosophy; to mix them up means to allow pagan thinking to dictate terms to the gospel or to invite an incoherent, gnostic amalgam of the two which will satisfy neither true believers nor true philosophers” (Henry Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition, pp. 1 f.). Nor was Tertullian’s view simply an accident of the fact that he lived in an age when philosophy was shaped by Greek and Roman thinkers outside the orbit of Judeo-Christian revelation. For he objects in principle to the idea and possibility of Christian philosophy. Contemporary champions of Tertullian’s point of view point to medieval scholasticism and modern Hegelianism as classic examples of the error of attempting to cast revealed religion in a philosophical mold. The emphasis is characteristic also of Kierkegaard: “In relation to Christianity, systematic philosophy is merely skilled in the use of all sorts of diplomatic phraseology, which deceives the unsuspicious. Christianity as understood by the speculative philosopher is something different from Christianity as expounded for the simple. For them it is a paradox; but the speculative philosopher knows how to abrogate the paradox. So that it is not Christianity which is and was and remains the truth; no, it is the philosopher’s understanding of Christianity that constitutes the truth of Christianity” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 200.)

The Augustinian way (followed broadly by Anselm, Luther and Calvin) appeals to revelation in the interest of a more fully informed reason. Augustine emphasizes both the priority of belief and its incompleteness without understanding (or reason). Faith is a step on the way to understanding. Anselm’s famous maxim Credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to understand) succinctly summarizes the Augustinian view of the relation between faith and understanding. “Believe in order to understand,” is the emphasis; without belief one will not understand. Reason still has its task, but on a new foundation and within a new climate. The revelation of the living God is the precondition and starting point for human understanding; it supplies the framework and corrective for natural reason. But Augustine felt no compulsion to renounce his philosophical interests when he became a Christian believer. He uses philosophical concepts and arguments to elucidate aspects of Christian doctrine.

In Augustine’s view, philosophy is serviceable to explicate the wisdom found in Scripture. Since the living God has spoken in special revelation known in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, the Christian philosopher should not hesitate to make full use of what the Greek philosophers did not know. The task of philosophy is to show men the way to blessedness, and Christianity exhibits this way as provided by Jesus Christ alone. Christianity can be considered a philosophy, the term being sufficiently wide to include theology. Although in his early works against skepticism he defines certain normative principles without reference to Scripture, divine revelation and authority rather than human reasoning are for him the starting point of “Christian philosophy”; not philosophical speculation but inspired Scripture constitutes the gateway to truth.

The Thomistic way broke with the Augustinian-Anselmic Credo ut intelligam as with the Tertullian Credo quia absurdum, and its Intelligo utcredam (understand in order to believe) made room for natural or philosophical theology as preparatory for revealed theology. While Thomas Aquinas approaches the existence of God both from man’s ordinary experience and from supernatural revelation as starting points, he nonetheless invokes philosophical theology, or metaphysics, a natural type of knowledge open to anyone, to supply the foundations of faith. Aquinas considers the first use of philosophy in respect to theology to be the demonstration of “items that are preambles to faith” (Boethii de Trinitate, II, 3c). All Aquinas’s arguments for the existence of God rest on an appeal to sense observation without reliance on divine disclosure. He outlines three arguments for God’s existence in De Potentia Dei (III, 5c), restating Plato’s argument from many existents to one cause, Aristotle’s argument from contingent beings in motion to an unmoved mover, and Avicenna’s argument from the composite character of finite beings to the existence of necessary being in which essence and existence are one. Aquinas viewed these three arguments by the Greek pagan metaphysicians and the Islamic eleventh-century philosopher as establishing the existence of “a universal cause of real beings by which all other things are brought forth.” His best known argument—the so—called fivefold proof assertedly demonstrating God’s existence—is found in Summa Theologiae (I, 2, 3c). Here Aquinas supplements the foregoing emphases by reworking positions taken by Maimonides (1135–1204). While Thomists disagree as to whether Thomas offers one comprehensive argument or five different proofs (the former is the predominant view), the important point here is that philosophy in distinction from theology holds a critically decisive role not only concerning the physical world but in regard also to the spiritual world.

To be sure, Aquinas insists that the theology taught in Scripture gives supplementary information about God and his purposes for man that cannot be derived from any source but divine revelation—so, for example, the doctrine of the divine incarnation in Jesus Christ, the Trinity, bodily resurrection, and so on. But the truths of the existence of God and the existence and immortality of the soul are not grounded on religious considerations but are considered inferences from sense observation, and philosophical reasoning is viewed as capable of supplying a demonstrative proof.

When early modern philosophers were unpersuaded that Thomas’s philosophic approach to God issued in the conclusions he adduced, difficulties arose for the theological completion of an edifice whose actual construction could not get securely under way. In particular, the claim that the divine existence can be logically demonstrated by inferences from sense experience was assailed, first by philosophical rationalists and then by empiricists. Since Thomas suspended the case for the existence of God on philosophical demonstration, a breakdown of the fivefold proof could only leave revealed theology floating nebulously in midair and without a launch pad. For all the emphasis on the higher knowledge derived from revelation (God graciously revealed even his existence to peasants who could not follow the philosophical proofs), Thomas accorded to philosophy as he defined it a role that unwittingly demoted theology to an afterthought relationship for all his very proper acknowledgment that theology is not based on principles inherent in sensation.

The rise of modern philosophy brought with it the demolition of the Thomistic synthesis: not only did empirical observation yield no incontrovertible theistic conclusions but, worse yet, Aquinas had derailed divine revelation as a relevant consideration in establishing God’s existence. Auguste Comte, the father of modern positivism, inverted the Thomistic scheme which had pyramided empirical science, philosophy, and revelation in ascending significance, by discarding theology as the mythological imagination of human infancy, devaluing philosophy as speculation characteristic of the childhood of the race, and exalting sense experience as validating what mature manhood may believe.

The modern philosophical stance shifted quickly from nonreliance on special revelation by Descartes, a nominally orthodox Catholic who formulated philosophical theism as an alternative to miraculous biblical theism, to the total repudiation of transcendent revelation by Spinoza, who wrote an account critical of Cartesian philosophy a few years after expulsion from the synagogue for his unorthodoxy. Modern philosophy now eclipsed both ancient Judaism and Christianity as insignificant for establishing the reality and nature of God. Although later evangelical theologians like Charles Hodge, A. H. Strong, and others correlated general and special biblical revelation, the philosophical loss of scriptural revelation, already moved to the margin by Aquinas and other scholastics by their assignment of priority to natural theology, prepared for complete erosion, except as mediating theologians and religious philosophers assigned special revelation a sense dilutive of biblical theism. Lou H. Silberman remarks that “before the onslaught of liberal philosophy beginning with Spinoza … any and all meanings of revelation except as or perhaps even as secularized metaphor … came under attack and fell.… If advanced theologians clung to the word, it was often with a new content little related to the confessional tradition within which they presumably functioned” (address on “Revelation in Judaism”).

Spinoza and Hegel were the two towering rationalists who submerged theology in philosophy, compressed divine revelation into human reflection, considered philosophical reasoning the superlative manifestation of divine disclosure, and dissolved the interest of modern Jews and Christians in once-for-all divine manifestation. In the supposed interest of reason both thinkers emptied theology into philosophy and eviscerated special divine revelation as an explanatory principle. Hegel escalates Spinoza’s revolt against transcendent revelation such as by the God of the Bible, for, as Weber and Perry comment, “If we mean by God the being transcending human reason, then Hegel is the most atheistic of philosophers, since no one is more emphatic in affirming the immanency and perfect knowableness of the absolute. Spinoza himself, the philosopher of immanency, does not seem to go so far; for, although he concedes that the intellect has an adequate idea of God, he assumes that the Substance has infinite attributes” (Alfred Weber and Ralph Barton Perry, History of Philosophy, p. 406). Yet both Spinoza and Hegel claim to expound the historic faith in purer form. For neither thinker can a conflict arise between philosophy and revelation; the philosophically enlightened man cannot accept revealed theology as literal truth, but the religious man in all ages requires in allegorical form what the philosopher (in the one case Spinoza, in the other Hegel) offers as metaphysical truth. For the one, God is Nature; for the other, the Absolute is the universe. Both darken the distinction between God and the world, one of the elemental tenets of revealed religion. In twentieth-century Russia, Spinoza and Hegel have become the most widely read pre-Marxian philosophers of the Western world, being viewed as precursors of dialectical materialism, although Marx had to turn Hegel upside down, of course, and assert that the Logik was a treatise on economics!

Spinoza’s attack on revelation was twofold: a refutation of representations of revelation by medieval Jewish philosophers, and a rejection of Old Testament teaching supposedly on the basis of critical literary analysis. Speculative notions of revelation subsequently prevailed among Jewish intellectuals to the extent that the Jewish Encyclopedia (11:544a) could designate as a “free-thinker” Solomon Steinheim, who identified revelation as a “divine communication made to mankind in a once for all event at a particular time” (Die Offenbarung nach dem Lehrbegriffe der Synagoge, 3:319).

Hegel viewed his idealistic metaphysics as providing a defense of Christianity as the absolute religion. But what lifts the Christian religion above all others is the doctrine of the incarnation which becomes, in Hegel’s exposition, a theological depiction of the philosophical truth that the Absolute is not distinct from the finite but is necessarily manifested in the universe. Hegel regarded Jesus as the son of Joseph and Mary and as obscurantist alongside Socrates. God is significantly revealed in the Nazarene in the sense that he first supposedly discerned that God and man are universally one, that is, the omnipresent incarnation of the Absolute Mind. Instead of enfleshment at a particular time and place in Jesus Christ alone, as Christianity contends, God becomes—in Hegel’s theory—incorporated in the universe. Hegel rates philosophy above religion. Religion gives merely a pictorial representation of the supreme form of knowledge, which is metaphysical; philosophy states in conceptual form what religion expresses only in a quasi-imaginative way. The highly particular historical emphases of revealed religion are metamorphosed into highly general philosophical abstractions.

If Spinoza and Hegel venture to demolish transcendent revelation in the interest of reason, and transmute theology into philosophy, another line of modern philosophers takes a different course, that of limiting reason in the interest of faith or of revelation. The rivalries within modern philosophy thus continue to multiply, until Comte’s view emerges at last in a contemporary dismissal of theology and philosophy alike in deference to empirical science.

This limitation of reason had its pre-Hegelian paragon in Hume, and then in Kant to whom Hegel replied by magnifying human reason to pretensions of infinity. The post-Hegelian rebuttal of Hegel by dialectical-existential theologians and philosophers would not only restrict reason in the interest of faith, but would repudiate it in deference to divine revelation.

Kant dispenses with dogmatic theology, since knowledge of the supersensible is considered impossible. He rejects the possibility of knowledge through pure concepts of reality as it really is. He brushes aside the historical facets of Christianity as unimportant, and attaches scant value to the basic Christian doctrines. The only proof of God he allows begins not from revelation or from a concept but from the sense of moral obligation. Yet this God is not a constitutive factor in reality, but rather a personal conviction and heuristic principle in the service of morality, one that every rational being must admit and use. Instead of valid metaphysical knowledge of theological certainties, Kant proposes faith in the divine lawgiver that every person must experience for himself as implicit in the sense of moral duty: “I must not even say ‘It is morally certain that there is a God …,’ but ‘I am morally certain’ ” (Critique of Pure Reason, 1787). To respond to our ethical duties as if they were divine commands does not involve cognitive knowledge of the supernatural but implies subjective belief in God and a future life.

Schleiermacher, the forerunner of Protestant modernism, takes Kant’s emphasis that knowledge deals only with phenomena and extends it, not indeed to objective knowledge of God as he is in himself, but rather to revisable experiential affirmations about God in relation to us. But the dialectical-existential theology, which a century later would inherit the waning fortunes of modernism, combines the Kantian role for internal moral response—seen as obedience to a divine command (although in Kant’s case strictly logical, depending solely on the law of contradiction)—with existential faith in God’s self-revelatory confrontation. It retains Kant’s disavowal of objective knowledge of the metaphysical, yet insists on God’s reality known in nonconceptual obedience. Dialectical-existential theology sets out by destroying valid propositional truths about God in order to focus attention on his confrontational reality known in submissive trust alone. It is therefore logically powerless to withstand the onslaught of naturalistic secularism and logical positivism, which take the dialectical-existential disavowal of valid cognitive claims for deity as confirmatory evidence that theology is nonsense. The Kantian limitation of reason had maneuvered its modernist and neoorthodox inheritors into an unwitting forfeiture of enduring truths about the living God and hence into a profanation of the theology of revelation.

Karl Barth, champion of neoorthodoxy or dialectical theology, places revelation and faith in antithetical relationships with reason before making any effort to correlate them. He emphasizes that revelation is wholly independent of philosophy. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not the God of the philosophers, but is the self-revealed God, Since the Word of God is said to create its own point of contact with the believer, Barth is little interested in the stance of the hearers or recipients of revelation.

Barth not only contends that philosophy is neither a primary nor a secondary source of truth, but he insists moreover that theology and philosophy differ both in content and method. Because of this sweeping disjunction he rejects any philosophical prolegomenon to dogmatics. This distinguishes him not only from post-Hegelian right-wing dogmaticians like A. E. Biedermann and A. Dorner who predicated dogmatics on idealistic presuppositions, but also from evangelical theologians who made transcendent revelation their controlling epistemological axiom.

Biedermann and Dorner in Germany, as well as influential Gifford lecturers in England, provided essentially rationalistic restatements of Christianity in idealistic or quasipantheistic terms. The literary structure of some of these theological writings is telling. They do not set out, as does evangelical theology, with transcendent divine disclosure as the controlling motif from which all else follows. Rather they view philosophical reasoning as the form and content of divine revelation. Their dogmatics begins with a philosophical introduction which formulates religion as a reciprocal relation of the finite spirit to the Infinite Spirit and which eclipses the reality of transcendent revelation. Where Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72) dismisses religion as an illusion, David Strauss (1808–74) considers it childish, and Schleiermacher reduces it to an immediate implicate of the feelings, the idea of God is vindicated as a necessary idea of the human mind, an emphasis which on the surface is compatible with the evangelical insistence on universal divine disclosure and remnants of the image of God in man, although incompatible with Barth’s total rejection of general revelation. But all this is done on a pantheistic or semipantheistic foundation that subordinates transcendent revelation. The philosophical prolegomenon, in other words, “vindicates” the universality and necessity of religion on a subbiblical premise involving the exclusion of special divine disclosure as a distinctive source of knowledge. Thereby the way is prepared far recognition of man’s own reasoning as its equivalent, since human reflection is assimilated to the divine mind and made its expression. This masquerading of philosophical reasoning for divine revelation is further concealed by the next stage of the presentation, which usually is an impartial account of biblical theology and historic Christian creedal commitments. But then, at length, there emerges what has all along been implicit in the prolegomenon, a driving criticism of traditional modes of statement as ontologically inadequate, and their translation into idealistic metaphysics in order to assure permanent validity. The audacity of this assault, over and above its surface piety, lies in its further presumptive identification of this very philosophical substitution as something required by the supposed reality of the revelation of the Absolute.

In his emphasis that revelation alone enables us to know religious reality, Berth is an solid ground; we cannot know God outside his revelation. Berth refuses to treat the philosopher as one whose views must in any case be received as definitive of reality and knowledge. The truth of revelation challenges all inroads of secular thought. Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre can contribute nothing whatever to the content and method of theology. Theology remains the norm over against philosophical misconceptions.

But Barth defines philosophy prejudicially and polemically as an enterprise rooted in human autonomy, as taking a stance of superiority that seeks control of its object, and as motivated by curiosity rather than obedience. Augustine, however, did not view philosophy as requiring man’s autonomy, nor as necessarily repudiating God as Creator or exempting man from answerability to his Maker. Rather he emphasizes not simply, as does Barth, that faith precedes reason, but also, contrary to Barth, that genuine faith is inherently intelligible. The protest against autonomy implicit in revelational theism does not propose to subsume man under the command “Obey, don’t think!” as if to elevate the will to believe above the will to truth. Nor does it propose to circumscribe research and inquiry, nor to deprive man of his freedom to think without control by another, nor to stifle the morality of critical judgment. It does warn that man’s declaration of independence from every authority merely substitutes a highly dubious self-authority for legitimate authority, and that the loss of divine authority means the loss of all certainty. Skepticism is indeed the final outcome of any philosophy answering to no authority but one’s own.

Barth’s comprehensive insistence that Christ the Word is relevant to all realms of reality and life conflicts on the surface with his sharp disjunction of theology and philosophy, and we shall see that he does not in fact wholly compartmentalize them in practice. Before considering his inconsistencies with his basic premise, however, we should note well that any attempt to formulate orthodox theology wholly apart from philosophical interests runs counter to the Christian heritage as far back as Augustine and even earlier.

Barth concedes the necessity for philosophical concepts (when properly safeguarded) in theological exposition, and he brings philosophy and other disciplines to the support of theological enterprise. Philosophy is therefore legitimate insofar as it endorses what theology antecedently affirms. Barth illustrates by the concept of cause (Church Dogmatics III/3), which the Protestant Reformers got not from the Bible but from Thomas Aquinas and behind him from Aristotle. Causality as an explanatory principle is serviceable in understanding God’s act in a formal sense, but not in a material sense; Barth rejects causa unless grace is understood as a higher power. Although he criticizes the use of philosophical conceptions to expound and clarify theology, he uses the distinction between legend and saga, for example—a notion that emerged during the past century of philosophical speculation—for precisely this purpose. Moreover, his exposition of Nothingness and of related treatments of chaos in connection with the problem of sin and evil seems to have more in common with Heidegger and Sartre than with Scripture. And he can be blissfully dependent upon Plato while scorching Bultmann for his dependence upon Heidegger. Barth seems not to hesitate to philosophize on his own, thus accommodating in practice what he disapproves in principle. Philosophical discussions involving ontology and epistemology are in fact unavoidable by any theologian who seeks to wrestle basic theological concerns in depth vis-à-vis competitive theories.

The fundamental issue is the basis on which Barth rigidly segregates theology and philosophy. He rightly views theology as the exposition of revelation, though he mistakenly denies that theology is the systematization of biblical data. His stress on sheer proclamation without a point of contact in the mind of hearers leads him to divorce theology from philosophical interests since he neglects the inescapable logical conditions that structure man as man. In considering revelation to be a direct sporadic confrontation, rather than as scripturally objectified, he glosses over the mental prejudices which frustrate human experience. The primary difficulty in Barth’s view arises from his notion of revelation as personal but nonpropositional, a view that erodes the rational validity of revelational content. If theology is for believers only, as a matter of internal decision and obedience, then philosophy as a universal enterprise must chart its own course. But Barth as a theologian cannot divest himself from logical constraints, nor evade logical interpretation, nor can Christians exempt themselves from rationality.

Yet Barth holds that theology is a philosophy insofar as it is expressed in human language, and thinks no revelational reason can be given for preferring one philosophical scheme to another; were some one philosophical system to become corollary to the Word, it would be fatal for revelation. On the one hand he grants that theology cannot maintain complete isolation from philosophical ideas and terms, because these belong to the culture in which one lives; on the other, he warns against “Egyptian bondage” in which philosophy takes control and stipulates what revelation is allowed to assert. As Barth puts it, God’s Word has the power of disclosure to man without waiting for philosophical verification (Church Dogmatics I/1, pp. 323 ff.). But can one imply, as Barth does, that all philosophies can be serviceable in expounding Christian revelation, and therefore none destructive of it, unless he deprives revelation of normative content? On the one hand he declares that neither Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Hegel nor Heidegger may be permitted to place theology in bondage, while on the other he welcomes theology’s eclectic use of “current ideas, concepts, images and expressions” with the “greatest confidence” (Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, p. 12). To be sure, Barth inserts the qualification “as long as these prove themselves suitable,” but are current ideas and expressions forged independently of revelation all that unbiased and neutral? Does not Barth simply gloss over the adverse influence of certain philosophical elements upon theology in maintaining this stance?

Barth’s inconsistency seems to arise from his antipathy for any world view as intellectual barbarism and an advance challenge to revelation, while yet he could not gainsay the fact that he too possessed a world view, and that no theologian—or any man—can escape involvement in a philosophy of sorts. Barth is of course right in emphasizing, as every theologian ought, that no one-and-one identity exists between theology as a theoretical discipline and the revealed Word which it expounds. But for evangelical orthodoxy the conceptual formulation of revelation does not begin with human theologizing but is integral to God’s infallible revelation. While our theological systems are assuredly not infallible, the inspired Scriptures convey the very Word of God in the form of divinely given truths. But since Barth depicts revelation of the Word as communicating no valid truths, and cheapens even Scripture into a “fallible pointer” to revelation, he can no longer discriminate infallible from fallible perspective on the basis of fidelity to revelation. Barth could therefore count even Feuerbach as standing serviceably within the church.

Barth is in fact compelled by his own emphasis on the Word as event to regard theology and philosophy alike as alien to the Word. In his own theory of revelation he in fact struck a secret treaty with philosophers of a particular prejudice, despite his elevation of the Word of God over philosophy. That divine revelation never occurs in history and nature, that it is not validly intelligible but known only in inner decision and obedience—what are such premises but commitments grounded not in the Bible but in particular philosophical perspectives shaped by nineteenth- and twentieth-century religious theory? Whoever contends that God may be declared real only on the basis of a subjective noncognitive decision foists upon the Bible a modern, essentially existential view that obscures the original intention of the sacred writers and distorts their very different way of viewing God and his relations to man and the world.

The reassertion of transcendence by neoorthodoxy, however commendable as against those who tapered the divine to the mental machinations of mankind, could not survive countercriticism because it darkened reason in order to promote theology. The positivist contention that assertions about God make no sense could hardly be challenged effectively by a theology of revelation in the form promoted by the early Barth, who suspended God’s reality upon inner divine confrontation and person truth in distinction from cognitive communication. If all our statements about God lack validity, then not even on the basis of revelation can any theological content be asserted to be true. Recent Continental theology, therefore, offered no effective alternative to the positivist thrust. Barth’s intention, assuredly, was far from a program of secular dereligionization, but he connected meaningful conceptualization of God with false religion, contrasted revelation with conceptual knowledge of God, and accepted no universally valid criterion of truth in respect to revelation. European theologians rightly reacted against the rationalistic pretensions of Hegelian idealism, but their dialectical and existential alternatives shaped a theological polemic against reason itself. The antiphilosophical stance of Barth and Bultmann was commendable insofar as it aimed to preserve the qualitative difference between God and man. But it radically repudiated any claim to valid conceptual truth about God, even on the basis of divine disclosure, and this abridgement jeopardized all its theological assertions, including the insistence on divine reality and transcendence that stood at the center of the neoorthodox concentration on revelation. The extent to which death-of-God writers shared the Barthian or Bultmannian misunderstanding of Christian revelation should not be overlooked as a factor contributory to their disavowal of the Christian view of God. Kai Nielsen draws virtually a positivist conclusion from the nonconceptual exposition of revelation (“Can Faith Validate God-Talk?” pp. 131 ff.).

Whatever the internal difficulties of these recent modern alternatives, and insuperable as those difficulties doubtless are, these proposals found their incentive in approaches to theology and philosophy that ventured to preserve faith by sacrificing reason, just as earlier modern views presumed to exalt reason by discrediting faith. Historic evangelical Christianity knows a better way, one which avoids at one and the same time the costly errors of modern and contemporary philosophy, and of neo-Protestant theology. No less than Barth it stresses the decisive importance of special divine revelation, but it insists additionally on both the intelligibility of God’s revelation and on a universally valid criterion of meaning and truth.

To be sure, the proponents of “secular Christianity” wholly miscarry Barth’s aim when they abandon modern man to their empirical scientific ideology. Yet since Barth himself denied that valid truths about God can be affirmed even on the basis of Barth’s own exposition of revelation, they proposed instead a “gospel” that releases man from idolatrous (supernatural) religious commitments and relates him solely to the world and society. Logical positivism and radical secularity repudiate both theology and philosophical metaphysics (at least in theory) in the interest of empirical verification. So deep and wide has been the rivalry between competitive systems of philosophy that logical positivism was encouraged to stamp the brandmark of nonsense upon the whole metaphysical enterprise, although itself claiming an unjustifiable exclusivity for the empirical scientific method.

Kant’s philosophy set the mood in many ways for the modern regard for the method of natural science as the normative source of the content of our knowledge, and the consequent distrust of all claims to cognitive knowledge of any reality that transcends the natural world. Through the Critical Philosophy, metaphysical affirmations came to be looked upon as unjustifiable, and conceptual knowledge was associated solely with empirical observation or sense experience. Kant’s parallel emphasis on man’s practical reason and free moral agency was carried forward by modern philosophies of existence, emphasizing man’s transcendence of nature and developing his religious experience in noncognitive categories. But on the basic premise that the methodology of natural science is normative for human knowledge, logical positivism carried forward a pejorative understanding of metaphysical affirmations.

Feelings of personal anxiety and the revival of melancholia in civilized society today bear their own empirical evidence that two centuries of philosophy have been unable to vindicate, as does revealed religion, the meaning and worth of human survival. Philosophy may bear the honorific name of love of wisdom, but love has turned out for unregenerate man to be a category as elusive as wisdom. The loss of Christian compass-bearings has detoured contemporary man to the swamplands of uncertainty about truth, the good, and the enduring significance of his personal aspirations and strivings to anyone but himself. His earlier confidence in personal immortality has meanwhile collapsed into wistful longing for an immortality of influence, and this seems less and less feasible in a day when human creativity and individuality require only that each do his own thing. As Schubert M. Ogden remarks, one more and more encounters the claim “not only that the sole standards of conduct are those implicit in human action itself, but that such action realizes no will to good beyond the merely human and neither requires nor admits of any transcendent justification” (The Reality of God and Other Essays, p. 11). If mankind is to recover a firm and clear conviction of transcendent truth and good, and of the ongoing value of human existence, it is neither human observation nor secular philosophizing but divine revelation alone that holds the key of life.

The firm fact that God’s self-disclosure is fully intelligible, and given in the form of rational concepts and valid truths, cuts through the specious notions that the philosopher cannot speak either of God or of his Word or of divine action in man’s existence, that theology wholly depends upon speculation for a clarification of its concepts and the linguistic expression of the content of faith, or that any and every philosophical ontology restricts the freedom of God in his revelation and substitutes an alternative and spurious primary authority. If the content of revelation is uncritically defined as known only in a personal response to God’s inner confrontation of individuals, then of course the philosopher would have to become a theologian to know the content of revelation. But if the truth of God is given in a form in which it is knowable, whether men appropriate it savingly or not, and therefore men are judged for what they do with it, then the philosopher need not cease to be a philosopher to speak—whether approvingly or disapprovingly—of the reality and acts of God. And in that case theology also need not be merely human thought forged as a witness to internal divine confrontation, but rather, in the case at least of those chosen as prophetic-apostolic recipients of special revelation and of all who credit that revelation, comprises a thinking of God’s thoughts after him. Because Barth declared that God cannot be an object of knowledge, he was forced to connect theology not with the investigation of truths disclosed by the self-revealing God, but with the church’s fallible witness to that revelation, that is, with church proclamation.

Philosophy is an inescapable ingredient in the theologian’s thinking and mental equipment as he approaches revelation. Ronald W. Hepburn remarks rightly that the theologian is a philosopher also insofar as he attempts any logical scrutiny of his concepts, and that the philosopher does not participate in theological discussion “as an alien and impertinent interloper” (Christianity and Paradox, pp. 2 f.). The activities of the philosopher and the theologian may in fact often resemble each other; philosophical method and language cannot be shunned if theology is to be precise and effective.

The problem of clarifying relationships between disciplines is complicated by widespread disagreement over relevant method and subject matter. If the Christian says he is studying the being and will or activity of God and the metaphysician says rather that he is studying Being in general—as has sometimes been asserted—how are these related or distinguished? Is not the discussion of God, or of the soul, a metaphysical discussion even when pursued by a theologian? And does not philosophy deal with theological concerns when it grapples with those same issues? Nor can it be said that theology affirms the reality of God, whereas the question is an open one for philosophy, for in the long view most philosophers have been God-affirming (in some sense at least: Spinoza’s god was Nature itself, and Kant’s an heuristic principle!), while today some theologians—to borrow a phrase from Peter Baelz—are “translating language concerning God into language without God” (Christian Theology and Metaphysics, p. 7).

Were the positivist assault intended simply to exhibit the vast vistas of contradiction among secular metaphysicians, it would merely strike a note sounded many times in the past by Christian theologians who did not, on that account, seek either to destroy metaphysics in principle or to pretend that they themselves were nonmetaphysical in outlook. Not even all assertedly Christian philosophies can claim more than quasiChristian or sub-Christian standing, since rival views conflict, however devout may be their sponsors. But the Christian contends that only an explanatory view centered in the self-revealed God of Judeo-Christian religion truly states the facts, whereas the positivist speculates that all metaphysics is bad and none is true, and does so either unaware that he cannot salvage his own dogma from this judgment or tries to play philosophical gamesmanship by a private set of rules.

Christianity aims its critique of philosophical metaphysics not only at agnostic notions of reality which are prevalent today, but equally at gnostic views asserting that man by his own unaided reasoning can adequately explain the whole of existence. The Christian bases his protest not solely on the tendency of speculative metaphysicians to treat every religious explanation as an elemental pictorial account (whereas secular philosophy presumably expounds what can be said about reality with critical acumen) but even more pointedly objects that rationalistic expositions supersede rationally credible affirmations about God and man and the world implicit in the revelational view. The speculative approach ignores the self-revelation of the living God and it propounds a rationalistic world view and life view on antithetical premises. In so doing it minimizes man’s finiteness and conceals his epistemic predicament in sin. Even the secular metaphysical theories are no doubt religiously significant but, however comprehensively they may cope with the issues of life, they offer at best a rationalistic view that shades the truth of God, the realities of redemption, and an adequate world-life view.

Theology preserves its vitality only when it is sure of its own ground and engages in discourse with other disciplines. But on what basis will it pursue this dialogue? Rather than permitting theological subject matter to determine its own relevant method, Bernard J. F. Lonergan (Method in Theology) seeks in advance a method common to all sciences, theology included. He therefore risks the subsumption of some subject matter, especially that of theology, to other sciences. Lonergan affirms only the “virtually unconditioned” (hence highly probable, yet not beyond possibility of revision), and hence is indifferent to Scripture as a basic instrument of final truth. But a theological method derived from other sciences really adjusts theology to a general methodology that denies to theology its own distinctive object and subject matter. If the attempt to discuss God’s nature is confined to theological statements related to objects within the field of other objects, God will remain a mystery. Current religious knowledge-theory is historically conditioned by modern scientific controls and imposes upon theology an ideal borrowed from Leopold von Ranke’s scientific historiography. Theology is not to be chained in advance to the method of other sciences. Does not a scholar like Lonergan, who can write almost interminably on epistemology and not mention God, need to reconsider the relation between revelation and reason? Nobody should be overwhelmed by a discovery that we cannot reach the Christian doctrines by Lonergan’s method.

Revealed theology differs decisively from secular philosophical systems. But while revelation in the biblical sense is a way of knowing to be sharply contrasted with philosophical reasoning, it is not antireason, but rather is a profound Logos-revelation or intelligible Word-revelation. Not only is divine revelation rational, but it is, in Christian purview, the ground of all rationality. There is indeed, as Barth warned, always the danger that philosophy used even as a tool may dominate theology as its subject matter. William E. Hordern appropriately comments that “whenever theology has expected to be fed by philosophy, it has remained hungry. The philosophers of language may help the Christian speak more clearly and forcefully for his faith. But the Christian knows that he is not fed by philosophy; he is fed by the Good Shepherd” (Speaking of God, p. 200).

Process philosophy, for example, uses the approach of phenomenology and of existentialism which renounces a comprehensively rational system and final knowledge but seeks to illuminate the nature of reality through man’s immediate relation to the world of experience. Martin Heidegger probed reality through man’s Da-sein, his “being there” concretely in space-time with his anxiety, freedom, decision, dying. Alfred North Whitehead sets out from the category of feeling and locates in perception, remembrance, valuation, becoming, and dying the clue to the nature of being. If this rejection of absolute truth in a total vision of reality seems modest, it nonetheless ends up in Heidegger, Whitehead, and others in an extensive metaphysics which, if honored even as a valid tentative insight, implies the final untruth of alternate views of reality. Moreover, its confident selection of certain aspects of man’s experience as determining and illuminating all experience and shaping all reality is hardly as modest as may appear.

For Daniel Day Williams, analysis of these structures as illuminating the ultimate world constitutes “the sole justification of metaphysical thought” (The Spirit and the Forms of Love, 1968). Williams affirms that “whatever is present in the inescapable structures of human experience must be present in ‘being-itself.’ ” When he then probes the meaning of ultimate reality through the forms of human love, particularly interpersonal love, and then moreover ignores the inescapable structure of sexuality in human love in venturing to illuminate divine love, we detect a rather arbitrary selection of structures of experience. We are also encouraged to ask whether the doctrine that man is in God’s image may not yield strikingly different conclusions than the notion that God is in man’s image, particularly if—as historic Christian theism insists—man is a sinful rebel needing God’s objective disclosure for a proper comprehension of divinity. If, as biblical theism contends, the ultimate reality is the self-revealing God, then the structures of human experience will hardly be the final source of information about transcendent being.

Williams declares that no philosophy is sufficient for Christian faith, yet that the life of faith needs philosophical structure for its intelligibility, and theology supplies such interpretation. The tentativeness of all structures of interpretation is a cardinal and necessary tenet of process thought. Here one discerns the influence of Whitehead, who depicted Christianity as a religion in search of a metaphysic, yet declared philosophy to be an unfinished essay on the intelligibility of reality, always mistaken when it claims finality and completeness.

Williams rejects the view that faith includes “belief in a truth, a kind of objective knowledge” (ibid., p. 44). “The history of the conception of love,” he writes, “is also the history of the conception of God.… Through the internal creativity of the biblical perspective, joined with the modern historical consciousness …, a new possibility has opened for reconceiving the meaning of God’s being in relation to time and history” (p. 104). He invokes “the biblical view” and “the biblical witness” in expounding the meaning of God’s love, and he can even assert the objective of interpreting God’s love “in the light of the biblical faith and in relation to human experience” (p. 129) as if the former holds priority over the latter. He appeals to human images and analogies used of God’s love in Scripture as casting light on the meaning of God’s love (p. 122), and uses biblical nuances when serviceable to his own theory instead of throwing historical relativity over the entire scriptural witness. But he insists that interpretation is never finally given but must be ventured anew in each age. Williams does not contend that the process formulation is “biblical” and on that ground authentic, but is more careful than Schubert Ogden and Norman Pittenger about claiming to give an authentically biblical view, which in fact process theology seriously compromises and frequently contradicts. Yet he emphasizes that “on the strictest biblical terms there must be something in common between the words we use to speak about God’s being and about our being, otherwise it is impossible to see how language about God the Father and God the Son can be meaningful at all” (p. 123). At the same time he concedes that all human analogies may fail in describing the love of God (p. 122) and that “a full defense of the analogical mode of thinking about God would require an elaborate discussion” (p. 123). Surely, however, the biblical writers did not adduce their views as an exercise in philosophical analysis developed as a revisable inference from human experience.

William Hordern thinks Christian theology confuses itself with other language games when, in its traditional role of queen of the sciences, it seeks to give a systematic view of all reality. Doubtless the various sciences now operate on special theories and raise distinctive problems in a way that precludes their coherent integration. Yet Joseph Agassi (Towards an Historiography of Science) is but one of numerous recent observers who notes how dominant metaphysical concerns tend to shape the directions of scientific interest. Theology is indeed no “suprascientific system with answers to all questions left unanswered by science” but offers man a means whereby he can live “with a sense of purpose, direction and integrity” as Hordern reminds us (Speaking of God, p. 89). Christianity, moreover, communicates a new way of life and is “never purely a matter of logic” (p. 90). But does it follow, as Hordern would have it, that theology does not ideally “offer a systematic explanation of the universe”? And is it the case that “without the experience of the Christian life, Christian theology cannot be made meaningful because it is impossible to translate its terms into the terms of another game without distorting their meaning” (p. 90)? Assuredly Christian theology becomes experientially vital only in the presence of personal decision. Yet one can surely learn the language of a new game, and its rationale, even if he is a spectator and not a participant. Even the intelligible communication simply of the Christian way of life depends not upon our deeds alone, but especially upon an indication of their meaning and purpose.

From the long history of Christian philosophy it is admittedly evident that neither any one system nor all together have persuaded all intellectuals of the truth of Christianity, nor has any one Christian philosophy won the loyalties of all educated Christians. Hordern makes the point that the proponents of philosophical theology often become more involved in defending the requirements of a given speculative scheme than in defending biblical convictions, as in the commitment of many liberal Protestants to idealistic philosophy (ibid., p. 189). The staggering diversity of metaphysical theories and fundamental disagreement over the meaning of metaphysics characteristic of the philosophical arena have thus invaded even supposedly Christian seminaries. But Christianity itself holds out no promise that all men, intellectuals or not, will embrace its views in this life. Moreover, it traces man’s rejection of its claims not to rational but to volitional considerations.

The truth of revelation implies not only a metaphysics, but a particular metaphysics; not any and every philosophical system is reconcilable with Christian assertions about the ultimately real world. The Christian faith stands or falls with certain specific and explicit assertions about reality. Christianity offers its own ontology, and any statement of the ultimately real world not based on divine revelation and relying instead merely on human reasoning will show itself less than adequate if not hostile. Christian theology is metaphysically affirmative, in the sense that it ventures to inform us on the basis of revelation what is actually the case about God and the spiritual world. The assertions that “God is” and that “God was in Christ” presume to tell us something about the nature of ultimate reality. There cannot be Christian theology in the sense in which Christianity has historically understood its own claim without ontological and metaphysical assertions. A deficient understanding of theology underlies the notion that whereas Christians a generation ago may have needed to rediscover the nature and importance of dogmatics, what the contemporary church most needs today is a rediscovery of piety or of social concern or of evangelistic urgency. Neither inner devotion nor global evangelism nor social concern will long survive on a Christian basis where sound theology does not govern one’s commitments of truth and life.

The Bible begins with the self-revealing God who addresses man in his Word. The philosophers fortify their assertions by intricate and extended argument; Scripture begins point-blank with an exposition of such important topics as creation, time and eternity, the nature and destiny of man, good and evil—all in the context of what the living God says and does. Revealed theology adduces God as the final authority, an authority to which man for all his genius and gifts must submit, and by whose Word man is commanded to order his entire life. Secular philosophy, on the other hand, has sought to transmute external commandments into internal sanctions, as if to insist that divine authority is incompatible with human dignity and worth. For all its profundity, moreover, Scripture does not stop for formal definition of its terms. It employs the popular vocabulary of its time, rather than the technical jargon of the professionals and, by doing so, may seem to lack the sophisticated precision of academic treatises, yet gains what many other writings sacrifice, a timeless intelligibility. Additionally, as Edward John Carnell stresses, the Bible so arranges its teaching that man’s inner guilt is never out of purview; God’s saving revelation is addressed to guilty sinners (A Philosophy of the Christian Religion, pp. 26 f.). Secular philosophy has given prominence to man’s guilt complex only in our century, and in a profoundly unbiblical way.

What then of the broader relationship of revealed theology and secular philosophy? What should be the attitude of Christians to the links which have been and still are forged between the truth of revelation and the speculative systems of Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Whitehead and others? Such philosophies have been hailed as indispensable allies in trying to get a hearing among educated people. More recently on the European continent, Bultmann and others have allied Christian faith with philosophical existentialism, while in England other scholars coordinated it with logical positivism. In America, a growing number of neoliberal scholars now consider process philosophy the preferred conceptuality for expounding Christian belief.

The decisive question concerning the interrelation between theology and philosophy is whether the governing content of one’s philosophy is derived from revelation, or whether human reasoning is elevated as a secondary instrument of revelation—and hence considered another final authority—alongside the Word of God. Revelation is not a possibility of man but solely of God in his self-disclosure. Does human reasoning pretend itself to supply—even if unconsciously—the structure and function and content of theology, and to constitute in some respects an ultimate source in the sphere of revelation? If so, the divine is engulfed by the human. There is no ultimate justification for the secular philosopher’s insistence that divine revelation always gets mixed up in human reasoning, for that is simply a denial of divine revelation. Not unrelated to this denial is the notion that universal truths are implicit in divine revelation, but that revelation looks to the eschaton, so that we presently misunderstand rather than understand its prepositional content.

The theologian needs the truth of revelation—which is truth of the same kind as any other truth, even if it involves its distinctive object and method—to purge his own thought from philosophical misunderstandings. The Scriptures not only challenge the secular assumptions that frustrate man’s belief in the reality and purpose of God and his acceptance of the gospel. They also controvert any theologian’s claim, or pope’s claim, that what any modern man says supplies the normative meaning of revelation.

But since revelation is itself conceptual and verbal, no arbitrary boundary can be erected between philosophy and theology, and philosophy can enrich itself from the content of revealed theology. For theology and philosophy are active on the same terrain.

Secular philosophy may indeed raise problems of existence and of knowledge on which revealed theology can shed light. But the theologian ought always to ask, concerning the affirmations of any and every philosophy, “Does that accord with divine revelation?” Yet philosophy illumines the questions that brilliant thinkers have addressed to the realm of existence and life, and the diversity of answers they have given from a nonrevelational standpoint, and it propounds intellectual concerns on which the theologian will seek to shed light from the standpoint of the revelation of God. Philosophy stimulates theology to a schematic and systematic ordering of its revelational content which, as every reader of the Bible knows, arose first in the ongoing drama of human history as the living God progressively entered into the changing fortunes of his fallen creation. It is not the case, contrary to Barth, that philosopher and theologian differ in that the former must attempt a synthesis, whereas theology settles for a dialectical witness to truth and is content with a synthesis that assertedly lies in God and is beyond the grasp of human thought.

Reason and faith are not antithetical. Faith without reason leads to skepticism and reason without faith does so also. Human knowledge is possible only on the basis of divine revelation; Augustine rightly held that all knowledge is faith. Empiricism and rationalism both go astray because they ignore revelation as the source of truth. Rationality permeates the revelational outlook: the Logos is at the beginning and center and climax of divine disclosure. Christianity has never offered itself as a refuge from rationality; rather it emphasizes the rational difficulties and inconsistencies of alternative views of reality and life. Christian theologians of the past fearlessly solicited reason; God summons man to think his thoughts after him. But revelation lifts human reason beyond restrictions of intellect limited by finitude and clouded by sin through the knowledge it conveys of man’s Maker and Redeemer. Revelational theism sponsors a rational world-life view grounded in revelational perspectives.

The Christian revelation is not to be confronted by already prescribed philosophical conceptions to which its content must be conformed. This is not to say that biblical religion is disinterested in what the philosophers are saying both for and against faith. But Christian theism resists the intrusion of speculative principles into the constitutive meaning of revelational truth. Speculative argument is neither the basis, nor must or may it supply the framework, of the truth of revelation. Revelational theism provides cognitive information about God and the true nature of reality and it supplies categories of thought and definitions of reality that require the replacement of philosophical conjecture.


Is Theology a Science?

By what ways or methods have scholars ventured to know ultimate reality? One answer frequently given cites theology, philosophy or science. Rightly understood, this reply has merit; the development of modern thought, however, makes it on the surface highly confusing and misleading.

For one thing, theology has historically been considered a science, and so for that matter has philosophy. In fact, Plato and Aristotle regarded philosophy as the highest science. Thomas Aquinas on the other hand named theology the queen of the sciences; revealed theology crowns the metaphysical truths or natural theology he professed to derive from empirical observation. In its classic definition, science meant any clearly defined subject matter that yields valid knowledge communicable from mind to mind and from generation to generation. Science therefore was not limited to only one particular methodology; each science elaborated its content by the method appropriate to its own subject matter.

In recent times, however, this comprehensive perspective of science has been narrowed to include only systematized information gained by the observational method of the physical sciences. This correlation of scientific truth with an insistence on verifiability by the sense perceptions of the investigator reflects an obviously biased stance. From this positivist approach it has been said that scientists have a specific and generally accepted method; theologians and philosophers on the other hand are reputedly still seeking an appropriate methodology. On this gratuitous assumption, logical positivism projected itself as the one hopeful coordinator of all areas of human learning. Its proponents subordinated everything to its authority as boldly as had any former system of theology or philosophy now ostracized.

The dethronement of theology as queen of the sciences was unwittingly abetted and made almost inevitable by the very scholar who had sponsored its coronation, namely, Thomas Aquinas. Theology as “queen” implied in Thomism a distinctive relationship between philosophy and theology; philosophy was to prepare the way in the role of natural theology for revealed truth expressed in authoritative church dogmas and papal pronouncements. This approach promised free investigation at the basic level. Its secret commitment to the so-called philosophia perennis or fundamental principles of Thomism as the only intelligible philosophy, however, limited the disposition to question all presuppositions.

When speculative empiricism countered rather than commended transcendent revelation and Thomism finally ran an unimpressive course, Karl Barth reacted to the opposite extreme: theology, said he, was neither queen of sciences nor even a theoretical science at all. Moreover, Barth dooms philosophy in toto, at least in his earliest writings, to ignorance of ultimate reality. The philosophic quest for cognitive knowledge of the transcendent Barth dismissed as arbitrary and misguided; God, he insists, is to be known not cognitively, but in personal faith-response to a dialectical divine disclosure. To know God, the philosopher must in effect cease to philosophize and become a theologian. No possibility exists, even on revelational grounds, of a Christian philosophy or world view. This negative neoorthodox view of philosophy grew largely out of Kant’s and Hegel’s radical erosion of biblical faith. Neoorthodox theology rejected the liberal Protestant synthesis that had sought by rational reflection on religious experience to harmonize modern science, philosophy and theology. Barth not only rejected the theory that authentic theology makes its assertions on the basis of an inductive examination of religious experience, but he also insisted that theology is not a rational, scientific study. For him the role of philosophy in the service of theology is purely negative, being limited to exposure of the inadequacies and inconsistencies of speculative alternatives to revelation.

Some scholars have sought to distinguish Christianity constructively as being prescientific rather than scientific. Prescientific knowledge, they stress, is more open than scientific inquiry to man’s total relationship to all of reality, and more open also to authority and tradition as carriers of truth. By contrast, in order to concentrate on single aspects of experience—e.g., sense perceptions—modern scientific learning subdivides the self’s consciousness and focuses one sidedly on the minutiae of the behavior of nature. But if this distinction implies that Christianity is disinterested in verification of its truth-claims, and in their technical systematization, then to label Christianity as prescientific rather than scientific is too costly a price to pay. Christian theology is interested no less than any other science in discussing presuppositions and principles, sources and data, purposes or objectives, methods of knowing, verifiability and falsifiability. Indeed, Christianity is a genuine science in the deepest sense because it presumes to account in an intelligible and orderly way for whatever is legitimate in every sphere of life and learning.

Hendrik G. Stoker distinguishes theology as the scientia prima inter pares, or the science first among others, because it deals with ultimate problems. Philosophy, on the other hand, he holds, deals rather with the totality and coherence of the radical diversity of the cosmos, and particular sciences with specialized aspects of the universe. Contrasted with revealed theology, non-Christian theology contemplates some absolute or divinity other than the self-revealed God. This distinction poses some difficulties, since philosophy not infrequently grapples with ultimate problems, and theology is not disinterested in the problem of the one and the many, or unity and differentiation. To say that revealed theology is first among the other sciences because it concerns the self-revealed God and his relation to created reality is perhaps more fitting than to call it king of the sciences, and certainly more so than to call it queen for the reasons Aquinas gave.

Despite the strenuous insistence of nineteenth-century theologians that theology be esteemed a science, and the strained effort of twentieth century theologians to qualify it as “a science in … the strictest sense of the word,” Karl Barth points out that before 1686 no Protestant scholar called theology a science (Church Dogmatics I/1, p. 6). The preferred designation was doctrina or sapientia. Theology, declares Barth, has its own distinctive method, and cannot adopt for itself the concrete methods of the other enterprises; it must compel respect, as do other disciplines of study, by the fidelity with which it applies its own methodology.

Do we accept as definitive the modern notion of science established independently of theology—and if so, would it in any way be an asset for the theology of revelation to acquire scientific credentials on this basis? If to rank theology alongside the other human enterprises implies from the outset that in each realm upon which it impinges theology must conform its content to what philosophers, historians or psychologists are saying at the moment, then would not theology by certifying its scientific legitimacy in this way be merely signing its own death warrant?

On the other hand, while we insist that what is other than theology cannot determine the content of theology, or its nature as a science, do we imply that all the various academic disciplines may and must freely go their own way, independently and competitively, without any obligation to coordinate and adjust their claims about the real world or in the name of truth? Should not theology in the name of revelation and reason, and in view of the logical norms of noncontradiction and coherence, call the secular sciences to account? Ought it not, for example, challenge both the arbitrary positivist limitation of truth to the sensory world and technocratic scientific reduction of the real world to impersonal processes and relationships? To go yet a step farther, should not theology in the name of the truth of revelation elaborate a comprehensive framework wherein theology and all other sciences are together and equally answerable to criteria that apply to each and every claimant to knowledge of external reality?

Whether theology should be considered a science, or viewed as wholly independent and disengaged from so-called nontheological learning such as philosophy, history and anthropology, for example, raises critically important issues. Barth excludes Christianity as a science on the ground that theology does not acknowledge as authoritative for itself “the universal concept of science in authority today.” Moreover, he considers the commonly asserted norms of science to be irrelevant to theology.

Barth analyzes the postulates of science enumerated by Heinrich Scholz in an article in Zwischen den Zeiten—the proposition postulate, coherence postulate, controllability postulate, congruity postulate, independence postulate—and examines also the further requirement that all propositions be subdivided into axioms and theorems susceptible of proof. In the main Barth rejects the imposition of such postulates upon theology. It becomes clear from his analysis, however, that he opposes defining theology as science not simply because of the modern orientation of science to an empirical methodology and to merely tentative conclusions; what Barth equally objects to is submitting theology like science to common logical criteria.

Barth rejects Scholz’s first postulate, namely, the scientific demand for freedom from contradiction, on the ground that its theological applicability is highly limited. Even though theology does not consider contradictions irremovable, asserts Barth, he does not definitely opt for their removability (Church Dogmatics I/1, p. 8). Barth is not denying the interconnectedness of theology; elsewhere he writes of “the distinct validity of the prophetic and apostolic word in the Church,” and of “the value of dogma” (I/2, pp. 230–31).

Barth even stresses the systematic consistency of Scripture. When writing of biblical anthropology, he seems in fact to fall out of both sides of the bed at once: “We have … to be content with purely incidental and self-evident presuppositions if we seek information from them on this question, and we must not be surprised if this information seems to us to be unsystematic, defective, partial and even contradictory. The fact is that the biblical authors know very well what they were talking about when they spoke about man, that there was substantial unanimity among them and that everywhere in their statements we have a much more fundamental and truly systematic treatment than appears at first sight” (III/2, p. 433).

Barth schematizes his own theology, and invokes reason and logic with great power against those whose religious views he finds objectionable, not infrequently using the exposure of contradictions to his own advantage. Nonetheless he considers the norm of logical consistency on which science insists to be unacceptable to theology, and does not champion a theology free of contradiction. Barth curiously both champions and disowns consistency with remarkable inconsistency. His problem is not one of deficiency in reasoning ability nor of human frailty, for his argumentation is often brilliant. But his theological method consciously and deliberately ignores the law of contradiction as a norm appropriate to theology.

While Barth therefore accommodates the law of contradiction in a limited way, he totally rejects as a theological imperative Scholz’s remaining five norms of science. “Not an iota can be yielded here,” he writes, “without betraying theology, for any concession here involves surrendering the theme of theology” (I/1, p. 8). Yet, in presenting his own views, Barth himself frequently yields more than “an iota” to coherence, however vociferously he may repudiate coherence as a test of truth. And despite his vigorous rejection of the controllability postulate, Barth himself invokes theological controls—notably the collective judgment of the church—in his renunciation of modernism as heresy.

Barth objects also to the congruity postulate, which requires scientific attention to what is physically and biologically impossible. By averring that theology and science can go their respective ways without treading on each other, he accommodates the notion that a negative verdict by scientists and historians regarding the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus constitutes no liability to belief in these miracles.

Barth notwithstanding, the Christian lives under no necessity to accept a logical breach between theology and science. If the Christian is rationally convinced of the scientific impossibility of certain miracles, or of all miracles, he has no intelligent option but to disbelieve them, whatever may be the consequences for Christian faith. Yet disbelief in miracles is by no means the only rational option. It would take more than a miracle to reconcile the diverse claims made concerning miracles by scientists; indeed, it would be logically impossible. Many scientists with no interest whatever in Christianity and theology have long forsaken excessive claims made in the name of science, e.g., that science provides truth about the objective constitution of the universe. Not a few consider all scientific constructs to be highly tentative, and scientific concepts merely optional working models. But if science only gives us laboratory procedures for achieving certain operational results, and does not define the actual constitution of external reality—that is, does not tell us what is objectively possible or impossible in the present world—why, asks Gordon H. Clark, should science be viewed as able to tell us what was possible in the biblical past (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 66)? Why indeed should science then be considered qualified to formulate the express conditions under which theology may speak persuasively about ultimate reality?

The Christian is under no requirement, imposed either by this world or the next, to accept at face value every claim made in behalf of science. The present state of scientific theology owes to science as well as to religion whatever guidance it can give in formulating a preferable alternative. The concept of science deemed authoritative for science today is no more properly authoritative for science than for theology. Formulation of a nonpositivistic philosophy of science that replaces the positivistic enthronement of sensory verification as the only gateway of knowledge remains a basic need of our time.

The sixth norm (Clark identifies it as the ideal of axiomatization since Barth fails to name it) holds that all propositions must be arrangeable in the form of axioms and theorems. Barth rejects this and sharply repudiates any proposed systematization of theological thought. To a large extent, however, Barth himself has used an arrangement of theological truths in axiomatic form to expound his own dogmatics. For him, the event of revelation is the axiom in which the doctrine of the Trinity is implicit, and the remainder of his dogmatics he presumes to derive from the doctrine of the Trinity. He even critiques eighteenth-century theology for failing “to regard the cardinal statements of the Lutheran and Heidelberg confessions as definite axioms” (Church Dogmatics I/2, p. 293).

In summary, Barth remarks that “if theology allows itself to be called a science, it cannot at the same time take over the obligation to submit to measurement by the canons valid for other sciences.” He warns against “the disturbing, in fact destructive, surrender of theology to the general concept of science” and, leveling sarcasm at the champions of rational coordination and system, writes of “the mild inattention with which nontheological science—possibly with a better nose for actualities than theologians who thirst for syntheses—is wont to reply to this particular mode of justifying theology” (I/1, pp. 9 f.). He thrusts aside any attempt to elaborate “a concept of science which … includes a good theology” (I/1, p. 9), and thus dismisses the possibility of overall coordination. Theology cannot “put itself in a systematic relationship with other sciences” because, Barth contends, “it absolutely cannot regard itself as a member of an ordered cosmos, but only as a stopgap in an unordered one.”

Once it is clear, however, what meaning or definition is attached to the term science, it is, as Gordon H. Clark alerts us, “a substantial question” and not a matter of unimportance whether theology is included or excluded (Karl Earth’s Theological Method, p. 52). The most devastating option that theology could exercise would be to oppose itself to reason and logic in order to preserve its special role in expounding the truth of revelation; such course would spell suicide for theology. “Whether theology is a science or not, whether or not it fulfills the other five norms,” Clark warns, “it can violate the norm of logic only on pain of having nothing to say to the outside world” (p. 59). Barth does not simply say that even a theologian enlightened by divine revelation will transgress the axioms of logic because of finiteness or the limits of regeneracy; he says rather, that “as a theologian he cannot escape the necessity of transgressing” logic, contradiction, coherence. It is this attitude toward contradiction as a theological necessity that must be correlated with his denial that theology can be given systematic form. Barth rejects the view that Holy Scripture is “a fixed total of revealed propositions to be systematized” (Church Dogmatics I/1, pp. 155 f.). “A systematic conspectus” of prophetic teaching he terms “an impossibility.” Barth too quickly and even eagerly looks for so-called irreconcilabilities in Scripture, even where many competent scholars consider the perspectives quite compatible. He says, for example, “It is not at all a bad historical hypothesis theologically … that the Johannine representation is the direct antithesis of the Synoptic.” Moreover, he claims, the apostle Paul’s several uses of the name Jesus Christ cannot be understood in “a system representing … a unified thought” (I/1, pp. 204 ff.).

Unhappy with Barth’s differentiation of theology from science on this basis, Clark offers a penetrating criticism. Barth’s “hesitation with regard to the law of contradiction,” he writes, “ill accords with a theology of the Logos” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 54). Barth seems to say that “the law of contradiction holds in theology only under limitations scarcely tolerable to the scientific theorist.” As Barth sees it, theology must embrace contradiction and is incapable of systematic representation. All theology, including the teaching of inspired prophets and apostles, is declared to lack systematic consistency. If Barth truly tells us what is the case—not simply with his own theology (which un doubtedly lacks consistency), but with the theology of the Bible—then, asks Clark, is not theology by definition illogical and has it anything intellectually compelling to say to the world? Of three possible courses—that of defending a logically revealed theology, that of showing theology to be illogical and therefore undeserving of personal commitment, or that of declaring theology a divine priority while defining it as inconsistent, unsystematic and illogical—Clark contends that Barth has opted for the third and least worthy. Indeed, if Barth is to be taken seriously on his own premise that theology tolerates breaches of the law of contradiction “scarcely tolerable” to the scientist, then, asks Clark, can it have any more to say to Barth and to the theologian than to the outside world, since “freedom from internal self-contradiction is the sine quanon of all intelligibility” (p. 59)?

Similarly Clark sees no theological necessity for or legitimacy in Barth’s totally repudiating the norm of coherence. Theology can scarcely hope to gain from considering disunity a desideratum. Clark points out that the controllability postulate is unacceptable to theology only because of the prejudiced way in which laboratory scientists formulate it, that is, by spuriously assuming that all truth is attainable by laboratory experiment. In principle, however, there is everything to commend the requirement that all propositions should be capable of testing by any “sufficiently attentive” reader or hearer (p. 60).

No less baffling is Barth’s rejection of the congruity postulate requiring attention to whatever science shows to be physically and biologically impossible. The alternative for Barth can only be a double-truth theory, Clark observes, and the “virulent irrationalism” of asserting to be true in theology what is false in science (pp. 62 f.). The consequences of taking refuge in this insecure and illogical haven of double-truth are costly for both theology and science, for Barth rejects in the name of theology “the duty of drafting a better definition of science” (Church Dogmatics I/1, p. 10). Yet few more imperative tasks face Christian theologians today than that of giving guidance in forging an alternative to the arbitrary positivist reduction of science to sensory verifiability.

Clark considers Barth’s dismissal of axiomatization, the final norm, as decisively conclusive for his whole approach. Here Barth rejects the obligation of theology to submit to “the canons valid for other sciences.” While canons elaborated by Thomas Huxley, Karl Pearson and Herbert Feigl are indeed to be rejected as arbitrary, there is no reason whatever, Clark rightly insists, on that account to exempt theology from the canons of an adequate philosophy of science, nor to exclude the other sciences from the canons appropriate to theology (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 67). Barth’s assignment of a merely “stopgap” role to theology in an “unordered” cosmos Clark declares to be wrong on both counts. God’s rational and purposive activity in creation and revelation implies the correlation of theology and other sciences. “If God orders the world, and if the world is as God orders it to be, then the science of physics, whether operational or descriptive of nature, must be subsumed under theology in an ideally unified system” (p. 68). Barth’s notion that synthesis is an illicit fetish of theologians and that scientists have a more sensitive nose for actualities by-passes on a very questionable basis the quest for a unified view of knowledge by logical positivists. By neglecting the other sciences, theologians needlessly bequeath the scientific enterprise to those who artificially prejudice the case against the legitimate role of theology.

In summary, to coordinate theology with scientific thought need not threaten the peculiar status of theology. Barth is right only insofar as he insists that “no science possesses manorial rights to the name” and that any surrender of theology to the general concept of science formulated by atheistic philosophers destroys the independent basis and role of theology. But he is wrong in opposing the integration of science and theology as evil, and in refusing, in Clark’s words, to “redefine science so as to bring some unity into the sphere of knowledge” (ibid., p. 71). Barth’s own Church Dogmatics is happily often inconsistent with and superior to his underlying methodology. But his understanding of theology is confused, and for that reason not adequately alert to the outside world to which theology must address its content.

For all that, Barth in his concluding discussion defends the designation of theology as science for three reasons: it encourages humility among theologians; it protests a merely secular concept of science; and it reckons even alien sciences as within the church. His development of these points can hardly be considered in all respects consistent with his rejection of the axioms of science, nor with the larger exposition of his own theology; consistency is not—to his detriment—among Barth’s cardinal virtues.

To identify theology as a science promotes humility, we are told, because the acknowledgment of the cooperation of theology with other human efforts to seek truth counters “the conception that it is raised ontologically above these other” and reminds theologians of the “profaneness” with which theology too “on its relatively special path, does its work even in the most exalted regions” (Church Dogmatics I/1, p. 10). So, in contrast to his former disallowance of integrating theology and science, Barth here emphasizes their “solidarity” and considers them as similar in kind and indeed as belonging to a single genus. Yet, as Clark notes, Barth can hardly approve their integration without proposing an intelligible alternative to the philosophy of science espoused by logical positivism, which considers theology nonsense, and would integrate it only by mutilating it.

Moreover, says Barth, to identify theology as a science challenges the merely “heathen” or secular misunderstanding of science and reminds those who insist that Christianity has no basis for existence superior to Aristotelian speculation that “the quasi-religious unconditionality of their interpretation” can be debated. But, Clark asks, “if the arrogance of omniscient irreligionists” is to be challenged, ought not Barth’s rebuke to be “implemented by the formulation of a comprehensive world-view”?—a theological task that Barth often disdains (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 72).

By identification as a science, furthermore, theology attests that despite the intolerance of secular sciences for theology and the theological task, theology “does not take their heathen character so seriously as to separate itself from them in a superior manner under another name” and “reckons them with itself in the Church” (Church Dogmatics I/1, p. 11). Barth here seems not only reconciled to theology’s co-existence with sciences alien to theology, but, as Clark notes, even reckons these alien sciences within the church (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 73).

These considerations lead Clark to emphasize that Barth consciously titles his massive volumes Church Dogmatics rather than Biblical Dogmatics or Christian Dogmatics. Although Barth deplores modernism as heresy, and even rails against religious philosophers who in effect propose a new church, he embraces as “in the Christian Church” “Schleiermacher or Ritschl or anyone else” who like Barth is “fundamentally concerned … about the Christian faith” (the entire passage is cited and the relevant portion translated by Clark, pp. 73 f.). In his Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century Barth adduces no superior criterion for excluding Rousseau, Lessing, Kant and Feuerbach, all of whom he expounds as Protestant theologians.

Barth’s failure to preserve a systematic, coherent, and noncontradictory distinction between the truth of theology and the counterclaims of secular science, or between the church and the world, has even costlier consequences. Unless he assigns a higher role to consistency and coherence, he cannot hope to preserve any distinction whatever between truth and untruth in theology.

Barth’s reluctance to classify theology with other sciences is therefore contingent rather than absolute, in that he grants, as we have seen, a practical need for identifying theological reflection as scientific. But evangelical theologians cannot accept his reasons either for rejecting the rationally scientific character of theology or for promoting its practically scientific character. Although Barth champions a theology of revelation as opposed to the religious anthropology of Schleiermacher, he agrees with Schleiermacher that Christian theology does not aim to give a system of objective truths and that doctrinal distinctions are not of ultimate importance. The supreme unity of thought and being he finds not in universally valid cognition but in personal dependence upon God.

Instead of giving a carte blanche welcome to Barth’s espousal of a merely “practical” necessity for viewing theology as a science, one ought to contemplate the various ways in which theology and the natural sciences might be correlated. For Protestant modernists, theological doctrines are fully as tentative and subjective to revision as are scientific pronouncements; for them the scientific status of Christianity depends upon renouncing theological infallibility and recognizing but one way of knowing truth, namely, the empirical methodology of modern science. This view surrenders the axiomatic basis of Christianity in divine revelation and abandons historic Christianity. Influenced by Ritschl, other thinkers held that theology has a peculiar truth all its own, not subject to the theoretical canons of science, nor serviceable in formulating a world view, but practical in its significance; even when contradictory, the truth of science and the truth of religion, they believed, do not collide because they command different compartments of the human psyche. It is with this theory that Barth’s exposition of the truth of revelation seems to have most in common; its pernicious weakness is that a theology of double-truth leads to a theology of double-talk. Another possible way of correlating theology and the natural sciences would be to emphasize that Christianity, because of the absolute character of divine revelation known to theology on the basis of appropriate criteria, cannot be designated a science in the modern meaning of that term, both in view of the empirical nature of science and of its necessarily tentative conclusions.

To Barth’s alignment of theology as science simply for practical reasons, Clark proposes a comprehensively different alternative. His contrary theses are: “First, rationality, which is indispensable to all exchange of ideas, requires a unification of the sciences. Second, since modern scientism cannot supply its own norms, theology should redefine science and rule as queen. Third and last, these two conclusions necessitate attention to axiomatization, permit a direct confrontation with the outside world, and among other things require a great truth in the law of contradiction” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 75).

Evangelical theology is a humble, critical and joyous science. Its humility springs from two fundamental truths: the church’s confession that “now we know in part” and do not yet possess a “theology of glory,” and the fact that in God’s service the church nonetheless proclaims not ruminations on the propriety or impropriety of his will but a divine Word. In its role of critic it judges any rival view of reality and life that would derail the Word of God, and by Scripture judges its own commitment and proclamation lest God’s Word be violated among friends. The joyfulness of evangelical theology flows from its foundation in the sovereignly free Creator and Lord of all, whose Word is yea and amen, and from the unending gratitude for God’s good news elicited from sinful man in his otherwise dread predicament. But evangelical theology is, moreover, a rational science. There is no biblical warrant for grounding the modesty of theology, as Barth would have it, in its supposed “human ano-logy” to the Logos as a thoroughly dialectical and merely fallible witness. Its modesty is nurtured rather by the fact that evangelical theology dare harbor one and only one presupposition: the living and personal God intelligibly known in his revelation. As ecclesiastical and academic disciplines, biblical and systematic theology lack finality insofar as they are finite schematizations of the content of Scripture. The content of Scripture on the basis of divine revelation is, on the other hand, not only implicitly systematic but also profoundly self-consistent. The theology of revelation has no reason for hesitancy in characterizing itself as science; it is neither vulnerable to perpetual revision as is merely empirical inquiry, nor is it consigned to ongoing contravention as is philosophical theorizing.


The Method and Criteria of Theology (I)

Revelation: The Basic Epistemological Axiom

Since theology is a rational discipline, it must of necessity declare which method or methods of knowing it considers appropriate to the knowledge of God, and what tests for religious truth it approves. When a non-Christian asks, “What persuasive reasons have you for believing?” the basic issue at stake is, is theology credible?

Unless theology clearly identifies and expounds its way of knowing God and its criteria for verifying such knowledge claims, its future as a serious academic concern is problematical. Divinity schools may on goingly offer courses in systematic theology to expound God’s nature and ways, but only an explicit statement of theological method and criteria will challenge those who routinely question the appropriateness of theology as a legitimate subject of study. If the epistemological task is neglected, critical scholars will suspect theology’s claims, mistrust its fundamental objectives and feel free to slander theology as human speculation engaged in manufacturing man-made theories about God. University-related religion departments may continue to provide historical studies in biblical writings as well as in the Upanishads, the BhagavadGita and the Koran, but such offerings need exert no demand whatever upon belief in the name of valid truth. Without persuasive epistemic credentials, Christianity will be assimilated to the historical approach prevalent in the modern intellectual world where all events are set in the context of developmental contingency and any claim to finality and absolute uniqueness is leveled. If the theology of revelation holds more than an antiquarian interest, Christians must indicate their conviction that Christianity is distinguished above all by its objective truth, and must adduce the method of knowing and the manner of verification by which every man can become personally persuaded.

Modern civilization is in turmoil over the ultimate legitimacy of spiritual and moral commitments. The marketplace of philosophical ideas is vastly overcrowded; so also is the hall of contemporary religions with competitive and contradictory claims. Secular learning is at best agnostic about the reality of the supernatural; the prevalent mood in educational circles is explicitly or implicitly naturalistic. The cultural milieu in which theology now strives for public hearing has been largely shaped by technocratic scientism. The pervasive humanism of contemporary education is seldom challenged by the mass media. In a century whose religious reading has included such titles as Julian Huxley’s Religion Without Revelation, Corliss Lamont’s The Illusion of Immortality and Thomas Altizer’s The Gospel of Christian Atheism, many churches have been more preoccupied with ecumenical unity and political concerns than with confronting the naturalistic temper of the times.

The youth counterculture, while rightly rejecting the positivistic world view, is less interested in intellectual coherence than in existential and mystical approaches to life. Even were the “countercultural young” and academic professors who share their perspective to gravitate toward the center of the social structure, their rejection of a scientific society is no necessary gain for the truth of revelation, not only because of massive ignorance of historic Christianity but equally because of the neglect of the role of reason. The widening anti-intellectual trend of our day should spur evangelical Christians to a precise scholarly delineation of theological methodology. It has always been important to clarify the distinctive way of knowing on which Christian theology relies for its significant affirmations about reality. This is especially the case since the rise of logical empiricism with its insistent demand that theology and metaphysics explicate how what one asserts beyond the frontiers of perception can be tested as true or false. The need for clarification rises also because the counterculture has encouraged many of the younger generation to use mystical techniques for probing the invisible realms.

What’s more, if the question of method and verifiability is left unanswered, even the Christian himself can have no rational certainty in his commitment to God. A theological methodology is not merely to be presupposed, but is consciously set in juxtaposition to rival theories of life and reality, or else those who affirm God’s reality will otherwise frequently buttress their belief with unpersuasive arguments. A statement of the nature and purpose of theology not only reflects an underlying philosophy but also carries implications for much else. Inattention to a systematic methodology will seriously impair this whole range of concerns including the relationship of theology to philosophy and to science, the role of apologetics, and even the content of pulpit proclamation.

Christianity first entered the world in the name of the living God of truth to proclaim Jesus Christ to be the unique and final revelation of God’s truth and grace (John 1:18). Its theological method, predicated on the priority of divine revelation, rises not from a culture-bound conceptuality that has no significance beyond a particular historical era or cultural period. While Langdon Gilkey is right when he says that “philosophical and theological methods, as does all human thinking, exist in the historical dimension and so are related to the geist of their age,” he does less than justice to the method and content of revelational theology when adding that “like the habits of vernacular speech or the mores of local communities,” theological method “cannot be translated into another cultural epoch and be of very much value” (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 190), It is true enough that “a method is itself part of the wider whole which is expressed in an entire philosophical and theological system,” as Gilkey notes, but only cultural relativism can invalidate its permanent importance on the ground that a method is a partial expression of “that deeper vision of things which dominates a whole era of cultural experience and thought” (ibid.). A method whose primary axiom is transcendent revelation will encompass all the eras of cultural experience and call them to account.

Christian theology maintains, moreover, that all the logic men can muster is on the side of revealed religion. The Christian apostles insisted that belief in the self-revealed God of the Bible has an intelligible basis. Christianity offered the world a ready reason for its hope (1 Peter 3:15). Christian apologists contend that nonbelievers ignore rationally persuasive considerations, and that non-Christian alternatives ought to be rejected as false.

Since the viability of theology hangs on the truth or falsity of its affirmations, discussion of the ways of knowing theological truth, and of the criteria appropriate to judging theological claims, is imperative. The evangelical’s first task is to insist upon the truth. An age that submerges questions of religious truth must be confronted with an insistent call to face the truth or falsity of its doctrines. The next task is to identify truth and indicate how one can recognize and be assured of it. Some men indeed willfully reject the Christian message, but that option should exist only for those who first inform themselves about its claims, and not for anyone sharing the misconception that revelational truth requires some kind of illogical commitment.

Divine revelation is the source of all truth, the truth of Christianity included; reason is the instrument for recognizing it; Scripture is its verifying principle; logical consistency is a negative test for truth and coherence a subordinate test. The task of Christian theology is to exhibit the content of biblical revelation as an orderly whole.

1. God in his revelation is the first principle of Christian theology, from which all the truths of revealed religion are derived.

Divine revelation is the evoking cause of Christian theology and faith, and the ultimate criterion of all evangelical doctrine. Christianity ventures its affirmations about God because of what Abraham Kuyper calls the “dependent character of theology”—that is, its complete dependence on God for any and all information we have about him. In B. B. Warfield’s words, “The religion of the Bible presents itself as distinctly a revealed religion” (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 72). The initiative is wholly God’s, from his original communication with sinless Adam to the enfleshment of the Logos in Jesus Christ. The knowledge of God is both as limited and as vast a topic as God himself is in his revelation; only on the basis of God’s self-disclosure is man able to make any legitimate statements whatever about him.

The propriety of thus designating divine revelation as the basic epistemological axiom has been challenged in several ways: (1) Some modern scholars virtually elevate nonrevelation into a governing axiom by deliberately forging an antagonistic counterposition to the Christian claim of transcendent cognitive revelation. (2) Speculative rivals of revealed religion espouse a variety of axioms competitive with biblical revelation. (3) Modernism specifically defines Christianity on the basis of man’s own religious sentiments, independent of transcendent divine disclosure. (4) Some evangelical scholars urge that not divine revelation, but rather the existence or the reality of God, or the historical fact of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, is the basic axiom from which Christian faith derives its content. The appeal to divine revelation as the evoking cause and source of Christian truth thus raises questions of antiaxiom, counteraxiom and para-axiom.

(1) Rejecting any possibility of transcendent divine revelation and speculatively assimilating Christianity to the general history of religion, Ernst Troeltsch (1865–1923), proponent of Religionsgeschichte, denied that theology possesses any special method for knowing God. Troeltsch contended that Christianity must instead be understood through universal historical phenomena. His commitment to universal relativity as a scientific faith leads him to bar all facts of an absolute character—except his own postulational absolute (a private revelation?) that historical development is all-embracing. In deference to this secular interpretative principle, everything alleged to be supernatural is omnisciently adjusted to uniform sequences of cause and effect. Troeltsch writes: “Christianity is not the only revelation or redemption, but the culminating point in the revelations and redemptions which are at work in the elevation of humanity to God” (article on “Revelation” in Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. Kurt Galling, my italics). In principle, Troeltsch relativizes God’s revealing activity, and thus renders the reality of a special divine revelation not only improbable but inconceivable. Transcendent revelational disclosure is philosophically suppressed, and the truth and value of all that is distinctively biblical is obscured.

Troeltsch nowhere proves—nor can he do so—that all religions arise within a uniform field of development. His all-embracing continuity of human history is speculatively asserted and rests upon a secret metaphysical premise that cannot be derived from experience, nor is it a logical requirement of human thought. The very ground rules Troeltsch erects for religious dialogue therefore turn transcendent divine revelation into an inadmissible axiom; as H. R. Macintosh puts it, the notion that special revelation is impossible is secured “by turning this assumption into an axiom” (Types of Modern Theology, p. 204).

Troeltsch condemns Christianity to genetic mutation without allowing it any by-word whatever in its own behalf and premised on its own explanatory principles. Such theorizing not only beclouds transcendent revelation as the special basis of biblical religion, but it also misconstrues religion generally. Scripture itself explains the sphere of religion by the two principles of divine revelation and human rebellion, and not solely through historical development and relativity.

Troeltsch’s “laws” (criticism, relativity, analogy) that govern all historical inquiry are clearly not principles distilled from his observation of all history, but rather are axiomatic limitations he imposes upon history as an interpretative framework; only within these limitations will he discuss historical data, although he inconsistently exempts his own views from them. If his theory is true, Troeltsch’s own absolutes are indefensible since no finality can be claimed for his views any more than those of others.

(2) Virtually all nonbiblical religions and philosophical visions of spiritual reality alike neglect transcendent cognitive revelation as a basic axiom, Their counteraxioms are therefore not in the main rival revelation-claims but give epistemic primacy to some alternative premise. There is good reason to dispute the notion that all or most religions make the same exclusive and unconditional revelation-claim that Christianity does. Even Buddhist spokesmen have issued critical rejoinders to the neo-Protestant ecumenical emphasis that there is revelation in all religions, since such a premise implies a personal God whom many Buddhists reject.

Emil Brunner properly rejects the widespread notion that Christian revelation competes for acceptance among many comparable claims: “The common assumption that the Christian claim to revelation is opposed by a variety of similar claims of equal value is wholly untenable. The amazing thing is the exact opposite, namely, that the claim of a revelation possessing universal validity in the history of religion is rare.… No ‘other religion’ can assert revelation in the radical, unconditional sense in which the Christian faith does this, because no ‘other religion’ knows the God who is Himself the Revealer” (Revelation and Reason, p. 235).

Biblical religion insists, in fact, that divine revelation is a universal reality even where men disown it and other religions distort it. In terms of its own revelation-claim, Christianity explains the very phenomenon of universal religion, and ascribes the multiformity of religions (with their deviant views of God and the religious consciousness) to man’s waywardness.

The alternative controlling principles proposed by non-Christian views are so diverse as to defy classification. Religion is so multiform that it has no universally common doctrine, liturgy or experiential attitudes. Once intelligible divine disclosure is forfeited, any prognosis of spiritual ultimates depends on mystical experience, rationalistic conjecture, or man’s limited observations of history and the cosmos, all of which become substitutes for the intelligibly revealed Word of God. So great is the difficulty of demonstrating the infinite from premises about the finite universe that every theory seeking to rise to God from the not-God logically falls back toward agnosticism or skepticism. Christianity draws its authority neither from man’s inner psychological states nor from philosophical reflection on human experience and the world but from divine disclosure.

The presence of other revelation-claims gives no reason to avoid divine revelation as the basic epistemological axiom of revealed religion. The presence of counterfeit currency does not prove the absence of the genuine, but rather presupposes it. The Christian view of revelation has frequently been diluted by mediating theologians prone to accommodate revealed religion to contemporary philosophical prejudices. Barth turned the basic Christian epistemic principle into the axiom that special revelation alone is the source of all knowledge of God. Like Barth, Brunner formulated revelation in terms of nonintellective divine confrontation, a position which erodes much that is integral to the Christian revelation as biblically attested.

(3) Through Schleiermacher’s continuing influence, liberal Protestantism turned from God’s objectively mediated revelation to man’s inner experience as the elucidating source of the content of Christian faith. Schleiermacher held that Christian doctrine should ideally be a description of inner states of the soul. In H. R. Macintosh’s words, he put “discovery in place of revelation, the religious consciousness in place of the Word of God” (Types of Modern Theology, p. 100). Once Schleiermacher abandoned objective revelation for experience, theology lost transcendent divine disclosure as its basis for formulating what the church ought to believe, and could only expound what the church presently believes or thinks. Modernism in effect substituted anthropology for theology. Barth was wholly right in stressing that the truth of revelation is not derivable from man’s inner feelings or volitions and that theology cannot speak authoritatively on the basis of an inductive analysis of religious experience. He properly emphasized that authentic Christian faith rests on God’s own revelation, which cannot be forced into ready-made philosophical categories that exclude God’s transcendently spoken word.

(4) Some evangelical Christian scholars, while conceding Christianity’s indispensable basis in transcendent divine revelation, nonetheless insist that Christianity’s basic axiom is not revelation but rather the living God, or the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. To designate revelation as the primary axiomatic principle, they contend, leads immediately to a diversionary controversy over rival revelation-claims made by other religions. This in turn results in the unnecessary postponement of theological emphasis on the living God already known in conscience through nature and history, or on the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ as critically decisive for human destiny.

The first objection, which champions the living God rather than revelation, fails to distinguish epistemological and ontological axioms. The assertion that divine revelation is Christianity’s basic epistemological axiom, from which all doctrines of the Christian religion are derived, in no way nullifies the corollary truth that the triune God is Christianity’s basic ontological axiom. The revelation of God in his Word is for Christianity the primary epistemological principle from which all its other truths are deduced.

The second objection puts forth the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the basic epistemological axiom of Christian theology. This alternative, it is held, avoids a presuppositional approach which begins with the invisible God rather than arguing the case, and postpones a prefatory conflict over competing revelation-claims, such as the Muslim tenet that the Koran is the eternal and preexistent Word of Allah. The universal accessibility of historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection as biblically presented, it is held, supplies a preferable cultural and conceptual map for identifying religious truth.

Champions of the resurrection as the first principle from which all other Christian truth is to be logically derived sometimes contend that they adduce the resurrection, as Clark Pinnock puts it, not as an axiom or presuppositional postulate, but as an event evidentially accessible to all men, inasmuch as God raised Jesus in the midst of profane history.

Pinnock is of course quite right when he insists that Christianity is “a belief grounded in nonrecurrent historical events,” that “the Christian faith is not an abstract metaphysical system supported by presuppositionalism,” and furthermore that “our presupposition of Christianity does not give validity and reality to God’s revelation” (“The Philosophy of Christian Evidences,” pp. 421 f.). But, while the logical structure of axiomatization seeks by deduction to expound implications of any proffered postulate or axiom, it wholly confuses the actual epistemic basics of the Christian first principle when champions of a revelation axiom are portrayed as having speculatively invented it. Only a self-refuting concept of divine self-revelation could have its basis merely in philosophical presuppositionalism. The Christian religion does not dangle midair on a postulational skyhook; it is anchored in God’s self-revelation. The proponents of a revelation-axiom do not approach divine revelation as merely a speculative first principle, but rather affirm it in view of the self-revealing activity of God. The very fact of divine revelation constrains the Christian theist to honor it as the basic epistemological axiom of theology. Any clouding of this distinctive of the basic axiom of revealed religion only minimizes a striking difference between transcendent divine disclosure and human postulation and speculation.

Champions of the revelation-axiom, moreover, consider all the evidence that can be adduced for the resurrection of Jesus, and much else besides, to be implicit in God’s revelation in his Word. That Christianity is a historical religion is no less compatible with the primacy of revelation as the Christian epistemic axiom than is the centrality of the resurrection. Revealed religion was historically grounded before the resurrection; moreover, both God’s general and special revelation to man have irreducible historical facets.

The vaunted superiority of the resurrection-axiom over the revelation-axiom is highly questionable. In support of their attempted derivation of the content of Christianity from the resurrection, its advocates stress that apostolic proclamation gave centrality to the resurrection of the crucified Jesus. The Gospels are not simply testimonials of faith but are offered no less as historical testimony. The apostles were in fact chosen for their mission because they eyewitnessed the risen Jesus whom they knew intimately; their proclamation focused on his resurrection ministry. This writer’s own conviction is that without the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth the Gospels would not have been written and the Christian church would not have come into being.

But these facts do not of themselves decide the issue of the fundamental Christian axiom. Elsewhere we shall discuss more fully recent evangelical efforts, such as those by John Warwick Montgomery and Clark Pinnock, that rest the case for Christian theism on historical evidences, beginning with Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Suffice it at this point to note Pinnock’s insistence that “Christianity does not begin with the axiom that God exists and the Bible is true, to which all other beliefs are deductively appended,” but that in the elaboration of the content of Christian theology we are today “to start from particulars, not universals” (“The Philosophy of Christian Evidences,” p. 422). He adds that “from our experience of life-in-the-world, rational, cosmical and historical, we come, under the operations of the Holy Spirit, to the conclusion that God exists and the Gospel is true” (p. 423). Whatever may be Pinnock’s evangelical intention and outcome, this concept requires a herculean burden of demonstration that no evangelical theologian, however devout or brilliant, can successfully carry. For Pinnock seems to imply (p. 425) that, without any appeal to transcendent divine revelation and by empirical considerations alone, the ordinary unregenerate man can be logically and inescapably driven to a Christian understanding of reality, and that any insistence on the invalidity of such empirical argumentation is due solely to volitional recalcitrance and not at all to empirical evidential deficiencies.

If the Gospels are not historically reliable, then of course no criterion exists for distinguishing Jesus of Nazareth from other historical characters of the past. As it is, Jesus was, indeed, a public figure, and the Gospels as historical documents enable us to establish his character. The resurrection was assuredly a historical event. But to appeal solely on the basis of historical research to God’s special historical act in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, apart from any reliance on revelational authority, will not enable us to establish the meaning and significance of the resurrection. Historical events are not self-explanatory, least of all the special redemptive acts of the Bible. Apart from their revelationally vouchsafed interpretation, the divine acts are subject to wholesale misunderstanding. To be sure, Paul declared that by raising Jesus from the dead God had removed every last plea for human ignorance of his purposes. But the resurrection was not a brute fact or historical surd mirroring its own message. Jesus himself had warned that “if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31, kjv), a judgment that accurately diagnosed the impending fortunes of Judaism. The Gospels themselves begin with an account of the Messiah’s prophetically anticipated birth rather than with the resurrection. The Book of Acts records how Saul of Tarsus, while convinced of the resurrection of Christ through empirical historical confrontation by the unrepeatable miracle of the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3), had previously heard in the primitive missionary churches the Christian witness that placed Christ’s resurrection in Old Testament revelational perspective (1 Cor. 15:1 ff.). The Bible nowhere discusses christ’s resurrection as a dramatic exception in a six thousand-year span of human history that is otherwise explicable as an unbroken sequence of nonmiraculous events—the context in which modern secular man seeks to comprehend the resurrection-claim. Instead, the Bible frames the prospect of Messiah’s resurrection in the scriptural context of God’s promise and fulfillment; the New Testament followers of Christ shared a belief in a future resurrection of mankind long before they heard the name of Jesus.

The empirical appeal to Jesus’ resurrection as Christianity’s primary starting point is no more free of counterclaims than is the presuppositionalist appeal to revelation. Let it be granted that across the centuries alleged contradictory revelations have emerged (including that by Mormonism in the recent past), which impose on Christianity a consequent need to distinguish between bona fide and counterfeit revelation in deciding which is really God’s Word. But the historical resurrection-claim must cope similarly with numerous understandings or misunderstandings of the Gospel-attested resurrection, whether in the manner of the Greek mystery religions, or of Barthian superhistory, or of Bultmannian existentialism. Moreover, in view of Troeltsch’s “laws” of universal historical interpretation, the resurrection-claim still confronts the arbitrary notion that the morality of historical consciousness disallows accepting the factuality of past events for which present-day history presents no analogy.

It is in no way evident that Christian doctrines can be derived wholly through the resurrection of Jesus as a foundational premise, however great its evidential value may be for the truth of the Christian message. Although all Christian doctrine is communicated by way of God’s historical self-manifestation, a proper understanding of the resurrection must not be isolated from the larger scriptural revelation of God’s purposes in history. Apostolic precedent supplies no basis for projecting Christ’s resurrection as Christianity’s main evidential emphasis in deliberate contrast to that of divine revelation. The Acts sermons frequently appeal to Old Testament prophetic revelation as dramatically fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and hence as epistemologically intermediary to understanding the resurrection. Apostolic preaching repeatedly sets Jesus’ resurrection in the broader context of the prophetic promises (Acts 2:25; 3:21; 4:10 f.; 10:43; 17:2; 23:6) and of Yahweh who revealed himself to the fathers (Acts 3:13; 3:25 f.; 5:30; 13:32; 22:14). The resurrection of Jesus Christ therefore carries revelation as its coordinate and correlative presupposition; indeed, the resurrection is itself a consummating revelatory event within the comprehensive disclosure of God. The New Testament emphasis is that the living God of revelation who spoke in the past through the inspired prophets now speaks with finality in his Son (Heb. 1:1 f.). Divine revelation must therefore not be a subordinate principle to the resurrection.

In defending himself before Felix, the apostle Paul declares that he worships “the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: and have hope toward God … that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.… Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” Before Agrippa he asserts: “I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers.… I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:6, 22 f., kjv). Time and again Jesus’ resurrection is apostolically framed within the prophetic revelation (cf. Rom. 1:2 ff.; 1 Cor. 15:3 f.), just as the event itself first became intelligible to the disciples through revelatory illumination (John 2:22).

On the basis of the Gospels alone as trustworthy historical narratives, and without an appeal to divine revelation, it is impossible to establish the absolute aliveness of Jesus of Nazareth after the crucifixion—that is, that he was not merely revivified, but was raised, rather, to endless life as the first-fruits of a general resurrection of the dead. Nothing less than this, however, is implicit in the Christian revelation.

Christianity contends, moreover, that man everywhere stands in more direct relationships to God’s general revelation than to historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Mars Hill, the apostle Paul set Jesus’ resurrection in the broad context of the living God’s universal revelation in nature and history (Acts 17:24 ff.).

To prefer divine revelation rather than Christ’s resurrection as the foundational premise implies no denial whatever, of course, that the God of the Bible reveals himself in the empirical world of factuality and that man is inescapably confronted there by revelation. Nor does such preference deny that the resurrection is of universal apologetic importance, or that sinful man’s contemplation of the cosmos and of history may not be an occasion when the Spirit of God imparts new life to delinquent evangelistic prospects.

The prolegomenon to any science always consists mainly of indicating how knowledge is to be reached in the particular science under discussion. Where divine revelation is affirmed, if one obscures revelation as the unqualified source of religious truth, one can only divert attention to other supposed sources of the content of Christian theology, and can even create exaggerated expectations from other postulated sources.

The basic axiom of every system is undemonstrable, that is, cannot be deduced from some still higher or prior knowledge, since the whole system of theorems and propositions is dependently suspended upon this primary axiom. The axioms of the Christian system of truth are not presuppositions shared in common with secular thought. Christian doctrines are not derived from experimental observation or from rationalism, but from God in his revelation. For revealed religion, the primary axiomatic importance of divine revelation is ultimately a matter of life or death.

The source of evangelical theology, then, is God made known in his own Word and deed. The Protestant Reformers rightly honored the Word of God as revelationally given not only above experience but also above the church as the control-point for every facet of Christian doctrine. God’s revelation has been conveniently classified in two main types: general revelation, or the disclosure of God’s eternal power and glory through nature and history; and special revelation, or the disclosure of God’s redemptive purpose and work. But in Scripture an authorized summary of all God’s revelation—in the universe, in redemptive history, in Jesus of Nazareth—is divinely provided for us in inspired form. Because of sinful alienation from God, fallen man culpably thwarts the ongoing general revelation of God in nature and history, a revelation which constantly invades even his mind and conscience. The Bible openly publishes man’s predicament and God’s redemptive remedy in the form of objectively intelligible statements. The scriptural revelation takes epistemological priority over general revelation, not because general revelation is obscure or because man as sinner cannot know it, but because Scripture as an inspired literary document republishes the content of general revelation objectively, over against sinful man’s reductive dilutions and misconstructions of it. Moreover, it proclaims God’s way of redemption to sinful man in his guilty condition. As H. C. Thiessen remarks, “Epistemologically, the sacred scriptures are the high point of special revelation … For the Christian they are the supreme and only infallible source for the construction of his theology.… The Bible embodies all other forms of revelation” (Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 42).

To be sure, in expounding the truth of revelation, the biblical writers provide no extended treatise on religious epistemology. Since Scripture does not identify one single correct system of epistemology, it would be unjustifiable to identify any one scheme as biblical. But the Christian need not therefore concede Ludwig Wittgenstein’s claim that epistemologies are simply structure gestalts or “nets cast to catch what we call the world; to rationalize, to explain, and to master it” (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.341–6.36). The Christian can show that his epistemology avoids the problems latent in and impeditive of alternative views of knowledge. More than this, on the basis of revelation and its implications he can adduce some specific and highly significant epistemic considerations. Evangelical theology is not only ready to debate any and all rival axioms proposed for an understanding of reality and life, but is also more eager than its rivals to do so, as attested by its evangelistic initiative and missionary expansion. To support its own claim and to contest competing claims, revealed religion is fully prepared to adduce criteria and principles for verification.


The Method and Criteria of Theology (II)

The Role of Reason, Scripture, Consistency and Coherence

We have stressed that the Christian religion champions rationality over against the pervasive irrationalism of our age, and that it promotes rather than evades the demand for verification and tests for truth. Alongside the emphasis on divine revelation as its fundamental epistemic axiom, we now discuss the indispensable role of reason in view of the revelational relationships of the Creator to his Logos-ordered universe.

2. Human reason is a divinely fashioned instrument for recognizing truth; it is not a creative source of truth.

No one has a right to prejudge the nature of divine revelation. Yet theologians who emphasize that God is “Wholly Other” often sponsor a distorted notion of revelation that gives little significance to the faculty of reason. Historic Christianity rejects any correlation of revelation with the irrational. The God of the Bible does not defame reason as incapable of religious understanding or logic as distortive of spiritual interests. It is often said that one should not expect more precision in any matter than the subject admits of; much contemporary theology unfortunately gives the impression of an exceedingly ambiguous deity. The Creator-Redeemer God of the Bible created man in his rational and spiritual image for intelligible relationships. The Christian faith emphasizes that one has nothing to gain and everything to lose by opposing or down-grading rationality.

Those for whom human reason is the only source of truth—a position long influential in philosophy but now increasingly under heavy fire—may argue that to appeal to divine revelation as the primary axiom of religious knowledge demotes reason to irrelevance. But revealed religion gives no quarter to the idealistic illusion that human reason is intrinsically capable of fashioning eternal truth. If divine revelation and not human reason is the source of truth, then man’s mind cannot be viewed as inherently qualified to unravel all the enigmas of life. To say that man’s mental powers are virtually divine contradicts both the basic Christian axiom that God in his transcendent revelation is the only source of truth and its related emphasis, namely, that finite and fallen man even though gifted with the divine image is dependent upon revelation. When human reasoning is exalted as the source of truth, then the content of truth is soon conformed to the prejudices of some influential thinker or school of scholars, or it may be conformed to the current consensus of opinion, sometimes dignified by the expression “the universal human consciousness.” Christian theology denies that the human mind or human reasoning is a creative source of revelational content; its proper role is not to fashion revelation or truth, but rather to recognize and elucidate it.

Nonetheless the Christian religion assigns a critical and indispensable role to reason. Its protest against rationalistic philosophizing, or conjectural metaphysics, must not be misunderstood as a repudiation of the legitimacy of human reasoning employed in syllogisms and other valid forms of implication. Those who today deplore speculative metaphysics often do so in the interest of irrationalism, or belief in contradictory assertions, as was the case with Kierkegaard. The Christian protest against rationalism in its eighteenth-century deistic emphasis on the sufficiency of human speculation unenlightened by divine revelation is legitimate enough. What is objectionable about rationalism is not reason, however, but human reasoning deployed into the service of premises that flow from arbitrary and mistaken postulations about reality and truth. Christian theology unreservedly champions reason as an instrument for organizing data and drawing inferences from it, and as a logical discriminating faculty competent to test religious claims.

John H. Gerstner objects to presuppositionalist theology because, he says, (1) it exaggerates the noetic consequences of the fall of man; (2) it denies the existence of any “common ground” between believers and nonbelievers; and (3) it bows to the demands of a coherence theory of truth. (This was in a public dialogue with the author at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in November 1974.) While some expositions may indeed suffer from one or more of these defects, the emphasis on revelation as the primary epistemic axiom as here formulated surely does not. Revelation itself affirms that man is depraved in consequence of the fall, and that this depravity affects him inthe entirety of his being—in volition, affection and intellection. But this hardly means that man cannot comprehend God’s revelation, or that he cannot do so prior to the regenerative or illuminative work of the Holy Spirit; far less does it mean that man’s rational abilities are wholly nullified. The fall conditions man’s will more pervasively than his reason. Man wills not to know God in truth, and makes religious reflection serviceable to moral revolt. But he is still capable of intellectually analyzing rational evidence for the truth-value of assertions about God. If the noetic effects of the fall were totally and utterly damaging, thus making man incapable of thinking aright and immune to the rational validity of the basic categories of logic (e.g., the law of contradiction), then no rationally persuasive case could be mounted for or against anything whatever. There are but two ways of thinking—not regenerate and unregenerate, but valid and invalid. There is but one system of truth, and that system involves the right axiom and its theorems and premises derived with complete logical consistency. But the latter does not, as we shall see, require a presuppositionalist to extrapolate an entire system of theology conformably to a coherence theory of truth, nor does it necessitate a denial of all common ground between the believer and the unbeliever.

Knowledge of God is indeed wholly dependent upon divine revelation, but man was divinely made with rational and moral aptitudes for intelligible communion with his Maker and for the joyous service of God. The possibility of man’s knowledge of divine revelation rests in the created capacity of the human mind to know the truth of God, and the capacity of thought and speech that anticipates intelligible knowledge and fellowship. Man’s rationality is therefore one span of the epistemological bridge whereby he knows theological truth. That man’s reason is a divine gift for recognizing God’s truth is a main tenet of the Christian faith. Human reason was a divine endowment enabling man to have knowledge of God and his purposes in the universe. The functions of reason—whether concepts, forms of implication, deduction and induction, judgments and conclusions, and whatever else—are not simply a pragmatic evolutionary development but fulfill a divine intention and purpose for man in relation to the whole realm of knowledge.

Not even the cataclysmic moral tragedy of the fall has wholly demolished man’s capacity for knowing God and his revealed truth. Scripture emphasizes that God’s general revelation, in nature and in reason and in conscience, penetrates into the very mind of man. Man is therefore all the more guilty since he personally spurns it. All God’s revelation is intelligible revelation; his special scriptural revelation is communicated in truths and words. The prophets and apostles, and Jesus Christ no less than they, presuppose man’s rationality, and they affirm his universal guilt in view of man’s revolt against light not only in Adam as representative of the race but also in our private religious history.

The biblical doctrine of religious knowledge everywhere presupposes man’s ability to reason logically and to understand truth conveyed by God about himself and all created reality. The fact that the beleagured multitudes are offered not one message of supernatural rescue only but are besieged also by a staggering plurality of religious claims, indeed by a cacophony of supposed revelational voices, does not at all intimidate the appeal to reason as the instrument for knowing truth. Jesus carefully verbalized spiritual and moral claims and earnestly exhorted his hearers to consider the highly specific theological propositions he expounded to them. Christianity does not communicate a message sounded by heavenly harps, couched in exotic tongues, and understood only by the angels. It employs intelligible language and truths comprehensible to rational human beings. Christian claims are based on knowledge and history not epistemologically dissimilar to the kind of cognitive information and historical data on which all historical, judicial or other everyday decisions depend. As Edward John Carnell remarks, “When Christianity speaks of truth it means precisely what the man in the street means. Whether a person listens to a political speech or reads the Bible, he is called upon to judge the sufficiency of the evidences: and if he is reasonably free of prejudice, he will bring the same criteria to the one task that he does to the other” (The Case for Orthodox Theology, p. 87).

Evangelical Christianity refuses for good reason to rank as merely one option among many in the contemporary world, and seeks to convince mankind that Christ is the divine Savior. The many contradictory philosophies and rival religions Christianity considers abundant evidence not that Christianity is demonstrably true but that the question of truth in religion has been evaded or compromised. Any religion that would exert a universal truth-claim in this context of confusion and competition must adduce criteria whereby Christian and non-Christian alike can test the veracity of their claims. Paul Tillich remarks that “theology is as dependent on formal logic as any other science” (Systematic Theology, I:56).

Theological truth does not differ from other truth in respect to intelligibility; therefore, truth must be rationally cognized if it is to be meaningfully grasped and communicated. Nor does the difference lie in the fact that revelation is its source, for God is the source of all truth. The difference rather is that theological truth is divinely authorized, infallibly certain, and biblically attested; all other claims for truth are subject to correction and at most are but probable. To be sure, we cannot commit others to the truth of revelation simply by theoretical argument, but we can demote and demolish non-revelational counterclaims. Men do not appropriate the Christian revelation through conviction reached solely on the basis of rational argument. Personal faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, but truth is God’s revelational provision, and the Spirit uses truth as a means of persuasion and conversion.

In summary, God is the revelational source of all truth; revelation is his disclosed truth and the evoking cause of knowledge. Reason is a divinely gifted instrument enabling man to recognize revelation or truth. He can do this because by creation he bears the image of God (Gen. 1:26), and is specially lighted by the divine Logos (John 1:9), so he may intelligibly know, fellowship with, and obey his Maker. The forms of reason and the laws of logic as a creation-endowment survive the fall; apart from them, no intelligible communication, divine or human, would be possible.

3. The Bible is the Christian’s principle of verification.

The inspired Scriptures are the proximate and universally accessible form of authoritative divine revelation.

Wherever the content of divine communication or of religious experience is defined mystically, verifiability and external controls are wholly irrelevant. The epistemic roadways to religious commitment today seem wide as the world. In the global megalopolis of modern man, everyone is encouraged to do his own thing in respect not only to styles of dress but also in respect to private piety and religious preferences. Religious claims are considered adequately proved by personal relevance rather than by their universal validity. But Christianity contends that revelational truth is intelligible, expressible in valid propositions, and universally communicable. Christianity does not profess to communicate a meaning that is significant only within a particular community or culture. It expects men of all cultures and nations to comprehend its claims about God and insists that men everywhere ought to acknowledge and appropriate them. If they reject the truth, or refuse to become Christians, it is not because the truth of revelation is unintelligible, incommunicable, or invalid.

Hence a verifiability or controllability postulate is wholly appropriate to Christian theology. Theological verification is not dependent upon personal faith or national or cultural perspectives. If a person must first be a Christian believer in order to grasp the truth of revelation, then meaning is subjective and incommunicable. Regeneration assuredly creates new attitudes toward the truth of revelation and facilitates man’s comprehension of it, but the new birth is not prerequisite to a knowledge of the truth of God. When Barth defines dogmatics as the activity of a devout believer, he distinguishes theology at the wrong point from secular sciences such as physics, chemistry and sociology. The subject matter of theology is not limited to examination only by those who are Christian believers. The truth-content of theology can be investigated—as can that of astronomy and botany and geology—quite apart from the moral character of the technical scholar and his interest or disinterest in a new way of life. The truth of revelation is intended for sinners, and the unbeliever can indeed examine the content of theology. If the truth of revelation cannot be known prior to commitment to Christ, then men cannot be culpable for its rejection; moreover, it would be a waste of time and energy to try to persuade them of its validity. An unbeliever can know the meaning of revelation and the meaning of life and history if only he will heed what the Bible teaches. “There is no absolute need of grace, nor even of extensive scholarship,” remarks Gordon Clark, “to conclude that language which denies the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, is inconsistent with the Biblical message” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 61).

No one has license, however, to impose arbitrary criteria such as the logical positivist’s demand for the sense verifiability of theological affirmations, or the insistence of some laboratory scientists upon experimental confirmation. A norm of controllability, as Clark remarks, requires only that “all propositions should be capable of testing by any reader or hearer who is sufficiently attentive” (ibid., p. 60). Clark continues, “verification of the conformity of the Church’s language about God with its Biblical criterion is possible to anyone who is sufficiently attentive” (p. 61).

Calvin declared that “we are not looking for arguments or analogies on which our judgment can rest; but we submit our judgment and intelligence to something lifted above the necessity of being judged” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, French ed., 1939, cited by Emmet, The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking, p. 138). Emmet is wrong to complain that this means “there can be no real communication on ultimate questions between theologians and the historians, philosophers and scientists … pursuing their own methods of inquiry, unless the historians, philosophers and scientists are prepared to adopt a purely positivist attitude towards their own enquiries, and deny that they are in any way concerned with metaphysical questions” (p. 130). This complaint would be more telling against Barth than against Calvin. Barth held not only that (1) theology has its basis in transcendent divine revelation, but also that because (2) revelation is sui generis, (a) it is not properly judged by the reason of finite sinful man, but transcends the categories of human thought and experience, neither philosophical nor historical inquiry being directly relevant to it; and (b) its corollary is faith, a divine gift which does not involve intellectual assent to propositions but obedient response. But if the logical truth or falsity of the content of theological beliefs is irrelevant, how are they to be distinguished from grand illusions? Instead of promoting a “logic of obedience” that makes Scripture merely a paradoxical witness to transcognitive disclosure, historic Christian theology emphasizes that God reveals himself intelligibly to the mind of man. Paradoxical disclosure has no standing either in Scripture or in heaven.

The means of verifying the truth about God, the inspired Scriptures, is accessible to all. It is difficult to see why Pinnock deplores the appeal to Scripture as the Christian verifying principle because it supposedly requires decision before reflection. He criticizes the presuppositionalist’s appeal to the Bible in attesting revelation as in effect offering a stone where bread is demanded: analytic philosophers, he avers, are asking for verification in support of metaphysical ultimates, and presuppositionalism slams the door! Pinnock is well aware that the kind of sense verifiability the positivists demand would cancel the truth of revelation by arbitrary predefinition. But he is eager to adduce empirical evidence from within the cosmic and historical order rather than the inspired teaching of the Bible in verification of Christian beliefs.

John Montgomery contends that “on the basis of empirical method as applied to history, one can inductively validate the Christian revelation-claim and the biblical view of total history” (“Clark’s Philosophy of History,” p. 388). The logical validity or invalidity of empirical arguments for Christian theism is more appropriately considered under our next points of logical consistency and systematic coherence and in the context of the church’s apologetic task. We shall devote a later chapter to Christian theism and empirical verifiability. But it should here be noted that Montgomery’s emphasis that not presuppositions but facts determine one’s interpretation of history pursues a line of argumentation that is not nearly so presuppositionless as he leads us to expect. He has in fact wavered between an emphasis on interpretation entirely without a priori considerations (The Shape of the Past, p. 292) and interpretation that assumes as little as possible: “All assumptions should be kept to a minimum, and be as self-evident and beyond dispute as possible” (p. 265).

No historian or scientist actually proceeds without presuppositions. Empiricists always operate on presuppositions which they cannot prove by their own methodology. Even evolutionary theory would collapse except for certain presuppositions that cannot be scientifically proved; among these Hendrik Stoker singles out “autonomy of thought, a … neo-positivistic conception of facts, a universal dynamic continuity of causes, a right to universal generalization and extrapolation, and that nature must be wholly explicable by nature alone” (“Van Til’s Theory of Knowledge,” p. 35). The scientific and historical approaches to meaning thrive on secretly negotiated lend-lease arrangements on which non-Christian scholars arbitrarily refuse to pay overdue interest rates and they ultimately deny any indebtedness to the theistic view.

Montgomery differs from the presuppositionalists he disowns only in the number and scope of the presuppositions he prefers for deciphering the meaning of history. Among his approved assumptions are that the scientist and historian must be honest in their observations, that the historical process is meaningful because God created it, that the center of history is God’s act in Jesus Christ—this supplies the criterion for all other historical events—and that final judgment on the historical process rests in God’s hands. Are these Montgomery-approved presuppositions inductively acquired, or is he not here doing secretly what he finds so objectionable when other presuppositionalists do the same thing openly, that is, begin with the validity of the Christian revelation? Montgomery criticizes secular historians for interpreting history on alien presuppositions rather than viewing it objectively and inductively; rather than accepting the biblical claim of Christ’s resurrection, he says, the non-Christian will opt for the most ridiculous alternatives. But one cannot both have his cake and eat it too. If the issue is between presuppositional and presuppositionless approaches that is one thing, but if it is between competitive axioms or presuppositions for consistently comprehending the data, that is quite another. Montgomery’s presuppositions are often commendable, contrary to Ayer’s or Bultmann’s, but they should be recognized for what they are.

To summarize, inspired Scripture is the divinely authorized attestation of God’s speech and acts, and as such is normative in all matters of religion and ethics. The Bible is not a textbook on science or on history. But attention to the Bible’s statements bearing on the physical sciences and history and on politics and sociology will enable its readers to avoid many misconceptions to which empirical inquiry remains ongoingly vulnerable. While revelation is the source of all truth, and reason the instrument for recognizing it, the Bible is the Christian verifying principle. “To the law and to the testimony,” to what “Scripture says,” to the prophetic word and the apostolic word, to the sacred writings as an inspired canon, the faithful Hebrew and Christian community unapologetically and tirelessly pointed when the issue at stake was the verification of legitimate beliefs.

4. Logical consistency is a negative test of truth and coherence a subordinate test.

Some may think that tests of revelation or truth are highly inappropriate, and that human creatures ought to accept the divine without question. But tests of truth are wholly appropriate. The Old Testament required the people to distinguish prophets from pseudoprophets; Jesus warned of false christs (John 5:43); and the early Christians had to discriminate true from false apostles. Tests of truth will not only serve to refute as spurious the natural man’s objections, but also show that the alternatives they propose do not hold up and lead rather to skepticism. Rational tests will also exhibit the logical and psychological superiority of the Christian revelation as a world view that best meets all human needs.

Christ and the prophetic-apostolic writers assumed the canons of rationality and expected men to exercise the logical laws requisite to meaningful thought. They did not authorize and introduce new and unheard of tests of truth, or some new and peculiarly Christian technique of understanding (cf. Carnell, A Philosophy of the Christian Religion, pp. 184 ff.).

Without noncontradiction and logical consistency, no knowledge whatever is possible. Christianity insists that verification answers the question, “How can I know that this claim is true?” and not the question of personal preference. To rational minds, the credibility of a religious claim, like any other, rests upon the availability of persuasive evidence and adequate criteria. The importance of intellectuality in theology, of cognitivity and concepts, of valid propositions, of logical system, therefore dare not be minimized. Some decry the rational emphasis on logic and consistency in considerations of divine revelation. God is not bound by such criteria, it is said; he is assertedly above the canons of human reasoning, so that the “truth of revelation” confronts man in terms either of contradiction or of paradox or of mystery. But without appeal to sufficient reason, the mind of man has no basis for discriminating between mysteries, paradoxes and contradictions. Even if reason were only one way of interpreting and systematizing human experience, the man who aims to give a reason for his hope dare not ignore its claim or repudiate its validity. And if reason is the precondition of all intelligible experience, then it will be necessary to avoid the divorce of faith and logic.

The person who renounces the importance of noncontradiction and logical consistency sponsors not only the suicide of theology, but also the demotion of intellectual discrimination, whether he appeals to ultimate paradox or to “the rational absurdity of the real self” (a Niebuhrian phrase). When Barth tells us that the truth of theology consists necessarily in a logically irreconcilable “yes” and “no,” he espouses a brand of religious irrationalism that cannot commend itself to a devotee of religious truth. George Orwell’s apocalyptic vision of men consciously capable of “doublethink”—of holding “simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both” (1984, pp. 32 f.)—had its theological preincarnation in the dialectical dogmatics of the past generation. The intellectual absurdities of dialectical theology do nothing at all to commend it as credible Christianity.

Divine revelation involves intelligible sequences of information, not an incoherent and self-contradictory chaos. The fact is that whatever violates the law of contradiction cannot be considered revelation. The truth of revelation is not a series of unrelated and disconnected propositions like “Today I love my wife. The astronauts have returned. The salmon are running.” The God of biblical revelation is the God of reason, not Ultimate Irrationality; all he does is rational. On one of his better days Barth wrote: “God apprehends himself and is therefore eternal reason … the one who under all circumstances is intelligence and reason.… He is steadfast andself-consistent … If God is for us an abyss of chance and caprice, if as far as possible we regard the irrational as the essentially divine, we neither have nor can have any real confidence in relation to God, For confidence is based on the appreciation of reason, meaning, and order.… God … is himself as such the source of all true logical consistency” (Church Dogmatics II/l, p. 427). Arthur F. Holmes pointedly remarks: “If God cannot contradict Himself, neither can general revelation contradict special revelation, neither can scientific data contradict Biblical data, and neither can valid philosophical reasoning contradict valid theological reasoning” (Christianity and Philosophy, P. 17).

Consistency is a negative test of truth; what is logically contradictory cannot be true. A denial of the law of contradiction would make truth and error equivalent; hence in effect it destroys truth. How else except by persuasive rational evidence that unmasks the inconsistencies of other views and exhibits the rational consistency of Christian claims shall we make it apparent to the nonbeliever that his alternative, however fantastic are its promises, lacks the intellectual compulsion of the Christian view? Surely one cannot appeal only to instinct or to custom and tradition or to feeling and sentiment or to sensation or pragmatism. Attention to logical consistency will clarify that nonbelievers thrust aside the Christian revelation not because of any illogicality of Christian truth, but because of their own personal illogicality and sinfulness. Logical consistency alone can ajudicate whether any alternative is worthy of one’s commitment. When scholars hold divergent starting points, each claiming his to be logical, we must not throw logic to the winds thinking thereby to serve Christianity, but rather must show that the nonbiblical alternatives are futile, and that to bow to God’s revelation is not to go against the truth but rather to acknowledge it. The Christian system of doctrine prizes internal consistency. The truths of revealed religion do not contradict each other; the theorems derived from the axiom of revelation are self-consistent.

One objection to consistency as a test of truth has been that many logically consistent alternatives can be speculatively developed on the basis of differing logical starting points, and that only empirical considerations will adequately verify the claims of revealed theology. On such grounds Montgomery asserts: “When world views collide, an appeal to common facts is the only preservative against … religious anarchy.… The stakes are simply too high to operate presuppositionally. Non-Christian positions must be destroyed factually and the Christian religion established factually” (“Once upon an A Priori,” p. 341). Elsewhere he writes: “How are we to test the spirits? Not by internal consistency (the devil is an exceedingly coherent logician, as are all great liars) but by an empirical comparison. One here recalls Descartes’ reverse argument that some malevolent being might be deceiving him about the nature of the external world and his subsequent confidence that mathematics was the most reliable key to nature.… We are brought back again to the absolute necessity of an objective historiography” (Where Is History Going? p. 178). Clark Pinnock moreover declares that it would be “dishonest” to believe “in the God of Scripture just because this belief would exorcise the demons of irrationality and absurdity from the universe” (“The Philosophy of Christian Evidences,” p. 425). He insists that faith rests not upon revelation but rather on inductions from the cosmic and historical stuff of revelation and champions a correspondence theory of truth (p. 425).

It will be well to consider these objections to internal consistency as a test of truth and the proposed alternative in an orderly way.

Many rationalistic systems have indeed been proposed by influential philosophers who sponsor divergent metaphysical theories; an argument based on the multiplicity of views should give no comfort either to a rationalist or to an empiricist. Even in the antimetaphysical climate of our own day, Thomists continue to schematize reality along Aristotelian lines; the Marxian humanist Marcuse schematizes it in a dialectical-revolutionary way; and process philosophers and others schematize it in still other ways. Over against them all the Christian presuppositionalist espouses a revelational-theistic axiom as the most consistent explanation of reality and life. Against such a revelational axiom, except as previously vindicated by empirical considerations. Montgomery argues that “in a contingent universe, there are an infinite number of possible philosophical positions, and even the fallaciousness of infinity-minus-one positions would not establish the validity of the one that remained (unless we were to introduce the gratuitous assumption that at least one had to be right!)” (“Once upon an A Priori,” p. 388).

It must certainly be conceded that, within his own special starting point, any philosopher who prizes logical consistency will hopefully find his own view to be internally most consistent. For example, when a prominent mathematician asked the renowned embryologist C. H. Waddington whether there was really enough time for natural selection to produce the complex forms of living existence, Waddington replied: “You are asking if there is enough time for evolution to produce such complicated things as the eye? Let me put it the other way around. Evolution has produced such complicated things as the eye; can we deduce from this anything about the system by which it has been produced?” (in a discussion following the paper by S. M. Ullam, “How to Formulate Mathematically Problems of Rate of Evolution,” p. 28). Given divergent starting points, the possibility remains that several logically consistent alternatives might be postulated; a nontheist might even grant the consistency of the Christian system of truth, given its primary axiom of the reality of God in his self-revelation. But if such considerations lead one to dismiss the importance of logical consistency, one demolishes any possibility of truth whatever. Logical consistency is not a positive test of truth, but a negative test; if it were a positive test, logical consistency would accredit all views, however conflicting, that consistently follow from differing starting points. While logical consistency as a positive test might commend too much, logical inconsistency is a liability to any view. As a test, logical consistency disqualifies any serious contender whose truth-claim is characterized by logical contradiction. The fact that Edgar S. Brightman, L. Harold DeWolf, William Hordern and many others emphasize the criterion of logical consistency but come out to nonevangelical alternatives—and a considerable variety of them at that—does not discredit this criterion or destroy its relevance. Their differences call all the more insistently rather for a thorough application of the criterion of logical consistency that critically examines the ultimate starting point and controlling postulates with which one begins and the inferences thought to follow from these.

Critics of Montgomery’s view point out some of the internal contradictions that weaken his own case for theism. Not only does he deplore presuppositionalism while employing presuppositions, but he appeals also to extraempirical considerations in the course of an empirical argument. When Montgomery criticizes unbelievers because they are more interested in the present than in the future life, we may ask whether Montgomery has empirically established the fact of a general afterlife apart from revelational authority. When he says men do not accept the resurrection because they are unwilling to do Christ’s will, does he imply that the truth of revelation can be known only to believers? (cf. The Shape of the Past, p. 338). Elsewhere he grants that the sinner “might easily evaluate the competing pictures … on the basis of his own sinful condition, rather than on the basis of … the image of God … in his own person” (“Once upon an A Priori,” p. 389). If men are to assess the facts apart from presuppositions, what empirical considerations give force to such observations as, for example, that we ought to obey the truth, or that sinfulness conditions intellectual evaluation, and that there is an afterlife? Although Montgomery thinks unbelievers can be persuaded by empirical considerations alone, in one amazing passage he seems to suspend the factual significance of all assertions upon a knowledge of its verifying conditions (The Shape of the Past, p. 26).

Cornelius Van Til protests that to invite others to justify their belief in God in view of a rational test is to “start with man as autonomous” and to propose “a modern form of natural theology in the guise of common grace” (The Case for Calvinism, p. 95). To elevate systematic consistency as the test for truth, he contends, in criticism of Carnell, submits the authority of the living God to an examination administered by the natural man as if he were neither creature nor sinner, that is, submits it to “a system of logic by which he, all on his own, decides what can and cannot exist, who assumes that any and all facts are thoroughly explicable whether or not God exists” (in Jerusalem and Athens, p. 365). But this rejoinder seems to imply either that the unbeliever thinks with another system of logic, or it confuses formal logic with a determinate scheme of thought (a natural theology) and thus muddles the demand for logical consistency with an emphasis that there are “areas of ultimate agreement” in competitive world views.

Carnell not only repudiates natural theology, but he rejects any argument for God that proceeds simply from human reasoning (An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, chs. VII–VIII). Yet Carnell does apparently displace one starting point by another: “All logical ultimates must be tested, … and the only way to do this is to work out a still more primitive starting procedure. The synoptic starting point … is the answer to the question, How do you prove the logical starting point?” (A Philosophy of the Christian Religion, pp. 124 f.). “Systematic consistency,” as he names it, goes beyond mere formal validity to include relations with the realm of history and nature (pp. 59 f.). If systematic consistency here becomes an independent and prior principle which deals with the God-idea solely as an hypothesis and arrives at the living God of revelation, then the procedure would provide some justification for Van Til’s complaint that Carnell “first seeks to establish the possibility of God’s existence and of his revelation by an appeal to human experience” (Christian Theistic Evidences, p. 50). This reference of theology not to the Bible but to an experiential criterion for validating theology leads on in Carnell’s Christian Commitment, an Apologetic to an appeal to the natural man’s moral sentiments as well. But does this not minimize the noetic effects of sin? Are the reasoned preferences of fallen man even at his noblest an unprejudiced arbiter in respect to the truth of God? Does man then have the capacity to autonomously determine for himself what is true and false, good and evil? Was this effort not already calamitous even in Eden?

When Pinnock urges us to subscribe to a correspondence theory of truth, which finds truth not in internally consistent propositions but in conformity to external facts, the problems of knowledge-theory multiply. If the human mind cannot know reality itself, but only what corresponds to it, the consequence would seem to be skepticism. If we cannot know reality, then what allegedly corresponds to it will not help us much; unless we can know reality itself, reality is unknowable. And if we can know reality, there is no need to know something else that merely corresponds to it. Such considerations should reinforce the view that truth is a consistent system, and that all facets of it (including all facts) have meaning as a part of that system.

There can be only one system of truth, however many theoretical models may be constructed. This emphasis carries us into the arena of theological apologetics, which remains to be discussed below. Secular axioms inevitably fall short of the truth and lead to self-contradiction in explaining reality. Patient investigation will show how non-revelational interpretation is logically inconsistent and therefore inadequate and at some points even false in its effort to account for the whole of reality and life.

The revealed facts of the Christian system of truth can indeed be coherently correlated with all other information, including empirical data involving chronology, geography, history, and psychological experience as well. But it seems to me no colossal gain for Christianity if one advocates a coherence theory of truth, as does Van Til, and simultaneously exempts Christian revelation from logical self-consistency. To contend that assertions are true if they hang together is inadequate, particularly when all that so hang together may ultimately prove to be less than logical. On the other hand, Dorothy Emmet thinks it necessary to abandon coherence as a test of truth in order to save significance for the experience of the transcendent (The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking, p. 118). This, too, hardly preserves the cause she would thereby advance, although it is true that nonbiblical expositions of the transcendent do indeed ultimately sacrifice logical consistency and coherency (and thereby attest their invalidity). Miss Emmet’s complaint that the search for coherence “tempts us to present our explanatory ideas as a closed system instead of as interpretations of a relation” to transcendent reality, and the consequent resort to analogy as the preferable basis for “a sound theology” is unfortunate, since it involves forfeiting both logical coherence and univocal knowledge or literal truth about the Divine.

Those reluctant both to appeal either to logical consistency or to coherence and to equate the content of revealed religion with reason’s demand for finality point out that fallen man’s reason is retarded by the moral prejudices of a will inhospitable to the full truth about God. It is surely the case that the Christian revelation judges the experience of the uncommitted in respect to whatever organizing principle the unbeliever may employ, as well as in respect to a fuller knowledge of reality and the critical rejection of determinative elements of nonrevelational views. But the nature of truth is such that the Christian revelation is formally intelligible to all men; it convincingly overlaps ineradicable elements of everyman’s experience, and offers a more consistent, more comprehensive and more satisfactory explanation of the meaning and worth of life than do other views. How shall the unbeliever recognize the superiority of Christian claims if the logical weaknesses of his alternative are not exposed, and the superiority of revelational truth in confronting the basic issues of reality and life are not exhibited? The reluctance to give proper scope to consistency and coherence militates against a swift elimination of misconceptions.

Christianity supplies impetus for a comprehensive and consistent interpretation of reality and it is applicable to all the experiences of life. It embraces knowledge of the ultimate world and anticipates man’s future destiny. It exhibits the wonder of the cosmos, the meaning and worth of individual existence, the purpose of history and the role of society and culture, the grip of moral values and the power of love. All this it does in the context of the worship and service of God. It best “saves the appearances,” that is, besides avoiding logical contradictions and disconnections in its fundamental principles, it accounts most adequately for human experience. But to insist that the truth of revelational theism most consistently and coherently explains the empirical data is something very different from professing to validate the core-commitments of Christian theism wholly on empirical grounds. Christian theism nonetheless promises incomparably rewarding experiential consequences in the lives of those who personally appropriate the truths of revealed religion and its eschatological end-time encompasses a universally irresistible confirmation of its validity.

5. The proper task of theology is to exposit and elucidate the content of Scripture in an orderly way.

Christian theology is the systematization of the truth-content explicit and implicit in the inspired writings. It consists essentially in the repetition, combination, and systematization of the truth of revelation in its propositionally given biblical form. The province of theology is to concentrate on the intelligible content and logical relationships of this scripturally given revelation, and to present its teaching as a comprehensive whole.

The ideal procedure would be to arrange all the truths of Christianity logically by summarizing and systematizing the texts and teaching of Scripture and supplying an exposition of the logical content and implications of the Bible on its own premises. Pinnock is right in insisting: “The exegesis of Scripture … has absolute priority over all systems.… Scripture is capable of disciplining her theologians and correcting their work” (Biblical Revelation, p. 135). But Scripture is itself implicitly systematic. No one who contends that the Bible as a literary document is a canon of divinely inspired truths can hold otherwise without reflecting adversely on the mind of God.

The ideal of systematic explanation and completeness was not simply borrowed by modern science from the great philosophers of the past or evoked by experience; its roots are far deeper in the very nature of man as a reflective being and in sustained constructive thought, and beyond that in the fact that man as a distinctive creature of God stands continually in touch with revelation. If modern philosophy of science, alongside its enduring aim of systematic unity, is spurred to temporary explanations of the universe of a mainly regulative and ongoingly revisable kind, then Christian theology all the more should exhibit a revelationally constitutive exposition of reality in view of God’s declared purpose for man and the world.

Gordon Clark points out that the initial implausibility of a system of theological axioms and theorems explanatory of all reality derives from a failure to acknowledge the all-comprehensive character of the truth of God. This failure is abetted by the widespread contemporary conviction that the secular sciences are largely if not wholly true, whereas Christianity is thought to imply their total falsity (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 97). The axioms of theology are indeed all-comprehensive and deny the logical independency of the sciences; man cannot live respectably with a double standard of truth. In principle, Christianity implies the theologizing of chemistry, biology, history and all realms of truth. “There is nothing more implausible in theologizing chemistry than in positivizing or hegelianizing it” (p. 97). But, Clark emphasizes, Hegelianism, positivism and the Marxist view of history are false not because they are theologically unsanctioned, but rather because they are fallacious.

On first hearing, the term axiomatization might seem to imply a geometricizing of theology, or transmuting the truth of Christianity into something akin to Spinozistic rationalism. But axiomatization is simply the best means of demonstrating the logical consistency of a given system of thought, and showing that all logically dependent theorems flow from the basic axioms. If God is himself the Truth and the origin and substance of all truth is to be found in him, if revelation is its source and truth is a unity as Christianity contends, then such axiomatization would be the model way to overcome the notion that Christianity is deduced from first principles held in common with other religions or world views; it would also avoid an inconsistent adoption or unwitting espousal of alien beliefs.

Such theological arrangement of propositions into a system of axioms and theorems has never been achieved. In the past, orthodox theologians strove valiantly toward this goal. But Schleiermacher, the father of Protestant modernism, appealed to experience rather than to revelation and Scripture as the source of the content of theology; he thereby diverted theological interest to religious psychology, and considered even the definition of God revisable. Neoorthodox champions of an anti-intellectual view of revelation also redefine the nature of dogmatics, and disdain the historic Christian approach as doctrinaire and rationalistic. Karl Barth proposed in the name of the Word of God (“God’s Word is God’s Son”) to erect “a real and effective barrier” against the view of the Protestant Reformers that Holy Scripture is “a fixed body of revealed propositions to be systematized like the sections of a corpus of law” (Church Dogmatics I/1, p. 156). But Barth’s alternative presupposes a theory of nonpropositional revelational truth that collapses under the weight of inherent contradictions, and runs counter to the very witness of Scripture itself. Although Barth strenuously insisted on the truth of revelation and repudiated all skeptical denials of true knowledge of God, his paradoxic theory of knowledge frustrated a revelational conception of God and revelational speech about him (cf. II/1, p. 192).

The fact that no theologian has succeeded as yet in fully arranging the truth of revelation in the form of axioms and theorems is no reason to abandon this objective. As Gordon Clark remarks, “It has never been accomplished in geology either. Only in geometry, not even in arithmetic, and possibly in mechanics has the ideal of axiomatization been brought to actuality” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 69). If rationality and system are intrinsic to theology, then the arrangement of theological teaching in axioms and theorems remains a legitimate and ideal goal. One polemicist has proposed that this task of axiomatization be the first assignment to neo-Protestant theologians in hell (with Rev. 22:19, kjv as a key verse: “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life”) because of their propensity for picking and choosing, retaining and rejecting, postulating and reorganizing the data of revelation on their own premises. But it would be a sad commentary on evangelical fulfillment indeed, were that to be man’s earliest prospect of an orderly logical exposition of the entire revelational content of the Bible.

The point is not that Christian scholars can attain infallibility in this life. Too often the distinction is forgotten between the canonical content of revelation and systems derived from it for which absolute claims are made. Yet the content of revelation does indeed lend itself to systematic exposition, and the more orderly and logical that exposition is, the nearer the expositor will be to the mind of God in his revelation. Montgomery stresses that the gaps in revelational data have resulted in the emergence of different systems of Christian theology. We do not indeed as yet have a theology of glory. Even the apostles had to confess their knowledge to be only “in part,” and even this knowledge includes elements that, while not beyond human understanding, await profounder clarification. Not only Calvin and Luther in Reformation times, but even in modern times revelationally presuppositional theologians like Gordon Clark, Herman Dooyeweerd and Cornelius Van Til mount theistic schemas on somewhat different premises. The danger confronts us continually of formulating models on hypotheses not really required by revelation, and forcing into these assumptions and deductions what is merely surmised to follow, and of disowning as unauthentically biblical anyone who questions the propriety of doing this.

Pinnock emphasizes that Scripture includes doctrinal and historical gaps which preclude the infallible elaboration of a total theological system. But if this totally precludes the elaboration of a consistent exposition of the content of revelation, then Christianity is at great disadvantage and revelation does not count for much in the intellectual conflict of ideas. The Christian alternative to a priori speculative systems is an orderly exegesis of revelational truth. Were the doctrines of the Trinity, of divine election and human responsibility, of the two natures of Christ logically contradictory doctrines, no evangelical Christian could or should accept and believe them. A systematic exposition of the truth of revelation will include a persuasive statement of these doctrines, no less than of divine election and the universal offer of the Gospel. It is the duty of theology to criticize and to revise the church’s own statements about God and his will in the light of Scripture, and to promote faithful pulpit proclamation of the truth of revelation.

6. The theology of revelation requires the apologetic confrontation of speculative theories of reality and life.

By applying the laws of logic, the Christian apologist will mount internal criticism of contrary positions and expose the contradictions inherent in the axioms of secularism; he will thereby reduce to absurdity the successively proffered alternatives to Christian theism and force the intellectual abandonment of speculative views. At the same time, he will exhibit the internal consistency of the Christian axioms and show that evangelical truth far better accounts for any desirable facets of a proffered alternative while also avoiding its logical inconsistencies.

Barth contends that an answer to the question “Is God knowable?” does not require of theologians a long detour into dogmatic prolegomena. Contrary to the lengthy discourses on methodology long in vogue, he remarks, the great ancient and medieval theologians made only brief prefatory comments. But does this brevity of prolegomena in the past really justify neglecting the question of methodology today?

Brunner insists, contrary to Barth, that our age requires detailed attention to prolegomena. In earlier generations dogmaticians concentrated on the special aspects of theology then under attack. In modern times the church faces wholesale doubt “whether there is such a thing as revelation …; the distinctive marks of all Christian theology, the norm, the concept of revelation … and so the problem of intellect and revelation is the issue at stake.” Barth replies that dogmatics should be determined solely by the nature of revelation, not at all by the prevailing climate (Church Dogmatics I/1, p. 28). The denial of revelational truth, he emphasizes, is not peculiarly modern; Christianity has had to contend with pagan gods and peculiar notions of revelation in antiquity, and even the Middle Ages had their standpoint of unbelief. The outlook of earlier centuries was therefore no more favorable than that of ours to the gospel; unbelievers in all ages reject the transcendent revelation of God.

Yet, although the present situation of unbelief does not wholly and basically differ from that in past ages, may not the temper of twentieth-century thought nonetheless require special attention to apologetics? Or to sharpen the issue, does Barth’s own peculiar notion of the nature and content of revelation require it?

What really underlies Barth’s objection to prolegomena is a particular and idiosyncratic view of revelation which locates its significance for mankind outside the sphere of rational persuasion. Barth insists that Christian theology responsibly confronts the contemporary scene only by witnessing to this unique revelation of God, and not by debating the question whether God exists or discussing the possibility of such a revelation. “There has never been any other effective apologetic and polemic of faith against unbelief than the … one which took place when God himself sided with the witness of faith” (ibid., p. 31). Barth argues that a theology that indulges in rational apologetics takes revelation less seriously than unbelief; it dialogues with the world, he contends, on its own neutral ground of skepticism rather than addresses man as one overtaken in his unbelief. “Apologetics and polemics can only be an event, they cannot be a program” (p. 33).

But because the nature of revelation—and not the contemporary spirit nor some point of presuppositional contact in secular theory—determines the direction theological exposition ought to take, does it follow that dogmatics must be carried on indifferently to so-called world-wisdom and without apologetic interests? Let it be granted that natural theology charts a wrong course which obscures divine revelation to the hurt of both the church and the world, and that no “common presuppositions” supply a bridge between faith and unbelief. But ought all apologetics therefore be considered detrimental to dogmatics? Must not theology necessarily concern itself with an intellectual refutation of current influential secular theories and pagan philosophies if it would persuasively reach those for the truth of revelation who are in the grip of such non-Christian alternatives?

Barth curiously admits that “every human doctrine and theory, for all its logic can and necessarily will reveal at some point an hiatus and contain and tolerate its own contradiction within itself. The Biblical witness … does not spin out a human idea, alongside which other and contradictory ideas can and must have a place, as is the case with all human systems of thought” (Church Dogmatics, II/1, p. 105). Over against the truth of revelation all speculative theories shelter some marked internal lack of consistency and self-contradiction; nonrevelational viewpoints are all prospects for illogical exposure and reduction to absurdity. If the Christian system of doctrine is true, then deductions derived from contrary axioms must be false.

Of course, if one holds that revelation lacks rational clarity, inner consistency and coherence, it is not difficult to see why theology would have no persuasive message for the outside world. Its content could not then be made intelligible either to the man in the street or to scholars in the classroom, not even by men of the cloth. But the Bible itself commends a very different apologetic methodology, from Yahweh’s exhortation, “Come … let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18, kjv) to Paul’s disputations in the synagogue (Acts 17:17); even the Psalmist’s declaration that it is “the fool” who “says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Ps. 14:1, rsv) implies a certain unwillingness to credit adequate evidence. The New English Bible translates the Isaian passage: “Come now, let us argue it out.” In an amazing passage Barth says that “it can never at all be evident in any statement of any theologian whether it stands on this or that side of the boundary” of “the merest hair’s breadth” that separates “the via regia of divine simplicity and the way of the most incredible deception” (Anselm: Fides Quaerens Intellectum, p. 70). To this Clark forcefully retorts: “This … is devastating, for it means … we have no reason to believe Anselm was right …, that it can never be evident on which side of the boundary Barth himself stands …, that neither the writer nor the preacher … can have any confidence in his own judgment” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 88). In that case, theology would need to cut itself off from more than the outside world. For it could scarcely be meaningful to the church either; indeed, it would be solely “for the birds.” If the line between truth and heresy is “never … at all evident”; if it matters that little what anybody believes (and surely Barth himself in many passages elsewhere repudiates this notion); if a man can be a Christian though he thinks God is dead, or that revelation is a myth, or that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of a Roman soldier, or that the universe is simply an evolutionary emergent, or that the ultimately real world is merely a mathematically connectable sequence of events, then theology need say nothing about secular theory, because no theory is then any longer identifiably pagan or non-Christian, and Christian theology is not assuredly nonpagan. Whatever Christian theology may be in these circumstances, it has little if anything to do with truth.

One might also hold—though hardly so from the scriptural standpoint—that since God gives new life to the penitent, logic and intellectual considerations are therefore not essential to regeneration. On this premise theological instruction would be useless even if it communicates Christian doctrine in its inner consistency. But that emphasis collides head-on with the biblical view, however compatible it may be with the speculative notion that divine revelation communicates no truth about God. And its implications for regeneration are no less devastating than for revelation.

But if theology rests on intelligible divine disclosure and seeks to present truth in systematic form, then it most surely contains a structured argument against competing views, and apologetics cannot be contrasted with it as something wholly different and distinct from theology. In that case, theological prolegomena may perfectly well occupy itself with the implications of the revelation of God for contemporary alternatives, whose specious principles eclipse the truth of the Word of God. Theology may and must remain alert to the contemporary unbeliever’s special difficulties with Christianity. If Christianity traffics in the truth—not merely “truth for Christians” but truth valid for all men—it must speak to the outside world. It dare not overlook unbelief—not simply because unbelief dangles glittering temptations through its caricaturing of Christianity before the world, but because revelational truth, if that is what Christians know and believe, can reduce all its secular alternatives to special pleading and absurdity.

In summary, Christianity is rational religion because it is grounded in the rational living God and his meaningful revelation. Secular theories elaborated independently of the truth of revelation either exaggerate or limit the nature of reason and thought and language in a manner that the Christian knows distorts the actual state of things. Not only the apostate abandonment of revelation as the basic Christian axiom in epistemology, but also weak and fallacious views of divine revelation as well, needlessly obscure the truth of evangelical theism. The truth of revelation is dimmed also by an unbelief in the authority and reliability of Scripture, since this dilutes God’s Word and speech. It is shadowed too by failure to expound the Bible logically and systematically, and by every accommodation of doctrinal heresy. Many baneful tendencies have settled over contemporary churches in a day when theologians are themselves at odds over the method of knowing spiritual truth, and over the criteria for verifying it. This confusion is an unavoidable penalty, indeed a divine punishment, for forfeiting the truth of revelation. If divine revelation is intelligible, as biblical Christianity insists, then God’s communication of truth and provision of information is its vital center. In that event, the revelational significance of concepts and words, and of propositional truth, is indispensably important.


Empirical Verification and Christian Theism

Just as the question “Do electrons exist?” makes little sense, says J. C. C. Smart, unless one can point to an affirmative example, so the question “Does God exist?” lacks clear meaning for the unconverted (“The Existence of God,” p. 41). In their statements about God, we are told, Christians point to nothing that might refute their affirmations and hence might just as well be speaking of an invisible elephant.

But need we exhibit a concrete example in order to define a term? Surely we can define a dinosaur or a witch, even if we have never seen one. Such definitions, moreover, are intelligible to atheists and theists alike. The idea of God is not at all as nebulous, even for the unconverted, as some critics would have it. What is rather the case, as John Wisdom notes, is that statements about invisible electrons—and one might add, invisible elephants—do not invite as much philosophical anxiety as do statements about God (Paradox and Discovery, p. 49). A great deal of that anxiety, moreover, derives from needlessly confusing God-verification with elephant-verification or electron-verification.

The question of meaning is a very different question from that of the logical supports adduced by the Christian for a God of infinite power and incomparable love when critics counter his assertion with arguments from the misery and wretchedness of the world we know. It differs also from the question whether Christian theistic claims are compatible with human experience, and what role, if any, empirical considerations have in verifying or falsifying theological statements.

We have argued that a logical system—and Christianity claims to be a logically consistent system of revelational truths—must depend on undemonstrated axioms. Even logical positivism assumes and does not verify its fundamental axiom, a point not to be forgotten when reading the words of A. J. Ayer in the next paragraph. Yet in the area in which any postulate claims truth, the demand for verifiability by an appropriate methodology is wholly proper. There must, of course, be agreement on applicable rules and on what evidence is capable of defeating a theory. It is arbitrary to require verification by an alien methodology or in areas in which truth is not claimed.

What empirical evidence, Ayer asked, tends to support or negate our affirmations? According to his verification principle, “a sentence is factually significant to any given person if and only if he knows how to verify the proposition which it purports to express—that is, if he knows what observations would lead him, under certain circumstances, to accept the proposition as being true, or reject it as being false” (Language, Truth, and Logic, p. 35). To be sure, the positivist thesis required no final proof since no empirical statement can be verified absolutely. It did, however, require a stipulation of empirical evidence by which our affirmations can be tested if they are not to be dismissed as meaningless assertions. In short, statements are meaningful only if we know what could verify or falsify them empirically.

While its call for verifying principle and evidential support was wholly proper, positivism arbitrarily restricted the area of meaningful discourse and of factual content by assuming that only empirical tests alone are admissible. Such methodology guaranteed in advance that empirical statements alone may be factually substantive. Statements about nonsensory concerns were swept aside as “nonsense” statements; one might as well say “ugh” or say nothing at all as to say “God is love,” or “fornication is wicked,” or “rainbows are beautiful.”

That “public verification” by the scientific method is the only compelling foundation for human commitment has been widely affirmed in recent decades. But the significance and intent of this claim are not selfevident. While all scientists agree that empirical hypotheses are to be submitted to impartial verification—a minimal characterization of the scientific method—they do not universally agree on an exact definition of such empirical methodology. Those who limit scientific qualification to statements given in precise quantitative formulas are challenged by others who insist that “empirical” observation has a far wider range than this. But in that case, does the arena of the sciences then include or exclude such studies as history, aesthetics, ethics and theology? The same ambiguities arise when the guideline of impartial observation is cited. The proponents of scientific method apparently fumble over what is scientific when defining their methodology. Wide as may be the variety of techniques and methods in scientific procedures, logical positivism has been most precise and influential in delineating the implications of empirical verification or falsification for theological claims, with the result that verification of hypotheses is now considered the preeminent scientific method.

Staggered by the positivist backlash, some timid theists accommodatingly conceded that religious beliefs are not demonstrably true, but insisted that their importance nonetheless makes them “reasonable.” After all, what confers enduring import on spiritual affirmations, they said, is their correlation with values and goodness and with the final triumph of right. If theological statements are cognitively vacuous, it was added, then the atheists who comment that “there is no God” foster the same foolishness as theists who insist that “God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Yet it brought cold comfort to say that while both the atheist and theist presumably speak nonsense, the theist speaks “important” nonsense.

Positivists supposedly stripped Christian truth-claims of objective validity because these claims cannot be empirically tested. The critical question now turned from whether Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ to whether and how such a claim can be certified. Religion, it was said, plays its own language-game, and its victories and losses have only internal significance. D. Z. Phillips, who once believed that religious tenets are a matter of ecclesiastical gamesmanship and have no relevance outside the church, later repudiated this view. He came to insist that the force of religious beliefs depends in part upon their relation to external considerations. Religion indeed has its own vocabulary, but its importance is undermined by connecting it to other beliefs only in fantastic or ludicrous ways.

Each kind of certainty, Ludwig Wittgenstein insisted, has its own form of validation or verification; one cannot verify an assertion by methods appropriate only to other kinds of statements. William E. Hordern astutely notes that many ethical analysts prefer to speak not of “verifying” moral statements but of “justifying,” “validating” or “giving sound reasons” for them. In their tendency to restrict the term verify to empirical scientific assertions, he detects an unfortunate and unnecessary implication that ethical statements cannot be as legitimately and demonstrably true as other statements. He declares: “I see no better reason to accept the logical-positivist redefinition of ‘verify’ than there is to accept its redefinition of ‘meaning’ ” (Speaking of God, p. 92).

To the extent that the verification principle refers to meaning in empirical science and logic, to that extent the logical positivist procedure has value for unmasking the pretenses of so-called scientific ethics or scientific theology claiming empirical confirmation. But the claim that nonempirical statements are meaningless is not automatically to be considered authoritative. Rather, as William Zuurdeeg emphasizes, its champions merely use convictional language expressing only their particular point of view (An Analytical Philosophy of Religion, pp. 14 ff.). Because theological and ethical statements cannot be verified by empirical methods does not mean, as the positivists erroneously and arbitrarily conclude, that they are beyond verification. Such a judgment stems purely from the metaphysical theory that only empirical experience supplies evidence about reality.

The Hindu, the Christian and the logical positivist have similar sense experiences (not identical, to be sure, because every individual’s perceptions differ). The essential difference between them occurs not in what they see, hear, smell or taste, but in what they think about reality. The positivist thinks that sense data alone can relate us to the real world; the Hindu thinks that sense data are illusory and lead away from the real world; the Christian thinks that the phenomenal world is a real creation that witnesses to its Creator. The Christian speaks of God who in some way transcends the universe and who cannot be reduced to the orderly processes of nature or to tangible entities probed by empirical science. The Judeo-Christian religion insists that God is invisible and immaterial Spirit, and in no way identical ontologically with the created universe; this emphasis ranges biblical theism squarely against pantheism and naturalism.

Biblical Christianity is not inimical to closely reasoned argument, however much certain dialectical and existential proponents of so-called revelational confrontation may, like Heidegger, Sartre and Jaspers, simply assert what faith allegedly demands. Those who venture affirmations about reality—whether about God or the soul or electrons—should consider and not sidestep the meaning and mode of verification proper to any important affirmation. It is hardly compatible with meaningful Christianity to insist on premises about God that we have no reason to think true or that are held to be beyond human comprehension. As John Wilson reminds us, “unless a metaphysical statement can be provided with an agreed meaning and agreed verification, it is of no use in communicating truths” (Language and the Pursuit of Truth, p. 72). Unless there is a way of falsifying a proposition, one can hardly insist on its truth, for its logical status remains suspect and its factual significance in doubt. It matters little whether one speaks of verifiability, confirmability or falsifiability since, as Aristotle said, the science of contraries is one; the principle of verification and falsification, therefore, is one and the same.

To reject any test of revelation is a characteristic approach of that school of theology anticipated by Tertullian and Pascal and made prominent by Kierkegaard and Barth. It affirms that divine revelation requires only an inner faith-response, that any demand for rational proof or for supportive evidence is inappropriate to it. But a demand for faith alone, devoid of rationally intelligible content and of evidential supports for the truth of faith-claims, would lead to incredulity. If we are confronted only by an apparently absolute demand for obedient trust—say, for unreserved faith in eht noitpmeder fo dog—might this not as readily be Satan obtruding himself as a mysterious angel of Light as to be the redemption of God cryptically spelled backwards? Faith is indeed a divine gift, but it is not graced by absurdity nor conferred amid an absence of evidence.

It in no way helps to contend, as some do, that while God knows the truth of theological beliefs, our finitude precludes comprehending their meaning or truth. Such a view destroys both the possibility of intelligible divine communication to man, and the possibility of human beings to communicate about God to each other. As Robert Coburn points out, were we to accept as the basis of theology an emphasis that God knows a truth that men cannot know, then contradictory statements could be made about him without anyone’s knowing or suspecting the fact. Moreover; men would construct true or false statements about God without anyone’s knowing why these or any other statements would be true or false. What is more, even though all men held some particular belief, no one would understand what another believes (“The Hiddenness of God and Some Barmecidal Surrogates,” pp. 698 f.). Coburn’s intention can be preserved without denying that God may indeed know some things—e.g., certain theorems of geometry—that we do not know in this life, and perhaps will not even in the life to come.

While, says Wilson, in the case of “there are men on Mars” we have an agreed verification method, in affirmations like “God will save the righteous” it is “not at all agreed what is to count as good evidence …; indeed, the individual words ‘God,’ ‘save’ and ‘righteous’ are very vague, and their use is not established. Because of this lack of agreement about verification, the meaning of the statement is also dubious” (Language and the Pursuit of Truth, p. 71). The sciences “flourish and produce useful results,” he adds, “partly because they use empirical and analytic statements, and hence the conditions of truth can be satisfied.… But … certain ‘branches of knowledge’ (or what is supposed to be knowledge) do not seem to flourish in the same way” (p. 80). “Great sages and philosophers … and moralists have appeared … but … mankind as a whole seems to be no nearer the truth.… Here, unlike other ‘branches of knowledge,’ no statements are put forward which everyone thinks to be obviously true” (p. 81). In other words, questions like “Does God exist?” and “Ought I to obey the Ten Commandments?” get diverse replies because such statements do not satisfy the “first two conditions of truth” (p. 82), namely, an agreed meaning and an agreed method of verification.

Metaphysical statements, Wilson says in summary, are “statements about whose meaning and method of verification we are not agreed, or which (so far as we can see) seem to have no meaning or method of verification at all.… To call a statement ‘metaphysical’ is like putting a letter in the ‘pending’ tray: it means that we do not yet know what it means or how to verify it, and that therefore we must reserve judgment about whether it is true or not” (ibid., p. 70). Statements about justice, beauty, truth, natural rights, the will, the self, whose meaning and verification Wilson finds “obscure and not properly established” (p. 71), are said to be of this kind. The clear implication is that no God-statements, or statements about theological matters, are to be regarded as fact-statements unless further experiments or further experiences are in hand. But it should be obvious that the decisive issue is not whether “everyone thinks” certain claims are true, but whether they are so in fact, and that science is constantly subject to ongoing revision of its judgments. If there is any final word, it must of necessity be a word of divine revelation. To put all metaphysical statements (except Wilson’s?) in a “pending” tray is to exclude in advance divine revelation as an option.

In his Gifford Lectures, H. H. Price remarks, quite to the point, that “a reasonable being should not be expected to commit himself irrevocably to the truth of a proposition unless he has conclusive evidence that the proposition is indeed true, which he seldom has …” (Belief, p. 30). Except for tautologies of logic and mathematics, Price is prone to condition human knowledge upon empirical considerations, and since such evidence is always fragmentary rather than complete, this is to insist on the tentative and revisable character of all man’s intellectual commitments. But if Price can venture in the absence of “conclusive evidence” to tell us the truth about man’s overall religious predicament, then others surely may do so also, and point instead to persuasive supports for evangelical claims about God and his will for man.

In critically assessing the limits of scientific methodology, evangelical Christians would be foolhardy to call it pernicious or useless, for scientific verification is virtually indispensable in modern life. The high degree of reliability attained by science has outwardly transformed contemporary civilization. If theology withholds proper credit from a method of inquiry that has helped conquer disease and improve living conditions for millions of people, it will do so at its own expense.

Yet modern thought is empirically oriented because of the spectacular achievements of practical science and puts ever-increasing pressure upon religious claims for experiential validation. It is often overlooked, however, that the immense changes and continuing revisions, even in the most basic laws of physics, indicate their complete unreliability as objective descriptions of nature. The Schrödinger wave theory is probably the most stable of contemporary laws, but what scientist can be certain that it will survive the twentieth century? In empirical science an evanescent or even false theory can be highly useful—as all nineteenth-century physics attests—but theology dare not harbor false postulations of the nature and activity of God.

In pursuing the significance of theological and ethical claims, Christians accordingly need to guard against an unwitting importation of positivist prejudices. To make religious experience—whether the feelings, or volition, or moral sentiment, or even empirical arguments from the world—the rationale for Judeo-Christian beliefs leads invariably and inevitably to a dilution of the biblical view. Many natural theologians now shift away from the classical proofs to other forms of argument. Their approach, as in F. R. Tennant’s case, appeals to the data of human experience independent of any reference to divine disclosure. The whole tradition of modern empirical philosophy since Hume’s time has weighed against any demonstration of a transcendent infinite God from premises concerning the space-time universe, man included. Analytical philosophy has deepened these doubts; it has pointed out the subtle changes in meaning that occur in concepts basic to analogical arguments when causality is escalated into First Cause, physical order into Intelligent Designer, and conscience into Moral Lawgiver (cf. John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, 1st ed., pp. 356 f.).

Even some theologians, aware of the dangers of shifting the case for theism from rational to empirical considerations, nonetheless tend to expound Judeo-Christian metaphysics on the basis of experience instead of appealing to logical consistency. Just what verifying role experience fills in these formulations is seldom clear. When experience is ranged alongside consistency as a test of truth, it is often difficult to see which takes priority. Indeed, one has an uneasy impression that multiple criteria are alternated to promote a preconceived metaphysics. Christianity does indeed claim to “save the appearances,” and it is in no way invalidated by empirical considerations, but it lifts the discussion of verification to a higher plane than the empirical.

Peter Genco, for one, proposes to exhibit an empirical anchorage for theism. This he does by extending the semantical method of Rudolph Carnap and James W. Cornman in regard to the reality of entities, and by appropriating the views of Paul Feyerabend, Thomas Kuhn and Roy W. Sellars about theoretic altering of the “objective” content of a conceptual framework. He asks why the term God is less fruitful than the term electron “as a non-extensive, non-defined term used to name the cause for the observable consequences schematically attributed to it” (“Verification,” p. 216). Used thus neither God nor electron is merely shorthand terminology for the empirical manifestations traced to that particular term; to deny the objectivity of electrons or of God would cancel an ontological commitment to an interpretative framework that calls for verification or falsifiability. Each term stipulates a specific cause believed to account for correlative observable phenomena: an inference is possible by identifying behavioral manifestations with their postulated causes (p.218). One may correlate observable patterns with God or electrons when looking for supporting empirical evidence, but the observational method of critical testing and experimentation is not the source of metaphysical affirmations. The ontology Genco emphasizes is not derived from empirical data; rather, the data are explained by the conceptual scheme (p. 219). But what if God and electron have the same meaning? Or is that possibility to be ruled out in advance?

Contemporary science presumably welcomes any scheme and even any plurality of frameworks that achieves predictable results. How far, however, is faith in the living God of revelation served by emphasizing that physical objects which most mortals take for granted do not really “exist”; that our sense perceptions may be explained by competitive hypotheses; that an interpreter’s preferred conceptual scheme will explain his experience in a subjectively satisfactory manner? If electrons may be said to exist only because scientists interpreting the empirical phenomena within the framework of quantum physics ascribe to them certain observable consequences, is it a logical victory for theism to similarly say that God exists because many persons who interpret experience within the framework of theistic metaphysics refer certain phenomena to him? Percy Bridgman asserts and argues that there is no such thing as an electromagnetic field (The Logic of Modern Physics, p. 57). Would this approach count as evidence in support of a death-of-God theology? Morris Cohen and Ernest Nagel concede that at the advanced stages of science “an incalculable aesthetic element” enters into the choice between rival theories (An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method, p. 215). Is the theistic option therefore to be commended by some scholars as more beautiful than alternative views?

Genco is quite right that metaphysical presuppositions intrude at every level of scientific inquiry, and that no level of empirical observation can be isolated as objectively factual in and of itself; theoretical considerations are operative at all levels of observation, experiment and interpretation. Scientific explanation is not to be bifurcated into an ontological dualism of theoretical and observational universes, the latter presumably holding priority because it has an inherently invariable meaning uncolored by metaphysical theory.

The only type of “existence” that Genco vindicates for electrons as possible to theoretical constructs in science is that of temporary functional serviceability and fruitfulness in research. But when he extends this approach to other frameworks (e.g., theological and moral), what happens to nonempirical conceptualities such as God and ethical norms? While he agrees that different requirements attach to these differing frameworks, he contends that “it does not follow the reasons will differ for allowing that various entities do exist” (“Verification,” p. 221). Within the context of his argument Genco’s notion of existence would confessedly “still amount to no more than an acceptance of certain schematic forms of discourse. To be real in a theological or scientific sense simply means to be an element of the respective framework.”

But the terms real and exist can be predicates of everything; therefore they distinguish nothing. A mirage is real—a real mirage—and even dreams “exist.” The discussion over “God or electron?” ought therefore to be oriented rather to the question “What are they?” Has this God-postulate and conceptuality by which man proposes to explain observable phenomena anything in common with the living God of creation and redemption, with the God who nowhere leaves himself without attestation, with the self-revealed God? How serviceable to a theology of revelation is this beggarly possibility of God’s existence suspended only on certain empirical manifestations correlated with the God-idea? To be sure, Christianity champions a general divine revelation, and the very idea of God has by faithful expositors of the biblical view been grounded universally in the imago Dei. But a self-revealing source is very different from a hypothetical explanatory divinity that is merely conjectured or postulated.

Such experiential appeals forfeit a stable and invariable ontology. The God of Christianity is not simply a hypothetical ontological category but the self-revealed source and support of everything else. The scientist may indeed consider the “existence” of electrons fruitful; the Christian affirms that God is eternal and unchanging Spirit. It is possible to view empirical entities as posits epistemologically akin to the Homeric gods; to view the God of the Bible in that way, however, would eclipse the self-disclosed Creator. No Christian will long consider the postulation of deity to be fruitful in the absence of the true and living God.

Genco rightly notes that to accept an ontological framework “does not free one from the responsibility of providing evidence justifying the internal proposition that there are electrons or that there is a God.” But just what would count as “empirical support” for God-statements? How is one to vindicate the utility of the God-idea in distinction from the electron-idea?

In discussing the kind of evidence a theistic framework demands, Genco examines the proposition “God was incarnate in Jesus.” A theistic-schema employs the sentence, he informs us, in order “to say something about the kind of person Jesus was.” It implicitly asserts that “Jesus manifested God-like powers and characteristics to a degree that marked him off from all other men” (“Verification,” p. 222). Genco overrules the objection that without first defining God, one cannot elucidate “Godlikeness” in the life of Jesus; this he does on the ground—not beyond dispute, we think—that “electronlike” manifestations are explicable in a scientific framework without advance definition of electrons. The question is: what characteristics—in view of which one could appropriately say he manifested Godlike powers—would a God-incarnating person manifest?

Genco insists that the unique experiences surrounding Jesus’ birth and life—a virgin birth, control over nature, a holy life, the transfiguration, and his resurrection from the dead (p. 224)—are to be correlated as necessary factors with the statement that God was incarnate in Jesus. Evidence of Mary’s virginity, of Jesus’ calming the raging sea, of his compassionate healing of the blind and raising the dead, and moreover, of his own moral perfection, crucifixion and resurrection, would be schematically justifiable evidence that attests divine incarnation. If the evidence disallows such characteristics and powers to Jesus, then we must disavow the statement that Jesus was God incarnate.

While Genco concedes that “some men have duplicated some of the performances and characteristics of Jesus,” he contends that Jesus was unlike any other man in that “neither quantitatively nor qualitatively has anyone done all that Jesus claimed to have done, nor … all that is said of him” (p. 225). The meaning and truth-value of “God was incarnate in Jesus” is therefore found in Godlike powers and characteristics assertedly exhibited by Jesus, and the empirical expectations attaching to this assertion would adjudicate its truth or falsity.

The problems posed by this approach concern the adequacy of the proposed evidence for Godlikeness as well as the proposed testing procedure. Genco not only circularly borrows his criterion of divinity from the record about Jesus in order to support a divinity claim, but he also implicitly approves the notion that others differ from Jesus only in degree of Godlikeness (a category to which he assimilates virgin birth and resurrection as well as sinlessness), and thus espouses a confusing christology and anthropology. What, moreover, of the proposed method of verification? Could it determine that in the as yet incomplete history of humanity God is incarnate in Jesus alone, or could Jesus theoretically be rivaled if not surpassed in the near future?

The testing method, as Genco sees it, “is similar whether the sentences in question are about God or electrons” (p. 227). A sense of the mystery of existence pervades all human inquiry about reality. But one must correlate a cognitively significant concept with relevant observations for testing, approving or rejecting the explanatory principle in view of supposed consequences. A given perspectival framework can be considered adequate only if its metaphysical and methodological presuppositions account satisfactorily for certain aspects of experience. Where rival frameworks are adduced to explain the same phenomena, and both are judged adequate to account for the observational data, their choice rests, says Genco, upon one’s schematic commitment with respect to reality as a whole, upon logical consistency within that framework, and upon the strength or weakness of supportive evidence. He does not indicate that one’s aesthetic preferences might actually in such cases be supremely decisive.

Supportive evidence, Genco adds, requires evidential methods and sources appropriate to various modes of reality. Only arbitrary prejudgment can dictate that the scientific-empirical method of observation and experimentation is alone capable of dealing with ontological claims. Metaphysical assertions of whatever sort—mathematical, logical, theological, philosophical—are properly tested only by canons having jurisdiction over them; historical questions likewise are to be adjudicated by criteria appropriate to that discipline. Various interpretative schemes dictate what may properly be counted as evidence for their respective core claims.

To these quite commendable comments on testing method, Genco adds the stipulation that core statements should be correlated with testable claims that are said to exhibit empirical foundations. The question must therefore be raised whether, by borrowing the pattern of schematic explanation from science and applying it to theological discourse, Genco actually succeeds in bringing to theistic claims a method of empirical reinforcement. The logical character of a theistic framework may in principle allow for empirical backing of its core claims; crucially decisive is the question of what and how observable entities serve this purpose. Genco concedes that observation statements in a theological framework “are not open to observational testing procedures in the same sense as … scientific or historical statements” (ibid., p. 250). But ” ‘footholds’ in direct experience … make the non-ostensible entities of theism at least in principle accessible insofar as the framework is concerned” (p. 251).

A foothold is indeed more than a footprint, but the invisible gardener thus empirically postulated is still not the God of intelligible revelation. Systematic theology must have as its basis something far more substantial. The value of Genco’s approach lies not in its demonstration of the existence of the living God; its value lies, rather, in exposing the arbitrariness of positivist claims that purport to undermine the metaphysical, and in reminding us of the limits of logical positivism. Some scholars will no doubt continue to reject a theological framework of interpretation and theistic commitment. They will do so, however, not because theism is an unintelligible option, or because theological core claims lack cognitive validity, or even because no empirical leverage whatever exists for the God of the Bible. The logical positivist criterion of meaning and truth is pure and simple an invalid principle for determining the cognitive significance and validity of theistic core sentences. A schematic ontological presupposition that reduces reality and existence to entities that only the empirical scientific method of sense observation and experiment can validate is logically assailable. A vast range of metaphysically related questions simply cannot be tested by any method of sense observation and experiment. It is an outworn myth, moreover, to represent science as a presuppositionless description of reality.

It is possible, in fact, to identify the ontological context of empirical experience with a variety of metaphysical concepts. Pierre Duhem says it well when he states that in resolving questions like “Does there exist a material reality distinct from sensible appearances?” and “What is the nature of this reality?” one “transcends the methods used by physics” (The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, p. 10).

To vindicate the theistic alternative requires a methodology appropriate to knowledge of God and the truth of revelation; it also requires attention to logical consistency, to the moral demand exerted by the theistic alternative, and to the question of empirical backing. Therefore, in the ongoing scientific quest for comprehensive explanation, the Christian theologian or philosopher must not rest his case on the inherent possibility of shifting frameworks, because such shifts are an unavoidable feature of scientific explanation of empirical behavior. Nor will the Christian scholar be comfortable with two rival frameworks held simultaneously in separate compartments—one a theistic schema, supposedly lacking all jurisdiction in respect to scientific matters, the other a scientific approach, supposedly lacking all theological or metaphysical significance.

Yet the Christian scholar has every right to two or more interpretative frameworks, one a theistic revelational framework covering the universe as a whole, and the other a scientific type as in physics, dealing with the propagation of light, the anatomy of the atom, etc., and involving ongoing revision. While theological explanation does not aim to provide a detailed account of predictable sequences of events and acknowledges the tentativities of scientific explanation, it is not on that account disinterested in predicting the future and making statements about the behavior and structure of the cosmos and history. Nor need it remain silent when scientific explanations trespass on what theology affirms to be the case in view of its own way of knowing; it must emphasize the very narrow scope of science. For science can give no final truth about light and electricity, let alone about morals and religion.

To insist on Christ’s virgin birth and resurrection implies the larger conviction, and indeed presupposes it, namely, that God is providentially and purposively active in the external world of nature and history. Neither science nor history can conclusively deny the occurrence of a dozen virgin births, since no one has or could examine all births. The Christian doctrine of providence affirms that God intends all that occurs for a providential purpose. It does not, however, in the present state of revelation, provide detailed information on ancient Chinese history, the genetic code, electromagnetic fields, and much else. But that is no excuse for deferring to the notion that the verifying consciousness is reducible to discrete momentary perceptual experiences that would demand moment-by-moment confirmation. Consciousness is rather a network of interrelated logical relationships including abstraction that transcends both immediate experience and empirical realities. All this widens the meaning of verification.

What sort of deity is demanded in advance by an epistemic theory that, despite its emphasis on public evidences, in reality acknowledges meaningful reality only if it is definitively manifested at my personal command and then solely to satisfy its requirements for establishing objectively decipherable differences in the physical realm? What Trojan-horse welcome do positivistic theorists propose for theology if they scrutinize only sensuous particulars for traceable differences that are to constitute decisive evidence for or against a nonsensible reality? How can the reality of an invisible mind and will—even that of the logical positivist, who cannot consistently lay claim to one of his own—be validated by a methodology that sees existence only in terms of observable phenomena? The theologian may well remind the scientist that, even if the scientist himself may be woefully unaware of them, his scientific enterprise rests on hidden presuppositions that he, the theologian, knows. The scientist can never come to know these presuppositions or anything else while he limits his probing of reality to the changing perceptions of empirical inquiry.

John Warwick Montgomery, who espouses historical empiricism (or “historical objectivism”) to accredit Christian core-claims, contends that Christianity can be objectively validated by the historical method alone. His argument (cf. The Shape of the Past) may be summarized as follows: Scientific historical method vindicates the Gospels as trustworthy sources for the life of Jesus. In these documents Jesus claims to be God and suspends his claim on his future resurrection from the dead. The resurrection is described in such detail that it can be empirically validated. It cannot be discounted a priori, since miracles are impossible only if so defined (as by Hume). If Christ is God, as his resurrection attests, then he spoke the truth concerning the Old Testament and the soon-to-be-written New Testament. It follows that all biblical assertions concerning philosophy of history are revelationally true and all other presuppositions must therefore be judged by them. While Montgomery concedes that, as in the case of all data derived from historical concerns, these results are “probable,” yet he insists that they support an inerrantly truthful revelation.

Consonant with this emphasis, Montgomery promotes an empirically oriented apologetic. To distinguish fact from fiction, Christians and non-Christians alike must use inductive procedures. The inductive approach, Montgomery says, simply opens up the possibility of distinguishing true revelation from false; it in no way commits one to a scientific metaphysics or denigrates God’s revelation. Anyone can compare alternative interpretations of “fact” and “on the basis of the facts themselves” can determine which interpretation best fits reality. The non-Christian must be driven to see the volitional nature of his rejection of Christ, since in all other spheres but that of Christian claims he regularly accedes to comparable evidence.

The scientific historical method, Montgomery observes, has a certain unwitting indebtedness to Christian presuppositions. Given the alien assumptions of the Renaissance—that the ultimate considerations of historical method are first, man’s sovereign decisions and second, the unpredictabilities of fortune—no plan and purpose will either be expected in history or found. The Reformation stressed the sovereign God’s purpose and plan in historical events, however, and ascribed the dependability and intelligibility of the world to God its creator. No less does the secular empirical scientific historian seek some kind of relational meaning between events. He does not suspect that God’s ongoing universal revelation underlies the coherence of history and precludes its abandonment to contingency. The secularist deals only with quantitative and statistical matters, and the ogre of chance overshadows his outlook even at this level. That does not mean, however, that his views must diverge from those of the Christian interpreter. The Christian recognizes the governance and providence of God and interprets history accordingly in the spirit of Romans 8:28.

Montgomery thrusts aside evangelical criticism of his historical empiricism as a Calvinistically grounded denial that God is clearly present in history. Lutheranism (his affiliation) on the other hand emphasizes God’s disclosure “in, with and under” the external world. Calvinism exaggerates the line between the eternal and temporal, he contends, with a consequent denial of objective truth in history. Calvinists must therefore stress the inner witness of the Spirit as an objective factor. Montgomery errs, however, in implying that Calvin denied God’s unambiguous presence in history. The real issue is whether, pursued independently of other epistemic considerations, historical empiricism leads to the positive conclusions that Montgomery presumes to derive from it.

Let us look more closely at Montgomery’s proposal to accredit Christian core-claims by historical empiricism:

1. The historical method proves the Gospels to be trustworthy sources for the life of Jesus Christ. Can we press this argument, however, apart from certain prior assumptions about the reliability and impartiality of the evangelists, let alone the investigator’s ability to read the texts? Can we marshal impressive independent empirical data outside the New Testament narratives to confirm the intricate web of events reported in the Gospels? Must one not appeal rather to rational consistency than simply to historical method in order to establish the validity of the Gospel portrait? Instead of arguing that historical method proves the documents reliable, would not a preferable emphasis be that any rejection of their historical reliability necessarily involves a surrender of all significant claims about the life and work and import of Jesus of Nazareth?

2. In the Gospels Jesus Christ claims to be God and rests this claim on his future resurrection from the dead. Of Montgomery’s theses this seems one of the least disputable. Although this emphasis considerably narrows the evidential supports adduced by Jesus (cf. John 5:18–47, Luke 16:31), Montgomery would argue that if the narrow basis is sufficient (as he thinks it is), the wider still more corroborates it.

3. The Gospels depict Jesus’ resurrection in such detail that it can be empirically validated. What does Montgomery mean here by empirical validation? Given what we know of Jesus’ ministry and the context in which it appears, a rationally consistent interpretation of the data leads, we believe, to the firm conclusion that Jesus arose bodily from the dead. But that is something different from validation by empirical techniques. Empirical validation of the truth of the accounts requires external evidences, not simply an exhibition of the fact that the content of the narrative is consistent with the event. Does the resurrection of Jesus, taken in isolation as a historical event, and correlated only with his own claim, really prove that Jesus is God? Moreover, does this third plank in Montgomery’s argument really add anything that is not already implicit in the first? If historical method has proved the trustworthiness of the Gospels, then that verdict already comprehends the resurrection of Jesus. It is perhaps noteworthy that many interpreters using simply an empirical approach, or at least professing to do so, consider the resurrection accounts less historical than other parts of the narrative. Bultmann contends that we know virtually nothing of what Jesus said and did except for his death.

4. Only if one antecedently defines miracles as impossible can the resurrection be discounted a priori. But, we respond, even if miracles are declared possible, that would not of itself guarantee the factuality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead.

5. If Christ is God, he spoke truthfully concerning the Old Testament and the soon-to-be-written New Testament. To be sure, the divinity of Christ pledges his veracity in all matters. But this fifth plank in Montgomery’s exposition adds nothing to the first, since all we know of Jesus’ teaching is embraced in the biblical writings which have already been affirmed to be trustworthy.

6. What the Bible teaches about the philosophy of history is revealed truth by which all other presuppositions about history are to be judged. This is the soundest of Montgomery’s emphases, since it immediately relates the content of Scripture to Christianity’s basic epistemological axiom, namely, God’s revelation in his Word. But instead of beginning with this crucial emphasis, and exhibiting its implications in a rationally consistent manner, Montgomery suspends the biblical data first upon empirical method; because of its inherent limitations, however, it can cope with only restricted features of the Gospels and handles its basic concerns inconclusively. In any event the historical method can establish neither Jesus’ absolute (unending) aliveness after crucifixion, nor that he is the first-fruits of a resurrection harvest embracing mankind, nor that his death and resurrection are the ground of human forgiveness.

7. Although the results of historical inquiry do not transcend probability, they nonetheless, says Montgomery, support an inerrantly truthful revelation. This argument seems circular. In point number three Montgomery affirms that the New Testament supplies evidence for the resurrection of Christ; here he tells us that the resurrection validates the inerrancy of the New Testament.

We bear no antipathy toward those who adduce supposedly demonstrative empirical evidences of highly probable “proofs.” But this seems to project a vain foundation for Christian faith, and shifts the basis of belief in such a way as to needlessly invalidate Christianity for those who find a foundational appeal to empirical data unpersuasive. The criticisms of Montgomery’s approach are no more intended to demolish the case for the resurrection and divinity of Jesus than the evaluation of Genco’s approach is intended to repudiate divine incarnation in Jesus Christ. We intend simply to show that the appeal to empirical considerations does not assuredly lead to the indicated positions. Nor does it lead to alternative views. Empiricism by itself leads to nothing. Empirical data are always marshaled in the interest of a given perspective. There cannot even be a “datum” or fact except as defined by a theory; Augustine rightly emphasized that not even the simplest sensations occur without intellectual construction. Even in the empirical sciences, spectacular progress turns on considerations neither derived from empirical induction nor strictly verifiable by it. The prime question is, which perspective is true? The true perspective will most consistently embrace all the data without arbitrarily abridging this in deference to restrictive prejudices. The Christian interpretation is rationally consistent and provides a comprehensively true understanding of history and experience. The final meaning of history cannot be distilled from historical phenomena, but must be derived from supernatural revelation.

This is not to say that one must be a Christian believer in order to grasp the ultimate meaning of history and to be persuaded of the resurrection and divinity of Jesus Christ. One does not need a salvific work of the Holy Spirit or an advance faith-commitment in order to understand Christianity and its historical basis including such specific happenings as the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus. To be sure, prior to conversion one will not be prompted by Christian presuppositions since other motivations will tend to obscure and nullify them. The nonbeliever considers irrationality or chance an equally valid way of interpreting and accounting for data, and does not set any two events in the context of ultimate meaning. For that reason he considers God’s sovereign rule of history and Jesus Christ as its center to be but speculative possibilities—possibilities which, moreover, require so much in the way of personal spiritual renewal that the unregenerate person is far more comfortable in his commitment to secular alternatives. Non-Christian historians frequently write about history as if it has a certain inner coherence. Their plotting of events always reflects an unstable combination of selective preference, however, that is coordinated with fractured remnants of the Christian confidence that history has comprehensive meaning.

The discussion of epistemological method, moreover, is often unfortunately confused with a debate over preferable apologetic tactics. We need to distinguish carefully between the method of epistemic derivation of Christian truth and the method of public presentation and validation used among those cultured despisers who make God a debatable hypothesis rather than a governing presupposition, or that geared to a rescue mission audience grasping for hope, or that suitable among students sometimes more interested in the flesh and the devil than in the divine. But in any case epistemology controls apologetics.

In respect to epistemic derivation we are not inspired prophets or apostles to whom special disclosure has been directly addressed, but are involved instead in additional verificatory procedures. God in his Word is, to be sure, the epistemic source of Christian truth. But the witness of the Spirit overcomes the mediation-gap between the chosen channels of revelation and us as dependent recipients by enlivening the Scriptures as God’s Word to us, through them.

Is it possible for the historian relying solely on empirical considerations to see history in its authentically comprehensive context? Will interpretation of empirical data alone lead him to the Christian understanding? Unlike the natural scientist the historian cannot repeat experiments under controlled conditions (even such repetition does not recall identical sense perceptions for comparison, but must necessarily involve assumptions). Furthermore, evidence relating to past historical events is much more fragmentary than the sort of data probed by the physicist or chemist. The historian cannot directly enter into the minds of men to uncover motives; in judging past event-claims he must accept the statements of others and evaluate narrated happenings solely by their effects in time.

Cornelius Van Til holds that the empirical historical method “requires the destruction of Christianity” and, by accommodating human autonomy and encouraging human independence of God, leads to “rejection of the whole body of Christian beliefs” (The Case for Calvinism, pp. 82, 85). To require that divine authority be empirically tested before a person commits himself to God’s revelation, he contends, is another way of asking, “Yea, hath God said?” (Gen. 3:1, kjv). Van Til affirms that divine authority is self-authenticating. Edward John Carnell, who also rejects the requirement of empirical validation, insists in distinction from Van Til that the Christian truth-claim should be tested logically before committing oneself to it as God’s Word.

No historian and no scientist approaches historical or physical events without presuppositions. He may not wear his view of total reality on his lapel, but he nonetheless interprets the particularities of his life by it. Belief or disbelief in the reality and sovereignty of God and in a divine purpose in history will unmistakably influence one’s interpretation of the data concerning Jesus’ resurrection. In the empirical approach one must disallow, until the end of history, the knowledge that any event is once-for-all. Since we ourselves have had no other experience of resurrection, would not an empiricist be inclined to view the Jesus-data as perhaps a literary fiction or cosmic deception? Given alien presuppositions, will not the non-Christian be inclined to opt for even the most ridiculous alternatives rather than accept the biblical claim that Christ died and rose for our sins? The empirical witness of the unchurched world tells its own story on this point.

The non-Christian simply cannot investigate and test every religious and philosophical and scientific theory about reality and life. Limitations of time and space and knowledge preclude this and, moreover, the human spirit could not long stand the strain of successively conflicting and contradictory commitments. The biblical theistic view on the other hand makes an astonishing and compelling claim that no man dare ignore. It brackets man’s origin and daily life and eternal destiny within the awe-some context of a sovereign, holy God who ventures vital day-to-day relationships with his creatures. Montgomery argues that if “no facts can be properly evaluated as evidence for a position prior to one’s acceptance of that position, Christianity can have no more claim to his [the non-Christian’s] life than the infinite number of competing views that demand faith in them as the necessary condition for discovering ‘the truth.’ ” But it is hardly true, contrary to Montgomery, that the theistic presuppositionalist arguing from the biblical revelation “cuts off all opportunity to determine the truth-value of competing religious remedies prior to the acceptance of one of them as a first principle of all meaningful thinking” (“Once upon an A Priori,” p. 389). The argument that the unbeliever cannot be effectively confronted with the realities of divine revelation unless there is some prior point of contact can be met equally well, and in fact far better, by an alternative to a reliance either on natural theology or empirical proof. Every convert to Christianity disowns a previous span of disenchantment with some ineffective alternative. The gospel imposes no duress that precludes the lost from further lusting after sham deities.

Montgomery emphasizes that “the apostles and … the Lord himself … continually employ the de facto, historisch character of revelatory events … as offering ‘many infallible proofs’ of the truth resident in the gospel.… Christ … convinced unbelieving Thomas that he was God and Lord by the undeniable presence of his resurrected body” (ibid., pp. 289 f.). Such miracle manifestations are not, however, currently at our disposal, and the very possibility of miracle has in the recent past been debated more intensely than in biblical times. But even if New Testament miracles were duplicated today, divine revelation would be necessary to their comprehension. Peter explicitly stated that the transcendent God, and not empirical observation, revealed to him the fact of Jesus’ messiahship (Matt. 16:16 f.). The case for miracle should therefore all the more be presented not independently of but in correlation with the Christian revelation-presupposition. In that way Christianity will best confront those who, whether they reduce nature to naturalistic determinism or not, nonetheless reduce it to purposeless chaos.

At most an empirical test can indicate whether religious beliefs have a perceptually discernible significance. It cannot at all decide the objective meaning or existence of the supraempirical. Knowledge of the living God must be pursued not as if God were knowable only by methods wholly and specially relevant to the not-God. If techniques suitable only for the knowledge of natural events and creaturely realities are employed, they can yield information only about events and realities of a natural and creaturely kind. The living God whose objective ontological reality is that of ultimate Spirit, the incomparable divine Lord, must be known, if at all, solely by methods appropriate to the ways in which God has made and continues to make himself known. Although given in the context of the space-time continuum, knowledge of God must be gained—even if in concrete experience—from its own proper ground, that is, from God’s revelation in his Word.

A metaphysical doctrine may supply only a limited or incomplete basis for modern scientific interests and yet be relevant to the whole realm of reality. Christianity holds high explanatory power and has high informative content. It affirms an all-inclusive rationale and purpose, and asserts that in fulfilling God’s plan created nature accommodates certain once-for-all miracles as readily as it does extensive continuities. Merely to protest that a theory precedes scientific experiment and observation voices no proper objection, since all creative hypotheses do so. But explanatory power in and of itself can offer no wholly satisfactory explanation. The Christian revelation does not attempt to tell in detail how nature behaves. The Christian metaphysic in no way requires a scienceless culture; in fact, historically it not only supplied inspiration for science, but also in the main supported it, and even now approves scientific operationalism as a limited methodology.

That a metaphysical theory is untestable by empirical techniques need not be a significant problem; metaphysical doctrines do not require exhaustive empirical testability nor do they necessarily require confirming empirical data, nor can they be derived from empirical instances apart from exhaustive induction. A theory would be objectionable if what is asserted were disproved by empirical observation of relevant data. A metaphysic that relates the sovereignty of God to time and space in multiform ways can hardly be subjected to the test of uniformity. Joseph Agassi observes that as a rule scientific research tends to begin with hypotheses having low or even no degree of testability, and that only by sophistication and ingenuity can they be made somewhat testable. Degrees of testability he considers of little importance; what is important, rather, is that at least one way of testing be available. Christianity does not claim an inherently empirical character nor is it either empirically verifiable or refutable.

Os Guinness insists that Christianity welcomes the validity of the principle of falsification “as a genuine test of the integrity of faith and calls for an openness in every falsifiable area which can confirm or contradict God’s basic trustworthiness.” He is swift to add, however, that this does not imply that a Christian view of truth and knowledge “rests on the validity of Karl Popper’s falsification principle as valid” (The Dust of Death, pp. 345, 417, n. 26). Christianity will meet any challenge appropriate to its claims, but not every challenge is appropriate. Strictly speaking falsification is as impossible as verification unless all the premises are known, but this is very seldom the case. Even if all premises were known, it is unsure that in the comprehensive context of many possible ways in which a sovereign God might relate himself to created reality, one false premise could be assuredly identified. Either divine revelation is a source of intelligible knowledge or it is not, and if it is—as the inspired biblical writers insist—then its content cannot be codeduced from secondary sources, and we are limited to what God has revealed of the intricacies of his plan.

No demonstrative proof of God is possible, Frank B. Dilley remarks, because proofs are relative to starting point and method. Religious claims can neither be conclusively verified nor falsified. So-called laws of nature and continuities of history are far less a discovery of objectively factual relationships than conceptual nets that have been erected to catch certain data, and what men catch will depend upon the conceptualities with which they approach external reality. “Whether the arguments (for God) are valid objectively, not just for us, depends of course upon whether the believer’s view is correct,” writes Dilley. “But there is no way of answering that question apart from the cognitive predicament of “being a person with a way of experiencing the world.… No one is exempt from this situation unless it is God, if there is one” (“On Arguments for a Transcendent God,” p. 156). “Whether the arguments of the existence of God are valid for us or not,” he continues, “depends upon how we view what is about us.” The so-called proofs “depend for their validity on the correctness of views of the facts which generated them” (p. 155). The fact is, however, that whether the believer’s view of the proofs is correct depends on the laws of validity. While people often claim moreover to learn by “experience,” it is rather from an intellectual analysis of experience that they learn, if at all, in such cases.

Dilley takes us to the threshold of the question of divine revelation and the rational consistency of religious claims, and then stops. The Christian aggressively publishes the revelation of God to others so that they may grasp its claims in their inner connection and in order to expose the logical contradictions that nullify competitive views. But he does not, we must insist, stop there; he unhesitatingly uses logic to exhibit the superior consistency of his own belief system. To begin with revelation is indeed to erect a net of remarkable complexity, one that precludes an oversimplification of nature and man and history; but the Christian appeal to God’s intelligible disclosure demands strict attention all the more to logical consistency.

What does one then say to the skeptic who claims that supernatural religion is unverifiable, or to the seeker after assurance that alongside its mighty promises Christianity has credibility?

The first thing to say is that Christianity has no fears in respect to truth and reason. No philosophy and no religion presses the concern for intellectual and moral integrity more insistently than does the Bible. As a faith-stance it in no way begs for special exemption from rational criteria by insisting, as do some competitive views, that God is beyond truth and error or somehow at one and the same time both true and false. The New Testament does not ask the astronomer, biologist, chemist, philosopher or physicist to check his mind at the door or to violate truth in his discipline as the price of understanding its claims and accepting its benefits.

The non-Christian should be reminded, secondly, that he or she is not free from the same requirement of indicating what would in principle falsify any indicated alternative to the biblical revelation. The call for openness to verification or falsification cuts both ways, and the naïveté of many non-Christian perspectives—whether on the side of radical pessimism or of romantic optimism—becomes readily apparent when the demand for verification or falsification is reciprocated. The atheist as such merely announces what he disbelieves. But what in fact would or could he admit to discredit his belief?

While Christianity offers a distinctive and dramatic answer to life’s perplexing problems, its main excellence lies in its essential truth. The diatribes of atheists, logical positivists, secular naturalists, and dialectical materialists do not in actuality doom historic Christianity to the guillotine. Christianity’s supreme value lies not in some psychological communion cup distribution of a corporate trip akin to LSD, but rather in its credible insistence that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The Christian is armed with reason and does not evade the question of verifiability.

If by Christianity’s “openness to disproof” we mean openness to any and all circumstances and conditions, whatever would in fact falsify Christian theism, the answer is immediate and unwavering: yes indeed; persuasive counterevidence would discredit a biblical faith. Christianity is open to falsification by the same laws of logic that determine validity and invalidity throughout the whole range of human knowledge.

Guinness remarks that if the trustworthiness of the self-revealed God could be impugned, the case for biblical theism would collapse (Dust of Death, p. 244). For revelational theism, verification rests centrally on authoritative witness. Because Job was divinely assured that the living God reliably works out his high purpose in the life of all who trust him, he clung to God amid the most violent pressures on personal faith. Deuteronomy 19:15 reflects the indispensable importance of reliable testimony by more than one isolated witness in establishing the commission of a crime or heinous sin. While emphasizing his own messianic consciousness, even Jesus stressed the Father’s witness given scripturally and confirmed in Jesus’ words and works (John 5:31–47; 14:10–11). By the Torah rule of more than one witness John 8:16–18 proves the truth by the agreement of the testimonies of the Father and the Son. The Old Testament representation that there is no higher verificational appeal than God’s Word is heightened by the New Testament emphasis on the Word (rhēma): Scripture is an authoritative witness. For this reason the biblical testimony is not, any more than the witness of Jesus, to be isolated from that of the Father and the Spirit. Scripture is grounded in the speaking God as its inspiring source; it illumines Christ the living Logos whose historical incarnation, atoning death, and resurrection ministry crown the dramatic testimony of redemptive promise and fulfillment; it is attested by the Holy Spirit’s assurance in the believer’s inner life.

What do theologians mean then when they insist that religious discourse communicates factual data about the external world but that it does not straightforwardly conform to empirical claims? Do we affirm with Bowman Clarke that religious discourse adduces a logically necessary state of affairs, but that theological truth has no empirical significance (“Reason and Revelation: A Linguistic Distinction,” pp. 44 ff.)? Even the law of contradiction does not simply assert something which cannot be otherwise in our own use of words; it asserts what prevails in the real world also. Historic Christianity moreover took theological statements like “God exists,” “God loves the world,” and “God is wrathful against sin” as empirically significant. Yet it repudiated as arbitrary any demand that the case for theism be decided on empirical grounds alone, that is, solely on the basis of personally observable events, whether scientific or historical. Kai Nielsen directs the wrong question to a Christian when he asks, “What conceivable turn of observable events, if only you [the atheistic or agnostic] were to observe them, would make you say you were mistaken or probably mistaken in denying or doubting that it is true or probably true that there is a God?” (“Religion and Commitment,” p. 30). Evangelical Christianity disputes head-on Moritz Schlick’s contention that “there is no other testing and collaboration of truths except through observation and empirical science” (“Problems and Changes in the Empiricist Criterion of Meaning,” p. 164).

Can evangelical faith then point to any basis or backing of an empirically “objective” kind that directly or indirectly supports Christian claims? What should be the attitude of evangelical Christians toward the demand for some correlation of the truth of theistic core-claims with empirical foundations of belief? This is something different from a call for demonstrative proof of the God of the Bible by inferences from nature and man; it is the question rather whether what is verifiable or falsifiable about the Christian truth claim is in any way whatever proffered at the empirical level. Theological statements, like others, can of course perform more than one logical function; empirical significance need not exhaust their meaning and truth. Even though no empirical conditions can be adduced to falsify or validate theological claims, on what basis do we hold that such claims nonetheless have empirical import?

The Christian religion is wholly on the side of a rational method of determining whether or not conditions necessary to the truth of any statements are met. If one wishes to know whether the White House is in fact white, one need only determine its visual quality under normal conditions of light and sight. If one wishes to know whether a literary document is divinely authoritative, he requires persuasive evidence that it is prophetic-apostolic Scripture, that is, the work of an inspired writer to whom God has communicated his Word. The color of the White House turns upon perceptual evidence; the truth or falsity of dogmatic statements such as the nature and will of God turns upon revelational data. Christian discourse makes claims about supraempirical reality and relationships in view of a meaning and truth, a use and function, distinguishable from empirical relevance. God is an unobservable being; even were he observable, observation would supply no enduring truth about him. Christian doctrine professes to be truth because it conveys God’s revelation, and it verifies its claims in view of scriptural teaching.

This claim for scriptural verification goes beyond John Hick’s more timid emphasis on eschatological verification. Hick formulates truth-conditions that would suspend verifiability until after death. Quite apart from its vulnerable assumption of an afterlife on independent principles, the argument needlessly overlooks scriptural authority. While humans will indeed have fuller knowledge of spiritual realities in the future age—indeed, will see “face to face” rather than “through a glass, darkly”—the present alternative is not spiritual ignorance but an apostolic insistence that now we “know in part” (1 Cor. 13:12, rsv). Not in the age to come but in this present history the true Old Testament prophet was to be distinguished from the false. Christians do not unsurely affirm that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ in view of a yet future divine assurance. God has already openly designated Jesus as his divine Son (Matt. 3:17; Acts 2:33 f.; 17:31; Rom. 1:2–4).

Bowman Clarke is formally right, of course, when he traces verification of Jesus’ messiahship solely to God’s approval, and insists that “all revealed doctrines, insofar as they are descriptive sentences, assert something about God’s approvals and disapprovals” (“Reason and Revelation,” pp. 58 f.). Revealed doctrines indeed are “true in so far as they state what are, in fact, God’s evaluations and false in so far as they do not” (p. 59). But on what ground are “revealed” doctrines to be considered potentially false? How are we to know that X has God’s approval rather than Y? Clarke rightly insists that human observation is impotent to decide. But when he appeals for nonrational faith, assuring us that God alone knows and can verify a doctrine—and that “If God does know … it makes revealed theology possible” (p. 60), we are left hanging in mid-air and struggling for survival amid the wind. What accredits true doctrine is the teaching of the divinely inspired biblical writers.

Does God’s self-revelation nonetheless touch the space-time universe, including human life and history and the phenomenal world in a way that in principle involves falsifiability of an empirical sort? Need the positivist requirement of empirical verifiability or testability be some-how met in order to dignify theistic claims as something more than merely tenable verbal statements?

Christian faith affirms that God is disclosed in nature and in history universally, and that in Scripture and in Jesus Christ he is disclosed in particular redemptive revelation. God’s self-disclosure does indeed touch man and the world in a manner theoretically open to falsifiability. The Judeo-Christian revelation is proffered in a context of falsifiable witness and evidence in respect both to general and to special revelation.

The inspired prophets insisted that the living God is active in history. Elijah demanded that the claims made by the prophets of Baal and his own claims for Yahweh both be open to the possibility of disproof. When Baal’s failure to intervene was apparent, Yahweh upon whom the prophet called intervened and elicited the acknowledgment, “Yahweh is God, Yahweh is God” (1 Kings 18:39). Moses adduced criteria for distinguishing true from false prophecy, pointing to nonfulfillment as a negative factor discrediting a prophet, while fulfillment is one test of the true prophet (Deut. 18:21 f., cf. Jer. 28:9); he added a further test for demonic simulation of the real thing. So in the New Testament also, Jesus himself forced the question, “Which of you can prove me in the wrong?” (John 8:46, neb). As risen Lord he challenged the doubts of a wavering disciple: “Reach your hand here and put it into my side” (John 20:27, neb). Luke begins his Gospel with an appeal to eyewitnesses and their reliable knowledge (1:1–4) and prefaces the Acts of the Apostles with a brief for “ample proof” (1:3, neb). Paul stresses to Festus that the Christian claim is no hole-in-the-wall matter (Acts 26:25 f.) but rather, as he writes in 1 Corinthians, centers in the widely witnessed bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (15:3–4) which, were it to be discredited, would nullify the gospel (15:14).

The Christian apostles ventured into the world as witnesses of the incarnate and now risen Lord whom they had heard, seen and touched (1 John 1:1). They incontrovertibly claimed that the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth was a historical actuality. John writes that the eternal Word who dwelt with the Father “became flesh” (John 1:14, neb) and was “made visible”; indeed he writes of having “seen … with our own eyes; we looked … and felt … with our own hands” (1 John 1:1–2, neb). Peter emphasizes the disciples’ eyewitnessing of the Lord Jesus Christ during the transfiguration on the mount: “We saw him with our own eyes in majesty, when at the hands of God the Father he was invested with honour and glory, and there came to him from the sublime Presence a voice which said: ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, on whom my favour rests.’ This voice from heaven we ourselves heard” (2 Pet. 1:16–17, neb). Not only was personal eyewitnessing of the risen Lord a criterion of eligibility for designation as an apostle (Acts 1:22), but John even identifies as antichrist teaching any denial that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ (1 John 2:22).

Openness to verification is, as Guinness remarks, “the general mentality of the Bible” (Dust of Death, p. 356). But does the Bible go on to distinguish, as Guinness indicates, between what is empirically falsifiable and unfalsifiable, so that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, for example, is said to state in 11:3 that “the origins of the universe are beyond verification; it is only by faith that we can accept that God created” (p. 356)? For one thing, do we not accept only by faith any and all Christian beliefs of whatever nature they may be? And is not such faith answerable to adequate rational criteria in any and every case? Is it really the case that the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection was “open to firsthand falsification in its own time but to us … is once removed, and involves the evidence for the reliability of the records” (p. 356)? Or was it only to chosen disciples who knew him best to whom “firsthand” evidence was vouchsafed even in Jesus’ day (cf. Acts 10:34) so that, with the exception of the five hundred mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15, all others Were also then wholly dependent upon the testimony of accredited eyewitnesses? More basically, is not what the prophets and apostles teach, and hence the inspired Scripture, in any case the Christian’s ultimate principle of verification, and the logical consistency of revelational data the test of Christian truth? Does one not unwittingly yield to an empirical theory of verification if one distinguishes creation and resurrection in respect not simply to method of verification but also in respect to possibility of verification? Are we not in the latter case concerned with divinely illumined eyewitnesses and in the former with divinely illumined witnesses? If creation is unverifiable because not eyewitnessed, would not the reality of the invisible God likewise be unverifiable? Is not scriptural verifiability of creation decisively important and would not falsification of this doctrine in fact constitute a refutation of the Christian doctrine of God and of biblical theism?

Nor does it seem wholly proper to speak, as Guinness does, of the inner phenomena of the Christian life—one’s deepening relationship to God, his broadening comprehension of Christian realities, one’s growing appreciation of nature, one’s deliverance from alienation, and one’s enlarging range of moral virtue—as “part of the believer’s final verification” (ibid., p. 359), unless we speak here only of internal assurance and not of public validation. The Christian life indeed has its distinctive ethical quality, and faith has its confirming consequences. But since internal experience cannot be publicly shared, religious psychology is better spoken of in terms of private assurance than of public verification. The gathering together in a comprehensive psychological appeal of what is found in different personal lives in different degrees at different times and places—and in experiences differing as much in content as an afflicted Job, a delivered Daniel, and Jesus impaled on the cross—involves factors which cannot in isolation demonstrate what is intended.

But if we focus first on the experiences that believers and nonbelievers have in common, it is apparent that each considers the same turn of affairs to carry a different meaning and value in view of the quality of one’s relationship to God. The Christian is confident that God is working in his life for good in experiences that seem to the unbeliever to confirm the nonreality or indifference of God. The difficulties found in a fluctuating theory of verification, alternating between appeals to Scripture and to experience, are evident in the interpretations of the problem of evil. The problem of evil and sin in fact exists as a problem, especially for the Christian exposition of a sovereign holy God. Sin and evil would be cast in a very different role were God finite, indifferent to human destiny, or impersonal. In face of natural evil, religious philosophers appealing to experience—sometimes alongside the assertion of “coherence” rather than scriptural revelation as the criterion of truth—have not infrequently modified their view of God on experiential grounds. Edgar Brightman and Schubert Ogden, for example, reinforce the notion of secular metaphysicians that evil in man and the world cannot be squared with the scriptural doctrine of an all-wise, all-loving and all-powerful God.

Christian revelation-claims are indeed congenial with such empirical considerations as the experience of new life in Christ and the affliction of the believer, but they derive that compatibility from the larger context of a comprehensive and divinely disclosed truth. It should be emphasized repeatedly in a positivistic milieu that not even the verification principle of the logical positivist can verify itself. Nothing that modern man knows by his vaunted empirical techniques is unchangeably true. While the Bible does not answer all questions, Scripture does assuredly communicate at least some revelational truths, among them that God is sovereign creator of man and the world, that mankind is doomed by sin to separation from the holy Lord of the universe, that Christ died for our sins and offers new life to all who will trust him. Scripture verifies these Christian claims, the Christian premises can be rationally tested for consistency, and the inner testimony of the Spirit of God supplies personal assurance of the trustworthiness of God in his revelation. The Christian explanatory principle thus “saves the appearances” even if its explanation of reality and life cannot be directly validated or invalidated by experience and providing the term saves is not arbitrarily restricted.

This emphasis on interpretative stance does not, however, wholly exempt us from interest in questions of substantiation of historical data. If we consider it impossible either to confirm or disconfirm biblical events empirically, we are not saying that the events on which Christian faith rests fall into some other sphere than the historical (whether of faith or existenz or some other mystical superhistorical dimension), nor that it would make no difference at all to essential Christian belief and commitment if it could be shown that the crucified Jesus did not in fact rise bodily from the tomb or if other miracles attributed to the Nazarene had not actually occurred. The New Testament does not allow any such indifference to history. The apostle John predicates belief that Jesus is the Christ on actual historical happenings (John 20:31), and the apostle Paul tells us that if Christ was not raised the Christian gospel is “null and void” (1 Cor. 15:14, neb).

Evangelical theism would be falsified if one could disprove the existence of God or of the universe, since the self-revealed God is disclosed as sovereign creator of all; or if one could disprove the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead (declared in Acts 17 to be a sign of judgment to come); or if one could prove the unqualified “success” of evil. By demonstrating that devotion to immorality and injustice is man’s wisest, happiest, and most rewarding course, by exhibiting the remains of the crucified body of Jesus, or by logically demonstrating the self-existence or nonexistence of the universe, one could theoretically demolish biblical theism by attaching to it an insuperable weight of logical inconsistency.

We must insist at least on a “hypothetical” possibility of empirical disconfirmation, even if “potential” disconfirmation is not a serviceable notion. One would be justified in rejecting Jesus’ claims had he not performed the “works” attributed to him. Jesus himself appealed to his works in confirmation of his mission and as properly evocative of faith in him: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else accept the evidence of the deeds themselves” (John 14:11, neb). The nonfactuality of his deeds would eclipse evidential elements integral to the Christian confession. Were a negative verdict justifiable, the claims resting upon an appeal to historical data would collapse. Conclusive unverifiability is not peculiar to biblical events; the limits of historical method are such that all events in the past are equally unverifiable absolutely. Miracle-claims, whether extrabiblical or biblical, do not therefore fall wholly outside the scope of historical investigative interests, and all are subject to the requirements of rational consistency.

The relationship between the natural and the historical, on the one hand, and the invisibly transcendent, on the other, is not easily formulated. That God is Spirit—that is, invisible and immaterial—is emphasized not only by the Old Testament but also by the New: “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18, neb). All that the Old Testament says about divine theophany must be understood as a special divine manifestation to the senses. The New Testament insistence that Jesus of Nazareth “exegeted” (exagō) God (John 1:18) and that “the complete being of God … came to dwell” in him (Col. 1:19, neb) can hardly mean that human nature even in these circumstances is divine. It does not therefore help much to point only to theophany or to incarnation to meet David A. Conway’s argument that belief in God cannot be rationally justified because we have no right to believe that there are “direct perceptions of God” (“Mavrodes, Martin and Verification of Religious Experience,” p. 171).

For good reason early Christianity insisted that the Logos, while not forfeiting divinity, in the incarnation added human nature to the indissoluble unity of his person. It is this person, Jesus of Nazareth, who through his human nature manifests his divinity; that is the main point of the Book of Signs in John’s Gospel. Yet even in expounding general cosmic revelation, Paul insists that precisely the divine Godhead, or God’s deity, is disclosed along with his eternal power. Of God’s general revelation in nature Paul states: “All that may be known of God by men lies plain before their eyes; indeed God himself has disclosed it to them” (Rom. 1:19, neb). Any intimation, however, that he considers nature itself intrinsically divine—whether in whole or part—runs totally counter to the biblical view of creation. The New English Bible confuses rather than clarifies the issue when it affirms that this divine revelation through created things is supernaturally directed to “the eye of reason” (Rom. 1:20); the King James rendering, that “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,” preserves the emphasis that God’s revelation is addressed to and penetrates into the very mind of man. What the invisible God reveals is truths about himself and his purposes.

If we forget that what is involved in revelation is essentially the divine communication of truths through particular means (nature, history, prophets and apostles, and Jesus the incarnate Word) we are prone to forget also that, were it not for the Bible as inscripturated divine disclosure, we would today stand at greater disadvantage in respect to the originating data of the biblical revelation than to the ongoing general revelation addressed universally through the cosmic universe, historical events, and the conscience and mind of man. The fact of the objective scriptural revelation, vivified by the witness of the Spirit, lifts the saving revelation of the past to contemporaneity in its encountering claim; that very scriptural revelation conveys at one and the same time the normative objective content of both God’s general and special disclosure in a way that frustrates the disposition of the sinner to subordinate, suborn or suppress that revelation.

God in his divinely initiated revelation is the source of all meaning, and this basis of coherency is proffered even to those whose relativistic outlook prejudicially excludes absolute and unrevisable statements about reality and life. If, as the Bible affirms, nature is a divinely ordered creation; if as Scripture states history is a matrix in which God is purposively active; if man himself finds his divine ideal imaged in Jesus Christ alone; if God is working for good in all experiences in the lives of those who love him, then the self-revealed Creator-Redeemer God provides a rationally convincing basis for this faith. The secular alternatives more and more abandon man to alienation as his inescapable fate. Apart from revelational theism, all attempts to escape that bleak prospect rest on blind faith lacking persuasive supports, and invite Bertrand Russell’s “unyielding despair.” The Christian faith is a rational faith that rests on revelational fact and truth, a faith grounded in the self-disclosure of God in Christ as the ultimate reality and the ultimate reason. It calls therefore for reasonable reflection, reasonable decision, and reasonable service.


Man’s Primal Religious Experience

During the past several generations theology and philosophy of religion have largely moved away from apriorism and toward empiricism to account for religious experience and man’s views of the nature of the religious object. In recent decades, however, the difficulties inherent in empirical explanations of religion have precipitated renewed interest in the a priori aspects of religious experience.

Empirical theories are weak because they cannot evince either the universality or the necessity of religious experience, nor can they show any ultimate reason for permanently distinguishing as they do one aspect of experience as religious from another as nonreligious. Apart from an objective standard—a criterion not derived from experience but rather possessed already in the approach to experience—one can never eradicate the gap which exists between empirical probability and those ethical and religious conclusions for which one claims absoluteness or permanence. The empirical explanation of religious experience is unable to reach any universally obligatory conclusions about God. No merely empirical approach can arrive at genuinely objective and universal convictions in regard to the religious object.

In contrast with all viewpoints which lodge religious experience only in empirical factors, and profess to derive the God-idea from a posteriori proofs or evidences, a distinctive view grounds religion instead in a priori factors which are logically antecedent to man’s experience of the cosmos. The apriorists contend that religion cannot be explained in terms of God as an object merely inferred from the world and man; rather, the ethicoreligious world order is said to confront us directly as a supracosmical reality to which humanity is related over and above the universe.

Man does not, the apriorists insist, rise to God from the not-God. While a series of human psychological experiences may sometimes take that path, this must not be confused with the logical process itself whereby the God-idea arises. The human spirit stands always in a direct relationship to the transcendent Creator, Sustainer and End of all things. The religious consciousness is not a distillation of the empirical world order, originating by way of inference from the nondivine to the Divine; rather, religious experience is held to involve direct apprehension of God in the inner human spirit. Knowledge of God results from a direct awareness, not simply of our own existence as a self from which the existence of other selves and especially of God is deduced by analogy, but rather a God-relatedness which characterizes human existence from the outset.

The reaffirmation of man’s direct relationship to God, over against the traditions of Aquinas and Berkeley, and of modern Protestant spokesmen like Hastings Rashdall and F. R. Tennant, has been a distinguishing feature of the theological thought of the past generation. This revolt against “a merely inferred God,” with its reduction of the deity to a matter only of probability, has in recent decades been a major emphasis of European theology, philosophy of religion, and psychology of religious experience. Man exists from the first moment of consciousness in a social climate; he does not emerge from spiritual orphanage to spiritual relatedness, but knows himself from the outset as living in community. Earlier idealists like Cook Wilson, W. E. Hocking and Clement C. J. Webb had taken this ground. Within the past generation a whole succession of thinkers—among them Ferdinand Ebner, Martin Buber, Karl Heim, Emil Brunner—were to cast their weight on the side of a direct knowledge of God, and against a theology exclusively of inference. Even atheistic and naturalistic writers like Martin Heidegger and Samuel Alexander, who had no interest in the doctrine of a personal deity, argued for the immediacy of man’s knowledge of other selves. The conception of social relationship is a priori, they contended; the self never knows itself except in relation to other selves. In the terminology of recent theology and religious philosophy, the I-thou relationship constitutes a fundamental mode of knowledge and experience; it is not a mere induction, but a primal relationship in which man as a knower stands from the inception of consciousness.

This emphasis on direct knowledge of God—for the moment we leave out of view the question whether man’s self-consciousness involves from the outset a consciousness also of other selves and of the eternal world—links modern thought once again with the discussion of religious apriorism. That knowledge of God is not inferred from the nondivine, but results from an original divine-human relationship within which man’s conscious life begins, is an aspect at least—even if, assuredly it is not the whole—of the historic discussion of the a priori knowledge of God. The central thrust of the theology of crisis, over against Thomistic theology, has been to reassert the divine-human relationship as definitive of human experience.

But it would misconstrue the actual situation to represent the recent theological movement as reasserting religious apriorism in its classic and traditional form. By its return to original knowledge of God not inferred from experience, it reaffirms an aspect of religious apriorism, while in other important respects it is no return at all to religious apriorism in its historic sense. The emphasis on a direct apprehension of God in human experience is not strictly limited to apriorists. It characterizes all schools of intuitionalism, opposed as they are to any derivation of the truths of religious and moral experience from intellectual processes founded exclusively on experience. A fundamental diversity of outlook arises, however, within the intuitional schools of thought. Not all forms of intuitionalism are aprioristic in the usual sense of this term; in fact, intuitionists and apriorists are frequently contrasted. Except for the rational intuitionalists, the intuitional school is hostile to the whole concept of innate ideas and a priori cognitive forms. The assertion of an a priori in meaningful dimensions requires prominence for the rational factor in religious knowledge for which most intuitional schools make no room. When Edwin D. Starbuck asserts that “intuitionism differs from apriorism in emphasizing … affection … in preference to cognition as … a direct source of knowledge” (“Intuitionalism,” 8:397b), he apparently overlooks the circumstance that the term “rational intuitionism” has been used in the history of recent philosophy to designate intuitional schools which insist upon innate rational knowledge, although he does introduce a necessary caution against the automatic identification of intuitionism and apriorism. Insofar as a direct divine basis of religious experience is insisted upon, while that basis is lodged outside cognition in extrarational factors, we deal with schools of approach more properly regarded as mystical.

Recent Christian theology emphasizes that Jesus of Nazareth is the originating event of Christian faith and that the Christ-event is decisive for the understanding of religious reality. Not a few scholars wholly ignore the question of man’s primal awareness of God; others explicitly reject it, while some emphasize that the history of Jesus Christ decisively illuminates an ontological a priori although they cloud its cognitive significance.

There is, however, a noteworthy break from Barth’s complete detachment of Christian truth about God from universal human awareness and knowledge of God. The objectionable Barthian view is reflected by Helmut Gollwitzer, who rules out God’s general revelation, rejects any built-in possibilities of man’s understanding of God, denies any common ground between the God of the Bible and what man knows of God outside the Christian revelation, and insists that only through special confrontation and revelation does man receive God’s disclosure of which until then he is wholly ignorant. Hence the “truly dead God” is the metaphysical God of the non-Christians (The Existence of God as Confessed by Faith, pp. 121, 135, 141, 152, etc.).

Much as they speak along various lines of “understanding God,” most contemporary scholars avoid the exacting requirements of formulating a theory of religious knowledge. Even the “new quest” post-Bultmannian scholars think the verbal phrase “hermeneutic of God” somehow lifts the term God beyond human subjectivity to the religious reality. But one can hardly retain God as a significant referent amid an ambiguous epistemology. The “new quest” seeks to construct a positive theology upon a previous theological exclusion of objectively valid religious knowledge even on the basis of divine revelation. Not surprisingly it divided swiftly over the reality to which the term God is applicable, that is, over what ontological presupposition religion in general implies.

Such perspectives can pose no formidable challenge to the secular death-of-God theology which considers the very concept of a transcendent supernatural being wholly alien to the thinking modern man. The radical secularists woefully misread human experience, that of modern man included, not even their own exempted, when they would have us believe that it contains no ultimate referent or ontological dimension involving a reality beyond the world. So Paul van Buren held that the term God has no specific referent: Christians who speak of God merely use “the language of faith” to characterize “something universal, eternal, absolute” manifested as a claim of love in the life of Jesus of Nazareth (The Secular Meaning of the Gospel, p. 139). This analysis merely conforms secular man’s actual epistemic situation to an antisupernaturalistic bias. William Hamilton too located the essential element of “death of God theology” in its emphasis on man’s supposed nonexperience of God: “This is more than … the usual assurance that before the holy God all our language gets broken and diffracted into paradox. It is really that we do not know … God. It is not just that a capacity has dried up within us; … we take it as a statement about the nature of the world and we try to convince others, God is dead. We are not talking about the absence of the experience of God, but about the experience of the absence of God” (“The Death of God Theology”). The vacuum associated with the lost God Hamilton ventures to fill by exhorting obedience to the worldly Jesus; since God is considered an irrelevance, he ignores the fact that Jesus regarded obedience to the heavenly Father’s will to be the law of his being. Such representations not only inevitably collapse the imperative of neighbor-love they would preserve, but superficially and evasively analyze the universal impingement of God upon the mind of man.

Instead of accommodating the misanalysis inherent in death-of-God representations of the so-called “godless man,” modern theologians are again probing a referent for the term God and focusing discussion on the reality expressed by the category of deity. Their disagreements may be legion, but they are persuaded that religious affirmations cannot be reduced simply to semantic significance and that the idea of God inescapably involves a truth claim. John B. Cobb, Jr., rules out the cavalier death-of-God dismissal as a falsification. “Indeed for my own spiritual existence as a Christian it is a matter of life and death that the reality of the referent of ‘God’ be a part of my intellectual conviction” (A Christian Natural Theology, p. 14). Charles Hartshorne does not derive knowledge of God from something other than God, but relates all proofs for God’s existence to conceptions deriving their meaning from God himself, and considers them ways of clarifying a prior belief in God that often lacks lucidity and consistency (cf. Schubert Ogden, “Theology and Philosophy: A New Phase of the Discussion,” pp. 11 f.). Paul Tillich, viewing God as the ultimate depth in man and the world, held that the awareness of God as a religious question is implied in man’s finitude (Systematic Theology, 1:205). He writes: “The question of God is impossible because an awareness of God is present in the question of God. This awareness precedes the question. It is not the result of argument but its presupposition” (1:206).

Some, like William Hordern, would emphasize “the mystery of God” (Speaking of God, pp. 113 f.). The universal sense of awe and reverence in the presence of the mystery of the universe, he remarks, is shared by atheists no less than those holding some view of God, but God the Mystery reveals himself only in the community of faith. Hordern therefore finds in the experience of mystery a preawareness of God, but he insists that Christianity alone has an explicit ontology: “The Christian faith stands or falls with certain specific statements about reality—’God was in Christ,’ ‘God is love.’ … Far from being indifferent to ontology Christianity has its own ontology to offer” (p. 197). But since Hordern does not assign cognitive significance to the universal awareness of God, no general ontological element is adduced that Christian theology embraces or transforms. Nor does he adequately clarify the cognitive significance of Christian ontological affirmations; by grounding them only in faith, he leaves in doubt the conceptual quality of the Christian understanding of God.

The question of man’s universal primal knowledge of God is once again calling for sustained theological investigation nonetheless. “The central theological issue for present-day Protestant theology … the truly radical question,” asserts Frederick Herzog, is “whether or not man has any awareness of God at all,” that is, “the question of how man is able to understand the God of historical revelation” (Understanding God, p. 23). Accordingly Herzog calls Protestantism to the “hermeneutical responsibility” of careful examination of “the primordial structure of man’s experience” (p. 24).

Herzog thinks “nothing will be gained for the understanding of God by an appeal to some residual religiousness that might still be discovered in modern man.” Even if “in even the most representative ‘moderns’ ” some “residual God-yearning” could be shown to remain, he thinks, it is now futile to reintroduce the religious presupposition (ibid., p. 40). Man’s understanding of God “presupposes a complete lack of understanding” (p. 43). The task of systematic theology, he thinks, is to articulate the significance of an inner ontological dilemma whose meaning man does not know. The ontological dimension of man’s primal experience must be asserted, and not denied, but, insists Herzog, it must not be quickly identified with God.

It would be misleading, Herzog contends, “to define man’s elementary ontological awareness immediately in religious terms” (ibid., p. 36). Rather, “besides sensing himself and the world, man senses being. This is not an irrational experience. It antecedes man’s reasoning. It is best described as prerational or precognitive, a primordial ‘urge,’ a ‘sixth sense,’ as it were. It is not a by-product of man’s cognitive relationship to society or nature. It is not the result of his reflections on a supreme being. It is an immediate awareness transcending any encounter with nature or other human beings. It also transcends the historical and ethical dimensions of human life” (pp. 36 f.). For Herzog the central issue is, what primal word can give meaning to being, of which man has an elemental awareness?

One can understand Herzog’s reluctance to agree with contemporary religionists who find in the depths of man’s being a universal awareness of deity, and then correlate the term merely with ideal interpersonal relationships (as do the Mainz radicals Herbert Braun and Manfred Mezger) or with some naturalistic depth within ourselves, as John A. T. Robinson appeared to do in some earlier writings, since this also deflects the term from its proper reality. Herzog also rightly insists, contrary to Tillich, that man’s precognitive awareness is not to be identified as an expression “of the question of God implied in human finitude.” The word God is not present merely in man’s puzzlement over the reality of being (ibid., p. 38). Tillich, like Schleiermacher, speaks of an intuitive, precognitive sense of absolute dependence which he regards at the same time as an awareness of God. Wolfhart Pannenberg moreover insists that revelation uncovers in man a ground of being and a pervasive power that encircles and sustains him, and that man cannot avoid asking for God and thinking the God-idea, with whatever name he associates it (“Die Frage nach Gott,” pp. 238 ff.).

But Herzog contends also that man’s awareness of being involves no immediate recognition of God apart from subsequent reflection on his dependence or independence, and this in principle erodes universal cognitive awareness of God. Against Tillich, Herzog presses Rudolf Otto’s argument against Schleiermacher, that the “feeling of reality” is “a primary immediate datum of consciousness” but that “the feeling of dependence” is a consequent derivative of reasoning. He complains that Tillich “too quickly names man’s basic ontological awareness ‘God’ ” (Understanding God, p. 38). Man’s awareness of being is “a primordial ontological experience,” argues Herzog, and “reflects an immediate encounter with Being beyond our own being and the being of the world. Being beyond our own being evokes an awareness. However, man does not immediately know what he senses.… The immediate experience is not instantly known as God. Man is puzzled by his primordial experience. An immediate name is not available” (p. 38). “We cannot strongly enough stress that it is not a cognitive structure which drives man to the awareness of being.… It belongs to man’s self-consciousness. But it is not something objective or cognitive. It is immediate” (p. 39). “The hermeneutical presupposition of theology is not a clear-cut awareness” (p. 40); man’s primordial awareness of being is ambiguous, and “seeks to break into the cognitive realm” (p. 39).

In this evasion of man’s primal cognitive relationship to God, Herzog reflects the mood of recent theological and philosophical traditions influenced by Husserl’s phenomenology and Heideggerian existentialism, let alone Schleiermacher’s earlier emphasis on precognitive awareness. The fact that the question of man’s primal religious experience is so confidently raised in terms of noncognitive factors is doubly significant when one considers the contrary biblical view and also that in the long history of religious philosophy and theology Christianity has frequently been associated with rational apriorism. Evangelical religion discusses man’s primal experience only in the context of a universal revelation of God which directly engages man as a carrier of the created image of God in both mind and conscience, and confronts him intelligibly in external nature and history.


A Priori Explanation of Religion

A broad survey of the significance assigned to the religious a priori throughout the course of philosophy of religion and theology will supply a background helpful in assessing more recent tendencies.

In treating viewpoints which affirm an a priori element in religious experience, we deal first with those which explain religious consciousness primarily through certain innate rational elements. Religious experience is considered possible because of rational factors sui generis, factors which make the religious life inevitable not merely as a reflex of external or inferred features, but in view of a direct cognitive relationship to God. These a priori schools consider religion as an independent and irreducible constituent of human nature. Its innate rational basis secures the universality and necessity of religion, against rival theories which would leave religious experience rather to individual temperament or genius, or view it as merely a streak of the chaotic in human life, or which would insist upon its strategic importance while not emphasizing, as a characteristic feature, its universal necessity.

An exhaustive statement of every a priori scheme would involve a wearying summary of divergent viewpoints. All that is important for our purposes can be gained from a survey of representative positions. Any adequate study of a priori elements must include the approaches made by Plato, Augustine, Anselm, Descartes, and Kant, as well as the views of Reformation and certain post-Reformation theologians, and of such post-Kantian thinkers as Ernst Troeltsch, J. K. Fries and Rudolf Otto. The history of philosophy offers no uniform determination of the a priori concept, but characteristic types may be exhibited in distinctive categories through an examination of representative thinkers. This approach has the merit of exhibiting competing a priori concepts without a total loss of historical perspective, which would be the case in a purely logical analysis of the possibilities, while it avoids cumbersome material that a full historical review must embrace, since the entire history of philosophy borders on this issue through ongoing tensions between rationalism and empiricism.

The aprioristic constructions may be classified under three main types: (1) the philosophical transcendent, (2) the theological transcendent, and (3) the philosophical transcendental.

This terminology is confessedly one of convenience. The reader should by now be well aware that the author rejects the assumption that philosophy and theology necessarily operate in different spheres. But the classification advantageously illuminates issues of special concern to Christian theology.

One of these is the question of the competence or incompetence of human reason in the area of metaphysics. Here an affirmative answer is given, for example, by Plato, who expounded a philosophical transcendent a priori, so designated because it is independent of special theological revelation while yet it presumably equips man with comprehensive and trustworthy metaphysical knowledge. Contrariwise, a negative answer is given by Kant, and by most philosophers of religion dominated by his Critical Philosophy, not on the ground of man’s sinfulness and need of special divine disclosure, but rather in view of the supposedly severe intrinsic restrictions of finite reason. Here a species of philosophic a priori is affirmed which, instead of aspiring to reliable transcendent metaphysical truth, claims only to be regulative and merely transcendental.

Approaching this classification another way, it may be noted that the first and third types of a priori exclude transcendent divine revelation, the first on the ground of the sufficiency of general human experience, and the latter on the ground of the human reason’s disability in the realm of supernatural truth; in other words, one because of the essential competence, the other because of the essential incompetence, of human intellection as such. Admittedly, while the first and third types usually exclude transcendent revelation, they need not logically do so; one might, for example, contend that the philosophic transcendent a priori enables man to understand transcendent revelation.

The first and second types have in common, against the third, an assertion of the sufficiency of the a priori forms for knowledge of the supernatural, but disagree as to whether the rebellious human knower erects a barrier to adequate spiritual truth which only special divine revelation can overcome. The third type denies that either divine revelation or innate factors communicate trustworthy knowledge of metaphysical realities.

However, as we shall later note more fully, the pre-Kantian constructions champion an a priori in the form of innate knowledge, whereas the third type is hostile to innate ideas and asserts merely innate forms but no innate knowledge content. Post-Kantian statements of the a priori, therefore, differ decisively from pre-Kantian statements in two ways. They deprive man of all metaphysical knowledge, allowing him only a regulative access to the supernatural sphere, since the a priori, fashioned under the aegis of the Kantian Critical epistemology, is transcendental only, in contrast with the nontranscendental, non-Critical accounts. Moreover, they assert as a priori certain forms of thought only, which can at most establish the validity of religious experience in view of its universality and necessity, but can never establish either its truth or the value of its content.

This partitioning of a priori views into pre-Kantian and post-Kantian must not be allowed to convey an impression that the problem of the a priori is primarily one of philosophy, or of philosophy of religion, rather than of theology. Past literature dealing with the a priori is as abundant in theological as in philosophical traditions. For the issues involved in discussion of a priori considerations are as crucial for theology as for philosophy. The a priori debate really constitutes a crossroads joining issues of cardinal concern in both spheres.

For theology, no question can be more fundamental than that of the legitimacy of Christian faith. During the past century and a half especially, aprioristic writers have tended to anchor this legitimacy in the essential constitution of the human understanding. As the nineteenth-century dictum took hold that history can be the matrix only of the relative, and as Protestant liberalism forsook the concept of an absolute historical disclosure as the basis of the Christian faith, a movement to human reason and its a priori elements and away from historical revelation characterized one whole phase of the Continental theological effort to exhibit the basis of Christian faith. Capitulating to Gotthold Lessing’s bias against an absolute faith suspended on historical actualities, it sought to show a rational foundation for faith in the intrinsic constitution of man’s reason. In this line of development, the religious a priori served to ground Christian faith in a manner that canceled any decisive basis in special revelation and depreciated the redemptive historical facets of biblical theology. Whether or not the role here assigned to the concept of the a priori supposedly in support of Christianity was justifiable, discussion of the a priori was strategically related as a theological concern to the all-important question of faith-assurance and faith-foundation.

In addition to this Christian theological use, the a priori was employed in philosophy of religion also to serve as ultimate ground of the validity and value of religion in general. By one thinker or another these issues were treated either independently or interwoven so that the lines of theological and philosophical interest converged. But the really decisive cleavage turned on the connection or disconnection of the a priori element with rational form and content, with a rational supernatural realm, and with special divine revelation.

The name of Immanuel Kant hovers today in the background of any discussion of the religious a priori. While Kantian philosophy indirectly provided impetus for the assertion of a critical and regulative religious a priori by several modern philosophers and theologians, Kant himself, as is well known, held no brief for an a priori religious element. Although Kant affirmed an a priori aspect of general knowledge, both in matters of pure and of practical reason, in the area of religion he was no apriorist, because he denied the independency of religion and assigned to it a basis in man’s moral nature. Hence Kant deprived religious experience of any grounding in the a priori constituents of theoretical knowledge. This is plain from his assignment of supernatural concerns to the practical sphere. Further, Kant denied to religion any grounding in the a priori constituents of practical knowledge, fundamentally concerned as this was with the moral realm. Kant located the only a priori factor related to religious experience in the moral life, and recognized no distinctive a priori element in the religious life.

Yet Kant’s aprioristic epistemology, coupled with a regulative, non-theoretical view of metaphysics, inspired a number of modern philosophers of religion to defend a unique religious a priori. Its transcendental character, reflecting limits imposed by the philosophy of Criticism, sets their view in striking contrast to the religious a priori in pre-Kantian thought. Critical and non-Critical views of the a priori must therefore be carefully distinguished, since this contrast sharply divides scholars who otherwise stand together in their affirmation of an aprioristic factor in religious experience. The distinction, in a word, is this: the post-Kantian religious a priori, fashioned within the regulative limits of the Critical Philosophy in respect to metaphysics, is concerned only with the validity of religious experience as a universal and necessary phenomenon, whereas the pre-Kantian aprioristic views are concerned also with (what any truly Kantian approach must deny itself) the existence of the religious a priori, the value of religious experience, and the objective reality of the religious Object. Philosophers of religion operating within the spirit of the Critical Philosophy can affirm—this much, but no more—only that men are universally and necessarily religious because aprioristic factors regulate the life of humanity. That these aprioristic factors are more than regulative, that instead they maintain a genuine existence in the mind and life of man through the operation of supernatural being—this much can never be affirmed or even seriously considered by one who professes to stand in the succession of Kantian epistemology, for such an assertion requires the renunciation of the limitations on which the transcendental Critical Philosophy insists. Nor is it possible, for any who develop a religious a priori in this post-Kantian mood, to settle the question of the value of religious experience, for a genuine settlement of that issue also requires a determination of the ontic reality of the religious Object which the Critical Philosophy, by definition, pronounces itself impotent to decide.

What has been said about the diverse representations of the a priori concept shows how superficial are dismissals, as simply a later species of Platonism, of all modern schemes of epistemology which insist upon an a priori factor. Not only does the Kantian a priori demand a separate classification, but the distinctive approach of Christian theologians who affirm an a priori factor requires a third classification over against both the Platonic and Kantian types. The readiness of many liberal theologians to dismiss Christian resistance of religious empiricism as merely an extension of Platonism is particularly unfortunate, since it betrays the biased view so characteristic of much of Protestant modernism that traditional Christianity was little more or less than a restatement and emendation of Greek philosophical ideas.

Closely associated with the emphasis on a priori knowledge has been the ontological argument, and at the proper place we shall need to consider it. Anselm’s two-page statement, on which his fame largely rests, has, as Gordon Clark avers, elicited a discussion that “must fill more than two thousand volumes” (Thales to Dewey, p. 255).

Alvin Plantinga notes that the ontological argument “has a long and illustrious line of defenders extending to the present” (God, Freedom and Evil, p. 85). “Nearly every major philosopher from the time of Anselm to the present has something to say about it” and “the last few years have seen a remarkable flurry of interest in it among philosophers.” Since Anselm’s time the argument has appeared in a considerable variety of versions (cf. The Many-Faced Argument, John Hick and Arthur C. McGill, eds.). Plantinga’s overview, The Ontological Argument: From St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers, reflects some of the lively contemporary interest. William P. Alston and J. N. Findlay consider the argument to be unsound. Charles Hartshorne and Norman Malcolm hold, on the other hand, as does Richard Taylor in an introduction to this volume, that Anselm’s exposition has two forms, only one of which is valid. Plantinga and Paul Henle consider the second form of the argument that Malcolm professes to find in Anselm to be invalid (ibid., pp. 160 f.).

Plantinga does not believe “that any philosopher has ever given a cogent and conclusive refutation of the ontological argument in its various forms” (God, Freedom and Evil, p. 86). He thinks the argument can be stated validly, not indeed as “a successful piece of natural theology” but in full confidence that “there is nothing contrary to reason or irrational” in the argument, and that it moreover establishes “the rational acceptability” of theism (ibid., p. 112). Elsewhere he contends that the argument is valid if it is properly stated. He offers as a “tentative conclusion” the verdict that “if my belief in other minds is rational so is my belief in God. But obviously the former is rational; so, therefore, is the latter” (God and Other Minds, p. 271).


The Philosophical Transcendent A Priori (I)

Platonic apriorism is the classic philosophical transcendent form. While but one variety of this type of a priori construction, it is nonetheless highly important. Although not without significance in the Middle Ages, its main features were aggressively reasserted only with the rise of modern philosophy.

Platonic Apriorism

Plato’s dissatisfaction with empiricism flows from the fact that from experience one can gain no uniform idea of the beautiful, the good, the just, the pious—indeed, of anything. Ideas of categorical meaning, dealing with judgment predication, must precede experience, else we cannot account for their existence and claim to universal validity. Therefore, Plato contends, we must know the likeness at which particulars aim before we come to particular objects of knowledge, since from the latter we could never confidently distill the universal.

The starting point for Plato’s theory of Ideas—which constitute the mind prior to experience—was Socrates’s stress on the universal in the particular. This assigned epistemic superiority to the general element and regarded the Ideas as the object of knowledge. To the Socratic analysis of the presuppositions of knowledge, Plato adds two strategic elements.

The first striking addition is Plato’s insistence on an ontologically real world of Ideas. Plato supplements the emphasis on the prior validity of the rational element in experience, in contrast with sensation, by the additional emphasis on the temporal priority of the realm of eternal Ideas. The a priori factor in human knowledge is thereby connected with the supernatural rational order. Man’s rational experience is made possible only by a divine Mind, a hierarchy of changeless Ideas, in which particulars gain their only reality by way either of participation or imitation. For Plato, the priority of the rational element can be understood only through an antecedent spiritual Idea-world.

The second distinctive factor in Platonic apriorism concerns the nature of man’s connection with the supernatural rational order. Uniquely constituted a rational animal, man has a capacity for valid knowledge in the world of sensations. Man’s possession of timeless universals is explained as a recollection of the Idea-world inherited from a previous soul life. Plato suspends the a priori element in human knowledge upon this theory of preexistence and recollection. Unable by perception alone to come to any real knowledge, human beings can make judgments of general validity only because experience of the timeless Ideas in a prior existence conditions man’s present experience through recollection.

The Platonic a priori therefore has three essential aspects: (1) the priority of the rational over the perceptual, by which the validity of knowledge is maintained, (2) the hypostatization of categorical ideas into transcendent realities (the ontological reality of the eternal Ideas) which provides a metaphysical explanation of our ability to make judgments of apriorical validity, (3) the theory of preexistence and recollection, which supplies the basis of man’s ability to make rational judgments that pierce through the sense manifold to the inner realm of changeless ideas.

This sweeping interest not only in the question of the validity of experience, but also in the transcendent supernatural to which man is peculiarly linked, distinguishes Plato’s a priori from the later Kantian type and is characteristic of pre-Kantian constructions. The question of the validity of religious experience is here considered inseparable from that of the transcendent reality of the supernatural realm; its discussion in terms merely of an inner, subjective order is excluded. The question of religious reality is uppermost, not merely that of validity in view of man’s universal and necessary thought-structures. The Platonic construction thus shares with Christian theology an interest in connecting the a priori with the ontic constitution of the metaphysical order, and therefore in man’s constitutive relationship to that order.

At the same time it is obvious that no proof of the truth of the Hebrew-Christian religion as such, nor for that matter of any rival religion, can be adduced from the Platonic a priori. What is involved, rather, is the reality basis of any and all supernatural religion contemplating eternal truth, goodness and beauty. The Platonic construction assumes what Judeo-Christian revelation has always called into doubt, that man’s present reasoning powers are devotedly rather than seditiously related to general divine disclosure. Since Platonism optimistically subscribes to the notion that human nature is unthwarted by a sinful bent of will, the a priori factor in combination with everyday experience is regarded as issuing in a valid natural theology. The rational interest in the supernatural, which Platonism shares with Christian apriorism, and which sets both approaches apart from Kantian agnosticism, is therefore not the only distinguishing feature of the Platonic view. There are irreducible differences that mark the Platonic and Christian forms as contrasting species of transcendent a priori. The philosophical-speculative character of Platonic apriorism and the theological-revelational character of the Christian view require separate classifications. The latter view alone is hospitable to special revelation as a principle adjunctive to apriorism, while the former tends easily to obscure transcendent general revelation by justifying validity on a pantheistic base.

Stoicism and the A Priori

The Stoic insistence that certain general ideas are shared in common by the human race should not be misunderstood as aprioristic. The sensory-empirical character of Stoicism is antiaprioristic in character; the soul is considered a blank tablet upon which the outer world of nature makes its impressions through sensation. Such experience gives rise, according to the Stoics, to the general notions common to all men, especially the natural norms of truth and virtue. The apparent presence in human experience of common ideas encouraged Stoicism to schematize a validity-criterion and truth-criterion in the world of sense flux. What is valid, it was held, is self-evidencing. General concepts such as God, right and justice are represented not as innate but rather as distillations of experience.

Cicero assigned an innate status to the God-concept, immortality and basic ethical ideas, but Cicero, while sometimes regarded as a Stoic, actually wrote against Stoicism. The Stoic notion of logoi in man (and in plants and stones also) was hardly appropriate to prove a potential innateness. Roman Stoicism was in fact a decadent, eclectic development.

Medieval Apriorism

Medieval emphasis on the religious a priori is more extensive than might be supposed from the antiaprioristic bias imparted to philosophy by later Thomistic empiricism. Unsympathetic interpreters frequently consider the Middle Ages an eccentric interlude between ancient and modern philosophy, its essential spirit being absorbed to the pre-Christian period, and its supernaturalism dismissed as an extension of the imaginative Greek outlook. Yet influential scholars in the Christian West espoused an ontological a priori approach not merely in the Greek mood but also, and more representatively, in an explicitly theological and revelational context.

The fundamental emphasis that thought has an ontic reference to the world of reality, and that all thought depends upon the prior efficiency of divine reason, is as characteristic of medieval as of classic Greek philosophy. The modern dualism between subjectivity and reality is transcended; the possibility therefore exists of genuine theoretical knowledge of the metaphysical realm. The tension between the creativity of human reason and objective reality, between thinking and being, or the conflict between epistemology and ontology, which is in the forefront of the modern disputes over knowledge, is conspicuously absent. Thinking is represented as an ontological activity in and through which man comprehends reality itself. This presupposition endured as a characteristic also of modern philosophy until it was swept aside by the antimetaphysical influence of Kantian Criticism.

The medieval confidence that man’s spirit stands in the loftiest areas of thought in an immediate rational connection with the divine Spirit could be carried forward in two ways. One is essentially theological-revelational, the other philosophical-speculative. Of this twofold division, Augustine and Anselm may be considered in some respects the representatives, although the disjunction between them is not as great as sometimes implied.

The philosophical transcendent a priori is central to Anselm’s famous ontological argument, although he relates it specifically to a Christian base. Chronologically, Anselm’s formulation appears seven centuries after Augustine’s, but it is best considered first because of certain of its philosophical features. Augustine’s apriorism will be considered under the theological transcendent a priori, in chapter 20. In relation to the aprioristic approaches already discussed, of which the Platonic is the classical Greek type, Anselm’s construction as a formulation of Christian thought breaks with the pantheistic theory of the human spirit and with the Platonic doctrine of preexistence and recollection, in deference to the biblical doctrine of creation. It therefore carries forward the emphasis on rational truths about the supernatural realm by exclusively a priori means, considering the truths as universally accessible without the aid of sense experience, while it dismantles the speculative ontological framework whereby Plato supported his doctrine of innate ideas.

Anselm’s Apriorism

Whether Anselmic apriorism is properly classified as theological-revelational or philosophical-speculative is still widely debated. Anselm’s central contribution, the ontological argument, has been put forward as a prototype of mutally exclusive approaches. Philosophical metaphysicians claim that Anselm vindicates an innate theoretical basis for God-knowledge which does not depend upon Hebrew-Christian revelation. Theological metaphysicians contend that he exhibits the knowledge of God in accordance with the biblical dual emphasis on general and special divine revelation. Contemporary antimetaphysical theology finds Anselm friendly to its anti-intellectual confinement of all knowledge of God to a faith-response to divine encounter.

Is the ontological argument, as elaborated by Anselm, a purely speculative argument intended to lead to faith in God? Does it rather presuppose general revelation in the Hebrew-Christian sense? Or is it a meditation exclusively within the sphere of belief and the church, in which redemptive faith seeks “understanding”? And does this “understanding” involve conceptual knowledge of God? Finally, are Anselm’s deductions from the idea of God valid, either in part or in whole?

Anselm indicates in a prologue the circumstances under which he prepared both the Monologion and the Proslogion. The monks to whom he was lecturing at Bec had requested that he deal with God’s essence and existence without recourse to external proofs. Later thinkers, entirely disowning the appeal to specially revealed religion, might employ either the a posteriori approach of the Monologion or the a priori approach of the Proslogion as independent and self-sufficient, and without any subsequent exposition of the special Hebrew-Christian revelation of God, but that assuredly was not the context in which Anselm formulated them. In abstracting philosophical truth from revelational information as Anselm did, in both works, he perhaps unintentionally exemplified approaches which could be pursued by later thinkers whose repudiation of special divine disclosure clearly distinguished them from him. Anselm’s confident expectation of such comprehensive results from the ontological argument may have encouraged an unjustifiable optimism over the sinner’s philosophic competence to elaborate the nature of God in independence of special revelation. But that Anselm hardly intended a purely philosophical argument wholly divorced from revelation, general and special, is clear from his preface: “I have written the following treatise in the person of one who strives to lift his mind to the contemplation of God, and seeks to understand what he believes.… I accordingly gave each [book] a title, that the first might be known as, An Example of Meditation on the Grounds of Faith, and its sequel as, Faith Seeking Understanding” (St. Anselm: Proslogium; Monologium).

From these words some argue that Anselm does not aim by the ontological argument to bend the unbeliever to a Christian view of God. Some interpreters even consider it a fundamental misconception to regard the Anselmian argument as an apologetic device to be used with non-Christians. Thus S. J. Curtis asserts that “St. Anselm is writing for the faithful who have an intimate experience of the truth they believe.… If we look upon the ontological argument as a method for convincing unbelief, we shall misunderstand it” (A Short History of Western Philosophy in the Middle Ages, pp. 74 f.). Other contemporary interpreters of Anselm, following Karl Barth, deny the argument any demonstrative significance forged from the perspective of general revelation, and declare it to be a believer’s meditation which presupposes the content of special revelation (cf. the appraisals by A. A. Cook, “The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God,” and Langmead Casserley, The Christian in Philosophy).

A controlling principle in Anselm’s theology, which links him in spirit with Augustine rather than with Plato as his predecessor, and with Luther and Calvin rather than with Descartes and Hegei as successors, is his confidence that divine revelation, not conjectural philosophy, furnishes the starting point for faith: we do not as Christians philosophize in order to believe, but we believe in order to understand. God himself is the living premise from which his existence is deduced. This fundamental emphasis on the self-revealing God sets Anselm intentionally over against a merely secular outlook, and aligns him essentially with the theological development of the a priori. He does not reject the principle of special divine revelation nor a universal relation to the Creator on the basis of general revelation.

Numerous facets of Anselm’s presentation suggest in fact that he does not intend it to be an apologetic instrument to persuade unbelievers, but rather a belief-ful meditation by one who already enjoys the benefits of special revelation and redemption. At least five considerations have been adduced to emphasize that the ontological argument is oriented to Hebrew-Christian faith:

(1) Anselm asserts that without belief, understanding is impossible. “I do not seek to understand that I may believe,” he writes, “but I believe in order to understand.” God gives understanding to faith. Anselm acknowledges that even the empirical argument set forth in his earlier Monologion was “an example of meditation on the grounds of faith.” His subsequent treatise elaborating the ontological argument, the Proslogion, is likewise that of a person “who strives to lift his mind to the contemplation of God, and seeks to understand what he believes.”

(2) Anselm’s spontaneous and rather frequent resort to Scripture in the course of his meditation suggests that his perspective is that of biblical revelation.

(3) The acknowledgment that sin, and not mere creatureliness, erects an experiential barrier to man’s pursuit of God. Man as sinner is enveloped by darkness, having fallen in Adam. “I fell before my mother conceived me. Truly, in darkness I was conceived, and in the cover of darkness I was born” (ch. xviii). The soul’s sinful senses, moreover, “have grown rigid and dull, and have been obstructed by their long listlessness” (ch. xvii).

(4) Anselm’s emphasis on the indispensability of spiritual renewal and re-creation because the creation-image has been “so consumed and wasted away … and obscured … that it cannot achieve that for which it was made” (ch. i). The soul needs to be freed from itself, cleansed and enlightened; without recovering its strength, it cannot “with all its understanding … strive toward” God (ch. xviii).

(5) In replying to the objection of Gaunilon, Anselm uses the ad hominem argument that Gaunilon, although speaking in behalf of the fool, nonetheless as actually a believer knows that God is not a nonentity. Anselm deliberately addresses the monk as “by no means a fool” but a Catholic. He calls upon Gaunilon’s “faith and conscience to attest” that the innate idea of God has not simply the status of a God-idea, as if the reality of the object were an additional consideration, but rather is an idea of “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”

This interpretation would help to explain why, simply by a full-orbed exposition of the ontological argument, Anselm derives not only some attributes of the living God, but other doctrines also which Christian theologians have traditionally insisted can be adduced only from scriptural revelation, e.g., the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of creation, and the fact that God shows mercy to some of the wicked and everlastingly punishes others.

Whether this interpretation of Anselm is correct or not remains to be decided. Even were that the case, he could not on this account be claimed for the school of dialectical theology which hails him as a champion of the priority of revelation or faith as against reason. For Anselm’s emphasis on the God-idea as an instrument of knowledge places him over against recent anticonceptual interpretations of revelation. His emphatic stress on the God-idea as a carrier of God-knowledge reflects Anselm’s confidence both in the possibility and actuality of divine communication of truths to man, especially the truth of God’s self-existence, through the medium of human cognition.

Probably it will now be best to proceed to Anselm’s famous exposition. Strictly speaking, Anselm does not present us with an argument, a demonstrative proof of God. He rests his case on something more fundamental: that man possesses the idea of God innately, and that this idea as such involves the very reality of God. This God-idea cannot be dismissed simply as a God-idea, for the idea itself would be impossible apart from the living God. Simply put: every person has the idea of “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”; therefore, God exists. Every protest voiced against this conclusion can be met in the same way: it understates the idea which man innately possesses, which is not merely an idea of an idea of God (than which there could be a greater, the real God). Rather, what man has innately is an idea of God. The idea of God implies his very existence or it is not an idea of God.

In the Monologion Anselm argues from the sense world and the creature to the supernatural, rising inferentially from the finite and incomplete phenomena of this world to God as Absolute and Infinite Perfection—in fact, to that very God with which Christian faith sets out, the Supremely Perfect Being than whom none greater can be conceived. Turning from this to the ontological argument, Anselm seeks in the Proslogion “a single argument which would require no other for its proof than itself alone; and alone would suffice to demonstrate that God truly exists, and that there is a supreme good requiring nothing else, which all other things require for their existence and well-being; and whatever we believe regarding the divine Being” (St. Anselm: Proslogium; Monologium, p. 1). While the closing phrase (if it implies the Christian sources) may preclude a reduction of the ontological appeal to a rational argument entirely outside a revelational context, the opening words and their reference to demonstration nonetheless suggest a strictly rational approach to be pursued independently of special revelation. Anselm appears convinced that in the a priori approach he no longer need suspend the argument for the Absolute on the existence of the relative, which so much disquieted him in the empirical approach of the Monologion.

Now that the ontological argument is before us, it is well to note the substantial reasons for regarding it not simply as the meditation of a devout believer but as intended rather as possessing universal validity. The evidence that Anselm considered the argument as of universal significance follows:

(1) The Proslogion was written in view of Anselm’s determination to present a self-evident and demonstrative argument for God “whatever we believe regarding the divine Being.”

(2) Scripture is appealed to not as the fontal source of knowledge of God but as confirmatory.

(3) The belief that God is a being “than which nothing greater can be conceived,” says Anselm, exists universally and necessarily in every man’s understanding.

(4) He contends that to a rational mind it is evident that God exists in the highest degree of all. The universally possessed idea is self-contradictory unless God exists; the fact that it is universally possessed does not produce the self-contradiction.

(5) According to Anselm, the denial that God exists is characteristic of a fool; it is not for the unregenerate man an ultimate epistemological necessity. Man as man is obliged to belief, not to unbelief.

(6) Anselm’s reply to Gaunilon’s apology in behalf of the fool makes patently clear that the ontological argument is proposed as a species of demonstration. The ontological proof was not propounded merely as an exposition of Christian faith, but as philosophically demonstrative. So Gaunilon understood, and so Anselm’s reply to Gaunilon puts beyond doubt. The demonstrative significance of the argument is what Gaunilon questions, and Anselm does not protest that Gaunilon misconstrues the purpose of the argument, but rather that he does not grasp its force. The whole philosophical tradition from Gaunilon to Aquinas and Kant has rightly understood that Anselm was engaged not merely in the intellectual clarification of the content of his own faith, but rather in setting forth a metaphysical proof of the reality of God. That was one reason Kant, who had no quarrel with a merely regulative and antimetaphysical faith, so much disliked the argument.

The philosophical thrust in Anselm’s development of the a priori comes to the fore especially in his refutation of Gaunilon’s criticism of the ontological argument. The monk of Marmoutier, writing an apology in behalf of “the fool” who says in his heart, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1, rsv), replies to Anselm that the ontological argument is no demonstration at all, for it commits us either to the notion that all ideas have an ontic reference (which we know is not the case with winged horses, elves, etc.) or to the notion that there are no concepts of unreal objects. The very circumstance that some people deny God’s existence, argues Gaunilon, shows that the idea does not necessitate the reality, and that God does not exist in the mind any more decisively than other objects do. If we are to deduce the predicates of deity from the essence, the real existence of God must be ascertained beforehand. Anselm’s method of arriving at this existence is spurious.

In rebuttal, Anselm disclaims any intention, in contrast with later philosophical idealism, to argue for the ontological significance of human ideation as such. Rather, he contrasts the God-idea with other ideas in view of its universality and necessity, as well as its demand for absolute perfection. To Gaunilon, and hence to the fool, who countered that by Anselm’s argument one could contend for the existence of a lost island imaginatively conceived as more excellent than all others, and hence that the argument involves the ontic and creative nature of all ideas, Anselm’s reply is pointed: “Show me,” Anselm says in effect, “that the idea of a lost island is universal and necessary, and I shall find it so it will never again be lost.” Not every idea refers to a reality. But the God-idea, which universally and necessarily structures human experience, has inescapable ontic reference. Whoever has in mind simply an imaginative deity has pauperized the God-idea and exchanged it for another.

While Anselm’s argument is propounded on the assumption of its universal validity, and not merely as an exercise of devout faith, he nevertheless does not offer it as an example of conjectural theory. If not grounded in an appeal to special divine revelation, the argument is nonetheless firmly tied to the Hebrew-Christian confidence in general or universal divine revelation not merely in outward nature, as assured by the Monologion, but in man’s very psychic constitution—not simply in conscience but in and through the indelible God-idea.

Only in two ways can the argument that man’s idea of God implies the reality of God escape resting the Absolute on the relative. One is pantheistic, and Anselm avoids it; the other is theistic.

Speculative idealism in modern times has ventured to retain the force of the ontological argument by insisting, in a profoundly nonbiblical vein, that man’s ideas are a part of the divine mind. Human thought is thus regarded as an aspect of ontological thinking in the ultimate sense. Such buttressing of the ontological argument at the same time cancels out the possibility of and necessity for special miraculous revelation, because of its monistic ontology. This argument develops innate knowledge of God by drawing theology away from any connection with special biblical disclosure. Even if it is sometimes offered in support of the Christian view of God, it issues actually in an “ontological theology” which perverts the Judeo-Christian revelation, since the ontological argument in this nonbiblical vein connects human ideas and the Absolute mind through a radical divine immanence more compatible with pantheistic philosophy than with Christian theology. Before ontological theology of this kind runs its course, the existence of God is derivable from any idea whatever (cf. Josiah Royce’s arrival at the Absolute from the idea of error in his Gifford Lectures, The World and the Individual), since all ideas are considered God’s ideas, and human thought becomes simply a reflex of the Ultimate Thinker.

But Anselm assigned the ontological argument a different context, for he maintains always the distinction between Creator and creature. Acknowledging divine immanence in carefully guarded biblical dimensions, such an approach affirms the divine image in man without losing him in God, and at the same time recognizes the distortion of this image due to the sinfulness of man.

The fact that Anselm sketches the ontological argument not merely as an exercise in speculative philosophical ingenuity, but in the context of Hebrew-Christian assurance of the universal revelation of the Creator, seems clear. Elements of the presentation indicative of Anselm’s theistic orientation are:

(1) God is greater than can be conceived (ch. xv), dwelling in unapproachable light (ch. xvi), and possessing his attributes in an ineffable manner (ch. xvii). Thus Anselm maintains the incomprehensibility of God, while avoiding his unknowability.

(2) Man has an intuitive sense of higher and lower perfections, a standard that enables him to categorize the divine attributes according to graduations of value. This might seem to imply a Platonic cast of thought, but one finds in Anselm no hint of those doctrines of preexistence and recollection so integral to Plato’s doctrine of eternal ideas. To the contrary, Anselm views man as the bearer of the creation-image of God.

(3) Deductions concerning divine attributes are repeatedly made, not by a decisive appeal to the scriptural revelation, but on the basis of a contrast of the relative perfections of the finite creature and the Infinite. God has given attributes to the objects of his creation in a sensible manner (ch. xvii).

(4) If the intellect has seen truth and light, contends Ans