Monday, July 27, 2009

Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation, Pt. 4...

We have now reached the point in William Abraham's "Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation" where he begins to explain the nature of the key term, namely, revelation. For Abraham, access to God's revelation is essential to any attempt at uncovering an epistemology that might be useful for Canonical theism. This should not be difficult to see; after all, as Abraham states, "[T]o have access to God's acts is ipso facto to have access to the truth about God." (p. 58) Again, "God is made known through what he does." (Ibid)

Before continuing, I want to take a brief sidestep and point out something that is obvious, but often forgotten. For, if God is made known through what he does, then we must not only determine what God is actually doing (as Abraham will unpack in this chapter), but we must also remember that, unlike humans, who will (in this life, at least) undertake a limited number of actions, God's acts are infinite and unbounded - if God is indeed anything like the God of Canonical theism. What this means is clear: No matter how much we think we know about God, no matter how many acts of God we think we've experienced, we can never really know God.

Indeed, if it is possible to argue (and it is) that we can never really know another human being completely, then how much more must that be the case with God? This perhaps seems like a rather obvious point, but I feel it deserves mentioning precisely because it is so easy for any of us, having experienced God (or what we believe to be God) or having been enlightened by reading Scripture, etc, to then assume that we have a sufficient understanding of God. But, no; while God's revelatory acts to humanity - Scripture, the witness of the Spirit in our lives, and, ultimately, Jesus Christ - are (Christians believe) sufficient to understanding the way God has interacted with and brought salvation to humanity, they in no way provide a sufficient understanding of God. That sufficiency belongs to the life of faith.

I do not think Abraham would argue this point, so I will continue with my review of the present chapter. Because God is revealed through God's acts, explains Abraham, revelation must be seen as a polymorphous activity. (p. 58) This simply means that God's revelation comes to us in a vast unfolding array: the created order, the 'moral law' (borrowing from C.S. Lewis), the biblical accounts of historical events we claim actually occurred (of course, many of these historical events are disputed precisely because there is a lack of external evidence), our experiences of God (including the Spirit's enlivening of our spirits to the Gospel), and - most vitally - in Jesus Christ, whom we believe to be the most complete revelation of God given to humanity this side of the eschaton.

Of course, we now come to the first question I noted above: How do we know that such-and-such an act is REALLY God's revelation? Abraham's response to this question might be a letdown to some: He simply points out that we seldom can know for sure. (p. 61) The truth is - and I personally think he downplays this point just a bit - most of the Christian claims to God's revelation are pretty outlandish claims, with minimal empirical or rational evidence to support their veracity. This is not to say that there is no evidence, or that Christians have no good reason for believing. But, let's at least admit that things like seas parting, animals talking, and people being raised from the dead are pretty rare, and those who are skeptical of the faith aren't entirely unreasonable in their doubt. After all, what honest person hasn't doubted the craziness of some of this stuff? :-) But we trust that we have received revelation from God.

Abraham echoes this, and actually says it quite succintly: "Our quest for revelation... tends to entail a set of assumptions about the human predicament that casts our ideas about the nature of revelation in a certain mold." In other words, there are two dangers. One is the aforementioned skepticism, which merely throws the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, because it sees scant evidence for the baby. The other, however, is more subtle. We slowly begin to doubt the most outlandish aspects of our faith, because they don't fit with what we know rationally. This leads us to morph Christianity into something we can comprehend, rather than the audacious (and sometimes intolerable) claims given to us in Scripture. God was a Jewish carpenter who died on a cross 2,000 years ago?! So, warns Abraham, we must be careful not to let our desire to understand God's revelation lead us down a path of attempting to re-cast that revelation in ways that must make sense to us.

In spite of this, says Abraham, there are reasons to say with conviction that we have experienced God's revelation. His approach is as follows: First, there is an appeal to "initial credulity" - things are as they appear to us to be, unless they appear otherwise. This alone will not establish revelation, but it does give us a point of reference. When we meet other persons, we already have an idea of what makes them human, and how they will act, and we need no epistemological system to help us intuit or interact with other people.

Abraham asserts that the same can be said of God's revelation. We have an awareness, he says, "however vague, of God and his presence in the world and in our lives." (p. 66) This is not something we have come to through reasoning or arguments; it simply is. Such beliefs arise naturally and do not need explanation. So, he suggests, our default position ought to be: "in the absence of good arguments to the contrary, we recognize straight off God's general revelatory activity in the world and within ourselves." (p. 67)

Now, right away, some will respond, "But there are good arguments to the contrary!" Abraham does not dismiss this possibility; he simply points out that we haven't gotten to that point yet. He is still setting up his grounding principle, which is merely that (as Plantinga and others have suggested) it is not irrational, as a starting point, to begin with the assumption that "the world itself evokes in human agents generally a sense of God that should be taken seriously..." (p. 67) It is certainly possible here to ask whether Abraham is transferring his intuitions onto others, but, at the very least, his point that most people instinctively wonder about God ought to be granted.

Still, even granting this does not get us very far. But Abraham thinks we have made progress simply by coming to a place where we have to trust (or distrust) our own perceptions. Abraham is simply pointing out that there is no a priori reason to assume that one's awareness of God's presence is an unreliable perception. After all, isn't the suspicion that God might exist just as viable, as a starting point, as the suspicion that everything in the universe is completely by chance?

But for all of Abraham's explication, what his argument in this chapter really boils down to is a matter of faith. I am intrigued by the points he makes in this chapter about trusting that our way of "seeing" God is reliable need not be viewed as illogical. But, to put in bluntly -- So what? There are many things that are not in themselves illogical to believe, yet we come to recognize that they are not real. Why should we assume it is different in the case of Christian revelation? Why should we trust that our "seeing" is a more accurate picture of reality than any other way of "seeing"? Are we, after all, left with a situational pluralism in which no view is more correct than any other?

Abraham doesn't think so. And he will set out to show why in the next chapter.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation, Pt. 3...

Having set out his basic methodology and a list of epistemic platitudes, in Chapter 3 of "Crossing the Threshold..." William Abraham begins to apply this approach to a particular form of theism, namely, Canonical theism. Recall that, for Abraham, is it potentially more fruitful to explore the particular epistemological issues found within a certain belief structure than to begin with a system of knowledge and seek to explain theism in light of that system. So, he now begins to deal with appropriate epistemic fit as applied to Canonical theism.

It is vital, says Abraham, to note that Canonical theism, like all theisms, is far more than a series of abstract propositions. It is, rather, "first and foremost a rich ontology." What this means is Canonical theism is a "world-orienting network of beliefs." (p. 44) So, we cannot expect any single epistemological tool to successfully determine its truth or falsehood - in fact, with any such network of beliefs, we are dealing not only with differing claims of truth, but also different types of belief, and a variety of arguments that may or may not be equally applicable.

So, what is the Canonical theist to do? Here, Abraham draws again upon the principle of proper epistemic fit. Just as we would not measure historical claims using scientific arguments, we need not assume that theological claims can be properly measured by the arguments used in another particular field of inquiry, or network of beliefs. They may be applicable, but we should not begin with that assumption. This, of course, does not mean that Canonical theism (or any theism) will be proved true, but it does offer an important reminder of the limitations we often ignore when trying to disprove a different belief system using the tools appropriate to our own belief system.

Of course, this itself may be viewed as an antiquated notion by some who, having seen the immense power of the scientific model, have determined that all beliefs can be epistemologically proved or disproved based upon how properly they align with the principles of scientific inquiry. So, we have naturalistic atheists who begin with the assumption that Darwinian theory and neurological connections provide conclusive evidence of theistic falsehood. But, these approaches are no less mistaken than (and, in fact, are a rebuttal to) those Christian epistemologists who attempted to explain scientific principles using the words of Scripture. The two spheres simply do not permit that sort of external argumentation. Further, there can be no "single proof" that would prove or disprove a belief system. (p. 46)

Abraham is not naive to the implication of his approach; he admits that Canonical theism could be disproved if, by proving conclusively that Jesus never existed or showing that an invisible God is a self-contradictory idea, its "central concepts" are invalid. (p. 46) But surely this is the basic problem: Many scholars, with all sorts of different 'world-orienting' belief systems, have been able to provide well-developed reasons why we should doubt the central claims of theism. How do we know which theories are the most reliable? At what point does critical reasoning give us enough cause to proclaim Canonical theism effectively untrue? The debate here is never-ending.

So, it seems that we have not traveled very far in our epistemological quest. At this point, Abraham points out what has become one of the most popular current approaches to bolstering the claims of theists, namely, the idea of warrant as developed by the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Put briefly, there are basic beliefs that we hold as human beings which need no previous justification - they are believed, not because of evidence, but because they are warranted beliefs. Examples of these sorts of beliefs include belief in a real, external world, belief in the past, and belief in other minds. The warrant for belief in God is secured by "the proper functioning of the sensus divinitas, that is, divine sense. (p. 47) Basically, if our divine sense is working properly, we will know properly that God exists. If we do not know this, it is because our sensus is malfunctioning, which is precisely what Christianity describes as sin.

Now, while Plantinga's development of warrant is much more impressive and precise than the brief overview I have just given, nevertheless Abraham sees potential problems with this approach. His main concern is just that, in order to appeal to the idea of the sensus, its malfunctioning and subsequent healing in Christ, we have to first appeal to a particular understanding of Christian belief which means assuming that we have understood these concepts themselves correctly. Thus, we are left with an endless circular structure in which we can only speculate upon which explanation of the divine sense is actually the one which is not faulty.

So, in spite of its epistemological ingenuity, Abraham is not satisfied with the concept of warrant, and admits that we have not gotten very far yet. At this point, it is tempting to think that Barth may be right after all, and the question of truth should really be left up to unadulterated faith. Abraham, of course, does not go down that road, but I am beginning to think that maybe he should admit his own road is not as far of a stretch away from Barth's as he might hope. Abraham essentially admits that Canonical theism is epistemologically dependent upon "complexity, mystery, density, and paradox." (p. 52) If so, then he ought to, in my opinion, be less eager to dismiss all fideistic belief as devoid of value.

Abraham finishes the chapter by providing some outlines of what the epistemological structure of Canonical theism entails. It is, he reminds us, not readily subject to proof, but can be disproved or strained. It cannot be secured by "properly basic beliefs." But it is not an "all-or-nothing affair." We have to consider both events and our experience of those events, as well as the testimony of others. All of this is necessary. (p. 54) However, this is not a vindication; it is a recognition of the epistemic limits we face as believers. (Ironically, Abraham returns here to the idea of cognitive capacities healed by God's Spirit. This seems contradictory, given that he just explained the limitations of this argument.)

Believers, Abraham notes, "rest content with trusting in God," remembering that our faith depends at its center in a divine revelation from an unknowable source: God. Here is where Abraham begins to move toward the next main section of the book. In the next chapter, he will begin to develop both a description of divine revelation, and its place in the 'epistemological toolbox' used by Canonical theists. In fact, as we will see, revelation has a larger and more profound role to play, and is pivotal to our epistemological convictions.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation, Pt. 2...

Last time, I provided an overview of the first chapter in William Abraham's book, "Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation." There, he offers an outline of what he considers to be the standard strategies employed by Christian scholars attempting to develop an epistemology for their beliefs. Abraham is not content with any of the options he finds, and intends to offer an alternative perspective. In Chapter 2 of "Crossing the Threshold...", he begins to sketch his alternative epistemological vision.

First, Abraham is very adamant that we must do all that we can to resist both the desire to develop a full-blown systematic theory of knowledge (p. 24) and the temptation to become relativists or skeptics. (p. 25) He does not believe modern hermeneutical attempts will be epistemologically successful, because in the end, if theology is subjected to hermeneutical inquiry, it will lead to skepticism, since it becomes a process that "is unstable... thoroughly dependent upon the reader... necessarily incomplete, and permanently revisable." (p. 26)

What Abraham is saying here is simply an echo of his previous assertion that no epistemological theory can supersede our theology. And while his statement is valid, it also seems important to remember that all of our beliefs are, at some level, an interpretation of reality. This recognition does not automatically necessitate skepticism. It is merely a reminder of the limits of our knowledge. Abraham would certainly agree, and the struggle he describes is a vital warning to theologians about the danger of relying exclusively upon any system of knowledge.

But Abraham's main goal in Chapter 2 is to provide a series of "epistemic platitudes," statements that are not worked out logically in the situation, but rest upon epistemological foundations that have been previously established as "relatively secure." (p. 29) Abraham does not see any reason why theologians should be less obliged to use a variety of epistemic tools than scholars in any other field of inquiry. Just as historians and scientists can rely upon everything from empirical evidence and cumulative case arguments to "hunches" and "intuitions" (p. 28) so too can theologians. Abraham places before us his 'tool box' (if you will) of epistemic options under the umbrella category of epistemic platitudes.

'Appropriate epistemic fit' is one of these platitudes. Others include: "We can and should accept the general reliability of our senses...", "We should also rely on memory," "We can and should accept testimony, "Some of our beliefs are rightly and properly basic," and so on. (p. 36-38) Now, I have no wish to discredit Abraham with regard to his description of the epistemic platitudes; in fact, I think his approach here is quite valuable. But it does raise several interesting questions, not the least of which is this: Where does all this get us? Is it merely question begging, or is it genuinely beneficial to Christian theology?

I want to pursue this query by looking specifically at one of Abraham's platitudes: "Particularism is to be preferred to methodism." (p. 30) Here, Abraham does not mean denominational Methodism; rather, he is describing once again the tendency in both philosophers and theologians to create a "method" that will serve as a universal epistemological system. He explains in some detail why this statement deserves to be included in his list of platitudes. First, methodism results in an epistemological stalemate between competing methods. This happened with rationalism and empiricism until Kant finally broke the deadlock by creating an entirely new method - which soon fell prey to the same dilemma as Hegel created his system in response.

Second, as more and more methods have developed, epistemology has become "person-relative" - that is, we have so many methods that any theorist can claim their method is valid, and then we are stuck trying to discern which methods are in fact valid, and are once again tempted to start looking for our own method which will break through the impasse. This, of course, is a perpetuation of skepticism, since we can never get to THE method that will finally prove impenetrable.

Abraham's call to particularism alleviates the maddening search for a perfect method by shifting the focus: Instead of trying to pacify the skeptic and defend this or that method, the theologian or philosopher focusing on specific epistemological claims, and soon realizes that she/he really does have a wealth of knowledge upon which to rely. This realization frees them to examine this host of epistemological questions using the variety of tools (the platitudes) available in the epistemic tool box.

As much as I appreciate Abraham's philosophical vision here, I am left with the concern that what the particularist approach leads us to is a distant desert oasis that, upon arrival, proves to be a mirage. What I mean is this: Is it not the case that each of the epistemic platitudes leads to series of philosophical questions that can be questioned? Are not many of them still unresolved? Isn't the problem precisely determining how much we actually know? Abraham seems, many times, to concede that there will be many unanswered questions, and he appears to be content with that reality. But here he is much closer to Barth than he seems willing to admit, at least in the present text.

For, choosing to believe in Christian theology in the face of a series of irresolvable epistemic issues is precisely where faith comes into play. The only major difference I can see here between Abraham and Barth is in the amount of epistemic issues each one is willing to accept as irresolvable before leaping entirely into faith.

Additionally, might not the desire to build upon a series of epistemic platitudes eventually reveal itself to be just another system, albeit one with many more twists and turns? Does an approach that leads to 1,000 particular impasses really give us more, in the end, than an approach that leads to a few major methodological impasses?

I realize I'm sounding here exactly like the skeptic which so frustrates Abraham; it is not my intention to write off his approach, because I do in fact see much value in appropriating the various platitudes. I'm just not sure that at the end of the day what Abraham is doing is really providing an endless series of distractions from the fact that we are really still dealing with a series of impasses. And if, in fact, it is a distraction, then it is a methodological distraction, I think. (Though, I'm open to correction here, if I'm misunderstanding!)

Nevertheless, I am in full agreement with Abraham on this point: We need to abandon the assumption that there is a "network of canonized or constitutive epistemological commitments [which are] essential to one's theism..." (p. 42) This is vital for theology - we are much better off if we hold loosely to our methods and systems and attempt to deal with questions of knowledge as they arise using the epistemic tools best suited to that particular situation. Our primary source of truth is faith, and we must take care not to replace our faith in Christ with a method for ascertaining truth. None of them will take us far enough.

Up next... chapter three!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation, Pt. 1...

Ok... here we go!

In chapter 1 of "Crossing the Threshold...", William Abraham begins his discussion of divine revelation by laying out the basic structure to, and reasoning for, his epistemological approach. Of course, it is a truism that there are many competing claims to revelation. So what makes the Christian claim to revelation worth taking seriously? Abraham states that, throughout the 20th century, three general theological responses to revelation were developed (p. 2-4) in this regard.

First, there is the "conservative" response, that is, the first-order belief that God's revelation is clearly present in Scripture (primarily) - and so the two-fold goal is simply to defend that presupposed revelation from attacks and harmonize any conflicting claims in light of what Scripture already says.

Second, there is what might be called the fideist response of Karl Barth and others, who, according to Abraham, "outlawed the very idea of providing any kind of rational defense for the identification of divine revelation." (p. 3) While I think this is an overstated misrepresentation of Barth's views, since Abraham does not directly engage Barth in the present text, I will leave that issue for another time. Clearly, though, Abraham does not find this approach valuable, calling it "a disaster" (p. 3) because it leaves theologians with no way to properly address the opposition. I think his outright dismissal of the Barthian approach ultimately is unhelpful to his own case; the reader will have to judge for herself whether this is so.

Thirdly, says Abraham, there is what essentially amounts to the response of ignorance or avoidance: some theologians focus on other issues - tacitly accepting skepticism - and avoid dealing with the question of revelation altogether, or turn it into a footnote that needs no serious discussion. This is not only present in some streams of theology but is very prevalent in philosophy, which should not be a surprise.

Against these three responses to revelation, Abraham intends to argue 1) that divine revelation does, in fact, exist and 2) that "our possession of such revelation constitutes knowledge" that is rational and justified. (p. 5) Of course, these are two major theses that must be pursued in connection with other theological and epistemological claims. So, his first step in this direction involves "clearing the decks" (p. 5), that is, pointing out flaws in the current epistemological approaches to theology. Once we realize that the current models are insufficient, he hopes to offer his model as a preferred option.

Having essentially disregarded the second and third responses (fideism and avoidance) from the outset, Abraham presents the "standard strategy" which is used to establish any sort of rational belief in God. (p. 6) This strategy typically finds a general theory of knowledge/thought, develops that theory, and then applies it to belief in God. Examples of this strategy include the classical theological "deductive proofs," the justification of "ultimate language games," establishing a "universal human experience" and/or perception + testimony, the formulation of "cumulative case arguments (whereby belief in God is deemed rational once the total amount of positive evidence outweighs the total negative evidence)," and warrant (in which belief in God rests upon beliefs which are properly basic, making it rationally warranted. This approach has gained wide recognition due to Alvin Plantinga, perhaps the greatest living Christian philosopher.) (p. 7-8)

It is not that Abraham finds these approaches necessarily incorrect or useless. In fact, as we will see, he makes use of many of them within his own epistemological approach. But his real disagreement is with the priority given to the general theory, which - he suggests - results in the subordination of theology to some particular epistemological approach which determines theistic viability. (Ironically, Abraham - as I'm sure he is aware - is sounding quite a bit like Barth at this point!)

In addition to leaving theology open to criticism from a supposedly superior epistemological theory, the standard approach also generally fails to be directly related to the core Christian beliefs, which Abraham prefers to call Canonical theism. In other words, all of these theories may provide some evidence for theism, but none of them can tell me whether I should place my trust in Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, as the Savior of humanity. Abraham also points out that the standard strategy doesn't seem to really fit with the epistemological commitments that Christian believers actually make when they decide to follow Christ. He suggests that we not blithely toss aside these commitments merely because they seem to lack sense within a particular systemic approach.

Because of these problems, Abraham asserts that Christian theologians (and believers in general) ought to adopt "a very different epistemological principle... the principle of appropriate epistemic fit." (p. 11, emphasis mine) Essentially, this amounts to a move from deductive to inductive reasoning, although this is an admitted oversimplification. Rather than beginning with a general theory to which belief in God is subjected, we begin with a specific belief and see what a fresh appraisal of that belief might look like. Then, once the particulars have been assessed, we might be able to see a picture of proper theism as an outworking of our specific beliefs.

According to Abraham, what he is proposing is a simple reversal, which is more in keeping with the way our thinking naturally proceeds. (p. 13) So, he will attempt to take a particular type of theism - the aforementioned Canonical theism - and apply a series of epistemological approaches to it, in an effort to secure a better understanding of its rationality or lack thereof. This avoids the reduction of belief to some general theistic model, and it offers the possibility of working with various epistemic theories rather than relying upon just one.

Note: Abraham does make clear that Canonical theism should not be viewed as some sort of dogmatic set of principles, rather, it is simply a series of theses that refer to the set of beliefs which have traditionally been the "canonical heritage" of the Church. The Church has never canonized any theory of knowledge. (p. 16) This is well worth remembering.

Because there is no canonized theory of knowledge, the Christian believer (Canonical theist) has a wide array of resources to which they may appeal when developing an epistemological response to inquiries about the rationality of their beliefs. Abraham states that most Christians do not have a developed theory of knowledge, and there is no need for one - people can make rational statements about any number of beliefs without having to appeal to some overarching theory. (p. 18) In fact, says Abraham, the various attempts to canonize epistemological theories have been the source of many schisms within the history of the Church. (p. 19-20)

However, in spite of Abraham's correct assertion that epistemology is not a theological, but a philosophical, sub-discipline, the fact remains that we are all - believers and unbelievers alike - heirs of Descartes, Kant, etc., and the subjective turn within philosophy now affects us all, such that we cannot help but ask questions of knowledge and truth, because we are oriented such that those questions are now understood to directly affect me. This is not a criticism of Abraham; it is simply a statement about our understanding of reality as it now stands. So, epistemology clearly remains vital for us, even if it is not a primary theological category.

So, to sum up this post, Abraham rejects the need for any "divinely authorized" theory of knowledge. This does not mean that Christian theologians have no need of epistemology. Rather, Abraham wishes to "relocate the appeal to divine revelation within a wider vision of the epistemology of theology." (p. 23) This vision highlights the mistake of relying upon any overarching system, and begins with the specific form of Canonical theism, to which a variety of epistemic approaches will be applied. In the next post, we will encounter some of those approaches, and see how Abraham responds to those skeptical of his reversal of the standard approach.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

William Abraham's "Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation"...

So, I'm TA'ing an ethics class next week and have other stuff to work on as well, but...

I just finished reading "Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation" by William Abraham, a professor of theology at Southern Methodist University, and I have felt the urge to engage with the text and respond to his approach. So, for the next several posts, I'll be commenting on the book, and some of the language may get a bit technical. I apologize for any irritation this may cause to my readers! :-) At any rate, I begin with an introduction to the book, and to Prof. Abraham, for those who may not be familiar with his work.


William Abraham is the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Theology and Wesley Studies at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, TX. He has written several valuable books, the most well-known probably being "Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology." He is also the primary proponent of what he calls "Canonical theism," which he says "is a term invented to capture the robust form of theism manifested, lived, and expressed in the canonical heritage of the Church. It is proposed as both a living form of theism and a substantial theological experiment for today." (Visit the above link for a more complete account of Canonical theism.)

It was actually my discovery of the online overview of Canonical theism that led me to Abraham's work. Upon discovering that he is also very interested in the intersection between philosophy and theology (particularly epistemology, the study of knowledge and how we know things), I decided that it might be helpful - and fun! - to read one of his primary texts and find out, among other things, whether he and I might share similar academic interests and ideas. As we will see, the answer to that question is both 'yes' and 'no.' It was with this basic background that I picked up a copy of "Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation."

Essentially, "Crossing the Threshold..." is a treatise on a particular type of religious epistemology (from a Christian perspective, naturally). In the preface, Abraham explains that one of his goals in writing the book was to provide theologians with details about "recent developments within epistemology," (p. xi) and to provide philosophers with a novel analytic treatment of divine revelation.

[Side note: Another reason for my interest in Abraham's work is that he is a thinker in the Anglo-American tradition of "analytical philosophy" who actually seems to be friendly with those thinkers in the "continental philosophy" camp, which is where I tend to resonate. It's always good to be in dialogue with those who approach things from a different angle or methodology.]

At its center, this epistemological approach to revelation is tied to the goal of making Canonical theism both tenable and approachable. As I have not read "Canon and Criterion...", and I am not primarily concerned here with Canonical theism, I will keep my comments concerning that arena to a minimum. Instead, I intend to explore some of Abraham's epistemological claims concerning divine revelation, and respond to what I take to be the strengths and weaknesses of his assertions. With any luck, all of us will understand a bit more about epistemology and divine revelation when I am done!

So, with this introduction in place, my next post will be a response to chapter one. Hope you enjoy this series. If not, I take all the blame! :-)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Three principles for interpreting Scripture per Kevin VanHoozer...

While there is, of course, much more that could be said, and much work that needs to be continued, with regard to our interpretation and understanding of Scripture, VanHoozer's outline here seems to be right on:

1. Theological interpretation of Scripture is God-centered biblical interpretation, a way of reading the Bible to hear the Word of God. As such, it is a matter of "first theology," for our doctrine of God affects our view of Scripture and our view of Scripture affects our doctrine of God. All exegesis is governed by presuppositions that are ultimately theological.

2. There is no more important task for the church than theological interpretation of Scripture (because of what this involves), and it is a task that must involve the whole church and the whole seminary (e.g., all the theological disciplines).

3. Theological interpretation of Scripture must involve the whole person (all the "personal disciplines," including the intellectual and the spiritual). It is related to spiritual and intellectual and imaginative formation. Scripture forms the whole person.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ellul on the tension of living as a Christian...

I think this quote relates to some of the ideas I presented in my last post, and Ellul says it so much more eloquently than I can:

"Henceforth we must give up the idea that we can decrease our sin by our virtues. We must give up believing that we can 'improve' the world, that at least we can make man better, even if we cannot make him happy. At the same time, if we take this situation of the Christian seriously, we must refuse to further the disintegrating tendency in the world. We must not say to ourselves, 'We can't do anything about it!'

Thus we seem caught between two necessities, which nothing can alter: on the one hand it is impossible for us to make this world less sinful; on the other hand it is impossible for us to accept it as it is. If we refuse either the one or the other, we are actually not accepting the situation in which God has placed us... just as we are involved in the tension of sin and grace, so also we are involved in the tension between these two contradictory demands. It is a very painful, and a very uncomfortable, situation, but it is the only position which can be fruitful for the action of the Christian in the world... we must accept this tension and live in it."