Truth, Knowledge and our Context at the Beginning of the 21st Century
For the last 300 years the Western World has been throwing off dependence upon the personal and infinite God. People have become “alone in the Universe”. This has consequences in every aspect of individual and social life. It is not a mere intellectual loneliness, but is felt existentially; people are fragmented socially and internally. This present generation of young Europeans lives in a vertigo of relativity. The rule of rationalism, which started with the Enlightenment, is losing its grip. Many of our contemporaries, reacting to the idolatry of Rationalism, have given up the search for truth – and have redefined the idea of truth as mere social opinion. What once appeared to be valid scientific knowledge is now sometimes viewed as a sophisticated power game. They claim either that we cannot know anything, or that, at best, we know only incoherent pieces of truth from which we are not able to anticipate the whole picture.
This belief, itself, assumes total and absolute knowledge, and is a claim to total insight, which belongs only to God. At the same time many people either react strongly negatively to dogmatic statements of modernistic certainty or demand absolute proofs of truth. Having listened seriously to the cautious scepticism of our days, we nonetheless seek Truth in the gracious revelation from God, Who spoke and still speaks. His revealed Word frees us from epistemological circles and legalistic, moralistic manipulation. Knowledge of Truth comes to us from outside our system, outside our universe of meanings. It enters in such a way that we are able to understand, limited and perverted as we are. We do not know everything and even our knowledge is only partial and sometimes mixed with misunderstanding. Nevertheless we have ground for confidence that we may know sufficient truth to make sense of our existence, for the God Who is behind all existence has spoken.
The Bible teaches that our knowledge of God is limited and conditional; however, although we do not have exhaustive knowledge of God in any area, because God has revealed Himself to us in words, we can have knowledge about Him that is true of Him as well as for us. Although we are not able to know the Truth in its entirety, we are able to know enough to make responsible decisions on all levels of our life. In our suspicion of Rationalism we are not against the proper use of reason. God created a reasonable universe, reflecting His own person. The opposite of reason is not faith, but madness. Christian faith is reasonable faith, but we admit that there is no final certainty without trust in the person of Christ. God has given us reasonable ground for trusting Him. This is an important distinction that demands our submission and humility. We are not asked to enter a dark room and take a leap of faith, but rather to walk in obedience in the light we have been given. As we walk, we are to expect to be given more light as the Holy Spirit gives wisdom, knowledge and insight into truth about the way things really are.To enter into knowledge of Truth is to enter into a relationship, as God, the sum of all Truth, is personal and not merely an idea. God lets Himself be known by the persons He created. He is not the object of a scientific, rationalistic exploration. This does not lead to the abandonment of intellectual pursuits but recognizes the limits of human reason.
True knowledge is possible for believer and unbeliever alike. The truth we know is truth in opposition to falsehood; truth that accords with the way things are, as opposed to the way things are not. This makes both the natural and the human sciences possible. This truth also makes history possible, history which can be examined and from which adequate proof can be ascertained. This understanding is related also to the way we have been created to live, secure in the conviction that God enables us to know enough to live in the ways He has designed for us. Modernism taught that our moral state does not matter in the area of knowledge, that something can be known regardless of our moral condition. However knowledge of God is not morally neutral, rebellion and idolatry hinder knowledge of God. Obedience leads us to experience something of the reality of God Himself.
In obedience, the commitment to act on what we know, we come to know the truth. Truth may be known when we bow ontologically, epistemologically, morally. Firstly, we must bow as creatures and acknowledge our dependence on God the Creator for life itself and that there is a distinction between the Creator and His creation. We acknowledge the priority of God ontologically: God has priority as the centre and source of all reality – Creator, Sustainer, Saviour and Judge. Secondly, we must bow in our minds epistemologically, acknowledging that we cannot find truth by reason alone, and are dependent on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This 'Word' is both of general and of special revelation. We confess that God knows all things and we do not. He has priority in revelatory self-disclosure – within the creation, within the Scriptures and supremely in Jesus Christ. Anything we discern through our study of the world or of ourselves must be subjected to God's revealed Word in the Scriptures. Thirdly, we must bow as sinners knowing that personal pride and cultural prejudice distort all we think. Our perception and understanding of truth is finite, relative to our dispositions and – above all – perverted by our sinful tendency to hide the truth and our fatal attraction to lie. We confess that God is perfect and we are not.
The starting point for the proclamation and defence of Christianity is the fact that Christianity is true to what is and to all.Therefore, we affirm:
• the unity and exclusivity of truth which rests upon the existence of the One and only God
• the distinctiveness of God, His character and His creation, and the correspondence of His revealed Word with the given order of His creation. Together these provide a principle of antithesis, which excludes the possibility of propositions that are true also being false. Hence we do not accept systems of thought such as Neo-Orthodoxy, the New Age and certain kinds of “complementarity" teaching, which involve a divided view of truth.
• that Christianity can be shown to be true and reasonable, just as the Apostle Paul could assert that his teaching was "true and reasonable". By this we mean that there are good and sufficient reasons to believe that Christianity is true and that one can come to know that truth with confidence. • that Christian truth can be understood through rational means and propositional communication.
• that the propositional content of the Christian faith cannot be replaced by internal testimony, mystical experience, or emotional encounter.
• that individual Christian faith and knowledge should properly be based upon rational understanding and intellectual certainty, not merely upon subjective assurance, important as that is.
• that knowledge of God is not only possible but unavoidable for the whole human race, since human beings are made in the image of God; nevertheless, knowledge of salvation is possible only on the basis of the Scriptures and their revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
• A limited understanding of God can be gained from observing the natural order, although this will always be speculative and tentative unless confirmed by God’s special revelation. A complete understanding of God without reference to His special revelation is not possible. It does not denigrate science to say that neither science nor naturalistic philosophy can provide substantial answers to the larger questions of our existence in their being partial and contingent and clouded by the same sin that hinders all other spheres of human activity.