Nature has planted in our minds an insatiable longing to see the truth. ~ Cicero
The search for truth sets the course for our entire existence. Francis Schaeffer in a compilation titled, “The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer” writes that “unless our epistemology is right, everything is going to be wrong [Schaeffer: Vol. 1, Book 3, Introduction].”
Christians have tended to despise the concept of philosophy. This has been one of the weaknesses of evangelical, orthodox Christianity — we have been proud in despising philosophy, and we have been exceedingly proud in despising the intellect. Our theological seminaries hardly ever relate their theology to philosophy, and specifically to the current philosophy. Thus, students go out from the theological seminaries not knowing how to relate Christianity to the surrounding world-view. It is not that they do not know the answers. My observation is that most students graduating from our theological seminaries do not know the questions [Ibid.Vol 1, Book 3, Ch 1].
If the church is going to live missionally, She must understand the post-modern philosophy and its impact on theology. Making this connection to every core aspect of theology is beyond the scope of this post, so instead I will focus on the crucial subject of epistemology. Specifically, this post will summarize the approaches to the search for truth from Francis Schaeffer’s book “He Is There And He Is Not Silent”
Schaefer asserts that in the search for truth, there are only two possible answers: “No Answer” or an “Answer.” Those in the “No Answer” group believe there is no logical or rational universal truth and conclude that all life is chaotic, irrational and absurd. They do not seek to find a unity between the perceived random particulars of life and they can believe many competing ideas at the same time. This epistemology has become far more prevalent in the United States in the past two decades. Observes of American culture will notice a strong shift in terminology that emphasizes the ideals of “following your heart,” “creating your own reality,“ “living in your now,” and “defining your personal truth.” People are finding it much easier to live a life of contradiction and irrationality as the “No Answer” philosophy has gained dominance on the college campuses, movies, television, music and in the popular culture.
The second “Answer” group, according to Schaeffer, are those who believe there is a universal answer in the search for truth. There are, however, three different subgroups who differ philosophically on where to find their truth. The first subgroup bases their epistemology on the philosophical ideal that everything that exists came from nothing. In observing the world, there is no intention, design, or purpose in humanity’s existence, and the ultimate truth that binds all thought is that the universe is merely a product of random chance. While the philosophic ideal in this group differs from the “No Answer” group, the practical day-to-day existence of these people is not much different. Both groups rely on “self” as the center of meaning and can hold a host of divergent and contradictory ideas without any pause for concern.
The second subgroup holding to the “Answer” epistemology are those who believe truth comes from an impersonal beginning. Some might call it the “Universal Mind” or “Higher Self”, but generally it is the ideal that the Universe itself has ‘being’ which worked to bring all things into existence. Within this framework, the impersonal, plus time, plus chance gives everything its purpose. Therefore, it does not matter where one begins their search for truth, because eventually all answers and all realities are equally valid. Once again, this is a unique philosophical approach that differs from all those listed above, but in since there can be no possible communication with an impersonal ‘Higher Mind,’ this worldview eventually devolves into a self-centered pragmatism rooted in feeling and desire.
The third and final subgroup sharing the “Answer” epistemology believes the search for an answer comes from a personal beginning. That is, there is some kind of God, gods, or even alien civilization that brought humanity into existence. Each of these views will differ on the nature of their origin and each view has intense consequences for how one answers the questions of evil, good, and social justice. The figure below is a summary of these views.
A thorough examination of these possibilities would make for some great conversation, but is unfortunately beyond the scope of this post. Suffice to say, however, that the being(s) one chooses as the object of their epistemology will shape both their ethos and praxis.
Each of these views is unique in its philosophical search for truth, but only the belief in a personal God, as revealed in the Christian Scripture as YHWH, provides a practical philosophy that offers a meaningful alternative to a post-modernity. Schaeffer summarizes his own conclusion this way.
So we have said two things. The only answer to the metaphysical problem of existence is that the infinite-personal God is there; and the only answer to the metaphysical problem of existence is that the Trinity is there…
In conclusion, man, beginning with himself, can define the philosophical problem of existence, but he cannot generate from himself the answer to the problem. The answer to the problem of existence is that the infinite-personal, triune God is there, and that the infinite-personal, triune God is not silent.
When epistemology rejects the ideal of a divine, personal, triune, and good creator, much is lost
- There is a loss of hope because hope can not come from the next generation; it can only come from our regeneration in Jesus Christ.
- There is a loss of purpose, because the world says ‘you can be anything’, but God does not want you to be ‘anything’, He created you to be ‘something.’
- There is a loss of meaning in a world that teaches ‘Self-Esteem’ because we have no value outside of our Creator; therefore, the Christian must teach ‘God-Esteem.’
- There is a loss of common-sense and an inability to make simple daily decisions.
- There is a loss of value for life itself. Those who hold no regard for the Divine, cannot hold regard for the Divine-beauty of human life The Evolutionary-Narcissim reflected in the Abortion laws of the United States, for example, will not change with the stroke of a President’s pen, it will only change by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit who alone can bring the conviction of sin, the righteousness of Christ and a genuine love for human life created in the image of YHWH.
- Finally, and maybe most devastating of all, without the existence of a divine, personal, triune, and good creator as our source of truth there is a loss of meaningful relationship. If we do not share the image of our Creator, we have no transcendent drive to connect with one another.
It is important to understand that each of these philosophies is present in our post-modern world, but none are excluded by it. The post-modern mind can hold a “No Answer” or “Answer” ideal and, as is often the case, their lifestyle may sometimes be disconnected from their philosophy.
The challenge we observe from this brief study is that targeting the post-modern mind with the Gospel is difficult precisely because there is no single target. To effectively engage the post-modern mind, we must discern each person’s epistemology, observe their practice, and find a point of connection to the triune, personal, and good creator-God of the Bible.
The only way the church can live out our missional existence is to first develop a Kingdom worldview and then make sure our practice is in alignment with it. The next post in this series will help lay a framework for developing a solid Kingdom worldview in our post-modern world.