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The Centrality of Regeneration, Faith, and Sanctification in a Biblical Epistemology*

 

* This paper was presented at the Southeastern Meeting of the combined meetings of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Missiological Society on March 19, 2010

 

Abraham Kuyper in his Principles of Sacred Theology divided all humanity and all encyclopedic study into two groups—the epistemology of each being separated by “an abyss in the universal human consciousness across which no bridge can be laid.”[1]  Harry Blamires in The Christian Mind describes a “gigantic battle between good and evil which splits the universe.”[2]  But what both Kuyper and Blamires are describing is only that which is reflected in Scripture as “darkness and light,” “the world and the flesh,” and “the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of God.”  As Christians working in philosophy, we must ask ourselves, “Does our work reflect this great chasm that is described by these authors and by Scripture itself?” More narrowly, “Does our work reflect this great chasm in our epistemology? 

 

My project is to look briefly at how regeneration of a person forces this divide.  In one of the important texts concerning regeneration, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5).[3]  One should also keep in mind that the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of heaven are one and the same: two names for the same realm.[4] 

 

Now, what do these kingdoms have to do with epistemology?  Earthly kingdoms will differ in epistemology, perhaps best contrasted with the “kingdom of England” and the “kingdom of the American colonies” at the time of the War for American Independence.  Their epistemologies literally became one of warfare until one side or the other was defeated.  One could say the same of all wars in history.  Epistemology, by the example of this warfare, has profound implications!

 

The Scripture denotes the Kingdom of God being a “kingdom of light” and its opposition, a “kingdom of darkness.”  I could cite many Scriptures, and for purposes of complete scholarship, that should be done.  But, we will cover much of the distinctions of these kingdoms as we examine regeneration.  Perhaps, these kingdoms are best set in opposition in the first chapter of Colossians where they are designated, as “the power of darkness” and “the kingdom of the Son of His love” (verse 13).  This section, indeed the entire book of Colossians, is concerned with “light,” as knowledge in contrast to that of the “world” and “darkness” (vs. 2:3, 8-9, 14-15; 3:1, 9-11).  According to Augustine in his City of God, these kingdoms are in a temporal conflict in which only one can eventually triumph.[5] 

 

I.  The Biblical Distinction: Regeneration and Sanctification as Theorems[6] for Epistemology

 

Some twenty or more years ago, I was reading Abraham Kuyper’s Principles of Sacred Theology, possibly the only heavy-duty theological book that I ever found exciting!  This sentence, as it was translated, jumped off the page and started a research project that continues until this day.  That sentence is, “Regeneration by itself is no enlightening.”[7]  What I understood him to say, was, “Regeneration in itself imparts no knowledge to the person regenerated—no knowledge.”  How could that be?  The regenerate person is to be “transformed by the renewing of his mind” (Romans 12:2)—this change occurring by his life-long study of Scripture and implementation of that knowledge into his life.  And, regenerate people “have the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16).  How, then, can regeneration be “no enlightening?”

 

Well, of course, it is true.  There is no knowledge imparted in regeneration itself, but there is an extensive “enlightenment” to which the believer is opened and is supposed to think and to walk.  Further, regeneration posits an infinite and impassible separation of epistemology for the regenerate and the unregenerate.  Of course, that is what Kuyper’s book is about.  And, of course, that is central to my project here.

 

What, then, is regeneration?  I had hoped to focus on the purely epistemological concerns of regeneration, but the Biblical texts do not allow a separation from right actions, as we will see.  But, even in philosophy, ethics is a logical outflow of one’s epistemology, as they form two of the three traditional branches of philosophy along with metaphysics?[8]  I am using the term, “regeneration,” reflecting the Greek palingenesis, but one should keep in mind that the Bible uses other terms to designate the same event, such as, “born-again,” “born-from-above,” “renewal,” “resurrection,” “a renewed heart,” “a washing,” “a renewed spirit,” and a “circumcision of the heart.”

 

Let us now consider some specific dimensions of regeneration.

 

First, regeneration is momentary.  In evangelical theology, this description does not seem to be in dispute.  While God may “call”[9] a person over weeks, months, or even years, for those who are eventually “saved,” there comes a moment of inward change that has outward manifestations of conversion, faith, and repentance.  I cannot discuss the sequence of these events here.  There are differences among those who are theologically Reformed and moreso between those who are Reformed and Arminian.  However, I cite one article by David Anderson, published in 2000, in which he gives some ground for common agreement with these terms among both Arminians and those Reformed.[10]  I am not convinced that the issues are as easily resolvable as he describes, but the epistemological concerns of inerrancy and regeneration may be the same for both camps.  So, with “fear and trembling,” I must leave the issue for other minds and other times.

 

While considerable agreement seems to exist concerning the immediate nature of regeneration, some arguments can be presented in support of this position.  (A) In John 3, Jesus makes the analogy of physical birth which is momentary at the time that the infant takes is delivered from his mother.  (B) Conversions at Pentecost and other places it the New Testament were momentary.  (C) The outward effect of repentance literally means a “change of mind”—literally in the Greek, meta- (change) noia (mind).  While long study and reflection may precede this “change of mind,” there is always a moment at which the decision is made.  (D) Greek verb tenses concerning regeneration begin at a point in time and continue from that moment onward.  (E) Sanctification must have a “beginning.”  A process always begins at some point in time.  There may be more and better arguments for one’s being “born-again,” but this issue does not bear on our epistemological concerns. 

 

Second, regeneration is the first step in sanctification.  This birth is the beginning of a growth process that should be vigorous and full-orbed, as indicated in the third chapter of John, verses three and five.  While sanctification is many things, it is centrally concerned with faith and knowledge.  Traditionally notitia has been one vital dimension of faith.[11]  And, one definition of faith, as “the faith,” concerns the entire Scriptures (Ephesians 4:4, Jude 1:3).  The power and necessity of knowledge in sanctification is found in Romans 12:2, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  “Renewing” is one of the words in the Greek New Testament used for regeneration, and “transformed”[12] signifies such a change as that of Christ’s appearance when he was transfigured (Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:2) and the change of believers into Christ’s likeness in heaven (II Corinthians 3:18).  The lamentation of Christian leaders today concerning the general ignorance of Christians is a reflection of their failure to be changed in this dramatic way.

 

However, I have never been satisfied with “faith,” as notitia, assensus, and fiducia.  The terms are vague, overlapping, confusing, and are not applicable to all references to faith in Scripture.  I would like to offer this definition of faith: a disposition to action, based upon knowledge of Scripture, with an expected outcome that will eventually be determined by reality, that is, God’s Providence.  Further, it is a gift of God to enable a person to take action without certainty of a particular result.  This definition places knowledge—for the Christian—knowledge of God’s Word, central to faith, as described in Romans 12:2 and elsewhere.  Discussion of “faith” could be a whole paper in itself and I have written a book on the subject,[13] but I must continue on my project here.  Perhaps, this concept could be pursued in the discussion period that follows.

 

Third, regeneration is an ethical reorientation.  The believers in Corinth had been fornicators, idolaters, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, coveters, drunkards, revilers, and extortionists but Paul declares that those besetting sins are in the past (I Corinthians 6:9-10).  In Ephesians 4, Paul states that one should “no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk… having given themselves to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness … (and) according to deceitful lusts” (vs. 18-24).  Regeneration cause dramatic changes in life-orientation—from hedonistic debauchery to sanctifying pursuits.

 

Fourth, regeneration of the mind is central to the change that occurs within the individual.  We just noted Romans 12:2, “to be transformed by the renewing of one’s mind.”  In Ephesians 4 again, Paul speaks of the Gentiles, that is, the unregenerate in the “futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (vs. 18-19).  With these four different designations, Paul denotes the cognitive process: mind, understanding, ignorance, and heart.  By contrast, the regenerate is “to have heard (Christ) and have been taught by Him, as the truth in Jesus … being renewed in the spirit of (their) mind” (vs. 20-24).  Thus, we have a  four-fold designation of thinking—heard, taught, truth, and mind. 

 

Fifth, and similarly, regeneration concerns wisdom.  In I Corinthians 1:18 to 2:16, wise or wisdom is used 19 times.  Remember, philosophy is philo-sophia, the love of wisdom.  Here, wisdom is contrasted with “foolish” or “foolishness,” so it could be translated “anti-wisdom” or “anti-philosophy.”  Other words here that are associated with “wise” actions include know, knowledge, understanding, speak, words, and judging.  Both chapters are an antithesis of the natural, unregenerate man in the world and the spiritual, regenerate man in the kingdom of God.  In passing, we should note that right thinking is associated with the “power of God” (1:24, 2:4, 5).  This association should give us pause that without “right cognition” we lose any power that God confers through that understanding.[14]   Finally, this section ends in that “we have the mind of Christ”—which is, as one philosopher-theologian put it, “The ‘punch line’ of (Chapter 2), its climax, its last word, is a word of intellectualism, intelligibility, knowledge and understanding.”[15]

 

Sixth, regeneration affects the “heart.” 

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:25-27). 

Contrary to many Christians, even theologians, today, “heart” largely used in Scripture to refer to the mind, thinking, and will of a person.  In philosophical language, the heart concerns cognition and willingness. Some examples of “heart” denoting mind are these.  “For as (a man) thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).   The mind, not emotions “think.”  “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).  The mouth speaks what the mind thinks.  If this passage concerned the emotions, it would state, that “out of the overflow of the heart, a person feels … (some emotion—sadness, anger, happiness, or fear).”  “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26).  Again, we see the link between the mind and speech, but we also have the specific mention of “thinking.”  “Heart” appears almost 1000 times in the entire Bible, so we have not even scratched the surface.  Yes, heart may refer to the emotions in a few instances in Scripture.  For those interested, the author who made this observation discusses these issues in considerable detail.[16]  And, another author has detailed the relationships of mind, soul, spirit, heart, and conscience.[17] 

 

 Seventh, regeneration is described as a “new spirit.”  The passages in Ezekiel discussed above include “new spirit,” as well as “new heart.”  While “spirit” does not have the association with emotion that “heart” does, one should know that the “mind” is a “spiritual” entity.[18]  (Again, the reference above sorts out the various non-physical entities of man that are being discussed here.)

 

Eighth, regeneration is a change of epistemological authorities.  Choice of beliefs and one’s ethics is not as complicated, as it might appear at first glance.  There are only three possibilities: choices by the self (autonomy), vox populi (the vote of the plurality or majority), and submission to an authority. [19],[20]  Practically, we can reduce these to two, the self and authority, as rarely is a choice made by having others vote (except in politics).  And—where our reasoning is not flawed—we find the same instruction in Scripture, perhaps best illustrated in our discussion of I Corinthians 1 and 2.  On the one side is “foolishness,” “wisdom,” “human wisdom,” “wisdom of men,” and “natural man.”  On the other side is spiritual “wisdom,” “Spirit and power,” “wisdom of God,” “the Spirit of God,” “spiritual discernment,” and finally “the mind of Christ.” 

 

So, my definition of regeneration would be: the momentary miracle of changing one’s destiny from the Kingdom of Man to the Kingdom of God—and one’s epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics from that of the self to that of the Scriptures under the authority of the Trinity.  Or, more simply, regeneration is the work of God to change one’s earthly and eternal destiny and belief in self to belief in His Word.[21] 

 

In the history and developments of religions and philosophy, the Bible stands powerfully and majestically above the other schemes.  No other book claims absolute authority.  No other book has a flowing history that moves from a beginning to a final consummation.  No other book claims to give a history of God on earth.  No other book can explain with clarity and correspondence the evil that is within man.  No other book simply declares, “Thus says the Lord.”  No other book has the agreement of more than 40 authors over 2500 years of writing.  No other book stands philosophically with the objectivity and clarity in its presentation of certain truth, ethics, and metaphysics—an objectivity that should not be minimized within the Bible’s claim to be truth and a Christian epistemology.

 

In the history and developments of religions and philosophy, no figure stands as powerfully and majestically as the Lord Jesus Christ.  Who else declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me.” Who else declares, “I and the Father are One,” and simply, “I am,” equating Himself with the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God.  In no other system has God become man, claimed to be God incarnate, predicted His death and resurrection, and then enacted those predictions.  No Christian in philosophy should ever minimize His unique deity by trying to defend “theism” in general, when Biblical theism by the law of noncontradiction refuses to be coherent with that entity.  In fact, “philosophy of religion” in the West is almost entirely “philosophy of Christianity,” especially until the late 20th century.

 

And, while we are in this vein, Christians in philosophy should begin to define what religion is or is not.  “Religions” are so diverse that they cannot all fit one definition.  By the law of identity, Christianity claims to be the only “religion.”  All others are imitations and fakes.  To continue to discuss “religions” without forcing definitions is to invalidate all the unique and authoritative claims of Biblical Christianity.

 

We have not covered all that regeneration is. (9) We could discuss the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit to convict and teach the regenerate.  But, however certain that fact is declared from Scripture, I am not sure that it helps us with our study of epistemology, as it involves subjectivity that quickly gets complicated.  (10) A beginning of the restoration of the image Dei in the regenerate surely has epistemological effects.  The theologians that I read state that this image is primarily man’s ability to think and reason.  (11) Certain regenerate persons are given spiritual gifts of teaching, preaching, wisdom, discernment, etc. which enable them to have understanding beyond the “average” Christian, yet are obligated to teach him within the church.  And, I am sure that more could be found in Scripture, but we have covered enough for my project here.   (12) Lastly, regeneration is a true miracle—that is, an event which in which God intervenes in the natural course of events in natural history.

 

II. The Oath of the Evangelical Philosophical Society as Coherent with Biblical Regeneration

 

In epistemology for Christians, the most basic question is, “Should my approach to epistemology differ from that of the non-Christian?”  Or, in terms of our concern here, that of the regenerate from the unregenerate.  Now, the subscription statement for our Evangelical Philosophical Society is the same as that for the Evangelical Theological Society and coheres with what we have established with regeneration.

The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and therefore inerrant in the original manuscripts.  God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.

Let us briefly parse the first statement.  “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety” posits both a unity and a completeness.  We could say further that this book stands unique among all other books for there is no other book which requires such submission.  And, we could say that the proposition includes Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21.  This inclusion is also an exclusion of all other writings that might lay claim to an equal authority, including church tradition, and church councils.[22]  In this simple parsing, we have said much already.

 

But we go further.  “The Bible … is the Word of God written.”  God, what God?  Concerning epistemology, the God who is omniscient (Psalm 139:1-16, Romans 11:33-36) and the God who is truth (John 17:17).  If we add that God is eternal (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 92:2), then God has known, knows, and will know all things.  If we add that He does not change, that is, He is the same yesterday, today and forever”  (Hebrews 13:8), then His knowledge never changes.  If God knows all things, He knows epistemology in a fullness that finite man can never know.  Indeed, He created the conditions for the field of epistemology.

 

This phrase also says, “written.”  Philosophically, writings are a form of objectivity—something that exists outside the person—every person—something that exists independent of anything else.  Yes, the Scriptures came through a process that involved men, both in the writings, the canon, and in preservation, but our EPS statement did not find the need to say those things.  Our oath continues, “and therefore inerrant in the original manuscripts.”  An omniscient God who is also truth could only write inerrantly. 

 

However, “original manuscripts” is a problem.  Yes, we do not have the original manuscripts—we can praise God their absence with all the icons that already exist in the church.  But, does this phrase mean that we do not have the Word of God—today? 

 

Of course not!  Numerous studies have demonstrated that the texts that we have today are completely reliable as “the Word of God written.”  But, in passing, I would suggest that limitation of the oath to the “original manuscripts” could be interpreted as a limitation for Biblical scholarship.  And worse, in my opinion does not state the accuracy and reliability of what we do have.  But we cannot go into that issue now.  I only point it out for your consideration.

 

So, we have inerrant propositions from a God who speaks only truth.  One who knew and created the constructs that philosophers would eventually investigate as “epistemology.”  I ask, “Might not this Word have bearing for epistemology.  Might not this Word have considerable weight for epistemology?  Ought not this Word to guide, control, and from the foundations for epistemology?”  If the answer to my questions seems obvious, then I must ask other questions, (1) What is the epistemological basis of the EPS Statement of Belief?  (2) “Why is this Word at the periphery of Christians in epistemology?” 

 

III.  Specifically Epistemological Considerations—Opting for the Best Approach

 

Classically, epistemology is “justified true belief.” However, the question must be asked, “Must Scripture face the same justification as knowledge to which every other claim is subjected?”  The answer is both yes and no.  “Yes,” because any claim to knowledge must be subjected to certain tests for its veracity.  But, “No” because the field of epistemology is uncertain, and there is the issue of authority.

 

But, have we not already made decisive epistemological claims?  By these opening statements to this section, have we not already stated without qualification that (A) we can have knowledge, and (B) this knowledge can be communicated to each other?  Do you not find it amazing that even to discuss epistemology, we must assume that it is possible!  Let us not pass over this truth too quickly.  We assume the possibility of communication.  This fact gives a very strong argument for a “common sense” epistemology, if not a “common sense” philosophy.  But, likely, many, if not most of us hearing or reading would agree that “common sense” is inadequate as our final resting place for epistemology.  But let us at least appreciate the complexity and assumptions that are made simple by asking the question! 

 

To get a perspective on modern epistemology, Peter van Inwagen is helpful.  He states:

In the end we must confess that have no idea why there is no established body of metaphysical results.  It cannot be denied that this is a fact…. In metaphysics you are perfectly free to disagree with anything the acknowledged experts (in philosophy) say…[23]

Scott Oliphint adds:

Truth be told, the same problems that plague metaphysics plague epistemology as well.  If van Inwagen is correct, then there is no established body of accepted metaphysical results to which one interested in the subject must appeal in order to enter the debate…. Metaphysics remains in a near-total state of flux and chaos.
But so does epistemology. Discussions epistemological abound in the history of philosophy, and it could easily be argued that, as in metaphysics, there is no established body of accepted epistemological results to which one interested in the subject must appeal in order to enter the debate. 
Perhaps in epistemology, however, with a few exceptions, the situation is even worse.  Whereas in metaphysical discussions the topic of God and his relation to the world is (naturally) broached, there is relatively little discussion of God and his relationship to the knowledge situation in epistemology…. Because epistemology deals with the subject of human knowledge, it is easier to think that the relationship of epistemology to God is, if not irrelevant, significantly minimal… Happily, those kinds of discussion are gaining ascendancy in the philosophical literature again (thanks in large part to Alvin Plantinga and others).[24]

The first point that I would make here is that the field of epistemology is wide open and unsettled.  Quoting Oliphint again:

Thus, there are no set parameters in metaphysics or epistemology, and these two comprise virtually the entire field of philosophy.  (One’s ethics are dependent upon these two branches of philosophy.)  However, “chaotic” does not seem quite right for issues concerning God, and in particular for a belief system that has a fixed, objective standard—the 66 books of the agreed-upon Bible.

There is no one or body of knowledge in philosophy to which anyone can appeal as a standard.  There is no standard in philosophy!  Then, let us place our concerns within this context.  Thus, that the epistemology of Scripture is self-affirming and self-attesting is not out of place.  The God of the universe not having to justify what He says is not out of place.  If anything goes, surely God can enter this “mix” also.

 

But, we can also work our way through certain approaches in epistemology.  According to DeWeese and Moreland, “Most philosophers, today and historically, understand knowledge (approximately) to be justified true belief.”[26]  This approach seems to date back to Plato, if not before.  But, I declare that this approach is impossible and gives away the truth of Scripture from the beginning.  We have seen that secular philosophy has no answers.  Anyone’s choice is as good as anyone else’s, as both van Inwagen and Oliphint declare.  We are back to autonomy or authority.  Arthur Leff asked in a landmark legal paper on foundational problems in ethics and civil law, “Sez who?”[27] Thus, in secular philosophy, so we are left to autonomy and voting.  With all the opinions in philosophy, there is no possibility of consensus.  There is not even a dictionary or encyclopedia that is the determined standard for definitions and terms.  There are no agreed-upon definitions of truth, and there is no agreement about what justifies.  Without definitions and terms, one cannot even construct a simple proposition that everyone understands, much less find some agreement on justification and truth.  “Justified true belief” has no answers.

 

And, John Frame has stated, “The chain of justification cannot go on forever.”[28]  There seems to be no end to the divisions and pursuits of the nuances of justified true belief.  But, from my perspective, that proliferation is unavoidable with the interplay of three different terms, justified, true, and belief, as well as, what each means in various contexts by many philosophers.

 

From a Biblical perspective, how can the “foolishness of the world” be satisfied with the “wisdom of God.”  The problem is not justified true belief, but simply belief.  All the unregenerate has to say is, “I do not believe what you say,” or “You have not justified your belief to my satisfaction.  The argument, then, from his perspective is over.  He does that in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence against evolution.  He does that with anthropology in the face of virtually no supporting science.  He does that with sociology in spite of hundreds of contrary studies about traditional family values.  He does that in psychology in spite of its legion approaches.  He does that in every area of scholarship—in spite of the evidence otherwise.

 

Well, is resorting to simply “belief” a capitulation.  Not at all.  We have already been there.  All we have to do is to point out that every person has a first principle of belief that requires no justification.”  This application is universal.  In foundationalism, this beginning has been called “basic belief.”  That is acceptable, as long as it is divorced from justified true belief.  There are many names for this first principle: presupposition, axiom, starting point, first philosophy, dogma, bias, assumption, or subjectivism.  Mostly, people, even philosophers, do not ferret out these most basic beliefs.  Their whole philosophical and ethical system is a jumble of parental sayings, educational brainwashing, self-interest over others, and emotional immediacy.

 

In modern discourse, there has come the distinction between “peoples of faith” and others, presumably “peoples of reason.”  But everyone builds a system upon their most basic beliefs.  Christians do not stand a chance in the marketplace of ideas or politics, if they do not recognize this profound distinction.  They are people of “faith,” while the atheists, agnostics, educators, and politicians are people of “reason?”  By this contrast, we have lost the argument before it begins.  Perhaps, as concerns freedom, this understanding and the working of it into everyday and academic parlance is the most critical matter for modern Christians, especially Christians in philosophy. 

 

Now, I would like to distinguish a “starting point” from a “first principle.”  A starting point is wherever one starts.  One might read Socrates’ saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Or, an emotional crisis, such as, divorce or the death of one loved, might trigger a more serious reasoning process.  Or, taking philosophy or psychology in college may open new vistas to be explored.  One might be browsing in a library or book store and read a book that leads to more serious study.  The scenarios are numerous, but beliefs are not.  In quoting Francis Schaeffer and reasoning further, we found that there were only two:  self-belief (autonomy) and authoritarian belief.  And low and behold we have also arrived at the Biblical position: autonomy vs. Biblical belief.  “Houston, we have coherence!”  Does this arrival at coherence from a practical method and a Biblical description not argue powerfully for its truth?  Not absolutely of course, but it is a profound recognition.

 

John Frame states:

The human mind is finite; it cannot present an infinitely long argument and give an exhaustive reason for anything.  It must at some point, begin with a faith commitment (first principle), whether in the true God or in an idol (pagan philosophy).[29] (Words in parentheses are mine.)

Justified true belief has been churned into a morass that is indecipherable and infinitely unarguable while the issue is profoundly simple both logically and Biblically: a simple choice of first principle or belief (faith) in self or the Scriptures.

 

There is at least a four-fold loss to the philosopher who pursues traditional and modern approaches to epistemology.  (1) Justified true belief fails because there is no agreement on what are the “basic beliefs,” how they are “justified,” or on what basis are they “true.”  (2) Simplicity is lost to seemingly never-ending complexity.  (3) The Biblical position of absolute authority is lost.  (4) The “power” of Biblical coherence is lost.  (See I Corinthians discussion above.)

 

IV. Demonstration That Regeneration Does Not Appear in Philosophical Discussions among Christians

 

I would like to now demonstrate that regeneration, and its profound implications, are virtually absent from Christians working in philosophy.  This is not a formal research study, but one that is profound.  (1) Faith and Philosophy, the publication of the Society of Christian Philosopher, on their website lists approximately 600 articles from back issues.  There are a few articles on the work of the Holy Spirit and epistemology, but none contain “regeneration” in their titles.  (2) I reviewed the titles of all the back issues of Philosophia Christi which included 22 issues and likely over 400 articles.  There were themes that would have been opportune for the issue of regeneration, such as miracles, whether a Darwinian could be a Christian, and arguments from reason.

 

(3) Of 177 articles on the Virtual Library of Christian philosophy posted at Calvin College, there are no articles there on the work of the Holy Spirit or on regeneration.  Of course, in both these cases regeneration may be discussed in the text, but I have no way to determine that without examining every article.  Without “regeneration” in the title, it is unlikely that there is a substantive discussion in the corresponding text. 

 

(4) In the last issue of Philosophia Christi, there are three substantive articles on the interaction of other faiths and Christianity.  Regeneration, which I remind you, translates a person from the kingdom of the world to the Kingdom of God, is not mentioned.  (5) As a general observation, I rarely see a discussion in philosophy books written by Christians in which the epistemologies of the regenerate and the unregenerate are even mentioned, much less with the profound distinctions of Blamires and Kuyper, and the Scriptures themselves.

 

Summary

 

If one accepts the Oath of the EPS, then the Scriptures will have an authority above any others.  That position alone sets a certain foundation for epistemology.  That regeneration divides the entire human population into two groups also has profound epistemological implications.  And, my brief and informal research into the appearance of regeneration in the philosophical literature of Christians has demonstrated neglect in this area.  The differences posed by the regenerate vs. the non-regenerate should have implications for future philosophical considerations by Christians.  For sure, one implication cannot be ignored: an epistemological approach will differ when directed to an audience of Christians vs. when it is directed towards an unregenerate audience.  In regeneration, we have the profound union of the accompanying subjective changes with the objective Scriptures—the perfect union of the subjective and the objective that so many philosophers and religions have vainly sought to achieve.

 

To be perhaps overly simplistic, Genesis 1:1 solves the problem of ontology; John 1:1 solves the problem of epistemology; and all the commands and directives of Scripture solve the problem of ethics.  The concept of revelation is the most important one in the field of epistemology.  The Biblical concept of regeneration is one profound example of that importance.  Robertson McQuilkin has called for philosophy and theology, as “the highest categories” of scholarship, to be under the authority of Scripture.[30]  John Frame has cautioned against “philosophical imperialism.”[31] From my perspective, we need to heed their admonitions.  While “regeneration is not enlightening,” it is nevertheless a profound change in epistemological orientation—from darkness to light and from self-authority (autonomy) to God-authority—the written Revelation of God.  And, if our epistemology does not reflect the profound differences of light and darkness, are we truly being Biblical in what we do and true to our subscription vows of the EPS?

 

Acknowledgements

 

Gratitude and praise to God for all those great minds, both past and present, upon whose shoulders I try to stand.

 

To Hans Madueme, for a pre-read of my paper and many helpful comments.

 

 

Resources and Bibliography

 

Blamires, Harry.  The Christian Mind.  Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1963.

 

Charnock, Stephen.  The Doctrine of Regeneration.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980, reprint of 1840 edition.

 

Clark, Gordon H.  The Holy Spirit.  Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1993.

 

Dodrigde, Philip.  Practical discourses on regeneration.  Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Library, reprint photolithograph from 1855.

 

Flavel, John.  The Method of Grace: How the Holy Spirit Works.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977—reprint

 

Frame, John.  The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.  (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 1987.

 

Kuyper, Abraham Principles of Sacred Theology, (Trans. by J. Hendrik De Vries).  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980—reprint of 1898 edition).

 

Kuyper, Abraham. The Work of the Holy Spirit.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted March 1979.

 

John Laidlaw.  The Biblical Doctrine of Man.  Edinburgh, Scotland: Klock and Klock, 1983 Reprint of 1895 edition.

 

Murray, John.  Redemption Accomplished and Applied.  Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980 (reprinted from 1955).

 

Murray, John.  Collected Writings of John Murray.  Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977.  Volume 2, 167-202.

 

Westminster Confession of Faith, 1643-1648.  Chapters 10, 13-15.

 



[1] Trans. by J. Hendrik De Vries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980—reprint of 1898 edition), 152.

[2] (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1963), 70.

[3] Biblical quotes are New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

[4] The reader will have to perform his own study here, if he is not already aware of this equivalence.

[5] Interestingly, Colossians 2:8 is the only place in the New Testament where the word, “philosophy,” is found.   “Philosophers” is found in Acts 17.

[6] I use “theorem” because I consider the inerrancy and absolute truthfulness of the Bible as my axiom.

[7] Kuyper, 580.

[8] With this interdependency, one could also say that “epistemology is a logical outflow of one’s ethics” (Proverbs 9:10, Matthew 5:8, and I Corinthians 2:14-16).

[9] In Reformed theology, the term is “effectual calling,” but I am trying to speak to both Arminians and the Reformed without too much “partisan” theology here.

[10] David Anderson, “Regeneration: A Crux Interpretum,” Journal of the Grace Theological Society, 13(2), 45-65.

[11] The other dimensions being assensus and fiducia. 

[12] The transliteration of “transformed” is metamorpho which in English is metamorphosis, a totally radical change.

[13] Franklin E. (Ed) Payne, Without Faith It Is Impossible to Please God, (Augusta, GA: Covenant Books, 2009).  Address is P. O. Box 14488, Augusta, GA 30919-0488.

[14] This power is also reflected in II Corinthians 10:4, as “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.”

[15] Gordon H. Clark, I Corinthians (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1975), 58.

[16] Gordon H. Clark, Faith and Saving Faith, (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1983), 66-79.

[17] Jay E. Adams, More Than Redemption, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 1979), 108-118.

[18] I am aware of Christians working with modern neuroscience that attribute thinking, cognition, memory, etc. to the physical brain.  However, they are seriously in error and deluded by the empirical method which can never discover truth because it cannot include all universals.

[19] The Church at the End of the 20th Century, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ___),    .

[20] Force or “might makes right” is another applied method of ethics, but not choice is involved.

[21] I could have said, “God and His Word,” but all the coherent knowledge of God, and even His plan of salvation,  is from the Scriptures.

[22] It also excludes the Catholic and Orthodox Apocrypha and Pope speaking ex cathedra, but I did not want to bring in too many emotional triggers here.

[23] Metaphysics, 2nd Ed., (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002), 12.

[24] Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2006), 122-123.

[25] Oliphint, 38.

[26] Garrett J. De Weese and J. P. Moreland, Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 56.

[27] “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Journal (1979), 1229-1249.

[28] Knowledge  of  God, 346.

[29] Frame, 346.

[30] “The Behavioral Sciences under the Authority of Scripture,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 20(1), 32-43.

[31] Knowledge of God, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company,  1987), 85-86.



 

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