Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rationalism VS. Revelation

This is the latest installment in an ongoing conversation I'm having with a friend who turned from Christian faith to agnosticism. Rationalism seems to be a common factor in many "de-conversion" accounts, and it has become a dominant topic in our exchanges. My friend has embraced science and rationality as primary epistemic sources, excluding the possibility of divine revelation. A previous letter discussed the use and limits of science. Here I am addressing the use and limits of rationality - and our desperate need for divine revelation.

I think we agree on the empirical nature of the natural world, the real-ness and objectivity of "things." The question is, are there realities beyond this? Can we know them? How?
As a Christian theist, I say . . .
"Yes, there are realities beyond the empirical, even beyond the empirical things we don't know yet but can discover. There is a spiritual dimension that we all live in but rarely consider or define, which we cannot discover independent of divine revelation."
"Yes, we can know it, but not by scientific discovery or rationalistic pursuit. On the other hand, the realities of this spiritual dimension will not ultimately contradict scientific fact or rational logic. Indeed, the spiritual dimension undergirds them, determines them, defines them, and upholds them."
"We can (only!) know these realities through divine revelation."
Further, there was a time when our whole race knew these realities, but we have fallen into a state in which we can perceive only what is merely scientific and what is merely rational (and I would add that we can perceive spiritual realities of an evil or false nature, but not of the Truth).
The process you describe, that of courageously embracing reality and humbling oneself to accept what is revealed by rationality and the senses, is magnified when one walks in the light of divine revelation. Here realities are revealed which are a hundred times more humbling and a thousand times more challenging to one's native presuppositions.
In fact, the entire construct I have described is designed to humble us. But it goes beyond that. It is also designed to raise us to heights we could never reach by any other means. And it takes a special kind of courage called "faith" to receive these things.

This divine revelation comes through multiple streams:

Scientifically: the created universe, even in its fallen state, shows a beauty, order and magnificence that points to God's power and grace.
Historically: the unique Person of Jesus Christ revealed God's will in His words and works, and especially by His death and resurrection. (Christ's historic work can be classified as both general and special revelation, a bridge of sorts)
Textually: the amazing Bible with divine "fingerprints" all over it.
Dreams, visions, angelic visitations, etc. that have been given to some.

All of this is interpreted rationally by the mind of man.

It is interesting to see how these streams are woven together, the Bible itself containing visions and dreams and angelic visitations, and Christ experiencing angelic visits during His life. Genuine subjective revelations will point us back to Christ and the Bible. But Christ Himself and the Bible itself are the clearest and most objective revelatory sources.

Those who live and walk in these truths, and love them, won't trade them for anything. They are precious beyond every earthly treasure and they bring a joy that is beyond comprehension.

Such faith is not given to every person, and on the whole it is rejected by a self-reliant humanity. To those who possess it, it is incomprehensibly wonderful. It calls for the abandonment of rationalism, but not of rationality. For the Christian, seeing the rationalist's refusal to abandon his self-reliance gives evidence to the presupposition of Scripture, that man is in rebellion against his Creator. Seeing the rational framework of the rejection of God confirms the presupposition that man is created in God's image and retains the mark of it. But the "gift" of rationality is now turned against the One who gave it!

Apart from divine revelation, fallen man can never reason his way to the conclusion that
he is in rebellion against his Creator. Why? Because he is too fallen to be able to reason to this conclusion. He can't see what he is. So, according to divine revelation we are in quite a conundrum apart from divine revelation. Based on their respective presuppositions, Christians and rationalists cannot arrive at the same conclusions. It is impossible.

Can you feel the gigantic divide in our epistemic sources? We are each in a philosophically frustrating position. You believe there is no divine revelation because your rational faculties don't (won't/can't) ever lead you to it. You would like me to see what you see. I believe there is divine revelation because I have experienced it. But I cannot prove it to you in a rational way, I can only pray that you also may experience it and know as I know.

One final note: overall, I'd say the ball has moved forward. You are being honest and we are no longer playing games. You do not pretend to have experienced divine revelation, which leaves the possibility that you may yet experience it. If and when you do, your rationalistic presuppositions will be shed like a caterpillar's cocoon, and you will fly on the wings of a new and unshakable certainty. You will not (indeed, cannot) lose or deny your scientific and rational facts, only the presuppositions that lead you to interpret them in a rationalistic way. And you won't miss them.

I continue to pray for you, my friend.

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