A THEOLOGICAL LOOK AT WORLDVIEW FORMATION:
KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
At times, people have wondered whether God truly desires to promote worldview integration among his followers. Christians believe that our reasoning capacities are a gift from God and reflect His image. If so, is it possible that God gave us the gift of reasoning only to denounce it as a dangerous instrumentality that is of no import in following His will? We’ve often been told to “just believe” and “have faith” as if belief in some of the distinctives of a monotheistic Christian God is a simple matter that is best embraced by simply closing our eyes and emptying our minds. If mankind’s reasoning capacity is imperfect and has been diminished by the Fall, can we rely on such processes to correct and modify our worldview? It has been suggested that education and an over reliance on our noetic faculties is a primary cause of doubt and idolatry.
However, while Scripture provides significant evidence that our rational capacities are useful tools, it also makes clear that worldview integration is not simply a rational pursuit. As previously discussed, it involves a combination of reason, motivation, emotion, purpose, goal setting, personal agency beliefs, volition, faith, and the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Worldview integration is a process where all of these tools interact to discern and approach a total belief system that corresponds to reality. Using these tools, our belief system then constructs the assumptions (filters) by which we both consciously and unconsciously separate new beliefs and observations into those worth considering and those to be ignored. We are only motivated to consider those concepts that find their way through these filters. The only way to be motivated to consider concepts that are otherwise blocked by the filter is to change the filter.
One of the most basic assumptions within a Christian worldview is the conviction that God exists. But is this a constructed filter or a natural component of our human nature? Is it innate within us at the time of creation? Is it a basic belief that is found in all persons … and which some disregard or develop filters to block? If so, worldview integration is charged with examining and removing these artifices. Or is our knowledge of God something that is constructed or developed, whether appropriately or inappropriately, through worldview integration? In other words, while undergoing the process of developing our active worldview, do we fashion our belief in God or do we degenerate from belief to unbelief? Our decision regarding this basic concept may distinguish between Marx (1970) and Freud (1946), who believe that the contrived filter of God’s existence was a cause of delusion and should be removed, and the Christian worldview that warns of the consequences of worldly deception that leads to the construction of filters that filter God out.
By using this basic knowledge of God as an example, this Chapter will attempt to do several things. First, using Romans 1:16-21, I will investigate what Scripture has to say about this issue. What is the source of our knowledge of God’s existence? Do we construct it or is it implanted within us? If implanted, what is the actual content of this knowledge? What other implications can be drawn from the passage?
Second, how have theologians (and philosophers) interpreted and conceptualized this passage in light of biblical revelation and their observations of the world? What is the process by which we gain this knowledge of God? Is it a perfect process or is it fallible and ineffective in some, leading to the adoption of mistaken beliefs through no fault of their own? Is this knowledge universal? Is it direct knowledge, or are we simply provided with a capacity or a motivation to know? If we all start with this same universal filter, why is it discarded by some? What is the underlying source of this rejection? Do we blame reason, epistemology, free will or our motivation? For this purpose, I will concentrate on four major Christian theologians: Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and Plantinga.
Finally, what do these findings suggest with regard to either constructing or recovering our basic belief in God? How can we use the worldview integration process? What part do our epistemological filters play? What is the role of motivation? Can we look to reason as suggested by evidential forms of apologetics, or must we rely totally on faith and the work of the Holy Spirit as suggested by pre-suppositional apologetics. Is there another option? I conclude by suggesting that when it comes to worldview integration, we cannot rely upon reason alone. Reason may be a valid tool. However, like most tools, it may be misused or misdirected, especially if our cornerstones are not properly in place. The same can be said for our epistemological beliefs. Instead, we must address the “motivations of the heart”, a concept that depends upon both the inner-workings of the Holy Spirit and a combination of the tools of reason, emotion, goals, and personal agency beliefs.
Scripture and Knowledge of God’s Existence
Introduction to Romans 1:18-21
Before we discuss the theological concepts developed by classical theologians, it is helpful to review and exegete Romans 1:16 -21. As Hughes (1971) suggests, “Nowhere is the gravity of the human predicament more inclusively described than in this passage” (p. 131). This is the major passage used by theologians from Tertullian (Apologeticus) through Van Til (1967), to examine both God’s revelation of his existence to fallen mankind and his righteous wrath as a result of our decision to disregard the same.
The book of Romans may have been written by the Apostle Paul for a myriad of reasons (Morris, 1988), the most often proposed including: a) to serve as a compendium of Christian teaching, and b) to address a predominantly Gentile congregation who wondered why so many Jews failed to accept a gift from their own God. Others suggest that the book might have been intended as an introduction in advance of an impending visit by Paul, as Paul’s theological “last will and testament” (Black, 1973) or to ease the friction between Jews and the predominately Gentile church when a Jewish population returned to Rome after the death of Claudius in A.D. 54 (Edwards, 1992).
Either way, any Gentile readership was likely aware of the prevailing philosophical thought in Rome . Here, starting with Plato and Cicero, it was believed that man’s very essence is found in his reasoning skill and that man can reason inductively to knowledge of the Good (God). At the same time, Jewish literature suggested that knowing God is more of a revealed and spontaneous insight than a deliberate inductive process. Still, it is doubtful that the typical Jew would accept that sufficient knowledge of God could be arrived at through the simple testimony of creation (general revelation) (Young, 2000). In Romans, Paul seems to integrate both views.
Theme of Romans
In verses 16 and 17, Paul quickly establishes the theme of the entire book (Moo, 1996). In verse 16, Paul proclaims that the Gospel has the power to bring salvation to all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile and therefore, Paul cannot be ashamed of the Gospel. Yet, it seems interesting that he would even bring up such a negative concept. Could it be that shame was frequently leveled at those Christians (Gentile and Jew) living in the capital of the Gentile world? Were Gentile Christians being accused of abandoning their essential rational human skills to embrace an irrational belief system brought by foolish Jews? Could it be possible that the Epistle of Romans was written in part to address this accusation and to establish a theology of Christianity to Gentile converts looking for a rational basis?
In verse 17, we are informed that the Gospel has the power to bring about salvation because it mediates God’s righteousness, a righteousness that is in the process of being revealed through Christ. The Greek term α ̓ ποκαλυ ́ πτω (apokalupto – reveal) is in the present tense and suggests an ongoing process (Moo, 1996, p. 70). It is best translated “in the process of being uncovered” and is typically used by Paul to explain the elements of God’s redemptive plan (Mundle, 1986, vol. 3, p. 312). It is also here where we discover that this revelation (concerning salvation) comes through faith. While the double reference to the word faith “has caused endless discussion,” Moo (1996, p. 76) reminds us, the point in both passages is that “faith is the key to one’s relationship with God” (p. 78).
Verse 18 introduces Paul’s explanation of why God is revealing his righteousness through Christ and the Gospel. According to Moo (1996), this verse commences a section explaining the universality of sin and the fact that all are accountable to God for their sin. We learn that the wrath of God has been revealed; that the wrath is directed against those who are ungodly and unrighteous; and that their suppression of truth is the grounds for being deemed unrighteous. Here, Paul insinuates that truth is from God, revealed by God, and capable of being understood by all. Paul uses the simple active voice for “revealed.” This suggests that the act of revealing is of God’s initiative, but is neither direct nor forceful (Young, 2000). In addition, the word for wrath ( ο ̓ ργη ) (orgē), means more than simple anger. It connotes righteous indignation or disdain … an anger that is often conscious and thought out rather than impulsive (Hahn, 1986). It is not a punishment intended to teach or secure obedience and is never human in origin (Kittel, 1965, vol. V, p. 422).
Here we also discover that the problem is not a lack of knowledge, but a volitional suppression of what is revealed (Edwards, 1992, p. 47). The verb κατε ́ χω (katecho) means to “hold fast” or “to hold down” (Bauer, Arndt &Gingrich, 1979, p. 442). When used with the preposition “ e n” (en), as is the case here, the meaning is better translated as an “illegal holding down” or “suppression” (Kittel, 1965, vol. II, p. 829; Louw & Nida, 1989, §13:150). Most exegetical commentators favor this second more volitional option. To suppress means a willful decision and act to fight against the nature of the thing (knowledge of God) being suppressed (Baker, 1998). Thus the term means more than to simply ignore the truth—if it can be ignored. It also means more than a simple lack of motivation.
“Likewise, the suppression of truth seems to presuppose the possession of it” (Turner, 1981, p. 52). One cannot suppress something he has no access to. Suppression also precludes a simple failure to avail oneself of potential knowledge that God has made available (Baker, 1998). This will also become even more important in the next following verse (v. 19). As Robertson (1931) describes, “Truth is out in the open, but wicked men, so to speak, put it in a box and sit on the lid and 'hold it down in unrighteousness'" (vol. 4, p. 328). But how does one suppress truth? One way is to deny its existence or argue that there is no truth that may be universally known. Yet the term suppression is really not one of denial—rather it is one of understanding and taking deliberate action to avoid pursuing it further (as in suppressing a thought or an emotion). Obviously, this does not occur if one approaches this truth with an intrinsic motivation to love God and his creation. It instead suggests an extrinsic motivation toward a goal that is incompatible or incoherent with the truth that is being revealed.
Verse 19 refers to either a) “that which is known about God” (NASV) or b) “what may be known about God” (NIV). But which is it? Do the unsaved actually know God or simply have the ability to know God? According to Baker (1998), there are fifteen New Testament uses of the adjective γνωστο ́ ς (gnostos). However, this is the only reference that has been argued by some to refer to potential knowledge (the second option), rather than actual knowledge (p. 285). Contextually, Turner (1981) suggests that Paul is certainly not attempting a cosmological argument for the existence of God at this point (p. 53). There is no suggestion that the knowledge Paul is speaking of here requires philosophical understanding before it can become “plain” to all. Therefore, it seems that the NASV version is more accurate.
Edwards (1992) adds that this interpretation of “is known” is ratified later in verse 21 where we are informed that all people “knew” God in the past tense. If God was simply “knowable,” verse 21 could not be applied in this universal fashion. He further suggests that the term γνωστο ́ ς (gnostos) does not refer to knowledge about something, but knowledge of something by experience. “Paul is therefore saying that all persons have experienced God-and could have experienced more" (p. 51). In essence, “Ultimately Paul is less interested in how the world knows God than that it has experienced God and is hence without excuse” (p. 51).
The term εν αυτοις (en autois) is variously translated as plainly or evidently "in them," "among them," or "to them." While some commentators suggest that this makes no difference to the meaning of verse 19 (Baker, 1998, p. 288), it might lend some evidence as to whether this knowledge of God is innate, rationally derived or derived from sensory observation (external). Here, Greek Stoic philosophy taught that the invisible realm was only knowable through the reasoning faculties of the mind and could not be derived solely from external sensory observation. However, εν (en), as a preposition, tells us little other than direction. Thus, the passage does not answer whether the knowledge of God is innate or depends upon observation of an empirical world. This leaves open a whole realm of philosophical and theological discussion concerning the nature of man that is addressed in more detail later in this chapter.
Three other issues arise in verse 19. First, the words “what is known about God” suggests that not all knowledge of God is made evident. Thus, man is not expected to have access to all knowledge. This fact does not vitiate those things that God has made evident. It simply suggests that humility is appropriate. The phrase also suggests that "There are things about God which cannot be made known through the natural order, but what can be made known God has made known" (Morris, 1988, p. 80). Finally, the verse makes it clear that God is active in “pressing home the knowledge of His existence—making His revelation 'fully known, evident, and clear'" (Baker, 1998, p. 287). According to Louw and Nida (1989), the word φανερο ́ ς (phaneros) (normally translated ‘evident’ ‘manifest’ or ‘plain’) describes a “shift from the sensory domain of seeing, causing to see, or giving light to, to the cognitive domain of making something fully known, evident and clear" ( §28.36). This revelation requires more than simple perception, yet it remains understandable even though it is limited in scope and is not accompanied by any special or divine enlightenment (Oepke, 1965, vol. III, p. 586). What may be plain is the fact that man should pursue and investigate this relationship with God further.
The use of the term γαρ (gar – “for”) in verse 20 suggests that it is providing additional explanatory information (Moo, 1996, p. 104). This verse also mentions “creation” in two different locations. The first, “since the creation of the world” is normally translated “from” the creation of the world. Arguably, it might signify either a source of this knowledge (from the creation) or the temporal idea that knowledge of God has been apparent “since” that time. While the phrase is ambiguous, nearly all commentators agree with the temporal approach. As Turner (1981) observes, the source [from the testimony of creation] is mentioned later within the same verse and thus, “The temporal view avoids a tautology. God's natural revelation, then, began at the time of the creation of the universe" (p. 54). The impact according to Morris (1988) is that "These words mean that the universe has always born upon it the imprint of God's handiwork" (p. 81).
Even though knowledge of God has always been available to man, verse 20 also makes it clear that the source of this knowledge is from “the things that are made.” Later, the verse states that this knowledge of God is “understood through [from in the NIV; and by in the NKJV] the things that are made. (NASV).” This knowledge is not an embedded knowledge written on the slate of man’s soul. It requires some interaction with God’s handiwork. But does it require rational consideration? Verse 20 tells us this knowledge is “clearly seen, being understood.” Moo (1996) suggests that the term “seen” denotes physical sensation rather than mental perception (p. 105, fn. 65). However, Louw and Nida (1989, §32.2) suggest that the term καθορα ́ ω , (kathorao – “perceive”) which is only found at this one location in the New Testament, refers to comprehending something on the basis of careful thought. Bauer, et al. (1979, p. 391) refer to “spiritual seeing.” Michaelis (1965) suggests that “the participle construction rules out the possibility that Paul means a consideration with the eyes prior to νοε ́ ω ” (noeo – “to understand or apprehend”) (Michaelis, 1965, vol. V, p. 380). However, it is a word of common usage in the secular Greek that is normally used with physical seeing rather than mental perception (Moo, 1996, p. 105).
Regardless, the term which follows, νοε ́ ω (noeo) suggests a more in depth consideration that leads to understanding (Swanson, 2001). Baker (1998) suggests that the use of the two words together suggest both seeing with the eye and understanding with the mind. Thus, there is a reason Paul decided to use both together when he otherwise could have used one or the other (p. 292). Yet, Michaelis (1965) suggests that the use of both words together “is designed to show unambiguously that an intellectual process is in view (Michaelis, 1965, vol. V, p. 380). According to Dunn (1988), regardless of how καθορα ́ ω (kathorao) is interpreted, “it is scarcely possible that Paul did not intend his readers to think in terms of some kind of rational perception of the fuller reality in and behind the created cosmos" (p. 58).
Either way, the follow up phrase “so they are without excuse” necessarily implies that this seeing/understanding constitutes more than empirical sensation. The phrase suggests an understanding sufficient for a person to be able to act if desired. Surely a perception that could not motivate a choice would not indict based upon a failure to act. Our motivations must consist of more than behavioral instincts. It requires personal choice based upon personal beliefs. Wright (2002) suggests that, "The problem is not just wrong behavior, but wrong thought patterns - the latter, indeed, being the cause of the former" (p. 431).
Still, a question remains whether the knowledge that leaves one “without excuse” is also sufficient knowledge to spur one to change or to search further. Moo (1996) suggests that while this knowledge is not sufficient to lead to salvation, it is sufficient to “demonstrate that God’s condemnation is just” (p. 106). Yet, later in verse 1:28, mankind is portrayed as not particularly appreciative of keeping God in his knowledge. This would suggest that man is presented with knowledge that he cannot simply shake off or discard, no matter how hard he may try. His only option, other than to appropriately respond, would be to make a conscious, volitional and arguably irrational decision to ignore or to fail to investigate the rationality behind this knowledge.
Content of Our Knowledge of God
Romans 1 makes it clear that we are universally provided with a natural knowledge of God. Yet, exactly what knowledge of God do we receive? Is it a vague knowledge of the infinite or a higher power – what Young (2000) refers to as a “vague unthematic awareness of God?” Can we discern principles of God’s character from this natural revelation? Is this a source of a natural theology? Verse 20 directly refers to “his invisible attributes – his eternal power and his deity.” Thus at least three attributes of God are immediately self evident: a) aidio V (aidios – “eternal”); b) q eiot h V (theiotes – “divinity”); and c) dunami V (dunamis – “power”). According to Baker (1998), the use of the pronoun a u t o u (autou – “his”) also adds the attribute of being a person. As he suggests:
The fact that God is eternal and powerful was common to Judaism and Greek philosophy. But the idea of a personal God, while natural to Judaism, would have been foreign to Greek philosophy, which believed in a nonpersonal origin of the universe. (p. 289).
As we will discuss again when we review John Calvin, questions also remain concerning whether this knowledge includes any specific recognition of God’s benevolence. Some authors suggest that we can know nothing of this benevolence until we attain a knowledge of God’s Scriptures (Jeffreys, 1997, p. 424). Yet, verse 21 seems to expect that man with true knowledge of God should “glorify him” and give “thanks to him.” Such activities imply more than simple awe or fear, but rather a recognition that God is divine and morally worthy—typically denoting a sense of good and benevolence. Still, this is does not necessarily follow. The passage speaks more in juridical and retributive terms.
Based upon the foregoing, there are some concepts that are clearly present in Romans 1:18-21, while others are not fully established. It is clear that something is incurring God’s wrath, something that is within man’s ability to avoid. It is likewise clear that the cause of this wrath is man’s volitional suppression of truth that is clearly made available to him. This truth is not potential knowledge, but knowledge that is universal, and that we all have actual possession of—whether we want it or not. It has been available at all times (since the creation) and is somehow revealed through the physical observable world, likely through observation of the simple wonders of creation. This knowledge discloses the existence of God, and provides enough information to recognize God’s divine, eternal, personal and powerful nature.
What we do not understand is the actual mechanism for the disclosure of this knowledge. Is it of a propositional nature that is engraved in all people prior to birth? Is it derived from the interaction of an innate cognitive faculty with the physical world? Is it derived simply from the existence of first principles that allow us to know God through ratiocination and inductive reasoning? Finally, Romans 1 does not indicate whether there is an innate behavioral reaction to this knowledge. Does this knowledge necessarily lead to salvation “but for” its suppression, or does it simply provide the impetus or motivation to seek further? For consideration of these issues, we turn to theology.
Theological and Philosophical Review
While Romans 1 does not appear to provide any definitive statement concerning the noetic structure behind this knowledge of God, theologians have postulated a number of such structures. For many, the debate concerns whether this knowledge is innate (implanted in our very nature at birth) or derived from what we observe using our rational tools. All that we definitively learn from Scripture is that the data is available and that what we receive is sufficient to justify the wrath of God should we not use that knowledge to seek God. Most theologians seem to agree that this knowledge consists of more than simply sensory stimulation. It is universally capable of affecting our hearts and stimulating a true motivation to seek God should we so desire. Four significant theologian/philosophers (Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and Plantinga), each from different eras, seem to agree on this point, however they differ dramatically concerning the noetic structure of this knowledge. Any exploration of these structures necessarily requires a discussion of each of these four.
Early Philosophy and Church Fathers
The theory that we are innately provided with some knowledge is not new. Early philosophers recognized that knowledge is cumulative in nature. Some foundational knowledge is necessary to simply formulate the beliefs or to assimilate the facts necessary for the next piece of knowledge to attain. The question becomes whether man is provided with this information prior to birth, or whether the necessary foundations are downloaded after birth using sensory or other faculties. Plato argued that innate concepts are present prior to birth. Plato’s theory of recollection suggests that man has direct and prior contact with the Forms prior to birth (possibly through a prior incarnation or cognizance) and simply needs to reconnect with them through the process of learning (Matthews, 2002). Different people recollect different forms as their developed capacities and the necessities and direction of life propels them. Plato also suggested that people were innately provided with a rational intuition of the “Good,” a concept quite similar to the theistic God. Thus, all men have the ability to reconnect with the Good early in life as we observe and reconnect with life’s very nature.
Early church fathers also recognized that all people possess at least rudimentary knowledge of God. According to Tertullian, “God proves himself to be God, and the one only God, by the fact that he is known to all nations. The consciousness of God is the original dowry of the soul; the same in Egypt, in Syria, and in Pontus” (Apologeticus, 17, cited in Shedd, 1969, 1:202). Likewise, Origen reminded us that without direct personal revelation by God, men would not be guilty unless they possessed common notions of morality and belief in God (Demarest, 1982).
Augustine of Hippo
“Thou hast formed us for thyself, and our hearts are restless
till they find rest in thee.” (Confessions, I.I.I).
Saint Augustine of Hippo (Aurelius Augustinus) (354-430 A.D.) is arguably the most influential Christian theologian to emerge from the early days of Christianity and is credited with the synthesis of Greek philosophical thought (typically from Plato and Cicero) with the Judeo-Christian tradition. Augustine promoted a Christian worldview that was both intellectually and spiritually satisfying while at the same time establishing the compatibility of both traditions (Mendelson, 2002).
To Augustine, cognition begins with the rudimentary sensory perception of basic animal response and is followed by a more complex sensory perception (corporeal), the inner sense (spiritual), and reason (intellectual). For Augustine, the senses are low on the hierarchy and are, in turn, mediated (or more accurately, coordinated) by an “inner sense.” This faculty includes such aspects as memory, intuition and introspection. Not only does the inner sense provide structure, organization and coherence to sensory perception, but it also signals occasions when the senses apparently are not functioning properly (Matthews, 2002).
Still more sophisticated are the faculties of logic and reason that are both distinctively human and more reliable. It is here that the inner sense, and especially intuition and memory are governed to serve as tools in the assimilation of learning. Logic and reason, according to Augustine, may allow us to know certain things about God and his existence, but not enough to understand or lead to salvation or true happiness in life. Yet, while arguing that philosophers often fail to recognize the limitations of reason, Augustine does not embrace skepticism. The problem, he recognizes, is not with the “truth,” but with both human reasoning capacity and assent. Our assent is a function of our voluntas, defined in classical Greek philosophy as not simply “will,” but rather as “intention” or “purpose.” (Rist, 2002).
Also, at this level, we encounter Augustine’s doctrine of illumination—or more correctly, the illumination of reason. Augustine had observed that once (prior to his conversion) he could read scripture and know what was being said, but could not seem to understand it. Now, the words seemed to be illuminated and could shed additional understanding (De Trinitate. II.8.15). Apparently, understanding requires a combination of reason, faith, assent, and love on our part, and the provision of appropriate preparation by God. (Rist, 2001). Here, God plays an active and continuing role in human cognition by providing illumination (support to our reasoning capacity) to discern the otherwise unintelligible things of God. (Matthews, 2002, p. 180).
Such illumination is initially available to all rational minds and provides for immediate and direct knowledge of God (Romans 1) and a form of “natural” faith. Such knowledge and natural faith is separated from God as a result of the fall of mankind. According to Augustine, natural faith is transformed by reason to yield natural understanding. It is this initial illumination that also propels man past Plato’s “Paradox of Seeking” set forth in Meno. It is only the reach of Christian faith through illuminated reason that eventually yields Christian understanding. But how, in accordance with Plato’s paradox, do we first know to seek for this Christian faith? Rather than digging deeper into the Forms that are already available to us by recollection (as Plato suggests), Augustine points to this initial divine illumination. Augustine, in his Confessions, uses the parable of the woman looking for her lost drachma (Luke 15:8-10) as an analogy (Augustine, trans. 1963, X.18.27). She would not have searched unless she had a previous knowledge of the coin—and that she had lost it. Likewise, divine illumination allows us to recognize both our previous relationship with God and the loss of the same. We can then commence the search. As Hoitenga (1991) summarizes,
Thus, the search for God, for happiness, is a universal human search, characterized by a paradoxical combination of having and not having the knowledge that is sought, and significantly differentiated in its manifestations among human beings by whether they search for such knowledge and understanding apart from or under the guidance of Christian faith and revelation. (p. 129).
Further divine illumination of reasoning is only available to those who seek with a Christian “faith seeking understanding” and can only be accessed through conscious and attentive activity within a conducive environment. This may be the renewal that Paul speaks of in Romans 12:2, where he enjoins, “do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” A failure by faith to seek and employ this further power of illumination leaves the reasoning faculty largely impotent in discerning Christian truth (Hoitenga, 1991).
For Augustine, there is no innate knowledge of God in the sense of a deposited corpus of propositional truth. Nor did he recognize Plato’s notion of pre-birth contact with Forms. Instead, he seems to suggest that we might be indwelled with a natural and lingering disposition to seek God (restlessness). Thus, with the availability of common illumination, knowledge of God’s existence is accessible. Yet, this is not enough. Even with this disposition, the problem of the ambiguity present in the fallen world leaves us floundering without supernatural aid—an aid that can only be provided by the one who has no such ambiguity. (Matthews, 2002). As a result of the fall, illumination is ineffectual to provide more than rudimentary information to those who do not approach knowledge of God with appropriate assent. This assent, in turn, comes from a combination of three sources: i) the initial illumination of God (a disposition to seek God?), ii) the general revelation of the natural world as referred to in Romans 1, and iii) special revelation made available to those who chose to seek and reason further (Hoitenga, 1991). Among this special revelation is the God-breathed Scripture that is so useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16). Thus, although one of man’s distinguishing characteristics is reason, he also has the characteristic of yearning for God. It is the combination of these reasoning capacities with proper assent that permits the continuing, and eventually final, illumination of God.
Saint Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274 A.D.) arrived on the scene during a time when the writings of Aristotle had recently been uncovered, translated and developed by non-Christian thinkers such as Averroes and Maimonides (Wiegel & Madden, 1961). While Aquinas would agree with Augustine’s belief that human reason alone is not sufficient for knowledge of God, he would disagree with Augustine’s Neoplatonic metaphysics underlying truth and knowledge. Following Aristotle, Aquinas introduces a more empirical epistemology that relies heavily on the knowledge acquired through the senses together with inferential analysis. We generally acquire knowledge by drawing inferences from things previously understood, and since human beings are by nature corporeal substances, the bulk of human cognition arises initially from sense perception (MacDonald, 1993). To Aquinas, Christ is likely referring to the physical observation of Christ and his miracles in Matthew 13:17 when he states that “many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them.”
Aquinas argued that there are two avenues to knowledge of God, one by faith and one by reason (natural theology). While faith is more perfect than natural reason, there are things concerning God that can be known independent of revelation. Still, although Aquinas would agree with Augustine that there is a natural desire for God, he would disagree that this desire or assent leads to a supernatural illumination of God’s truth. Also, unlike Anselm, Aquinas does not accept that the knowledge we may receive concerning the existence of God is sufficient to be of any immediately aid. (Wiegel & Madden, 1961). Instead, according to Aquinas, “To know in a general and confused way that God exists is implanted in us by nature” (Aquinas, trans. 1964, I, q. 2, a.1, ad 1). What we are immediately provided is not only confused, but in need of additional inferential clarification. Thus, our implanted knowledge of God is not sufficient to prevent man from generating significant error. As Plantinga (2000) points out, Aquinas’ version of implanted knowledge would not preclude resulting inferences of God in the form of a naturalistic order or impersonal force (p. 177).
However, Aquinas also recognized that if knowledge must always rely upon previous inferences, a problem of infinite regress will follow. There must be a source of first principles that ground the initial inferences, such as the inference to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22: 37 – 40). Some knowledge must be obtained non-inferentially or by virtue of itself. Aquinas remarks,
Now a truth is subject to a twofold consideration---as known in itself, and as known through another. What is known in itself, is as a ‘principle,’ and is at once understood by the intellect: wherefore the habit that perfects the intellect for the consideration of such truth is called ‘understanding,’ which is the habit of principles. On the other hand, a truth which is known through another, is understood by the intellect, not at once, but by means of the reason's inquiry, and is as a ‘term.’ (Aquinas, trans. 1964, I-II. q.57, a.2).
Thus, according to Aquinas, mankind is also born with an innate knowledge of certain a priori first principles. From these first principles, man acquires further knowledge, including a more complete knowledge of God and the trustworthiness of Scripture (MacDonald, 1993). Arguably, Aquinas essentially establishes a primitive notion of epistemological foundationalism. However, according to a few commentators, Aquinas describes the cognition found in Romans 1 as recognition of “felt ignorance” rather than a propositional knowledge of God. Thus, nature and our first principles do not point toward a real knowledge of God, but rather an awareness of our ignorance and our duty to seek further (Rogers, 1995; Young, 2000). Either way, Aquinas suggests that anything not known of itself or inferentially derived cannot be counted as knowledge. Since sin has left man unable to perfectly observe, infer, or even discern first principles, room remains for Christian faith. For most people, faith in God’s existence must be derived from his many forms of revelation (Aquinas, trans. 1964, I. q. 4, 3-5). Thus, human reason is never the basis for faith, but it may provide support for the maintenance of that faith. There are clear mysteries of the Christian faith that may extend beyond reason and knowledge, yet they are also not contrary to reason (Geisler, 1999, p.725).
In this way, Aquinas rejects the Augustinian notion of divine illumination and the platonic sense of direct extrasensory connection with Forms. What is innate in man is neither a propositional knowledge of God, nor a particular remaining disposition to seek after God. Rather, we have the tools (first principles), or possibly an innate belief justification faculty, necessary to look at creation and arrive at knowledge of God. Whether we do something further with this rudimentary knowledge is not necessarily an issue of reason. It may also be an issue of desire, motivation, or even attention. Thus, it would make sense that Aquinas would place special concern on developing his Five Ways and other rational attempts at proof of the existence of God.
That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges. (Calvin, 1962, trans. ,I.3.1).
To John Calvin (1509-1564 A.D.) our natural human condition includes a natural belief and knowledge of God. Atheism and agnosticism are the unnatural affects of our depravity, not a rational starting point from which we develop our belief. Thus, attempts to rationally prove the existence of God through philosophy or natural theology is not necessary, and is likely to be futile (Cooke, 1986). Instead, we are best off continually referring people back to this natural knowledge, and then coaxing them, by faith, to appropriate the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit.
According to Calvin, all of mankind is implanted ab initio with knowledge of God, which Calvin derives mainly from Romans 1. Thus, man has a natural, direct and immediate awareness of God (sensus divinitatis). This is based more on experience than reason, and on direct connection rather than reconnection. Religious concerns are intrinsic to human nature. Yet, this sensus divinitatis is not a repository for propositional truths. Nor is it a collection of tools (as seems to be suggested by Aquinas) or a rational faculty (as suggested by Plantinga, 2004), but rather a part of man’s created nature by virtue of our creation imago dei (in God’s image) (Hoitenga, 1991). K. Scott Oliphint (2001), a professor of Apologetics analyzes Paul’s epistles and suggests that “in Paul’s mind, the sensus is more a deliverance itself than a device, more content than capacity, more sensus than set of dispositions. . . . It is not within the realm of Paul’s purview at this point that the sensus divinitatis would, or even could, malfunction” (p. 164).
While Calvin is not explicit in his description of the sensus divinitatis, Helm (1998) has suggested that it has both a metaphysical cognitive and a moral cognitive component. The metaphysical component yields a concept of God’s existence, yet includes only a rudimentary apprehension of God’s essence. What is received does not provide an immediate propositional awareness, but seems to require a trigger provided by experience of the physical world. Thus, “whoever has a properly functioning sensus would, when brought to experience data of a certain kind, immediately, without the need for conscious ratiocination, form the belief that there is a God, or have that belief sustained or reinforced” (p. 92).
With Calvin, the moral cognitive component of the sensus also provides an awareness of naturally flowing obligations arising out of this initial knowledge. This would include the need to love, obey and pursue one’s creator and sustainer. According to Helm (1998), “because in the unfallen state, there was no weakness of will or failure of any other kind, then those who reasoned in this fashion did love and obey God, did consecrate their lives to his will” (p. 93).
Calvin is careful to remind us that the sensus does not provide us with immediate knowledge of the specifics of salvation, Christ’s redemptive purpose, or other theological concepts. Thus, he does not argue for an innateness that would allow for salvation outside of the intervention and triggering of the external world, the motivation of one’s heart, and the workings of the Holy Spirit. In fact, according to Horton (1998), the chief product of the unaided sensus seems to be either pantheism (God pushed into the world and found in all created things) or deism (God pushed out of the world into heaven with no intervention into the created things). Therefore, the fact that even some apparently well-meaning people embrace polytheism, animism, deism or other forms of divine approach is not unexpected.
According to Calvin, the foregoing only serves to disclose two important points. First, it serves to support the existence of the sensus. All societies, no matter how primitive, seem to hold a universal belief in God and the spiritual world. The Greek philosopher Cicero referred to this as the Argument from Universal Consent (Helm, 1998). Cicero observed that, “among men there is no tribe so uncivilized and savage which, even if it does not know what kind of a god it ought to have, does not know that it ought to have one” (De Legibus, I.8, cited in Shedd, 1969, 1:200; See also Keener, 1993, p. 416). Helms (1998) suggests that this diversity in developing our knowledge of God does not suggest a natural pluralism, but rather simply indicates the limitations of the sensus divinitatis given the effect of sin. What we receive is more of the awareness of a category (divine creator), and without further investigation – an indistinct category at that. (p. 97). With proper motivation, it is here that faith and the Holy Spirit play a role.
Second, it reminds us that the sensus, by itself, and absent the further revelation of nature, Scripture and the Holy Spirit, is not sufficient for salvation. As Jeffreys (1997) suggests, the sensus is only capable of providing (or allowing in) ‘sparks” of knowledge concerning God’s benevolence that are soon “smothered” (p. 424). Then, in an apparent objection to the ideas of the sensus as an epistemic faculty, he adds that:
Because knowledge of God’s benevolence is the most important kind of knowledge for Calvin, it appears that the sensus divinitatis is not a reliable belief-forming module. In fact, as Calvin presents it, it is decidedly unreliable.” (p. 425).Calvin, according to Jeffreys (1997), emphasizes that effect of the sensus in generating more dread than anything else … a dread that has a tendency toward idolatry and where “immense crowds of gods have issued from the human mind” (Calvin, trans. 1962, I.v.12). Still, he surmises that God’s revelation from natural wonder and beauty perhaps can trigger the sensus to begin generating (or allowing in) beliefs regarding God’s benevolence.
Calvin does not suggest that the fall has obliterated the sensus, for scripture (Romans 1) clearly indicates that this knowledge will be effective if pursued – enough so that God is judicially righteous in directing his wrath at those who do not. However, unlike Augustine who believed that the fall had no damaging effect on that which we must be reacquainted with, Calvin thinks of the sensus divinitatis as only a vestige of what was available pre-fall (Hoitenga, 1991). Without sin, “we would believe in God with the same natural spontaneity that we believe in the existence of other persons, an external world, or the past” (Jeffreys, 1997, p. 421). Yet it remains capable of recovery … or regeneration. Here, error on the part of man is due to willfulness and self-deceit. Furthermore, since this evidence is constantly available and reasserting itself, this self-deceit must also be continual. Thus, the error may not be in the metaphysical aspects of the sensus, but rather in the moral cognitive aspects (Helm, 1998). This would explain how one can have knowledge of God (enough to tremble with fear), yet simply not care or act on it. Calvin uses the example of Caligula … “none showed greater dread when any indication of divine wrath was manifested. Thus, however unwilling, he shook with terror before the God whom he professedly studied to condemn” (Calvin, 1962, I.3.2)
Finally, Calvin also seems to anticipate the viciousness of a faulty worldview filter. Arguably, the fall has brought about a number of misguided conceptions regarding trust, God’s provision, and the need for self-preoccupation. Clearly, these different assumptions and cornerstones provide for a variety of misinterpretations of the sensus. As Helms (1998) points out:
Knowledge or true understanding of the facts is thus a function not only of what the facts are, but also of the nature of those who are apprehenders or would be apprehenders of the facts. (p. 101).
Once the sensus leads or allows us to pursue God, we must work toward attaining wisdom. True wisdom (verasapientia) recognizes the priority of Christ and it is only from this foundation that any epistemology can be appropriately grounded. While the human senses and rational capacity have their place, they simply are subordinate to the revealed wisdom of God. According to Calvin, “The distinction is, that we have one kind of intelligence of earthly things, and another of heavenly things” (Calvin, 1962, II.2.13). Calvin is not denigrating the pursuit of earthly knowledge, but is concerned with the wrongful elevation of earthly knowledge above that of God and eternal things (Holder, 2001). Otherwise, earthly knowledge or filters may allow those who claim to be wise, to become fools (Romans 1:22). According to Holder, Calvin suggests that Paul “does not ask us to make a total surrender of wisdom, which is either innate or acquired by long experience. He only asks that we subjugate it to God, so that all our wisdom might be derived from His Word” (p. 4). Not only does the revealed wisdom of Christ take precedence, but we have to recognize the limitations of earthly knowledge.
For Calvin, the noetic effects of sin are not limited to man’s will and the sensus, but also directly affect his reasoning capacity. Thus human reasoning, without vast measures of divine assistance (here, similar to Augustine’s divine illumination), is simply incapable of perfect knowledge, and even less when it comes to unlocking the mysteries of God and God’s will for humanity. Today, we admittedly see but a poor reflection as in a mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12).
To Calvin, knowledge of God is not an implanted proposition, but is immediately available through the interaction of the sensus divinitatis and the naturally occurring world. Note that the sensus is not itself a form of natural revelation, but a part of human nature (Hoitenga, 1991). The revelation of Romans 1 is a sign – a reminder – not the provision of knowledge. This differs from Augustine’s knowledge of God through the illumination of reason and Aquinas’ rational application of a priori principles. To Calvin, it is not reason that leads to knowledge of God. The application of reason, depending upon how we react to the moral cognitive component of the sensus, will either lead us toward … or away from wisdom. Wisdom, together with faith and the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit can then provide for salvation and sanctification.
According to Alvin Plantinga (1932 - ), a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, our knowledge of God is the result of a basic belief forming faculty that is innate within us as a result of our creation imago Dei. One of the beliefs inevitably and continuously generated by this faculty is indubitable knowledge of the existence of God. Thus, a person’s knowledge of God does not require support from reason or other observation. Nor is our belief in God a hypothesis to be verified or falsified. Instead, this knowledge is warranted by the simple proper functioning of this belief forming faculty (Plantinga, 2000), a faculty as basic as “perception, memory and a priori belief” (p. 175). If this faculty is properly functioning and involves a cognitive epistemic design aimed at truth, the beliefs derived therefrom become properly basic and warranted. Thus, believers are perfectly within their epistemic rights to simply listen to this native faculty without further investigation.
Yet, the primary objective of Plantinga’s project is not to discover the source of our knowledge of God, but rather to philosophically establish that Christian belief is not irrational or illegitimate on its face (de jure) as some have suggested. According to Plantinga (2000),
In a nutshell, then, a belief has warrant for a person S only if that belief is produced in S by cognitive faculties functioning properly (subject to no disfunction) in a cognitive environment that is appropriate for S’s kind of cognitive faculties, according to a design plan that is successfully aimed at truth. (p. 156).
Thus, if a proper functioning belief faculty is sufficient to validate the beliefs obtained, these beliefs are not primafacie irrational, yet it remains to be determined if they are factually true (de facto). The question becomes what kind of detail is delivered concerning our knowledge of God. Does the faculty deliver simple and rudimentary knowledge of God’s existence or more detailed Christian beliefs? Still, Plantinga realizes that the existence of such a basic faculty is necessary for Christian belief to be warranted under his epistemological system. Once warranted, the sensusdivinitatis delivers beliefs with warrant, yet it is up to other means (such as inference and internal justification) not to initially generate the beliefs, but to develop a trust in their factual truth.
Plantinga (2000) arguably relies upon both Aquinas and Calvin to arrive at his “A/C model” of the sensus divinitatis. According to Plantinga, both believed that man is provided with natural knowledge of God apart from rational argument or evidence. “Here, the sensus divinitatis resembles other belief-producing faculties or mechanisms. If we wish to think in terms of the overworked functional analogy, we can think of the sensus divinitatis, too, as an input – output device” (p. 174). Using his “extended A/C model,” Plantinga suggests that from this faculty man also inherits both a disposition and the ability to form additional (and equally warranted) Christian theistic beliefs from his observations of the world. Thus, man is also warranted in his beliefs concerning the divine attributes of God (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and benevolence) and that God is our creator, is one, is personal and transcendent, and is worthy of praise.
Plantinga recognizes that sin has a detrimental effect on man’s noetic capabilities. He further believes that sin has had an effect on the deliverances of the sensusdivinitatis, but maybe not to the extent suggested by Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin. According to Plantinga (2000), “the condition of sin involves damage to the sensus divinitatis, but not obliteration; it remains partially functional in most of us” (p. 207). Sin’s effect is to cover up, impede, disguise and suppress the knowledge provided. In addition, according to Plantinga, the sensusdivinitatis is subject to malfunction (p. 215). Yet, the idea of malfunction creates an issue with Plantinga’s idea of a warranted belief producing faculty. Additionally, concepts of personal agency and responsibility suggest that there is a big difference between volitional suppression of the sensus and its malfunction due to effects outside of the control of the agent.
Likewise, despite Plantinga’s claimed reliance on both Aquinas and Calvin, his A/C model has generated some criticism. While it might provide a defense for de jure arguments against theistic belief, it does not necessarily adopt the full scope of either Aquinas’ or Calvin’s arguments. Plantinga extrapolates the amount of information provided innately by the sensus beyond what would be admitted by Aquinas and downplays the import that Aquinas places on inferential development of this information. Even Calvin’s sensus divinitatis seems to be more limited (Sudduth, 2001). To Calvin, the sensus provides implanted and immediate non-inferential knowledge that is rudimentary and arises spontaneously in the human mind (cognition Dei insita). This knowledge is insufficient to derive much more absent both a desire to pursue God further and the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us on to later inferentially derived knowledge (cognition Dei acquisita). In addition, Calvin seems to go out of his way to paint a sensus that provides more of a disposition or an “awareness of divinity” (Calvin, trans. 1962, I, iii, I), than a mechanism.
A Filter Analogy
If the sensus is neither propositional, nor an epistemic faculty, it seems that what Calvin is describing surprisingly resembles a “filter” (remember that a filter is not necessarily a negative or obstructing thing) as used in our heuristic Worldview Cycle developed in Chapter 2. Arguably, our initial imagoDei filter seems to include a propensity to think and to be epistemically directed toward belief possibilities in a certain manner. Plantinga (2000) refers to the sensus as a “sort of instinct, a natural human tendency, a disposition, a nisus to form beliefs about God” (p. 171). The fall of mankind would suggest that we inherit a weakened Adamic imagoDei filter – one which may provide less complete or brilliant information. Add to this a volitionally installed and exclusionary filter akin to active suppression (Romans 1), and the combined filters become quite efficient at turning man away from God. Thus, the failure to seek or know more about God may come about not due to a faulty faculty or the failure of propositional truth about God, but due to the installation of overlaying filters that no longer permit such possibilities to be considered or entertained.
While the Adamic imagoDei filter transmits a less brilliant picture, man is responsible for his own decision to avoid knowledge of God. Here, a diseased or malfunctioning epistemic faculty cannot be blamed. Rather, it is only the active construction by man of additional filters that completes the misdirection. This would likewise fit Calvin’s belief that the sensus is always available and is revealed constantly. This imagoDei filter is built into us and is always available but for the exclusionary filters we construct. Demolish or appropriately modify those additional filters and the imagoDei filter once again has potential.
Figure 2 provides a heuristic that may illustrate this filter analogy a bit further. Scenario 1 describes the initial filter before the effects of sin. Here, the imago Dei filter is not impacted and allows full knowledge of God. Scenario 2 describes the sin impacted Adamic imago Dei filter which permits a less detailed knowledge of God to pass and relies on faith and reason to provide support and seek regeneration. Scenario 3 describes the imposition of a volitional filter (possibly one brought by pride or distrust?) that further diminishes the imago Dei filter. This leads to an errant worldview where actions cannot easily rely upon the supplanted imago Dei filter. Thus, not only is regeneration necessary, but one must also correct the worldview distortion (a process akin to conversion?). Scenario 4 describes a volitional filter that covers up the imago Dei filter. Here, the impact of the imago Dei filter is suppressed and can have little effect on one’s
Figure 2 – Filter Analogy Regarding Knowledge of God (Scenarios 1 to 5)
worldview unless the volitional filter is later removed. Finally, Scenario 5 describes the hardened heart where the imago Dei filter is completely replaced over time. Little or no vestige of the imago Dei filter remains. This person has left himself with no ability to return to the imago Dei filter without both volitional removal of his replacement filter and a miraculous re-infusion of the imago Dei filter – a most difficult situation at best.
Arguably, while my filter analogy fits well with Calvin, it might have some problems with Plantinga’s notion of proper basicality. It might be difficult to suggest that an innate filter is necessarily aimed at truth or functions properly. Still, the idea that man is pre-designed with a disposition to allow and further investigate theistic beliefs supports the idea of foundational filters that allow correct cornerstones of belief to form.
Rejection of Knowledge of God
For each of these theologians/philosophers, despite our initial knowledge of God, improperly directed reason or reason without pursuit of God’s illumination can lead one astray. Each would agree that for fallen man operating outside of God’s illumination, reason is capable of providing rational, yet improper, grounds for rejection of their initial knowledge of God. Despite the project of philosophers such as Descartes, Locke and Kant, Calvin and Augustine would insist that more than the pursuit of natural reason is required. Indeed, unlike what seems to be implied by Aquinas, reason is insufficient to lead to an effectual natural theology. Yet, reason is also not detrimental. To be harmful, reason would require the constant suppression of the rudimentary knowledge that is continually available. Reason itself is not the culprit; rather it is the direction (purpose and assent) and the resulting motivation behind this search for reason. This is sometimes referred to in scripture as the inclinations of the heart (Gen. 6:5, 8:21; Eccles. 10:2; Jer. 7:24), or today as the motivations of the heart. “Heart” in this connotation, does not refer to the center of the emotions as normally perceived today, but as the center of man’s being – his mind, his emotions and his will. The heart is the source of all desire and motivation (Saucy, 1993; Naugle, 2002, pp. 267-274).
If these theologians are correct concerning the universal availability of knowledge of God, original sin cannot be the culprit. All suffer under the same debilitations. This does not serve to minimize the consequences of original sin, but simply recognizes the active nature of any refusal to accept this knowledge. If the knowledge of God is effective in all to such an extent that God’s wrath is justified toward those avoiding this knowledge, this avoidance requires a decision. Arguably, this may serve to alleviate the majority of concerns regarding the salvation of souls who are incapacitated in a manner that will not allow such a decision to be made.
What remains suggests that unbelief is not a metaphysical or rational problem, but a moral problem. It is a problem of the will … of our desires, our intentions, our assent and our goals. As Demarest (1982) suggests, “There are no true atheists. A person may outwardly profess disbelief in God, but inwardly he is endowed with the compelling consciousness that God exists” (p. 233). We can only testify of our own introspection. Without the ability to gain direct awareness of other minds, and given the protestations of those who claim to be atheists, this belief itself requires faith.
Implications for Worldview Integration
Major Focus of Scripture
If we accept that man has sufficient knowledge of the existence of God to stimulate [and possibly implore] a rational person to search further, what implications does this have for the concept of worldview integration? How would this information affect my heuristic worldview cycle? Does it tell us anything regarding the expected epistemological beliefs and intrinsic motivation of those that engage in honest integration? Clearly, this basic belief (or possible imagoDei filter) would provide a starting point that is carried forward into our initial worldview.
Any worldview must have a starting point. This would include an initial filter governing what should initially be let in or allowed, and what should not. However, if these primal beliefs are allowed to develop false filters and create a resulting false foundation, reason and the other tools in the integration process (motivation, goal formation, desires, emotions, epistemology and constructed filters) can be used to justify a number of false, yet coherent worldviews. Scripture provides significant examples of worldview examination and integration. Indeed, a prominent message of the Bible seems to argue for man’s removal of false filters and reconsideration of his faulty worldview—a worldview constructed by man that has no need for God, has adopted a distrust and lack of love for both God and fellow man, and substitutes a mistaken belief that man’s free will allows us to “be like God” (Gen. 3:5).
The Old Testament sets the stage by establishing the ground rules of reality, including God’s ability and desire to provide for all of our needs (Exod. 16) along with the consequences of Adam and Eve’s choice to embrace an alternative false worldview (Gen. 3). The universal knowledge of God was such that he could simply refer to himself as “I Am” (Exod. 3:14). When “I Am” called, there were people like Noah (Gen. 6:32) and Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3) who did respond. They recognized a true worldview as one where we trust in God for all of our needs (Ps. 145:13-16), freeing us to love and worship God with our entire being (Deut. 6:5). Even Qoheleth (King Solomon), the most ardent of skeptics in Ecclesiastes, concludes that if all else is meaningless, one things remains – “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13).
In the New Testament, Jesus continues to implore us to seek our intended worldview and provided a counselor in the Holy Spirit to allow and help us to do so (John 14:16). Paul reminds us that such a worldview will become increasingly clear to us as we mature in Christ (Phil. 3:15). A fallen worldview leaves us worrying about what will happen from day to day, when our chief motivation should be to seek God, his truth and his righteousness (Matt. 6:25-33). False teaching, like a false worldview, is likened to yeast where a small amount of falsehood can permeate the entire loaf (Matt. 16:5-12). Here, although Jesus is likely speaking of actual evil or corruption on the part of the Pharisees rather than a simple mistaken outlook, the point is a) the insidious effect of such a small entity; and b) its ability to permeate the entirety of an otherwise good loaf (Lewis, 1976).
Both the Apostles Paul and John continue this focus. Paul exhorts us not to “conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Only then will you “be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2). According to Moo (1996), the use of the world “transformed” means more than an outward or superficial change. It means change at our deepest level of being and belief. The “renewing of the mind” expresses a continuing process and the means by which this transformation is to take place – at the practical reason or moral consciousness level (p. 756). As Stoessel (1963) points out, the term n o u ς (nous - mind) as used in Rom. 12:2 refers to both an individual and collective worldview. It consists of the “ideas or principles which are the springs of action” (p. 164) and “describes the attitude, viewpoint, or understanding resulting from the meeting (or collision) between the will of God and the persons under discussion” (p. 165). As a theology of transformation, “this truth must become indwelling; there it can dislodge the thoughts and attitudes of ‘natural man’” (p. 169).
John reminds us that those who have false or unexamined worldviews “are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 John 4:5). Here, the term “world” is “probably to be understood in two ways: as a system of thought antithetical to Christian belief and as a description of those members of the community who were led astray by the false teachers” (Barker, 1994, p. 1101). Thus, the discarding of any false filters, together with the adoption of a true system of thought or worldview (being from God) is crucial and provides the means for recognizing the Spirit of truth from falsehood.
Impact on Apologetics
If everyone has knowledge of God’s existence, then it would seem that our duty of evangelism becomes much easier. As Baker (1998) points out,
Specifically, if everyone already knows there is a God, there is no need to prove His existence through the use of evidence and reason. If, on the other hand, the truth of God’s existence is not self-evident, then this truth must be proved through evidence and reason. (p. 281).
According to Van Til (1967), since men cannot get away from this evidence, “if he is self-conscious at all he is also God conscious” (p. 195). Thus, the apologetic issue is not to argue for the existence of God, but to somehow tap into this God-consciousness and return the lost to their natural and intended search for God. This “presuppositional” apologetic approach is distinguished from “evidential” apologetics that relies upon establishing an epistemological common ground so that the believer and non-believer alike may seek out God through rational argument, evidence and epistemological justification (Turner, 1981; Baker, 1998). To the evidentialist, Van Til’s approach to apologetics is essentially fideism and expects men to believe without any evidence (Geisler, 1976, pp. 56-58). To the presuppositionalist, the problem is rebellion, motivation and volition. “Man is viewed as a rebel against God who nonetheless in his innermost being still recognizes his Master” (Turner, 1981, p. 50).
In a similar, yet slightly different fashion, Emil Brunner and Karl Barth disagreed over the effect of sin on apologetics. Brunner argued that we must look for points of connection between the believer and unbeliever. Unless we find some common reference point, “the mere act of bearing witness remains sterile unless it can be integrated with the truth which the listener already possesses” (Brunner, 1950, pp. 100-101). Barth, on the other hand, reminds us that the effects of sin are such that this is both difficult and ineffective. Instead, as Hoitenga (1991) suggests, “For Barth, proclamation of the Word of God, not the dialectics of reason” (p. 205) should be resorted to.
Yet, even if the presuppositionalist is correct in his interpretation of Romans 1, it does not follow that this universal knowledge of God remains as a part of one’s current worldview. Constructed worldview filters have a nasty habit of eliminating both old and new information from consideration. Regardless of whether our knowledge of God derives from an initial imagoDei filter, an epistemic faculty, a simple disposition, or even propositional truth, that knowledge is often buried away from consideration, motivationally ignored, or factually filtered. Continuing interaction with the wonders of God’s world may no longer be effective, even as our ultimate responsibility for arriving at this state continues. The suppression spoke of in Romans 1:18 may be volitional initially, but arguably becomes easier and less volitional as the worldview cycle constructs its filters – vicious and self-perpetuating filters that begin to unconsciously block out the truth of God and that prevent and insulate the person from further and appropriate worldview integration. This may approximate the situation referred to by Scripture as the hardening of one’s heart (Exod. 8:15).
In Ephesians 4:18, Paul refers to hardening of the heart as a cause of being ignorant and thereby causing people to be “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God.” Here, the term for hardened heart is p w r v s i z (porosis – “hardening”) and is typically defined as “stubbornness” (O’Brien, 1999, p. 322) or a dulling insensibility (Bauer, et al., 1979, p. 732). According to Wood (1994), this Greek term is also used to describe a state of petrification, and is used medically to describe a state of developing a callous and a resulting insensitivity to present pain.
Thus, apologetics and evangelism continue to require both a continual reminder of the basic existence, call and invitation of God, but must also point out the very process by which non-believers filter, suppress and ignore this information. To these people, simple reason remains ineffective, while simple faith remains unavailable. The vicious cycle of these filters and such an ineffective worldview must be stopped somewhere. Calvin seems to agree. As Jeffreys (1997) observes, Calvin emphasizes
how sin engulfs the entire person, entering the very ‘citadel’ of the mind. The wandering confused mind presents false objects to the will, and the perverted will attaches itself to these objects, trapping the person in a cycle of behaviour (sic) from which she cannot escape … Without Scripture and the Holy Spirit, the faithless have absolutely no hope of escaping this cycle. Only those who know God’s benevolence through faith can begin a gradual ascent out of their epistemic confusion. (pp. 428, 430).
For some people, this may mean the slow accommodation of dissonant facts applied by reason. For others, it may mean stimulating simple attention to and cognition of their beliefs, their filters, and the need for integration. For others, it may require a motivational kick start. Obviously, the older we get and the more secular our parental, environmental and cultural influences have been, the more difficult and time consuming this process will likely become.
Yet, according to Hoitenga (1991), there are other reasons for engaging in apologetics (evidential and other methodologies) outside of evangelism and establishing a knowledge of God. First, the process may be helpful for both our personal worldview integration and for shoring up our own justification for our beliefs. Even while we are on the right track towards a true and godly worldview, faulty filters may be constructed, goals may go astray and motivation may languish. Second, apologetics can be appropriate simply out of expression of love for one’s neighbor, by continuing to challenge other believers and unbelievers both to continuously examine the consistency of their beliefs and their process of integration.
Third, apologetics is useful as a part of our pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. “Just as Scripture is their charter for love, so it is also their charter for the pursuit of scientia” (knowledge for its own sake) (Hoitenga, 1991, p. 217). As Dowson and Harvey (2003) point out in an article discussing the right Christian motives for academic learning, such a “motivational focus appears to be consistent with the biblical insight that focusing on the study of creation and of worthy things in creation is a valuable, even mandated activity (Phil. 4:8, Ps. 19:1ff)” (p. 38).
Finally, we come full circle back to the realization that reason, our goals, our capability beliefs, and our desires and emotions (surprisingly similar to Ford’s  previous definition of motivation) alone are not sufficient components for the stimulation of worldview integration. Each may be subject to humanly constructed flaws in purpose and direction. Likewise, although our personal epistemology defines a major component of our worldview and a filter within the integration process, proper epistemic beliefs are likely insufficient in and of themselves to yield a true and finally satisfying worldview. Yet, each of these components may be tools along the journey that remain helpful in encouraging a person’s openness to the Holy Spirit’s work in enhancing and illuminating these tools. While Augustine focuses on the illumination of reason, it would seem that our goals, capability beliefs, motivations and personal epistemology may also be subject to illumination, resulting in a true illumination of the heart.
Although there are some differences between the classic theologians, each would concur with Romans 1 that every man has available to him knowledge of God’s existence. Regardless of whether this knowledge is innate, inborn, developed by the illumination of reason, developed from available first principles, or simply sensory, man is without excuse should he ignore the knowledge freely available to him. The biblical evidence agrees. The knowledge of God is there. It is what we choose to do with it and the filters that we construct around that knowledge that matters. In addition, it seems that the fall has left man with certain limitations. Even if all of the knowledge that creation itself may reveal to man is available, this does not infuse man with either perfect reasoning skills or understanding. Nor does this render truth or knowledge in general as elusive, unattainable, relative, constructed by man, deceptive or in contravention of God’s will. Knowledge and reason are simply tools.
Thus, although man is provided with sufficient knowledge of God to require further action on his part, that knowledge requires further volitional activity. The decision to approach God or to hide and suppress the truth is itself a rational decision. Approaching God then necessitates developing a relationship and the resulting intrinsic desire to know more. In fact, while the next step of accepting the revelation of Christ as God’s provision of salvation requires faith, faith is neither blind nor devoid of rational consideration. Romans 1 also tells us that there is more to be known about God than what is disclosed by nature. While arguably one could learn more about God by simply relying on the authoritarian dictates of either the Bible or church leaders, knowledge also necessarily comes from other faculties provided by God, such as introspection, intuition, sensation, memory, logic and experience. Reason is the faculty that allows us to process and evaluate each of these sources. These faculties are all creations of God and it seems unfathomable that these tools were created to be simply ignored by man. Yet, they are tools, not idols—and fallible tools at that.
Reason is not sufficient for either salvation or for developing our relationship with God. Yet Paul recognizes that it is a necessary component of the regenerated believers’ sanctification and becoming “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). For the person with a regenerate worldview where God is the creator of all and all is good, there is nothing to be feared from the use of rational capabilities to investigate God’s world. The fear comes with a failure to understand reason’s limitations and its ineffectiveness within unregenerate worldviews. In the Gospels, Jesus teaches that simple knowledge of God’s existence is available to all, but is not enough. In John 3, Jesus encounters Nicodemus, a Pharisee with an undeniable knowledge of God and who expresses a suspicion that more is involved. Yet, even this knowledge and motivation to search is not enough. A relationship with God must be reestablished. There are clear mysteries of the Christian faith. However to the extent they are revealed by God’s revelation, they can be expected to be in accord with reason and the remainder of God’s world. All in all, it is not reasonable, nor has it been shown effective, to elevate reason as an idol to be worshipped instead of God.
Copyright 2005 Mark E. Henze - BBuilders.org