Epistemic paradigm movements, post-conversion


Dear Brother Glenn:

After browsing through your "Christian Think Tank" with my new Netscape program, I am intrigued, fascinated, and amazed to find someone who thinks the same way that I do! I offer the following comments in the spirit of brotherly love...

From Florida, he moved to Dallas Texas to attend Dallas Theological Seminary, earning his Th.M. in Systematic Theology in 1981. After seminary, he taught Philosophy and Senior Biblical Exegesis at Dallas Bible College in 1982, and completed two years of doctoral study in Philosophy at University of Dallas. (He also taught Software Engineering at University of Texas at Arlington and ran a computer consulting chain during this time.) While in Texas, his middle daughter Britt was born in 1979, followed by his son Derek in 1981.
Does this make you a dispensationalist?

[Actually, the birth of Britt and Derek only made me more of a father...;)

but the straight answer is 'sorta, i guess'...depending on what you mean, which often depends on where YOU are coming from...i opened a piece of mail just today from some covenant theology jock who went into a diatribe on how superior his system was to dispensationalism--only his understanding of dsp. was so distorted and superficial, i will ALWAYS doubt his analysis of OTHER subjects now...(if he misunderstood something i at least know something about, how could i trust his understandings of things i DONT know about?)...sad state of affairs for me, i guess...

But, in the technical sense---do i believe God used DIFFERENT covenants through history in His relationship to us, with differing terms/conditions such as in the adamic, noahic, abrahamic, davidic, mosaic, New Covenant--yes, i do...and, am i confused about what will obtain during the millennial reign of Christ?--absolutely!

It is a common methodological principle that DIFFERENCES are more significant that SIMILARITIES, when comparing like objects...and i still see the administrative and formal differences between the various covenants...

hope this doesn't obfuscate too much...i am obviously thinking thru many of these issues again (and again, and again....)...]

I'm writing this in seat 2A at 35,000 feet on a business trip. I have just gotten somewhat irritated (and a little discouraged) at some conservative Christian theologian's production of an arrogant (but pious, no doubt!) epistemology. He spit out the shibboleths of revelation, authority of the Bible, God as the source of all knowledge, the impossibility of sinful man being honest, etc., etc., etc., amen...Thirty minutes later now...the irritation has subsided somewhat (but not the discouragement) and has been replaced by a mild grief...he will influence many within that subculture. It generally won't spread to other Christian sub-cultures, because trying to get denominations or paradigm communities to agree on anything is like trying to nail Jello to a tree! My problem is that as a conservative Christian thinker and would-be epistemologist (my avocation only--I'm a business executive for income reasons!), I respond 'less than favorably' to shallow, incomplete, lazy, or even un-self-critical thought (none of these apply to me, of course--you can ask my therapist and my boss), especially in areas of worldview, truth, and meta-theology.

Is your irritation based on a disagreement with the stance of the theologian in question, or with the lack of sound, well-balanced argumentation?

[i actually dont get irritated with different positions, but ALWAYS do with arrogant attitudes and/or presumptive positions--esp. when i paid 20$ for the book and lugged in thru several airports!...

[i supposed i was also disappointed over the staleness of the approach; given his presups and methods, all he was going to BE ABLE TO DO was re-furb the 'old positions' with all the 'old problems' still in them...i will still read it, but it has dropped WAY DOWN on my priority list...

[I also have a problem when people take such a strong stance on something WITHOUT acknowledging the difficulties within their stance--WHICHEVER stance it is...to be sure, i take very strong stances myself on the basics of the faith, but i DONT have the same level of 'go to the wall' tenacity about forms of church govt, or the age of baptism, etc...

[And part of the frustration, with the whole line of thinkers in which he stands, is that the presupps they hold/assumptions they make are for me the BASIC PROBLEM itself--but i digress from your question...]

I am particularly drawn to study epistemology, because it is the foundational subject of all subjects, for without an appropriate theory of knowledge, how can one develop a sound method?

[i have always held to the same position, seeking to derive a method from the substance to be studies--in good Aristotelian fashion--but have recently been trying to 'back farther up' from the problem and maybe start with a 'methodological paradigm' FIRST and then, derive the 'substance of the studies'...sorta like we SOMETIMES do with the OT in the NT problem...we look at the various exegetical techniques of post-OT writers and try to derive an 'understanding' of scripture from it...(typology, in my opinion, was derived in this fashion)...

[there is something in this whole subject matter that is starting to 'bother'` me...its like a rebellion against modernist over-precision and an accepting of the ONLY GOOD POINT (in my opinion) of liberation theol--that the theologian must be ACTIVE first and THEN a thinker...sorta like the 'serve me first, and then you will get increased faith' (Luke 17:5-10)...but i ramble...as usual :)

And the lack of a sound methodology is at the root of so many of the problems experienced in various fields. As Aristotle said, a small error at the beginning is multiplied a thousandfold as one goes down the road (and as a golfball hacker, I can heartily agree with him:-)

[couldn't agree more...that's why, on some morning, i simply go back to bed! ;)

Several years ago I began intense study in the field of epistemology, beginning with Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Malebranche, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, Kant, Hegel, and the modern irrationalists. I am amazed at the repercussions brought about by a switch from the quasi-neo-platonism of Augustine to the Aristotelianism of Aquinas. How fascinating! I am basically an Augustinian myself, because I have not been impressed with the arguments for empiricism. I hold to a realism of propositional knowledge apart from sensation because I see no way to get from sensation to a universal proposition. The way seems fraught with insurmountable theoretical difficulties!!

[have you read Alston on 'perceiving god' yet? or much of AUDI's stuff?]

The fascination with truth claims and then philosophy and then epistemology, led quite rapidly to theological method. It is one thing for conservative Judeo-Christian theology to say it has "the truth" but I quickly learned that the problem for me was which Judeo-Christian theology? Wesleyan? Baptist? Presbyterian? Neo-Thomist? Reformed? Neo-Orthodox? Liberal? How could I decide? And then...was certainty possible (or desirable, or defensible, or morally 'good', or even definable)? Thus began my search into theological method which has tentacles into philosophy of science, epistemology, language, hermeneutics, ontology, cosmology, and cosmetology (just kidding on the last one--but it does seem to have special relevance to many TV evangelists!).

It is fascinating to me that two people can read the same 66 books, and come to radically divergent views on what is taught in those books. How can Arminianism and Calvinism, i.e. two systems between which a complete disjunction exists, be derived from one non-self-contradictory set of propositions? Obviously the problem is not in the set of propositions! (At least that is my position since no one has yet set forth a valid argument yet to convince me otherwise). So, there the problem is in the human. So, we need to understand properly what is written, i.e. perform valid exegesis. But this presupposes a valid hermeneutic. How can one select a valid hermeneutic? Are we involved in an infinite regress here? And assuming a properly understood set of axiomatic propositions, there is still the need for logical consistency in drawing conclusions. Logic is most fundamental to me.

[it is interesting to me to see how i am responding to your word choices! I find that the same questions i labored (even agonized) over a decade ago strike me differently now...

To put my current 'leaning' as succinctly as possible:

We are 're-born' into a hermenu-circle/spiral...as we walk in obedience to WHAT WE KNOW AT THAT POINT, God leads us into changes in that process...major structural changes He creates quickly (e.g. conversions from cults) by the central doctrines about the person of Christ...in other words, the conversion experience and cognitive web in which it occurs and which it generates 'adjusts'` the center of the worldview to the dynamic person of Christ...this on-going experience of Him generates the questions that form the core dogmatic content of the faith...his deity, resurrection, humanity, sacrifice, etc...these SEEM (to me) to be dealt with by God rather quickly in a new believer's life...

Apart from these initial (and perhaps major) paradigm shifts in the way we approach God, the process from there on seems mild by comparison...our openness, obedience, and intensity of interaction with the Trinity seem to be the main influencing factors in how rapidly we find the areas that are MAJORs from those that are MINORS...This is not to say that education and study and scholarly interaction might not speed the process up, but the adjustments in both doctrine and hermx seems to me to be a result of progressive sanctification...i know believers who got saved during graduate studies at "liberal" seminaries--the paradigm shift was immediate...

A major element in this, though, i have found is the two-pronged element of 1) pre-commitment to WHATEVER GOD SAYS (muy importante!) and 2) and honesty and clear conscience about how one handles the Word AT THAT POINT...a sorta "to whomsoever hath, to them shall more be given..." model...

Now, there do seem to be major anchor points that keep the subjectivity of this SLIGHTLY in check: the experience (on-going) of the Lord Jesus, the communal cognitive commitments of whatever confessional group they are a member of, and whatever exchanges with the Word of God that God providentially directs them to...in other words, the crises and challenges that God introduces into their lives (our lives!) 'selects' what threads in scripture they will gravitate to and see...in this way He directs the changes by orchestrating the events of their external experience and their internal thought patterns (via the subconscious work of the indwelling Holy Spirit), timing these with exposure to the Written Word...

Well, its a bit terse, and not explained/defended at all, but it is all i can put down for now...maybe you can see the broad brushstrokes of a dynamic theory hat starts at WHERE WE ARE and WHERE He is taking us...;)]

The interpretive/theologically constructive task is dialogical, dialectical, and perhaps 'circular'...but we are already IN IT when we are called to faith! We are not able to 'step out' completely, although we can without bounds...what i see instead as the imperative is that of 'obedience seeking direction' (with the epistemic fallout of a Person-centric knowledge web)...we seem already to interpret all facts in a personalistic context (esp. as infants!), and i am beginning to think that the tacit dimension of 'objective fax' is simply that of a personal God who has confronted us with that 'fact' FOR A SPECIFIC and WELL-timed purpose--to get us to respond to that fact (and its implications for life, worship, faith, helping others, etc.) ...not merely 'store it up' in a cognitive database...]
 
 

Is all knowledge available to us contained within the canon of Scripture? I didn't see my name in there --

[i heartily agree! Actually, NO knowledge is contained solely in scripture...the very semantic content of the lexical stock is learned from linguistics and archeology!--we would only have ink stains without the knowledge of the language! This is one of the main issues i have with the 'presuppose the bible' presuppositionalists---you CANNOT 'start' with just the bible; you have to presuppose SO MUCH OTHER STUFF--linguistic, historical, literary, psychological, et al.--that their initial position looks sorta vacuous....you end up presupposing a whole universe of facts, rules, perspectives etc...all beyond the bible or westminster confessions or whatever they try to narrow it down to...
 
 

but more on this later...]

is it possible to have real self-knowledge, or true knowledge (i.e. not merely opinion) of the world? Plotinus spent a great deal of time in the Enneads trying to develop self-knowledge and I don't think he was satisfied! How can I be sure? Can I be sure???

[because of the Holy Spirits ministry in the life of the believer--the pedagogy one--we are epistemically 'pointed' at Jesus Christ...with the knowledge of Him the gift of eternal life (Jhn 17)...i believe that to the extent we grow into the image of Christ in this life, during progressive sanctification, that the real-knowledge of self is possible thru the Spirit--we will simply begin to see more of the generic Christlikeness in ourselves, because of our growing ability to recognize Christ in our experience, in others, in the Word...remember Jas 1:

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it -- he will be blessed in what he does.

P.S. I enjoyed your discussion of the Trinity, and would be interested to hear how you define 'person'. That seems to me to be one of the critical obstacles to be overcome on the road to understanding.

[I am working on a philoz piece for the thinktank on some of these notions, but i am beginning to believe that it cannot be 'defined'--it can only be ostensibly denoted--like words like fear, thing, event--we can POINT to one, and everyone KNOWS (intersubjectively) what it is...and coupled with the fact that our first natural epistemic 'builds' are those of our primary caregivers (persons), this notion has such epistemic primacy (and even privileged status IMHO) that definitions will always remain less-than-experienced and seem strangely 'out of category'...]

In His warm love...glenn 



The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christian-thinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)