Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Can we even know about God? (Part 3)

So what is needed to get us from mere theism (the belief that God exists) to Christianity?

In a word, revelation.

Last time we discussed the ability of natural theology to give us knowledge of God. We now turn to what is known as 'revealed theology,' so called because rather than coming through mere reason or observation of nature, it is given, or 'revealed' directly to us by God Himself.

For the Christian, this revelation consists in the Bible (and possibly certain utterances of the corporate Church, but we'll leave the Protestant/Catholic discussion for a later series) and the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. For the Muslim, it's the Qur'an and the prophet Muhammad. Then there's the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith (Latter Day Saints), the Bhagavad Gita and Krishna (Hindu), the Tao Te Ching and Lao Zi (Taoism), and many, many others.

I'll cover in more detail later how we can differentiate between these various and often contradictory claims to divine knowledge, but for now let's just assume that the Christian revelation is the true one. What is it?

The Christian revelation differs from all of the others in that it is principally rooted in the life of a historical figure and the writings about that individual's life. This is decidedly not the story of a mysterious text handed down from heaven, or a vision in the sky, or some otherwise mystical experience. This is a man who lived and gained wide influence in an identifiable region of the world at a traceable time in the past. Further, this man did not claim only to have a more in-depth or complete explanation of a previous revelation, but rather made the much more extraordinary (and falsifiable) claim to be the revelation, the literal Word of God incarnate.

Without going into too much detail here, the idea is basically that if the writings about this man can be trusted to deliver his teachings to us accurately, and further if the man himself can be trusted to have spoken truthfully, then we have here a clear path to genuine knowledge of God.

And it is a much more complete and interesting knowledge than can be delivered through rational argument or even subjective experience alone. From these we can know that God is and even that He is personal and supremely powerful. But revelation tells us what He is like. From Jesus we learn that God is the very embodiment of love, that He cares deeply for us, and that He is interested in how we live.

So, yes, I think knowledge of God is definitely possible, and so this blog can now proceed with working out its various nuances. Disagree? I'd love to hear about it.

5 comments:

  1. "This is decidedly not the story of a mysterious text handed down from heaven, or a vision in the sky, or some otherwise mystical experience. This is a man who lived and gained wide influence in an identifiable region of the world at a traceable time in the past. Further, this man did not claim only to have a more in-depth or complete explanation of a previous revelation, but rather made the much more extraordinary (and falsifiable) claim to be the revelation, the literal Word of God incarnate.

    Without going into too much detail here, the idea is basically that if the writings of this man can be trusted to deliver his teachings to us accurately, and further if the man himself can be trusted to have spoken truthfully, then we have here a clear path to genuine knowledge of God."

    Well said. Mind if I steal this quote and use it?

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  2. On the supposed Christian revelation difference:"... rooted in a historical figure..God incarnate.." not so special. Every Pharoah was historical (more so than Jesus) and undoubted divine and all Egyptians believed that fervently for around 3,000 years, 1,000 more than Christianity so far. Zoroaster, Buddha, even Joseph Smith a very well known historical figure (well-documented outside of Mormon teachings) and now he sits next to Yahweh and J.C. in judgment up in Heaven, divine as hell, pardon the pun. Yeah I think its ludicrous too, but tell that to 12 million Mormons. They fervently believ he's divine and a historical figure with reams of revelationto be trusted in the Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants.
    JC "lived and gained wide influence??" Not during his lifetime. Crucified by the Romans like dozens of other political enemies. Virtually unknown outside Paul and the Gospels 20-70 years removed known only to the small christian enclaves scattered around the Mediterranean. And except for breif mentions in Josephus and Tacitus, unknown to historical sources from the time (and there are many). Not so influential at all in his lifetime or long thereafter. 100's of years later his legends thru the orthodox gospels and Pauline letters became of wide and unparalelled influence on the Western World. But so have Mohammeds legends become influential to over 1.2 billion people (mostly in the Eastern World), only a few 100 million followers behind Christianity (and gaining fast), but you guys had a 500 year head start on the Muslims. A "clear path to genuine knowledge of god" maybe if you already believe, but to an objective person trying to compare faiths and see what they're all about? Wholly unconvincing. "If the writings of this man" I know you meant "about this man" J.C. didnt write anything. We only have claims as to what he said, often contradictory within the Canonical gospels themselves (not surprising as they tend to be rewrites of each other),without even considering the apocryphal ones.
    Just as an aside, I've been reading about religions for 20 years or more, trying to educate myself, have read a few whole chapters of the KJV and/or NAB, Im no Biblicla scholar but have read a lot of pro and con and analysis: Bertrand Russell, Ingersoll, G. Smith, Asimov, Joseph Campbell, Weston Labarre, Dean Halverson, Josh McDowell, Lee Stroebel (heard him speak 20 yrs ago near chicago), more recently Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer, Randall Helms, Bart Ehrmann, Lane Craig, Habermas, Richard Carrier, Crossan, Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, Dennett..Ill watch your Zacharias video soon. Later

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  3. Bill: "Every Pharoah was historical (more so than Jesus).." How can something be 'more historical' than something else? (Yes, I'm being funny.)

    Seriously though, thanks for pointing out my little typo near the end of the post. I fixed it, so that it does now read 'about' rather than 'of.' That is indeed important, as you were quick to note.

    You bring up much that deserves discussion, but of course it can't all be adequately covered in a comment. Hopefully we can go deeper with it when I post on things like textual reliability, dating, etc. For now, I'll just say that if you have really read all those names you drop there, then you ought to know better than to say things like, "100's of years later his legends thru the orthodox gospels and Pauline letters became of wide and unparalelled influence." While it may be true that official canonization took a bit of time, no scholar worth his salt equates this with the actual influence of the texts. Also, we do have more than just Josephus and Tacitus (though these are very important), and I must also note that there seems to be a little of the far-too-common anti-primary source bias in your comments here. All the New Testament is from a historical perspective is a compilation of the best historical documents we have regarding Jesus and the movement he started. Any motivation to discount those from the start in favor of much later and less reliable texts like Josephus is simply anti-Christian bias, pure and simple. There is of course much more to say here, but hopefully it will all be made clearer when I post on these things, which hopefully will be soon. Thanks again for commenting.

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  4. Wzingrone: I am impressed by your reading list, varied and extensive. That said, recognizing your own qualification that you are not a Biblical scholar, I would expect that you should be more of one, having read about religion for more than 20 years with the goal of educating yourself. The claim to have read whole chapters of the Bible is similiar to that of having read whole paragraphs of any other book. No serious student of psychology could read a few paragraphs of a textbook and discount the entire field, stating that the book failed to provide any plausible or cohesive explanation of human behavior. Nor would a serious student of the humanities read only analyses of Plato's Republic and claim to have really grasped it or to be qualified to speak on it. While we could certainly debate a number of questions about its origin, composition, authority, etc, the Bible is a book that anyone seriously interested in religion must read. I challenge you to do so.

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