Christian Epistemology.

            Systematic theology is a deliberate effort to organize the teaching of God’s revelation to man. The reason for doing systematic theology is to satisfy the command to teach God’s Word to others, protect the church from erroneous doctrine, and to help the disciple grow in Christ. The question posed, using the principles of epistemology, “Who will benefit from the study of systematic theology?”

            First, establishing the principles of epistemology, Turner proposes, “According to one source, epistemology is the theory of knowledge . . . that branch of philosophy which is concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge, its presuppositions, basis, and the general reliability of claims to knowledge.”[1] Two areas need discussed, antitheistic versus theistic epistemology and non-regenerate versus regenerate epistemology.

            Man has for centuries been concerned about how the process from naivety to knowledge functions. Going back to Greece of the fourth and fifth century BCE, this was the high point of Greek philosophy. Many Greeks embraced antitheistic epistemology. Antitheistic epistemology simply stated, is the idea of determining knowledge without acknowledging, accepting, or including the concept of a transcendence God.[2] Many of the great Greek philosophers were antitheistic. These included Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Even though Plato had the premise of ideas and forms existing in another place, his concept of a deity was a God who was parallel to knowledge and impersonal. In general the Greeks saw the universe as being independent from God.

Antitheistic thought is not just the belief, knowledge is independent of God, but the antitheistic thinker has refused to even consider the existence of God. The antitheistic thinker assumed there is no God; therefore, does not even expend any energy to even consider the possibility of God. The absence of God is one of the assumptions antitheistic thinkers use as a starting point principle. Van Til confirms, “Now antitheism has arbitrarily taken for granted that God is not a fact, and that if he is a fact that fact does not have any bearing upon the other facts.”[3] A second fallacy of antitheistic thinking is, the antitheist accepts their thought methodology as correct and see no reason to even consider another method. It can be said the antitheist uses the available tools univocally, while the theistic thinker using them analogically.

The major principle that defines the theistic thinker, the theistic thinker is willing to start with any fact as a proximate starting point, but refuse to admit before the investigation has begun that there can be no such fact as God.[4] The theistic thinker sees the underlying principle being, “If there is to be true coherence in knowledge there must be correspondence between his ideas of facts and God’s ideas of those facts. Or rather stated, the theistic thinker’s ideas must correspond to God’s ideas.”[5]

The second area of comment is the subject of non-regenerate thinking versus regenerate thinking. God’s creation is man, imago dei, created in the image of God. Prior to the fall into sin, man had the ability to walk in the garden with God and most importantly understand the things of God. When man fell into sin, man lost that ability to see clearly the things of God. This is non-regenerate thinking. Van Til states:

Theologically expressed, the validity of human knowledge rests on testimonium Spiritius Sancti. In addition to this, Christian theism maintains that since sin has come into the world, no subject of knowledge can really come into contact with any object of knowledge, in the sense of interpreting it properly, unless the Scripture give the required light and unless the regeneration by the Spirit give a new power of sight.” 

Conversely speaking, the regenerate thinker is one who has experienced the regeneration associated with having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ referred to himself as the Light of the World (John 8:12; 12:35). In addition, Jesus Christ referred to those who are unsaved as walking in darkness (John 8:12). Paul stated the non-regenerate views the things of God as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). It is this state which characterizes the non-regenerate thinker. But, when one embraces Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within opening the spiritual eyes to the things of God. Jesus Christ stated he would send the Holy Spirit that would guide one in all truth (John 16:13). This is the definition of a regenerate thinker.

            The difficulty arises in subject to subject relations when a regenerate thinker tries to persuade a non-regenerate thinker to the theistic thinker’s point of view. The non-regenerate thinker believes the regenerate thinker is blind to the truth. While the regenerate thinker understands, nothing will change until the indwelling of the Holy Spirit takes place in the life of the non-regenerate thinker.[6]

            The epistemological review of systematic theology assumes the thinker is neither antitheistic nor non-regenerate. Rather the individual, who chooses to embark on a study of systematic theology, is both a theistic and a regenerate thinker. This individual desires to make the journey from naivety to knowledge, with the acceptance of the reality of a transcendent God, and the correspondence of the individual’s knowledge to that of God. In addition, the individual has the advantage of the indwelling Holy Spirit assisting in the search for truth.


[1] David L. Turner, “A Study in Presuppositional Apologetics,” Grace Theological Journal 2 (1981): p. 47 cities D. W. Hamlyn, “Epistemology, History of,” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (ed. Paul Edwards; 8 vols.; New York MacMillan, 1967), p. 3.9-10. 

[2] Van Til, Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, The Presbyterian and (Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969), p. 22. 

[3] Ibid., pp. 174-175. 

[4] Ibid., p. 175. 

[5] Ibid., p. 13.

[6] Ibid., p. 160.

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  1. Pingback: Christian Epistemology. | babyboomertheologian

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