Worldview Foundations Part 3: Knowledge

What's Your Filter

Date: September 28, 2014
Study: What’s Your Filter? Christian Apologetics and Worldview
Teacher: Lawson Hembree

Study Thesis: A Christian worldview enables us to look at all of live through scriptural lenses, which in turn equips us to defend the faith, evangelize wisely, critique unbiblical thought that pervades our culture, and bring God glory in all of life.

Worldview Definition: A commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.

Six Reasons to Study Worldviews: 1) to develop ours, 2) to defend the faith, 3) to evangelize better, 4) to identify and reject false teaching, 5) to grow in cultural discernment, and 6) to glorify God in all of life.

Five Worldview Foundations: God, Reality, Man, Morality, Knowledge.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It is the theory of how we know, or how we can be sure that what we think we know of the world around us is correct. The Greek word episteme means “understanding.”  Epistemology gets at how we understand the universe. On what basis should we evaluate truth claims? What is truth? Can we know the truth? How do we know what we know? How can we verify or falsify claims of truth?

Why is this important? Epistemology is important because the source of knowledge can either be from a personal God who has revealed himself to his creation – a God who is there and is not silent – or from nothing more than our own selves.

Main Idea: How you understand the nature of God and reality is integrally related to your view of knowledge. Epistemology and theology are mutually reinforcing aspects of a single worldview.  

If the universe is a closed system, originating either from nothing or an impersonal force, revelation is irrational nonsense. Reason and the self are the final authority. If the universe is open, created by an infinite-personal God, then we who are created in his image and communicate verbally to one another can reasonably and rationally conclude that God is there and he can speak to us when and how he wishes. Or coming from the other direction, if faith is a valid path to knowledge, then knowledge of metaphysics and the supernatural is unproblematic.  It is easy to agree with Matthew Henry that: “The Bible is a letter God has sent to us; prayer is a letter we send to him.” But if human reason or intuition are the only paths to knowledge—or if knowledge is flat out impossible—then knowledge of God is impossible. Epistemology reinforces metaphysics and theology, and vice versa.


  1. Knowledge of spiritual truths: These are truths like “God exists” and “Jesus is God’s Son” that cannot be verified with senses or can’t be deduced with pure logic. An outside source of information, the Scriptures, is required to have this type of knowledge. This is the most controversial type of knowledge.
  2. Knowledge of logical truths: These are truths discovered by inductive and deductive reasoning (like “2+2=4”). This knowledge is generated by our own minds and is true because the laws of logic are ultimately derived from and consistent with God’s character, whether the person following those laws recognizes that or not.
  3. Knowledge of physical truths: This is knowledge gained through the use of our five physical senses and by mentally processing the raw sense data (for example “the podium is here”).

Four biblical principles regarding epistemology:

  1. Knowledge is possible and morally necessary
    The Bible assumes that getting knowledge is not only possible, but morally necessary. The Book of Proverbs’ very purpose is to give “knowledge and discretion” and it begins by saying that: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:4, 7). There are 37 more references to “knowledge” in Proverbs exhorting the reader to get knowledge and praising its benefits.
    The prophets condemn Israel for a lack of knowledge (Isaiah 56:10, Jeremiah 10:14; Jeremiah 51:17, Hosea 4:6) and God even says “my people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” (see last), indicating how necessary knowledge is for a right relationship with God.
    Paul and other New Testament authors make at least 15 casual references to the “knowledge of God” of the “Son of God” of “our Lord Jesus Christ,” or of “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:28; 11:33; 2 Corinthians 2:14, 10:5; Colossians 1:10, 2 Peter 1:2; Ephesians 4:13; 2 Peter 1:8, 3:18), and of “the truth,” which is a crucial claim (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 2:25, Titus 1:1, Hebrews 10:26), truth which helps to “renew” the new self (Colossians 3:10) and “leads to godliness” (Titus 1:1).
    Knowledge is included in a litany of cardinal Christian virtues: “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly-kindness; and to brotherly-kindness, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).
  2. Because our minds are corrupted by sin, we can attain knowledge only partly and with difficulty
    This is especially true of non-Christians, as we read in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Yet while this is most true for non-Christians, it still applies to Christians in a more restricted sense. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, see also Psalm 139:6; Job 42:3). Because our minds are finite, we simply cannot fully comprehend all there is to know about the universe. We especially cannot comprehend all there is to know about God. Moreover, because Christians’ minds are still tainted by sin, we are often blinded to the truth in many areas of knowledge.
  3. Knowledge is a gift from God
    As Christians, we recognize that all knowledge is in some sense God’s gift. We often forget that we never gain knowledge apart from God, or completely independently of God. We see this in the Old Testament. Solomon writes “To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness” (Ecclesiastes 2:26). God promises to give penitent Israel “shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). Daniel acknowledges that God “gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning” (Daniel 2:21).
  4. All true knowledge of God is a gift of God, which we receive by faith in Christ
    We can only come to a true knowledge of God when God himself gives us his Holy Spirit to enable us to have faith in Christ and embrace what God has revealed of himself in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul says: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” Also 2 Corinthians 4:6 says that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.
    The Bible clearly presents knowledge of spiritual truths as a gift from God and dependent on faith in Him; but it insists on using the term “knowledge” nonetheless. Having faith is not the opposite of having knowledge but, at least for knowledge of spiritual truths, its prerequisite. The involvement of faith does not detract from its status as “knowledge,” and does not turn it into a less-significant intellectual tool. Knowledge and faith work together in the mind and heart of the believer to bring them closer to God.

How should  our understanding of knowledge impact our lives as Christians? It should make us:

  1. Open to correction (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
    If we understand that our minds are still tainted by sin and our understanding of God and the world is still imperfect, we should always to open to correction, especially when we read God’s Word or hear it preached, as well as when other Christians seek to correct our understanding of things.
  2. Humble (1 Corinthians 4:7)
    If we recognize that knowledge is a gift of God, we should be humbled because our knowledge does not originate with ourselves.
  3. Prayerful (Philippians 1:9-11)
    A true knowledge of God comes only through God giving us his Holy Spirit so that we can embrace Christ by faith and accept God’s revelation about himself in Scripture. Therefore, we should pray for non-Christians, that God would open their hearts and grant them the Holy Spirit, and we should pray for ourselves and other Christians that God would cause our understanding of him to grow.
  4. Diligent in study (Acts 17:11)
    We believe that God has revealed himself in his Word. We also believe that our senses are reliable and that our reason is valid so long as our standards of reasoning conform to God’s character. Therefore we should be diligent chiefly to study God’s Word, and also to learn what we can by applying our senses and our reason to the world God has put us in.

Just a reminder: there are two forms of Modernism: the Enlightenment and Romanticism. The Enlightenment held that human reason was the single valid path to knowledge; Romanticism held that human intuition, passion, or feeling are valid paths to knowledge as well. So basically, in modernism, either reason or intuition is the only valid path to knowledge.

Here we can talk more about the history of modernism and some of its most influential philosophers.  Three major trends flowed together to erode the power of religion and heighten the power of reason in European life and thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. First, the Wars of Religion between Protestants and Catholics seemed to be proof that agreement on religious issues wasn’t possible since both sides appealed to the same Bible. As a result, claims to religious knowledge degenerated to an assertion of mere faith, not knowledge.  Second, the discovery and exploration of the New World and imperial expansion into South and East Asia put Europeans in contact with more diverse cultures and belief systems than they had encountered before; it became harder to assert the rightness of Christianity as a self-evident truth when so many humans didn’t believe in it. Third, the rise of science around the same time seemed to make the case that reason has proven itself in a way that revelation never did.

Modernist philosopher David Hume held that we can only have knowledge of that which we experience with our physical senses or which we can ascertain through logical reasoning. Thus he described knowledge as something distinct and separate from—and even opposed to—faith.

German philosopher Immanuel Kant followed Hume and argued that we cannot actually “know” anything outside of what our mind tells us we see, feel, hear, taste, touch, and smell, and what we can logically deduce. We’re not even able to get past “what our mind tells us” and say that we “know” anything in itself. He believed we play a role in creating what counts as knowledge.

Postmodern epistemology is easy to describe, and almost impossible to explain. Postmodern epistemology can be boiled to this: Knowledge of spiritual or logical truths is impossible. Dr. Albert Mohler describes postmodern epistemology this way: “According to postmodern theory, truth is not universal, is not objective or absolute, and cannot be determined by a commonly accepted method. Instead, postmodernists argue that truth is socially constructed, plural, and inaccessible to universal reason.” Postmodernists deny that we can have knowledge of any truths, because there aren’t any. In other words, according to postmoderns, true knowledge is impossible. There are two implications of this view of knowledge:

  1. Knowledge is impossible to communicate
    If you take seriously what the postmodernists are saying, rational communication is impossible. Postmodern philosophers argue that if all we know about are the objects of consciousness, we only have knowledge of stuff inside our head and don’t really know about anything “in itself”, or anything in the outside world. In that case, communication with other people becomes rather precarious: I know what I think I am referring to when I say green, but how do I know that it is the same thing as what you are thinking when you use the same word? If my knowledge of “green” is “green” as represented in my consciousness and not “green in itself,” then I can’t be sure you and I are referring to the same thing when we say green because I don’t have access to your consciousness, in which case the possibility of coherent communication runs aground on the rocks of a skeptical, anti-realist epistemology. In this situation we have no assurance that we are in fact talking about the same thing when we are using the same words. Language is seen as a social construct, a tacit agreement: “We’ll just agree to use these words to refer to what we think are the same things, but we’ll ignore the question of whether or not there is any objective reality that we’re talking about.”
  2. Knowledge claims should be exposed as power plays and deconstructed
    Postmodernist epistemology believes that claims to have spiritual or objective logical truths are really a form of domination and should be “deconstructed,” or exposed for the power plays they really are. We encounter this every time someone responds to the gospel with “You can’t know that Jesus is the only way to God. You’re just trying to make me feel guilty,” or, “Religion is just a way of controlling people.” According to postmoderns, truth-claims are tools of power in disguise which must be unmasked and resisted. Agreed-upon language is the sole standard of truth, and language is highly fluid and malleable. The postmodern pays special attention to the language of religion and politics. To him, the prevailing religious and political truths of the day, like Christianity or democracy, are merely the creations of the best manipulators of language and are essentially fictions designed to create a power structure that favors an elite against the masses. One philosopher actually went so far as to say that advancing a truth claim is an act of terrorism.

Here’s a summary of the three worldviews’ view of knowledge:

  • First, the Christians worldview holds that all types of knowledge are valid and good.
  • Moderns believe only the logical and physical knowledge are possible, but that they are good. Moderns are split over whether a “blind” faith in spiritual knowledge is still good, even though it doesn’t count as “knowledge” for them.
  • Postmoderns hold, roughly, that none of the three types of knowledge are really possible as “knowledge”, that claims to have spiritual knowledge are invidious, arrogant, and wrong, and claims to the second type of knowledge are suspicious at best.

As Christians, our knowledge of those truths rests on the foundation of the knowledge of God.  Knowledge and faith both are possible and reasonable because they rest on the ground not of human reason, but of Reason Himself, Jesus, who is referred to in John 1 as the divine Word of God, who is so much more than mere worldly reason. God is the ground of all that is knowable and thus the ground of all knowledge; knowledge of anything is possible simply because God exists and He has made Himself and the world knowable.  In a Christological sense, our knowledge of creation is possible because creation reflects He through whom all creation came to be and it is undergirded by He who is the ground of all knowledge.  If we can have knowledge of Christ, we can certainly have knowledge of the creation which He brought about.  Knowing creation is possible because it is just the first step in the much grander and glorious thing God has made possible:  the knowledge of God Himself.

Apologetics and Worldview, Lesson 5. Capitol Hill Core Seminars
The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire


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