The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society has just published my article (which you can read here) on Covenantal Apologetics and Common Sense. In the article I sought to recalibrate a contemporary philosophical argument by (1) deconstructing the commonsense realism from which it was often grounded and (2) to undergird the argument with the resources from divine revelation. As such, I relocated the argument from a pre-theological milieu to one symbiotic with dogmatic theology.
As always, every time I re-read a previous writing I always think to myself: “I could’ve worded that better; I could’ve made that clearer.” So, upon a re-reading of the article (which was written almost a year ago), there are at least three aspects, or implications, of the article that I want to clarify.
1. There is a sense in which commonsense is useful for one who subscribes to the Christian worldview. The point of the article was not that we ought to discard any appeal to intuition or commonsense, but rather the prescription that any appeal to commonsense must take into account the ways in which the noetic effects of sin have disrupted our cognitive tendencies. In the article I showed that what is supposed to be common, namely, the knowledge of God (as something obvious and undeniable), is no longer professed to be so, and what is professed to be common (propositions like “to err is human”) is often that which ought not be common.
What I’m advocating for, therefore, is a revelationally-conditioned use of human intuitions. The doctrine of the Trinity is again a prime example: the notion that God exists as one substance and three persons is, to the unregenerate man, far from obvious, much less could one claim it to find an appeal in our intuitions. However, to the theologically reflective regenerate mind (those in Christ), the presentation of, say, the Unitarian God of the Jehovah Witnesses or of Islam, strikes her to be strongly counter-intuitive (non-commonsensical, one might say). That is, when the regenerate mind, informed by Scripture, entertains the proposition that “God exists as only One Person,” she finds that the proposition just seems to be patently false, or even morally culpable. Indeed, the regenerate mind will see such a proposition and say that something just seems off about it (not up to snuff, as Plantinga would say, as a candidate for proper theological predication), even prior to articulating the reason why it seems to be so for her. Of course, factors like background knowledge definitely play a role here, but theologically speaking it is the Spirit’s work who conforms the regenerate’s mind to the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2) which accounts for these professed intuitions.
Commonsense, therefore, is at least demarcated into two camps: the commonsense which the unregenerate shares, and the commonsense which the regenerate shares. In principle the two “common” senses should be perfectly consistent, but in this fallen world the consistency will never be perfect. No brute appeal to commonsense can thus be helpful in the apologetic dialogue.
2. My continual appeal to “divine revelation” in the second half of the article, without clarifying whether I am specifically having in view general or special revelation, is deliberate. This is because, in my view, a covenantal view of divine revelation entails the obligation to never divorce the one from the other (Van Til’s “Nature and Scripture” article is the relevant literature to consult here). General revelation is always informed by special revelation, and special revelation always has a point of reference in general revelation. The mistake in Thomistic or classical apologetics, in my view, is the methodological isolation of one “first” before the other, as if there exists two parallel tracks. For Van Til the two exist as an inextricable whole: any notion that we can begin first with some universal rule of reason as a pre-amble to dogmatics, for him, stems from the failure to understand the covenantal unity of general and special revelation.
The argument from consciousness as grounded in a universalized understanding of commonsense thus further exacerbates the idea that general and special revelation can remain disconnected before bringing them together at some later point. By relocating the argument on a dogmatic foundation, which presupposes the actuality of the Christian worldview, I am “connecting” that which is known by general revelation with its natural home: special revelation. The argument utilizes what we can know from general revelation (that thoughts are more than merely illusory, that consciousness is a real first-person phenomenon)and stands on the authoritative word of special revelation, which tells us that man exists as a psycho-somatic whole: body and soul, the physical and the mental, together as essential constitutive parts of what it means to be a human being made in the image of God.
3. To say that exegesis is the means by which we can establish any fact does not mean that every fact can be deducible from the content of Scripture. But rather, exegesis of Scripture informs us about the kinds of things that we would find in general revelation, and gives us confidence that whatever we will find there will never contradict his word. We are dealing with, according to Scripture, facts which declare the glory of God, facts which he creates, and facts which he controls. Scripture is the norm for all the disciplines, and speaks to all facts, but to say that it is the norm for all the disciplines does not mean that it is the manual for every discipline. From Scripture we can know something about every fact, even the facts that we are not within our purview now.
Hence my qualifier in the article that exegesis must control most directly theological and anthropological inquiry is an important one. As humans are made in the image of God and as the glory of that God, along with the redemption he brings, is that which the Scriptures declare primarily, it is theology and disciplines related to anthropology that is most directly addressed to be deduced from Scripture.
I hope that this understanding of revelation further catches on, to say the least!