When religious matters are debated in our culture–e.g., the existence of God, what God is like, morals and ethics–there is an implicit set of rules that everyone is obligated to follow. Number one on this list of unspoken rules it that you can never claim to know anything about God with any level of certainty.
To do so quickly leads to charges of being arrogant, dogmatic, or intolerant. Christians know this all too well because we are often on the receiving end of these charges. Our claim to actually know things about God is a violation of the rules of polite society.
Of course, this sort of “polite society” is a rather new invention. In prior generations, such claims would not have been ruled out of bounds from the outset. There may have been disagreements over such claims. There may have been debate about whether such claims could be justified. But, the claims themselves were not regarded as inadmissible.
But in our postmodern world things have changed. Any claim to actually know one’s religious beliefs are true is regarded as a violation of the rules of intellectual inquiry. Such things simply cannot be know, we are told, regardless of whether they are true. As human beings we do not have access to knowledge outside our own self-constructed realities. Thus, to claim such knowledge is to be uninformed or arrogant (or both).
But, it is precisely this assumption–namely that humans don’t have access to knowledge outside themselves–that needs to be challenged. Indeed, the tables need to be turned. How does the average postmodern individual know that knowledge works like this? How does he know that reliable knowledge of God is impossible to attain?
After all, these are not modest claims. They are enormous, far-reaching, all-encompassing epistemological claims. The postmodern individual is, in essence, claiming that every single religious person on the planet who claims to have knowledge of God is flat out wrong. They are deluded. They are mistaken. All of them. Such knowledge just isn’t possible.
But, again, how does the postmodern individual know this? If all they have access to is their own self-constructed realities (as they have claimed), then they have no basis to make such sweeping claims about all other religious systems. Indeed, one might even say that to make such a dogmatic claim, while chiding others for making dogmatic claims, is the epitome of arrogance.
This is precisely the problem with the well-worn analogy that all religions are like blind men feeling different parts of an elephant. As the blind men try to determine what an elephant is like, one feels the trunk and says, “An elephant is like a snake!” Another feels the tail and says, “An elephant is like a rope!” Another feels a leg and says, “An elephant is like a tree trunk!” And so, the argument goes, they are all right because they are only seeing part of the truth.
The core problem with the elephant analogy is that the person using the analogy is assuming that they themselves are not blind! The person using the analogy is basically saying, “Let me tell you how all religions really work.” But that is an enormous (and arrogant!) claim that requires near-omniscient knowledge. How would this person know how all religions work? And why should this person be exempt from the very analogy they just gave?
Of course, Christians also make grand, sweeping truth claims. There is no denying that. But, there is a fundamental and essential difference. Christians don’t make exclusive claims on the basis of their own knowledge, but on the basis of Christ’s knowledge (revealed in his Word). If he is the very Son of God, it is reasonable to trust what he says about the way religion works. There is nothing arrogant about that.
Not surprisingly, the postmodern individual will reject the Bible as divine revelation and will thus maintain that the Christian is still arrogant. But, this misses the point entirely. The question still remains: who has better grounds for making all-encompassing truth claims, the postmodern individual who denies one can have knowledge outside himself, or the Christian who at least purports to have access to divine revelation?
To put it simply, if a person is going to make absolute, all-encompassing truth claims, they better have access to some source of knowledge that is absolute and all-encompassing. And, of course, this is the very thing that the postmodern individual lacks.
James Anderson, Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy here at RTS Charlotte, has recently written an excellent piece on this very topic. He sums up the issue well:
All this to say, the Christian position is that all knowledge of God comes through divine revelation (either general/natural or special/supernatural) and divine revelation is by its very nature a free and gracious act of God. (I’ll register but not defend here my conviction that the Reformed tradition has emphasized and developed this point more than any other stream of historic Christianity.) Knowledge of God is far from being the exclusive property of those who have exercised their natural intellectual abilities better than their peers (cf. Luke 10:21).
So is it arrogant to claim to know God? Does claiming to know the will of God fly in the face of humility? Not necessarily. It all depends on how that knowledge is thought to be acquired. No doubt according to many religions those who possess knowledge of God have some basis for pride, for they can take partial credit their knowledge. But Christianity isn’t one of those religions.
You can (and should!) read Anderson’s whole post here.
The Water Bearer says
“Christians don’t make exclusive claims on the basis of their own knowledge, but on the basis of Christ’s knowledge (revealed in his Word). If he is the very Son of God, it is reasonable to trust what he says about the way religion works. There is nothing arrogant about that.
Not surprisingly, the postmodern individual will reject the Bible as divine revelation and will thus maintain that the Christian is still arrogant. But, this misses the point entirely.”
I just wanted to quote this little bit of your post to reflect my point… I am a Christian, I believe the Bible is Divine Revelation. Yet I know many Christians who misrepresent the word of God and are arrogant in their ‘knowledge’ of it. Not by saying they Know Him, and have a personal relationship with Him, not by saying they interact with Him or even understand Him, but by playing God in the lives of others. I wrote about this here…
This is when Christians do make exclusive claims on the basis of their own knowledge, twisting the Scriptures to give themselves authority over others, and I believe many are arrogant about it.
It disturbs me deeply. It may be a reason as to why so many of postmodern individuals have taken such an arrogant stance against us and our Gracious Lord.
I really liked your article …
Blessings to you!
Sincere belief, and holding fast to it isn’t twisting scripture or trying to control others, Christianity doesn’t force or coerce others to their beliefs, God gives us the choice to believe or not. What you are doing is demanding the power to control and oppress Christians who will not deny their beliefs and affirm yours. My having sincere beliefs doesn’t control you. My first amendment rights are not yours to pervert or deny. Christians, as individuals and churches have first amendment rights to believe and liver their faith free from oppression and interference.
The Water Bearer says
Unfortunately your comment isnt relevant to mine as my post explains when the twisting of Scripture occurs which has nothing to do with the things you have touched on in your reply. Therefore sadly there is no basis to discuss further. Blessings to you.
Playing God would mean emulating the Lord Jesus I would say, otherwise we become legalistic & overbearing & play the pharisees. But I think the arragonce within Dr Krugers encouragement to see past the false allegation is to do with claims that Christians are bigots or whatever becuase in Christ we dare to claim that we really do have absolutes.
We can all be arrogant in a personal way but its more to do with the rules within a debate or an intellectual/spiritual argument….Scripture can be & is distorted often enough & you will get a resounding agreement from the Christian community there & the bible also makes it clear but that doesnt stop us declaring God’s praise & salvation in Christ alone.
But the arrogance regarding the blog is about inconsistant & double standards.Someone might say “There are no absolutes” which is in itself an absolute statement. Post modernists seemed to have brainwashed themselves into thinking they are arguing from facts because they adhere to a belief that nature is all there is, as if, if it cant be scientifically verified then it mustnt exist but God already makes it clear that He is Spirit, outside of & or above nature. Thats how I see it anyhow.
We can take heart when things go wrong in a church or society, they often can really, but God has it all & the entire universe past & present in the palm of His hand (so to speak).
@Water Bearer – I agree with you saying we must stop condemning just because someone sins differently than I do or you do or we do. Yes there will be adulters in heaven, murderers in heaven, people with tattoos, people who smoked, people who did illegal drugs, homosexuals….but they are all in heaven because they placed their faith in the only one that can take those sins away, Christ Jesus. But what do you tell a Muslim while he is a Muslim? That only God can tell him if he is going to heaven or hell? This is the point I am confused about in your blog.
Placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ requires one to actually do what Christ said, to repent & sin no more. Attacking, ignoring Christ’s teachings, trying to redefine Christ, excluding what you find inconvenient in His teachings and God’s law isn’t “placing faith in Jesus Christ”. Regarding muslims, et al, what is confusing about what Christ taught? The ONLY path to salvation is through Jesus Christ, those who do not believe and repent, will go to hell.
The Water Bearer says
It is definitely a trickey subject to try to convert anyone from firm belief in another religion. I personally show love acceptance towards the number of muslim I have met. I try to explain the Grace and Loving nature of Christ and the Christian God and pray the seed will grow as they pursue truth and righteousness in their own lives. Those who have softened usually wish to move out from under the rigid rule of Muslim doctrine and seek comfort which as a messenger of Christ it is our job to bring. I don’t believe for one second that telling anyone they are going to Hell for anything is going to convert them to our belief. They already believe if they don’t follow Muslim rule they will also go to a place of torment and endless suffering. Why would they convert to Christianity without an understanding of the GRACE Christ came to share that is the foundation of Christian faith? It is not our place to preach anything we have no personal experience with. There is enough Hell on Earth to warrant pursuit of Christian grace to fortify us through it. Isn’t that enough reason to turn to Him?
The Water Bearer says
If ONLY God really knows then it would be the truth that only God can tell him if he is going to hell or not. The Bible says that there are plenty of people who think they are going to Heaven and won’t be allowed in. They are the ones who performed miracles in HIS NAME. If even those who are professing Christians may be deceived (for the Bible says even the Elite of God may be deceived if God wills it) How can anyone claim to know Who God will show His mercy to at the Wedding Supper of The Lamb? It’s just simply not our place to claim such knowledge. That is plain and simple playing at being God. Blessings to you!
So true. I wrote a freakishly similar article the day before this one is posted…
It drives me bonkers how politically correct our society has become. The whole “I’m so humble and diverse” attitude is just a mask. Say it for what it is: not everyone is right! Let’s at least discuss our viewpoints from that starting point. At least the. We aren’t being facetious.
Rev. Bryant J. Williams III says
I wonder if what is happening is a confusion or misunderstanding of “epistemology?” Where does one obtain knowledge. Is knowledge “hard-wired” or is it “software?”
Another thought that comes from this discussion is that Paul uses the same type of argument in Romans 2:1-16. Verses 2-4 states:
“Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on TRUTH. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (emphasis mine).
Second, is the idea that every person is a theologian. One may ask, How? Well, every person has a view (worldview) about God, gods, no god (atheist – alpha negative), without God (atheist – alpha primitive – without a “visible form of” God which is why Christians and Jews were called “atheists), etc. The question is really about the degree of competency as a theologian.
Third, knowledge is time-oriented. Knowledge for man is past or present. It has a starting point. It is not eternal. It is everlasting, but not eternal. Eternality is a attribute of God who is Past, Present and Future; hence the name “I AM”. Knowledge of God as Paul so clearly indicates is revealed in Nature and by Special Revelation (see Romans 1:18ff).
Faith, is like knowledge yet is different in one aspect. Both knowledge and faith are intuitive, intellectual and experiential. The difference is that knowledge is limited to time in the past and present. Faith is not so limited. It takes what has been revealed in the Past and Present and projects it to the Future.
Finally, it is interesting that those who claim that “no one knows any thing about God with any certainty” are guilty of arrogance themselves since they are making a dogmatic statement of truth. They have also bought into the idea of evolution that “everything is relative” which is a contradiction is terms since they are making an absolute statement.