Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Neither Evidentialism nor Presuppositionalism

Willie Mays once made a dazzling over-the-shoulder catch of a fly ball off the bat of Vic Wertz.  That event is not the product of my mind.  I did not invent it.  Wertz would have flown out to Mays even if my mind never existed.  My mind cannot alter that event at all.  While I can know about that event, my mind is powerless to generate that event, to change that event, or to eradicate that event.  That event is independent of me.  It simply is what it is, regardless of what I might think about it.  Its reality as an event is settled.  It happened.  It happened whether I accept it or not, whether I know it or not, whether I like it or not, and whether I think about it or not.  It happened.
Obviously, the fans at the Polo Grounds that day did not invent Mays’s catch.  Rather, they responded to it.  They responded with wild, cheering approval.  It happened; they responded:  event, response.
With regard to that catch, I am in much the same position as the fans that day.  While I did not and cannot mentally produce Mays’s catch, I can respond to it.  I can applaud that event.  I can try to apply it productively.  For example, if I were a ball player, I might work to acquire Mays’ defensive skills, examining carefully how the feat was accomplished and might be repeated.  If I were a father or a coach, I might try to teach those skills to my child or to the Little League team I coach because Mays has shown us the remarkable heights to which defensive skills can be taken and the ways in which they might be memorably and wonderfully applied.
In other words, while I might alter the way that event is applied or not applied in my life, what I do with that event, if anything, has nothing at all to do with the reality of that event.  It is real; it happened.
Although I was not present at the ballpark that day, I know about that event.  I know about that event because a camera operator recorded it; because sports writers wrote about it; and because thousands of the fans who witnessed it talked about it.  The pitch, the swing, the ball’s flight, and Mays’s catch all were witnessed and recorded.   Of course, while someone else’s witnessing that event helps makes my knowing of it possible, the witnesses do not make the event.  They witnessed it; they recorded it; they passed it on.  But the reality of that historical event is independent of them, too.  They did not make it happen.  They witnessed what happened.  Witnesses do not make the event possible; the event makes witnessing possible.   
By contrast, assumptions, deductions, and presuppositions are all very different from the sorts of events I am describing, and they have a very different relationship with my mind than does an event like the Mays/Wertz event mentioned above, which is not a mind-generated event -- and that is the fundamentally important distinction:  One event is generated by my mind and the other is not.
Assumptions, deductions, and presuppositions all are something my mind generates.  They depend wholly upon my mind for their existence.  I can generate them, alter them, apply them, ignore them, or reject them.  Their existence, content, and use all are up to me.  While I might respond to the assumptions, deductions, and presuppositions I generate, they not are not independent of me in the way events outside my mind are.  We might say that while assumptions, deductions, and presuppositions come from me, events of the Mays/Wertz sort come to me.  I make the former; I am confronted by the latter.
By the same token, the ancient Israelites did not simply assume, invent, or project God’s self-disclosure on Mt. Sinai.  They were confronted by it.  They did not create it, devise it, or generate it.  They witnessed it; they responded to it (however foolishly); and they recorded it -- just as they did other events, like the plagues in Egypt and like crossing the Red Sea on dry land.  It happened; they responded:  event, response.
The apostles did not simply presuppose, concoct, or formulate the resurrection.  They were confronted by it -- by the empty tomb and by multiple encounters with the risen Christ, Who once was dead and now was alive.  It happened; they responded:  event, response. 
Here’s another event, an epistemological event:  God made Himself known.  Note carefully that the event in question is not my figuring things out about God.  The event is this:  God made Himself known.  I did not say that God made Himself knowable; I said that God made Himself known.  God has not merely made knowledge about Himself available to us; God has made Himself known by us, specifically by the elect.  That is how those who know God actually know God:  Our knowing God is the consequence of God’s doing.  We know because God did it.   For fallen human beings, knowing God is an externally, not internally, generated event.
When it comes to our knowing God, God is the Subject of our knowing, not merely its Object.  God can be the Object of knowledge by sinful human beings only because He first was its Subject.  When it comes to our knowing God, He did our knowledge.  He made it happen, not we.  That is the event.  God made Himself not simply knowable but known.  We do not generate the event.  It happened.  If we are among the redeemed, it happened to us.  Knowing God is a gift, not an achievement.
In that event, the Holy Spirit regenerates whomever He chooses and drives the Truth home to them with power and effect, just like Vic Wertz drove the ball to deep center field with power and effect.  Both events, the Mays/Wertz event and the God/elect event, are historical.  They happened.  They are not mind-generated.  The mind might respond to them, but the mind does not make them.
Had the Holy Spirit not regenerated the redeemed and made them able to receive this gracious gift of knowing God, and had He not actually put this knowledge of God into them -- had He not actually made God known -- neither they nor anyone else could ever have known God.  On our own, that is quite beyond us.  Such things are spiritually discerned, and we are radically unspiritual.
God made Himself known to some persons.  That is the event, and that is the particularity of the event:  God made Himself known to the elect.  They didn't do it; He did.
When the Holy Spirit regenerates you, He gives you knowledge of God.  He makes it so that you begin finally to relate properly and well to God, which is what knowing God really is.  Knowing God is a relationship based upon things said and done in history, whether by Yahweh for Israel or by Christ for the redeemed, things explained to us by the Holy Spirit in Scripture, and then applied to us by the Spirit through Divine activities such as regeneration and illumination.
In other words, we do not begin with humanly generated notions, or with evidences, or with unaided human reason, or with anything else.  We do not begin at all.  When it comes to knowing God, for us to begin is not to begin.  God begins.
Knowing God was never a matter of “How do I know?”  Knowing God always had to begin with Him or not to begin at all.  To start with us is simply a non-starter.  You can’t get there from here.  But He can get here from there, and He did.  God made Himself known to some persons.
We are talking about an event.  We are not talking about a presupposition, an invention, a fantasy, a wish, a deduction, or even a question.  We are not starting with any human activity whatever.  This event -- knowing God -- does not depend upon the knowers.  It depends upon the Known.  This event is a historical action.  Like other historical actions, it depends upon historical actors.  In this case, the Actor is God.  This event does not depend upon us presupposing it any more than does Mays’s catch.  It happened.  Like Mays’s catch, God’s making Himself known has lots of witnesses; and like Mays’s catch, it does not depend upon those witnesses for its reality.  Quite the opposite:  Their role as witnesses depends upon it happening.   The witnesses do not make the event possible.  The event makes the witnessing possible.  It happened.  It will continue to happen as long as, and as widely as, God wills.
By making Himself actually known, God takes the epistemological initiative.  He assumes upon Himself the epistemological responsibility for our knowledge of Him.  What we do with it, if anything, is a different issue altogether.  In making Himself known by us, God reveals Himself to the mind and senses He created and thereby grants to them the metaphysical validation and warrant we never could have granted them on our own.  We cannot produce metaphysical warrant of this sort from below or by ourselves.  Without His actions, we are reduced simply to metaphysical and epistemological cheating, to begging the question, to using our mind and senses to assert that mind and senses are the proper means to knowledge, even knowledge of God, or else reduced simply to invoking our own mind-generated presuppositions and following them wherever we deduce they lead.
Our knowledge of God is a God-produced event.  God made Himself known.  It happened.  Do with it whatever you will, but you cannot change that fact any more than you can make Mays drop the ball or make Wertz hit it over the fence.  God’s self-disclosure happened.  God made Himself known by the elect.  He did it.  He did it in space and time.  He did it (1) externally through events like the exodus, the incarnation, and the resurrection, and by inspired, explanatory words, like Deuteronomy, the Gospel of Matthew, and the epistle to the Colossians, events and words that were addressed to the mind and senses He gave us, thus granting them the transcendent validation they otherwise always would lack.  He did it (2) internally through events like regenerating us and illuminating us -- all of which leaves Aristotle and his ilk beyond the pale when the issue is not only knowing God, but knowing, period.  Their use of mind and senses is mere question-begging, pure and simple.  They assume that mind and senses are reliable means of knowing and simply proceed to use them, use them even when it comes to knowing What cannot be known by us on our own at all, namely God.
The knowledge of God given to the elect is not something the elect presuppose, deduce or establish.  It is an event, an event of God’s own doing.
There can be no knowledge of God that God Himself does not impart.  That is, you might know the answer to a difficult mathematical question either because you figured it out for yourself, or else because someone who knows the answer told you.  Either way, you can get the right answer.  But to the question of how one knows Elohim, the articulate, divine, unity-in-plurality, there are not two ways, but one:  God must tell you.  God must tell you because, “What is offered to man’s apprehension is not truth concerning God but the living God Himself” (Temple, Nature, Man and God, p. 322).  Read that sentence over again until its full force sinks in:   “What is offered to man’s apprehension is not truth concerning God but the living God Himself.” 
Unless God begins, no beginning is possible.  Those who deny this point fail to recognize that God has begun.  He made Himself known by us, and in so doing He (1) validated the mind and senses He made for us, and, more importantly, He (2) regenerated us so that we are able to receive the knowledge of Himself that He so graciously gives.  Without that regeneration, we would unleash our fallenness upon special revelation the way we do upon general revelation, and with the same deleterious and devilish effect.  God Himself, and only God Himself,  is the origin, content, Subject, and Object of our Knowing Him.  He is its root, ground and cause; we are its recipients.  He does it; He does it to whomever He wills, whenever He Wills.  He brings Himself to us; we do not bring ourselves to Him, not even if our name is Aristotle.

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