Presuppositions, huh?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I read this in page 44 of Graeme Goldsworthy’s “According to Plan” in Chapter 3, “How Can We Know?” on the topic of “Presuppositions”:

Presuppositions, then, are the assumptions we make in order to be able to hold some fact to be true. We cannot go on indefinitely saying, “I know this is true because…” In the end we must come to that which we accept as the final authority. By definition a final authority cannot be proven as an authority on the basis of some higher authority. The highest authority must be self-attesting. Only God is such an authority.

The presuppositions we must make in doing biblical theology are those of Christian theism. The alternative to this is to accept the presuppositions of some form of humanism. Either we work on the basis of a sovereign, self-proving God who speaks to us by a word that we accept as true simply because it is his word, or we work on the basis that man is the final judge of all truth. The Christian position, to be consistent, accepts that the Bible is God’s Word, and that it says what God wants it to say in exactly the way he wants to say it.

Thus, when the biblical theologian sets out to describe the theology that is in the Bible, he must understand the presuppositions that he accepts as the basis of his method. Many of the bible theologies that have been written over the past hundred years have been shaped by the presuppositions of humanism. In such cases the Bible is not allowed to speak for itself, but is subjected to a continuous assessment on the basis of human reason, which is seen as quite independent of God.

The presupposition of an independent and self-sufficient human reason has resulted in the writing of biblical theologies that tend to be descriptions of the supposed development of religious ideas among the biblical people. Such descriptions are complicated by the refusal to accept the Bible’s own testimony of the history of Israelite faith. When evolutionary philosophy was popular it was applied to the biblical documents to test their historical accuracy. The assumption was that religious ideas undergo a natural development from simpler to more complex forms. The possibility was excluded that the God of the Bible actually exists and reveals himself in the way the Bible depicts. Man is in control of the whole process of knowledge-gaining and God is only a religious idea that many people hold in varying forms.


I need help in understanding this section. I am okay with it until the third paragraph. My question is this: what are some of the many “bible theologies written over the past hundred years” that have been shaped by the presuppositions of humanism? What are these “writing of biblical theologies that tend to be descriptions of the supposed development of religious ideas among the biblical people”, that are “complicated by the refusal to accept the Bible’s own testimony of the history of Israelite faith”?

I would like to know because if it has been around for the past hundred years, it would have been instrumental in shaping my thoughts, and I would need to know in order to correct my understanding to a biblical theology that will take on a Christian theism and not humanism.

pearlie

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16 comment(s)

  1. Maybe, look at his another book on Gospel Centered Hermeneutics. I think he discussed it quite extensively.

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  2. IMHO, I would say approach this topic with great care, asking for the light of God's wisdom to guide you (oops...is that too humanistic a statement? :D).

    My impression is that the writer seems to be denouncing humanism in all its forms and aiming for a "pure" understanding of scripture as God's ONLY divine revelation to Jews and later to Christians.

    I would agree with him to reject humanism if it means to exalt the human experience and mind above God.

    But I feel he has taken the argument way far into the other absolute extreme of completely denying the validity of human thought and experience.

    I would disagree with him if he means that we should not even take time to analyse the thoughts and experiences of men/women of God in order to gain understanding how they related to God and how God related to them.

    Understanding other's experience and trying to follow their footsteps is a key tenet of discipleship and mentoring. Without which, Christianity would be reduced to just another set of rules to follow.

    Besides, a mysterious verse by Paul shows that there ARE revelations from God that are NOT in the Bible!

    2Co 12:3-4 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows - and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

    The writer exerts:
    "(The Bible) says what God wants it to say in exactly the way he wants to say it."

    It has to remembered that the Bible was not written by God but by humans, whose experiences colour their perspectives and experiences of God. Thus, there is no "pure" revelation, because not even Jesus left any writings behind!

    In fact, Jesus acknowledged that too much "humanism" exists in the Hebrew Scriptures!

    Matt 19:8 He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so."

    Even within the Law that God had revealed to Moses, Moses exalted men's desire above God's design!

    So to absolutely deny the validity of the slightest human thought and experience and to view the Bible as some kind of dogma descended from heaven (akin to the Koran) gives an incomplete picture of the experience of God.

    While studying the life of Joseph in our young Adults CG, it occurred to us that Joseph was a godly man, mightily used by God in an era where there existed NO HEBREW SCRIPTURE. And in all the years before Moses, we read of several people who were men and women of God.

    How then did they derive their understanding of God, if according to this writer, the Bible is the ONLY place where God reveals Himself and we have to take everything at face value?

    In the end, I think we should acknowledge that our Lord is too big to be confined even by the Bible. Because:

    1Co 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (ESV)

    We are in no position to make claims of fully knowing where God resides or reveals Himself.

    The reason we read the Bible is because:

    Matt 13:44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."

    The treasure is God. The Bible is the Field.

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  3. I don't read him so I don't know what he means.

    What I noticed is his dichotomy of 'human reason' from human reason as endowed by God. I think this is not necessary.

    "In such cases the Bible is not allowed to speak for itself, but is subjected to a continuous assessment on the basis of human reason, which is seen as quite independent of God."

    I dont understand why such subjection is discouraged? If human has no other medium of assessment of the Bible except through reasoning, then why is that wrong? And I dont know why human reason has to be understood as independent from God as well. There are cases where people come to faith or great insight in understanding the Bible by reasonable assessment with the sacred texts.

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  4. i think he's referring to liberalism -

    In the 18th century, the so-called Enlightenment period arrived. There was an unparalleled atmosphere of optimism in man’s ability to solve all his problems through science and reason. Man was proudly lauded as the measure of all things. This naïve form of humanism was profoundly man-centred or anthropocentric.

    As a result, metaphysics and the supernatural were overlooked and neglected. That which is transcendental and eternal was scoffed at. Only that which can be proven in a laboratory and perceived inductively was considered real or worthy of study. As a result, divine miracles and providence were dismissed as myths. The value of religion was trivialized to the extent that led to moral bankruptcy.

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  5. Thanks Chee Keat, but I don't have that book of his. The thing is, he started off the book by stating that it is “written for those who have not had any formal theological education”, and then to include this section really would throw a person's concentration off, as it did me :)

    I wanted to kill two birds with a stone, to use it for my book review paper and to get prepared to use it as a book study for the Women's Group in my church.

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  6. OK, before he went into "Presuppositions", in the same chapter, But How Can We Know? he went into three types of knowledge:
    1. Knowledge is independent of God (Secular Humanism or Atheistic Humanism): assumes there is no God but rather a record of certain religious ideas. The study and interpretation of the Bible is governed by these assumptions.

    2. Knowledge is partly independent of God (Theistic Humanism): assumes there is a God but in common with atheistic humanism, asserts that man is in control of gaining knowledge. He gains true knowledge from nature through his senses, and reasons on this basis what is the correct approach to the study of the Bible.

    3. Knowledge is dependent on God (Christian Theism): recognises the dependence of man upon God for true knowledge. The word of God must instruct us in the various details of what God has said and done to rescue us from the consequences of our rebellion. It must also instruct us in the method by which we read and understand the Bible. There is no self-evident logic discernible outside the Bible; no naturally discerned rule as to what is possible or impossible. God as creator must interpret every event and every fact in his universe.
    (p.43-44)

    So his stand is definitely all knowledge about salvation and redemption is from the Bible that must be interpreted from within the Bible and not externally using nature or man's senses.

    I am ok with that. Even the 3 approaches to knowing, are limited to the knowledge of His truth, the biblical Christian truth.

    Just that I just want to know what he was referring to when he said, "Many of the bible theologies that have been written over the past hundred years have been shaped by the presuppositions of humanism. In such cases the Bible is not allowed to speak for itself, but is subjected to a continuous assessment on the basis of human reason, which is seen as quite independent of God."

    So yeah, Dave, you may have answered the question for me -- the Enlightenment. Thanks!

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  7. Sorry -- what I meant is: before he went into "Presuppositions", in the same chapter, But How Can We Know? he went into three types of attaining knowledge, and specifically knowledge about God.

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  8. Cheez,
    I hope you won't mind my thoughts in response to your comment:

    My impression is that the writer seems to be denouncing humanism in all its forms and aiming for a "pure" understanding of scripture as God's ONLY divine revelation to Jews and later to Christians.

    Yes, he does and I agree with him. God's only divine revelation is the Word, the Incarnate Christ and the written Word.

    But I feel he has taken the argument way far into the other absolute extreme of completely denying the validity of human thought and experience.

    I do not think he is denying the validity of human thought and experience, but as far as biblical theology is concerned, it is only his divine revelation in the Word and nothing else.

    Understanding other's experience and trying to follow their footsteps is a key tenet of discipleship and mentoring. Without which, Christianity would be reduced to just another set of rules to follow.

    Yes, but only in light of His Word. My take is like what The Hedonese has highlighted, liberalism has certainly pushed aside the revelation of God through his Word and bring more into the forefront, human experientialism above Scripture, as in "it does not matter what it meant to the people then, but for me God is saying that..." If that is the case, then biblical and historical theology is all thrown out.

    Besides, a mysterious verse by Paul shows that there ARE revelations from God that are NOT in the Bible!

    Yup, but that's the thing - whatever then that can be told, we are told in the Scripture, through the prophets, through Paul, who was caught in the third heaven.

    The writer exerts:
    "(The Bible) says what God wants it to say in exactly the way he wants to say it."
    It has to remembered that the Bible was not written by God but by humans, whose experiences colour their perspectives and experiences of God. Thus, there is no "pure" revelation, because not even Jesus left any writings behind!


    But the bible is God-breathed, and with that, God wants it to say in exactly the way he wants to say it through the people he wants to say it.

    I would not use the phrase "pure revelation" with regards to the Bible. To do so would be categorical error?

    In fact, Jesus acknowledged that too much "humanism" exists in the Hebrew Scriptures!

    Oh no, he didn't! He did not acknowledge that atheistic humanism
    exist in Scriptures. All of Scripture is inspired by God. What Jesus was against is how the people have misinterpreted Scripture.

    (cont.)

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  9. (cont.)

    Even within the Law that God had revealed to Moses, Moses exalted men's desire above God's design!

    Nope, I disagree - Moses can only speak what God commands him to speak. When he did not (he struck the rock rather than speaking to it as commanded and because of that one action which looks nothing to us cost him his entry into the promised land.) Moses did not exalt man's desire above God's design but God was gracious enough to have allowed it at that time, which the Pharisees in Jesus' time have misinterpreted it as commanded.

    So to absolutely deny the validity of the slightest human thought and experience and to view the Bible as some kind of dogma descended from heaven (akin to the Koran) gives an incomplete picture of the experience of God.

    As mentioned, I do not think the author was suggesting that we deny human thought but that it should hold on to the right presupposition, i.e. Christian theism, rather than humanism.

    In the end, I think we should acknowledge that our Lord is too big to be confined even by the Bible.

    Oh no. It is true that our God is immeasurable - but to us, he has to be "confined" to something we can understand - and that He did it through the Word - the Incarnate and the Written.

    We are in no position to make claims of fully knowing where God resides or reveals Himself.

    This one I agree -- which is why the presupposition we hold and take on must not be humanism but Christian theism. We will not know unless God reveals and He revealed it through the one vehicle He has chosen - the Word. Which is why I am usually held back when people say things like "God spoke to me" or "God told me".

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  10. SZ,
    I don't read him so I don't know what he means.

    Yup, got that :) your disclaimer.

    And thanks for your thoughts too - now I can see why it is important to have the right presupposition before we resolve anything. That is, if we hold on to Christian theism rather than humanism (aka atheistic humanism), then our human reason should be considered valid.

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  11. Dave,
    If you missed it in my previous comment - thanks for your response. You are right. After much thought, I am sure that is what Goldsworthy was referring to. The thing is that Enlightenment did not quite happen in Asia. We went straight into post-enlightenment!

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  12. Pearlie

    I had not read the book so I am not familiar with the exact context in which he wrote the statements. But since you mentioned the 3 approaches he took and was referring to knowledge of salvation in Christ and the Christian's spiritual experience, then yes I would fully agree.

    Like I said, I would agree with him to reject humanism if it means to exalt the human experience and mind above God. but I had the impression that he was calling for a complete denial of the validity of human thought and experience outside of the Bible.

    The examples I made were simply to contrast my first impression of the writer's assertions.

    Because as far I as know, there was a time when Christian theology was compatible with humanist disciplines. Just as there was a time when science was regarded as an investigation into God's creation. Some of the most devout Christians were humanists and scientists.

    But it was in the last couple of centuries that Science / Humanism began to be severely separated from religion and began to become a belief system in and of themselves.

    So if we're refering to THAT kind of humanism, that regards all religious truths and experience are subject to human judgement with no other absolute authority, then I would fully agree - REJECT HUMANISM!

    The Word of God is the ONLY measure and interpretation of a Christian's experience and knowledge of God and salvation in Christ.

    So to requailfy my points in light of this new information:

    Re Paul's heavenly visions. While this shows that there is spiritual experiences by humans outside of Scripture, its interpretation must be based on Scripture.

    God knows our human tendencies for sensationalism (refer Jesus' charge in Mat 12:39). So I believe it is by the grace and wisdom of God that these visions are NOT recorded in Scripture. The Lord would have us focus on the truly important things - living our lives in Him, practising faith hope and love.

    Re Moses' law regarding divorce. I agree with what you said. In fact I thought of writing it in the way you did, but i wanted a stronger emphasis. I guess i went too far to counter point my own assumptions of what the writer was asserting.

    Ultimately, we rest our lives on His Word:

    Heb 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.

    And we know the prophets and the Son through the Bible, where God speaks to us still.

    And I'm like you Pearlie, I get really uncomfortable when people say things like "God told me...", "God revealed to me..." etc.

    The only valid response to that is 1Jn 4:1 - My dear friends, do not believe all who claim to have the Spirit, but test them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God. For many false prophets have gone out everywhere.

    What's the standard for the test. Of course, Scripture la!

    Chee Seng

    ReplyDelete
  13. Pearlie

    I had not read the book so I am not familiar with the exact context in which he wrote the statements. But since you mentioned the 3 approaches he took and was referring to knowledge of salvation in Christ and the Christian's spiritual experience, then yes I would fully agree.

    Like I said, I would agree with him to reject humanism if it means to exalt the human experience and mind above God. but I had the impression that he was calling for a complete denial of the validity of human thought and experience outside of the Bible.

    The examples I made were simply to contrast my first impression of the writer's assertions.

    Because as far I as know, there was a time when Christian theology was compatible with humanist disciplines. Just as there was a time when science was regarded as an investigation into God's creation. Some of the most devout Christians were humanists and scientists.

    But it was in the last couple of centuries that Science / Humanism began to be severely separated from religion and began to become a belief system in and of themselves.

    So if we're refering to THAT kind of humanism, that regards all religious truths and experience are subject to human judgement with no other absolute authority, then I would fully agree - REJECT HUMANISM!

    The Word of God is the ONLY measure and interpretation of a Christian's experience and knowledge of God and salvation in Christ.

    So to requailfy my points in light of this new information:

    Re Paul's heavenly visions. While this shows that there is spiritual experiences by humans outside of Scripture, its interpretation must be based on Scripture.

    God knows our human tendencies for sensationalism (refer Jesus' charge in Mat 12:39). So I believe it is by the grace and wisdom of God that these visions are NOT recorded in Scripture. The Lord would have us focus on the truly important things - living our lives in Him, practising faith hope and love.

    Re Moses' law regarding divorce. I agree with what you said. In fact I thought of writing it in the way you did, but i wanted a stronger emphasis. I guess i went too far to counter point my own assumptions of what the writer was asserting.

    Ultimately, we rest our lives on His Word:

    Heb 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.

    And we know the prophets and the Son through the Bible, where God speaks to us still.

    And I'm like you Pearlie, I get really uncomfortable when people say things like "God told me...", "God revealed to me..." etc.

    The only valid response to that is 1Jn 4:1 - My dear friends, do not believe all who claim to have the Spirit, but test them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God. For many false prophets have gone out everywhere.

    What's the standard for the test. Of course, Scripture la!

    Chee Seng

    ReplyDelete
  14. Pearlie

    I had not read the book so I am not familiar with the exact context in which he wrote the statements. But since you mentioned the 3 approaches he took and was referring to knowledge of salvation in Christ and the Christian's spiritual experience, then yes I would fully agree.

    Like I said, I would agree with him to reject humanism if it means to exalt the human experience and mind above God. but I had the impression that he was calling for a complete denial of the validity of human thought and experience outside of the Bible.

    The examples I made were simply to contrast my first impression of the writer's assertions.

    Because as far I as know, there was a time when Christian theology was compatible with humanist disciplines. Just as there was a time when science was regarded as an investigation into God's creation. Some of the most devout Christians were humanists and scientists.

    But it was in the last couple of centuries that Science / Humanism began to be severely separated from religion and began to become a belief system in and of themselves.

    So if we're refering to THAT kind of humanism, that regards all religious truths and experience are subject to human judgement with no other absolute authority, then I would fully agree - REJECT HUMANISM!

    The Word of God is the ONLY measure and interpretation of a Christian's experience and knowledge of God and salvation in Christ.

    So to requailfy my points in light of this new information:

    Re Paul's heavenly visions. While this shows that there is spiritual experiences by humans outside of Scripture, its interpretation must be based on Scripture.

    God knows our human tendencies for sensationalism (refer Jesus' charge in Mat 12:39). So I believe it is by the grace and wisdom of God that these visions are NOT recorded in Scripture. The Lord would have us focus on the truly important things - living our lives in Him, practising faith hope and love.

    Re Moses' law regarding divorce. I agree with what you said. In fact I thought of writing it in the way you did, but i wanted a stronger emphasis. I guess i went too far to counter point my own assumptions of what the writer was asserting.

    Ultimately, we rest our lives on His Word:

    Heb 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.

    And we know the prophets and the Son through the Bible, where God speaks to us still.

    And I'm like you Pearlie, I get really uncomfortable when people say things like "God told me...", "God revealed to me..." etc.

    The only valid response to that is 1Jn 4:1 - My dear friends, do not believe all who claim to have the Spirit, but test them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God. For many false prophets have gone out everywhere.

    What's the standard for the test. Of course, Scripture la!

    Chee Seng

    ReplyDelete
  15. Pearlie

    I had not read the book so I am not familiar with the exact context in which he wrote the statements. But since you mentioned the 3 approaches he took and was referring to knowledge of salvation in Christ and the Christian's spiritual experience, then yes I would fully agree.

    Like I said, I would agree with him to reject humanism if it means to exalt the human experience and mind above God. but I had the impression that he was calling for a complete denial of the validity of human thought and experience outside of the Bible.

    The examples I made were simply to contrast my first impression of the writer's assertions.

    Because as far I as know, there was a time when Christian theology was compatible with humanist disciplines. Just as there was a time when science was regarded as an investigation into God's creation. Some of the most devout Christians were humanists and scientists.

    But it was in the last couple of centuries that Science / Humanism began to be severely separated from religion and began to become a belief system in and of themselves.

    So if we're refering to THAT kind of humanism, that regards all religious truths and experience are subject to human judgement with no other absolute authority, then I would fully agree - REJECT HUMANISM!

    The Word of God is the ONLY measure and interpretation of a Christian's experience and knowledge of God and salvation in Christ.

    So to requailfy my points in light of this new information:

    Re Paul's heavenly visions. While this shows that there is spiritual experiences by humans outside of Scripture, its interpretation must be based on Scripture.

    God knows our human tendencies for sensationalism (refer Jesus' charge in Mat 12:39). So I believe it is by the grace and wisdom of God that these visions are NOT recorded in Scripture. The Lord would have us focus on the truly important things - living our lives in Him, practising faith hope and love.

    Re Moses' law regarding divorce. I agree with what you said. In fact I thought of writing it in the way you did, but i wanted a stronger emphasis. I guess i went too far to counter point my own assumptions of what the writer was asserting.

    Ultimately, we rest our lives on His Word:

    Heb 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.

    And we know the prophets and the Son through the Bible, where God speaks to us still.

    And I'm like you Pearlie, I get really uncomfortable when people say things like "God told me...", "God revealed to me..." etc.

    The only valid response to that is 1Jn 4:1 - My dear friends, do not believe all who claim to have the Spirit, but test them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God. For many false prophets have gone out everywhere.

    What's the standard for the test. Of course, Scripture la!

    Chee Seng

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hello Pearlie,

    The impact of enlightenment in Asians can be seen if we have friends who ask "Prove to me God and then I'd believe" or "Science has disproved faith"... or in how our friends may conversely defend biblical miralces by saying that it can be explained by science after all :)

    Post-enlightenment may not be a denial of the role of human reason/science but may be a more heightened version of it i.e. since science can only prove to us facts, the realm of Christianity is reserved for subjective faith

    ReplyDelete