Horton: The Christian Faith – Chapter 1: Epistemology

Horton finishes Chapter 1 of The Christian Faith by looking at the history of how philosophers have answered the questions ‘How Can We Know God?’ Looking at the Post-Reformation view, he quotes Calvin’s Institutes. “ Thereupon his powers are mentioned, by which he is shown to us not as he is in himself, but as he is toward us: so that this recognition of him consists more in living experience than in vain and high-flown speculation.” (p. 50) This goes against the mystics and others that believe that knowing God as he is in himself, the idea that we can climb up to God rather than we can only know him through Jesus. This was the difference in the Reformation. We cannot reach God, but he has reached us. Again we have the we see the idea of God as a stranger: “not only because he is our creator (ontological difference) and judge (ethical difference) but because he is our redeemer.” (p. 51)

Horton travels through Western theology showing that “we were created as God’s analogy (image bearers) rather than as self-existent sparks of divinity.” (p. 54)

This takes us to Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus and their views doctrine of analogy. Aquinas stressed that our knowledge is analogical but Scotus said that some of our knowledge most coincide with God’s knowledge. Reformers did accept the doctrine of analogy but with an important revision. “We must restrict our analogies from the world he created to communicate with us.” (p. 56) Horton said “the doctrine of analogy affirms that finite and creaturely knowledge is nevertheless true knowledge because it has its ultimate source in God.”  This part reminded me of Francis Schaeffer’s concept of true truth.

The rest of this chapter looks at how some of the great philosophers have viewed the sovereign self. From Rene Descartes’ on we see confusion of Creator and creature. This is the crux of the difference in modernity: absolute autonomy over against external authorities. He discusses Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche and how they viewed this. The interesting thing is a quote from Hilary Purnam, where he said, “almost every philosopher makes statements which contradict his own explanation account of what can be justified or known.” (p. 77) I have read some of the writings of each of these men and analysis of them by both Christians and non-Christians and this has been what I have seen.

Horton sums up chapter one by emphasizing how central to a biblical worldview is the distinction between God and the world. “There is an absolute difference between Creator and creation and relative differences within creation itself.” (p.77)

This chapter is philosophical and having taught Western Civilization I have seen how important it is to understand the philosophers of the past as their views are what have brought us where we are today. The concepts can be somewhat difficult to grasp and Horton does a good job of making sense of the confusion of those philosophers and explaining how their ideas have filtered to our own age. Chapter 1 is followed with five discussion questions that are helpful to synthesize the material whether you are reading this book by yourself or in a group.

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