Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom
Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom

The Epistemological Question

by Frank Wright, Ph.D.

Years ago, Dr. Kennedy spoke with a young man who somewhat aggressively asked: “How do you know the things you believe are true?” Dr. Kennedy smiled and said: “You’ve asked the Epistemological Question, haven’t you?”

As Dr. Kennedy later related, the young man at first stared at him blankly and then weakly nodded in the affirmative. He had no idea what the Epistemological Question was, but his pride would not permit him to acknowledge it.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. More specifically, it seeks to answer the question: “How can we know anything?” It deals with the trustworthiness of human knowledge. How do we know what we proclaim is true? This remains a fascinating question, especially for those who follow Him who declares that He is truth.

Arguably, a definitive work on this subject is Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. I mention this not because I am well versed in Kant, but to point out that his exposition on all things epistemological rocked the foundations of atheism. With inescapable logic Kant showed that an inability to apprehend God with the five natural senses does not logically disprove the existence of a spiritual realm and a Spiritual Being. In short, Kant showed that the Emperor of Atheism had no clothes.

Which brings us back to our question: “How can we know anything?” The answer is quite simple. There are only two ways to know anything. They are rationalism and revelation. You can either figure it out, or it can be revealed to you.


Rationalism

Rationalism argues that you come to know everything through human reason—through rational thought. The main problem with this idea is the presuppositions we bring to our own thought processes. But the greater problem, as Kant demonstrated, is the inability of rationalism to deal with spirituality.

Suppose we want to figure out God through rational thought. We sit down like Rodin’s Thinker with chin on wrist and elbow on knee and we reason it out. After a time we rise with our conclusion. But across the street from us was another thinker who, after similar cranial exertion, rose with a conclusion about God at variance with our own. Rationally, we must recognize that his (her) conclusion is as good as ours. Both rational views are equally valid—they are also equally worthless, because they are based on mere speculation.

Spiritual things are not rationally discerned. Jesus asked his followers: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter proclaimed: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” After blessing him, Jesus said: “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven.” Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.


Revelation

The only other way to know anything is to have it revealed to us. Christianity is a revealed religion. What we know about God—about His Person and His purposes—He has revealed to us.

Let’s look together at five dimensions of that revelation.

First, God reveals Himself through the light of creation. The heavens declare the glory of God. And that revelation (while not complete) is so clear that the Apostle writing to the church at Rome said that we are “without excuse.”

Second, God reveals Himself through the light of conscience. We have a law written on our hearts that testifies to the reality of God every time we break it. Our conscience speaks to us about our guilt, but it speaks even more powerfully about the character of Him whose law we have broken.

Third, God reveals Himself through the light of His word. The Scripture tells us that God honors His word even above His name (Psalm 138). In that word, we learn that God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, goodness, holiness, justice, and truth.

Fourth, God reveals Himself through the light of Christ. At first we walked in darkness, now we have seen a great light. Jesus proclaimed the excellences of the Father and the nature of His Kingdom. He also made clear our duty—both to God and our fellow man. Most importantly, Jesus proclaimed His authority over all creation.

Fifth, God reveals Himself through the light of the Holy Spirit who indwells His people, illuminating God’s truth to our hearts and minds, so that we might know and serve Him better.

How do we know the things we proclaim are true? We know it because the Lord of Glory has revealed them to us. We know it because of the One who came to us from Heaven testified with first-hand knowledge of the Father. And by this revelation, we know the answers to life’s great questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? And rather than produce a blank expression on our faces, the Epistemological Question fills us with awe and wonder as we realize that God became man to answer it.