November 29, 2011
There are several prominent objections to the view that God speaks extra-biblically as part of the ordinary Christian experience (call this view "HG" for "hearing God"). I take Stand To Reason’s Greg Koukl as my main dialogue partner on these matters, because he has thought extensively about these issues and has provided some accessible articles for public consideration (see my post here).
So, one such HG objection, as given by Greg Koukl, holds that the Bible fails to support HG and that therefore, this lack of evidence warrants rejecting it. Call this the “No-Evidence Objection”. The question of whether the Bible in fact supports HG is an important question, which J.P. Moreland addresses here, and in any case, the data (or its interpretation) is not relevant to assessing the objection. Instead, I’ll argue that the No-Evidence Objection is unsound because it makes an unjustifiable methodological assumption.
The reasoning behind the No-Evidence Objection is flawed. It's flawed because it excludes certain kinds of evidence (or reasons): the evidences of personal experience and credible testimony. Or to say it another way, it in principle limits what can count as evidence. And generally speaking, it's unjustifiable to treat some piece of purported evidence for any hypothesis as inadmissible simply because of its being the kind of evidence (or reason) it is.
But this is what the No-Evidence Objection does. Koukl’s view, for instance, is that the only way to settle the question of HG is by looking very carefully at the text of the Bible, and likewise, that to attempt to justify HG from experience is to reason circularly (for example, see his discussion here). But I don’t mean to single out Greg here; for many thoughtful people would affirm with him that "there is only one way to answer these questions [about HG], and the proper method is not by appealing to personal experience or citing godly authorities who disagree [but only by appealing carefully to the biblical text]." (See here, p.6). Let’s call the quoted material “the Methodological Claim.”
The Methodological Claim does all the “work” in the No-Evidence Objection. If someone (1) thinks that the Bible is silent on HG, and (2) affirms the Methodological Claim, it's no wonder HG comes out as unjustified: the conclusion doesn’t follow in any way from biblical teaching, but rather from a certain assumption about what can count as evidence. This is an epistemological issue, and not simply a biblical-theological or hermeneutical issue.
The Methodological Claim should be rejected for at least three reasons.
First, the Bible itself pretty plainly supports the idea that we can know truths about God extra-biblically (see, for instance, Romans 1:19-20). A person can come to regularly experience themselves as moral-spiritual creatures of a Creator, even if they don’t know that to have a basis or witness in scripture. (An argument could be made that this knowing is the result of what it means to be made in the imago Dei).
Moreover, when it comes to other issues—like the arguments for God’s existence—Greg even agrees that we can know truths about God extra-biblically. It’s just that when it comes to HG, he rejects this way of thinking about things.
Second, the Methodological Claim fails to account for an important distinction. Although the Bible is the ultimate source of knowledge of God, it is not the only such source. If that is true, then it would seem to at least counter the Methodological Claim by showing how it is inadequate as an approach (however well-intended!) or perhaps easily falsifiable. For the Methodological claim seems to land us in an unfortunate false dilemma: either trust scripture as the only reliable source of knowledge about HG or trust personal experience. It can’t account for credible testimony.
Curiously, Greg even agrees with this ultimate/only distinction in this article, but the distinction doesn’t appear to do much epistemological/methodological work for him when considering how to approach evidence for HG.
Third, and more seriously, the Methodological Claim is self-refuting. It entails the view that if a proposition about God is not in the Bible, it isn’t true (or at least we cannot know it to be true). But, the Methodological Claim itself is not contained in the Bible, so it isn’t true (or at least we cannot know it to be true).
The upshot of all this is that because the Methodological Claim is false, even if the Bible were silent on HG, the No-Evidence Objection would be no objection to HG at all.
Part Three in this series is available here.