Revealed religion. This, according to most, if not all, Christian theologians committed to a high view of Scripture and historic Christian orthodoxy, neatly summarizes what the Judeo-Christian faith is all about. Indeed, it is founded and grounded on Divine revelation in redemptive history, which, contrary to what many of its detractors would like the world to believe, is neither necessarily irrational nor indefensible.
This, by the way, points to the fact that God did not leave the human race without a trace that He is there, without a witness to the truth that He indeed exists.
Divine revelation in creation, human consciousness and Scripture
“What may be known about God,” says the apostle Paul, “is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20 NIV).
Centuries before the apostle penned these words, the psalmist David, who was also king of Israel, could be heard singing in Jerusalem, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard” (Psa. 19:1-3 NIV).
This revelation of Himself God also instilled in human consciousness to serve as an internal witness to make humans aware of the reality of His existence, that He alone is perfectly holy, righteous and just (see Rom. 2:15). To use the language of our 21st century so-called great age of information technology, here is a pre-installed, built-in information about God deeply embedded in the human operating system.
Not only so. God has also spoken, and what He has spoken He willed to be inscripturated through human autographs in ancient times under the superintendence of His Holy Spirit. In so doing, He has left people of subsequent ages a fixed, unadulterated sufficient record of what He has spoken in written form, namely the Scripture of both the Old and the New Testaments, at the central stage of which is the person and works of His Son Jesus Christ.
Human skepticism against Divine revelation and the possibility of knowledge
However, this concept of Divine revelation, be it in creation, human consciousness or Holy Scripture, has never gone unchallenged even as it has also been consistently ignored by a vast majority of the human race of all generations. As Paul continues, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21 NIV).
Such an arrangement in human affairs that the apostle is referring to, most particularly in reference to the pagan world of his days, still remains true until today. The only difference is that what we have nowadays is a variety of more sophisticated 21st century expressions of the old-time human skepticism against the knowledge of God.
What is being questioned today, however, is not only the possibility of knowing God. The idea of knowledge itself, in the sense of knowing objective, absolute reality, is under assault. There is no truth external to ourselves for us to know; every truth-claim is only a matter of interpretation, we hear the skeptics proclaim both in the public square and the academia. What we therefore have before us is no longer just a question of authority, logical consistency or empirical verifiability of any given truth-claims, but also a question of epistemology and hermeneutics.
Such a skeptical posture of the mind against the possibility of knowledge is not without its roots in history. Philosophers point to its earliest expressions in the various Greek sophists of the pre-Socratic era. Even Plato himself had his fictional character Cratylus in one of his writings titled after this name, questioning the possibility for language to represent reality and for words to convey meaning. Cratylus, according to evangelical philosopher and theologian Kevin Vanhoozer, “is a postmodernist before his time.”
Historians of philosophy have also located this skepticism in the writings of thinkers like Descartes, Hegel, Hume, Kant, Husserl, Nietzsche, Godel, Saussure, Sartre, Camus, among others, until it has finally found its home in the more radical and even more sophisticated postmodern way of thinking.
Regardless of their differences in terms of their philosophical commitments, they have one thing in common: they all cast doubt, creating a culture of suspicion of their own design against the possibility of knowing objective reality.
The road away from the knowledge of truth has become all the more widened, and many appear to have been enjoying their trip without ever thinking of any possible mishap along the way.
“Claiming to be wise,” says the apostle Paul, “they became fools” (Rom. 1:22 ESV).
- Joseph Seifert, “From Relativism to Skepticism to Truth and Certainty” in Truth Journal, updated July 14, 2002.
- Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998 [June 2009 ePub Edition]), 20-24.