Over the past few months I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Christian Epistemology and the foundational logic of how different groups in Christianity build their religious knowledge. The reason for this is that I am convinced this is the path to making sense of disagreements over theology. If two people or groups can first identify which epistemic models they are using, then they can have a meaningful conversation.
In this post I have thought of a new way to say the same thing that might make more sense to some people. Essentially, all of Christianity can be divided into three groups: high certainty, low certainty or arbitrary.
This group maintains that it is possible to have a high degree of certainty regarding who God is, what He is trying to accomplish and what He expects from us. We have the ability to know that our doctrine and theology is correct (ex. trinity, plan of salvation, state of the dead, hell etc.) and therefore, we have the right to expect that people subscribe to those doctrines.
To have High Certainty, some kind of authority source is needed. This might be the Church (pope, councils, historical tradition etc.), it might be the Holy Spirit (ecstatic experiences, dreams/visions, tongues etc.), it might be prophets (Joseph Smith, Watchtower, etc.) or a text (Scripture). So the primary objective whenever talking to someone who holds a high certainty view is to determine their authority source.
If someone wants to maintain a high certainty view but rejects the above authority sources, then they become the authority themselves. Christianity becomes a type of banquet or potluck where they pick and choose whatever doctrines they want to believe based on what resonates with them. Needless to say, as popular as this approach might be, it has zero credibility.
After the Enlightenment, some scholars lost faith in all the above authorities and came to the conclusion that it is not possible to have a high degree of certainty regarding religion. But they felt Christianity was still useful as an answer to man’s inner longing or, as an anchor for a moral existence or, as a cultural/societal aid etc. This view did not allow for precision regarding theology or doctrine and thus did not provide a basis for expecting that people subscribe to a particular set of beliefs.
Many historians feel that this liberal version of the faith is what saved Christianity during the modern era. I would argue however that, even if true, it is what is destroying Christianity during the post modern era. The reason being that all the human needs this version of Christianity was meant to address (although otherwise lacking substance) can now just as well be addressed by secular alternatives.
If Christianity is to survive, Christians need to take another look at the High Certainty view, especially the one that has been most maligned, the Scripture as central authority view.