Multiperspectivalism and Christian Epistemology

Tim Brister —  October 29, 2012 — 1 Comment

OK. So I don’t expect to get a lot of reads based on that title, but for those following the discussion on triperspectivalism/multiperspectivalism, this little excerpt from Vern Poythress I find worthwhile. In his paper, “Multiperspectivalism and the Reformed Faith“, Poythress talks about the a priori role of Cornelius Van Til in the theological construction of multiperspectivalism, especially in relation to Christian epistemology. I found the following excerpt particularly insightful. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

The Creator-creature distinction also reminds Christians that in the arena of knowledge they do not have to be God, or to aspire to be divine in their knowledge. Christians can thus be free to admit that what they have is only finite knowledge, and that they have their knowledge only from the “perspective” of who they are with finite experience and a finite location. At the same time, because God reveals himself in general and special revelation, and supremely through Christ, Christians can be confident that they have genuine knowledge–knowledge of God, and knowledge concerning things around them.

Human perspectives are limited, but still valid (insofar as they are not distorted by sin). Any one Christian human perspective coheres with the infinitude of divine knowledge, because the perspective comes as a gift from God. Multiple perspectives are intrinsically all right rather than an embarrassment or a frustration. Hence, admitting that you are a creature leads naturally to multiperspectivalism.

Suppose, by contrast, that you abolish the Creator-creature distinction in your own thinking. If you think God is on the same level with you, then your knowledge must be God’s knowledge if it is to be true at all. You must be God. Or you must bring God down to your level, in order to have assurance that your knowledge is valid. In that case, your perspective is God’s perspective, pure and simple, and there is only one valid perspective, namely your own. That point of view is what Van Til and John Frame call “non-Christian rationalism.” The human mind claims absolute autonomy and becomes the standard for truth. That approach has an intrinsic tendency toward monoperspectivalism. It exalts a single chosen perspective, and ends up crushing out all diversity in human perspectives.

When such godlike claims become implausible, as they inevitably do, the nonChristian moves to the opposite pole, “non-Christian irrationalism.” He admits that he is not God, that his knowledge is not infinite. But he does not give up his autonomy. He still clings to the ultimacy of his own perspective. So then he lapses into skepticism. He concludes that no one can know anything rightly, because no one can attain infinity.

Christian thinking affirms the accessibility of God. Christian thinking is not postmodernist; it does not irrationalistically exalt diversity and give up unity. At the same time, Christian thinking rejects the modernist confidence in autonomous human rationality as an ultimate foundation for truth. Neither modernism nor postmodernism acknowledges the Creator-creature distinction. So neither agrees with the Christian answer, which is that we can remain creatures, in submission to the Creator. God gives us real but not exhaustive knowledge of the truth. [emphasis mine]

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One response to Multiperspectivalism and Christian Epistemology

  1. “Human perspectives are limited…”

    Yes. And as such it is necessary for God to reveal himself to us. If we have only one perspective, then our knowledge is unsure. So God gives us at least the three perspectives we know:

    1) The normative perspective gives us clarity of knowledge.

    2) But we cannot say we know God unless it fosters a relationship with him by increasing our desire for him. This is the existential perspective.

    3) Likewise, we cannot say we know God unless it makes a difference in our behavior. This is the situational perspective.

    And so we see that John is correct in his first letter when he tells us time and again how we can know that we have God by our behavior. We have not earned a saving relationship with God by our behavior, but we have confirmed our desires by our behavior and our desires have confirmed that the knowledge that has been made clear to us is true. And thus we know God with all assurance.

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