There’s a debate going on over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians about the reasonableness of Christianity, whether or not this means it needs to be epistemically justified, and what that means for its place in setting public policy.
As it turns out, the attackers in the comments and responses make some very justified points. For example, the claim that the most that can be epistemically justified is a sort of watered-down deism. Natural reason can lead to a general knowledge of a transcendent God (I find Roderick Long’s argument in this direction plausible), but knowledge of God’s immanence – in particular, knowledge of Christ – is brought about only by divine intervention. As Jesus said (John 6:44), “No one can come to me except the Father who has sent me draw him.”
Abraham Kuyper was a Dutch theologian, philosopher, and political leader who, probably by virtue of this unique combination of offices, fleshed out the epistemological implications of verses like this the most. In particular, in the lecture Calvinism and Science, he talks about the humanly unbridgeable epistemological divide between natural knowledge and divine revelation – that is, between common grace and saving grace.
The core soteriological message of the Bible is that man is unable to achieve saving knowledge of God on his own. Quite simply, the human condition according to the Bible is not only total moral depravity, but epistemological darkness as regards the things of God.
Kuyper’s point might have saved some effort on the part of old philosophers who tried to prove the existence of God by natural reasoning. Christianity is a set of propositions, yes, but it is also at its core experiential. As evangelical preachers stress over and over, saving faith must treasure God, not merely assent to his existence. This treasuring, by which the will is changed, is the sole fruit of the Holy Spirit: “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Sola Fide is rooted in Sola Gratia.
This sort of epistemology, of course, cannot be generalized to all people. From the standpoint of natural reason, it is not “epistemically justified”. But if the human condition is as the Bible claims – if natural reason is necessarily insufficient here – it does not need to be epistemically justified to be true.
In my own opinion, the Public Reason project of drawing a line between “reasonable” and “unreasonable” (as opposed to true and false) is ultimately futile. But whatever verdict public reason liberals may decide to pass on Christianity, its revelatory epistemology means that it and public policy constitute (you might say) non-overlapping magisteria. What other goal might a uniquely Christian public policy have than to “nudge” people toward salvation, which indeed seems to be implicit in a lot of evangelical political action? But the necessity of divine election and inbreaking means that this goal is impossible to achieve by political action. If the elect were chosen, as Paul claims, “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:3), public policy will be totally impotent to achieve its goals. Christian values such as might be instantiated in public policy don’t mean anything to the unregenerate, and most certainly do not help them on the path to salvation.