Short Note on Scripturalism, Foundationalism, Externalism, and Internalism

Cjay and I have been discussing where Scripturalism fits within today’s epistemological framework.  It can be difficult to sort through modern terminology such as:  foundationalism, externalism, internalism, etc. and to understand the subtleties within each.  It can also be challenging to correctly fit Scripturism into these categories because they were not as popular during the time of Gordon Clark; the preeminent exponent of Scripturalism.  In this post, we seek to provide a brief statement of how Scripturalism’s epistemology compares and contrasts with the ideas affirmed by foundationalism, internalism, and externalism.  Hopefully this post will generate good discussion.


The Scripturalist says that one knows a belief if that belief is both true and was acquired by a method guaranteed to exclude error.  This means that when the Holy Spirit illumines Scriptural propositions to the believer, these are knowledge.  It also means that a proposition arrived at through logical deduction from known Scriptural propositions is also knowledge.


If foundationalism is taken to be the view that knowledge is restricted to beliefs which are self-evident and beliefs deduced from them, the Scripturalist rejects foundationalism.  This is because some propositions are gained from the illumination of the Holy Spirit through the reading of the Scripture.  As long as it is not argued that these propositions are self-evident, it is easily seen that foundationalism, as stated, conflicts with Scripturalism.  If, however, propositions gained by divine illumination are taken to be self-evident, the Scripturalist might be considered a foundationalist.


If externalism with respect to justification is the belief that a person’s belief may still be justified even if he does is not aware of this justification, then the Scripturalist accepts externalism with respect to justification.  This is because sometimes the Holy Spirit confirms propositions to the believer while the believer is totally unaware that He has done so.  Since this constitutes a justification to which the believer has no access, the Scripturalist must accept externalism.


If internalism with respect to justification is the belief that a person’s belief may not be justified if he is not aware of its justification (e.i. internalism is simply the denial of externalism), the Scripturalist must deny internalism because he accepts externalism for the reasons given above.

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  • Ryan

    If one has no cognitive or reflective access to that which justifies his belief, then he cannot defend that he “knows” – in either an internalist or an externalist sense – anything.

    • The task of Christian apologetics, as I see it, is to make a defense for the truth of Christianity, not to defend the idea that “I know that Christianity is true”. In other words, we are defending a system of thought, not conducting an investigation of our own minds. If we were very interested in finding out what we believed, we can look at our actions. This will give us some idea of what we ourselves believe, since a tree is known by its fruit.

      • Ryan

        Does the “hope that is within you” that you are to defend contain no reference to yourself?

        • Good question Ryan. We wish to defend the “hope that is in us”. We do not wish to defend the fact that the hope is actually within us.

          • Ryan

            What do you think is the content of the hope within us?

          • Biblical propositions are the content I think.

          • Ryan

            Does that include, say “the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”?

          • Yes. Every word of Scripture.

          • Ryan

            Given that the content of this hope is self-referential, in defending the hope that is within us, are we also not simultaneously defending that the hope is within us?

          • I don’t see how. A defense for the proposition “God created the heavens and the earth” looks entirely different than a defense for the proposition “I believe God created the heavens and the earth.” As I see it, Christian apologetics defends the former. The latter is something more like assurance of personal belief, not Christian apologetics.

          • Ryan

            Okay, but that’s not the proposition in question. The proposition in question is “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought *to you* at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” If you’re called to defend that proposition and others like it – e.g. the Johannine passages which speak of our knowing that we know various things – we’re called to defend a hope which is self-referential. Why would assurance of personal belief not be a matter of Christian apologetics?

          • Well wait a minute…the proposition you are calling on me to defend is not a proposition. It is a command. I’m not trying to be petty, but you’ve asked me to perform a pseudo-task.

            You asked why would defending our personal assurance of salvation not be considered apologetics. Well, I consider apologetics to be defending the truth of the Christian system, not defending the idea that I, personally, know that I believe the Christian system. If you want to include these types of propositions along with biblical propositions in your definition of Christian apologetics, you may, but that isn’t an argument against my view, it is a statement of your view.

          • Ryan

            Okay. How about, “You should set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”? If that is a biblical proposition – we should do what God commands; God commands we defend our hope which is self-referential; therefore, we should do that – then we should defend that, and the point still goes through.

            I don’t want to argue about semantics, if that’s the issue. I just want to know whether you think we can and should defend personal assurance, i.e. that the hope is within us.

          • Yea, I actually appreciate the semantics and I especially enjoy dialogue with people like you because you realize the importance of them. Should we defend the idea that “you should do C” where C is one of God’s commands. In a sense, yes. When God gives a command to men, the ideas we should defended might be something like “man should obey God”, “God said C”. Then we will infer that Ryan Hedrich should obey C. Of course, we haven’t tried to defend the idea that Ryan Hedrich is a man. We just take it for granted. If it is true, then the conclusion that Ryan should obey C is true also.

            I don’t think that we are called to defend personal assurance. We are called to make sure we are believers, but I don’w think we are explicitly called to make a defense of it to others. I think we are called to pursue personal assurance, but that is different than apologetics.

          • Ryan

            I would defer from the use of personal names like “Ryan,” as a simple, reflexively indicative “I” suffices. Knowing “I am regenerate” needn’t require knowledge that “Ryan is regenerate.” I can think I’m Ryan and make that inference, but it isn’t necessary for the purposes of this discussion.

            Given what the Bible says about self-knowledge regarding one’s own salvation – e.g. 1 John 3:24 “…by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” – then personal assurance is, for believers, a “biblical proposition” which they therefore should defend, right? Of course, this is not to say everyone will recognize it as a biblical proposition and be so assured or that they need personal assurance to be saved, but that would be beside the point.