Why Study Alvin Plantinga and Reformed Epistemology?

Reformed Epistemology (RE) is not exactly like the Scripturalist epistemology in that Scripturalism takes known propositions to be those propositions which are revealed by the Holy Spirit to the believer’s mind, and those propositions which are validly deduced from them.  Moreover, for the Scripturalist, these propositions are believed as an act of the will.  In RE, as a part of the image of God, man is made so as to involuntarily form warranted beliefs about God from all sorts of sources.  These sources may include experience, logical argumentation, illumination of the Holy Spirit, etc.  So there are many similarities and many differences between the two, and it is extremely useful for both the believing philosopher and the unbelieving philosopher to gain a basic understanding of RE.


Some of us have wondered what the top secular philosophers in the world would say about Scripturalism.  We’ll probably never know for sure.  However, for good reason, RE has received more respect in secular philosophical circles than any other Christian system in the modern philosophical paradigm.  Because of this, we Scripturalists have an opportunity to hear what brilliant secular philosophers such as Michael Tooley, Ernest Sosa, and Richard Gale say in response.  Because of the many similarities between Scripturalism and RE, it is especially worthwhile to understand it and read the arguments against it.


If you are a new fan of Scripturalism and are excited about the extreme knowledge/opinion divide, you might also be severely put off by the vagueness in RE with respect to “justification” and “warrant.”  For Alvin Plantinga, there can be degrees of warrant.  So, I think, a belief produced as a result of illumination of the Holy Spirit probably would have a high degree of warrant whereas a belief produced when it is dark outside that there is a panther lurking nearby would have a low degree of warrant.  Anyway, the important thing to realize is that Plantinga does not use the terms “know,” “justify,” and “warrant” in the same sense as the terms are normally used in Scripturalist writings.  Once this is understood, it should be easy to understand Plantinga’s use of the terms because he defines them relatively clearly.


One more reason that RE is useful.  If you see the merits of Scripturalism but just can’t bring yourself to accept the determinism, the Calvinism, the inerrancy of Scripture, or some other doctrine that we Scripturalists accept, you might give RE a try before jumping ship to something like the partial empiricism and evidentialism of William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne.  As a Scripturalist, you might feel like an extremist and an outsider.  You don’t have to feel that way if you are an REist.  You might be saying to yourself “is he serious?”  Well, best case, you really ought to diligently work through these issues and find the answers to your objections to these particular doctrines.  Believe me, they are there.  You also should put some time into figuring out how to explain your views in a way that seems plausible to people.  Scripturalists and Calvinists in general are notoriously bad at this.  But, honestly, some people just aren’t going to take the time to work through the objections and find answers.  They are Scripturalists because they have Scripturalist friends and they just aren’t going to go slogging through the writings of Gordon Clark to find the answers. I mean, how many times have we heard somebody say that they used to be a presuppositionalist or a Scripturalist but for some reason (a reason that most of us think a lot lamer than it should be) they have radically shifted to some other view?  We hear it all the time in the facebook groups and on the blogs.  Anyway, RE accommodates more doctrinal differences than Scripturalism and it is a much more moderate philosphy.  If you just can’t follow Clark’s arguments for determinism or his deconstruction of sensation, try RE.  Try RE, then come back.


So, should you start learning about RE immediately?  Well, I don’t claim to know what’s best for you.  In my opinion, if you have a good philosophical grounding, you ought to check it out.  If you’ve read Religion, Reason, and Revelation, A Christian View of Men and Things, The Trinity, and Lord God of Truth and, in addition, if you need a little break from Clark, why don’t you go ahead and read Knowledge and Christian Belief and let me know how you think it compares to Scripturalism?  I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, and it would be great to have some dialogue.  If you haven’t read those works I previously mentioned, take courage my friend.  If you power through them, you’ll never be the same, and I mean that in the best possible way.  If you get bored, maybe try and mix something a little lighter in between your reading.  Something like Ronald Nash’s lectures on the History of Philosophy or like the debate between Clark and David Hoover.  Anyway, that’s my opinion.  Just a little brain dump for you.


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