EDUCATION 04 – Epistemology approaches: How do I know truth?

RATIONALISM - if it makes sense > must be true
  • Basis for truth:         The Mind, Reason, Logic
  • Exponents:               Scientists

What is true about rationalism?

  • God has given us a mind, a desire & capability to understand … why else would he explain his counsel throughout the Bible to half-willing people? We can know. We can understand. We can reason.
  • Isa 1:18              ‘Come now, let us argue it out’
  • Isa 45:18-19     ‘For thus says the LORD … who formed the earth … he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!; I am the LORD … I did not say … “Seek me in chaos.” I the LORD speak truth, I declare what is right.’

What is the problem with rationalism?

  • The human mind is fallible and limited. Even with good intentions we may well err. But we don’t have good intentions. We don’t start the search with ‘neutral’. The mind justifies what the heart has chosen.
  • Rom 1:19-23       ‘though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their sense-less minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal. ‘
  • Jhn 3:19-20        ‘And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hat the light and don not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.’
  • Prv 28:26            ‘Those who trust in their own wits are fools; but those who walk in wisdom come through safely.’

EMPIRICISM - If it feels good > it must be true

  • Basis for truth:            The senses
  • Exponents:                  Madonna, West

What is true about empiricism?

  • God has given us feelings, emotions and desires.
  • Our desires often indeed are ‘of God’, which still means they need to be met in his time and in his way. God guides us by heart’s desires.
  • Psa 37:4        ‘Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.’ Emotions are real messages, true feed back, they often show us, what our mind is not willing to think. It is good to be in touch with our feelings.

What is the problem with empiricism?

  • But feelings are just that: feelings, indicators. They tell us something but are not in themselves guidance and should not always be heeded. They are highly influenced by situation, can fluctuate rapidly and are therefore are stable basis for decision.
  • Often truer and stronger feelings only surface when we do not allow lower ones to rule us. Example: adultery. Consider feelings, but do not let them rule.
  • Jer 17:9       ‘The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse, who can understand it?’

CRITICISM - whatever conscience says > must be true

  • Basis for truth:               the Conscience
  • Exponents:                     the conscientious objector

What is true about criticism?

  • Conscience is God-given, crucial in our hearing from God. If in- lived by the Holy Spirit, if fed on truth or Scripture, it is a sure guidance giver. The more I listen to conscience the more I will hear its voice.
  • Acts 24:16           ‘Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience towards God and all people

What is the problem with criticism?

  • Conscience is not absolute, it does depend on what it is fed by the family, church, society, culture. Example: picking up trash, environmentalism, alcohol.
  • Conscience can be seared, by ignoring it and acting against conscience continually, leading to cold-bloodedness, carelessness.
  • Conscience can (more dangerously) be mis-fed and seriously misguided. Example: Extremism in any religion. Example: High priest Caiaphas thinking he is doing God a favor by crucifying Jesus.
  • Prv 14:12              ‘There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is… death.’


  • Basis for truth:              Revelation, Mystical Experience
  • Exponents:                    Buddha, Sadhus, Joseph Smith, McLaine

What is true about mysticism?

  • If God is real, he must be experience-able in this life. His hand should be visible in our practical lives. It is therefore okay to want to experience God and his hand hear and now. God does do miracles, he does give dreams, visions, signs or visitations. He has done all that in history, he is well able to do it still, and occasionally does do exactly that.
  • Act 26:19           ‘Paul: I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.’

What is the problem with mysticism?

  • God is true and real whether or not I experience him right now. God is an objective reality, Jesus is a historic reality, whatever I might feel right now. Current experience is highly influenced by situation and can fluctuate rapidly and therefore does not provide a stable basis for my understanding of reality.
  • Example: What if God had heard all the prayers you at one time fervently prayed? We often are desiring wrong things, for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way.
  • Example: Those who have ‘special experiences’ (even those truly of God), tend to tell everybody they must have the same experience. They turn into gurus. Knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Good people and good churches have derailed like that. Antidote: humility and interconnectedness.
  • Col 2:18-19       ‘Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head…’

PRAGMATISM - if it works > it must be true

  • Basis for truth:                  Experience / Immediate effect
  • Exponents:                         Business, NGOs, some preaching

What is true about pragmatism?

  • If God tells the truth, this truth will show itself working out in reality. Truth works. Truth proves itself practically. Truth is effective in normal, daily life. It is reasonable to ask: Does it work? Does it bear fruit? But time is an important factor, fruit takes time to appear.
  • Luk 6:43        ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, not again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit.’

What is the problem with pragmatism?

  • Just because something works or seems to work does not mean it is necessarily good or true or God’s way of doing it.
  • Some things may be ‘effective’ but still undermine the very thing one wants to achieve. Examples: Beating in child raising. Directive leadership in church or organizations. RAB. Modern medicine – should all that can be done be done? Should all that may be effective be done?
  • Isa 43:19       ‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.’

TRADITIONALISM - if it's always been believed > it must be true

  • Basis for truth:                  Tradition
  • Exponents:                        Pharisees, many churches

What is true about traditionalism?

  • In average, the community of Christians over the world and over time has not been ‘all wrong’, to assume that may well be pride.
  • There is humility and safety in not automatically assuming that ‘I must be right and everybody must be wrong’. There is wisdom in multiple counsel. We are not independent individuals as believers. God puts us in families, communities, societies. He wants us interdependent with other believers.
  • God will not reveal everything to one person. He has revealed himself to past generations, we need to learn from that. We need the wisdom God gave to different individuals, denominations and organizations over the centuries.
  • Jer 6:16          ‘Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’

What is the problem with traditionalism?

  • The ancestors just may be wrong. The way it’s always been done just may not be the best of even the right way. Just because some social evil is happening since centuries doesn’t mean it is right, nor does it have to stay.
  • Traditionalism is the great enemy of vision, change, of development, of improving.
  • Example: Mothers-in-law making daughters-in-law go into high risk deliveries without medical care, saying ‘Nobody took me to the doctor either!’ That may be true, but it shouldn’t be perpetuated.
  • Example: Slavery not considered a problem till 1800s. Today: Women’s rights.
  • Mrk 7:9          ‘Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!”’

AUTHORITARIANISM - if the leader/expert says so > it must be true

  • Basis for truth:                 Authority (spiritual, political, educational)
  • Exponents:                       Many churches, all cults, totalitarian regimes

What is true about authoritarianism?

  • God has put leadership in place. There is great blessing in learning from, submitting to and obeying leadership, even if it is far from perfect. Humility and willingness to co-operate is crucial.
  • To never really accept anybody’s counsel when is touches certain areas of our lives, is dangerous. There is wisdom in leadership structures and accountability. Often there are many ways to do something, and a leader may decide another way than you had preferred.
  • Heb 13:17         ‘Remember your leaders … consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith..’
  • 1 Pet 2:13         ‘For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution.’
  • 1 Pet 5:5           ‘you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders.’

What is the problem with authoritarianism?

  • Leader or teachers just may be wrong, dreadfully wrong. Dominant behavior may not be intentional, or not even understood as such. Teachers may not be intentionally deceptive, rather just have only partial understanding.
  • One can learn a lot even from bad leadership and wrong teaching if one’s attitude is right. But be careful to evaluate ‘test everything, hold on to what is good’ (1 The 5:21)
  • You are responsible first to God, only then to human authorities. The Holy Spirit in you and you responding to Him is the higher authority than any leader or teacher. If things are getting hurtful or immoral, you must find ways to address it or leave.
  • Examples: Most cults. Movie “The Wave”. Example: Inflicting Pain Test.
  • Acts 4:19-20     ‘But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard”.’

BIBLICAL CHRISTIAN - if God says so > it must be true

  • Basis for truth:              Bible (and science, conscience in accordance)
  • Exponents:                     Some Christians

What is the problem?

  • I need to first come to the understanding of the inspiration and cruciality of God’s word. How?
  • Primarily by being willing and humble (Jhn 8:31-32), by revelation from God, by the leading of the Spirit, by responding to conscience, by being convinced by the evidence, by experiencing God’s hand in my life (all the above in accordance)

Why do we need biblical thinking?

  • God is reality, God is truth. He communicates truth. He means us to understand. He gave us his Word, which is inspired, absolute truth and the standard by which all other things must be judged. It judges me, I don’t judge it.
  • Example: Higher German criticism. Evolution.
  • Jhn 8:31-32      ‘Then Jesus said … “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’
  • 2 Tim 3:16         ‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for training …’