ALL TRUTH IS GOD’S TRUTH, by Arthur F. Holmes; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977; 145 pp., $3.95 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)
This book is really a kind of introduction to a Christian course in logic and epistemology. The main thesis of the book is that truth is always God’s truth no matter where it is found. In demonstration of this thesis the author examines the whole question of knowing, the relation between knowing and faith, the basic principles of all knowledge, the validity of inductive and deductive reasoning, and many related subjects. His whole thesis is firmly rooted in the contention that there is, in God, an objective standard for all truth, and his last chapter is a strong statement on the relevance for truth in all areas of life—especially in the fields of education and the arts. For all these reasons, the book is well worth reading, and, in fact, ought to be must-reading for logic and philosophy students.
There are, however, points at which we disagree with the author; and these disagreements are by no means peripheral. They really go to the heart of a Christian theory of knowledge. There are especially three areas of disagreement which ought to be mentioned and briefly discussed.
The first point of disagreement lies in the author’s firm commitment to common grace. He makes the matter of common grace a central thesis of his theory of knowing. And this has serious consequences for his entire view. Common grace teaches that the unregenerated man is still capable of much good. As applied to the theory of knowing, the result is that both from a formal and from a material point of view, man’s ability to know is not seriously impaired by sin.
From this follow several conclusions which Holmes develops. In the first place, the cultural mandate is still in force not only, but even fallen man is capable of fulfilling that mandate in some measure. In the second place, there is a great deal of truth to be found in almost every place. Such truth can be found in pagan philosophy and worldly culture: “we find fragments and degrees of truth in all sorts of surprising places” (p. 51); and thus it is not necessary to be regenerated in order to develop the truth. There is a problem here, of course, and we shall return to it in a moment. In the third place, the theory of common grace makes it possible to teach that man, even after the fall, retained some elements of the image of God. And the result of this is, according to Holmes, that some error is not necessarily due to sin but only to human limitation; that it is this retention of some of the image which is responsible for man’s ability to produce good; and Holmes seems to say that even knowledgeable refusal of the truth is not necessarily a matter of the will: “His difficulty has more to do with his limited access to evidence and arguments than with moral turpitude or willful rebellion against God.” (p. 52).
There is a point here which Holmes does not take into account. And this brings me to the second point of criticism of his book. It is a generally recognized fact that man is able to know anything only as it stands in relation to other things. And the more one understands the relationship in which one given thing stands to other things, the more one understands the thing itself. Take, e.g., a leaf of a tree. One cannot know that leaf isolated from all other creatures in the creation. Any knowledge which he could conceivably acquire of that leaf would have no meaning at all. He knows that leaf only in its relationship to all other things. If, e.g., he knows the constituent parts of that leaf and the chemical processes whereby that leaf manufactures sugar, he has gained some knowledge of that leaf. If, further, he knows the relationship in which that leaf stands to the branch on which it hangs and the tree as a whole of which it is a part, he has come to know that leaf better yet. If he then examines the relationship in which that leaf, say of an oak tree, stands in relationships to the leaves of maple trees, cherry trees, pine trees, etc., he has again added to his knowledge of that leaf. But even then he can increase his knowledge by investigating the relationship between that leaf and other plants in the kingdom of plants, the relation between that leaf as a part of the tree and the inorganic soil, the relation between that leaf and the animal kingdom and man himself. And even here, he can learn to know that leaf better if, e.g., he examines all the uses to which that leaf can be put: as shade from the sun, as compost when it falls to the ground, etc. And so we could go on.
But all these relationships are merely formal relationships. They are important for knowing that leaf; but they are nevertheless formal relationships which any person can discover whether he be regenerated or unregenerated. Ungodly men can know all these things and write very learned books about them which can be used for textbooks in a school.
But there is one other relationship in which that leaf stands which is the most important of all. In fact, it is really true that no full and true knowledge of that leaf is possible without understanding the relationship in which that leaf stands to God. For the lack of a better name, we can call this the material relationship in distinction from the formal. But this is fundamental. Nothing can be truly understood apart from this most basic relation of all. And this is the most basic relation because that leaf is, in a most basic sense, a Word of God which stands in relationship to all other creatures as other Words of God and to God Himself Who spoke that Word and formed that leaf.
Now it is here that the central problem arises. For this relation is exactly the one denied by unregenerate man. Do not be mistaken about this. Even unregenerate man cannot ignore this material relationship of the leaf. But because he hates God, he will not admit that that leaf stands in relation to God. And so he invents other gods who are his own inventions. And he attempts to explain that leaf in its most basic relationship by imaginations of his own sinful heart. Perhaps he makes evolutionary processes his god to explain this relation. Whatever the case may be, it is precisely here that the spiritual question enters in. Sinful man not only does not admit the relationship between that leaf and God, but he cannot do this, for he is depraved and opposed to God with the whole of his nature.
Now the result of this is that he really cannot know anything at all in any true sense of the word. His refusal to confess God in relation to that leaf so vitiates his whole knowledge of that leaf that he has only a certain formal knowledge of it which is not really of any significance. And it is not of any significance because he uses all his formal knowledge which he acquires to sin against God and to build a kingdom from which he can, in his judgment, banish God. Thus, at bottom, his knowledge is, after all, the lie.
We must make a further distinction here which is of some importance. The question is asked (if I may be permitted to get at the matter in this rather left-handed way) in connection with Christian instruction in a Christian School: how is it possible to teach, e.g., mathematics from a distinctively Christian point of view? Teachers readily see that history, the natural sciences, the social sciences, etc., can be taught from a distinctive Christian perspective. But they have difficulty with a subject like mathematics—or logic. Well, this is understandable, for mathematics is not like other subjects. Mathematics is not, in itself, a subject which has to do, as such, with God’s creation. It is what may perhaps be called, a helper subject. It is a subject which .deals not with specific things in God’s creation, but with the relationships between these things. There is no value or purpose in mathematics itself, taken by itself. (Other than perhaps its being some kind of mental discipline.) Its purpose and value is in helping to understand one aspect of the relationships in which various parts of the creation exist. So mathematics belongs to the formal aspect of knowledge—to formal relationships.
Now because all these things are part of the formal relationships which exist among creatures, the ungodly are able to discover them. And from aformal point of view they are correct. And because they are correct, the child of God is able to make use of them also even though they have been discovered by unbelieving men.
But two things must be remembered. The one is that this discovery of formal relationships between things does not require regeneration—or common grace. One does not have to be curbed in his sin in anyway to discover these facts. The simple fact that, even after the fall, man remains man is sufficient to enable him to know all these formal relationships. The second point to remember is that, because sinful man will always introduce the wrongmaterial relationship (because he is a rebel of God) the Christian will have to be very careful, when he takes the formal facts as his own, both to sift out all the wickedness which the unbeliever has integrated with these facts, and to put these facts into the true perspective of Scripture. And this requires no little skill of a spiritual kind. We may find an illustration of this in the field of geology. When a believer reads a book on geology which is written by an unbeliever he will find that, because the unbeliever is a man addicted to evolution, this evolutionism has distorted oftentimes what ordinarily would be only fact. The fact is, e.g., that there is no place in the whole world where one finds the so-called geological column of which evolutionists make so much and which they palm off as proved fact.
But whatever the case may be, just as soon as you have made this distinction—and this brings me to the third point—you have introduced a moral and spiritual dimension into the discussion. And then you have to talk about faith.
Although Holmes talks about the relation between faith and knowing, his discussion is altogether inadequate. He admits that faith has an intellectual aspect, but then almost makes faith synonymous with historical faith. And for the rest, he speaks only of faith as trust. (p. 71ff.) But this will not do.
Faith is, above all, the living bond of fellowship and friendship between the elect and Christ. It is by faith that the life of Christ is imparted to God’s people. But this very life of Christ is also the destruction of sin’s power and the spiritual power of a new life by which one lives in relation to God. It is, therefore, the power whereby all man’s opposition to God is destroyed and man is made spiritually able to confess God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. Thus it is only by faith that one receives the material relationship in which all things stand to God. And all this is revealed only in God’s infallibly inspired Word.
But when one has this faith, then one has also that true knowledge which gives meaning and content to all other merely formal knowledge. It is after all according to Scripture, by faith that we understand(not merely believe in the sense of trust) that the worlds were framed by the Word of God so that things which are seen were not made from things which do appear.
This faith needs not empirical or rational proof in the accepted meaning of those terms. This faith is the power to put us in fellowship with God through Christ. And this faith needs no more proof for the existence of God than I need to prove the existence of my wife when she is sitting at my side and I have my arm around her. The fact that we are talking together is proof of her existence which transcends any other proof. The fact of our love, daily experienced, is proof which nothing can alter. So is faith. It is itself proof of God as that faith receives the Holy Scriptures as God’s Word and brings us into God’s fellowship.
But this is the possession of the child of God alone. Also in this area, the antithesis is complete and total. Also in the area of knowledge there is no common ground between believer and unbeliever. Also here Christ can have no concord with Belial, nor light with darkness. If a true Christian theory of knowledge is to be developed, these are the truths which have to be maintained.