Prove It!

John Frame's Systematic Theology
Chapter 31 - Justifying Claims to Knowledge

Knowledge is a belief that conforms to fact, based on good reasons.  Though the certainty of good reasons has eroded recently, it still stands, "anchored in divine revelation" (732).  The point of Scripture is to provide us with reasons to believe God and His Son Jesus.

We justify our beliefs by appealing to standards (normative point of triangle), facts (situational point), or persuasion (existential point).  This is similar to rationalism, empiricism and subjectivism.  But anchored in Christian revelation these converge instead of contradict each other.

Normative justification of belief
We appeal to laws of logic, but for the Christian our ultimate appeal is to Scripture.  We also justify this bias using Scripture itself, for "it would be contradictory to try to justify an ultimate by appealing to something supposedly higher" (734).  If this is circular, everyone has this problem, since those who appeal to other ultimate standards like reason need to justify reason by reason itself.

For an argument to justify belief, it must be valid, sound and persuasive.
Valid means laws of logic aren't broken (normative perspective).
Sound means the premises are true (situational perspective).
Persuasive means people will consent to the conclusion (subjective perspective).
Notice, we can't isolate one perspective from others.  To talk about a belief being justified by standards of human thought (normative), at some point we bring in facts and persuasion, the other perspectives, too.  Especially when we get stuck at contradictory assumptions, we don't just keep appealing to the standard (something I've seen too many brash Van Til apologists try), but broaden the argument to include evidences and appeal to the Gospel generally.

Situational justification of belief
If our belief accords with the facts, it is true.  These are evidences.  Such facts are not independent of God, rather He controls them.  So we shouldn't claim a neutral position as we list evidences, but have to assume the truth of Scripture during an appeal to such facts.  That said, it is legitimate and needed to use them.

Existential justification of belief
Are we persuaded that our belief is true?  All knowledge has this subjective side, since there is always a knower.  Persuasion brings cognitive rest, a satisfaction knowing the argument and facts are sound and true.  The Holy Spirit does this within us, especially when He regenerates us and we accept the Gospel as true.  Also in our maturity - we often prove what is true as the Spirit helps us live holy lives (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 5:8-10; Philippians 1:9-10).  Many times theological disputes go awry partly because of spiritual immaturity.  This work of the Spirit is not a new revelation, but confirms revelation already given.  We learn to see the truth of the Word as applied to us, instead of rationalizing sin away or distorting facts for our own interests.  This maturity has a social aspect.  As the Church we are growing up into Christ (Eph. 4:13-16).  This is neither "groupthink" nor independent thought, but thinking and working together as a team, suffering and rejoicing together.

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