Monday, January 14, 2013

Response to Paul Moser's Symposium


As of yet, I have not read Paul Moser’s The Elusive God or The Severity of God. But, the Symposiumon Paul Moser’s Religious Epistemology in Philosophia Christi Vol. 14 got my gears going.

There were a lot of things that Moser said which were intriguing and thought-provoking. While, at the same time, many things seemed either off or horribly wrong. Having not read his previous works, I may have not completely understood a few of his ideas. But, here I hope to clear up his thoughts along with adding a few of my own. Perhaps, I shall even disprove his claim that “One cannot get from here [the merely natural premises of the traditional empirical arguments (of natural theology)] to God’s perfect personal moral character and hence cannot get to a God worthy of worship.”[1] And, also free him from worshiping the idols of mysticism, pride, and the self.

Nothing New Under the Sun

There seems to be a lot of excitement for Moser's aspect of religious epistemology. It is seen as “creative, thoughtful, and very significant,” a change “in the epistemology of religious belief” itself. [2][3] Moser demands a casting-out of the use of natural theology in favor of what he calls “personified evidence of God.”[4] But, in truth, this idea is not new.

During various Protestant revivals and doctrinal evolutions, there has become a higher level of stress on the feeling of faith, direct and personal revelational interaction with God, and metamorphology. These are some of the things which belong in Moser’s list of “misguided expectations for God.”[5] Here, “one easily lapses into despair, anger, or indifference” towards theology if one does not find what one expects especially when there is a lack of sensationalism (mysticism).[6]

Sadly, due to the dependence on this emotional and personal theology various theologians have succumbed to a deep and disturbing depression in their lives during the maturity of their faith. This depression, ironically, is heavily due to the fact that they never felt what they believed. For instance, C.F.W. Walther was able to overcome his depression, but not his “feelings” and direct inspirational barrier.[7] Yet, it is evident that he believed. His faith was strong enough for him to willingly become the first president of a denomination that has lasted long past his time. He has written many great and inspirational sermons which prove that he had both a deep faith and understanding in and of God although he lacked the emotional understanding and the individualistic faith testimony which Moser appraises. Walther was able to give his life to God, to worship God, to believe in God, and to serve God with a rational rather than emotional response. He was able to undergo what Moser calls “Gethsemane”[8] without a directly spiritual revelation.

Moser’s idea, Gethsemane, which “begins with a humanly experienced conflict between a human want and a divine want, but ends with a resolution: a human plea to God in favor of God’s will” and “puts God’s perfect will first” then is not only an emotional or moral submission of volition, but may be seen as a rationally and perhaps empirical submission of volition to a greater will.[9][10] Although one may never sensationally be aware of the Spirit within them, He is there. And, by faith, our response is Gethsemane. But, then who’s will are we submitting to and how do we know? This is the true question of religious epistemology.

An Iconoclastic Relationship

It is evident, especially in religious epistemology, that God is still the great Iconoclast. Our own “expectations” of who God must be are equal to the same images of God that He has been known to shatter by sharing with us who He really is.

“Images, I must suppose, have their use or they would not have been so popular. (It makes little difference whether they are pictures or statues outside the mind or imaginative constructions within it.) To me, however, their danger is more obvious. Images of the Holy easily become holy images – sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? The incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not.”[11]

By using metamorphology, feelings faith, and requiring a direct divine intervention, we continue to create images of God that may be unreliable. These images often leave us confused and wanting. So, we must have an understanding of God that is not of our own rationalization and anthropomorphism, but of His own self-revelation to us which is coherent with Moser’s main idea.

What remains incoherent is the means Moser uses to share God’s self-revelation. He calls these the “personified evidence of God,” which in itself sounds very similar to rationalizing and anthropomorphizing a divinity or an attempt to create a personification for the evidence that we see. [12] But, in reality, Moser uses this term to describe the reaction of Christian transformation to the action of God’s presence in self-revelation.[13] His religious epistemology leans heavily on the individual’s response, specifically in morality, as the sole source of how it is possible to know anything about God.

It may be due to my dependence on conservative theology or personal agreeance to Martin Luther’s almost nihilistic stance on the human race as it stands without God, but when I read that, alarms started going off screaming, “He says, we’re doing too much!!” Humanity is a frail and tainted thing. We would have forgotten all about God by now if knowing Him depended on our own personal witness.

Without God, we are nothing. We are meaningless, purposeless, logosless.[14] But, with Him we have meaning, purpose, logos. It is only by being used as the masks or instruments of His Spirit that we can in any way spread the Gospel (volitionally or not).

Moser is right in saying that there is a Gethsemane experience when someone’s faith matures. They realize what it means to belong to God. But, this single experience, be it emotional, sensational, rational, or empirical is not enough. We must daily die to sin because of its active nature. The old Adam consistently resurfaces within us. Therefore, we must be absolved, forgiven, and made clean repeatedly in our lives. It would not be enough to give our moral will over to God just once, but we must constantly repent and be forgiven because we are “affected by our pride and refusal to [consistently] submit to God’s authority.”[15]

Let alone the need for remission of sins, imagine the horror if this Gethsemane experience were to be the only time we are to find ourselves in the true presence of the Lord. If His presence is only determined by obvious sensations then it would render knowing Him through Baptism, Communion, and the Word void. We would never again have the chance to approach our Lord even through the act of prayer.

It may be true that “the knowledge of God and that of ourselves are connected.”[16] But, I believe that this truth has been too often flipped around. It is not as though we are to anthropomorphize a god by making our personal attributes and evidence greater. We can only understand Him through what He has revealed to us. He is too great to understand Him any other way.

Moser’s argument focuses too much on our reaction (pride) than on God’s action. We are the ones who have been made in His image after all. We have been theomorphized long before God anthropomorphized himself in Christ’s incarnation. Descartes may be right in believing that the only thing or being that we could ever know more than we know ourselves is God.

Who is this God Person Anyway?

When we attempt to establish how God reveals Himself to us, we often see ourselves as rather limited. We can only bear witness to God’s effects. Whether it’s natural theology (rational and empirical evidence) or the personal Christian reaction to God’s direct influence (“personified evidence of God,” an emotional, spiritual, and moral transformation) we only can see what God has done (and continues to do) for us. Simultaneously, we are rather spoiled. These effects are all around us. Heaven and earth praise His name.

Within Christian fields of thought, we can recognize that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of understanding.”[17] It is only by knowing and recognizing God first along with his Word that we are able to really understand or know anything else (especially about Him). Yet, religious epistemology and Christian apologetics lovingly attempt to prove a belief in a god, specifically the Christian God, through understanding. The original biblical idea has been turned on its head to reach those in the world with no faith.

It is a blessing to us that God also continues to reveal himself through rational and empirical means. Although there may never be a perfectly solid and inerrant case for Christ, God definitely allows surmountable evidence through both personal interaction and his other book (nature) for us to be led to Gethsemane. Both natural theology and Moser’s “personified evidence” may be used to reach the world in this way. Still, as Alvin Plantinga reminds us, we must continue to be first a Christian and then a philosopher as we develop our arguments and explanations (not the other way around).[18] Scripture must not be thrown out the window.

God’s Will is Greater Than Moser’s Will

The philosophy of Moser’s that I found the most disturbing was his idea of a god “worthy of worship.”[19] In an attempt to reach the nonbeliever on their own grounds, Moser has created a god of circular argument as Nestland implies.[20] He says God must be this, or he must be this, or he must be this. If we had a god, he would have to meet these requirements in order to become worthy of our worship. After all, aren’t we the final judge? We are the ones who deem God worthy of existing or not. It is right to put Him in the dock (the idol of the self).

WAIT!!!! Moser has taken this Proverbs 9:10-reverse TOO FAR!!!! Who are we to do such a thing? This is the anthropomorphic fallacy that I just warned you about. Although it might be useful to use philosophy and reason to lead other to God, I do not see any use in helping to lead others to a god who may or may not exist depending on the prerequisite attributes.

Our God is “not to be confused with Satan” or any other being besides who He has revealed Himself to be.[21] And, an argument that bases its evidence on who “god must be” without addressing “whom God has revealed himself to be,” starts in the wrong place. Then, it would be easy to worship Satan. It’s just a trap to lead us into one of his BROKEN lies.

The truth is that God acknowledges that he may be found both in Natural Theology and within his influence on our daily and Gethsemanical lives. (But, we may, here, also acknowledge that His clearest revelation is still through Scripture.)

El Fin.

I could go on and on about what I think of Moser’s philosophies.

I could back up each of my previous statements with a verse or two explaining how God has revealed himself.

But, time is short and brevity is a virtue. I’ve addressed my biggest qualms with the Symposium on Paul Moser’s Religious Epistimology. And, I will not take any more of your time here.

God’s peace,

If you are still interested in Moser, His online article on Christ-Shaped philosophy is actually A LOT better than I'd give him credit for after reading his Symposium.

[1] Paul K. Moser, “Natural Theology and the Evidence for God: Reply to Harold Netland, Charles Taliaferro, and Kate Waidler,” Philosophia Christi 14 (2012): 310.
[2] Harold Netland, “If ‘Personifying Evidence’ Is the Answer, What Is the Question?” Philosophia Christi 14 (2012): 291.
[3] Charles Taliaferro, “The Evidence for Paul Moser,” Philosophia Christi 14 (2012): 285.
[4] Paul K. Moser, “Gethsemane Epistemology: Volitional and Evidential,” Philosophia Christi: 267.
[5] Ibid., 263.
[6] Ibid., 263.
[7] Mother Teresa is another great example of a well-known and respected person of the faith who has never had a “faith testimony.”
[8] Ibid., 266.
[9] Ibid., 267.
[10] Netland also gives a decent summary of “Gethsemane” on page 292.
[11] C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.
[12] Paul K. Moser, “Gethsemane Epistemology: Volitional and Evidential,” Philosophia Christi: 267.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Logos is most-often translated as the “Word” in John 1. Heraclitus also had an interesting view of the term Logos. Although, he may not have related it to any sort of divinity, his logos idea pertained to the only thing that we know of that never changes its being. Yet, it is still constantly active. Sound familiar?
[15] Netland, 293.
[16] John Calvin as quoted in Brad Seeman’s “Guest Editor’s Introduction,” Philosophia Christi: 261.
[17] Prov. 9:10.
[18] Alvin Plantinga’s “Advice to Christian Philosophers.”
[19] Moser, “Gethsemane Epistemology: Volitional and Evidential,” 264. A better summary of a God worthy of worship can be found in Netland’s “If ‘Personifying Evidence’ Is the Answer, What Is the Question?” 300.
[20] Nestland, 301.
[21] Moser, “Gethsemane Epistemology: Volitional and Evidential,” 265.

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