This chapter is an overview and critique of the various philosophical positions asserted as to how human beings know. Henry arranges the schools as Intuition, Experience & Reason. Henry particularly concerns himself with the way in which a human can know, or claim to know (or why one cannot know) God.
Intuition, Part One
Henry divides the various schools of “intuition” into four. The first is the non-rational immediate experience of the impersonal divine. The claim:
That religious reality is known not by sense observation or by philosophical reasoning but by intuition or immediate apprehension has been asserted by various thinkers who insist that God is to be found in one’s own inner experience as an instant awareness of the religious Ultimate
Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 70.
The mystic intuition claims that God cannot be understood in any manner which applies in “daily life”. God even “transcends distinctions of truth and falsehood, and is beyond good and evil” (Id. at 71). Therefore, the mystic’s experience cannot be verified in any way applies to other knowledge.
This leads to the obvious objection: If we cannot judge the mystic’s “experience” of God, can we may any evaluation of the claim at all? Indeed, how can we judge anything: “What criterion of truth and error remains if God is beyond truth?” (Ibid.)
Moreover, how can we make any determination as to the mystic’s claim to knowledge. If the experience cannot be related in any manner at all, what can any other do with the claim? The mystic’s paradoxical language about God is not subject to any sort of evaluation by any other person.
The mystic’s experiences may be of psychological interest, but they cannot afford a basis for another person to enter into that knowledge.
This intutionist knowledge is the basis of Protestant Liberalism, as founded by Schleiermacher:
Friedrich Schleiermacher—contended that contact with ultimate reality is to be made not intellectually or conceptually but intuitionally, mystically, immediately. The Absolute is to be felt, not conceived. As a result, these men wrote not of God as the Religious Object, but of their own religious sentiments. Schleiermacher, founder of Protestant liberalism, in effect substituted the psychology of religious experience for theology, or the science of God.
Id at p. 72.
Making the subject of God the question of religious sentiment is “implicitly pantheistic” (Id. at p 73). There is no distinguishable person there, just my inarticulate apprehension of some-thing (not some-one).
Pantheism is inherently without moral categories, because there is only what is & my psychological reaction to it. There is no good or evil in such a world.
This, of course, is completely the opposite of the Biblical assertion that God has made himself know rationally, understandably. God is other, but God has also mediated knowledge of himself through the Logos, the Son has made the Father known.
While there is occasionally talk of “Christian mysticism”, it certainly cannot mean this sort of a-rational, incommunicable experience which loses all sense of “I and thou”, Creator-Creation. The talk of Union with Christ does not entail absorption into any infinite:
The Bible nowhere accommodates the speculative notion that ontological disjunction from the Divine is the central human problem, to be overcome by man’s pursuit of ecstatic union with the Ineffable; rather, the basic problem is that of overcoming man’s moral alienation from his Maker, and a revelation and atonement that God himself provides opens the way to the restoration of spiritual fellowship
Id. at pp. 73–74.