(Chapter 8, God, Revelation and Authority. Btw, these short takes on his essays cannot begin to cover the density and wealth of thought in Henry. They really must be read, but) Theologian Millard Erickson once said, “I love Carl Henry’s work. It’s extremely important. I hope someday that it is translated into English!”
Secular Man and Ultimate Concerns
There is a Woody Allen joke, “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit, in my name, at a Swiss bank account.” But what sort of evidence would show that God exists. No matter how power an agent were to display itself, would that ever be proof of God? If something as powerful as the aliens in a thousand movies were to appear about a large city, would that prove God? What if the agent were as dazzling as the sun?
In this essay, Henry argues that the radical secularism – which the is the default “intelligent” position of the age – itself bears witness to God. It is an answer to the question, “If God is real, then why don’t I see Him?” To answer this question, Henry speaks of “cognitive levels of experience”. The reason why God is not obvious is because He is not being sought in the right place and the right way. (This is an interesting sort of presuppositionalist argument.)
Western secularism has made naturalism, a radical empiricism to be the entire basis for rational discourse and understanding. This radical naturalism entails a number of related entailments:
A correlative implication of this theory of the comprehensive contingency, total transiency, and radical relativity of all reality and experience is the absolute autonomy of man. Man alone remains, self-sufficient and autonomous, to rescue the cosmos from absurdity and worthlessness. No divine sovereign places human life under unchanging commands, no divine revelation tells man what is true and trustworthy, no divine book stipulates what is permanently right and wrong. External reality supplies no transcosmic supports for human security. A clean break is required with all transcendent, heteronomous absolutes as alien and arbitrary.
Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 139. The universe – and us – are contingent, transient, relative – and somehow also autonomous. It is an odd sort of agency, because it is grounded in absolutely nothing.
This autonomous agent, contingent and existent only for a whisper of time, seems strangely to be completely unable to believe this true. For instance, if we are truly meaningless, then what is the basis and what is the point seeking for “meaning” and security. Then why do we do what we do? “Modern man actually has a much wider range of experience than the naturalistic credo acknowledges.” (145)
This simply does not work.
And when we move beyond just our desire to be meaningful, we run into other problems.
For example, how do we explain any moral fact? Why is murder wrong? It certainly and without question is evil. But why? Because we don’t like it? There is no naturalistic explanation. But what if someone were to make the adaptive argument: not murdering was necessary for the survival of the species and those camps which held to the no-murder position survived better than others. That merely proves it is more adaptive, but not that it is truly right or wrong. Moral facts are just feelings about things, not truths. If one were merely able to overcome the feeling, there would be no morality at all.
Here is where makes the argument for God. God is “inescapably an aspect of everyday experience” (149). God is there and cannot be gainsaid or avoided. The fact of God is built into our consciousness; a “primordial ontological awareness of God as the ultimate given.”
If this is so, then why do we deny its truth:
The reality of God as depicted in his revelation best explains why secular man refuses to order his life exclusively by the naturalistic world life view, while the fact of sin best explains why he refuses to order his life exclusively by the truth and will of God. (148)
He makes an interesting observation which deserves further consideration. The conflict inherent in humanity as a result of a conflict with a sovereign God creates psychological damage within the human being, which we attempt to manage by various psychological and psychiatric methods. (149)
Our very existence, our concern for meaning and morality, our refusal to take our own and other life as utterly meaningless (which is precisely what secular naturalism teaches), is constant undeniable evidence of God. Sin makes hypocrites of Christians; God makes hypocrites of secularists:
Not only his secret alternatives to meaninglessness, but also his distressing anxieties concerning personal worth, imply presuppositions that touch upon man’s responsible relationship to his Maker. The ongoing revelation of God and remnants of the imago Dei in man supply the continuing conditions of man’s humanity. The ineradicable convictions we harbor about the character of reality and the way we frame the fundamental questions of our lives reflect, however unwittingly, a response to God’s revelational confrontation of his creatures. The universal disclosure of God penetrates deeply into all man’s confidences and doubts. God is the Eternal with whom unrenewed man, in all his experiences, has a vagabond relationship. Evidence of God’s reality and power and truth and goodness is ongoingly refracted into the course of man’s daily life. (151)
In short, the espoused secularity of the modern world cannot account for itself. Even the bare attempt to “explain” the world in terms of secular naturalism is itself a contradiction of that naturalism.