John Frame on the difference between orthodox and modern views of revelation: “intellectual autonomy”

What distinguishes modern views of revelation from orthodox (to my mind biblical) views is their affirmation of human autonomy in the realm of knowledge. Intellectual autonomy is the view that human beings have the right to seek knowledge of God’s world without being subject to God’s revelation. It first appears in the history of thought in Genesis 3’s narrative of the fall, in which Adam and Eve make their decision to disobey God’s personal word to them. In their decision, they affirm their right to think autonomously, even to the point of contradicting God himself.

The spirit of autonomy underlies every sinful decision of every human being. As I noted earlier, it is irrational in an important sense. Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-32 that human beings know God clearly from his revelation to them in creation, but that nevertheless they choose to repress this knowledge and exchange it for a lie. How could anyone imagine that contradicting the Master of the universe could be a wise decision? This foolishness mirrors the biblical paradigm of irrationality, the foolishness of Satan himself, who (again in the face of clear knowledge) tries to replace God on the throne of the universe.

In this satanic project, man seeks to become his own lord. He denies God’s ultimate control, authority, and presence. Either he denies that there is such a Lord or he ascribes lordship to something in creation. If he denies that there is a Lord, he embraces irrationalism, the view that there is no ultimate meaning in the universe. If he ascribes lordship to something finite (i.e., idolatry), he embraces rationalism, the view that a godlike knowledge can be obtained from the creation alone.

Of course, Satan and his followers embrace rationalism irrationally, for they have no right to insist that their minds are the ultimate criterion of truth. Similarly, they embrace irrationalism rationalistically, assuming the ultimate authority of their own minds. So in unbelieving thought, rationalism and irrationalism are two sides of a single coin, though they actually contradict each other. That contradiction is part of the irrationality of it all. That irrationality permeates the whole fabric of human knowledge. So we can understand how the assumption of intellectual autonomy destroys knowledge.

Of course, as Romans 1 shows, Satan and his disciples do have a clear knowledge of God, which they repress. But they have that clear knowledge of God in spite of not because of, their commitment to autonomy. If they were consistent with their commitment to autonomy, they could not know anything at all.

John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, p. 15-16

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About cteldridge

A beggar trying to tell other beggars were the Bread is.
This entry was posted in Epistemology, Idolatry, Scripture, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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