I have a feeling that most Christian parents (and the churches they attend) don’t often get into conversation with their kids about epistemology. Since most people have never heard the word before, that’s not surprising. The concept is simple, though the answers often are not. It’s a branch of philosophy that deals with how we come to know things, or the study of knowledge (episteme is one of the Greek words for knowledge).
One of the reasons epistemology is so important in the 21st Century West is that the secular culture’s default epistemology is skepticism. A recent blog post by Sean McDowell reminded me how easy skepticism is in an age where we are flooded with information every day. He starts it this way:
Recently I was speaking to a group of pastors, youth pastors, and other church workers in Idaho. One pastor asked a question that, in my experience, perfectly captures the thinking process of many students today. He said, “My younger brother, a Millennial, is constantly on his cell phone. When I try to talk to him about God, he says that people disagree and so we simply can’t have any confidence at all in our beliefs.” How would you respond? Can we know things or are we lost in a sea of endless information?
Good question. The Internet and ubiquitous media confront us with cacophony of voices which easily makes for confusion. Sean has a good response to those who think they can’t really know anything: just show them how much they actually know! But this raises a an important question for keeping our kids Christian. What does the Bible say about knowledge and knowing?
On recent trip home to where I was born and raised, God provided excellent examples of non-biblical epistemology in action. I got into interesting conversations with two gentlemen who are self-described agnostics. I realized something as I thought about my interlocutors. They seemed to believe they could not know the religious stuff I was talking about with any certainty, so why bother with it at all. I imagined them thinking that there are so many more pressing issues in life to worry about than arguing about something which everyone seems to disagree about anyway. Then it hit me: Their objection to Christianity is rooted in a faulty epistemology!
The Bible’s view of knowledge could not be any more different than the default skepticism of Western culture. A Bible word search at Biblegateway.com shows that know or knowledge is used 1,163 times. The idea that knowledge is problematic for human beings is foreign to the biblical writers, and thus God. And we can have confidence that our knowing is rooted in what is actually there because God created it all!
I’ve found in raising three children that my biblical epistemology is more assumed than asserted. Every time we have a conversation (whether that is a lecture, or teaching them, or selling them on some idea), I’m assuming we can actually have true knowledge and justified belief, and that confidence is communicated through every word. Yes, I’ve taught them about epistemology, but what is more important is that they know that I know that we can know.