By Kevin Craig
In a recent Biblical Educator, Terrill Elniff’s article, “Epistemological Self-consciousness: When push comes to shove,” appeared. Although the point of the article, concerning a school’s relationship to government, was inescapable, the title may have caught some readers off their guard: “Epistema ¬what?!” It is important, therefore, to take some time to ensure that readers of the BibEd are relaxed in the presence of this somewhat pedantic sounding phrase. “Epistemological Self-consciousness” is an extremely important concept if we break the phrase ‘down it will be as easy’ to understand as it is important.
Epistemological comes from the Greek work, epistamai “knowledge,” and here refers to the source of our knowledge. For the Christian, the Bible is the source of all knowledge. For the humanist, “man is the measure of all things.” Lest there be any doubt, there are only two “epistemological” alter-natives: the word of man or the Word of God.
Once we get past “epistemological,” self-consciousness is easy. The man who had a frightening experience with cats as a child now jumps three feet when he sees one. He may claim to have “seen the light” and know cats to be harmless, but he still moves out of unconscious fear. Another man has a well-thought-out theory concerning cats. He believes cats are an extraterrestrial race bent on the destruction of mankind. To escape their control, one must jump three feet away from them. And so he does. Every cat he sees. One man jumps in spite of his claim, another jumps in terms of it. However absurd this second man may seem, at least he is self-consciously acting out the implications of his belief. The person who is “epistemologically self-conscious” is thus a person who is aware of what his faith leads to, and is working to implement it in his life.
What would characterize an “epistemologically self-conscious” Christian? As we have indicated, a Christian is one who “believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. XIV, sec. 2). For the Christian, all knowledge comes from God and his Word. (Col. 2:3). This means that the Christian judge will turn to Deuteronomy to decide his. case. The Christian doctor will go to Leviticus to find a healthy diet. Christian legislators will heed the words of the Prophets. In every conceivable vocation, the “epistemologically self-conscious” Christian will turn to the Bible, even the Old Testament (Mt. 5:17-19), to find God’s direction, and he will implement that rule in his life.
Christians should bear in mind this important truth: “Ideas have consequences.” Our thoughts, our emotions, our perceptions of life, all shape our actions. It is insufficient to say, “God wants me to do this.” We must study the Bible to be able to say, “God wants me to think this.” Even our attitudes must be Biblical, for they form what is called our “world and life view.” It must be Christian. When we think of a Christian, we should think of a scientist, a doctor, a skilled craftsman, a diligent laborer, or a talented musician. Whatever his vocation, he believes that this is God’s universe, that he has God’s revealed word to follow, and he acts interms of this belief. He is Dominion Man (Genesis 1:26-28).
On the other hand, what should we think of when we think of a non-Christian? Matthew 13 gives us a hint. There we have the parable of the wheat and the tares. While the Christian grows up to be productive wheat, the unbeliever turns into an impotent, ugly weed. The most obvious example of this was the rebellion of the “hippie,” and now, the “Punk rock” or “New Wave” movements. Here, groups with names such as “The Dead Boys,” “Germs,” or “DEVO” (short for “Devolution”), dye their hair orange or blue and proclaim the meaninglessness of all things. These young people are at war with God and law, with the world of meaning. They profess to believe in an evolutionary, atheistic universe, and they are now starting to act in terms of their faith You need to see a punk rock band in action to appreciate the hideousness of a world without God. It is nothing short of frightening. Picture a man who by night sticks a safety pin through his cheek, straps raw meat to his tattered, mismatched clothing, and thrashes around on the ground screaming a song called “Anarchy in the U.K.” (lyrics: I am an antichrist/I am an antichrist/Don’t know what I want/But I know how to get it/I want to destroy).
Now, can you imagine this hate-filled rebel donning a white laboratory coat and preparing a delicate formula that will be the cure for your son’s illness? Do you think he will be any kind of competition for the musical genius of a Johann Sebastian Bach? The contrast between a Sid Vicious and a Bach is overwhelming. Both are acting out the implications of their faith. Both are “epistemologically self-conscious.” But one is productive wheat, the other an ugly, useless tare.
There is yet another type of person. He is a man who is unaware of the “punk rock” movement, even though his daughter is a member of “The Dictators.” He is completely ignorant of the cause of inflation, or the Biblical solution to it. He spends most of his time in front of the TV, especially on weekends when he drools over the 48 straight hours of sports (and especially the cheerleaders). His only involvement with his children’s’ education is to go to the school football game on Friday nights to watch his son bash the brains of fellow students. Is this man a Christian or a non-Christian? Hard to say. Whatever he is, he is not epistemologically self-conscious.
If he were an unbeliever, aware of where his faith leads him, he would deny all meaning and law, like the punkers, or other modern artists. Instead, he finds some meaning (?) in football, TV dinners, and the bliss of ignorance. If he were a Christian, acting in terms of God’s word, he would be educating his children to be leaders, disciplined to study, work, and produce, not be part of the lazy, leisure-oriented generation we see today. He himself would be a community leader, not a social parasite. The unfortunate fact is, this man may well be one of the millions who claim to be born-again, but whose lives show little evidence of such a claim (Jas. 2:20). The goal of the Biblical Educator is to foster Epistemological Self-Consciousness. We need a generation of Christians trained to consistently apply God’s word to every area of life. This can be accomplished only through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and the diligent training of children in Epistemologically Self-Conscious Christian schools.