Post-Conservatives, Foundationalism, And Theological Truth: A Critical Evaluation -- By: R. Scott Smith

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 48:2 (Jun 2005)
Article: Post-Conservatives, Foundationalism, And Theological Truth: A Critical Evaluation
Author: R. Scott Smith


Post-Conservatives, Foundationalism,
And Theological Truth:
A Critical Evaluation

R. Scott Smith

R. Scott Smith is associate professor of ethics at Biola University, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639.

Post-conservative Christians commonly claim that the modern picture of theological knowledge and its justification, as an edifice that is built upon foundations, is badly flawed and ought to be discarded in favor of a postmodern, holistic alternative. A key person behind this view is Nancey Murphy of Fuller Theological Seminary, who has developed a vigorous philosophical attack against foundationalism, as well as a thoroughgoing replacement. Like many others, Murphy first claims that foundationalism requires one-hundred-percent certainty in the foundational, basic beliefs. For conservative Christians, that foundation has been the universal truth found in authoritative, inerrant Scripture, whereas for liberals, it has been universal experience.1

While that line of critique is the most common objection against foundationalism, I will argue that it is mistaken, for foundationalism need not require certainty. However, she also offers a second kind of criticism. She argues that even for modest foundationalists, who do not require certainty in the foundational beliefs, the foundations end up "hanging from the balcony."2 By this she means that no beliefs or observations are exempt from the influence of theories. There simply is no theory-neutral observation or belief. Any so-called "foundational" beliefs end up being partly supported by higher-level theoretical beliefs, so that the foundationalist picture of how justification proceeds, from bottom to top, from foundational beliefs to inferred beliefs, simply is misguided.

What is driving this second line of critique? It is the belief that we are on the inside of language and cannot escape to know things as they are objectively, that is, in an extra-linguistic, mind-independent sense. On this view, truth as a matter of correspondence with objective reality is a mistaken notion, for we simply cannot know any such thing. If we cannot know things as they are objectively, then this position leads to humility in our knowledge claims, and in the postmodern climate in much of academia, this is an attractive position to take. In short, the post-conservative view takes off pressure to have to prove to challengers that our theological claims (such as that Scripture is inerrant) are certain.

I will rebut this second critique of foundationalism by showing that she most likely presupposes ...

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