First, I need to tell you that the one part of Carl Henry’s six-volume God, Revelation, and Authority that I have found the most difficult to digest was his treatment of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of knowledge (epistemology) in the first volume.
Last week, in view of the forthcoming publication of my abridgment of the Chinese translation of his six-volume magnum opus, I thought I should re-read the last two volumes, which have only this past year been translated. I began with chapter 1 of Volume 5. Immediately, I slammed into a dense discussion of Kant’s reasons for saying that we can’t know God.
At first, I thought I would just skip over that part, but my conscience wouldn’t allow me to avoid this difficult topic. I realized that I must “grow up” intellectually and try to understand at least the basics of Kant’s argument, so I plowed through the next few pages. To my surprise, I found it fascinating – at least the way Carl Henry analyzed and critiqued Kant.
Last Friday, on Christmas Eve, we checked into a hotel in the town where our daughter lives. We were going to spend Christmas with her and her family.
As I purchased a bottle of water at our hotel that evening, I asked the girl at the front desk whether she was a student (she looked quite young).
“Yes, I am studying pre-law,” she responded. Her name tag said, “Emily.” I noticed that she had a serpent tattooed on each forearm.
“What does that involve these days?” I asked. “I was planning to be a lawyer until I thought God was leading me to become a minister.”
“Well, lots of philosophy, especially Kant,” she answered.
“Oh, Kant!” I exclaimed. “My problem with him is his epistemology.”
Another guest approached the front desk, and I had to go to our daughter’s house, so I left it at that.
On Christmas Day, about an hour before we were to have dinner, I realized that my stomach was slightly upset - perhaps from eating a bit too much breakfast - and that I had left a couple of things in our hotel room, including the peppermint tea bag (which always helps my digestion) and the bottle of Shaklee Digestive Stomach Soothing Complex.
On my way out the door, I saw Emily at the desk. I had a few minutes, so I repeated that I had troubles with Kant’s epistemology:
“We can’t know the noumena, right? Only the phenomena. But we know the phenomena only in the light of the innate categories of our mind – which, it seems to me, are noumena.” I was drawing on Carl Henry, though I think I added the last part.
“Yes,” she replied. “Kant was a weird dude,” and went on to talk about his idiosyncrasies. “
“My favorite philosopher and theologian is Carl Henry,” I said. I explained his discussion of the four ways of knowing ultimate truth (reason, experience, intuition, revelation) and why only divine revelation gives us reliable knowledge of God, his will for us and his ways with us.
“Well,” she said,” my problem with Kant is that though his argument seems logically sound, it doesn’t correlate with my life. It doesn’t match my feelings.
In an attempt to connect with this quintessential post-modern objection, I said, “One of the reasons that I believe that the Bible is the Word of God is that it explains my life, including my feelings. It doesn’t answer all my questions, but from it I learn who I am, who God is, why I do so many stupid things, and how I can live in a fallen world.”
We chatted for a minute longer before I had to head back to Christmas dinner.
As I drove away, I marveled at God’s particular providence: My decision to wade through Henry’s critique of Kant last week; my mildly upset stomach, which is very rare for me; forgetting to take several things with me, and thus having to return to the hotel room; the presence of Emily at the front desk just as I was leaving.
Truly, our God reigns! He governs the entire universe, including the details of our lives.
That night, I sent Emily the title of my book on Henry, as I had promised, with a prayer that God would use our conversation to draw her to himself.