Alvin Plantinga,  Cornelius Van Til,  God is not an Expert

God is not an Expert

We are used to hearing from the expert in our information-overload society. There is just too much to grasp on our own and so we need someone who spends his or her life on one subject. The media draw on experts to comment on news stories they feel ill equipped to analyse. But what if there was a person who knew everything about everything? God, it appears, fits that bill.

God knows everything there is to know. His knowledge is exhaustive and comprehensive. In knowing one fact he also knows how all facts relate to that one fact. It is also knowledge in that it is true belief. What God believes is, by virtue of the perfection of God, true. In other words God can never be wrong without forfeiting his divinity.

So, if God says something, human beings would have maximal justification in believing it. God claims to have said something (in the Bible) and so we have something to believe. One might wonder how we are to know that God has said something in the Bible and not in some other book, but how else would he tell us apart from in the Bible? (As a believer, I would add that the Holy Spirit witnesses to me that the Bible is the Word of God, but that is beside the point).

The trouble is that even if we do believe the Bible because a) we believe it to be inspired by God and b) we consider God to be the maximal expert, we are still not treating God in the right way. Why not? Let’s return to our media experts. Even though we consider them to have greater knowledge about a topic we remain able to discard what they say in favor of another expert or even in favor of our own observation or intuition. We remain in the driving seat, considering one view against another; we remain autonomous in our relationship with the expert. And that is not how Christian belief works.

The lacking element of the expert idea of God is authority. And I don’t mean authority in the expert sense (“he is an authority on nuclear physics”); I mean an exhaustive and comprehensive authority over all that God knows. And that means all human beings. The reason that God is not merely an expert is that he is also the creator of and sovereign over all that he knows. And that includes you and me. If that is the case, then there is no real autonomy to be had. We are never outside looking in, able to judge from a vantage point outside of God’s control. God is the standard by which truth is tested.

Because what God says is true because God has said it there is no measure, apart from God himself, by which to judge the truth of what God says. In other words, what God says is the truth by which we judge every other claim to the truth. Our trust in what God has to say is likewise not self-generated; we do not render God’s truth to be true by seeing that it matches up with what we think. Rather, our trust in God is God-generated, granted to us by his grace in his gift of faith: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2: 8-9).

I got this idea from reading Plantinga’s essay, Reason and Belief in God. Plantinga seems to imply that it is reasonable to believe in God since God is the ultimate expert on everything. Van Til, in his Defence of the Faith, argues that an expert can be rejected on the pain of irrationality (by which he means sinful hostility to God) but no one can avoid being subject to God metaphysically. 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.