One of the most respected and influential Christian leaders of the last several decades, the late Chuck Colson (@ColsonCenter) engaged millions through his books, public speaking, and radio broadcasts.
In the new book My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter (Zondervan, 2015), longtime Colson co-author Anne Morse has selected and arranged pieces Colson wrote mostly during the last decade of his life, spotlighting what he saw as key topics of ongoing importance for Christian cultural engagement.
The following article is an excerpt from My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter.
Lost in the Cosmos
[Editor’s Note: Can the truth be known apart from Scripture? Yes. In this section Chuck argues that we can use the truths found in nature to point unbelievers to the truth of the gospel and God’s teachings about how we are to live our lives.]
I had an excellent conversation once with R.C. Sproul on the question of natural theology. Jonathan Edwards was strongly into natural theology—that is, that the truth can be known apart from Scripture. It can be known from general revelation. It can be known from observing things which Scripture doesn’t even deal with. The fundamental operative argument here is that all truth is God’s truth.
Thomas Aquinas was confronted with a huge problem along these lines: Islamic scholars of his day, when Islam was a shining light of culture, argued that there was such a thing as double truth—that is, something could be true in science but not in faith.
Aquinas took issue with this. He said there was only one certain truth. He got into the question of how things were knowable, and he said, “Some things are knowable by nature; some things are knowable by grace”—just exactly what I believe and what natural theology teaches.
Evangelical scholars such as Francis Schaeffer have generally shied away from Aquinas because they believe he is separating truth into two kinds of truth—truth which you get from grace and truth which you get from science or nature. But they’re ignoring the fact that Aquinas also said there are some truths, like the truth about God, that are known by both nature and grace.
In the final analysis, in any event, all truth comes from both. There is a unity of truth; it all comes from God. Aquinas, according to Sproul, was not separating nature and grace. He was simply trying to demonstrate what was false about the Muslim worldview and certain Aristotelian formulations that Muslim scholars had come up with.
The fact of the matter is I believe that truth is knowable both by revelation and by nature. And the reason I believe this is that it is often the same thing: revelation tells us about the creation, but the creation is just as knowable by our physical senses as it is by Scripture. All Scripture is doing is telling us that truth is knowable by creation because it refers to creation in the mountains, which declare the glory of God.
The Scriptures, as well, are historically recounting the actions of God working among His covenant people and the nations of history. Scripture doesn’t make God’s actions true; the Scripture itself is validating what actually happened, which was the source of the truth, God’s actions in the lives of people.
Similarly, the Epistles are written by men under the influence of the Holy Spirit. They are without error, yet the truth is not necessarily what is told us propositionally (though it is the truth). The Scripture is describing moral truth which God has wired into the universe and revealed to the writer. When you trace these things back, they all go back to God. The Scripture is truth, but it is also describing truth.
Now the problem, of course, comes when people believe that this opens the door to rationalism. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being rational; the problem is attaching the “ism” to it. In a sense one is indeed attaching the “ism” if one were to argue that everything is knowable apart from God, and with one’s own mind one could come to moral formulations and understand the moral laws of the universe as one can the physical law: by observation. Therefore, one doesn’t need the Scripture, and therefore, one reduces God to the force that started it all and wound it up and created it; that’s how one becomes a Deist.
But I would never suggest anyone could be saved by any revelation apart from the truth of the Scripture itself. Common grace can be understood rationally, but saving knowledge means that Christ, Who died on the cross—and again, the gospel, which is presented as a description of that truth—is revealed through Scripture. You have to hear the good news presented from Scripture; you have to have the gift of faith given to you by God. You have to, with that faith, react and be declared righteous. That’s the process of salvation. Human beings cannot do this. You can’t get there from here.
But there is a unity of truth even with regard to the good news, which rests on historical events. Christianity is, after all, a religion of history, so why would one exclude sources of understanding truth? If you were to carry this too far, you would say that God spoke once and for all through Scripture; He could never reveal anything again. And yet, there are continuous revelations out of nature.
Remember, too, the story of Nein Cheng, who was put into prison during China’s Cultural Revolution. She had only the sayings of Chairman Mao’s little red book. She was not allowed a Bible, but she looked up one day and saw a spider weaving a web, and she suddenly saw the hand of God in the beauty of the design. (What makes this particularly telling is that Jonathan Edwards also believed that the spiderweb was one of God’s great architectural creations.) Now, here comes this spider into a jail cell where a woman is languishing with her hands bound behind her, and she sees God in this spider; she is spiritually renewed. Did she not see the truth? Of course she saw the truth. That spiderweb was her Bible.
We are crazy when we say that all truth can only be known by Scripture; that becomes a circular argument. God says you cannot add to or subtract from Scripture, but nowhere does the Bible tell us that this is the complete source of all truth. It is a complete source of all truth—for salvation—but not for other considerations. We have to be able to look at nature’s revelation, as well.
The interesting thing about this whole exercise is that I came to these thoughts on my own. I did not read a book about Thomist points of view and then react. I did not listen to a great debate over presuppositional apologetics. I was just thinking deeply about these issues and came out at a point where, lo and behold, I discovered I was embracing arguments made by Aquinas without even realizing it. In fact, I got into natural law arguments over the homosexuality issue. Until I started discussing these arguments with BreakPoint writer Roberto Rivera, I’m sorry to confess, I didn’t even realize they were Thomist arguments.
To me this makes so much sense that I don’t know how you can argue about it. There is truth; there is reality. The ultimate reality has to be in the first cause. What started everything? By whom, through whom, and for whom all things were made has to be the beginning. There is one ultimate truth that holds together everything that exists.
By definition, that is God. We know it by faith because Christ came and revealed Himself, and we believe in Him and have come to that faith. We can see the truth of that faith in the creation around us and in the Scriptures. But even somebody who wasn’t a believer would know that there’s got to be some source of ultimate truth. We can’t always have just been here. An infinite universe begs the question. So once you get to the first-cause question, you get to the proposition that there has to be a God, and then you have to look at history. You have to begin to probe the truth. Where do you find truth? Were the Islamic scholars right in the thirteenth century? Let’s look at their proposition. They did not work out very well. How did the various political systems founded on differing presuppositions work out? Some have survived better than others.
I believe we are given, by God, certain abilities, and we’re to use those abilities to understand reality. And God has made certain things which make ultimate reality clear to us. Nature is one of them; Paul says so in Romans 2. He says here, too, there is a truth that is built within us. But we also know that from experience. The Tao is an example. Where does wisdom come from? It comes from God; all truth is from God.
I can see the vulnerability of this argument because it could clearly lead you away from Scripture unless you keep as your presupposition that Scripture is true. And why do we believe it? Because we believe God wrote the Bible, and it has been proven over the years to be infallible, and because it says it’s true on its face.
“Your [God’s] word is truth,” Jesus says (John 17:17). So we accept that presupposition, but we do not close our minds to other forms of inquiry that will enable us to defend the reality reflected in truth wherever we find it. God speaks it in one form, and He displays it in many other forms. Are we now separating nature and grace? Not at all. We’re saying they are complementary.
The only thing that makes life meaningful is if it is tied to truth—otherwise we are adrift in the cosmos; we are lost. We will drift around looking for some place to moor the boat. We’ll be caught up in the fads of the moment, and living with false presuppositions. So the most urgent, the most desperate need is to find truth.
So we have to be rooted in truth. That truth is then going to lead us to certain propositions which will give us a meaningful and fulfilling life.
The above excerpt is from My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter. Copyright © 2015 by The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.Zondervan.com. All rights reserved. Taken from pp. 32-36.
Bio: Chuck Colson was a popular and widely known author, speaker, and radio commentator. A former presidential aide to Richard Nixon and founder of the international ministry Prison Fellowship, he wrote several books that have shaped Christian thinking on a variety of subjects, including Born Again, Loving God, How Now Shall We Live?, The Good Life, and The Faith. His radio broadcast, BreakPoint, at one point aired to two million listeners. Chuck Colson donated all of his royalties, awards, and speaking fees to Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Anne Morse, a freelance writer, spent 18 years collaborating with Chuck Colson on BreakPoint commentaries, Jubilee and Christianity Today columns, and books. She is also the co-author of Prisoner of Conscience with Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia. She lives in Maryland with her husband.