In his unpacking of the concept of “knowing,” Johnson lays out clear parameters for his methodology: As he states, “We intend to hash out epistemology with the tool of biblical theology” (xv). To do so, Johnson establishes an epistemological process that incorporates both knowledge and error, which is defined and developed by Genesis 2 and 3. He defines the epistemological process pre-fall in Genesis 2 as “a process, where an authenticated authority leads the knower to the known through a fiducially bound relationship...both must be committed to the process (47).” He then, in turn, defines the “error” within the garden by the first humans as “the shift from trusting the voice of God through the man accredited as the authority to the voice of the serpent (62).” The quest for knowledge becomes a discerning of whom or what to trust in order both to know and to do what is right. In other words, error is a failure to discern the proper authority, resulting in a failure to listen to and put into practice what this authority teaches.
This epistemological process becomes the “brick and mortar” of understanding for the people of God throughout the rest of the Bible, as well as for humanity in general (64). As image bearers, we are provided with the tools necessary for true knowledge; as Johnson writes, “[There] is no need for special knowing as a separate way of knowing God or the world. Instead, we know the kingdom of God and God Himself the way we know everything else, through personal guidance. The chief difference, which should not be understated, is that our authority in biblical knowing must be extraordinarily authenticated to us” (147-48). A qualifier, perhaps, should be added, that this extraordinary authentication, which leads to true knowledge and right relationship with the proper authority, comes through the gift of dramatic intervention on our behalf by this authority.
Johnson’s book provides a helpful framework for God’s people in regards to evangelism and discipleship. With respect to evangelism, Johnson brings up the point that coming to proper knowledge always involves listening to the proper authority, regardless of the discipline in which one is involved, be it science or philosophy. Formulating a worldview free from error involves the epistemological process--the proper authority authenticating himself and guiding the knower, as the knower discerns and heeds the proper authority. In other words, gaining any knowledge relieved of error involves a relationship, a relationship that involves budding trust and results in obedience to the proper authority. Any member of humanity can enter into this relationship and participate in it.
With regards to discipleship, the people of God are already drawn into this epistemological process. The process should be an encouraging one: Something valuable is being developed; the framework for success and development already exists; and the proper authority is a loving one. The process should also involve a loving community, with pastors or laypeople functioning as guides, keeping the people of God in step with the proper authority. As Leslie Newbigin describes discipleship, in words quoted by Johnson, “[We] need to learn to know God as he is. There is no way by which we come to know a person except by dwelling in his or her story and, in the measure that may be possible, becoming a part of it” (208).
Jeff Roth (MDiv '10)
Associate Pastor for Young People and Families
Emmanuel Evangelical Free Church, Hermann, MO