Epistemology Series - Existentialism

By Josh Hickok

     Existentialism is not necessarily a system of gaining knowledge, but some use this interchangeably with experientialism.  Existentialism deals more with religious truths, which to a Christian, is a very important part of our epistemology.  Its main proponents on the Christian front have been Soren Kierkegaard and the liberal protestant Karl Barth.  They stress that our relationship with God is personal rather than propositional.  In other words, they tried to make our emotive experiences first and foremost to logical study.

     There is so much to this movement that a mere caricature is probably unfair.  But Christian existentialists seem to have a similar base that we can hopefully judge correctly.  Right off the bat, we’ll start with its experiential roots - an encounter with the divine.  As a disclaimer, there is nothing wrong with experiencing the love of our savior, Christ.  What becomes rather troublesome is placing this experience on a pedestal as proof of Christianity.  For one, nearly every religion makes some claim of a divine experience - if they all are accurate, then what separates Christianity from the rest of the pack?  This is why experiences must be judged within a set of guidelines - namely, logic and the revealed Word of God (Bible).  If a person approaches you and tells you that God said to burn every Bible in the world, then you know they are quite mistaken.  God cannot contradict Himself, so why would he issue a command like this?  This is why divine experiences must be taken not at face value, but through the lens of reason.

     One positive aspect of existentialism is that it reminded Christians of the need to have a personal relationship with Christ.  Jesus preached love as well as truth about his purpose, and sometimes people in all fields tend to forget that.  It also helps make Christianity about practical, everyday problems rather than abstract universals.  By doing this, it brings out the heart of Christianity - its forgiveness of the sins that everyone has done.  Thus, Christianity is for everyone rather than the elite philosophers or scientists.  Remember, Jesus used a bunch of fisherman and tax-collectors because of the truth so simple, yet so encompassing.


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