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In Pursuit of an Orthodox Christian Epistemology

A Conversation with Carl F. H. Henry

Jonathan Mutinda Waita

Everybody is confronted by three fundamental questions, which are of great interest to philosophy and theology: The metaphysical—"What is reality?", the epistemological—"How do we know what we think we know?", and the ethical—"How should we, therefore, live in light of what we know about reality?" Of these three, the epistemological question is of greatest importance, owing to its concern with the justification of knowledge, on the basis of which we can attempt to respond to the rest. This book is motivated by the realization that although everybody attempts to respond to these questions, not everybody provides a valid answer to the questions. In consultation with Carl F. H. Henry, who was a trailblazer for evangelical orthodoxy, this book attempts to provide valid and sound answers to these epistemological and metaphysical questions for millions of Christians, whose answers to these questions continue to be ridiculed by liberals and secularists. This book operates with a realization that since our surest Christian knowledge about the nature and works of God emanates from God’s self-disclosure rather than our human discovery, the Bible, as God’s special revelation occupies an important place in true Christian epistemology. A corollary to the centrality of the Bible to the Christian epistemology is the epistemic sufficiency of human language and reason. This book defines Christian epistemological orthodoxy against such heterodox systems as Kantian phenomenology, Barthian Neoorthodoxy, Ayerian Logical Positivism, and Whiteheadian Process Thought and their respective trajectories. The book is a must-read for philosophy, theology, and apologetic courses.

“Jonathan Mutinda Waita has written a very important book. Not only does he demonstrate just how groundless is the charge that Carl F. H. Henry is a ‘rationalist,’ but he also provides an exposition of Henry’s doctrine of the knowledge of God (epistemology) and its basis in the doctrine of God (ontology, or metaphysics). By starting with the assumption of God and his self-revelation in Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Scriptures, Henry builds his epistemology on a firm foundation. Waita also explains how Henry exposed the flaws in the views of Kant, Barth, Logical Positivism, and Process Theology, while propounding a distinctive epistemology that is faithful to the Scriptures. The book is clear and well organized, and displays a grasp of philosophy and theology. Well aware of Henry’s critics, Waita refutes their major contentions while admitting some of Henry’s vulnerability to criticism. Although one may quibble with some of his minor points, no responsible scholar can now ignore Waita’s groundbreaking treatment of the greatest evangelical theologian-apologist of the twentieth century.” —G. WRIGHT DOYLE, MDiv, PhD, author of Carl Henry: Theologian for All Seasons; Christianity in America: Triumph and Tragedy; and Wise Man from the East: Lit-sen Chang; Director of China Institute and of Global China Center

“All philosophy is based on axioms of epistemic foundationalism as the foundation of a theocentric Christian mode of thought. Jonathan Mutinda Waita’s analysis of Carl F. H. Henry’s thought is thorough and his conclusions strongly support an evangelical approach to Scripture as divine revelation. “Waita explains Henry’s critique of post-modern trends, and examines and critiques Henry’s writings by recognized scholars, such as Stephen Spenser and Kevin Hackoozer. Waita argues convincingly that Henry should be analyzed not so much as a modern rationalist but as a metaphysical realist. “The reader will discover a keen analysis of the philosophy of Kant as one who altered the traditional approaches to metaphysics that have resulted in Neo-orthodoxy and other re-structuring of traditional modes of analysis that have largely supplanted traditional apologetic approaches. “Waita’s analysis provides the reader with new ways of analyzing traditional problems of philosophy and theology. He shows how problematic these trends are for the reliability of the faith once delivered to the community of faith. Compromising the revelation found in the Scriptures cannot help but compromise the entirety of Christianity, resulting in epistemological nihilism. “Waita provides a thorough and erudite analysis of themes relevant to Henry’s thought as it relates to manifold theories relevant to his thesis. Readers well-versed in theology and philosophy, who have minds adequate to follow Waita’s rigorous presentation will profit from Waita’s analysis." —JAMES W. GUSTAFSON, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy

“In this well-structured, carefully researched, deeply reflective, and remarkably insightful defense of Christian Orthodoxy, Jonathan Mutinda Waita has chosen to use the insights of Carl F. H. Henry, perhaps the previous century’s most acute defender of Christian presuppositionalism, as a lens to applaud his efforts, though not without awareness of short-comings , while employing his criticisms as a defense against Henry’s adversaries. In short, the book proports to sustain the validity of foundationalism, what is also called presuppositionalism, to explain that the nature of how we know (ontology [what exists, being] presupposes the nature of what can be known [epistemology or how we come to know what can be known]). Simply put, an effect without a cause cannot exist (the collectivity of nature cannot explain the existence of all that is in nature, including the profundity of human reflection). No person makes decision without a set of assumptions from which they make deductions. “Kantianism fails because it limits metaphysical realities to the sum of mere existence, Logical Positivism denies the existence of the metaphysical altogether, and Process Theism destroys the ontological supremacy of God for a human cooperative and evolutive fulfillment of the divine purposes. Barth is not the extreme theorist reflective of the other approaches, though he ultimately destroys the link between fideism and verifiability. “Henry’s approach is a welcome panacea to the post-modernist, deconstructionism that seems to be gaining in Christian circles these days. Waita offers us serious ‘food for thought.’ I can only highly recommend this man’s endeavor to defend the presuppositional basis of our faith, arguing that a presuppositional approach to the construction of truth is no irrational, a-rational, nor anti-rational. It is a proper tool to the quest for truth.” —JOHN D. HANNAH, ThM, MA THD, PhD, DD, Distinguished Professor of Historical Theology, Research Professor of Theological Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary