In "Post-Conservatives, Foundationalism, and Theological Truth: a Critical Evaluation" (JETS 48 [June 2005]: 351-63), R. Scott Smith, on the apologetics faculty at Biola University, critiqued the recent works of Nancey Murphy (Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary). Murphy has written a number of books which claim that the philosophical framework known as foundationalism, which Modernism and Evangelicalism presupposed, is fundamentally flawed. In defending foundationalism, R. Scott Smith critiques Murphy in ways I could only dream to do. His writing is clear, especially for the complexity of the topic, and his knowledge of the subject at hand incomparably outdistances my own.
However, in the opening paragraphs of his article he makes a concession which concerns me. Nancey Murphy claims that foundationalists have always required certainty for the basic (i.e. foundational) truths upon which all knowledge rests. But Smith responds "foundationalism need not require certainty" ("Post-Conservatives," p. 351). Now I am thoroughly unconcerned about the state of foundationalism as a philosophical movement, but Smith is not merely a foundationalist: he is a Christian. Yet as a Christian, he claims that the entire Christian faith "could be wrong. For example, it is possible that I am just a brain in a vat, and these sentences are just the result of the stimulation of 'my' brain by a mad scientist" ("Post-Conservatives," p. 363).
While I appreciate the damaging blows Smith deals to the post-conservative Christian philosophy of Nancey Murphy, here are my immediate concerns with his concession:
In the end everything we know about Biblical Christianity rests on the Authority's (i.e. the Triune God as revealed in the Protestant Canon) inability to err. Unfortunately for both Murphy and Smith (on this point they seem to be agreed), this inability means that traditional Christian theism lacks "epistemic humility" ("Post-Conservatives," p. 363). That is, Christians have had the arrogance to claim that they actually know something for sure.
Now I grant that Smith's article was not about the need for epistemic humility, or humility in what we know; therefore, I should not expect to find any sort of defense of this definition of humility. Nevertheless it seems that the Biblical picture would indicate that certainty and humility are not mutually exclusive. Instead I would contend from the following points that certainty is a necessary part of Biblical humility:
I grant that Christians can be and have been some of the most arrogant people in the world. But we must not allow our feelings of guilt in this matter to lead us to allow the world to press us into its mold of thinking. Unbelievers, with their disdain for anyone who claims to know something for sure (Proverbs 1:7), do not define humility; the Scriptures define humility. The Scriptures call everyone to abandon making much of self (who certainly is not worthwhile), and to make much of God (who certainly is worthwhile). "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:31). This is the start of Biblical humility.