asa1logo.jpg (5657 bytes)   Studies on Ethics


How Sin Affects Scholarship: A New Model

 Stephen K. Moroney

Department of Religion and Philosophy
Malone College

From: Christian Scholar's Review XXVIII (Spring 1999): 432-451.
Used by permission.

Exactly how does sin affect our scholarship? In this essay, Stephen K. Moroney examines the views of Abraham Kuyper and Emil Brunner as a prelude to proposing his own model, which argues that both individual and corporate sin influence our thinking in complicated and often unpredictable ways.

1. Introduction 

Theologians sometimes employ the technical phrase 'noetic effects of sin" to denote the ways in which human sin distorts human thinking. In the past, sin was considered a topic of great importance to Christian scholars, and many theologians explored the ways in which sin affects human thinking.1 More recently, however, the subject of sin and its attendant noetic effects has received proportionately little attention2. This essay intends (1) to examine two influential models of the noetic effects of sin, and (2) to propose a new model which purports to be the most adequate of the present alternatives, though not the final word on the subject. 

In the two sections which follow this introduction (sections 11 and III), there is an assessment of the respective teachings of Abraham Kuyper and Emil Brunner on the noetic effects of sin. Although many thinkers have commented on the topic (see footnote one), there are two reasons for focusing on Kuyper and Brunner in the present essay. (1) To my knowledge, they have formulated the most detailed models of exactly how sin affects thinking about different fields of study. (2) They represent two models of the noetic effects of sin which have strongly influenced the thinking of twentieth-century Christian scholars on the topic. It is argued that both Kuyper and Brunner have helpful insights into the workings of the noetic effects of sin, but that they each overlook some important ways in which sin distorts thinking, especially the thinking of Christians. 

In section IV a new model is proposed which extends beyond previous views by relating the noetic effects of sin to the complex interactions between the object(s) of study and the person(s) engaging in the study. It is argued that the effect of sin on people's thinking is more complicated and less predictable than has been heretofore recognized. The new model is further distinguished from preceding views by attending carefully to the noetic effects of corporate (not just individual) sin   Section V concludes the essay by refuting the objection that inquiry into the noetic effects of sin is an inherently futile undertaking.

II. Kuyper On the Noetic Effects of Sin

    A. Description

Arbaham Kuyper (1837-1920) was trained as a theologian, and then served variously as a pastor in the national Dutch Reformed Church, founder and editor of a daily newspaper and a weekly magazine, founder and professor at the Free University of Amsterdam, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and a delegate in the Dutch Parliment. In several of his writings Kuyper devoted attention to the noetic effects of sin.
    Kuiper Model                                                                                                                Kuyper's Model

At the very center of Kuyper's thought, and at the center of the diagram, is the conviction that before ther is any human thinking, there are human thinkers whose subjectivity influences their think'ing.4 According to Kuyper, these thinkers may be divided into two groups: regenerate Christians and unregenerate non-Christians. Kuyper was forthright in his assertion that " 'regeneration' breaks humanity into two, and repeals the unity of the human consciousness.5 In Kuyper's view, Christian thinkers may be characterized as abnormalists in the sense that they believe the world in its present state is abnormal, that is, fallen and in need of renewal. Conversely, non-Christian thinkers may be characterized as normalists in the sense that they believe the world in its present state is normal, that is, not in need of any radical renewal.6

Kuyper believed that regenerate thinkers and unregenerate thinkers were fundamentally different in their outlooks, so that in almost all cases these two groups would disagree with one another in their thinking. Because there are two kinds of people, there are two kinds of thinking. Kuyper declared that 'the fact that there are two kinds of people occasions of necessity the fact of two kinds of human life and consciousness of life, and of two kinds of science."7 Wolterstorff aptly states that, according to Kuyper's outlook, 'there is Christian learning and there is non-Christian learning: only religious conversion will change that."8 As indicated on the right side of the diagram, Kuyper maintained that Christians and non-Christians have basic disagreements in their understandings not only of theology, but also of philosophy, history, and all of the humanities.9 Herein, there are two kinds of scholarship (tweeerlei wetenschap): one arising out of a regenerate heart and standing under the authority of Scripture and the other arising out of an unregenerate heart and rejecting the authority of Scripture.l0 This was Kuyper's famous principle of antithesis between Christian and non-Christian thought and it was his prime motivation for establishing the Free University of Amsterdam as a center for distinctively Christian thought.11

However, as indicated on the left side of the diagram, Kuyper believed that there were two exceptions to this principle of antithesis. In matters of pure sensory 435 observation and in matters of pure logical reasoning, as opposed to higher matters of principle, Kuyper believed that the noetic effects of sin were restrained by God's common grace.12 In these matters (e.g., mathematics and the natural or physical sciences), agreement was possible between regenerate and unregenerate thinkers.13

 B. Critical Evaluation

Kuyper was correct in noting that ultimately there are two kingdoms or dominions at war with one another in the cosmos. This idea is taught in the Christian Scriptures and developed in Christian theology.14 Kuyper also was correct in drawing attention to the important subjective influences on people's thinking. As Klapwijk observes, 'Kuyper single-handedly battled the entire educated world of his time, an age which swore by the supposed objectivity and impartiality of all science."15 However, several aspects of Kuyper's model are problematic.

First, although Kuyper did recognize a corporate element in the sanctification of behevers thinking (see note 10), he worked with an individualistic concept of sin,  which caused him to ignore corporate or communal sin. In short, Kuyper operated with an incomprehensive view of sin; he neglected the corporate manifestations of sin and the noetic effects of corporate sin.16

Second, there are two ways in which Kuyper's view of human thinking is suspect. On the one hand, Kuyper held to a romantic, expressivist view of thinking, according to which the contents of one's consciousness are determinative for the outcome of one's thinking.17 This view overemphasizes the subjective nature of human thinking and underemphasizes the objective aspects of human thinking- how the object of study influences the outcome of one's thinking. Put theologically, human thinking is grounded in creation and not solely in the presence or absence of redemption. On the other hand, Kuyper exempted the processes of observation and formal thought ("logic") from the noetic effects of sin. This is a mistaken denial of the extensiveness of human depravity. Concerning observation, there is now abundant evidence that observation is not a purely passive, objective process; rather, it is an active process which includes subjective elements and in which we very often see what we are looking for, sometimes seeing only what we want to see.18 Kuyper was incorrect in his assertion that 'the formal process of thought has not been attacked by sin."19 Rather, as Wolters explains, 'fallacies and error (understood as incorrect inferences from the available evidence or from justified premises) manifest the fallenness of human rationality."20( In fact, there is now a considerable body of research evidence which documents the surprising regularity with which we humans engage in self-serving, illusory, fallacious, and erroneous thinking.21 So, Kuyper was mistaken to assert that the human activities of observation and formal thought are completely immune to the noetic effects of sin.

Third, and most importantly, Kuyper insisted on a sharp division between the thinking of regenerate Christians and unregenerate non-Christians. Kuyper moved too quickly and without qualification from the fact that there are ultimately two kingdoms or dominions at war with one another in the cosmos, to his claim that there are two types of thinking at war with one another which can be found in Christians on the one side and non-Christians on the other side.22 In other words, Kuyper exaggerated the antithesis between the thinking of Christians and non- Christians. Kuyper also overestimated the uniformity within 'Christian thinking" and within 'non-Christian thinking." It is true that Kuyper acknowledged a degree of diversity of thought within the Christian camp (see note 11), but his principle of antithesis implies that the basic division in all thinking is between Christian thinking and non-Christian thinking. Kuyper failed to account adequately for the fact that "Christians and non-Christians also differ among themselves."23 Wolterstorff is right that 'even if we set aside the deliverances of the senses and 'reason' [Kuyper's two exceptions] consensus and dissension in the sciences are not to be found neatly along the fault lines of the break between Christian and non-Christian.24 Differences of thought are many and varied, and are not always sufficiently explained by the labels "Christian" and "non-Christian." Put simply, it is not the case that the cosmic struggle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan filters down neatly into the struggle of two kinds of people which express themselves in two kinds of thinking.25 These inadequacies in Kuyper's model lead us to examine the alternative model of the noetic effects of sin proposed by Emil Brunner.

111. Brunner On The Noetic Effects Of Sin

A. Description

Heinrich Emil Brunner (1889-1966) is perhaps the best known twentieth- century theologian to give extended consideration to the noetic effects of sin. After earning his Th.D. from the University of Berlin, Brunner taught in England, participated in the Swiss militia, served as a pastor in Switzerland, worked as a professor of systematic and practical theology at the University of Zurich, and taught as a visiting professor in Tokyo. In several of his writings Brunner devoted attention to the noetic effects of sin.26 Brunner envisioned the variability of sin's noetic effects in a way that can be schematized as a series of concentric circles as the following diagram.27

   Brunner's Model

Brunner Model In the outermost circle are mathematics and the natural sciences. Brunner believed that 'the disturbance of rational knowledge by sin" reaches "its minimum in the exact sciences, and zero in the sphere of the formal [logic]. Hence, it is meaningless to speak of 'Christian mathematics."28 Brunner maintained that "through Christ we do not receive a different mathematics, physics, or chemistry,"29 so that 'if a person studies anatomy or physics it will be impossible to tell from his scientific work, pure and simple, whether he is a Christian or unbeliever."30 To Brunner, it was 'self-evident that there is practically no conflict between mathematics and theology, between physics, chemistry and theology, because here the autonomy of the sciences, even from the point of view of the Christian faith, is almost complete.31 According to Brunner, in these areas there was a scientific neutrality  (wissenschaftliche Neutralitat)32 in accordance with his principle that "the more that knowledge has to do with the world as world, the further it is removed from the sphere of sin, and therefore the more 'neutral it becomes."33 Briefly, Brunner held that sin scarcely influences human thinking in the outermost circle of mathematics and science.

In the next circle, nearer to the center, are the humanities. Brunner was convinced that the humanities were more affected by sinful blindness than mathematics and the natural sciences.34 'In the sphere of natural science," Brunner asserted, "it makes practically no difference whether a scholar is a Christian or not; but this difference emerges the moment that we are dealing with problems of sociology, or law, which affect man's personal and social life."35 In Brunner's schema, the study of law, the State, history and other such disciplines lie midway between reason's knowledge of the world and faith's knowledge of God.36 Hence, in these subjects, Brunner believed there must be an accounting for the noetic effects of sin.37

In the next circle, almost at the center, is ethics. Here Brunner argued that the noetic effects of sin were even greater than in the humanities.38 Brunner believed that through Christ "we do find a different kind of marriage, family life, a different mlation to our fellow men, and hence, influenced by that, a different kind of public justice.39 So, according to Brunner, "it is significant and necessary to distinguish the Christian conceptions of freedom, the good, community, and still more the Christian idea of God from all other conceptions.'40

Finally, in the innermost circle is theology. According to Brunner, 'the more we are dealing with the inner nature of man, with his attitude to God, and the way in which he is determined by God, it is evident that this sinful illusion becomes increasingly dominant.41 Brunner believed that "the nearer we come to the sphere of that which is connected with the personal being of God and man, which can no longer be perceived by reason but only by faith, the more we shall see that the self- sufficient reason is a source of error."42 Hence, in Brunner's view "the disturbance of rational knowledge by sin" attained 'its maximum in theology."43

B. Critical Evaluation

Of the two models which have been examined thus far, Brunner's schema does the most adequate job of explaining the variable effects of sin on different areas of human knowledge. Brunner's model is also superior to Kuyper's model, in that it avoids the exaggerated principle of antithesis and the excessively expressivist view of human thinking.

However, as with Kuyper, Brunner's study of this subject is inadequately attentive to the noetic effects of corporate sin. In addition, Brunner fails to offer an extended treatment of the noetic consequences of regeneration and sanctification; he focuses so much on the object of study as to ignore almost altogether the person conducting the study, except for the one question of whether the person is a Christian.

Beyond this, the main problem with Brunner is that he is too facile in the manner in which he oscillates between discussing whether sin distorts human thinking in a particular discipline and whether a particular discipline is marked by disagreement between Christians and non-Christians. The following quotations exemplify the way in which Brunner moves, without qualification, from the question of sin's noetic effects to the question of the distinctiveness of Christian thought in various spheres of knowledge.

The nearer anything lies to that center of existence where we are concerned with the whole, that is, with man's relation to God and the being of the person, the greater is the disturbance of rational knowledge by sin; the farther away anything lies from this center, the less is the disturbance felt, and the less difference is there between knowing as a believer or as an unbeliever44 Hence mathematics and the natural sciences are much less affected by this negative element [sinful blindness) than the humanities, and the latter less than ethics and theology. In the sphere of natural science, for instance--as opposed to natural philosophy-it makes practically no difference whether a scholar is a Christian or not.45

Brunner's idea is that if a particular area of thought is not affected by sin (for instance, mathematics), then we should expect no systematic differences between Christian and non-Christian thought. Conversely, if a particular area of thought is affected by sin (for instance, ethics), then we should expect noticeable differences between the thinking of Christians and non-Christians. The hidden premise, of course, is that the thinking of Christians is less affected by sin than is the thinking of non-Christians. While this premise certainly contains an element of truth, this premise also can be dangerous in what it overlooks.

The element of truth is that in one sense Christians have died to sin and have been freed from sin so that it is no longer necessary for them to be slaves to sin, with sin as their master (Romans 6:1-14). Whereas the unbeliever is under the dominion of sin, the believer has been set free from bondage to sin (Romans 6:15-23). Indeed, it may even be said that believers may be distinguished from unbelievers because believers do not keep on sinning (I John 3:4-10). Moreover, as John Frame has noted, the Christian Scriptures teach that "the 'mind of Christ,' His wisdom, is communicated to believers (Matt. 11:25ff.; Luke 24:45; 1 Cor. 1:24, 30; 2:16; Phil 2:5; Col. 2:3)."46 So, with Brunner, we might expect that if a discipline of knowledge is susceptible to the noetic effects of sin, the thinking of Christians will be less affected by sin and, therefore, different than the thinking of non-Christians.

In another sense, however, Christians are not immune to sin and its effects. Indeed, those who claim to be without sin may be described as self-deceived (I John 1:8-10). The Christian Scriptures teach that believers may be immature and slow to learn (I Corinthians 14:20, Hebrews 5:11-14), as well as mistaken in many matters (demonstrated by the high proportion of Paul's correspondence aimed at correcting the mistaken beliefs of Christians). In short, believers' minds are still in need of renewal (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23).47 This is precisely the dangerous point that is overlooked in Bnmner's analysis. Nowhere does he speak of the noetic effects of sin in believers' thinking. Brunner's argument is always from the noetic effects of sin to the distinctives of Christian thinking. The great danger for Christians here is that we engage in Pharisaic fingerpointing at the way sin may distort unbelievers' thought without attending to the way sin may distort our own thought.48 Brunner may unwittingly exacerbate this problem by his own failure to address the noetic effects of sin in the thinking of Christians. Such shortcomings in Brunner's model, as well as those found in the model offered by Kuyper, highlight the need for a new model of the noetic effects of sin.

IV. A Constructive Model of the Noetic Effects of Sin

In my view, sin is a multifaceted concept which cannot be explained simply.49 I do not believe that it is possible to predict, with a high degree of accuracy, how the noetic effects of sin will be manifested in any particular situation, though I do believe that some broad generalizations are possible. Beyond such generalizations (to be noted below), I believe that the noetic effects of sin vary according to the complex interplay of multiple factors, as will explained by the proposed model.50

 The Proposed Model

The Object of Knowledge                                                  The Knowing Subject

1. God --------------------\                      /----------1. Regeneration and Sanctification                                     

2. Human Beings ----------          Effects    ----------2. Influence of Communities
                                                    of Sin

3. Impersonal Creation ----/                       \----------3. Individual Differences



    A. The Object Of Knowledge

Kuyper and Brunner were correct in noting that sin tends to disturb human thinking about some matters more than other matters. This insight is reflected on the left side of the proposed model, with its tripartite division of various 'objects' of human knowledge.51 According to the proposed model, the noetic effects of sin generally are expected to be most evident in the knowledge of God (01), less evident in the knowledge of human beings (02), and least evident in the knowledge of impersonal aspects of creation (03).52 This schema does not exempt any area of study completely from the potential distorting effects of sin, as does Kuyper's bipartite division. The proposed schema also departs from Brunner's tendency to generalize about broad fields of study (e.g., sociology) because sub-disciplines within these fields may differ significantly in their foci (e.g., the illustrations  from biological psychology, personality theory, and psychology of religion in the following paragraph).

 Working from the bottom up, the proposed model suggests that, in general, when examining impersonal creation (03), scholars are minimally affected by the distorting effects of sin.53 For example, sin is expected to interfere minimally in 
psychologists' investigation into the communicative action of the neuron or the learn- ing patterns of pigeons. However, when scholars examine human beings (02), as a general rule, more distorting effects of sin are anticipated. That is, sin likely 
interferes to a greater degree in psychologists 'investigation of the nature of human motivation or the definition of optimal mental health for humans. Finally, when scholars examine matters related to God (01), the greatest distorting effect of sin is generally anticipated. Thus, sin is expected to interfere the most in psychologists' investigation of the function of worshipping God or the significance of believing in God.

As the diagram indicates, however, the proposed model suggests that the object of knowledge is not the only factor nor, I would argue, the most influential or interesting factor related to the noetic effects of sin. This is the reason that the expectations in the preceding paragraph are couched as tentative generalizations. The expectations generated by factors related to the object of knowledge (the left side of the model) interact in complex ways with the expectations generated by the typically more important factors related to the knowing subject (the right side of the model).54

     B. The Knowing Subject

The first subjective factor (SI) concerns a person's regeneration and sanctification. Human reason is not an isolated faculty. A person's thinking cannot be completely dissociated from the rest of his or her life, including the "spiritual" aspects of his or her life. Hoffecker was correct when he said that 'the intellect cannot be surgically separated from the will. Since we know that human beings have willfully turned from God, their rebellion has not only moral and spiritual but epistemological consequences."55 Apart from the freedom available in Jesus Christ, humans are in bondage to sin and all of its effects, including the noetic effects of sin. Human self-centeredness distorts human thinking.56 Moreover, our sinful decisions and behaviors also may have distorting noetic effects.57 An of this simply acknowledges that there is a moral dimension to human knowledge, especially knowledge of certain objects. Our moral and spiritual state affects what we think.58 It follows then that people's thinking is influenced by their relationship with God, specifically (1) whether or not they have been regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit, and (2) to what degree they are sanctified.59 Kuyper stressed the importance of regeneration and Brunner acknowledged it, but neither thinker developed the significance of ongoing sanctification to reverse the noetic effects of sin on Christians' thinking.60 According to the proposed model, a person who is unregenerate and living in persistent rebellion against God (as evidenced by acts of the sinful nature in Galatians 5:19-21) is likely to have a more distorted knowledge of God than a person who is regenerate but immature in the faith (I Corinthians 14:20, Hebrews 5:11-14), who in turn is likely to misconstrue God's nature more than a person who is further along in the process of sanctification (evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23). It must be emphasized, however, that the expectations related to the factor of regeneration and sanctification (SI) hold true only "all other things being equal,' which they seldom are. Regeneration and sanctification provide Christians with resources, such as the indwelling guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, for combatting the noetic effects of sin, but these resources do not guarantee flawless thinking.61

Second, there is the related matter of how people are influenced by the communities in which they participate (S2). Earlier, Kuyper and Brunner were both criticized for paying insufficient attention to the communal aspects of sin, including their possible noetic effects. The model proposed in this study attempts to ameliorate this pretermission by incorporating insights from recent scholarship on the communal aspects of human knowing. Macintyre has demonstrated that human thinking is always embedded in historical traditions such that human standards of rationality are always dependent on some tradition or another.62 What needs to be added to MacIntyre's analysis is the observation that the sinful elements in human traditions have distorting noetic effects on the thinking of people within those traditions.

Thus, according to the proposed model, sin and sanctification are not merely individual matters, but also are corporate problems.63 As Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. observes, 'moral evil is social and structural as wen as personal; it comprises a vast historical and cultural matrix that includes traditions, old patterns of relationship and behavior, atmospheres of expectation, social habits.'64 Indeed, a doctrine of extensive human depravity demands a serious analysis of corporate and systemic sin.65 Such analyses have been undertaken recently and they have helped to uncover the workings of corporate and systemic sins such as racism, sexism and economic exploitations.66 These insights are incorporated into the proposed model in the recognition that the knowing subject is influenced by the communities in which he or she participates.67 There is a general expectation that communal sins will distort the thinking of the members of the community, as for example within Nazi Germany or the Ku Klux Klan.68 Conversely, there is also a expectation that a person will enjoy redemptive noetic effects through partici in communities of those who have been redeemed from their sin and are process of being sanctified.69 In short, the model proposed here accounts the sinful and the redemptive ways our communities shape our thinking.

Third, the proposed model acknowledges individual differences in t workings of the noetic effects of sin (S3). As mentioned earlier, it is not possible to predict, with a high degree of accuracy, how the noetic effects will be manifested in any particular situation. Although human beings are characterized by many commonalities, they also are characterized by marked individual differences. People who are involved in a similar sin may not experience similar noetic effects of the sin. For instance, several biblical scholars may all be in in extramarital affairs. One may distort the biblical teaching in such a way it does not condemn his adulterous behavior. Another may admit that that the Bible condemns adultery, but may dismiss the Bible as an authoritative guide of life. Still another may simply avoid any serious study or reflection on what the Bible teaches about adultery. There are volitional as well as noetic effects and it is no easy matter to predict how people's wills and minds may influence one another.70 Our personal interests-as well as various cultural, religious, social, psychological, political and economic influences-affect our understanding of Scripture.71 When these influences are sinful (whether personal or corporate sin), either our understanding of Scripture is distorted (the noetic effects of sin) and/or our obedience to Scripture is undermined (the volitional effects of sin). We human sinners are ingenious in inventing many ways of dealing with our sin, such that there is not complete uniformity, but rather considerable individual variation in how the noetic effects of sin are displayed in each of our lives.72

The acknowledgement of individual differences is related closely to the final point of the proposed model, namely that the noetic effects of sin vary according to the complex interplay of multiple factors. This is noted by the six arrows pointing toward the center of the proposed model, which indicate that people's thinking may be influenced by the complicated and unpredictable interaction of several factors related to the object of knowledge and the knowing subject. One scholar who is studying human motivation (an aspect of 02) may be regenerate but immature in the faith (S1), a longtime member of the American Psychological Association, a recent member of a Southern Baptist Church, and a Skinnerian by graduate training (S2), who is a natural extrovert, still drawn to some materialistic career goals, and driven by a desire to refute the findings of another researcher (S3). Another scholar who is studying God's immutability (01) may be a mature believer noted for her genuine holiness of life (SI), who has recently made strides in overcoming a painfully shy disposition (S3), and is a staunch Calvinist with a Wesleyan childhood, conducting her sabbatical investigation as part of an interdenominational study group at Fuller Theological Seminary (S2). According to the proposed model, it is not possible to forecast exactly how sin may distort the thinking of the two scholars in these particular situations. For these reasons it is fair to describe the noetic effects of sin as a perplexing topic. However, the final section of this essay argues that it would be a mistake to describe inquiry into the noetic effects of sin as futile or hopelessly impractical.

V. The Objection of Impracticality

        A. The Objection Stated

 It was noted in the introduction that the noetic effects of sin have received proportionately little attention in recent scholarly writings. An exception to this general trend may be found in the work of Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, both of whom have acknowledged that the concept of the noetic effects of sin is an important component of a Christian perspective on human thinking (though to date neither Plantinga nor Wolterstorff has undertaken a constructive analysis of the concept).73 Interestingly, even this mere acknowledgment of the importance of the noetic effects of sin has evoked the objection that this concept is thoroughly impractical. The objection has been formulated nicely by George Mavrodes.

When I think about other people's absurd theories, their failure to recognize plain truths, and so on, then the idea of a noetic effect of sin comes readily to mind. But I don't know how to use this idea in a way that really makes a difference, when I think about my own philosophical work-nor, for that matter, in my own theological thinking. How can I tell which part of my own philosophy has been badly warped by sin? Am I supposed to have an undistorted method, a faculty that has itself escaped the ravages of sin, by which I can make this discrimination? Why should we suppose that there is any such undamaged faculty-and even if there is, how should we recognize it? But if every faculty is damaged or if I have no way of knowing which are not, then it would seem that my thinking about the noetic effects of sin is just as likely to be warped as my thinking about anything else. A,nd in that case I can't improve my intellectual life by thinking about the noetic effects of sin.74

Mavrodes' objection to the concept of the noetic effects of sin may be summarized in two assertions: (1) Humans are more inclined to apply the concept to others than to themselves; and (2) The concept is impractical because no human faculty exists which is exempt from sin's effects and therefore it is impossible to identify, in a way which is itself undistorted by sin's effects, exactly where the noetic effects of sin are present.75 Both of these assertions are insightful and valuable, though neither of them actually establishes the contention that we cannot improve our intellectual lives by thinking about the noetic effects of sin.

 B. Reply To The Objection

 Mavrodes certainly is right that all too often, as Caroline Simon says, we humans will display the tendency 'to detect the speck in our colleagues' noetic eyes, but will be blinded by the log in our own.'761 am sympathetic to Soren Kierkegaard who "lamented that becoming aware of our own sin is like trying to see our own eyeballs.'77 Mavrodes also is correct that there is not any human faculty which is exempt from sin's effects. However, these valid points do not establish Mavrodes' objection that the concept of the noetic effects of sin is impractical, such that we should despair altogether of exploring it. Rather, it is possible to identify, at least partially, the distortions in our thinking caused by sin-a possibility which may in large measure be realized through being self-critical and open to correction from others.78 Simon expounds the latter point most appropriately.

 Isn't one of the ways that we Christian philosophers, theologians, scholars, and preachers at least should acknowledge the effects of sin on our theorizing by attending, seriously attending, when someone else attributes a part of our theorizing to self-serving distortion? Isn't a good part of the point of subjecting our work to public commentary, debate, review, and revision a practical acknowledgment of our proneness to err? Intellectual errors have both intellectual and moral causes. We have no episten-dc faculty that has escaped the ravages of sin; however, by grace we are part of the Body of believers intended to build us up into Christ.79

Further support for this view may be found in Clark and Gaede's argument that 'the recognition of our limited perspectives and understandings points to the need for a more communal, multiperspectival effort to apprehend truth. By listening to and testing the views of those with different experiences and interests (including the oppressed and marginal), we are more likely to discover errors and omissions in our viewpoint.'80 Burwell concurs that "there is a rich tradition in sociology that emphasizes the value of intersubjectivity as an antidote to error and deception."81

 The reality that sin distorts our thinking reminds us not only of our need to be self-critical and open to others' corrections but also of our need for humility. If we take the noetic effects of sin seriously, then we are faced with the humbling prospect that this side of heaven some of our beliefs, in particular our beliefs about God (0i), will be erroneous.82 David Myers says:

If falsehoods creep into all domains of human belief, then they are bound to contaminate my ideas and yours, and the next person's too. Not only is it therefore okay to have doubts, it is silly self-deification not to grant the likelihood of error within our belief system. Each one of us peers at reality through a glass darkly, glimpsing only its shadowly outlines. The belief we can hold with greatest certainity, is the humbling conviction that some of our beliefs contain error, which is a way of saying that we are finite men and women, not little gods.83

The undoubted presence of error in our thought teaches us to be humble, but it need not drive us to agnosticism or to mere silence concerning our Christian convictions. While we must never claim to possess a finished and comprehensive knowledge of God, we must still proclaim to others, to the best of our understanding, the good news of Christ's finished and comprehensive work on our behalf.84 DeWolf puts it this way:

When we are speaking, of God we need to acknowledge humbly that the best of our concepts are bound to be extremely inadequate. Indeed, our best concepts are seriously inadequate to represent any concrete reality Yet use concepts we must whenever we would speak concerning any object, even when the object is a personal subject, and even when the object is the Subject who is the Author of our being. The alternative to using concepts is an end of speaking (and writing) and likewise an end of discursive thought.85

Our finitude and fallenness ought to increase our epistemic humility. Our knowledge, especially our knowledge of God, is limited and contains distortions. Nonetheless, God's self-revelation to us in this life and the prospect of our future glorification and communion with God in the life to come ought to help us sustain epistemic hope. We do know some truths now and someday we will know fully, even as we are fully known (I Cor. 13:9-12). As Holmes observes, "humility and hope thus combine in a creational view to avoid both the dogmatism of the rationalist and the pessimism of the relativist."86

Attempting to identify and combat the noetic effects of sin is a very challenging process, but this does not mean that it is a process which is inherently futile. The objection of impracticality reminds us, as Christian scholars, to guard against the tendency to exaggerate the noetic effects of sin on others' thinking and to minimize the noetic effects of sin on our own thinking.87 Nevertheless, the noetic effects of sin should be explored further, not in order to judge others, but in order to facilitate our own repentance.88 Giving heed to the noetic effects of sin is an important step in identifying, confessing, and counteracting (though not altogether eliminating) them.89 Attending to the noetic effects of sin can play a significant role in the renewing of our minds to which all Christians are called (Romans 12:2), especially Christian scholars, whose profession is teaching others (James 3:1-2).90 451


1 Elsewhere, I have noted that key figures from the early church (Augustine), the medieval church (Aquinas), the reformation church (Calvin), and the American church (Edwards) have all commented on the ways that sin distorts out thinking (S. K. Moroney, " The Noetic Effectis of Sin: an Exposition of Calvin's View and a Constructive Theological Proposal," PhD diss., Duke University, 1995, especially appendix 3). 

2. Karl Menitinger, Whatever Became Of Sin? (New York: Hawthorne Books, 1973). See also the counterargument by Kelsey that the concept of sin is alive and well, but has migrated to less prominent theological positions where it appears under a variey of aliases [David Kelsey,  Whatever Happened to the Doctrine Of Sin?" Theology Today ? 50 (July 1993): 169-178]. Though they do not focus specifically on sin's noetic effects, the recent studies by Peters and Plantinga may at least signal a renewed theological interest in the subject of sin  [T. Peters, Radical Sin in Soul and Society: (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994); C. Plantinga Jr., Not the Way Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995)]. 

3This study of Kuyper focuses primarily on his extensive treatment of the noetic effects of sin in  his Principles of Sacred Theology, trans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), originally published in Dutch in 1894. As it applies to the subject at hand, I also drawn occasionally on Kyper's Lectures on Calvanism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931), orginally delivered at the  Stone Lectures at Princeton University in 1898.

4Principles of Sacred Theology, 178. 433

5Principles of Sacred Theology, 152. 

6Principles of Sacred Theology, 118; see also Ibid., 219-220 and Lectures on Calvinism, 131-141. 

7Principles of Sacred Theology, 154; see also Ibid., 168, 226, 679.

8 N. Wolterstorff, 'On Christian Leaming,' in P. A. Marshall, S. Griffioen, and R. J. Mouw, eds., Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Sciences (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1989), 58. 

9Principles of Sacred Theology, 103, 602, 613. 

10 A. Wolters, 'Dutch Neo-Calvinism: Worldview, Philosophy and Rationality,' in H. Hart, ed., Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983), 123. In regard to the first group, Kuyper believed that there was a corporate element in the sanctification of believers' thinking, stating that 'in the circle of the 'enlightened' the Holy Spirit operates not merely in individuals, but also in groups and in the whole circle" (Principles of Sacred Theology, 290; see also Ibid., 289).

11 On the principle of antithesis, see Principles of Sacred Theology, 168, 176 and Lectures on Calvinism, 130-141. Kuyper recognized the fact that the 'two kinds of thinking' remained interlaced, but he attributed this to regeneration working as a continual process rather than as a complete instantaneous change (Principles of Sacred Theology, 162-163, 179). It should further be acknowledged that Kuyper denied the existence of completely uniform thinking among the regenerate because he believed that regeneration "does not alter the differences of temperament, of personal disposition, of position in W, nor of concomitant circumstances which dominate the investigation,' such that 'subjective divergence continues to exist in every way" and 'different schools have formed themselves" (Principles of Sacred Theology, 170; see also Ibid., 169,171,177,178). 

12Principles of Sacred Theology, 110, 157. Because he maintained that 'the formal process of thought has not been attacked by sin," Kuyper held that "palingenesis [regeneration] works no change in this mental task" (Principles of Sacred Theology, 159). 

13Principles of Sacred Theology, 104, 157, 600. 

14 0n this, see Colossians 1:13, Luke 11:14-23, and Acts 26:18, as well as Augustine's characterization of the history of the world as a conflict between the civitas dei and the civitas mundi

15J. Klapwijk, 'Rationality in the Dutch Neo-Calvinist Tradition," in H. Hart, ed., Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983),98. Along similar lines, Ratzsch remarks that "fifty years before many Western philosophers, Kuyper had already seen that 'values' and even metaphysical principles play a proper, ineradicable role in science, that there are legitimate subjective factors in science' [D. Ratzsch, "Abraham Kuyper's Philosophy of Science,' Calvin Theological Journal 27 (1992): 3011. The present essay does not attempt to determine whether Kuyper was epistemically praiseworthy or blameworthy within his historical setting, but rather attempts to critically appropriate his useful insights for application today. 16The concept of corporate sin and its noetic effects is developed at more length in section IV below, especially in the paragraph containing notes 63-69. 170n this, see Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism, 136-137.

18The notion that there are no neutral, uninterpreted facts observed by a neutral eye, but that observation itself is a theory-laden activity was perhaps most widely popularized by Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962), especially chapters VI and X. On perception as an active and selective process, see Bert Hodges, 'Perception, Relativity, and Knowing and Doing the Truth," in S. L. Jones, ed., Psychology and the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 51-77. 

19Principles of Sacred Theology, 159. 

20Wolters, 129. 

2IDavid Myers, Social Psychology, 5th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), especially chapters 2-5. 

22Lectures on Calvinism, 132. This same extreme bifurcation is found in Cornelius Van Til, "Antitheses in Education," in L. Berkhof and C. Van Til, Foundations of Christian Education (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990), 3-24. In fact Van Til goes beyond Kuyper in arguing for an antithesis even in rnathematics, for instance that 'the fact that two times two are four does not mean the same thing to you as a believer and to someone else as an unbeliever... Of course arithmetic must be taught in a Christian school. It cannot be taught anywhere else" (pp. 7, 17).

23Wolterstorff, "On Christian Learning," 69. 

24 Woltersdorff. "On Christian Leaming," 69.

25 This was recognized early on by Kuyper's colleague Herinan Bavinck, who took exception Kuyper's teaching that there were two kinds of people and therefore two kinds of thinking P. Heideman, The Relation of Revelation and Reason in E. Brunner and H. Bavinck (Assen, Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1959), 209, note 61. Klapwijk (103) explains that 'for Bavinck, the om of truth can no more be equated with those who have been born again than can the kingdom of Satan with those who have not been born again; among the former there is in much error present, among the latter much truth.

26 This study of Brunner focuses primarily on his treatment of the noetic effects of sin in three his major works: Der Mensch im Widerspruch (Berlin: Furche-Verlag, 1937); Offenbarung und unft (Ziirich: Zwingli-Veriag, 1941); and Die christliche Lehre von Schopfung und Erlosung,  Band 11 (Ziirich: Zwingli-Verlag, 1950). The respective English translations, all completed by OliveWyon, are:Man in Revolt (Philadelphia:Westminster,1939); Revelation and Reason (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1946); and The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, Volume 11 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1952). 

27 Brunner referred to his model of the noetic effects of sin as 'the law of the closeness of (Gesetz der Beziehungsndhe), which served as his 'guiding principle for all problems concern the relation between the Christian and the world' (Revelation and Reason, 383, 20; Offenbarung und Vernunft, 379, note 20). For various statements of this 'law of the  closeness of relation,' see The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, 27 (Die christliche Lehre von Schopfung und Eriosung, 34); Man in Revolt, 248, 255 (Der Mensch im Widerspruch, 249-250, 257); and Revelation and Reason, 429 (Offenbarung und Vernunft, 425). 

28Revolution and Reason, 383; Offenbarung und Vernunft, 378. In this statement it is possible to read Brunner as arguing that the exact or natural sciences (die exacte Wissenschaft) are minimally disturbed by sin but that mathematics (included im Bereich des Formalen) is completely untouched by sin, such that mathematics should be placed in a circle of its own further removed from the center of the noetic effects of sin than the natural sciences. (On this, see also Revelation and Reason, 386, note 23; Offenbarung und Vernunft, 381, note 23.) T'his notwithstanding, I believe that my grouping of mathematics with the natural sciences is warranted by Brunner's grouping of these two areas of knowledge in many statements elsewhere. Note, for instance, the grouping of mathematics with physics, chemistry, and anatomy in quotations which follow. 

29Revelation and Reason, 429; Offenbarung und Vernunft, 425. 

30Man in Revolt, 2,55; Der Mensch im Widerspruch, 257. 

3IMan in Revolt, 62; Der Mensch im Widerspruch, 50.

32Man in Revolt, 247-248; Der Mensch im Widerspruch, 249. 

33Man in Revolt, 255; Der Mensch im Widerspruch, 257. Almost identical language is found in Revelation and Reason, 384; Offenbarung und Vernunft, 379. 

34The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, 27, Die christliche Lehre von Schdpfung und Eriosung


36Revelation and Reason, 383-384; Offenbarung und Vernunft, 379. 

37For example, in philosophy, Brunner argued that 'even the formal concepts of every philosophical ontology are positions of sinful reason, from which, it is true, not reason but sin must be eliminated" (Man in Revolt, 546; Der Mensch i?n Wide?spruch, 557). 

38The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, 27; Die christliche Lehre von Schdpfung und Eri6sung, 34. 

39Revelation and Reason, 429; Offenbarung und Venunft, 425. 

40 Revelation and Reason, 383; Offenbarung und Vernunft, 378. Statements such as this one, in which Brunner clearly differentiated theology proper from related ethical matters, led me to distinguish the two areas in my schematization, despite his occasional grouping of the two together. On this point, see also the quotations in the following paragraph. 

41 The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, 27; Die christliche Lehre von Sch6pfung und Eridsung, 34. 439

42Man in Revolt, 248; Der Mensch im Widerspruch, 250. 

43Revelation and Reason, 383; Offenbarung und Vernunft, 378. 


45The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, 27; Die christliche Lehre von Sch6pfung und Erlosung, 34. The same oscillation is also found in Man in Revolt, 255; Der Mensch im Widerspruch, 257.

46 J. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987),153. 

47 As Frame acknowledges, there is a need not only for noetic regeneration but also for noetic sanctification (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 154). 

480n Christians' special susceptibility to being self-deceived, see Soren Kierkegaard's Attack Upon 'Christendom' (1855; reprint, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968). 

49Because the Bible describes sin in several ways (breaking a covenant, transgressing a law, hardening a heart, missing a target, irreligion, treachery, rebellion, iniquity, etc.), I do not believe that the concept of sin can be defined comprehensively in a single sentence. Nevertheless, as Peters (10) notes, 'despite the inherently mysterious or inpenetrable character of sin, we can still say something about it." When I speak of sin in this section of the essay, my usage will be akin to that of Plantinga Jr,: 'Let us say that a sin is any thought, desire, emotion, word, or deed-or its particular absence-that displeases God and deserves blame. Let us add that sin is the disposition to commit sins. And let us use the word sin for instances of either" [C. Plantinga, Jr., "Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin,' Theology Today 50 (July 1993): 1841.

50 I recognize that by its very nature a simple, static, two-dimensional diagram runs the risk of misrepresenting the complex, active, dynamic, interactive model which I wish to describe, but I have chosen nonetheless to include the diagram for heuristic purposes, with the intention that the verbal description of the model will flesh out the skeletal picture. ,

510f course, the 'object" of knowledge is very often a 'subject in its own right, as with humans or God. In the absence of a better alternative, I simply employ the phrase "object of knowledge" to designate the entity which is known, whether this entity be impersonal or personal.

52Cf. Jesus' teaching in John 3:12 that heavenly things are more difficult to grasp than earthly things. A respondent to this paper observed that when we make errors in studying impersonal creation, reality frequently offers us immediate correction, whereas correction of our theological errors is often delayed (as with the scoffers in II Peter 3). 

53As Buber argues, our knowledge of the impersonal world (1-it) is qualitatively different than our knowledge of other human beings and God (I-Thou) [M. Buber, I and Thou (New York: Scribner, 1937)]. 

540n the subjective or personal factors in human knowledge, see M. Polanyi, Personal Knowl edge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

55 W. A. Hoffecker, "Augustine, Aquinas, and the Reformers,' in W. A. Hoffecker, ed., Building a Christian World View, vol. I (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986), 257. See also related observations in A. Holmes, Contours of a World View (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983),131; R. Pazmifio, Principles and Practices of Christian Education (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1992), 30; and R. Pazmifto, By What Authority Do We Teach? (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1994), 108, 130. 

56N. F. S. Ferre, Faith and Reason (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1946), 234.

57As Talbot argues, "If I were to decide to cheat often enough, I would probably leave myself ill-disposed to believe that cheating is wrong" IM. Talbot, 'Is It Natural to Believe in God?" Faith and Philosophy 6 (1989):163-1641. Talbot's argument finds support in the biblical notion that people who sin and do not repent can develop consciences that are corrupted (Titus 1:15) or seared (I T'unothy 4:2). See also Romans 1:18-32 on the progressive downward noetic spiral which is set in motion by unrepentant sin. 

58 M. Frame, "VanTil and the Ligonier Apologetic," Westminster Theological Journal 47 (1985):291. 

59As I use the terms here, regeneration denotes the instantaneous work of the Holy Spirit in making a spiritually dead sinner alive in Christ, transforming the born again believer into a new creature, and sanctification denotes the subsequent process of a believer growing in experiential holiness, progressively developing into greater Christ-likeness. 

60Zemek's study supports the proposed model in his conclusion that regeneration establishes an initial reorientation of people's mental capacities, but continued sanctification is required for further growth in godliness [G. J. Zemek, "Aiming the Mind: A Key to Godly Living,' Grace Theological Journal 5 (1984): 2051. 

6IHence, the model proposed in this study concurs with Frame, when he inquires, 'are the most sanctified people always the best reasoners? No. (a) For sanctification is not the only factor bearing on reason. A person's intelligence, his [or her] access to data, his [or her] education and training, his [or her] experience in reasoning, all these play a role as well. (b) For sanctification bears on all areas of human life, not only reasoning. And it affects these areas of life sometimes unevenly: a person may show his for herl holiness by helping the poor, while not being as faithful in other areas of life. Yet sanctification can be an epistemological advantage, for it opens our eyes to relate our experiences to God,' J. Frame, 'Rationality and Scripture," in H. Hart, ed., Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition (Lanham, Md: University Press of America, 1983), 309.

62A. Maclntyre,Whose justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988). 

63Richard Lovelace argues that 'since we are inextricably bound up with corporate sin through our participation in nations and institutions, there is no way that we can avoid implication in the guilt of the fallen world, and therefore biblical saints confess the sins of their community along with those they have personally committed' [R. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downer's Grove, M.: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 941. For examples of the confession of corporate sin, cited by Lovelace, see Ezra 9:6-15, Nehemiah 1:6-7, and Daniel 9:3-16. 

64PIantinga, Jr., Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, 191. 

65 S. C. Mott, "Biblical Faith and the Reality of Social Evil,' Christian Scholar's Review 9 (1980): 235. See also Montgomery's argument that "on the basis of their own doctrine of sin, church people should be in the forefront of those who are self-critical in raising questions about their biases" [R. L. Montgomery, "Bias in Interpreting Social Facts: Is it a Sin?" Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 23 (1984): 2901. 

66For example, on racism, see C. V. Willie, 'Getting a Handle on Institutional Sin," The Witness 64 (March 1981): 17-18. On sexism, see B. Greene, "Women, Men and Corporate Sin," Daughters of Sarah vol. 4, no. 3 (May 1978): 5-6 and vol. 4, no. 4, (July 1978): 5-7. On economic exploitation, see J. Sobrino, "500 Years: Structural Sin & Structural Grace,' SEDOS Bulletin 24 (May 15,1992):151-156. Related observations may be found in J. N. Poling, Deliver Us from Evil (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortmss, 1996), especially Part One. 

67Gushee observes that 'anyone who has lived among people rather than as a hern-dt knows that we are indeed profoundly influenced in our decisions by those whose opinions matter to us. Perhaps we ought to ponder who those influential people and groups are in our lives and whether each merits the place it occupies" (David P. Gushee, "Why They Help Jews," Christianity Today, 24 October 1994, 34).

68While Nazis and Klansmen are spectacular examples, there is also great value in ex the more mundane but still insidious instances of the noetic effects of corporate sin as the frank account of white suburban racism in Peters (170-172) and the astute i scattered throughout the analysis of Plantinga, Jr.

69CIark and Gaede point out that it is fallacious to assume "that the social, extrinsic influence on thought must produce error" and that "truth can be obtained only by removing al distorting influences, transcending any 'social location.' . . . Rather, our social location interests, values, opportunities, and incentives of our social context may be the social basis for obtaining truth as well as error ... Human knowing is indeed influenced by our con of existence; both error and truth are discovered through and acted on in socially situated activity" [R. A. Clark and S. D. Gaede, "Knowing Together: Reflections on a Holistic Soc of Knowledge," in H. Heie and D. L. Wolfe, eds., The Reality of Christian Learning Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 68, 69, and 79].

70 Daniel Fuller makes the provocative argument that unbelievers who reject the authority of the Bible and regard it as foolishness have no need to distort the Bible's teaching may exegete it accurately (presence of volitional effects of sin render noetic effects of sin more likely). Conversely, believers who accept the authority of the Bible and realize that they to submit to its teachings are at special risk for distorting the Bible's teachings when clashes with their sinful egos (absence of volitional effects of sin render noetic effects more likely). On this, see D. P. Fuller, "The Holy Spirit's Role in Biblical Interpretion in W. W. Gasque and W. S. LaSor, eds., Scripture, Tradition, and Interpretation (Grand R Eerdmans, 1978),189-198, especially 197-198. Another intriguing analysis of the bidirec interplay between reason and will may be found in T. D. Cuneo, "Combating the Noetic E of Sin: Pascal's Strategy for Natural Theology," Faith and Philosophy, 11(4) (1994), 645-6

71W. M. Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women (Scottdale, Penn.: Herald Press, 1983), especially 22, 62, 185, 208, 227, and 230-231. 

72Because the present study is focused solely on the noetic effects of sin, it may convey the impression that all of the errors and limitations of human thinking may be ascribed specifically to sin. Here I wish to acknowledge that sin is only one factor which may contribute to erroneous thinking. Another very important source of error in human thinking is human finitude, as reflected in several of the characteristics listed in the two examples in the next paragraph of the text. As Arthur Hohmes remarks, sometimes an intellectual 'dffficulty has more to do with limited access to evidence and arguments than with moral turpitude or willful rebellion against God.... eirror is not all due to sin and unbelief or to the n-dsuse of human free will. Some error is due, like natural evil, to human finiteness, to the highly complicated nature of things, and to the impracticability of always suspending judgment' [A. Holmes, All Truth Is God's Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 52

73A. Plantinga, "On Reformed Epistemology," The Reformed Journal 32 Uanuary 1982): 14; N. Wolterstorff, "Introduction,' in H. Hart, ed., Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983), vi; N. Wolterstorff, "What Reformed Epistemology is Not,' Perspectives 7 (November 1992): 14-16. 

74G. 1. Mavrodes, 'A Futile Search for Sin," Perspectives 8 (January 1993): 9. 

75Dewey Hoitenga sums up this latter point aptly by stating that, in Mavrodes' view, there is an 'incoherence of supposing we can detect the noetic effects of sin by means of the very noetic faculties that suffer from those effects' [D. J. Hoitenga, Jr., 'A Futile Search for Sin?' Perspectives 8 (March 1993): 91. 

76C. J. Simon, "How Opaque Is Sin?' Perspectives 8 (February 1993): 8. 

77D. Myers, "Social Psychology,' in S. L. Jones, ed., Psychology and the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 230.

78 1 do not believe that self-critique is necessarily a fruitless enterprise (as the foregoing Kierkegaardian quote might imply), but rather I maintain that self-critique is severely limited, and that self-criticalness needs to be supplemented with an openness to correction from others. C)n the importance of self-criticalness at both the individual and corporate levels, see Clarke and Gaede (81), Mott (237), and Montgomery (290). While it is true that normally we cannot see our own eyeballs, with the aid of a mirror we (who possess the faculty of sight) can. For Christians the Word of God serves as a mirror which brings correction by showing us our sinful ways games 1:21-25; cf. Hebrews 4:12). 

79Simon, 8. 

80 CIark and Gaede, 83. See also Swartley's related comment that 'as interpreters listen to and learn from other interpreters-men from women, whites from blacks, western Christians from eastern Christians, the wealthy from the poor (and vice versa)-new discoveries of truth in both the text and the self will emerge" (220). 

81 R. Burwell, "Epistemic Justification, Cultural Universals, and Revelation: Further Reflections on the Sociology of Knowledge,' in H. Heie and D. L. Wolfe, eds., The Reality of Christian Learning (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987),96. The same intersubjective corrective mechanism is found in the requirement of "the scientific method' that experimental results be replicable. 

82 This statement (as indeed this entire essay) has some obvious self-referential implications. That is, to the extent that the model proposed in this study is accurate, my own understanding of the noetic effects of sin is limited by my finite perspective and distorted by the individual and corporate sin in which I participate. Here I am dependent on others to help me identify the limits and the distortions of my viewpoint. Cf. G.K. Chesterton who, when asked by the London Times to submit an essay on the topic, "What is Wrong with the World," responded simply, 'Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.'

83 D. Myers, The Inflated Self (New York: The Seabury Press, 1980), 117. 


84 L. Newbigin, The Finality of Christ (London: SCM, 1969).

85 L. H. DeWolf, "Theological Rejection of Natural Theology: An Evaluation," Journal of Religious Thought 15 (1958): 101. See also Stall's related comment that "knowledge kept to its proper sphere as partial and selective is still knowledge" [S. W. Stall, "Sociology of Knowledge, Relativism, and Theology," in B. Hargrove, ed., Religion and the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1984), 671.

86 Holmes, Contours of a World View, 128. On this, see also R. J. Mouw, "Humility, Hope and Divine Slowness," Christian Century 107 (April 11, 1990): 367.

87 M. Westphal, "Taking St. Paul Seriously: Sin as an Epistemological Category," in T. P Flint, ed., Christian Philosophy (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990),216.

88R. M. Adams, "The Virtue of Faith," Faith and Philosophy 1 (1984): 5. 

89AIong the same lines, Casserly observes that 'rationalization is a process very similar to ideology. To be aware that it happens, and to know how it happens, is to be forewarned and forearmed against it. Not invincibly forearmed, of course, but forearmed with at least tolerable efficiency" [J. V. L. Casserley, Morals and Man in the Social Sciences (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1951),181]. 

90 I would like to thank Susan Moroney for her significant contributions to my thinking on this subject. I would also like to thank Rebecca LeBlanc for her computer assistance and Bruce Swaffield for his helpful editorial suggestions throughout the essay.