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Christian Faith as Personal Knowledge

  • Robert T. Osborn (a1)


Since Barth's attack on ‘religion’ and religious ‘experience’ as the point of focus for Christian theology, it has just not been the thing to do to turn to it as such for theological direction. In a similar vein, Dietrich Bonhoeffer has reminded us that to be a Christian is not to be ‘religious’ but to be only a man. Barth objected to an experiential focus for fear that the sovereignty of God would be compromised by confusing his word and works with their manifestations in experience. Bonhoeffer and, following him, modern secular, radical theology objects to this religious focus because it compromises the integrity of the secular self-understanding of the modern mündig man. Nevertheless, Barth recognised that theology has no beginning point other than the communal experience of faith—hence, ‘church’ dogmatics. The contention of this paper is that Michael Polanyi's analysis of scientific knowledge offers a model for understanding the experience and knowledge of faith that is faithful both to the experience of faith and to the modern secular, scientific experience.1 Therefore, following an exposition of Polanyi's epistemology, I will seek to demonstrate that it is a most helpful hermeneutic for the understanding of Christian experience as described by Paul, especially in the early chapters of 1 Corinthians.



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page 101 note 1 References in the footnotes to the published works of Polanyi will be made by the following symbols: CI—‘The Creative Imagination’, Chemical and Engineering News (April 1966) pp. 8592.MMOn the Modern Mind, Encounter (May 1965), pp. 12–20. PK—Personal Knowledge: Toward a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958).SM—The Study of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959).TD—The Tacit Dimension (Garden City: Doubleday, 1966).

page 102 note 1 TD, p. 4.

page 102 note 2 PK, p. 16.

page 102 note 3 MM, p. 13.

page 102 4 MM, p. 13.

page 103 note 1 Citing such authors as Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Gide, etc., he comments that ‘today we have a whole literature, much of high quality, in which absurdity and a sombre, fantastic obscenity are presented as tokens of unflinching honesty’. MM, p. 20.

page 103 note 2 MM, p. 21.

page 103 note 3 PK, pp. 233–5.

page 103 note 4 Cf. Berdyaev, Nicholas, The Destiny of Man (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1960), pp. 914.

page 104 note 1 SM, p. 20.

page 104 note 2 SM, p. 13.

page 104 note 3 SM, p. 21.

page 104 note 4 SM, p. 66.

page 104 note 5 SM, p. 66.

page 104 note 6 PK, p. 266.

page 105 note 1 TD, pp. 3–25.

page 105 note 2 There is a certain ambiguity in Polanyi's use of the word ‘tacit’. In The Study of Man, pp. 20–22, he designates as ‘tacit’ the act of comprehension in which one knows the object to which he is attending. In The Tacit Dimension he designates as tacit the knowledge we have of particulars while attending to the comprehensive object (p. 10). Both acts are ‘tacit’ in the sense that they are not explicit; i.e., the comprehension of the whole is a creative act that goes beyond the possibilities given explicitly in the parts; the knowledge of the parts implied in an act of comprehension is tacit in that we know the parts only indirectly or implicitly as we attend to the whole.

page 105 note 3 TD, p. 10.

page 106 note 1 TD, pp. 15f.

page 106 note 2 He acknowledges this concept in Dilthey and Lipps, for example, who apply it to historical knowledge. Polanyi sees it as a feature of all knowledge. TD, pp. 16f.

page 106 note 3 TD, p. 18.

page 106 note 4 TD, p. 19. See also ‘CI’, p. 88.

page 106 note 5 TD, p. 21.

page 107 note 1 Cf. CI, p. 89, where he speaks of the ‘strategic intuition’.

page 107 note 2 TD, p. 23.

page 107 note 3 TD, p. 25.

page 108 note 1 SM, p. 33.

page 108 note 2 ‘Hence the question much discussed by philosophers of how can we infer the existence of other minds from observing their external workings does not arise, for we never do observe these workings in themselves.’ TD, p. 30.

page 108 note 3 PK, pp. 6, 65.

page 108 note 4 TD, pp. 32f.

page 108 note 5 TD, p. 34.

page 109 note 1 TD, p. 35.

page 109 note 2 TD, p. 45.

page 110 note 1 TD, p. 50.

page 110 note 2 ibid., p. 51.

page 110 note 3 ibid., p. 79. Italics mine.

page 110 note 4 ibid., p. 91.

page 110 note 5 ibid., p. 92.

page 110 note 6 ibid., p. 92.

page 110 note 7 ibid., p. 92.

page 111 note 1 PK, p. 69.

page 111 note 2 PK, pp. 78f.

page 111 note 3 PK, p. 81. Language is ‘a tool box, a supremely effective instrument for deploying our inarticulate faculties’. SM, p. 22.

page 112 note 1 PK, pp. 86f.

page 112 note 2 PK, p. 90.

page 112 note 3 PK, p. 93.

page 112 note 4 PK, p. 100.

page 113 note 1 PK, p. 101.

page 113 note 2 PK, p. 104.

page 113 note 3 PK, p. 105.

page 113 note 4 PK, p. 106.

page 113 note 5 PK, p. 106.

page 113 note 6 ‘My own view admits this controlling principle (which sets limits and therefore gives meaning to concepts in a way nominalism cannot) by accrediting the speaker's sense of fitness for judging that his words express the reality he seeks to express.’ PK, p. 113.

page 113 note 7 PK, p. 114.

page 114 note 1 PK, p. 116.

page 114 note 2 PK, p. 124.

page 115 note 1 TD, pp. 33f.

page 115 note 2 See SM, pp. 61–3.

page 115 note 3 SM, p. 69.

page 115 note 4 See PK, pp. 145–50.

page 115 note 5 PK, p. 320.

page 115 note 6 SM, p. 37.

page 115 note 7 SM, p. 36.

page 116 note 1 TD, pp. 62f.

page 116 note 2 SM, p. 69.

page 116 note 3 See Langford's, Thomas A.Michael Polanyi and the Task of Theology’, The Journal of Religion, XLVI (1966), pp. 4555.

page 118 note 1 Polanyi points in the direction of my interpretation and use of his epistemology in his discussion of religious doubt. PK, pp. 279–86.

page 121 note 1 2 Cor. 5.11.

page 121 note 2 1 Cor. 5.16.

page 121 note 3 Gal. 4.9.

page 121 note 4 1 Cor. 1.26–31

page 123 note 1 See PK, p. 281, where Polanyi states that ‘the words of prayer and confession, the actions of the ritual, the lesson, the sermon, the church itself, are the clues of the worshipper's striving toward God.’

Christian Faith as Personal Knowledge

  • Robert T. Osborn (a1)


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