How Do We Know? | Book Review

How Do We Know? By James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman is an introduction to epistemology, the theory of knowledge. It is also the inaugural volume in IVP Academic’s new series, Questions in Christian Philosophy. The next volume, How Do We Reason? by Forrest E. Baird, is an introduction to logic and comes out in April 2021.

Here is the table of contents:

  1. What Is Epistemology?
  2. What Is Knowledge?
  3. Where Does Knowledge Come From?
  4. What Is Truth, and How Do We Find It?
  5. What Are Inferences, and How Do They Work?
  6. What Do We Perceive?
  7. Do We Need Justification?
  8. Can We Be Objective in Our View of the World?
  9. What Is Virtue Epistemology?
  10. Do We Have Revelation?
  11. How Certain Can We Be?

As can be seen from this table, the book asks the basic questions of epistemology. Dew and Foreman outline the most common answers to each question, noting their strengths and weaknesses. They write clearly and use everyday illustrations to make their points.

The authors note that the book is for “those with no background in philosophy,” and it brings a “Christian perspective” to bear on the topic. This perspective is most evident in the book’s discussions about the possibility of divine revelation and of Reformed epistemology.

Given that How Do We Know? is published by the academic imprint of an evangelical publisher, I assume that its primary readers will be college students, especially at Christian colleges and universities. However, readers who aren’t college students—or even Christians—can profit from the book’s discussion of the issues, which largely tracks with the content of other primers on epistemology.

One final note: This is the book’s second edition. Its major difference from the first edition is the addition of chapter 8, “Can We Be Objective in Our View of the World?”

Book Reviewed
James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman, How Do We Know? An Introduction to Epistemology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020).

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Permissible, But Not Beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1)

The Daily Word will begin after the following book review blurb…


Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2010). $22.00, 210 pages.

Recently, so-called “new atheists” have been making loud noises about how stupid and wicked religion is. Richard Dawkins thinks belief in God is a “delusion” to be replaced by scientific thinking. Daniel Dennett views religion as a “spell” that needs to be broken. Sam Harris longs for “the end of faith,” whose absolutism he thinks leads only to violence. And Christopher Hitchens argues that “religion poisons everything.”

Alister McGrath disagrees….

To read my complete review, go here. To receive my book reviews via email, subscribe here and make sure to reply to the confirmation email.


Permissible, But Not Beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1)

First Corinthians 10:23–11:1 concludes Paul’s argument about eating food sacrificed to idols. He prohibits eating such food at religious feasts in pagan temples, but he permits eating it at dinner parties in private homes on a case-by-case basis. First Corinthians 10:23–11:1 outlines his reasoning on the latter subject.

First, Paul argues that the responsibility to love others takes precedence over the rights that knowledge confers. Verses 23–24 read:

“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

He then argues that idol-food, in and of itself, raises no moral issues for Christians. Verses 25–26 read:

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1).

But given the first and second points, he argues that believers should not eat idol-food if a person raises an issue about it. Verses 27–30 read:

If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake—the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

Finally, he argues that believers should reflect God’s glory in all they do. 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1 reads:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example as I, as I follow the example of Christ.

Two things strike me about 1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1—indeed about the entire argument of 8:1–11:1. The first is the robust knowledge that guides Paul’s thought process. Paul’s argument proceeds out of a deep commitment to truth and a deep rejection of superstition. But the second is that robust love that animates Paul’s commitment to people. He knows idols are nothing, but he loves people who continue to mistakenly believe they are something.

At the outset of my comments on 8:1–11:1, I noted that few modern Christians—at least in the West—deal with the problem of food sacrificed to idols. Our temptation, therefore, is to breeze through or ignore what Paul writes there. But now that we’ve revealed Paul’s thought process, we can see how applicable it is to modern times. Do we relate to others on the basis of the knowledge that confers rights, or do we relate to them on the basis of the Christ-like responsibility to love them?

Knowledge and love. Rights and responsibilities. These are very modern issues, aren’t they?

Rights or Responsibilities? (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)

In 1 Corinthians 8:1–10:11, Paul examines the practice of Christians eating food sacrificed to idols. In the ancient world, people sacrificed animals to the gods. They gave some of the meat to the priests, and they consumed some of the meat in a religious feast at the temple. The priests sold leftover meat in the public market, which was then consumed in private homes.

Chapter 8 lays the theological and ethical foundation for Paul’s argument, while chapter 10 builds a house of practical application. At first, chapter 9 appears to be a digression from the main argument, but it is not. Rather, to continue the building metaphor, chapter 9 describes the person who lives in the chapter 10 house built on the chapter 8 foundation.

In chapter 8, Paul agrees with the Corinthians that idols are objectively unreal and idol food objectively insignificant. This knowledge led the Corinthians to eat idol food whenever and wherever they desired. Paul seasoned his knowledge with love, however. In chapter 10, he prohibits the practice of Christians eating idol food in religious feasts at pagan temples because—as we will see—this requires them to participate in demonic deceptions. However, he allows them to eat idol food in dinner parties at private homes, if—and this if is crucial—no one has scruples about the practice. Love of neighbor determines what one should do.

The Corinthians exercised rights based on knowledge. Paul exercised restraint of his rights based on love. The entire point of chapter 9 is that restraining the exercise of one’s rights confers advantages on those who share the gospel. And since saving others is more important than serving oneself, Paul offers his personal example as a lifestyle worthy of imitation.

In verses 24–27, he uses athletic imagery to challenge the Corinthians to pursue the same lifestyle with equal fervency:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

On several occasions, I’ve noted that the issue of food sacrificed to idols is not a live one for most of us in America. (A missionary emailed me, though, to tell me that it’s a life issue in his cultural context.) The relevant question for us American Christians is this: Do we spend more time and effort cultivating our rights or cultivating our responsibilities to those who need to hear the gospel?

It’s a tough question. I can’t answer it for you. But I am certainly examining my lifestyle and asking it of myself.

Good Theology Rightly Applied (1 Corinthians 8:9–13)

In 1 Corinthians 8:1–13, Paul answers the question of whether Christians can eat food sacrificed to idols. For modern American Christians, this question is not relevant, since our culture does not sacrifice to idols. The way Paul answers this question is relevant today, however, for it addresses how we educate people out of their ignorance. Paul identifies two crucial issues: what we know and how we use that knowledge.

For Paul, knowledge liberates. Idols are objectively unreal, so eating food sacrificed to idols is objectively insignificant. Knowledgeable Corinthian Christians therefore eat such food freely.

On the other hand, ignorance oppresses. Idols are subjectively real to some people, so eating food sacrificed to them violates their conscience. Ignorant Corinthian Christians refuse to eat what they are free to eat, or if they do eat, their “conscience” becomes “weak” and “defiled.”

Ironically, instead of criticizing the ignorant Corinthians for their bad theology and weak consciences, Paul criticizes the knowledgeable Corinthians. Consider what he writes in 1 Corinthians 8:9–13:

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

The theology of the knowledgeable Corinthians is incomplete and therefore wrongly applied. Idols are objectively unreal. Eating food sacrificed to them is therefore objectively insignificant. This theology is two-thirds correct. The missing third is the relationship between Jesus Christ and the ignorant Corinthians. They were people “for whom Christ died.” When the knowledgeable Corinthians flaunt their freedom, they become a “stumbling block” to the ignorant Corinthians. Their knowledge “destroyed” them. Their actions “wound their weak conscience.” This “sin against your brothers” becomes a “sin against Christ.”

Paul accounted for Jesus Christ in his theology, so he applied his theology in a Christ-like way. Yes, idols are objectively unreal. Yes, food sacrificed to idols is objectively insignificant. But since Christ died for the weak, my goal as a Christian is to educate them out of their ignorance. If doing so requires that I subordinate my freedoms for their wellbeing, then so be it. Love compels me to observe their scruples as I move them from ignorance and weakness to knowledge, strength, and freedom. “[I]f what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin,” Paul writes, “I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”

Knowledge is power, the power of freedom and the power of love. As Christians, we sometimes subordinate our personal freedom in order to love others. This is good theology rightly applied.

Knowledge for Love’s Sake (1 Corinthians 8:1–3)

Knowledge is power. The crucial question is, Power for what? First Corinthians 8:1–3 offers an answer:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.

In these verses, Paul contrasts knowledge as power for self with knowledge as power for others. The former is the viewpoint of the Corinthians. The latter is Paul’s own. Which is ours?

At various stages in my life, I have used knowledge as power not only for self but also over others. During my freshman year in college, for example, I studied philosophy. Why? I desired to know the truth. But to be honest, I also desired to be right.

Here’s another example: As a new associate pastor, I started a Bible study for young adults in my church. At our first meeting, I taught the small group for 30–40 minutes, then asked for questions. A young woman—an elementary school teacher—asked if in the future I could lead the group in discussion rather than lecture them. I took offense. Why would I want group members to pool their ignorance in a discussion group when I could enlighten them with a lecture? I was a teacher, not a facilitator.

The issue at stake in these personal examples is not knowledge. Knowledge is a good thing. Rather, the issue at stake is motivation and relationship. Why do I want to know? Based on my knowledge, what relationships with others do I want to have?

The Corinthians desired to know because it enlarged their freedom of action. In 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1, the issue is whether Christians can eat food sacrificed to idols. The Corinthians know that “an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (8:4). From this truth, however, they incorrectly infer that they can eat whatever wherever and whenever they want.

In other words, their motivation is selfish. What’s in it for me? And their relationships are elitist. What do I care if my actions offend you? You’re an ignoramus!

To a significant degree, Paul agrees with the Corinthians about the nothingness of idols and the somethingness of God. Unlike them, however, he deploys that knowledge for the good of others. Just as there is scope and sequence to how we learn things in school, so there is scope and sequence to how we learn things in Christ. Education requires patience because rooting out ignorance takes time. Taking time requires love. Love requires sacrifice.

The Corinthians, concerned for little beyond their own freedom, are impatient, unloving, and self-aggrandizing. Their knowledge puffs up their own egos. Paul’s love builds up others in the knowledge of the truth.

Knowledge is power. Does our knowledge result in huge egos? Or does it result in changed lives?

What’s Food Got to Do with Anything? (1 Corinthians 8:1a)

Sometimes, I read the Bible, scratch my head, and wonder what it’s talking about. I scratched my head when I read 1 Corinthians 8:1a: “Now about food sacrificed to idols…” These words introduce a three-chapter argument Paul makes against the Corinthians in 8:1–11:1.

I haven’t seen any idols lately, let alone sacrificed food to them. So, I feel tempted to skip this portion of Scripture and move on to another that relates to my world. Perhaps you feel tempted to do the same.

Resist that temptation! The particular example Paul uses may not be relevant to people like us—because we don’t eat food sacrificed to idols—but the way he thinks about this example definitely is

In the ancient world, people sacrificed animals to the gods. They gave some of the meat to the priests, and they consumed some of the meat in a religious feast at the temple. The priests sold leftover meat in the public market, which was then consumed in private homes.

Today, our post-Christian society considers religion to be a private affair. Ancients interpreted religion differently. Religious duties, including religious feasts, were an integral part of a person’s civic responsibilities. Performing these duties and attending these feasts generated social and political benefits. Failing to do so generated social and political costs.

The first generation of Christians strove to avoid idolatry, which violated the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Living in cities where idolatry constituted the majority religion forced them to ask themselves three hard questions:

  1. Can we eat food sacrificed to idols as part of a religious feast at the temple?
  2. Can we eat food sacrificed to idols, sold in the public market, and consumed in private homes?
  3. Can we afford the social and political costs associated with answer “No” to the first two questions?

The Corinthians and Paul offered contrary answers. The Corinthians answered, “Yes,” “Yes,” and “No,” respectively. Paul answered, “No,” “Maybe,” and “Yes.” How they reasoned to these contrary answers explains why we shouldn’t skip 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1.

The Corinthians based their answers on knowledge. “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (8:4). Knowledge confers rights. If idols are nothing, then eating food sacrificed to them is also nothing. And if nothing, I have a right to eat food sacrificed to idols and to enjoy the social and political benefits my city confers.

Paul based his answers on love: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (8:2). Love confers responsibilities. If I love God, I avoid anti-God rituals. If I love people, I take their scruples into account as I choose how to act. If those loves conflict, I take responsibility for the costs my decision imposes.

Eating food sacrificed to idols may not be relevant to us today. But how we negotiate the tensions of decision-making—knowledge and love, rights and responsibilities—certainly is.

More on that in our next devotional.


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