The Philosophy of the 2016 Cross Conference
It would be accurate to say that everyone has a philosophy, they just don’t recognize it as such. The closest most people get to acknowledging philosophy is when they talk about the philosophical discipline of Ethics. Ethics and morals are often used interchangeably, but I submit that the two concepts are mutually exclusive; but that would be the subject for another post.
Ethics is the study of how we decide our values; how we decide what is good and what is bad. We place value on the things that are good. How we decide our values is a function of epistemology, which is the study of how we know what we know. Epistemology determines man’s competency to understand reality.
Epistemology is a function of metaphysics, which is the study of the nature of existence. So when a person enters a discussion about ethics, the context includes whatever pre-existing philosophical assumptions he has already knowingly or unknowlingly accepted on a metaphysical level.
Which brings me to the picture above. I have yet to listen to any of the podcasts from the 2016 Cross Conference in Indianapolis, IN, but I assume this quote is taken from something Kevin DeYoung said during one of the main sessions. At first glance, it seems to be an inspiring statement that we could all agree with: basically you cannot have ethics apart from Jesus.
But spiritual “bumper stickers” such as this are the result of a fully formed philosophical system that goes all the way back to metaphysics. If we understand the metaphysical assumption behind such a statement, we can better understand what DeYoung really means by it.
Because DeYoung, like all the rest of these guys at the Cross Conference, are unabashed reformed theologians, their root metaphysical assumptions are the same as Augustine. Let me take a quote from John Immel and his second session of the 2012 TANC Conference:
Augustine said “original sin” means the “fall of man.” That is the metaphysical premise. This means that man qua man is fully and entirely disqualified. His very existence is a moral affront. The nature of sin so fully corrupted who and what he is that ultimately man cannot know any good. In other words, you cannot know that water is good for you. The nature of your depravity so corrupts what you are that you cannot define good. The conclusions that arise from this assumption are of vicious nature. Primarily, man has no ethical standard because he has no good. He can never act with good on his own.
So what is the progression of reformation philosophy? The metaphysical premise is the total depravity of man. Because man is totally depraved he is epistemologically disqualified from being able to understand his reality. That means, he CANNOT know what is good. And if he CANNOT know what is good then he CANNOT ascribe value, which means he is unable to arrive at an ethical standard.
When we take DeYoung’s statement and insert it into this philosophical system, here is what he is really saying. The ethical teachings of Jesus are meaningless to you because you cannot possibly keep them. You are epistemologically disqualified from being able to keep any ethical standard because of your depravity. Therefore, you need Jesus to keep the standard for you.
What DeYoung has stated without stating it is that you need Jesus to keep the law for you because you cannot keep the law perfectly. This is a righteousness based on the law. This is keeping man under law, which is the Biblical definition of an unsaved person. This is why justification is never finished under authentic protestant orthodoxy. This is a false gospel!