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Summary in 400 words or less:
The apostle Paul writes, “hope [in God] does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5 NRSV). In his book The Severity of God, philosopher Paul K. Moser describes this passage as “the most important epistemological statement in the New Testament and in Christian literature generally” (102). Let’s take a closer look.
What sort of evidence would a God of perfect love provide to humans, should such a being exist? A God of perfect love would pursue the best interests of estranged humans, namely reconciliation with God. Humans, however, consistently reject such a God’s perfectly loving ways. Since we cannot love God without loving God’s ways, reconciliation with God requires human character transformation. Accordingly, we should expect a God of perfect love to (a) confront estranged humans with God’s loving character and (b) offer them transforming power to manifest God’s character of perfect love.
When humans undergo divine character transformation, and begin to love as God loves, they receive evidence for a God of perfect love. The same is true for those who witness this transformation in others. Due to the central role of God’s Spirit in this process, as described in Romans 5:5, we may use the term pneumatic evidence when referring to Spirit-empowered character transformation as evidence.
Humans often fail to receive pneumatic evidence. Often, they simply fail to give proper credit to God and attribute instances of divine love, manifested by willing humans, to mere human goodness. This confusion is less common when the normal human capacities to love are exceeded, i.e. situations involving enemy-love or significant forgiveness.
Additionally, humans perennially resist, avoid, and postpone existential confrontation with a God of perfect love. Instead they change the subject and seek gods that demand less, morally speaking, than perfect love. This includes seeking ways to know God that delay confrontation with God and his perfectly loving ways, perhaps even in order to first establish a theistic world view.
Pneumatic evidence, however, is irreducibly volitional. When confronted by God’s perfectly loving character, in conscience or through the lives of others, we either welcome or resist character transformation by God’s Spirit. Pneumatic evidence is therefore morally and existentially challenging in a way that distinguishes it from other alleged avenues to knowledge of God.
Scripture for YouVersion: Romans 5:5
What is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit? Dr. William Lane Craig
Three questions (one fill-in-the-blank, one multiple choice, one discussion question):
- Hope in God does not disappoint us because _______ (God’s love) has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
- Pneumatic evidence refers to evidence provided by the Spirit’s (a-correct) work of heart transformation, (b) distribution of spiritual gifts, or (c) manifestation through signs and wonders?
- What is the difference between knowing God and knowing about God?
References for further reading:
Paul K. Moser, The Elusive God, The Evidence for God, The Severity of God.
Collaborators: Benjamin Nasmith
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