Man’s Innate Knowledge

I affirm that man has an innate knowledge of God, with enough clarity and content that he has no excuse to deny or disobey God. However, I deny that a system of theology can be founded on or derived from our innate knowledge of God. To say it another way, I deny that our innate knowledge of God can be the first principle of a biblical worldview – there is insufficient content, clarity, and objectivity, among other reasons.

This is why I never appeal to intuition to justify any part of my theology or to perform apologetics. An accurate understanding of the content and the extent of our innate knowledge of God comes from verbal revelation in the first place. In other words, although I affirm that we have an innate knowledge of God, we do not base our faith and assurance or our theology and apologetics on this innate knowledge; rather, we must base these things on verbal revelation.

I indeed refer to man’s innate knowledge in my writings, but I never do this as if the truth of Christianity rests on this as its foundation, or as if this innate knowledge is itself proof that Christianity is true. Otherwise, this would become an appeal to man’s intuition, and the argument would become subjective. Rather, I appeal to this innate knowledge only to explain why biblical presuppositions are not denied in practice but are implicitly assumed even by unbelievers, and to explain in what sense we have common ground or a point of contact with the unbelievers when preaching the gospel to them.

I affirm that Scripture is logically undeniable, but when I say that man’s innate knowledge is undeniable the emphasis is not on the logical undeniability of Scripture, but I mean that some core biblical premises cannot be denied in practice despite the unbelievers’ claim to the contrary. Thus we refer to man’s innate knowledge not to prove Scripture – rather, it is Scripture that proves the innate knowledge – but only to explain why we can communicate with unbelievers.

When we are speaking of the innate knowledge of God in the context of apologetics, we are considering the strategic aspect of apologetics, and not the strictly rational aspect. That the Scripture is logically undeniable is demonstrated by engaging the contents of Scripture itself, and not man’s innate knowledge.

Some people fail to note this distinction in my writings, or mistakenly think that I fail to make this distinction, so they falsely accuse me of being incoherent on this point, as if I reject intuition as a foundation for knowledge but then appeal to it anyway. Rather, in my system of theology and apologetics, if not for the fact that Scripture teaches it, I can throw out man’s innate knowledge and it will remain essentially unaffected, since it does not depend on man’s innate knowledge, although some practical adjustments will be needed.

Sinners suppress this innate knowledge of God that is written on every man’s heart. Although it is suppressed to the point of being denied, it is still called knowledge. The explanation is that just because a person knows something does not mean that he consciously thinks about it all the time. However, if a person knows something, it implies that it can be recalled.

This has similarities to what people mean when they refer to “repressed” memory, although I am wary of the implications that can come from using the word. Scripture teaches that sinners know God in their minds, but they have, in a morally culpable way, suppressed or repressed this knowledge.

In regeneration and conversion, the elect sinner is awakened from his intellectual and moral slumber, and into the light of Christ and Truth: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you'” (Ephesians 5:13–14).