a report live-blogged by Andy Naselli

The Henry Center is sponsoring the following event:

March 18-19, 2009 | Esther Meek

Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA

“Knowing Knowing, Knowing God: Contours of Covenant Epistemology”

Most people have never had a philosophy course; that doesn’t keep them from practicing philosophy. We all inherit “default settings,” unexamined presumptions about what knowing is, which are proving unhealthy and unbiblical. They infect every dimension of human life, including knowing God. “Epistemological therapy” thus holds the prospect of favorably impacting everything from business to Christian discipleship, athletics to scientific research. This lecture will introduce you to Meek’s “covenant epistemology,” centrally the proposal that we take, as our paradigm of all human knowing, the transformative, interpersonal, covenantally-featured relationship. We will explore its key features and the ways it accords with the Christian Scripture, commending its value for reshaping the way we engage the world, and restoring us to ourselves.


  1. Ester Meek’s personal website
  2. John Frame’s positive review of Esther Meek’s Longing to Know: Frame writes, “This is a terrific book. I can’t begin in a short review to illustrate adequately the beauty of its writing and the cogency of its reasoning. But let me just say that I have never read a serious philosophical work (and this surely is one) that is as eloquently and delightfully expressed. Meek has a wonderful gift of illustration. Analogies and pictures fly from her mind like drops of water from a great fountain. Every page contains two or three of them, so there must be hundreds in this book. You’ll read about kitchen tables, golf games, copperhead snakes, children, weddings, on and on, as Meek seeks to show us how knowing happens in all the ordinary experiences of life.”

What follows are some sketchy notes from Meeks’s thoughtful address for which the audio and video should be available soon here.


She describes herself as “a one-trick horse” whose specialty is epistemology. Knowing isn’t more than one step removed from living.

1. Knowing as Information: The Defective Epistemic Default

Many people have powerful assumptions about knowledge. Meeks sees herself “as in the business of epistemological therapy. The way forward is to find our epistemic default layer (i.e., the default mode) and recognize that it is sick.

“Esther’s daisy of dichotomies” notes the default mode for many people. (The first item is like the center of the daisy, and the second represents the petal.)

  1. knowledge as over against belief
  2. fact : opinion
  3. fact : value
  4. reason : emotion
  5. reason : faith
  6. science : art
  7. theory : application
  8. mind : body
  9. possibly male : female

This operates as a default setting, and people have presumptive opinions about what knowledge is and isn’t. One of these binary pairs esp. affects pastors: reason and faith.

Meek’s proposal is an interpersonal, covenantally constituted relationship, i.e., what she calls covenant epistemology. Knowing is not information so much as transformation, and it involves the idea of covenant as an unfolding pers0nal relationship.

2. Knowing Is Subsidiary Focal Integrative Transformation

Illustration: learning to read.

We know that we have made contact with reality when we have a sense of the possibility of indeterminate or unspecifiable manifestations.

3. Knowing Is Covenantal

Covenant is first and foremost a relationship of mutuality involving initiative and response constituted by promises and obligations, one that unfolds over time resulting in friendship and communion.

4. Knowing Is Interpersonal

A critical and profound insight of what should be obvious: To be a person is fundamentally is not to be a reactional animal but a being in communion.

“I – it” vs. “I – you”: Information is “I – it.” An encounter is “I – you.”

Covenantal illustrations: (1) “Starbucking,” (2) dance.

5. Knowing and Being Known by God Is the Paradigm and Central Core of Human Knowing

Two necessary dimensions of situated stewardship are (1) the lived world and (2) the self that lives it. But there are two other dimensions that lie outside our own capacity to being or control: (1) any experience of the reality of the threat of not being and (2) the holy, namely, the gracious possibility of new being, a deliverance that comes outside of us and to us only when we are in the void, the other that graciously seeks our flourishing, the personal other that will not go away.

Having been known by and knowing Christ is the epistemic paradigm for all human knowing.

6. Inviting the Real: Epistemological Etiquette

We are to “invite the real,” not passively gather information or actively demand it. We must practical “epistemological etiquette.”

7. A Short Objection and Reply: What About Collecting Data?

Both knower and known are persons in personal relationship. Many might ask, “What about collecting data?” The question reflects a defective epistemic default (i.e., knowledge as information).


“I hope that all this draws you more deeply into loving and knowing him.”