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Theology and the Scripture Principle (Part II)

By Joseph P. Braswell
June 01, 1997

To assume that God cannot speak in the manner that the Bible claims that he spoke is to assume that the God of the Bible does not exist (specific atheism). It is to substitute another god for the Biblical God. This is in fact what theological liberalism has done, and it is precisely at this point that theological liberalism (modernism) proves itself utterly unchristian. It does not proceed according to a theistic epistemology (the method of Schliermacher rests upon Kantianism, and Kant's metaphysic simply assumes that man is autonomous and the world is not created by God). If the God of the Bible exists, we will be driven to the Biblical view of revelation, for a genuinely theological epistemology, as part of a Christian-Theistic creationist world view, must be grounded in revelation.

The Modernist Impossibility
Yet modernism persists in pretending to do Christian theology and making theological pronouncements. Accordingly, we are warranted in demanding of the theological liberal how it is that he knows what he asserts. He judges on the basis of his "enlightened" cultural values or subjective tastes in his rejection of historic Christian doctrine, in his revision of the tradition. He rationalistically imposes his own rationality or moral sensitivity upon Biblical teaching, either syncretically conforming theology to the a prioris of current philosophical fashions or else eclectically picking and choosing what he judges to be worthy of belief. Generally, the standard employed in making his theological pronouncements is the liberal's own experience, which he simply assumes is authentically Christian experience that is normative for him, that is deemed by him to be revelational. But how can he know this? Is he not, after all, a thoroughgoing fideist, an irrationalist? Are not all experiences however divergent rendered equally valid by this total lack of content, by the lack of a criterion? This is the triumph of subjectivism, a mysticism or enthusiasm that has loosed spirituality from any control and which leads to a cacophony of competing claims concerning what authentic Christianity is and means. The liberalist occasional appeal to the Bible is highly selective and post hoc: an appeal to justify in a spurious manner what is already, for independent reasons, believed to be true. For the liberal, the Bible is not a record of special revelation, but merely a thoroughly human witness to human religious experiences, to human meditations on matters divine and human interpretations of the meaning of certain occasions of mystical encounter with the numinous. This reflects the basic antithesis between Christianity and liberalism: between a religion based upon the presupposition that God has authoritatively spoken and a religion of the perennial human quest for the transcendent divine in an inherently ineffable mystical experience for which religious texts can be at best merely fallible guideposts. Liberalism is "democratic" or egalitarian, in that it assumes that God has not objectively and definitively spoken in a perspicuous, verbal-propositional manner in history, but that the Spirit "speaks" nonrationally to every man in his inner experience, and every man's highly individual, personal-private impressions (feelings) of this mystical encounter with the divine is in principle of equal worth phenomenologically. All objectivity and normativity is lost, and it cannot be regained simply by the liberal's appeal to a vague idea of general revelation in abstraction from Scripture, for his idea of general revelation is false.

Although we believe that general revelation was never intended to stand alone, that it was always correlated to, and complemented by, special revelation in both covenant historical acts and words of God, it is not necessary for us to deal with this matter here. What is surely clear is that general revelation would, at any rate, be insufficient after the entry of sin into the world. The idea of the Fall necessitates special revelation of God's intention to establish a new covenant of redemptive grace. It requires God to act in history to undertake a history of redemption and reveal special, saving grace if man is to be saved from sin. Moreover, if we acknowledge man's present fallenness, his subjectivity, tainted by sin, is not to be trusted as a reliable guide to God's purposes. What man thinks and feels is prone to error and generates false religion. It is thus clear that theological liberalism does not truly affirm that man is fallen, for it makes no distinction in its appeal to religious experience between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. If a new covenant is to come in history, it requires objective revelation in historical acts and a canonical codification of the authoritatively revealed interpretation of those events of accomplishment. Finally, the liberals' objection to the possibility of direct verbal revelation to wit, that our language, based as it is on our experiential horizon, is inadequate to the task of expressing divine truth ignores the general-revelational character of our horizon of experience; the immanence of God overturns this objection's supposed appeal to divine transcendence, exposing it as an unbiblical understanding of the meaning of divine transcendence.

History and Revelation
In the Biblical scheme, Word-revelation is bound up with salvation-historical act-revelation as an interpretation of such redemptive actions and their covenantal significance and implications. The historical acts of God occur in a meaningful context constituted by prior words, and new words accompany each new set of act-revelations as the revealed interpretation thereof. God bears witness to his own mighty acts through his inspired prophets, providing the meaning of what he has accomplished. Special revelation occurs in history as a progressive revelation that unfolds a story of redemptive accomplishment. As covenant canon, this is not primarily an account of the history of a people's religion, but a normative account and interpretation of God's covenantal dealings in history, the basis of the people's faith remembrance that binds them as covenant people to their God and that is constitutive of their identity and self-understanding.

Thus, we come again to the Bible. Here is a book that depicts a certain definite theology or God-concept (God as eternal, self-existent, transcendent, infinite, personal, Creator; God as possessing omnipotence, omniscience, etc.; God as Triune) and claims to be itself the very Word of God. Is this claim justified?

If this God has not revealed himself, he could not be known; we could have no such God-concept as that with which the Bible provides us. For such a god, if he existed, would be wholly inapprehensible. Thus, the very existence of the Bible in its concrete content which depicts this God presupposes that this God exists and has revealed himself. Indeed, the existence of this God presupposes that the world, as his creation, reveals him. A denial that the world is revelational is a denial that it is created by God, and this denial that the world is created is a denial of the existence of the Biblical God. Moreover, our very knowledge of anything the knowability of the world, the meaningfulness of our assertions presupposes revelation. The Christian Theist offers a TINA argument (There Is No Alternative) a transcendental argument to justify this presupposition that God is there and is not silent.

Natural and Special Revelation
If we grant that the very existence of the Bible necessarily depends on the actuality of God's revelation, we might still think that this only necessitates acceptance of natural (or general) revelation. Yet, if this revelation is as ubiquitous, as pervasive, as it indeed must be if every fact in our experience of the world is exhaustively revelational, then we must speak of natural revelation as perspicuous and as sufficient for true knowledge of God. Indeed, the objection that the Bible, rather than being itself a revelation, merely depends on the existence of natural revelation for the God-concept it presents would seem to take seriously the idea of the sufficiency and perpiscuity of natural revelation. Yet, we must ask why, as a point of historical fact, it is the Bible alone which is the source of this God-concept? Why do religions that have not been cross-pollinated from Biblical religion lack this theology? Why are there false religions, false god-concepts?

If we grant that natural revelation is perspicuous and sufficient, we can only account for the many idols by acknowledging the Biblical view of man's ethico-religious fallenness. The idea of creation presupposes that both the objective and the subjective conditions for knowledge by natural revelation were so ordered by God to make knowing God's perspicuous revelation both possible and actual. The objective situation remains perspicuously revelational; God is there to be clearly and sufficiently apprehended in every created fact, for the doctrine of creation implies the immanence of God, the inescapability of God's witness in the things made.

The problem must therefore be located in, and attributable to, man's present subjective condition, in a state of abnormal human incapacity akin to a form of blindness. It is a fault in man, not in the objective revelation of God, and this defective existential condition is what the Bible refers to as sin. If man is in his normal, natural (i.e., his original, as-created) state, functioning as designed and intended, we would have to deny the idea of natural revelation in order to account for human error in religion, for the revelation of God is not sufficiently perspicuous to prevent serious misinterpretation. If we do not accept the fallenness of man and assume instead that man remains in his original state coram Deo, we are forced to believe that revelation is not objectively perspicuous, that God remains the Deus Absconditus (not immanent in covenantal koinonia) in order to allow man opportunity to seek him out. In such a case, man is excused if he is errant in this spiritual quest in view of the ambiguities of his unillumined situation, groping in the darkness of God's absence. If, however, we assume that natural revelation is in itself (objectively) sufficient and perspicuous according to the original design and order of things and man is objectively situated in the midst of light, we are forced to accept the Biblical idea of the Fall, to man's culpable act of severing koinonia that was his original state. False religions are then distortions of the revealed truth that are due to a present maladjustment in man's orientation to God's world, to a subjective proneness to err that constitutes the present, abnormal human condition. Man does not now willingly and self-consciously accept and submit himself to the revelation of God but perversely reinterprets it in culpable misinterpretation.

However, if we accept this idea of man's existential estangement from the truth that nevertheless surrounds and confronts him, we must ask how it is that one Book stumbles upon a true account of the situation rather than offering, as all other religious traditions, an idolatrous distortion of the God-revealed truth? If it is not due to God's renewed, special-revelational activity in addressing human sinfulness and restoring him to the truth, but is instead nothing more than just another fallen human interpretation, how is it that the Bible presents us with the correct interpretation of God, man, and the world? And if the Biblical presentation is not a true account of these matters, we have no justification for knowing anything whatsoever.

If God has recalled man to koinonia through a new covenant, seeking to restore the severed relation, then that must be revealed. No other claimant to be God's redemptive revelation than the Biblical record has any credibility. If the Bible is not the Word of God, Christian-Theism falls to the ground, as does any genuine theism; and if theism cannot be upheld, then we are but the products of impersonal chance events and our existence is ultimately meaningless and futile. If, however, we believe that we are made in the image of God for communion with God, then we must believe that God has spoken, that he has revealed himself in nature and in Scripture. It is on this basis that we unabashedly make our appeal to Scripture as authoritative Word of God, the infallible rule for faith and life.


Topics: Apologetics, Philosophy, Reformed Thought

Joseph P. Braswell

The late Joseph P. Braswell did undergraduate and graduate work in philosophy at the University of South Florida, but his real interest was in theology and Biblical studies. He published several articles in various journals, including the Westminster Theological Journal, Journal of Christian Reconstruction, and the Chalcedon Report.

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