24 April 2006

Machen's Last Words

I read this in Wikipedia's article on Machen over the weekend.

Machen had decided to honor some speaking engagements he had in North Dakota in December, 1936, but developed pleurisy in the exceptionally cold weather there. After Christmas, he was hospitalized for pneumonia and died on January 1, 1937. Just before his death, he dictated a telegram to long-time friend and colleague John Murray -- the content of that telegram reflected deeply his life-long faith: "I’m so thankful for active obedience of Christ. No hope without it."

20 April 2006

Revelation: Direct

So we (that is both of my readers and I) have discussed (that is, I have written and they have skimmed) general and special revelation so far. The difference between the two is found both in the audience (universal vs. limited) and in the content (general and condemning vs. specific and saving). We talked about different kinds of special revelation (e.g. Urim and Thummim, visions, and Jesus Christ), and how they were different from the Scriptures. How do the Scriptures relate to its broader category of special revelation?

The entire Bible is special revelation in that it is communication from God whose audience and content is more specified than general revelation. Inspiration makes the Bible a revealed book. However, it does not follow that the entirety of the Scriptures were directly revealed.

What I mean by "directly" is that there is no mediating secondary causation in the discovery of the information. For instance, direct revelation includes dictations like "This is what the Sovereign LORD says," (Mal 3:1) and visions or dreams like Nebuchadnezzar's in Daniel 2. As the name implies, direct revelation entails only information that comes immediately from God. God uses no secondary means to communicate direct revelation. However, historical research is alluded to in passages like Luke 1:3 ("I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning." See also Numbers 21:14-15, 1 Chronicles 29:29, and Josh 10:13). These texts indicate that the authors of Scriptures did not always receive their information directly from God.

Keep in mind, though, that inspiration guarantees that the Scriptures are without error. Holy Spirit's superintendence in producing the authoritative writings included determining which and where sources were used so that the final product is as wholly accurate and trustworthy as God himself.

So is there inspiration without revelation?
In one sense, all inspiration is revelation; it is to be classified as special revelation along with direct revelation, Urim and Thummim, and Jesus Christ. In that sense there is no inspiration without revelation. However, not everything that was inspired was directly revealed to the human author.

15 April 2006

I'm a Calvinist (Not what you think)

Almost All Calvin

You are 90% Calvin and 10% Hobbes
While Calvin-ness predominates within you, there are still traces of sensibility, kindness, and reason in there, too. Your Calvinesque side makes you adventurous and lively, and you temper that with Hobbesian good-sense, most of the time. It's a good combination. Look how cute you are with the little tail and stuff.

Link: The Calvin Or Hobbes Test written by gwendolynbooks on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

10 April 2006

Lunacy and Stupidity: Helpful Tools Along the Way

The other day I found Joe Carter trying to get beyond legalism. I really liked what he had to say.

It's so much easier as a parent, a principle, or a dean to institutionalize a standard without explaining the theological framework behind it. When one examines a practice from the perspective of a Christian theist, the conclusion is often more evident than we want to admit. Anyway here's his take on tongue-piercing:

One doesn’t have to be a Victorian-era prude to see that the idea of drilling a hole through the tongue and then inserting an irritating stud is lunacy. Yet point out the obvious and people will tell you to mind your own business, you meddlesome busybody.

Bob Bixby had also few pensées along these lines recently:

Therefore, though I happen to think the Bible does give some good arguments [for abstaining from alcohol], I also think that the two I am about to give are pretty good:

1. I urge people to abstain because I hate what drinking alcohol does to people.
2. I urge people to abstain because I think drinking alcohol is stupid.

Certainly the Scriptures are our sole authority in faith and practice. Certainly we should not bind the consciences of others beyond the clear inference of Scripture. But the Scriptures enjoin us to live wisely; therefore, we should seek Biblical, theological wisdom whenever we look to an issue not directly or indirectly addressed in a text.

I have one more thing to say about revelation before I am done, but I wanted to point these posts out first. By the way posting may be sporadic in the next few weeks as the end of the semester looms too closely for discretionary time.

06 April 2006

Revelation: Special

Last time we explored the necessity of classifying types of revelation. We saw that though the great Christian presupposition is that God has spoken to humankind, God’s communication should be classified according to its audience and content. I noted that God communicates to every human being in general revelation, and that the revelation does not only have a general audience, it has general content as well. We ended on the despondent note that it is just enough to establish for mankind an obligation to honor God as God and a consequent penalty (death) for failing to do so.
Enter special revelation. Special revelation is characterized by its specific audience, and its fuller content. Unlike general revelation, which finds itself wherever humans can be, special revelation is given to a particular audience, at a particular place, in a particular time. Also unlike general revelation, which can only establish general obligation and condemnation, special revelation can include specific language-bound commands, detail on the nature and depth of our condemnation, and the message of our deliverance from it.
When we think of this kind of revelation, my mind often jumps directly to the written revelation which is the Scriptures. The Scriptures provide the most ready example of special revelation, but special revelation as described above includes more than just the Scriptures. So I’ll list some of those other instances of special revelation here and explain my understanding of the relationship between the Scriptures and special revelation in a future post.
First, Adam and Eve’s conversations with God in the Garden fit our definition of special revelation. Only they know the content of those conversations, but we may assume they went beyond what Adam and Eve should have known already from God’s creation around them and their own pristine consciences. This revelation differs from the Scriptures in that redemption from sin could not have been its focus.
Jesus Christ is the special revelation par excellence. He revealed the Father with a one-for-one correspondence which is unique in all of history (John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.”) He fits the twofold description of special revelation because (1) he was physically present only to a small portion of humanity in history and because (2) he revealed more than general revelation is able to communicate about God. He differs from the Scriptures in that he is the revelation of God in human, rather in written form.
Another example of special revelation outside of the Scriptures is the authoritative visions and messages given to various persons throughout the human history which have not been recorded in the Scriptures. For instance, God tells Aaron and Miriam that he speaks to prophets through “visions…[and] dreams” (Num 12:6), yet there are very few visions and dreams recorded from that period in Israel’s history. It seems reasonable to assume that not all of the decisions of the Urim and Thummim (Exod 28:30, see also 1 Sam 14) have been recorded. Old Testament examples abound, and there are probably New Testament examples as well. They fit the qualification of special revelation (limited audience, more specific content than general revelation), but they differ from the Scriptures in that they were not committed to writing to provide a preserved authority for future generations of God’s people.
The Scriptures, then, are unique in that they were committed to writing with a view toward providing a lasting and authoritative truth deposit for future audiences. As Paul writes, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope,“ (Romans 15:4) and “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).

04 April 2006

Revelation: General

One of the foundational truths for the Christian life, faith, and worldview is that God has spoken to humans and that we know what he has said. In some ways, the Christian understands God to be speaking to every human of every nationality all the time, whether they are living or dead, Christian or pagan. But it is helpful to distinguish between the various methods God uses to communicate to humans, that is, it is helpful to observe that there are categories of revelation.

The broadest form of communication God uses is general revelation. It is general both in audience and in content. Every human being is audience to what God says in general revelation. Romans 1 and 2 are key here because they bring out both the source and (at least by implication) content of this revelation. The source of God’s general revelation is “what has been made” (1:20). We know from experience that everything an artist makes tells us about the artist’s personality. This observation holds true for the Creator of the universe as well. God shows his eternal power and genuine deity through what he has made.

In Romans 1:32 and in chapter 2, Paul brings out a specific category of creation, man’s inner awareness of moral obligation to God. After listing off a litany of sins like homosexuality (1:26–27) and disobedience to parents (1:30), Paul says that unregenerate people “know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death.” Romans 2:15 mentions the specific faculty at work here, the “conscience” which works like a law written on the heart of those who did not receive the Mosaic Law.

What must be pointed out is that man is not the origin of this law. He is not the measure of all things and his conscience is not the product of blind chance or human ingenuity. His conscience was built in by the Creator. That's what makes it revelation. They are common to all humankind. That's what makes it general revelation.

But this revelation is also general in its content. Although the analogy is probably too crude for anything other than a blog, general revelation gives fallen humans just enough rope to hang themselves. Paul says it more appropriately: “his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (1:20). General revelation does contain enough to condemn all who do not glorify God as God and thank him. It renders them “without excuse.”

But much has been left unsaid by general revelation. For instance, Christ alone reveals the only deliverance from sin’s penalty and power. So God has told us more than merely what he reveals in his creation. He has given to some more specific, that is, special revelation. I’ll be writing about that one next time.