Sunday, January 15, 2012

Beyond Revelation: The Sin of Intellectual Speculation

Some four-hundred plus years ago, John Calvin wrote these words:
Not to take too long, let us remember here, as in all religious doctrine, that we ought to hold to one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak, or guess, or even to seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by God's Word. Futhermore, in the reading of Scripture we ought to ceaselessly to endeavor to seek out and mediate upon those things which make for edification. Let us not indulge in curiosity or in the investigation of unprofitable things. And because the Lord willed to instruct us, not in fruitless questions, but in sound godliness, in the fear of his name, in true trust, and in the duties of holiness, let us be satisfied with this knowledge. For this reason, if we would be duly wise, we must leave those empty speculations which idle men have taught apart from God's Word concerning the nature, orders, and number of angels. [Calvin's Institutes: I.XIV.4]
John Murray has this to say about Calvin's views on unrestrained or undisciplined speculation:

No one has ever fulminated with more passion and eloquence against “vacuous and meteoric speculation” than has Calvin. And no one has ever been more keenly conscious that the theologian’s task was the humble and, at the same time, truly noble one of being a disciple of the Scripture. “No man,” he declares, “can have the least knowledge of true and sound, doctrine, without having been a disciple of the Scripture. [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).]
In case you are wondering, I am working with two different versions of Calvin's Institutes (just so you know).

It seems that undisciplined and unrestrained intellectual speculaton have so permeated the Christian academy that we have forgot two things: first, all predication and intellectual inquiry are subject to the Christian ethic. Somehow, it just feels like scholars and theologians continue to forget this. Second, Christian inquiry into revelation must always retain as it's primary goal, sanctification. John Calvin wrote,
The theologian's task is not to divert the ears with chatter, but to strengthen consciences by teaching things true, sure, and profitable.
A curosry survey of books shows there to be no lack of inquiry into matters that seem to me to be clearly beyond human grasp. This is so because God has chosen not to reveal them. God's revelation is designed to transform our life. God revealed what He revealed in order to transform the human mind, thus, leading to a transformed life. There must be some limit placed on matters of theological and philosophical speculation.

If I Cor. 1:18-2:5 does NOTHING else for us, it should cause us to realize the great deal of humility involved in the message of the cross. We have scholars so-called who reject knowledge of God, the miraculous nature of Christianity, the creation account, all miracles recorded in Scripture, the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture, and a multitude of other heresies too voluminous to mention. Rather than setting down requirements for participation in the Christian community, we are busy doing our best to push down the few remaining walls that exist. We have even reached the place where some supposed Christian pastors and theologians have decided that salvation can exist outside of Christ. When these men have finished their work, there will be no need of Scripture whatsoever. And if we do not need Scripture, then we do not need the church, her clergy, the academy or her experts. Look to the east, across the pond at the plight of Christianity in Europe and this is where the west heads. But in Asia, word has it that Christ is performing a marvelous work in the body.

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