Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Cessationist View of Scripture

There is an explicit relationship between one’s understanding of revelation and one’s view of Scripture. For the Christian, the state of affairs that has obtained in the created order is what God has revealed it to be in divine Scripture. This perspective is what a philosopher would designate a metaphysical presupposition. Moreover, we know this statement is true because God has revealed it to be true by the instrument of divine Scripture. This second statement reflects what a philosopher would designate an epistemological presupposition. Many naïve philosophers and even theologians have attempted to establish and defend epistemological presuppositions absent metaphysical presuppositions. In addition, others have endeavored to establish and defend metaphysical presuppositions absent epistemological presuppositions. The problem with both goals is that they fail to acknowledge the unavoidable and necessary relationship between the state of affairs, and our theory of knowledge.

For the Christian, the nature of the case is precisely as God reveals it to be in the divine Scripture. Metaphysically speaking, God is the source of all that has come to be. In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth and all that is in it. The Christian recognizes that the nature of this statement is divine revelation. God has revealed to man that He is the Creator of all that is. This type of revelation is called “special” revelation. When God created man, He also created him with the imprint of the knowledge of God in him as created in God’s image. Man is also graciously given God’s revelation of Himself in the created order. This, we call “general” revelation. The Christian that fails to understand or formulate a solid understanding or philosophy of revelation is subject to manifold and avoidable perils.

In point of fact, before the eighteenth century the existence of a supranatural world, and the necessity, possibility, and reality of a special revelation, had never been seriously called into question. But Deism, springing up in England, emancipated the world from God, reason from revelation, the will from grace.[1] 
More than any other movement, the enlightenment paved the way for all sorts of theories to emerge concerning religion and revelation. One may ask what English deism has to do with the current discussion we are having on the gifts. The answer is nothing, other than the fact that the enlightenment destroyed the notion of revelation in the minds of some, and in the minds of others it granted a new sense of permissiveness so that they could formulate all sorts of opinions on the subject absent any discipline whatever. The Christian must take special care in formulating his or her view on the subject of revelation. A thoroughly biblical philosophy of revelation is indispensable to one’s understanding of the nature and significance of Scripture.

The philosophy of revelation, just like that of history, art, and the rest, must take its start from its object, from revelation. Even its idea cannot be construed apriori. There is but one alternative: either there is no revelation, and then all speculation is idle; or else there comes to us out of history such a revelation, shining by its own light; and then it tells us, not only what its content is, but also how it comes into existence.[2] 
Of His own initiative, God condescended in the person of Christ, and He is immanent in creation. Even in the garden, Adam was not left to guess about the things surrounding him or the source of all that he was and witnessed. God came to Him. God comes to us, to each of us, by way of revelation.

The revelation of God in nature, appearing in the conscience of man and the created order around him, witnesses to the Creator and signifies to the creature that God is marvelous, benevolent, mighty, and sovereign over all. In his original state, man had an unbroken communion with God. He walked and talked with God as a matter of routine. He was unimpeded in his relationship with his maker. The revelation of God was unencumbered, lavish, and unequivocal. But man became discontent with the state of affairs that God had created. He took all that was good, holy, and pure and exchanged it for the corruptible and contemptible. Man intentionally rejected his Creator and came immediately under the curse of God. He was cast out of the garden and cut off not only from his Maker, but also from that special form of revelation he once enjoyed. Man still had God’s gracious revelation in nature, but the special revelation by which God would condescend with him was lost! Cut off from special revelation with God, man’s knowledge of God was doomed to take on a totally different nature. If man were going to know God as before, it would be up to God. Man had become totally unable and even unwilling to know God intimately.

In His ST, Louis Berkhof informs provides an excellent assessment of the consequences of the first sin: 
“The immediate concomitant of the first sin, and therefore hardly a result of it in the strict sense of the word, was the total depravity of human nature. The contagion of his sin at once spread through the entire man, leaving no part of his nature untouched, but vitiating every power and faculty of body and soul. Immediately connected with the preceding was the loss of communion with God through the Holy Spirit.”[3] 
The effects of the first sin are far more devastating that most Churches care to know today. The truth is that modern Christianity spends very little time on the subject and consequences of original sin. This fact contributes, in no small way, to the kind of errors we are dealing with in the Strange Fire aftermath. I hope to help you connect the dots over the next few posts.

I have said that man has been deprived of the truly intimate knowledge of God he enjoyed in his original state. However, I have also said that man still retains his immediate knowledge of God, which we call general revelation. The knowledge of God that man possesses is sufficient to hold man culpable for his actions. Man knows God is His maker and he knows he owes God all that he is. In short, man knows he owes a debt that he should strive to pay. However, due to the curse of God and the subsequent intrusion of sin into the entire being of man, he seeks in every way to extricate himself from his miserable and pitiful circumstance. The knowledge of God that man has branded on his conscience, he seeks to remove, to hide, so that he can escape his state as the subject of God. This is to say that man willingly takes the revelation of God he has been graciously afforded and he corrupts it, suppressing it so that he can have his autonomy. In this state, man is doomed to divine wrath and justice. There is nothing he can do to escape the divine curse. There is nothing he can do to know God as he once in his original state. Unless God acts, man is doomed never to enjoy the intimate knowledge of God in special revelation again. Moreover, man is equally doomed to pervert and corrupt the revelation of God he does have by way of nature and conscience. Indeed, the circumstances of man are ominous.

But then we see Jesus, “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” (Heb. 2:9) And again John testifies, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18) The revelation of God that man so desperately requires comes to us in the pages of Scripture with Christ as their centerpiece. Without the revelation of God in Scripture, we are left to our own devices. The cessationist view of Scripture informs a philosophy of revelation, which in turns affects the position’s view of Scripture. The relationship is spherical in nature.

The Bible is exceptionally unique. No other document can even come close to the uniqueness of the Bible. They all pale in comparison. Jesus said in John 10:35 that the Scriptures cannot be broken. Again in Matt. 22:29, Jesus said that understanding Scripture guards one from error. Failure to understand Scripture is to error from the truth. Jesus said in John 17:17 that God’s word is truth. In John 1:1, 14 we are told that this word, God’s word, has become flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Hence, what Jesus is, God’s word is and what God’s word is, Jesus is. We now return to John 1:18 which says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” What we have in the incarnation of Christ, we have in the word of God: an explanation of who God really is. Without this explanation, the curse of total depravity continues to result in man’s inability and unwillingness to truly see God for Who He is. But through the gracious act of the condescension of God in the flesh, coupled with the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit on the human heart, man is able to receive this special revelation from God once more. The divine Scripture then contains very special works of God in the lives of human beings across the eons specifically designed to reveal God to us. The phenomena contained in Scripture did not take place randomly or arbitrarily and just happen to be recorded by a biblical writer. These phenomena took place in history for the overarching redemptive purpose and plan of God as part of His special revelation to His people. The deeds of Samson were not simply a collection of the history of specific events in this man’s life that just happened to be recorded in Scripture while other “Samson-types” were off doing the same things but were not recorded in Scripture. God providentially managed Samson, David, Moses, Elijah, and others in order to reveal things about Himself and for our benefit. Failure to approach Scripture with this presupposition firmly in place will surely lead to a most fallacious understanding of God’s workings then and now.

Because of original sin, man required special revelation in order to know and relate to God truly and rightly. Man is unable and unwilling to receive the revelation of God in nature without in one way or another perverting it. The story of redemption that we see from Genesis to Revelation is the majestic story of the grace of God. The Bible is a literary work that is by nature, written by God Himself through the hands of men preserved and protected for that end. As we approach the divine Scriptures, we must recognize that God was not just passing along historical accounts of how he worked with others so that we can expect Him to work with us in the same way. The document we call the Divine Text is given to us, with all its content, for a far greater purpose. Moses did not witness the burning bush simply for Moses. David did not commit adultery simply for David. These stories are part of the grandest story of them all! They are there for you and for me. The grace of God is far more remarkable than any of us could ever think or imagine. My next post will address the more specific aspects of the cessationist view of Scripture

[1] Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation : The Stone Lectures for 1908-1909, Princeton Theological Seminary (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1909), 7.
[2] Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation : The Stone Lectures for 1908-1909, Princeton Theological Seminary (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1909), 26.
[3] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans, 1932), 225-26.

1 comment:

  1. What are the best books on cessationism you know?

    Thank you very much,

    God bless you


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