Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Revelation and Reason: Revisiting the Dialectical Movement [Conclusion]


There is good news however to be found in the second man Adam, who came to rescues man not only from sin and death but also from ignorance, from futility, and from blindness.
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;[1]

The Christian can attain true knowledge of God. This true knowledge comes as a result of being in Christ. Paul tells us that all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Col 2:3). Paul says that Christians have attained to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding and that this results in a true knowledge of God’s mystery (Col. 2:2). Clearly the apostle Paul taught by divine revelation that an epistemological antithesis exists between the believer and the unbeliever. He went on to say that Christians are being renewed to a true knowledge (Col. 3:10). The antithesis between what Paul said about the unbelieving mind and the Christian mind is unambiguous.

In Acts 16:14 we find the conversion of Lydia, a woman from the town of Thyatira. Luke informs us that the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things that Paul was saying. Here we see reason and revelation in the context of Christian conversion. Paul was preaching about the revelation of Jesus Christ, the gospel of truth. Christ opened Lydia’s heart so that she was able to reason correctly about the revealed truths of Christ. The result of this inward work on the human person was that Lydia was able to reason correctly about the facts of the Christ event and the truth of her need for repentance. In Lydia’s case we see that it was not revelation or reason, it was not faith or reason, but it was revelation and reason. In this case, Lydia’s reasoning was instantly the product of a new intellect, a regenerate mind.

Paul, in writing to the Church at Colossae informs us that the “new self” is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the One who created him. The Greek word there is epignosis and it means a definite and full knowledge. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians was that God would give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:17). Concerning the false teachers, Paul tells Timothy they are always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7). Clearly there is a distinction to be made between the sort of reasoning that is unredeemed and that which has been redeemed through the work of regeneration.

Peter tells us His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge that is in him who called us by His own glory and excellence (1 Peter 1:3) According to Peter, only the work of God on the human heart can produce true knowledge of the truth. It is the genius of Protestantism to make the God of the Scriptures the final reference point of all predication.[2] 

In the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ we see that revelation and reason are not opposites. Faith and reason are in truth intimately related to each other. In Christian theism we see human reasoning in service of God’s gracious gift of faith. Man can only begin to reason correctly when he understands who he is in relation to his Creator. That is to say that man can only reason correctly when he understands he is a sinner in rebellion against God. This is the beginning of knowledge.


Reason is considered the source of knowledge through which all experience is interpreted and that such knowledge can be obtained through reason alone.  It would mean that spiritual events and all experiences would be subject to the limits and parameters of rational examination.[1] 

To this we add that God is the source of reason by which humans engage in the predication necessary to arrive at true knowledge.

The Christian understanding of revelation is that God has revealed the facts of reality to humanity through what we call natural and special means. God has revealed Himself in the human person by way of the imago dei. We are all created in the image of God and therefore the sense of the divine remains etched upon the human conscience.  God has also revealed facts about reality and Himself in the created order. We see God’s fingerprint everywhere we look. The revelation of God is indeed inescapable. God has revealed Himself in the characteristics and qualities of the human person, not the least of which is the human experience of predication. Every time we engage in the process of reasoning, we put on display the God who is there. God has also provided human beings with a divine and miraculous revelation of Himself in Christ and in Scripture. This revelation reveals truths about God that may be hidden from natural revelation. The act of God’s self-disclosure is an act of profound grace.

As stated above, revelation is the giving of facts and information. It is essential divine communication. God wanted man to possess certain facts about Himself and the created order. God ensured that man would come into possession of these facts by revealing them to him directly and indirectly and by making that revelation unambiguous. From the very beginning man possessed the intellectual capacity to reason correctly about what God had revealed. Revelation was as much a part of reason then as science is today.

From the beginning man was created with the ability to reason correctly about the revelation of God around and within him. Man thought about creation correctly because he understood himself to be a creature contemplating that which was created by a Creator. Man recognized his dependence on God for all knowledge and understanding of his world. The process of human reason itself was entirely dependent on and revelatory of the triune God.

The attempt then to separate faith and reason, revelation and reason, is a vain and hopeless project. If we can prove that men can reason rightly about their world apart from God, we end up showing that revelation is not necessary. And if we show that revelation is unnecessary, we destroy revelation. On the other hand, if we prove that reason has nothing to say about revelation, no role to play in interpreting God’s revelation, we destroy reason. If God’s revelation is beyond reason, then it is unintelligible. A revelation that is unintelligible is a revelation that does not communicate meaningful facts about anything that can be understood. The dialectical movement then that seeks to separate revelation from reason, that seeks to disintegrate the relationship between faith and reason ends up not only destroying Christianity, it destroys knowledge.

The special revelation of God to man came not only by way of intellectual information. It came both as word and as deed. In theophany and in miracle, we have facts of revelation rather than words. But these facts needed to be explained by God himself. Sinful man cannot and will not explain them truly. Sinful man would be sure to misinterpret them. He would regard them as mere accidental occurrences. Men sometimes believe the resurrection of Christ as an historical fact, and then fit this fact into a pragmatic conception of history. According to a pragmatic philosophy of history anything may happen and nothing will have any particular and universal meaning. On the other hand word revelation without fact revelation would hover in the air and not reach reality. Special revelation needed actually to dip into this sinful world with redemptive power. Hence special revelation could not come to man in the form of a book dropped from heaven. Revelation had to be historically mediated.[2]

[1] "Carm," , http:/​/​carm.org/​.
[2] Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1979).

[1] Ibid. Col 1:9–10.
[2] Cornelius Van Til and Eric H. Sigward, The Pamphlets, Tracts, and Offprints of Cornelius Van Til, Electronic ed. (Labels Army Company: New York, 1997).

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