Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Revelation and Reason: Revisiting the Dialectical Movement [Part 2 of ?]

In this post I continue my revisit of the dialectical movement with a review of the place of revelation in Christian theology. As you read the comments below, I hope you begin to see that revelation is an indispensable component of Christianity. From there we will move to a Christian understanding of human reason and explore why it is a mistake to attempt to create dialectical tension between the two.

Another word that Scripture uses to describe divine revelation is the word dēloō. We see this word appearing in the LXX in Exodus 6:3. “And I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name, LORD, I did not make myself known to them.” The text speaks of a specific manner in which God would manifest Himself to the children of Israel.
“It is true that El-Shaddai (God Almighty) was known to the patriarchs, and in Genesis 17:1 and 35:11 it is El-Shaddai who is connected to the aspects of the covenant that were realized during the lifetimes of the patriarchs. In contrast, “Yahweh” is connected to the long-term promises, particularly that of the land, so it can rightfully be said that the patriarchs did not experience him (that is, he did not make himself known in that way). The patriarchs probably did not worship God by the name Yahweh, but the text does not require the conclusion that the name was foreign to them.”[1]
The Hebrew word behind the LXX in this case is yāda. This root, occurring a total of 944 times, is used in every stem and expresses a multitude of shades of knowledge gained by the senses. Its closest synonyms are bîn “to discern” and nākar “to recognize.” The root is found in Akkadian, Ugaritic, and the Qumran materials. In addition to “know,” the KJV uses the archaic forms “wot” and “wist.”[2] 

It seems safe to conclude revelation then is the impartation of information, facts, or knowledge. Space simply does not allow a more thorough treatment of the concept of revelation within the Christian worldview. Nevertheless, the information provided is more than enough to understand the Christian perspective on the concept of divine revelation. Moreover, this is a concept that serves as a fundamental underpinning of sound Christian theology and philosophy. Abandonment of this concept can lead to serious error and at a minimum may place the Christian apologist in a philosophically untenable and indefensible position in his defense of Christian theism. Indeed, a defense of the Christian worldview is seriously compromised without this understanding of God’s activity in divine revelation. In short, a deficient understanding in, or lack of emphasis on, the significance of divine revelation in the Christian worldview can tend to philosophically undermine that worldview. 

While it seems clear at this point that Christian doctrine points to the idea of an active unveiling or disclosure as the nature of revelation, the next question that concerns us is the shape that such revelation has been known to take throughout history. What are the modes of revelation to be studied in order to produce a reasonable grasp and intellectual comprehension of the concept of revelation?

B.B. Warfield writes, “The religion of the Bible is a frankly supernatural religion. By this is not meant merely that, according to it, all men, as creatures, live, move and have their being in God. It is meant that, according to it, God has intervened extraordinarily, in the course of the sinful world’s development, for the salvation of men otherwise lost.”[3] 
Warfield picks up after the disaster of man’s fall into sin. In fact, from the very beginning man was dependent on revelation for knowledge. Man’s ability to study creation and understand it is a reflection of the imago deo, which is itself a mode of divine reflection just as much as the creation itself. Calvin writes, “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty.”[4] 
This sensus divinitatis is itself a divine revelation of God occurring in the person of every human according to Calvin. This would make the revelation of God inescapable and knowledge of God subsequently unavoidable.
“All knowledge of God rests on revelation. Though we can never know God in the full richness of his being, he is known to all people through his revelation in creation, the theater of his glory.”[5] 
The most obvious mode of divine revelation is creation. This not only includes what has been said above about the image of God imprinted on the conscious of man, but also the external world in which man finds himself. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”[6] 

The Christian worldview asserts that all of creation, to include human reason, is contained in the divine revelation. In other words, human reason itself is divine revelation. Without the creative activity of the Divine Mind, not only would human reason not exist, there would be no human to reason.

In addition, not only has God acted in divine revelation in His creative activities in the world and in the human person, but He has also revealed Himself throughout the history of redemption in a variety of modes. These phenomena are called theophanies. God appeared to men like Abraham (Gen. 17:1), Isaac (Gen. 26:2), Jacob (Gen. 32:30, and Moses (3:2-6). In the very beginning Scripture informs us that Adam and Eve heard the sound of God “walking in the garden” in the cool of the day.

God has intervened in the history of men by way of miracles, signs, dreams, and visions as well. This fact inevitably leads to the conclusion that Christianity, if nothing else, is a religion of revelation. Any attempt to dismiss revelation or to reclassify it as little more than myth produced by overly superstitious men of an unsophisticated era is sure to produce disastrous results for the Christian religion.

It is important, I think, to touch on the “why” of revelation. Revelation is not simply some arbitrary act of a divine being looking to entertain himself. Moreover, it is not the over-active imagination of unsophisticated and highly superstitious men. Revelation is indispensable for human knowledge.

The essence of common grace is the restraint of the process of sin; its scope is man and his world. Its ultimate foundation, we must add, is the mercy of God. Says Kuyper: “Thus common grace is an omnipresent operation of divine mercy, which reveals itself everywhere where human hearts are found to beat and which spreads its blessing upon these human hearts.”[7]

Revelation is the Christian’s epistemological outlook. The activity of divine revelation has as its aim glory and praise for the Creator and preservation and mercy for the creature. By revelation man is able to understand his world and avoid the self-destructive consequences of the nature of sin. Were it not for revelation, man would inevitably descend mercilessly and helplessly into the power and grip of sin until he utterly destroyed himself from the earth. By God’s common grace, man is able to understand enough about himself and his world to avoid this self-destruction. Were it not for God’s revelation and the organizing principle it creates in the reasoning process or intellect of the human person, chaos and destruction would ensure man's complete self-destruction.

[1] Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Ex 6:8.

[2] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 366.
[3] B.B. Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1932), 3.
[4] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, KY: The Westminster Press, 1960), 43.
[5] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004).
[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 1:20.
[7] Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace And The Gospel (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Nutley, NJ, 1977).

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