RE: Revelation redefined? (was: RE: Seely's Views 2)

From: Bob Barnett <rbarnett7@comcast.net>
Date: Fri Sep 03 2004 - 20:49:49 EDT

Peter,

Thanks for your comments. My contribution to this debate centers on the
trustworthiness of Scripture as an authority for our lives. When Dr Murphy
called me a fundamentalist, I took the label as a pejorative manner to
declare that anyone who maintains the classic evangelical position of
Scriptural inerrancy is backward and has disengaged from scientific
exploration and culture. If labels are necessary, I would categorize my
theology as "Evangelical" and "Reformed" rather than "Fundamentalist," a
fact I briefly discussed in a separate email with Dr Murphy.

My position is that the Bible is inerrant, verbally and plenarily inspired,
and free from error in all that it teaches and affirms. This understanding
of inspiration maintains that the Bible is authoritative, but not
exhaustive. Scripture does not attempt to give all scientific or historical
answers, but does address these topics sufficiently for the will of God for
man to be discerned. Certainly the progress of scientific investigation has
allowed humanity to better understand and interpret God's general revelation
in nature and history. General revelation of God is open is available to
everyone regardless of faith and is discerned primarily through empirical
observation (Rom 1:19-20). On the other hand, special revelation is given
outside of ourselves by God's inspiration and must be understood through the
work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:12-16).

WE evangelicals adhere to the principle of sola Scriptura - biblical truth
must always govern and take absolute prominence over reason, tradition and
experience - means that the Bible provides all that is necessary for faith
and godly living. ASA's statement of faith affirms this idea: "We accept
the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in
matters of faith and conduct."

The trustworthiness of the Bible is undermined if God's special revelation
in Scripture is said to contain error, falsehood, or myth. The source of
authority in Christianity is made open to subjectivism and declares divine
revelation as contrary to the Lord's character - God does not lie. A denial
of the Bible's trustworthiness is a contradiction of the claims Scripture
makes for itself in that every part of Scripture has a divine origin (2 Tim.
3:16). For example, this view expanded in Packer's "Fundamentalism' and The
Word of God" and Warfield's "The Inspiration and Authority of The Bible."

The problem in the current debate seems to rest in how God accommodated
Himself to reveal truth to ancient readers who in their capacity to
understand science and history (or for that matter, to us as moderns who
still struggle in understanding and knowledge!) A high view of biblical
inspiration certainly allows for the use of observational language to record
natural and historical phenomena. The observations of the ancient writers
were true, but not adequately understood or explained. The classic example
of course is the observation by biblical writers that the sun rises in the
east and sets in the west - an observation that not mythological, but true
from the perspective of the writer, but certainly not an accurate scientific
description of the phenomenon.

Calvin's understanding of accommodation in biblical revelation helps explain
this apparent discrepancy. He rightly asserts that when God reveals truth
in the Scripture he accommodates this to the limitations of his human
hearers and uses terms that can easily be understood. Scripture "proceeds
at the pace of a mother stooping to her child, so to speak, so as not to
leave us behind in our weakness" (Inst 3.21.4). However, as Geisler & Nix
put it in their introductory work on the Bible: "Just because God
condescends to man's level to communicate His Truth to them does not mean
that He has to compromise His Truth in doing so. Adaptation to human limits
does not necessitate accommodation to human error. God uses
anthropomorphisms when speaking to man, but He does not use myths (II Peter
1:16)". The problem arises when we carry the idea of accommodation so far
as to say that God used lies and pagan mythology to communicate His
attributes and nature, such as using the Gilgamesh Epic from Babylonia to
explain divine cosmology.

Would the God of all creation have to resort to pagan mythology to
communicate what He wanted us to know? I think not. We "fundamentalists"
or "evangelicals" maintain that God give the creation account to Moses as an
accurate and historical account of creation - certainly not adequate as a
scientific explanation, but nonetheless true. If we try to explain away the
Genesis account as a fiction used to contain God's truth, we are forced to
follow Bultmann's pattern of 'demythologizing' the Bible in order to get
back to the what God intended to say.

Rather, I think we need to accept that God's Sovereign activity is evident
in preparing the writers of his Word through their lives and experiences, as
well as their vocabulary, to write exactly what he wanted writing. Warfield
(who believed in literal interpretation, but defended a form of theistic
evolution) used a classical illustration: of a stained glass Cathedral
window. The window, far from distorting the pure light, rather fulfils the
design of the architect in producing exactly the effect that he desired.

In Christ,
Bob Barnett

-----Original Message-----
From: Peter Ruest [mailto:pruest@mysunrise.ch]
Sent: Friday, September 03, 2004 2:16 PM
To: Bob Barnett; Glenn Morton; Don Winterstein; George Murphy; Paul Seely
Cc: D.F.Siemens Jr.; John Burgeson; Moorad Alexanian; asa@calvin.edu
Subject: Revelation redefined? (was: RE: Seely's Views 2)

Bob Barnett wrote: "If we allow for imperfection in God's revelation in
Scripture, then we open a door that I don't think we want to enter...."
and Don Winterstein answered: "The Bible itself witnesses that it is
imperfect."

Bob's statement: "We assume inerrancy in the biblical text - that
everything claimed by Scripture to be true is indeed true!" was
countered by George Murphy with: "& of course like all fundamentalists
you assume that 'true' = 'accurate historical narrative,' an assumption
manifestly at odds with many parts of the biblical texts as well as
common sense. This contributes nothing useful to the discussion."

As an answer to Glenn Morton, Don wrote: "Glenn, coming as you do from a
YEC background, you seem to have swallowed the 'Wonderful One-Hoss Shay'
view of the Bible common to some YECs, namely, that every part of the
Bible is perfectly created and is as good as every other part."

What is imperfect - God's revelation in Scripture, or our understanding
of it? And are there only the two extremes of seeing Scripture as either
God's verbal dictation or as an odd collection of writings whose "level
of divine inspiration" is subject to the whims of the readers? At this
point, the exchange of views seems to have again degenerated to the
level of black-and-white painting.

I don't remember having seen any earlier posts of Bob Barnett, but I
would agree with all he wrote on 31 Aug 2004. It's up to him to tell us
whether George's characterization is adequate. I would certainly object
to being answered in such a way, as it would be a distortion of my
views. I also object to George's use of the term "fundamentalist" in the
perverted sense it is used by some journalists.

As for Glenn, I know him from many earlier contributions of his, and so
I know he is certainly no longer guilty of the type of YEC absolutism
Don is charging him with. If I understand both Glenn's and Bob's quests
correctly, it is to make sure our acceptance of any biblical statements
or teachings is not dependent on our own whims.

Hardly anyone would doubt that the Scriptures are imperfect in the sense
of giving incomplete information about any subject (as any text of
limited size is bound to do). But they can still be perfect in the sense
of transmitting to us exactly what God wants us to have under our eyes.
So, are they perfect or imperfect? Perfection is not identical with
completeness of information, nor with formulation in accordance with
some preconceived idea (like modern scientific language).

What does it mean to say they are "inspired by God"? It certainly is
qualitatively different from Dora Lazurkina being inspired by Lenin! How
do we know what is inspired? The existential aspect of God's Spirit
directly bearing witness with our spirit (Rom.8:16) must not be equated
with some subjective feeling, and it can never be independent of the
text of God's written Word. This text is the only thing we objectively
have in hand. Of course its interpretation requires sound exegesis.

How does God reveal the truth? In Christ, he did it by making "himself
nothing" and "humbling himself" (Phil.2:7-8). In the Scriptures, he used
fallible writers, copiers and translators making mistakes, and a
canonization process by fallible theologians. In creation, he left it to
fallible scientists to find out the nature and history of "the heavens
and the earth". In a sense, each of these self-disclosures has a certain
amount of ambiguity - presumably required to foster a personal love
relationship between humans and himself, requiring a free-will decision.
Yet nothing of this can be accounted for in a merely "natural" way,
without God's active intervention. Jesus could not be nothing but human.
The Bible cannot be understood if treated as a merely human book.
Creation resists "nothing-buttery" (MacKay) explanations.

Just as God has (due to quantum uncertainties) countless possibilities
of guiding "natural" processes without touching his "natural" laws, he
has countless possibilities of guiding a writing prophet without
overpowering his personality and thinking, and of guiding the
canonization process. When interpreting a biblical text, we must take
into consideration the possibility of finding concordances with truth
(reality) going beyond what the writer "could know at that time". After
all, there are also plenty of genuine prophecies in the Scriptures.

Is "accommodation" to human errors (of fact and ethics) really needed?
Looking for anthropomorphisms and ambiguities in language, unknown
circumstances, and incompleteness of accounts is a must before we too
easily call for divine accommodation.

I am deeply troubled by the way Bob's and Glenn's central claims are not
being understood, or not being respected. Treating large parts of
Scripture as often erroneous opinons of ancient writers (myths etc.),
with God "accommodating" to them, begs the question of understanding
God's intentions behind the texts as we have them.

So, what is inspiration and revelation?

Peter

-- 
Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
<pruest@dplanet.ch> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
"..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)
Received on Fri Sep 3 22:15:04 2004

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