Tag Archives: revelation

HOW THE REFORMATION NEGLECTED THE HOLY SPIRIT

The following are excerpts from a chapter on pneumatology from Timothy C. Tennent’s excellent book, Theology in the Context of World Christianity:

“The Reformation’s emphasis on the authority of Scripture, ecclesiology, and Christology are clearly reflected in the post-Reformation attempt to systematize the theological deposit of the Reformers. However, this meant that, as was the case during the patristic period, a full development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was delayed and several vital aspects of his person and work were neglected in post-Reformation Protestant theology in the West. Over time, several major theological traditions developed that either denied completely or extremely limited the active role of the Holy Spirit in performing miracles, divine healing, demonic deliverance, prophecy, tongue-speaking, and other elements that later became central features of the Pentecostal doctrine of the Holy Spirit. For example, this tendency is evident in many expressions of Reformed theology as well as in the later nineteenth-century emergence of dispensationalism …” (Tennent 2007, 171).

“Traditional Western theologies were written by scholars who received their education in respected universities that were deeply influenced by Enlightenment assumptions. The Enlightenment worldview creates a high wall separating the experiential world of the senses – governed by reason and subject to scientific inquiry – from the unseen world beyond the wall; such a world either does not exist (naturalism) or, if it does, we can know little about it (deism). The result has been essentially a two-tiered universe that separates the world of science from the world of religion.

Biblical evangelicalism has challenged this worldview by insisting that God has supernaturally broken through this wall in the incarnation and that knowledge of the unseen world has been provided by the certainty of divine revelation. Evangelicals argued that through prayer we can have sustained communication and fellowship with God. The problem with this approach is that the basic two-tiered universe of the Enlightenment worldview remains intact. It has merely been modified so that Christians punch a few holes in the wall to provide a framework whereby God can come into the empirical world through the incarnation and revelation and we, in turn, can have access to the unseen world through prayer. The basic separation is left unchallenged …” (Tennent, 178).

“The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring the “not yet” of the kingdom into the “already” of our fallen world. All the future realities of the kingdom are now fully available to all believers through the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Doctrines of cessationism or partial cessationism are, in the final analysis, detrimental concessions to an Enlightenment worldview that has unduly influenced the church with its naturalistic presuppositions…” (Tennent, 179).

WHAT IS SPECIAL REVELATION?

moses-on-sinai

The lingering external / physical evidence of a Creator and internal / psychological evidence of a moral law and spiritual yearning within mankind are examples of General Revelation – passive evidence of the divine, available to all. Yet, such clues alone will never lead one to a full knowledge of the Christian God and associated doctrines of soteriology (salvation), especially in light of our fallen nature.

Following the concept of ‘dimensional beyondness,’ that God is not just quantitatively different than mankind but also qualitatively, we do not have the ability to directly observe God with our unaided senses. The Bible describes God as spirit, invisible, dwelling in a spiritual realm, and unable to be directly looked upon without the experience ending our lives.

How then can we possibly draw close enough to God to perceive his true nature? We can’t. “Humans cannot reach up to investigate God and would not understand even if they could.” (Erickson 1998). He has to reveal himself to us. Thankfully, God values relationships with his creation and has condescended to both interact with us and provide us with information, without which we would arguably be an ignorant species on the brink of extinction.

As stated before, revelation is better thought of as an unveiling or uncovering. Whereas General Revelation is passive, Special or Particular Revelation describes a unique moment in time and space where God reveals a part of himself: perhaps his power, or character, or wisdom, or moral requirements. The God who is above, other than, and pre-existent to our cosmos in some way enters into our finite world.

A simple example is found in Exodus 31, when Yahweh speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai. “When he had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, he gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). Not only did God verbally speak to Moses, he also left behind a personal writing sample! Later, through the process of inscripturation, this event became recorded for posterity in the Law / Books of Moses / Pentateuch.

Both the specific historical events (God personally writing the Decalogue / Ten Commandments on stone tablets on Mount Sinai) and the written records (what we now call the book of Exodus describing God’s actions as well as what he wrote down) are instances of an unveiling that allows us to experience the divine presence or some divine truth – Special Revelation. The compiled and accurately transmitted written records, or ‘sacred writings,’ are what we call Scripture.

Thus, Christians do not worship Pascal’s “God of the philosophers,” a “generic God or the mere concept of God in some vague, philosophical mist … [we] worship God as he has been revealed in his particulars.” (Tennent 2007).

WHAT IS REVELATION?

jacobsladder

The word ‘revelation’ found in New Testament passages such as Luke 2:32, Romans 2:5, Galatians 1:12, Ephesians 3:3, and Revelation 1:1 (to cite a few examples) is the Greek word apokálypsis. You do not have to be a Greek scholar to recognize the English word ‘apocalypse.’ However, in English we have come to associate apocalypse with the cataclysmic end of the world. In reality, apocalypse means uncovering or unveiling.

Read Paul’s words in Galatians 1:11-12 with a simple translation change, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through an apocalypse of Jesus Christ.”

When theologians talk about revelation they are primarily concerned with the following question: how can we know anything about God at all? If God is transcendent, or infinite, or outside of the created cosmos, how can finite, mortal creatures approach him or discover something of his nature?

John the Apostle was fond of pointing out that “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18a; also 1 John 4:12a) and “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; he has seen the Father” (John 6:46). So how can we discern a God that is “invisible” (1 Timothy 1:17) to us? The answer is that God has to pull back the veil, let us peek behind the curtain, and reveal a part of himself.

Humanity cannot reach a knowledge of God completely on their own. But what about general revelation and the associated natural theology, in which individuals discern attributes of God from what has been created? We must admit that God has given human beings the ability to sense and perceive as well as minds capable of understanding and reaching conclusions. Therefore, even our most “independent” observations and conclusions are only possible because God first allowed their possibility by the decisions he made when designing and creating us.

WHY CHRISTIANITY?

contradict-frontIn a previous post I discussed how I had arrived at subjective certainty about the existence of God. But in the grand cosmological buffet, there are many “higher powers” that one can choose from: Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, and even the Flying Spaghetti Monster. How did I personally become convinced that the Christian God, attested to in the Old and New Testaments, is the “One True God” – the interpretation of the Divine that corresponds to reality?

1. To start, there is no denying that my upbringing plays a crucial role. I was raised in a Christian home. But what does that mean? Many who were raised in a “Christian” home and/or grew up “in the Church” have turned away from the Christian religion. And others that have had no exposure to Christianity as children come to believe in the Christian interpretation of God. I must say that I viewed the early Christian influences in my life as trustworthy sources, people who non-hypocritically lived out their faith on a daily basis. Their personal lives and behavior did not contradict what they taught or believed – quite the opposite. I had every reason to believe what they were saying when they testified about supernatural experiences.

2. God most profoundly revealed himself to me during a Christian church service, through a scripture found in the Christian Bible, presented by a Christian pastor. Despite the historical, contextually-bound logos of that passage of scripture, I was directly and personally spoken to as through a rhema. My life dramatically began a process of transformation from that moment. I often have described this experience as an “epiphany.”

3. The inward witness of the Holy Spirit continues to affirm the central truths of Christianity and thus further bolsters my faith. “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16) and, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me” (John 15:26).

4. The Christian worldview, as expressed (non-systematically) in the Bible, presents a framework for consistently, accurately, and non-contradictorily interpreting all of reality, including the existence of and belief in other so-called gods. Christianity accounts for other religions and even for non-religious persons.

5. Various forms of revelation: ongoing personal experiences, the testimony of trustworthy individuals, and historical evidence all lend additional support to Christianity. I will address the nature of revelation more in depth in a future post.