Over the last few weeks, I’ve been involved in a course considering precisely what the Bible is. In order to do this, we have had to examine what it means for God to reveal himself (if he is there, and if he does, that is). This was my overview of the different aspects of the claims for divine revelation.
There are a few key things that need a little unpacking:
- Incarnational revelation obviously takes supreme precedence over scriptural revelation – for all kinds of reasons. But I ran out of room on the slide! Otherwise, I would have found ways to show the difference.
- Scriptural revelation (with all its facets – eg reliability and sufficiency) entirely depends on inspiration for it to hold – hence its function on the diagram as a kind of bridge to the 5 facets
- Quite what status dreams and ‘words of knowledge‘ (etc) should have is clearly a controversial one – hence the question markand the fence-sitting position that I’ve given them. I tend towards putting them in their own category of general revelation (hence the NT requirement to test and evaluate them – not something ever required of special revelation), following Jensen’s general line in The Revelation of God.
Another REALLY helpful place to turn on all this (though it is not the easiest of reads, unfortunately) is Tim Ward’s excellent 2009 book, Words of Life
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“Quite what status dreams and ‘words of knowledge‘ (etc) should have is clearly a controversial one – hence the question mark and the fence-sitting position that I’ve given them. I tend towards putting them in their own category of general revelation”
It would be interesting to explore this further; as general revelation they should be available to everyone – not just Christians.
I was just reading one of Andrew Walls’ books, and he was commenting on how in some parts of the African church, many of the preachers/ministers/evangelists would expect to have a call that was similiar in structure and media (dreams) to that of traditional healers, recast in christian terms.
interesting point, Chris… which is the Walls’ book?
It’s “The Missionary Movement in Christian History”.
These talks sounds really interesting, are you planning to make it available online somehow?
I’m afraid they weren’t recorded… so no!
I like the diagram – did that take you long? I’ve question from it though… How much did you say on the sufficiency point? In what ways is Scripture sufficient? We’re thinking about what we do in church including whether it is right to send the children out for Sunday School during the main service and the issue of sufficiency is proving to be a key key area – any brief comments on how best to encapsulate Sufficiency and good resources on this issue?
Thanks for your slide/post on Revelation – v useful.
I also happened to be thinking about this last week. For what it’s worth, I think there is another aspect to General Revelation that is perhaps so “obvious” that we often don’t talk about (and I’m not even sure what the best language for it is – “common sense Revelation” would be somewhat vague). And yet there’s a sense in which Special Revelation depends on it.
* Start with Gen 1-3. There is a huge quantity of (straightforward/common-sense) knowledge that is assumed: eg the narrative never stops to explain what a tree is; or the difference between leaves and fruit; or what eating is; etc, etc, etc. And anyway, one needs to know Hebrew (or, know English, and have a translation from the Hebrew).
* OK, all of this is in some way “simple”/”obvious”/”basic”/”common sense” – but it’s still knowledge, and it still has to come from somewhere. And, at the very least, we’d have an uphill job of making sense of Special Revelation without it.
* It’s hard to even conceive of a human being not knowing any of this; but it is conceivable that someone might be unaware of significant chunks. And if one wanted to supply the missing information, Special Revelation wouldn’t be the most obvious place to turn to.
Taking a cue from Oliver O’Donovan, I think this issue is to do with there being order (including moral order) built into the creation that God has made. And I think God has created humans in such a way that they are able to discern the order around them. However finiteness and fallenness both combine to mean that unaided human cognition cannot reliable discern this order (i.e. we don’t always work it out correctly), and even when we do discern things correctly, we have no grounds for being confident that our discernments are correct, or for decisively arguing against incorrect alternatives. In other words, order is there ontologically, but we can have no epistemological certainty regarding it. Among other things, Special Revelation provides the epistemological categories for discerning the order of creation (approximately) correctly, and with (non-infinite) confidence. And yet Special Revelation itself depends on some existing, basic perception into the order of creation. Thus there is a feedback relationship going on between the two. (A form of hermeneutical spiral, if you like.)