God, Revelation & Authority Vol. 1, Chapter 3

Posted: January 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

Every culture and society exudes a certain convictional glue, an undergirding outlook on life and reality that preserves its cohesiveness.

When that adhesive bond deteriorates, the sense of shared community tends to come apart at the seams.
Recent modern thinkers define this bond of conceptualities or value-constellations as myth, that is, man’s representation of the transcendent or divine in human or earthly terms.
 
The most critical question in the history of thought is whether all the convictional frameworks through which different peoples arrive at the meaning and worth of human life are by nature mythical, or whether perhaps at least one of these perspectives stems from divine revelation and has objective cognitive validity.
 
Many modern theologians set aside any emphasis on intelligible divine revelation (that is, the view that God communicates to mankind the literal truth about his nature and purposes); they affirm, instead, that God uses myth as a literary genre to convey revelation in the Bible and perhaps elsewhere as well. To them the biblical accounts of creation and redemption are written mythological representations of transcendent realities or relationships that defy formulation in conceptual thought patterns.
 
Carl F.H. Henry
 
In the heyday of the enlightenment, many thinkers began to argue that the Bible is true in one sense but not true in a literal, historical sense.  In other words, they argued that the Bible is not divine revelation from God but the expression of “enlightened persons.”
 
One has to admit that Jesus himself often used parables, which were stories not anchored in history to teach “truth.”  But is all of Scripture a parable or “myth”? A majority of it? Some of it? How does one know?
 
Henry writes,
 

The precise definition of myth is…crucial if we are to answer the indicated questions intelligently. Decisive for the evaluation of myth are how one relates myth to objective truth and to external history, and what religious significance one attaches to rational truth and historical events. The basic issues reduce really to two alternatives: either man himself projects upon the world and its history a supernatural reality and activity that disallows objectively valid cognitive statements on the basis of divine disclosure, or a transcendent divine reality through intelligible revelation establishes the fact that God is actually at work in the sphere of nature and human affairs.
 
In other words, either people created the Bible largely from their own imagination or it is revelation given directly from God.  It is important to note that the Bible repeatedly claims it is communicating the very words of God to His creation.  Moreover, as Henry emphasises, God communicates “not in cryptic mystery form but in intelligible statements that convey publicly identifiable meaning.”  In other words, the Bible itself refuses to play along with the “enlightened” views of modern liberals about the Bible!
 
Henry then points out that the idea of “myth” that people create stories about the divine in an attempt to make sense of the world are not new.  The Greeks did it but the leading philosophers had very little use for it.  The nations surrounding Israel did it and the Hebrews found it repugnant.  Whenever the writers of the Old Testament used “mythical” language it is clear to any reader that they are using it poetically as in the Psalms.  Furthermore, the very Greek word for “myth” is repudiated by the writers of the New Testament (see The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 4:793).
   
Even progressive protestants like Karl Barth disapproved of applying the term “myth” to the Bible.  Barth argued that God’s revelation is in fact judgment on man’s “vain imaginative attempts” at describing the divine.
 
Yet, despite such cogent criticisms, you can turn on the History Channel or A&E and see “scholars” argue that the Bible is nothing but myth.  Henry argues that these proponents of the Bible as a collection of wise fairy tales assume 4 things: 
 
(1) transcendent reality is not conceptually or historically revealed or knowable; (2) myth is the only form in which the reality and nature of the invisible spiritual world can be expressed; (3) myth properly understood demands not elimination but interpretation of its function; and (4) believing acceptance of the myth involves an inner encounter that leads not to secret information or valid knowledge but to vital awareness of divine presence.
 
In other words, (1) God doesn’t actually communicate to us; (2) even if He wanted to, He couldn’t figure out how to use the fragile tool of language to do it; (3) So, we need highly trained scholars to tell us what these people who tried to tell us about God really meant (once they can come to agreement themselves, anyway); and (4) at the end of the day, these “myth writers” can only really tell us that there is more to life than meets the eye. 
 
So, Henry asks, if Jesus was as brilliant as all of these scholars rightfully believe he was then why does he communicate in ways other than parables? Jesus obviously valued parables but he clearly believed that they were not the only appropriate vehicle for conveying divine truth.  Yet, few of these scholars would argue that Jesus was not as enlightened as they are.
 
Moreover, if the Bible is myth than it cannot claim to be superior to any other myth such as the Greek myths or even something as horrific as the Nazi myth.  If the Bible is myth than there exists no rational, objective basis for choosing the Sermon on the Mount over the superiority of the “Arian race.” 
 
In the end, Henry argues that the Biblical writers do not evidence that they are writing anything but literal history that is easily understood by those who read the accounts.  To argue otherwise begs the question as to why God would communicate in less effective ways than modern historians. 
 
I will end with Henry’s lucid prose once again regarding the uniqueness of the Christian faith:
 
Novel and diverse indeed as are the convictions mankind has entertained throughout human history, the Christian perspective differs fundamentally in its insistence upon intelligible divine revelation as its governing principle. The special merit of Christianity lies in its deliverance of fallen man from mythical notions of God and its provision of precise knowledge concerning religious reality. Christianity∙ adduces not simply mythical statements but factual and literal truth about God. In freeing religious experience from only symbolic imagery and representations, Christianity manifests its superiority by providing valid propositional information: God is sovereign, personal Spirit: he is causally related to the universe as the Creator of man and the world: he reveals his will intelligibly to chosen prophets and apostles: despite man’s moral revolt he shows his love in the offer of redemption: he is supremely revealed in Jesus Christ in once-for-all incarnation: he has coped decisively with the problem of human sin in the death and resurrection and ascension of the incarnate Logos.
 
Tomorrow night we will tackle chapter 4, “The Ways of Knowing.”  Until then, grace and peace.
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