God, Revelation and Authority Vol. 1, Chapter 13

Posted: February 5, 2011 in Uncategorized


Since theology is a rational discipline, it must of necessity declare which method or methods of knowing it considers appropriate to the knowledge of God, and what tests for religious truth it approves.When a non-Christian asks, “What persuasive reasons have you for believing?” the basic issue at stake is, is theology credible?  Carl F.H. Henry

Many progressive Christians and hippies ignored the rise of “scientism” but Henry argued that theology should not retreat from the challenge from those who believe there is a “natural” explanation for everything that can be proven or disproven by the scientific method.   Henry believes that the rise of naturalism should challenge theologians to be more precise including paying close to attention to the way, or method, of doing theology. 

Henry outlines his proposed method as follows, “Divine revelation is the source of all truth, the truth of Christianity included; reason is the instrument for recognizing it; Scripture is its verifying principle; logical consistency is a negative test for truth and coherence a subordinate test. The task of Christian theology is to exhibit the content of biblical revelation as an orderly whole.

Henry begins to unpack the above quote by writing,  

God in his revelation is the first principle of Christian theology, from which all the truths of revealed religion are derived.
Divine revelation is the evoking cause of Christian theology and faith, and the ultimate criterion of all evangelical doctrine. Christianity ventures its affirmations about God because of what Abraham Kuyper calls the “dependent character of theology”—that is, its complete dependence on God for any and all information we have about him. In B. B. Warfield’s words, “The religion of the Bible presents itself as distinctly a revealed religion” (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 72).The initiative is wholly God’s, from his original communication with sinless Adam to the enfleshment of the Logos in Jesus Christ. The knowledge of God is both as limited and as vast a topic as God himself is in his revelation; only on the basis of God’s self-disclosure is man able to make any legitimate statements whatever about him.”
Many enlightenment thinkers object to this line of thinking.  Academics like Ernst Troeltsch continued to argue for a special place for Christianity even though they didn’t believe the Bible was revelation and that redemption may be found elsewhere.  Henry responds that this move is wholly arbitrary and contrary to the claims of the faith itself.
Others object that Christianity should hold no special place and that all religions are the same but Henry argues that such an assertion ignores the doctrines of the various faiths.  For example, Buddhism does not proclaim salvation in the Christian sense nor does Hinduism. 
Liberal Christians attempted to argue that all faiths are an outward expression of a purely subjective “feeling” that there is more to life than the material.  Yet, Henry argues that such a move means that the church can do nothing but state what it presently “feels.”  Thus, the faith would be constantly revised.  Christians such as Peter Rollins and Shane Hipps continue to make a similar argument today.
Finally, some “Biblical Christians” argue that the historicity of the resurrection, not the presupposition that the Bible is divine revelation, should be the starting point for any discussion about the faith.  Yet, Henry points out that this is not what Scripture itself claims.  Furthermore, Henry argues that it is unlikely that an unregenerate man can be led to faith through a historical argument.  Moreover, Henry writes,
The resurrection was assuredly a historical event. But to appeal solely on the basis of historical research to God’s special historical act in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, apart from any reliance on revelational authority, will not enable us to establish the meaning and significance of the resurrection. Historical events are not self-explanatory, least of all the special redemptive acts of the Bible. Apart from their revelationally vouchsafed interpretation, the divine acts are subject to wholesale misunderstanding. To be sure, Paul declared that by raising Jesus from the dead God had removed every last plea for human ignorance of his purposes. But the resurrection was not a brute fact or historical surd mirroring its own message. Jesus himself had warned that “if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead”(Luke 16:31, kjv), a judgment that accurately diagnosed the impending fortunes of Judaism. The Gospels themselves begin with an account of the Messiah’s prophetically anticipated birth rather than with the resurrection. The Book of Acts records how Saul of Tarsus,while convinced of the resurrection of Christ through empirical historical confrontation by the unrepeatable miracle of the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3), had previously heard in the primitive missionary churches the Christian witness that placed Christ’s resurrection in Old Testament revelational perspective (1 Cor. 15:1 ff.). The Bible nowhere discusses christ’s resurrection as a dramatic exception in a six thousand-year span of human history that is otherwise explicable as an unbroken sequence of nonmiraculous events—the context in which modern secular man seeks to comprehend the resurrection-claim. Instead, the Bible frames the prospect of Messiah’s resurrection in the scriptural context of God’s promise and fulfillment; the New Testament followers of Christ shared a belief in a future resurrection of mankind long before they heard the name of Jesus.”
In sum, Scripture itself places the resurrection of Jesus within the grand narrative of redemption and to tear it away from that grand narrative is an injustice to the work of God’s inspiration. 
Many are nervous to follow Henry and simply stand on the presupposition that Scripture is the very Word of God.  However, as Henry points out, we all have our presuppositions and, “[e]vangelical theology is not only ready to debate any and all rival axioms proposed for an understanding of reality and life, but is also more eager than its rivals to do so, as attested by its evangelistic initiative and missionary expansion. To support its own claim and to contest competing claims, revealed religion is fully prepared to adduce criteria and principles for verification.”  We will turn to such criteria and principles next time. 

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