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ASSEMBLIES OF GOD THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
GOD, REVELATION AND TRUTH STATEMENT OF AFFIRMATION AND FINAL PAPER
Danny W. Davis THE 800 God, Revelation and Truth (Directed Research) December 10, 2012
2 Table of Contents
Introduction God Is Ontological Argument for God’s Existence Thomas Aquinas: Cosmological Arguments for God’s Existence. Presupposing God The Revelation of God Through The Holy Scripture Revelation: God’s Self‐Disclosure. The Holy Scriptures: Canon, Illumination, Inspiration and Authority. The Place of Tradition. How Believers Interact and Respond to the Holy Scripture Reading and Listening to Holy Scripture Faithfully Hearing and Responding to Holy Scripture Conclusions Bibliography 4 5 6 7 8 9 9 13 17 18 19 20 23 24
4 Introduction This monograph sets out to examine the revelatory nature of the Holy Scriptures and its authority for the believing community. First, we will look at the rational arguments offered for God’s existence. A summary of arguments from Anselm, Aquinas and others will be offered as a way to demonstrate how God discloses Himself through means other than Scripture. The goal of this section is to show that God desires to known by humanity and uses a variety of means to do so. Opposing opinions against the ontological and cosmological arguments will be considered and an attempt to reveal the opposition’s weaknesses because both sides presuppose God. Second, this paper will turn to the revelation of God through the Holy Scriptures considering how they reveal God and in doing so become authoritative to the believing community. The discussion will begin by looking at the idea of revelation as it relates to the Holy Scriptures. Consideration will be given to God’s self-disclosure through the synthesis of historical events and mystical experience. Attention to Barth’s Christocentric viewpoint will be discussed and compared with Bloesch’s synthetic idea of revelation. From these sources I will proffer a definition of revelation that I believe satisfies both the historical and mystical notions of God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures. A discourse will then be offered as the process by which the believing community received the Holy Scriptures. The ideas of inspiration, illumination and canon will be discussed with attention given to how, through these elements, the believing community came to see God’s book as the primary source of authority for faith and practice. Last, having established that God desires to be known and has created multiple means to accomplish His goal, the discussion will take a pragmatic turn. If the Holy Scripture is authoritative for the believing community, how then should we read and hear them in our current context?
5 God Is “In the beginning, God” (Gen. 1:1a NASB). The first phrase of the first chapter of canonized Scripture implicitly assumes that God is. Embedded within the Genesis declaration lies an even further assumption that the reader accepts the certainty of an existent God. The remainder of Holy Scripture maintains this presumption of God and moves forward with little time given to opposing opinions. The arguments for or against God’s existence “came after, not before, Christian proclamation, conversion of believers and the writing of Scripture.”1 This does not mean, however, that engagement in reasonable arguments for the existence of God should be avoided. Humankind possesses a curios nature. As such, it has attempted by various means to define the parameters and realities of its own existence by defining the essence and existence of God. In no small way, human beings have endeavored to discover themselves through themselves; but have, without fail, come short of the intended goal. Theology, then, enters the space of human discovery and points toward the assumption of God. God, for orthodox theologian’s, functions as the ultimate resolution to the seemingly unanswerable questions of human existence. Theology further insists humankind was created imagio Dei and; therefore, seeks to understand itself by looking outward toward God rather than inward. Theologians, in an effort to support the already established faith of many,2 ascribe to the ostensibly elusive essence and existence of God, those human attributes inherent in their own existence. That is to say, humanities finite language and experience attempts to completely as possible convey the reality of God’s fullness. Even an effort to grasp and communicate a single attribute of God falls short
Thomas Oden, The Living God, vol. 1, Systematic Theology (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1987), 140. Ibid, 140.
6 because one attribute cannot be separated from another.3 Nevertheless, the human desire to understand God does yield great fruit and properly stimulates further theological activity and inquiry.4 If, as Coppedge asserts, “the concept of God is the most determinative factor of all Christian theology,”5 then Christians must continually search for rational arguments from which to know something of God. However hard it may be to ascribe appropriate human language and models to an incomprehensible God, the biblical fact remains that God desires to be known. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God” (Jon. 17:3 NASB). If God wants to be known, by what means does He choose to reveal Himself? As it has already been established, human beings are incapable of thoroughly comprehending the entire scope of God’s essence. Therefore, if God desires to be known then He must be the initiator of the means through which He becomes known. Humanity becomes the receptor of and the interpreter of God’s selfdisclosing activity. Receiving and interpreting God’s activity has led to the formulation of various reasonable and rational arguments for the knowability of God. Ontological Argument for God’s Existence Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109 A.D.) pioneered the ontological argument for the existence of God. In his seminal work, Proslogion, Anselm argues that if humanity has an idea of God then God must exist.6 Descartes (1596-1650 A.D.) carried Anselm’s idea further arguing that if God exists in humanities mind He must exist in reality.7 Though Anselm and Descartes’s ontological arguments have come under necessary scrutiny, they nonetheless establish an
Donald Bloesch, The God Almighty (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1995), 42. Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith (Nottingham, England: Inter Varsity Press, 1999), 69. 5 David Coppedge, Portraits of God, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2001), 21. 6 Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1999), 41. 7 Ibid, 42.
7 important theological foundation: God can, through the use of human reason, disclose Himself. The subsequent ontological arguments of other theologians and philosopher’s point to proof of God’s activity in and through humanities intellectual faculties. Thomas Aquinas: Cosmological Arguments for God’s Existence. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.) argued that God could be known through His creative disclosure. For Aquinas, God could be known through the seeming perfections of nature, the imperfections of creatures (in that God is the opposite or via negationis) and the “relative perfections” found in humanity (via eminentiae).8 He puts forward the notion that if there is anything resembling perfection in creation or humanity there must be a “first cause or primer or mover.”9 The first cause for Aquinas is God. Aquinas also posited that tradition and biblical revelation must be considered when ascribing attributes to God. Aquinas shows us that God’s self-disclosure can emanate from His very own creation. Aquinas also argued that God could be known through the order and design of that which is created. The plausibility of an ordered complex world happening by chance is unlikely. Aquinas (and others) argued that the ordered nature of the cosmos, its complexity and consistency point to some providential designer.10 Calling on the idea of a first cause, Aquinas posited that God reveals Himself to humanity through cosmological order. If there is no first cause for the observable order in the cosmos then the order must be the product of chance.11 God alone, not chance, has the power and scope to both create and hold together the cosmos.12
Ibid, 58. Bloesch, The Almighty God, 66. 10 Oden, 143. 11 Oden, 143. 12 Oden, 143.
8 Therefore, human beings can ascribe certain attributes to God by looking at the His created cosmos. Presupposing God Opponents of the previous philosophical arguments assert the authors work from a presumptive foundation. Anselm and Aquinas begin with the presupposition that God exists. The deductions, say critics, drawn from Aquinas’s cosmological concepts are influenced by his belief in God and; therefore, cannot be rational. Ironically, opponents of these rational arguments begin their arguments on the presupposition that God does not exist. This only proves Anselm and Aquinas’s propositions. If the thought of God enters into the mind of the atheist or agnostic then their must have been a first cause for that thought. For Aquinas and Anselm that first cause is God. The atheist or agnostic argues from the foundation that God does not exist; therefore, the first cause of their propositions also begins with God. In the end, they are trying to disprove something their mind has already conceived as reality. Consequently, the believer and nonbeliever begin their rational arguments on the foundation of God. The difference between the two parties lies primarily in their assessment of Holy Scripture. Anselm began his ontological argument from Ps. 13:1 and the character of a “fool.” Aquinas pointed to God with rational thought but filtered his conclusions through church tradition and the Bible. The atheist or agnostics low view of Scripture and the church leaves them with no authoritative source, other than themselves, to judge their philosophical conclusions. Thus, the lack of accountability to an authority other than themselves leaves them to their own device. The Christian philosopher, however, engages a higher accountability than him or herself: God, the Bible and tradition.
9 The majority of Christian believers are not well versed in the philosophical arguments offered by Anselm, Descartes, Aquinas or other modern thinkers like Schleiermacher or Barth. Primarily, when Christians think of God and His attributes they look to the Scriptures. This does mean that most Christians hold to an anti-intellectual worldview, however. It simply means that when believers look for ways to ascribe qualities to God they look to the primary and tangible source of their faith: the Holy Scripture. The Holy Scripture points to the reality that God, in an intentional effort to reveal Himself, spoke into human history. Through inspired speech acts God spoke to human beings to write the necessary narratives of His actions in history to redeem humankind. The Church Fathers recognized these writings as God breathed establishing a standard text for all believers. The believer reads the text and, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, knows something of God. The Revelation of God Through The Holy Scripture The short title of this section demands some definition of terms in order to logically come to conclusive thoughts of how God discloses Himself to humanity. If, as the title asserts, God reveals Himself to humanity through the Holy Scripture, then, what is revelation and what is the Holy Scripture? More importantly, how does revelation and Holy Scripture work together to reveal God to us. Revelation: God’s Self-Disclosure. “Revelation,” says Arrington, “is the disclosure of something hidden.”13 God, as stressed previously, desires to reveal Himself to His creation through His activity in history. Because God is the first cause of all things, He acts as the initiator of disclosure. Humankind receives and
French Arrington, A Pentecostal Perspective, vol. 1, Christian Doctrine (Cleveland, TN: Pathway,
10 interprets His actions through their historical and cultural context. Intrinsic to the historicalcultural view of revelation is the need for reflective action from humankind. God initiates His self-disclosure with an expectation that humanity will see Him at work and thereby know Him. The pivot upon which the historical-cultural viewpoint hinges is the incarnation of Christ. God revealed Himself in Christ to humanity in history and within a cultural setting. Consequently, our interaction with Christ through faith and our reflection on His incarnation results in moments of revelation.14 The previous conclusion, however, synthesizes two differing opinions concerning the nature of revelation. Obviously the first opinion looks back to historical events and requires reflection on them. Another, equally valid perspective, leans more toward the mystical or ethereal. Leading the charge of this opinion is the famed Swiss reformed theologian, Karl Barth. Barth fervently insists God could only be known through revelation. Contrary to Aquinas, Barth would not allow for nature to be a revealer of God.15 Instead he insisted that any revelation of nature or of the human condition was the result of God revealing it to humanity. In no small way, Barth laid the initiatory action of revelation at the feet of God and proposed Christ as the foremost demonstration of God’s revelatory desire. Christocentric in nature, Barth’s theology centers upon the incarnation of Jesus Christ (word incarnate) as the primary means of the revelation of God to humanity.16 Barth also insisted that revelation “is the Bible as ‘the word of God written.’”17 It seems Barth tried to synthesize his ideas of mystical revelation with the natural through a third means of revelation: the
Donald Bloesch, Holy Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1994), 47. Jonathon Hill, The History of Christian Thought (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 269. 16 Ibid. 17 Grenz, 511.
11 “proclamation of the word of God.”18 The synthesis of incarnate Word, written word and proclaimed word, in my observation, provides a holistic view of revelation. The Holy Scripture provides the demonstrative means to view both sides of revelation. In the narrative of Holy Scripture the reader observes God working in and above the created world through physical and mystical ways. When the Shekinah glory of God manifest itself in the Holy of Holies the mystical became visible. The incarnate Word touched a blind and he was healed, as such, the physical touch manifested a supernatural act. Accordingly, the proclamation of the written word of Christ mystically inspires faith in the hearer (cf. Rom. 10:17). The Holy Scripture provides its readers with the ability to reflectively consider God’s actions in history while at the same time offering a glimpse of an expected future. Whether past or future the Kingdom of God looks at events the same. The past shows the history that has been while the future presents a history that will be. Missiologically, revelation speaks to both the now and the not yet of the God’s kingdom. Both the historical and mystical views point toward revelation of God through His spoken acts. Historically the Holy Scripture discloses what God has done. Mystically the Holy Scripture pulls the reader forward toward a future revelation. Both manifest themselves in the moments of life and both offer glimpses into the past and future actions of God providing orientation for the present.19 God, through His own will and freedom, allows humankind the opportunity to know Him spiritually and personally because He dwells in both the mystical and historical.
Grenz, 511. Grenz, 510.
12 The above proposition seems to agree with Bloesch’s synthesis of “truth and event.”20 He calls upon the book of Isaiah 48:3 which states, “I declared the former things long ago And they went forth from My mouth, and I proclaimed them. Suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.” The truth spoken by God preceded the actual event but it was already a fact of an historical future. Humanity lives under the limitation of time, God does not. Accordingly, human beings must wait for the event but in God’s economy the event has already been ordained because it has been spoken by Truth. Bloesch affirms a twofold unity of truth and event by illustrating it as both word and act.21 God initiates revelation (word) and the action of that truth waits only to become reality within the human confines of time now or in the eschatological future. Revelation comes from multiple sources. God desires to be known and as such creates natural and mystical means to accomplish His goal. Nature’s revelation teaches that God exists (Rom. 1:20). The natural distinctions between male and female are instruments of God’s selfdisclosure (1 Cor. 11:14). God sometimes works above the natural order and performs miracles as an intentional act of self-disclosure. All of these means and more are presented to humanity through the written word: The Holy Scriptures. Revelation, as defined before, “is the disclosure of something hidden”22 but for the Christian it is more than this. As I see it, revelation is the intentional physical and spiritual action of God performed for the purpose of disclosing some particular aspect of His nature and character to the world. For the believing community, the Bible stands as the primary tangible source for God’s self-disclosure and the standard of accountability for tradition (experience) and
Bloesch Holy Scripture, 49. Bloesch Holy Scriptures, 49. 22 Arrington, 37.
13 the reflective lens of history (natural and supernatural). If the Holy Scripture serves as the principal material for knowing God, then, what are they and how did they come to be? The Holy Scriptures: Canon, Illumination, Inspiration and Authority. The Holy Scriptures, as they are formed today, did not simply appear. The process toward canonization of the 27 books of the New Testament came forth from a long but necessary process. The early church had accepted the Jewish canon considering it authoritative and fixed. However, as the early church expanded outside of the Mediterranean the need for a standard text became clear. The need for such a text arose from both practical and doctrinal concerns. Practically, the burgeoning church required some standard of worship and examples of prayer.23 Doctrinally, the expanding church found itself at odds with pagan religions and with each other.24 Therefore, a canonized set of writings would establish a foundation of revelation from which matters of faith and practice could be delineated to facilitate further church growth. This should not, however, be viewed as an easy or simple process. Ironically, the first attempt at establishing a set text for believers came from the heretic Marcion. His teaching, “that the God and Father of Jesus is not the same as Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament,”25 resulted in denouncement by the Roman church leaders. Being denounced by leadership did not stop Marcion, however. He forsook the Old Testament and put together a list of current writings he felt were not swayed by Jewish influence.26 Though his motivation was wrong, Marcion awakened the church to the need for a set text. By the year 200 A.D. the church had come to a loose consensus of accepted books suitable for use in worship and proclamation commonly referred to as the Muratorian Canon.
Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000), 34. 24 Ibid. 25 Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2010), 74. 26 Ibid.
14 This included the Old Testament, the four gospels, Acts, 13 letters of Paul, and three epistles. Over the next several centuries the church, along with the leadership of Athanasius, organized the canon of Holy Scripture enjoyed by believers today. The books included in the canon passed through three requirements: 1) apostolicity – having been written by an apostle or close colleague; 2) the writings could not contradict the Old Testament canon and 3) the universal acceptance of the writings in the majority church (contrary to the relatively limited universality of Gnostic writings). The canon of the New Testament was approved at the Council of Hippo in 363 A.D. The later Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) affirmed that the whole of the canon (Old and New Testaments) would be the only sacred text read in the church. Thus, the 66 books of the Bible were established as the church standard of faith (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy). The written canonized Scriptures now stood over the church as the “God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) revelatory and authoritative text. The significance of the church’s action rests in the idea of submission. God speaks a perfect word to imperfect human beings so as to reveal His character. Those human beings write, under God’s oversight, so that a record of His revelation can be compiled. Human beings find it necessary to compile the record as a means of communicating God’s revelation. After the debates are over and the canon is complete those who compiled the Bible choose to live under its rule. This submissive action should not be taken lightly because it speaks of leaders who yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Though their fingerprints are all over the book, they do not cease to recognize they are binding themselves and the church to its precepts and commands. From 397 A.D. until now the Bible has, even in the church, come in and out of fashion. The Medieval church began to emphasize the authority of church tradition and leaders as equal to (and sometimes over) the Holy Scripture. This set the stage for the Reformers reactive cry -
15 sola scriptura (Scripture alone). The key matter of contention between the Reformers and the Catholic Church was the issue of authority. Did the church and its leaders have the authority to supersede the authority of God’s book? Reformers like Martin Luther contended the answer was a resounding no. Luther pushed for the church to return to the foundation of the word in order to know God through the enablement of the Holy Spirit. Calvin also pressed for a Holy Spirit enabled reading of the Scriptures. The later Puritan movement called on the Reformers want for a connection between word and Spirit as remedy to move the church into obedience to the Holy Scripture. To raise awareness of the benefit of Scripture, the Puritans focused on its practical application to the lives of church members. This same notion carried over into the Pietist movement. The Pietist theologian Phillip Spener taught, “the Bible contains an outer word (the printed page) and an inner Word (the understanding given by the Holy Spirit).”27 Spener’s theology developed the idea that Holy Scripture could only be revealed in its spiritual sense to believers. The “dead letter”28 was only enlivened through the power of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a Christ follower. The Pietists did not go so far as to assert that no one could understand the content of Holy Scripture. They did, however, insist the reader could not fully grasp the “spiritual significance”29 of the Bible without the illumination of the Holy Spirit that dwells in the redeemed and in the church. The necessity of illumination and the Word-Spirit connection is a matter of authority. God, the author of the Scriptures, intends to speak through the Bible as an act of self-disclosure. As a mediate source of revelation the Bible points to the God from which it came. Arrington
Bloesch, Holy Scripture, 61. Stanley Grenz, “Nurturing the Soul, Informing the Mind: The Genesis of the Evangelical Scripture Principle,” in Evangelicals and Scripture, eds. Vincent Bacote, Laura Miguelez and Dennis Okholm (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2004), 26. 29 Ibid.
16 states, “[…] because the Bible comes from God, it carries authority.”30 Receiving standards for faith and practice from the Bible is tantamount to receiving instruction from God.31 Therefore, the traditions of the church, the believers experience and the reasonable arguments for God’s existence are “funded” 32 by the Scriptures. I think it is necessary at this point to define what is meant by the term “illumination.” Bloesch appropriately defines illumination as an “inward awakening of the believer to the truth that is revealed.”33 The truth he speaks of is that which the Holy Spirit illuminates as the believer interacts with the Holy Scripture. However, illumination is preceded by inspiration. “Inspiration,” states Bloesch, “is the divine election and superintendence of particular writers and writings in order to ensure a trustworthy and potent witness to the truth.”34 Inspiration communicates the mode through which God motivated the biblical writers to write. It is through the combination of inspiration and illumination that the Bible demonstrates its authority in the believing community. Therefore, when believers approach the Holy Scripture, they do so knowing that the same God who inspired the writers will also illuminate their hearts. God has been, and still is, ever-present in the pages of Scripture. Though human authors penned the words, recognition must be given to God’s voice behind those authors. I agree with Westpahl who suggests believers do not read a biblical text to discover facts about its human author.35 On the other hand, as believer’s move toward the Bible they recognize a duality of authorship. God moved prophetically on human beings inspiring them to speak within a particular context (cf. 2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16). God’s divine “speech
Arrington, 31. Grudem, 39-40. 32 Oden, 337. 33 Bloesch, Holy Scripture, 119. 34 Ibid. 35 Merold Westpahl, Whose Community? Which Interpretation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 39.
17 act”36 passed through human lips and hands. Those actions God deemed necessary for faith and practice were transcribed and eventually canonized. Believers may not obtain copious amounts of insight into Peter’s personality from the canon; but he or she can learn how God worked in and through Peter to bring about divine purpose and thereby know something of God. Therefore, as one reads the inspired text he or she can fully expect God to authoritatively speak truth by the Holy Spirit’s illumination. The same can be said of the church. As the church seeks to be illumined on a particular topic, it should fully expect God to use the inspired text to do so in order that tradition may be properly placed under the text.37 The Place of Tradition. N.T. Wright correctly places tradition when he states, “We must be constantly aware of our responsibility in the Communion of Saints, without giving our honored predecessors the final say or making them an ‘alternative source,’ independent of scripture itself.”38 Wright’s assertion does not under or over value the role of tradition. Instead, it challenges the reader to not ignore tradition. The believing reader recognizes tradition for what it is: a previous attempt to live out God’s word in context.39 At the same time, Wright does not promote a historical naivety; but rather, urges critical evaluation of both positive and negative implications derived from the history in light of God’s illumination. Ultimately, Wright appeals to a dynamic view of Scripture. Not that Scripture changes but that the context within which it appears changes requiring the believing community to react.
Ibid, 38. John Francke, “Scripture, Tradition and Authority: Reconstructing the Evangelical Conception of Sola Scriptura,” in Evangelicals and Scripture, eds. Vincent Bacote, Laura Miguelez and Dennis Okholm (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2004), 202. 38 N.T. Wright, The Last Word, (New York, NY: Harper One, 2005), 117. 39 Ibid.
18 Grenz argues that the Holy Scripture serves a “constitutional role”40 for the believing community. Constitutional does not necessarily mean rigid or inflexible. Instead, Grenz affirms that Holy Scripture provides an inspired biblical framework upon which the church builds its traditions. While the framework remains the same, the building surrounding it looks different in different contexts. Each generation bears the responsibility to interpret Holy Scripture in the light they are given. The current generation engages its interpretive task by affirming Scripture as authoritative but recognizing the need for a fresh presentation of its disclosure of God’s character and attributes. Holy Scripture, though inspired by God, requires interpretation. The interpretation results in tradition. Some traditions come to us from the early Patristic fathers. As I have proposed above, the church also makes new traditions in each generation. The church is an ever-expanding organism. Concomitantly, the Holy Scripture comes into a variety of cultures and, because God wants to be known, demands the receivers to interpret the text. This requires the interpreter to take seriously past tradition, how the Holy Scripture helped to form it and work through the process of contextualization. The task of the interpreter is to remain faithful to the text as he or she responds to God’s illumination. How Believers Interact and Respond to the Holy Scripture The believing community at large accepts the Holy Scripture as the tangible primary source of God’s self-disclosure and, because it comes from God, possesses authority. How then do believers interact with and respond to the Holy Scripture?
Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 508-509.
19 Reading and Listening to Holy Scripture Joel Green writes,“[…] we come to Scripture with respect, in gratitude, and ready to embrace and be embraced into God’s own ways and work.”41 Green specifically speaks to the Christian approach to both Old and New Testaments and the necessity to view each with equality. His instruction is applicable whether we are weighing out the holiness codes of Leviticus or the possible moral meaning of a parable. His teaching seems to be of a more personal nature offering a model to perceptively judge what God is asking from and of the reader. The personal, however, must also be influenced by church tradition otherwise the reader might become prone to excising certain texts from his or her purview. In other words, we listen for the voice of the indwelling Spirit while also hearing the voice of tradition surrounding us. This allows believers to hear God from the Holy Scripture within the limits of Christian convention. Consequently, the Holy Spirit and the church serve as partners bringing believers toward spiritual transformation by constructing patterns of discernment resulting in uplifting tradition(s). The Bible is a personal book filled with stories of people we do not know and who lived in distant cultures. However, the same Holy Spirit presently at work in the reader also worked previously in the biblical characters and events. Approaching the sacred text with respect and gratitude means the reader is aware of, and gives deference to, the historical-cultural milieu of the narrative. Furthermore, the reader anticipates a fresh hearing that serves to deepen his or her appreciation of God’s personal work within them and in others. It is, then, a reasonable expectation to personally perceive God at work historically and spiritually through the Holy Scripture. God spoke in the historical past, but He also speaks in the
Joel Green, Seized By Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005), 41.
20 historical now. Through the text, both the church and the individual believer are challenged to love God in spirit and in truth (Jon, 4:23). Green posits this type of reading can be hazardous to the individual’s comfort because it calls for a “reordering of the world” and “repentance for attitudes of defiance.”42 The result of personal and ecclesiastical interaction with the Holy Scripture brings forth an imagination “hospitable to conversion.”43 It is in a Holy Spirit illumined atmosphere that radical transformation can and does occur in the individual and the church. The implication is clear, if God makes Himself and His will known through illumination of the Holy Scripture then a subsequent requirement is faith in God and obedience to His revelation. Faithfully Hearing and Responding to Holy Scripture Every now and then my children come home from Sunday school singing a short song that says, “The wise man built his house upon the rock, the wise man built his house upon the rock.” The song recalls the parable of Christ who compares and contrasts two fictitious men and their home building choices to those who “hear” His words and “does/does not do them” (cf. Mat. 7:24-27; Lk. 6:47-49 ESV). There are, no doubt, several applications that can be drawn out of this parable for the contemporary reader. However, it seems the intent of this parable is to demonstrate the consequences of obedience or disobedience to the word. The parable of the builder is the climax of a larger section commonly called the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mat. 5:1-7:23). It includes the teaching about lust (5:27-30), divorce (5:31-32), giving to the needy (Mat. 6:1-4), instruction in prayer and fasting (6:5-18) and much more. The climactic ending to this pragmatic sermon is simply - go and do. The hearer has heard and is now
Ibid, 59. Ibid.
21 left with the option to perform either positively or negatively accepting the ensuing consequences. Let us, for a moment, remove the ink, onion paper and red letters and imagine we are hearing this parable, not reading. Jesus has just charted out His moral teaching and we have received those words into our ears and now we are left waiting. Jesus does not end this sermon with a definitive statement but with options. It is incomplete until the hearer acts either positively or negatively on what he or she has heard. Either way, the entire Sermon on the Mount and its power is left in the hands of the hearer to make it complete. Imagine the solemnity of the moment as the crowd recognizes that Jesus, unlike the other teachers, speaks with an authority that places the interpretive task in their hands. For some it was a moment of freedom while others waited for another burden to be added to their lives. We are then left with a question. Is Holy Scripture incomplete if we fail to perform it? I would argue in the affirmative. Our submission to and action upon the Holy Scripture demonstrates its authority. Not that the Holy Scripture does not possess an authority of its own; after all it does from God. Nevertheless, if the believer and the church do not perform the word then they are rejecting that authority and are hindering the fullness of God’s revelation to the world. It is in the doing of a thing that the individual or group like the church internalizes its principle and power. Though Jesus gave us the Sermon we now are left to interpret it within our particular community and traditions. Even though we have been given a “set of guidelines”44 the full weight of the performance is left in individual and ecclesiastical hands. Snell cites Wolterstorff, "No matter how detailed, however, scores always come far short of specifying the
Shannon Craigo-Snell, “Command Performance: Rethinking Performance Interpretation in the Context of Divine Discourse,” Modern Theology 16.4 (2000): 476.
22 resolution of all the issues that must be faced if the score is to be 'realize.’”45 By “realization” Snell seems to imply the performance of Holy Scripture. The Holy Scripture speaks; the hearer hears and is then left to interpret that speech into performance (i.e. tradition). How does the hearer interpret and stay faithful in his or her performance so as to demonstrate biblical authority in the tradition? Cartwright affirms that interpretation should not be a solitary task and urges an interpretive ethic built on community and not necessarily the individual.46 Calling on Meeks, Cartwright further asserts that the New Testament assumes a “kind of communal life” that should not be dismissed by the contemporary interpreter.47 This position places the burden of interpretation squarely on the believing community not only as a way to produce doctrine but also promote pragmatic performance. That is to say, the community interprets the Holy Scripture under the illumination of the Holy Spirit without dismissing the social setting of its first and current location or its handed down traditions. The Sermon on the Mount, if interpreted with the aim of performance, is viewed in its literal sense but also within the tradition and community where it is being heard presently. Snell contends these two elements cannot be separated because each one defines the other.48 In other words, religious tradition affects the community and vice-versa. The church then attempts to shed light on the Holy Scripture by recognizing that performance will be carried out within a location. One should not infer that this gives space for a willy-nilly culturally watered down interpretation or traditions that bring no value to the church. To do so, is to deny the authority of Holy Scripture and ultimately the authority of God. No matter what the broader
Ibid. Michael Cartwright, “The Practice and Performance of Scripture: Grounding Christian Ethics in a Communal Hermeneutic,” Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics (1988): 35.
46 47 48 45
23 secular community says concerning the Holy Scripture we, as Christians, are more interested in what the believing community has to say. We are, after all, “…surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1). As such, we have a rich heritage of faithfulness to which we are responsible. Conclusions God desires to be known to all people in all cultures and contexts. The incarnation of Jesus Christ physically placed God into the history of humankind. This does not mean, however, that God was not involved in history before the incarnation. Instead, God demonstrated His character and attributes through His creation of humanity and the cosmos. He further disclosed Himself through spiritual means. Together these elements work horizontally from God (spiritual) and vertically through history and culture to bring about revelation. God has inspired human beings to write His word it has an inherent authority. The authority of Holy Scripture serves to reveal God to humanity through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Redeemed individuals and the church cooperate with God’s authority by grasping the full spiritual and historical significance of the Holy Scriptures and act. In the obedience or performance of Holy Scripture God is revealed further to humanity by the actions of His redeemed people.
24 Bibliography Arrington, French. A Pentecostal Perspective, vol. 1, Christian Doctrine. Cleveland, TN: Pathway, 1992. Bloesch, Donald. The God Almighty. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1995. ______________. Holy Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1994. Cartwright, Michael. “The Practice and Performance of Scripture: Grounding Christian Ethics in a Communal Hermeneutic,” Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics, 1988: 31-53. Coppedge, David. Portraits of God. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2001. Francke, John. “Scripture, Tradition and Authority: Reconstructing the Evangelical Conception of Sola Scriptura,” in Evangelicals and Scripture, eds. Vincent Bacote, Miguelez, Laura and Okholm, Dennis. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2004. Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2010. Green, Joel. Seized By Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005. Grenz, Stanley. Theology for the Community of God. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1999. _______________. “Nurturing the Soul, Informing the Mind: The Genesis of the Evangelical Scripture Principle,” in Evangelicals and Scripture, eds. Vincent Bacote, Miguelez, Laura and Okholm, Dennis. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2004. Grudem, Wayne. Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith. Nottingham England: Inter Varsity Press 1999. Hill, Jonathon. The History of Christian Thought. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2003. Noll, Mark. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000. Oden, Thomas. The Living God, vol. 1, Systematic Theology. Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1987. Snell, Shannon Craigo “Command Performance: Rethinking Performance Interpretation in the Context of Divine Discourse,” Modern Theology 16.4, 2000: 475-494. Westpahl, Merold. Whose Community? Which Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.
25 Wright, N.T. The Last Word. New York, NY: Harper One, 2005.
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