`Essentials of Evangelical Theology
Volume One: God, Authority, &
© 1978 Donald G. Bloesch
HarperCollins, San Francisco All Rights Reserved
1. Theology, Doctrinal. 2. Evangelicalism. 3. Bloesch, Donald G.
1928-2010 v. 1. Essentials of evangelical
LC Class: BR1640 .A25B57 ~~ Dewey: 230 ~~ OCLC: 3730871 ~~ LCCN: 7715872 ~~ 265p.
Essentials of Evangelical Theology Volume 1 is presently held by 688 libraries including Vanguard University and University of North Carolina
Table of Contents
Preface ... ix
I. Introduction ... 1
II. The Meaning of Evangelical ... 7
Evangelicalism and Catholicism ... 9
Evangelicalism and Liberalism ... 13
A Systematic Evangelical Theology? ... 17
The Bane of Modern Evangelicalism ... 20
Notes ... 21
III. The Sovereignty of God ... 24
Creator and Lord ... 25
Omnipotent Will ... 27
Holy Love ... 32
The Holy Trinity ... 35
Soli Deo Gloria ... 37
Erosion of the Biblical View of God ... 41
Notes ... 47
IV. The Primacy of Scripture ... 51
Its Divine Authority ... 51
Scriptural Primacy ... 57
Infallibility and Inerrancy ... 64
The Hermeneutical Task ... 70
Misconceptions in Modern Evangelicalism ... 74
Notes ... 79
V. Total Depravity ... 88
The Grandeur and Misery of Mankind ... 88
Total and Universal Corruption ... 90
The Meaning of Sin ... 92
Manifestations and Consequences of Sin ... 97
The Story of the Fall ... 103
Modern Optimism ... 109
Notes ... 114
VI. The Deity of Jesus Christ ... 120
The Struggle with Liberalism ... 120
The New Testament Witness ... 123
Jesus Christ True God and True Man ... 127
Areas of Tension within the Christian Family ... 132
Two Types of Christological Heresy ... 134
Kenotic Christology ... 136
The Contemporary Scene ... 138
Notes ... 142
VII. The Substitutionary Atonement ... 148
The Biblical Understanding ... 148
Differing Views on the Atonement ... 152
Three Aspects of the Atonement ... 158
Objective and Subjective Atonement ... 161
Particular and Universal Atonement ... 164
The Obligation of the Christian ... 169
Misunderstandings in Modern Theology ... 172
Notes ... 175
VIII. Salvation By Grace ... 181
The Gift of Grace in Biblical Perspective ... 181
An Age-Old Controversy ... 188
The Paradox of Salvation ... 201
The Means of Grace ... 208
Current Questions ... 212
Notes ... 215
IX. Faith Alone ... 223
The Meaning of Faith ... 223
Justification by Faith ... 227
The Certainty of Faith ... 235
Modern Misconceptions ... 242
Notes ... 247
Scripture Index ... 253
Name Index ... 257
Subject Index ... 262
From the Jacket of the Book
The first American Christian systematic theology of note to be published in several decades, Essentials of Evangelical Theology defines, clarifies, and explores the implications of a broad-based Evangelicalism. The fruit of twenty years of scholarship by one of evangelical Christianity's senior theologians, this first volume addresses the topics of God, the nature of humanity, sin and its forgiveness. Dr. Bloesch places theological issues in a historical perspective and balances commitment to historical faith and the new life found in Christ.
Donald G. Bloesch is Professor of Systematic Theology at Dubuque Theological Seminary in Iowa. He is the author or editor of seventeen books, including the recently published Struggle of Prayer. Dr. Bloesch received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and has done postdoctoral work at the Universities of Oxford, Tubingen, and Basel. He has served as President of the Midwest Division of the American Theological Society.
In praise of Essentials of Evangelical Theology, Volume 1: "Stands out as a real pioneering effort." Eternity
"An excellent study (and even devotional) guide to the core of faith .... To ignore this book would be to ignore a veritable beacon of light." The Reformed Journal
This book has been written in order to enunciate the salient tenets of evangelical faith. It is commonly said that evangelicalism connotes a particular kind of experience rather than a distinctive doctrinal stance. My contention is that to be evangelical means to hold to a definite doctrine as well as to participate in a special kind of experience. The experience of the forgiveness of sins through the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the assurance of salvation through the gift of the Spirit will always be paramount in evangelical religion. But doctrine is no less essential, since experience, even genuine experience, that is not rightly understood can promote heresy rather than orthodoxy.
I believe that the time has come to spell out evangelical essentials, the fundamental tenets of the faith once delivered to the saints. I make no claim that this is the only way to articulate the historic faith of the church, but it is one that stands in continuity with the Protestant Reformation and the evangelical awakenings.
My systematic theology will necessarily have a polemical ring, since in affirming certain truths I must also oppose competing interpretations. This book is an apologetics of a type, since it aims to defend the true faith against current misunderstandings, though always within the circle of faith. It is also a dogmatics, since I seek to interpret the faith to the church.
In enumerating the hallmarks of the historic faith from an evangelical perspective, one must acknowledge that all of these must be interpreted. None can be affirmed in an unqualified manner because all are capable of wide distortion. The total depravity of man, for example, can be expounded in such a way that it signifies no good whatsoever in man. Rightly understood it means that while man is a mixture of good and evil, evil is ascendant and intrudes into every area of his life. Again, the doctrine of justification by faith alone can be so taught that the impression is created that grace is cheap as well as free. The sovereignty of God can be taken to mean a God of arbitrary power who predestines some to damnation even apart from their personal response. Yet there is enough truth in all of these mottoes to warrant their continued use.
My theology is hopefully radical as well as conservative, since I seek to return to the roots of the faith and to the infallible standard of faith, Holy Scripture. While seeking to maintain continuity with the evangelicalism of the past, I believe it is proper to criticize any of the luminaries of our heritage in the light of the biblical norm, and this includes Calvin, Luther, Augustine, and Wesley.
At the same time I try to be irenic wherever possible : where bridges can be built that will contribute to Christian unity it is incumbent upon us to do so. It is time, for example, to resolve past conflicts between Calvinism and Arminianism and also between Calvinism and Lutheranism, since many of these conflicts have their roots in attempts to maintain logical consistency in doctrinal position at the expense of the mystery and paradox in faith. The same can be said for some, but not all, of the barriers dividing Reformation Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.
The crucial division in the church today is not sociological or political but theological. There is a growing need for evangelical unity as the cleavage in the church widens. Pluralism is a promising pathway in penultimate matters, but in ultimate matters it is confusing. It is rightly said today that we should love the oppressed and downtrodden, but we must love the truth most of all, and imbued with the truth we can then love our neighbor in the right way.
While holding to the fundamentals of the faith, I have diverged from contemporary fundamentalism and evangelicalism wherever I have detected misunderstandings of the faith. The bane of much conservative evangelicalism is a rationalism that denies mystery in faith and a sectarianism that breaks continuity with the catholic tradition. At the same time I see as the main enemy not an obscurantist orthodoxy but an attenuated liberalism which dissolves the faith in the spirit of the times (Zeitgeist). Liberals often use the vocabulary of evangelicals but not our dictionary, and this is why we must be doubly vigilant in the conflict that is looming.
The time is indeed appropriate to stress evangelical essentials. A secular humanism is penetrating the bastions of both mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism. The old liberalism is facing bankruptcy, but Evangelicalism too is in confusion. Among many Evangelicals there is a stress on marginal doctrines instead of those that are truly fundamental, and this tends to weaken evangelical initiative and credibility especially in the academic world today. It is sad but true that most Protestants, even conservative Protestants, are unfamiliar
with the basic teachings of the historic faith. Thus we need again to make an effort at theological precision though always making a place for honest differences but within the theological circle.
Some persons indeed would not acknowledge me as evangelical in the traditional sense. One reason is that I accept the historical criticism of Scriptures (though in a qualified sense) and refuse to posit an absolute equation between the letter of the Bible and divine revelation. At the same time I affirm the unity of the biblical words with the self-revelation of Jesus Christ to whom these words are directed by the inspiration of the Spirit. These words are to be seen as a mode or channel by which we hear and know the living Word. I also wish to learn from modern philosophy and theology, even liberal theology which has often arisen as a valid protest against gross distortions of the faith in orthodoxy. I also believe that one should be free to criticize confessions and theologians of the past as well as the present in the light of Scripture. Moreover, I seek to forge ties with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox of similar minds, since only a united church can bear a credible witness to a disunited world.
I do not presume to be speaking for all evangelicals. My own tradition is the Evangelical and Reformed church, now part of the United Church of Christ. I speak as one who is particularly indebted to the mainline Protestant Reformers, Luther and Calvin. I also speak as a chastened evangelical who seeks to come to terms with the theological and biblical scholarship of our time. The ghetto mentality that characterizes much current evangelicalism spells death to any creative endeavors in the area of systematic theology.
Finally I speak as a socially concerned evangelical, one who sees that the Gospel is a stick of dynamite in the social structure. We need to proclaim the whole Gospel to the whole man, and this includes relating Christian faith to the economic and political areas of life as well as the so-called religious area. At the same time we must beware of combining the Gospel with any social ideology whether it be feminism, socialism, free enterprise, pacifism, and so on, since this prevents social movements from coming under the scrutiny of a transcendent criterion.
It will be noticed that the format of this book is somewhat innovative, since it does not follow the traditional outline in general works of systematic theology. The chapter headings focus on controversial themes that have proven barriers to Christian unity in the past. Problems of methodology are for the most part subsumed
under the definition of "Evangelical" in Chapter II and the authority of Scripture in Chapter IV. I deal more extensively with theological methodology in a previous book of mine The Ground of Certainty (Eerdmans, 1971), where I lay the groundwork for a theology of revelation.
Donald G. Bloesch
The need for evangelicalism to rediscover its identity and to present a united witness to the church and the world is particularly acute in this time when a new modernism threatens to engulf mainline Christianity. The loss of the uniqueness of the Christ revelation is manifest in the rise of a syncretistic mysticism and a latitudinarianism which see saving grace present in all faiths, even in the circles of atheism and agnosticism. Natural theology is reappearing in a new guise with the emphasis now not on proofs of the existence of God, but on the discovery of the divine ground of authentic humanity. Many of the theologies of experience today assume that femininity, blackness, liberation, secularity, hope, and so one, are in themselves revelatory, and, therefore, the biblical revelation is rendered superfluous. Frederick Herzog, whose own theology has a marked immanentalist orientation (one that denies the transcendence of God over the world), nonetheless perceives the danger in the widespread departure from biblical norms: "A lot is being sold under the label Christianity that is actually the desertion of the Christian faith, nothing less than apostasy. Insofar as it still appears under the label Christian, it has to be understood as counterfeit Christianity."1
That an evangelical renaissance is occurring today, partly in reaction to the secularization of faith and life in the modern world, can no longer be doubted.2 Yet it is well to ask whether the same secularistic influences are present in evangelicalism, whether true Christianity is diluted even in that branch of the faith which ostensibly holds to the fundamentals. It is incumbent upon us to determine what is or is not authentic in the resurgence of conservative religion today, and this means to be cognizant of the dangers as well as the opportunities in the current evangelical environment.
One danger in modern evangelicalism is neo-Pietism, characterized by an emphasis on religious experience over doctrine.3 Too many evangelicals today seek a continuous mountain-top experience and avoid controversial theological issues. Practical piety and mystical awareness
figure more highly than biblical or dogmatic theology. One interpreter candidly observes that modern "evangelicalism, with its roots in the open-air eighteenth century English preaching and the nineteenth century American frontier, centers not on Scripture, church, doctrine of sacraments, but on personal experience. Having the right kind of conversion, second-blessing, 'peace,' etc., becomes all-important, and without it all else may be suspect."4 The experience of salvation must not be discounted, but it must be tested in the light of an objective criterion, the Holy Scriptures.
It is well to bear in mind that faith is deeper and wider than a spiritual experience : it is an acknowledgment of the claims of Jesus Christ and an obedience to his commands. It consists primarily in personal devotion to a living Savior, but it also entails a confidence in the apostolic testimony concerning who he is and what he has done. Our faith is directed not simply to the mystical presence of Christ or to the unconditional, but to Jesus Christ crucified and risen according to the Scriptures. The act of believing (fides qua creditur), though supremely important, must never prevail over the content of faith (fides quae creditur).
There is presently a resurgence of interest in spirituality in evangelical circles, but a spirituality that is not theologically and biblically based may be worse than none. P.T. Forsyth gives this timely word of warning: "A warm spirituality without the apostolic and evangelical substance may seem attractive to many what is called undogmatic, or even unconscious, Christianity. It will specially appeal to the lay mind, in the pulpit and out. But it is death to a Church."5
There is a need for sound doctrine as well as the experience of the Spirit and the new life in Christ. John Wesley, whose contribution to evangelical renewal is beyond dispute, nonetheless sometimes minimized the importance of doctrinal fidelity in his emphasized on heart experience.6 This tendency to downplay doctrine in favor of experience is, of course, much more evident in his later followers than in Wesley himself. We must constantly subject our doctrine as well as our life and experience to the criterion of the Scriptures, but we must at the same time strive for a true understanding of our faith (and Wesley would agree). We can never claim to possess the truth, but we should strive to keep and maintain the truth (cf. Luke 8:15; John 17:6-19; 1 Cor. 15:2; 2 Timothy 1:12-14).
One reason why Evangelicalism fell into partial eclipse in the early twentieth century and why it still is not considered a live option by many earnest Christians is that it lacked doctrinal sophistication and
a basic biblical fidelity, and thereby created false stumbling blocks to the faith. Among the doctrinal distortions that the older Evangelicalism promoted, in one form or another, were: the separation of God's love from his wrath; that God loves only some and hates others; the portrayal of hell as a place of torture created by an angry, vindictive God; the idea that God's wrath can only be appeased by the sacrifice of an innocent victim; the view that unbaptized infants are destined for hell or are eternally condemned; the misunderstanding that God has there separate personalities; the insistence that everything recorded in the Bible is literal historical fact; and, the depiction of capitalism as the economic theory of biblical faith. People were confronted with an unattractive, legalistic, and obscurantist evangelicalism that offered no hope of triumphing over the then rising liberalism, which appealed to the latest findings and insights of modern science and philosophy.
Still another pitfall in modern evangelicalism has been its pronounced individualism and its lack of prophetic insight regarding social sin. It is to the credit of liberals such as Walter Rauschenbusch that they were profoundly aware of the corporate nature of evil and of the social imperatives of the faith. Carl Henry has sought to remind those in the tradition of fundamentalism that Christianity has far-reaching social implications, that its message pertains to the public as well as the private sphere of life.7 The Gospel is in reality a world-changing message, but it has been reduced to a world-resisting message by an overemphasis on individual salvation to the neglect of community responsibility.8 This stands in sharp contrast to the in-depth social involvement of many of the earlier evangelicals who were often in the vanguard of social reform movements.9
In our concern for social as well as personal holiness, however, we must beware of converting the Gospel into a political manifesto. The Gospel is a spiritual message which stands above all social ideologies (though it furnishes a theological rationale for the right kind of social action). The evangelical left is to be congratulated for its well-meaning attempt to relate the Gospel to the social arena, but at times it tends to lose sight of the transcendent dimensions of the Gospel message and too easily allies the Christian faith with the social expectations of political radicalism.10 While the Gospel gives direction to the political enterprise, it must not be reduced to a political theology.
In the delineation of evangelical essentials I have sought to deepen the meaning of evangelical. Evangelical is not to be equated with a particular position on biblical inerrancy, since some who hold to this concept virtually deny every other evangelical doctrine (e.g., the Jehovah's Witnesses).
The divine authority of Scripture will always be fundamental in evangelical theology, but the formal norm of faith (Scripture) must continually be subordinated to and interpreted by the material norm, the Gospel of reconciliation and redemption. This Gospel is the very heart and soul of evangelical theology.
I also seek to stand in the Reformed tradition, but Reformed is to be understood more broadly than Calvinistic, since I look to Luther as well as Calvin, to evangelical Pietism as well as REformed orthodoxy, to the neo-Reformation theology of Barth and Brunner as well as the neo-Calvinism of Hodge and Warfield. Indeed, I gratefully acknowledge evangelical and Reformed motifs in some of the leading Catholic thinkers as well including Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Pascal. The genius of Reformed theology is to be always reformed in the light not only of Scripture, but also of the historical commentary on Scripture in the church tradition.
As can be inferred, I wish to be Catholic in the best sense of the word. We need a renewed appreciation of the priceless heritage of the church as well as of the Scripture that forms a part of this heritage. It is a common evangelical heresy to affirm that if we believe in the Word of God then we have no need for creeds or doctrines. Or it is said that if we only worship God in our hearts then we can do without rituals or symbols or even the discipline of public worship. It is well to bear in mind that Calvin reaffirmed the dictum of Cyprian that outside of the church there is no salvation.
My ancestral tree from a theological perspective includes Isaiah, Jeremiah, St. Paul, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Kierkegaard, Forsyth, and Karl Barth. It also includes, in varying degrees, Pascal, Philip Spener, Richard Sibbes, Jonathan Edwards, Zinzendorf, and Abraham Kuyper. It excludes rationalists such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Abelard, Socinus, Erasmus, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, John Locke, and Christian Wolff. Mystics who verge towards a monistic or panentheistic orientation are also excluded : among these are Dionysius the pseudo-Areopagite, Evagrius, John Sotus Erigena, Meister Eckhart, Angelus Silesius, Schleiermacher, Alan Watts and Gerald Hearch. On the other hand, I do not reject mysticism altogether, since some in this tradition have maintained a firm adherence to Jesus Christ as the only Savior from sin : Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Pascal, and Gerhard Tersteegen. While aligning myself with the Reformed tradition with its emphasis on the sovereignty of grace and the total inability of man to come to salvation, I have sought to learn from those in the Arminian tradition (e.g., John Wesley) who rightly seek to
do justice to human responsibility and activity in the salvific event.
I see evangelical theology at odds with modern existentialism, which is a child of the Renaissance with its emphasis on personal freedom and human autonomy. Those luminaries within the wider existentialist movement, however, whose thinking was still controlled by Scripture are to be regarded more as allies than enemies of the true faith. Here I would include Kierkegaard, Emil Brunner, Karl Barth, and to a lesser extent, Reinhold Niebuhr.
In modern Evangelicalism there exists a tension between Reformation theology and Pietism. Both these movements are important for an understanding of Evangelicalism, and both have very much to offer. In addition to the firm commitment of Calvin and Luther to sola gratia (salvation by grace alone) and sola fide (faith alone), we need to pay heed to the concerns of Spener and Wesley for the holy life. Protestant orthodoxy, especially in its later phases, became arrayed against Pietism and tended to devalue or even deny the mystical and existential elements in the faith. Modern neo-Pietism with its emphasis on religious experience and interpersonal relations underplays the doctrinal and intellectual dimensions of the faith. Evangelicalism must give due appreciation to both religious experience and doctrinal integrity, and certainly also to the call to ethical obedience, if it is to become a viable option for the church of the future.
1. Frederick Herzog, "The Liberation of White Theology," The Christian Century 91:11 (March 20, 1974), [pp. 316-319], p. 318.
2. See Donald G. Bloesch, The Evangelical Renaissance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), and David F. Wells and John D. Woodbridge, eds. The Evangelicals (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975).
3. We here include the charismatic renewal, Camps Farthest Out, the Lay Witness missions, the Disciplined Order of Christ, the higher life movement, and the Faith at Work movement. The feminist movement within the churches could also be cited, since one of its tenets appears to be that theology must be primarily rooted in human experience, and for many this means women's experiences. See Nancy Hardesty, "Toward A Total Human Theology," Sojourners 5:5 (May/June 1976), pp. 35-37. The objective basis of faith is much more in evidence in Young Life and Campus Crusade for Christ, but even here an extrabiblical experientialism is intruding. We do not dispute the moving of the Spirit in all these movements nor the fact that in them evangelical motifs certainly persist in varying degrees.
4. John Warwick Montgomery, Principalities and Powers (Minneapolis : Bethany Fellowship, 1973), p. 169. Montgomery's statement is generally accurate, but it does not take into consideration that at their best the earlier revival movements held in balance the objective and subjective dimensions of salvation. Nor must it be forgotten that one of the prime fruits of the revivals was a real love for the Scriptures on the part of laymen resulting in the formation of Bible schools and Christian colleges.
5. P. T. Forsyth, The Church and the Sacraments, 2d ed. (London: Independent Press, 1947), p. 4.
6. Wesley says that true religion consists neither "in orthodoxy, or right opinions; which although they are not properly outward things, are not in the heart, but in the understanding." The Works of John Wesley, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), p. 78. At the same time he agrees that there are some "fundamental truths" that are an essential part of true religion, but faith does not consist primarily in their affirmation.
7. See Carl Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947) and his Plea for Evangelical Demonstration (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971).
8. See Carl Henry in World Vision 18:5 (May, 1974), p. 13.
9. Donald W. Dayton ably shows how social welfare in this country sprang directly from the ranks of evangelical Christianity. See his Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (New York: Harper & Row, 1976). On the crucial role of eighteenth century evangelicals (mainly Calvinists) in the social ferment that led to the American revolution see Alan Heimert, Religion and the American Mind (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966). For the social involvement of Pietism see Donald Bloesch, The Evangelical Renaissance, pp. 122-129.
10. I have in mind, for example, Virginia Mollenkott's asserveration that "the Bible supports the central tenets of feminism." In Sojourners (February 1976), p. 21. I do not doubt the reality of a biblical feminism with its emphasis on freedom for service, but this must be sharply distinguished from feminism as a secular ideology, which upholds the autonomy and essential independence of woman and makes self-fulfillment the primary goal in life. Many of the contributors to Sojourners would here be in agreement with me. I regard both Sojourners and The Other Side as beacon lights in the evangelical world, although my own orientation is closer to the Reformed than to the Anabaptist tradition, which has considerable influence in the evangelical left.
II. The Meaning of Evangelical
For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Christianity is not the sacrifice we make, but the sacrifice we trust; not the victory we win, but the victory we inherit. That is the evangelical principle.
Evangelical means informed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, as heard afresh in the 16th century Reformation by a direct return to Holy Scripture.
Evangelical Christianity is theological in its character, biblical in its substance ... and fundamental in its emphasis.1
John R. W. Stott
Of the various meanings associated with the term evangelical, the theological meaning is primary. Evangelical is derived from the Greek word evangelion, meaning message of salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. It contains a missionary thrust because it is centered in the proclamation to the world of the good news of salvation. It also entails an appeal to conversion and decision on the basis of the free grace of God.
In its historical meaning evangelical has come to refer to the kind of religion espoused by the Protestant Reformation. It is also associated with the spiritual movements of purification subsequent to the Reformation Pietism and Puritanism. The revival movements within Protestantism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have also been appropriately termed evangelical.
When the term is used in its strict theological sense, it crosses all sectarian lines. The Second Council of Orange (529) can be deemed
basically evangelical in view of its vigorous defense of the doctrine of free grace (God's favor toward the undeserving) and its condemnation of semi-Pelagianism (the claim that man can initiate the process of salvation). G.C. Berkouwer maintains that this judgment must be qualified, G.C. Berkouwer maintains that this judgment must be qualified, since it was also affirmed that man can cooperate with grace in the attaining of his salvation.2 Among the fathers and theologians of the Roman Catholic church in whom evangelical themes and emphases can be detected are Ambrose, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, and Pascal. Even some who are more often associated with an other-worldly mystical spirituality can be mentioned in this connection. Therese of Lisieux preferred to speak of a lift rather than a ladder to heaven, the lift of free grace.3 "Faith is the only means," said John of the Cross, "whereby God manifests himself to the soul in his divine light, which surpasses all understanding."4
Evangelical theologians, especially of the neo-orthodox persuasion, have protested against the biblical-classical synthesis in which the dynamic categories of biblical faith were subsumed under the static categories of Hellenistic philosophy. Yet voices were also raised in the medieval church against the growing accommodation to Hellenistic philosophy. Peter Damian was among those who railed against any compromise with the world of speculative thought. Three hundred years before the Reformation Bonaventure warned the church against a dependence on Aristotle and other pagan philosophers that would "turn the thinking of men toward themselves."5
An evangelical witness can also be discerned in contemporary Catholicism, though this witness has been muted by the rise of a neo Catholicism with a markedly anthropocentric orientation. Father Jerome Hamer, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest, criticized the delegates at the 1973 World Council of Churches' Conference on World Mission in Bangkok for discussing salvation for many days without once mentioning "justification by faith" or "God's righteous wrath against sin." Louis Bouyer in his noted Spirit and Forms of Protestantism has maintained that the salient principles of the Reformation are authentically Catholic.6 Opening himself to criticism from both the right and left, Hans Kung appeals to the message of Scripture over the consciousness of the church and accepts the Reformation principle of justification by faith alone.7 The lay theologian Ralph Martin contends that it is not sufficient to hold up Jesus as model: He must above all be acknowledged as Saviour of the world, "the one who by his life, death, and resurrection crushes the power of Satan, takes away our sins" and "restores us to union with God."8
Eastern Orthodoxy with its concept of theosis, the divinization of man through faith and love, reflects a spirituality that is more remote from the concerns of evangelical faith. Yet in this branch of Christendom, too, an evangelical note has been sounded even though its impact has been minimal. Greek Orthodox Patriarch Cyril Lucaris (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) is perhaps the best known example of those who sought to incorporate evangelical motifs in the theology of their church. He drew up a confession which explicitly affirmed justification by faith, the authority of Scripture over the authority of the church, and the doctrine of predestination. Yet his views were resisted from the beginning and finally condemned in several church councils.9
It can be shown that authentic evangelicalism is rooted in the catholic heritage of the church as well as in Scripture. Yet there is a cultural inheritance in the church tradition that is not part of the spiritual inheritance inheritance of the faith once delivered to the saints. There is a need to discriminate between truth and error in the church tradition in the light of Scripture.
Evangelicalism and Catholicism
Evangelicalism and Catholicism are the two themes in the Christian symphony, and Christianity, biblical Christianity, is not complete without either of them.10 Each of these types of theological orientation has its own peculiar emphasis, which accounts for areas of tension between them. Ideally they are complementary, but this is not always apparent.
While Evangelicalism is oriented about the primitive message of the New Testament, Catholicism is just as concerned about the institution and rights of the church. Whereas Evangelicalism upholds the particularity of the historical revelation as attested in Scripture, Catholicism gives more weight to the universality of grace and the universality of the community of faith. While Evangelicalism's concern is with outreach and mission, the concern of Catholicism is continuity with the tradition. The vicarious atonement of Christ figures much more highly than the incarnation in Evangelical theology and piety; Catholicism on the other hand puts much more emphasis on the incarnation of Christ and the body of Christ, which is the Church. If Evangelical theology appeals to the events of sacred history, Catholic thought is preoccupied with the channels of salvation, the means of grace. Evangelicalism is noted for its protest against idolatry, while Catholicism puts a high
premium on symbols and aids to salvation. This iconoclastic strain in Evangelicalism is especially pronounced in Puritanism which condemned all visible representation of God in the worship of the Church.
It can be said that Evangelicals stress the why more than the how, the cross more than the incarnation.11 The deity of Christ is seen in light of his saving work. Christology and soteriology are viewed as an integral whole. It is not Christ in himself but Christ for us that is particularly valued. "To know Christ is to know His benefits" (Melanchthon). It should be noted that the two natures of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity are not an integral part of the New Testament evangel. Yet they are still of fundamental importance because they are implicit in the scriptural witness and are crucial in the explication of this witness. The deity of Christ has especially been stressed by Evangelicalism against Liberalism.
At the time of the Reformation there was a pressing need to emphasize certain biblical themes that had been obscured or diluted in the development of Roman Catholicism. Among these were the primacy of Scripture, salvation by grace, justification by faith alone, and the cruciality of preaching. Luther and Calvin were both cognizant of the perils of the semi-Pelagianism that was reasserting itself in the Roman church. Many Roman Catholic scholars today acknowledge the validity of the Reformation fear of a religion of works-righteousness, though they maintain that such a religion did not represent authentic Catholicism.12
Karl Barth has made the astute observation that Catholicism is characterized by a "both-and" philosophy, whereas Evangelical Protestants stress "either-or." Catholicism affirms both grace and free will, faith and works, Scripture and the church, Christ and Mary. Protestants of the Reformation tradition have reacted against this by stressing grace alone (sola gratia), faith alone (sola fide), Scripture alone, (sola scriptura) and Christ alone (solus Christus). It must be acknowledged, however, that in much popular Protestantism synergism (salvation through both grace and free will) is even more evident than in Catholicism, and human reason and experience figure more prominently than Scripture in determining the norms for faith. It should also be recognized that some in academic Catholicism insist vigorously upon sola gratia, solus Christus, and even the primal authority of Scripture. For all its validity Barth's allegation must to some degree be qualified.
In his provocative book Christ's Church: Evangelical, Catholic and Reformed Bela Vassady indicts the Roman church for not being sufficiently catholic.13 He argues with some cogency that this church by its
Romanizing and Latinizing tendencies represents a narrowing and confinement of the catholic vision. It is only fair to add, however, that Vassady wrote his book before the Second Vatican Council, which signified a valiant effort in the direction of a more ecumenical stance.
A true Evangelicalism will be Reformed in the theological as well as the historical sense in that it will include many emphases associated with Reformed Christendom. Among these are the sovereignty of grace, glory to God alone, and unconditional election. An authentically Evangelical church will also affirm ecclesia sember reformanda the church always being reformed, the church ever in the process of reformation.
Besides its Reformation moorings, Evangelicalism is also indissolubly linked with the tradition of evangelical revivalism, which includes the Anabaptists, the Pietists, and the Puritans. Evangelicalism numbers among its forefathers not only Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Knox but also Menno Simons, Philip Spener, Richard Baxter, John Owen, John Wesley, Count Zinzendorf, and Jonathan Edwards. Pietism sought a fulfillment of the Reformation in a reformation of life as well as doctrine. In addition to the Word and sacraments as the marks of the true church, Pietism stressed the importance of fellowship and mission. Puritanism was noted for its concern for a reformation or purification in worship as well as in life. All these movements stressed the necessity for a new birth, the experience of the heart, and reality of regeneration which served as a complement to the Reformation emphasis on justification. In recovering the experiential side of the faith, evangelical revivalism reestablished continuity with the tradition of Catholic mysticism;14 at the same time its pronounced ethical thrust, which extended even into the nineteenth century, sharply distinguished it from that strand in mysticism which was more philosophical than biblical.
Protestant Orthodoxy too must figure in any assessment of Evangelicalism. This movement, which was especially vigorous in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was known for its concern for precision and clarity in the formulation of doctrine. It includes such noted spokesmen as Martin Chemnitz, Johann Gerhard, Francis Terretin, J.H. Heidegger, Abraham Kuyper, Ernest W. Hengstenberg, Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, Herman Bavinck, and Benjamin Warfield. True Evangelicals will be concerned for right doctrine as well as the right way of living. And yet Evangelicalism, because it values a personal faith in Jesus Christ over loyalty to creeds and dogma, cannot simply be equated with or subsumed under Protestant Orthodoxy. Protestant
Orthodoxy tended in the direction of a Christian rationalism and thereby obscured the mystical dimensions of the faith.
Finally we must give attention to neo-Orthodoxy (the movement associated with Karl Barth and Emil Brunner) as still another manifestation of Evangelicalism. By its emphasis on the uniqueness of the Christ revelation and its strictures on philosophical theology it was able, for a time, to recover a vital, living biblical faith. Nevertheless, by underplaying and in some cases denying the inspiration of the Scriptures and the urgency of evangelism it did not succeed in spearheading a genuine revival of Evangelical theology and piety.15 In its often lackadaisical and sometimes negative attitude toward the church and sacraments neo-Orthodoxy was also not sufficiently catholic.16
It is my contention that Evangelicalism to be complete and effective must be Catholic as well. Catholicism to be authentic must be Evangelical as well. Paul Tillich referred to the Protestant principle and Catholic substance, which are equally important for the faith.17 My preference is to speak of the evangelical message and the catholic heritage, both of which are necessary for a biblical, ecumenical church.
The term Evangelical is wider and narrower than Protestant. It is wider since it includes godly men and women of biblical piety in the Catholic churches and in some of the sects. It is narrower since there are two kinds of Protestantism the evangelical and the liberal, and as J. Gresham Machen has rightly said, these cannot be harmonized.18
As has been indicated, the term Evangelical is also narrower than Catholic, since it excludes any confidence in one's own merit and any trust in the Church that is not subordinated to Scripture. Yet Evangelicals in their concern for freedom in Christ do not intend to minimize the crucial role of the Church in our salvation. Barth claims that "the meaning of Protestantism (both Lutheran and Reformed ) was in the beginning not a lessening but a heightening of the force of all the claims which Catholicism makes for the Church."19
That a true Evangelicalism is at one with a true Catholicism is attested by such spokesmen for the Evangelical faith as P.T. Forsyth, John Nevin, Nathan Soderblom, Wilhelm Lohe, and Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf all of whom were noted for the breadth of their ecumenical vision. Calvin and Luther too should be included, for they sought to stand in the historic tradition of the Roman church and appealed to many of the church fathers as well as Scripture. Yet the polemical climate of their time prevented them from giving due appreciation to certain emphases in the Catholic heritage whose biblical support is more implicit than explicit (e.g., the doctrine of the saints).
Though acknowledging the need for continuity with the Catholic tradition, I insist that Evangelicalism is characterized by certain features that were given prominence at the time of the Reformation and should be given attention again today. Yet these need to be united with catholic themes and concerns if we are to witness the full recovery of biblical Christianity in our time.
Evangelicalism and Liberalism
While Evangelicalism is at odds with historic Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy on some important points, it wages a different kind of battle with Liberalism. In traditional catholicism the simple Gospel message tends to be obscured by church dogma and the intricacies of ritual. In Liberalism the Gospel appears to be either reduced to ethics or translated into ontology or dissolved into mysticism. The focus of attention is placed either on moral and spiritual values or on an experience of inner enlightenment which requires philosophical conceptualization.
Liberal theology is associated with some of the leading scholars in the history of the church. Within Protestantism it includes such luminaries as Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, Ernst Troeltsch, Adolf Harnack, Wilhelm Herrmann, and Emanuel Hirsch; on the American scene are Horace Bushnell, Harray Emerson Fosdick, Edward Scribner Ames, Shailer Mathews, D.C. Macintosh, and Henry Nelson Wieman. In more recent times we can mention Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, Fritz Buri, Harvey Cox, J.A.T. Robinson, Langdon Gilkey, Daniel Day Williams, John Macquarrie, John Cobb, Jurgen Moltman, and Dorothee Soelle. Among Catholic liberals today are Gregory Baum, Rosemary Buether, Michael Novak, David Tracy, Donald Goergen, Louis Evely, and Piet Schoonenberg. Not all of the persons mentioned above fit neatly into the ideal type of liberal theology, but they nevertheless approximate it in various degrees.
Liberal theology places a high premium on personal autonomy and freedom. It is characterized by an appeal to interior norms, such as conscience and religious experience. It is disposed to view Jesus as a moral ideal or symbol of divine love instead of a sin-bearer and mediator. It sees the value of religion mainly in its ethical and social fruits; this is generally true even of liberals who stress the importance of mystical experience, though it is not always so apparent with them. The Bible tends to be treated as a text book on religious and moral evolution.
There is a general inclination to regard man as innately good and capable of realizing his spiritual potential with the aid of divine grace. An attempt is invariably made to bring the Christian faith into dialogue with the modern world and to make its abiding insights creditable to its cultured despisers.
The orientation of liberal theology is not so much theological as psychological-anthropological. It takes for its point of departure not the divine incursion into history nor the self-attesting Scriptures but the exploratory outreach of man's reason. While evangelical theology appeals to the Protestant Reformation and the heritage of Pietism and Puritanism, liberal theology has an acknowledged affinity to the Renaissance and Enlightenment, though it also finds kindred spirits among some of the rationalists and radical mystics in the patristic and medieval periods.
Evangelical theology has been impelled to uphold and defend certain tenets of the historic faith that palpably conflict with modern life and world views and that ipso facto disturb the proponents of an "enlightened" Christianity. Among these are the absolute sovereignty and transcendence of God; the divine authority and inspiration of Scripture; the radical sinfulness of man; the deity of Jesus Christ; His vicarious, substitutionary atonement; the eschatological and superhistorical character of the kingdom of God; a final judgment at the end of history; and the realities of heaven and hell; and evangelization as the primary dimension of the Christian mission.
Karl Barth has gone so far as to indicate a preference for historical Catholicism over neo-Protestantism: "If I today became convinced that the interpretation of the Reformation on the line taken by Schleiermacher-Ritschl-Troeltsch ... was correct ... I could not indeed become a Catholic tomorrow, but I should have to withdraw from the Evangelical Church. And if I were forced to make a choice between the two evils, I should, in fact, prefer the Catholic."20
In contradistinction to liberal theology, whether in its neo-Protestant or neo-Catholic guise, evangelical theology stresses the moral regeneration of the will over rational and spiritual insight; crisis over process; God's gracious initiative over man's religious quest; the service of God's glory over the fulfillment of the self; scriptural norms over cultural mores; biblical proclamation over rational apologetics; the cross as substitution over the cross as moral ideal; and, the historical particularity of the revelation of Jesus Christ over the general wisdom and experience of the religious community.
Evangelicals resist the tendency to reduce piety to practice, since
this prepares the way for moralism. The privatization of piety is likewise opposed because this fosters ghettoism. Piety, in the biblical perspective, is the fear of the Lord combined with an adoring love for him born out of gratefulness for his mercy. True piety is inseparable from Christian practice, but it is also its precondition. The vertical relationship to God is the basis for the horizontal relationship to one's neighbor.
Against the new modernism a catholic evangelicalism draws sharp lines of distinction between faith and unbelief, theology and culture, the sacred and the profane. It sees any attempt to identify the sacred and profane as a form of pantheism that contradicts the biblical affirmation that only the living God is holy and all human culture and religion stand under his judgment.
For authentic evangelicalism the test of a sound theology is not whether it is successfully correlated with general wisdom but whether it is in conformity with its object, the revealed Word of God. Theology may utilize the language and insights of secular thought, but it must beware of synthesising the content of faith with philosophical meanings (the temptation in Liberalism), since faith is thereby diluted in the process. In evangelical theology we do not try to bring together the answer of faith and the creative questions of the culture (as in Tillich); instead our aim is to challenge the culture to begin asking the right questions.
Despite all that has been said the Evangelical response to Liberalism is not an unqualified "no." Karl Barth on at least one occasion pointed to the portrait of Schleiermacher in his home and remarked, "He too is a Christian." There are some things in the Liberal tradition that can be appreciated and even belong to an ecumenical evangelical vision. Among these are the self-critical spirit, a sensitivity to social injustice, an earnest desire to communicate to the world outside the church, an openness to truth wherever it appears, and a readiness to learn from other religious persuasions. It is a sad but irrefutable fact that many of those who call themselves Liberals have a very illiberal spirit and refuse even to carry on a dialogue with Evangelicals. But this does not controvert the valid insights that are to found in Liberal theology. The Puritan father John Robinson manifested a truly liberal spirit when he declared: "The Lord has more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy Word." It is important to remember, however, that Evangelical theology upholds an openness under the Word; it does not seek a higher truth or experience beyond the Word.
A catholic evangelicalism, in contrast to fundamentalism, will not
isolate itself from the world of critical scholarship. It will not accommodate the faith to the modern world view but will earnestly try to understand it and learn from it wherever possible. Evangelical theology will give a qualified approval to the historical-critical method, but it will reject the naturalistic philosophy of many of the higher critics. It will display a readiness to take into account scientific discoveries and new scientific evidence, even if this calls into question certain reputed historical theology has been basically right in its continued opposition to Darwinism and especially social Darwinism. Evangelicals will value the scientific method (though not as a pathway to knowledge of God), but they will always be on the alert against scientism, the naturalist philosophy that makes use of science for its own ends.
Against radical-liberal theology a catholic evangelicalism will not seek to downgrade the church in favor of a churchless Christianity or a purely ethical or mystical religion. Forsyth spoke for many when he said that what is needed is "not the dechurching of Christianity, but the Christianizing of the Church."21 Religion needs to be incarnate in community, but true community must be anchored in the transcendent.
Authentic Evangelicalism distrusts appeals to religious experience that are not corroborated by Scripture. There are tensions and even opposition between Evangelicalism and mystical and spiritualistic movements. While the first rests its case on the historical revelation mediated in the Scriptures, mysticism is based on the experience of immediacy. Benjamin Warfield went too far when he averred that on could not be both a mystic and a Christian,22 but his warning contains an element of truth. Evangelical theology views with considerable reserve the spiritualists of the radical Reformation as well as mystics who were heavily influenced by neo-Platonic philosophy such as Dionysius the pseudo-Areopagite, John Scotus Erigena, and Meister Eckhart.23 It is even more averse to modern immanentalist mysticism as represented by Alan Watts, Teihard de Charadin, Kazantzakis, Thomas Altizer, Bernard Meland, and J.A.T. Robinson.24
Paul Tillich, despite the fact that he has one foot in the spirituality of the Lutheran Reformation, belongs more properly to the classical mystical tradition. His spiritual kinship to neo-Platonic mysticism rather than to biblical personalism is revealed in his conception of a God beyond the divine-human encounter, which he describes as the abysmal ground of all being. In Tillich we see a synthesis of the liberalism
of the Enlightenment and the mysticism of Plato and Plotinus, which has constantly reasserted itself in the Christian mystical tradition.25
We must indeed be on guard against the Platonizing and spiritualizing of the Christian faith, but we must not embrace a fanatically antimystical posture that excludes the genuine contributions of the great mystics of the church.26 In the dialogue with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy on the one hand and neo-Protestantism on the other,27 it is well to keep in mind that there are various types of mysticism, some of which have more affinity with biblical faith than others. Many of the Catholic mystics were avowed theists despite the neo-Platonic bent of their thought, and quite a few were well versed in the Scriptures. Luther himself was positively influenced by such mystics as Johann Tauler and the author of the Theologica Germanica. Though he broke out of the conceptual framework of mysticism (neo-Platonism), he nonetheless perceived that faith itself includes an overpowering sense of the majestic presence of God. In this experience the humanly rational is transcended, and the soul is enveloped in awe and rapture.28
Bengt Hoffman has challenged the antimystical bias in recent Lutheran and Reformed scholarship and maintains that Luther can best be understood against the background of Germanic mysticism.29 It can, with some justification, be argued that Hoffman overlooks the synergism that is almost endemic to mysticism and too easily reconciles the evangelical faith of the Reformation with pre-Reformation mystics.30 At the same time his work is a welcome antidote to the antipathy toward mysticism that has pervaded Protestant scholarship since Ritschl. It also contains a potent reminder that the great missionary thrust within Protestantism, as well as the flowering of charitable enterprises, is to be traced to the Pietistic movements, which have their basis in the mystical side of the Reformation.
A Systematic Evangelical Theology?
Evangelical theology in its completed form is a systematic whole, though our human systems are but broken reflections of the absolute system, the plan of salvation in the mind of God. Our theology, since it is a human enterprise, needs to be constantly revised and reformed. Yet since the message of faith is rational, it can be understood. The revelation in the Bible throws light not only upon the purposes of God
but also upon the human situation. It is incumbent upon us to present to the world a reasonably coherent, intelligible gospel, and theological reflection is geared to this end. Our theological method is reason in the service of revelation to the greater glory of God.
At the same time the truth of faith cannot be translated into a finalized, coherent system which denies the mystery and paradox in faith. This is because this truth is suprarational as well as rational. Our human system must always be one that is open to revision in the light of new insights into the Word of God and the human situation. It can never be a closed, airtight, logically consistent, perfected system of truth.
All the doctrines of the Christian faith presuppose one another and include one another. The doctrines of the Virgin Birth and the bodily resurrection of Christ are included in the deity of Christ. These particular doctrines had to be emphasized in the early twentieth century, but now the very divinity of Christ is called into question, and the battle must be waged on this front.
It may be that in the future, to safeguard the message of faith, some doctrines will have to be emphasized that are not here mentioned as evangelical essentials. We have in mind such themes as the Trinity, the apostolicity of the church, the communion of saints, angelology, and the sacraments, though some of these are included in this book under different headings.
Evangelical theology aims not only to be faithful to Scripture, but also to expose the unfaithfulness of the Christian community to Scripture. It must warn the church of threats to the faith from both within and without. It should say yes to the Evangel but no to modern heresies. Therefore theology has both a positive and a negative side, a dogmatic and an apologetic task. Yet the latter must always be subordinated to the former and in fact included within it. Apologetics (the defense of the faith against unbelief) is not a preparation for dogmatics (the systematic explication of the faith to the church); instead dogmatics is the foundation for apologetics.
Among the current heresies that Evangelical theology must combat is universalism, the doctrine that all mankind either is saved or will be saved. Both Karl Barth and Karl Bahner have given impetus to this heresy, though neither is technically a universalist. Barth's quasi Christomonism, in which all people are "surrounded" by the grace of God has created a new mood which tends to disregard or deny the wrath of God against sin and the reality of being spiritually lost.
Both Barth and Rahner, however, make a place for each of these ideas, though the latter idea is considerably qualified.
Other heresies that currently pose a threat to the church are a creeping unitarianism, which denies absolute moral principles; religious naturalism, which discards the idea of a transcendent, theistic God; syncretistic mysticism, which disclaims the historical uniqueness of Jesus Christ; and, a secular, political theology which identifies salvation with liberation from economic and political oppression.
Against the current mood of social activism in the churches, Evangelical theology will stress the spiritual mission of the church, but not in such a way as to give any support to individualistic, privatistic religion. It will not disavow the social dimension of the faith but instead try to see this dimension in its proper context. It will protest against the misconceptions that social reform is the mission of the church and that the heart of the Christian message is the Sermon on the Mount rather than the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross. While standing against the new Social Gospel, it will at the same time seek to discover the social implications of the biblical Gospel.
Evangelical theology does not pretend to have the whole truth, but it does profess to know the real truth,. It is not agnostic concerning the reality of God and the plan of salvation, but it is also not gnostic in the sense of claiming access to a secret knowledge into the mysteries of God beyond the ken of ordinary Christians. It bases its claim only on the knowledge of faith anchored in the testimony of Scripture, which is available to all Christians.
Evangelical theology is a theologia viatorum (a theology of wayfarers), not a theologia comprehensorum (a theology of those who have arrived conceptually). It sees itself on a pilgrimage to a heavenly city where faith will be supplanted by direct vision, but at present it is content simply to walk by faith.
Evangelical theology, however systematic, is not to be confused with a Christian philosophy or with philosophy of religion. Its basic concern is not an overall view of the world but the faithful explication of the Word of God and the heralding of this Word to the world. Its appeal is not to the natural knowledge of God, which is inevitably inadequate and misleading, but to the revelation of Jesus Christ given in Holy Scripture, a revelation that is absolutely unique and once for all times. In this perspective reason is not a stepping stone to faith but a useful instrument in the hands of faith.
The Bane of Modern Evangelicalism
Evangelicalism, particularly in America, has had difficulty in presenting a credible witness to the world today because of its concentration on peripheral and nonessential matters. By focusing its attention on such matters it has become isolated not only from the contemporary theological debate but also from its own heritage. Eschatology (the doctrine of the last things: death, resurrection, etc.) is not peripheral, but the chronology of events in the last days certainly is, and this is what preoccupies many of those of an evangelical or fundamentalist persuasion. What many conservatives tend to overlook is that the pre-millennial reign of Christ on earth, the seven dispensations, and the pretribulation rapture are not to be found in the thinking of the Protestant Reformers, and such ideas were also generally alien to the early Puritans and Pietists. It is certainly permissible to hold to such views as pious opinions but to elevate them into dogmas of the church is to flirt with heresy on the right. A catholic evangelical theology will insist that the blessed hope is not the rapture of the church but the second coming of Christ. Edward J. Carnell has aptly pointed out that eschatology has never been made a test of orthodoxy or true faith in the mainstream of Evangelicalism, and it surely should not be today.31
Another bane of latter day Evangelicalism is that too often it has sought to equate the logical conclusions of dogma with dogma itself. It has thereby placed itself in the position of viewing as cardinal tenets of the faith such ideas as biblical inerrancy, double predestination, the second blessing, and the millennial reign of Christ on earth. We do not deny the element of biblical truth in all these doctrines, but in and of themselves they cannot be considered evangelical essentials. There is an important sense in which the Bible does not err and there are blessings of the Spirit after conversion, but these doctrines also lend themselves to profound misunderstandings if not seen in their proper context. We need to remember that both the Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians affirm the total inerrancy of Scripture, and yet neither of these cults can be considered Christian, let alone evangelical. Both prove to be systems of works-righteousness and thereby contravene the very core of evangelical faith. Some Pentecostal groups, despite their marked biblicism and fundamentalist fervor, actually hold to a Unitarianism of the second person and consequently can only be regarded as heretical.32 Several sects have elevated Sabbatarianism (strict observance of the Sabbath) into a fundamental of the faith and are therefore also outside the pale of authentic evangelicalism.
As has been indicated there are fundamentals of the faith that are not
included as major headings in this book, but if they are truly fundamental they are given proper treatment under one or more of these headings. The Trinity, for example, is discussed in its relation to both the sovereignty of God and the deity of Christ. Though not part of the primitive message of the faith, it is a cardinal doctrine of the faith, a Catholic truth as well as an Evangelical essential, though perhaps not one that needs to be stressed as much today as some others.
There is a need for a catholic evangelicalism that will maintain continuity not only with the heritage of the Reformation but also with the whole catholic heritage. It will assess the tradition of the church and its own particular tradition not uncritically but in light of the Word of God in Scripture. A catholic evangelicalism will seek to go through the Reformation and beyond it, not merely behind or around it, as many Anglo-Catholics do. It will place Scripture over the ecclesiastical tradition bearing in mind that the Word that God speaks to the church cannot be simply equated with the word of the church itself. At the same time it will value the history of theology as an important albeit imperfect commentary on Scripture. It will view the church as a herald of grace rather than a dispenser of grace. It will see the clergy as servants of grace more than mediators of grace.
Yet in its emphasis on free grace the Evangelical church should take care not to minimize the means of grace the visible aids whereby the Holy Spirit comes to us. And surely the church is the chief of these instruments or means through which we come to know the saving truth of Jesus Christ. May we not indeed refer to the church as our Mother just as we refer to God as our Father and Jesus Christ as our Savior?33 Both Luther and Calvin employed this terminology, and we must bear in mind that the Reformers themselves sought a theology that would be at the same time Evangelical and Catholic.
1. Note that quotations from John R.W. Stott in the introductory sections in this book are taken from his Christ the Controversialist (London: Tyndale Press, 1970).
2. G.C. Berkouwer, The Conflict with Rome, trans. David H. Freeman (Philadelphia : Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Col, 1958), p. 78.
3. For the evangelical motifs in Therese of Lisieux, see Ida Friederike Gorres, The Hidden Face, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Pantheon Books, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1959).
4. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel II, ch. 8:1
5. In Max Lackmann, The Augsburg Confession and Catholic Unity (New York: Herder & Herder, 1963), p. 141.
6. Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, trans. A.V. Littledale (Westminster: Newman Press, 1961).
7. See especially Hans Kung, Justification, trans. Thomas Collins, Edmund E. Tolk, and David Granskou (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1964), p. 252. In his more recent writing one can discern in Kung a movement away from biblical authority to the authority of experiential verification. While the Gospel remains the primary criterion, there is also an appeal to universally lived human experience. See Hans Kung, On Being a Christian, trans. Edward Quinn (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976), pp. 65 ff, 84 ff.
8. Ralph Martin, Unless the Lord build the house ... (Notre Dame: Ava Maria Press, 1975), p. 21.
9. See C. Samuel Calian, "Cyril Lucaris: The Patriarch Who Failed: in Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 10:2 (Spring 1973), pp. 319-336.
10. We are including other Catholic traditions besides the Roman in the category of Catholicism.
11. As John Wenham puts it, in Reformed or evangelical thinking the weight is placed on "the moral marvel of substitution," not the "metaphysical marvel of incarnation." John W. Wenham, The Goodness of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1974), p. 193.
12. See Harry J. McSorley, Luther: Right or Wrong? (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969).
13. Bela Vassady, Christ's Church : Evangelical, Catholic and Reformed (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), pp. 19ff.
14. A certain rapport with mysticism can be perceived in the early Luther, but it is much less evident in the later Luther and Melanchthon as well as in Protestant Orthodoxy. While the mystical dimension of the faith is certainly present in Calvin, it is patently less visible in later Calvinism.
15. See Donald G. Bloesch, "Whatever Became of Neo-Orthodoxy?" in Christianity Today, 19:5 (December 6, 1974), pp. 7-12.
16. See, for example, Emil Brunner, The Misunderstanding of the Church, trans. Harold Knight (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953).
17. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), p. 245.
18. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1923).
19. Karl Barth, Theology and Church, trans. Louise Pettibone Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 313.
20. Ibid., p. 314.
21. P.T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind (London: Independent Press Ltd., 1953, fourth imp.), p. 193.
22. Benjamin Warfield, Studies in Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932), p. 666.
23. This is not to overlook the evangelical themes that characterize such a noted mystic as Meister Eckhart, including an emphasis on grace over works, but we maintain that the neo-Platonic cast of his theology obscured and blunted the force of these themes. See infra p. 49. Johann Tauler sought to avoid
the excesses of metaphysical speculation, which in Eckhart's case tended in the direction of pantheism, and thereby gave Germanic mysticism a more biblical thrust.
24. See especially J.A.T. Robinson, Exploration into God (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1967) where he states the case for what he terms "secular mysticism" with the accent not on withdrawal from the world but on "a deeper immersion in existence."
25. Neo-Platonism is also very much in evidence in the thought of the German existentialist Karl Jaspers who speaks of man's liberation in terms of his "ascent from God to the Godhead." Karl Jaspers, Philosophical Faith and Revelation, trans. E.B. Ashton (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 284.
26. Emil Brunner's Die Mystik unk Das Wort (Tubingen, W. Germany: J.C.B. Mohr, 1928), a polemic against the mysticism of Schleiermacher, is even in Barth's view an unfair assessment of that great figure in liberal theology. Schleiermacher cannot be wholly identified with mysticism, since he also reflects concerns of the Enlightenment as well as of the Protestant Reformation.
27. One side of neo-Protestantism is rationalistic, but the other side has its roots in romanticism and mysticism. Mysticism can appear in both an idealistic and naturalistic garb.
28. Rudolf Otto documents these mystical notes in Luther in his The Idea of the Holy, trans. John W. Harvey (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), pp. 94-108, 204-207.
29. Bengt R. Hoffman, Luther and the Mystics (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1976). Hoffman acknowledges that Luther's position cannot be harmonized with the neo-Platonic mysticism of the pseudo-Dionysius, but he maintains that Luther was favorably disposed toward the more evangelical mysticism of Bernard of Clairvaux, Johann Tauler, and the Theologica Germanica.
30. Hoffman's work needs to be read in conjunction with Steven Ozment, Homo Spiritualis (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969), which underlines the contrast between Luther's spirituality and mysticism. Ozment perhaps unduly minimizes the influence of the mystics on Luther, but he does show that Luther's theology and piety have a distinctiveness of their own. Friedrich Heiler, in our opinion, does justice to the mystical strand in Luther without compromising his essential biblical and evangelical stance. See his Prayer, trans. and ed. Samuel McComb (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958).
31. Edward John Carnell, The Case for Orthodox Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1959), p. 118.
32. See David Reed, "Aspects of the Origins of Oneness Pentecostalism," in Vinson Synan, ed., Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins (Plainfield, N.J.: Logos International, 1975), pp. 143-168.
33. For relevant Scripture texts see Psalm 87:5 and Galatians 4:26-27.
III. The Sovereignty of God
For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted.
Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendour, and the majesty; for everything in heaven and on earth is thine; thine, O Lord, is the sovereignty, and thou are exalted over all as head.
1 Chronicles 29:11
God has contrived to exclude our glorying; that we should be wholly and every way dependent on God, for the moral and natural good that belongs to salvation; and that we have all from the hand of God, by his power and grace.
God's participation in man's affairs is much more than that of a fellow sufferer on a divine scale, whose love can rise to a painless sympathy with pain. He not only perfectly understands our case and our problem, but He has morally, actively, finally solved it.
In a time of religious transition when old traditions are being challenged, the question is often raised as to whether it is still desirable or even possible to hold on to the idea of the sovereignty of God. Particularly in the shadows of Dachau, Auschwitz, and Hiroshima can one continue to affirm a God who is both omnipotent and compassionate at the same time? We contend that if we are to remain true to the biblical heritage of our faith, as well as to the consensus of the catholic tradition, we must maintain the idea of a God of sovereign power. On the other hand, the biblical idea of sovereignty must be sharply distinguished from the philosophical notions which have made this general concept untenable particularly for those of a sensitive conscience who rightly perceive that arbitrary power excludes vicarious identification or suffering love.
Creator and Lord
The God of the Bible is depicted as the Creator of the universe and the Lord of history. He is not the Unmoved Mover or the Undifferentiated unity but the Almighty One who calls the worlds into being and whose "kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19). He is not the "Idea of the Good" (as in Plato) nor the "superessential One" who is beyond the good (Plotinus),1 but the righteous Sovereign who wills the good. He is not an ideal of pure reason (as in Kant) but a Supreme Intelligence who plans and shapes man's destiny. Nor is he a necessary postulate of reason, as Kant also asserts; instead he is the One who remains hidden until he gives himself to be known in revelation. He is not a self-contained Absolute, who is unaffected by the world, but the living Lord of history, an Active Agent more than a Passive Subject.
Biblical religion portrays God as the power above all other powers (cf. 1 Chron. 29:11; Isaiah 40:22-23; Psalm 22:28; 47:7-8). Daniel declares: "The Most High God rules the kingdom of men, and sets over it whom he will" (Daniel 5:21). It is he "who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another" (Psalm 75:7). Wealth and honor come from his hand, and might and power are of his disposing (1 Chron. 29:12). No force can oppose him (Psalm 76:7; Job 42:2). In the words of Jeremiah: "The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his mind" (Jeremiah 30:24). He uses the evil powers in the world as tools for his purposes. Luther could describe the Turk (at that time the ravager of Europe) as both "God's rod" and "the devil's servant."
A helpful distinction has sometimes been made (by Luther and others) between the kingdoms of nature, grace, and glory. God rules over the kingdom of nature in his role as Creator and Providential Protector. He rules over the kingdom of grace, the community of faith, in his role as Redeemer and thereby through his Son, Jesus Christ. The kingdom of glory signifies the reign of God over the new heaven and earth, the transformed and redeemed world, which is still in the future.
On the basis of the scriptural testimony the church through the ages has affirmed the doctrine of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). This means that the world was created by divine fiat; God did not have to mold the world out of a material that was preexistent or coeternal. This is not immediately evident in Genesis 1, but the doctrine is certainly anchored in the scriptural witness as a whole. Isaiah proclaims that God created the darkness as well as the light (Isaiah 45:7).2 In Revelation 4:11 we read: "For thou didst't create all things, and by thy will they
existed and were created" (cf. Proverbs 8:22-30; Isaiah 37:16; Acts 17:24; Hebrews 11:3, By faith [not blind faith but faith grounded in evidence] we understand that the universe was formed at Gods command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible).
God is related to the world not as Eternity is to time but as Creative Act is related to the creation (Torrance). He is not simply the ground or depth of being but the Lord of being and the Lord over being. As the omnipotent God he is the source of all created life and its preservation.
In patristic and medieval thought the idea was often present that God was compelled to create because of a superabundance that had to find an outlet. The world was explained as a necessary overflow of the divine being. We shall more of this in the last section of this chapter. In the biblical view God created the world out of love, not metaphysical necessity. The world does not simply proceed from the Logos, but it is an act of the freedom of God.
The freedom of God, indeed, is another way to express his sovereignty. God's freedom means that he is grounded in his own being, is determined and moved by himself. This is to say, God exists in and of himself and cannot be explained by any prior cause. The medieval school men intended this idea when they spoke of the aseity of God (his state of being self-originated).
This One who creates in freedom and rules in love must not be confused with man's own idea of perfection, with a philosophical first principle. The true God lies beyond the confines of man's perception and conception. He is to be sharply distinguished from the idols of man's vain imagination. Karl Barth has put this very succinctly:
Just because He is this free and loving God, He is not interchangeable with any creature in heaven or on earth, or with the likeness of any product of human imagination. He is sovereign, and His name is holy above every other name, and not to be named with any other in the same breath.3
To affirm God as Creator and Lord also means to affirm the essential goodness of creation and the meaningfulness of history. In Gnosticism it was commonly thought that God is so remote and transcendent that he is not related in any positive way to the material world, which was formed by a lesser deity or demiurge. In order to find God man must rise above the realm of the material (where evil resides) and ascend to the realm of pure spirit. Salvation lies outside of time, history, and corporeality. Christianity asserts on the other hand that the one and only God not only created the material world but redeemed and sanctified it through the incarnation of his Son.
The true God is active and dynamic will, not simply the depth or ground of reason. His will is supreme and unique not arbitrary and overwhelming. Here a distinction must be made between the speculative idea of absolute power (potestas absoluta), which swallows up all creaturely independence, and the biblical idea of sovereign freedom.4 We must not think of God as having an unrestricted or arbitrary power, for this would be the sovereignty of whim or chance or caprice. His power is not irresistibly efficacious, it is not a naked freedom and sovereignty; rather it is in the service of his love. God's power does not violate his love or holiness (John 37:23). He should not be thought of as the God who can do anything, but as the God who can do everything to express and fulfill his loving purpose. His sovereignty is not caprice but the liberty to interpose in judgment and mercy as he pleases (H. R. Mackintosh). God's power should be distinguished from power itself, for he is in control of his power.
At the same time we must not fall into the mistaken notion that God's will must be in accord with an abstract idea of love or justice. There is no necessity or justice to which God must conform. He is his own necessity, and he wills justice because it is his nature to do so. He declares what is right (Isaiah 45:19). "What he desires, that he does" (Job 23:13). God's will is conditioned and limited only by itself.
God's sovereignty means that he is immutable. He does not change in his innermost being and in his ultimate vision and purpose for the world. "The grass withers," Isaiah says, "the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8, cf. Psalm 102:25-27; James 1:17). God's remains faithful to his promises; he will not swerve from the plan that he has for the nations and his people (cf. Job 23:13; Micah 7:19-20; Mal. 3:6).
Yet God is not the unchangeable, as philosophers understand this. For the Greeks, God's immutability means that he is immobile, in which case we no longer have a truly sovereign God. We concur with Barth: "As this omnipotent God, His is also distinct from the unchangeable, whose unchangeableness inevitably means utter powerlessness, complete incapacity, a lack of every possibility, and therefore death."5 It is interesting to note that the phrase "God repented" frequently appears in the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 32; 14; 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chron. 21:15; Jer. 26:19; Jonah 3:10). Some theologians maintain that this can be taken only metaphorically, but I believe that it points to the truth that God has the freedom to change his mind or the ways in which he
deals with his people, though he remains inflexible in his ultimate purpose for them. God is not immobile, but he is immutable at least in several basic senses: he is unchanging in his basic purposes; his being is indestructible; and his promises are inviolable.
In order to avoid the pitfall of Hellenistic abstractionism, Karl Barth, in his discussion of the perfections of God, replaces the classical term immutability with constancy (Bestandigkeit). This means that God is true to himself or self-consistent; he remains faithful even when men are faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). He does not lie but keeps his Word (Psalm 89:34-35), and this is the ground for Christian ethics. According to Barth the true God is the living one and as such contains within himself both rest and motion, but he nonetheless maintains his constancy as the loving one in freedom.
Whereas the living God of the Bible is not to be confounded with the immobile God of Hellenistic philosophy, he must also be sharply distinguished from the modern idea of a God who is ever changing. Emil Brunner rightly censures this notion: "A God who is constantly changing is not a God whom we can worship, He is a mythological Being for whom we can only feel sorry."6 In process theology and philosophy God is essentially dependent on the world and is enriched by the maturation of his creation. Process philosopher Charles Hartshorne has redefined the absolute as "the totally relative."7 A definition more in keeping with biblical faith would be: He who may or may not relate himself to everything or anything.
Another related error is to equate God's omnipotence with the notion of omnicausality. In this way God becomes bound to the reality which is distinct from himself. God's omnipotence does not mean that he is the direct or sole cause of all that happens; rather he is Lord over all that happens. It means that God is omnicompetent, capable of dealing with all circumstances, that nothing can ultimately defeat or thwart his plan for his people. I agree with Barth: "Because God's power is the power of His personality, the power of His knowing and willing, we can say that it also belongs to God's will not to will many things."8 God's omnipotence cannot be resolved into his omnicausality because this would make God a "prisoner of His own power."9 God is both self-determined and self-limited, in the sense that he refuses to will some things.
Any discussion of God's omnipotence will invariably include the doctrine of predestination. A sovereign God has a sovereign plan and purpose which he chooses to realize in the world. But predestination is a theological concept and must not be confused with the philosophical
concept of fate or destiny. It means that God's election of men to salvation in Jesus Christ (which is how the Bible understands election) does not override the freedom of man but is realized in and through this freedom, though it is the new freedom given in Christ and not natural free will. Predestination is not a decretum absolutum that tends to deny the free movement of history but a working out of the purposes of God in history. It does not mean that God wills whatever comes to pass but that God's will and purpose are to be fulfilled despite the perpetual defiance of his will in human history. When predestination is conceived as the eternal determination of whatever comes to pass, the dimension of the historical is lost. With Thomas Aquinas, who affirmed that God wills some things contingently and not necessarily, we reject the determinist view that all things happen by "an absolute necessity."10
In opposition to some of the older Calvinists we contend that God's decrees are not an eternal aspect of his nature but spring out of his sovereign freedom.11 The sovereignty of God means that God's will is free not only to carry out the decree of election but also to determine it.
It is appropriate now to consider the doctrine of the omniscience of God, for not only God's will but his knowledge is said to be omnipotent. The Psalmist declares: Our Lord is great, all-powerful, of infinite understanding" (Psalm 147:5). "The Lord's wisdom founded the earth," Proverbs says, "his understanding established all the universe and space. The deep fountains of the earth were broken open by his knowledge, and the skies poured down rain" (Proverbs 3:19-20; 15:11). And again from the Psalms: "Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether ... Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them" (Psalm 139:4, 16). We read in 2 Chronicles: "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show his might in behalf of those whose heart is blameless toward him" (16:9).
The meaning of God's omniscience is that there is no concealment from God. "God's knowledge," says Barth "does not consist only in His knowing all things before they are and have been", but "in His actually knowing them when they are still future."12 Yet we must utter here a word of caution: although God knows the future before it happens, he does not literally know the concrete event until it happens. We cannot affirm a preestablished harmony between the eternal plan of God and the events of history, for this would mean a closed or static
universe in which real history and freedom become illusions. It would also tend to deny the reality of human sin and discord in history. We affirm the reality of God's foreknowledge and also his sovereignty over all events in time and space, but we do not hold to a rigid foreordination that excludes the free movement of history. Nothing happens, to be sure, apart from God's sanction, but this is not to say that God expressly wills everything that happens. There are some things that happen that God does not will and that have their reality precisely in God's negation instead of his affirmation (Barth). To believe in the omniscience of God means to affirm an overarching providence that sustains the world in its sin and misery but which is not the direct cause of its sin and misery.
Equally crucial in the discussion of the perfections of God is his omnipresence or ubiquity. This must be construed not as spacelessness but as God's freedom to be in space. Again Barth is right in affirming a spaciality in God just as there is time in God. True eternity includes the potentiality of space and time. God's omnipresence means that he is present to all creatures, but there is no identity between God and the creature. It does not mean that his being literally permeates all matter but that everything is included in his overall vision (Proverbs 15:3; 2 Chron. 16:9). God's ubiquity should be understood in terms not of inactive extension in the universe but of sovereign dominion over all space.
Omnipresence means that God is both transcendent and immanent. Everything is immediately accessible to him, but he is not confined or contained in any space or place. He is free to enter every place because every place is within his grasp and power. He is eminent, towering above the world of the creature, but he is also imminent, exceedingly close to every creature. Augustine said that God is "nearer than hands and feet." And as Luther put it: "God is closer to everything than anything is to itself."
God's eternity is his exaltation over time, just as his omnipresence is his exaltation over space (Emil Brunner). His eternity is not to be viewed as a negation of time as in Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy, for then time becomes an illusion. Eternity is not timelessness nor the endless duration of time; it is rather the "fulfillment of time." Karl Barth speaks of a "divine timefulness" thereby making it not incongruous for God to create time and to dwell in time. The eternity of God signifies his sovereign rule over time.
In discussing God's sovereignty we must also say something of his infinity. Infinity in the Christian sense means the freedom of God from all creaturely limitations. Everything that belongs to his being is without
measure or quantity. Infinity does not mean that God is formless or characterless. It signifies that he is not dependent on anything else for his existence. God's infinity is his unlimited power but never separated from and always informed by his illimitable love.
Likewise we must affirm God's spirituality, meaning that he is not flesh and blood as man is and thereby not subject to corruption. He is not the superlative of human nature and possibilities (as in Mormonism) but one who infinitely transcends such possibilities. At the same time he does not exist in opposition to matter. Matter is not an aspect of his nature, but it is a channel of his power.
Again we must speak of a personal God, or to borrow Francis Schaeffer's terminology a Personal-Infinite God. This means that God is a Personal Spirit who can and does relate himself to the world of the creature. He is not an infinite silence or nameless depth but a divine Thou who addresses man. He is not simply "the power of the future" (as in Moltmann and Pannenberg) nor a Primal Mover in the past (as in deism); rather he is an existent being who lives and moves among his children here and now. A personal God cannot be a totally impassible God. As Barth says, "The personal God has a heart. He can feel, and be affected ... He cannot be moved from outside by an extraneous power. But this does not mean that He is not capable of moving Himself."13 We agree with Joseph Ratzinger that to confess God as a person "necessarily includes the acknowledgment of God as relatedness, as communicability, as fruitfulness. The unrelated, unrelatable, absolutely one could not be person."14
A personal God, who loves and cares, can be solicited in prayer. Prayer can work miracles because God makes himself dependent on the requests of his children. This does not detract from h is sovereignty but instead attests it in a striking way. This is the God who chooses to work out his purposes in cooperation with his children. As Forsyth has aptly said, his will is inflexible, but his ways are flexible.
In speaking of the sovereignty of God we must also affirm the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Christ is not only Prophet and Priest, but also King. He shares in the sovereignty of the Father. All things were created in him and through him and for him, and all things hold together in him (Colossians 1:15ff). All things have been put under his feet, and he has been made head over all things (Eph. 2:21-22; 1 Cor. 15:27; Rev. 17:14). This does not mean that he is King of the world in the same way as he is King of the church. He is King in the church by his deity and humanity, but in the world by his deity only (Luther). The resurrection of Jesus Christ signifies the supreme act of the sovereignty of
God, and his heavenly ascension connotes his elevation over the whole world.
We should add that it is only in Jesus Christ that we know the living God and his sovereignty over the world. We experience the wrath and judgment of God outside of Christ, but we do not really know the breadth of his love and power until we have faith in Christ.
Moreover, it is necessary to uphold the sovereignty of God the Holy Spirit who implants within man the principle of the new life. The Holy Spirit is not only the originator of the new life but also the one who develops it, preserves it, and perfects it on the day of resurrection. Besides his work of regeneration and sanctification, the Holy Spirit empowers the people of God to witness boldly before the world concerning the truth of the Gospel. Though man through sin is radically disabled, he can be sovereignly empowered to testify to others and thereby be instrumental in their salvation. The life of the church rests not on evangelistic strategies or promotional techniques but on God the Holy Spirit who speaks and acts where he wills.
The work of the Holy Spirit also testifies to the sovereignty of God in the realm of the knowledge of God. Man cannot know God apart from the special illumination of the Holy Spirit given in the context of the hearing of God's Word. Man cannot on his own grasp or comprehend the truth of revelation but must be seized by this truth if he is to know it.
H. Richard Niebuhr has made the astute observation that evangelical Protestantism is characterized by its stress on the sovereignty of God instead of the vision of God (as in Roman Catholicism).15 The accent is thereby placed on spiritual and ethical obedience, the attempt to bring our wills into conformity with his will. In this perspective, a passion to change the world takes precedence over the desire to transcend the world.
God in his essence is both love and holiness, and therefore it is of a holy love that we must speak when referring to divinity. God is love, but his love exists in tension with his holiness, indeed it is informed by his holiness. There is both a kindness and a severity in God (Romans 11:22), and neither must be emphasized to the detriment of the other. God's steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136:1; 138:8), but it endures as a consuming fire. We see a basic distinction between the love and
holiness of God but at the same time an interpenetration and indivisibility.
Holiness connotes separation from all that is unclean (from the Hebrew qadosh), and this applies to God par excellence. Rudolf Otto has trenchantly observed that the concept of the holiness of God leads to the assertion that God is "Wholly Other," since man is both a creature and a sinner.16 Indeed, man is separated from God not only by ontological fate but also by historical guilt. Our iniquities have made a separation between God and ourselves (Isaiah 59:1-2), and therefore God can only be approached via a Mediator whose righteousness is acceptable to divine holiness, namely, Jesus Christ.
Kierkegaard referred to the "infinite qualitative difference" between God and man,17 and this is because is holy as well as sovereign. His holiness is his otherness, his majesty, his separateness. A holy God must be intolerant of sin and can only demand purity of heart on the part of his subjects. This is why the true God must be approached in "fear and trembling," in deep-felt awe and reverence. The encounter with the Holy gives rise to a sense of one's own unworthiness as well as to a sense of the majesty of God (cf. Isaiah 6:1-5).
The love of God is generous, sacrificial, self-giving. It is the love that issues in forgiveness, but it is a costly forgiveness resulting in the death of God's own Son. It is also costly for the Christian, since it calls him to a life of discipleship under the cross. The love that comes from God accepts the sinner as he is, in his sins, but because it is also a holy love, it demands that the sinner change his ways.
Holy love is not weakness or permissiveness but contains a severity that is totally foreign to the popular understanding of love. Its method is to uproot and attack all that is not of God. It is a judging as well as a redeeming love. It entails the disciplining and chastising of the children of God (Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:6). Love can be so merciful that it sometimes appears devoid of mercy. Meister Eckhart rightly observe, with reference to the Song of Solomon: "Love is as strong as death and harder than hell" (Song of Solomon 8:6).18 The holy love of a sovereign God evokes adoration, not admiration. It elicits awe, not pity, as might be the case if his love were indulgent or permissive.
Holy love does not cancel the demands of the law but seeks the fulfillment of these demands. This is why the holy love of God made inevitable the vicarious atonement of Christ on the cross. A sinful mankind could be reconciled to a holy God only by one who paid the penalty for sin by dying on the cross. And this one was the Son of God himself who alone could represent mankind because of his incarnation,
and who alone could render a perfect sacrifice because of his deity.
The holy love of God is inseparably related to his wrath. The concept of the wrath of God fell into disfavor with the rise of liberal theology which tended to see it as divine petulance and, therefore, not worthy of the God of Christian faith. But the erosion of this concept is also to be laid at the feet of orthodox theology which, in effect, separated God's wrath from his love and thereby proclaimed a God who was divided against himself. The wrath of God must properly be understood as the necessary reaction of his holiness to sin. It is one form of his holy love. The wrath of God is an objective reality emanating from the nature of God himself. Wrath is not what God is in himself, but it signifies what he can be in relation to the world of the creature. Wrath is not the basic disposition of God toward his people, since God is "slow to anger," but nonetheless it connotes the searing reaction of God to continued violations of his law. It is his righteous indignation against wrongdoing. Some liberal theologians have interpreted the wrath of God as referring only to the subjective experience of the sinner as he encounters God's love. But this is to lose sight of the character of God's love as holy love, a love that can become angry because of human sin.
For Martin Luther wrath is the strange work of God, and love in Christ is his real or proper work. Wrath proceeds from the nature of God himself, but it is not identical with his true nature, which is revealed in Christ. The danger in this dichotomy is that God's love tends to be divorced from his wrath and holiness. Yet it contains the element of truth that God's love is made known only in Christ and that outside of Christ God must necessarily appear as wrathful. At the same time was not God's wrath against sin also manifested in Christ, and does not Jesus Christ himself personify and reveal both the love and the holiness of God? Can God's holiness and wrath really be known apart from his love in Jesus Christ?
In the philosophy of Heraclitus and much of the monistic mysticism of the Orient, it is said that God includes all opposites within himself good and evil, light and darkness, being and nonbeing.19 In biblical faith, on the contrary, God signifies a purity of love that excludes and judges evil. The true God is neither beyond good and evil nor does he encompass good and evil, but he is the perfect good that negates evil and sets it off as an antithesis to his holy will. His wrath proceeds from his goodness and love, not from any darkness or shadow within himself, since he is altogether light (1 John 1:5).
The Holy Trinity
God is sovereign but not solitary. God is not simply a unity but a triunity. He is differentiated within himself. He not only exists but also coexists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19; John 14:16-17; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6). Because he has love and fellowship within himself his sovereignty can be one of love.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not clearly enunciated in the Scriptures, but it is definitely suggested.20 It is not so much a revealed truth as an immediate implication of the fact, form, and content of revelation. It is a truth consonant with revelation and implicit in revelation. It is directly related to the doctrines of the preexistent Word and the deity of Christ.
This doctrine, which was defined and sharpened in the early councils of the church beginning with Nicaea, asserts that there is one divine being in three persons. There is a trinity of persons and a unity in essence. It should be recognized that persons in the early church did not mean personalities in the modern sense (which indicates autonomy) but objective modes of being.21 Barth is correct when he affirms that God exists in three modes of being, but these are distinctions, as he acknowledges, that pertain to the inner life of God himself and not merely to dimensions of his activity (as in the heresy of Modalism). This is why orthodox theology speaks of the ontological or essential trinity and not just of the economic trinity, which refers to the way in which God relates himself to the world. The Trinity must be thought of neither as one God in three manifestations nor as a symmetrical triad of persons with separable function; instead the Trinity signifies one God in three modes of existence Father, Son, and Spirit, and each of these participates in the activity of the other.22
The first impetus toward the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity emerged in the conflict with Arianism which held that Christ, being a creature, was unlike the Father. The semi-Arians asserted that Christ was of a similar substance to the Father (homoiousios). Against these trinitarian heresies the Nicene Creed affirmed that Christ was of one substance with the Father (homoousios). The significance of this credo is that the Logos who was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth is none other than God himself. It is not sufficient to hold that Christ was like God: instead we must boldly affirm that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19).
A trinitarian monotheism is a concrete monotheism which depicts a living God who reaches out in love, who becomes incarnate in human
flesh. In a mystical monotheism everything concrete disappears in the infinite abyss. God becomes the impersonal Absolute, an undifferentiated substratum, beyond plurality and diversity. Trinitarian faith asserts on the contrary that "the highest unity is not the unity of inflexible monotony. The model of unity or oneness towards which one should strive is ... not the indivisibility of the atom, the smallest unity.... The authentic acme of unity is the unity created by love."23
The God of absolute, arbitrary power, which has its roots in metaphysical speculation, is not a trinitarian God, since it depicts a God apart from Jesus Christ. In Jesus we see a God who gives himself in love and desires man as a covenant partner in the working out of his purposes in the world.
God is monarchial but not exclusively so. He is trinitarian. He is not only a monarch but also a friend and savior. Monarchianism, one expression of the subordinationist heresy, made God remote and distant from his creation. It has its source in the philosophical climate of the ancient world that depicted the Absolute as static and impassible. The trinitarian God is not lifeless but living. He is not static and immobile but dynamic and mobile though ever constant in his inmost being and purpose.
Against the subordinationists the early church insisted that though the members of the Trinity have different functions they are equal and coeternal. While there is a distribution of functions of the Trinity in the activities of creation and redemption, there is no subordination of one over the other in the essential life within the Godhead.24 For the subordinationists everything depended on preserving the unity and monarchy of God. A distinction was made between God in his self-manifestation and God in his abysmal nature. The Godhead of Christ was seen as inferior to the Godhead of the Father.25 Origen, for example, refused to call Christ autotheos (possessing in himself the divine nature). The two dangers in subordinationism are polytheism, in which we have several gods, and agnosticism, in which God in himself becomes unknowable. Arianism was one form of subordinationism, since it saw Christ as a heavenly mediator between the infinite God and man but not as God himself. Neo-Platonic mysticism which reappeared in the thought of John Scotus Erigena, pseudo-Dionysius, Meister Eckhart, and Ruysbroeck is another form of subordinationism, since it posits an undifferentiated Godhead beyond the God manifested as a trinity. Such a God is none other than a solitary being, unrevealed and virtually unknown.26
To bypass the Trinity is to end either in deism or pantheism. In the first God becomes remote and distant, and in the second God becomes neither totally outside the world nor is he incorporate in the world. He is a transcendent living Lord who has incarnated himself in the world but who remains essentially independent from the world.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not an explanation but a definition of the being of God and life of God. The Trinity itself remains a mystery even to faith. It reflects the truth that God is intelligible but incomprehensible (Aquinas). It bears witness to the affirmation that God is known truly, but not exhaustively, in his self-revelation in Jesus Christ.
Cyril Richardson considers the three terms of reference to the Trinity an arbitrary way of conceiving the richness and complexity of a dynamic God.27 He acknowledges that such a God demands at least two terms, or better, an indefinite number. John Macquarrie has given this retort with which we fully concur:
The unbroken unity of a monolithic God from whom had gone forth neither Word nor Spirit would be something less than a God who could be worshipped. If we move from stark unity to twoness or duality, then we are in very grave danger of introducing a split that cannot be bridged, and of ending up in some kind of Gnostic or Manichaean dualism in which both the world and its creative agent have been so far removed from the hidden God that a fundamental opposition is set up. We have to move on to threeness, to the completion of the circle, when the Spirit who has proceeded from the Godhead to work in the creation lifts that whole creation to God and, above all, builds the community of the Spirit among the finite spirits.28
We would add that threeness is not only appropriate in the context of the worship and fellowship of the church but that it is also necessary to do justice to the biblical revelation concerning the being and activity of the true God. This is definitely implied in Macquarrie's statement, since his aim is to be both a biblical and catholic theologian, though he sometimes leans too heavily on secular philosophy in his explication of the biblical faith.29
Soli Deo Gloria
Among the perfections of God not yet mentioned is his glory. The glory of God signifies his splendor, majesty, and radiance particularly as these make an impression upon the world of the creature. Emil Brunner contends that
the divine glory is that which God possesses in relation to the world. God's glory is the reflection of the being of God from the creation back to him. Barth speaks of the divine glory as the overflowing perfection of God and particularly as "His overflowing self-communicating joy."30
God wills his own glory for the sake of his creation. In himself he has full satisfaction and stands in need of nothing. Yet his children lack virtually everything. Since he is the highest good, he owes it to his children to make them aware of his perfections so that their spiritual quest and hunger will be fulfilled.31 Barth declares that God "satisfies Himself by showing and manifesting and communicating Himself as the One who He is."32 He glorifies himself by revealing himself. God's glory is the shining of his light in the darkness of this world.
God wills to glorify himself in his creation but even more in his Son (John 13:31-32; 14:13). In Barth's words: "God's glory really consists in His self-giving, and this has its centre and meaning in God's Son, Jesus Christ ..."33 Jesus Christ is the radiance and effulgence of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3). In Christ we see the splendor and marvel of the very being of God himself (John 17:5).
God seeks his own glory for the sake of the salvation of his people (Psalm 108:5-6; Isaiah 30:18). He seeks to draw them to himself and to share his glory with them (cf. Isaiah 60:1-3; John 17:22). By opening the eyes of his children to h is glory he demonstrates h is love for them, for his glory is their salvation. In this light we can understand the Psalmist: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory, for the sake of thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness: (115:1).
John Calvin in particular saw that man's deepest need is to lose himself in the glory of God, and this is why he emphasized Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone). For him, as for the Psalmist, the one who longs for the saving help of God must ever cry, " 'All glory to the Lord!' " (Psalm 40:16). He saw that man is fulfilled only by living solely for Him who is the ground and mainstay of man's life. In Calvin's mind glory must not be given to anything less than God, whether this be the church, the state, or the pope, for such a thing is idolatry. Only one who is at the same time the Infinite Creator and the Sovereign Redeemer can command our our unconditional adoration.
Calvin perceived the close relation between Soli Deo gloria and the Christian life. The glory of God is the foundation for active service and obedience. When man seeks his own welfare and power rather than God's glory, then his good works are turned into evil works. "Surely the first foundation of righteousness is the worship of God. When this is overthrown, all the remaining parts of righteousness, like the pieces of
a shattered and fallen building are mangled and scattered."34 Calvin saw that worship comes before bread, God's glory before human livelihood, even though God is truly glorified when we help others to secure their livelihood. This theological motif is reflected in the Shorter Westminster Catechism: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever" (question 1).
Of course Calvin and his followers were not the only Christians to uphold Soli Deo gloria. Luther and Ignatius Loyola were were also known for this emphasis.35 So was Jonathan Edwards who stands in the tradition of Calvinism but who was deeply original as well as profoundly biblical.36 God, he maintained, has sought to exclude all human glory so that we should be wholly dependent on Him for our salvation. We should recognize that everything we have is "from the hand of God, by his power and grace."37 All of these men placed the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom over every temporal and material concern. In their eyes God's glory is to be valued even more than human happiness.
Yet in the tradition of Christian mysticism, especially where the neo-Platonic influence was most felt, the glory of God was definitely subordinated to the fulfillment and blessedness of the self. The mystics were more concerned with the discovery of God in the depths of the soul and the perfection of the self in God than with giving glory to God by upholding Jesus Christ before the world. Meister Eckhart contended that a man ought not to work or live for anything outside him, nor for God nor for his glory among men; instead man should live "only for that which is his glory among men; instead man should live "only for that which is his being, his very life within him."38 And hear these words of Schleiermacher: "A religious man must be reflective, his sense must be occupied in the contemplation of himself. Being occupied with the profoundest depths, he abandons meanwhile all external things, intellectual as well as physical ...."39 In the radical mysticism of Angelus Silesius the realization of the self is considered so crucial that even the life of God is dependent on it: "I know that without me God cannot live for an instant; if I come to nothing, then He must give up the ghost."40
While audacity of this kind must obviously be rejected by earnest evangelicals, it should be recognized that Soli Deo gloria does not mean the annihilation of man. When man dedicates himself to the glory of God he finds himself in God's kingdom, he discovers himself as a child of God. The glory of God does not reduce man to nothing but instead gives him hope and confidence. Irenaeus put it very aptly: "The glory of God is man fully alive."
The question can now be posed: how does man give glory to God?
Whereas God glorifies himself by revealing his glory, we glorify God by acknowledging and upholding the glory that is in his Son, Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 9:13; 1 Peter 1:7; Rev. 5:12). God's light radiates in the darkness, and it is incumbent upon us to bear witness to this light in our words and deeds. At no time is God more glorified than when we bow down before him in praise and adoration out of gratefulness for what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. God is given glory, too, when we bring before him our supplications asking for his aid, for this demonstrates our absolute dependence upon his mercy. Glory and honor are also give to God when we seek the total welfare of our neighbor, his physical and material welfare as well as his eternal salvation.
It is obvious that God's glory takes precedence over one's own salvation. Moses prayed that God might blot his name out of the book of life for the sake of the sins of Israel (Exodus 32:32), and Paul was willing to be cut off from Christ for the sake of his erring brethren (Romans 9:3). The early Calvinist ordinands in New England were asked by their superiors if they would be willing to be damned for the glory of God. This, of course, obscures the complementary truth that God is indubitably glorified when people are deeply concerned about their own salvation, for this means being in communion with God's Son, Jesus Christ. Yet it points to the truth that God's glory takes precedence over the good of the self, though paradoxically the self only finds its highest good by giving up its own claims and prerogatives for the sake of the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33; 10:39; 16:25; Luke 9:24).
It should be recognized that God is glorified in the condemnation of man as well as in his salvation (Ezek. 28:22). God even makes the wrath of men to praise him (Psalm 76:10; Romans 3:7). God's glory is no less evident in hell than in heaven because his purposes are being fulfilled in, through, and despite man's error and rebellion. No man can defeat the grace of God, though man can damn himself by not acknowledging God's grace and glory.
The essence of biblical piety is the desire to give glory to God in everything we say or do. And we glorify God when we love him as our Creator and Redeemer and fear him as our King and Judge. We glorify God when we surrender any claim to righteousness on our part and trust his righteousness alone, as revealed in his Son Jesus Christ. We glorify God when we love him as our Creator and Redeemer and fear him as our King and Judge. We glorify God when we surrender any claim to righteousness on our part and trust his righteousness alone, as revealed in his Son Jesus Christ. We glorify God when we dedicate ourselves to the great commission the proclamation of the good news of salvation to a lost and despairing world. We glorify God when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick in prison, since Christ has identified himself with the poor and ailing in our midst (Matthew 25:31ff.).
Erosion of the Biblical View of God
The concept of an Almighty God who relates himself to his creation in self-giving love was subverted first by the apologists of the early church who tried to make the faith palatable to its cultured despiser and then by the medieval school men who sought a biblical-classical synthesis in which they borrowed heavily from Graeco-Roman philosophy. God became identified with the self-contained, static Absolute of Platonic, neo-Platonic, or Aristotelian speculation. To be sure, pagan ideas were checked, and both the Trinity and the creation of the world by divine fiat were stoutly affirmed by the mainstream of Catholic theology. At the same time these particular doctrinal emphases were not always so apparent in the mystical tradition of the church. The neo-Platonic concept of emanation figured more prominently in the thinking of Dionysius the pseudo-Areopagite and John Scotus Erigena than the biblical idea of creation. For John Scotus Erigena God in himself is the ideal of motionless unity, and the creation is a process of the unfolding of the Divine Nature. Though the Trinity was outwardly affirmed, God was often defined in terms of the undifferentiated Absolute that is neither light nor darkness, love nor wrath. This Nameless Being or Primal Unity is not easily reconciled with the Heavenly Father of biblical faith.
Some of the Christian mystics in the tradition of neo-Platonism spoke of God as simple essence without activity. We maintain that essence does not preclude action, since God's action cannot be severed from what he is in himself. God is not pure essence unmoved and unmoving, but his own inner history is a history of action (Barth).
Especially significant is how the philosophical concept of the impassibility of God made its way into the Christian faith and became virtually accepted as the orthodox position on the being of God. This is the view that God is not affected by the world, that he is not touched by human suffering. Plato declared that divinity is beyond "either joy or sorrow."41 In Aristotle the metaphysical and ethical perfection of God is described as apatheia, meaning imperturbability and dispassionateness. Such ideas infiltrated the Christian church, though they were always resisted to a degree. It was generally asserted in the early and medieval church as well as in the Reformation and Protestant orthodoxy that Jesus Christ suffered in his human nature but not in his divine nature. Needless to say, this way of thinking about God and Christ contravenes the biblical picture of a God who is not an Eternal Rest or an Unmoved Mover but One who is restless "until he establishes Jerusalem" (Isaiah 62:1, 7).
This is a God who agonizes over his children and who becomes "enraged" at the sin of the nations (Isaiah 34:2). The truth in the concept of divine impassibility is that God is incapable of corruption and that his innermost being and ultimate purpose are unchanging. Barth draws a helpful distinction between God in "the impassible glory and blessedness of His own inner life" and God in his self-determination in Jesus Christ whereby he makes himself vulnerable to the pain of his creation,42 and I think that this can be substantiated by Scripture.
Anders Nygren has documented the thesis that the Platonic concept of love as Eros came to predominate over the biblical Agape.43 Irenaeus was one of the few among the church fathers who retained the idea of Agape, while Dionysius combated this idea in favor of Eros. Nygren maintains that the medieval Caritas, as we find it in both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, signified a synthesis of Agape and Eros, with Eros being dominant. While Agape is outgoing, self-giving love, Eros is aspiring, self-regarding love. It is not the love that goes out to the sinner but the love that seeks its own realization and perfection in God. The goal of the Christian, consequently, came to be interpreted as union with God rather than the glorifying of God in the service of one's neighbor. God was seen as man's highest good (summum bonum) who alone can satisfy man's deepest need. Despite the significant role given to God, the anthropocentric character of such religion is unmistakable.
The Platonic and neo-Platonic principle of plenitude also intruded into Christian speculation and served to subvert the doctrine of divine sovereignty. In this idea existence is the consequence of a system of "eternal" and "necessary" truths inherent in the very logic of being. Being-itself is said to have a fullness or plenitude which necessarily overflows thereby causing a temporal, material, and variegated universe. In Plato the created universe is an exhaustive replica of the world of ideas. In the system of Dionysius the principle of plenitude results in a cosmological chain of being with infinite variety. Absolute Being is not only the logical ground but also the dynamic source of a diverse universe. Deity becomes self-expansive and creative energy, and this idea existed in tension with that of a Self-Sufficing Perfection. God's love came to be seen as creative and generative more than redemptive.
Many of those theologians who affirmed the creation of the world by God nevertheless tended to maintain that God was moved by a metaphysical necessity, since being must invariably give rise to the real existence of all possible things. Abelard concluded that it was
intrinsically impossible for God to make or leave unmade anything other than the things that he actually made.44 In the thought of Nicholas of Cusa the divine perfection is the infinite actualization of all that is simply and absolutely possible. In this general tradition, the conceptual possibility in the mind of God must necessarily result in its full power to create or produce, whereas in the biblical view God's power is subordinated to his love.
For Thomas Aquinas "the Absolute, if good or rational, must generate variety in a measure proportional to his power which could only mean, infinitely, though within the restrictions imposed by the logical impossibility of some things."45 Yet Thomas in an effort to safeguard the divine freedom contended that though the will of God always chooses the good it chooses it "as becoming to its own goodness, not as necessary to its goodness."46 While he was decidedly influenced by neo-Platonism Thomas nonetheless sought to maintain the biblical view that God creates through a personal free act and not deterministically. Lovejoy says that Thomas was able to hold to this biblical position only oat the cost of inner consistency and that he never really succeeded in breaking free from the principle of plenitude.47
Despite their rejection of the neo-Platonic idea of emanation, medieval scholastics blurred the distinction between the Creator and the creature by retaining the neo-Platonic notion of a graded hierarchy of being from the highest to the lowest and viewing creaturely existence as directly grounded in the externality of God. Thomas Torrance comments: "What it implied was an eternal positing or even co-existence of creaturely being with God's eternal Being which made it difficult to deny the aeternitas mundi, even if it could not be affirmed, or at least not to be convinced of the ultimate changelessness of nature, i.e., of all that is not God."48
The sovereignty of God was again compromised by the growing sacramentalism in the church which tied his grace to the rites and rituals of the church. But the sovereign God of the Bible cannot be put in a box. Though he remains ultimately true to his promises, he sometimes withholds his grace from his unrepentant children and sometimes reaches out to those outside the circle of faith. He is characterized by a "sovereign unpredictability" (David Du Plessis). Although God is not bound to the means of grace, we are so bound, and the outpouring of his grace must not be misconstrued as necessarily or even primarily occurring apart from human instrumentality.
Luther, Calvin and other Reformers protested against the biblical-classical
synthesis and for a time succeeded in recovering the biblical doctrine of an Almighty God who acts in love. With their Christocentric emphasis they interpreted the perfections of God in terms of his revelation in Jesus Christ, they rediscovered the reality of God as Sovereign Creator and Merciful Redeemer, and the reality of his love as Agape. Yet in their distinction between the revealed and secret will of God, they returned to the philosophical idea of God as naked power. Calvin's concept of double predestination tended to divorce the justice of God from his love. In Luther's Bondage of the Will we again meet with the speculative idea of unlimited power (potestas absolutas) though the biblical idea asserts itself in many of his other writings. When God is portrayed as the sole actor, when it is said that God does all (Allwirksamkeit), this excludes any kind of creaturely causality. Zwingli was highly influenced by neo-Platonism in his De Providentia where he begins with the speculative idea of Absolute Being rather than the biblical idea of a living Lord and Redeemer. In Zwingli's thought all evil as well as all good is due to the causality of God.
In much modern philosophy and theology the biblical view of God has been supplanted by an all-embracing Absolute Spirit (as in monistic idealism and mysticism) or a Life-force or Creative Process in the world (as in naturalism). For Hegel the Absolute is both the ground and the culmination of the infinite forward surge that is world history. "Without the world," he says frankly, "God were not God." In Schleiermacher the Divine is the ground of all finite meaning and comes to self-consciousness in human nature. For him the Father refers to the unity of the Divine Essence and not to one of the supposed distinctions in it. God's omnipotence is defined in terms of his omnicausality. Both Schleiermacher and Ritschl disclaimed the idea of the wrath of God 49 and thereby lost sight of the biblical vision of a holy God who judges and condemns as well as creates and saves. Paul Tillich, who leans heavily on both Schleiermacher and Hegel, as well as on the neo-Platonic tradition in Christian mysticism, posits a "God above God," that is, one that transcends the God of theism. This deity, which is described as the infinite depth and ground of all being, incorporates the personal element but is himself not a Person.50
The dialectic theology of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner represents a remarkable reversal in theological thought, since the living God of biblical revelation is again confessed against the God-concepts of philosophical theology. In some of his writings Barth admittedly verges toward a theopanism and Christomonism in which the grace of God is said to permeate everything, but he sharply distinguishes his position
from any kind of pantheism or panentheism when he maintains that God in His freedom is not bound or confined to any creaturely space or place. Barth and Brunner also clearly differentiate the ideas of divine predestination and providence from any kind of philosophical determinism. Regrettably the dialectical or neo-orthodox theology did not make a permanent impression upon the academic theological establishment and is now in partial eclipse.
Process philosophy, presently in vogue especially in America, posits a God who is bound to the world, at least in his concrete nature (as in Whitehead and Hartshorne). Teilhard de Chardin is also a major influence in this school of thought.51 A common axiom is that God is the soul of the world just as the world is the body of God. God is fulfilled or completed in the pleroma of the universe (Teilhard de Chardin). For Whitehead it is as true to say that the world creates God as that God creates the world.52 God does not call the world into being (as in the biblical view), but he saves it by presenting it with persuasive ideals. In process though both God and the world are in the grip of creativity. Hartshorne remarks: "What is not to be decided, even by God, is that progress ... there shall be."53 What we are left with is a God who, though infinite in some of his aspects, is essentially finite and at the mercy of the creature.
In opposition to process philosophy and theology I contend that the true God is essentially independent in his relationship to his children. God needs man only in relation to the realization of his plan for the world, not because there is any deficiency in himself.
Especially noticeable is the wide gulf between the God of biblical faith and the God of modern culture-religion (in both its conservative and liberal modes). The God of folk religion religion is a God of sentimental love, not holy love. He is the One who forgives no matter what we do. He is the "Man Upstairs" who is approached as an indulgent father, not as a Sovereign King. This is the God who is a means to man's own happiness, who enables man to attain self-fulfillment.
Modern evangelicalism opposes this kind of God, but it too is sometimes inclined to place a limit on the sovereignty of God. It is said that God only offers man salvation but does not effect salvation. Salvation is made dependent on man's own free will rather than divine election. In popular evangelicalism God is portrayed as powerful, but not invincible. His loving mercy is exalted but not his universal Lordship. God, it is thought, desires our worship, but little recognition is sometimes given to his kingship over all areas of life including politics and economics.
In some strands of evangelicalism, especially in fundamentalism, God's revelation is depicted as a static deposit of truth that is directly accessible to man's reason. But this subverts the idea that God is sovereign even in his revelation, that God remains hidden until he gives himself to be known. The knowledge and graced of God are not simply available to man even in the Bible, and this means that God remains the Master and man the servant even in the area of the knowledge of God.
An authentically evangelical theology will uphold the supremely personal God of biblical religion over the suprapersonal God of speculative philosophy on the one hand and the crudely personal God of culture-religion on the other. It will side with the transcendent God of the prophets over the immanent God of the mystics. It will proclaim the infinite God of the historic catholic faith over the finite God of modernistic theology. It will appeal to the concrete Absolute, as seen in Jesus Christ, over the metaphysical principle of pure abstraction. The God of the Scriptures is a supremely moral deity who demands our obedience, not an infinite abyss beyond good and evil wholly detached from the creature; nor is he the tolerant, benign deity of the folk tradition who merely desires our friendship. This God is jealous of his rights and solicitous for the welfare of his children (cf. Exodus 20:5-6; Deut. 6:14-19). He is neither an unfeeling Primal Source nor "the fellow-sufferer who understands" (Whitehead), the one who needs us just as we need him. He is not to be equated with "the personality-producing forces of the cosmos. The true God is the holy, majestic Lord who gives himself in love but who demands our faith and love in return. He creates not because the Good must necessarily be productive or creative (as in Plato and Plotinus), but because he chooses to do so in his sovereign freedom.
Against the classical philosophical tradition evangelical theology maintains that the perfections of God are not compromised in the humiliation and incarnation of Christ but instead nowhere more fully and dramatically revealed. Here in the condescension of Christ we see that omnipotence, as the Bible understands it, can be manifested in self-limitation, self-denial, and self-emptying. This indeed stands in contrast to the historical philosophical tendency to conceive of absolute power in terms of self-expansion. At the same time we must affirm that Christ, even in the form of a servant, remains King and Lord of the universe. His absolute power, however, is now decisively attested as being in the service of his omnipotent love.
1. This idea is also present in philosophic Hinduism, which depicts the Supreme Being as beyond all ethical distinctions. It should be noted that Plotinus sometimes infers that the Good is included in the One.
2. This text is sometimes seen as directed against Persian dualism, in which there is a perpetual conflict between the god of light and god of darkness. Whatever be the case, the theme that Isaiah is enunciating is not exceptional in Old Testament thought, though this must not be taken to mean that God is the direct cause of evil. In Genesis 1:3-5 darkness is the result of a work of division, not of creation. It is, in Barth's words, what God does not will, and yet it is thereby given a provisional reality by the fact that it is set apart from light. The point is that nothing, not even evil and darkness, can be removed from the dominion of God. One interpreter comments that the darkness here described is "not the mythological darkness of the primeval abyss" but is "like the sea which Yahweh has bound within its limits." John L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah (The Anchor Bible) (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968), p. 77.
3. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II, 2, ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957), p. 685.
4. The speculative idea of the potestas absoluta as found in later medieval theology is derived partly from the Stoic idea of an inexorable Fate or Destiny and partly from the neo-Platonic view that the essence of God is his power to create or produce. It also stems from a misunderstanding of the biblical idea of sovereignty as arbitrary self-assertiveness. There is, however, a genuinely biblical concept of absolute power, but in this perspective God's power is always subordinated to his love. Creation is interpreted not as an irresistible overflowing of being but as a free act of sovereign love.
For Emil Brunner's discussion of the potestas absoluta see his The Christian Doctrine of God, trans. Olive Wyon (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950), pp. 266 ff., 325.
5. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II, 1, eds. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957), p. 523.
6. Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God, p. 269.
7. See especially Charles Hartshorne, The Divine Relativity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948). The fuller position of Hartshorne is that God is both absolute and relative in that his eternal ideas are unchangeable, but his concrete being is ever changeable. He speaks of his God as "finite-infinite" to which we would oppose the "personal-infinite" God of the historic Christian faith.
8. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II, 1, p. 544.
9. Ibid., p. 587.
10. For a perceptive discussion of Aquinas' view, see Harry J. McSorley, Luther: Right or Wrong? (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969), pp. 138-182. In this respect we likewise concur with the Puritan theologian William Ames, who had a marked influence on Jonathan Edwards, that the "will of God does not imply a necessity in all future things, but only a certainty in regard to the event. Thus the event was certain that Christ's bones should not be broken .... But there was no necessity imposed upon the soldiers ..."
William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, ed. John D. Eusden (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1968), p. 99. Ames like Edwards distinguished between natural necessity and the foreordination and providence of God.
1. For a brilliant critique of the determinism of the Calvinist decretal theologians see James Daane, The Freedom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973).
12. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II, 1, p. 558.
13. Ibid., p. 370.
14. Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, trans. J.R. Foster (New York: Herder & Herder, 1970), p. 128.
15. H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Willett, Clark, 1937), p. 20 f.
16. See Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, pp. 25-30, 50-59. Otto's emphasis was on mystical awe more than the conviction of sin in the encounter with God.
17. Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1941), p. 207.
18. Raymond Bernard Blakney, ed. and trans., Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation (New York: Harper & Row, 1941), p. 124.
19. See R.C. Zaehner,, Our Savage God (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1974), p. 74 f. Also cf. Alan Watts who conceived of God as "the total energy-field of the universe, including both its positive and negative aspects, and in which every discernible part or process is a sort of microcosm or hologram." In his Behold the Spirit (New York: Vintage Books, 1971), p. xviii. Also cf. Hegel who viewed all opposites as moments or constituents in a living process of though.
20. While the New Testament can definitely be said to affirm the triunity of God though not the creedal trinitarian formula, this is only hinted at in the Old Testament. The most frequent appellation for God in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Elohim, connotes a divine plurality in unity. The noun is plural, but it is generally, though not always, used with singular verbs. See B.W. Anderson, "Names of God" in George A. Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), pp. 407-417.
21. Barth rightly recognizes that the modern concept of personality includes the attribute of self-consciousness and this, therefore, creates problems for the doctrine of the Trinity. To hold that there are three distinct centers of consciousness, three self-conscious personal beings, comes close to tritheism.
22. Orthodox theology, nonetheless, associates particular activities with each member of the Godhead: the Father is Creator, the Son reconciler, and the Spirit revealer and indweller. Yet all members participate in each of these activities. The New Testament can speak of God the Father dwelling in Christ, the Holy Spirit being given to Christ, and of God the Father dwelling in us and we in him (cf. John 1:32; 14:10-11; 1 John 2:24; 4:15).
23. Joseph Ratzinger, op. cit., p. 128.
24. Orthodox theology (in the West) asserts a relationship of dependence of the Son on the Father and of the Holy Spirit on the Father and Son, but this refers to their modes of operation, not to their essential being.
25. Against this view John Chrysostom declares: "The Son is in reality neither less than, nor inferior to, the Essence of the Father." Saint John Chrysostom: Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, trans.
Sister Thomas Aquinas Coggin (New York: Fathers of the Church Inc., 1957), p. 63.
26. It is a matter of debate among Eckhart scholars whether he remains within the orthodox scholastic tradition or whether he basically things within the framework of neo-Platonism. John D. Caputo, Thomas Molnar, and others forcefully remind us that for Eckhart the Godhead is prior to the trinitarian distinctions, and therefore he is properly a neo-Platonist in this regard. Rudolf Otto on the other hand contends that for Eckhart the Godhead is prior to the trinitarian distinctions, and therefore he is properly a neo-Platonist in this regard. (Rudolf Otto, Mysticism East and West [New York: Meridian Books, 1960]). Similarly the Eastern Orthodox scholar Vladimir Lossky holds that Eckhart affirms not a descent from pure unity into multiplicity (as in Plotinus) but a movement of plenitude which proceeds from the Father to the Son and returns to the perfect unity of deity through the Spirit. (Vladimir Lossky, Theologie negative et connaissance de Dieu chez Maitre Eckhard, Etudes de Philosophie Medievale, vol. 48 [Paris: J. Vrin, 1960], pp. 32-39).
We believe that Eckhart tries to hold together two disparate conceptions of God, the neo-Platonic and traditional Catholic, and ever again neo-Platonic motifs tend to overshadow the biblical ones in his thinking. He sometimes asserts that the Godhead is the simple unity of pure thought (not-being rather than being) and is prior even to the Father. Similar themes are found in Ruysbroeck, who speaks of a God above God who is of "simple essence without activity." This same tradition reasserts itself in Fichte and Schleiermacher in the nineteenth century and in Paul Tillich in the twentieth.
27. Cyril Richardson, The Doctrine of the Trinity (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1958), p. 113.
28. John Macquarrie, Thinking About God (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), pp. 127, 128.
29. Macquarrie tends towards panentheism in his view that God does not exist without the world and that the ontological priority of God is not incompatible with the externality of the world. See his Thinking About God, pp. 118, 151. He calls his position an "organic theism" as over against monarchial theism.
30. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II, 1, p. 653.
31. We here have in mind the necessity of love to redeem, not the metaphysical necessity of goodness to create or produce. Once God had created the human race, his own love impelled him to care for us even in our sin.
32. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II, 1, pp. 666-667.
33. Ibid., p. 670.
34. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles. II, 8, 11, p. 377.
35. Cf. Luther: "The glory of God is to be sought before all and above all and in all things, and all our life eternally is to redound to God's glory alone, not to our advantage, not even to our blessedness or any good thing, whether temporal or eternal." See D. Martin Luthers Werke (Weimarer Ausgabe, 1883 ff. ) [henceforth known as W.A.] II, 94. Quoted in Philip Watson, Let God be God (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1948), pp. 44-45.
36. This does not mean that Edwards is exclusively biblical. Like Augustine and Calvin
he gave due appreciation to the holiness and sovereignty of God, but he failed to perceive the radicality and universality of divine love, since he restricted its redemptive outreach to a select number of the elect.
37. Jonathan Edwards, "Miscellaneous Remarks" in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. II, ed. Edward HIckman (London, 1879), p. 560.
38. Meister Eckhart's Sermons, trans. Claud Field (London, 1932), p. 32.
39. Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion, trans. John Oman (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), p. 132.
40. Quoted in Thomas Molnar, God and the Knowledge of Reality (New York: Basic Books, 1973), p. 42. Cf. "Without me God cannot live nor without Him can I" in Angelus Silesius, The Book of Angelus Silesius, trans. Frederick Franck (New York: Vintage Books, 1976), p. 137.
41. Plato, Philebus, 33. In the Dialogues of Plato Trans. B. Jowett, vol 2 (N.Y.: Random House, 1937), p. 366.
42. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II 2 (Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1957), p. 166.
43. Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, trans. Philip S. Watson (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953).
44. For Abelard's position see Arthur Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953), pp. 70-73.
45. Ibid., p. 75.
46. Ibid., p. 74.
47. Ibid., p. 78 f.
48. Thomas Torrance, Theological Science (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 60.
49. Ritschl held that this idea, which implies a negation of the love of God, was already vanishing in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament it could only be maintained eschatologically as a description of God's attitude toward the unrighteous.
50. Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958), p. 186.
51. For a sympathetic introduction to Teilhard's though see Donald P. Gray, "The Phenomenon of Teilhard" in Theological Studies (March 1975) 36:1, pp. 19-51. A devastating critique of Teilhard is given by the conservative Catholic scholar Thomas Molnar in his Utopia the Perennial Heresy (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1967). For a cogent criticism of Teilhard from an evangelical perspective, see D. Gareth Jones, Teilhard de Chardin: An Analysis and Assessment (Downers Grove, Ill." InterVarsity Press, 1969). A somewhat more positive appraisal of Teilhard but still with reservations is to be found in Doran McCarty, Teilhard de Chardin (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1976).
52. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, reprinted. (New York: Macmillan, 1941), p. 528.
53. Charles Hartshorne, "Whitehead's Idea of God" in The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, ed. P. Schilpp (Chicago: Library of Living Philosophers, 1941), [pp. 515-559], p. 554.
Compare Teilhard de Chardin who referred to "a progressive 'humanization' of mankind." In Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, trans. Rene Hague (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969), p. 140.
IV. The Primacy of Scripture
Every word of God proves true .... Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness ....
2 Timothy 3:16
Who does not know that the Holy canonical Scripture is contained within definite limits and that it has precedence over all letters of subsequent bishops, so that it is altogether impossible to doubt or question the truth or adequacy of what is written in it?
It is impossible for me to recant unless I am proved to be wrong by the testimony of Scriptures. My conscience is bound to the Word of God.
The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
Westminster Confession I, 6
Its Divine Authority
Evangelical theology appeals to the authority of Scripture because it sees Scripture as the written Word of God. The precise relationship between divine revelation and the human writings which comprise the canonical Scripture has been and still is a subject of debate in both evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic circles, but there is no gainsaying the fact that Scripture is given a crucial role in the determining of doctrine because of its divine authority.
Scripture cannot be rightly understood unless we take into consideration that it has a dual authorship. It is not only a human witness to divine revelation, but it is at the same time God's witness to himself. The Bible is not partly the Word of God and partly the word of man: it is in its entirety the very Word of God and the very word of man. If we contend as do many liberals that the Bible is fundamentally a human account of a particular people's experiences of God or the product of a heightened religious consciousness, that it only leads us to divine truth, then we have an ebionitic view of Scripture.1 On the other hand if we affirm, as do many within the camp of orthodoxy and fundamentalism, that the Bible is predominantly a divine book and that the human element is only a mask or outward aspect of the divine, then we have a docetic view of Scripture. Some would even say that the Bible is an exact reproduction of the thoughts of God, but this denies its real humanity as well as its historicity.
While it is important to underscore the inseparability of the biblical text and divine revelation, one must not make the mistake of equating them. In Bavinck's view: "Scripture is ... not the revelation itself, but the description, the record, from which the revelation can be known."2 "It should ... be remembered," Barth declares, that the biblical writings as such are "not the Revelation" but instead "the witness to the Revelation, and this is expressed in human terms ...."3 Berkouwer replies to those evangelicals who object to describing Scripture as a human witness:
Calling Scripture a human witness ... does not at all mean a separation of Scripture and revelation, but rather an honoring of integral Scripture. The witness is indeed directed to that which is witnessed to. It is not a relativizing of Scripture, but the acknowledgment of its meaning, intention, and function when it witnesses of Christ and therefore as God's Word is distinguished from him.4
Yet we must go on to affirm that Scripture is more than a human witness to revelation: it is revelation itself mediated through human words. It is not in and of itself divine revelation, but when illumined by the Spirit it becomes revelation to the believer. At the same time it could not become revelation unless it already embodied revelation, unless it were included within the even of revelation. Scripture is not simply a "pointer to revelation" (as Brunner has asserted), but by the action of the Spirit it is a veritable bearer of revelation, a vehicle or "conduit of divine truth" (C. Henry).
While in his earlier writings Barth sometimes gives the impression
of calling into question the revelational status of Scripture, he becomes more consciously orthodox in his Church Dogmatics I. Continuing to maintain the distinctiveness of the scriptural witness from revelation, he is also insistent on its unity with revelation "in so far as revelation is the basis, object and content of this word."5
As the Word of God in the sign of this prophetic-apostolic word of man Holy Scripture is like the unity of God and man in Jesus Christ. It is neither divine only nor human only. Nor is it a mixture of the two nor a tertium quid between them. But in its own way and degree it is very God and very man, i.e., a witness of revelation which itself belongs to revelation, and historically a very human literary document.6
While we must resist the temptation to posit a direct identity between Scripture and revelation (since this could lead to bibliolatry), we do affirm an indirect identity in that by the work of the Holy Spirit the very human words of the prophets and apostles are conjoined with the Word spoken by God to them. God's Word is consequently not the Bible in and by itself but the correlation of Scripture and Spirit (Barth). The revelation comes to us in the veiled form of the language of Zion, but at the same time it is not known except in and through this language. It can be seen that the most appropriate symbol of the Word of God is not the Bible as a closed book but the cross of Christ shining through the pages of the open Bible.
While Barth was unable to maintain his understanding of the threefold unity of the Word of God as revealed, written, and proclaimed (because of his stress on the transcendence of the Word over the words), in his emphasis on the revealing work of the Spirit he is closer to the intention of the Reformers than is modern fundamentalism in this regard.7 The Reformers too spoke of the necessity for the unity of the Holy Spirit and the biblical word, and only this unity is the divine criterion for faith. Luther declared: "Thus Scripture is a book, to which there belongeth not only reading but also the right Expositor and Revealer, to wit, the Holy Spirit. Where He openeth not Scripture, it is not understood."8 Just as the Bible only makes sense when illuminated by the Spirit, so the Spirit only gives sense in and through the biblical witness. "Do not seek the Spirit through solitude or through prayer," Luther said, "but read Scripture. When a man feels that what he is reading is pleasing to him, let him give thanks, for these are the first fruits of the Spirit."9 In Calvin's view the truth of Scripture cannot be discerned as the Word of God apart from "the sealing of the Spirit" which imparts to the conscience of believers "such certainty as
to remove all doubts."10 As he saw it, the work of the Spirit is not to supplement or supersede the heavenly doctrine in Scripture but to authenticate it and to bring it home to our hearts.
The mainstream of historic evangelicalism has also perceived the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit in bringing us the veritable Word of God, though a rationalistic strand in modern evangelicalism has obscured this truth. Jonathan Edwards' position is described as follows: "God's Word is really God's Word when it is accompanied by the Spirit dwelling in the human heart; when unaccompanied by the Spirit it is simply another natural, human word."11 Packer rightly observes that "the Holy Spirit is ... the one who, in a mystery for which the Incarnation provides the only analogy, caused the verbal witness of man to God and of God to himself to coincide."12 Carl Henry, seeking to do justice to the written word, underlines the unity of Spirit and Scripture: "The rule of the Spirit does not remove man from the will of God objectively revealed in the Bible, and emancipate him to moral self-sufficiency. The Spirit rules in and through the written word, which he has inspired."13
It should be recognized that God's Word is not only revealed in the Scripture by the Spirit but also concealed by human finitude and sin. With the Reformers and the neo-Reformation theology of Barth and Brunner, and against the Christian rationalism of the Enlightenment and its modern representatives including Pannenberg and Langdon Gilkey, we hold that the revelation in Scripture is not open to general reasonableness but is disclosed only to the ears and eyes of faith. It is as if light shone through biblical characters on a stained glass window in a cathedral. The light is objectively shining but because of our blinded eyes we cannot make out the images on the window. It is only when the Spirit opens our eyes from within that we can perceive the message on the window and receive it into our hearts. The truth of revelation is objectively given in biblical history, but revelation also encompasses the interior work of the Holy Spirit by which this truth is gratefully acknowledged and received (cf. Eph. 1:17-18; Galatians 1:12).14
We affirm that Scripture is not only a human witness and medium of divine revelation but also a divinely inspired witness and medium. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read: "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness ... " (cf. 1 Cor. 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21). With Warfield we hold this toi mean that all Scripture is breathed out by God, is a product of the creative activity of the Spirit of God. It must not be taken to mean (as in Protestant liberalism) that the writers were simply assisted and illumined by the Spirit: they were so guided by the Spirit that what was
actually written had the very sanction of God himself.
While revelation refers to the action by which God discloses himself and the truth of his Gospel to his church, inspiration refers to the divine election and guidance for the biblical prophets for the express purpose of ensuring the trustworthiness and efficacy of their witness through the ages (cf. Isaiah 30:8; Hab. 2:2). God's Spirit was operative upon both the writers and their writings, and he continues to be present in their testimony throughout the history of the church, preserving it from corruption. By the gift of inspiration the biblical writings are made the repository of divine truth as well as the unique channel of divine revelation.
Inspiration, which pertains basically to the verbal witness of the prophets and apostles and which is completed, is to be distinguished form illumination, which denotes the ongoing action of the Spirit in awakening men and women in every age to the truth of what is given in Scripture. In our view inspiration is both conceptual and verbal, since it signifies that the Spirit was active both in shaping the thoughts and imagination of the biblical writers and also in guiding them in their actual writing. We read that the Spirit of the Lord came upon the prophet and his words (Isaiah 59:21; cf. Exodus 31:18; II Samuel 23:2; Proverbs 30:5-6; Isaiah 49:2; Jer. 1:9; 1 Corinthians 2:13). Verbal inspiration must not be confused with perfect accuracy or mechanical dictation. Warfield explains inspiration as the concursus of divine and human activity.15 The divine activity does not supersede the human but works confluently with the human so that the Scriptures are the joint product of both God and man. The writers are not to be thought of as simply the pens of the Holy Spirit (as a number of seventeenth century divines taught) but as partners with the Spirit so that the end product can be attributed to coauthorship.
We also affirm the plenary inspiration of Scripture, meaning that Scripture in its totality is inspired. The words of both prophets and apostles are deemed authoritative (2 Peter 3:2), and the New Testament letters are called Scripture along with the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:15-16; 1 Timothy 5:18). This does not mean, however, that all Scripture has equal value. We oppose the so-called "flat view" of Scripture which does not consider levels of revelation and the fulfillment of revelation in Jesus Christ. All of Scripture is binding upon the church, all of Scripture is a product of the Holy Spirit, but not all Scripture attests equally to the incarnation and atoning work of Jesus Christ, to the Gospel of reconciliation and redemption, which is the formal norm of Scripture.16 Luther relegated some books in the Bible to the level of Law,
whereas other books give a forthright and potent testimony to the message of salvation, the center and apex of Scripture.
In contradistinction to both Barth and Forsyth, we hold that the doctrine of inspiration is preeminently concerned with the written product and not just with the writers and readers of Scripture. Yet we share with these men a dynamic view of both revelation and inspiration. The will and purpose of God have been fully and adequately revealed in Jesus Christ for all time and, therefore, revelation in this sense is final and complete, inspiration too is something that is finished.17 In another sense, however, revelation continues in that people in every age must be awakened to the significance of the Christ-event for their lives. But continuing revelation does not signify a new revelation, simply the clarification and illumination of what has already been disclosed definitively and conclusively in the sacred Scripture.
Against a certain Marcionite tendency in modern liberalism and existentialist theology, we affirm that the revelation of Jesus Christ is present in the Old Testament as well as the New. The Old Testament was not simply a preparation for the New Testament, but the Gospel was already anticipated in the Old Testament though not in final or definitive form. This is why Calvin could preach a series of sermons on the Gospel according to Isaiah. Jesus Christ, in his preexistent state, was present to the patriarchs and prophets of Old Testament history, though his full identity was hidden from them. They looked forward to the fulfillment of time (kairos) when Jesus Christ would be incarnate in human form, but they were nevertheless in continuity with Christ. In this sense it can be said that the church had its beginnings in the ancient history of the Hebrews.
The divine authority of Scripture was seriously undermined by the rise of higher criticism, and while not discounting the solid gains that were made, we must not ignore the damage that was also caused by many of the critics who were heavily influence by an evolutionary philosophy of history.18 When the Old Testament is seen as the climax of a continuing cultural and religious development, or when revelation is believed to be contingent on the level of man's spiritual maturity, then the very meaning of revelation as supernatural intervention into earthly history is subverted. Historical criticism has enable us to recapture the humanity of Scripture, but we must not lose sight of its divinity if we are to recover the Bible as an authoritative guide for the church of today.
A conflict that had already emerged in biblical times concerns the relation between the written Scriptures and the rabbinical and ecclesiastical traditions. Jesus himself made the Scriptures the ruling norm.19 The Pharisees on the other hand added their traditions to the Scriptures while the Sadducees subtracted the supernatural from Scripture. Jesus accused the Pharisees of making the Word of God word (Mark 7:13; Matthew 15:6) and reprimanded the Sadducees for being ignorant of it (Mark 12:18-27).
For the most part both the patristic fathers and the medieval theologians before the fourteenth century taught that the Bible is the unique and sole source of revelation.20 To be sure, it was generally assumed that the Scriptures need to be supplemented and interpreted by the church tradition. In the Eastern church it was believed that the Philokalia, an anthology of patristic texts on prayer, clarifies and illumines what the Bible holds in secret and which cannot be easily grasped by our limited understanding. Yet the traditions of men cannot add anything new to what is already contained in the Scriptures, either explicitly or implicitly. The priority of Scripture over tradition was clearly enunciated by Thomas Aquinas: "Arguments from Scripture are used properly and carry necessity in matters of faith; arguments from other doctors of the Church are proper, but carry only probability; for our faith is based on the revelation given to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books of the Scriptures and not on revelation that could have been made to other doctors."21
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with the rise of nominalism and the flowering of mysticism, an appeal was made not only to Scripture but also to mystical experience and the church tradition. Roman Catholic theologians came to speak of a parallel source of truth the oral tradition which continues in the history of the church. According to Gabriel Biel, Scripture and tradition should be held in equal esteem. Heiko Oberman contends that this was also the view of the Council of Trent, though some contemporary Catholic theologians are of the mind that Trent made no decision on this matter.22 In late medieval theology it was also assumed that the church authenticates Scripture and therefore has a certain primacy over Scripture. In the words of Duns Scotus: "The books of the holy canon are not to be believed except insofar as one must first believe the church which approves and authorizes those books and their content."23
Many Catholic scholars today (including Karl Rahner, Hans Kung,
Yves Congar, and George Tavard) speak of only one source of revelation, sacred Scripture. While contending, however, that all the truth of salvation is contained in Scripture, they affirm that the teaching office of the church gives the authoritative interpretation of Scripture. Yet although the church tradition interprets the truth of revelation, it does not create this truth. Congar goes so far as to declare, "Scripture has an absolute sovereignty."24
Against the prevailing view in their time that church tradition is on a par with Scripture, the Reformers resolutely maintained that there is only one source of revelation, Holy Scripture. Scripture, moreover, contains not only the revealed, divine truth but the whole revealed truth. For the Reformers the church is under the Word and simply attests and proclaims it but does not authorize it. "The church of God," said Luther, "has no power to establish any article of faith, and it neither has established nor ever will establish one."25 Augustine had declared: "I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church."26 Calvin explains that when this remark is seen in its proper context it is clearly understood that Augustine was not maintaining that Scripture is authenticated by the church but only that Scripture has its most potent appeal when reverence is given to the church as well.27 Luther also seeks to interpret Augustine's statement in an evangelical sense, but in the "papist" sense, he says, it is false and un-Christian. Everyone must believe only because it is the word of God, and because he is convinced in his heart that it is true."28
Luther gave poignant expression to the newly emerging consensus of the Reformation when he referred to the Word as the judge and creator of the church. At one place he pointed to Scripture as the light and the church tradition as the lantern. He spoke approvingly of Bernard of Clairvaux who said that he would rather drink from the spring itself (the Scriptures) than from the brook (the fathers of the church). For Luther and other Reformers, as well as for Bernard, the brook is helpful mainly in leading us back to the spring.
The Reformers intended not to denigrate the church, but to make clear that the church must be a servant of the Word, not its master. They were even willing to affirm that the true church, the church which subordinates itself to the Word, is infallible, though this infallibility is derivative and relative. Zwingli declared that the true church "depends and rests only upon the word and will of God ... That Church cannot err ... That is the right Church, the spotless bride of Jesus Christ governed and refreshed by the Spirit of God."29 And as Luther put it: "The church cannot err for the Word of God which it teaches cannot err."30
Against their Catholic opponents the Reformers contended that Scripture authenticates itself and interprets itself. It gains its credence neither from the church nor from reason but from the One to whom it testifies and who is himself its living center, Jesus Christ.31 By the power of his Spirit it is able to impress upon the minds of its readers and hearers the trustworthiness of its doctrine and the urgency of its message (cf. Luke 24:32; 2 Timothy 3:15-16). It is not Scripture in and of itself but Scripture ruled and imbued by the Spirit of God that convicts people of their sins and convinces them of the truth.
The Reformers also staunchly affirmed the perspicuity of Scripture, its inherent clarity. They meant by this that its basic message is clear even to the unsophisticated layman, and therefore every person can go to the Bible directly to search and find the truth. The doctrinal mysteries need to be expounded by theologians so that one can perceive them rightly, but everything necessary for salvation is plainly attested in the Scriptures. The language in certain parts of Scripture will also prove difficult to the layman, but God's truth shines through even obscure terminology. Luther maintained that the clearness of Scripture is twofold: the one kind is external, referring to the objective testimony in Scripture and the other internal, referring to the illumination of the Spirit.
If you speak of the internal clearness, no man understands a single iota in the Scriptures by the natural powers of his own mind, unless he have the Spirit of God; all have obscure hearts. The Holy Spirit is required for the understanding of the whole of Scripture and of all its parts. If you allude to the external clearness, there is nothing left obscured and ambiguous, but all things brought to light by the Word are perfectly clear.32
In neo-Protestantism the consciousness of the ecclesial community again came to take precedence over the Scriptures. For Schleiermacher the Holy Scripture as the witness to Christ is subject to the judgment of "the corporate spirit." It is the result of faith, not the basis of faith. Culture came to be seen as a source or norm of theology in addition to Scripture.
Modern neo-Catholicism reflects a similar orientation. Karl Rahner, for example, refers to the church's "awareness of faith" as "a theological supreme court."33 Avery Dulles holds that the living magisterium is endowed with authority from Christ to interpret rightly the Word for the community.34 In some neo-Catholic circles reference is made to the infallibility of the people of God, which takes precedence over the infallibility of the Word.
Against both Roman Catholicism and neo-Protestantism the dialectical
theology vigorously asserted the primacy of Scripture over the church as well as over religious experience. Karl Barth declared : "Scripture is in the hands but not in the power of the Church."35 It was his conviction that
the Church is most faithful to its tradition, and realises its unity with the Church of every age, when, linked but not tied by its past, it today searches the Scriptures and orientates its life by them as though this had to happen today for the first time. And, on the other hand, it sickens and dies when it is enslaved by its past instead of being disciplined by the new beginning which it must always make in the Scriptures.36
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who shared with Barth a dynamic view of revelation, also subordinated the church to the criterion of the divine Word in Scripture:
The Word of God seeks a Church to take unto itself. It has its being in the Church. It enters the Church by its own self-initiated movement. It is wrong to suppose that there is so to speak a Word on the one hand and a Church on the other, and that it is the task of the preacher to take that Word into his hands and move it so as to bring it into the Church and apply it to the Church's needs. On the contrary, the Word moves of its own accord, and all the preacher has to do is to assist that movement and try to put no obstacles in its path.37
In identifying ourselves with the theology of crisis over neo-Protestantism and Roman Catholicism we do not mean to deprecate the role of the church or deny the movement of the Holy Spirit in the church. Yet while Scripture is inspired by the Spirit, the church is assisted by the Spirit (Max Thurian). The role of the Spirit is to awaken the church to the truth contained in the Scriptures and then to empower the church to proclaim this truth. With the Reformers and the dialectical theologians, we contend that Scripture when illumined by the Spirit authenticates itself. The church simply recognizes the truth that Scripture upholds and then applies this truth to the world.
Our position is that the Spirit both indwells the church and judges the church by the world. The Word functions normatively over the church as the Sword of the Spirit. With Berkouwer we have definite reservations concerning the contention of Roman CAtholic scholars that the Spirit is the church's immanent life principle, since this seems to deny the transcending, judging role of the Spirit. An American Benedictine Kilian McDonnell reflects Reformation motifs when he declares: The Word always calls the church and constitutes it. And having constituted it, warns, judges, purifies, strengthens, nourishes, edifies it."38
Evangelical theology holds that Scripture has primacy not only over the church but also over religious experience. The Word, said Luther, must be believed "against all sight and feeling and understanding." The Word must indeed be experienced, but this is the experience of faith itself, which transcends the reach of man's perception as well as the power of man's conception. Moreover, the experience of faith is forever critical of itself as an experience and always points beyond itself to the Word. Luther averred that our theology is certain because "it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works ..."39
This brings us to the perennial misconception that Reformation theology elevates the individual conscience as the ultimate authority. In the words of Forsyth: "The Reformation ... stood not for the supremacy of conscience, but for the rescue of the conscience by the supremacy of Christ in it."40 Luther averred that his conscience was bound to the Word of God, and this is why he could not go against conscience. In evangelical theology the authority for faith is nothing in us but something within history (Forsyth). It is the voice of the living God speaking to us in the sacred history mirrored in the Scriptures. This voice to be sure also speaks to us in our conscience, but its basis and origin are beyond man's conscience and imagination. Conscience, like experience, can be a trustworthy guide only when it is anchored in the divine revelation given in Holy Scripture.
In addition we affirm the primacy of Scripture over dreams, signs, and wonders. Also to be included in this connection are proofs and evidences of the faith. In the book of Deuteronomy we read that a prophet or dreamer of dreams who gives a sign that comes to pass must not be listened to if what he says contradicts the word of God (13:1-5). Forsyth gives a timely warning on seeking after proofs and empirical evidences for faith:
They are tests of nature and not of faith, tests of feeling rather than insight, tests of empirical experience instead of soul experience, of success rather than of devotion. We withhold full committal till we have tested things in life. We make no inspired venture of faith, but we put Christ on His mettle to see if He is effective in thought or practice. We turn pragmatists and trust Christ because He works; which may come suspiciously near to trusting Him because it spiritually pays and enhances our spiritual egoism.41
Signs and wonders have a place in the life of faith, but they are to be seen not as the basis for faith but as illuminations of the truth of
faith for those who already believe (cf. Romans 15:19; II Cor. 12:11-13; Heb. 2:4). We are not to seek after signs or put God to the test, but we should be open to the signs which he is already working for his people. The most authentic signs are those that form part of the message of faith itself, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. In this light we can understand these words of our Lord: "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah" (Luke 11:29).
Likewise we must resist any claim to a new revelation, one that completes or even supersedes Scripture and does not merely illumine or clarify Scripture. Various cults and sects have arisen in the modern age which in effect deny Scripture as the original and fundamental vehicle of divine revelation, the sole and unique source of saving truth. We can here mention Mormonism, Christian Science, Anglo-Israelism, the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, the Church of the Living Word, Bahaism, and to a lesser degree Seventh Day Adventism and the Community of True Inspiration.42 Against these new religions we affirm with Luther: "No one is bound to believe more than what is based on Scripture."43 We also concur with Watchman Nee's timely word of wisdom: "All the revelation today is but the light regained from the word of the past."44
Again, we must assert the primacy of Scripture over culture. Too often in the past theologians have drawn upon the creative thought of their culture. Too often in the past theologians have drawn upon the creative thought of their culture as well as the Bible in constructing their theology. Although Albrecht Ritschl believed that theology should derive its content from the New Testament and from no other source, he in fact unwittingly accepted the guiding principles of the then current philosophy (Kantianism) including the conflict of man with nature and the need to gain mastery over nature. Schleiermacher, in his Speeches on Religion, upheld not the biblical Christ, the divine Savior from sin, but a cultural Christ, the principle of mediation between infinite and finite. Karl Barth on the contrary was strident in his criticisms of what he termed culture-Protestantism and contended that the basic content of our faith must be derived from Scripture alone (sola Scriptura). For him culture is not a norm or source for theology but the field in which theology functions and addresses itself.
In concluding this section on Scriptural primacy, we must bear in mind that the ultimate, final authority is not Scripture but the living God himself as we find him in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ and the message about him constitute the material norm for our faith just as the Bible is the formal norm. The Bible is authoritative because it points beyond
itself to the absolute authority, the living and transcendent Word of God. Against both fundamentalism and the old Catholicism we do not conceive of the authority of Christian faith in heteronomous terms. Our authority is not an external standard that impresses itself upon the soul, but a Word from God that enters into the depths of the soul and creates its own response. As Forsyth put it:
The authority in theology is not external to the matter it works in. It is spiritual. It is inherent in the fontal fact, and connate to the soul. It belongs to the revelation as such, and not to any voucher which the revelation created, like a book or a church. It is an authority objective to us in its source, but subjective in its nature and appeal.45
We must go on to affirm, however, that the absolute authority of faith, the living Christ himself, has so bound himself to the historical attestation concerning his self-revelation, namely, the sacred Scripture, that the latter necessarily participates in the authority of its Lord. The Bible must be distinguished from its ground and goal, but it cannot be separated from them. This is why Forsyth could also say: "The Bible is not merely a record of the revelation; it is part of the revelation. It is not a quarry for the historian, but a fountain for the soul."46
Jesus Christ is the one who speaks, the message of the Bible is the word that he speaks within history, and the church is the mouth through which he speaks. Just as the church is subordinated to the Bible, so the Bible in turn is subordinated to Jesus Christ, who embodies the mind and counsel of God. To put it another way, the church is the phonograph by which we hear the voice of Christ on the record, the Scriptures.47 To carry the illustration farther, it is the Holy Spirit who sets the phonograph in motion. The authority of the Bible is operative within the context of the church by the action of the Spirit. Where these analogies fall down is that Christ is free to speak his Word in a slightly different way for every age and culture, though he remains faithful to the Word that he uttered once for all in the history of the biblical revelation.
Forsyth points to this higher criterion within the Bible, the canon within the canon, when he says: "The gospel of God's historic act of grace is the infallible power and authority over both church and Bible. It produced them both. They both exist for its sake, and must be construed in its service."48 The ruling criterion of the Gospel, however, must not be construed as referring only to particular sections of Scripture, but it is either implicit in the whole of Scripture.
The authority and infallibility of the Bible as well as of the church are derivative, having their basis in Christ and his Gospel. We must listen to the dictates of the Bible and also to the counsel of the universal church because they have their ultimate sanction in God himself. When these authorities seem to disagree, this means that we have not really made contact with the real Word of Scripture or the true head of the church, who are one and the same. We must subject the discordant voices that we hear to Christ's self-witness within the Scriptures thereby bringing a transcendent norm to bear upon the point of contention. Yet this transcendent norm is not within our possession: to hear the voice of the living Christ is a miracle of grace which we can hope and pray for but cannot take for granted.49
Infallibility and Inerrancy
Evangelical theology affirms both the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, but these terms must be qualified in the light not so much of modern historical research but of Scripture's own judgment concerning itself. The biblical authors did not claim to possess a synoptic or absolute perspective concerning the truth that they attested and proclaimed. The Psalmist declared: "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it" (Psalm 139:6). And again: "Teach me, Lord, the meaning of your laws" (Psalm 119:33). Job testified: "Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know" (Job 42:3; cf. Daniel 12:8). Peter describes the prophets as seeking and striving to understand what the Spirit of the Messiah was teaching them (1 Peter 1:10-11). Some prophecies, moreover, undergo revision in the Scriptures. Jesus, for example, assures us that John the Baptist is the object of the prophecy of Malachi (in Mal. 4:5) even though he referred explicitly to Elijah (Matthew 11:10).50 Paul is careful not to equate his own opinions on marriage with the mind of God, though he claims to have the Spirit of Christ (1 Cor. 7:12, 25, 40).
We must also bear in mind that the prophets and apostles were men of their times though the message that they attested transcended their age and every age. The enlightened biblical Christian will not shrink from asserting that there are culturally conditioned ideas as well as historically conditioned language in the Bible. Both Luther and Calvin recognized that in the hermeneutical task a distinction must always be made between the inward content and the outward form of the Bible.
Calvin, in his attempt to reconcile historical and cultural elements in the Bible with its divine inspiration, referred to the accommodation of the Holy Spirit. As he saw it the Holy Spirit accommodated himself to the thought-forms and language of the people of that age in order to impress upon them the heavenly doctrine which speaks to every age. Calvin was here anticipated by Origen and Augustine, who also acknowledged the condescension of the Spirit to our human ways of communicating and understanding. The Puritan William Gouge perceived the possibility of error if we concern ourselves only with the words as such and not with the Word: "This Word is properly and truly the right sense and meaning of the Scriptures; for except that be found out, in many words there may seem to be matter of falsehood."51
The Lausanne Covenant gives this potent witness: "We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice."52 We can heartily assent to this statement but with the proviso that the infallible truth of Scripture is not something self-evident. The doctrine or message of Scripture, which alone is infallible and inerrant, is hidden in the historical and cultural witness of the biblical writers. They did not err in what they proclaimed, but this does not mean that they were faultless in their recording of historical data or in their world view, which is now outdated. The Scriptures are entirely trustworthy in what they purport to give us, but this trustworthiness is a property not simply of the letter of the Bible but of the Spirit, the primary author of the Scripture. Apart from the work of the Spirit, the inherent, transcendent truth of the Scripture cannot be perceived. This is why our ultimate criterion is not the Scripture in and of itself but the Word and the Spirit, the Scripture illumined by the Spirit.
The Reformers were very emphatic that Scripture does not err, but we must ask in what sense. Luther declared: "But everyone, indeed, knows that at times they [the fathers] have erred, as men will;l therefore, I am ready to trust them only when they give me evidence for their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred."53 At the same time he can make a statement like this: "When one often reads [in the Bible] that great numbers of people were slain for example, eighty thousand I believe that hardly one thousand were actually killed. What is meant is the whole people."54 He said of the book of Job that though he tended to regard it as real history, he did not believe that everything happened just as reported and that some ingenious, pious
and learned man added to the story characters and circumstances.55 As is well-known, he was exceedingly critical of the emphasis on works in the Epistle of James, though he was not willing to bar this book from the canon.56 The various authors of both Testaments, he said, built not solely with "gold, silver, and precious stones" but also with "wood, hay, and stubble."57 Moreover, he freely acknowledged that there was failure as well as success in prophetic prediction. There is little doubt that Luther's ultimate authority was the Word enlightened by the Spirit and not simply the graphe or writing of Scripture: "I care not if thou bring a thousand places of the Scripture for the righteousness of works against the righteousness of faith, and cry out never so much that the Scripture is against me. I have the Author and Lord of the Scripture with me, and on whose side I will rather stand than believe thee."58 He steadfastly declared: "When our opponents interpret the scriptures against Christ, we are prepared to hold fast to Christ against scripture."59
Calvin, too, upheld biblical infallibility and inerrancy without falling into the delusion that this means that everything that the Bible says must be taken at face value. He felt remarkably free to exercise critical judgment when dealing with textual problems. He tells us, for example, that Jeremiah's name somehow crept into Matthew 27:9 "by mistake," and no reference is made to the autographs as a way out of this difficulty. Again, he was prone to doubt the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter despite its claim to be written by the apostle Peter; at the same time he firmly held to the inspiration and canonicity of this epistle. While referring to the Bible as "the certain and unerring rule," he clearly meant by this the rule for faith. He contended that the biblical writers when referring to matters of science might well be speaking "in mere accommodation to mistaken, though generally received opinion."60 He warned that we must not expect to learn natural science (specifically astronomy) from Genesis 1, which is composed in popular phenomenal language. Calvin was committed to a high view of the Scriptures, even regarding them as the oracles of God, but this did not prevent him from examining the text critically.
Many latter day evangelical Christians have felt the need to extend the meaning of inerrancy to cover purely historical and scientific matters, even where the treatment of these in the Bible does not bear upon the message of faith.61 It is no longer sufficient to declare that Scripture is the infallible standard for faith and practice: it is now regarded as totally inerrant.62 A view of error is entertained that demands literal, exact, mathematical precision, something the Bible cannot provide.
The extrabiblical criterion of scientific exactitude is imposed on the Scriptures, and certainty is thereby made to rest on objective, external evidence rather than on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit (as with the Reformers). Such persons mistakenly believe that this approach insures the canons of orthodoxy whereas in reality it is a suicidal position that rests the case for Christianity on the shifting sands of scientific and historical research. The discovery of one discrepancy in Scripture can then discredit the entire Christian witness. The defenders of total or absolute inerrancy are quick to assert that they uphold only the inerrancy of the autographs, which are nonexistent, thus allowing for the possibility of copying errors in Scripture.
This position has been increasingly questioned in recent years in the light of the advances in textual and historical criticism as well as the new understanding of revelation.63 In addition, the rise of pseudo-Christian cults that champion biblical inerrancy has been a source of embarrassment to those who content that this doctrine is the foundation stone and practical guarantee of orthodoxy.64 Because of the ambiguity related to the word "inerrancy," Clark Pinnock has proposed that "we ought to suspend it from the list of preferred terminology for stating the evangelical doctrine of Scripture, and let it appear only in the midst of the working out of details."65
We are not willing to abandon the doctrine of inerrancy, but we must take the Scripture's own understanding of this concept instead of imposing on Scripture a view of inerrancy drawn from modern empirical philosophy and science. Berkouwer perceptively reminds us that inerrancy in the biblical sense means unswerving fidelity to the truth, a trustworthy and enduring witness to the truth of divine revelation.66 It connotes not impeccability, but indeceivability, which means being free from lying and fraud. He warns us that we must not identify the precision of journalistic reporting with the trustworthiness of the Gospel records. The man of faith must not be surprised by what Abraham Kuyper has termed "innocent inaccuracies" in Scripture.67 The Scriptures do not lie in their witness to the heavenly truth which God revealed to the prophets and apostles, not only the truth of salvation but also the truth of creation; yet this does not mean that everything reported in the Scriptures is factually accurate in the modern historical sense.68 Nor does such a judgment detract in the slightest from the full inspiration of the Scriptures. As we have seen, it is possible and necessary to affirm that the Spirit accommodated the truth of the Gospel to the mind-set and language of the writers. They were both children of their times and prophets to their times, since they were
witnesses and bearers of a transcendent truth. As Paul averred, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Cor. 4:7).
We should also bear in mind that not only the historical and cultural perspective of the biblical writers was limited but also their theological and ethical ideas. It is only when their testimony is related to and refined by the self-revelation of Jesus Christ that it has the force of infallible authority. The Law of God is both fulfilled in and transcended by the Gospel, and this means that it is properly understood only in the light of the Gospel. Any text when taken out of its proper context and when divorced from the culminating revelation in the Bible because susceptible to error. In the light of its inspired meaning, however the meaning which the Spirit gives it in its relationship to the incarnation and self-revelation of Jesus Christ it is inerrant and infallible.
Both sides in the fundamentalism-modernist controversy were mistaken. The fundamentalists rigorously maintained that Scripture contains no discrepancy or flaw as modern science would understand this. The modernists, on the other hand, appealed to eternal religious and moral insights that are contained in Scripture but that are available to people of every age and culture. The truthfulness and reliability of Scripture can only be properly measured in the light of its own criterion, the Gospel of the cross, embodied in Jesus Christ, and attested to in both the Old and New Testaments.
We are not persuaded that th idea of infallibility or inerrancy should be replaced by indefectibility, as Hans Kung urges.69 Indefectibility means abiding or remaining in the truth despite errors even in doctrinal matters. This seems to call into question the absolute normativeness of Scripture in the church's understanding of the truth of revelation. With the Reformation we wish to maintain that the heavenly doctrine of Scripture is infallible but that this doctrine can only be discerned by the eyes of faith. In the last analysis it is the consensus of faith and not historical science that can and must decide on the inerrancy and credibility of Scripture. We cannot affirm with some of our evangelical brethren that an unbiased investigation will disclose that the Bible does not err. Only an investigation made by faith and to faith will disclose that the Scriptures are indeed the infallible and inerrant Word of God. While faith alone can grasp the significance of Scripture, this very faith is dependent on Scripture for its reality and sustenance.
The Bible contains a fallible element in the sense that it reflects the
cultural limitations of the writers. But it is not mistaken in what it purports to teach, namely, God's will and purpose for the world.70 There are no errors or contradictions in its substance and heart. It bears the imprint of human frailty, but it also carries the truth and power of divine infallibility. It is entirely trustworthy in every area in which it claims to be trustworthy. We vigorously dissent from the position of Rosemary Ruether that Scripture is basically "an unreliable witness."71 Nor can we go along with Hanson who seeks to substitute the uniqueness and sufficiency of Scripture for its inspiration and infallibility.72 The Scriptures are infallible because their primary author is God himself, and their primary content is Jesus Christ and his salvation (cf. John 5:46-47; 2 Timothy 3:15). Yet we have the infallible, perfect Word of the living God enclosed and veiled in the time-bound, imperfect words of sinful men. As Abraham Kuyper averred: "The 'shadows' remain humanly imperfect, far beneath their ideal content. The 'spoken words,' however much aglow with the Holy Ghost, remain bound to the limitations of our language, disturbed as it is by anomalies."73 The divine content, of course, cannot be separated from its human form and is available to us only in its human form. It is only when people of faith are given spiritual discernment that they can perceive the priceless treasure of God's holy Word in the earthen vessel of the human word.
This must not be taken to mean (as in liberal theology) that the Scriptures are a mixture of truth and error and that it is human reason that therefore decides what can be believed. Because of the superintendence of the Holy Spirit we have in the Bible an accurate portrayal of the will and purpose of God. Yet we reverently acknowledge that the biblical writings are not uniform in their witness to Christ and that the kernal of the Gospel is always to a certain degree hidden in the husk of culturally conditioned concepts and imagery.74 Only reflection done in faith can grasp what is of abiding significance and what is marginal and peripheral.
It is inadmissible to treat the Bible as though it were a source book of revealed truths that can be drawn out of Scripture by deductive or inductive logic. The truth of the Bible can only be known as the Spirit makes it known in the event of revelation, yet even here there is no direct perception of truth but only a submission and reception which are adequate for salvation but not for comprehension. The truth in the Bible is enveloped in mystery and therefore can only be dimly perceived (1 Cor. 13:9, 12). Indeed mystery and revelation often seem to go together (cf. Mark 13:11; 1 Cor. 2:7; Romans 16:25). This does not mean
that the Word of God is basically unknowable but that it cannot be known exhaustively and that it remains mysterious even to faithful reason (Romans 11:33). Mystery does not connote obfuscation but an illumination that eludes rational assimilation. "Though transcending logic in the sense of going beyond it," Macquarrie observes, "mystery is neither absurd nor opaque. It has its own translucency."75 God is truly revealed even as he comes to us in a form that signifies his veiling (Barth). With Pascal we can say that there is in the self-revelation of God as we find it in Scripture "sufficient clearness to enlighten the elect, and sufficient obscurity to humble them."76
While it is important to recognize the element of mystery in revelation, we must stay clear of the opposite error of denying the element of rationality. This is the temptation in mysticism and existentialism. What is revealed is not simply a spiritual presence but a rational message. Revelation is both a dandum (event) and a datum (objectively given truth), and the two cannot be separated. Yet this truth, because it can only be apprehended in part and because it disrupts and challenges the natural inclination of reason, can never be assimilated into a rational or logical system. The central tenet of Christianity God becoming man in Jesus Christ will always remain (at least in this life) a paradox to human reason and indeed can only be grasped by the inwardness of faith (Kierkegaard). At the same time faith also seeks understanding, as Augustine and Anselm forcefully remind us; and there can be at least a certain measure of understanding because the object of faith is not a mystical void for infinite abyss wholly beyond the rational, but the historical embodiment of true rationality, the very wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24).77
The Hermeneutical Task
This brings us to the hermeneutical task, the problem of interpretation. If the infallibility of the Bible were self-evident, if the divine truth of Scripture were directly accessible, then the hermeneutical task would be quite easy, but for better or worse it is much more complicated.
We must first recognize that the Bible is not principally a source book of data on Israel's history (as Wellhausen alleges) but a witness to divine revelation, a witness that points beyond itself to a supernatural reality. This means that in order for us to come to a true understanding of the basic content of the Bible, our inward eyes must be opened
to the divine message to which the texts attest. But this is no longer a matter of historical analysis and research but of spiritual discernment. The divine truth of the Bible can only be known by a miracle of divine grace.
Nonetheless, the believer who truly seeks for the spiritual meaning of the biblical texts can prepare himself for the divine-human encounter which comes to one through wrestling with the text. He can amass historical knowledge through a scientific examination of the text, knowledge which can help him to appreciate the context in which the revelation was given, though the encounter with this revelation is not necessarily contingent on such knowledge.
We see the hermeneutical task in a series of stages. First, one must come to the Bible with an open heart and a searching mind. This presupposes that the seeker is a believer, one who has already been grasped by the spiritual reality to which the Bible attests. We agree with Barth that one must approach sacred Scripture without any overt presuppositions or at least with a critical attitude towards one's presuppositions. We affirm this against Tillich who has declared that one must "read the Bible with eyes opened by existentialist analysis."78 We also oppose Bultmann who contends that one must come to the Bible with a preunderstanding concerning the meaning of human existence. Going on to the second stage one must now examine the text critically, and this means using the tools of literary and historical criticism. He must seek to ascertain what the writer actually intended. He must try to discern the cultural matrix in which the text was written (Sitz im Leben).
Yet one must not be content with historical-grammatical exegesis, but must proceed to theological exegesis, which means seeing the text in the light of its theological context, relating the text to the central message of Holy Scripture. He must now subject his own preconceptions to the scrutiny of Scripture itself. He must listen to the voice of the living Christ within Scripture. Historical criticism must give way to spiritual discernment, which must ultimately be given to the critic by the divine author of Scripture (cf. Luke 24:45). The text is no longer the interpreted object but now the dynamic interpreter (Bengel).
Finally, the interpreter must relate the text, now understood in the light of Scripture itself, to the cultural situation of his time. He must translate the theological meaning of the text into the language and thought forms of modern man so that his hearers are presented with a coherent and intelligible message.
Yet though the theological exegete can make the message of faith
intelligible, only the Holy Spirit can make it credible and knowable. The illumination of the Spirit is necessary not only for the interpreter but also for the hearer if a real translation of meaning is to take place.
Historical criticism is not to be disregarded, but it has a secondary or ancillary role. It can enable us to understand the cultural and historical background of the text, but it cannot uncover the spiritual significance of the text, the meaning that was in the mind of the Holy Spirit and that was at least in part grasped by the biblical authors. Karl Barth has these pertinent words on this subject:
Historical criticism has led to a better understanding of the Scriptures than was possible in the past, for those situations which show the historical and secular aspects of the Bible have also something to teach us .... However, in course of time, historical criticism has assumed exaggerated importance, so that there is a tendency to identify the real meaning of Scripture with its historical significance.79
There has been much resistance to historical criticism in conservative evangelical circles. According to E.J. Young: "A man may practice the principles of criticism or he may be a believer in evangelical Christianity. One thing, however, is clear: if he is consistent, he cannot possibly espouse both."80 George Eldon Ladd, on the other hand, has shown that higher criticism, including form criticism, can be helpful in the exegesis and exposition of the biblical text.81 What has made many evangelicals understandably suspicious of historical criticism is that it has too often been associated with a naturalistic philosophy or world view that denies a priori the very possibility of supernatural intervention into human history. Brevard Childs has warned against using the principles of criticism with liberal presuppositions.82
It is necessary to understand that historical criticism in the sense of historical-literary investigation can only take us so far, and then we must go on to what Forsyth calls "the highest criticism," seeing every text in the light of the Gospel, the theological center of the Bible. We must move from the analytic criticism of the scientific historian to the synthetic criticism of the theologian if the full intent of the text is to be comprehended. For a true understanding we must bring to the text "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16).
When the Reformers contended that Scripture interprets itself, they meant that the inner meaning of the text must be revealed to the interpreter of Scripture, who must then formulate it as best he can. Karl Barth has put it this way:
The door of the Bible texts can be opened only from within. It is another thing whether we wait at this door or leave it for other doors, whether we want to enter and knock or sit idly facing it. The existence of the biblical texts summons us to persistence in waiting and knocking.83
Luther, too, saw that human reason cannot penetrate the spiritual significance of the biblical text: "Those who presume to grasp Holy Scripture and the Law of God with their own intellect and to understand them by their own effort are exceedingly in error."84 Instead of bringing our own understanding to the reading of Scripture, he warned, we ought to come bringing nothing, but seeking to carry away thoughts from the Scriptures."85
To be sure, the interpreter of Scripture must do all within his power to ascertain the spiritual and theological significance of the text in question, but in the process he must be open to the guidance and illumination of the Spirit. He should have not only a critical but also a prayerful attitude born of the recognition that the matter of the text is the property only of Jesus Christ. Barth observes: "The Holy Scriptures will interpret themselves in spite of all our human limitations. ... The Bible unfolds to us as we are met, guided, drawn on, and made to grow by the grace of God."86
We must take care, of course, not to read our own thoughts and imagination into the text in question. Our aim should be to discover as best we can what was in the mind of the writer, that is to say, the original or literal sense. If the writer intended to convey a figurative meaning, then we must by no means interpret the text literalistically. At the same time we wish to discover what was in the mind of the Holy Spirit, and not simply the mind of the writer, and what the Holy Spirit would have us hear today in and through this text. This is not pneumatic exegesis, which ignores or devalues the meaning of the written word, but theological exegesis which tries to relate the original meaning to the central message of Scripture. In theological exegesis the original meaning is both fulfilled and transcended in that the biblical writer only partially grasped what the Spirit was teaching him to see (1 Peter 1:10-11). There is definitely a place for typological exegesis so long as events and insights in the Old Testament are related to the self-revelation of Jesus Christ and not to events that are only on the margin of biblical history or even outside its scope. What the Reformers objected to in the exegetical methods of the fathers and medieval scholastics was that the literal or original sense was too often bypassed in favor of a purely subjective or mystical interpretation. We cannot remain with the natural or literal sense, but this must be our point of departure, the basis on which we make our synthetic judgments.
This is not to imply that one must consciously go through these
various stages in hermeneutics before one can hear God's Word in the Bible. The simplest believer who comes to the Bible emptied of his own understanding and truly seeking the will of God for his life will discover what the Bible is really saying more quickly than an exegete trained in the latest biblical scholarship who nevertheless tenaciously clings to his own preconceptions. There is no doubt that the tools of historical criticism and research can be most helpful in understanding the linguistic history and cultural and religious background of any given text. They can enable one to see the text in a broader perspective. Yet it is not simply a knowledge of the cultural and historical setting of the text that is the goal of true Bible study; our preeminent concern is to uncover the intention of the text, but this is only possible when one has moved beyond criticism to a state of receptivity in which one is open to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit.
Misconceptions in Modern Evangelicalism
With the rise of scholastic orthodoxy in the two centuries following the Reformation, the Bible became increasingly identified with divine revelation itself, and inspiration came to be interpreted in terms of mechanical dictation. M. Flacius in the sixteenth century resisted this trend and sought to maintain a dynamic view of both revelation and inspiration.87 It was asserted by many Protestant scholastics that the Scriptures not only do not err but cannot err. "No error, even in unimportant matters," said Calovius, "no defect of memory, not to say untruth, can have any place in all the Holy Scriptures."88 Barth makes this trenchant observation:
The Bible was now grounded upon itself apart from the mystery of Christ and the Holy Ghost. It became a "paper Pope," and unlike the living Pope in Rome it was wholly given up into the hands of its interpreters. It was no longer a free and spiritual force, but an instrument of human power.89
In modern fundamentalism, which signifies a synthesis of the old orthodoxy and evangelical pietism, the humanity of the Bible is virtually denied or ignored and the truth of the Bible is held to be directly accessible to human reason. Criswell reflects this docetic view of Scripture: "For this Volume is the writing of the Living God. Each sentence was dictated by God's Holy Spirit ... Everywhere in the Bible we find God speaking. It is God's voice, not man's."90 Gordon Clark speaks of the Bible as a verbal revelation, thereby unwittingly calling into question the dual authorship of Scripture. Both Clark and John Warwick Montgomery
refer to the univocal language of Scripture concerning God, which contravenes the position of most theological luminaries of the past who held that human language concerning God is either metaphorical or at the most analogical.91 This is to say, such language points beyond itself to a supernatural reality that transcends the compass of man's cognitive faculties (1 Cor. 2:7 ff.; Eph. 3:19). We take issue with Clark in his assertion that man's statements concerning God are to be taken literally or that man's logic and knowledge are identical with God's.92 Through the gift of faith there can be a partial correspondence between man's knowledge and God's but not an equation, since God remains hidden (deus absconditus) even in his revelation.
It is well to note that Benjamin Warfield, who from our standpoint can be faulted for underplaying the human element in the Bible, never made the mistake of denying this side of Scripture. He candidly recognized its dual authorship and acknowledged that "inspiration is not the most fundamental of Christian doctrines, nor even the first thing we prove about the Scriptures."93 He was careful not to make all Christian doctrines rest upon the single doctrine of biblical inerrancy, but he had absolute confidence in the trustworthiness of the biblical writers "as teachers of doctrine."94 Both Warfield and Hodge conceded that the biblical writers were at times "dependent for their information upon sources and methods in themselves fallible, their personal knowledge and judgment were in many matters hesitating and defective or even wrong."95
Our main difference from Warfield is that while he affirms the Bible as a divine product through the instrumentality of men, he is reluctant and often unwilling to affirm the other side of the paradox that the Bible is at same time an incontestably human witness to divine truth, a witness that ipso facto bears the marks of historical conditioning. While we grant that in one sense the Bible is the revelation of God to man, this revelation is in the form of human witness and is, therefore, to a degree hidden from sight and understanding. Warfield refers to the "inscripturation" of the divine Word in Scripture, and we too can speak in this fashion, though this must not be taken to mean that the words of the Bible are now divine words but rather that the eternal divine Word is given in and through these very human words, which to be sure have been elected or inspired by the Spirit of God.96
The bane of much of modern evangelicalism is rationalism which presupposes that the Word of God is directly available to human reason. It is fashionable to refer to the biblical revelation as propositional, and in one sense this is true in that the divine revelation is communicated
through verbal concepts and models. It signifies that revelation has a noetic as well as a personal dimension, that it is conceptual as well as experiential.97 Revelation includes both the events of divine self-disclosure in biblical history and their prophetic and apostolic interpretation. At the same time we must not infer that the propositional statements in the Bible are themselves revealed, since this makes the Bible the same kind of book as the Koran which purports to be exclusively divine. It also seems to imply a transubstantiation of the human word into the divine word.98 The Bible is not directly the revelation of God but indirectly in that God's Word comes to us through the mode of human instrumentality.99
Revelation is better spoken of as polydimensional rather than propositional in the strict sense, in that it connotes the event of God speaking as well as the truth of that is spoken: this truth, moreover, takes various linguistic forms including the propositional.100 Objective intelligible truth is revealed (though not exhaustively),101 but the formulation in the Bible is one step removed from this truth even while standing in continuity with it. The truth of revelation can be apprehended through the medium of the human language which attests it but only by the action of the Spirit. Those who reduce the content of revelation to declarative statements in the Bible overlook the elements of mystery, transcendence, and dynamism in revelation.
Karl Barth warns against this rationalistic approach to Scripture:
The irremediable danger of consulting Holy Scripture apart from the centre, and in such a way that the question of Jesus Christ ceases to be the controlling and comprehensive question and simply becomes one amongst others, consists primarily in the fact that .... Scripture is thought of and used as though the message of revelation ... could be extracted from it in the same way as the message of other truth or reality can be extracted from other sources of knowledge ... 102
Another earmark of Christian rationalism is the attempt to prove the credibility of Scripture by arguments and evidences. The fascination of many evangelicals with the current effort to unearth Noah's Ark is a reflection of a rationalistic temper. Calvin was amazingly forthright in his condemnation of rationalistic apologetics: "Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit."103 And again: "Therefore Scripture will ultimately suffice for a saving knowledge of God only when its certainty is founded upon the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit ...
Those who wish to prove to unbelievers that Scripture is the Word of God are acting foolishly, for only by faith can this be known."104
Helmut Thielicke claims that an apologetics which seeks "to show a historical symmetry between prophecy and fulfillment, or to use historical miracles as a ground of faith, or to argue ... that the resurrection of Christ is the best-attested event in all antiquity" actually destroys faith by giving it a foundation in something that is generally valid. It takes away the wonder of the salvation event and reduces faith to a purely "practical obedience in which I actively confess demonstrable supernatural facts."105 It creates the illusion that "God's action is restricted to purely historical facts when in reality it also embraces illumination by the Holy Spirit, i.e., the granting of access to these facts, the opening of the eyes and ears, and the overcoming of hardness of heart."106
Like Barth Thielicke warns against positing a direct identity between divine revelation and the scriptural writing. We must avoid the "confusion of the Word of God with an aggregate of letters and sounds. Naturally the Word does take the form of letters and sounds. But these are only a medium. They are only a mode of manifestation which helps it to be perceived. Its true essence lies in what it says, from whom it comes, and to whom it is directed."107
One must remember that the basis of faith is not the trustworthiness of the manuscripts (though this is to be gratefully acknowledged) but the saving act of God in Jesus Christ and the inward testimony of his Spirit. The historical events of the Bible, which are accessible to sense perception, are the occasion but not the foundation of faith. The disciples knew Jesus according to the flesh, but they did not perceive his Messianic identity until they were granted illumination by the Spirit (Matthew 16:17; Luke 24:31). With Calvin we contend that in order to attain the knowledge of God "the human mind must exceed and rise above itself."108 The Bible is a means through which God unveils himself, but he unveils himself only to the eyes of faith, not to natural reason (cf. Psalm 119:18).
In fundamentalism and much of the older orthodoxy the Bible offers no surprises. Too often it is used to support a dogmatic system whether this be Lutheranism, Calvinism, Arminianism, or some other ism instead of being treated as a vehicle of the Holy Spirit who uproots our man-made systems and confounds the vanity of our reason. We must remember that the Word of God is not fettered (2 Timothy 2:9). It leaps and runs and is not even bound to the means of grace the Bible,
the sermon, the sacraments though we are so bound. We need to recover the biblical concepts of the freedom of the Word and the unpredictability of the Word. We should remember with the Puritan father John Robinson that "the Lord has more light and truth yet to break forth out of his holy Word."
In his noted work on the Lutheran Confessions Edmund Schlink maintains that authentic orthodoxy posits a higher criterion than Scripture, namely, the Gospel. "This intense concern with the Gospel," he declares, "suggests that the Gospel is the norm in Scripture and Scripture is the norm for the sake of the Gospel."109 Yet we must also avoid the error present in some neo-orthodox circles of separating the Gospel from the Law and treating only the Gospel as the Word of God. While acknowledging the priority of the Gospel over the Law, we must avoid a simple Gospel reductionism and a love monism, both of which disregard complementary truths and insights that are also testified to in Scripture.
Evangelical theology in its most authentic sense will indeed be a theology of the Word of God. We assert this against Rahner's call for reconceptualization and Bultmann's call for demythologization. As theologians we are bound to the concepts of Scripture as well as to its mythical imagery. Though we are constrained to put the message of faith in new forms and imagery, we must always return to what Barth terms "the language of Canaan" and the "language of Zion." Barth warns that it is "nonobligatory, uncommissioned, and perilous" to use words that are "at a distance from the vocabulary of Scripture."110 Where the church "does not venture to confess in its own language, it usually does not confess at all."111 Even Tillich, who sought to translate the language of the Bible into contemporary categories, confessed that no term or concept could take the place of the biblical term sin, which contains nuances of meaning that alienation and estrangement, for example, simply do not encompass.
At the same time evangelical theology will be a theology under the Word of God. Our theological systems as well as our confessions of faith must forever be reexamined and purified in the light of the Word of God. An authentic evangelical theology will be a theology forever in the process of reformation (semper reformanda). It will acknowledge that God is still free to remold and purify his church through his holy Word which, in its role as an instrument of the Spirit, remains in every age a thoroughly sound and relevant standard and guide.
1. The terms docetic and ebionite are derived from heresies in the early church relating to the person of Christ. The docetists did not give full weight to the humanity of Christ and emphasized only the divinity, whereas the ebionites in their stress on the humanity lost sight of his essential divinity. See infra, p. 134 f.
2. H. Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), p. 95.
3. Karl Barth, The Preaching of the Gospel, trans. B.E. Hooke (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), p. 64.
4. G.C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, trans. Jack Rogers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 165-166.
5. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I, 2, eds. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T & T. Clark), 1956), p. 463.
6. Ibid., p. 501. It should be noted that in his Church Dogmatics I and II Barth reflects a neo-Calvinist sacramentalism by which Scripture, sermon, and sacraments are seen as means of grace having a human form but a divine content. In his later writings Barth tends to return to his earlier position of speaking of Jesus Christ as the one Word of God and the Bible (as well as the sermon and rites of the church) as only a human witness to this Word. See especially Church Dogmatics IV, 3, trans. G.W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961), pp. 3-165. He here is inclined to underplay the sacramental character of Scripture as both divine and human.
7. It is a mistake to aver, as do David Kelsey and Carl Henry, that Barth sees the authority of the Bible in purely functional terms. It is more proper to say that he views biblical authority in relational terms in the light of its divine center, the cross and resurrection of Christ. In this position the authority, infallibility, and power of the Scriptures to convict and save lie not in what they are in themselves but in their incommensurable relationship to Jesus Christ.
8. Sermons on Luke 24:13 f. Quoted in Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I, 2, p. 508.
9. Luther's Works, vol. 29, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968), p. 83.
10. John Calvin, Commentary on Galatians 1:12-13, Corpus Reformatorum, Calv. 50, p. 177.
11. Conrad Cherry, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1966). p. 48.
12. James Packer, "Taking Stock in Theology" in Evangelicals Today, ed. John C. King (London: Lutterworth Press, 1973), [pp. 15-30], p. 21.
13. Carl Henry, Personal Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), p. 360.
14. Our position is in accord with the biblical understanding of revelation where it is depicted primarily, though not exclusively, in dynamic terms. Albrecht Oepke declares: "Revelation is not understood in terms of a fixed historical or eschatological objectivism." The making known of what God reveals "is itself part of the act of revelation." And again: "Revelation is not a material possession which we have in black and white. It is a divine act, the unveiling
of what is hidden." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittle, trans. G.W. Bromiley, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), pp. 581, 583. For an informative discussion of the meaning of revelation as this relates to various biblical words, see C.F.D. Moule, "Revelation" in Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible IV (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), pp. 54-58; and Dewey M. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition and Infallibility (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), pp. l15-52. Both these authors recognize that revelation includes the communication of conceptual knowledge as well as communion and confrontation with God, but Beegle is better in holding objective and subjective dimensions of revelation in balance.
15. Benjamin Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, ed. Samuel G. Craig. Introduction by Cornelius Van Til (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1948), pp. 158, 162. For a balanced appraisal of Warfield's doctrine of inspiration see David H. Kelsey, The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), pp. 17-24. For Kelsey, Scripture is authoritative only in a functional sense.
16. We are here using formal in the Aristotelian sense which denotes goal or criterion.
17. Inspiration, like revelation, can be conceived of as continuing in a qualified sense, but the meaning is that the Spirit is constantly acting to safeguard the original witness from corruption. Just as we can distinguish between original inspiration and the providential preservation of the Spirit in assuring these writings as the divinely appointed channel of revelation.
18. Julius Wellhausen in the later nineteenth century formulated a philosophy of Israel's history which traced this history in terms of religious evolution with the prophets and exile being the high point. Elizabeth Achtemeier caustically comments: "In this view everything that was earliest in Israel's history was automatically labeled as primitive and put at the bottom of the scale of development as having minimal worth." See her The Old Testament and the Proclamation of the Gospel (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973), p. 28.
19. It should be recognized that Jesus' ultimate criterion was not Scripture by itself but the Scripture and the Spirit together. He said that the Sadducees erred because they knew "neither the scriptures nor the power of God" (Mark 12:24; cf. John 5:39-40; 14:15-17).
20. See George Tavard, Holy Writ or Holy Church (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), p. 22 f.
21. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, 1, 8.
22. See Heiko Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), p. 406 f. Also see his "The Tridentine Decree on Justification in the Light of Late Medieval Theology" in Robert W. Funk, ed., Journal for Theology and Church, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), pp. 28-54.
R. J. Geiselmann argues that Trent really did not have anything to say about the relationship between Scripture and tradition. He says that Trent did not mean to teach a theory of two sources of revelation. The final report or Trent read: "Scripture and tradition"; the original reading was "partly Scripture ... partly tradition." See Geiselmann, Die Heilige Schrift und die Tradition (Freiburg: Herder, 1962).
Lennerz argues against Geiselmann that the alteration did not represent
a material revision of the original report. But many Catholic scholars including Karl Rahner and Hans Kung are now speaking of only one source of revelation, sacred Scripture.
For an illuminating account of the recent discussion in Catholic theology see G.C. Berkouwer, The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism, trans. Lewis B. Smedes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), p. 89 f.
23. Quoted in Lev Shestov, Athens and Jerusalem, trans. Bernard Martin (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1966), p. 298.
24. Yves Congar, La Tradition et les traditions II (Paris: Artheme Fayard, 1963), p. 176.
25. Luther, Werke, W.A., 30, II, p. 420.
26. Augustine, "St. Augustin: The Writings Against the Manichaeans and Against the Donatists" in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, vol 4 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), p. 131.
27. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), I, 7, 3, pp. 76-78.
28. Luther's Works, ed. E. Theodore Bachman, vol. 35 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1960), p. 151.
29. S.M. Jackson, ed., Selected Works of Huldreich Zwingli (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1901), pp. 85-86.
30. Luther, Werke W.A. 51, p. 518.
31. The Christocentric orientation of the Reformation doctrine of Scripture is ably delineated in J.K.S. Reid, The Authority of Scripture (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), pp. 29-72.
32. In Heinrich Schmid, ed., Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3d ed. rev. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 73.
33. In L. Bruce Van Voorst, "Follow-up on the Kung-Rahner Feud," The Christian Century (Aug. 25, 1971), [pp. 997-1000], p. 999.
34. Avery Dulles, Models of the Church (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974), p. 81.
35. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I, 2, p. 682.
36. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II, 2, p. 647.
37. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, rev. and unabridged ed. trans. R.H. Fuller (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1959), p. 225.
38. Kilian McDonnell, John Calvin, the Church, and the Eucharist (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 358.
39. Martin Luther, Luther's Works, vol. 26 ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963), p. 387.
40. P.T. Forsyth, The Gospel and Authority ed. Marvin Anderson (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1971), p. 172.
41. P.T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority (London: Independent Press Ltd., 1952), p. 335.
42. Though some of these groups uphold the infallibility of Scripture they regard continuing revelation through the gift of prophecy as on a par with Scripture if not superseding Scripture.
43. Luther's Works, vol. 32 ed. George W. Forell (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958), p. 96.
44. Watchman Nee, The Ministry of God's Word (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, 1971), p. 67.
45. P.T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, p. 396.
46. P.T. Forsyth, The Gospel and Authority, p. 25.
47. Another pertinent illustration is the church as the lamp, the Bible as the light bulb, and Christ as the light. The light comes to us only through the vehicles of the light bulb and lamp, but apart from the light these have little value.
48. Ibid., p. 17.
49. It should be borne in mind that the voice of the living Christ cannot be divorced from either the Scriptures or the church. This voice is none other than the Word of God in the Scriptures which speaks to and through the church in every age.
50. This is not to be construed as an error, however, since Malachi is in all probability referring to a spiritual Elijah. Here, as in many other places, it is more proper to speak of "difficulties" rather than "errors" in Scripture.
51. William Gouge, The Whole-armour of God, (1616), p. 308. Quoted in Gerald R. Cragg, Freedom and Authority (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), p. 142.
52. See John R.W. Stott, The Lausanne Covenant: An Exposition and Commentary (Minneapolis: Worldwide Publications, 1975), p. 10.
53. Luther's Works, vol. 32, p. 11.
54. Luther's Works, vol. 54, ed. & trans. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), p. 452.
55. Ibid., pp. 79, 80.
56. He also cast doubt upon the value of Esther and Revelation.
57. In Willem Jan Kooiman, Luther and the Bible, trans. John Schmidt (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), p. 227. For Kooiman's discussion of Luther's view of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, see pp. 225-239. Also cf. J.K.S. Reid, The Authority of Scripture, pp. 56-72.
58. Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, ed. Philip Watson (London: James Clarke & Co., 1953), p. 260.
59. Luther, Werke W.A. 39 I, 47.
60. John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. II, 58:4. trans. James Anderson (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1846), p. 372.
61. We do not dispute the fact that notions of total or absolute inerrancy have appeared in the church from the first centuries onward, but these ideas were not given systematic formulation until the rise of evangelical orthodoxy and fundamentalism. See Jack Rogers, ed., Biblical Authority (Word Books, 1977), pp. 15-46.
62. Recent works that tend to give support to the doctrine of total inerrancy are John Warwick Montgomery, ed., God's Inerrant Word (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974), and Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976). One reviewer has these critical comments on the first book: "The authors ... are right about the Bible being a perfect book but are wrong in the way they define perfection. They demand that we must have a Bible that is perfectly accurate in all matters of religion, morals, history, geography, arithmetic, astronomy, biology. They are defining perfect the way
a mathematician or scientist would define it; they are not defining perfect the way the cross of Jesus Christ defines it." Robert H. Smith in Lutheran Forum (May 1975), p. 38. In our opinion these remarks do not apply to the essays by Packer and Pinnock, but the book as a whole creates this overall impression.
Harold Lindsell's book is an informative historical survey on how denial of biblical infallibility and inerrancy finally leads to apostasy (though not all of his examples stand up under scrutiny). In our estimation Lindsell would have strengthened his case for the truthfulness of the biblical witness had he distinguished between the inerrancy of Scripture in its teaching authority and in its historical preciseness in the reporting of events. Lindsell does show that the Bible is amazingly accurate and that many of its alleged historical errors have no basis in actuality. Yet one should keep in mind that amazing accuracy, even in the areas of history and science, is not the same as perfect accuracy. The inerrancy of Scripture must not be made to rest upon consistency in detail or scientific exactness norms which are derived from scientific empiricism; instead it should be based upon the faithfulness of God to communicate his word to his appointed spokesmen and to preserve their testimony as the vehicle for his continual revelation to his children.
63. See Dewey M. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition and Infallibility (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973); Stephen T. Davis, The Debate About the Bible (Westminster, 1977); and Richard J. Coleman, "Reconsidering 'Limited Inerrancy' " in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 17:4 (Fall 1974), pp. 207-214. Coleman says: "To impose upon all Christians the deduction that plenary inspiration automatically guarantees total inerrancy is unwarranted. The gift of inspiration was granted not to insure the infallibility of every word and thought, though it did accomplish this in particular instances, but to secure a written Word that would forever be the singular instrument by which man learns and is confronted by God's will" (p. 213).
64. Cults or sectarian movements that hold to biblical inerrancy are the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Christadelphians, the Mormons, and the Unitarian (Oneness) Pentecostals. Seventh-Day Adventism, which has a sectarian as well as an evangelical bent, also contends for biblical inerrancy. The Christadelphians in England occasionally hold public forums in defense of biblical inerrancy.
65. Pinnock sees several disadvantages in the use of the term "inerrancy": "First, inerrancy does not describe the Bible we actually use. It is so strict a term that it can refer only to the lost autographs. Second, because it points to a text we do not have, it fails to assert forcibly the authority of the text we do have. Third, by its very nature, inerrancy directs attention to small difficulties in the text rather than to the infallible truth of its intended proclamation. Finally, it has become the slogan of a given party and thus serves to exacerbate conflict and ill-feeling." Pinnock prefers the recent statement of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students: "Scripture is entirely trustworthy in the sense that its message conveys the true knowledge of God and his works, especially the way of salvation." See Clark Pinnock, "Inspiration and Authority: A Truce Proposal" in The Other Side (May-June 1976), [pp. 61-65], p. 65. Also see Clark Pinnock, "Three Views of the Bible in Contemporary Theology" in Jack Rogers, ed. Biblical Authority, pp. 47-73.
66. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, pp. 240 ff.
67. Ibid., p. 245.
68. Francis Schaeffer, despite his adherence to biblical inerrancy in the narrow sense, recognizes that the genealogies in Scripture do not have perfect historical accuracy. "The Bible," he says, "does not invite us to use the genealogies in Scripture as a chronology." In his No Final Conflict (Downer's Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 40.
69. Kung, it should be noted, believes that indefectibility stands in basic continuity with the original meaning of infallibility (infallibilitas), which is dependability or trustworthiness rather than "immaculateness" or "faultlessness" (Fehlerlosigkeit). Kung's remarks relate primarily to ecclesiastical authority, but they also have bearing upon his understanding of Scriptural authority. The problem with Kung is that he creates the impression that the infallible truth of the Gospel can be conveyed through erroneous propositions, whereas we hold that the biblical propositions come to have an infallible character when they are illumined by the Spirit and thereby seen in their rightful context. Because the whole course of the origin, collecting, and transmission of the word is under the guidance and disposition of the Spirit, the biblical writings participate in the infallibility of the One whom they attest. While human propositions in themselves are always ambiguous, though the action of the Spirit they can genuinely reflect and communicate infallible truth. Kung maintains that the Scriptures do not possess any inherent propositional inerrancy, since only God is unconditionally and a priori free from error. While we are in basic agreement with him, this must not be taken to mean that the truth in the Bible is purely external to its composition and not also internal. The truth inheres not in the biblical proposition in and of itself but in the proposition in its relationship to Jesus Christ. See Hans Kung, Infallible? An Inquiry, trans. Edward Quinn (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971), pp. 139 ff., 181 ff.
70. We maintain that the authentic teaching of the Bible concerning man and the cosmos is as binding as its teaching on salvation and morals.
71. Rosemary Ruether, "Sexuality and Transcendence" in The Christian Century, 92:8 (March 1975), p. 230.
72. See R.P.C. Hanson, The Attractiveness of God (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1973), p. 22.
73. Abraham Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology, trans. J. Hendrik De Vries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), p. 479.
74. The husk, which here represents the cultural garment that encloses the kernal (the gospel), only becomes error when it is confused with the kernel. Though the husk is the servant form of the truth and not the truth itself, it is not superfluous but indeed indispensable for coming to know the truth.
75. John Macquarrie, Thinking About God (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), p. 42.
76. Pascal's Pensees and Provincial Letters, trans. W.F. Trotter and Thomas M'Crie (New York: Random House, Modern Library, 1941), p. 189.
77. Neither God nor Christ is exclusively or exhaustively rational, however, and it is well to pay heed to the reminder of Rudolf Otto in his The Idea of the Holy that God also has a nonrational side dynamic will and energy, which Otto calls "the numinous." God's nonrational energy and majesty are integrally related to his reason, but they are not wholly subordinate or ancillary to his reason.
God wills the Good not simply because he thinks the Good but because he is the Good. Yet he is more than the Good: he is the "Holy" which includes as well as transcends the Good as an ethical category.
78. Quoted in Hans Zahrnt, The Question of God (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, 1970), p. 308.
79. Karl Barth, The Preaching of the Gospel, p. 61.
80. E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), p. 219. Cf. Gerhard Maier, The End of the Historical-Critical Method trans. Edwin Leverenz & Rudolph Nordern (St. Louis: Concordia, 1977).
81. See George Eldon Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 2d printing (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971).
82. See Brevard Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970), pp. 94, 102.
83. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I, 2, p. 533.
84. Luther's Works, vol. 29, p. 186.
85. Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, ed. Philip Watson, p. 465.
86. Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, trans. Douglas Horton (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), p. 34.
87. J.K.S. Reid, The Authority of Scripture, pp. 89 ff.
88. Heinrich Schmid, ed., The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, p. 49.
89. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I, 2, p. 525.
90. W.A. Criswell, Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True (Nashville: Broadman, 1969), p. 68.
91. For Clark's reservations on the use of analogy in theology see Ronald Nash, ed., The Philosophy of Gordon Clark (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1968), pp. 77-79. According to Ronald nash, Clark does not rule out analogical language altogether in reference to God but is insistent that every analogy must contain some univocal meaning. In a personal letter to this author dated Feb. 17, 1977. Note that Henry follows Clark in holding to univocal predication in our language about God. See Carl Henry's God, Revelation and Authority, vol. II (Waco: Word Books, 1976), p. 115. In our view the analogical knowledge of God derived from faith is real knowledge but nonetheless incomplete.
92. Nash, op. cit., pp. 57 ff., 406, 407.
93. Benjamin B. Warfield, "The Real Problem of Inspiration" in The Living God: Readings in Christian Theology, ed. Millard J. Erickson (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973), [pp. 277-291], p. 279.
94. Ibid. On the significance of the article by A.A. Hodge and Warfield in which they extend the meaning of inerrancy to cover other matters as well, see Bernard Ramm's discussion in Jack Rogers, ed., Biblical Authority, pp. 109 ff.
95. Cited in Richard J. Coleman, "Biblical Inerrancy: Are We Going Anywhere?" in Theology Today 31:4 (Jan. 1975), [pp. 295-303], p. 299. This contrasts with the position of many of the church fathers, e.g., Irenaeus, who believed that the writers of Scripture "were filled with perfect knowledge on every subject." See Irenaeus, Adv. Haer, III, 1. Cf. III, 22. For a cogent exposition of the views of the church fathers on the this matter see George Duncan Barry,
The Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture, A Study in the Literature of the First Five Centuries (New York: Macmillan, 1919).
96. Warfield can speak of the biblical words as the "immediate words of God." Benjamin B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 149.
97. We can also assert that revelation is cognitive but only in a qualified sense. It is capable of being apprehended not by man's natural faculties as such but by the spiritual eyes of faith. Faith is knowledge as well as trust, but its object transcends the empirical and humanly rational: it concerns the "secret and hidden wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 2:7; cf. Isaiah 55:8; Daniel 2:22). This wisdom can enter into the humanly rational but nevertheless remains distinct from all general wisdom.
Once illumined by the Spirit human reason plays a formative role in faith's quest for understanding, but even then the central mysteries of the faith defy rational comprehension and can be expressed only in symbolic and paradoxical language. Our position here differs from that of Carl Henry who affirms with Pannenberg that revelation can be grasped by the "normal powers of human apprehension" requiring "no special work of the Spirit." Carl Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. II, p. 309; cf. vol. I, p. 229. We concur with Henry in his espousal of a supernatural world view and his contention that revelation includes ontological as well as personal truth.
98. Ray S. Anderson skirts the opposite danger when he speaks of a kenosis of the Word becoming Scripture analogous to the kenosis of the Word becoming man in Jesus Christ. If the kenotic theory is carried too far this means that the divine Word is transmuted into the human word of Scripture and is thereby emptied of its divine content. In our view the human words of Scripture are taken up into or united with the divine Word, but the divine Word does not literally change into the human word. The two natures of the Bible are inseparable but must not be confused. See Ray S. Anderson, Historical Transcendence and the Reality of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 212 ff.
99. God speaks to us indirectly when we hear the good news from his appointed spokesmen, but he also speaks directly when he conjoins his Word with their word by his Spirit. Scripture is not immediate revelation, but revelation is mediated through Scripture as the Holy Spirit acts upon it.
100. Cf. Bernard Ramm, Special Revelation and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), pp. 154 ff. Ramm contends that the term propositional revelation, while having some validity, is basically an "unhappy one" because "it fails to do justice to the literary, historical, and poetic elements of special revelation" (p. 155).
101. Revelation is primarily personal and only secondarily conceptual, since its principal object is Jesus Christ himself. Nonetheless, Christ not only makes himself known and sheds his love abroad in our hearts: he also tells us who he is and why he has come.
102. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV, 1 eds. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), p. 368.
103. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845), I, 7, 5, p. 95.
104. Calvin, Institutes McNeill, ed. I, 8, 13, p. 92. Cf. Voetius: "As there is no objective certainty about the authority of Scripture, save as infused and
imbued by God the Author of Scripture, so we have no subjective certainty of it, no formal concept of the authority of Scripture, except from God's illuminating and convincing inwardly through the Holy Spirit." In Heinrich Heppe, ed. Reformed Dogmatics Trans. G.T. Thomson (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1950), p. 25.
105. Helmut Thielicke, The Evangelical Faith, vol. I trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 269, 270.
106. Ibid., p. 270.
107. Ibid., p. 181. Thielicke's position is here in accord with such luminaries of Protestant Orthodoxy as Flacius, Voetius, and Gerhard.
108. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. John Allen (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1936), 7th ed., III, 2, 14, p. 613.
109. Edmund Schlink, Theology of the Lutheran Confessions (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), p. 6.
110. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I, 1, pp. 396, 397.
111. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, trans. G. T. Thomson (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), p. 31.
V. Total Depravity
Sin lurks deep in the hearts of the wicked, forever urging them on to evil deeds.
Psalm 36:1 LB
The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?
Oh this propensity to evil, how did it creep in to cover the earth with treachery?
Vanity is so anchored in the heart of man that ... those who write against it want to have the glory of having written well; and those who read it desire the glory of having read it.
Sin, understood in the Christian sense, is the rent which cuts through the whole of existence.
The Grandeur and Misery of Mankind
The Bible clearly affirms the grandeur as well as the misery of man. He has been made a little lower than the angels and has been given dominion over the animals (Psalm 8:5-8). He is created in the image of God and endowed with freedom for service and fellowship. Yet he has squandered his inheritance by seeking to be as God. He has not been content to remain within his limitations: though he is finite he aspires to be infinite. Or he seeks to escape from the demands of his freedom in gross sensuality. Yet even when he descends to the level of the beast he remains superior to the beast, since he sins knowingly and willingly. He is not the victim of fate for the prey of natural impulses but remains responsible in his sin. His sin is inexcusable, because he knows the good but does not do it. His misery consists in his wilful defiance of the good that is his salvation.
Though man is hopelessly lost, he is not nothing. "Man is lost," says
Francis Schaeffer, "because he is separated from God, his true reference point, by true moral guilt. But he never will be nothing. Therein lies the horror of his lostness. For man to be lost, in all his uniqueness and wonder, is tragic."1
In Zen Buddhism "man enters the water and causes no ripples." In the biblical view he causes ripples that never end. Man leaves behind both good and bad marks in history, but he is not a zero (Francis Schaeffer). He remains infinitely precious in God's sight despite his folly and perversity.
Sartre referred to man as a "useless passion"; the Christian faith sees him as a responsible being before God, though one who has lost his way. His life has been given purpose and meaning though he himself may not yet be aware of it. He is irrevocably included in God's redemptive plan, even though he may still exist in darkness and corruption.
Man in the technological society has been reduced to the level of a machine. But a machine cannot sin, for sin means a rupture in a personal relationship with God. The machine runs mechanistically, but man is a free being endowed with infinite possibilities. The tragedy is that he has misused his freedom and has thereby fallen into slavery to his own lust for power. Yet even in his slavery he remains free, though no longer to do the good but now to satisfy his selfish desires. The greatness of man is apparent even in his wretchedness (Pascal).
In constructing a Christian anthropology we must not ignore the basic nobility of man. He comes from the hand of God, though he is not a part of God. He is essentially good, having been created in the image of God. At the same time we must not minimize the gravity of his sin against his creator. His created nature is unblemished, but his existence in the world is fallen. There is a glaring contrast between what man is truly and essentially and what he has become. Because man lives in opposition to his own God-given nature, his present nature signifies an existence in contradiction (Emil Brunner). We must not close our eyes to man's original goodness, but we must also acknowledge that his whole being is now corrupted by an insatiable desire for a place in the sun, and this is what is meant by total depravity.
There is no longer any way from man to God, since sin has blinded man's perception as well as shackled his will. He is now a creature under the wrath and judgment of God, though he nevertheless remains an object of God's solicitous care. Indeed, precisely because he is loved by God, he is pursued by the righteous anger of God. But herein lies his hope: God in his holy love will not let go of the prodigal son. The man in sin
cannot return to God by his own volition, but God can come to him, and God has done so in Jesus Christ. In Christ God has taken upon himself man's sin and guilt so that man might be restored to his inheritance, so that man's enslaved free will might be liberated for service in love. The good news is that man's free will enthralled by sin can be turned around by grace. But this good news is meaningful only against the background of mankind's tragic fall into sin.
Total and Universal Corruption
Reformed Christianity has been known for its emphasis on the total depravity of man, but properly understood this doctrine is integral to all Evangelical Protestantism, and it also includes a significant measure of support within Roman Catholicism. It is a doctrine that has been insufficiently grasped, and too often its proponents have only added confusion by their exaggerated versions of it. The erroneous impression is given that the imago Dei itself has been lost through sin so that the very substance of man is nothing but sin.2
In the perspective of biblical faith total depravity can be thought of as having four meanings, all of which are valid. First, it refers to the corruption at the very center of man's being, the heart, but this does not mean that man's humanity has ceased to exist. Second, it signifies the infection in every part of man's being, though this is not to infer that this infection is evenly distributed or that nothing good remains in man. Third, it denotes the total inability of sinful man to please God or come to him unless moved by grace, though this does not imply that man is not free in other areas of his life. Fourth, it includes the idea of the universal corruption of the human race, despite the fact that some peoples and cultures manifest this corruption much less than others.
The depth of the corruption of sin is testified to in Psalm 53: 1, 3: "How vile men are, how depraved and loathsome; not one does anything good! ... All are unfaithful, all are rotten to the core ... " (cf. Psalm 14:1-2; 36:1-4; Jer. 17:9; Romans 7:18; Eph. 2:3; 4:18). The universality of sin is indicated in Second Isaiah: "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6a). A similar note is sounded by St. Paul: "None is righteous, no not one ... All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:10, 23).
It was Augustine who rediscovered the biblical doctrine of total depravity and gave it the recognition that it deserves. He spoke of "the entire mass
of our nature" being "ruined beyond doubt" and falling "Into the possession of its destroyer."3 Unfortunately he was unable to avoid a philosophical determinism in his conception of inherited sin. By making sin a fatality due to natural causes and by seeing its eradication in the rite of baptism, he failed to do justice to personal responsibility in sin and to personal faith in the overcoming of sin.4
The total depravity of man was given strong emphasis in the Reformation. Calvin declared: "We are so entirely controlled by the power of sin, that the whole mind, the whole heart, and all our actions are under its influence."5 Luther saw sin as permeating every part of man's being so that he is incapable of turning to God by his own volition. And in the words of the Reformed theologian Polan: "Original sin is in the whole man, soul and body: in the soul strictly as in its proper subject, in the body as in an instrument through which the soul acts."6
Total depravity does not mean that there is no natural goodness or freedom remaining in man. The imago Dei has been darkened but not destroyed. It is marred by sin, but it still exists. Man continues to reflect the glory of his Creator, even in his sin and defiance. Man, even in the state of sin, has natural talents, intelligence, and also a moral sense, though because of sin it cannot be regarded as a safe for sure guide.
Our Lord certainly acknowledged the remnant of goodness that exists in evil people: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13).
It is not only the imago Dei but also the common grace of God that accounts for sinful man's ability to arrive at a modicum of justice. Common grace is the grace of preservation by which man's rapacity is restrained. Indeed, if it were not for common grace, the world would fall into anarchy and disorder, but God preserves his created order out of his mercy so that people may hear the good news of redemption through Christ and turn to him and be delivered from their sins. Common grace, together with the reflection of the glory of God in created human nature, is responsible for the fragments of wisdom and truth that exist in the non-Christian religions and also in the moral codes of the great civilizations of pagan antiquity.
At the same time evangelical theology insists that though man in his sin can still attain a certain degree of moral virtue, all his good works are infected by a sinful motivation or purpose and are, therefore, unacceptable in the sight of God. Because our natural goodness is mixed with evil thoughts and desires, it can only be deemed repugnant by a holy God who is satisfied by nothing less than perfection. Before
men our righteousness may elicit admiration but not before God (coram Deo), as Luther saw so well (cf. Psalm 130:3). Those who recognize their sin can only confess: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" (Isaiah 64:6).
Charles Hodge reveals a keen insight into the human situation: "Every man should bow down before God under the humiliating consciousness that he is a member of an apostate race; the son of a rebellious parent; born estranged from God, and exposed to his displeasure."7
The Meaning of Sin
Sin in the biblical perspective is positive rebellion, not simply a privation of goodness or being. The essence of sin is unbelief, which appears as both idolatry and hardness of heart. Luther described the man in sin as incurvatus in se (bent inwards upon himself) whereas the man in Christ looks away from himself towards God and his neighbor in love. According to Schoonenberg: "Sin is an aversion from and an unfaithfulness to Yahweh himself; hence it is placed in the heart rather than in the wrong deed."8 Bitterness in the soul is the seething caldron from which all manner of evil proceeds. As our Lord declared, "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander" (Matthew 15:19; cf. Matthew 5:28; 12:34; Luke 16:15). To be sure human sin is not sheer defiance, since it is mixed with ignorance and weakness, but this does not take away from its devastating consequences. Sin has brought discord and misery to man (cf. Isaiah 47:10-11), but its source is a ruptured relationship with God.
Against the idealistic and mystical traditions we contend that sin is to be located not in the subrational vitalities of the self but rather in man's spirit. Though man's nature makes him vulnerable to temptation, sin itself is an act of the will. It signifies neither a necessity of man's nature nor an invariable concomitant of his finitude, but instead an abuse of his freedom.
In the thinking of Augustine on this subject both biblical and classical views can be discerned. While he often saw sin as a "defect" of the will and a lack of power to do the good, which reflects his neo-Platonism, he also realized that sin is a perversion of the will and an assault on the good. Though he associated sin with nonbeing, this only meant that it has no positive ontological standing before God, not that it has no reality.
Nonbeing was interpreted as resistance to being and a perversion of being.
The neo-Platonic idea of evil as privatio has continued to make a deep impression on Christian thought, though it is often modified and held in tension with more biblical insights. Thomas Aquinas, while understanding sin as an omission of the good, perceived that it is the direct cause of the derangement in the powers of the soul. Abraham Kuyper sought to affirm both "sin's privative being" and "positive working." If he sometimes recognized that it is a deprivation he also acknowledged that it is "a positive evil and malignant power."9 Though making use of the concept of privatio, Bavinck saw that this is an insufficient designation for sin, which is a cataclysmic and destructive power.
It should be acknowledged that sin entails both privation and positive rebellion, but the latter is prior to the former. "The origin of pride," says the prophet, "is to forsake the Lord, man's heart revolting against his Maker" (Ecclesiasticus 10:12). By turning away from God man finds himself deprived of the light and truth of God. Sin is not pure negation but a "positive negation" (Brunner). It is not simply discreativity but a mixture of creativity and discreativity. It is not merely the absence of good but an attack upon the good.
The Scriptures often portray sin as a positive force of destruction, sometimes as a power outside as well as inside man. Eve was pressed to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil by the power of sin personified in the voice of the serpent (Genesis 3:1 f.). Cain is told by God that "sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it" (Genesis 4:7). Paul confessed that sin wrought in him "all kinds of covetousness" (Romans 7:8). He also says that "sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me" (Romans 7:11).
Sin, in the biblical perspective, is both an act and a state. It entails separation from God as well as a deliberate violation of his will. It signifies both a state of alienation or estrangement from God and a transgression of his law. It is a wrong direction as well as wrong acts. It is missing the mark, but even more profoundly it is a fatal sickness.
What should be borne in mind is that the bias of sin precedes the act of sin at least as far as man in history is concerned. Bad fruit can only come from a bad tree (Luther). Even before the act of sin man finds a propensity to sin within him. As the Psalmist declared: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5). For Pelagius, the antagonist of Augustine, man is guilty only of actual sins, not of original sin. But this betrays a lack of insight into
the precariousness of the human condition. Luther in particular underlined the gravity of original sin: "Original sin, natural sin, or personal sin is the principal sin. If it did not exist, neither would there be any actual sin."10
On the question of the depth of the corruption of sin we see a pronounced difference between Roman Catholicism and Reformation Protestantism. In what came to be the official Catholic view human nature is only wounded and is susceptible to healing. Irenaeus precipitated an enduring line of thought on this subject by his distinction between the likeness of God (similitudo) and the image of God (imago) based on a faulty exegesis of Genesis 1:26. Through sin man has lost the likeness to God, which consists in the gift of supernatural communion with God and original righteousness, but not the image, which represents the freedom and rationality of his nature. This formed the basis of the later Catholic distinction between pura naturalia and a donum supernaturale, a special gift in addition to his natural endowment. In the developing Catholic orthodoxy "original righteousness" is lost in the fall, but a natural justice remains. Man still retains some freedom to turn to God and some sense of his moral law.
The Reformers sharply criticized this view of the fall, since it did not seem to take seriously the actual defilement of man's nature by sin. For Luther man has lost not a supernature but his God-given nature. Sin represents a corruption of man's essential nature so that he is now "altogether sinful and wicked." Emil Brunner reflects the Reformation view when he says: "By sin the nature of man, not merely something in his nature, is changed and perverted."11 In this perspective to quote Gustaf Aulen, "sin does not have reference to something external and peripheral in man, nor to something 'accidental'; it has its 'seat' in his inner being, in the inclination of the will, and applies, therefore to man as a whole."12
Although they spoke of the utter defacement of the imago Dei, the Reformers believed that some vestige of the Imago remains, for otherwise man would not be man. A few of their followers went further, however, and defined original sin as the very substance of fallen man (e.g., Matthias Flacius).
Protestant Orthodoxy as it developed reacted against exaggerations of the corruption of man. The Lutheran theologian Quenstedt argued that sin is not the very substance or essence of man but that it inheres in man after the manner of an accident. It dwells in man, but just as an inhabitant or guest is not the same as the house, so sin is not the same as man. For Kuyper, not our being but our nature was corrupted by sin.
Being is that which makes man what he is while nature refers to the character of his being and working.
Karl Barth maintains, in opposition to the Reformation emphasis, that man is basically good, since his created being comes from God.13 This is why he describes sin as an "ontological impossibility," for it is not presupposed in man's original freedom. It happens as something irrational and inexplicable and thereby distorts man's nature and humanity.14 Yet sin infects every area of man's being, and his achievement is therefore "not only incomplete but perverted."15 Barth can even describe man as "radically and totally evil:;16 yet the imago Dei is not eradicated but marred and obscured.
Emil Brunner seeks to correct what he sees as an imbalance in the Reformation doctrine by maintaining that man's relation with God is not sundered by sin but perverted. Man is still responsible before God, but he is no longer in "a state of being-in=love" but now finds himself in "a state of being-under-the law, a life under the wrath of God."17 Brunner is concerned to maintain human responsibility in sin while at the same time avoiding any kind of Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism.
Reinhold Niebuhr contends against the Catholic position that original righteousness remains in man, but that it is marred and distorted by sin. With the Reformers he avers that "sin is a corruption of man's true essence,"18 but against the Manichaeism that sometimes intrudes into Reformation theology he insists that sin does not destroy man's true essence. Despite the corrupting influence of sin man retains the freedom of his will. Niebuhr also maintains against the Reformers and Barth that though there is an equality in sin, there is an inequality in guilt, which signifies the historical and objective consequences of sin, and "for which the sinner must be held responsible."19
In our view the essential nature of man is good, since it is created by God, but his existential nature, his being in the world is corrupted. Man's humanity remains just as the eye remains after a poisonous insect sting destroys its sight, though it is now deprived of its luster and checked in its moral activity (Abraham Kuyper). True human nature as we find it in Jesus Christ is without sin, and therefore sin is rightly seen as a deviation from human nature. It signifies the unnature of man, the abnormal which has now become natural. The imago Dei, the reflection of the being of God in man, is defaced, but it is not destroyed. Man is still responsible before God, though his freedom has been considerably impaired.
It is misleading to speak, as do some Quakers and mystics, of a pearl
in the heart of every person, since this implies that there is a part of man not touched by sin. It is the whole man who is the pearl, since h is entire being reflects the glory of his Creator, but he is a badly flawed pearl because he has turned away from his God to pursue his own ends. It is not the inner light that brings man into contact with God, since he already stands in the light of God. The tragedy is that he misconstrues this light or fails to see it at all because of his sin.
On the relation of sin and temptation, Schleiermacher has cogently observed that temptation presupposes sin, for man could not be seriously tempted unless the bias toward sin were in him (though Schleiermacher's understanding of this differs from ours). Reinhold Niebuhr concurs with Schleiermacher, but unlike the latter, he will not affirm the sinlessness of Jesus, since Jesus was tempted.20 Here it is necessary to distinguish between two kinds of temptation external and internal; only the second presupposes sin, since it indicates that the temptation has roots within man himself. Niebuhr will affirm an amazing coincidence between Jesus' internal purpose and his outward actions, but he does not think it possible for human nature as such to be without even the taint of sin. We here must ask whether Niebuhr, despite his attempt to do justice to the freedom of man, does not harbor a covert Manichaeism. More probably the trouble is in his Christology rather than his anthropology, since he does not really succeed in uniting the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history.21
The question of sin in the natural man leads inevitably to whether there is sin in the Christian. We are told that in regeneration our sin is washed away (John 13:10) and that in Christ we cannot sin (1 John 3:9). At the same time a bias toward sin lingers on even in the Christian, and this is why we must daily put off the old nature and put on the new (Eph. 4:22-32). We are acceptable to God because we are covered by the righteousness of Christ, but we need to grow toward this righteousness in our daily living so that we become righteous in fact. In Christ to be sure we cannot sin, but the sad truth is that we do not abide in Christ and thereby we fall into sin ever again. The good that we want, we do not do (Romans 7:19) because we rely not on our Saviour but on ourselves.22
It is only in Christ that we become aware of the depth and magnitude of our sin, since we do not really know ourselves until our eyes are opened by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. "The light of the Lord alone," says Calvin, "can open our eyes to behold the foulness which lies concealed in our flesh."23 Luther described our corruption as so "deep and evil ... that no reason understands it," and therefore "it must
be believed from the revelation of the Scriptures."24
Our position is that the knowledge of sin comes through both the Law and the Gospel, the Law united with the Gospel. Indeed, sin can be defined in relation to both the Law and the Gospel; it is a transgression of the divine commandment and a violation of God's love as revealed in Christ. Through the Law alone we can arrive at a knowledge of our guilt, but we cannot have a true perception of our sin. We can be awakened to the burden of our guilt through the Law by itself, but we will not know the enormity of our sins until they are exposed in the light of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Puritans made a useful distinction between legal and evangelical repentance. We can have sorrow over our guilt as we hear the harsh words of God's law, but we will not be convicted of our sin until we encounter Jesus Christ himself and discover that our sins cost his life. We will not truly repent and forsake our sins until our hearts are regenerated by the Holy Spirit as we hear the message of the Gospel.
Manifestations and Consequences of Sin
While the core of sin is unbelief, its chief manifestations are pride and sensuality. Collective pride, as Niebuhr has trenchantly observed, is probably the worst form of sin, since in this case whole peoples succumb to idolatrous pretension. Racism, sexism, classism, and nationalism are rightly seen as collective expressions of inward sin.
Other incontestable earmarks of sin are lovelessness, hostility, envy, alienation, fear, and cowardice. It can be said that sin excludes spiritual love (agape) and perverts natural love. Man's sexual yearnings degenerate into lust while his natural aspirations for the good are converted into the lust for power. Fearfulness too is a product of sin as attested in the Wisdom of Solomon: "For wickedness proves a cowardly thing when condemned by an inner witness, in the grip of conscience gives way to forebodings of disaster" (17:11).
Doubt of God can be regarded as the intellectual form of sin. We do not subscribe to Tillich's view that doubt is included in faith. The man of God will doubt himself, his own goodness and worthiness, but he will not deny the promises of God nor the reality of his salvation as a gift of God. Such doubts will occur in his life, but their source is the sin that lingers within him, not the faith implanted in him by the Holy Spirit.
Religiosity is the spiritual form of sin and, indeed, one of its most subtle manifestations. It is well to remember that the polemic of the
Bible is directed not so much against godlessness or secularity as against human religion whereby man seeks to be God or to control God for his own ends. Brunner has made this apt observation: "Even in his worship of God man seeks himself, his own salvation; even in his surrender to the Deity he wants to find his own security."25
Biblical faith is very explicit concerning the penalties for sin: guilt, death, hell, moral servitude, and spiritual blindness. Man in sin forfeits his chance for happiness and becomes paralyzed by guilt and captive to forces and powers beyond his control. He faces a future that is dark and foreboding death, and after death the judgment of God. Sin carries death with it and calls for death (Wisdom of Solomon 1:11-16; Proverbs 8:36; John 8:24). "It was through one man," declared the apostle, "that sin entered the world, and through sin death, and thus death pervaded the whole human race, inasmuch as all men have sinned" (Romans 5:12; cf. 6:23). But it is not simply physical death but eternal death that awaits the doomed sinner. The imprisonment and destruction of the soul, which is appropriately called hell, is the final outcome of the tragedy of sin.
It is appropriate at this point to give special attention to the maladies of moral servitude and spiritual blindness because of their far-reaching ecumenical implications. In exploring these particular consequences of sin we shall endeavor to bring to light traditional tensions and divisions in the church.
The bondage of the will is affirmed throughout Scripture as one of the principal hallmarks and penalties of sin. After sin man's will is no longer directed toward God but away from God. He finds himself in flight from God rather than in quest for God (Genesis 3:8; Isaiah 65:1; Psalm 53:1-3; Romans 3:11). In his sin he is not only unwilling but also unable to do the good and choose salvation. He may yearn for the good, but he is incapable of pursuing the good. Sinful man is like stubble, which the fire consumes, and he cannot deliver himself from the power of the flame (Isaiah 47:14). "Can the Ethiopian change his skin," asks Jeremiah, "or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil: (Jeremiah 13:23). John tells us that the man in sin loves darkness more than light because his deeds are evil; he "does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (John 3:19, 20). Fallen man is said to have a "hard and impenitent heart" (Romans 2:5) and is depicted as "captive to the law of sin" (Romans 7:14, 23). Paul declares: "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot ...." (Romans 8:7, italics mine).
This biblical conception of man in captivity to sin did not take hold in the church until the time of Augustine. The early apologists and
church fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, testified to the freedom of man to choose good or evil. In the fifth century Pelagius went even further and denied the necessity of directly assisting grace for any true service of God on the part of man. He rejected the transmission of a fault or corruption in nature and held that grace was given to those who sought it. He even maintained that "man, if he pleases, can be perfectly free from sin," though he made clear that his reference was to the converted man. He acknowledged that one could never be free of temptation in this life and therefore must always be vigilant. Pelagius' heresy was condemned at the Councils of Carthage (in 418) and Ephesus (in 431).
Because Pelagius' views had certain innate appeal, semi-Pelagianism soon appeared in the church, and it has never been completely eradicated in either Catholicism or Protestantism. John Cassian held that in the renovation of the human will there are two efficient agencies the will itself and divine grace. It was also his conviction that nature unaided may take the first step in its recovery. Semi-Pelagianism was refuted at the Second Council of Orange (529).
It was Augustine who stated the case for the servum arbitrium and thereby counteracted Pelagius' views. While acknowledging the reality of natural freedom in fallen man, he insisted that it is not a freedom to do good. "How then do miserable men dare to be proud of free will before they are liberated or of their own strength after they are liberated?" Free will exists, but it must be renewed or converted into Christian freedom by grace: "We shall then be made truly free when God fashions us ... not as men, which He has already done, but as good men, which he now does by His grace, in order that we may be a new creature in Christ."26 While Adam's freedom included both the possibility to sin and to refrain from sinning, the true liberty which Christ brings is a freedom only for obedience.27 Augustine also affirmed the irresistibility of grace, since the will, when it has true freedom restored to it, has no desire to resist the good.
Thomas Aquinas, whose views came to prevail in Roman Catholicism, believed that man's will is weakened but not enslaved to sin. "Reason remains in possession of its free choice, so as to turn away from God, or turn to Him."28 Man's will needs to be assisted by grace, but it still retains some freedom to turn toward God. Man remains a free moral agent even in his sin. This view was reflected in the Council of Trent which affirmed that the fall of man does not deface the center of man's nature, his real being, but only curbs and weakens man's original freedom, his originally good will.
Augustine's theology was given prominence again by the Protestant
Reformers, though they appealed more directly to the Bible and sought to eschew philosophical explanations of evil and sin. Neither Luther nor Calvin denied man's natural freedom but were adamant on man's inability to free himself from his servitude to sin. Luther affirmed that man is free "in the realm of things below him" but not "toward God" or "in the kingdom of God."
In contrast to the mainline Reformation the Anabaptists were willing to allow man a certain measure of latitude in coming to salvation. Balthasar Hubmaier maintained that the fall primarily affects man's body and that the spirit of man, though now imprisoned in a fallen body, retains some of its original goodness and freedom. Most Anabaptists held to the view that man has a partial freedom before regeneration, a freedom that enables him to say yes to the call of the Word of God, and then a full freedom after regeneration.29
Among the Puritans Jonathan Edwards was noted for his emphasis on man's inability and unwillingness to come to God. Man through his own volition can seek for God, but the Holy Spirit must act in and through his seeking if it is to result in faith and repentance.30 Edwards went so far as to state that the imagination of the natural man in matters pertaining to religious truth is "totally blind, deaf and senseless, yea dead."31 Man can nonetheless be stirred to seek for salvation when confronted with the terror and dread of hell. Yet even here the Spirit is very likely present stimulating the natural powers of man, though the Spirit regenerates and indwells only those whom he chooses.
While maintaining that man is created for freedom, Karl Barth insists that true freedom, the freedom to believe and obey Jesus Christ, is outside man's grasp. In his view man "has no freedom for God. He cannot assert any such freedom over against God. He has no freedom in which he may will to help himself."32 Barth has deep reservations concerning the Roman Catholic doctrine of the surviving liberum arbitrium, since it creates the illusion that man of himself can respond to God's grace. This doctrine, he says, "misunderstands and distorts in the most dangerous way the seriousness of sin and therefore the seriousness of the human situation in relation to God."33
The universal and inevitable sinfulness of man is staunchly affirmed by Reinhold Niebuhr, though he seeks to stay clear of any philosophical determinism. Because man stands at the boundary between nature and spirit, he is placed in a position where anxiety induces him either to assert himself in pride or lose himself in sensuality. Sin is "inevitable but not necessary." Anxiety is the internal precondition of sin,
but with Kierkegaard Niebuhr acknowledges that sin presupposes itself.34 Anxiety would not predispose man to sin unless there were already present within man a bias toward sin. Yet man sins in freedom, and "man is most free in the discovery that he is not free."35 It is well to bear in mind that "the same freedom which tempts to anxiety also contains the ideal possibility of knowing God."36 Niebuhr sees not only the paradox of sin but also the paradoxical character of salvation: though we decide for Christ in freedom, only divine grace working in us enables us to make such a decision. Niebuhr opposes the Reformation view that man is totally helpless until he is acted upon by grace. He wishes to affirm human responsibility as well as the inevitability of sin. We believe that Niebuhr is right that man sins in freedom, but we question whether man comes to God by means of his freedom, if the reference is to natural free will. In our view man must be given a new freedom by grace before he can truly hear and truly obey. It seems that for Niebuhr man has a capacity for faith as well as for sin whereas both faith and the condition to receive faith must be seen as coming from the hand of God.
At times Niebuhr does perceive the truth that man's freedom in coming to God is itself a gift of God's grace. Yet in his apologetics he appeals not to the inherent credibility of the Word of God or to the persuasive power of the Holy Spirit, but to man's uneasy conscience. He believes that we can prepare the way for faith by showing the incongruities and ambiguities in the secular way of life. The apologist can bring man to despair "where he is ripe for faith," though only the grace of God can transmute this into "creative despair" which leads to faith and repentance.37
In this whole discussion on freedom it is necessary to distinguish between a natural freedom (free will) and an acquired or renewed freedom (Christian liberty). Man's surrender and obedience to Christ are to be attributed not to his natural free will but to the new freedom created in him by the grace of God. It is not enough for man's will to be assisted or strengthened. It must be converted or turned in an altogether new direction; the whole orientation of man's life must be drastically changed. This indeed is the meaning of conversion.
The gravity of the human predicament is further attested by the impairment of man's reasoning by sin. Sin manifests itself not only in bondage but also in blindness. This is to say that it has serious noetic implications. When Jeremiah declares that "the heart is deceitful above all things" (17:9), he is referring to the root of man's thoughts
and imagination (Genesis 6:5).38 Paul declares that through sin people "became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened" (Romans 1:21). Sin not only enslaves man's will but also blinds him to the truth about God and himself. Man in sin is not guided by the light of clear intelligence but gropes in the darkness of fear and resentment.
Any attempt to take the fall of man seriously will radically call into question the capacity of reason to discover or come to the truth. Niebuhr astutely observes that man's reason has become "a servant of the passions of nature within him and a victim of the caprices of nature about him."39 The structure of man's reason is not impaired, but the way in which he reasons is surely distorted by sin. The Enlightenment ideal of a completely disinterested or impartial reason is a chimera, since the reasoning of the natural man is most assuredly in the service of the sinful craving for power. "The will-to-power," Niebuhr says, "uses reason, as kings use courtiers and chaplains to add grace to their enterprise."40 In Emil Brunner's view the sinful distortion of reason is most apparent in the realm of the personal, in man's relationship to God. It is least obvious in the impersonal object-world, especially in the pure abstraction reflected in the discipline of mathematics.
Thomas Aquinas sought a synthesis of natural or rational wisdom and morality and the supernatural reality of grace. His position was that reason is disturbed but no blinded by sin. Man's natural powers remain intact though because of sin they are no longer in complete harmony with each other. Man, even fallen man, can still know some valid things about God and his moral law. Human philosophy can be a handmaid to theology, going before it to prepare the way, though it seems that it is an entirely trustworthy handmaid only when employed by the person of faith.41 Grace does not contravene man's nature but instead builds upon it. Faith does not overthrow man's reason but rather complements and perfect it. This fulfillment of man's rational quest also entails its reorientation, since reason must necessarily be brought into accordance with the new light given by grace.
For Thomas only the miracle of grace permits the man of reason to apprehend the unfathomable mysteries of revelation and to enter into the fellowship of the blessed. Yet supernatural truth could find no lodging in the human soul unless man were enabled to receive it by virtue of his divinely given natural potentialities which are dimmed but not obliterated by sin.42 Ernst Troeltsch observes: "The morality of reason and the natural-social world is the preparation for grace, with which it is united through the common procession of both from God, through the Divinely ordered continuous ascent from reason and nature to Grace."43
One must not, of course, lose sight of the fact that in the Thomistic schema there is a discontinuity as well as a continuity between nature and grace and that a leap is required in order to advance from one stage to the other. Moreover, this leap is made possible only by power sacramentally bestowed from above.
The scholastic asseveration that "the natural powers are unimpaired by sin" came under severe criticism by the Reformers. It was their contention that through sin man is completely alienated from God sot hat it is impossible for him to think correctly in matters that affect his spiritual and moral status before God. Luther put this very emphatically: "Human reason as well as the will has been blinded and turned away from the good and the true."44 This means that man's natural and social morality are not just transcended by grace but drastically altered if not negated. The Reformers, however, did not always follow through the logic of their position and continued to allude to a universal moral code.
Reformed theology has traditionally affirmed the possibility of a natural knowledge of God and morality on the basis of general revelation and common grace. Yet because of sin this general revelation does not lead man to God or give him a true picture of God; instead it renders man without excuse. The general revelation is the wrath of God that is revealed from heaven against "all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18). This general awareness of God does not prepare man for a special revelation but condemns him to perdition.
The Story of the Fall
Several reasons can be advanced as to why the story of the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 is no longer credible to many people today. First a literalistic interpretation has created tensions with the sciences of paleontology and paleethnology, whose findings appear to contradict certain elements in the story. Besides cultural obscurantism, a false determinism has intruded itself in the circles of orthodoxy by which original sin is interpreted as a biological inheritance. Sin comes to be viewed as a genetic deformity, and sex is seen as the locus of sin. This Manichaean strand in theology overlooks the truth that sin is basically a spiritual not a natural defilement, though its infection extends to every part of man's nature. In opposition to this kind of theology Berkouwer prefers to speak of "the guilt character of all sin" rather than
of a sin "originally inherited."45 Moreover, to make sin a necessity of nature is to render it excusable whereas it is totally inexcusable and basically inexplicable.
Another strand in Protestant orthodoxy sees the sin of Adam imputed to his descendants by virtue of the fact that he is the Representative of the human race. This position, known as the federal theory, tends to make man a victim of destiny rather than a willing accomplice in sin. Man's condemnation is made to rest upon the guilt of his first parents. Such a view subverts human responsibility from another angle than he determinist position mentioned above.46
Emil Brunner contends that the Genesis account has been given more weight by the church than is warranted by Scripture. According to him this story is not a major formative influence in the scriptural doctrine of the fall.
Yet we must not underestimate the penetrating theological insights in the Genesis story, nor should we disregard the truth that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Reinhold Niebuhr has astutely remarked that this story must be taken seriously but not literally. In his view it is a myth that accurately reveals the existential situation in which man finds himself in the world. Myth for Niebuhr does not mean a story of mythological deities that dramatizes a universal truth about nature (as in the history of religions school), but a spiritually profound attempt to relate the biblical view of life to the meaningfulness of history.
Karl Barth prefers the term saga to myth in this connection, since saga refers to a poetic tale that describes real encounters between God and man. It is a pictorial elaboration of what has occurred in the past. While it is anchored in history, its significance is not limited to a particular history. It has reference to realities that are inaccessible to historical science.
At this point it is important to establish the correct hermeneutical procedure for understanding the "myth" of the fall. In order to discover what the author really intended we must take into consideration the literary genre of the narrative. In this way the literal sense is not less but more respected. The historical critical method throws light upon this tale, as it does upon the creation stories, the stories of the flood, the story of the Tower of Babel, and so on, especially when these are compared to similar tales in other religions of the ancient Middle East. This method cannot give us the theological significance of the account, but it can show that the language or terminology employed is, for the most part, symbolic or mythopoetic rather than univocal. To affirm
that there are mythical and legendary elements in the Scripture is not to detract from its divine inspiration nor from its historical basis but to attest that the Holy Spirit has made use of various kinds of language and imagery to convey divine truth.
Paul Tillich sees in the biblical accounts the myth of a transcendent or ontological fall as well as an immanent fall. For Tillich sin is presupposed in the actualization of finite freedom. The fall signifies the transition from essence to existence, essence being understood as an undifferentiated unity out of which all things come. I concur with Niebuhr that this view smacks more of neo-Platonism than of a careful exegesis of Scripture.47 In the Tillichian perspective the fall is treated no longer as historical guilt but instead as an ontological fate.
Against Tillich Niebuhr affirms the myth of an historical fall, but this does not mean that he sees a literal fall at the beginning of history. The perfection symbolized in the Garden of Eden is the perfection before the act of sin. Man is never in a state of dreaming innocence, since being both free and finite he is always anxious. The Genesis story reveals how man is moved to prideful self-assertion in order to allay his anxiety.
While agreeing with Niebuhr on the symbolic nature of this story we diverge from his interpretation at several major points. First was Adam in a state of anxiety or in a state of communion with God? Does not the fall indicate a passage from communion to a break rather than a transition from anxiety to prideful self-affirmation? Moreover, it is our conviction that this story indicates a first fall before recorded history as well as a universal fall.
Another line of interpretation which extends from Irenaeus to Hegel, and which includes representatives on the contemporary scene, is that Adam represents the childhood of the race. The Garden of Eden is a prehistoric state of primeval innocence out of which both historic virtue and evil emerge. For Hegel the fall is the prerequisite of virtue, since through sinful self-assertion man comes to self-consciousness. In Hegel's view the eating from the tree of knowledge signifies the rise rather than the fall of man.
On the modern scene Gordon Kaufman is one who manifests an affinity with this general position.48 The fall is an historical process by which primitive man emerges "from a pre-human level of existence" characterized by "innocent spontaneity" to "self-centered autonomy."49 "Despite the lack of direct historical documentation," he declares, "the fall should be regarded as a genuinely historical event or process; for we cannot understand the continuing historical processes,
filled as they are with hatred and disharmony, guilt and distrust, without presupposing an earlier one through which these came to be what they are."50 In contradistinction to orthodoxy Kaufman rejects the notion that Adam fell as a mature and fully responsible self. At the same time he sees the fall as having more historicity than do Tillich and liberal theologians generally.
Spell-Checked to here 3/11/18
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