So Nimm Denn Meine Hande...

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Foundation of the Answer to the Question of Cessationism: Part 4

Well, it's been a while since this train last took on some passengers, so I'm guessing we're about due for the next installment on the best show that Fox never cancelled: Theology Idol. Anyway, since we have last seen an installment, there have been a bunch of feckles getting all upons. None the less, I'm going to keep trucking...

So last time, we ended up commenting on how experience doesn't dictate doctrine. Now, I'm going to explain that in more detail. The real question that we're asking here is the question of the relationship of Genereal and Special Revelation and the nature of the current validity of the formal principle of the reformation. Why, you ask? Well, we're talking about learning and systematizing and understanding of theology; our knowledge of the divine (and the reality over which that divine resides). In this post I'll deal with the relationship of Special and General Revelation and in the next post, I'll deal with the question of the formal principle.

For those who don't know the terms, General Revelation speaks of God's revelation of himself (and ultimate reality) that is generally available. The term "general" in "General Revelation" does not refer to 'content' (a common misunderstanding), but instead refers to 'scope' (how much about God can be discovered by nature). So, there is much that the world can know from General Revelation. Romans 1:20 says that "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

What do we discern from this? Well, no person cannot claim that they don't know about God; he has given them enough information so that they cannot plead ignorance. But, what do they learn from General Revelation? Well, they learn that God exists and He's not them.

I could now embark on lengthy and very technical epistemological discourse...but I won't. I'll simply make the following blanket statements:

1. General Revelation is effective in revealing God but it isn't propositional. There is truth in nature, but that truth doesn't come in propositional form. Looking at nature, no matter how astute you are, will never lead you to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

2. General Revelation is not self-interpretive. General and Special Revelation are meant to work together. We can speculate about physical processes and relationships in nature (how they work, what chemicals are involved, etc.) and we can learn plenty about their mechanics and inherent properties. We will never learn their meaning nor purpose nor ultimate cause without that being revealed to us by God; the planning, sustaining engineer (or conductor) of it all. Special Revelation interprets General Revelation.

A good example of this is in Acts 2:22-36. The Jews thought that they knew what 'had happened' to Jesus; He was a prophet who was killed by the Jewish authorities. Peter then corrects them, explaining what really happened and what it meant. The Jews looking at the situation of the trial and crucifixion of Christ wouldn't have discerned the ultimate truth or meaning of the event if it were not revealed to them.

Now, after putting forth these two points, we see that there is a reasonable argument to show that General Revelation (of which personal experience is a part) is neither propositional nor self-interpreting. The Jews in Acts 2:22-36 had an experience; they knew about the trial and crucifixion of Christ. They thought that they knew what had happened. God, speaking through the apostle Peter, corrects them. The Jews experience wasn't suspect, but their interpretation of it was. They needed a special, propositional revelation from God in order to understand their experience. Their reaction shows how much this divinely given interpretation of their experience impacted them:

"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day." - Acts 2:37-41

Before the three thousand had their experience challenged, they knew what had happened but they didn't understand what had happened.

So where am I going with this? I'd imagine it seems fairly clear now:

Experience is not a reliable means of discerning ultimate truth; scripture is.

This is not to say that experience is inherently unreliable, but instead is not ultimately authoritative...simply because experience doesn't have access to divine plans and purposes. Those are given in scripture.

Philisophically, this concept is also self evident. To suggest that a person can, through reason or experience, cross the physical/spiritual barrier and ascend to the realm of the divine, is sheer wishful thinking. Without divine revelation, all men are equally clueless as to who God is or what he's doing.

That's all for this post folks! Now, I'm going to take a break of a few weeks because I'm going to be tackling the issue of the ordination of women, which is currently a large struggle in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference. There's some stuff going at my church regarding this (long and drawn out and almost completely useless) debate, so I'm going to try to find an avenue to interact with this struggle and hopefully help bring back some biblical sanity. I'm guessing that the Mennonites have their minds made up, but it's time for someone to start doing something about the sheer tsunami of stupidity, lest the entire conference be washed into paganism. Anyway, I might post some of the stuff I'm working on...just so that some of the people at church might be able to access some of the information I'm working on.

I WILL come back to finish off the cessationism string of posts (and might keep one going as I work on the ordination of women stuff), but it might not be for a few weeks. Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian


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