It’s time for some theology, and I’m writing the third part of a three-part Confessional Paper which means I don’t have time to write a proper blog-post. So instead, just to stave off all you slavering theology geeks, I’m going to post Part One of this very same Confessional Paper. It’s pretty dry and boring and doesn’t offer much extraneous explanation/defense besides Bible verse references (to which, if I had time, I’d provide hyperlinks, but I don’t . . . ), but what can I say? Sometimes you gotta play to the stereotypes. Anyway this, among other things, is what I believe:
Introduction to Theology: God’s Revelation of Himself
Jennwith2ns January 2013
I believe that there is a God who made and reigns over all of creation (Psalm 24.1-2). Furthermore, this God is a personal God (1 John 4.8). Beyond that, this personal God desires a relationship with His creation, particularly human beings (Deuteronomy 6.5). To this end, He has revealed Himself to the creation—and particularly human beings—in various ways (Deuteronomy 6.6; Psalm 29.3-10).
I believe God reveals Himself initially but not primarily through the creation itself (Romans 1.19-20). Humans can know God exists from nature (Psalm 19.1), and we can even know some specifics about His attributes through our five senses. Because humans are made in God’s image, marred though it is by sin, sometimes the things they say or do still reflect His person or purpose or will, whether they are truly in relationship with God or not (for example Balaam in Numbers 22-24, or Caiaphas in John 11.49-51). That reflection is also a part of general revelation (Matthew 5.45). I believe people may refuse to acknowledge the presence or existence of God, but they are unable legitimately to claim ignorance—as Romans 1.20 (ESV) says, “They are without excuse,” because no one is exempt from the implications of general revelation.
General revelation is the way in which many people who later come to faith in Christ describe coming to know about God during earlier phases of their lives. I believe general revelation can help move someone toward the relationship with God that He desires, but it is not sufficient to provide that saving relationship on its own (John 14.6).
Beyond general revelation, God also gives us special revelation. This revelation provides specifics (thus the designation special) about how to relate to God and how to be saved from the otherwise permanent affects of sin (Romans 6.23). I believe special revelation comes through the Jewish and Christian Scriptures and in the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1.1-3). I believe Jesus showed us by His life more specifically than the natural world could, what God is like. He also provided the means by which we may be saved. I believe the Bible documents “salvation history”—the events leading up to Jesus’ saving work—and how we should live in light of that salvation (Acts 2.36-39). Finally, God specially works in the lives of His children to reveal to them what Scripture and His work in their lives really mean (Psalm 25.14).
The Bible is made up of sixty-six books, and I believe the choice of each was determined by God Himself. God did not simply hand down a list on tablets, however, as He did when giving the Ten Commandments. Instead, I believe He worked through the leadership of the early Church over a period of hundreds of years to affirm which books were part of God’s special revelation to His people. The Old Testament canon had already been set by the time the “Church fathers” were deciding about the canon as a whole. Jesus affirmed the Old Testament canon by quoting from and referencing it frequently (eg., Matthew 4.4-10). New Testament writers also affirmed the already accepted Scripture (2 Peter 3.2). By their ultimate affirmation of the standing canon, I believe the early church leaders also affirmed that God did, indeed, specially enable humans to discern what His true word is.
Furthermore, there is evidence that, even as the books which ultimately comprised the New Testament were written, they were already being viewed as the word of God, on a par with the Old Testament (2 Peter 3.15-16). Although it took some centuries for the final New Testament to be approved, the books within it were already in use in the worship of the first century church (Hansen, 1/24/13). The church used multiple methods to discern canonicity, but the authority of the Scripture does not derive from the church or from any other outside source. The primary authority by which the canon stands is God Himself—it is His word and it authenticates itself (Hebrews 6.13; Kruger, 89). I believe, in spite of the frequent charge of contradictions, the books of the canon come together as a progressive description of salvation history, they center on Jesus Christ and they do not contradict each other. “God would not permit his Word to teach falsehood as well as truth” (Nicole, 201).
I believe it is possible for God to add more to the canon of Scripture, but I believe it is not only unlikely, but simply will never happen, because nothing can be added to the saving work of Christ to save us “more,” until He comes again.
The Bible as a whole was written over millennia by many different people in varying contexts (Hebrews 1.1). In each case, each writer was inspired by God such that the resulting writing can also be described as being inspired (or “breathed out”) by God (2 Timothy 2.16, ESV). The nature of this inspiration is a challenge to me. I believe that the Bible is inspired by God in its entirety, but I struggle with the idea that even every specific word of the autographs was ordained by God. The idea that each writer was prepared by God through increasing relationship with God, before actually being inspired to write Scripture is a helpful one. The analogy of a boss whose secretary has worked with him so long she can craft a letter exactly as he would say it, without dictation (Erickson, 243), is beginning to sway me in the direction of verbal plenary inspiration, but I have not quite arrived there yet. Though I understand that Scripture is not, at least in the usual sense, a textbook, I wrestle with the idea that, outside of poetry or obvious analogy or other literary device, certain scientific or historical details which are currently not found to be true, were verbally inspired by God, and not simply a function of the limited understanding of the writer given his context at the time. Nevertheless—and, perhaps, at the moment, not entirely logically—I believe that Scripture is fully the work of God and fully authoritative, without distinction or degree. I believe Scripture is prescriptive for and descriptive of the human condition and God’s solution to it. I believe Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) is the “yardstick” by which we measure our faith and practice, as well as the lens through which we must understand our perceived experiences with God.
While I believe that, because our human nature is fallen and the image of God in us is marred so that we can deceive ourselves (Jeremiah 17.9), I also believe that God’s Spirit works in individual human beings—and within church bodies—to correctly interpret and apply Scripture to our lives as we, like its writers, work and grow in our relationship to God (2 Timothy 2.15). God’s Spirit illuminates His Word to us and empowers us to live what it teaches us (John 16.7-15).
Scripture and Authority
God is the ultimate authority of all creation. I believe He is sovereign, with ultimate control over the events of each person’s life (Psalm 90.1-5), though I do not believe that sovereignty is threatened or diminished (but rather is enhanced) by His allowing humans to make their own choices and live their own lives (Psalm 90.12, 17), at least to a limited degree. Ultimately, however, God’s will is always accomplished.
The above being true, Scripture itself, as the breathed out Word of God, is the highest authority for the Christian. Jesus is the living Word of God, but as He is not physically among us anymore, what we have is the Spirit within us and the written Word of God—which is, itself and by the Spirit, also “living and active” (Hebrews 4.12, ESV). God is truth and so therefore what His Word teaches is fully true (Numbers 23.19). In this Word, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us tohis own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1.3, ESV). In this way, God’s will—to relate in holiness and love to the humans He created in His image—is done.