Progressive Revelation – "Rein In My Overstatement" Edition

I just re-read my last post and if I wasn’t me I would have gotten the impression that I am affirming that Scripture contradicts itself. Now, for obvious orthodox reasons, I would probably want to shy away from that, even if that is where what Levenson says eventually leads. But how do I navigate this tension? Underlying all of this is my return to Calvin and Pete Enns’ explication of the same notion in Inspiration & Incarnation:

For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to “lisp” in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness.

-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I:13:1.

So then God in the Scriptures “lisps” to us, that is, comes down to our level of thinking. Now, Pete shows persuasively that this includes cultural context. God reveals himself in Scripture in a thoroughly historical way, including cultural context. So then my main question in relation to progressive revelation and even in dealing with how the OT can be normative for us today is,

“What if “our level of thinking” is wrong?” What does it mean for God to “meet us where we are” or more appropriately, for God to “meet the Israelites where they were,” if that place is a place of error (in the case of Israel’s acceptance of the existence of a pantheon of gods following their fellow ANEers) or a place of myth (in the case of primordial history)?

What are the implications if we say that God ‘lisps’ to Israel and develops them through their history (of redemption as found in Scripture) to bring them to a place of true understanding of God?

This may bring up some sticky hermeneutical or normativity issues but I also think it helps me to understand more the ‘suprising’ revelation of Christ. He is in fact the capstone to this true development we find in history as recorded in the Scriptures. Any thoughts?

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5 responses to “Progressive Revelation – "Rein In My Overstatement" Edition

  1. First of all, Calvin should have been more sensitive towards those with speech impediments. This quote is rank with a speechism that glorifies those who speak correctly and damns those who do not.

    More seriously, there is no doubt that God’s accommodation of much of the Israelite’s worldview is, in an ultimate sense, incorrect. I’m thinking of affirming the existence of the raqia in Genesis, some of the creation psalms, and parts of 2 Isaiah and, like you mentioned, parts of the OT affirming the existence of other gods. The mere fact that YHWH is sometimes referred to as “the Most High God” assumes the existence of other gods, otherwise this title is meaningless.

    I think the point you are bringing up (concerning the normativity of the OT to the church) is a tough issue. I think much of this “tension” can be resolved by understanding the context of revelation (which Enns stresses) or the “occasional nature” of revelation (which Gaffin stresses).

    As for the implications of viewing the OT in this way, I think there is more payoff by reading the OT as a historically imbedded, theologically packed document instead of reading it as a history book full of “heroes of the faith” stories, neat proverbs to put on a bumper sticker, and scattered allusions to Christ.

    If you want to get an idea of just how “surprising” Christ was as fulfillment of the OT, you should listen to the podcast by Rabi Tovia Singer called “Judaism’s Response to Christian Missionaries.” He is, obviously, coming at it from a different angle, but when he discusses the messianic passages of the OT and attempts to show how Jesus did not fulfill them, you get a sense of just how surprising the ending of the story is…something that I think Vos does not take seriously enough.

  2. Hey Art, what specifically do you mean by

    I think much of this “tension” can be resolved by understanding the context of revelation (which Enns stresses) or the “occasional nature” of revelation (which Gaffin stresses).

    That is, how does Enns’ stress on the context of revelation help with the incorrectness of parts of the OT? I probably just haven’t read my I&I enough…

  3. Enns specifically helped me because at the very beginning of the book he writes, “The problems many of us feel regarding the Bible may have less to do with the Bible itself and more to do with our own presuppositions” (15). This brought to my attention some basic assumptions or presuppositions that I had about the Bible that were not fair to push onto the Bible: namely, that if “God is true” and “his word is truth” than it must be a completely accurate, historically defendable document.

    What Enns shows through his work is that these presuppositions have more to do with our modern context than with what Scripture was written for. Looking at the historical context of Scripture through the lens of the incarnational analogy (or concursus, as Warfield calls it) has shown me that God, in revealing himself to his people, was concerned with his people knowing him primarily; he wasn’t bogged down with laying out the inconsistencies of the ANE worldview with modern science or with speaking in a historically defendable way. Rather, he used myth and stories and spoke to them through their worldview instead of against their worldview.

    That has resolved the tensions for me because I realized that I was not reading Scripture on Scripture’s own terms. Instead, I was reading Scripture with my own modernistic presuppositions guiding my understanding. When I saw an internal contradiction or a contradiction with science, I would get nervous and turn to Josh McDowell for answers. Now when I see those same things my primary response isn’t “how can these things both be true and consistent,” but rather, “what was God saying by revealing himself in this way? What was the authors theological aim or primary goal in writing this? How did his or her historical context shape what was written?”

    Does that make sense?

  4. We dialogued about this very same issue in OTB today. AND, interestingly enough, Josh McDowell spoke in convo and at church this evening. ironic, eh?

    Dr. Fowler is always speaking of how God consistently uses known constructs to reveal new truths. In this case, we spoke of how God lovingly came to the level of thinking and understanding that was applicable to the time of first giving the Law. Later, when adjustments were made (i.e., at first only the firstborn men could receive the double-portion inheritance…but later on, it was written that daughters could receive it if there were no sons), it wasn’t that there was a contradicting new law, but that the original was not ALL of the truth. Were God to reveal ALL truth at once, no one would comprehend it and His loving nature would not be understood or applicable into the lives of finite beings.

    In contemplating all of this, it brought to mind the purpose of the creation account and a thought that God must have used some known construct to reveal this new truth about Himself and His creation. So while the account must have been truthful, it makes me question what extent we should use it to validate claims of truth about science today. Surely at the beginning of the Scriptures, God could not have given ALL truth about creation; for otherwise, we could not comprehend it. So then, should we not look more to Genesis for its purpose of displaying God as the greater God who trumps all other known gods in the construct of the ancient mindset? Shouldn’t we be looking to see what revelation He is giving about Himself more so than establishing a scientific claim about the beginning of time as we know it?

  5. Art – Yes, you’ve articulated what I have felt was the case for quite some time. Thanks a lot actually man, you really helped me order my thoughts on this.

    Shannon – I like Fowler more and more everyday…Crazy he’s still allowed to teach at Liberty.

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