I thought I would adapt some of my lecture notes on Systematic Theology for my blog. I am continuing to work on my book of biblical theology and thought it would do me good to change things up a bit. The first group of posts will be on the Doctrine of Revelation.
That God has spoken is the most important thing that can be said by a human being in this world. Ontologically speaking, God must come first, and God must have priority. God is before all things, even before the Scriptures, which are given in time as a disclosure of God to man—not a full disclosure, but a sufficient one.
There are all kinds of epistemological—that is, knowledge-based—questions that arise when we deal with God’s disclosing of Himself, about the world, and about ourselves. This epistemological triad comes to us from two sources: Nature and Scripture.
If we’re going to take a truly biblical approach to knowledge, we must understand the ramifications of stating the fact that God has spoken to us, and that therefore, there are ways of operating, ways of thinking, ways of conducting ourselves, ways of doing theology, that are either commensurate with that great fact or in opposition to it.
Another way of putting it is that we will either respond to the truth that God has spoken and fall in line with that truth—position ourselves underneath it, depend upon it, and look to it to find truth—or we look down upon this fact from a perspective that is still independent of it, a perspective that analyzes it, judges it from the outside. Even some theologies have done the latter. This simply encourages and promotes the big problem with mankind—our penchant for being independent of God.
The doctrine of revelation does not promote autonomy but dependence on God, dependence on God not just for our everyday needs, but also for our everyday thinking. This outlook is inextricably bound to the Bible and our faith in it.
In the first part of these lectures I’m going to be setting the foundations for the way we need to think about the Scriptures, and about the world we live in, and therefore about the God who has created us, saved us, and whom we serve. This begins with a right approach to authority. As one has stated it,
The Christian theological framework is not created by a masterful human imagination; in fact, it is not fundamentally a human construct at all. It is in the first instance discovered in the divine initiative of God’s own self-disclosure. If theology is the science concerning God, it is a science with its roots in God’s manifestation of himself. Thus, genuine theology listens before it talks. (Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology, 64)
We should always place the Scriptures in such a position in our minds.
The Final Authority?
Now, it is very common for evangelicals to say that the Bible is their final authority. Many of us subscribe to statements of faith which say that very thing. However, saying that the Bible is your final authority, and actually making it your final authority in all matters, are two very different things.
For many people the Bible is their ultimate authority when it comes to “spiritual things.” However, when it comes to the way they do their jobs, the way that they pursue certain hobbies or ambitions, the way that they transact business, the way they go shopping, pay their bills, interact with people, the kind of decisions that they make, the way that they interpret the world, or the way that they allow the ideas of the world to penetrate their thinking, one often finds that the Bible is not only not the final authority in all matters, it is not any kind of authority at all! It is used only for church, for church activities, Bible studies, maybe personal devotions, and when it is put down, the cogs start clicking and the mind changes its frame of reference, moving from a biblical mindset back to a worldly mindset, going about its daily duties without much reference at all to what God thinks and what God says.
What we want is a view of the Bible as the ultimate authority, to be consulted first. Christians should let the Scriptures hold such a comprehensive claim on the mind and heart that they won’t be able to go shopping, drive their car, plan a vacation, or do anything else without thinking about what God, through His Scripture, says about how they should be approaching these things. We are to bring all our thoughts into captivity to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). Therefore, if we’re to do that we need to take seriously the fact that we must always, and in everything, be dependent upon the revelation of God so we can live a life of faith in this world. Remember, without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).
The Demands of Revelation
The fact that God has not left Himself without witness (Acts 14:17) but has revealed Himself in the world by His Word, is such a stupendous thought that it pulls everything into its orbit; nothing is left unaffected by it. Hence Systematic Theology might well be seen as the Christian worldview set out and unpacked. Systematic Theology therefore, is only at home in a truly Christian environment.
What this entails is an exclusivist approach to theology from a believing viewpoint, which requires a biblical viewpoint. For a Christian to adopt a method of theology that is at odds with his duty towards his Lord, is for that person to deny what is said to him, and to mix incongruent conceptions of reality together in his mind. There is only one reality and that is God’s reality. Other realities are made-up realities, and we as Christians can make up realities as well as the next man, and we do that when we step outside of what God requires in his Word.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.