In our present “postmodern” ethos, laden as it is with deconstructionism and hermeneutical suspicion, Christians have to ask how the primacy of biblical revelation does in such an environment. Does it struggle for air or does it flourish? Maybe it is better to ask, can it flourish as an idea among ideas?
The biblical outlook has set against it three formidable foes. These enemies of God’s Word are constantly at work chipping away at the foundations upon which Christian theology, and therefore Christian truth, rests. Often working surreptitiously, these three foes are well-known.
- First – the system of anti-Christian thought that pervades any society; the cosmos as John calls it or the world.
- Second – the unregenerate heart and mind; the sin nature of the individual
- Third – the god of this age and his cohorts
In biblical shorthand they are the world, the flesh, and the devil.
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:16)
Any theology worth its salt will constantly engage these powers, correcting and seeking to undermine their challenges and influence. True theology is a corrective to false ideas wherever it is found.
This is inevitably the case because the revelation of God, in the Word of God particularly, is the only authority that contains the power to realign man to the divine intention; that is the intention of God for man in the first place.
There is no more significant question in the whole of theology, and in the whole of human life, than that of the nature and reality of revelation. (G.C. Berkouwer, General Revelation, 17)
He’s absolutely right! We live in a revelatory environment; that’s what this world is. Because it is made and upheld by God.
Therefore, Bible doctrine, which is the main reason that the Bible says itself it was given in 2 Timothy 3:16:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
The theology of revelation is not a subject to be learned; it is the disclosure of truth. If we know what it is then we will treat it appropriately. We will prize it, and we will work it out and apply it to all areas of life.
Now, one cannot ignore the clear message of the Bible to the effect that “there is a way that seems right to a man” (Proverbs 14:12). This fact must be taken under consideration when we expound our faith because our default setting, even as Christians, is independence from God. Because we either do things God’s way or we do it our way. There are ways of doing theology, ways of thinking about theology, which do theology a great disservice. They all tend to treat the Bible as a subject.
But man is a dependent creature. Here is how he ought to think:
As man’s existence is dependent upon an act of voluntary creation on the part of God, so man’s knowledge is dependent upon an act of voluntary revelation of God to man. Even the voluntary creation of man is already a revelation of God to man. Thus every bit of knowledge on the part of man is derivative and reinterpretative. Now, if every fact in the universe is created by God, and if the mind of man and whatever the mind of man knows is created by God, it goes without saying that the whole fabric of human knowledge would dash in pieces if God did not exist and if all finite existence were not revelational of God. In any Christian pursuit therefore, the mirage of free and unhindered reasoning must be stopped at the outset. What we’re about here is to find out what God says. God has spoken, now what has he said? (Cornelius Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, 12-14)
Van Til taught that God has flooded the creation with clear revelation of His Divine nature (theotes), and that man, as the image of God, is both revelatory to himself and is equipped—at least as he came from the hand of the Maker—to interpret the revelation which God puts forth. Only we do not interpret autonomously, that is, outside our God-intended parameters. We were made for exalted communion with Yahweh, the “I Am” (Exod. 3:14; Jn. 8:58), and this communion is predicated upon our sustained worshipful dependence on Him.
Our dependence on God is achieved when we realize that God has not created us to “go our own way and do our own thing.” No, He has spoken to us. Even in the Garden of Eden, God spoke to Adam and Eve, and they were to live together with Him in joyous subordination to the revealed verbal revelation they received. We don’t respond as well-trained pets, but as responsible and free persons whose job it is to (as I believe Kepler put it), “think God’s thoughts after Him.” This phrase pops up again and again in Van Til’s writings and summarizes much of his approach.
Hence, for us to think anything without reference to God’s Word is to cross into prohibited territory. It is the prelude to sin, since it prepares us to “size things up” independently of God and to come to conclusions about God’s works which are out of sync with the Divine intention. This is the position that Satan got Eve into in Genesis 3:6. She was tricked, but Adam opted for the autonomous lifestyle knowingly and willingly (1 Tim. 2:14). So, when God asks the man “who told you you were naked?” (Gen. 3:11), he is getting to the heart of the matter. Did God tell them they were naked? Did Satan tell them that? No. Well, who did then? They told themselves!
From this stark truth comes all of our trouble. Hence, the priority of revelation. We will never know reality aright until we “think God’s thoughts after Him.” Even when we, like Eve, state true propositions about the world (see again Gen. 3:6), we will go awry because we will not relate them to their Creator and Interpreter and His purposes. If we do that then we will lose our significance and, in so doing, we will lose ourselves.
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.