Friday, December 16, 2005

"Now we know only in part ..."

As I was writing an e-mail this morning to friend who's wrestling with understanding belief in the deity of Christ and how we can truly know an "invisible" God, I began to ponder the nature of biblical revelation.

The revelation God has mercifully given to us in his Word is sufficient for all of salvation, life, and doctrine: it is "able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3.15-17). But it's not a complete revelation, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 3.9-13: "[Now] we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. . . . For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known" (NRSV). In addition to that, we know God withholds revelation: "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law" (Deut 29.29). "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter" (Prov 25.2).

I've long been trusting that we can and must use the whole of the Bible to interpret the rest of the Bible (e.g., that Jesus' body and blood must be "eaten" and "drunk"). But can we actually do so? That is to say, is what is written ultimately able to be synthesized into coherent and whole theologies of eschatology, the person and work of Christ, the nature of man, et cetera? Scripture does come from and reflect the mind and voice of an immutable God perfect in wisdom. But is what he has revealed in it complete
enough so that all contradictions and inconsistencies can be resolved internally (insofar as the concerned parties conduct their study in humility and prayer)? Or is it that we must take each book or writing at its face value and not attempt to resolve seeming contradictions or vagueries in Scripture because it doesn't promise (or perhaps demand) such smoothed-out resolutions itself? Or even if Scripture maintains complete internal coherence, are we limited by our own finite minds and cultural distance? On the one hand, "we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2.16), but God's ways and thoughts are, ultimately, unattainable (Isa 55.8-9).

Your thoughts would be appreciated.

* * *

On another note, I like what Kevin VanHoozer writes on the nature of doctrine:

"Are doctrines informative truth claims or propositions about objective realities (the traditional view), or are they articulations of human feelings and experiences set forth in speech for church language and church life ([George] Lindbeck's own 'cultural-linguistic' view)? Clearly, if the aim is to develop doctrine from Scripture, one first has to decide what doctrine is.

"My own view is that doctrine is direction for the church's fitting participation in the ongoing drama of redemption. Doctrine has a cognitive component, for we must understand what God has done in Christ for our salvation (and this includes getting the identity of the divine dramatis personae right), but the thrust of Christian doctrine is not mere knowledge, but rather wisdom: we demonstrate our understanding by speaking and acting in manners that correspond to reality as it is disclosed by (and being conformed to) Jesus Christ. . . . I believe that this understanding of doctrine yields a theodramatic principle for continuing (I won't say 'going beyond') Scripture in new contexts." *

* I. Howard Marshall, Beyond the Bible: Moving From Scripture to Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2004), 87-88.


Dave said...

It's a shame you don't believe in my God. It's an eggroll I bought from next door. All life's answers can be found in it's delicious layers.

Ryan P.T. said...

I think we can and must use Scripture to interpret Scripture, because that's what we've got. As to what God is witholding: it's neither here nor there as far as we're concerned. And I think this is opposite "synthesizing" everything into "coherent and whole theologies." The former implies an in-ductive methodology, the latter a de-ductive. If you establish beforehand certain categories into which biblical texts need to be assimilated (the task of de-ductive methodology), at some point you're going to be "filling gaps", or attempting to read into the "secret things of God," where God has not spoken. The first example that comes to mind is the Calvinistic assertion of double predestination.

Your notions of contradictions and inconsistencies reflect a brand of logic that Scripture does not ascribe to God, chiefly because there are things we simply do not know. I think when you ask whether "we must take each book or writing at its face value and not attempt to resolve seeming contradictions or vagueries in Scripture because it doesn't promise (or perhaps demand) such smoothed-out resolutions itself?" you're closest to how I view the Scripture. We bow to God's wisdom, as Paul does in his doxology at the end of Romans 11(?).

It is what it is. And at any rate, the FULLEST revelation about God is NOT the Bible, but his living and incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. In HIM is all the fullness of wisdom and knowledge.

halfmom said...

"...are we limited by our own finite minds and cultural distance?"

We are limited - not necessarily because we have finite minds or cultural differences, but because we have fallen minds.

Remember that even though we are positionally seated in heaven, we are still functioning with minds and bodies that have been damaged by sin - so we need to accept that.

I'm going to have to agree with Ryan. Scripture simply is what it is - something breathed by God - and most fully revealed by the one who breathed into being all of creation