Revelation as Dialectical Presence.

The atheists are making comments, not just atheists, to the effect that if you aren't an inerrantist you aren't a Christian. I want to keep the lid on that can of worms, but I will post the first part of my page on revelation and Biblical inspiration since I published the second half as part of the previous post. I will also add a few comments after that.

Christian Beowulf says:


If you seriously think the Bible is just an imperfect mandmade book written by guys trying to guess at what God is like and what he requires and how he will save us etc., then why even be a Christian at all? Why not merely be a theist and make up your beliefs about God totally from scratch? Your position is totally illogical.

By Blogger beowulf2k8, At 1/10/2009 02:09:00 PM


Atheist Anonymous says:

Unless it is perfect, it has no relevance. My ideas about God are just as good as someone else' guesses, especially some adulterous murder who lived thousands of years ago--right? "No, because the community..." Community smoonity! The community means nothing. Large groups of people are MORE likely to be wrong than one person by himself, in fact. Its called herd thinking, and it generally results in atrocities. So, if the Bible is indeed not the perfect revelation of God to man, then it's not worth messing with. But while you can't believe the Bible you also can't bring yourself to leave the superstitions you inherited from your Catholic family, so you pay Christianity lip service and go on with your her thinking.

These are the kind of faulty assertion I was discussing in the previous post. I remind you that the views I documented of different ideas of revelation were all by Evangelicals and conservatives. Carl C.F. Henry was, in his day, the most respected Evangelical scholar bar none, on par with F.F. Bruce and few others.

Here is the Material from Doxa that deal with position on revelation:

Atheists on the internet are always talking about contradictions in the Bible. These alleged contradictions fall into many categories. Most can be extinguished simply by remembering that all language had connotative meanings and all good writing uses literary devices, but many are based upon an inadequate understanding of the nature of divine revelation.

The problem with the notions of revelation in the Christian tradition is that they don't really conform to the earthly or human idea of what revelation should be. The human notion can be seen with the Book of Mormon—handed down from angels on high on Gold tablets—or the Koran—dictated by an Angel who grabbed Mohammed by the throat and forced him to write. The human notion tells us that there should be no mistakes, no problems, and the revelation should be ushered in with fanfare and pomp, clear and indisputable. But that is not the way of many religious traditions, and certainly not Christianity. There are problems, and even though most of them are conceived by ignorant people (most of the Internet atheists claims to "contradictions in the Bible" are based largely on not understanding metaphor or literary devices), there are some real problems and they are thorny. There are even more problems when it comes to the historicity of the text. But the important thing to note is that the revelations of the Christian faith are passed through human vessels. They contain human problems, and they are passed on safeguarded through human testimony. Even if the eye-witness nature of the individual authors of the NT cannot be established, the testimony of the community as a whole can be. The NT and its canon is a community event. It was a community at large that produced the Gospels, that passed on the Testimony and that created the canon. This communal nature of the revelation guarantees, if not individual authenticity, at least a sort of group validation, that a whole bunch of people as a community attest to these books and this witness.

The Traditional view of "Inerrancy."

Most people tend to think in terms of all or nothing, black and white, true and false. So when they think about the Bible, they think it's either all literally true in every word or it can't be "inspired." This is not only a fallacy, but it is not even the "traditional" view. Even in the inherency camp there exists three differing views of exactly what is inerrant and to what extent. Oddly enough, the notion of verbal inspiration was invented in the Renaissance by Humanists! Yes, the dreaded enemy of humanism actually came up with the doctrine of inerrancy which didn't exist before the 19th century, in its current form, but which actually began in the Renaissance with humanists. The documentation on this point comes mainly from Avery Dulles, Models of Revelation, New York: Double Day, 1985. The humanist argument is documented on p. 36. He also demonstrates that the current Evangelical view basically dates form the 19th century, the Princeton movement, and people such as Benjamin Warfield (1851-1921). Proponents of this view include Carl C.F. Henry, Clark Pinnock, James I Packer, Francis Shaffer, Charles Warwick Montgomery, and others.

Dulles Lists Five Versions of Inerrancy.

remember now these are by the conservatives!

*Inerrency of original autographs and divine protection of manuscripts.
Proponents of this view include Harold Lindsell.

*Inspiration of autographs with minor mistakes in transmission of an unessential kind.
Carl C.F. Henry.

*Inerrency of Textual intention without textual specifics.
Clark Pinnock.

*Inerrancy in Soteric (salvation) knowledge but not in historical or scientific matters.
Bernard Ramm

*Inerrent in major theological assertions but not in religion or morality.
Donald Blosche and Paul K. Jewett

Basic Models of Revelation:

these are by the liberals

Dulles presents five models of revelation, but the faith model really amounts to little more than "the Bible helps you feel good," so I am presenting only four. This core summery will not come close to doing justice to these views. But time and space limitations do not allow a discourse that would do them justice.

Revelation as History:

The Events themselves are inspired but not the text. John Ballie, David Kelsey, James Barr. This view can include oral events; the inspiration of the prophets, the early kerygma of the church (C.H. Dodd) Creedal formulation, as well as historical events such as the atonement. This view was largely held by a flood of theologians up to the 1960s. According to this view the Bible is the record of revelation not revelation itself.

Revelation as Inner Experience:

This view would include mystical experience and views such as Frederich Schleiermacher's feeling of utter dependence (see argument III on existence of God). Religious doctrines are verbalizations of the feeling; the intuitive sense of the radical contingency of all things upon the higher aegis of their existence; part of the religious a priori.

Revelation as Doctirne:

This is the basic doctrine of inerrancy as stated above. In most cases it is believed that the autographs were inspired but some allow for mistakes in transmission and other inaccuracies of an inconsequential nature. This means that 90% of the criticisms made my atheists and skeptics on the internet don't count, because most of them turn on metaphorical use of language or scribal error. I take this position based upon personal experience on many apologetic boards.

:Revelation as Dialectical Presence

The view that there is a dialectical relation between the reader and the text. The Bible contains the word of God and it becomes the word of God for us when we encounter it in transformative way. Karl Barth is an example of a major theologian who held this view.

No one of these views is really adequate. I urge a view based upon all of them. In some sense, that is, the Bible manifests versions of each of these views. So it is not just governed by one revelatory model, but is made of redacted material which exhibits all of these views. For example, the prophets spoke from their experience of God--their inner experience of God's prompting. Their words are recorded as the books of the prophets in the Bible. The Biblical prophetic books are then the written record of the inner experience of these men. The Gospels exhibit all of these tendencies. Passed on from oral tradition, redacted by members of the communities which passed on the traditions, they represent the written record of the events of Christ's life and ministry. In that sense the events themselves were inspired. But Jesus teachings, which we can assume were transmitted accurately for the most part, represent the word actually spoken by Jesus, and thus by God's perfect revelation to humanity. Jesus is the revelation; the Gospels are merely the written record of that revelation passed on by the Apostles to the communities. Thus we see both the event model and the revelation as doctrine model (traditional view). In the Epistles we see the inner-experience model clearly as Paul, for example, did not know that he was writing the New Testament. He demonstrates confusion at points, as when (in I Corinthians) he didn't recall how many of Stephan’s household he had baptized, but when it came to his answers on doctrinal matters he wrote out of the inner-experience of God. We can also assume that the redactions occurred in relation to some sort of inner-experience, they reflect some divine guidance in the sense that the redactors are reflecting their own experiences of God.

I know these views sound wildly radical to most Christians, but they are based on the works of major theologians, including those of the most conservative schools. The dialectical model is vague and sounds unimpressive. It really seems to be tautological statement: the word of God becomes meaningful when we encounter it in a meaningful way. Therefore, I adopt a model of revelation based upon all four models (granting that we do encounter it in more meaningful ways at some times than at others, but provided we understand that this is not saying that it ceases to be the word of God when we don't so encounter it), and of the doctrinal model accepting the views that say inerrant in intent but not specific transmission. The transmission includes some mistakes but of a minor kind.

end of material on Doxa.

So the point is there's a dialectic. Dulles calls his view "Dialectical retrieval." All of these different points come together and are sublimated in one move of inspiration of the spirit. In other words God uses all these different kinds of revelation. So the first task in evaluating any text of the Bible is to ask "what kind of text is it?" We cannot assume that they are all alike. They are written for different reasons, over long periods in different cultures. We tend to lump it all in as "ancient world." But they are actually very different and written in different cultures, very diverse.

The bible is foreign. Its written in a different language by cultures we don't understand. You have to study to understand it. We have developed literary techniques in a science called "textual criticism." We see in this realization that the first think we have to understand is that it is literature. it's mostly narratives, and even expository bits belong to narrative. That is to say they have narrative as their base and as their background and context.

The second step is to ascertain the original reading. We know they are redacted and they have been edited and changed over time. So the first thing we have to do is get as close to the original as possible. We can do this with scholarly methods and they work pretty well. A great deal of the spade work has been done now. Then we have to understand the context. What kind of text we are dealing with will be of paramount importance. The Genesis creation myth is as different from the story of Ruth, or the proverbs or Psalms as is Hemingway from a Superman comic book. We need to understand are we dealing with mythology? If so why are using a myth? Are they turning the myth of a pagan nation on its head? This is what they do with the Genesis creation story; because they are salves int he Babylon and they are redacting the Babylonian myth to show that God (the Hebrew God) is the true creator.

Is it supposed to be scientifically accurate? The fundies assumed so, but it doesn't say that. That's just baggage from the American south. Is it suppossed to be historically accurate? why would it be if they standing pagan mythology on its head? Is it suppossed to be funny? Is it propaganda? when we look at Exodus, this is a story about their ancestors who were slaves in Egypt and yet writing it they are slaves about to undertake their own Exodus back to the promised land. Maybe it's time to talk about the origins and how their original guys came to the promised land the first time? So maybe idealized patriotic history is more important in that telling than literal factual history?

The reason atheists think that this is all just guessing at what God wants is becasue they don't know God. They don't understand what it means to seek and follow God. That's why they imagine it has to be a memo from "the big man upstairs" and they don't trust the heart, they don't' trust the sense of feeling God's presence, it ha to spelled out and proved 100% before they can trust.

The redactors see the work and understand it in light of their own experinces of God. To trust that one must understand the validity of experinces of God. If you have not had any of course you are not going to see it that way. So they say "O this story tells a truth that rigs true in light of what I experince of God, so it should be included." I am thinking here of the OT but it works with the NT too. Then of course they applied the criteria of Apostolic connections and so forth. But the main reality of it is that they weren't concerned with the factual accuracy because they weren't worried about epistemology; they were concerned with the ability of the text to bestow Grace, and that's how they understood "this matches the truth I've been taught."

I can understand why atheists aren't going to truth that. But what they cannot understand is that those of us who have experienced God's presence know that we can trust it. With the NT texts there are objective criteria as well, Apostolic assent, Apostolic authorship or connection to the author.

Jesus gives us the assurance because he knew. He knew up close and personal because he was the embodiment of the divine. The authorized the system of checks. He chose and taught the Apostles, the Apostles taught and chose Bishops, Bishops, chosen by those chosen by the Apostles chose the texts. The real revelation is not the Bible. The real revelation is Jesus and the NT is just a record of what some people who were given the word understood about what they were given.

The real acid test is not the accuracy of the revelation in scientific and historical terms, but hte ability of the text to bestow grace. In bestowing grace the text demonstrates to those of us who know what God's grace is like, those of us who have received it, that we can recognize it there and know that it's real and that it stacks up to the truth revealed in Jesus.


Anonymous said…
I don't care if you have dial-up or not. I will not convert to Christianity. Period. The Grand commission WILL fail as long as I'm alive.

When will that finally sink in?
Anonymous said…
Joe, very well said from your perspective. I wonder how you or any other theologian chooses which view of inspiration to adopt? And if inspiration has to do with some religious experience verbalized, how does anyone know that experience is veridical? I know for a fact that whole religious communities are wrong given their numbers. Since that is the case and since I have not had these religious experiences why should I believe? It seems as though the only thing that you have to base your beliefs in is experience, not only your own, but those who wrote and chose the canonized Bible. You and I have heard plenty of preacher's stories that aren't true but have moral impact. I told them to illustrate things myself. They didn't have to be true, did they? For all I know that's the same case with much of Genesis and Exodus. They are folk tales told and written down to give moral guidance to the Israelites. But if this is the case, then what reason do I have for caring about these tribal stories? Shouldn't inspiration be based on more than that? But from what you said you don't have any good reason to assert otherwise.
Anonymous said…
I have an assignment in school that says: Identify the five models of Revelation (by Avery Dulles) and how each model would present who God is, and the believer.

I don't really have an idea what these models are. And, I can't really understand the explanation you said..

Thanks.. Could you please reply here
Anonymous said…
awww, i feel bad for the poor pressured people! :/

revelation still has to do with the free will and humanness of the prophets, right? Since people asked that God not speak directly, doesn't it make sense that a prophet with free will would have innate imperfection due to real-life humanness? He can know what he believes, but others only catch what he says on faith. Still, I get how it's tough to trust random people who claim that they have the goods on what the Big Guy wants or says. Tough one. :/
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