Does God Really Say?

Some of the most basic ideas are also the most difficult.

Early on, many of us learned that when we hear the words of scripture we are hearing more than the words of people. We are hearing the word of God. Christianity depends on the idea that the God who created the world is also the God who has spoken.

Recently, I was watching a Twitter war of sorts, where Christians on either side of a contentious issue were posting their opinions and their dissatisfaction with the Christians who disagreed with them. At one point, someone wrote, “How can you know what God thinks?!”

I’m not saying that knowing the mind of God is a simple matter, or that scripture requires neither Spirit nor hermeneutic. In fact, it requires both, and is thus no simple matter.

But the “that” is one of the absolute prerequisites for Christian faith. If God has not spoken–if God cannot speak!–then our faith is nothing more than people grasping after transcendence, a chronicle of pitiable human effort.

Do I want my children to grow up in my faith? Yes. Because I believe that something is uniquely true in this Christian sphere. I believe that we have to do, in the Christian story, with revelation–not the revelation of human action, but the revelation of God, and of the God who has acted in the world, and the God who has acted in the world to reconcile the world to himself in the cross of Christ.

Without revelation, the history is no sacred history, and the cross is no saving act of grace.

Does God really speak? If the answer is no, then the gig is up.

11 thoughts on “Does God Really Say?”

  1. Whenever we say “without X there is no Y” we are dangerously close to doing systematic theology ;)

    I don’t think the logic of your claim that the empirical truth of special revelation is necessary or the cross is not salvific holds up.

    Consider Jesus – If Isaiah hadn’t gotten selected to be included in the canon by later Jews and Christians, would Jesus’ mission statement of liberating the captives and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor suddenly have been meaningless? Did it matter that he taught from Deuteronomy and the prophets without any clear statement that these texts were God-breathed? Did that make his teachings less effective? He also blatantly contradicted the texts at points, such as his teaching on Divorce, does that maybe imply he thought those aspects of the Torah were less inspired?

    Special revelation is ultimately untestable, but even if it were proven false what would that change about the impact scripture has had for good or ill in the world? Some people would certainly see it as a vindication of their belief that religion is full of pernicious lies and see in the falsehood of revelation the cause of the evils that religion has created, but they would be no further along in an explanation of why the Gospel has also been the cause of many noble things. Some religious folks would lose their faith probably and their principal excuse for some our hypocrisies, but would it somehow invalidate the good things they had done?

    The gospel is salvific not because the Bible says so, but because people’s lives have been saved by the gospel. The Bible saying something doesn’t make it true (see “rabbits are ruminants”). Truth in the Bible is the same as truth in anything else in life – when tested by experience/observation/reason to the best of our ability it appears accurate.

    The most I am willing to grant the concept of special revelation is that the Bible, for Christians, is owed the benefit of the doubt due to its long history of proving true in countless godly lives.

    1. Aric,it looks to me like your effort to avoid systematics lands in the middle of natural theology. The God of the Bible is “Wholly Other”. There is no reason or experience that can climb a ladder to discern what God says or how God acts.

      And let’s not forget that right from Genesis 1, and John 1 as well, God’s action is rooted in God’s Word. God speaks at his initiative. If we cannot prove that empirically on a given occasion, so what? But if God doesn’t speak, then the Bible is null and void both in its historical depiction of Jesus and in any real saving power today.

      1. Hey Michael,

        Wasn’t really trying to avoid systematics, that was more of a poke at our esteemed host. As for “natural theology” I’m leery of this term because it is a short hand in some circles for “liberal heresy we can safely ignore”. But if you mean that I am saying that we learn about God the same way we learn about everything else, using our senses and our brain to process data – including data from scripture, then yes. There is no other means of learning.

        Let us not forget that we have Genesis 1 and John 1 because some people passed on oral traditions, then other people wrote those traditions down, then other people added to those traditions and combined them with other traditions and transcribed them and transmitted them, and still other people read those texts and thought they were important and used them in worship and wrote more texts based on those texts, and still other people eventually decided we needed to start making lists of which texts were important for worship using the criteria that these texts were broadly used by many people in their worship AND that they were connected by tradition (passed on by some people) to important figures of the faith, and since that day we have continued to use those texts and debate their importance.

        The point is, as Daniel reported that Barth recognized in his Dogmatics that there is no scripture at all without people at every step of the way creating, transmitting, defining, and interpreting it. Barth then ignores this important fact and says that scripture is still the Word of God in a sense I think ought to be reserved only for Jesus, even though it is in every sense and at every single stage of its development a thoroughly human creation. The Bible has a lot to say about ascribing too much divinity to anything made by human hands as well…

    2. Aric,

      I really appreciated your post. So much that I followed the link to your website. I considered the various perspectives on the civil disobedience thread that you guys submitted. I badly wanted to add to the conversation and was dismayed that there was no obvious way to do so. Perhaps you could provide for a forum in a similar manner to this fine blog?

      1. Glad you appreciated my comment – and that you checked out Two Friars and a Fool. We do actually have comments up and running there, and I’m somewhat mystified why they would not have appeared for you. Perhaps you have noscript or a similar app running that blocked the Disqus comment thread? In anycase if you scroll to the bottom of any article you should see the comment box.

  2. There absolutely is revelation. The question becomes then, how to live in a community of revelation without wounding each other, given how badly we can handle that kind of responsibility.

    This is where I think we fail so badly, that I am most saddened by. Not that we disagree about what is revealed, but that we disagree in such a predictable and ugly way.

  3. Do we need to say that God speaks? How about, “God does” or “God acts”? In some ways, I feel that God speaking is somewhat of an anthropomorphism. And language appears the limiting feature of human knowing. I struggle with the thought that God speaks, but I am completely given to a God who acts/does.

  4. I spent last semester struggling with Plato’s ‘Phaedrus’, which led me to questions about the usefulness of language, which ultimately led me questions about the usefulness of language to describe something infinite and immaterial (God).

    The result? The incarnation throws a monkey wrench into a lot of different debates. Language cannot be unable to describe God if Christ used it to speak about God. Similarly here, we can know the mind of God insofar as he has revealed it (this is all said, of course, in light of the realization that there is always interpretation going on). This is the simple part. Of course, it gets complicated from here.

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