God

The Bible is our authority for Christian life. As a professor of Western history, I’ve often used the theme of authority to describe historical eras.

Under the Roman Empire, Rome had authority.

During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church had authority.

The Reformation occurred precisely because of the issue of authority. Roman Catholics equated church tradition and Scripture as equally authoritative while the Reformers understood the Scripture to be their sole authority.

The Enlightenment Era shifted the authority from revelation (Scripture) to reason (science and philosophy).

In postmodern thought, authority has shifted toward individualism and personal freedom.

The idea of authority, who or what gets to determine what is right, true, or moral, is tremendously important for human experience.

To see the importance of biblical authority, we can look at the story of Charles Templeton and Billy Graham. Templeton and Graham both served as traveling evangelists with Youth for Christ in the 1950s. While Billy Graham was simple, clear, and direct, he was also genuinely productive when he preached. Charles Templeton was a young evangelist who had charisma, eloquence, and vigor in his preaching. In many ways, Templeton was superior to Graham as a communicator. Templeton ended up leaving Youth for Christ in order to go to Princeton to receive theological training. Several times he argued with Billy Graham and challenged him to head to seminary as well to develop his theological perspectives. At Princeton, Templeton was taught that the supernatural events of the Bible were made up stories to give credibility to early Christianity rather than accounts of what actually happened. He (as so many theologians of the era) developed a bias—that modern thinkers know more than and think about theology better than the original authors.  Templeton challenged Billy Graham on these matters, and Graham didn’t have answers to the theological questions Templeton was raising. Templeton and Graham differed on the issue of biblical authority. Templeton shifted his view of authority from revelation to reason due to the theologically liberal education he received. Graham was understandably troubled. The story goes that Graham went to spend some time in the woods praying and seeking God. Upon his return, Graham concluded that he was going to trust that the Bible was God’s Word (that it represented God’s authority) and preach it as such. God immensely blessed Graham’s evangelistic ministry as a result.

Billy Graham made famous the phrase, “the Bible says.” But you may never have heard of Charles Templeton. Graham’s ministry was built on biblical authority, while Templeton’s theological drift led him away from Biblical preaching. (You can read more about this story in William Martin’s book, A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story, pages 110-112). 

But we must not hold to biblical authority simply because of pragmatics (the apparent blessings of Graham’s ministry compared with Templeton’s shift in ministry). The issue of authority is ultimately about God.

Consider Jesus’ claim when he gave the Great Commission:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (emphasis mine)

Jesus has authority. So the word of Jesus, the Bible, has authority because it is from God. Our previous posts about canon, inspiration, manuscripts, inerrancy, sufficiency, and clarity underscore the following truth: if God is the author of Scripture, then we must submit to God as the ultimate authority in our lives and obey what Scripture teaches.

N.T. Wright argued in his book Scripture and the Authority of God, that God exercises his authority through Scripture. In essence, Scripture is authoritative because God has ultimate authority.

Here are some implications for this doctrine of authority:

  • If the Bible is authoritative, then salvation is exclusively through Jesus Christ (see Acts 4:12). This is the reason we believe in the mission of the gospel to our neighbors and the nations. If they do not hear of Christ and follow Christ, then they are apart from salvation.
  • If the Bible is authoritative, then followers of Jesus must share the gospel. See the previous point. If we really believe in the doctrines of the Bible as inspired, inerrant, sufficient, clear, and authoritative, then the only hope for dying world is the life-giving message of the gospel (John 10:10). We must be witnesses of this news.
  • If the Bible is authoritative, then followers of Jesus must submit to the Scripture. The primary reason we must read, learn, study, apply, and memorize the Bible is because it is God’s message to us. If God is our ultimate authority, then Scripture is how he exercises and communicates his authority to us (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • If the Bible is authoritative, then cultural mores will often be at odds with biblical ethical commands. For example contemporary views of human sexuality contradict Biblical sexual ethics (see Romans 1:18 ff). It is at these places where Biblical authority and cultural values intersect. If God has authority, then Christians will live and look differently than the world around them.

During my ministry, I have tried to operate under the authority of God through Scripture. When we bend our hearts and wills to God through obedience to his word, we have the opportunity to experience the blessings of relationship with God.

Today’s cultural expressions of individualism, personhood theory, and personal truth are at odds with biblical truth specifically in the arena of authority. If I am the authority in my life, then I don’t have to submit to another authority.

But when we find ourselves at odds with biblical authority, ask yourself this question, “Who knows more, us or God?”

Since God knows all, then we can trust his Word. Since we can trust his Word, we can obey it.

Last week’s post dealt with an overview of theology. You can find it here if you’d like to look back at it. In these word of the week posts, we are looking at terms, doctrines, and concepts in systematic theology. Today’s word is revelation.

Theology is the study of God and God’s relation to the world. From our definition of theology, the question arises, “How do we know anything about God and God’s relation to the world?”

Answer: we know about God and his relationship to the world through what he has revealed to us.

Revelation means “unveiling, to make known.” The last book of the Bible is titled Revelation, and John’s revelation is God’s unveiling of Jesus Christ in all his glory to the world in salvation and judgment.

When we discuss the doctrine of revelation, we mean something more broad than merely the last book in the Bible. We mean that God to revealed himself to us.

Because humans are finite and God is infinite, if they are to know God, that knowledge must come about by God’s taking the initiative to make himself known.

Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 26.

It is important here for readers to understand the necessity of revelation. In today’s experience authority is grounded in rationalism (math), empiricism (science), or personal autonomy (choice/freedom). Without getting into the weeds, the personal autonomy that permeates Western culture can be found in either rationalism or empiricism. In short, grounding truth and authority in any of these frameworks (rationalism, empiricism, personal autonomy) is insufficient. Questions remain unanswered if these are the only places for grounding truth. For centuries, revelation was considered the primary location for absolute truth. That changed philosophically during the Enlightenment era. And while the developments from the Enlightenment through Modernism and Postmodernism have changed how culture views truth and authority, these developments can never change what is true and absolute.

It is for this reason that we need God to reveal himself and what is true to us. When God reveals himself to us, we are able to grasp the core realities of what is and what has value in the world.

With regard to systematic theology, the doctrine of revelation is the starting place. We begin here because anything we know about God, and the world, and us, finds basis in what God has revealed to us.

There are several important truths about the doctrine of revelation that help us understand its value and importance for Christian theology and experience.

  • Revelation is personal. God made us in his image and revealed himself to us so we could know him. Nothing is more important in life than knowing God. How we come to know God occurs through God’s revelation of himself to us.
  • Revelation is cognitive. We can know truths, doctrines, content about God and us because God has revealed them to us. Because God made us rational beings, we can know and understand cognitively and experientially who God is and what he wants us to know.
  • Revelation is progressive. Over time God reveals himself. As seen in Scripture, God discloses more and more of himself as we read the accounts of God and his people. The more complete our picture of revelation, the more clear we are able to be about who God is and who we are.
  • Revelation is not exhaustive. While we can know truly about God, we cannot know fully about God. In other words, we know what God has revealed, but there are aspects of God’s nature and character that he has not fully revealed.
  • Revelation can be divided into two spheres: General and Special. The posts for the next two weeks will define general and special revelation. And many of the posts following those two will dive into aspects of special revelation.

Here is the primary truth we should take away from this post.

God wants us to know him. Think about this: the God who made the world and everything in it wants you to know him. God doesn’t need anything, and yet God revealed himself to sinful humans so that we could know him personally. This is an amazing thought. It is basically for this reason that I write, preach, teach, and share God with others. It should amaze us that God wants us to know him.

Do you know God? If not, comment below, and I’ll do my best to share with you how you can know him?

If you do know God, then remember that your knowledge of him will never be exhaustive. Keep learning, keep reading, and keep seeking God’s revelation so that you can know him better.