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Against Revelation; or On the Power of God’s Word

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DAD HAS REVEALED HIS WILL FOR US…

When I decided that we are going out to dinner, my wife doesn’t announce to the kids, “Dad has revealed his will for us to go to Kona Grill for dinner.”  She just says, “Dad says we’re going to Kona tonight.”

When I’m the one picking up our son from basketball practice, my wife doesn’t proclaim, “Thus says the revealed word of Dad: He will pick you up after practice.”  She just says, “Dad’s going to get you when you’re done.”

So why do we feel the need to add “revealed” when we are talking about God’s Word, and when talking about the Bible?

“I believe in the REVEALED word of God.”
“I obey the REVEALED will of God.”

Have we ever stopped and thought how weird that is when talking about someone communicating with us, about how they express their will?

PROBLEM

But there is a major problem with this.  Scripture itself doesn’t often talk like this about God’s Word.  When we want to be biblical about what the Bible is, why are we using words like “reveals”, “revealed”, “revelation” when talking about it?[1]

This point came crashing home when I was teaching a class on biblical and theological foundations for ministry at Northern Seminary with a bunch of Baptist students.  They were all basing their doctrine of Scripture as the “inspired revelation” of God.   I challenged them to think more critically of that foundation and ask if it wasn’t in fact just attempting to give an answer within modernity’s crisis of authority.[2]  I challenged them that thinking exclusively about revelation and inspiration is to be looking back for where Scripture came from rather than looking forward to where Scripture is leading us.

POWER

Instead of ‘revelation’, maybe we should talk more about power.  Maybe we should focus more on how God’s word creates, and acts, and overcomes, and liberates.

For instance (as just a few examples):

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Ps. 33:6; see also Gen. 1:1 and John 1:1)
“The voice of the Lord is powerful”, breaking the cedars and shaking the mountains (Ps. 29: 4).
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12).
“And the word of God continued to increase and spread” (Acts 12:24).

POWER OF JESUS’ WORDS

And what about Jesus. The people marveled at the words of Jesus. They didn’t marvel because his words were revelatory information, but because of their dynamic restoration.  When Jesus spoke “the people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him” (Mark 1:27).

And let’s not forget the centurion who knew that if Jesus would just say the word that his servant would be healed.  And how does he know this?  Because, as he says, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matt. 8:9).

Authority and power are consistently related in the ministry of Jesus, and these are connected to his teaching and his words.  Perhaps revelation is not as central as we are often led to believe. Perhaps were are missing the element of power.

WHY NOT POWER NOW?

Why don’t we follow this pattern of power when we talk about Scripture, linking the authority of Scripture to the power of God?

Probably because most of us have lost an understanding of spiritual power in our own lives.  We have lost an understanding of the power encounters at work in our daily interactions.  Probably because we are a people of the ‘excluded middle’, forgetting the realm between God and humanity, the contested spiritual realm requiring power, not information. And because of this we reduce the power of Scripture to the mere power of facts and information.

As Paul Hiebert says, “As a Westerner [in India], I was used to presenting Christ on the basis of rational arguments, not by evidences of his power in the lives of people who were sick, possessed and destitute” (“The Flaw of the Excluded Middle”).

It is for these reasons that I feel the need to be “against revelation” as the fundamental category for understanding Scripture and its authority in our lives. Instead, let us think through and live into the power of God’s Word.

THE POWER IN…

This need to understand the power of the Word helps us rethink our preaching from informational to transformational.  It helps us rethink our discipleship from “learn and affirm” ideas to “come and know” how good the Lord is.  It helps gather together in worship not to receive insight from a text, but that God’s Word would incite us toward salvation and mission.

In other words, what we think about God’s Word ends up setting a course for all our “churchly” actions.

Will we be churches that inform the world about God, or are so transformed by God that the world will demand to know what happened?

[1] Of course there are go to texts that link “reveal” with God’s written word.  See Rom. 16: 26; Eph.  3:5. But most instances of “reveal” are when God is revealed as present in a place or about to act with a purpose, or is revealed in and through the salvation of God’s people.

[2] Note On Modernity: Drifting without Authority:  Without spending much time on the origins of this problem of revelation, it is enough to say that with the Protestant Reformation and then the Enlightenment, the Church (and all of culture) underwent a profound crisis of authority.  With the Reformation this crisis of authority prompted a shift from Church power and tradition to Scripture.   But with the Enlightenment, this crisis of authority prompted a shift from all things religious to all things scientific.

With this shift from faith (religion) to reason (science) the Church began to re-articulate the basis of authority of the Bible alongside or against reason. The idea of “revelation” fits the bill because it “reveals” what is concealed to science and fallen human reason.  But this revelation is at the same time reasonable if we would just open up ourselves to this new information.  Indeed, reason itself can organize and systematize this revelation because it reliable.

And how do we know that it is reliable as God’s revelation? Because it is inspired by God!  And if it is an “inspired revelation” than it must be “inerrant”, right? And so goes the brief history of the “inspired and inerrant revelation of God.”

None of means the ancient or medieval churches didn’t have a sense of ‘revelation’,  but that it is within Modernity that ‘revelation’ becomes the key to faith in ways that are novel.

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