Tuesday, March 07, 2006

revelation

I'm working on a midterm paper for my systematic theology class about revelation, and we're supposed to say whether we agree or disagree with this statment from the Westminster Confessions of 1967 (it's part of the Presbyterian confessional statement):

The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written. The Scriptures are not a witness among others, but the witness without parallel. The church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as prophetic and apostolic testimony in which it hears the word of God and by which its faith is nourished and regulated.

There's a lot in that! In some ways I find it helpful, in other ways I completely disagree. So I'm going to use my blog-time today to share with you some of my preliminary processing--but at least for today, I'll only focus on the first phrase. I'm going to use as my definition of revelation: "God's self-disclosure to humans, individually and collectively."

A couple burning questions come to mind. What does it mean by Jesus being the "one sufficient revelation"? And does it mean only Jesus in the flesh, or does it include Jesus who is still alive today?

If the statement means Jesus is the only revelation of God to the world, and that his life alone is sufficient for us to know God, and especially if it only means Jesus as he was in human form, then I disagree completely. Even if we come at this from a biblical standpoint it doesn't make sense: God revealed God's self to many people throughout the Bible before Jesus came, and after he left the earth God continued to reveal God's self to people.

Even during the life of Jesus people didn't recognize him as God most of the time, and he is recorded in all the Gospels as saying, "Those who have ears to hear, let them hear," meaning if their spiritual "ears" were open (which I think is what our interaction with the Holy Spirit looks like) then they could recognize he was from God. If not, even though he was here in the flesh people couldn't recognize him as God unless they were open to the Spirit.

From a non-biblical perspective, what about all those people who never get to read the Bible, or who were born before the Bible was formed, or who were born before Jesus? If Jesus is the only sufficient revelation of God to the world, how could anyone besides those present in the time of Jesus, living in Palestine, have ever encountered God? And yet, we know from experience that there is Someone speaking into all of us. We're able to recognize that Inner Light within ourselves and each other, if we allow our spiritual eyes and ears to be opened to and by the Spirit. This is revelation. This is where our spirits come into contact with a Spirit we can know and recognize, who remains hidden and mysterious but also fully known, and makes us known and hidden to one another. This could (and does) happen whether someone knows anything about the biblical Jesus or not.

So that might worry some Evangelical Friends, so now it's time to worry some liberal Friends... =)

If the Confessional statement means Jesus is the only revelation of God that is sufficient to do a specific work of God in the world, I think it might be closer to the truth. We have this kind of belief in our own Quaker history: "There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition," were the words which George Fox heard which began Quakerism.

There is ONE.

Yes, maybe we can know Jesus without knowing that's his name. Yes, maybe we can be part of God's saving grace and reconciling, just, merciful, peaceful power without knowing it is somehow through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we are able to participate in this relationship with God. But I believe that through Jesus, God accomplished something of God's will on earth that couldn't have been accomplished by any of the rest of us going through the same exact motions. Because of Jesus we can be reconciled to God and know God in a way that we couldn't otherwise.

This gets a little fuzzy, however, because I also believe that people before Jesus' time were able to be in relationship with God. Obviously if we believe any part of the Bible, God was interacting with people and making God's self known to them in the Hebrew Scriptures. God's same character of a God who is interested in justice, mercy, grace, forgiveness, love and reconciliation is apparent in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament) in powerful ways that tell us things about who God is that would be hard for us to know if we only had the New Testament. I guess this is because God is outside of time, and although God chooses to act and relate to us in time, God knows what's going to happen and presumably could use the redemptive, reconciling power that was going to be worked "later" (in time) for those in the "present" (the time before Jesus came).

I think that's enough for today. Maybe for the next few days I'll tackle the Bible, the Holy Spirit as a witness to Christ, and the question as to whether revelation is closed, or continues to be open.

7 comments:

Paul said...

I appreciate the thoughts and it got me thinking…so we can experience Jesus today, after he was physically present on earth. I wonder if people experienced Jesus before he came to earth in bodily form. Maybe you'll say, "Of course," but I guess I never really thought about it before. Think John 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (doing what?), and the Word was God.” Or what about Colossians 1 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Sounds pretty active and in places other than the Israel. Seems like Jesus was around and busy long before Mary took a Lamaze course.

PJB

cherice said...

I was wondering the same thing about whether Jesus was present and interacting with the world before he came as a person. I guess the doctrine of the Trinity would say that he had to be, in that God is one and each Person of the God-head can't act separately. Also, if you look at the picture I put with my "Trinity" post, this depicts the three Persons of the Trinity in Abraham's time, walking around on Earth. People also think of the guy in the fiery furnace with Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego (or however you spell their names...I don't want to look it up right now =) as Jesus. So...it seems that there's even some biblical evidence for my opinions (go figure!).

I like the thought of Mary taking a Lamaze course, too! Funny. =)

Christine Bush said...

I thought Mr. Barclay had figured all this stuff out, helpfully writiten all down and all we had to do was avoid the Dean Friday version...

david said...

Yes, maybe we can know Jesus without knowing that's his name. Yes, maybe we can be part of God's saving grace and reconciling, just, merciful, peaceful power without knowing it is somehow through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we are able to participate in this relationship with God. But I believe that through Jesus, God accomplished something of God's will on earth that couldn't have been accomplished by any of the rest of us going through the same exact motions. Because of Jesus we can be reconciled to God and know God in a way that we couldn't otherwise.

Amen Sister!

As for teh salvation of those kicking about before Jesus hit the ground -- my formulation of the doctrine of incarnation -- In Christ Jesus, the spirit that inspired the prophets, became a prophet.

Alan Misson said...

Your thoughts and the following comments remind me of the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: "No one comes to the Father except through me". Now we can take this as meaning exactly what it literally says – that the only pathway to God (the Father) is through faith in Jesus Christ. This then implies that there are no other valid pathways to God, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or whatever. Can this really be what loving and compassionate Jesus meant?

Or should we not begin to see Jesus’ words “No one comes to the Father except through me” in a different light. What characterises Jesus is his unconditional love for others and his compassion for those in need. Whatever our faith, or indeed if we have no faith, surely it is through building a character of loving compassion for others that we come to the Father(God) and in no other way.

So I think we have a choice. We can take the narrow literal view of these words of Jesus or widen our vision to see them encomapssing all mankind. Personally I prefer the latter view.

Peter the Anderson said...

1. The Lord said "I am the Way", which means to me that He is our road, our destination, and the way we travel. If we are to follow Him, we must become like Him, because it is only someone like Him who can go the places He went and do the things He did.

2. That goes with the idea that the ends are entailed in the means, that is 'if you are kind, you create a kind world'.

3. Jesus helped create the world, see prophecy in Proverbs 8, and His character is exactly the same as the Father's, so of course people knew Him before He walked on earth. They just didn't know that he was going to come to earth later. He was to them only transcendent, and they related to Him in the same way we relate with the Holy Spirit.

Peter

Dave Carl said...

I have a related but perhaps slightly different question about what it might mean to say that Jesus was/is alive prior to and after his existence on earth. I've posted that on my own blog as it appears to be a somewhat different topic and I'd like to keep track of the responses.