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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Is Propositional Revelation Nonsense?

In the appendix of his book, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, Francis Schaeffer wrote a little piece called “Is Propositional Revelation Nonsense?” Schaeffer explains that, “To modern man, and much modern theology, the concept of propositional revelation and the historic Christian view of infallibility is not so much mistaken as meaningless” (345). The 20th century came with many challenges to theological formulation, not the least of which was the assault on propositional truth and revelation. Such camps as existentialists and logical positivists attempted to remove religious truth from the reason and revelation while others sought to justify meaning, reality, and truth with other criterion of verification such as experience and perception. However, center to the Christian faith is the belief that God has spoken and revealed himself in the written Word of God. In this revelation, God used language as the medium to carry and convey biblical truths and realities. This is not to say that God has revealed himself exhaustively, but it does mean that he has revealed himself truly and definitively. Schaeffer makes two points which I would like to mention here:

  1. Even communication between one created person and another is not exhaustive; but that does not mean that for that reason it is not true.
  1. If the uncreated Personal really cared for the created personal, it could not be thought unthinkable for him to tell the created personal things of a propositional nature; otherwise, as a finite being, the created personal would have numerous things he could not know if he just began with himself as a limited, finite reference point.

Schaffer makes some salient points here that deserve to be brought up in the 21st century. While we do not disagree that revelation is also personal, we cannot flinch on the assault on propositional revelation. God has revealed himself to us, his nature and his acts, through propositional revelation (i.e. the Bible), and the implications of this truth is that we do not have the rights to reinvent or rename the God Who Is There. If we do not begin with God and his revelation, Schaeffer is correct to conclude that there are many things we could not know about God based on such a limited, finite reference point as ourselves. It is no coincidence that, at the time of Schaeffer’s publishing of this book (1972), John Hick was advancing his pluralistic hypothesis which argued for the ineffability of the “Real” which argued that one cannot know anything about God as he is (ding an sich). Adapting the Kantian model of the noumenal and phenomenal worlds, Hick argues that God (“Real”) has not and cannot reveal himself truly and definitely; furthermore, it is impossible to know anything at all about the Real (except that it is ineffable and that it exists which is something he claims to know). The result when God is not the beginning, the reference point, the apriori grounds of knowledge and revelation, then knowing and defining God is a free-for-all to anyone who wants to postulate their phenomenological interpretations as religious truth. Schaeffer concludes his little article with this important paragraph in which he said:

“The importance of all this is that most people today (including some who still call themselves evangelical) who have given up the historical and biblical concept of revelation and infallibility have not done so because of the consideration of detailed problems objectively approached, but because they have accepted, either in analyzed fashion or blindly, the other set of presuppositions. Often this has taken place by means of cultural injection, without their realizing what has happened to them” (349, emphasis added).

In the days ahead, I hope to share how propositional truth is foundational to personal truth and give a few examples of the redefinition of revelation in contemporary contexts.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Hebrews 1:1-2


Blogger Shannon Mckenzie said...

Tim, thanks for this post. I would like to start out by admitting that most of it is over my head. For instance, I am not clear on what propositonal revelation means. So, please correct any misuses of words or phrases on my part. Having said these things, I will move on to my question.

This book by Schaeffer was published about a decade after a book titled Truth and Method, by Hans-Georg Gadamer. It was his life's work and much of it consisted of his desire to further the hermeneutic principles of his existentialist predecessors. So, does Schaeffer have a response for people like Gadamer who attack the reliability of the language itself? Or, is the article that you quoted from only dealing with those who question philosophically whether the character of God and the nature of revelation can be as it is described in Scripture? Another way for me to word the question, and with a lot less words at that, would be: Does Schaeffer address the problem as one of logic or hermeneutic? I am curious if he addressed his argument in that way in light of Gadamer's book, or at least the ideas expressed in it.

Thanks for your time. By the way, if you have called me, I have a new number now:


7/26/2006 10:06:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


First let me apologize for not having gotten in touch with you since our last correspondence. I long to fellowship with you brother.

Concerning Hans-Georg Gadamer, from what I could ascertain from a quick perusal of Schaeffer's works, I do not see that he interacted with Gadamer's work. However, Schaeffer did give particular attention to existentialist thinkers. For instance, let me point you to chapter 4 in Escape from Reason in which he addresses secular and religious existentialism as well as linguistic analysis. Also, another section to consider is Schaeffer's section on existential theology in the first chapter of his book, The Church Before the Watching World. One last place I could point you would be chapter two in his classic work, The Great Evangelical Disaster, which is called "Marking the Watershed." These three places, I think, could assist you in understanding how Schaeffer approached existential thinking and how it relates to Christian truth.

I believe the article found in the appendix was anecdotal and not intended to cover the issue with broad strokes but rather to argue for God's self-revelation as definitive, authoritative, and true in spite of the current attacks (such as an Inifinite God communicating to fallible, finite man). The reliablity of language as a carrier of religious truth is a main issue in the philosophy of religion and religious epistemology. Let me point you to John Frame's work, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God in which he addresses this issue in chapter 7 ("The Situational Perspective--Language as a Tool of Theology"). Also, it may be worth your time to check out C. Stephen Evans' book, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking About Faith, especially chapter 7 ("Problems with Religious Langauge"). Hey, I just noticed both chapters are "chapter 7". Let me hurry and find one more chapter 7 and we will have "7-7-7"!

. . . Oh well, it was worth about ten seconds researching.

Aha! Chapter 8 of Reason & Religious Belief (multiple authors) is called "Religious Language: How Can We Speak Meaningfully of God?"

Finally, I would be negligent if I left out the one and only Ronald Nash, who wrote in his book, The Word of God and the Mind of Man, a chapter called "Reason, Revelation, and Language" (Chapter 11). Two other sources to consider is Gordon H. Clark's Religion, Reason, and Revelation (P&R, 1963) and monumental work of Carl F.H. Henry's God, Revelation, and Authority. In conclusion, let me provide a quote form Nash in his chapter:

"Basic to the Christian world view is the presupposition that the human being is a creature who carries the image of God. Essential to this image is rationality, a rationality that reflects the rationality of God's own mind. Human language is adequate as a vehicle for divine revelation and for human communication about God because it is a divinely given instrument. God can therefore reveal truth about Himself through words. Thought exists behind language as its necessary condition. Communication is possible because the human creatures using language are enlightened by the divine Logos, are in possession of certain innate ideas" (120).

I hope this helps answer some of your questions and direct you in your studies.

7/27/2006 05:56:00 AM

Blogger Timmy said...

Oh, I think I did not adequately address the quesiton, "Does Schaeffer address the problem as one of logic or hermeneutic?"

I am not sure that I understand what you are asking, but until you give clarification, I will pontificate. :)

My guess is that the problem Schaeffer addressed was the rampant sceptism about human language advanced by neo-orthodox thinkers such as Karl Barth. In one sense, there is the argument that human language is an insufficient carrier or inadequate instrument of human communication. Others, like logical positivists, argued that it is impossible to prove that a proposition is true or faith because it cannot be empirically analyzed or substantiated through a scientific testing. Therefore all religious language or communication cannot carry statements with any truth value or meaning. Obviously, this is a full frontal on the inerrancy of Scripture (see J.I. Packer's chapter in the book Inerrancy called "The Adequacy of Human Langauge."

Schaeffer makes the point that God has chosen to reveal himself definitively through the Word made flesh (Christ, the Incarnate Word), and the written Word of God. His self-revelation consists of God choosing to disclose information about himself in a way that can be understood. Here the perspecuity of Scripture comes into play. The Bible is not some code for us to try to unravel, nor does it contain some hidden, gnostic meaning for some elite group of people. God has not left us to ourselves to attempt to conjure up some fancy notions to what the Creator of heaven and earth is like. Therefore, we are not the reference point in our understanding of God. God is. He is not silent!

So I would say that the problem lies in whether or not you believe that God has revealed himself personally and propositionally in a way that human beings can know and understand the God Who Is There. Some say this is impossible and argue that asserting a propositional statement ("God is good") cannot be true or false because it cannot sufficiently speak of God but rather my experience of God. Another might say, "God is evil." So who is right? Who has the right understanding/interpretation/perception?" The answer is what God has said is right. If God has not spoken, then we would be left to seeking validical criterion from fallible, fallen man which would be the seedbed of all kinds of erroneous formulations.

My mind is led back to Yahweh when he gave the Torah to the His people as a gift. Consider this amazing passage:

"See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?"

Deuteronomy 4:5-8

The peoples of the earth were jealous that the Israelites actually had a God who communicated His will to them! Their idols had mouths but did not speak, ears but could not hear, but the living God has no mouth but speaks and not ears but hears! The statutes, rules, and instruction (Torah) were God's self-disclosure showing the people what is right and pleasing to Him. He did not leaving them guessing what he wants or requires (unlike the idols of Baal and others). Such wisdom and understanding these laws and statutes before the peoples of the world attracted the world to such a people whose God was so real, so intimate, so personal that he would disclose himself the way he has. Now to think God has revealed himself through the Scriptures so plainly and clearly is a witness to the same God who is faithful to reveal His heart, His truth, and His righteousness in such a way that people are to be drawn to such a great and awesome God.

May we be a people who treasure the truths of God's Word and our Savior who is "the Truth" in such a way that people who be attracted to Jesus Christ and long to know him. In a world of doubt and uncertainty, one thing we can be sure . . .

He is There and He is NOT Silent.

7/27/2006 06:23:00 AM

Blogger Shannon Mckenzie said...

Thanks for your time Tim. You are always inspiring and encouraging.


7/27/2006 07:59:00 AM

Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz) said...

I linked to you ....

The problem with "attacking the reliability of the language itself" is that the attack has to be done in the language - and is thus by its own definition unreliable. A serious relativist critique is unable even to support itself.

10/07/2006 03:05:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


Thanks for the link and the interaction. I will be checking out your post soon.

10/07/2006 09:04:00 PM


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