Abiding with Eternal Fact
In The Great Divorce a repentant liberal tells an stuffy and impenitent Bishop that, if he will rethink his pretensions about religion, he will take him to meet “Eternal Fact, the Father of all other facts.” The cleric disdainfully turned down the offer, preferring to remain under the delusion that “God” and “fact” do not dwell on the same plane of objectivity. It is a strange deception indeed which constructs a grand array of “facts” and suspends them over a bottomless chasm, but that is what sinners do with facts. They encounter them; they label and categorize them; but they attempt to ground them in the ether of a wholly impracticable worldview.
That is how I was before I met “Eternal Fact.” My dealings with Truth were occasional and, from my point of view, impersonal. And it was this impersonal view of Truth which gnawed away at me; for impersonal conceptions of Truth eventually depersonalize everything – even the viewer. They may seem impressive to our eyes for a while, but just as an attempt at landscape painting may please us until we set it alongside a Constable or a Monet, so truth without “the Spirit of Truth” gradually begins to look like a paltry thing. Truth (capital ‘T’); the kind that “shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32), springs forth from the “I AM” (Jn. 8:58).
It is hard for me to overestimate the importance that the concept of personal truth has played in my life since I became a Christian. From the first I understood that my life was either a grateful acceptance of Truth and the claims of its Source upon me, or a denial of both it and of Him. So I began to read the Bible over and over. At every opportunity, whether at work or in a traffic jam, I would snatch a few verses. For several years I kept up an average of about ten chapters a day in my pocket King James Version, so that after a few years I found that I knew it better than many believers who had been Christians for twenty or thirty years. I could not understand their dilatory attitude toward the Word of God. I confess I still don’t.
After my dad left home when I was 13 my world turned upside-down. I sank into a depression which lasted until I was about 30. Although there were good times, for the most part I was very miserable, lonely, and introverted. On countless occasions I cried myself to sleep at night. The world was two-dimensional. I felt disconnected from everything. When I came to Christ aged 25, my depression, which had become a part of me by then, did not desert me. But I knew the Way, the Truth and the Life. I heard His voice (Jn. 18:37), and it assured me. Although it felt like I was in a dark tunnel underground, I now knew that if I stayed beside the Truth, which included taking my focus off of my feelings, that I was going up, and that one day I would break the surface. I finally “emerged” just prior to going to Seminary. It was Truth – sometimes hard truth, and the God of all Truth, that brought me through. The Truth as it is in Christ was an anchor in the midst of troubled times, my counselor within the gloom, and my hope of something better ahead. It is to Personal Truth that I swear allegiance, however wavering I might be. Not my truth, but God’s truth. Because God’s very essence is the source of Truth, naturally He requires that we, His creatures install that truth “in the innermost being” (Psa. 51:6).
Dan Phillips does a great job of reviewing Sye Ten Bruggencate’s new Apologetics resource:
The Claims of Truth
The Lord Jesus Christ not only brought with Him grace and truth (Jn. 1:14), but He was that Truth. His presence on our planet brought light to shine upon the darkness all around. Coming to Jesus is always a coming out of darkness into light. The light is His light just as the Truth is His Truth. By this I mean to say that there is no distinction between Him and what He brings. Since Jesus is the Truth just as much as He is the Word (Jn. 1:1-2) He must bring Truth.
It is not enough to say that He personifies truth. We must insist that truth cannot exist on its own independently of Jesus, His Father and the Spirit of Truth. Truth exists because God exists, If God did not exist truth would not exist, The idea of truth “out there”; – truth to be agreed with as an impersonal standard, is impossible. Although it is seen that way within non-biblical worldviews, truth does not and cannot be attained without contact with the personal God – who is Truth.
My earlier search for an anchor of truth to bind myself to would have been an unending desperate encountering of “truths” without a foundation. In the same way as I sensed that Savonarola and not Machiavelli; Watteau and not Fragonard; Mahler and not Wagner, had embraced some truths, so I also sensed that they found it because them embraced them. Without prolonging the aesthetic argument too much further, they included these truths in their work in the same way as one decides to include a stranger in a conversation. Truth doesn’t merely fly above us like a flag on a pole, it communicates to us.
This is why someone who claims to be a searcher for the truth cannot stand aloof from the claims of truth upon them. They will never alter truth but they must be willing to allow truth to do with them whatever it wants.
So in the world of the non-Christian “truth” is always something separate from life in the world. As such we can choose either to agree with it or disagree with it; to follow after it or to ignore it; to allow it to speak to us or to alter its message so that it speaks with our voice. There is no great advantage either way. Truth as an absolute is troublesome because absolutes cause friction and friction opposes peace. Therefore to choose truth in such an outlook is not always a “good” choice. Absolute truth is a convenience item, available to people whenever the circumstances require them to be definitive. Truth must undergo personal or societal evaluation, and once done it must be made to take itself less seriously. The claims of truth percolate down to opinion – just like everything else!
On the other hand there is biblical truth. There truth exists necessarily because the Triune God exists. We feel its grip upon our arms because we were made to do so originally and the imprint of the Maker is still upon us. Jesus told Pilate “every one who is of the truth hears my voice” (Jn. 18:37). As the original Word Jesus built Truth into the fabric of the world He made (Jn. 1:2-3). As creatures ourselves, and image-bearers to boot, we ought to recognize that the claims of truth as proceeding from Him whose name is “Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11).
A Brief Personal Testimony
Before I became a Christian at the age of 25 I had a yearning for truth. I tried to find it, of all places, at the local pub, ‘The Bull’. Not the deep truth of philosophers; just the everyday truth of belonging. Real Ale and parties and pub banter provided the backdrop for this belonging. The trouble is, it wasn’t very “real.” The conversation was aimless and repetitive: we knew it all and knew absolutely nothing.
When I reached twenty I discovered a book about Michelangelo among my mother’s books. The amazing brilliance of this artist: painter, sculptor, architect, poet, as well as his brooding persona, and his dedication to the ‘Christian’ humanist ideal, captivated me. I began to read about Art History, beginning with Vasari’s Lives and broadening out into all periods. I found the expressions of truth in Caravaggio’s mixing of serenity and menace, Brueghel’s depictions of death in the midst of pastoral beauty, the dignity of the mundane in de Hooch; Claude’s use of light, Constable’s clouds, Cezanne’s geometrical preoccupations. Men like these helped me to see that truth lay within the world around me. But for the most part, truth remained aloof.
The work of Vasari is punctuated by the presence of a man whose influence profoundly affected many of the artists Vasari wrote about. That man was a Domenican priest by the name of Girolamo Savonarola ( d.1498). Roman Catholic though he was, from the accounts of his life which I have read, it appears that Savonarola was a converted man. But putting that question aside, what impressed me about him was how his preaching in the great cathedral at Florence, brought about a real reformation in morals and a true fear of God in that Renaissance city.
Savonarola was not the only prominent man I read about. I also studied Machiavelli. The contrast between the motives of the two men; the one to make men see their answerability to God; the other to advise on the shenanigans of Cesare Borgia, started to make me see that truth was tied to motive. The martyr priest was more likely to point me to truth than the political philosopher. Notwithstanding, I did not “get religion” at that time, thinking it was a crutch and an escape. Instead I began to read authors I had run into in the history of art. I read Plato and Aristotle and Sophocles – the serious writers. After I’d had enough of them I indulged in the sarcasm of Aristophanes. From him I turned to Shakespeare, and then, for no real reason other than I liked the name, to Bertrand Russell. Again it became clear to me that even though the philosophers were brilliant and often witty, they seemed further from the truth than the poets and painters.
It was after plowing through most of Hans Kung’s Does God Exist? that I finally decided to read the Bible. My younger brother Craig had been reading the Bible for a while and now I felt I needed to do the same. I told myself that I could scarcely ignore such a book any more.
I am very glad that I hit upon reading the Gospels first. These four short “Lives” set before me the most compelling person I had ever encountered. Jesus spoke right into me. He did not “philosophize” about truth, he just spoke it; He confronted you with it! And the odd thing was, I recognized it when I read it.
I did not accept Jesus’ claims right away. There was a lot of clutter that needed to be riffled through. Besides, coming across John Drane’s doubt-filled book Jesus and the Four Gospels certainly didn’t help. But the Holy Spirit did not allow Drane’s concessions to historical criticism phase me. I was beginning to see that Truth was not a thing – a sort of home-plate to gain. Truth was not disconnected from the world; still less from people. Truth made claims upon me. Those claims I heard in Jesus’ voice and saw in His actions. Truth was personal. It was connected to Him who said “I am the truth!”
Veritas Domain (The Domain For Truth) interviewed me a while back for a series they are running on “Calvinistic Dispensationalists” who teach Presuppositional Apologetics. I think I was the second guy up. I meant to post the link but forgot
Here’s the interview. It’s not as long as subsequent ones as I guess I thought I needed to be very brief:
Thanks to SLIMJIM and the guys for thinking of me.
Veritas Domain is not associated with Veritas School of Theology.
I was going to post one of my own, but this post by newly minted wordpress-or Fred Butler is too good not to mention. We’re all familiar with the “evolution = science = enlightened freethinker” mindset. Or we might call it the “something can’t come from nothing – life can’t come from non-life – information can’t exist without a mind, but I’ll believe the exact opposite anyway” mindset. Here is an answer to one of these superior intellects who have taken Fred to task. I think Fred does quite well!
Let me start where I left off last time, with definitions of inspiration and inerrancy.
The Inspiration of Scripture – Proposition: “The Scriptures come from the God who breathed them out and caused them to be inscripturated through men who were ‘borne along’ by the Spirit. That is what makes them Scripture.” – 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Matt. 4:4; Jn. 17:17; Psa. 119:89-91
Inerrancy – Proposition: “The inspired Scriptures are the Word of God before they are the words of men. They must be up to the job of transmitting truth from He who is True. This truth will be as reliable in one area of knowledge as in any other, even if exact precision is not necessary.” – 2 Tim. 3:16; Psa. 12:6; Jn. 17:17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21.
Both doctrines appeal to 2 Timothy 3:16. The verse presents us with the clearest statement about the inspiration of Scripture. But this statement is in direct continuity with very many statements in both Testaments regarding the Bible’s Divine provenance. Scripture itself always stresses its God-givenness far more than it does its human provenance; a fact hardly ever given the attention it deserves. Paul views the Bible is, in truth, the voice of the Lord in inscripturated form.
This is why Paul can praise the Thessalonian believers for receiving the spoken Word of God, “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” – 1 Thessalonians 2:13b.
In the production of the Scriptures, the roles of God the Holy Spirit and the roles of the human authors bear an asymmetrical character which must never be brought into equal balance. Assuredly, this was not done by Jesus (cf. Matt.4:4 and Jn. 17:17), or the OT prophets, or the Apostolic authors: why then should we be out of step with them?
Carl Henry wrote of the doctrine of inspiration:
Inspiration is primarily a statement about God’s relationship to Scripture and only secondarily about the relationship of God to the writers. – Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 4.143
This is most important for us to understand as conservative evangelicals. B.B. Warfield recognized the same truth.
These acts could be attributed to Scripture only as the result of such a habitual identification in the mind of the writer of the text of Scripture with God as speaking, that it became natural to use the term ‘Scripture says’ when what was actually intended was ‘God has recorded in Scripture said. – B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 299-300.
The battle over the inerrancy of Scripture hasn’t and isn’t going away. We must decide how we will approach the Bible – what our working assumptions will be. If “all Scripture is God-breathed” then all Scripture has the insignia of God upon it. This would be the bare-bones theological deduction from the relationship between the two. For the human element to be lifted above the Divine element so as to enjoy equal ultimacy over the resultant production of Scripture requires an alteration to Scripture’s own self-witness. This is the reason why those who reject the idea of inerrancy (and I am far from rejecting all their work on account of their error), often plead in the vacuum of unaided reason.
Taking one prominent broadly evangelical theologian as an example, Donald Bloesch wrote,
While we grant that in one sense the Bible is the revelation of God to men, this revelation is in the form of human witness and is therefore to a degree hidden from the sight and understanding. The bane of much of modern evangelicalism is rationalism which presupposes that the Word of God is directly available to human reason. It is fashionable to refer to the biblical revelation as propositional and in one sense this is true. The Bible is not directly the revelation of God, but indirectly in that God’s Word comes to us through the mode of human instrumentality. – Donald G. Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology – Volume I, 75-76.
This quotation shows us how the human element can be stressed so as to compete with the Divine element. To wit, the doctrine of inspiration must be accommodated to include the “human witness.” This means that the claim to “direct revelation” from God to man is excluded (or, at the very least, camouflaged). And then we are laid open to the philosophy of God’s free action reaching us through the Bible but only by His choice to employ it as His Word.
What we must say… is that in the case of Scripture just as surely as in preaching, ‘fallible men speak the word of God in fallible human words’ – Trevor Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38.
Taking this tack immediately places one on the horns of a dilemma. For the Bible stresses many many times its God-givenness. If it is produced by the combination of God’s out-breathing and the Spirit’s direction, and if every word of God is true, then unless we are prepared to engage in the futile task of separating God’s words from man’s words we shall have to decide to be those who accept a form of inerrancy, or else those who fail to find God’s prints on the Bible at all. Read more »
Fred Butler has already told his readers about his enthusiasm for Clifford McManis’s new book Biblical Apologetics. Now he has posted his review of the book. I hope you will take some time to read it:
As many of you know, I am a strong advocate of Presuppositional Apologetics (PA). I believe it to be the only approach which reflects both the thrust of Scripture as revelation from the Creator to the fallen creature, but also the necessary corollary to the Biblical Worldview.
Here is an excellent piece by Fred Butler on why he advocates presuppositionalism against “evidentialist” approaches.
The comments are well worth reading too, as they are constructive and civil, even where there is clear disagreement with PA.