N.B. Some of this material has appeared in a previous post.
Many moons ago evangelicals could be relied upon to hold a generally agreed-upon opinion on the revelatory character of Scripture.There were some who tried to formulate the “Scripture Principle” using evidentialist apologetics (Warfield, Sproul, Pinnock), and others who laid stress upon the Divine initiative in revelation by employing ‘presuppositionalist’ approaches (Turretin, Kuyper, Van Til), but, for all that, the Bible was thought to contain God’s verbal disclosure in propositional form.
Sadly, this is no longer true.Since Karl Barth there has been an incessant attempt to treat propositionalism as naïve and rationalistic.The alternatives put forth as replacements have all advertised themselves as more dynamic then the older view.And they have joined chorus in their efforts to disabuse the church of its “static” view of the Bible.
Certainly, it is true (as I have pointed out) that 19th century theologians sometimes portrayed the Bible as a repository of retrievable proof-texts to fit any question.But even then it has been demonstrated that such men as Charles Hodge can be construed more charitably than has often been the case in the books and articles of their opponents.I believe the issue of whether the Bible comes to us as propositional revelation is crucial for Christians and ought to be settled in the affirmative.Here, then, are some of my thoughts on the matter:
Beware of Divinizing the Bible
It is important to take some care in making sure that we fully understand what function the Bible plays in the world.In the first place we ought to beware of divinizing the Bible.For example, we must be cautious of too closely linking the Bible as the Word of God with Jesus Christ, the Word of God.Although the Bible is the Word of God it is not a Person, it does not think.It is a printed book, individual copies of which can be destroyed, and can be corrupted, although the Bible can never be eradicated.It is the verbal enunciation of the Creator God to mankind.It is, therefore, qualified as supremely authoritative on account of it being the Biblionof God.Holy Scripture needs the protection of God to stay extant in this world, and it needs the power of God if it is to be truly effectual in this world.Christians do not worship the Bible, they worship the God who has inspired the Bible and who reveals Himself in the Bible.All Scripture is QeopneustoV(2 Tim.3:16), so it carries an inherent authority far above any word that can be spoken by man.This is why our Lord answered the Tempter with the Scripture.This is why He told the Devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4).Scripture is not, however, God Himself.It is, as Bavinck called it, “the instrumental efficient cause of theology.”[i]As such theology is not reachable without a Biblical base, for as Bavinck stated elsewhere, “The science of the knowledge of God stands on the reality of his revelation.”[ii]
Scripture as Propositional Revelation
Holy Scripture is the faithful written testimony of God’s special revelation to men, and is, by virtue of its inspired nature, the sole source of special revelation.In written form special revelation (the Bible) is propositional in character.By “propositional” we mean an objective disclosure in contradistinction to a purely personal subjective impression.Carl Henry has said:
The Bible depicts God’s very revelation as meaningful, objectively intelligible disclosure.We mean by propositional revelation that God supernaturally communicated his revelation to chosen spokesmen in the express form of cognitive truths, and that the inspired prophetic-apostolic proclamation reliably articulates these truths in sentences that are not internally contradictory.[iii]
This kind of definition is being challenged even within evangelical circles by theologians who have drunk too deeply from the cup of postmodernism and who, as a result, have over-applied the objections to classical foundationalism.They claim that to refer to the Bible as propositional turns it into a rationalistic “concordance” for theology.
One writer of the “the Evangelical Left” has recently objected that this leads to viewing Scripture, as a source of information for systematic theology.“As such” it is viewed as a rather loose and relatively disorganized collection of factual, propositional statements.”[iv]This account reveals a reaction to certain statements made by men like Charles Hodge, which seemed to imply that the Bible was simply a repository of proof-texts to be sorted into the respective corpora of systematics.But this was never what was intended.Besides, whatever definitional failings may be found in Hodge, the same cannot be said of Henry.Indeed, that author offers one of the clearest and best definitions of propositional revelation available when he writes, “The inspired Scriptures contain a body of divinely given information actually expressed or capable of being expressed in propositions. In brief, the Bible is a propositional revelation of the unchanging truth of God.”[v] (Emphasis added).
God has revealed factual information about Himself in Scripture.This Revelation is not put over in visuals or sound-bytes, but is set down rationally through linear argumentation and objective declaration.The prophet Isaiah outlined the method of learning the Scripture.
Whom shall He teach knowledge?And whom shall He make to understand doctrine?…For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little and there a little. – (Isaiah 28:9-10).
It is necessary to learn the doctrines of Scripture by laying one proposition upon another so that the truth dawns upon us as it gradually starts to loom larger in our thoughts.[vi]This consideration is what ought to give shape to our daily life, not to mention our hearing of sermons.It is the lack of proper attention to the propositional character of the Bible that is partly to blame for the evangelical downgrade that has enveloped the western churches in our day.
[i] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1.213.
[ii] Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 20.
[iii] Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 3.456-457.
[iv] John R. Franke, The Character of Theology, 88.In a footnote on the same page the author notices that Carl Henry develops his definition of theology, based on Biblical propositions, in Volume I of his God, Revelation and Authority.But interestingly, Franke neglects to refer his reader to Henry’s thorough examination of the pros and cons of propositional revelation in Volume III of his opus, pages 403-487.
[v] Henry, 3.457.
[vi]See also Nehemiah 8:8.