Puritan Gems

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tools Of Theology

"For although no man will now, in the present ruin of the human race, perceive God to be either a father, or the author of salvation, or propitious in any respect, until Christ interpose to make our peace; still it is one thing to perceive that God our Maker supports us by his power, rules us by his providence, fosters us by his goodness, and visits us with all kinds of blessings, and another thing to embrace the grace of reconciliation offered to us in Christ." (John Calvin, Institutes Of The Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter II)
Calvin begins his systematic thelogy with the knowledge of God, distinguishing between the knowledge of God the Creator and the knowledge of God the Savior. As such, he presents us with both the problem of man's knowledge of God as well as the solution to that problem. How is man, a creature, able to ascertain any truths about God the Creator? How does the science of theology even get off the ground, and how to we know that the truths we arrive at are objective and not conventional? The answer is that God Himself must reveal truths about Himself. Indeed, in order to avoid any claim to ignorance, God has revealed himself to all men by His creative attributes, by the way he providentially governs His creation, and by the very fact that he creates and governs the minds of men, without which no knowledge would be possible in the first place. Just as any sort of knowledge must needs be rooted in divine evelation, so the knowledge of God himself requires such revelation.

Natural Revelation

Man, by nature, is apprehensive to acknowledge anything higher than himself, yet in doing so, he proves that the knowledge of God is inescapable, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Romans 1:20). The mulititudes of religions and deities testify to the fact that "...what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them," (Romans 1:19). The knowledge of God the creator being innate in all men, there has been no shortage of constructs by which fallen men will attempt to relate to the divine. Much can be determined about the divine nature by way of his Creation. This knowledge is revealed, among many ways, in the natural world (Job 12:7-9, Psalm 19:1), in the necessity of His Providence (Acts 14:16-17, Acts 17:28, Hebrews 1:3), in the ability to obtain knowledge itself (Job 38:36, Colossians 2:3), in the knowledge of moral absolutes (Romans 2:14-15), and in the acknowledgement of human dignity (Genesis 1:27).

Yet due to man's fallen nature, his innate knowledge of God has become corrupt. In this sense, natural revelation renders all men to be without excuse, and that is essentially all that it does.

Special Revelation

"If man were ever to be brought to salvation, it was`necessary for God reveal a way whereby he could become a partaker of it" (Wilhelmus a'Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, Chapter 2, The Word of God)
Due to his deformed state, man may only attain to the merits of Christ's saving work if, and only if, God Himself would reveal these truths, both of his need for redemption, and the way by which he may obtain it. The revelation of these truth has been accomplished " many times and in many ways" as "God spoke to our fathers by the prophets" (Hebrews 1:1). Today, God's special revelation is complete in the 66 books of the Holy Scriptures, "... breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17). These books contain the faith that has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3), to which nothing can be added or taken from without serious consequences (Revelation 22:18-19). In addition, it is the Holy Spirit Himself that makes these truths obvious in the minds and hearts of his people (Matthew 16:17), in a manner without such revelation the things of God appear to be mere folly (1 Corinthians 2:14). Thus the most important need for the study of God is God Himself, without whom we could understand nothing. As such, the Holy Scriptures are, of necessity, the only infallible rule of faith and life.

Over the next few weeks, we will take an indepth look at both types of knowledge in an effort to properly apply them as well as to learn more about our Creator and our Savior. We will show how even the most adamantly unbeleiver relies on God's creation and Providence to even function in God's universe. We will also examine the Scriptures in terms of the basis for the Canon, its necessity, its self-attestation, and its self sufficiency.