The purpose of this paper is to trace by means of characterization portions of the history of theology from the early church to the beginning of the contemporary period as a means of clarifying the presuppositions of theology and the ways in which theology has generally been carried out. This characterization will then be contrasted with a conservative Protestant approach to theology. It is felt that the basic method for characterizing theology within the context of Scripture will be clarified when this method is seen in relation to other possible methods within theology.
The presuppositions with which one begins the task of theology determine the method by which one will treat theological materials. The basic presupposition of this paper is that God's Word through Jesus Christ is reliably and objectively conveyed to mankind in both the Old and the New Testament. 1 Scripture is then considered the basis upon which one builds not only his doctrine and practice but also his method in Biblical studies and theology, as well as his method for the study of the universe and mankind, including Christian experience. The paper also assumes as Biblically based the concept of God as one who is not only immanent but also transcendent, and as unknowable apart from self-revelation.
In general, man attempts to find some basis within the world around him by which he may come to a knowledge of God. On the basis of the natural outworkings of the forces of nature, of interpersonal relationships, of psychological factors, and of rational processes of the mind, man postulates a concept of God that is congruent with these various processes and with the structure of reality as he sees it.
Many solutions to the problem of the existence and attributes of God have arisen out of man's attempt to use that which is available to his experience and rational processes as a basis for postulating a God. Man has developed concepts of poly theism, of dualism, pantheism, absolutism or religious monism, agnosticism, atheism, secularism, humanism, deism, and theism.
Each of these concepts regarding the existence and attributes of God represents an attempt to come to a knowledge about God on the basis of what is available to man within the world, and each is a possibility and follows logically from the experienced world or from rational processes. Unfortunately in his search for God, man has in effect attempted to build his own God.
The history of the theology of Christianity is replete with man's attempts to come to a knowledge of God by use of methods not totally dependent upon Scripture. During a large segment of the history of Christianity, the topic of God and theology in general was influenced in one way or another by a metaphysic—a philosophical concept of reality.
Christian theologians in the early and medieval church generally looked upon ancient Greek philosophy and literature as a forerunner, a preparer, a foreshadowing of, and an avenue leading to Christian theology. The views of Plato (427-347 B.C.) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) were held in high esteem, and were at times even regarded as authoritative and unchangeable.
Philosophy covers the same general topic material as that developed by religion. Philosophy is an attempt to understand ultimate reality and the general causes and principles of things, particularly with reference to mankind and to the principles and end results of man's activities. During the formative period of Christian theology, philosophy was equated with metaphysics that science that attempted to understand the nature of things.
It was generally felt that reality in one way or another imposed meaning upon the mind of man. There was considered to be a direct relationship between what is known and reality—or what is. God was assumed to be congruent with the reality that presented itself to mankind. Thus by a process of argumentation man could move from the known to the unknown, from the known to reality, from reality to God.
The general approach for method in theology (first indirectly, then more directly) was to build upon a concept of reality, usually that accepted by the contemporary culture, in order to show either the congruity of that concept of reality with the concept of God or to find a way of moving from within that concept of reality to the concept of God.
An example of the impact of this approach on theology is evidenced in the concept of God that developed in the early and medieval church. The concept of reality was molded primarily by influences from Platonism, Neoplatonism and then Aristotelianism. In harmony with the concepts of reality that were postulated by these philosophical systems, theologians at tempted to develop a concept of God. Although this process took place unconsciously at first, the results were the same. The God who was postulated was not conceived as being in a relationship of interaction with the world. God was rather the first cause, pure causality, and thus no force could act upon Him. God could not be acted upon by anything or anyone else. By deduction, then, God could not be sensitive to the woes and joys of mankind. Unknowingly this philosophical concept of God was in contradiction to the Biblical concept of the suffering God on the cross.
In general, the early church fathers intended to develop their theology out of Scripture itself. The specific purpose was to interpret to the present generation the word that God had given to earlier generations in Scripture. We shall choose Origen as an illustration of the kind of approaches to Scripture that were common in the early and medieval church. Origen (c. A.D. 185-255), of course, cannot be taken as representative of the work that was done during this entire period. There was, for example, a strong reaction from the school of thought that developed at Antioch against the exegetical patterns of Origen. Nevertheless, the general approach of Origen to Scripture had a major influence upon Western exegesis. Smalley even suggests that the history of Origen's influence is tantamount to the history of Western exegesis.2
Origen's Approach to Scripture
Origen was reared and educated in Alexandria and absorbed the influence of the intellectual life of that city—primarily that of Neoplatonism and the exegetical methods of the Jew Philo (c. 20 B.C.- c. A.D. 50). Origen himself seems to have attended the lectures of Ammonius Saccas (c. A.D. 175-242), a Neoplatonist under whom some years later Plotinus (c. 205-270) may have studied. It is debated as to the degree (if at all) to which Origen may have been acquainted with Plotinus; however, they at least shared in the same intellectual climate. Thus, Origen developed principles for the interpretation of Scripture within the climate of the allegorical methods of Philo and the philosophical thinking of Neoplatonists.
Origen's concept of the nature of Scripture had a direct bearing upon his method for interpreting Scripture. He conceived of Christ as both the source of knowledge and as the illuminating power that made knowledge understandable. Knowledge from Christ came through the Scriptures. Both the Old and New Testaments were of divine origin, yet the message of Scripture was concealed in vessels of poor and humble words. The Holy Spirit directed the message of Scripture on two levels—one for those who are capable of understanding deep truths and the other for the multitudes who cannot receive the deep truths.
Origen's principles for the interpretation of Scripture arose out of his understanding of the nature of Scripture. Important elements for the development of his hermeneutics include such things as the divine origin of Scripture, the resultant unity of Scripture, the purpose of the Spirit to interweave spiritual truths with literal events, and the resultant fact that not all of Scripture contains the literal meaning and therefore there are stumbling blocks in Scripture.
Because of its unity, Scripture was to be interpreted as a connected whole. It was not appropriate to finalize upon the interpretation of a particular passage until one understood the general tenor of Scripture upon that topic. The unity of Scripture also indicated that the same method was to be used for interpreting both the Old and the New Testament. 3
Origen's concept that the nature of Scripture included both literal and spiritual meanings also had implications for the interpretation of Scripture. The Holy Spirit had used literal events within which to interweave mystical meanings. At times it was not possible for the Spirit to find literal events for the mystical meaning. Some events recorded in Scripture did not actually happen, and in some cases they could not have taken place at all. Thus there are riddles, dark sayings, and stumbling blocks within Scripture.
This concept of Scripture suggested a threefold method of interpretation that sought the literal, moral, and spiritual meaning of the text. Although Origen distinguishes these three senses of Scripture, his description of the method for interpreting Scripture boils down to a consideration of the literal and the spiritual, and in actual practice he primarily refers to the literal or spiritual meaning of the passage.
Although Origen promotes the spiritual interpretation of Scripture over and above the literal, it seems that the majority of his references to Scripture in On First Principles fall within the category of an attempt to find the literal intent of Scripture. In general, whenever Origen moved over to allegorical interpretation, it was in an area where he was at cross-purposes with Scripture and thus needed to find some other way of justifying his viewpoint.
Origen's primary objective was to remain within the bounds of Scripture in the development of his theology. Unfortunately, however, he almost uncritically accepted and operated out of the milieu of his time. The promotion of the allegorical system of interpretation of Scripture made it possible for Origen to impose contemporary philosophical thinking upon the words of Scripture.
Although his intent was to place authority within Scripture as God's Word, he has in fact built a theology based upon the authority of his philosophical background, upon his concept of God, and upon what seemed rational to his age. The controlling factor in Origen's exegesis was his concept of reality rather than the meaning rising out of the text. Authority lay within what was rational, for that which Origen considered to be irrational was allegorized and thus in effect removed from Scripture.
He aimed at being an interpreter of the Bible, and he never consciously departed from Scripture. Yet, since his milieu played an almost controlling factor in development of his theology, the net result was that Origen attempted a wedding between philosophy and Biblical studies.
Although the allegorical method is generally rejected as too subjective by contemporary critical Biblical studies, there is nonetheless a basic similarity between the framework within which Origen developed his principles of interpretation and the framework out of which contemporary Biblical studies operate. Origen's allegorical method imposed a method upon Scripture that did not arise out of Scripture itself and consequently imposed foreign elements upon Scripture. Present-day critical Biblical studies operate out of a different milieu from that of Origen, and their principles for the understanding of Scripture are generally quite different from those of Origen. Nonetheless, as will be seen later, there is a basic similarity in that these methods, rather than developing from Scripture itself, impose upon Scripture a method that is harmonious with the contemporary milieu. The final authority thus becomes the contemporary mind-set rather than Scripture itself.
Adaptation of Aristotelian Logic and Philosophy to Theology
Up to the time of the eleventh century, Scripture (and gradually the church and the early church fathers) was given an authoritative role in the development of theology. Although the allegorical method of interpretation allowed for the distortion of aspects of the Biblical message and for the possibility of synthesis between philosophical thinking and the Biblical mes sage, it was nonetheless the basic intent of theologians throughout this period to be Biblical in their theology. How ever, the eleventh century brought about a basic change in concepts of authority and in the relation between the Biblical message and philosophy.
From the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries there arose a gradual knowledge and use of the method of logic and the concept of philosophy that had been worked out by Aristotle. Aristotelian systems of logic had always been available, but were not in demand until the eleventh century, when there emerged an appreciation of the power of words and arguments and of the force of logic. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the total philosophy of Aristotle began to come through to the West primarily through the channels of Arabic and Jewish thought, and Aristotle replaced Plato as the philosopher to all the schools.
At first the use of dialectic or logic was seen as subservient to the authority of the Scriptures and the tradition of the fathers. Fulbert of Chartres (c. 960-1028), for example, asserted that when the divine arrangement of things could not be under stood, argumentation was to be abandoned in favor of authority.
By contrast, Berengar de Tours (c. 998-1088), a pupil of Fulbert, placed a major emphasis upon reason as the judge of theology. It was his purpose to submit faith to treatment by dialectic, for dialectic is the use of reason, and when it comes to determining truth, he proposed that reason is superior to authority.
Among others who gave a primary role to dialectic were such men as Peter Abelard (1072-1142) and Gilbert de La Porree (1076-1154). Abelard stated that reason could go far in establishing the doctrines of the Christian faith, and he tended to see Christian revelation and morality as merely the production of natural reason and ethics. He even tended to see an outline of Christian theology, including the Trinity, in heathen philosophy. Gilbert also used dialectic as a means of building theological truth. The categories that were developed logically were held to have their exact counterparts in reality. If, for example, the mind could not logically consider God without separating His nature from the three persons in the Godhead, then, in fact, that separation existed in some way. For both Abelard and Gilbert, grammar and logic were the primary means of ex pressing the objects of Christian revelation. Their concept of the universe grew out of their understanding of a coherence between the world and the gospel, and thus grammar and logic, as representing the world, formed a basic framework on which they built Christian theology. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1091-1153) reacted strongly against this approach and by contrast started within the framework of divine revelation and faith.
Anselm (c. 1033-1109) also made extensive use of dialectic. Although on the one hand he stated that one must believe in order to understand, he also insisted that the truths of faith can be developed by reason. Reason puts man in contact with the whole order of being, and it has its own principles of operation. Thus the truth of what was received by faith could be demonstrated by an intellectual process. Not only could reason sup port the existence of God but also it could deal with the nature of God, the Trinity, immortality, and the incarnation, the death, and the resurrection of Christ. These basic tenets of Christian teaching were held to be in harmony with and accompanied by a rational view of the universe.
Anselm developed what is called the ontological argument for the existence of God. The argument arises out of a definition of God. God is a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. By greater, Anselm means more perfect. Everyone, even the fool who denies the existence of God, has as an object of thought the idea of something than which nothing greater can be conceived. The question is whether the object that exists as a concept in our minds also exists in reality. To deny existence to this object would be a contradiction of terms, for if it does not exist, then we can think of another being as having real existence that is greater by reason of existence than the one than which nothing greater can exist, and this would be absurd. Therefore, something than which nothing greater can be conceived must exist in reality. Anselm goes on to argue for other characteristics of this divine being such as His eternity. If an eternal being can be conceived, it must exist, for it is self-contradictory to conceive of an eternal being that either has not yet come into existence or that has ceased to exist.
Anselm's argument for the existence of God was formed within the thought world that assumed the necessary relation ship between thought processes and reality. It asserted that there can be no contradiction between man's reasoning processes and reality, for the universe was not structured in any way that is out of harmony with the reasoning processes of mankind. Thus there was conceived a necessary relationship between thought processes and reality. If thought processes affirm the existence of God, God must exist. The question must be raised as to whether a valid inference can be made from the thought of a given kind of being to the conclusion that in fact a being of that kind does exist.
Albert the Great (c. 1200-1280), one of the professors of Thomas Aquinas, created a climate in which philosophy could be accepted as parallel to and independent of God's revelation in Scripture. Up to the time of Albert, philosophy was generally seen as subservient to the Scriptures and as a tool that could aid in the process of explaining, interpreting, and communicating the Christian message. Albert, however, accepted philosophy, particularly that of Aristotle, as a means of obtaining truth parallel to that of the Old and New Testaments. He thus admitted into Christian theology the realm of nature that within its own limits was to be pursued for its own sake by the faculties given man at his creation. Natural philosophy provided an essential basis for the Christian concept of the uni verse. 4
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) is generally considered the outstanding theologian of the Middle Ages, and his theological positions have been taken by many to be almost normative for Roman Catholic theology.
Aquinas gives revelation a primary role in development of theology. As a result of the grace of God, revelation is a gift that reveals to man knowledge of spiritual truths not otherwise available merely by the exercise of human reason. Revelation has been communicated to the prophets and thus through Scripture. The basis of the doctrines of the church is not the creeds, the traditions, the teaching office within the church, nor even Peter nor the apostles, but the teaching of the prophets and the apostles particularly in their witness to Christ. Thus Scripture plays a primary role even above that of reason, tradition, and the church.
Aquinas also dealt with the method by which Scripture is to be interpreted. In contradistinction to the allegorical method of interpretation, he placed primary emphasis upon the literal meaning of the Bible as expressing the true sense of Scripture.
Aquinas also intended to give Scripture a primary role in the development of theology. Scripture supplied to theology principles or fundamental propositions that were similar to the self-evident principles of philosophy. These principles were not subject to debate nor were they capable of demonstration, but were rather the starting point or presupposition of theological thinking. It was the task of theology through the function of reason to systematize and to draw conclusions from these presuppositions.
Scripture provided not only the source of knowledge but also the norm for theological instruction. Aquinas, for example, rejected the doctrine of the immaculate conception on the basis of scriptural testimony. Although he found rational arguments for accepting it, he considered the doctrine to be in conflict with unmistakable Biblical testimony concerning Christ as the universal Saviour of all. Mary must be reckoned among those sinners who need salvation through Christ. Thus for Aquinas, it was the purpose of theology to determine and express through the use of reason, illuminated by faith, the meaning and significance of the supernatural knowledge of God given in Scripture in order to reconstruct in a rational and human way the truth that God had been pleased to give in Scripture. 5
The teachings of Aristotle had come into full view and were flourishing around the time when Aquinas arrived on the scene. Aristotle gave a purely naturalistic this-world point of view that cannot be characterized as Christian or even medieval, but ancient Greek and nonreligious, as well as rationalistic. Yet the Aristotelian system afforded a basis upon which could be constructed a full and mature system of theology.
Aquinas accepted the epistemology of Aristotle that knowledge is based upon what the senses perceive. The senses provide data that when interpreted by reason provide the road to knowledge. Aquinas also went beyond Aristotle by indicating that faith is also a road to truth. Both reason and faith provided a means of obtaining knowledge of God and the universe. Since man was a part of nature, human reason was both an adequate and self-sufficient instrument for obtaining truth within the world of man's natural experience, as well as within aspects of the spiritual realm. The unchanging mind and law of God in the universe was reflected in reason and in the order of the universe. Neither the senses nor reason play false when they function normally under the divine illumination of the Spirit.
Since philosophical and metaphysical thinking take place within the natural world, they are essentially independent of revelation and follow the laws of reason. There is a sphere that is directly accessible to reason not only within the natural but also within the spiritual realm. Since God is the ultimate cause of Creation, it is possible to obtain a natural knowledge of Him by means of an analogy between the created world and God. Natural knowledge of God is limited and is only analogous knowledge. Yet the existence of God and to some extent His attributes can be demonstrated (at least to those who are already believers) on the basis of knowledge obtained through the senses and reason. Revelation is distinct from reason and brings knowledge to mankind that would not otherwise be available within the natural sphere.
Both revelation and reason bring knowledge to mankind. Revelation is given, whereas reason brings knowledge by means of an interpretation of the data of the senses. Revelation does not come from reason, but is given in accordance with reason. It actually brings reason to fuller perfection that would not otherwise be possible apart from revelation. The fact that revelation brings something new into the sphere of reason does not mean that there is a contradiction between reason and revelation, nor does it imply any correction of the structure that characterizes the work of reason. The new knowledge that is given in revelation is an extension of the knowledge gained through reason.
Since all being and therefore all truth comes from one source, there is an order and harmony that exists within all knowledge. Thus, although revelation and reason deal with different (although not unrelated) realms of truth and although there are limits to the human mind, there is nonetheless only one truth. God is the origin of both nature and revelation. Reason and faith therefore have their source in God and cannot be in conflict with each other, nor can knowledge that is reached through the senses contradict that which is given through revelation.
God has given both the first principles of thought in the natural world and the articles of faith in the revealed world. If there were any conflicts between faith and reason it would mean that God was acting falsely by intending to deceive man. Thus, it is presupposed that God as the Creator will operate in accordance with the natural world as interpreted by reason, and, thus, how God will act is ultimately determined by the conception of the natural world.
Aquinas is saying that truth is truth wherever it may be found. God is the author of truth whether it is in revelation or in the natural world. Therefore there can be no contradiction between them. But as we will see, what finally happens within the concept that the natural world and the world of revelation supply parallel tracks to truth is that rather than allowing the truths of revelation to become the ordering principle for the exercise of the function of reason, the natural world becomes the ordering principle for truth within revelation.
The relation between faith and reason in Aquinas cannot be stated simply, for it is not merely a case of reason over faith or of faith over reason. Rather there is a continual interrelation ship between the two.
Theology is not itself equated with revelation. Rather it is a human attempt to employ all the resources of natural reason in order to synthesize and to reflect through a cognitive process on the knowledge that has been given in revelation. Revelation, as communicated in Scripture, expresses the content of faith and is thus the starting point for and presupposition of the work of a theologian. But the content of Scripture is only a starting point or a sort of first principle upon which the theologian builds an orderly system through the use of reason as informed by the various available philosophical systems.
Thus within the system of Aquinas we have the influence of both Scripture and philosophy. Scripture at times correcting metaphysics and defining the limits in which reason may operate. Metaphysics at times restructuring not only the form but even the content of the Biblical message. The content of Scripture is normative in some sense in that it provides the basic materials to be interpreted and upon which the theologian operates. It sets the limits and attempts to purge the philosophy of foreign elements. On the other hand, rational knowledge that is independent of revelation is used to define not only the meaning but also the structure in which the Biblical message will be conveyed. Although Scripture is the starting point, it is reason that (is the primary determinant and) gives unity to the system of ideas, and this structuring does not take place with out altering the content.
In effect, then, the role of reason in theology is both dominant and determinative in that it provides the structure and to some extent the content. Revelation is coordinated with knowledge obtained by reason, and it is interpreted in terms of that same knowledge. Revelation does not abrogate the existing thought categories; rather, it brings to conclusions existing lines of thought.. It is in this sense, then, that it may be said that reason is primary.
The net effect of it all is that the theology of Aquinas became something other than Biblical theology. At the base of Aquinas' ordering principle was the concept of cause, which, though modified in part by Biblical principles, came essentially from Aristotle.
For Aquinas, the mode of study that was appropriate to human reason was to move from effects to initial cause by a process of deduction. Even though the study of theology would suggest movement from cause to the study of its effects, the end result of Aquinas' method placed emphasis upon movement from effect to cause as the primary structuring principle of his theology. The end result was that revelation became subordinated to what was understood to be the laws that structured the human mind.
In dealing with God's relation to the world, Aquinas defined the relationship as that between a transcendent cause and its effects.
God is transcendent cause, that is, everything else is dependent upon Him, whereas God Himself is self-existing. Thus all change moves from God as the final cause, but never toward God. God is the unchanging cause of change.
As the result of Aquinas' notion of causality between God and man, it is difficult for him to deal with Biblical concepts such as "descent from heaven," to "become poor," to "empty himself," and to "give himself for others." When Aquinas dealt with the suffering of Christ, it was placed totally within His human nature, not the divine nature, for divine nature cannot suffer. When Aquinas dealt with 1 Corinthians 2:2, where Paul stated that he knew nothing except the cross of Christ among the Corinthians, Aquinas stated that Paul was dealing with an inferior doctrine. The cross was considered an inferior doctrine because it implied suffering, which could not easily be correlated with the idea of the perfection of God. Thus we see that the rational lines upon which Aquinas built his theology made it difficult for him to do justice to certain Biblical passages regarding the incarnation and the work of Christ.
In constructing his theology, Aquinas is dependent upon the Greek frame of reference, which sees that which lies beneath all change to be ultimately unchangeable. The laws considered to apply to causality in general become the basis upon which Aquinas builds the structure of the causal relationship between God and the world. The order by which God is related to the world is thus derived from Greek philosophy rather than from Biblical thought. It is based upon a concept of unchangeableness rather than upon a concept of God's action in history. Thus the historical events within Scripture are interpreted in conformity with a pure abstract construction. In the long run, Biblical ideas are discussed in continuity with a metaphysics that is not congruent with Scripture. This also means the elimination of some motifs of Scripture that, if expressed, would destroy the structure of the thought that gives synthesis, unity, and cohesion to the theology of Aquinas.
Within the medieval period of theology, it was felt that theoretical arguments for the existence and to some extent the nature of God were possible. The argument from cause to effect stated that for every effect there must be a cause sufficient to explain the effect. By moving back from each cause to the cause that produced the cause, one could finally get back to the first cause. The label "God" was written across the term "first cause." The argument from design stated that the existence of design demands a designer. The label "God" was written through the term "Designer."
These and other arguments for the existence of God proved effective to those who were already believers, but the arguments had their limitations. The argument from effect to cause is not conclusive within itself, for it leaves unanswered one of the basic premises of the argument, namely the question of the cause for the first cause.
The argument from design is also unsatisfactory in that it does not answer the question as to the nature of the designer. Is the designer of the entire universe taken as a whole a divine mind—a master computer, the God of Christianity, or merely chance? If one argues on the basis of probability that the universe and its present order and development is totally improbable on the basis of evolution or chance, one is left with an even greater improbability that there should exist within the universe a designer capable of ordering the present state of affairs. The concept of universal mechanism, which was at the basis of the argument for design also, became the basis for Darwinism.
The argument that God exists and can be somewhat known because He is reflected in the world can also go two ways. One can argue from that which is to the invisible properties of God, His absolute causality, His power and wisdom, and in that way arrive at an intelligible conception of infinite being, which may then be labeled God; however, atheism by looking in the same mirror does not see the countenance of a god, but only the grim face of absurdity and nothingness. The difference is not in the chain of logical argument, but in the selection and interpretation of the experienced world.
It can be seen, then, that the arguments for the existence and attributes of God did not allow for God's being other than what could be established by logic. Thus they placed God in a logical strait jacket. To a large extent the brand of Christianity that developed after the time of the apostles was a direct extension and prolongation of the ancient philosophy of Greece whereby a rational process was used to establish a frame of reference in which the world was seen to be intelligible. This concept of reality was then used by theologians to frame the background out of which their theology was developed. They conceived a single reasoned and intelligible explanation of the universe on the natural level, and a single analysis of man and his powers, that could be discovered, elaborated, and taught, and that was valid for all men and final within its own sphere.
Although the basic intent of theologians during the period of the early and medieval church was to develop a theology that was Biblical, the net result of operating within the climate of the various philosophies was a synthesis between theology and philosophy. The scholastic method of the later period no less than the allegorical method of the earlier allowed for the imposition of rational interpretations and structures upon Scripture. Thus Origen came to Scripture as a Neoplatonist, Aquinas as a theologian, and Albert as a philosopher.
The basic assumption necessary for building a theology out of the background of a metaphysic was that there is a natural continuity between the natural and the supernatural, and that man is capable of perceiving correctly the real world. Basic to the history of Christian thought is the emphasis that there is continuity between thought and divine revelation so that one may start theology within the thought processes. Even though revelation surpassed the rational processes, it was nonetheless congruent with them. The idea of God and revelation could be accounted for and creatively accepted into a system of' human thought such as the metaphysics of Plato or Aristotle. Although the approaches for bringing about the union between thought process and revelation were taken from different vantage points, at the basis of each of these approaches was the position that there is continuity between human thought and divine revelation.
If either of the basic assumptions of medieval theology—that there is a natural continuity between the world and God, and that man is capable of perceiving correctly the real world—should prove inadequate, then any method of theology arising out of metaphysics would be inadequate for dealing with the question of God. The question must be asked whether there is any necessary relationship between human thought and rev elation or whether, as a matter of fact, revelation brings some thing within the grasp of man that is not otherwise available to mankind—something that is not only an addition to human thought but that actually reorientates and restructures the entire basis for man's thinking and acting in all spheres of his life.
The Reformation Period
The dissolution of medieval scholasticism, as illustrated by such thinkers as William of Ockham (c. 1300-1349), prepared a background out of which the Protestant Reformation could arise. This background can best be understood within the context of the battle that took place during the medieval period between realism and nominalism. Reality according to the realists was characterized by structure and order. Rational thought patterns were inherent within reality itself. Thus language expressed reality, and the reality that was reflected in concepts actually expressed universal realities. The concept "animal," for example, had reality even apart from specific animals.
By contrast, the nominalists declared that names, concepts, and generalities were merely tags that were used to speak about individual things. Only actual individuals were real. Realism placed emphasis upon universal concepts, as well as organizations such as the church, whereas nominalism placed emphasis upon the individual. The latter was, of course, important to the Reformation concept of the priesthood of all believers and their responsibility as interpreters of the word of God in Scripture.
Ockham's concern was not so directly with the status of universals as with the principles of valid demonstration and the status of knowledge itself. Since all knowledge, to be valid, had to be verifiable within empirical experience, the base of evidence upon which knowledge rests is direct experience of individual things and particular events. He rejected the medieval notion that the human intellect discovers in individual things by sense experience an order of abstract essences and necessary relations that are prior to individual things and contingent events from which the intellect can demonstrate necessary truths about first causes and the nature and attributes of God.
Ockham thus closed the door against any possibility of rational or metaphysical knowledge of God or of the universe. When metaphysics fell, the whole fabric of natural theology that rested upon the validity and reality of universal concepts also collapsed. Both God and metaphysics are outside the scope of verifiable natural experience and thus of knowledge naturally available to man. The only knowledge that is available to man is that which comes by direct experience. Man does not acquire knowledge by purely rational processes. Since God cannot be known by direct experience, it follows that God cannot be known by any means in which man naturally acquires knowledge. This also applies to any consideration of causality.
Ockham states that knowledge of causal relations can stem only from experience, for it is not possible to obtain knowledge of a cause by merely observing its effect, for the cause must also be intuited directly by us if we are to have knowledge of it. Ockham rejects the idea that the effect is virtually in its causes and is deducible from the central nature of the cause. Man does not have knowledge of God either by direct evidence of His existence or from an analysis of causality. Thus Ockham concluded that neither the characteristics nor the existence of God could be conclusively demonstrated.
He was not atheistic in his denial of the possibility of natural knowledge of God. Rather he insisted that the acceptance of God's existence and acquaintance with His attributes must rest upon Scripture. By denying the possibility of a rational demonstration of the truths of natural religion and by regarding revelation as a given that does not rest upon reason, Ockham opened the door to the concept that revealed doctrine could be confined to Scripture alone by appealing solely to the literal word of Scripture as the norm by which doctrine could be acknowledged as universal and necessary for salvation. This step was soon taken by John Wycliffe (c. 1324-1384), followed later by Martin Luther (1483-1546).
Aristotelian and, to some extent, medieval concepts of the universe placed God in a position subject to His own ordering principles. There was considered to be a divine order and law and predictability to the working of the universe in accordance with which God acted by the exercise of His reason. God, by His very nature, it was argued, is not inconsistent with reason and order. Since human reason is derived from God, both God's nature and His acts are not out of accord with man's reason. By contrast, Ockham, following Duns Scotus (c. 1265- 1308), placed emphasis upon the freedom and absolute power of God. Human reason does not place a limit upon the freedom of God. We know nothing by pure reason, either of God's attributes or of His way of acting. Thus Ockham would not allow reason to make judgments upon the actions of God. God is not under some universal norm. Rather God is Himself the norm. This also had implications for ethics on the human level. Although Ockham recognized that naturally good and virtuous choices may arise out of reason, he was primarily interested in a theological norm of moral goodness. This norm does not arise out of rational reflections, but rather out of the will of God expressed in the commandments of the Old and New Testaments. The right is defined by what God wills man to do out of man's free choice.
The battle cry of the Reformation was sola Scriptura6 The principle of the Bible alone meant not only the priority of Scripture over church and tradition but also its priority over all methods of obtaining knowledge. Thus the Reformation rejected any approach that started within a concept of reality or within a system of reason or philosophy. By implication, sola Scriptura would also reject any approach that starts within such disciplines as psychology, sociology, history, and science.
The principle that the Bible alone must be held as authoritative within the areas of theology, Christian doctrine, and Christian living also had implications for method. Not only did it reject the imposition of an external concept upon Scripture but it also rejected the imposition of any external method. Method for the study of Scripture arose out of Scripture itself, and Scripture was considered to be its own interpreter.
The concept of the historical-grammatical method for interpreting Scripture received prominence as the most adequate method for doing so from within Scripture itself. The historical-grammatical method affirmed the necessity of understanding the grammar of the text and the historical setting within which God reveals Himself. This method is to be distinguished from the later historical-critical method, which not only at tempts to understand what was said and meant but also what can historically be affirmed to have taken place regardless of the specific declaration of the text. The concept of sola Scriptura did not deny that God could speak through other channels such as nature, philosophy, the church, and tradition. Rather, it emphasized that such possible channels for God's word must first be brought under the judgment of, and understood within, the context of Scripture. 7
Shortly after the initial Reformation period of Luther and Calvin (1509-1564), movements began to take place within the Protestant churches toward positions similar to those of Catholic scholasticism of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. For example, Richard Hooker (c. 1554-1600), a theologian of the Church of England, drew largely on the medieval tradition. He saw continuity rather than discontinuity in the relation between the world and God, and saw authority as lying within Scripture, the church (including tradition), and reason.
Within the Lutheran and Reformed groups there also developed movements that are generally characterized by the terms "Protestant orthodoxy" and "Protestant scholasticism." Within these movements there was an emphasis upon a natural knowledge of God, supplemented by revelation. Reason was seen to be parallel to revelation as a means of obtaining knowledge of God. These movements put forward rational propositions about God as defense against the new "scientific" views of the world, which were in sharp contrast to the Biblical world view. Although Protestant scholasticism saw itself as in opposition to its philosophical milieu, which was almost exclusively rationalistic, it nonetheless did not escape the spirit of this same rationalism either in temper or in method.
The Contemporary Theological Scene
At the end of the eighteenth century, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued against the possibility of the development of a metaphysic—a concept of reality—by way of rational argument. Kant's critique of the philosophical and theological scene has had an influence either negatively or positively on almost all of the subsequent history of theology. Consequently, it is necessary to understand something of the revolutionary nature of Kant's thinking in order to understand what has taken place within theology subsequently.
Kant disagreed with the idea that the mind is a tabula rasa, an empty vessel that simply receives impressions from or conforms to the exterior world or to exterior objects. Rather, he stated that it is not only the objects that define the characteristics of knowledge but also the subject (man). Thus he asked the question, What must be presupposed in general for our knowledge of objects to be possible? He dealt with the a priori conditions for thinking itself and attempted to define the characteristics of the knowing subject if it is to think at all. Thus Kant attempted to understand the structure or nature of the human mind itself, which must be presupposed for the very possibility of actual experience. This turn to the subject on the part of Kant is essential for understanding the con temporary theological concern with anthropology. (Virtually all theology since Kant may be characterized as anthropology. Theology has attempted to move from man to God. When the divine dimension in Scripture is called in question, the theologian has no other option than to turn to man.)
Kant then questioned the possibility of theoretical arguments for the existence of God. He stated that it is logically inappropriate to push the categories or necessary laws of thought beyond their limit, that is, beyond actual or possible experience. Objects or things in themselves cannot be known except in their relation to the experience of the knowing subject. Whenever the a priori categories of knowing are pushed beyond actual or possible experience, reason plunges out of control. Whatever is outside the realm of actual or possible experience can be conceived but not known. Since God is beyond the phenomenal order, He cannot be known by means of theoretical reason. 8
Kant critiqued the classical arguments for the existence of God by collapsing them into the ontological argument of Anselm and Descartes. Although the arguments from cause and design claim to be based on experience, they, in fact, project beyond experience to that which is without cause and, in the argument from design, from finite intelligence to a supreme and necessary God. The ontological argument itself, as we have seen, starts with pure reason and by applying logic to a definition of God attempts to establish the necessary existence of God. But Kant already rejected the possibility that knowledge could be obtained by reason when it operates outside man's experience.
Kant made a new appeal for the existence of God. This appeal, however, did not rest on speculative thought, but on practical reason in relation to responsible human action. Kant turned to what he considered to be the moral imperatives of mankind as a means of arguing for the existence of God. Thus, rather than moving from theology to ethics, he moved from ethics to theology. Kant finds morality to be a part of the a priori structure of mankind. Man finds himself under moral law that arises from his own nature. Kant then asks what kind of world is required if one is to make sense of the a priori fact of moral law, and goes on to argue that the supreme good is to be found in good will, that is, the will that is motivated out of duty and duty alone. This duty must be fulfilled consistently, and this requires the use of reason to apply general principles consist ently in each situation. What is presupposed and necessary for any morality, then, is good will, which is done for the sake of duty and is fulfilled in a willing and a consistent manner. Practical reason is thus structured a priori in such a way as to demand morality.
But the concept that man is under moral obligation does not exhaust the demands of human nature. The perfect good is not reached by morality alone, but also requires happiness. Man in his practical reason finds himself driven toward the goal of the ideal union of moral perfection and complete happiness. This is the perfect good. The perfect good is also demanded by morality itself. But this demand does not arise from experience, for we do not discover the perfect good. Rather, it is an a priori requirement of practical reasoning.
In summary to this point, the supreme good is demanded by morality and is a part of the a priori structure of practical reason. The supreme good thus ought to obtain, and the ought implies the can. Practical reason thus postulates a state of affairs to account for the possibility of the fulfillment of the ought. This state of affairs cannot be obtained within the allocated span of life, but rather in progress ad infinitum. Thus the fulfillment of the act can only take place on the supposition of the endless existence of the same rational being.
This leads Kant to postulate the immortality of the soul. He then goes on to argue that the existence of God is necessary to bring about this state of affairs. He notes that endless virtuous existence by itself does not guarantee eventual happiness. Yet practical reason is driven toward the goal of the perfect good. Thus an agency must be postulated, capable of bringing about the results indicated by practical reason and by morality itself. The only cause that is adequate for this effect is a supreme being.
Kant felt that by turning from theoretical reason to practical reason he was able to justify directly the concept of a perfect and infinite God. But it is important to note that this is only justification for, and not objectively valid proof of, the being of God. The argument cannot be stated any more rigidly than in the following: "Insofar as the moral law is necessary, to that extent whatever is presupposed for making its fulfillment possible (including God) must also be necessarily assumed." 9 Thus the moral argument for the existence and nature of God is required only for those who wish to think consistently with the implications of their practical moral existence.
Kant turned from Scripture to the moral law written in the heart as the basis for his theology. He rejected belief in divine revelation, hoping that moral religion would finally supersede the so-called revealed religion. Since the Protestantism of Kant's day was so ingrained in faith in a book, Kant recognized that moral instruction must make use of the Bible. Thus he stated that the Biblical writings must be grounded by moral reason. Thus the Bible was interpreted according to morals rather than morals being interpreted according to the Bible.
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) is generally considered to be the most influential Protestant theologian between the Reformation period and Karl Barth. He is often given the title Father of Contemporary Theology. Early in his life Schleiermacher was influenced by Moravian pietism. This proved to have a major impact upon his theology, for a key presupposition of his theology was that piety is based primarily upon feeling, that is, upon an unobjectified self-consciousness.
In the intellectual vein, Schleiermacher did theologically what Kant did philosophically. This basic turn to the subject presented a way of approach to theology that has become dominant in Protestantism, as well as in Roman Catholicism.
In his work entitled On Religion: Speeches Addressed to Its Cultured Despisers, Schleiermacher attempted to answer the question of the nature of religion. He agreed with Kant that religion is not found in metaphysics, but he rejected Kant's contention that it is found within the moral life, as well as the concept that it is found in some sacred book. Piety, says Schleiermacher, "cannot be an instinct craving for a mass of metaphysical and ethical crumbs." Mental life is composed of three essential elements, he stated: perception, feeling, and activity. Perception and activity deal with knowledge and moral life, whereas feeling issues in religious life. It is essential for all three fields to be occupied} in order for human nature to be complete.
For Schleiermacher, religion was grounded in the structure of human existence. It was the creation of the a priori self-consciousness that was neither scientific nor moral knowledge, but instead centered in feeling. Consciousness of religious truth was essentially self-consciousness. To him religion is a feeling that our being and living is a being and living in and through God. It is a feeling or consciousness of ourselves as being absolutely dependent, that is, as being in relation to God.
By placing the basis of religion within feeling, Schleiermacher broke down the distinction between the natural and the supernatural. The immanence of God in man and the world became the basis for theology. Schleiermacher felt that the old orthodox distinction between the natural and the supernatural placed Christianity in a hopeless shuttle between rationalism and Biblicism, naturalism and supernaturalism. Schleiermacher saw the world as in basic continuity with God. God's presence is not necessarily that of a distinct concept of an object, but is felt primarily as the result of His operation on us by means of the operation of the world upon us. Within this setting Schleiermacher sought to create a relationship between science and faith that would allow a freely working science not hindered by faith, and that at the same time would not exclude faith.
Schleiermacher's theology becomes a description of the content of conversion. Theology can thus never be speculative and abstract. Christian doctrines are formulations in language or objectifications of the prior Christian feeling. The teachings of the church are the explication of Christian experience. Consciousness of truth is the objectification of self-consciousness. Christian doctrines are not determined primarily by Scripture but arise out of the consciousness of redemption that has been accomplished by Jesus.
Schleiermacher promoted the idea that religion develops by an evolutionary pattern from lower to higher forms. The He brew religion, for example, was lower than that of Christianity. This evolutionary concept of religion became a feeder into Darwinianism. Thus, for Schleiermacher, Christianity was not the sole type of religion. But Christianity was a higher form of religion because of the nature of its founder as a mediator between man and God, not that Jesus was the only mediator, for others could and should fulfill that role, but because of Jesus' own profound idea of mediation.
Schleiermacher's theology resulted in a more critical attitude toward the Bible through a deeper historical and psycho logical understanding of it. Scripture was placed in the crucible of the Christian experience of redemption, and doctrines that were found irrelevant (such as the Second Coming, the virgin birth, and the Trinity) were reinterpreted. Scripture, e.g., the New Testament, played a role in the theology of Schleiermacher, for it conveyed the genuine expression of the piety of the church in New Testament times. Yet the real basis of authority lay in religious experience. Man's consciousness of that experience became the ultimate norm.
Nineteenth-century Protestant liberalism developed within the general milieu of the inception of the present scientific age. The developing sciences in the nineteenth century seemingly pointed to man's autonomy in the realm of nature, and man transferred this newly acquired autonomy to the realm of religion. If there were truly no distinction between the natural and religious worlds and if man were autonomous within the realm of nature, then he must also be autonomous within the world of religion. Through this feeling of autonomy, religion became the study of man's spiritual genius rather than of God's revelation.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Karl Barth (1886-1968) reacted to the theological method of nineteenthcentury Protestant liberalism. He rejected the idea that sees continuity between the natural and the supernatural, and he stated that theology must begin with God's revelation rather than with some concept of reality or with a concept of man. Unfortunately, however, Barth fell subject to his own critique when he developed his concept of revelation apart from revelation itself. He started with what seems to be the concept of Kierkegaard of an absolute distinction between God and man that would not allow God to speak permanently in Scripture. Barth did not accept Scripture as the Word of God, since this would mean that the Word of God had fallen into the hands of men. Thus he stated that Scripture became the Word of God only when and where God desired it to be His Word.
In a sense what happened in nineteenth-century liberalism and even in much twentieth-century Protestant thought is congruent with what happened during the scholastic period in Roman Catholic theology, for we again have an attempt to bring about a fusion of some kind between philosophy and theology. The starting point was different. Nineteenth-century liberalism did not start within the world of metaphysics, but rather, remained within the limits of reason outlined by Kant and thus started within the realm of the subject. Nonetheless the method and goals were essentially the same—mainly to bring about a reconciliation on a human level between that which is observed to represent the real world and theology. Interestingly, this emphasis served to liberate Catholic theology to begin creatively setting about to rebuild a theological-philosophical system of thought. This time, however, not so much in terms of speculative thinking, but, as within liberalism, within the realm of reason outlined by Kant. Thus there is a basic continuity between what took place in medieval Catholic theology, nineteenth-century Protestant theology, and again in twentieth-century Protestant and Catholic theology.
An illustration for method in theology will also be taken from one of the most recent Roman Catholic theologians on the horizon. Bernard Lonergan (1904- ) has specialized in the topic of method in theology, and has attempted to build a method that will be satisfactory for all theologians, regardless of faith or religion, and even for those who operate in other disciplines such as the humanities, sciences, and arts. His method is built upon two prongs. The first is a description of the a priori processes of the human mind. This process, he feels, is universal and may, in fact must, be used by any thinking person. The other prong upon which he builds his theology is a general description of that which is common to all religious faiths. It is then upon the basis of the consideration of the dynamic structure of the human mind and of a general description of religion that Lonergan sets about to establish a method for characterizing theology. Notice that here again this method implies a natural continuity between the natural and the super natural world, and it builds its base within man himself.
With the exception of the early Reformation period and perhaps a few others, the theological systems that we have reviewed so far may be characterized as having several things in common. A natural continuity is assumed between the natural world, in which man exercises his reason and tends to know, and religion or the world of revelation or the supernatural world or Scripture. It is also assumed that man has capabilities to determine either the nature of reality or the nature of man, and then to use this determination as a background out pf which a theological system is developed. Each of these theological systems also builds upon a starting point, which to varying degrees does not have its basis within Scripture.
Contemporary Method in Biblical Studies
Contemporary method in Biblical studies 10 also grows out of the concept that there is a natural continuity between the world of nature and religion. To a very large extent it also accepts the presupposition that theology starts in some sense with man himself. Thus the historical-critical method and the related methods of literary criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, and tradition criticism all move within and presuppose the natural world order.
The historical-critical method accepts the norms of con temporary historical science as a means for studying Scripture, in order to establish when and where God has actually acted and spoken in the way in which He is recorded to have acted and spoken. The norms of historical science are employed to test the accuracy of the Written Word. The historical method is used as a tool for getting at possible truths within Scripture. Questions are raised such as, What truth, if any, does Scripture yield about God, about the nature of man, or about his existence? Each concept of Scripture is subject to verification by means of a human method of operation.
The companion methods of literary criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, and tradition criticism also operate within the same presuppositional world as that of historical criticism. The natural world is seen as congruent with the supernatural (if the supernatural is accepted at all), and the standards of literary method are imposed upon Scripture. This, for example, the form-critical method presupposes literature that arises out of the people. In fact, the general methods of form criticism are not designed to work with other kinds of literature. Scripture is assumed to have arisen by natural processes within the flux of history. That which was communicated by word of mouth and by written documents eventually became institutionalized within the Jewish nation and early Christianity. The forces that impinged themselves upon those people were sufficient to account for the type of literature that they developed. Thus the stories they told and the concepts they conveyed in some sense arose out of the needs of their individual and communal life. The influences that forced them selves upon the people, the political, sociological, psychological, and historical factors that surrounded them, must be considered sufficient to explain both the reason for the existence of the materials and the shape into which the materials were finally formed.
The basic presupposition of Biblical criticism is that the Bible has developed historically according to the same laws of history that have governed the development of other ancient national traditions. Thus most critical studies explain the con tent and form of Biblical material on the basis of the natural outworking of the forces of history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, politics, and the laws of literature as seen through the eyes of naturalistic and evolutionistic philosophies, rather than as the outworking of God's efforts to speak objectively to mankind. The Bible is seen as a resultant of these forces among and within nations and societies, rather than as the record of the activity of God in history and the giving of an inspired message. It is an individual or a community speaking to itself, rather than God speaking to these entities. It is dominated by a study of the religion, culture, and history of a people, rather than a study of God's plan in history to reconcile mankind to Himself. It is the study of pieces of Hebrew and early Christian literature, rather than a unified body of revelation.
The presuppositions of modern Biblical studies, then, are radically different from those of Scripture itself. The Bible, having been reduced to the level of a mere human book, is no longer the normative, authoritative Word of God, recording His will and purpose for mankind. As an illustration of the basic difference between method that arises out of Scripture itself, and the methods of Biblical criticism, the question will be raised at this point as to how conservative Bible scholars might best relate to a specific method, form-critical studies in particular, and to Biblical criticism in general. It must first be recognized that form criticism accepts a priori a particular world view. If one accepts that world view, a critique of form criticism will simply deal in terms of its inadequacies and adequacies. Insofar as the flow of human thought continually advances, and insofar as the world view is in flux, one can always find inadequacies. On the other hand, if one accepts another world view, namely that of Scripture, he can find no line of continuity with form criticism. The form critical method a priori rejects the possibility that the existence of Scripture may be accounted for on the basis of God's special revelation of Himself.
This critique of form criticism does not deny that it is essential for the interpreter to take account of the historical setting of the literature being interpreted. It is simply recognizing that this is not the real concern of form criticism. There is a crucial difference between the study of the historical setting as an aid in the interpretation of a passage that was addressed to that setting, on the one hand, and the study of the life setting in order to understand the forces that produced the passage under interpretation, on the other. Furthermore, the importance of the historical setting is not an insight from form criticism, for the importance of the historical setting has been variously recognized throughout the history of Christian interpretation. In rejecting the presuppositions of form criticism, we do not reject the importance of understanding the genre of a piece of literature in the process of interpretation. The goal of form criticism is not so much the classification of literature as it is the study of the history of the various types of literature as they have been molded, shaped, formed, and filled with content within the cultural continuum that provided the life setting for the specific piece of literature. Thus the German word Formgeschichte more adequately accounts for the function of form criticism, namely the analysis of the history of the literature of the people as a means of reconstructing the history of the life settings within which that people operated.
It may be stated that form criticism is seemingly headed in a conservative direction, when compared with nineteenth-century liberalism. The possibility of knowing something of the life of Jesus, for example, has again been asserted. Yet it must also be recognized that form criticism operates out of the same general presuppositions as nineteenth-century liberalism. It has used the presuppositions of naturalism in an attempt to demonstrate the possibility or at least the probability of knowing something about the sayings and life of Jesus. Thus it is one with nineteenth-century Protestant liberalism in the concept that the traditions regarding Jesus must be historically deter mined by methods of historical study. The traditions regarding Jesus are thus squeezed into the preconception of history to which they are brought in order to determine the meaning, the size, the shape, and the validity of those traditions. This approach does not start within the circle of Scripture, for it asserts that the history of Jesus must be subsumed within the general history of mankind and particularly within the historian's concept of history. Rather than testing his own conception of history by revelation, the form critic binds revelation to the confines of his conception of history.
The presuppositions of form criticism regarding the nature of Scripture, the nature of God as He functions within the universe, and the means by which He reveals Himself thus allow the imposition upon Scripture of a method that is foreign to Scripture, and this forcing of Scripture into a literary and rational mold does not allow Scripture to speak for itself. Those who hold to a method that arises out of Scripture cannot be form critics, because they start within the Biblical world view that states that Scripture is not determined by the sociological, political, psychological, economic, and religious factors that were pressing themselves upon the Hebrew and Jewish Christians. Rather, they see God Himself as the origin of Scripture, and thus its origin cannot be explained on the basis of laws operative in folk tradition.
If those who start within Scripture desire to claim to be form critics, they have at least three possible choices:
1. Accept the antisupernaturalistic world view of Gunkel and Dibelius, and thus find themselves at odds with the plain testimony of Scripture.
2. Define form criticism so broadly that everyone becomes a form critic and the term form criticism loses its meaning.
3. Define form criticism in such a way that those who affirm the authority of Scripture are the form critics, and Gunkel, Gressmann, Dibelius, Bultmann, and Schmidt are declared to be doing something other than form criticism.
Whichever approach we take, however, we need to make it clear that we are not in continuity with the work of those men nor are we even on a continuum with them. Rather, we are approaching Scripture from a radically different standpoint, and there is no common meeting ground with the form critics. We are starting with a hermeneutic that arises out of Scripture, and thus our starting point is totally different.
There have been refinements and modifications in the method of form criticism from that originally instituted by Gunkel in Biblical studies. Form critics often emphasize form (structure and genre of literature) and Sitz im Leben more strongly than they do the tracing of the history of the development of the literature within the Jewish and Christian communities. (The latter task is sometimes left to tradition criticism.) They also emphasize structure inherent in man himself, rather than placing the entire emphasis upon the specific sociological context. Yet, in spite of this change of emphasis, there is a basic continuity between the founders of the form-critical method and the current discipline, for the Sitz im Leben is considered to have played a determinative role in the selection of the form and content of the materials. The materials are accounted for on the basis of the communities in which they were supposedly formed, rather than on the basis of God's special revelation.
Summary and Evaluation of Theological Options
At this point we shall attempt a generalizing summary and evaluation of the various options in theology that have been reviewed. The purpose of the summary is to provide a contrast for the sake of clarification concerning the proposal for method in theology, which will be made in the next section and which intends to start with Scripture.
What seems to be at the heart of the various methods we have been studying is the common characteristic that there is basic continuity between the natural and religious worlds, and that it is possible either to start from or to work within the framework of the natural world in the process of characterizing theology. The natural world is understood variously within the realm of theoretical reason or within the realm of the empirical experience from the point of view of what is a priori within the human subject. Religion finds itself in conformity with the resulting concept of the universe and is thus built in harmony with that concept. Theology is thus made to be part of the human disciplines. It operates in ways similar to those of other disciplines. To varying degrees Scripture has an impact upon theological method, but it does not create the basic framework out of which theology operates.
With the advent of Kant we saw a basic change in the concept of the relationship between man and nature. But this did not bring about a drastic change in the concept of the relation between nature and religion. Theology has been characterized differently since Kant, not because man redefined the relationship between nature and religion, but rather because man saw himself in a different relationship with the natural world. Because man had to start at a different point in the natural world in order to gain his concept of reality, he also had to start at a different point in theology. The theologian no longer had the task of reconciling theology with a concept of reality, but now had to reconcile theology with human life itself.
Contemporary theology has been wrestling with the question of God and has been looking to man to find the answer. The most crucial problem of Christianity is considered to be the question of the existence of God. This question, then, is answered with reference to man himself rather than by reference to Scripture. Christianity rests upon an analysis of man's experience rather than upon God's revelation, which ultimately means that the norm lies within man's experience rather than within Scripture.
The contemporary concept of the fusion of the natural with the religious also has implications for the concept of Scripture. Scripture is seen as the development of the tradition handed down regarding Christ and the events of the Old Testament. It thus did not result from the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit, but developed by virtue of the power inherent within the laws operative in the development of folk literature, et cetera. Scripture is studied as one piece of data among all the others. As an expression of the human spirit, it is given value along with the historical, the scientific, the psychological, et cetera. Thus Scripture does not become the ordering principle for the carrying out of the various disciplines, but rather is itself ordered within the rational structuring principle that determines all other academic disciplines. Scripture is methodologically examined and investigated in the same way in which investigations are carried out in any other human discipline.
At the basis of the methods we have outlined there seems, by one means or another, to have developed a predetermined notion of the nature of God and the way in which He can reveal Himself. Although this process generally took place indirectly by the imposition of an extraneous method upon Scripture, it has often also taken place directly. In some cases theology was simply seen as congruent with some basis within the natural world or within man himself. Though revelation added some thing new, it was nonetheless interpreted in harmony with what was naturally available to mankind. In other cases the approach was more apparent. The argument ran something like this: Based upon this data, experience, or concept, I am able to argue back to a concept of a God who is like this and that. Such a God will reveal Himself by this specific means. Thus, either implicitly or explicitly, a structuring and screening principle has been applied to Scripture. As we have seen, Origen determined to be Biblical in his theology, nonetheless the allegorical method of interpretation allowed the imposition of Neoplatonic thinking upon Scripture. Aquinas clearly posited Scripture as the basis for theological thinking. Yet the placing of reason alongside revelation allowed for the structuring and even restating of the Biblical materials in terms of Aristotelian philosophy. For Schleiermacher, the Word of God was structured anthropologically; for Gunkel, it was structured on the model of form criticism. Even Barth, who so forcefully denounced Protestant liberalism of the nineteenth century and the natural ism of Roman Catholic theology, fell subject himself to his own critique when he allowed a predetermination of the concept of God to mold his concept of revelation.
From the perspective of those who intend to start within Scripture, the net result of starting theology with some principle other than Scripture itself is that one determines beforehand both what God is and how He reveals Himself. By building a common basis acceptable to all men upon which to go in search of the Word of God, man has in effect spoken to Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to speak to him. Man has predetermined the structure within which the Word of God may operate, and man has thus screened out the possibility of receiving the total revelation of God given in Scripture.
If God, in fact, should be different from the posited preconception or if He should reveal Himself differently from that predetermination, this difference could not be apprehended by the theologian. The use of man's reason or experience, et cetera, in an attempt to postulate the nature and existence of God, has the limitation that man can only argue within that which is accessible to his experience and imagination. If God should be something other than what is imaginable or within the realm of possible conception or experience, these arguments fail to grasp the other possibilities. God becomes limited to man's own realm. God cannot act or speak outside that realm, because if He does so, he is rejected as being something other than God. The danger is that man may create his own God.
Natural theology might be defined as one known (man) defining another unknown (God) relative to the first unknown. Man is in a box, speaking to himself. What happens, in effect, is that the theologian says, "God, by some human basis I will determine what you are like and then I will go in search of you and your revelation." On the basis of that predetermination, a system is devised whereby one either structures or screens the possibility for the Word of God. But such a system is not open to the Word of God, for it can hear only what it has already decided God can say. For Schleiermacher, for example, God was what explained man's feeling of absolute dependence. But if God should happen to be something other than what is predetermined by the theologian or if God should happen to want to say something or do something other than what it has already been decided He can say or do, then God cannot be found, neither can His words or actions be recognized.
In effect, then, the theologian is in a situation wherein the Word of God cannot be heard, for if the Word of God should happen to be something other than what was expected, it is rejected as something other than the Word of God. If God is to be known and heard, the basis of Christianity cannot be man's search for God, but God's search for man. From that first question in the Garden, "Adam, where art thou?" through the prophets and Incarnation, and on to the Second Coming, we see God in His revelation in pursuit of man. If man is to know God, man is dependent upon that revelation. But unfortunately, like Adam, who hid from the face of God, there is a tendency on the part of man to avoid the true knowledge of God. God is somehow something or someone other than what man desires to know. Hence man goes in search of his own knowledge of God and the question remains: "Adam, where art thou?"
One example of how contemporary thinking can screen out the Word of God may be taken from process theology, which questions the foreknowledge of God regarding particular events. God cannot have foreknowledge of specific events, it is said, because it is contrary to experience to know the future and yet to experience time successively. What is happening, in effect, is that man is reflecting upon himself in order to deter mine what is possible within his own experience and then he projects his own possibilities upon God. There is also a tend ency to structure God under some principle that seems to be at the basis of the way in which the universe is operated. But God Himself determines how the universe will be run and, thus, He cannot be placed subject to some universal principle. Neither is God subsumed under man's concept of morality. Rather, it is God who determines morality. God's actions are right because of what He is, not because man has decided by some universal principle that they are right. Likewise, man's actions are right only when they are in harmony with God's will, not because they have been reconciled with some rational base.
It seems, at times, that the theologian puts himself in the following unfortunate situation: God addresses the theologian, saying, "I have a message for my people. I would like to speak." The theologian responds, "Well, I am not sure, God. You must recognize the almost insurmountable problems this would present to secular society. Give me a couple of years to examine the situation down here to determine the possibilities of your speaking. If I discover that it is logically or experientially possible for you to speak, I'll let you know."
A Proposal for Method in Theology
We have now surveyed many of the options that have been developed historically for method in theology. It is the purpose of this last section, in view of the historical survey, as well as the concept of the nature of Scripture as mentioned in the introductory section of the paper, to give a proposal for method in theology that specifically intends to operate under the authority of Scripture. It has been a basic principle of Protestant ism that God cannot be known unless He reveals Himself to man. This principle is in harmony with the concept that the authority of Scripture can be maintained in theology only when one starts within Scripture itself. 11
By starting within Scripture, one comes to an understanding of Scripture's self-claim as the Word of God and also to an understanding of God as not only immanent but also transcendent, and to an understanding of the nature of man as fallen, and of the nature of the world as under the influence of both good and evil. Owing to these factors, man's rational process is inadequate not only within itself but also because the world upon which it operates is divided. Thus, if we are to come to a knowledge of God, we are dependent upon God Himself for that knowledge.
We affirm the concepts of sola fide and sola gratia, but we forget that the basis of these concepts is Scripture. When we depart from the authority of Scripture we no longer have sola fide, but rather some basis within human works for determining the method of salvation, for it is then necessary to start within a human work in order to affirm God's revelation in Scripture in order to come to a concept of salvation. Faith is the gift of God. Although faith is not irrational, neither does it rest on a rational base. When faith is based directly upon man's reason revelation no longer becomes a gift, and ultimately salvation is no longer a gift. Christianity, then, is not man's search for God, but God's search for man, particularly through the revelation of Himself in Scripture. It was not Adam who said to God, "God, where are You?" but rather God who said to Adam, "Adam, where are you?"
Christianity is not an intellectual search. It is given in Christ, the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit. Man does not seek to establish or justify it, but rather to understand it. Man does not start from some conceptual, rational, or experiential base and move to Christianity; rather, Christianity molds one's intellectual understanding. The concept that truth is a given and that man must rely upon God for his concept of reality and truth is not philosophically satisfying. It is frustrating to the human spirit of self-dependence to place oneself in a position of reliance upon God. Nevertheless, the concept that truth is a given is, from a philosophical standpoint, a closed circle that must be allowed as an option. 12
In essence, what we are saying is that philosophy is subject to theology, rather than theology to philosophy, and theology itself is subject to Scripture as the Word of God. The Word of God becomes a given in which God declares the nature of reality and out of which reality is then interpreted. This approach does not indicate that faith is irrational. Rather, it indicates that reason has its proper use when it operates within the realm of revelation. The call is not for the severance of the mind; it is for the use of the mind within that which has been given regarding the nature of things.
In general, method in theology has attempted to reduce theology to the study of subject matter that may be methodologically investigated in a manner similar to that in which such data as the facts of psychology, nature, and history are investigated in an attempt to establish what is truth. By contrast, method that starts within Scripture would affirm the desire to understand Scripture methodologically but not to investigate it methodologically, for truth is a given in Scripture.
There is a tendency to accept the intellectual milieu in which we exist. The world imposes its standards upon us and, having accepted them, we try to defend our cause from within those intellectual standards. During the early and medieval periods of church history this meant that theology was done within the framework of metaphysics. With the advent of Kant it meant that theology was carried out within an understanding of the a priori structure of some aspect of subjectivity. This would seem to have the disadvantage of establishing the nature of man and the nature of reality before coming to the source that claims to be the revelation of the nature of man and reality. Although it is true that theology is a human discipline, it must also be recognized that theology does not work on data available within the natural world, as do other academic disciplines. The goal of theology is to explicate God, who cannot be reduced to the realm of the human or fully understood in the laboratories of human science. Thus, theology is dependent upon a given, if it is to carry out its task, and that given must determine the course of the task.
There are attempts to prove the existence of God, and others to prove Scripture as the Word of God on rational and/or experiential bases. But the attempt to ground the Word of God results in the setting up of an a priori norm by which Scripture will be judged. If God's Word is to be authoritative, the confirmation must come from God, rather than man. When man attempts to prove the Word of God, man can only hear what can be generated on a human level. It is only when confirmation comes from God that God is free to speak.
The assumption that lies behind the idea of grounding God's Word rationally or experientially is that there is no separation between the natural and supernatural world—that God is in the world not only as its Creator but also to support and guide it and, therefore, that God does not come into the world on a different level of affairs. However, the testimony from Scripture is that Scripture itself is not the word of man to men about God but the Word of God to men. It is not a word that can arise or be known on the human level apart from specific divine action. Thus if it is to be known as God's Word it cannot be grounded on a human level. It would not be God's Word if it could be grounded on a human base.
The supernatural cannot be verified except by supernatural means. We live in an age that emphasizes the natural. We tend, therefore, to build upon the world view of naturalism in an attempt to verify the supernatural in Scripture. But we must reject the naturalistic concept of reality and must not attempt to subsume Scripture within it. To attempt to ground the super natural on a rationalistic, naturalistic, experiential basis is to define the limits of the supernatural in terms of the natural, the mind of God in terms of the rational. Only the supernatural can ground the supernatural. Only God Himself can ground His Word. 13
Some would like to affirm the validity of Scripture because it conforms with scientific or historical evidence. They state that Scripture makes claims about man, his environment, and the universe that are open to men either for verification or refutation. Therefore, we must go to man, his environment, and the universe to see whether these claims are fulfilled, to see whether Scripture is the Word of God. If these claims can be verified, then the probabilities are that there is also a God who has revealed them to mankind. In one respect, they start within a circle of Scripture. Only then do they move out to science and history in order to determine whether indeed Scripture is con firmed by virtue of its coherence with what can be determined historically and scientifically. However, although such an approach claims to start within Scripture, it nonetheless places its norm within science and history, and the final effect is that man's reason or experience becomes the norm for determining whether or not Scripture is in fact the Word of God. If Scripture is to be the norm, then science and history must conform to Scripture, rather than Scripture to science and history.
We must also notice that it is not the purpose of Scripture to dangle truth claims in front of mankind for his verification. Rather, Scripture purposes to reveal both God and the nature of His universe. To conceive of Scripture as tantalizing man with its truth claims is to place Scripture within our present scientific mania rather than to leave Scripture within its own revealed context.
The philosophical and logical processes of the human mind can go no further than some level of probability. They can affirm the existence of something larger than mankind as a probable explanation for the existence and ordering of the universe. What that something is must logically be left some what unidentified. Yet the philosopher may write "God" across this unidentified larger something. It must be emphasized that there is no necessary relationship between that something larger that is labeled "God" and the God of Christianity. This is simply an assumption taken on the part of the philosopher. Some are satisfied to allow the rationale for Christianity to rest on probabilities. Christianity is more probable than other philosophical or theological options. But to attempt to deal with Christianity on the basis of probabilities is to force Christianity into a natural mold in which what occurs can be explained by way of probabilities.
Christianity actually is not a probability; it is totally improbable on any human basis that there should be a God in the universe who would create an earth and would send His Son to redeem that earth. The occurrences of events of the Exodus and the cross are not historical probabilities; rather, on a natural historical basis, they are total improbabilities. Christianity is a unique event that did not arise within the natural order of things. It did not arise out of man's experience, but rather as a given within that experience. Man has ever since reacted against the atoning act of the cross as irrational.
If all knowledge of all religions were wiped from the face of the earth, it is conceivable that to some extent and in some degree the nonchristian religions could arise again. To the extent that they partake of the structure and the longing of mankind they could be brought back to life within the continuing thought processes of men. However, if Christianity were wiped from the face of the earth it would never reestablish itself without divine intervention. Christianity is a given. It is the revelation of the transcendent God. To attempt to explain its existence within the natural order is to deny its uniqueness and its dependency upon God's action. God does not leave knowledge of His existence, attributes, or plan for mankind to prob ability. He has not left this world in a whirl of uncertainty regarding His existence. He has revealed not only Himself but His will, as well as the nature of the universe and mankind, which He has created.
Philip's request—show us the Father—reflects the general quest of theology throughout history. The history of theology has been man's search for God. Man has sought to discover God by the exercise of his reason and by being sensitive to his feelings and intuitions. He has started within concepts of reality and within concepts of the human subject. Philip's preconception of God did not allow for the possibility of Christ's being God's revelation. So it is, whenever man goes on his own search for God. The preconception by which God and His Word are measured does not allow for the true God to come through. God is not allowed to speak, for man has already decided what God can say. 14
Those who see themselves standing in line with and hope fully in the completion of the principle authority of Scripture must guard against approaches that tend to compromise the authority of Scripture. On the one hand, there is that school of thought that sees Scripture as a mere reflection of an encounter with God and that gives to the early Christian community as a whole an influential role in the formation of the New Testament. This school looks for important religious insights in Scripture, but it is left to the interpreter to separate between that which is the Word of God in Scripture and that which simply comes from the milieu in which the prophet or apostle operated and was himself engrained. Within this system of thought man himself becomes the norm for determining what is inspired in Scripture.
At the opposite end of the pole is the school of thought that is attempting to build a scientific religion. This is a more rational approach to theology, for it attempts to utilize contemporary thought processes in order to validate the revelation of God and in order to justify its theology. It is tempting to work upon a rational basis to attempt to prove the Scriptures by means of an appeal to science, psychology, history, archeology, philosophy, et cetera. It is possible, of course, to do this with some success, since Scripture is His Word and nature comes from His Word. There are thus many correlations between what can be ob served in the natural and rational order of things and that which is recorded in God's Word. God's revelation is not irrational, for God Himself is the source of all reason. However, the rational approach to a theological system places the final norm for knowledge of God within the mind of contemporary man.
It is also tempting to frame our criticisms of nineteenthcentury liberalism and Biblical critical studies from within the camp of rationalism and naturalism. As human beings, we like to rest in that camp, because it is built upon a basis that resides within our own capabilities and with which we feel somewhat comfortable. Thus we attempt by use of a rational method to critique the more liberal method in order that we may kick it out of the hole in which we find ourselves, in order that we may feel more comfortable staying in that hole ourselves. But as Biblically oriented Christians we need to get out of the rationalistic, naturalistic hole that represents the twentieth-century mind-set. It is one thing to initially critique methods in Biblical studies and theology on their own grounds, but our final critique must be based on Scripture.
Man is dependent upon God for revelation. Knowledge of God comes through such avenues as the Holy Spirit, history, providential leadings, Christ, nature, and Scripture. How does man come to a knowledge of God through the various means by which God can be known? Does man put all the data from the various means of revelation into a computer and then wait for the computer printout for his coherent view of God? Does man find some natural base within himself by which to order and screen that revelation? Does man allow the revelation itself to order itself? When we go to that revelation we find that the revelation itself gives a clue by which man may appropriately gain a knowledge of God. Scripture becomes the basis upon which knowledge of God in other forms may be understood. God's revelation of Himself through Scripture points to the priority of Scripture for a knowledge of God.
The Holy Spirit operates not only within Scripture but also operates within the world. He who guided the prophets is also present operating in the lives of men. But the Holy Spirit does not guide the world in a way that is out of harmony with His revelation in Scripture. The Holy Spirit does not speak contrary to Scripture, and if one is to understand the source of the promptings in his heart, he must evaluate them in terms of Scripture.
Although God's acts in history are also revelations, history by itself is not an adequate guide to knowledge of God, for God's actions within history are inexplicable apart from special revelation. The Exodus, for instance, would simply be the migration of a people from Egypt to Palestine sometime in the second millennium B.C. Its meaning would be unintelligible apart from special revelation. The revelation of God through Christ is without question the supreme revelation of God to this world. Yet even Christ verified His mission by the Old Testament, and Christ Himself is known only through Scripture.
Nature also requires special revelation if it is to be under stood with reference to God. Not only was the priority of Scripture over nature as the revelation of God necessitated by the fall of man and the entrance of sin into the natural world but also it was necessary even in the Garden of Eden. Imagine the bewilderment that would have been Adam's if the Creator had not been present to tell Adam of his origin. Revelation through nature was not even sufficient to tell Adam how to live. How could Adam have known of the danger involved in the center tree of the Garden, apart from the word of God? Revelation through nature by itself was incomplete. It could not lead to a satisfying relationship with a personal God.
The entrance of sin into the world has made the picture of God in nature even more confusing. If a God of love promotes the good, why is evil so apparent in nature? Would a good God create evil? Is God of such a nature that He is both good and evil? Are there two gods, one representing the good and the other the evil? Thus we see that sin has created within the natural world a situation that even further necessitates the revelation of God. The personality of God cannot be communicated through the natural world alone. It is only in Jesus Christ and in Scripture that an adequate knowledge of God may be obtained.
The problem with knowledge available in the natural world is further complicated by the entrance of sin not only into the natural world but also into man himself. Thus not only is the data upon which man operates in the natural world distorted but the reasoning powers by which man interprets the data have also been distorted by the entrance of sin. The natural world is not sufficient as a revelation of God; neither can the natural world itself be understood apart from God's special revelation.
The danger in developing concepts of God by rational, philosophical, and existential concepts is that one may accept information that does not adequately represent God and that may in fact produce a false image of God. Adam and Eve, for example, sinned because they disobeyed the word of God. It was their desire to follow a reasoned course of action that caused the sin. Instead of obeying the word of God, they reasoned that a God of love would not withhold such beautiful fruit from one whom He loved by creation. By contrast, Christ conquered in the wilderness not because He followed a rational sequence of thought, but because He accepted the word of God.
A theology that starts within Scripture entirely reverses the process of method in theology. Instead of starting within the natural world as a structure upon which to account for the world of revelation, theology starts with God's revelation in Scripture. The principle of the authority of Scripture means that no external principle may be used to open up Scripture, neither may some principle apart from Scripture be used for developing theology. Thus one does not come either to theology or to Scripture by way of philosophy, history, reason, intuition, or nature. Scripture is interpreted from within itself, and Scripture provides the only proper basis for buidling a theology. Any method or system that reverses the direction of flow by allowing external elements to flow into Scripture must be rejected. Thus, for example: We do not think of special revelation 15 as continuous with, ordered by, or determined by, nature. Rather, nature must be understood and ordered within the context of revelation. We do not believe in the Biblical Flood because of the fortuitous existence of geoscience, which is able to demonstrate the geological probabilities that a flood has taken place. Rather, we believe in the Flood because within God's Word it is said to have taken place. 16
Nor do we come to the Bible or to theology on the basis of some system of reality. Revelation must not be included within a system of reality. Rather, we come to reality on the basis of God's Word. Reality is intelligible only when we come to it through revelation.
We do not come to the concept of God because we think we have discovered the image of God in man. Rather, we come to a concept of God out of what God has revealed about Himself in Scripture. Neither do we come to Scripture or theology on the basis of a study of history. Neither the acts nor the Word of God may be subsumed within history; rather, history must be subsumed within the Word and acts of God.
It is not my purpose to issue a call to remove Scripture from history in the process of its interpretation, but to remove Scripture from any domination of the historical method. Scripture itself, in fact, calls for its placement within a historical context for the sake of interpretation. But this placement within the historical context is not for the sake of explaining its existence, but rather for the sake of understanding its meaning. There is a temptation to say that Scripture, including the Gospels and the life of Christ, is rooted in history. However, although the acts of God were performed within time and space, they were not determined within the causal nexus of history. Thus it is not history that makes Scripture meaningful, rather it is Scripture that makes history meaningful. Scripture is the record of God's action by which history was changed. Scripture is not the product of history; rather, history is the product of God's action, and His Word interprets that action. Neither is Scripture the result of historical forces. It is the declaration that God is the force that changed and is changing history from heathenism and atheism to Christianity, in my personal life from sin to conversion. Scripture is not the objectification of previous conversions. It is the Word of God that declares the need for, and defines the nature of, conversion. Thus Scripture must not be imprisoned with any concept of history, but must itself be allowed to form the concept of history.
The general presupposition that underlies contemporary theology is that the universe, or at least a portion of it, is in some way intelligible to the human mind—that the universe cannot be nonsensical. It is generally assumed that the natural world and the supernatural (if the supernatural is accepted) mutually form a part of an interlocking system that may be methodologically studied. The world is generally the starting point from which this study is made. Thus, both the natural world and the world of religion are made to present truths to the minds of men that are discovered by means of methods that are inherent within man and the world. It is claimed that truth is truth wherever it may be found, whether it be in the natural world or in the spiritual realm. Seeing that God is the Creator of both, there can be no contradiction between them.
This paper, however, has questioned the validity of the integral relationship between nature and revelation, and of the ability of man by the use of reason to discover the God of nature through nature alone. Because of the distortion caused by sin, not only in the world but also within man, it is only too easy for him to misrepresent and misinterpret the experiences that come to him in the test tube and in his life. If man is to interpret these experiences aright, he must interpret them as seen through the divine guidance available within Scripture.
It is not my intent to deny that there is continuity within the universe, but rather to reverse the direction by which man comes to understand the relationship between the natural world and revelation. Owing to the limitations within the natural world, both before and after sin, we must not move from the natural world or from man to God. Rather we must move from God's Word—His revelation in Scripture—to the natural world and to man. It is only within the context of an understanding of revealed reality that man may also understand himself and the world surrounding him.
When one starts with the natural world, one develops an a priori mold into which Scripture must flow. Whatever portions of revelation do not fit that mold must be altered or chopped off until the revelation eventually fits the mold. What in effect takes place is that man writes his own Bible by observing the world around him and by observing his own inner life. He then sits in awe and reverence before the tape recorder as his highest thoughts are played back to him. But the result is that the Word of God is screened by the prior structure that is placed upon it, and in some cases it is eliminated. The Word of God can speak fully only when continuity is seen as taking place from revelation to the natural world.
The approach to theology that arises out of Scripture does not rule out human disciplines. It simply says that they must be ordered on the basis of principles from Scripture and that human disciplines must not impose their methodologies upon Scripture. In a sense, a spiral is suggested, with its base in Scripture. Human disciplines open up options that might not otherwise be available to the interpreter. However, these options are evaluated on the basis of Scripture alone. Scripture thus becomes the controlling principle for the study of nature, history, psychology, sociology, et cetera. Philosophy and science, for example, can raise questions regarding the nature of the universe and the nature of God, but they cannot answer these questions. Philosophy can raise the question regarding God's foreknowledge relative to experience and human freedom. It can ask, "If God is a personal God in real relationship with mankind to whom has been granted freedom, how is it possible for God at the same time to have foreknowledge?" Foreknowledge would depy real successive experience and it would also call into question the freedom of man. But philoso phy cannot answer that question, for to attempt to do so would be to impose man's logical thinking upon God and to limit His nature to what is conceivable within the realm of human think ing. That question can be answered only if God reveals Him self. And if God reveals Himself, then man is dependent upon that revelation for the answer to the question.
Method in theology must not be determined by an a priori consideration of the nature of man, of the universe, or of any aspect of these two. Rather, method must be determined totally by Scripture itself. The method by which Scripture is studied must not be the same as that applied to human literature. Since God's revelation is distinct from that which takes place within the human sphere, the method applied to its interpretation is not the same as that which is applied to what is produced within the human sphere. Thus the nature of revelation itself must be considered within the context of the method for its interpretation.
Method begins by asking Scripture what it has to say about its own nature and the principles by which it is to be inter preted. The inquiry may then go on to such questions as the nature of God and of man as portrayed by Scripture itself. On the basis of this study, a hermeneutic develops that is in harmony with the nature of each of these aspects as they have been revealed by God. Thus Scripture, as studied under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, becomes its own interpreter. We do not reject the value of philosophy, science, history, psychol ogy, archeology, et cetera, but simply place these disciplines within their right relationship to divine revelation. Every disci pline of human life, whether it be in the academic or profes sional world or in the trades or in mundane affairs, must start with Scripture as its norm to guide and to ground the basic concept upon which one structures his approach, his method, the way in which he conducts his lifework, as well as his personal affairs.
Thus one does not start with Plato, Aristotle, or Heidegger as the base upon which to build his theology, nor even as a framework within which to mold his theology. Rather, he starts within Scripture itself, and Scripture confronts the basic philo sophical models of mankind. Neither Scripture nor reality must be squeezed into a Heideggerian mold. Rather, Scripture must be the basis upon which one builds his concept of reality and his method in theology. In the conducting of one's life work it is also essential to start, not with some concept outside of Scrip ture itself, but rather with Scripture as the base upon which to build and to make decisions within one's profession.
Thus, for example, the psychologist does not build his concept of psychology upon any kind of naturalism. Rather, he goes to Scripture to learn of the nature of man and the power of God. Scripture then becomes the viewpoint from which one sees and understands the world and out of which one's entire life is ordered. It becomes the controlling principle for the study of nature, history, psychology, sociology, et cetera, and most important of all, the basis for the functioning of our personal lives.
The material presented in this supplement is condensed from Edward Zinke's Bible Conference paper on this topic. The full presentation and full footnotes are available from the Biblical Research Institute, 6840 Eastern Avenue NW., Washington, D.C. 20012, for $1.00 (includes postage).
1 It is not the intention of this paper to review the Biblical data relating to Scripture's understanding regarding its own nature. This work has already adequately been done elsewhere. See Rapul Dederen, "Revelation, Inspiration, And Hermeneutics," A Symposium on Biblical Hermeneutics, ed. Gordon M. Hyde (Washington: Biblical Research Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1974), pp. 1-15; Raoul Dederen, "Toward a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Revelation-Inspiration," North American Bible Conference, 1974, produced by the Biblical Research Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (Washington: General Conference of SDA, 1974). This paper simply assumes the position that Scripture is the result of God's word conveyed through human instrumentalities in such a way that the resultant product in Scripture remains the Word of God. This paper also assumes the principles for the interpretation of Scripture that have been developed within conservative Protestantism with the intention of developing a method in harmony with Scripture itself. Again, this work has been adequately cared for elsewhere, and it is not the intention of this paper to attempt to build a hermeneutic out of Scripture itself. See also Gerhard F. Hasel, "General Principles of Interpretation," A Symposium on Biblical Hermeneutics, pp. 163-193; Gerhard F. Hasel, "General Principles of Biblical Interpretation." North American Bible Conference, 1974; and Gerhard F. Hasel, "The Unity of the Bible," inserted in THE MINISTRY, 48 (September, 1975). This hermeneutic arises out of the concept of the nature of Scripture described above. It affirms the necessity of understanding the meaning of words, sentences, and units of literature within the historic background in which God conveyed His message through the prophet, and particularly within the context of the unity of the Canon. The principle that Scripture must be interpreted within itself is affirmed as the only adequate principle for the interpretation of Scripture, in view of its origin in God and its resultant unity.
2 Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1964), p. 14. :
3 The section on Origen summarizes, Origen on First Principles, translated by G. W. Butterworth (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Torch Books, 1966).
4 For a more detailed description of the theology of the patristic and medieval periods, see David Knowles, The Evolution of Medieval Thought (New York: Random House, Inc., Vintage Books, 1962).
5 For a more detailed account of Aquinas' concept of the normative role of Scripture within theology, see Erik Persson, Sacra Doctrina (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970).
6 The term sola Scriptura within the Protestant Reformation was not always used with the same meaning. Questions were raised even by Luther himself about the value of such books as Esther, Revelation, and James.
In spite of the various uses to which the term sola Scriptura was put, there was nonetheless a basic continuity within the Reformation that placed Scripture over other sources for doctrine. Thus Scripture was given an authority above statements of popes, councils, the traditions of the church, the assertions of reason, and Christian experience.
7 For further consideration of the Reformation concept of sola Scriptura, see V. Norskov Olsen, "Hermeneutical Principles and Biblical Authority in Reformation and Post-Reformation Eras," in A Symposium on Biblical Hermeneutics, ed. Gordon M. Hyde (Washington: Biblical Research Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1974), pp. 49-58.
8 For further consideration of the work of Kant and Schleiermacher, see Frederick Ferre, Basic Modern Philosophy of Religion (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967), pp. 182-192; James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought: From the Enlightenment to Vatican Two (New York: The Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1971),
pp. 64, 65.
9 Ferre, p. 222.
10 For a brief description of the historical background to critical Biblical studies, see E. Edward Zinke, "Post-Reformation Critical Biblical Studies," A Symposium on Biblical Hermeneutics, ed. Gordon M. Hyde (Washington: Biblical Research Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1974), pp. 67-87.
11 The Seventh-day Adventist Church arose out of the concept that Scripture is the sole norm for the determination of faith and practice. The constant appeal of the church has been to the Scriptures. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, in fact, sees itself as bringing about the fulfillment of the basic intention of the Reformation to return to the authority of Scripture, for the church sees itself as bearing the complete message that God intended to give mankind within Scripture.
"God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain 'Thus saith the Lord' in its support." —Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1950), p. 595.
12 Frederick Ferre, Basic Modern Philosophy of Religion, admits that the positing of God's Word as the source of truth is a logical possibility, p. 24.
13 Scripture also affirms the necessity for confirmation to come from God Himself, particularly through the Holy Spirit. See, for example, Isa. 59:21; Rom. 1:19; 1 Cor. 12:13; 2 Cor. 1:21, 22.
14 At this point it may be well to answer some questions that may be raised regarding the use of reason, the possibility of evangelism, and the role of the prophetic gift as these relate to an approach from within Scripture. The emphasis upon the priority of Scripture for the development of theology does not arise out of fear that faith might be destroyed if one starts within philosophy or science. It is not an attempt to run from reason in order to safeguard one's treasure. Rather, it suggests that a starting point within philosophy or science is inappropriate, for it places an a priori structure upon Scripture that may not allow Scripture to speak for itself. The problem is not fear of intellect. Rather, it is the desire to avoid any approach that predetermines what the Word of God is or what it can say. The starting point is the Word of God as the structuring principle within which all else may properly be understood. The goal, then, is understanding rather than to give an intellectual undergirding.
The question may also be raised regarding the possibility of evangelism under the concept of the authority of Scripture, for a secular man does not receive Scripture as the Word of God. The general intention of theology, historically, has been to interpret the gospel in such a way that it can be understood and accepted by contemporary man. This task has involved proof in order that the potential convert might accept Christianity as he would some concept of science or history or psychology. But the gospel commission is proclamation, not defense. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction. The message of the gospel is clear enough—repent of your sins and be saved, every one of you. But contemporary man does not consider himself to be sinful, neither does he consider salvation a possibility within the uniformitarian concept of reality. The gospel confronts man where he is, but it is in conflict within man's natural possibilities.
Thus it is not the responsibility of the theologian to translate the gospel into a culture that is being addressed. Rather, it is the task of the theologian to translate the gospel to that specific culture, that is, to confront the culture with the gospel in such a way that the message is heard but not structured in terms of the culture being confronted.
Man has been seeking a universal system of verification—a system that would be acceptable to any rational individual and that would verify the existence of God and His revelation. He has virtually declared: "If religion cannot be brought before the court of reason, it must be ignored or dicarded." But religion is the personal relationship between man and God, and it is the result of a personal decision that takes place between man and God. The decision to accept or reject God is not a universal decision based upon the use of the universal rational powers inherent within man. It is rather a decision that takes place between each individual and God under Scripture through the operation of the Holy Spirit. It is the responsibility of the theologian to confront man with the gospel. It is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit to convict man of the truths of the gospel. Thus the theologian does not bring to man a universally acceptable rationalized approach to the gospel. Rather, he brings the gospel and leaves the decision to the man and his God.
The apologetic value of philosophical and rational arguments for the existence of God and the validity of His revelation seems to be an open question at this point whereby arguments are used, not to prove Scripture to be the Word of God, but to demonstrate that it is not irrational to take such an approach. The conviction, however, must come from God Himself rather than from rational arguments, for otherwise the Word of God is encompassed within the rational arguments and is not free to bear its message to man. If the conviction is encompassed within the rational arguments, then final authority lies within man rather than with God and His Word.
The question may also be raised regarding the relationship between Ellen G. White and the concept of the authority of Scripture. The declaration of the authority of Scripture does not rule out spiritual gifts but simply states that Scripture is normative for determining when and where these gifts have been properly exercised. Thus the authority of Ellen G. White rests upon Scripture itself. She continually saw herself in relation to Scripture for the purpose of uplifting Scripture in order to bring man back to its principles. Once Ellen White has been accepted on the basis of Scriptural testimony, her work must be included within the circle of revelation for purposes of interpretation.
15 The term "special revelation" is used here with reference specifically to the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.
16 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8 (Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1948), pp. 324, 325.