Thursday, September 28, 2006

"... will teach you all things..." from the perspective of 1 John

Intro -- I'm still exhausted from last week, when, in "...will teach you all things...", I was trying to work within the constraints of cessationist doctrine, as I currently understand it, to see how a cessationist might interpret Jesus' promise in John 14 that the Holy Spirit would teach his disciples "all things". As I concluded in that post, it is my continuationist position that Jesus' promise was not exclusive to the disciples, to the apostles or to "pre-canon" believers. If you read "... will teach you all things..." and felt exhausted and confused by the second half of it, you get a sense of how I felt writing it (I revised and re-revised it many times even after it was already posted on this blog) and you get a window into the gymnastics that it takes to fit cessationist doctrine into that promise regarding the Holy Spirit from Jesus.

This is a common practice of mine when thinking through something, as I often try to imagine my opponent thinking it as well. As I go through issues related to the cessationist/continuationist debate, I'm trying to be as honest and as thorough as I can, putting myself into the mind of a cessationist every step of the way. Going through this process is a good mental and spiritual workout and it forces me to grapple with things in Scripture that I might not otherwise grapple with. I'm convinced that this part of why God allows for some doctrinal diversity in the body of Christ.

Cessationists, as part of the body of Christ, are the fierce custodians of "apostolic exclusivity" -- believing that certain manifestations of the Holy Spirit were exclusive to the first century apostles, and are fierce custodians of "Scriptural exclusivity" -- believing that anyone's claim to have experienced God in a way that cannot be supported by a direct, verbatim Bible text is suspect. While I do believe that there is a form of apostolic exclusivity and Scriptural exclusivity, I do not believe that it is to be understood in the way that cessationists do, and I do not believe that there is any such thing as a "pre-canon" exclusivity or "first century" exclusivity in regard to the believers beyond the apostles.

That said, attempting to define exactly where Scriptural and apostolic exclusivity begins and ends involves an important realm of doctrinal issues for believers to grapple with. As I have been grappling with cessationism, it has given me grist to hammer out my own views on Scripture. Wrapped up in these issues of apostolic and Scriptural exclusivity are many exceedingly important questions about our relationship as believers to truth, the written word and the Holy Spirit. In regard to these issues, some cessationists make a distinction between a doctrine of cessation and a doctrine of the Holy Spirit. As I have examined this topic, however, I have seen that doctrines on cessation/continuation and doctrines on the Holy Spirit are inextricably intertwined.

Examining 1 John -- in specific regard to John 14 and my "...will teach you all things..." post, I began studying 1 John to see if it could shed some light on whether "teach you all things" was an inclusive promise or an exclusive promise. It turns out that the apostle John, in 1 John, cuts through all of the exhausting cessationist gymnastics that I was experimentally trying to apply to John 14 and has an abundantly simple and profound answer. Even as I believe that this is so, I still want to try to examine how a cessationist might try to interpret this passage, as I proceed to examine it myself.

1 John 2:20-21

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (21) I do not write because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.

1 John 24-25

See that what you have learned from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you will also remain in the Son and in the Father. (25) And this is what he promised--even eternal life.

1 John 26-27

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him.

In regard to whether the promise that the Spirit would "teach you all things" in the Gospel of John is exclusive or inclusive, this passage in 1 John answers this question, at least to my satisfaction. John, by saying in 1 John that the believer's anointing from the Holy One "teaches you about all things", is making a very particular reference to the role of the Counselor for the disciples to "teach you all things"(John 14:25) and "guide you in all truth" (John 16:12.13). In doing so, John's affirmation that the Holy Spirit teaches believers "about all things" is John's affirmation that the aforementioned promises given to the disciples are for all believers.

To counter my continuationist interpretation, a cessationist might point out the use of the word "about". A cessationist might say that the disciples in the Gospel of John were promised that they would be taught all things, while the believers that John was addressing in 1 John were merely promised that they would be taught "about" all things. Perhaps it's just me, but I think that this would be making too much of the word "about". "All things" is an awfully broad category, whether you're learning all things or learning about all things.

In my understanding of cessationism, a cessationist would say, in regard to 1 John, that it was not necessary for the believers to continue to learn "about all things" from the Holy Spirit when the canon was completed. The problem with substantiating this doctrinal position from the text in 1 John is that John affirms that the "truth" is something that his readers knew, while "all things" was something that they were continually learning about in an ongoing manner with no particular end in sight.

In 1 John, John states that it is particularly the believers' anointing from the Holy One whereby the believers are being taught all things by the Holy one. It is my interpretation that John is stating it as a general principle that it is the believer's anointing in the Holy One/Counselor whereby the believer receives this ongoing teaching, and not the written word per se. In the context of writing to the believers in regard to those who would try to lead them astray, John does affirm that the written word is useful for butressing the "truth" that he already expected that his readers knew to a certain extent (or else he wouldn't have written it). However, there is no basis in the text for one to say that the principle-- that it is the anointing from the Holy One that teaches believers "about all things"-- is a principle that was only for a "pre-canon" dispensation that would become obselete when the canon became written and established. To assert that would require bringing interpretive meaning from well outside the text in 1 John and heavily modify the meaning of the text.

According to this passage in 1 John, the "truth" was something that the believers knew, and yet they still needed to be taught about all things. So what is it about "all things" that the believers needed to continue to learn about? Again, "all things" is an awfully broad category, and the text gives no reason to confine "all things" to one thing or another other than that it will not contradict the truth that the believers already knew. As I will attempt to explain further, when John says, "See that what you have learned from the beginning remains in you", John is referring to the truth of the Gospel -- doctrinal truth -- that believers must use as a plumbline against which all of the present and future attempts to discern "all things" must be measured.

In the particular context of the passage, John is speaking about having discernment in the midst of the spirit of the anti-christ and those who deny that Jesus is from God. There is no basis in the text, though, to limit "all things" to mean merely "all things pertaining to those who would lead you astray". It is a sound interpretation to say that the process of the believers learning about all things has an aspect to it that involves discernment to weed out that which is from the spirit of the anti-christ.

Rudimentary discernment -- For most of the rest of 1 John chapter 3, John picks up where he left off in 1 John 2:9-11,15,18-19 and continues to exhort his readers on the matters of rudimentary discernment. Here John is defining doctrinal truth as that which is centered around knowing who Jesus is, his death and resurrection, and following Jesus' commands. In the context of the passage, John is providing practical ways for believers to measure themselves and others, and highlights the importance of Jesus' commands as the basis for any endeavor at discernment. In these verses, John speaks of both external yardsticks --loving one's brother in actions and in truth, and internal yardsticks -- knowing that God lives in one by the Spirit that he gave him, and if his heart does not condemn him in God's presence and in the face of Jesus' commands (1 John 3:21,24).

Moving on to 1 John 4:1-6

Dear friend, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are sent from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (2) This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God. Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, (3) but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the anti-christ, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (4) You, dear children are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (5) They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. (6) We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Here, in 1 John chapter 4, John proceeds to talk about testing the spirits. So what are the spirits and why are they sent by God to believers? It is my interpretation that this is part of how God teaches believers "about all things", and that for believers to learn "about all things" requires that they listen to the spirits that are sent by God. John's use of the term "Spirit of truth" in this passage is a direct reference to the Counselor, the Spirit of truth that was promised to the disciples in John 14:15.

A "spirit" in this text can be understood in the broadest sense as any claim to truth that is being given voice by anyone. John uses "spirit" as something that encompasses a) the supernatural source, b) the viewpoint and c) the person or persons giving voice to it. As I stated earlier, John is writing to the believers in the context of the spirit of the anti-christ and those who give voice to that spirit. However, the interpretive meaning of the text cannot be limited to the idea that believers are only to discern to identify the spirit of the anti-christ. Rather, in the context of the Holy Spirit's role to teach believers "about all things", John is defining a rudimentary basis for discerning a spirit. If a spirit acknowledges that Jesus came in the flesh, and if it listens "us", in this case the believers, it is from God and not the anti-christ.

Based on this discernment 101, believers are able to recognize the Spirit of truth in a general rudimentary way. It is my interpretation of 1 John that believers need this rudimentary discernment so that they can use it to begin to discern the specifics of what the Spirit of truth is saying to them as the Spirit is teaching them "about all things". "About all things" would include, but not be limited to, directives and wisdom from the Holy Spirit that are custom tailored for particular believers to confront particular needs, times and situations.

My extrapolations -- In reflecting on this passage in 1 John, it is my interpretive extrapolation that "truth", via the Spirit of truth, is a broad category that includes doctrinal truth and situational/elaborative truth that is the appropriation of doctrinal truth for particular needs and situations. Situational truth/elaborative truth is a major aspect of the "truth" that is provided by the Spirit of truth, as the Spirit of truth teaches believers "about all things". Situational/elaborative truth rests on doctrinal truth, and doctrinal truth is to be used as the plumbline to evaluate any claims that a "spirit" makes to be providing believers with elaborative/situational truth. In other words, "all things" includes the role that the Spirit has to teach believers how all things that they are confronted with --all ideas, people, times, situations, etc...-- can be understood in light of the doctrinal truth of the Gospel that has been revealed through the apostles.

Situational/elaborative truth, as I am defining it is also known as the continuationist doctrine of "illumination". This is the doctrine that the Spirit has an ongoing role to enlighten believers to properly understand and appropriate doctrinal truth. As an ongoing area of study, I want to further explore the ways that other Christian thinkers have either rejected, or tried to codify, a doctrine of illumination.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"... will teach you all things..."

Lately, I've been grappling with the claims that cessationists make on how others in the body of Christ should interpret Scripture to understand the extent to which God has promised to guide, or not guide, believers with His Holy Spirit. One passage, one of my favorite in the Bible, that I want to examine in this cessationist/continuationist debate are the promises that Jesus makes to his disciples, recorded in the latter part of the Gospel of John, regarding the Holy Spirit's guiding role as Counselor and as the Spirit of truth. For this post I want to examine John 14:1-26 that includes Jesus' promise to the disciples in vc. 26 that the Holy Spirit will "teach you all things".

I have learned that it is a cessationist interpretation that Jesus' promise that the Holy Spirit would "teach you all things" was limited to those disciples at the hearing and was not intended to be a "time-transcendent" promise to all believers. I say that this is "a" cessationist interpretation, since not all cessationists may hold it. Based on what I currently understand about cessationism, I want to examine all of the ways a cessationist might approach this passage that would challenge the continuationist interpretion that I have of it. To begin to examine the cessationist interpretation of the Holy Spirit's role to "teach you all things", I want to carefully examine the use of the pronouns "you" and "anyone" in the context of the passage.

John 14:1-4

"Do not let your hearts be troubles. Trust in God; trust also in me. (2) In my Father's house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. (3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me that you also may be where I am am. (4) You know the way to the place where I am going."

It is not in dispute among Christians that the pronoun "you" is part of a promise for all believers, that Jesus will prepare a place for us. In the case of "You know the way to the place where I am going", it is spoken directly to the disciples, but the principle is not exclusive to them, as we Christians know the place where Jesus is going.

John 14:5-11

Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (6) Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one gets to the Father except through me. (7) If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him." (8) Phillip said, "Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us." (9) Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Phillip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say 'Show us the Father'? (10) Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (11) Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

The principle that "you do know him and have seen him" is a principle that Jesus applies to anyone, as Jesus says just a little farther on -- "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." One could question whether "anyone" is anyone in 30-33 AD. who had seen Jesus in his corporeal form while on earth. Later in the passage, it will be clear that this principle is not limited only to those who had seen Jesus walking on earth in corporeal form.

John 14:12-14

"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (13) And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. (14) You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Here, "anyone" and "you" are being used interchangeably. Anyone who has faith in Jesus may ask Jesus for anything in his name and he will do it. Of course, one may counter, "but what about all those faithful Christians who asked and nothing happened, is something wrong with their faith?" This deals with the issue of present experience, not the text, so I will save examining it for another day.

John 14:15-16

"If you love me, you will obey what I command. (16) And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever -- the Spirit of truth.

Here, the promise to "you" is the same promise for "anyone". If that's not completely clear, it will be.

John 14:17

"The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Here, Jesus is speaking about the disciples' current relationship with the Holy Spirit in the same way that he has just spoken about their relationship with the Father. It is the Spirit who is in Jesus and is therefore "with" the disciples in the person of Jesus. In the verses that follow, Jesus equates himself with the Holy Spirit, and proceeds to say that he, Jesus, will be "in" the disciples. This is also consistent with Isaiah 9:6 in which the Messiah is the wonderful Counselor.

John 14:18

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (19) Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you will also live. (20) On that day, you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

Although, some could take this to refer to the time that Jesus could be seen in corporeal form after the resurrection, Jesus is actually referring specifically to the time when he, via the Counselor, will dwell in the disciples. When this happens, the disciples will have the spiritual gift of being able to see Jesus where the world cannot. The "sight" being referred to here is a spiritual ability to see Jesus that comes with one having the Counselor. And whoever sees Jesus sees the Father.

John 14:21

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and who myself to him.

Here Jesus is extending this promise to anyone. Anyone who obeys Jesus' commands loves Jesus and will receive the Counselor, the Spirit of truth, and will have the gift of being able to see Jesus where the world cannot.

John 14:22-24

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us, and not to the world?" (23) Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home in him. (24) He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

Here, Jesus reiterates the point that he had just made in John 14:21

John 14:25-26

"All this I have spoken while still with you. (26) But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Now here is where we get to the rub between cessationists and continuationists. A cessationist could try to interpret "will teach you all things" as a special dispensational role that the Counselor will have only for the disciples who were present at the hearing. To interpret the text in that manner though, one must make an argument from silence or from an understanding that heavily modifies the meaning of the text by importing interpretive meaning from well outside the text. As for the text itself, in which Jesus has just equated with the Counselor and has used "you" and "anyone"/"whoever" interchangeably, it is an exceedingly weak textual argument to interpret that the promise to "teach you all things" was limited to an exclusive use of "you" referring only to the immediate disciples present at the hearing. Not even Paul was present at the hearing.

Of course, the dispute in the cessationist/continuationist debate is to what extent, if any, the Spirit's role to "teach you all things" extended beyond the disciples and extended beyond the writing of the Bible canon. In my understanding of cessationism, a cessationist interprets "all things" to be the Bible canon, since it is the cessationist position that the Holy Spirit is not still communicating or teaching anything to anyone in any way that can be readily and conclusively perceived as the Spirit's voice or even the Spirit's guidance. Based on this understanding of cessationism, if Jesus' use of "you" in "teach you all things" was not strickly exclusive to the immediate hearers, it was an exclusive promise to those believers, or to some sub-set of believers, before the Bible canon became completely established.

In regard to the promise that the Spirit would "...remind you of everthing that I have said...". it is true that Jesus' disciples would need special help in being reminded of everything that Jesus had said for the purpose of their ministry and for their writing down his words in what became the canon (synoptic Gospels, etc...). However, it is not clear from the text that that the Spirit's role to "...remind you of everything I have said..." is limited to aiding the disciples in created the Bible canon or that the Spirit's role to "teach you all things" is limited to reminding the disciples of Jesus words. It is safe, of course, to interpret that anything the Spirit teaches will not contradict, but rather complement, anything that Jesus has already said.

Some cessationist will argue that "teach you all things" is a promise only for canonical doctrinal knowledge that the apostles were to receive via the Spirit after Jesus' death and ressurection to complete the canonical doctrinal knowledge that they already had from Jesus at that time. In this interpretion, the disciples' experience at Pentacost, Peter's vision concerning dietary guidelines (Acts 10:9-15), John's revelation on the island of Patmos, and the ways that Paul and the other apostles elaborated and clarified the teachings of Jesus would be the only things to fall within this promise to "teach all things" as the Spirit operated in His role of canonical doctrine completer.

While the Spirit did, in fact, have a role in the lives of the apostles as canonical doctrine completer, to interpret this role of the Spirit as the exclusive purpose of "teach you all things" assumes that the "you" is an exclusive "you" when Jesus has not been making the promises to "you" exclusive to the disciples heretofore in the text. In this interpretation, "all things" must be interpreted as "all the canonical doctrinal knowledge that the Spirit will communicate within your lifetimes as apostles".

A cessationist may argue that the Spirit's role to "teach you all things" extended beyond the specific role of canonical doctrine completer to include all of the ways in which the Spirit guided and empowered the apostles in specific ministry directives. In this interpretation, the Spirit's role to "teach you all things" extended beyond the role of canonical doctrine completer only for the purpose of establishing the apostles' roles as bearers of the Gospel and of the docrine for the church. In this interpretation, "teach" would be understood to including the idea of "guide", as in the Spirit would teach the apostles both according to truths as they related to their general form and according to truths as they related to specifics of particular decisions and situations. As the Spirit guided/taught the apostles according to the promise "teach you all things" for the purpose of advancing canonical doctrinal knowledge, the Spirit would be operating in His role as apostle verifier. Again, while canonical doctrine completer and apostle verifier may have comprised some of the Spirit's purpose in the first century that is included in "teach you all things", to say that "teach you all things" was limited to this role is to rely on an exclusive interpretation of "you", which is not strongly supported by the text.

A cessationist may argue that the promise to "teach you all things" extended to any display of gifts and words of prophecy and knowledge that sustained the church before the establishment of the canon. This cessationist position on the text operates on an exclusive interpretation of "all things" as being the Bible canon, while interpreting "you" in "teach you all things" as including believers beyond the disciples and apostles. In this interpretation, the "you" is only inclusive to those believers before the final establishment of the Bible canon in the fourth century. In this idea, the Spirit's role was to sustain the faith and doctrine of believers until the establishment of the canon in the fourth century as the Spirit operated in the role of pre-canon faith sustainer.

To begin to unravel my problem with the idea that the Spirit had a dispensational role in regard to "teach you all things" as pre-canon faith sustainer as opposed to post-canon faith sustainer, I must start by saying that there is nothing in the text in John 14 that indicates that the Spirit's role to "teach you all things" was limited to canonical doctrine completer, apostle verifier or pre-canon faith sustainer or that "teach you all things" is even limited to prophecy and words of knowledge. That said, if we take the liberty to examine 1 Corinthians as a window into the early church's gifting of prophecy and words of knowledge, Paul does not speak of the administration of prophetic gifts as though it were something unique to the Corinthians, but rather as something that was normative throughout the early church.

Of course, none of us here in the 21st century were there at those early church meetings. A cessationist may argue that to the extent that a) believers were being gifted by the Spirit with prophetic utterances and words of knowledge and that b) believers had yet to learn of important doctrinal truths from the apostles, the Spirit would not have been co-opting the apostles' role in regard to diseminating foundational doctrinal truths. In this understanding, the Spirit would not have been teaching new believers foundational doctrinal truths that had not yet been taught to them by the apostles. In regard to foundational doctrinal truths, The Spirit may have been reminding believers of what Jesus said, and what the apostles said that elaborated on what Jesus said, but only after those believers had first learned of it through the apostles.

If this conclusion is true, to the extent that the Spirit was guiding people in the early churches with what Paul describes as gifts of prophecy, the Spirit must have been providing the early churches with prophetic knowledge that was of direct benefit to the early churches in the particulars of their circumstances and decisions. In other words, the Spirit was providing "low level" revelations that gave specific directions to those in the early church on specifics on how to apply that which was already doctrinally known to them in a general fashion. Furthermore it is not clear that all of the early churches were lacking in any important foundational doctrinal knowledge. Paul, himself, says that he laid the foundation for the church in Corinth as an "expert builder" -- 1 Cor. 3:10. While each of these "low-level" revelations would have been edifying for the hearers throughout the churches in the first century, we in the 21st century are not the worse for not having them all included in the Bible canon because they would not have been time-transcendent revelations of foundational doctrinal knowledge necessary for all the body of Christ.

A cessationist will argue that a present-day gifting of prophecies and words of knowledge or any other form of guidance under the umbrella of "teach you all things" would be of no benefit to us today because we in the 21st century have the complete Bible canon at our disposal. Even as the content of the prophecies would have been oriented around specific directives in the early church and not new canonical doctrinal knowledge, the cessationist is confident that the gifts of prophecy only had a limited purpose. The cessationist may argue that the gifting of prophecies throughout the early church was a manifestion of the Spirit's role as pre-canon faith sustainer only to remind believers of what had been taught to them by the apostles in the absense of having the apostles' words in writing. In this cessationist interpretation, "... will teach you all things", the Spirit's role to "teach", in regard to believers outside of the circle of apostles, is not made distinct from the Spirit's role to "remind" (as the promise that the Spirit's role to "remind" is interpreted to include reminding pre-canon believers of the apostles words and not strictly Jesus' words). In this interpretation, it was still the exclusive province of the apostles to have "all things" revealed to them by the Spirit and to disseminate "all things" throughout the early church.

A cessationist who argues that the Holy Spirit was not filling a "doctrinal knowledge gap", may argue that the Holy Spirit was filling some other sort of "wisdom gap" in the lives of early believers that was filled when the canon was completed. A cessationist will not be able to say what this "wisdom gap" was other than to say that, whatever it was, it was rendered inoperative by the establishment of the Bible canon. A cessationist might argue that since Paul's writings were primarily elaborations of the teachings of Jesus, other believers throughout the early church who were not brought to discipleship through Paul and who had not been exposed to his teachings, might nevertheless have arrived at some of those same elaborations without the direct benefit of Paul. Along this line of argumentation, "teach you all things" would include doctrinal wisdom that was consistent with aspects of Paul's teachings but may not have been exclusive to Paul in the first century. The same principle would be applied to the teachings/writings of Peter and James. In this interpretation "all things" would still be limited to only that which was included the Bible canon, and "teach you all things" would still represent a closed, completed promise that believers should not count on in this present day.

Conclusion: based on my understanding of cessationism, a cessationist applies his particular understanding of the exclusivity of Scripture to interpret that Jesus' promise to the the disciples that the Spirit would "teach you all things" is a promise only to certain believers in a dispensation before the completion and/or codification of the Bible canon. This dispensational division is not supported directly by the text in John 14 and runs counter to the many ways in which Jesus had made the promises therein available to "anyone" and "whoever" loved Jesus and obeyed his commands. To arrive at this dispensational divide, the cessationist is modifying the meaning of Jesus' words to fit the cessationist interpretation of the exclusivity of Scripture, which is based on a cessationist interpretation of certain verses of Paul's writings. It is my continuationist position that "teach you all things" is a time-transcendent characteristic of the Spirit's role as Counselor and Spirit of truth and characterizes what is available in the Holy Spirit to all those who love Jesus and obey his commands. It is my continuationist position that "teach you all things" includes the role of completing the canonical doctrinal knowledge via the disciples but is not limited to that role for the body of Christians beyond the apostles, then or now.

I'll explain later in greater detail why this does not put me in danger of "adding to the canon".

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sola Scriptura and related cessationist/continuationist issues

Much of what I see in Scripture and in the culture at large and in the Evangelical church's relationship with the culture at large is a crisis of not understanding the dynamic faith that Jesus calls us to. I am interested in the continuationist/cessationist debate because the cessationists provide some of the clearest and loudest doctrinal protests to the sort of approach to faith that I am advocating. As I am clarifying my doctrinal positions, I am realizing that I want to spend more time examining cessationism as a counterpoint. I want to explore cessationism and, later, explore other forms of dispensationalism of which cessationism is but one form.

In regard to the continuationist/cessationist debate, I am discovering that there is a continuum out there that ranges from hyper-cessationist to hyper-pentacostal. Hyper-cessationists believe that all movement of the Holy Spirit has completely stopped as anything that can be claimed as God's present day voice or God's present day movement in dynamic relationship with individuals or with His church. Cessationists who are not so far on the edge of the spectrum will recognize that some people have gifts of the Spirit, but claim cessationism as the defining characteristic of most professing Christians. There are some cessationists who are closer on the spectrum than others to continuationism who will acknowledge the quiet leading of the Holy Spirit while believing that the more dramatic manifestations of them have ceased.

On the extreme other end of the spectrum, on the continuationist side, are those pentacostals who believe that one must be speaking in tongues to have been properly born in the Spirit. I, personally, count myself in the middle-left category of continuationists, known as "Spirit in power", who believe that God's Spirit still moves powerfully in diverse ways, meeting people as they need. I do not believe that it is necessarily a sign of faithlessness or lack of edification for any one individual to not have this gift or that gift. Based on my position, I am at odds with those pentacostals who have arrived at a doctrine wherein speaking in tongues is a necessary sign that one has been born in the Spirit. I do, however, hold that the Scripture points to a dynamic relationship with God and with His Spirit, whether or not each individual Christian experiences that relationship in quite the same way. As a fellow continuationist, I'll defend charismatics from many of the charges that they receive from cessationists that tongues and other gifts/manifestations of the Spirit are somehow non-existent or defunct in this present age. I will defend the diverse ways that God operates in people anywhere, anytime.

Having acknowledged that there are different flavors of cessationism, as a generality, cessationists use the idea of "self-sufficiency" of Scripture as a refutation of continuationism. In a nutshell, "self-sufficiency" is a cessationist interpretation of the Protestant Reformation's "Sola Scriptura". Sola Scriptura was emphasized by the Protestant Reformers to confront doctrines of the Catholic Church regarding the special ministry of priests and the perfection of Mary, which are doctrines that are not in the Bible but that are treated by the Catholic church as being co-equal truths to what is in the Bible. For the Reformers, the Scriptures should be the only source of Christian doctrine and practice to the exclusion of ideas that are claimed to have co-equal status with that of Scripture.

The "self-sufficiency" of Scripture is a cessationist idea that is a counterpoint to the continuationist idea that the Holy Spirit is still moving and speaking in ways that can be perceived by believers. For a cessationist, if a believer is still listening to God in the present day, that believer is therefore not relying exclusively on Scripture for guidance, and therefore the Scripture is not enough for one's relationship with God. The cessationist considers this idea of "self-sufficiency" to be part and parcel with the Reformation idea of Sola Scriptura. For a cessationist, not only is it already problematic that a continuationist is relying on more than the written Word for his/her daily walk, the cessationist is concerned that continuationists are on a slippery slope toward arriving at ideas that will be claimed as being co-equal with Scripture.

What is in contention in this continuationist/cessationist debate is whether the Scripture itself calls us to listen to God and react to God's ongoing movement and to expect that God will lead us in the particulars of our present day lives. The cessationist operates on a doctrine that says "no" unequivocally to this question, based on a very particular interpretation of Scripture.

I am attempting to present some of the key aspects of cessationism and the cessationist doctrine of "self'sufficiency" as I currently understand it. I want to explore cessationism as accurately and as fairly as I can in order to reckon with the consequences of cessationism as a doctrine and explain the differences between it and the continuationist ideas that I am defending and promoting.

In my understanding, the cessationist interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, wherein the teleon/the complete is interpreted as the completion of the Bible canon, is the Scriptural cornerstone of cessationist doctrine. I have explained in my wet cat series part II and part III the problems I have with this interpretation. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 is the only Scripture that I have found that cessationists claim as a direct, propositional statement from Scripture supporting cessation. Other Scriptures that cessationists use to supplement their interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13 are based on interpretations of more indirect or narrative elements within the New Testament.

For example, it is based on the narrative elements of Acts that cessationists interpret New Testament tongues as being only human languages, which operated primarily for the benefit of those at Pentacost. That is why cessationists don't consider the gift of tongues in the New Testament to be anything like what charismatics today describe as incomprehensible divine languages that need the divine gift of interpretation to be understood. It is my assessment that this cessationist understanding of tongues contradicts 1Cor 14:2, so I am interested to further learn how cessationists deal with 1 Cor. 14:2.

The cessationist works backwards from their doctrinal cornerstone in 1 Cor. 13 and whatever else they interpret as being supplemental to the idea that the "teleon" referred to the Bible canon, and proceed to interpret the rest of Scripture from the perspective of that cornerstone. To mix my metaphors, 1 Cor. 13 is the primary lens that a cessationist uses to subdivide Scripture into two dispensations. The first, and now past, dispensation is the one wherein Christians needed direct encounters with the Holy Spirit to establish the church and church doctrine before the establishement of the canon. The second dispensation, which we are now currently in, is the one wherein the written Word, the Bible canon, has replaced direct, dynamic encounters with the Holy Spirit. Depending on which cessationist you talk to, the dividing line separating these two dispenations is either the first century or the fourth century.

In regard to these Scriptures:

-- If Jesus says that he has more to say to his disciples, and explains how the Holy Spirit will operate as Counselor, speaking to his disciples as the Spirit hears from the Father (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13-15), a cessationist interprets this promise as part of a dispensation that was only for Jesus' immediate disciples and was not to be normative for Christians throughout church history.

-- If Paul discussed Spiritual gifts and gave instructions on the order of worship regarding the gifts, a cessationist understands that those commands were for a dispensation that ended with the establishment of the canon.

-- If Paul says that the peace that passes understanding will keep the Phillipians in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7), this particular peace, needed to keep people in Christ Jesus, became obselete with the establishment of the canon.

-- If Paul says to the Ephesians (Eph. 1:17) "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, mayt give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better", for a cessationist, this prayer was made obselete by the completion of the canon.

In my best and most honest attempt to understand cessationism, for a cessationist, Christians needed direct encounters with God to communicate the reality of Christ in the absense of having the writings of Paul and the four Gospels at their disposal. As I understand cessationism, to a cessationist, the Holy Spirit's leading/prophecy as a direct interactive relationship with people in first century had only an informative purpose in the church, not a transformative purpose that was to continue beyond the early church. In this understanding, the Holy Spirit was manifested directly to inform people of the apostles' role as messengers of the Gospel and as codifiers of the Bible canon, and to inform Christian communities of the reality of Christ and in the ways of Godly wisdom only until they received the complete Bible canon. To the extent that the writings of Paul and the four Gospels were disseminated throughout the early church, which culiminated with the establishment of the Bible canon in the fourth century, Christians did not need the Holy Spirit to inform Christians in the way of their faith through direct manifestations. To a cessationist, the early Christians did not need the Holy Spirit's direct leading for the purpose of their personal transformation, rather, only for their doctrinal information.

In addition to making dispensational divisions in Scripture, cessationists downplay the idea of present-day interactive relationship with God by trying to emphasize the distance between God any perceptible sense that God is at work in our hearts, guiding us towards thoughts and in directions that facilitate His present day work in us. By emphasizing this distance, a cessationist seeks to separate God's work in our hearts as being something that a contemporary Christian can claim as God's present day voice/revelation.

One way that a cessationist will emphasize this distance between God and our sense of God is to argue that is merely our conscience, fallible as it is, that senses and/or fabricates these "leadings" and "impressions". For a cessationist, these "feelings", "leadings" and "impressions" do not ever indicate a direct supernatural intervention/communication from God. If one is feeling an urge to pray for someone or reach out to someone in any given moment, for a cessationist, it is not an urge that should be recognized in any way as the direct leading of God or the voice of God. Only the desire to pray or help, as a general command, can be linked to God -- not the call to pray or help in any particular moment, as opposed to any other particular moment. Some cessationists claim that if one is feeling peace or joy, one cannot ever specifically claim that the peace/joy as necessarily being directly from Christ Jesus, since peace and joy are merely feelings. In regard to feelings, senses and impressions that believers claim to be from God, a cessationist will say, "But what if it's wrong, who's to blame? God?".

Cessationists do value having positive affections towards God and having affections of love, charity and forgiveness towards others, affections that display the fruits of the Spirit. It is based partly on this that a cessationist will say that he is "Spirit filled", without seeing the idea of "Spirit filled" as being a present day reality of inter-acting with the Holy Spirit in any directly perceptible way. A cessationist understands that his conscience is perfected by the Holy Spirit as his conscience is filled only with the written Word that the Holy Spirit led the apostles to write down in the first century. To a cessationist, the Scriptures that continuationists interpret as indicating a dynamic relationship with God are interpreted through the 1 Cor. 13 dispensation to refer to something that has past and/or something that is not, in fact, dynamic and inter-active.

A cessationist is only willing to concede the Holy Spirit's present day work in the hearts of believers with the understanding that His work in us is His imperceptible movement in our hearts that we only notice when we look back on what He has done as we have studied and applied His Word. The work of the Holy Spirit, for a cessationist, cannot be understood as a perceptible, present day reality, for that would be indicative of God's present day leading, which would pose a problem of Scriptural "self-sufficiency". This cessationist argument recognizes the irresistibility of God's grace, as outlined in 5 points Calvinism, but will not concede that the irresistibility can be felt specifically and perceptibly as God's moment-by-moment leading in believers.

A cessationist understands that believing in God while not being able to perceive God is the essence of having faith, because to perceive/sense God in any way would nullify the need to have faith. A cessationist equates any perception of God's leading in any way as a form of "sight", which would nullify a believers need to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Cessationists also believe that wisdom and understanding of Scripture are incompatible with the idea of an inter-active relationship with God that is based on listening to God on an ongoing basis. If a believer listens to God for direction, why would he need to study His word? This cessationist understanding of faith and cessationist understanding of a dichotomy between Scriptural wisdom and listening to God is basis for a cessationist to say that the continuationist act of listening to God with the idea that He still speaks and moves in the present day is an act that undermines the self-sufficiency of Scripture. To the cessationist, only the Scriptures that are relevant for the present dispensation, via the cessationist interpretation of 1 Cor. 13, should guide a believer's daily walk with God.

These are some of the major charges made by cessationists against continuationism that I want to explore in greater depth. I recognize that there are differences among cessationists, and not every self-identified cessationist will confess everything that I have outlined above. I am doing my honest best to try to construct a composite of what I have learned about cessationist doctrine so far.

In order for me to better understand the doctrinal differences between the continuationist positions that I advocate and advance and those of cessationists, I decided to start an ongoing debate with a cessationist, Nathan White, on his Preach the Word blog. I count Nathan White as a brother in Christ across a wide theological divide, with whom I want to have a civilized, if pointed, dialogue with. As Dennis Prager always says, it is more important to find clarity that agreement. Here is a link to Nathan's blog post entitled Non-Cessationist Question #1 and to the comment section at the bottom that features the debate I began with him last week.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Developing a theology of knowledge and truth

After having written Salt of the Postmodern Earth Part 1, I realize that I need to backtrack. These ideas are a work in progress, and I don't want to over-reach in making leaps. It is a common approach for me when I am working out ideas to try to grasp them in my own words, and then to find the words that others have used to describe the same thing. This approach gives me a much better perspective on the thinking of others. As I engage this process out in the open on this blog, this blog is as much a window into more liminal places of my thinking as it is a window into firmly planted ideas.

In regard to the cessationist vs. continuationist debate as to whether revelation is limited exclusively to Scripture or whether revelation can be subdivided into Scriptural revelation and ongoing "low-level" revelation of the Holy Spirit, I have been asserting the continuationist position that a "low-level" form of God's revelation continues even as the canon of Scripture has been completed. This "low-level" revelation is His specific executive direction for us in the dynamic space and time we live in here and now, and is a servant to the Scriptural revelation of the bible canon, fulfilling the promises therein. Having defended it, I recognize that the idea of an ongoing "low-level" revelation is a contentious idea. I know that the idea of an "ongoing general revelation of knowledge" is going to be even more contentious. Allow me to explain.

In regard to the "ongoing general revelation of knowledge" that I introduced in last week's Salt of the Postmodern Earth Part I, when I first posted Salt of the Postmodern Earth Part in my discussion on a hermeneutic of ideas, I started out calling it "general revelation" and then later in the week modified it to "ongoing general revelation of knowledge". The term "general revelation" must be reserved for the revelation about God and the truth of God that is available to all humans according to Romans 1:18-23,

For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities--His eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so men are without excuse.

General revelation is the grasp of God and His Law that all humans are endowed with and are held accountable to even if they have not seen the revealed Law of Scripture, and even if that grasp is clouded and muddied by sin. General revelation is a form of God's "judging truth" -- truth that affirms God's capacity to hold all humans accountable to His existence and to His law and to His judgement of them for not following it. General revelation is one form of "judging truth", while God's revealed Law is another. God's revealed Law in Scripture clarifies and codifies the substance of God's general revelation.

General revelation is the knowing of God's "power and divine nature" that is derived from "what has been made". In general revelation, what God has made, both in the moral order and in the order of creation, is there for the purpose of revealing God and holding all humans accountable to what has been revealed about God. The "ongoing general revelation of knowledge", as I'm currently defining it, is God's work in history to bring pieces of the truth about the order of His creation and the nature of His moral order past the darkening effects of sin and into the realm of human consciousness. While general revelation is occluded by sin, the general revelation of knowledge is the unfolding of those aspects of truth within general revelation that have "worked around" the reality of sin to come to the surface in fallen human consciousness. Here, general revelation is oriented around the object, being God, and the ongoing general revelation of knowledge is oriented around the content that has the ultimate purpose of pointing to the object, even if in piecemeal it may not point directly and obviously to God.

While general revelation is understood as the innate, intuitive grasp of the order of creation and moral realm that operates beneath sin, ignorance, and foolishness, the ongoing general revelation of knowledge is the outworking and codifying throughout history of that intuitive grasp that humans have been endowed with via their conscience and perception. While general revelation is understood to be somewhat subconscious in fallen people due to the reality of sin, the ongoing general revelation of knowledge is precisely that which is more conscious, since it has been arrived at and discovered in cultures in the course of history. While general revelation is not ongoing, being something that is based on a) what has been made and b) something that all humans are endowed with irrespective of their time and place, the general revelation of knowledge is an ongoing and unfolding reality in history.

While knowledge in piecemeal about the order of God's creation and God's moral order is not general revelation per se, it does have a direct relationship to general revelation because the judging truth of general revelation is based on the order of creation and the moral order of God. These aspects of the truth that people arrive at in the ongoing general revelation of knowledge are pieces of truth about God's moral order and order in creation that are revealed as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

I know that the term "ongoing general revelation of knowledge" is going to make some believers squeamish. It is a working term that I am using for the time being, that I may semantically amend later. Perhaps the term "ongoing general unfolding of knowledge" would make some happier. I understand the argument that accumulation of knowledge is merely discovery and not revelation and that "revelation" needs to be reserved only for the direct inspiration of God. I respect the desire to keep the word "revelation" separate from discovery in order to not dilute the idea of revelation. Allow me to explain.

I want to recognize the relationship that the ongoing general revelation of knowledge has to general revelation without conflating the two as being one and the same thing. At the risk of offending some, I am using the term "revelation", operating on the Biblical principle that humans did not totally lose the image of God in the Fall, and that humans do retain a form of God's glory. I am operating on the Biblical principle that God is sovereign over history, and that God works to create human diversity and culture which will be reflected at the end of time (Revelations 7:9) by allowing different persons and groups to discover different aspects of knowledge in the form of ideas that are arrived and interpreted by cultures (this is something that I will expand on later). I am operating on the principle that anything that is discovered or intuited to be true is owed to God at work in the image of Him that humans retain, and that discovery is a process guided by God's sovereign timing and inspiration. It is for this reason that I said in my post last week--another contentious idea-- that God is a God of truth and any piece of the truth belongs to God.

I realized the word "truth" is problematic to some, that there is a distinction between "truth" and "facts". To them, "truth" is defined narrowly and specifically as correct, direct knowledge about God, while "facts" are defined as truth about anything less that that. Those who argue this say that when Jesus said " will know the truth and the truth will set you free..." (John 8:32), Jesus was necessarily defining all truth as being limited to the Gospel and that any knowledge outside of the Gospel is mere knowledge of facts. I respect the intent of this objection, so allow me to explain.

Any piece of the truth is true, but not all pieces of the truth are salvific. When Jesus says, " will know the truth and the truth will set you free...", he is speaking about "saving truth" -- a particular class of truth that is available on through direct knowledge of and experience of Jesus. In using the term, general revelation of knowledge, I have used the word "knowledge", recognizing that piecemeal knowledge of God's moral order and order of creation is a form of truth in the general sense, while also wanting to make it distince from saving truth or judging truth.

But here is why I have a problem call all of the truth of the general revelation of knowledge as mere facts. In Romans 2:14-15, Paul says,

Indeed, when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now defending them.

Natural law, aka the law of the Gentiles, that Paul is describing here is the created moral order of God that humans are endowed with in their consciences and is part of God's judging truth in general revelation. The aspects of Natural Law that were openly recognized among the Gentiles in their codes of law and behavior had a relationship to general revelation, in that these aspects of Natural Law represented the outward manifestation of what had been written on their consciences. These aspects of Natural Law that had risen to the surface in Gentile consciousness past the darkening effects of sin represented the general revelation of knowledge in operation. While these socially and culturally recognized aspects of Natural Law were not the "truth that will set you free", nor did they represent the full idea of God as the object of general revelation, these codes of behavior were very much reflections of the consciences that the Gentiles had -- consciences that were capable of accusing them or defending them in the face of God's revealed Law. It is this relationship to the endowment of Natural Law that the outwardly recognized aspects of Natural Law among the Gentiles cannot be dismissed as merely Gentile knowledge of facts but must be recognized properly as Gentile knowledge of a form of truth.

I am saying all of this to emphasize that these things:

a) the image of God that actively operates in people and in cultures apart from the Gospel and the revealed Law of God in Scripture
b) the sovereignty of God over all peoples and cultures, and
c) the value of the truth in piecemeal form in the general revelation of knowledge,

all point to the principle that the piecemeal discovery of God's moral order and order of creation throughout cultures in history is a form of God's revelation. In order to not commit the fallacy of making that revelation equal with Scripture, I am clarifying the following hierarchy of truth and revelation:

1) God's judging truth and God's saving truth, revealed in Scripture, that provides provides us a way to be saved from the consequences of God's judging truth.
2) God's "low-level" revelation that makes Scriptural truth and its application specific to believers across all of church history
3) God's general revelation of knowledge that comprises pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that, when put together, comprise the whole content of God's moral order and order of creation that is the basis of God's judging truth.

Here, each part of the hierarchy can be claimed as truth and revelation, but each part of the hierarchy is subservient to the part above it. It is in clarifying a hierarchy of different classes of truth and revelation that I am attemtping to honor the good intent of those who object to the use of the words "truth" and "revelation" out of concern that the greater forms will be made co-equal with the lesser forms. The reason I am using the term "revelation", though, is that the content of the ongoing general revelation of knowledge is an important aspect of God's revelation throughout history and is too often dismissed and improperly examined by Christians.

Much of the debate in Christianity is to clarify just how high or how low to regard the surrounding culture. Is the wider culture depraved and thoroughly Godless? Does the wider culture have claims to truth that are co-equal with Scripture? It is possible that a culture could be completely and utterly depraved and Godless, but this is usually not the case. It is for this reason that I am trying to clarify a "middle way" that avoids both extremes by emphasizing the sovereignty of God and the value of the general revelation of knowedge without making the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the content of the general revelation of knowledge co-equal with Scripture. To affirm that God is engaged in the general revelation of knowledge is to affirm the reality that God is already working in the cultures around us before we Christians ever confront that culture with the Gospel, and that there is an extent to which God is at work in the culture around us outside of the direct influence of the church.

Understanding the ongoing general revelation of knowledge is key to understanding how Paul approached the altar to an unknown god in Acts 17:23. After having carefully studied the culture and their objects of worship, Paul discovers an altar to an unknown god. This altar to an unknown god is part of the general revelation of knowledge that had been given to the Athenians that "there is probably a god out there that we pagans have missed, so let's cover our bases". Here, the idea that there may be an unknown God is a tiny but important piece of the jigsaw puzzle of God's truth. Like the Natural Law, that was expressed to a degree in the behavior and knowledge of the Gentiles, the altar to the unknown god is a jigsaw piece of the truth that had a relationship to the judging truth of God's general revelation, without being the full picture of God's judging truth.

At that meeting of Areopagus, Paul recognized that some of the Athenian poets had a limited understanding of God, as the poets had said "we are his offspring" (Acts 17:28). This piece of Athenian verse is another piece of the jigsaw puzzle of the general revelation of knowledge that God had revealed to the Athenians before Paul ever arrived on the scene. In this passage, Paul extracted the jigsaw pieces of the truth out from the midst of untruth in the Athenian understanding and united them with the truth of the Gospel. Paul affirmed the piece of the truth that was represented by the altar to the unknown god and by the Athenian poets and applied the Gospel to confront the surrounding falsehood and ignorance. It is in this way that Paul "deconstructed" the altar to the unknown god and Athenian verse, winnowing out the truth from the midst of the untruth to present the Gospel.

The general revelation of knowledge can also be of benefit to Christians, operating in supplemental and complementary fashion to the revelation of Scripture. While Paul confronted the darkness of the philosophy of his day, Paul's writing reflects his education in the general revelation of knowledge that was available to the Greco-Roman world of the day. This is manifested in his use of reasoning and logical structure and his reference to Plato's cave (we see but through a mirror darkly). Paul did not reject the value for logic and reasoning that had been arrived at by Greek philosphers, but rather incorporated that value into the shape of writing and thought. Paul's letter to the Romans is a "cathedral" of Christian reasoning. Rather, Paul rejects the application of worldly reason that operates from premises and idolatries that preclude the Gospel. What Paul confronts is the hubris and ignorance of worldly philosophers to the extent that they rejected Christ Crucified.

The aposle John of the fourth Gospel also deconstructed aspects of the general revelation of knowledge that had been arrived at in the Greco-Roman world. John works with the idea of the Logos that had been arrived at by Greek philosphers and re-interprets the Logos as Jesus, the living Word of God.

These are examples of how John and Paul did not reject pieces of the general revelation of knowledge that had been arrived at by the wider culture that they operated within. Rather, by affirming logic, reason, behavioral manifestions of Natural Law, and clues to the existence of God that were already there in the culture that they operated in, they allowed these to influence the shape of their thought and to influence the shape of their approach to the Gospel to that culture. They were careful in their targets and only targeted the bad and erroneous idolatry, while being careful to value what was good. It is this careful effort that the New Testament writers made to place the Gospel in the context of the aspects of the general revelation of knowledge--carefully deconstructing to separate good from bad--that we are to emulate today.

Truth, in the broadest sense, can include values, ideas, and art that pervade a person and/or a culture. As knowledge operates in fallen humans who are darkened in their minds towards the revealed Law of God and the saving truth of the Gospel, pieces of truth in the general revelation of knowledge are often blended together with pieces of falsehood. What I am trying to outline is an approach to intellectual inquiry, cultural analysis, ministry and missions that sees as its task to verify what is true in the ongoing general revelation of knowledge that is asserting itself in the culture in question. It is must be the goal of Christian inquiry and ministry to find the pieces of the truth that are already operating, assert the Gospel over what is untrue, and unite the truth in the general revelation of knowledge with the truth of the Gospel.

In order to correctly apply the Gospel in this day and age, we Christians must identify the ways that God is already at work through the culture/cultures around us. To do this, we must first recognize that God is a God of truth and look for truth in a broader sense in the cultures around us without committing the fallacy of making the general revelation of knowledge co-equal to Scripture.

What I am trying to lay the groundwork for is a mandate that Christians must be attuned to the general revelation of knowledge as an important art of their growth in wisdom to understand the work of God that is going on around them and to understand the ministry of the Gospel that fits it. Christians must understand that these jigsaw pieces of truth are not co-equal with Scripture, but are supplemental and complementary when they have been properly deconstructed. What I am driving at and will elaborate on further is that this understanding is key to Christians having a dynamic faith that operates in liminality with God in dealing with with wider culture and is key to applying the Gospel with accuracy and nuance in the course of ministry.