Things That Cannot Be Shaken
- Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Christian theologians during this time argued, against rationalism, that grounds could never be located in the human self. To do so would lead to the kind of skepticism that followed in the wake of Descartes' philosophy. What, then, is the ground of theology? What is it that can provide the foundation, the source and beginning point of all truth and authority? To ask the question is almost to answer it.
In the Westminster Confession of Faith (perhaps the ablest expression of Protestant doctrine in the entire history of the church), the authors set out, for the first time in church history, a Protestant doctrine of Scripture. In chapter 1 of the Confession, section 4, the authors wrote:
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
Notice that the subject of this section is the authority of Scripture. They are answering the question of grounds for such authority. On what grounds does this authority depend?
It does not depend on any man or church. This was stated, negatively, to make clear that this was a Protestant and not a Roman Catholic doctrine of Scripture. But notice here that the authors say, in effect, that the authority of Holy Scripture depends on its author. It is the author of Holy Scripture who makes Scripture what it is.
The fact of the matter is, if we fail to see Holy Scripture as authored by God, and therefore as the ground of its own authority, we will fail to understand what Scripture actually is.
And, as the Confession makes clear, if we want to know why we should accept Holy Scripture as the Word of God, it is "because it is the Word of God." That is, not simply because it says that it is; many books make such claims. Rather, we accept it because God is its author and God says that it is. To appeal to something behind, above, or beyond this is to think of Scripture (and God) as something other than the ground of truth and authority.
Isn't this what Jesus himself was saying to the devil in the wilderness? Jesus had the power to show Satan who he was. But Jesus also knew that whatever he did would detract from Satan's central objection. His objection was not that he hadn't seen all he needed to see. Jesus knew that Satan's objection was focused on the fact that he did not believe what God had said.
Jesus illustrated this same principle in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man in Hades asks that there be demonstrations of power and miracles displayed to his five brothers so that they might not suffer the same torment. What is the response to this request? "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31).
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Hearing "Moses and the Prophets" means hearing the Word of God. Jesus reminds the rich man that his brothers, like him, have all that is needed to avoid the torment of Hades. They have the Word of God that was spoken "by the prophets" and by Moses, and that has now been spoken "in the Son."
John 6:63-71 gives us the same truth. There Jesus is teaching many of his disciples that the only way one may come to him is if the Father grants it. The message must have gotten through; it was a message that stripped away any hope of salvation by human merit or action. That message has never been a popular one. So, in the course of Jesus' instruction, "many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him" (6:66).
Jesus then asked the twelve if they, too, would turn away. Simon Peter's answer is instructive: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (6:68).
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