Thursday, June 7, 2012

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 2

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 1 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 4  
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 5

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 1
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 2    

What about using general revelation to develop and articulate a Christian, natural theology. In his first chapter of his section section looking at the Doctrine of Scripture (Bibliology) Erickson takes on the challenge of natural theology.  Erickson writes that natural theology maintains not only that there is a valid, objective revelation of God in such spheres as nature, history, and human personality, but that it is actually possible to gain some true knowledge of God from these spheres - in other words, to construct a natural theology apart from the Bible. (180-181)

Natural theology is based on a number of assumptions.  First, is the belief that there is an objective, valid, and rational general revelation - that God actually has made himself known in nature (for example) and that patters of meaning are objectively present - independently of whether anyone perceives, understands, and accepts this revelation. (181) This assumes, then, that nature is basically intact and has not been substantially distorted by anything that has occurred since the creation. (181) That is to say that the world as it is now is the way God created it in the beginning.

The second assumption is the integrity of the person perceiving and learning from the creation. Neither humanity's natural limitations nor the effects of sin and the fall prevent humans from recognizing and correctly interpreting the Creator's handiwork. (181)

There are a number of problems with these assumptions obviously. The most obvious is its view on Creation, the Fall, human nature, and sin. One is hard pressed to see that the world today is anything like it was in Genesis 1-2. Furthermore, sin distorts our view of God and everything else. Thus when we observe creation and the Creator, we do so with our own fallen agenda's and desires. Thus we are tempted to see what we want to see and thus fashion a god in our own image.

Erickson goes on to say:

The core of natural theology is the idea that it is possible, without a prior commitment of faith to the beliefs of Christianity, and without relying on any special authority, such as an institution (the church) or a document (the Bible), to come to a genuine knowledge of God on the basis of reason alone. (181)

Obviously, this helpful definition and description of natural theology, is problematic for Erickson and anyone that promotes a strict biblical approach to Christian theology. But let us say that the assumptions of natural theology are true (though they're not). What is missing from natural theology?

The gospel.

After some points of criticism of natural theology by Erickson,* he goes on to highlight Karl Barth's rejection of the validity of general revelation and the possibility of natural revelation. Barth makes this very point. Commenting on Barth's view, Erickson writes, Barth is very skeptical of the view that humans are able to know God apart from the revelation in Christ. This would mean that they can know the existence, the being of God, without knowing anything of his grace and mercy. (188)

And that's exactly right. Natural theology might be able to establish the existence of God, the presence of revelation, and even morality, but it cannot proclaim the gospel. What is missing is grace, propitiation, expiation and salvation. Erickson goes on:

This would injure the unity of God, since it would abstract his being from the fullness of his activity. A human who could achieve some knowledge of God outside of his revelation in Jesus Christ would have contributed at least in some small measure to his or her salvation or spiritual standing with God. The principle of grace alone would be compromised. (188-189)

* Consider this paragraph from Erickson: Despite natural theology's long and hallowed history, its present effects do not seem overly impressive. If the arguments are valid and are adequately presented, any rational person should be convinced. Yet numerous philosophers have raised criticism against the proofs, and many theologians have joined them. This may seem strange to some Christians. Why should any Christian be opposed to an effort to convince non-Christians of the truth of Christianity, or at least of the existence of God? The answer is that use o these proofs may actually be a disadvantage if one's desire is to make the most effective possible presentation of the claims of Christ. If the proofs are inadequate, then in rejecting the proofs, the unbeliever may also reject the Christian message, assuming that they are the best grounds that can be offered for its acceptance. In rejecting one form of advocacy of the Christian message, a form that is not a matter of biblical revelation, the unbeliever may reject the message itself. (185)

For more on Erickson:
Blogizomai - Where to Begin?: Calvin on the Starting Point of Theology - The Knowledge of God & the Knowledge of Man
Blogizomai - Wherefore Art Thou Theological Giants?
Blogizomai - On Special Revelation: Dreams, Visions, Theophanies, and the Word of God

For more:
Blogizomai - Repost | "Life's Biggest Questions" by Erik Thoennes
Reviews - The Top 5 Essential Works of Theology of the Past 25 Years
Reviews - "Doctrine"
Reviews - "The Good News We Almost Forgot
Reviews - "Dug Down Deep" by Josh Harris
Reviews - "Heresy"
Reviews - "Christianity's Dangerous Idea" by Alister McGrath
Reviews - "The Theology of the Reformers"
Blogizomai - Repost | Schreiner on the Practice of Inaugurated Eschatology
logizomai - We Are All Theologians:  The Root of Everything We Are and Do
Blogizomai - Lewis on Practical Theology
Blogizomai - The Meaning & Implications of the Resurrection
Blogizomai - Lewis on Practical Theology
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