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Understanding Theology - Lesson 1

Introduction to Theology; Revelation and Scripture

This is the first of ten lectures on Systematic Theology, a survey of the whole corpus of theology, and each lecture will be one hour long and each covering a separate doctrine or series of doctrines together. In this lesson Dr. Ware introduces the what and why of theology and discusses the foundational doctrines of Revelation and Scripture.

Bruce Ware
Understanding Theology
Lesson 1
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Introduction to Theology; Revelation and Scripture

I. What is Evangelical Systematic Theology?

A. Definition

B. Elaboration on the Definition

1. The Subject Matter

2. The Sources

3. The Structure

4. The Setting

5. The Satisfaction

II. Why Study Evangelical Systematic Theology?

A. Comprehensive Scriptural Vantage Point

B. Interpretive Guide

C. Religious Pluralism

D. Head, Heart, Hands, Habitat

II. Revelation

A. The Concept of Revelation

1. Definition

2. Scriptural Examples

B. Forms of Revelation

1. General Revelation

a. Main avenues

1) Creation

2) Conscience

b. Efficacy?

2. Special Revelation

a. Main avenues

1) Personal encounter

2) Mighty act

3) Propositional revelation

4) Incarnation

b. Efficacy?

III. Inspiration of Scripture

A. Definition

1. General Meaning

2. Verbal, Plenary Inspiration

B. Key Passages and their Teachings

1. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

2. 2 Peter 1:20-21

3. 1 Corinthians 2:13

IV. Inerrancy of Scripture

A. The Debate of Recent Years: What is at Issue?

B. Defining Inerrancy

C. Authority and Inerrancy


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  • Studying systematic theology in this 10-hour course will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the doctrines of the Christian faith, from God and Christ to sin, salvation, the church, and the last things. By exploring these doctrines, you will strengthen your faith, gain hope and courage, and deepen your knowledge of God's character, work, and purposes. This course is liberating and will provide you with the truth that sets you free to live in the light of God's promises.
  • This is the first of ten lectures on Systematic Theology, a survey of the whole corpus of theology, and each lecture will be one hour long and each covering a separate doctrine or series of doctrines together. In this lesson Dr. Ware introduces the what and why of theology and discusses the foundational doctrines of Revelation and Scripture.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the Doctrine of God proper: why we need to know God, his incommunicable attributes, and those attributes that in some sense are communicable to humans.

  • Dr. Ware discusses the biblical basis for monotheism and trinitarianism. He also gives a brief overview of the history of the doctrine and the heresies that arose concerning the Trinity.

  • This lesson is an overview of the doctrines of humanity and sin, including a discussion of the origin of humanity, what it means to be created in the image of God, the nature and effects of sin, and original sin.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the doctrine of the Person of Christ, which includes his pre-incarnate existence, his incarnation, his deity and his humanity. He also discusses the important Christological passage of Philippians 2:6-8 and what does it mean that Christ “emptied” himself. Dr. Ware concludes this lesson with a discussion of the Council of Chalcedon.

  • Dr. Ware discusses the past (Atoning Savior), present (Mediator and Lord) and future (Coming Judge and Reigning King) work of Christ.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the person of the Holy Spirit, both his personhood and his deity. He also covers the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, in the life of Jesus, and in the church.

  • This lesson is an overview of the doctrine and process of salvation, beginning with election and then discussing calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and, finally, the glorification of the believer.

  • Dr. Ware talks about the church universal and the local church. He discusses the offices of the local church, including the roles of elders and deacons. Dr. Ware also looks at how the church can be organized and what ordinances should be celebrated by a local body of believers.

  • In this final lesson, Dr. Ware gives a rationale for studying eschatology or last things. He discusses what happens to people just after they die and before the return of Christ. He also gives an overview of the various beliefs about the timing and events of the last days. He completes the lesson with a discussion of final judgment, heaven, and hell.

We all have a theology, a set of beliefs, but many are not able to articulate it or really understand it. This class will walk you through a basic evangelical understanding of God and his Word.

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Understanding Theology - Student Guide

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

We all have a theology, a set of beliefs, but many are not able to articulate them or really understand them. This class will walk you through a basic evangelical...

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

Lesson 1

Understanding Theology 

Dr. Bruce Ware

It's a joy to be with you and to have this opportunity to record these lectures introducing you to systematic theology. We're going to be covering a lot of material and, of course, we're not going into the depth that we would in a normal full course, but hopefully enough to whet your appetite to want more and to see some of the glory and the beauty of the truths that we'll be looking at together. Welcome and may God be pleased to accomplish much good through this. 

We begin with the first lecture, Introduction to Theology: The Doctrines of Revelation and Scripture. I want to spend just a few minutes with you thinking about the nature of evangelical systematic theology. I've given you a definition on the outline that reads as follows. Evangelical systematic theology is the comprehensive study and coherent organization of what can be known primarily from Scripture, which is theology's only final and ultimately authoritative source, and secondarily from any and all other relevant sources about God and his relation to the created universe in a manner that is understandable and applicable to contemporary audiences to the end that God's people are strengthened and satisfied in Him to the praise and glory of His name.

Now, that's a handful, isn't it? Let me break it up for you, elaborating the definition in these five different categories that you'll see in the definition itself. First of all, the subject matter of evangelical systematic theology is stated when it says that it's the study of God. It's about God and His relation to the created universe. So really, you realize that every theology course that you take is called a theology course, theos, logos, the study of God. But it's God in His revelation to us in Christ or through the Spirit or in His works of salvation or in His work in the church or promised work that He will do in the end. So every aspect of theology, right from the Bible to eschatology, is some area of the study of God and His work in the world. So that's the subject matter of theology.

The sources of theology is found in the phrase that evangelical systematic theology comes primarily from Scripture and secondarily from all other relevant sources. Now, the reason I say primarily from Scripture is because it's not exclusively there. There are other sources that help us in constructing theology. You think of what is available to us in church history. Extremely valuable to look at what theologians of the church have said previously. Think about what we can learn about God from creation. That's another source that isn't Scripture per se, but indeed, God makes Himself known in the created order. But Scripture is the only final, the only ultimately authoritative source. So everything else yields to the Bible. 

The Bible trumps anything else that would be given in support of some doctrine. We go there in a final way. This is really what the reformers meant by sola scriptura. They didn't mean that the Bible is the only authority. Look at the writings of the reformers, Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and so on. They cited many things from past theology to things in creation and so on, but what they meant by sola scriptura is what I have here. It's the only final, the only ultimately authoritative source for us. 

Third is the structure of evangelical systematic theology. That structure is indicated in the phrase that theology is a comprehensive study and coherent organization of what can be known about God from Scripture. So it is a comprehensive study insofar as we try to take into account everything about the subject matter that we're looking at that we see in Scripture and from other sources as well in the endeavor to put together a doctrine of the Christian faith. 

So if you're dealing with the doctrine of the Trinity, you work hard at bringing together everything that the Bible teaches about that or the doctrine of salvation, justification, the doctrine of sin. Any doctrine that you think of, what you want to do is try to represent as comprehensively as possible everything that is in the Bible about that particular topic.

In fact, one of the deficiencies of certain theologies out there is their failure to do that. Sometimes you wonder if that's on purpose. People leave things out because it doesn't fit their system in the way they would like to. So really, if we're committed as evangelicals to the authority of the Bible, then we work hard at representing the Bible and try to do that as comprehensively as possible, but then also present it in a coherent way. 

So to give you an obvious example, we talk about the doctrine of sin before we talk about the doctrine of salvation. Doesn't that make sense? What's the point of being saved unless you're being saved from something? So there is an organization that is coherent, that makes sense, and even this outline itself is evidence of that endeavor to try to organize the material in a coherent way.

Then the setting of evangelical systematic theology is stated in the part of the definition that says it's done in a manner that is understandable and applicable to contemporary audiences. So that means the theology really needs to be addressed to every contemporary setting, audience. That's why theology needs to be redone generation by generation and place by place. As the gospel goes into the world and other cultures hear about Christ and so on, there's a need then for a fuller understanding of the Christian faith that needs to be developed within that culture in ways that is understandable to them, obviously the language that they speak, but more than that, using idioms, using analogies and illustrations and so on in dealing with issues that are present in that particular cultural setting. So theology is always in the process of renewing itself because of the changes that take place in culture and the need to restate that truth once for all given to the saints in a new setting. So the content of theology remains the same all the way through, but the way in which it's expressed has to be adapted then to different cultural settings.

Then finally, the satisfaction of systematic theology is at the very end of the definition to the end that God's people are strengthened and satisfied in Him to the praise and the glory of His name. So indeed, we find through these truths of the Christian faith reason for great hope and strength for fulfillment and satisfaction as we come to know better who God is, what His purposes are, what He has promised and how those promises can sustain us and give us strength day by day. So we are strengthened by the truths of the Christian faith, and by that, God is glorified as we see His work, His character, His purposes that are being fulfilled, and so to God belongs all the glory and the praise.

Now, why study evangelical systematic theology? Well, let me just mention four things briefly. One is that in systematic theology, we have the opportunity to get what you might think of as the comprehensive vantage point. Like when you're on a drive in a mountainous area and there's a sign posted that says, "Look out ahead," and so you pull over and you can see the beauty of what's below in the valley and across to the mountains in the distance. There's something about that view that gives you a sense of the wholeness, the fullness, the scope, the dimensions of grandeur that are there. That's really what theology enables you to see. 

You might think of the Bible exegete, the discipline that works at exegeting text by text by text as the guy who's down on the trail looking at tree by tree by tree and examining in detail what's there. That's a beautiful thing in itself. That's wonderful, but theology is able to take the results of that and take the broader look and see what is there to put together the big picture of who God is and His purposes and His work in the world. So this comprehensive scriptural vantage point is one of the great benefits of theology to see the beauty and the glory of the big picture as we see that expressed through Scripture.

Second is interpretive guide. Theology does provide for us the ability, as we interpret the Bible, to realize what's at stake in how we might interpret different passages. So we realize, "Boy, if we interpret this passage this way, it might contradict what we believe, that we've gained understanding from another place." Now, what that means is that we need to be careful, on the one hand, not to violate what the clear teaching of Scripture in other places, but on the other hand, we want to be faithful to what is stated here. So it provides then opportunities to make a decision in terms of what is the best understanding in difficult passages in light of some things that we see clearly elsewhere.

This interpretive guide reality should never be understood as theology providing for us a interpretive straitjacket or interpretive determiner because, ultimately, the Bible informs us of what we need to hold theologically, and that may mean that we need to make some adjustments in what we've thought before because this text so clearly says this. We interpret the Bible knowing what is at stake theologically, and yet our goal every time is to be faithful to every text that we interpret. 

Third, religious pluralism. We live in an age in which the pluralism that is part of our culture today really does differ from what was true through the many, many centuries and millennia of human history. There always have been different religions in the world. So there has been pluralism, pluralism of different religious views going all the way back to the earliest times. We see this in the Old Testament with the Canaanites and the Phoenicians and the Egyptians and so on, and we see this in the New Testament with the Greek gods and so on.

What's different about the pluralism of our day is that there is this idea that every religion needs to be understood as equally valid, equally legitimate. So the pressure is on Christian people to compromise our own Christian convictions, compromise the teaching of the Bible so that it becomes just one religious view along with others. Honestly, my friends, one of the most important reasons for knowing your theology well is to realize we cannot do that. We cannot find the lowest common denominator of the Christian faith and pretend that that is, indeed, the fullness of the Christian faith. We rather need to be those who understand the details and the substance and the richness of that Christian faith, which, in many cases, will show itself to be at odds with other views that are out ther. And yet we believe the Christian faith is the truth given to us from God and so we embrace it. 

For example, Jesus declared in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." So indeed, the Christian faith announces that Christ is the only way to be saved, not just one possible route to salvation among many others, but the only way to be saved. So as Christians, we need to know that. We need to know why that is the case so that we can stand against a cultural pressure that would want to make us say, "Yes, other ways of salvation are also possible as well besides through Christ." So indeed, the pressure of religious pluralism makes it so important that we know our faith well.

Then finally, head, heart, hands, habitat. There is this sense in which God intends the truth that He has given to us to travel, to travel first into our heads, from our heads to our hearts, from our hearts to our hands, and then from our hands to affect and influence the habitat around us. So indeed, first to our heads, so we understand these glorious truths of the Christian faith. We understand the beauty and the greatness of God, His kindness and mercy in salvation. So we see the truth for what it is, and really, the better we see it, the more fully we see it, the greater depth we understand it, then the greater potential there is for the next thing to happen, which is for that truth to settle deeply in our hearts, developing convictions, developing affections of love for that truth. So we not only know the truth is truth, we see the truth as beautiful, as glorious, as radiant, as majestic. 

When that happens, when the transfer from head to heart takes place, then our hands are affected. That is the way we live day by day. Probably most of us know this, that we don't necessarily live out what we know. Ask any addict if he knows better. Yeah, he does, but we do live out more naturally what we love. So our loves and our hates, what we cherish, what we despise become then those things which move us either to act or to refrain from things that we shouldn't do. So indeed, the theology traveling from head to heart then informs and empowers the hands for living out what we believe so deeply. 

Then the effect of that upon other people as they see the genuineness and the sincerity and the zeal with which we embrace these truths, they are affected by this. I think this has a particular application for families or parents can demonstrate the genuineness and the passion they have for the truths of the Christian faith and pass that on to their children as their children watch their parents and see their love for the Lord and their love for His word. 

So at least these four areas where theology certainly does show to be so important for us in the way we live our lives. Well, now, we'll move on to the Doctrine of Revelation and Scripture. Of course, as we think about this, we realize this is such an important area for the Christian faith because as our definition reminded us earlier, that it is from Scripture principally that we learn about God and we learn about His purposes and His promises and what is required of us as His people. So the scriptural revelation, self-revelation of God to us is absolutely fundamental to everything in the Christian faith. It informs us in ways we would never know apart from that self-revelation of God to us in His word. 

To see this, we need to back up and understand the doctrine of Revelation itself and the concept of Revelation. The term revelation, that the definition of it might be stated this way, that to reveal simply means to uncover or lay bare or disclose or make known, to uncover, lay bare, disclose, make known. The idea is that of unveiling something that is hidden so that it may be known for what it is. 

So for example, this is an example of revelation. Suppose you were at an auction, an art auction, and up in the front was a painting on an easel there and it was covered by a cloth. The auctioneer says, "I now present to you," and he announces this painting and then he pulls the cloth away so that you see the painting that is there. Well, that pulling the cloth away is the moment of revelation. It lays bare what you would not have known about were it not for the exposing of it. So indeed, that's revelation. God, of course, has existed eternally, but He makes Himself known. He lays bare who He is in the act of revelation, making Himself known to us. Otherwise, He would be hidden from our sight. 

Now, let's take a look at just a few scriptural examples of revelation. One of the most beautiful is Psalm 19, if you want to turn there for just a moment in your Bibles. Psalm 19 begins with these words, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech and night to night reveals knowledge." There's our word revelation right there. "There is no speech, nor are there words, their voice is not heard." 

Now, this is interesting because in verses one and two, he's stating that this revelation of God is being made known. The heavens are telling the glory of God. Their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. "Day to day pours forth speech, night to night reveals knowledge," but then verse three, "There is no speech, nor are there words. Their voice is not heard." Now, there is a way of interpreting this. I know that this is the New American Standard Translation, the ESV will translate verse three to say, "There is no speech, nor are there words, where their voice is not heard," and that removes what appears to be the discrepancy between verses one and verse three. 

I think the NASB gets it right because what the point of the author is in verse three is there is no literal speech. There are no literal words. Their voice is not literally heard, and yet the heavens scream the glory of God. You get the point. A picture is worth a thousand words. That's the idea, right? So even though there is no literal sound made, the heavens are proclaiming, declaring, announcing the greatness and the glory of who God is through revelation. He's making Himself known in the created order. 

Another beautiful example of this is in Romans 1, Romans 1, where Paul talks about the revelation of God in creation. Right after he has talked about the gospel that he will expand on in the book of Romans verses 16 and 17, "I'm not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith as it is written, but the righteous man shall live by faith."

So after he's announced that gospel that is revealed, that reveals the salvation that God is bringing to us, he wants to back up and say there's something else revealed right now, and that's the wrath of God. Verse 18, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." You might ask the question, "How do they suppress truth? What truth is this that they suppress?" Well, go on verse 19, "Because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them." 

Where did He make that evident? Verse 20, "For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen being understood through what has been made so they're without excuse." So Paul's point here is this, that the very creation of the world, God's attributes, His power, His wisdom, His knowledge are put on display in physical visible form in this world that God has made, such that they're held accountable because of that according to what Paul is saying here. So this revelation of God in creation is a beautiful expression of that revelation. 

Let me look at a couple other passages with you. One is Matthew 11, Matthew 11:25-27. This is right after Jesus has rebuked the Pharisees and others who have rejected His revelation. He has said to them, "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!" This is in verse 21. "If the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would've repented in dustcloth and ashes. Nevertheless, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you." So He's rebuking people who have rejected His revelation. Now He says in verse 25, "At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, but have revealed them to infants.'" There's our word, revelation. "'Yes, Father, for this was well pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.'" So twice we hear there about the revelation that comes from the Father and from the Son to those to whom He chooses to reveal them. 

So you realize that the ultimate reason for the rejection that took place in the previous verses is that God chose not to reveal to them what He could have. He's revealed it to babes, to infants, to those who are weak and frail, but to these so-called wise and mighty, He did not. He hid the things of God from them as He says in verse 25. In fact, He praises the Father for doing that, "I praise You, Father, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, but you've revealed them to infants." 

So one of the lessons that we learn in the Doctrine of Revelation right away is that revelation from God is completely in His control. He gives this revelation, discloses Himself to whom, when, how, and how much as He alone chooses. It's His own rights as God and His prerogative to do this as He knows is best. It's a humbling thing, isn't it? Because you realize if you have access to revelation, it's only because God has chosen to give that to you as we have. So indeed, what a gift this is from the hand of God. He doesn't do this with everyone. He does as He chooses in this.

Let's take a look at one other passage in Matthew since we're in this book. Matthew 16, if you'll turn over there, this famous account where Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do people think that the Son of man is?" In verse 14, Matthew 16:14, they say, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets," and He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" and Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 

Now, notice in Jesus' response in verse 17, Jesus does not say, "Peter, way to go. My, you are so smart. You figured that out." No. Listen to what Jesus says, verse 17. Jesus said to Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona." What does blessed mean that begins that? You've been granted something that is wonderful. You're blessed to have received something. That's the idea. "Blessed are you Simon Barjona because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you," there's our word, "but My Father who is in heaven. I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." So indeed, this revelation that came to Peter is a revelation that God chose Peter as the one who would be the recipient of this revelation and to God be the glory then. So Simon Peter is blessed to have been the one who received this revelation.

One more passage and I think we'll close down this section with that. 1 Corinthians 2, if you would turn there please, 1 Corinthians 2, where Paul talks about the revelation that has come to us in Christ and through the apostles in the early formation of the church. He says in verse six, 1 Corinthians 2:6, after talking about not using worldly wisdom, that really is the main point of the earlier verses in this chapter, he says, "Yet we do speak wisdom, not a worldly wisdom, but we do speak wisdom among those who are mature, a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor the rulers of this age who are passing away, but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery." 

Now, let me stop right there. Mystery for Paul always means the same thing. It means truth formerly concealed, now revealed, truth formerly hidden, now made known. So it's not mystery as we sometimes think of it in English today as something to figure out or a whodunit thing, a mystery novel, something like that. It's not that. It's rather truth that we didn't know before but is now made known. So going back to the text, he says, "We speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages, the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age had understood, for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. As it is written things, which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him." Verse 10, "for to us, God revealed them." Do you see it? 

So this revelation is truth that wasn't known before but only now has been made known. What a glorious thing that is, to realize we now have access to truth that people in the Old Testament didn't know. By the way, verse nine is often misunderstood to be saying this, "Things which eye has not seen, ear has not heard, that is things which my eye has not yet seen, which my ear has not yet heard that God has prepared for me or for us in the future." That's how this verse is often understood, but that's not what it's saying. It's saying people in the past, things which their eye had not seen, which their ear has not heard, which didn't enter the heart of man before, all that God prepared for those who love Him has now been revealed, for to us, God revealed them through the spirit. 

So indeed, there were many, many things in the Old Testament that people longed to know but didn't know because God hadn't revealed it yet. So indeed, He now has made those things known through Christ and through the apostles and the prophets who have brought to us this revelation. So revelation then is this act by which God discloses, lays bare, makes known truth about Himself, truth about His purposes and His promises and His work in the world and so on that we would not know had He not made that known to us. 

So let's move on. So the Doctrine of Revelation then is this beautiful doctrine that announces God has made known what we would never know apart from His choosing to disclose, to uncover, to lay bare these truths that we have come to see. Indeed, that revelation comes in two forms that we see in Scripture, general revelation and special revelation. So let me distinguish these for you first just in a simple way between general and special revelation.

General revelation is general in two ways, in substance and in scope. In substance, these are general truths about God, broad ideas about Him, His power, His wisdom, His divine nature. These things are not highly specific, but very broad ideas about God, so general in substance, but also general in scope insofar as everyone has access to general revelation. Everybod.y in the world has access to general revelation. Whereas special revelation is special or far more specific both in substance and in scope. So in substance, it has far more detail about who God is, not just attributes of His power and His wisdom, but the doctrine of the Trinity, the specific ways the Father, Son, and Spirit relate to each other, the ways in which God is working in this world, very specific revelation of God that we would never know from the created order.

It's also distinguished from general revelation in that it is more special or specific in scope. Only some have access to special revelation. That special revelation is only given as God reveals this to some at particular points in time as this revelation is given through the history of the Bible. For example, only Noah had some, only Abraham had some, only Moses and the Old Testament Jews had this, and God gives this special revelation to only some at particular times rather than it being available to all people. 

So let's look a little more specifically at both general and special revelation, these two forms of revelation. There are two avenues of general revelation, both the created order and conscience. So for the created order, we've already looked at Psalm 19 that indicates the heavens declare the glory of God, and in Romans 1 through the created order, His invisible attributes, His eternal power, divine nature have been clearly seen through what has been made. So indeed, the creation does display in physical visible form certain things about God, glorious things, which for a believer who knows a richer teaching of God from Scripture, to take a walk in the woods is an act of worship. 

I remember taking our kids to the zoo when they were young. Goodness, they were having fun just looking at all these funny things at the zoo, interesting creatures. I was worshiping. Just to see the handiwork of God and the variety of life that He has made and the color and the texture, just an amazing thing. So indeed, the created order is able for a believer to really help them understand in greater ways the magnitude of the beauty and the glory of God, and yet we still don't know from that many, many things that are known only by special revelation. 

So general revelation in creation helps us know certain things about God. Now, for an unbeliever, sadly, that general revelation can never be sufficient to bring them to faith in Christ. They need to know the gospel. They need to know of Christ who died and rose. That's not available through general revelation. That is special revelation. 

The other avenue of general revelation is conscience. In Romans 2, right after Paul talks about general revelation through creation in chapter one, he then moves on to general revelation through conscience in chapter two. In verse 14 he says, Romans 2:14, "When the Gentiles who do not have the law," this is the law of Moses, "they do instinctively the things of the law. These not having the law are a law to themselves in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, their thoughts alternately accusing when they violate the law or else defending them when they keep the law."

So indeed, it's an amazing statement, isn't it, that God has imprinted the law of Moses. I take it he has in mind there, Paul has in mind principally the 10 Commandments written on our hearts so that every person knows instinctively it's wrong to steal, it's wrong to murder, it's wrong to commit adultery, it's wrong to bear false witness. We know this. Every culture knows this. Through all of history we know this. It's one of the reasons you can read ancient texts like the Old Testament passages of Scripture and relate instantly to moral situations that are there. 

So Abraham lies about his wife, Sarah, and we all go, "Wow, that's crummy. That's a terrible thing to do." Why? Because we have a sense of moral right and wrong, just as Abraham had a sense of moral right and wrong because God implanted that in the human heart. We know these things to be the case. Now, don't confuse the fact that sometimes in different cultures what constitutes stealing, what constitutes murder can change culture by culture, but that there is something wrong in stealing, something wrong in murder is a constant through all cultures, through all times, and God implanted that on our hearts.

So then the efficacy of general revelation is that for a believer, it can be very instructive, both a conscience that isn't warped and marred and scarred, but is a conscience that is helping them understand right and wrong is a helpful thing for a unbeliever. Oftentimes, that conscience does get marred, and so it doesn't work effectively because of sin in the person's life. In terms of the effect of general revelation on them in their relationship with God, a believer can be assisted greatly through that general revelation, but an unbeliever will never know God apart from the special revelation of Christ, which brings us then to number two special revelation.

Here, there are four avenues of special revelation, this revelation that is far more specific about God and His purposes, His character, His work, and so on. The first one is personal encounter, that is God actually personally encountering someone like He did with Adam in the garden, like He did with Noah when He instructed him to build the ark, He did with Abraham telling him to move from Ur of the Chaldees, and He did with Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3. We find through the Bible, many, many examples of personal encounter that God has had with people as He so chose at particular times. 

The second one is mighty act, where God makes Himself known in the ways in which He works in the world in remarkable fashion. So when He parts the Red Sea, this is a mighty act of God where He causes the waters to be separated and the people of Israel, a million plus of them walking across on dry ground with walls of water on their left and their right. What an amazing thing to imagine. When God is able to save the people of Israel in the Book of Judges by causing confusion among the enemies of Israel, this is a mighty act of God. When God saves the people of Israel in Jerusalem under Hezekiah by sending an angel to destroy 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night, one angel, that's all it took and they're killed. Well, this is a mighty act of God demonstrating His power and His might. Obviously, creation is a mighty act of God. Redemption, a mighty act of God. So the mighty acts of God are ways in which God demonstrates who He is, His character, His purposes, His work in what He does.

Third is propositional revelation. This is revelation of God in human language. Don't get hung up with the word proposition. This is the way it's commonly referred to. It doesn't mean propositions as opposed to poetry or something like that. It means the revelation of God in human language, whether that's prose, whether it's poetry, whether it's using illustrations, analogies, whether it's straightforward, factual statements. It's the revelation of God in human language. Of course, we have that principally today in the Bible, the revelation of God in human language right here, right now in the pages of Scripture as we'll talk about more in just a moment. 

Actually, the category of propositional revelation is bigger than the Bible. Think for example of Jesus' own life and ministry. We have the red letters of the gospels where we have Jesus' words, but didn't Jesus say more than that? Well, surely He did, much more than we have recorded. All of what Jesus said is propositional revelation, even though we have just some of that recorded for us in the Bible. So propositional revelation includes all that God spoke through prophets and apostles through all of history and did so in a way that revealed Himself and His purposes. 

Then finally, the incarnation really deserves a special place in our discussion because it is the first three categories together in one person in the greatest way imaginable. So indeed, the greatest personal encounter of God is through Christ. When we read in John 1:14, "The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth." So indeed, Jesus manifesting who God is or Hebrews 1:2, He is the radiance of His glory, the exact representation of His nature. The revelation of God in Christ in personal encounter is the greatest revelation there is of God.

Mighty act. There is no greater mighty act than the incarnation of Christ, where the eternal second person of the Trinity takes on human nature and comes and dwells among us as the God man. This is the grand miracle as C. S. Lewis would call it, the greatest mighty act of God there is, followed by the crucifixion and resurrection, the death of Christ to pay the penalty for our sin and the resurrection vindicating that, indeed, is the greatest mighty act of God done. 

Then propositional revelation, yes, the greatest revelation in human language has come to us also in Christ. Remember Hebrews 1 again, God spoke through the prophets in many portions, in many ways, but in these last days, He has spoken to us in His Son. So indeed, this glorious revelation that surpasses all previous revelations is seen in Christ. So indeed, all three of those categories are manifest in Christ, and yet it deserves a special category because this is the greatest. Of all three of those, the greatest personal encounter, the greatest mighty acts, the greatest propositional revelation has come to us in Christ. 

What is the efficacy of this? Well, goodness, the efficacy for an unbeliever, this is a very sobering truth, only means that they are held increasingly accountable for their rejection of truth. With more truth that is given to them through special revelation, there's more accountability. Paul talks in Romans 2 about those who reject the truth. They're storing up wrath for themselves in the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. So there is a wrath savings account, if you want to think of it that way, that is taking place with unbelievers who hear and reject, hear and reject, hear and reject the truth. They are accountable for that rejection through the whole of their lives and will one day face God in the day of judgment for that. 

For a believer, the efficacy of special revelation, oh, my goodness, it's to know the gospel. It's to know the truth of God in fuller, richer ways. It's to enter into the glory of truths that He has given that help us understand how life is to be lived, how we live in a way that brings us deepest satisfaction and brings God great glory. So indeed, what a wonderful thing it is that God has given us this revelation, which brings us then to Roman numeral two, Inspiration of Scripture. 

Here, let me give you just a definition, first of all, of inspiration. The general meaning of inspiration is that Scripture is the truth that God has breathed out to us, breathed out. The term inspiration comes from the Greek word theopneustos. If you take that word apart, theos, God, pneustos, pneuma, breath, God breathed. So Scripture is the breath of God, the out-breathing of God by which we then know what God wants us to know through His word.

Scripture then is the product of God's out-breathing. The term inspire is a little bit tricky because we use that word sometimes to refer to Handel being inspired when he wrote the Messiah or Shakespeare inspired in his plays and sonnets and so on. But really, this term inspiration refers to the singular action of God through human agents by which what they say is the word of God. Hence, this refers then to verbal plenary inspiration, that is the very words spoken through those human writers as God moved them to write it. The very words they spoke were the words God wanted spoken and everything that He wanted done. So plenary referring to all of it, not just parts of it, but all of it is the out-breathing of God.

Inspiration refers then to the work of God through human authors, writers to produce the very words of God in what they write as they are also their own words. They are speaking what they feel, what they want, what they believe, and yet through that, God works to bring about His own word to us. So we can hold up our Bibles and say, "This is the word of God." Now, it is also the word of men. There's lots of authors that contribute to this book, but through all of them, it is the word of God.

Let's look at these three key passages real briefly. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is clearly the classic passage that refers to inspiration. Here, Paul says, verse 16 and 17, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." Notice, first of all, that he says, "All Scripture is inspired by God." So not some of it, not parts of it, but all of it. Of course, he would've had in mind here principally the revelation of God in the Old Testament. Paul would've had that in mind. You can see that from the previous verses, verse 15, "From childhood, you have known the sacred writings." Here, he's referring to the Old Testament, but I'm confident Paul had in mind also the writings that were becoming the New Testament as he wrote this himself because Jesus Himself said in John 16, He said to His disciples, "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when the spirit comes, He will take of mine and disclose it to you." 

So indeed, the apostles, the disciples who became apostles understood there would've come a time when the Spirit would come upon them and Jesus through the Spirit would bring this greater revelation to them. Do you remember the word mystery we looked at earlier? So indeed, that truth formerly hidden, now revealed is truth that Jesus through the Spirit brought to His holy apostles and prophets, and that became then the writings of the New Testament. So I'm confident Paul had that in mind as well, that is not only the Old Testament, but the New Testament that was being written by him and others at the very time that he said this.

So all Scripture, all of it, not part of it, all of it, that would include the books of the New Testament are inspired by God. Notice, the inspiration provides the basis then for the next statement and profitable. So what the Bible is provides the basis for what it can do. So if the Bible is not fully inspired, then guess what? It won't be profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness because it will be errant. It'll be mistaken. We won't be able to trust it necessarily. It's only because the Bible in its fullness inspired by God that it can have this outworking in our lives and the profitable things that happen through it to teach us, to reprove us, to correct, to train in righteousness so that men and women of God are adequate and equipped for every good work. 

So indeed, Scripture then is so very, very important in providing for us the truth of God that comes to us that is absolute unquestionable and provides for us strength for our growth and ministries in our own lives. 

Second passage is 2 Peter 1:20-21, 2 Peter 1:20-21, where Peter makes clear here that the Scriptures come through the working of the Spirit of God through the lives of people. So he says at the end of this chapter, notice, first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by the act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. So notice, he's very clear that Scripture comes from God. Verse 21, "No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." So it is from Him. It is not ultimately from human beings, and yet it comes to all of us through the instrumentality of human beings. So it's men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke. Subject and verb in that clause is men spoke. So indeed, it comes through human beings, but it's men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. So Peter makes very clear that, indeed, the Spirit is able to move in the hearts of those people who are writing Scripture so that what they write is exactly what God wants written, what God directs them to write.

This really is an example of what we'll talk about later in the course of compatibilism, the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human responsibility as God works in their hearts sovereignly to bring about His word, but how does He do it? Through divine dictation? No. He doesn't tell them, "Write this for Me." There are a few places in the Bible where that is the case, but that's not by any stretch the norm. 99% of the Bible is not that. 99% is people write what they want to write, but why do they want to write that? Because God worked in their hearts to lead them to want to write the very things that they wrote, to say the very things they said, to use the words that God directed. 

So in the verbal inspiration, the very grammar, the syntax, the language of the Bible, the words selected are words, grammar, syntax that is directed by the spirit of God leading those human authors to write what they want to write, but only because God moves them to want to write what they do.

Then finally, 1 Corinthians 2:13, you remember we were in 1 Corinthians 2 earlier talking about revelation, and Paul finishes that discussion of revelation at verse 12, 1 Corinthians 2:12. He says, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God that we might know the things freely given to us by God." So revelation that came to him by the Spirit, he knows those things through the revelation brought by the Spirit, but then verse 13, "Which things we also speak not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual with spiritual." That's what it is literally in Greek. I think the NASB is pretty close when it says, "Combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words." 

This really is what Paul is getting at is that it's not the case that the Holy Spirit brings the revelation and then says to Paul, "You figure out how to communicate this. Now I'm leaving it to you," but rather, the Spirit who gave that revelation now instructs Paul in what words to use to convey that as he then speaks it forth, so in words taught by the spirit. Combining spiritual revealed truth with spirit given words to communicate it is what is being stated there in verse 13. 

Well, finally, let's move to the Doctrine of Inerrancy to round this out. Inerrancy, really, is a logical extension of the Doctrine of Inspiration. If God breathed forth all of the Bible, all Scripture is inspired by God, and God does not lie, He always speaks the truth, then obviously, all of the Bible is truth because God is truth. Now, this was debated in recent years within evangelicalism. I was a student at Fuller Seminary back in the days. Shortly after they had rejected inerrancy, they wanted to become an institution more acceptable to mainline denominations, the PCUSA and others, and so they rejected inerrancy. Really, they did so primarily because they thought that because the Bible is a human document, it can't be human and be inerrant.

Here's the problem with that argument. I heard it many, many times from Fuller professors when I was there. That's just a short statement of the argument, but that's essentially what they would say. The problem with that is that it's not necessary that humans err. It's possible that we err, but not necessary. We can add two and two and get four. That's not a mistake. So if you have God at work in that human as he's writing Scripture, isn't it reasonable to conclude that God is able to keep them from error in the time period in which they are writing what God wants written? So indeed, because the Bible is ultimately the word of God and only secondarily the word of men, that argument fails. 

So indeed, that debate over inerrancy resulted though in an endeavor to think hard about what inerrancy really is. So it has been defined by inerrantists after this debate that took place in this way, that the Bible is true in all that it professes to be true or all that it teaches as true, the Bible is truthful in that. So in other words, we have to work hard at interpreting the Bible then accurately in order to understand what it is saying, and once we know that, we vow to it. Think of the difference between the person who holds to inerrancy and the person who doesn't. This moves on to number three, authority and inerrancy. 

The person who does hold to inerrancy basically has two questions to ask as they read the Bible. First question is, what does the Bible mean by what it says? The second question is, how do I apply it to my life? So the question of meaning and the question of application, but an errantist, someone who denies inerrancy, then really has three questions to ask. First question is, what does the Bible mean by what it says? Second question, is that true? Third question, if true, how does it apply to my life? Well, who becomes the authority at that point? It's the human interpreter who is the one who has authority over the text to decide whether that's acceptable or not.

So really, the authority of the Bible is at stake in the Doctrine of Inerrancy. We only stand under the full authority of the Bible when we accept it as from God and therefore truthful to guide us in all the ways in which we are called to live as Christian people.

So a couple of questions. First of all, are there evangelicals who believe that general revelation can be sufficient for salvation? For instance, they may still say this is only possible because of the work of Christ, but could it be possible that there are people who are saved that haven't specifically heard of Christ?

Yes, there are evangelicals who will hold that view. They're called inclusivists. Really, the first person who began this way of thinking was John Wesley because Wesley was an Arminian, trained in the Arminian tradition, and Arminius held the view that people can only believe in Christ upon hearing the gospel. So they have to hear the gospel, prevenient grace is given, so that it overcomes the effects of total depravity, making it possible for them to believe in Christ and be saved, but he died in 1609. Wesley was born in 1703. In that 100 years between the two of them, a lot of travel was taking place, explorers becoming much more aware of people around the world who would never hear of Christ, the heathen as they were oftentimes referred to in Africa and Asia. "No way," Wesley realized, "Are we ever going to get to those people? Are they without hope?" 

So Wesley came to the conclusion that God in His mercy would give prevenient grace to everybody not upon hearing the gospel, that's Arminians' view, but at birth, making it possible for people to believe in God and through general revelation, they could believe in the revelation of God given in creation and be saved though they never heard of Christ. So they're saved by the work of Christ, but Christ of whom they knew nothing. So that view has been taken up by a number of people in our day. Clark Pinnock, who's now passed away, John Sanders, Terry Thiessen, Amos Young have argued the view that people can be saved apart from knowledge of Christ through the revelation of God in creation, for some of them also, the revelation of God that is available in other religions of the world. 

Another very disappointing advocate of this view was C. S. Lewis. You might remember in The Last Battle, the Calormene slave is there in the land beyond heaven, and he approaches Aslan. I'm paraphrasing, but, "I'm not sure why I'm here. I did not believe in you during my life. I did not worship you." Aslan responds, "To the extent you worshiped Tash," like the Baal, "To the extent you worshiped Tash with a sincere heart, you worshiped me." Those are just horrific words, but yes, he held that. 

At the first part of the lecture, you said that systematic theology develops through time, cultures, different things like that. So how do you determine what systematic ideas are cultural and what are transcultural or span cultural ideas?

Good question. So in terms of a simple way of thinking of this, the content of the Christian faith stays the same. I hope we believe what Paul believed, what Jesus believed, what Peter believed. So the faith once for all given to saints, that beautiful statement in Jude is really what we want to continue to affirm generation by generation, culture by culture, but the way it's packaged, communicated, the illustrations that are used, ways in which it's expressed, sometimes issues it deals with. Goodness, we haven't dealt in this culture with polygamy in the way the Christian faith going to some African cultures have had to deal with.

So sometimes there are issues that the culture presents the Christian faith with that provides them the responsibility to deal with that in a distinctive way in that culture. We're seeing something like that happening right now with race, questions of race. So how do we deal with that as Christian people? A lot of work is being done along those lines. So the culture can provide issues and topics that we might not have thought of, but what they don't do is provide the substance of what we are to believe in relation to those things that comes out of the Scriptures teaching. 

You talked about the conscience and you differentiated between the unbelievers' conscience and the believers in a way that made it sound like the believer's conscience is not marred at all or warped at all.

So I didn't mean in an absolute way it's not, but there is the work of the spirit in the believer's heart to quicken our conscience and keep it from becoming totally marred in ways that can happen with an unbeliever. So there is a difference, but it's not like no other part of our lives is the work of the spirit in our hearts, in this life perfect. So we're always in process, but that includes the conscience, a growing revitalizing of our conscience over time as Christian people. 

 

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