Some of our young adults at college are being told that they need to follow the guidance of a source of divine revelation other than the Scriptures. The students are assigned to read books that seek to persuade the reader to believe that God’s will is not sufficiently made known in the Scriptures, and that therefore he must look elsewhere, if he is going to know more specifically what God’s will is.
We do, of course, hold to the Belgic Confession, which in the second article says that there are two means by which God makes Himself known to us:
1. The creation, preservation, and government of the universe
2. His Word
But does that mean that God’s will is only partially revealed in the Scriptures, and that we must look to the creation to fill up the gap?
Neo-Calvinism and Reformational Philosophy
To help in understanding this subject, I would like to begin by discussing very briefly a few terms.
Many of the colleges today that refer to themselves as Reformed are teaching a system of thought that is commonly known as Neo-Calvinism (Neo meaning new). Neo-Calvinistic instructors claim that what they are teaching is a new and improved version of Calvinism, updated to help Christians today address modern problems. In reality, what they are teaching is a deviation from the Reformed faith, designed to get Christians to devote themselves to the carnal and vain pursuit of Christianizing the culture of this world. Students who come under this instruction become familiar with phrases such as cultural mandate, sphere sovereignty, common grace, and redeeming creation. Calvin College, Dordt College, Redeemer College, and Trinity Christian College are all examples of institutions in which Neo-Calvinistic views are promoted.
There is a benefit in making use of the terms Neo-Calvinistic and Neo-Calvinism to refer to these institutions and their teachings. Instead of calling these colleges Reformed, we could more accurately refer to them as Neo-Calvinistic.1 This then would make it easier for us to contrast the teachings of Neo-Calvinistic colleges with those maintained by Reformed churches.
Another term that we should know is Reformational. Though the term sounds similar to the word Reformed, it is actually used to refer to a version of Neo-Calvinism that teaches people to look to the creation to discover the will of God. That God’s will is made known to us in Scripture, they would acknowledge. But far and away the majority of their time is spent stressing to students the importance of submitting to the will of God as it is supposedly made known to us by what they refer to as the creation order.
A denial of the sufficiency of Scripture
Reformational teachers are not genuinely Reformed teachers. The former are not satisfied with the revelation of God’s will that is recorded for us in the Scriptures. They insist that something else is needed.
Gordon Spykman, who was a professor of religion and theology at Calvin College, wrote rather late in his life a dogmatics in which he summarized what he had been teaching for many years. The title itself makes known that Spykman intended to lead theology in a new direction. The work is entitled, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics. Turning to the chapter in which he sets forth more specifically what is new about his way of thinking, we see that he intends to lead people to hearken to a divine revelation other than that which we have in the Scriptures:
Scripture does not close the doors to other forms of revelation.
Taking Scripture seriously as Word of God leads us to recognize that there is more to the Word of God than Scripture alone.2
Another reformational philosopher, and one whose book is commonly assigned to students at Dordt College, is Albert Wolters. A professor at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, Wolters has written a book entitled: Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. In this work, he argues that we often must turn to the creation, rather than the Scriptures, to discover the will of God.
He quotes Colossians 1:9, which is one of a number of passages that speak of our need to grow more to know what the will of God is: “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Then, referring to this passage, he makes the following comment:
There is a spiritual discernment necessary if we are to know God’s will. There are many things about which the Scriptures are silent, but about which we must nevertheless seek to know the Lord’s will. Above and beyond the explicit guidance of Scripture we need “spiritual wisdom and understanding.”3
But where are we to get this wisdom? How do we hear wisdom’s voice? According to Wolters, we hear the voice of wisdom crying out to us from the creation itself.
He makes a reference to Proverbs 1, which speaks of God’s wisdom calling out to people and making known words of instruction and direction:
Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you,
Prov. 1:20-23.Wolters says this call of wisdom comes to us from the creation:
This call going out to all people is the appeal of creational normativity, God’s knocking at the door of our hearts and minds, urging us to open and respond to the ways of his law. To those who give heed Wisdom promises the riches of her knowledge; those who ignore her are fools and scoffers.4
The Scriptures supposedly are insufficient to teach us all that we need to know concerning the will of God. In addition to what Scripture teaches, we and our children are being told to hear and follow what they call the “norms” made known to us in the creation.
The need for the Spirit, not another revelation
It is true that we need more than the Scriptures to understand the will of God. But that something more is not another revelation. There is nothing lacking in the Scriptures. The problem is that we of ourselves are unable to understand the Scriptures. What we need is the Spirit of Christ, who guides us to understand the words that He has inspired.
To understand the Bible, we need Christ to do for us what He did for His disciples shortly after His resurrection:
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,
Luke 24:44-45.By nature we are not able to discern what the Scriptures are saying. The Spirit of Christ has inspired the Scriptures, so that what we have in Scripture is rightly referred to as His words. But man by nature is unable to understand what the Spirit says: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).
Christ by His Spirit must work graciously in us, opening our understanding, so that we are able rightly to “hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev. 2:7).
We do need the Spirit’s guidance, but there is nothing lacking in the Scriptures themselves. Christ has fully revealed to us the will of His Father, and we have this revelation infallibly recorded and preserved for us in Holy Scripture.
The Scriptures fully revealing to us God’s will
What we have in Scripture is not a partial revelation of God’s will. Rather, it is the full revelation that teaches us all we need to know concerning the will of our Father in heaven.
Christ Himself assures us of this: “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15). All that the Father has said to the Son, He has then made known to us, His disciples, in the Scriptures.
This, in fact, is our official Reformed position. In the seventh article of the Belgic Confession, we make this statement about the sufficiency of the Scriptures:
We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein. For, since the whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures; nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul saith. For, since it is forbidden to add unto or take away anything from the Word of God, it doth thereby evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects.
We wholeheartedly confess that the Scriptures “fully contain the will of God.” We say that it is “perfect and complete in all respects,” and that it teaches us “the whole manner of worship which God requires of us.”
It is to the Scriptures, and the Scriptures alone, that we turn for instruction concerning the will of God. A deviation on this fundamental point is clearly a radical one.
Yet what about the second article of the Belgic Confession, which speaks of God making Himself known in the creation, preservation, and government of the universe? What exactly does that mean?
Clearly, more needs to be said on this subject, and we will continue, Lord willing, next time.
1 It is true that they would want to be referred to as both Reformed and Neo-Calvinistic. But the truth is that one cannot really be both.
2 Gordon J. Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 78.
3 Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 34.
4 Wolters, 30.