.The GKN on the Nature and the Authority of Scripture (4)

Thus far we have seen, first, that the very method and approach of the Report/Decision of the GKN concerning the nature of the authority of Scripture is radically wrong. This method and approach are philosophical. The Report apparently assumes that as philosophy’s conception of “truth” changes, the church’s understanding of the inspiration and authority of Scripture also changes. At any rate, in the first section of the Report, after noting a shift in the conception of truth from the objective to the subjective to the so-called relational view, the Report proceeds to develop an alleged “relational” view of revelation and inspiration. However, this very philosophical approach is incorrect; the Report should have proceeded from Scripture and the Confessions. Secondly, however, the Report simply assumes that the “relational” conception of the truth is also correct, and that therefore one’s understanding of revelation and inspiration must also shift. This will have the result, of course, that one’s view of the authority of Scripture will also necessarily change. There seems to be implicit in this chapter of the Report, therefore, the twofold assumption: 1) That the so-called “relational” view of the truth is correct and must be chosen over either the objective or the subjective conception. 2) That as philosophy’s conception of the truth changes, there must also be a shift in the church’s conception of the truth, and thus in the church’s conception of various truths, and in particular the conception of the truth of revelation and inspiration. I suppose that if twenty-five years from now philosophy would decide upon a different conception of the truth—let us call it “non-relational”—then the church would have to adopt a different conception again of revelation and inspiration. Now this in itself would be sufficient, in my opinion, to condemn the Report/Decision out of hand and to be done with it. For it guarantees from the outset that the position taken by the Report will be wrong. 

Nevertheless, let us see where this wrong approach takes us with regard to the crucial truth concerning Holy Scripture; and let us see how the GKN have completely abandoned the historic Reformed position with respect to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. The first step in this abandonment takes place already in Chapter I when the “relational” conception is applied to the truths of revelation and inspiration. The Report approaches the subject of revelation as follows (translation mine):

The Christian confesses that the truth is from God. In Scripture he comes into contact with this truth. In Scripture he hears the speech of God; the Bible is inspired, that is: breathed through by the Spirit of God.

Right here we must stop already and call attention to a very serious error. At first glance, perhaps, the sentences just quoted may appear to be very innocent; possibly some might consider them soundly Reformed. But they are not. There is a reference here, of course, to the language of II Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The expression “given by inspiration of God” in our English version is literally “theopneust” or “God-breathed.” The meaning is that all Scripture is the product of the breath of God. God breathed, and Scripture came into being. The Report, however, speaks of Scripture being “breathed through by the Spirit of God.” The difference should be obvious: the Report does not say that Scripture is the product of the breath of God, but that the breath of the Spirit of God is in Scripture, as it were blows through Scripture. For those who understand the Dutch, the difference is between the verbs geademd and doorademd. The Report says: “…de bijbel is geinspireerd, dat is: doorademd door de Geest van God.” It should say: “…de bijbel is geinspireerd, dat is: geademd door God (theopneust).” 

This is a key error. If at this point the Report had taken the correct position, the entire relational position with regard to revelation and inspiration would have been impossible. The Report would have been shut up to the position that the Bible is objectively and in its entirety and without any admixture the Word of God-period. And this is without any question the testimony of Scripture itself, not only in an isolated passage such as II Timothy 3:16but also in many other passages. But the Report continues in the same paragraph:

Does this not concern an entirely objective revelation truth outside of man? Must not man be passive here, opening himself to receive the truth from without? No, not in the manner of a revelation-truth which slams into the world of men like a meteorite. Otherwise than with the Koran, Scripture is not directly dictated from heaven.

Notice how, after first eliminating the possibility of “an entirely objective revelation-truth,” as we have seen above, the Report now raises the possibility of such an objective view, only in order to reject it. Notice, too, how it is tacitly assumed in these lines that the only way in which Scripture can be an entirely objective Word of God is by being dictated from heaven, like the Koran. This is a favorite ploy of those who want to deny the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Dr. Kuitert used the same tactics, I recall, when he spoke in Grand Rapids during the 1960s. These men refuse to recognize the validity of the truth of organic inspiration. This Report also criticizes this truth in a later chapter, parting ways with both Kuyper and Bavinck on this score. But while we will deal with this subject later, I want to emphasize already here that it is not at all necessary to hold to mechanical inspiration or to a dictation-theory in order to maintain that the Bible is objectively and in its entirety the Word of God written. 

Now let us turn again to the Report:

Even old, classic Reformed theology spoke of an objective and subjective aspect together: the Holy Spirit works as well in the inspiration of Scripture as in the hearts of men, and the revelation of truth is not there if one of these aspects is lacking. The shift in the truth concept toward a more relational view (the objective is present in the subjective, and vice versa) can furnish a richer view of the truth of Scripture precisely here. The divine power, which is mentioned as Holy Spirit, is a happening, not a tangible matter; the Spirit is as the blowing of the wind. The Holy Spirit is the manifestation of a strange Superior Power, together with the recognition, the naming thereof by man. ‘Receiving the Holy Spirit’ is not a passive event (happening), but the active inclusion of men in the revelation-history of God. The attitude of humility, of receiving, of putting one’s hand on his mouth is in the deepest degree the active discovery of grace, the all moving confession that it is God who speaks. And such a confession takes place precisely by men. What we call ‘inspiration of Scripture’ is really an entire history of coming to revelation, to truth, of this ‘servant form.’ 

Distant events, words of patriarchs and prophets, tradition, manifold sources, recording, fixing of what does and what does not belong to the Canon, work of scribes, editors, church groups, all of that continuing and proceeding through the constantly renewed confessions and expositions (exegesis) of the Christian churches even until today. The working of the Holy Spirit is that happening in which human histories and words and inscripturation at the same time point above and beyond themselves. In the measure that men speak more, they must testify more powerfully: ‘this does not simply come from us.’ Precisely by attending to this ‘subjective’ history does the ‘objective’ come more convincingly to light. This truth of God does not exist without the devotion of men. This devotion of men is without meaning if it does not point above and beyond itself and recognize its own devotion, highest activity, as divine grace, deepest dependence. It is constantly: both together.

Now any Reformed man who reads the above should have no difficulty in recognizing the fact that there we have something far different from the Reformed doctrine of Holy Scripture. Even the very vagueness of this language testifies against it and should make us suspicious of its orthodoxy. Compare the language above with the clear language, for example, of Articles 3 and 5 of our Netherlands Confession of Faith or with Chapter I of the Westminster Confession of Faith. 

There is simply no comparison! In the second place, there is confusion in these lines. About what is the Report speaking here? Is it speaking about revelation and inspiration? Or is it speaking about how God’s people come to believe that the Bible is the Word of God? The reference to classic Reformed theology’s speaking of an objective and subjective aspect together would lead one to think that the latter is the meaning. Indeed, Reformed theology from Calvin forward has taught that Scripture is self-authenticating (objective aspect) and at the same time that faith that the Scriptures are the Word of God is produced by the testimony of the Spirit in our hearts (subjective aspect). But the Report is supposed to be speaking aboutrevelation and inspiration. One wonders whether this confusion is deliberate or whether the Report purposes to teach that revelation takes place only at the moment when anyone believes the Bible. Without going into detail on this point, let me suggest that there are strong overtones in this section of existentialist and Barthian views. 

In the third place, the language of the Report here creates grave doubts—to put it very mildly—as to the orthodoxy of the Report’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Do the authors of the Report believe the doctrine of the personality and the deity of the Holy Spirit? Or is the Holy Spirit some vague, impersonal power which is merely denominated the Holy Spirit by men? 

In the fourth place, it ought to be abundantly plain that as surely as the subjective element (human element) in the “both together” of this segment of the Report is indispensable, so that there is no revelation without it, so surely the Report’s view of revelation and inspiration is purely subjectivistic. The Report can call it “relational.” It can counter the charge of subjectivism with the claim that also the objective element is necessary and that it is a matter of “both together.” The fact remains that without this subjective element there is no Word of God, no truth. 

Impressions of Singapore (1)

With this article we resume our account of some of our experiences of last summer. And although there has been considerable—and most welcome—information coming to us from our missionary and others in Singapore, we will add a bit to this information, but from the viewpoint of an interested visitor. 

We had left Chinchilla, in midwest Queensland, by car early in the morning of July 21. At that time it was chilly, in fact, frosty. Departing Brisbane airport around 1:00 P.M. (Australian time), we had a rather long and boring trip via British Airways to Singapore, where we arrived around nine o’clock in the evening (Singapore time, which involves a 2 1/2 hour difference from Australia). That day’s trip also involved a considerable change in climate—from frost in the morning to a hot, muggy evening of around 80 degrees and rain showers. 

But the welcome was even warmer than the weather. In spite of the fact that the airline had confused things by giving the incorrect arrival time, there was a large contingent of GLTS members, led by Rev. den Hartog, to welcome us at the Singapore airport, where we paused not only for greetings but also for Scripture reading and prayer before the long ride from the airport to the city center. The thrill of being greeted by friendly faces and by brothers and sisters in the Lord at a far away airport is something that never grows old. I mentioned “friendly” faces, not familiar faces. For in the entire group who met us at the airport there were only three faces that we knew: Rev. den Hartog, Johnson See Choon Hock, whom we had met at home and with whom we had correspondence, and our dear friend Cecilia (now Mrs. Ong Keng Ho), whom we had met in New Zealand five years earlier. The others, though we had met some of them very briefly five years ago, were friendly but unfamiliar to us. It was not long, however, before we began to attach personalities and names (even though unfamiliar Chinese names) to the faces of these youthful brothers and sisters in Christ. And, by the way, the catholicity of the church is experienced in a very real way in a situation such as Singapore; very soon and quite spontaneously one begins to think of the saints in terms of spiritual unity rather than in terms of racial differences. 

Our eight-day stay at Singapore was in the nature of a working vacation. I had agreed before our departure to do a bit of preaching and speaking for Pastor den Hartog in return for a bit of hospitality. To our delight, we were invited to stay with the den Hartogs while in Singapore; and while we hesitated somewhat because we did not want to impose on their busy household and on Missionary den Hartog’s extremely busy life, we nevertheless accepted their invitation without too much urging on their part. It was a very good opportunity to become acquainted with the people and the labors in Singapore, because the Rev. den Hartog’s apartment is in a very real sense the nerve-center of our mission there. As things turned out, we did not spend as much time together as we would have liked. For one thing, the pastor’s work went on in spite of our presence. And if you have not already gained that impression from his reports, let me assure you that he is extremely busy—too busy; in my opinion. About this later. For another, several plans were made to see to it that my vacation there was indeed aworking vacation. Before our departure from Grand Rapids the GLTS had asked me to deliver a series of three evening lectures on the general subject, “The Reformation and the Five Points of Calvinism.” Then there was a Saturday afternoon Question Hour, which was closer to two hours; there was preaching on Sunday; there were several less formal meetings and countless personal conversations. Mingled in these activities were also various sight-seeing ventures in which we had several willing and helpful GLTS guides. Meanwhile, before the busyness of the day started and after it ended late at night we had ample opportunity for many conversations with the den Hartogs. 

All in all, we had a delightful stay and a most educational one, too. And while I would certainly not classify myself as an expert on the Singapore mission field, I gained some very definite impressions which I would like to share with you. These impressions, of course, will not be those of one deeply involved in the work; but they will be those of an “outsider” looking in. Perhaps there is an advantage in that kind of viewpoint, too.