Rev. Kamps is pastor of the Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
It has always been the Reformed church’s confession that the Bible gives us information concerning who God is. If one consults the Creeds of the Reformed churches he will discover that the church declared “what kind of a God God is” and ‘Who he is.” Consider the first article of the Belgic Confession, where the church speaks of God’s Being: “there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God; and that he is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.” Notice also the Heidelberg Catechism’s instruction in regard to the truth that God is a Triune God: “Since there is but one only divine essence, why speakest thou of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? Because God hath so revealed himself in his Word, that these three distinct persons are the one only true and eternal God.” This is emphatic and exclusive language. Other conceptions of God’s Being and attributes are rejected as false and heretical.
The Reformed church was led to make this exclusive confession not only by the Reformers, but also by the ancient church of post-apostolic ‘times. The ancient church by its great ecumenical creeds had established as church dogma the doctrines concerning the Being of the Triune God.
It is striking to the careful observer of the church today, that the church is rather reluctant to make dogmatic assertions about Christ Jesus, about God, and about the nature of God’s work in history and time. The Christian church is timid and uncertain in its witness. Men within the same denomination, and therefore supposedly of one mind and confession, hold absolutely contradictory positions about God, His Christ, and the creative and redemptive work of God. Both positions are viewed as possibly correct, which is of course impossible. Error is not condemned. No one is declared heretical. All views may contain an element of truth. Believers are warned not to be “dogmatic” in their expressions of faith. Toleration is passionately encouraged, the result being that confusion and discouragement prevail in the “fellowship of the saints.” Worse, a whole new generation of children are given no definite direction, no authoritative instruction, in regard to “Who is God” and what He has done for His people in Christ Jesus. The church cannot long exist amidst such confusion. The church’s corporate worship is uncertain and half-hearted. The church’s great Creeds of the Reformation are viewed more and more as quaint reminders of that pre-critical age.
How has all this come about? Why is it that many Reformed believers do not speak with the same conviction and zeal as did their fathers? Why is the church so hesitant to do Christian discipline and so very willing to ignore all manner of departures from the historic Christian faith? These questions trouble believers. And they demand an answer.
I believe the answer is that we must view God’s revelation as “propositional revelation.” This expression may be new to the reader, but in fact has been used by conservative theologians for the past forty years and more. Besides, it should be pointed out that though the term is relatively new and unfamiliar, it expresses a “concept” as old as faith itself.
By propositional revelation is meant that the Bible gives us accurate information as to who God is in Himself. The Bible tells us who Christ Jesus is and who He is not. The Bible gives us Truth. Through the divinely and infallibly inspired Scriptures we are given a “true knowledge” of God, through the blessing of His Spirit. Through the Scriptures we know God and have fellowship with Him personally. The Bible declares who Christ is and what He has done and why He has done it. The Bible instructs us to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18). The apostle’s exhortation is worthy exactly because it is possible to grow in knowledge of “Who God is” through the prayerful study of God’s Word.
Ronald H. Nash, in an article in Christianity Today, October 7, 1977, wrote the following in an attempt to explain the meaning of the expression, “propositional revelation”:
We can clarify what evangelicals have meant by the doctrine of propositional revelation by referring to a central tenet in neo-orthodoxy, the view that no revelation can communicate information. Revelation, according to neo-orthordoxy, is always an event in which God reveals himself; it is never information about God or anything else. Concerning the question at issue here, then, the central claim of neo-orthodoxy was: No revelation expresses cognitive information.
The doctrine of propositional revelation is best understood as a denial of this thesis. The contradictory of the neo-orthodox thesis is: Some revelation expresses cognitive information. And this statement is the core of the doctrine of propositional revelation. Man can have cognitive information about God. Since a proposition is the minimal vehicle of truth, the information about God is contained in divinely revealed propositions.
The question whether God’s self-disclosure is through an event exclusively is very interesting. Certainly God has revealed Himself in the event of Creation, the worldwide flood, the fall of Jericho’s walls, and so on. Certainly too, revelation is given through the prophets as they interpreted and applied the revelation of God in the events of sacred history. But we would emphatically deny that revelation is an on-going reality simply because God continues to work in time and history. However, our point is simply to underscore what is meant by propositional revelation. Scripture gives us facts, information, the truth about God, Christ, and ourselves.
Many of the clergy and officebearers in the Reformed community of churches have lost their “confidence” in the Scriptures, because of the undermining influences of subjectivism and mysticism. Many theologians of great renown have sent forth into the Christian church community theories of revelation and Scripture which are totally foreign to and destructive of the Bible as God’s Word. One asserts that the Bible is not God’s revelation to us, but the church’s response to revelation. Another asserts that God is so great and majestic that mere human language can never serve to be the vehicle of “God’s Word” to man. High sounding and apparently pious is this appeal to God’s transcendence, but it is nonetheless pernicious because it is false. The revelation of God, men claim, is always and only an “encounter” between the sinner and God. It is something exclusively personal and inward. Each believer, therefore, may rightly form his own conception of who God is. This subjectivism is taken so far that we are told that even the pagans are really not pagans at all and are not to be viewed as objects of missionary labors and witness by the Christian church. Rather, every man is said to “encounter God” in whatever way God is pleased to make Himself known and by whatever means.
The Reformed believer will recognize immediately that if credence is given to these “theologians of subjectivism,” and consequently their writings are not rejected as destructive by way of being misleading and false, then the Reformed church will soon be a church of confusion, turmoil, weakness of faith, and lacking in conviction of the truth. Her preaching will be without power.
The Bible warns us about the presence of “false prophets” who bring into the church “damnable heresies” (II Pet. 2:1). The apostle Paul calls down the curse of God upon anyone, even if he be an angel out of heaven, who would bring another gospel than the apostle himself preached in God’s name. But if God’s revelation to us in the Scriptures does not give us Truth (facts concerning God, Jesus, and ourselves), on what basis would the church condemn as false the teaching of anyone? Then all we have is relativism. Yet Scripture presupposes that the truth has been made known and is known to the man of faith in Christ Jesus.
It is important in our day that the churchconsciously view God’s revelation in Christ Jesus as real Self-disclosure to the church of Jesus Christ. All questions about the authority of Scripture, its perspicuity, and its sufficiency, are absolutely meaningless for the believer, if God through the Scriptures did not in fact, and did not intend, or could not for whatever reason, give us the Word of Truth as His :Revelation in Christ Jesus. What difference does it make to confesssola scriptura, if the Bible does not give us facts that are the Truth concerning God, His Christ, and ourselves. If God’s revelation is not “propositional,” then for a church to write Creeds and to develop a Creedal consciousness is an exercise in utter foolishness and is presumptuous. For then we, cannot know God with any certainty. Worse, we cannot know Him at all. We are then left to “agnosticism” and “skepticism.”
The trust that the Bible is God’s Word is itself a gift of grace to the elect sinner. He who holds to the Scriptures as giving accurate information (that is, the Truth) to us as it is in God Himself, this man and this man only has “received…the spirit which is of God; that ye might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (I Cor. 2:12).
With this conviction and confidence in the Bible, we can and do “try the spirits” of our age. That which is contrary to Scripture is without hesitation rejected as unworthy of a place in God’s church and the church’s teaching. They that live out of faith in Christ Jesus, who is the revelation of His most glorious heavenly Father—according as He is revealed to us in the Scriptures—are to be received in thanksgiving unto Jehovah God.