“Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.“ — I John 5:10-11.
“Faith will stagger if the authority of the Sacred Scriptures wavers.”—Augustine* De doctr. Christ, bk. 1, c. 37, quoted in Gerhard, On Holy Scripture, 2009, 58
“He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures…” – Nicene Creed
“…we are to render ourselves and our message historically vulnerable as did our Lord Himself when He deigned to enter fully and unreservedly into the maelstrom of human history. If we so present Him, His historical claims will assuredly prevail, for, as those who had eyewitness contact with Him declared, His manifestation in history was accompanied by many infallible proofs.’” – John Warwick Montgomery, Preface, Where is History Going?, 1969)
“And as the ancient church at the time of Moses, Joshua, and the prophets, so also the primitive church at the time of the apostles was able to testify with certainty which writings were divinely inspired. For she knows the authors whom God had commended to the church by special testimonies; she knew also which were the writings which had been composed by them; and from the things which she had received by oral tradition from the apostles she could judge that the things which had been written were the same teaching which the apostles had delivered with the living voice.” — Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis, Concordia, 1971), 176.
In a previous post called “History and the Foundation of Christian doctrine” I looked at a piece the Lutheran theologian David Scaer wrote, where he talked about the different approaches he and the late Robert Preus, another Lutheran theologian, had regarding matters of Christology. Scaer discussed some of the differences he saw coming out of this, particularly how the matters of history and divine inspiration were treated.
As was implicitly noted in that post, it seems that Scaer locates the Scriptures within history – emphasizing their human aspect – and that Preus locates history within the Scriptures, emphasizing their divine aspect. Surely this is an oversimplification, and I invite those who can speak more fulsomely and intelligently here to weigh in. Both of these men, or course, would see the Holy Spirit at work in the process of giving the church the inspired Scriptures in time, guiding men into all truth.
In response to Scaer’s article, I asked: “How might [Robert] Preus’ “from above” way of doing theology and [David] Scaer’s “from below” way of doing theology be synthesized in some way – such that a stronger overall theological approach is the result?”**
Going along with this, I note that in Jesus Christ and the Scriptures that reveal Him there are a couple things that are held in some kind of tension: the notion of mystery (“who can know the mind of God?”) and certainty (“you will know”) as well as the discontinuity and continuity of the Old and New Testaments (Augustine: “new in the old concealed, old in the new revealed”). In this series, I am going to explore more the certainty of faith (both the faith and personal faith) and the continuity of the Testaments. This is not to deny the other two factors – mystery and discontinuity – but is, admittedly, to find both of these firmly embedded within the former. My hope is that this preliminary series can be a bit of a spark in the promoting thoughtful dialogue among Christians, particularly to those holding to the distinctives of the Reformation.
The highly respected evangelical Christian apologist Gary Habermas has said:
“Over and over again, with the help of several checks and balances, we are told to test God’s revelation to us. To be reminded of just a few of these, potential prophets are to be tested according to their own predictions (Deut. 18:21-22)….. God could have simply sent his listeners his Word, but he apparently did not think that these challenges to look at history were improper references to an authority above his written revelation.
Miracles also served such a test. While seeking an incredible heavenly sign, Elijah announced, ‘The god who answers by fire – he is God.’ The people were challenged to view an awesome miracle as God’s vindication of his prophet and message (I Kings 18:20-45). Centuries later, Jesus performed miracles on the spot to show John the Baptist that he was the Messiah (Luke 7:18-23). Both Peter (Acts 2:22-24) and Paul (Acts 17:30-31) proclaimed that Jesus’ resurrection was the validation of Jesus’ teachings.”
I have quoted this statement from Habermas positively in the past. As I did so, I must admit that I sometimes wondered if Lutherans could find room in their theology for such a statement – even if it was not, strictly speaking, against Lutheran theology! Well, I now think that there are there is something wrong with this statement for theological reasons. Let me explain – but in order to do so I cannot start with predictive prophecy or the resurrection…
I must start with authority – Authority. If a person believes that they should give serious attention to religious and spiritual things – perhaps asking questions like “has God spoken?” – they will, sooner or later, realize something…. Yes, Jesus spoke with real authority. And yet, so, evidently, did Confucius. And the Buddha. And Mohammad. And even Joseph Smith.
And while there might be some overlap here and there, the teachings of these men also contradict one another wildly at important points. If and when we become aware of this – particularly in this pluralistic day and age – many of us might find ourselves asking: which of them speaks the truth – or at the very least, gets closest to the truth? How to really know?
Things become more complicated when we come to understand that many of these teachers often talked about how people could know that what they said was true by an internal self-attestation of sorts. In other words, when listening to their authoritative-sounding words – words often later put down in authoritative writings – one will feel it in one’s heart. That is how the truth will be known. Some of these teachers – even Jesus Himself – add that one can know whether the teaching is from God when one puts it into practice (see John 7:17).
Regarding the self-attestation of the truth, Christians talk about something like this as well – with a basis for such thought being found in the Scriptures. “Taste and see tha the Lord is good!” “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free!” And, perhaps most importantly, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (II Tim. 1:12). They talk about the “self-authenticating” nature of the Christian message in general, and the Christian Scriptures in particular. More specifically, this is seen to be a work of the Holy Spirit, and it is called the “testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum” or internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. We can call that TSSI for short.***
We will look at that in the next post, but permit one more brief note at this point: even many Christians here might ask “but what about our own capacity to verify what authorities might be telling the truth”? This is a good question, and we can briefly address it at this point. First, it is helpful to look at an interesting illustration demonstrating the stakes of what is involved.
“Suppose someone is running from an island volcano to a harbor, and sees a large fleet of boats. He has been warned before that many of the boats have terrible holes and cannot be trusted on the open sea. If this person hopes to escape the coming wrath, he will surely be concerned with which of the crafts is seaworthy.” (Angus Menuge, p. 252, Reformation and the Rationality of Science, Theologia et Apologia)
Going along with this, another good question is “which boats should I look at first”? Here, one notes that of all the religious leaders in the world’s history, there is only One who is claimed to still live – not only spiritually, but physically. Might this not be highly significant, given that one of the most significant man’s great questions is “Why do we die and what follows death?”**** Of course the Christian faith is unique in this claim of its founder’s overcoming of death – and His claims to have its final answer – and also opens the way for historical investigation into the matter (see Acts 2, 17 and 26 regarding this matter). As Jesus’ disciples said concerning him: “Come and see”. While the Scriptures would assert that you are not able to give yourself true spiritual life, you certainly can decide to put yourself in the path of the One who can.
Part II in a couple days (here now)
* De doctr. Christ, bk. 1, c. 37, quoted in Gerhard, On Holy Scripture, 2009, 58. Note the following from the Enchiridion of Erasmus, Luther’s “skeptical” opponent: “All Holy Scripture was divinely inspired and perfected by God, its author…divine Scripture…contains nothing idle…Believe none of those things which you see with your own eyes and handle with your own hands to be as true as what you read there. It is certain from the divine words that heaven and earth will pass away…Although men lie and err, the truth of God neither deceives nor is deceived.” (Spinka, Advocates of Reform, Library of Christian Classics, Philadelphia, Library of Christian Classics, 1953, XIV, 303-305) Luther: “The Holy Scripture did not grow on earth”. In other words, this message the Spirit brings and works through is in, but not of, the world. It is, in a very real sense, always the word of God before it is the word of any man.
** I believe that the approach that I am putting forth here also enables one to go beyond the stark contrast recently presented on the Reformation 500 blog (to which I also contribute):
“Roman Catholic apologists want to have it both ways. They will present evidence that they find sufficient to lead one to convert, yet when Protestants, using the same method, present evidence that they consider sufficient to lead one to convert it is rejected without consideration to its content but only for it methodological foundation. Again, Roman Catholics cannot have it both ways… Either you can present sufficient reasons for one to convert to Roman Catholicism apart from church authority and accept the legitimacy of the methodological basis of Protestant conclusions (meaning you cannot reject them prima facie for their failure to provide certainty) or you admit that you cannot provide sufficient evidence apart from church authority for one to convert to Roman Catholicism (an admission that you cannot legitimately enter public debate) and you continue to presuppose the requirement of Roman Catholic certainty when evaluating Protestant conclusions and thereby reject them prima facie. Take your pick.”
(For those who are interested, here are some more specifics to the argument from another post prior to the conclusion quoted above:
“In order to avoid circular reasoning, a Roman Catholic must provide good reasons for another to become Roman Catholic apart from reasons that assume Roman Catholicism. This is basic argumentation: one cannot present evidence that points to a conclusion assumed by the evidence. This means that a Roman Catholic must assume a theoretical position of neutrality when presenting evidence. Or, to put it differently, he must theoretically suspend his belief in Roman Catholicism to put it on public trial. Evidence must be “public evidence”: it must be offered as evidence from a standpoint of neutrality toward that which it aims to support. Stated differently, public evidence or a public reason to believe is something that does not simply provide the presenter internal consistency, but provides the person to whom it is being presented evidence that does not demand one presuppose the question at hand. In other words, it demands a theoretical neutral position. This might be startling to people of faith, but that is how argumentation works.
…. The issue though is whether a Roman Catholic, given the Church’s position on its own authority, can consent to the terms of a legitimate public trial. I submit that they cannot. When a Roman Catholic presents public reasons to believe Roman Catholicism, they must consent, by the rules of argumentation, that they can provide sufficient reasons to believe apart from church authority. They are in effect saying that there are sufficient reasons to believe Roman Catholicism apart from the church’s authority to establish the reasons to believe, what constitutes sufficient reasons to believe, and, more importantly, the Church’s authority itself. This is pretty basic: if the question of the church and its authority is the issue at hand, then one’s evidence, to be legitimate public evidence, must not rely for its value as evidence on the question at hand. Moreover, the intent of the presentation of evidence must be to prove its object. When presenting evidence without intent to prove the evidence’s object, one violates the terms of a public trial. But a Roman Catholic qua Roman Catholic cannot consent to these terms: fundamental to their theological system is the notion that the Church is the arbiter of divine truth on earth, meaning that evidence itself cannot be sufficient to provide reasons to believe. In other words, no Roman Catholic can honestly enter public debate. By the very act of presenting evidence as public evidence they undermine the notion that the Church is the only sufficient mechanism of establishing the truth of a theological position. They cannot present public evidence without contradicting their overall system.”)
Again, I note that whether it has to do with Scripture and tradition, free will and predestination, clergy and laity, trust and unconditional obedience, preaching and the sacraments, and high worship (Eastern Orthodoxy) and low worship (Pentecostalism), ceremony and “real life”, presuppositional and evidential apologetics, Lutherans almost always seem to be right in the middle, both/and-ing it all (more on this at my post commenting on a Jonathan Fisk talk: “I’m a Lifelong Lutheran But…”) – with persons always struggling to stay in the saddle. There never will be a “perfect church”, but perhaps all this should give us pause? What is it really that everyone is looking for but not finding?
*** It is not so much that TSSI actually provides knowledge or content, but rather that it adds certainty of credibility to knowledge, doctrine, simple statements of truth, Scripture, etc. In some ways, it is kind of like the certification that Microsoft developed. Here is an explanation of that from Internet Explorer: “A public key certificate, usually just called a certificate, is a digitally-signed statement that binds the value of a public key to the identity of the person, device, or service that holds the corresponding private key. One of the main benefits of certificates is that hosts no longer have to maintain a set of passwords for individual subjects who need to be authenticated as a prerequisite to access. Instead, the host merely establishes trust in a certificate issuer.” (credit to Martin Noland for this illustration).
Basically, we can say that the TSSI is a “certificate of authenticity” that: 1) the believer is a child of God; 2) Scriptures contain God’s voice (i.e., are inspired); and that 3) God alone is the most proper witness as to what is his teaching (i.e., that God witnessed to his approval of prophets, apostles, and Jesus through miracles and other direct events). This three-fold view is found in the 16th century Lutheran theologian John Gerhard, in “Nature of Theology,” commonplace 1, chapter 3, section 36. See the last footnote to part II where for the quotation from Gerhard.
**** “We all fear death in some sense, and so the funeral, for instance, becomes the ancient effort to help the surviving community come to grips with the devastation and seeming irrationality of death. In light of such realization, Carl Gustav Jung and Mircea Eliade, convincingly argue that images associated with death are cross-cultural and indeed are ‘archetypes’ of the collective human unconsciousness” (Parton, Craig, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Trial” in Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections”, pp. 86, 87
Images: Lord’s Prayer (Authority): http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/4531/The_Lords_Prayer_Le_Pater_Noster