by John M. Frame
The Holy Spirit is involved with the Bible in a wide variety of ways.1 As the Third Person of the Trinity, He participated in formulating the eternal plan of creation and redemption, of which Scripture is a part (Eph 1:3, “spiritual” referring to the Holy Spirit). Further, He was involved in the creation of the heavens and the earth, without which Scripture, God’s Word to his creatures, would have had no role (Ge 1:2; Ps 33:6 [“breath” suggests “spirit” in Hebrew]; Ps 104:30). Then, He was the author of revelation, the one who revealed God’s truth to the prophets (Isa 61:1-4; Ac 2). Next, He was the one in charge of inspiration, the one who supervised the placing of God’s Word in writing (ICo 2:9-10; 2Ti 3:16 [“spirit” being implicit in the Greek word for “inspired”]; 2Pe 1:21). Finally, by the internal testimony of the Spirit, He enables the “hearers” of the Word of God to savingly appropriate it (Ro 8:14-17; ICo 2:10-16; ITh 1:5; 2:13; Un 2:27; 5:9). In all of these ways, the Spirit validates God’s Word—planning it, creating the media for its communication, authoring it, recording it, driving it home to human hearts.
The present study will be concerned primarily with the Spirit’s work in revelation, inspiration, and internal testimony.
I. THE SPIRIT’S WORK IN REVELATION AND INSPIRATION
In the areas of revelation and inspiration, a vast amount of literature has been published.2 It is not necessary, therefore, to elaborate or justify these doctrines in detail. This study, rather, will assume the main outlines of the current common orthodox position and will address some questions that focus specifically on the Spirit’s activity. Scripture, it will be assumed, is the Word of God, recorded inerrantly by the Spirit in the original manuscripts of the biblical books. Thus, the Spirit is the author of Scripture. Scripture, however, also has a number of humanauthors; and the questions before us focus on the relationship of the divine author to the human authors.
In many ways, Scripture does not appear to be written by one divine author. It contains a wide diversity of literary styles, reflecting the divergent personalities, gifts, educations, and environments of its human authors. The authors borrow from one another and seek historical information in ways common to human writers of the biblical period. Sometimes, between one author and another, there appear to be contradictions, even misunderstandings, when, for example, writers of the New Testament appeal to those of the Old. Many Evangelicals have sought to explain or reconcile these apparent contradictions; I will not add to that literature. My question, however, is: how does the Holy Spirit figure in all of this? What role does He play? How is the Bible different from what it would be if only human writers were involved? Should we not expect, in a book inspired by God, a greater uniformity, something more tidy, more easily distinguishable from merely human literature?
When questions of this sort arise, it is always well to ask, “What would be the alternative?” We can imagine a more “uniform” book— something like the Koran is thought by Muslims to be. Would that be an improvement on the Bible? Scripture is written so that we might believe in Christ and be complete in him (Jn 20:31; 2Ti 3:17). Would a more uniform text help us in those ways?
Put in this way, the question appears less simple. Perhaps it really requires more insight into God’s mind than He has chosen to give us. Do we know more than He does as to what it takes to save and sanctify? Perhaps it is best just to leave these matters in His hands. Yet, from what He has revealed about His purposes in revelation, some further clarifications can be suggested.
In giving us the Bible, God’s purpose is communication. Clearly, the art of communication is to speak the language of one’s hearers. When God communicates, therefore, He speaks as humanly as anyone could possibly speak—the language humans are used to, in ways humans are used to hearing. In the Incarnation, God became truly human, enduring all the sufferings and temptations of human life. Jesus did not live on earth with a halo or perpetually surrounded by hosts of visible angels. Many would not have known by looking at Him that He was the true God made flesh. God did this so that Jesus might be sympathetic as High Priest, a true representative of humanity before God (Heb 2:10-18; 4:14-16). Similarly, God’s written Word is a truly human word, one that captures all the nuances of human life and human communication.
Some types of “uniformity” actually hinder communication. Utter constancy of style can be monotonous. Recounting every detail of a historical event with “pedantic precision” can detract from the point of the story. (If someone asks my age, and I give it down to the hour, minute, and second, surely I have, in most situations, placed a roadblock in the process of communication.) If God had spoken to the Hebrews using the precise language of twentieth-century science, He would have been thoroughly incomprehensible. If every apparent contradiction were explained in context, what would happen to the religious and emotional impact of the words?
Considerations like these help to reassure us that God’s ways after all, are best. The humanity of Scripture ought not to be ar embarrassment to us, a weakness in an otherwise powerful docu ment. Rather, the humanity of Scripture is its strength. It is an index o the success of God in speaking our language, in communicating His Word clearly to us.
The truth of God is many-faceted. It includes teaching about eternity past, time, and eternity future. It tells of the various parts of God’s creation—heaven, earth, stars, and seas. It speaks to men, women, and children of all ages. It speaks of salvation as comprehensive change in our hearts, affecting every aspect of life.
Describing all of these matters requires, sometimes artistry, sometimes conceptual sharpness, sometimes analytical clarity. I requires the poetic gifts of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the passior of Amos for social justice, the brilliant arguments of Paul, the intuitive clarity of John, the historical scholarship of Luke. A “more uniform” text would be poorer than the Bible we have; for it would not display as clearly the incredible richness of our salvation in Jesus Christ
How, then, did the Spirit work as He inspired Scripture? The answer is, mysteriously. That is what we expect from Him (Jn 3:8). He works, paradoxically, most divinely when He is speaking most humanly, for then He shows the perfection of His communication Most writers on the subject of inspiration admit that Scripture tells us very little about the way in which God inspires. Sometimes, what He does seems to be “dictation,” however much we may wish to deny a “dictation theory” (see Isa 6:9ff.; Rev 2; 3). Other times He works through methods of human reasoning (including an author’s historical research—Lk 1:1—4). Sometimes He may give to a writer extraordi nary knowledge of some historical information that is otherwise unknowable, but that is not usual. In every case the Spirit creates, by the human writer, a text that is God’s Word, in the best form for communication.
II. THE SPIRIT’S INTERNAL TESTIMONY
More time will be spent on this aspect of the Spirit’s work, since it is not as widely understood and expounded as are the doctrines of revelation and inspiration. Also, several problems that have emerged in recent theology deserve thorough analysis.
The Protestant Reformation contended for the gospel of justification by faith alone. But this doctrine contradicted the church tradition, or so it was said. So the Reformers argued intensively, not only about justification, but also about biblical authority and its relation to tradition. A crucial weapon in the discussion was the Reformers’ doctrine of the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.” Rome was willing to grant the authority of Scripture; but, she insisted, we cannot even know that Scripture is authoritative except by the testimony of the church. Thus, church tradition became, at that point at least, a more basic authority than Scripture. No, said Luther and Calvin. Our final assurance of biblical authority is, not human tradition, but the witness of God’s own Spirit within us.
Calvin developed this doctrine in more detail than did Luther, turning it into the centerpiece of his Christian epistemology.3 In his Institutes,4 he sharply denies that “the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men.” On the contrary, the church itself is founded upon the “writings of the prophets and the preaching of the apostles.”5 Although “sufficiently firm proofs are at hand to establish the credibility of scripture,”6 “we ought to seek our conviction in a higher place than human reasons, judgments, or conjectures, that is, in the secret testimony of the Spirit.”7 Calvin denies that this doctrine leads to what we would today call subjectivism. He opposes those “fanatics” who forsake Scripture for alleged new revelations of the Spirit.8 Word and Spirit go together, so that the Spirit is recognized in His agreement with Scripture.9
Later in the Institutes, Calvin again discusses the Spirit’s testimony, this time in its relation to individual faith and assurance. Using many Scripture passages, Calvin indicates that faith is the work of the Spirit.10 Without the Spirit, we are incapable of faith.11 Only the Spirit can lead us to Christ.12
Since the Reformation, this doctrine has continued to play an important role in Protestant theology—but with a wide range of interpretations, applications, and emphases, provoking numerous partisan debates. In our day, many have argued that the “orthodox” tradition that followed the Reformation (Turretin, Voetius, et al.) either ignored or seriously misunderstood this teaching, leading to similar deficiencies in the “Old Princeton” theology (Hodge, Warfield), which so strongly influenced modern Evangelicalism.
The present study will deal with three areas in which the orthodox approach has been questioned: (A) the sovereignty, (B) the objects, and (C) the rationality of the Spirit’s testimony. But first we must set the stage for this discussion.
As far as sovereignty is concerned, Karl Barth, especially, has charged that the orthodox thinkers inadequately appreciated the lordship of the Spirit in His testimony. They thought of Scripture as a finished, permanent deposit of divine truth, while, in Barth’s view, they ought to have seen it as a human document that from time to time becomes God’s Word to us as the Spirit sovereignly moves. On the orthodox view, Barth thinks, we may become complacent, believing that we “have” God’s Word under our control.13
Moreover, in considering the objects of the Spirit’s testimony, G. C. Berkouwer14 and others have argued that the orthodox tradition held too “formal” a view—a view of the Spirit witnessing to Scripture as a collection of inerrant truths on a wide variety of subjects. Berkouwer prefers to say that the Spirit witnesses to Christ, to the gospel of salvation, to our adoption as sons and daughters of God. The Spirit witnesses to Scripture also—but only as Scripture witnesses to these realities. Thus, the Spirit’s concern is not to establish a “formal” principle of authority but to establish the “material” content of the gospel. He guarantees the truth of the gospel but not necessarily the accuracy of Scripture on such matters as history, geography, and science.
In regard to rationality, both Berkouwer15 and others—such as Jack B. Rogers and Donald K. McKim16—think that the orthodox tradition misconstrued the place of reason in relation to Scripture, constructing a system of rational arguments to buttress biblical authority rather than relying entirely on the testimony of the Spirit.
In what follows, these questions will be considered in more detail—without entering into the historical questions of whether the modern critics have rightly interpreted the orthodox tradition.17 We shall analyze the modern views, seeking to determine their meaning and their theological validity and to address the theological questions they raise. Although these views are complicated, I believe that this discussion will make the orthodox views look more compelling than their modern would-be replacements. In general, I will maintain that the modern formulations, while commendably reminding us of some biblical emphases, are too confused to stand serious theological scrutiny. These confusions can be overcome by formulations that, while recognizably orthodox, are stated to meet the contemporary questions.
A. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE WITNESS
One of the most exciting things about the Spirit’s testimony is that it is an intimate, even “direct,” relation between ourselves and God. Listening to Scripture is not merely a transaction between ourselves and a book, even a very extraordinary book; rather, in Scripture we meet God Himself. For Protestants (at least those outside “charismatic” circles), no experience offers a more profound closeness with God. It is this sense of the divine presence that pervades the Barthian analysis of the Spirit’s witness. The same emphasis can be found in Calvin: “Thus, the highest proof of scripture derives in general from the fact that God in person speaks in it. … God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word.”18
Some modern writers, indeed, are even more bold in speaking of the closeness of our relation with God in the Spirit’s testimony. Helmut Thielicke speaks of our having “a share in (God’s) self-knowledge (I Cor. 2:10f; 13:12b).”19 There is some danger of pantheism in this formulation, which Thielicke seeks to counter in various ways. Yet, the Scripture passages present the Spirit’s witness as something uniquely wonderful, which we cannot adequately describe without taking some theological risks.
But if the internal testimony brings us face to face with God, at the same time it brings us face to face with His sovereignty and freedom. The doctrine must be formulated so as to do justice to God’s lordship in His revelation.
1. The Position of Modern Theology
Both “orthodox” and “modern” thinkers find value in these sorts of considerations. But the modern thinkers also find in them some weapons against orthodoxy. For one thing, consider the traditional orthodox distinction between inspiration and the internal testimony of the Spirit. Orthodox thinkers have traditionally insisted that “inspiration” and “internal testimony” are quite distinct, though both are works of the Spirit.20
In modern theologians like Barth, however, this distinction loses its sharpness. For them, first, inspiration in the orthodox sense does not exist; God does not place His words on paper. For God to inspire words in this way would compromise His freedom and sovereignty; God Himself could not abrogate such words once He has spoken them. Thus, what the biblical writers experienced was, not inspiration in the orthodox sense, but a kind of illumination similar to what we experience today in the Spirit’s witness. Furthermore, the distinction between inspiration and illumination becomes difficult to draw for theologians who are impressed with the immediacy of the divine presence in the Spirit’s witness. What can “inspiration” be, if it is not the internal testimony? What more can we ask than an intimate participation in God’s own self-knowledge?
But there is further implication. If inspiration in the traditional sense is rejected, then there is also a change in the basis of biblical authority. In orthodox Protestant theology, the inspiration of Scripture renders it authoritative, though the witness of the Spirit is essential if we are to perceive and accept that authority. In much modern theology, however, particularly in the Barthian tradition, not only is the witness of the Spirit essential to o’ur acceptance of biblical authority; it is the one factor that makes Scripture authoritative. Without His witness (and therefore without our faithful response), Scripture has no more authority than the best books of human wisdom.21 On this view, Scripture lacks authority until we believe it. But why should we believe a book that, before we believe it, has no authority over us?
Thus, in much modern theology the internal testimony replaces the traditional concept of inspiration. It was the internal testimony, not inspiration, in this view, that motivated the original writing of Scripture, and it is the internal testimony (presently occurring, as we read and hear), not inspiration, that grounds our faith in Scripture. The Bible is not inspired, if by “inspiration” we mean a unique divine action in the past that guarantees the truth of the text at all times and for all readers. If the word “inspiration” is to be of use, it must be used as a synonym for the internal testimony, so that we today are “inspired” as were the biblical writers, though our inspiration may in some respects depend upon theirs.22
This construction coheres well with three familiar concepts of neoorthodoxy. First, Scripture “becomes” the Word of God when theSpirit uses it to reach our hearts. Second, our response to the Word of God is a part of the revelation, so that there is no revelation without our (positive) response.23 Third, the truth or error of the biblical text itself is irrelevant to faith, for the Spirit can reach the heart even by means of erroneous content.
These notions are thought to be essential to the freedom or sovereignty of God in the Spirit’s witness. God is free to use, or not to use, any text as His Word, whether it be true or false. In the orthodox view, the Barthian argues, God is forced to honor a word spoken in the past; He is not free to contradict the canonical texts. Thus, we who “have” the canonical texts have God under our control.
But surely there is something odd about saying that an inerrant canonical text places God under our control. For one thing, Scripture never draws any such inference. In Scripture, God makes covenant promises, by which He binds Himself. In Christ, all these promises are Yes and Amen (2Co 1:20). God cannot lie or deny Himself (2Ti 2:13; T 1:2; Heb 6:18). Therefore, His Word abides forever (Isa 40:8). These divine words constitute a body of truth, a “tradition” (2Th 2:15; 3:6), faith that was “once for all entrusted to the saints” and for which we are to contend earnestly (Jude 3). God commands His people to obey all His written words, statutes, and ordinances and to pass them on to their children (Dt 6:4-9; 8:3; Ps 1; 19:7-14; 119; Mt 5:17-20; ICo 14:3 2Th 2:15; 2Ti 3:15-17; 2Pe 1:19-21; 3:15-16).
Moreover, the biblical writers do not reason that these divine promises compromise God’s sovereignty! On the contrary, God sovereignty is expressed through the irresistible power of His Word. “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11). God’s Word is an instrument of His sovereign rule. It is precisely the case that His sovereignty would be compromised if He did not speak such words.
Evidently we must use greater care in formulating our concept of divine sovereignty than has sometimes been shown among theologians. When we reason without such carefulness (relying on intuition, as it were), ambiguities emerge. To one theologian, God’s sovereignty would be compromised if He were to utter an inspired, inerrant sentence. To another (and I believe this is the uniform position of Scripture) God’s sovereignty requires the existence of such sentences. The moral seems to be that “sovereignty” is a more complex concept than we often imagine. Use of it requires some careful thinking rather than jumping to conclusions that seem intuitive. What seems intuitive for one theologian will be counterintuitive for another. Intuition misleads us, because generally intuition does not make fine distinctions. Intuitively, we tend to formulate divine sovereignty by excluding anything that looks like it might be a “limitation” on God. However, when we reflect upon the matter, we can see easily that sovereignty cannot be taken to mean an absence of all such supposed limitations. Only the most extreme nominalists would conceive of sovereignty in that way. Some “fine distinctions” are needed to tell us what kinds of “limitations” are inappropriate to divine sovereignty— i.e., what sorts of “limitations” would really be limitations. Most theology books, even by Calvinists, recognize that God is “bound,” at least by His own character—by, e.g., His goodness, rationality, and transcendent greatness; God cannot be evil, stupid, or weak. God is also bound by His covenant promises, as we have seen from Scripture. There is, therefore, no carte blanche sovereignty, sovereignty without any “limitation” at all. Thus, a theologian must take pains to justify the types of qualifications he allows. The orthodox thinker must justify his assertion that God limits Himself to working within the framework of His covenant promises. (We have given an outline above of such a justification.) Barth, too, must justify the sort of limitation that he alleges, that God cannot guarantee the continuing truthfulness of written sentences. Barth, however, rarely if ever argues his distinctive view at this point; he seems to think that his particular view of God’s sovereignty/limitation is intuitively obvious.
When such an argument is brought forward, we shall again consider the Barthian position. Until that time, we ought to remain content with the position of the Reformers, which (as we have seen in summary) is the position of Scripture itself:
2. The Orthodox Position
a. Contrary to neoorthodoxy, there is such a thing as an inspired text. God calls His people, not to listen to subjective inner promptings, but to listen to His “commands, decrees and laws” (Dt 6:1).24 God holds His people responsible to obey His written Word.
b. The Spirit and the Word go together. This is the major emphasis of both Calvin and Luther over against the Roman church on the one side and the “enthusiasts” on the other. The Spirit witnesses to the Word—not against it or in addition to it, as the neoorthodox construction suggests. Scripture always represents the witness of the Spirit in this fashion: the Spirit calls us to hear what God says (see Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13; ITh 1:5; 2:13). As Helmut Thielicke points out, the Spirit is poured out in fullness only after the Crucifixion and Resurrection (Jn 16:7), for He bears witness to the finished work of Christ (Jn 16:14). Thus, He “protects the givenness of the event.” But, to complete Thielicke’s point, the Spirit can witness to those objective events for us today only by witnessing to the apostolic word concerning those events, the word we have in Scripture.25
c. The word is self-authenticating. It is the ultimate authority for the believer, and therefore it is the ultimate ground even for its own authority. We cannot test Scripture by anything more authoritative than Scripture. God’s written Word, in fact, is the means of testing spirits (ICo 14:37; IJn 4:1-3). No one, therefore, may dare to place any teaching of the Spirit over against the Word of God.26
d. What, then, is the ground of biblical authority? Is it to be found in inspiration or in the Spirit’s testimony? There is some ambiguity here in the term “authority.” The term can be used in an objective or subjective sense. Objectively, a civil law, for example, has authority over me whether I even know about it or not. Subjectively, however, that law will not rule me (in the sense of influencing my conduct toward obedience) unless I know about it and receive it favorably. Similarly, Scripture has objective authority over us by virtue of its inspiration. We are responsible to obey it whether or not the Spirit has witnessed to us. If we disobey, we are subject to divine judgment unless God forgives us through Christ. The subjective authority of Scripture, however, comes through the Spirit’s witness; we cannot obey from the heart until/unless the Spirit testifies in our heart.27
e. Thus, the sovereignty and freedom of God in the Spirit’s testimony are seen, not in God’s ability to contradict or modify or add to His Word, but in His ability to drive it home to otherwise unwilling hearts and, indeed, to do everything He says He will do.
B. THE OBJECTS OF THE WITNESS
The chief burden of G. C. Berkouwer’s important work Holy Scripture is his critique of what he calls “abstract” and “formal” views of Scripture. “Whenever the words ‘abstract’ and ‘formal’ appear frequently in the discussion,” he says, “what is meant is that scripture is received as writing, as a book of divine quality, while its content and message as such are thereby not taken into account from the outset.”28 In discussing the Spirit’s witness, then, Berkouwer wants to insist that the Spirit does not witness to scriptural authority in an abstract” or “formal” way; rather, the Spirit testifies to the “content and message” of Scripture, and His testimony to the authority of Scripture occurs only in that context.
Berkouwer further insists that this witness to the biblical “content and message” does not occur “apart from its connection with the condition of the religious subject.”29 It “first of all has a bearing on a person’s sonship.”30 That is to say, the Spirit’s witness to the Scripture is not a different witness from His witness to our adoption (described in Ro 8:14-17).31 Thus, the Spirit validates the context of Scripture in its application to a faithful son or daughter of God.
Negatively, Berkouwer says (interpreting Bavinck) that the Spirit’s testimony
does not supply direct certainty regarding the authenticity, canonicity, or even the inspiration of Holy Scripture; nor regarding the historical, chronological, and geographical data “as such”; nor regarding the facts of salvation as nuda facta, nor, finally, regarding the closedness of the canon, as if it were possible to solve the problems regarding canonicity with an appeal to the witness of the Spirit.32
Berkouwer is a subtle thinker, and often it is not easy to describe precisely what he has in mind. There are always qualifiers that take the sharp edges off his more controversial statements. Note above, for example, that he does not deny that the Spirit witnesses to the biblical text, only that He so witnesses “in abstraction” from Scripture’s “message.”33 Later on, in fact, he does clarify this point: “Reformed theology was not confronted with the dilemma of a dualism between authoritative scripture and the message it brings, because Reformed theology hears the message of salvation precisely in the witness of scripture.”34
Nor does he quite deny that the Spirit witnesses concerning biblical authenticity, canonicity, inspiration, historical, chronological, and geographical data. If he did, then, of course, we would have to raise questions; for Scripture contains a great deal of material about such matters, and it is unclear why the Spirit would leave such data out of His purview. Rather, what Berkouwer denies is that the Spirit testifies to these “directly” or “as such” or “as nuda facta.” What, we want to know, is the “cash value” of all this? What is Berkouwer, concretely, trying to rule in and to rule out?
Sometimes it seems as if what Berkouwer wants is a certain order of topics: “On the basis of the New Testament, the confession of the Spirit is first of all related to salvation in Christ; and then the Word of God is discussed.”35
But it is hard to believe that Berkouwer’s concern is as trivial (and formal!) as a mere order of discussion. Is he concerned, rather, about an emphasis? Sometimes we get that impression. But “emphasis” in theology is itself a rather subtle matter. Berkouwer does not mean, evidently, that the author of a paper on the Spirit’s witness, for example, must spend, say, eighty percent of the text discussing salvation and only twenty percent discussing biblical authority. And surely an intelligent theologian like Berkouwer would not want to limit theological reflection to those topics “emphasized” in the New Testament, as if it were somehow impious to write about the veiling of women in 1 Corinthians 11. In what sense, then, are we required to “emphasize” matters of salvation when discussing the Spirit’s witness? Perhaps Berkouwer’s point, after all, is not well-described as a “matter of emphasis.” But in that case, what is he saying? What does it mean to deny that the Spirit witnesses to historical data “as such”? Berkouwer’s chapter on the Spirit’s witness leaves these matters rather unclear, but other parts of the book illumine his concern somewhat. In the chapter on “reliability,” for instance, Berkouwer mentions differences in the Synoptic accounts, and concludes that the biblical concepts of witness, truth, and reliability are
not in opposition to a freedom in composing and expressing the mystery of Christ; their purpose is rather to point in their testimony to that great light. . . . The aim of the portrayal was not to mislead and to deceive; it was not even a “pious fraud,” for it was wholly focussed on the great mystery. This explains why the church through the ages was scarcely troubled by the difference pointed out long before, and by the inexact, non-notarial portrayal. A problem was created only as a result of attempts at harmonization and the criticism that followed. . . . But through a recognition of the true nature of the Gospels, the way is opened to hear and understand the one testimony.36
Here Berkouwer argues that since the purpose of Scripture is to proclaim the “great mystery,” we should not expect a “notarial” precision in the biblical narratives. Scripture can witness adequately to its content and message without such exactness. Therefore, in making judgments about the “reliability” of Scripture, we must take into account its content, message, and purpose. Relating this discussion to the Spirit’s work, then, we may say that, for Berkouwer, the Spirit does not testify to a “notarially precise” Scripture; He validates the truth of Scripture but only that kind of truth appropriate to the message.
All of this is true enough as far as it goes, but it is scarcely new. Orthodox Protestants have long denied that biblical inerrancy entails “pedantic precision.”37 How, then, does Berkouwer differ from those orthodox thinkers whom he seems to be criticizing? Chiefly, I think, in the vagueness of his formulation and also in his special agenda: Berkouwer throughout the book seems to be urging upon theological conservatives a greater openness toward current forms of biblical criticism,38 often charging them with “fear”39 or with avoiding questions40 when they are not as open as he would like. But he rarely indicates that there are any limits at all to this openness. (He does, to be sure, indicate that Bultmann’s demythologization is unacceptable).41 The reader is left with a vague feeling, then, that he ought not to fuss too much over biblical criticism, that he should be open to almost any critical proposal. That vague feeling seems to be the “bottom line” of Berkouwer’s analysis.
I suppose, then, that in evaluating Berkouwer’s view we should ask whether he has succeeded in justifying this vague openness to biblical criticism. And, of course, the answer is no. Certainly, Scripture’s purpose is to proclaim Christ, and it is worth pointing out as Berkouwer does (and most all the orthodox do ) that this purpose does not necessitate “pedantic precision.” But there is nothing about this purpose to warrant a vague openness concerning the theories of modern biblical scholarship.
On the contrary, there is much in Scripture to warn us against such openness. Scripture teaches us that we live in a fallen world, in which the fashionable currents of human learning are opposed to God and to His gospel (Ro 1; ICo 1; 2). It warns us over and over again about the danger of false teaching from within the church (Mt 7:15-20; Gal 1; 2Th 2; ITi l:3ff.; 4:lff.; 2Ti 3:lff.; 2Pe 2). Thus, if we are really to read Scripture in terms of its central message, we will be suspicious of modern biblical scholarship, particularly when it comes from those who have renounced the Bible’s own supernatural world view. This does not mean that there is no truth in the writings of modern scholars; the question before us is one of our attitude or disposition toward them. Berkouwer has not succeeded in justifying his recommendation of sunny optimism.
Otherwise, much of Berkouwer’s concern is legitimate. He is right in saying that we should not fear to investigate the difficult questions.42 Berkouwer is also right to insist that the Spirit does not merely witness to the authority of a book. He witnesses to the gospel message, to what the book says. Believing Scripture is believing that message.43 At the same time, believing the message entails believing the book,44 for the message is the book’s content. And, although the book is centrally focussed in certain great events—Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—it speaks out about everything in creation, including history, geography, and science. It speaks of a God who made the heavens, earth, and sea and who acted in earthly history and geography to save us from our sins. It urges us to do all things to His glory, whether we are preachers or carpenters or historians or scientists (ICo 10:31). As long as we read Scripture responsibly (yes, “in relation to its message”), we need not fear (as I believe Berkouwer does)45 studying its implications for these and all areas of human life. Berkouwer’s view is not only wrong but greatly harmful, insofar as he discourages such study, which study is in essence the attempt to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2Co 10:5).
Does the Spirit tell us what books belong in the canon? Does He help us decide between rival interpretations? Does He help us with scholarly questions about literary genre, variant readings, and the like? Not in the sense of whispering in our ears the solutions to these problems. On that question, the Reformers, the orthodox, and Berkouwer are agreed: Scripture never represents the Spirit’s work as the giving of new information about the Bible. No one, for example, ought to claim that the Spirit has given him a list of canonical books. The actual list comes through historical and theological investigation of the contents of these books. Yet the Spirit has certainly played an important role in the history of the canon. By illumining and persuading the church concerning the true canonical books, He has helped the church to distinguish between false and true. He has motivated the church to seek out reasons for what He was teaching them in their hearts.46
Thus, the Spirit gets involved in everything we think and do as Christians. There is no area from which He, or His Scriptures, may be excluded. In that Berkouwer calls us to read those Scriptures responsibly, he should be applauded. But insofar as he discourages (as he does, at least by the ambiguity of his proposals) the comprehensive application of Scripture to all of life in opposition to unbelieving thought, he is not a reliable guide.47
C. THE RATIONALITY OF THE WITNESS
Now let us consider the question concerning the relation of the Spirit’s testimony to evidences and rational arguments. Here it will be necessary to discuss some more general aspects of Christian epistemology.48
Knowing always involves a knower, a knowable content, and some “laws of thought” or criteria for determining what is true about the knowable content. To put it more succinctly, knowing involves subject, object, and norm. These three factors are distinguishable in theory but very difficult to separate when we look at the actual experience of knowing. Where does the “subject” end and the “object” begin? Philosophical battles (between idealists like Berkeley or Hegel and realists like Moore and Russell) have been fought over this issue. Sometimes it seems that all our knowledge is really self-knowledge: after all, everything in my mind is my experience, is it not? But then, where is the “object” that stands over against the self? Other times it seems that I have no self-knowledge at all. Hume diligently searched his experience and couldn’t find anything called “the self.” So the debate continues: either the self is swallowed up in the object or vice versa.
Similar problems arise in connection with the “norm.” To the existentialist, the norm is indistinguishable from the self. (I am my own, and my only, law.) To the pure empiricist like John Stuart Mill, laws are generalizations from sense experiences, merely shorthand ways of speaking about objects. Thus does the norm get lost in the subject or the object. But the reverse problem also occurs. In Plato—and perhaps in Kant and others—subject and object both get lost in the norm. Knowledge for them is faithfulness to a preexisting ideal (for Plato) or categorical structure in the mind (for Kant); anything short of such norms is inadequate and, in an important sense, unreal.
Christianity, too, recognizes this triad. God reveals Himself in the world (object), in His image (subject), and in His Word (law). As sinners, we hear but repress God’s revelation in all three forms (Ro 1). In saving us, however, God overcomes this resistance. He performs wondrous, mighty deeds in the world to save us (object) and sets forth their meaning and application to us in His Word (norm).49 Also, He transforms our own hearts and minds so that we will be able to believe His deeds as they are proclaimed in His Word. This transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. His witness to the Word illumines and persuades us so that we have a saving knowledge of God’s revelation.
In Christianity, the three factors—subject, object, and norm— are closely related but distinguishable. Knowledge of any one brings with it knowledge of the others. We cannot know the world without taking God’s law into account; when God reveals Himself in the world, He also reveals Hisordinances (Ro 1:32). We cannot know ourselves except in the light of God’s Word. But, likewise, we cannot know the Word unless it comes to us through the world and through ourselves. We read the Bible as an object in the world among others, and we come to understand it through our own mental—and spiritual— gifts. Hence, it is not surprising that many have reduced some of our three elements to others. Besides, non-Christian thinkers have a special problem here. For the Christian, there is a God who has created the world and self and has spoken His norm-word. Thus, the Christian has confidence that object, subject, and norm will cohere; all three lead to the same place. But those who reject the theistic premise have no such basis for confidence. Therefore, they are tempted to choose one of the three, the one in which they have most confidence, as the only element of knowledge.
The Christian, though, knows that however inseparable these elements are in our knowledge, they are not identical. I am not the world, nor vice versa. God gave humans dominion over the world (Ge 1:28). Nor is God’s word identical with the world or with myself. God’s word is creator (Ge 1; Ps 33:6; Jn 1); the world and self are creatures.
Now the testimony of the Spirit to the written Word has a specific function in this triadic structure. The Spirit Himself, as we saw earlier, is active in all aspects of revelation—creation, incarnation (Lk 1:35), prophecy, inspiration.50 But the internal testimony, as distinct from these other aspects of revelation, is focussed on the subject of knowledge. The internal testimony is not new revealed words (norms; see section I, above), nor is it a new saving act in history (object). Rather, in the internal testimony, the Spirit operates in our hearts and minds, in ourselves as subjects, to illumine and persuade us of the divine words and deeds.51 This fact has important practical consequences for us when we seek God’s guidance. When we lack knowledge of God’s will, our need is not necessarily a need for new factual information (object), and it is never a need for new revelation in addition to Scripture (norms). Rather, most often (I think) it is need for inward change, a need to reconcile ourselves to what God has already revealed. Guidance need not be either mystical (revelation apart from the Word), nor intellectualistic (arising from a mere academic study of Scripture). Our pride and doctrinal misunderstandings often lead us to think that if we have problems, either we can solve them through our own resources (intellectualism) or they are God’s fault (because of inadequate revelation). But Scripture continually directs our attention to our own sinfulness as the source of such problems—to our need of the Spirit.52
Now since our theological question deals with the relation between the Spirit’s witness and “rational argument,” we must give some attention to human rationality.53 Reason may be defined as a person’s capacity for forming judgments, conclusions, inferences. So understood, reasoning is something we do all the time, not merely in academic or theoretical work. When a football quarterback sees telltale motion in his opponents’ backfield and moves to avoid the defensive players, he is reasoning; he has drawn an inference as to what the opposing players will do, and he has acted upon that inference. Logic is the science of inference, but people regularly draw inferences without having studied that science. Inference may fruitfully be seen as an ethical matter—and, therefore, as much a matter of conscience as of logical skill. A valid inference is an inference that we ought to acknowledge; and that “ought” is a moral “ought.”54
So understood, reasoning takes place every time we make some use of God’s revelation (in nature or Scripture). When a Christian is tempted to cheat on his taxes and resists that temptation, reasoning has taken place. He has drawn the conclusion—from Scripture, preaching, or conscience—that stealing is wrong, and he has drawn the further inference that cheating is stealing and therefore also wrong. Thus, every act of obedience to the Lord involves reasoning, whether or not some explicit argument is formulated.
Therefore, when we acknowledge Scripture as God’s Word (also an act of obedience!), that acknowledgment is also a rational inference. We have looked at the data of Scripture and have come to this particular conclusion. Even if we “leap” to this conclusion by “blind faith,” we have somehow come to the conclusion that our blind faith ought to leap to this conclusion rather than some other– meaning, of course, that our “blind faith” has not really been blind , all. Even a blind-faith conclusion is a conclusion, an inference.
Such reasoning can, of course, be bad reasoning. Sometimes people offer inadequate reasons for believing in Scripture. But we cannot conclude that all such reasoning is bad. To say that would be to say that there are no good reasons for believing the Bible. But that would mean that faith in Scripture is unwarranted; and that in turn would mean (recalling our ethical interpretation of logical inference) that we have no obligation to believe in Scripture. Scripture, then, would not have any authority at all.
Every warranted confession of Scripture, therefore, is a rational confession, a sound inference from experience. But then, what role remains for the testimony of the Spirit? Just what we said before. The Spirit’s work is in the subject. Scripture tells us that sin blinds us to the truth (Ro 1; ICo 1-2). This means that sin keeps us from acknowledging those things that we ought to acknowledge; it keeps us from acknowledging warranted conclusions, rational conclusions. The work of the Spirit is to remove those effects of sin, to overcome that resistance. The Spirit does not whisper to us special reasons that are not otherwise available; rather, He opens our eyes to acknowledge those that are available (and that, at one level of consciousness, we know already, Ro 1:21). Nor does the Spirit give us power to transcend reason altogether. That would mean either that no reasoning is involved at all (contrary to what we have established) or that the reasoning accompanying our conviction is invalid (but then our conclusion would be unwarranted, illegitimate).
According to our threefold scheme, therefore, in rational argument, norms (logical and others) are applied to an object (the data of experience). This process warrants a rational conclusion. But the sinner will resist this conclusion unless the Spirit opens his eyes. To come to rational conclusions, we need objects and norms, but we must also be the kind of people who can and will come to the right conclusions. The Spirit supplies that crucial third factor. He changes us so that we acknowledge what is rationally warranted.
Now just as secular philosophers have tended to confuse norm, object, and subject, so Christian thinkers have often confused the Spirit’s witness with the .other elements of the Christian’s knowledge. This sort of confusion often occurs, in my opinion, when theologians consider the relation between the Spirit’s work and human rationality. Calvin himself is not immune from criticism on this score. It is possible that Calvin’s teaching can be reconciled to the sort of model I have presented,55 but some of his expressions are problematic. Note:
. . . we ought to seek our conviction in a higher place than human reasons, judgments, or conjectures, that is, in the secret testimony of the Spirit. . . . The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. . . . Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else s judgment that scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty . . . that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean.56
Here Calvin talks as if the Spirit’s testimony and rational arguments were competing factors, as it were, contributing to our assurance of Scripture. It sounds as if arguments are an inadequate means of assurance, the Spirit’s testimony an adequate means. Now it is surely true that many arguments are unsound and do not truly warrant faith in Scripture and that, therefore, the testimony of the Spirit goes beyond those arguments. It is also true that even sound arguments without the Spirit’s testimony will not lead anyone to saving knowledge of Christ and Scripture. Doubtless points of this sort were in Calvin’s mind.
But Calvin’s expressions might also be taken to mean that the case for the truth of Scripture is inadequate, and that we may come to belief in it only by irrational means. Such a view would certainly be illegitimate (and I think contrary to Calvin’s own intent). Or, these statements might be understood as meaning that the Spirit supplements the evidence, giving us a legitimate warrant in place of inadequate ones. But what could this mean but that (1) Scripture lacks objective authority apart from the Spirit’s witness (a notion we have refuted in section I), and (2) the Spirit gives us a new revelation to provide the adequate warrant, a notion that Calvin always rejects?
Such data have led to problems in the interpretation and theological use of Calvin’s doctrine. We do not have the space for a historical excursus, but I do believe that the Dutch Calvinist theologians Kuyper and Bavinck, along with the philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd (not to mention Barth and Berkouwer, whom we discussed earlier) have pressed Calvin’s teaching in a somewhat irrationalist direction. Similarly, the contemporary philosopher Ah/in Plantinga has spoken of a “reformed epistemology” in which belief in God is accepted as “properly basic” (that is, not based on any reasoning or evidence). Jay M. Van Hook argues that although Plantinga can successfully defend the rationality of theistic belief on this basis (all systems of thought have to begin somewhere, therefore Christianity has a right to begin with God), he cannot show the irrationality of someone who denies Christianity (holding that something other than the biblical God, the Great Pumpkin for instance, is “properly basic”).57
I think there is much value in Plantinga’s concept of “proper basicality.” God is the Christian’s presupposition, the norm of all his thinking about everything else. More needs to be said, however, about how one distinguishes rational from irrational “presupposings” and about how the Christian presupposition has a rational basis in God’s self-revelation.58 And there is some danger now that reformed people will avoid wrestling with such questions, thinking that the doctrine of the Spirit’s testimony answers them sufficiently.
That doctrine, however, is not suited to that particular purpose. Scripture does not present it for the purpose of overcoming inadequacies in the rational basis of Christianity. The point we need to remember is that there is no competition between the rationality of the Scriptures and the witness of the Spirit. We do not need to make the case for Scripture somehow irrational or inadequate in order to do justice to the Spirit’s testimony. If knowledge of God is to be possible, both rationality and the Spirit are needed—rationality so that faith will be warranted, indeed obligatory, and the Spirit so that our sinful unbelief, our refusal to accept our obligation, will be overcome.
The above discussion will seem rationalistic to some. For the record, let me indicate my belief that human reason has a great many limitations,59 especially in matters of faith. I freely grant that the “knowledge of God” in Scripture is far more than a theoretical contemplation, that it involves obedience, love, and trust. Further, coming to know God is far from a merely intellectual or academic experience. It involves all our faculties (as well as those of the Spirit!); it is more like coming to know a friend than coming to know, say, wave mechanics. For that matter, even learning wave mechanics is not a “purely intellectual” process, whatever that may mean. Intellectual operations are always dependent upon our experience, our emotional make-up, our religious and ideological commitments, etc.60
It should be said, too, that the testimony of the Spirit works in the Spirit’s typically mysterious way (Jn 3:8). As we have said, He does not whisper in our ears; but neither does He work predictably through the normal channels of education so that those with advanced degrees automatically have the greatest spiritual perception. He gives us, rather, a sort of “intuition” for things divine, as many writers have put it. We recognize Scripture as the Word in the same way we recognize white to be white or sweet to be sweet. Suddenly, that Word, which we had, as unbelievers, despised, becomes fresh and exciting and precious to us. Arguments and reasons that, perhaps, we have heard many times and rejected display their cogency suddenly before our eyes. We recognize the loveliness of the gospel and respond with joy.61
Nor do I wish to say that we must be able to supply proofs and arguments in order to justify faith. As I have said, much of our reasoning is very informal, like that of the football quarterback. Generally it is not formulated into syllogisms, and usually it would be difficult, I think, even for a professional logician to identify the premises and the logical steps. God has simply given us a sense of what is reasonable, and usually that is sufficient. (Note how all reasoning, not just that which deals with matters of faith, may involve something like the Spirit’s testimony.)62 On the other hand, if someone has the God-given skill to develop some kind of formal proof, I know of nothing in the doctrine of the Spirit’s testimony that would prevent him from doing so.63
III. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
In this study I have sought to clarify some matters pertaining to the Spirit’s work in revelation, inspiration, and internal witness. I hav argued that although revelation and inspiration do not produce a “uniform” text, that fact need not be an embarrassment to us, unless it be an embarrassment of riches; for the Spirit gives us more than “uniform” text, a text that conveys the truth with a fullness and clarity as appropriate to its depth and riches as is possible in human language.
Then I argued that debates over the sovereignly, objects, and rationality of the Spirit’s internal witness ought themselves to be more carefully related to the riches of that inspired text. The weakness of theological discussions in these areas has been that they have seized upon certain biblical concepts (like “the sovereignty of God in revelation”), largely ignoring the qualifications, interpretations, and uses given to these concepts in the actual context of Scripture. Paradoxically, these modern theologians (most of whom would be quite opposed to the notion of “uniform” inspiration) have taken Scripture to be much more uniform that it really is! The biblical concept of sovereignly, for instance, is, as we have seen, much more nuanced than are the concepts of sovereignty in most moden theologies of revelation. The modern views owe more to philosophical discussions than to biblical data.
These are methodological problems in modern theology that are found in many areas beyond those discussed here. That fact will provide much for future study. For the time being, I advance this moral: if theologians would try to be more biblical in their doctrine of Scripture, they would be forming some habits that would be useful across the board, avoiding pitfalls in other areas of theology. It is important, then, even in the relatively “abstract” area of theological methodology, to hear the Spirit speaking in the Word. “He who has at ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 2:7).
1 On the general subject of the Spirit’s witness to Scripture, I should mention some valuable works (not elsewhere directly cited in the notes) that I have found helpful. One is Bernard Ramm, The Witness of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957); then, two by Arthur Pink: The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970) and The Doctrine of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975). Although he is probably to be classed as a popular rather than a scholarly writer, Pink’s works are often remarkably thorough and insightful.
2 Some of the most useful works today are these: Wayne A. Grudem, “Scripture’s Self-Attestation and the Problem of Formulating a Doctrine of Scripture,” in Scripture and Truth, ed. D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 19-59; Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975); John Murray, “The Attestation of Scripture,” in The Infallible Word, ed. Ned Stonehouse and Paul Woolley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946); Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (Nutley, NJ.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969); Benjamin B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948); Edward J. Young, Thy Word is Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957).
3 ” … the keystone of his doctrine of the knowledge of God,” Benjamin B. Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God,” in Calvin and Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 113.
4 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1:75.
6 Ibid., 81.
7 Ibid., 78.
8 Ibid., 93.
9 Ibid., 94-95.
10 Ibid., 541-42.
11 Ibid., 582-83.
12 Ibid., 581-82.
13 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4 vols. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1936-56), 1:1, 207ff; 12, 523ff.
14 Gerrit C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 39-66.
16 Jack B. Rogers and Donald K. McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: A Historical Approach (New York: Harper & Row, 1979).
17 Such historical work, defending the orthodox tradition, has been done well, for example, by John D. Woodbridge in his Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983) and in “The Princetonians and Biblical Authority,” written with R. H. Balmer, inScripture and Truth, ed. Carson and Woodbridge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 251-79. See also W. Robert Godfrey, “Biblical Authority in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” Scripture and Truth, 225-43; John H. Gerstner, “The View of the Bible Held by the Church: Calvin and the Westminster Divines,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 385-412; idem., “Warfield’s Case for Biblical Inerrancy,” in God’s Inerrant Word, ed. John W. Montgomery (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1974), 115-42. Richard B. Gaffin argues in “Old Amsterdam and Inerrancy,” WTJ 45:1 (Fall 1983): 219-72, that Kuyper and Bavinck—often appealed to by Rogers, McKim, and Berkouwer as representing a tradition opposed to “old Princeton”—were firm believers in inerrancy.
18 Calvin, Institutes, 1:78-79.
19 Helmut Thielicke, The Evangelical Faith, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 1:105. Cf. 323.
20 See, for example, Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 6 vols. (Waco: Word, 1976-79), 2:13ff.
21 See, for example, R. C. Johnson, Authority in Protestant Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959), 54: “Just as scripture could become an instrument of redemption only by the action of the Spirit, so it could become theologically authoritative only under a personal relationship to the sovereign God through the personal presence of the Holy Spirit.”
22 See Karl Barth, The Holy Ghost and the Christian Life (London: Muller, 1938), 23.
23 For example, John Baillie, The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought (New York: Columbia University Press, 1956), 64ff., 83ff.
24 This emphasis on obeying God’s written words pervades Deuteronomy and many other parts of Scripture. See also the texts listed earlier in this article. A valuable study of the centrality of written revelation within God’s covenant kingdom is Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975).
25 Thielicke, The Evangelical Faith, l:129ff.
26 For Calvin, one main function of the doctrine is precisely to exalt the authority of Scripture, over against church tradition on the one hand and alleged modern prophets on the other. The idea that the internal testimony somehow removes the need for a fully authoritative Scripture is directly contrary to the intention of Calvin and the other Reformers. See Calvin, Institutes, l:74ff.
27 Three addenda to this distinction: (1) There is some confusion among Calvin scholars—and possibly in Calvin himself—as to his views on this matter. Geoffrey Bromiley writes that Calvin “perhaps does not sufficiently differentiate” the self-authentication of scripture from the spirit’s testimony(Historical Theology: An Introduction [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978], 225). Seeberg indicates vagueness in Calvin: “Thus Calvin establishes the authority of the scriptures partly upon their divine dictation, and partly upon the testimony of the Holy Spirit working through them” (Reinhold Seeberg,Textbook of the History of Doctrines, 2 vols. [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1964], 2:395). The “partly . . . partly” formulation is understandable as an interpretation of Calvin, but it suggests at the same time Calvin’s own vagueness as to the relation between the two factors. W. Niesel finds Calvin contradictory or “dialectical” here (see The Theology of Calvin [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956], 30ff.). A good analysis of this issue, particularly as it relates to Calvin’s statements, can be found in John Murray, Calvin on Scripture and Divine Sovereignty (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), republished in Murray, Collected Writings, 4 vols. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982); in this latter collection, see 4:183-90. See also E. Dowey, The Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952), 106ff., esp. 111. (2) A good recent example of confusion created by a “partly . . . partly” scheme is the argument in David H. Kelsey’s The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975) that the “discrimen” for evaluating theological proposals is “the conjunction of certain uses of Scripture and the presence of God” (160). The result is vagueness and subjectivism. See my review article on this book in WTJ 392 (Spring, 1977): 328-53. (3) The distinction we have made, between objective and subjective authority, is, of course, the proper response to the neoorthodox idea that there is no revelation apart from our response. In the objective sense, they are wrong; in the subjective sense, they are right. Of course, their view actually is that there is no biblical authority in the objective sense. Yet some writers are remarkably inconsistent here. In Baillie, The Idea of Revelation, 134-48, the closing epilogue (“The Challenge of Revelation”) exhorts the reader along this line: Don’t criticize God for failing to reveal Himself; criticize yourself for failing to hear. But what sense can we make of this exhortation if there is no objective revelation that exists apart from our response?
28 Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, 42-43.
29 Ibid., 43, quoting Bavinck.
30 Ibid., 43.
31 Ibid., 51-52.
32 Ibid., 44.
33 This subtlety, however, makes it difficult to evaluate Berkouwer’s criticisms of others. Has anyone ever taught that the Spirit does witness to the text “in abstraction from its message?” Has anyone, for example, argued that the Spirit witnesses to the isolated proposition that Scripture is God’s Word, without at the same time witnessing to the message taught by that Word? Some theologians have, perhaps, failed to emphasize these connections as strongly as Berkouwer would like, but no one, to my knowledge, has ever denied them. When Berkouwer charges (p. 164) Edmund P. Clowney with “formalism” because Clowney wants us to hear what Christ says about the Bible (and not only vice versa), we wonder what is going on! Is Berkouwer really urging a much more radical view than he generally presents, namely a denial that we should have any concern with the authority of the text? No one can rightly accuse Edmund Clowney of neglecting the Christological focus of Scripture—not unless he means by “focus” something radically different from what the rest of us mean.
34 Ibid., 53.
35 Ibid., 52-53.
36 Ibid., 252.
37 The phrase comes from Murray, Collected Writings, 4:175, but the point has been made by a great many authors. I still think one of the best treatments is Edward J Young, Thy Word Is Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957).
38 Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, 131ff, 227-28, passim.
39 This is one of the leitmotifs of the book: ibid., 22, 135, 145,184, 248-49, 272. It is disturbing that a man with Berkouwer’s reputation as a responsible scholar would spend such a large part of a book impugning (gratuitously, I think, for the most part) the motives of others. Is it really the case that those who differ with Berkouwer on these issues hold their positions out of fear? Is it not equally plausible (and perhaps equally irresponsible!) to suggest that Berkouwer’s own formulations arise out of his fear of being rejected by the academic establishment? And, of course, we must also raise the question of whether certain types of fear are justified.
40 This, too: ibid., 11, 16, 25-26, 30, 135, 145, 150-51, 178, 183, 185, 189, 193, 207, 248-49, 365. Again, I think this talk is gratuitous. Maybe some conservative thinkers have sought to avoid difficult questions, but I hardly think that charge can be brought against such people as Warfield, Wilson, Van Til, and Machen. With at least equal plausibility, we could ask why Berkouwer is so vague in his formulations; is it perhaps to avoid the difficult process of speaking clearly to issues that are troubling the church? Is he avoiding something?
41 Ibid., 253ff.
42 Robert Dick Wilson, one of the great orthodox scholars of “Old Princeton,” took as his motto the sentence “I have not shirked the difficult questions.” Whatever else we may say about the Old Princeton theologians, we certainly have no right to accuse them of fearfulness.
43 This can be an important point. Does a cultist who claims to believe in biblical inerrancy but denies the gospel of Christ qualify as a Bible-believer? Not in the eyes of God.
44 This is clearly the position of Calvin: “Faith is certain that God is true in all things whether he command or forbid, whether he promise or threaten; and it also obediently receives his commandments, observes his prohibitions, heeds his threats. Nevertheless, faith properly begins with the promise, rests in it, and ends in it,” Institutes, 1:575. In the second sentence, Calvin expresses Berkouwer’s concern for the material content of the gospel; but in the first sentence he expresses a “formal” concern (though “formal” hardly seems the appropriate word to describe the profound attitude of obedience expressed here): to urge obedience to what God says, whatever he says. Cf. A. Lane, “John Calvin: the Witness of the Holy Spirit,” in Faith and Ferment [Papers read at the 1982 Westminster Conference], ed. Robert S. Bilheimer (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1983). George Hendry, The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956), criticizes Calvin since (Hendry thinks in contrast with Luther) he made Scripture itself not only an instrument but also an object of the Spirit’s witness.
45 As we have seen, Berkouwer frequently charges his conservative brethren with fearfulness; but there is more than one kind of fear. It is well to remind ourselves of the biblical admonitions to fear God rather than human beings. And, as we have also seen, there are plenty of admonitions in Scripture to “beware” of false teaching. (Whether the word “fear” is appropriate to describe this watchfulness is unimportant; the issue, however, is important.)
46 Some of the Reformed confessions suggest that the witness of the Spirit is the basis for our confession of the canon. See the important distinctions made by Auguste Lecerf in an interesting (and somewhat subtle) analysis of this question, An Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1949), 318-63. See also Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, 67ff, and Herman Ridderbos, The Authority of the New Testament Scriptures (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1963).
47 On the question of the relation of “central message” to “peripheral matters” in Scripture, see also John M. Frame, “Rationality and Scripture,” in Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition, ed. H. Hart, J. Van der Hoeven, and N. Wolterstorff (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983), 295ff.
48 I have discussed these matters at greater length in ibid., 293-317, and in Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987).
49 “Here, of course, I am not thinking of the norm as “law” in distinction from “gospel.” Here the word is both norm and good news at the same time.
50 Note here in the term theopneustos the implicit reference to the Spirit (pneuma).
51 For the distinction (with biblical justification) between “illumination” and “persuasion” in the Spirit’s witness, see John Murray, “The Attestation of Scripture,” in The Infallible Word, ed. Stonehouse and Woolley, 1-52.
52 This is not to deny that sometimes our problems are intellectual, at least in part. However, I do not believe that our problems are ever the result of a lack of revelation (see Ro 1:18-21; Lk 1627-31; 2Ti 3:16-17; 2Pe 1:3).
53 I have treated this subject, too, at greater length in “Rationality and Scripture,” in Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition, ed. Hart, Van der Hoeven, and Wolterstorff, 304ff.
54 What else could it be? There is nothing else but morality that compels us to acknowledge valid inferences. We are not physically forced to draw them, and we are not always motivated to draw them by self-interest. Why, then, should we accept such inferences, if not because we simply ought to?
55 As argued, in effect, by Benjamin B. Warfield, Inspiration and Authority, and more recently in R. C. Sproul, J. Gerstner, A. Lindsley, Classical Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 162ff, 296ff. I won’t go into this in detail, but I should say that their critique of my position is largely a misunderstanding, in my opinion. Actually, my view (and Van Til’s) of the Spirit’s testimony is very close to theirs, far closer than they realize. See my forthcoming review of this book in WTJ 47 (Fall 1985): 279-99. This position, however, has been sharply attacked by Rogers and McKim (Authority and Interpretation), Berkouwer (Holy Scripture], and others.
56 Calvin, Institutes, 1:78-80.
57 Jay M. Van Hook, “Knowledge, Belief and Reformed Epistemology,” Reformed Journal 31:7 (July 1981): 12-17.
58 “See my Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.
59 See, again, my “Rationality and Scripture,” in Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition, ed. Hart, Van der Hoeven, and Wolterstorff, 305ff.
60 See, for example, T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). A considerable body of literature has developed over the past thirty years emphasizing that science is not a purely “objective” or “neutral” discipline, as many people still think it to be. This point has been made by N. R. Hanson and M. Polanyi, as well as by Christian thinkers like Dooyeweerd and Van Til.
61 See Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise on the Religious Affections in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. E. Hickman (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 281ff. Edwards’ argument here is fascinating and perceptive in many ways. He says that in the internal testimony the Spirit reveals no new propositions to us and thus must reveal something of a different character than prepositional truth. He settles on the “loveliness” of God and His Word; for unbelievers can know of God’s existence, but they fail to acknowledge His loveliness, His desirability. Edwards’ argument is useful in showing one of the important and neglected dimensions of the Spirit’s work. At the same time, I would like to make some additional distinctions. In my view, unbelievers, even Satan, are capable of recognizing that God is lovely (objectively), while they prefer ugliness to loveliness (thus showing the irrationality of their unbelief). What the Spirit does is to give us a new heart, a heart that leads us to accept God’s Word obediently. But that new heart of obedience is also a crucial epistemological capacity. It cures us of the irrationality Of unbelief and frees us to acknowledge with word and life the reality of what is.
62 Valentine Hepp argued that the Holy Spirit also bears witness to general revelation—that is, that His witness is involved in all human knowledge, Het Testimonium Spiritus Sancti (Kampen, 1914).
63 Of course, such a project would be under considerable disadvantage, for several reasons: (1) I believe that any valid proof of Christianity would be circular in a sense and, thus, not impressive to many people. See Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1955), and my “The Problem of Theological Paradox,” in Foundations of Christian Scholarship, ed. G. North (Vallecito, Calif.: Ross House, 1976). (2) It is very difficult to capture in a formal proof the logical force of all the elements that really persuade people of the truth of Christianity, such as the love demonstrated by a Christian neighbor’, the joy on the face of a church soloist, or a sudden awareness of one’s sinfulness. (3) Finally, even if such a proof were sound and persuasive to normal (believing) minds, unbelievers would still resist it, and believers would not really need it.