One of the challenges I set for myself in 2016 was to read a book that’s too difficult for me; around the same time, someone asked if I had read a systematic theology before. After some e-crowdsourcing and reading through Kindle samples (Berkhof, Frame and Horton were the finalists), I finally decided on Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. It conveniently has 26 chapters, so my (very possible) goal is to read a chapter every two weeks. Since it also is a little beyond me, I’m hoping to blog about my reading once in a while (to make sure I’m actually absorbing stuff) — summarising, quoting, reflecting. Here’s the first post (:
Chapter One: The Fact of Divine Revelation
Has God revealed Himself in Scripture?
In the first half of the chapter, Reymond traces how God ‘reveals’ Himself in the Old and New Testaments, and provides helpful summaries after long chains of Scripture-referencing. In short, God has revealed Himself to us, either through (as in the OT) verbal communication of truth, especially in the interpretation of historical redemptive acts, or (as in the NT) through the written witness of the apostles, to whom Christ the Incarnate Word had given His authority.
In the second half, Reymond counters objections to the doctrine, namely:-
- The Bible is a (flawed) record of God’s revelation to human beings but not the revelation itself; religious truth is always personal or existential truth. (the Neoorthodox objection)
- Language is inadequate as a vehicle of personal communication, and especially incapable of expressing literal truth about transcendent realities. (the language philosophy’s objection)
- Human language is incapable of expressing literal truth about anything. (the language philosophy’s objection on steroids*)
- The messengers could have misunderstood God’s Word and misreported it.
- We can misunderstand the Scriptures.
(* I added ‘on steroids’. The author’s expression was ‘radical’.)
Reymond’s responses to the objections are a great way to think about apologetics. He counters the arguments based on the interlocutors’ own terms and assumptions first, showing their position is self-defeating. Where applicable, he then brings in the practical, pastoral side of things, i.e. is it possible to live according to this worldview? And finally, he unashamedly uses Scripture to make a counter-point. Presuppositional apologetics actually works, and his readers get a front-row seat.
My favourite quote is this explanation of why the resurgence of neoorthodoxy (objection 1.) didn’t last too long:
A theological vision that talked much about the mighty acts of God in history but refused to identify any historical event as an act of God, that talked much about the Christ of faith but refused to identify Jesus of Nazareth directly with this Christ at any point, and that talked much about the Word of God to man but refused to identify the Bible or any other book directly with this Word of God could not for long fire the imagination or answer the hard questions of thinking people. And a gospel whose Christ is a “phantom”, whose cross is merely a symbol, and whose resurrection occurs only in “primal history” and not in the actual history where people experience pain and death and long for deliverance simply has no staying power.
Yes. A Christianity (or any spirituality / faith) not grounded in history nor accounting for the physical is of no use in a world where people really have griefs and and hurts and sins done against and by them. I can’t remember where I read or heard before, ‘Even the most devout, enlightened Buddhist monk uses doors and not walls to get from one room to another.’ It’s a flippant (and probably unfair) statement, but it captures a little of why I find gnosticism (and its variants) so unappealing in its explanations for, and responses to, suffering and evil.
He ends his chapter sharply:
For in the “days of his flesh” Jesus Christ taught the multitudes using the known languages of Aramaic and Greek, claiming as he did so that he was imparting eternal truth (see, e.g., John 8:26, 40). Thus every denial of the possibility of a literally true revelation from God to mankind strikes directly at Jesus Christ in his role as Prophet and Teacher, for he claimed to be the deliverer of just such a revelation.
What a great response to those who proclaim a love for Christ the Word made flesh yet refuse to trust in the written Word of God.