Clark Williamson on revelation

God is the proper subject of revelation, God’s self in God’s being and works. In revelation, God reveals God’s self and we are dependent on God’s revelation of God’s self for our knowledge of God. All human efforts to gain knowledge of God by independent inquiry are fruitless (1 Cor. 1:21: “The world did not know God through wisdom”); such pretend knowledge of God is to God’s own self-disclosure as chaff to the wheat (Jer. 23:28). God is not an object accessible to our observation in the world. God is not an in-the-world being, who exists alongside other beings and is perceptibly distinguishable from them as they are from one another. God is the One in whom the world has its being, the One from whom all things come and to whom all things return, the Alpha and the Omega. The knowledge of God must be granted us by God.

– Clark Williamson, Way of Blessing, Way of Life: A Christian Theology, pp. 46-47

Revelation, according to Williamson, is always particular, not revelation “in general”; it occurs by means of particular media (e.g., historical events) through which God’s identity is disclosed. The content of revelation is primarily personal–God’s nature, will, and purpose–rather than a set of propositions or doctrines to be believed. Thus, the proper faith-response is primarily trust–trust in God’s promise and God’s command–rather than assent to a set of statements. Revelation is better thought of on the model of personal disclosure than the revelation of propositional truths. Revelation has both an “objective” and a “subjective” pole–the revelatory event and the human reception (and interpretation) of it. There is no revelation without interpretation. For an event to be a purported case of revelation is for it already to have undergone interpretation. (This also opens the door to an ongoing revisiting and refinement of our understanding of revleation.)

Further, Williamson doesn’t deny that revelation occurs outside the boundaries of Christianity. “God reveals God’s self freely and to whom God pleases” (p. 46), and other religions can be media of revelation. But that doesn’t mean that Christians can never criticize other traditions (even as they should enter into conversation with and learn from them). Ultimately, the criteria of revelation, for Christians, is “the love of God freely offered to God’s people and the command of God that they in turn love God and one another” (p. 60). This provides a guide for interacting with people of other faiths (or no faith): because revelation is fundamentally about love, it does not impose itself on others. “Definitive revelation does not impose itself in an authoritarian, oppressive way on anyone” (p. 67).

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Clark Williamson on revelation

  1. Asking the question of whether revelation is propositional seems to me like touching the butterfly’s wings. Don’t expect things to go well once you’ve done it. Answering “Yes” or “No” will get you into all kinds of trouble. Nuancing into “not primarily” might help some. But not much.

    And this talk of revelation through historical events. Sounds good. That way we don’t have to give so much emphasis to the text about the events. But it gives the impression that we could get behind the text to the events in themselves. That if we used the methods of history we might do better.

    Somehow, though, I think what Moses sang will tell me more about God than a chariot wheel found in the Red Sea.

    I know that blog posts have limitations, and perhaps Williamson keeps himself immune to these charges. I’ll just say he’s taken on a challenging task.

  2. Well, don’t you think that the texts, at least in large part, derive their content from the events to which they (purportedly) witness? In other words, it seems to me that the “event” comes first, accompanied by human reception, followed by some form of communal reflection as to its meaning, transmission of the tradition about the event (often orally), and only finally the written record (often edited and compiled over a fairly long period of time). Maybe it makes the best sense to use “revelation” to refer to this entire process? What doesn’t make sense to me, though, is to treat the text as a source of revelation in isolation (at least in most cases).

  3. “Well, don’t you think that the texts, at least in large part, derive their content from the events to which they (purportedly) witness?”

    Yes. The dichotomy here is one that Williamson seems to introduce when he pits events against propositions.

    “In other words, it seems to me that the “event” comes first, accompanied by human reception, followed by some form of communal reflection as to its meaning, transmission of the tradition about the event (often orally), and only finally the written record (often edited and compiled over a fairly long period of time). ”

    This probably describes a lot of such instances quite well.

    “Maybe it makes the best sense to use “revelation” to refer to this entire process?”

    Yes. But are we really left just guessing here? 2 Timothy 3:16 would seem to support the inspiration of the text itself, not just the events described in it. What I would be leery of would be someone who would, say, question 2 Timothy as an accurate description of revelation, but then trust the Exodus accounts. (Or parts of them.) This is where I think it gets dicey. Some of these events we would only believe if we already had a belief in the possibility of divine revelation. When someone offers me something easier to handle, I often wonder whether what he’s offered is truly easier. Or whether the adjustment might not have another reason for it than plausibility. (e.g. Could it offer an easier way of treating the Problem of Evil?) He may have good reasons for arguing what he does, but I would want to weigh out which problems are really being solved and whether they are my problems.

  4. I think we need to distinguish revelation and inspiration–I wouldn’t say they’re the same thing. I’m happy to say that the biblical texts are inspired, but I also think at the same time that in the biblical tradition revelation is primarily located in persons and events. (As Hebrews says, God has spoken to us by his Son.) I think it’s more accurate to characterize the Bible as witness to revelation and the record of God’s people wrestling with the meaning of God’s self-revelation. I can’t think of many cases where any text in the Bible presents itself as dictated by God in the way that, say, Muslims might think of the Koran.

  5. “I can’t think of many cases where any text in the Bible presents itself as dictated by God in the way that, say, Muslims might think of the Koran.”

    Overall I agree with that.

    When we studied this in seminary, the professor was clear that inspiration was taken as referring primarily to the final text, and not the author. We don’t speak of the men being inspired. They may not have been aware that what they were writing was inspired. The key text for what that is about is the 2 Timothy passage quoted above. Scripture is God-breathed.

    Yet Scripture does present itself as being quite a bit more than a witness to revelation. In his book The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, B.B. Warfield had a chapter titled something like “‘It Says’, ‘Scripture Says’, ‘God Says'” which showed how interchangeable these terms were. The striking one I remember was Romans 9:17, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.'” [The uppercase is used by the NASB here.] In the Old Testament, Moses actually speaks the words God told him to speak, yet St. Paul calls this Scripture. Warfield found a number of these, and they do suggest that certain Bible writers at least held to such an idea of inspiration.

    I can see using revelation the way you do, though. I do see there being a place for God revealing himself through events. But aside from an inspired text, we have little contact with most of those events. I don’t think it makes much sense to give Scripture a secondary role here.

    I just looked up the chapter online and found someone had not only cited it but posted it. Here’s a link to Warfield:
    http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/warfield/warfield_itsays.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s