Jerusalem vs Athens (Revelation vs Human Reason)

Jul 22, 2009

Some thing struck me today, and still a fresh and unmined thought. I will briefly share it with you. Isn’t it remarkable that the old testament was almost completely written and the prophets were just about wrapped up their mission while philosophy and it’s greats were just beginning to come on the scene! This has many profound implications and seems to corroborate our case and that of the Christian apologist that much more. Any thoughts on this or am I swinging at air?

In Him

Yes, and after this the early Church fathers would symbolize the great antithesis between humanistic philosophy and Hebrew prophetism as the conflict between Jerusalem and Athens. As in Tertullian’s famous dictum, “What hath Jerusalem to do with Athens?” This is because Greek / humanistic philosophy begins with man, and from unaided reason alone deduces the existence and perhaps ‘some’ of the attributes of God. Whereas Jerusalem, the symbol of prophetic revelation, begins with God, as a necessary presupposition of all reality, and casts itself in utter dependence on the mercy of God to receive revelation by the Spirit through faith.

Athens believes that reason alone is sufficient to arrive at a conviction of the existence of God as the “unmoved mover,” or cause of all things. And indeed reason is sufficient for this much. But it can proceed no further. This is the limitation that Paul is alluding to Ro 1:18-21 where he shows that there is sufficient evidence in creation to leave humanity without excuse concerning the existence, and also something of God’s divine nature. But this is only enough evidence to make man accountable to his conscience; it is not sufficient to save him. This must come down from above by grace and mercy in the form of divine revelation, as revealed secret (apocalyptic). Paul calls the gospel itself a revealed mystery (Ro 16:25; Eph 6:19). Only such ‘special’ revelation can recreate the heart in saving regeneration (the indispensable ‘without which not’ of all spiritual life). This is the classic distinction between so-called ‘general’ or ‘natural’ revelation and ‘special’ revelation that can only be mediated by the Holy Spirit (the creative ‘breath’ of God).

Such is the limitation that imposes itself on Athens (symbol of autonomous human reason). While Jerusalem, on the other hand, believes that God is personal and personally knowable through the gift (grace) of inspired revelation. The existence of special revelation leads to the evidence of inspired speech. The greatest evidence for the divine source of this kind of the speech is the miracle of prophecy, which vindicates its reality in manifest and historically verifiable fulfillment. Or, as I tell the kids, “You can check it out!” This, I often point out, is God’s own self chosen self defense. I mean proof from prophecy is the particular means that God has chosen to show His identity and sovereignty (see Isa 41:20-23, 26; 42:9; 43:9-10; 44:6-8, 26-28; 45:21; 46:8-10; 48:3-16). Therefore, the evangelist no less than the apologist (believers are both) would do well to follow suite, since the proof of prophecy was the apostolic approach to evangelism as modeled by Jesus, Paul, and the early evangelists (Lk 24:27; Acts 2:17-21; 7:37; 8:30-35; 10:43; 13:33; 15:15; 17:3, 17; 18:4, 19, 28; 19:8-10; 26:22-27; 28:23; esp Ro 16:25-26). When written and canonized, such well proven and documented inspired speech becomes the written Word of God, the Bible. It is the gift of a reliable and mutually accepted basis of authority by which a truth claim can be justified or rejected accordingly. Therefore, the early church did not presume to advance anything that could not be justified by what stood written. Thus there are two paradigms of final authority. Is reason supreme? Or is revelation supreme?

I once wrote a little piece that stated that the entire history of western civilization could be summed up in two related questions. By what standard? And, who decides? The first is the question of authority. Is God there? Has He spoken? This is the beginning of the question of whether such a thing as an inspired and thus authoritative Scripture can exist. The second is the question of interpretation, since only a right interpretation can accurately represent the authority of the spoken Word.

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