Something About Everything; Everything About Some Things

Recent discussions around here about sufficiency have caused me to recall some useful quotes I’ve run across recently in that area, which I thought I’d share. First, from Robert Godfrey, from his opening lecture at this year’s WSCAL conference on Christ & Culture. Godfrey aligns himself with Kuyper, and seeks to establish areas of common ground between Kuyperians and 2K-ers. First off, he addresses scripture and sufficiency:

As is often true in the history of the church, we [Kuyperians and 2K-ers] may not all perfectly agree what the Bible says, but I think we’re all agreed with the principle…The Bible is authoritative in everything that it says, about everything that it talks about. But I think we are also all agreed that the Bible, while authoritative in everything that it talks about, is not exhaustive in everything it talks about. The Bible tells us some things about history, but it doesn’t tell us everything about history. I believe it tell us some things about geology, but I don’t think it tells us everything about geology. I would suggest that it’s really only in three areas that we can say … it also speaks comprehensively, or completely, or exhaustively; we as Reformed Christians are committed to the proposition that that everything we need to know about doctrine and salvation is told to us completely in the Bible. … Secondly, we would say that the Bible is exhaustive in what it teaches us about worship. … And thirdly, the Bible tells us all we need to know about the Church and its government. … But I think we can probably agree as well, whatever our approach to Christ and culture, that the Bible does not speak exhaustively about politics. It says a lot of things about politics, it says a lot of things that are relevant to politics, but I don’t think any of us would want to argue that the Bible tells us absolutely everything we need to know about politics. Does the Bible even indisputably teach us whether we ought to have a democracy, or an aristocracy, or a monarchy? John Calvin says it doesn’t. … I don’t think anybody … would want to argue that every aspect of a platform proposed for a civil election could be derived from the Bible; I don’t think anyone would argue that. … So the Bible is authoritative in all that it says, but it doesn’t say everything about anything except salvation, worship, and church government. (I got those three points from the National Covenant that was defended by the Church of Scotland in the 17th century.)

Another very helpful (I think) distinction comes from John Frame, discussing the issue of sufficiency in his tome The Doctrine of the Christian Life.

Christians sometimes say that Scripture is sufficient for religion, or preaching, or theology, but not for auto repairs, plumbing, animal husbandry, dentistry, and so forth. And of course many argue that it is not sufficient for science, philosophy, or even ethics. That is to miss an important point. Certainly Scripture contains more specific information relevant to theology than to dentistry. But sufficiency in the present context is not sufficiency of specific information but sufficiency of divine words. Scripture contains divine words sufficient for all of life. It has all the divine words that the plumber needs, and all the divine words that the theologian needs. So it is just as sufficient for plumbing as it is for theology. And in that sense it is sufficient for science and ethics as well.

“Divine” might not be the best term; I would suggest “specially revealed words” vs. “generally revealed words” (as in BC2’s two books). So we could then say that the Bible provides sufficient special revelation for plumbing, but plumbing also requires a great deal of general revelation.

And of course, there’s this oft-quoted gem from Calvin:

Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver. How, then, can we deny that truth must have beamed on those ancient lawgivers who arranged civil order and discipline with so much equity? Shall we say that the philosophers, in their exquisite researches and skilful description of nature, were blind? Shall we deny the possession of intellect to those who drew up rules for discourse, and taught us to speak in accordance with reason? Shall we say that those who, by the cultivation of the medical art, expended their industry in our behalf were only raving? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we deem them to be the dreams of madmen? Nay, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without the highest admiration; an admiration which their excellence will not allow us to withhold. But shall we deem anything to be noble and praiseworthy, without tracing it to the hand of God? Far from us be such ingratitude; an ingratitude not chargeable even on heathen poets, who acknowledged that philosophy and laws, and all useful arts were the inventions of the gods. Therefore, since it is manifest that men whom the Scriptures term carnal, are so acute and clear-sighted in the investigation of inferior things, their example should teach us how many gifts the Lord has left in possession of human nature, notwithstanding of its having been despoiled of the true good.

Wherever did the Greeks got their politics, science, logic, medicine, mathematics? Must have been the Bible. Maybe they hacked Amazon and got an advance copy shipped to them.

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18 Responses to Something About Everything; Everything About Some Things

  1. RubeRad says:

    I would also say that Scripture (even I Kings 7:23) has nothing to say about the value of pi (and therefore nothing authoritative to say about the value of pi), and is insufficient for determining the value of pi. And at the same time, Scripture says all we need it to say (all God needs us to hear) about the value of pi, because with the God-given gift of reason, we can understand that from the book of general revelation.

  2. von says:

    I would agree with John Frame, disagree with RubeRad’s translation of John Frame, and utterly disagree with his post about pi.

  3. RubeRad says:

    Von, your reply is insufficient for explaining what is wrong about my interpretation of Frame, or my post about pi (or whether you approve of Godfrey)

  4. RubeRad says:

    Update: added the Calvin quote to the post.

    Von, Calvin says that if you reject the knowledge of the pagan Greeks simply because they claimed to get it from their false gods, rather than from the true God, you are insulting the Spirit of God, the only fountain and giver of truth.

  5. Zrim says:

    Frame: “So it is just as sufficient for plumbing as it is for theology. And in that sense it is sufficient for science and ethics as well.”

    Rube: “So we could then say that the Bible provides sufficient special revelation for plumbing, but plumbing also requires a great deal of general revelation.”

    I guess I’m not clear on how these statements are helpful. How is SR sufficient for plumbing? In the ordinary world these sorts of statements plainly mean that the Bible should be on the syllabus to Plumbing 101, along with Intro to Plumbing. When a text is said to be sufficient to a task then it is typically required reading. But something tells me both Frame and Rube wouldn’t put the Bible on the syllabus…yet they are sufficient to plumbing.

    Stumped in Grandville.

  6. RubeRad says:

    I don’t know how Von would parse Frame, but the way I see it, when Frame says that SR is sufficient for plumbing, he making an almost null statement. Another way to say it, the bible contains all of the special revelation that a plumber needs to plumb, which is the same as to say that the bible contains all of the special revelation that God intends for a plumber to bring to bear on his plumbing.

    It so happens that this special-revelation-for-plumbing, if we were to gather it all up where it can be found in the Bible, consists in generic ethical commands about fair business dealings and good workmanship, doing all things as if for Christ, etc. Nothing in there about pipes or wrenches or sinks or drains or hairballs…

    (It also happens that all of this generic special revelation is written on man’s conscience, so the Christian plumber has no “extra” revelation over the pagan plumber, but only a clearer, more explicit form of the same content)

  7. RubeRad says:

    utterly disagree with his post about pi

    So do you think the digits of pi are somehow hidden in Scripture like a Bible code? (How could you encode an infinite number of digits into a message of finite length? Maybe encode a finite-length algorithm for producing arbitrarily many digits?)

    If not, what do you even think sufficient means?

    And if you come back with “wisdom of many counselors”, isn’t that just the Bible telling you “the answer to that question is not the concern of God’s special revelation to His people, so go find men who are well informed in that area of general revelation, ask them the question, and respectfully weigh their answer”? (In other words, “here’s a quarter, call someone who cares”?)

    Would you say that Scripture is sufficient to answer the question of whether we should start church at 10:00 or 10:30?

  8. RubeRad says:

    Or to turn the question around, so you deny that Scripture is insufficient for anything. Do you affirm that general revelation is necessary for anything? Is general revelation necessary to understand pi? Is general revelation necessary to treat cancer?

  9. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    I suppose I really don’t understand very well why the need to be able to say that “the bible contains all of the special revelation that God intends for a plumber to bring to bear on his plumbing.” It’s just so confusing, and dies the death of a thousand qualifications, which seem to end up saying the Bible doesn’t say anything about plumbing. So why work so hard and go through so many contortions to make the Bible seem relevant?

    And it seems to me that what distinguishes the believer from the unbeliever is faith, not that the believer has “a clearer, more explicit form of the same content.” What does that mean? What is written on stone is just as clear as what is written on the heart, so how can we say that the believer is any clearer about ethics? What he’s clear about is that Jesus is Lord.

    I may be all wet, but my suspicion is that when we want to hold out that we are “clearer” on the ethical aspects of common activity we may be wanting to say that we are better at it. But clarity has never helped anyone who still had indwelling sin do better, even those who are also indwelt by the Spirit. All it seems to do is enlarge our understanding of our need for Christ.

  10. RubeRad says:

    Amen and amen. Contortions, believers no better, need for Christ etc.

    Except I still think what is written on stone is clearer than what is written on the heart. After all, it’s written on stone (so to speak)! By which I mean, it’s external to us, it is (inerrantly) what it is. Of course there is fallibility in our sinful interpretation of it, but at least it’s there, outside of us, so that when our selves bump up against it and fall short, we can experience how it kills us.

    After all, if written on the heart was just as clear as written in stone, then why did God go to such great lengths writing so much law into stone in preparation for revealing the gospel? Is not the answer that our sin is so much greater than we could ever figure out by merely dwelling on vague feelings of guilt and ennui that arise from our conscience?

  11. John Yeazel says:

    Calvin did say just that in the Institutes when he was comparing the “natural law” implanted in our hearts and minds by creation and the Law revealed to us and written down by Moses. To quote David VanDrunen on page 105 and 106 in his recent Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: “Calvin identified a general perversion of the order of nature produced by the fall into sin. This perversion also reached human nature, defacing the image of God and corrupting even knowledge and the use of reason. Because of this, Calvin insisted that sin makes the natural knowledge of God insufficient and therefore that moral understanding requires a revealed written law. Specifically in regard to the natural law, he writes vividly: ‘Therefore, as a necessary remedy, both for our dullness and our contumacy, the Lord has given us his written law,which, by its sure attestations, removes the obscurity of the law of nature, and also, by shaking off our lethargy, makes a more lively and permanent impression on our minds.’ ”

    What makes VanDrunen’s analysis even more interesting is when he brings William of Ockham, Luther, Aquinas and some of the other medieval theologians into the discussion of this issue. The following are some of his concluding remarks on page 107 of his book: “For purposes of comparing to Calvin, the relative absence of the topic of sin in Thomas’s discussions mentioned in the previous paragraph is noteworthy. For Thomas, the fundamental reason why grace is needed in addition to nature is not corruption of nature due to the fall into sin, but the inherent limits of nature itself. While sin aggravates the need for grace in the post-fall world, Thomas’s nature-grace structure remains in all essential aspects the same before and after the fall…………..”in expositing his (Calvin’s) very stark view of the effects of sin, he asserts that reason, though not entirely taken away, is a corrupted and shapeless ruin (agreeing with Luther here). Such affirmations certainly display differences with Thomas’s approach. Also different are Calvin’s rationales for the necessity of supernatural revelation. Calvin treats the topic not so much in terms of ontological necessity, as Thomas does, but in terms of ethical necessity; in other words, human sin rather than the limits of human nature is the principal reason why supernatural revelation is necessary.

  12. RubeRad says:

    Thanks for those quotes, very helpful!

  13. Zrim says:

    After all, if written on the heart was just as clear as written in stone, then why did God go to such great lengths writing so much law into stone in preparation for revealing the gospel? Is not the answer that our sin is so much greater than we could ever figure out by merely dwelling on vague feelings of guilt and ennui that arise from our conscience?

    Rube,

    What I mean is that, while it is certainly obscured by sin, the law on stone and the heart is nevertheless clear in both media. Otherwise, I don’t know how Paul can say we are without excuse.

    But I do think it is better to say, as you do, that the law was written on stone in preparation for revealing the gospel. Sometimes it seems like some might mean that the law on stone was really a sort of “Plan B,” as if sight-clarity is successful where a faith-clarity fails, which seems to fail to take into account sin. I do wonder if this can be understood as a faith-versus-sight problem. In the New Covenant the law is written anew on our hearts by the Spirit where we can’t see it and yet we are to live by it. Those still stuck in the Old Covenant seem preoccupied with the law as it is written in stone or on paper, where it can be seen and we are compelled to live by its letter instead of its spirit (i.e. theonomy).

  14. RubeRad says:

    It’s the difference between reading corrupted media through tainted goggles, vs. infallibly preserved media through tainted goggles. It helps if at least one layer of taint is removed.

    See also the wonderfully helpful quotes John Yeazel has brought us from Calvin et al, via DVD. I need to get a copy of that book!

  15. Zrim says:

    It’s the difference between reading corrupted media through tainted goggles, vs. infallibly preserved media through tainted goggles.

    What stops us from employing infallibly preserved media when reading corrupted media through tainted goggles renders inevitable disagreement? If, as you seem to suggest, we say the stone is clearer than the heart then it seems to me we should pull out the stone in the public square when there is disagreement, or even proactively avoid disputes by reaching for it in the first place. And this is what those who deny the sufficiency (clarity?) of general revelation to govern general tasks end up having to say.

    But if the visible church, which is governed solely by special revelation (sola scriptura) when ecclesiastical disputes arise is in such fractious disarray, then I don’t see how appealing to special revelation to solve civil disputes will help. In other words, sin obscures reading the Bible for ecclesiastical purposes as much as it obscures reading the book of nature for civil purposes.

  16. John Yeazel says:

    Rube,

    The book is definitely worth getting. I just read that section I quoted last night so it was fresh in my mind when I started reading the posts here. It has helped to clarify some of the confusion I have had with the two kingdom and natural law issues. I just finished the chapter on Calvin so I have a long ways to go yet. I am eager to finish it- best book I have read in a while. I would rank it up there with The Lost Soul of American Protestanism and A Secular Faith. All must read books.

  17. Pingback: Old Life Theological Society » Blog Archive » If Only Kuyperians Were As Reasonable as Godfrey

  18. John Yeazel says:

    “But clarity has never helped anyone who still had indwelling sin do better” “All it seems to do is enlarge our understanding of our need for Christ.”

    This seems to me to be a very important reason as to why we should seek clarity. If one of the main tactics of our indwelling sin is to get us to suppress the truth in unrighteousness then one of the main goals of sanctification is to bring clarity into our minds. This is what distinguishes reformational sanctification from the deeds type of sanctification seeking in the revivalist and anabaptist type church’s.

    This does leave us with the problem of how do we gain the power to “do better” or, conform our behavior to the natural and revealed law. I have come to the conclusion that what really changes our behavior and empowers us is the conviction that we really are forgiven and accepted by God in Christ. To really believe this with assurance in the innermost depths of our being and psyche’s. That is why partaking of the Lord’s Supper every week and looking back on our baptism is so essential.

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