Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Revelation Alone

I’m halfway through Mike Reeves’ excellent lectures on a theology of revelation.  Go and listen now if you haven’t done already.

Maybe I should put them somewhere prominently and permanently on the blog because they explain much better than I can the thinking behind ‘Christ the Truth’. 

To be an evangelical theologian is to have your method entirely shaped by God’s coming to us in Jesus.  Just as we are saved through God’s grace alone by Christ alone, so we know God by God’s grace alone and through Christ alone.  This being the case, we need to be saved from our ‘wisdom’ every bit as much as we need to be saved from our ‘works.’

Anyway, all these sorts of thoughts were circling through my head when I came across this quote posted on Tony Reinke’s blog.  It’s all about how we should ‘restore the bridge’ from classical literature to Christ!

“What then shall we say if we would restore the medieval bridge from Homer, Plato and Virgil to Christ, the Bible and the church? Shall we say that Christianity is not the only truth? Certainly not! But let us also not say that Christianity is the only truth. Let us say instead that Christianity is the only complete truth. The distinction here is vital. By saying that Christianity is the only complete truth, we leave open the possibility that other philosophies, religions and cultures have hit on certain aspects of the truth. The Christian need not reject the poetry of Homer, the teachings of Plato, or the myths of the pagans as one hundred percent false, as an amalgamation of darkness and lies (as Luther strongly suggests), but may affirm those moments when Plato and Homer leap past their human limitations and catch a glimpse of the true glory of the triune God.

I reject the all-or-nothing, darkness-or-light dualism that Luther at times embraced. But I also reject the modern relativist position that truth is like a hill and there are many ways around it. Yes, truth is like a hill, but the truth that stands atop that hill is Christ and him crucified. To arrive at the truth of Christ, the people of the world have pursued many, many different routes. Some have only scaled the bottom rim of the hill; others have made it halfway. But many have reached the top and experienced the unspeakable joy that comes only when the truth they have sought all their lives is revealed to them. …

If we are to accept these verses [Romans 2:14-15] in a manner that is in any way literal, we must confess that unregenerate pagans have an inborn capacity for grasping light and truth that was not totally depraved by the Fall. Indeed, though the pagan poets and philosophers of Greece and Rome did not have all the answers (they couldn’t, as they lacked the special revelation found only in Jesus), they knew how to ask the right questions—questions that build within the readers of their works a desire to know the higher truths about themselves and their Creator.”

—Louis Markos, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics (IVP Academic 2007), pp. 13-14

How do you think your mild-mannered correspondent reacted?

Well – go and see.  Here’s a selection of my many comments!

I enjoy the blog. I hate this quote.

Christ and Him crucified does not sit atop a hill as though waiting for natural man to ascend! The Truth steps down to meet us in ignorance, just as the Life steps down to meet us in death. And besides, which natural mind has ever drawn near to the crucified God? Such truth has only ever appeared as folly to the world, yet this *is* the power and wisdom of God.

This quote is epistemological Pelagianism. Salvation and knowledge go together. We must oppose synergism in the one as strongly as we oppose it in the other. No wonder Luther shows the way. We’d do well to heed his cautions…

It is incontestably and trivially true that pagans can write meaningful novels, develop life-saving medicine, pursue world-enlightening science, make correct philosophical and moral observations. And it’s equally true that pagans can work for peace, give blood and generally be very, very nice people. No-one’s saying unbelievers can’t say true stuff, just as no-one’s saying unbelievers can’t do good stuff. The trouble comes when someone tries to co-ordinate nature and grace in either knowledge or salvation. Whenever the natural is seen as a stepping stone into grace alarm bells must go off. Whenever co-ordination, stepping-stones, bridges, spectrums, pilgrimmages, ascents up hills are discussed flags have to go up…

Truth is relative – relative to Christ, the Truth (good name for a blog I reckon). His subjectivity is the one objectivity. There are therefore whole worlds of understanding that make some kind of sense within their own terms of reference and which make some kind of sense of the world but are falsely related to the true Logos. Therefore in toto and at root they are utterly false. And there can be no bridge between these worlds and the world in which Christ crucified is central. There can only be redemption from these worlds. Such a redemption will require wholesale rethinking (metanoia – change of mind)…  2 Cor 10:5!…

I’m happy to call any number of pagan statements ‘true’ – just as I’m happy to call any number of pagan actions ‘good’. (For me this parallel between knowledge and salvation is key.)

It allows me to say:

1) such ‘truth’ or ‘goodness’ is of great benefit to the world.

2) such ‘truth’ or ‘goodness’ can be truly seen by the regenerate as evidences of common grace.

but,

3) such ‘truth’ or ‘goodness’, viewed from the pagan themselves, does not lead towards but away from Christ and Him crucified.

A pagan’s goodness leads them away from the grace of Christ, a pagan’s wisdom leads them away from the revelation of Christ…

I could tell you all sorts of propositions that surrounded my saving faith in Christ, but I’d be reflecting back on a miracle. I wouldn’t be telling you the natural steps that secured salvation any more than the servants at Cana would be telling you how *they* drew wine out of those stone jars.

Just as there are no discrete human deeds that add up to divine righteousness, so there are no discrete human understandings that add up to divine knowledge. All must be of grace, all must be of revelation.

 

So there.  I also discuss Acts 17 and Romans 2 a bit.  And there’s even some good points made by other bloggers!  Common grace really is astounding  ;-)

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Posted on by Glen in apologetics, blogging, gospel, grace, other blogs, recommendations, revelation, sermons, theological debate, theological method

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

0 Responses to Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Revelation Alone

  1. Pingback: Prayer is a bloody thing « Christ the Truth

  2. Dave K

    Fiery discussion!

    I’ve been reading several CS Lewis books this year with a discussion group. Through so many of them, and particularly in ‘Till We Have Faces’ which I’ve just finished, Lewis is making just the mistake you so vigourously attack.

    It is interesting that many evangelicals balk at what the ending of the Last Battle says about other religions, but then accept his ideas which inevitably lead to that conclusion.

    It is also interesting reading him again for the first time in years. I have for a long time been uncomfortable with Mere Christianity because of how little it talks about Christ, but I’m only now beginning to understand:
    1. What commitments lead him to marginalising Christ; and
    2. Why I instinctively have had a problem with it (which is the reasoning you describe – and I have to thank you, among others, for clarifying that for me).

    None of which is to suggest that there is neither ‘truth’ or ‘goodness’ in CS Lewis ;)

  3. kc

    Glen,

    Great discussion IMO. I think you’ve made some excellent points, as always. I wonder if some thoughts on faith might add some clarity. On the one hand (Pelagian) the claim is that the knowledge of Jesus Christ comes by observation through reason while on the other we say it is only by grace (the revelation of Jesus Christ) through faith. Our confidence in the Holy Spirit testimony is the only evidence that stands opposed to our preconceptions (vain philosophy and understanding).

    You also wrote:

    ”A pagan’s goodness leads them away from the grace of Christ, a pagan’s wisdom leads them away from the revelation of Christ…”

    Here again I think some thoughts on faith might be helpful. I would say your statement above is applicable to believers as well.

  4. Susan Christ

    By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not because of works lest any man should boast. Susan Christ

  5. Bobby Grow

    Excellent, Glen!

    I’m right there with you, preach it brother!

  6. Glen

    :) Why yes, we can take captive even Lewis’s thought! And a very interesting link with the Last Battle inclusivism too. Thanks

  7. Glen

    Yes KC – I think that’s right – even those in Christ are forever establishing their own righteousness and wisdom and must be conformed constantly by the Spirit to the grace of Christ. Another way of saying that is – we must live by faith!

  8. Glen

    Hey Bobby,
    It’s a simple drum, but I kind of like banging it. Constantly!

  9. pgjackson

    This is a very important point that you make:

    3) such ‘truth’ or ‘goodness’, viewed from the pagan themselves, does not lead towards but away from Christ and Him crucified.

    A pagan’s goodness leads them away from the grace of Christ, a pagan’s wisdom leads them away from the revelation of Christ…

    So, yes, gen rev and common grace exist. But they damn and in no degree save. Hence why a Muslim is no closer to Christian faith than an Animist, even though we might be able to (on one way of counting/ describing) find a greater number of ‘accurate’ propositions within Islam than Animism.

  10. kc

    Thanks Glen.

    PG do you think it might be better to say that the observable evidence of God’s grace only serves to condemn the unbeliever? I’m pretty sure you didn’t intend to imply there’s such a thing as “damning” grace. ;-)

  11. Glen

    I’d say it’s not the grace that damns but the hardness of heart. But wherever grace is not received, it hardens.

    In addition I’d say (controversially perhaps, but I hope biblically) that the revelation of creation is a revelation of Christ and the gospel (Col 1:23). Of course faith only comes through receiving the word – special revelation (Rom 10:14), but 3 verses later Paul calls the Psalm 19 revelation of creation to be ‘the word of Christ (v17-18).

    Therefore I’d say the revelation in creation is pointing the world to Christ but is suppressed and perverted by fallen man. This safeguards against any notion that God is deceiving the world with His common grace – as though He’s declaring a unitarian and works-based theology through nature, and a different gospel through the Scriptures.

    Anyway – perhaps all this is for another post (or 10).

  12. Glen

    Oh – and well done KC. I’ve just found out your comment was the 3000th (non-spam) comment on the blog!

  13. pgjackson

    kc, Glen, yes I think your way(s) of putting things is better.

    ‘I’d say it’s not the grace that damns but the hardness of heart. But wherever grace is not received, it hardens.’

    I agree, except is there a sense in which, with common grace, the grace is (at least partly) received? i.e. unbelievers to get to enjoy the gift of an apple/ of rain etc.

    Depends how we define ‘grace’ I guess – loosely as kindness/ gift (which the unbeliever does receive) or specifically as something more overtly Christ-centred (which therefore, even when eating an apple, the unbeliever is rejecting). The second option actually calls into question the whole concept of common grace as being grace at all, in which case there’d be no problem in saying that when God gives ‘it’ (whatever we then choose to call it – a creation gift?) it serves (among other things) to condemn.

  14. kc

    PG thanks for the kind reply. I appreciate both your perspectives on grace. I tend to lean toward the second option myself.

    Glen what an honor to be #3000! I would ask what my prize is but I already know that it’s being able to study here among the salt of the earth! ;-)

  15. Si

    CS Lewis and Justin Martyr have polar opposites on the Greek myths reflecting Christianity. Lewis talks about appealing to the muse to enlighten them, and the Holy Spirit giving them a glimpse of the Myth of Christ. Justin has it that the devil is simply not very inventive.

    Personally I think it’s perhaps a bit of both – God is preparing the ground for the gospel – for instance the desire in Greek thought for an incarnate Logos and the Aborigini tribe that when told the gospel went “we have waited to be told how God redeems people for centuries” for they knew that they deserved God’s wrath and also that God is loving, but couldn’t see how God could do it, for they didn’t know God, or what he was like – they even might have ‘guessed lucky’ with what they had that was true. However, it’s also little distortions of the gospel pretending to be mirrors, allowing syncretism, scepticism (all those current claims that Christianity just stole a lot of stuff off of everyone else) and other stuff – like “those Jews almost have it right, they just can’t see that the messiah has come – they still trust God to save them” and so on. The true things that the Devil places in myths helps us to believe those myths, for those true things chime in with what creation is saying, but we don’t and won’t hear.

    To sum up some rather wiggly thoughts here – the gospel in Greek poetry and so on was general revelation (with the authors speaking better than they know), just as creation proclaims the glory of Christ, however, because mankind is fallen, we can’t hear the real truth there, just might guess lucky and have something right – for without God’s graciously revealing himself to us, we’re shooting in the dark. (a blind man wanting to know what an elephant is like might find a hippo and say “elephants are big” – he’s correct, but he still doesn’t know what an elephant is like – just a hippo he thinks is an elephant)

    For instance, the end Harry Potter and the Lion, Witch and Wardrobe both have a form of a sacrifice to appease the wrath of Satan-type figures, with death and resurrection. Both were done to protect others from that wrath. Both are shadows of the cross. Lewis’s, of course, was very deliberate, where as Rowling’s was a lot less deliberately (she didn’t notice that Harry, having visited King’s Cross, doesn’t die that some Christian commentators picked up on). To those who are being saved, Christ and him Crucified comes out and we can learn stuff about God from them, but to those are blinded to it, it doesn’t. Yes they may spot the references, but they will not be brought towards Jesus (and therefore the Father), knowing more about him, by them, for they do not have the Spirit.

    Non-Christians may ‘speak better than they know’ – the clue here is that Homer, Plato, Aratus, etc, like Caiaphas, don’t know what God means by the words coming out of their mouths. They have their own interpretation, but it’s not the right one! It’s just another element of the gospel being proclaimed in all creation.

  16. Pingback: A thousand posts in a thousand words « Christ the Truth

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