How Most Evangelicals Read the Bible

August 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

Following up from yesterday’s post about Avery Dulles’ book, Models of Revelation, I would like to share more insights about the evangelical view of revelation.

How Most Evangelicals Read the Bible

Photo Credit: Brett Jordan

Today’s post will explore how the evangelical view of revelation:

  1. Is broader than Dulles’ definition; and
  2. Incorporates the strengths of Dulles’ other views outlined in the book.

1. The Evangelical View of Revelation is Broader and More Complex Than Dulles’ Definition

The evangelical view of revelation is much broader and more complex than simply the propositional statements verbally expressed by God. Evangelicals view the Scripture as their primary source of revelation, but it is inappropriate to say that all Scripture is viewed by evangelicals as God’s revelation in propositional form.

Glenn Kreider, Professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary believes the correct evangelical view of revelation in Scripture is that “evangelicalism emphasizes Scripture as the propositional form of special revelation which gives a fixed objective cognitive content to faith while still maintaining the personal object of that faith (Jesus Christ).” In other words Scripture is at the center of revelation, but propositional revelation directly from God is not the only revelation revealed in Scripture.

As discussed yesterday, there are many other forms of revelation that can be ascertained from Scripture. In fact, it is not only the word of God in Scripture, it is also the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Word of God, Jesus, and the propositional Word of God that provide the evangelical view of revelation. 1

Additionally, the evangelical view of revelation also accounts for the progress of biblical revelation over time. One might also call this historical theology. According to Dulles, there is no view of the progress of revelation within the Bible or since it has been canonized. Evangelical revelation actively seeks to understand a historical theology about what the Bible says and how it has been interpreted over time.

Even though the evangelical view of Scripture is that God’s word is inspired, authoritative, and inerrant, evangelicals believe that God’s word in the form of propositional content cannot stand alone when it comes to revelation as doctrine. God’s messages to his people recorded in Scripture are not only His spoken words. They also contain other significant factors related to God and His revelation to us.

For example, God’s messages often accompany the appearance of God, the works of God, and the words from God in dreams (in which God does not appear). 2 God’s divine revelation to his people is not just in the form of propositional content but instead in his manifestation in various forms.

As has been lightly touched upon in this paper, God’s revelation to evangelicals also occurs in His work within the church and the church’s traditional interpretations of what He has said or done. In Dulles’ model he only attributes the revelation of God in the church to the “Catholic neo-Scholastics.” However, evangelicals also have a traditional interpretation of God’s word in various forms. Even though the evangelical church’s revelation is not propositional, it does reveal God’s grace because it is a living, breathing, non-verbal revelation of God. 3

2. The Evangelical View of Revelation Incorporates the Strengths of Dulles’ Other Views

Instead of Dulles’s narrow definition of revelation as doctrine for evangelicals, it is possible to note that, in fact, Dulles’ other four models all have strengths that are characteristic of the evangelical view of revelation.

Dulles’ model of revelation as history is an example of this because evangelicals do not believe that the Bible is only a set of propositional statements; they also view it as history. This matches with Dulles’ description of this model of revelation as history when he writes that “the Bible is thus not primarily the word of God but the record of the acts of God, together with human responses elicited by those acts” (p. 55).

In fact, evangelicals would argue that propositional content and revelation as history help each other be interpreted correctly. When learning about God through direct propositional content it becomes easier to understand the meanings of His acts in history. His acts in history either validate or invalidate previous interpretations of God’s propositional content.

Dulles’ model of revelation as inner experience is also used as a strength by evangelicals in their view and practice of interpreting revelation. In this model, Dulles writes that the inner experience of revelation “naturally translates itself into speech and writing, and in this way all civilized religions present revelation in the form of sacred writings. Doctrines have a symbolic truth insofar as they appropriately express and effectively awaken the religious consciousness” (p. 53). This type of special revelation “comes individually to particular persons and peoples” (p. 71).

It is through this “inner experience” that God speaks through His people His divine message. Because His people have the Holy Spirit living within them and they are receptive to hear God’s word, the inner experience God creates in them allows His propositional content to be spoken.

Dulles’ model of revelation as dialectical presence is another element of the evangelical view of revelation. This sheds special light on the fact that evangelicals primarily interpret the majority of the prophetic messages of the Old Testament in light of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. 4

Because of a progressive revelation of the Bible, evangelicals would state that the Old Testament and its propositions were incomplete until Jesus, God’s son, came to earth and manifested God’s word. In this manner, God’s word was not revealed in language or propositional verbal form. Instead it was manifested in human bodily form.

As a result, evangelicals see Jesus’ manifestation of God Himself here on earth as God’s propositional content lived out. Jesus was a sign that “the word became flesh” (John 1:14 NLT). With God’s word becoming flesh, evangelicals can see Jesus’ miracles and works here on earth also as revelation, as they are a form of God and His works in history.

The Evangelical View of Revelation in Light of Dulles

I hope to have shown that Dulles’ definition of revelation for evangelicals is too narrow and limited. Additionally, I hope to have shown in today’s blog post that an evangelical model of revelation not only is broader and more complex than Dulles’ model of revelation as doctrine, but that it also encompasses the strengths of Dulles’ other models of revelation.

Question: How do you believe evangelicals read the Bible as revelation?

Notes:

  1. Glenn Kreider, “An Evangelical Doctrine of Revelation,” unpublished class notes for ST 101 (Dallas Theological Seminary, 2004), 4.
  2. Glenn Kreider, “Forms of Revelation in Scripture,” unpublished class notes for ST 101 (Dallas Theological Seminary, 2004), 3.
  3. Ibid., 2
  4. See Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 1991), 245.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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