planets2008
(Public domain photo)

Hard Going and Simply Rational continue their dialogue. This time they discuss the book by John Baillie The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought (1956)
Hard Going represents a Christian point of view while Simply Rational represents a humanist, and sometimes sceptical, interpretation.

HG: Having you managed to have a look at Baillie’s book?
SR: Yes, I have, but frankly, I’m still not any the wiser.
HG: Wiser about what?
SR: What it says in the title ‘the idea of revelation’? Being of a naturalist disposition, what I see around me in nature is revelation enough. Surely anything further is just wishful thinking.

Natural theology and divine self-disclosure
HG: Actually, I agree with you that there is revelation in nature, for those who wish to see. One has only to think of the stupendous magnificence revealed by the space telescopes to the marvels of protein synthesis. But these are impersonal revelations. At the most they can lead us to a natural theology and to the idea of a creative intelligence or a deist God. What Baillie is talking about is a different kind of revelation – God revealing Himself as a personal entity or as two of his chapter headings put it ‘The Divine Self-disclosure’ and ‘The Mighty Acts of God.’
SR: Yes, and this ‘Self-disclosure’ comes through verbal communication, through the words of the Bible. How can we know that the Bible is not just another book written by human beings?

Frost & ice on grass
(Photo: Scott Murray)

The paradox of the Word made flesh
HG: I think Baillie’s argument is that God’s true nature could never have been known unless He had revealed Himself in his ‘mighty acts’ leading up to his coming in the flesh in the figure of Jesus Christ. A huge paradox, yes, that the Word became flesh, that God unveils Himself in a person. But otherwise we could never know anything of God in a personal sense. As Baillie puts it: ‘The course of nature is above all impersonal. But God is personal, and a person can reveal Himself only through some kind of personal dealings with other persons’ (p72).
SR: How can a human being, a tiny insignificant animal on a tiny insignificant planet, possibly have communication with the creator of all that is?

What is significance?
HG: Your question begs the question of what makes significance. It’s not necessarily size or number but something else.
SR: And what’s that something else?
HG: It could be you talking to me. A person to a person able to use words because behind everything there is the Word, that is, what makes language and communication possible.
SR: Okay, so if there is this being who can communicate with humans, how is he going to do it?

Revelation is through events
HG: Strangely, if I understand Baillie correctly, it is not by words, or not merely by words. He says, ‘Our study has led us to the conclusion that revelation is always given us through events; yet not through all events, but only such as appear God’s mighty works; and through no event in its bare character as occurrence, but only as men are enabled by the Spirit of God to apprehend and receive its revelatory power’ (p78). He is of course thinking of the revelation of God in Christ and the events surrounding His coming. These events wouldn’t be a revelation unless they were a revelation to somebody. They were revealed for what they were to the Apostles. They bear witness to the events as being from God.
SR: But the stories in the Bible are so unbelievable! You don’t expect me to believe all these do you? Miracles, people rising from the dead, people blind from birth given their sight … O come on.

‘Intellectual’ knowledge and encounter knowledge
HG: A lot of people stumble over the supernatural elements in the Bible. But that’s the whole point – there is either a personal God or there is not. If there is personal God, then the things that are recorded are the things we might expect from a God who is a loving God. From a Christian point of view, the Bible is all about Christ, the preliminary to His coming, His coming and the aftermath. The essential knowledge offered in the Bible is not ‘intellectual’ – propositional – knowledge of any kind but salvation knowledge – how we can be right with and reconnected with God. It’s knowledge by acquaintance or by encounter, subject to subject. God reveals Himself and we put our trust in Him. You trust in a person, not in stories.
SR: That’s easy enough for you.
HG: How do you mean?
SR: Well, you say you and your wife have had all these experiences. Nothing like that has ever happened to me.

The internal witness
HG: God in Christ meets with people in their lives as lived. People’s experiences are different. Baillie points to something far more important than traditional ‘propositional truths’ or accompanying ‘miracles and fulfilled predictions.’ It is the ‘interior witness of the Spirit.’ He quotes Paul, ‘It pleased God to reveal his Son in me’ (Gal: 1.15) and adds that the same has to happen to himself.
SR: So you enjoyed Baillie, he confirmed you in your world-view.
HG: Don’t be snide. For me it’s a remarkable book in many ways and we’ve only touched on one or two things he deals with. How did you find it?
SR: Do you want the truth?
HG: But of course.
SR: I only skimmed through it. But I might have another look.
HG: Well worth it.

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