In the last three months or so I've really been intensely engaged in processing the crossroads between human reason and a faith response to divine revelation. From that processing I have come to believe that an individual's understanding of human reason and revelation have much to do with whether they will venture a faith walk and how they will choose to follow Jesus. I believe that the Christian scriptures and historic Christianity have much to say about reason and revelation. The whole premise of the Bible is that it is impossible to reason our way to God (Acts 17:22-31). The transcendent nature of the God of the universe is such that unless God reveals Himself, He cannot be known. God revealed Himself most perfectly in Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-7). The site of that revelation today is the Christian Bible (Volf 2010). God continues to reveal Himself to us and continues to speak to us personally through the Holy Spirit (Ez 36:27, Gal 5:25). He leads me and gives me messages every day - if I will place myself in a listening stance and be attentive to what He has to say. This takes intention, time and relinquishing of the self-made identity. I was not surprised to discover that these simple statements of faith are controversial within the larger Canadian culture; but I was surprised to discover that they were also dismissed within a segment of Christian church culture. Through the interactions I had with two very diverse sources of dialogue I found myself rediscovering the strength of my commitment to knowing God through revelation and faith.
First Source The first source was two conversations I had with two women who, although diverse in their theological perspective, are both extremely well educated, critical thinkers from the Baby Boomer generation. When I asked if the stance of their church allowed for the Holy Spirit to speak to someone's heart with a message that was not directly out of the scripture they replied that this could not happen. When I further probed, "why not?" the response was, "The canon of scripture is closed, so God would never speak today except through what the Bible says." Wow! That statement had some pretty far reaching assumptions and powerful implications.
First, it sounded nothing like what I read in the scriptures. God spoke to individuals about themselves, not simply about issues that would become doctrine for the church. For example, angels came and told Lot, on behalf of God, that he had to get out of a city. That message was very personal and had nothing to do with being a universal message for all times and all peoples about whether followers of Yahweh should live in cities. A second example, the Holy Spirit had two conversations with Agabus, both of which had nothing to do with the whole church, but were simply personal messages. One was for an individual, Paul, telling him about his arrest. The other was for a church, telling that a famine was coming so they could collect food.
I know that one of the dangerous traps of this generation is our radical individualism and inability to see life through the lens of community or from the stance of being deeply engaged in community. But, that said, is God really less interested today in purposefully leading and directing individuals? Is the closing of the canon of scripture really a reason why God would no longer personally interact with people? For roughly four thousand years, since Lot, we continue to hear of God interacting with individuals- personally. Has this really stopped because we have the Bible? I know that God has spoken perfectly and completely about himself through sending his Son, Jesus. But does this mean that God will no longer speak to us, that the only purpose of his former communication with human persons was instrumental? Did God not personally communicate so that he could become the personal friend of Job, Moses, Daniel, David? Did he not carry on a loving conversation with them? Is it not in fact normative for human persons to walk with God in the cool of the evening? Does Jesus' life, death and resurrection not again provide this access through the Holy Spirit? Should the children of God only be related to their Father through a book of self-revelation? Could we not expect that the record of Acts is in fact a descriptive record of God's normative dealings with Christians, post-resurrection. The idea that God does not speak to me personally seems strange and somehow disconnected from the God I see interacting with first century followers of the Way.
The second reason this response was quite confusing was because it suggested to me, perhaps wrongly, but it is where my mind went, that such a teaching would form a very particular kind of identity in a person who believed it. Surely if God only communicates through a the Bible then his direction to me would be very generalized. I am not suggesting that followers of Jesus are not expected to read scripture and apply the principles from it to our lives - I am in fact strongly suggesting this. However, if the only resource I have to resort to is the Bible and my own reason then that makes my relationship with Jesus secondary to my relationship with the Bible. I actually believe that Jesus is my friend, and friends discuss things that matter. Jesus himself said that he no longer called the disciples servants but friends because he told them the things the Father was telling him (Jn 15:15). Surely such a process continues today. We are not a generalizable group of Christians called the church who get general information from God. We hear Jesus' voice, he knows us and we follow him. We know how to discern his voice from the voice of other pretenders (Jn 10:27-30). I think the two people with whom I was speaking would suggest to me that the reason I would know God's voice is because he would only say things that were in alignment with his revelation in scripture. And although I agree with this principle, I don't think it could possibly apply to what Jesus is communicating here. There are other passages that would make this point - rather explicitly (Gal 1:8). What does it mean that I hear Jesus' voice? Well, I think it means we hear it, in our heart through the Holy Spirit, and we are so used to hearing it that we recognize it from all others, because it speaks to our identity that is united with Christ and we know the voice of the One with whom we are united through his death and resurrection (Jn 17:20,21). Practically speaking this means that throughout my day I am nudged continually by the Spirit towards certain things and away from others. God does powerfully interact with my spirit and God does direct and lead my life, both through the Bible and through a personal relationship of hearing his voice speak about how I should respond to someone in front of me and sometimes the very words I should speak to them. As a follower of Jesus I have been granted reason to understand God's revelation. But reason is a response to revelation, not the means to knowing God. Scripture is the site of God's self-revelation, but God is not now limited to only the words of that text if He wants to speak with me.
Second Source The second place this reason/revelation dialogue poked through was in a conversation I was having with eight young women. We were dialoguing about contemporary culture and specifically the obstacles within culture that keep people from knowing God. These women - all Millennials, assured me that Reason was the number one obstacle to faith in their generation. They explained that within their generation if often does not matter what God has revealed of himself, if it does not "make sense" to their generation then the revelation cannot be accepted. They told me that they have had a number of conversations that went like this, "I couldn't believe in a God who would...." You can fill in the blank. The implication was that even within the church it sometimes doesn't matter what Jesus has revealed of himself. If it does not fit the paradigm an individual has of who God should be, well, then that cannot be who God is. God should be, above all things, reasonable, and, wherever possible, politically correct. The idea that God is untamed and wild, that God sits in the heavens and does whatever pleases him is completely unacceptable to contemporary Canadians, and sometimes even those who claim the name of Jesus Christ. God must make sense -to them. Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to suggest that God cannot make sense of our world; but I would never suggest that God can be adequately explained by information we gain from our senses and sort out with our reason! How could a God who breathes galaxies into being, a God who speaks and void chaos takes shape be understood through creature reason? This is an inadequate resource through which to touch the Divine, the ineffable, the immortal, the Holy - who is completely and utterly separate from creature and creation unless He deigns to disclose Himself to us.
Modernity was arguably ushered in with the Age of Reason and God was ushered out. The human person became the measure of all things and on that day God was made the servant of our desires and began to be outspokenly formed in our image. Revelation, mystery - these were things of the past. Only a God who could be systematically explained and scientifically reasoned was acceptable. The human race, and often the church herself, dragged God out of the heavens and made him an agent contained within the universe like any other creature. He could be counted, weighed, measured and systematized into our little theology boxes. Once in the box we told him he could no longer speak - unless it was in the words of the Bible. Now in what some call post-Modernity and what others call the height of Modernity even the church has become so enculturated that we spend most of our time trying to reason out who God is instead of just listening to and communing with what Elijah would have referred to as "a still, small voice."
I believe God still speaks, otherwise He could not be known. I believe God reveals Himself through scripture but that he continues to personally speak with people outside of scripture. Nothing God says will ever change his eternal Word because God is unchanging. What God tells me is never something that would be added to the canon of scripture to create some new teaching or doctrine. However, God speaks to me personally through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals to me that I am "born of God!" He whispers this to my heart. The Holy Spirit often comforts my heart in every good work and word (1 Thess 2:16,17). God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Bible records thousands of years of God personally speaking with and revealing himself to humankind. The presence of a canon of scripture does not change the way he deals with our race and in gentle friendship personally speaks with us. Jesus told us it would be so. He declared to his disciples that it would be better for them if he went away so the Holy Spirit could come to them (Jn 16:7, 12-15). Could this honestly mean that Jesus was going away so that his presence could be replaced with a book or with another person of equal stature - the Holy Spirit? Is the Jesus available to Christians not fortunate enough to live in the first century simply a person revealed in a book or a living God who continues to speak when, where and how he wants? The Holy Spirit takes the things that are of Jesus, and are therefore of the Father as well, and discloses them to us. Thank God that my knowing Jesus is not based on my reason but on the revelation of the Holy Spirit through scripture. Thank God that my personal relationship with Jesus is based on a dialogue where the Spirit speaks to me and I to him.
Volf, Miroslav. 2010. Captive to the Word of God: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection , Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing.