Ardel Caneday (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Studies at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has served churches in various pastoral roles, including senior pastor. He has authored numerous journal articles, many essays in books, and has co-authored with Thomas Schreiner the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance (Inter-Varsity, 2001).
It is entirely fitting that we should ponder the beauty of two and the doctrine of Scripture after Dr. Jones’ presentation on the doctrine of God and Dr. Johnson’s presentation on the incarnation. The preincarnate Word spoke the word that brought the world into existence. The Word spoke the word that gave form to the formless. Thus the Word, Jesus, is the original. Romans shows us that God reveals himself not only in creation but to creation.
Belief in the incarnate Word of God is ours only as we believe the testimony of the Word concerning him. In their published effort to diminish the lofty view of Scripture that we evangelicals have received from the church fathers and reformers, replacing Sola Scriptura with Sola Experientia. As we probe the Creator/creation distinction that presupposes the formation of all Christian doctrine, we have to see how the Creator condescends to make himself known:
1. The Creator’s condescension to reveal himself. He does this by taking on our likeness by taking on our form, our likeness and our emotions—when in fact, we bear his likeness, his image. Because the entire universe is his creation, it is also the canvas of his entire revelation. (Psalm 19). Grand as the expanse of God’s creation is, more foundation to our understanding is that God formed Adam in his own likeness. The image is the nexus, the link, that gives humans inherent knowledge of God. He implanted in us an inherent awareness of the existence of God and our need for a deity. This is why Calvin says, “Without knowledge of ourselves, we have no knowledge of God and without knowledge of God we have no true knowledge of ourselves.” If we are going to be faithful to the Creator/creation distinction, we have to be aware that we are like God but also not like God. We gravely compromise the distinction when we advocate his similarity at the expense of his dissimilarity and likewise when we advocate his dissimilarity at the expense of his similarity.
Paul paints all people as being equally condemned, substituting created things for the image of God. Since the time of the so-called Enlightenment with its devotion to “rationalism,” we have come to think that humans have come to think that we have the ability to know God by our own intellectual powers. Philosophers and theologians have come to despise the image of God taking the form of a potter to shape the first man. They despise the image of God stooping to breathe life into the man’s lungs… But because God has made humans analogous to himself, he exploits this analogy to reveal himself to us. Consequently our knowledge of God and our covenantal relationship with God are derived from the fact that God has made us in his image. Consequently, we must never unduly degrade humanity as being evolved from a lower being. Equally, we must never unduly degrade humanity by confusing the Creator and creation.
2. The Creator’s condescension to give his word through human writers. The distinction between creator and creation is a foundational presupposition of our confidence in the inerrancy of the Scripture. Kant’s relegating God’s revelation to matters of religion, theologians and Christians today believe Scripture’s claims about religious beliefs as inerrant, but on matters of nature to be errant. Further, Kenton Sparks argues that because Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, he must have made errors in estimating and not done everything perfectly.
Sparks: “If Jesus as a finite human being erred from time to time, there is no reason at all to suppose that Moses, Paul, [and/or] John wrote Scripture without error.”
Sparks and those following him thus diminish the distinction between Creator and creation… leading to a view that we cannot truly know God. But Calvin says that we can truly know God, even if we cannot fully and exhaustively know him.
What Calvin affirms is that the church fathers proclaimed long ago. These church fathers understood the Creator/creation distinction that allows us to understand the inerrancy of Scripture. We are wrong to follow Sparks and those like him into believing that God has spoken only authoritatively in certain realms. They fall into the same error as that of open theism. But God’s word is condescending, it’s accommodating, analogical. Even though God makes himself known analogically, his Word is not errant, but pure and true and trustworthy.
3. Creation’s condescension to incarnate his eternal Word as the fullness of divine revelation to humanity. Because of the gulf between creator and creation, the Creator condescended to send the incarnate Word. Far more glorious [than even the glories shown to the OT prophets] is the revelation of Christ, who is the exact image of God, the exact imprint of his nature. The Lord’s self-revelation in anthropomorphisms through the pages of the Old Testament now reveals himself in the flesh in Christ. “The one who looks upon me, looks upon the one who sent me,” says Jesus. To see him is to see as much of the invisible God as the pure in heart are able to see. He has made himself visible in the incarnate Son in whom the fullness of God is pleased to dwell. Concerning the Son, the Apostle John assures us that, “” (1 John 5:20).
Many evangelicals think they are above Nicodemus, in thinking they are above earthly things. Because Scripture does not fill their ears with lofty words, they try to improve on God’s revelation. As Calvin says [commenting on John 3:2]:
Many hold the Gospel in less estimation because they do not find in it highsounding words to fill their ears, and on this account do not deign to bestow their attention on a doctrine so low and mean. But it shows an extraordinary degree of wickedness that we yield less reverence to God speaking to us, because he condescends to our ignorance; and, therefore, when God prattles to us in Scripture in a rough and popular style, let us know that this is done on account of the love which he bears to us.