Our Propositional Bible
Posted on May 10, 2013
The question over Scripture is not in the final analysis a question concerning the Bible, but rather concerning God. If one believes in a sovereign divine mind and will, in God who personally speaks and conveys information and instruction, then the presuppositions of scriptural inspiration lie near at hand.
No writer in the 20th century — perhaps in any century — has written so much and so well in defense of propositional revelation than Carl F. H. Henry, arguably the most important evangelical North American theologian in the last 100 years. By “propositional” I mean revelation in intelligible words and sentences that make a statement. Henry was a sworn foe of the rising irrationalism in culture and church, of reducing revelation to non-propositional encounters, of so expelling God to the mists of eternity and the perplexities of the paradoxical that man cannot hope to know any objective truth. In short, Henry believed the Bible is God’s truth. Henry’s critics forever remind us that not all biblical revelation is propositional (poem, imperative, etc); Henry in turn reminds them that every genre is designed to be interpreted in the mind as proposition: “Do not steal” = “Stealing is wrong”; “I praise You, O God” = “God deserves worship.” You don’t get rid of propositional revelation by appealing to non-propositional genres.
More importantly, in an age deeply resistant to authority, notably binding, written authority (as in multigenerational constitutions), the truth of the Bible as propositional revelation warrants the most vigorous defense. In the Bible we read the very words of God mediated in human language. The words of the Bible were also written by men, but their uniqueness rests in the fact that they are the very words of God. The Bible is oracular revelation.
Henry noted that it is the nature of persons to communicate, and the highest form of that communication is propositional language — even for mutes, the mentally disabled, and those who can communicate only with their eyelids. Images and music are lovely, and great gifts from God, but they are no substitute for language. God is the absolute Person, and as a Person he communicates personally, by language, to the creatures made in his image.
To discard and devalue his language in the Bible is to discard and devalue his character — his being. Not to consume his words, not to obey them, not to cherish them, is egregiously to disrespect him.
God talks to us in the Bible. Our job is to listen and love and obey.