Poythress is balanced and careful in his evaluation of both the personal and propositional nature of divine speech.
We may already draw some conclusions with respect to modern views of revelation. Neo-orthodoxy and other modernist views of divine revelation typically argue that revelation is personal encounter and therefore not propositional. But these are not exclusive alternatives. Human communication in general is simultaneously both. That is, it simultaneously possesses a referential and an expressive aspect. To be sure, one or other aspect may be more prominent and more utilized at one time, but each tacitly implies the others. Moreover, to know a person always involves knowing true statements about the person, though it means also more than this. If the supposed “encounter” with the divine is indeed “personal,” it will inevitably be propositional as well. When I say that communication is “propositional,” I do not of course mean that it must be a logical treatise. I mean only that communication conveys information about states of affairs in the world. One may infer from it that certain statements about the world are true.
In our claims about divine speech we do not rely only on general arguments based on the nature of human communication. The reader of Scripture over and over again finds accounts of divine communication that involve both propositional statements and personal presence of God. (Exodus 20 may serve as well as many other examples.).
But there are lessons here also for evangelicals. Evangelicals have sometimes rebounded against modernist views into an opposite extreme. In describing biblical interpretation, they have sometimes minimized the aspect of personal encounter and divine power to transform us . There is no need to do this. The issue with modernism is rather what sort of divine encounter and personal transformation we are talking about: is it contentless, or does it accompany what is being said (referentially and propositionally) about the world?
Moreover, there may be a tiny grain of truth in the slanders from modernists about evangelicals “idolizing” the pages of the Bible. We say that divine speech is “propositional.” To begin with, we mean only that God makes true statements referring to the world. That is correct. But then, later on, we may come to mean something else. We think that we can isolate that referential and assertive character of what God is saying into gem-like, precise, syllogistic nuggets which can be manipulated and controlled by us, from then on, without further reflection on God’s presence and power at work in what we originally heard. The “proposition,” now isolated from the presence of God, can become the excuse for evading God and trying to lord it over and rationally master the truth which we have isolated. And then we have become subtly idolatrous, because we aspire to be lords over God’s word.
I do not mean to bar us from reasoning from Scripture. We must do this in order to struggle responsibly to apply the Bible to ourselves. We must take seriously its implications as well as what is said most directly. What I have in mind is this. Even with the discourses from human beings, it would be unfair not to take into account what we know of their character, their views and their aspirations when we draw out the implications of an individual sentence. A statement with no explicit qualifications, and with no explicit directions as to the way in which we are to draw implications, may nevertheless not be completely universal. It may not have all the implications that we think. A larger knowledge of the author forms one kind of guide to the drawing of implications. At least this much is true with respect to the situation where God is the author.
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