Below appear my basic ideas that will be fleshed out in a book that I am tentatively calling Testimony.
Copyright 2014 Jesse Mullins
Revelation and testimony are two different things. For Christians today, revelation lies in the past. It is what transpired between God and the human being who received God’s message. Testimony, on the other hand, is between one human being—the one who received God’s miracle-accompanied Word—and any other human beings who were not witness to that supernatural revealing. Testimony, when it passes from the human witness/transmitter to the human recipient, from the testifier to the testified-to, takes on a quality of “secondhandedness” that is vital and even indispensible in the whole process of faith.
It’s this secondhandedness of testimony that makes it something different from revelation. It makes the experience of God’s message something different for us than it was for the Bible-era individuals to whom revelation (not testimony) occurred. They received revelation direct from God. What they passed on to others was testimony. Within that step something extraordinary occurs. That something can be understood as “falsifiability.” Falsifiability is what makes free will possible in man’s encounter with God’s message.
Now, someone might be saying right here—wait, I don’t want any testimony that is false. But the quality of falsifiability, when it is associated with testimony, should be thought of as something akin to “deniability.” Why would someone want the Bible to be deniable? Well, God would want it, we will see, if human-asserted faith, not tangible proof, not mere recognition of stimuli, is the divine objective.
It’s the “secondhandedness” of human testimony (transmitted by people such as Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, and Paul) that gives it a unique quality that suits God’s purposes perfectly.
We have examined one difference between revelation and testimony but there are at least three other differences that exist and that are useful in our study. Two of these are the obvious facts that revelation always precedes testimony and revelation always involves God or one of God’s supernatural agents. The third is that revelation is always accompanied by what the Bible calls miraculous “signs and wonders” or by some supernatural, unearthly quality that some philosophers and theologians describe as “numinous.”
We’ll look at numinosity—the striking, unsettling, awe-inspiring “otherness” (some call it holiness) of God—a little later. For now, just a word about signs and wonders. And it should be said here that all supernatural signs and wonders are themselves numinous events.
But the important point to consider now is the fact that God’s revelations—God’s messages and His expressed will—had to be accompanied, in Bible times, by (God-imparted) signs and wonders. A little logic shows us why. Try imagining Godly revelation that was lacking in one or the other trait: message or miraculousness. If God or His agents appeared to a human being and turned water to wine or parted a sea, and yet did not dispense any message, and/or did not“live out”or demonstrate any message, then the observer might indeed believe that some supernatural power had manifested itself, but there would be no communication for any human to take to heart. It would be as if a supreme being perhaps exists but that supreme being’s identity and will cannot be known. Now as for the opposite condition—if a message were to be in circulation among human beings and if that message were purportedly from God but was not accompanied by any evidence of supernatural origins—well, we can see why that approach would not sway many human beings either. Anyone could begin circulating a fresh message tomorrow and could say that it is the Word of God, but it is unlikely hearers would give that message any credence. If God has ever spoken to mankind, then we want to hear that God saw fit to accompany that message with some indicator of Himself as its source—whether in a voice from Heaven or in a pillar of fire or through His heavenly empowerment of some human intermediary or through some other indisputably God-like emanation. Lacking that, we are not likely to accept anything as being from God, nor should we. (Incidentally, there have been theologians and other thinkers who have wished that the Bible could be purged of, or at least considered without, its miraculous content so that its“real”message could shine through without the supposed miraculous“accretions,” but if revelation is properly understood it includes the miraculous or it fails to be revelation at all.)
Now here someone might say, well, wait a minute, I can imagine a scenario wherein God could have spoken to someone without making any show of miraculous powers (those“signs and wonders”) and yet I imagine that the hearer would still be satisfied that the giver of the message was God.
But if that is the question, let us stop and examine what has actually been said here. Our witness to the event—our person who had this encounter with God—is someone who has come face-to-face with His Maker or who has heard His Maker’s voice. Well, this is a case of numinosity, and numinosity happens to fall into that category of“signs and wonders.”God Himself, by His very existence, cannot help being numinous. Not to be so is not to be God. God, when He appears or speaks, cannot help but convey the impression upon His hearer that that hearer is in the presence of the supernatural. So it does us no good to say that God could convey His will without any display of miraculous powers. God Himself is a display of the miraculous.
But we needn’t worry about this“problem,”for we will see that this is an eventuality that God foresaw and remedied.
And so we return to our point that there is no divorcing God’s Bible-era revelations (messages) from supernatural signs and wonders. Let us notice, then, that when God used a prophet as His instrument or agent to convey His will, that that prophet achieved his standing and credibility only by a display of signs and wonders that proved that God was with him. A person today might be able to point to a passage in the Bible wherein a prophet or apostle said something but did not in that same moment perform a miracle to substantiate his point. But we are given to understand that such a prophet or apostle had to have shown himself to have been used by God at some point earlier in his career, and that that point had to have included some instance wherein God put His mark upon that individual, establishing him as a mouthpiece for God. Such distinctions must somehow involve the supernatural. If they did not, then the events, as our so-called “distinctions,” would have been nothing of the kind. So the earlier supernatural “touch” still lingered or persisted for the prophet, and still underscored all the words of the prophet, though the two occasions (his earlier “calling”and his later preaching) could have been somewhat removed in time. What made the prophet a prophet was God’s supernatural hand, and God’s own “anointing,” upon that individual.
But our main point here is that these two conditions—God’s message and God’s supernatural activity or His supernatural identity—were inseparable throughout the whole of the unfolding of the Bible story, or else we would not have reason to accept the Bible story. The two were indivisible. And that introduced a “problem” that God would have to resolve.
Because these two Bible-era phenomena—God’s messages and God’s supernatural stamp upon His messages—were necessarily and unalterably yoked together, dismissal of one of them always and necessarily had to include dismissal of the other. And therein lay the problem—one that God Himself understood.
God was only looking for human acceptance of the first—He wanted humankind to heed His will. The miracles served that purpose—focusing attention on the message, on God’s will. It could not have been the other way around. The message would never have been secondary to the display of power. There would have been no point in that. “Mere” demonstrations of supernatural power were not God’s essential thrust in Bible times. Imparting His will was His essential thrust.
When we consider His message (as conveyed in Bible times) as a summons or appeal of faith, however, we see how inferior it was to God’s post-Bible-era way of inviting faith. His Bible-era way was bound up with miraculous actions. A Bible-era Israelite who had been exposed to someone like Elijah and had seen Elijah’s works—if this Israelite were leaning toward deciding that he “does not believe in God,” then he is simultaneously faced with the fact that he must reject something more than just God’s message and God’s promises. He must reject the evidence of his senses—the things he saw and heard when Elijah manifested God’s power on earth. But how does one freely reject the evidence of one’s senses? Is that a “choice” one makes? We find that we are dealing with the difference between a truth and a fact. The evidence of one’s senses—the stimuli one receives—this is facthood. It is not a matter of choosing. The two (a truth claim and sensory stimuli) are inextricably mixed, and the result is that the person’s free will was compromised.
It comes down to the fact that a miracle is in no way “rejectable.” That might sound like an overstatement, but let’s consider it. Some dissenter might say, “Well, I certainly have it in me to reject a miracle. Some miracles, as I might imagine them, could have enough questionable aspects to them that I could reasonably reject them.” But do you see what this someone has said? He has said that these miracles were inconclusive. That they were somehow problematical. Somehow doubtworthy. And if that is the case, then they do not satisfy our first condition, which is that they be convincing enough to be acceptable. It is he, not us, who is saying that these“miracles”are nothing of the sort.
A truth claim, to be a truth claim, must be both acceptable and rejectable. Miracle-accompanied circumstances do not satisfy this condition.
And as for our illustration—what of Elijah himself? How free was Elijah to believe or disbelieve in God? We see that he had unshakeable grounds for belief, but that he had virtually no room for disbelief. There were no grounds for falsifiability. His “faith” then, was something other than a contemplative faith, unless he had formed his faith before God called him. But Elijah’s later hearers would not all have that chance.
The problem has to do with the fact that God wants man to exercise belief in God and in certain articles of faith as ordained by God, and yet belief has to be genuine and has to come uncoerced from the human being, the believer. If belief is based, even partially, upon the evidence of one’s senses, then to that degree the belief is not an assertion of one’s free will but rather a mere confirmation of what was involuntarily impressed upon one via one’s senses. And a confirmation of sensory input is not an act of the will.
The revelations of God were not testimony, per se, to those to whom they were directly revealed by deity. Those individuals (later) testified, yes. But the act of receiving God’s input was for them not testimony, nor was it belief in testimony, but rather a direct impression upon their own senses—something that left them with a limited capacity to exercise their own free will thereupon. For them, it was purely revelation—maybe we could call it“pure revelation”for them, and“testified revelation”for us. Indeed, we also sometimes call testimony“revelation,”but for us it is not the same kind. This is a crucial distinction. Testimony is something different from revelation, something that has undergone a change from its revelatory state. It seems that our understanding of this distinction was lost, if indeed it was ever fully understood. But our powers of reason can be enlisted to demonstrate all these distinctions.
At any rate, the original revelation is now available to us only in a state of secondhandedness. And rather than viewing this as a kind of degradation or loss, we ought to understand that this was God’s purpose from all eternity—that His revelation not be one of direct experience by the mass of mankind through history, but that it be a purely secondhand form, something that requires an act of pure belief entirely removed from the direct experience of our senses.
Here is an example of how we often blur the difference between revelation and testimony. Someone points to a passage written by, say, John, describing how Jesus (in John Chapter 9) healed the blindness of a man who had been blind from birth. That someone could say of this passage, “See, here is revelation.” And in a qualified sense, that person would be right. But one more question should be asked. That question is, to whom is this revelation? To us, or to John? It was revealed to John. It was not revealed to us. John testified to us what was revealed to him. So we are not precisely wrong to call it “revelation,” because in one sense it was—it was revelation to John. But for the purposes of this study we must keep our distinctions clear, and if we are discussing any of the written message of the Bible as relayed message, we must approach it as testimony.
God took that which once existed in the realm of the factual and indisputable and placed it deliberately into the realm of the clearly disputable. This, in a nutshell, is the difference between revelation and testimony.
We tend to dismiss or deplore or denigrate the idea of secondhandedness in our contemplations of our faith, but it is in His confining of our Christian faith to this secondhandedness that God appeals to our highest faculty, our free will. It is through his severing and distancing of direct revelation and His restriction of all faith to faith-in-testimony that He lifts faith to a higher plain.
To understand this, we must better understand what is meant by remarks such as this one—“Faith is the belief of testimony”—as preached by a 19th century American preacher named Alexander Campbell. And we must understand the difference between truth and fact, and between belief and knowledge.
We will examine the ambiguities that exist in these and other words—words used imprecisely by us today—and we will see how such ambiguities have masked some distinctions that otherwise would have made scripture clearer to us.
Moreover, we will explore a number of topics that each bring something to bear upon the idea of testimony and its central position in establishing faith.
All that remains here (in this document) is some naming of some chapters and some discussion of the (intended) content of those chapters. These segments will be of considerably varying length, mainly because some topics are easy to announce and describe and some others require more background if they are to be properly understood.
In a chapter to come, entitled “The Truth About ‘Truth’ and Some Beliefs About ‘Belief,’” we expose the imprecision that affects these important words.
If it were suggested that a fact is not the truth, or that truth is not something factual, someone would likely take exception, and assert something along the lines of “Truth always reflects the facts,” or “Facts are always the truth.” The problem here is that the word “truth,” as used in the modern vernacular, has been so broadened in meaning that it cannot clearly denote the one quality that it ought best to express. In common speech we use the word to refer both to matters of truth and to matters of fact. If we were to insist on clarity with this word, we would never permit it to refer to matters of factuality. Facts are met with acquiescence, with a “giving in” to their unquestionableness. Facts are not met with assertions of their truthfulness nor with decisions. Truth, meanwhile, summons belief, not the passivity with which we accept plain facts. A fact is not a truth. The truth is not a fact.
To state a belief is to proclaim something true. These two concepts are linked together: beliefs and truth. Two other concepts, facthood and knowledge, are also linked together. When facts are accepted (not believed, but rather accepted), the facts pass into what we call knowledge. No accumulation of facts ever adds up to what we call truth, at least if we are using the term“truth”in its purest, most distinct sense.
Someone might be“resigned to the facts [about something],”but no one is“resigned to”a belief. Belief requires active assertion.
When someone says “I saw it with my own eyes,”or“I heard it with my own ears,”he might contend that what he saw or heard is the“truth.”But that would be an imprecise handling of the word. What’s really being communicated is that one’s senses functioned in a particular way. His nerve endings reported some stimuli to his brain and he is confirming that reception of that involuntary stimuli. And so is that taking a stand on a question of truth? Our vague ways of using words tend to blur valuable distinctions. To think of facts, of stimuli, of the evidences of our senses as “truth” is to bleed truth, a valuable word, of its most essential meaning. Moreover, insofar as our semantics grow lax, so do our thought processes grow hazier, because we lack the diction to maintain proper clarity.
The Bible is a book of truths, not of facts. And while it is possible to say that that Bible revelation was all factuality in the moment of its revealing, it is rather like saying that revelation is on view in John Chapter 9. Yes, revelation was there, but it was revelation for John, not for us. God shifted the entirety of His revelation from the realm of facthood to the realm of truth when He presided as it all was transitioned from revelation to written testimony.
For us to truly possess and to exercise free will, there has to be more than just a reason for us to choose something. For our choice to be free, there must also be a contrary possibility, and a reason, however good or bad, for us to choose that instead. Logic tells us that incontrovertible, documentable facthood (or demonstrable proof) leaves us not with choice, but with mere acquiescence. When we say that something has been presented factually (or proven) to us, and that we have recognized it as fact, we are not suggesting that we have exerted our will. There is no act of the will where knowledge—where knowing, or learning—is concerned. Quite the contrary. To whatever degree a specimen of knowledge requires an act of the will, to that degree it is a proposition that remains unfactual or unproven. Proof entails acquiescence. Belief is something different. Belief entails a personal assertiveness that is not required nor found in the act of knowing. While it is possible for us to imagine ourselves saying,“I believe that the summers are hot in Tucson,”or“I believe that granite is harder than limestone,”such expressions are loose applications of the word“believe.”If we are pursuing precise understandings, such blurred usages cannot be permitted. The reality is that we do not believe in a fact or a proof. We believe in a choice. Yes, we understand a proof. We accept a proof. But we do not believe in it, unless there were enough uncertainty (i.e., that“contrary possibility”mentioned above) still available to us for us to be able to say we were exercising our will. But if that were the case, then the “proof”would not be a proof at all. Belief, then, is an act of the will, an assertion of the self, even of the inmost self, and thus is the proper test of a truly free creature, and the proper criterion for salvation.
In Chapter [X], entitled “Karl Popper and the Principle of Falsifiability,”we will look at an idea from this influential thinker and see how it can be applied to the Bible.
As Gene Edward Veith wrote some years back in World Magazine: “A number of logicians maintain that no assertion can claim to be true unless it is‘falsifiable.’ They recognize that not every idea can be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. But if it is the kind of statement that can claim to be true, it must be susceptible—if only hypothetically—to evidence that might disprove it.”(World, Feb. 5, 2000.) Veith was referencing Karl Popper, who established the principle of falsifiability, and other philosophers who have upheld Popper’s views. Notice that Veith said that “… no assertion can claim to be true unless it is‘falsifiable.’”The Bible purports to state truths. The Bible does not set itself up as a reciter of facts that it wishes us to confirm. A person’s beliefs must be directed at claims of truth, not at recitations of facts. There is a difference between the two, and unless we can apprehend the Bible as a book of truth claims as opposed to a mere collection of recited facts, and these mostly unverifiable facts, then we are not taking the Bible on its own terms.“No assertion can claim to be true unless it is falsifiable.”If the Bible claims to be true, it must be falsifiable. It must frame its statements, its accounts, in such a context that they can be rejected as well as accepted. This is achieved by passing them from the realm of revelation to the realm of disputable testimony.
Popper arrived at his principle of falsifiability in reaction to an earlier-promulgated principle, the Verification Principle, that was espoused in the 1920s by a group of (mainly) Viennese philosophers known as the“logical positivists.”Their Verification Principle held that“the meaning of a proposition is the method of its verification.”This statement accords with some other positions they held. One writer summarized these positions as threefold:
1. A proposition has meaning only if it can be shown to be true or false.
2. There are logical forms of truth and factual forms.
3. Factual truths can be demonstrated only through experience (verification).
Popper turned their Verification Principle into his own Falsification Principle, which held that no one could believe something unless that something was falsifiable.
The Falsification Principle is in itself a proof, intentionally or not, of the not-so-obvious idea that a fact cannot be a truth. It asserts that facthood and truth are two different things.
It’s not hard to grasp the sensibility of Popper’s insight. By turning the Verification Principle on its head, so to speak, he showed how much more revealing the“negative”approach could be. If a purported truth has no opposite that is worth anyone’s consideration, we have to question the value, the“truthfulness,”of the purported truth itself. Someone could say that a statement such as“Sand is a grainy substance”is a truth. But if the idea that“Sand is a substance that is not grainy”has no takers, no adherents, no“believers,”then the statement (“Sand is grainy”) shows itself to be more a matter of fact than a matter of truth.
By contrast, a statement such as“Socrates was the embodiment of what is best in man”is a statement that, if urged as a truth, would readily suggest its opposite belief. And that opposite belief would arguably“falsify”the truth of the first statement. The opposite belief, of course, would be that“Socrates was by no means the embodiment of what is best in man.”The opposite could take several forms, in fact. Someone could argue that“Confucius was the only person worth speaking of as the embodiment of what is best in man.”Such a remark would not specifically oppose Socrates, but it would effectively falsify the claim that Socrates was best. The point here is that choices are possible.
And this was Popper’s point—that the idea of“truth”or of“belief”presupposes the existence of a contrary possibility. And without such a contrary possibility, the act of calling the first statement a“truth”or a“belief”becomes meaningless. It is enough to call such unopposed statements “facts”—they needn’t be called the “truth.”
Likewise, when we turn our attention to the world of facts, not truths, we see that any grounds for upholding an opposing view to a given fact becomes a grounds for dismissing the factuality of that given fact. A person could say that,“Water that is maintained at normal room temperature is a wet substance.”We would consider this statement a fact. We would, that is, unless it were found that some large portion of the world took a quite opposite view. If most people on earth insist, and maybe even have proof, that water at room temperature is a dry substance of some kind, then a falsifying possibility exists. A contrary view exists. And the point here is not that in such cases we’d instead be dealing with a question of truth versus untruth. The point here is that facts cannot be falsifiable and still be facts. The very act of producing a valid contrary to a fact brings into question the facthood of that fact. Facts do not admit of valid, defensible contraries.
From this, too, we can see that recognition of truth involves making a judgment, which is a form of personal assertion. We can see that some part of the self is involved, where assertions of truth are concerned. We can also see that, in embracing truths, some rejection of alternate possibilities is necessary.
God wants the truest, fullest, sincerest, most untampered response from us, in facilitating our eternal destinies, and this can be summoned only if God lets our free will be truly free. A sincere response from us can be summoned only if we are placed into the roles of seekers and contemplators and testers, rather than of involuntary receivers of revelation, and only if we are left to be totally unprompted or un-led (by divine intervention) in our response. We are involuntary (and compromised, as we will see) receivers of revelation when we are witnesses to the miraculous, or to any appearance of deity. If the Bible contains what is to be the grounds of our faith, then those grounds must be primarily claims of truth, not mere catalogs of facts.
In Chapter [X], entitled “God’s‘Otherness’as Impacting Our Free Will,”we will delve into the thought of Rudolf Otto as expressed in his landmark study, The Idea of the Holy.
For the purposes of introducing this topic, we will visit a remark in C.S. Lewis’s book The Problem of Pain, in which Lewis cites Otto’s views on the experience of the“numinous,”a word Otto coined.
“Those who have not met this term [‘the numinous’] might be introduced to it by the following device,”Lewis wrote.“Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and you would probably feel fear. But if you were told‘There is a ghost in the next room,’and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost might do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is‘uncanny’rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply‘There is a mighty Spirit in the room,’and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking—a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and of prostration before it—an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare’s words ‘Under it my genius is rebuked.’ This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.”(pp. 16-17)
What’s important here is the understanding that God’s presence is accompanied by powerful effects that are capable of causing any witness not just to experience its sensory stimuli but to undergo a kind of unbidden acknowledgement or acceptance of the supernatural. Now, let us remember that part of what God expects, in his requirements of belief, are belief in the existence of God. So we can see how numinosity, though it might seem to be the ultimate incentive to belief, is not an incentive to belief in God at all, for such a numinous experience can only be called fact. The object of belief in this situation is something that cannot be relegated to the realm of truth, for matters of truth must admit of some contrary possibilities. Matters of belief are likewise, as we saw earlier. This could be one reason why God does not choose to appear to each human being in history and simply announce Himself as God. If God wants belief in God, then that would seem to be the obvious way of obtaining it. But “belief,” used in that fashion, is misconceived. There is no virtue in simply replying that one’s eyes have beheld something, or one’s ears have heard something. Belief is a virtue, not a mere reaction, and it takes some investment of the individual’s own self for belief to attain to the status of the virtuous.
In the same book, Lewis had more to say about the numinous:
“Against all such attempts we must insist that dread and awe are in a different dimension from fear. They are in the nature of an interpretation man gives to the universe, or an impression he gets from it; and just as no enumeration of the physical qualities of a beautiful object could ever include its beauty, or give the faintest hint of what we mean by beauty to a creature without aesthetic experience, so no factual description of any human environment could include the uncanny and the Numinous or even hint at them. There seem, in fact, to be only two views we can hold about awe. Either it is a mere twist in the human mind, corresponding to nothing objective and serving no biological function, yet showing no tendency to disappear from that mind at its fullest development in poet, philosopher, or saint: or else it is a direct experience of the really supernatural, to which the name Revelation might properly be given.” (ibid, pp. 20-21)
For his own part, Otto paints a portrait of “the Holy” in terms that, as we will see, are (A) strikingly different from our contemporary culture’s idea of the same, and (B) totally in accord with the Bible’s portrayals of deity as beheld by mankind. While these two points do not reflect the thrust of this study, they have some indirect relevance, for part of our objective here is to discern how “compromising” were God’s interventions in nature and history during Bible times—compromising to human free will, that is. To understand that, it is important to see God as He has been seen by the only individuals to have “beheld” him. No man has seen God, for God is spirit. But the Bible tells us of the experiences of those to whom God granted His revelations.
Otto’s vocabulary needs some defining, and it is important that we understand that while the Holy entity to which he refers is describable as a “numen,” the adjective “numinous” properly describes a feeling that the human being has when conscious of that numen.
Another term that might be unfamiliar to some is the phrase mysterium tremendum. As Otto states in The Idea of the Holy: “We gave to the object to which the numinous consciousness is directed the name mysterium tremendum.” The author himself defines the terms:
“Conceptually mysterium denotes… that which is beyond conception or understanding, extraordinary and unfamiliar.” (p.13)
The term tremendum is one which was “originally apprehended as ‘plenitude of power,’ [and] becomes transmuted into ‘plenitude of being.’” Otto later describes the tremendum as “the daunting aspect of the numinous.”
Otto states that “[Friedrich] Schleiermacher has the credit of isolating a very important element in such an experience [of the numinous]. This is the ‘feeling of dependence.’ … When Abraham ventures to plead with God for the men of Sodom, he says (Gen. 18:27): ‘Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes.’ There you have a self-confessed ‘feeling of dependence,’ which is yet at the same time far more than, and something other than, merely a feeling of dependence. Desiring to give it a name of its own, I propose to call it ‘creature-consciousness’ or creature-feeling. It is the emotion of a creature, submerged and overwhelmed by its own nothingness in contrast to that which is supreme above all creatures.” (pp. 9-10)
And finally, there is another source that could shed some light. It might seem strange to evoke the name of Carl Jung in this context, but Jung, the eminent psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, was a student of numinous phenomenology. In fact, he himself once claimed, “The main interest of my work is not concerned with the treatment of neuroses but rather with the approach to the numinous.”
As he remarked in his book Psychology and Religion:
“In speaking of religion I must make clear from the start what I mean by the term. Religion, as the Latin word denotes, is a careful and scrupulous observation of what Rudolf Otto aptly termed the “numinosum,” that is, a dynamic existence or effect, not caused by an arbitrary act of will. On the contrary, it seizes and controls the human subject, which is always rather its victim than its creator. The numinosum is an involuntary condition of the subject, whatever its cause may be. At all events, religious teaching as well as the consensus gentium always and everywhere explains this condition as being due to a cause external to the individual. The numinosum is either a quality of a visible object or the influence of an invisible presence causing a peculiar alteration of consciousness. This is, at least, the general rule. (p. 4)
Notice the phrases Jung chose:
“It seizes and controls the human subject.” It is an “involuntary condition of the subject.” It causes an “alteration of consciousness.”
These do not sound like free will.
In Chapter [X], entitled “The Gospel as Free Will,” we will explore the implications of some little-discussed facts: (1) that no ancient Hebrew ever had, nor was ever offered, what might be termed a “moment of conversion,” (2) that the declaration of the gospel message in Acts 2 occasioned the first “moment of conversion” in any affairs between God and man, (3) that a “moment of conversion” entails an act of free will, (4) that for Christian-era individuals, entry into the family of God via the gospel was by free will rather than by accident of birth, as was the case with God’s earlier family members, the Hebrews, (5) that the issuance of the gospel therefore marked the onset and advent of free will in the Judeo-Christian historical timeline, (6) that there are logical reasons whereby each step of this process was necessary, and that we can grasp, logically, the rationale for each, and (7) that this chain of events was the outward manifestation of a thought process and plan by which God purposefully transitioned mankind from the epoch of revelation to the epoch of faith-by-testimony.
In Chapter [X], entitled “The God in the Very Next Room,” we will continue to examine how testimony, the mode by which God’s message is conveyed to all who come along after Bible times, facilitates free will.
In our earlier look at numinosity and its compromising effect on free will, our illustration employed the most fundamental, simplistic article of faith that could be imagined: belief in the existence of God.
It might have occurred to some that when we treated “belief in God” as the sum total (so to speak) of faith, that we were being selective to the point of oversimplification. Someone could say, “Yes, that is an article of faith, but saving faith for us today requires something more than mere belief in the existence of a Supreme Being. It requires faith in Christ. And not just in Christ but in Christ’s resurrection. For that matter, His resurrection was a fact—a historical fact—and so this business of separating testimony from facts is starting to seem very misplaced.”
To reply to that, one would have to say that, first of all, testimony does not separate anything from facts. It merely distances the facts from the recipient of the testimony by adding a layer (a human writer, a testifier) between the two. Moreover, when revelation passes into testimony, sheer facthood means less, in the faith process, than do testimony’s claims of truth. The facts are still facts. They existed and they always exist. But how well can we base our faith on an accumulation of facts? And are they facts when we cannot examine them with our own senses? But truth is available to us always.
Still, we have not answered. The question has to do with specificity. New Testament faith involves faith in the saving power of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
Let’s examine this problem from two directions: one proceeding from specific to general, and the other from general to specific.
First, let us see how specific it is possible to be, when it comes to defining articles of faith.
The doctrine of the resurrection, or of the death/burial/resurrection, stands at one end of the scale, what we might call the extreme end, when it comes to specificity as regards articles of faith. At the other end would be the rather generalized belief that is belief in the existence of God.
There are other faith propositions that fall in-between. For some, the critical belief is that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” In other words, belief in Sonship is the determining factor in whether a person can be saved or not. Someone else may say that the decisive step comes in confessing that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” For someone else, it is that Jesus died for our sins. For someone else, it is the idea that he or she was “baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
It is surprising that we do not see more disputation along these lines. After all, the New Testament offers numerous descriptions of what salvation appears to require, and yet we see relatively little serious contention over this subject.
Nonetheless, taking our highly specific article of faith—the idea that the resurrection is what saves us—we ask ourselves how this cannot be considered as purely and simply a fact, not a “truth.”
Well, without taking anything away from it as a truth, let us look at the entire proposition. There are some underlying issues that are not obvious at first. For one thing, is anyone worried about what Jesus did or didn’t do if that person does not believe in a Supreme Being? Is anyone concerned about the “facthood” of Christ’s heartbeat returning if that person does not believe, or at least want to believe, in an afterlife? Or in a Supreme Being who has some interest in human beings? Or in a Supreme Being who was one’s Creator and who was that savior’s Father and was worthy of the world’s belief and its faith even before Christ was born? Or in the idea of sin? Or in the idea of the relationship between sin and one’s standing with the Supreme Being? If none of these matters are at issue, then what meaning does the resurrection have? The resurrection would be a non-issue.
So when we say that someone believed that Jesus was raised from the dead, we are letting ourselves in for much more than just a matter of presumed facthood. It’s more than just a question about whether a pulse returned in a tomb somewhere in a long-ago land.
And so now let us consider things from the direction of general-to-specific. We come back to that question of an Old Testament age Israelite who might or might not have believed in God.
The same ideas apply, though possibly in different forms. What does it mean to say that one “believes in God”? Who is God? God apparently has some attributes, and we ought assume that our prospective believer has given some thoughts to some attributes. If our believer is merely assenting to the idea that somewhere there exists a being whose name is spelled G-o-d, then such might be the case but the whole question collapses into something nonsensical. We have to assume some broader parameters. And so we assume the person has some conception of God. If we are reading our account in a collection of Hebrew writings, then it is safe to assume that this God was a particular kind of God, with particular values, and not just some indiscriminate “higher power.” And if this entire context takes place in an age prior to the birth of Christ, then we know we cannot expect faith in Christ to be an article of faith for this Israelite, and so his terms of faith must necessarily be more generalized than those which confront a person living today.
Faith in God might entail something more than just faith in the existence of God, but faith in God cannot be without, at the very least, belief that God exists.
So we see that things are not so simple nor so cut-and-dried as they might appear on the surface. And we see that “belief in God” could quite possibly be one way of describing a saving faith for an Israelite of those days.
So it bears out that anyone contemplating faith is contemplating something more than just facts. It may even be possible that the seeker ought be contemplating “the whole counsel of God,” as the Bible suggests he should.
Even the most simplistic step of faith—belief in God’s existence—lets us in for more than we might have expected. And the business of trying to restrict belief to one particular, specific fact in history is itself the oversimplified approach, the too-simplistic approach.
And now we come to an idea that might seem counterintuitive, but which deserves to be considered. And that is the idea that, in relegating faith to the realm of truth as opposed to mere fact, God is actually drawing closer to man than He was in the age when He revealed Himself and His mighty works to the world.
If God is to obtain our responses as free moral agents—which is exactly what He hopes for—then His proposition to us must be placed in a neutral zone. What constitutes a neutral zone? Any realm that excludes direct, overt acts of God—acts, that is, that are undeniably, unquestionably Heaven-sent.
That’s because a faith built upon free will is a faith that is closer to God than one that is aided by supernatural signs and wonders. It asks for more from the faithful. And the Bible itself suggests that faith built upon testimony is superior to faith built upon miracles. [Will include some scriptural citations here.]
Testimony, then, is mediation. It is direct, miracle-borne revelation as mediated to us through others. And it is in that step of mediation that it moves from mere sense data into the realm of proposition/appeal.
Accordingly, testimony might be thought of as “The God in the Very Next Room.” He is there as close as He can get to you, without compromising your ability to say yes freely or, just as important, to say no freely. And it might seem like an imperfect system, but in some ways it is truly perfect for these circumstances we find ourselves in as created, derivative beings.
It places the proposition (a truth claim) in a neutral zone—neither God’s nor man’s, but the realm of the “merely attested to”—and thus makes the appeals free and clear for belief or disbelief. The Bible is the quiet, uninvaded, untampered reading room where man considers the proposition of God.
It appears that the nearest and most intimate approach that God can make to us, today, is through testimony. He cannot come any closer. Circumstances have created what might be called “the necessary silence of God.”
Of course, that silence is not really silent. We have the testified will of God.
This state of affairs is so by necessity, and would have been true before all worlds. It would not have been just a question that must be asked with regard to the Christian God. It would have had to be true for any Supreme Being we might posit. If such a Supreme Being exists, and if He wants to show Himself to man, to appeal to man, then that has to be done in a book and all miraculous efforts then left behind, distanced. And then a quiet of Heaven has to fall upon civilization. And this would have to be true before all worlds, given the intrinsic nature of any supernatural, supreme being.
This is not to say that prayer does not work in our modern age. Of course God does hear prayers, and of course God answers prayers and works with us and for us and through us in this age in which we live. But in this post-revelatory age, God ensures that faith will be pre-eminent. He will not answer our prayers with the kind of numinous, miracle-accompanied activity that marked so much of His relations with man in the Bible-creating era. Rather, today, God’s answers to prayers are accomplished through means that leave us free to credit them to God or to dismiss them as mere coincidence or natural cause-and-effect. All answers to prayers today reach us via the natural world. Anything one prays for, and receives, can be chalked up to natural causes, if one so wishes. This condition ensures that the truth/belief form of faith stays intact.
In Chapter [X], entitled “When God Changed His Messengers,” we will examine the Doctrine of Earthen Vessels, using scripture to demonstrate how these ideas (in this book) about testimony are confirmed by God’s actions and messages as revealed in His Word, and how this doctrine is especially on display in the Book of Acts.
It should be clear that in transitioning from the Old Testament to the New Testament, God ushered in a new kind of faith. And from this study it should be clear that in transitioning from the age of miracles—which was, effectively, the age of the compilation of both the Old Testament and the New Testament—to the post-Biblical age, God ushered in a new kind of faith. This new kind of (post-Biblical-age) faith is notable for its reliance on testimony as the grounds of belief.
Those early Bible miracles were never meant to function entirely in a vacuum, on their own. They were always meant to be revisited, eventually, in a work of written testimony. We can see, then, that they really work better as “articles of faith” when they are recounted (i.e., as testimony, in today’s Bible) than they did as miraculous intrusions from Heaven in their own time. But without miracles—reported by testimony, and appearing in our Bible—what would we today have in which to believe?
But our point has to do with transitioning. And it might be observed that not only did God preside over a change, from one age to the next, but he also began a phase-out of one style of faith—that is, faith grown in the presence of miracles—even before the Bible age was ended.
That might sound surprising, but we find it in the New Testament.
It was God’s plan, from time immemorial, that the saving faith that is by testimony would be spread exclusively by human beings. It would be spread by one human being speaking to one or more other human beings.
This faith is announced first in the Book of Acts. Scripture makes it clear that it was kept a mystery until Pentecost. The gospel message of the saving power of Jesus Christ was not proclaimed by any deitific powers. Neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Spirit, nor the angels in Heaven ever presented the saving gospel to any human being, nor will they ever.
For them to do so would be for them to regress to the age of miracles and of the numinous, for all of these beings are numinous. But man, taken just as man, is not. And so man is the only vehicle who is fit for the transmission of the saving free-will gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.
Most Christians are aware of some kind of progression that is going on in the narrative that unfolds in the Bible. A progression, as some see it, from “law” and “works” to “grace.” From Judaism to Christianity. But it is also possible to read the Bible as a progression from a faith that is not entirely by free will to a faith that is completely by free will. And there is more to this than merely the fact that the ancient Israelites did not enter into their familial relationship with God via their own choice. There is also the progression that we have explored in this study, which is a progression that might be thought of as “from a fact/knowledge basis to a truth/belief basis.”
It is not that the ancient Israelites did not have faith in their God. Of course they did—at least the truly faithful among them did. But as we have seen, they lived in an age of miracles, and those miracles compromised, to some degree, their ability to have a clearcut, past-the-age-of-accountability “moment of conversion” comparable to the moment of conversion that Christians have when they confess Christ and become a child of God. Perhaps this was God’s design all along. We can see that the purest form of faith-by-free-will is a faith that is grounded in testimony. That kind of faith could never have been available to human beings while (A) the Bible’s revelatory stages were still unfolding and (B) the Bible had not been written. So there is a logic and a fitness to the idea that the gospel was maintained as a mystery until “the fullness of time,” which came at Pentecost, as we see from the Ephesians 3:3-6. At that point, the Gentile converts to the faith were “grafted into” God’s family. The Gentile believers did not obtain a different heaven—they become “joint heirs” with the Jews, the chosen ones of God. The Gentile believers were not saved by a different savior than were the faithful Jews, for the scriptures show us that the Jews were saved by Christ. But the difference here is that a Gentile coming to faith in the first century A.D. became a child of God by his own free will—something that Jews had not done.
That was one form of progression—a progression from a lack of a “moment of conversion” to a faith that insists upon one.
And then there is that other progression, related to this one, but still different.
This “other” progression is from a “fact/knowledge” faith to a “truth/belief” faith. And it appears that that transition was God’s plan all along.
In Chapter [X], entitled “Faith as the Belief of Testimony,” we examine three remarks that have been in circulation for nearly 200 years, but that have not received the attention that they should have.
Faith is the belief of testimony.
Without testimony, there can be no faith.
Miracles can neither create nor sustain faith.
In the concluding Chapter [X], entitled “Implications and Applications,” we weigh the potential effects of our findings. Part of this will involve considering how the views shared here could potentially impact the ongoing debates within the faith community and between the faith community and its nonbelieving critics.
It is not lost upon the author(s) of this book that if the ideas advanced here gain acceptance and circulation, that apologetics itself could be affected.
As something related to that, we discuss two more topics:
The Apologetics of Disputability as superior to the Apologetics of Factuality
How “The Apologetics of Disputability” has a place at the table of Christian Apologetics
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