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By Neil T. Anderson
RegalCopyright © 2003 Neil T. Anderson
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After speaking at a church, a middle-aged lady said, "You've described me to a tee. I've struggled for years and can't break free from my problems." After many years of fruitless counseling, she had decided to admit herself to a treatment center.
I asked if I could see her first, because I knew the treatment center that had been recommended to her relied primarily on prescription medication. The night before her admission, she had an encounter with God as I helped her resolve her personal and spiritual conflicts. When we were finished, I said, "I really don't believe that you need the hospitalization program, but if you do admit yourself, write me a letter in a week and let me know how things are going." A few days later, I received this note:
I'll let you know how I'm doing in a week or so, but I just had to share my joy while it's still fresh and new. After meeting with you Monday night, I was absolutely euphoric, and so was my husband. He was so glad to see me happy. But the best news is that I didn't wake up with nightmares or screams. Instead, I woke up with my heart singing, and the very first thought that entered my mind was "even the stones will cry out," followed by "Abba, Father." Nell, the Holy Spirit is alive in me. Praise the Lord.
I'm now in this treatment center. It's been a tremendous adjustment. There are so many truly hurting people here. I just wish I could bring you here to meet with all of them and set them free, too. There's one woman in particular who appears to be evil personified. She verbally attacked me the very first day.
Thank you, Nell, for having the courage to free God's people from the grip of the enemy. I can't begin to tell you how free I feel, but somehow I think you know.
I wish I could say that the doctors and counselors at the secular treatment center reinforced what the Lord had done in this dear lady, but they did not. Can a decision to be submissive and dependent on God be reversed by a program that encourages self-reliance and dependency on medication? Can three hours of biblical counsel be nullified by three weeks of godless counsel? In this case it did. This woman became dependent on prescription medications and the counsel of her secular doctors who advised her not to seek any other kind of treatment, and she did not-for fear of losing their support.
Is there no value in secular programs? Can the Christian learn anything from the world? Is truth restricted to biblical revelation only? Does empirical research (experimentation and observation) refute, undermine, contradict, subvert or destroy our confidence in Scripture? Are the natural sciences on a collision course with divine revelation, or are they potentially an important and necessary ally? Is secular psychology nothing more than worldly "wisdom," and potentially a tool of the enemy? Is there a biblical psychology that must be understood and embraced by all Christians? How do we know what is true, real, relevant and right?
Let us consider these questions as we examine how theology can, or cannot, be integrated with empirical research.
The Scope and Limits of Integration
First, let us lay some groundwork by looking at how God reveals Himself and His will to us. Theologians have identified three means of divine revelation.
General revelation is what can be observed and studied in nature. Psalm 19:1 reads, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands." Romans 1:20 says, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen." Paul goes on to say that we will not be excused from knowing that there is a God, because the existence, work and nature of God can be understood by observing His created order. As we observe creation, the "natural" response should be to worship the creator.
However, the fallen inhabitants of this world did not honor God. "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie" (v. 25). Even though they suffered the negative consequences of believing a lie, they still would not honor Him. Consequently, "God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women [and men] exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural" (v. 26; see also v. 27). Finally "God gave them over to a depraved mind" (v. 28), which is a mind devoid of logic. If this truth could be applied to a nation, then our country is on the brink of that final judgment. Political correctness has replaced divine revelation, and we seem to have lost our moral compass. There is growing evidence that many can no longer distinguish between right and wrong (a depraved mind has no conscience).
The concept of general revelation has led many biblical ethicists to coin the term "natural law." Proponents of natural law reason that God has built into the universe a sense of justice and morality. Because God created order in the universe, there is a natural way that humanity should live with one another. For instance, it is unnatural for a man to be with another man sexually. God created men to be with women sexually and live together in complementary relationships.
The evidence of natural law can be observed by studying pagan societies that have no biblical knowledge of God and His ways. They seem to collectively "know" or socially agree that acts such as killing, stealing and lying are wrong, and they cluster together in family units. Every society has agreed upon certain standards of right and wrong that are generally consistent with biblical morality, even though individuals fail to live up to their own standards.
In a pagan society like ours, natural law may be the only acceptable basis for discussing moral issues in the public settings and courts of law. Standing in front of an abortion clinic and proclaiming the truth from the Word of God concerning the sanctity of life will not be received by those who do not know the Lord. They would simply respond by saying, "I don't believe in God or the Bible." That is the end of the argument, since they have a different standard by which they live and we cannot impose our standards or them.
The truth spoken in love ma) bring conviction leading to con version, but it will not have an immediate effect upon the laws o our land. Why? Because the Bible is not accepted in our courts of law as the standard for morality. The Constitution of the United States, is the basis by which the courts of our land mete out justice. Bur what argument does an unregenerate person have against an honest doctor or geneticist who can demonstrate on the basis of natural law that an unborn child is fully human at conception and is therefore guaranteed protection under the Constitution?
Catholic ethicists have placed a greater emphasis on natural law than Protestants have. I personally think we need to incorporate the concept of natural law into more of our thinking. Natural law is never on a collision course with Scripture. It actually illustrates in creation what God has said in His Word. Science is an attempt to understand what God has created.
Special revelation refers to the written Word of God. Protestants limit special revelation to the 66 canonical books divided into the Old Testament (39 books) and the New Testament (27 books). The Old Testament records the creation and fall of humanity, the relationship that God had with His people based on the promises of the Abrahamic covenant (see Gen. 12:1-3), and the law of the Mosaic covenant (see Exod. 24:8). The New Testament reveals God's answer for fallen humanity by recording the life, death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and how God now relates to His people under the New Covenant (see Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 26:28; Heb. 10:16-17).
Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Jesus alone perfectly reveals who God is because He is God. "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (v. 14). The glory of God is a manifestation of His presence. Jesus said, "If you knew Me, you would know My Father also" (John 8:19). "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
The Key to Understanding
These three channels of revelation are the means by which God has revealed Himself and made His will known to us. None of these channels will be understood or effective in our lives apart from the present work of the Holy Spirit. He is first and foremost "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:17). The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (see 16:13), and that truth will set us free (see John 8:32). Fallen humanity cannot even know the liberating truth of God's Word, because "a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Cor. 2:14). "Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving" (2 Cor. 4:3-4).
Fully understanding and appropriating the liberating truth of God's Word cannot be divorced from the reality of the spiritual world. We need the liberating power of the Holy Spirit and a means to protect ourselves from the destructive strategies of Satan. The real battle on planet Earth is between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. This battle between the father of lies and the Spirit of truth is rough primarily in the minds of all humanity. Nobody is excluded from the battle. Even believers must choose to take "every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5), and they must choose to think upon that which is true, honorable, right, pure and lovely (see Phil. 4:8).
How do we determine the truth and the right course of action to take? Consider the integration of general revelation with special revelation depicted by the diagram on page 26.
The left side of the diagram shows the rational process of verification accomplished by observation and experimentation. It represents the scientific method of investigation, which is what higher education in our Western world is based upon. Psychological and sociological research is conducted by scientists and those who are attempting to obtain degrees at the highest levels of learning.
The right side of the diagram is special revelation (the Bible), which is proclaimed, explained and defended by various seminaries and schools of theology. Interpretation is accomplished by practicing exegesis (reading out) on passages of Scripture and applying principles of hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) in order to understand what God has communicated to us. The temptation is to assume that each side of the diagram carries equal weight and that truth is determined by combining the two. But I, along with many other concerned Christians, believe that there are serious problems with that approach to integration. Let me offer three critical observations.
The Primacy of Special Revelation
First, special revelation (the Bible) is authoritative, whereas general revelation (nature) is illustrative. The heavens and Earth do declare and show forth the glory of God, but scientific observations cannot answer the philosophical question of why? How do we explain the origin of the species, much less their purpose for being here? Without special revelation to explain life and its meaning, we have no recourse but to fall back on humanistic philosophical speculation or scientific rationalism.
Research is valuable because it helps us to know what is, and we will be more fruitful if we learn to adapt our ministries accordingly. That is the point that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
Good ministries stay relevant by being fully informed about the societies around them and understanding what people are doing, thinking and saying. I have conducted my own research, and it has proven to be invaluable in understanding people. Without this knowledge, we will likely answer a lot of questions that nobody is asking or attempt to meet needs that nobody has.
Without compromising our message or morals, we must stay current with our society and relevant to its needs. We cannot become all things to all people without having some understanding of who they are. Although we are not of this world, we are certainly in it for a purpose. The truth of God's Word never changes, but society does because people change what they think, believe and do.
When behavioral scientists research humanity, they are observing what the Bible calls the flesh in the vast majority of cases. They are describing the actions and attitudes of the fallen nature of humanity, which operates independently of God. Such research is descriptive and helpful if we understand its limitations. However, when research become prescriptive, implying what life and human behavior should be, it distorts the truth and becomes an enemy of the gospel.
Secular research assumes that we are an evolutionary product of our past environment and shaped by our individual choices. Such research makes no attempt to show the potential of new life in Christ or what a Spirit-filled life could be.
We are dependent on the creator of life to provide the explanation of why we are here, how we should interpret what we observe and how to live meaningful lives with an expectant hope for the future. It was intended by God that special revelation interpret and explain natural revelation.
Second, the scientific method of investigation by definition leaves out the reality of the spiritual world. God does not submit to our methods of verification. We cannot scientifically prove the existence of God to the satisfaction of the skeptic. Metaphysics (the nature of being, or essential reality) is discussed in philosophy departments, not science departments.
Excerpted from DISCIPLESHIP COUNSELING by Neil T. Anderson Copyright © 2003 by Neil T. Anderson
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