Torrey Gazette is the combined work of everyday Christians blogging on books, family, art, and theology. So pull up a seat and join us. Family Table rules apply. Shouting is totally acceptable.

The Dangers of Progressive Revelation in Hermeneutics

 I know what many of you are thinking. How could I ever object to Progressive Revelation? Well I don’t object to it as a concept. In the world of Biblical Theology it is incredibly important. For the purpose of highlighting the historical aspects of the Scriptures it is essential. But these positives don't stop me from objecting to it in a potentially harmful hermeneutical sense. In what sense does/could this happen? Whenever it overwhelms the more general nature of revelation.

Wait, so progress can't overwhelm generality? Yes we will need to address this. Let’s take a look shall we?

1. The New Testament is not the final “say” on doctrinal matters.

Please don’t get me wrong. When the New Testament speaks on something directly it holds priority. But there are many things the New Testament doesn't speak about directly. God’s covenant with David is left to the Old Testament (although Luke 1 might contain some references). Also, the New Testament doesn't speak about the days of creation. Apart from some typological hints in the Gospel of John no New Testament author speaks directly to the subject of "days" in creation.

Are we left with no dogmatic perspective on these topics? Well at the very least the history of the church should tell you no. People get dogmatic anytime they believe a text speaks with profound clarity. This is typically practices independent of if that text is found in the New or Old Testament. Strict "24 hour/seven day" people don't mind that their text comes from the opening chapters of the Bible (aka the front of progressive revelation). Thus all these things, in general, are confessed as true by most teachers. But often times the general perspective is the New Testament must contain the final word. This is an over emphasis of Progressive Revelation and it automatically leads to undue focus on New Testament texts and rejection of Old Testament Theses. It is also here that "arguments from silence" can wreck havoc on one's theology.

The doctrines of Infant Baptism, Theonomy and Eschatology all revolve in varying degrees on this issue. Those doctrines aren't just difference in opinion. They are differences in hermeneutics and the extent that progressive revelation through the primacy of the New Testament plays in our hermeneutics.

2. The most direct text should have the final “say” on doctrinal matters.

It has been argued that a genuine Reformed Hermeneutic will start in the New Testament and work back into the Old Testament. And on the surface this sounds correct. Especially when the example doctrine of importance is the Trinity. But when the argument is evaluated we see that the Trinity ("One God in Three Persons") is not directly addressed in the Old Testament. In fact, this doctrine isn't even directly addressed in the New Testament (though I do think some texts get very, very close). Thus the words in the New Testament do have the final say on the subject of God and His Persons.

But nowhere in the theory of Progressive Revelation is the New Testament permitted to contradict the Old Testament. Not even on the subject of the Trinity would it be considered that the New Testament contradicts the Old. Any "Reformed Hermeneutic" that permits that is bordering on Marcionism. So instead of saying "contradict" the concept of "progressive revelation" is used. No evangelical would ever claim they introduce and support "contradictions" but the tension still sometimes stands. So serious theology must ask "What topics does the Old Testament directly address?" and "What topics does the New Testament directly address?". When both address a topic we must be wary of "discontinuity" that stands too close to flat contradiction.

3. The Old Testament contains “direct texts”.

There are quite a few subjects the Old Testament directly addresses. There are even some topics that the Old Testament seemingly addresses better than the New Testament (count the number of OT references a Calvinist uses to argue for Original Sin for example). Once these basic premises are confirmed the questions of Progressive Revelation are able to be put in proper perspective. New Revelation will refine previous Revelation. This is a given. New Revelation will progress on top of previous Revelation. Again a given. But it will never contradict. When the idea of Progressive Revelation stays within these bounds it is a safe idea to carry around.

But we don't agree on how "progressive" the Bible is on certain issues. Almost all Evangelicals will accept that the New Testament hasn't "progressed" past the clear bestiality or Homosexuality laws of the Old Testament.  But then we will go to the mat over whether the Abrahamic covenant and the practice of covenant signs (circumcision and baptism) continues for infants. We'll both agree that Abraham is the model of faith. But is the father of one "True Israel" which now is found in the church? All of these are questions concerning the power Progressive Revelation has on a topic. We should agree now that the part it has to play should vary from topic to topic. But how are we to know the difference between a topic where progressive revelation plays a large part and a topic where it plays a small part? Well I can't answer that for you.

BBC: Genesis 10:1-5

BBC: Genesis 9:24-29