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Is the Resurrection-Event a Surer Foundation than Scripture?

Check Your Assumptions:[1]

The ripple effect of Andy Stanley's claim on the foundation of the Christian faith as being based primarily upon an event—the resurrection—over and against divine revelation has brought about intense frustrations amid the evangelical world. This mantra has produced growing traction across the broader social media landscape of TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter feeds. Many have pushed back against the mega-church pastor and have sought a retraction-of-sorts from what some would assume to be a dubious claim. In sharing some of those criticisms, I do want to add to the conversation elements that I, personally, have not yet seen nor heard articulated amid the popular level engagement of evangelicalism. This, in hope, would further instruct the church and her saints to think critically and, more importantly, biblically about these essential matters. Doctrinal safeguarding not only protects against error but fuels the rigor and vitality of the church's evangelistic endeavor (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16).


The tension that I feel in listening to Stanley's initial premise is cemented upon the false dichotomization between event (resurrection) and revelation (Scripture). Within his construct, he sees the miraculous event of the resurrection—and indeed it is miraculous—as a surer and superior foundation over the covenantal establishment of the Scriptures (and I am intentionally describing the giving of the Scriptures as covenantal). Again, the fallacy arises when he pins these two glorious claims over and against each other, when in reality they go hand and hand. My aim, then, is to argue that the nature of God's self-disclosure is intrinsically based upon what Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum call the Word-Act Revelation.[2] Meaning, the cross and resurrection of Christ, i.e., act, and the interpretation of those events, i.e., Word, are not two isolated realities. Rather, they embody a cohesive means in comprehending God’s work within redemptive history.


No Stone Unturned:


When discussing the nature of how God reveals Himself to finite creatures it is imperative to see that He works within the confines of creation. He does not leave His self-disclosure to the interpretation of fallible human beings, but rather He “[carries them] along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21b). Humanity does not come to know God, on the one hand, through mere supernatural intuition nor on the other hand through mere intellectualism. Rather, the God of the universe condescends down and engages in the tapestry of creation. He engages through mighty acts! So, in this sense, yes, to the mighty act of the resurrection of Christ. But the event is not an isolated communicative tool. What comes alongside the act itself is the apostolic interpretation—the New Testament documents—which renders a clear understanding of the event. Therefore, God's communicative pattern within the progression of divine revelation is well within the Word-Act formula. This is defined, by Gentry and Wellum, as Scripture being “God's own authoritative interpretation of His redemptive acts through the agency of human authors.”[3] Three layers are necessary to unpack.


Revelation through Mighty Acts. Simply put, God does not wield down a golden book from heaven—as Mormonism would conclude—nor does He confine His mysteries to sheer mystical enlightenment like Gnosticism. Rather in the economy of redemption the Lord God acts! He acts in order to reveal Himself. He imposes Himself into the tapestry of creation. He makes known His ways by intervening in the affairs of His people for the glory and wonder of His Name. Gentry and Wellum concede that “God has disclosed Himself in history through His mighty acts, what we often identify as special revelation, in contrast to God's revelation in the natural world.”[4] It is right, then, to say that the event of the resurrection is foundational to the faith. Yet, there is more!


Revelation through Divine Interpretation. However, when God engages in His mighty acts, He does not leave those acts to mere human speculation nor sheer historiographical assumption; that is, the historical records of God’s divine acts are not to be interpreted solely under the guise and tutelage of humanistic suppositions. Rather, God accompanies His mighty acts with clear divine interpretation. Matthew Barrett extends this notion by saying, “Those who are the recipients of His covenantal word-act revelation are not left to themselves to decipher or speculate what His mighty acts mean: God Himself speaks to interpret His mighty acts so that there is no doubt as to the fulfilment of His covenantal work.”[5] He makes known—through the Scriptures primarily in Christ—“the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:9-10). Gentry and Wellum further instruct that “[word] and act always accompany each other. Furthermore, just as redemption is historically successive, so also is revelation, for God's revelatory word interprets God's redemptive acts.”[6] Simply put, God did not leave the cross and resurrection to the interpretation of the church. Rather, God came alongside His people through the apostolic agency, i.e., the Gospels and epistles, to ensure divine and redemptive understanding of God's intervening work through the Son. The word/act formula is not meant to be isolated realities, but rather a complementary whole. The mighty act itself is dependent upon the interpretation, i.e., Word, that will proceed it.


Revelation Documented. The Scriptures, then, become the church's covenantal document which informs, reminds, and instructs her of God's salvific work—the cross and resurrection. It becomes a historical monograph of God's covenantal engagement but moves beyond sheer historical collections to relational fidelity conveying the basis for filial loyalty and martial commitment. Gentry and Wellum further articulate that

Scripture not only chronicles the activities of God's redemption of history, and it not only is a word that interprets God's redeeming acts, but it also is itself a product of God's own redemptive acts for the purpose of teaching, edifying, and instructing, and as such, it is fully authoritative and sufficient for our thinking and lives. Scripture is, as a written text in its final form, God's own divine interpretation, through human authors, of His own redemptive acts, which carries with it a true interpretation of His redemptive plan.[7]

The implication of this supposition, then, is that the church would not have known the significance nor the meaning of the resurrection-event without divine interpretation given through apostolic agency, i.e., Scripture. The resurrection, at face value, was sheer amazement. However, upon further contemplation through the illuminating work of the Spirit (Jn. 16:12-15), the apostles saw how the resurrection was the Father’s vindication of the Son’s redemptive work (Acts 4:10-12; 10:34-43; Rom. 1:4; Eph. 1:20-21; Phil. 2:9-11). It is through the Scriptures that the resurrection-event has any viable divine meaning. It is through the Scriptures that we, the church, can truly appreciate the resurrection.


A False and Dangerous Dichotomy:


The difficulty within this conversation, from the beginning, was cemented by a faulty premise that pinned two beautiful truths grounded in the Christian faith against one another—the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the authoritative Word of Scripture. Many mild-mannered evangelicals were left to choose between two polarizing ideals not realizing that the structure itself was formulated upon a false representation. Instead of choosing one over the other the church can embrace both in Christ. Meaning, we can celebrate the victory that is anchored in the resurrection—the event—while simultaneously marveling in the mystery of His divine plan crystallized through Scripture—revelation. Death has lost its sting in the wake of Christ's redemptive work. Yet at the same time, the Scriptures need not be forfeited because it is through divine revelation where the church has been given access to know the purposes of the triune God. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] This article has been adopted and modified with approval from http://mcyoungyang.blogspot.com/2019/05/word-act-revelation.html. [2] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 114-115. Barrett affirms this concept, however, describes it as Word-Act-Word Revelation. See Matthew Barrett, Canon, Covenant and Christology: Rethinking Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel, NSBT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020), 45-47. [3] Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 114. [4] Ibid. [5] Barrett, Canon, Covenant and Christology, 46. [6] Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 114. Barrett stresses the covenantal nature of the biblical documents, i.e., Old and New Testaments. For Barrett, the biblical manuscripts are not merely archival records but living documents to point toward the relational treatise. Barrett, Canon, Covenant and Christology, 41-96. [7] Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 115.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, SBTS; ThM, MBTS) is the husband to Debbie and father to McCayden (14), McCoy (13), McColsen (10), and DeYoung (7). He is a Pastor of Preaching/Teaching at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. Along with his ministerial duties, he is a homeschool dad. In addition, McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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