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Next week I am presenting two papers at the ETS/EPS regional meeting in Lithonia, Georgia. I am also defending my dissertation two days before. It is a pretty crazy week.

As I am refocusing my thoughts on the paper presentations, I decided to lay out my major conclusions in the papers in the next two posts. This post will include my EPS paper.

My EPS paper is entitled, “The Principia and Revelation – A Reflection of Revelation as External and Internal.” The paper explores the twofold dimensionality of revelation (the topic of my dissertation) through the historic twofold principia, which are popular within Reformed theology.

While traditional formulations of the doctrine of revelation include its external dimension (e.g., Scripture), they rarely if ever include its internal dimension (e.g., illumination). My paper examines general and special revelation through the traditional delineations of the principia cognoscendi. By using the substructure of the principia, the paper argues that both the general sciences (general revelation) and theology (special revelation) include external and internal dimensions. In other words, they each include (1) an external or objective reality to be known and (2) the internal or subjective ability to know it.

The paper accomplishes this argument, first, by surveying the external and internal principia cognoscendi of the general sciences, and, second, by exploring the corresponding principia of theology. The paper then summarizes the principia cognoscendi of science and theology and parallel them to general revelation and special revelation, respectively. It shall finally conclude by discussing the unity of revelation through the principium essendi (triune God), who likewise holds the two principia cognoscendi together in his one organic act of revelation. In the course of argument, the paper appropriates resources from John Calvin, Herman Bavinck, Alvin Plantinga, and Esther Meek.

Its conclusion is simple: as the paper correlates revelation with the principia cognoscendi of the sciences (i.e., general revelation) and theology (i.e., special revelation), it thus argues that divine revelation or the principia ought to be expressed in its external and internal dimensions (see Figure 1).[i]

Figure 1.

The Principia within their Spheres


General Sciences Theology
Principia External Creation Holy Scripture
Internal Mind Holy Spirit/Faith

On the one hand, the principia cognoscendi of science include external creation and the internal mind. These twofold principia are generalized and available to all people—to more or less degrees. Unbelievers do not share regeneration (and thus faith) as the internal principium, but they do have cognition. As the paper asserts, it is helpful to view both of these, creation and mind, as derivative of the Holy Spirit, lest one forgets that both are supernaturally given and governed.

On the other hand, the theological principia basically reduce to Scripture and illumination. By these principia, the person is enlightened, able to apprehend salvific knowledge, and thereby perceive the spiritual connections between such knowledge. In other words, after the internal principium of the Spirit regenerates and illumines, people perceive and accept the gospel (which they heretofore rejected) and thus understand and apply those gospel realities to the world around them. This new insight does not include more information than is disclosed in Scripture or the natural world; rather, the action rectifies or resurrects human cognition.

In summation, the paper avers that both science and theology include a principium cognoscenti externum and a principium cognoscenti internum, the former of which refers to the material cause and the latter of which corresponds to the instrumental cause of the subject. These two principia, forever united, Word and Spirit, are the basis of science and theology and the means of understanding the full doctrine of revelation. The Word basically corresponds to the external principium, because it is the objective source or material cause of knowledge in science (creation) and theology (Scripture). The Spirit corresponds to the internal principium, for it is the subjective source or instrumental cause of knowledge in science (reason) and theology (illumination).

In other words, following the articulations of Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure, the eminent Roman Catholic theologian, René Latourelle, summarizes, “There is the combined activity of the external announcing and the interior attraction.”[ii] Accordingly, Kuyper’s conclusion regarding the necessity of both dimensions in the principia is pertinent:

From the finite no conclusion can be drawn to the infinite, neither can a Divine reality be known from external or internal phenomena, unless that God reveals Himself in my consciousness to my ego; reveals Himself as God; and thereby moves and impels me to see in these finite phenomena a brightness of His glory.[iii]

The paper finally concludes by looking at the principium essendi. Indeed, the former discussions left unaided may lead to the wrong impression that the two coterminous dimensions of revelation/principia (cognoscendi) are unrelated or otherwise detached from one another. Nothing could be farther from the case. While the former section elaborated the epistemological substructures (principia cognoscendi) of revelation, it remains to discuss the ontological groundwork, that is, the principium essendi. This section will argue that the triune God is the principium essendi and likewise holds the two principia cognoscendi together in his one organic act of revelation.

The principium essendi is the fundamental source, ground, or cause from which being, existence, and knowledge proceeds. The principium thus refers to the triune God himself, the fountain of all things.[i] Therefore, as Francis Turretin reminds his readers, “The question properly is not of principles (principiis), but of things principiated (principiatis).”[ii] In other words, the purpose of the principia is not to abstract knowledge or revelation down to its most fundamental components (i.e., external or internal); rather, the purpose is to “set your mind on things above,” that is, God in Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 3:2, 2:3). Indeed, it is God who principiates (i.e., makes foundational) the rest of knowledge through his being and works. And thus, it is God who is the principium essendi.

As the principium essendi, the triune God speaks in one, united communicative act. God is Trinity and, in some sense, he is also Speaker, Speech, and its Spokenness.[iii] Borrowing terminology from Speech Act Theory, God is likewise Locution, Illocution, and Perlocution.[iv] He speaks a locution (by the Father), and his speech carries an objective, concrete meaning or illocution (by the Son as Logos), and this speech is ultimately and effectively received and appropriated as a perlocution (by the Spirit). In the same way that one cannot separate the intended meaning of a statement (illocution) from its intended result (perlocution), one cannot abstract the principium cognoscendi externum of the Word from the corresponding principium cognoscendi internum of the Spirit. The twofold principia cognoscendi consists of two sides to the one coin of the principium essendi. This idea accounts for why Irenaeus distinguishes the triune communicative act as God’s singular accomplishment by his two personified hands, the Word and Spirit.[v] It also accounts for why numerous theologians assert that revelation includes both components. The triune God organically unites his revelation. Just as there is one triune God, so also there is one triune communicative act.

Therefore, linking this discussion back to a theology of revelation, one can say that revelation, as its source is within God (essendi), corresponds to both the principium cognoscendi externum and the principium cognoscendi internum. On the one hand, the principium cognoscendi externum is the external speaking itself. God speaks locutions, and by these locutions, he intends the illocutionary force. These truly and properly reveal God in the external sense (e.g., Scripture and creation). On the other hand, the principium cognoscendi internum is the internal appropriation. Language has not yet fulfilled its intention until the listener actually internally hears and responds to the external word. This result occurs through the Word’s perlocutionary power, which is the Holy Spirit and its corresponding human result in faith. The external-internal distinction thus helps to incorporate both dimensions of revelation. As Vanhoozer writes, “The Son is the form and content of the divine discourse, the Spirit its energy and persuasive efficacy.”[vi] Revelation likewise may be understood as the external act of God’s self-disclosure and the internal perception that actually results from such divine action. Both are inexorably tied and cannot be separated. The Word without the Spirit is empty; the Spirit without the Word is blind.

When both poles of revelation are present, revelation is a powerful force. As the author of Hebrews assures, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). The Scriptures alone do not accomplish this robust result, as if mere words salvifically reveal to sinful human hearts apart from the illumination of the Spirit. As John Webster perceptively observes, “Reading Scripture is inescapably bound to regeneration.”[vii] Nor, however, does the Spirit affect this result apart from the Bible. Rather, revelation is external words with internal import. Revelation may be compared to an illumined sentence from which we move forward and backward to attain a better understanding of the whole.[viii] Extending the metaphor, revelation includes a revealed meaning (locution) through its intended (illocutionary) force that then affects the feelings, thoughts, and actions (perlocutions) of the speaker/listener. Namely, it is when the external revelation (i.e., the Bible) is read and the internal revelation (i.e., the Spirit) regenerates and illumines the reader’s mind and heart—or understanding and will—that the reader can say that the Bible is not a mere book and that the Spirit is in him or her. It is at this point that revelation fully and finally does its job in bringing the Word of God “out there” (external) to the Word of God “in here” (internal).[ix] This consequence is, in fact, merely an implication of a truly Reformed theology.

In this sense, revelation is multidimensional. It is an organic act of God whereby he personally confronts the whole individual—his or her mind, heart, and will. Revelation is internal and external communication. It entails communication of propositional truth via the revelations of Christ, the Bible, and creation, so that revelation indeed includes an external component. It also entails an internal component, where Christ encounters the individual by the Spirit. As John Webster again summarizes, “Revelation is thus not simply the bridging of a noetic divide (though it includes that), but is reconciliation, salvation, and therefore fellowship.”[x] Because revelation has both an external and internal component, it can be articulated in words and propositions but it is also a redeeming experience of divine encounter.[xi] Revelation therefore manifests itself through God’s Word—creation and Scripture—and by his Spirit—in regeneration and illumination. It thus encompasses all the self-presentation and self-communication of the triune God to humans, both externally and internally, from creation through redemption unto eternity.

[i]As Scripture says, the fear of the Lord is the principle (tyviare, i.e., beginning, foundation) of wisdom (Ps 111:10) or of knowledge (Prov 1:7); or rather, Jesus Christ is the principle (avrch,, i.e., beginning, foundation) of creation (Col 1:18; Rev 3:14). Therefore, the source or cause of all things is the triune God himself. See also Bonaventure, Breviloquium, 27: theology “deals principally with the First Principle—God, three in one. . . .” Some theologians in the early church argued that God the Father is technically the principium essendi. Augustine, for example, asserted that the Father is “the principle of the whole divinity” (lit. principium totius divinitatis, Augustine, On the Trinity, 4:20) which means, in other words, the principle of being or existence of the Godhead. However, it is more helpful, following John Calvin, to view each person of the Trinity as autotheos, and thus, the Trinity as a whole is the principium (Calvin, Institutes, 1:13.25, 29; cf. B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Augustine [Phillipsburg: P & R, 1980], 283-284).

[ii]Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:15.33.

[iii]The language here echoes Barth’s Revealer, Revelation, and Revealedness (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance [Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961], 1.1.361).

[iv]Namely, language includes a “locutionary act” (the basic meaning and reference of a statement), an “illocutionary force” (the semantic cogency that the speaker intends to accomplish in the locution), and a “perlocutionary force” (the statement considered by its effect upon its recipient). These three are delineations from J. L. Austin, the founder of this theory, who wanted technical terms to explain the content, intent, and result of language (cf. J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, ed. J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà, 2nd ed. [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975], 1-164). Vanhoozer has also correlated Speech Act Theory with the three persons of the Trinity in a similar manner (cf. Vanhoozer, First Theology, 227-8).

[v]Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:22.1; 2:30.9; 5:1.3; cf. James Beaven, An Account of the Life and Writings of S. Irenaeus: Bishop of Lyons and Martyr (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1841), 88, 89; John Behr, Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 38; John Lawson, The Biblical Theology of Saint Irenaeus (London: Epworth, 1948), 125.

[vi]Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology, 366. Therefore, the internal principium corresponds to the Spirit’s interior working in the Testimonium et Illuminatio Internum Spiritus Sancti (“Testimony and Illumination of the Spirit”). Vanhoozer also acknowledges this without using the same language (Ibid.). He says, “What finally makes the call effectual is its content—the story of Jesus—as ministered by the Spirit.” (Ibid., 374). This is the difference between “externally authoritative” and “internally persuasive” discourse (Ibid., 365).

[vii]Webster, Holy Scripture, 89. This is why A. W. Tozer is so severely critical of those who believe that “if you learn the text you’ve got the truth,” for they “see no beyond and no mystic depth, no mysterious heights, nothing supernatural or divine. . . . They have the text and the code and the creed, and to them that is the truth” (A. W. Tozer, “Revelation is Not Enough,” Presbyterian Journal 28:41 [Feb 1970]: 7-8).

[viii]Cf. Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation, 61, cf. 93.

[ix]This does not mean, however, that objective revelation (i.e. the Bible) without subjective revelation is not revelation at all (cf. Barth, Brunner, Niebuhr, Bloesch, and Webster). The mistake of these proponents is that they improperly assume that the ontology of revelation necessarily includes its function, and thus when the function of the Scriptures is unfulfilled—that is, the purpose to bring people to saving faith—they wrongly assume that revelation is not present (see for example Webster, Holy Scripture, 14, 16). It is better to say that both are revelations regardless of the fulfillment of the purpose.

[x]Webster, Holy Scripture, 16.

[xi]In this sense, one may take issue when Webster declares that “revelation is not to be thought of as the communication of arcane information or hidden truths” (Ibid., 14). Depending upon what he means by “arcane” and “hidden,” one wonders how revelation can exist without information and truth. In this sense, Webster is misguided to suggest that revelation is simply “God’s own proper reality” (Ibid.).

[i]The Reformers, for instance, could not speak of knowledge or revelation accept as they correlate with both the Word (creation) and Spirit (illumination) (see Chapter 4, “Reformation and Post-Reformation Eras”).

[ii]Latourelle, Theology of Revelation, 383. He thus argues for the “twofold dimension of the Word of God” (Ibid.). Namely, “Its efficacy as external word is joined by a particular efficacy which comes from the divine activity penetrating the very heart of all of the activity of our intellect and will, predisposing us for the response of faith” (Ibid., 385).

[iii]Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology, 343. As he argues, this kind of truth would apply even if humanity had not sinned. Therefore, “neither observation nor reasoning” would be enough; rather, one needs a direct, personal revelation from God (Ibid.). See also Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:207, 497; Morris, I Believe in Revelation, 70-71, 122.