The Revelation of God

The book Peter Jensen wrote The Revelation of God could possibly be re-titled The Gospel Is Revelation. This comes not only from the opening line of the first chapter, but it is clearly the theme of the entire book. Every argument he makes about the doctrine of revelation is rooted in the gospel. All throughout the book there are phrases that say “but if the starting point is the gospel, then…” Jensen does an excellent job at explaining how closely related and interwoven each doctrine of scripture is to the central message of Christ crucified.

Summary

At the end of the introduction Jensen says his aim for the entire book is to state and justify the Protestant evangelical position in the contemporary world. He goes on to say that the crucial category of the gospel is the category from which knowledge of God arises (29). The book is divided into three sections. The first section contains chapters one through six and the focus is on special and general revelation from the viewpoint of the knowledge of God through the gospel. The second section contains chapters seven through nine and in these chapters he explains the authority and nature of scripture, as well as how we should read it. The third section contains the final two chapters (ten and eleven) and Jensen writes about illumination and how the Holy Spirit opens our darkened eyes and hearts to the gospel.

In chapter 1, Jensen’s foundational argument is made to which he builds off of for the remainder of the book. He explains the nature of revelation in the gospel comes to us via human speech and through human effort, but in the end is a ‘word from God’ and not of human enquiry. It is because God is gracious that he has chosen to disclose himself to us and even more gracious of him to use us as his instruments for revealing himself. All through redemption history God used human prophets, priests, apostles, and Christ incarnate to speak his word as the human authors of scripture. The primary revelation that all of them spoke of was the gospel message of how to enter into the presence of God through Jesus Christ, the fulfillment and completion of the Old Testament revelation. Thus, the gospel is the most significant revelation of all (43).

In chapters two & three, Jensen explores the nature of the gospel and the nature of the knowledge the gospel claims to deliver. The starting-point for knowing God is the gospel of Jesus Christ and so it is the fundamental revelation. In order to better understand the nature of the gospel he provides five common features to the apostles preaching found in the New Testament. Those five features are: 1) The gospel is a word from the God who speaks, creates, judges, and saves. 2) The gospel contains a warning of judgment to come on rebellious humanity. 3) The gospel centers on Jesus Christ as Lord through his death, resurrection and exaltation. 4) The gospel is a word of promise about God’s love and mercy. 5) The gospel demands repentance and faith in its hearers. Jesus Christ is the Saviour, Judge and Word of God. Thus, this gospel message is the ‘word of God’ and we cannot begin by accepting the gospel on a certain set of terms only to abandon those terms later (63). This is why in chapter 3, Jensen answers the question about what role words play in the reception of the gospel. His answer is that the relation between the person of Christ and word about him are intimately connected. Authentic faith in Christ involves the capacity to trust and obey words, sentences, and paragraphs (83). Therefore, the doctrines of scripture are at the heart of the Christian faith because they are at the very heart of the gospel of God’s son.

In chapter four, Jensen unpacks the gospel as the pattern of revelation and the primary revelation that shapes all that we should believe about revelation in general. He explains that the gospel is the measure of all revelation rather than thinking it is the only revelation. The gospel is the revelation through which all other revelations are interpreted. The revelation of God is basically verbal and it announces the word of God, centered on Jesus Christ. The function of the scripture and the gospel is to re-establish God’s rule by creating and nourishing faith. It is not as if Christians graduate past the gospel after the Holy Spirit awakens them to faith, but it is the gospel through the word of God that sustains the Christian to keep them under the lordship of Christ.

In chapters five and six, Jensen turns to the subject of other revelations. The two other revelations he addresses are that of human experience (chapter five) and the revelation of religious experiences (chapter six). He continues to restate the theme of the gospel as the primary revelation and makes it clear that we are to interpret all of our human and religious experiences in light of the gospel and not the other way around. However, in chapter five he spends a good deal of time explaining the difference between general revelation and natural theology. The general revelation of God helps us better understand the gospel when we receive the special revelation of God’s word, but natural theology denies central claims of the gospel and contradicts the special revelation of God’s word. The focus in chapter six is more on the experiential Christianity that has become more popular than the more cognitive Christianity ever since the Enlightenment. Jensen argues that we do not need to choose between the experience and the cognitive because the gospel is both personal and propositional. The message of Christ captures the heart and informs the mind.

The second section (chapters seven through nine) begins with a chapter on the authority of Scripture. Jensen explains that the authority of Scripture is set within the whole issue of human freedom (178). The reason why the Scriptures are authoritative is because they demand that we submit to the king of the kingdom, Jesus Christ. We should not try to understand the authority of scripture without seeing it flow from the preaching of the kingdom of God. When we repent of our sin and turn to Christ by faith we are now servants of the king and are now free from our spiritual enemies. Jensen does an excellent job in this chapter relating the covenantal nature of Scripture with God’s kingdom and Christ being the Lord of God’s people. The scriptures can rightly be called the ‘Book of the Covenant’ and it is under this theme of the covenant that Jensen explores the unity and truthfulness of the Bible in chapter eight. In other words, it is in chapter eight where he explains what are normally called the doctrines of the cannon, inerrancy, and infallibility. It is within the context of the covenantal nature of the Bible that his arguments have their thrust. For example, while arguing for inerrancy Jensen says that because God’s word is covenantal in nature they are characteristically forward-looking and come to us as promises from God. If we cast doubt upon the truthfulness of Scripture as the word of God, then we destroy faith in His promises. Thus, Jensen concludes it is much sounder, and more in conformity with the gospel and the covenant, to refuse to attribute any ultimate error to Scripture (202). In the final chapter of section two (chapter 9) Jensen argues that the gospel must shape our approach to the task of reading the Bible. Furthermore, he says biblical criticism has profound implications on reading the bible and reading in general. If God is able to use words that we may trust, and to develop a deep relationship through words, there is hope for human language (229). In sum, we need to submit ourselves before the text and let it read us on its own terms rather than trying to master it through our techniques.

The final section and final two chapters (chapters ten and eleven) revolve around the Holy Spirit’s illumination of the Scriptures to our hearts and minds. Jensen explains that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit we will continue to reject the gospel that is revealed by the word of God. We will be judged to eternal punishment unless we can see Christ as the center of Scripture who dies for our sin, but that will not happen without the heart being enlightened by the active power of the Holy Spirit (254). The final topic addressed in the book in chapter eleven has to do with the modern revelation and whether or not the Holy Spirit is still giving new words from God. In short, Jensen shows how the Holy Spirit applies the Scripture that we already do have. The gospel has been launched, the Scriptures have been completed and the church has been founded. We have the prophetic gift in abundance in the Scriptures and contemporary prophecy is only a diversion (273).

Conclusion

The work Peter Jensen did was fantastic! This is one of the most gospel-centered books I have read. I thoroughly appreciated the approach that Jensen took and his ability to write about the doctrines of Scripture as they relate to the central message of Scripture. I also thought his explanations of the nature of Scripture, as covenantal books were extremely helpful. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who interested in studying the revelation of God and doctrines of Scripture. I did not perceive any glaring weaknesses of the book. It was well written, it covered the issues that needed to be addressed with great clarity, and it exalted the name of Jesus Christ.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Book Summaries, Scripture, The Gospel

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