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Inspiration/Revelation: What It Is and How It Works - Contents
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    Theory of Encounter Inspiration 108Indebtedness is acknowledged for many of the ideas in this section to Dr. John L. Robertson, “The Challenge to God’s Word,” and Dr. Raoul Dederen. Unfortunately, it is not possible to identify individual contributions from existing notes.

    A third view of inspiration goes by a variety of labels: “Neo-orthodoxy,” “existentialism” (the religious kind), or “encounter” (after one of the more prominent words in its in-house jargon). This view is based, at least in part, on the “I-Thou” concept of Philosopher Martin Buber. The three basic tenets or postulates will now be examined:IRWHW 54.5

    Subjective Rather Than Objective.

    1. Inspiration is, by its very nature, inherently subjective rather than objective.IRWHW 54.6

    Although the verbalist and plenarist views are quite different and distinct, the former holding that inspiration resides in the exact word used, and the latter believing that the inspiration resides instead in the thought conveyed by the prophet, both are alike in one respect: They each hold that inspiration is essentially objective rather than subjective.IRWHW 54.7

    Until the turn of the century, these were the two basic positions held by the Christian world. Then along came philosopher-theologian Martin Buber, who helped to develop a new theory of inspiration. This theory holds, among other views, that inspiration is, by its very nature, inherently subjective rather than objective. What does this mean in practical terms?IRWHW 54.8

    As “encounter” theology sees it, revelation (or inspiration) is an experience that takes place in an “I-Thou” encounter between the prophet and God. It is then, primarily, an experience, with no exchange of information taking place.IRWHW 54.9

    Revelation, for the encounter theologian, is “the personal self-disclosure of God to man, not the impartation of truths about God, ... an ‘I-Thou’ encounter with God, the full presence of God in the consciousness” of the prophet, as seminary professor Raoul Dederen has phrased it. 109Dederen.IRWHW 54.10

    There is no communication of information in encounter theology. God does not utter a word. No statements of truth of any kind are made in this unique relationship. Truth is seen not as conceptual in an objective sense, but as experiential in a subjective sense.IRWHW 54.11

    At this point the encounterist would argue that there is a content. But the content is not the impartation of some concept about God, but, rather, the imparting of some One—God Himself, addressing the individual Christian’s soul and calling for a personal response in the transaction.IRWHW 54.12

    Revelation, ultimately, for the encounterist, is the full revelation of God to the full consciousness of the prophet. In this experience there is no communication of ideas, truths, concepts, or messages.IRWHW 54.13

    As we noted earlier, the Bible writers convey emphatically that God speaks particularly and uniquely through inspired men. There is simply no twisting such declarations as the one made in 2 Samuel 23:2: “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue”!IRWHW 54.14

    The inquiry of Zedekiah the king to Jeremiah the prophet is central to a genuinely biblical view of inspiration: “Is there any word from the Lord?” (Jeremiah 37:17).IRWHW 54.15

    Nor is this merely an Old Testament view of inspiration. In three places in Acts Luke uses such expressions as “the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake” (chap. 1:16), “God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (chap. 3:21), and “by the mouth of thy servant David [God] hast said,” et cetera. Chapter four of 1 Timothy opens with “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that ...,” and the opening words of Hebrews declare that whereas in former days God spoke by the mouth of the holy prophets, in more recent times He has spoken more directly to mankind through His Son.IRWHW 54.16

    The encounterist holds that the prophet as a person is inspired (which is true), but that the thoughts and the words the prophet conveys are his own ideas rather than God’s ideas (which is false).IRWHW 54.17

    Further, the encounterist holds that the prophet is the interpreter of God’s self-disclosure in terms relevant to his own day; and those ideas may contain error. They may even be scientifically or historically inaccurate (as, for example, Moses’ idea of a seven solar-day literal creation); yet the prophet nevertheless is held to be inspired, since, in this view, inspiration has nothing whatever to do with ideas!IRWHW 54.18

    The encounterist lays great stress on context. His purpose is to demonstrate “historical conditioning”—the idea that the prophet is the helpless victim (as well as the product) of his environment, background, education, and climate of thought.IRWHW 55.1

    Although the plenarist is also interested in context, he uses it to discover, by examination of the historical circumstances surrounding the giving of a particular message, whether the prophet’s words constitute a principle—(an unchanging, unerring rule of human behavior) or a policy (the application of a principle to a particular situation, in which case the application may change as the situation changes).IRWHW 55.2

    2. Contains the word versus being the word. The encounterist says that the Bible contains the word of God, but it is not itself the word of God. In this view, the Bible is no longer revelation in the pre-twentieth century sense of the word. It is no longer God’s revealed word, but rather a witness to the revelation experience.IRWHW 55.3

    Regarding content, this view sees the Bible as merely the result of its writer’s rational reflection upon God’s individual and personal self-manifestation to them. In other words, Moses did not receive the Ten Commandments directly from God, nor did he obtain specific instructions concerning the earthly tabernacle, its furnishings, or its ceremonies.IRWHW 55.4

    Thus the encounterist does not believe that the concepts conveyed in Scripture are the word of God, as the plenarist believes. The plenarist holds inspiration to be objective—that is, something apart from the individual by which he is daily judged. The encounterist sees the word of God as a personal, subjective experience—an inner experience that is remarkably powerful and compelling. Experience, as the encounterist sees it, constitutes the word of God—not ideas, thoughts, conceptions, or propositional truth.IRWHW 55.5

    As the prophet attempts to express his own ideas or thoughts in describing this “divine-human encounter” he thus attempts to convey the word of God as he feels it from within. This attempt could be compared to a person’s relating in a prayer meeting testimony what God did for him that week.IRWHW 55.6

    For the encounterist, the prophet is inspired in heart, rather than in head. Thus the person who hears or reads the prophet’s words also has a subjective experience. Truth is therefore defined as experiential. The experience becomes the word of God for the student, rather than the word of God being defined as the literal words, concepts, and propositions expressed by the prophet.IRWHW 55.7

    The plenarist does not disparage the place of experience in the life of the Christian; indeed, in at least 13 locations Ellen White uses the expression experimental religion. But human experience never supersedes the objective word of God, which must itself determine the validity of all experience. 110Testimonies for the Church 5:512.IRWHW 55.8

    3. Quantitative, not qualitative. Finally, for the encounterist, everyone is inspired. The prophet simply has a more superlative degree of inspiration than the ordinary individual.IRWHW 55.9

    The issue at this point is a difference in degree versus a difference in kind. The prophet has a more intense degree of inspiration, it is held, than that of average people. A prophet’s, minister’s, or politician’s eloquence may lead people to do things they would not otherwise do. Because such a person lifts others up out of themselves, he is thus considered “inspired.”IRWHW 55.10

    There may certainly be some kind of secular, nonprophetic inspiration. We sometimes think of an artist, a sculptor, a musical composer or performer as being “inspired.” But this ordinary, secular inspiration has nothing whatever to do with the kind of prophetic inspiration spoken of in the Bible.IRWHW 55.11

    In Biblical inspiration, the prophet is taken off in vision. He or she may lose natural strength only to receive a supernatural endowment. For the prophet, God breathes—literally; for in the vision state the prophet does not breathe. And while in this state, the prophet receives infallible messages from the Lord.IRWHW 55.12

    Ordinary individuals may be moved by the inspired words of the prophet; their lives may be fundamentally altered for the better. But that experience is not the “inspiration” that the Bible writers and Ellen White possessed. When ordinary people are “inspired,” it is some other kind of inspiration than the biblical variety. It is a difference in kind, not in degree.IRWHW 55.13

    This idea of degrees of inspiration that is so prevalent in encounter theology has, historically, had a certain appeal with Adventism. In 1884 then-General Conference President George I. Butler’s series of ten articles in the Review and Herald posited this idea of degrees of inspiration. Ellen White wrote him a letter of rebuke 111Letter 12, 1889, published in Selected Messages 1:23. in which she pointed out that God had not inspired this series on inspiration, nor had He approved of the teaching of these views at the sanitarium, college, or publishing house in Battle Creek!IRWHW 55.14

    A Significant Difference

    At this point, the reader may, rather wearily, say, “What practical difference does it make which position I take?” It makes a big difference. Let us note some of the significant implications that result from accepting the encounterist view:IRWHW 55.15

    1. The Bible is no longer the bearer of eternal truths; it is no longer a book of doctrine. It degenerates into merely a witness to the “divine-human encounter” between God and a prophet. It is no longer a statement of truths from God or truths about God. It is merely the personal view of the prophet giving his subjective reaction to a highly subjective experience.

    2. The reader of the prophet’s words, then, becomes the authority, the arbiter who decides what (for him) is inspired and what is not. He reads the Bible critically; but he is not obliged to believe what it says in principle, conceptually, but rather what he interprets it to mean to him. He decides whether a given statement is to be accepted at face value, or whether it is to be accepted at all.

    The reader’s subjective experience becomes normative—the standard of what he will accept or reject as binding on his life and experience.IRWHW 56.1

    However, if there is no objective revelation as criterion, then there is no way an individual can validate his experience, no way for him to determine whether this experience is from the Holy Spirit or from an unholy spirit. It is simply not enough to say that one’s experience is “self-authenticating.” As John Robertson, former theology professor commented, “It may also be self-deceiving.”IRWHW 56.2

    1. The subjective view is a distortion. It distorts the proper, legitimate place of context. It also distorts the proper place of experience, by making it the criterion for authenticity. The subjective view emphasizes “the autonomy of historical conditioning,” and makes demythologizing of the prophet a necessity to contemporary understanding. Further, it distorts genuine prophetic inspiration by imposing the idea of degrees of inspiration upon it as a central category.

    2. The encounter view results in the adoption of the following theological positions:

    a. Creation, as taught in Genesis, is neither literal nor scientific. Rather, evolution becomes the favored view, with Genesis being seen as merely recording the quaint ideas extant in the time of Moses.

    b. With regard to the incarnation of Christ, Jesus was not really a divine-human being. He was only a man. The encounter view rejects supernatural events such as the virgin birth and miracles, as we commonly define them.

    3. In demonology, the Bible, says the encounterist, merely reports the common ideas of a time when it was popularly but incorrectly believed that demons possessed the physical bodies of certain unfortunate human victims. Today, says the encounterist, we know that all mental illness and insanity are caused by external conditions such as chemical imbalances and unfavorable environment—but not by spirits.

    Plenarists can certainly agree that some mental illness, perhaps much of it, is caused by external, nonsupernatural causes; but they cannot accept a view that declares that all mental illness is so caused. This author saw too much in his 12 years of mission service to believe otherwise!IRWHW 56.3

    In the final analysis, then, the encounterist, subjective view of inspiration ultimately constitutes a denial of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” It is a clever substitution of “cleverly devised fables” for an infallible revelation of truth as given by God through divinely (and objectively) inspired prophets. And those who accept this view risk losing eternal life.IRWHW 56.4

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