There has been some interesting action around these parts while I have been away. It started with some exchanges between Jacob and Mogget about the general subject of theology. Late in one of those threads at Mogget made an interesting comment:
Two points about our info on the post-mortal existence:
If itâ€™s something that is known only by revelation, then letâ€™s admit that itâ€™s so.
If weâ€™re going to speculate about it, then it needs structure and organization.
Now it seems that there are folks that think three kingdoms, and folks that think â€œmany kingdoms.â€ Interestingly enough, both sides seem to think they have logic, exegesis, and revelation on their side.
So letâ€™s take a step back in the whole process and talk about how to distinguish between competing claims in general before we work on this issue. It would seem that the tough one is competing claims of revelation, no?
Anybody got any ideas? Something reasonably objective?
The point she brings up about competing revelations a difficult but highly important one. One the major eye-openers I have experienced in the last few years is the realization that there is no insider group of always-agreeing “knowers” when it comes to God. Prophets and apostles don’t always agree on doctrine or theology. They didn’t always agree anciently and they don’t always agree now. That was a startling discovery for me. I think it can be a very disconcerting thought. But once one gets past the scary notion that scriptures may sometimes really contradict each other or that prophets and apostles sometimes believe contradictory theological ideas one is led to an important realization — that the only revelations that really matter to each of us on this earth are our own personal revelations.
Why would I say that? Well because personal revelation is the ultimate source of truth for us all. How can we know scriptures come from God?; Only if God himself tells us. How can we know if there is a prophet on the earth now?; Only if God himself tells us. And after God tells us that scriptures really do come through him (to whatever degree that is true) we can then get revelatory confirmation on individual doctrinal and theological concepts. Interestingly, the scriptures also tell us that life eternal is to know God and Jesus Christ. I take that to mean we must have a personal revelatory relationship with God; not just a knowledge about God and Christ through other people’s revelations.
So in answer to Mogget’s question: I don’t think that there is ultimately an objective way to distinguish between competing claims of revelation about God — at least not objective in the public and testable sense that the science guys long for. Knowing God comes from personal communication with God. Knowing which competing claim to revelation is true can only come from turning to the original source of the revelation and getting an answer.
Now admittedly, even if one gets an answer from God on a question about a mystery of the universe it is likely to be a variation of “Go away. I’ll tell you when you’re older”. But God must be source if we are ever to get such answers.
So while we personally seek answers from the source we can experiment with ideas (the study it out in our minds portion of the revelatory experience). We can choose from canonized and uncanonized revelations and try to construct coherent theological models. Of course because there really are competing ideas in and out of the canon some things have to be excised or at least reinterpreted or even minimized to make a coherent theology work. Blake does a good job of it. I think I have a coherent theology I have put together. Others have done some work on it too. But the reality is that in mine or Blake’s or anyone’s theological model it is easy for critics of the model to harp on a few proof texts that had to be reinterpreted or minimized. In so doing they can make a good case against the model (as we have done to to Blake’s and my models here extensively). Such is the nature of this exercise.
Of course the goal of all of this is to comprehend the truth about our lives here on earth and about the ultimate nature of reality. That study of metaphysics has been going on since the dawn of man and there has been no consensus yet. But that doesn’t mean we should quit trying. In fact, it may be that the trying is a large part of our purpose here to begin with.
Now as for the title of this post; here is a thought for you. When it comes to knowledge of and about God there are only two paths people choose: revelation and speculation. If we have not personally had revelatory answers from God then we are betting on somebody else’s claims to such revelation. While betting on someone else’s claims is a tame form of speculation it still can be considered a form of speculation (aka guessing — even if it is educated guessing). This is the borrowed light problem we are occasionally taught about. So yes, you speculate on everything that God hasn’t personally told you. We all do.
That isn’t so bad as a stop-gap, but I think God wants to personally tell us too so we ought to figure out how to get our answers. As Moses said:
Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORDâ€™s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!