Does Scripturalism allow for the possibility of continued revelation?
A. The cessation of continued revelation
The doctrine of cessation of continued revelation — that God has ceased revealing additional knowledge to man following the completion of the canon of Scripture — is an element of “cessationism.” Cessationism can also refer to (1) the cessation of all miracles and/or (2) the cessation of all spiritual gifts. But it is the cessation of continued revelation which is pertinent to the question at hand.
Scripturalism is the epistemology formulated by Gordon H. Clark which limits the knowledge possible to modern man to the propositions of Scripture along with all propositions that can be logically deduced from the propositions of Scripture.
II. Continued Revelation contradicted by:
A. The Westminster Confession of Faith
The Westminster Confession of Faith (to which Clark held) reads:
“Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary;those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased. – WCF 1.1.”
“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.” – WCF 1.6.
WCF 1.6. is a clear statement of Sola Scriptura. WCF 1.1. explicitly notes that the former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people have ceased. Thus it is clear that the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches cessationism with regards to continued revelation.
B. Clark’s own comments.
Since Clark held to the Westminster Confession of Faith which is clearly cessationist with respect to continued revelation, Clark must have held to the doctrine of cessation of continued revelation. If this argument is insufficient however, there are a number of other places in his writings where Clark clearly affirms the cessation of continued revelation:
In What Do Presbyterians Believe (1956) Clark clearly shows his opposition to continued revelation when he contrasts the Reformers’ position of “Scripture alone” (which he holds favorably) with the position of “mystics and visionaries who claimed that God spoke to them directly.” He writes,
“In the Roman church, tradition as well as the Scriptures was accepted as such a rule, and in actuality superseded and contradicted them. At the same time there were mystics and visionaries who claimed that God spoke to them directly. The rule of faith which the Reformers acknowledge was the Scriptures alone.” p. 5.
Clark opposes the need for “additional revelations” and again emphasizes the sufficiency of “the Bible alone” in his essay “The Christian and the Law” (1957) reprinted in Essays on Ethics and Politics (1992). He writes,
“God has given us all the guidance we need. We do not need Roman Catholic tradition; we do not need mystic visions, we do not need additional revelations. But we do need, and need sorely, a great deal of Bible study. In the Bible, and in the Bible alone, we find the rule of life.” p. 20.
Additionally, in a letter of November 9, 1984 Clark writes to one Mr. Thompson L. Casey,
“Your numerology, if that is the proper term, seems to me to have no Biblical basis. If you prefer frankness, rather than the silence of the Nelson publishers, your claims to having received revelations directly from God I regard as completely anti-christian. See the Westminster Confession I, vi; and the many Biblical commands neither to add to nor subtract from God’s written revelation. You have added a great deal.”
These quotes make it abundantly clear that Clark held to the cessation of continued revelation. But does Scripturalism itself necessitate the cessation of continued revelation? Perhaps a continuationist might argue that cessationism is not a necessary corollary of Scripturalism. But having read the quotes in the previous section the continuationist should admit that Clark himself was a cessationist in regards to continued revelation.
C. Clark’s disciples.
Disciples of Gordon Clark have invariably been cessationists with respect to additional revelation.
1. John Robbins
In Pat Robertson: A Warning to America John Robbins writes,
“What Paul is referring to here [1 Corinthians 13:8] is not full knowledge, which will never vanish away, either at the Second Coming or at the completion of the writing of the Bible, but the “word of knowledge,” the partial revelation that the apostles received prior to the completion of Scripture. When the full revelation, the Bible, is completed, then there will be no more need of ‘words of knowledge.'” p. 56.
2. W. Gary Crampton
In “Scripturalism, A Worldview” (The Trinity Review, March, 2011) W. Gary Crampton writes,
“Scripturalism, then, teaches that all of our knowledge is to be derived from the Bible, which has a systematic monopoly on truth.”
And in By Scripture Alone he writes,
“[The position taken by the Confession] also militates against any assertion that special revelation (“private spirits”) may come by any way other than the 66 books of the Bible.”
3. Robert L. Reymond
Though as I argue here (https://douglasdouma.com/2017/05/11/robert-l-reymond-and-gordon-h-clark/) Raymond was not a “Clarkian Scripturalist” in the strict sense, I agree with Sean Gerety who points out that Reymond was considered sufficiently “Clarkian” to have that be an issue raised in Reymond’s ministerial transfer to the OPC. Regardless, Reymond’s views on cessationism can be found in his “What About Continuing Revelations and Miracles in the Presbyterian Church Today?” He concludes,
“Both genuine prophecy and glossolalia, as revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit, terminated with the completion of the revelatory process which was coterminous with the completion of the New Testament canon.”
III. A Scripturalist Continuationist?
The question at hand (Does Scripturalism allow for the possibility of continued revelation?) then probably wouldn’t be a question at all — given the cessationism of Clark and his disciples — except for the writings of internet theologian Vincent Cheung.
It could be argued that Cheung finds his two largest influences in Gordon Clark and the charismatic tradition, though he distances himself from each of these. He downplays Clark’s influence on him saying, “Although I agree with Clark on many points, agreement does not necessarily signal influence. But as they do in many other cases, my critics tend to confuse correlation with causation.” (“Captive to Reason (2009),” p. 18.) Cheung correctly notes the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy but does not thereby rule out Clark’s influence on him.
Cheung doesn’t want to be associated with the charismatics either. He writes, “The charismatics do not represent the Bible, and they do not represent me.” (“Fulcrum,” p. 40.) And, “Although I affirm the continuation of the supernatural endowments of the Spirit, I do not call myself a Charismatic.” ( “Sermonettes, Volume 1,” p. 112.)
In his voluminous online writings Cheung calls cessationism (1) blasphemy, (2) heresy, (3) false doctrine, (4) unbiblical, (5) Satan’s ultimate protection, (6) the master heresy, (7) evil and dangerous, (8) incompatible with Christianity, (9) more dangerous and destructive than the heresies of the charismatics, (10) demonic, (11) a counter-Christian religion, (12) the reverse Gospel, (13) an anti-Apostolic cult, (14) the cessation of faith in God, (15) as serious and sinister as any heresy, (16) the great apostasy, (17) transgression, (18) not a doctrine to be argued about but a sin to be repented of, (19) amounting to preaching another Gospel, (20) one big middle finger in the face of Jesus, (21) among other heresies embraced by the Reformed tradition, (22) polytheism, (23) heathenism, (24) a revival of ancient polytheism and heathenism, and (25) the easiest and laziest of fake religions.
Cheung’s view of continued revelation he refers to as “expansionism,” a term he seems to have invented. He defines expansionism as “the biblical doctrine that supernatural powers and miracles are to increase in God’s people beyond what Jesus Christ himself exercised.” (“Expansionism, A Gospel Manifesto”) He writes, “I do not call myself a continuationist or my doctrine continuationism.” (“Sermonettes, Volume 8,” p. 37. ) In fact regarding continuationism he writes, “it is in reality so much weaker than what I believe that I take it as slander.” (“Fulcrum,” p. 9.) He contends that his being called a continuationist when he actually holds to a sub-type of a continuationism is a slander like a Christian (a sub-type of theism) being called a theist. But since the latter is hardly slanderous, neither is the former.
Cheung rejects the term Scripturalism. He writes, “I discourage an identification with Clark also because I cannot be certain that he would have agreed with some of the main points in my system. Thus it would be unfair to him to regard my philosophy as nothing more than a restatement or an application of his.” (p. 18) and “The term [Scripturalism] refers to the Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark. Although it is often applied to my philosophy, I do not embrace the term.” (p. 34) – (“Captive to Reason” (2009).)
Yet his writings frequently reference Clark. This has, in my experience, influenced many impressionable students online to believe that Cheung is a Scripturalist. They then in turn contend that Scripturalism is not incompatible with continuationism/expansionism because Cheung holds both.
IV. The Incompatibility of Continuationism and Scripturalism
Though Clark held to the cessation of continued revelation and though his disciples held to it also, is cessationism necessarily part of Scripturalism?
It is important to note that Clark’s axiom is not revelation generally, but the revelation of the Scriptures. In Clark’s Wheaton Lectures (1966) published in The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark (1968) and again in An Introduction to Christian Philosophy (1993) he says,
“Hence the postulate here proposed is not revelation as natural theology, not revelation as ineffable mysticism, not an inexpressible confrontation, but a verbal and rational communication of truths, the revelation of Scripture.” p. 62
Clark also notes in Three Types of Religious Philosophy (1973),
“Dogmatism [another term for Scripturalism] does not conflict with truth from other sources because there are no other sources of truth.” p. 9.
In each of these quotes, and in many other places, continued revelation is ruled out against the principle of Scripturalism that the Bible and the Bible Alone is our source in the present-day for all knowledge.
A continuationist arguing for the compatibility of their position with that of Scripturalism might say that it is true (per Scripturalism) that knowledge is limited to the propositions of Scripture (and logical deductions from Scripture), but that Scripture itself allows for continued revelation. But, following Scripturalism, one would have to deduce not only the doctrine (A) that a person may receive additional revelation, but would have to deduce (B) the specific revelations from Scripture, for (A) is not sufficient for (B).
Now, one may say that the Scriptures are the criteria for verifying the truth of claims of additional revelation. But, the Scriptures can only be a negative test of truth. If the claim of additional revelation is contradicted by Scripture, the claim is false; it isn’t revelation. If the claim of additional revelation is a proposition of Scripture then it isn’t additional revelational. If the claim of additional revelation is neither a proposition of Scripture nor a proposition contradicted by Scripture, it cannot be determined to be either true or false.
A. Response 1 and rebuttal – Something Other than Knowledge?
Continuationist objection: Continuationists don’t consider additional revelations to be on par with the Scripture.
Answer: The revelation of Scripture is knowledge. If items of continued revelation have some status other than that of “knowledge”, then the “revelations” are not revelations. For what can be revealed other than knowledge? God does not reveal opinions or falsehoods.
B. Response 2 and rebuttal – Knowledge in Heaven
Continuationist objection: Does not knowledge increase in heaven?
Answer: Cessationists also believe in additional knowledge in heaven. The Scripturalist limitation on knowledge as from Scripture and deductions from Scripture applies to the present world.
Clark, in fact, in his chapter “Eschatology” in First Lesson in Theology, notes of 1 Corinthians 13:12, “verse 12 asserts the continuance and multiplication of knowledge in heaven.”
C. Response 3 and rebuttal – Private Knowledge and Assurance
Continuationist objection: Assurance of salvation requires revealed private knowledge.
Answer: Clark surmounts this problem in a number of ways. Clark holds that beliefs regarding self are opinions, not self-knowledge, as they cannot be deduced from Scripture (and so be justified). Assurance itself, Clark holds, is the psychological state of certainty, not an epistemological state of knowledge. And, as the opinion that one is saved can be deduced from understanding that one is a believer, it need not be revealed to man.
a) Beliefs about oneself are only opinion, not knowledge.
Self-knowledge is not possible in Scripturalism, for the self is not listed in the Scriptures. (Clark also notes the difficulty—if not impossibility—of self-knowledge in his Language and Theology, p. 149 – 150). Rather one can only have opinions about self. Knowledge is limited to the Scriptures alone.
Clark notes this point in the Clark-Hoover debate:
Questioner: Dr. Clark, since we can’t deduce from Scripture that we are human beings responsible to God, how can we be morally responsible? How are you … how do you know that you are a human being responsible to God since you can’t deduce from Scripture that you are a human being? And if you don’t know that, how are you morally responsible? How can you be morally responsible?
Gordon Clark: In addition to what can be known by deduction, people have various opinions. They are not deduced. They may by chance be true, but we can’t really know that they’re true, because we haven’t proved them. I have a vague opinion that maybe I am almost human, though people don’t always think so. But if I am, then I am responsible for obeying the law of God. And I often try to, try to meet that responsibility but I fail considerably.
b) Assurance is not knowledge, but is equivalent to certainty. Assurance of salvation is a type of certainty. It is psychological not epistemological.
In Today’s Evangelism (1990), we see that Clark holds “certainty” to be equivalent to “assurance.” He writes,
“The Westminster Confession puts the matter very strongly. “This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidences of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God: which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.” p. 94.
We see that Clark holds “certainty” to be a “psychological act” in the audio lecture “A Contemporary Defense of the Bible” (1977):
Questioner: Dr. Clark, somewhat along the same lines, do you believe that we can know certainly, I’m not saying that we can prove it, but that we can know with certainty that we’re not right now dreaming?
Dr. Clark: You use the word certainty. People are certain of very peculiar things. Some people, I judge, a few not many, are certain that drinking vinegar will cure warts. Hence it is not particularly important in my point of view to ask or explain why a person is certain of anything. Certainty is a psychological act that is more misused than anything else. To be certain of something doesn’t mean that it is true. People are certain of many things that are false. And so that part of your question I would dismiss.
c) For one to hold the opinion that they are saved, private revelation is not necessary as the belief is deducible from the faith.
Clark writes, “Assurance of eternal life can be deduced from a knowledge that one is a believer. … if one knows, if one has a clear intellectual understanding that he believes, he should have legitimate assurance” (First John, p. 161) Here Clark uses “knowledge” in the colloquial, non-technical sense. This is clearly the case since one cannot “know” that one is a believer. That is, “I am a believer” is not something deducible from nor found in Scripture. Additionally Clark speaks of “a clear intellectual understanding that he believes” and does not raise it to the level of knowledge by providing justification of the belief.
Since assurance of salvation “can be deduced from a knowledge that one is a believer,” it is not necessary for assurance to be revealed.
In Today’s Evangelism (1990) Clark distinguishes the illumination of the Holy Spirit from the revelation of God, and so rejects the necessity of additional revelation for assurance.
“Though the wording is very clear, it may be necessary in this age to point out two places where a misunderstanding may arise. First, the infallibility mentioned is not ours, as if we are infallible. The infallibility belongs to the promises of God. There is no hint here that we rise to the level of the inspired authors of the Bible. This would be a reversal to the Romish position that a supernatural revelation is necessary. All that is necessary is the Scripture. The second point at which a misunderstanding may occur is the reference to the Spirit witnessing with our spirits. Here too, the same idea is involved. The Spirit witnesses with our spirits as we study the Bible. He does not witness to our spirits, as if giving an additional revelation. Aside from these two matters, the Westminster Confession is clear.” p. 94-95.
Since continuationism is incompatible with Scripturalism, Charismatics must determine their own epistemology rather than borrowing Clark’s from the Reformed tradition.