Information, Revelation, and Reading

Some thoughts are beginning to congeal along the information – revelation axis. At least I think it’s an axis. All revelation seems to include information of some sort, though not all information is revelation. Some time ago, in a short discussion about the interrelation of imputation of righteousness and union with Christ (and enduring subissues in the debate over the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of Federal Vision theology), a friend sent me the following (characteristically obtuse and engaging) quote from Eric Voegelin:

At a time when the reality of the gospel threatens to fall apart into the constructions of an historical Jesus and a doctrinal Christ, one cannot stress strongly enough the status of a gospel as a symbolism engendered in the metaxy [i.e., in-betweenness] of existence by a disciple’s response to the drama of the Son of God. The drama of the Unknown God who reveals his kingdom through his presence in a man, and of the man who reveals what has been delivered to him by delivering it to his fellow men, is continued by the existentially responsive disciple in the gospel drama by which he carries on the work of delivering these things from God to man.

The gospel itself is an event in the drama of revelation. The historical drama in the metaxy, then, is a unit through the common presence of the Unknown God in the men who respond to his “drawing” and to one another. Through God and men as the dramatis personae, it is true, the presence of the drama partakes of both human time and divine timelessness, but tearing the drama of participation asunder into the biography of a Jesus in the spatiotemporal world and eternal verities showered from beyond would make nonsense of the existential reality that was experienced and symbolized as the drama of the Son of God.

The episode on the way to Caesarea Philippi ( Matt. 16:13-20) may be considered a key to the understanding of the existential context into which the logion 11:27 must be placed. [footnote omitted] There Jesus asks the disciples who the people say the Son of man is, and receives the answer that he is variously understood as an apocalyptic of the type of John the Baptist, the prophesied Elijah, a Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. His questioning then moves on to who the disciples think he is, and he receives the reply from Simon Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16). Jesus answers: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona; for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” The Matthean Jesus, thus, agrees with the Johannine (John 6:44) that nobody can recognize the movement of divine presence in the Son unless he is prepared for such recognition by the presence of the divine Father in himself.

The divine Sonship is not revealed through an information tendered by Jesus, but through a man’s response to the full presence in Jesus of the same Unknown God by whose presence he is inchoatively moved in his own existence. The Unknown God enters the drama of Peter’s recognition as the third person. In order to draw the distinction between revelation and information, as well as to avoid the derailment from one to the other, the episode closes with the charge of Jesus to the disciples “to tell no one that he was the Christ”(Matt. 16:20).

Narrowly, this extended quotation is valuable because it gives me a new reason (among several possible good reasons) that the disciples (and perhaps others, see, e.g., Matt. 17:9; Mk. 7:36; 9:9; Lk. 5:14; 8:56) were to tell no one the truth that Jesus Christ’s words and deeds had revealed to them. Were the disciples and others simply to relate their conclusions about the person and work of Jesus, the recipients would likely receive those conclusions as mere information rather than as revelation that necessitates the very presence of the God Himself.

Now the reading part. One of the enduring and consistent difficulties that I experience when I read Scripture is that I gradually come to read it like I read the newspaper, the Metrolink schedule, or the phone book. If such Scripture reading is part of my periodic exercise in “spiritual discipline,” then no matter how prayed-over the “quiet time” is my eyes eventually begin tracking fast– at best reading to skim for relevant data and at worst reading just to get through the self-assigned task before me. If such Scripture reading is part of sermon preparation, then this same battle is the first fight of several in that process. (When I’m lucky, the last fight in that process is with God Himself. He breaks me, and in preparation and delivery sends His Spirit to show us all the necessity of accepting our brokenness as the seedbed of His healing.)

After I began to turn the Voegelin quote over in my mind, while bored on a Metrolink ride with only my backpack, I opened it to find Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. Given the description of my problem above, you might be able to imagine how many times I have started to read this book (as well as Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places).

This time, however, I found that Peterson’s early pages resonate strongly with the very information – revelation dynamic that Voegelin identified above. We no longer have the benefit of Christ’s corporeal expired breath in the actual physical air of our daily lives, BUT Scripture by its very nature is infused with the same power and the same person that made revelation, not merely information, available to Simon Peter. The writers of Scripture, Peterson tells us, are “a school of writers employed by the Holy Spirit to give us our Holy Scriptures and keep us in touch with and responsive to reality, whether visible or invisible: God-reality, God-presence.” (3)

In earthly history between the Ascension and the Parousia, the personal incarnate Logos is revealed in the personal, Spirit-applied logos of Holy Scripture. Holy Scripture is a relevatory means of experiencing the very presence of Christ, of knowing Him, and experiencing union with Him. The same power that transforms information to revelation is at work applying the written Word to our lives and penetrating the human heart with the incarnate Christ’s relevatory power.

This is important for me because it confirms that God Himself strongly desires that I experience and live out the power of His revelation through His Son.  His written Word to me as one of His children is a living and powerful aspect of His steadfast committment to bring His glorious power and love to its ultimate end through his Son Jesus Christ.

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