Over the years I’ve read some good stuff with my Ministry Trainees. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Jim Packer’s Knowing God, John Frame’s Doctrine of God (A theology of Lordship) and The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, Bruce Milne’s Know the Truth 3rd ed and now A Puritan Theology by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones.
The aim is to read, understand and discuss one chapter a week for the next two years. I’ve decided to write notes. These help me grasp the chapter, critique it and hopefully this will lead others to read the book. So, here goes.
A Puritan Theology – ch1 Natural and supernatural revelation
No knowledge of God is possible unless it comes from God, the source of all knowledge.
Natural revelation is that knowledge of God which is derived from the observation of creation by God’s creatures, humans, who are made in the image of God.
Natural revelation is sufficient for humans to know God and therefore to be without excuse.
Natural theology cannot save. Saving knowledge is supernatural, and is ultimately found in Christ.
“An important question arises as to whether Adam possessed supernatural revelation before the Fall.” P13
The answer “has a lot to do with how various theologians understood the precise nature of the covenant of works, particularly with regard to Adam’s end.” P13
The fact that Adam was in a covenantal relationship with God before the Fall seems to better suit the idea that revelation was partly supernatural. P14
Thomas Goodwin argues that supernatural revelation is Christocentric. P14
In Goodwin’s mind, whether Adam possessed supernatural knowledge or not comes down to the type of faith – natural or supernatural – required of him under the covenant of works. Supernatural faith, argues Goodwin, enables humans to know revelation from God above the requirements of nature. Faith is infused for this reason…as a supernatural gift from God.
…aware that some divines have affirmed that:
1. Adam had supernatural revelation from God [God gave Adam the names of the two trees and the law]
2. Goodwin aims to prove that Adam’s faith was natural
3. Which means that all Adam had under the covenant of works was natural theology.
4. Goodwin recognises point 1. but insists that the elements of the covenant of works [as he understood them] belong to natural theology [they could not save Adam]
a. Adam could speak with God and his wife. Goodwin argues that this was natural for Adam [but is God speaking and naming trees not supernatural revelation?]
b. Adam knew that God was true, faithful and just in his word [how could Adam know this, if God had no opportunity before the Fall to demonstrate the truth of his word, his faithfulness and justice? Until the Fall Adam had to simply take God at his word, not knowing if God was true, faithful and just.]
c. The two trees were natural and Adam possessed the natural ability to discern the promised [by God] life and warning of his mutability. [yes, the trees were natural, but supernatural revelation was necessary to establish the covenant]
d. Therefore, revelation was natural. [no, God said something about the tree which Adam could not know by natural revelation]
Further, Goodwin rejects the idea of grace in the garden because of his view of Adam’s reward does not involve his translation to heaven…If Adam had been promised eternal life in heaven, he would have needed a supernatural faith. [yes, and the supernatural faith would have to correspond with the supernatural revelation.]
I propose the following alternative understanding of revelation in Eden, according to the categories established by Goodwin. In this understanding, we see God’s dealings with his people are consistent before and after the Fall. That is, salvation is by grace through supernatural faith in God’s supernatural revelation.
Adam’s conversation with God was natural for him, as they walked and talked in the garden. This conversation did not constitute supernatural revelation. Adam did, however, receive supernatural revelation as God named the trees for Adam. God spoke his word to Adam he made two promises to him. God gave Adam his word of promise, which is supernatural revelation, necessary for “salvation” or receiving the superadded benefit of faith in God’s word.
First, God named the tree of life and promised eternal life to Adam. The promise of eternal life was conditional on Adam eating the fruit by faith in God’s word.
Second, God named the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and promised this knowledge to Adam should he eat the fruit in rebellion to God’s word. If Adam were to eat the fruit of the second tree he would surely die, which was to be summarily executed by royal decree.
The trees remained natural in their physical attributes. To secure God’s word, Adam required supernatural faith in the supernatural revelation he had received. If Adam ate the fruit of the tree of life without faith in God’s word, the promise of eternal life would not be conferred upon him. Without faith, the tree and its fruit would act only as a memorial of the promise for Adam. Supernatural faith in the word, supernaturally revealed, for him to eat by faith and so receive “salvation” by grace, the promise of eternal life.
God did not quicken Adam’s faith. Adam’s faith remained natural. In his natural state, he chose to rebel against God by eating in rebellion from the other tree.