Craig Carter has written the second of his three-part work on Scripture, classical theology, and metaphysics. In this second volume, Carter argues primarily from Isaiah 40–48 that Scripture itself gives rise to pro-Nicene patterns of speaking of God. In other words, the Bible itself teaches the transcendence of God. The philosophical attributes of God (simplicity, etc.) then correspond but are augmented and improved upon by special revelation.
One of the great losses of the 20th century was the loss of natural theology among evangelicals. Following the trajectory of Karl Barth and his evangelical parallels in the USA, many act as though special revelation is somehow opposed to general revelation.
I grant that no one or few people would formally say it quite like this. But the argument often goes something like this: since Paul in Romans 1 says that people suppress the truth available to them by nature, then whatever someone might say on the basis of general revelation is so mixed with sin to be entirely unuseful.
I do not think that’s the best way to put it. Yet even if we grant the argument, what about after we receive the Holy Spirit? Can we not then see more clearly how the heavens declare the glory of God as the psalmist says; or should not study the ant as Proverbs tell us; or should we not affirm that God teaches the farmer as Isaiah says?
For my part, I simply affirm the language of the 1561 belgic confession which, in its second article, affirms that God reveals himself in two ways: nature and Scripture. The latter being distinguished by being clearer than the former. Since such a distinction may be unfamiliar, I suppose I am obligated to qualify some things: no, natural revelation cannot save; no, it cannot tell us about the Trinity. We need special revelation to savingly know God (Rom 10:14).
It is the kind of balance present in the early reformed confessions and theology that Craig Carter argues for. In fact, he traces his affirmation even further back to the fathers who contributed to the confession found in the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381).
In terms of critique, I suppose I could have wished Carter changed two things. First, I think he could have started with his exegesis of Isaiah 40–48 instead of leaving it for Part II. The reason why is that a skeptical reader would then immediately see the biblical foundations of classical theism. Carter has explained to me personally that he wanted to discuss classical theism so that it could show how helpful it was to reading and understanding the Bible. So I see his side as well.
Second, I do wonder if he could have engaged constructively with more contemporary thinkers as well as the church fathers themselves. He certainly does so to an extent. But a work of ressourcement such as Carter claims his work to be should, I think, evince a pinch more direct and sustained exegesis of key fathers like Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and so on.
That said, one cannot do everything. And Carter has, I believe, once again written a solid entry into evangelical theological discourse. He is helping to once again see anew what is in fact quite old—eternal in fact—the God of Scripture and creation.
I recommend Contemplating God with the Great Tradition to any Christian who has struggled to grasp a solid, stable footing for their faith. I hope that it becomes an entryway into the past, into the great writers that the Holy Spirit has empowered to build the church that Christ promised he would build (Matt 16:18).
Disclaimer: the publisher sent me a review copy. Book image for social share from the publisher’s website here.