Conrad Emil Lindberg—On God and Revelation

On this date in 1852, Lutheran theologian Conrad Emil Lindberg was born at Jönköping, Sweden. In 1871, Lindberg (1852-1930) moved to the United States to attend Augustana College and Theological Seminary. In due course, he was ordained and appointed to ministry in American churches serving Swedish immigrants. Later he returned to Augustana College where he was professor of theology. At Augustana, Lindberg taught systematic theology, hermeneutics, apologetics, dogmatics, ethics, liturgics, and church polity. Lindberg’s Christian Dogmatics (published first in 1898 in Swedish, and in English in 1922) includes material of interest to the Christian apologist.

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Concerning the Existence of God

Inasmuch as it cannot be proved that man and the world are not eternal, they must have had a beginning and in such case necessarily a cause. The concept of causality has therefore great weight in proving God’s existence. . . . In accordance with the concept of causality as a proof of God’s existence we consider God as a cause by reason of the fact that we know ourselves as causes. We know ourselves as causes because we are conscious of our will. To will is to cause. (19)

The Value of Theistic Arguments

Generally speaking, a Christian needs no such proofs, but in the hour of doubt and spiritual assault they become of great value and help. (20)

Arguments Without Force

In presenting arguments to prove the existence of God the following methods must be rejected: 1) When men essay to prove God’s existence as they would that of a material object; 2) when proofs are asserted to be based on direct or intuitive experience; 3) argumentum a tuto, which implies that it is doubtful whether or not God exists, but that it is safer to assume His existence and does no harm, while it may be dangerous to deny His existence, if He does exist; 4) argumentum ab utili, which sets forth the great benefit of faith in a personal God.

The Ethico-Theological Proof for God’s Existence It is not Lindberg’s aim to advance arguments for God’s existence, but only to present brief statements of the basic thrust of each of the main “ordinary” arguments. Here is his statement of the ethico-theological proof;

The will of man cannot be ethically determined by any human will, nor in the last instance can it be determined by impersonal nature. The human will points to a personal God by whom it is materially determined so that the formal freedom receives its proper content. This proof has two forms or names: 1) Argumentum ad conscientia recti or the proof of conscience, which implies that conscience is aware of the moral law and that man perceives an inner voice which convinces him of the existence of a higher being. 2) Argumentum morale or the moral proof by which man, conscious of the union of virtue and blessedness, draws the conclusion that a higher being must exist who shall reward the virtuous and punish the unrighteous. (24)

Lindberg attributes arguments of this general form to Cicero and Seneca, Abelard and Raimund of Sabunde, and Immanuel Kant. On General and Supernatural Revelation Lindberg asserts that “if a God exists, He must reveal Himself in some way” (28). There are two main modalities of divine revelation, the “general,” or revelatio generalis, and the “supernatural,” or revelatio speciales.

Revelatio generalis . . . is that natural revelation of God through which He reveals Himself in the conscience of man, in the kingdom of nature, and in history. (28) Revelatio speciales . . . is that external act of God by which He reveals Himself to man through the Logos, the personal Word, and through the Holy Scriptures, so that all men may receive saving knowledge of Him. (30)

Lindberg’s discussion of supernatural, or special, revelation is divided into four sections: (1) the possibility of revelation, (2) the necessity of revelation, (3) the reality of revelation, and (4) the relation between reason and revelation (pp. 31-34). The conditions for the possibility of revelation are set forth. Objections come from deists and pantheists. Deists interject that for God to reveal himself by some external means would disturb the natural order of things determined by the Creator. In addition, it would reflect negatively on the supposed power and intelligence of God to create a universe that reflects his genius. Lindberg answers that:

All nature is permeated by spiritual power and God is ever active in sustaining the universe in never-ceasing creational activity. (31)

The Necessity of Special Divine Revelation Lindberg’s two paragraphs on the necessity of revelation are especially good:

The necessity of a special revelation was recognized even by the heathens, such as Plato. The history of religion clearly demonstrates this necessity. The founder of every religion has claimed a special revelation. The history of philosophy itself reveals the need of a special revelation when we consider the contradictions and conflicts that have arisen on all the most important subjects. The necessity of a special revelation is grounded in the need of salvation, the occasion for it being the Fall into sin. This revelation was accidental on the ground of sin as a presupposition, but it was not accidental in the sense that it could have been inhibited after sin had entered the world. Revelation was necessary from the divine viewpoint in order that the design and purpose of creation and salvation might be realized. Revelation was necessary for man because he was powerless to save himself from the power and condemnation of sin. (32)

I concur with this general statement of the need for revelation. A complete Apologetic should include a description of the need for revelation. If revelation is possible, as it seems easy to establish, then we should first consider whether to expect any further special revelation in the interest of determining whether God has in fact produced a revelation of himself that goes beyond what is learned from general revelation. There is strong independent support for the claim that God has produced a revelation, and for the specifically Christian revelation claim. But remembering (a) what is revealed about God by natural means, (b) the probability this lends to the supposition that God both could and would produce a revelation, and (c) the independent human need for revelation, does two things for us when we ask whether God has produced further special revelation. First, we are made to expect additional revelation from God; second, we are provided some means of identifying appropriate criteria for (a) recognizing what should be included as content of any revelation claim, and (b) confirming the authenticity of a particular revelation claim by means of a suitable miracle. With these elements in place and logically-ordered, presentation of evidence for the Christian revelation claim should enjoy a more positive reception.

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Other posts in this series . . .


Best Books in Systematic Theology

Everyone should read some Christian theology. And the first thing to read is a systematic theology, that is, a work that treats all the major doctrines of Christian theology in systematic fashion. (This used to be called “Dogmatic Theology.”)

Recently I’ve been reading E. A. Litton’s 19th-century volume Introduction to Dogmatic Theology. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Litton to any serious reader who has time or shelf space for only one volume of systematic theology.

Here are my recommendations for different categories. Read more of this post

Am I a Calvinist? Not Exactly

Recently I received this note from a friend on Facebook:

Dr. Geivett,

What is your view on Calvinism, election, and free will? Do you have any good resources you could recommend?

Since I am occasionally asked this question, I thought it might be helpful to others to post my reply here, together with Amazon links for the reading I recommend:

Hi . . . ,

I’m not a Calvinist. I’m a libertarian regarding human freedom, and I reconcile human freedom and divine sovereignty on the basis of the doctrine of divine middle knowledge. I can recommend several books on this:

(1) Luis de Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge

This is an early primary source for the doctrine of divine middle knowledge. Luis de Molina was the first to develop the doctrine systematically. This is Alfred J. Freddoso’s translation from the Latin text. Freddoso’s lengthy introduction to the volume is an excellent sympathetic introduction to the doctrine. This is the ideal place to begin your study of middle knowledge if you’re prepared to read a fairly sophisticated treatment of the topic.

(2) William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God

William Lane Craig is an evangelical Christian apologist and a leading proponent of the doctrine of divine middle knowledge. This book explains the doctrine, contrasts it with alternative views of the relation between divine sovereignty and human freedom (e.g., Calvinist views), and includes careful examination of the relevant texts of Scripture. If you read only one book on this topic, this is the book to study. The topic is complex, so any exposition of the doctrine and related issues will generally be written above the popular level. This is the most accessible detailed treatment of the topic (at a very reasonable price).

(3) Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account

This is an exceptional treatment of the doctrine of divine middle knowledge by a prominent Catholic philosopher of religion. Exposition and defense of the doctrine is more developed here than in William Lane Craig’s book, so it’s a good place to go next if you plan further study of the topic.

(4) Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips, eds., View Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World

For an application of the doctrine of divine middle knowledge to the question of the fate of the unevangelized, see the contributions in this book that I co-authored with Gary Phillips. Another source for this material is my chapter in the book Jesus Under Fire (see below).

(5) Michael J. Wilkins and JP Moreland, Jesus Under Fire

My concluding chapter to this volume presents the same material contained in my contribution to the book Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, on the fate of the unevangelized (see above).

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