Review of Jeffrey Johnson’s The Revealed God (part 2)


In the first part of my review of Jeffrey Johnson’s new work, The Revealed God, I looked at a few of the historical claims and figures that Johnson employed to defend his thesis. In this section, I want to look at Johnson’s rejection of any secular philosophy in favor of an exclusively biblical-theological model of philosophy.

Philosophy and Common Grace

Johnson’s entire project is to show that true classical theism comes from scripture alone, without any assistance from Greek philosophy. Johnson is emphatic about his desire to have a thoroughly and exclusively biblical view of God and metaphysics. Johnson puts it directly: “If Scripture is our sole authority, it is sufficient to supply its own metaphysics. Therefore, whatever philosophy gets right in its exploration of ultimate questions is not needed” (243). Johnsons also states that “God has revealed himself so clearly and persuasively that no one can honestly claim that they do not understand his message” (37).

This prompts a number of questions for this reviewer. For example, since natural revelation is so clear, and pagans have been made in the image of God, then why are their insights not at least usable? Johnson says that whatever they get right is not needed, but if what they get right is consistent and true to scripture, why not make use of it? Or, what about common grace? Does Johnson reject the usefulness of common grace as articulated in the reformed tradition? Theologian John Murray rightly observed that God, via common grace, “endows men with gifts, talents, and aptitudes; he stimulates them with interest and purpose to the practice of virtues, the pursuance of worthy tasks, and the cultivation of arts and sciences that occupy time, activity and energy of men and that make for the benefit and civilization of the human race.”[i] Could Johnson agree with this statement?

One may be led to wonder how Johnson would view Paul’s appeal to Greek philosophers and poets in various scriptures, such as Acts 17 or Titus. The answer, for Johnson, is that Paul is not actually appealing positively to the philosophers or poets but using them as a negative example (238-242). This would certainly come as a surprise to many, including John Calvin:

From this passage we may infer that those persons are superstitious, who do not venture to borrow anything from heathen authors. All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God. Besides, all things are of God; and, therefore, why should it not be lawful to dedicate to his glory everything that can properly be employed for such a purpose? But on this subject the reader may consult Basil’s discourse πρὸς τοὺς νέους, ὅπως ἂν ἐξ ἑλλ. κ. τ. λ.[ii]

The Interpretation of Scripture

Though disagreeing with the majority of one’s own theological heritage is certainly troubling, that does not necessarily (though highly likely) prove the argument to be invalid. So, we then must ask if Johnson’s proposal, radical as it may be, can be consistently demonstrated and implemented. Sadly, what we find is that the author himself is unable to consistently use his own system.

For example, Johnson in attempting to build an exclusively biblical doctrine of divine simplicity, he says that we need not appeal to Greek philosophy. Rather, “we need to go to Scripture to see how it interprets its own words” (221).” Thus, the Christian is to make deductions about the nature of God by evaluating the bible’s use of both analogical and literal language:

We learn from Scripture that the Bible speaks of God analogically. This can be seen in tis anthropomorphic descriptions that refer to God as having a body. “Behold,” the Bible says, “the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear” (Isa. 59:1). Often the Bible speaks of God as having eyes, ears, and arms (Num. 16:25; 2 Kings 19:16; Neh. 1:6). Yet we know from Scripture that God is a spirit, and a spirit does not have a material body (John 4:24). A spirit is simple. The Scriptural doctrine of divine simplicity lets us know that such language in Scripture is to be understood analogically (222).

Elsewhere, Johnson makes this claim again:

This is because the Scriptures inform us in what ways its speech is analogous. For example, the Bible may say God has eyes and ears and hands, but the Bible also tells us that God is a spirit who sees, hears, and acts. From the Scriptures, we learn that the references to God’s eyes are not speaking of physical eyes, but God’s vision. From the Scriptures, we learn that God does not need physical ears to hear. From the Bible, we understand that God does not require physical hands to oversee and intercede in the affairs of men (227).

On the surface this is all well and good, but why should we understand the scriptures about God having body parts as purely analogical, and the verses about him being a Spirit as literal? Johnson does not actually give an answer to this dilemma. Johnson also claims that a spirit is simple (222), but where does this idea come from? What scripture would you point to teach that a spirit is simple?

Johnson wants a purely biblical metaphysic, yet he fails to realize the philosophical presuppositions he brings to the text of scripture. Ultimately, he begs the question, and leaves the reader without a hermeneutical principle that can be followed consistently. Of course, this is the trouble with an approach that claims scripture is the sole authority (243), rather than the sole infallible authority. That is a key difference. The latter is a Reformation principle, the former is what led to Socinianism.

[i] John Murray, “Common Grace,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 2: Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 102.


[ii] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, trans. William Pringle (Bellingham: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 300-301. It is worth noting that Calvin ends by appealing to Basil’s discourse, which points readers to learn virtue ethics from classical Greek literature.