For this post I want to look at Illumination Theory of Biblical Inspiration. I have already looked at this theory before in my Theology for Dummies in this post: Theology for Dummies – Biblical Inspiration – Illumination Theory . This time I want to go deeper into it to look to see if it has some merit in formulating a theory of biblical inspiration that makes sense keeps in play the dynamic of God’s involvement and human involvement.
Illumination Theory is not about kind of inspiration so much as degree. There are several ways to illustrate this. The illustration I used before is to picture a gas burning stove. The normal level of Holy Spirit inspiration in our lives could be illustrated by saying the burner is on low to normal but when the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible the burner was set to maximum. Also you could call it a combination-cumulative effect. You have the author with his own level of inspiration with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit combined together to create a hotter flame so to speak. The issue is the Holy Spirit inspires people at different levels and when He inspired the Scriptures he was at the highest level and activity working with the author.
If there is a strength to this view it is keeping the human factor alive but pointing to the Bible as the writings that are recognized to have the highest level of both divine-human cooperation and the highest degree of inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The implications of this are the human factor is also still involved in recognizing these works and canonizing them. It means that the works of the Bible then are not just pure divine action but part of a process of both inspiration and canonization.
If there is as weakness it is this also means that God may have inspired things at a lesser degree but are still highly inspired. Maybe they don’t have the same high quality as the Scriptures but they are still right up there. So do these then have some authority over faith and practice and to what degree? This really opens up a Pandora’s box of what is inspired, how and to what degree. If Dynamic Theory makes things messy as far as interpretation, Illumination Theory makes interpretation a pig pen. I think the one thing this theory has lacked and continues to lack is a defining understanding of degrees of inspiration and how they are recognized. It really makes it a free for all.
For myself, I am not afraid of messy and actually having to do the work of interpretation of the Scriptures, but this theory puts us so far in the realm of individual opinion we would never have a consensus about any passage or even outside works of literature being authoritative. However some parts of this theory would help explain thing like how Moses could have a divorce law but then Jesus could say it was a concession to sinful humanity. The divorce Law is still inspired at a very high degree, it is just Jesus teaching is slightly higher. It brings the idea that some things in the Bible have more weight than other simply because some are slightly more inspired than others. It also gives us the idea that God has changed the revelation as the nature of his covenant has changed with his people who the degree of this covenant has gotten hotter so to speak.
This of course leads to another problem. The simple question: if God can inspire to this degree before, then why can’t he do it now? Closing the canon becomes extremely difficult with this view if you still believe God can act in this world and so why wouldn’t he do so again? The Holy Spirit inspired at a high level before, why not now? This opens up the idea that other works that spiritual people have written might have the same level of inspiration as the bible but simply have not been recognized by the rest of Christianity.
I am left pretty much in the same place I was with Dynamic Theory. I like elements of this theory but its weakness are either too glaring or need some major tweaking to make it more palatable to me. I have basically at this point had to reject part of both to the point that I can’t say I would follow either exclusively. At the same time both of them make valid points that are helpful so I will keep them and look for another alternative. The question might be raised of whether or not the two could be combined in some way to make a stronger hybrid theory. That seems to be the next logical thing to address.
Next: The Dynamic-Illumination Hybrid Theory.