I’ve mentioned that our knowledge of God is under his control and under his authority; that means that we have to seek knowledge in God’s way. The third lordship attribute, God’s presence, is also relevant to our knowledge of God. As we seek knowledge of God, remember always that we are seeking a deep relationship with him, one very much like marriage (Hos. 1-3; Eph. 5:22-33), sonship (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14-17), or friendship (John 15:13-15).
The same principles apply to knowing God’s world. After all, the world is God’s creation. So, knowing the world is knowing God. To know the world is to know God’s intentions, his tastes, his desires, and in some cases his sense of humor (think of the camel and the okapi).
John Calvin wrote on the first page of his Institutes that knowing God and knowing the self are interrelated. You can’t know God with out knowing yourself, and you can’t know yourself without knowing God. And Calvin added that he didn’t know which is first. I think Calvin would say the same thing about knowing the world: to know the world you must know God, and vice versa. So, we have three terms here: God, the world, and the self, and we can’t understand one of these without the others. We know God through his Word, so let’s replace God with his Word in his scheme: the Word of God, the world, and the self.
This triad ties in with the lordship attributes. The world is the course of nature and history under God’s control. The Word is the authoritative revelation of God. And the self is where God dwells with us in his temple-presence. You can’t know God without knowing these three things, and you can’t know any one of them without the others.
Let me define three perspectives, which I think are very important to theology. When you ask directly what God’s revelation says, you are using the normative perspective. Of course, you can’t understand God’s revelation apart from the world and the self. The world and the self are revelation, as we saw in chapter 4. As I said there, you cannot fully understand special revelation, general revelation, and existential revelation apart from the others. So, the normative perspective focuses on God’s revelation, applying it to the world and to the self.
When you ask about God’s world, trying to understand the situations we get into, I call that the situational perspective. Of course, you can’t understand your situation without understanding God’s revelation or without understanding yourself.
Then when you ask about yourself, when you seek to know yourself, you are seeking to know from what I will call the existential perspective. In this perspective, you focus on yourself. Of course, you can’t understand apart from the Word and the world. You can’t understand yourself apart from God’s revelation, and you can’t understand yourself apart from the situation, your environment.
I call these perspectives because each of them covers the whole field of knowledge from a particular angle, a perspective. It’s not that the normative covers some things, the situational others, and the existential still others; rather, each perspective covers everything. The normative focuses on God’s revelation, but it looks both at the world and the self, for everything is revelation. The situational focuses on the world, but it also looks at the Word and the self, which are parts of the world. The same is true for the existential. It focuses on the self, but it is through the self (our thoughts and perceptions) that we know everything else. Each of the three perspectives deals with the whole world but does so from a peculiar, well, perspective.
The situational correlates with the lordship attribute of control, for in studying the world we are studying God’s mighty works of creation and providence. The normative correlates with the lordship attribute of authority, for his revelation is authoritative. And the existential correlates with the lordship attribute of presence, as God can always be found in and with the individual self…
Reformed theologians generally have been averse to talking about inner subjectivity, about feelings and inner thought processes. But I think Reformed theology needs to give more attention to the subjective side of theology. Theology, after all, is an inward process, a process of thinking. It isn’t just feelings, as Schleiermacher thought, but it takes account of feelings, for thoughts and feelings influence one another all the time.
The Bible itself tells us that we should apply its truth to our own experience, our questions, our feelings, our thought processes. The Pharisees thought they were experts in the Bible, but they made one huge mistake. Although they thought they understood the biblical text, they did not apply it to their own lives and to their experience of the very Son of God living in their midst (Matt. 16:1-4; 22:29; John 5:39-40). So, they missed out on the whole meaning of Scripture. You can’t understand the Bible unless you use it, apply it. and the Pharisees couldn’t do this. They thought they understood the normative perspective without the situational, but that is impossible. Even disciples of Jesus could make the same mistake (Luke 24:25).
John Frame, Salvation belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 76-78, 80