Produce an essay of 750-1,000 words that does the following:
1. Using the articles by the theologians in the assigned readings in addition to two or three credible sources from the GCU eLibrary, compare and contrast the various theologians’ positions on general revelation.
2. Use a list format for this paper, listing the various points of comparison and correlation.
Prepare this assignment according to the APA guidelines found in the APA Style Guide, located in the Student Success Center. An abstract is not required.
The Doctrine of Revelation−General Revelation
In seeking answers to his misery, Job cried out, “Oh that I knew where to find Him!” (Job 23:3, NIV). Job’s extreme situation of suffering and search for answers brought him to one of the most fundamental questions of theology−where is God, who is God, what is God? The answer to these questions, of course, is the stuff of our theology. The issue in relation to the answer to these questions is one of epistemology−how does one know about God. This brings one to the theological doctrine of revelation.
This lecture will look at this issue in two parts, focusing on two different but related ways of coming to know God. The first is called general revelation, the source for knowing God which one finds in the world, nature, human experience (Lecture 2). The second is called special revelation, the source of knowing God which comes through the events and reflections contained in our Scripture (Lecture 3). But first, the issue of revelation itself, what it is, how it happens and why, will be dealt with.
The Role of Revelation in Theology
From the human perspective, Job’s cry examples the human desire to know God, or at least know about God. The Christian doctrine of revelation focuses more on the divine perspective, the activity of God. Revelation is that process in history and human experience through which God makes himself known to man. Connor (1937) says, “All religions hold the idea that somehow God (or the gods) reveals himself to man” (p. 27). This lectures will explore the somehow, which is the means or methods of revelation; the point here is that revelation is understood as an activity of God toward man and only secondarily an activity of man in relation to God. God’s act of revealing himself should not be taken to mean that God reveals everything. God has shown to man what is consistent with His purposes and nature and a great deal of mystery remains. So revelation is not to be taken as synonymous with full-disclosure or final knowledge (in the scientific sense).
This brings up the question of the purpose of revelation, God’s self-disclosure. What are God’s purposes in revealing Himself to man? Theologians identify two distinct (yet related) emphases in defining the purpose of revelation. Some put emphasis on the revelation of knowledge, what one might call propositions. God’s primary purpose is to bring man to a knowledge of God. As Grenz (2000) points out, in this view God is conceived of as the object of revelation−God is revealing himself, God is the one being revealed. But, as Grenz says, God is not the object but the subject of revelation. Many theologians would put the emphasis here and say that God is revealing himself, God is revealing himself as person. This emphasis stresses that God is not primarily seeking to reveal information or knowledge, He is primarily seeking to establish a relationship with man. Connor (1935) says, “Revelation is such a disclosure on God’s part as to make possible a life of fellowship with God” (p. 27). In fact, McGrath (2007) does not refer to general revelation as revelation at all, but only as natural theology. Only the specific acts of God recorded in Scripture (the special revelation) are revelation. If one defines revelation in this way, then the main purpose of revelation is the establishment of relationship. However, many would hold that knowledge of God is found not only in Scripture but also in creation, the world God has made, and in human history. In this case, revelation focuses more on disclosure of the nature of God, more emphasis on knowledge about God (propositional).
Since the doctrine of revelation is exploration of the source of knowledge about God which leads to relationship with God, it should be no surprise that this doctrine is usually among the very first topics dealt with in the systematic theology books. Why is a clear understanding of this doctrine so crucial? Revelation is the basis for theological knowledge, that is, knowledge about God. Revelation is the primary source from which one can fashion some kind of accurate statement about God, His nature and purposes. Guthrie (1968) cites the incident of the street preacher who shouts to a passer-by, “Brother, have you found God?” The man replies, “I didn’t know he was lost.” (p. 55). God is lost to modern man, and modern man to Him without that act of God to disclose himself. In the doctrine of revelation one must clarify the ways which God bridges the knowledge and fellowship gap between His people.
One should study this process (doctrine) of revelation in order to identify and examine our sources for theology. The issue of theological sources has already been dwelt with. This doctrine gives one good guidelines for identifying the form of revelation, how God has chosen to reveal himself. The study of revelation gives one healthy perspectives on finding God in nature (including the sciences and other rational endeavors). The doctrine of revelation also informs one of the nature of a special source, the Scripture. Theological method is founded on a correct understanding of revelation.
In a pluralistic society such as modern America, sources of knowledge are multiplied. One of the most critical questions of the postmodern age is the question of sources−how is it possible to know what is affirmed as true. Each culture and religion has a name for God, whether it is Yahweh, Christ, Allah, Gaia, or Avesta. How does one know what God’s name is? As Christians, it is necessary to be very deliberate in identifying and presenting epistemology, the way of knowing. The doctrine of revelation is critical here. If someone affirms that God is female, it should be asked, “Where did you get that idea?What are your sources?” One must make careful inquiry into this issue.
If one takes the broader definition of revelation, both God’s revealing knowledge of himself and God’s establishing relationship with His people, general revelation plays an important role in the process. The fundamental presupposition of the doctrine of general revelation is that God is the creator of the world and man, and that His creation bears His image in some way. The current debates between scientific atheists and Christian theists have highlighted the fundamental issue of creation. It is the assumption of many, even many scientists that the world came into being in some sort of creation process. Theists hold that God’s role as creator is reflected in God’s work, his creation. In and through creation, God has not only created knowledge but has revealed himself through that knowledge to man. General revelation, then, is God’s making himself known in a variety of ways to all mankind.
The terms used to designate or describe general revelation, and different movements that emphasize it, reflect this variety. Many prefer the term natural revelation or natural theology. This emphasizes knowledge of God that comes through observation of nature. The nature of nature (the world and man) speaks. One sees an orderly world, and many would point out a beautiful world, and the orderliness and beauty communicate general ideas about its Creator (McGrath, 2007). Some use the term natural law, pointing out that the world reveals a system, and a God, who operates according to set and binding principles and procedures. Movements such as deism, a product of enlightenment rationalism, puts emphasis on the importance of human reasoning as being fundamental to knowing God (or anything, for that matter). Philosophical reasoning has often been employed to discover God or characteristics of God. The cosmological argument bases its conclusions about God on the cause and effect nature of the world, arguing that God is the first Cause. The teleological argument bases its conclusions about God from the complex nature of the finished product, the world. Such a complex creation must require an intelligent designer. Other aspects of man and the world, such as moral awareness or the nature of human consciousness, provide the rational basis for arguments for God.
Human experience within the flow of history also reveals knowledge of God. The assumption underlying this source for understanding God is that God not only created the world but continues to be active in it. This is the doctrine of providence, God’s ongoing sustenance and care for the world. (The doctrine of creation and providence will be dealt with more in another lecture). Human history is the testimony of God’s attitude toward his creation, and especially man. As Grenz (2000) emphasizes, history is also testimony to the specific purposes of God and the ultimate goal of history (the doctrine of eschatology, last things). In this variety of ways and observations, man is given an insight into the nature and purposes of God.
Weaknesses and Strengths of General Revelation
A reliance upon reason alone, as many would insist, can lead to insufficient understanding of God. Boyd Hunt (1972) points out that God is not the mere inference from an argument. God is not a theorem; He is a person, and a rational person at that. This is why some theologians would not classify general revelation as revelation at all−it does not suffice to bring one into a personal relationship with God. Looking at nature and history through the eyes of reason actually conceals some important aspects of God’s nature and purpose. God’s purposes of salvation are not clearly discerned, although the need for salvation of some sort is evident apart from a specific word from God. All societies, religions, and philosophies recognize this fact.
Another problem with general revelation as a source of knowledge of God is that man’s perceptive powers are influenced by sin. “Sin darkened the understanding of man, and still exercises a pernicious influence on his conscious mental life” (Berkhof, 1969, p. 12). Because of this, the understanding of God derived from observation and reason will be warped or slanted, especially as it affects man’s attitude toward himself. Wrong conclusions will be drawn. It also follows that the answer to the sin problem, as God desires to reveal it, is hidden to man by the sinful perspective of man.
The knowledge of God revealed in nature, man, and history is not complete. At times, it is even contradictory. Is God the God of the storm or of the calm? Do the violent, seemingly capricious aspects of nature and experience reveals a cruel, violent God? General revelation does not adequately communicate how God has expressed his love through Christ.
What are the strengths and benefits of general revelation? The Scripture (the special revelation) explains that general revelation is part of God’s revelatory activity (Romans1:19, 20; Psalm 8:1). The Apostle Paul points out that creation has indeed revealed the existence of God; people who have never seen the Bible still worship God, or are aware of His existence. While this knowledge is not fully adequate for the specific purposes of God in Christ, it nevertheless serves to bring man to awareness of God.
In this respect, Guthrie (1968) points out another function of general revelation in God’s scheme of things. General revelation functions as an important evangelism tool. It sensitizes man to the presence of God, opening them to the message of God that comes in the Gospel. This general knowledge of God sets the stage for the specific, detailed revelation given through Israel and the Church.
The doctrine of general revelation helps one to discern more clearly the process through which man has come to awareness of God, his nature and purposes. God is seen in the world He has created by His wise design and in His image. But the whole story of God’s disclosure of Himself to man has not yet been told. God has revealed Himself through his activity in the world as creator and provider. But God has also acted in very concrete, specific ways in human history to provide the possibility for man to relate to God in a personal way. This activity of God is called special revelation
Berkhof, L. (1969) Principles of biblical interpretation. Baker Academic.
Connor, W. (1935). Christian doctrine. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
Grenz, S. (2000). Theology for the community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s.
Guthrie, S. (1968). Christian doctrine of the Christian Church. CLC Press.
Hunt, B. (1972). Systematic theology Lecture notes. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas
McGrath, A. (2007). Christian theology: an introduction.(4th ed). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.