Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Can General Revelation Ever Be Salvific in its Effect? Part 3

Last week, we examined the four primary positions on general revelation. This week, I would like to focus our examination on the position that I hold.

Myself, I hold to the third position presented last week, the "Apologetic Natural Theology." In my view, the fall of man did not erase the image of God in creation, as proposed by Barth. Instead, the fall merely effaced the image of God in creation. Because the image of God still exists in the created order, certain aspects of God and the Christian faith may be uncovered by carefully studying nature. However, the information about God that we glean from the natural realm alone cannot lead one to salvation. Though we may discover the existence of God through the created order, we cannot learn anything about His nature. Because man sees the created order through a veil of sin, general revelation will not lead us to a monotheistic god, it will not show us the gulf between us and that unknown god, and it certainly cannot inform us of our need of a savior in the person of Jesus Christ.

I have largely come to my conclusion based upon my readings of several biblical passages that are relevant to this conversation. The first of these passages is Psalm 19:1-6. In the opening verses of chapter nineteen, the Psalmist writes that all of creation communicates to us the glory of God, and His work in the creation of the material world. It is interesting to note that in verse one the Psalmist uses the term "saphar" in its Piel Participial form, which tells us that God does in fact communicate to His creation through creation, that this communication is available to all, and that it is an ongoing, continual process. However, in verse three we see that this revelation does not come through words, but through the image of creation. From this verse, we see that general revelation is not propositional (thus unable to convey specific information about God), but it is rational, meaning that we can draw conclusions about the existence and nature of God from His creation.

The second passage that I would like to examine is Acts 14:8-18. In this passage, Paul and Barnabas are visiting Lystra, and in the course of their visit they heal a man who had no strength in his feet. Following this, the people of Lystra concluded that Paul and Barnabas were gods, and began to worship them. The focal point of this passage then comes in verses 16-17. Here, we learn that the rains and fruitful seasons that the people of Lystra had experienced were given to them as a witness to God. However, the people of Lystra (and presumably all of us) had misinterpreted these acts and have thus "gone their own way." This instance gives us two very real facts. First, the goodness we experience from nature conveys to us the goodness of God. Thus this passage gives credence to Aquinas’ ontological argument in that Paul is here arguing from the lesser to the greater, as does Aquinas. Second, this passage suggests that general revelation could feasibly be salvific in its effect were it not for man’s sinful nature. This possibility will be further explored in Romans 1:18-20, but for now it should suffice to say that our sinful nature leads us to misinterpret general revelation, and use it as an excuse to justify our own sinful desires.

The next passage I would like to examine is Romans 1:18-20. In this passage, Paul asserts that "that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them." Here, Paul affirms the fact that there is a general revelation to be found in the created sphere. In verse twenty, Paul writes that general revelation can inform us concerning God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature. Yet these things have been rejected by men because their hearts were darkened and we have suppressed the truth of God in our unrighteousness. This leads to the inevitable question, hypothetically, if we did not suppress the truth of God in our unrighteousness, could general revelation lead one to salvation? To this, I would answer "yes:" hypothetically speaking if one was without the taint of sin which darkens our hearts and causes us to suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness, then general revelation could be salvific in its effect. However, if we were without sin and able to accept the truth of God revealed through nature, we would not need general revelation to be salvific, so this journey into the hypothetical, though enlightening, is useless in the practical sphere of life. However, what we can glean from this passage is that general revelation does reveal God’s wrath against us, because we have perverted the natural creation and used it to satisfy our own sinful desires. So, while general revelation may not be enough to save us, it is enough to condemn us.

While in the book of Romans, there are two more passages that deserve our attention. The first is Romans 2:14-15 where Paul shows us that the "law written on our hearts", or, the human conscious, gives us evidence of a higher moral law. Thus this passage would support the "moral argument" as outlined by Aquinas. Second, in Romans 10:18, Paul introduces what may be seen as the first "man on the island" debate. Here he addresses the question "what of those who have never heard?" Paul answers this question by declaring that there are none who have not heard because "Their voice has gone out into all the Earth, and their words to the ends of the world." Here, Paul affirms that there are none who die in ignorance. Instead, everyone is given a "fair chance" to come to know God through general revelation. However, it is important to note that Paul does not say that this general revelation given to man is salvific in effect. If Paul were to be questioned further on this subject, I believe that he would refer back to his argument in Romans 1, and reaffirm the fact that general revelation is enough to condemn us, but not save us.

The final passage I would like to examine is 1 Corinthians 1:21, a verse that is often overlooked in the discussion of general revelation. Here, Paul states that the wisdom of man is not sufficient to come to know God. Here, I do not believe that Paul is using the verb "ginosko" in its epistemological sense. Instead, I believe that Paul is using it in its relational sense, meaning that man can discover the existence of God, but that discovery cannot lead one to a relationship with God. Instead, to enter into a relationship with God, we must be exposed to divine revelation, specifically, the revelation of Jesus’ death and resurrection (verse 18).


Post a Comment

<< Home

Site Meter