Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Can General Revelation Ever Be Salvific in its Effect? Part 4

Last week, we discussed my particular position on this issue. As one can imagine, my answer is not accepted by all. So this week I would like to look and and examine objections that others may raise to my position.

There are three main objections that opposing positions would raise to my position. The first of these objections would come from what I call the "Particular Revelation" position. Those that hold to this position would oppose my conclusion that general revelation exists, and that it is possible to uncover basic truths through it. Karl Barth distrusted the concept of general revelation because it was divorced from divine revelation, and relied on flawed human reason. This position would argue that nothing could be learned from general revelation because man’s fall has erased the image of God from creation, thus totally separating God from man. This position’s supporters, such as Barth, would argue that the only valid revelation we should consider is the incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus Christ.

The other objections I will consider both come from the Pluralist and Evangelical Inclusivist camps. Both of the following objections focus upon people who have had no access to Christ, and yet are still considered "saved" or, reconciled to God. The first of these objections examine the relationship between God and the premessianic patriarchs. In chapter eleven of his book, the author of Hebrews lists many Hebrew patriarchs who died without ever knowing Christ, and yet were reconciled to God. These "faithful without Christ" include Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and even Sara. It is argued that these people were justified by God because of their faith in general, not because of their specific faith in Christ. This argument hinges on verse thirteen which asserts that they all "died in faith without recieving the promises." Those that raise this argument state that the final phrase of this verse indicates that the patriarchs never had an epistemological understanding of Christ, and yet were saved, thus proving that an epistemological knowledge of Christ is not necessary for salvation. Many who would raise this objection believe that those who have never heard the Gospel of Christ are in the same situation as the premessianic patriarchs. Similarly, they contend that the same thing that brought salvation to the patriarchs (honest faith/devotion) can bring salvation to the "man on the island."

The second argument raised by the Pluralistic/Inclusivist camp is much more practical in nature than the previous objection. Inclusivists are often quick to point out that nearly every Christian body believes that infants and the mentally incompetent are automatically included in God’s plan of redemption. Inclusivists argue that to keep our beliefs consistent, we must also believe that the "man on the island," that is, those who have never heard the gospel, are also included in God’s redemptive work.

The first of these objections, raised by the "Particular Revelation" camp, is fairly easy to answer. The main proposition of the "Particular Revelation" camp, that the image of God has been erased from creation is incorrect. Evidence of this can be found in chapter nine of the book of Genesis. In Genesis 9:6, God commands that whoever sheds a man’s blood must be put to death. Following this command, God then gives a reason for it, because in the image of God He made man. Essentially, God is telling us that it is wrong to kill because we still carry His image, despite the fall. While it is true that the image we carry may have been effaced by sin, it is quite clear that it has not been erased by sin.

The next objection, raised by the Pluralist/Inclusivist camps, is somewhat harder to answer. Initially, they contend that the "man on the island," that is, those who have never heard the Gospel of Christ, are in the same position as the Old Testament patriarchs, and thus can be reconciled to God in the same manner that the patriarchs were. However, as before, this objection does not hold up against the weight of the scriptural evidence. To answer their objection, we should look again at the same passage of scripture that they turn to, Hebrews eleven. It is true that the Old Testament patriarchs did not have an epistemological understanding of the Christ in the same way that we do today. However, verse thirteen is very explicit in saying that they welcomed them (the promises) from a distance. While they did not have the same understanding of Christ that we do thanks to further revelation, they did have faith in a coming messiah, which God had promised to them. Their faith stands as a testament in that they looked to the fulfillment of the promises of God to the very end, and though they did not see it in this life, it was something that they still found. Furthermore, the inclusivist assumes that the patriarchs in this passage were saved merely because of their devout faith. But the faith of these patriarchs was not derived from the natural world around them, it was derived from the special revelation of God to them. Therefore, there is a disconnect between the "man on the island" and the Old Testament patriarchs, and at this point their analogy begins to break down.

The final objection I will answer, that we must accept the unevangelized as a part of God’s redemptive plan for the same reason we accept infants and the mentally incompetent, is perhaps the hardest objection to answer. In fact, as I began mulling over this objection, I began to find myself giving ground to the inclusivist’s argument, and wondered if I should give their position a little more credence. Nearly all Evangelical Christians, including Southern Baptists, hold that children who die in infancy will be saved through the work of Christ, the only question that remains is exactly how this is done. The inclusivist would argue that by their very nature, infants cannot have an epistemological understanding of Christ, and thus are saved apart from divine revelation.

In a strictly naturalistic setting, this would be a very good argument. However, we must remember that divine revelation, by its very nature, is supernatural. Based upon my reading of Luke 1:41, I would contend that God does reach out to infants, and reveals Himself to them on an epistemological level. This is evident in the unborn John the Baptist’s reaction to being in the presence of Jesus, which in verse 44 is described as "leaping for joy." Thus, the inclusivist is incorrect in assuming that infant children and the mentally incompetent are saved outside of the framework of divine revelation, as this personal revelation of Himself to them is in fact a form of special revelation. (See my post "When a Baby Dies," Monday, March 19, 2007).


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