Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Priority of General and Special Revelation

This relatively brief article is going to arituclate my basic position on general and special revelation. First, some definitions are in order. General revelation is the truths God has revealed about himself within the natural world; these truths do not require God specially telling or communicating them in order for someone to know them. Special revelation contains truths that would not be known without God’s communicating them specifically; at the very least, they are truths that come to be known this way (even if we later think of theological or philosophical ways to defend these conclusions).

Often, natural theology (a term used often under the umbrella of general revelation)—if it is rejected—is rejected because God is fully transcendent. Thus, only Christ can function as a knowable revelation of God. From this, it follows that there really is no natural theology; all knowledge is a reflection of what we know of Christ. The problem here is, in my estimation, both philosophical and exegetical. After I deal with these issues, I will present my own brief theory on the priority of these two subjects.

The philosophical problem: A God who is “wholly other” is self-refuting. This is because such a God one is not supposed to be able to say anything about, and yet it is clear we can: namely, this version of God has at least one knowable property: the property of being wholly other. But if being wholly other is just the property of being unknowable, then we encounter a contradiction. Thus, we should reject this property as applied to God. But if we reject this property, then it doesn’t follow that nothing can be known of God through natural theology. And thus our philosophical reason for rejecting natural theology is undermined.

The exegetical problem(s): I’m not going to be too detailed on this one, but it seems that textual evidence does exist to suggest people know something about God—something at least sufficient for their condemnation. Psalm 19.1-4 especially suggest this. Now in context there is the law and statutes of the Lord. The law typically includes all of the Mosaic Law (it was treated as a single unit). There are two considerations we must look at. First, the entire law, even ceremonial parts, were viewed morally. Thus, we should not be surprised when the moral part of the law stands by representation of the whole. Second, and more importantly, Romans 10 seems to use this text, in verse 18: “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” This is a clear usage of Psalm 19, and yet Paul is stating there is something about the knowledge of God that has gone out to all.

Could this be talking about Christ alone, with respect to the Jews only? Perhaps. But perhaps not; after all, Paul specifically mentions both Jews and Gentiles (v. 12), and there were (and are!) many Gentiles who have never heard of Christ. So it seems we have a kind of natural theology after all.

My account of natural theology is this: Hebrews 11 teaches that in order to come to God, you must believe he is. In this respect, given general revelation (which I argue can come in the form of either Reformed Epistemology’s Proper Functionalism, natural theology arguments, etc.), people must first have a general revelation-type belief in order to be saved via special revelation. In this very broad sense, general revelation has logical priority over special revelation. And yet, undeniably, special revelation is most important; without it, we lack the truth of Jesus Christ’s coming into the world, living a perfect life, as a sacrifice for sins!

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