God, Revelation & Authority Vol. 1, Chapter 9

Posted: January 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

What makes us who we are? Are we nothing but the byproducts of evolution? Do we render any idea about life that is not arrived at by empirical observation to be a myth that we latch onto in a desperate attempt to give our lives meaning?

Such depressing thoughts assault us if we dismiss the Christian idea of revelation. 

Yet, unlike “scientism,” Christianity does not simply dismiss other worldviews as arbitrary and artificial but sees them as are inherent longing for meaning and to be in right relationship with our creator.  As Carl Henry notes, we are “belief-ful creatures” because are created beings who want to know and love God as He knows and loves us. 

While Christianity recognizes, as the Apostle Paul did on Mars Hill, that other religions are a manifestation of this longing for God, it also recognizes both the dangers of such beliefs and the equal risk that when all “religious” beliefs are swept aside by secularism that it creates a vacuum that is often filled with horrors such as fascism and Stalinism. 

So, on the one hand theology does not dismiss competing worldviews but on the other it recognizes the terror that differing points-of-view may produce.  How much weight then do we grant to competing worldviews or, for that matter, to anything outside of the special revelation of Scripture?

After all, Christians affirm “general revelation,” which is the imperfect but still very real revelation of God outside of Scripture as in the natural world whose beauty and order points beyond itself to an intelligent designer.  What should theology do with general revelation?

Henry writes,

At this point, we merely note that while revealed religion insists that man as created is inescapably conscious of God and of his transcendently ordered cosmos, that is, of the incomparable power and deity of the Cosmic Planner, his response to the revealed God known in his revelation is broken and evasive. Man can indeed know the God of creation and created reality—not exhaustively, to be sure, but nonetheless truly. Yet as sinner he frustrates the divine revelation that penetrates into his very mind and conscience, and in significant respects also dilutes and even suppresses the revelation in created reality. For all that, man even as sinner is aware of the living God and of created reality as a divinely given order and as an arena of divine disclosure, even if he throws himself athwart this revelation and responds to it obliquely. In Stoker’s words, “the sinner has contact with this plan itself; but he does not fully meet it … in a truly answering fashion; his presuppositions are wrong; he perceives … the knowable in wrong perspectives; he directs his faith wrongly; he ‘derails’ his thinking by forming wrong concepts, judgments, theories, and so forth; he thus perceives the knowable in accordance with wrong theoretical constructions” (ibid., p. 33). “His knowledge no longer answers freely to the knowable, but falsifies it” (p. 34) It is necesssary therefore to maintain the distinction between the individual who bears the imago Dei by creation and the schematized response he makes to the revelation of God and his created reality.

But created reality does not confront man simply with an enigma which he is left to decipher, a question that awaits his definitive answer; it confronts him from the first as a revelation, a declaration, a calling, to which inevitably he makes either a proper or improper response. And the beggarly effort to intuit the mystery of the universe in terms of one’s mystical identification with ultimate reality, or to unravel its secrets by philosophical theorizing, or to chart its behavior pattern by technocratic scientism or historical positivism, deletes from the external world the decisive reality, decision, initiative and agency of God. For the revelation that confronts man from the first echoes God’s voice: “You are Adam—man!—and only in knowing your Maker do you truly know yourself!” Man replies, “I am man indeed” (the multiple religions and culture-conceptualizations are schematizations of this special significance and worth), “but who or what is God?” On his own initiative man proceeds to answer a question that he raises in his own way: God becomes the multinamed object through which the meaning and value man now postulates for himself are conceptually assured.
In other words, even those who possess the special revelation of Scripture cannot fully know God and must be humble as they approach those who grasp for God in the dimmer light of  general revelation.  Yet, we must not just throw up our hands and state that we are all in the same boat for Scripture is clear enough to let us know who we are (created beings in rebellion against our creator), who God is (a loving but just creator) and the only way we can be reconciled to God (through the death and life of Jesus–the god man).  Thus, divine revelation, in one sense trumps everything else, but in a fuller sense unifies all knowledge by providing a lens that correctly and coherently interprets general revelation.  Or, as Henry so masterfully puts it,
The Christian revelation contends that the meaning of the cosmos and man and history is transcendently given in the form of intelligible divine disclosure. On this basis Christianity professes to supply the enduring conceptuality that alone makes possible an ongoing unity of theology, philosophy, history and science.
Thus, philosophy, history, science, the arts, etc. may all be fruitfully engaged but only through the corrective lens of Scripture.  
Tomorrow, we turn to chapter 10. 

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