God, Revelation and Authority Vol. 1, Chapter 24

Posted: March 10, 2011 in Uncategorized
Not quite a century ago, two of the world’s most influential Christian thinkers had a falling out.  Theologian Emil Bruner argued that Scripture’s recognition of “general revelation” created a point of contact between sinful man and the divine.  Fellow German theologian Karl Barth responded with a terse “Nein!” (German for no or, in context, “hell no!).  The row between the two became known as “the common ground controversy.” 
Carl Henry begins the last chapter of his prologomena to his six volume masterpiece by commenting as follows on the controversy:

It seems plausible enough that without some contact or connection, no communication or conversation can occur with those who are addressed. The “common ground” controversy does not take place at this elementary level, however. Yet just where the issue lies is not immediately clear, since the debate utilizes shifting phrases such as common presuppositions, common platform, common ground, point of contact, point of connection and common grace. At very least the problem must involve the questions whether in divine revelation God provides his own point of contact or whether man’s reason under any circumstances possesses capacities, concepts or presuppositions conducive to the knowledge of God.

Henry goes on to argue that divine revelation is truth and that it shares no epistemological axiom with secular theory.  He then poses the question, however, if there is any common ground between believers and non-believers?

Gordon Clark argued that it is the image and likeness of God that we all share which serves as a point of contact for the Gospel.  Barth’s view of the imago dei is a bit nebulous but he certainly had a high view of the fall and its devestating consequences on our capacity to comprehend divine truth.  

As influential as Barth is, few theologians have followed him on this point.  For example, uber liberal Biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann disagreed.

Many reformed theologians will conceded that we are fallen beings that cannot arrive at divine truth by beginning within ourselves. Hoewver, the Bible is clear that God revealed Himself even before the arrival of Christ and, as such, He holds all created order responsible for their actions.  So there is a sliver of overlap between believers and unbelievers but all are in need of the special revelation of Scripture and God’s spirit to know the divine truly.   Even those who do recognize Scripture as the inspired word of God struggle due to their sinfulness as well as poor instruction in logic.

Yet, general revelation and the image and likeness of God within us all is the answer to the universal desire for religion.  Sin accounts for man made religion that selects what is “holy” and what is not based on the personal desires and prejudices of its founders and priests. Only the divine revelation of God in Scripture interpreted using our God given ability to reason can give us truth.

Henry ends volume one with these words:


Revelation is, in truth, the central pillar of biblical religion. Around the living God’s disclosure of his own reality, purpose, and activity range all the special affirmations of Judeo-Christian theology. Biblical assertions of the creation of the cosmos, of the future judgment and the future life, of the divine salvation of sinners, of the meaning and worth of human existence in the days of our years, turn ultimately on the self-unveiling God who confronts his fallen creatures as their Creator, Redeemer and Judge.
That God is the eternal sovereign Creator to whom mankind is morally accountable is the central content of universal divine revelation addressed to the reason and conscience of every human through nature and history.The scripturally given special revelation restates the will of God and clarifies it for humans in the sorry state of sin. Redemptive revelation offers fallen humanity a renewal of the spiritual prerogatives which belonged to man on the basis of creation and the imago Dei. It does not stop there, however. Redemptive revelation expands the knowledge of God’s moral purposes beyond what Adam and Eve knew even before the fall. Special biblical revelation is restorative and redemptive. The un-obliterated imago Dei has its ineradicable point of connection with the living God who reveals himself objectively and universally in nature and mankind, and also objectively but particularly in Judeo-Christian revelation. Published in written Scripture, that transcendent revelation heralds good news worldwide to a famished and fainting race.



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