“New Truth” is not God’s Truth: Part Two

One popular approach to the pursuit of “truth” and discovery is to examine the findings of man through what is often called “general revelation.” As we have pointed out here before, some believe that such an approach will triumph a new reformation whereby the church will become more enlightened and accepting of newer positions on issues such as homosexuality. While a rigorous debate over the biblical teaching of homosexuality has been raging for some time there is a more fundamental area that has been largely ignored. Many proponents of this new way have made the claim that discoveries being observed under the sphere of general revelation should be considered truth on par with the Truth of special revelation (i.e., the Scriptures of the OT & NT). This understanding has not been limited to more progressive views of the authority of Scripture but has been largely embraced by evangelicals on many fronts who would otherwise claim an assent to inerrancy.

We should not deny that general revelation exists. However, it is important that we understand the nature and limitations of this general revelation. There are many today who are asking the question that Pilate asked before Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Sadly, just like Pilate, many of those who are asking the question have not waited for the answer. Worse still, they have sought answers to their questions from broken cisterns which carry only muddy water at best. The remainder of this post will focus on the audience of general revelation while subsequent posts will examine the content of this information and mankind’s response to it.

General revelation is called such because it consists of information that is universally made known to all people in all places at all times. There is no limit to the audience of general revelation because such knowledge is constant (cf. Psalm 19:2) and such knowledge is persistent in its reach to the ends of the earth (cf. Psalm 19:4). This means that there are no specialists who observe things that others do not (i.e., there are no secret or special insights required to see it). Not only is this true because of what is seen under the heavens in creation but because of how mankind is created. The Apostle Paul tells us that general revelation is self-evident within every human being (Rom. 1:19). Man and woman are created in the image of God and therefore bear in some way a conscious imprint of the Triune God that is inescapable (yes, even for the God-denying pagan).

So general revelation is exactly what its name entails, it is “general” information indiscriminately revealed to all creation without bias and without limitation in regards to its audience. For some to maintain that they have special insight or perspective that they have gleaned from general revelation has less in common with the Biblical teaching and more in common with ancient forms of Gnosticism. Furthermore, any “discoveries” made by man must be held up to the light of God’s special revelation and not seen for their supposed uniqueness but for their confirmation that sin and struggle are all common to man (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). Robert Thomas helps us to summarize this distinction with these concluding thoughts:

“….information and discoveries originating in secular fields do not belong in the category of God’s revealed truth. They therefore have no basis for a ranking alongside God’s special revelation. They may appear to be beneficial to one or another generation and thereby earn at least temporarily the designation of truth, but they must always be tentative because they lack the certitude and authority of God’s revealed truth. They are not on a plane with the body of truth in the Bible and are therefore unworthy of being integrated with it” (Robert Thomas, “General Revelation and Biblical Hermeneutics,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, Volume 9, 1:14-15).

2 responses to this post.

  1. Paul, a few thoughts:

    (1) Instead of “special” and “general” revelation, would you support the distinction to be that of propositional vs. non-propositional revelation?

    (2) Would you agree that through common grace, the study of science and nature (even from non-believers) has resulted in a proper understanding of biblical revelation? While Scripture is definitely a check for “new truth” like homosexuality (clear-cut case of error), has it every happened that the opposite has taken place?

    (3) Is general revelation “on a plane with the body of truth in the Bible” or is it possible to think of it as a lesser form of revelation? In other words, is all revelation special?

    Paul, this is a great discussion. With many of the issues we discuss, this one involves a bit of tension, IMO. In case you are wondering, the driving forces behind my questions are Abe Kuyper and C. Van Til. I’m probably not up-to-date on this issue as much as you and the other Expositors are. I look forward to your thoughts.

  2. Good thoughts Jonathan:

    (1) I’m not sure that would be helpful since such words highlight an entirely different debate but I’m not opposed to it. The classic distinctions have served well so I will stick with them.

    (2) Your second question assumes that the study of science (among other things) is “general revelation”. My contention is that it is not. I will deal with this more when I look at the content of gen rev. So no I would not agree that gen rev has helped anyone to interpret special rev but the converse is certainly true. Another way of looking at this is that gen rev does not have to be researched and studied to be found but it is there by its very nature. However, I may not be understanding your question clearly.

    (3)Is it on a “plane”? By nature they have similarities (i.e. both revealed by God) but they also have obvious differences (general vs. limited). You asked, “In other words, is all revelation special?” Not in the historical understanding of that word as it pertains to this issue. The words “special” and “general” refer to the scope and audience of God’s two-fold revelation which are both very different.

    I’m not sure I’m up to date on the “issues” either.I’ve read the same Bible passages as everyone else and I’m concerned that some evangelicals have pulled things from them that are beyond their meanings. I think C. Van Til, Bavinck and others have helped me to think about some of the issues but it was my study of Psalm 19 back in seminary that did it for me (along with some Romans passages). I can’t get away from the profundity of the Psalm 19 passage and its implications for this subject. Thanks for the input.

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