Posts tagged religion
What is General Revelation?

What is General Revelation? General Revelation is "God's communication of himself to all persons at all times and in all places."[1] Through the created order, the human conscience, and human longing, God reveals to humanity His invisible attributes, their sin, their need for Him, and His disposition toward them. Although this revelation is intended to bring humanity to repentance, the results of the fall leave them unable to rightly perceive that which He has made known. While this knowledge robs all people of the excuse of ignorance, it does not reveal the truth of Christ's incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection. If God's saving work is to be known, there must be another form of revelation that does not rely on the moral ability of the agent to discover truth.

What does it reveal?

Through the created order there is much one can learn about God. In nature, one can observe that God is a God of order, beauty, and kindness. It has been said, "I think no one who lives by the sea, or by a little river, can be an atheist."[2]In the arts and music, one can learn that God is a God of splendor. In their conscience, one can learn that there is an absolute law that they know innately, and not just this, but can't help but to break. And in their desires, they can learn that there is something in them longing for something outside of them; that thing, however, is not a something but a someone. On this, C.S. Lewis wrote: “If I find in myself desires which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[3]

What is man to do with all this knowledge of God? Paul answers this exact question: "[T]hey should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27). Earlier in this passage, Paul observes that the people of Athens are very religious. When one searches the annals of history, they will see that all peoples, at all times and in all places have, in some way, ingrained religion into their culture. Religion is the fruit of a yearning heart. Perhaps the myths of the Babylonians, Greeks, and the Norse, are historical evidence of the nations reaching out for God; and though they did not find Him, they found shards of truth concerning Him.

General Revelation means that God has ensured that all peoples, in all places, at all times, possess some knowledge of Him. Not only do all peoples have a knowledge of God, but all have forsaken the law He has written on their hearts, and have substituted right worship of the Creator for worship of the created. What was meant as a window into heaven, because of the depravity of man, now serves as a mirror for humanity to marvel at itself. As one author notes: "The love of nature, when rightly understood, is thus a pathway to God; when wrongly understood, it is an impediment to the discovery of God."[4]

Why do we have this revelation?

God has graced humanity with General Revelation so that they might know Him, for they have the natural ability to do so and it is, therefore, their duty to do so. Sin, however, has left them with the moral inability to abide by God's law.[5]The resounding song of the whole of General Revelation is this: repent and believe. The Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter, writes: "Every time the sun riseth upon thee, it really calleth thee to turn."[6]This call to repentance, however, because of the effects of sin, cannot be heard unless God, through the illumination of the Holy Ghost, opens ears to recognize the tune through the cacophony of a fallen world. It may be concluded that human reason, conscience, and desires are impotent in coming to a true understanding of God and His disposition toward humanity. Hence, humanity is in need of another form of revelation that can help them make out that which has been obscured, marred, and ultimately hidden by sin.


[1]Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.:Baker Book House, 1998), 153.

[2]Peter Kreeft, “Twelve Ways to Know God,” http://peterkreeft.com/topics/12-ways.htm, (accessed September, 2013).

[3]C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001), 136-7.

[4]Alister E McGrath, The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 114.

[5]For more on this, see Andrew Fuller, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation [in The Complete Works of The Rev. Andrew Fuller, ed. Andrew Gunton Fuller, revised Joseph Belcher (1845 ed.; repr. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), II:328, 343, 345-6.

[6]Richard Baxter, A Call To The Unconverted, Kindle ed., n.d., Kindle Locations 2193-4.

Calvin: On the Natural Man and God
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As you may know, I have been reading John Calvin’s tome, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Vol. I've had a few people ask me why, to which I quickly point them to CSL’s introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. In that introduction Lewis writes, “It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.” This has definitely proved to be true concerning my time in Calvin. It’s amazing to see the difference of what was actually said (in context, no-less) compared to what has often been misquoted, misunderstood, or wrongly attributed. With that, I hope to accurately put forth Calvin’s position on the natural man and God.

The question has been posed: How much can the unregenerate know of spiritual things? This inquiry has been a source of much contention over the years. One heavy hitter typically enlisted in this squabble is the somewhat infamous John Calvin. Sadly, in the same way that many call themselves Christians without reading God’s Word, many gladly parade the pews as self-professed Calvinists without even attempting to discover what he himself wrote.

For Calvin, “man’s soul is so illumined by the brightness of God’s light as never to be without some slight flame or at least a spark of it; but that even with this illumination it does not comprehend God...man’s keenness of mind is mere blindness as far as the knowledge of God is concerned.”

Naturally, my first question was, how can we who are dead in our trespasses see, feel, or hear anything? Calvin retorts, “the Lord indeed gave them a slight taste of his divinity that they might not hide their impiety under a cloak of ignorance.” Ultimately, man’s knowledge of God is still God’s own work.

Calvin explains his position further with this illustration:

“They (unregenerate) are like a traveler passing through a field at night who in a momentary lightning flash sees far and wide, but the sight vanishes so swiftly that he is plunged again into the darkness of the night before he can take even a step–let alone be directed on his way by its help.”

To be sure, Calvin rightly deems human reason impotent in coming to an understanding of God. “Human reason, therefore, neither approaches, nor strives toward, nor even takes a straight aim at, this truth: to understand who the true God is or what sort of God he wished to be toward us.” But I found it interesting that Calvin, when discussing the unregenerate’s natural disposition toward God, describes his condition as blind and not dead.

Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Vol. vol. 1. 2.2.18-19, pp. 277-278.

March Breakdown
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“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Proverbs 25:2, ESV).

After a month of Big Brother, Fangs of Dang, and a brood of Wingfeathers I’m hard-pressed to go back to the monotony of monochromatic nonfiction. Like I said, fiction is fun. Fiction is especially fun because it serves as a mental vacation. The extraordinary is just that, because it is not ordinary. Said differently: if every day was a holiday, holidays would be called days. With that, let’s put on our thinking caps and drown in some philosophy. I wanted to do write: “Let’s get philosophical...philosophical,” like that song. But felt it might be weird, so I didn’t.

This month’s theme is ‘read over your head.’ To know that certain philosophies are right or wrong is good. To know WHY said philosophies are right or wrong is better. As the puritan pastor Cotton Mather once said, "Ignorance is the mother not of devotion but of heresy." It is no coincidence that Evangelicalism is on the decline while anti-intellectualism in the church is on the rise. Loving the Lord with all of one’s mind is not a helpful suggestion but an essential part of the greatest commandment. The church, in which I include myself, has been retreating from the public square for far too long. On hearing the imperative to be prepared to give an answer, instead of obedience, we opt to take our ball and go home. We have confused the call for childlike faith with childish thinking. This month we will storm the keep of the ivory tower, and touch profundity with our own hands. Oftentimes before reading something I fear to be over my head, I read CSL’s introduction to Athanasius’ ‘On the Incarnation’ to pump myself up.

If you need more motivation, Kevin DeYoung recently shared five benefits of reading over your head.

He wrote:

  1. Reading over your head keeps you learning and learning keeps you fresh.
  2. Reading over your head keeps you humble.
  3. Reading over your head keeps you hungry.
  4. Reading over your head keeps you balanced.
  5. Reading over your head keeps you edified.

With that, let me introduce you to what I’ll be reading over the next month. I hope that you’ll join me!

MARCH:

HOW WE WILL DO IT:

By now, I realize that I am likely traveling alone on this read-venture. That’s fine, I don’t need you– I’m lying. I’m so lonely. Last month was hefty, I know, but this month we will be reading half of last month’s total.

Like we did last month, let’s rationalize this fear by crunching some numbers. Not counting Calvin’s tome and reader’s guide, there are approximately 697 pg. to read this month. Again, say we only wanted to read on weekdays: there are 21 weekdays in the month of March.

697 pg./21 wkd.= 33.2 pg./wkd.

If you follow my guide, you will have read another 5 BOOKS THIS MONTH! Listen, if I can do it, you can too!

Full disclosure: In January I snuck in Gospel-Centered Discipleship. In February I added Catcher in the Rye to the list. If you want to see my progress and ratings, click here. If you would like to see the master checklist, click here.

*I should mention that Calvin’s Institutes (as well as the Reader’s Guide) will be read over the course of the year. Ergo, you will see it on every month’s breakdown. I put the link for the reading schedule alongside the book.

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Augustine on True Humility
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As a man habitually drowning in pride, Augustine’s words on humility (through the mouth of Calvin), buoyed me up this morning.

When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, ‘Delivery’; what was the second rule, ‘Delivery’; what was the third rule, ‘Delivery’; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, ‘Humility.’

For Augustine, humility is not abstaining from pride and arrogance; but is a man who truly feels that he has no refuge except humility. He said it like this:

“When anyone realizes that in himself he is nothing and from himself he has no help, the weapons within him are broken, the wars are over. But all the weapons of impiety must be shattered, broken, and burned; you must remain unarmed, you must have no help in yourself. The weaker you are in yourself, the more readily the Lord will receive you.”

- from Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Vol., 2.2.11, 268-269.

A Month Later: Thoughts of a Grieving Father

[For those unaware, my wife Ashley recently miscarried our third child.] The last month has been incredibly trying. I have experienced this excruciating transformation from a dispassionate robot with the emotional aptitude of a brick, into a blubbering sack of sentiment. I’ve learned a few valuable lessons along the way. Mainly, crying in public is always awkward, no matter what (sorry, to all the patrons of carpe diem).

Truthfully, I started to type out a list of things that I wish people would(n’t) have said to us, but I would much rather you read this post on How to Help Bereaved Parents in Your Church  instead.

Over the course of the last month I have been asked some difficult questions:

  • Where is God in the midst of suffering?
  • Why would God allow this to happen?
  • Why did this happen to your family?
  • Do babies go to heaven?

I could paint in broad biblical strokes, but the response to these questions (at least for me) can be briefly stated in three words: I don’t know.

Typically the answer I don’t know exhibits either ignorance or weakness in one's argument. But, for the believer, ‘I don’t know’ can also be indicative of truth beyond our scope of reasoning. I’ve learned (the hard way) that if there is an infinite God large enough to be mad at for the suffering in the world, then there is also an infinite God big enough to have reasons for it that I cannot think of.[1]

The question therein is this: how can one have peace when the remedy for these crisis questions is ‘I don’t know’? If you’ll allow me, this is a bit from Calvin’s Institutes (1.2.2) that brought me great comfort this morning:

It [the mind of the believer] thus recognizes God because it knows that he governs all things; and trusts that he is its guide and protector, therefore giving itself over completely to trust in him. Because it understands him to be the Author of every good, if anything oppresses, if anything is lacking, immediately it betakes itself to his protection, waiting for help from him. Because it is persuaded that he is good and merciful, it reposes in him with perfect trust, and doubts not that in his loving-kindness a remedy will be provided for all its ills.

I thank the Lord who in His infinite wisdom saw fit to gift John Calvin with the eloquence to succinctly articulate what I've been incapable of putting into words.

Simply put: even when I don't know, I know, because I trust Him and He is good.

[1] Timothy Keller, “The Faith to Doubt Christianity” http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/08/27/the-faith-to-doubt-christianity/, Accessed 9/3/2012.