Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
Lecture: General Revelation
This is the 2nd lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
(Any slides, photos, study guides or outlines that the lecturer refers to should be down loaded separately. If they are not available, you may be able to find something similar using the Google© search engine.)
I. The Voice of God in Creation
A question that is often asked is how do we hear the voice of God? It is, indeed, a critical question. Different parts of evangelicalism have different answers to this question. As evangelicals we believe that we serve a personal God who speaks, telling us about himself and ourselves and the world around us. He tells us what he wants us to do in relation to him. Interestingly, when God created humans in Genesis 1, the very first thing he does is bless them. God created humans for a relationship and thus interacts with those he created. And so we still believe this. Now generally, we break this idea down into two categories: general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is to everybody everywhere whereas special revelation comes through speaking and certain events that would cause people to understand more about God. Specific revelation talks more about the general nature of God but not particularly about the salvation work of God, more specifically God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ. In general revelation, we know a lot about God through creation and through conscience. For example Psalm 19 is a Psalm of David that says that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day after day he pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. So what is he saying? The heavens declare the glory of God. And in verse, it says that this voice goes out through all the earth and to the end of the world. So in creation, the heavens and stars and the world, we see in the voice of God goes to everyone everywhere. Now, starting at verse 7, the topic changes in saying that the law of the Lord is perfect and it changes the name for God from Elohim to Yahweh and in addition, the focus is changed. This transition is shown in some Bibles through the word LORD being all capitals. The general revelation is talking about the glory of God while the law of God is talking about his specific work.
II. God’s Self-revelation
Another key passage is Romans 1:18 where it talks about the wrath of God being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. In verse 19, it says what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. This is God revealing information to us. Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities have been clearly seen. It has been revealed through what has been made, such as the stars and moon and this world and humanity so that they are without excuse. So, although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him. This self-revelation of God has come to every person and thus every person at some level has understood it because God has made it plain to them and so there is no excuse for not responding. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas are preaching in Lystra and as Paul is preaching, he is telling them to turn from their ways to the Living God who made the heavens and earth and sea and all that is in them. So he is talking about general revelation. And in verse 17 he says that he has not left himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness. So these people have gone their own way, but they have no excuse because God has testified to his glory by showing them kindness. God has revealed power and glory, not just wrath, not just creativity, but kindness and goodness. Accurately, we can say that he has shown them grace. Grace means undeserved freely given help; this kindness comes in terms of rain which provides them with food and thus joy. You will find this in other places throughout the New Testament.
In Romans 2 Paul is telling us that all who sin apart from the law perish apart from the law. This is the Law of Moses. So people who don’t have the Law of Moses will not be held accountable for that, but those who don’t hear the law should do by nature the things that are required by the law. They show that the nature of the Law is written on their inter-being, their consciousness or their hearts. This says that by nature, we know what is right and wrong. Thus, everybody understands the concept of justice where everybody is treated as human beings, where people’s rights are taken into consideration by others. There is a longing for justice in every human being. Again, this is general revelation. There is a longing for community where people are just with each other; there is a longing for beauty. There is a longing for transcendence. Most scholars agree on these points.
III. God Reveals Himself to Those Who Seek Him
The question often is can we know these things? So is there truth outside Christianity. I think the answer is yes; there is truth outside Christianity because people do have a general revelation of God. Everybody knows some things about God but of course it is mixed with error. Even people who follow the Bible have both truth and error in understanding God. One of the really difficult questions is what do we do with we meet people who has never heard about Jesus, people from Outer Mongolia, for example, where there is no missionaries, no Christians and perhaps not even a Bible. Could they be saved or are they hopelessly lost? This seems to go against the very character of God. Now, personally, (you may disagree with this) I think here God does reveal himself to everybody. I think everybody knows God because he makes himself plain. What I think happens is that the Holy Spirit (John 16) convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgement. I think this is a universal general revelation. People know from right and wrong, righteousness and they know that they will be judged. For example, one of my former students told a story of a goat herder from northern Sudan, a pagan from folk Islam who worshiped the spirit of the jinn. If you don’t worship them they will hurt you, he said, but they are mean and undependable. Yet, he saw in his goats something different. He saw mother goats being nice to kid goats and those kinds of things. He recognized that this was different from the jinn, and so he thought that there must be a kind God out there somewhere. So he prayed to this kind God wanting to know more about him. Where did this concept come from general revelation; and so that night he had a dream about a great being who told him a white man will come to see him under a specific tree. The man was to listen to that man when he comes. Years later, this student showed up, a white man under that tree and preached the Gospel of Jesus. This goat herder was immediately saved. The reason I think is that he ask to know more of this kind God and God gave him special revelation of Jesus Christ.
I was recently in Lebanon meeting with various people and I ask them about Muslims who have had dreams about Jesus. In one of those stories, people look about the world and see the brutality and yet have the sense of a God who helps. So they pray wanting to know more about this God and so Jesus reveals himself through their dreams. I was in Shanghai visiting a pastor and I ask him how he came to know the Lord. He went through the educational system in China and fast tracked for leadership. Within a system which was a survival of the fitness in its competitiveness, he was put off by the ruthlessness of it. He felt that there had to be a better way and so he started seeking something better, but he didn’t know exactly what. One night in his university room a vision appeared and spoke to him saying, ‘I am who you are looking for.’ My name is and in English he heard the word ‘Gospel’. So he found out what that meant and was able to get a Bible and was wondrously saved and now a very evangelistic pastor of a large church in the Shanghai area.
So we have general revelation through a sense of kindness and justness and community. People want to know more through the power and calling of the Holy Spirit. I think this could happen to any person anywhere at any time. It doesn’t happen that often, not because of God’s limitation but because of the greatness of people’s sins. And because of that, people are devoted to other things which become gods to them. So I believe that God has revealed himself to everyone everywhere in all time; he has revealed his power, his goodness, his glory and his creation and his kindness and his beauty. Yet for the most part people choose to serve and worship other gods. But if they choose to respond to this general revelation of God, God will reveal more of himself through specific revelation of himself.