Friday, September 18, 2009

General Revelation, Part I

As you well know, I’ve been reading up on Calvinism and Arminianism quite a lot this summer. After studying the issue for some 8 weeks or so, I decided to talk to a friend about the doctrine of perseverance. One day I met up with Alex (that was his name) and we discussed our views concerning perseverance. His main response to the discussion was “We shouldn’t let our experience dictate our theology.”

In some sense, I agree with Alex. I think far too many people live hedonistically because something “seems” to be right or “appears” to fit a mold. But on the other hand, I think that while experience should not DICTATE our theology, it should at least FACTOR into our theology. The reason? Because of general revelation. According to Russell Moore,

“General revelation is the self-disclosure of God to all rational beings, a revelation that comes through the natural creation and through the makeup of the human creature” (Russell Moore, “Natural Revelation,” from “A Theology For the Church” by Daniel L. Akin, Editor. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishing, 2007, page 71).

If general revelation is God’s disclosure of Himself through nature, then everyday occurrences in the world (such as the Law of Gravity) or even nature itself (such as the stars in the sky) can tell us something about the Creator of the Universe, the God of the Bible.

Under this heading of “General Revelation,” I will spend time expounding on God’s self-disclosure in our everyday experience.

A good text to start with for this would be Genesis 1.

The text begins, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, Holman Christian Standard Bible). The heavens and the earth are works of God’s hands. We are told that God’s creation reveals God’s identity in Psalm 19:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The heavens and the earth show us God’s greatness. Day and night both show us God’s greatness: not only do day and night “speak” to us—it also shows “knowledge,” that the Creator of the Universe is not just a “force,” or the result of natural processes, but instead, an INTELLIGENT MIND! The universe was made with an INTELLIGENT DESIGN to it. First comes the MIND of God, then the matter (His creation).

Genesis 1:2 tells us that “the earth was formless and empty.” There was nothing in existence but darkness (v.3). Suddenly, out of nowhere, God says, “Let there be light” (v.3), and light comes into existence. Here we see God as Sovereign Creator. Anyone that can look out into nothing but darkness, speak light, and light comes into being, is surely the one in control. After all, if He could command light to come out of darkness, then He commands nature; nature does not command Him!

Not only did God create light, but He separated it from darkness, placed the stars and moon in the night sky, the sun in the day sky, water and land animals and vegetation. But in verses 26-28, God makes the “crowning creation,” man:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. THEY WILL RULE the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth” (v.26).

Here God makes mankind, in HIS IMAGE after HIS likeness. When God makes man, He does something for mankind that He doesn’t do for any other creation—He gives them a share of the divine image within. The Lord doesn’t do this for any other creation He makes but man.

We find out, though, that with this image and likeness comes responsibility: “THEY WILL RULE the fish of the sea…all the earth” (v.26). Since man is made in the “likeness” of God, and God RULES all the earth, man would have a small sphere of rule (a small sphere of sovereignty), which would reflect the rule of His Creator.
And right here, I’d like to interject a thought: Calvinists are so quick to assert that man does not have any power at all—but here, we find God (The Trinity) giving man dominion over the earth. So, if God gives man “dominion” over the earth, then this means that man has been giving power from the Lord Himself.

What is a good definition of “dominion”? I looked at Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary and found the following:

2 : supreme authority : SOVEREIGNTY

The second definition stands out the most. “Dominion” by definition is “sovereignty.” So, when God gives man “dominion” over the earth, He gives man “sovereignty” over the earth itself.

Here is where Calvinists respond, “No, that’s not it.” The problem is, though, that this is the definition of “dominion.” The word “dominion” is translated “rule” in the Holman Christian Standard, but a sibling word is used when the discussion turns to the greater light (sun) to rule the day and the lesser light (moon and stars) rule the night (1:16-18). So man’s rule over the earth was man’s sphere of power (given to him by God).

When the Lord God says, “They WILL RULE,” the word used for this phrase is “arxetosan.” This word means, “Let them rule.” Here the Trinity performs an act of volition: the Trinity allows man to rule over the earth. Notice that this is not an act of NECESSITY: man does not have to rule the earth; but God CHOOSES FREELY of Himself to bestow this privilege upon man.

And, as a result, I think it is a disgrace when Calvinists deny libertarian free will. It is a disgrace and an affront to their Creator when they pretend that they have been given no power over their actions, but that every action of theirs is the “plotting” of God.

Then, however, there are some Calvinists who believe that man has everyday choices—that man is allowed to make choices in everyday life, and that he cannot blame God for his actions. The only problem comes in when you attempt to discuss salvation with them. While I believe (as do Calvinists and Reformed Arminians) that salvation is solely accomplished by the Lord, Calvinists then turn to the Arminians and state that God only “elects” certain people to be saved. I’m in agreement with that statement—ONLY if they are arguing “election” on the basis of faith in Christ. Otherwise, I am staunchly opposed to their point of view.

If I could sit down and talk with a Calvinist (as I’m sure you might someday), I would discuss this issue in the following manner: God, in His Sovereignty, gave a “limited sovereignty” to man; and along with that sovereignty and power came responsibility (for “with power comes responsibility”). Man was required in the Garden of Eden to “give an account” of the deed he had done (the sin of eating the fruit). If man’s sovereignty over the earth still stands (and it does), and God’s sovereignty still stands (because God gave man responsibility and He still upholds His agreement with man), then, surely, man’s responsibility to come to faith is no different. Man is still held accountable for whether or not he repents and believes the gospel. In the Garden, man had a choice: he could either trust God and take Him at His Word or sin against God and go his own way. Today, man still has a choice: because God bore man’s death on a tree, man can now either take God at His Word (and repent and believe the gospel) or else turn and go his own way.

The work of the cross was designed to redeem man from his fallen state. How can man be redeemed from his fallen state if his will REMAINS bent to do evil (such that, with the Spirit, he cannot hear and believe the gospel)? If, with the Spirit convicting him, he cannot repent and believe (but is “dragged” to faith by the Spirit), then what is the purpose of restoration? Paul tells us in Colossians 3:10 that the new man “is being RENEWED IN KNOWLEDGE ACCORDING TO THE IMAGE OF HIS CREATOR” (Col. 3:10, HCSB). If man’s knowledge is being renewed (found also in Rom. 12:2), then what does this tell us about the image of God in man? The word “renew” means “to make new again.” Because the new man’s knowledge is “renewed”, eliminating our depravity day by day, this tells us that the image of God within us HAS NOT BEEN DESTROYED, but instead, is being TRANSFORMED, made new again. To make new again does not mean to destroy what once was—it means to take what once was and cleanse it from its corruption so as to make it new once more (like a dirty shirt or dirty dishes).

I will continue my discussion of Genesis 1 in my next post.

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