09 September 2008

The interplay of general and special revelation

by Dan Phillips

First, definitions in brief. Special revelation refers to God's disclosure of Himself by an act of direct revelation, such as to a prophet or apostle. This is mediated to us today through Scripture alone. General revelation is God's self-disclosure through the created world.

A locus classicus featuring both is Psalm 19, where the first six verses focus on general revelation, and verses 7-13 deal with the excellencies of special revelation. Remember:

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psalm 19:1)
-- snip --
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple (Psalm 19:7)
The content and intent of each is different. General revelation shows that there is a God, and that He is powerful (Romans 1:20); special revelation reveals His character, nature and will (Psalm 19:7-13).

Now, HSAT, let's pose a question: is the sola scriptura position, with its affirmation of the sufficiency of Scripture, a rejection of general revelation? For instance, when a sufficientist/non-Jabberwockian/whatever refers to the facts of history, is he de facto denying the primacy of Scripture, and imposing experience over revelation?

Let's give this a bit of consideration. Can you slice the two from one another? Of course not.

For instance, when you say "I affirm the sufficiency of Scripture," how did you do that? Did you learn those exact words from Scripture itself? No, you got them from the realm of general revelation.

"But I got the idea from the Bible," you say, and I agree. But how did you understand the Bible? You read an English translation, right? Did you learn English from the Bible? Not from the autographa, and probably not from a translation, either.

And how did the translators do their work? "From Greek and Hebrew," you say. Yes -- but does the Bible itself translate and explain every Hebrew and Greek word? Of course not; you'd get into an endless cycle there, anyway, since each word of explanation would require a word of explanation, and so on ad infinitum.

No, the most wooden-headed "just-me-and-my-Bible" type has to look up the words of Scripture. He also
has to look up place-names, and he has to consult secular history to get any kind of a time-line, and relate the Bible to the rest of the contemporary world. All of these data, all these facts, all this information comes from the realm of general revelation.

General revelation necessarily and by God's design informs and corrects our interpretation of special revelation. For instance, we might read Joshua 10 as teaching that the sun orbits the earth. That is one possible interpretation of the passage. It is general revelation that helps us reject that interpretation, in favor of another. Without general revelation, we might never reconsider our first-impression reading of the passage; but the facts of general revelation require us to do so.

Or to take another, it is one possible interpretation of NT history to think that all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit will continue exactly as-is (or, rather, as-was) until Jesus comes back. Now, I think there are indications in the text itself to the contrary, as I've shown at length elsewhere. But it is a possible interpretation.

It is possible, that is, until we bring in the realm of general revelation, and consider history. Then we learn that there was a sharp break after the first century. To put it mildly, we find that such revelatory and attesting gifts have never again been the norm among Biblically-faithful believers. It is not just hard, but impossible to find any time or place in the last 1900 years where apostolic-level gifts of wonders and inerrant, direct revelation are characteristic.

So general revelation helps our understanding of special revelation.

But the flow goes in the other direction as well.

To take my favorite illustration, let's transport an observer back to the eighth day after the creation of the world. This made-up observer hasn't one datum from special revelation, he only has what he sees.

You ask him how long everything has been around.

He says, "Well, I see one star, so it's all been around at least four years. Then there's this guy looking quizzically at me, and I'd guess him to be around thirty; so it's all been around at least thirty years. And then I see other stars as well, so it has to have been around much, much longer. And then there are these trees, and these rocks...."

Then you hand him the first two chapters of Genesis, and he's faced with a choice. If true, those pages put a different interpretive grid on everything he sees. His impressions were mistaken, because he was lacking some critical information. As Calvin said, the Scriptures serve as glasses for him, enabling him to see and "read" reality more truly and clearly (Institutes, I, vi, 1).

None of this should be shocking or unsettling to the Biblically-faithful Christian. We know that one God created both general and special revelation. Both realms are revelations of the same God. In His mind, there is no clash nor competition. The clash is in our minds, prone as they are to think rebelliously and autonomously (cf. Romans 8:7-8; Ephesians 4:17-19, etc.).

The growing Christian is the person who is learning to live at peace with both, always checking his perceptions against God's inerrant, transcendent, verbal revelation.

Dan Phillips's signature

67 comments:

donsands said...

I told my sister-in-law that Adam lived to be 930 years old. She said there's no way she believes that.
It is difficult to compute in our age, but I believe it. Even Noah was 950 years old. I think he got on the ark at 600, and then lived another 350 years.
After the flood people began to live less and less in years, until we now live about 70 to 90 years, if we're healthy.

Is this sort of what you're dealing with with with these two revelations?

Barbara said...

Okay. I Googled, I searched your blog, I went to Urban Dictionary.com, and I can't find the answer on my own so I have to ask:

WHAT does HSAT stand for? I've seen y'all use it a fair bit and for the life of me I can't figure out what it means.

Sorry to interrupt. Thanks.

DJP said...

Questions like that are never a problem, Barbara. I think one day I'll do a Pyro glossary.

HSAT is, like emerg***, a DJPism. It means Having Said All That.

Barbara said...

Ahhh...okay! Makes sense now! Thank you so much :)

Carrie said...

Excellent post, Dan.

I know you covered the charismatic aspect, but I was also reminded of most of the Evangelicals I know who walk around "feeling like God lead them...". It seems to get to a point where all revelation becomes personal and extra-biblical and I'm just not sure how I feel about that.

Any thoughts from a Reformed perspective?

Stefan said...

Dan, a few random comments:

1. In Psalm 19, note how David transitions from El as the "generic" name for God in verses 1-6, to the covenantal name Yahweh in verses 7-14.

2. Come to think of it, Psalm 19:4b-6 is another example of Scripture poetically describing the sun from an earthbound human's point of view as traversing the sky.

3. Your discussion of Joshua 10 unleashed a bit of cognitive dissonance in me. Whereas most of my adult life I rejected miracles as myths and fairy tales (God have mercy on me), I now accept those that are presented in Scripture, on the basis that if God created the world and saves souls, then he is perfectly capable of doing anything else He pleases as well.

But you do realize that to a skeptic, it's absurd to insist upon scientific accuracy in Joshua 10, and say that no, of course the sun didn't stop in the sky, but the earth stopped rotating on its axis.

I agree with you, but there's still a nagging sense of the absurdity of it.... God have mercy on me for my unbelief.

Mesa Mike said...

"I feel lead of God to..." is evangellybean speak. It is properly translated into English as, "I want to...", "I'd like to...", "I've decided to..." or "I'm going to..."

Frank Turk said...

Here's what I have to say about all this, and it's all completely on-topic.

First of all, as usual, Dan is way more informed about this than I am. And I'm glad that somebody is.

But second of all, the meaning and value of Romans 1 here cannot be understated.

[QUOTE]
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
[/QUOTE]


That italic part is very interesting -- because it says that creation (the stuff God made) has something about it in which we can see God's divine nature and power. That is: the presence or the necessity of God shows through in that which has been made.

What we have on top of that is something which is verbal, propositional and relational: Scripture. That is to say, God doesn't just stand around and wait for us to admire Him. At many time and in many ways, God has spoken to us by the prophets.

You may say that you want a word from God today, but if you don't really know what He has said throughout the ages, I suggest you don't really want to hear what He has to say. In any tongue.

Back to Phillips' brilliance. I just had to get that out.

DJP said...

< /sizzle >

And I'm glad you did!

Tom Chantry said...

So...

...I see the normative and situational perspectives, but what happened to the existential?

Tom Chantry said...

Oh, wait. Carrie identified it. Now if we can just keep all three in perfect balance...

DJP said...

Chantry...I see the normative and situational perspectives, but what happened to the existential?

I've been Framed, I tell you!

Stefan said...

How did Frame get into all this? Did someone hug you lately, Tom?

Becky, a slave of Christ said...

What I was thinking as I read Dan’s post is that, just as those verses in Romans make it clear that all men know that God exists because of general revelation—which renders them without excuse before the Creator—it is also important to note that only through His Word can a man be saved (Romans 10:17).

In addition to Frank’s point that Scripture is the only place we learn definitively who God is and what His will is, and Dan’s that—by design—general revelation can aid our understanding of Scripture, this application to the lost negates the old I get close to God by going into the mountains, I don’t need to read the Bible or be in church excuse.

DJP said...

That's right, Becky.

I think (straining memory) it was Helmut Thielicke who said we like "communing with God through nature," because a crashing wave doesn't convict me for committing adultery, or tell me that I'm wasting my life on trivia.

Again, the two halves of Psalm 19 express the effect of each mode of revelation beautifully.

Stefan said...

Re my first comment...

I don't doubt Joshua 10. I don't pick and choose what to believe and what not to believe, for that would put me above the divine Author of Scripture. But I do sometimes wrestle with the logistics of some of the miracles in Scripture.

Anyhow, was I there to see it? Nope. Job 38 is germane, methinks. I just had a momentary bout of discordance there.

Stefan said...

Becky and DJP: Very excellent points!

yankeerev said...

Good word! There truly is no competition between general and special revelation.

God is amazing, his organization impeccable. I am constantly reading His Word, pausing and pushing away from my desk because of a divine noogie of illumination at His wonderful and incredible redemptive plan.

Thanks...

Jugulum said...

carrie,

On the subjective "leading of the Holy Spirit":

Greg Koukl's mp3s on Decision-Making and the Will of God are wonderful for that topic.

A fairly straight-forward conclusion is that the Bible does not teach us to expect subjective internal promptings from the Spirit as any kind of normative guide. Nor does the Bible model for us a mode of decision-making where we examine our hearts for communication from God telling us what to do. It does present decision-making using (1) the clear commands of Scripture, (2) principles of Wisdom (Imagine making all your decisions steeped in the wisdom of Proverbs!), (3) counsel between believers, and (4) careful consideration.

This does not mean that the Spirit does not lead us--rather, it describes how the Spirit leads us. (It might not be a comprehensive description, but it's in the right direction.)

Now... The Bible also teaches us that the Spirit convicts us in our conscience, changes our hearts, renews our minds, creates/empowers spiritual gifts in us, and works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure. We ought to expect that the work of the Spirit will affect our feelings, perhaps in difficult-to-articulate ways. Nor should we ignore those subjective feelings--we ought to ask, "Why am I feeling this way? Is this my conscience convicting me? Am I subconsciously picking up on something that I haven't consciously noted? Is this just my own fear? Was it just a random thought that struck me? Etc." (For that matter, if you experience a spontaneous urge to pray for someone, and it turns out that the person really needed that prayer at the time--well, I don't doubt in retrospect that God was moving you to pray.)

It's just that we don't have any kind of promise that those feelings are the work of the Spirit. Scripture does not teach us to identify those feelings as the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Bringing this back to Dan's post--as we examine anything subjective within ourselves, we ought to be always checking our perceptions against God's inerrant, transcendent, verbal revelation. Including the principles of wisdom contained therein.

David Sheldon said...

Jugulum - Well said! And of course "Decision Making and the Will of God" by Friesen is an interesting read.
DJP - I just this morning read/studied Deuteronomy 29 & 30. The text of 29:2-4 is: "And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, 'You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land; the great trials which your eyes have seen, those great signs and wonders. Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.'" NASB (This in the context of a text which is more familiar to us in Deut. 29:29 about "secret" things and "revealed" things.)
Would you maybe comment either in a new article or this post how you interpret this text? Thanks.

Jugulum said...

David,

Friesen's book is good for an exhaustive study, or as a reference--sort of a systematic theology on the subject. But it's too thick & involved to just hand to someone as food for thought. Something I appreciate about Koukl's presentation is his conciseness.

I also just found this article discussing it--a transcript from one of his shows.

David Rudd said...

dan,

good post. psalm 19 is the passage i use to explain general and specific revelation. i appreciated your statement on creation at the end, as i was concerned your argument could potentially be used to argue against a literal ex nihilo creation...

one question: how would you respond to the charge that Rome could have used a similar argument to this one against Luther? (not exact... but similar)

obviously, i'm speaking more about the first half of the argument, not the second...

Carrie said...

We ought to expect that the work of the Spirit will affect our feelings, perhaps in difficult-to-articulate ways. Nor should we ignore those subjective feelings--we ought to ask, "Why am I feeling this way?

Thanks Jugulum!

Those are my same thoughts and I will check out Koukl. I read parts of Friesen's book a few years back and that helped me alot.

Where I see the difference b/w myself and those who concentrate on leadings, feelings, etc is the level of confidence/certainty. While I might have moments like you describe above (feelings of conviction or direction), I am often not sure if the Spirit was prompting me or if it was my own random feelings. But so many people I know seem fairly confident that "God spoke to me and told me to do this".

After awhile you start to wonder, why isn't God speaking to me so clearly? Of course, if you watch those people long enough you'll see them have to later admit that maybe they "misheard" as things didn't work out as expected.

Anyway, I wish I had a way to communicate this stuff better to others, but I am a minority in my church from this perspective. Thanks for your help.

Jugulum said...

david rudd,

"i appreciated your statement on creation at the end, as i was concerned your argument could potentially be used to argue against a literal ex nihilo creation..."

It could be used to argue against a 6-day, young-earth creation. Legitimately, sort of.

When we start examining the scientific data, and if we think it conflicts with how we read Genesis, then it's legitimate to ask, "Are we correctly understanding it, or might we have gotten it wrong?" That kind of thing has happened--like with the people who thought that the Bible requires geocentrism. (I've talked to someone who still does!) Their interpretation was feasible, but not required.

So, when we start to approach the question of creationism, we do have to allow for the possibility that we were misunderstanding Genesis. But we also have to allow God's word to correct our mistaken interpretation of the scientific data.

Jugulum said...

carrie,

"But so many people I know seem fairly confident that "God spoke to me and told me to do this".

After awhile you start to wonder, why isn't God speaking to me so clearly?"

1.) He has been. :)

2.) Perhaps for the same reason that He only gave visions & dreams to some people in the stories of Scripture--He speaks in whatever way He desires, whenever it suits His purposes. Personalized communications were never signs of deeper spirituality; they were events that God used to accomplish a purpose.

(Though, post-pentecost, the Spirit does do more personalized working in individuals.)

3.) As you say, people also overstate the clarity or certainty of what they heard.

An elder at my (somewhat charismatic) church made a comment that I appreciated, during the visitors' class I attended. He was discussing the way the elders seek consensus in their decisions. He said that sometimes, one elder will think that God is "saying" one thing, and another will think that God is "saying" another. Which should make us question whether we're really hearing something.

David Rudd said...

jug,

yeah, it could be. in fact, that was the big question in my mind as i read the post...

but, i think dan's statement at the end addressed why it wouldn't be a great argument...

of course, maybe i'm just one of those backwoods dufus sorts who still holds to silly things like a six day creation (although with a bit of a looser grip than before).

Tom Chantry said...

I've been Framed, I tell you!

I just thought it was necessary to properly Frame the discussion.

Jugulum said...

david,

Yes, Dan's examples were great for showing some of the gotcha's--especially with the inherent appearance of age that you'll find in a 6-day ex-nihilo creation.

It does get harder when you look at some of the details, though. If we have the light from a supernova that's more than 10,000 light-years away, can we say that the light was just created en route? That the star never actually existed, and never actually exploded? With that kind of data, you have to say that the star isn't really that far away (which I don't think is credible), or that the universe is old but the earth is young (a la Humphreys' White Hole), or that the earth is old. Or that the explosion never really happened. Or maybe there's another option--the point is that it's not always as straight-forward as Dan's examples.

Benjamin Nitu said...

Good post, Dan!
Quick question: what is the role of the general revelation when it comes to salvation and faith?
I feel that there are 2 extremes. On one hand you have Thomas Aquinas overemphasizing the general revelation and on the other hand you have the existentialist/post-modern/emergent theologian who just reduces it to nothing.
Like Francis Schaeffer and even CS Lewis made it clear, both extremes end up in the same place: a weak faith. True faith seeks understanding. It's neither blind or independent of God. Trusting God and his words, like you pointed out needs both: the general and special revelation.

David Rudd said...

jug,

well... he did create the light before he created the stars...

:)

yeah. i know it's complicated, thus a loosened grip on my part. but i've yet to come across a compelling enough argument, that appeals to something other than scientific theory, to sway my view.

i don't have to be able to explain everything to make it true. i'm not as smart as phil.

DJP said...

Carrie, Jugulum, David Sheldon — I doubt I'll listen to Koukl's mp3's. I'm not his most ardent admirer. I did, however, read the article.

The second half or so is pretty good. The first half or so is just Koukl talking. He adduces NO Scripture that give Biblical authority to call anything "God speaking" apart from direct, inerrant revelation.

Jugulum said...

David,

Oh, I'm not comfortable with any of the alternate interpretations of Genesis, either. My major concerns are:

1.) We shouldn't approach the Bible with incredulity toward everything that jars a modernistic worldview.
2.) We shouldn't minimize the real scientific problems/questions that do exist. (If we don't even recognize problems/questions, we will not be good witnesses for the rationality & truth of Christianity.)
3.) We should allow observational data (i.e. general revelation) to influence our reading of Scripture. (At least to motivate us to double-check our exegesis.)
4.) We shouldn't allow science to override clear revelation--especially if science is tentative & unclear.

Jugulum said...

djp,

I agree. I don't use the language of "God speaking to me"--for precisely that reason.

However, the first half of the article is helpful to point out the work of the Spirit that we ought to affirm.

1.) As you say, we should preserve Biblical language of "God speaking"--only use it in ways that the Bible does. Otherwise we breed confusion. (Even if, as Koukl says, he can understand thinking of that activity as "speaking" in some sense. I can, too. But the speech of God is too authoritative to use that terminology indiscriminately.)
2.) If people are wrongly applying the phrase "God spoke", but are applying it to things that God does do, then we have more work to do than to say "God doesn't speak today". If we want to teach well, we have to build the right definition of "God speaking"--and also affirm the work that the Spirit does do. (If people are using the terms badly, then we want to straighten out the confusion.)

Koukl affirmed the work of the Spirit well, but didn't do so well at preserving the terminology.

Stefan said...

Jug:

I'm more or less where you are, on the set of rules you set out in your second-to-last comment.

The way we have gone from thinking that the sun revolves around the earth to vice versa may be a good example of rereading Scripture in the light of clear scientific observation (and note, observation, not merely an as-yet-disproved hypothesis like, ahem, a certain widely held theory on the origin of life). (Were Psalm 19 and Joshua 10 two of the texts Rome used against Copernicus?)

But as you said, we need to be careful in our practices. I am not willing to, say, read Genesis 1 as mere allegory (as Augustine did); on the other hand, we do want to use scientific observation in the service of Scripture.

Stefan said...

There's more to be said and I don't want to leave off my thoughts uncompleted like this, but I've written too much already.

I used to be an avowed materialist and evolutionist; that I am no longer is testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit in changing how I approach the Word of God.

Libbie said...

Has Phil done his post on Henry Blackaby and the 'Experiencing God' thing that he wanted to get to, but kept getting derailed into the charismatic discussion? Because it seems to me that has relevance here.

Jeremiah said...

I'm about as far from Calvinism as I can get, but I really appreciate the scholarly approach of this essay (in particular) and most of what you say.

DJP said...

Nope, Libbie, not yet. There's just those 500 posts I've done about still small voices, guidance, feelings, vapors and all the rest, that everyone seems to have forgotten.

Snif...

Snif....

Jugulum said...

You know, something was telling me that I was forgetting something...

DJP said...

Mm.

< raises eyebrow, nods >

Jugulum said...

I think I want to say just one more thing about the feelings/still small voices/promptings/etc, to wrap up my point in a nutshell:

We shouldn't respond to the popular Christian thinking with a simple, "No, God doesn't do that." Because God does work in some of the things that people are referring to. The problem isn't always invalid experience--sometimes it's just improperly theologized experience.

Sometimes, people react negatively because they think you're denying more than you really are.

I've had long conversations with my mother about the decision-making topic. And we kept butting our heads against a miscommunication--she thought I was suggesting that God doesn't have a particular will that he's working out in your life, or that the Spirit doesn't work to guide you. Which wasn't the point at all.

Libbie said...

Oh honestly, Teampyro. Tsk.

Yes, Dan, you've done good work. I just recalled that Phil said he wanted to address that topic specifically. But I still think of you first when I think of reams and reams and reams of intensely thorough wordcount...

/condescending tone

Strong Tower said...

Rules of Interpretation or Herman Nukesits

DJP said...

OK, back home. Now for some catching up.

CarrieAny thoughts from a Reformed perspective?

Well, if you listen to Kim Riddlebarger, I can't say anything about Reformed thought, because I don't think prophecy is a shell-game and don't attach religious significance to putting water on babies.

But my impression in all the reading I've done of writers regarded as Reformed is that they robustly believed that finding the will of God was a matter of learning, believing, absorbing, and being led by Scripture.

I don't believe the Bible teaches an individual will of God that we are obliged to find and do. What we are obliged to find and do is the revealed will of God. I've written a fair bit on it. Read this, for instance.

What some people misinterpret as God's leading is just what Mesa Mike says. Or it's intuition. Now, intuition can be a tool God uses to lead us to do His sovereign will; but that doesn't grant it canonical status.

David Sheldon — not being deliberately obtuse, but not sure what you'd like me to do. Here's what I'd say about that passage: it lays down that God has provided objective revelation, but not what Frame (hi Chantry!) calls "existential revelation." He's not opened their spiritually blind eyes believingly to embrace the significance of what they had seen and heard.

Does that get at what you are asking?

Anyone — love Friesen's book. I always list it as one of the most significant books I've ever read. But someone does need to reduce and popularize it a bit. Actually, there need to be two versions. One very large one with names and citations and detailed exegesis; and one reduced and popularized.

David Rudd — I'm sorry, I don't get the question about Rome and Luther. Would you mind rephrasing it?

Benjamin Nitu — general revelation and salvation. It provides knowledge of the true God, which knowledge we repress and rebel against (Romans 1:18-32). But special revelation uses the data of general revelation and explains them to us in a way that presses us towards that crisis of confrontation of the reality of God.

The Bible, that is, uses blood, sheep, Roman government, tombs, eyesight, and other data from general revelation (GR), re-frames them, explains their significance, and adorns them with the Gospel.

General revelation gives enough data to damn us, but special revelation gives the specifics that puts the edge on the sword as it were; that convict us (cf. Romans 7:7-12), and then lead us to salvation (Romans 10:17).

Is that helpful? They are different, and differently-aimed modes of revelation of the same God.

Barbara said...

Okay. Honest question here.

There have been two instances in my (still relatively new) Christian walk where I have had what seemed like direction to specific scriptural passages come into my head. As an especially baby Christian, one time I had been praying at length about a particular concern (hardheadedness, hard places in my heart) and then I finally began to settle in for the night. My head no sooner hit the pillow than I heard in my head, "Turn your light back on and get your Bible."

Figuring it to be my own imagination, I almost ignored it - but I didn't. Not knowing where I would go in the Bible once I picked it back up, I began to reach for the light.

"Psalm 114."

Figured, Okay, I'm game. Hadn't read Psalm 114, didn't know what it would hold. So I turned there and I read it...and my jaw began to drop. Right there in those words, particularly the last two verses of Psalm 114, was the encouragement that I needed at that time - that He had everything under control and that if rocks and flint aren't too hard for him, then my head and heart aren't either.

On another instance I was praying earnestly in need of some assurance and comfort - and just as clearly, at the end of the prayer, I was "audibly" led to Psalm 121. I turned there, read the words and the promise contained therein, and found myself reduced to grateful tears.

So...since you bring this up about these different kinds of revelations, I've been meaning to ask somebody about this. I have pretty much figured that if something is leading me into the Word that it's safe, at least. Professional opinion? Am I nuts? Or will the Holy Spirit "audibly" prompt us to specific passages of Scripture as a means of communicating some comfort and assurance?

Jugulum said...

Barbara,

I can only answer for myself, of course.

It certainly becomes a problem if you start to:
1.) Expect that you should be getting "messages"--and either start inventing them, or feel depressed & abandoned because you're not getting them.
2.) Seek out them instead of seeking the voice of God in Scripture.
3.) Depend on your subjective experience as a message in an of itself. In other words, any hint of the following: "God told me this, so I don't need to listen to your counsel or Biblical arguments that I'm doing the wrong thing," or "I know this promise isn't found in Scripture, but I felt it in my spirit, so I'm going to depend on it."

To answer your question, we have no Biblical reason to think that the Spirit will audibly lead us to particular passages. But at the same time, I do not see any reason to tell you, "No, that wasn't God. It was just random thoughts that you were having, and it was coincidence that the passages seemed applicable & comforting." That seems unlikely to me.

My advice is this: Don't stress yourself trying to figure out if you're nuts. And don't stress yourself trying to figure out if those "promptings" were really God. Don't worry about "interpreting" them at all. Don't depend on the "prompting" itself as a message. Instead, rejoice in the teaching of Scripture that you found as a result. Ensure that you are depending on the promises of God in Scripture, through the work of the Spirit. You should be fine, that way.

Barbara said...

Jugulum,

Thank you.

Carrie said...

Well, if you listen to Kim Riddlebarger, I can't say anything about Reformed thought, because I don't think prophecy is a shell-game and don't attach religious significance to putting water on babies.

Well, at least you got that off your chest.

Thanks for the answer, Dan.

(and thanks to Jugulum for all his wisdom)

DJP said...

Not that I have an opinion, mind you.

(Forgot to add that.)

David Rudd said...

dan,

i have no desire to derail this into charasmatic chaos... but my question goes as such:

if the approx. 2000 years of silence on tongues can serve as a form of general revelation which aids in the understanding of some biblical questions,

couldn't Rome have suggested to Luther that the many hundred years of their "traditional" view of justification, with few pockets of dissenting opinion, serve as a form of general revelation which aids in the understanding of justification, works, and faith.

i know it's not apples to apples for many reasons... and it's certainly not an argument i'd make; but it is likely one that could be used given the hermeneutic idea you've laid out here.

does that make more sense?

DJP said...

Yes, it totally makes sense now, David. Thanks; I wasn't tracking at all.

Well, to be truly analogous, you would have to demonstrate -- not that people didn't believe in "sola" justification, but -- that God actually did not justify anyone during the Middle Ages. Because it's part of my counter to Charismaticism that none of their excuses works (lack of faith, formalism, etc.), because none of the original tongue-speakers believed in nor sought tongues. God wanted to give tongues, so He did. If He wanted to do so in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on centuries, nothing could stop Him.

Make sense?

Susan said...

Bravo, Jugulum. Barbara isn't the only person who finds your advice helpful.

I've had these similar "tolle lege" moments before (not all of them "audible"--sometimes they're just prompted by a simple thought). Some of these turned out to be false alarms (to my own hurt), but others were inexplicably timely and appropriate for my soul's conviction and comfort. These moments remind me that God is intimately involved with every detail in our lives, and he really does care for his own. I remember a time before I left my previous job during which I was suffering from inner turmoil. On my way home from work I started to complain to the Lord how exhausted I was from work and said to him (or perhaps to myself, I can't remember exactly) that he doesn't care whether I lived or died. Immediately a verse shot through my head: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Ps. 116:15, ESV). And right there and then in my car I started to weep. It was almost as if the Lord were saying to me personally, "Don't you EVER say that I don't care about you again!" How does one begin to explain these things? It wasn't even a verse I had intended to memorize--it was just a verse I had read had some time before and (to my shame) had forgotten afterward!

"Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord" (Ps. 139:4, NIV).

David Rudd said...

dan,

that's it. i think the best part of your answer is regarding God as the source of tongues. that does get to the heart of it.

there's a reason you're my favorite pyro...

Stefan said...

Barbara, Susan, Jugulum: Thanks for your comments. For me, those kinds of promptings have been providential "coincidences," often when I've been wrestling with trying to understand some fundamental teaching (redemptive history, the Holy Spirit). Sometimes, I've been in the church library, looking for a book on a particular topic, not found anything that appeared to be suitable, then stumbling upon some totally nondescript book that happens to be exactly what I needed to read.

Or check out this comment from a year ago, which kind of makes me cringe as I reread it, but oh well....

Saint and Sinner said...

I'd like to weigh in from the deep lurker row. . . You said "General revelation necessarily and by God's design informs and corrects our interpretation of special revelation." yikes. Did you mean that? In terms of the Calvin quote, he seemed to be saying the opposite. We look at nature thru the "spectacles of Scripture," not vice versa. I understand that God is revealing Himself in the "general" category, but to move beyond that general principle to actually say that the "general" corrects the "special," is a slippery slope- is it not? I.e., nature tells me that the universe is billions of years old, but special revelation corrects that idea and tells me that the Universe was created in 6 literal days, with the appearance of age. I hope that illustration made sense.

David Sheldon said...

djp - Yes, regarding Deut. 29:2-4. Thanks. It seems to me that this passage explicitly shows us (quite contrary to the historical claims of the "signs & wonders" crowd and the "healing" carrot of the word-faith folks) that miracles never ever ever have changed a human heart. Moses says "all Israel" that "experienced" these signs - "all Israel" - it never changed them. They never really "saw" the spiritual significance with their hearts "eyes." That would require a separate and distinct work of the Spirit.

DJP said...

I see your point, David, and it's a good one.

Everyday Mommy said...

Wonderful, meaty post Dan. Reminds me of a book my pastor gave me, "Decision Making & the Will of God" by Garry Friesen. Great book. Great post.

Jugulum said...

saint & sinner,

There are dangers, yeah. But general revelation inherently and appropriately affects the way we read special revelation.

Example: The things we know about the Sun by looking at it will influence the way we understand Biblical imagery that uses the Sun.

Benjamin Nitu said...

Dan, you said:
"The Bible, that is, uses blood, sheep, Roman government, tombs, eyesight, and other data from general revelation (GR), re-frames them, explains their significance, and adorns them with the Gospel.

General revelation gives enough data to damn us, but special revelation gives the specifics that puts the edge on the sword as it were; that convict us (cf. Romans 7:7-12), and then lead us to salvation (Romans 10:17)."


Great points!

It is only through God's special revelation that we can be saved:
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)

Susan said...

Providential "coincidences", Stefan?? That almost sounds like a oxymoron to me. No, I'm not being critical--on the contrary, I find it a bit amusing that you would coin this term this way! In a strange sense, it seems that this term embodies BOTH Arminian and Calvinistic theologies, if that were possible!

(All right, I'm really off topic now. Please don't pull the plug on me, O Mighty Pyro Leaders. I promise I will behave and post no more to this thread unless it is relevant.)

Stefan said...

Susan:

Well, because nothing's really a coincidence, is it? It's all by the hand of God. Hence the quotes around "coincidence."

Apparently, one of our pastors describes ocurrences like that as, "A coincidence...in a Calvinistic sense of the word."

Saint and Sinner said...

jugulum,

Good observation. Here's a question to see whether we are in agreement. If the sun appears round, but the Bible clearly said that it was square, and there were no difficulties with the manuscript evidence or translation, which revelation would weigh in as more authoritative to you? I'd doubt my ability to accurately discern the shape of the sun. Whenever people reference Psalm 19 as equating general and special revelation- I get nervous. The Psalm is clearly describing both as God's revelation, but the Psalm is designed to walk us from the lesser to the greater. Both are revelation from God, yet the special (Word) always corrects the general (nature). The general may "inform" or another word may be used, but the Word is God's more perfect revelation. I think the problem is likely more our flawed view than the clarity of the revelation, so possibly I'd concede some ground on that only. :)

Jugulum said...

Saint and Sinner,

Honestly? I would have far greater confidence in my ability to discern that the sun is round than in my ability to discern that the Scripture actually intends to teach that the physical shape of the sun is square. Seeing the shape of the sun is too straightforward. But...

Well, I would probably suspect that the passage was talking about something other than the shape that the sun takes in the sky--either some non-obvious physical sense, or some metaphorical sense.

When I used to post on TheologyWeb on in the natural sciences forum, my sig was "Scripture and reality are not in conflict. Orthodox interpretation is not Scripture, and scientific consensus is not reality." (Looking back... Ugh. I should have worked on that longer. It's not at all catchy or elegant.)

When I approach an apparent contradiction between physical evidence and Scripture, I don't have an automatic assumption that the problem is in how I'm interpreting the physical evidence. Both kinds of interpretation are prone to error in different ways... I have to take it on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes we're dealing with plain language and obscure data, other times we're dealing with plain data and obscure language. (However, I will say that I'm far more cautious about changing my understanding of Scripture than about changing my interpretation of science. Scripture is verbal communication, and is intended to be understood, generally--but I can't necessarily assume that a piece of physical data is supposed to be interpretable.)

Strong Tower said...

Jug The Science Guy-

I am still trying to figure something out. When Scripture declared that the Lord sits above the circle of the Earth, what could it have meant but that the earth was a sphere? If by above we meant axially centered at the equator, given the Earth was flat, then it would appear a circle, but when viewed from any other position it would diminish in circularity assuming elipticity eventually becoming a line segment. The only shape in space that appears a circle when viewed onmi-directionally is a sphere. Now, the Bible was correct before man could test even a theory of spheroidial shape.

As to solar centricity, though a little more obtuse, the Sun (Son) is described as the center around which others obey. In other words, the Earth obeys the Sun, a light unapproachable, a fixed orbit, circumspective of the Sun's soveriegnty over all the Earth's actions.

So, what I am confused about, is that since the revelation is in Scripture that both spheroidial and solar centrism were correct prior to their discovery, what led to the error if not the wrong approach of trying to clearify Scripture by fine-tuning it to natural revelation?

I agree with S&S. Going from the general to the Special will result in error which is what Romans 1 actually addresses. The Academics who opposed solar centricity and spheroidialism, were actually those who suppressed the truth in unrighteousness, though they knew the truth, or at least it could be discovered, but do to sin the natural can only yeild a confused message resulting in gods in the likeness of man and creeping things and the throwing off of the natural use of the proper means, i.e. Speical Revelation.

Jugulum said...

Hmm. I'll reply in two ways. The first is specific to the spherical earth and heliocentrism ideas. The second is more general.

1.) I don't buy it.

You're matching the sun with the Son and deciding that the Bible teaches heliocentrism? To my mind, that rivals anything that Catholics do with Scripture to try to find their doctrines of Mary.

As for "circle of the earth"... Maybe. IIRC, "sphere" is not the primary meaning of the Hebrew, but it could mean that. However, you ask what could it have mean but that the earth is a sphere? It shouldn't be hard to come up with a straight-forward possibility: That "circle of the earth" refers to the horizon. I really don't know--"sphere" might be the stronger reading. But it's not a shoo-in.

That kind of interpretation is very easy in hind-sight, but I see no reason to be confident that the passages should have been read that way, and were intended to. I'm not at all convinced that God intended to teach us that the earth is spherical and that the sun is the center of the solar system.

2.) I absolutely agree that reasoning from the general to the special is fraught with peril. But I was serious when I said that the general revelation necessarily affects our reading of the special revelation. It is quite literally impossible to pick up the text of Scripture and not read it in light of some aspects of general revelation--the proper translation from the original languages to Hebrew, or the basic knowledge of the world that the Bible assumes, like "what is the sun" and "what is a door".

And that example shows one of the perils on both sides: In the modern Western world we think of a door as a solid object, as opposed to an opening. Our perception of General Revelation would lead us astray here. But the solution to that involves more General Revelation! If we want to read Scripture well, we have to use the grammatico-historical method--which involves knowledge of history & language that we gain from outside Scripture. We have to learn about the cultural background if we want really solid exegesis. (That is part of why I said that the general "appropriately" affects our reading of the special.)

Examining the world around us may motivate us to re-examine our interpretations of Scripture. When that happens, it may help us to see that we were getting things wrong--or we may reaffirm our original interpretation. But "my current interpretation" is not sacrosanct. (And I say that even if you're right that we should have learned heliocentrism from Scripture.)

(P.S. Why should our fallenness affect our reading of general revelation more than it affects our reading of special revelation? Doesn't it impact both?)

Strong Tower said...

That kind of interpretation is very easy in hind-sight

Exactly-

But it is a hindsight the lines up perfectly with the facts. I wondered about this too, (sorry about using not using helio), my bad. In the case of the sphere, my point was that even if the strongest meaning lexographically is circle, it cannot mean that.

It was the Academics, that is the Catholics that were the ones at fault at first. What I was saying is that the reality, even though it is a stretch, can be seen in Scripture. I recognized it, true in hindsight, but it was there.

I am not saying that the Scripture would have or could have been read that way, what I am saying is that it was a spiritual decision made from interpretation, and it was wrong. And though the interpretation that we can find now, was not found then, it was there all along. What further obscured it was the appeal to natural revelation. By the way, the Earth, or world, kosmos contains a meaning that is similar to a hairy covering, and refers to the people. Like many other things in Scripture, Earth can be interpreted as man, or men, or nations. In the wilderness the tribes were arranged around the fire in the middle like satelites, and where ever it went, so did they. Yes it seems a stretch but then again, it has a real familiar feel to it.

To your last PS.

I said as much. Sin clouds our view of a spiritual interpretation of both. However, the Special was given to correct the former, not the other way around. The first preceded the written which was given to explain what was wrong with the first. The reason we are less likely to miss use the Special is the operation of Spirit which is given to instruct us in the latter, not the former. Jesus said, "When the Holy Spirit comes, He will instruct you in all that I have said." That Jesus used natural revelation with Nicodemus, does not mean that the natural can alway explain or give insight, but it can be used as example, and the OT is rife with birth descriptions which Nicodemus should have already understood by Special Revelation. What Jesus pointed to in the sending of the Spirit, he said aoubt Genesis to Revelation. There are some other things that even from the literal text, it could not have been understood except by the Spirit, such as Israel the Son coming out of Egypt. Or Israel His First Born. It doesn't come from reading the text. It comes from an understanding given to the writers by the Spirit. In the case of a heliocentric solar system, it was a decision of the church made about a spiritual matter. Their appeal was not to the Book alone. Like the comtemporary teachers of Nicodemus' time, they had laddle meaning on top of the revelation not belonging to it. Instead of withholding finality in a doctrinal matter they used faulty data.

Now the last Pope issued a paper declaring Evolution to be the truth based upon current science in the same manner. The interpretation of the text being subjected to nature. How will that ever be settled? It won't be scientifically, but as a matter of doctrinal decision, where do we look, where alone should we? If there is nothing more clear than we have within the text, we should be settled upon the text, unless we are to capitulate and admit we don't know but just believe.

I would grant that physical science might give clarity, but my presumption is that if it is a matter of doctrinal discernment for the knowledge of the faith or practice, when going to the text what Paul told Timothy holds, Scripture is God breathed and given so that the man of God is fully equipped. I don't see anywhere in there that says the natural revelation was given for that purpose.