Revelation, be it in nature, within ourselves, or inscripturated in a book, is always God’s prerogative. It always comes from God, and man is designed to receive it. Man is not the one who starts with himself and discovers God in the universe, rather God discloses himself, and man ought to take immediate notice of God’s self-revelation.
Let me start with a basic definition of general revelation: General Revelation is God’s self-disclosure in nature and in the psychological aspects of man.
The Range of the Revealed
I am not saying that the physical aspects of man are not revelatory, they are, but I include those within the general heading of nature. So material nature and also our psychology are both revelatory of the Triune God, the God who reveals himself in the Scriptures. They are not revelatory of any other god for the simple reason that there is no other god who can reveal himself, and therefore the revelation that we see is the revelation that we ought to ascribe to our Creator.
Because of the connections between the human psyche and nature, the material world (what God has made) is revelational, not the other way round. This brings together the fact of divine revelation with the expectancy for divine revelation. We know that God has revealed Himself because He has told as in His Scriptures and He’s put it all around us. We expect that God reveals Himself in the world because of what He’s told us about Himself.
The Second Person is the revealing Logos of God, the Word of God. As He is the par excellenceverbal revelation of God, then we should fully expect to receive a verbal announcement from Him as His creatures. Therefore, the necessity of Scripture and the rationale for Scripture are brought together in the Logos. The necessity of Scripture comes about because of the discordance between God and sinners. The rationale for Scripture stems from the need for a permanent record of God’s word about Himself and creation to fallen humanity. These can be viewed in the Person of Christ.
Moving from the Logos Doctrine to general revelation helps us to keep ourselves on the right path regarding the latter. As we will see, there are many evangelicals who have taken wrong paths, the paths congregating around natural theology. But personal revelation, wrapped up in the Triune God, is built into what He has made, and His reason also for making it, and this personal element is woven into the ongoing plan of God we see in history. Carl Henry wrote,
While nature has no will of its own, no capacity for moral choice, its forms and structures are nonetheless given and sustained by the Logos of God. Pervaded by God’s divine presence and power, it is an intelligible order serving moral purposes and a realm of providential fulfillment. (Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority – Vol. 2, 97)
We ought to expect this if we have our doctrine right, because God is personal and has made earth as an environment suitable for us—not just suitable to live and breathe in, but an environment that is suitable for us to investigate and to marvel in.
Therefore, when we look at a tree, a flower, or a summer sky, we’re seeing something that is personally given to us, personally fashioned for our delight. Therefore, when we look at the movement of history, the God who made the tree and the sunset is the God who guides history. “Yes” in a fallen world, “yes” in a world that is full of evil, and yet there is goodness in it and this God can be seen even in the darkness by those of us who have been given light by the Holy Spirit, on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.
Still Biblical Revelation
The thing that we need to realize straightaway is that general, or if you like “natural” revelation, has got to be incorporated within a biblical viewpoint; it is not something that we have discovered and named. “General Revelation,” although we give it that name, is revealed to us through the Word of God. It is revealed to us for what it is.
Because of the Fall, the sinfulness of man, and the noetic effects of sin upon our minds, we cannot see nature for what it really is; neither can we look within ourselves and see ourselves for what we are, and when we try to do that without reference to God’s revelation in Scripture, then we come away with idolatry and with an illusion.
Hence, general revelation is not the extraction and articulation of certain facts which lie strewn uninterpreted around men – it is psychological as well as natural, historical as well as psychological; it impregnates everything that we are and all of the environment and circumstances that we find ourselves in. This is why Van Til said famously, “creatures have no private chambers.” What he meant by that was simply that God’s revelation is all around us, confronting us, shouting at us, and expecting a proper response from us. We must not fool ourselves—not even us Christians—that we reason from the world to the existence of some kind of god.
The central idea within the doctrine is laid out below:
The knowledge of God is inherent in man. It is there by virtue of his creation in the image of God. God witnessed to them through every fact of the universe from the beginning of time; no rational creature can escape this witness. It is the witness of the Triune God whose face is before men everywhere all the time, even though lost in the hereafter, cannot escape the revelation of God. God made man a rational moral creature, he will always be that. As such, he is confronted with God, he is addressed by God. To not know God, man would have to destroy himself; he cannot do this. There is no non-being into which man can slip in order to escape God’s face and voice. (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 172)
We’re not saying that man has the potential to acknowledge God as He is through general revelation alone. Rather, we’re saying that man actually knows God and in a certain sense already acknowledges God, although (always if he is unsaved) in a negative way; always by running away from God. This acknowledging God’s presence is by virtue of general revelation.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.