Missiological Musings on “Missio Dei”

Posted in missiology, preaching by Nathan Creitz on February 4, 2009

hubble_imageThe Role of General Revelation in the missio dei

General revelation (G.R.) is the idea that God has made Himself known through the created order and through human conscience. Special revelation (S.R.) is the specific and necessary revelation found in the Bible and in the incarnation of Jesus. According to my professor, there are some who believe that G.R. has no role to play in drawing people to God. Their view is that it is only after one has heard about Jesus that they realize that God was at work all along.

We also talked about the preparatio evangelica that is found in religions and philosophies of the world. In other words, there is a debate whether or not God can use the (t)ruths of, say, Buddhism, to prepare them for THE (T)ruth. Dr. Tennent gave an example of new Christians in India who would either witness to the role Hinduism played in opening their eyes to the Truth or would say once they became a Christian they wanted to have nothing to do with their Hindu faith because it was so destructive.


It seems difficult to me to suggest that G.R. has nothing to do with bringing people to salvific access to God. Simply to mention one example from Scripture, Paul says, “From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” (Romans 2:20) Some argue that Paul is writing from the perspective of having S.R. so now He is able to see the G.R. that was there all along. The text flat out rejects that notion by saying people are without excuse precisely because they should’ve sought after God from what could be known from the created order. Paul is writing about people who haven’t had S.R. but could clearly see the G.R. of God and rejected it.

Since G.R. is accessible to every person, of every time, in every place, many people have developed philosophies and religions that incorporate some of the wisdom that arose from what can be understood about God. This is not a saving knowledge of God, but it certainly points to a God who saves. As a result, religions have arisen that contain a modicum of truth. God is often seen to be just. He is often recognized as creator and often, people obey many of God’s laws simply because of their conscience (but not always). Therefore, when someone comes to Christ, often they recognize how God was drawing them to Him all along.

Therefore, when it comes to the new Hindu Christians who had a personal experience and either accepted or rejected the role that their philosophy played in their salvation, there is no evidence to oppose G.R.’s role in the eventual salvation of those new Christians. One group actually bears witness to the valid role of G.R. but the other doesn’t explicitly refute it. It is simply their experience that G.R. didn’t play a role in their lives, but it can’t therefore be determined that G.R. never plays a role in people’s lives.

I was a bit surprised that people have a hard time believing that God can use creation and conscience to draw people to Himself. In my view, even the philosophies of this world, though fallen, still bear the marks of a loving Creator. On a very broad level, why would we even have so many religions if there wasn’t a God? So people’s beliefs that there is a God (or gods) has led them to create a man-made religion. Even barbaric practices like human sacrifice in ancient pagan religions reveals that people thought God required a “propitiation” for their sins. Their beliefs were tainted making God vindictive rather than just, but the sense was innate that they had done something wrong that angered God. Many other examples could be given, but the truth is that we live in a world created by a God who left His fingerprints everywhere.

What do you think? Are we overemphasizing the role the General Revelation plays in people coming to know God?


One Response

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  1. Rob French said, on February 4, 2009 at 5.54 pm

    I think a couple of point are trivially demonstrable. From Scripture, we can easily conclude that SR, in the form of the knowledge of Jesus Christ in the gospel, is necessary for salvation. On the other hand, common sense shows us that some amount of GR is also necessary for salvation (though not sufficient in and of itself). After all, the translation of the Scriptures into other languages, or even our ability to communicate with other people, are heavily dependent on GR.

    I agree that fallen humankind bears the marks of our Creator and the vestiges of our created purposes. Likewise, the institutions we create will reflect some truths about God and ourselves. However, I would argue that the conclusion of Paul’s thoughts in Romans 1/2 is specifically this: mankind -is- accountable to God solely on the basis of GR, because creation is -sufficient- to reveal God’s basic character and man’s basic responsibility. However, the reaction of -all- mankind–absent the effectual calling of the Spirit–is to reject this truth. We don’t like to be held accountable, as most of us should willingly agree when we examine even our own interpersonal relationships.

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