The skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “In the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? Christianity, Judaism, Islam, are all theistic faiths in contrast to pantheism (all is God), polytheism (many gods), and atheism (without God).The study of world religions involves a commitment to understand the issue of divine revelation. Most religious claims say that there is a God who took the initiative to reveal himself to an individual or a group of people who later recorded it in a group of writings or sacred texts. Let me offer a small outline on this issue and then look at some complaints by those who are not religious and some responses.
1. A Being capable of giving a revelation: God
2. A being capable of receiving a revelation: Man
3. A medium that is used for the revelation: (The created order, a messenger, the Bible, Jesus, etc.)
A. Divine Revelation: There are three things for a revelation to take place:
Biblically speaking, the acceptance of revelation is of fundamental importance to the Christian faith. The word “revelation” comes from the Greek word ” apokalupsis” which means “an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.”
The mediums God uses in the Bible are general revelation (Creation; –Romans 1:20 ;Conscience; Rom. 2:12-15); Special Revelation: physical appearances of God (Genesis 3:8, 18:1; Exodus 3:1-4 34:5-7 ) dreams (Genesis 28:12, 37:5; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2 ) visions (Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 8:3-4; Daniel 7; 2 Corinthians 12:1-7), the written Word of God (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17); Prophecy (Isaiah 41:21-24; 42:8-9), and most importantly—Jesus (John 3:16; 14:9; Colossians 2:9; Heb. 1:1-2), and Messengers (Acts 10:30-33).
But why the need for revelation? First, we need to know the character of God. Hence, we need a clear communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like? Also, we need a revelation to understand the origin of evil. Thus, we need to be educated concerning the reasons for where we are at as a human race. Furthermore, without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God. And without a clear revelation we wouldn’t know our destiny.
The skeptic constantly assumes that if they could just see God directly or if God would give them an unmistakable sign that He is there, they would bow their knee and follow Him. Sadly, this is misguided on several levels. God declares, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). However, there seems to be other texts that indicate people did see God. Even in Exodus 33:11 Moses speaks to God “face to face.” Obviously, “face to face” is a figure of speech which means they were in close communion or conversation.
Also, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob saw God appearing as an angel. But he did not truly see God. In Genesis 18:1, it says the Lord appeared to Abraham. Obviously, there are other cases where God appears in various forms. But this is not the same thing as seeing God directly with all His glory and holiness. It is evident that people can’t see God in all His fullness (Exodus 33:20). If they did, they would be destroyed. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God and he shows the world who God is (Heb. 1:1).
B. Challenges to the Revelation Model: The Outsider Complaint
1. Skeptics say there is no way to test a revelatory model. Religious people just “have faith.” It is blind and can’t be held to any empirical testing.
2. Competing revelatory models: Is there one God who gives a clear revelation? Or is there a God, or god who gives conflicting and contradictory revelations?
3. If religious people start with their Holy Book (The Bible, The Quran, The Book of Mormon), they are begging the question that there is a God who is able to give a revelation. Also, how do they know that it is their God or god that has given the correct revelation?
4. The scientific/naturalism objection: In his book Kingdom Triangle, J.P Moreland has noted that the majority of academia has convinced a gullible public into thinking that science/naturalism is the only way to arrive at knowledge. Therefore, theology can’t give us knowledge and is cast off into the domain of subjective opinion, etc. What is wrong with this?
5. Fideism: This objection is somewhat similar to #1. If we stick to the revelation model, this approach leads to fideism. Religious fideism asserts that faith and religious belief are not supported by reason. One must simply believe. Faith, not reason, is what God requires (Heb. 11:6). Many skeptics can speak from experience that Christians and other people from religious backgrounds don’t feel compelled to offer rational justification for belief.
C. The Revelation Model: A Response
1. ” There is no way to test a revelatory model”
Response: I agree that there needs to be a healthy skepticism towards revelatory claims. After all, if someone comes to my door tomorrow and tells me they have a new revelation that I need to submit to, I will probably be a bit skeptical. But the bulk of this complaint is based on a view that says unless we can empirically verify something, we just scrap it. The empirical view came to be seen as too narrow and self-defeating since on this ground the principle of empirical verifiability was not empirically verifiable itself. Therefore, it is meaningless as well.
The verification principle has broadened out to other kinds of verification tests such as experiential, historical, and eschatological.
When it comes to historical arguments, we ask if God has revealed Himself in the course of human history? If so, when and where has He done this? We can look at religious texts and see if they pass the tests for historicity. Thus, we enter the domain of historical apologetics.
For example, former atheist Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen (see There Is A God? How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind(New York: Harper Collins, 2007). Another aspect of the historical argument is the argument from prophecy. Fulfilled prophecy does not prove the existence of God, but it does show that events predicted in his Name that come to pass are evidence of his special activity. When we look at the resurrection of Jesus, we can ask what is the best explanation for:
- The death of Jesus. Note: not many debate whether Jesus actually died by Roman crucifixion. Mostly Muslims disagree (Quran was written 600-640 years after NT).
- Jesus appeared to many individuals and groups after he died.
- Paul, once a persecutor, became a follower of Jesus.
- The empty tomb.
- Why James, once an unbeliever, came to faith in Jesus.
- How and why the Jesus movement got started and continued on after the death of Jesus. Could it have continued without a resurrection?
- Why the early followers of Jesus changed their devotional practice to include Jesus (he was worshiped, honored, prayed to, etc).
2. Objection #2 and #3: Conflicting Revelatory Claims?
Response: This is why we have what is called apologetics-offering reasons for what we believe. When do this, we can ask the following questions:
1. What is the claim of each religion? 2. How does it claim to know it? 3. What is the evidence for it?
When we do this, we will see that while there are some similarities in faiths such as truth, a God, a right and wrong, spiritual purpose in life, and communion with God, they all also have some glaring differences such as the nature of God, the afterlife, the nature of man, sin, salvation, and creation. As a Christian, I don’t think God wants the world to be confused. If God wants the world to know Him, it seems to me that he would give a clear revelation to humanity.
To assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Furthermore, what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800’s (Mormonism and the Watchtower Society) that both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim. If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being. We see in Scripture that the God of Israel is a rational being, principles of good reason do flow from his very nature. For example, “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18), and God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13).
In my view, we should follow the guidelines as seen in the book Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective, by Norman L. Geisler and and Paul D. Feinberg. They say the following about the relationship between revelation and reason:
(1) “Reason is over revelation” is correct in that reason is epistemologically prior to revelation. The alleged revelation must be tested by reason. (2) “Revelation is over reason” is right in the ontological sense. God created reason and it must be His servant, not His master. (3) “Revelation only” is correct in the sense that ultimately and ontologically all truth comes from God. (4) “Reason only” has some truth, since reason must judge epistemologically whether the alleged revelation is from God. (5) “Revelation and reason” is correct because it properly assigns a role to each and shows their interrelationship. One should reason about and for revelation, otherwise he has an unreasonable faith. Likewise, reason has no guide without a revelation and flounders in error.
3. Response to #4: The science and naturalism objection:
We can look at cosmology, biology, physics, and other fields of science to detect design. As we observe the world around us, there are two kinds of causes- natural and intelligent. When we take this approach, we can show that it requires some faith to think blind, undirected, natural processes (as a mechanism) can fully answer the issue of anticipatory, specified, and irreducible complexity.
Also, while the Christian worldview is not opposed to science, it does recognize the limitations of science in relation to the discovery of human knowledge. In some cases, scientism tends to reduce all legitimate knowledge (epistemology) to the scientific method. Therefore, this form of science ends up committing the reductive fallacy by taking one area of study and reduces all reality to this one area alone. Furthermore, to assert that all truth claims must be scientifically verifiable is a philosophical assumption rather than a scientific statement.
4. #5-The Fideism objection:
The Church needs to take responsibility for this problem. How many sermons or classes have ever discussed a clear definition of Biblical faith? There have been three aspects of faith expressed throughout church history: notitia (knowledge), fiducia (trust), and assensus (assent). Notitia refers to the data or doctrinal element of faith. Assensus refers to the assent of the intellect of the truth of the Christian faith. According to the book of James, the demons have intellectual assent to the fact that God exists but not have saving faith. That is why a person must exercise fiducia- this is the aspect of faith that involves the application or trust in the faith process. In other words, fiducia allows a person to go beyond merely intellectual assent. Fiducia involves the will, emotion, and intellect. Therefore, biblical faith involves a commitment of the whole person.
D. Some Reasons Why I Still Think Revelation is Needed:
1. Many people don’t have a developed theory of knowledge. Why? Because they don’t have the time or haven’t thought about it. Furthermore, people make rational statements and believe a number of things without doing an exhaustive evaluation of the evidence. Alvin Plantinga thinks belief in God properly basic. Although I don’t think everything about the Plantinga model is correct, there may be some truth to this.
2. The Effects of Sin: Biblically speaking, revelation is needed because of sin. Sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. In other words, sin affects the whole person—mind, emotions, and will. Human beings are radically depraved in their being.People can and do harden their hearts towards God. Sometimes they can reach the point where they are desensitized towards the ways of God. Human beings are radically depraved in their being. Another way to say this is that they are extensively affected by sin. But humans are not totally depraved in an intensive sense, since sin does not destroy the image of God (see Gen. 9:6; James 3:9). God’s image is effaced but not erased. (1)
3. Aquinas on the need for Revelation: I think our buddy Thomas Aquinas offered a good case for the need for revelation. He set forth five reasons why we must first believe what we may later be able to provide good evidence for (Maimonides, 1.34):
1. The object of spiritual understanding is deep and subtle, far removed from sense perception.
2. Human understanding is weak as it fights through these issues.
3. A number of things are needed for conclusive spiritual proof. It takes time to discern them.
4. Some people are disinclined to rigorous philosophical investigation.
5. It is necessary to engage in other occupations besides philosophy and science to provide the necessities of life (On Truth, 14.10, reply).
Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.”
Elsewhere, Aquinas lists three basic reasons why divine revelation is needed.
1. Few possess the knowledge of God, some do not have the disposition for philosophical study, and others do not have the time or are indolent.
2. Time is required to find the truth. This truth is very profound, and there are many things that must be presupposed. During youth the soul is distracted by “the various movements of the passions.”
3. It is difficult to sort out what is false in the intellect. Our judgment is weak in sorting true from false concepts.
Those are my thoughts for today. Have a nice weekend.
1. Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999, 540.