This post is a chapter from Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book, 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith available for purchase from our store. This resource makes for a great teaching tool in local churches, especially for catechesis purposes. We’re featuring a chapter each week in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the book and share it with others as well.
God has made himself known to us in acts of personal self-disclosure. This self-disclosure occurs in two major ways, known as general revelation and special revelation. General revelation refers to all the ways God has universally made himself known to all people in all places and in all times. General revelation, sometimes called natural or universal revelation, has occurred in two major ways. Those two ways are outwardly through the created order and inwardly in the universal presence of human conscience. First, God reveals his presence, character, and attributes through the created order. Through creation we understand that God is a God of order, beauty, and power.
Second, God reveals his presence and moral character through the presence of human conscience. Even though there are areas where people differ about what is right or wrong, the very presence of the categories of right and wrong demonstrate that we live in a moral order. Even young children demonstrate deeply imbedded notions of fairness and longings for justice, and we teach them to “be kind” as a virtue we instinctively value. When someone murders or steals, we all can testify to a sense of “wrongness.” Likewise, when someone acts sacrificially to help or serve another person or creature, they have a sense of “rightness” about such actions. All this testifies to the presence of a moral order.
Special revelation refers to all the ways God has made his nature and purposes known specifically to certain people at particular times, but which are not universally known. Special revelation also occurs in two major ways. The first is through the revelation of Holy Scripture. God has revealed his will, his character, and his purposes to specific people throughout time, and this revelation has been recorded in the Bible. This includes his mighty acts of deliverance, his miraculous interventions, and the specific revelation of his moral character, as in the Ten Commandments revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. The second is through the revelation of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. As noted in the previous meditation, it is through the incarnation of Jesus Christ that we come fully to understand who God is, his saving purposes, and his love. It is through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit that the purpose and will of God is applied to the life of the church and the individual believer. In the gospel of John it is declared that “no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18 esv).
Christianity is unique because in Christ, God seeks to reveal himself (not just his will). One of Islam’s greatest theologians, Al-Ghazali, famously declared that Allah does not reveal himself, he only reveals his will. In Christianity, we discover that God not only reveals his will, but he also seeks to reveal himself and calls us to know him in a personal way.
2 Timothy 3:16
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