The General Revelation of God
After briefly introducing the concept of revelation within Christian theology, this chapter first explores the problem of talking about God in our secular world, particularly about the objections to God-talk, especially from the atheistic position. The chapter then proceeds to discuss what Christian theologians call "the general revelation of God." This type of revelation is based on the natural knowledge of God which is generally or universally available to all human beings. The chapter investigates various objections to such knowledge, most especially those within atheistic critiques of both religion and God. The chapter then describes the principal positions that Christian theologians have taken regarding the possibility of a natural knowledge of God.
For a general orientation to the problem of God and divine revelation: ABD 2:1041-55 ("God" [Scullion, Bassler]); EC 4:672-77 ("Revelation" [Antes, Sykes]); ER 5:3537-60 ("God" [Sperling et al.]); ODCC 688-91 ("God"); OHPT 30-53 ("Revelation and Inspiration" [Davis]); OHST 325-44 ("Revelation" [Quash]; RPP 1:478-80 ("Atheism II-III: Church History and Philosophy of Religion" [Dietz, Clayton]); RPP 5:459-75 ("God" [Zinser et al.]); RPP 9:55-57 ("Natural Theology" [Link; cf. EC 3:709-11]); RPP 11:165-75 ("Revelation III-V: Old Testament, New Testament, Christianity" [Kaiser et al.])
For recent analysis of the problem of God and divine revelation in the more important textbooks of dogmatics: SCF §§ 3-11; Aulén 30-65; Barth 1/2 §17; Elert §§2-5, 8, 22-25; Brunner 1:117-36; Tillich 1:106-59; Weber 1:199-227; Macquarrie 43-58; Rahner 44-71, 138-321; BJ 1:197-264 (Sponheim); Thielicke 2:1-258; Gilkey 39-107; Hall 1:402-27; 2:43-72; Pannenberg 1:63-257; Migliore 20-43; Jenson 1:42-60; ICT 49-76.
For older understandings of the subject of theology, divine revelation, and natural theology: Aquinas 1a:2; 12.12; 2b:92-94; on Luther (Althaus 15-24; Lohse 196-218); Calvin 1:43-69; on Lutheran Orthodoxy (Schmidt 21-38); on Reformed Orthodoxy (Heppe 1-11)
What is the object of Christian theology? What does the discipline study? According to the definition given in the previous chapter, the object of theology is not "God" as God is in God's essence or mere Christian faith (believing in God through Christ) but the revelation of God, the world, and of human beings in the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ. This definition presupposes that God is not an empirical object like any other object in the world. God is beyond human observation. God "dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Tim. 6:16). God is such that God cannot be seen or known as an object of human perception. "No one has ever seen God" (Jn 1:18). Because God is the creator and source of all things, God is not one more "thing" in the universe. While human beings may try to raise themselves to the place of God, God is beyond their reach. They cannot raise themselves to the level or dimension of God, and all attempts to do so end in failure and sin. (Surely this is one of the theological conclusions one may legitimately draw from the story of the Tower of Babel in Gen. 11.) God transcends all things, even numbers, such as the number one. God is certainly not open to scientific verification or human manipulation. While Christians believe that God is real, they do not believe God is real in the same way that created reality is real.
Moreover, Christians believe that no mortal creature can know God directly in God's essential being. God remains ultimately incomprehensible, also for the Christian believer, whose knowledge is always time-bound and thus inherently open to revision. As the psalmist put the matter, the knowledge that God has "is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it" (Ps. 139:6). The apostle Paul echoed that claim: "We now see dimly in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as...