Prepared to Give a Reason (Part 3) - God and revelation
This post was originally written on the blog for Summit Church - West Club Campus
Hello fellow West Clubbers,
This is the third post in a series related to an upcoming class on apologetics that I'll be teaching. This week, we'll briefly examine the concepts of general and special revelation and how they relate to apologetics.
Objection 3: No one can really know whether God exists or what He is like.
Katie and some friends are studying for a chemistry final in one of their dorm's common rooms. While taking a break, Katie's friend Beth says "This test is going to be really hard. Can you guys send some positive energy my way? I know it will help." Katie offers to pray for her friends, but Beth makes a dismissive gesture. "It's fine if you believe in god, but I don't think he is some old bearded man in the sky. The god I believe in is a force of love and goodness that lives in all of us. There's no point in praying to it." How should Katie answer?
First, there are a number of very good arguments for the existence of God that can be made from natural theology, the study of God's general revelation to all of humanity - in nature and through our conscience. In Romans 1, Paul tells us that God's invisible qualities like his power and glory can be known from the natural world. For instance, the Cosmological Argument reasons that because the universe began to exist, there must be some uncaused First Cause which gave rise to the universe. The Teleological Argument reasons that the evidence of purposeful design in everything from the fundamental constants of physics, the astronomical properties of Earth, and the complexity of life demands the existence of a Creator. The Moral Argument reasons that if objective moral values like good and evil exist, then they must be grounded in the existence of a morally perfect Being. Christians should be familiar enough with these arguments to present them in casual conversation as points which cannot be satisfactorily explained by atheism, but are easily explained by theism. In our class, we'll look in detail at some of these arguments.
However, there is a much more important issue at stake in the conversation I sketched above. Christians have long recognized that God communicates not only through general revelation in nature, but through special revelation in Scripture. The Bible contains the words of God and is therefore a far more reliable guide to truth about God than what is revealed in nature. The reason the doctrine of Scripture is so important is that many people reject the idea that we can have any true knowledge of God. According to many modern conceptions, God is merely a philosophical theorem or a helpful personal belief. The idea that God is a God who speaks, a God who reveals himself to his Creation and desires to be known by human beings, is quite foreign to many modern people. In the absence of any special revelation, we are left with complete subjectivity with regard to God's character. Phrases like "my God would never do X" or "The God I believe in is like Y" seem perfectly normal, even to some Christians. How do we go about introducing the idea of special revelation to non-Christians?
I would begin by pointing out the instability and uncertainty of any belief in God that is not rooted in Scripture. When a non-Christian friend says "The God I believe in is like X," we should answer "How do you know that?" This question may honestly be one that they have never considered. If they appeal to their emotions or to their subjective intuition, we could ask "Do you think that there have ever been people in history who have had false ideas about God? If their intuitions were not reliable, then how do you know that yours are?" We could also use an illustration from everyday life. Imagine trying to have a friendship with a person who never communicated with you. On the one hand, you would be free to craft your friend's personality to meet your needs. On the other hand, there would be no way for them to actually relate to you in any meaningful way. In the end, a friend who never communicated with you would not be much different than an imaginary friend.
But what if the God who formed the stars, knit you together in your mother's womb, and who numbers the hairs on your head could speak to you? What if He could relate to you personally? This idea is both attractive and terrifying. The problem with the God of the Bible is that he is a living God. We have no veto power over his character; He is who He is and we owe him complete allegiance. Yet the Bible goes well beyond what other religions claim about a revealing God. If God is personal, then the ultimate revelation of his character would be found in a person. Christianity claims that that person is Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, who completely reveals God's holy and loving character. In contrast to popular conceptions of religion, which allow us to fashion a god of our own making, Christianity presents us with a God who reveals, speaks, and even comes personally to us. The God of the Bible is a God that we can know, with whom we can have a real relationship.
Obviously, this argument does not attempt to show that Christianity is true. But it does explain why, if Christianity is true, we can have real objective knowledge of God's character. The last objection a non-Christian could raise is how we can have objective knowledge of God when there have been so many different interpretations of the Bible. If God reveals himself to us, then why isn't there any consensus among Christians as to who God is? Although non-Christians probably greatly exaggerate the degree of disagreement among Christians, I would not raise this point. Instead, I would grant his objection for the sake of argument and would simply invite my friend to study the Bible together with me. The goal, as in all apologetic conversations, is to bring the non-Christian to Jesus. Rather than arguing about which interpretation is correct, simply open up the Bible and study God's revelation together, praying that God would speak to both of you as you read his Word.
If you'd like more information on the argument for God's existence from natural theology, I highly recommend the debates of Dr. William Lane Craig, especially the recent one with physicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss held at NCState. We'll also be studying the traditional arguments for the existence of God and the doctrine of Scripture during our upcoming four-week course on apologetics, which starts July 11th. RSVP to neil -AT- shenvi.org for more details.
If anyone reading this essay has questions about it or about Christianity in general, feel free to e-mail me at Neil -AT- Shenvi.org. I also highly recommend the book The Reason for God by Tim Keller and would be happy to send you a copy for free if you email me your mailing address.