History and general revelation

As my posts concerning the work of both Douglas Campbell and Samuel V. Adams show, I am not convinced by their apocalyptic theology.  I like the idea of apocalyptic that stresses that God’s salvation is not just about the individual “going to heaven” but about something cosmic.

The apocalyptic theologians seem to agree with that.  But they go further and call for a theology that excludes any revelation that is not directly related to special revelation in Jesus.  Especially, they do not think history is where God gets revealed.  This is part of their rejection of the category of general revelation.  (Reformed theology has often treated God’s self disclosure under the two categories, special revelation and general revelation.)

Rather than continuing to critique their views, I want to just clarify and defend my view that God does reveal his character and grace in history, particularly the history of Israel.

This does not mean that history itself is God’s self disclosure.  I take it that Hegel thought that history was just the working out of the divine mind.  The modern doctrine of progress sometimes implies that history and evolution constitute a moral and spiritual progression with divine guidance so that the present is always closer to God than the past.  This leads to the call to get on the right side of history.

However, human sin makes history an arena of struggle.  Sometimes there is progress. But sometimes there is regression.

I am saying that God is revealed in certain historical people, relationships and events.  The exodus, the covenant, the prophets, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus constitute examples.

Rudolph Bultmann’s interpretation of the resurrection of Jesus is an example of the opposite of this.  Bultmann did not believe the resurrection happened on the plane of history.  It was subjective.  It happened in the faith of the believer.  The early Karl Barth seemed to take this view as well.  But he later affirmed that the resurrection did happen in space and time.  However, Barth and other neo-orthodox theologians seemed to create a special redemptive history separate from regular history.

There is another line of thought that runs from Gerhard von Rad through Wolfhart Pannenberg that connects regular history with divine revelation.  This affirmed something I think is essential.  Theology cannot hide in a special history not open to investigation like other history.  However, Pannenberg’s theory became so complicated that it was hard to understand.  If you want to grapple with his theology I recommend God and the Future: Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Eschatological Doctrine of God by Christiaan Mostert.

I am not going to blog through that book, though.  I am still lost in the complexity of Pannenberg’s thinking.

It seems more helpful to understand the arguments in favor of general revelation.

Karl Barth strongly opposed general revelation as taught by Emil Brunner.  His opposition is at the base of the apocalyptic theology of J. Loius Martyn, Douglas Campbell and Samuel V. Adams.  It is worth going back and reading Brunner himself.  He makes a lot of sense to me.

Even more helpful is the work of G. C. Berkouwer who studied Barth with appreciation but then  still affirmed general revelation.  See his work General Revelation.

Also helpful is the work of James Barr.  I blogged through his Gifford Lectures  Biblical Faith and Natural Theology in which he takes Barth to task (see this post and those that followed.)

But Barr also has a way of talking about revelation in history that I understand better than I understand Pannenberg.  In his Old and New in Interpretation, he differed from Pannenberg by offering a model of revelation as “cumulative tradition”.  I understand him to say that history provides a field of growing tradition by which we grasp both God’s acts in the past and the expected acts of God in the future.

The problem people see with revelation in history is that history is the story of human action.  It is usually where man acts rather than God.  But I am convinced that in the Hebrew Bible and on into the New Testament we have a story about a real relationship between God and people.  It is a story of struggle with both defeats and rescues.  There is divine abandonment and divine intervention.   It all culminates in the story of Jesus.

So we have what Barr would call a “cumulative tradition”.  It is not a special salvation history closed to regular history.  It has points of contact with regular history. It takes place in the same matrix of space and time.  It is not a completed revelation.  Now we only know partially.  But it is building toward something more.  There is a future where we may know completely (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to History and general revelation

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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