Re: The state of suburban theology

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Mon Jun 21 2004 - 15:39:33 EDT

George had wondered concerning the nature of our difference concerning

> whether there really has been
> anything corresponding to the traditional idea of "special revelation." Or
> is what has been regarded as that just "selected human apprehensions of
> God" - i.e., instances of general revelation (or what has been perceived as
> such) that some people have been particularly aware of?

I responded:

>> Good question. But before I respond it would be helpful to me to know your
>> definitions of both "special revelation" and "general revelation,"
>> including reference to the manner in which both the means and content of
>> these two categories of revelation might differ.

George again:

> 1st a caveat: I'm dubious myself about the concept of "general
> revelation" but make use of it here in the sense in which it's understood by
> those who do find it of value.
> General revelation is supposed to convey knowledge of God (personal
> or propositional) in a way that is, in principle, available to everyone
> everywhere. In that sense it would be like the experience of the world that
> is assumed by science. Special revelation, OTOH, is only supposed to be
> received by certain people in certain situations, and is available to others
> only through the witness of the original recipients. E.g., some would
> interpret the 1st part of Ps.19 ("The heavens declare the glory of God...")
> as speaking about general revelation & the 2d part (which praises "the law
> of YHWH") as having to do with special revelation - i.e., that which took
> place at Sinai.
> As far as content is concerned, I think Pollard's distinction is
> helpful: General revelation involves an "I-It" relationship while special
> revelation is an "I-Thou" encounter.
> E.g., one might say that general experience of the world & knowledge
> of things like natural selection reveal that "God suffers with the world."
> But unless one has a more fleshed out concept of God, that's rather
> abstract. How does an "It" suffer. OTOH, to say that the cross of Christ
> reveals that God suffers with the world means that God suffers in some way
> that is at least analogous to our suffering, because the claim is based on
> the human suffering & death of Jesus.
> But it can be more complicated than that, because the cross of
> Christ can be adduced as one example of a general truth - as Whitehead,
> e.g., seems to do.

So, do I think there has been anything like "special revelation" or do I
place what has traditionally been called 'special revelation' in the
category of "selected human apprehensions of God"?

First: I am dubious about the distinction between "general revelation" and
"special revelation." To put it very broadly, it reminds me far too much of
the distinction between "supernatural" and "natural" action categories,
which I and many others on this list find theologically problematic.

Second: It seems to me that we need to make a strong distinction between a
person's actual experience of God and written reports of that experience of
the sort found in the Bible. The latter are necessarily "selected human
apprehensions of God." Furthermore, I see no basis for treating these
reports as infallible.

If "special revelation" is equated to what we find in the biblical text (as
often was done in my Calvinist upbringing) then, yes, I would be inclined to
re-label it as "selected human apprehensions of God."

Howard Van Till
Received on Mon Jun 21 15:59:57 2004

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