Re: The state of suburban theology

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Tue Jun 22 2004 - 08:07:28 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "Howard J. Van Till" <>
To: "George Murphy" <>; <>
Sent: Monday, June 21, 2004 3:39 PM
Subject: Re: The state of suburban theology

> George had wondered concerning the nature of our difference concerning
> > whether there really has been
> > anything corresponding to the traditional idea of "special revelation."
> > is what has been regarded as that just "selected human apprehensions of
> > God" - i.e., instances of general revelation (or what has been perceived
> > 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
> >> definitions of both "special revelation" and "general revelation,"
> >> including reference to the manner in which both the means and content
> >> 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
> > 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
> > is assumed by science. Special revelation, OTOH, is only supposed to be
> > received by certain people in certain situations, and is available to
> > 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
> > as speaking about general revelation & the 2d part (which praises "the
> > of YHWH") as having to do with special revelation - i.e., that which
> > place at Sinai.
> > As far as content is concerned, I think Pollard's distinction is
> > helpful: General revelation involves an "I-It" relationship while
> > revelation is an "I-Thou" encounter.
> > E.g., one might say that general experience of the world &
> > of things like natural selection reveal that "God suffers with the
> > 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
> > reveals that God suffers with the world means that God suffers in some
> > that is at least analogous to our suffering, because the claim is based
> > 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
> the distinction between "supernatural" and "natural" action categories,
> which I and many others on this list find theologically problematic.

    I don't see that there needs to be such a correlation. God is active in
the lives of all people & the development of all cultures, not in place of
natural processes but in & with them (i.e., "naturally."). But one of the
things we come to realize is that, because of QM & chaos theory, God can act
in accord with the laws of physics & still have some freedom in how to act.
That being the case, I don't see in principle why God could not act in
distinctively revelatory ways in the history of Israel but not in the
histories of Greece, China, or Mesoamerica.
    (In saying this I do not rule out the possibility of miraculous aspects
of revelation at certain points - & a lot would depend on what is meant by

> 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
> 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 God is going to act in distinctively revelatory ways (as above), it's
not much of a stretch to think that God would also act to bring about
reasonably reliable (which is not to say necessarily infallible) & enduring
witnesses to such revelation.

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

    I would _not_ equate the Bible with special revelation, at least not in
a primary sense. The Bible is witness to, & earliest interpretation of,
revelation. I recall a bumper sticker I saw in Ames on a car driven by some
Iranian students: "The Qur'an - God's ultimate revelation." Unfortunately
the response of too many Christians to something like that is to say "The
Bible - God's ultimate revelation." Jesus Christ is God's ultimate
revelation & the Bible is witness to that revelation.
I would not object to calling it "revelation" but in a secondary sense.
Received on Tue Jun 22 09:05:38 2004

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