Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Delayed in Adding Entries

Life happens and this blog has been neglected.
I'm sorry - but we'll take it up again as we can...


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

General Revelation 7 - Summing up

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. - Psalm 19:1-2

So can we come to a conclusion? Let's conclude with the following:

1) General Revelation taken in isolation without a Special Revelation is not sufficient to bring one to a saving faith in Christ.

2) God may use General Revelation in the process of bringing someone to saving faith - however it is not in isolation from the Special Revelation of the Bible.

Where and if RTB/Hugh Ross moves beyond these statements, we would disagree.
Ultimately, God knows exactly what path each sheep will take to come to a saving faith - and where things are not exactly clear as to that path, we should leave it up to Him and His wisdom.

This all comes about as some smoking gun against the progressive creationist position - which is a moot point.

Let's assume for argument the moment that Hugh Ross takes things too far (which I think is safe to conclude) It does not follow that a more extreme view of general revelation would invalidate the other planks of the old-earth progressive creation perspective.

General Revelation is a component that God may or may not use in the path of bringing a sinner to salvation. Let's not afford too much value to the general revelation over the specific - but at the same time, lets not discount its value.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

General Revelation 6 – Current RTB position

What follows is my own self transcript of a call that I made in to RTB's Creation Update Show on September 25, 2007. This show had Jeff Z, Dave R, and Ken S in studio (no Dr. Ross). For those that want to listen its in the Creation Update Archives here or if you have a real-player streaming program you can stream it directly here. The timestamp is from 1:09:23 to 1:17:04 of the show.

I did not transcribe every "uh" and duplicate words that sometime occur in speech - and neither did I transcribe some of the jokes and unrelated comments. This I hope will give the current RTB understanding of the issue and help us put this to rest.

Coloration -
TODD = blue

TODD: Hello Gentlemen ... I called in about a month ago ... and we talked about GR, andI've been researching this some more for a blog entry that I'm working on with some other RTB Dallas Chapter folks... (Ken/Jeff/Dave: good good) What we are doing is we are taking the Book VanBebber/Taylor Creation and Time - the plagarism of title book... we are taking it point by point and giving rebuttal. There is actually a part where I actually agreed with this other book -> It seems to me like Dr. Ross or RTB in general may be taking the concept of GR a bit too far in saying that general revelation is sufficient to discover the full gospel of Jesus Christ. So I was wondering... is there a general statement that you could give from the ministry perspective of just how far does GR take you and at what point do you really need the special revelation of the bible or other special revelations in order to receive the gospel.

JEFF: can I make a comment - I know you (Ken) will give a far more technically accurate description than I will, but this is a conversation I've had with a good friend of mine that just completed some seminary training, and we sit around and yak about some bizare things that come up... There is an interesting example I have that kindof lends a little bit of credence to Hughs position that there is a missionary out of my parents church who grew up somewhere in Africa... his testimony is that through the course of his life he grew up with no Christian influences around him, yet at some point in time he was out working in the fields or at night for whatever reason and basically came to a saving knowledge of crhist Now he didnt know the names and everything and then in subsiquent time people have come and given him that information, but it appears that at some level his conversion to christianity did derive solely from his observation of what was going on in nature, and obviously in God's work in drawing that to him, But that eventually the full details were revealed to him So it may be that the general revelation may be what appears to be the first part of that stepbut at the end of the day you'll have G and SR working in concert with one another...

DAVE: Now lets hear the theologian present:KEN: (now the correct view......ha ha)

KEN: Todd, I'm going to encourage you to take a look at chapter 3 of Without a doubt cause I have a discussion of GR the title is How does God reveal himself
I would say that historic Christianity has a clear consensus that GR lays a foundation for SR - I see that in the book of Isaiah - Isaigh communicates to Gods chosen people - you can have confidence in God's saving power becuase look at the power in creation -> BB Warfield said that GR shows again that foundation "God is the creator" and that then allows God then to work from the standpoint of redemption, so G and S revelation work in concert with each other they are compatible with each other.and I would make it very clear that I dont think that GR can get all of the gospel. I have heard people relay things like my collegue Jeff here has communicated but I would argue that some of that is anecdotal and we have to be careful about building a biblical doctrine on anecdotal statements -> I think however those statements are important and should be analyzed But I would say that GR can not reveal the kind of detail about redemption that we find in SR and probably its true (now I don't like to speak for my boss Hugh Ross) but I think its probably true that Hugh leans a little more of the direction of giving GR more of a robust element than I would - so even here at RTB we go back and forth on types of issues, But I must tell you I don't think Hugh would ever say that special rev isn't absolutely necessary and plays a critical role - I think its really a matter of degree its not an either or but a matter of degree, and I'd say that GR lays the foundation then special revelation gives us all of the kinds of detail And I think Hugh would probably readily agree with what I've written in Without a Doubt it might just be differences in degree.

DAVE: would it be fair to say that GR could communicate to you the need of a savior but special is giving you information about that savior? Would you go so far as to say that?

KEN: I certainly think Romans 2 says that we know there are Gods laws written on our heart and we know we violate them, and so I think the kind of information that Jeff has shared is very consistent with that I would say however its the gospel that tells you who saves you and what and how... and that is very critical so I would agree I think you can push general revelation too far, but let me also say you can minimize it (give it too little) you can diminish it and I think some of our young earth friends diminish it.

General Revelation 5 - Colossians 1:23

If taken in isolation from its context, Colossians 1:23 is at first glance a hard verse to understand in light of the general vs. specific revelation discussion. I’ve been thinking over this verse for the past month, asking interpretation from friends, pastors, and national talk show call in shows including The Narrow Mind with Pastor Gene Cook Jr. and Faith & Reason with Rev. Matt Slick. In the end, it’s the context of the verse that gives us the proper interpretation. A friend of mine at work wisely told me,

"You can't take verse 23, stand it alone and hope to ever understand it. You can't take the whole chapter alone and use that to understand it; you have to take the passage in context of the surrounding verses, chapters and whole of scripture to understand it. "

Col 1:23 states:
23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation [or to every creature] under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

What exactly is this gospel? And how has it been proclaimed in all of creation? Is this ultimately describing someone peering at a beautiful nature scene and then coming to faith in Christ? CAT (rightly) claims that Dr. Ross uses this verse to justify that nature proclaims the true gospel when it states:

Another New Testament passage which Dr. Ross uses to support his view that the gospel of Jesus Christ may be found in nature is Colossians 1:23. Dr. Ross writes, “Colossians 1:23 states that salvation ‘has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.’” (CAT-37)

Given the prior investigation of The Fingerprint of God, we did conclude that Dr. Ross perhaps takes this notion too far. Yet we do need to examine Col 1:23 to see if it really speaks of the sufficiency of natural revelation. Does it say that salvation has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven? Or is it something else?

The actual text is in the context of not falling away from the faith, “not shifting from the hope of the gospel” that the Colossian people had heard. To understand what the Apostle Paul is saying here, we can pull in verse 5-7 of the same chapter to get the immediate context.

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Note that Paul here states that the gospel had come to the Colossians just as it has to the whole world – and that it was/is bearing fruit and growing. This is the immediate context in which we need to understand verse 23. (More on this later)

In order to use Colossians 1:23 as a proof text for nature=gospel natural revelation, you have to use the following logic:

  1. Paul states the gospel has been preached to every creature or to all creation
  2. By the time of the writing of Colossians, not all of the world had heard the gospel yet (including the aborigines in Australia, or the natives in South America)
  3. Therefore Paul must be appealing to nature, because that is the only form of the gospel that could be considered to extend to all of creation.
  4. Finally, you must take verse 23 in isolation from its context to make this conclusion.

Is there anything wrong with this?

First of all there is an inherent qualification to the phrase “every creature” because the gospel is not relevant to the emperor penguins in Antarctica. Only fallen children of Adam and Eve need the gospel.

Christ in the great commission commanded His disciples to go into all the nations or into all the world and preach the gospel and Paul in Col 1:6 says that the gospel came to the Colossians just like it did to the whole world.

The WHOLE world or ALL of the world would not have had a global connotation to the original readers. It is often a mistake to read into the bible our 21st century global perspective. Paul was perhaps using hyperbole – but most likely he meant this as the whole “western” or Roman world.

Colossians 1 further qualifies how they (the Colossians) received the gospel by saying in verse 6 and 7, “since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant” Here Paul specifically states that it was Epaphras that had brought the gospel to them. They did not glean the gospel from nature, and to suggest that the reference to the gospel in verse 23 means the gospel by nature is to miss the point – and would not be consistent.

Some other points gleaned from the version (from Matt Slick and Gene Cook Jr.) Paul identifies himself as a minister of the gospel in verse 23. But Paul was not a minister of general revelation or nature. Paul brought forth a majority of the New Testament and was used the God to write special revelation. Paul was a minister and preacher of the specific gospel of Christ and did not only appeal to the beauty of nature.

There is a sense in which the gospel of Christ has been available to every generation on Earth from Gen 3:15 until the present. Not every culture has had the benefit of ready-access to this gospel message, but this does not mean it was unavailable.

So what shall we say then in regards to natural revelation? By looking at nature, we can know that there is a God. However, the sinner rejects this inborn knowledge and suppresses the truth (Rom 1:18-23)

This is not to say that God can not or does not use the wonder of nature in his sovereign plan in bringing about faith in Christ. Surely he has done so. Yet nature is not enough to bring a person to saving faith in Jesus Christ. It takes a special revelation to bring this about.

General Revelation 4 – The Fingerprint of God (TFG) Examined

The Fingerprint of God (TFG) was written prior to Creation and Time and was more of a general statement of evidences (from 1990) concerning the age of the earth and the creation date controversy. It gives a considerable more scientific reasoning than does Creation and Time.

Chapter 16 of TFG is entitled: The Gospel According to Creation and it opens with the following summary:

The Bible is the only religious text that teaches a cosmology in full agreement with the latest astrophysical discoveries. The plan of salvation as stated in the Bible can be seen through observation of the universe around us. Thus, all human beings have a chance to discover it. The Bible is the only one of all religious writings which declares a message in full agreement with (and, of course, amplification of) the gospel message seen in creation. [1] The portion in blue is quoted in CAT.

CAT quotes the following 3 items from TFG (CAT-36-38)

As a dissection of this introductory quote, we can clearly see Dr. Ross is contradicting the general accepted view of general revelation. The key is that he ties the plan of salvation to observation of the universe. The authors of this blog believe this is a little bit of a stretch.

“The Bible includes an account of an ancient character, Job (Job 7-19) who without the aid of Scriptures, and in opposition to the religion of his peers, discerned all the elements of “the gospel,” the good news of how man can find eternal life in God.” [2]

We’ll grant Dr. Ross that Job did not have the scriptures, but it is not clear what revelation was afforded to Job. For all we know God personally appeared (a Christophany) to Job. However this is all speculation and where the Bible is silent, we will likewise. Speculation that Job arrived at his faith by only looking at nature is unwarranted. We would hope that future books by Dr. Ross would not utilize this argument.

“The creation, thus, reveals all the necessary steps to develop a right relationship with God. These steps are uniquely corroborated by the Bible” [3]

It is not generally accepted by conservative Christian scholars that ALL necessary steps can be fleshed out by the observation of creation. To look at this a little further, TFG gives a list of the elements of faith that can be discerned from nature (TFG-181,182):

A Creator Must Exist
It is a violation of the laws of logic (law of identity) that something can bring itself into being. Thus a creator must exist.

The Creator must have awesome power and wisdom
Absolutely. The complexity and precision with which the universe down to the smallest creatures operate is mind blowing and can not be truly accounted for by natural means.

The Creator must be loving
Ross continues, “the simplicity, balance, order, elegance, and beauty seen throughout the whole of creation demonstrates that God is loving rather than capricious.” While I as a Christian absolutely agree with this, I am not sure that the atheist or agnostic suppressor of truth would agree. They would probably look at predation, evil, natural evil, and other perceived inequities in nature and conclude otherwise. Thus I would relegate this item to a valid argument for the Christian looking at nature, but not as a general rule.

The Creator must be just and must require justice.
Ross continues, “inward reflection and outward investigation affirm that human beings have a conscience. When conscience is violated, guilt is incurred and shame is felt.” Once again, I believe this is only perceived by the regenerate Christian. The unbeliever will not grant this from creation.

Each of us falls hopelessly short of the Creator’s standard
Here again, (TODDL speaking) my family and I have recently been studying the evangelism outreach of Way of the Master (Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort). Very often when witnessing (on the WOTM show and my personal experience) when you take someone through the law of God – they invariably have transgressed this law and admit that they are liars, adulterers at heart (or worse), murderers at heart, thieves, ect. Yet when asked if they were judged by this standard, would they go to heaven or hell, they usually say heaven.

Because the Creator is loving, wise, and powerful, He must have made a way to rescue us. If we trust our lives totally to the Rescuer, we will be saved.
The problem with this is that the unbeliever does not believe that he needs rescuing.

In all of these assertions from TFG, I believe that Dr. Ross attributes a little more to observation of nature and the spiritual truths that can be gleaned from it than is warranted from the scriptures. However, this does not mean that the premise of dual revelation falters. I simply believe that Dr. Ross places too much faith in unregenerate man gleaning spiritual truths from nature.

However there is one scripture that seems at first look to support Dr. Ross’s assertians. It is Col 1:23 – we will look at this in the next article.

[1] Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God p. 179

[2] Ibid. p. 181 – emphasis added
[3] Ibid. p. 182 – emphasis added

General Revelation 3 – Dr. Ross views

We’ve seen in the prior article general revelation is not sufficient to discover the gospel of Christ, but it is sufficient to know there is a God and to be condemned when one suppresses that knowledge in unrighteousness. So the CAT authors believe that they have a smoking gun in the writings of Dr. Ross when they state:

Dr. Ross apparently believes that knowledge gained through the observation of the universe is sufficient to gain salvation and Christian maturity. (CAT-36)

The first thing that popped in my mind when I read this was – OK I finally agree with VanBebber and Taylor on something. Finally. And to be honest I will probably find other points of agreement later in the book too.

However, we need to be a little more careful than that. Is this really what Dr. Ross believes? We do not have ready access to Dr. Ross (other than through Creation Update call in show) so we do not presume to speak for him. However we can analyze his writings just like CAT has done and see if we can ascertain what he believes. [1] And supposing that we end up with a disagreement, perhaps we might discover that Dr. Ross has changed or modified his views since the writing of these early books.

The main question for us to consider is whether the evidence cited in this section of CAT supports the conclusion that Dr. Ross believes general revelation is sufficient for salvation. So let’s see what they give as evidence. All of these are quoted from CAT-36 to CAT-39, and the relevant Dr. Ross book citation is added in the notes. For the time being we will not cover the quotes from The Fingerprint of God (TFG) because we will look at these more closely in the next article.

There are primarily 3 quotes to this topic in Ross’s Creation and Time (and 3 from TFG)

(1) “in addition to the words of the Bible being ‘God-breathed, … useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness’ (II Tim 3:16), so also are the words of God spoken through the work of His hands.” [2]

To this we agree. It is reminiscent of Psalm 19 in declaring

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge

(2) [Ross] lists 23 verses which he claims as support for his view that nature is “likened to a sixty-seventh book of the Bible.” [3]

The intent of this section of Dr. Ross’s book is to give scriptures that show that nature has a “voice,” and it flows from this thesis that nature is likened to a 67th book of the Bible. However, this does not have direct relevance to the issue of general revelation. Just because you view nature like unto another book of the Bible, it does not follow that you believe that book has every message necessary unto salvation.

So based on Psalm 19, we will grant to Dr. Ross that nature does have a voice, and yet we can grant to the CAT authors that perhaps some of the scriptures cited don’t really deal with nature’s voice. In the end this does not impact the topic at hand so we’ll move to the next.

(3) Another NT passage which Dr. Ross uses to support his view… is Colossians 1:23. Dr. Ross writes, “Colossians 1:23 states that salvation ‘has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.’” [4]

The full verse says this: This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister (NASB – added emphasis)

It must be admitted that Colossians 1:23 is a hard verse to understand. Very briefly, the problem is that the gospel has been proclaimed in all creation. One interpretation is that it is nature that proclaims this because at the time of the writing of Colosians, it is quite clear that the gospel had not yet penetrated to the furthest extent of the globe. We will deal with this complexity in a separate article.

Quotes from Ross’s Creation and Time do not give any explicit hint that general revelation is sufficient to salvation. So is CAT putting forth a red herring? Why do the CAT authors include Ross’s other book (The Fingerprint of God) at this point? Let’s take a look at that book and see if we can glean more info on Dr. Ross’s beliefs.

[1] No disrespect is meant in this comment – but we must observe that in the grand scheme of eternity, life and the gospel message, it really does not matter what Dr. Ross believes. He is not the embodiment of special revelation and we do not hold him on a pedestal. While we do largely agree with him, if we disagree then so be it.

[2] Hugh Ross, Creation and Time p. 56 – emphasis added. Note the ellipsis was in the original not added by CAT authors.
[3] Ibid. pg. 57 [4] Ibid. p. 56 – emphasis added