General Revelation Throughout History -- By: Gerald R. McDermott

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 175:698 (Apr 2018)
Article: General Revelation Throughout History
Author: Gerald R. McDermott

General Revelation Throughout History

Gerald R. McDermott

* This is the second article in the four-part series “A Typological View of Reality,” delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 7–10, 2017. The ideas presented in these lectures have been adapted and expanded in Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in All of Reality (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018).

Gerald R. McDermott is the Anglican Chair of Divinity, Samford University, Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama.

My last lecture dealt with the typological view of reality seen in the Great Tradition from Gregory Nazianzus and Augustine through Aquinas and Bonaventure to Calvin and Edwards and Newman. What follows is the theological pushback on this view, starting with Martin Luther in the sixteenth century.

Martin Luther

Luther had a hard time separating properly Christian natural theology from the theologies of glory that he thought responsible for the Catholic Church’s late medieval teaching of semi-Pelagianism. In his Heidelberg Disputation (1518) he famously asserted, “That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [sic]” (Rom 1:20).1 His targets were late medieval philosophical theologians who

thought they could use reason alone, apart from Scripture, to speculate about God’s attributes. Luther insisted that apart from the revelation of the Cross, nothing about God can be truly known by reason. In the absence of revelation from the Bible, reason—which is never static or neutral—immediately concocts a god whom the human self can manage. So Luther talked about a monk who imagines a god who forgives sins and grants eternal life in exchange for good works. He clings to and trusts in this god. The problem is that this god does not exist. It is an idol. And this, according to Luther, is what naturally happens when reason looks at the created world and analogizes from its beauty and goodness to a god who has as much beauty and goodness as the monk’s little mind can imagine. Not only is it a foolish exercise—how could the infinite God be anything like what our little minds could imagine?—but also the categories of beauty and goodness are devised by the monk. How is he to know that the true God’s goodness and beauty are anything like what he conceives beauty and goodness to be? Remember, this is a monk-philosopher who is deliberately setting the Bible asi...

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