Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Is General Revelation Enough?

This is a continuation of the discussion started in the last post, The Meaning of Salvation.

Essentially, I left off that post asking what becomes of those who have not heard the gospel preached. In Christ's parable of the four soils there does not seem to be a suggestion of a group of people who do not receive the word of God. In a way, this makes sense. We could say everyone receives general revelation, which Paul says was enough for them to be accountable for their actions.

I've struggled a long time with the issue of whether it is just or not for God to condemn to hell someone who has never heard the gospel preached. I really can't convince myself that it is just, primarily because I do not look at it as their failing but ours. We were given the command to make disciples of all nations. So when someone doesn't here the gospel, it is because we have not obeyed the command. So how is it just to punish them for our disobedience?

As long as the issue is put in terms of "hearing the gospel," I can't really make sense of that. But when we put it in terms of "general revelation" it makes much more sense. If everyone has in some way or another the "word" of God in the form of general revelation (interesting side note: if John corresponds the word with Jesus and says that through him all else was made, then we can see creation as very related to the word). Therefore, everyone has some knowledge of God and his character and their own sinfulness. This, Paul says, is enough for them to be condemned. This is not dependent on hearing the gospel, it is based on what is common knowledge to all men.

So I become extremely uncomfortable, then, when I hear statements like "no one seeks God on their own unless they have heard the gospel preached." This comes back to the original question- if they have to hear the gospel preached, is it their shortcoming or ours? Is salvation dependent on God or on man? This would seem to suggest that it is dependent on man doing something, in which case we should have all the blame for anyone who dies without hearing, we should have their condemnation.

I think this is another construct of our western culture, another form of the "to have real faith you have to do this" mentality. We assume a human-made ritual must be involved for someone to have a connection with God. In the process, we are limiting God to acting the way we act!

Going back to our parable of the four soils picture: do we have to assume that because someone has not heard the gospel, they are in one of the first three soils? In fact, since the middle two seem to imply a knowledge and response toe the word, if we assume the word is our gospel message, then we are saying they would have to be in the first category (though even that seems shaky, as this category implies at least that the word came to them but was not received). If we say that they are in the first category, we are saying this farmer has just tossed the vast majority of his seed (since in the totality of human history the vast majority of humans have not heard the gospel) onto the road- this does not sound like a productive farmer!

Examining the text again: the parable doesn't specify that the word of God is his specific revelation post-Christ. It simply says "word"- which at the time and in that context, the disciples and people would probably not have associated with the gospel we think of today. The most specific association they may have had would have been the law and the prophets, but they may have even thought in more general terms than that. Paul says that this law is essentially common to all man, that all man knows right from wrong by general revelation, which we already established was associated with the "word" of God. So back to our question- do they have to hear the "gospel" as we know it to be part of the last group?

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