Biblical Revelation and the Secular Society

A few weeks ago, my Old Testament Theology class studied the concept of Biblical revelation. In studying the theology of the Old Testament, one of the primary tasks of the instructor is to affirm that the teaching of the Old Testament is the result of revelation.  That which the Biblical writers tried to express in human language was the result of that which was revealed to them through revelation.

In his article on revelation, the late Carl Henry said that revelation is “the disclosure of what was previously unknown” (p. 457).  The biblical view of revelation teaches that God revealed to human beings divine truth, that is, “his manifestation of himself or of his will.”

God entered human history and acted redemptively for the salvation of humanity.  The redemptive acts of God in history were interpreted by the people who experienced the work of God in their history. The meaning of what God did and said has been recorded in writings and eventually those writings became sacred scriptures.

Christians today must emphasize that God revealed himself in human history.  Secular people and many Christians today do not understand the concept of revelation.  The faith of Christianity is based on what God has done in the history of Israel and the faith of the church is based on what God has done in Christ.  The primary reason secular people reject the teachings of Christianity is because they reject the idea of revelation.

In ancient Israel the idea that God could reveal his will to human beings was taken for granted. In fact, the faith of the people of the Old Testament was based on the fact that Israel affirmed that God had appeared to Abraham and to Moses and revealed his divine will and purpose to them.

Modern society rejects the concept of revelation because of its preoccupation with the things of this world.  The rejection of the concept of revelation has resulted in the growth of atheism and the development of a secular society.  To secular people, reality is that which can be seen and touched.

One reason modern society rejects the concept of revelation is the influence of human idealism and the spread of scientific knowledge, that is, that which cannot be proved scientifically and verified experimentally cannot be true or cannot be trusted.  The concept of revelation contradicts the scientific concept of truth.

The Bible reveals a truth that cannot be proved by science or verified in the laboratory.  This is the reason secular people cannot accept the fact that absolute truth is given to human beings by means of divine revelation.

Those who reject the concept of truth given by divine revelation point to the failures of the church in the past as evidence that truth given by revelation is unreliable.  In the past the church rejected the views of Galileo and the advancement of scientific knowledge, and has claimed to possess absolute truth.  The mistakes of the past are used against Christians to proclaim that biblical faith is irrational and not credible.

But the fact is that biblical revelation teaches us that human knowledge is limited and that deep in the human heart there is a longing for the truth that science and human knowledge cannot provide.  Since revelation is the manifestation or the disclosure of something unknown, the revelation of God to human beings is one way of acquiring knowledge that is different from the normal way human beings acquire knowledge.

In revelation God makes himself known to humans.  Those who were witnesses and the recipients of this revelation wrote down what they saw and heard.  Thus, through these written words God continues to reveal himself to those who seek him.

Revelation is the reason the Bible is important to faith.  All we know about God is the result of revelation and through the record of that revelation we are confronted with the claims of a God who revealed himself in the history of Israel and in the life and ministry of Christ.

It is because of this revelation that human beings recognize they live in spiritual bondage.  It is because God has revealed himself that human beings recognize that they are separated from God, that they walk in darkness and live in a land of deep darkness (Isaiah 9:2).  This bondage affects people’s lives and they cannot reach the potential for which they were created.

When people understand the nature of God’s revelation, they will also understand that God’s purpose in revelation is the redemption of the human race.  God has entered human history to restore the original relationship that existed between himself and humanity.  He came to forgive those who had rebelled against him and to bring back those who have been banished from his presence.

A secular society must accept the reality of revelation.  But the rationalism that prevails in our secular society denies the reality of revelation.  Secular people complain that faith suppresses the claims of science and the concerns of reason.  Secular society lives in a state of unbelief and this unbelief rejects the truth of revelation.

However, the truth of revelation can bridge the gap between faith and reason.  In fact, faith is not the enemy of reason.  Human knowledge is the acquisition of facts.  The acquisition of facts results in the enlargement of the human intellect.  The knowledge acquired through revelation is transformative and restorative.  When people meet God in revelation, their lives are transformed and their fellowship with God is restored.

Reference:

Carl F. H. Henry, “Revelation, Special,” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), 456-459.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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8 Responses to Biblical Revelation and the Secular Society

  1. Ilia Panayotov says:

    Evidentialism and Scientism are self-contradictory and this is recognized by philosophers. For example, can the statement “you should only affirm that which can be proven scientifically” itself be proven scientifically?

    Also, belief without a reason or justification to believe is blind faith or wishful thinking. However, faith and reason aren’t contradictory – on the contrary, faith (at least in one aspect) is an action which the human mind or reason performs.
    Everyone believes. For example, I’ve never seen New York with my own eyes, yet I still believe that New York exists on the basis of pictures, videos, movies, texts, testimony by other people, etc. In fact, we use faith all the time. Without faith we wouldn’t be able to do anything properly; we wouldn’t even be able to think.
    The bad thing is that people incorrectly associate the word “faith” with “belief without justification” and “wishful thinking”.

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    • Ilia,

      I agree with your statements. The problem is that many secular people believe that faith and science contradict each other and that faith is not compatible with the arguments of reason. I disagree with that. I believe one can have faith and still accept scientific facts.

      Claude Mariottini

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  2. Hi Claude – I am glad to be reading you more regularly from the blunderbus blog that is the Biblioblog Library.

    There are some things in this post that I appreciate and welcome. But how can we help “A secular society ” to “accept the reality of revelation”?

    You wrote: “To secular people, reality is that which can be seen and touched.” These are the words at the beginning of John’s gospel and the first letter of John. Psalm 34:9 (Hebrew) shows that the LORD is to be tasted that we might see how good God is. Who among the secular will believe when they suspect that belief is manufactured or when they look at the faith only as packaged in a language of liturgical praise or historical confession and imagine they must submit to this packaging and not to the Spirit that gives them life?

    I love the liturgy – but it was not a straightforward walk that got me to that point. What got me there was trouble and trouble a-plenty as the Spiritual says – nobody knows de trouble a’ve seen. But as Psalm 34 again says – in the verse beginning with z, the seventh letter, this poor man cried and the LORD heard him and delivered him out of all his trouble.

    Then the poor man came to church and was either baffled or muffled! But with nurturing, he began to see the fullness of freedom that he was invited into and he persevered – because he knew that deliverance that was from the Mystery he could not yet name.

    But his deliverance can be seen – touched – known. Perhaps not measured in any absolute sense, though I dispute that for the individual. The subjective experience of the Spirit is not subject to Science nor can it be, but it is known and subject to the individual as the spirit of a prophet is subject to the prophet. Similarly Science is baffled by gravity and time, however beautiful the math and however mysterious are the concepts of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics.

    So somehow we must find the can-opener for the distinction between what is perceived as enforced beliefs or even credulity, and the engagement of faith. I boil my theology down to three words: Help – Thanks – and Sorry. And I go on from there in the midst of many and great dangers and troubles but without disappointment.

    Revelation is an unveiling. It is a knowing that is as real as any other knowing, and a being known that is of critical importance. Known by the One who in Jesus gave us such an open example and mentor, and who through the anointing and election of Israel has shown us writings that teach us how to listen, see, turn to and be known in that Spirit.

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    • Bob,

      Thank you for visiting my blog. Those short introductions do not say much about the content of the blogs.

      I agree with the argument of your post. For secular people to come to faith they must open their hearts and minds and allow God to reveal himself to them. But since their state of unbelief will not allow them to see and understand the reality of God, they must come to a point in their lives where they are forced to recognize their limitations and consider the reality of God. If you read my post on Christopher Hitchens and then read the post that Hitchens wrote, you will see that his cancer is forcing him to reconsider things in life. Whether he will reconsider his views on God, it is impossible to say. But if he would, I am sure that his perspective on life and the future would change. He might even be healed of his cancer y the Great Physician.

      Claude Mariottini

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      • Thank you for the reply – sorry for my impatience. I did read your post and the rather tender hearted statements from Hitchens and I added my prayer from the last few psalms of Book1 on my blog. I was moved by his discussion since he referenced some of my own favorite authors.

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      • Bob,

        I enjoyed reading your post. When people are sick, their hearts become more and more disposed to God. Illness brought the psalmist to God and in him he found help in his time of trouble. This is the reason there are so many references to illness in the Psalms.

        Claude Mariottini

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  3. Claude – are you there? Or is my comment trapped in your spam filter?

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    • Bob,

      I am here and have already answered your comment. I apologize for the delay in answering. I am coming to the end of the academic year and I am in the middle of reading and grading papers. I am also trying to finish reading a doctoral thesis. This has consumed so much time and I had to wait until today to answer several comments on my blog. I welcome you comments and I promise to answer every one of them, even if times me a day or so.

      Claude Mariottini

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