Christian Theology -- Theism
Christian theology affirms theism, the belief in the existence of a supernatural God. Christian theism rests primarily on two solid foundations: special revelation (the Bible) and general revelation (the created order). While the Bible reveals the character and personality of God page after page, the “whole workmanship of the universe,” according to John Calvin, reveals and discloses God day after day. The Psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19).
James Orr explains that the theistic position is established not by any single clue or evidence, but by “the concurrent forces of many, starting from different and independent standpoints.”1 Christians see evidences of God everywhere. It is the Christian position that history, theology, philosophy, science, mathematics, logic, and personal experience all point to the existence of a Creator and Redeemer.
Christian Theology – Special Revelation
Christian theology asserts that God has revealed Himself to people in a general way through creation and in a special (personal) way evidenced by His divine words and acts contained in the Bible and especially in the person of Jesus Christ. Millard Erickson defines the two forms of revelation this way: “On the one hand, general revelation is God’s communication of Himself to all persons, at all times, and in all places. Special revelation on the other hand, involves God’s particular communications and manifestations which are available now only by consultation of certain sacred writings.”2
General revelation has been viewed consistently throughout church history by a variety of Christian theists as a necessary but insufficient means for providing knowledge about the Creator and His character. It is better theology and philosophy to begin with the God of the Bible to explain the universe than to begin with the universe to explain God.
According to Christian theology, the destiny of created humanity involves both salvation and judgment. It is not general revelation but special revelation (the Bible) that answers such questions as How can I be saved? From what must I be saved? Why will judgment occur? Special revelation, then, is “special” because it is the key that opens the door to both heaven and earth.
In studying the Bible, the reader meets God’s most direct form of special revelation: the person of Jesus Christ. “In Jesus of Nazareth,” writes Carl F.H. Henry, “the divine source of revelation and the divine content of that revelation converge and coincide.”3 Christ’s teachings, actions, and most significantly, His resurrection, as revealed in the Bible, provide the cornerstone for special revelation and a solid foundation for Christian theism.
The purpose of divine revelation lies in its communication to the Christian of the significance of Christ’s teachings and actions. The third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, plays an important role in this dialogue. Henry explains: “Scripture itself is given so that the Holy Spirit may etch God’s Word upon the hearts of his followers in ongoing sanctification that anticipates the believer’s final, unerring conformity to the image of Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Word.”4 This is the ultimate reason God chose to reveal Himself and His plan for us in the Bible.
For this reason, the Christian’s reliance on the Bible should be profound and constantly renewed—the Christian doesn’t read the Bible once and set it aside; rather, we study it as the living Word of God and seek constantly to conform ourselves to its teachings. We spend our lives studying to understand the powerful message of the Bible.
Christian Theology -- Design and General Revelation
When it comes to Christian theology then, special revelation is the linchpin, while general revelation serves as a prod that encourages us to recognize the ultimate truths set down in Scripture and embodied in Jesus Christ. Although God’s revelation through nature, in and of itself, fails to bring us to a saving knowledge of God, it is capable of bringing us to a general knowledge of God. A great majority of intellectuals agree that the concepts of purpose and design, for example, have validity in regard to the question of the existence of God.
Anglican clergyman William Paley argued in Natural Theology (a book about which Charles Darwin admitted, “I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more . . .”5) that a person chancing upon a watch in the wilderness could not conclude that the watch had simply always existed; rather, the obvious design of the watch—not only its internal makeup but also the fact that it clearly exists for a purpose—would necessarily imply the existence of its designer. Paley went on to substitute the universe for the watch and contended that a mechanism so obviously designed as the universe necessitated the existence of a grand Designer.6 This is most often referred to as the argument from design and is an excellent example of the way in which the created order reveals the existence of God.
The universe forces its sense of design (and thus a Designer) on all people who are open to such a possibility. Antony Flew, the legendary British philosopher and champion of atheism, now in his eighties, describes his personal odyssey from atheism to theism and the central place the design argument had in his journey. Flew currently believes “...the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries.” He came to this conclusion because “the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.”7
Many discover God through the general revelation of a structured universe; many more encounter God in the general revelation of the purposeful nature of reality. C.E.M. Joad, who was an atheist for much of his professional career, shortly before his death wrote a book entitled The Recovery of Belief. This book traces his gradual advance toward God and Jesus Christ. Joad was largely convinced by his observation of human nature—his realization that a moral law exists, and that we often flaunt that law.
C.S. Lewis presents still another twist on the argument for the general revelation of God’s existence. Suppose there were no intelligence behind the universe, says Lewis. In that case nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. Thought is merely the by-product of some atoms within my skull. “But if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true?” asks Lewis. “But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course, I can’t trust the arguments leading to atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I can’t believe in thought; so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”8
Christian Theology – Grounded in Jesus Christ
Christian theology points to what Christians believe—that a personal God has revealed Himself through a created world, and that He has a plan and ultimate destiny for that world. Christian theology is ultimately Christ-centered. The God who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son” has allowed for a personal relationship between Himself and fallen humanity.