Word of the Week: Revelation (doctrine, not book of the Bible)

Last week’s post dealt with an overview of theology. You can find it here if you’d like to look back at it. In these word of the week posts, we are looking at terms, doctrines, and concepts in systematic theology. Today’s word is revelation.

Theology is the study of God and God’s relation to the world. From our definition of theology, the question arises, “How do we know anything about God and God’s relation to the world?”

Answer: we know about God and his relationship to the world through what he has revealed to us.

Revelation means “unveiling, to make known.” The last book of the Bible is titled Revelation, and John’s revelation is God’s unveiling of Jesus Christ in all his glory to the world in salvation and judgment.

When we discuss the doctrine of revelation, we mean something more broad than merely the last book in the Bible. We mean that God to revealed himself to us.

Because humans are finite and God is infinite, if they are to know God, that knowledge must come about by God’s taking the initiative to make himself known.

Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 26.

It is important here for readers to understand the necessity of revelation. In today’s experience authority is grounded in rationalism (math), empiricism (science), or personal autonomy (choice/freedom). Without getting into the weeds, the personal autonomy that permeates Western culture can be found in either rationalism or empiricism. In short, grounding truth and authority in any of these frameworks (rationalism, empiricism, personal autonomy) is insufficient. Questions remain unanswered if these are the only places for grounding truth. For centuries, revelation was considered the primary location for absolute truth. That changed philosophically during the Enlightenment era. And while the developments from the Enlightenment through Modernism and Postmodernism have changed how culture views truth and authority, these developments can never change what is true and absolute.

It is for this reason that we need God to reveal himself and what is true to us. When God reveals himself to us, we are able to grasp the core realities of what is and what has value in the world.

With regard to systematic theology, the doctrine of revelation is the starting place. We begin here because anything we know about God, and the world, and us, finds basis in what God has revealed to us.

There are several important truths about the doctrine of revelation that help us understand its value and importance for Christian theology and experience.

  • Revelation is personal. God made us in his image and revealed himself to us so we could know him. Nothing is more important in life than knowing God. How we come to know God occurs through God’s revelation of himself to us.
  • Revelation is cognitive. We can know truths, doctrines, content about God and us because God has revealed them to us. Because God made us rational beings, we can know and understand cognitively and experientially who God is and what he wants us to know.
  • Revelation is progressive. Over time God reveals himself. As seen in Scripture, God discloses more and more of himself as we read the accounts of God and his people. The more complete our picture of revelation, the more clear we are able to be about who God is and who we are.
  • Revelation is not exhaustive. While we can know truly about God, we cannot know fully about God. In other words, we know what God has revealed, but there are aspects of God’s nature and character that he has not fully revealed.
  • Revelation can be divided into two spheres: General and Special. The posts for the next two weeks will define general and special revelation. And many of the posts following those two will dive into aspects of special revelation.

Here is the primary truth we should take away from this post.

God wants us to know him. Think about this: the God who made the world and everything in it wants you to know him. God doesn’t need anything, and yet God revealed himself to sinful humans so that we could know him personally. This is an amazing thought. It is basically for this reason that I write, preach, teach, and share God with others. It should amaze us that God wants us to know him.

Do you know God? If not, comment below, and I’ll do my best to share with you how you can know him?

If you do know God, then remember that your knowledge of him will never be exhaustive. Keep learning, keep reading, and keep seeking God’s revelation so that you can know him better.

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