In preparing for a Bible study (Galatians 1:10-24), Galatians 1:12 jumped off the page at me. I’ve read that verse many times before, even studied it in depth. Yet, this time it made a unique impression in my heart and mind once. Paul tells us,
I did not receive it [the gospel he preached] from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Revelation. God’s personal self-disclosure.
I don’t hear much debate these days on God’s revelation of himself, and all truth that pertains to him, at least not as much as I used to. I don’t think that’s because the debates are over. Perhaps I’m just not running in the same circles I once was.
On that note, one of the most helpful books I purchased and read back in my seminary days was Volume 2 of Carl Henry’s series on God, Revelation, and Authority. That book was quite a contrast for me since the two theologians my Systematic Theology class dealt with primarily were Paul Tillich and Karl Barth. It was helpful for me way back then (about 1990) to read what an American evangelical author had to contribute to the debate regarding how God reveals himself. I’ve read many useful critiques since then, but it was Carl Henry who first gave me some nutritious food for thought.
In his six-volume series, Henry lays out fifteen theses related to how he understands the Bible’s teaching on divine revelation. You may find yourself bickering with a point here are there, but I have found them succinct and quite helpful as I explain how God reveals himself to creatures who are slow on the uptake, and who certainly would have never "discovered” God on their own.
Below are Henry’s fifteen theses with no added comments from him or me. (You can purchase his six volumes if you are craving his explanations for each.) I am, however, going to share an excerpt from a paragraph in his introduction to the theses.
God is not the Great Perhaps, a clueless shadow character in a Scotland Yard mystery. Far less is he a nameless spirit awaiting post-mortem examination in some theological morgue. He is a very particular and specific divinity, known from the beginning solely on the basis of his works and self-declaration as on the one living God. Only theorists who ignore divine self-disclosure are prone to identify God as the nondescript John Doe of religious philosophy.
1. Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communication by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality.
2. Divine revelation is given for human benefit, offering us privileged communion with our Creator in the kingdom of God.
3. Divine revelation does not completely erase Gold’s transcendent mystery, inasmuch as God the Revealer transcends his own revelation.
4. The very fact of disclosure by the one living God assures the comprehensive unity of divine revelation.
5. Not only the occurrence of divine revelation, but also its very nature, content, and variety are exclusively God’s determination.
6. God’s revelation is uniquely personal both in content and form.
7. God reveals himself not only universally in the history of the cosmos and of the nations, but also redemptively within this external history in unique saving acts.
8. The climax of God’s special revelation is Jesus of Nazareth, the personal incarnation of God in the flesh; in Jesus Christ the source and content of revelation converge and coincide.
9. The mediating agent in all divine revelation is the Eternal Logos – preexistent, incarnate, and now glorified.
10. God’s revelation is rational communication conveyed in intelligible ideas and meaningful words, that is, in conceptual-verbal form.
11. The Bible is the reservoir and conduit of divine truth.
12. The Holy Spirit superintends the communication of divine revelation, first, by inspiring the prophetic-apostolic writings, and second, by illuminating and interpreting the scripturally given Word of God.
13. As bestower of spiritual life the Holy Spirit enables individuals to appropriate God’s revelation savingly, and thereby attests the redemptive power of the revealed truth of God in the personal experience of reborn sinners.
14. The church approximates the kingdom of God in miniature; as such she is to mirror to each successive generation the power and joy of the appropriated realities of divine revelation.
15. The self-manifesting God will unveil his glory in a crowning revelation of power and judgment; in his disclosure at the consummation of the ages, God will vindicate righteousness and justice, finally subdue and subordinate evil, and bring into being a new heaven and earth.