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Special Revelation is Necessary due to Man's Suppression of the Truth of General Revelation

This article first appear in the facebook page of The Reformed Sage.

The natural suppression of the truth of God by man, in his fallen unrepentant state, as derived plainly from General Revelation causes man to then rely upon Special Revelation to bring about their obedience and redemption through Jesus Christ. Had man not fell in the garden, he would not suppress the truth of God. This consequentially would be the only reason why man would not need Special Revelation.

Historically man has suppressed the truth of the existence of the Triune God in a multitude of ways. Throughout history there have been almost an innumerable amount of different religious practices setup by man in his attempts to create idols that he chooses to worship rather than the one real and living God. These idols range from a single deity like in the case of Islam or to a pantheon of gods as in the ancient Roman, Greek, and Native American religious systems.

More recently in human history, a form of suppression of truth has arisen and has become popular in intellectual circles. This form makes an outright denial of God’s existence by denying any supernatural causation or existence beyond the physical world, or more specially, what can be detected by the human senses. This rise in anti-god intellectualism is due in part to developments in the sciences and technology coupled with man’s natural inclination to suppress the truth about God. Built upon nothing more than man’s ability to sense the world around him, the atheistic system sees no need to repent and believe in God, for they say that the Christian God, like all other claimed deities by different religious systems, are plainly imperceptible.

This type of denial attempts to give an air of supremacy to man. It makes man’s intellect the supreme arbiter of truth, replacing God. With the rise of secular humanism there is decreased recognition of the authority of God. The tendency is to deny the existence of absolutes and oppose or reinterpret that which claims for itself final authority [1].

In addition to self-professed rational atheists, a curious theological perspective exists inside Christian theology. This perspective can be stated as such: if man does not have access to Special Revelation man can still be saved by what each individual person does with God’s General Revelation in creation. More clearly, how did man live and respond in light of the knowledge of God that came from General Revelation. Based on this alone, is what determines if those who do not have access to God’s Special Revelation, are saved. This view in essence sets up a system of salvation outside of the gospel.

In this paper the views of the secular atheists and that of the Christians who would diminish the role and need for Special Revelation will be examined and affirmed against. It will be shown that these two systems, while similar in their denial for the unmistakable need for Special Revelation, fundamentally error in their rejection of man’s utter reliance upon Special Revelation for salvation. Atheists have a specific type of response to General Revelation that makes Special Revelation irrelevant, and so do some Christians. Both of their responses are linked by a denial of the necessity and importance of Special Revelation.

General Revelation and Special Revelation Defined

In the course of this work the terms General Revelation (GR) and Special Revelation (SR) will be used frequently. In order to facilitate what is precisely meant by the utilization of those two terms, proper standard definitions for each must be provided. General Revelation should be understood to mean that revelation comes through observing nature, through seeing God's directing influence in history, and through an inner sense of God's existence and his laws that he has placed inside every person. General revelation is distinct from "special revelation," which refers to God's words addressed to specific people, such as the words of the Bible, the words of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, and the words of God spoken in personal address, such as at Mount Sinai or at the baptism of Jesus.”[2]

GR is available to all humanity. Made in God's image, we are personal beings who can detect God's fingerprints in creation [3]. God has placed clear and specific information about His character and attributes inside His creation. The truth of God is inescapable as the Apostle Paul would say, GR leaves man without an excuse for not knowing God exists. The Doctrine of General Revelation is a basic and elementary doctrine in the Bible.

This doctrine deals with the knowledge of God, and man’s culpability to that knowledge. General Revelation teaches that all humanity has such comprehensive knowledge of God’s existence through creation, that man is without excuse. According to Romans Chapter 1 the Apostle Paul states under direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit that:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [4]

SR is more specific in kind. Defined and limited in its application and narrow in its audience. Initially SR only came through the Holy Scriptures as first penned by its original authors. These Scriptures would travel by hand and the revelation would spread. God decreed that SR would use the means of men to spread the truth about Jesus Christ, and not creation. SR specifically includes the revelation of the Trinity and their defined roles in salvation. SR includes what is incumbent upon men beholden to the God who created them and what they must do in response to such truth. SR provides men with the Gospel, who Christ is and what he accomplished at Calvary. This information is only found in SR, GR does not reveal this to mankind.

The Atheist Response to General Revelation: Examined and Refuted

For Atheists, GR presents a problem. If the world exists as a result of secular evolutionary causes without God as the First Cause and if everything that is present now is based upon innumerable random unguided chemical reactions, then where does true knowledge originate? Why are there universal laws of logic? What is the foundation for objective ethics? Why should one action be preferred to another action? And how can either action be determined to be “right” or “good”? As Pastor Jeff Durbin from Apologia Church likes to rhetorically ask, “Why should we love our neighbor and not eat our neighbor?

The answers to the previously stated questions are actually assumed by the atheistic skeptics of God alike, but never proven. To prove that assertion, that the atheistic claim is assumed and never proven, an examination of atheistic knowledge will commence starting with David Hume the famous Scottish philosopher and skeptic who famously said “All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall call impressions and ideas.[5]

Pastor Jeff Durbin of Apologia Church

What Hume did with that statement was to destroy the very foundation knowledge. For he relegated all knowledge to the senses. Since all knowledge is of sensation there is no a priori reasoning.[6] This then means that all knowledge of God is unattainable since God can’t be seen nor felt nor heard. Clearly this contradicts GR where God is known to all mankind a priori as Paul explains in Romans 1, God is deduced from pure reason based on the creation around her.

The atheist truth claim, that God does not exist is based upon her reasoning faculties. Since the atheist knows God exists, and denies this reality, the only logical place left to go for the true source of knowledge is the atheist’s own brain. She is a fool because (s)he has forsaken the source of true wisdom in God in order to rely on his(her) own (allegedly), self-sufficient, intellectual powers[7]. This is horribly self-defeating.

The atheist reliance upon her own brain begs the question. And the question is this: is her brain working properly to come to the conclusion God does not exist? The only way to answer this question is by use of said brain. So, the atheist finds herself trapped in a vicious and circular reasoning pattern. This effectively destroys knowledge. All knowledge in fact. For if the atheist fundamentally cannot determine if their brain is working properly, then they have no foundation for any knowledge claim.

The atheist may respond and say they could run tests to verify if her brain is working, and yet what she fails to realize is that those tests must be interpreted by the very brain that is under investigation. How can the brain logically verify that it is working properly? It is dependent upon itself for the answer. The brain must assume it is working properly in order to provide a meaningful answer.

The atheist is left with nothing more than an assumption which begs the question. This question cannot be solved, it must merely be assumed that the reality she experiences is one she actually exists in. The atheist has just destroyed all possibility of knowledge by the inability to justify any knowledge she has as all her knowledge is based upon assumption. Non-biblical worldviews are nothing more than speculation of men[8]. For if her own brain can’t be verified to be working properly, then all her knowledge that is based upon an assumption can’t be verified to be true. This is vicious circular reasoning.

As has been illustrated, when the atheist suppresses the truth of God and says God does not exist, she can’t actually know that. It is logically impossible. In order to function in the world, the atheist must assume certain truths to operate under without any justification. In effect, the atheist must steal from the Christian worldview which provides the necessary precondition for knowledge to function day to day. While denying its foundation and Authority for that justification. For through GR, SR and the working of the Holy Spirit, the Christian knowing and affirming that God exists, has a foundation of true knowledge of the world upon which to function.

The Christian does not assume, the Christian knows with certainty.

The specific type of atheistic denial and suppression places them in the unique philosophical position of utterly destroying knowledge. This is true because their entire philosophical framework adheres exactly to what the Bible says about God. Scripture teaches that when a person suppresses the truth of God and denies His existence, that person becomes a fool. The Psalmist wrote:

“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.””[9]

Additionally, Paul adds this declaration in the New Testament where he says that God has “moron-ed” the wisdom of this world:

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”[10]

“Foolish” used by Paul is actually “μωραίνω” literally “mōrainō” which is the verb form of the adjective “μωρός”, literally “mōros”, where we get our English word moron. Having been made a “moron” by God the atheist is left in a position of ignorance in these matters and cannot logically speak about the denial of God, for the atheist does not actually know according to her worldview, for she cannot, she can only assume such things.

An Evangelical Perspective on General Revelation: Examined and Refuted

There exists a subset of Christians within evangelicalism that seems to be attempting a form of Theodicy, that is, a justification of God in light of this fallen world and the existence of evil. These Christians recognize a problem. The Bible clearly says that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. This means that salvation is only possible by hearing the gospel, and believing its message. This message comes only through SR, it is nowhere to be found in GR, hence the absolute need for SR.

This reality then presents a challenge to sections of Evangelicalism. Certain elements of Protestantism affirm that God loves all humanity equally and has put forth perfect and equal effort to save all humanity for, as they would point out in the text of Scripture, it is not God’s will that any should perish.[11] The question is then asked, what about the parts of humanity that never heard the gospel?

To resolve this issue, many have embraced a teaching, one based on works, works reflected in an individual’s response to the “light they were given”. This path to salvation, depending on the articulation of the adherent, makes Christ’s atonement irrelevant and not required for salvation.

Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli in their “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” when answering the objection in their book “It seems unfair to good pagans to make salvation dependent upon faith in Jesus. Surely Socrates deserves heaven more than Torquemada?” (Torquemada was the first Grand Inquisitor in Spain during the 15th century) have answered men can be saved apart from the gospel itself based solely on the light that they have, and their response to that light. They say “no one can know God except through Christ (Jn 1:18; Lk 10:22). But Pagans know God (Acts 17:28; Rom 1:19-20; 2:11-16).”[12]

Kreeft and Tacelli certainly get that last part correct, however in the very next sentence they begin to go to unbiblical ground where they link that truth to this error: “Therefore pagans know Christ…. As such he is “light, which enlightens everyone” through reason and conscience. Thus, the doctrine of Christ’s divinity– classified as “conservative” or “traditionalist” by liberals–is the very foundation of the liberal’s hope that pagans may be saved.”[13]

This then is the heart of the problem for Kreeft and Tacelli: because pagans know God through GR that automatically means they know Christ. In answering that objection, they continue in explaining what limited knowledge Abraham, Moses and Elijah had and make the case that although they did not know specifically about Christ, these men acting upon the “light” they had conclude making the argument that they can be saved apart from SR. They assert that because Abraham for example “would not be able to answer yes”[14]to the question if he believed in Jesus Christ for salvation, this means “Therefore, the inability to answer with an explicit yes to that question does not automatically condemn you. Therefore, Socrates is not automatically condemned.”[15]How do they get to this conclusion?

They reason:

“To summarize our solution: Socrates (or any other pagan) could seek God, could repent of his sins, and could obscurely believe in and accept the God he knew partially and obscurely, and therefore he could be saved-or damned, if he refused to seek, repent and believe. There is enough light and enough opportunity, enough knowledge and enough free choice, to make everyone responsible before God. God is just. And a just God judges justly, not unjustly; that is, he judges according to the knowledge each individual has, not according to a knowledge they do not have (see Jas 3:1).” [16]

Their position about there being “enough light and opportunity” removes the need SR and ignores biblical anthropology about the state of man after the fall and more specifically the Gospel itself. In their book they actually have addressed this critique:

Objection 2: It's contrary to Scripture to say pagans can be saved without becoming Christians. Reply: Pagans can't be saved by paganism, only by Christ. If "to become a Christian" means to receive the real, objective Christ, then the only way to be saved is to become a Christian. But nothing in Scripture proves that Socrates was not a Christian in this sense. If on the other hand "to become a Christian" means knowingly to profess the orthodox faith in Christ, then you do not need to be a Christian to be saved, or else Abraham is unsaved, and so are all who believe unorthodox ideas. How unorthodox do your ideas have to be to send you to hell? Where is the dividing line? Does God give you a theology exam?[17]

Their response to this objection does not take into consideration a few things. In this response they make the claim that there was nothing in the Bible that would indicate that Socrates was not a Christian in the sense that Christians today, with SR and the full counsel of God from the scriptures, are Christians. This response fails to understand the importance of SR and what it actually does. In part, they see GR doing to work of SR as mentioned in their statement previously that because men know of God (through GR) they know of Christ.

Additionally, in their response they make a major category error where they place Socrates on the same platform as Abraham. One of these men had direct SR from God, God spoke with this person and appeared to him, made covenants with him and had a dinner in his tent! The other person it must be asserted never received any type of revelation of God outside of GR, which provides no information about Christ and the gospel. According to Romans 1, GR only gives man enough information about God such that it leads to their condemnation.

In their final analysis, there is no need for SR to bring about the salvation of men. Rather through GR and man’s own natural ability and free will can they respond positively to God and be saved. Another more prominent and well-known figure in Christian apologetics takes the field with Kreeft and Tacelli in this discussion. Hank Hanegraaff in his book “The Bible Answer Book” says:

“It should be emphasized that everyone has the light of both creation and conscience. God is not capricious! If we respond to the light we have, God will give us more light. In the words of the apostle Paul: "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:26-27)” [18]

The problem with Hank’s statements beyond what has already been responded to with Kreeft & Tacelli, is that Hank makes the claim that “If we respond to the light we have, God will give us more light.”. The problem with this claim is Paul nowhere in Romans Chapter 1 when discussing GR and man’s guilt before God says God will “give more light”. All Paul says is that man already has so much light, they are without excuse. A base assumption here by Hank and others is that man is able to respond to this light on his own. This assumption, about ability will be specifically addressed later on in this work.

What one of the other problems Kreeft, Tacelli and Hanegraaff miss is that if they say that it was merely by an individual’s response alone to GR, Paul explains in Galatians 3:10-11 that no one is justified by God through the works of the law. Paul makes quite clear that proper action, as would be “responding to the light one has been given”, avails nothing before God. This is a works-based system of salvation that Scripture finds no place for.

Whatever this “light” entails exactly, nobody really knows for certain as it is scarcely ever defined as neither of the two works cited articulated what exactly “light” is or how it works. Consequently, their response would not be an action taken in faith, for without SR they would not know what to have faith in. Scripture makes clear, this then would be sin [19] to do something that is not done in faith.

Their attempt to justify God while allowing for men to be saved apart from hearing the Gospel, does nothing but affirm heresy as Paul makes clear. Like the atheist who outright denies SR’s existence due to presuppositional pre-commitments about the non-existence of God, these Evangelicals have found common ground with God’s enemies in many cases, unknowingly.

Total Depravity and Common Ground Between Evangelicals and Atheists

How did these Evangelicals get to a place where they are arrayed against SR alongside atheists? It can be explained best by looking briefly at the historical Reformed Doctrine of Total Depravity. GR, as broad and comprehensive as it is, overlaps with the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity.

In a word: Total Depravity teaches man is so consumed by sin that he suppresses the truth of God that is known by him through GR. There is an inability of the sinner to self-determine or incline to do good that results from his self-determination or inclining to evil.[20]Man therefore, according to Total Depravity, is unable to respond to the light he has been given in such a way that would bring about obedience to God and salvation.

With the rejection of the historical Reformed affirmation of Total Depravity by modern certain Evangelicals, this has allowed for a theological framework that makes room for man’s natural ability to respond to GR. Building upon this, there is now a way for these Evangelicals to justify God in not giving SR to every single human.

One text to bring into consideration in this discussion is Romans 8:7-8 where Paul provides clarity to mankind’s natural inability to rightly respond to God, in any capacity. Paul states:

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

This verse is explaining that the mind that is set on the flesh, the natural man, not indwelt by the Holy Spirit cannot please God and it cannot submit to the law of God, as expressed through GR and the conscience God has given to men. This is understood to be the meaning behind Paul’s wording here in v8 as the very next verse draws a direct contrast to Christians, those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Paul makes clear in this section of Scripture the natural man, cannot positively respond to God in any way that would please Him. This fundamentally then excludes man “responding to the light he has been given”.

Concluding Remarks

At this point, having discussed Total Depravity it is necessary to exactly illuminate for the reader how the denial of Total Depravity brings evangelicals inline with Atheists in regards to the denial of the need for SR. On the Evangelical side, SR is not needed as man can simply respond positively to God through the light of given in GR.

Atheists must be shown that their denial of God results in the collapse of their worldview where they have destroyed any foundation for knowledge whatsoever. Showing the absurdity of their position, it is then imperative to not only explain why SR is important, but to provide them with the gospel message found in the SR itself.

In a closing word to fellow evangelicals who find themselves the subject of this paper, the author would encourage them to reconsider the historic Reformed biblical Doctrine of Total Depravity, and Reformed Theology as a whole. For when Christians have a proper understanding of Total Depravity, they will then see that man will not respond to the light of GR.

Christians need to be very mindful about each doctrine they affirm, thinking through all the benefits and consequences of each one. Christians should strive for as much consistency as possible when building theological frameworks by which to live by and carry out ministry. Taking a cautious approach, thinking through the issues and reflecting on what the church has affirmed through the historical creeds and confessions as guide posts to orthodoxy, would assist evangelicals in maintaining the most accurate biblical theology possible this side of heaven.


[1] Elmer L. Towns, Theology for Today (Belmont, California: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning, 2002), 430

[2] Wayne A. Grudem and K. Erik. Thoennes, Systematic Theology(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 123

[3] Douglas Groothuis, Chritian Apologetics A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, Il, IVP Academic, 2011). 80

[4] Romans 1:20 English Standard Version

[5] Hume, David, Thomas Hill Green, Thomas Hodge Grose, and David Hume. A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects; and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. (London: Longmans, Green, 1909) Pg311

[6] Greg Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998). 339

[7] Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1996). 55

[8] Jason Lisle, The Ultimate Proof of Creation Resolving the origins debate, (Green Forest, AR, Master Books, 2009). 180

[9] Psalm 14:1 ESV

[10] 1 Corinthians 1:20 ESV

[11] 2 Peter 3:9

[12] Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994). 325

[13] Kreeft and Tacelli 325-326

[14] Kreeft and Tacelli 326

[15] Kreeft and Tacelli 326

[16] Kreeft and Tacelli 328

[17] Kreeft and Tacelli 332

[18] Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Book, vol. 1 (Nashville: Jcountryman, 2007) 164

[19] Romans 14:23

[20] William Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2003) 601


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