In truth, general revelation and natural theology could be considered more “Christian” than special revelation and theology. Since the first way God has communicated through us is nature, nature is our first Bible. The river was the first revelator of God. The river is in many ways more revelatory than special revelation in that it provides to us a day by day revealing of God. Day by day, God is in constant communication with us, making plain Gods nature, Gods love and God’s concern for all of creation. This communication never ceases, and we need not open a book to find it. We need to simply breathe, eat, sleep, or observe the world around us. God is in all these things because God is all these things.
The Reality of Natural Theology
The reality is that natural theology is labeled as such because we have labeled it this way. Natural theology is simply theology and general revelation is simply revelation. Just as the Bible reveals God, so does nature. There is no true difference between the two. The difference is the result of human handling, not divine appointment.
With the understanding that God is not merely present in nature, God is nature, we must present a conceptual framework with which to explore the river. To redeem the river back to its rightful place as a primary revelation of God, we must explore its banks. The conceptual framework of theology can be broken down into its philosophy, sociology, science, and biblical evidence. These four areas make up the shorelines of the river. These are the guideposts which help us to continue down and experience the river. By doing this, we are able to experience the Ard Ri, or High King, God.
Sociology of Natural Theology
Sociology is the study of the development, structure and functioning of humans and human society. As religion and God are significant parts of the human experience, so too is there a need to understand how natural theology applies socially.
In the Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology, Richard Finn provides a sociological perspective of natural theology. (Fenn 2013) Fenn describes natural theology not a religion, but a way in which society describes a understanding of the sacred for itself. Socially, natural theology provides people with the ability to see, touch, taste and smell God. Natural theology provides a means by which society can understand God in more than just an abstract written form. This bank of the river provides the answers to the doubting Thomas.
Natural theology and revelation are paramount to a societies understanding of God because the sacred can be considered felt and seen. The sociology of natural theology provides a true means of Jesus Christ being Emmanuel as Isaiah wrote. Natural theology is the primary means by which God is truly “with us”.
Socially, natural theology is a building block of understanding the divine. Without natural theology, society has know way by which to sense God’s presence. This then constricts God to books. It for this reason, society has begun to turn away from the divine, because the divine has been relegated to the bookshelf. If the divine is only understood through the lens of books, the divine has no more presence than Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Socially, natural theology is needed to bring God into the present and into reality. The natural theology and revelation of God is what has made God real to us. The river is how we sense the very presence of God.
Science of Natural Theology
Science is the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. With this river bank the believer has the ability to “taste and see”. Where philosophy explains to the mind, sociology explains to the heart, science provides interaction through observation and experiment. Natural theology as science provides a way in which we can understand the workings of God that occur in nature. Gravity, for example is a scientific law. We understand it because we can physically experience gravity. For example, we can test gravity, its structure and behavior.
By looking at the structure and behavior of the natural world around us we are able to understand that God is a God of order. God does have both structure and behavior that can be experienced through experiencing God’s creation. Science gives us a means by which we can intellectually receive God, through the academic study of all things within creation.
The lover of Christ should never be afraid of the telescope or the microscope. Science is a beautiful window by which we may view and observe the works of God. It is by this viewing of the works of God, that we may deeply understand God and the profound love God has for both us and creation. It is through science that we may fully understand Gods fingerprint on everything in the cosmos.
Biblical Evidence of Natural Theology
Before we explore this aspect of natural theology, it must be made clear that this portion is not necessary for the redeeming of the river. As a rule, natural theology seeks to discover God in the river without the assistance of any holy scripture. However, Scripture does make clear the validity of natural theology as a way by which to independently understand the general revelation of God. This portion of the chapter is necessary in the western Christian world, due to the heavy reliance on special revelation for information. So, although not necessary for a basic understanding of natural theology and revelation, it may put the western Christian mind at ease to know that natural theology and revelation is supported by the holy scriptures.
General revelation is declared by scripture in two major ways. First, the revelation of God in nature is geographically general. This means that no matter where a person lives, whatever culture or religion they hail from, God can be experienced in their local geography, astrology and culture. Psalm 19:1-2 states:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
The bible makes plain that the creation of God pours forth knowledge of its creator. A Celt may look at this scripture and apply it to the river:
The River declares the glory of God; The banks declare the work of Gods hands. Day after day, the river pours forth speech, night after night the river displays knowledge.
General Revelation for All
The fact of natural theology and general revelation is that every living creature receives general revelation from God. Humans, no matter where they come from or what they believe, receive the same general revelation through the natural theology of God. Theology does not belong to specific denomination or faith. Theology belongs to all people as a gift from God. The rivers revelations belong to all people, regardless of faith or background. When the river is redeemed, it unifies the whole of humanity. Failure to recognize the river is a failure to recognize the wholeness of God and Gods desire for the unity of humankind.
Acts 14:17 reveals to us that not only is general revelation available, but it is available to all people.
Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy
The river is a testimony. The testimony of God and Gods desires are communicated within the banks of the river.
The Truth of Special Revelation
The truth of Special Revelation is that much of it began as General Revelation. The Bible says that God spoke to Adam and Eve. “They, in turn, told others about the things God both said and did. As God revealed Himself to humanity at various times in the past these events would also have been told and retold by people with whom God spoke.” (Stewart, 2020) The creation epoch and the story of Adam and Eve are general revelation that have been incorporated into the special revelation of the Bible.
It could be stated that special revelation is general revelation that has been elevated into holy scripture. The river, the mountain and the ocean were the first special revelation. This reveals to us that the river remains the primary revelation of God, not only in the cosmos, but in the Bible as well. The cosmos was the first Bible, and as such, the first special revelation.
These different ways in which we experience the river show us two things about the revelation of God. First, the natural world around us was, and remains the primary way in which God reveals God’s character. The second thing we learn from the river is that not only is it a primary means of understanding God. It was the first means by which we understood God. And yet even with primacy, the western church has relegated natural revelation and theology to the corner of the theological dinner party. There are true consequences to the faith of Christianity when we put baby in a corner.
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