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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Exploring Two-Adam theology in the New Testament letters

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Romans 5:19-21 "For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Introduction:

How does the first man created by God - Adam - help shed light on the role and identity of Jesus Christ? The New Testament answers this question. Today's post wants to briefly consider how the New Testament letters of Paul and others utilize "Two-Adam theology". When I say "Two-Adam theology", I refer to the comparison between the historic Adam (i.e. "First Adam") and Jesus (i.e. "Second Adam"). 

Where does Paul refer to Jesus as the "New Adam" or "Second Adam"

Various locations in the New Testament bring out explicit comparison between the historic Adam or "first Adam" and Jesus Christ - i.e - the "Second Adam" (sometimes called "Last Adam") -  Romans 5:12-21 and portions within 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 and 1 Corinthians 15:45-48 are the key texts in Paul's letter. In the Romans text, Adam is referred to as a "type" or a pre-figured, prophetic imagery of Jesus in Romans 5:14. When we arrive in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus is referred to as the "last Adam" in 15:45 and "second man" or "second Adam" in 15:47. 

How "Two-Adam" theology  highlights core Christian truths

Paul's point in comparing Jesus and Adam is to also highlight two core Christian doctrines - justification by faith, Christ's resurrection and the Christian life. 

1. The doctrine of justification by faith and the "two-Adam" theology

The doctrine of "justification by faith" is concerned with how Christ's accomplished work in the cross and from His resurrection are credited to the sinner at saving faith. Such "crediting" is described by Paul in Romans 4 and Galatians 3-4 as "imputation". When we speak about "imputation", we refer to the work of another credited to my account. The means by which Christ's life, death and resurrection are "credited" or "imputed" is by "faith". In saving faith, the sinner responds to God's gracious calling and receives all that Jesus worked on their behalf. Romans 5:1-11 summarizes all of the blessings flowing from justification by faith - peace with God, access to God, hope in God and love from God. 

When we consider how Adam's sin is passed down from one generation to the next, we find his sin, his shame and his transgression "credited" or "imputed" to all humanity. The disobedience, guilt and failure of Adam was "imputed" to all of his posterity (see Genesis 3:16-19; Job 31:33; Romans 5:12-21). Many older writers refer to how Christ, in effect, "undid" what the first Adam had done. 

2. Christ's resurrection and "two-Adam" theology

Concerning the second major doctrine illustrated by the Adam and Jesus comparison, we find that 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 and 15:45-48 emphasize the resurrection. Perhaps the one verse that brings home the power of this comparison between Adam and Christ, the "first Adam" and "the last or second Adam", is 1 Corinthians 15:22 - 

"For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive." 

The first Adam's choice - disobedience and breaking of God's original covenant with him - resulted in God's divine curse, universal death and humanity's separation from God. The second Adam's choices - perfect obedience and completion of that first covenant of obedience and inauguration of the New Covenant of grace in His blood - results in blessing, life and reconciliation. Death flows from the spring of the first Adam's bloodline. Resurrected life issues forth from the Second Adam. 

3. How the Christian life is illustrated by this "two-Adam" comparison
As one dives into this pool of Divine revelation on "the First Adam" and "Second Adam", we quickly find ourselves swimming from the shallow end to the ever deepening side. The central doctrines of justification by faith and resurrection are chief among Christian truths highlighted by this "two-Adam" theology. However, other truths connected to the practical, everyday, Christian life find illumination as well. We will list two of them: believer's baptism and the Christian's growth in sanctification.

A. The meaning of believer's baptism

Once a person has trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the first major step of Christian obedience involves following through in believer's baptism or immersion into water as replaying the events of Christ's death, burial and resurrection. This important act has as its backdrop the Old Adam/New Adam or Second Adam theology. Romans 6:4-6 states for example: 

"Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." 

The "old-self" refers to who I once was "in Adam". The "new-self" describes who I am in Christ - the second Adam. 

Or again, Colossians 2:13-14 - 

"When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." 

Jesus as the "New Adam" grants to the believer a new identity. Baptism pictures the reality of having been transferred from what we were in the first Adam to who we are called to be in Jesus Christ. All of this, of course, can only occur by grace alone through faith alone, with baptism being a subsequent, post-conversion act of obedience by the Christian convert. 

B. The Christian's need to put off the "old man" and put on the "new man" in the daily exercise of sanctification

Colossians 3 really speaks to the necessity of every Christian to "put off" and "put on". Christians are to forsake "the old, former way of life" from which they were saved and embrace their new found identity in Jesus by way of "putting on the new man". Colossians 3:9-10 - 

"Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him." The parallel of these thoughts is found in Ephesians 4:20-24 - 

"But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."

The Apostle Peter, I would argue, hints at this comparison of Jesus as the second Adam in one of his letters. For example, Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:17-21 - 

"knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God." 

Peter's ongoing discussion then of how "all flesh is grass" (quoting from Isaiah 40:6ff) echoes the fact that original Adam was a man created from the dust of the ground (see Genesis 2:7). 

Closing thoughts

Today's post was designed to explore the "two-Adam" theology of the New Testament letters of Paul and others. By reading Paul's comparisons of Jesus and Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, we come to understand four major truths pertinent to Christian identity.

1. Justification by Faith 

2. Christ's resurrection

These first two truths are fundamental to the whole of the Christian faith. The next two truths, illuminated by the "two-Adams" theology, have to do with the fundamentals of Christian living....

3. Believer's Baptism

4. Continuing growth in sanctification 

Monday, July 1, 2019

God's general revelation, special revelation and the fate of the unevangelized

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Psalm 19:1 “The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth His handiwork.

Psalm 19:7 “The Law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul”

John 1:18 “….He has explained Him”.


Colossians 1:16-17 "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."

Introduction: I've got a secret to tell you


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Have you ever had a conversation with someone that divulges a secret they have kept hidden for a long time? Prior to their disclosure, you are unaware of what is on their mind. However, upon their telling you the whole secret, you now have access to that which was previously hidden. Sometimes people will use the term "revelation" to describe the full disclosure of secrets.

When we speak about how God has made Himself or His will known to human beings, we refer to such an act as "revelation". Revelation, in its simplest meaning, refers to an "unveiling". For instance, the final book in the New Testament is called by the mysterious sounding title - "The Apocalypse". The term "apocalypse" derives from the same-sounding Greek noun which indicates the unveiling of something previously hidden. Such ideas convey the broad definition of God's revelation of Himself. 

The infinite God, creator of Heaven and Earth, has made available and accessible certain information about Himself in creation and conscience, which Bible teachers call "general revelation". This same God, who being the Creator, is also the Redeemer, and has disclosed specifics about His will and saving intentions in the Old and New Testament scriptures, which Bible teachers refer to as "special revelation". 

What God does through general and special revelation

One of my favorite designations for the Bible is “God’s Book”. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 begins its first article with these words: 

“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man.” 

The remainder of the article emphasizes how God is the central character and focal point of sacred scripture. The BFM 2000 describes God as the Bible’s “Author”. 

Further reading yields that by the principles of the Bible, God “judges” men’s hearts. Finally, all scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of Divine revelation. In as much as the Bible is “God’s Book”, we need to also know the “God of the Book”. The above verses tell us three main truths about this God: 

1. His existence is revealed in the external world and the moral realm
(i.e. "general revelation").

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2. He expresses Himself in scripture 
(i.e. "special revelation").

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3. He is explained through Jesus Christ. (i.e. "fullness of revelation through God's special revelation").

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All three of the above points consider how God as Creator is revealed by the general revelation of creation and the conscience; special revelation in the Bible and the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ. 

Unpacking general revelation


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What kind of God is this God? Undoubtedly we have the special revelation of scripture and the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ to tell us the specifics about God. However, we also understand that God has expressed Himself in a general, non-redemptive form of revelation that Bible teachers call "general revelation". Why is this term "general revelation" used? The specific knowledge about God (His power, nature and goodness) is accessible to anyone, everywhere who has a heart open to truth. Such revelation about God is discerned through the external physical world and the internal moral intuitions of the human conscience.  

With the increasing tides of secularism and spiritualism, the God of the Bible needs to be explained for what and Who He truly is, the One All-Good, All powerful God. The exercise of discerning God's nature and characteristics from His general revelation in the external world and the moral realm is called "natural theology". 

Prophets of the Old Testament like David in Psalm 8 and 19 and the New Testament Apostles like Paul in Acts 14 and 17 argued for the existence and nature of the true God from observations gleaned from general revelation. Their strategy was to engage their audiences with information they already had about God. Romans 1:18-20 and 2:14 state that all men born into this world have an inherent knowledge of God's  power and moral character. Thus, the pattern of beginning with God's general revelation and the insights of natural theology is one that is advocated by the Bible.

How God can use general revelation to prepare humbled hearts to respond positively to the Gospel

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General revelation, though a non-redemptive form of God's revelation, can nevertheless prepare the human heart for reception of the "brighter-light" of God's special revelation, the Bible, and the fullness of His revelation disclosed through the Bible - Jesus Christ. Passages such as Romans 1:18-31 tell us that none can complain before God on judgment day that they didn't have a chance to know Him, since general moral and eternal qualities of God were revealed to them from general revelation. If such persons were to respond positively to the "lesser-light" of general revelation, then God would already have a Christ-follower ready to meet them with the redemptive special revelation of the Gospel. 

Acts 10 is a wonderful example of how God uses general revelation to prepare the human heart for the time they will hear more fully God's redemptive purposes toward them. The man in question is named "Cornelius". Acts 10:1-16 indicates that Cornelius was a "God-fearer", indicating that, at bare-minimum, He had responded positively to God's general revelation. What follows in the remainder of Acts 10 is the arrival of the Apostle Peter to bring to Cornelius and his household the specific, redemptive revelation of God from the scriptures, as well as the fullness of revelation revealed by the death and resurrection of Christ. 

The Holy Spirit brought conviction through Peter's message and the majority of his listeners were gloriously converted. If Cornelius had turned away from the lesser-light of God's general revelation, then he would had demonstrated his lack of willingness and readiness for God's special revelation. Salvation is all of God, and the rejection of the Gospel is all of man. 

Closing thoughts

Today we looked at the concept of God's revelation of Himself and how He makes Himself known through what is termed: "general revelation". We also touched briefly on two other terms: "special revelation", which is God's identity and redemptive-will through the scriptures and the full-revelation of Himself in Jesus shining forth from the Biblical text. By keeping in mind such distinctions, we can begin to explain how God deals with people who may have never heard of Jesus' name. No one can ever say they were dealt with unfairly by God (Romans 2:4-16). All those who respond to the Gospel call of salvation can only say they were dealt with graciously by God (Acts 16:14; Ephesians 2:8-9; James 1:18). All people who persist in their rejection of the Gospel can never charge God as unmerciful, since they had enough information from general revelation to elicit a forward direction toward Him (Romans 1:18-31). Only the Holy Spirit can open the heart, unstop the ears, take the blinders off the eyes and raise from spiritual death the sinner's will so moved to see, hear and sense the Savior calling them to Himself (John 1:12-13; 16:8-12). The Savior who was moving in the shadows of life in the course of seeing God's general revelation desires to dispel those shadows so that they can run toward Him, the focus of God's special revelation (John 1:9; Titus 2:11-12). 

Friday, June 28, 2019

God and all things

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Romans 11:36-12:2 "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

Note: Readers can also read this post on my new blog site - https://www.newhope-ny.org/pastor-mahlon

Introduction: I don't want to be another goldfish

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I used to own a goldfish. As I watched the fish swim, it would stare blankly, unaware of the water that was sustaining it. The fish was fed by me. If there had been no aquarium, the fish would have died. Like that fish, many Christians carry on their day with hardly a second thought about God, His being and attributes. The great Dutch thelogian Abraham Kuyper once noted: "there is not one square inch of space that Christ cannot say "mine!" I don't want to remain ignorant of God's presence like a goldfish. Instead, I need His grace to cultivate a heightened awareness of His all pervading reality.

There is the Creator and His creation. There is the Redeemer and those whom He came to redeem. Any possibility we have of knowing God, or even knowing about God, is totally due to the gracious efforts He initiates. Knowing God is the chief purpose of life. With those thoughts in mind, is it a wonder how we could put anything in God's place? Yet, we often do. The late author A.W. Tozer writes in his classic book, "The Pursuit of God":

"The world of sense intrudes upon our attention day and night for the whole of our lifetime. It is clamorous, insistent and self-demonstrating. It does not appeal to our faith, it is here, assaulting our five senses, demanding to be accepted as real and final. But sin has clouded the lenses of our hearts that we cannot see that reality, the City of God, shining around us. The world of senses triumphs. The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible, the temporal of the eternal."

Tozer then concludes:

"At the root of the Christian life lies belief in the invisible. The object of the Christian's faith is unseen reality."
This first post aims to stir our thoughts toward cultivating a greater awareness of God's all-surpassing presence. 

God's infinite presence is the majesty which stirs the believer to live for Him

Reflection upon Romans 11:36-12:2 gives us a way to understand how the Christian is to live in the presence of God. Older writers often talked about living in God''s presence by the Latin phrase "Coram Dei", which referred to heightened awareness of God's activity within them and through them. 

God's omnipresence, we could say, is His "infinite presence" which influences all points in the universe, even the universe itself. All things - time, space, people - are present to God. To illustrate, picture a man at the supper table. He has before him a plate and all the utensils. He can reach out and affect anyone of those objects, since they're all in front of him.

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All of creation is before the living God. Not only do all things lay before Him, God also is present at every place and moment in history and space. Theologians refer to this aspect of God's omnipresence as His immensity, which is referred to in the Bible (1 Kings 8:22-23; Acts 17:26-28). God's presence suffuses the fabric of time and space while keeping Himself distinct and separate from it (i.e. another aspect, God's transcendence, Psalm 46:10; 1 Timothy 6:16).

What I've described marks the first step in cultivating a greater awareness of God - namely what we could call His "infinite presence". He is the ultimate, living, only, Personal, uncreated reality that is identified as three persons - Father, Son And Spirit (Matthew 28:20; 2 Corinthians 13:14).

This infinite presence of God is the majesty which stirs the heart to want to know God. When I focus on God''s infinite presence in Romans 11:36, the verse leaps off the page. This one verse of Romans 11:36 is a Bible within the Bible. Note the words of the verse:

1. "from Him" - that is, God the creator.
"through Him", that is, Christ the redeemer".

2. "to Him", that is, Christ our soon coming King.

3. "to Him be glory for ever, amen", that is, the Triune God's work of concluding history. 

The entire canon of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, finds its summary in Romans 11:36. So God''s infinite presence is the majesty which stirs the heart to know God. Let''s now consider how we go from knowing God to living for Him.

God's indwelling presence motivates the believer to live for Him

When we transition to Romans 12:1-2, we find the command to present our bodies as living sacrifices. Paul is beginning to discuss what we could call God's "indwelling presence" in the Christian. Here we see the Christian presented as a living sacrifice, much like those sacrifices brought into the temple at Jerusalem in Paul's day. They were brought for presentation to God to express worship. Those sacrificial animals were set apart. The result? Death. The sacrifice left the world of the living to give its life to point the way to the Author of all things. 

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The sweet aroma that wafted its way throughout the temple would remind worshipers of their purpose for living - to know God. The Christian is a living sacrifice (see Ephesians 5:1-2). He or she is to voluntarily come. The remainder of Romans 12:1-2 commands not only action, but surrender. Just as Jesus went willingly to the cross to give His life on our behalf, we too are to follow in His steps (Hebrews 12:1-3; 1 Peter 2:21).
We find the command in the passive voice: "be transformed by the renewing of our minds". 

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Too often we are tempted to "be conformed to this world". Passivity in the things of the flesh leads to swift spiritual decline. We find too often the tendency to put things in cruise control and let the world dictate our agenda. God''s indwelling presence in the Christian as the Person of the Holy Spirit urges that we exchange worldly passivity to surrender to His leading.
What does it look like when the Christian follows through in surrender to the Spirit's indwelling presence? Paul supplies the answer in Ephesians 4:20-24 -

"if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

As one reads Romans 12:1-2, the urgency to be transformed by the "renewing of the mind" is heightened. Renewal of one's mind entails the combination of spiritual and moral transformation. The Christian is passive, in one sense, yielding to the Spirit's inner working. Yet, at the same time, the Christian is actively participating with the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 2:12-13; 2 Peter 1:4-11).

How God's infinite and indwelling presence work in the believer's life to increase a sensitivity to Him.

So as we head down the homestretch of today's post, lets put together what we have said about God, all things and how we increase our awareness of Him by His grace. The two headings we considered had to do with what we call God's "infinite presence" and "indwelling presence". At salvation, the Spirit of God comes to indwell the Christian (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20). Christians are described as the temple of the living God, both individually and corporately (Romans 6:4-12; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20; Ephesians 3; 1 Peter 2:4-11). 

God's infinite presence, accessible to anyone, manifests in its more obvious expression by the indwelling of the Person of the Holy Spirit in Christians (see John 14:16-18; 15:26-27). Only by the Spirit can one test or prove that good, acceptable and perfect will of God (i.e. the scriptures, see 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Hebrews 4:12).

Closing thoughts

Today's post featured Romans 11:36-12:2. We noted how God's presence can be understood by two headings: His infinite presence (i.e. omni-presence) and His indwelling presence (i.e. the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian). The presence of God, by the Person of the Spirit in the Christian, enlightens them to their spiritual identity. The Spirit's enlightening work also empowers such persons to live out the will of God found in the Word of God. Such truths alert us to the pervading reality of God's desire to work in and through every Christian His powerful and mighty presence. There is God and all things. May we, as part of "all other things", look to and live for God that is overall and through all things.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Thinking about God in three ways - natural theology, Biblical theology and perfect being theology

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Romans 11:33-36 "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."

Introduction:


In my last two posts, I wrote on ways we can think about God - natural revelation (and its corresponding project of natural theology) and special revelation (with its correlate of Biblical theology). For readers desiring to revisit those posts, the links are provided here: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2019/05/thinking-about-god-through-general.html and here: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2019/05/thinking-about-god-through-books-of.html.

Today I aim to expound a third way of thinking about God - namely, through what is called by theologians: "Perfect Being Theology". We will first review how natural theology and Biblical theology differ and yet relate, since both ways of thinking about God can reinforce one another. Then, we will consider perfect being theology and it's role to help evaluate conclusions drawn from our efforts in Biblical theology. By the end of today's post, we aim to have a three-fold system by which we can think further about God in the scope of the Christian life.

1. General Revelation, natural theology and their interaction with Biblical theology.
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First, we can contemplate God's being and some attributes through the project of natural theology. Natural theology is a man-made effort to offer a systematized set of observations of God from the theater of general revelation we see in creation, the conscience and concepts of reason outside of Divine authoritative scripture.

As we noted in the last two posts, natural theology is exercised independently of appeal to the biblical text. With that said, in order to insure our conclusions from natural theology are correct, we measure them by the more specific light of special revelation of the Bible and Perfect being theology (which I'll explain below). Explained differently, in an ultimate sense, if one has exercised natural theology with a newly transformed heart and mind devoted to Christ, there won't result a conflict between the conclusions of natural theology and those of biblical theology done from the text of the Bible.

We noted how scripture refers to God's general revelation in creation, the conscience, and thoughts in the mind. General revelation is so-called due to it's access by anyone regardless of whether they are a Believer or unbeliever. Although General revelation is not a saving revelation, yet, if someone positively responds to general revelation, they are positioned to rightly received the fuller special revelation of God in the Bible and through Jesus (consider Cornelius in Acts 10, for example).

2. Special revelation and Biblical theology can evaluate reflections about God that we gain from natural theology.

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We secondly think about God by noting how he is revealed in the books of the Bible. Whenever we study about God or any other doctrine through the books of the Bible, we call such a project "Biblical theology". As we take the conclusions we draw from Biblical theology and combined them with whatever we may draw from studying other human disciplines, we call such a project "systematic theology". Systematic theology refers to a systematic approach to God's revelation of himself in the Bible, and other human disciplines such as history, science, and philosophy.

The Bible is our main source for drawing conclusions about God as related to His creative work and redemptive activities. Theologians refer to the Bible as "special revelation" because it is the specific source to which we appeal when understanding correct notions about God. God's revelation of himself through both special revelation and general revelation is without error. Any attempts that humans exercise in reflecting about God either through general revelation or special revelation can have blind-spots. Hence, the work of biblical theology and natural theology are ongoing projects requiring humility and dependence upon God.

3. Perfect being theology as a way of checking to our Biblical theological reflections on God's special revelation in the Bible.

When we consider specifically what God reveals about himself through the Bible or special revelation, what central theme or themes can we use in checking the validity of our conclusions? After all, the projects of biblical theology and systematic theology are ongoing. Both are prone to errors due to the limitations of human understanding. 


There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit grants illumination to believers as they study the biblical text. Nevertheless, Christians who aim to know God experientially, practically and intellectually, need a way in which they can check their conclusions about God. Central affirmations such as: "God is one God, who is three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and these Three Persons are truly God" are gleaned from a host of Biblical texts. To evaluate the coherence of such statements to both communicate the Biblical message about God and defend such doctrines against critics, we employ what is deemed "Perfect Being Theology", as described below.

From the days of Christ, the apostles and subsequent generations of the early church fathers, there was a common way talking about God and communicating him to others. As one begins to read certain writers from the Middle Ages who stood on the shoulders of earlier Christian thinkers, as well as the Biblical text, there developed a particular method of thinking about God within the stream of Classical Christian theism called "Perfect Being Theology". 


Arguably the best representative of perfect being theology is the 11th Century theologian Anselm of Canterbury. What Anselm wanted to accomplish was a way of meditating upon God that would both demonstrate his existence to non-believers and provide a central theme for thinking about him in the Christian church. In his masterpiece, "The Proslogion", Anselm develops his definition about God, which has proven quite helpful and thinking about God,

" God is a being then which no greater can be conceived".

In more recent times, theologians have  restated this definition of God as follows:

" God is the greatest conceivable being".

This definition of God stirs the mind to conceive of a being with certain qualities and features that are called "great-making properties", that is, attributes related to strength, moral virtue, being, knowledge and other traits. As we extend our thoughts on these attributes to their outer-most limits, we are attempting to think of the greatest possible way such qualities are expressed above any created being. Furthermore, when we refer to God as the "Greatest Conceivable Being", we refer to him as "Perfect", that is, God cannot be improved upon nor can He diminish. What's more, such a being is described by Perfect Being Theology as necessarily or "having to" exist, since by virtue of His Divine nature, God as a Maximally Great Being must exist and thus cannot be any other way than the way He is.

When we look at all other created things, there are ways in which they could be improved upon and we know that there are ways in which they can grow worse over time. Moreover, other created things could either exist or not exist. In other words, created things are not complete in and of themselves. Created things require something else other than themselves to either complete them or to sustain their existence. Anslem's "Proslogion" uses such thoughts to develop a wonderful argument for God's existence, of which we don't have time to expound upon in this post.


God alone is the Greatest Conceivable Being. Such thoughts about God are not just abstractions of the mind, but also highly practical to everyday living. God is complete in enough himself (Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6; Romans 11:36; Hebrews 1:8-11), which means when we think about God in this way, we can honestly say that God is sufficient for us, and that we can look to him to complete whatever is lacking in our lives.

4. How Biblical is Perfect Being Theology?


When Anselm and other thinkers drew together the threads of "Perfect Being Theology", they were doing so from considerations of the Biblical text. Theologian Paul Helm has referenced certain passages of scripture that demonstrate how this idea of God as the "Greatest Conceivable Being" is a proper reference point for thinking about God. Such passages as Genesis 22:16, 2 Samuel 7:22, Nehemiah 9:32; Jeremiah 32:18, Psalm 95:3, 96:4, 77:13; Exodus 18:14; Psalm 145:13; Titus 2:13, and Hebrews 6:13-14 are examples of how God alone is the greatest conceivable being.

Closing thoughts: So how may we use perfect being theology, Biblical theology and natural theology to practically think about God? 


Dr. Brian Leftow of Oxford University, notes that to practically work through "perfect-being theology", we begin with the notion of God as the greatest conceivable being with the greatest qualitative attributes. As we begin to construct a perfect being theology we first of all ask: how do these attributes fit together? we secondly ask: what are they? thirdly, we aim to figure out how to communicate a coherent idea of God.

As we draw today's post to a close, we need to ask ourselves: why does this matter? Why have three ways of thinking about God: natural theology, biblical Theology, and perfect being theology? 


First, knowing God is the main purpose of life. God has made it possible to know him in a general sense through general revelation. By engaging in the project of natural theology, we are setting ourselves up to enjoy God's revelation of himself through creation, the conscience and considerations of reason. Such a project at least helps us to enjoy what we can "know about God". This is God's world, a theater through which we can enjoy the light of his glory as revealed in the heavens above and in the mind Within each of us.

Secondly, thinking about God through the Bible gives us the specific revelation of himself as the Creator, Redeemer and Completer of all history. Biblical theology aids in helping us to "enjoy the God we can know". Seeing how God has specifically revealed himself through Jesus Christ puts us into personal contact with him. By responding through faith in his special Revelation in the Bible and Jesus, we can go from merely "knowing about God" to "knowing him".

Then finally, perfect being theology exercises the mind to think more closely about God. It is essential to humble ourselves to the fact that we can never fully comprehend God, even though we can genuinely know Him (see Jeremiah 9:23-24; James 4:8). Jesus reminds us in Matthew 22:37-39 that we are to love the Lord Our God with all our heart, soul and mind. What perfect being theology does is to provide another way of checking my conclusions about God that I draw from thinking about him in the biblical text as well as saturating my mind with more thoughts of him. In the words of one author, any effort to do theology ought to lead to doxology or "worship of God". May we take the time to think more about God in order that we may live for him by delighting in Him.


Friday, May 31, 2019

Thinking about God through the books of the Bible

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Jeremiah 9:23-24  "Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord."

Introduction: Why it is so important to think about God

The great 19th century Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon comments in a sermon about the benefits of thinking about God. J.I. Packer begins his classic book, "Knowing God" (readers can click on the Amazon link to see more information about this amazing book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B006NZ66RC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 ), by quoting Spurgeon:

"The proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father."

"There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity."

As Packer begins to develop why he is writing his book "knowing God", he lays out in his second chapter how pursuit of God through studying His being and perfections can benefit us:

1. Those who know God have great energy for God. 

2. Those who know God have great thoughts of God.

3. Those who know God show great boldness for God. 

4. Those who know God have great contentment in God. 

Review of the last post that began thinking about God from general revelation and focusing upon thinking about God through the special revelation of the Bible

In our last post we considered thinking about God by way of general revelation, religious experience and natural theology. (curious readers can review the last post by clicking on the link here:  http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2019/05/thinking-about-god-through-general.html ).

In this post I want us to consider how we can think about God through His special revelation in the Bible and by the Person of Jesus Christ. The way we will pursue such thoughts is by considering key passages, themes or summaries of each book of the Bible that will draw for us a Biblical portrait of God with regard to His being, attributes, names and identity.

In Genesis, God is the Providential Creator. 

He is the Creator of all space, time, matter, life and humanity (Genesis 1:1, 2-25, 26-27). As the eternal Sovereign exercising authority as King over what He decreed, God reigns with no rivals, declaring all He has made "good" (Genesis 2:1-4). God made man as a covenantal being, meaning that God pledged Himself to man and desired man to pledge himself to God through obedience. Man broke this original "covenant of works" (Genesis 2:16-17). God knew man would fall and already intended to offer man, through His covenant with Adam's wife, a covenant of grace (Genesis 3:15). Both Adam and his wife respond by faith, as indicated by Adam's naming of her as "Eve" or "mother of all who live" and God's clothing of them in the skins of animals sacrificed on their behalf. God's covenant of grace is expressed repeatedly, most notably in His dealings with Abraham (Genesis 12, 17, 22), Isaac (Genesis 26) and Jacob (Genesis 28,32,35) and the various covenants He would make with Israel (see Romans 9:1-5). 

In Exodus, God is the Redeemer.
In Exodus 3 we find God calling Moses to go to Pharaoh and exclaim: "let my people go". When Moses inquires as to the identity of the One commissioning him, God replies in Exodus 3:14 "God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

In Leviticus, God is Holy
In Leviticus 11:44 we see God issue the command: "be holy, for I am holy." God "holiness" is His "otherness". The holiness of God speaks of the concentration of all of God's moral perfections, such as mercy, goodness, love, justice, forbearance." 

In Numbers, God leads His people.
For 40 years Israel wondered in the wilderness as the result of their unbelief. God led them by His self-revelation of theophanies as a "pillar of cloud" by day, guarding them from the burning heat of the desert sun, and as a "pillar of fire" by night. God was demonstrating that "darkness and light" are the same to Him, since He sees all and knows all things. As Numbers 23:19 reminds us - “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?"

In Deuteronomy, God is the living God.
The first major division of the Bible, Pentateuch, formerly introduces us to God. By way of His names we see two major designations: "Elohim", found 2706 times, is in proper contexts referring to God as He is as God, the Almighty, eternal, Divine Being that makes covenant with His creation and people. The second name is God's personal name, "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" (pronounced "Adonai" in the Hebrew Bible), found 5766 times in the Old Testament. This most common name of God reveals how God is in His being as "the self-sufficient one". 

Whenever God first revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3, He was revealing Himself as the theologians refer, a se, a Latin phrase referring to God's self-sufficiency or "aseity". We see then that God is the Creator, the Providential Sovereign One that is the Redeemer of His people. The remainder of the Historical books of the Old Testament reveal further truths.

In Joshua, He Captain of Salvation.

Judges, He is our Deliverer.

Ruth, He is our Kinsmen Redeemer.

1 & 2 Samuel, He's the Prophet's message.

1 & 2 Chronicles, He is the Sovereign God.

In Ezra, He is the Faithful scribe.

Nehemiah tells us that God is the Finisher of what He begins.

Esther presents God as always on time.

In the Hebrew Bible, the books of Joshua through 2 Kings are regarded as the "former prophets". The Jews used this designation to indicate that God's prophetic voice threaded its way through the history of his people Israel as they became entangled in the affairs of the surrounding nations. In the Hebrew Bible, the Jews placed Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 & 2 Chronicles as the final books, since they summarize the entire history of God's dealings with His people from the beginnings of creation until 90 year period following their return from exile in Babylon. 

What follows are the prophetic books as we find in our English Bibles. God always had a word in the foreground of what He was otherwise orchestrating to prepare for the arrival of the Eternal Son in His incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth. 

In Isaiah with see God as the Supreme King.

Jeremiah portrays God as hope in the midst of sorrow.

Lamentations describes God present in the pit of our despair.

Ezekiel focuses upon the glory of God - craving Him when He seems absent and rejoicing at the prospect of His return.

Daniel reveals the Ancient of days and the second Person of the Godhead, the Son.

Hosea shows God as the faithful spouse.

Joel makes known to us God in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Amos reveals God as Truth

Obadiah reveals how God humbles the proud.

Jonah depicts God as the Great Foreign Missionary seeking the lost.

Micah states there none like our God.

Nahum presents God having His way in the storm.

Habakkuk reminds us that God hears our prayers.

Zephaniah describes God as rejoicing over His people.

Haggai presents the coming Messiah as the One to be desired.

Zechariah points the way to God as the fountain of salvation.

Malachi closes out the Old Testament by announcing the Lord as having the power to heal the wound of sin.

In our English Bibles we find 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. Each time God revealed Himself, there followed an additional body of written Divine revelation that connected to the previous collection. God's self-disclosure or "revelation" was progressive, much like the beauty and scent of a rose is progressively observed and sensed as the petals "progressively" unfold. 

The major prophetic periods of the Old Testament were Moses, Elijah/Elisha and the writing prophets. Each period was prefaced by God disclosing Himself as Creator, Redeemer, Sovereign King and as a plurality of Persons united in one being. 

400 years would transpire between the close of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew. Although scholars often refer to this period as the "silent years" (due to no composition of Divinely-inspired books), nonetheless, God was preparing history for the arrival of Jesus Christ. 14 non-inspired Jewish writings, called "the Apocrypha", give us an idea of what the Jewish people were thinking in the centuries leading up to Christ's first coming or "advent". We can tell from that body of writings that the Jews were looking for their Messiah. Once Jesus came on the scene, He represented the final and decisive revelation of God in history (see Hebrews 1:1-2). The New Testament stands as the final collection of inspired documents expounding the life, death, resurrection, ascension and soon-to-return of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew, Jesus is Royalty.

In Mark, Jesus is Servant.

In Luke, Jesus is Perfect Man.

In John, Jesus is truly God in the flesh.

In Acts, He is preached among the nations.

In Romans, all who believe on Him are declared "righteous" or "justified".

1 Corinthians emphasizes Jesus as the believer's Sanctifier by His Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians reminds us that God's glory is revealed on the face of Jesus Christ.

Galatians tells us that He is the true Gospel.

Ephesians reveals He is the believer's inheritance.

Philippians details how the Son as truly God came to experience life as truly man in His incarnation.

Colossians expounds on Jesus as the exalted, ascended Lord.

1 Thessalonians tells us Jesus is returning for His church.

2 Thessalonians describes how He will return to defeat the forces of evil.

1 Timothy unfolds Christ as the Shepherd of His church.

2 Timothy unfolds Christ as the theme of inspired, inerrant scripture.

Titus reveals how Jesus is our God and Savior.

Philemon emphasizes the importance of forgiving one another, just as Jesus did us on the cross.

Hebrews unfolds the glory of Jesus as our High Priest, exalted in the heavens. 

James reminds us that God is immutable, without shifting or variation of shadow.

1 Peter presents Jesus as our Chief Cornerstone.

2 Peter alerts us to Him returning in the glory of the Father.

1,2,3 John presents Christ as our beloved Master.

Jude promises that believers in Christ will have His preserving power to the end. 

Revelation is the final revealed book ever composed, portraying Jesus Christ as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. 

The New Testament books focus their attention on expounding the Person and accomplished work of the Son of God. However, we must not forget that we see the work of the Person of the Holy Spirit carrying on the work of the Son following His ascension into Heaven in the Acts of the Apostles. The Holy Spirit is calling all kinds of people, from every nation, in every century of history, to place their trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Once the response of faith is given to the Gospel call of the Spirit, the "salvation accomplished" by the Son becomes the "salvation applied" by the Holy Spirit. 

Closing thoughts on thinking about God through the Bible

As we consider the survey we undertook in thinking about God through the books of the Bible, we've noted God's being, attributes, activities and identity. He is the immaterial, eternal, infinite, immutable, without parts, constant in His emotional life, immortal, omnipresent, omniscient, all-wise, all-good, holy, just, loving, merciful, transcendent yet immanent, Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer and Completer of all things created and all persons that are redeemed in saving faith. God alone is able to create something from nothing, raise life from death and provide salvation. 

This One God is revealed in His identity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with all three Persons equal in power, glory and only differing by identity. Such an important exercise of thinking about God through the books of the Bible is what we call "Biblical Theology". Whenever we aim to think further about how we can organize such thoughts about God in a system that would provide a resource for practical efforts such as preaching, teaching and evangelism, we call such an effort "systematic theology". 

In order to evaluate whether our method of thinking about God through the Books of the Bible is on the right track, theologians have come to use a specific method of thinking about God called "Perfect Being Theology" - which will be the focus of our next post. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Thinking about God through general revelation, religious experience and natural theology

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Acts 17:24-25 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us

Introduction: 

A.W. Tozer's classic book - "Knowledge of the Holy" begins with this most insightful quote: 

"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever
been greater than its idea of God".

How does one begin to think about and know about God? Two answers come to mind: 

1. Knowing about God through what is called "general revelation".

2. Knowing God through what is called "special revelation". 

In today's post, we will consider the first of these (as well as give some brief definitions). 

Knowing about and thinking about God through His general revelation in creation and the conscience.

"Knowledge about God" is accessible to all people. In the Old Testament we see a clear example of this through what theologians term, "general revelation", in Psalm 19:1-4 -

"The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. 2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. 4 Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun."

General revelation is called such because it is generally accessible to all people as much as knowledge of the external world or knowledge of other people having minds. Such general revelation is a feature of our world which is perceptible by our mental faculties (that is, reason, intention, the human will) which have the ability to draw conclusions about God's Divine nature through all He has made. 

Albert Einstein, the noted 20th century physicist, observes that the ability comprehend anything in our universe is indeed incomprehensible.  Whether observing the grandeur of the universe, watching a sunrise, listening to a beautiful piece of classical music or reflecting on what is meant by terms such as "beauty" and "the good-life", all count as places to discover God's general revelation. Why? Because God's general revelation operates on the basis of "truth", "goodness" and "beauty", which are germane qualities embedded in His very nature as God. 

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This "general revelation" by God is further expounded in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:18-20 -

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."

Such innate knowledge about God grants to every human being a base-line profile of the Creator, namely, 

1. God is the sum of His moral perfections. As the Supreme Moral Being, God is the source of moral standards that govern the human conscience - called in Romans 2:14-15 the "law of God" inscribed on the heart. 

2. God possesses such attributes as omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence or absolute perfections. Unless God is the absolute cause and Sustainer of the universe and life as we know it, there is no sufficient natural explanation to account for the order, meaning and purpose we rightly discern in our world.

This first level of "knowledge about God" comes to us through "general revelation" and is apprehended by people through what theologians call "common grace" (see Matthew 5:45, Acts 14:25, 17:22-25). As people respond to this general revelation of God, the mixture of His general revelation and the frailty of human thinking affected by the fall of Adam and Eve leads to people proposing all sorts of various religions. General revelation requires the special revelation of God through the Bible and Jesus to take us from mere "knowing about God" to "knowing God". 

Two routes of thinking about God from general revelation - religious experience and natural theology

Two sorts of responses are observed as one surveys how people interact with God's general revelation by His common grace working all around them in creation and the conscience. 

1. Religious experience of God through knowing about Him in general revelation and then coming to know Him in special revelation.

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The first way, and most common way, is by route of religious experience of God. Various sorts of religious experience can range from how people perceive God's general presence in the natural realm to the specific way He draws people to trust in Jesus through the hearing of God's Word - the Bible (compare Romans 10:8-17). As human beings relate to God's general revelation, to the degree people demonstrate an openness to truth, God will in turn make available to them further "light" through the special revelation of His word. Professor John Hick explains this first route of knowing about and thinking about God was exhibited by people in the Bible, as cited by William Lane Craig - 

"God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills, a sheer given reality, as inescapably to be reckoned with as destructive storm and life-giving sunshine . . . They did not think of God as an inferred entity but as an experienced reality. To them God was not . . . an idea adopted by the mind, but an experiential reality which gave significance to their lives."

As a Christian, I don’t believe in the God of the Bible because He is a conclusion to a series of theistic arguments (which I'll mention near the end of today's post). Granted, I find such arguments providing a secondary foundation for why the God of the Bible best explains reality and human experience. Instead, I am a Christian because God was apprehended by me in a moment of trust He initiated when I was a ten-year-old boy, sitting in a Sunday School class hearing the Gospel of salvation. 

It was only through God leading me to Himself through the Gospel that I discovered how He had made the way for me to be deemed "good enough" by placing simple trust in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:8-9). 

The work God did in my heart enabled me to journey from what I had "known about Him" in general revelation to my need to "know Him" through the special revelation of the Bible and Jesus. The prophet Jeremiah quotes God in Jeremiah 29:13 

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart”.

James in the New Testament writes these words in James 4:8a 

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” 

It is from this transformative  experience 35 years ago, and several subsequent, ongoing experiences with God through the Bible, that I have found certainty in knowing God and thinking about Him. 

2. Knowing about and thinking about God through reflections upon general revelation or what is called "natural theology".

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Experience of God is one way a person can have genuine knowledge of God. However, there is a secondary route in which we can discover that belief in God is most reasonable. Throughout Christian history, various older thinkers (such as Athanasius, Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas) and newer ones (Brian Leftow, William Lane Craig, Ed Feser) have taken the general revelation of God in creation and the conscience and offered systematic reflections of what we can know about God through what is called "natural theology". 

Natural theology will often include various theistic arguments or "proofs" for God's existence such as "the moral argument", "the cosmological argument" and several other types of well-reasoned arguments. Natural theology does not deliver "certainty" of God, but rather the level of knowledge that counts as rational grounds for belief in God - namely, "beyond a reasonable doubt" or "high degree of probability" in comparison to arguments against God. 

Natural theology gives us a "second route" for thinking about God. A well-rounded natural theology will approximate the clearest and surest revelation of God that we find in the Bible (even though natural theology draws from observations largely independent from the Bible). Just as general revelation is designed by God to prepare the unbeliever to respond positively to His special revelation in the Bible and Jesus, the human efforts behind natural theology can pave the way for understanding why belief in the God of the Bible is most reasonable, and thus potentially remove any obstacles that stand in the way. 


Closing thoughts

In today's post, we considered knowing about and thinking about God through what is called "general revelation" and its attendant routes of "religious experience" and the project of "natural theology". In the next post, we will continue by looking at how we can think about and know God through the "special revelation" of Himself in the Bible and Jesus, as well as the project of what is known as "Perfect-being" theology.