General & Specific Revelation

I posted this blog before we actually launched this blog so I thought it would be worth a repost.

The arguments never seem to end.

There are those who argue that evangelism must come only through words. “The Gospel must be preached!” They yell.

Then there are those who argue that evangelism must come first through actions. “Preach the Gospel always and when necessary use words.” They parrot (supposedly attributed to Francis of Assisi).

Both sides are very adamant that they are right and yell at the other camp. Well more honestly, one side yells and the other side shakes their heads condescendingly but in the name of love will not address it publicly. 🙂
So Christians are again finding themselves fighting against other Christians instead of outshining the lost in the cause of Jesus.

This argument has grown very tiresome to me. Mostly because I believe that both the Gospel proclamation (with words) and Gospel living (with actions) are equally part of the Christian life.  Now don’t get me wrong, the Gospel is not something we live.  It is something that Jesus did and we proclaim His Person and work.  But what Jesus did calls all people into personal responsibility and James said it simply that “faith without works is dead”.

After hearing this argument being waged for some time, I felt that I received some clarity on the discussion. That clarity came in the form of Psalm 19. This glorious Psalm of David breaks down very simply.

vs 1-6 – God’s general revelation in nature

vs 7-11 – God’s specific revelation in His Word

vs 12-14 – God’s personal revelation

This Psalm shows us that God reveals Himself to the world in a general way (through creation), in a specific way (through His Word) but always in a personal way.

Then it dawned on me – this is the evangelism argument!  Although I doubt either side would characterize their position this way, this is what I realized.  There is one camp that feels that the only acceptable route in evangelism in general revelation; that Christians should live as Christ lived, in the power of the Spirit, and bless the world because God blessed us for this reason (thus proclaiming the Gospel in action, yet without using words).  There is another camp that feels that the only acceptable route in evangelism is specific revelation (that words are the only proper way to convey the Person and work of Jesus).  And both feel that there way is the only acceptable personal way to reveal Jesus.

It is my personal belief that we need personal revelation in both general & specific ways thus the argument itself is useless.

Here’s a few quick thoughts on why this argument exists-

a) There are 2 main types of churches within evangelicalism. One that you can call a  ‘Cross’ centered church.  This church tends to be focused on the salvation of souls through the preaching of the Gospel.  They preach the cross and man’s need to repent in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  They tend to be more focused on saving souls then on anything else.  Then there is the ‘Kingdom’ centered church. This church tends to be focused on making the world a better place because Jesus inaugurated the kingdom.  These churches tend to be more focused on social justice and blessing humanity in practical ways.

b) To look at this same thing from another angle… Most scholars believe that they kingdom of God is both already and not yet.  It is very rare that a church can hold both aspects (already and not yet) in equal tension without letting one be predominant. For those who focus more on the already, they are apt to want to be about living the kingdom in the here and now.  Those who focus more on the not yet of the kingdom will be focused on the proclamation of specific revelation to try and speed the inauguration of the kingdom.

c) Up until more recent times, these two distinct styles seem to be a bit at odds with one another. There were only ‘liberal’ churches that were concerned with social justice. Or there were ‘conservative’ churches that were concerned with the saving of souls.  Social justice churches were ashamed (in some ways) to proclaim the Gospel and preaching churches thought that any work that was not Gospel proclamation was not worthy of the church.  But that has changed recently and this is a good development.

d) People have a tendency to want to maintain the status quo and are inherently resistant to continuing to reform in good and healthy ways.  Preaching churches get nervous if someone wants to include practical acts of service as part of the ecclesiastical life.  Social justice churches get nervous when someone wants to preach the pure Gospel and call people to repentance.

e) Preaching churches have been known only for preaching.  It is at the point today that most communities will not give churches a variance to build a church because they see churches adding little value to the community except the preaching (which the community at large doesn’t value).  So as the pendulum swings, now churches will say that we shouldn’t preach until we have shown them that we can be a blessing to them.  Because evangelicals have done a great job of preaching without subsequent social blessing, the tendency is to jump to the completely other extreme, only wanting to bless their communities without explaining the underlying motivation (Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection). This has set up a false dicotomy!

In conclusion, we need both general and specific revelation in a personal way from the body of Christ. Whether that is led by the general or specific revelation matter not.  All that matters is that the church both proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ AND lives in the world in light of the Gospel in such a way that people might see our light so shining amongst men that they may glorify our Father in heaven.

3 replies
  1. Josh Olson
    Josh Olson says:

    Just my two cents…

    The balance is most clearly seen in Jesus. He preached it and He demonstrated it by the way He lived.
    “where are you staying?” – “Come and see.”

    “Are you the One? Or should we be expecting someone else?” – “Go tell John what you hear and what you see.”

    The problem with a preaching church (only) is that it can breed a body that justifies their lack of action by continuing to define and bolster their “pure doctrine”. That produces the pride and arrogance that causes them to look down on others that are not like themselves. At the same time they think they are on the straight and narrow and those on the other end of the spectrum are “out in left field” not experiencing the graces of God because they are transfixed upon bringing the “Kingdom Now”, trusting in their own good deeds to alleviate suffering and desiring to bring equity to all.

    The problem with a “Kingdom Now” church is that it can breed a body that justifies their lack of good doctrine by replacing it with good feeling that comes from “doing good”. This produces a pride and arrogance that causes them to look down on others that are not like themselves. All the while they think that they are on the straight and narrow and those on the other end of the spectrum are shut off from the Graces of God and the “True Ministry” as they bury their noses and minds in their dead
    orthodoxy that is so out of touch with reality.

    Again, just some passing thoughts…

  2. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    The false dichotomy you’re exploring in this post has a direct effect upon those of us planting churches, be it in the U.s. or elsewhere. Speaking from the experience of international church planting, where the financial involvement of other believers and churches is often paramount, there is a pressure from both sides to be focused one way or the other. This is stressful and shouldn’t be the case.

    Something that has helped me to communicate the social aspects of a gospel-centered life to those in the U.S. who tend to be one-sided towards a “preach only” mentality has been the simple reality of living in a 3rd world culture, where we can’t just hurry past the homeless guy and duck into the Starbucks (or Peets, as is now the fashion). How can I live amongst a people, teach the word amongst a people, bring the evangel of Christ to a people, or plant a church amongst a people when they are in such great need of basic physical attention and I live as if I haven’t noticed? The most radical of the “preach only” types (as I may have possibly been defined myself in the past) can NOT survive the perpetual near YELLLING of the Holy Spirit to take action to minister the physical needs of the people as well. That man simply would not survive more than the typical 1 to 2 week short-term trip to “preach it up” and than go home.

    I love the simplicity of what Jesus did for the paralyzed man brought to Him by friends on a mattress and lowered through the hole in the roof they made. First Jesus addressed the eternal (“your sins are forgiven”) and then moved on to the temporal (“rise, take up your bed and walk”). He addresses both needs in a way that testified the gospel to all present as they needed to hear it: a blessing to those who came seeking Him in faith (the paralyzed man’s friends) as well as a correction and proof to those who came seeking to discredit Him (the scribes and Pharisees).

    As we live the truth we are given opportunity to speak it. As we speak the truth we are given opportunity to live it.

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