from Kevin DeYoung by Kevin DeYoung
Every first semester theology student knows the difference between general revelation and special revelation. God reveals himself to us in two ways–by the creation we can see with our eyes and by the words written down for our hearing in Scripture. Or to put things more precisely: general revelation is God’s self-disclosure through the created world; special revelation is God’s self-disclosure through the spoken word of an apostle or prophet, or their words inscripturated in the Bible. Both means of revelation are important, and both are taught in Scripture
Though I believe everything in the previous paragraph, I confess I get nervous nowadays when Christians start talking about the “Two Books” of God’s revelation. It’s true that we know God by God’s works and God’s word. But from this it does not follow that science and the Bible are equal sources of authority. Of course, it’s a truism that “all truth is God’s truth” so that in the end there is no real conflict between the Bible and science. The same could be said for sociology or economics or horticulture or history. Whatever is true will not be contradicted by the Truth. But nothing is infallibly true like the word of God.
Some Christians are too quick to reinterpret the Bible when it seems to contradict “the clear findings of science.” We’ve misread the Bible before, they will say. To which we might respond, “Yes, and we’ve misread science too.” I’m not trying to weigh in on any particular scientific debate with this post. I sympathize with Christians who struggle to reconcile what they hear from scientists and what they see in the Bible about a particular issue. We should not be quick to dismiss these questions. It is possible to read the Bible wrongly. It is possible for the Church to miss the mark for a long time. But every Christian should agree that if the Bible teaches one thing and scientific consensus teaches something else, we will not ditch the Bible or change the Bible for science. The Two Books are not separate, but they are unequal.
The Belgic Confession provides a standard definition of general and special revelation.
We know him [God] by two means:
First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since the universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are a letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God; his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.
All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.
Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own. (Article 2)
Notice that the difference between general and special revelation. The former gives us a sense of God’s power and divine nature so that we are left without excuse. The latter reveals God “more openly” so that we might be saved. The doctrine of general and special revelation was never meant to make the Bible bow to science. The heavens declare the glory of God, but the law of the Lord is perfect and the testimony of the Lord is sure (Psalm 19:1; 7). Jesus can illustrate with the lilies of the field, but “it is written” can conquer the devil.
I am not for a moment arguing for obscurantism when it comes to the hard questions of faith and science. Pastors who haven’t had a science class since the tenth grade are often too quick to dismiss the tough issues raised by geology, biology, and genetics. What I am saying is that the Christian must believe everything the Bible teaches no matter who says it can’t be so. General revelation can show us there is a God and convict those who don’t worship him rightly. But special revelation speaks more clearly, more openly, and more authoritatively. Let’s be open to correcting errant interpretations or traditions, but let us never change a jot or tittle of the Good Book because the book of nature seems to suggest we should. Let God be true though every one were a liar (Rom. 3:4).