Is Special Revelation Necessary to Regulate Culture?[1]

This key question is central to the major debate at present within Reformational circles, pitting Kuyperians, following Abraham Kuyper versus Klineans, following Meredith Kline. Kuyperians believe that the sola Scriptura principle regulates every sphere and institution of humanity, including the four spheres of government–individual, ecclesial, familial, and civil.[1]  Klineans,[2] in contrast, teach that God rules every area outside of the church and family by general revelation and common grace.[3] According to Klineans, there are no specifically Christian, scriptural teachings and norms informing every area of culture outside of the family and church.  Instead, natural law, general revelation, and common grace must inform culture.  There are, according to the Klineans, two Kingdoms and two laws to regulate humanity reflecting the distinction between the people of God and those of the world outside of God’s people.

Kuyperians, on the other hand, follow John Calvin and the Genevan Reformation teach the opposite.  There is one King, one Kingdom and one covenant of grace, which establishes one legal covenant that give norms valid for every sphere of culture and life, which norms through the power of the Spirit can and must engage and transform every area of culture. It is true that Calvin spoke of two kingdoms, but he certainly did not make this a dualism between State and Church. Instead, he taught that the first kingdom was invisible and equated to the invisible community of believers (invisible church). The visible kingdom was all institutions of culture including the institutional church.  Hence it would be best to state that Calvin taught that the Kingdom of God in Messiah Jesus is singular but exists with two aspects: visible and invisible.

1. Special revelation was necessary before the fall of Adam. Even in the Garden, as Cornelius Van Til taught, Adam learned truth directly from the Word of God and his voice, probably in the form of the Angel of the LORD.  Certainly, within this framework they were to discover more truth in the creation and by sound deduction because logic flows out of the nature of the God in whose image he made Adam and Eve. According to the Dominion Covenant (cultural mandate: Gen. 1:28-30), the LORD was not expecting the original couple to grope about to find his plan for life merely in common grace and general revelation. He gave them direct revelation, calling upon them to rule the world under his suzerainty. This mandate commands all humans to build and now to engage and rebuild every area of culture by the special command of the Creator.

Later, the Creator gave specific revelation in the second chapter of Genesis (2:16-17). God gave our original parents the task of interpreting creation—specifically the tree of the knowledge of  good and evil as well as the other trees.  Adam and Eve were accountable to their Sovereign to  interpret general revelation (i.e., the creation) in terms of the special words God spoke with Adam and possibly also later with Adam and Eve.  This special revelation gave the framework within which creational design and creational design norms could be correctly interpreted.  The first couple were indeed responsible to think God’s thought after him.

2. Special revelation is still necessary after the fall. Unlike Adam before the fall, Adam’s now fallen children seek to rule his life by so-called neutral and autonomous wisdom springing from general revelation and common grace.  When Adam obeyed the Deceiver’s voice instead of the Creator’s Word, he was contractually agreeing to live and interpret all areas of life in his own wisdom, to be like God, knowing and determining good and evil, justice and injustice, truth and falsity on his own without any reference to the Lord God’s interpretative words. When any person does this, he or she must necessarily suppress God’s specially given truth according to Paul in Romans 1:18.  Adam and his children all exchange special revelational truth for “the lie, worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator.  Therefore, any use of common grace and general revelation is used in order to reject the knowledge of God and to push him further and further out of his mind.  This leads to idolatry, hetero- and homosexual impurity, and then to a totally disapproved mind that sees truth in the exact mirror image of God’s reality.[4]

3. Special revelation is necessary for salvation. Ps 19, Rom. 1:18-21, and Acts 17 claim that general revelation in the creation tells humanity that there is indeed a Creator, that his divine nature is eternal, and that everyone everywhere must glorify and thank him.  The created conscience possesses a specific knowledge of the moral standards of the Decalogue. However, as all the Reformational confessions agree, general revelation does not reveal in what way real and permanent forgiveness can be obtained and how man’s broken relationship with their Creator can be restored because every person is a continual violator of the Creator’s norms.

4. Special revelation is necessary for pleasing God in any sphere. Because general revelation is not designed to nor is it capable of restoring the broken relationship between God and mankind, humans will always pervert, twist, and break the norms and revelation found in creation.  Only through the Holy Spirit working through special revelation alone can any person please their Creator.[5]

5.  God’s grace in King Jesus through the Spirit is the sole cure for humanity’s perversion of both general revelation and  special revelation. In Romans Three (3:23-26), the Apostle writes, I paraphrase the tenses and the sense: “Everyone everywhere has never done anything but sin in the past, and presently they lack God’s glory, hence all are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . .  in his blood, through faith.”

6. Humans only discover this grace through the unique biblical revelation, specifically the Good News concerning King Jesus (Rom. 10:14-17). Saving faith means trusting in Christ alone through that special gospel message, which reveals that God wills to save all mankind through Christ the sole mediator between God and mankind (1 Tim 2:4-7).

7. Therefore, no human is able to understand general or even special revelation without distortion, except he or she observes everything through the whole lens of the Scripture as one reads it in the fullness of the Spirit. As Calvin writes in the Institutes (1.1.6) biblical revelation is the only means to bring the true meaning and application of Scriptural revelation into sharp focus, like a pair of glasses clarify otherwise blurry sight.

8. God has never authorized any social institutions or activities to govern themselves without the use of his spoken and written words. Kline and others—ironically especially Dispensationalists—assert that a common grace order existed from the fall to Moses administered with only general revelation.  From Moses to Christ a new theocracy began ruled by the inscripturated word of God.  This new type of society was unique for Israel and pictured the coming eternal state.  This is similar to that of Dispensationalism—ironically—except that they believe the theocracy pictured the millennial state.  Both Klineans and Dispensationalists believe that God governed all the nations outside of Israel through general revelation and common grace.  During the present new covenant age, Scripture gives no specific word for the engaging and transforming of culture except a few general words (e.g., Rom 13:1-8) and natural law.

This dichotomy does not come from the biblical covenants but is an alien dualist concept read into Scripture.  There is no record in Scripture of any nation or society divinely authorized to govern itself by special revelation alone. This was true from the beginning.  God gave Cain direct revelation after murdering his brother (Gen. 4:8-16). In the same way, God revealed to Noah (Gen. 8:20-9:17) and Abraham (12:1-3, also chapters 15 and 17) direct revelation relevant to familial, ecclesial, and civil governments. For example, the Noahic covenant gives God specific revelatory mandate to human collectives to maintain order and justice, forbidding murder and authorizing humanity to execute both animals and men who take a human life (9:6). The prophets of the Mosaic and Davidic Covenants, speak to every people, kingdom, language, and nation of earth with condemnation of idolatry, sorcery, murder, disregard for the poor and helpless, not honoring the Davidic Son, and so forth (see, e.g., Ps 2, 81, 96, Is 10-24; Jer 46-51, etc.).  These all are specific revelational norms for non-Israelite peoples.  Moses even says that the Mosaic covenant was an example to the peoples of what a wise and just legal system would look like (see Dt 4:5-8).  Because creation revelation is not sufficient as I mentioned previously, we shouldn’t be too astonished by these and many other OT passages.

9. Special revelation is necessary for our public dialogue with non-Christians. A Kuyperian position would put off too many non-believing people, according to the commonly received wisdom.  Merideth  Kline’s perspective—and that of Dispensationalism—many believe, would provide a real benefit in the public discourse because natural law and natural revelation are a common ground between believer and unbeliever. Better, some say, to appeal to what all know about nature and science than to string Scripture passages together when speaking to unbelievers, who are hostile to Evangelicals. I grant that in the present agnostic and atheistic public arena, many feel that this is a wiser position to take.  However, we lose a unique possibility to address issues from God’s perspective shared in Scripture if we reject the classic biblical position that the OT prophets used.  They spoke in the name and with the words of the Sovereign Lord.  That alone transforms through the power of the Spirit.  Notice that even though Paul does not cite chapter and verse in his two discourses to idol worshippers in Acts 14 and 17, he still directly quotes some Scripture and cites many biblical concepts including the Creation of a single man from whom all nations have descended.

In Romans 1 Paul writes that the Creator manifest with absolute clarity norms for worship, sexuality, family, and justice in creation revelation. In Romans 2 he writes that these norms are written in the very heart and conscience of humanity leaving them without excuse.  Roman Catholic theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and those who follow him in Protestant academia believe that this revelation comes through the ability of humans to make sound deductive and inductive arguments. I don’t think so.  Creational revelation, according to the Apostle Paul, is universally valid among every people and language of earth (see Rom. 3:10-20).  Not everyone such as mentally handicapped and children have the ability to construct such syllogism.  Psalm 19 suggests that every person has the ability to read—probably given in the image of God—the “letters” written in and on the creational data from which we can then later make logical arguments.

Logical syllogisms and arguments constructed from natural revelation are hardly ever clear and compelling. Roman Catholics theologians and philosophers believe that all forms of birth control must be forbidden because of the obvious God created correlation between coitus and conception.  Certainly this relationship is inescapable but can we argue from what is in nature to what ought to be morally?  Again I don’t believe so.  It would be like stating that because bulls copulate with many cows, human males ought to do the same with many females!

Coherent yet convincing analyses of social-ethical problems are founded upon transcendent norms for judgment and a divine perspective upon the universe. To be universally valid both of these must come from Scriptural revelation and not from creation in and of itself. This a Christian social philosopher, of course, must demonstrate to unbelievers in a manner that is both irresistible and inescapable because most will not easily acquiesce to a biblical worldview and ethic.  In other words, Christian philosophers show that the opposite of their biblical epistemological and metaphysical presuppositions are impossible.

In some areas of public dialogue, every now and then it may be advantageous to discuss a social ethical perspective without direct reference to the Bible. For instance, it is wise to demonstrate the point that China’s policy on forced abortions for a second child has drastically affected the Chinese culture, or that the child abuse rate increases in cultures with abortion-on-demand, or the cultural effects of evolutionary materialism. Some unbelievers may be convinced through arguments like these. Especially in Western cultures most people have some residual knowledge of the biblical worldview, which they haven’t completely repressed. However, if an unbeliever questions us why, for example, human life is more valuable than that of animals, then we must share what God says in Scripture, where we get our values and judgments from.

10. At present, King Jesus is sovereign over every people-group and all areas of their various cultures (Mt 28:18), certainly not excluding law, economics, and politics. As the Supreme Monarch and Lord over everything, he is the King above all the kings of the earth (Rev 1:8, 17:14, 19:16; 1 Tim 6:15). When the early church proclaimed “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9, 1 Cor 12:3, Php 2:11), the Roman government knew that this was a political statement as well because “Caesar” claimed to be supreme Lord and Savior of humanity.  Just as the Roman emperor cult had political and legal ramification, so the biblical faith in King Jesus did and does. The State was not threatened by an escapist mystery sect or a semi-Christian Gnostic cult, but was threatened to the core of its legitimacy by the proclamation that Jesus is both Lord and Anointed King of the Universe (see Acts 2:36).  It was not the use of the steel sword but that of the Gospel word-sword, establishing the tôranic wisdom of the prophets that won and transformed the Empire. This biblical Word remains the only means to engage and transform our present world cultures.  We must not reduce the power of the Word to the inner spiritual life or to the eventual consummational transformation at the Second Coming.

11. The Gospel will transform the whole creation. This includes even the inanimate creation. The special order “waits with eager longing for the manifestation of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19). In Christ, all things will be reconciled to God (Col. 1:20). This makes even less likely the view that the word of God governs only the institutional church, and not the general culture.

12. Scripture commands every follower of King Jesus to diligently search for and live out God’s glory in every cultural endeavor (1 Cor. 10:31). The Good News is a comprehensive power from God to reach and transform every nook and cranny of human life.  Nothing is hidden from God’s sight or the reach of God’s biblical wisdom (see e.g., Heb 4:12-13). God’s word changes and rebuilds every aspect of life.  That, then, is our mandate from our Lord and King (Mt 28:18).  Every thought must be brought captive under the justifying and transforming obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

13. Therefore, biblical special revelation is both sufficient and necessary in our word proclamation of our King’s suzerainty over all of life. In our discussion in the marketplace of culture, our King mandates that he be exalted as Supreme Lord.  This is exactly what Psalm 2 and 110, the two most cited Psalms in the New Testament, proclaim. This is what the Great Commission mandates: “Teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”  Does that not mean that a Christian legislator or judge must ignore the words of their Lord?  Certainly not.  In our public proclamation and application of the Word, general revelation is of some use just as Paul demonstrated in his two sermons to the idol worshippers of Athens and Lystra (Acts 14:15-17 and 17:22-31). However, when Paul began to approach the culmination of his message to the philosophers of Athens he did not appeal to some common ground general revelation but to the special revelation of the resurrection.[6]

Conclusion

            It is a sad fact that when Evangelicals address the important social-ethical issues of modernity and postmodernity, they more often than not fall into the trap that Satan laid at the beginning: Eat of this tree and you will be wise, knowing and determining good and evil for yourselves.  Human reason, apart from the foundation of Christ and his words, is foolishness to God and visa versa (see 1 Cor 1-3; Col 2:4-7).  God did create humans to be morally or even rationally autonomous—creating one’s own wisdom and ethics.  When we try to argue our ethical points using general revelation and natural law without any reference to Christ and his word, we give the impression to unbelievers that we are just like them.

All moral and ethical reasoning must be founded upon Christ, who in turn establishes the wisdom of the OT and gives wisdom to his NT apostles and prophets.  Only in that framework can we correctly understand, research, explore, and apply common grace and general revelation to culture.  Therefore a comprehensive discussion of any social ethical matter must take into account the explicit words of God in Scripture.  This is what Kuyperians are attempting to do and what Klineans have a tendency to explicitly deny.

Now when I apply the foundational insights of the Kuyperians and of Anglo-American Puritans to social ethical issues, I am not urging a sort of theocracy that merges church and state.  The Puritans and Huguenots, especially, would see that the Israelite confederacy and even the their monarchy practiced a very strict separation of the eccesial and civil offices.  When Saul tried to offer sacrifices as a Priest-King, Samuel as God’s spokesman took away the right of the kingdom from his family.  Both ecclesial and civil governments in Israel, by the way, were not autonomous or neutral but under the tôranic wisdom of their King of kings!  Therefore when Klineans such as David VanDrunen, Scott Clark, and Michael Horton[7] claim that the Kuyperian path leads to such church-state union or a rejection of the spiritual gospel, they are sadly mistaken.  Clearly Scripture teaches that the foundation of a godly society is Christ and a people, the majority of whose families bless and serve King Jesus.  His Word in both Testaments regulates, gives guidelines, yes even sometimes fairly explicit blueprints for all of life.  This has always been the Reformational way begun especially in Calvin’s Geneva but not limited exclusively there.

Now certainly many believers have misused these biblical principles but that does not mean we must now give up engaging culture and seeking to apply Scripture to every area of life.  Yes it was true that Luther killed Anabaptists and Calvin acquiesced to the execution of Servetus (but not to his being burned at the stake).  It is true that after the Glorious Revolution Cromwell overstepped biblical grounds to serve as virtual dictator, adding many human laws to God’s laws.  It further true that putting to death the witches of Salem was wrong—not because Satanism and witchcraft should now be normalized as victimless crimes—but because the Salem clergy themselves showed how the civil magistrates were not following biblically taught due process principles and laws of evidence.  Granting these errors, we must not come to the conclusion that these believers made an error by applying God’s word to politics, law, and jurisprudence.  Their error was in incorrect exegesis, incorrect application, and/or simple rebellion against God’s words.  The sins and misapplications of our forefathers ought then to motivate us to more gentleness and careful, patient dialogue with each other and the Scripture, but not to give up.  That would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear command to “Occupy,” or “Do business until I come.”

© M. Kreitzer, D.Miss, Ph.D. 2013


[1] Some Kuyperian who are disciples of Herman Dooyeweerd, especially at the Toronto Institute for Christian Studies but would agree with Meredith Kline in that Scripture does not define the boundaries and content of the spheres of life. Instead, Scripture teaches the good news, which leads to regeneration through the Holy Spirit.  Second, it gives a foundational Redemptive-historical world and life view of creation—fall and redemption and third provides only instruction for the specific matters of personal faith.  Faith is a distinct sphere separate from the other spheres of life, which Dooyeweerd analyzes.  The Bible, thus, does not give norms applicable to culture outside of personal piety, the church, and the family.  Norms for the social spheres comes from general revelation and natural as led by the regenerating Spirit and the redemptive-historical world and life view.  “So in fact,” John Frame writes, “ the Dooyeweerdian movement holds to a natural law position in ethics, politics, the arts and other cultural matters, more characteristic of the Klinean-Lutheran view than of the Kuyperian.”

[2] See Meredith G. Kline, Structure of Biblical Authority, and  Kingdom Prologue.   Klineans (e.g., M. Horton and D. VanDrunen) believe that Kline’s intrusionist ethical perspective is quite similar to Luther’s division between the law and the gospel and with Luther’s “two kingdoms” doctrine.   Walter Kaiser actually even pegs Kline’s view as almost neo-Dispensational.  John Frame believes that Kline’s position are similar to the Thomist “nature –grace” dualism.  I agree. See John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, forthcoming, chapter 12; Walter Kaiser, Jr.  1990.  God’s promise plan and His gracious law.  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33:3 (September):  289-302

[3] “General revelation” is revelation from God perceived in the creational design and information found in nature.  “Special revelation” is found only in Scripture See Ps 19 and Rom 1 for teaching on general revelation. The knowledge of the Good News of the person and work of King Jesus only comes in special revelation that is the Bible.  “Common grace” cannot deliver from sin or give any human the knowledge or experience of Christ’s delivering work, which only comes through verbal, Scriptural revelation.  Common grace, in other words, can restrain the external manifestation of rebellion against God but cannot save.

[4] Creational revelation is not “general” in the sense of vague.  As C. A. Van Til points out that it is specific, perspicuous, authoritative, and necessary, taking away every opposing argument and closing every excuse in our mouths before Christ’s throne of judgment (Rom. 1:20, 3:19). Creational revelation proclaims the truth concerning God’s justice (in conscience), his power, and his glory.  Rebels know this in the inner recesses of their being that is created in the image of God, yet expend an inordinate amount of mental energy suppressing and distorting what they know.  This suppression demonstrates their guilt and supports their full responsibility before God’s judgment.  This mean in practice that modernity and postmodernity, as well as the major world religions, twist creational revelation to justify their rebellion and sin even though they know inside the true God and his justice

[5] Every person is totally depraved according to Scripture, but this does not mean that we all do all the evil we are capable of.  It simply means that every one of man’s deeds is sinful before God even those that appear good before men (Mt 6:1ff)  because God knows the selfish motivation and hostility against him that is each person’s fleshly heart (see Rom 3:9-19, 8:7-8).  Certainly our Lord’s common grace restrains many of the external manifestations of human rebellion even though the heart rages against him (Prv 19:3).  If it didn’t, then God would have destroyed us all ages ago.  What total depravity does mean is that apart from the special grace in union with Christ, no one is capable of doing any good thing (Jn 15:4-5) to please God (Rom 8:8).

[6] Probably if he had more opportunity in the sermon in Lystra, he would have also proclaimed the crucifixion and resurrection as was his custom.

One thought on “Is Special Revelation Necessary to Regulate Culture?[1]

  1. Pingback: Christus en Kultuur: die Calvinistiese vs die Luthers en anabaptistiese sienings, deur Herman Bavinck | Pro Regno

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s