Natural Revelation: Is Natural Theology Reliable?

Can a theology which excludes special revelation effectively reveal God to man?

Romans 1 says, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (v. 18). The apostle then states what can be known, God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (v. 19). This knowledge of God from the works of creation is so “clearly perceived” by man, God justly holds man to be “without excuse” for his unbelief (v. 20), for “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God….” (v. 21).

 

Natural theology, to be contrasted with Revealed Theology, is that human response to divine revelation where truths about God, or arguments for his existence, are discerned from the created order without aid of special revelation.

In a sense, natural theology does not take special revelation into view, rather it looks to natural revelation, that which is revealed by God to man through created things, including the whole natural world and man himself as image of God. Thus, natural theology is necessarily asserting a place for man’s capacity to reason apart from Scripture and Spirit.

Among the first questions then to be asked of natural theology is the question of reliability. Can a theology which excludes special revelation effectively reveal God to man? The one living and true God?

It is most accurate to answer by saying natural theology is both reliable and unreliable. It is reliable in that God declares it to be so in scripture, thus yoking revealed theology to natural. It is unreliable, however, in that man’s ability to reason aright is ruined by sin.

Let us first consider the reliability of natural theology.

Romans 1 says, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (v. 18). The apostle then states what can be known, God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (v. 19). This knowledge of God from the works of creation is so “clearly perceived” by man, God justly holds man to be “without excuse” for his unbelief (v. 20), for “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God….” (v. 21).

Here then is the reliability of natural theology: it emerges from God’s infallible revelation of himself in his created works and from God giving man the awareness of divinity, that clear perception. Calvin, speaking of all men, said: “whether they want to or not, they are repeatedly brought up short by this thought, that there is a divinity by whose decision they stand or fall” (from Calvin’s 1538 Catechism, Art. 2).

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