Sunday, August 17, 2014

Special and General Revelation

As a life-long Calvinist, I have lived peaceably with special/general revelation categories, and haven't thought much about it, until reading this article ...

... and asking myself some questions, like: what is "special" about special? And do not all coherent groups have some sort of "special" source for self-definition and ethics? Does Christian "specialness" trump all others? The article ends with an encouragement to broaden, I suppose, and reaffirm "general revelation." And again, some of the same questions - what does "general" really mean? Does it carry sufficient weight, or, in the balance of things, is it found wanting, and, thus, in need of something "special"?

As I sit here this morning, suddenly these words lose all of the traditional meaning, especially when it comes to claims of moral or theological superiority, or having some kind of an inside track to the truth and reality of god - "my god is bigger and better and brighter than your god because my god has chosen to reveal truth to me, in a very special way, and, sorry, not to you. I'l be more than happy to share my special part of it to correct and finish your general stuff."

Perhaps, in truth, it's all just revelation ... and no one group can claim its share of the prize as "special." Or maybe, it's all special, which is why folks can so profoundly experience the "divine" in movies and other sources. And who's to say, then, that "my experience" in church is of a more profound quality than that found in a movie, or a novel, or a symphony, or on a hike? Which is to say, finally, that we do well to listen to everyone's story and to celebrate the power and the glory that comes our way, in all sorts of media, ways, times and places.

Ever since Constantine, the Church has sought to bolster its claims to power with all sorts of theological tricks, and this morning, it suddenly seems that claims to "special revelation" are just one more example of those tricks, played upon ourselves (to drive away doubt) and thrown into the face of the world (to shame them, and then perhaps convert them), ultimately meaning that the church has something up its sleeve that no one else has (which is partly true, if all forms of revelation are special), but if it's all just revelation, and if humanity both succeeds and fails to understand and live up to its own truth, then whatever share of the prize we might have can never be used to trump anyone else's share.

This is a fine article that raises more questions that need to be answered if the Western Church is going to find humility before the Creator-God who loves the world and walks within the many gardens seeking humankind in both its glory and its shame, and via the Creator-God's own suffering, passion, love, to tease out the frightened, the lonely, the battered, to give them to them God's own hand-made clothing.

If history tells me anything, it's this: the Church has no more or less succeeded with its revelation than any other group. Our claims to "special" revelation crash on the rocks of history! We are but one group among many, and what we have in Christ is worthy to know and to love, there's no need to play our cards as if we held all the trump cards.

But rather to live our lives as musicians - each playing an instrument whose unique sound is needed by all the other instruments in order to produce the fullest possible sound - and encouraging each instrument to play a solo now and then, or join in a duet or trio, but knowing that the greatest sound of all is when every instrument has joined in, making a joyful noise to the LORD.

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