My mind, or what’s left of it, is dealing with a confluence of thoughts that came to me today.
Here’s the sequence of events that produced those thoughts.
First, on the flight to Washington, I was reading Evangelicals in the Public Square by J. Budziszewski (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006). My attention was drawn to that book by a convergence of events this week. First, I am in Washington, D.C., the seat of our government, and that set me to thinking about how blessed we are to live in this great land and about how we Christians have the great responsibility of bearing appropriate witness to our neighbors in ways that honor Christ but also respect the religious diversity that thrives in our nation. Second, I am here for a Baptist meeting, and that has me thinking about the historic Baptist emphases on religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and separation of church and state. Third, this Sunday is the Sunday before Independence Day and I plan to do what I customarily do on that Sunday: preach a sermon about religious liberty. My thoughts in those three areas prompted me to begin reading Budziszewski’s book.
In his introductory chapter, Budziszewski writes,
Although evangelicals are rightly committed to grounding their political reflection in revelation, the Bible provides insufficient materials for the task. This is I have called the evangelical dilemma. The missing piece of this puzzle lies in the recognition that the Bible is only part of revelation. “Special” revelation is that which God infallibly provides in actual words to the community of faith. But God has also provided “general” revelation, which he makes evident not only to believers but to all humankind. General revelation is divulged not through words but by other means…. The divine Word is imparted even without words. Such is general revelation. (pp. 30-31)
I would say that God has given us in the “special” revelation of the Bible the words that will infallibly lead us to salvation. But God has, as Budziszewski maintains, revealed his truth in many other ways and through many other avenues.
Budziszewski was talking about what he sees as one source of the shortcomings of evangelical political theory and action. He got me to wondering.
Then, after I arrived in Washington and checked into the Grand Hyatt, I decided to walk down to the National Mall and go to a couple of the Smithsonian museums. I first went to the Museum of Natural History where I spent all of the limited time that I had looking at the fossil exhibits. I was particularly fascinated by the dinosaur skeletons and by the narratives that accompanied them. The fossil record is there, of course, and it reveals what it reveals. Much of what it reveals is not found in our Bibles. That does not make it any less true. Once, after I had finished a talk about Genesis 1-11 and was taking questions, someone asked me why I hadn’t talked about the dinosaurs. “Because there are no dinosaurs in Genesis,” I answered. “Why aren’t they there?” he asked. “I suspect,” I answered, "they aren’t there because the biblical writers did not know about them.” They existed nonetheless. The fact is that life developed the way that it developed and God has given scientists the evidence in nature that they need to understand it. But he has given us in our Bibles an even greater and more important truth: how to know him.
Next I walked over to the National Gallery of Art. Now, I’m just a small town Southern boy with a decent education that included exactly one college level Art History class; I don’t know much about art. But as I stared at Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci and at Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait and Claude Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight, I had tears in my eyes, and I can’t tell you why. Part of the reason, I think, is that I was moved at the great gifts that those artists possessed and developed. God gave them those gifts and they honed them until they produced masterpieces. Did God reveal something through them? Perhaps. Did they reveal something from within themselves that speak of wondrous truth to us? Perhaps.
Christians, especially those of us who are of the evangelical stripe, need to open our eyes more to the ways that God has revealed himself outside the Bible. That will make us better able to converse with the world that knows and accepts and takes for granted many great truths that we choose to ignore or, even worse, to fight against. It will also make us more open to the truth wherever we find it. The Bible will always be our greatest guide, of course, and Jesus will always be our greatest and only perfect truth.
I’m just suggesting that we need to open our eyes ever wider to the special truth given to us in the Bible and that we need to open our eyes more to the general truth given to us in so many other places.