What we know of God, His creation, human nature, and the implications of each of these things has everything to do with how Christians should approach discipleship and biblical soul care. One such biblical doctrine that has had a major impact on the biblical counseling movement is the doctrine of General Revelation.
This is a decisive doctrine for biblical counselors for two main reasons. First, when misunderstood, General Revelation can become a tool which opens counselors to unbiblical influences and teachings. However, when rightly understood and applied this doctrine provides a safeguard which can keep us from drinking from a poisoned well, thus degrading our confessional stance on Scripture’s sufficiency.
The Dangers behind a Distorted Doctrine
A distorted view of General Revelation leads to questioning the Bible’s sufficiency, authority, and inerrancy regarding the counseling task and provides excuses to utilize extra-biblical resources in our quest for truth.
Danger 1: Discovery of Truth
In recent years, General Revelation has been incorporated under the category of the modern sciences. Gary Collins noted, “He [God] has revealed this truth through the Bible, God’s written Word to human beings, but he also has permitted us to discover truth through experience, through research investigation, and through the insights that come through reflection, observation, and the words of books and sermons [emphasis added].”1Collins, Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide, Third ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 43.
These observations present an inaccurate view of General Revelation. Christians should not justify utilizing the sciences for matters involving soul care by claiming they fall under this doctrine. Penley stated, “General revelation is not God revealing new things to us. He is revealing things about Himself that He also has revealed through special revelation in the Scriptures.”2Babler and Ellen, Counseling by the Book: Revised and Expanded Edition (Charleston, S.C.: Self-Published. Printed by CreateSpace, 2014), 34. See Ephesians 5:6; 2 Corinthians 6:14-15; Colossians 2:8. While ‘Christian’ psychology claims to integrate Scriptural truth with ‘discovered’ (i.e., scientific) truth, integration is virtually impossible. This approach sets aside the classical methods of interpreting Scripture and replaces it with a hermeneutic centered on man.3Owen, Christian Psychology’s War on God’s Word: The Victimization of the Believer, 18.
General Revelation should not be understood as an ambiguous truth that is to be “read” into nature or discovered through the reason of men.4Erickson, Christian Theology, 170. The danger in this view is that the infallible Word of God takes a backseat to fallible man’s reasoning.
Danger 2: All Truth, God’s Truth?
The response to this statement should be an affirmation that God is the source of wisdom, light, and truth (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16; John 3:3; John 14:6; Hebrews 6:18). However, integrationists have defended this assertion by implying that all disciplines, regardless of origin, share an underlying “unity of truth.” This leads to the conclusion that God is the source of “truths” found in sources that are disparate and antithetical toward one another (e.g. biblical theology and human-centered psychology). Can secular psychologists make correct observations? Sure! Can a broken clock be right once a day? Sure! While observations from secular psychology seem harmless, they can prove to be a snare. The Apostle Paul warned the Christians at Colossae to be careful to not become deluded by persuasive arguments. He noted, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men . . . rather than according to Christ” (cf. Colossians 2:4-8).
As biblical counselors, we must realize that psychotherapeutic theories and methods are not neutral. These are systems of thought that may seem to hold some observations in common with a general Christian view of man, but they actually promote a Godless worldview.
Danger 3: Separate and Superior to Special Revelation
For the sake of the argument, let’s say that all truth is God’s truth and that this truth can be responsibly mined from any source that is available to a rational man. In order to make use of these “kernels of God’s truth” found within worldly wisdom, it would necessitate the counselor’s ability to not only identify the “truth” of God buried deep within the social sciences, but that the he can also apply this truth all the time, every time, and without error. As you may guess, this would be extremely difficult even for the most astute scholar or counselor.
In essence, what is promoted here is an idea that General Revelation is either equal to or in some ways superior to the Bible. While General Revelation is indeed important, it is not sufficient in itself. It is through Scripture, not nature alone, that we come to know and articulate the particulars of the Gospel message and are called to uniquely respond to it (Isaiah 52:7; 2 Timothy 5:15-17; Psalm 119:9-11, 105).
The consequences of this approach leads to the secular overtaking the sacred. William Kilpatrick warned, “True Christianity does not mix well with psychology. When you try to mix them, you often end up with a watered-down Christianity instead of a Christianized psychology.”5Kilpatrick, Psychological Seduction (Nashville: Nelson Publishers, 1983), 23.
The Blessings behind a Biblical Doctrine
A correct view of General Revelation leads to confessing the Bible’s sufficiency, authority, and inerrancy regarding the counseling task and provides opportunities for counselors and counselees to recognize and praise God as He works in the world through His Word.
Blessing 1: A Purposeful Unveiling of God by God
Biblical revelation refers to something that is uncovered or unveiled, something that is brought to light. It always involves two parties, the revealer (God) and the recipients (us).6Garrett, Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, 49. The theological concept of revelation usually involves two parties, the revealer and “the recipients of the revelation” (50). In order for us to know Him, God has made Himself known to us.7Erickson, Christian Theology, 153. See Romans 2:14-15; Acts 14:17 Thankfully the God of Scripture has not left us without a witness of himself. He desires to be known and for us to have relationship with Him. In the midst of the sin and treachery of God’s own people against Him, God urges them to no longer boast in their wisdom or wealth, but to boast in the God who “exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth”” (Jeremiah 9:24).
A correct understanding of General Revelation should lead counselors and counselees to a proper understanding of God as the Creator and ourselves as God’s handiwork (e.g. creations). General Revelation has little to do with our intellectual prowess and has everything to do with God’s authority, deity, and kingship. It is designed to lead us to a reverent fear and worship of a holy God.
Blessing 2: A Universal and Divine Witness of God
According to Psalm 19, the heavens and the earth testify to God’s glory and His character. God is almighty and omni-benevolent. He is the Creator and the Light of the world (v. 1-6). Not only did the heavens and sun address the glory of God, but each also reveal truth (Psalm 19:3).Thus the created order presents these truths about God as a witness to humanity of our deep need of Him (Acts 14:12-17; 17:26-29).
General Revelation is “general” in the sense that all of creation, including all of the peoples of the earth, are responsible to God and who He is (Romans 1:18-32). Romans 1:20 notes that God’s characteristics “have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made . . .”8See W. E. Vine and F. F. Bruce, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1971), 168. General Revelation is divine in that it is directed by God, revealed by God, and purposed to convey God’s power and glory.9Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, 57. See also Psalm 19:7-14; Romans 10:15; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12-13. The key takeaway is that General Revelation has more to do with God and His glory and honor and has less to do with us.
What is revealed through General Revelation must be consistent with what is confirmed in Special Revelation. The Bible acts as a lens by which everything in this life should be carefully examined (James 1:23-25).
General Revelation does not add anything that the Bible does not already teach, outline, or express as God intended. Therefore, to counter the approach of integrationists, our starting point must rest on the necessity, authority, superiority, and sufficiency of Scripture as the standard of truth to confirm observations we may make about God, others, and our world.