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Natural Theology Defined

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
April 23, 2022 12:01 am

Natural Theology Defined

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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April 23, 2022 12:01 am

God has revealed Himself through the world He has made. But does nature reveal enough about God to bring us to saving faith in His Son? Today, R.C. Sproul answers this question by defining the importance and the limits of natural theology.

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We understand that the stars and the movements them all over their love God but yet they display something of the glory of their maker. Just as a great painter leaves his own mark on the paintings that he creates so the universe itself proclaims something about the nature of God, limited great views of the church the clues. This is my father's world. The birds their kernels raise. The morning went the lily white to clear their makers praise welcome to Renewing Your Mind.

I'm we will have those lyrics echo Romans chapter 1, which tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God is revealed himself through only created but does nature provide enough information for us to come to a saving knowledge of God. That's the question Dr. RC will address today from a series defending your faith really recall that what we've been looking at in the last few sessions. Some of the epistemological principles are principles of knowledge that are critical for our understanding of the defense of the faith, and we looked at the law of non-contradiction. The law of causality. Basic reliability sense perception and the analogical use of language and then from there we went to those concepts that are so often confused in our day, particularly the idea of contradiction. The idea of paradox, and the idea of mystery and now having finished that segment of our series, I want to turn our attention a slightly different direction.

Today looking at a very important idea that is central to the historic defense of Christianity which is called the principal of natural theology, natural theology, when I say that this is a critical issue because in the 20th century. The whole idea of natural theology that had been so carefully developed throughout church history has come under severe attack and many theologians and apologists in our day reject the whole idea of natural theology. Now usually when we talk about natural theology immediate the name that is associated with it. Among theologians is that of St. Thomas Aquinas and some people labor under the misunderstanding that the science of natural theology was invented by St. Thomas but actually when St. Thomas developed his natural theology and a very large measure, he stood on the shoulders of St. Augustine who had come before him and St. Augustine.

Of course, in the development of his idea of natural theology was indebted to the teaching of the apostle Paul himself.

So as we look at this. Let me begin by giving a simple definition of the term natural theology and then look at some historical principles that have developed with the idea of natural theology simply refers to a knowledge of God.

Remember, this is what theology is a knowledge of God that is gained from nature that is in addition to and distinct from the knowledge of God that we receive from sacred Scripture is another source of knowledge of God, which is nature itself. Now as I get into this.

I have to say at the outset that there been many different views of natural theology many different kinds of natural theology and that partly explains the controversy that attends the very word but historically natural theology within the Christian tradition is seen to be based on something else, which we call general revelation fact sometimes people confuse these two concepts general revelation refers to something that God does natural theology refers to something that we do. Natural theology is the result of general revelation. Now let me take again a few moments for definitions. When we talk about revelation that is general the word general is distinguished from the word special so in theology. We talk about general revelation and special revelation. Again, if I can allow the plot to thicken general revelation is called general for two reasons. The first reason it is called general revelation is the because it refers to a revelation from God that is given to all human beings.

That is the audience of general revelation is universal. Every human person in the world receives general revelation now. Not everybody in the world has had the benefit of hearing special revelation as is found in the Scriptures we know that there are tribes and peoples in this world who have never had a word of the Bible translated into their language. They'd never heard a word of the content of the Bible and so that vehicle revelation that we call special the word of God in Scripture is not as yet been made available to every human being. General revelation does go to all people.

Now the second reason why general revelation is called general revelation is because of its content. What general revelation reveals is a knowledge of God.

In general, we do not receive in general revelation a clear understanding of the Trinity, or of God's plan of redemption, but only some basic substantive information about the character and existence of God is revealed in general revelation part so since we like to make distinctions make one more for you again when we talk about general revelation. We talk about two different kinds of general revelation and those different kinds are called immediate and immediate so we can speak of Media General, revelation, or we can speak of immediate general revelation.

Here's the difference Media General revelation is that revelation that God gives to all people through some medium. It's not direct but it's indirect. Let me explain. An example of it when the Psalmist says the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows forth his handiwork. The psalmist is saying that by looking at nature by looking at the earth by looking at the stars and the moon and the heavens. When we see those things.

We understand that the stars and the moon sign in all of that they're not God but yet they display something of the glory of their maker. Just as a great painter leaves his own mark on the paintings that he creates so the universe itself is a medium that proclaims something about the nature of God, and that's why this is called immediate general revelation that revelation that God makes of himself in and through nature immediate revelation would be a direct revelation immediate here does not mean quick or sudden, but it means without an intervening medium.

For example, Romans chapter 2 tells us that God has written his law on our hearts, and every human being is born with a conscience. There is an innate internal sense of God that God plants immediately in the soul of every creature so that by virtue of being human. We have an internal sense of the reality of God that he plants upon the conscience or in the mind of every creature.

It's not a deduction from nature.

It's planted directly into the soul.

This is what John Calvin called the census defendant taught to store the sense of the divine that is within each one of us that would be a case of immediate general revelation and so we see that God reveals himself in two different ways to all people through the medium of nature and directly through the imprint of a sense of himself in the soul now when the discussion comes up about general revelation, particularly among Christians. The question is will what does the Bible say about that and if Christians are convinced. For example, that the Bible is true and if the Bible says that in addition to the Bible. There's another source of revelation, then obviously Christians for that reason will embrace these two different kinds of revelation and of course the classical location in Scripture for the doctrine of general revelation and the idea of natural theology is found in the first chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans in chapter 1 verse 18.

The apostle writes as follows for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men on me just pause there quickly.

This is sort of striking and jolting because just a couple of verses.

Earlier Paul has introduced the glorious revelation of the gospel of Christ and the whole purpose of this epistle is to unfold for his readers. The content of the gospel which is good news and so one would expect after he introduces the gospel that he would that move immediately to an exposition of the gospel and instead is it were all back battles and talks about a different revelation. He speaks here of the revelation of God's wrath not think it's clear why he doesn't because he's trying to show his readers why the gospel is necessary in the first place.

Why it was necessary for our salvation, the Christ, and so he goes back to show why it is that everybody in the world is brought before the tribunal of God and is found guilty and what Paul concludes in the third chapter is that all sin fall short of the glory of God and that everybody needs the gospel, not because they've rejected Jesus, of whom they've never heard but because of what human beings do to the knowledge of God that they do have. So let's look at this.

He says God's wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, and adjust quickly and passing St. that in the structure of this literarily the terms ungodliness and unrighteousness. Both refer to one thing. There's a single sin in view here that can be deemed both ungodly and unrighteous and Paul goes on to explain what is who suppress the truth in unrighteousness again when we pause and say that the one primary universal sin of fallen humanity is the suppression of truth but it's not simply the suppression of truth in general, but it is a particular truth that is in view here that is being suppressed in the see what it is because what may be known of God is manifest in them. For God has shown it to them.

Now you see what Paul is saying here Paul is saying that God is revealing his wrath against the human race, because the human race is guilty of suppressing truth about God. Initially he says that maybe not so.

So far he's talking about the suppression of potential knowledge of God and this knowledge that may be known may be known why because as Paul says God has manifested it to them. It gets worse. He goes on to say, since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse ever since creation.

God has so clearly the word, there's finally Ross, which means clear and manifest plain. It's not that God hides little clues behind the bushes that the alert and intelligent seeker can maybe discern if he is clever enough and conclude that God exists no this revelation he's talking about is so plain, so manifest that everybody sees it is clearly perceived by the things that are made in and through creation. We all see it and it leaves us without excuse.

Obviously, the excuse that the apostle has in view here that he realizes people will try to appeal to on the day of judgment when they stand before God. People ruinously all Lord, if I only knew that you were there. My life would've been different. I would've been your loyal disciple. I would've obeyed you. I would've worshiped you. I would've adored you got soon enough that excuse won't fly because you did know that I was here, you knew my eternal power.

You knew my very deity because I showed it to you, and I showed it to you plainly you see the reason why you didn't follow me is not because of ignorance, not because you didn't know me, it's because you hated and you wouldn't have me in your thoughts.

This is the indictment that the New Testament gives to the whole world goes on to say this because although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, neither were they thankful but they became futile in their imaginations, not in a race. These things I have on the board and put another picture of fear if I may ask. First of all what we call the revelation of God which I'm in a look at lines radiating from the sun as an analogy of the light that is shining and will let that represent what God does.

He does the revelation and here we are down here in this circle below.

These rays will call that mankind now some people look at it this way and they say will here's what human sin is God reveals himself clearly and manifestly, but there is a barrier between God and man, and that barriers human sin and human corruption, and so as a result of that sin and corruption.

This revelation hits this barrier and bounces back and never pierces the mind of the creature that is to say there is an objective revelation here above the line, but the revelation never gets through to the subject that's not what the apostle is saying here, if possible, is not saying that the judgment of God is revealed because God has revealed himself and people refused to allow that revelation to get in their heads. That's not the basis of this indictment as he goes on to say because knowing God. They refused to honor him as God, neither were they grateful and so what we have to see here in Romans one is that this revelation that comes from God gets through. It pierces the mind of man. And then we continually distorted exchange the truth for a lie become idolaters, and all the rest we suppress it we hide it we exchange it for the life but only after the knowledge has gotten in their and so the point that the apostle is saying is not only is there a divine revelation in nature, not just natural revelation, but that that natural revelation produces what a natural theology which natural theology is the foundation for the universal guilt of man. When the questions I hear more often than any other question is what happened to the poor innocent native in Africa who's never heard the gospel and my answer somewhat glib to that always throws people for a loop. I said nothing happens. The poor innocent native in Africa is never heard the gospel poor innocent native and average of the need to hear the gospel, a poor innocent native in Africa go straight to heaven when he dies he doesn't Glasgow doesn't collect $200 is nothing to worry about and I would spend five cents in a missionary endeavor to reach innocent natives in Africa or Australia or New Zealand or South America or anywhere else. Innocent people beloved don't need the gospel. The real question is how many innocent natives are there in Africa or in South America or Australia if we understand Paul properly. Here he say there are no innocent natives in Africa that people in Africa and Australia. People all over the world have received this clear revelation of God the father and every last one of has repressed that knowledge exchange that knowledge for a lie and has chosen idolatry, rather than the worship of the only true God, and it's to a world that is already under indictment that God sends Christ to be our Savior. But the point is Christ comes to a world that is already under the indictment of the father because of the natural revelation that he is given of himself so clearly and so plainly, and which revelation gets through and so what we mean here. Natural theology in its most rudimentary sense is that knowledge of God, that every human being has as a direct result or consequence of general revelation. It's the knowledge of God that we have from nature again, when Augustine talked about natural theology.

He went immediately to Romans one and when Aquinas centuries later developed his system of natural theology. He went not only to Romans one, but also to the writings of Augustine and Seitz Augustine in many passages and says yes because of Romans one and because of general revelation. There is a universal knowledge of God know many people think that what St. Thomas was saying was that man through his un-aided reason without any assistance from divine revelation has the intellectual capacity to ascend into the heavens and arrive at a knowledge of God that is not what Thomas taught by a longshot Lord what Augustine taught both of them said the right way. We have natural theology is through divine revelation that revelation that God makes of himself in nature. Now the consequences of this idea are massive for the science of apologetics. As I hope we will see in the coming sessions we understand natural theology, and hope to see that none of us has an excuse.

The reason people don't follow Christ is never because of ignorance, it's because they are at enmity with God. The New Testament indicts the whole world with this truth referred a powerful message today by Dr. RC Sproul.

This is from his series defending your faith in your listing to Renewing Your Mind. Thank you for being with us today were making our way through this entire series.

Each Saturday in the program with 32 messages. It is a comprehensive treatment of classical apologetics would like for you to have the 11 DVD set.

Just contact us today with a gift of any amount and we will send it to you. You can reach us by phone at 800-435-4343 or if you prefer, you can make your request and give your gift The study of apologetics is important not just in defending the faith and in bringing comfort to our own souls, believing what God says helps us in every area of our lives leaders free app is another great source for your study on the topic of apologetics. You can search through thousands of resources from Dr. scroll we get her teaching fellows and other trusted Bible teachers downloaded to your phone or tablet. When you search for linear in your app store next Saturday will continue our look at natural theology and he'll expose some of the errant teaching that is arisen through the centuries and hope you'll join us next Saturday for Renewing Your Mind

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