I know this seems like a silly question to a Christian but I hope this post will help them to see that this is not a silly question at all. The Christian believes that it is self-evident that the Christian God is God. (singular, the one and only) I hope to show in this post that their belief about God is not self-evident at all.
Most Christians believe that God reveals himself to human beings three ways:
- The light of nature
- The light of conscience
- The light of divine revelation (the Bible)
Let’s take a look at these three statements.
The Light of Nature
Christians believe their God created the universe. Regardless of what view they take on the Genesis account, every Christian believes their God created everything.
The Bible says in Romans 1:17-20
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Based on this passage of Scripture, the Christian comes to the conclusion that through nature the Christian God reveals himself to every human being. However,this belief presupposes that the person who is looking at the natural world has read the Bible. What if they have not read the Bible?
Imagine that you have never read the Bible and that you knew absolutely nothing about the Christian religion. When you looked at the natural world would you come to the conclusion that the Christian God created the universe? Of course not, and it would be silly to suggest otherwise.
Now a person uninitiated in the Christian religion might look at the natural world and conclude that a being, perhaps a deity bigger than themselves, created everything but they might also not come to that conclusion.
The history of the human race is littered with creation stories and stories about the many, and various gods. While many human beings have concluded a god created the universe, I know of no people group or individual that believed the Christian God created the universe, without FIRSTbeing indoctrinated in the Christian religion.
Christians forget that to make the jump from A GOD created the universe to THE CHRISTIAN GODcreated the universe requires the Bible. No Bible, No Christian God.
The Light of Conscience
Christians believe that God has given every human being a conscience and that through their Christian God-given conscience they have a basic understanding of right and wrong. Christians believe the conscience has been marred by our sin nature but, at some level, basic right and wrong makes itself known.
Romans 2:14-16 says:
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
The passage above speaks of a law written on our hearts, our conscience. Our conscience is our accuser, and at times our excuser. (this contradictory nature, accusing and then excusing is why we need salvation. Conscience alone is not enough)
According to the Bible, the Christian God writes his law on every human being’s conscience. There is much debate over what is meant here by the word law. Many Christians believe the law spoken of here is the Ten Commandments. For the sake of not having a long, drawn out theological discussion, I will use the Law=Ten’s Commandants definition.
What are the Ten Commandments? Think you know them? Are you sure? Did you know there are two different sets of Ten Commandments? Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. There are differences between the Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 passages. Minor differences, to be sure, but one would think that on a matter so basic and important, that each passage would say exactly the same thing. Surely, God would not want any misunderstandings about his Law?
Let’s examine the premise that every human being has a conscience given to them by the Christian God. If this is true we would expect to see a universal adherence to a basic moral code in every people group in the world. Is this the case? How many native tribes do we see. “remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy?”
The fact is, every people group, every culture has its own moral code. Where do these moral codes come from? A God? Social contracts? Evolutionary development? I am not sure we really know. We do know this…moral beliefs vary widely from one culture to another. Even in countries heavily influenced by Christianity we find wide divergence in what is moral and what is not. If the Christian God is responsible for giving every human being a conscience that is imprinted with his Law he has done a poor job. The wide diversity of moral belief points us away from the Christian God and to some other explanation.
The Christian, once again, presupposes, based on their reading of the Bible, that the conscience God gives to every human being is imprinted with the Christian God’s Law. Their proof? The Bible. The United States, by and large, is a Christian nation. We are heavily influenced by Christianity and the Bible. So, it should come as no shock that our collective moral beliefs reflect the teachings of the Bible. However, if God gives every human being a conscience imprinted with his Law shouldn’t we see a universal moral code in every culture and people group? Why all the diversity in moral beliefs?
The Light of Divine Revelation
For the Christian to believe that God reveals himself through nature and through our conscience it requires them to accept what the Bible says on these two things. As I have shown, without being initiated into the Christian religion and being exposed to the teachings of the Bible, it is highly unlikely that a human being would naturally come to the conclusion that the Christian God created the universe and that the Christian God imprinted every human being’s conscience with his Law.
Believing that the Christian God reveals himself to human beings requires that a person accept the Bible teaching on these things. Every Christian, at some level or another is a presuppositionalist. They presuppose certain beliefs and thencome to this or that conclusion.
What does the Bible say about God? Are Christians in agreement about who God is? Are they in agreement about how God is involved in the universe and how he interacts with human beings?
Any cursory reading of the history of the Christian religion will clearly reveal that there have been huge divisions over these questions about God. One would think that on such a foundational issue, God, that all Christians everywhere would believe the same things.
Most Christians are totally ignorant of the history of the Christian religion.Most Christians assume that what they now believe or what their church/pastor now says is the truth is what Christians have always believed.
If I asked 100 Christians, “did the early church believe that Jesus Christ was God”, almost all of them would shout out a resounding YES! Little do they know that 300 years after the death of Jesus the Christian church was STILL debating, arguing, and killing each other over whether of not Jesus was God. Large numbers of Christians (Arians) said he was not.
I also doubt that 1 in 100 Christians could tell me about the influence Gnosticismhad on the early Christian church. What if the wrong group won the doctrinal battle centuries ago? What if the Gnostics were the ones with God’s truth and not those who we now claim had the orthodox Christian beliefs?
Even today, Christians are divided on who God is and how God is involved in the universe and how he interacts with human beings.
Debates over Calvinism and Arminianism are really battles over God and his nature. A newcomer in the debate, open theism, the belief that God chooses NOT to know some things, makes things even more confusing and complicated. (and let’s not forget the age old belief called Pelagianism)
While Trinitarian Christianity, God is three yet one, dominates the Christian scene, there are sects who are modalists (sabellianism), sects who deny that God is a triune being.
One would think, on this basic issue, that every Christian, regardless of their denominational affiliation, would believe the exact same thing about God. Surely, the Holy Spirit that lives inside of them and teaches them truth would be very clear about the God question, yes? Evidently not.
The common thread that runs through the three ways that God reveals himself to human being is the Bible. Since Christianity is a text based religion, its religious text, the Bible, is the foundation of every belief.
And herein lies the problem. The Bible says many things about God and it can be quite contradictory. For example, I can make a compelling case for there being a plurality of Gods in the book of Genesis, and that the Bible shows a progression from polytheism to monotheism. For me to make this case I have to dispense with my Christian presuppositions and read the text as it stands. There is no possible way to find monotheism or trinitarianism in the book of Genesis.
Let’s look at one verse, Genesis 1:26
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
18th century Presbyterian commentator Albert Barnes writes:
The plural form of the sentence raises the question, With whom took he counsel on this occasion? Was it with himself, and does he here simply use the plural of majesty?…
…We have no ground, therefore, for transferring it to the style of the heavenly King. Was it with certain other intelligent beings in existence before man that he took counsel? This supposition cannot be admitted; because the expression “let us make” is an invitation to create, which is an incommunicable attribute of the Eternal One, and because the phrases, “our image, our likeness,” when transferred into the third person of narrative, become “his image, the image of God,” and thus limit the pronouns to God himself. Does the plurality, then, point to a plurality of attributes in the divine nature? This cannot be, because a plurality of qualities exists in everything, without at all leading to the application of the plural number to the individual, and because such a plurality does not warrant the expression, “let us make.” Only a plurality of persons can justify the phrase. Hence, we are forced to conclude that the plural pronoun indicates a plurality of persons or hypostases in the Divine Being.
What Barnes does here is connect the dots using the Bible. That’s all well and good thousands of years after the fact, but would a person alive at the time of the writing of Genesis conclude that “let us make man in our image” referred to the triune God of the Christian New Testament? Of course not. He would have, based on the polytheistic culture of the day, concluded there were multiple Gods involved in the creation of man. (and the same argument can me made for Genesis 3:22)
The Bible is the glue that holds the Christian church together. However, if we can not trust it to get the God question right can we really trust anything else it says? If we can not trust its teaching on the light of creation or the light of conscience should we really believe that the Bible is God’s (whoever he is) divine revelation to humanity?