1.4 General Revelation

How can God be known?

For some, God is to be sought out within the complexities and ambiguities of the world. The “human quest for God” involves the careful weighing of evidence drawn from the natural world, including human reason and conscience. For others, human nature is limited in its abilities, and is unable to discern the existence or nature of God in this way. Humanity needs to be told what God is like. 

The issue being debated is fundamentally that of revelation – the Christian notion that God chooses to be known, and makes this possible through self- disclosure in nature and human history. The great Scottish theologian Hugh Ross Mackintosh (1870–1936) once summarized the questions centering on revelation as follows: “A religious knowledge of God, wherever existing, comes by revelation; otherwise we should be committed to the incredible position that a man can know God without His willing to be known.” 


A central theme of Christian theology down the ages has been that unaided human attempts to discern fully the nature and purposes of God are ultimately unsuccessful. Although most Christian theologians hold that a natural knowledge of God is possible (the early writings of Karl Barth being a notable exception to this consensus), any such natural knowledge is generally understood to be limited in scope, in coherence, and in depth. The idea of revelation expresses the pervasive belief of Christian theology to the effect that we need to be “told what God is like” (Eberhard Jüngel). 


Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th Edition, by Alister E. McGrath © 2011 Alister E. McGrath.