An alarming number of Christians today do not believe in the reality of race. Despite the overwhelming witness of statistics and the perspicuous testimony of our senses, many still somehow treat its reality as some sort of great sociological optical illusion.1 These believers, of course, grant that race exists in some way or another, as skin color is rather difficult not to perceive; but they always qualify its existence by inevitably including it in quotation marks and viewing skin color as the full extent of its causal efficacy and biological reality.
Ordinarily, this rejection of any full-fledged formulation of race involves some belief that the Bible either is silent on the topic or hardly emphasizes it. Perhaps appealing to Moses’s allegedly black wife and comparable passages, they might claim that whenever Scripture happens to mention race, it treats it as rather inconsequential and even sanctions intermixing. Thus, they conclude that any belief in race would minimally grant its reality and hardly grant its relevance: anything beyond that is (unsurprisingly) racist. Against this, in addition to arguing that the Bible has much to say on race, I contend that the modern church’s position is based on an idolatrous understanding of the role of Scripture and an anti-Christian depreciation of God’s revelation in nature. But before making this case, I first ought to properly articulate the distinction between natural and supernatural revelation.
Natural and Supernatural Revelation
Theologians have traditionally distinguished between natural and supernatural revelation. While both of them are revelations of the same God, and therefore both of them are supernatural in origin, nevertheless they differ in mode: as the terms of the distinction would indicate, natural revelation is natural in mode, or communicated through natural means, while supernatural revelation is supernatural in mode, or communicated through supernatural means.2
This statement of the distinction is rather fluid, since, in our modern time, the supernatural revelation of Holy Scripture is a collection of books, which are most definitely natural means. However, since these books were produced by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16), which is a distinctly supernatural intervention within God’s providence, it can still be proper to refer to this book as a supernatural mode. A clearer instance of a supernatural mode would be God’s speaking through prophets (2 Pet. 1:21), or even His speaking directly to Adam in Eden and to Moses at Sinai. All of those forms of communication are under the heading of supernatural revelation. Besides such forms of communication, we can properly categorize everything else God has created within the realm of natural revelation. God being the Creator, His handiwork reveals His own glory. This is why Scripture teaches that the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1-4), that all men have some sense of deity (Rom. 1:18-21), and that all peoples have some apprehension of His moral law (Rom. 2:12-16).
The Lord has fashioned us in such a way that we learn important information, even crucially vital information, from different modes of His revelation. We ought not to be deistic or materialistic in rejecting supernatural revelation, nor ought we to be gnostic or biblicist in rejecting natural revelation. God has created both for our benefit, and made us in such a way that we ought to use both.
The Lord is not compelled by any necessity to have constituted us in this way. If He wanted, He could have constituted our minds (and nature itself) in such a way that certain doctrines which for us require supernatural revelation to know, e.g. trinitarianism and justification by faith, could be learned purely through the natural order. Or, if He wanted, He could have constituted our minds in such a way that we learn nothing except through supernatural revelation. This is all to say that the distinction between natural and supernatural revelation is not a matter of logical necessity, but is entirely contingent on God’s free decree. The very fact that there are two kinds of revelation, natural and supernatural, is contingent; and the actual information or content which God has placed in the two kinds of revelation is also contingent.
General and Special Revelation
Corresponding to the distinction between natural and supernatural revelation is the respective distinction between general and special revelation. This distinction refers to the exact same modes and content of revelation as the distinction between natural and supernatural revelation, but it emphasizes a different feature of those modes of revelation. While natural and supernatural revelation are so called because they describe the mode of God’s revelation to us—that is, whether the mode is natural or supernatural—the terms “general” and “special” describe the accessibility and content of such revelation. General revelation is generally accessible, being natural in mode, and the information it reveals about God is general as well, involving less developed ideas about His eternal power and godhead (Rom. 1:20). Contrariwise, special revelation is particularly and specially accessible, currently available only to those who hear or read the Word of God, and in the past available only to those within earshot of Israel and her Old Covenant worship. Sometimes it was available only to those who audibly heard God’s voice, as Adam did in Eden. And just as the content of general revelation is general about God, the content of special revelation is more particular and special, giving greater theological development and insight. As an obvious example, it is through Scripture alone that we hear the glorious evangelistic message of Christ’s satisfactory atonement effecting redemption for weak and wicked sinners. Such a special message belongs only to God’s special revelation.
In the same way that the distinction between natural and supernatural revelation is contingent, the distinction between general and special revelation is also contingent. God could have decreed that the only knowledge we obtain be through general revelation, the same revelation accessible to all men; or He could have decreed that the only knowledge we obtain be through some special revelation He particularly gives to us—that is to say, He could have made all revelation general or all special. He also could have decreed entirely different information to be apprehensible through either mode of revelation: it could have been that the gospel message of salvation in Christ were understandable through general revelation, or that some information we currently know only through general revelation (e.g., the nutritive characteristics of certain foods) were accessible through special revelation.
As I stated above about natural and supernatural revelation, both the existence of the distinction and the content associated with it are contingent upon God’s free decree. But, due to His infinite wisdom and for the sake of His glory, He has so constituted our world with general and special revelation to be exactly as they are. Call this doctrine the contingency of the modes of revelation. It has an important bearing on the problem of biblicism.
Biblicism and Blindness
As I implied above, it is vital not to reject one of these sources of God’s revelation. It is likewise vital not to pay lip service to one while idolizing the other. But the precise problem with biblicism is such an undue exaltation of Scripture, to the detriment of God’s authoritative revelation in nature. As I mentioned in my response article to R.C. Sproul, Jr., a proper view of race presupposes a healthy view of natural revelation. Though we have good reason to accept the existence and significance of race from Scripture—for instance, consider the biblical case for ethno-nationalism, in addition to responses and answered questions concerning the topic—God’s revelation in nature is likewise evident. All true science points to the reality and relevance of race: race-denial and consequent race-mixing presuppose blindness to God’s nature.
Many problems result when blind groping is the race-denier’s pursued course of action. To close one’s eyes to God’s world with some pretension of exalting His Word is doubly crippling, both denigrating nature and delimiting Scripture. The inevitable endpoint of any idolatry is the destruction of the proper use for the object idolized, and the same outcome awaits this idolatry of the Bible. If natural revelation is in many ways cut off as a source of useful knowledge and information, then the Bible has substantially less information upon which it can authoritatively comment and expand. As an example, if one doubts the reality of race because he ignores the testimony of nature, he will not find Scripture’s ubiquitous testimony on nations and genealogies very helpful; but upon ceding that race and genetics are indeed important, such passages will likely be read with a new and enlightening perspective. In seeking to revere scriptural authority, biblicists thereby restrict the actual extent of its jurisdiction.
The prime danger of any falsity is its disconnecting us from reality as God has crafted it. Disguised as angels of light (cf. 2 Cor. 11:14), deceivers are quite competent in constructing ideologies which compel us to deny what would (and should) otherwise be obvious to us. But biblicism intensifies the risk of falling into such a snare, since it effectively cuts off natural revelation as a source with which to oppose dangerous error. An endless number of logically self-consistent worldviews are available, and if Christians reject any interest in the external consistency of the true religion with God’s world, concerning themselves only with internal self-consistency, then Christianity will become just one option among many. Yet by grasping the authority of God in His natural revelation, much more firepower is available with which to counter falsity. Consider how this applies to race: the manner in which the racial egalitarianism of Franz Boas utterly overtook the anthropology departments of academia uncovers a detriment of Christians with an unduly high view of scriptural authority. If Christians had just defended what nature reveals to be obvious, that race is not a social construct, then the Boasian falsity would not have become so institutionalized. Since both stem from God our Creator, Christians should be the first ones to emphasize the blessed harmony of nature and Scripture—or else expect chastisement.
Natural Revelation’s Obvious Authority
In many respects, most people completely understand the idea that nature authoritatively imparts to us useful information. For example, when belaying down the side of a cliff, the climbers will pay careful attention to the placement of their anchor points, desiring to find a sturdy location in the rock wall and not a precarious one. As should be obvious, they understand that they do not need any sort of Bible verse to help them in their climbing—but they do absolutely need a great deal of natural knowledge to keep themselves alive. Likewise, when consuming some particular food, a father would not need to consult a systematic theology to ensure the food’s health; he just needs to understand the nutritional facts of the food and its interaction with the human body.3 Or, even more relevantly, when pursuing a safe place to live, he should seek to understand its crime statistics and racial demographics. These topics are all enormously clear in their teaching independent of scriptural attestation. That is to say, natural revelation is obviously authoritative in these matters, and it is even clearer on certain topics than anything Scripture can offer. In these types of matters, God commands us to obey His revelation in nature—even where His revelation in Scripture is silent or unclear.
But if this is so, then how can Christians ignore the Lord’s natural revelation and arbitrarily declare that beliefs for particular topics must have only Bible verses for support? Though it is certainly the case that some topics require Bible verses to provide any substantive or important commentary on them, such topics cannot be identified by our antecedent categorization. For example, we do not just arbitrarily believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is the type of doctrine which must be revealed in special revelation if we are to know it at all; instead, we come to that conclusion after realizing what we can infer from nature and understanding that, if we are to know it, God Himself must specially reveal the doctrine. According to the doctrine of the contingency of the modes of revelation, God could have created us to apprehend truths like trinitarianism through natural revelation—He is omnipotent, and could have created us any way He desired—but given the way He has in fact constituted us, we need special revelation to know the doctrine. Thus, in discerning the boundaries of our natural reason, we see that certain notions are of the kind which needs to be specially revealed if we are to know them at all; and therefore we cannot just say arbitrarily for a given topic that it must be supported by Bible verses. We must investigate God’s natural revelation first, before determining it to be insufficient for informing us of a particular topic.
The obvious import of this is that Christians cannot simply request a Bible verse for something like racial realism, white solidarity, or anti-miscegenation, and then claim Christian liberty when they are unpersuaded by the proffered arguments. I am convinced that honest and competent minds will not properly read Scripture and conclude that race is meaningless; but I am also convinced that race-denial would be a fantastically and terrifyingly absurd conclusion for those who use their eyes or do any research into racial statistics, which is part of God’s authoritative natural revelation. (This would especially be the case if such research were supplemented by the biblical account.) When the authority of natural revelation is properly grasped, incessant verse-requesting becomes understood not as some godly reverence of biblical authority, but as a delusional blindness to God’s created order.
If Christians wish to take dominion in this world, it is vital that they comprehend the sovereignty of God and the authority of His revelation in both its modes. By seeing that natural revelation and supernatural revelation are contingent upon God’s free choice, we ought not to view them in such a way that we necessarily uplift the one and debase the other, as biblicists do. Instead, we ought to understand that which is already obvious—that God’s natural revelation is authoritative: that Christians should be committed and steadfast truth-seekers in all fields of nature, not merely in biblical ones. Such a view of natural revelation lays the proper foundation for a healthy view of Christian racialism and of Christian dominion in general. In the upcoming installments of this series, I will explicate some further considerations of the Christian doctrine of natural revelation.