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What is Progressive Revelation?
Some early church theologians argued that God had to relate to his people as spiritual infants, and over time, God’s people developed a capacity to receive clearer revelations of him. Gregory of Nazianzus, who wrote in the fourth century, claimed that God needed to allow aspects of fallen culture to get mixed in with his self-revelation; otherwise they would not have been capable of receiving it. God was acting like a wise physician who needs to blend flavorful juice with his nasty-tasting medicine.
As his people acclimated to the revelation they received, however, God was able to peel away layers of their fallen, culturally-conditioned beliefs and thereby reveal additional layers of truth about himself. This is progressive revelation.
One example of it is found in Gregory’s observation that God first “cut off the idol” from his people, but he “left the sacrifices.” Though we later learn that God doesn’t actually approve of animal sacrifices, God saw that his people at this time were too spiritually immature to abandon this barbaric practice. So, for a period of time, God graciously stooped to take on the appearance of a deity who enjoys, and even demands, the ritualistic killing of animals.
When the Israelites had grown more mature, Gregory argues, God “destroyed sacrifices,” but he “did not forbid circumcision,” though this too was also eventually removed. By taking incremental steps such as these, God grew his people to the point where at least some of them were ready to be freed completely from their past paganism. Gregory sums up the process by saying God “beguiled his people into the Gospel by gradual changes.”
This process culminated with God’s fullest and clearest revelation in Christ.
The proposal I make in Crucifixion of the Warrior God and Cross Vision is saying nothing more than this. I hold that God has always revealed his true character while stooping to accommodate the fallen and culturally conditioned state of his people as much as necessary. In his love, God was willing to allow his people to think of him along the lines of an ANE warrior deity, to the degree this was necessary, in order to progressively influence them to the point where they would be capable of receiving the truth that he is actually radically unlike these violent ANE deities. In this sense, I could agree with Gregory and say that, by making “gradual changes,” God “beguiled” his people “into the Gospel,” wherein it was revealed that God would rather be killed by enemies than to kill enemies.
—Bible, Revelation, Church Fathers
Adapted from Cross Vision, pages 72-74
Knowing and Experiencing God
The way we view God is in part conditioned by the state of our minds and hearts. Origen put it this way: “[T]he Holy Spirit addresses our nature in a manner appropriate to its imperfection, only as far as it is capable of listening.” In fact, Origen went so far as to argue that the…
Four Principles of the Cruciform Thesis
In the second volume of Crucifixion of the Warrior God, I introduce how four dimensions of the revelation of God on the cross (as introduced in this post) lead to four principles that show us how to unlock aspects of the OT’s violent divine portraits and thus disclose how a given portrait bears witness to…
Podcast: Isn’t God the Author of Suffering in the Crucifixion?
Greg considers the implications of his Cruciform Hermeneutic on his previous work in God at War. http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0274.mp3
On the Language of “Revolution”
Nick Thompson via Compfight Question: The banner of your website and the thrust of much of your teaching focuses on “revolution.” While I can see a radical call in some of the sayings of Jesus, especially if he were addressing upper-middle class North Americans, I wonder if attaching revolutionary language to his teaching seems a…
Endorsements for Crucifixion of the Warrior God
Greg has gotten some really great endorsements for his upcoming Crucifixion of the Warrior God, so we thought we’d share them with all of you. If you want to learn more, you can go here. Enjoy! “We now have a plenitude of studies preoccupied with the vexed question of the violence of God in the Bible.…
What is the right way to interpret Revelation?
Few biblical topics have captured the imagination of contemporary evangelicals like the book of Revelation. The recent unprecedented success of the Left Behind series is evidence of this popular fascination. Many evangelicals don’t realize that the futuristic interpretation of Revelation advocated in this popular series is only one of several interpretations evangelicals espouse. Here’s the…