HSR Summaries: Section IV: Note on Science and General Revelation
By Tyler Wagenmaker
The Human Sexuality Report that came to Synod 2022 has been widely debated but seldom read. Its intimidating length and broad areas of discussion mean many have heard about it but few have dug into it for themselves. The debate at Synod centered almost exclusively on the issue of same-sex marriage, but the report is far broader than any single issue. In this series we want to give you an overview of the Human Sexuality Report in bite-sized pieces and offer pastoral implications for us to live into going into the future.
Section IV of the Human Sexuality Report is quite brief, stating that it intends to provide a “Note on science and general revelation.” However, though it is brief, it is foundationally important as it points to a key point of division between the two camps over the issue of human sexuality. What authority does science possess as it relates to general revelation and special revelation?
Both general and special revelation, Section IV points out, are specifically mentioned in the Belgic Confession (Art. 2) as the two ways that God reveals Himself. Special revelation is the written Word of God and general revelation is creation. Both revelations must be studied and read in the light of one another, but special revelation has priority. The Word of God functions as the eyeglasses through which we are able to more properly read the book of creation.
However, when it comes to the matters of human sexuality, too many in the broader church community and also in the CRC have taken it upon themselves to interpret Scripture through the lenses not only of general revelation but specifically the lenses of current science. Section IV of the HSR brings out why this is a key error:
“Unfortunately, the mistaken idea that science can simply be equated with general revelation continues to appear in Reformed circles.” As an example, the Classis Grand Rapids East Study Report on same-sex marriage intentionally misrepresents what the CRC stated in our adopted 1972 report on “The Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority” by misquoting a key line. The misquote in the GRE report states, “Taking Scripture seriously leads to recognizing science as a form of revelation given by God and a legitimate expression of the cultural mandate.” However, the italicized words were never in the 1972 report but were added by the GRE study report.
Why is this significant? Section IV tells us why: The revisionists are attempting to put science and God’s revelation (general and special), on equal footing and in doing so to give the work of the sciences divine authority. This “is a serious error and makes a mockery of the Reformation teaching concerning sola Scriptura.” Section IV goes on: “Rather than investing science with divine authority, it is better to stress that science is provisional, that its theories involve various levels of uncertainty, that its authority is that of the consensus of the scientific community, and that it focuses strictly on physical processes.”
Science is not general revelation; rather, science is a flawed human (and even religious) work of trying to understand general revelation. And general revelation is itself under the authority of Scripture with her revelation. And yet when revisionists wrongly equate science with general revelation, and then improperly elevate general revelation to have equal footing with (if not a higher footing than) special revelation, lots of mischief ensues regarding human sexuality and we get to be in the mess we are presently in in the CRC and the broader church culture.
The way forward for churches in our efforts to make sense of matters of human sexuality is to reclaim our Reformed heritage of sola Scriptura, where Scripture is the highest authority in our preaching and our teaching. A spiritual sickness has worked its way into our CRC culture which has over time been downplaying the authority of Scripture, all the while elevating the authority of our own scientific studies and the learned people of the world. The right way forward on matters of human sexuality can be summarized by the title of the report which was overwhelmingly adopted by Synod 2022: Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality.