Last week I didn't have time to post my own biblical theology thoughts to go alongside my review of Grudem's Systematic Theology. Here is more from my second section on "Revelation."
2a Revelation (From Text to Scripture)
2b Revelation (NT Understanding of Scripture)
So here goes...
First, we must recognize that while Scripture is the first and best place for us to begin when we are looking to hear God's voice, God's revelation did not begin with Genesis and it did not end with Revelation. On any reckoning, written Scriptures have existed for less than half of humanity's existence, and by most reckonings far less. Christ, God's fullest revelation came even more recently.
Even then, this written revelation has only been available to the smallest portion of the world until recent times--most humans in history never heard of Christ. And when you consider that the vast majority of people throughout history have been illiterate, the details of written Scripture have scarcely been available even to believers until recently. In short, if written Scripture is the only path to God, then the overwhelmingly majority of humanity has not known him.
Many Christians would reject the notion that God determines who will be saved and who will be damned. Those Christians usually also reject the fall back position that God only determines who will be saved and that the damned are damned already. Yet to believe that those who have never heard are inevitably damned is simply another form of that idea. To be consistent, those who reject these forms of predestination should reject the idea that those who have never heard cannot possibly be saved.
The key is two-fold. First, one can be saved through Christ without knowing the source of one's salvation. Secondly, God is far more interested in what is going on in our hearts than what is going on in our heads. If God empowers those who have heard to be able to believe on him, then he can also empower those who have never heard to be able to respond appropriately to the light they have.
Revelation is not merely a matter of the understanding. It is primarily a matter of the heart. It is knowing God relationally far more than knowing God cognitively. A person can respond appropriately with his or her heart even if the head lacks accurate understanding.
Creation is the first revelation of God. "And God said," Genesis 1:3 begins. The result is that "The heavens are telling the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1). Paul suggests that God's power and divinity are obvious to the world (Rom. 1:20). Paul's sermon in Acts 17 implies that it is at least possible to find God through the stars and order of the creation (Acts 17:27-28).
We should not imagine that such knowledge of God is extensive from a cognitive point of view. We are not really talking about the philosophical argument from design here. We are talking about the awe of God captured so well as the psalmist is amazed, "when I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you have established" (Ps. 8:3).
The stories of Genesis tell of God walking with various individuals who had no written word from God. Indeed, they had little from God orally either. We hear of Noah, then of Abram called from a foreign country. Abram came from a situation in which many gods were worshiped (Josh. 24:2). Presumably God spoke to more people and more often than the sparse indications of Genesis. Regardless of when it was written, Job is often thought to picture someone who was not an Israelite but who worshiped God rightly in his heart in the patriarchal period.
Abram knew God as El-Shaddai, "God Almighty," according to one strand of the Pentateuch (Exod. 6:3). He did not know God as YHWH. El was the king of the gods in the Canaanite pantheon, like Zeus in Greece. Is it therefore possible that God met Abraham within his understanding, asking him to worship the highest God, without correcting his sense of the other gods (cf. Ps. 82)? Melchizedek was also a priest of "God Most High," El-Elyon. So here is God, long before written revelation, meeting godly people where they were at in their understanding.
At each point, God seems to refine the understanding. God reveals himself as YHWH, as the "I AM," at the burning bush...