Church Education Trust

4.2.3 The Doctrine of Revelation.
While the Holy Spirit is the power of heaven released on earth, revelation is the effect of His ministry. What has God to say to the 21st century seeker? The answer to that will answer the question of “Why does the church exist and what is it meant to be?” Revelation is central to the teaching of the church, for without it we would not know or understand about God’s ultimate purposes.
McGavran when speaking about church growth and revelation suggests: I am not free to indulge my prejudices or to slight any of the evidence. I must take into account what comes through the filter of my small reason and what comes to me through revelation and in every other way. All evidence must be weighed before the bar of truth.
Douglas and Tenney[2] suggest that “revelation is a theological concept referring to the account of God’s self revelation in word and deed contained in the scriptures.” Warren follows this form of thought and disclosure by emphasising the key point of God’s self revelation of Himself through the Bible, “which is God’s inerrant guidebook for life”.[3] The form of that revelation is the unique way God spoke to the hearts and minds of his people. It is the idea of inspiration, where God guides the writers to place on paper His purposes and, by illumination, the readers of the scriptures discover the mind and purposes of God.
On Saddleback’s web-site their commitment to the scriptures in this way is confirmed in their doctrinal stance.[4]Various New Testament texts confirm this concept of revelation.[5]”All scripture is God breathed”.[6]. God’s self disclosure of Himself is reflected by the use of a number of important Greek verbs: “apokalypto, planeroo, epiphaino and chrematizo”; linked with these verbs are a number of nouns: “apakalypsis, planerosis, epiphancia and chrematismos”; all of these words reflect the self disclosure of God, His will, and His purposes.
Jesus becomes the revelation (apokalypsis) light of the world. In Matthew’s gospel we see Jesus revealing (apokalypto) the Father to the world. In the letter to Titus, the “grace that brings salvation has appeared (epihaino) to all men.”
Warren promotes this self disclosure of God to his people by revelation. He suggests in his book:[7] “I can teach you what God is doing”, presupposing that God has revealed that to him and in making that supposition, the method has to be revelation.
Warren confirms this by his commitment to the scripture as a written text revealing the purposes of God in Christ.Revelation in Warren’s ecclesiological development is the obvious outworking of his views on Sovereignty. If God is in control of all things and His Holy Spirit is able to communicate to his creatures, then revelation has the idea of disclosure or unveiling of something. [8]
The idea that the hidden glory of God could be known is key to an understanding of revelation. The Bible[9] draws our attention to two kinds of revelation. On the one hand the creation reflects the very nature and glory of the creator and on the other hand Israel conveys the law and demands of that creator God. The creation is seen as universal or general revelation whereas the second communication of God through the nation of Israel is special revelation.
Warren would agree with this two tier form of revelation. He understands revelation to mean that “general revelation” alerts us to the fact that the creator lives, while “special revelation” summons humankind to make peace with God. Every chapter in “The Purpose Driven Life” indicates the outworking of special revelation, for Warren constantly reminds people that He knows what God has purposed for them in Christ.[10]
a. Special Revelation.
Warren clearly indicates that Saddleback is the outworking of special revelation, personal revelation, God revealing himself through his written word. Warren clearly indicates that “an effective purpose statement expresses the New Testament doctrine of the church; we don’t decide the purposes of the church, we discover them”.[11]
He believed that the word of God was special revelation in nature and content; it was “God’s inerrant guidebook for life”.Two issues captivate Warren’s understanding of “special revelation”[13] and they are that revelation can be known firstly in historical events and secondly in divine speech. The Incarnation is very special in Warren’s understanding of revelation, that marvellous moment when God “became flesh and dwelt among us”.
The Gospels stories are historical records of God’s personal activity on earth when he became flesh and dwelt among humankind. Warren stresses the importance of the words and commands of Christ.[15] This is seen in that his five biblical principles are taken from the Great Commission and commandments of Christ recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.[16] “These two passages summarise all that we do at Saddleback church”.
All the records of his actions reflect something of his knowability and therefore an understanding of those records will reflect the special way God has revealed Himself to His creation. God’s word in and through Christ, is of equal importance for Warren, because it reflects  His will, purposes and covenant with His people, therefore special revelation stands on the double pillars of divine action and divine words.
“We are driven by the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Together they give us the primary tasks the church is to focus on until Christ returns”.Key to this debate concerning special revelation is the measure and development of Warren’s Christological understanding; because Christ is no longer with us and we are not privy to his actual physical presence in our 21st century world, great emphasis must be placed on the record of his actions, words and attitudes as recorded in the scriptures, along with complete dependency on the Holy Spirit’s ability to make real to the 21st century mind the one who was physically real to the 1st century believers.
Warren’s commitment to “special revelation” is total, for it allows him to authoritatively teach that his five New Testament principles originated in the very heart of God and are not a figment of his active religious imagination, but revealed to him through His written word. Warren comments that he “took six months to do an extensive, personal Bible study on the church”.[19] Special revelation is at the heart of all that Warren seeks to accomplish in Saddleback.
His two main books[20] reflect the idea that what he has written has been revealed in principle form, contextualised locally and communicated to others in this written form. Warren sums up his understanding of revelation in one of his “Life Perspectives courses” where he suggests that special revelation is only understood through the Bible because it is “God’s inerrant guidebook for life”.[21]
Up to this point Warren is clearly conservative evangelical in his theological positioning. He would suggest that all the revelation that he received has been conveyed by means of the written word i.e. the Bible.[22] The next logical step for him to take is to develop his understanding of the doctrine of the word of God.

[1] McGavran,  Understanding Church Growth, 7.

[2] Douglas & Tenney, The International Dictionary of the Bible, Marshall Pickering, Hants,

     1987, 85.

[3] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 354.

[4] Statement of faith on Revelation.

[5] John 10:34-35, 2 Tim.3:15, Hebrews 3:7-11:2, 2 Peter 1:19-21.

[6] 2 Tim. 3:16.

[7] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 15.

[8] Warren, TPDC, 15.

[9] Genesis-Deuteronomy.

[10] Warren, The Purpose Driven life.
[11] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 100.
[12] Warren, TPDC, 354.
[13] Special revelation: culminates in the incarnation. God becomes flesh and dwells among us.

[14] John 1:1-14.

[15] Warren, TPDC, 102.
[16] Warren, TPDC, 102.
[17] Warren, TPDC, 102.
[18] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 103.
[19] Warren, TPDC, 96.
[20] Warren, TPDC & TPDL.

[21] Warren, TPDC, 354.

[22] Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 354.

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