Is creation alone capable of producing salvific faith?

Maybe this question already has a thread. If so, please delete with extreme prejudice.

(I ask the question on my blog, here. But I will also paste the argument:)

I recently heard a discussion about the famous passage in Romans , chapter the first:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Rom 9:18-20, NIV)

The discussion concluded that creation, aka the book of nature, aka general revelation was important but never provided sufficient knowledge for one’s salvation. Salvific knowledge, the argument goes, comes only from special revelation i.e., scripture.

Possibly in my familiar position of a minority of one, I disagree on a couple of levels.

For my first level of disagreement, let’s stipulate that knowledge is required for salvation. After all, the argument that the knowledge of creation is never sufficient for salvation implies that there is a necessary level of knowledge that is unattainable through general revelation alone.

If so, I can’t parse this Romans passage without concluding that it must be the case, or at least the possibility, that the knowledge of creation is, in fact, sufficient. It is because of those two words at the end of v20: without excuse .

I apologize in advance that to explain my point I will have to draw upon that most sophisticated, theological, and epistemological allegory ever devised by man: that’s right, you guessed it: it’s St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

Let’s suppose two men, (let’s call them Tom and Jerry ) neither of whom ever heard the gospel or had access to scripture, are in line at the gates. Tom is first:

St. Peter: Hello Tom. I’m sorry, but only the saved pass through the gates.

Tom: But, but, I never heard the gospel! I never had access to scripture! That’s not fair!

St: Peter: You had your whole life to find God through His creation. You are without excuse!

Tom: But…

St. Peter: You go to hell!

Jerry steps up…

St. Peter: Hello Jerry. I’m sorry, but only the saved pass through the gates.

Jerry: But, but, I never heard the gospel! I never had access to scripture! That’s not fair!

St: Peter: You had your whole life to find God through His creation. You are with

Jerry: (Interrupting) But I did find God, I did believe in God through the beauty and complexity of creation! I was a scientist and with every discovery I saw God’s handiwork more clearly! ¹

St. Peter: (Checking the Oracle Database) Um, right. So you did. Most unusual. My bad. Still, you go to hell!

As I see it there is no point, that I can discern, of quoting scripture and telling Tom he is “without excuse”, if Tom and Jerry suffer the same fate.

I’ll discuss further disagreement in my next post. It will possibly be a more substantive argument.

¹ Ok, the sentence starting with “I was a scientist…” was unforgivably gratuitous.

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Romans 1:19-20 tells us that nature is one of the key points that give proof that there is a God and that God made the universe but nature doesn’t save, but nature points to the one who can save, Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-10 states that one needs believe in Jesus Christ and that God raised him from the dead in order to be saved. If one believes then they will have at least some access to the Scriptures of some sort, even if they be oral. Romans 10:9-10 states that its faith in Christ that saves.

In one class I took on Romans, the professor asked a question to the class, ‘is it possible to be saved without the Gospel?’ Since we were in Romans 2, and Romans 1 was so last week, I decided to go with yes- if one without the law follows the law written on his conscience/heart. Now Paul goes on to technically add that if you screw up one time then you’re guilty of breaking the whole law and there’s not one righteous.

I’ve become convinced, thanks to @TedDavis, that Romans 1:20 is for those that already ‘know God’ through nature but didn’t worship him but rather creation. I.e. see:

At the end of the day though, I’d probably have to just believe that God is a fair and just judge and only be able to leave it at that.

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Hi Quinn,

Yes that is the common answer, and I absolutely agree that all salvation from Adam and Eve until the end of history is by the righteousness of Christ. However, I believe that in many instances the bible describes the normative process (hear the gospel, accept the gospel, profess Christ) but we cannot put God in a box. And I also believe, even as a Calvinist, that we must behave (because we are commanded) as if everyone in the world must hear the gospel and have the scriptures in the vernacular. That said, I believe many times when we successfully evangelize (including missionaries) we are not teaching something from which conversion then occurs, but rather giving someone God had already converted a context to understand what God has done to them. They are already saved, through Christ, even if they don’t fully understand. Again, this is not the normative process. But if infants can be saved through God’s mercy (as are we all) without comprehension, as well as intellectually handicapped, then I don’t find it crazy that another set of exceptional circumstances are the elect in places that haven’t heard the gospel. But they, I believe Romans is telling us, would at least grasp something of the true God from His creation.

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Personally, I find it ironic that the ‘without excuse’ passage was penned by someone who needed a supernatural apparition before they could become saved.

So, a supernatural apparition for Paul, and observing the things that have been made is sufficient for everyone else. I think we may have different ideas on what ‘excuse’ means.

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I would say that the quoted passage has to be read in the context of the following verses, since Paul refers to them here.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

The dialogue above makes it seem that knowing God through creation won´t be enough to get saved. But in the context of the rest of chapter 1 it becomes rather clear that Paul refers to false idols and putting them at the same level to the God who can be found in nature. Of course I believe that salvation ultimately comes through Christ, but as a Catholic I believe that we are judged on the basis of our knowledge, after all, the blind man is without sin.
Paul is cautious in pointing out that the power and the plan of God we find in nature provides objective truth obvious for everyone which is why we are without excuse if we dare to put the people, creatures or wishes/desires forward as the most important things, which makes us loose God (and morality?) and control of ourselves, expressed in the describtion of a godless, sexdriven, hedonistic culture. It is rather a warning that nothing within creation shall be worshipped, other than the creator himself.

I have to end it here, my thinking time/ideas put in words-ratio in this post was terrible


I quite agree that it is rather far fetched that one is going to be able to get from an observation of the universe to the rather Gnostic modern pseudo-Christian gospel of salvation by believing the correct doctrines. But then I think that particular gospel is full of crap anyway. Jesus and Paul taught something quite different. It was a gospel of salvation by the grace of God. To be sure they also taught that what God asks of us is faith. And James clarified though I think Paul and Jesus backs him up on this that faith is dead without works. And Jesus, James and Isaiha made it quite clear that the works which interests God is not preaching and beating others over the head with the Bible, but helping those in need without reservation or religiosity of any kind.

As for your little drama, I would tell a different story.

St. Peter: Hello Tom. Pick your gate and walk right through.

Tom: Can’t you tell me something about these two gates so I can make a good choice?

St: Peter: Sure. The gate on the left is where you will find your heart’s desire. There you will find all the comfort and ease you could possibly want.

Tom: What about the gate on the right?

St: Peter: That is the surgery. The doctor will rip your heart right out and give you a new one. There you can expect pure agony and devastation which will make you feel like you have nothing more than a lame groveling dog looking for scraps in the garbage.

Tom chooses the gate which makes sense to him and Jerry steps up…

St. Peter: Hello Jerry. Pick your gate and walk right through.

Jerry: I heard what you explained to the other guy, but why in the world would anybody go through other gate? Are some people really that crazy.

St. Peter: Some people believe the heart of man is corrupt and full of sin so they want to cut all that out and get a replacement.

Jerry: Gosh! I am I crazy, or does that kind of make a sick sort of sense?

St. Peter: The choice is yours.

Jerry: Which of these is heaven and which is hell?

St. Peter: You know what they say… Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Jerry: But what about eternal life?

St. Peter: Now that is an excellent question. But if you are really concerned about life and your well being then shouldn’t you go see the doctor?

Jerry: Makes sense to me.

Then Jerry exits right.

That is the only thing that makes sense if God is a God of Love or even common human decency.

Yes, regardless to what name that you call the Creator by.

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