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God's Wider Presence

Reconsidering General Revelation

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What are we to make of those occasional yet illuminating experiences of God's presence that occur outside both church and Scripture? We may encounter God's revelatory presence as we experience a beautiful sunset, the birth of a child, or a work of art, music, or literature. While theologians have tended to describe such experiences abstractly as mere traces or echoes, those involved often recognize such moments of transcendence as transformative.

Here senior theologian Robert Johnston explores how Christians should think theologically about God's wider revelatory presence that is mediated outside the church through creation, conscience, and culture. The book offers a robust, constructive biblical theology of general revelation, rooting its insights in the broader Trinitarian work of the Spirit. Drawing in part from the author's theological engagement with film and the arts, the book helps Christians understand personal moments of experiencing God's transcendence and accounts for revelatory experiences of those outside the believing community. It also shows how God's revelatory presence can impact our interaction with nonbelievers and those of other faiths.

1. God's Wider Revelation
2. Experiencing God Today: Our Turn to the Spiritual
3. Reflecting on Experience: A Case Study--The Movie Event
4. Broadening Our Biblical Focus, Part 1
5. Broadening Our Biblical Focus, Part 2
6. Engaging the Tradition
7. Moved by the Spirit
8. God's Wider Revelation Reconsidered


"From one of the world's leading scholars on theology and film comes something new and thought provoking: a lucid and insightful exploration of God's wider Presence. Rob Johnston offers the reader an engaging, rich, and thoughtful account of discovering the transcendent in unexpected places. Bringing together historical, biblical, and contemporary examples, this book provides a significant contribution to a wide range of discussions about discerning the divine throughout the world."

Jolyon Mitchell, University of Edinburgh

"Robert Johnston's reconsideration of general revelation moves the discussion light years beyond the sterile binaries--objective/subjective, propositional/experiential, salvific/damning, and the like--that have debilitated constructive thinking in this arena over the last hundred years. God's Wider Presence is not an anthropocentric reduction of divine activity but a pneumatological dynamic that transfigures the spaces and times within which all creatures live, move, and have their being. This is a new starting point for twenty-first-century theological reflection on important matters regarding the human experience of and encounter with God."

Amos Yong, author of The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh; professor of theology and mission, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Johnston's book brokers important, fresh theological conversations. Grounded in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, his argument for a more expansive understanding of revelation will get Christians of many traditions thinking and talking together in new ways: about the arts, about their cultural habits and the significance of those habits, and about their approach to other religious traditions. It deserves a wide readership."

Clive Marsh, director of the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Leicester (UK)

"Robert Johnston has written on the topic of general revelation before, but here he brings together all those threads he's been pulling on for years to weave a marvelously rich tapestry that opens up our understanding of how God whispers to us through nature, conscience, and culture. Who else could reference baroque art, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ingmar Bergman, C. S. Lewis, and Star Wars in such a scholarly and readable fashion? I thoroughly enjoyed every page."

Michael Frost, author of Seeing God in the Ordinary

"Rob Johnston has written a seminal book, one that greatly enlarges our understanding of the multiple ways in which God is present in this world. God's Wider Presence opens our eyes, brings us to places of awe, and helps us interpret encounters with Mystery. It has the power to make us aware of the hitherto unnoticed ways in which God is present in our own lives. This is a book I will give to my friends."

Richard Peace, Robert Boyd Munger Professor of Evangelism and Spiritual Formation, Fuller Theological Seminary; author of Noticing God

The Author

  1. Robert K. Johnston

    Robert K. Johnston

    Robert K. Johnston (PhD, Duke University) is professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and codirector of Fuller's Reel Spirituality Institute. He is the coeditor of both the Engaging Culture and the Cultural...

    Continue reading about Robert K. Johnston


"Johnston's new book is an attempt to zoom out and ask the larger questions raised by God's 'wider presence.'. . . With this purpose in mind, Johnston takes his reader on a long but lucid journey through the biblical text. . . . Johnston's focus on direct experience means he takes autobiographical details seriously. This allows him to perform some wonderfully original readings of Barth and C. S. Lewis. . . . Clearly, Johnston's new book presents a remarkable and original way to think about the relationship between faith and the arts. . . . The fact that the book grounds its argument in the intellectual resources of evangelicalism and mainline Protestantism is . . . a strength. It means that the book fills a greater vacuum in American Christianity. And it means that the book will have, at least potentially, a much greater impact than other works on the topic have had. . . . But the most innovative part of Johnston's book isn't the tradition it draws upon. Instead, it is the book's inductive method. Johnston isn't out to tell art what it ought to do or ought to be. He doesn't deliver some new standard for judging works of art or a set of guidelines or criteria for works of art to follow. Rather, Johnston succeeds in carefully analyzing our transcendent experiences while preserving their unpredictability."

Brett Beasley,

Books & Culture online

"This book offers creative and insightful ideas. . . . Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers; professionals."

J. Jaeger,


"At a time when fewer and fewer adults are attending church, Johnston's winsome celebration of God's revelation through art, nature, and beauty feels particularly important."

Roxanne Stone,


"Johnston's work makes several contributions to the study of general revelation. . . . Johnston invites his reader to reexamine the doctrine of revelation in both understanding and praxis. Evangelicals are wise to accept his invitation."

Carisa A. Ash and Glenn R. Kreider,

Bibliotheca Sacra

"Johnston seeks to amend the Church's traditional view of general revelation by constructing a theology of God's wider revelatory Presence. He builds his case by skillfully interweaving personal experiential reports, biblical narratives, and theological insights. . . . His book is recommended for both academic and parish libraries, and for all readers interested in the theological basis for encountering God's wider Presence."

Rafael Ubico,

Catholic Library World

"Johnston is one of the premier faith and film scholars, having written widely about the common grace that comes to us through engagement with the arts, and specifically, the art of cinema. . . . I think [this book] is going to be much discussed."

Byron Borger,

Hearts & Minds Books blog