A Video of the Sun and a Flare: And Why Natural Theology Isn’t The Best

I must confess, astronomy has always been a favorite of mine; not because I am an astronomer, per se, but because I love to contemplate like the Psalmist, David on how small we are relative to other bodies of things in the sununiverse, and in our own solar system. And yet keeping this in mind—how small we are (relatively speaking)—it is even more amazing that the One who Created out of gracious love, consonant with who He is as love, humbled Himself, and became one of us.

But beyond this, it is no secret that I have kicked against the goads of natural theology. So I don’t think, along with Barth and Torrance, that we can know God, the Christian God, by merely contemplating, like the classical Greek philosophers did, on nature; and then end up with the Christian God who is Triune, personal, dynamic and intimate. Instead we end up with a God, the god of the philosophers, who is pure being, actually infinite, impassible, immutable, and who creates simply because that’s what he does; he creates (that’s what Thomas Aquinas would argue, and he one of the foremost, and seminal theologians to engage with and develop natural theology). Kevin Vanhoozer comments on how this kind of approach became exemplified in that of the scholastic Reformed theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries:

The order of topics in the post-Reformation Protestant doctrine of  God – treating the unity and nature of God before the biblical names for God and doctrine of the Trinity – merits special comment, not least because Brunner identifi es this move with “the metaphysical, speculative perversion of the doctrine of God.” Brunner’s “J’accuse” charges these sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theologians with “falling” into rationalism and natural theology – of subordinating God’s revelation in history and in Jesus Christ to the conceptual demands of substance metaphysics. Karl Barth harbors a similar  concern, wondering whether these theologians are really thinking about the God of Jesus Christ: “It is hard to see how what is distinctive for this God can be made clear if . . . the question who God is, which it is the business of the doctrine of the Trinity to answer, is held in reserve, and the first question to be treated is that of the That and What of God, as though these could be defined otherwise than on the presupposition of the Who.” Treating De Deo Uno apart from the history of salvation and the mystery of the Trinity ultimately means that “the one divine essence as a whole is spoken about in isolation from God’s own intrinsic personal relationality.” [Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology, 88]

It is this kind of natural theological approach that I as an evangelical Calvinist want to repudiate, and instead start with God as He has Self revealed Himself as the Son of the Father; or as Triune, and thus the Christian God. Here is what I wrote in my personal chapter in our book; my chapter is entitled;  Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either Through Christ or Through Nature:

If the Christian God is triune in nature; then would it not make sense to begin thinking about him from within the contours of who he has revealed himself to be versus modes that are foreign to who he is, and then try to construe his life as God through those media? This is exactly the dichotomy that has obtained in the history of Christian ideas. Either God is approached through the categories provided by his self-revelation in Christ; or he is approached via abstract philosophical reflection that methodologically starts in creation and makes analogical inferences from there.

This chapter will elaborate upon the general differences provided by this either/or approach to knowing God. It will argue that the best approach to knowing God is the one that starts with God as he has revealed himself to be as Father and Son by the Holy Spirit; and that the alternative approach leads to a flawed understanding of who God is, because it primarily thinks of him as a brute creator; and thus fails to adequately provide a trajectory for knowing God that best captures the uniquely Christian specification of God as Triune and relational. [Bobby Grow, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church, Chapter 4, edited by Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, p. 94.]

With all of the above noted, it is from within knowing who God is as He has revealed Himself to be through the Son, that we can wholly appreciate something like this video shows. We can appreciate the power of God who is able to create such awe-inspiring things, and we can appreciate this power with the understanding that it is shaped not merely by a raw kind of power, but instead an intimate and personal power that is shaped by filial love, one for the other within the God-head of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So without further ado, here is the video:

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2 Responses to A Video of the Sun and a Flare: And Why Natural Theology Isn’t The Best

  1. I agree with you Bobby, that the Revelation of God Is Jesus Christ, but this video and stuff like it give one pause. That this stirs our hearts? Why on earth would a person who is just a material being brought about by accident – an eating/reproducing machine, care about the beauty and wonder of something 90 million miles away? :O)


  2. Bobby Grow says:

    I don’t know, Duane … because it’s there? 😉 Creation has its own kind of independent intrigue and value.

    But the point is just one of the fact that it is impossible left to oneself to ever imagine who created a fire ball in space in an accurate way, unless the One who did reveals Himself in a way that is understandable and definitional relative to Himself.


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