Knowledge of God, “it is Love!”: Thinking God with John Calvin and Gannon Murphy

I am going to start trying to do more posts from our edited book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Without trying to sound too self promotional, I think the volume that Myk and I have put together is really good; and I say this, primarily because of the most excellent contributing authors that make up the heft of our book. One of those authors is Dr. Gannon Murphy, here is his bio as it reads in the front matter of our book:


General Editor of American Theological Inquiry (, a biannual journal of theology, culture and history. Gannon is married with three children, and is a member of Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Edina, Minnesota. His publications include: Reasons for the Christian Hope (2009), Consuming Glory: A Classical Defense of Divine-Human Relationality Against Open Theism (Wipf & Stock, 2006), Voices of Reason in Christian History: The Great Apologists (2005), and numerous journal articles.

Gannon’s contribution to our book is entitled: Pietas, Religio, and the God Who Is. And is a wonderful development of a Doctrine and Knowledge of God through a John Calvin[ian] lens. I want to now highlight a really exceptional insight from Gannon into Calvin’s conception of a knowledge of God; a knowledge that really is a love of God. Murphy impresses in what he articulates, what it is that Evangelical Calvinism really intends when it considers the components of what goes into knowledge of God. That is, Evangelical Calvinism is not interested in philosophically abstract conceptions in regard to developing a Theology Proper, and or how that cashes out in our knowledge of God. The linkage between knowledge of God and of ourselves in relation to God wells up from the everlasting life giving waters that overflow toward us from the intimate, self-giving and experiential communion that God has always already shared as Father of the Son, Son of the Father by the bonding and interpenetrating work of the Holy Spirit. Here is how Gannon develops this kind of theme from Calvinian flare:

[I]t is perhaps customary in our technological age to think of knowledge as a purely apprehensive or propositional enterprise—we have knowledge of this object, or that thing, or such-and-such a set of data. The key to preserving Calvin’s doctrine of knowledge (cognitione), however, is to see it as something much fuller and more “holistic.” In sum, to truly know God is to love him. Theological knowledge is not merely propositional in nature or a matter of mere intellectual assent (assensus). Rather, it must also be experiential, stemming from love that also manifests itself in adoration, trust, fear and obedience to God. Edward Dowey, for example, refers to Calvin’s concept of knowledge, as “existential knowledge.” the idea of coming to God merely in mind is an utterly foreign concept throughout the Calvinian corpus. Further, Calvin (like Luther) alludes to the nonsensical nature of conceiving of God as a mere object of knowledge. [Gannon Murphy, Pietas, Religio, and the God Who Is, p. 159 in Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church.]

It is Calvin’s unio mystica or mystical union with Christ theology that Murphy is thinking from, by and large. So knowledge of God is broken open for us as we experience it in His life of love we participate in as we are brought into union with that, through the torn veil which is the mediating humanity of Christ. Our life is now hidden in His, and thus what was once hidden (when we were just the Gentiles, cf. Eph. 2:12ff), has now been Revealed. The ground of this knowledge is not abstract, philosophical, or based on decrees; instead it is personal, dynamic, and intimate—it is Love!

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