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‘The Mystery of God’, Knowing God Even If He Appears Unknowable

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I just started reading Steven D. Boyer and Christopher A. Hall, The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 3-244.; in the introduction they begin to break down the compound hallboyerword Theo-ology, and use this as an occasion to explicate the kind of impulses that will be driving them throughout the rest of the book. Mystery and God are on tap in this volume, and so this should make for an interesting read, especially for someone, like myself, who is more committed to a kataphatic instead of an apophatic way of doing theology; for someone who is more committed to revealed theology rather than natural theology. That said, there is a strong bent within someone like Karl Barth’s theology toward apophaticism; that is the mysteriousness and impenetrable conclave that God’s life represents for us mere mortals. Indeed, maybe, and in fact in reality, there must be a strong apophatic bent, if indeed a Revealed theological approach is going to be truly appreciated; indeed further, it is only by emphasizing God’s ineffable reality wherein Revealed theology has its real place—a locus that displaces our ground of rationalizing about who God is, and allowing Him, kata physin (as Thomas Torrance would say ‘according to His nature and being’), to Reveal and shape for us exactly who He is, by His own Self-definition in His dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ. So if apophatic theology, if mysterious theology is rightly conceived, it will actually magnify and enhance the kind of Revealed theology I am interested in, and not diminish it into some sort of a priori inner mystical experience or aesthetically pleasing theology style.

And so Boyer and Hall write this:

If theology is really to involve the fullest logos applied to the truest theos, then it begins to look as if “getting the right answers” or “solving the puzzles” cannot be the authentic task of the theologian. There will, of course, be “right answers.” To abandon the distinction between truth and falsehood would be not to maximize logos, but to sacrifice it from the very outset. Yet the rightness of the answers will have to consist in something more than descriptive fidelity, since there will be no ordinary, created object to be simplistically described. God is not a puzzle, and to relate rightly to him is not to analyze or classify or master, but to worship. It is in this spirit that the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition has always insisted that, while correct theological formulations are crucial to one’s being a Christian, no amount of correct formulating can make one a theologian. A theologian, in the technical sense, is a person who has seen the very face of God. Following such a definition might quickly thin the ranks of “theologians” in our seminaries and colleges. [Boyer and Hall, The Mystery of God, xvi.]

We see Boyer and Hall end this paragraph with a kind of Augustinian idea. That is, that a true theologian will have a moral purity blazoned within them by the purifying fire of God’s always present and penetrating eye. And so we do see an inward, moral, component to the kind of theological mode that Boyer and Hall are going to attempt to develop for us as we work through its pages (that is if I have the time to blog much more from it). It will be interesting to see if this mode gives way to the kind of Revealed theological approach I am interested in, or instead into an approach that ends up being more ‘naturally’ formed by way of depending on reflection and experience of God revealed as Creator and Redeemer. We will see.

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