No to the ‘Just Is’ God: Knowing God in Fulfillment Rather than Promise; Knowing God as Christians Rather than as Pre-Christian Christians

Classical theism, particularly of the medieval and post reformed orthodox (16th and 17th c.) style operates from a rather discursive notion of God. We might come to imagine that we just do know God; that is if we press our powers enough and rely heavily enough upon the yet unintroduced Holy Spirit in our lives. It is from this posture that many classical theists pick up their Bibles, at least of the Protestant sort, and just think that the God they have come to accept as their personal Lord (soli Deo gloria) starts out as God for them in Genesis 1:1 and linearly eventuates through the turns and eddies of salvation-history as the Savior they have met in Jesus Christ. It is upon this type of basis—as I have severely oversimplified it—that many classical theists operate from a just is assertive posture about God’s existence and their relative knowledge of this God (aided by the creative quality of grace each of the elect have in the accidents of their souls).

We have covered this ground on this blog a million times; I know! But I want to reiterate it again. I cannot get over how significant this is; viz. how we have knowledge of God, and which God we actually have knowledge of. If we get this most basic point wrong then everything else following will have the shape of how wrong we are or how right we are; in the sense that the God we believe we’ve come to know is actually the real and living God or not. What I am after—always—even as dramatic as I’ve just painted it has to do with prolegomena (or theological method and how that is given pre-Dogmatic shape by the God we believe we’ve come to know). Do creatures just have an implicit knowledge or sense of God; or is knowledge of God something completely and utterly and absolutely alien to us; is knowledge of God in its most intensive and principial modes something that is fully contingent upon God encountering us? More pointedly, is knowledge of God something that we can principally call Christian Knowledge of God?

Here is what I think (you know this): I only have come to know God, in my Christian experience and realization through the Son, Jesus Christ. As such my knowledge of God, even in the Old Testament, does not have an abstract character to it, instead it always already has a Christ conditioned character to it. My knowledge of God, as a Christian, never was generic; my knowledge of God has always been filled out by the illumination that has come from my position as a Christian in union with Christ (unio cum Christo). So I didn’t come to the God of the Old Testament without the Son; I’ve only come to God, as a Christian, within the fulfillment of the promises made about him as the new creation of God in the vicarious and mediatorial humanity he assumed in the incarnation. As such my knowledge of God is not from a hypothetical space as if I was born a Jew in the ancient near east; my knowledge of God, as a Christian, at a definitional and prescriptive level comes bound up in the man from Nazareth. If this is the case we have, what I would like to call, a ‘retroactive recognition’ and knowledge of God; meaning that as Christians we don’t read God linearly from Genesis 1:1, instead we read God starting in the reality of John 1:1 and understand God, even in the Old Testament, only as the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit.

If the above is true then a just is knowledge of God, of the sort that we find in many classical theisms does not make sense as a genuinely Christian mode for knowledge of God. For the Christian, in principle, there has never been a generic starting point for knowledge of God; there has never been a time where we, as a Christian, would pick up the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible and think of God in any other terms as the Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit, as if we could think of God in a time before (in salvation-history terms) we first knew him as the God who first loved us in the Son, Christ, that we might love him. We wouldn’t have the motivation or care to read the Old Testament and think God in personal and relational terms without first having relationship with this God as the Father of the Son Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit. But this is the route so many classical theists of the classical type want us to take in our knowledge of God. I don’t want to take this route; I don’t think it’s consistent with my position as a Christian. In other words, my knowledge of God as a Christian is necessarily what it is precisely because I am a Christian. As such the knowledge of God I have access to is fully and contingent upon his Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. As a Christian I don’t have another way, no churchly way, and no profane way of knowing God. God is either Self-explicated for us or he is explicated as is by us in abstraction from his Self-explication. There is no just is God; there is only the God for us that we know through Jesus Christ as the Son of the Father Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit. If this is so we can’t have a refracted knowledge of God that beams off of Scripture as if we meet God in the promises; no, our knowledge of God only comes to us in the fulfillment of the promises, in the seed of David, Jesus Christ. This does things to theological methodology, and subsequently to Christian spirituality.

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5 thoughts on “No to the ‘Just Is’ God: Knowing God in Fulfillment Rather than Promise; Knowing God as Christians Rather than as Pre-Christian Christians

  1. M.A.

    I think this insight also relates to the recent ‘trinitarian Renaissance’ that dogmatic theology has experienced, but perhaps even more fundamentally I would say that this has to do with method and the nature of theology as a praxis. We must distinguish between ordo essendi and ordo cognoscenti; the order of being and the order of thought. Theology is, essentially, conceptual work – it is language and thought. The process of how we come to know God – before and apart from theology in this sense – is indeed through Christ and always first and primary; Christ is the gate through which we must enter the land of theology, and through whom we may dwell there. But when already ‘in’ this land, the starting points may be many; some more abstract and general than others. So, despite my deep appreciation of the recent Trinitarian emphasizes in dogmatic theology (and I do think that such emphasis was and is much needed), I’m not entirely convinced that ordo essendi so easily converts into ordo cognoscenti, that this order of being and salvation should also order our theology in that sense. Of course this question is more pressing when it comes to theological epistemology; can we presume some kind of ‘natural’ knowledge of God? Or is this natural knowledge of God (analogia entis, if you wish), too, only through Christ? For fundamentally speaking I agree with you: we can only do theology, because Christ has encountered us, called us. I also believe that in some sense this insight should define our method. However, I have, for sometime already, had the intuitive feeling that the Barthian juxtaposing of ‘natural’ and ‘revelation’ in our knowledge of God, of the ‘god the philosophers’ and the God of Abraham, is not satisfying.

    For I’m still unsure of the answer to this question: does this soteriological insight of the exclusivity of Christ immediately convert into epistemological insight, necessarily precluding the possibility of some kind of more ‘general’ knowledge of God? There might be a danger that we as protestants, especially if fans of the Barthian approach, may understand analogia entis primarily through Barth’s lenses and hence misunderstand it. Analogia entis, too, can be understood Christologically. (I actually once read an excellent article about the patristic notion of contemplation and how it can perhaps bring together some aspects of both Christological and ‘natural’ knowledge of God within theological epistemology. I can try and find it for you, if you’re interested.)

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  2. Bobby Grow Post author

    Yes, this post was just a simple off the top blathering. I have many more in depth posts dealing with this. I’ve read quite a bit in this area. I’m not simply relying on Barth’s anti analogia entis or his understanding of that. I’ve read patristic theology and the idea of the Logoi in people like Maximus the Confessor Ephrem the Syrian etc. TF Torrance himself operates with a notion of what he calls ‘social coefficients’ which is corollary with patristic Logoi theology; Barth even has what he calls ‘secular parables’. It is a matter, even more so of moving past a grace nature binary and thinking in terms of grace alone (which is uniquelyBarthian in re to his thinking of covenant).

    I’ve read Hart de Lubac et al in this area, and I’m quite steady in my rejection of natural theology and analogia entis. I do believe in an analogy of faith/relation an analogy of being can potentially be reified, but I avoid talking like that because it’s unnecessarily confusing. I reject something like Katherine Sonderegger’s project where she rejects the ‘Trinitarian renaissance’ you refer to; in fact I have a published book review of her ST v1 where I critique her on that. Again, I’m steady on this and think classical theism that thinks in the Lombardian line is wrong-headed. Yes, it’s possible to find some patristic logoi theology, but that typically does not fit with the type of natural theology we find in medieval theology; instead it simply recognizes that these thinkers had a theology of nature in their theologies.

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  3. M.A.

    Alright, thanks for the response. You have clearly spend more time on this topic than I have (it’s actually been my intention to get more deeply into the whole analogia debate this summer, but so far I’ve been too busy with other readings, one of them actually being Sonderegger’s systematic theology) perhaps I’ll look into your other posts about the topic when I have the time. My intuition is, however, that I might end up with some kind of (Christologically) modified version of analogia entis, partly because I find the doctrine of transcendentals very attractive and I have a feeling that in order to make sense of that we would need some kind of analogia entis.

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  4. Bobby Grow Post author

    I think tho that what I pondered in my post needs to be thought of further. There was an inchoate argument in there that needs to be addressed. In other words it seems that you are thinking in a priori terms about what you’ll choose in re to theo method epistemology etc. But what I’m contending is that that does not work for the Christian. What I’m also suggesting towards an argument is that our experience as a Christian in itself requires a rejection of speculative a priori models of theology in general; this does not require Barth to come to this conclusion.

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  5. Bobby Grow Post author

    M.A.

    But I could be wrong 🙂 . I vacillate internally sometimes; even though my comments and blog posts don’t often reflect that.

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