The Big Words of Theology: Pushing into the Depth Dimension of the God Beyond the Words

I often get accused, or maybe that’s too strong, I often am told by some of my contacts on social media that their eyes glaze over when coming to a post or tweet of mine. They are referring to the theological jargon I often use when giving self-expression to some thought I have about God, or anything related. I like to say that either 1) I’m speaking freely, or 2) that the jargon I’m using has a theological context within which it makes sense; and that it is used for precision purposes among those who study such things. But the ultimate point remains: technical theological language is useful insofar that it is symbolizing a deeper (than the word) theological reality that no other word[s] heretofore have been found suitable. I like to encourage people to push on, to elevate, and get past the “prestige jargon,” and attempt to stretch and think into the depth dimension that the words are inviting them/us into. This is what TF Torrance is after when he writes the following:

Throughout the last two chapters our thought has centered on the Triunity of God as three Persons, one Being, and towards the end of the last chapter attention was directed particularly to the concept of perichoresis for our understanding of the coactivity of the Holy Trinity. It was pointed out that it is very easy when using technical terms to think concepts rather than the realities denoted by them. Technical terms are a kind of theological shorthand which helps us to give careful expression to basic truths and their conceptual interconnections, as we noted earlier, in the passage of theological clarification from one level of understanding to another and back again. However, in the last resort they are no more than empty abstract propositions apart from their real content in the specific self-communication of God to us in his revealing and saving acts in history in which he has made himself known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was such an essentially dynamic approach to the coactivity of the three divine Persons that we found to be entailed in the theological shorthand of perichoresis.1

TF’s reference to ‘perichoresis’ is fitting. How many people on the street, or in the pew, would have ever heard of perichoresis? And of course, this is to the point. People, often, are much too squeamish when it comes to thinking big. But personally, this baffles me. The God we serve, who is our Lord, spoke, and the world leapt into existence. The God we worship is the Ultimate, is the ineffable God whose ways are not our ways; but He has stooped to our ways by assuming our humanity that we might begin to peer into the Holy of Holies of His Triune Life.

So, let’s get past the eyes glazing over stage, when it comes to big theological words, and imagine that in Christ we have now been given the capacity to be more enamored, more enthralled by the majesty of our ineffable God in such a way that the words used, in an attempt to provide some intelligible and articulate way to think God, aren’t greater than the gift God has given us to see Him with through the eyes of faith (the faith of Christ). As TFT says elsewhere with reference to Holy Scripture (my paraphrase): ‘The words of Scripture are the signs (signum) that point beyond themselves to their reality (res) in God in Jesus Christ.’ This is why Jesus says to Thomas, ‘when you see me you see the Father.’ Jesus is the ultimate signum whoin we see the reality of the Triune God in the Face of God’s Son, enfleshed. The veil, serves as the means of revelation wherein the Deus absconditus (hidden God) becomes the Deus revelatus (revealed God); never predicated by the human condition, but predicating it in a constant frame, and event[uating] of the anointing work of the Holy Spirit (so An / -enhypostasis).

My last paragraph here is an attempt to illustrate further usage of big words in the service of their greater reality found in God in Jesus Christ.

 

1 Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark), 203. 

4 thoughts on “The Big Words of Theology: Pushing into the Depth Dimension of the God Beyond the Words

  1. Jesus loves us, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. By the goodness of God, Jesus is the biggest Word I know.

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  2. At times I’ve been pressed (despite a reasonable theologic background) to put on my “big boy pants” and dig a bit deeper into some of the the “big words of theology” that I encounter in your blog. This has been much to my profit, as my capacity to appreciate “their service in conveying a greater reality found in God in Jesus Christ” is enlarged. (For to know you in your reality, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent, is eternal life.)

    “A man who is skillful in his work, you shall see: before kings, he will serve; he will not serve before the commoners.” (Proverbs 22:29)

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  3. @Bill,

    I understand, and I often post a meme on FB and Twitter that has a pic with Barth that says: “Jesus is the Answer, What’s the Question.” But of course this post isn’t really about that, per se.

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  4. @Richard,

    As I note, my blog posts are really just me thinking in the raw, and trying to have fun with things I’m learning, and have learned. So I am stretching along the way just the same.

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