The most common form of theologizing these days, among evangelical Reformed types, is to engage in what historically has been identified as the via negativa (negative way) or apophatic theology. This approach is in contrast to what, in the history has been called the via positiva (positive way) or kataphatic theology. Some believe that these two approaches can be complementary rather than disparaging of each other, but I reject that proposal. I am a proponent of kataphatic or positive theology, of the sort that rests completely in the Self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ; this is an a posteriori approach to thinking God from God. Apophatic theology negates creaturely attributes like finity, time, mutability, passibility, so on and so forth, and out of this negation thinks God. But it lives in this negation in a mode that ultimately leaves the theologian in a place of total stupor and silence. The apophatic God is not characterized by being a speaking God, but a silent God aloof and locked into his inner aseity. The theologian, in this tradition, attempts to salvage God from this silence by arguing that this ‘sort’ of transcendence simply invites the Christian to a life of worship, and equally being silent before what seemingly becomes an unknown God.
East German theologian Wolf Krötke describes and critiques apophatic theology this way, and this according to Philip Ziegler’s description:
Krötke maintains that much of traditional Christian theology engages the question of the speakability of God crippled by a basic aporia owed to longstanding entanglement in the logic of a metaphysical discourse that thinks and speaks of God within a complex of functions and necessities arising from analysis of human existence and of the world around it. Such metaphysical discourse is generally self-conscious of the fact that in thinking of God on the basis of inference and deduction from the human situation it threatens improperly to anthropomorphize God or even to muddle God with worldly functions and necessities. For this reason, it works to defend itself from these perils by way of rigorous abstraction and negation. Any and all positive, i.e., analogous, talk of God is always accompanied by a strict and overriding negatio that seeks to preserve the transcendence of God from any false identification with anything that “is.” And so it stands under the proviso of actually saying far less of God than it would wish.
Thus, if positive predications are made of God, this can only be done figuratively and indirectly, since “negations. . . must be applied to all statements about God if we want to speak in an approximate way of the God who does not belong to the world.” Suspicious that what is said of God either per eminentium or by causal inference from experience of the world is ultimately inappropriate, classical Christian theology has consistently held that God is finally both unknowable and unspeakable. Indeed, negative statements about God have generally been regarded as more appropriate, precisely because they aim to pare away what is “not divine” from God. The apophatic tradition stemming from the Cappadocians, John of Damascus, and Psuedo-Dionysius the Areopagite most clearly reflects this posture, also finding influential expression in the deep logic of Aquinas’ Summa. As Jüngel—with whose diagnosis Krötke agrees—observes: “the ontological transcending even beyond the superlative of being can find its counterpart only in a language which sets it apart to a point beyind which nothing can be thought further: i.e., the negation,” thereby avowing that in language, as in being, “we correspond to God only from the most extreme distance.” All talk of God is thus subject to a kind of double abstraction by which it becomes profoundly equivocal: first, by virtue of an abstraction per eminentiam or per negativam from worldly or human analogues; and then again when even these analogous predicates are denied any genuine propriety with respect to the divine, whose transcendence is “superlative even beyond being.” Christians are thus encouraged to ascend, in Gregory of Nyssa’s mystical idiom, into “the knowledge of God in the darkness,” having become aware that “our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.”
The aporia to which Krötke believes this process leads theology is this: “the God who is known on the basis of his works in the world must be understood in his essence not only as unknowable, but also as unspeakable.” And this results in the traditional doctrine of God oscillating between “want[ing] to speak concretely of God, and the fact that it is not possible to do so.” Krötke sees this aporia, and the deep misgivings regarding the reliability of talk of God that attend it, as ultimately leading the tradition to privilege silence over speech. Again, Gregory of Nyssa is representative when he concludes that, given the ultimate transcendence of divine reality, “we have learnt to honor in silence what transcends speech and thought.” The classical theological solution to the problem of talk of God has a definite tendency to fall into silence, for only “in silence [do] we allow ourselves to approach the unspeakable God.” When speech itself is suspected of never being anything other than “unreal speech” in relation to God, then for the sake of the reality of God, all speech ought to finally to be abandoned. The end result of apophatic logic is that the final goal of any all talk of God is, in fact, “speechless doxology.”
When Krötke reflects upon the consequences of this apophatic logic, he detects something deeply problematic for Christian theological discourse. He writes:
Our language is the capacity to find and to hold ourselves in relations which allow reality to encounter us. If words die in particular relations, then reality falls away for us in these relations. It is not true that falling silent as such signifies an intensification of the experience of reality. This is only the case as long as this falling silent is still a way of speaking. In total silence, emptiness and the end of what is real prevails.
When, in theology, “words die” at the hands of discursive strategies designed to protect God from the concreteness of human language, then God’s reality itself becomes questionable. Krötke goes on to say: “where the word is lacking, reality is lacking. Even God’s reality is not exempt from this fate among us. Where language for God falls silent, God himself falls silent.”
No wonder so much of Protestant orthodox theology, and its current recovery, has such a hard time cohering its theological discourse with a genuinely grounded theology of the Word. When your prolegomenon or theological methodology (apophaticism) is at polar odds with the so called Protestant ‘Scripture principle,’ it makes it really hard to make theological discourse meaningful, particularly as that starts with God. And this is why I, as a Protestant, find Barth et al. theology so significant. He understands how the apophatic tradition is incommensurate with being Protestant, in spirit, and thus, as he writes his Göttingen Dogmatics, he emphasizes a theology of Deus dixit (God has spoken). He maintains, that for the Christian, it is only after we acknowledge that fact alone, as our basis for theologizing alone, that the Christian can actually say anything meaningful about God; viz. only after God has first spoken Himself for us.
This critique, made by way of Krötke’s theology, has all sorts of contemporary and even ethical implications; ones I would like to hash out in later posts. For now what I have written will have to suffice. But again, you can see why I, as a Protestant simpliciter, must reject the apophatic tradition. I think it is the Protestant thing to do, and as such it is also the Protestant thing to do by affirming kataphatic theology alone. Only an absolute theology of the Word coheres in absolute ways with the ‘Scripture principle.’
 Philip G. Ziegler, Doing Theology When God is Forgotten: The Theological Achievement of Wolf Krötke (New York/Berlin: Peter Lang, 2007), 64-6.