Closing Loops: How to Think Christianly From a Unity of Knowledge Rather than Profanely From a Duality of Knowledges

Let me double down on some comments I made in my last post (you’ll have to go to the comment thread to read). Philosophy and Theology, in my approach, are two distinct things; as such my theory of knowledge/epistemology is going to necessarily start with a theological ontology (thus repudiating philosophy proper as a non-starting mode for Christian intellection). My theory of knowledge with reference to God, and thus all of reality implicated, will start with the doctrine of the primacy of Jesus Christ and his antecedent reality as the Logos asarkos in the Triune life. In other words, the ‘ground’ of knowledge, for me, is rooted in the reality that creation’s inner reality is the covenant of God’s gracious life to not be God without us but with us; as such, there isn’t a speckle of creation that moves and breathes outwith God’s breath and domain in Christ. These commitments necessarily supplant any notion of naturum purum (pure nature), or of abstract human agents as ontic units of their own. In other words, human agents, in my view, because of my theological commitments have no Pelagian, no morally neutral position from whence they might  find capaciousness to cognize; viz. from my view human beings either think from ‘the kingdom of darkness’ or ‘the Kingdom of the Son of His love’ (cf. Col. 1.13). Human agents, by definition vis-à-vis God are contingent dyadic (v monadic) beings who have an ontology (and thus regnant epistemology) outsourced to them either by God or by an incurved enslavement to a faux-possessed self. All of the above means that God’s Self-Revelation, God’s Self-Exegesis (cf. Jn 1.18) is the space wherein all genuine knowledge of the living God is given; given as pure gift, and gift over and again, moment by moment as the heart beats as the Spirit is shed abroad.

Let me close this brief précis by quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer (h/t Paul Hinlicky Paths Not Taken, p. 59):

The division of the total reality into a sacred and profane sphere, a Christian and a secular sphere, creates the possibility of existence in a single one of these spheres, a spiritual existence which has no part in secular existence, and a secular existence which can claim autonomy for itself and can exercise this right of autonomy in dealings with the spiritual sphere. The monk and the 19th century Protestant secularist typify these two possibilities . . . the modern age is characterized by an ever increasing independence of the secular in its relation with the spiritual . . . [even though] it is quite certain that [thinking in terms of two spheres] is in profound contradiction to the thought of the Bible and to the thought of the Reformation, which think of one world created and redeemed in Jesus Christ.[1]

I guess I’m finding it hard to shed my modern location. As such theologians who are cognizant of the challenges that the modern presents—even if that presentation is bankrupt—still impinges upon my own anxieties. Even so, while we often demarcate periods into periods it is not as if there aren’t common themes that dissect all periods of human being. Indeed, the Patristics fought the Hellenists by flipping the Hellenists on their heads even while using Hellenic forms to produce new forms as if there was a new world of resurrection where such sui generis forms were possible; a world where reversal of the old world has become normative. These sorts of paradigms have marched on throughout every period. Barth contra Kant represents an example of someone flipping the Teutonic on its head using it against itself; reifying its forms under the pressures found in the new creation and the eschatos of God’s life in Jesus Christ. These battles, for those involved actively in the church militant will continue. Why not become active?

 

 

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, trans. N.H. Smith (New York: Macmillan, 1978), 196-97.

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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.