“When the foundations are being destroyed,
What can the righteous do?”
“It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God”
Theology: as popularly defined is the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially: the study of God and of God's relation to the world. I think we would do better to say that Theology is the pursuit of an understanding of the divine, knowledge of the interaction between the divine and our world, and the placement of ourselves within this context. Even this definition requires explanation.
“Doctrine, to use a phrase due to Calvin, is like a pair of spectacles through which scripture may be properly read…. [It] integrates scriptural statements. It brings together the kaleidoscope of scriptural affirmations about God, Jesus Christ and human nature. It discerns common patterns underlying the wealth of scriptural statements and illustrations. It distills the essence of these statements into as compact a form as possible”
All theology and doctrine makes its points of emphasis. Some emphasize “the total depravity of man,” others Sola Scriptura. It would serve us well to remember that the definition of heresy is the emphasis of one part of the truth, to the exclusion of others. If this is the case, then even a Reformed Calvinist, stands in danger of being a heretic, if he chances to miss something along the way. Thielicke warns us:
“Sacred theology is not a word to be lightly taken upon our lips. Theology is a very human business, a craft, and sometimes an art. In the last analysis it is always ambivalent. It can be sacred theology or diabolical theology. That depends on the hands and hearts which further it. But which of the two it is cannot necessarily be seen by the fact that in one case it is orthodox and in the other heretical. I don’t believe that God is a fussy faultfinder in dealing with theological ideas. He who provides forgiveness for a sinful life will also surely be a generous judge of theological reflections. Even an orthodox theologian can be spiritually dead, while perhaps a heretic crawls on forbidden bypaths to the sources of life.”
Theology is not a science, and I do not believe it should be treated with such academic vigor as it has. In making personal choices as it relates to the divine, we are in fact defining our relationship or context, with him. This means that each of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, have and are writing our own theologies.
Likewise, we all come to the table from our own backgrounds, bringing with us our own baggage. If we come from a tradition that emphasized salvation by grace, faith and scripture; the notion of good works, which may have been abandoned by our background may seem innovative, and important. To emphasize the “new” at the cost of the “old” is a very real danger that faces anyone who engages in this exercise. In trying to correct the old heresy, we create the new one.
Thirdly there is the very real danger of understanding theology only as it relates to the false absolute dichotomies we have set up, such as free will vs. predestination. Those two ideas for example are neither necessary opposites, nor are they the only two possibilities. Very likely the truth lies somewhere other than with the popular consensus, but it is for the discerning mind to uncover the treasure that many miss.
“The fact that theologians change their opinions as they learn more and experience more sometimes causes mistrust, though it should not: complete truth belongs alone to God.”
Theology has little to do with intellectual assent. Its primary focus is on stating that which we know to be unknowable. That is we are incapable of knowing God through reason, and so all our statements about Him are based on something other than reason. To quote Calvin, “Human Reason cannot begin to answer the great questions as to what God is in himself and what he is in relation to us.” It does not matter, that you believe in x or y, it ultimately matters what our position is in context to Truth. This is the ultimate relativism, our position relative to God; are you his friend, his enemy, or something altogether different? God is God. He is not a Christian, or a Jew, or a Buddhist. Everything exists relative to God - that is what we mean by authority and sovereignty. God is the divine base point and standard.
This is to point out the vanity of Orthodoxy (or the pursuit of “right belief”), Truth is believable, but “un-knowable" and so right belief cannot be known either... we may believe rightly or wrongly, but we cannot positively know it to be so. Belief must be at the very least conscientious. Faith on the other hand is not simply another word for belief; it is a unique type of belief because it must be actionable. The chief difference between belief and faith is numinous experience, or revelation.
Religion is a framework, designed largely for packaging personal faith and reproducing it. Dogma, Apology, and Hermeneutic, all exist as tools for the explanation of a real and personal faith. These Dogmas, Apologies, and Hermeneutics however can never replace experience of the divine. Indeed they stand as a stumbling block to true faith, as they lead many to believe that faith is a kind of belief based on an intellectual assent. “Christian doctrine cannot be – and anyway was never meant to be – a substitute for experience of the living God.”
Real personal faith is the direct relationship between Man and Deity. “We can never really seek him in earnest until we begin to despair of ourselves… [and] men are never really convinced of their own insignificance until they contrast themselves with God’s Majesty.” Faith if true exists outside and apart from any framework into which we have tried to squeeze it in order to understand it. This is, I believe, one of the reasons so many are hostile toward the study of theology; they have identified this flaw. Further, theology tends to make us vain with Gnostic pride, for love and truth seldom combine in us men. This is especially a problem in Christian theology with its unique message of love. True theology then is that which refines our faith, is introspective, and helps us grow in love and relationship with God; it is confessional. Real theology is lived.
Epistemology: The theory of knowledge or how we know what we know is an often ignored discipline. It requires a firmly laid foundation of logic, which today has also fallen out of favor. The problem for the logician is in arranging the variables, not in defining them. Epistemology concerns itself with understanding how one knows “C” is true. The specific disciplines (i.e. theology) concern themselves with defining the variables. All three must have at least a functional appreciation for the others.
The traditional image associated with epistemology is a Venn diagram based around Plato’s definition of knowledge:
(image courtesy of Wiki Commons, public domain)
· Knowledge must be believed,
· One must have reason to believe it,
· It must be true.
Many people believe all sorts of things; with or without “good reason.” Secondly the accepted depiction should be modified so that the circle of “truth” extends beyond the box of “propositions” because it is possible, in fact probable that the mind which forms “propositions” is not capable of conceiving everything that is “true.”
In Socratic dialogue, it is necessary for questions to be asked, in order to arrive at the root assumption. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked, that the root is an “assumption.” Foundationalism states that one can take their presupposition and build theory upon it without the need to support the root belief; certain presuppositions are just accepted in order to arrive at the desired destination. This Foundationalism in turn has given rise to systematic thought. Systematic Theology is a school of theology built around these principles, of which Karl Barth wrote:
“The juxtaposition of this noun and this adjective is based on a tradition which is quite recent and highly problematic. Is not the term “Systematic Theology” as paradoxical as a “wooden iron”? One day this conception will disappear just as suddenly as it has come into being”
Indeed most theologies foundationally begin with the presupposition that “I believe” is a sufficient foundation to begin building upon Calvin warns of the danger inherent within Theology when he writes:
“Pride and vanity are discovered when miserable men in seeking after God rise not as they ought above their own level but judge of him according to their carnal stupidity and leave the proper path of investigation in pursuit of speculations as vain as they are curious. Their conceptions of him are formed not according to the representations he gives of himself but by the inventions of their own presumptuous imaginations”
To which McGrath adds:
“It may seem very attractive to see Jesus as some sort of projection or validation of our own standards and aspirations…If Jesus echoes our own values and aspirations, we gladly accept his support; if Jesus should happen to challenge them, we dismiss him, or choose to ignore the challenge.” “[W]e are setting ourselves above him in judgment.”
We have attached titles to theology that give us away as to our true allegiances; we aren't interested in God unless he's progressive, reformed, dispensational, preterist, etc... These theologies are the acceptance of Eisegesis under the guise of true Academic exercise.
It is the skeptic, who may be the last friend of truth, in asserting that “Knowledge” is just an idea, it is not something to be grasped. What we “think” is knowledge, is simply the basis for action, but conviction does not replace truth. It may be our internal system for justification, but it has no absolute merit. I agree with the skeptic as it relates to positive knowledge, for as Calvin said, even “the most sagacious of mankind are blinder than moles.” While it is impossible to have positive knowledge, some things are known to us by negation. Although this practice has been neglected in western thought, Negative knowledge is real knowledge, and so we are not epistemological nihilists. The Apophatic approach is the fundamental exercise of placing oneself in the context of the divine. For it is in the act of determining those few things that we can know that our inability, our desperate condition is exposed.
I am reminded of Job, and his friends, sitting around discussing the reasons for Job’s suffering. They had sincerity of belief, and Job had sincerity in his grief. It was God alone who had knowledge, and he says so. He asks Job, "Will one who contends with Shaddai correct him? Let him who instructs God give an answer.” The only answer Job could give with certainty was:
“I know that you can do all things. No purpose of yours can be foiled. Who is this that obscures counsel without knowledge? Surely I have told things that I did not understand matters too wonderful for me to know.... I had heard of you with my ears, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I abase myself and recant in dust and ashes.”
In this admission of what Job does not know a true knowledge of God begins. It is the acknowledgement of our agnostic hopelessness that prepares us for meaningful faith.
Philosophers have for generations accepted that we can know precious little. The fact that ontology is such a confusing study is proof. The quest for understanding the source of what might be called pragmatic knowledge, however has sought to define what else it is that governs our minds. Whilhelm Dilthey called this intuitive non-rational aspect of human existence the true subject matter of Philosophy, and Kant began by attempting to establish the basis of knowledge outside of reason in morality. Countless others have sought to do the same, or refute this, making morality the central issue of the past one hundred and fifty years. The Church has even adopted a view of the universe through the lens of God’s moral order.
Faith not morality I would argue is the true basis of this “pragmatic knowledge.” Because we cannot know (much), but we must act in order to not be paralyzed, faith becomes the necessary ingredient compelling us to action.
Cataphatic theology falls victim to Foundationalism and the question how do you know that you know – raising all kinds of ontological problems. My approach may seem overly skeptical, and it may seem that I am overly emphasizing the transcendent at the expense of the immanent. But it is precisely this skepticism which leads us to the crisis which is the birth of faith. I adamantly affirm the importance of what some have pejoratively called a Fideistic approach, one that relies on faith that necessarily exists beyond reason testifying to God’s immanence. Revelation then is that which projecting from the unknown, interferes with our lives in order to steer our faith. Indeed it is only by the inner revelation from God that we are able to see the invisible God at all. It is faith which allows us to function. It is however the essential ineffability of God that puts a clear expression of the tension between transcendence and immanence beyond our reach.
In society today, “Faith has been co-opted by culture and our culture is dominated by the rationality of the scientific method.” Men have always had questions, and wanted answers, we see the ancients, who thought that the sun revolved around the earth, and the classicals who made a new god for every unexplained natural thing that happened. It is only natural that today in the age of science, that we look to find scientific explanations for the things we see in everyday life.
Since the time of
’s “Origin of Species” the world has rejected enlightenment thinking in favor of trying to use a scientific approach in the explanation of the way things work. Today, we take for granted, that there are bacteria that make us sick, that lightening is a result of static electricity, and that stars are huge balls of helium plasma, very much like our own sun, billions of miles away. We have shifted away from superstition, into the new age of scientific reasoning. But it is in the light of these challenges to the thousands of years old status quo, especially Darwin , that the Church has begun to teach an alternate reality. Rather than reconciling science with faith, the fundamentalist product of the third great awakening was to distance ourselves. There was no longer “education,” but now there was “secular education” and “Christian education.” While there always was an acknowledgement of the “profane” vs. the “sacred” they were previously two parts of the same world; now they became separate worlds. Suddenly “faith” was about which reality you accepted. This divide was highlighted in the twentieth century especially by the Scopes trial. It was the fundamentalists who invented pluralism, the fruit of which we see today. Darwin
We as Christians have to face many challenges in the world in which we live. We not only are forced to support our own “nonscientific” beliefs to the world, but we have to accept our beliefs themselves, every day, in the light of the “scientific” evidence brought to light by our secular counterparts. This is no easy task, and many Christians lose the strong beliefs because the scientific seems more credible. Failure to reconcile these confronting questions however, has led the church down the road of irrelevance, and takes away her right to assert knowledge of the truth, or authority.
It is a common belief that revelation is something only found in the ancient days. Some of this seems reasonable, God doesn’t necessarily need another Abraham, to have descendants, so he doesn’t necessarily have to call people out of Ur or talk to people today in the same way as he did then, but much of the reason we don’t see the signs and wonders that are described in the Bible, many of the reasons we don’t hear from God, is because the lines aren’t open, we aren’t listening. We have accepted the false notion that “All God has to say to his people is in the Bible.”
This is where we are, in Christendom today; we have reduced faith to mere subscriptionalism. We have determined that God always acts in particular ways, but if God is so finite that he can’t pick how he does things, who is this God. If theologians agree that God can’t make a rock so big that He can’t move it, are they talking about the same God when they say that He can make rules and regulations so tight that he can’t work outside of them?
You may remember the old Ziploc bag commercials on television where the Ziploc representative takes Piranhas and threatens to hold them over a fish tank full of expensive tropical fish in either the owner’s generic bag, or in the Ziploc bag. The owner invariably chooses the Ziploc option. The point is that Ziploc is supposedly the toughest, and least likely to open (because of a unique closing system), so that nothing that is inside the bag can get out, and nothing outside the bag can get in. Much of the theology that is in our Churches today is just like this Ziploc bag. These churches have “God” in their bag, and He can’t get out, neither can anything else get in.
The idea that we are “Orthodox” should be repulsive; it should bother us that we think we have God figured out. We very well may have some of what we know of God figured out, but if God is only as great as our minds can comprehend, then who is this God? For the Ancients, even to utter the name of God was considered blasphemous, and yet today we print books not only naming this God, but explaining Him, justifying Him, rationalizing, proving, defining, and apologizing for Him. Were these not the same words of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar?
In the book of Job, God expands Job’s view of who He is, He breaks Job’s prehistoric Ziploc bag and says “Hey Job, I am the God who created you, I am GOD... who are you to tell me who I am, let me tell you myself who I am”. God doesn’t like our Ziploc bags, whether they are sandwich size, Freezer size, or Gallon bags, because when we shut them, we may shut part of Him in, but we shut the rest of Him out.
I’ve had occasion to confront those street preachers who we’ve all seen preaching condemnation to the crowd with fire and brimstone and megaphones. Now another chapter might be on the content of the discussion, or the resulting crowd and how on one occasion I was actually asked by a Wiccan to share my faith with him and three friends afterward, but actually I want to focus on a small but foundational point that has risen to my attention recently on several fronts.
Many Christians argue that truth is objective. I actually couldn't agree with the premise more, but I find hypocrisy in the way evangelicals use this to accuse others while failing to notice the weakness within their own teaching. Those street preachers had their material down and the answers to common questions flowed easily. When confronted with difficult questions they maneuvered and avoided, turned the questions on their head. I had to think fast in order to counter their assertions, some of which were completely bogus.
For some time I have been driven insane by the ability of some to argue well despite having no basis in fact. We have a cultural predisposition to assume that the winner of a debate is on the side of truth. In all actuality debate and the skills of persuasiveness are wholly separate from wisdom, discernment, and truth.
This was stated amazingly well in an article I came across from the ‘Objective Standard’ (yes that’s Ayn Rand’s Objective Standard):
“the practical value of teaching students formal logic lies not so much in the fact that it will aid them in the discovery of truths as in the fact that it will aid them in analyzing self-contained arguments apart from their correspondence to reality.....
“[A] small number of boys enjoyed themselves for days arguing about an extraordinary shower of rain which had fallen in their town—a shower so localized that it left one half of the main street wet and the other dry. Could one, they argued, properly say that it had rained that day on or over the town or only in the town? How many drops of water were required to constitute rain?
“At this point in his education, the student has memorized facts he does not understand, then proceeded to engage in pointless, semantic debates with no concern about the truth or falsity of his premises. He is now ready for the rhetoric stage, in which he uses his non-knowledge and pseudo-reason to persuade others of what he does not really know and cannot really prove.” 
I feel vindicated in my disgust, but I also recognize in myself those traits, having come from a Christian background. This is what makes American apologetics so appealing to so many (and disgusting to me). It is rhetoric (the apology) without first demanding knowledge (dogma) and reason (doctrine) and we could add faith. What we have today in the Church however is a salvation of works by persuasive bullshit.
 Psalm 11:3 NIV
 A.W. Tozer, Why We Must Think Rightly About God http://www.unccornerstone.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/Why-we-must-think-rightly-about-God-Tozer.pdf
 “Theology” (2009) In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved
December 10, 2009, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theology although I cite a dictionary, I believe you will find this to be a generally accepted notion. Some would replace the word “world” with “us”.
 Alister McGrath, Understanding Doctrine; What it is – and Why it Matters, (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan, 1990) Pp. 28-29
 McGrath says “heresy is thus an inadequate or deficient form of Christianity.” (Ibid. p. 115)
 Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise For Young Theologians, (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1962) p.37
 This is not to discount anyone’s claim that Theology is or is not a pure science. I mean here the Theology cannot be done by the scientific method.
 Indeed the paradox of freewill is derived from the fact that we are not able to arrive at a knowledge of God on our own through our faculties of reason. We cannot thus choose to obey or follow God out of “free will.” It is by revelation that we are presented with a crisis of grace, to which we must freely either accept or deny. I would affirm both Predestination (in the revelation) and Free will (in the choice) while at the same time denying both doctrines as insufficient.
 Martin E. Marty, from the forward to; A Little Exercise For Young Theologians (Ibid. p. xiv)
 John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Tony Lane and Hillary Osborne, (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Book House, 1987) p.94)
 “Man is lost because he is separated from God, his true reference point…” (Francis Schaeffer, Escape From Reason, (
: Intervarsity Press, 1972,) p.90) Downers Grove, Ill.
 “Any attempt to take the fall of man seriously will radically call into question the capacity of reason to discover or come to the truth.” (Donald G Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, vol.1 God, Authority, & Salvation, (Peabody, MA.: Prince Press, 1998) p.102)
 That is, we cannot be compelled to believe, unless we have at the very least a feeling that the belief is true.
 Alister McGrath, Understanding Doctrine; What it is – and Why it Matters, (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan, 1990) p. 43
 John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Tony Lane and Hillary Osborne, (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Book House, 1987) p.22-23)
 Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise For Young Theologians, (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1962) p.16
 The Socratic Method is incredibly useful as a learning style, but if you choose to adopt it, you will probably find that it has fallen out of favor and it will make you quite unpopular because you will be asking too many questions.
 Karl Barth, From the forward to Church Dogmatics, (Westminster: John Knox, 1994)
 Or using “I understand” as an assertion, rather than as a subjective qualifier.
 John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol. 1 (trans. John Allen, (Philadelphia, Presbyterian board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1921) p.54)
 Alister McGrath, Understanding Doctrine; What it is – and Why it Matters, (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan, 1990) p.4-5
 Eisegesis: The practice of reading into a text the meaning one wants to get out of it. (Richard N. Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, second edition (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981) p. 60)
 John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol. 1 (trans. John Allen, (Philadelphia, Presbyterian board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1921) p. 249
 That is, knowledge by negation.
 John E Hartley, New International Commentary on the Old Testament; The Book of Job, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1988) pg.514
 Ibid. pg.534
 Richard N. Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, second edition, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981) p.56
 John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Tony Lane and Hillary Osborne, (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Book House, 1987) p.34)
 Rudolf Otto tried to explain this approach in referring to the “experience of the numinous” while affirming God as “wholly other” (transcendent) (Richard N. Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, second edition, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981) p.134)
 James M. Phillips and Robert T. Coote, Toward the Twenty-first Century in Christian Mission (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 1998) p.230
 Originally published in 1859
 Some false teachers would love us to believe this, because it then makes us powerless to interact with God except through them and their interpretation of scriptures which they twist to their own ends.
 Lisa VanDamme, “The False Promise of Classical Education,” (The Objective Standard, Vol. 2, No. 2 September 2007)
AnteChurch: confession of a young theologian, Copyright © 2010 by J.D.M. Jinno. All rights reserved. The Author grants the right for an individual to print one complete copy of this work for personal use only. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever (including but not limited to appearance on websites other than http://www.antechurch.com) without written permission except in the case of brief quotations. You may link to http://www.antechurch.com. For more information contact the author at antechurch @ gmail.com
Many of the scripture quotations contained herein are recalled from memory, but generally they resemble the NIV.
Many of the scripture quotations contained herein are recalled from memory, but generally they resemble the NIV.
Other quotations, are utilized in fair use
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If you find an error in the citation of a work for which you hold the copyright, please contact the author directly.