T.C. Moore informed me of the following quote from Justo L. González‘s Mañana : Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (p. 52) because it reminded him of my recent post Rethinking how we teach ecclesial history and systematic theology. I decided it would be worth sharing here:
“The new theology, being done by those who are aware of their traditional voicelessness, is acutely aware of the manner in which the dominant is confused for the universal. North Atlantic male theology is taken to be basic, normative, universal theology, to which then women, other minorities, and people from the younger churches may add their footnotes. What is said in Manila is very relevant for the Philippines. What is said in Tübingen, Oxford, or Yale is relevant for the entire church. White theologians do general theology; black theologians do black theology. Male theologians do general theology; female theologians do theology determined by their sex. Such a notion of ‘universality’ based on the present unjust distribution of power is unacceptable to the new theology. If the nature of truth is as has been described above, both in its historical concreteness and in its connection with orthopraxis, it follows that every valid theology must acknowledge its particularity and it connection to the struggles and the vested interests in which it is involved. A theology which refuses to do this and leaps to the facile claims of universal validity will have no place in the post reformation church of the twenty-first century.”
I think this frames the problem well. Yes, theology is about God, not humanity, but we humans understand God through filters and therefore we should be careful not to confuse our understanding of God with God’s self. We should not confuse transcendent truth about God with our theology as it has been shaped by our language and our experiences as filtered through our culture, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, educational background, et cetera. This is why the body of Christ benefits when everyone’s voice is heard.
Should “Dominate” be “Dominant” in your title?
Yes! Good catch.
Do we understand “1+1=2” through a cultural filter? Whether or not “God is omnipotent” is independent of one’s ethnic background. Fundamentally, this argument being made is a racist one – suggesting White North Atlantic theologians exercise some type of intellectual hegemony.
This argument is flawed because it supposes all truth relative. Universal objective truth is not influenced by cultural filters and norms. Universal truth is neither relative, nor cultural. So what is the purpose here? Which truth are we looking to discover?
If our goal is to study contingent truth, one’s race and cultural background is absolutely a qualifier because we need many voices at the table to reflect the full range of humanity to understand the product of worldly thinking, which is a reflection of ourselves, However this is nothing more than humanism.
On the other-hand, if the goal is to pursue something universal, than the precondition for contributing is a set of sound premises and valid logic. One’s race, language or cultural background are absolutely irrelevant; not qualifiers at all. Whatever one’s race, universal truth (such as 1+1=2) appears the same. As long as the ‘voiceless’ are capable of holding sound premises, and employing valid logic, nothing is stopping them from having a voice. Therefore non-white European males should stop whining. Neither race nor culture qualify anyone to do anything.
Perhaps modern theology is currently dominated by masculine white European voices is because is it white European males who have picked up the premises and logic of the Greek and Latin thinkers and joined the discussion. Personally, I believe this also is a racist assumption since the dominant voice in theology today is of Alexandria, and Asia Minor, not London or New Jersey.
Theology that has been shaped by our language and our experiences, filtered through culture, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, educational background, et cetera is garbage, worth little, since it reflects man not God.
You’re right, we should not confuse transcendent truth about God with humanistic theology described above, however the body of Christ benefits most when everyone’s voice is silenced and God’s voice is what’s heard.
What does it look like for “everyone’s voice” to be silence while God’s voice is heard? How does that happen?
Also, if all of our voices should be silenced so that we hear nothing but God, why did you comment? You might be hindering my opportunity to hear God speak.
Also, should we think of understanding God as being more like a mathematical equation or a personal being, and if a personal being then isn’t God relatable like all other personal beings, and if God is relatable like all other personal beings, then don’t our angles and places in the world shape how we understand God just like my angle and place in the world will influence how I understand my wife, or my father, or the mayor of my city? Is God merely a set of propositions, like 1+1 = 2?
BUT only answer this if you aren’t preventing me from hearing God speak directly to me.
Excellent questions Brian. Why would anyone advocate we amplify the voice of man in the study of God? This whole argument is about a presence or a lack of faith.
If one has so little faith to believe the voice of the Holy Spirit can be discerned above the din of man, what does that leave us (only the voice of man …)? Why listen to the voice of man when one can hear the voice of God? Either you believe the Holy Spirit speaks, or you don’t, and if you do.
When we discover and discuss universal truth, everyone’s voice is silenced since universal truth doesn’t reflect man, it reflects God. To ‘silence voices’ therefore is to reject culturally relative truths in favour of universal ones. As I said above anyone and everyone can grasp universal truth regardless of race. This will never pose the danger of silencing God since God’s universal truths are available to all.
You seem to be suggesting that one’s race qualifies someone grasp God’s truth – and that is just racist bunk (exhibiting a shocking lack of faith). Worse, it makes faith humanistic.
What are universal truths and how do we reach them? How do we reach these universal truths free of the constraints of our perspective and culture? What if my primary language being English lacks the words necessary to convey some great universal truth? How will I understand it? What if a great universal truth about something like suffering cannot be understood without experience, and as a privileged white male in the United States my place in the world has not introduced to me the conditions necessary for real suffering? Doesn’t my place in the world hinder or alter my understanding of so-called “universal truth?”
Brian, if we understand God to be ‘universal’, ‘eternal’, ‘unchanging’, ‘without variation’, we cannot think of him in weak human terms ….
Even as a personal being God’s attributes are the same, namely ‘universal’, ‘eternal’, ‘unchanging’, ‘without variation’. So we have to see him as the mountain and not as the ever changing foam and spray of the water.
The difference is whether we recreate God in our image or see ourselves created in His.
Also, how do I come to know these universal truths freely without the hinderance of other people?
What does it mean for God to be “universal,” “eternal,” “unchanging,” “without variation?” All of your explanations are in English! Might another language have a better word that more accurately conveys what we want to say when we speak of universality? Or might another culture have a view of time that better assists us in our understanding of what is “eternal?” Maybe someone can help me see that my view of “unchanging” is limited because of my place in the material world and how I understand “change” as it relates to the material world and the passing of time, which may not be all that helpful for explaining a non-material, non-temporal being like God?
Doesn’t your analogy of mountain and water express the need to use analogy, and the limit of that analogy, when speaking of God?
Brian, tell me, how did we discover that 1+1=2 or that the sum of an infinite sequence can be finite? More to the point, how did we discover that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and Omnipresent?
Why do you believe we cannot discover universal truth apart from our cultural norms? Does a Latino suffer differently than an African; how about a white European? Can you suggest even a single universal truth that is relative? (The very definition of universal truth prohibits such a definition)
We discover universal truth a number of ways; intuitively, deductively, or abductively.
My use of analogy about God’s nature as ‘mountain rather than sea’ was understood though wasn’t it Brian? You seem to think that truth is a function of language. In fact truth supersedes language.
I learned that 1 + 1 = 2 because someone showed me that if I hold up a singular finger and call it “one” it represents a numerical value. If I hold up another singular finger it is also “one,” but then I was told that one and one is called “two,” so I learned to add using symbols like fingers and words like “one” and “two”. Surely, this represents something true about the world, but even the names I give these realities like “one” and “two” are English. Even when it comes to math there is a certain limitation and angle from which I understand the world.
I don’t know Japanese. Someone could count to ten in Japanese and I wouldn’t know what they mean. They would be addressing some sort of reality that we share, but my knowledge would be limited because the means by which this reality is explained is inaccessible to me.
While I don’t think that we can understand our reality free from the constraints of our language, culture, and experiences such as race, ethnicity, gender, etc, this doesn’t mean they don’t exists free of those thing. We shouldn’t confuse the subjectivity of our understanding with the subjectivity of reality. I am not denying their is objective reality. The questions are those of epistemology. If I see a blue cup on a brown, square table which is three feet tall and three feet in front of me while I am 5’6” this doesn’t detract from the color of the cup, nor its location, nor its place on the table, nor the color of the table, but my angle is going to be different from a 6’9” man standing on the other side of the table who happens to be color blind and who speaks German, therefore understanding what I call a “cup” to be a “Tasse”. This is a very simplistic example, but even in the smallest things we understand our world differently. How much more God?
If I didn’t speak English your analogy wouldn’t have been understood. Let’s not confuse subjectivity with utter nihilistic relativity. It seems like that may be part of the problem here.
That is a another property of universal truth … ‘it is equally true throughout all time’, for example “1+1=2” was as true yesterday, today, as it will be tomorrow (just like God).
Also, when we speak of understanding things intuitively, deductively, or abductively, how do those things bring us to the Christian God? How do these things instruct us the Triune nature of God, or in the incarnation, or in the indwelling presence of the Spirit, or in the reliability of Scripture, or in the fellowship of the saints? Can someone sitting alone in a island who maneuvers through a series of logical deductions, or intuitions, come to know these things? Is all truth propositional in nature so that we all understand God as a series of propositional deductions like 1+1 =2?
Again, that’s fine, let’s assume that something which is true is “equally true throughout all time,” that doesn’t mean we understand it perfectly, unhindered by the filters which I have presented. Again, our subjectivity doesn’t deny reality, it isn’t nihilism, it isn’t utter relativity, so I’m not sure why you are trying to make that point.
I speak to you English because that appears to be the language of choice you employ, toutefois, si vous préférez, je vais vous parler en français.
You have yet to show one truth about God that might only be understood by a non-white European …
Also, you’re not off the hook for your assertion that white Europeans are the dominant thinkers in theology. North Atlantic Europeans theologians are the lap-dogs of Israelite theologians from Asia Minor and Greece – who were the real innovators.
White-European theologians have done little except nip at the heals of those who came before ….
I need to know why you think equation 1+1=2 is evidence that all people should be able to understand reality related to Israel’s God, revealed through Jesus the Messiah, who was resurrected, who gives us his Spirit.
It is not merely my “language of choice,” it is my primary language. My grasp of French and German is not sufficient for me to sit down in a cafe in Paris with a French person to have a conversation about the weather. My limitations in language will limit what I can understand. If the French person on the other side of the table has some amazing insight into weather patterns it wouldn’t matter because I cannot understand reality without the assistance of language, without the symbols of the English language that I have learned to use to understand reality. That doesn’t mean that the French person would be wrong, but rather that I am limited.
You ask “When we speak of understanding things intuitively, deductively, or abductively, how do those things bring us to the Christian God?“.
Clearly this is an epistemological question. Do you believe [Psa 19] that all of creation reveals God? If so a consequence of this believe is that we observe true things about God, so that means we can hold true premises about God simply from observation. Thus Intuition is valid at least.
If we can hold valid premises about God and God has granted us sound logic, we can deduce additional universal truths (regardless of our race and language). Thus deduction holds.
Finite man may not know all truth concretely and absolutely without proof (see Gödel’s incompleteness theorem for example), however our experience tells us with reasonable certainly that even without proof some truths hold (such as the sun will rise tomorrow), thus abductive logic holds.
But that isn’t the real question from a Christian perspective. The real question is whether we can believe truth with sufficient warrant to live our lives upon it. On this front, a white American has contributed much (but not because he was white, or American). I’m speaking of Alvin Plantinga.
In fact, Plantinga has contributed much because he was white and American. His whiteness likely afforded him many opportunities not made available to poorer, oppressed communities of color in our country. He is American so he had had access to some of the finest institutions for education. He wrote in English, which is one of the most used languages in the world, therefore, his books had the opportunity to reach an broader audience than if he had written in many of the world’s other languages.
As to whether creation reveals God, personally, yes, I find that creation points me to a creator, but the existence of atheists, lest we deny their claim to be atheists, does show that not everyone deducts God from creation. Also, you quote Ps. 19 as an authoritative text. Why should anyone think creation points to a creator if they don’t affirm the authority of Ps. 19 to say something about God? Your Christianity, your decision to embrace Scripture as authoritative, is not universally obvious.
Even if we can understand God through sound logic (assumed) this doesn’t get us to the Christian God who is Father, Son, Spirit; this doesn’t get us to an incarnate messiah; this doesn’t get us to an indwelling Spirit; this doesn’t get us to belief in a future resurrection; this doesn’t get us to the fellowship of the saints; this doesn’t get us to unity in Christ through baptism; this doesn’t get us to co-suffering with Christ.
I use “1+1=2” because it is a universal truth. It is an example of a truth that is true throughout all time, in all places. In every possible universe, that truth holds.
I’m contrasting it with a truth you believe to be culturally relevant. Consider such a truth known by the Latino community, this truth would be a ‘contingent truth’.
Since it is possible to conceive of a universe without Latinos, therefore, such a truth would not be true in that universe since Latinos do not exist. It has been proven (logically) many times and in different ways that if God exists in any universe, it is necessary that He exists in all possible universes.
In otherwords, If God exists it is necessary God cannot be a contingent God. Therefore knowledge about Him must also be universal and not contingent.
So, I compare the object of theology, namely the study of God, to the pursuit of universal objective truth. I’m logically compelled to do so, and I use simply mathematical relationships to convey this since they go beyond mere culture.
Does that make sense?
Brian, this is exactly the type of fallacious thinking you must resist.
Plantinga circumstances have nothing to do with whether or not what he says is true. One does not need to be rich to be true, just as one does not need to be rich, or white, or whatever to be able to think.
Plantinga has contributed because his reasons are valid. Everything else is ad-hominem.
Again, let’s assume that some basic knowledge of God is universally accessible: this doesn’t tell us (1) that everyone will understand it the same way and (2) that it will get us beyond some basics, such as something like what we call God “exists”. Even when we speak of God “existing,” we must qualify this. Does God exist like a rock exists? Like I exist? Like photons exist? Is my use of the English word “existence” limited to the point where it can explain God by analogy alone? Might there be a Spanish or Japanese word that better depicts the type of “existence” we attribute to God?
It isn’t ad hominem for me to acknowledge that his contributions are enhanced by other factors. I’m not attacking him, nor do I devalue his argument because he is a white American, but I am emphasizing that his place in the world factors into his opportunity to contribute to how people think about God. Your rejection of this obvious reality is the very type of fallacious thinking you must resist.
I believe that creation reveals the character of God not because [Psa 19] says it .. whether or not that truth is recorded in the bible, it appears true from experience.
Can you think of a single creative person whose creation doesn’t reflect something of their character? Neither can I. Creation is a personal act, and by experience I know this to be true. Therefore I hold all people, even ones who choose to disbelieve [Psa 19] can see something of the character of God in creation. Even if they deny that truth …
In other-words, God’s character is universally available which is why Christ’s redemption is universally available, which is why condemnation for sin is universally a problem …
It appears true from experience, your experience, but not universal experience. If merely one person looks at nature and thinks, “No, I think it is random and I do not see a person being behind its presence” then it isn’t universally observed. I agree with you that God’s character is universally available and therefore that Christ’s redemption is the same, but I share a lot of presuppositions with you, and my experience has allowed me to hear the Gospel and read Scripture which has influenced how I see the world around me. Our subjective experiences may be truer to reality that those of a god-denying atheist, but this only establishes my point: we all see things from an angle.
Ad-hominem means only focusing on the one making the argument rather than the truth of the argument itself. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re attacking him.
Truth and falsity are their own property, independent of the arguer, but not the argument. So the wealth, ethnicity, language etc of Plantinga are all incidental to whether or not his arguments are true.
It is this lack of logical connectedness between the attributes of the man and the attributes of his argument, which is why I said his gender, ethnicity etc are incidental.
…but they are not incidental to whether or not he would have reached his views. If he had not had the opportunities in life that were given to him he may not have understood reality as he does. Those who do not have the same opportunities see things differently.
Also, you assume Plantinga’s argument has been embraced by the philosophical community as self-evident, universal, and true, which is not the case. That you agree with him may tell us more about your own shared language, worldview, etc., than it does the truth about his argument. If it was so universally apparent and obvious like 1+1 = 2 then why does most of the philosophical guild remain atheists?
Brian, you seem to suggesting that because people are capable of denying truth, universal truth is impossible.
Tell me (hypothetically) if absolutely every single German believed killing Jews was good, would killing Jews therefore be good? No. Killing Jews is wrong whether or not people believe it to be so.
If a single person is looks at creation and fails to see the character of God does not make creation something that fails to reflect God’s character. That suggestion is simply irrational. People are able to deny truth.
Children deny 1+1=2 all the time. That does not mean “1+1=” whatever value replaces 2. One trait of universal truth is that it is not a function of people’s experience …
You’ve got no way of proving that had Plantinga been raised in the depths of India or some other place he would not have arrived at the same conclusion.
You’re inventing this to justify the fallacious thinking that somehow properties of a mind influence the truth of premises or the soundness of an argument.
If you want to stretch my point beyond its intent, sure, but that is not the point I’m making. Again, lest you missed it: I am not arguing for utter relativity, or nihilism, but subjectivity, especially a subjectivity which derives from relating to what we consider to be a personal being, not a series of propositions.
Correct, there is no way to “prove” this, because it didn’t happen, but there is no denying that Plantinga’s place in the world afforded him the opportunities and the environment necessary for him to become the person he became and therefore the philosopher he became who made the arguments he did in the language he did.
Are you really asking why most of the world rejects truth?
Don’t you realize that your belief in Christ is the ‘narrow path’, and that the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world, or that the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.
Man’s sin, and free will make him universally capable of choosing to reject the truth he so readily grasps. That doesn’t make truth any less true, or universal …
Let’s do a case study. Again, let’s assume there is utter objectivity and universality to 1 + 1 = 2. What does that mean for the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus? I’m not speaking of the event itself, but it’s meaning to us. Let’s assume that Jesus resurrected from the dead in real time, real space. What is your objection to a Christian in India in 2013 (studying Scripture in his language, living in his world, thinking through his cultural filters) understanding something about the resurrection that is unique and true that would not have been reached by a Christian in France in 1604 (studying Scripture in his language, living in his world, thinking through his cultural filters)?
Brian, lets be clear. I’m not arguing about the person Plantinga has became. Whoever Plantinga has become is a function of his choices. I was sticking with intellectual contribution (which is what I thought this post was about) meaning premise and argument.
We can absolutely disprove Plantinga’s place in the world has anything to do with whether or not his arguments are true and valid. That Plantinga is white and American doesn’t make his argument any more or less true than if the same arguments were posed by a famale Mexican theologian.
His contribution is independent of his nationality or some other incidental property …
Let’s move away from our discussion on Plantinga’s contribution to philosophy since I think we are talking past each other. Let’s move back to the point of this post. Why shouldn’t we be intentional about hearing the perspectives of Christians from all around the globe knowing that each of us are limited, finite humans, and our limitations may prevent us from understanding something as well as we might understand it lest we ask someone who sees things from a different angle to give us their perspective?
Also, yes, I agree: a female Latina theologian’s perspective is no less valuable than Plantinga’s. We are moving in the right direction!
Brian that’s not quite what I said … the female Latina theologians perspective is no less valuable than Plantinga’s perspective if it is true. If it is not true it is worthless. Not all perspectives are of equal value.
What I said was – whether or not the theologian was white or Latina, male or female, these attributes have no bearing on whether or a perspective was true. I support a meritocracy where the qualification is one’s ability to reason, not one’s race.
I have no objections to anyone, anywhere, or at any time studying Christ. Anyone who holds true premises about God, and employs sound logic, of whatever gender or race, or economic status, is able to contribute.
However, qualify someone because of their ethnic origin or race is racist, just as disqualifying someone based on race is. Anything other than sound logic and valid premises as a theological qualifier could be elevating perspectives of lesser value. Accordingly, I reject strategies that promote the advancement of theologians of particular races as racist. I also reject the humanism that theology should reflect humanity. It shouldn’t. It should reflect God.
Exactly, to disqualify someone’s contributions to Christian theology because of culture, nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, socio-economic status, is wrong. To honor people from different places of the world, speaking different languages, having different experiences, is good. Our different places in life have something to tell us about God. We get to share these observations with one another. It’s wonderful and it’s exactly what Gonzalez advocates.
If I suppose you agree a meritocracy should be ‘colour blind’, the real question I think you’re trying to get as is “Has historical theology been a true meritocracy?” (since you believe it to be dominated by ‘white male Europeans’).
That’s a slightly different question than the one you pose in this post. That question is why have ‘white male Europeans’ apparently inherited the theological legacy of ancient Israelites?
(Incidentally, I’m not sure why you don’t consider Latina’s ‘European’ since they descend from the Spanish who were Europeans.)
I am not saying “color blind.” Color blindness wants to pretend that our differences don’t matter. I am not saying this at all. I am saying our differences can be good and beautiful things like a mosaic.
Yet, you haven’t shown how our differences have any relevance to our ability to reason. In focusing on our human properties, you commit the worst type of genetic fallacy.
I’ve called you on this …
Yes, Latin@s do have Spanish heritage, but your lack of experience with the dynamics of American culture and race relations may not allow you to understand why many Latin@s don’t speak of themselves as “white” or “European.”
However they speak of themselves, their ‘race’ is defined by their genetics.
Actually, no, you haven’t called me on anything. You continue to fail to recognize that Christian theology is more than “reasoning” about propositions like mathematics. Time and time again I have asked you to explain how 1 +1 = 2 has any relevance to this discussion. You have completely ignored my request for an explanation of how this removes the reality that we are influenced by our culture, experiences, and so forth and so on when we understand a relational being like God, or actions like when God’s raised Jesus from the dead, or existential realities like being indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
If people are merely defined by their genetics, then sure, but that’s not true. Culture, customs, shared history, and many other things go into giving a people their identity. You should know this.
Genetically, Latin@s have more in common with Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Jerome than Luther or Calvin does.
Brian, now your simply ignoring my responses to your question. I’ve shown how Christian theology is the study of the Hebrew God who is universal, objective, righteous, Holy and true.
I answered you by asserting that His properties are not the every changing properties of abject humanity. You chose to ignore this response. I also asked you to show one property of God that wasn’t universal. You also ignored this request. If God’s property is to be universal nothing cultural, temporal, or whatever is of any relevance (because the very definition of universal makes it so).
Address my responses or not, as you will, but please don’t pretend they don’t exist.
Let it be clear that there is no denying that reality is reality (or, truth is truth). This is not being denied as it seems that you are proposing. Similarly, there is no denying that certain propositions are more easily understood as semi-static, though as I’ve been saying this doesn’t mean we understand these propositions without the assistance of language, symbols, experience, etc. It appears that these are your two primary concerns, but it is not apparent as to why, nor is it apparent that acknowledging various degrees of subjectivity is problematic for human knowledge, especially the sort of “knowledge” contained in Christian theology.
I’ll let Latin@s tell me whether or not they sense that they have more in common with those people or with other people. Again, most humans don’t boil themselves down to their DNA. There is more to our existence (oddly, the heart of racism is to boil ourselves down to biological identity).
If Christian theology is “the study of the Hebrew God who is universal, objective, righteous, Holy and true,” then how is this incompatible with people understanding these things differently, even uniquely, as discussed using different languages, using different analogies, relating these propositions to different experiences.
When we speak of God this way are we saying God is merely a list of attributes? or is God personal, relatable?
Again, please, listen (since it is apparent that you haven’t done so thus far): I am not saying that there are not things about God that aren’t universal (nor is Gonzalez). I am saying we don’t understand those things free from perspective. Since we understand God from a limited perspective it is helpful to hear from others who come from a different perspective.
Brian, I do listen, or try at least, I just don’t always agree – so we dance around presuppositions exploring the deductions we derive from them.
I don’t claimed you deny God’s universal nature. However I do believe you hold the position that grasping objective universal knowledge even as an interpersonal relationship, is influenced by the context of our relationships with our finite humans.
Yes, sure, God is personal, relatable – however our current experience with relationships is limited to relationships with other finite beings. Jesus was man, fully human, except that even fully humans, don’t contextualize how we understand universal truths (such as 1+1=2).
His human nature perfectly manifested the relational anode of a universal God. So how do we then ‘have relationship’ with an infinite God, even one who manifests Himself in this human form?
Just as we don’t appreciate universal truths in a cultural contextualized way, I don’t believe we relate to a universal being relationally in culturally contextualized way. A Hispanic elderly, an African boy, a Korean girl, and I will all share a relationship with a Holy God in a universal way – as sinful creators without reference to culture, race, gender or context, (which is not surprising since God is the creator of all, and these people are share the same human separation).
It isn’t that I don’t listen. It is that I find your logic in-congruent. Just as universal knowledge is known universally, a relationship with a universal person will be … well … universal.
Incidentally, I responded to this thread to address Justo L. Gonzalez error saying “ … it follows that every valid theology must acknowledge its particularity and it connection to the struggles and the vested interests in which it is involved.”
If a theology is at all ‘particular’ the object of its study is not God so it cannot be valid.
Clearly then, it does not follow that theology must acknowledge anything of the sort, as Gonzelez suggest … unless the aim of theology is to study man rather than God.
I find it offensive to suggest we label a ‘study of man’ (which is particular) “theology“.
Our irreconcilable difference begins with how one knows God. I understand that human relationships are our basic paradigm for understanding relationships, and yes, this is inferior and merely analogous to how we relate to God, but that doesn’t follow then that we can reduce our relationship to God down to propositions to be outlined and explained. I find our human relationships more helpful to understanding how we relate to God than mathematics are a model for how humans consider propositions. The narrative of Scripture presents the true God as a relational God, not merely a God to be known theoretically, as if knowing God is “one,” “eternal,” “infinite,” and so forth and so on means one knows God, but merely that one can analogously explain some aspects of God in contrast with others (e.g., God is one, not two, or forty; God is eternal, not temporal; God is infinite, not limited to physical space). Our affirmations are best understood in contrast to what they deny, but our affirmations don’t completely encompass the truth about God (e.g., our idea of eternity is likely far more limited than the reality of eternity). Even if someone can explain these things this doesn’t mean they know God, nor does it mean that these propositions completely explain what they aim to explain because of the limits of our knowledge and the limits of our language to explain ideas. I find it quite likely that someone who cannot explain God through many propositions may experientially and existentially know God better than those who can communicate lofty ideas about God.
I’m sorry you “find it offensive.” That’s too bad. Unfortunately, it seems to me either that you continue to misunderstand what Gonzalez is saying or our positions are so entrenched that this discussion can not move forward. Thanks for the chat.
Brian, no one reduces our knowledge of God down to something trite, especially not I. The question is whether God is who is because we happen to be one race or another, or live at some point in time.
I’m claiming that God is far more opulent than all of those irrelevancies …
Whether one is French, Korean, or African, God is.
(How exactly is being offending by idolatry ‘too bad’?)
Again, I am not saying God is something because our placement in the world. I am saying we understand God differently based on our placement in the world. This is the point made over and over again: God is God, but we are finite, and therefore our context can often mislead us, which is why it is helpful to interact with people who see things from another perspective. Their insights from a different angle may help us recognize flaws and obstacles to our thinking. You continue to attack the presupposition that God’s self is relative. Not the point being made.
While I share some (certainly not all) of Andrew’s concerns it would be nice if other people could get a word in now and then.
I appreciate your concern about letting the so called “minorities” have a voice in theology. I guess in the global church the dead white european male is a numerical minority who has had a dominate role in the formation of modern theology. Nothing to argue about there.
On the other hand, the danger of a current student of theology getting too much exposure to the dead white european male dogmatic framework is very slight. I don’t suspect (don’t know) the theological literacy level of today’s seminary student is anything like it would have been 50 or 100 years ago. So the problem isn’t over exposure to the classical western church dogmatic framework. The need to also be exposed to other frameworks is equally pressing. I did a little sampling of the theological course syllabi at well known prominent seminaries in the last two weeks and came away somewhat depressed about the results. A lot of really old out of date frameworks being propagated. I will not pick on any one school, but seeing authors like L. S. Chafer, Millard Erickson, Donald Bloesch cropping up didn’t give me the impression that there was anything new under the sun. There are some very old authors who are not being assigned who should be:
An Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of the Freedom of the Will which is Supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame
If you are now laughing I would suggest reading the book first.
Anyway, I am currently more concerned about theology students becoming agnostics due to their exposure to a multitude alien and hostile frameworks in biblical studies than I am about their studies in dogmatics. I think biblical studies in the academy is much more dangerous to your spiritual health than theology.
Exactly! Regardless of race – we do all understand God differently!
The only way to approximate the best understanding of God is for us to share our collective perspectives, and convey our relationship. The objective norm of our understanding about Him, our experience with Him, is a better approximation than mine, yours or some finite group of people.
It appears we agree after all.
C. Stirling Bartholomew – sorry. Ill go silent on this topic.
I agree with the post. The Bible was written in a cultural and linguistic context that doesn’t exist anymore. Our best hope for interpreting it in the present (and future) would seem to be in a diversity of perspectives arising from the widest variety of cultural and linguistic contexts available to us. Allowing any one of these modern contexts to become dominant distorts the original source in an unbalanced way, because it favors some modern perspective over another. This does a disservice to everybody. And yes, this assumes that any modern perspective is both subjective and somewhat distorted. Hopefully the lengthy exchange above took care of any need to debate that!
Indeed, there are certain theologians from bygone eras that we should continue to read. I haven’t advocated for the abandonment of white European and North American contributions to Christian theology. That said, large swaths of my church history classes and textbooks gave attention to people and movements that cannot justifiably be presented as more necessary for study than some of the minority voices that are silenced.
For example, I do online adjunct work and one of the classes I guide is church history. There is a little tiny bit about Pentecostalism at the end of the course, yet it could be argued that people like William Seymour have more to do with the present shape of global Christianity than many of the people given far more attention in church history classes.
I wouldn’t say that my point was “regardless of race.” Again, I think colorblindness is a myth. Our goal should not be to whitewash everyone. Our goal should be to recognize that others have as legitimate a voice when it comes to the discussion of Christian theology as we whites do. We ignore this too often. In other words, the differences we see should not be escaped, or dismissed, but embraced because we have a lot to learn from those who are different from us.
“I sometimes marvel that God chose to risk his revelation in the ambiguities of language. If he had wanted to make sure that the truth was absolutely clear, without any possibility of misunderstanding, he should have revealed his truth by means of mathematics. Mathematics is the most precise, unambiguous language that we have. But then, of course, you can’t say ‘I love you’ in algebra.” (p93)
– Eugene Peterson, _Eat This Book_
I couldn’t have said it better!
“Also, when we speak of understanding things intuitively, deductively, or abductively, how do those things bring us to the Christian God? How do these things instruct us the Triune nature of God, or in the incarnation, or in the indwelling presence of the Spirit, or in the reliability of Scripture, or in the fellowship of the saints? Can someone sitting alone in a island who maneuvers through a series of logical deductions, or intuitions, come to know these things? ”
I would say if we put someone totally void of doctrines with a very good understanding of greek,hebrew and aramaic with MSS of each and just provided cultural history of Israel they could exceed all groups or denominations in truth. There still exist today massive amounts of biblical truth but it is not compiled into a single group that is known to the world or myself.
Don’t you realize that your belief in Christ is the ‘narrow path’,
Belief in Christ will only help in universal salvation(Grace) but is not enough to enter the narrow gate. Only entering a Covenant relationship with The Elyon will account you the reward of entering The Elyon’s Rest. Yahshua states boldly that he will only accept or claim to know those that do the Will of The Elyon and flat out sends people away who believe in Him but do not obey The Elyon’s Commandments . You have salvation by Grace mixed up with the 2 sided Covenant of True Israel
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