God Is

touchinggod

Charting my theological beliefs must begin with my most basic presupposition: God is.

I could also say “God exists,” but I find “God is” to be a nice reflection of Exodus 3:14, where God reveals himself to Moses as “I AM.” French philosopher Descartes could only get as far as “I think, therefore I am.” God simply declares “I AM” without any qualifiers or adverbs!

As of 2010, according to the CIA World Factbook (!), only an estimated 9.66% of the world’s population were non-religious and only 2.01% were identified atheists. The vast majority of humans believe in some form of higher power or powers and so do I. My unbelieving friends believe that I believe. However, I would claim that I don’t just believe, but that I know that God exists. And this basic fact underlies all of reality.

Logically or semantically, you cannot know something that isn’t true. Although I initially believed in God because of the testimony of reliable people in my life, I came to know this experientially as God revealed himself to me. I have encountered God and am growing to know God more over time as our relationship continues. As Jesus is quoted in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice…”

I have known my oldest childhood friend since preschool. Nobody could convince me that he doesn’t exist. There is not an argument on earth that could erase from my mind the unmistakable relationship we have experienced. However, it would conceivably be possible for someone to show me a birth certificate or other information that revealed that the person I thought I knew so well was really somebody else entirely – that he had been misrepresented or had been misrepresenting himself this entire time. Likewise, I believe that individuals can experience supernatural encounters / phenomena but not necessarily arrive at accurate conclusions.

English theologian John Hick (1977, 7) talks about “simple verifiability” versus “complex verifiability.” If I want to verify that there are three apples in a basket, all I have to do is go over, look, and count them. Other things are not so easy, such as large-scale scientific hypotheses. I cannot walk over to the universe and check if Superstring Theory is true. “In such cases there may be increasing confirmation until the point of cognitive conclusiveness is reached. This is the point at which rational doubt as to the truth of p has been entirely excluded and at which the concepts of confirmation and verification coincide.”

Does a single observation suffice? Is progressive experience required? Is there a tipping point where uncertainty becomes belief, and belief becomes knowledge? I can state that I am subjectively certain that “God is.” I believe that one day this will be an objective, empirical certainty… that “every eye will see him” (Revelation 1:7).

But to quote C.S. Lewis, “I am not yet within a hundred miles of the God of Christian theology.”

Advertisements

Prolegomena – Confessions of a Theology Geek

Clarion & Coffee

When I was younger, I assumed that the Bible was all one needed to attain perfect understanding of spiritual matters. I attended seminary for the purpose of obtaining a Masters degree in Pastoral Counseling (which I did); theology was nowhere on my radar. Instead, I found a lot of my counseling courses to be fluffy and vague, and discovered a deep love for theology that I never expected. This began a passionate affair indeed. I lay awake many a night pondering theological puzzles. I obsessively revisited and revised my Amazon wishlist with new must-buy books that I would have little time to read. Often my deepest desire was to simply sit down and discuss theology over coffee with someone, anyone who was game. One night I even forgot to shower, floss, and brush my teeth due to my preoccupation!

The doctrine of perspicuity or clarity of Scripture teaches that “…those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them” (Westminster Confession). And I would agree with the qualifier, “for salvation.” Yet, on other topics we find well-intentioned and Christ-loving people with access to the same growing number of respectable Bible translations arriving at opposite, mutually-exclusive conclusions on various points of doctrine and belief. Not only the Bible (which must be primary) but also our underlying philosophical assumptions / axiomatic beliefs come into play. Interpretation matters.

Two years ago I launched my Theology Geek blog with the aim of finding out for myself exactly what I believe and why – to build my Christian theology from the ground up. I desired to end up with a compendium theologiae novum, a summary of a new systematic theology. As I set out on this complex thought experiment, I committed to pursue objectivity. I needed (and still need) to transcend family and church tradition, tribalistic denominational loyalty, and popular beliefs originating in by-products of Christianity rather than the source. Today, I know more than I did two years ago. I know more now than I did two months ago. By the grace of God, I hope to know more next week than I do today. A lot of my mental agitation or cognitive dissonance has leveled out as my theological hypotheses have become sharpened. On other matters, I hold the various theories on this doctrine or that like a deck of cards in my back pocket, ready to shuffle and deal out as needed.

I’ve met many people who roll their eyes when somebody starts spouting off about theology. Some people have no interest whatsoever in the subject (which is fine) while others prefer to swallow the wholesale interpretation of others without exerting any effort of their own toward understanding (not ideal). Theology has been called ‘the queen of sciences.’ Josef Pieper described theology as “the study of sacred documents.” My theology professor in seminary referred to theology as “a way to worship God with our minds.” Whatever the case, I believe it is a very worthwhile pursuit. Systematic theology, for me, is the highest achievement of mankind in regards to special revelation.

Here are three reasons that you should join me on this continuing journey:

1. Theology is COOL

Proverbs 25:2 tells us that, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” Christian Theology is the one and only discipline that peers behind the veil of the weightiest metaphysical realities. Studying theology is like choosing to take the ‘red pill’ in The Matrix.

2. Theology is HARD

“Even though most evangelicals agree that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant … Word of God, sometimes groups among them arrive at contradictory doctrinal conclusions” (Walls and Dongell 2004, 22). And many of these points of disagreement are not trivial, but rather are deemed crucial by those who have debated them for thousands of years. We must stand on the shoulders of giants while not being trapped by their errors (made inevitable by their finitude and imperfections). Question everything and follow the evidence wherever it leads.

3. Theology is IMPORTANT

Bad theology has been used to justify evil acts, such as antisemitism. Individuals with good theology have been burned at the stake and drowned as heretics by those with opposing views. Theology at the highest level trickles down to the masses and impacts society. Theology is important because, ultimately, what you believe should determine what you do.

Be strong and very courageous. The truth is out there!