In Allen’s and Springsted’s Philosophy for Understanding Theology, chapters 7 through 11 builds upon the established philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Barth. They move to modern philosophies as methods for understanding how man assesses his relationship to The Divine.
The authors illustrate in the seventh chapter through several approaches: moderate realism, humanism, hierarchical methodology, and mechanical philosophy. In moderate realism we understand an object by assessing its knowable essence. Interestingly, Ockham rejected natural philosophy and based his awareness of God on faith as opposed to “philosophical demonstrations” in nature proposing that nature is “sheer fact” and contingent upon God, thus, contradicting Aristotle’s process (117-118). Humanism aided the philosophical evolution through the Enlightenment as it defined a structural hierarchy, macrocosm and microcosm, and established man’s place in that universe. Newton was aware but did not fully ascribe to the Deist theory in that he used God as a stop-gap for those occurrences in nature which could not be explained. His checkered illustration could be unraveled as we see later in the text (124-127).
Next, the authors illustrate the notion of modern philosophy and the demise of natural theology. In modern philosophy there is more to experience than sensory experience; Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” postulation arises and concludes with three ontological realities: mind, extension, and God (129-133). Disturbingly, morality is contingent upon logic, and matter determines viability (134-138). Additional is Bayle’s notion that Christianity does not inherently equate to morality, thus, arises a “rational, enlightened religion” (142).
In the following chapter, the authors focus on Kant’s terms of knowledge: a priori and a posteriori. The authors also illustrate Kant’s branches of metaphysics: “self (rational psychology), world (rational cosmology), and God (rational theology)” (160). The authors note that Kant needs qualifiers to the third branch to distinguish practical reason from pure reason and to allow an aspect of faith to prove God’s existence (163); he posits that we would seek morality for itself, not for the pursuit of happiness (167).
Hegel then proposes that God manifests Himself historically and that our awareness of His inclusiveness is a continual process, “self-unfolding and self-realization” (169). Hegel’s criticism of philosophical theology was that it is too narrow; his emphasis on reconciliation of finite man to the infinite God embodies his theology in an historical context (179). Furthermore, we cannot comprehend reconciliation without the foundation of the incarnation.
One of the main threads in the last chapter is the intentionality of consciousness. We become aware of God as we recognize the chasm between man and The Divine. Existentialism reveals that we believe in God but are without God (191); phenomenology and hermeneutics offer the approach to know God through matter and the interpretation of events (201-203).
A subcurrent of the text is the relationship between God and Christ to man’s morality: Christ does not guarantee moral actions nor does morality, when stripped away, reveal a Christian.
Okay! Here’s the deal!
Do you REALLY care…
that I’m not from Montana; that I went to a Baptist university; that I don’t like my foods touching each other on my plate; that I’m heterosexual; that I love dogs and not cats; that I have two finches named Drambuie and Benedictine; that I am Republican; that I like tomatoes and spaghetti and tomato basil soup but can’t stand ketchup………
Do I REALLY care…
that you are from Oklahoma; that you are Atheist; that you prefer cats; that you are homosexual; that you are Liberal; that you like milk chocolate; that you put ketchup on everything; that you don’t ever rinse the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher; that you drive 5 miles an hour under the speed limit all the time……..
I don’t understand this notion of qualifying ourselves, attaching labels on ourselves. While in the intent it might appear to be inclusive and encouraging dialogue, in reality it is divisive and exclusive. Like Robert Frost’s “good fences make good neighbors”. I am baffled by this concept that we all have to categorize ourselves and then identify those that we like and dislike and THEN tell everyone else what those decisions are.
*shaking my head*
I just don’t see the need for labels. I see you. I see how you are and react and respond to others. I see how you carry yourself. I’m intrigued. So I go and talk to you. In our conversation I learn, OH GOOD GRIEF!!! You like brussel sprouts???!!!! You. Are. A. Loser.!!! I can’t be associated with you any longer.
*again shaking my head*
People: here’s the deal:
Just be who you are without the need for labels or interpretations or qualifiers or footnotes or exceptions.
John Donne penned:
“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main…”
There is so much negativity in the world and in the community. There can be so much that can come against us that seeks to tear us down, hurt us, diminish our confidence and self-worth. Sometimes it’s a struggle just to survive the next few hours of the day. Benign situations that are guised as sweet sincerity morph into sarcastic condescension.
Run! Run away, my instinct screams!
Close the door and shut out those demons!
It isn’t that easy. There are bills to pay. Meetings to attend. Facades to maintain. Promises to keep. (Sounds like a Robert Frost poem.)
No, I’ll retreat in my mind where you can’t touch me. I will build a sanctuary where you cannot see and you cannot claim. When you attack and criticize and claim and control and seize and justify and manipulate and chastise, I will retreat to my sanctuary. You are not allowed there as it is mine. You are not welcome. Actually, you are not welcome in my life, but I tolerate you. But the day will come when you will be out and my sanctuary will be real.
For now, I must read John Donne’s words with knowing frustration. He’s right, but I don’t have to like it.
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8.
“The common nature of several individuals is distinct from what individuates them as different individuals.”
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 NRSV.
We arrive with knowledge of God, the One, through Aristotle’s methods: “…as is possible for us in connection with sensible things” (29). Alternately, we begin to know God as Augustin posits “only insofar as God illumines the intellect” (29). Awareness, knowledge, of God comes to us through logos and rationale or faith and self-revelation. There is a third possibility of knowing God, according to the Middle Platonist, which is only achieved in the next life (47); this concept echoes Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”
Because we cannot fully know the mind of God, we adapt our analysis and study and look to analogies or metaphors. In our finite, limited understanding of an infinite Being, we see what God is not, so we might arrive at what He is. Our analogies may be flawed: “They are comparable to reflections of objects seen on the surface of water, with the distortions and limitations of reflections” (83). However, “logic teaches us to reason rightly so as to gain knowledge” (86). Application of a metaphor assists us to comprehend the One. As we gain clarity, that clarity is in two distinct categories: practical matters and theoretical knowledge (99). When aptly combined, we achieve theoretical wisdom or sophia where “the highest part of [our] nature is fulfilled” (100).
However, this fulfillment cannot occur until the self is emptied or purged through kenosis. We must employ “the procedure for getting rid of our lower souls…to gain knowledge. We presently are between our higher souls and our lower souls” (54). “There is no intimate knowledge of God without such moral…change in the knower” (29). We must be changed first by faith, then the acquisition of knowledge will continue to purge self so that faith in knowledge will grow. Justin Martyr stated, “that such knowledge is not possible for anyone using only one’s natural capacities. It is only by faith in God’s revelation by the incarnate Word that such intimate knowledge of God is possible…”(27). Justin’s concept is contrary to Aristotle’s understanding of sensible things. However, it was Epictetus who envisioned the kenosis process: We have by nature been endowed with the faculties to bear whatever happens to us without being degraded or crushed…One can complain about such misfortune or bear whatever comes without degradation by seeing its necessity and yielding to it courageously and magnanimously” (43).
Ultimately, to achieve the theoretical wisdom or sophia and behave as the Cynics, “the wise person in action” (41), we must empty ourselves, use rationale as well as faith, and employ metaphors to comprehend what the mind cannot conceive.
Allen, Diogenes and Eric O. Springsted. Philosophy for Understanding Theology. Louisville:
Westminster John Know Press. 2007. 2nd ed.