Beyond Reason

Philosophy & Theology

Posted in Faith by Abigail on November 22, 2006

I’m not sure how many people this will interest… but any responses you’ve got – I’m interested!

Until recently, I would have said philosophy is man’s attempt to explain the world through the strength of his own reason while theology is the result of God revealing truth to man. But it seems to me that, perhaps, theology is also a form of philosophy. It attempts to explain reality and to communicate how to live based on the Bible. The reason I bring this up is that the validity of my faith exists because my faith comes from OUTSIDE humanity, because it has a divine source. If, however, my faith is based on men, then my faith isn’t what I thought it was. It appears to again be a man made phenomena.

Now, before I go any farther, let me state that I do believe the Bible is of divine origin and that the faith I’ve been given is real. I can come to that conclusion because it appears that God works in tandem with men. However, this “tandemness” scares the crap out of me. It’s a whole new thought for me. What, other than religion, provides more power to people? Nothing. As nothing offers more power, nothing is more tantalizing for abuse. The most obvious example is the entire Middle Ages – a religious body, the Catholic Church, had political control due to their religious claims. This type of power, religious power, is supreme because it claims to know so much more than any human can know. If someone can tell me the resting place of my eternal soul, they have power. If God works in tandem with us – the church is His body and Christians are His witnesses – men become central players in this drama. But men are fallible, depraved, and untrustworthy. We are forever tripped up by our own egos. And God clearly doesn’t stop us from our own error.

I’ll also throw another person into this. Steve H, a few Sundays back, made the statement that theology is man made. This seems fair and yet disturbing. Certainly fair because theology, at least systematic theology, is man’s study of God. It is man’s efforts expended to understand God, His word, and reality. However, the crux of the story is that man is fallible. He is certainly NOT to be trusted. Our very minds, and certainly our motivations, are corrupted. (Just for clarity’s sake, I don’t mean completely corrupted. I couldn’t write this blog post otherwise.)

Here’s another phrase that caught my attention: “How much of doctrine is inference?” That one’s from Ray and it blew me out of the water. What am I supposed to do with that? If theology is a set of inferences from the Bible, if it is a result of man’s intellect working in tandem with God’s, this means I must put faith in man to some degree. Twelve men started Christianity and men compiled the cannon. Of course I could say that God was working through them, and I do say that, but it still seems to me that men have a much larger role to play in this drama than I realized. And it disturbs me. Christianity has distilled in me such a huge distrust of my fellow men (and also myself).

So, I suppose to go any farther, I’d have to define “theology” and also it’s relation to salvation.

Any thoughts yet?


10 Responses to 'Philosophy & Theology'

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  1. storbakken said,

    Thanks for this post. Alot of these ideas have been wandering around my mind for the past few days. Christians are so hung up on doctrine that they often forget the Spirit of God. “…the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” God bless.

  2. amandalaine said,


    I hope I did not demean the doctrines of the Christian faith at all. I certainly didn’t mean to. But thank you again for your comment.

  3. Joel R. said,

    Yeah, you raised some good questions. For whatever it’s worth.. I’ll throw in a few things. For one, I think there’s a difference between trusting and accepting Truth. What I mean is that you can take someone else’s experiences and lessons and see how that fits into a larger framework (in your own Christian walk and, more importantly, in the Bible) and still accept only the Bible as the source for ultimate Truth. We are all fallible and we will all fail each other at times, but I think through our shortcomings, God can teach us many many things. (forgiveness- just to name the obvious). There are always people who will abuse Christianity for personal gain- but I think we need to, primarily, apply the concepts about ‘false teachers’ as presented in the Bible. Are they presenting things contrary to the Bible?, etc.
    I think the thing that really sets Christianity apart from middle age-era Catholicism is the emphasis that we aren’t to blindly accept teaching from other people. We should work out our faith and check how things mesh with Scripture. Umm.. yeah. I’ll cut it off there. Anyway, yeah- I think about these things myself too. 🙂

  4. amandalaine said,

    Joel!! Thanks for your comments!

    I don’t really understand your differentiation between trusting and accepting – it appears like the same thing to me.

    Forgiveness – that’s a good point. Also, your point about blindly accepting versus checking – good point.

    I’ve actually done a lot of thinking since this post and plan to post on the same topic later – a post that’s more coherent and that addresses what I think are some big errors in my original thinking (kindly pointed out to me by my mother).

    One question – “middle age-era Catholicism” was not Christianity?

    And a final thought – to “check how things mesh with Scripture” means you’re trusting yourself again and it’s been well established that we aren’t fully trustworthy. And good men who’ve sought God’s face have come to diverse conclusions.

  5. Joel R. said,

    I’m going to post more later.. on the trusing vs. accepting thing…
    but quickly..
    Well.. I hesitated to call something that wasn’t Christ centered “Christianity”.. hence the dfiference of term… What was going on in the middle ages wasn’t Christianity.. just as today we have many people in America who might refer to themselves as Christians but are not truely following Christ. At the same time, however, i think we do need to be prepared to answer critics who cite the horrible things done in Christ’s name. It’s like a cat who brings it’s owner a dead mouse. The cat thinks it’s doing a wonderful deed for it’s master… but the mater is horrified at what it has done. Not the best analogy.. but anyway….

    The “check how things mesh with Scripture” was intended more to be sure you are reading scripture and seeking answers from Scrpiture and not trusting your own intellect. However, yes, there is a point when an individual is making their own interpretation of scripture. That does go more into being filled with the Spirit. Maybe I can try to answer that better later… or, I’m sure there’s someone else reading this who is better qualified to explain that.
    Anyway, that was just s quickie.

  6. Brad said,

    Hmmm where to begin. The Bible was not meant to be a Theological document full of logical syllogisms. I’m going to really confuse you here by using words that you know in a way which you aren’t used to, but please feel free to help me clarify in further posts. The Bible is subjective truth. And what I mean by subjective is that it is attempting to bring you to an encounter with God. If you try to objectify the Bible by abstracting God out of it (systematizing Him) then you will most definitely be left disappointed and maybe even afraid. Just think about it for a moment… how would your friends like you if every time you met, you were attempting to analyze them and understand them in a clinically objective (making an object out of them) sort of way? Not very much I would imagine. In the attempt to understand God in this way we should leave being afraid. God looks like a dark cloud to the one who wants to “figure Him out”. The problem is if you don’t approach Him in that way He is still beyond your grasp. All knowledge of God is Analogy. What we have about God is what I will call middle knowledge. Knowledge of God is directional and negative. The only way to know things about God is to be pointed in the right direction and to remove what He is not. Thomas Aquinas called it the via negativa (way of negation). You can know God’s qualities but not their extent. To use another light illustration it’s like the relationship we have with the sun. We understand that it is hot because it warms us on a summer’s day. But we don’t know the degree (no pun intended) to which it is hot. Here is a thought to comfort you. We can know that God is good…but we can’t know how blindingly good He is.
    At the end of the day I think we try to systematize God because we want to justify ourselves either for our own self esteem, to others to try to convince them or (cringe) to God to show Him we’re good enough on our own.
    Having said all of that first let’s get to the Bible and how we know God through it. While genre and literary criticism are important modern factors to consider I think that it had often replaced content and belief that God really caused all of the Bible to come into being. The problem may come from our modern worldview. We’ve become so reductionist that everything must have a material cause. I’m not trying to tell you that things happen uncaused. I’m saying that the cause may be unmeasurable (in a material way). This is where the problem with the Bible comes in. If men wrote the Bible then they caused the Bible right? If you believe that then personal interpretation fills a much bigger role than it should. I truly believe and have experienced it time and again that the Bible interprets itself. If you want to know what a word or a phrase means look at other parts of the Bible (original languages please). The mantra of context has been drilled into our heads so much that sometimes when interpreting the Bible we often forget that the Bible is one giant context. Disagreements are still possible, but use all the Bible and not just proof texts and the important parts will become clear. There are still going to be mysteries and epiphanies and other “ies” but aren’t “persons” like that…Gos IS and He is personal. As you get to know God realize that a purely logical, philosophical or theological view of God isn’t really the point anyway.
    And about the “middle age Christianity” thing…didn’t Jesus say of false teachers “You will know them by their fruit…”

  7. amandalaine said,

    Wow. Thank you thank you thank you.

    I’m so glad you decided to post, Brad. Thanks!!

    You’ve both given me about 10,000 new thoughts to think. I’ll post again and respond to your comments, clarify my original questions, point out some errors my mother showed me in my thinking, and ask the new questions you’ve made me think.

    Thank you guys! (Any real response, on my part part to your words right now, would not be good. I’m tired.) Thank you guys again. I am thrilled!!

    If there’s anyone else, I’m still listening!

  8. Steve H said,

    Hi Amandalaine,

    Thank you for the most kind tribute to the Steves! 🙂 I have been terribly busy for the past few weeks, finally catching up on my e-life. Ah, on theology.. is there a more wondrous topic of study? Perhaps sacrificial love. That’s one’s harder though huh? First a possible definition of “theology” which could help to clarify. My absolute favorite class in college was one called “Philosophy of Religion”. In time I found I love “philosophy of” most anything. Philosophy of politics, of science, and about God. Philosophy of God you ask? What does this mean? Well, I came to define philosophy as being essentially the pursuit to understand with one’s mind how X works.. to understand the nature of this thing. What is it like? ‘Who’ is it? Once I thought of this then it made much more sense why Philosophy of Religion was such a great class. It was because if theology is the “philosophy of religion”, then Christian theology is really the study of God’s nature. By this I mean who He is, what He is like, and well, then how He works. In the same way that we may get to know another person more deeply by in part seeking to understand who they are, what they are like, their nature, with our mind, in this same sense we may seek to understand who God fundamentally is with our mind. However, as noted in a post above, this cannot be a purely mental, objective undertaking. It must a wholly relational process. And how do we really relate to God but in our spirit? Thus true, spiritual knowledge of who God is and how He works (His character & His nature) requires first and foremost the choice to seek after Him in prayer. I challenge people to just ask! Ask Him in prayer what He is like and what He’s doing here. Ask Him why or how He does X or Y. How something works. Why? He may just tell you – usually through prompting you to seek out something specific in His word. In this way many times I have gained a new understanding of Him which I could then articulate in my mind. This has always and only been through His Spirit imparting understanding to mine, generally by His Word. In John (around 15) it says roughly that “I will give you my Spirit, which will guide you into all truth”. Separately, Isaiah 55 says that those who thirst should ask! It then says that while “my thoughts are higher than your thoughts”, we should ASK and then He will “rain down” upon us what we thirsted for (the truth!)! He has never left me thirsty. I would say our understanding and knowledge of God then is not “subjective” per say, but “in relation to” (Him). That is why our relationship with him in Christian theology is not just like studying an object, but seeking to know a person. By asking Him! If that is what theology is about (and I believe it is), about asking Him personally about what He is like and why, and then Him revealing Himself to you by His spirit generally through His Word (ref John 15ish and then Isaiah 55), there may be few things more exciting than this knowing God not only in your spirit and emotion but then also in your mind.

  9. Brad said,

    I thought that my use of “subjective truth” might get a little extended play time. I purposefully used it in the sense that Soren Kierkegaard and Martin Buber may have used it. And you exactly echoed the meaning of it when you said “in relation to”. When you approach truth subjectively you are acknowledging it means something to you. There is no “it”ness or “thing”ness when you seek to know something subjectively (Both as the knowing subject and to the subject known). There is no absence of facts…the facts are presence.

  10. Steve H said,

    Brad I appreciated your comments, especially the last sentence/quote – that is a keeper.

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