Beyond Reason

The Return

Posted in Faith by Abigail on January 2, 2007

Returning to a previous conversation…

To anyone new who is actually brave/interested enough to read this monster: you may want to read the previous posts in the Faith section.

A Bit of Resolution
Viewing theology as a form of philosophy is incredibly helpful. I have a slightly better handle on what theology is. (It’s gotta be the most unique of human endeavors.)

Also, what was always there has become more clear. I was disturbed at the “tandemness” necessary for theology to “work” but realized that that “tandemness” was always at the crux of the Christian conception of the world. The idea of relationship – between a creator God and created beings – requires that both be individual entities, in other words, that both have free wills.

This is my favorite part of my post – I get to make a retraction. In attempting to correct one “error,” I’ve made another. (I’m working to demonstrate fallibility for us all. I should do quite well!) I said “theology has nothing to do with salvation.” I had gotten to that conclusion because I couldn’t see how a faith that’s truly from God could be filtered by men at all – considering men are the ones in need and men are fallible. This was really the crux of my whole problem. Christian teaching is just that – teaching. It is man flapping his jaw (I’ve heard a lot of it in my time – church my entire life, Christian high school, and Christian college). And men are good at being wrong or getting their egos involved or just getting tripped up by semantics. Truly placing a concept inside of language, without distorting it, is most likely impossible. So, we start with error? Probably. Except for my post here (that’s a joke). So, I retract my statement.

But here’s my defense. I was referring to the academic discipline of theology. That is not necessary for salvation. But, we’re all theologians to some degree.

Either way, man’s intellect/will is involved in salvation, in turning to God. And that’s a question I’m not getting into.

New Question
I’ve been questioning theology from a distinctly Christian viewpoint and left out entirely the fact that you don’t have to be a believer to be a theologian. (I can imagine some people disagreeing with that.) I would say since you can study things you don’t believe in, you don’t need to be a believer to be a theologian (was that an incredibly redundant sentence?). Does this seem accurate?

And then that raises the question: The man who studies theology from belief – he’s got to be the most biased researcher on earth! What has more pull than the topic regarding the destiny of your eternal soul and your behavior from day to day? (I don’t think this is any real problem. It is just interesting.)

And if you’re not a believer, why would you study theology? At that point, it’s no longer theology but instead mythology. Although mythology is very interesting…

Free Will
Since the “philosophy and theology problem” seems to end in the free will problem (for the Christian theologian), I’m going to revive this later (just a little bit – this topic seems to end in nonsense pretty quick).


Chris – Thanks for your clear answer! That helped a lot. I read your blog post. Do you subscribe to the compatibilism idea? Would you say that whatever position’s taken is somewhat nonsensical?

Brad – It appears you would not say theology is a form of philosophy. Is that the case? I talked to a guy recently who thinks philosophy is bad and theology is good (to put things extremely simply). This obviously couldn’t be if one is a form of the other. His implication, I believe, is obvious – he recognizes the danger of philosophy (man is fallible and we have a tendency to become infatuated with ourselves, ultimately denying God). He also brought up Prov. 3:5,6. He essentially said – just believe the Bible! Which is a really nice thought but there are obviously many ways to interpret it.

Thanks for your words on philosophy and its history. That is quite informative! I enjoy reading your explanations.

About the nonsense that I was beginning to head down… when I asked if it was fair to even trust your words… I do see that there are base assumptions, or axioms, that we must make. It’s part of being human. But they should be recognized for what they are, right? Assumptions. Necessary assumptions.

I think I probably didn’t understand everything you said but, I did read it all! Several times.

Systematizing – C.S. Lewis has a great couple paragraphs on that. Reading him was the first time I realized that point you made – that analysis kills. It’s truly amazing. And, yet again, it is necessary. I couldn’t imagine a person who doesn’t think.

I really appreciated this sentence: “Theology takes a sharp right hand turn from any “ology” because the object of Theological study is the only one which exists necessarily.” Very good point.

How would you differentiate between philosophy and vain philosophy? I am very curious.

Jai – That’s absolutely fascinating about philosophy becoming a form of theology. Good point. I still think it’s the other way around though because I’ve only been referring to the academic disciplines which any person, believer or not, could take part in.

Your point on the motivation for theology and your practical answer under number 2 were both excellent. Thanks.

Your “longer but incomplete answer”: wow. You introduced me to concepts I’ve never heard of. Like God not having free will. Very interesting… I enjoyed your potential universes theory. Freaking crazy. I have heard that one before.

Thank you for your encouragement! I read your post several times to try to make sure I understood it and got it all. I really appreciated this sentence: “Just make sure that the pursuit of knowledge about God never outweighs your pursuit of God.” Thanks.

Oleg – I would guess you are the only person, not a part of this conversation, that read all the way through. And English isn’t even your first language. You deserve a truckload of cookies! 🙂

So much for shortness.


6 Responses to 'The Return'

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  1. Chris said,

    I wouldn’t say taking a position on the freedom issue is nonsensical, because I spent a lot of time investigating it! I think compatibilism is the only sustainable position with Christian theism although I know it’s hard to understand.

  2. Brad said,

    I always have such a hard time finding where to begin…
    I would say two things about the Philosophy/Theology thing. First – The reason why I think that Philosophy and Theology are separate. They have very different ends in mind. The proper object of Philosophy is twofold – Being and Knowing. Theology only has one end in mind – God. The reason why they seem to be so dependent on one another is because when Philosophy comes into contact with Being itself it is staring God in the face. This is where they find each other and thrive in each others presence. I understand that your anxiety over this topic comes from the state of things in the heart of fallen man. It is natural for man (in his warped motivations and moral bankruptcy) to miss the mark. But I think it is also extremely disingenuous (as I type this on a computer and prepare to send it by the magic of the Internet) to then say that this fall has completely robbed man of knowing, saying or doing anything true. The theological and moral conclusions of the Bible do not seem to indicate this. Theology and therefore the Bible is not concerned with Laws and Causality in the surface sense (which Science is so great at discovering); Philosophy is. Theology encounters things (or beings more properly) at their metaphysical roots – their uncaused cause. Because the existence of everything (including our philosophizing minds) flows out of God we have to admit on one level that everything is connected. The problem is a classic Chicken and egg dilemma from here on out. What comes first Philosophy or Theology. My quick answer would be that on the level of being Theology must come first, but on the level of knowing Philosophy must come first. Your friend is absolutely correct about saying – “just believe the Bible” when it comes to Theology. But Philosophy can still inform you about what the difference between knowing and believing is. I don’t want to bifurcate philosophy and theology so that you think there is no connection I just think we ought to be clear and honest about their respective ends.
    About the necessary assumptions. I think I tried to address this a little bit when I talked about the rejection of reality. If you have to lean on Philosophy to convince yourself that things exist I think then that the tail is officially wagging the dog. (I’m using you in the rhetorical sense, not in the finger pointing sense). This is also a partial answer to your vain philosophy question. Let me quote a line from a Joseph Brodsky poem “I wish I didn’t know astronomy when stars appear”. The line has a sadness in two ways that are relevant. The poignant sadness of the writer who has lost his sense of wonder because of Science. Second, the deep sadness of our time which has reduced all true things to the scientific and has lost its soul in the process. If Philosophy is the extent of your encounter with God…isn’t that truly sad. If you must look through the lens of Science and Philosophy when you see a rainbow haven’t you kind of let the air out of life’s balloon. I can’t think of any better word for that kind of Philosophy than vain (empty).
    On the order of being philosophy always comes second. It has to have something (a real thing) even if that thing is just the pure thought of the thinker. Descartes declaration “Cogito ergo sum” seems absolutely ridiculous when you look at it from the order of being. On the order of thinking it seems the height of reason.
    These thoughts are a little disjointed so I apologize. Just let me know if I can clarify any of them.

  3. Brad said,

    I didn’t answer your new question…

    Saying that a beliver studying Theology is biased, is true only as far as your epistemology and view of truth take you. If you are an internalist (you think that knowledge or truth is a set of conditions that obtain completely within your mind) then bias is inevitable. But if you are an externalist (you think that knowledge or truth is a set of conditions which obtain independent of your mind which your mind can grasp) then it really depends on how far and how seriously you have taken your studies. You have to have a very sensitive FOC (Full Of Crap) sensor pointed directly at your own ideas to relieve bias.
    Truth is something that is outside of me, but I can enter into relation with it.

    A non believer studying Theology could also just be a sociologist studying what people and societies claim as religious truth.

    I would like to leave one more comment about the “tandemness” thing. Actually it’s a quote from Norman Geisler:

    “God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick”

    For whatever that’s worth.

  4. Jai said,

    Good call on the “theologian” being the sociologist if he doesn’t believe. I believe I heard Tony Campolo say that the sociologist is a biased scientist because he himself is not separated from society (either him or it was foundations class). In that sense, you can never truly have an unbiased theologian, either one will believe that his study is truth (the Christian), or put his own intellect above the truth (the Athiest, the Agnostic, the Deist, etc.). And to clarify, I am a Christian, so I obviously throw “truth” as meaning my belief in the Christ, so I apologize for offending any athiests in the audience. 😛

  5. amandalaine said,

    Chris – Thanks! I haven’t looked at the freedom issue a lot but, from my current view, it looks hopelessly unsolvable. (I’m not worried about this. I mean, the world was working just great before I ever engaged any of these thoughts. I believe it will continue on that path without my approval or consent.) I may be using the word nonsensical loosely. I’ve always subscribed to the compatibalism idea because scripture clearly teaches both – it would be a huge stretch to denigrate one half of the equation just to satisfy your own needs of “logic” only to find logic once again being broken. I’m going to read more about this because I’m curious. Here’s my question for you, if you stop back by my blog: is the compatibilsm concept fully sensible to the human mind? If it’s not, that’s what I meant when I said it was somewhat nonsensical. I mean, I would say it’s nonsensical for God to be man and vice versa but I believe that in the person of Jesus. Anyway, again, perhaps I am using nonsensical loosely and should only use it when carefully explained.

    Brad – Thanks for your long answers to my posts! I really appreciate the time you put in. Your differentiation between the two fields was helpful. Also, thanks for reminding me that truth is capable of being grasped. (I recognize not everyone agrees on that. It is something you accept by faith.) The Christian life surely suggests that this is true! (I’ve just been realizing this recently through this discussion over the past month.) The idea of redemption, that we can come back, become whole, and that God appeals to the various senses – including the mind – suggests His belief in those faculties (or that they can be redeemed). I am pretty convinced that, to some degree, I have bought whole-heartedly into the idea of science, or questioning everything. It is eventually self-destructive. Two things have created this: my naturally skeptical nature and our scientific/humanistic culture. It’s interesting. These things are not fully resolved in my mind – just moving.

    After a while, Brad, I was using the word “philosophy” to mean nothing more than thinking. Originally, I had used it to refer to the academic field. So, when this man was telling me to “just believe the Bible” I was juxtaposing that against “thinking.” I know he didn’t mean this (to stop thinking), but, to me, eventually philosophy is just nothing more than thinking. So it kinda becomes the question of reason and faith. Am I going to question (I kind of use the word question and think interchangeably) everything I read? It appears to me that meditating, meaning thinking, is prescribed in the Bible. We see a ton of questioning on David’s part and on others. And few are ever reproved (Job seems like an exception to me). Anyway, I revolted at this man’s idea of not thinking and began to wonder how valid all my questioning was. I currently am just fine with it and think it’s appropriate.

    I really appreciated this sentence: “If you have to lean on Philosophy to convince yourself that things exist I think then that the tail is officially wagging the dog.” Thanks!

    You view wonder as axiomatically good? I can’t help but question that also (although I am not truly bothered by it).

    Thank you for your words on my new question. I will have to think about it further before saying anything.

    Jai – Good point about being biased no matter what position you take. That’s a thought I’ve mulled over many times. As humans, we’re inherently subjective, right? Makes for an interesting pull between objectivism and subjectivism.

    For the Record (if anyone got this far) – I’ve decided to post responses with the actual post they go with – no matter how long the conversation is – to avoid confusion (and to create smaller posts).

  6. Brad said,

    I view wonder as axiomatically good as long as it does not replace your responsibility to know or to clarify. The opposite is also true. Knowing or clarifying is axiomatically good as long as it does not replace your ability to be totally blown away.

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