Speaking of God -- How might we do it?

I recently published a small book (around 12000 words) as part of Energion Publications' Topical Line Drive Series. We titled it Speaking of God: An Introductory Conversation about the Way Christians Talk about God, (Energion Publications). You might call this the first of what will be several small books that can serve as conversation starters when it comes to theology, though I've already published in this TLD series books on the Eucharist, Authority of Scripture, and the Trinity. Next up after this one is a book on salvation due out in the near future. 

This brief excerpt from the introduction should provide a glimpse at what I'm trying to do in this book, and perhaps the others yet to be published.   


Excerpt from the Introduction to Speaking of God:  

            Humans have been pondering, perhaps since the beginning of human consciousness, whether something lies beyond the world of our senses. How and when religion emerged remains an open question, but perhaps John Calvin is correct when he suggested that we possess within us a sense of the divine (sensus divinitas). I have long found that rationale for the origin of religion compelling. It’s not proof, but it does have some explanatory power. That is because even though humans may frame their understanding of the divine differently, every culture seems to have developed some form of religion. For some God is an all-powerful being who controls all things while for others God is the fellow traveler who walks with us through life, guiding and consoling us but not controlling things. God has been described as the “unmoved mover” or first cause (Aristotle) and the “ground of being (Paul Tillich). God is understood by some as being immanent, close at hand, while for others God is transcendent (wholly other). God might be understood to be deeply engaged with us, even as our partner in life (relational theology), or completely uninvolved with the universe other than getting things started (deism). In popular culture, we often hear God referred to as the “Man Upstairs,” an image that conjures in our minds the picture of an old man with a long white beard. On the other hand, one can refer to God as the “womb of being.” These are but descriptions of God embraced by Christians. There is, to be honest, an understandable tendency to envision God in our own image, having human traits and characteristics, only better. This is not a problem as long as we understand that these descriptions are metaphors and should not be taken literally.  

While Christians look to Scripture for guidance when it comes to our beliefs about God, we don’t read Scripture in a vacuum. We often make use of philosophical concepts and culturally laden vocabulary to interpret and express what we find in Scripture and what we consider to be foundational. Many of our foundational Christian beliefs have been influenced by Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle. This is true, whether we acknowledge this inheritance or not. The reason for this is that since the earliest times, as the Christian movement moved out from Jerusalem and its Jewish origins, Christians have sought out language and concepts that could be used to further our theological discussion and definitions. That continues to this day. Even theologians who have chosen to abandon Greek concepts tend to draw upon current philosophical systems whether existentialism or process philosophy to name but a few. Thus, each generation of theologians must re-evaluate its theological inheritance and engage with the philosophical systems of the day.

As we engage with contemporary philosophical systems and our social/cultural contexts, it is natural that we will reformulate our understanding of the faith that has been passed down to us from the ancient world. To give but one example, the way we envision God as the creator has been impacted by modern science, especially evolutionary theory. While we may find (and I do) the creation accounts theologically informative, they no longer provide a scientifically valid explanation of our origins. There are cultural adaptations that have taken place over the years, that have led to the rethinking of perspectives on the way we read Scripture and understand the nature of God. So, while we draw upon the witness of Scripture and Christian Tradition (history) when it comes to the nature of God, we must always keep in mind the distance that lies between us and the biblical and other ancient writers. The universe looks a lot different today than it did 2000 years ago. It’s not that they were primitive thinkers, and we’re advanced thinkers. Rather it is simply a matter of the accumulation of information that we have at our disposal as we consider how to speak of God.     

In this brief study, I would like to introduce some of the basic concepts that Christians use to talk about God. My discussion should be seen as more descriptive than prescriptive. I hope that I can provide some definitions, language, and perhaps options, that might facilitate a more thoughtful discussion of how Christians might understand God’s nature. While I could include in this book a discussion of the proofs of the existence of God, that might take us too far afield from what I have in mind. Therefore, while many would deny the existence of God, for our purposes I will start with the presupposition that God does exist. If that is the case, then what concepts and language are useful in expressing that belief?


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