Proper Theology Proper (1) – Why the Doctrine of God?

Theology being the queen of the sciences and philosophy her handmaid, we can surely think of Theology Proper as king over all theology and philosophy. Why is this hierarchy of ideas important? Our Doctrine of God is at the headwaters of what we value most. To put it another way, what we value most is diagnostic of what or who we think God is. We live according to who or what we value. This is one reason why Theology Proper is practical for all of life. It sets all things in proper value.

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Knowing God is as practical as it profound because this is a kind of knowing that properly aligns the values of life. Yahweh announces to us not only that he is God. He announces that he is glad to be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:14-16). This is a value statement as much as it is relational. This is not merely about an ancient historical encounter with the divine. Abraham got an immutable reference point for value, for life, for satisfaction when God made knowing himself possible to him. 

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The controlling “therefore” that instructs all our other “therefores” is that it is most proper to pursue Theology Proper. Knowing God is the greatest good that leads to many other goods, true and beautiful. This also means that pursuing Theology Proper properly will give us a brighter sight of all things and people around us, their goodness, their beauty, their verity. The invisible things of God make visible things more visible. Coram Deo (to live facing God) enhances coram mundo (to live facing the world, iow, we give ourselves graciously to the world because we have all we need in living before the face of God).  

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By now the hunger for this pursuit is deep in my bones. It was not always so. Back a few decades I could not have imagined the prolonged interest in Theology Proper I have now. That was then not an act of rebellion as it is can be for many. It was an act of unawareness. I say act, because I see now that we humans are often deliberate about many things of which we are unaware. There are some things of which we are innocently unaware. There are others things we deliberately ignore or things we keep in the background.

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My period of prolonged spiritual apathy came at a time I would not have expected it. It still seems odd to me now. My period of prolonged spiritual apathy came after I finished my time in seminary. It was as though I had been for a long time living on a green and fertile land and then swiftly was airlifted to a wide desert with sand in every direction. The details of this I can save for a later time, but the short of it is this. Though I had successfully finished my MDiv. and was very involved in church life and in the lives of other Christians I was dry. My spirit was bone dry.

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Then, a few years later after doing week after week many Christian things mechanically I was bowled over by a flood. It was a flood that began slowly, but then burst into every parched corner and thirsty crevice. What was this flood? The flood was Theology Proper. I saw something about God I had not seen before and then another and then another and another till I was so full I would never be empty again, never be bored with God, never yawn at the sounds of others’ theological musings.

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It was the beginning of a prolonged desire to know more about God, to know God, to know him as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to know him as “immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes…” but known just the same and most vividly and beautifully in Christ (excerpt hymn, Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise, Walter C. Smith, 1867).

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Finally, I was beginning to die. This flood was like a death as much as it was a coming alive again. Theologian John Webster put it this way: “If we are to hear the prophets we have to be cleansed; something in us has to be put to death, something new has to be created—the capacity and desire to give attention to God.”

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A few hundred years before Webster a group of Dutch theologians expressed the centrality of God in theology this way:

 

“In most sacred Theology, God is treated not only as the principle upon which it is constructed and the source of our knowledge of it but also as the subject and the foremost, primary locus of theology from which all the others flow forth, by which they are held together, and to which they should be directed. Hence, Theology derives its very name from this starting point.” (Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, Vol. 1, p. 151)

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Theology Proper is the high point, the Mount Everest of all our knowing and desiring, chocolate fudge included. God is not in the fudge as with Pantheism, but we can see and taste the glory of him in the fudge. There is no point low or high, no point far or near that cannot be saturated with the delight of him who is the Alpha point and the Omega point of all things. Knowing God, I came to see, is the greatest good, summum bonum, that leads to many other goods, true and beautiful. This ultimately means that pursuing Theology Proper properly will give us a brighter appreciation of all things and people around us. The invisible things of God make things visible more visible and more vivid. Coram Deo enlivens, enhances and sustains our coram mundo. What does it mean to pursue a proper Theology Proper? I invite you to return and consider this with me in a few days from now. 

 

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Next: (2) Proper Theology Proper – the greatest discovery

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image credit: view of Mount Everest.