Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


In-God, Un-God 7

posted by xscot mcknight

What, LeRon Shults asks, is “knowledge” like for God and for us — that is, after the turn to relationality? His answer is very important for each of us. What God knows cannot be reduced to cognition, or to knowledge of objects and propositions and ideas, as we know — say — how the grass grows or what kinds of birds begin to feed at our feeders when the weather heads south. Here’s what Shults contends God’s knowledge is:
Does God know “about” us or is God’s knowledge an intimate, faithful, knowing “of” us? Does the distinction matter. Much in every way. The former leads us back to the modernist God whose mind is beyond ours; the latter to being known and to the capacity of then knowing God and others.
God’s knowledge is omniscient faithfulness. God’s knowing “embraces all things” (207). God’s faithful ominscience is an intimate knowing. Faith and knowledge are not opposites; they are bindings of one to another.
Shults provides a way out of the Arminian-Calvinist debate about foreknowledge: if God’s knowledge is omniscient faithfulness, then it is not that God knows “about” us in our decision making, but that God’s knowing of us enables us to know God. Election, then, is God’s making of us into a being-coming-into-being through relationship with and to God. It is being known to, by and in God. Foreknowledge, in other words, is more than cognition; God’s election on the basis of foreknowledge is to be chosen to become who we are by being known to and by God. (I’m trying to come to terms with “omniscient faithfulness” as God’s knowledge.)
“God’s pro-gnosis, then, [is] an acknowledging embrace of human creatures, calling them to a new life of knowing and being known in the Spirit of Christ” (224).
Knowledge, then, must be conceived of in a Hebraic (yada) way rather than a scientific way.
Our knowledge of God, our naming of God with words, is to learn to be named in faithful communion with God. It is to be named and it evokes a longing to name and to be named.
The teleological argument, then, is to acknowledge and participate in the divine intention that evokes noetic desire on our part to be known and to know.
Here is one of Shults’ favorite expressions: “the omniscient faithfulness of the trinitarian God of the Bible is the origin, condition, and goal of the noetic desire of creatures.” Our yearning to know, our noetic desire, is the Spirit-induced drive to participate intimately in the trinitarian “knowing” of the Father, Son, and Spirit.



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Adonis Vidu

posted October 25, 2006 at 3:17 am


Just a few comments, Scot, without having a chance to read LeRon’s book yet. 1) I think one should beware of too sharply juxtaposing Hebrew over Greek (or scientific?) thought. 2) Is LeRon’s distinction between knowledge about/of the equivalent of the distinction between knowledge by description/ by aquaintance? 3) What point is there to the contrast between knowledge and faithfulness, the former propositional, the latter relational, if then we qualify faithfulness as omniscient? Can omniscient make sense in any other way than also involving the propositional? 4) I think it might be possible (though I am not yet sure how to pull it off) to reconcile the debate over God’s knowledge and human freedom by making them supervenient over one another. An analogy would be Donald Davidson’s anomalous monism. This would mean imagining two distinct, yet somehow autonomous, realms, ieah with its own logic, but both related. Think about how thoughts, meanings, desires (as propositional attitudes) supervene upon physical aspects of the brain. It makes sense to say both (a) that these thoughts are free and (b) that they are somehow causally related to brain activity. In the same way, it is not self-contradictory to hold both that God predestines us… and that we are free to choose. It’s just that the relationship between the two realms is much more complicated than simple causality.



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BeckyR

posted October 25, 2006 at 5:48 am


This hit my gut: Our knowledge of God, our naming of God with words, is to learn to be named in faithful communion with God. It is to be named and it evokes a longing to name and to be named.” Especially the last sentence. That will be in my head for a couple decades. be named by God. Are named by God.



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Scot McKnight

posted October 25, 2006 at 7:15 am


Adonis,
Some of this is my summary of Shults. I don’t think he posits Hebrew vs. Greek; clearly the entire Bible’s view is that knowledge is yada/knowing in faithfulness to another.
Omniscient faithfulness does not deny the propositional; it engulfs into its true proportion and perspective.



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John Frye

posted October 25, 2006 at 9:56 am


Scot,
Would it be accurate to think then that the noetic desire in all humans is evidence of prevenient grace? That our longing to know is a homing device toward God even though many do not follow it to its Source?



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Scot McKnight

posted October 25, 2006 at 9:59 am


John,
Hadn’t really thought of this. I would say, off the cuff, that it is Eikonic and prevenient grace.



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BW

posted October 25, 2006 at 11:04 am


The problem I have with using the term “prevenient grace” is that its so closely tied to the categories that LeRon is trying to break us free from. If he is right, these categories have been terribly unhelpful and have led us to conceptualizing God and the gospel that actually lead us away from illumination rather than towards it. By continually using the term “prevenient grace” we’re inviting the use of these unhelpful categories.
I’m not sure here (maybe you know, Scot), but I’m guessing prevenient grace was conceived precisely because of the Calvinism/Arminian debate that LeRon (in his view) blows apart. So if the concept of prevenient grace was conceived in the web of this debate, we can really only use it in the context of it.



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Scot McKnight

posted October 25, 2006 at 11:08 am


BW,
I’m not sure on the history of the category. It stems from Arminians using the term to make clear they think even human choice of God is prompted by God’s grace.
In that LeRon is demolishing, rather deftly I might add, the major “foreknowledge” issue, I would say you are right. But, in a sense he might be onto a bigger sense of prevenience in that all of creation is known by God and this “knowing” (as omniscient faithfulness) might just be another way of speaking of God’s prevenient, attending, and sustaining grace.



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John Frye

posted October 25, 2006 at 12:36 pm


BW (comment #6),
Even when I posted my thoughts to Scot, I, too, wondered if “prevenient grace” was a concept outside the conversational territory that Shults takes us into. I like Scot’s response to you (#7). I now tend to think that “noetic desire” is more Eikonic than prevenient grace (see # 5).



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BW

posted October 25, 2006 at 12:45 pm


Scot,
I agree with what you say. To me, the intuitions behind prevenient grace are obvious; I just don’t like how its applied because of the philosophical presupposition. Acts 17 seems to imply these intuitions explicitly. And certainly LeRon demonstrates (if he’s correct) that creaturely existence is called and constituted by the coming of God, which certainly is applied to all of creation.
What I love about LeRon’s formulations is how he expands and puts language to many of the gospel intuitions we read in the scriptures and experience as we live with God. The theme of knowledge is a perfect example. Hopefully, typical debates about what God “knows” leaves us all uncomfortable, knowing that somethings missing (that’s God’s knowledge isn’t like ours, only ‘bigger’). But because these modernist categories are so strongly ossified in our evangelical theology, we don’t know the language or the system to think of them. LeRon gives us that framework. For that, I’m grateful.



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Terry Tiessen

posted October 25, 2006 at 5:10 pm


Scot,
I am always uncomfortable when people make an either/or distinction between personal and propositional knowledge. I grant that the most important thing to us is to be known personally by God and to know him personally. But, it makes no sense to me to deny that God knows all true propositions. Nor are these completely separate. Personal knowledge can not be reduced to propositions but a significant part of God’s knowledge of us and of our knowledge of him can be stated propositionally. Shults’s own statements about God’s personal knowing are propositions.
In short, I am very doubtful that a focus on knowledge as personal will make unnecessary the traditional discussion in the church about what truths God knows (or what truths there are to know). I’m delighted that God knows me but I am also keenly interested in whether or not he knows what is going to happen tomorrow and, if he knows, whether he knows because it is the way he decided things will be or whether he just happens to know because propositions about the future have non-temporal truth value.



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r10b

posted October 25, 2006 at 9:10 pm


This is a fascinating topic Scot, but I am mentally treading water just trying to keep up with your summary, so I doubt I could stay afloat through the actual book. However, a line I might be able to grab onto is this: “God’s election on the basis of foreknowledge is to be chosen to become who we are by being known to and by God,” which calls Matthew 7:23 to mind. So the “non-elect” are, by contrast, not chosen by not being known, which seems clear enough as a propositional statement yet the subtleties of the term “being known” elude me. In what way is God’s knowledge “deficient” as it relates to the “non-elect?”



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Mike McLeod

posted October 26, 2006 at 9:35 am


Scot,
About eight years ago while in the In-Ministry program at Bethel Seminary
my first course was with LeRon. Needless to say it blew me out of the water. The conceptual space he has opened up for pondering and relating to God ends up being very doxological for me. You mentioned that Shults may have given us a way out of the foreknowledge debate with ominiscient faithfulness. May I add a thought to this? As I remember his class lectures and have read his books, LeRon actually brings robust trinitarianism into the picture to move us past the foreknowledge, ala openness of God debate. LeRon sees the problem as perceiving of God as a “single subject”. If He is just “a person” and we have subtly placed Him in finite categories, then we develop epistemic anxiety about God having most of the facts and having to share them. Shults does not conceptualize God as “a” person. LeRon sees God as “personal” but trinitarian, not a single subject. Then Shults removes God from within the cateogory of knowlege (otherwise knowledge is more fundamental than God Himself). God makes possible knowng by being the constitutive source and goal of it. He is more fundamental than knowledge.
If I understand LeRon, he is trying to get us to see that if there is something called, say, “big” and God is just the biggest expression of it, this makes God finite to something more fundamental than God, Himself, namely “big”. You can substitute any category for this (e.g. strength, knowlege). This was/is our modernist problem. But, I wonder if LeRon still clings to “relationality”. As you described in an earlier post that LeRon’s essence of God is the eternal trinitarian relations, I then wonder–if this is His essence, have we put God back within the category of “relationality”? It seems to me we can never escape categories and get behind the economic God. Help.



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Dana Ames

posted October 26, 2006 at 2:29 pm


Something that helps me is remembering the difference Shults makes between “extensive” and “intensive”.
Oh Mike! Great thoughts & explanation. I would think about it as: relationality IS reality, and in that reality we have a non-dualistic trinitarian Godhead. This skirts awfully close to things I have heard about Eastern thought, Buddhism particularly, differing in that the material is not illusion and Christianity has an answer for the problem of Evil. According to my best friend who has studied him, Ken Wilber, a western Buddhist philospher, posits that the answer to the problem of Evil will have to come from the west, because Buddhism doesn’t have it. This is exciting to me as part of the “all things” that will be redeemed and presented to the Father in Jesus- the “all things” include other religious systems too. There is nothing that is outside Jesus’ work. Glory!
Dana



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