According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Monday, January 13, 2014

4 Epistemological Approaches to God

To make matters worse, starting with ethics (the outside-in direction) has a tough time getting all the way to ‘God’ by trying to equate ethics with evidence that there is a God. While you can see that the ethics and belief in God may have some overlap, it is not the most efficient of effective approach and thus it has fallen out of favor.


Revelation is a tried-and-true approach historically. Protestants of almost every stripe love this approach. From fundamentalist, to thoughtful Barthians, and even the Radical Orthodox crowd feast on a steady diet of the revelation approach.

That God reveals God’s-self in creation, in history, in scripture and in experience, is a staple of the Christian religion.

The problem is that there is often a gap. If you start with what is revealed you might not make it all the way to God… and likewise, if you start with God it can be tough to make it all the way out to what is revealed.

The problems come in things like Biblical (historic) criticism, modern science and the pesky pluralism of the post-colonial era.


Reductive approaches are perhaps the Most problematic. We are haunted in late modernity by this shadow of foundationalism. As we are all aware, the scientific reductionism of the New Atheists is just the flip-side of the coin from fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell. If you start out there, you never make it in to God. If you start with God, you never make it all the way out there.

This approach has left us with a nasty enlightenment hangover and many (if not most) people are weary of the contentious and often combative result of this attempt of making your way in the world.


Linguistic approaches (I include the hermeneutical crowd in this) seem to me the most promising in the 21st century. The problem, however, is that they can often be so different from classic or historic approaches that the uninitiated have a difficult time even recognizing them as the same Christianity one is trying to engage.

Take for instance the much debated sentences of Jack Caputo. What does it even mean that God does not exist but that God insists? Is God just a concept of our highest good? And how does one fend off the Feuerbach critique that religion is nothing more than a human projection by talking about ‘language games’?

Does God ontologically exist or not? Is the linguistic approach just a fancy way of skirting the question of metaphysics?

Most importantly, for the epistemology question that we were originally attempting to get setup, how do you even move forward if linguistics / hermeneutics are your preferred entry point?

So [these are] my “4 Approaches – 2 Directions” schematic. It [may] lead to a fruitful conversation even while it clearly needs some adjustments.

I would welcome your thoughts, questions, concerns, revisions, suggestions and innovations.

p.s. I’m going to start linking to the Kindle version of Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms at the bottom every post. It is only $5 and it is so [very] helpful to new readers of this blog.

- Bo

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Epistemology (Knowledge of Truth):

  • Ethics - Truth  is what I  do 
  • Revelation - Truth is what God claims as truth
  • Reductive - Truth is what I claim as truth (or, what people have historically attributed to God)
  • Linguistic - Truth is interpretive, and I have no private claim to God's truth.

*It should be noted that when speaking of bare intellectual apprehension of God is not enough (sic, God is not an insect to be studied but to be apprehended). That this apprehension must approach our whole being and way of life, and not simply the head alone.

Hence, there must also be room for contemplative practice (worship, prayer, fellowship, etc) or some kind of direct "experience" of the Divine (interpersonally or in community with others) in some way or fashion. Perhaps this falls more into the areas of revelation or reduction (sic, receiving the "word of God") - whether falsely, or truly, can only be evaluated in hindsight by error and omission, ofttimes far removed from the actual occasion of  the revelatory (or inspired) events when reviewing the resulting practice, attitude, or doctrines of the church and its people.

Essentially this affective process speaks to the idea of opening one's heart up to God and others (or within to ourselves, or to God's creation). This divine-human union may also be described as a transformational (or conformational) process, and is spoken of many times in the Bible (described popularly as "divinization" in Christian doctrine, or as "theosis" within the Eastern Orthodox tradition).

In summary, intellectual apprehension of God alone remains barren without the divine touch of God in one's life and in some way showing by attitude or action, word or deed, thought or attitude.

R.E. Slater
January 13, 2013


  1. Reduction might be roughly mapped, methodologically, as descriptive science; Ethics, as normative philosophy; Revelation, as interpretive religion; and Linguistics, as evaluative culture.

    If we think of epistemology as being inherently normative (rule governed) and axiological (value oriented), this relationship seems to be in play: The normative mediates between the descriptive and interpretive to realize the evaluative.

    Less abstractly, whenever we encounter a reality, we ask: 1) what is that? and describe it best we can, then ask: 2) what's that to us? and evaluate it best we can, before asking: 3) what's the best way to acquire or avoid that, as we norm it best we can. Finally, we ask: 4) what's the best way to tie this all back together? as we interpret these new descriptions, evaluations and norms, re-ligating them or tying them into our existing framework of living.

    Viewed this way, we recognize that each of these probes of reality are asking distinctly different questions, hence employing very different methods, so we can say that they are methodologically autonomous. But notice how, in order to realize the value in any given reality that each of these methods is necessary, none by itself sufficient. So, we can also say that these methods, while methodologically autonomous, are axiologically integral.

    This seems to be how evolutionary epistemology works, in general, and, fundamentally, epistemology is epistemology is epistemology, which is to suggest that by religious epistemology, in particular, we refer not really to any methods distinct from epistemology, in general, but only to the special challenges we might face as we turn our attention more toward ultimate, less toward proximate, concerns.

    Much the same dynamic remains in play, though. In our proximate concerns, we often encounter scenarios where the evidence, descriptively, is ambiguous, where our hypotheses remain, for whatever reason, equiprobable. Evolution has "taught" us, in those situations, to take the most life-giving and relationship-enhancing option, performatively. For example, if, in the dark, we spot an object on the ground resembling both a snake and a rope, we leap over it, or, at least, probe further with a stick. Ultimate reality leaves us not with falsifiable, equiprobable choices but merely equiplausible accounts. Performatively, one way or another, we leap, hopefully in the most lufe-giving and relationship-enhancing way available, toward realities that seem the most beautiful, good and unifying, evaluatively, normatively and interpretively, which doesn't guarantee they will lead to the truth, but has often seemed to have increased the likelihood, since those methods work in concert.

    Nothing new in this as it corresponds to the classical categories of logos, pathos, ethos and mythos. So, this is why deconstructionists are right, that logocentrism doesn't work. But we don't jettison logos but, instead, properly situate it methodologically in its integral relationship, wherein ethos mediates between logos and mythos to realize pathos. The history of philosophy, including especially the philosophy of religion, tells the tale of schools of thought, which either over- or under-emphasized, exalted or denigrated, one or more of these approaches, dis-valuing what merely required de-valuing, over-valuing what merely needed re-valuing. The postmodern critique properly devalued logos, but radical deconstructionists disvalue it. For example, onto-theology and metaphysics have been abandoned, denigrated, when, more appropriately, they should be recognized as ways of framing our questions, understanding the reasonableness of our approaches, as fallible, hypothetical and provisional, just not infallible, a priori, apodictic, in other words, a great way to probe reality, an awful way to prove it.

  2. Love it. Thanks for the insights! Very well thought out. - Russ