Monday, October 24, 2011

Knowing God/Knowing God

I've been thinking through an important distinction that I think is very important when it comes to Christian formation and education.  I have often claimed that a person does not have to be studied to know (experience) God.  I've even argued that a person does not have to be trained to read the Bible to hear God speak through it.  These claims fit my revivalist background and are music to the ear of my tradition.

I'm also aware that these words tend to give an excuse to individuals not to know (knowledge about) God.  When I say you do not need to study to know (experience) God I mean things like the following:

You do not need to study to:

  • Know what God specifically wants you to do. (... like if God wants you to apply for a certain job)
  • To hear God speak to you through Scripture. (... some morning God affirms his love to you while you are reading Scripture)
  • To have a personal relationship with God. (... experience feelings and emotions in communion with him)
I have not always made the second half clear, though.  You need to study to:
  • Know the original meaning of a biblical passage with certainty.
  • Be able to critique how likely your own impressions of God's will and speaking are.
Make sense?

15 comments:

FrGregACCA said...

Makes sense, but it is essentially individualistic, and orthodox Christianity is NOT individualistic. It is communal, and one cannot "know God" apart from "knowing" one's brothers and sisters and yes, fathers and mothers, in the Faith. This is deeply rooted in the Christian understanding of God as Trinity, the Tri-Personal Eternal, Archetypal Community; and "outside the Church there is salvation" flows directly from this core doctrine of the Trinity.

Ken Schenck said...

The difference I am pushing is one of knowing about God and knowing God in a more relational way. Certainly the community of faith is incredibly important to the latter and can certainly help with the former. But let me give an example of what I'm getting at.

One can know/experience God by reading Leviticus devotionally. One can benefit from the way Christians have read Leviticus over the centuries. But neither of these readings is likely going to turn out to be what Leviticus originally meant to the ancient Israelites. For that, you have to do a lot of study of ancient texts and ancient anthropology. Even then, we may not have enough evidence to know with certainty.

The question of what God might say to us through Genesis is open to all. The question of who most likely wrote Genesis is a question for scholars.

John C. Gardner said...

This is helpful in several ways. First, the idea of experience is more fully explicated in this current posting. Second, it is important for Wesleyans to not simply ignore the intellect. The distinctions are very clear.

Robert said...

If someone picked up the Bible, never having seen or heard of it before, I wonder what they'd make of it?

People may not be educated in a formal sense, but if they've been in the church all their lives that've had a massive education in how the tradition reads the Bible. I've often noticed that God very rarely gets to say anything which conflicts with the tradition of whatever church he's speaking to!

Mobius Trip said...

There is good evidence that controlling authorial intent through textual theory creates a barrier to those who do not have access to systematic study of the bible. For example see “Kabbalistic Manuscripts and Textual Theory: Methodologies of Textual Scholarship and Editorial Practice in the Study of Jewish Mysticism,” by Daniel Abrams. This type of scholarship is robust in and out of religious camps and even rabid in certain philosophical circles, i.e. the deconstructionists. I have very often personally felt that the use of dogmatic phrases by church goers extends this barrier, and people who are genuine wanderers tend not to find their way into the church.

FrGregACCA said...

In the case of the Church, Mobius, the assertion is exactly the opposite of deconstruction: there IS Presence and therefore, textuality is secondary. Experience is primary, but the experience in question is that of the Church as a whole, from the Apostles to this very moment, not of any one person.

While Christianity has a book, it is not a "religion of the book". It is a religion of communion.

Mobius Trip said...

FrGregACCA ,
I would not contradict any notion of presence and I would argue that the originator of deconstruction would not either (I am aware of the nihilistic deconstructionist who deny teleology). The issue for me, and I would have to assume, many others, is that the phrases uttered by many in the church are actually what hurt the identification of other peoples’ experience from being united with them, thus negating the possibility of communion.

FrGregACCA said...

Mobius, I am interested in continuing this, and I THINK I know what you mean, but I'm not absolutely sure. Can you give an example and/or explain further?

Mobius Trip said...

FrGregACCA ,
I would be happy to. At the moment I am away from the resources that I will quote, so later this evening I will draft post.

Mobius Trip said...

FrGregACCA said,

“Experience is primary, but the experience in question is that of the Church as a whole, from the Apostles to this very moment, not of any one person.”

I would say this resembles the problem of the one and the many. Many people can say “Praise the LORD” with out understanding the formulaic nature of the logos or word ‘LORD.’ (I interpret LORD to be a proper name, and thus has a particular interpretation). So how are many perspectives to converge on the meaning of LORD when their individual experiences give rise to diverse expressions?

Just because an individuals experience either may be unique or expressed uniquely, society seems to be losing the monistic, or in more traditional terminology: monotheistic, understanding. I don’t think the problem is as metaphysical as it is a sign of the linguistic habits of people.

FrGregACCA said...

Mobius, the question of the one and the many is indeed at work here, as it is everything.

Why is that the case? Why is this question so fundamental? Because God is both "One" and "Many" in that the one God is the Tri-Personal, Archetypal, Eternal Community in whose image and likeness humanity is created.

I THINK what you trying to address is the matter of people experiencing God outside the Church, even outside the context of any form of Christianity. Is that the case, what you are concerned about here?

Mobius Trip said...

FrGregACCA said,

“I THINK what you trying to address is the matter of people experiencing God outside the Church, even outside the context of any form of Christianity. Is that the case, what you are concerned about here?”

Yes and No. It depends on what you MEAN by Christianity. I was not raised in the church, but I have come to a perspective on reality that is essentially a Christian-Platonic perspective. So the question I am addressing is how could I have done this without all the dogma, and if I can then others can also. I feel that they don’t because of the aforementioned linguistic issues.

FrGregACCA said...

That is interesting, Mobius.

I'd like to hear more about a "Christian-Platonic perspective" that is, in fact, dogma-free. I suspect the first issue here has to do with how "dogma" is defined.

Mobius Trip said...

I will use D. D. Runes’ “Dictionary of Philosophy” 16th ed.for my source material.

Dogma: a meaning accepted on authority without the support of demonstration or experience: (to which I would add) and gets reproduced via rhetorical means.

Rhetoric: Art turned to the practical purpose of persuading and impressing.

If people simply related to other people and dropped the code words for their habituated identity, then they would naturally relate to each other in a more seamless manner. The average church gower is given the responsibility of a master rhetorician. There are few great rhetoricians in history, so why make this a requirement for being a member of a church?

FrGregACCA said...

"If people simply related to other people and dropped the code words for their habituated identity, then they would naturally relate to each other in a more seamless manner. The average church gower is given the responsibility of a master rhetorician. There are few great rhetoricians in history, so why make this a requirement for being a member of a church?"

Perhaps this depends on the Church or Christian community. Roman Catholic, mainstream Protestant, and Orthodox? Not so much (although at least in the case of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, the rhetoric can indeed soar, but this is grounded in experience).

I also think of groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which itself produces some pretty sharp practitioners of rhetoric. However, it is clear that this is so because the rhetoric here also reflects experience.

Given your definition of dogma: everything that is believed at least by Orthodox Christianity is verifiable by experience. Consider the doctrine of the Trinity as a I have spoken of it in this conversation. It is verified by both the Tri-Personal experience of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit AND by the reflection of that Community within the life of humanity, in whose image and likness humanity is created.

Or, to put it another way, it is impossible for God to reveal anything to humanity apart from human experience. Texts, such as the Bible, are simply reflections of such experience.