Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Berkhof's Systematic Theology (Part One, Chapter Two): The Knowability of God

Part One
The Doctrine of God (The Being of God)

II. The Knowability of God
A. God Incomprehensible but yet Knowable.
B. Denial of the Knowability of God.
C. Self-Revelation the Prerequisite of all Knowledge of God.

A. God Incomprehensible but yet Knowable.
“The Christian Church confesses on the one hand that God is the Incomprehensible One, but also on the other hand, that He can be known and that knowledge of Him is an absolute requisite unto salvation” (p. 29)

“Reformed theology holds that God can be known, but that it is impossible for man to have a knowledge of him that is exhaustive and perfect in every way…it is maintained that man can obtain a knowledge of God that is perfectly adequate for the realization of  the divine purpose in the life of man. However, true knowledge of God can be aquired only from the divine self-revelation, and only by the man who accepts this with childlike faith” (p. 30).

B. Denial of the Knowability of God.
Berkhof takes up the arguments of agnoticism and defines it as follows: “The fundamental position is that the human mind is incapable of knowing anything of that which lies beyond and behind natural phenomena, and is therefore necessarily ignorant of supersensible and divine things” (p. 30). Agnosticism allows for the possibility of God’s existence, but not for knowledge of him.

Four of the arguments he takes on are:

(1) Man knows only by analogy.
To this argument Berkhof replies: “while it is true that we learn a great deal by analogy, we also learn by contrast. In many cases the differences are the very things that arrest our attention” (p. 32).

(2) Man really knows only what he can grasp in its entirety.
“This position proceeds on the unwarranted assumption that partial knowledge cannot be real knowledge, an assumption that would really invalidate all our knowledge, since it always falls far short of completeness” (p. 32).

(3) All predicates of God are negative and therefore furnish no real knowledge.
This is false. There are positive ideas of God including “love, spirituality, and holiness” (p. 32). Even in that what we know of God may be in negative form, what we know may also convey something positive.

(4) All our knowledge is relative to the knowing subject.
“It is said that we know the objects of knowledge, not as they are objectively, but only as they are related to our senses and faculties…because we know things only through the mediation of our senses and faculties, we do not know them as they are. But this is not true; in so far as we have any real knowledge of things, that knowledge corresponds to the objective reality” (p. 32-33).

C. Self- Revelation the Prerequisite of all Knowledge of God.

1. God communicates knowledge of himself to man.
“In the study of all other sciences man places himself above the object of his investigation and actively elicits from it his knowledge by whatever method may seem most appropriate, but in theology he does not stand above but rather under the object of his knowledge…Without revelation man would never have been able to acquire any knowledge of God. And even after God has revealed himself objectively, it is not human reason that discovers God, but it is God who discloses himself to the eye of faith” (p. 34-35).

I Corinthians 2:11 tells us that there is an archetypal knowledge of God that no man can know. There is also an ectypal knowledge of him given to man by revelation.

2. Innate and acquired knowledge of God.
Innate knowledge of God (called by some ingrafted or implanted) is that knowledge of God implanted in man be his creation in the image of God. Acquired knowledge is  “obtained by the study of God’s revelation” (p. 35).

3. General and special revelation.
Berkhof contrasts what these two distinctions have been called throughout Christian history. He argues that all revelation is supernatural if it comes from God so natural and supernatural may not be the best ways to describe them. General revelation is God’s revelation of himself in creation, providence, and the human conscious (innate knowledge), while special revelation is what is revealed to man in history of God’s redemptive purpose, that which we find in Christ and in Scripture.

He quotes Warfield on the two forms: “The one is addressed generally to all intelligent creatures, and is therefore accessible to all men; the other is addressed to a special class of sinners, to whom God would make known his salvation. The one has in view to meet and supply the natural need of creatures for knowledge of their God; the other to rescue broken and deformed sinners from their sin and its consequences” (p. 37 - quoted from Revelation and Inspiration).