Friday, 8 August 2014

A theology based on God's love, and the need for a personal relationship with God; not on "hard-core metaphysical attributes"

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Explaining the basic difference in approach between Mormon theology and the classical 'metaphysical' theology of mainstream post-Apostolic Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant).
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It is remarkable that throughout the history of Christian thought few indeed have started their exploration from the basic conviction that 'God is love'.

It is commonplace in Christian theology to start from metaphysical concepts, such as the notion that God is a perfect being or that God is the metaphysical explanation for all existence. 

The metaphysical approach to God... emphasizes the more abstract and impersonal attributes of God, including divine omniscience and omnipotence. It emphasizes the 'hard-core metaphysical attributes' of divine simplicity, pure actuality, aseity, impassibility, timelessness, and immutability.

[But] any theology that begins with metaphysical postulates makes it very difficult to speak of God in interpersonal terms...

Whereas the picture of God that has dominated Christian theology is that of the Unmoved Mover, it seems that the interpersonal God of disclosed in the scripture is the Most Moved Mover - that person who above all else seeks to persuade us to enter into a loving relationship of the type that exists between a father and a son, or a committed husband and a beloved wife. 

Relationality is the true essence of God - the opposite of the God of the philosophers... 

What if, instead, we started from the most basic commitment of Jesus's teachings - that God is the type of person whom we could seek in intimate prayer as our 'abba', our 'Daddy in Heaven'?

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Edited from Chapter One of Blake T Ostler's Exploring Mormon Thought: the problems of theism and the love of God - Volume 2.
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9 comments:

ajb said...

Thanks for this - particularly interesting to me, as I had started a draft post yesterday about the song 'Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est' (commonly sung in Taize) as a good starting point for understanding the nature of the Christian God.

To me, whatever is meant by a triple-O God, or simplicity, pure actuality, or whatever, it has to fit with the more basic notions, such as 'Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est'. It seems to me one is primary, while the other is secondary (essentially) metaphysical speculation.

I found this paragraph particularly illuminating

"Whereas the picture of God that has dominated Christian theology is that of the Unmoved Mover, it seems that the interpersonal God of disclosed in the scripture is the Most Moved Mover - that person who above all else seeks to persuade us to enter into a loving relationship of the type that exists between a father and a son, or a committed husband and a beloved wife."

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - I'm glad you liked it.

I found it on an excerpt from the book available on my Kindle - but reading several of these I have made a decision to 'bite the bullet' and buy all three biggish volumes of Blake Ostler's Exploring Mormon Thought in print editions. I look forward to a real treat.

(I have already read a lot of B.O.'s stuff in essay form, and also watched some lectures and interviews on YouTube - I think he is superb).

Mike in Boston said...

I think most Eastern Orthodox writers would assert that what you describe as "theology of mainstream post-Apostolic Christianity" is specifically Western theology. For example, in The Mind of the Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos writes,


This theology of St. Maximos is not mental or philosophical, but experiential. He himself, having the experience of the spiritual life, could present it in this way. No one can, by philosophical conjectures, present the teaching which St. Maximos the Confessor sets forth.


The emphasis on relationality also brings to mind another piece by Met. Hierotheos, where he writes:


Western theology, however, has differentiated itself from Eastern Orthodox theology. Instead of being therapeutic, it is more intellectual and emotional in character. ... Scholastics, who are occupied with reason, consider themselves superior to the Holy Fathers of the Church. They also believe that human knowledge, an offspring of reason, is loftier than Revelation and experience. ... In the Orthodox Church, as expressed by the Holy Fathers, faith is God revealing Himself to man.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MiB - I agree that Eastern Orthodoxy is significantly different in this respect - if you do word searches on this blog for 'Orthodoxy' and 'Seraphim Rose' you will find quite a lot of entries on that theme from a few years ago (I got as far as 'enlisting' as a 'Catechumen' at our local Russian Orthodox group).

alexi de sadesky said...

Bruce,

(I got as far as 'enlisting' as a 'Catechumen' at our local Russian Orthodox group).

I am wondering what put you off? Was it beginning to interact with Mormonism?

Kristor said...

"Scholastics, who are occupied with reason, consider themselves superior to the Holy Fathers of the Church. They also believe that human knowledge, an offspring of reason, is loftier than Revelation and experience. ..."

The Scholastics did not believe any of those things.

Kristor said...

Ostler writes:

"[But] any theology that begins with metaphysical postulates makes it very difficult to speak of God in interpersonal terms..."

Every theology – every discourse of any sort – begins with metaphysical postulates, which it either explicitly recognizes, or not. The question is not whether we can do without them, but whether we can afford to do with them if they are incoherent.

Ostler writes:

"... the picture of God that has dominated Christian theology is that of the Unmoved Mover, it seems that the interpersonal God of disclosed in the scripture is the Most Moved Mover - that person who above all else seeks to persuade us to enter into a loving relationship of the type that exists between a father and a son, or a committed husband and a beloved wife.

Relationality is the true essence of God - the opposite of the God of the philosophers ..."

It was those pesky metaphysical theologians, the Fathers of the Church – many of them contemplative mystics deeply engaged in daily adoration of God – who *invented* the concept of the person in the first place, so that they could then proceed to an understanding of the inherent loving relation within God of the three Persons of the Trinity. Relationality is not the opposite of the God of the philosophers. That's just a ludicrous suggestion. The basic issues that the philosophical mystics who devised the Nicene Creed were trying to wrap their heads around were the relation of God the Father to God the Son, and the relation of God to Man in Jesus, and in the Church. These relations of love were and are the spring of the whole theological enterprise of the Church, and of her ancient monastic traditions. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been wholly dedicated to loving adoration of God the Father, under the aegis of that philosophical theology developed by the Nicene Fathers and their heirs.

Bruce Charlton said...

@"Relationality is not the opposite of the God of the philosophers. That's just a ludicrous suggestion."

Not literally 'the opposite' - but it is not ludicrous. It is an astute piece of noticing that there is something bizarre about the way the subject of God was/is so often approached - which (to common sense) is in stark contrast with the Bible.

It is interesting that the only thriving branches of Western mainstream Christianity is the broadly 'evangelical' type of Protestantism - where a personal relationship with Jesus is so very dominant in the conversion experience.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ads - I would not want anything I said to be seen as hostility to Orthodoxy. Anyone who finds a good home in a Christian denomination nowadays should stick with it! (Even when the denomination is overall/ on average pseudo/anti-Christian - like The Episcopal Church.)

My personal reasons for not becoming Orthodox were severalfold, and varying in apparent seriousness - in no particular order. Distance/ infrequency of attendance; schism within the Russian church overseas; an ineradicable sense of Orthodoxy being an alien foreign import - which made it feel on the one hand excitingly exotic but on the other hand it felt phoney for this Englishman; plus a growing sense that Orthodoxy only really works in Orthodox societies (under an Orthodox monarch, or at least where the social structures are Orthodox).

And also I gradually recognized that Mormonism was true and came to understand what it was - and then I came to love the LDS Church.

The 'interaction' you speak of is real - but is not inter-personal. I have never been inside a Mormon Church and have no 'real life' Mormon friends or contacts (only by internet/ e-mail - and I do greatly value these).

This is, more or less, how it happened (I did have a period in the middle of Orthodoxy and Mormonism of again trying to make Anglicanism work for me by an intense but selective engagement with its extremes of Catholic and Evangelical)

- but I hope nobody gets the idea that I am putting myself forward as any kind of Christian example to others; because my current and recent situation is only-just-satisfactory and severely sub-optimal!