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Language for God and Pluralism

Is all language for God just analogy?

I’ve be re-reading for the third time (I think) parts of Shirley Gutherie’s “Christian Doctrine” in preparation for m theology ordination exam this Friday. I’m particularly focusing on a few of his chapters, mainly the areas of theology where I feel a little less comfortable, mainly the attributes of God (not the persons and being of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit but God as creator, redeemer, sustainer, omnipresent, sovereign, etc) and the doctrine of creation. In his chapter on the attributes of God Gutherie, who has since passed on and awaits the final resurrection, makes the point that all language for God is analogy and anthropomorphic.

In one respect, I understand and agree with Gutherie. After all, we are human and we cannot comprehend nor explain the being and attributes of God. As Paul says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33, ESV). So certainly I am not arguing that we can completely explain God, or that phrases such as “God in three persons” are explanations in an off themselves. But, can we really speak about God? Can we really make statements about God, or are we left just guessing? To Gutherie’s credit, he doesn’t do this, his chapter continues with an explanation of the doctrine of God based on scripture. What he does is what T.F. Torrance refers to as the second level of the Doctrine of God. The first level is that which God has directly revealed. In other words, what is explicitly said; “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” or “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and all things were created through him.” The second level takes what is implicit in scripture and makes is explicit. For example, based on the totality of scripture the Nicene Creed says that the son is of the same substance as the Father. While this isn’t explicit in scripture, since the word homousios never occurs, it is implicit and the Nicene Creed makes it explicit.

What I have noticed is that today in Christian theology, in the name of pluralism we’ll talk about “One God, many voices” and reduce God down to a lowest common denominator that allows us to participate in interfaith worship and dialogue. This sadly is far too common, as I have seen Christian-Buddhist worship services and prayers to Allah being offered at Presbytery meetings. As you might be able to tell, I’m not a pluralist. I, rather am an inclusivist. Last spring I preached on John 4:6-30 for my homiletics class. During my many readings of that chapter I was struck by a line from the mouth of God himself, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” He then continues by saying that from now on people will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. But here’s my question, was the worship of the Samaritan people, although they worshipped what they did not know, illegitimate? Jesus doesn’t say explicitly but I think the same could be said today for religions other than Christianity[1]. After all, there is only one God to be worshipped, so could it be the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists[2] don’t worship false God, but rather one they don’t know. This is without a doubt an arrogant claim to make but none the less one that seems to have biblical precedent (or I could be grossly over-interpreting that verse).

I don’t know how this post ended up discussing pluralism but it did. Any thoughts?


[1] I will make a note here that Judaism is the one religion that I am not sure about its relationship to the Christian faith, because many regard the Jews as the older brother of the Christians. I also want to affirm that the Covenant of Abraham is still valid. Basically what I’m saying is I’m confused and avoiding the point since I don’t know what my thoughts are on the subject exactly.

[2] I recognize that there is no more uniformity in these faiths than there are is Christianity so I making a vast generalization here.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. jer
    August 23, 2005 at 4:19 am

    I am not generally a fan of theology, especially large theological works, because I think you are on very thin ice when you begin to attempt to describe the that which cannot be described in details. That being said, if you go too far the other way and water down truth to be meaningless you are really nowhere. I guess I would say that both over theology and extreme relativism and the same thing: ways of protecting ourselves from the true complexity, dangers, and impossible to describe nature of reality.

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