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On Doing Theology: Insight from Augustine

June 26, 2007

As finite formulators of truth, theologians (anyone who seeks to think God’s thoughts after him) are forced to nurture their understanding of God within a limited span of time. How each theologian uses his or her time is a personal decision. Personal, finite encounters with a three-personed, infinite and omniscient God require humility and faith.

Theologizing requires humility of heart because in order to understand God, we need his help. Exercise of the intellect apart from dependence upon the One ‘from whom are all things’, renders the theologian philosopher, one who seeks wisdom without seeking the wise One. Such contemptuous disrespect for the God of truth characterized St. Augustine’s pre-conversion search for rational certainty. Resistant to the inspiring preaching of Ambrose, Augustine desired certainty for the things he could not see, the kind of certainty that accompanies the equation of 7+3=10.In reflection upon this memory he writes: “By believing I could have been healed so that my mind’s clearer sight would be directed in some way to your truth, which endures forever and is lacking in nothing.Augustine distilled this realization into the oft quoted phrase, fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding.”

Faith is the flipside of Godward humility and the healing hand for true theology. However, faith in God does not reduce God’s immensity to comprehensibility. More to the point, Colin Gunton writes, “God is incomprehensible in not being graspable; but not incomprehensible in the sense of being entirely beyond our understanding.” As a result, theologians are humbly and delightfully called to plow the fields of Scripture and culture, pressing into God by faith and by reason.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    June 26, 2007 8:00 pm

    “Faith is the flipside of Godward humility” – I don’t understand what you mean, a little help?

  2. June 26, 2007 8:45 pm

    To be humble is to have faith in his unsurpassed greatness and power. It is not to be confused with lowliness…make sense? Perhaps there is a better way to say it…

  3. sam permalink
    June 27, 2007 12:15 am

    it’s a tough line to walk between comprehensibility (i.e. rational) and transcendence of God. on the one hand, there’s no question that God is bigger than anything we can wrap our minds around. on the other hand, we cannot blindly apply transcendence to anything we don’t understand in order to accept it, as extremist Muslims have done to justify violence and as some really crazy “prophetic” or “apostolic” “prophets” claim is behind reportedly miraculous appearances of feathers and gold flakes.

    the Pope leans towards rationalism, and so do I, and I’m sure both of us understand the immensity of God. I worry about whether my mind is overruling my faith, or vice-versa, when I read about happenings in the prophetic/apostolic movements, which are quite popular with people i know in Austin.

  4. Sara permalink
    June 27, 2007 6:50 pm

    yeah, I kind of get it – thanks!

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