I understand the importance that the modern church is placing upon the mystery of God and His truth. I realize that the church has fought so many battles on the island of modernism that it began to embrace the methodology, ethos, and assumptions that made modernism dangerous and antithetical in many ways to the Christian worldview. Apophatic theology (theology that emphasizes mystery) has gained a well deserved and needed place within our “emerging” system of theological development.

While I look at these changes as advancement, there is always a warning that follows. We are reactionary beings. We see abuses and we go to the opposite extreme to correct these abuses. Unfortunately, I believe that we are currently moving in the direction of sacrificing an essential element in our theological methodology.

Logic and reason are not too highly favored in today’s postmodern thinking. In particular, foundationalism and all its parts are finding disfavor among some of the leaders of the emerging church. Foundationalism is best defined as the system of epistemology (how we know) that holds to certain foundational assumption that makes knowledge possible. These foundational assumptions are those that have traditionally been thought of as self-evident truths.

One foundational truth that is held by most people innately is called the law of non-contradiction. Formerly stated, this “law” says that A cannot equal non-A in the same time and the same relationship. In other words, something cannot be what it is and what it is not at the same time and in the same respect. For example, I cannot go to bed tonight at 2am and not go to bed tonight at 2am so long as both propositions have the same meaning. Theologically, we would say that God cannot be eternal and not eternal at the same time and the same relationship.

This is not rocket science and most of you are saying to yourselves, “no doh!” But the difficulty is when we begin to distrust or discredit this basic assumption in favor of mystery and our newly discovered commitment to apophadic theology. Many people believe that in order to truly worship God, we must understand Him as a mystery that is beyond our comprehension. I agree with this so long as it is rightly defined. But the next step for some is to say that the foundational assumptions that we used to bring to the table of knowledge, including the law of non-contradiction, need to be sacrificed when we come to the table of God. It is with this I disagree, believing that it takes apophatic theology to an unnatural, unnecessary, and ultimately destructive end.

One Christian teacher of theology that I know describes an incident where his theology professor said that true learning about God cannot be attained until we learn to embrace both poles of a contradiction. In other words, true learning cannot be attained until we are willing to let go of the foundational assumption of the law of non-contradiction, allowing God to transcend this unnecessary barrier. While this sounds noble and intellectually humble, I believe that if we follow this advice of doing away with the law of non-contradiction we will lose any ability and reason to trust God. God makes promises and expects us to trust not only that He is able to communicate these promises to us coherently, but also that they are stable and reliable. But if God transcends the law of non-contradiction, then His nature necessitates that He is beyond making promises that can be relied upon. If God says that He is A, according to those who would deny the law of non-contradiction with respect to Him, He really could be non-A at the same time and the same relationship. If God says He loves us, then how can we rely upon this if love and hate (A and non-A) have no real distinction with reference to God. If God says He is coming back for His church (A), from His standpoint He may not be coming back for His church at all (non-A). And since He is God, we must embrace this mystery as a glorious part of our worship to God?

Isn’t this what the snake told Eve in Eden? “Has God really said that you should not eat of any tree of the Garden? [A], God has not said this [non-A].” If we were to follow this way of thinking, we would have to say that Eve was simply doing what was necessary to truly honor God by disbelieving and disobeying His commandment.

I understand the church’s need to embrace mystery, but we must not do so at the expense of revelation. If God is God, and if He is smart and capable, He can communicate clearly when He so chooses. While there are many things that He has chosen to keep in shrouds of mystery, there are many more things that He has chosen to reveal. His revelation is not beyond our comprehension and our epistemology cannot be structured in such a way where it allows for contradiction in God. This was the first sin. Let us learn from this mistake and not relive it.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

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