On the Dynamic Nature of God

As Athanasius used it in these ways, physis had an overall slant deriving from the Christian understanding of God in his active relation to the world he has created and continues to sustain by his creative presence within it. It has a distinctively dynamic rather than a static sense, for the old Greek idea of an unchanging nature known only through static patterns and immutable relations (e.g. in classical mathematics or geometry) is set aside. Physis describes actual reality which confronts us in its own independent being, and which is known in accordances with its own inherent force or natural force in virtue of which it continues to be what it actually and properly is. This concrete use of physis as synonymous with what a thing actually and essentially is, with reality, understandably excludes any abstract notion of physis as signifying some general or universal ‘nature’, and so it operates outwith the orbit of the Aristotelian distinction between primary and secondary ousia. To know God kata physin, in accordance with his own nature, is to know him under th eimpact of his distinctively divine energeia, that is, to know him through a living empirical relation determined by theopoiesis. Thus Athanasius insisted that theologia and theosebeia, theology and godliness, belong inseparably together: for genuine knowledge of God arises only within an intellectual experience of his transcendent reality and majesty, and is maintained in the continuous context of worship, prayer, holiness and godly living. That is to say, God being God, the empirical and the theoretical, the religious and the theological, are ultimately and finally indivisible in our experience and knowledge of him.

T. F. Torrance, Divine Meaning (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 211-212.

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12 thoughts on “On the Dynamic Nature of God

  1. Ryan,
    This is a wonderful bridge to build. I think this is something of what I am trying to get at in a blog post I am working on right now. I was frustrated with a delimiting of God’s nature and revelation by reducing the text of Scripture to propositions “behind” the text (i.e. timeless truths). It was my experience of being overwhelmed by the glory of the starry night sky that led to my frustration…

    • You could check out Torrance’s book form the library (that’s where I got it). It’s a bit long, but the chapter from which I took this quote was good and worth reading.

      Does this mean you are no longer a presuppositionalist? 🙂

      • Yes, please to the book.

        I am actually working on a post about my misgivings…I am having a hard time articulating it exactly, but the nature of the problem stems from some sort epistemological confusion (and how epistemology relates to ontology, etc.).

      • Have you been able to sit down with some of your Presupp profs and hash some of these problems out? To tell the truth, I wouldn’t mind sitting in on such a conversation, though I foresee other responsibilities making such a meeting difficult to set up.

        I look forward to your post. It’s still something that I need to work out on my own, but it’s easier if someone else does it for me.

  2. No, Ryan, I have not had a chance to do that. I think it would be helpful to a point. What I should do is have my prof look over some of the Torrance articles in addition to some questions I have about presupp because that’s part of how I’ve come to have my misgivings.

  3. If ontology followed epistemology then we would all have to be some version of reformed-Kantians, and there are very good reasons not to go that way. I don’t completely understand what is meant by presuppositionalism, although I can make a rough guess.

    • Presuppositionalism is a popular apologetic of Reformed and conservative evangelicals. Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark were the ones who started it and modern proponents include Reformed theologians such as John Frame. Of course, I know all of these names mean nothing to you. 🙂 I’m not sure exactly how to describe presup as I don’t understand it very well myself.

      I defer you, then, to the infallible and inerrant source of all knowledge: Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositional_apologetics

      • Presuppositionalism attempts to pick up on Kant’s transcendental kind of argument by moving the unbeliever to the point of recognizing that their own knowledge is completely groundless if God (in particular the Christian God) does not exist. Knowledge is not possible if God is not God, if God does not exist, if God is not a God of order. If Christianity isn’t true, then logic is completely presumptuous – it presumes an inherent rationality in the universe that on naturalistic terms cannot be demonstrated. So far, I’m pretty much in agreement. However, the presuppositional method also heavily emphasizes the noetic effects of sin (i.e. the impact of our corrupt nature on our ability to come to truthful conclusions). You may be able to predict where this is going. Because of the effects of sin, natural theology or coming to God or truths about God with reason alone is not possible (at least apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit and Scripture as starting points). It gets better, too. The presupp method posits that Scripture (i.e. the Protestant Bible) is THE standard for rationality. They argue that it is the unarguable postulate – the starting point for all knowledge. How do they demonstrate this? From the Bible, because it is the only infallible starting point. After all, all worldviews start with an unarguable axiom – the presupps just happen to pick theirs (probably because of the illumination of the Spirit guiding them to this truth). Rationalists must start with the axiom: All things that are true are rational. But is this rationally demonstrable? The empiricist: All things that are true must be sensible. But can we sense this axiom? The most common objection to the presupp is that they use circular reasoning in using the Bible to prove the Bible’s authority. The presupp will often say the greatest problem with the unbeliever is not intellectual, but moral. The moral choice to reject God in unbelief leads to the inability to be rational, except inasmuch as they implicitly and unknowingly accept the Christian WV (Rom 1).

        Chew on that and keep in mind I have misgivings.

  4. I can agree with God being the ground of all rationality, but I just can’t buy the Bible as the standard of rationality because the Bible itself points beyond itself to God, who is the standard of all rationality. They confuse the sign with the referent and thus turn the Bible into a superstitious idol. I also can’t see how they can avoid putting epistemology before ontology, which, as Sam noted, can only lead to relativism.

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