Archetypal knowledge of God is that knowledge by which God perfectly knows himself. Neither finitude nor sin limits him. He knows all things. Most centrally, God fully knows himself. Ectypal knowledge is that understanding we have of God by means of his self-revelation, which is most clearly stated in Scripture and has its high point in the incarnation of the Word… On the one hand, there is the imperfect theology of pilgrims (theologia viatorum) who walk the path of faith and hope; on the other hand, there is the unblemished theology of the blessed (theologia beatorum) who are now with God in glory… Our knowledge of God and our theological reflections are unavoidably finite, derivative and under development… Much of the historical commentary on cognitive limits in theology has been guided by reflections on Exodus 33:17–23. In this passage, Moses asks to see God’s glory, which God allows by showing the leader of Israel his back. Since Moses could not see God’s pure majesty and live, he protects Moses from the unmediated glory of his face. John Owen (1616–83), one of the finest theologians England ever produced, found this passage helpful in framing the theological endeavor. Although Owen believed that his life was well spent by devoting his energy to proclaiming the truths of God, he was also quick to acknowledge the infinite gap between his understanding and God’s reality. Drawing from Exodus 33–34, Owen concludes: ‘We speak much of God… the truth is, we know very little of him.’ He later adds, ‘We may love, honour, believe, and obey our Father; and therewith he accepts our childish thoughts, for they are but childish. We see but his back parts.’ There will come a time when we see God ‘as he is,’ but that time is yet to come (1 Jn 3:2)… It is vital to recognize that one should not give up on theology because of our limitations, for our confidence ultimately rests on God, not on ourselves… All good and faithful theology comes from God, who is the ultimate theologian—the only one who can, without weakness or misunderstanding, speak of himself.
Kelly M. Kapic | A Little Book For New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 22–25.
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