20 CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE
CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEET #20
A DIFFERENT SORT OF KNOWING
The notion of "knowledge" of God, in both the Old and New Testaments, carries with it a strong experiential connotation and a profound sense of relationship. Consider the following references to "knowing" God found in these typical Old Testament texts – read them slowly and meditatively:
· "And those that know your name put their trust in you." (Psalm 9:10)
· "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)
· "‘You are my witnesses,’ says the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He.’" (Isaiah 43:10)
· "Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and the needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord." (Jeremiah 22:15-16)
ST PAUL AND CHRISTIAN "GNOSIS"
In the New Testament, St Paul represents a development of this same Old Testament understanding of "knowing" God. For example, in his letter to the Christian community in Philippi, St Paul speaks of his deep desire "to come to know him and the power of his resurrection." (3:10). A couple of verses later, in the same letter, Paul says he has been "taken hold of" by Christ, indicating that he is speaking of a radical life experience, one in which he is irrevocably drawn into relationship with God in Christ.
St Paul uses the Greek word gnosis when he speaks of "knowledge" and this is sometimes misunderstood to link him with Greek philosophers or the early Gnostics. Nothing could be further from the truth. Greek philosophy, up to that time, never gave this term any special importance or technical meaning. For St Paul this "knowledge" is part of putting on "the mind of Christ" (1Corinthians 2:16. See also Philippians 2:5: "Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus.") This is not the "knowing" of the philosopher (see 1Corinthinans 1:17-21). "To those who have been called", this is knowledge of "a Christ as both the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1Corinthians 1:24) Thus the Christians in Colossae are exhorted and warned:
As you received Jesus as Lord and Christ, now live your lives in him, be rooted in him and built up on him, held firm by the faith you have been taught, and overflowing with thanksgiving. Make sure that no one captivates you with the empty lure of a ‘philosophy’ of the kind that human beings hand on, based on the principles of this world and not on Christ. (2:6-8)
St Paul is certainly aware that this gnosis includes true information – true teaching – about Jesus. But it is much more than that. For St Paul, "to know Christ" is clearly a radical and dynamic relational thing. It is, in its fullness, identity; to know Christ Jesus is to be on the way to becoming one with Him. Because St Paul knows this oneness in his own life, and can say to the Christians of Galatia, "You are all one in Christ" (Galatians 3:29), and of himself, "I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20), his teaching is more than mere doctrine, though it includes much rich doctrine. The "knowledge" he passes on in his teaching and preaching by the grace of God is nothing less than a living and transforming relationship with God in Christ. To receive this "knowledge" is a life-altering experience because it is to receive the person of Jesus Christ himself into our lives.
We can point to at least four major historical influences that have profoundly affected our current understanding of, and approach to, Christian "knowledge":
· The emergence of the Schools in the 12th century – theology became a "science", more or less remote from lived experience and, over time, less able to facilitate a relationship with God;
· The Counter Reformation of the 16th century – when so much Catholic thinking was defensive and polemical; when theology was popularised and packaged in the simplified format of the questions and answers of the "catechisms" (first introduced by Martin Luther);
· The Enlightenment of the 18th century – when the hard sciences began to gain an ascendancy and there was a willingness to question old customs and practices, driven by a strong emphasis on human reason ("Sapere aude!" – "Dare to think!")
· The Post-modernity of the late 20th century – when the arrogance of the Enlightenment and its confidence in human reason were called into question; when there was a loss of a sense of the whole or of the possibility of ever encountering objective truth; when individualism and disconnectedness seem to have gained an ascendancy; when the search for spirituality intensified.
The foregoing is descriptive rather than definitive; it is meant to stimulate thoughtfulness about the way we think and about the way we might therefore appropriate – or fail to appropriate – the great Christian truths. (For those interested in pursuing further the historical influences, see Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, Ballantine Books, 1991.)
We find ourselves in a time of great dangers and great opportunities. Whether they be times in which we realise the opportunities or succumb to the dangers will, in great part, depend on how we deal with this issue of Christian "knowledge". Among other things, the following would seem to be urgent needs:
· Theology must recover its roots in spirituality – the theologian is, before anything else, a contemplative, a person who has an intimate and growing relationship with God in Christ;
· Solid scholarship must be brought to bear on the key questions facing us as a community of the baptised today – it is not true that everyone’s opinion is of equal value; there are some questions that demand special expertise, knowledge and training;
· The radical non-negotiability of the Gospels must be recognised and effectively embraced – in reading the Gospels, especially in the context of the community, we meet the Risen Lord; all else must be measured against the person and teaching of Jesus.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
Having reflected on one of the OT texts above, what do you think "knowledge" means there?
Which one of the references to St Paul caught your attention? Reflect.
What has been your childhood experience of Christian "knowledge"?
What has been your adult experience of Christian "knowledge"?
What steps are you taking now to increase your Christian "knowledge"?
In what sense do you understood the need for theology to recover its roots in spirituality?
Do you think everyone’s opinion on the truths of the Christian faith is of equal value? Reflect.
What do you think might be meant by "the radical non-negotiability of the Gospels"?
What would you say was the most important thing about your Christian "knowledge" now?
What has been the most valuable learning experience for you as a disciple of Jesus?