What if the Above comes from Below?

When you study theology and get down into its bowels, you discover a debate between “Theology from Above” versus “Theology from Below.” Theology From Below means exploring our spiritual intuitions/feelings about God, and using those insights to construct our theology.  Theology From Above means listening for revelation from God, a voice outside ourselves telling us things we wouldn’t know otherwise.

The Trinity and Humanity community is mostly a Theology-from-Above kind of group.  We draw a lot of inspiration from Karl Barth, who, when approached with Theology-from-Below, replied with his famous: “NEIN!!!!

And I am really a Theology-from-Above kind of guy.  If God is real, then revelation is absolutely necessary for us to have any knowledge of God.  If I want to know about something other than myself, I have to look outside myself to learn about it.  If I want to know my dog, I have to go hang out with my dog; it would be silly to try and get to know my dog by contemplating my inner feelings about dogness.

In one part of his fantastic “Big Picture” series of lectures, Baxter Kruger recounts Friedrich Schleiermacher’s attempts at Theology-from-Below, and Baxter says something like “Schleiermacher was looking into his heart, which was good in that it got him out of his head. But he was looking into the wrong heart!”  Real theology looks into the heart of CHRIST, the one and only point of union and togetherness between God and humanity.

This makes oodles of sense to me.  This is why Theology-from-Above is my true home. But here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately:

Where does the heart of the incarnate Christ reside?

It resides in my heart.

And in yours.

And in the heart of every human who has ever lived.

Where does our Theology-From-Above come from?  How does it arrive?  Do we see it by looking up?  I would argue that we see it by looking down.  Isn’t that the scandal of Christmas — that our From-Above God comes to us from below?  From oh-so-human places like mangers? And from oh-so-human cities like Nazareth?

So here’s what I’m thinking…

Every human being has a [limited] ability to recognize Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  When we recognize these things, what’s really going on is that we are seeing creation move in harmony with the Great Dance of the Trinity.  But the only reason we recognize the Dance is that we already know the Dance, or rather, Christ-in-Us knows the Dance.  We know Goodness, Truth, and Beauty not because the human heart innately knows these things without revelation from God, but precisely because God has already made himself known in the One who now lives in us.

It is because of Christ that Beauty haunts every one of us.

It is because of Christ that my Theology-from-Above comes to me From-Below.

What this means is that my non-Christian neighbors have a lot more contact with God than they realize.

  • Every time my Atheist friend feels strong devotion to the Truth…
  • Every time my Buddhist friend enjoys the Goodness of compassion…
  • Every time my Druid friend exults in the Beauty of nature…

… they are touching Theology that has come to us all from Above.

My efforts at engaging my non-Christian friends with the Gospel involves a lot of talking with them about Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  So it can look like Theology-from-Below.  But it’s only because down there is where my Theology-from-Above lives.

4 comments so far

  1. Jonathan Stepp on

    Wow! This is the best short treatment of this subject I’ve ever read. Well said, John.

  2. iamjean9 on

    LOVE this, John – well articulated. Resonating!


  3. Jeff S on

    Beautiful, engaging, and truthful. Thank you. How relieving it is to finally understand the gospel.

  4. Thanks for the kind words, friends. My journey through this minefield of ideas has honestly been pretty nerve-wracking and fraught with doubt. The affirmation feels nice!

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