The End of Theology

Theology, theo, referring to God, and logiā, referring to a word, speech or analogy, is, lit., the study of God; and theology is the highest science. This bare fact is due primarily to the immediate object of this science -- God. We cannot attain any higher study than the study of God. Those who think of theology as dry or boring cannot help but consider God dry and boring. Mining the depths of the Word of God, in order to better comprehend and love God, is a reward in and of itself. The end, or goal, of theology is the knowledge and universal promotion of the glory of God and the benefit of all who engage the science.

If studying God, working in theology, serves any other purpose than to know God more richly, deeply, causing us to sing the high praises of God, as Arminius states, then they study in vain who exert so much energy and waste so much time merely in proving their own theories by proof-texting a systematic theology. The work of theology for Arminius, though rewarding and enlightening, also pertains to "the life that is spiritual and supernatural [and] has an End beyond the boundaries of the present life."1 Such extends to the glorifying of the eternal God in heaven; meaning, all who engage in theology receive eternal benefits.

Moreover, the initial and fundamental reason why Arminians defend what we perceive to be a biblical theology is because we think we are perceiving God aright, and that our immediate theological opponents, namely Calvinists, are misrepresenting His holy and just character and nature. We think that the character of God is so maligned within a Calvinistic proposal that we debate and challenge and refute Calvinism as a system. Granted, we also challenge Open Theists, Unitarians, Atheists as well as others whom we think, perhaps even inadvertently, distort the nature of God, including His attributes and matters related to His existence. But because Calvinism, as a system, is so closely related to Arminianism, as a system, Calvinism typically becomes our primary focus theologically and soteriologically.

Furthermore, theology also informs the manner in which we conduct our lives. If we perceive of God as merely grace and love, without justice and holiness, we may live sinful and ungodly, a manner which would not please the Lord. If we perceive of God as rigid and legalistic, without grace and mercy, we may live self-righteous and ungodly still, a manner which would not please the Lord. The apostle Paul commands us, "Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord." (Eph. 5:10) Neglecting this command, as any other command, is sin.



Arminius insists that the Author and Object of our theology, as an existential tripartite divine being, is also the End of theology: "For since the Author is the First and Chief Being, it is of necessity that He be the First and Chief Good." Notice that the goodness of God is an assumed characteristic in Arminius' theology. One can hardly blame him for this assumption (cf. Ps. 25:8; 34:8; 54:6; 69:16; 86:5; 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 119:68; 135:3; 136:1). Indeed, the LORD "is good to all." (Ps. 145:9) Arminius continues:
He is therefore the extreme End [or the Goal, the Apex] of all things. And since He, the Chief Being and the Chief Good, subjects, lowers, and spreads Himself out, as an object to some power or faculty of a rational creature, that by its action or motion it may be employed and occupied concerning Him, nay, that it may in a sense be united with Him, it cannot possibly be that the creature, after having performed its part respecting that object, should fly beyond it and extend itself further for the sake of acquiring a greater good.2
Hence we can attain no higher good than studying and examining, to say nothing of loving and worshiping, the Chief Good -- God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit; and if we attempt to aim at another or any perceived higher good than the Chief Good we will inevitably and rightly fail.

Moreover, if we attempt to aim for the Chief Good by any other means than seeking His glory and to know Him more intimately, we do so in vain. Because God's End and Good are of an infinite degree of value then one can neither wish nor be capable of desiring any good beyond or above Him. "God is therefore the End of our Theology, proposed by God Himself in the acts prescribed in it; intended by [men and women] in the performance of those actions, and to be bestowed by God, after [they] shall have piously and religiously performed [that] duty,"3 insists Arminius. In other words, God rewards those who diligently study Him. All of God's children, even all of creation, is welcomed by God to study His being, existence, nature and character.

Further still, since the Chief Good Himself is not so placed in time or space merely as a theoretical promise, or a desire of obtaining, "but of actually receiving" Him, the end of theology "may with the utmost propriety be called the union of God with man." (emphasis original) By this concept Arminius does not mean that humanity and God are "compacted together or joined into one, or as that by which [someone] might himself be absorbed into God," as some Eastern religions maintain. But this union is "an objective union, by which God, through the agency of His pre-eminent and most excellent faculties and actions . . . give such convincing proofs of Himself to man that God may then be said to be 'all in all' (1 Cor. 15:28)."4 In this we recall the words of St Paul, teaching us of this very truth, that God grants us convincing proofs:
All who are led by God's Spirit are God's sons and daughters. You didn't receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, "Abba, Father." The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God's children. But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God's heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:14, 15, 16, 17 CEB)
God, uniting Himself to His people, is "the best action" by which He "affords Himself to be seen, loved and enjoyed in such an abundant measure as agrees with the creature dilated and expanded" in heart and mind. "This is therefore the most glorious of God's actions. Wherefore the End of Theology is the union of God with man, to the salvation of the one and the glory of the other -- and to the glory which He declares by His act, not that glory which man ascribes to God when he is united to Him."5 How then shall we respond to this immeasurable, unfathomable, inestimable goodness, love, and grace of God to us in Christ through His Spirit? Arminius concludes: "Yet it cannot be otherwise than that [men and women] should be incited to sing forever the high praises of God when [they behold and enjoy] such large and overpowering goodness."6 Plum the depths and climb the heights of God this year by studying God aright.

__________

1 Jacob Arminius, "Oration II. The Author and the End of Theology," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 1:361.

2 Ibid., 1:361-62.

3 Ibid., 1:362.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 1:364.

6 Ibid.

0 comments:

Post a Comment

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

My photo

My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.