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“God Talk” and the Problem of Otherness

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
April 21, 2021 12:01 am

“God Talk” and the Problem of Otherness

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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April 21, 2021 12:01 am

If God were completely different from us, it would be impossible for us to describe Him. Today, R.C. Sproul looks at the problem of otherness in the theology of Karl Barth.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind. God is God and we are not, how can he reveal anything, through any means to us if there's absolutely no point of contact between us. If we are utterly dissimilar beings. What possible ground of communication could there be a good question. Philosophers and theologians. It wasn't good for ages 20th century theologian Carl board said that God is holy. Other than us meeting that there is no point of similarity between God and man than what are we to do with the fact that we are created in God's image today on Renewing Your Mind. RC Sproul continues his series on classical apologetics by proving that God made us with the ability to know and continue now with our examination of apologetics and were looking at the crisis in language with respect to God talk and in our last session I talked about the problem that pantheism posed for meaningful discourse about God and we saw the reaction in the 20th century. In an attempt to reconstruct the supernatural, and we saw the introduction of this concept that God was holy.

Other. This was popularized by the theologian Karl Barth, who also gave a massive critique in his lifetime against what's called natural theology which is an attempt to learn something about God from deductions drawn from nature.

Barth was opposed to the intrusion into theology of categories of reason. He's one who, as we mentioned before, with respect to the law of non-contradiction said that unless a Christian or until a Christian is able to affirm both poles of a contradiction, that person has not yet reached maturity. I would revise that inside one a person is able to firm both poles of a contradiction, that person has finally reached insanity but in any case, in his antipathy against reason and against natural theology. He also leveled a radical assault against a concept that was deeply rooted in Christian history, particularly as it was articulated by St. Thomas Aquinas, which concept is called the analog he dentists. Now this Latin phrase analog you and to this is a technical term but it's one that's critical for this whole discussion because what it means is analogy of being and Karl Barth, a pack that said that there is no analogy of being between God and man because God is holy.

Other he completely transcends us so that he's totally different from us another try to illustrate the problems that this poses for Christianity.

Let me tell the story.

My favorite illustration. This of an experience I had several years ago in Canada where I was talking with the faculty of a particular Institute there that opposed natural theology and rationality and saw in my theology too heavy of a dependence on St. Thomas Aquinas on Aristotle on logic and the like. And while we were having this discussion, they made the statement to me. I was speaking by myself, with their entire faculty in one of the leading theologian said to me we have a problem with your view of natural theology, and so on. Because we believe that God is holy. Other I said okay. If God is holy other.

How do you know anything about it and he immediately responded. Just as Karl Barth had responded earlier that we know God, not through rational speculation or deduction but we know him through revelation that this transcendent God reveals himself to us and I said well again how this he reveal himself to us and they responded by saying what he reveals himself to us through history, through the Bible and preeminently through Christ.

I said I don't think that I'm getting through to you people. Maybe I'm just inarticulate and not framing the question the way I ought to what I'm trying to get from you is how a being who is completely different for me, for whom there is no analogy of being between me and this being how he can communicate anything to me about himself.

How can he reveal anything, through any means to us if there's absolutely no point of contact between us. If we are utterly dissimilar beings. What possible ground of communication could there be, and finally the lights came on and this theologian literally hit himself and afforded like that, and soon. Maybe I shouldn't of said that God is holy other supernatural right because as soon as you say that you open the door to the skeptic who comes in and says to you that your language about God is meaningless because the philosopher understands the point at which is making to you that if there is no similarity between God and man than there is no common ground.

No possible forum or Avenue of communication.

I may try to explain that further so you saw the movie years ago with Paul Newman and it called cool hand Luke where Luke was the Christ figure in the film. By the way somebody's creative imagination, but throughout the movie they had problems with her being in the chain gang and so on. And the statement was made. What we have here is a failure to communicate and it became one of the key lines in that movie. Well, what is necessary for communication is some common ground for people to have discussions if you go to a foreign land.

If you go to Russia and you don't know anything about the Russian language in the person you meet over there does nothing about the English language you have a hard time communicating think with a tiger hands and he can't draw pictures or anything you listen to the words and the words just sound like gibberish to you. And yet when two Russians talk with each other.

They know exactly what each one is saying because they both speak the same language.

While I say I speak the same language with you who are Americans that may or may not be true.

Remember Winston Churchill's comment that the Americans and the British are two people separated by a common language like that but I talked to you and I say that this man here in the front row is sitting on a chair and you I think have a pretty good understanding of what I mean by saying that he is sitting on a chair because you understand what the word chair refers to how do you understand the meaning of the word chair. I wonder how many thousands, maybe millions of chairs you've seen in your lifetime.

And every time you've seen objects such as these chairs in this room. You register in your mind a relationship between this object and its function in that little English word CH a R you develop an idea as Plato regarded it of chair nests from all these experiences of particular chairs that you have so that your understanding of the meaning of the word chair is based in the final analysis of your particular experience of chairs now know two people in this room have had exactly the same personal experience with chairs your experience with chairs is different from my your much younger than I am and I assume that you seem far less chairs than I have. You live in a different time where the styles of chair change from decade to decade than their chairs unfamiliar with from the 40s and 50s that you may not even recognize a chair and so have a different background of experience of that word.

So when I say chair you hear chair you hear something different from what I'm saying because your understanding of the word chair is derived from your personal experience of church and my understanding of chairs is derived from my personal experience of chairs and if those experiences are different. To the extent to which they are different. There's miscommunication or differing assumptions.

However, our experience of chairs is so overwhelmingly similar that we are still even though we don't have an exact one to one correspondence of experience with respect to the word chair.

The similarities of our experience of chairs are so close to one another so carefully approximated each other that any difference in understanding of the meaning of the term chair is infinitesimal and in this case, irrelevant.

You know what I mean when I say chair so that we can carry on a meaningful dialogue and we can have a meaningful conversation where you basically understand what I'm saying and I understand your signal the other day I was talking at the conference about divine transcendence and immanence in one of the peoples in this room right now not going identify thought that she heard me say something when I was talking about eminence. She thought she heard me say M&Ms and that I was talking about the candy that melts in your mouth rather than your fingers. Why was that miscommunication possible because how many times did she ever heard the term eminence from a philosophical or theological perspective probably never before that day. She had no experience of that word that her experience of it the first time she heard it was not all that dissimilar from mine. The first time I heard it when I spit my soup out on a table and not of been better off if I would've heard the professor say M&Ms than what I actually and so when you get more esoteric words.

Stranger words less frequently used terms then that whole complex of familiarity begins to fall away and then we have difficulty communicating. As you may not know what I'm talking about.

If I use technical terms that are not common, everyday terms that everybody else uses so we understand how language can fall down and break down when our familiarity with the words were using with each other also breaks the what does that have to do with God and apologetics. Again, if God is completely different from us. Then we have no common ground, a common familiarity and anything that he says to us about himself has no relationship to us if he's totally different if he says I'm omnipotent and we say will wait a minute. I understand something about omnipotence, I've never encountered an omnipotent being. But that word omnipotence. I can parse it and see that it means all-powerful and power is a word.

I do understand because we exercise power. Our power is limited, but even though I have never experience unlimited power, I can at least imagine what unlimited power might be like because I see gradations of power in this world where I live, and so when God reveals to us that he is powerful.

I have some concept of power fullness, so that when he speaks to me and says that these powerful I have a point of contact with, but that's only if there is some sense in which he is like me and I am like you not let me back up a little bit. The little history lesson.

This issue of the meaningfulness and adequacy of human language to talk about a transcendent holy God was not invented in the 20th century. This issue went way back in the history of theoretical thought it was a question. The St. Thomas Aquinas had to deal with as he was an apologist in his era, and Aquinas distinguished among three kinds of language.

Three kinds of descriptive language which I'm gone over in other courses at legionnaire but will look at it again here, he distinguished among first of all, you know, vocal or univocal language.

Second of all he talked about the equivocal bowl language or equivocal, and third analogical.

What is the difference among these three unit vocal language is language that describes things between two parties and an exact one that one identification that if, for example, my understanding of chair were exactly your understanding of chair we would have unit vocal communication one sound right. It's exactly the same identical equivocal language is language where the meaning of the term changes dramatically in the course of the conversation I illustrate this when I teach logic to my seminary students and teach them the fallacy of equivocation and I show them the fallacy of equivocation by proving that cats have nine tails remember the time I prove to Roger that cats have 92 were to do it again. My first premise of my syllogism is this has eight tales greater that Roger never seen a cat with a tales are.

They will only prove to you that cats have nine tails. No cat has a tales right now.

Here's my question. If I have two boxes appear and one box has a cat in it and the other box is empty and in the box here and talk to the cat in it. Here now and test your knowledge of arithmetic and mathematics.

How many more cats are in this box. Roger that are in this box. One, thank you very much. How many more cats tails are in this box. But in this book one, and how many cats are in this box. Zero I got no cat in this box and one cat in this box right so I have one more detail in this box and I have in this box. So I say here one cat has one more tail than what this is just simple matter of deduction. If no cat has a tales and one cat has one more tail. The then how many tales does one cat to a day ride.

Taking one makes one nine so one cat than the conclusion by resistance logic is that one cat has nine tails now. I tricked you and what was the trick. What happened in this line of reasoning the meaning of this term changes in the middle of the discussion. It means something completely different here that it means here and that's called the fallacy of equivocation illustrated this way a man goes to a theater to hear dramatic reading because back in the theater not say how was the dramatic reading and he says to me, it was a bald narrative, bald narrative, you mean the speaker in every here and said no that's not what you would understand in the main, you would understand in the main, that there was something lacking, perhaps some expressiveness or some punch or a lawn in the reading that Harry possess and so we say it was bald. That's called an equivocal use of the term ball were normally when we use the term baldly mean the absence of hair from the head, but then we stretch it out way away from its original meaning to apply to a narrative, and here the meaning of the term changes dramatically so the difference between equivocal and equivocal is the unit vocal language has a very tight close similarity of meaning and exactitude and equivocal language is where the meanings change radically from person to person, but Aquinas said there is a middle ground of language which is analogical in the definition of analogical is that the meaning of the term changes proportionately to the difference in the beings that are being described said again that the meaning of a term changes proportionately to the difference in the beings that are being described in illustrate that demagogue was a dog to dog a good dog.

I have a good dog now and he tells me that his dog is a good dog is at main your dog has a highly developed sense of categorical imperative and acutely sensitive conscience about right and wrong is after me know.

You don't think the jerk dog sits around and worries about ethical propositions when you said your dog is good. You mean that he comes when you call his housebroken right it doesn't bite the mailman and the like.

Now if I say that Fred here is a good guy do I mean by that. He comes when I call him. His housebroken and he doesn't bite the mailman on the life though obviously I mean something burn when I say that Fred is good from what I mean when I say my dog or your dog is good because goodness changes with respect to the difference of the beings here and then we go and we speak of the goodness of God, not God's goodness is like ours, but it's not identical. It's even higher. It's even better. His goodness has no defects were our goodness is filled with the facts. So even though when I say that God is good. I'm not using the term good in the unit vocal sense I'm using it in an analogical sense. Nevertheless, it's meaningful and it's made meaningful biblically because God creates us in his image that he makes us with the likeness so that God in creation gives to us the very grounds and possibility for us to have meaningful communication that we can understand this force.

God gave us language and infused it with meaning that he communicated with us through Scripture, and he also gave us the word that is Christ, he became flesh and dwelt among us, when a helpful message today from Dr. RC scroll you're listening to Renewing Your Mind.

I'm really well, but I'm glad you could be with us this week were featuring RC series defending your faith in these helping us apply reason to our faith if you listen to this program for any length of time, you're probably serious about sharing your faith with others, and that we think the series is a helpful resource is 32 video messages on 11 DVDs and would like to send it to you for your donation of any amount to look at your ministries. You can reach us by phone with your gift at 800-435-4343 or if you prefer, you can find us online at Renewing Your There's no question that high school and college students are taking the brunt of the cultural onslaught against Christianity, and that's why we think this is such a helpful series for them. Each video messages less than 30 minutes long so it's a perfect format for classroom setting.

So again request defending your faith by Dr. RC Sproul when you contact us today with your donation of any about our web address again is Renewing Your Mind.organ or phone number 800-435-4343. There are many people today who reject Christianity because they claim there are contradictions in the Bible.

How do you respond to them tomorrow. Dr. scroll continuous series by showing us the distinction between contradiction and paradox, so I hope you'll join us Thursday for Renewing Your Mind

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