Analysis of Theological Concepts: A Methodological Sketch -- By: Robert D. Knudsen

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 40:2 (Spring 1978)
Article: Analysis of Theological Concepts: A Methodological Sketch
Author: Robert D. Knudsen

Analysis of Theological Concepts:
A Methodological Sketch

Robert D. Knudsen

[This article is based on a paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, meeting at Simpson College, San Francisco, December 26-28, 1977.]

“What was God doing before he created the world?” asks the skeptic. Calvin calls very shrewd the answer of the man who replied “that he had been making hell for over-curious men.”1 Augustine is more reserved, saying, “I answer not, as a certain person is reported to have done facetiously (avoiding the pressure of the question) ‘He was preparing hell’, said he, ‘for those who pry into mysteries’. For more willingly would I have answered, ‘I know not what I know not…’.”2 Both answers assume, however, that there are some questions one may not ask, some questions that are out of bounds, that transgress the limits of what is meaningful.

One might object that it is wrong to suppress any questions, that to do so is to impose an alien authority on the human mind, that this is both illegitimate and unproductive—illegitimate because it is destructive of man’s humanity, of which his rational powers are constitutive, and unproductive because the questions, though suppressed, will return and will undermine any dogmatic standpoint one has adopted.

It can be shown, however, that even those who argue that human questioning may not be limited do so on the basis of presuppositions. The claim to human autonomy implied in the above objection is meaningful only within a framework of presuppositions that cannot be derived from the idea of autonomy itself. In fact, it can be asserted that every position involves has

presuppositions, which, furthermore, are at bottom religious, involving an unquestioning allegiance to an ultimate commitment. One’s presuppositions will determine whether he will remain within the limits within which questioning is meaningful, or whether, transgressing them, he will lapse into meaninglessness.

To object across the board, therefore, to limiting the scope of questioning is to fail to take into account the limitations imposed by one’s own starting point. At issue, then, is not whether there will be a limit to questioning; it will be as to where this limitation falls. This, in turn, will he guided by the presuppositional framework within which one moves.

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We sketch the framework within which thinking is meaningful, that is, within which, centered in the Christian transcendence standpoint, it can come to its r...

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