God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture by Steven J. Duby. IVP Academic. 2019, 352 pp.
As Christians, knowledge of God is a topic that is fundamental to our theology and our outreach. This topic is of utmost importance. As Duby says “If we can expect to encounter genuine traces of the knowledge of God among those who do not know Christ or the Bible, if we can expect, even from within a thoroughly Christian view of God, some cognitive commensurability in the work of Christian witness, this can help to inform and encourage evangelism and missions”- pg 10. How does an infinite Being communicate to finite humans? According to Duby, one view on how we can have knowledge of God is driven by natural theology (knowledge of God apart from Scripture) or ‘metaphysics’ which impacts our reading of Scripture. Another view on how we can have knowledge of God is what is called “ the economy of salvation” which rules out natural theology and metaphysics altogether. Duby doesn’t think it is necessary to pit these two against each other. Duby thinks they “should be brought together and rightly ordered in a constructive account of the Christian practice of theologia taken in the strict sense of the word (discourse about the triune God in himself without primary reference to the economy) – pgs 5-6.
Duby sets out to discuss how whether we can know God as God is in Himself (the aseity of God). In theology, the aseity of God is His attribute of independent self-existence. The aseity of God means that God is the One in whom all other things find their source, existence, and continuance. God’s aseity assures us that His autonomy is absolute. He alone decides what to do, and nothing can ever thwart His purpose to keep His promises. Duby relies on Thomistic sources and Aquinas, who argued that we know God through both natural and supernatural revelation. But what about Karl Barth who argued that we know God only on the basis of the incarnation? As Duby notes, Barth dismissed natural theology as “a matter of seeking in vain a source of theological knowledge or a ‘knowability of God’ apart from the only true knowability of God in Jesus Christ” – pg 110. But as Duby also notes:
Though he has become a remarkably influential figure in Protestant discussion of natural theology, Barth is but one voice in the discussion, one who knew he had taken up a minority position. Indeed, he called the church’s pre- and post-Reformation doctrine of a natural knowledge of God a “hydra” that kept returning. Barth should have allowed the church’s consensus (a word he himself uses) with its biblical moorings to chasten his rejection of the natural knowledge of God.- pg 123.
Duby also mentions Kant and analytic philosophical traditions. Throughout this book, Duby combines, metaphysics, Scripture, and exegesis to make his points. Duby also draws from the patristic and medieval traditions. While his book may seen too abstract for some, and it is written from a Reformed perspective (I don’t really use the label “Reformed” for myself), it is an exceptional read and it helped me appreciate the knowledge we have of God and his Son Jesus the Messiah (John 17:3). Yes, we can have knowledge of God!