Key of knowledge -
Question of life and death
by Herman Dooyeweerd
Thus the central theme of the Holy Scriptures, namely, that of creation, fall into sin, and redemption by Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit, has a radical unity of meaning, which is related to the central unity of our human existence. It effects the true knowledge of God and ourselves, if our heart is fully opened by the Holy Spirit so that it finds itself in the grip of God's Word and has become the captive of Jesus Christ. So long as this central meaning of the Word-revelation is at issue, we are beyond the scientific problems both of theology and philosophy. Its acceptance or rejection is a matter of life or death to us, and not a question of theoretical reflection. In this sense, the central motive of Holy Scripture is the common supra-scientific starting-point of a truly biblical theology and of a truly Christian philosophy. It is the key of knowledge of which Jesus spoke in his discussion with the Scribes and lawyers. It is the religious presupposition of any theoretical thought, which may rightly claim a biblical foundation. But, as such, it can never become the theoretical object of theology - no more than God and the human I can become such an object.
...I am sorry if my explanation concerning the scientific field of research of dogmatic theology seem not clear at first sight. The difficulties and questions to which it gives rise do not concern the divine Word-revelation, but exclusively the scientific character and bounds of a theological dogmatics and exegesis. And it is necessary 'ad humanam salutem' to go into these difficulties in a serious way. For dogmatic theology is a very dangerous science. Its elevation to a necessary mediator between God's Word and the believer amounts to idolatry and testifies to a fundamental misconception concerning its real character and position. If our salvation be dependent on theological dogmatics and exegesis, we are lost. For both of them are a human work, liable to all kinds of error, disagreement in opinion, and heresy. We can even say that all heresies are of a theological origin. Therefore, the traditional confusion between God's Word as the central principle of knowledge and the scientific object of theological dogmatics and exegesis must be wrong in its fundamentals. For it is this very confusion which has given rise to the false identification of dogmatic theology with the doctrine of Holy Scripture, and to the false conception of theology as the necessary mediator between God's Word and the believers.
...Let us first consider how the Word of God presents itself to us in its full and actual reality. The divine Word-revelation has entered our temporal horizon. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. This was the 'skandalon' which was equally raised by the incarnation of the Word-revelation in the Holy Scriptures, a collection of books written by different men in the course of ages, be it through divine inspiration, yet related to all the modal aspects of our temporal horizon of experience. It is, however, only under the modal aspect of faith that we can experience that this Word-revelation in the Scriptures has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. And the actual belief through which we know with an ultimate certainty that it is so, cannot be realized in the heart, that religious center of our consciousness, except by the operation of the Word itself, as a spiritual power. What makes the diversity of books of the Old and New Testament into a radical spiritual unity? Their principle of unity can only be the central theme of creation, fall into sin, and redemption by Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit, since it is the key to true knowledge of God and self-knowledge. We have established that, in its central spiritual sense, as divine motive power addressing itself to our heart, this theme cannot become the theoretical object of theological thought, since it is the very starting point of the latter, insofar as theology is really biblical.
From the foregoing it may appear that there must be a difference in principle between creation, fall and redemption in their central sense as the key to knowledge, and in their sense as articles of faith which may be made into the object of theological thought. Insofar as Reformed theology, too, was influenced by the scholastic basic motive of nature and grace, it also developed dogmatic views which must be considered unbiblical. The Jewish Scribes and lawyers had a perfect theological knowledge of the books of the Old Testament. They wished, doubtless, to hold to the creation, the fall, and the promise of the coming Messiah as articles of the orthodox Jewish faith which are also articles of the Christian faith. Nevertheless, Jesus said to them: "Woe unto you, for ye have taken away the key of knowledge!" (Luke 11:52).
This key of knowledge in its radical and integral sense cannot be made into a theoretical problem. The theologian can only direct his theological thought to it with respect to its necessary supra-theoretical presupposition, if he is really in the grip of it and can bear witness to its radical meaning which transcends all theological concepts. But when he does so, he is not in any different position than the Christian philosopher who accounts for his biblical starting-point, or the ordinary believer who testifies to the radical sense of God's Word as the central motive power of his life in Jesus Christ. In other words, the true knowledge of God in Jesus Christ and true self-knowledge are neither of a dogmatic-theological, nor of a philosophical nature, but have an absolutely central religious [ultimate] significance. This knowledge is a question of spiritual life or death. Even orthodox theological dogmatics, however splendidly elaborated, cannot guarantee this central spiritual knowledge.”
(Herman Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of Western Thought, from pp 86,87, 100, 134-146).