We return this week to Moser’s book The Elusive God. In these three sections Moser addresses God’s intervening Spirit, the acquaintance with the power of God’s intervening Spirit, and the split between Jerusalem (philosophy) and Athens (theology). While there are a number of places in which I wanted to agree with Moser, I found the arguments scarce, the explanations often confusing, and some of the claims simply repetitive. Perhaps this is because this section marks more of a turn to theology rather than philosophy, but nonetheless I still expected more clarity.
As we’ve seen to this point, Moser certainly doesn’t think it is sufficient to have propositional knowledge of God. His claim is that a perfectly loving God is going to offer a distinctive kind of purposively available evidence. A kind of evidence that has been widely overlooked by philosophers and theologians. This evidence is that divine self-revelation of God’s imparted Spirit to humans. With the imparting of God’s Spirit, humans receive the power to be transformed towards God’s moral character.
I’m far from an expert on these matters, but from the small sample of theology I’ve read it doesn’t seem to me that the imparting of God’s Spirit and it’s transformative power have been much neglected. Perhaps I’ve just been reading all the right stuff, but I doubt it. Examples like this, and the repeated kicking at natural theology, keep me thinking that I wished Moser would just make the case for his positive argument without trashing the practice of philosophy and theology along with their practitioners.
In any case, Moser makes a number of appeals to the writings of Paul in making the case for how the imparting of God’s Spirit gives us two things, (1) a new noncoercive power that is felt by the recipient and observable by others, and (2) directly self-authenticating firsthand veridical evidence of God’s reality. One thing that get’s confusing is that it often isn’t clear on the first reading who power is supposed to be evidence for. On the one hand we can have knowledge of God’s Spirit via our conscience, but we can also have knowledge via the evidence of new power. Of course both of these are also supposed to serve as evidence for others, at least if the have “eye’s to see”.
I’ve read this section about 15 times and it still isn’t clear to me what the Spirit is supposed to be. I suspect that if one didn’t grow-up Christian, or spend a good deal of time reading theological literature, one could easily get lost or confused about the Spirit. Here are a few candidates for what Moser means when he talks of Spirit:
- Spirit = Holy Spirit (i.e. third person of the Trinity)
- Spirit = God (e.g. God is Spirit and he’s imparting himself)
- Spirit = gift of spirit
Moser could have meant any of these, or he could have meant none. The matter is complicated by his remark that the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Jesus Christ, but when talked about this way it sounds more like team spirit. I think I want to agree, at least to some extent, on the power of the Spirit. However, I want to make sure that Moser and I are thinking of the same thing, and that simply isn’t clear to me.
2. Acquaintance With Power
Moser points out that one can of course come to know that someone exists, but such knowledge falls far short of what would be desired by a loving God. Moser goes on to point out that for the sake of pleasing a perfectly loving God, propositional knowledge of God’s existence should go along with firsthand filial knowledge of God as Lord and Father. This filial knowledge is supposed to include love toward God, which I take it means that in addition to the first hand evidence we have of God, we should also actively love God. We come to recognize God as an agent, and respond to God as one would agent. All be it an extremely powerful and authoritative agent.
When we stand in this kind of relationship to God, as owned children, the recipients of divine self-revelation, there is a superhuman power imparted to us. This power gives one the ability to do things a “natural man” wouldn’t be able to accomplish on their own. Namely the God knower becomes unselfishly loving, or at least she’s on her way to this. This power also yields fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, …. which serve as further evidence to the individual and to those willing to recognize such evidence.
There is an objection in the offing that Moser anticipates. Hey lots of religious groups claim to have a divine intervening spirit. Moser’s response is that we should test such individuals to exclude imposters. Great, but how should we go about testing such persons? Moser’s answer seems to be that if you have willing eyes you’ll be able to discern the difference.
3. Jerusalem and Athens
Moser’s been spending a fair amount of time jumping between philosophy and theology. In this section he attempts to characterize the two and talk about the relationship between the two fields. To call the two Jerusalem and Athens is surely a familiar refrain. Jerusalem represents the seat of Judaism and Christianity, while Athens is the traditional cradle of philosophy. Moser claims that two come together in answering yes to the following three questions:
- Do they share intellectual purposes?
- Do they share means to achieving their intellectual purposes?
- Do they share anything significant at all?
They can both say yes to these because they aim to achieve truth. This aside, they do differ and fear one another Moser claims. I don’t know that they fear one another so much as they find each other mystifying at times.
Moser does some curious characterizing of the roots of philosophy, which includes an odd split with sciences in this section, but I want to set that aside since it doesn’t get to the core of the issue.
What sets philosophy and theology apart is that the former is a wisdom movement while the later is a power movement. As a wisdom movement philosophy aims to provide an explanatory model of human cognitive and moral aims in pursuit of the good life. As a power movement Christianity offered people bodily, moral, and spiritual redemption, but perhaps most importantly it held out the offer of bodily resurrection. Philosophy can’t offer such hope for a lasting life. Absent a strain of strong theism all philosophy can offer to theology is the skeptical challenge, “But how do you know your thoughts of redemption aren’t just wishful thinking?”. Moser thinks theology has a ready response, “Because I know the Giver?” (I suppose God’s a reliable testifier if anyone is.) I think the philosophers will be left cold by such a response and I’d be surprised if philosophers recognized themselves in Moser’s characterization.