Zizioulas on General Revelation

Book Review 18

In the previous post I argued that for John Zizioulas, doctrine is formed in the context of the church.  Thus, forming doctrine has social and experiential dimensions.  For Zizioulas the fruits of biblical interpretation & cultural analysis is subjugated under the experience of the community of faith.  It is helpful to further explore the roots of this “ecclesial epistemology” by unpacking how Zizioulas conceives of how one possesses knowledge of God. 

There is no such thing as “general revelation” for Zizioulas.  Knowledge of this “common” sort is only possible with “things,” which can be understood by identifying what they are on the basis of how we relate to it & on the basis of attributes that are given in the context of time and space.  We relate to a thing in three interrelated ways: (1) We first rule out all that an object can’t be, & (2) subsequently say what it is, (3) describing it by attributing to it different characteristics.  We know what a table is, Zizioulas illustrates, by relating it to ourselves, defining it by what it is not, followed by identifying what it actually is on the basis of it’s characteristics.   

The problem Zizioulas sees is that such a procedure, while helpful with a “thing” like a table, cannot be applied to a “person,” which God is.  The above criteria all fail when trying to understand God because:

(1) the method of negation is untenable when applied to God because it presupposes either a prior or concurrent context.  For the God who created ex Nihilo, this creates obvious problems.

(2) In connection with (1), it is clear that this negation and subsequent identification requires God to be within space and time.  While not all theologians would find this unacceptable, Zizioulas does.  God exists outside of space and time and so

(3) any abstract attribute, when applied to God, inevitably involves another attempt to build the Tower of Babel.  If an attribute comes from our experience, Zizioulas argues, then we violate the transcendence of God.

So then any knowledge has to come from God, from revelation.  Thus for Zizioulas, where God reveals himself is where knowledge is found.  In Zizioulas’ thinking the location is limited to the church.  What this knowledge is will be explored subsequently.

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