The Dependent Character of Theology

Last week in class we started out by doing a general overview of what we’re covering in the course, and set some basic foundations for the content. One of the best things – and main emphasis – of what we talked about was the fundamentally dependent nature of theology. Dr. Garner read the following quote to the class which I found very powerful:

In this sense we speak of a dependent character for Theology. When an absolute stranger falls into the hands of the police, which is no infrequent occurrence anywhere, and steadfastly refuses to utter a single syllable, the police face an enigma which they cannot solve. They are entirely dependent upon the will of that stranger either to reveal or not to reveal knowledge of himself. And this is true in an absolute sense of the Theologian over against his God. He cannot investigate God. There is nothing to analyze. There are no phenomena from which to draw conclusions. Only when that wondrous God will speak, can he listen. And thus the Theologian is absolutely dependent upon the pleasure of God, either to impart or not to impart knowledge of Himself. Even verification is here absolutely excluded. When a man reveals something of himself to me, I can verify this, and if necessary pass criticism upon it. But when the Theologian stands in the presence of God, and God gives him some explanation of His existence as God, every idea of testing this self-communication of God by something else is absurd; hence, in the absence of such a touchstone,. there can be no verification, and consequently no room for criticism. This dependent character, therefore, is not something accidental, but essential to Theology. As soon as this character is lost, there is no more Theology, even though an investigation of an entirely different kind still adorns itself with the theological name. In his entire Theology the Theologian must stand in the presence of God as his God, and as soon as for a single instant he looks away from the living God, in order to engage himself with an idea about God over which he will sit as judge, he is lost in phraseology, because the object of his knowledge has already vanished from his view. As you cannot kneel in prayer before your God as worshipper, in any other way except as dependent upon Him, so also as Theologian you can receive no knowledge of God when you refuse to receive your knowledge of Him in absolute dependence upon Him.

Abraham Kuyper, Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology (Free e-book pdf), 251-52

There are two important things to note from this passage:

Our theology, for it to be true, must be based on God revealing Himself.

This is to say that we cannot postulate and speculare up into a true knowledge of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). We must first look for God as God over us before we can know anything further about God (his attributes, character, personality, etc.). God must speak for us to know anything about him. What Kuyper nails in this passage is that if God does not speak about himself, there is no ground for knowing anything about him. We know God because he’s gracious. We know God because he loves revealing himself. And why does he love revealing himself? Because he loves making his glory great, for “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). Because God’s revelation of himself is the only way we can know him, the thought of testing that knowledge against anything else is absolutely absurd, and fundamentally a misstep of faith. Why? Because when we want to test something to see if its true, we test it against things that it is like. You test the testimony of one person on an event against another person on an event; you test the accuracy of a gun against the accuracy of another gun. So how will you test the revelation of God? Against… another god’s revelation? If God speaks, his “Word is truth” (John 17:17), and as such, there is no other truth or word to test it against. We receive – we depend on God to reveal himself, and we believe. It is a joy to know the Word of God and receive him in joy (isn’t that one of the underlying themes of Psalm 119?).

When we deviate from looking to God to reveal himself in a dependent character, we commit idolatry.

This is a point more for meditation than exposition, but consider: When we say, “God’s Word is not sufficient to know God”, what are we fundamentally doing? Among many things, we are then putting our judgment above God’s, and making an idol after our own image of what we think God should be. This is at least one of the things Paul underlines in Romans 1:18ff – When people reject God on God’s terms, they raise up themselves and an idol to worship like themselves. When we turn from receiving God, dependent on him, longing for his Word and revelation – when we turn from this view of theology, we automatically start creating an image of God that we can control, we commit idolatry.

So, in light of that, I’d encourage you to re-read Kuyper’s quote.


What this means for my soul is that it impresses upon me the importance of prayer in theological work as in the rest of life. The Lord says, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek’ (Psalm 27:8). The aim of God in my life is for me to seek his face, to know him in prayer and quietness. To know him for all that he is and all that subsequently says about me – which should drive me to trembling prayer. The knowledge of God, even in an academic setting, should set me on edge, trembling for how great he is. What a severe glory – I can only know God on his terms. This underlines his sovereignty and puts his grace in Technicolor. The mouth requires the hand atop it, for there is nothing else to do here. Silence and prayer before this God whom I love to know. Does this not put new depths to Jesus saying, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63)? Let us come before this God, who in the fullness of time sent His Son that we might be reconciled from our sin and idolatry by His blood to have fellowship and knowledge of Him.


  1. Yes it does! :) Please do continue posting. I believe posting a summary of what you've learned will also help you review your lessons.I myself is going to attend seminary early next year. :)Cheers,Chin Wee(buzz_bender in CDL) :P

  2. Wow,One has to be grateful for Kuyper. What a wrench this is in the gears of modernistic Christianity that seeks to apply taxonomy to theology. And humbling it is to me, as an aspiring theologian. Thanks for posted this needed message. I am reminded of the words of Herman Dooyeweerd, "God does not speak to theologians, philosophers and scientists, but to sinners, lost in themselves". You (and Kuyper) are indeed correct in establishing the proper position of the theologian, one of fearful reverence and awe at the astounding grace of wisdom our personal God has bestowed upon us.Thanks again,Caleb


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