Knowing God, Knowing Self

The problem: The Sanctification Gap

Presbyterian historian Richard Lovelace identifies the discrepancy that exists between what the Christian ideals of a Christian life as taught in evangelical circles to the spiritual life many Christians are actually living as a “sanctification gap”. Many Christians are aware of the lack of spiritual growth in their lives in spite of having spent years learning under an effective pulpit ministry. Theologian John Coe (2009) suggests that these are “mature beginners” as they have never actually progressed in their spiritual growth. “The sanctification gap” is defined by Christian historian Chris Armstrong (2009) as “the dismal failure of American evangelicals to mature spiritually.” In his study of the contemporary spiritual formation movement, he traces the root of the “sanctification gap” to early twentieth-century fundamentalism. In its zeal to defend against liberalism, the fundamental movement of the 1920s-1950s focused upon the defence of certain important doctrines. Unfortunately in doing so, Armstrong argues, “it had come to identify the Christian life with cognitive beliefs.” Aside from an understanding of the spiritual life as purely an intellectual affirmation of certain propositions, fundamental pragmaticism undergirded by dispensational eschatology favoured activism (soul-saving) rather than contemplation, and views soul-care suspiciously as works-righteousness.

In many ways, knowing God becomes knowing about God.

The solution: The doctrine of double knowledge.

John Calvin started his Institutes of the Christian Religion with “[n]early all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” (p.35). He goes on to say “without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God” and “without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.” This is called the doctrine of double knowledge- knowing God, knowing self. Actually Calvin wasn’t the first to teach it. We can trace it back to Thomas Aquinas, to Augustine and to Iraeneus. Actually the ancient Greek taught about self-knowledge. Socrates taught about ‘knowing thyself.” He was the first to teach that because “knowing thyself” was engraved at the entrance arch of Apollo’s temple in Delphi, Greece. The Oracle of Delphi controlled the Mediterranean region for more than a thousand years.

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