Determined to Believe: Would an Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance be helpful?

@Interested_in_book_studies In his book Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey had some great thoughts that I felt applied directly to our discussion of God’s sovereignty. I would love to hear what you guys think of the following excerpt from his book.

Would an Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance be helpful? Can you imagine good reasons why God might choose not to make ambiguous doctrines clear? What do you think of Yancey’s perspective on this issue?

May Christ guide our discussion.

I have a book on my desk titled The Encyclopedia of Ignorance. Its author explains that whereas most encyclopedias compile information that we know, he will attempt to outline the areas of science that we cannot yet explain: questions of cosmology, curved space, the riddles of gravitation, the interior of the sun, human consciousness. I wonder if God has perhaps fenced of an area of knowledge, The Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance for very good reasons. These answers remain in God’s domain, and God has not seen fit to reveal them.

Consider infant salvation. Most theologians have found enough Biblical clues to convince them that God welcomes all infants “under the age of accountability,” though the Biblical evidence is scant. What if God had made a clear pronouncement: “Thus saith the Lord, I will welcome every child under the age of ten into Heaven.” I can easily envision Crusaders of the eleventh century mounting a campaign to slaughter every child of nine or younger in order to guarantee their eternal salvation - which of course would mean that none of us would be around a millennium later to contemplate such questions. Similarly, the zealous conquistadors in Latin America might have finished off the native peoples for good if the Bible had clearly stated that God’s overlooking “the times of ignorance” applied to all who had not heard the name of Jesus.

Reading church history, not to mention reflecting on my own life, is a humbling exercise indeed. In view of the mess we have made of crystal-clear commands - the unity of the Church, love as a mark of Christians, racial and economic justice, the importance of personal purity, the dangers of wealth - I tremble to think what we would do if some of the ambiguous doctrines were less ambiguous.

Our approach to difficult issues should befit our status as finite creatures. Take the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, taught in the Bible in such a way that it stands in unresolved tension with human freedom. God’s perspective as an all-powerful being who sees all of history at once, rather than unfolding second by second, has baffled theologians and will always baffle theologians simply because that point of view is unattainable to us, even unimaginable by us. The best physicists in the world struggle to explain the multi-directional arrows of time. A humble approach accepts that differences in perspective and worships a God who transcends our limitations.

Hyper-Calvinist show what happens when we seize prerogatives that no human can bear. Thus Malthusians opposed vaccination for smallpox because, they said, it interfered with God’s sovereign will. Calvinist churches discouraged early missionaries: “Young man…when God pleases to convert the heathen, He’ll do it without your help or mine,” they told William Carey, ignoring the obvious fact that we are the ones chosen by God to carry the good news worldwide. After Calvin drew a solid line between the elect and the reprobate, his followers then inferred that we humans can discern who falls on which side of that line. The Book of Life belongs in the category of “theological ignorance,” something we cannot know and for which (thankfully) we must trust God. …More and more, I am grateful for that ignorance, and grateful that the God who revealed Himself in Jesus is the one who determines the answers.


Just from life experience in other matters,( and yes indeed the scripture as well) it often appears that when a person has the attitude of " o yes, I know all about that", then searching, learning, EVEN INTEREST DISSIPATES. I’m not saying this is God’s reason but I can be thankful that I don’t want to live in that kind of hubris, and at the same time desire to know more of Him as He reveals what I can understand. Causes many times of wow-ful rejoicing! Even tiny revealings makes the heart change.


@mitwit Yes, I really resonate with Lewis’ description of further up and further in in the Narnia series. When we realize God is so much bigger than we are - that there is no limit to His understanding and that to know Him more (notice I did not say to know about Him) is the source of all joy, then we hunger and thirst for the knowledge of God which leads to deeper intimacy with Him.

Psalms 42:1-2 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?


When I read this I couldn’t help but hear the song from my early childhood education “The Bear when over the mountain” and for what reason, to see what he could see. :grinning:

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These are some amazing thoughts. Wow. Thanks for sharing it!

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@Jimmy_Sellers rofl Oh my goodness - too funny!

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@c3vanzyl Yes, Yancey really does say some profound things in his works. I enjoy reading him a lot - he is a very engaging and imaginative writer.