A Brief Introduction to Apophatic Theology

Within the Judeo-Christian Tradition there are differing concepts of God – ideas range from St. Anselm’s ‘that which no greater can be conceived,’  to the more apophatic (more on that term in a minute)  ideas of Judaism and Eastern Orthodoxy – that we cannot know what God is, only what He is not.

Apophatic theology is also called ‘negative’ theology, in that it doesn’t seek to ascribe positive aspects to God in His essence; God is completely and totally beyond anything mankind could ever grasp. Passages of Scripture such as 1 Kings 19:11-13, Exodus 3:1-21, John 1:18, and St. Paul’s statement in 1 Tim. 6:15-16 all indicate a total other-ness that God has as well as the unbridgeable gap between God and humanity. The apophatic tradition also has strong roots in the Early Church fathers as well – St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Tetrullian and the Cappodician Fathers (  Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus ) are all apophatic in their theology. Apophatic theology was prominent in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and in the writings of various other medieval figures such as Meister Eckhart and St. John of the Cross, and is standard in the theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church today.

Any direct, positive statement about God are only those which are revealed – for example, the Trinitarian nature of God, God’s love, compassion, and other attributes. These are revealed to humanity by God through Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ – it is only through what is revealed that we can make any kind of positive statement about God.

A Brief Introduction to Christus Victor

Christus Victor is the view that through His death and Resurrection Jesus Christ defeated the powers of evil at work in the world through sin and death. One modern proponent of this view is Gregory Boyd, who defines it this way:

‘God accomplished many things by having his Son become incarnate and die on Calvary. Through Christ God revealed the definitive truth about himself (Rom 5:8, cf. Jn 14:7-10); reconciled all things, including humans, to himself (2 Cor 5:18-19; Col 1:20-22), forgave us our sins (Ac 13:38; Eph 1:7); healed us from our sin-diseased nature (1 Pet 2:24); poured his Spirit upon us and empowered us to live in relation to himself (Rom 8:2-16 ); and gave us an example of what it looks like when we live in the kingdom (Eph 5:1-2; 1 Pet 2:21). Yet, I believe all these facets of Christ’s work can be understand as aspects of the most fundamental thing Christ came to accomplish: namely, to defeat the devil and his minions (Heb 2:14; 1 Jn 3:8). He came to overcome evil with love.’


On the Christus Victor view, death is seen as the consequences of sin, which is a power at work in the world to thwart God’s plans to bring Creation to its ultimate consummation.

Christ, through His death and resurrection, defeats death, breaks the powers of evil and sin, and thus Death has no power over those in Christ. There are other factors as well – more legally oriented, but the basic idea is that sin and death reign through Adam, and Christ through His death and Resurrection defeats sin and death, which have no power of those in Christ. The Christus Victor view of the Atonement is the standard Atonement model for the Eastern Orthodox Church today.

A Brief Introduction to Molinism

Molinism is a theological philosophy developed by Luis Molina in the 16th century which attempts to reconcile human freedom with divine omniscience using counterfactuals and God’s knowledge of them. Philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig states it this way:

“What Molinism holds is that God knows logically prior to His decree to create a world what any person would freely do in any fully specified, freedom-permitting set of circumstances in which God might place him.”

Counterfactuals are the ‘what-would-have-happened,’ in any given situation – in the above quote, counterfactuals are “what any person would freely do in any fully specified, freedom-permitting set of circumstances in which God might place him“. For example…

‘If I were rich, I would by a sports car.’

‘If I had a steak, I would eat it.’

‘If I had eaten that steak at 3pm, I would not have been hungry at 5 pm.’

..are all examples of  counterfactuals (counterfactuals can become a very complicated idea very quickly, but this basic definition suits our purposes fine) . God’s knowledge of all counterfactuals in all possible worlds – God knows in every possible world what anyone would freely do in any given situation – is the basis upon which Molina believes that libertarian free will and divine omniscience can be reconciled. Molinism is defended most prominently today by Dr. William Lane Craig.