The more I research Paul’s letters in comparison to Greco-Roman wisdom and philosophy, the more I am convinced that much of our talk about God and our devotion is more of a Stoic rather than a distinctly Christian form. There is a reason people thought the Stoic Seneca and Paul knew each other and that
But when you look past some of the common languages, it is amply clear that Paul and Seneca thought
This isn’t to say simply because we disagree on God means we are not talking about the same God; the lack of conformity to some
In other words, when two groups of people are making diametrically opposed claims about God and these differences are deemed significant about God, then one can suggest their theological language is in reference to different gods. This is because the referential usage of language is determined by the conceptual/semantic content. For instance, when I refer to a specific person such as Alex, Laura or John, my cognitive sense of who is that person is will determine what person my language is rightly referencing. But as there are multiple people named Jacob, Laura, or John, it is only the sense in which I use those proper names that determines who I am talking about. So if, for instance, I am talking about the Alex who I went to college with who was an intramural football player and studies in communications and you are talking about an Alex who went to the same college but that person ran track for the university and studied in education, we are talking about different people because the identifying criteria of the two Alex’s are different, even if they share similarities, such as the Alex I know running track in high school and later going to grad school in education. If the other person’s idea of Alex treats his collegiate track career and bachelor’s in education as a necessarily true part of who their Alex is, then we are talking about different Alex’s. The different criteria we take as necessary part of the identity of someone means that same name/word will be used differently in reference to who, even if those different references share similar features.
What is also significant is that we rarely, if ever, express the necessary, identifying criteria in language. When I talk about the Alex I know, I don’t express some clear, identificatory criteria. In fact, I don’t even think about my understanding of Alex in such a matter. Such way of thinking about the actual reference of the proper name Alex occurs when someone else talks about an Alex that might think is the same, but we discover they are different. Nevertheless, our understandings we intuitively use to distinguish between different Alex’s are important about what we think about that person. What is important about identifying different Alex’s is rarely, if ever, expressed directly unless there is some reason to identify between them. Rather, such understanding about Alex will be demonstrated in the way I talk about Alex, but aside from the occasional phrase such as “This is what makes Alex Alex” that is sometimes idiomatic, I don’t point out such essential understandings about Alex.
Likewise with God. Shared language about ‘God’ can mask fundamentally different,
However, in our modern world influenced by empirical science, we have treated one of the most fundamental, identifying criteria of God in his invisibility. Thus, we are inclined to use this property, along with other proprieties such as number (one God) and power (God is Creator) as the basis to determine that we are all talking about the same God. Everything else we say about God is treated as not that important so as to be distinctive. In a sense, being embedded in a scientific world has changed how it is that we define who God is. Consequently, it is easy for the sake of unity and peace to say all claims about God are in reference to the same God.
However, just as the Roman Empire tried to treat the Roman and the Greek pantheon as equivalents in the name of cultural and imperial unity to reinforce Roman influence and power, so too do cultural and political considerations lead us to try to collapse all claims about God as bearing the same reference. We are not as apt to see this comparison on the surface because the prominence and
Christian unity under such conditions is not workable because a shared language does not automatically beget shared understanding. The Jewish and Christian understanding of God was made in diametric opposition to the theological spirit of the Greco-Roman world. The Gospel of John and Paul shared
So, this leads to a different view of the unity of the Church. Unity is contained in the deeper, often tacit, rarely explicit, confessions of the Church. This unity is not formed, however, simply by some common confession at the level of language or even an institutional praxis, but by what happens at a deeper level of the person. While a common confession can emerge and it can be expressed as in did in the early theological battles to establish the orthodox faith, the expression of this confession does not itself even create this unity, although it might be instrumental in reinforcing such unity. For John and Paul, this unity occurs through a common faith in Jesus and the giving of the Spirit. This unity is not a ‘democratic’ unity where all people are considered members by default, but only through faith in Jesus and by the giving of the Spirit does the content of one’s faith in God have the same God in view.