The Elusive God. By Paul Moser


Pp. xi, 292 , Cambridge , Cambridge University Press , 2008 , £45/$90.

Sub-titled ‘Reorienting Religious Epistemology,’ this book develops an unusual, complex and in many ways original line of argument about what is required if we are to access knowledge of God. Moser, Chair of Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, brings together considerations about why God seems to us to be hidden, eluding all our seeking, with a radical call for a more appropriate way for us to be brought into readiness to receive the kind of knowledge of God makes available to everyone. In the process (it might seem to some readers) philosophy is recast as ancillary to (Christian) theology and brought into play in service of the church. This is a controversial move, one likely to be strongly resisted in many quarters. However, seen from a view of discipleship that aims to integrate the intellectual with the spiritual, by means of divine grace rather than by human effort, it offers a powerful and challenging vision.

Moser points out that we cannot expect to find God on our terms, using man-made criteria to test for God's existence. ‘God's ways of self-manifestation and of imparting vital knowledge of divine reality wouldn't necessarily meet our natural expectations. …How we may know God's reality would depend on what God lovingly wants for us and from us’ (p. 94). If God is worthy of admiration, love and trust, Moser argues, then this would entail epistemological conditions for knowledge of divine reality that differ importantly from our usual mode of reasoning, conditions that entail surrender rather than mastery and which include acceptance of the offer of a non-coerced (and salvific) transformation of our whole self into volitional fellowship with God. This transformation depends on will, not just reason, and requires acceptance of God's authority and attunement to God's will, a (probably lengthy) process of dying to self and of letting go of idols such as ‘success, happiness, comfort, health, wealth, honor, and self-approval’ (p. 104). Within us are barriers that prevent us doing God's will and thus from perceiving God in any way that is upbuilding. We need to be stripped of the power of these barriers if we are to plumb the depths of the divine will and love. ‘God would lead us to such depth by convicting us of our causal ingratitude, moral dullness, selfish indifference, unwarranted pride, and self-indulgent fear, among other moral deficiencies’ (p. 99).

It is not that evidence for God is unavailable, according to Moser; rather we are looking for it in the wrong way and in the wrong places, testing for signs but using the wrong criteria; we are unready (and unwilling) to receive it. He presses readers to reflect more carefully about the kind of knowledge the God believed in by Christians might be expected to want us to come to, its nature, features and purposes. ‘A perfectly loving God would communicate on a frequency available to all people who are open to divine rescue on God's terms. God's frequency wouldn't be the exclusive possession of the educated, the ‘morally good,’ the physically strong, the wealthy, the ‘religious,’ or any other group that excludes other people’ (p.116). Moser links attunement of our wills to God's will, acceptance of God's authority, love for and fellowship with all people (as equally the object of God's love), letting go of our customary idols and a complete re-ordering of our normal criteria for evaluating evidence for God. This linkage moves us from spectator, propositional knowledge and discussion mode to participant, filial knowledge and obedience mode, from a concern for the quality of our thinking, taken in isolation, to a concern for our whole way of life in which right thinking is a fruit (rather than the root) of the overall quality of our life. Perhaps Moser underestimates the potential of discussion. It can open up a space where we can develop sufficient sense of who we are and what we truly want so that we become willing to accept grace in donating ourselves freely to God (the only kind of self-donation we can offer with integrity). Moser is stronger in his arguments about the need to let God be God and the epistemological implications of this than he is on the need for humans, as the sought-after (junior) partners God seeks, to develop appropriate forms of (derived) autonomy as a sufficient basis for self-donation to God via the attuning paths of faithful obedience.

Towards the end of the book, Moser shows how a philosopher driven by Christian faith should do philosophy in harmony with God's call and commands. The interweaving of philosophical rigour and the language of obedient discipleship will be as disorienting for non-philosophical Christians as it is for academic philosophers used to distancing themselves from such language (at least while doing philosophy). The integral nature of what (and who) we love, what (and who) we concede authority to and what (and who) we thereby open ourselves up to know, emerge powerfully from this book. It is for advanced readers, being demanding not only in its intellectual demands, but also in its call for repentance, relinquishing of idols and conversion of will as preconditions for true knowledge of God.