This week, let’s spend some time with Cyril of Jerusalem, an ancient Christian leader who lived in the fourth century AD. Cyril had an important job in Jerusalem; he was responsible for teaching catechumens (young believers soon to be baptized). Ponder with me a question Cyril asked his pupils: If the divine nature is incomprehensible, why bother even talking about these things?” Great question!

This is a question many Christians struggle with. How can we seriously attempt theology” if the God (theos) we are talking about is past finding out? The answer Cyril gives is quite telling. We think and speak in these orthodox theological ways because they lead us to worship. They allow us, Cyril teaches, to praise and glorify him who made us, for it is a divine command that says, Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!’ (Ps. 150:6). I am endeavoring now to glorify the Lord, not to describe him.” 

Cyril’s obedience to the psalmist’s command to praise and glorify” the Lord moves him beyond mere description – and for that very reason it justifies the work that theologians like me engage in. How so? Worship increases image-bearers’ comprehension of the mystery and moves them deeper into its depths. 

Just as biblical truth inevitably draws us to worship, so worship prepares us for biblical truth. The concrete rhythms of worship — its words, practices, disciplines, structures — center our attention on the heart of the matter: God’s work in Christ, ongoing in the power of the Spirit, with the lived reality of God the glad result. The language and forms of worship support our wandering minds as we attempt to live in ways that reflect the centrality of Christ in all things. Thus, participation in worship functions as a kind of scaffolding for our knowledge of God. It establishes a consistent and remarkably tangible environment in which our redeemed life as God’s image-bearers can flourish. 

Is not the language of worship often quite earthy and physical? It is the language of eating, drinking, seeing, hearing, singing, praising, following – a language of active participation more than of objective description. We do, of course, praise God for who he is and what he has done for us; objective doctrine is found throughout our praise. But, as Robert Webber and others have reminded us, worship is a verb. In worship we engage more than our minds. We also employ our bodies in specific acts: our throats as we sing and speak, our eyes as we look upon stained glass or icons, our knees as we lift our hands in praise, our stomachs as we fast, our mouths as we taste the Eucharist. In all of these movements, our doing sustains our knowing, even as doing also grows out of knowing.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the deepest theological insights are almost always birthed in conjunction with definite activities, the language and practices of disciplined, regular worship, which are concrete means of grace given to us by the Holy Trinity to provide a doxological pathway to the knowledge of God. Note that I have emphasized the word discipline. Knowledge comes by hearing God’s voice, and we must learn to be quiet if we are to hear. Knowledge comes as we are nourished by God’s own light and life, but this means we must avoid filling ourselves with spiritual junk food that Christian” culture too often provides. In a broken world like ours, the habitual practice of classical spiritual disciplines can become the linguistic and practical substructure for greater blessings and deeper knowledge than we would ordinarily think possible. 

And so, as our series on the mystery of God begins to move toward its conclusion, we will be looking at the role of the spiritual disciplines as pathways into the mystery of God we have been exploring together. See you next week. 

This series has been adapted from Steven D. Boyer and Chris Hall’s The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable. Hungry for more? Please visit Baker Academic for more information.

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