By way of simple definition, propositional knowledge of God is knowing facts about Him. This type of knowledge is what some might term, “book learning.” For example, I could have spent a lifetime pouring through historical data studying Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. I might know every fact about him down to the most trivial minutiae. As the world’s foremost Stonewall expert, people worldwide could seek to drink from the fount of my knowledge. Historical timelines, attributes, characteristics, personal quirks, and identifying traits would be well within my grasp of recollection. With all that vast amount of informational knowledge, could I say I knew him like his beloved esposita? She was probably closer to him than any other person. Could I say I even knew him like his commander, General Robert E. Lee? He knew the nuances of Jackson’s drive, determination, and fire and the weaknesses of his impetuousness. The fact is, even the lowly artillerymen who most briefly served him knew him better than I ever could. They shared fire, emotion, and tribulation together. Even if he knew very little about him, he knew him because he served with him and had a relationship with him. Relational knowledge is knowledge that can only come about from the basis of a personal relationship. While distinction should be made between relational and propositional knowledge, a dualistic dichotomy needn’t be set up. A vital, necessary part of true relationship includes growing propositional knowledge. Many today try to swing the pendulum away from propositional knowledge by equating personal relationship to experiential knowledge. This is a potentially dangerous link that has its roots in existentialism. A relationship is much deeper than either knowledge of facts or an experience. Think about it in terms of the husband and wife relationship. Marriage is not referred to as the “marriage experience,” although many failed marriages have been grounded on the fading luster of dynamic experience. Nor is a healthy relationship devoid of experience. A husband and wife will share many experiences as a part of their growing, ongoing relationship as they cleave to one another. Likewise, although the marriage relationship is not quantified by a laundry list of facts and statistics about the partners, as the relationship deepens, the couple’s knowledge of one another will deepen.
Concerning knowing God, Ephesians 3:17-19 sums it up well: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” First, Paul prays that our minds can plumb the infinitude of who God is – that we can attempt to measure the immeasurable dimensions of God. This would seem to make the case for actively pursuing propositional knowledge of God. Then, he makes what seems to be an incompatible statement when he requests we know something which passes knowledge. Throughout man’s existence, his epistemology has traveled one of two paths. He has sought to know ultimate reality by either using his reason or evaluating his experience. The path of rationalism invariably leads to the dank nihilism of Nietzsche. The alternative path of empiricism, the evaluation of sensual experience, leads to the conclusion that in back of everything that can be experienced is a vital principle. In other words, everything is god. Francis Schaeffer referred to this as “pan-everythingism.” Isaiah 55:8-9 records: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” God’s ways are certainly not our ways – He cannot be found by traveling either of the paths man has chosen to look for Him. He is only found in a personal relationship after He reveals Himself to us through the testimony of His Word.