Draw Near to God … for What End? Part 3

As a reminder, I’m responding to a September 2009 article in Christianity Today, “Reveling in the Mystery” by D. H. Williams. Relying on a little-known book by Gregory of Nyssa, Professor Williams paints a speculative view of growth in the Christian life while embracing the distance between creature and Creator as something that does not need to be “overcome or removed as if it were an obstacle.”

Using Moses’s journey to the top of Mount Sinai as a model, Professor Williams identifies three stages of growth, the last being entrance into darkness. What follows next is … disturbing on many levels. Perhaps the best way to expose the error is to begin by quoting a paragraph from the article that explains the heart of the matter:

Here is where Gregory of Nyssa makes his most noteworthy contribution to Christian theology: that the Christian life must first be defined by seeking God without end, and “that true satisfaction of the soul’s desire consists in constantly going on with this quest and never ceasing in the ascent to God.” This is a joyful conclusion, since it ensures that one can always progress in holiness because spiritual progress is one of infinite growth. For the Platonist, all change is regarded as a defect or loss; in Gregory’s system, the process of changing may be redeemed by perpetual growth in the good. It is this sort of movement that describes our transformation “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18, ESV). However much the Christian is transformed into the likeness of God, God remains ever beyond, so that the soul must always push forward in anticipation in this life and in the one to come.

I’ll take the problems one point at a time.

1. Seeking God without end is contradictory to Scripture, starting with Matthew 7:7 – “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (emphasis mine). Here’s the crucial point, I believe: We can know God because He has revealed Himself.

that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:8b-11, emphasis mine).

2. The idea that “ascent to God” is something I accomplish belittles Christ’s work. It is Christ’s righteousness that reconciles me to God. My sanctification is a growth process, but not all up to me. Here’s the key point: We can be like Him only because He conforms us to His son.

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:28)

3. Professor Williams assumes something about “traditional” understanding of Scripture that is not true. He implies that a view other than what he is presenting is based on Platonist thinking in which “all change is regarded as a defect or loss.” Certainly this view does not square with Scripture, nor does it square with the Protestant evangelical doctrine with which I’m familiar.

However, “growth in the good” implies something within the individual as opposed to the conformity to the image of the Son which God brings about as He works all things in a person’s life to that end.

4. The never-ending push up after an unattainable God seems to me to be a quest for that which God has put off limits. He is transcendent. He is beyond. Yet He has chosen through Jesus to show us Himself. Should I then be dissatisfied with looking at Jesus to pursue further understanding, deeper knowledge? This seems to me akin to Satan’s thirst to be like God.

5. All this striving after God supposedly happens in darkness. From Professor Williams’s article: “In fact, the closer that God comes to the soul, the more intense the darkness becomes.” His idea is that the darkness blocks out things that distract us from God. But how contrary this is to Scripture in which Jesus says He is the Light of the world.

God reveals Himself as a Consuming Fire in the Old Testament, and in Revelations He says there will be no need for the sun and moon because He will be the light.

John says in his first epistle, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:6-7).

God is not in the darkness. Earlier in his gospel, John says men love darkness because their deeds are evil. Darkness is the place where God is not. Whoever someone finds in the darkness, I suggest he is not God but a pretender, one who wishes to be like God.

God is found in the Light—that of His Son and that of His Word (“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” – Psalm 119:105.) Reaching some kind of spiritual ascension in darkness is speculation at best and diabolical at worst.


  1. Great series, Becky. Thanks for posting about this.


  2. I appreciate the feedback, Sally. Thanks.



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