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Theology, unlike other disciplines dealing with man, is faced with a fundamental methodological problem in its attempt to understand the human being. This problem is due to the Christian view of the Fall. Whatever we may wish to mean by the Fall, the fact remains that there is something which can be called ‘sin’, and which gives rise to the question: is man that which we know and experience as ‘man’? If we answer the question in the affirmative, then we are bound to imply that sin is not an anthropological problem and redemption from sin does not essentially alter our view of man; in fact if we follow up the consequence of this position, we are bound to say that unfallen man or man restored by redemption is not properly speaking ‘man’ but something of a super-man. If, on the other hand, we do not approach man from the angle of his actual sinful situation, how can we approach him? Is there another angle from which to look at man except from that of what we actually see as man?
The theological literature has been greatly enriched in recent decades by detailed studies of the nature of religious ‘discernment’ or ‘divination’. The works of Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade, and Ian Ramsey, in particular, and from various perspectives, have contributed much to our understanding of characteristic situations in which men may intuit or apprehend the immediate presence of deity. This ‘empirical-phenomenological’ approach (to characterise it as broadly as possible) represents a significant departure from the more traditional ‘proofs’ of deity based on logical argument or citations of scripture in that (a) it requires an empirical ‘grounding’ in concrete, historically conditioned situations, and (b) it necessarily leaves the question of truth value open to review and re-evaluation by its appeal to specific acts of personal intuition or discernment. Therefore, in comparison with the traditional ‘proofs’, there is a certain loss of cogency, but, on the other hand, a distinct gain in concreteness and accessibility to the religious imagination of the individual.
While Gore continued to exert a profound influence on Anglican theology until very recent times, regarded in an ecumenical perspective he may well seem a rather parochial figure. It is my belief, however, that Gore's work offers a useful and relevant object-lesson in theological construction. He is often portrayed as an inflexible dogmatist. He had the Tractarian instinct for dogma, but he was no mere dogmatist. One's first impression, it is true, is of a monolithic figure. His presence has been described as ‘numinous’; his thought appears as a massive and imposing unity. But a closer examination of his writings reveals a synthesis in which disparate elements were held together by sheer prophetic force of mind. Although Gore has received quite a lot of discussion, treatments of his life and thought have not always adequately recognised the elements of paradox in them both. In fact this lies very near the surface and left his friends frustrated and his critics exasperated.