Theism is a belief in a god or gods, and agnosticism is the belief that a god’s existence cannot be known with surety. Theistic agnosticism or, more commonly, agnostic theism seems to be a contradiction in terms.
A summary definition of agnostic theism is as follows: “a belief in the existence of a god held simultaneously with an uncertainty of any god’s existence, doubt that such existence could be proved, or mistrust that any god can be fully known.” Agnostic theism has elements of personal faith, but it remains uncertain as to the validity of faith’s claims in the absence of tangible evidence.
A nuanced form of agnostic theism is commonly seen among theologians who accept the idea that God is so transcendent that He has certain characteristics impossible to completely know or prove. This type of agnostic theism is not an attempt to disprove God; rather, it is an acceptance that God is uniquely God. In the Garden of Eden, there was one tree that Adam and Eve were not permitted to possess. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil belonged exclusively to God (Genesis 2:17). In other words, there are some realities that belong to God alone. He does not have to disclose all knowledge, and He does not have to reveal His reasons for keeping some things to Himself.
We see a redefinition of agnosticism emerging in modern culture. That is to say, an agnostic can believe that God exists, while living as if He did not—because God is not fully knowable or His sovereignty is limited in some way. This is where the subjectivity of agnostic theism gains traction in modern society. This theological position is defined by one’s own preferences, opinions, and sense of personal satisfaction.
Many people who engage in religious rituals or join a religious group practice religion for the sole purpose of self-improvement or personal affirmation. Agnostics can do this, finding a spiritual utility in tradition and social improvement. In performing religious acts, the agnostic can assign a level of knowability (or unknowability) to the god of his own imagination. If the function of religion meets his ego-centric needs, why does he need to know God?
This type of pragmatic religion could be seen as a form of agnostic theism. The popular “prosperity gospel” seeks to define God/a god in terms of one’s own need for self-actualization and improvement. This is in contrast to the biblical revelation of God and His nature being supreme over all creation. What we know about God is fully realized in the Scriptures and in the personal revelation of Jesus Christ.
The incomprehensibility of God is made comprehensible by God’s own desire to make Himself known to man through divine revelation. The Bible does say that God is beyond our ability to fully know Him (Psalm 145:3; Isaiah 55:8–9; Romans 11:33–34; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Timothy 6:13–16), yet God is willing to make Himself known in the sufficiency of His grace.
The knowability of God is a divine gift that enlivens faith through the working of God’s grace in the human heart. God is most fully revealed in Christ Jesus (Jeremiah 9:23–24; 1 Corinthians 2:2; Galatians 6:14; John 17:3; Hebrews 8:11–12; 1 John 4:7–8). God’s perfect revelation of Himself in Christ is the solid foundation for believers. By faith (not by the scientific method) Christians can live in certainty in the midst of postmodern views such as agnostic theism.
Philosophies such as agnostic theism emerge from the world’s attempt to regulate what is acceptable and debatable in society. People are viewed as more intelligent, politically correct, and socially sensitive if they compromise on their personal faith in Christ. If they admit to some “doubt” concerning the existence of God, the world will see them as more “enlightened.”
While many professing Christians claim to believe in God, many act as if He does not really exist. They clamor for the things the world offers and pursue the same life of those who have no faith. They do not know what the Bible says about God, so they settle for a form of agnosticism (see 2 Timothy 3:5) while denying the certainty of God’s revelation of Himself.