Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stance of Self-Limitation

     Every once in a while, you run across a sentence or a phrase that is unique: it seems so well-crafted, or so sensible, or has such explanatory power, that it just sticks in your head.    I ran across such a phrase a few years ago in a little book I have on my shelves.

     The little book is very modest in appearance.  It was written in the 1970s, before personal computers had become available, and the author produced it on his typewriter -- double-spacing for readability, and laying out the pages in the proper order for fronts-and-backs that printers know and self-publishing authors must learn.  A little line-drawn artwork reproduced on heavy paper served for a cover.  With some folding, collating, and stapling -- and a copyright notice -- he was self-published!  It was certainly a labor of love:  I doubt that he ever made a dime off of it.  (He gave me my copy.)

     The writer was Paul S. Knecht.  After earning a doctorate in education, he became a professor at a small university in South Dakota.  His interests were natural science, ecology, and theology, and he became well-known -- in his small circle -- for the field trips that he led to the Florida Everglades.  Every college and university, I suppose, has one or two outstanding teachers who earn the admiration and love of their students:  he was such a man -- his students told me so.

     The little 32-page book is titled, The Logic of the Bible: A Conceptualization.  Dr. Knecht called it "an etude . . . an attempt to integrate some major Biblical themes into a comprehensive unfolding theology."  It is a nice overview, and makes no claim of thoroughness, or proof, or newness, or originality.  He says in the preface, "This conceptualization of the Bible is not proffered as a new interpretation; rather it represents my best understanding of the apostles' faith and orientation in the things of God.  And because I believe they correctly understood God's eternal truth, it represents what I teach and what I would persuade others to believe and teach as well."

     But for all his genuine modesty, he was original.

     On his introductory page of  "Assumptions," (remember that this is a book of logic), he makes this memorable statement:

     "4.  God, in all of His Omnipotence is capable of and has chosen the stance of self-limitation in His earthly dealings with man."

     I love that sentence, juxtaposing God with limitation -- self-limitation.  Stance of self-limitation.  Has chosen the stance of self-limitation . . . in His earthly dealings with man . . . in all of His Omnipotence is capable of and has chosen . . .

     That precise phrase, "stance of self-limitation," is basically unique to Paul S. Knecht.  A couple of years ago I googled it, and Google could find it nowhere in cyberspace -- nowhere.   Today, I can find only a single sort-of reference.  Of course, now that I have published this article, it will eventually appear on search-engines.  The idea will probably be associated with my name;  but it really is from Paul Knecht.

     "God has chosen the stance of self-limitation."  I wonder:  if that idea were introduced into formal theological discussions, precisely as stated -- remember, it apparently never has been before -- would it change or improve or enlighten those discussions in any way?  I don't know.

     I do know that I find it an interesting notion to remember when I consider my own "great questions," and even when I study philosophical schools of thought.  Plato, Spinoza, Calvin, Heidegger, would you care to comment on this statement?  "God, in all of His Omnipotence is capable of and has chosen the stance of self-limitation in His earthly dealings with man."

     Thank you for that insight, Dr. Knecht.

*       *       *

     Dr. Knecht was injured in a motorcycle accident and spent the last years of his life as a quadriplegic.  He managed to remain happy -- "just glad to be alive."  He died in 2012.



  1. Thank you Robert for sharing this phrase.

    Do you think it is on the level of, "Eternity is in love with the productions of time."?

    Maybe if Plato, Spinoza, Calvin or Mather understood that phrase...

    Many times those thinkers whom we hear were those who had the means and the opportunity to be heard. Frequently the educated alone had the privilege of writing, teaching and being heard. Little men such as Paul Knecht have generally been forgotten.

    Who knows how many ploughman/geniuses have gone by un-noticed?

    Maybe they too chose the stance of self-limitation.

  2. Ben,

    I think that the phrase, "God . . . has chosen the stance of self-limitation . . ." may be of similar revelatory power to the words of Blake that you quoted.

    But not yet: it requires the mulling and consideration of other saints to make it so.

    Blessings to you.

  3. It has occurred to me that my comment may be taken as an insult of Dr. Knecht by implying that he was not educated. That was not my intent.

    What I mean to say is that often those educated voices that are heard are those with the most money and privilege, those who have attended and taught at the "elite" universities. Dr. Knecht was not one of those, though he was educated, and so, we have not heard him.

  4. Ben,

    Thanks for extending the conversation about Dr. Knecht. I feel sure that no one who reads this blog, now at least, would think that you meant him the least disrespect; though for others who might read it in the future, the clarification might in some case be helpful.

    I also wondered if my reference to his disability in his last years might be taken as a disrespect: I trust that will not be so.

    It is interesting that his "assumption" -- I called it an insight -- has now appeared in links to other sites in the blogosphere, according to a Google search.

  5. Thank you for this Robert. It is good to be reminded, among ther things, that being noticed/recognized is not equal to being of value. I think it would be good, at least for my own mind and heart, to embrace the identity of the "ploughman/genius" and be content to think and create and live and love and the way Dr. Knecht has–unnoticed except by the few.
    I look forward to the opportunity to share a new idea with friends: the stance of self-limitation. :)