Original Research - Special Collection: Johan Buitendag Festschrift

Categorial differences between religious and scientific language: The agency of God

Luco J. van den Brom
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 79, No 2 | a9012 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v79i2.9012 | © 2023 Luco J. van den Brom | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 May 2023 | Published: 21 August 2023

About the author(s)

Luco J. van den Brom, Department of Christian Doctrine and Ethics, Faculty of Theology, Protestant Theological University, Groningen, the Netherlands; and Department of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


In the dialogue of scientists and theologians, participants experienced differences in linguistic usage of the various disciplines, for example different concepts, grammatical rules, characteristic terminology, specific phrases, and expressions. A fascinating subject of this dialogue concerned God’s agency in human history within space-time, where the concepts of ‘God’ and ‘divine agency’ were unusual. In the church tradition, believers learned to use these concepts using biblical training with narratives such as the Exodus or Babylon stories. But to handle these narratives in historical situations, we need to analyse the concepts of ‘history’ and its ambiguity, and the ‘historical method of explanation’ to answer the question: ‘How does God act in history?’ The central question of this article was: Is history a domain of Divine Agency? It is imperative to pay attention to the specific grammar of religious language and to distinguish it categorically from the computational language of the natural sciences. History as such should be deconstructed into history1 and history2. However, religious and technical activities are of different logical types, so we cannot combine them in one conceptual scheme on the same level. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that coherence might be possible at a higher conceptual level. A qualitative method of a critical literature review across disciplines was used and a subsequent contemplative conceptualisation was proposed.

Contribution: This article illustrated the difference between religious and scientific concepts to address Divine Agency in history. If reality or the universe can be described as an information-bearing entity in process, and if this is hierarchically structured, then we can imagine God interacting with this hierarchy.


history; history as a discipline; divine agency; structure; science and religion dialogue.

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