TULIP, Evangelical Calvinist Style

The TULIP Evangelical Calvinist style:

  • Total Depravity = ‘He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.’ II Corinthians 5.21.
  • Unconditional Election = God in Christ elected humanity for himself that ‘by his poverty we might be made rich.’ II Corinthians 8.9.
  • Limited Atonement = The atonement was ‘limited’ to Christ’s humanity for us, for all of humanity. I John 2.2.
  • Irresistible Grace = God chose to not be God without us prior to our choice to be for him; indeed it his choice for us in Christ that grounds and funds humanity’s choice to be for him, in and through the Spirit. Galatians 2.20.
  • Perseverance of the Saints = God’s life is indestructible, and so it will always persevere for us. Hebrews 7.25.

Something like that.

Thomas Torrance on Incarnational Cosmology and the Intellegibility of the Contingent Universe in Relation

“We come now to the other aspect of the Christian doctrine of God that is of significance for our theme, the faithfulness of God. This is the idea that in all its creaturely fragility and temporality the universe is harnassed to the invariance and constancy of God’s wisdom and love. Here once again the early Christian Church took its view of the whole economy of the space-time universe from its understanding of Jesus Christ as the bodying forth within space and time of the eternal purpose of God’s love. That is to say, it was the incarnation of God himself in Jesus Christ which constituted the dynamic centre from which the whole pattern and history of created reality is to be discerned, for all lines converge meaningfully at that point where are are transfixed, as it were, by a transcendent axis, much as the spokes of a cartwheel are made to bear upon a centre through which is thrust the axle that gives the wheel its significance. The discovery of the ultimate meaning and design of the universe in the incarnation had the effect of transforming the Hebrew idea of the covenanted mercies of God, and the Hellenic idea of the predetermination of all things in accordance with changeless necessities, and of bringing them together in such a way as to give rise to a thoroughly dynamic view of the cosmos in which orderliness and temporality, regularity and novelty, constancy and change were married together. The doctrine of creation out of nothing had shocked the Greek mind, as we have seen, for it appeared to throw the universe into unstable, irrational flux, but that was to fail to see the anchoring of the time-continuum of created reality in the unswerving faithfulness and love of the Creator such as he had revealed himself to be in Jesus Christ. However, the concept of a temporal origin to the universe from such a God had the effect of both establishing the concept of the history of the physical universe as an open-ended movement which constantly takes mankind by surprise, and yet of showing that history falls within the overarching constraints of God’s grace as its operation in our spatio-temporal existence is revealed in Jesus. That is to say, here we have advanced a concept of the divine providence without the closed predetermination of Aristotelian final causes or the changeless natural law of the Stoics, and the concept of the creative interaction of God with the temporal order of the universe which gives rise to a new understanding of order as both real and contingent. Far from being understood in the Platonic as a transient image of eternity, and far from being confounded with the measurement of velocity as with the Newtonians in a later age, time is filled with real content, for it is the created counterpart to the ever-new creative purposes of God himself, so that it continues to manifest from moment to moment in a dynamic present new patterns of events which could not have been anticipated from what has already happened in the past or have been predicted through any logico-deductive reasoning from abstract ideas. It is this astonishing combination of unpredictability and lawfulness, not only in the history of man but in the history of all created reality in its relation to the constancy and freedom of the grace of the Creator, that lies behind the Christian conception of the cosmos as an open-ordered universe. In its correlation with the unlimited freedom and inexhaustibility of the Creator the universe is characterized neither by uncertainty nor by necessity. Far from being closed or predetermined, the universe constitutes an open-textured system in which novel forms of order constantly emerge and yet blend with what has already taken place in invariant consistency and rationality.”

– Thomas F. Torrance, Divine And Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 68-9.

A Christological Collage: Reflecting on the Two-Natures, One Person of Jesus for Easter

As we remember the great reality that God in Christ has accomplished for the world during this Easter moment, I thought it would be appropriate for us to stop and consider a rather technical but important Christological jesuscollagereality. Namely, how ought we think of the relationship between the divine and human natures present in the one person of Jesus Christ? How we attempt to answer this question will have important implications in regard to what we think happened at the cross of Jesus Christ. For example Todd Norquist in a recent comment on the blog pondered: “I’m also sketchy on wt [sic] Christ, in his divine nature, was experiencing in the tomb–and at death.” And over at another blog that I was recently interacting act, one of its authors, Tom Belt articulated a related point in regard to considering the implications of a two-natured Christology (albeit in a different kind of context); Tom wrote,

The homoousion posits the consubstantiality of the Son/Logos with the Father. Chalcedon specifies two natures. One person, yes, but two natures (inseparable and unconfused). It’s via his divine nature that the Son is consubstantial with the Father and via his human nature that the Son is consubstantial with us…. That is, when I say the Son is not “reduced without remainder” to the constraints of his embodied/human context, I mean what Athanasius meant when he affirmed that while the Son was a babe in the cradle the SAME SON was sustaining the universe. One Person, yes, but two natures. And the natures are not collapsed into the constraints of Jesus human consciousness and embodied state.It seems to me that Kim F in his reply to Fr Aidan conflates the natures. He thinks that since there is one and only one subject (the Son) of the human sufferings that this must mean those sufferings define the divine nature. But that’s not at all an obvious ‘Christological’ truth picked up off the surface of reading the gospels, and it specifically denies Chalcedon. (see here)

Without getting into a problem with Tom’s kind of Nestorian-like explication of Chalcedonian christology (potentially, Nestorian, I would need further articulation from Tom on what he means in regard to ‘consubstantial with us’, he seems to elide the ground of both natures in the Son while wanting to affirm it; I would need to know how Tom deploys the concept of an/enhypostasis), what his quote identifies is the import, and maybe the continued confusion (or more charitably, difficulty) of how a two-nature one person Christology ought to function. Beyond Belt though, let me provide one more example, this time from my friend Steven Nemes, and a recent Good Friday blog post he just offered while reflecting upon this Easter season. Steven used Jürgen Moltmann’s theology of the cross to reflect on God and suffering, and of course Moltmann is Lutheran, so we will get a kind of distinct rendering of the communicatio idiomatum and how the two natures repose in the one person of Jesus Christ, which for Moltmann brings suffering into God’s life:

When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finite of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him (p. 276). (see here)

Given the above examples we can see how understanding the hypostatic union (the two natures of Jesus Christ, the divine and human) can affect the way we parse things, in particular, within a soteriological frame.

In response to this I am going to offer a quick reply by offering some quotes from my friend Darren Sumner, and an essay he has written (which represents a compressed version of his PhD work at Aberdeen). Darren will identify how this kind of discussion has occurred historically and in particular between the Lutherans and Calvinists. Darren as a Barth scholar, will offer an alternative kind of via media to what is somewhat represented by the Reformed view of this given by Tom Belt above, and the Lutheran application of this observed in the Moltmann quote.

We will start with Darren’s definition of the extra Calvinisticum which is the name given to the Reformed approach to thinking the two-natures of Christ juxtaposed with the Lutheran understanding of perichoresis or interpenetration between the two-natures of Christ (the communicatio idiomatum); and then I will close with Darren’s Barthian constructive proposal between these two extreme and historic approaches that has inhered in the Calvinists and Lutherans respectively. (And as I am writing this post I am running out of motivation and steam, so I might leave this post rather fragmented, and leave you to sort it out in the comment meta, if you so desire).

Here is Darren on definitions:

[T]he purpose of this article is to examine the dogmatic place of the ‘so-called’ extra Calvinisticum in an effort to determine whether it is an indispensable tenet of Christology – particularly in the Reformed tradition. This doctrine states that the Word of God is not entirely circumscribed by his assumed humanity, but continues to fill and sustain the universe even while he is incarnate in Jesus Christ. In other words he exists in two ways, both ensarkos and asarkos, because – as the Reformed dogmatics typically put it – finitum non capax infiniti. The term has its origins in Reformation debates over the Eucharist: the Reformed rejected both the bodily presence of Christ in the sacrament and the Lutherans’ innovative expansion of the communication idiomatum that undergirded it, since, they argued, there is no sharing of attributes between the natures. In its origins as a piece of negative theology – as the denial of Lutheran ubiquity and the genus maiestaticum – the extra Calvinisticum aimed at nothing more than this. It was an attempt by the Reformed to maintain: (1) the proper, Chalcedonian distinction between the natures, and (2) that the natures remain unaltered and undiminished. Therefore the Word is fully incarnate in the human Jesus, but is etiam extra carnem also outside the flesh.[1]

Darren on a Constructive Barthian Proposal Between the Calvinsts and Lutherans:

[T]he lives of the Word as asarkos and ensarkos both mutually participate in the one Christ, just as his two natures (or essences) mutually participate. This, for Barth, is simply another way of speaking of the hypostatic union – but speaking of it as a dynamic event between God and humanity and not as a static condition. The states of humiliation and exaltation ‘operate together and mutually interpret one another’, and this simultaneity allows us to affirm both that the Son is never limited to human form, never abandons the throne or ceases to sustain the universe, and also that he is one, undivided Subject who cannot be sought other than in Jesus Christ. It has the advantage of affirming what the Reformed took of value from the extra carnem without succumbing to its failings. It also binds the doctrine of the two natures to soteriology, not allowing it to float autonomously from the narrative of the New Testament. Where Lutheran Christology suggested that the Word crosses the gap between the Creator and the creature, and Reformed Christology that the Word bridges the gap (remaining on both sides), Barth’s actualist Christology suggests intead that in his person Jesus Christ closes the gap. God and humanity remain distinct, but are unequivocally reconciled in the event of the Son’s incarnate life.

It is evident, then, that Barth’s reconfiguration of the status duplex placed the difficult matter of the extra Calvinisticum in new light. It enabled him finally to articulate just where the Reformed deployment of this doctrine into the thorny field of Christology was coming up short, and how the life of the Logos asarkos may yet be affirmed (against Lutheran kenosis, in all its forms) in such a way as to reach the goal for which Calvin had set out, yet without succumbing to the dangers of a double Logos or an evacuation of the doctrine of the incarnation of any meaningful content. But where the humiliation of the Son of God and the exaltation of the Son of Man are understood to be a single event, his life beyond the incarnation no longer speaks the definitive word about his eternal identity.[2]

If I had more energy, this is where I would attempt to draw out some implications of what Darren has offered in an attempt to engage with all of the examples I have noted previously. But I will leave that for another time.

 

 

[1] Darren O. Sumner, “The Twofold Life of the Word: Karl Barth’s Critical Reception of the Extra Calvinisticum,International Journal of Systematic Theology Volume 15/1 (January 2013): 42-57.

[2] Ibid. Obviously (if it isn’t obvious see the following), these two paragraphs have been preceded by much detailed explication and argumentation by Darren; this is his summary of all of that.

Holy Saturday, The Chasm Between Now and Not-Yet

Wrote this about seven years ago.

holysaturdayHoly Saturday is the time that the “Western Church,” Protestants included (well some), contemplate the moment between the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the contemplation of the burial in 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, . . .

What a time to contemplate the time between the now and the not yet. This time between Christ’s cross and humiliation of unspeakable depths, and the glories’ of His coming resurrection and ascension; analogically represent the time we inhabit now. We currently wait to fully realize the glory that Jesus has shared with the Father before the world began. And like the Apostles, Disciples, and hopefuls who followed Jesus to the cross, during this time of Jesus’ silence we can despair, be full of fear, angst, anxiousness, etc. We often wonder is this it? We face circumstances that seem overwhelming, that seem to eclipse and overcome the life of Christ . . . that make it seem as if Christ stayed in the grave. As Christians in this big world, some-times like the disciples of Christ (during this time in history), we can cower behind locked doors, scratch our heads, and wonder, “what now?”

If only the disciples would have remembered, and put 2 + 2 together, what Jesus had said to them in the past (easy for me to say):

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ ~ Matthew 17:9

maybe their despair, their bewilderment, would be turned to joy. Maybe their burden would have been light. Maybe they would have been grieving as ones with real hope. But they forgot, at that moment of time they became so gripped with fear they could not really function (at least some of them, His closest). Even though we know the story, because we can read about it at one sitting, don’t we live like Jesus’ end was the grave? We fall into caverns of unbelief that seem to eclipse and overshadow what we know to be true . . . if only we would remember the hope, the hope that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 17, and the hope that was realized in Matthew 28:1-10.

As we look forward to Sunday, lets not grow weary by the unanswered questions and grief of Saturday. Instead of forgetting what Jesus has said about the resurrection (i.e. His second advent), lets glory in advance, in anticipation of the glory that will be revealed in us, as we are hidden in Christ. While we live in Saturday, in anticipation, lets rest with Jesus, lets, with Jesus say: ” . . . Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Lk 23:46).”

I think the best thing about this analogy, of “Holy Saturday,” is that it breaks down at a point. We don’t despair as if there is no resurrection, in fact as Christians we have been brought into the heavenly places with Christ (cf. Eph. 1), now; we have intimate union with Him now (cf. I Cor. 6:17); we have been given the Holy Spirit now (cf. Jn 14–16); and a whole array of distinguishing factors from those disciples of the first century. So take heart, don’t forget, this Holy Saturday, Jesus’ words of glory in humility:

. . . I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33

 

Easter Before Good Friday: A Reflection on the Apostles’ Creed

Was Crucified, Dead, And Buried, He Descended Into Hell

How do you think of God revealed in Jesus? Do you primarily think of him through the lens of the cross? Then you might be a Western Christian (which most of us are). Or maybe you think of him primarily in and through the lens of the resurrection, yeah? It is probably best, instead, to think of him in both his humiliation (cross) and exaltation (resurrection, ascension, heavenly session, and consummation), and to think ourselves from within this nexus of being of God and [hu]man[ity] in Christ and his hypostatic union. This represents a genuine dialectic, right? And it also illustrates how we ought to think reality from God’s Self revelation in Christ. But I digress.

Karl Barth speaks of this kind of theologia crucis and theologia gloriae more pointedly than I can, and he hearkens us back to Martin Luther’s ‘theology of the cross’ (which I think dialectically has a proper understanding of ‘theology of glory’ embedded in it) as he reflects upon this article of The Apostles’ Creed: Was Crucified, Dead, And Buried, He Descended Into Hell.

The mystery of the Incarnation unfolds into the mystery of Good Friday and of Easter. And once more it is as it has been so often in this whole mystery of faith, that we must always see two things together, we must always understand one by the other. In the history of the Christian faith it has, indeed, always been the case that the knowledge of Christians has gravitated more to the one side or to the other. We may take it that the Western Church, the Church of the Occident, has a decided inclination towards the theologia crucis—that is, towards bringing out and emphasising the fact that He was surrendered for our transgressions. Whereas the Eastern Church brings more into the foreground the fact that He was raised for our justification, and so inclines towards the theologia gloriae. In this matter there is no sense in wanting to play off one against the other. You know that from the beginning Luther strongly worked out the Western tendency—not theologia gloriae but theologia crucis. What Luther meant by that is right. But we ought not to erect and fix any opposition; for there is no theologia crucis which does not have its complement in the theologia gloriae. Of course, there is no Easter without Good Friday, but equally certainly there is no Good Friday without Easter! Too much tribulation and sullenness are too easily wrought into Christianity. But if the Cross is the Cross of Jesus Christ and not a speculation on the Cross, which fundamentally any heathen might also have, then it cannot for one second be forgotten or overlooked that the Crucified rose again from the dead the third day. We shall in that case celebrate Good Friday quite differently, and perhaps it would be well not to sing on Good Friday the doleful, sad Passion hymns, but to begin to sing Easter hymns. It is not a sad and miserable business that took place on Good Friday; for He rose again. I wanted to say this first, that you are not to take abstractly what we have to say about the death and the Passion of Christ, but already to look beyond it to the place where His glory is revealed.[1]

This challenges me. Admittedly I have thought from the ‘Western’ proclivity much more than the ‘Eastern,’ if we can even speak from this divide any longer. We might like to skip over Good Friday though altogether, but I don’t think Barth is calling for that. We might like to live our ‘best life now’ (pace Joel Osteen), and live a Christian spirituality that has no cruciform or cross-shaped anything; we might like to pretend that there are no people locked up in insane asylums, or who live in the squalor of their birthed existence into Sudanese poverty and affliction (for example); but this isn’t what Barth is suggesting by inverting Good Friday with Easter. I think it is more profound, what Barth is suggesting, it is in line with what the author of the epistle of Hebrews has written (I think):

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.[2]

Christianity represents a glorious way to think, but glorious in cruciform shape. This Easter season, let Easter hope condition the whole season. Walk through the ‘stations,’ but do so from the hope that He is Risen, Indeed!

10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.[3]

                       


[1] Karl Barth, Dogmatics In Outline (London: SCM Press, 1949), 114.

[2] Hebrews 12.1,2 NKJV.

[3] II Corinthians 4.10 NKJV. 

Was Thomas F. Torrance an Advocate of Open Theism? Nein!

The following will not be an attempt to argue against the merits of what has been called Open Theism, whether it has any (merits), or not. Instead, the sole purpose of this mini-essay will be to clarify whether or not Scottish theologian, Thomas F. Torrance, affirmed the Open Theist position in his material writings, and theological offerings.

Since I am attempting to provide clarification about Torrance’s relationship (or non-relationship) with open theism, there must be, you might infer, folks who are claiming that in some way (even if only suggestively), Torrance was an advocate or friend of open theism. But before we get ahead of ourselves, for the un-initiated, let me provide a definition of what open theism entails from one of its most popular and foremost proponents today, Greg Boyd. Boyd states, in regard to his definition of open theism, this:

If I had to define “Open Theism” in one sentence, I would say that it as the view that the future is partly comprised of possibilities and is therefore known by God as partly comprised of possibilities.  (By the way, I prefer to refer to this view as “the open view of the future,” since the most distinctive aspect of Open Theism is not its understanding of the nature of God, but its understanding of the nature of the future).

To expound a bit on this definition, the open view of the future holds that God chose to create a cosmos that is populated with free agents – at least humans and angels (though some hold that there is a degree of freedom, however small, in all sentient beings).  To have free will means that one has the ability to transition several possible courses of action into one actual course of action. This is precisely why Open Theists hold that the future is partly comprised of possibilities.  While God can decide to pre-settle whatever aspects of the future he wishes, to the degree that he has given agents freedom, God has chosen to leave the future open, as a domain of possibilities, for agents to resolve with their free choices.  This view obviously conflicts with the understanding of the future that has been espoused by classical theologians, for the traditional view is that God foreknows from all eternity the future exclusively as a domain of exhaustively definite facts.[1]

Whether or not (and he does not) Boyd wants to associate his ‘open’ view with his doctrine of God or not, does not change the reality that this (his) view does implicate his doctrine of God, and his conception of a God-world relation; in particular, as the quote illustrates, how Boyd conceives of God’s posture and activity towards the future of this earth, and the human decisions that shape it. For Boyd, then, God’s life becomes contingent upon the way we as human beings ‘decide’ to go one way or the other; and God then responds in kind to our decisions, even if he does so from a more privileged and knowledgeable place than we ourselves do. The implication being that God is ‘open’ to our future, thus filling in the gaps or contingencies embedded in creation as he ‘responds’ to our ‘free’ and unconditioned choices (which ends up collapsing God into creation [making God’s decisions about his relation to creation contingent upon creation’s decisions about the future, both generally, and particularly], which would be akin to the kind of pantheistic theology of someone like Jürgen Moltmann).

To be ‘open’ then, for God, in this system, is to be genuinely open to the choices that we make as human beings.[2] This would be opposed to the conception, the classical conception, that God knows the beginning from the end; and that there is nothing external to God’s life (like creation) that could cause him to change his mind, like our decisions.

Thomas F. Torrance is not an advocate, whatsoever! of Open Theism as some would like to suggest.[3] And for the rest of this little essay, I would like to briefly explain why; and further, how Torrance is using the language of ‘open’ in contrast to the way that open theism uses it. By engaging in this quick exercise, I hope to demonstrate that any attempt to correlate Torrance and open theism, simply because they use similar language at points (i.e. open), is in the end an equivocal endeavor.

Thomas Torrance’s primary concern, in his theology, is not to explain how human being’s choices might implicate God’s inner Triune life (in se). Torrance is not anxious about defending free-will theism, and libertarian free agency (as is open theism) against the over-deterministic world of classical Calvinist thought imbued with a universe that is regulated by fate-driven decrees and cog like mechanisms that turn the hands of God’s time and our’s. Instead, Torrance’s primary concern, in regard to a doctrine of God, is to demonstrate that God’s life has always already been free in itself to be what is exhaustibly within itself based upon the intra-relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, for Torrance, he would like people to understand that God does not need anything or anyone else to be exhaustively complete and full within himself (so simple). It is precisely because of whom God is in and for himself, Torrance would postulate, that he has the kind of freedom it took for him to decide to create. And for Torrance, God decided to create not by a necessary compulsion, but because he is grace and love; and because he is love and grace he freely chose, in concert with this defining reality, to create counterpoints, by creating a creation (humanity) that could participate and reciprocate his self given life of love back to himself (cf. I Jn. 4.19) in fellowship one with the other. For Torrance then, and in line with an Athanasian theme, God has always been Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit, but he has not always been Creator; becoming Creator for God, just as becoming Incarnate in Christ, was something new for God and it was grounded back in this antecedent reality of who God is as love and in his free act grace.

Given this background on Torrance’s doctrine of God we are free to consider, better, how openness for Torrance functions in contrast to how ‘openness’ functions for the Open Theist. When God freely chose to create, in Torrance’s view, built into this was the notion of contingency. In other words, when God created (and the classical Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo is foundational and presumed for Torrance), since he did not need the world in order to be God, by definition (since he is the one creating it), the world depended upon his divine Word for its reality; and so the world was initially and continuously contingent upon this reality (i.e. the world needs God’s sustenance in order to exist, so contingence). In describing this we are getting closer to understanding how ‘open’ language will do work within Torrance’s system of theology and doctrine of God, in a God-world relation. What you should be starting to realize by now, is that for Torrance, there is an interesting and pregnant relation between the contingency of the world, and how he uses the concept of openness in regard to the world’s relationship with its giver, with God. It is apropos then for us to see how Torrance himself articulates his understanding of God, and how the world is open to him (not vice versa in contrast to open theism’s conception and employment of ‘openness’). Here is Torrance (at length):

There is no intrinsic reason in the universe why it should exist at all, or why it should be what it actually is: hence we deceive ourselves if in our natural science we think that we can establish that the universe could only be what it is. The universe is not some sort of perpetuum mobile, a self-existing, self-supporting, self-explaining magnitude, wholly consistent and complete in itself and thus imprisoned within a pointless circularity of inescapable necessities. On the contrary, the universe constitutes an essentially open system with an ontological and intelligible reference beyond its own limits which cuts the circuit of any possible closure of its internal processes re-entrantly upon themselves, and thereby gives them their distinctive intelligibility. Thus it belongs to the very nature of the universe that the consistency of its own independent status and condition is incomplete and requires to completed beyond itself. That is another way of saying that the independence of the universe is both grounded in and limited by its radical dependence. Given that dependence, openness, or reference of the universe beyond itself which is part of what contingence means, contingence also represents—that the universe is endowed with an autonomous character both as a whole and throughout its immanent relations, with features and patterns and operational principles which belong to it as by intrinsic natural right, and which require an autonomous mode of investigation appropriate to their distinctive nature and integrity. That is why contingence must be assiduously respected, and must not be rationalized away as some unfortunate element of deficiency or inexplicability in nature from which science must abstract in order to give a consistent, rational account of the universe. Rather is contingence to be regarded as a basic and essential feature of the universe, a constituting condition of its reality and actuality.[4]

Torrance’s whole discussion of ‘openness’ takes place under the dogmatic category of a doctrine of Creation (which is distinct from where the discussion of openness occurs for the Open Theist, for the OT this discussion takes place in a doctrine of humanity or in the realm of an theological-anthropology). The world is necessarily ‘open’ precisely because it is contingent upon its reality given and sustained by God. The world, for Torrance, as just noticed, has its own internal order and independence, and thus has realities attendant to that that are coherent with its own immanent integrity; but the point, Torrance’s point remains, this independent character of the created order, the world, is a contingent independence, contingent upon God. When scientists, when people endeavor to seek out the mysteries of the universe, there is a naturalist component to this, but ultimately this seeking out, according to Torrance, will finally terminate beyond creation itself, and require the inquirer to move beyond nature and recognize that nature itself is contingent upon God’s word of grace. In this sense the world remains ‘open’, the world is ‘open’ and there is an openness of God in a God-world relation, wherein the world must look beyond itself to its giver if there is going to be an ultimate intelligibility about its order and resplendent glory.

This is different than the way the open theist thinks of openness. I will leave this open for you to consider further. But what should no longer be open, if ever it was for you, is the idea that Thomas F. Torrance is anywhere close to being an advocate, chum, friend, mate of what has become known as Open Theology. He is not for the reasons delineated  above.

 

[1] Greg Boyd, http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-open-theist-greg-boyd-response, accessed 04-16-2014.

[2] In other words, God could change his mind based upon future contingencies that become actual through the decision making process of human beings, for example. So God’s life vis-à-vis his relation to the future is not exhausted by his own internal life, but remains genuinely open and informed by the choices that human history makes; thus implying that God’s own being could be lacking and deficient insofar as he, along with us, is waiting to see how the future is going to unfold.

[3] See this blog article Muslin Open Theists, Politics, T. F. Torrance, and Why the God-Man Matters, written by open theist proponent, T.C. Moore. Moore would like to suggestively posit that Thomas F. Torrance’s theology somehow is in alignment with the concerns and categories offered by Open Theism. Moore quotes Torrance in a piece where Torrance uses the language of ‘openness of God’ to draw this kind of purported or suggestive correlation between Torrance’s theological articulation and that of open theism. This quote:

The world, then, is made open to God through its intersection in the axis of Creation-Incarnation. Its space-time structures are so organized in relation to God that we who are set within them may think in and through them to their transcendent ground in God Himself. Jesus Christ constitutes the actual centre in space and time where that may be done. But what of the same relationship the other way round, in the openness of God for the world that He has made? Does the intersection of His reality with our this-worldly reality in Jesus Christ mean anything for God? We have noted already that it means that space and time are affirmed as real for God in the actuality of His relations with us, which binds us to space and time, so that neither we nor God can contract out of them. Does this not mean that God has so opened Himself to our world that our this-worldly experiences have import for Him in such as way, for example, that we must think of Him as taking our hurt and pain into Himself? This is what we cannot do from the approach of deistic dualism—why, for example, Schleiermacher could not hold that God is merciful and why Bultmann cannot allow that the love of God is a fact within the cosmos. Thus it would appear that the question as to impassibility of God is the question as to the actuality of the intersection of God’s reality with worldly reality, and as to the depth of its penetration into our creaturely being. If God is merely impassible He has not made room for Himself in our agonied existence, and if He is merely immutable He has neither place nor time for frail evanescent creatures in His unchanging existence. But the God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ as sharing our lot is the God who is really free to make Himself poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich, the God invariant in love but not impassible, constant in faithfulness but not immutable. T. F. Torrance, Space, Time, and Incarnation (Oxford University Press, 1969), 74-75, emphasis added.

[4] Thomas F. Torrance, Divine And Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 36.

A Mechanical-Universe: Against Classical Theologies that Subvert the Freedom of God and the Freedom of Humanity

I have kind of been on a bit of a sabbatical from reading Thomas Torrance, but I am tired of that sabbatical; it is time to jump back on the wagon, and resume where I left off with TFT, wherever that was.

maryjesusI just re-picked up (I never actually read it the first time I picked it up) Torrance’s book Divine and Contingent Order, and I am excited I did. The fact that Torrance dedicates this book to his long time Greek Orthodox compatriot Georges Florovsky should say something; that is, that this book, per classic Torrance, is going to take us back to the patristic past, and constructively through retrieval bring us into some modern and contemporary discussion–in the case of this book it will have mostly to do with issues surrounding science, with obvious overlap with theology.

The following quote from this book brings me back to what I have probably become known for best (at least in my past iteration as a blogger) in the theo-blogosphere, that is my rather contentious relationship with what I have called classical Calvinist (and Arminian) theology (but I wouldn’t want to limit my contentiousness to just the Calvinists and Arminians, I believe in offering equal opportunity of contention for other expressions and certain kinds of classical, mostly Aristotelian inspired, medieval theologies). And so this quote is intended to once again–for I fear that people have become lax in regard to the current takeover of North American evangelical theology by tributaries of resource that are flowing directly from the Aristotelian stream of deterministic logico-causality present and funding evangelical movements like The Gospel Coalition, Together 4 the Gospel, et. al. etc.–re-register that Bobby Grow is still watching ;-) , and I haven’t grown lax in my disdain for the mechanical God of classical Calvinism, in particular, even if I understand that many Calvinists have a deep piety and love for God. So consider my vigor, in this regard, to be motivated, in part, by a desire to align said Calvinist piety and love of God, with a ground and grammar for articulating God and dogma in a way that is correlative and consistent with who the Calvinists and Arminians want to love as God.

In step with the above then, let me get to this quote from Thomas Torrance. In this quote Torrance is sketching the impact that Aristotelian and then Newtonian categories have had upon God and the subsequent development of theology that followed, in particular, and for our purposes, in the post Reformed orthodox era of Calvinist and Arminian theology. And given the fact that much of this theology is being repristinated and resurrected by the neo-Calvinists/Puritans et. al., again, it will only be apropos to visit its informing background through the lens that Torrance provides for that. Torrance writes (at length),

It was in terms of these basic ideas that classical Christian theology of the fourth and fifth centuries set out to reconstruct the foundations of ancient philosophy and science upon which the pagan picture of God and the cosmos rested.  Today we can see that they were masterful ideas which lay deep in the development of Western science, and with which we are more than ever concerned in the new science of our own day and its underlying concept of a unifying order. But what became of these ideas in thought subsequent to the Nicene and immediately post-Nicene era? For a short period they bore remarkable fruit in the physics of space and time, and of light and motion, that arose in Alexandria in the fifth and sixth centuries and which, like the theology out of which it grew, was thoroughly anti-dualist in its basic orientation. Before long, however, these ideas became swamped in the massive upsurge of dualist cosmologies and epistemologies which took somewhat different forms in the Augustinian West and Byzantine East. The idea that the created universe is rational because its Creator and Preserver is rational remained, and was to see considerable development, especially in Western medieval theology and philosophy, which thus has contributed immensely to our scientific understanding of the universe. Unfortunately, however, the doctrine of God behind it all suffered not a little modification in terms of his inertial motion which was to have considerable effect upon classical Newtonian physics. Here the conception of the impassibility and immutability of God (i.e. that God is not subject to suffering or change), which has patristic sources, became allied to the Aristotelian notion of the Unmoved Mover. Although the idea of the creation of the universe out of nothing remained, that became difficult to maintain when the universe itself came to be construed more and more in terms of Aristotle’s four causes in which the effect was understood as following inexorably from its antecedent and defining cause, for to regard the Creator as the First Cause from which the universe took its rise appears to imply ‘the eternity of the world’ if only the mind of God who knows himself as its First Cause. Mediaeval theology on evangelical grounds had to reject the notion of ‘the eternity of the world’ but it remained trapped, for the most part at least, in notions of impassibility and immutability of God which had as their counterpart a notion of the world which, given its original momentum by the First Cause, constituted a system of necessary and causal relations in which it was very difficult to find room for any genuine contingence. Contingence could only be thought of in so far as there was an element of necessity in it, so that contingence could be thought of only by being thought away. The inertial relation of an immutable God to the world he has made thus gave rise to a rather static conception of the world and its immanent structures. Looked at in this way it seems that the groundwork for the Newtonian system of the world was already to found in mediaeval thought.[1]

Does this, at all, sound familiar to you? Have you been exposed to this kind of over-determined world in what you have been taught at church or elsewhere? What do we lose if we affirm the kind of mechanical world that Torrance just described? We lose intimate relationship with God in Christ for one thing. We also have potential for losing compassion for others; we might conclude that the plight of some people, or a whole group or nation of people are ‘just’ determined to be where they are in their own lived lives, no matter how miserable. We might not overtly or consciously think all of this, but it surely would be informing the way we view ourselves and other selves in relation to God in the world.

Let me just leave off by suggesting that what Torrance describes above, about a mechanical-world is the world you get when you embrace classical Calvinism, Arminianism, etc. (philosophically, theologically, ethically, etc.). And let me suggest that there is a better way forward that is more consistent with the idea that God is love, and that he serves (or should) as the ground and grammar of everything.

 

 

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Divine And Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 5-6.

What Did Lessing, Schleiermacher, and Kant do to the Bible and the Way we Interpret It?

How did we get to where we have gotten theologically exegetically in our current state, whether ‘Liberal’ or ‘evangelical’ in the modern-post/modern period? How has a ‘reasonable faith’ impeded upon a revealed faith such kantthat either we must attempt to jump Lessing’s historical ditch by our own intellectual prowess, or acknowledge thus propping up revealed theology (i.e. what is given in the Bible) by our own rationales?

These are questions I will briefly deal with and sketch in the rest of this kind of abstract (an abstract without an essay).

As Murray Rae describes the impact of Lessing, Schleiermacher, and Kant upon where ‘modern’ exegetical practice is at today the above questions will be addressed, and then I will follow this up with my own reflection upon Rae’s observations.

Lessing’s troubled skepticism about whether the Gospel narratives—concerning events now inaccessible to our experience—could be sufficiently trustworthy to warrant the total submission of one’s life and intellect to the truth proclaimed by Christianity helped to generate among Schleiermacher’s contemporaries, at least in the universities, an impatience with theological claims—about Jesus in particular—that relied solely on the quotation of Scripture and that could not be confirmed by the deliberations of human reason. That mood was also given impetus by Immanuel Kant’s (1724–1804) insistence that we have no direct experience of things as they are in themselves but only of things as they appear to us. The way appearances of things are ordered into a coherent picture of the world depends upon the data of perception but crucially too upon the conceptualizing activity of our own intellects. With respect to theology, Kant contended that we have no direct experience of God, but our experience of moral obligation only makes sense if we postulate the existence of God (along with individual freedom and immortality). The existence of God is, in other words, a condition of the intelligibility of our moral experience.

Kant proceeded to explain that there are two forms of theology, the revealed or biblical theology of the church containing all the historical and symbolic material upon which Christian theology has been constructed, and the rational theology which Kant himself presumed to develop in Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (1793). These two forms of theology are related as two concentric circles: the outer being revealed theology, the inner being rational theology. The rational theologian, Kant argued, must “waive consideration of all experiences,” which is to say, the rational theologian must proceed without reliance upon the historical material of the Bible. There is, in revealed theology, a timeless essence with which the rational theologian is concerned, but it is discoverable in principle without recourse to the historical testimonies that attend Christian theology, as also the theology of other faiths. The essence of all faiths, allegedly, is their moral significance, which is derivable a priori from reason alone.[1]

Present in all proposals, whether Lessing, Schleiermacher, Kant, et. al. there is redolent a kind of dualism between history (linearly conceived), and a subject’s engagement with it vis-à-vis reason; and the more circumspect or reliable or accessible of the two is humanity’s reason. And so beyond the categories supplied by reason there is nothing reliable and thus anything beyond reason remains off limits and inaccessible toward being a ground upon which humanity can build anything stable and flourishing.

As Rae underscores, what this does, in particular with a Kantian accessibility to reality and ‘truth’ is that it subjectivizes it in a way that historical data, for example, no longer has the capacity to duly inform how we ought to conceive of God; instead that is left to our experience and ordering of reality through our own rationales. So God becomes subject to our subject, and Scripture is discarded as a husk that only reflects the kernel of other human being’s attempt to think God. God orbits in our world, we do not orbit in his, in other words.

Actually I made some assertions about ‘Liberals’ and ‘evangelicals’ in my opening statements to this abstract, I am going to leave those dangling in light of what I just presented.

[1] Murray Rae, “Salvation in Community: The Tentative Universalism of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834),” in ed. Gregory MacDonald, All Shall Be Well: Explorations in Universalism and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011),

The Apocalyptic Eucharist as the Reality that Unites the Churches Under the Primacy of Jesus: T Torrance

The following (well the indented section that is following; the first three paragraphs are my introduction and thoughts on what Torrance has written to Florovsky as transcribed by Baker) comes from Matthew Baker’s tommytorrancetranscription of a personal correspondence that took place between Fr. Georges Florovsky and Thomas F. Torrance.*

I want to highlight an aspect of Thomas Torrance’s theology by quoting this lengthy section of this particular letter from Torrance to Florovsky. What is at stake is an undertaking wherein Torrance and Florovsky were seeking ecumenical dialogue, and to do so between the Eastern Orthodox and Reformed church that Torrance dutifully represented in his homeland of Scotland.

What is theologically insightful in this is Torrance’s emphasis upon the Eucharist as being the reality that ought to apocalyptically bind all of the branches of the Christian churches together (i.e. not just Rome, not just the Greeks, not just the Reformed, etc.). As you will read below, you will see how Torrance has a theology of Ascension informing his conception of the binding and apocalyptic reality of the Eucharist itself. As you will read, you will observe that Torrance believed that the uniting factor present in the Eucharist is the reality mediated in and through it, something that does not pronounce a word of judgment or reconciliation grounded in the ecclesia itself; but instead mediating the very reality of Christ himself into the presence of his seven churches (pace Revelation) as representative of all instances of his church. And this, for Torrance, the Eucharist, was conferred upon God’s people immediately at the Holy Ascension signifying his primacy over all of creation, but in particular, his people in his church[es]. Jesus, for Torrance, is the Eschatos, the first and the last word of judgment and reconciliation over his people. This is not something or some-reality that the churches can manage or control, but this is something instituted in Christ’s blood (of the New Covenant), given life in the resurrection, and constantly in-breaking (apocalyptic) as his churches, out of obedience to him, participate koinonially around his broken body, and shed blood. This is the reality that binds all of his people together, no matter what nation, tribe or tongue, or denomination (under the rubric of his orthodox life).

Okay, so the above is my take on what Torrance has written to Florovsky. You read it, and tell me what you think. And tell me if you agree with Torrance about the apocalyptic reality and power and place of the Eucharist; do you think it has the purchase to provide for the kind of ecumenicism that Torrance hoped for (Florovsky did not in the final analysis).

Beechgrove Manse,

39 Forest Road,

Jan. 25, 1950

My dear Professor Florovsky,

I am ready to understand the theological significance of defection from a united Eucharist, behind which there is a certain theological earnestness and sincerity so often lacking in those who are not very pained at our divisions; but ultimately refusal of intercommunion can only mean for me a lack of trust in the opus Dei in the Eucharist and a fear that it is not so powerful as to overcome our mistakes and heal our divisions, and bring medicine to our mortal strifes. If the real presence of the Lord, the Son of Man, the Eschatos, the Lamb of God, is with us in the Eucharist, as I most firmly believe it is, then I am ready to put the Lord and Head of the Church before Church Order, before Doctrine, before Tradition. All our Church Order and Doctrine come as the result of the charismata given us by the Lord of the Church in his Ascension-gifts; but, says Paul, even these charismata will pass away, though faith, hope, and love will remain. Even the Ämter[1] of the Church, as Eugen Walter of Freiburg says in a recent powerful book (Das Kommen des Herrn – R.C.!)[2], will pass away before the apocalypse of the New Creation which is absolutely one with the risen Body of the Saviour.[3]

This is the notion that the Reformed Church takes seriously, the Lordship of the Real Presence in the Church, and not the domestication of the Real presence to be the manipulable tool of Church history and ecclesiastical orders that are necessarily fraught with the misunderstandings of this passing world. The Reformation stands for a Christological correction of the doctrine of the Church and sacraments in accordance with the principles of Nicaea and Chalcedon, which was NEVER carried out anywhere until a beginning was made at the Reformation. This is what it means to put on the wedding garment for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb – “not being conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewing of the mind . . . Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” etc.[4] But there is no need to say all this to you, for as a Biblical theologian you will agree with it.[5] Our divisions come however where we arrest some particular doctrine and freeze it a special point, and refuse for [?] pride or prejudice or history to carry this doctrine critically through the whole pleroma of our Church life and thought and practice. This may be painful to you, but I submit that as we look over at the Catholic sections of the Church, conscious though we may be that we have yet to reform ourselves anew in areas where we became deficient through defection at the Reformation, there are areas in the Catholic Churches where a refusal to submit to self-correction in terms of the great Christological Councils is the greatest stumbling block to reunion.

One of the burning points here is where Church Order concerns the Eucharist. You are right to put your finger on this point! I do wish I could spend several days with you going over all the relevant passages in the Scriptures and the Fathers of the first four centuries on these matters – that is the only way to come to a closer understanding, is it not?[6]

 

*The following footnotes are transcribed directly from Matthew Baker’s transcription of the above section of the letter that he has offered for us in his Participatio vol. 4, pg. 287-323 essay highlighting the correspondence that took place between Fr. Georges Floroskvy and Thomas F. Torrance. The numeration of the footnotes does not correlate to the original essay offered by Baker due to transcriptional edits made by me.

[1] German: “offices,” “orders.”

[2] “R.C.”: Roman Catholic. Walter’s study Das Kommen des Herrn (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1948-1950) was published in two volumes: Die endzeitgemässe Haltung des Christen nach den Briefen der heiligen Apostel Paulus und Petrus (1948); II. Die eschatologische Situation nach den synoptischen Evangelien (1947).

[3]  Torrance notably does not address here the apostolic thrones still to be found in  the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30; Rev. 20:4), of which the ancient Orthodox liturgical synthronon of bishop and presbyters is an eschatological image.

[4] Romans 12:2; Philippians 2:5.

[5] Note how Torrance’s regard for Florovsky as a “Biblical theologian” – quite a different perception than the one that obtains in recent criticisms of Florovsky and neopatristic theology among academicians in the Orthodox sphere.

[6] In his 1970 sermon “The Relevance of Orthodoxy,” reprinted in this issue of Participatio, Torrance reflected on his experience of precisely such common study of Scripture in the Faith and Order Commission on Christ and His Church and admitted: “Again and again  … when passages of the Bible were being interpreted by others – Professor Florovsky, for example – I had to take a new hard look at the Greek text of the New Testament to see whether it really did mean what he said, and again and again found that I had been misreading the New Testament because I had been looking at it through Presbyterian spectacles. Our conjoint discussion, to which we brought our several Church traditions and outlooks, enabled us in the give and take of criticism, to read what was actually written in the Bible and to interpret it as far as possible undistorted by this or that ecclesiastical tradition. I myself learned, I think, from the Orthodox more than from any other.”

What is Natural Theology? and Why It Should be Abhorred.

Often I reference Natural Theology on my forum/blog, but I do not often give an explanation for what it is in a basic sense. So with this post I hope to quickly remedy that by providing a basic definition of what natural hitler1theology entails, and who was one of its most famous and early proponents. Millard Erickson in his systematic theology Introducing Christian Doctrine has written this in description and definition of what natural theology is at a basic level:

The core of natural theology is the idea that it is possible, without prior commitment of faith to the beliefs of Christianity, and without relying upon any special authority, such as an institution (the church) or a document (the Bible), to come to a genuine knowledge of God on the basis of reason alone. Reason here refers to the human capacity to discover, understand, interpret, and evaluate the truth.

Perhaps the outstanding example of natural theology in the history of the church is the massive effort of Thomas Aquinas. According to Thomas, all truth belongs to one of two realms. The lower realm is the realm of nature, the higher the realm of grace. While the claims pertaining to the upper realm must be accepted on authority, those pertaining to the lower realm may be known by reason.[1]

This seems probably pretty vanilla for most evangelical Christians to digest, and something most are pretty familiar with; in fact it seems intuitive, does it not? But I reject this; I reject the idea, along with Karl Barth and against Thomas Aquinas that people in general can come to a genuine knowledge of God apart from God’s particular Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, most of the Western tradition of Christianity (of which almost all of my readers are participants of, i.e. the Western trad) affirms natural theology. It affirms conceiving of God, categorically by way of employing philosophical reflection as determinative for how we supply ourselves with a grammar that articulates God. I reject this though. So does Karl Barth, and here is why[2] (and this is a full length quote, so hang on),

“The content of revelation is wholly God.” The point here is simply that God is not just half revealed, so that another part of his being or attributes or acts will have to remain hidden or will have to be imparted in some other way than by revelation. As regards the second possibility, we have to think especially of the increasing role played in Protestant theology from the end of the 16th century by what is variously called natural theology or revelation or religion (as distinct from the supernatural or Christian revelation). Natural revelation includes not only the voice of God in nature, as the name indicates, but also such things as conscience, the moral light of nature, religious feelings or dispositions or tendencies in us, mathematical and philosophical axioms, what better pagans know about the existence and unity of God, and the creation and overruling of the world by him, and non-Christian analogies even to such central Christian mysteries as the Trinity and the incarnation. Theologians usually regarded and employed this natural revelation as a good and useful narthex or first stage on the way to the true Christian revelation. The older Reformed theology in particular attached high importance to this preliminary structure. According to A. Schweizer one might even see in it one of the most valuable features of Reformed theology. It was given a place of honor in the 19th century both in the first part of Schleiermacher’s Christian Faith and in Schweizer’s own Glaubenslehre. Vestigia terrent! For my part, although I am Reformed, I want no part of it. You will not be surprised at this in view of what I have said earlier. Either God speaks, or he does not. But he does not speak more or less, or partially, or in pieces, here a bit and there a bit. This is a contradiction in terms, an anthropomorphism, a basic naturalizing of revelation which fits Schleiermacher very well, but which ought not to have found any place among the older Reformed. Calvin at the end of the discussion in the first chapters of the Institutes was perspicacious enough to raise the whole question again, to oppose the Christian knowledge of God dialectically to natural knowledge, and to proceed as though there were only the former. And even in Thomas Aquinas the insights one can gain into God’s nature apart from revelation have the significance only of a possible and necessary ancillary construction that pays secondary honor to the truth of revelation. If God speaks, then God speaks, and we have to do with the one Logos that the prophets and apostles received, the one revelation in the incarnation which the people of the Bible know and attest as either promised or manifested. Nothing prevents us, and much urgently inclines us to suppose that others, too, might have had a share, and might still have a share, in the same divine answer. We do well at this point to confess the free and broad outlook of Aquinas when he said that all truth, no matter who speaks it, is of the Holy Spirit, or of Zwingli when he said that whoever speaks truth speaks of God. But the truth must then be understood as the one totality of truth, and the words “Holy Spirit” and “God” must be taken in a pregnant sense. Truth that really goes back to God cannot be a particle of truth. It is either the whole truth or it does not go back to God and is not revelation at all.[3]

Interesting how Barth constructively engages with Aquinas, while at the same time ardently rejecting what Thomas became largely known for: natural theology.

What is the practical implication if we follow natural theology? Does it affect the way we think of God if we seek God and his ways, his perfections from nature before we encounter and meet him in Jesus Christ? What of the Old Testament, someone might ask, don’t we see older people of God engaging in natural theology? Isn’t God ‘progressively’ unfolded for us in the Old Testament before we ever meet him in Christ, and don’t we infer things about God in the Old Testament that are a result of reflecting upon him in his activity in nature (like creation, etc.)?

The above might represent challenges to Barth’s position against natural theology, and in fact, there are even more nuanced Greek ones that appeal to the Logos and His place in the taxis or order of nature itself (the Eastern Orthodox are fond of going this way).

I think you “non-specialist” Christian out there, you would be very surprised if you dug deeper how entrenched your understanding of God is by natural theology. I think natural theology ends up in idolatry, and it elevates humanity’s capacity to know God that in the end supplants a need for God by a continual need for us and our intellects in order to create space and grammar for God without allowing God’s own life to determine the shape of the grammar he would have us use in order to understand him under the force and compelling reality of his own life.[4]

 

 

 

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1996), 35.

[2] I have used the picture of Adolf Hitler in this post because it was the context within which Barth wrote and wrote against. Hitler and the Reich would have represented a socio-cultural expression and logical/theological conclusion to where natural theology when consistently held to could potentially lead. In other words, natural theology is an ‘under the sun’ theology such that what ‘is’ (for the natural theologian) is what ‘ought’ to be. If we start any other place other than God in Jesus Christ as the ‘is’ and thus the ‘ought’, if we start from below, like Hitler did, if we start from our own thinking and reflection upon nature, consistent with this, in an extreme but logical form, might result in something like the Holocaust, or even the Apartheid of South Africa. So I appeal to Hitler not to shut any further arguments down, but to illustrate Barth’s context, and why he with such fervor abhorred natural theology as the following quote from him will demonstrate.

[3] Karl Barth, The Gottingen Dogmatics: Instruction in the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 91-2.

[4] Also see my chapter, “Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either Through Christ or Through Nature,” in Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church, eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 94-113. Also I should note, that I am not suggesting that we are not part of the equation, and that we do not or should not engage with every ounce of capacity the Lord has given us; instead with my point here, I am suggesting that we need to, by way of order, allow God’s crystalline voice spoken most evidently and clearly in his dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ by the breath of the Holy Spirit, to be the voice we seek first. There is no voice in nature, apart from the One who first gave nature by fiat in and for Jesus Christ (Col. 1.15ff; Rev. 21–22; etc.). He alone exegetes, explains the Father, the God-head for us. If domain of the Word, of Jesus Christ, is inclusive of nature, then it behooves us to start with her King, and think from there. This whole post, this whole consideration comes back to a matter of theological methodology–and yet I cannot stress how important this at a most basic level, that is, knowing God.