The Lutheran Connection with TF Torrance: The Kerygmatic Christ as the Concentration

The Gospels of the New Testament witness all present Jesus via His historicity, and the facts of His life as they unfolded in particular frames of reference. John the evangelist ended his Gospel with the quip, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” Clearly, Jesus was a historical personage, but this is not how the Christian has come to know Him at a first order; nor is it the way that the Evangelists of the Gospels present Him. They, all along the way, were hard pressed to see past the ‘veil,’ so to speak, of Christ’s humanity; indeed, His “historicity,” His “flesh-and-blood-ness” made Him so vulnerable to be mis-taken, that His disciples themselves mis-took Him for most of their time with Him. There were those rare moments, Matthew 16, and Peter’s confession, and Matthew 17, the Mount of Transfiguration, come to mind, where they seemed to be ‘getting it,’ but then His kenotic flesh hid His glorified personhood from them once again. It wasn’t until after the Spirit came, who Jesus said would bear witness to Him, and teach them many things (cf. Jn 14—16; 20 etc.), about just who and what Jesus was, and remains as the Son of David and the eternal Logos. The Spirit taught the Evangelists that Jesus, in His person, is the Deus absconditus (hidden God) who is Deus revelatus (revealed God). In other words, the Evangelists’ offer a depth-dimensional interpretation of who Jesus is and what He is about in regard to the eternal purposes of God made historical and concrete in the particularity of the scandal of God’s cross.

Thomas Torrance offers a profound word on this reality, in regard to the “Jesus of faith” as that relates to the “Jesus of history.” He points out that to know the Christ, for the Christian, is to first know the Son of God made human (and thus historical) for us. He presses the notion that when we are confronted with Jesus, we are confronted with a way to think both history and eternity together, but to think it from the eternity of God for the world such that that eternity is freely shaped by His election to be God with us (Immanuel) rather than against us. Torrance writes:

All this means that any Christological approach that starts from the man Jesus, from the historical Jesus, and tries to pass over to God, and so to link human nature to God, is utterly impossible. In fact it is essentially a wrong act: for it runs directly counter to God’s act of grace which has joined God to humanity in Christ. All Attempts to understand Jesus Christ by starting off with the historical Jesus utterly fail; they are unable to pass over from man to God and moreover to pass man to God in such a way as not to leave man behind all together, and in so doing they deny the humanity of Jesus. Thus though Ebionite christologies all seek to go from the historical Jesus to God, they can make that movement only by denying the humanity of Jesus, that is by cutting off their starting point, and so they reveal themselves as illusion, and the possibility of going from man to God is revealed as likewise illusory.

No, it is quite clear that unless we are to falsify the facts from the very start, we must face with utter and candid honesty the New Testament presentation of Christ to us, not as a purely historical figure, nor as a purely transcendental theophany, but as God and man. Only if we start from that duality in which God himself has already joined God and man, can we think God and humanity together, can we pass from man to God and from God to man, and all the time be strictly scientific in allowing ourselves to be determined by the nature of the object.[1]

Interestingly, it isn’t just the Reformed, like Torrance who thinks this way about the approach of the Christian vis-à-vis the Christological reality as that relates to a knowledge of God, and thus everything. Both Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, as Eberhard Juengal identifies, offer similar thinking with reference to thinking God in Christ not purely as a datum of history, but a dandum of God’s free gift of Himself for the world. Luther writes:

He gives utterance not only to things [res], but also to the use [usus] which things are to be put to. For many preach Christ, but in such a way that they neither recognize nor express his ways and his miracles . . .  as do most of those preachers who only preach the stories of Christ, when they are preaching at their best. But it is not Christian preaching when you preach Christ only from a historical point of view; that is no proclaiming the glory of God. But this is: when you teach that Christ’s story refers to its usefulness for us as believers unto righteousness and salvation. That is [then], that he accomplished all not for himself, but for us by the will of God the Father, so that we may know that everything that is in Christ belongs to us.[2]

The connection between what Luther is getting at and Torrance isn’t one-for-one, but the basic premise between the two is significant. The point: that attempting to think Jesus Christ from a purely historicist angle simply fails precisely because of who Jesus is, and thus remains to be for us. He isn’t a relic of history, He was never history’s accident, instead He is the risen Christ who has kerygmatic thrust, evangelical power for us now; ‘if this be not true we are of most people to be pitied.’

Melanchthon, Luther’s colleague, writes something very similar, in spirit, to both Luther and Torrance:

Thus the faith which makes us pious and righteous in the eyes of God is not just this, that I know the history, how Christ was born, suffered (the devils know this too); no, faith is the certainty or the sure, strong trust in the heart that with my whole heart I take God’s promises to be sure and true, by which are offered to me without any merit of mine forgiveness of sins, grace and full salvation through Christ the Mediator. And so that no-one can say it is simply a matter of knowing history, I will add: faith is this, that my whole heart accepts that same treasure. This is not my doing, nor my gift or offering, not my work or preparation. It is [simply] that a heart takes for its consolation and trusts in the fact that God grants and gives to us, not we to him, that he pours all the riches of grace upon us in Christ.[3]

We are visiting different contexts, at least with reference to Torrance in juxtaposition with Luther and Melanchthon, but the main premise is present in all three: viz. that to know Christ is to not to know a relic of religious history and phenomena, but to know Christ is to know Him presently in our midst, as the ground of our life and being in all things.

It is this ‘Christological confessionalism’ that has always attended the liveliness of the Church’s vitality in the world. Insofar that the Christus praesens (to riff a phrase) is not the reality; insofar that the risen Christ is merely thought of in ‘secular’ or profane terms, this is where the Church ceases being the Church, and instead slips into being another social club in the culture writ large. When Christological concentration is not the focus of the Church’s teaching and theologians, when her disciples fall into a following of a Christ of history, without first understanding that He is the Christ of God’s faith for us, it is at this point that the Church becomes just one more platitude of human self-projection; it is at this point that the Church becomes an idol wherein its people come to see their reflection as their idol’s, a christ of an abstract and desolate history. In order for the liveliness of the Church to be always present, she must repose in the strong reality that Jesus Christ is indeed risen, present, and active as the eternally present for us Theanthropos, Godman.

We would do well to follow the leads of Torrance, Luther, and Melanchthon in their respective Christological concentrations. In the end, the Eschaton, the Christian, if they hadn’t prior, will come to recognize that this is the focus that dominates all of heaven, and at that point the entirety of all creation, including the rocks, will cry out that Jesus is King!

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation, edited by Robert Walker, 10.

[2] M. Luther, Operationes in Psalms, 1519-21, WA 5, 543, 13-21 cited by Eberhard Jüngel, Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2001), 29.

[3] Philip Melanchthon, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, cited by Eberhard Jüngel, Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2001), 29-30 n. 46.

 

Self-Justification as the Warp and Woof of Edenic Ejaculation

The notion of ‘being justified’ is an inherently Christian notion, at least in the West (but I’d argue, globally). Our grammars for thinking life, the secular/sacred divide is no matter, come to all of us through a Christian lens. But even prior to that, in a chronological (and logical) sense, the desire to be ‘justified,’ one way or the other, presupposes someone we are seeking to be justified before, even if that someone reduces to ourselves. Nonetheless, I find this ethos, this pathos even, to be rather stunning when paused upon for reflection. Eberhard Juengal writes:

Wanting to justify yourself is one thing; having to justify yourself is quite another. The fact that people want to justify their conduct, their behaviour, their past life and their claim to a future life is linked with the fact that people require recognition. It is essential for people to be recognized. Their personhood depends on it. As human beings we demand recognition of ourselves. The wish for justification has its source in this basic human need for recognition.[1]

The thirst for recognition abstracted from its proper taxis or order vis-à-vis God results in what we see all around us in the world, in an increasing manner. People will reach to all manner of heights and depths in an attempt to rationalize and thus justify their actions before others; but in particular people are really attempting to justify themselves to themselves. This is the ultimate turn-to-the-subject of Edenic orientation. Humanity is awash in concupiscence, to the point that self-love terminates in all mechanisms of unimaginable self-destruction and its institutionalization as the fabric of the societies.

I simply wanted to register this rather obvious, but often overlooked fact that humans, by nature—as that nature has ultimately been given telos in the humanity of Jesus Christ (who is the imago Dei for us)—are driven to find justification or recognition by someone else; typically, someone outside of them, in order to find solace and validation in their own sense of self-justification. Human beings have taken their own Edenic self-theosis to its logical conclusion. We see ourselves, outwith Jesus Christ’s intervention by the Holy Spirit, as the terminus, as the end of all that is and will be (for us). As such, we end up inhabiting these vicious circles of self-manipulation, convincing ourselves that no matter what our own particular tastes and dastardly proclivities might be, that we are “okay,” in fact we are justified!

The only antidote to the turn to self-justification is to repent!; to recognize this one eternal and everlasting reality: viz. God is God.

[1] Eberhard Jüngel, Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2001), 6-7.

Commenting Policy

I actually do have at least one blog policy: No anonymous comments. Please, if you’re going to comment, which is rarer and rarer these days, let me know who you are by using your real name. I am not interested in engaging with folks who operate under anonymity, unless of course I already know the person, and who they are. This is pretty much the only “fee” I require for engaging at the blog. Thank you 🙂

What Hath Christology to do with Politics and the State?

What is the relationship between politics and Christian theology, is there any? Understandably, many Christians want to simply shy away, and have nothing to do with the political order in the world. But the fact of being human entails that we are “political animals,” that we are necessarily social beings, and as such, we cannot escape the reality of being political in some way. Indeed, the kerygma, the Gospel reality Hisself, which of course is God become flesh in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, is the greatest political act of all time. This was not absent from the early Christian experience, indeed, as it was just burgeoning, wrestling over the implications of just who Jesus was had staggering political implications (one way or the other) for the subsequent trajectory of the Church’s reality, vis-à-vis the state, in the following centuries right into the present. Many Christians don’t recognize just how deeply entrenched they are as an “ecclesiopolitical” people, and thus, as a consequence, they shirk back at their responsibilities of being responsible “political animals,” and ambassadors for Christ, in intentional and intelligent ways.

Andrew Willard Jones offers a really nice taxonomy of how the various Christological theories of the early Church, as those developed in the midst of a Constantinian Roman empire, implicated the political theory and actions of the state. These same realities continue to implicate our political climate today. The difference, of course, is that we live in such a secularized state of mind, that it becomes difficult to parse these things out, unless one has eyes to see and ears to hear. The following comes just on the heels of Jones’ sharing the text of the Chalcedonian creed (circa 451 ad).

Here, finally, was a definitive statement on who Christ was, on what really happened at the Incarnation. It had taken over four hundred and fifty years and the concerted efforts of Christianity’s greatest minds to come to this definition. That is how difficult the problem was. The problem was not merely speculative, however. As we have seen, it bore directly on the social order of the now-Christian empire. The conversion of the empire away from paganism in both doctrine and “political” form was a part of the process of coming to understand the fully meaning of the Incarnation. The rejection of Arianism was the rejection of the superiority of the temporal and material. The rejection of Nestorianism was the rejection of the idea that the temporal and spiritual were entirely separate, operating in independent realms. The rejection of Monophysitism was the refusal of the possibility of the spiritual entirely absorbing the temporal into itself. Sorting out Trinitarian and Incarnational orthodoxy was, at the same time, the sorting out of the relationship between what would eventually become known as the temporal and spiritual powers, the powers of the laity and of the priesthood, within a united Church that was a polity. Political theology was integral to fundamental dogmatic theology.[1]

Without getting into the nitty of the Christological theories, which Jones has done prior, what this passage should alert the reader to is just how integral Christology and a Theology Proper were to the development of the Latin and Greek political states. These are the same bases upon which our state is built, indeed the entirety of the Western world. It’s just that we have immanentized the eternal Logos ensarkos (the eternal Word enfleshed) into our own humanity. Following the antique taxonomy, as Jones has laid it out, the state now has fallen prey, once again, to the Arian heresy, wherein the leaders become the gap-fillers between heaven and earth. No longer is the Son of Man elevated as the King of kings, but the Son of “they” has displaced Him with Arian and Bab-elic vigor, elevating their state-being as the Being of all being, as the Godhumanity for all humanity. It is important that we begin to retexture our thinking in these “Christian” ways, such that we come to have a ‘social imaginary,’ once again, that allows us to see things in light of the God’s Light for the world in Jesus Christ. We need to ‘reenchant’ the world, such that we see God of God in Christ as Lord, and ourselves as His emissaries in the midst of a broken state that attempts to see itself as God’s highest creature; to the point that they are the bridge between God and humanity.

What does it mean to be a responsible and intelligent political animal in the 21st century coram Deo (before God)? It means to understand where we are situated in the Kingdom of God, in the heavenly places, and recognize that we stand as ambassadors for Christ, as witnesses, as prophets, through the proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; that Jesus is Lord of lords, and the lords aren’t. Even so, with this realization, we understand that ultimately our witness will end up as the ancient witness of the first Christians, as a witness of the martyrs’ blood. Many of us may never experience a martyr’s death for the sake of Christ, but we can live in such a way, in the state, that under different political circumstances (from now) would warrant such a witness sealed in the shedding of our own blood in echo of our King’s shedding for us. But the matter is a matter of living, and how we do that in this world.

The political state, as Jones helpfully signals for us, is a state rooted in the implications of the Incarnation of God, in a Theology Proper that implicates theories of power and authority. Christians need to learn to recognize this, and think in these terms. This will allow them to better understand their place vis-à-vis the “secular” state. It will allow them to see that ultimately there really is nothing secular at all, and that we are here to bear witness to that ultimate fact of life.

[1] Andrew Willard Jones, The Two Cities: A History of Christian Politics (Steubenville, Ohio: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2021), 79-80.

A Query with Reference to Dr Jordan Cooper and His Scholasticism

Why does Dr Jordan Cooper have the following he does? He continues to insist that Protestant orthodoxy (Lutheran or Reformed), which developed in the 16th and 17th C in Western Europe, represents the only real way to be a faithful *orthodox* Christian. As such he devotes much of his time proclaiming to the world that orthodoxy is the Godsend the Protestant Church of Jesus Christ needs. But what if said orthodoxy was only orthodoxy for merely a sector of even the 16th and 17th C Protestant churches? What if Cooper’s orthodoxy isn’t actually catholic in the sense that it is genuinely representative of an ecumenical and even conciliar way to think the triune God in Jesus Christ? What if said orthodoxy was regional and time-stamped, based on the intellectual capacities and resources available to the Church in that region then? This seems to be the case. Does Aristotelian metaphysics, which Cooper’s orthodoxy is based upon, actually and most meaningfully deal with what the Christian Church is faced with today in the 21st C? Is God capable, is He capacious enough to continue to speak through the categories the Church has been provided with in the modern period, even the postmodern? Why is God’s voice delimited by 16th and 17th C Europe; why is God unable to speak orthodoxly in the categories of today; is Aristotle the only means of grace for the world? Indeed, did God “only” speak through Aristotle even back then? Weren’t there other ecclesial and ideational developments therein that God spoke faithfully to His people through? Weren’t there other orthodoxies, even Reformed and Lutheran, in the 16th and 17th C afoot (there were!) I have no problem constructively engaging with the scholastics of Reformed and Lutheran orientation from back then. But I am a 21st C Christian, and I have an array of categories to think and proclaim God through that can be just as orthodox, and even more so IMO, than Aristotle was back then. Cooper’s thesis just does not follow in any meaningful sense, theologically. Deus dixit, ‘God has spoken,’ and continues to speak to His Church through the living and risen voice of Jesus Christ. He is not delimited by 16th and 17th C categories. The Protestant Church is the Church of the ‘Scripture Principle,’ the Church of a radical theology of the Word. God delimits history with His history for the world in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is purely ad hoc and presumptuous to presume that God only spoke in Protestantly orthodox ways in 16th and 17th C Western Europe, but this is what the Dr would have us to believe. Repristination of the type that Cooper is engaging in is really just an archeological dig in search of Christian artifacts that may have blessed some of our brothers and sisters back then, but God has continued to speak to His Church beyond that; and He does that as we meet Him afresh anew in the pages of Holy Scripture. Protestant orthodoxy of Cooper’s type represents a new Romish-like magisterium. But I’m Protestant!

A Response to Tim Keller’s ‘Third Way of Winsomeness’ and James Wood’s Critique

My friend, James Wood, wrote what became a controversial essay for First Things (of which he serves as an editor) entitled: How I Evolved on Tim Keller. As was predictable Twitter took up the baton of James’ essay, and ran in equal and opposing takes. My summary of James’ essay is this, in nuce: Tim Keller has attempted to offer a ‘third way’ to an engagement with the culture writ large. His third way operates in such a way that ‘winsomeness’ or ‘being extra nice’ to the culture will eventually draw the culture into the way of the Church, the ‘third way.’ This way might have worked a decade ago, to an extent, but given the shifts in the culture, particularly as so-called post-modern ideation took hold, or what we might call a ‘normative relativism,’ being winsome no longer works. The culture, instead of being open to the ‘nice people’ is now wholly ‘negative’ towards the third way, as such winsomeness no longer serves as the best way to engage with the culture. Indeed, as I read Wood, winsomeness for Keller really has become a symbol for capitulation to the mainstream winds of the culture; indeed, while this critique could be pinpointed on Keller, it is really one, more broadly focused on the whole of BigEva (‘Big Evangelicalism’). Insofar as I have understood James’ thesis I can only say, amen.

Conversely, while I stand in fellowship with Wood’s critique, in regard to a Kellerian engagement with the culture, I think my alternative approach is at an impasse with James’ own more ‘De Lubacian’ approach, which still maintains some sense of a given ‘natural order’ inherent to the world, even while given to it by the grace of God. I wrote the following as a thread on Twitter and Facebook, as an expression, off the top, of how I see the ‘third way,’ and the alternative to that as understood through a radically Christologically construed lens:

There is no “third way,” such a way always already presupposes the “binary,” and thus becomes predicated by it. In other words, to say that the Christian way in the world, vis-à-vis politics etc., ought to represent a third way (per Keller) presupposes that there is a “natural order” suffused by an abstract notion of common grace that purportedly funds the entirety of the created order. But this simply is not the Christian case. The created order is sustained by and for the living Word who is the Christ. The order is always already contingent upon that Word. As such its life is one of ec-static existence, one that is always already given to it, afresh anew, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, as He speaks God’s Word to us from moment to moment. It is this “hovering Word,” this in-breaking invasive Word whereby the Christian lives their respective lives from. There is nothing stable in this world order, except the Word for whom it was created. So, the Christian looks to and bears witness to Jesus Christ and His disruptive Word of Grace. A Word that contradicts the “common order,” with the otherworldly order of Kingdom come and coming. The common Grace of this world, is God’s disruptive Grace for the world as given in His own enfleshment in the Son. Thus, the Christian doesn’t operate from a “third way,” the Christian operates from the ONLY WAY, Jesus Christ.

I don’t think Wood’s and I conclude at disparate places, per se, but we arrive at the destination differently. Either way, Keller’s third way ends up looking thisworldly in a very abstract sense. In other words, his purported winsomeness ends up being a capitulation to the winds of the progressive culture rather than a witness that contradicts it. Is the culture good, inherently so? No, the cross says so. Is there a way to be in the world that stands back and looks critically at the ways of the world, and says: ‘there is a better way, a third way, and I am here to tell you about it.’ No, the resurrection says so. The reality is that the Christian Way is not a thing, or a mode, it is not a posture we have possession over. Thus, the Christian Way ends up being something that the Christian waits upon, and bears witness to as the Way comes afresh anew into the life of the Christian as the Christian bears witness to their lived reality, to their Christian existence for them in Jesus Christ. When the Christian lives in and from this Way it ends up being a way that is not informed as a third way, as an alternative to the other ways of the world, but the Only Way as the Lord of lords imposes Himself upon our ways, and thus the world’s way. In other words, rather than living from a ‘holy-huddle’ (third wayism), from a static worldview known as the Christian third way, the Christian lives under the Way of God for the world that not only contradicts the ways of the world, but the ways of the Church, insofar that the Church ends up looking more like the culture it inhabits (by way of values, morality so on and so forth) rather than the culture of heaven whence it receives its life as gift moment-by-moment from Jesus Christ. The third way, as I read it, forecloses on the Way of God for the world in Jesus Christ in such a way that it leaves its proponents in the same lurch it is supposedly attempting to redeem. In other words, ironically, the third way ends up collapsing the Kingdom into its own perception of what that looks like, and in so doing its way ends up looking like the cultures of this world rather than the culture of the King. And this, once again, because the third way ends up really being a worldview constructed from the supposition that the world has an inherently natural order to it, one funded by the neo-Calvinist, or Dutch Reformed notion of ‘common grace.’ But this isn’t the way, for as David Fergusson has written: “the world was made so that Christ might be born.”

Transitioning from a ‘Substance’ to a ‘Personal’ God: Confronting the Substance-Abusers

There is a lot of talk about ‘substance theology’ these days, and in the past days. Indeed, substance language marks classical theism as the way to talk God at least since the days of Thomas [of Aquino], if not further back since the Greeks started using the language of ousia or ‘being’ for talking God (but that was a little different from the Thomist heritage in the sense that they often used ousia as synonymous with hypostases or ‘persons’ and vice versa). No matter what period past to think and talk God in terms of substance has become considered the orthodox way, the way of the consensus fidelium, the way of retrieving all that is holy and orthodox in regard to talking and thinking God. Any verging from substance metaphysics, especially as we have developed into Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment ways, is considered heresy by the faithful. Indeed, if you scan various literature, and even online conjecture, what you will often find in such quadrants is that anyone who attempts to think God in overt ‘personalist’ or personal terms must be some sort of heterodox, at best, and heretic at worst. The label the faithful place on those who would attempt to think and talk God in overtly personalistic terms is: ‘theistic personalism.’ Such people want to claim that said theistic personalists, in regard to talking and thinking God, are nothing better than ‘social Trinitarians,’ thus operating from a panentheist view of God wherein God is thought purely from below to above. This is the charge made against those of us who would fit the so-called theistic personalist label, and yet it fails to recognize the argument of the beard it thinks from; it fails to make distinctions on a continuum; it fails to recognize that God Self-revealed is Father of the Son / Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit—these are ultimately personalizing personal terms and realities ‘revealed’ about who God is. Thusly, it is important to allow such revelation about God to determine the way we think and talk God. And if ‘substance’ language were to be used it would have to be reified by the pressures provided for by the Self-revelation of God, otherwise the “substance-abusers” (haha) would be the ones guilty of a social Trinitarianism; i.e. of importing concepts from below to the above, in regard to God (in fact this is exactly what obtains, I would argue, when such substance-abusers attempt to think God from His effects in the created order; to think God from the so-called analogia entis).

With the aforementioned noted I think it would be interesting to observe how things transitioned from thinking and talking God in terms of substance to subject (or in personalist terms). Eberhard Juengal offers a helpful sketch of how this transition took place in the ‘theology’ of Hegel (which of course post-Hegel would have far-reaching implications towards the development of a so-called ‘modern theology’). Juengal writes:

These distinctions between the three forms of religion are only apparently formal. They have their effect in the content of the religions. This can be shown in the statement about the death of God, which belongs to revealed religion, statement which formulates a precise step of the relationship of being and consciousness, a relationship which is so decisive and full of tension for the history of the spirit. That being which is independent of any other, “. . . that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself,” has been called “substance” ever since Aristotle. It is characteristic of substance that it does not exist in something else. According to Hegel, this distinguishes it from the subject. Whereas substance rests in itself, for Hegel the subject is “the process of positing itself, or in mediating with its own self its transitions from one state or position to the opposite. The subject comes to itself whereas substance has always been in itself. The essence of substance is autonomy, that of the subject is self-movement. Part of the self-movement of the subject is mediation by something else, which for its part is what it is through the subject. And the subject does not lose itself in that other thing, but rather together with that other thing, which exists because of it, it arrives at a freedom which surpasses the autonomy of substance, the freedom of self-consciousness. Therefore, in Hegel’s view, “. . . everything depends on grasping and expressing the ultimate truth not as Substance but as Subject as well.” Only a substance which has become absolute subject and which is understood as absolute subject can be regarded as God. From this point of view, the differentiation of the three forms of religion has taken place. They mark the pathway of the substance toward its being a subject.[1]

If you have ever heard the language Being in Becoming with reference to God, what Juengal describes above, with reference to Hegel, would be where such language and conceptuality comes from. It is this ‘turn’ to ‘Being in Becoming’ that many classical theists maintain results in collapsing God into the modalism of the economic, or the ‘world-being’ (my word), such that God becomes a predicate of His becoming. But even as noted in the sketch of Juengal, this would be wrong-think. For Hegel, according to Juengal, there would be no becoming without the prius of God’s life as “substance,” or antecedent-being. Of course, the type of dialectical inflections this takes in the Hegelian system is a thing of its own imagination, but his development, even as he has described this type of distinction between substance and subject, is not the only or necessary way to think and talk God as ‘Being in Becoming.’

A good reading of Barth’s theology, as Juengal offers in his book God’s Being Is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth, identifies a way to think in potentially “Hegelian” terms without actually becoming (pun intended) Hegelian; just as Barth thinks in Kantian terms without actually becoming Kantian. It is possible to reify grammar, just as the Nicenes did with the Hellenic language (of substance or ousia) at their time, and end up with a linguistic and conceptual sitz im leben wherein the [Hellenic, or Hegelian et al.] ‘text’ simply becomes a pre-text awaiting the re-texting provided for it by an alien reality—in the case of Christian witness, the Kerygma—such that a non-correlationist Christian grammar is produced without the metaphysical baggage that originally gave rise to said grammars in their original (Hellenic, Hegelian, Kantian et al.) contexts. The question always remains: is there a better context-laden grammar out there, that is for thinking and talking God, than other alternatives might offer? This is the question that ought to drive all constructive and Church dogmatic theological endeavor, but it doesn’t. So, instead we end up with the substance-abusers calling the constructivists (which is what Thomas was during his day, by the way) that nastygram: “theistic personalists.”

The point in all of this, for me, and hopefully for you, is to recognize that theology has developments; some good, some bad. But what should be indicated here is that good theology is always already developing, and that it isn’t slavishly domiciled into one supposed ‘sacrosanct period’ of an ostensibly orthodox development of being. God still speaks, in other words: Deus dixit.

 

 

[1] Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World (Eugune, OR: Wipf and Stock Reprint Mohr Sieback, 1983), 80-1.

So What?! What Does All This Jargony Theology Have to do with Real Life?: A Personal Sketch

So what? What’s all this high falutin theologically jargony theology have to do with anything? I get to this point more times than not. Even though I often engage high theological notions, and attempt to reflect therein, at the end of it I often walk away with the “so what!” feeling. Many Christians take one look at the themes I write on, others write on, that the dead theologians have written on, and simply shake their heads figuring, at best, this is all for the eggheads among us. But I really don’t think that that is the case, or that it should be. Speaking from my personal experience, pushing deep into the theological themes present in the dogma of the Church catholic has radically changed my life as a Christian. Early on I had no depth grounding in the reality of the Church in Jesus Christ. I grew up as an evangelical Christian, a pastor’s kid, involved in the pastoral ministry of the church. My dad included me in his ministry, insofar that he could, and he found ways to do that all the time. So, I had a depth ministry experience from early on in my life, as far back as I can even remember. Even so, the doctrinal development, as a North American Conservative Baptist Association (CBA) pastor’s kid, went as deep as dispensationalism and a type of (“Calminian”) biblicism would allow for. I had a heart warmed for Jesus; I had a personal experience and relationship with Him and His people; but I didn’t have an understanding of just how deep the Church’s teaching ran. And because of this, when I hit some serious crises in my life, at the tender age of 23, I almost didn’t make it. Without belaboring the details of that season of life (which lasted for years and years following), it was the lacuna of doctrinal/affective/intellectual depth that left me in a serious theological lurch. It was this crisis, no different than WWI for Barth, or the lightning strike for Luther, that propelled me into the Bible afresh anew. This became my sustenance, reading through Holy Scripture, memorizing books of the Bible, meditating on it, dreaming it, every day and night. Scripture’s words became my sanity, they became my Nebuchadnezzar moment wherein I came to realize, over and again, that Yahweh is King, that He is God of gods and Lord of lords. In this realization, as I encountered the risen Christ, as I saw His smiling face peering back at me with each page turned, I came to have an experience of life, resurrection life, over and again. And so I kept returning, and continue returning over and again to the inhabitation of Holy Scripture.

But I still needed teaching, I needed sacra doctrina. I enrolled in Bible college, which then would lead to seminary. It was in seminary that I was first introduced to historical theology in earnest. Once I learned of the history of ideas, particularly, ecclesial ideas, my world went from the nagging skepticisms and doubts, indeed, the demonic attacks of absence and loss that I had been confronted with for years prior, to a strange new world of hope. I came to realize that the ideas of the Church, the grammar developed in the consensus patrum, were the very foundations, not just of the Christian Church, but of the intellectual history of both the Western and Eastern worlds, respectively. Once this reality hit me, I came to have a solvency of faith; I came to find peace in the realization of God’s Providential hand as it clearly had, is, and will shape the telos of the world unto the face of Jesus Christ; the face I had been encountering afresh anew throughout the pages of Holy Writ. And so this turn to the origins of ideas made me realize that the world, in its abstract and lost certitude, didn’t in fact own the keys to the Kingdom; it made me realize that God in Christ, that the triune God really did have it all in His hands. This gave me, finally!, the intellectual and more significantly, spiritual stability I needed to finally move on to the meatier things.

All of this, even still, and more so, was grounded in a proper theology of the Word. Back early on I ran into a nominal, non-practicing Catholic, we struck up a discussion, and he found out I was a brand-new bible college student. He told me, even as the Catholic he was, “that you can never go wrong with the Bible.” Indeed, he was right, and the history of ideas, historical theology in its development bore this out, particularly on the Protestant side of things (circa. 16th century ff). Understanding Scripture in its historical reception, grasping the fact that there was a history of interpretation that not only impacted the Church’s shape, and ongoing reality, but that this history had come to shape the secular world (and continues to) just the same. For some reason gaining this perspective was the missing link my tortured soul had needed all those years. It wasn’t Christian “apologetics,” in fact most of that just threw me deeper into doubts and fears that way. It was the realization of the bigness of God, and understanding that His hands were all over the pale of history right up into the present. That’s the perspective and reality that has allowed me to move on from most of my dark nights of the soul, from most of my anxiety, at least as that was related to these tormentuous doubts into what might only be identified as the abyss of nothingness. It was historical theology, and its reality in the Providence of God, given shape by the face of Jesus Christ that finally set me free.

This, for me, answers the “so what?” question. For me being able to think deeply and intelligibly about the triune life of God, about the hypostatic union and homoousion of Jesus Christ, about Holy Scripture, and the Church’s life from the communio sanctorum (communion of the saints) makes all of the jargon and deep thoughts pertinent to daily life. I look around at the seemingly chaotic world we inhabit, and because of the depth reality of sacred doctrine underpinning my life, as that is founded in the faith of Jesus Christ, I still can see God’s order, His purpose, His presence (parousia) in the midst of it all. And I know that if He can walk me through the chaos of my life, personally, that He is just as able to take the chaos of this world all around, and reverse it, re-create it, such that His order, His shalom will finally reign. And so now I know, precisely because of this push into the deep end of theological reflection, that God’s consummation, that His Eschatos, who is the Christ, has already happened in the unseen. And so I wait for the unseen to become the seen, for the vision of faith, to become the vision of sight as the Son of Man rolls the heavens back like a scroll, and brings the reality of His Kingdom to this world once and for all.

Hopefully this excursion has been helpful. If nothing else you at least have a little more insight into my background. Maybe you better understand now why I read and write on the things that I do, and why often, many of my posts appear to be probing into the theology under consideration. I continue to need its sustenance, its reality; without it, I will not survive the chaos of this world system all around. I need to know that God is God, and the world is not. And so I continuously remind myself of this, over and over and over again, because I need to know the warm embrace of my loving heavenly Father as I repose in His bosom in the Son by the comforting bond of the Holy Spirit.

‘Parables’ and the ‘Analogy of Faith’ in the Theology of Barth’s Romans II

As we all know by now Karl Barth was not a proponent of natural theology, or the analogia entis (‘analogy of being’). But what we do find in Barth is an appeal to ‘secular parables,’ something equivalent to what Thomas Torrance, in his own way, calls ‘social co-efficients.’ barthblackwhiteThese Barth parables are grounded in his alternative approach to the ‘analogy of being’ in his analogia fidei or analogy of faith stylized mode of theological endeavor. Kenneth Oakes in his book Karl Barth on Theology&Philosophy helps us gain further insight into how parables functioned in Barth’s thought, particularly as that was operative in Barth’s Der Römerbrief II. Oakes writes:

While notorious for his dialectics, Romans II is one of the most analogical works within Barth’s oeuvre. Romans II belongs alongside CD III/1 and III/2 given prominent and significant role the concept of ‘parable,’ or Gleichnis, plays throughout the commentary. While Spieckermann has noted the presence of an ‘analogy of the cross’ in the commentary and Beintker has pointed out the analogies between divine acting and speaking and human acting and speaking, the full extent of Barth’s use of analogy and the pivotal functions it serves have largely been ignored. In contrast to the analogy of faith he develops in CD I/1, whereby a correspondence exists between God and the subject who knows God, in Romans II Barth talks about parables between the corruptible and the incorruptible, between each ‘moment’ in time and the ‘Moment’ of revelation, between this world and human history and the coming world, between Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, and even between the No-God of our own making and the one true God. When discussing Romans 8:1–2 with an eye to Christ taking on the likeness (omoiōmati) of sinful flesh (Rom 8:3), Barth notes ‘there remains nothing relative which is not relatedness, nothing concrete which is not a reference to something beyond itself, nothing given which is not also a parable.’ In Christ, God has taken up what is worldly, historical, and ‘natural’ and has re-established its relativity to God. Everything corruptible is indeed a parable, but only a parable, of the incorruptible God, who is still qualitatively different from creation. Neither dialectics nor the infinite qualitative distinction can negate the myriad of analogies that arise from Barth’s use of the concept of parable. The different types of dialectics in the work often serve the same purposes as Barth’s invocation of ‘parable’ in Romans II: to relate and distinguish creation and God, to qualify  all statements about God as statements made by fallible humans, and to emphasize the ‘not yet’ of God’s final redemption over the ‘already’ of the salvation wrought by Christ. The infamous ‘infinite qualitative distinction’ does not obliterate  the possibility of analogies between God and the world, but provides the infinite difference which provokes and enables the use of analogy in the first place.[1]

It might seem like Barth is playing fast and loose here; it might seem like he is opening the door to natural theology by attempting to find analogies in the creation, analogies that point to God. But remember, as Oakes underscores, these parables are first given context from within Barth’s ‘analogy of faith;’ and these analogies, in the creation, are given telos as they find eschatological reality within the orientation of the new creation realized in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So for Barth there is no abstract creation or naturum purum (pure nature), there is only what God has created in the first and second Adam by His Triune grace. There is no nature/grace duality in Barth; for Barth, even his doctrine of creation is funded by a strong doctrine of grace, a grace that ‘goes all the way down’ (to quote a Torrancism).

[1] Kenneth Oakes, Karl Barth on Theology&Philosophy (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 75.

*repost

God’s Command for Freedom: Against Notions of ‘Human Freewill’

The notion of freewill in a human agency, biblically speaking, is the very premise of a fallen humanity. And yet secular humanity, along with its pervasive seed, as that has developed throughout the Christian tradition, would have us believe that being ‘free unto ourselves,’ from ourselves, is the basis, the component centrum of what it means to be a genuinely sentient and “alive” human person. But, again, this notion is adroitly awry insofar that it is a notion of humanity, and its ostensible clutch of freedom as its raison d’etre, that kicks the living God from the throne only to replace Him with them. The Apostle Paul writes:

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. -Romans 6.15-19

The notion of a human freedom in abstraction from God, while enthralling to imagine for the heart hardened beyond the point of feeling, is in fact what it means to be in bondage. The only way such freedom could be genuinely free is if we constructed and created ourselves for our own self-determined telos (raison d’etre). This could be framed as such: Q. Do humans have freewill? R. No, God has freewill. To think that humans have freewill in abstraction from God would be to think that humans are God. Humans, by birth, think they are God, eo ipso humans think they have freewill. It is because humans are born into a world not of their making that they are subject to the antecedent factors that preceded their ingression into said world. In other words, and again, humans, in order to genuinely be free, with the type of freewill most people just assume they have, would have to be born into a world that wasn’t already pre-conditioned to be what it was, even if that involves a disruption with its very being vis-à-vis God, that would allow them, the human agent, to be genuinely self-determined and thus free. But Christians (in theological principle) know this isn’t the case, and so Barth writes:

It is precisely and only this distinction of the command of God from all other commands, precisely and only its characterisation as permission, which reveals its seriousness and rigour. The command of God is imperative. When it orders us to be free, it orders with authority. And it enforces itself. It secures obedience by itself setting us free. As the divine permission given to us, it is not the confirmation of a permission that we have given ourselves, or obtained or secured elsewhere, although there are, of course, other permissions, just as there are other commands, and in the most intimate connexion with these commands.

We are continually “permitting” ourselves all possible things, decisions and attitudes, thoughts and words and works, in which we regard ourselves as free, which we apparently do gladly, in which we think that we are happy. There is none of those other commands which , when it imposes its yoke upon us, has not a way of recommending itself to us. Its fulfillment is perhaps a particular confirmation of our freedom, or it is perhaps bound up for us with a particular desire, or the avoidance of a dislike, so that at bottom we want to do the thing which it would have us do. And so in the fulfilling of these other commands there is, in fact, no human action which is not in some measure bound up with the consciousness, experience and feeling of apparent freedom and joy. “And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired” (Gen 3.6). And so the man permits himself to make use to the permission of his wife, who on her part had accepted it from the serpent. The man said, the woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou has done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Gen. 3.12f [sic]). It is apparently pure permission that rules. The man permits himself to renounce the grace of God. He permits himself to be set up so as one who knows good and evil and therefore as judge over both. He permits himself therefore to be established in the divine likeness. Man obviously thinks that he is particularly free and happy even in his fall.

The permission of the command of God cancels all this, not by opposing His prohibition to a real permission, freedom and joy, but by revealing the truth, by unmasking the supposed permission, freedom and joy as the deception of a strange lor and tyrant, ‘who under its semblance has made man a slave. The command of God is the renewed offer of the grace of God that man has repelled. The command of God wants man to be genuinely free. It wants him to make use of the real permission at his disposal, to return to his true freedom, to rejoice not merely in appearance but in truth in what he does. The free will of man has nothing to do with permission, freedom and joy. It is in his free will that he is tricked and tricks himself out of all this, reducing himself to that servile state and service, however free and happy he thinks himself to be. He is then oppressed and tormented by the law of that foreign lord and tyrant, to whom he does not belong, who has not created him, with whom his destiny has nothing to do, who has nothing that he can command him to do and therefore nothing that he can permit him to do, in whose service he can never be free and happy (whatever his consciousness, experiences and feelings may be), in whose service he can only be deceived even in this consciousness. The command of God rends this veil, and it does it by being and expressing the real permission given to man. It is this that it is serious and rigorous, binding and committing us with a seriousness and rigour beyond the power of all other commands. The command of God sets itself against human free will, not because it does not wish man to be really free and happy, but on the contrary, because God does not want this, because he cannot really be free and happy in his self-will. The command of God protests against what man permits himself, or knows how to create or find elsewhere by way of permission. The reason for this protest it that these permissions are really only the disguises of the servitude to which he is subjected. The form which it takes is that, in opposition to the foreign dominion to which he has yielded, it gives him again permission which is really proper and belongs to him.[1]

An underlying implication of Barth’s treatment is a critique of humanity’s incapacity, its inability of self-extrication, in regard to its “born-status.” This is what I was getting at prior to sharing the above passage from Barth; viz. that humanity is always already born into a pre-conditioned state of affairs, and in our case ‘fallen,’ which does not allow them to be, by definition, “free.” To be free in God’s world, which this world is, is to be rightly oriented to Him, and under the conditions He has pre-determined, pre-set, by which said orientation might obtain. As the Christian, de jure, understands, this pre-determination, this pre-condition, in God’s Kingdom of righting the wrongness of humanity’s “self-permission,” comes only as we submit to His command for the world as that is actualized, and enfleshed, in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Only Jesus’s humanity is rightly suited for and oriented to God, and this pro nobis (for us). This entails that what it means to be a genuinely free human, under the prior conditions God has Self-determined in triune fellowship, is to be in union with Christ, and thus in participation with the Spirit conceived humanity by which God has decided that humans can come to be genuinely human by, thus experiencing God’s freedom. In other words, God’s freedom is the only ontological type of freedom available, and He has freely chosen that we, as His counterpoints of fellowship, as that is realized in the humanity of Christ for us, can come to experience His freedom, and thus be free ourselves, as our lives terminate in koinonial-bond with His.

The point of this whole consideration is this: God is genuinely free; God has freewill. Humans are not born genuinely free because they believe themselves to be God, by nature. Since humans believe themselves to be inherently, or naturally free, they give themselves permission, and as a tautology, this sense of permission-giving makes them feel free. But as Barth has sufficiently shown, this is in fact precisely the point at which humans aren’t free, but instead in bondage to a self-possessed self. If human freedom doesn’t come from human self-permission, but instead from God’s free action to bring us into fellowship with Himself through the mediatorial humanity of Jesus Christ, then human freedom outwith the necessary pre-condition of God’s freedom ‘for us’ becomes the very snare by which the Serpent’s word continues to cast humanity into its own self-asserted sense of self-divinity, and thus slavery and death.

The above, while thinking things in rather general terms, can be applied to Christian theology. There is a whole tradition[s] within the Christian history of interpretation that has attempted to argue for a notion of human freewill/freedom that they contend is vouchsafed by a created grace or capacity God has superveniently presented humans with; to have or not to have. And yet even this presupposes an independence inherent to the human agent, a sense of self-permission governed by an independent nature vis-à-vis God, that commits such “Christian offering” to the snare of the Serpent’s word once again. In other words, positing a notion of so-called “prevenient grace” as the way out of the type of trap Barth has described for us, doesn’t get said proponents off of the hook. Even if God were to offer a prevenient grace, as if a thing to be received or not received, it is this very type of offering that once again commits these people to a notion that humans have some inner independent capacity, and thus its own ontic freedom, to respond to God’s offering of freedom or not (and so such reasoning dies the death of petitio principii ‘circular reasoning’).

Human freedom is either a correspondence with God’s freedom, in a one-for-one sense, or it is a mythology, and thus idolatry of the human imagination. It is this because, again, God is God, God is free and we are not; we are not outwith being in relationship with Him, this is what it means to be humanly free. And to be humanly free, thusly, is, by definitional necessity, not something the human agent can bring about, for they are definitionally unfree; to be free requires an extra nos, ‘outside of us’ reality to invade our humanity, and turn it out from itself, and thus bring it to look to the actual ground of its freedom as that has always already eternally been the case for God’s being, as He has freely related as the One and the Three (De Deo uno), the Three and the One (De Deo trino), as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of ineffable and immortal bliss.

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §37 [594-5] The Doctrine of God: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 82-3.