David Congdon’s Description of Analogy of Being/Faith: And the Difference it Makes in evangelical Calvinism

Myk Habets’ and my book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church was published and released back in June 2012; time flies. He and I co-davidcongdonwrote a couple of chapters in that book (which was an edited book), and then I wrote a personal chapter of my own. The title of my chapter is Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either Through Christ or Through Nature.” In it I attempt to creatively sketch Thomas Torrance’s approach to doing theology through the analogy of faith contrariwise to the classical approach of doing theology through the analogy of being; once I finish this sketch I apply these two disparate approaches to their outworkings into the composition of a variety of Reformed Confessions and a Catechism.

I just started reading David Congdon’s published PhD dissertation (which he obtained at Princeton Theological Seminary) entitled The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology. In a nutshell David attempts to reframe the normal approach of reading Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Barth at cross-grain against each other; David attempts, in other words to ‘demythologize’ how Bultmann and Barth have been read and seeks to bring constructive rapprochement to Bultmann/Barth reception. As I am getting started into the book Congdon offers up a description of what the analogia entis (analogy of being) and analogia fidei (analogy of faith) entail; he writes:

In order for a real encounter to take place, God must communicate Godself to humanity. For Barth, God’s gracious self-communication in Jesus Christ constitutes the only true presupposition of theology. All other purported presuppositions apart from the communicative actuality of God are false; they are, in fact, forms of human idolatry. Human beings are fundamentally incapable of speaking faithfully and authentically about God on the basis of some starting point in themselves (i.e., “natural theology”). For this reason Barth draws a basic distinction between the analogia entis and the analogia fidei: the analogy of being claims that language can grasp revelation, whereas the analogy of faith claims that revelation can grasp language. The analogia entis—which operates as an analogia nominum whereby God is linguistically grasped as a name (nomen)—is the “capture” or “conquest” (Eroberung) of revelation by language in the form of “logical construction.”[23] This is what Jüngel identifies as metaphysics or mythology, which is premised on the natural capacity of language to speak of God. By contrast, the analogia fidei, understood as language captured by revelation, presupposes the actuality of God’s speech as the basis for the possibility of language corresponding to God. And since God’s communicative action is the covenant of grace in Christ that forms the internal basis for all creation, the language-capturing event of God’s revelation is an event that “brings language to its essence,” and thus “language is brought to its essence where God brings Godself to speech.”[1]

After providing these distinctions David proceeds to discuss some technical things about how this all works in Barth’s theology vis-à-vis Bultmann’s. For our purposes I simply want to elaborate on how impactful and important this distinction between the ‘analogy of being’ and ‘analogy of faith’ are for what we are continuing to do within evangelical Calvinism. If you fail to grasp the distinction described by David then you will always fail to read what we are doing with evangelical Calvinism. You will read us the way Roger Olson and Kevin Vanhoozer do; as if we are incoherent in our theological method and conclusions. You will attempt to superimpose the analogy of being method of doing theology on top of the analogy of faith style that we actually do.

Beyond this, let me highlight something for you. The analogy of being works from one order and the analogy of faith from another. In a very simplistic way of elucidating this, what I mean is that the  analogy of faith way, in a principled manner, believes that for any communication about God to be intelligible that its only source for coherence and sensibility must be his own Self-interpreting Word in Jesus Christ; as such it is an exercise in faith. It attempts to deal with a problem, as Congdon notes, with the problem of human language being able to speak of God who is ineffable and unapproachable. It does not seek a solution by simply asserting that human language has an inherent capacity to capture revelation or to speak theologically about God (i.e. the analogy of being) in abstraction (like from purum naturum ‘pure nature’). Instead, as David notes, it presumes upon the theological reality of Covenant, and the Barthian idea that God in Christ is the inner reality of creation itself; thus creation’s ‘coherence’ only finds reality as it constantly and freshly by the Spirit is referred to Jesus Christ as its goal, ground and grammar.

I hope this makes some sense to you. This is where evangelical Calvinism, Barth, Torrance et. al. distinguish ourselves; it is a hermeneutical thing. And hermeneutics (i.e. the superstructure through which we interpret reality) shapes and determines all of our conclusions about everything: i.e. exegetical, ethical, theological, political, etc. This is why it will never be sufficient to simply try and read evangelical Calvinism through the analogy of being; because we are not interpreting reality through the suppositions that fuel the analogy of being, we instead have a different hermeneutic and theory of revelation.

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), 55 Scribd version.

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