Radicalized Christus Praesens as the Alternative to the Natural Knowledge of God Posited by the Dubyian and Thomist Tradition

Not to continue to harp on Steve Duby (I mean, I like him, but that doesn’t have anything to do with this), but let me very briefly respond to another point of his in regard to that rejoinder he wrote to Peter Leithart’s critique of his book. Duby has offered us a service in succinctly spelling out what the logic of a ‘metaphysic’ is, and how that is developed and deployed in the ostensible service of
Christian theology. Duby writes in response to Leithart:

Leithart’s first fundamental complaint is most fully articulated in Objection #3. Here he asserts, “Philosophy bewitches by her rhetoric,” making us “think that speaking in her dialect is more precise or profound than speaking in the poetic dialect of Scripture.” However, according to Leithart, “the Scriptural talk of God is the most precise and adequate language we can have. It’s God’s own talk about Himself.” But did Scripture itself instruct Leithart that precision is a desideratum for theological description? He clearly believes that it is a desideratum, but why? The call for precision is not explicitly spelled out in Scripture. It is a philosophical presupposition (i.e., one discovered by the natural use of the mind, without the mind being directly instructed on this point by supernatural revelation). Is it a good philosophical presupposition? To answer the question, one cannot appeal to particular statements of Scripture. One could argue that the Bible underscores the importance of understanding the truth about God, but moving from there to a call for precision in theological language will require the use of reason. Also, from where has the phrase “poetic dialect” come? Such a phrase cannot be lifted verbatim from Scripture. It is extrabiblical rhetoric. That does not make it bad, but it does not sit well with Leithart’s avowed approach to doing theology. Moreover, it is odd to deem poetic language more precise than metaphysical language. To clarify his meaning here, Leithart would have to explain what the word “poetic” means (and why he’s employing it in an unusual way). Doing this would require Leithart to flesh out his doctrine of Scripture with the use of terms and insights gleaned from the field of natural knowledge, for Scripture nowhere gives us a treatise on the nature of poetry, metaphor and so on.[1]

I have emboldened the part I want to focus on. This is where Duby, and the tradition he thinks from, doesn’t really track so well with Leithart. But I don’t want to speak for Leithart, or give the impression that I am Leithartian; I’m not! Instead I am somewhat abstracting Duby’s points from their occasional context, and responding to the basic premise of his responses.

Duby’s response is funded by a prior theological-anthropology; in the tradition it can be, and has been identified as Thomist Intellectualism. You note how he focuses on a sort of abstract or profane epistemology, one that is not necessarily or intentionally tethered to a Christian doctrine of God? He refers to ‘natural’ knowledge about God-things, without first referring us to God; instead he only offers us an ‘accidental’ relationship between God-knowledge and human/natural knowledge of god-things. But this just is what Leithart, and for my purposes, the Barth-Torrance axis repudiates. In my tradition there is no abstract knowledge of God; there can be no natural knowledge of God, prior to God revealing God. There can be no general conception of godness gleaned prior to God that we bring to God in an attempt to fill/feel God out with our natural knowledge. Even if we qualify this natural knowledge as a token gift from God, as some sort of vestiges of God latent in the created order, this does not help us concretely develop a genuinely Christian theological epistemology; just at the point that it elides a genuine acknowledgement for a theological ontology that is grounded in the Triune life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Gospel is sui generis; it is God’s Grace. The Gospel comes with its own eschatological rationality; rationality not gleaned from the residue of some sort of pure nature. The fact that theologians, even Barth, use ‘philosophical grammar’ does not require a commitment to the sort of abstract theological anthropology, and thus epistemology, that Duby et al operates with. Instead, it simply acknowledges that this world is fulsome with the presence and plenitude in Jesus Christ (Christus Praesens); but not prior to this plenitude, only after (both as protological and eschatological realities). Duby, and the tradition he has committed himself to seem to take this as too naïve to consider viable. As an alternative account they will then continue to posit themselves and their intellects in a sort of pristine mode as the source of their bases for developing knowledge of God.

For further explication of what I’m getting at, read the following post: Defending Barth and Torrance from the Charge of Incoherence.

Duby et al. and the tradition he/they think from doesn’t seem to really understand the bases of what a genuinely Revelational theology entails. It isn’t irrationalism or anti-rationalism, instead it understands that a properly Christian theological ontology/epistemology is one that starts and ends in the Alpha and Omega of God, in Jesus Christ. Sure there is a long standing tradition in the church that is unfortunately enslaved to a philosophical theology (and you must think this in terms of prolegomena in order to avoid this constant confusion of thinking that I am referring us to some sort of blanket fideism or something), but just because this is so, doesn’t make it so; or that it should be so.   

[1] Steve Duby, source.

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