On Proctological, I Mean Protological Divine Simplicity and Its Eschatological Correction

The Trinity never intended on being a ‘protological simplicity,’ but instead an eschatological dynamism of relational graciousness to be related to in koinonial blessedness of the sort that the Son has always already and eternally shared with the Father by the Holy Spirit. In sum, that’s what Paul Hinlicky is getting at here (in not so many words, but more):

Clarification of the problem—the ambiguity or instability—of the doctrine of protological simplicity in this Christian synthesis leads to a choice. The kataphatic function of simplicity as an articulation of God’s unity as the timeless identity of essence and existence must be abandoned for the sake of a more modest apophaticism. Simplicity should be affirmed, in the latter case, as a rule in Christian theology, respecting the incomprehensible unity of the Trinity, One of whom suffered at Another’s will, as decreed by the Fifth Ecumenical Council. In that case, to be sure, the tacit notion of time in the metaphysical affirmation of God’s timeless (and spaceless) self-identity will as well experience a corresponding revision. Our notion of God’s eternity and immensity will not be the abstract negation of creation but instead will be constructed out of the time-like begetting and spirating and the space-like perichoresis of the Triune life. In this way, divine eternity and immensity will be understood as providing the divine capacity for the creature, so that fittingly but not necessarily God creates in order to redeem and fulfill in the coming of the Beloved Community. The Creator/creature distinction, more broadly speaking, is gained not by negating God’s relation to the temporal world of becoming in a pseudo-insight but rather, positively, as Gunton required, by reflection on God’s revealed acts to redeem and fulfill all that He has made. The logic of a positive derivation of the divine attributes by which God is ontologically described as Creator is that what God has in fact done and promises to do, God must be thought of as capable of doing; in short: God is the ineffable harmony of power, wisdom, and love in infinite circulation.[1]

Here we have Hinlicky’s critique of what I like to call an essentialist ‘Pure Being theology,’ corrected by a strictly revelational personalist understanding of who God is as revealed in the economy (ad extra). What is of note here is that Hinlicky shows how a theologian can constructively work with the Great Tradition vis-à-vis a doctrine of God, and at the same time not abandon its core orthodox parameters. I really have no idea why so many younger theologians of retrieval feel so slavishly bound to a sort of repristinating mode in regard to retrieving the classical tradition; there seems to be a sense of security in it for them. I just refuse to think that anything ‘modern’ is from the devil; as far as I can remember the devil has been operative since at least the Fall.

[1] Paul R. Hinlicky, Divine Simplicity: Christ the Crisis of Metaphysics (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2016), 52.

My Staurological and Thus Non-Speculative Way into Politics Juxtaposed with Genuine Christian Theology

This whole thing has created a tremendous disruption in all of our lives. I am referring to COVID, the “Protests,” the subsequent economic destruction and ruin, and the ‘civil war’ currently underway in our country (and all across the globe, respectively). In an effort to process all of this I have taken to social media, along with the rest of the world, in order to let the world know what I think about it all. This is cathartic, to a degree, but after awhile it starts to rub raw on the heart and mind. That’s the point I am at currently. I believe there is a paradigmatic shift unfolding, or an attempt, at what some would call a revolution to destroy the normal American way of life, and the Western life in general, and replace it with some sort of Utopia that apparently looks like CHAZ or CHOP (whatever your flavor is). Personally, I do believe there are global players involved in all of this, and would like nothing else but to enact the long-held goal of the infamous New World Order (NWO). Clearly, it is hard to know all the details of what all of this entails; but if the person is open, and paying attention, there is a general pattern of contours that seem to provide the greatest explanatory power in regard to what appears to be an absolute meltdown of all things that used to be considered normal life. Because it is seemingly impossible to escape all-of-these-goings-on (the people in masks won’t let me forget), as a Christian, and a theologian, I am faced with an ostensible dilemma. How am I to relate the kerygmatic reality of Jesus Christ to all the chaos and absolute disorder on display right now?

I have also noticed, and maybe you have to, and maybe you’re prone to this yourself, that many Christians, the thinking types, have seemingly hidden themselves in the towers of theology they have come to know as their familiar way of life. And maybe this is just a social media phenomena, and not genuinely representative of how these Christians are dealing with all of this. As an alternative to this, some of these same folks seem to be endorsing the meta-narrative of the age right now about systemic racism, and other supposed social ills; and then using critical race theory, and endorsing the neo-Marxist themes of Liberation Theology in order to address what they’ve been told (by critical race theory, and the media) is the problem with the world. In other words, it seems as if many of these types of Christians, thinking as they are, have been able to somehow make their theology propers to jive with ideologies that you wouldn’t think would be the case (given these ideologies’ juxtaposition with the Gospel and all it implies about reality). I don’t think this seeming dissonance (at least for me) is able to happen by accident. You see, I think that, ironically, it is because these Christians have such an ‘othered’ focus conception of God’s transcendence, one based in a heavy apophaticism and negative theology, one based on speculation and discursive reflection, that on the one hand it is possible for them to continue doing their academic or even ‘scholastic’ theology over here, and on the other hand, appropriate social constructs bedded in a horizontal age that presumes a capacity that really only God has. Of course, these Christians would deny that my claim is so, but it’s hard to understand how this isn’t so. I’m simply observing the actions, and the whence from where they make their arguments and make their stands.

So, because I’m unwilling to go this way, I must have another way. For me this way must be strictly staurological; in other words, it must be grounded in the cruciform Life of the triune God in Jesus Christ for us (pro nobis). It must grounded in the God who is in Himself, of His own free and gracious choosing, to not be God without us. It must be grounded in the elected humanity of God in Jesus Christ; indeed, as Barth has rightly said: ‘the very sum of the Gospel.’

The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that can be said or heard it is the best: that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom. It is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and the elected man in One. It is part of the doctrine of God because originally God’s election of man is a predestination not merely of man but of Himself. Its function is to bear basic testimony to eternal, free and unchanging grace as the beginning of all the ways and works of God.[1]

You might be noticing what I am getting at now. Rather than having a God who is transcendent in a ‘pure being’ sort of way, the Gospel, one that is cruciform in shape, has an understanding of the transcendent God as we meet Him in the grist of this world; in the skin of a particular man from Nazareth named, Jesus Christ. As we meet God in this man, in Jesus Christ, it isn’t that we aren’t introduced to a God who isn’t transcendent; it is, instead, that we are introduced to a God whose transcendence is shaped by a gracious willingness and freedom, a character that constantly comes down to us, that we might constantly be elevated afresh and anew to Him, in and through the Spirit’s resurrecting power to make all things new. But it is this notion of God’s transcendence, one that has eternally chosen to become human, one who will eternally bear the marks of the cross in His body, that I look to in order to ground the way I attempt to think about the outrageous happenings this world system is currently enduring. Having a conception of God, from the cross of Christ, disallows me to retreat into a conclave that is compartmentalized from the happenings of this world order (or disorder, as the case may be). This is not to say that there is no rest and times of refreshment to be had in our participation with Christ, in the triune life, it is just that this participatio is always already one that freely chooses to be in and for this world in a way that reflects His Ways and not mine; not ours.

In this, I find refuge to be for this world, in a way that does not collapse itself into the world system, that does not attempt to find ‘critical’ tools from this world system; but instead has the capacity to bear witness to this world, of another world, the heavenly city, come down in Jesus Christ. I have tools in and from the power of the Gospel Hisself, ones that are personally oriented, without analogy, ones that are sui generis, and that simply trust that God’s action in Christ, in His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension is what this broken world needs in order to become un-broken. What this means for me is that I don’t have this sort of dualistic rupture between a transcendent God, philosophically conceived, and how that God might relate to the world based upon my own powers to discover and thus prescribe ways forward that in fact are not from God but from my own powers to discover. This is why Christians who are prone to wander this way, to seek refuge in ‘critical’ tools have space to operate this way; and at the same time presume upon an “orthodox” doctrine of God. This has been their method from the start: i.e. to think God, not first nor slavishly from God’s election to be for us as revealed in the incarnation and cross of Jesus Christ, but instead to methodologically think God from an un-graced [pure] nature, in the name of this God, and then grammarize Him in such a way that He is concordant with what we have negatively discovered of Him by contrasting Him with our finitude (analogia entis). This method carries through, you see; don’t you? If we can think God this way, we can surely discover other things in nature. We can develop systems of justice, and identify critical analytic tools and ideologies that are simply inherent to our natured natures. The epistemic ground is not in God’s ontology, but in ours; an abstract humanity based on a concept of election that is not grounded in the God-man, Jesus Christ, but God’s ad hoc choice of particular individuals per the absolutum decretum.

I just threw a bunch of deep and even technical points of theology out, in the above paragraph, that I don’t have time to develop further here. But suffice it to say: Our doctrines of God matter, and how we think God, and where we think we think Him from has all sorts of real life consequences; including the way we engage with politics, and the BS that the world throws up at us in ways that seem like an outright demonic onslaught. If our resource for countering these things are in critical tools that we have discovered, as corollary with the way we have come to ‘discover’ what God is, by our own ‘essential’ powers, then we are going to be up “shit’s creek” (please pardon my language, I don’t normally cuss, but the times seem to call for it more and more these days). Our only hope is if we find resource in the sui generis life of God for us in the Gospel; you know, the ‘POWER OF God,’ and stuff. More to say, always more to say, but this is enough for now. Maranatha

[1] Barth, CD II/2:1.

Marx’s Heaven on Earth: In Reduction::Hell on Earth

Marx’s Utopia is an immanentized, existentialized NOW; not some future event, per se. In other words, Marx’s atheism collapsed what ought to be into what is, and then asks that people make what is what ought to be. Utopia is a deification of the material processes, as those are enacted by the socialized agents in that process, wherein there is equity and equality for all. It is an existentialized (not simply actualized) eschatological vision of the way the world ought to be, in contradiction to what is; when what is, is a corporatocracy rigged for the 1% to enrich themselves off the backs of the other 99% (to put this in contemporary terms). So, to speak in Christian tongue: Marx is not concerned with the future, but with the future as the present; since that’s all we have as immanentized agents ensconced in the material processes of a physicalized world. As such, without Christ as the telos and centraldogma of all creation, it is up to those left behind to the brute dialectic of materialization to irrupt an actualized eschaton that only a deified, a Messianic humanity can imagine (based upon its submission to material processes) and enact. Since it isn’t a future reality, since for Marx future realities are mythos that the weak might need, the Utopia must come now; or it will come now, once people come to this naturalized recognition of how things ought to be, in contradistinction to what currently is (in a Capitalized and Classified state)—this will be the time of the ‘second coming.’ Terry Eagleton describes Marx’s inklings on Utopia and a future eschaton this way:

There are, as it happens, far more interesting uses of the word “utopia” in the Marxist tradition. One of the greatest English Marxist revolutionaries, William Morris, produced an unforgettable work of utopia in News from Nowhere, which unlike almost every other utopian work actually showed in detail how the process of political change had come about. When it comes to the everyday use of the word, however, it should be said that Marx shows not the slightest interest in a future free of suffering, death, loss, failure, breakdown, conflict, tragedy or even labour. In fact, he doesn’t show much interest in the future at all. It is a notorious fact about his work that he has very little to say in detail about what a socialist or communist society would look like. His critics may therefore accuse him of unpardonable vagueness; but they can hardly do that and at the same time accuse him of drawing up utopian blueprints. It is capitalism, not Marxism, that trades in futures. In The German Ideology, Marx rejects the idea of communism as “an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself.” Instead, he sees it in that book as “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”

Just as the Jews were traditionally forbidden to foretell the future, so Marx the secular Jew is mostly silent on what lie ahead. We have seen that he probably thought socialism was inevitable, but he has strikingly little to say about what it would look like. There are several reasons for this reticence. For one thing, the future does not exist, so that to forge images of it is a kind of lie. To do so might also suggest that the future is predetermined—that it lies in some shadowy realm for us to discover. We have seen that there is a sense in which Marx held that the future was inevitable. But the inevitable is not necessarily the desirable. Death is inevitable, too, but not in most people’s eyes desirable. The future may be predetermined, but that is no reason to assume that it is going to be an improvement on what we have at the moment. The inevitable, as we have seen, is usually pretty unpleasant. Marx himself needed to be more aware of this.

Foretelling the future, however, is not only pointless; it can actually be destructive. To have power even over the future is a way of giving ourselves a false sense of security. It is a tactic for shielding ourselves from the open-ended nature of the present, with all its precariousness and unpredictability. It is to use the future as a kind of fetish—as a comforting idol to cling to like a toddler to its blanket. It is an absolute value which will not let us down because (since it does not exist) it is as insulated from the winds of history as a phantom. You can also seek to monopolise the future as a way of dominating the present. The true soothsayers of our time are not hairy, howling outcasts luridly foretelling the death of capitalism, but the experts hired by the transnational corporations to peer into the entrails of the system and assure its rulers that their profits are safe for another ten years. The prophet, by contrast, is not a clairvoyant at all. It is a mistake to believe that the biblical prophets sought to predict the future. Rather, the prophet denounces the greed, corruption and power-mongering of the present, warning us that unless we change our ways we may well have no future at all. Marx was a prophet, not a fortuneteller.[1]

If you think that what we are seeing in the streets of America, and all across the Western globe isn’t a Marxist enactment of an eschatological hope, you’d be sort of silly, wouldn’t you be? We are in the midst of Marx’s immanentized vision of the world enacted on the backs of the ‘useful idiots.’ Black Lives Matters (the organization), Antifa, and a plethora of other well-funded (and now by a national shakedown) leftist organizations are the useful idiots Marx knew were necessary if the sort of revolution he believed would just ‘naturally’ arise were to ever become an actuality. We have seen Marx’s vision beatified over and again in the 20th century; it never turns out well. How could it? When the center of the revolution is an abstract humanity from the risen Christ’s humanity for us, all the world ends up with is hell; rather than heaven on earth.

 

[1] Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (New Haven&London: Yale University Press, 2011), Loc 774, 782, 790, 797 kindle version. Eagleton characterization of Hebrew prophets is inaccurate, by the way; they did foretell as well, they didn’t just forthtell.

Speaking of God Positively Rather Than Negatively: Simplicity in Multiplicity

How do I, as an Evangelical Calvinist approach the doctrine of Divine Simplicity? Given the Evangelical Calvinists’ commitment to The Holy Trinity [as] the Absolute Ground and Grammar of All Epistemology, Theology, and Worship how would this impact the way that we would attempt to parse out a doctrine of simplicity from this multiplied commitment to thinking God from His threeness to His oneness / His oneness to His threeness? Contra Sonderegger, and the resurgence of monadic pure being theology, derived from the via negativa and apophatic tradition in the church, I as an Evangelical Calvinist repudiate that and can only affirm the via positiva and kataphatic tradition; the tradition that thinks God, without remainder, from His Self-exegesis and revelation in Jesus Christ. Paul Hinlicky in his book Divine Simplicity: Christ the Crisis of Metaphysics details how an Evangelical Calivinist might frame the way we articulate the way we think about simplicity, and how that is given shape from the multiplicity of God in and from the antecedent but revealed triune life. He writes:

Refining Jenson’s position, then, Gunton argues that a theological account of divine nature by a consideration of the attributes of the God of the gospel requires, not doing away with attribution, but what he calls a positive rather than a negative derivation of divine attributes. He is not simply preferring the philosophical way of eminence to the way of negation. The way of eminence in a “positive” account learns what God is from who God is; it is an exercise in revealed theology. By contrast, a “negative” account achieves by way of natural theology a definition of God by negation of worldly attributes (as also the philosophical way of eminence, by removing imperfections to come to God’s perfection, is also an eliminative—that is, a negative way—in natural theology). So if Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God, and the righteousness of God, and so on, the theological problem of attribution in a positive account becomes the question of how to conceive the relation of these multiple divine attributes to one another in view of the unity or simplicity of God as one subject. The problem is not now our earthly language attributes to God as in natural theology; it now becomes how various attributions to God cohere with one another as a single or at least unified subjectivity. Gunton comes to this formulation of the problem of positive attribution from statements of Karl Barth in the Church Dogmatics (CD II/1, 327–28), where Barth maintained that “the very unity of [God’s] being consists in the multiplicity, individuality and diversity of His perfections” (31). A via negativa that would regard the attributions as merely human ways of speaking corresponding to nothing real in God in “pure simplicity” is “rightly” rejected by Barth, so Gunton argues, in favor of a “positive” articulation of the God who gives and communicates Himself (32) in the unity of His multiple perfections.

The “real” problem is thus intensified. Indeed, if we wish to “hold on to a doctrine of the unity and coherence of the divine being, . . . our question remains, How are the various attributes related to one another, and to their common centre in the being of God?” (32). We do, Gunton presumes, want to hold on to the unity and coherence of the divine being. Divine simplicity, then, is to be affirmed. But it is to be affirmed positively rather than negatively—that is, not by the protological definition of perfect being as indivisible (by the “absence of composition”) but rather as the theological qualification of the revealed God as unified in the diversity of His attributions. Divine simplicity in this sense safeguards in principle the irreducibility of God not in spite of but in accounting for God’s relations to His creation.[1]

For the Evangelical Calvinist (of the sort inspired by folks like Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance et al.), God is never thought of in abstraction from His givenness for us in Christ. It is from Christ that attribution of God has the possibility and epistemic capacity to think who God is in Himself. It is the who (i.e. subject) of God that shapes our understanding of the what (i.e. object) of God, not vice versa. Classical Calvinism does its work on a doctrine of God, at fundamentum, from the speculative, discursive, philosophical and negative ground that Thomas Aquinas and a host of others prior to and following thought God from. We are a non-speculative, Scripture Principle based way of thinking, doing, and living theology. We major on a theology of the Word (as Luther, early on was doing), and allow the ministry of God’s Word to inform and shape how we attempt to think theologically. We find our raison d’être for theological life in Christ alone; and as we find our reason for existence in Christ alone, we just happen to find that this participation in His life brings us into the interior of God’s eternal and triune life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because of this we don’t have to posit mechanical decrees, or what TFT would call logical-causal necessitarian modes of thinking, when we attempt to understand how God relates to the world, to us. No, we have an immediate contact with the living God, through the personal agency of the Son of God made flesh for us. This is a constant, ongoing, ever afresh and anew contact that we are ministered in-to by the comforting work of the Holy Spirit. He makes sure that we are participatio Christi, not by our might, nor by our power, but, indeed, this contact with God is by the hovering work of the Spirit of the living God.

Hinlicky’s engagement with Gunton, Jenson, Barth is just the sort of engagement an Evangelical Calvinist is interested in making when attempting to think these things into the theologies on offer in the history of the church’s ideas. If Hinlicky wasn’t already a Lutheran he’d make a wonderful Evangelical Calvinist. His mode, and ours, is a constructive one that works catholicly with the good material that the Church of Jesus Christ has produced in the past, and into the present. We do not limit our theological work, except to the absolute delimitation that Jesus Christ presents the theologian with, insofar as He is exhaustively regulative of a genuinely Christian theological endeavor. We will leave with a word from TFT (a word I’ve shared before), as he summarizes Barth’s method; it encapsulates what we have been observing in this post quite well:

Because Jesus Christ is the Way, as well as the Truth and the Life, theological thought is limited and bounded and directed by this historical reality in whom we meet the Truth of God. That prohibits theological thought from wandering at will across open country, from straying over history in general or from occupying itself with some other history, rather than this concrete history in the centre of all history. Thus theological thought is distinguished from every empty conceptual thought, from every science of pure possibility, and from every kind of merely formal thinking, by being mastered and determined by the special history of Jesus Christ.[2]

[1] Paul R. Hinlicky, Divine Simplicity: Christ the Crisis of Metaphysics (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2016), 14.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, “Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931,” 196.

Confronting Leighton Flowers and Kevin Thompson on their ‘Humanless’ Reading of Holy Scripture

If we read the Bible we all do it, we read it theologically. I was just listening to Leighton Flowers, and this time his friend, Kevin Thompson on their attempt to refute Calvinism. Now, I have no problem with critiquing classical Calvinism (and Arminianism), but it at least needs to be done responsibly; these two are irresponsible. That will be the topic of this post: a critique of the claim that a person can or does read the Bible without following “other people” in the process (this is the method of their supposed critique of Calvinism). That is what both Flowers and Thompson claim to being doing at this mark (approx the 50 min mark) in Flowers’ podcast. They want to reject being part of a movement, like Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, Evangelical Calvinism so on and so forth because they believe that absolutely identifying with a tradition or “label” shuts down rather than stimulate independent interpretation of Holy Scripture. They both ostensibly maintain that they don’t want to be known for following a ‘man’, like Calvin, or Arminius, or Luther, or whomever; that they simply want to be associated with following what the Bible teaches unabated—without being associated with any sort of tradition of man or the Church.

Some would discourage engaging with what most would consider to be a non-serious position, but I persist under such inanities; if only to alert the many people who follow folks like Flowers and Thompson—that they are under a ruse. It is ironic, wouldn’t you agree?, when people like Flowers and Thompson want to reject being the type of person associated with a label or an artificial paradigm created by men (as Thompson claimed), that they themselves are men who have now created a new paradigm (which really isn’t new, i.e. think Socianism), with a label (for Flowers it is, Provisionism) that simply ends up illustrating the inevitability of tradition making. Even their supposed ‘Scripture all by itselfism’ (solo Scriptura not to be confused with sola Scriptura) is a tradition embedded in the history of ecclesial ideas developed by men.

Not to mention that solo Scripturaism is in fact a bastardization of the Protestant Scripture Principle; in other words, to say that a person is solely committed to hearing from Scripture alone, as if that can be done in an ecclesial vacuum, illustrates just how naïve the person making such claims is. The Protestant Scripture Principle was developed by Christian men in the history of the Protestant church in contravention of the theory of authority pulsating through the veins of the Roman Pontificate. Even so, a right understanding of the Scripture Principle, or more pointedly, a theology of the Word, understands, as Calvin did (i.e. his concept of Scripture as spectacles), that Scripture itself is or should not be reduced into a paper version of the Roman chair; which might yield for us a Paper Pope, instead of a Pulsating Pope. Sola Scriptura in its best iteration understands that Scripture is a signum (sign), and it bears witness to or points beyond itself to its res (reality) in the triune life of God as that is mediated to humanity through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Solo Scriptura, in the dress of Flowers and Thompson, ends up, ironically, re-establishing a new mode of the papal posture by absolutizing the ‘independent’ Bible interpreter, and collapsing all authority into the binding of their goatskinned Book (and their interpretation of it). Don’t get me wrong, I take Scripture to be the Christian’s sole authority as well, but the way we understand Scripture’s ‘ontology’ (as John Webster identifies that), or ‘being’ vis-à-vis God, and its ‘instrumentality’ will relieve the pressure that Flowers and Thompson place onto Scripture in absolute and even rationalist ways. To maintain that Scripture is our sole authority, and then presume upon a theory of authority where independent interpreters of Scripture are the keyholders of that authority, by way of the accuracy of their interpretation, only makes a person maintaining this position highly hypocritical when they claim that they only follow the Bible and not men. Apparently these men are not men; or they somehow have achieved a Lockean tabula rasa wherein they come to Scripture with no preunderstandings, or less preundertandings than us other mere mortals, to the point that they can make the claim that they are only following Scripture and not men; as if they don’t interpret Scripture as men.

There is always more to say, but I had to at least speak to this silliness as it got under my skin earlier today. Before we go, let me share a nice index once offered by my friend, Oliver Crisp. This index provides a nice and articulate way for understanding what our friends, Flowers and Thompson, fail to grasp, in regard to the role and reality of tradition, creeds, and even theologoumena, as these categories find their orientation from Scripture and its reality, not against it.

    1. Scripture is the norma normans, the principium theologiae. It is the final arbiter of matters theological for Christians as the particular place in which God reveals himself to his people. This is the first-order authority in all matters of Christian doctrine.
    2. Catholic creeds, as defined by and ecumenical council of the Church, constitute a first tier of norma normata, which have second-order authority in matters touching Christian doctrine. Such norms derive their authority from Scripture to which they bear witness.
    3. Confessional and conciliar statements of particular ecclesial bodies are a second tier of norma normata, which have third-order authority in matters touching Christian doctrine. They also derive their authority from Scripture to the extent that they faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture.
    4. The particular doctrines espoused by theologians including those individuals accorded the title Doctor of the Church which are not reiterations of matters that are de fide, or entailed by something de fide, constitute theologoumena, or theological opinions, which are not binding upon the Church, but which may be offered up for legitimate discussion within the Church.[1]

Flowers and Thompson would do well to take heed to what Crisp wisely outlines for us. The idea that we do not ‘follow men,’ when we interpret Scripture makes a laughing stock of empirical reality, and the inevitable reality of tradition-making (i.e. even denying that we make traditions becomes a new tradition; so the dialectic runs on), but more importantly, it mocks what the Apostle Paul himself taught us when he wrote this:

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. –Ephesians 4:11-16

Apparently Calvin, Arminius, Luther et al. aren’t or weren’t teachers of the Church; but hey, we’re good to go because we have Flowers and Thompson around to give us non-men human teachings about what Scripture teaches. If you’re a follower of Flowers, Thompson, and others with their mindset, I would exhort you to reconsider putting yourself under people who are pointing away from Christ, and pointing to themselves as the proper gateway between rightly knowing Christ or not. While their teaching might come with a warm smile, a Texas drawl, or just one of the guys’ sentimentality, just know that what they are teaching is dangerous to your soul and will ultimately point you back to yourself, and to Flowers and Thompson, but not to the risen Christ. The underlying anthropology these folks have adopted has much to do with all of this, but that will be reserved for another post.

 

[1] Oliver Crisp, god incarnate, (New York: T&T Clark International, 2009), 17.

On the Demise of Expertise, and the Ascendancy of the Conspiracy Theorists

I wanted to respond to a sentiment that is rather pervasive, particularly among younger academics (and “experts”), in regard to preserving the
concept of expertise.[1] Am I against the idea of expertise? Nein. Am I against expertise when it is appealed to to shutdown non-specialist critique of expertise? Yes. There are extremes everywhere, no doubt; and the sentiment I am confronting here is an extreme, representative of a binary situation that should not exist. I am going to share the most recent example of this sentiment that I’ve come across on social media. I am going to leave its author anonymous, and if he sees me referring to his statement, then he’s free to respond. I’m sharing his statement because it represents a good articulation of the mood I want to confront; in other words, I am not sharing his statement because I have personal animus towards this person, per se. Here’s his statement:

Most of us assume that we’re basically autodidacts. Some of us even like to quote Good Will Hunting as an example – “You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.” But the truth is that education and the pursuit of truth about a given discipline do not typically happen this way, nor are most of us geniuses who can teach ourselves everything about anything. Late modernism’s relativization of truth should be rightly opposed by Christians. But what many of us don’t realize is that its twin spirit of the age is the questioning of all authority, including that of qualified experts in a given field.

In other words, it’s entirely ironic to see Christians who are constantly on the lookout for postmodern relativism, while at the same time publicly and repeatedly treating experts *and even the idea of expertise* with disdain. **These two attitudes are mirror twins of one another.**

Bottom line: If you are constantly prone to conspiracy theories in which “the experts” are lying and only you and a select group of like-minded individuals see the truth, you are also entirely given over to the postmodernism you seek to root out.[2]

My response to this on one of my social-media platforms was the following (and it was a sub-response):

It is not postmodern relativism to question the “experts”, when said experts are clearly driven by group think and political expediencies. Reality is not contingent on the consensus of the experts; that is, again, if the experts are engaged in ideological group thinks held captive by prior commitments to ideologies that are not necessarily correlative to mind-independent realities. Expertise is not an ad hoc equation: it is either based on actual substantive merit of the ideas, and their concrete correspondence with external realities (critical realism), or it is not. When so called experts simply engage in self-referentialist coherentist language games they have ceased having a table at the ostensible table of the magisterium, and themselves become promoters of a subjectivist (collectivist) postmodern relativism. Questioning the expert’s expertise in these cases—when the evidence clearly confounds their arguments—is not conspiracy theory, but is an act of intellectual honesty that said experts have asked the general public to sacrifice in the name of their expertise (appeal to credentials). No thank you.

The extremes I am attempting to take issue with, as represented in the anonymous statement, are either you are an expert, or you are a conspiracy theorist for questioning the experts. And my “sub-response” is my response to this false-binary. The experts are just as culpable of being noetically challenged as are the rest of us. The idea that people who are not experts, and who question the experts, and thus by implication, as the occasion of the questioning, are prone to “conspiracy theories, suggests that people should simply submit to the so-called experts just because they are the experts. But of course this is silly, and is equally as relativistic as the supposed non-specialist assessment of “reality.”

I think what drives this sentiment, often, is the vested interest young academics perceive themselves to have in their hard won rise to the sphere of the “expert.” Whether or not this is the motive that drives the anonymous-statement-maker’s sense to make his argument, isn’t pertinent to this sort of pervasive problem. Maybe I’m not perceiving correctly, but knowing my own proneness to idolatrate, and having been in the realm of academia for many years, I don’t think I am mis-reading this sentiment among the experts. Martin Luther identified this sentiment as a theologia gloriae, or theology of glory. What becomes forefront for the expert is to receive approval from their peers, and have their work validated as meeting snuff per the ad hoc standards developed by the relative peer-group. This clearly is not the case for all those who would be considered “experts,” but it is a battle that needs to be waged by people in this realm more than I have experienced among them. In other words, the fear that expertise is being eroded by relativism should not be the ultimate fear. What should be the ultimate fear is that truth, no matter where it might be found, is eroded in the name of the expert being allowed to determine what that is as its ostensible gatekeepers—which in fact is full-fledged relativism.

There are extremes everywhere. Even so, the goal isn’t also then to necessarily find a so-called via media (middle way), but instead to simply stand for the truth no matter who articulates it. If we are going to be critical realists about things, then this must be the way forward. If the truth is among the conspiracy theorists, then it is. If it is among the experts, then it is. If it is among those in the middle, then it is. It is not relativism simpliciter if you find yourself aligning with a group who is non-specialist, might be considered fringe, might have meetings wearing tin-hats, but who also end up, in whatever the instance, to be those propounding the truth. Of course this sword cuts multiple ways. And given the methodological rigor of the experts, the truth might be prone to be found there, on balance, than it is among the conspiracy theorists; but maybe not, too. The experts often have extraneous forces, ideological ones, shaping the way they develop their methodological rigor; in such a way that it ends up impinging on their conclusions (the most recent example is the author of the Imperial College model, Neil Ferguson). On the other hand, so called conspiracy theorists, in their methodology, might be operating out of a negative vacuum, or lack of pertinent and concrete info, that makes their interpretation of things prone to arriving at erroneous conclusions. Even so, at the end of the day, truth is truth; a data-point either corresponds to reality or it doesn’t. The experts, the conspiracy theorists, and those in-between are in equal position to land on truth or not; all things being equal (like being sane with even modest analytic and critical thinking skills), but of course, things aren’t always equal either. The point is, in my view: we must remain humble to consider all evidences as they present themselves, and have the courage, even if we end up sounding like a so-called conspiracy theorist, to speak our conviction. Not a relative conviction, per se, but one that may well be thoroughly grounded in concrete reality; despite what the experts say.

 

[1] I do not want to suggest that all academics are this way, but if you have been in and around academia, as I have, the sentiment I am confronting will seem rather quotidian to you.

[2] Anonymous statement-maker.

A Sketch of Critical Race Theory and its Incoherence with the Christian Reality

I just wrote the following for Twitter. It turned into post length, so I thought I would post it here too. It is my sketch of what so called critical race theory entails, and why it does not cohere with the Christian reality.

The folly of critical theory is this: it maintains that reality is simply a construct that has been built on a collation of ideas and ideologies that are either good or bad (to oversimplify). Thus, it is possible to *critically* identify these constructs; adjudicate whether they have produced a greater good for the flourishing of society, or not; and if they haven’t, we then ought to deconstruct these ideas, and re-construct a better society with equality and equity for all as its raison d’ etre or end. When this is applied to race, understood as an enlightenment construct, society looks at the apparent inequities that are present in the world, with particular reference, of course, between white and black relations, and believes that it can deconstruct the bad ideas that have produced these inequities and replace them with ideas that will produce an absolute equity and equality between the white and black races.

Maybe how critical race theory is related to Marxism is becoming more apparent to you. Here are two features that bring Marxist ideology and critical race theory together: 1) An atheistic or absolutely naturalist understanding of what humanity is; 2) The idea that the ultimate goal of humanity, and its greatest flourishing, comes from a classless society. The Achilles heel, of course, is that the constant ground and hope in this schema, is the deification of humanity. I.e. That humanity has the wherewithal in its collectivist self to discern what the bad ideas are, and then knows what the good ideas are in order to bring about a classless, non-racist utopia of rest.

The ultimate problem with this whole basket is that it is purely naturalist, horizontal, and godless at its very foundation. There is nothing in this paradigm that correlates with Christianity. In fact, Christ puts the very core of the Marxist (and critical theory) premise to death; a sinful and sinister humanity who thinks it is God. Only the Gospel has the power to re-create reality. And it is only in this re-creation, in the resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ, that the world has been, is being, and will be ‘flipped upside down.’ Only God alone has the capacity to search the mind and the hearts of humanity. He did, and recognized, that moment by moment, humanity needs to constantly be refreshed by His mercy and grace in order to point people to the eschatological hope of beatific vision and consummate reality of His Kingdom come and coming in the eschatos of the Son. The Christian’s job isn’t to search the heart and mind of the world, of other humans, it is to agree with God in the Gospel, that what is required is that our heart of stone be replaced with His heart of flesh (II Cor 3); one that has the capacity to live in the bond of fellowship that has eternally been in the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and bear witness to this, so that the world might know that we are One in the Love of the triune God. A love not of this world, but one that has broke and breaks into this world bringing the life abundant that all desire and hope for as their God given purpose for being. Hallelujah

The Parody of Light in Marx’s Theology: How Marx’s Leisure Displaces the Sabbath-Rest of the Living God

*As in many instances, I was going to write a post on Marxism, and why it ultimately SUCKS, but then I looked in my archives and I’d already written something. I want to write some fresh posts on this in the days to come, with more application to what’s going on in the churches and the culture vis-à-vis this demonic doctrine; but that will have to wait till later. The following post, I personally thought, was a good one; which is why I want to reshare it now. If you don’t think neo-Marxism, in its various iterations, is not behind what is going on in the streets, you aren’t paying close attention. There is a revolution underway, or the people of CHAZistan and elsewhere think so; but what they don’t realize is that they are the proverbial useful idiots being played by their invisible master[s]. Unfortunately, many in the churches are being deceived right along with the rest of the culture, in this regard. They’ll look to the academics they know, and many of these Christian academics, mostly youngish, will tell them Marxism, Liberation Theology, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, Social Justice so on and so forth is nothing to worry about. That the Christian can “evangelize” these pagan ideologies and put them to use in order to make a more just and equal and equitable world. I’m here to tell you that that is bullshit (excuse my lingua).*

I am continuing to read Terry Eagleton’s book Why Marx Was Right, he offers some interesting commentary on what Marx believed the ideal of a communist system ought to lead to: leisure. Not that leisure would come from being lazy or non-work but that it would produce a society where wealth was so prevalent and self-sustaining—based on the cultivation of prior systems of production—that the ideal of leisure would be reached. Here is how Eagleton describes these things in Marx’s ‘theology’:

Yet only the economic in the narrow sense will allow us to get beyond the economic. By redeploying the resources capitalism has so considerately stored up for us, socialism can allow the economic to take more of a backseat. It will not evaporate, but it will become less obtrusive. To enjoy a sufficiency of goods means not to have to think about money all the time. It frees us for less tedious pursuits. Far from being obsessed with economic matters, Marx saw them as a travesty of true human potential. He wanted a society where the economic no longer monopolized so much time and energy.

That our ancestors should have been so preoccupied with material matters is understandable. When you can produce only a slim economic surplus, or scarcely any surplus at all, you will perish without ceaseless hard labour. Capitalism, however, generates the sort of surplus that really could be used to increase leisure on a sizeable scale. The irony is that it creates this wealth in a way that demands constant accumulation and expansion, and thus constant labour. It also creates it in ways that generate poverty and hardship. It is a self-thwarting system. As a result, modern men and women, surrounded by affluence unimaginable to hunter-gatherers, ancient slaves or feudal serfs, end up working as long and hard as these predecessors ever did.

Marx’s work is all about human enjoyment. The good life for him is not one of labour but of leisure. Free self-realisation is a form of “production,” to be sure; but it is not one that is coercive. And leisure is necessary if men and women are to devote time to running their own affairs. It is thus surprising that Marxism does not attract more card-carrying idlers and professional loafers to its ranks. This, however, is because a lot of energy must be expended on achieving this goal. Leisure is something you have to work for.[1]

As a general axiom I’d think it safe to say that all human beings desire more leisure and less work. But what’s not surprising, given Marx’s atheism, is that his prescription for human flourishing is generated by ‘under the sun’ thinking; as if the horizontal is all there is. For the Christian is leisure the ultimate goal? No; we’ve been recreated in the risen humanity of Jesus Christ for good works that we might live in them, in him. For the Christian in this in-between leisure is not the telos, is not the aim of our lives; instead, the aim is to live in the work of the Father in Christ ‘overshadowed’ by the Holy Spirit resulting in the completion for which creation was always already commissioned—for koinonial existence living in the shared life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by the grace of God for us.

We might see a sort of parody between Marx’s vision and the Holy vision of God in Christ. Work is indeed required if the ‘pleasures at the right hand of the Father’ are to be enjoyed forevermore. But the work is not a self-generated or self-realizable reality; it is not something that is immanent within an isolated individual or isolated community (even of the global sort). The work that God envisions is only something that he alone can (and has) accomplish[ed] for us in our stead in Jesus Christ. The end goal of God’s vision for what it means to be genuinely human and flourishing is what that looks like in Christ’s vicarious humanity for us before the Father; a humanity that finds its source, or ground in the divine life itself (anhypostatic/enhypostatic); a humanity that God has seen fit to seat next to himself in the Son’s assumed humanity. There is eschatological leisure for the Christian, but it is a leisure that finds resplendence only in the all-sufficient all-sustaining work of God for us in Jesus Christ. Marx seeks to displace God’s place with an abstract conception of humanity thus giving humanity a divinity that it could never have of itself naturally (Gen. 3.5). God indeed wants humanity to sabbath-rest in his presence, and find utter enjoyment as we live and move in the space his triune life provides for us as he graciously has brought us into that mediated through the humanity of Jesus Christ; but this is not something that our work can produce, only his for us.

As I continue to read about Marx’s theology (that’s what I’m calling it) it certainly has a sort of parasitic reality to it; I mean it is easy to see why Marx’s thought has been called ‘Christian heresy.’ It reminds me of the Beast in the book of Revelation; he attempts to parody the reality of God’s triune life by way of offering a kingdom that replicates God’s Kingdom in Christ without having God in Christ at the center. I can see why some Christians are attracted to Marx’s thought precisely because it has wicks in it that look like the light of Christian critique; i.e. in regard to political theory. But ultimately since the source has more in common with the angel of light rather than the true Light of the world, the trajectory it will ultimately set, if ingested, cannot be one that honors the living Christ. Any system of thought that does not START with Jesus Christ, as far as I am concerned, can only produce rotten fruit; even if in the mean time it might appear to be producing wheat.

[1] Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (New Haven&London: Yale University Press, 2011), Loc 1426, 1433, 1440 kindle version.

If Christ’s Vicarious Humanity Doesn’t Matter, Nobody’s Does: The Centraldogma of Prayer

This will be a post that will off-put some of my readers, but so be it. Some have complained to me via comments, and email, that they aren’t a fan of my “politics,” and recent political posts; they simply prefer my stuff on theology. Apparently, folks have failed to understand that theology and politics go hand-in-hand; they do all throughout the Bible, and therefore, any theologian worth their salt will read these things together as well. Remember, Jesus is King of kings, and Lord of lords; that sounds pretty political to me! What is going on in the world currently is abnormal, and yet evangelical leaders, and other Christian leaders seemingly are attempting to operate as if we are in a turbulent, but yet, status quo moment where we ought to operate with the usual optics that evangelical leaders offer in times of national and global crises. That’s not my read of things, not at all! Clearly, we don’t know when Christ is coming again; but He said to live in a mode of WATCHFULNESS (cf. Mk 13)! With the events currently unfolding in the world, if the Christian’s watchfulness antennas aren’t up, then maybe the Christian ought to check their spiritual pulse. This might sound harsh, but I am sincerely baffled at the state of the evangelical churches right now.

The rest of this post, maybe abruptly, relative to my introduction here, will be about the spiritual attack the satan launched against Jesus Christ as He became human to bring ultimate reconciliation between God and humanity in His consubstantial person as both God and human pro nobis. I will highlight, through reference to Thomas Torrance’s thinking, how the role of prayer ought to function in the midst of the onslaught of satan, as satan attempts to thwart the plans of God; first in the incarnation, and then in echo of that, in our lives and world as we find our lives in participatio Christi (participation with Christ). Whether people recognize it or not we are in a spiritual battle, and the hater of our souls is in an all-out blitzkrieg to destroy all that is sacred and pure.

 13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. –Revelation 16:13-14

As I reflect on what is occurring in the world, the above passage keeps popping into my mind for some reason. It feels like we’re in a moment like this; as if ‘unclean spirits’ have been released from the abyss and are attempting to destroy this world as an affront to the God who holds it together by the Word of His Power. These spirits have seemingly cast a great delusion on the masses, even seemingly, taking hold of many Christians. The only way to be an ‘overcomer’ in this sort of battle is to be in a dialogical or prayer-bond with the living God. The Son of Man knew this; as His co-heirs we ought to know this. Prayer keeps our focus on the only One who can intervene and bring life rather than death. Here is how Torrance explicates this with reference to the incarnation, and how the Son of Man bore up under the wicked onslaught that unleashed as a counter-assault to the coming of God to the world in Christ:

(ii) The attack by the powers of evil on the bond of prayer between Jesus and the Father

But now let us look at the prayer life of Jesus from a slightly different point of view, from the point of view of the attack upon it by all the powers of evil. Jesus Christ the perfect communion between God and man was actualised, not only through the incarnation of the Word of God in this man, but through the obedient reliance of this man upon God the Father. In that double movement of God’s faithful seeking and assuming of man back again into fellowship, and of man’s faithful return in Christ to God and complete dependence upon Him, the holy and loving will of God for humanity was realised in the midst of its isolation and estrangement. The bond between God and man is recreated and actualised in the midst of our humanity in the very life lived by Jesus and signalised so fully by his life of prayer. Therefore all the powers of evil launched their attack upon Jesus; fearful temptations and assaults fell upon him, all in order to isolate him from God, to break the bond of fellowship between them, to snap the life of prayer and obedient clinging to the heavenly Father; to destroy the life of obedience to God’s will and word, and so to make impossible any meeting between God and man in Jesus ; to destroy the ground of reconciliation, to disrupt the foundation for atonement being laid in the obedient and prayerful life of the Son of Man.

Against all that fearful temptation in which all the hosts of darkness were mustered against him, Jesus resorted to prayer and unswervingly held fast to God the Father throughout it all. That holding fast to God in prayer, that battle against the powers of darkness doing their utmost to isolate him from God, and so to isolate man from God for ever, the fearful struggles of prayer with strong crying and tears, ‘not my will but thine be done’, all that belongs to the innermost heart of the reconciling and atoning life of Jesus reaching from the very beginning to the very end, and increasing in its unbelievable intensity right up to the cross. ‘Father into thy hands I commit my spirit.’[1]

The evil forces present at Christ’s coming, are present now. I remain baffled, to be honest, at the lack of appreciation of this, which I have seen particularly in the so-called thought leaders of the Christian church. I hear a lot about social justice, critical race theory, Liberation theology, so on and so forth; but I hear almost nothing, except crickets, when it comes to the idea that in fact ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers’ of this ‘present evil age.’ Because we ostensibly are unable to discern this as Christians, we are allowing the deceiver to thrust us into an artificial division between us and our black brothers and sisters. This division, in the blood of Christ, in the resurrected and new humanity of Jesus Christ, in His Triumphal Victory for all humanity, in His vicarious humanity (what TFT just referred us to) has re-conciled all of humanity to God; of all colors, tribes, tongues, and nations. This is the premise of the incarnation that the devil fought so hard to destroy as he came against the Son of Man; and it is the same premise the devil still desires to destroy, in and through an artificial division that the cross of Jesus Christ, the wisdom of the living and triune God, has utterly vanquished into the abyss of hell. Jesus was not ignorant of the enemy’s devices; remember when He said this:

25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. –Matthew 12:25-30

If Jesus knew this, then why wouldn’t we as His co-heirs? Just because the world, the media tells us blacks and whites are divided does not mean we are; the devil brings division, the Son of Man brings unity in His Gosepeled Life for us. As Christians we are to bear witness to this reality, not give into an artificial lie that we need to somehow bring reconciliation to systemic injustices that no longer exist in the very power of God. If this is not our starting point, if the logic of God’s grace in the incarnation, actualized in the resurrection of Christ is not our major premise, then there can be no lasting reconciliation between any of us. But we are reconciled one with the other in Christ. If we cannot identify with the broken life of Christ, if we cannot see Him as primary, and understand that if His humanity doesn’t matter: then nobody’s humanity will matter; because there will be none!

And if we aren’t in a constant dialogue of prayer with God, participating in the priestly and intercessory ministry of Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 7:25), then we will be deceived by the satan and give into his divisive lies that will indeed conquer, at least in the immediate, the efforts that the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ has already wrought. But we only ontically stand in this reality insofar as we are in constant con-versation with the living and triune God; as we participate with and are partakers of the divine nature in and through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Take our eye off this all-important reality of praying without ceasing, and we will be divided and destroyed. Jesus knew this, and as His brothers and sisters, through our adoption in His filial relationship with the Father by the Holy Spirit, we ought to know this and stand in this reality as well. Yes, as we move into this, the onslaught continues, but we are bonded into the very life of the everlasting and immortal God. Maranatha

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 118-19.

An Evangelical Calvinist Concept of Grace: The Kind of Grace that Resists Thinking in Terms of Resistible and Irresistible Grace

Podcast that works through this same material.

I was in a theological discussion last night with someone on Facebook. He pressed me, as an Evangelical Calvinist, on whether or not we affirm the idea of ‘resistible grace’; i.e. the idea that the would-be Christian has the capacity to resist God’s offer of gracious salvation. This conception of grace, to think it in terms of being able to be resisted, comes from a metaphysic that Evangelical Calvinists eschew. Further, to think in these terms, in the history of ideas, is to think in the terms set by the classically Reformed understanding of ‘irresistible grace’ (the “I” in the TULIP). Irresistible grace, so called because of the acronym, represents a concept of grace that is grounded in the substance metaphysical (and its logico-causal necessitarian) framework that sees grace as a created quality given to the elect so they might respond affirmatively (and, subsequently, persevere) to the offer of salvation. Richard Muller writes the following:

gratia: grace; in Greek, χάρις;  the gracious or benevolent disposition of God toward sinful mankind and, therefore, the divine operation by which the sinful heart and mind are regenerated and the continuing divine power or operation that cleanses, strengthens, and sanctifies the regenerate. The Protestant scholastics distinguish five actus gratiae,or actualizations of grace. (1) Gratia praeveniens, or prevenient grace, is the grace of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon sinners in and through the Word; it must precede repentance. (2) Gratia praeparens is the preparing grace, according to which the Spirit instills in the repentant sinner a full knowledge of his inability and also his desire to accept the promises of the gospel. This is the stage of the life of the sinners that can be termed the praeparatio ad conversionem (q.v.) and that the Lutheran orthodox characterize as a time of terrores conscientiae (q.v.). Both this preparation for conversion and the terrors of conscience draw directly upon the second use of the law, the usus paedagogicus (see usus legis). (3) Gratia operans, or operating grace, is the effective grace of conversion, according to which the Spirit regenerates the will, illuminates the mind, and imparts faith. Operating grace is, therefore, the grace of justification insofar as it creates in man the means, or medium, faith, through which we are justified by grace…. (4) Gratia cooperans, or cooperating grace, is the continuing grace of the Spirit, also termed gratia inhabitans, indwelling grace, which cooperates with and reinforces the regenerate will and intellect in sanctification. Gratia cooperans is the ground of all works and, insofar as it is a new capacity in the believer for the good, it can be called the habitus gratiae, or disposition of grace. Finally, some of the scholastics make a distinction betweengratia cooperans and (5) gratia conservans, or conserving, preserving grace, according to which the Spirit enables the believer to persevere in faith. This latter distinction arises most probably out of the distinction between sanctificatio (q.v.) and perseverantia (q.v.) in the scholastic ordo salutis (q.v.), or order of salvation.[1]

I have emboldened the aspect, from Muller, that serves instructive for our purposes. If the theologian moves too quickly they might not pay close enough attention to what Muller is implying; it might seem that Muller is saying that the scholastics Reformed maintained that gratia operans is in reference to the Holy Spirit, and His regenerative work, personally. But that isn’t what the scholastics Reformed, or Muller following, maintain. As Muller notes, this sort of grace ‘creates in man the means,’ this is the key to understanding what actually is being said. You notice how this conception of grace is abstract from the personal agency of the Holy Spirit, it is someTHING that is infused or instilled into the accidents of elect humanity ‘through which’ they ‘are justified by “grace.’” Grace in this framework is a potency yet to be actualized in the life of the elect; and they will actualize it because they are indeed, the elect—and God has decreed that the potency given to them in this ‘created grace’ will be actualized; just as sure as God is sovereign God who decrees (decretum absolutum).

If, for the classically Reformed, grace is a created thing abstract from God, even as it is provided for by God, it’s conceivable that as a potency, it could be ‘resisted.’ This isn’t conceivable in the scholastic’s Reformed ordo salutis, but all it takes is for someone to come along, like Jacobus Arminius, to think this concept of grace from another ‘order of salvation.’ Without getting into all of that, and without attempting to develop the anatomy of saving grace in Arminius’ theology, the point being made, is that if grace is a created quality, abstract from the personal agency and life of God in the Holy Spirit, a quality that has potency waiting actualization by the elect (whether that’s Arminian or Calvinist understanding), that it has the potential to be resisted.[2] But this is a dilemma, or represents a material universe, that Evangelical Calvinists avoid.

The Evangelical Calvinist Alternative

It is no secret that my personal style of Evangelical Calvinism is informed largely by Barthian and Torrancean themes. As such the alternative I seek to offer to the aforementioned scholastic understanding of grace (as a potency that is either irresistible or resistible, depending on the broader theological tradition it is deployed within) will find its principal parts from the thinking of both Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance. And because of space restraints (e.g. since this is just a blog post), I will offer two full quotes, one from Barth, one from Torrance, and then simply reflect on how this shapes an alternative understanding of Divine Grace relative to the ‘created’ type we have just sketched.

Evangelical Calvinists, such as myself, think of God’s Grace, as just that: a personal reality grounded in God’s free choice (election) to be God for us, in us, and with us in Jesus Christ. If this is the case, then to think in terms of the possibility of grace being ‘resisted’ or ‘irresisted’ no longer has the gravitas it does in the scholastic conception we have visited. If God in Christ has always already elected to not be God without us before the foundation of the world, this implies that the foundation of the world is funded by God’s Grace ‘all the way down.’ When God made this choice to be for us (pro nobis), this implies that the inner reality of the created order, is God’s covenanted life of “for-usness.” Once this choice was temporally actualized in the incarnation (as given proleptic prefiguration in God’s tabernacling with Israel), what was once antecedently in God’s being, became actualized in the execution of God’s economy for the world in Christ. In other words, once God became human in Christ (Deus incarnatus), this actualization of God for us in His assumed humanity, cannot be thought of in terms of something that is resistible or irresistible; grace in this frame can only be thought of in terms of concrete actualization. George Hunsinger writes the following with reference to Barth’s concept of actualism, and how that functions for his theological program:

“Actualism” is the motif which governs Barth’s complex conception of being and time. Being is always an event and often an act (always an act whenever an agent capable of decision is concerned). The relationship between divine being and human being is one of the most vexed topics in Barth interpretation, and one on which the essay at hand hopes to shed some light. For now let it simply be said, however cryptically, that the possibility for the human creature to act faithfully in relation to the divine creator is thought to rest entirely in the divine act, and therefore continually befalls the human creature as a miracle to be sought ever anew.[3]

This helps explicate and move things forward. For Barth, according to Hunsinger, in his actualised frame, Grace would be a reality that simply has come to be as a result of God’s choice to be for the world. Thus, it is not something that can be possessed or grasped as a potency built into the accidents of the creature; instead, it is always already a happening that has been realized for us, because of God’s free choice to be with us. Therefore, grace is God’s person for us; He possesses us, we do not possess Him through this grace. It is a reality that encounters us afresh and anew by the miraculous in-breaking of the Holy Spirit’s work, as that is first actualized in the resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ, and then brought to us as the same miracle by which the human agent will say yes in correspondence to God’s Yes and Amen for us in Jesus Christ. But this simply is how it is; this is the state of the new creation; it is a state of ever refreshing Grace that funds the re-created order as that has been accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Humanity in this frame, salvation in this frame, is an actualized reality that comes to be, and has come to be, in the archetypal humanity of Jesus Christ. It is not possible to resist or irresist this grace, since it isn’t something we can operate or cooperate with, as if a commodity given to us to handle. No, we have been handled, as it were, by its actualized and concrete reality in Jesus Christ. This is what it means to be human now in God’s Kingdom; to be human is to experience God’s new creation in Christ; as such, this becomes salvation for all those in participation with Christ by the Holy Spirit.

For the Evangelical Calvinist, then, the idea of resisting or not being able to resist, is a non-starter. There is no space for such potencies in God’s Kingdom in Christ. But what about people who say no to God’s offer of salvation? That remains a problem for the inscrutable nature of sin to explain. And as Barth rightly notes, in his elaborate reformulation of election; sin is das nichtige (‘nothingness’), a reality outside of the realm encompassed by God’s life of Grace to be for us, for the world. I will come back later, and develop this further in another blog post. I have run out of energy. Let me leave us with a long quote from TFT. This passage should help elucidate further what I have been driving at:

To sum up: Grace in the New Testament is the basic and the most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel. It is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put in the right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace. As such grace is the all-comprehensive and constant presupposition of faith, which, while giving rise to an intensely personal life in the Spirit, necessarily assumes a charismatic and eschatological character. Under the gracious impingement of Christ through the Spirit there is a glad spontaneity about the New Testament believer. He is not really concerned to ask questions about ethical practice. He acts before questions can be asked. He is caught up in the overwhelming love of Christ, and is concerned only about doing His will. There is no anxious concern about the past. It is Christ that died! There is no anxious striving toward an ideal. It is Christ that rose again! In Him all the Christian’s hopes are centred. His life is hid with Christ in God. In Him a new order of things has come into being, by which the old is set aside. Everything therefore is seen in Christ, in the light of the end, toward which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth waiting for redemption. The great act of salvation has already taken place in Christ, and has become an eternal indicative. The other side of faith is grace, the immediate act of God in Christ, and because He is the persistent Subject of all Christian life and thought, faith stands  necessarily on the threshold of the new world, with the intense consciousness of the advent of Christ. The charismatic and the eschatological aspects of faith are really one. In Christ the Eternal God has entered into this present evil world which shall in due course pass away before the full unveiling of the glory of God. That is the reason for the double consciousness of faith in the New Testament. By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that no striving will add one iota. But faith is conscious of the essential imminence of that day, because of the intense nearness of Christ, when it shall know even as it is known, when it shall be what it already is. And so what fills the forward view is not some ideal yet to be attained, but the Christian’s position already attained in Christ and about to be revealed. The pressure of this imminence may be so great upon the mind as to turn the thin veil of sense and time into apocalyptic imagery behind which faith sees the consummation of all things. Throughout all this the predominating thought is grace, the presence of the amazing love of God in Christ, which has unaccountably overtaken the believer and set him in a completely new world which is also the eternal Kingdom of God.[4]

 

[1] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastics Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 129-30. [emboldening mine]

[2] All that is required is that this concept of grace be removed from its decretal framework as referred to in the ordo salutis of classical Calvinist soteriology, place it in a framework where human agency is independent from God’s decree, and this sort of grace can be resisted salvifically.

[3] George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology(New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 16-18.

[4] Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, 34-5.