The Analogy of Advent Rather Than The Analogy of Being: The “Christ-Myth” Demythologized

A large number of analyses come up short by dwelling upon the historical question, often falsely construing Barth’s inversion of the order of the historical enterprise and the resurrection of Jesus as an aspect of his historical skepticism. For Barth the resurrection of Jesus is not a datum of the sort to be analyzed and understood, by other data, by means of historical critical science. While a real event within the nexus of space and time the resurrection is also the event of the creation of new time and space. Such an event can only be described as an act of God; that is an otherwise impossible event. The event of the resurrection of Jesus is that of the creation of the conditions of the possibility for all other events, and as such it cannot be accounted for in terms considered appropriate for all other events. This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.[1]

The above quote from Robert Dale Dawson captures a significant point in regard to the apocalyptic-dialectical nature of Barth’s theory of history-revelation; particularly this clause: “This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.” It fits well with Eberhard Jüngel’s ‘demythologizing’ project—if we want to call it that—vis-à-vis Rudolf Bultmann’s understanding of ‘myth’ and ‘demyth.’

As David Congdon develops Bultmann’s understanding of myth and demythologizing what comes to the fore, particularly as he places Jüngel into conversation with Bultmann, is how ‘myth’ coalesces with what Dawson describes, with reference to Barth’s doctrine of resurrection, as ‘the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.’ Often when we hear “myth” we think in terms of its profane or pagan etiology (or lexical origination, colloquially understood); when we hear myth we hear fairytale. But this is precisely not what Bultmann, Jüngel, or Barth understand as the entailment of myth (Barth’s language is actually saga instead of myth; roughly as corollary with Bultmann’s myth). In order to explicate this further I am going to quote Congdon (again, don’t tell him) as he develops Jüngel’s own understanding of mythos as this relates to knowledge of God. Congdon writes at length:

According to Jüngel, faith as the knowledge of God is concerned with a person’s existential relocation (i.e., knower located with the known) and not with the world’s theoretical explanation (i.e., known located with the knower). The knowledge of God is not a worldview but rather and existential event, as the dialectical revolution in theology discovered anew. Demythologizing is necessary in order to prevent theology from losing sight of its proper task as the articulation of this existential relation to God. In this way it furthers the project of dialectical theology. Demythologizing continually unsettles and reorients theology, and in so doing preserves the practical truth of the Christ-myth. Commenting on Luther’s axiom that “our theology is certain because it places us outside ourselves [ponit nos extra nos],” Jüngel presents the summation of his theological argument for the necessity of demythologizing:

Those who in faith know the mystery of Jesus Christ, who are thus placed outside themselves, find their existential place “in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17). This mythical power to localize the knower anew is the truth of myth preserved in Christianity. But this is precisely what is obscured by the “theoretical” act of knowledge that takes place concurrently in myth, which localizes the known—the God who comes to the world—in the context of the reality of the knower and consequently in the context of his or her world, thus making God a worldly object. . . . Christian theology therefore requires demythologizing. It is necessary in order to expose the eminently “practical” truth of the christological myth: the truth of the divine word that interrupts human beings and calls them outside themselves. . . . Demythologizing therefore serves the truth of myth by destroying the “theoretical” world-explanation of myth in order to expose the “practical” power of mythical words to move our existence and in doing so to impart a new approach to human being-in-the-world.

Demythologizing is nothing less than the necessary entailment of faith in Jesus Christ. The knowledge of Christ in faith not only relocates the believer existentially but also precludes from the start any attempt by the believer to give theoretical certainty to her knowledge. Faith that conforms to the truth of the Christ-myth is, to use Jüngel’s earlier expression, an adaequatio totus homo ad rem—a correspondence of the whole person to the thing. But since the res, the object of faith, is Christ himself, the Lord of all creation, the person who corresponds to this object experiences a fundamental displacement from herself. The “certainty of faith” (Glaubensgewissheit), precisely because it is grounded in the “certainty of God” (Entsicherung) of oneself.” We only participate in the practical truth of the christological myth by being placed extra nos. The stabilization of this myth in the form of a theoretical explanation involves remaining in se, and thus is impossible on the grounds of the Christ-myth itself. This is another way of saying that the myth of Jesus Christ demands the ongoing task of demythologizing.

The Christ-myth radically differentiates itself from every other myth. Because the kerygmatic Christ-myth involves a strict differentiation between creator and creature—between grace and sin, gospel and law—that defies every attempt to systematize it and thus secure one’s place within it, the practical truth it communicates is one that cannot coexist with an abstract theoretical truth or worldview. In this way the Christ-myth fulfills the genuine purpose of myth, which “expresses the insight that human beings cannot secure themselves through . . . reason.” Religious myth in the general sense described and denounced within scientific myth-criticism do not have their basis in this creator-creature differentiation. They lend themselves, therefore, to what Calvin calls the “perpetual factory of idols” that characterizes human nature—what we might call the “perpetual factory of worldviews.” Practical truth takes the form of theoretical truth in the case of myth-in-general, whereas the practical truth of Christ is one that perpetually demythologizes theory. Myth-in-general grants existential relocation by providing epistemological certainty (in the form of Welterklärung or Weltanschauung); the Christ-myth provides epistemological certainty only by granting existential relocation (in the form of faith). The myth of Christ overcomes the subject-object divide not through an explanation of the object but through the justification of the sinful subject. Christian faith is essentially a demythologizing faith or it is not faith in Jesus Christ.[2]

On pace with this, the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) engaged in a type of ‘demythologizing’ project. Without the illumination, and more, in the case of the Apostles, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the evangelists and the rest of the illuminated masses (particularly the five hundred witnesses alongside the Apostles cf. I Cor. 15), would have simply remained at the level of ‘myth’ when it came to the Christ. Even though they had personal experience with Jesus, the Disciples, without “demythologizing” the events of the “Christ-myth” would have simply remained at the level of subjects looking at an object who had no incisive or theological meaning, no gospel (kerygmatic) significance for their lives. This is what the Synoptics and the Gospel of John are engaging in; giving theological significance to the “mythological” events of Christ’s life (events that appear, on the face, to simply have horizontal significance alone). Does this make sense?

The reason I started this all off with the Dawson quote, with particular focus on his language of “the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God” is because I wanted to foreground this discussion with a category that would allow us to appreciate what is meant by “demythologizing” when it comes to Bultmann’s and Jüngel’s projects, respectively. In other words, as is present in Barth, the reality of the Christ-event is a sui generis non-analogous event that has broken into history and set the limits of real reality by his seemingly and merely historical existence. That’s what Bultmann’s ‘Christ-myth’ is intended to signify (as I understand it); that if left to itself, Jesus Christ appears as just another human who comes to signify a personage of theoretical and religious importance within a worldview system that is pinned up by the manufacturing of various proofs and legendary tales. But what encounter with the Christ does in the lives with eyes to see and ears to hear is immediately invoke a process of ‘demythologization’, or the eruption of recognition that this man [of Nazareth] is actually someone greater than mere myth; instead he is the God-man who has broken the surly bonds of this creation and set it anew. It is as the disciple of Christ comes into this realization that they are decentered and recentered only as they find their human being in the new creation of God in Christ. Here, knowledge of God is ‘secured,’ but only in the faith of Christ and not in any theoretical basis constructed by an abstract humanity come to God on its terms.

P.S. I was unable to work the language of ‘analogy of advent’ into this post; but conceptually it is present. We will have to overtly deal with that as Congdon details that in Jüngel’s theology at a later date.

Addendum: Because of some push back from someone I know on FB, and through blogging over the years let me say the following for other’s benefit: I am not becoming Bultmannian. The content of this post moves liberally and freely back and forth between Bultmann, Barth, and Jüngel; without making important points of distinction. I remain committed, at most, to what Hunsinger calls the “textual” Barth, which means I am committed to a pretty traditional mode of theological reflection and consideration. What is in this post represents something very bloggy. My contact was concerned that I was seemingly moving into a Bultmann and Congdon direction. No, I’m not. If I had the space and time and energy I could draw out what I am doing. But this post before this addendum was already 1500 words; which is long for blog reader’s attention spans. It is hard to broach topics like this in the space I have to work with, and make important and clean distinctions along the way. The reason I felt motivated to post this one was because there are, what I think amount to equivocal soundings in Bultmann’s trajectory that correlate with Barth’s analogy of faith approach. But the reality is that Barth grounds the relationship between God and humanity in a heightened emphasis upon the antecedent reality of God which is not reducible to the sort of soteriological-dialectical approach that Bultmann and Congdon are proponents of. In other words, Bultmann and Congdon ultimately reduce God to an extra-mental reality between the knower and God, such that God’s reality is purely reduced to encounter or experience that people have when they are faced with the “kerygmatic” reality of the Christ. And when I say “extra-mental” what that really means is that the Christ event is not contingent upon his objective and concrete penetration into the world in the incarnation, but instead his reality becomes contingent upon existential encounter in the knower. In this sense the Christ could become evaporated to idea, even if Bultmann et al say otherwise. I do recognize this as a serious problem, and it does lead to other deleterious conclusions such as denying the bodily resurrection of Christ (so we have people referring to the “Easter-Faith-Christ” etc.), and denying any notion of the after-life in the eschaton/heaven (as David Congdon does). So my post was intended to help me process this through (you know “write to learn”), but I can see how it makes it seem as if I’ve softened up to a Bultmannian trajectory; that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just to be clear.

Here is something I wrote very recently that attempts to make clear what I ultimately think about David Congdon’s move to a Bultmann mode of theological reflection. Just to reiterate. I haven’t changed on this.

 

[1] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 13.

[2] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 455-58.

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Christian Theology Grounded in Faith Rather than Worldview or Apologetics

Worldviews are important to understand, to a point. But when worldview is confused with Christian faith and theology problems of idolatrous heights begin to develop; at least according to Rudolf Bultmann. I want to share further, by referencing David Congdon’s work, on how Bultmann not only distinguished between faith and worldview, but also between talk of God versus talk about God; and how these distinctions implicate the theological enterprise for the Christian. I will follow with my own perspective on these things.

The differentiation of faith from a Weltanschauung [worldview] is stated clearly in a set of guiding principles or headnotes (Leitsätze) written in 1925 in connection with the Düsseldorf lecture. . . . The Leitsätze on faith state:

1) Faith is not a worldview [Weltanschauung], in which the concept of God serves as a principle for the explanation of the world [Welterklärung], and in which the meaning of human existence develops from a general understanding of the world [Weltverständnis]. On the contrary, faith is the posture of the human being placed before God; its content is therefore primarily a proposition regarding the existence of the human being.

2) Faith is not a general trust in God, but rather it is strictly related to the revelation of God in God’s word, and its content is the forgiveness of sins.

3) Faith is not a mystical relation of the soul to God, but rather the posture of the human being who sees him– or herself placed before the claim of God in the concrete situation of the here and now.

These three theses summarize Butlmann’s opposition to the confusion of faith and metaphysics—whether a metaphysics of the object or fides quae (indicated especially by the three Welt– concepts) or a metaphysics of the subject or fides qua (mysticism). Either mode of Christian self-understanding leads to an objectification of God, that is to say, the exchange of God’s reality for a general God-concept. The active God confronts us in God’s word, and this word is a particular concrete occurrence within history that proclaims the justification of the sinner. For this reason the relation between God and the human person cannot be understood in general terms; it cannot become the basis for an explanation or understanding of the world as a whole. The event of revelation thus does not permit the erection of any Weltanschauung.[1]

This is a direct challenge to the traditional approach to Christian theology through the centuries. It gets more intense in that direction as Congdon writes further:

The task of theology is to free our thinking and speaking of God from every entanglement in a Weltanschauung and so to free ourselves “to be addressed by the grace that encounters me in the word of Jesus Christ.” Toward that end Bultmann marshals yet a third contrast corresponding to the previous ones between ontic and the ontological, the fides quae and the fides qua. He does so in the March 1925 lecture that differentiates between Weltbild and Weltanschauung, and this time it is a contrast between a speaking of God (Reden von Gott) and a speaking about God (Reden über Gott). The opening paragraph of the essay differentiates between these two modes of God-talk in a way that programmatically sets forth the task of a theology that truly acknowledges its proper theme (the ontic) and object (the fides quae):

If one understands speaking “of God” to mean speaking “about God,” then such speaking has absolutely no meaning, for in the moment it occurs it has lost its object [Gegenstand], God. Wherever the idea of “God” is thought of it implies that God is the almighty, i.e., the reality determining all things. But this idea is not at all thought of when I speak about God, i.e., when I consider God to be an object [Objekt] of thought, over which I can orient myself if I take a standpoint where I can be neutral regarding the question of God and make considerations about God’s reality and essence that I can reject or, if they are reasonable, accept. Those who are convinced by reasons to believe the reality of God can be certain that they have not grasped the reality of God; and those who think they can give evidence about God’s reality with proofs of God are arguing over a phantom. For every “speaking about” presupposes a standpoint outside of what is being spoken about. But there can be no standpoint outside of God, and therefore it is not possible to speak of God in general statements, in universal truths that are true apart from a relation to the concrete existential situation of the speaker.

The distinction articulated here is between a God-talk that truly speaks of its object and a God-talk that loses its object. The former engages in meaningful God-talk because it speaks of a fides quae that only gives itself in and through the fides qua, and thus cannot be spoken of from a position external to faith. The latter engages in meaningless God-talk, because it attempts to speak about a “God” that is available as a given entity about which we can make general statements that have universal validity. Such statements form a Weltanschauung. And since to attempt “a neutrality with respect to God” is “to flee from before God,” the erection of a Weltanschauung through Reden über Gott is not merely meaningless and erroneous but is in fact sin.[2]

This challenges much; particularly traditional classical theology. Where I stand: personally I am not too far removed (if at all!) from what David is describing in regard to Bultmann’s “existentially” styled theology. But I am not naïve to the radical reality full commitment to Bultmann’s project might require. It might require that we look at all of classical theology and count it as meaningless; particularly the style of theology done after Thomas Aquinas and his Prima pars in his Summa Theologica. I think it is possible to constructively conclude that the way someone like Aquinas, Maximus the Confessor, Augustine, Athanasius et al spoke “about” God was more in line with speaking “of” God. In other words, I think much of classical theology (especially as we think about premodern) is in fact couched in doxological and dialogical exchange between the believer and God. It is just that the means they had to do that then, categorically, sounded more like speaking about God than might have been healthy; and the means they had to speak of God did in fact come from an orientation wherein God is spoken about more than of. So this requires the theologian, if they think Bultmann has a point, to engage with the classical theologians with constructive care.

One of the theses Myk and I offered in our first Evangelical Calvinism book noted that we are dialogical/dialectical theologians. I think the way Congdon writes on Bultmann, particularly with reference to worldview and speech about versus of God fits well with the mode we are going for in Evangelical Calvinism. The interesting thing for me is the way Congdon himself has developed. As I am reading his big book on Bultmann what we find in Bultmann is actually more orthodox (and historical in that sense) than the way Congdon himself has gone. I am afraid people will look at Congdon’s positions, and equate those absolutely with Bultmann’s. As I am reading Congdon’s treatment of Bultmann what I am finding is an orthodox theological approach, albeit one that is couched in an existential frame.

 

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 393-94.

[2] Ibid., 394-95.

Semper Reformanda-Always Reforming Regulated by the Eschatological Life of God For Us In Jesus Christ

See, I don’t agree with much of David Congdon’s conclusions (as he has continued to develop personally-dogmatically), but I do agree with him on the Christian reality being an eschatological reality and what that ought to do to the theological endeavor. What that ought to do is ground theological practice in the reality that God has spoken (Deus dixit) as that is given to and for us in the faith of Christ. It is as God reveals himself to us in the reconciliation of God and humanity in the man Christ Jesus that theology has place to happen. And it is in this combine that the eschatological becomes the domineering frame by which theology ought to find its orientation; an orientation that is always already outside of us, yet for us; it is in this ‘for us’ in the mediatorial and Priestly work of Jesus Christ that our knowledge of God is refreshed anew just as God’s mercies are new every morning great is his faithfulness.

We will see, as I quote Congdon at length, that Congdon’s explication is mediated through Rudolph Bultmann’s theology; but also with Barth’s presence felt. I am afraid that because of Congdon’s progressivism that people of a more conservative orientation (such as myself) will be put off, and won’t even give this analysis of things a listen. I’m hoping that people can appreciate how we can constructively appropriate theology from places that might seem antagonistic towards our general theological dispositions, and come to the realization that it is possible to reify theologies under more socio-conservative pressures (vis-à-vis the tradition); even while the theology (like Bultmann’s) being reified itself is a reification of the socio-traditional theologies of the 16th and 17th centuries in particular.

Here is how Congdon details the reality of faith, and how ‘the faith that is believed’ is grounded through ‘the faith by which we believe’; hopefully you will come to see how that impacts an eschatological understanding of the theological task—and for my interests, how that implicates a semper reformanda (always reforming) mode.

Glossary of Key Terms: Fides quae creditur (the faith that is believed) and fides qau creditur (the faith by which one believes)

At the other end of the spectrum lies orthodoxy, by which Bultmann primarily, though, not exclusively means the Protestant scholasticism that developed in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but persists  in the supernaturlistic reaction to rationalism and historicism. This alternative to liberal theology fares no better. To be sure, orthodoxy correctly grasps that “the object of theology is God as the object of faith, as the fides quae creditor,” and in this regard Bultmann stands with orthodoxy over against liberalism, a key fact often lost in the debate over his New Testament exegesis. But orthodoxy loses its object also in its misguided concern to secure a universally valid understanding of the Christian faith over against heterodoxy. The result is a “confusion . . . of kerygma and scientific theory” such that “a doctrine appears as the object of faith.” Orthodoxy makes the same error as liberalism but in an inverted way. Whereas liberalism sets itself (the fides qua) in place of the object (the fides quae), orthodoxy sets the object in place of itself. Either way, faith becomes faith in something human and objectifiable. Whereas liberalism makes history and experience into its object via the projection of the fides qua, orthodoxy reduces the divine fides quae to the level of rational human inquiry. The latter occurs “when it attempts to prove the faith (the fides quae creditor), whether by a natural theology or even from reason, or from an authority, such as scripture,” and “when it . . . requires assent to correct doctrine as to specific notions that are submitted to people from somewhere.” Orthodoxy is thus identical with (a) apologetics, the attempt to establish the object of faith as something one can acknowledge as true (assensus) prior to and apart from faith (fiducia), and (b) confessionalism, which sets up a test of conformity to certain doctrinal formulations as the condition belonging to the (true) Christian community. Each requires isolating the fides quae from the fides qua, so that the object of faith can be rationally verified and discussed as a human artifact.

If liberalism makes science of faith, orthodoxy makes a science of the kerygma. In both cases faith becomes a work, and theology becomes philosophy. What is lost in either case is God as the true object of theology. Theology is supposed to be the science of God, the logos of theos. But if God is an eschatological reality, then theology has to be an eschatological science. This has crucial implications for our understanding of the fides quae and the fides qua. It means, among other things, that the object of theology is not something “in hand” that can be fixed to a specific formula, a single authoritative interpretation: “God cannot be made into an object of our conduct. . . . God does not ‘hold still,’ as it were.” The eschatological being of God requires a strict differentiation between the kerygma, the fides quae, and theology: “Fides quae creditor = quod deus dixit! Theology = what human beings say.” Hermeneutically, therefore, an eschatological fides quae is never finalized and always open to new understandings, and that is because, ontologically speaking, the divine fides quae is transcendent and free, never at the disposal of any person or institution, whether church or state. It further means that the fides quae is not an object one can ascertain and understand prior to the mode of faith and obedience. The notion of “Christian apologetics” is an impossible contradiction; to give an apology for “God’ is to abandon talk of God. Science, as the general discipline that analyzes the ontological, cannot speak of God, who is the event of the ontic.

If God is eschatological, our only access to God must come from God’s own self. The fides quae creditor is “quod deus dixit,” what God has said. God must give Godself to us, must speak to us, in order for God to be known. And since such giving is inherently an act of grace—there being no separation between an intellectual self-giving and a salvific self-giving, since the latter is the former: the word of justification is the word of revelation—it follows that our only access to the fides quae is through faith in God as the Lord: “Should there be talk of God, it is of course clear that there can only be talk of God as the Lord, i.e., as the one who sends the moment and delivers God’s claim in it,” and thus “there can only be talk of God on the basis of God’s revelation, and revelation can only be heard in faith.” The fides quae only gives itself in and through the fides qua: “revelation is only revelation in actu and pro me.” And since the fides qua is given by the eschatological fides quae—since “faith is the answer to revelation”—it further follows that genuine faith is itself an eschatological event in that it is included within the singular eschatological event that is God; faith is an eschatological mode of relating to the eschatological. Concretely, this means that faith takes the form of love, in obedience to the “new commandment” of Jesus (John 13:34). The eschatological age inaugurated in Christ is “the new aeon of love . . . and life.” The eschatological science of theology is an eschatological praxis.[1]

There is hardly anything I find objectionable here. The only thing I would want to qualify is that I maintain a stable core of catholic orthodoxy even as that is continuously attenuated and “filled out” by the eschatological in-breaking of God’s life in and for the church, as that comes with a “fuller knowledge” of the living God; but not a knowledge that is dispossessed of the knowledge of God once for all delivered to saints (as that has been unfolding through the centuries). In other words, David doesn’t contain things enough; in my view. Congdon gives the impression that everything is “open,” and his developing personal dogmatic attests to that. What I affirm though is the eschatological nature of the faith; and that knowledge of God can only be grounded in God’s spoken Word (fides quae) as that is apprehended by the vicarious faith of Christ for us (fides qua). This is the basis, I contend, for a robust Reformed understanding of semper reformanda (‘always reforming’). God is not something we can handle, but someOne who handles and approaches us. In this, we have capacity to be confronted and given over to ‘repentant thinking’ such that our thoughts can be continuously reformed as that is regulated (regula fidei) indeed by the faith of Christ. Not something we own, but someOne we are owned by and learn of by constant confrontation of the living Word as the basis of our lived lives in and from the living God who is Triune, Immanuel.

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 385-88.

Understanding How We Come to Know God: Through The Being of God in Christ For Us; Or Through Human Being Come to God By Created and Uncreated Grace?

How do we know God? There are traditions for answering that very question; I follow a particular tradition in contrast to another prominent tradition. This post will explore this question by providing some lengthy description of its unfolding in 20th century modern theology. We will read along with David Congdon, at length, as he describes Karl Barth’s relationship to the analogia entis tradition, and the alternative that is situated in Barth’s dialectical theology. After we have read along with Congdon we will bring what Congdon has surfaced for us in Barth’s theology into a brief discussion on a doctrine of creation in general. I recognize that I write about this issue frequently and often here at the blog, and this should alert you to the importance I see in it.

In the process of developing Barth’s (and Bultmann’s) style of dialectical theology Congdon breaks off in a section and gets into the issue of knowledge of God vis-à-vis the infamous analogy of being; most commonly associated, in medieval theology, with Thomas Aquinas, and in modern theology with Roman Catholic theologian, Erich Przywara. The version of analogia entis that Barth is most animated by is the version of his German theological counterpart, Przywara. Barth’s reasons for being so animated are indeed contextual to the Third Reich milieu he was situated within, and the way that the Volk (national) church deployed things like the analogy of being, and natural theology in general, towards their evil ends. Some want to relativize or marginalize Barth’s animus towards the analogy of being by arguing that that was only a consequent and development per his idiosyncratic situatedness. Thus the marginalization goes, Barth’s stance against the analogy of being may have served his purposes towards an attempt at assassinating the Nazi conflation of church and state, but for our current purposes, theologically, such animus would be misdirected. But what this critique fails to appreciate is that the forces Barth was contesting are the dark forces and principalities and powers that have always already been present in this space-time continuum. In other words, there is nothing idiosyncratic about Barth’s stance against the analogy of being or natural theology in general that aren’t just as prescient and present in the 21st century—look around, we are currently in a corporatist oligarchic globalist state wherein the principalities and powers are just as heavy upon us (in their own expressions) as they were in the Deutschland of Barth and the Confessing Church of Bonhoeffer.

In the following David Congdon helps elucidate what in fact this whole debate is about; in particular in Barth’s contest with Przywara (and then by application to the German civilization and Emil Brunner). You will also see the way Condgon, per his thesis, ties this particular debate into a theology of mission (which ties into colonialism and nationalism). We will leave that particular discussion to the side (i.e. mission) to focus on Barth’s problem with the analogia. Congdon writes (in extenso):

The year 1932 marks the climax of the confrontation between Barth and Erich Przywara. Three years earlier, in February 1929, Barth invited Przywara to Münster to participate in his seminar on Thomas Aquinas. In December 1931, Przywara visited Barth again in his seminar on “The Problem of Natural Theology” while at Bonn. These debates, together with Przywara’s request in April 1932 that Barth review his book, Analogia Entis, and the rising political unease in Germany, resulted in Barth’s famous statement in the preface to KD 1.1 that the analogia entis is “the  invention of the anti-Christ.” It was the 1929 meeting that really set the stage for their disagreement, and in particular a comment Przywara made on the morning of February 6. According to the student protocols of the seminary, Przywara began by defending his position regarding the manifestation of God’s revelation in history, including in human consciousness. In his defense he cited the Thomistic axiom “gratia non destruit se supponit et perficit naturam” (grace does not destroy but supports and perfects nature). Przywara understood grace to be both created and uncreated, both native and alien. The justification of the sinner does not annul but rather brings to fulfillment the grace already present in us by virtue of our creaturely participation in the being of God.

Within weeks after this seminar visit Barth delivered his response to Przywara in the form of his lecture in Dortmund, “Schicksal und Idee in der Theologie.” While Przywara is not mentioned, he is the “silent conversation partner throughout.” This is especially clear when he addresses the Thomistic axiom directly:

“Gratia non destruit, sed supponti et perficit naturam.Analogia entis: thus each existing being as such and also we human beings as existing beings participate in the similitudo Dei. The experience of God is for us an inherent possibility and necessity. . . . The word of God does not mean for human beings a confirmation and reassurance of the naïve confidence that the experience of God is, but rather . . . in contrast to the whole range of possible experience it says something new and not merely more strongly and clearly what people could know anyway and even experience elsewhere. Indeed, this is how things always stand between God’s word and human beings, in that it proclaims something new to them and comes to them like light in the darkness. It always comes to them as to sinners, as forgiving and thus as judging grace. . . . Therefore that ability and necessity, that capacity for experiencing God, cannot be understood at any rate as something “natural”—meaning something given with our existence as such or subsequently associated with our existence as such, nor can it be understood by an appeal to a “gratia inhaerens,” by virtue of which the knower and known would simply and in themselves be in the relation to God of the analogia entis.

Barth explicitly rejects the very axiom to which Przywara appealed to support his position. Grace, Barth says, neither has a basis in nature nor does it become subsequently part of nature. The grace of God is always a judging and forgiving grace, and for this reason it never becomes a “given” (datum) that lies at our disposal. It remains wholly nongiven even in the concrete event of Christ wherein God gives Godself to us. Grace always confronts us as a new event.

Keith Johnson makes this astute observation that much more is at stake here for Barth than simply the old Protestant-Catholic debate over justification, though that is certainly at the heart of the dispute. What concerns Barth is, in fact, the same colonialist logic of the gospel’s cultural captivity that prompted his dialectical revolt against liberal theology fifteen years earlier.

The link between humanity and God [Barth] recognized in 1929 followed the pattern he had seen in 1914 when his former teachers enlisted God in support of their own cause by giving their blessing to the war. Barth’s theology, from that moment on, had been driven by his goal of overcoming this mistake. In Przywara’s analogia entis, he discovered a sophisticated version of the same error, and in the Germany of 1932, the political winds were stirring in much the same way they had in 1914.

Barth’s remark in 1932 about the analogia entis as the “invention of the anti-Christ” is therefore “a direct function of h is context. . . . The political turmoil around him had to be on Barth’s mind, and in his view, the church appeared to be complicit in the events that were unfolding.” In other words, the danger in Przywara’s thinking was that he provided a robust theological framework capable of justifying the nationalist propaganda and colonialist endeavors of the German nation. The fact that Przywara’s theology had such a strong internal consistency and grounding in the tradition made if far more dangerous than the liberalism of Barth’s teachers and Protestant contemporaries. It is for this reason that Barth was compelled to sound a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the analogia entis.

To make matters even more interesting, Przywara developed his account of analogy for missionary reasons. He understood the analogia entis as a “missionary principle” whose purpose is to prompt the church to positively engage German culture as the place where God is presently at work. The analogia entis accomplishes this task because “it attempts to meet the world on its own ground rather than insist that the world move to its ground.” We have to recall that, during these years of conversation with Przywara, Barth was simultaneously engaged in a debate with Brunner regarding the “point of connection” between nature and grace. And like Przywara, Brunner also viewed his account of the Anknüpfungspunkt as a missionary concept. A pattern quickly began to emerge. In each of these three situations—the liberal capitulation in 1914, Przywara’s analogia entis in 1929–32, Brunner’s Anknüpfungspunkt in 1929–35—Barth faced a theological position that claimed mission as its ground and aim, and on the basis of this appeal to mission sought to find a point of connection or continuity between God and humanity. The liberal theologians found it in German civilization, Przywara in human consciousness and experience, Brunner in the faculty of reason. In each case the will and work of God became continuous with what is already given and native to human beings in their creaturely existence, and so in each case Barth rendered a decisive verdict in the form of, respectively, the “No-God” in Der Römerbrief (1922), the “invention of the anti-Christ” in KD 1.1 (1932), and the famous Nein (1934).[1]

After this lengthy and enlightening treatment offered by Congdon, I think the primary point of reduction comes to the issue orbiting around a “point of connection” (Anknüpfungspunkt) between God and humanity. As Congdon underscores this has taken various expressions through the centuries, whether that be with Thomas Aquinas, William Paley, Przywara, the German nation (of the third reich), or Brunner; it is the issue of ‘the point of contact’ between God and humanity that is significant. It is significant, particularly in Barth’s context, because of the ethical and theopolitical implications this locus entails.

If God can be thought from nature (or natural capacity), if the boundaries between God and humanity, God and the nations can be forcefully brought together by identifying an inherent capacity with nature itself that is gestationally waiting for God to activate and give it birth, then who’s to regulate this sort of grounding between God and humanity; the theologians, the politicians? Barth says Nein. He seeks to take away this seduction for the ‘natural’ human heart, and place the ground for “the point of connection” within the life of Godself in the hypostatic union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ. This is why the type of analogical knowledge of God that Barth supports is grounded in what he calls an analogia fidei/relationis (analogy of faith-relation). Barth recognizes the role that analogy plays in the correspondence of our knowledge of God with God’s knowledge of Godself; but again, even as Barth recognizes the ‘infinite qualitative difference’ between God and humanity, and precisely because of that, the shape of analogy he can support is one where it is objectively grounded not in a faceless apophatic God, but only in and from a center in himself that is for us in Jesus Christ. For Barth, within the Calvinian frame, faith is knowledge of God, and faith itself is the bond that God alone in the humanity of Christ has in se but for us as he transcends the ditch between himself and us within a creational nexus wherein all of creation has always already been attenuated and teleologized by Christ who is the Supreme and Firstborn of and for Creation.

I said at the beginning of my post that I was going to also get into a doctrine of creation. At the close of my paragraph above I start to hint at that discussion, but because of the length of this post I am going to close it now. I hope you can at least appreciate what is at issue in this discussion as a result of reading this post. Indeed, Barth had a context, but so has all of theological development; even so called catholic or ecumenical developments. The contextual and conditioned nature of theological development doesn’t negate its global availability or reduce its force to the period or circumstances of its locational unfolding; instead, the merit and weight of various theological developments, such as Barth’s anti-natural theological / anti-analogia entis posture, are weighed strictly by their proximate value in bearing witness to the res (the reality) and power of God’s Gospel who is Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll consider that if you are prone to writing Barth’s position off simply because Barth wrote his theology in the context and shadow of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. Just maybe Barth’s theology, even though his heretic was partly German nationalism instead of Arius, has angel’s wings under it; in such a way that it might be a ministering spirit to the thirsty souls adrift in the 21st century evangelical theological wasteland (and I’m referring to the lacuna of Christian Dogmatics for the evangelical world).

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 292-95.

The Shepherd’s Voice: Nein! Natural Theology

Why do I reject natural theology? Why is this such a big deal for me you might wonder. Because I don’t think this is your normal theological locus; I think it is in a class all its own. Theological ontology-epistemology are the bases upon which God-talk can occur to begin with. How we understand these bases will say much about how we understand the God we portend to speak of and more importantly after (if that’s the order we end up following). So why I do reject the idea that human beings can come to a knowledge of God outside of God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ?

John Webster, even as he is imbibing the spirit of classical Reformed theology, helps to elucidate why someone like me would reject natural theology. As an aside: it’s not just “Barthians” who reject natural theology, it is Bavinckians, and many of the Post Reformed orthodox themselves (see Muller, PRRD). As Webster identifies there are two prongs that inhibit a natural knowledge of God: 1) God’s ineffability, and 2) our fallen and finite capacities. He writes:

A third principle requires a little more extensive explanation. A Christian doctrine of creation is doubly inhibited: by the ineffability of its object, and by the limits of fallen intelligence. The doctrine is chiefly concerned, no so much with causal explanation of what is as with contemplation of the fact that what is might not have been and yet is, and of the infinite bliss of God who lies on the other side of that ‘might not have been’. The doctrine’s core, in other words, is not cosmology but theology proper — God’s ‘invisible nature’ (Rom. 1.20), which, even when manifest in the visibilia of created reality, exceeds comprehensive intelligence (a point obscured when teaching about creation is annexed by natural theology). Knowledge of the creator and of creation is creaturely knowledge; in knowing the creator and his act, and ourselves as creatures, we do not transcend our creaturely condition, but repeat it: ‘no point of contemplation can be found outside Himself’, Hilary reminds his readers. More particularly, in this matter, creaturely knowledge is directed to an agent wholly surpassing us, to an act from whose occurrence we were absent: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ (Job 38.4). Moreover — as God’s question to Job discloses — what restricts us is not simply the finiteness of created intelligence but its fallenness and ‘futility’ (Rom. 1.21), its darkening of counsel by words without wisdom (Job 38.2). Knowledge of the creator and of ourselves as creatures is a casualty of the fall: we will not honour the creator (Rom. 1.21), we will not acknowledge ourselves to be his creatures. Fallen intelligence tends away from God, in the forgetfulness and impatience (Ps. 106.13). To know its creator, reason must be healed by repentance and the suffering of divine instruction, by which love of God is made to grow. The rule which governs teaching about the Trinity, and therefore about creation as one of its extensions, is: love alone restores knowledge. Love, furthermore, is the end of theological contemplation of the creator and his work. The goal of the redeemed mind’s exercise in this matter is ‘that [God] may himself be sought, and himself be loved.’ Or, as a later Augustinian put it, the task of trinitarian theology is ‘to manifest what is expressly revealed in the Scripture concerning God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; so as that we may duly believe in him, yield obedience unto him, enjoy communion with him, walk in his love and fear, and so come at length to be blessed with him for evermore.[1]

On the latter locus I am reminded of the Petrine wisdom:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.[2]

God —> Knowledge of God —> Through Participation —> Leading to Moral and Noetic Transformation in Faith as Knowledge —> To Orthopraxis —> Grounded in the Love of God in Christ. Sum: All of this movement is grounded in God’s choice to be God for us in Jesus Christ. From this springs the only possibility wherein genuine knowledge of God can obtain. None of this would occur without the reality that God is Love.

These represent some of the realities why I reject a theologia naturalis or natural theology as a preamble to a genuine knowledge of God. For one thing it is unnecessary to posit a natural theology—at least for the Christian—because by definitional reality Christians are already Christians by being those in encounter with the living Word as by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12.3). It’s a redundancy for those who already know the voice of God (his sheep cf. Jn 10) to attempt a look elsewhere for a foundational knowledge of God. True, philosophy and its lexicon is undeniably present in the history and development of theologics; but the grammar that has reified the various philosophies is a heavenly sui generis one that has no parallel, and needs none when the Christian knows the voice of their Shepherd. This is why I think Barth’s analogia fidei/relationis (faith-relation) de jure is the better way to go when attempting to be a theologian of the cross.

 

[1] John Webster, God Without Measure: Working Papers In Christian Theology: Volume 1: God And The Works Of God (London: Bloomsbury-T&T Clark, 2015), 83-4.

[2] II Peter 1.3-9, NIV.

No to the ‘Just Is’ God: Knowing God in Fulfillment Rather than Promise; Knowing God as Christians Rather than as Pre-Christian Christians

Classical theism, particularly of the medieval and post reformed orthodox (16th and 17th c.) style operates from a rather discursive notion of God. We might come to imagine that we just do know God; that is if we press our powers enough and rely heavily enough upon the yet unintroduced Holy Spirit in our lives. It is from this posture that many classical theists pick up their Bibles, at least of the Protestant sort, and just think that the God they have come to accept as their personal Lord (soli Deo gloria) starts out as God for them in Genesis 1:1 and linearly eventuates through the turns and eddies of salvation-history as the Savior they have met in Jesus Christ. It is upon this type of basis—as I have severely oversimplified it—that many classical theists operate from a just is assertive posture about God’s existence and their relative knowledge of this God (aided by the creative quality of grace each of the elect have in the accidents of their souls).

We have covered this ground on this blog a million times; I know! But I want to reiterate it again. I cannot get over how significant this is; viz. how we have knowledge of God, and which God we actually have knowledge of. If we get this most basic point wrong then everything else following will have the shape of how wrong we are or how right we are; in the sense that the God we believe we’ve come to know is actually the real and living God or not. What I am after—always—even as dramatic as I’ve just painted it has to do with prolegomena (or theological method and how that is given pre-Dogmatic shape by the God we believe we’ve come to know). Do creatures just have an implicit knowledge or sense of God; or is knowledge of God something completely and utterly and absolutely alien to us; is knowledge of God in its most intensive and principial modes something that is fully contingent upon God encountering us? More pointedly, is knowledge of God something that we can principally call Christian Knowledge of God?

Here is what I think (you know this): I only have come to know God, in my Christian experience and realization through the Son, Jesus Christ. As such my knowledge of God, even in the Old Testament, does not have an abstract character to it, instead it always already has a Christ conditioned character to it. My knowledge of God, as a Christian, never was generic; my knowledge of God has always been filled out by the illumination that has come from my position as a Christian in union with Christ (unio cum Christo). So I didn’t come to the God of the Old Testament without the Son; I’ve only come to God, as a Christian, within the fulfillment of the promises made about him as the new creation of God in the vicarious and mediatorial humanity he assumed in the incarnation. As such my knowledge of God is not from a hypothetical space as if I was born a Jew in the ancient near east; my knowledge of God, as a Christian, at a definitional and prescriptive level comes bound up in the man from Nazareth. If this is the case we have, what I would like to call, a ‘retroactive recognition’ and knowledge of God; meaning that as Christians we don’t read God linearly from Genesis 1:1, instead we read God starting in the reality of John 1:1 and understand God, even in the Old Testament, only as the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit.

If the above is true then a just is knowledge of God, of the sort that we find in many classical theisms does not make sense as a genuinely Christian mode for knowledge of God. For the Christian, in principle, there has never been a generic starting point for knowledge of God; there has never been a time where we, as a Christian, would pick up the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible and think of God in any other terms as the Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit, as if we could think of God in a time before (in salvation-history terms) we first knew him as the God who first loved us in the Son, Christ, that we might love him. We wouldn’t have the motivation or care to read the Old Testament and think God in personal and relational terms without first having relationship with this God as the Father of the Son Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit. But this is the route so many classical theists of the classical type want us to take in our knowledge of God. I don’t want to take this route; I don’t think it’s consistent with my position as a Christian. In other words, my knowledge of God as a Christian is necessarily what it is precisely because I am a Christian. As such the knowledge of God I have access to is fully and contingent upon his Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. As a Christian I don’t have another way, no churchly way, and no profane way of knowing God. God is either Self-explicated for us or he is explicated as is by us in abstraction from his Self-explication. There is no just is God; there is only the God for us that we know through Jesus Christ as the Son of the Father Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit. If this is so we can’t have a refracted knowledge of God that beams off of Scripture as if we meet God in the promises; no, our knowledge of God only comes to us in the fulfillment of the promises, in the seed of David, Jesus Christ. This does things to theological methodology, and subsequently to Christian spirituality.

The Most Important Thing, Knowledge of God: Actualistic Faith Trumps Stabilized Being

One of the first hooks for me with Barth’s theology was his conception of what is called the analogia fidei (‘analogy of faith’ — in contrast to the classical analogia entis ‘analogy of being’). At first reading and contemplation I thought it was a better way because I was already predisposed against the mechanical universe of classical theism; and the inter-chained hierarchy of being that held it together (think of Thomas Aquinas’s theology and substance metaphysics). In other words, if there was not necessary symmetry (albeit analogically understood and thus asymmetrical at certain levels i.e. Creator/creature) between God and all subsequent contingent reality then how might we as creatures gain a knowledge of God devoid of this type of interrelation between ‘being?’ I didn’t have an articulated sense of this dilemma, maybe just an inchoate unacknowledged sense; but one that came from my working in the area of historical theology with the realization that even in late medieval theology under the impact of the nominalists this ‘chain-of-being’ idea had already been critiqued and found wanting (at least for some). No matter the influence, what I found in Barth’s theology in regard to a theological epistemology (and ontology) resonated and resonates with me deeply. In order to expose you to what I am referring to I am going to transcribe a long quote from Bruce McCormack where he describes the Göttingen Barth’s understanding of knowledge of God. What you will see is that Barth, as a modern, was responding to and working from Kantian categories; nevertheless, what you will also see in McCormack’s development, is that Barth reified and in fact flipped Kant’s categories on their head insofar as the ‘knowing subject’ is not you and me, but instead Jesus Christ for us.

At the heart of Karl Barth’s doctrine of revelation, in the form in which it was first given a relatively full and positive elaboration in the Göttingen lectures on dogmatics, lies the concept of “indirect identity”: in revealing himself God makes himself to be indirectly identical with a creaturely medium of that revelation. Such a relation is indirect because the use made by God of the creaturely medium entails no “divinisation” of it. The veil in and through which God unveils himself remains a veil. And yet it must also be said that in the act of Self-revelation, God is indirectly identical with the creaturely medium. That is to say, the presence of God in the medium of revelation—however hidden it may be outwardly, to normal perception—is the presence of God, complete, whole and entire (without division or diminution). The hiddenness of God in revelation is not to be likened to the hiddenness of the submerged portion of an iceberg. It is not as though part of God is revealed directly while part of God remains hidden to view. No, Barth makes it quite clear that if revelation is Self-revelation (and it is), then revelation means the revelation of God in his entirety—but the whole being of God hidden in a creaturely veil. Nothing of God is known directly; God remains altogether hidden. And yet, where God is truly known in his hiddenness, it is the whole of God which is known and not “part” of God.

Expressed christologically: the process by means of which God takes on human nature and becomes the Subject of a human life in our history entails no impartation of divine attributes or perfections to that human nature. And therefore revelation is not made to be a predicate of the human nature of Jesus; revelation may not be read directly “off the face of Jesus.” And yet it remains true that God (complete, whole, and entire) is the Subject of this human life. God, without ceasing to be God, becomes human and lives a human life, suffers, and dies.

The principle consequence of this conception of an indirect revelation for theological epistemology is that God is the Subject of the knowledge of God. Human beings can know God only by being given a knowledge which corresponds to God’s Self-knowledge. This occurs in that human beings are given the eyes of faith with which to discern that which lies hidden in the veil. Thus conceived, revelation is seen to have two moments; an objective moment (God veils himself in a creaturely medium) and a subjective moment (God gives us faith to know and understand what is hidden in the veil). The objective moment is christological; the subjective moment, pneumatological.

In the Göttingen lectures, the Kantian assumptions with which Barth works in explicating this point of view are especially clear. With Kant, Barth believes that human knowledge is limited to the intuitable, phenomenal realm. And this means that if God (who is unintuitable) is nevertheless to be intuited (and therefore known in the strict, theoretical sense) God must make himself to be phenomenal, that is, God must assume creaturely form. But at this point a further problem arises. In making himself phenomenal, God has entered into the subject-object relation in which the constructive role played by the Kantian categories of the understanding make the human knower the “master” in any and every knowledge relation. So the problem is this: How can God remain God (i.e. the Subject of the knowledge of God) even as God takes on phenomenal form? The answer has everything to do with the fact that God does not make himself directly identical with a phenomenal magnitude but only indirectly so. What occurs in revelation is that the divine Subject lays hold of or grasps the human knowing apparatus through the phenomena from the other side. In this way, the limitations placed on human knowing by the Kantian subject-object split are overcome by a transcendent, divine act.

It should be added that Barth secures the lordship (“mastery”) of God in this knowledge relation by insisting on its actualistic character. It is not the case that God unveils himself through the veil once and for all, as a completed act. If it were so, God would have ceased to act; nothing more would need to be done. But such a view cold be coherently explicated only by the thought that although God was once only indirectly identical with a medium of revelation, at some point in time God became directly identical with it. In this view, nothing further need occur from the divine side. The epistemic relation between God and the human knower would have become fixed, stabilized. Having begun in a relation of absolute epistemic dependency, the human knower would once again have attained the mastery in this relation. To all of this, Barth said no. God is indirectly identical with the medium of his Self-revelation not only before revelation occurs but during the revelation even and after it. Thus Barth could consistently overcome the limitations placed by Kant on the knowledge of God only by insisting upon the actualistic nature of the epistemic relation.

One final clarification: for those of us who are “disciples at second hand,” the place at which God finds access to us (and therefore we to God) is not longer Jesus of Nazareth (who has “ascended on high”); it is, rather, through the medium of the witness of Holy Scripture that God continues to unveil himself. For us, knowledge of God occurs when and where God takes up the language of the biblical witness and bears witness to himself in and through its witness (the objective moment) and awakens in us the faith needed to comprehend that witness (the subjective moment). In that this occurs, a relation of correspondence (the so-called analogia fidei) is established (actualistically!) between God’s knowledge of himself and human knowledge of God. This it is quite clear that the motor that drives Barth’s theological epistemology is the Realdialektik of the divine veiling and unveiling.[1]

Much to digest. I think that what is covered by McCormack in regard to Barth is THE most important locus of theology. In other words, how we come to think about how we have knowledge of God has a prior notion informing it in regard to who we think God is; this seems to be a paradox, or a dialectic. Indeed. I think, often, people just take for granted a certain theological tradition with all of its trappings without considering what in fact those trappings are and where they come from. So we have formal and material realities mutually implicating each other insofar as the object of theology is related to its subject and vice versa. What I think is most important to recognize is that if we presume that we are talking and writing about God as theologians that we’d better have a sound basis for asserting that we are indeed thinking God from God. This is where the classical theistic approach fails in my view. It starts with a ground for knowledge of God in the being of humanity abstract from God, albeit preveniently informed by God’s grace (understood in qualitative terms); a ground that is not grounded previously in God’s being, only upon the asserted supposition that all being is sourced in God’s. Do you see the problem with this? It does not overcome what Barth overcomes in the Kantian form of such knowing; a form of knowing where the human ‘knower’ is the ‘master’ of the knowing apparatus that allows them to assert that they have a point of contact with God outwith a previous ground in God (in a theological taxis ‘order’). This is the genius of Barth’s proposal; it grounds knowledge of God in God and extends that by his grace (who is the Christ) out to us, brings us into that center of knowing by the Holy Spirit, and allows us to think God after God has already thought himself for us in Jesus Christ. So the Deus absconditus is the Deus revelatus.

Theologians will keep on theologizing in their received traditions of theologizing, but for my money I can’t really see how what they are ultimately articulating has much to do with a knowledge of God that is itself grounded in the Self-knowledge of God. I would suggest that the tradition has stumbled upon proper aspects of knowledge of God only insofar as it has sought that in its disclosure borne witness to in Holy Scripture. In other words, the tradition has offered certain categories toward a knowledge of God that have relative gravitas to them only as that has incidentally been arrived at by the theologian’s willingness to seek for such knowledge in Holy Scripture.

[1] Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 109-12.

Analogical Knowledge of God in the Theology of Thomas Torrance

Analogy for the Christian’s knowledge of God is an important feature. We have referred to Thomas Aquinas’s analogia entis (analogy of being) frequently here at the blog; on the other hand we have referred to Karl Barth’s analogia fidei/relationis as an alternative way to think analogical knowledge of God. In this post let me refer us to Thomas Torrance’s understanding of analogy vis-à-vis the hypostatic union; if you are familiar with Barth’s understanding, then this will sound somewhat familiar. The primary point I want to highlight is how analogy is framed for Torrance; he grounds analogical knowledge of God not in a capacity human beings have latent within their accidents to habituate in disciplines that allow them to attain to some sort of knowledge of God. Instead, Torrance grounds analogical knowledge of God exclusively in Jesus Christ (seems pretty biblical to me); and true to form he uses the homoousios/hypostatic union in order to accomplish his development on analogia. He writes:

Analogy and the hypostatic union

Hypostatic union involves two important factors here.

(i) It tells us that we can know God only in human terms, in terms of analogy. All knowledge of God and his relations with mankind are analogical, for in Christ, God has become like man, has taken on a human image, so that we may know God, and understand his revelation in terms of the image, likeness and analogies of man.

(ii) It tells us that it is not by human image, likeness, and analogies that we know God and understand his revelation, but rather through the hypostatic union of the human images, analogies, and likenesses in Jesus Christ to God himself, that we know God. That means that only certain particular analogies are used, those which repose upon, and derive from, this one particular man, for he alone is in hypostatic union with God. All other analogies are empty, and contain nothing of God, but Jesus Christ is filled analogy, analogy where the content and substance lie in the hypostatic union of God and man in Christ. In the language of the epistle to the Hebrews, he is the effulgence of God’s glory, but also the express image of God, the reality of the God he images in himself.. All true knowledge of God is through Christ the Word, for there is only one Word, the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, who has declared him. But that Word has once and for all become man, assumed human form, and never divests himself of that human form. It is in this particular and unique human form for ever joined to the Word or Son of God, that we are given to share in the mystery of God. In Jesus Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and in him alone, do we know God, and have communion with him.[1]

We see the classical notion of ‘accommodation’ present in Torrance’s offering; we see the Reformed archetypal/ectypal knowledges functioning for Torrance; and we see Jesus Christ as the only fulcrum through which a genuine knowledge of God is arrived at. If we read carefully we can see how Torrance, as he consistently does, grounds the epistemic in the ontological; i.e how he follows an order of being to knowing, and then knowing back to being all enshrined within the unio personalis of the man from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. This is an important piece for Torrance, he constantly presses upon the idea of mediation, homoousion, and the double consubstantiality of the two natures unioned together in Jesus. We see a dialectic of the divine ground of Jesus’ person allowing for actual knowledge of God to be mediated in human ways, and the reception of the mediation received for humanity in the primacy of Christ’s humanity as archetypal humanity for us. This is why Jesus Christ is so important for Torrance’s analogical knowledge of God. Analogy plays a serious role for Torrance, but it is one that is modulated by Jesus Christ for us; thus it can be said that God reveals Godself in the Son of Man, and in the Son of Man Godself is translated for us in such a way that he meets us in our dusty existence to the point that the cross becomes the ultimate place of revelation. Here he reverses the curse, by becoming the curse for us; he undoes Babel, and speaks to us in the new tongue of the new Creation (II Cor. 5.17), wherein eyes to see and ears to hear are given by the Spirit. This movement for Torrance, at least temporally/historically, starts in the manger and climaxes in the ascension (at least penultimately); accommodation, analogical knowledge of God continues from the right hand of God through the priestly session of the Son of Man for us.

This is the Christological analogia  for Torrance, and it is fundamentally different than what we get in people like Thomas Aquinas, classical theism in general, David Bentley Hart et al. There is a theology of nature, and theory of revelation that reorients things for Torrance, such that analogical knowledge has gravitas precisely because creation itself has primal telos from and in Christ.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 193.

Richard Muller and Scott Oliphint Both Need to Repent: Responding to the Thomas Aquinas Analogy of Being Discussion Through Barth

I have been interested in the locus known as analogia entis, or ‘analogy of being’ for a long time; and have written about it as well. I have also been reading Richard Muller for many years, and have read most of his published writings. So it caught my eye when I saw an internecine rejoinder by him to his classical Reformed brother Scott Oliphint in regard to Oliphint’s reading of Thomas Aquinas and the analogia entis. For those who don’t know, the analogia entis is basically the idea that humanity has a capacity latent in themselves (intellectually) to conceive of God by way of negating the finite (i.e. the being of human) to the infinite (i.e. the being of God), even if there is great dissimilarity between the two beings (so ‘analogy’). Oliphant believes that Thomas Aquinas, and the whole Thomist project following, is in error by attributing too much to the fallen human being’s ability to think God in any way. Muller thinks Oliphint completely distorts Thomas’ thinking on the ‘light of natural reason’ (i.e. think Romans 1–2), and critiques Oliphint thusly:

The problem is most apparent in Oliphint’s highly selective use of Aquinas’ commentary on John 1:9, which leaves out the portions that undermine his argument. Aquinas indicates that human beings are enlightened by “the light of natural knowledge,” which insofar as it is light is such by participation in the “true light,” which is the Word. He adds, “If anyone is not enlightened, it is due to himself, because he turns from the light that enlightens.” Aquinas also distinguishes this true light, given to all by God, from which human beings turn away, from the “false light” which “the philosophers prided themselves on having,” citing Romans 1:21.11 Despite what Aquinas says quite clearly, Oliphint concludes, “We should make it clear here that Thomas does not think that the ‘enlightening’ of which John speaks necessarily includes divine truth or content” (p. 15).

For Aquinas, reason, “the light of nature,” is itself a gift of God to human beings in the original creation of humanity that is capable of knowing not only that God exists, but that God is good, wise, and powerful. Where reason falls short, because of its finitude, its rootedness in sense perception, and the errors brought about by sin, is that, without the aid of revelation, it cannot know the truths of salvation. This “Thomistic” assumption should have a familiar ring in Reformed circles. It is paralleled by the very first sentence of the Westminster Confession—as also by the second article of the Belgic Confession, and Calvin’s commentary on the passage. Oliphint’s claim that Aquinas’ reading has “no basis” in the text of Scripture becomes an indictment of Calvin and the Reformed tradition as well.[1]

Anyone familiar with Thomas’s theology knows that he has an axiom underwriting it, this: “grace perfects nature.” Latent in this axiom is the presupposition that nature has not been fully destroyed by the fall, but instead has retained some ‘light’ (there are theoanthropological reasons for this); that there is a continuity yet to be realized between nature and grace that is indeed realized, for Aquinas’s theology, by the coming of Jesus Christ. For Aquinas this bond between nature and grace is the basis by which he can construct his style of analogy of being, and suppose that humans, to a point, have this capacity retained within their natures (even as ‘fallen’) to reach towards a knowledge of God; even if that necessarily is an impoverished reaching requiring grace to bring it (to bridge it) to completion in its terminating cause in the Unmoving mover, God.

Oliphint, to his credit, rejects this type of Thomist understanding while Muller (to his discredit) embraces it and argues for it (as much as I argue against it). The quote I have shared from Muller should help to illustrate this. This is where it is pretty interesting to me; I think Muller is right to identify the heavy Thomist influence in the Westminster and Belgic Confessions of Faith; one would have to wonder what Oliphant wants to make of that.

So the timing of all of this is interesting because in my reading of Barth’s CD I/1 I have just come across his section where he is responding to Emil Brunner’s ‘point of contact’ theology, and the type of natural theology that funds that. Whether it be John Cassian, Thomas Aquinas, or Emil Brunner, in their own respective ways they all share the common idea that there is a ‘hook’ within humanity, or moral capacity that allows them to have some real knowledge of God apart from God’s “special” revelation in Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture. Barth rejects this notion, as do I! The following is indeed Barth’s response to Brunner, and yet I share it to not only observe Barth’s response to Brunner, but to illustrate how far the breach actually is between someone like Muller (and the Westminster theology he represents), and Barth in regard to natural theology and all the attending loci that are present therein:

This point of contact is what theological anthropology on the basis of Gen. 1.27 calls the “image of God” in man. In this connexion we cannot possibly agree with E. Brunner (Gott und Mensch, 1930, 55 f.) when he takes this to refer to the humanity and personality which even sinful man retains from creation, for the humanity and personality of sinful man cannot possibly signify conformity to God, a point of contact for the Word of God. In this sense, as a possibility which is proper to man qua creature, the image of God is not just, as it is said, destroyed apart from a few relics; it is totally annihilated. What remains of the image of God even in sinful man is recta natura [the good nature], to which as such a rectitude [goodness] cannot be ascribed even potentialiter [potentially]. No matter how it may be with his humanity and personality, man has completely lost the capacity for God. Hence we fail to see how there comes into view here any common basis of discussion for philosophical and theological anthropology, any occasion for the common exhibition of at least the possibility of enquiring about God. The image of God in man of which we must speak here and which forms the real point of contact for God’s Word is the rectitudo which through Christ is raised up from real death and thus restored or created anew, and which is real as man’s possibility for the Word of God. The reconciliation of man with God in Christ also includes, or already begins with, the restitution of the lost point of contact. Hence this point of contact is not real outside faith; it is real only in faith. In faith man is created by the Word of God for the Word of God, existing in the Word of God and not in himself, not in virtue of his humanity and personality, not even on the basis of creation, for that which by creation was possible for man in relation to God has been lost by the fall. Hence one can only speak theologically and not both theologically and also philosophically of this point of contact, as of all else that is real in faith, i.e., through the grace of reconciliation.[2]

Following on in this small print section, Barth continues, in contrast to the analogia entis (‘point of contact’), develops his analogia fidei (‘analogy of faith’) which we can already see him segueing to towards the end of his paragraph. What we have heard from him though is sufficient for our purposes. And this is the point at which I sometimes scratch my head, particularly when it comes to classically Reformed people touting a doctrine of the total depravity of humanity. True, many of them will qualify what they mean by distinguishing total depravity from something like total inability, but it still leaves me wondering why. This is where Barth, in my view, out-Reforms the Reformed; viz. when it comes to thinking biblically about total depravity (in particular, from a Pauline perspective found in such pericopes like Rom. 3; Eph. 4 etc.).

Unlike Richard Muller, and the Westminster Confessional theology he represents, Karl Barth sees a total discontinuity between original creation and new creation; particularly when it comes to issues that have to do with purported ‘moral capacities’ that humans may or may not retain post-fall. For Barth the point of contact is the Word of God (extra nos), and faith is the knowledge of God that comes from the Word of God; and the Word of God, for Barth, is the Logos of God, Jesus Christ. It is because of this principia in Barth’s theology—a radically Reformed focus on the living Word of God, Jesus Christ—that a doctrine of resurrection necessarily becomes centrally-dogmatic and important. The point of contact between God and humanity in Barth’s theology is not a continuity between creation and new creation, it is instead a continuity between the God of original creation and the God of new creation, and the Logos that has been present and central for both creations to actualize. Robert Dale Dawson helps to emphasize this point for us:

For Barth the resurrection of Jesus is not a datum of the sort to be analyzed and understood, by other data, by means of historical critical science. While a real event within the nexus of space and time the resurrection is also the event of the creation of new time and space. Such an event can only be described as an act of God; that is an otherwise impossible event. The event of the resurrection of Jesus is that of the creation of the conditions of the possibility for all other events, and as such it cannot be accounted for in terms considered appropriate for all other events. This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.[3]

As George Hunsinger has developed Barth’s theology he refers to ‘disruption’ as an apropos way to think of how grace works in the theology of Barth; I couldn’t agree more! Resurrection in Barth’s theology provides the new basis from whence a genuine knowledge of God can be obtained; in Christ. There is no old man, or old creation to think from; there is only the Word of God. Yes the Word of God present for the original creation, but with the knowledge that this original creation would be superseded by a required new creation bringing all of creation to its ordered telos in the beatific vision of God that God had always already desired from the very beginning. We can see why nature doesn’t have a ‘point of contact’ between God and humans for Barth now; creation was never intended to have this type of capacity (i.e. for knowledge of God), only God in se could be capacious enough for such knowledge—and in Barth’s theology the point of contact that God freely chose was/is grounded in his eternal Logos and Son, Jesus Christ.

I think Richard Muller and Scott Oliphint should both repent and recognize how radical things need to get in order for there to be a genuine way for knowing God. Sure, the 16th and 17th centuries did the best they could do with the metaphysics they had available to them, but in my view such categories don’t jive so well with the categories and emphases we find in a Bible that Jesus thinks is all about him.

[1] Richard Muller, Aquinas Reconsidered, accessed 02-19-2018.

[2] Karl Barth, CD I/1, 235. [emboldening mine]

[3] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 13.

Analogy of Beings, Prolongations of God-Consciousness, and Mediation of Knowledge of God: Jesus

Analogia entis (analogy of being) has been on my radar ever since I heard the term; the first time I heard it, just on a purely linguistic/semantic level, it intrigued me—the sound of it when verbalized. It is something I’ve written on in published form, and something that continues to intrigue me at very base levels. I think the primary reason this is so—beyond its linguistic value (for me)—is that it is seriously basic to how we as human beings think we can know God. Discussion about the analogia entis is clearly an intramural one that takes place among those who inhabit the various expressions of the church catholic, and as such should not ultimately be seen as something that keeps people from fellowshipping with each other as Christians. Nevertheless, it remains a fundamental point of impasse, in regard to a serious issue, among Christians; in other words, it isn’t something I think we can remain neutral over.

The aforementioned noted, there is a bigger framework, an ecclesiological frame within which the analogia entis has developed. This post intends on speaking to this broader framework, with some reference to the analogia itself. Karl Barth (I’m reading his CD I/1 currently) offers critique of two paradigmatic expressions of the church; 1) the Modern Liberal, and 2) the Roman Catholic. He identifies how the analogia entis, in one form or another is present and regulative for either one of these expressions found in the Christian church; and he offers critique of both by appealing to a doctrine of God’s freedom to be the Lord and God of his church apart from the types of expressions of ecclesial reality that are prone to give rise to a locus like the analogy of being.

We will read along with Barth’s development and critique of these types of ecclesiologies, and the attendant theological-anthropologies, and then observe how he critiques them accordingly.[1] He writes (in extenso):

In distinction from the conception of the already contested, Roman Catholic dogmatics describes the place from which it ascertains its way of knowledge as the self-originating and self-grounded reality of divine revelation and the corresponding supernatural faith. Here, then, dogmatic prolegomena consist in the assertion that in the form of Holy Scripture, Church tradition, and the living teaching apostolate of the Church infallibly representing and interpreting both, there is to be found the objective principle of knowledge, and in the form of the fides catholica, which accepts revelation as proposed by the Church, there is to be found the subjective principle.

It is self-evident that these assertions are already statements of faith and therefore in their scientific form dogmatic statements. But we can regard these statements, too, only as those of another faith and an alien dogmatics. Their presupposition is that the being of the Church, Jesus Christ, is no longer the free Lord of its existence, but that He is incorporated into the existence of the Church, and is thus ultimately restricted and conditioned by certain concrete forms of the human understanding of His revelation and of the faith which grasps it. Again, there can be no mistaking the common Christian character of this faith to the extent that the concept of the acting God, of that which is radically beyond all human possibilities, is taken seriously as the source of dogmatic knowledge, at least in intention. But again our fellowship with this faith is broken by the way in which grace here becomes nature, the action of God immediately disappears and is taken up into the action of the recipient of grace, that which is beyond all human possibilities changes at once into that which is enclosed within the reality of the Church, and the personal act of divine address becomes a constantly available relationship. Roman Catholic faith believes this transformation. It can recognise itself and God’s revelation in this constantly available relationship between God and man, in this revealedness. If affirms an analogia entis, the presence of a divine likeness of the creature even in the fallen world, and consequently the possibility of applying the secular “There is” to God and the things of God as the presupposition, again ontological, of that change or transformation, of that depriving of revelation and faith of their character as decision and evasion and neutralisation.

If this faith is not ours; if we know nothing of such a change and its presupposition; if we can as little say: “There is revelation,” as we can: “There is faith,” then we cannot possibly adopt the standpoint which yields this particular dogmatic knowledge.

The only possibility of a conception of dogmatic knowledge remaining to us on the basis of Evangelical faith is to be marked off on the one hand by the rejection of an existential ontological possibility of the being of the Church and on the other hand by the rejection of the presupposition of a constantly available absorption of the being of the Church into a creaturely form, into a “There is.” On the one side we have to say that the being of the Church is actus purus, i.e. a divine action which is self-originating and which is to be understood only in terms of itself and not therefore in terms of a prior anthropology. And on the other side we have to say that the being of the Church is actus purus, but with the accent now on actus, i.e., a free action and not a constantly available connexion, grace being the event of personal address and not a transmitted material condition. On both sides we can only ask how it may be otherwise if the being of the Church is identical with Jesus Christ. If this is true, then the place from which the way of dogmatic knowledge is to be seen and understood can be neither a prior anthropological possibility nor a subsequent ecclesiastical reality, but only the present moment of the speaking and hearing of Jesus Christ Himself, the divine creation of light in our hearts.[2]

Todd Billings in his book Union with Christ calls what Barth is referring to, in regard to the Roman Catholic church, as the ‘prolongation of the incarnation.’ The idea that Jesus Christ is so conflated with the church that the church herself becomes the only location wherein human beings have to do with the living God.

We see Barth challenging not only the Roman Catholic analogia entis, but also another form of that in the type of ‘point of contact’ we find in someone like Schleiermacher (according to Barth’s reading), or someone like Emil Brunner; for Barth it’s the same issue. Either the subject, of Christ, becomes absorbed and circumscribed by the consciences of particular human beings in the church, or that is sublimated by the church herself (as in the Roman Catholic expression); as if there is a point of contact between God and humanity in an inherent creational way (i.e. actus purus). And this point of contact, as such, serves as an epistemological port wherein human beings can have an inherent knowledge of God, even if that must needs be attenuated by Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

I actually believe this is THE issue we are seeing played out in the church today. This implicates a theory of authority, and how people believe they have access to a knowledge of God. Even among evangelicals and the Reformed, there is a tacit, seemingly un-critical reception of the idea that the church herself, and her judgments have become the foundation that God has chosen to reveal himself through over and again to those seeking him. But as a Protestant, in principle, I would contend that the spirit of the insights that Luther and Calvin et al. came upon in their study of Scripture is that God’s Freedom in Jesus Christ must be the reality upon which we as Christians see as the place of mediation between God and humanity; and if we value God’s Freedom then we will not collapse that into our sub-conscious or a church with an address.

 

 

[1] We pick up with Barth as he is more precisely engaging with the Roman Catholic side of this equation; he has already spoken to the Modern-Liberal (i.e. Schleiermacher, De Wette, et al.). Yet, he does, towards the end of the section I am sharing from him bring up the Modern-Liberal.

[2] Karl Barth, CD I/1, 48-50.