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What do we know of God? Is there some sort of vestiges of God in us, such that contemplation of God is an inherent capacity built into humanity? The Great Tradition of the Church has seemingly operated with a grandiose Yes, to this question. But what about us Protestants? We say we affirm a doctrine like Total Depravity, wherein the noetic effects of the Fall are so great that there no longer remains any basis inherent to humanity to ponder God; instead, at least in some Protestant accounts, at best all we can ponder, even if we desire to ponder God, is an idol (cf. Calvin).

This issue continues to remain of great concern to me. What issue, you may ask? The issue that so called natural theology presents us with. True, many proponents of natural theology maintain that God’s Revelation and Reconciliation are still required in order to come to a real knowledge of God; but at the same time they also operate with this idea that humanity, post-lapsarian, retains a hook or moral capacity to posit God outwith Revelation. They don’t posit this in a fully Pelagain sense, but it is framed, I would contend, at best, in a semi-Pelagian frame. That is, while humanity retains this moral or intellectual capacity towards knowledge of God, these folks would also maintain than in order for knowledge of God to genuinely obtain, that (created) Grace needs to be present in the life of the positer (of God). There is a background anthropology at work here, one that emphasizes an intellectualist anthropology (as in Thomist intellectualism and Christian Aristotelianism); which helps explain why these proponents are so strongly committed to arguing for the viability of a natural theological way. Prior to this anthropology, these proponents are committed first to an Aristotelian/Thomist doctrine of God (as in Thomas’s Prima Pars). In order to maintain coherence and consistency with their commitment to a Thomist doctrine of God, and the hierarchy of being therein, they recognize that this must follow through into their respective doctrines of anthropology and soteriology.

But I don’t think the aforementioned commitments are sufficiently “Bibilical.” In other words, in Protestant form, as one committed to the Scripture Principle, and all that entails de jure, I think scriptural reality negates a slavish commitment to accounts of theological grammar that masquerade as what just is the orthodox reality of the Church of Christ. In other words, I don’t think orthodoxy, for the Protestant, requires that I simply affirm the Tradition, a priori, just because it is the Tradition. As a Protestant my rule of faith is not Church Tradition, but instead, it is Jesus Christ; or the biblical reality. In this alternative frame, then, if I read Scripture without these prior commitments what comes through on a prima facie reading is the reality that ‘no one seeks after God, nor desires to do so’ (cf. Rom. 3). What stands out is that without Revelation there is no genuine knowledge of God possible (cf. Gal. 1; Acts 8 etc.).

Karl Barth appreciates all of this better than anyone else I know. I maintain that there can be no such thing as a ‘natural theology’ precisely because I maintain that there is nothing natural about God. God is super and supranatural, as such any knowledge of Him will be fully contingent upon Him. Knowledge of God will not have any a priori bases in hidden moral capacities latent in the intellects of an abstract humanity; to think such only means that the persons who engage in such abstract positing about God can only be one thing: self-projection. If there is no basis in humanity for knowledge of God, and yet individual humans (even collectively) believe otherwise, then what notion of God are they conjuring if in fact they attempt to so conjure? Genesis 3 narrates this:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

Men and women did not gain a knowledge of God through eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; no, instead they gained a knowledge of their navels—thus recognizing their exposure before God, but only as He first walked among them. Men and women in their ‘natural’ (or lapsed) status, according to Scripture, only have a knowledge of themselves (homo in se incurvatus); as such, it requires God to come down to humanity and pull people out of their navels into the nave of God’s inner life as that is Revealed in Reconciliation in and through His Self-givenness in Jesus Christ. Any attempt to circumvent this way can only leave us in a place of self-projecting, if in fact we attempt to think God at all.

Barth concurs with more eloquence as he writes the following:

The inner necessity of the theological method employed in Holy Scripture and demanded by it can be made clear by following out the contrary method to its consequences. To characterise the latter in terms of the arbitrariness by which man takes liberties with God is hardly sufficient. This arbitrariness is itself obviously just a symptom of a very peculiar opinion which man has formed about himself, about God and about his own attitude to God. In the usual critical way, he thinks that he can set himself over against God as partner and opposite number. He therefore thinks that God and His revelation belong to the sphere of his own capacity, since by revealing Himself God does something which man can foresee and anticipate in its content as well as in its form. To a certain extent God is doing His duty in revealing Himself to man; and, moreover, it is His duty to reveal Himself to man precisely in a way which the latter can foresee and anticipate, and on the basis of such foresight and anticipation understand and appreciate. It belongs to man that God is and is free for him, and so becomes manifest to him. Thus that arbitrariness of his is quite in order. Because of his self-awareness he is also aware of what it must mean if God reveals Himself to him. he should and must measure the so-called revelations that meet him—so many encounter him claiming to be revelation—by the measure of himself, of his thoughts about what is appropriate to God and salutary for man. If this view is valid, that God is originally as bound to man as man is to God, the view that God is not the free Lord, His revelation not free mercy, the fact of His revelation not the presupposition, freely created by Him, of all our thought and language about it—if all this is valid, then arbitrariness must have its place, and the objection that such arbitrariness is illegitimate will be quite incomprehensible. The will it not rather be praised as a fine gift of God Himself and used with the appropriate assurance? But behind this view does there not still lurk something quite different? In the speculative, apriori-aposteriori, critical thought and language about God and man, as it reached predominance in Protestant theology in the period of Leibniz, should there really be only a relation of parity between God and man? Should we rather not posit here a relation of superiority in favour of man? Such thought and language may of course be embellished and justified by the edifying reflection that, to enable man to know Him, God has permanently planted Himself in man’s heart. Yet we are bound to agree with L. Feuerbach in his objection to theology, that the essence of such thought and language consists practically in man creating God for himself after his own image. No doubt this also may be interpreted as a work of serious, sincere piety. But in that case piety must mean a profound meditation by man on himself, a discovery of his inmost agreement with his own intimate and essential being, a disclosure, affirmation and realisation of the entelechy of his I-ness, which constantly asserts itself in natural and historical form, in joy and sorrow, in good and evil, in guilt and reconciliation, in truth and error, and which ought to be addressed as a divine being. The contrast between the conditioning of man by God and that of God by man now becomes, secondary, colourless and unimportant. Are the two not the same thing? Is not the objection brought against the arbitrariness of man quite futile? Have we not control of God, because we have control of ourselves, control of ourselves because we have control of God? Can the second view be avoided, once we have admitted the first?

It is not necessary to pursue these conclusions to their full limit, if the significance and basis of the other method is to become equally manifest. It is not necessary to go so far as to deny the objective reality of revelation, which is apparently the ultimate goal of this other method. It is a long way to Feuerbach from the “reasonable” or “mild” orthodoxy, which consciously and systematically used this method for the first time two hundred yean [sic] ago. But the continuity of the way cannot be disputed. That must open our eyes to the fact, should we fail to see it otherwise, that the way of the prophets and apostles right from the start is quite a different way.[1]

Earlier I referred us to a late medieval iteration of natural theology, and its reception by Post Reformation Reformed orthodoxy; at least in certain situations. Barth refers us to natural theology’s development in the Leibnizian period of thought; but I would contend that there is corollary between the two, at an intellectual level. Albeit the former is a confessional form of natural theology, while the latter becomes a deconfessionalized form; the distinction being on the plane and role that revelation itself plays in the development of the natural theological method and certain conclusions. But at a summary level, I contend, that all natural theology starts on the same plane; all natural theology starts on the premise that there is latent moral capacity in humanity that gives them the capacity to posit God at some level.

Along with Karl Barth, and the Bible, I maintain that such positing about God can only and always be a mode of self-projection and idol-manufacturing.

 

[1] Karl Barth, CD I/1 §13.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Steve Duby, source.

There is no analogy for God, or “Godness” without God’s graciousness to stoop down to us in our stuttering tongues and depraved hearts, and therein meet us with the possibility to know Him in a corresponding way in and through the analogy and bond of Christ’s faith for us. So, Christ’s faith in His vicarious humanity is the whence by which an analogy for knowledge of God obtains. This is the case because God is God, and we are not. It isn’t just that we are sinners, it is that we are creatures who by definition are finite. As such, even prior to the Fall (cf. Gen. 3), we were “handicapped” in regard to reaching the elevated heights of God’s own inner life and reality (in se). Without God’s grace, which is first exemplified in His first canonizing Word, ‘In the Beginning God created,’ there is no first order basis for the creature to reach out or up to their Creator; there is no whence for God inherent to the creature, there is only the need and constant dependence upon God’s first and last word of Grace. As Christians we have come to spiritually recognize this as the basis by which we live and move in a world contingent upon God’s Grace; we have come to recognize by the Holy Spirit that God’s Grace is Jesus Christ, and that in Christ we can come to analogize God—but only because God first analogized Himself for us in His election to not be God without us, but with us in the mediatorial humanity assumed by the eternal Logos who we know preciously as, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

It is in this logic of grace that someone like Søren Kierkegaard would repudiate attempts, classical or modern, to offer proofs for God and His Self-existence. For SK, as we have just been opining ourselves, the bases for knowledge of God is not an analytical or systematic bases, but instead one where we as liminal creatures are confronted with our deep need for a personal God and Savior. For SK, though, it is not ‘our need’ that becomes the ‘foundation’ for our approach to God, instead it is God’s approach towards us in Jesus Christ, in Grace, wherein knowledge of God inheres. This has multitudinous applications, but without getting into those in mass, let’s hear some from Andrew Torrance and his commentary on SK in this direction.

Kierkegaard observes:

this is how people behave with respect to God – people forget that God exists and they consider whether it is the best thing, the most satisfactory thing, to have a God.

Christian thought is constantly faced with the danger and temptation of reducing God to a mere human concept and a relationship with God to a human worldview. This perpetuates a perception that human beings possess a certain authority over both ‘God’ and the Christian faith. Accordingly, Christians become preoccupied with such activities as demonstrating the truth of Christianity, for example, by engaging in rationalistic attempts to prove the existence of ‘God’. Or, alternatively, the devote themselves to speculating over the doctrine of ‘God’ in a way that makes little or no difference to their becoming followers of Jesus Christ. Under these circumstances, ‘God’ all too easily becomes a postulate to keep systematic theologians in business rather than the Lord who personally calls individuals to active lives of discipleship. Reflecting on this dynamic, Lee Barrett writes, in a passage that takes us to the very heart of Kierkegaard’s theological vision:

Even if God is said to transcend the categories of space and time, God is still treated as something whose mode of being can be an object for speculation and metaphysical description. According to such a practice, God would have to exhibit recognizable differentiating features and possess attributes that could be compared with the attributes of other beings. But for Kierkegaard, ‘God’ is not the name of any item locatable within the domain of finite beings, or of an entity recognizable by way of contrast to finite beings … Diverging from a certain kind of academic approach to theology, Kierkegaard resisted the tendency to specify the meaning of ‘God’ by compiling an inventory of identifying characteristics, no matter how lofty such characteristics might sound. Kierkegaard does not define God in terms of such daunting metaphysical properties as omnipotence, omniscience, and so forth. Rather, Kierkegaard seeks to give ‘God’ meaning by exhibiting the concept’s role in the life of devotion to God.

For Kierkegaard, as I have sought to show, the Christian faith is not primarily grounded in the human imagination or understanding but in God’s personal and dynamic engagement with the world in and through Jesus Christ. It is grounded in the living God who encounters persons in history and draws them to participate in a life of devotion to God. In its truest form, therefore, the Christian faith exists as a living witness and active expression of God’s relationship to us in and through Jesus Christ. It is out of a passionate devotion to the personal reality of God that an individual takes up the task of becoming a Christian.[1]

For the ‘school’ theologian what has been written is hard to hear, but maybe they should. Regardless, as Torrance (and Barrett) have annunciated for us, for SK, what is of premium importance for the Christian, in regard to their knowledge of and relationship with God, is driven by ‘personalist’ loci.

I originally framed this post through a lens that the quote itself does not exactly correspond to; at least not directly. But I think analogy is an important piece to this; at least insofar as that implicates a discussion on the whence of God for us. If we were to think constructively, as I am attempting to do, we might see a discussion on analogy as important to SK’s theology, and then Christian theology in general, in the sense that it serves as a focus, a modal focus, that allows us to understand how it might be that God alone in His gracious movement, ought to serve as the One who controls how we come to a knowledge of Him; how it is that we become Christians at all.

If the analogy for knowledge of God, and thus the entrée point for becoming a Christian, is always already one that is grounded in the movement of God’s Grace for us; if that movement eventuates in His condescension to be with and for us in Christ, and in that movement the Christ in His humanity provides the ‘faith’ through which a genuine knowledge of God can be gotten; then theologies that attempt to find a knowledge of God, or ‘Godness,’ outwith God’s Self-delimited parameter for that to happen, indeed in the assumed flesh of the Son of Man, will not ultimately provide for a sound basis towards a genuine knowledge of the living God. Further, if the Christian’s basis for knowledge of God, and thus the whence of becoming a Christian, is necessarily based upon encounter with this living God for us in the illumined face of Jesus Christ, then there can be no refraction of this movement; a refraction wherein we come to God based on an analogy that is outside of this gifted parameter in God’s Grace.

If what I am getting at isn’t clear enough: What I am, once again!, arguing, is that an analogy of being that presumes upon the meta-idea of an abstract humanity, one that is not enclosed by the humanity of Christ, one that presumes on a logico-deductive schemata that comes prior to this encounter, will only lead this sort of school theologian to be engaging with an impersonal and self-projected conception of the living God. Remember, the Christian, by definition, is one who calls Jesus Christ, Lord; but only by the Spirit. It is this Gift that keeps on giving; giving as the Bread of Life that sustains us moment by moment. To construct a foreign ground, another foundation other than Christ (cf. I Cor 3.11), even after someone has ostensibly come to encounter with Christ, would be similar to being the Israelite who was redeemed out of Egypt, baptized in the Red Sea, and then began to worship Yahweh through a Golden Calf of their own making. Becoming a Christian never flutters this way or that, it always finds its wind through the breath it first encountered through the living voice of God in the face of Jesus Christ. As such, knowledge of God is always already contingent upon this voice; that doesn’t change after-the-fact. The fact remains that God is God, and our knowledge of Him is fully dependent upon Him meeting us every moment of everyday in the givenness of His own voice.

If we reject the proposal I’m driving at in this post, then we place ourselves in a position to manipulate God’s voice into a tertium quid that is no-God; and an übermensch of our own projection (cf. Rom. 1.18ff). What often trips folks up at this point is the Tradition. The Trad is school theology, of the sort that SK, Barth, Torrance et al. did not fully abandon, instead they all engaged with it as if a worthy fish-monger engages with his catch; as if the Trad itself is only a proximate iteration full of bones, and juicy flesh, but full of bones needing to either be removed, or purposed in reformulated ways—under the pressure that is provided for by the Christian who is in a constant and fresh relationship with the living voice of God in Jesus Christ.

[1] Andrew B. Torrance, The Freedom To Become A Christian: A Kierkegaardian Account of Human Transformation in Relationship with God (London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 189-90.

I would have to say that I am obsessed with ‘knowledge of God,’ and how from a Christian perspective that is obtained. I have blogged, and written elsewhere, much on this locus; particularly as that gets into what is called the analogia entis and analogia fidei/relationis. I really don’t know why I’m so obsessed with this locus, but I think it has something to do with the pluralism within which I have been weaned, in the Western culture[s]; particularly as my experience of that is in North America. Nevertheless, the so called scandal of particularity of God’s grace in Christ enamors me; this is why I wrote my Master’s thesis on I Corinthians 1.17-25. I was first turned onto this locus in seminary as we studied Martin Luther’s theologia crucis (theology of the cross), and John Calvin’s duplex cognitio domini (twofold knowledge of God as Creator/Redeemer). I was already wrestling with ‘knowledge of God’ theory prior to these introductions, but these teachings of Luther and Calvin gave me some intelligible grammar that helped articulate what only lay latent and inarticulate in the flutter of my mind’s-eye.

The pursuit and infatuation with this locus has only grown since that introduction (back in 2002). I have found my greatest solace in the theology of Karl Barth (so analogia entis/relationis:being/relation), and also in Barth’s greatest English speaking student: Thomas F. Torrance. They have brought greater clarity to a theory of revelation and knowledge of God for me; something that Luther and Calvin alone couldn’t do fully. I have forayed in other directions in the pursuit of assuaging my curiosity in regard to knowledge of God or theory of revelation; I have read many others in fact, but Herman Bavinck and Henri de Lubac have provided me with the greatest alternative vis-à-vis the Barth/Torrance combine. But in the end I keep coming back to Barth’s anti-natural theological approach as that is grounded in his type of apocalyptical-dialectical theology. I am currently reading through his Church Dogmatics I/1 (I’m in the process of reading through the whole CD, in spotty fashion). I came across a passage from Barth that helps illustrate the sort of material focus, in regard to theory of revelation that I have been alluding to above. Let me share that at some length with you here.

The real issue in this whole matter is plain in Luther, to whom also appeal is usually made. It is Luther’s insights that lay behind the statements of Melanchthon and indirectly behind those of Calvin too. From his perception that man’s justification is in Christ alone and therefore by faith alone, Luther rightly concluded that all human theology can only be theology of revelation. As it is arbitrary and dangerous in the matter of justification to orientate oneself to a preconceived idea of the Law or one capriciously abstracted from the statements of Scripture; so it is arbitrary and dangerous in theology generally to start with a preconceived idea of God or one capriciously abstracted from the statements of Scripture. The total theological question, like the question of justification in detail, can be answered only with reference to the God who reveals Himself in Christ. Already in 1519 Luther mentions a thought he was often to repeat: This is the the one and only way of knowing God (shamefully neglected by the teachers of the Sentences with their speculations on pure divinity), that whoever wishes to think or reflect profitably on God should utterly disregard everything except the humanity of Christ (Letter to Spalatin, February 12, 1519, W.A. Br. I, 328 f). About the same time we find him writing polemically: Accordingly, let anyone who wants to know God have regard for the ladder fixed in the ground: here all human reason fails. For nature teaches that we are more eager to turn our attention to great than lowly things. Learn from this, how wickedly and – dare I say? – impiously they behave when they speculate, confident in their diligence, on the lofty mysteries of the Trinity: on where the angels are enthroned and what the saints say, when after all Christ was born in the flesh and will remain in the flesh. But look what happens to them. First: “If they should poke their heads into heaven and look around in heaven they would find no one but Christ laid in the crib and in the woman’s lap, and so they would fall down again and break their necks.” And these are those who write on the first book of the Sentences. And then they attain absolutely nothing from these speculations of theirs, so that they are able to profit or counsel neither themselves or others. “Start here below, Thomas and Philip, and not up above” (Schol. in libr. Gen. on Gen. 28, W.A. 9, 406, 11). Even better known is the following passage: “For I have often said and say it again that when I am dead men should remember and guard against all teachers as ridden and led by the devil who in lofty positions begin to teach and preach about God nakedly and apart from Christ, as heretofore in high schools they have  speculated and played with His works up above in heaven, what He is and thinks and does in Himself, etc. But if thou wilt fare securely and rightly teach to grasp God so that thou find grace and help with Him, then let not thyself be persuaded to seek Him elsewhere than in the Lord Christ, nor go round  about and trouble thyself with other thoughts nor ask about any other work than how He hath sent Christ. Fix thine art and study on Christ, there let them also bide and hold. And where thine own thought and reason or anyone else  leadeth or guideth thee otherwise, do but close thine eyes and say: I should and will know no other God save in my Lord Christ” (Sermon on Jn. 17.3, 1528, W.A. 28, 100, 33; cf also Comm. on Gal. 13, 1535, W.A. 40.1, 75f.; W.A. Ti. 6, 28). One should not fail to note that in so far as these statements of Luther are polemical in content they are not concerned with the doctrine of Christ’s deity, and in so far as they are concerned with the doctrine of Christ’s deity they are not polemical in content. What Luther wants—this is his point in this train thought—is that deity in general and Christ’s deity in particular should not be known along the path of autonomous speculation but along the path of knowledge of God’s revelation, which means in practice along the path of knowledge of the benificia Christi and therefore the humanity of Christ.[1]

And to press this thought line further Torrance commentates this on Barth’s style of evangelical theology:

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]

Barth goes to proving that the aim of THE original Reformer, Martin Luther, was to move away from the discursive and speculative way of the mediaeval theology he was nurtured in. We see his disdain for not only Lombard’s Sentences, but how those became the mainstay of mediaeval theology, to the point that they had their own commentaries; they became the authority for the theological developments of Luther’s day, and days prior. The original Reformer repudiated these speculative meanderings, according to Barth, by recognition of the fact that as sinners we need salvation; this never changes. As such, for Luther, according to Barth, ‘metaphysics’ are not the ply of the Christian; instead, focusing on the wood of the manger and cross of Jesus Christ are—indeed always will be and should be. It is the Christ who is the always already mainstay of theological reflection; the way into knowledge of God. This never changes; we are always in a mode of ‘reckoning’ ourselves ‘dead to sin and alive to Christ.’ If this is the case, as I distill Barth on Luther et al. then moving into the philosopher’s head, in regard to Ultimacy, is not the way of the Christian; the way of the Christian is to live in and from the heart of God as that pulses in the risen Christ given breath by the Holy Spirit. This is a repudiation of ‘metaphysical’ speculation about Pure Beings and Unmoved Movers, just as salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.

Ironically, those who claim to be recovering the Reformed heritage in the 21st century evangelical and Reformed churches are not recovering this “Barthian” emphasis, this “Luther[an]” emphasis of focus on Christ alone. Instead these “recoverers,” as they retrieve not only the 16th and 17th centuries of Protestant orthodoxy, but also as they retrieve Thomas Aquinas and much of the rest of the so called ‘classical’ or ‘catholic’ tradition, move quickly past what initiated the Protestant Reformation to begin with. Luther offered a repudiation of speculative apophatic theologies, and in its place offered a theology that is constantly refreshed by the eternal well-springs of the heavenly God made human for us all. Christ alone, in all his flesh and blood, in the concreteness of his humanity, for Luther, for Barth is God’s way for us to himself. All theological knowledge, thusly, is delimited by this concrete and earthen vessel who is the Christ. But the retrievers of today have opted for the very muddle that Luther rightly saw through on his way to a knowledge of God that not only liberated him from the maelstroms of his Augustinian monkery, but after Luther liberated the world from its bondages to the self and its speculative projections about just who God might be.

I hope the evangelical churches can finally recover the reality that God alone in Jesus Christ as attested to in Holy Scripture is the only way to have a genuine knowledge of just who God is [for us].

 

 

[1] Barth, CD I/1 §11, 125-27. The italics in the quote are mine; I italicized what is originally in the Latin, but what in the study edition of the CD has been translated by way of footnotes. I have offered the translation.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little Thomas Torrance

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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