Barth

An Index to the Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum Posts: And Some Closing Thoughts on the Whole Ordeal

I have many things floating through my mind and heart right now; particularly because of the fallout produced by me thinking outloud and online in regard to the Christiane Tietz essay on Karl Barth’s and Charlotte von Kirschbaum’s relationship. I’ve already spilled much too much cyber-ink at this point attempting to genuinely work through the dilemma it caused me; and also have responded to a detractor’s post. It has cost me much more than I would have realized to simply raise this issue, and attempt to honestly work through it next to Holy Scripture. This will continue to be an issue for me to deal with, and I’ve already noted how I will attempt to do that; but that’s not enough for my critics, to them I’m as good as a legalist/moralist for even thinking that I should attempt to read Barth’s situation against what Scripture clearly says in regard to the qualifications for being a teacher in the church that belongs to Jesus Christ.

I was going to write a post on John Webster’s discussion on the Trinity; in regard to the relationship between the economic (ad extra) and immanent (ad intra) Triune life of God. But let me just use this post instead as an index for all five of my posts, to date, having to do with the Barth concern. That way, if people want to caricature me in the future, or label me as a moralist/legalist they will have ease of access to all the relevant posts (the posts start from the earliest to the latest in descending order).

Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum: My Response

A Comment In Regard To My Last Post On Barth and Kirschbaum

My Final Post, Ever, On Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum

Wrestling With An Approach To Karl Barth, And Some Advice From D Stephen Long

Am I A Moralist?  I Guess I am: Barth and von Kirschbaum

There’s every address I made on this issue. Hopefully you will appreciate the tone of every single one of my posts. None of it was ever intended to besmirch Barth or von Kirschbaum, but instead it was all a matter of me responding to some news about Barth that honestly shocked and surprised me. It went way more “viral” than I even imagined, and now there are other posts that have popped up online; some are attacking me; some are using this situation to attack Barth; and some just seem to want to get in on the action in disingenuous ways. Whatever the case may be, my intention was to stop and engage with an issue that confronted me square between the eyes. I am willing to almost bet money that I have written more about Barth’s theology, online, in a consistent manner over the last decade than almost anybody online; and I’ve done so in a favorable and positive manner (in regard to Barth’s theology itself). So when I, as a “Barth blogger” (I blog about Torrance and other things a lot too, of course), wanted to genuinely engage with Barth on his relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum, all of the sudden I was supposed to cease being a Barth blogger. I was to be silent, and not be a moralist (a view propagated by a very popular online theological personality); I wasn’t, as an evangelical Christian supposed to follow my conviction and go to Scripture and see what it says about the kind of relationship Barth had with Charlotte von Kirschbaum for most of his adult married life. Bobby Grow is supposed to keep his mouth shut, and his fingers immobile when it comes to this issue. That’s been the impression, and in fact the admonition I’ve received from many who think that I am a moralist in all of this; for going to Holy Scripture to see how I ought to respond to this scenario.

The only way around Scripture on this is to go around Scripture, or make Scripture something else; make it so that it doesn’t impinge on the ethics of Christianity or the church today. The only way around lots of ethical issues today is to reorient Scripture in such a way that it doesn’t speak to us about morality in any meaningful way; unless we want it to. But the bottom line in this approach is that it is contingent on the way that we want to read Scripture rather than how Scripture and its reality in Jesus Christ want to read and confront us. This approach is readily available, and there are some right now attempting to reorient Scripture in this way (and of course this has been going on for a long time); but that’s not the way I have followed, nor ever will. I am genuinely Reformed and evangelical (historically understood) when it comes to the authority of Holy Scripture (and other things too). This indeed is what caused the whole dilemma with Barth (and von Kirschbaum) for me in the first place; and now this is what is causing the rub and fallout between me and those who would rather skirt Scripture and read it in a way that is malleable to what they think ethics should look like.

Like I have already noted in my “Wrestling With An Approach To Karl Barth” post, there are still themes in Barth’s theology (particularly when it comes to election) that I don’t think I could ever really abandon. I do think Barth’s Christological concentration, as far as prolegomena goes, is the best way; and yet of course this way is not unique to Barth as TF Torrance points out in his referral to Athanasius and others in the history of the church. Like I’ve noted, going forward, my engagement with Barth will be from a different perspective, and more critical (meaning more in terms of engaging with a scholar rather than an “Uncle”) than it was before. But some of his themes have most likely made a life-long impact on me; so you’ll still be seeing that in my posts and writings going forward.

One last point: I will say something very interesting happened as a result of this. Most of the people who I have been most critical of (not personally), theologically—those who affirm some sort of Westminster styled Calvinism, or who are Thomists, etc.—have shown me the most support in this; which really surprised me. And the people who are for Barth, in the main, have shunned me; and now labeled me a moralist (not all, but many!). That says something to me; and it makes this whole thing that much more enlightening.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Am I a Moralist? I Guess I Am: Barth and von Kirschbaum

I have been called a moralist by Ben Myers and Wyatt Houtz simply because I dared question if Barth’s relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum met the standards God has set out in Holy Scripture; particularly for those who would be teachers/overseers in the church of Jesus Christ. I have noted movement in my initial reading of the Tietz essay that detailed (as far as it could) the inappropriate relationship between Barth and CvK towards where I ended up over a series of four posts (1, 2, 3, 4). Houtz wrote a blog post in response where he identifies me as a moralist (and Myers applauds his effort), and then goes on and explains why he thinks that is so; even though in the end he ostensibly agrees with me (i.e. that Barth disqualifies himself according to his own theology). But Houtz didn’t feel obligated to report on my movement in regard to approaching Barth’s theology. My language is often more terse, and up front than certain sensibilities like, but that doesn’t change the fact that in many ways we ended up in the same place. So I found it odd that he wouldn’t point out the nature of my posts (and that Ben himself would continue on with his moralist charge when I clarified to him what I meant even in my first post), and the organic nature of them. But coming back to this charge of moralism; that’s an interesting charge indeed. Is it moralism to be diligent in checking whether someone is qualified to be a teacher in the church of Jesus Christ by the standards of Holy Scripture? It is. Okay, I guess I’m a moralist then. But what’s the inverse of this? The mood described below is the Schleiermacherian turn to the subject type of theology and piety. Is this the inverse of moralism; to allow the mores of the collective culture to determine how we interpret the moral standards God expects for his teachers? This is where I’m at a loss. If I am a moralist what does that make Ben and Wyatt et al.? I don’t think they would want to identify with the type of turn to the subject theology of Schleiermacher; but maybe some other form of existentialist styled theology fits them better. Houtz wants to use Barth’s own theology as the standard for determining whether or not Barth failed to meet his own standards (Wyatt thinks Barth ends up in self-judgment based upon his theology of marriage). But this seems odd to me. Why would I turn to Barth’s own theology to determine whether or not Barth was meeting God’s standards of morality for a teacher; and meeting the standards for what it means to be a married man? Is this a moralism too; to turn to Barth’s own canon of theology and use it against him as a judgment? So I’ve been labeled a moralist because I’ve turned to the canon of Holy Scripture to see if Barth is above approach to be a teacher; and I guess Wyatt (and anyone else who affirms Wyatt’s post) is a non-moralist in regard to Barth because he turned to the canon of Barth’s own theology to see if Barth measured up to Barth’s own standard for what a theology of marriage entails. So is Wyatt’s standard for Barth Holy Scripture (and it’s reality), or is it Barth’s theology for Barth? This seems like a strange move to me. It makes me wonder, at the least, what kind of role Scripture plays for Wyatt et al in determining such things. But it seems clear that Wyatt et al believe if someone turns to Scripture to measure Barth as a teacher and married man that this person is a moralist. Okay, I guess I’m a moralist; but what does that make Wyatt et al.? Maybe they think I’m a moralist in regard to Barth because I came to the radical conclusion that Barth indeed did in fact disqualify himself as a teacher in the church (even though he ended up getting to be one anyway); that Barth lived in a life of open disobedience before God and the church; without repentance. Yes, I’m sure it caused Barth, Charlotte, and Nelly (and all five kids) all kinds of angst; that’s what I have experienced myself when I’ve persisted in any type of unrepentant sin. I think these guys are labeling me a moralist because of the conclusion I’ve come to in regard to Barth, and how I’ve openly spoken about it. Is my conclusion moralist; is it moralist to recognize that sin is sin; and when we identify it we are to repent of it in our lives? That’s moralist? I guess I’m a moralist.

I also think many in the Barth community believe that me talking openly about such things in regard to Barth (which Wyatt also says in his post) is an unnecessary blight and embarrassment to them; it seems like they think I should keep my mouth shut about such things out of respect for Karl Barth et al. And I’m frustrated that this hasn’t been spoken of more publically in regard to Barth; so I guess there is a bunch of frustration around this issue currently. They say all of this has been known by Barth scholars for years (and yes I was aware of the rumors, but never saw them substantiated until Tietz). Really?! Then why haven’t said Barth scholars spoken more about it; were they afraid of being labeled a moralist or some sort of voyeurist attempting to peer too closely into Barth’s persona life?

I’ve already been labeled a certain way by many young Barthians (and respecters of Barth); the irony is that I have been a respecter of Barth, and promoted his theology as much as anyone has over the last many years online. My initial response, and continued focus on this is a reflection of my attraction to Barth and his theology; if I didn’t care I never would have said a word about any of it (I would’ve just labeled Barth the heretic that so many others in the church so often do, and used this situation to help reinforce my inklings toward Barth). But I actually do care. The problem is, and this has been a problem for many of these younger ‘Barthians’ who have made it clear they want nothing to do with me, is that my sensibilities are still too trad and evangelical; theologically. Indeed, it is these sensibilities that have caused the consternation for me. If I wasn’t absolutely committed to the authority of Holy Scripture none of this would have been an issue; at all! But I am. And so when I read these letters that Tietz translated for us my convictions and hermeneutic kicked in. It caused an ethical dilemma for me. I wasn’t quite sure how to negotiate that. Sure, yes, in theory I’ve always argued for the objective value of theological witness (i.e. not contingent on the messenger’s morality but on the reality to whom the messenger bears witness); but when I read the Barth letters this caused a moment of real life pause because of how much I have come to value so many of Barth’s theological themes (they have become internalized for me in many ways).

So now I’m a moralist because I dared to think out-loud and online about all of this. I still wonder what this makes the non-moralists in all of this. I’m not sorry I worked through this the way I have; the way I often work through things (through blogging). It produced more light than heat for me personally; I received good feedback from many who I respect. And personally the best insight I received came from D. Stephen Long in a comment he made to me on Facebook (which I shared in my last post on this subject). I didn’t plan on writing this whole long segue to the post on Schleiermacher and pietism (and honestly it’s just there for you to read or not, it doesn’t really have that much to do with all of this—it’s pretty incidental to all of this at this point). And I will say, as I close, that my intention in all of this has not been to disparage Barth, but to try to work through some shock and surprise. It doesn’t really matter what other people knew (or didn’t) about Barth; in this instance my posts were prompted by what I found out in a personal way about Barth. It was something Barth’s living children (who shared the letters) called an “unreasonable situation,” and after reading the letters I could see why (which by the way Wyatt doesn’t report on accurately in his post; in regard to the children’s view of the situation). The only reason I have written all of this was because I wanted to respond to the charge of Wyatt et al that I am a moralist; I guess I am then (by their standards). But what does that make them?

I am not going to have comments open for this post. If you want to contact me about it then reach me by email at: growba@gmail.com. I’ve already corresponded as much as I want to about this online (other than this response to Wyatt’s post now).

I’ve been informed by a Schleiermacher scholar that the post I originally had tagged to this, on Schleiermacher, was inaccurate relative to his theology; so I’ve deleted it because it really is unnecessary to the point of this post. I will rewrite another post on Scheliermacher’s theology when I’ve had sufficient time to engage with him more accurately. 

 

Wrestling with an Approach to Karl Barth, and some Advice from D Stephen Long

Young Karl Barth

I’ve been continuing to process my approach to Karl Barth and his theology in light of what I found out about him in regard to his relationship with his “secretary” Charlotte von Kirschbaum. I will not rehash what I’ve already discussed previously, except to say that it has been something I’ve been thinking about ever since I first read the Tietz essay on September 29th, 2017. The reason I just can’t “let this go,” is because Barth’s theology has fundamentally transformed the very being of my theological trajectory; in the most basic of ways. I have so internalized so many of his theological themes (in re.: to a doctrine of God/Christology, election, soteriology, theory of revelation, theory of history etc.) that it isn’t just something I can simply extricate myself from and move on. So I have been wrestling with this; praying about it. I have gotten lots of good feedback about how to handle this, and then not so good feedback (which of course is how online media works). Here is probably the best advice I’ve received; it comes from a Facebook thread and a theologian/scholar (D Stephen Long) who has written on Barth and other significant theologians:

If I may, Bobby, I think you are correct in being disillusioned but I hope you will not give up hope. I remember when I first discovered the extent of this while in Basel. What impressed me most was Nelly’s ability to forgive. I was told that Charlotte had dementia toward the end of her life and was put in a hospital. Nelly would visit her regularly. Despite Barth, some around him embodied a sanctity that he did not.

We have a similar situation with Yoder, and I find the excuses for his actions and the cavalier disjunction between his life and theology unconvincing as well. Theology is not like chemistry. If done well, it should encumber us with a way of living, especially if we think theology must be made visible so that it can be a witness. Balthasar asks why so few theologians are saints after the modern era, and suggests it is because of the way theology becomes another academic discipline. The task of theology and the work of sanctity should not be disjoined.

I also think that no single, individual theologian is responsible for his or her theology. Each one lives from and depends on the communion of saints, on those who come before us and those who receive our work. An individual theologian’s work should not be discarded because of her or his failures because it is never solely their work. I do think we must raise questions as to the connection between theology and ethics that could lead a Barth or Yoder to their self-deception, especially when they themselves refused a sharp distinction between theology and ethics. Is there something in their theology that contributed to it?

So I have come to terms with these failures by thinking: 1. their theology cannot be wholly discarded because their theology was never their’s. They do not own it, and theologians are not individual heroes. 2. Theologians’ failures cannot be overlooked but must be considered as part and parcel of their theology. Many of us were attracted to Barth because he saw the failures of theology to resist the Nazis. If we easily overlook ethical and political failures, then we would have to say that theology makes little difference in the world and that would be devastating to the theological task.

I try to receive theologians’ failures within these two rubrics. I don’t know if this helps, but I think your disillusionment is a positive sign that theology encumbers you in a way I find encouraging.[1]

Everything, the whole sentiment of this comment is very helpful for me; I share it in hopes of it being edifying for others who might be struggling in a similar way as I am. What stands out in particular is what I have emboldened, in the fourth paragraph: “1. their theology cannot be wholly discarded because their theology was never their’s. They do not own it, and theologians are not individual heroes….” This fits well with the point I was hitting on in my last two posts in regard to approaching a theologian’s writing realizing that they can have an ex opera operato value to them (the Apostle Paul has this understanding of the objective value of the Gospel when he writes what he does in Philippians 1).

What this has done has gotten me past any kind of hero worship (which I don’t really think I was doing, I think I had high respect for Karl Barth as a theologian/teacher), and put things in better perspective. For me, even if I continue to partake of some of Barth’s most basic theological themes, this in no way means I am viewing his chosen lifestyle with Charlotte von Kirschbaum in softer earth tones. Indeed, the conflict continues to still burn within me. But the reality is, is that I think that despite who Barth chose to be personally, that God still used his unique insights and theological imagination in a way that makes them available to be resourced for the edification of the church; not because of who Barth was, but because of who God is. For me, even if I feel compelled to partake of some of Barth’s theological themes, his lifestyle should have disqualified him (biblically speaking) from ever being a teacher; he should have been held to account, and only then be restored to the office of a teacher for the church. So at a personal level I think Barth didn’t get to fully enjoy his own theological witness to Christ because he chose to live in outright unrepentant disobedience to God; he allowed one of his affections to overshadow the more encompassing (or what should have been) affection of God in Christ. To speak biblically: he kept some high places in his life, where there had to be some sort of syncretism (at least ethically) taking place.

We all sin, that’s true. But we need to mortify such things in our life, in an ongoing basis so that the vivification of God’s life in Christ might be made manifest in the mortal members of our bodies. The Gospel will never endorse any kind of sin; it will never show any type of partiality for this person or that person (which Barth’s own reformulated doctrine of election/reprobation makes so clear!) to any single person; the Gospel will always and only confront us with who we are in Christ, and allow us, from that vantage to realize the significance of what God has redeemed us from and to.

 

[1] D Stephen Long, Facebook Comment, accessed 10-08-2017.

God Has Spoken: He Sounds Like Jesus Christ

Emil Brunner and Karl Barth famously had a serious quarrel, even fall-out, over Barth’s perception of ‘natural theology’ in Brunner’s approach. While it is true that Brunner affirmed something like Calvin’s sensus divinitatis, he also has some very strong points of convergence with both Barth and Thomas Torrance for that matter. I’m inclined to go with Barth on all things contra-natural theology, but I actually think Brunner is much closer to Barth than say even Calvin or any of the Post Reformed orthodox in the 16th and 17th centuries. Note what Brunner writes, if I hadn’t told deusdixityou beforehand you might have thought this was Barth instead (well maybe):

(2) Secondly, the concept, the “Name” of God, suggests further that God is Person: He is not an “IT”; He is our primary “Thou”. That which we can think and know by our own efforts is always an object of thought and knowledge, some thing which has been thought, some thing which has been known, therefore it is never “Person”. Even the human person is never truly “person” to us so long as we merely “think” it; the human being only becomes “person” to us when he speaks to us himself, when he manifests the mystery of his being as a “thou”, in the very act of addressing us.[1]

Let’s stop here for just a moment before we pick up again. In some ways this functional understanding of what constitutes personhood is problematic; not just for reasons that implicate say the ethics of something like abortion and establishing personhood, but also because Brunner is using this as an analogue, a social analogue for determining the personhood of God (someone might want to call this a type of analogia entis or ‘analogy of being’). That notwithstanding, what he writes following still is insightful; Brunner continues:

It is true of course, that to a certain extent we can know the human “thou” by our own efforts, because, and in so far as it is “also an I”, a fellow-human being. The mystery of human personality is not absolute; it is only relative, because it is not only “other than I” but “the same as I”. It can be placed under the same general heading “Man” along with me; it is not and unconditioned “Thou” because it is at the same time a “co-I”. There is no general heading for God. God in particular has no “I” alongside of Himself. He is the “Thou” which is absolutely over against everything else, the “Thou” who cannot at the same time be on the same  level with “me”, “over-against” whom He stands.

Therefore I cannot myself unconditionally think God as this unconditioned “Thou”, but I can only know Him in so far as He Himself, by His own action, makes Himself known to me. It is, of course, true that man can think out a God for himself—the history of philosophy makes this quite plain. In extreme cases a man can “think” a personal God; theistic philosophy is a genuine, even if an extreme possibility. But this personal God who has been conceived by man remains some-thing which has been thought, the object of our thought-world, acting, speaking, manifesting Himself—He does not meet me as a “Thou”, and is therefore not a real “Thou”. He is, as something which I have thought, my function, my positing: He is not the One who addresses me, and in this “address” reveals Himself to me as the One who is quite independent of me.

The God who is merely thought to be personal is not truly personal; the “Living God” who enters my sphere of thought and experience from beyond my thought, in the act of making Himself known to me, by Himself naming His Name—He alone is truly personal.[2]

Karl Barth in his Göttingen Dogmatics has a whole chapter entitled Deus dixit, ‘God has spoken.’ This is language that Barth appropriated from Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck, and now we see it as a theme in Brunner’s theology as well. The social analogy notwithstanding, the important aspect to highlight here is that for the Christian we don’t think up God, we don’t think a God concept, we instead are confronted by the living voice of God revealed in Jesus Christ; and it is here where our conception of God comes from.

Implication

So what’s the “practical” implication of this? I would say that, if Brunner et al. is right, Christians are dependent upon revelation in order to think God. We are dependent upon hearing his voice through the voice of the eternal Son incarnate in Jesus Christ. This means, I would contend, that Christian theologians should not try to discover a concept of God as a prius to the God revealed; we should not attempt to synthesize the god discovered by the philosopohers with the God revealed in Jesus Christ. At most, as the patristic theologians did, we might be able to ‘evangelize a metaphysic’ and use the grammar present therein in order to help us talk about God; but only with the qualification that said metaphysic has been retexted in a non-correlationist way under the pressure of the triune God revealed in Christ.

That didn’t sound very practical, did it? Practically speaking I think Christians should not be afraid of the so called ‘scandal of particularity.’ We serve a peculiar and particular God, he is sui generis, unique, and special. He is only knowable because he graciously wanted to be known, and so he became us in Christ that we might become him (so says Irenaneus). The Gospel is the power of God, as such we shouldn’t be afraid to speak after and from this particular God revealed in Jesus Christ. The world may not like it, other Christians might not even like it, but we must insist that the God we speak of and to is the One who first spoke to us in his Son.

[1] Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1949), 121-22.

[2] Ibid., 121-22.

*repost

How solo Scriptura is Demonic: Conditional Immortality, Annihilationism, and a Defense of After Barth Theological Exegesis

In this post I want to respond to a comment made in my previous post from a reader named, Phil Lueck. My last post was going to simply serve as an introduction to a larger post I had intended on writing as an argument against what is called conditionalism, conditional immortality, and often is associated with annhiliationism. I was motivated to write such a post because I had just recently
joined a group on Facebook called Re-Thinking Hell; one of its founding members is a guy named Chris Date (a Masters student at Fuller Seminary NW), and then there are others. They engage in debates (in real life and online) promoting what they think is the only viable reading of the text when it comes to ‘hell’ or ‘punishment’ texts; i.e. their conditionalism. After I’ve now had the chance to interact with them in their group, and listened to a few video interviews of Chris Date about his style of conditionalism, I’ve come to realize that they are simply advocating for a solo scriptura approach; the idea that people can read the bible, pretty much, without presuppositions and theological preunderstandings—which is horrifically dangerous. I shared a link to my previous post in that group, and one of the admins made it clear that they only wanted to hear what the Bible says about hell; they wouldn’t be that interested in getting into theological or Christian Dogmatic concerns. Oh, he was clear that he’d considered all the theological stuff (as if that’s distinct from biblical exegesis), and that he didn’t want me, really, to offer the type of post I was intent on offering. He thinks that I prioritize theology over scripture (again as if those two things can be disentangled in the neat and tidy ways he seems to think). This segues us back to Phil’s comment; let me share that, and then I will offer some response to him. If I seem defensive, it’s because I am. Here’s Phil:

Dear Bobby,

I have been reading your posts for several years and have appreciated your sand[sic], even when I have not agreed with you. While I have had a long interest in TFT and a more recent interest in Barth, I am not a Confessional Christian. I have studied church history, Christian thought and historical theology enough (M.A., Wheaton Grad School) to realize the diversity that exists within Christianity makes for significant challenges to the Reformation concept of the authority of God as it is mediated through Scripture.

Two years ago, after considerable consideration, I changed my understanding of Hell, from the traditional ECT view to CI. I have found RethinkingHell.com a useful site for that understanding. However, I do not merely believe just anything that they post. The test of truth for the evangelical believer must, in the final analysis, be Scripture. If I find a weakness in your site it is that your appeal to the truth of your theological understandings on just about any biblical text or theme seems to loyalty to Torrance and Barth.

I await you your follow of today’s post and trust that you will seek to make a greater place for the Scriptures themselves (i.e. some independent exegesis) instead just of using TFT and Barth as your support.

Blessings in Christ,

Phil Lueck

We can quickly see how Phil’s disposition fits the description I provided of those I encountered in the group: ReThinking Hell. But Phil, as does anyone who advocates for solo scriptura or de nuda scriptura (the idea that we can just read the Bible for all its worth without theological preunderstandings forming our exegetical conclusions), has a serious dilemma. The dilemma arises when Phil, or any solo scriptura advocate have to make interpretive decisions, and even translational decisions when it comes to the text of scripture; particularly when we are doing exegesis in the original languages.

Okay, so from Phil’s comment, he thinks I favor Barth and Torrance too much when I interpret scripture. But then I’m left asking: who does Phil favor; and who does the ReThinking Hell crowd favor? You see, the fact is this: theological-exegesis is something that all Christians do. Yes, those still under the spell of modernity would like to think that they can approach the text as a tabula rasa and simply allow the external stimuli and data of the text of scripture fill out the blank pages of their brain; but this just is not the case (Kant, if nothing else deconstructed that notion). Since this isn’t the case, since biblical exegesis will always already be a spiraling dialogue between scripture’s inner theo-logic and the lexical and grammatical realities of the text itself, it would do everyone really well to admit how this whole process works; and adjust their hermeneutical approaches accordingly.

Phil has to engage in the work of developing a theological-anthropology, as do those who are proponents of ReThinking Hell, in general; but as far as I can see that doesn’t even enter their minds. This is interesting, really, because the very premise of conditional immortality is grounded in how we conceive of the nature or being of humanity; i.e. when humans were created, originally, were they immortal or simply mortal awaiting immortality? In other words, the primary question, contra Chris Date, isn’t the nature of ‘eternal punishment’, as he asserts in the video interviews I’ve watched of him; but instead the issue here has to do with the nature of humanity itself. But interrogating this issue is not a matter of simply reading the text of scripture and using the analogy of scripture, comparing this scripture with that scripture in the interpretive process; no, it’s much more basic than even that. The process here is one where the interpreter must engage with the inner-logic of scripture; in other words, we mustn’t go beyond scripture, but we must dig into the depth-dimension of scripture. This is what theological-exegesis entails, and this is what ReThinking Hell proponents reject.

So they aren’t interested in me writing a post that engages this issue from a theological-exegetical approach; they want me to offer a more enlightened biblical exegetical process and conclusion based upon the type of form/redaction criticism interpretive process they’ve inherited as evangelicals. They want me to ignore confessional exegesis; they want me to ignore the history of interpretation; they want me wipe my brain clean of any other stimuli I might bring to the text, and simply offer a clean prima facie reading of the text that they themselves have ostensibly offered the church catholic.

As far as Phil’s desire to see me not rely so much on Barth and Torrance, I’m afraid he’s not appreciating the revolutionary type of thing Barth, in particular, has offered the church. Barth might be a single man, but his reworking of election/predestination (as he inherited some of that from a French school of thought), and his style of Christ concentration is nothing more than an interpretive tradition in and  of itself; as explanatory and weighty as what we get from Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, Athanasius, Augustine et al. So why would I attempt to do theological-exegesis from outside of a theological tradition that I think provides the greatest explanatory power when we come to consider some very basic realities as we get into engaging with the inner-logic of the text of scripture? I’m wondering what interpretive tradition informs Phil’s exegesis of the biblical text? Or what about Chris Date of ReThinking Hell? He claims to be a Calvinist, a classically styled Calvinist; which of course means his interpretive tradition comes mediated through Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine; to one degree or another. This is the type of non-criticalness that a commitment to a solo scriptura can foster; it can cause someone like Phil to tell me to quit relying so much on Barth and Torrance, when he in the same instance is relying on his own broader theological framework and interpretive tradition, at a macro, first order level.

In light of all these developments I’m really not all that motivated to write that long post on conditional immortality anymore. Not to mention that in that group on Facebook, once I shared my post from last night it caused a few in the group to come after me. I actually de-joined the group and one of them stalked me to my page and private messaged me attempting to egg me on into further jousting and debate; that didn’t make me happy at all (it caused some unfortunate words on my part). I think I’ll let this issue die immortally for a bit, and maybe revisit it when I’ve cooled off a little. I’ll just leave with this parting shot: solo Scriptura is demonic.

 

 

An Introductory Post to a Longer Post that Will Argue Against Conditional Immortality and Annihilationism from a Barthian and Torrancean Doctrine of Election

I am currently writing a long post/mini-essay as an argument against what is called Conditional Immortality and/or Annihilationism. In the post I will clarify what that all entails, definitionally, and then of course I will refute CI and ‘annihilationism’ by appealing to Karl Barth’s, Thomas Torrance’s, and to a lesser degree, Athanasius’s doctrine of election and the imago Dei. While we wait for that, let me quickly share a quote I’ve had in my sidebar ever since I started this blog; it’s a passage that comes from Thomas Torrance. In this passion you’ll note some theo-logic that implicitly undercuts the logic being used to argue for the CI position. I will explain what I mean about that in the long post to come. Here’s what Torrance writes about the Incarnation, Atonement, and what that means in regard to what it means to be human vis-à-vis God:

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.[1]

The basis of my argument against CI and annihilationism will be what I emboldened in the Torrance quote. These emboldened parts, in particular, are quite loaded theologically; and they are funded by an antecedent theology of election/reprobation and, indeed, understanding, in light of a Christologically concentrated doctrine of election, how the imago Dei functions as the basis upon which all of humanity, even originally in the garden, have a [human] being that is grounded de jure in the vicarious humanity of Christ; the humanity that God elected for himself in Christ before the foundation of the world. I will follow this theo-logic out in such a way that its application will organically, all by itself, undercut the thesis of conditional immortality that claims that ‘immortality’ is only something given to human beings who receive Christ as their savior. I think already, you can already start to see how the way I will approach this will indeed, if the case, undercut the premises that fund CI.

I just became a member of group on Facebook called Re-Thinking Hell. I didn’t realize it when I joined, but they are proponents of conditional immortality and annihilationism. Me joining this group is what has prompted me to think about this issue, and then want to deploy the unique and theologically rich resources that Barth’s and Torrance’s theologies offer, respectively, in order to undercut the CI position.

 

[1] T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

The 2nd Adam as the Ground and Reality of the 1st Adam: Reading Romans 5 With or Against Barth

I was just reading Everett F. Harrison’s commentary on Romans in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; in particular I was reading his coverage of Romans 5:12-14, I was motivated to look over some commentaries I have on hand because of the discussion surrounding the historicity of Adam amongst some contemporary biblical exegetes (like Peter Enns and others). Of course, and rightly so, most commentators are not going to be engaging in speculation about whether Adam was a historical personage or not; instead, the steady exegete will seek to lay bare the intent of the particular passage’s message as understood (intratextuality and intertextually) through the theology, in our instance, of the Apostle Paul. In light of this, I wanted to focus on Harrison’s own exegesis of Paul in Romans 5:12-14 juxtaposed with what he thinks is Karl Barth’s reading of this same pericope; in particular, what Harrison thinks of Barth’s understanding of the person of Adam vis-á-vis the person of Jesus Christ as Paul’s ‘second Adam’. Here is the text in question, first in English and then the Greek text:

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned — 13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. –Romans 5:12-14 (NIV)

12 δια τουτο ωσπερ δι ενος ανθρωπου η αμαρτια εις τον κοσμον εισηλθεν και δια της αμαρτιας ο θανατος και ουτως εις παντας ανθρωπους ο θανατος διηλθεν εφ ω παντες ημαρτον 13 αχρι γαρ νομου αμαρτια ην εν κοσμω αμαρτια δε ουκ ελλογειται μη οντος νομου 14 αλλα εβασιλευσεν ο θανατος απο αδαμ μεχρι μωυσεως και επι τους μη αμαρτησαντας επι τω ομοιωματι της παραβασεως αδαμ ος εστιν τυπος του μελλοντος –Romans 5:12-14 (GNT)

The issue I want to consider, relative to Harrison’s reading of this text juxtaposed with Barth’s, is the critique that Harrison offers of Barth’s ‘theological-exegetical’ reading of this passage; in particular the ‘image of God’ in the theology of the Apostle Paul. Harrison, somewhat in passing, notices that Barth understands Paul’s usage of Adam in a way that is only typological of Paul’s real point about the image of God, that Barth thinks should really be in reference to the ‘second Adam’, or Jesus Christ. Harrison summarizes, and questions Barth’s reading in this way:

In his book, Christ and Adam (Harper, 1956), Karl Barth has advanced a provocative interpretation of Adam as a type of Christ. He has attempted to reverse the order: “Man’s essential and original nature is to be found … not in Adam but in Christ. In Adam we can only find it prefigured. Adam can therefore be interpreted only in the light of Christ and not the other way round” (p. 29). It should be evident, however, that Paul’s thought here is not moving in the orbit of man as made in the image of God and therefore in the image of Christ who is the image of God. To import the preexistence of Christ is to introduce an element foreign to Paul’s purpose and treatment in this passage….[1]

Harrison may be right, de jure or in principle, that Paul’s own orbit of thought may have not been fully articulated, even to himself, in regards to a full blown, what we might call, Chalcedonian Christology (or even a Johannine one); but, de facto, or in actual fact, Harrison, I think is wrong to suggest that Paul’s own unarticulated theology does not invite the exegete and theologian to step deeper into the theological trajectory that Paul’s occasional writings presuppose. In other words, I think Harrison is wrong to assert that Paul’s ‘orbit’ of thought cannot be driven further than even the Apostle Paul drove it in his own context. I float this, because much of Paul’s own theology, delimited as it is by the type of literature he was inking ‒ Epistle – by definition is going to remain unarticulated and enthymemic (or some of his premises are unstated and just presumed on his part). So for Harrison to suggest what he has in regard to Paul’s thinking about the ‘second Adam’ as primary to the ‘first Adam’ relative to understanding, theologically, the function that the image of God language ought to play in Paul’s accounting; I think is highly presumptuous.

Karl Barth is obviously committed to a theological exegetical approach to interpreting scripture. He is committed to what some have called a ‘principial’ and intensive christocentrism in his reading of holy writ; such that he seeks to ground all of his reading of scripture, as if scripture’s reality (res) only is realizable when couched in its teleological (‘purposeful’) shape provided by Jesus Christ himself.

So the question is: Is Barth playing fast and loose with scripture, imposing his own theological grid and ‘canon’ on the canon of scripture; thus morphing it into a re-imagined wonder world of modern theological impulses? Or, is Barth following the trajectory that Jesus himself set in the reinterpretation of the Old Testament scriptures as if those scriptures were really all about him? Not just about him at a surface glance, but about him in all of his depth and reality as the ‘eternal Logos’, and the second person of the Trinity.

I think Harrison sets up a false dilemma, placing a historical-critical reading (Harrison’s) in competition with a depth theological reading that Barth follows. These approaches don’t need to be seen as discordant, one with the other, but instead they can (and ought to) be understood as mutually implicating and complementing one of the other. Such that the historic-critical realities of Paul’s own textured thought are what lead us (by their own presupposed theological depth and context) to the kind of reading that someone like Barth or even John Calvin have offered in regard to Paul’s letter to the Romans (and elsewhere).

I originally wrote this post back in 2012, but I thought I would share it again. If you’re interested in reading further with reference to Barth’s thinking about the Logos asarkos and how his theology of the pre-temporal Christ functions in his theological exegesis, then check out what he has to say in CD IV/1.

 

[1] Everett F. Harrison,“Romans,” in 10 Expositors’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, edited by Frank E. Gæbelein, p. 63.

 

On a Christ Concentrated Theology: Its Historical Development from Calvin, to the Federal Theologians, to the Marrow Men, to Barth and Torrance

Evangelical Calvinism is really a bubbling over of a variety of impetuses from within the history of Reformed theology. We look to the Scottish theology of Thomas Torrance, and the antecedent theology he looks to in the theology of John Calvin and also in the Scottish Kirk from yesteryear. We of course also look to the Swiss theology of Karl Barth towards offering a way forward in constructive ways in regard to where some of the historical antecedents trail off (primarily because they didn’t have the necessary formal and material theological resources available to them to finally make the turn that needed to be made in regard to a doctrine of election and other things).

In an attempt to identify this kind of movement, that has led to where we currently stand as Evangelical Calvinists, let me share from Charles Bell’s doctoral work on the Scottish theology that Torrance himself looked to in his own development as an evangelical Calvinist. Bell has been doing genealogical work with reference to various Scottish theologians, and also with reference to John Calvin, in his book. We meet up with Bell just as he is summarizing the development he has done on what is called the Marrow theology. This was theology that was developed in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by a group of twelve men; they sought to offer critique of the legalistic strain they discerned in the mainstream of Federal or Covenantal theology of their day, and hoped to place a priority of grace over law (which they believed their colleagues, the Federal theologians, had inverted thus providing for a legal faith) in regard to the covenantal system of theology. What Bell highlights though, is that while they discerned and even felt the pastoral problems provided by Federal theology, they themselves still did not have the wherewithal to remove themselves from that system; and so they suffered from a serious tension and irresolvable conflict in regard to the correction they saw needing to be made, and the way to actually accomplish that correction. Bell writes:

Boston and Erskine can only be fully appreciated against the background of 17th century Federal theology and the Marrow controversy. The Black Act of 1720 threatened the very heart of Reformed teaching concerning the nature of God’s grace. See in this context, it becomes highly significant that Boston and Erskine contend for the universal offer of Christ in the gospel, for such an offer is necessary to provide a basis for assurance. Not only do the Marrow men’s contemporary Federalists deny this universal offer, but they also deny that a basis for the assurance of faith is necessary since, according to them, assurance is not of the essence of faith. In light of the legalism which pervaded the Scottish scene, it is highly significant that men, who were themselves Federalists, detected this legalism and contended against it for the unconditional freeness of God’s grace. This they did by rejecting the covenant of redemption and insisting that there is but one covenant of grace, made for us by God in Christ. It is, therefore, a unilateral covenant which is not dependant or conditional upon our acts of faith, repentance, or obedience.

The Marrow men adhered to such doctrine precisely because they believed them to be both biblical and Reformed truths. Yet, because these men were Federal theologians, they were never able finally to break free of the problems engendered by the Federal theology. The Federal doctrines of two covenants, double predestination, and limited atonement undermined much of their teaching. So, for instance, the concept of a covenant of works obliged them to the priority of law over grace, and to a division between the spheres of nature and redemption. The doctrine of limited atonement removed the possibility of a universal offer of Christ in the gospel, and also removed the basis for assurance of salvation. Ultimately such teaching undermines one’s doctrine of God, causing us to doubt his love and veracity as revealed in the person and work of Christ. The Marrow controversy brought these problems to a head, but unfortunately failed to settle them in a satisfactory and lasting way. However, the stage is now set for the appearance of McLeod Campbell, who, like the Marrow men, saw the problems created by Federal Calvinism, but was able to break free from the Federal system, and therefore, to deal more effectively with the problems.[1]

What I like about Bell’s assessment is his identification of a distinction in and among the Federal theologians themselves; the Marrow men represent how this distinction looked during this period of time. And yet as Bell details even these men were not able to finally overcome the restraints offered by the Federal system of theology; it wasn’t until John McLeod Campbell comes along in the 18th century where what the Marrow men were hoping to accomplish was inchoate[ly] accomplished by his work—but he paid a high price, he was considered a heretic by the standards of the mainstream Federal theologians (we’ll have to detail his theology later).

What I have come to realize is that while we can find promising streams, and even certain moods in the history, we will never be able to overcome the failings that such theologies (like the Federal system) offered because they were, in and of themselves, in self-referential ways, flawed. As much as I appreciate John Calvin’s theology I have to critique him along the same lines as Bell critiques the Marrow men here, even while being very appreciative for the nobility of their work given their historical situation and context. This is why, personally, I am so appreciative of Karl Barth (and Thomas Torrance); Barth recognized the real problem plaguing all of these past iterations of Reformed theology, it had to do with their doctrine of God qua election. It is something Barth notes with insight as he offers critique of Calvin, in regard to his double predestination and the problem of assurance that this poses (and this critique equally includes all subsequent developments of classical understanding of double predestination):

How can we have assurance in respect of our own election except by the Word of God? And how can even the Word of God give us assurance on this point if this Word, if this Jesus Christ, is not really the electing God, not the election itself, not our election, but only an elected means whereby the electing God—electing elsewhere and in some other way—executes that which he has decreed concerning those whom He has—elsewhere and in some other way—elected? The fact that Calvin in particular not only did not answer but did not even perceive this question is the decisive objection which we have to bring against his whole doctrine of predestination. The electing God of Calvin is a Deus nudus absconditus.[2]

This was the problem the Marrow men needed to address; it is the problem that McLeod Campbell attempted to address with the resources he had available to him; and yet, I conclude that it was only Barth who was finally successful in making the turn towards a radically Christ concentrated doctrine of double predestination and election. With Barth’s revolutionary move here he washed away all the sins of the past in regard to the problems presented by being slavishly tied to classical double predestination and the metaphysics that supported that rubric.

Concluding Thought

This is why I am so against what is going on in conservative evangelical theology today (again, think of the ubiquitous impact and work The Gospel Coalition is having at the church level). The attempt is being made to retrieve and repristinate the Reformed past as that developed in the 16th and 17th centuries in particular; and the retrieval isn’t even of the Marrow men, it is of the theology that the Marrow men, as Federal theologians themselves, understood had fatal problems in regard to a doctrine of God and everything else subsequent. My question is: Why in the world would anybody want to resurrect such a system of theology? There is no theological vitality there; it can only set people up to repeat the history of the past, in regard to the type of Christian spirituality it offered. Indeed, a spirituality that caused people to be overly introspective, and focused on their relationship with God in voluntarist (i.e. intellectualist) and law-like ways (because of the emphasis of law over grace precisely because of the covenant of works as the preamble and definitive framework for the covenant of grace/redemption). People might mean well, but as far as I am concerned they are more concerned with retrieving a romantic idea about a period of history in Protestant theological development—an idea that for some reason they have imbued with sacrosanct sentimentality—rather than being concerned with actual and material theological conclusions. For my money it does not matter what period of church history we retain our theological categories from; my concern is that we find theological grammars and categories that best reflect and bear witness to the Gospel reality itself. Federal theology does not do that!

 

[1] M. Charles Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance (Edinburgh: The Handsel Press, 1985), 168.

[2] Karl Barth, CD II/2:111. For further development of this critique, with particular reference to John Calvin, see my personal chapter, “Assurance is of the Essence of Saving Faith: Calvin, Barth, Torrance, and the “Faith of Christ,” in Myk Habets and Bobby Grow eds., Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 2: Dogmatics&Devotion (Eugene: OR, Pickwick Publications, 2017), 30-57.

The Atonement of God in Christ: Covenant Theology, Penal Substitution, Ontology Atonement, Brian Zahnd, and Life Everlasting

Here at The Evangelical Calvinist we like to emphasize God’s grace, ‘all the way down’ as it were. We see this a necessary course correction given the imbalance that has been present, in particular,  in the Western enclave of the church;  since at least the mediaeval period, and working its way through Reformation and Post Reformation Western Europe and finally to the shores of the Americas (North to be specific). I am sure, intelligent reader that you are, you know what I’m referring to; i.e. the impact, on the Protestant side (which is simply my focus here, we could also bring up the Roman Catholic roots of the Protestant past and present), that Post Reformed orthodox theology has had upon the development of what counts today as conservative evangelical theology (think, as a type The Gospel Coalition and the theology it distills for evangelical churches and pastors throughout the United States and beyond). We necessarily have been bequeathed a ‘legal’ faith which flows organically from the Covenant or Federal theology developed by the scholastics reformed in the 16th and 17th centuries. In other words, because of the ‘Covenantal’ framework defined by its two primary covenants, the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, Covenant theology starts its way into a God/world, God/humanity discussion from a soteriological perspective that is grounded in a relationship that is contingent upon a ‘mercantile’ or contractual understanding. And so what gets emphasized in this theology is a God who relates in a kind of “bilateral” way wherein he makes a pact (‘pactum’) with the elect where they will ostensibly live up to their end of God’s bargain by actuating the effectual faith they have been given, by God, in order to stay in good stead with God; a God who has made sure that all the ‘legal requirements’ of the broken covenant of works have been met by his sending of the Son, in Christ, fulfilling the righteous requirements of the covenant of works (i.e. the ‘law’), and thus instigating or establishing God’s covenant of grace. What happens here though is not an abandonment of a legal strain in God’s relationship between himself and humanity instead there is a reinforcement of that type of relationship; albeit it is now contingent upon Christ’s active obedience for the elect rather than on human beings without that type of grace. We could say more, but hopefully the gist has been felt.

Laudably people like Brian Zahnd have been trying to come up against this type of ‘legally strained’ theology in an attempt to emphasize God’s grace and compassion apart from the forensics of it all. Unfortunately, as is often typical when we react, some things get lost in translation. In Zahnd et al. we almost end up with a type of antinomianism wherein the ‘legal’ aspects of Scripture’s teaching (now in contrast to the Covenantal framework) are completely vanquished from the picture; I don’t think this ought to be so. That said, we want to emphasize that God is gracious, and that his relationship to humanity is based upon His creative and first Word of grace; since this is what he has revealed to be the case in his Self exegesis in Jesus Christ. Karl Barth, of all people (can you believe it?!), offers an alternative and more balanced account (juxtaposed with Zahnd’s) when it comes to thinking about God’s relationship to humanity; when it comes to thinking about how God can still be thought of as someone who still has wrath and anger towards sin; and how that gets fleshed out in a radically Christ concentrated atonement theology. George Hunsinger helps us think about this in Barth’s theology, and he alerts us, along the way, to Barth’s own words on this:

2 The saving significance of Christ’s death cannot be adequately understood, Barth proposes, if legal or juridical considerations are allowed to take precedence over those that are more merciful or compassionate. Although God’s grace never occurs without judgment, nor God’s judgment without grace, in Jesus Christ it is always God’s grace, Barth believes, that is decisive. Therefore, although the traditional themes of punishment and penalty are not eliminated from Barth’s discourse about Christ’s death, they are displaced from being central or predominant.

The decisive thing is not that he has suffered what we ought to have suffered so that we do not have to suffer it, the destruction to which we have fallen victim by our guilt, and therefore the punishment which we deserve. This is true, of course. But it is true only as it derives from the decisive thing that in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ it has come to pass that in his own person he has made an end of us sinners and therefore of sin itself by going to death as the one who took our place as sinners. In his person he has delivered up us sinners and sin itself to destruction. (IV/1, p. 253)

The uncompromising judgment of God is seen in the suffering love of the cross. Because this judgment is uncompromising, the sinner is delivered up to the death and destruction which sin inevitably deserves. Yet because this judgment is carried out in the person of Jesus Christ, very God and very man, it is borne only to be removed and borne away. “In the deliverance of sinful man and sin itself to destruction, which he accomplished when he suffered our punishment, he has on the other side blocked the source of our destruction” (IV/1, p. 254). By taking our place as sinners before God, “he has seen to it that we do not have to suffer what we ought to suffer; he has removed the accusation and condemnation and perdition which had passed upon us; he has canceled their relevance to us; he has saved us from destruction and rescued us from eternal death” (IV/1, p. 254). The cross reveals an abyss of sin allowed up by the suffering of divine love.[1]

There’s something rather profound about this; we can still speak of God’s unrelenting judgment, it’s just that it is redirected in such a way that the focus comes to be on his desire to actually save us from our own self-destruction by giving us his own Self-vitality and eternal life in and through his Self-offering in Christ. The frame is one of eternal life and death; it is no longer about God meeting some sort of Self-imposed legal conditions so that he can have a relationship with his creatures.

I find this to be a much more winsome way, much more biblically and Christ-centered way to think about a God-world relation versus the one offered by Covenant theology and its covenantal schema of works/grace. In Barth’s alternative what’s at stake is not Penal Substitutionary atonement, but instead what Torrance calls an ‘ontological theory of the atonement.’ That is, the idea that reconciliation with God, i.e. salvation, is about pressing deep into the inner reaches of humanity’s real problem in relation to God; its problem with sin, and how that has plunged humanity into sub-humanity and living in a life of non-life and das Nichtige ‘nothingness.’ We see here in Barth, as we do so often with Thomas Torrance, the influence of St. Athanasius, and even an ‘Eastern’ understanding of what salvation entails in its most Christological senses.

God is still all about judging sin; he’s still wrathful and angry about sin; he still is all about righting the wrongs, and making the crooked straight; it’s just that, contra what I would contend is an artificial way to think about the Bible and God’s relation to the world in the Federal schema, the real issue is highlighted. The real problem with humanity’s plight is elevated to the level it should be at when we think about God and salvation; viz. what it means to be human before God. All of that is dealt with by Jesus, according to Barth [and Torrance] when God freely elects to become human in Christ for us, for the world.

I realize that those who are committed to Federal or classic Covenantal theology won’t have their minds changed by this; although they should. But I hope that for those of you with an open mind that this makes sense; that what God in Christ did, and is doing is not framed by a type of legalism (as it is in Federal theology – just go read some books on its history and development), but instead is framed by God’s gracious gift of eternal life for the world in himself, in Jesus Christ. And that because of this, because of who he is in this way for us, he graciously steps into our situation, and as the Judge becomes the judged. Has he met some  sort of ad hoc legal conditions in this process; is that what he was ultimately about in reconciling the world to himself? Nein. Instead, he ‘elevated’ or exalted us to his position, by the grace of his life in the vicarious humanity of Christ, and recreated anew humanity in Jesus Christ. This is what salvation, and atonement was about; and it is out of this new eschatos humanity, Christ’s, where we participate daily in the triune life of God. This is the great salvation Paul tells Titus to be looking for; it is the one that was won in the incarnation and atonement of God in Christ.

 

[1] George Hunsinger,Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2000), 142-43.

If God’s Grace in Christ is not Disruptive and Disorenting it Just is not God’s Grace

Often, in the West, particularly because of Thomas Aquinas’s lasting influence, mediated as it is through the structures of Post Reformed orthodoxy, making its way into evangelical theologies, we think of God’s grace as a quality or thing that comes alongside of ‘nature’ and perfects it; as if nature, after the Fall, was simply plunged into a deficiency only needing to be restored or healed to
where it once was. But this is not the biblical concept of grace. The biblical concept of grace is captured much better in the construal we see in Karl Barth’s theology. The biblical concept of grace is ‘disruptive;’ it recreates rather than restores; it is discontinuous from the old to the new in such a way that one might think of it as an apocalyptic reality. George Hunsinger wonderfully and succinctly describes it this way as he works his way into a treatment of a doctrine of grace in the theology of Karl Barth. He writes:

Grace that is not disruptive is not grace — a point that Flannery O’Connor well grasped alongside Karl Barth, strictly speaking, does not mean continuity but radical discontinuity, not reform but revolution, not violence but non-violence, not the perfecting of virtues but the forgiveness of sins, not improvement but resurrection from the dead. It means repentance, judgment, and death as the portal to life. It means negation and the negation of the negation. The grace of God really comes to lost sinners, but in coming it disrupts them to the core. It slays to make alive and sets the captive free. Grace may of course work silently and secretly like a germinating seed as well as like a bolt from the blue. It is always wholly as incalculable as it is reliable, unmerited, and full of blessing. Yet it is necessarily as unsettling as it is comforting. It does not finally teach of its own sufficiency without appointing a thorn in the flesh. Grace is disruptive because God does not compromise with sin, nor ignore it, nor call it good. On the contrary, God removes it by submitting to the cross to show that love is stronger than death. Those whom God loves may be drawn to God through their suffering and be privileged to share in his sufferings in the world, because grace in its radical disruption surpasses all that we imagine or think.[1]

I am not really sure most Christians think of grace in such radical ways. And if people think of it in technical or “academic” ways it is usually as I suggested in the preface of this post. But what Hunsinger describes, in my reading of Scripture, and then thinking through the inner-logic that supplies Scripture with its theo-logic as it terminates in its reality, Jesus Christ, is one of the best accounts and succinct descriptions of God’s grace in Christ I have probably ever encountered.

If we can’t get a hold of the radical nature of what God’s grace in Christ entails then I fear that we will never really or fully live into the Christian life that we have in God in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Grace is just as much a foreign reality to this world system, just as disruptive, as is the Incarnation of God in Christ is in itself. There are no analogies available for it in the world; how could there be? It so disrupts and re-pivots the axis of the created order that it’s nothing short of recreation in the resurrection of God in the humanity of Christ.

We Christians are considered fools not because we are idiosyncratic social weirdoes, although some of us may be; we are considered fools because we bear witness to a reality that is not of this world, and yet has broken into the inner structure of this world in such a way that indeed it is this world’s actual reality. But this sounds like rubbish to a world who still tries to live from the rot of their own self-possessed (or so they think) lives.

The Grace and Peace of Christ be with you.

[1] George Hunsinger, Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 16-7.