The Absence of God and the Rejection of the Self-Projected God: A Word to the Atheists and Theologians Alike

I happen to believe this. So, what do I happen to believe, you ask? That atheists, when they say they reject God, aren’t rejecting the living God because they can’t without first knowing God; and they can’t first know the living and real God without the Spirit; and if they had the Spirit they would be a Christian; but since they don’t have the Spirit they aren’t Christians; and thus have no capacity to reject the real God. They instead only have the capacity to reject a god who is really just a projection of themselves; no matter how many Christians they are surrounded by. Even if they can intellectually “know” about the God Christians claim to know, they themselves cannot make this claim since the Spirit is required to know this God; to have eyes to see and ears to hear His voice. Since they are not this capacious, they may well be atheists; but they are atheists only insofar that they are rejecting the gods that the philosophers and they themselves have projected. If my premise seems tautologous, it is; but only insofar as God is the beginning and end of the circle. Barth agrees with me when he writes:

The God whose existence or manifestness they doubt or deny is not God at all. And so too His absence, as they think they should assert it, is not God’s absence at all. In order to be aware of God’s absence they would first of all have to know God and therefore God’s revelation. All general intellectual difficulties and impossibilities respecting knowledge of so-called supernatural things assert nothing at all in face of the negation of all other knowability of God which is achieved by God’s revelation itself. God does not belong to those supernatural things which may be believed and asserted to-day, doubted and denied to-morrow. And so, the difficulties and impossibilities respecting knowledge of these things, which the sceptic and atheist fancy they should take so very seriously, have nothing whatever to do with the hiddenness of God for man or man’s blindness for God. The seriousness of the fact that God is not free for us, not to be possessed, first begins with the revelation which delimits this fact, yet also illumines and confirms it in its factuality.[1]

This has tacit relationship to Anselm’s fides quarens intellectum (‘faith seeking understanding’), but is also a bit distinct. Barth’s point here is more publically critical than that. It is more in line with Ludwig Feuerbach’s critique of cultural religionists who worship a god of their own self-projection; it is a constructively critical appropriation of that line of thought.

This has impact on a variety of things, one of which is the way we as Christians engage with non-Christians. As an evangelist it makes me think I shouldn’t be in the business of proving God’s existence to atheists or agnostics, but instead simply proclaiming the Gospel to them which is the power of God. Indeed, this sort of anti-natural-theological/law thinking kicks against the North American evangelical sub-culture in some stinging ways. But then, on the positive side, in the same sub-culture there is this sort of emphasis on simply proclaiming the Gospel to whoever will hear, and allow the seed to fall where it will.

Barth’s critique does indeed have implication towards the way the Christian theologian does their theologizing; no doubt. It is a matter of where the theologian starts their theologizing. Thomas Torrance and Barth were of a piece when it comes to this, even if the way they emphasized certain things made them sound a little different one from another when it comes to a natural theology. Nonetheless, they both are theologians of the analogia fidei or analogy of faith tradition; the tradition that grounds knowledge of God in God Revealed and then given to and for us in the vicarious humanity of Christ in and through the faith of Christ which is the basis for our knowledge of God. We can also pick up entailments of Calvin’s ‘faith as knowledge of God’ in both Barth and Torrance in this instance. These are important things that continue to run over the heads of many theologians in the current evangelical climate. They simply go on their merry-way, and act as if such things really don’t matter; they continue to engage in a textus receptus way of theology, wherein they simply see themselves as inheritors of a by-gone Protestant theology that represents, for them, the only genuine way to be an orthodox, conservative, evangelical theologian. But they are wrong. And more significantly, what is of ultimate import, beyond figuring out if we are in line with an ad hoc conception of who the orthodox are or aren’t, is to simply be focused on doing theology that is most proximate to the Gospel reality itself. In other words, who cares, ultimately, what the genetics are; the Gospel itself is the only genealogy that really matters.

Anyway, atheists, theologians, and all of us ought to be wary of thinking we can have a genuine knowledge of God apart from the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We ought to start everything from that point or not start at all.


[1] Barth, CD I/1 §13, 28.

Our ‘Lost Time’ in the ‘New Time’ of the Saga of Jesus Christ: How Saga Functions in Barth’s Usage

Barth is often depicted as a liberal or “neoorthodox” theologian who repudiates the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, which alone anathematizes him for the evangelical. Barth is often presented as an enemy to conservative orthodox Christianity, with his neo-Kantian, reified Hegelianism ripping to shreds any hope of giving the evangelical churches anything wholesome and genuinely biblical to cogitate upon. Barth, in many sectors of the evangelical and Reformed churches, is considered as enemy of the state to the health and well-being of historically orthodox Christianity. Barth is often demonized, caricaturized, and flambéed just at the point that someone moves their lips into position to pronounce his name.

But what I want people to understand is that Barth is none of these negatives I just noted. When you actually spend time with him and his theology the reader will quickly realize that the fears I’ve been listing are unwarranted and have almost no teeth to them whatsoever; save Barth’s repudiation of inerrancy (which his reasons for repudiating this “doctrine” isn’t the same reason the “Liberals” do, but instead based upon his theory of revelation, which I would argue is more attuned and evangelical than inerrancy as a doctrine allows for in regard to a doctrine of Holy Scripture). In line with this desire to show that Barth isn’t the anti-Christ that so many fear, I wanted to share a snippet from him on the way he thinks about Scripture, and how what he calls saga actually fits better with the evangelical desire to see Christ magnified and prime over all our considerations as thoughtful Christians. I want people to come to the realization that Barth offers a genuinely Protestant way to be Protestant without succumbing to what I consider the trojan horse of Catholicity (big “C”), as that continues to make in-roads into the evangelical theologies being recovered today.

As we pick up with Barth, the context we meet him in is on his theory of time/eternity and God. As I alluded to above, he gets into his thinking on saga (v myth think Bultmann), and how that relates to historical personages and events as deposited in the salvation-history we canvas throughout the pages of the both the Old and New Testaments. I will close with a parting word, after the quote, and leave a link to another post I once wrote on this same topic vis-à-vis Barth. Barth writes:

At this point we recall once more the extraordinary significance of chronology in the Old and New Testaments. The whole of the patriarchal ages in Genesis, the rise of the prophets, the various historical co-ordinates of the place of Jesus Christ at the beginning of the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke are presented with a rare exactitude. In this, use may have been made of antiquated Oriental number-symbolics or number-mysticisms, whereby arithmetical error, whimsies and impossibilities may have crept in. But the wonderful thing to be noted here in the Bible Is not the correctness or incorrectness in content of the temporal figures, but their thoroughgoing importance as time data, which is but underlined by incidental number-mysticism and other liberties. There is not a suggestion that revelation and its attestation might have been localised just as well elsewhere or anywhere in historical space. How important it was for the early Church, too, to be able to date the incarnation of the Word, is shown by the passus sub Pontio Pilato [suffered under Pontius Pilate], already in the oldest forms of confession. Revelation is thus and not otherwise localised. In the event of Jesus Christ, as in the various events in anticipation and recollection, it is as genuinely temporal and therefore as temporally determined and limited as any other real events in this space of ours. It is also—think for a moment of the story of creation—described temporally real, where according to the measurements of modern history this description can only be “saga” or “legend.” The Bible also says the same where it transmits parables in the Old and New Testaments. Myths, on the contrary, i.e., narrative expositions of general spiritual or natural truths, narratives which although savouring perhaps of saga do not claim to be narratives, but are to be understood only when stripped of their narrative character, so that the eternal core is liberated from the temporal shell—myths do no occur in the Bible, although mythical material may often be employed in its language (Church Dogmatics I, 1, 373 f.). The dialogue between God and Satan at the beginning of the book of Job “took place on a day” (1.6) corresponding to the day on which subsequently the earthly misfortune burst upon Job. Also Job’s question of God (10.4): “Hast thou eyes of flesh, or seest thou as man seeth? Are they days as the days of men, or they years as man’s years?”, is in the sense of the text certainly not to be answered with a simple negative. In view of the time concept we must not try to avoid the way of Holy Scripture’s “privileged anthropomorphism” (J. G. Hamann, Schriften, ed. F. Roth, vol. 4, 9). Year, day, hour—these are concepts which cannot possibly be separated from the biblical witness to God’s revelation, which in the exposition of it cannot be treated as trifles, if we are not to turn it into a quite different witness to a quite different revelation.

Having said that, we must, of course, go on to say that the time we mean when we say Jesus Christ is not to be confused with any other time. Just as man’s existence became something new and different altogether, because God’s Son assumed it and took it over into unity with his God-existence, just as by the eternal Word becoming flesh the flesh could not repeat Adam’s sin, so time, by becoming the time of Jesus Christ, although it belonged to our time, the lost time, became a different, a new time.[1]

Let the emboldened section serve as commentary on the un-emboldened section. That section lets us understand, better, what Barth is on about. When he refers to saga, he is referring to a real-life historical event as recorded in the biblical witness, and to real-life historical personages; but he is wanting us to read that from the frame of the ‘new-time’ that Christ is for us. In other words, it is saga precisely at the point that historicism and the form criticism of his day could not actually access the “history” of Holy Scripture precisely because such history is only modulated and refracted as it is seen in the Light of the risen Christ. We see here, in Barth, an emphasis on ‘eschatological-time’ breaking in and throughout the witness and canonical formation of the scriptural witness; through its narration of various events and people in those events as they find teleological (purposeful) concreteness in the flesh and blood reality and event of God’s life for the world gifted to it in Jesus Christ.

Saga was the only category, in this context, he could see working to depict the history-delimiting reality that God’s life serves for the creaturely world as its inner and forward grounded reality. As is typical for Barth, his deployment of saga is a reification of that term from its normal usage in literary theory/studies. Nevertheless, it functions in a similar manner; in the sense that the history of God in Christ for the world appears to the profane eyes as just that: legend or saga. But of course, for Barth, this is only because Christ’s reality has not been received by the eyes of faith, but rather the mind of unbelief. Even so, for Barth, saga certainly operates with the general literary characteristics of its normal usage, yet it is reified insofar as what ironically appears as a normal saga, on the superficial, ends up being a saga of epigrammatic portions; the likes of which only those in union with Christ can come to see as greater than the sagas of fictional story or legend. Yet again, saga, for Barth is embedded in a greater theological web of revelation, election, and covenant that puts him onto such a word to help him explicate what he is really trying to say in contrast to many others of his time; others, who indeed, ended up reading Jesus as myth, based upon other optics such as existential encounter provides for the individual knower—albeit cut off from the concreteness of the Christ event and tethered only by the floating brains of those seeking an encounter unencumbered by the solidity of an accessible history. Barth’s usage and appeal to saga is a subversive exercise shaped by his own location and theological formation. Nonetheless, in my view, it has wonderful trajectory as it supplies the evangelical with a way to view the history recounted in Holy Scripture through the reality of Jesus Christ (a real history pre-determined by God’s supralapsarian election to be for the world rather than against it Jn. 3.16).

Here is a link to another post that I once wrote on this topic: Click Here


[1] Karl Barth, CD I/2 §14, 52. The first long section is Barth’s ‘small print’ and the emboldened section is a regular sized font section.

How the Inscrutable unReality of Darkness Keeps Barth and the Athanasian Reformed from Incoherence and a Dogmatic Christian Universalism

I want to talk about God’s shadow side. The rip against Thomas Torrance, Karl Barth and the Athanasian Reformed is that their respective doctrine of election leads to some form of Christian universalism (some are okay with that). But in fact, it doesn’t. People like Keven Vanhoozer, Robert Letham, Roger Olson et al. have critiqued Torrance, Barth, and Evangelical Calvinists, like myself, with reference to what they take to be our theological Achilles heel. Because they think from within an Aristotelian or Stoic theory of causation in a God-world relation, they cannot imagine how the Evangelical Calvinist, after Barth, Torrance et al. can escape the conclusion of a dogmatic Christian universalism, or to a total incoherence in our respective proposal. Their problem revolves around the Athanasian Reformed’s understanding of a universal atonement. Because of their a priori commitment to said theory of causation (as already noted), in their minds, if Jesus died for all, as archetypal humanity, then all humanity eo ipso must be justified, saved before God. This is why they can only affirm particular redemption or limited atonement; it is because of their respective theory of causation. God, like the originating spoke in the wheel of salvation is necessarily committed to that particular wheel. He cannot be related to other wheels, but only the wheel He has first chosen to be a spoke in; that is, in the one particular wheel that makes the vehicle of salvation turn (not to mention what God is). God becomes enslaved to a certain type of authority as conceived of by Aristotle vis-à-vis His relation to the created order. In order, for this type of authority to be effectual what He decrees must obtain; otherwise, as the story goes, His creation can thwart His power, by undercutting His choice to redeem. So, to ensure this thwarting cannot happen, the absolute decree (decretum absolutum) says that God will save this s-elect group of people, who He has arbitrarily chosen based upon His remote and hidden will; and there is nothing the created order can do to undercut His authority in this program of salvation. But again, remember this all stems from a theory of Divine authority that has first been concocted by some sort of profane discovery the philosophers have made about divinity, without ever being confronted with that Divinity in the face of Jesus Christ.

If the above theory of authority (sovereignty) is repudiated, that is, the one constructed by the profane philosophers, based upon speculative means, then the whole double jeopardy such theologians fear, as they think from their theory of salvation, no longer exists. This is what Karl Barth et al. do; they elide this dilemma by thinking God as God has first thought and spoken Himself for us in the face of Jesus Christ. When the theologian is committed to the idea that theology can only be done after Deus dixit (‘God has spoken’) then they are freed up to think revelationally about the ways of God in the economy of salvation, and all else. Barth’s reformulation of a Reformed doctrine of election offers just this type of salve. He sees reprobation as part of the realm of darkness; in other words, as part of the non-elect ‘shadow side’ only observed because of God’s Light. So, for Barth, there isn’t a viable explanation for explaining the inscrutable reality of darkness (as a metaphor for evil and sin). In other words, the theologian cannot know what God has not revealed; indeed “the secret things belong to God, but the things revealed belong to us” (Deut. 29:29). Under such conditions we can know why those who get saved, get saved; it is because God has pre-destined Himself for us, in order that they might be saved according to His gracious will of election for us in the elect humanity of Jesus Christ. And this is precisely the point at which people like Vanhoozer et al. claim some type of incoherence in the doctrine of election/reprobation in the theology of Barth et al. They for some reason haven’t accepted the fact that Barth et al. are attempting to think from the interior rationality  of the Gospel implications itself, rather than from a speculative and discursive understanding of how divine causality ostensibly is supposed to work.

Let’s hear from Barth in his own words as he comments on Genesis 1:

. . . The one confronts the other; light darkness, and darkness light. Nor is there any question here of symmetry or equilibrium between the two. They confront one another in such a way that God separates the light, which He acknowledges to be good, from the darkness. “In darkness and night remnants of that primal state intrude into the ordered world” (Zimmerli). The reference can be only to the darkness mentioned in v. 2 as the predicate of chaos, for otherwise it would mean that darkness was also created by God and found good in its own way. Since this is not the case, it is obvious that the antithesis to light, and therefore to the good creation of God, is chaos. And it belongs necessarily and integrally to the creation which begins with the creation of light that God rejects chaos, that He has for it no creative will or act or grace, but has these for light and light alone. Commencing in this way, creation is also a clear revelation of His will and way. Whatever may become a reality from and for chaos, by the commencement of the divine creation it is separated as darkness from light, as that which God did not will from that which He did, as the sphere of non-grace from that of His grace. Only from the majesty and supreme lordship of God is it not separated. Since darkness cannot offer any resistance to the emergence of light; since it has to acquiesce in the fact that light is separated from it; since it is later given a name as well as enough that it is not exempt from the sway of God, but has to serve Him in its own way, so that there can be no question of an absolute dualism. Here, then, and at root in the processes depicted in v. 6 f. and v. 9 f., to “divide” does not mean only to “distinguish” and “separate” but to “create order.” At the same time it is to set up an impassible barrier. Whatever else may take place between light and darkness, light will never be darkness and darkness will never be light. It is also to establish an inviolable hierarchy. However small and weak it may be, light will always be the power which banishes darkness; and however great and mighty it may be, darkness will always be the impotence which yields before light. It is light that is. Of darkness it can be said only that, as long as light is, it is also, but separated from it, marked and condemned by it as darkness, in opposition to it, as its antithesis, and at the same time serving light as its background. Darkness has no reality in itself; it is a by-product. It would like to be something in itself. Again and again it claims to be this. But it cannot make good its claim. It necessarily serves that which it tries to oppose. It is obviously in view of the place and role assigned to them in the hierarchy of creation that the existence of light and darkness are described in Job 38.19 as the secret of God, and that Is. 45.7 can and must say of darkness that God has “created” it. In this striking application of the verb bara’ there is revealed the reverse side, the negative power, of the divine activity, which we cannot, of course, deny to the divine will. The best analogy to the relationship between light and darkness is that which exists between the elect and the rejected in the history of the Bible: between Jacob and Esau; between David and Saul; between Judas and the other apostles. But even this analogy is improper and defective. For even the rejected, even Satan and the demons, are the creation of God—not, of course, in their corruption, but in the true and original essence which has been corrupted. But darkness and the chaos which it represents are not the creation of God any more than the corruption of the corrupt and the sin of the rejected. Thus a true and strict analogy to the relationship between light and darkness is to be found only in the relationship between the divine election and rejection, in the eternal Yes and No spoken by God Himself when, instead of remaining in and by Himself, He marches on to the opus ad extra [work outside of God] of His free love. When God fulfils what we recognise in Jesus Christ to be His original and basic will, the beginning of all His ways and works in Himself, He also accomplishes this separation, draws the boundary and inaugurates this hierarchy. This is what is attested by the story of creation in its account of the work of the first three days, and particularly in its account of the work of the first day.[1]

Barth’s theology, et alia after Barth, is slavishly kataphatic in orientation. In other words, like many of the Patristics, his theology focuses on the economy of God, and what God has freely chosen to reveal about Himself and His ways. What Barth develops from this, as it pertains to election/reprobation, is that only what God creates is indeed elect. In an asymmetrical relationship to this, that which is not created remains in the realm of the reprobate and inscrutable. In the incarnation, the Son does the impossible: the Son assumes the nothingness of the darkness, which humanity itself had been plunged into in rupture with God’s goodness, by assuming flesh (assumptio carnis), and dissolves the nothingness of nothingness, banishing it into outer darkness in the shadow of His resurrection Light. Even with its banishment the realm of nothingness, or hell, remains; but only in inscrutable ways, since the conditions for all to be ‘saved,’ to experience God’s election for them in the humanity of Jesus Christ, has already been actualized in the only real humanity around—which is Christ’s resurrected and ascended humanity.

When Vanhoozer et al. want to claim that Barth, and those following him, are incoherent if they don’t accept a Christian universalism, err. They err because they are attempting to impose a procrustean bed of their own making on top of Barth’s et al. thinking when it comes to a doctrine of election and salvation. It is procrustean, as noted earlier, because Barth starts with a different theological ontology than they do. As a result, he, and those following, can boldly claim that Christ died for all, and at the same time reject a dogmatic Christian universalism; and then still be operating from within the rationality of the implications that the Gospel hisSelf presents through His Self-exegesis of God for the world (see Jn. 1:18; 3:16 etc.)

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §41 The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 121-22.

Against the Kingdom of the Heretics: Jesus is God, Theanthropos

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. -John 1.1

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. -Colossians 1.15-20

The deity of Jesus Christ is key. If He is not Deus incarnatus (‘God incarnate’) then He cannot be Deus revelatus (‘God revealed’). And if God be not revealed we are of all people most to be pitied. If God is salvation for us, then no matter what magnitude of sophistication is mustered, we must become little gods striving to save ourselves; we must somehow bridge the ditch between God’s holiness and our relative filthiness (before the Holy God). And yet such a task would require more than even an Übermensch (‘Superman’) could hope to muster. If God upholds all things by the Word of His power, if God is before all created things (as the Creator), then an attempt for humanity simpliciter to reach God on God’s terms would require that we become God ourselves. Of course, this is the original lie the Serpent fed Eve and Adam; i.e., that we could be as God. You can maybe better appreciate the need for God to be God for us if we have any hope of being with God, on His terms, in the beatific bliss that He has always already been in Himself.

Unfortunately, theologians such as Dale Tuggy, Steven Nemes et al. have imbibed the lie that Jesus is a creature; that Jesus is a subordinate to the singularity of God’s unitarian being as the actus purus. For such theologians Jesus is nothing more than an organon, an instrument, a demi-urge of Gnostic ilk. Jesus becomes a ladder, an exemplar, a bodhisattva, who shows the way to release into the eternal One through an attainment of special knowledge that Jesus has been suffused with. Of course, such thinking, such christological heresy has been engaged with rather decisively by the ecumenical church councils in the 4th and 5th centuries, respectively. Karl Barth picks up on the biblical and patrological thinking as he pens the following:

This is because it is already God’s Word as Creator. That according to His Word God wills to draw us to Himself, to reconcile us to Himself, and finally to redeem us (making a new heaven and a new earth and ourselves its inhabitants), is something which He has already promised in creating heaven and earth and ourselves by His Word. Revealing and speaking this Word to us, He tells us only that He will stand by the promise of His Word as Creator, and fulfill it. Luther’s exposition of all things were made through him (Jn. 1.3) has to be considered if we are fully to understand the inner scope of Gen. 1.3f: “In this way St. John indicates and proves forcefully that the Son of God who is here the image of the invisible God is not created or made. Before the world, all creatures and even angels were created, and before all things commenced, the Word or Speech, and that without it nothing was made that was made. This Word or Speech is from the creation of the world, over four thousand years before Christ was born and man made; yea, it was the bosom of the Father from all eternity. If this is the case, then the Word must be higher and greater than all created things, i.e., it must be God Himself, for apart from God the Creator everything was created—all creatures, angels, heaven, earth, man, and every living thing. But John says that when in the beginning God created all things, the Word was already and had its being. He does not say that God created the Word, or that the Word became, but that the Word was already. From this is follows that the Word was neither created nor made. It is not a creature, but all things were made by it, as is made clear in the passage, and therefore it must be God if the principle is established that the Word was before all creatures. It is a very lofty way of speaking of the divine nature and majesty of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to say that in His divine essence He is the Word of the eternal Father. There is, therefore, no doubt, and reason can conclude, that if the Word was from the beginning, before all things commenced to be, it follows the same Word is God. Reason can clearly distinguish that if anything exists and has its being before the world and the creation of all creatures, it must be God, for apart from the creature we can speak only of the Creator. All that exists is either the Creator Himself or else His creature—God or creation. But the Holy Spirit speaks through St. John and testifies: ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ and again: ‘All things were made through him,’ etc. The Word therefore cannot be counted among the creatures, but has its eternal being in the Godhead, and from this is follows invincibly and incontrovertibly that the same Word is God, as St. John also concludes” (Exposition of John, chs. 1—2, 1537-38, W.A. 46, 547, 29).[1]

It seems incredible that anyone who knows the history of biblical interpretation, or who knows Koine Greek, could arrive at any other conclusion that Jesus is God ensarkos. Sadly, once the person crosses that line they are no longer Protestant, post-Protestant, or biblically Christian; they are now in the kingdom of the cults, the kingdom of the heretics. And if the logic above was missed it is simply an elaboration, really, of Colossians 1.15-20. Jesus was and is always already before all created things. The Pauline theo-logic is crystal here: if the Son, who is the Christ, is before all created things, then eo ipso He is in fact the true God; He is a hypostases in the Monarxia (‘Godhead’).

As was noted: since Jesus is God for us, God in the flesh; God is revealed. And if God is revealed from within the frailties of human flesh in the incarnation this entails that God has deigned, has freely chosen to speak to us, for us, and with us by the Spirit. And if God has entered into the dust and dreg of these fallen human bodies in the particular human body of the Man from Nazareth, this means that we have hope. This means that we can genuinely experience peace with the living God because the living God has freely elected to be peace for, with, and in us through the mediatorial, priestly, and vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. It is because the Holy and living God has so stooped that the filthy and wretched fallen humanity can be exalted in the risen, ascended and exalted humanity of Jesus Christ. It is through God’s participation with us, in Jesus, the Theanthropos, that we can now truly participate with Him at His Right Hand where there are pleasures forevermore. This is the ‘peace to all men’ that the angelic host announced to the shepherds on that cold and dark night so long ago in the hills of the Galilee. This is the Evangel, the Good News, that Christ is risen; and in His divinized humanity and humanized divinity (without admixture between the two), as we say Yes and Amen from His Yessed and Amened life for us, it is in this doubly consubstantiating combine wherein we are saved. But only if Christ is indeed God for us; and indeed, He is. amen amen


[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §41 The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 115-16.

Barth’s Argument from Contingence: Creation’s Inner-Reality

In Barth’s Church Dogmatics III/1 we get into his doctrine of creation. As I was reading along, as is typical when reading Barth, I was struck with something he noted in regard to creation’s beginning; with reference to creation’s telos. Here he presents what sounds something like an argument from contingence, in regard to God’s Word as the inner ground and reality of the externally created order. Unlike the proof for God’s existence, like we often come across in philosophical or apologetic theologies—indeed, where an argument from contingence is used to argue for the universe’s non-contingent fund, namely, God—here Barth is arguing for our existence. He is emphasizing the fact that humanity, that the earth, that the universe has no-inner or independent telos; that outwith a loving Creator God who is Father of the Son, such humanity, and the rest of the creaturely order, simply reduces to annihilation, abyss, and futility of dread. Barth writes:

The creature is not self-existent. It has not assumed its nature and existence of itself or given it to itself. It did not come into being by itself. It does not consist by itself. It cannot sustain itself. It has to thank its creation and therefore its Creator for the fact that it came into being and is and will be. Nor does the creature exist for itself. It is not the creature itself but its Creator who exists and thinks and speaks and cares for the creature. The creature is no more its own goal and purpose that it is its own ground and beginning. There is no inherent reason for the creature’s existence and nature, no independent teleology of the creature introduced with its creation and made its own. Its destiny lies entirely in the purpose of its Creator as the One Who speaks and cares for it. The creature’s right and meaning and goal and purpose and dignity lie—only—in the fact that God as the Creator has turned toward it with His purpose. Any other attitude than that of God’s free acceptance of this turning towards it and therefore of this advocacy and care; any claim to a right inherent in its being and nature, to a meaning which has not first been received, to a goal which it  has fixed for itself, to a purpose which it has in and for itself, to a dignity independent of the free will of its Creator—all this is just as meaningless as the illusion that it came into being of itself, that it consists in itself and that it can sustain itself. By its very creation, and therefore its being as a creature, all such views are shown, like illusion, to be basically impossible, and thus disclosed as falsehoods.[1]

There is something inherent to human being, to creaturely reality that points away from itself, and to its ultimate ground in her Creator. As the Teacher writes, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Eccl. 3:11). Even so, knowledge of the Creator is not inherent to an abstract or naked humanity; it requires that He, the hidden God (Deus absconditus) become the revealed God (Deus revelatus), which is exactly who Jesus Christ is. It because He freely chose to create, first as He elected our humanity as His own in Jesus Christ, indeed as the Son is the imago Dei for us, that humanity comes to have knowledge of their telos. Without this ground of being and relationship the human squirms around as if a babe thrown to the side of a dusty road simply waiting for the inevitable end,

And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.

“And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. (Ez. 16:1-7)

And yet He passed by, He came and found us and has since elevated us to Himself in the exaltation of humanity in the vicarious and resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ. Creation itself groans under a futility waiting to be released at the revealing of the sons of God. We have been given the arrabon, the guarantee of the Holy Spirit as the deposit of Hope that God is for us in Christ. So, we groan with hope, with words unutterable, even as the Spirit within straightens them as words of an arrow that pierces the warm heart of the Son as He reposes in the bosom of the Father as our faithful and high priest. The operative word for the Christian is that we live with hope, because God is the God of Hope; and He never disappoints. Hold onto this purpose, even as God in Christ blows His life into us afresh anew by the Spirt who hovers over our hearts bringing new life from Christ’s new creation for us.

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §41 The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 93-4.

What is History According to Barth’s Theology?: On the Covenant of Grace

Theology ultimately should be a very concrete thing, at least for the Protestant Christian. We are people of the Word of God; we are people who have been radically brought into the life of God by a deep sense of the theology of God’s Word as that has confronted us in the face of a man from Nazareth. It is this Word-grounded reality upon which we, then, as Christians think a God-world / world-God relation; that is, through the analogy of the hypostatic union, of the Theanthropos Godman, Jesus Christ. And it is as we have come to know this reality by the Holy Spirit that we come to know what creation is for, what history is in fact; that its inner reality, as Barth so presciently articulates, is God’s covenant life of grace for the world in Jesus Christ. It is in this type of context that he pens the following words with reference to what in fact the entailments of ‘real history’ are:

To distinguish it from world history, national history, the history of civilisation and even Church history, the conservative theology of the 19th century called it the history of salvation. The expression is materially correct and important. In the sequence of these events—from creation to the dawn of the last time (our own) with the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—we have to do indeed with the provision and revelation of salvation, or, to be more precise, of man’s indispensable deliverance by his reconciliation with God as a presupposition of his eternal redemption and fulfillment. But this history of salvation is not just one history or element among others. It is not just a kind of red thread in the texture of all other history, of real history. Those who use the expression “history of salvation” must take good care that it is not transformed in their hands into the secular concept of “history of religion,” i.e., the history of the religious spirit, which as such can only be one history among many others in the context of history generally. The history of salvation is the history, the true history which encloses all other history and to which in some way all other history belongs to the extent that it reflects and illustrates the history of salvation; to the extent that it accompanies it with signs and intimations and imitations and examples and object-lessons. No other history can have any independent theme in relation to this history, let alone be a general and true history in the context of which the history of salvation can only be one among others. The covenant of grace is the theme of history. The history of salvation is the history.[1]

There critics of Barth who like to claim that his notion of Historie is in fact some sort of idealist trope, and thus a kind of “metaphysical” (ironically) Geschichte that stands behind and above historical history of the type we experience on a daily basis in the lived world. The passage above should provide greater context towards thinking about the way Barth thinks about all of history being circumscribed by God’s life in the covenant of grace; as such it is His life, His history for the world in Christ, in the concrete, that indeed is what illumines history in a way that has genuine and lasting meaning and hope.

If you would like to read on these matters further you can read an old blog post my friend wrote with reference to these things here.

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §41 The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 60.

Logos asarkos, Word without Flesh

Barth’s theology is often tagged as postmetaphysical in line with something like Kant’s, and more to the point, post-Kantian mediating theologians like Albrecht Ritschl, Wilhelm Hermann et al. But this is overwrought in the sense that Barth might be a trained modern theologian, nevertheless he is conditioned more by his reliance on the antique tradition found in the patristic past, and into the modern post reformed orthodox development of Protestant theology in Western Europe. Because of his influences we get a smattering, as Bruce McCormack might say, of a Barth who is both Orthodox and Modern.

In this post we will look at how Barth wants to think about the so-called Logos asarkos. This becomes controversial for some, in the sense that various “classical” theologians believe that Barth wants to negate the notion of a Logos asarkos (‘Word without flesh’). This might be problematic if in fact this was what Barth was attempting to do. But what must be factored in, for Barth, is that his theological prolegomenon is one that is, of course, Christ conditioned all the way down. As such, when he does theology, it is Christ alone, within the triune life, who determines his theological articulations and conclusions. When it comes to the Logos asarkos, even though Barth finds it necessarily abstract, his doctrine of election, as that is informed by the patristic an/ -enhypostasis, attempts to fill out this ‘Word of God without flesh’ in such a way that the Logos ensarkos (‘Word enfleshed’), as the ground and reality for all of creation, as its inner reality in the covenant of grace (i.e., God’s triune life for the world), becomes determinative of the anteriority of the Logos asarkos; but only as that is logically grounded in God’s free election to be incarnate (Deus incarnandus) for the world in Jesus Christ. As such, the Logos asarkos, for Barth, loses its “abstractness,” insofar that to even think of the Logos in terms of flesh has always already been the condition God had chosen to be, just as sure as He freely chose to create the world to begin with. That is to say, what we get in Barth’s thinking on a Logos asarkos is a radically Christ conditioned supralapsarian doctrine of election as the fund.

Because this is such an important matter in Barth’s theology, and because there has been some controversy surrounding it, I want to share the pertinent passage from Barth’s Church Dogmatics in full. We will read this passage, and then I will close with some concluding remarks.

But now we may and must ask further whether it was the eternal Son (or eternal Word) of God as such in His pure deity that they had in mind; or whether, more inclusively and more concretely, it was the Son of God as the Son of Man, the Word made flesh. If it was only the former, the Logos asarkos, the “second person” in the Trinity in itself and as such, to whom they referred with their through Him . . . in Him, one can only be astonished at the force with which these expressions so unmistakeably [sic.] point to a specific creative causality of which these expressions appear to speak. As we have seen, the only possible connexion between the eternal Son or Word of God on the one hand and creation on the other is that it is commensurate with and worthy of the Father of the eternal Son, the Speaker of the eternal Word as such, that He should be the Creator in His dealings ad extra. Perhaps the writers of the New Testament wished to say this too. Indeed, there can be no doubt that they did. But was this all they wished to say? If so, they could not have described Jesus Christ as the actual divine ground of creation, as the peculiar creative causality, to which those expressions seem to point. It has to be kept in mind that the whole conception of the Logos asarkos, the “second person” of the Trinity as such, is an abstraction. It is true that it has shown itself necessary to the Christological and trinitarian reflections of the Church. Even to-day it is indispensable for dogmatic enquiry and presentation, and it is often touched upon in the New Testament, though nowhere expounded directly. The New Testament speaks plainly enough about the Jesus Christ who existed before the world was, but always was with a view to the concrete content of the eternal divine will and decree. For this reason it does not speak expressly of the eternal Son or Word as such, but of the Mediator, the One who in the eternal sight of God has already taken upon Himself our human nature, i.e., not of a formless Christ who might well be a Christ-principle or something of that kind, but of Jesus the Christ. The One who according to Heb. 1.3 upholds all things by the Word of His power is also the One who according to the following verse, when He had purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of majesty on high. According to Col. 1.15, He is “the firstborn of every creature,” and, according to v. 14, the One in whom we have redemption, i.e., the forgiveness of sins. According to verse 18, He is the “firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” How could this be said of the Logos asarkos? We shall misunderstand the whole Johannine Prologue if we fail to see that the sentence The same was in the beginning with God. (Jn. 1.2)—which would otherwise be a wholly unnecessary repetition—points to the person who is the theme of the whole ensuing Gospel, and of whom it is said in v. 14: “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” And in just the same way in this event it became historical reality, as the Word incarnate—how else?—this Word was in the beginning, i.e., in the divinely determined counsel with God before the world was. The real basis of creation, permitted and even demanded by the unprecedented continuation  in v. 3, that “all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made,” is that the Word was with God, existing before the world was, and that from all eternity God wanted to see and know and love His only begotten Son as the Mediator—His Word incarnate. It is not difficult to prove that no other meaning  can be read  into the passages  adduced than that they refer to Jesus the Christ, who is certainly very God, but who is also very man. Irenaeus has correctly assessed the meaning of the New Testament (in this respect no other assessment  is really possible): Truly the maker of the world is the Word of God: and this is our Lord, who in the last times was made a human being, living in this world, who in His invisible power contains everything that was made and penetrates the whole creation, because the Word of God governs and directs of all things: and for this reason He came to His own. (Adv. o. h. V, 18, 3). Coccejus, too, has rightly assessed the meaning of the New Testament: The foundation of the world is subordinate to the decree of election and must be referred to it. (S. Theol., 1669, 37, 29). He who in the beginning established the heavens and the earth is He who wished to be called the God of Israel, and when He created them, He saw to it that He made the world a theater of the glory of His grace . . . by which He might triumph as by excellent praise (note the quiet but very definite improvement of the expression of Calvin) The creation of the earth was not accomplished without a view to the death of Christ. For since the showing forth of God’s glorious grace in humanity through Christ was God’s chief end in creating humankind, the creation of the earth is reckoned a means to that end, so that the good might have a dwelling-place. For it was not suitable for God to establish the earth as a habitation for sinful humanity, unless that same world were at some time purified by the blood of Christ, who sanctifies and glorifies his elect. For all these reasons it is not inappropriate that the execution of Christ and the creation of the world are linked together (Oecon. Foed., 1693, III, 4, 16). Also J. Wichelhaus (Die Lehre d. hl. Schrift, 1892, 349 f.): “How could God call into existence what is not-God . . . what is in itself dead, obscure transitory? He could not have done so had there not been something in God which in His eternal love He posited outside and before Himself, had there not existed in Him an eternal decree (on p. 352 a divine counsel and covenant of peace which had been formed between Father and Son before the foundation of the world) in which all His perfections were to be revealed (Eph. 1.10, Col. 1.15f). God could not have created a world which He could have loved for its own sake and which could have had life in itself. . .. What God had in view at creation was His Son, the Son of His love, and a Church elected in Him by eternal decree. . .. What God has created in Christ Jesus as a dark world which He willed to enlighten and to fructify, and a poor son of man whom He willed to save.” Or on p. 351 “It was the will and good-pleasure of inexplicable kindness and mercy, the free movement of grace and love, that in His Son, in Christ, God willed to impart His glory to a creature which in itself is dust and ashes; that He willed to exalt the most needy and most helpless creature above all for itself an object of its compassion and kindness.” “The glorification of God’s name in Jesus Christ is accordingly the final goal of creation, so that everything is ordered for this purpose, and everything, be it light or darkness, good or evil, must serve this purpose.” (p. 355).

To sum up, the New Testament passages in question say that the creative wisdom and power of God were in the beginning specifically the wisdom and power of Jesus Christ. For in the first place He was the eternal Son and the Word of God, the whole of divine being revealed and active in creation being His own eternal being. Second, His existence as the Son of God the Father was in some sense the inner divine analogy and justification of creation. Finally and supremely, He was already in the eternal decree of God the Mediator; the Bearer of our human nature; the Humiliated and Exalted as the Bearer of our flesh; a creature and precisely as such loved by God; and in this way the motivating basis of creation. If God willed to give His eternal Son this form and function, and if the Son of God willed to obey His Father in this form and function, this meant that God had to begin to act as Creator, for there could be no restraining His will. Hence, as these passages of the New Testament declare, it is not only God the Father, but in particular the Son Jesus Christ, who is by His own proper strength and efficacy and power the Creator of all things.[1]

Or we might have more briefly just said about the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ that it is, “No longer understood merely as an emergency measure to counteract the effects of sin and evil, the incarnation was the fulfillment of an eternal purpose. The world was made so that Christ might be born.[2]

Okay, I’ve got to go read my Bible now.


[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §41 [054-6] The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 54-6 [italics mine, representative of the translation or transliteration from the Latin and Greek text to the English].

[2] David Fergusson, Chapter 4: Creation, 76-7 in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, edited by John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Iain Torrance.

On the Eschatological Nature of the Theological Task

For Barth dogmatic theology is eschatological, dynamic, personal, and scandalously particular to the person and work of God in Jesus Christ. That is why the work of dogmatics is semper reformanda per the ground and grammar of God’s triune life in Jesus Christ. The work of dogmatic theology is a Petrine ‘growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ’ in ‘whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’ This implies that dogmatic theology should never be stifled by static reception or repristination. As Christians, theologians, we aren’t engaged in an impersonal arid work of dialectical analysis, per se. Instead, we are in a dialogical posture where we pray without ceasing to the One we are attempting to know and make known through bearing witness to Him in the midst of our daily walks as Christians. We engage with others, the communio sanctorum as we fellowship one with the other in the fund of God’s triune life, as we participate therein and therefrom with Jesus Christ as our older brother, bridegroom, and great shepherd of these, our weary souls. But this is the venture of the theological endeavor, to think from the One who has been given for the world, only to finally come into His beatific vision, in the consummation of all things at the time of the Great Resurrection.

The fact that it is in faith that the truth is presupposed to be the known measure of all things means that the truth is in no sense assumed to be to hand. The truth comes, i.e., in the faith in which we begin to know, and cease, and begin again. The results of earlier dogmatic work, and indeed our own results, are basically no more than signs of its coming. They are simply results of human effort. As such they are a help to, but also the object of, fresh human effort. Dogmatics is possible only as theologia crucis, in the act of obedience which is certain in faith, but which for this very reason is humble, always being thrown back to the beginning and having to make a fresh start. It is not possible as an effortless triumph or an intermittent labor. It always takes place on the narrow way which leads from the enacted revelation to the promised revelation.[1]

[1] Barth, CD I/2, 14.

John Calvin’s Theology of the Cross as Theological Theology

Staying on theme from the previous post, let’s continue to focus on the theologia crucis; except this time it won’t be Luther’s, but John Calvin’s. Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics III/1 refers us to the foreword Calvin wrote for his Commentary on the Book of Genesis (1554). Herein Calvin offers something that sounds intimately close to Luther’s thinking on a theology of the cross. So Calvin:

indeed it is vain for any to philosophize in the manner of the world, unless they have first been humbled by the preaching of the gospel, and have instructed the whole compass of their intellect to submit to the foolishness of the cross. I say that we will find out nothing above or below that will lift us to God, until Christ has educated us in his school. Nothing further can be done, if we are not raised up from the lowest depths and carried aboard his cross above all the heavens, so that there by faith we might comprehend what no eye has ever seen, nor ear ever heard, and which far surpasses our hearts and minds. For the earth is not before us there, nor its fruits supplied for daily food, but Christ himself offers himself to us unto eternal life; nor do the heavens illuminate our bodily eyes with the splendor of the sun and stars, but the same Christ, the light of the world and the sun of righteousness, shines forth in our souls; nor does the empty air spread its ebb and flow around us, but the very Spirit of God quickens and enlivens us. And so there the invisible kingdom of Christ fills all things, and his spiritual grace is diffused through all things.[1]

For any theology to actually be genuinely Christian theology, I submit, it must be conditioned and regulated by the kerygmatic reality of the cross of Jesus Christ (think of the ‘cross’ as the Apostle Paul does as a metonym for both the incarnation and atonement in toto). If this is not the basis, both ontologically, epistemologically, and ontically for the Christian disciple to more accurately think God, then we will only be ‘thrown back onto ourselves’ (as TFT would say), thus projecting our images onto God’s image, only to worship an elevated image of our collective selves as God rather than the true and living God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And yet this is precisely what we see happening in much theological programming these days. There is a recovery of a theology of glory wherein the theologian believes they are on solid ground simply because of the vintage of the theology, and theologians they are ostensibly recovering for the purported revitalization and fortification of the Protestant churches en masse.

Contrariwise, as Calvin notes, and as Barth is emphasizing as he quotes Calvin, no matter what period a theology is developed in, no matter what its pedigree and historical pressures, if it isn’t funded by the fount of the cross of Christ, where the Christian is put to death over and again, afresh anew, thus being given over to the life of Christ, that His life might bring life to our lives in the mortal members of our bodies, then there is no savory life, leading to further life in the work and the words the theologians are propagating in the name of Christ, and ostensibly, for the churches. If Calvin, Luther, Barth et al. are to be taken seriously, as they should be, the theologian must constantly cast themselves at the mercy seat of God, which is cruciform in shape, and allow the staurologic (the logic of the cross), the ‘logic of God’s grace in Christ’ (see TFT) to fully condition the theologian’s mode as a theologian indeed. Outwith this wisdom, τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ (‘the wisdom of God’), which is the wisdom of the cross, the theologian is only pushed deeper into the well of their own resources; which of course only leads the theologian into self-congratulation and idolatry, even in the name of Christ.

I know I bang this drum loudly and often, but that’s because I think we are at endemic levels when it comes to what Luther would call theologies of glory. That is, the types of theologies that aren’t submitted to the wisdom of God, in a properly based theology of the cross wherein the theologian can genuinely say: “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me,” and “I have determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” When this ethos characterizes the theologians demeanor (those expressed in the Pauline passages), when this becomes their daily mode as a Christian thinker and teacher for the Church, it is at this point they have something of value to say because they are no longer leaning on the powers of their own intellects, or of those they are ostensibly recovering, but instead they are resourcing the reality of the Gospel as that is the fund and ground of their very being, moment by moment.

[1] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Genesis: Foreword cited by Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §40 [031] The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 31.

Cage-Stage and Seminary Debates as a Mode of Life

I have the following passage in my sidebar here at the blog, it communicates an important perspective that we would all do well to keep before us each and every day; especially those of us who get so caught up in the nitty-gritty of theological mechanics. Barth quotes early Lutheran theologian, Martin Chemnitz:

We must always keep in mind that the reason the Son of God came down from the hidden throne of the eternal Father and revealed heavenly doctrine was not to furnish material for seminary debates, in which the display of ingenuity might be the game, but rather so that human beings should be instructed concerning true knowledge of God and of all those things which are necessary to the pursuit of eternal salvation.[1]

We might call getting caught up in “seminary debates” as the cage-stage of intellectual and theological development. It seems ‘natural’ for this type of mode to obtain for just about anyone, at some level, when they are introduced to new information that others aren’t as privy to. But the prudent Christian, even in the midst of much of this heat, will have the discernment to see through this acquisition and quagmire of knowledge, and throw themselves at the mercy of Christ, asking for His intervention in their lives; requesting that He keep them humble before the living God, and to see any knowledge they gain of Him to be held loosely as something they have been given as a gift from Him. Unfortunately, all too often, particularly on social-media these days, we see the exact opposite happening; and the cage-stage turns into a life of theological glory wherein said Christian learns to present their mastery of theological ingenuity in ways that make them appear self-deprecating and humble before God and others. And yet, a corrosive bent has already taken root for many, and their eyes become glazed over by the beauty of their own navels, even as if their navels are the face of Jesus Christ Himself. Age is no boundary here. A person can be a senior Christian scholar, or a ‘new-guy-seminarian,’ and continuously stumble over the same type of love of self that leads to making the means the end, and collapsing themselves into Christ in such a way that the words they speak must simply be life and peace. ‘The love of knowledge puffs up.’ This is the message that Chemnitz is articulating, and we would do well to heed his wisdom.

[1] Martin Chemnitz, Loci theol. ed., 1590, Hypomnemata 9 cited by Barth, CD I/1, 82.