God’s Governmental Providence as Cruciform in Shape: Human Suffering and Death, with Reference to Nabeel Qureshi

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2. for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” Psalm 27:1-2

The Psalmist captures a reality that many in the world do not like; he identifies a truth that kicks against a self-possessed humanity who thinks it belongs to itself. But the Christian finds great comfort in realizing that this is the reality; that the world and all its bounty belongs to the living God of heaven and earth. The Apostle Paul sharpens this idea from a Christocentric angle; the idea that not only is the earth the LORD’s, but that we, as his people do not belong to ourselves; that God in Christ, owner of the heavens and the earth, penetrated our humanity with his in Christ and replaced our self-possessed selves with the recreated reality of a new humanity that realizes that it is only possessed by the living God. Paul writes pointedly: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”[1] This is almost an unfathomable reality, but one that has been made known as what is real through the goodness and graciousness of God revealed in his cruciform life in Jesus Christ.

These passages could be applied in a variety of ways, but what I want to highlight, at a theological level, is how this works towards thinking about God’s care, about his providential sustenance of the earth. And I want to use that context to discuss life and death; with particular focus, in this instance, on the life and death of Nabeel Qureshi, and all those in the world who are suffering in untold ways. I want to see if I can work toward making sense of it all from the big vantage point of God’s providence.

There are at least three ways to think about God’s providence: 1) Conservation, 2) Concursus, and 3) Governance. I want to focus on God’s governance; i.e. how in a God/world relation we might conceive of his inter-action with his creation in an active way; but in such a way that he remains in control, and thus not conditioned by the creation even as he enters it in the Incarnation (Logos ensarkos). In an effort to bring clarity to what is meant by the third prong of God’s providence—his governance—let us read how Dutch theologians Brink and Kooi develop this idea:

3 Finally now, the third aspect of divine providence: God’s gubernatio (governance), or directio (leadership). Traditionally, this part of God’s providence was conceptualized in rather static terms, as if God rules the world as a manager does a company, doing what needs to be done, minding the store. The Bible, however, speaks in much more dynamic—more precisely, in eschatological—terms about God’s rule. The fact that God rules the world means, first and foremost, that he guides it in a particular direction, toward the final realization of his plans and promises. Therefore, history is geared toward the kingdom, for also in his rule the Father works via—and thus in the mode of—the Son and the Spirit. For the time being, God rules “from the wood of the cross” (Venantius Fortunatus, sixth century), that is, in spite of all kinds of misery, setbacks, and experiences of loss. History becomes ever more similar to Jesus’s road to the cross, just as the apocalyptic portions of the New Testament teach. In addition, it should be noted that God works through his Spirit and not by (human) might or power (Zech. 4:6). We should often pay more attention to small things than to powerful revolutions or major changes in society. Where people are touched by the s/Spirit of the gospel and on that basis experience a decisive renewal in their lives, there God is at work, guiding the world to its future destination. So, God’s direction often proceeds via small things and detours, another reason that God’s providential rule is first and foremost a matter of faith and not something that can be gleaned from a newspaper. But it is precisely this faith that is certain that the outcome will not be a failure.[2]

My guess is that when you first heard the words God, providence, and governance, that your mind, like mine did, turned immediately to the description Brink and Kooi started their paragraph with: “…Traditionally, this part of God’s providence was conceptualized in rather static terms, as if God rules the world as a manager does a company, doing what needs to be done, minding the store.” But, as was encouraging to see they made the turn, as they should, to the reality that God’s governance of the world, of his good earth, is cruciform in shape; that he rules this earth by penetrating it in and through the humanity he assumed in Jesus Christ. That his governance is in his humiliation and vulnerability in his being in becoming man, and his reign climaxes in his exaltation of humanity in his risen and ascended humanity as the God-man who can sympathize with the yet broken humanity; but as the one who has conquered the brokenness of this world precisely at the point where it looked like he was going to lose it.

When I think about the death of Nabeel Qureshi, and think about it from the backdrop of God’s governance as described by Brink and Kooi, I have hope. I don’t have all the answers to the questions that I have, but I have hope because the God who is in control is not an aloof deity governing the world like some sort of removed corporatist; he instead became the One for the many, by becoming one of us, entering our fallen humanity and redeeming it from the inside out. He reigns supreme and providentially over the creation as one who has tasted his own creation; all along remaining distinct from his creation in the miracle of the hypostatic union, of God become human in the singular person of Jesus Christ. This is the hope that Nabeel Qureshi lived and died his life from; from the death and life of Jesus Christ.

Not only is Jesus the Lamb Slain, but he is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah risen; the One who is prime and supreme over all of creation. He governs the world from the reality of his resurrection, with hands still bearing the scars of their piercing for us. Nabeel, and all those who die in Christ, currently behold those nailed scarred hands; the hands that hold this world together, and for the purpose that all creation, that the sons and daughters of God in that creation, will finally behold the hands of such a King and ruler as this.


[1] I Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV.

[2] Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink, Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), 243-44.


‘A Theological Mode of Existence’ theologische Existenz: The Place of the Theologians and Their Jargon for the Church of Jesus Christ. More Kooi and Brink

I just got Cornelius van der Kooi’s and Gijsbert van den Brink’s freshly translated (from their native Dutch) Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction; and thus far it is wonderful! My last post touched upon what they think about the relationship between apologetics and Christian Dogmatics (which I’m still pondering); in this post I want to get into what they have to say about what they call (After Barth) the ‘theological mode of existence’ (theologische Existenz). This is an existence the Lord graciously put me into back about twenty-two years ago, and one I would never give up; it’s this existence in Christ that is life to me, without it I’d have no sanity.

I will share at some length what they have to say about this type of existence, and then offer up a few of my reflections on it in closing. Kooi and Brink write:

1.9 Theology as Mode of Existence

So far we have described theology and dogmatics primarily as a particular discipline—one of the many that one might study at an academic level. But many who are involved with it feel that theology is more than this. Theology carries with it a unique mode of existence. Barth and his followers referred to this as a theologische Existenz (theological mode of existence).

This theological mode of existence involves more than acquiring a substantial amount of knowledge, more than doing theology as creatively as possible. It concerns the cultivation of a certain underlying passion. This passion is, first, a passion for God and his kingdom. As the word indicates, a true theologian speaks about God. But his or her passion also concerns the people of God and the world of God. This dimension will perhaps not radiate from every page the theologian writes. It is a cultivated passion; that is, it lies in the background and will typically surface in a restrained manner. This limitation relates to the ability to maintain distance, which is part of the theological mode of existence. That is to say, as a theologian, one is able to look at the faith that is lived by people from a distance. It is possible to formulate abstractions and speak about them in intelligible language. Dogmaticians perhaps speak more about pneumatology than about the Holy Spirit, and more about eschatology than about heaven. This preference may be risky, but things will go wrong only when they speak exclusively in a detached kind of language. To a certain extent they must speak in terms of “–ologies” if they want to maintain an overview of the various parts (loci) that together form the content of the Christian faith, and to quickly see how, in a particular array, these elements may fit together. A sentence like “Barth suffers from pneumatological anemia” is typical theological jargon (apart from the question as to whether or not it is true).

As can happen in other areas of scholarship, such concepts help to create a jargon that is understood by representatives of different denominations and worldviews, enabling them to carry on a meaningful communication. Where believers without theological training will often listen to the views of others without understanding them and with great distaste, a common terminology enables theologians to learn about each other’s views in a fruitful—but often critical—dialogue. In other words, part of the theological mode of existence is the ability to change one’s perspective and, through a common theological language, to empathize with the faith-worlds of other groups of believers.

At the same time, it also belongs to life-as-theologian that one will always return to the “simple faith” and not get lost in a critical attitude, whatever one’s ability to talk about faith in abstract terms and to retain a critical distance. It is crucial to know when you must be critical, but also when you must leave your critical attitude behind,  in order to believe as a child in what Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) has called a “second naïveté.”[1]

This is very well said. This has been something that has personally dogged me over the years, even, and in particular online. When you enter into this arena you necessarily learn a bunch of jargon, but it is not an arbitrary education; it is intended to provide the Christian thinker with a lexicon filled with precision language in order to communicate clearly and pristinely among other initiates. Some gripe that such jargonese is necessarily elitist, but this is not the case; as Kooi and Brink so eloquently highlight.

There indeed is a ‘theological mode of existence,’ not all Christians, in fact most Christians probably never enter into it. But this is okay. Not all of us are called to be teachers, but if we are it should be expected that as teachers and theologians we would imbibe a certain mood filled with its realm of special symbols, and grammar for the express purpose of edifying and building up the church. Indeed these symbols or ‘words’ might seem abstract and removed from anything edifying at all, but they are present so that the theologian can help build a solid foundation wherein the practice of the church can move ‘rightly’ and grow deeper and wider in the grace of Jesus Christ. Theologians, or in Pauline language, teachers in the church have their place (Eph. 4). True, as for anyone in the body, there is always the danger of making one’s office an end in itself; an end where the potential glory of the office becomes inward curved and self-focused. And those who spend all their time thinking about the deep things of God, those who glean insights about God that are unique and special might be tempted to start glorying in this; in what they’ve come to understand about God. They might lose sight of the church, and the perspective that they have been given this gift of insight for the edification of others. But even with this always lurking danger, theologians have their place in the body of Christ; it is a place that I think needs to be appreciated more, particularly in our experienced based individualistic church culture.

As Kooi and Brink end, they mention Ricoeur’s second naïveté; I personally love this! Barth adopted this Ricoeurian approach himself, particularly in the way he navigated his engagement with the higher critics of the biblical text. Maybe we will have to unpack this jargon at another time, but it signifies something that I think can be of benefit for the body of Christ catholic.


[1] Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink, Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017), 29-30.

What Hath Apologetics to do With Christian Dogmatics? van der Kooi and van den Brink Speak

I have often decried the apologetics culture, particularly in North American evangelicalism (which I inhabit). My concern has always been the conflation of apologetics with the doing of Christian Dogmatics and/or what some term as Systematic Theology. Indeed, this conflation has happened, and when it does it needs to be well “decried.” Karl Barth was someone who saw this problem, and so intentionally, and early, avoided apologetics, even, as some would say, to a fault. Barth believed that the best apologetic for the Christian faith was a good Christian Dogmatic.

Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink provide a wonderful sketch of how apologetics have often fallen prey to the temptation of substituting its means for the means of actual Christian Dogmatic development; in their sketch they touch upon Barth, and I would suggest build upon Barth’s reaction to the apologetic culture. They build on it by uppointing the value of allowing good Christian Dogmatics to in and of themselves function as an intentional apologetic; potentially by the sheer force of the compelling vision of God in Christ that they offer to the world as witness. They write:

We want to give a final indication of the lines between various disciplines. Dogmatics is closely linked to apologetics, by which we traditionally mean the defense of the Christian faith against all sorts of criticisms to which it is subjected. This definition has given apologetics a rather defensive connotation—as if the Christian faith is characterized by defensiveness, because it supposedly presents a less-than-solid worldview. In addition, apologists may, at times, be subconsciously inclined to adopt the patterns of thought of those they want to combat. As a result, they may in fact jeopardize the uniqueness of the Christian faith they want to defend.

For this reason, Karl Barth, for example, long held back from any significant involvement with apologetics. He felt there was a major risk that the Christian faith would become caricatured if one were to adopt the models of thought of one’s critics. (He saw how it happened, for instance, to Rudolf Bultmann, whom he considered a kindred spirit.) Barth maintained that it is impossible to reason slowly but surely toward Jesus Christ by using a foreign model of thought, that one who does not begin with Christ will never find him in the end. For this reason, we must, when we want to give an account of our Christian faith to a broad public, simply be very direct and put our cards on the table. In his on dogmatics Barth faithfully followed this procedure by constructing his theology in a totally Christocentric way. We must add, however, that Barth eventually became more appreciative of the apologetic project, more aware of how dogmatics and apologetics do not necessarily exclude each other.

There is ample evidence that the Christian community continues to need a voice with an apologetic orientation. As society becomes increasingly secular, and as the Christian faith is increasingly subjected to a wide range of criticisms, there is a heightened sense that Christians need to know how they can best respond with good arguments when they receive all kinds of reproaches. Rather than elevating apologetics into a separate discipline, however, we think it better to integrate it into dogmatics. This gives it a place in a positive, comprehensive elucidation of the content of the Christian faith, rather than in a discourse with inevitably defensive undertones. Moreover, because of a constant orientation toward the sources of the faith, apologetics will shift less easily to very dissimilar philosophical models. And finally, in its turn, dogmatics will be protected against fuzziness when it has to seriously assume its responsibility of giving an account of the Christian faith to secular and religious forms of criticism. In short, good dogmatics will, certainly in our culture, have an apologetic nature.

When dogmatics fails in performing this task, it will, to its shame, see how non-theologians or “ordinary” pastors and their publications assume greater significance with regard to the apologetic orientation of the church than professional theologians. In this connection, we may be grateful for the work of apologists like G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, as well as, more recently, Tim Keller, the leader of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.[1]

Much to consider here. When they say that “…good dogmatics will, certainly in our culture, have an apologetic nature” it makes me squirm a bit. We will have to wait and see how van der Kooi and van den Brink develop this further; if they do. I do agree that good dogmatics will always have the incidental force of providing a power of God like witness (cf. Rom. 1.16) to the world of the beauty, grandeur, and reality of the Gospel; and I do believe that there indeed is a place for combating for the faith at an intellectual level. But I still turn more the way of Barth, even the early Barth, against doing outright apologetics. We would have to ask what purpose apologetics are serving. Are they for the body of Christ herself; for witness to the world; to make the world look foolish through the foolishness of the Gospel; or a combination of all this and more?

I’m going to have to ponder this further. I was raised and weaned on the evangelical apologetics sub-culture and its attendant material. I have used it over and over again in evangelistic situations, and it has helped in some instances. Usually, though, all it helps me to do is win arguments and jousts. Some of the apologetics material sustained me intellectually at a time when I needed it, but that was before I was aware of historical theology and the riches just waiting to be laid bare in the history of the church of Jesus Christ; i.e. including Christian Dogmatics etc. I am not totally sure what van der Kooi and van den Brink mean by “good dogmatics will … have an apologetic nature.” I can see that in a incidental maybe de facto way, but not in a formal de jure or objective way. What hath apologetics to do with Christian Dogmatics indeed?


[1] Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink, Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017), 21-2.

Emil Brunner and Thomas Torrance on the Difference Between Christian Dogmatics and Apologetics

I just picked up Emil Brunner’s The Christian Doctrine of God, which is his volume one in a series of Christian Dogmatics he has written. While he and I won’t see eye to eye on everything, he’s somebody I can learn from; so expect to hear more from him if you read my blog.

As Brunner starts his Christian Dogmatics out, he of course gives explanation of what Dogmatics actually are. In his giving he offers some profound explication; profound, at least from my emilbrunnerperspective, because he explains what in fact Christian Dogmatics represent. His explanation resonates deeply with me, and should help you all to understand where I am coming from as well; i.e. when you read my blog you should know that I am really never attempting to engage in apologetics, but instead always in the work of Christian Dogmatics. Here is what Brunner writes in this regard:

The intellectual enterprise which bears the traditional title of “dogmatics” takes place within the Christian Church. It is this that distinguishes it from similar intellectual undertakings, especially within the sphere of philosophy, as that is usually understood. Our immediate concern is not to ask whether this particular undertaking is legitimate, useful, or necessary. The first thing we have to say about it is that it is closely connected with the existence of the Christian Church, and that it arises only in this sphere. We study dogmatics as members of the Church, with the consciousness that we have a commission from the Church, and a service to render to the Church, due to a compulsion which can only arise within the Church. Historically and actually, the Church exists before dogmatics. The fact that the Christian Faith and the Christian Church exist, precedes the existence, the possibility, and the necessity for dogmatics. Thus if dogmatics is anything at all, it is a function of the Church.

It cannot, however, be taken for granted that there is, or should be, a science of dogmatics within the Christian Church; but if we reverse the question, from the standpoint of dogmatics it is obvious that we would never dream of asking whether there ought to be a Church, or a Christian Faith, or whether the Christian Faith and the Christian Church have any right to exist at all, or whether they are either true or necessary? Where this question does arise—and in days like ours it must be raised—it is not the duty of dogmatics to given the answer. This is a question for apologetics or “eristics”. But dogmatics presupposes the Christian Faith and the Christian Church not only as a fact bu as the possibility of its own existence. From the standpoint of the Church, however, it is right to put the question of the possibility of, and the necessity for, dogmatics.[1]

Thomas F. Torrance briefly describes Christian Dogmatics this way:

Christian Dogmatics – the church’s orderly understanding of scripture and articulation of doctrine in the light of Christ and their coherence in him.[2]

What should be clear from Brunner’s longer explanation, and T.F. Torrance’s shorter one is that Christian Dogmatics is the work of Christians done within the community of the witness of the church of Jesus Christ; as it is pressed up against the reality of its Subject, the living God who is Triune—the ‘God who has spoken’ (Deus dixit).

I am afraid all too many have confused the work of apologetics or “eristics” with the work of Christian Dogmatics; and if they haven’t then they have unfortunately carried over the tools and methods used by apologists, and imported those into the work of Christian Dogmatics. The work of an apologist is largely the work of a philosopher; the work of a Christian Dogmatician is the work of a Christian thinker who self-consciously is working under the pressures of God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. The Christian Dogmatician is not trying to “prove” God’s existence, so he/she can then talk about God; no. The Christian Dogmatician, by definition has already repented and come under the reality of the Christian God in Christ in and through the witness of the church. This is the work I am doing here at the blog; I engage in Christian dogmatic thinking.

One more point of clarification: I do not think a Christian apologist, in the work they do, actually “proves” the existence of the living God; what they do, if anything, is “prove” a god-concept. What the apologist or Christian philosopher should avoid is the conflation of their work with that of the Christian dogmatician; they are definitionally different. What has happened though, unfortunately, is that often this is exactly what happens; over-zealous Christian philosophers and apologists import the concept of god they have “proven” into Christian Dogmatics, and think they are the same God, they aren’t!

In regard to Brunner, one thing that you will notice in his definition of Christian Dogmatics is an emphasis on the Church; he offers a very ecclesiocentric approach to things. I fully appreciate his description of Christian Dogmatics, but I want to be more radical and less neo-orthodox than that; I think the reality that ought to ‘control’ Christian Dogmatics is not the church, but Jesus Christ as the rule. Barth and Brunner have a famous disagreement where Barth gives Brunner a loud Nein when it comes to the possibility of natural theology. Brunner affirms a qualified understanding of natural theology, while as we know Barth famously rejects it. I think we are already getting a bit of a whiff of this difference even early on in Brunner; his emphasis on the church, I think, is a corollary of his commitment to a qualified notion of a natural theology.

[1] Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1949), 3.

[2] T. F. Torrance, ed. Robert T. Walker, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, Glossary.

Human Agency in Salvation


This is not the post I was going to post, which I noted in my last post, because this is a post I wrote years ago; I was going to post a fresh post on this subject, and I still will. In lieu of that at the moment this will have to suffice; I think it suffices quite well, to be honest. I find it interesting that Calvinists are never satisfied with responses like this; I suppose that makes sense, since they are slavishly committed to a certain metaphysics and theory of causation. But please dear Calvinist, don’t assert that this somehow just sounds like Arminianism; that’s about as honest as me asserting that you aren’t committed to Aristotelian Christianity, when we know you are.

Something that continues to shape theological constructs in Christian theology is the nexus that is present between God’s Sovereignty and Human autonomy/responsibility/freedom. Depending on which side the theological system leans toward will help to determine where that system will find its moorings within the history of ideas and interpretation. Obviously this nexus, as I just cryptically described it finds its most blatant expressions in either Calvinism or Arminianism (and/or nowadays Open Theism). In general (and in oversimplification), the classical Calvinists are afraid if God’s sovereignty is not absolutely emphasized that our theology will end up in heresy, in Pelagianism; and God will become held captive by His own creation. On the other hand (and in oversimplification), the classical Arminian or Open Theist fears that if human freedom (sometimes=’free-will’) or responsibility is over-determined and objectified by God’s sovereignty that it no longer truly can remain HUMAN freedom, and now God has become the author of everything that happens (meticulously so), even sin.

Thankfully the quagmire noted above, while dealing with real and material concerns, is not where we have to preside; in fact we ought not to dwell there too long. The above (as I oversimply described it), is a result of engaging in negative theology; it is thinking philosophically about God and humanity, and it is not (by way of method) thinking from the center of God’s life, Jesus Christ. If we think from God’s Self-revelation, and allow that to interpret how we think about the ‘union’ between God’s sovereignty and Human Freedom, we will think directly and methodologically from the Hypostatic Union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ. This is exactly how, of course, Karl Barth maneuvers through this. He gives objective primacy to Jesus Christ, and allows Him to determine the categories through which we should think about God’s sovereignty and Human freedom. Of course, then, as a consequent, what it means to be truly human will be given its understanding from what it means to be human for Christ. Christ’s humanity, by nature, is given shape and reality by its determinate reality as the second person of the Trinity, as the Son. We, by participation in His humanity by the Holy Spirit, and not by nature but grace and adoption, have a Divinely shaped humanity that like Christ’s can only truly be for God (which is the terminus or end/purpose of what it means to be human and free). Prior to hearing from R. Michael Allen’s commentary on Barth in this regard, and prior to hearing from Karl Barth himself; let’s first hear from the Apostle Paul:

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. ~Romans 6:15-18

If Jesus’ humanity for us (in his active obedience—the Reformed concept) is what it means to be objectively human, if he obeyed for us; then we have been set free and opened up for what it means to be truly human. In other words, there is no other way to be truly human except for the way that that is given ultimate shape in and through Christ’s vicarious humanity for all.

Michael Allen will open Barth up further for us, and then I will close with a couple of Karl Barth quotes. Interestingly, Allen places his discussion on this in his category of Providence, in his Karl Barth Reader that I take his thinking from. Allen writes of Barth:

[B]arth’s attention to providence is attuned to ethical concerns, namely, to sketching out the shape of human agency. While he is criticized by many as christomonist – as giving insufficient space to creaturely agency – his dogmatic approach is not meant to supplant, but to situate human agency. In his ethical reflections, he will address the crucial concept of freedom, following the early Reformed tradition in affirming real human freedom while defining it as freedom ‘within the limits which correspond to its creaturely existence (III/3.61). Barth affirms what seems contradictory to those who believe human and divine agency exist in a competitive fashion: ‘That the creature may continue to be by virtue of the divine preserving means that it may itself be actual within its limits: actual, and therefore not a mere appearance engendered by some heavenly or hellish power; itself actual, and therefore not an emanation from the being of God … God preserves the creatures in the reality which is distinct from His own. It is relative to and dependent upon His reality, but in its relativity and dependence autonmous towards it, existing because it owes its existence to Him, as subject with which He can have dealings and which have dealings with Him’ (III/3.86). Barth argues that divine providence in no way rules out creaturely agency, though it does locate such human freedom within the economy of grace. Barth will even speak of human autonomy, though he will always maintain that it is an autonomy given by God – a counter-intuitive sort of autonomy if ever there were one. [emboldening mine, that is Barth being quoted by Allen] [R. Michael Allen, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: And Introduction and Reader, 134 Nook version.]

And here are a few more quotes from Barth to help illustrate what Allen just sketched:

[…] the perfection of God’s giving of himself to man in the person of Jesus Christ consists in the fact that far from merely playing with man, far from merely moving or using him, far from dealing with him as an object, this self giving sets man up as a subject, awakens him to genuine individuality and autonomy, frees him, makes him a king, so that in his rule the kingly rule of God himself attains form and revelation. How can there be any possible rivalry here, let alone usurpation? How can there be any conflict between theonomy and autonomy? How can God be jealous or man self assertive? [CD I I/2, p. 179]

Genuine freedom as it is realized in Jesus is not a freedom from God but a freedom for God (and, with that, a freedom for other human beings). ‘ To the creature God determined, therefore, to give an individuality an autonomy, not that these gifts should be possessed outside Him, let alone against Him, but for him and within his kingdom; not in rivalry with his sovereignty but for its confirming and glorifying’ [CD I I/2, p. 178].

Ultimately, what is being argued is that there is no other ontological category known as ‘freedom’ by which humanity can operate. Even if human freedom, and I believe it is (in honoring the Creator/creature distinction), is independently contingent, it is still contingent and derived from God’s independent non-contingent freedom which is derived from nowhere but from His own Self determined, Free, and Triune life. If creation is the external reality of the Covenant of which God’s life is its inner ground – and I believe it is! – then creaturely freedom can only be understood from this position, from the purpose that is ec-statically given to it by Christ Himself; who according to Col. 1.15-20 is the point and purpose and ground of all of creation’s reality. Note:

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.

Jesus has realized, for us, in His resurrection and ascension what it truly means to be human. To be genuinely and humanly free, means to be free for God. The rest of creation recognizes this (on this earth day, ironically), us humans ought to repent and recognize this too!

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that  the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. ~Romans 8.18-25 

Allow God to Tell His Own Story. Albrecht Ritschl, Karl Barth, and Thomas Torrance: A Better Way to do Genuine Christian Theology

Karl Barth is famous for wanting to think theological thoughts strictly and only after Deus dixit (‘God has spoken’); he is famous for his desire to do Revelational Theology. Thomas F. Torrance, in his own way, but in the wake of Barth is likewise famous for his desire to do Revelational Theology. They were both very successful at this, and have left a great heritage for those of us who want ritschlto do theology After Barth&After Torrance. Neither Barth nor Torrance invented this approach; we could identify strains towards this type of approach strewn throughout church history. In this post I want to identify a more recent voice (relative to Barth’s location in history) that helped to foster the kind of trajectory that Barth, Torrance, and others picked up on later. I am sure for those who are Barth-haters that they would be tempted to use this as ammunition to tar-and-feather Barth (and Torrance) to the dump of theological Liberalism; be that as it may, I am going to risk it, and name this voice for you.

As you have been reading this post thus far you might wonder what the big deal is; you might be thinking “don’t all Christian theologians do revelational theology;” “don’t all Christian theologians attempt to avoid philosophical metaphysics in their theologizing and attempt to think God directly from Jesus Christ as God’s Self-exegesis and interpretation (Jn 1.18)?” Most would claim to do so, but most in Protestant theology have cozied up to the idea that some metaphysics (whether that be Thomist, Scotist, Nominalist, etc.) are inevitable; that some philosophical categories are necessary in order to attempt to think and communicate God in an intelligible coherent way. Barth and Torrance, and this voice I am going to identify don’t think this is the case, and they have not cozied up to this idea about using philosophy and metaphysics as the driver for the doing of Christian theology; like I noted they are committed principially to the idea that we can only do Christian theology after God has spoken (Deus dixit), and thus revelational theology.

The ‘voice’ that helped to pave the way for someone like Barth, at least in his emphasis on revelational theology was famed theologian Albrecht Ritschl (1822). Ritschl was anti-Hegel, and anti After Hegel theologians; if you know anything about Hegel you know that he wanted to supplant traditional Christian theology with his philosophically shaped pantheistic dialectically styled theologizing. Ristchl was responding to this style of philosophy and “metaphysics” (as it were); Barth similarly was responding to Hegel, but Kant even more. Nonetheless, it is interesting (at least to me) to see in Ritschl that in an de jure objective and principled way I can agree with; even if I cannot agree with probably anything else Ritschl stood for in his exegetical and theological conclusions.

In order to get an idea about all of this we will hear from H.R. Mackintosh (Thomas F. Torrance’s beloved teacher) as he develops Ritschl’s thinking on this, while at the same time offers a bit of critique.

Our study of this method may suitably begin with an allusion to two pernicious influences which, at every stage of his development except the first, Ritschl sought to drive from the field. One is Speculative Rationalism, with its claim that the true basis of theology is to be found in theoretical metaphysics. No doubt in a broad sense most of us are speculative rationalists in so far as we try to think out and think through the implications of Christian faith, in an effort to correlate each belief with all the rest. And in calling for the expulsion of metaphysics from theology, as I think we shall see Ritschl in form asked for more than could be conceded, and as it were drove the nail in so hard as to split the wood. Faith must always be metaphysical, for it rests upon convictions which, if true, must profoundly affect our whole view of the universe and the conduct befitting us within it. In this important sense, a metaphysical import belongs to every judgment concerning Ultimate Reality. Yet the belief or judgment in question need not have been reached by way of metaphysical argument, and in point of fact no essential Christian belief has ever been so reached, although metaphysical argument may later have been employed to defend it. And this, in the last resort, is the point Ritschl is bent on making. There is a Speculative Rationalism which comes to meet the Gospel with a ready-made framework of philosophical conceptions, insisting that faith is bound to use these conceptions, and no other, when it proceeds to formulate its own living content, and this in spite of the fact that its fundamental categories may have taken shape quite irrespectively of the experiences that make man a Christian. Philosophy as such is, even for the believer, the final court of appeal. This type of thought, of which Hegelianism is the classic instance, Ritschl strove not without success to dislodge from the seat of power. Anyone who knows more than the rudiments of his thought will acknowledge that his view of the living God, of revelation of Christ, of miracle, of the Church, is such as to lift the mind beyond the range of any metaphysic operating with general ideas. It becomes plain that, in spite of its great intellectual value, technical philosophy leaves on one side just those problems which possess a life-and-death interest for believing men. No books on metaphysics can be named which contain a serious handling of such matters as fellowship with God, the guilt of sin, the hearing of prayer, above all the redeeming Person of Jesus. By insisting that the Christian mind must at every point of religious belief be guided solely by revelation of God in Christ, Ritschl did his utmost to expel any and every presumptuous form of Speculative Rationalism; and it may well be that the future historian will reckon this to have been his best service to theology.[1]

And in case you were wondering how Ritschl fits with the trajectory of Barth/Torrance, or vice versa, here is what Torrance commentates in regard to Barth’s approach (which Torrance shared in this regard):

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

Moral of the Story:

Allow God’s own Self-exegeis, His own Self-interpretation to impose Godself upon you and the way you think about God and all His works (without separation between His Person and Work). Allow the categories and conceptions supplied by God Himself in Christ to provide the way we think God, and repudiate any approach to theologizing that allows philosophy and foreign metaphysics to set the tone for how we think God. If you do this things will go better; because if we get God wrong everything else that follows will be wrong.


[1] Hugh Ross Mackintosh, Types of Modern Theology: Schleiermacher to Barth (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1937), 142-43.

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

Being Free. Did Jesus Believe in Free-Will?

*After you read the post below come back and read this one which dovetails and elaborates further in an even thicker theological way.

Freedom, a concept that has assailed philosophers, theologians, and just everyday people in its various contexts of understanding and engagement. In this post I want to riff on that concept as we receive it in the dominical teaching of Jesus and the Apostolic teaching of Paul (remember this is a blog post, and thus is off the top and reflective in nature).

31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.”

39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus *said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41 You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?47 He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”[1]

A few observations:

1) This is one reason I am Reformed, theologically. Jesus’ teaching and thought is underwritten by a strong commitment to what some have called total depravity, and he believes it extent and reach is so deep that it blinds even religious people so deeply that it aligns them with the disobedience and revelry of the devil to the point that this alignment becomes conflated with doing the work of God (so the Pharisees and all religious people, including all of us).

2) For these religious zealots they couldn’t understand how Jesus could assert that they were enslaved; after all they were the religious elite, the theological supermen, and they had the Torah, the Law of Yahweh, which historically they believed in and of itself made them righteous over against those who did not have Torah (the Gentiles) who were the sinners enslaved by their passions and desires.

3) But Jesus understood something that the religious establishment of his day did not; he understood that what God was looking at was the heart, and the need for it to be circumcised, the need for it to replaced with his soft heart of flesh (cf. Ez. 36:24ff; II Cor. 3:1ff). He understood that they were just as enslaved as the Gentile sinners among them, and that they were enslaved to the devil as much as anyone else.

Theological Reflection

This is the riff part I mentioned in my opening. Jesus thinks of ‘freedom’ not in the sense of deliberative libertarian free agency (which underwrites so much of what it means to be a person in our individualistic Western contexts); Jesus thinks of freedom as for God, as for his Father. There is only one conception of freedom when we come to Jesus, it really has nothing to do with the frequent conversations we encounter in regard to free-will. There is no such thing as “free-will” except in God’s life of freedom; he is the only free-will around. In order for us to be truly free, we need to find that freedom by being in union with and participating in God’s triune life through Christ. This is what Jesus understood (and what the Apostle Paul understood in Romans 6, which we’ll have to address later); he wasn’t really all that concerned about establishing a place for human beings in an individualistic sense, as if they could be “human” in abstraction or annexed from the life of God. Indeed, Jesus’ life itself bears witness to this fact; in order to be truly human, according to Jesus, means that God and humanity are hypostatically united; it means that humanity is living in right relationship with God by grace. This is where and how the Pharisees could be ‘free indeed’ and it is how we too can be free; free for God, since he alone is freedom in himself, and he has graciously and freely chosen to be with us and not against us, in Christ. Amen.

[1] NASB, John 8.31-47.

Uncle Karl on the relationship between Pulpit Ministry and Christian Dogmatics or Systematics

Something that I struggle with, personally, is with the apparent need calvinspulpitfor depth in Christian discipleship, and how that relates to Pulpit ministry. In other words, because of the way that I am wired, the way the Lord has worked in my life, in particular, I struggle with the idea that all people, all Christians need to be being inculcated with the deeper things, the deeper realities that the history of Christian ideas and Christian Dogmatics have to offer. I want to see people push deep into being deep thinkers about our deep God; but we aren’t all the same are we? We are the ‘body of Christ’; as such we all have our roles within that body-life. And so since this is the reality I simply need to remember all of this, and ask the Lord for wisdom and sensitivity to where people are at in their own walks with Jesus Christ. I think there does need to be a challenge to the body of Christ at large to go deeper, to stretch further into the doctrinal riches God has for us in Christ; but then this also needs to be chastened by the further idea that not all have been called to spend all of their time thinking about the relationship, say, between the Divine and human natures in the singular person of Jesus Christ (this is why creeds and such are so important because they allow non-professional theologians to affirm the deep and doxological truths required by the pressures of the Christ reality, while at the same time not requiring person’s affirming such creeds to necessarily engage in all of the fine tuning and intricacies of developing theories of kenosis etc.).

Along these lines, Karl Barth has a good word on how Christian Dogmatics and Preaching should relate. Barth writes:

When I say dogmatics I naturally have in mind not only what goes on at the university and in books — though I mean that too — but also everything that individual theologians do all their lives as also official systematicians, everything that goes on always and everywhere behind the front of proclamation, everything that I called reflection in § 5. The only thing is that we must not confuse dogmatics and preaching. You should not go out and for a few years overpower your poor congregations with the contents of your notebooks, with the objective and subjective possibilities of revelation, with exercises in the ancient and modern theologies of the schools that we have to study here, with the dialectical corners into which I have to lead you here. You must draw the content of your sermons from the well which stands precisely between the Bible, your own concrete situation, and that of your hearers. Homiletics and practical theology as a whole will deal with it. In no case, however, must you draw on my own or any other dogmatics and please, not from the dogmatics that probably each of you will work out for private use. Everything in its own time and place. Dogmatics is an exercise when it is done properly, but still an exercise, a preparatory act behind the scenes. If other people are interested in it, then we must not forbid this, but as a whole I would say to you that there is hardly anything that we theologians should keep as much to ourselves as dogmatics.[1]

Thank you, Uncle Karl.

Full disclosure: What I do on this blog represents something more like my personal theological notebook, written in a way that I realize that other’s are looking in from time to time. But what I plan on doing, soon, is to start writing min-sermons and posting them here at the blog. My tentative plan is to have what I might call Homiley Mondays, and each Monday post a new sermon on a particular topic or theological exposition of Scripture. I think this will be good practice for me, and hopefully edifying for you.


[1] Karl Barth, The Göttingen Dogmatics. Instruction in the Christian Religion, Vol. One (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 276.

Miscellanies on God’s ‘Impassibility’. In response to Wesley Hill’s ‘First Things’ Article


Wesley Hill, professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry, just wrote an article for First Things entitled: The New “New Orthodoxy”: Only the Impassible God Can Help. In this article Hill provides a brief sketch, and then a kind of corrective (I think that’s what he is attempting) for what it appears he thinks has become a kind of waywardness within modern theology; that is, what could be called a ‘death of God’ type of theology, the type maybe typified by someone like Jürgen Moltmann and his post-Holocaust theologizing around the theme of God crucified. Hill writes:

By the time Goetz wrote, that theme—of God hanging there on the gallows with the innocent sufferer, in the timeless image Elie Wiesel offered in his book Night—had come to dominate many forms of Protestant theology. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had written from a Nazi prison that “only the suffering God can help.” Jürgen Moltmann, in the wake of the revelation of the full extent of the Holocaust, had authored a book called The Crucified God. And figures as diverse as the process theologian Alfred North Whitehead, who characterized God as “the fellow-sufferer who understands,” and the Japanese Lutheran Kazoh Kitamori, who spoke of “the pain of God,” had ushered in a way of thinking about divine majesty and power as God’s ability and will to share in human misery. Across the spectrum, from both pulpits and pews, the “new orthodoxy” came to reign: God suffers in God’s own nature. (source)

It seems that Hill believes that this has been a deleterious turn for Christian theology, and thus through his article he seems to be calling for people to turn back–to repent as it were–to the old paths; to the paths provided by many of the Patristic theologians, a turn that leads us back to a sense of God’s transcendence, of his otherness, his unlikeness from us, to an apophatic kind of labyrinth vis-à-vis God that has become somewhat of a rage among a sub-group of youngish (and some olderish) [so perceived] conservative minded theological types. This seems to be the category that Hill falls into,

And what do we find with that newly awakened textual sensitivity? Just this: that, far from being unconcerned about the human plight, the Church Fathers were motivated by their theology of salvation in upholding doctrines of divine immutability and impassibility (God’s transcendence of human suffering and passions). Their doctrines of salvation prompted their—allegedly aloof and insensitive—understandings of God.

“God’s Logos is by nature immortal and incorruptible and Life and Life-giver,” wrote Cyril. Only so is God able, through sharing our human flesh in the Incarnation, to impart eternal life to that flesh, rather than succumbing to our death and being extinguished by it. When it comes to rescuing us from death, and not merely enduring death along with us, only the impassible God can help. (source)

One thing that wasn’t clear in Hill’s essay though was how he actually defines impassibility in regard to God. He seemed to trade on a certain understanding of what that entails; mostly for Hill that seemed to be an idea of God’s transcendence, his otherness from humanity in his inner-being. But Hill didn’t tease out exactly what he meant; he seemed to be suggesting that the Church Fathers for example endorsed a kind of Greek metaphysic in regard to God, insofar as that metaphysic supplied a theological grammar for them to articulate and worship God through. But left unqualified, as Hill left it, it does seem as if he gives us some Patristic authors and thinkers who indeed fell back into the Greek metaphysical temptation of thinking God in terms of analytical philosophical categories rather than the lively ones that the so called ‘New Orthodox’ ones have been attempting to construct in regard to God and his passions (so Moltmann et al) – the categories that Hill is apparently attempting to undercut as viable. But as I left Hill’s article all it really felt like is that he had simply swung the pendulum back from one side to the other, without attempting to grab any fruit from the side that he opposes.

Myk Habets, my friend, has written a little on how the Church Fathers used the Greek metaphysics (in what we might say non-correlationist ways), and in particular the language of impassibility, to help unpack the mysterious ways of God made manifest in the flesh (en sarkos). But I think Habets closes the door where Hill left it open, and so I offer this brief sketch from Myk in response to Hill’s article in an attempt to foreclose on the language of ‘impassibility’ in a way that I think it ought to be. Habets writes:

… When medieval theology adopted Aristotelian philosophy the Greek notion of God as impassible and immutable was also adopted. In this way Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover became associated with the God of the Scriptures. However, in Patristic theology immutability and impassibility, as applied to God, were not associated with these philosophical ideas but were actually a challenge to it. It is true that God is not moved by, and is not changed by, anything outside himself, and that he is not affected by anything or does not suffer from anything beyond himself. But this simply affirms the biblical fact that God is transcendent and the one who created ex nihilo. What the Fathers did not mean is that God does not move himself and is incapable of imparting motion to what he has made. It does not mean that God is devoid of passion, of love, mercy and wrath, and that he is impassibly and immutably related to our world of space and time in such a way that it is thrown back upon itself as a closed continuum of cause and effect.

I grant that patristic theology was tempted constantly by the thrust of Greek thought to change the concepts of impassibility and immutability in this direction, but it remained entrenched within the orbit of the Judeo-Christian doctrine of the living God who moves himself, who through his free love created the universe, imparting to its dynamic order, and who through the outgoing of his love moves outside of himself in the incarnation. (source)

The first couple of clauses from Habets (i.e. “When medieval theology adopted Aristotelian philosophy the Greek notion of God as impassible and immutable was also adopted. In this way Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover became associated with the God of the Scriptures….”) signals a qualification that Hill glosses over, and thus then weakens (in my view) his article. Hill skips from the Patristics to the Bible in his genealogy of ‘impassibility’, but he fails to sketch how Medieval theology appropriated and thus impacted theological receptions of the language of impassibility. My guess is that Hill would affirm Myk’s sketch on how the Patristics retexted the grammar of impassibility, but I am not altogether sure he sees the distinction between the Patristics and the Medievals (and I would want to suggest that it is the Medieval reception and recasting of ‘impassibility’ that gets appropriated in Christian Dogmatic and constructive theology, more than the Patristic offering); at least not in the way he leaves things open in his article.

So my question to Hill is, if he sees this distinction between Patristic and Medieval offerings of God’s impassibility (as a doctrine)? Does Wesley Hill believe that this distinction needs to be recognized (between a Patristic and Medieval conception of ‘impassibility’), and how to not do so (make some sort of critical distinction) ends up leaving us in an equivocal jumble of things that leaves discussion about God’s impassibility (without this kind of discussion) open for critique in this way?



The Reason ‘Reason’ Should Not Function in Place of Revelation: Against Modernity

In my last post I quickly and from the top sketched the problem that John Shore had in his appeal to reason as if it was a new form or mode
Aristotle Small
of revelation from God, and more importantly, about God and his ways within a God-world relation; particularly as that God-world relation applies to Christian ethics. Fortuitously I just happen to be reading theologian par excellence, John Webster’s little book Holiness; in this little book Webster is discussing, but of course: God’s holiness in its reach into various spheres within the Christian’s life. For the rest of this post I will be engaging a bit with Webster’s thinking about holiness, and in particular, and in dovetail with what I was inchoately talking about in regard to the elevation of reason by John Shore (and many others). That said, I don’t really want to get sidetracked by applying this discussion to closely to Shore, maybe only insofar as his approach serves as a contemporary and popular illustration of what Webster describes in regard to a modern understanding of reason and its elevation.

John Webster writes this of modernity’s understanding of reason:

… Modernity has characteristically regarded reason as a ‘natural’ faculty – a standard, unvarying and foundational feature of humankind, a basic human capacity or skill. As a natural faculty, reason is, crucially, not involved in the drama of God’s saving work; it is not fallen, and so requires neither to be judged nor to be reconciled nor to be sanctified. Reason simply is; it is humankind in its intellectual nature. Consequently, ‘natural’ reason has been regarded as ‘transcendent’ reason. Reason stands apart from or above all possible convictions, all particular, historical forms of life, observing them and judging them from a distance. Reason does not participate in history but makes judgments about history; it is a transcendent and sovereign intellectual legislator, and as such answerable to none but itself.

Such conceptions of reason have become so deeply embedded in modern culture and its most prestigious intellectual institutions that they are scarcely visible to us. But for the Christian confession, these conceptions are disordered. Above all, they are disordered because they extract reason and its operations from the economy of God’s dealings with his creatures. To think of reason as ‘natural’ and ‘transcendent’ in this way is, by the standard of the Christian confession, corrupt, because it isolates reason from the work of God as creator, reconciler and perfecter. Once reason is thought of as ‘natural’ rather than as ‘created’ (or, to put it differently, once the category of ‘the created’ is collapsed into that of ‘the natural’), then reason’s contingency is set aside, and its sufficiency is exalted in detachment from the divine gift of truth. Or again, when reason is expounded as a natural competency, then it is no longer understood as fallen and in need of reconciliation of God. Again, when reason is considered as a human capacity for transcendence, then reason’s continual dependence on the vivifying Spirit is laid to one side, for natural reason does not need to be made holy.

Christian theology, however, must beg to differ. It must beg to differ because the confession of the gospel by which theology governs its life requires it to say that humankind in its entirety, including reason, is enclosed within the history of sin and its overcoming by the grace of God concerns the remaking of humankind as a whole, not simply of what we identify restrictively as its ‘spiritual’ aspect. And so reason, no less than anything else, stands under the divine requirement that it be holy to the Lord its God.[1]

This could bring us into a discussion of how pure nature has functioned in Christian theology, or in secular theologies; or this could bring us into a discussion of Thomas Aquinas’ appropriation of Aristotle’s idea of an ‘active intellect’ and how that forms us as people anthropologically; we also could get into a discussion about how the Puritans, for example, spoke about such things in their appropriation of Aristotle’s tripartite faculty psychology—indeed all of these things are really correlative with and even fund, to extent, Webster’s insights on reason. But let’s not, and say we did, for time’s sake.

What is of import, at least to me, in what Webster is highlighting is how all of who human’s are needs redemption. We are noetically flawed, even in redemption we cry out to Jesus along with the man in the Gospel accounts “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief!” It should be clear though: any appeal to human reason, any appeal to reason embedded in the image of God, as if that sanitizes reason in a way that keeps it untouched by sin is a non-starter for the Christian; as Thomas Torrance has said more than once: ‘We are sinners all the way down, so we need grace all the way down.’

[1] John Webster, Holiness, kindle loc. 122.

*Credit: Image of Aristotle taken from Matt Ryder’s collection here.