Karl Barth, The Reformed Theologian Par Excellence: Christ Rather than the Confessions as the Canon

This might seem rather pedantic, like at the level of: who cares? But, apparently I do. Others do too, but only those ensconced in the confessional of so called Protestant Reformed orthodoxy; theological identity is important in these sectors. For me it’s mostly important as a matter of fact, rather than proving an identity [for Barth] that in itself does nothing, one way or the other, with reference to his constructive theological offering for the Christian churches. Maybe you are tracking already with what I am referring to. Barth is denied entrée into the genuinely Reformed branches of the Protestant churches, pretty much because those in those churches believe he is still too liberal and modern; that he doesn’t submit, in slavish ways, to the confessional traditions in the purist ways they ostensibly do.

But Barth was a Reformed theologian. He might not fit in with the ad hoc standards the “standardizers” have set, but that’s no matter; that’s ad hoc. As is typical though with Barth his approach to all things, at a formal level even, is always Christ concentrated. Of course when we read Barth, as with any theologian, we must be attentive to their point of maturation. The early Barth, or we might say the Göttingen Barth, was clearly a Reformed theologian; just at the point that demarcated Lutherans from the Reformed, even in the magisterial days—the days saturated with the Eucharistic debates about Christ’s presence. This debate, surely, stemmed from a broader discussion and implication grounded in the Christological quarrels that we can trace into the patristic period.

At the very minimal we can say that the early Barth was a Reformed theologian. But I would contend that he remains largely Reformed throughout his career as a theologian; even after he reforms the classical understanding of election in Church Dogmatics II. Here Darren Sumner notes Barth’s self-conscious Reformed location, contra the Lutherans, as he works out his dogmatics in Göttingen:

Finally, it should be noted that here Barth is self-consciously Reformed. The lectures are given as a contrast to Lutheran Christology—which Barth regards as an innovation (particularly with respect to the communicatio idiomatum) doomed to fail just as Eutychian monophysitism failed. There seems to be no possibility of harmony between these two Reformation schools on the matter of Christology. Both lay claim to parts of the Chalcedonian Definition. One must decide between the two, and Barth acknowledges that the place from which he speaks is Reformed and not Lutheran: “One cannot be both, as far as I can see and understand.” But at least, Barth adds, the decision on the Reformed side has never been understood as exclusive: “Not No, but Yes!” The sense of this is that Barth believes that the Reformed may not have it all right in their Christology, but they did well in maintaining an attitude of theological openness while opposing the errors of their opponents. Theirs is a corrective, but not a replacement of one theological system with another, in a definite and exclusionary sense.[1]

I think this represents a better way towards identifying theological identity. In other words, why refer to the Reformed confessions as the standard for membership in the Reformed faith. Even among those who ostensibly adhere to them as their canons, even they have severe lassitude and disagreement on points of emphasis and articulation. Historically, I think referring to actual theological material as the theological identifier of someone is the better way. The Christological impasse represents an excellent standard for this, in and amongst the ancient and even contemporary Protestants.

Barth self-consciously falls on the Reformed side, particularly given his christological commitments. Even as he became more constructive, moving beyond Göttingen, he still retains his Reformed emphases. Just read his CD, in particular his footnotes and you’ll see his heavy engagement with the scholastics Reformed throughout.

At the end of the day, what Barth offered was a theological oeuvre that is fruitful and edifying because he attempted a theological endeavor that intentionally and obsessively worked from Jesus Christ. Whether or not this meets the standards of what counts as Reformed theology in the 21st century doesn’t ultimately matter. The eschaton will reveal what matters; the eschaton will be the time that shows that Barth’s attempt was the better way, just because he slaved himself to the Christ as the reality and centrum of all theological output for the churches. Even so, Barth was Reformed!

[1] Darren O. Sumner, Karl Barth and the Incarnation: Christology and the Humility of God (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014), Loc. 1965, 1973.

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Karl Barth, The Reformed Theologian Par Excellence: Christ Rather than the Confessions as the Canon

Jesus, the ‘Great Shema’ of Israel in I Corinthians 8.6

I am currently working my way through Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity. In it, he offers an important exegetical analysis of I Corinthians 8.6; the passage where Paul refers to Jesus as LORD in terms of the ‘Great Shema’ of Deuteronomy 6.4. Bauckham is making the broader argument that Jesus’ inclusion in the monotheistic faith of Israel is not an artificial amendment, but instead in keeping with the monolatry of the Hebrew faith and reality vis-à-vis its theology proper. Within this broader argument Bauckham offers this important development of I Cor 8.6. Let me share that for us, and allow it to stand as a future reference for my own purposes; and maybe yours.

Paul’s concern in this context is explicitly monotheistic. The issue of eating meat offered to idols and participation in temple banquets is an instance of the highly traditional Jewish monotheistic concern for loyalty to the only true God in a context of pagan polytheistic worship. What Paul does is to maintain this Jewish monotheistic concern in a Christian interpretation for which loyalty to the only true God entails loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. He takes up from the Corinthians’ letter (at the end of verse 4) the typical Jewish monotheistic formula ‘there is no God except one’ in order to agree with it and to give, in verse 6, his own fuller monotheistic formulation, which contrasts the ‘many gods and many lords’ of the Corinthians’ pagan environment (verse 5) with the one God and one Lord to whom Christians owe exclusive allegiance.

Verse 6 is a carefully formulated statement,

(a) but for us [there is] one God, the Father,

(b) from whom [are] all things and we for him,

(c) and one Lord, Jesus Christ,

(d) through whom [are] all things and we through him.

The statement has been composed from two sources, both clearly recognizable. One is the Shema, the classic Jewish statement of the uniqueness of God, taken from the Torah itself, recited twice daily by all observant Jews, as we noticed in section 1. It is now commonly recognized that Paul has here adapted the Shema and produced, as it were, a Christian version of it. Not so widely recognized is the full significance of this. In the first and third lines of Paul’s formula (labelled a and c above), Paul has, in face, reproduced all the words of the statement about YHWH in the Shema (Deut. 6:4: ‘The LORD our God, the LORD, is one’), but Paul has rearranged the words in such a way as to produce an affirmation of both one God, the Father, and on Lord, Jesus Christ. It should be quite clear that Paul is including the Lord Jesus Christ in the unique divine identity. He is redefining monotheism as christological  monotheism. If he were understood as adding the one Lord to the one God of whom the Shema speaks, then, from the perspective of Jewish monotheism, he would certainly be producing, not christological monotheism, but outright ditheism. The addition of a unique Lord to the unique God of the Shema would flatly contradict the uniqueness of the latter. The only possible way to understand Paul as maintaining monotheism is to understand him to be including Jesus in the unique identity of the one God affirmed in the Shema. But this is, in any case, clear from the fact that the term ‘Lord’, applied here to Jesus as the ‘one Lord’, is taken from the Shema itself. Paul is not adding to the one God of the Shema a ‘Lord’ the Shema does not mention. He is identifying Jesus as the ‘Lord’ whom the Shema affirms to be one. Thus, in Paul’s quite unprecedented reformulation of the Shema, the unique identity of the one God consists of the one God, the Father, and the one Lord, his Messiah. Contrary to what many exegetes who have not sufficiently understood the way in which the unique identity of God was understood in Second Temple Judaism seem to suppose, by including Jesus in this unique identity Paul is certainly not repudiating Jewish monotheism, whereas were he merely associating Jesus with the unique God he certainly would be repudiating monotheism.[1]

Bauckham explains himself well; not much left for me to say. Other than that, it is clear that Jesus’ divinity, within a Hebraic monotheistic framework, is not incompatible, but quite coherent. For the Jew, Paul, to advocate for worship of Jesus as Lord, either makes him a proponent of rank idolatry, or instead makes him a faithful Jewish reader of Torah, who understood, along with the rest of the Jews of his day, what Jesus’s claim was, and how that ought to be understood for the Christian complex and shape as a whole.

Jesus, according to the Apostle Paul, is the ‘Great Shema’ of Israel. This should not be understood, as Bauckham argues, as an artificial imposition of some foreign category (like from the Greeks) of divinity onto the monotheistic faith of the Jews; but instead, a natural occurrence of it in keeping with the Promises of the TaNaKh.

I Cor 8.6 is one of the most important passages in the New Testament that attest to the divinity of Christ within the monotheistic framework of the Hebrews. When thinking the identity of Christ all of these types of data must be critically considered by Jesus’ detractors; or at least by those who operate under confused or abstract presentations and thus understandings of who the Christ actually is. According to the New Testament witness, and Christ’s own witness therein, he is the Holy One of Israel, who is Yaweh, One with the Father, and the One who is the Shema or Name that Israel has been chosen to bear to the world-cosmos at large.

 

[1] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 27-8.

Jesus, the ‘Great Shema’ of Israel in I Corinthians 8.6

Jesus is God’s ‘Space’ for Us: In Contest with ‘Container’ Notions of Space

An important undervalued or critically engaged with locus in current Reformed retrievals of theology has to do with ‘space’ vis-à-vis God. The way we think space, and its other corollary, time, has important features attendant to it that implicate the way we think God’s relationship to us. In other words, theories of causation, participation, and koinonia are given shape by the way we approach this particular locus and/or loci. Thomas Torrance argues that the Patristics, particularly, Athanasius, imbibed a critical conception of space that was oriented by a relational conception that was given impetus by reflecting deeply into the paradeigmata (pointer) of the Incarnation itself. In other words, as Torrance maintains, with reference to Athanasius et al., the normal (of the time) Platonic, Aristotelian, or even Stoic conceptions thought space in ways that ultimately were antithetical to the Gospel’s Revelation of God’s relation to us; albeit, Torrance does acknowledge that the Stoic notion of an embodied space had closer resonances to the implications of the Gospel features versus other alternatives. Torrance’s greatest concern was to move away from what he calls a ‘container’ notion of space-time wherein the limit of space was dictated by a stable center that ultimately was unmoved; thus, injecting a mechanical notion into time-space wherein there is no room for a dynamic relational understanding of space that is demanded by the Incarnation itself. Torrance writes, after giving a sketch of Aristotle’s conception of space,

Two problems may be noted here. Aristotle’s thought is clearly governed by his demand for a point of absolute rest as the centre of reference for the understanding of change and transition. If everything were in flux we would have no standard by which to gauge anything. That centre of immobility was supplied by Aristotle’s cosmology by the centre of the material universe, for although it rotated it did not move forwards or change place. Thus although from his approach to the notion of space through the examination of movement in and out of place, Aristotle appeared to offer a dynamic view of space, he offered instead a rather static concept grounded finally upon relation to a point of absolute rest, which was of course in line with his doctrine of the ‘unmoved Mover’. The definition of place as the first unmoved limit of the container involved a further problem, for in equating being in place with a particular volume, it also equated volume with a spatial magnitude. The effect of this predominately volumetric notion of space was not only to isolate the notion of space from that of time, with all the paradoxes that involves, but to import such a rigidity into the concept of space that it could only be made flexible through a highly artificial disjunction of substance from accidents—the endless difficulties of Western Medieval theology at these points may be taken as sufficient commentary upon these problems.[1]

But Torrance understands another way, along with Athanasius and others. The way Torrance proposes, with many of the Fathers, is the way that is certainly working with the grammar provided for by such systems of thought like Plato, the Stoics, and others provided; but this way takes the grammatical of such systems and reifies it under the pressure of God’s Self Revelation in Jesus Christ (Torrance calls this kata physin ‘according to the nature of’ way). The result of this is to think of God’s relations with us through a personalist and relationally charged ‘metaphysic,’ one that is given illumination by the bond that has eternally cohered between the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father in koinonia by the Holy Spirit. This presents us, according to Torrance, with an alternative, and even spermatic way to think of the space that God has provided for, in Himself, as His relation to, with, and for us. The space is charged with the pleroma, or fullness of God; God who is by nature a multiplicity of relation in the persons as the Singular God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Torrance writes with eloquence:

In the nature of the case, the paradeigmata . . . that we employ in theology are not those we choose, but those that are thrust upon us through divine revelation, and which have their ultimate ground, correction and validity in the relation between the Father and the Incarnate Son, and the Incarnate Son and the Father. That is the relation that bridges the separation . . . between God and man and supplies the epistemological basis for all theological concepts, and therefore for our understanding of the relation between their creaturely content and the reality of God Himself. It is in Christ that the objective reality of God is intelligibly linked with creaturely and physical forms of thought, so that the latter may be adapted and given an orientation enabling them to direct our minds to what God really makes known of Himself, although in view of His infinite nature they will not be able to seize hold of Him as He is in Himself.

It was by using paradeigma in this way that Athanasius sought to relate the being and activity of the Son of God to bodily place . . . when He entered into our human space . . . and became man, without leaving God’s ‘place’ and without leaving the universe devoid of His presence and rule. Since space is regarded here from a central point in the creative and redemptive activity of God in Christ, the concepts of space as infinite receptacle or infinite substance, or as extension conceived as essence of matter, or as a mere necessity of our human apprehension, and certainly the concept of space in terms of the ultimate immobile limit of the container independent of time, all fall away, and instead there emerges a concept of space in terms of the ontological and dynamic relations between God and the physical universe established in creation and incarnation. Space is here a differential concept that is essentially open-ended, for it is defined in accordance with the interaction between God and man, eternal and contingent happening. It is treated as a sort of coordinate system (to use a later expression) between two horizontal dimensions, space and time, and one vertical dimension, relation to God. In this kind of coordination, space and time are given a sort of trans-worldly aspect in which they are open to the transcendent ground of the order they bear within nature. This means that the concept of space which we use in the Nicene Creed is one that is relatively closed, so to speak, on our side where it has to do with physical existence, but is one which is infinitely open on God’s side. This is why frequently when Byzantine art sought express this ikonically it deliberately reversed the natural perspective of the dais upon which Christ was represented. The Son of God become man could not be presented as one who had become so confined in the limits of the body that the universe was left empty of His government. He could not be represented, therefore, as captured by lines which when produced upwards met at some point in finite space, but only between lines which even when produced to infinity could never meet, for they reached out on either side into the absolute openness and eternity of the transcendent God.[2]

Earlier I noted that current retrievals of Reformed theology have not really attended to the subject matter we are considering alongside Torrance. They have failed to recognize what Torrance has emphasized; that is, that the mechanical and ‘static’ world of Aristotle, which shapes so much of the Latin theology us Protestants are inheritors of, eschews what the Fathers were presenting the church catholic with. As such we end up with an emphasis on a Decretal God who engages with His world through an Absolute Decree that keeps the created order away from Him, but artificially brought near through artificial droplets of His will and power for humanity and the created order at large. In other words, Latin theology presents us with a conception of space wherein space becomes a series of self-enclosed concentric circles that only stop moving once they meet their stable center of the circle who turns out to be the cause and unmoved Mover; but not necessarily the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The original emphasis, that Torrance is pressing, places a primacy on God’s life as Triune relationality as the basis for how space and thus movement within that space between God and humanity inheres; it inheres in the mirifica commutatio (wonderful exchange) of God’s assumption of our flesh. In this inherence, and the eternally antecedent basis for it in the Father’s life with the Son and the Son’s life with the Father, in and through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, is the space wherein we as God’s re-creatures have a place and a time to think out what it means to be a child of God; a Christian.

Further, we see Torrance noting the notion of the ‘open-endedness’ that this conception of Incarnated space inscribes for us. Of importance, we need to bear in mind that this openness is not understood in and from a container notion of space (which might lead us to ‘Open theology’), but instead it is an openness that recognizes the reality of the mysterium Trinitatis; that we are pressed up against an Ultimacy in God that will be and always already is forever giving (the logic of grace). This should supply us with great hope, and present us into a posture of utter adoration of a God like this; our Father who art in Heaven.

 

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Space Time & Incarnation (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 8-9.

[2] Ibid., 17-18. You can hear traces of ‘Calvin’s Extra’ in what is being communicated here as well; indeed Torrance previously refers to the ‘extra’ in the broader context of this discussion about space and the Incarnation.

Jesus is God’s ‘Space’ for Us: In Contest with ‘Container’ Notions of Space

‘But this Father of His is God.’: The Evangelical Mind and Its Lacuna

18 For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.[1]

After writing bloggy theology for so many years you start to wonder who you are writing for. Personally, I have always really written for myself in an attempt to articulate unarticulated thoughts racing around in my head. Writing helps to provide a semblance to my thoughts, and thus blogging turns out to be a great outlet in an attempt to bring order where there is only disorder (in my head) in regard to the various themes and theological loci running wild in my personal universe.

The previous paragraph was simply a notation of how I often feel when I write a blog post. I usually (as you know) just reflect on whatever I’m reading at the moment. Often I refer to theological antidotes that require some sort of theological context in order for the antidote to be seen as an actual need. But because of space limitations (because of this medium) I don’t have the time or space to problematize things to the point that my posts come with the sort of gravitas they actually do have in their particular contexts. This said: this post has to do with Jesus’ deity and its significance towards understanding who God is, and how it is that we come to know who God is. I’m not really sure these sorts of issues press upon the evangelical psyche in North America these days. I’m not really sure doctrinal matters matter anymore; that the average evangelical really gets how significant sound doctrine is. I’m not sure evangelicals really grasp that they are supposed to care about sound theological reflection; I’m pretty sure most evangelicals don’t even realize that there is such a thing as sound theological reflection, or that they’ve even heard of such grammar. For the average evangelical the deity of Christ is a given, but because of the lacuna of doctrinal teaching in the churches I’m almost positive that even this ‘given’ is no longer understood as such (that is if you asked the average evangelical to explain why the deity of Christ matters in regard to salvation and other important things).

In an attempt to help assuage some of the evangelical absence, when it comes to being mindful of the most important doctrinal matter we could imagine, I wanted to offer a quote from Karl Barth (most evangelicals, these days, don’t even realize that they should be “afraid” of Barth) with reference to the significance of the deity of Jesus Christ and how that relates to his humanity. You will note in this quote that Barth is addressing some ancient Christological heresies, namely ebionitism and docetism, respectively. Barth is pressing home what is noted in John 5.18 (etc.), and grounding the Son’s relationship to the Father as the basis for appreciating the type of Revelation that occurs in the Son become human. Of note, at least by implication (in my mind), is the way Barth understands deity; you will see that it is necessarily trinitarian, and thus not a philosophical concept of the Divine reality. Here I am pressing against a methodological turn that has developed in the history of theologizing; viz. the way Christians have deployed philosophical imagination towards conceiving God (or not). I’d suggest, stringently, that we not rely on philosophical imagination as the primary means by which we think Godness, but instead rely upon God’s special Revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ as sufficient for imagining the verities of who God is. Barth writes:

Jesus is Lord—this is how we think we must understand the New Testament statement in concert with the ancient Church—because He has it from God whom He calls His Father to be the Lord, because with this Father of His, as the Son of this Father, as “the eternal Father’s only child,” He is the Lord—an “is “ which we deny if we are unable to affirm it with those who first uttered it, yet which cannot be deduced, or proved, or discussed, but can only be affirmed in an analytic proposition as the beginning of all thinking about it. In distinction from the assertion of the divinisation of a man or the humanisation of a divine idea, the statement about Christ’s deity is to be understood in the sense that Christ reveals His Father. But this Father of His is God. He who reveals Him, then, reveals God. But who can reveal God except God Himself? Neither a man that has been raised up nor an idea that has come down can do it. These are both creatures. Now the Christ who reveals the Father is also a creature and His work is a creaturely work. But if He were only a creature He could not reveal God, for the creature certainly cannot take God’s place and work in His place. If He reveals God, then irrespective of His creaturehood He Himself has to be God. And since this is a case of either/or. He has to be full and true God without reduction or limitation, without more or less. Any such restriction would not merely weaken His deity; it would deny it. To confess Him as the revelation of His Father is to confess Him as essentially equal in deity with this Father of His.[2]

Barth is making an unusually syllogistic case for the deity of Christ; typically it is more paradoxical (or dialectical sounding). But what stands out is the way Barth ties the deity of Christ to the Father-Son relationship. If the Father is God, and the Father is indeed the Father, then this implies a Son; if the Son is the Son of the Father, then like the Father the Son is equally God. This seems rather straightforward reasoning, except for the fact that we are thinking a primordial reality that stands behind and not after how we think Father-Son (or offspring) relations. What comes through most sharply is that only God can reveal God; as such it is significant to understand just what is taking place in the Incarnation. It isn’t a projection of God into the world; it isn’t a projection of the world into God; it is God revealing Godself in the eternal Son as the express image of the relation He has always had as the Son of the Father by the communion-ing of the Holy Spirit.

I have never ever heard such verities referred to from the pulpits of evangelical churches. I have heard such pulpits wax eloquent about how they believe that the Son is both God and Man; but I have never heard that explicated with depth from evangelical pulpits. The most I’ve heard from evangelical pulpits, in this regard, is when they have a special speaker come and offer a primer on how to engage with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons; but that is not what we are doing in this post with Barth. Christians need to understand the majesty of the God with whom they have to do. They need to have their minds blown by the concrete realization that their salvation and very breath is contingent upon the grace that God is and has become for them in His entrance into the fallen humanity of fallen humanity and from thence redeeming life anew in resurrection splendor. But evangelicals really have no time for this; at least most of the pastors don’t. If anything, evangelical pastors, if they are being tempted to think more deeply, are being shanghaied by the ‘retrieval’ movement wherein philosophy not Revelation serves as the bases by which they think they must think deeply about God.

[1] John 5.18, NASB.

[2] Barth, CD I/1 §11, 113.

‘But this Father of His is God.’: The Evangelical Mind and Its Lacuna

How Does the Christian ‘Get’ the Holy Spirit; Or How Does the Holy Spirit ‘Get’ the Christian: The Locus: Christ’s Vicarious Humanity

Have you ever wondered how you might construe a Christ concentrated understanding of how the Christian receives the Holy Spirit; how the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ serves as the basis through whom Christians come to participate in the lively reality of the Holy Spirit? Often we abstract the Spirit’s work from the Son’s (and the Father’s) as if the Spirit is the divine agent who imbibes or woos faith into the forthcoming believer, and by this creative act of Divine plenitude the would be believer comes to the confession of faith in Christ. Indeed, the Spirit has his own unique and active work in regard to the salvific reality, but as Thomas Torrance points out it would be wrong to think this work abstract from the person and work of the Son in Jesus Christ, or indeed, abstract from the Triune life itself. But in a very specific way here we see Torrance’s bringing together of the Spirit and the Son as the place wherein salvation first inheres, in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; and as an echo of that reality, we as images of this image (Jesus Christ cf. Col. 1.15), as we are brought into union with the vicarious humanity of Christ, indeed by the Holy Spirit, come to participate in the humanity, Christ’s humanity for us, wherein the Holy Spirit is fully operative as the One who leads and casts out, as the One who directs our steps in the way they should go; to the right hand of the Father. Torrance writes:

Our receiving of the Spirit is objectively grounded in and derives from Christ who as the incarnate Son was anointed by the Spirit in his humanity and endowed with the Spirit without measure, not for his own sake (for he was eternally one in being with the Spirit in God) but for our sakes, and who then mediates the Spirit to us through himself. As one of us and one with us he sanctified himself in the Spirit that we might be sanctified in him and thus be sanctified in the truth. Our receiving of the Spirit, therefore, is not independent of or different from the vicarious receiving of the Spirit by Christ himself but is a sharing in it. Since he received the Spirit in the humanity he took from us, we on our part receive the Spirit through union with him and through him with the Father. This was the point Athanasius had in mind when he wrote: ‘Our being in the Father is not ours, but is the Spirit’s who is in us and dwells in us . . . It is the Spirit who is in God, and not we viewed in ourselves.’[1]

For one thing, just from an identity point of view for the Christian, this should let us know that our salvation is not our salvation, but instead is a reality extra nos (outside of us); a reality that we have no control over, but who is in control of us as we submit to his reality for us in Christ by the Spirit of Christ who is the Holy Spirit of the Triune life. This should let us know that we do not find what we need, as the ‘world’ and liberal theologies call us to, by recessing deeper and deeper into ourselves. The fact that our very ‘being’ is grounded somewhere alien to ourselves, and in Christ’s being as we are brought into union with his humanity by the creative and recreative work of the Holy Spirit in his humanity and now our humanity in union with his, ought to alert us to the reality that there was and is nothing good that dwells here (that is in our ‘old person’).

I can’t help but think of the reality of the cross in this context; in order for us to come to this Dogmatic point of reasoning requires something greater than an abstract or discursive moment in our intellectual lives. What is required for these categories to work is both the Incarnation&Atonement; more pointedly, what is required is a putting to death of our ‘old man’ and resurrecting of the ‘new man’ in Jesus Christ. This is where the ‘being’ of humanity brought to breath by the Holy Spirit comes to reality; as THE man, the mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ, is breathed into life by the Holy Spirit in concert with the Father and in the strength of his own life Divine, and in this reality we can come to speak in the terms that Torrance and Athanasius do.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark Publishing, 2016), 148.

How Does the Christian ‘Get’ the Holy Spirit; Or How Does the Holy Spirit ‘Get’ the Christian: The Locus: Christ’s Vicarious Humanity

Retrieving the Modern Conception of God’s Being-in-Becoming For the Sake of the Church; For the Sake of Orthodoxy and Biblical Faithfulness

We will get back to the analogia entis and a doctrine of creation at a later date. In this post we will explore, briefly, a theology proper of God’s being-in-becoming within a dialectical theological frame. What I am going to share (again from David Congdon — I’m currently reading through his big book on Bultmann) represents an approach I was first exposed to probably back in about 2005, and is the style of theology that has in-formed the shape of my theological existence since. As you will see it has shreds of narratival, existential, dialectical, post-liberal components making up the trajectory; but importantly, for me, while I am a serious fan of this idea of ‘being-in-becoming’ I still am also committed to orthodox components, and traditional elements that go into supplying a grammar for thinking God that I believe best comports with what we have given to us and for us in God’s Self-revelation and exegesis in the eternal Logos made flesh, in Jesus Christ. So maybe I’m Orthodox&Modern. But it should also be noted that while I retrieve from the modern period, I’m doing just that. In other words, I’m not arriving at all my theological conclusions under the same pressures say as someone like Schleiermacher, Barth, Bultmann, or Jüngel; instead I’m reaping the benefits of their labors and conclusions, attempting to constructively bring them into relief such that they help to edify a doctrine of God that, in my view, best reflects the Evangel.

In the following Congdon helps explicate the soundings of Bultmann’s theology proper for us. What you will see is that at this level Bultmann and Barth have much in common (you’ll also want to reference Eberhard Jüngel’s book God’s Being is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth); they have a shared vision, at least when it comes to the actualism funding this understanding of God. Let’s dig in, and then I will follow with some closing comments (this post will not be as long as the last one).

We must begin where Bultmann himself does: with Jesus as understood in the tradition of early Christianity. In his 1926 Jesus book Bultmann describes the concept of God that comes to expression in as his teaching within the Synoptic tradition. He begins by contrasting the Jewish and Greek notions of God. The Greeks conceive of God as a law-governing worldly phenomena, as “the origin and formative principle of the world” that lies beyond but always connected to the cosmos. God is therefore an idea graspable by reason, an object that “can be subjected to observational thinking.” Judaism, by contrast, views God not as an idea or principle but as the sovereign, creative will. God is the creator who wills the existence of the world, and thus “in relation to human beings God is the sovereign lord who deals with people according to God’s will as the potter deals with the clay.” There is no talk of metaphysical natures or substances. God’s transcendence is not secured by rational principles that bind the idea of God necessarily to the world; rather, God is transcendent by virtue of the creation’s relatedness to and dependence upon the will of the creator.

As a Jewish prophet and teacher, Jesus shares the Jewish conception of God and weds it to his proclamation of the coming eschatological kingdom, which serves only to heighten the distinctiveness of his understanding of God in contrast to all Hellenistic notions.

For him God is not an object of thinking, of speculation. . . . God is for him neither a metaphysical substance [Wesenheit] nor a cosmic power nor a law of the world, but rather a personal will, holy and gracious will. Jesus speaks of God only to say that the human person is claimed by God’s will and is determined in the person’s present existence by God’s demand, God’s judgment, God’s grace. The remote God is form him at the same time the God who is near. . . . Jesus speaks of God not in universals truths and theorems but only of how God is for human beings, how God deals with human beings. He therefore does not speak objectively of the attributes of God, of God’s eternity, immutability, etc., by which Greek thinking endeavored to describe the transcendent essence of God.

Anticipating the objection that this account seems to suggest that Jesus only speaks of God subjectively, in terms of God’s being ad extra, and not objectively in terms of the ad intra, Bultmann adds that “Jesus does not differentiate between a remote, mysterious, metaphysical essence of God and God’s action toward us as the expression of this essence. Rather, the remote and the near God are one, and we cannot speak of God in Jesus’ sense if we do not speak of God’s action.” In other words, God is what God does, the being of God, according to this interpretation of Jesus, has to be identified with God’s action in history. The divine essence is the divine will. God’s will is determinative of God’s very being.[1]

If you have ever heard of a postmetaphysical or anti-metaphysical approach to theology then what you just read is that. What you just read is also what is at the nub of controversy between Barth scholars (e.g. “Barth Wars” or “Companion Controversy”); some believe Barth should be read just as we have explicated above, and others believe Barth should be read more “metaphysically.” Personally, I slide back and forth on a continuum in-between. Sometimes I feel more metaphysical in orientation, but usually my default is more post-metaphysical; what I prefer to call narratival (i.e. following the contours of the narrative of written Scripture; Robert Jenson exemplifies this style).

Many will be rebuffed by the Jewish versus Greek distinction underscored by Congdon’s treatment of Bultmann, but I still believe that distinction has teeth (even acknowledging the von Harnackian thesis and its supposed defeat among certain thinkers; thinkers who want to “Greekify” God in certain ways). But I will submit: I think the reason I have been attracted to this distinction and to the actualist narratival approach to developing a doctrine of God, in particular, and doing theology in general is because I have first and foremost been a bible reader (and remain such). So my own default is going to almost sound like de nuda scriptura (or solo scriptura) rather than a sola scriptura that allows the tradition of the Church to inform its interpretation of Scripture, theologically. But, again, I’m somewhere in-between; but then again I think Barth was too. I’m interested in engaging constructively with the grammar the tradition of the church has supplied for us, and then reifying that grammar, or better, refining that grammar such that the God revealed in Jesus Christ, under the terms we have just been exposed to through Congdon’s Bultmann/Barth, is allowed to excavate the traditional symbols under the recognition that God’s being in becoming looks exactly like Jesus acts (e.g. ‘If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father’ cf. Jn. 14). Thomas Torrance is also in this camp; representing more of a mediating character from Bultmann/Barth to an even more focused approach and emphasis upon the ecclesiological symbols or grammar of the tradition. Bringing Torrance into this discussion; I often find myself siding with the Barth side rather than the Torrance ecclesiocentric type (the Barth emphasis of God’s being-in-becoming).

Anyway, another blog post; more to think about; thanks for thinking with me.

 

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 322-24.

Retrieving the Modern Conception of God’s Being-in-Becoming For the Sake of the Church; For the Sake of Orthodoxy and Biblical Faithfulness

Thinking Salvation from the Primacy of Christ’s Humanity and TheAnthropology Rather than From Other Anthropotheological Avenues

The doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ is of the highest import for us Evangelical Calvinists. We see, following Torrance and Barth, this doctrine providing a foundational reality for thinking about theological ontology, epistemology, soteriology, ecclesiology etc. This focus reorientates the way we think about salvation in the sense that we start from the premise that salvation must start with a doctrine of God and ‘work its way down from there’ (think of incarnation). As we think this alongside Barth what stands out is an emphasis on God’s humanity; that is, an emphasis on the idea that without God freely choosing to not be God without us that there would be no gracious basis or space wherein salvation could obtain. We think this approach avoids the problematic that often attends the Augustinian emphasis of salvation as that is thought from below; as illustrated by Augustine’s doctrine of predestination (i.e. that God chooses particular individual humans to be saved in contrast to the Barth understanding wherein salvation is first grounded in the union of God and humanity in the hypostatic union realized in the person of Jesus Christ; thus all humanity is represented in the salvation event just as the humanity Christ assumes before the foundation of the world is a catholic humanity of the sort that all of humanity came to be in the first Adam in the original creation).

To help us appreciate what I am referring to let me refer to David Congdon (I’m reading his big book on Bultmann off and on) as he details how the humanity of Christ functions in the theology of Barth. We pick up with Congdon as he is comparing and contrasting Barth’s Christology with Bultmann’s; we won’t concern ourselves with the comparison so much, and instead focus on the good description that Congdon provides for us in regard to Barth’s understanding on the primacy of the humanity of Jesus Christ.

While we have isolated those aspects of Barth’s later work that highlight the conflict between him and Bultmann, we should not fail to note that, seen from another perspective, the theology in the fourth volume of Kirchliche Dogmatik draws nearer to Bultmann. This is because, compared to the period of dogmatic dissonance (1929–1939), the mature Barth unites deity and humanity in a way that permits, even requires, him to make the question of anthropology and human existence internal to the nature of theology, hence the humanity of God. The fruit of this is seen most clearly in KD 4.3, especially §71, where Barth develops his account of human vocation as something that “concerns us personally and affects us ‘existentially.’” But the human existentiality included within the divine existentiality is of a very particular sort, namely, it is the existence of the human Jesus (primary humanity) in distinction from all other human beings (secondary humanity). Beginning with his lecture on “Evangelische Theologiae im 19. Jahrhundert” on January 8, 1957, Barth defines his position as “theanthropology,” which he would later set over against what he calls “anthropotheology,” a term that replaces “natural theology” as the umbrella category for all the various theologies—from Schleiermacher to Bultmann, from pietism to mysticism, from the analogia entis to existentialism—that, in his judgment, talk about God by first talking about the creature. Theanthropology lets the particular humanity of Christ define what counts as genuinely human, whereas anthropotheology concerns itself with human presuppositions and conditions apart from and anterior to the Christ-event.[1]

There are a variety of loci and implications to what Congdon is developing here, but what I want to highlight is the aspect that has to do with the primary humanity of Jesus Christ and Barth’s Theanthropology.

For Evangelical Calvinists the doctrine of the primacy of Jesus Christ reigns supreme. We believe that all of creation is oriented to and from the reality of God’s choice to pre-temporally be for us in his choice to not be God without us in the incarnation. As such we see the teleology of creation (or its purpose) ultimately grounded in the joy that the Father has in his Son in the bond and fellowship of love they share one with the other, one in the other by the Holy Spirit (that is pretty trad right there). Following along with the Apostle Paul’s creational themes in Romans 8 (as he riffs on Genesis) and Colossians 1, there is a primacy to humanity vis-à-vis creation in general just as humanity is grounded in the reality of God’s life ‘to be human’ in the Son. That is the stewardship human beings have been given ‘over’ creation is only a mirroring and actualization of God’s reign over all of creation as that is realized in the effulgence of the Son’s eternal relation of the Father to the Son. In other words, creation’s inner-reality is grounded in God’s choice to be for the creation in the Son; as such creation’s orientation has always already been a teleology that has order and intelligibility insofar as that reality is realized in its magnification of the Son of God; insofar as the crowning reality of the creation has always already been grounded in the Kingly humanity of the Son; a humanity that is the point of creation to begin with—that God might share his Fatherly love, that he has always shared with the Son, by creating a world wherein counter-parts, individuated human creatures could participate by grace in the divine nature, and en-joy the fellowship and beauty that the Son and the Father by the Holy Spirit have always and eternally shared one with and in the other as the One True and Living Almighty God.

Along with Barth we want to see a Dogmatic primacy to the humanity of Christ; we want to see his humanity as archetypal of what it ultimately and redemptively means to be humanity as new creatures. We don’t want to attempt to grasp the humanity of God from our humanity as if our humanity comes prior to or in simultaneous relation with the humanity of God. No, we want to recognize that if there is going to be a meaningful and genuinely Christ-ian understanding of what it means to be a human we will not see that from our experiences as humans, but realize that, both protologically and eschatologically in and from the humanity that God has decided on as the norm of what it means for humans to be in relation with himself. We will think of humanity as if it is grounded in the eikon of God, in the imago Dei who is Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 1.15), and we will understand our humanity as it is recreated in the imago Christi as we then serve as images of the image of God in this world and bear witness to all of creation what its purpose is before God.

As we closed off with Congdon we see him referring to Barth’s reference of anthropotheology as a reference to all modes of theological reasoning that start with an anterior humanity that is thought of in abstraction from God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ (from a prior ‘above’); in abstraction from what it means to be human from a God-given orientation. We could add into the list that Barth thinks this label umbrellas, Augustinianism, at least in regard to Augustine’s doctrine of predestination and its from below soteriological orientation. It is an interesting mix to include someone like Schleiermacher and Augustine when thinking a doctrine of salvation, but probably not too far off (indeed Schleiermacher himself is quite Augustinian in certain important ways).

 

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 212-13.

Thinking Salvation from the Primacy of Christ’s Humanity and TheAnthropology Rather than From Other Anthropotheological Avenues

Christology as Theology: John Webster’s Turn to the Immanent God as the Salvage of the Economic God of Modernity

John Webster surveys three important modern theologians as examples of thinkers who to one extent or another, as he notes, reduce all theological endeavor to Christology or ‘incarnation.’

Formation of Christology by some or all of these principles may result from various factors, theological or non-theological. Chief among the theological factors is a commitment to a view of divine revelation as embodied divine self-manifestation: in effect, revelation is incarnation. One consequence of this strong identity between the divine Word and the historical form which it assumes is to close the space between God absolutely considered and God relatively considered. By virtue of the incarnational union of deity and humanity, there is consubstantiality between God’s immanent self and God’s revealed self, so that ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ are not simply coherent but identical. Theology cannot ‘get behind the back of Jesus to the eternal Son of God’. The non-theological factors are more diverse and less easy to specify. They include such matters as: consent to the metaphysical restrictions imposed by Kant’s placing of the noumenal beyond the reach of the human intellect; the effects of historical naturalism on interpretation of New Testament Christology; a valorization of history as first reality; a concomitant loss of confidence in the explanation of temporal events, acts and agents by reduction to their causes.[1]

As I noted, Webster then sketches three thinkers to one degree or another who fit what Webster sees as a lamentable turn for theological trajectory that took place in the modern period; the thinkers he surveys in this vein are Izaak Dorner, Albrecht Ritschl, and Karl Barth. The former two are used as par excellence examples of his negative description of this theological turn, while Barth is elevated, somewhat, as someone who was able to ‘mediate’ things between the orthodox and modern (or heterodox) periods of development.

I have great respect for John Webster, but I think it is unfortunate that he made a turn in his more mature theological reflection from what he finally came to think of as corrosive to a genuinely Christian theological project to the classical theistic mode he ended with prior to his call home. Nonetheless, I want to share his summary of Barth’s theology as the best of the mediating theologies to come from the modern turn; at least that’s the impression one gets as they read Webster’s detailing of the matter.

A final example is that of Barth, generally judged the most consistently Christocentric modern theologian. The unequalled intellectual grandeur of Barth’s achievement in the Church Dogmatics, along with its rhetorical, imaginative and spiritual force and its descriptive prowess, have combined to convey an impression of originality about his concentration on Christology, an impression which Barth himself did not discourage. However, his indebtedness to the great dogmaticians of the nineteenth century ought not to be understated (Barth himself did not understate it). What was original to Barth was not his Christological concentration so much as his combination of it with classical conciliar incarnational dogma and Reformed teaching about the hypostatic union, and his refusal to concur with the moralization of Christology into the soteriological background to religious-ethical society.

Barth’s concentration on Christology is more complex than admirers and critics often allow, and than some of his own programmatic statements about the place and function of Christology statements about the place and function of Christology suggest (understanding the Church Dogmatics requires attention both to Barth’s uncompromising enunciations of principles and his often much more nuanced and fine-grained exposition of detail). There are certainly many occasions when he announces the Christological determination of all dogmatic loci: revelation, the being of God in his freedom and his love, the election of humankind, human nature, sin, the Spirit, and more besides. Often the vigour of Barth’s statements derives from his resistance to what he considered the corrosive effects of natural theology. Moreover, the fourth volume of the Dogmatics, which treats the doctrine of reconciliation by an innovative interlaced account of the person and work of Christ, his natures, offices and states and their saving efficacy, is without doubt the point at which Barth’s powers are at full stretch. In the details of his exposition, however, Barth rarely reduces all other doctrines to derivatives or implicates of Christology. In part this is because he fears systematic master principles, even dogmatic ones, and seeks to preserve the freedom of the Word of God in dogmatic construction. In part, too, it is because he has a well-developed sense of the range of dogmatics, and an especially strong conviction that, in a dogmatics in which the covenant between God and humanity is of primary import, Christology in the economy must not overwhelm either the freedom of the eternal divine decision or the integrity of the human creature. In addition, Barth remains convinced that Christology and Trinity are inseparable and mutually implicating, and that teaching about the immanent Trinity is of great Christological import (this may be lost from view if Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation is detached from his doctrine of the Trinity in Church Dogmatics 1). Jesus Christ is the name, form and act of God; yet where those in Ristchl’s school (including the theological existentialists with whom Barth engaged in skirmishes in the 1950s whilst writing Church Dogmatics IV) took this as permission to set theology proper to one side in favour of an exclusively economic orientation, Barth continued to think that teaching about the eternal Son is essential to identifying the acting subject of revelation and reconciliation. In the overall sweep of his exposition of Christian doctrine, Barth does not allow theology to atrophy, though he is consistently and powerfully attentive to the economy as the sphere of the Son’s presence and action.[2]

By and large a favorable account of Barth’s theology; especially when placed against his teachers or forerunners, as we find in Dorner, Ristchl et al. Nevertheless, for Webster, Barth fits into the mold of a modern Christological theologian; even if he is more prescient or sensitive to the import of maintaining an antecedent ground or ‘primary objectivity’ to God’s being in becoming in the economy (‘secondary objectivity’). If you have ever read Paul Molnar or George Hunsinger on Barth you will find resonances with their interpretations and Webster’s here.

My concern, at least for my evangelical brethren and sistren, is that Webster’s turn will thrust people back into another ‘turn’ a turn away from, indeed, seeing Jesus Christ as the key to all theological knowledge. This is what has so attracted me to Barth, Torrance, et al; their emphasis upon Jesus Christ. Jesus was interested in emphasizing himself as the key to biblical exegesis and reality, and I take this impulse this centraldogma of dominical teaching as the mode for doing all theology. Sure, we could blame this turn to Christology as the key for theological explication on Kant and the modern turn to the subject; but why? Or even so, why is this turn ultimately a bad thing? Isn’t Webster’s own explication of Barth’s theology an example of how this ‘turn’ can be balanced out by recourse to a proper valence between the immanent God and the economic? Even with this valence, for Barth et al, Christ remains the concentrated and intensive key to all theological knowledge; to all Trinitarian knowledge, as the Son is the Son of the Father in pneumatic bondage.

My basic concern is that our knowledge of God, in principle is based upon a just is self possessed discursive root rather than the givenness of the God who speaks as gift in the face of Jesus Christ. In other words, my concern always seems to come back to natural theology; to base knowledge of God upon a pure nature, or even a given nature that epistemically precedes God’s confrontation with us in and through his Divine Logos, as far as I am concerned, lays a foundation for knowledge of God that necessarily starts from within the confines of a posit that has germinated in the mind of man rather than in the mind and heart of the living God. An appeal to the Tradition at this point only is to illustrate, by the way, the role that natural theology has in confirming the classical bias towards a naturum purum (pure nature).

 

[1] John Webster, God Without Measure: Working Papers In Christian Theology: Volume 1 God And The Works Of God (London-New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), Loc 1269, 1277 kindle version.

[2] Ibid., 1318, 1327, 1334, 1341, 1348.

Christology as Theology: John Webster’s Turn to the Immanent God as the Salvage of the Economic God of Modernity

The Parody of Light in Marx’s Theology: How Marx’s Leisure Displaces the Sabbath-Rest of the Living God

I am continuing to read Terry Eagleton’s book Why Marx Was Right, he offers some interesting commentary on what Marx believed the ideal of a communist system ought to lead to: leisure. Not that leisure would come from being lazy or non-work but that it would produce a society where wealth was so prevalent and self-sustaining—based on the cultivation of prior systems of production—that the ideal of leisure would be reached. Here is how Eagleton describes these things in Marx’s ‘theology’:

Yet only the economic in the narrow sense will allow us to get beyond the economic. By redeploying the resources capitalism has so considerately stored up for us, socialism can allow the economic to take more of a backseat. It will not evaporate, but it will become less obtrusive. To enjoy a sufficiency of goods means not to have to think about money all the time. It frees us for less tedious pursuits. Far from being obsessed with economic matters, Marx saw them as a travesty of true human potential. He wanted a society where the economic no longer monopolized so much time and energy.

That our ancestors should have been so preoccupied with material matters is understandable. When you can produce only a slim economic surplus, or scarcely any surplus at all, you will perish without ceaseless hard labour. Capitalism, however, generates the sort of surplus that really could be used to increase leisure on a sizeable scale. The irony is that it creates this wealth in a way that demands constant accumulation and expansion, and thus constant labour. It also creates it in ways that generate poverty and hardship. It is a self-thwarting system. As a result, modern men and women, surrounded by affluence unimaginable to hunter-gatherers, ancient slaves or feudal serfs, end up working as long and hard as these predecessors ever did.

Marx’s work is all about human enjoyment. The good life for him is not one of labour but of leisure. Free self-realisation is a form of “production,” to be sure; but it is not one that is coercive. And leisure is necessary if men and women are to devote time to running their own affairs. It is thus surprising that Marxism does not attract more card-carrying idlers and professional loafers to its ranks. This, however, is because a lot of energy must be expended on achieving this goal. Leisure is something you have to work for.[1]

As a general axiom I’d think it safe to say that all human beings desire more leisure and less work. But what’s not surprising, given Marx’s atheism, is that his prescription for human flourishing is generated by ‘under the sun’ thinking; as if the horizontal is all there is. For the Christian is leisure the ultimate goal? No; we’ve been recreated in the risen humanity of Jesus Christ for good works that we might live in them, in him. For the Christian in this in-between leisure is not the telos, is not the aim of our lives; instead, the aim is to live in the work of the Father in Christ ‘overshadowed’ by the Holy Spirit resulting in the completion for which creation was always already commissioned—for koinonial existence living in the shared life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by the grace of God for us.

We might see a sort of parody between Marx’s vision and the Holy vision of God in Christ. Work is indeed required if the ‘pleasures at the right hand of the Father’ are to be enjoyed forevermore. But the work is not a self-generated or self-realizable reality; it is not something that is immanent within an isolated individual or isolated community (even of the global sort). The work that God envisions is only something that he alone can (and has) accomplish[ed] for us in our stead in Jesus Christ. The end goal of God’s vision for what it means to be genuinely human and flourishing is what that looks like in Christ’s vicarious humanity for us before the Father; a humanity that finds its source, or ground in the divine life itself (anhypostatic/enhypostatic); a humanity that God has seen fit to seat next to himself in the Son’s assumed humanity. There is eschatological leisure for the Christian, but it is a leisure that finds resplendence only in the all-sufficient all-sustaining work of God for us in Jesus Christ. Marx seeks to displace God’s place with an abstract conception of humanity thus giving humanity a divinity that it could never have of itself naturally (Gen. 3.5). God indeed wants humanity to sabbath-rest in his presence, and find utter enjoyment as we live and move in the space his triune life provides for us as he graciously has brought us into that mediated through the humanity of Jesus Christ; but this is not something that our work can produce, only his for us.

As I continue to read about Marx’s theology (that’s what I’m calling it) it certainly has a sort of parasitic reality to it; I mean it is easy to see why Marx’s thought has been called ‘Christian heresy.’ It reminds me of the Beast in the book of Revelation; he attempts to parody the reality of God’s triune life by way of offering a kingdom that replicates God’s Kingdom in Christ without having God in Christ at the center. I can see why some Christians are attracted to Marx’s thought precisely because it has wicks in it that look like the light of Christian critique; i.e. in regard to political theory. But ultimately since the source has more in common with the angel of light rather than the true Light of the world, the trajectory it will ultimately set, if ingested, cannot be one that honors the living Christ. Any system of thought that does not START with Jesus Christ, as far as I am concerned, can only produce rotten fruit; even if in the mean time it might appear to be producing wheat.

 

[1] Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (New Haven&London: Yale University Press, 2011), Loc 1426, 1433, 1440 kindle version.

The Parody of Light in Marx’s Theology: How Marx’s Leisure Displaces the Sabbath-Rest of the Living God

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

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

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

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

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

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