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We have discussed often, here at The Evangelical Calvinist, the analogia entis (‘analogy of being’); indeed I have even written a whole chapter in critique of it for our first volume edited book, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church—my chapter was entitled: Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either Through Christ or Through Nature. I jesusmanofsorrowscontinue to see this as a touchstone issue, but it remains one that most either just take for granted, or simply don’t care about and see it as an abstraction. But I think that is mistaken, this is a fundamental hermeneutical issue that impacts just about everything in regard to biblical interpretation, theological method, anthropology, and everything else. For those who do care, and for those who do understand its significance, what this becomes is a dividing line between those who ostensibly do classical church traditional theology or those who follow Karl Barth’s critique that analogia entis is antichrist. I have of course been inspired by Karl Barth’s and Thomas Torrance’s critique of the analogy of being.

In order to reiterate what indeed the ‘analogy of being’ entails we will refer to Kurt Anders Richardson’s description of it. In Richardson’s description, through some parting words, he offers critique of the analogy of being. After we work through Richardson’s description (and partial critique, which he develops more in his book), we will take his words of critique and use those to analyze a quote from David Bentley Hart’s affirmation of the analogia entis; particularly in its Erich Przywaraian form, which Hart advocates for. And then we will offer an alternative to the classical analogia entis through Karl Barth’s thinking on what would become known as his analogia fidei (analogy of faith). We will see, hopefully, without being too triumphalist, that Hart’s position does not withstand the criticism that Richardson alerts us to. Here is Richardson:

Barth’s rejection of natural theology is a subtheme running throughout the CD. He was a discerner of its many forms, reasons, contexts, and representatives. At the center of his critique was his alertness to the anthropological character of all natural theology. In every case, intentionally or not, something self-justifying about the human subject is being claimed, something to be humanly achieved at the highest level of awareness and motivation, by which to credit the self before God. This problem with the natural theology was rooted, however, in the statements of Scripture attesting to what is called the natural knowledge of God and the exegetical and theological traditions that took up these statements in positive ways. That Genesis 1:26–27 had presented the human being as created according to the image of God suggested to many early theologians that a deposit of divine being was to be found in the former. Theologians had long contended that however corrupted human nature had become, this implanted deposit could be revived through the rebirth of faith and intellectual renovation by the Spirit of God. The natural knowledge of God could be taught to the world not only as part of the expositions of Christian truth but also as part of that which is essential to human nature. The fact of existence could be said to be true of creatures as well as God, when thought of in binary terms, in contrast to nonexistence; yet matter was a created continuity of divine existence between God and the human on account of the imago Dei. Human beings owed their nature to being created by God in his image, according to his likeness; hence, an absence of the image, so the classic theologians reasoned, would be the cessation of human existence. This type of reflection stood behind the Catholic theology of analogia entis (analogy of being), which held the concept of a knowable correspondence between human beings and the divine Being that is part of the necessary movement toward faith in God, which God accepts and counts worthy of himself. Indeed, much of the appeal to that which persists in the goodness of God’s human creature is part of the apologetic that derives itself from the analogia entis, reflection on the imago Dei. Indeed, one could assert that the best argument for the unique value of the human being flows from this very type of reflection. The problem with this reasoning with respect to Christian theology, in its dogmatic expression of what it is to be taught, is that it misses two basic truths: the judgment and the grace of God.[1]

With Richardson’s description in mind, let’s read David Bentley Hart’s opening salvos in favor of the analogy of being; he writes:

I: The Analogy as a Principle of Christian Thought

In that small, poorly lit, palely complected world where the cold abstractions of theological ontology constitute objects of passionate debate, Erich Przywara’s proposal regarding the analogia entis is unique in its nearly magical power to generate inane antagonisms. The never quite receding thunder of Karl Barth’s cry of “antichrist!” hovers perpetually over the field of battle; tiny but tireless battalions of resolute Catholics and Protestants clash as though the very pith and pulp of Christian conviction were as stake; and, even inside the separate encampments, local skirmishes constantly erupt among the tents. And yet it seems to be the case that, as a rule, the topic excites conspicuous zeal—especially among its detractors—in directly inverse proportion to the clarity with which it is understood; for, in itself, there could scarcely be a more perfectly biblical, thoroughly unthreatening, and rather drably obvious Christian principle than Przywara’s analogia entis.

What, after all, are the traditional objections to the analogy? What dark anxieties does it stir in fretful breasts? That somehow an ontological analogy between God and creatures grants creaturely criteria of truth priority over the sovereign event of God’s self disclosure in time, or grants the conditions of our existence priority over the transcendent being of God, or grants some human structure of thought priority over the sheer novum of revelation, or (simply enough) grants nature priority over grace. Seen thus, the analogia entis is nothing more than a metaphysical system (which we may vaguely denominate “Neoplatonist”) that impudently imagines there to be some ground of identity between God and the creature susceptible of human comprehension, and that therefore presumes to lay hold of God in his unutterable transcendence. But such objections are—to be perfectly frank—total nonsense. One need not even bother to complain about the somewhat contestable dualities upon which they rest; it is enough to note that such concerns betray not simply a misunderstanding, but a perfect ignorance, of Przywara’s reasoning. For it is precisely the “disjunctive” meaning of the analogy that animates Przywara’s argument from beginning to end; for him, it is the irreducible and, in fact, infinite interval of difference within the analogy that constitutes its surprising, revolutionary, and metaphysically shattering power. Far from constituting some purely natural conceptual scheme to which revelation must prove itself obedient, the analogia entis, as Przywara conceives of it, is nothing more than the largely apophatic, almost antimetaphysical ontology—or even meta-ontology—with which we have been left now that revelation has obliged us to take leave of any naïve metaphysics that would attempt to grasp God through a conceptual knowledge of essences or genera. A more plausible objection to the analogy might be the one that Eberhard Jüngel attributed (unpersuasively) to Barth, and that even Hans Urs von Balthasar found somewhat convincing: that so austere and so vast is the distinction between the divine and human in Przywara’s thought that it seems to leave little room for God’s nearness to humanity in Christ. This is no less mistaken than other, more conventional views of the matter, but at least it demonstrates some awareness of the absolute abyss of divine transcendence that the analogy marks.[2]

At least with Hart we know right where he stands right off the bat! But he falls prey to the parting critique of Richardson, in my view. Not too long ago I wrote another blog post that was titled Barth’s Orthodoxy and the Resurrection of Jesus as the History of the World. In that post I quoted and wrote some stuff that gets at Richardson’s critique of the analogia entis with his reference to God’s judgment and grace, and how that is absent in the classical understanding of the analogy of being. Here’s something that I think helps develop that a little further, with particular reference to Barth’s theology by Robert Dale Dawson:

The resurrection of Jesus Christ for Barth in his The Resurrection of the Dead has to do with the transition, the crossing of the infinite gulf, from God’s eternity to human history – but a transition which involves not merely an entrance into the stream of history (as might be said of the virgin birth) but also a decisive transformation of the whole of historical reality. Whereas the incarnation embraces the particular history of Jesus Christ from Bethlehem to Golgotha, the resurrection is the reality of Jesus Christ which includes and affects all history and every historical moment. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the event of existential import for every other human being. Apart from this transition there is no sure and reliable revelation of God to humankind. Religion and even the Christian witness is pitilessly nothing more than the dream of human wishes, and the whole of the theological enterprise falls to the Feuerbachian critique as being nothing more than a pretence – anthropology in guise.[3]

In Barth’s (and Torrance’s) theology there is no nature or imago Dei, no image of God separate from Jesus Christ as God’s imago (cf. Col. 1.15). This is basic to understanding Barth’s critique of the analogy of being. As Richardson alerts us to, what is absent in the classical construal of the analogy of being is that even though humanity is created in the image of God it does not emphasize the fact that that image has been utterly de-humanized, or “de-imagized” in the Genesis fall. The analogy of being, classically understood, operates under a premise that makes an abstract conception of the image of God regulative and normative for theological ontology, and human capacity for knowledge of God. The classical analogy of being gives nature a primacy and primalcy relative to human engagement with God, that Barth believes only God’s grace gives space for; particularly as that grace is given lovingly in the eternal Logos, Jesus Christ. This is why Barth, as Dawson develops, was so intent on pressing the idea that God’s grace is the total ground that is required for human beings to have a right standing before God; attendant with that standing in grace comes with it the capacity to actually and genuinely know and speak of God. In other words, it is God’s grace that fallen humanity is judged in the Judge Jesus Christ and created anew in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. This is where capacity for knowing God from all time is made possible in the theology of Barth; it is all grace.

Furthermore, in Barth’s theology,  the utter transcendence between God and humanity, which Hart rightly notes, is breached by God’s gracious election to become human, enter into all that entails, and from the inside/out re-create, through resurrection, all that was lost (and more) in the lapse of humanity in the Garden. In other words, in Barth’s thinking, there was no human ‘being’ present, not even in the original creation, that wasn’t first funded and formed by the grace of God. There wasn’t, in Barth’s thinking, an image of God, even in the original creation, that wasn’t first imaged by Jesus Christ, Deus incarandus, ‘the God to be incarnate’.

Conclusion

I am not totally persuaded, as Hart develops his argument in his essay, that even the classical position on the analogy of being is at odds with Barth’s critique as someone like Hart would have us to believe. That’s not to say that anything like the classical analogia entis remains, but something more like what we find in Barth’s reformulation of election happens to the analogia entis. I think the ‘apparent’ impasse between the analogy of being and something like Barth’s analogia fidei is not a total loss; I believe there actually might be a constructive way forward here. But it would take an open heart in order for that to happen, a heart that is willing to be innovative and constructive; even to the point that that heart is willing to depart, in letter, from what it perceives as the tradition of the church. This is radical, I know, but no more radical than being a Protestant in the first place; just ask Martin Luther.

 

[1] Kurt Anders Richardson, Reading Karl Barth: New Directions For North American Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2004), 123-24.

[2] David Bentley Hart, “The Destiny of Christian Metaphysics: Reflections on the Analogia Entis,” accessed from somewhere online via Google. I don’t remember when or why I found this essay, but do remember it was a chance find.

[3] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 5-6.

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Belief in the good, the bad and the ugly aren’t things that are simply inherent realities to the fabric of nature; such realities are things that are contingent upon certain unique belief structures. In other words, as atheists might surmise, we don’t simply read such moral proclivities off of the page of nature, instead these realities are those that come from something or someOne above, beyond, but lovingly and graciously from within the structures of nietzschecreation. In other words, the good, the bad and the ugly are not absolute realities in themselves, things that we can possess and manage through the proper education; instead their reality comes extra nos, from without us, as an alien thing bequeathed to us as creatures whose concreteness is also an ecstatic reality; a gift from some other ground than ourselves. This is one of the many points that David Bently Hart is making in his book Atheist Delusions:

What, however, we should never forget is where those larger notions of the moral good, to which even atheists can feel a devotion, come from, and this is no small matter. Compassion, pity, and charity, as we understand and cherish them, are not objects found in nature, like trees or butterflies or academic philosophers, but are historically contingent conventions of belief and practice, formed by cultural convictions that need never risen at all. Many societies have endured and indeed flourished quite well without them. It is laudable that Dennett is disposed (as I assume he is) to hate economic, civil, or judicial injustice, and that he believes we should not abandon our fellow human beings to poverty, tyranny, exploitation, or despair. Good manners, however, should oblige him and others like him to acknowledge that they are inheritors of a social conscience whose ethical grammar would have been very different had it not been shaped by Christianity’s moral premises: the ideals of justice for the oppressed the church took from Judaism, Christianity’s own special language of charity, its doctrine of God’s universal love, its exaltation of forgiveness over condemnation, and so on. And good sense should prompt them to acknowledge that absolutely nothing ensures that, once Christian beliefs have been finally and fully renounced, those values will not slowly dissolve, to be replaced by others that are coarser, colder, more pragmatic, and more “inhuman.” On this score, it would be foolish to feel especially sanguine; and there are good causes, as I shall discuss in the final part of this book, for apprehension. This one reason why the historical insight and intellectual honesty of Nietzsche were such precious things, and why their absence from so much contemporary antireligious polemic renders it so depressingly vapid. [David Bentley Hart,  Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, 16.]

In this, one of Hart’s opening chapters, he is taking aim at what he considers to be a sad attempt of atheism and Christian antagonism nowadays. He has been referencing Richard Dawkins, Dennet, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Brown and others who seem to have the ear of popular culture when it comes to critiquing Christianity. But he shows how inane so much of what these authors actually is when taken to its logical and ugly conclusion.

Anyway, I liked the material point of what Hart is writing in the quote I provide from him. There is this naïve belief amongst pagan culture in general, that they have something better to offer. They seem to fail to recognize that they cannot simply sleuth in negation and criticism of something positive (and I mean by way of presentation) like Christianity; they actually, through their criticism betoken themselves with a severe burden of proof. That is, it is not enough to shoot the messenger, after they shoot the messenger they must offer another message, an alternative account, and explanatory motif that provides greater gusto and gravitas than say the Christian account has offered Western culture (and all cultures, in some regard) for millennia; no small task. And what Hart is suggesting, arguing, is that it really cannot be done; at least if the history of ideas have any meaning.

Something that should be noted; Hart is comparing and contrasting today’s antagonistic voices (to Christianity) with those offered by thinkers in the 19th century and further back. He is somewhat lamenting the fact that today’s antagonistic critics of Christianity are in fact like babies compared to their more mature an thoughtful and informed forbears. I think Hart thinks the media has a lot to do with the fact that the most prominent Christian critics today have any purchase at all; because to Hart’s point, they certainly don’t have resonance based upon their force of thought and commanding intellectual and rhetorical prowess when it comes to actual depth.

This question, which for some should simply be abandoned as a non-starter [for people who would rather not think], continues to be one, at least for me, that should be dealt with. It is not because I hellhaven’t concluded something on this, personally; it is because I think this question occasions an even more important one that lies underneath or behind it. That is, who is God? The way we deal with this question will largely be shaped by what we think about God and how he reveals and deals with his creation, or us.

But before we get to who God is, lets deal with this issue; the issue of whether or not hell should be understood as a place where people who are reprobate (so to speak), or unbelievers when they die (or maybe not so limited?), end up for an eternal, and conscious, and tormentuous time. I have been reading, slowly (relatively speaking), David Bentley Hart’s book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies; and while his major focus is not this particular quagmire, he does broach it. And it is his broaching that I want to use as the portal into dealing with this question (or not, maybe it’s a non-starter for you). Hart doesn’t commit to anything, himself (he is Eastern Orthodox, so he probably tends towards a Universalism of sorts, but maybe not!), but he does sketch this in a way that might place some question marks, or at least moments into this query that should make some of us pause more. He writes:

[…] The threat of eternal torment is an appeal solely to spiritual and emotional terror, and to the degree that Christians employed it as an inducement to faith, their arguments were clearly somewhat vulgar. The doctrine of hell, understood in a purely literal sense, as a place of eternally unremitting divine wrath, is an idea that would seem to reduce Christianity’s larger claims regarding the justice, mercy, and love of God to nonsense. But, even here, one must take care to make proper distinctions, for it is not at all clear to what degree such an idea was central or even peculiar to the preaching of the early Christians. The earliest Christian documents, for instance—the authentic epistles of Paul [editor’s note: they are all authentic, Hart … don’t play that trope!]—contain no trace of a doctrine of eternal torment, and Paul himself appears to have envisaged only a final annihilation of evildoers. The evidence of the Gospels, moreover, is far more ambiguous on this point than most person imagine; even Christ’s allegorical portrait of the final judgment in Matthew chapter 25 allows considerable latitude for interpretation, and patristic theologians as diverse as Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Isaac of Nineveh saw in the phrase aionios kolasis (typically translated as “eternal punishment,” but possible to read as “correction for a long period” or “for an age” or even “in the age to come”) no cause to conclude that hell was anything but a temporary process of spiritual purification. Indeed, it the testimony of several of the church fathers is to be believed, this “purgatorial” view of hell was far from being an eccentric minority opinion among the Christians of the first few centuries, especially in the Eastern reaches of the empire. All that said, though, one must grant that the idea of eternal punishment for the wicked or for unbelievers formed part of Christian teaching from an early date. But one should also note that the idea of eternal punishment was not a uniquely or even distinctively Christian notion; its pagan precedents were many; it was an idea well established among, for instance, the Platonists; and it is not wholly fanciful to suggest that its eventual ascendency  in Christian teaching was a result as much of the conventional religious thinking that Christianity absorbed from the larger culture as of anything native to the gospel. Whatever the case, it is doubtful that Christian teaching succeeded much in exacerbating fear of death or the afterlife. All the documentary evidence suggests that the special attention attraction of Christianity in ancient society lay elsewhere, in aspects of the faith that clearly set it apart from other contemporary versions of reality. [David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions, 154-55.]

One of the reasons I like this quote from DBH is because it compresses major disciplinarian ways into this doctrine of hell; i.e. Historical Theology, Exegetical Theology, and Dogmatic Theology. This elicits something, or it should, that there are more ways into considering this issue than a simple commitment to scripture all by itself (solo scriptura, nuda scriptura) will, or can, yield. There are fields of meaning and context that need to be considered when discerning this issue of hell.

The grammatical/exegetical aspect is not as cut and dry as Hart demonstrates (quickly); the history of interpretation is not as precise as us conservative evangelicals would like, and the Dogmatic reality of God as love is thrown into relief when we consider what this means for the eternality of hell (maybe it is temporary).

We all have to come down somewhere (some choose to remain agnostic, but that’s no fun!), and all of the above needs to be considered as we begin our descent downwards to ‘somewhere’. God is love, is hell a loving place; is a concept of eternal unremitting divine wrath (as Hart phrases it) commensurate with the grander doctrine that God is love? Can creation be said to be fully redeemed (Romans 8) and death put under foot (I Cor. 15) if hell continues to be an eternal unremitting reality?  Is there an eternal shadow side of God, or is God unremitting light in Christ? Is the koine (NT) Greek able to bear the weight of this question all by itself (lexically, grammatically, and syntactically)? Do earlier Christian thinkers have anything of value to say on this? What did Jesus think?

These are all questions that I won’t try to answer here, I’ll just leave them dangling and let you. I will say though that it won’t do to simply yell your position louder; not if you are serious.

David Bentley Hart on the funk of Enlightenment rationalism, and its limp-wristed understanding of what constitutes human freedom and liberation; and then the fall-out it has produced in society at large (I will comment after):

Survivor, Rwandan Genocide

Survivor, Rwandan Genocide

[…] And why should this not be so? If the quintessential myth of modernity is that true freedom is the power of the will over nature—human or cosmic—and that we are at liberty to make ourselves what we wish to be, then it is not necessarily the case that the will of the individual should be privileged over the “will of the species.” If there is no determinate human nature or divine standard to which the uses of freedom are bound, it is perfectly logical that some should think it a noble calling to shape the fictile clay of humankind into something stronger, better, more rational, more efficient, more perfect. The ambition to refashion humanity in its very essence—social, political, economic, moral, psychological—was inconceivable when human beings were regarded as creatures of God. But with the disappearance of the transcendent, and of its lure, and of its authority, it becomes possible to will a human future conformed to whatever ideals we choose to embrace. This is why it is correct to say that the sheer ruthlessness of so much of post-Christian social idealism in some sense arises from the very same concept of freedom that lies at the heart of our most precious modern values. The savagery of triumphant Jacobinism, the clinical heartlessness of classical socialist eugenics, the Nazi movement, Stalinism—all the grand utopian projects of the modern age that have directly or indirectly spilled such oceans of human blood—are no less results of the Enlightenment myth of liberation than are the liberal democratic state of vulgarity of late capitalist consumerism or the pettiness of bourgeois individualism. The most pitilessly and self-righteously violent regimes of modern history—in the West or in those other quarters of the world contaminated by our worst ideas—have been those that have most explicitly cast off the Christian vision of reality and sought to replace it with more “human” set of values. No cause in history—no religion or imperial ambition or military adventure—has destroyed more lives with more confident enthusiasm than the cause of the “brotherhood of man,” the postreligious utopia, or the progress of the race. To fail to acknowledge this would be to mock the memory of all those millions that have perished before the advance of secular reason in its most extreme manifestations. And all the astonishing violence of the modern age—from the earliest European wars of the emergent nation-state onward—is no less proper an expression (and measure) of the modern story of human freedom than are the various political and social movements that have produced the modern West’s special combination of general liberty, material abundance, cultural mediocrity, and spiritual poverty. To fail to acknowledge this would be to close our eyes to the possibilities for evil that have been opened up in our history by the values we most dearly prize and by the “truths” we most fervently adore…. [David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions, 107-08.]

To decouple ourselves from the so conceived pre-critical pre-“modern” mythology of a world governed and sustained by a benevolent creator, is to de-loop ourselves from the order that this good Christian God has woven into the fabric of contingent reality. As Hart so presciently elaborates for us, these ideas of human openness and freedom have resulted in a kind of dark perverted savagery that the childish pre-moderns could never have ever hoped to perpetrate upon the world at large. We live in a “modern” and “post-modern” liberated world guided and pre-destined by our own creative whims; whims that presume to be dispossessed of any relation to someone transcendent beyond themselves.

Apparently Jesus was onto something when he asserted:

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” ~Matthew 15:16-20 (NIV)

And yet, the reality is that once the ‘modern’ world ceases to trade upon the dictates of their own heart, the world will cease to be the world; so defined. But what Hart is highlighting, all things being equal (which they aren’t), is that the method of this world’s madness does not provide the kind of explanatory power that the Christian belief/life system does. There is an answer to be provided to this world that gives it a coherence and purpose that the questions society posits left to themselves cannot appreciate. In other words, once God in Christ is abandoned as the ultimate question maker, then as corollary, he is also retreated from as the ultimate answer giver. And in this vacuum satan’s original lie to Eve flourishes (at least it appears to).

It is often assumed by atheists/fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins and the so called new Atheists that macro-evolutionary biology, and big-bang cosmology (amongst other disciplinary distinctives) is the death-knell for richard-dawkinsthe Christian explanation of things; i.e. that reality has an explanation that is extra nos (outside of us), and thus is not absolutized or made immanent to material nature itself. These new Atheists though, move too quickly; they presume that their explanation for reality—metaphysical materialism—comes with its own explanatory power as to the origins itself. But one major problem with this supposition is that the categories with which their supposed explanation for origins comes, does not by definition come with something outside of material reality; and thus by definition—if material reality is the end in itself that these new Atheists naïvely presuppose it to be—the confines of thought from which they have to work, at a first order level (or a general knowledge level) is defined with the prior commitment that material reality is all that there is. But, again, this does not tell us about the origin of material reality, it only tells us that there is material reality, and that material reality, enclosed in on itself, as it is, has a set of conceptual categories through which to think; but these categories, by definition, do not include the kind of conceptual ingression required to explain the origins of material reality itself. And so these new Atheists fool themselves into thinking that they have a corner on reality, that left to their own devices, they really don’t have after all. David Bentley Hart makes my point more prescient:

There is, after all, nothing inherently reasonable in the conviction that all of reality is simply an accidental confluence of physical causes, without any transcendent source or end. Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other. In general, the unalterably convinced materialist is a kind of childishly complacent fundamentalist, so fervently, unreflectively, and rapturously committed to the materialist vision of reality that if he or she should encounter any problem—logical or experiential—that might call its premises into question, or even merely encounter a limit beyond which those premises lose their explanatory power, he or she is simply unable to recognize it. Richard Dawkins is a perfect example; he does not hesitate, for instance, to claim that “natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence.” But this is a silly assertion and merely reveals that Dawkins does not understand the words he is using. The question of existence does not concern how it is that the present arrangement of the world came about, from causes already internal to the world, but how it is that anything (including any cause) can exist at all. This question Darwin and Wallace never addressed, nor were ever so hopelessly confused as to think they had. It is a question that no theoretical or experimental science could ever answer, for it is qualitatively different from the kind of questions that the physical sciences are competent to address. Even if theoretical physics should one day discover the most basic laws upon which the fabric of space and time is woven, or evolutionary biology the most elementary phylogenic forms of terrestrial life, or palaeontology an  utterly seamless genealogy of every species, still we shall not have thereby drawn one inch nearer to a solution of the mystery of existence. No matter how fundamental or simple the level reached by the scientist—protoplasm, amino acids, molecules, subatomic particles, quantum events, unified physical laws, a primordial singularity, mere logical possibilities—existence is something else altogether. Even the simplest of things, and even the most basic of principles, must first of all be, and nothing within the universe of contingent things (nor even the universe itself, even if it were somehow “eternal”) can be intelligently conceived of as the source of explanation of its own being. [David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, 103.]

The author to the Hebrews has written:

 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, ~1:3

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. ~11:3

Thomas Torrance articulates the God-world relation by using the concepts of God’s non-contingent independence, and the world’s contingent independence; I think this asymmetric mutually implicating binary correlates well with what Hart is getting at. The world cannot provide its own ground for its own being. The world can speak of things from within its own being because the being of the world is given an intelligible order and coefficient knowledge because of its contingent dependence upon something else as the given for its being as the world. It is thus unintelligible to assert that the world has its own independent giveness based upon what we can emperically observe in the given world. In other words, the fact that there is a given world presupposes something that the world itself, left to itself, cannot explain under its own strength. This is what the author to the Hebrews is asserting; that is, that we cannot explain the being of the world by the being of the world by finding an analogy in the being of world for its own being (this is circular). Instead we must relate to the giver of the giveness of the world through an analogy or relation of faith; and this is only possible if the giver of the giveness of the world graciously chooses to reveal himself to us, breaking in on the world he has given its being to.

In short, the new Atheists need something more than they have available to them, left to their own bereft machinations and apparatuses. They need more than the being of this world has to offer them; they need some grounding that will allow them to discern the possibility, more, the reality, that the world itself, by definition, is contingent; not upon itself, of course, but upon a ground that comes before the being of the world itself. But this would mean that they would have to walk by faith, not by sight; and unless they have the Spirit they will never be able to say that Jesus is Lord—of all men (and women), then, they are the most to be pitied.

Belief in the good, the bad and the ugly aren’t things that are simply inherent realities to the fabric of nature; such realities are things that are contingent upon certain unique belief structures. In other words, as atheists might surmise, we don’t simply read such moral proclivities off of the page of nature, instead these realities are those that come from something or someOne above, beyond, but lovingly and graciously from within the structures of nietzschecreation. In other words, the good, the bad and the ugly are not absolute realities in themselves, things that we can possess and manage through the proper education; instead their reality comes extra nos, from without us, as an alien thing bequeathed to us as creatures whose concreteness is also an ecstatic reality; a gift from some other ground than ourselves. This is one of the many points that David Bently Hart is making in his book Atheist Delusions:

What, however, we should never forget is where those larger notions of the moral good, to which even atheists can feel a devotion, come from, and this is no small matter. Compassion, pity, and charity, as we understand and cherish them, are not objects found in nature, like trees or butterflies or academic philosophers, but are historically contingent conventions of belief and practice, formed by cultural convictions that need never risen at all. Many societies have endured and indeed flourished quite well without them. It is laudable that Dennett is disposed (as I assume he is) to hate economic, civil, or judicial injustice, and that he believes we should not abandon our fellow human beings to poverty, tyranny, exploitation, or despair. Good manners, however, should oblige him and others like him to acknowledge that they are inheritors of a social conscience whose ethical grammar would have been very different had it not been shaped by Christianity’s moral premises: the ideals of justice for the oppressed the church took from Judaism, Christianity’s own special language of charity, its doctrine of God’s universal love, its exaltation of forgiveness over condemnation, and so on. And good sense should prompt them to acknowledge that absolutely nothing ensures that, once Christian beliefs have been finally and fully renounced, those values will not slowly dissolve, to be replaced by others that are coarser, colder, more pragmatic, and more “inhuman.” On this score, it would be foolish to feel especially sanguine; and there are good causes, as I shall discuss in the final part of this book, for apprehension. This one reason why the historical insight and intellectual honesty of Nietzsche were such precious things, and why their absence from so much contemporary antireligious polemic renders it so depressingly vapid. [David Bentley Hart,  Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, 16.]

In this, one of Hart’s opening chapters, he is taking aim at what he considers to be a sad attempt of atheism and Christian antagonism nowadays. He has been referencing Richard Dawkins, Dennet, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Brown and others who seem to have the ear of popular culture when it comes to critiquing Christianity. But he shows how inane so much of what these authors actually is when taken to its logical and ugly conclusion.

Anyway, I liked the material point of what Hart is writing in the quote I provide from him. There is this naïve belief amongst pagan culture in general, that they have something better to offer. They seem to fail to recognize that they cannot simply sleuth in negation and criticism of something positive (and I mean by way of presentation) like Christianity; they actually, through their criticism betoken themselves with a severe burden of proof. That is, it is not enough to shoot the messenger, after they shoot the messenger they must offer another message, an alternative account, and explanatory motif that provides greater gusto and gravitas than say the Christian account has offered Western culture (and all cultures, in some regard) for millennia; no small task. And what Hart is suggesting, arguing, is that it really cannot be done; at least if the history of ideas have any meaning.

Something that should be noted; Hart is comparing and contrasting today’s antagonistic voices (to Christianity) with those offered by thinkers in the 19th century and further back. He is somewhat lamenting the fact that today’s antagonistic critics of Christianity are in fact like babies compared to their more mature an thoughtful and informed forbears. I think Hart thinks the media has a lot to do with the fact that the most prominent Christian critics today have any purchase at all; because to Hart’s point, they certainly don’t have resonance based upon their force of thought and commanding intellectual and rhetorical prowess when it comes to actual depth.

I think this is a good little snippet and look into David Bentley Hart’s perspective on Christianity and her history of violence:

ht: Jason Goroncy

This is often a common theme brought up, especially by those seeking to discredit the reality of Christianity — viz. Christianities’ history in regards to things done in her name that do not reflect the ideals that Jesus taught, and more, embodied. The new Atheists for example seek to discredit the viability of Christianity (in particular) by causally linking the actions of some Christians in the history to the principles upon which Christianity is really based. It is true that Christians, even today, have so lumped “their Christianity” into say the political processes; that violence has been and continues to be done in the name of Christ and righteousness. So the new Atheists charge is not altogether unfounded. Where it does become unfounded is in their failure to make the proper nuance or distinction between cultural appropriations and perversions of Christianity, and Christianity simpliciter (or Christianity in its taught/lived form in Christ). Hart takes note of this failure in the new Atheists posturing, and thus highlights the point that these kinds of rhetorical arguments have no teeth. I agree.

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

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A Little Thomas Torrance

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

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