Category Archives: David Congdon

Torrance’s Demythologization of Bultmann: Re-Metaphysicalizing the Gospel Through the Gospel

Because of David Congdon’s book on Bultmann, his book big which I have been reading, I am here going to continue to throw significant noise back at any sort of positive “retrieval” of Bultmann’s theology. The “noise” will, once again, come from my teacher, Thomas F. Torrance. If you want to read his fuller treatment on Bultmann’s theology then pick up his posthumously published book Incarnation and flip to the end notes; Walker (the editor) included a quite lengthy dossier from TFT on Bultmann in critique.

As becomes clear, as you are reading Congdon’s Big Book on Bultmann, there is a disavowal of the metaphysical God of Christian tradition and classical theism[s]. This is simply in line with the period of theological undevelopment that Bultmann was groomed in; the so called postmetaphysical understanding of God, primarily among the Teutonics. Torrance identifies the ideational genealogy of this line of thinking, and helps to further expose the narrow shoulders upon which Bultmann stood in the development of his own thinking. Torrance writes (in extenso):

This brings us to another important but difficult point: Bultmann’s peculiar understanding of history. That is even more clear in the teaching of Gogarten, especially in his little work Demythologisation and History. This is the view that we are ourselves the real creators of history, and that the existence we know is historicised existence. Here two streams of thought run together, and we may best understand that by looking at those two streams of thought: one from Kant through Dilthey, and the other from Roman Catholicism through Heidegger. In Kant’s famous Copernican revolution, idealist philosophers came to think of the human mind as creating its data out of a formless raw material through certain categories of understanding, so that in the very act of knowing we give shape and form to the chaotic flux of experience. Now this notion was carried over by Dilthey to an understanding of history, and so he set himself to write a critique of the historical reason, parallel to Kant’s critique of the pure reason – for Dilthey, this was necessary if the humanistic sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) were not simply to take their criteria and hermeneutical method from the exact natural sciences.

But there is another line of thought that flows into this from the Roman Catholic notion of tradition, that is, of the real meaning of history in an organically developing tradition. This notion was transferred to the understanding of existence by Heidegger, for whom the real existence of a thing is found in its traditions. A thing is what its tradition is, and beyond that tradition there is no thing in itself. In this way, Heidegger transposed the medieval view of existence and essence by telescoping them into each other. For him, essence is found in existence, and on that ground, existence in essence. In Bultmann and Gogarten both of these lines of interpreting history run together, and for them history is that which we make it to be, so that beyond our historicisation of existence, there is no reality.

Historical existence and the history of existence are identical. Applied to the gospel tradition, that means that what is actually historical is what the apostles made of the raw material in front of them, and behind that there is no reality. The historical reality is what they made it to be – apart from their creation there is nothing, there exists nothing. The only real historical Jesus is what we make of him. That helps to explain why for Bultmann the apostles (from our point of view) had to distort the picture of Jesus in their presentation – there is in fact no other Jesus than that, their creation of him. This view of history destroys what Bultmann and Gogarten call the metaphysical interpretation of the faith or the historical Jesus, and eliminates from the Christ-event anything of an objective, independent, ontological nature. Or to put it in other words, according to Bultmann and Gogarten, modern men and women cannot understand history apart from our own responsibility for it; and apart from our responsible handling of it, there is in point of fact no history, for there is no history apart from the changes human beings have introduced into it. By our decisions we give the world its particular form, so that reality is now this changing history which we create, and beyond and apart from that there is nothing real for us.

Now quite frankly this is the biggest myth yet created by man – that we ourselves are the creators of all history, and that apart from the history created by human beings, nothing else is real! Man is the God of history! In view of this, it is clear that it is not the New Testament that Bultmann and Gogarten themselves that need to be radically demythologised! So long as they work with such inverted conceptions of history, scientific interpretation of the New Testament is quite impossible.[1]

Torrance opines further and latterly in his treatment this way:

In point of fact, then, Bultmann’s demythologization of the kerygma means stripping it of its physical elements – its setting in physical history and the physical world of space and time in which we live. The whole process which takes the kerygma out of that setting and plants it in some setting of existential decision, cuts out of the gospel its historical particularity, and cuts out of the incarnation its ephapax, its ‘once and for all’ finality. It cuts the kerygma adrift from history altogether. Now Bultmann declares that he does not do that, for the existential decision is in historical encounter with the crucified Jesus, but once that decision is made, history as we know it is set aside, and in point of fact he does therefore cut the kerygma adrift from history, for history has no essential relation to the substance and content of faith. The historical event of Christ, apart from the appeal it addresses to us, signifies nothing for our salvation, for it is not a source of salvation independent of ourselves. The historical fact of Christ cannot be the object of the kerygma, since it is the kerygma, says Bultmann, that is, the kerygma as he understands it, that declares its meaning and confers on it its value as saving event. It is only because the kerygma is a function of man’s self understanding that it invests the historical fact of the crucified Christ with a meaning and an existential reality which it does not have in itself.[2]

And in a zinging type of way Torrance offers a final critique of Bultmann’s lack of theologia crucis:

The plain fact is that Bultmann shies away from the weakness of God on the cross, as Paul called it, and so is offended at the cross. The fact that the eternal God is there in all that weakness is a scandal to his ‘Greek’ mind, and the fact that his eternal salvation must repose upon a contingent fact of history in Jesus frightens him – and therefore it is Bultmann himself above all who seeks false security by cutting the kerygma adrift from history and all its weakness, so that it will not be open to the criticisms of rationalism. Or, paradoxically, he deliberately uses all the weapons of positivist science in order to destroy the historical foundations of faith, so that faith may rest on something that is not subject to weakness or change and relativity and contingency. He thus has not the courage to rest his faith upon the weakness of God in the historical Jesus, and so seek falsely to secure himself and his self-understanding within the limits of scientism.[3]

Torrance’s critiques do not fall on deaf ears. As one reads Congdon’s book on Bultmann all of TFT’s points are spot on. It is unfortunate that Congdon didn’t really interact with Torrance’s points of critique, but that does not negate the force of Torrance’s critiques. It is interesting to me, because as I have followed Congdon’s theological development and present conclusions, his conclusions are exactly that of Bultmann’s; and thus fall under the mantle of Torrance’s insights and critiques. Congdon offers certain words of pushback against critiques like Torrance’s, particularly in regard to the idea that Bultmann relied upon Heidegger in paradigmatic ways, but he only asserts that Bultmann arrived at his views prior to reliance upon Heidegger, and that he found in Heidegger a like-minded companion to help round out his thinking. But that’s hardly an adequate response to the sort of penetrating critique that Torrance offers.

When you think about it: If God is the center of your thinking you will not have an aversion to metaphysics, per se; but if you are the center of your thinking you will indeed have an aversion to metaphysics. Metaphysics, in a denotative sense, does not mean that the thinker must be overly committed to Hellenic forms of thinking; indeed, as Torrance intimates, Bultmann himself suffers from this over reliance in his so called demythologized postmetaphysics. The concern that some of us have, myself included, is that metaphysics are not properly evangelized by the Gospel reality; that metaphysics come prior to the Revelation thus modulating the Gospel into something it isn’t. But this concern is different than Bultmann and his impulses. He was under the sway of a humanistic idealism that was attempting to navigate the Enlightenment waters by giving full head nod to them while still attempting to have a lively Christian faith under those constraints. Torrance helps us see how Bultmann’s noble attempts failed radically!

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 284-85.

[2] Ibid., 289-90.

[3] Ibid., 290.

Advertisements

Thomas Torrance’s Warning Against the Existentialist Jesus of Rudolf Bultmann and David Congdon

I’ve been referring quite frequently to Rudolf Bultmann lately because of David Congdon’s big book on Bultmann; which I’ve been reading. I’ve finished about two thirds of the book (500 pp.), and I think I’ve seen enough. It is easy to see how seductive reading large amounts of someone like Bultmann can be; indeed, I found myself getting sucked in at moments myself. But ultimately the existentialist Jesus that Congdon presents through Bultmann is nothing more than a Gnostic Jesus who is generated more by the imagination than by the antecedent reality of the eternal God, the eternal Logos. What takes over in this frame is not Jesus the Lord, but my encounter with an idea named Jesus; and my existential state becomes determinative for the type of response this “encounter” might engender. Jesus, in the Bultmannian frame, has no ontological grounding; instead the Jesus of Bultmann comes to only have an existential grounding, an ontic grounding that cannot ultimately surpass my personal experience with him. In other words, there is nothing transcendent about Bultmann’s/Congdon’s Jesus; only if transcendence means that this “encounter” with the so called kerygmatic Christ results in theopolitical action wherein the eschatological is existentially realized in the concrete existence of my lived life among other flatlanders.

Thomas Torrance, who I consider my primary teacher these days, offers critique of the Bultmannian sort of Jesus; and so I want to share some of that for you. It is no surprise that Congdon would discount Torrance’s understanding of Bultmann and the existentialist Jesus produced thereby. Yet, if Congdon wants to discount TFT’s critique maybe he shouldn’t exemplify the very components of the critique in his own lived life and positions (Congdon, that is). TFT writes:

In both liberalism and existentialism the historical Jesus is expendable

That is the denouement that comes over the idealist and liberal conception of Jesus, in which the eternal ideas mediated by Jesus finally set the historical Jesus himself aside. That is called Liberalism, but today there is a whole school of New Testament scholars who are opposed to that liberal approach to Jesus, and they lay stress not on the ideas that he taught, but on the eschatological event which broke into the world in the historical Jesus. What is this eschatological event? The school of New Testament scholars here would call the eschatological event the act of the divine mediated in and through the historical Jesus, but they deny that the divine event is itself also an historical event. In other words, they have substituted the concept of event for that of idea, and in the same way as the idea passes through the historical Jesus and discards him, so this eschatological event passes through the historical Jesus and discards him. Just as the eternal ideas or truths mediated by Jesus had only a temporal and non-essential relation to history, so this eschatological event has only a temporal and non-essential relation to history. Again, just as the eternal truth  mediated by Jesus, once it was disclosed to our knowledge, appears self evident to us as a truth of our own reason, so the eschatological event, once it is disclosed through our decision, ministers to, or is servant to, our self understanding. What is the difference between this view and the liberal one? The liberal view worked with an idealist philosophy [emphasis on ideas], and this works with an existentialist philosophy [emphasis on courageous existence and decision, personal action and involvement in events]; the liberal view was more concerned with static ideas, and this one more with dynamic events and decisions, but in both the result is the same: the truth of reason or self understanding is the net result, while the historical Jesus is relegated as of no ultimate importance.

All that happened here is that the philosophical idiom has changed, the language has changed to suit the times, but we have the same radical divorce of the eternal from the temporal, the act of God from history – with the result that the historical person of Christ as God and man is no longer central or important. This is simply a new and more subtle form of liberalism. Once again the great dilemmas is: either in Jesus Christ we are confronted by the eternal God in history, so that the person of the historical Christ as man and God is of utmost importance; or Jesus is only the historical medium of a confrontation between me and the act of God which summons me to decision, but in which I reach a self understanding which enables me to live my life bravely. Here christology passes away into some kind of existentialist anthropology.[1]

This is an accurate assessment of the existentialist Jesus that David Congdon presents us with in Rudolf Bultmann’s thought. The historical Jesus is still only an accident of history in this frame, a purveyor of eternal ideas, but nothing more; albeit eternal ideas that have actually been sublimated by the immanent conditions of the 21st century. Worse, this Jesus, while said to encounter us, is given shape not by some real eschatological reality, but the one imagined by an immanenist frame that looks more like the enculturated self-imaginer, and the socio-cultural conditions this imaginer is located in, rather than the eschatological life of God who is characterized by an alien holiness.

You might wonder why I’m picking on Congdon so much. It’s because he is an influential personage among millennial and younger thinkers in regard to who God in Jesus Christ is imagined to be. He is helping a generation slip away from the orthodox Jesus confessed and known by the church catholic through the centuries; and is offering us a latter day Jesus who is more like an ATM machine dispensing values that look more like the cultural moment than the heavenly revolution they purport to be. He is helping young people (and older who aren’t wise enough to see past this) apostatize with intellectual rigor, and leaving them in the dust of their own images.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 261-62.

The Analogy of Advent Rather Than The Analogy of Being: The “Christ-Myth” Demythologized

A large number of analyses come up short by dwelling upon the historical question, often falsely construing Barth’s inversion of the order of the historical enterprise and the resurrection of Jesus as an aspect of his historical skepticism. For Barth the resurrection of Jesus is not a datum of the sort to be analyzed and understood, by other data, by means of historical critical science. While a real event within the nexus of space and time the resurrection is also the event of the creation of new time and space. Such an event can only be described as an act of God; that is an otherwise impossible event. The event of the resurrection of Jesus is that of the creation of the conditions of the possibility for all other events, and as such it cannot be accounted for in terms considered appropriate for all other events. This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.[1]

The above quote from Robert Dale Dawson captures a significant point in regard to the apocalyptic-dialectical nature of Barth’s theory of history-revelation; particularly this clause: “This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.” It fits well with Eberhard Jüngel’s ‘demythologizing’ project—if we want to call it that—vis-à-vis Rudolf Bultmann’s understanding of ‘myth’ and ‘demyth.’

As David Congdon develops Bultmann’s understanding of myth and demythologizing what comes to the fore, particularly as he places Jüngel into conversation with Bultmann, is how ‘myth’ coalesces with what Dawson describes, with reference to Barth’s doctrine of resurrection, as ‘the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.’ Often when we hear “myth” we think in terms of its profane or pagan etiology (or lexical origination, colloquially understood); when we hear myth we hear fairytale. But this is precisely not what Bultmann, Jüngel, or Barth understand as the entailment of myth (Barth’s language is actually saga instead of myth; roughly as corollary with Bultmann’s myth). In order to explicate this further I am going to quote Congdon (again, don’t tell him) as he develops Jüngel’s own understanding of mythos as this relates to knowledge of God. Congdon writes at length:

According to Jüngel, faith as the knowledge of God is concerned with a person’s existential relocation (i.e., knower located with the known) and not with the world’s theoretical explanation (i.e., known located with the knower). The knowledge of God is not a worldview but rather and existential event, as the dialectical revolution in theology discovered anew. Demythologizing is necessary in order to prevent theology from losing sight of its proper task as the articulation of this existential relation to God. In this way it furthers the project of dialectical theology. Demythologizing continually unsettles and reorients theology, and in so doing preserves the practical truth of the Christ-myth. Commenting on Luther’s axiom that “our theology is certain because it places us outside ourselves [ponit nos extra nos],” Jüngel presents the summation of his theological argument for the necessity of demythologizing:

Those who in faith know the mystery of Jesus Christ, who are thus placed outside themselves, find their existential place “in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17). This mythical power to localize the knower anew is the truth of myth preserved in Christianity. But this is precisely what is obscured by the “theoretical” act of knowledge that takes place concurrently in myth, which localizes the known—the God who comes to the world—in the context of the reality of the knower and consequently in the context of his or her world, thus making God a worldly object. . . . Christian theology therefore requires demythologizing. It is necessary in order to expose the eminently “practical” truth of the christological myth: the truth of the divine word that interrupts human beings and calls them outside themselves. . . . Demythologizing therefore serves the truth of myth by destroying the “theoretical” world-explanation of myth in order to expose the “practical” power of mythical words to move our existence and in doing so to impart a new approach to human being-in-the-world.

Demythologizing is nothing less than the necessary entailment of faith in Jesus Christ. The knowledge of Christ in faith not only relocates the believer existentially but also precludes from the start any attempt by the believer to give theoretical certainty to her knowledge. Faith that conforms to the truth of the Christ-myth is, to use Jüngel’s earlier expression, an adaequatio totus homo ad rem—a correspondence of the whole person to the thing. But since the res, the object of faith, is Christ himself, the Lord of all creation, the person who corresponds to this object experiences a fundamental displacement from herself. The “certainty of faith” (Glaubensgewissheit), precisely because it is grounded in the “certainty of God” (Entsicherung) of oneself.” We only participate in the practical truth of the christological myth by being placed extra nos. The stabilization of this myth in the form of a theoretical explanation involves remaining in se, and thus is impossible on the grounds of the Christ-myth itself. This is another way of saying that the myth of Jesus Christ demands the ongoing task of demythologizing.

The Christ-myth radically differentiates itself from every other myth. Because the kerygmatic Christ-myth involves a strict differentiation between creator and creature—between grace and sin, gospel and law—that defies every attempt to systematize it and thus secure one’s place within it, the practical truth it communicates is one that cannot coexist with an abstract theoretical truth or worldview. In this way the Christ-myth fulfills the genuine purpose of myth, which “expresses the insight that human beings cannot secure themselves through . . . reason.” Religious myth in the general sense described and denounced within scientific myth-criticism do not have their basis in this creator-creature differentiation. They lend themselves, therefore, to what Calvin calls the “perpetual factory of idols” that characterizes human nature—what we might call the “perpetual factory of worldviews.” Practical truth takes the form of theoretical truth in the case of myth-in-general, whereas the practical truth of Christ is one that perpetually demythologizes theory. Myth-in-general grants existential relocation by providing epistemological certainty (in the form of Welterklärung or Weltanschauung); the Christ-myth provides epistemological certainty only by granting existential relocation (in the form of faith). The myth of Christ overcomes the subject-object divide not through an explanation of the object but through the justification of the sinful subject. Christian faith is essentially a demythologizing faith or it is not faith in Jesus Christ.[2]

On pace with this, the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) engaged in a type of ‘demythologizing’ project. Without the illumination, and more, in the case of the Apostles, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the evangelists and the rest of the illuminated masses (particularly the five hundred witnesses alongside the Apostles cf. I Cor. 15), would have simply remained at the level of ‘myth’ when it came to the Christ. Even though they had personal experience with Jesus, the Disciples, without “demythologizing” the events of the “Christ-myth” would have simply remained at the level of subjects looking at an object who had no incisive or theological meaning, no gospel (kerygmatic) significance for their lives. This is what the Synoptics and the Gospel of John are engaging in; giving theological significance to the “mythological” events of Christ’s life (events that appear, on the face, to simply have horizontal significance alone). Does this make sense?

The reason I started this all off with the Dawson quote, with particular focus on his language of “the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God” is because I wanted to foreground this discussion with a category that would allow us to appreciate what is meant by “demythologizing” when it comes to Bultmann’s and Jüngel’s projects, respectively. In other words, as is present in Barth, the reality of the Christ-event is a sui generis non-analogous event that has broken into history and set the limits of real reality by his seemingly and merely historical existence. That’s what Bultmann’s ‘Christ-myth’ is intended to signify (as I understand it); that if left to itself, Jesus Christ appears as just another human who comes to signify a personage of theoretical and religious importance within a worldview system that is pinned up by the manufacturing of various proofs and legendary tales. But what encounter with the Christ does in the lives with eyes to see and ears to hear is immediately invoke a process of ‘demythologization’, or the eruption of recognition that this man [of Nazareth] is actually someone greater than mere myth; instead he is the God-man who has broken the surly bonds of this creation and set it anew. It is as the disciple of Christ comes into this realization that they are decentered and recentered only as they find their human being in the new creation of God in Christ. Here, knowledge of God is ‘secured,’ but only in the faith of Christ and not in any theoretical basis constructed by an abstract humanity come to God on its terms.

P.S. I was unable to work the language of ‘analogy of advent’ into this post; but conceptually it is present. We will have to overtly deal with that as Congdon details that in Jüngel’s theology at a later date.

Addendum: Because of some push back from someone I know on FB, and through blogging over the years let me say the following for other’s benefit: I am not becoming Bultmannian. The content of this post moves liberally and freely back and forth between Bultmann, Barth, and Jüngel; without making important points of distinction. I remain committed, at most, to what Hunsinger calls the “textual” Barth, which means I am committed to a pretty traditional mode of theological reflection and consideration. What is in this post represents something very bloggy. My contact was concerned that I was seemingly moving into a Bultmann and Congdon direction. No, I’m not. If I had the space and time and energy I could draw out what I am doing. But this post before this addendum was already 1500 words; which is long for blog reader’s attention spans. It is hard to broach topics like this in the space I have to work with, and make important and clean distinctions along the way. The reason I felt motivated to post this one was because there are, what I think amount to equivocal soundings in Bultmann’s trajectory that correlate with Barth’s analogy of faith approach. But the reality is that Barth grounds the relationship between God and humanity in a heightened emphasis upon the antecedent reality of God which is not reducible to the sort of soteriological-dialectical approach that Bultmann and Congdon are proponents of. In other words, Bultmann and Congdon ultimately reduce God to an extra-mental reality between the knower and God, such that God’s reality is purely reduced to encounter or experience that people have when they are faced with the “kerygmatic” reality of the Christ. And when I say “extra-mental” what that really means is that the Christ event is not contingent upon his objective and concrete penetration into the world in the incarnation, but instead his reality becomes contingent upon existential encounter in the knower. In this sense the Christ could become evaporated to idea, even if Bultmann et al say otherwise. I do recognize this as a serious problem, and it does lead to other deleterious conclusions such as denying the bodily resurrection of Christ (so we have people referring to the “Easter-Faith-Christ” etc.), and denying any notion of the after-life in the eschaton/heaven (as David Congdon does). So my post was intended to help me process this through (you know “write to learn”), but I can see how it makes it seem as if I’ve softened up to a Bultmannian trajectory; that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just to be clear.

Here is something I wrote very recently that attempts to make clear what I ultimately think about David Congdon’s move to a Bultmann mode of theological reflection. Just to reiterate. I haven’t changed on this.

 

[1] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 13.

[2] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 455-58.

Theology of the Cross Retrieved and Reformed by a Radical and Dialectical Understanding of Correlation and Faith

Sola fide. Faith alone is the material principle of the Lutheran Protestant Reformation, and it is principial for the Reformed basis of knowledge of God and self. But because of classical metaphysics this principle didn’t blossom into the full flowered reality it had inherent to it in inchoate ways. In other words, because of an undeveloped grammar, because of the constraints presented by classical substance metaphysics, the idea of faith grounded in the kerygmatic reality (Evangelical reality) was moribund (I’ll have to leave at the level of assertion) in the sense that its full potential was not realizable until later developments.

Whether or not you agree with my assessment, and the sort of ‘retrieval’ I’m thinking of methodologically, David Congdon describes how faith alone as a material reality vis-à-vis the Gospel has resource to function in ‘critically’ ‘realistic’ ways in how we understood God and his relation to us through the Gospel (kerygma); how we understand the undertaking of theological discourse as that is objectively determined by the reality of God, and subjectively inhabited in human agents as they are in vicarious union with God’s subject for us in the humanity of Jesus Christ (that is some of my own interpolation, in regard to constructive thought based upon my reading of Congdon). Here Congdon has just finished some technical philosophical discussion in regard to developing what ‘correlation’ entails, particularly among French continental philosophy, and how grasping that helps us better locate the sort of dialectical theologies that both Barth and Bultmann operate from. For our purposes we will not engage with the technical philosophical discussion and instead engage with some of the conclusions of that as Congdon details its implications for us in the theologies of Barth/Bultmann (and dialectical theology in general).

What, then, is distinctively theological about the kind of strong correlationism that characterizes dialectical theology? Simply this: that the correlation is established and grounded in God. The action of God in the saving event of revelation is what creates the correlation between God and the human person. This correlation is faith, understood as a gift of divine grace. Unlike other objects, the object of faith is the divine subject, who is the active agent in the relation to humanity. The divine fides quae establishes the human fides qua. The human person does not have this correlation at her disposal but can only receive it ever anew. It is thus a kerygmatic correlation in that God constitutes the relation in and through the event of the divine word. A strong correlationism thus accomplishes what critical realism seeks to maintain—a real divine subject only accessible in and through this subject’s self-giving in faith—without the unnecessary and misleading baggage associated with the words “critical” and “realism.”[1]

This is important because God is understood as the personal object and subject of theology, and the gift of himself that he gives us in Christ comes with a corollary reality for us in that faith becomes the most fitting locus by which knowledge of this God can be ascertained by. In other words, there is no prior intuition that a person can come by in regard to knowledge of the Christian God; there is no naked knowledge of God in this understanding of correlation, as if human beings possess some sort of latent capacity (created grace) for an abstract knowledge of God. No, in this frame there is a ‘correlative’ component between our theology (nostra theologia) and God, but it isn’t idealistically determined by a free-floating or presumed upon human agency in the world of nature. Instead, knowledge of God, regulated by the Gospel (kerygmatic) is only accessible through the mediating faith of Christ. As we are in union with Christ’s knowledge of God for us, as he is in the center of God’s life as Godself, the faith we think from in regard to God is itself a reality generated by the ground that this faith breaks into. In short: dialectical theology and the Reformed faith it offers, a kerygmatic correlationist type, is one that is particularly shaped not by the human agent, but by the God who has spoken (Deus dixit).

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 422.

Christian Theology Grounded in Faith Rather than Worldview or Apologetics

Worldviews are important to understand, to a point. But when worldview is confused with Christian faith and theology problems of idolatrous heights begin to develop; at least according to Rudolf Bultmann. I want to share further, by referencing David Congdon’s work, on how Bultmann not only distinguished between faith and worldview, but also between talk of God versus talk about God; and how these distinctions implicate the theological enterprise for the Christian. I will follow with my own perspective on these things.

The differentiation of faith from a Weltanschauung [worldview] is stated clearly in a set of guiding principles or headnotes (Leitsätze) written in 1925 in connection with the Düsseldorf lecture. . . . The Leitsätze on faith state:

1) Faith is not a worldview [Weltanschauung], in which the concept of God serves as a principle for the explanation of the world [Welterklärung], and in which the meaning of human existence develops from a general understanding of the world [Weltverständnis]. On the contrary, faith is the posture of the human being placed before God; its content is therefore primarily a proposition regarding the existence of the human being.

2) Faith is not a general trust in God, but rather it is strictly related to the revelation of God in God’s word, and its content is the forgiveness of sins.

3) Faith is not a mystical relation of the soul to God, but rather the posture of the human being who sees him– or herself placed before the claim of God in the concrete situation of the here and now.

These three theses summarize Butlmann’s opposition to the confusion of faith and metaphysics—whether a metaphysics of the object or fides quae (indicated especially by the three Welt– concepts) or a metaphysics of the subject or fides qua (mysticism). Either mode of Christian self-understanding leads to an objectification of God, that is to say, the exchange of God’s reality for a general God-concept. The active God confronts us in God’s word, and this word is a particular concrete occurrence within history that proclaims the justification of the sinner. For this reason the relation between God and the human person cannot be understood in general terms; it cannot become the basis for an explanation or understanding of the world as a whole. The event of revelation thus does not permit the erection of any Weltanschauung.[1]

This is a direct challenge to the traditional approach to Christian theology through the centuries. It gets more intense in that direction as Congdon writes further:

The task of theology is to free our thinking and speaking of God from every entanglement in a Weltanschauung and so to free ourselves “to be addressed by the grace that encounters me in the word of Jesus Christ.” Toward that end Bultmann marshals yet a third contrast corresponding to the previous ones between ontic and the ontological, the fides quae and the fides qua. He does so in the March 1925 lecture that differentiates between Weltbild and Weltanschauung, and this time it is a contrast between a speaking of God (Reden von Gott) and a speaking about God (Reden über Gott). The opening paragraph of the essay differentiates between these two modes of God-talk in a way that programmatically sets forth the task of a theology that truly acknowledges its proper theme (the ontic) and object (the fides quae):

If one understands speaking “of God” to mean speaking “about God,” then such speaking has absolutely no meaning, for in the moment it occurs it has lost its object [Gegenstand], God. Wherever the idea of “God” is thought of it implies that God is the almighty, i.e., the reality determining all things. But this idea is not at all thought of when I speak about God, i.e., when I consider God to be an object [Objekt] of thought, over which I can orient myself if I take a standpoint where I can be neutral regarding the question of God and make considerations about God’s reality and essence that I can reject or, if they are reasonable, accept. Those who are convinced by reasons to believe the reality of God can be certain that they have not grasped the reality of God; and those who think they can give evidence about God’s reality with proofs of God are arguing over a phantom. For every “speaking about” presupposes a standpoint outside of what is being spoken about. But there can be no standpoint outside of God, and therefore it is not possible to speak of God in general statements, in universal truths that are true apart from a relation to the concrete existential situation of the speaker.

The distinction articulated here is between a God-talk that truly speaks of its object and a God-talk that loses its object. The former engages in meaningful God-talk because it speaks of a fides quae that only gives itself in and through the fides qua, and thus cannot be spoken of from a position external to faith. The latter engages in meaningless God-talk, because it attempts to speak about a “God” that is available as a given entity about which we can make general statements that have universal validity. Such statements form a Weltanschauung. And since to attempt “a neutrality with respect to God” is “to flee from before God,” the erection of a Weltanschauung through Reden über Gott is not merely meaningless and erroneous but is in fact sin.[2]

This challenges much; particularly traditional classical theology. Where I stand: personally I am not too far removed (if at all!) from what David is describing in regard to Bultmann’s “existentially” styled theology. But I am not naïve to the radical reality full commitment to Bultmann’s project might require. It might require that we look at all of classical theology and count it as meaningless; particularly the style of theology done after Thomas Aquinas and his Prima pars in his Summa Theologica. I think it is possible to constructively conclude that the way someone like Aquinas, Maximus the Confessor, Augustine, Athanasius et al spoke “about” God was more in line with speaking “of” God. In other words, I think much of classical theology (especially as we think about premodern) is in fact couched in doxological and dialogical exchange between the believer and God. It is just that the means they had to do that then, categorically, sounded more like speaking about God than might have been healthy; and the means they had to speak of God did in fact come from an orientation wherein God is spoken about more than of. So this requires the theologian, if they think Bultmann has a point, to engage with the classical theologians with constructive care.

One of the theses Myk and I offered in our first Evangelical Calvinism book noted that we are dialogical/dialectical theologians. I think the way Congdon writes on Bultmann, particularly with reference to worldview and speech about versus of God fits well with the mode we are going for in Evangelical Calvinism. The interesting thing for me is the way Congdon himself has developed. As I am reading his big book on Bultmann what we find in Bultmann is actually more orthodox (and historical in that sense) than the way Congdon himself has gone. I am afraid people will look at Congdon’s positions, and equate those absolutely with Bultmann’s. As I am reading Congdon’s treatment of Bultmann what I am finding is an orthodox theological approach, albeit one that is couched in an existential frame.

 

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 393-94.

[2] Ibid., 394-95.

Semper Reformanda-Always Reforming Regulated by the Eschatological Life of God For Us In Jesus Christ

See, I don’t agree with much of David Congdon’s conclusions (as he has continued to develop personally-dogmatically), but I do agree with him on the Christian reality being an eschatological reality and what that ought to do to the theological endeavor. What that ought to do is ground theological practice in the reality that God has spoken (Deus dixit) as that is given to and for us in the faith of Christ. It is as God reveals himself to us in the reconciliation of God and humanity in the man Christ Jesus that theology has place to happen. And it is in this combine that the eschatological becomes the domineering frame by which theology ought to find its orientation; an orientation that is always already outside of us, yet for us; it is in this ‘for us’ in the mediatorial and Priestly work of Jesus Christ that our knowledge of God is refreshed anew just as God’s mercies are new every morning great is his faithfulness.

We will see, as I quote Congdon at length, that Congdon’s explication is mediated through Rudolph Bultmann’s theology; but also with Barth’s presence felt. I am afraid that because of Congdon’s progressivism that people of a more conservative orientation (such as myself) will be put off, and won’t even give this analysis of things a listen. I’m hoping that people can appreciate how we can constructively appropriate theology from places that might seem antagonistic towards our general theological dispositions, and come to the realization that it is possible to reify theologies under more socio-conservative pressures (vis-à-vis the tradition); even while the theology (like Bultmann’s) being reified itself is a reification of the socio-traditional theologies of the 16th and 17th centuries in particular.

Here is how Congdon details the reality of faith, and how ‘the faith that is believed’ is grounded through ‘the faith by which we believe’; hopefully you will come to see how that impacts an eschatological understanding of the theological task—and for my interests, how that implicates a semper reformanda (always reforming) mode.

Glossary of Key Terms: Fides quae creditur (the faith that is believed) and fides qau creditur (the faith by which one believes)

At the other end of the spectrum lies orthodoxy, by which Bultmann primarily, though, not exclusively means the Protestant scholasticism that developed in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but persists  in the supernaturlistic reaction to rationalism and historicism. This alternative to liberal theology fares no better. To be sure, orthodoxy correctly grasps that “the object of theology is God as the object of faith, as the fides quae creditor,” and in this regard Bultmann stands with orthodoxy over against liberalism, a key fact often lost in the debate over his New Testament exegesis. But orthodoxy loses its object also in its misguided concern to secure a universally valid understanding of the Christian faith over against heterodoxy. The result is a “confusion . . . of kerygma and scientific theory” such that “a doctrine appears as the object of faith.” Orthodoxy makes the same error as liberalism but in an inverted way. Whereas liberalism sets itself (the fides qua) in place of the object (the fides quae), orthodoxy sets the object in place of itself. Either way, faith becomes faith in something human and objectifiable. Whereas liberalism makes history and experience into its object via the projection of the fides qua, orthodoxy reduces the divine fides quae to the level of rational human inquiry. The latter occurs “when it attempts to prove the faith (the fides quae creditor), whether by a natural theology or even from reason, or from an authority, such as scripture,” and “when it . . . requires assent to correct doctrine as to specific notions that are submitted to people from somewhere.” Orthodoxy is thus identical with (a) apologetics, the attempt to establish the object of faith as something one can acknowledge as true (assensus) prior to and apart from faith (fiducia), and (b) confessionalism, which sets up a test of conformity to certain doctrinal formulations as the condition belonging to the (true) Christian community. Each requires isolating the fides quae from the fides qua, so that the object of faith can be rationally verified and discussed as a human artifact.

If liberalism makes science of faith, orthodoxy makes a science of the kerygma. In both cases faith becomes a work, and theology becomes philosophy. What is lost in either case is God as the true object of theology. Theology is supposed to be the science of God, the logos of theos. But if God is an eschatological reality, then theology has to be an eschatological science. This has crucial implications for our understanding of the fides quae and the fides qua. It means, among other things, that the object of theology is not something “in hand” that can be fixed to a specific formula, a single authoritative interpretation: “God cannot be made into an object of our conduct. . . . God does not ‘hold still,’ as it were.” The eschatological being of God requires a strict differentiation between the kerygma, the fides quae, and theology: “Fides quae creditor = quod deus dixit! Theology = what human beings say.” Hermeneutically, therefore, an eschatological fides quae is never finalized and always open to new understandings, and that is because, ontologically speaking, the divine fides quae is transcendent and free, never at the disposal of any person or institution, whether church or state. It further means that the fides quae is not an object one can ascertain and understand prior to the mode of faith and obedience. The notion of “Christian apologetics” is an impossible contradiction; to give an apology for “God’ is to abandon talk of God. Science, as the general discipline that analyzes the ontological, cannot speak of God, who is the event of the ontic.

If God is eschatological, our only access to God must come from God’s own self. The fides quae creditor is “quod deus dixit,” what God has said. God must give Godself to us, must speak to us, in order for God to be known. And since such giving is inherently an act of grace—there being no separation between an intellectual self-giving and a salvific self-giving, since the latter is the former: the word of justification is the word of revelation—it follows that our only access to the fides quae is through faith in God as the Lord: “Should there be talk of God, it is of course clear that there can only be talk of God as the Lord, i.e., as the one who sends the moment and delivers God’s claim in it,” and thus “there can only be talk of God on the basis of God’s revelation, and revelation can only be heard in faith.” The fides quae only gives itself in and through the fides qua: “revelation is only revelation in actu and pro me.” And since the fides qua is given by the eschatological fides quae—since “faith is the answer to revelation”—it further follows that genuine faith is itself an eschatological event in that it is included within the singular eschatological event that is God; faith is an eschatological mode of relating to the eschatological. Concretely, this means that faith takes the form of love, in obedience to the “new commandment” of Jesus (John 13:34). The eschatological age inaugurated in Christ is “the new aeon of love . . . and life.” The eschatological science of theology is an eschatological praxis.[1]

There is hardly anything I find objectionable here. The only thing I would want to qualify is that I maintain a stable core of catholic orthodoxy even as that is continuously attenuated and “filled out” by the eschatological in-breaking of God’s life in and for the church, as that comes with a “fuller knowledge” of the living God; but not a knowledge that is dispossessed of the knowledge of God once for all delivered to saints (as that has been unfolding through the centuries). In other words, David doesn’t contain things enough; in my view. Congdon gives the impression that everything is “open,” and his developing personal dogmatic attests to that. What I affirm though is the eschatological nature of the faith; and that knowledge of God can only be grounded in God’s spoken Word (fides quae) as that is apprehended by the vicarious faith of Christ for us (fides qua). This is the basis, I contend, for a robust Reformed understanding of semper reformanda (‘always reforming’). God is not something we can handle, but someOne who handles and approaches us. In this, we have capacity to be confronted and given over to ‘repentant thinking’ such that our thoughts can be continuously reformed as that is regulated (regula fidei) indeed by the faith of Christ. Not something we own, but someOne we are owned by and learn of by constant confrontation of the living Word as the basis of our lived lives in and from the living God who is Triune, Immanuel.

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 385-88.

An Uber-Critic of Liberal Historicism; The ‘Historical Jesus’; and the Evangelicals: Bultmann

You might not be a fan of Rudolph Bultmann; I’m probably not much either (ultimately). But that doesn’t mean I can’t or we can’t learn important things from him, and so this post will be an attempt to offer something useful from a source that I know many Reformed and evangelical types (not to mention any so-called conservative types of Christians) are rebuffed by; just at mention of his name.

I think though that Bultmann actually offers an important critique of what actually funds much of evangelical thinking in regard to Jesus Christ; particularly, and ironically those who are into apologetics or even New Testament Studies. Bultmann is a critic of liberal theology—I know, that seems almost oxymoronic since most would see Bultmann as an uber-liberal par excellence—but, indeed, through his ‘demythologizing’ project, and form of dialectical theology he offers a critique of the German liberal theology of his day; i.e. liberal theology that is of the purest form. So what am I talking about? What I am referring to is Bultmann’s critique of historicism. Historicism offers an approach to history that maintains the idea that we can simply read reality right off of the plane of historical reconstruction; as if there is nothing keeping us from a pure entrance into the past simply by the powers of our machinations.

David Congdon in his big work on Bultmann offers some important insights into Bultmann’s critique of historicism. What I find most compelling about this presentation is that what we get in Bultmann is a way to be self-critical of our own supposed powers to think Christ by a natural mediation between our reason and the touchstones and developments of history; particularly as that has to do with the living God who transects history, indeed enlivens it ever afresh and anew as he inbreaks upon it through his reorientating and recreating work which he accomplished in the Son and brings to refreshment by the Holy Spirit’s supervening as he hovers over the face of the deep blue we call earth and all its cosmological attendants. Congdon writes:

With Barth and Gogarten, Bultmann pits the eschatological transcendence of God against historicism. After all, it was Barth who declared, in opposition to “all believing and unbelieving historicism and psychologism,” that “God is no ‘accidental truth of history’ [zufällige Geschichtwahrheit]; God’s action divests itself with a sharp ‘never!’ and ‘always!’ of all mythologizing and pragmatism, of all storytelling [Geschichtenerzählen]. Precisely in Jesus, God’s love breaks through all historical-psychological indirectness and mediation, all instance of being bound to this and that, here and there.” Bultmann radicalizes this line of thinking in his own work. In his essay assessing the “latest theological movement” of Barth and Gogarten, Bultmann puts forward the thesis that “historical science can never lead to any result that could serve as the foundation for faith, for all its results have only relative validity.” Historical criticism “trains us radically for freedom and truth, not only by freeing us from a certain tradition picture of history [Geschichtsbild] but by freeing us from every possible picture of history achieved by scientific knowledge,” which thereby “brings us to the realization that the world faith wants to grasp is not ascertainable by means of scientific knowledge.” Historical criticism identifies what by definition cannot be the basis for faith, including the so-called “historical Jesus” (see 4.2.3). Liberal theology implicitly presupposes what Bultmann calls a “pantheism of history” (as opposed to a pantheism of nature), in which God is given to us directly in social history as an object available for our investigation. It is this “givenness” of God within the nexus of social relations, human personality, and nature that defines liberalism, according to Bultmann. The consequence of this view is that revelation becomes a historical-psychological phenomenon, Jesus becomes a great religious “personality,” and faith becomes a “consciousness of value” (Wertbewusstsein) or “feeling of value” (Wertgefühl). The result is the flattening of transcendence into pure immanence, or what amounts to the same thing, the projection of immanence upon transcendence. Liberal historicism therefore leads to the “deification of humanity,” according to Bultmann. Against this he proclaims: “Gott ist nicht eine Gegebenheit”—God is not a given object, a thing to be objectified. God is not the deification but the Aufhebung (i.e., annulment or sublation) of humanity. God is the “Aufhebung of humanity and the world of humanity” not because of any abstract idea of otherness but because “my righteousness [Gerechtigkeit] can only always be the transcendent of righteousness in which I believe, and thus this righteousness is never a general supernatural quality.” God is dialectically other than the world because the grace of God remains iustitia aliena, a permanently alien gift from the eschatological beyond. With this thoroughly reformational thesis Bultmann has already in 1924 laid the foundation for his program of demythologizing as a program for speech about God that does not allow God to become “eine Gegebenheit.” Demythologizing is the hermeneutical antithesis to liberal historicism.[1]

You might be wondering why this is even pertinent. You might by brute of force simply repudiate the whole period of theological development, particularly the liberal German type, and surge back to the sounder days of the pre-modern; and for the Protestant to the days of the 16th and 17th centuries. Okay, that might be you; but it isn’t necessarily me.

For me, as an evangelical trained in evangelical schools, there is something deeply resonant about Bultmann’s work; at least when it comes to his critique of historicism (this is one reason I like Barth so much as well; he critiques historicism over and again from his own form of dialectical theology that finds some overlap with Bultmann). You see, the hermeneutic I was trained in, and the way that gets applied to a theory of history, produces a reading of Scripture and a Quest for Jesus that fits into the mold of the liberal historicism that Bultmann (and Barth) is so critical of. So for me Bultmann’s critique of historicism offers an antidote to the type of apologetic Jesus I was taught to look for in the history; a Jesus who was taught to wed together, once I found him, with a warm-hearted piety that bubbles forth from my own navel.

Interestingly, as I read about Bultmann’s theology what is starting to stand out to me is that in ironic ways he has some capacity to get modern people back to Dogmatic inklings that are corollary with many of the soundings we get in the so called premoderns. In other words, Bultmann ostensibly offers the modern person a way to deconstruct (‘demythologize’) the form-critics (and he was one) and higher critics of the Bible offering a focus on the Christ of faith who we encounter through the witness of Holy Scripture and the witnesses that stand forth through the centuries as they too bear witness to the living reality of the living faith of Christ. This makes me think of Kevin Vanhoozer’s riff on Bultmann by titling one of his books Remythologizing Theology. But in reality what we find in Bultmann, at least according to Congdon’s Bultmann (as I read Congdon), is an attempt to indeed magnify the living God/the living Christ who indeed has an eschatological transcendence that is alien to this world system; indeed who sublimates this world system by calling it to account through an offering a righteousness it could never produce itself.

Are there things in Bultmann’s theology that I disagree with? Yes. But there are important insights to be constructively gleaned through a critical encounter with his theology that I think could help scores of evangelicals come to terms with some of the things they have been implicitly taught through the years in their “evangelical” churches. Am I becoming a “Bultmannian?” Nein. But I’m willing to learn some important things from Bultmann (at least Congdon’s “B”). What I’m a great fan of in regard to Bultmann is the dialectical theology that he offers; indeed the “apocalyptic” or “eschatological” theology that he offers the church. There is much constructive value to be gleaned (versus swallowed whole).

 

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 330-32.

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.

Understanding How We Come to Know God: Through The Being of God in Christ For Us; Or Through Human Being Come to God By Created and Uncreated Grace?

How do we know God? There are traditions for answering that very question; I follow a particular tradition in contrast to another prominent tradition. This post will explore this question by providing some lengthy description of its unfolding in 20th century modern theology. We will read along with David Congdon, at length, as he describes Karl Barth’s relationship to the analogia entis tradition, and the alternative that is situated in Barth’s dialectical theology. After we have read along with Congdon we will bring what Congdon has surfaced for us in Barth’s theology into a brief discussion on a doctrine of creation in general. I recognize that I write about this issue frequently and often here at the blog, and this should alert you to the importance I see in it.

In the process of developing Barth’s (and Bultmann’s) style of dialectical theology Congdon breaks off in a section and gets into the issue of knowledge of God vis-à-vis the infamous analogy of being; most commonly associated, in medieval theology, with Thomas Aquinas, and in modern theology with Roman Catholic theologian, Erich Przywara. The version of analogia entis that Barth is most animated by is the version of his German theological counterpart, Przywara. Barth’s reasons for being so animated are indeed contextual to the Third Reich milieu he was situated within, and the way that the Volk (national) church deployed things like the analogy of being, and natural theology in general, towards their evil ends. Some want to relativize or marginalize Barth’s animus towards the analogy of being by arguing that that was only a consequent and development per his idiosyncratic situatedness. Thus the marginalization goes, Barth’s stance against the analogy of being may have served his purposes towards an attempt at assassinating the Nazi conflation of church and state, but for our current purposes, theologically, such animus would be misdirected. But what this critique fails to appreciate is that the forces Barth was contesting are the dark forces and principalities and powers that have always already been present in this space-time continuum. In other words, there is nothing idiosyncratic about Barth’s stance against the analogy of being or natural theology in general that aren’t just as prescient and present in the 21st century—look around, we are currently in a corporatist oligarchic globalist state wherein the principalities and powers are just as heavy upon us (in their own expressions) as they were in the Deutschland of Barth and the Confessing Church of Bonhoeffer.

In the following David Congdon helps elucidate what in fact this whole debate is about; in particular in Barth’s contest with Przywara (and then by application to the German civilization and Emil Brunner). You will also see the way Condgon, per his thesis, ties this particular debate into a theology of mission (which ties into colonialism and nationalism). We will leave that particular discussion to the side (i.e. mission) to focus on Barth’s problem with the analogia. Congdon writes (in extenso):

The year 1932 marks the climax of the confrontation between Barth and Erich Przywara. Three years earlier, in February 1929, Barth invited Przywara to Münster to participate in his seminar on Thomas Aquinas. In December 1931, Przywara visited Barth again in his seminar on “The Problem of Natural Theology” while at Bonn. These debates, together with Przywara’s request in April 1932 that Barth review his book, Analogia Entis, and the rising political unease in Germany, resulted in Barth’s famous statement in the preface to KD 1.1 that the analogia entis is “the  invention of the anti-Christ.” It was the 1929 meeting that really set the stage for their disagreement, and in particular a comment Przywara made on the morning of February 6. According to the student protocols of the seminary, Przywara began by defending his position regarding the manifestation of God’s revelation in history, including in human consciousness. In his defense he cited the Thomistic axiom “gratia non destruit se supponit et perficit naturam” (grace does not destroy but supports and perfects nature). Przywara understood grace to be both created and uncreated, both native and alien. The justification of the sinner does not annul but rather brings to fulfillment the grace already present in us by virtue of our creaturely participation in the being of God.

Within weeks after this seminar visit Barth delivered his response to Przywara in the form of his lecture in Dortmund, “Schicksal und Idee in der Theologie.” While Przywara is not mentioned, he is the “silent conversation partner throughout.” This is especially clear when he addresses the Thomistic axiom directly:

“Gratia non destruit, sed supponti et perficit naturam.Analogia entis: thus each existing being as such and also we human beings as existing beings participate in the similitudo Dei. The experience of God is for us an inherent possibility and necessity. . . . The word of God does not mean for human beings a confirmation and reassurance of the naïve confidence that the experience of God is, but rather . . . in contrast to the whole range of possible experience it says something new and not merely more strongly and clearly what people could know anyway and even experience elsewhere. Indeed, this is how things always stand between God’s word and human beings, in that it proclaims something new to them and comes to them like light in the darkness. It always comes to them as to sinners, as forgiving and thus as judging grace. . . . Therefore that ability and necessity, that capacity for experiencing God, cannot be understood at any rate as something “natural”—meaning something given with our existence as such or subsequently associated with our existence as such, nor can it be understood by an appeal to a “gratia inhaerens,” by virtue of which the knower and known would simply and in themselves be in the relation to God of the analogia entis.

Barth explicitly rejects the very axiom to which Przywara appealed to support his position. Grace, Barth says, neither has a basis in nature nor does it become subsequently part of nature. The grace of God is always a judging and forgiving grace, and for this reason it never becomes a “given” (datum) that lies at our disposal. It remains wholly nongiven even in the concrete event of Christ wherein God gives Godself to us. Grace always confronts us as a new event.

Keith Johnson makes this astute observation that much more is at stake here for Barth than simply the old Protestant-Catholic debate over justification, though that is certainly at the heart of the dispute. What concerns Barth is, in fact, the same colonialist logic of the gospel’s cultural captivity that prompted his dialectical revolt against liberal theology fifteen years earlier.

The link between humanity and God [Barth] recognized in 1929 followed the pattern he had seen in 1914 when his former teachers enlisted God in support of their own cause by giving their blessing to the war. Barth’s theology, from that moment on, had been driven by his goal of overcoming this mistake. In Przywara’s analogia entis, he discovered a sophisticated version of the same error, and in the Germany of 1932, the political winds were stirring in much the same way they had in 1914.

Barth’s remark in 1932 about the analogia entis as the “invention of the anti-Christ” is therefore “a direct function of h is context. . . . The political turmoil around him had to be on Barth’s mind, and in his view, the church appeared to be complicit in the events that were unfolding.” In other words, the danger in Przywara’s thinking was that he provided a robust theological framework capable of justifying the nationalist propaganda and colonialist endeavors of the German nation. The fact that Przywara’s theology had such a strong internal consistency and grounding in the tradition made if far more dangerous than the liberalism of Barth’s teachers and Protestant contemporaries. It is for this reason that Barth was compelled to sound a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the analogia entis.

To make matters even more interesting, Przywara developed his account of analogy for missionary reasons. He understood the analogia entis as a “missionary principle” whose purpose is to prompt the church to positively engage German culture as the place where God is presently at work. The analogia entis accomplishes this task because “it attempts to meet the world on its own ground rather than insist that the world move to its ground.” We have to recall that, during these years of conversation with Przywara, Barth was simultaneously engaged in a debate with Brunner regarding the “point of connection” between nature and grace. And like Przywara, Brunner also viewed his account of the Anknüpfungspunkt as a missionary concept. A pattern quickly began to emerge. In each of these three situations—the liberal capitulation in 1914, Przywara’s analogia entis in 1929–32, Brunner’s Anknüpfungspunkt in 1929–35—Barth faced a theological position that claimed mission as its ground and aim, and on the basis of this appeal to mission sought to find a point of connection or continuity between God and humanity. The liberal theologians found it in German civilization, Przywara in human consciousness and experience, Brunner in the faculty of reason. In each case the will and work of God became continuous with what is already given and native to human beings in their creaturely existence, and so in each case Barth rendered a decisive verdict in the form of, respectively, the “No-God” in Der Römerbrief (1922), the “invention of the anti-Christ” in KD 1.1 (1932), and the famous Nein (1934).[1]

After this lengthy and enlightening treatment offered by Congdon, I think the primary point of reduction comes to the issue orbiting around a “point of connection” (Anknüpfungspunkt) between God and humanity. As Congdon underscores this has taken various expressions through the centuries, whether that be with Thomas Aquinas, William Paley, Przywara, the German nation (of the third reich), or Brunner; it is the issue of ‘the point of contact’ between God and humanity that is significant. It is significant, particularly in Barth’s context, because of the ethical and theopolitical implications this locus entails.

If God can be thought from nature (or natural capacity), if the boundaries between God and humanity, God and the nations can be forcefully brought together by identifying an inherent capacity with nature itself that is gestationally waiting for God to activate and give it birth, then who’s to regulate this sort of grounding between God and humanity; the theologians, the politicians? Barth says Nein. He seeks to take away this seduction for the ‘natural’ human heart, and place the ground for “the point of connection” within the life of Godself in the hypostatic union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ. This is why the type of analogical knowledge of God that Barth supports is grounded in what he calls an analogia fidei/relationis (analogy of faith-relation). Barth recognizes the role that analogy plays in the correspondence of our knowledge of God with God’s knowledge of Godself; but again, even as Barth recognizes the ‘infinite qualitative difference’ between God and humanity, and precisely because of that, the shape of analogy he can support is one where it is objectively grounded not in a faceless apophatic God, but only in and from a center in himself that is for us in Jesus Christ. For Barth, within the Calvinian frame, faith is knowledge of God, and faith itself is the bond that God alone in the humanity of Christ has in se but for us as he transcends the ditch between himself and us within a creational nexus wherein all of creation has always already been attenuated and teleologized by Christ who is the Supreme and Firstborn of and for Creation.

I said at the beginning of my post that I was going to also get into a doctrine of creation. At the close of my paragraph above I start to hint at that discussion, but because of the length of this post I am going to close it now. I hope you can at least appreciate what is at issue in this discussion as a result of reading this post. Indeed, Barth had a context, but so has all of theological development; even so called catholic or ecumenical developments. The contextual and conditioned nature of theological development doesn’t negate its global availability or reduce its force to the period or circumstances of its locational unfolding; instead, the merit and weight of various theological developments, such as Barth’s anti-natural theological / anti-analogia entis posture, are weighed strictly by their proximate value in bearing witness to the res (the reality) and power of God’s Gospel who is Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll consider that if you are prone to writing Barth’s position off simply because Barth wrote his theology in the context and shadow of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. Just maybe Barth’s theology, even though his heretic was partly German nationalism instead of Arius, has angel’s wings under it; in such a way that it might be a ministering spirit to the thirsty souls adrift in the 21st century evangelical theological wasteland (and I’m referring to the lacuna of Christian Dogmatics for the evangelical world).

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 292-95.

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.