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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Wrath Towards Sin: In Ontological Perspective

God is angry about sin, just to be clear. He judged sin, because there was actually a legal penalty associated with sin. But that isn’t the crux of what was judged. The crux was the ground, the source of sin; it has ontological depth. The human heart loves the darkness rather than the Light. It has competing affections that all are premised upon love of self. Unless this was put to death, and unless a new heart was re-created, the problem of sin wouldn’t have ultimately been dealt with. God surely hates sin, but only because He first loved us so much in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. God has wrath towards sin, but only because He loves His very good creation and desires fellowship and intimacy with us through the Son, Jesus Christ. Sin destroys and eats away at the very good creation, and as a result the good (or rest of) creation is corroded and thrown into chaos. The requirement then wasn’t simply a penalty paid—even if that is an outer aspect of the atonement—but a new heart created (cf II Cor 3; Ez 36). It is this inner reality, this depth ontological reality that was required if and fact creation was going to be elevated to its ultimate telos (purpose) in abiding and eternal fellowship within the bosom of the Father in union with Christ by the bond of the Holy Spirit.

God the Father

God is my Father.[1] Jesus said to Mary post-resurrection, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.” God is our Father. Athanasius writes: “Therefore it is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate.”[2] This is the Christian way for knowing, for thinking God; this is the way those who have the Spirit can call Jesus, Lord; that is, as recognizing their Shepherd, knowing His voice as Son of the Father. As Athanasius rightly noted we don’t think God prior to God thinking us for Himself in Jesus Christ; we don’t attempt to approach God by some sort of two-step into His presence through an abstract creation. As Christians we only know God as Son of the Father by the Spirit; if we don’t, we only know a god of our own imagination and fabrication. Indeed, a notion of godness developed from our fertile imaginations, as if we might see God in the trees, the birds, the fishies, even ourselves. This really is the only alternative to thinking God as our Father. If God is not first the Father, then He is not the Son of the Father, and instead He simply turns out to be a brute creator contingent upon our predication of Him.

Barth writes:

(a) The subject “God” of which it speaks—and in the creed this obviously brackets all three articles—is not synonymous with the concept of a world-cause, rightly or wrongly postulated, disclosed or fulfilled. We may take any view we like of the existence or nature of a world-cause, but it is always posited by man, and therefore even if it is an uncreated, creative and supremely perfect being, it still belongs to the creaturely sphere. It is not God. It is a successful or unsuccessful product of the human mind. It is not identical with the Creator coeli et terrae [Maker of heaven and earth]. Nor can it be subsequently identified with Him and given His titles and predicates. Whenever this happens, belief in the Creator loses its basis and therefore its certainty, its original meaning and therefore its credibility and practical import. The God who created heaven and earth is God “the Father,” i.e., the Father of Jesus Christ, who as such in eternal generation posits Himself in the Son by the Holy Spirit, and is not therefore in any sense posited from without or elsewhere. It is as this Eternal Father, determined in the act of His free expression and therefore not from without but from within, determining Himself in His Son by the Holy Spirit and Himself positing everything else, that He is also the Creator. And it is again as this Eternal Father, and not in any other way, that He reveals Himself as the Creator, i.e., in Jesus Christ His Son by the Holy Ghost, in exact correspondence to the way in which He has inwardly resolved and decided to be the Creator. As He cannot be the Creator except as the Father, He is not known at all unless He is known in this revelation of Himself.[3]

As Barth rightly points out, when we attempt to establish certainty of God on our own, whether that be individually, or collectivistically, we end up circumscribing a notion of God not from God, but from ourselves. When we go this route, abstract from God, and we understand ourselves as the concrete that founds the certainty of God’s existence, He necessarily ceases being our Father, and at best (or worst) becomes a cloned god; a mirrored existence of ourselves who we pump up with superhero powers of the sort that can create worlds populated with the birds and the bees, and thus us. As Barth grasps, and Athanasius prior to him, Jesus’s declaration to Mary wasn’t some type of throwaway statement made in passing. Indeed, what Jesus was once again emphasizing was that in the face of resurrection, indeed the re-creation, the first Word of God is that God is Father. As Father, and Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit, the children of God have an “apocalyptic” basis through which they have gained a capaciousness to think, to know God in real reality. That is to say, to know God not upon a foundation Mary had prefabricated, indeed, her imagination only took her as far as the gardener. But to think and know God the same way that the Son, the One in the bosom of the Father who came to explain Him, knows God, and has known God as His Father, just as sure as He is eternally the Son by the Holy Spirit.

These are deep matters, doxologically sourced by the Father for us in His dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Miss ourselves for the “Father,” and we construct a world in our image, and then attempt to bear its burden. This is the fallen world we inhabit, a world populated by a humanity who can only think God as far as the groundskeeper; a world that would rather they be Father and attempt to manage a world of their own making in the face of the living Father. This, of course, only ends in a world of orphans and destitution. When the person comes to finally recognize that the Father has adopted them into His family through and in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, it is at this point that they can cease from bearing the burden of false-fatherhood they have been attempting to live out since their conception.

“Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’

 

[1] I have written on this theme previously in my personal chapter for our first volume of Evangelical Calvinism. My chapter is titled, “Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either Through Christ or Through Nature.” This chapter also, more recently, has served as a basis (among others) for my dissertation and PhD by publication currently under examination.

[2] Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1.9.34.

[3] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §40 [011] The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 10.

The Ethics of the Resurrection: Applied to Transgenderism

I was contemplating the absurdity of the man who claims to be a woman, who then puts on a swimsuit, enters a woman’s swim-meet, wins the contest, and then is declared the fastest swimmer among some of the top-tier women swimmers in the world. As I contemplated this, I tweeted the following: “You can identify as a bird all you want, but the second you step off the Golden Gate Bridge physics take over.” I elaborated further on Twitter, this way:

And just to be clear, physics isn’t the judge, God is the Judge. When people rebel, and physics, physiology, psychology, presses back against their rebellion, it isn’t those components that have an inherency of their own; they simply reflect God’s recreative order. People aren’t simply being “metaphysical rebels,” they are acting out according to their sin nature; the nature that self-possessively and viciously maintains that it is God, and that the real God is not. When they rebel, they are loving themselves, and not God. And it is this self-love, incurved upon itself, that leads to the various aberrations and disaffected expressions we see all around us. According to the logic of self-Godhood, even when something clearly bespeaks aberration, new logics must be constructed in order to persuade the self and others that in fact their personal expression of sin is no aberration at all; that it is in keeping with the kingdom they have constructed as “self-God.” The problem arises because these self-declared self-Gods inhabit the only genuine and living God’s creation, and recreation in Jesus Christ. As such, we end up in a diabolical spiritual battle wherein all of humanity is born believing itself to be God, while all along being confronted with the fact that they live in a universe that inherently declares the very opposite by the wisdom of the cross. The wisdom of the cross, and/or the staurologic therein, is the ground of the new creation that finally attests that the old has gone the new has come. It declares that God is God, and we are not. It isn’t until the person ‘repents’, bows the knee to the wisdom of God in Christ, that the Son finally sets them free indeed. But to the logics of the world the freedom of the Son looks like bondage because it contradicts the very essence of what the world takes to be the way, the truth, and the life; that they are God, and God is not.

I want to be clear that creation itself has no built-in or abstract value-center of its own; that’s why I refer to staurologic or the wisdom of the cross. The original creation, I take it (protologically), to be created so that Christ might be born (see David Fergusson). In other words, the created order is eschatologically conditioned by God’s free choice to be for the world, in the world, in Jesus Christ; i.e. He is the telos of creation. As such, when He comes into this world order in ‘Bethlehemic flesh,’ it serves as an irruption, of the sort wherein this world finally comes to understand its actual orientation. So, the new creation that God accomplishes in Jesus Christ was always already the reality of this world’s trajectory to begin with; sin, in this sense then, becomes an aberration that only God, extra nos (outside of us), could invade, take to Himself, enter it from the inside/out, and put it to death. It is as this ‘seed’ fell into the ground, died, that new life could come to blossom, such that the old becomes the new, but under the pressures of a totally elevated and/or actualized sort. In other words, what I am attempting to articulate, is that the point of continuity between the old and the new isn’t an inherency that the “original creation” had potent within itself. The point of continuity between the old and the new is God’s choice, before creation, to be for the world and to create the world for Christ; but not without us, but with us. He is the order of this world, the new has left the old behind, but the old bore witness to the coming of the new insofar that the new was in fact the origination of the old to begin with; that is in God’s free election to be God of the humanity of Jesus Christ.

Hence, the aforementioned entails that what it means to be human was already actualized prior to creation in God’s choice to be human for us in the ‘to be’ enfleshment of the Son (Deus incarnandus). Since His humanity is the ground of the created order, even as that is given subjective-distinction in the particularity of ‘our humanity’ as ‘images of the Image,’ this entails that creation itself is not free to be free in abstraction from its root and reality in the vicarious and archetypal humanity of Jesus Christ. As such, judgments about what is right and wrong are not left to self-proclaimed human agents, as if this was an obtainability inherent to simply being created. Human agents, as has been observed, are not free unless they are living in and from what it means to be humanly free coram Deo (before God). It is only in this freedom, since anything outwith is bondage, wherein right and wrong before God comes to be known, internalized, and with the possibility of creational reversal and transformation through the re-creation of creation’s telos and esse in the resurrection of humanity in the eternal Logos’ Self-assumed humanity in the man from Nazareth.

It is from this continuously irruptive reality that a human agent comes to understand the order of the Kingdom, as that has always already had a cruciform shape. It is in this mode and posture before God in Christ whereby creatures, as participants in God’s life through the grace of God’s humanity in Jesus Christ, come to have the capaciousness to discern the straight from the crooked. This vicious desire to be self-God becomes non-directive for the creature attempting to live against their ‘election’ to be genuinely human in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, and thus they come to have the lights to live from the Light of God. There is an experience of freedom that invades their lives with the result that the new life of the new creation explodes upon them such that God’s order becomes the only order for them that appears safe and secure. Living outwith this order becomes as distant as the old is to the new; as Barth says: “What took place on the cross of Golgotha is the last word of an old history and the first word of a new.” This ‘first word’ becomes the norming norm for the new-creatures’ life, and, for example, being born a biological male, rather than female, or vice versa, is lived into as the order and telos that God recreated as the eschatological bliss He saw fit for the world to begin with; just as the bride to the groom symmetry bears witness to the beauty of God’s design in Christ to His Church.

The Cosmic Ontological Frame of Salvation: God’s Providence Goes Deeper than Creation out of Nothing

So much of the soteriological discussion these days is focused on individual salvation; that is as that takes shape in the combine between the elect and reprobate within substance causal theories of God and His relation to the world through the decretrum absolutum. While ‘individual salvation’ is a central, if not centraldogma of the soteriological reality, its reach is rather more extensive and cosmic than purely focused on various individual people—and their angst of whether or not they are one of the elect (by whatever means that is actualized). The Apostle Paul understands the cosmic aspect of salvation in the following way:

18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us. 19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance. -Romans 8.18-25

This throws much of the soteriological discussion into relief precisely at the point that it isn’t obsessively focused on me, but instead it focuses on the ‘revealing of the sons of God.’ As is clear from the Genesis narrative God’s economy elevates humanity to a level distinct from general creation in the sense that humanity is the height of His created order; in the sense that humanity is supposed to steward and cultivate the created order with the aim of magnifying its Creator in Jesus Christ. If we allow the creation-pressure to frame a soteriological discussion we end up with a different focus in our own spirituality, among other things. Salvation’s frame becomes an ontological rather than purely forensic focus precisely because we are now focused on the One who created, rather than the ones created. In this frame we can come to see the depth dimension of sin’s rupturing power vis-a-vis its relationship to God’s relation to the world. We can come to realize that what is required for genuine salvation to obtain goes deeper than the creatio ex nihilo; it goes as deep as the mystery of the incarnation, of the Creator become human so that humanity might become one with the Creator through the grace of adoption.

TF Torrance, as he is reflecting on God’s sovereignty with particular reference to Divine providence, writes the following. You will see that he is very much so in line with the Pauline motif, and the notes we have been previously discussing:

First, human existence and history are not separable from the material universe, for man precisely as man is body of his soul as well as soul of his body and it is in the wholeness of that soul-body, body-soul relation that he has been created for fellowship with God. This means that the human being is not exempt from the material forces imminent in the spatio-temporal universe, or therefore exempt from the control of its physical laws impressed upon it by the Creator. Somehow it is not just man who has fallen but the whole created order along with him, so that we may not isolate our understanding of human evil from natural evil, or moral evil from material evil, the pain and suffering of human being from the suffering and misery, the pain and travail of the whole creation. There is what may be called a principle of evil in nature, but of course a perverted principle. It is not surprising, therefore, as the Holy Scriptures tell us, that real redemption from the power of human sin and guilt involves a radical change in the material world and calls for the complete redemption of the created order. That is why both the Old and the New Testaments speak prophetically of a new heaven and a new earth. Our understanding of what this means is governed by the physical or bodily nature of the death and resurrection of Christ, an event with space-time coordinates. Redemption is somatic as well as spiritual, for moral and physical evil infecting the creation may not finally be separated from one another. This cannot but apply to the providential activity of God which involves material as well as spiritual power and therefore an on-going interaction of God ad Creator and Redeemer with the physical universe. The power by which he redeems the world and exercises his providential care over its history is the very same power as that by which he created the world in matter and form out of nothing. Just as his creative power brought the world into physical existence and endowed it with a rational order, so it is in virtue of the same creative power that his redemptive and providential activity operate with the space-time structures of the ongoing world. But just as we cannot comprehend how God created the world out of nothing, or how he brought Jesus Christ forth from the grave, so we are unable to grasp how his redemptive and providential activity makes all things, material as well as spiritual, to serve his eternal purpose of love.1

Rather than thinking God’s relation to the world, and thus thinking the world’s relation to God through a dualistic frame, as Torrance underscores, it is better to think the God-world relation through the analogy of the incarnation. There is a mystery, indeed, to all of this, but God has so made himself vulnerable for us in Christ, that this mystery has concrete extension for us flatlanders to abide with. In other words, while all of the created reality is vouched in the mystery of God’s aseity, at the same time, He has freely elected that we might not remain orphans in a blind universe, but instead participants in the seen reality of God’s life for the world.

One other thing of note: the created order is such that God has mysteriously baked His very life into it, as He is for it, while at the same time remaining distinct from it as its Creator. This might help explain why God did not simply scrap this world, and start over. He had already personally invested Himself in and for this world in Christ, just as the very telos of the world is for the magnification of the Son, Jesus Christ. If this is creation’s frame, that is its recreation in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then God’s investment goes simply beyond some sort of brute power an actus purus (pure being) god might be known for. The Christian God, who is Father of the Son by the Spirit’s bond of lovely fellowship, cannot abandon His first creation, simply because He had always already planned to elevate this creation to the Right Hand of His fellowship in the Son in the second recreation of the second Adam; the greater Adam.

 

1 Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 226.

A Reflection on Hebrews 10:26 and the Futility of Fighting for this World Order

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. —Hebrews 10:26-31

I want to focus on the emboldened clause in verse 26. It seems lost on people, Christian people even, that the One who spoke the world into existence, the One who continues to hold the visible and invisible worlds together by His power, this One became human that we might by the grace of adoption become sons and daughters of the living God; just as Jesus Christ is our brother. I enter this brief excursus with the aforementioned attempt to orient our perspectives because everything, all of reality hangs on that reality. The incarnation and atonement, the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ has become too domesticated. The sui generis otherworldly / thisworldly nature of the Theanthropos, Godman breaking into this world has become all too common. Because of this people generally fail to grasp the significance of the clause under consideration.

What people, in the main, fail to appreciate is that God become human in Jesus Christ, all the way unto the obedience and death of the cross, means that there no longer is a normal world to which we can return. The world has genuinely and apocalyptically been put to death, and anyone attempting to find their identity therein, and therefrom, are only attempting to breathe life into a corpse incapable of resurrection. ‘There no longer remains a sacrifice for sins’ entails that there was only One person, God in Christ, who had the resource and power to penetrate into the dark abyss of the fallen human heart, put it to literal death, and from that start afresh anew and re-create a new heavens and earth, under the foot and dominion of the Son of Man, and all those co-heirs with Him. In other words, this sort of pining away for a recuperation of the world that Christ has already declared dead, and put to death, by His death of all deaths, is the satanic errand that even the Egyptian high priests knew was the fool’s errand; they knew, and so should we, that only the ‘finger of God’ can bring new life ex nihilo. 

Robert Dale Dawson sums up what I am after as he comments on a doctrine of the resurrection in the theology of Karl Barth: “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 I take this notional reality in Barth’s theology of the resurrection as the ground for allowing the author to the Hebrews to make the astonishing claim that ‘there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,’ if and fact a person rejects God’s Self-sacrifice for them, for the world, in Jesus Christ. In short, for the Christian, there is no other world to return to, but the Kingdom of God that has been established outwith human hands; the Kingdom, the new creation that has been established and re-created by God alone. It is high time that Christians demythologize the notion that in this world we have a home; we surely, and clearly do not. We are ambassadors of the fact that this world in fact is no more, and that the only world that has concrete perduring reality to it is the one that has come in the dust and blood of Jesus’ body.

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

Why Did God Create Us: Jesus is the Answer, What’s the Question?

Just yesterday I was having a discussion with my wife and sister on Divine aseity. In the midst of that discussion my sister perceptively asked: ‘why did God create us to begin with?’ This is a good and basic question that most Christians gloss right past in the haste of their daily lives; but we shouldn’t! My on-the-fly response was that He created us because it is fitting with who He is as the relational God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is fitting that a God full of Grace would want to share His eternal fellowship with the ‘other,’ since indeed the ‘other-in-the-One’ is definitive of God’s very life by His natural status as the Monarxia. As it so happens, rather fortuitously, in my Church Dogmatics reading Barth hits upon this very question visà-vis his doctrine of election: 

Augustine and his followers emphasised quite rightly that the man Jesus as such has nothing to bring before the electing God which would make Him worthy of divine election or make His election necessary. He is the Son of God only by the grace of God. That this is indeed the case may be proved conclusively by the absoluteness of the gratitude and obedience with which this man stands before God and submits Himself to Him. It is thus that the creature lives before God, its freedom consisting in the fact that in its autonomy it recognizes and acknowledges that it is wholly and utterly responsible to God. And so this man Jesus, as the object of the divine decree, is the beginning of all God’s ways and works, the first-born of all creation. In Him it comes to pass for the first time that God wills and posits another being different from Himself, His creature. Be it noted that this determination of the will of God, this content of predestination, is already grace, for God did not stand in need of any particular ways or works ad extra. He had no need of a creation. He might well have been satisfied with the inner glory of His threefold being. His freedom, and His love. That fact that He is not satisfied, but that His inner glory overflows and becomes outward, the fact that He wills the creation, and the man Jesus as the first-born of all creation, is grace, sovereign grace, a condescension inconceivably tender. But this determination of the will of God is eminently grace to the extent that in relation to this other, the creation of God, God’s first thought and decree consists in the fact that in His Son He makes the being of this other His own being, that He allows the Son of Man Jesus to be called and actually to be His own Son. In and with His lordship over this other, in and with the creaturely autonomy of this other—and even that is grace—God wills and decrees and posits in the beginning both His own fatherhood and also the sonship of the creature. This is more than mere kindness and condescension. It is self-giving. And that is how the inner glory of God overflows. From all eternity it purports and wills its own impartation to the creature, the closest possible union with it, a fellowship which is not to its own advantage but to that of the creature. It is in being gracious in this way that God sets forth His own glory. It is in the election of the man Jesus that His decision to be gracious is made. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (Jn. 3.16). In a first and most important way we can now understand the extent to which, in the light of the election of the man Jesus, all election can be described only as free grace. The man Jesus is the elect of God. Those whom God elects He elects “in Him,” not merely “like Him,” but in His person, by His will, and by His election. Those who God elects, the One blessed of God elects also. What can this election be, then, but more grace, a participation in the grace of the One who elects, a participation in His creatureliness (which is already grace), and a participation in His sonship (which is eminently grace)? From its very source the election derives from the man Jesus. And as election by Him it is indirectly identical with that beginning willed and posited by the condescension and self-suffering of God. It is “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”1 

For Barth, as is typical, the answer is ‘Jesus’; no matter what the question is! The question of why God created us isn’t a worldview question according to Barth. Indeed, the question itself presupposes its own answer: God. But to leave the question to a generic God will never do, not for Barth, and not for me as a Christian. The question, for the Christian, must always be specified by its confrontational ground that comes for the Christian by encounter with their Lord; afresh and anew. The question of why God created us, for Barth, starts and begins with who God is in the election of the man, Jesus Christ. It is this election that is grounded in the who of God’s inner-life, that serves as the primordial beginning of what man/humanity is. Humanity, as understood from the election of Christ, is a creature intended to find its warp and woof in and from the bosom of the Father; indeed, as that is grounded in the burps and Holy babbling of the Son for us. This is why God created: because He freely chose to have fellowship with a creature who He first elected to be the Creature of God from within the very inner-life of God’s organic life of life as One-in-the-Other. God desired to include an-other in the resplendence of His eternal life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because God is overflowing Grace in His very life of superabundant love.  

In order for the creature, us, to find such a response adequate, we must ‘seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these other things will be added unto us.’ It isn’t curiosity that is determinative for the Christian imagination, it is God’s Self-determinative revelation for us in Jesus Christ that ought to shape any and all of our questions. If He is the Alpha and Omega of God for us, then insofar as we are circumscribed by His life for us in Jesus Christ, then Jesus must be the whence and wane of our lingering questions. It is as we ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of God in Christ,’ that our ‘telos’ as creatures before God, as creatures in the elected man of Jesus Christ, that we can begin to grow into the eternal life that God has adopted us into by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, who is Jesus Christ.  

1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §32-33: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 129-30.

Pelagian Creation and the Regnum Christi

Pelagian Creation is a neologism I just thought of as I was reflecting on the piece we will be reading along with from Barth’s Church Dogmatics. I have written, over the last few months, on the locus of Pelagianism with reference to a particularly popular soteriological movement online. But I don’t want to get swamped down by that focus too much in this post, since functional Pelagianism is a pervasive phenomenon that is present throughout a variety of theological and philosophical frameworks today. I think what Barth is onto undercuts Pelagianism, in all of its forms, even if in this particular pericope from him, it is indirect. In other words, he doesn’t mention Pelagianism here, but if we internalize what he writes, and if we have any notion of Pelgianism operative in our wandering theological thoughts and acts, this should correct that; repentance should be forthcoming; and a freshness of life just around the corner.  

The following is taken from Barth’s CD II/2, which of course is the infamous section where he reformulates a doctrine of Reformed double predestination; more pointedly a doctrine of election. That is the context of this passage, which you will see momentarily. Hopefully what you will grasp is just how central a proper doctrine of election is to a proper Protology and doctrine of creation. It is fitting that with how we start theologically will shape how we end, and all things in-between. Often times people simply start midstream, say with soteriology, without first attending to ‘first things,’ as Barth does here. What I wonder is if the reader will see, as I have, how what Barth is communicating might defeat Pelagianisms and other forms of Pure Nature. He writes: 

Again, if the doctrine of election is treated as something secondary and supplementary along the lines of the three possibilities mentioned, this means that it may well appear as if we could deal at least with creation and sin without any previous consideration of this decisive word, this mystery of the doctrine of reconciliation. But in this case creation takes on the character of a presupposition relatively independent of reconciliation and redemption. It becomes self-sufficient. It has its own reality and must be considered in and for itself. But this makes it appear as if the universe and man might well have been created and sustained without any inner necessity of the continuation and completion of the divine work in reconciliation and redemption. They may, then, be considered directly, apart from the divine election and decision, apart from the kingdom of Christ. But in this case there arises the concept of a realm whose existence allows us at least to question the infinity and divinity of this kingdom, opposing to it the parallel kingdom of nature. But this means that sin, the mishap which takes place in this separate kingdom of nature, acquires the character of an unforeseen incident which suddenly transforms the good creation of God into something problematical, breaking and shattering it in such a way that only a few traces of the original remain and what virtually amounts to a different world is brought into being. On this view God Himself appears in a sense to be halted and baffled by sin, being pressed back into a kind of special “world of God.” From this it might easily appear as if reconciliation is the corresponding escape from this dilemma, a mysterious wrestling with what is almost a rival God, a reaction against a different power, something not at all in keeping with the unity and omnipotence of God. In the whole of the divine work, however, it is really a question of only a single act of divine rule. This act is, of course, differentiated and flexible within itself. But it is not arrested or broken. It fulfils itself step by step, and at each step it is irresistible. We can and should recognise that in his unbroken grace and truth the one and omnipotent God is the One in whom there is neither error nor mistake, neither weakness nor compromise, but who in and through everything lets His own goodwill be done. We can and should recognise that the regnum Christi is not one kingdom with others, for in that case it might well be merely hypothetical. On the contrary, it is the kingdom of all kingdoms. We can and should recognise the fact that however we regard man, as creature, sinner or Christian, we must always regard him and understand him as one who is sustained by the hand of God. Neither in the height of creation nor in the depth of sin is he outside the sphere of the divine decision. And if we see in this decision the divine election, this means that he is not outside the sphere of the election of grace. At no time and in no way is he neutral in the face of the resolve and determination which are proper to the will of God in virtue of the decision made between Father and Son from all eternity. For this reason we must see the election at the beginning of all the ways of God, and treat of the doctrine accordingly. We believe that in so doing we shall not be disloyal to the intention which activated Calvin especially as he drew up those different outlines. We shall rather be taking up and realising this very same intention.1 

For Barth, and I’d suggest for us, the way we approach all things theologically ought to be theological. In other words, we shouldn’t engage in Ramist locus methodology and read and think things theological from logically-deductive schemata; but instead, we ought to allow the whole of God’s organic and triune life to pressure us into thinking things wholistically from who God is as revealed in Christ. This is what we get in the above passage from Barth. He is attempting to show how central God’s inner life and free choice to be for and with us is to the creational matter. Without Christ as telos and protos for all of creation all we are left with is an abstractly hot-mess wherein ‘we’ are left to construct a bridge (metaphysic) between God and humanity wherein God’s life in a God-world relation becomes predicated by our choice to construct said metaphysic—that is methodological Pelagianism.  

Pelagianism, in a theological sense, is the idea that nature has a functional non-contingent independence of its own. That nature has the capacity to be for God or against Him of its own self-determined freewill. To think creation in general, and humanity as a subset and yet pinnacle of creation, in particular, in terms that are outside of God’s primal decision to be for creation, for us (pro nobis) is to operate outside of the confessional norms required by a proper theology of the Word. As Christians, in name even, we are such because we are in Christ by the Spirit; just as Christ was in the womb of Mary by the Spirit. He is the pre-conditioning reality of all that was, is, and ever will be. To think otherwise is to think heretically in quite proper ways.  

1. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §32-33: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 95-6.

A Theology of Crisis: How a Doctrine of Creatio Ex Nihilo Ought to Lead to Christ Concentration in Theological Reflection

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” –Genesis 1:1

Thomas Torrance makes much of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, as he should! The very freedom of God is at play in this doctrine, such that God remains free from the contingencies of this world, just as He is its Creator; but only first as He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As a result, knowledge of God remains contingent on God’s free choice to make Himself known to the world. Thus, systems of theology that attempt to think God discursively from His effects in nature, like Thomism does, are discounted from the get-go. To appropriate creatio ex nihilo in this way entails a theory of revelation wherein the world, and humanity as part of the world, is at God’s behest, and solely contingent upon its knowledge of Him insofar as He chooses to reveal Himself.

It isn’t just Torrance who thinks this way about God’s relation to the world, but prior to TFT, we get this from theologians like Karl Barth, in his theology of crisis, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who in certain ways, although not in uncritical lockstep, is already thinking After Barth. Matthew Puffer writes the following with reference to Bonhoeffer’s own style of theology of crisis, and how that relates to a doctrine of creation, and more significantly, as this ties into a received doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, and the attending doctrine of creatio continua (God’s continuing creative power deployed in its sustenance from moment to moment).

During the 1930/1 academic year as a Sloane Fellow at Union Theological Seminary, Bonhoeffer’s paper on ‘The Theology of Crisis and its Attitude Toward Philosophy and Science’ introduced American students and professors to recent developments in German theology, including ‘the position of the founder and most original thinker of the theology of crisis, of Karl Barth’ (DBWE 10: 462-3). Bonhoeffer presents a view of science and theology in which the two, properly practiced, cannot conflict due to their differing roles. Science, in this heuristic, is concerned only with what takes place within the realm of the physical world. Theology, on the other hand, is concerned to interpret what takes place in the physical world as science presents it. Bonhoeffer applies this schema to cosmology and creation.

In its pure sense cosmology presumes to know nothing about God and can only speak about the universe on the basis of naturalistic explanations. Cosmology is limited in that it can never get beyond the limits of human thinking and perception, albeit aided and constrained by technology. Cosmology may come to the end of its investigative powers in discovering the foundational principles or the first moments of all that is and, if it so chooses, call that which it assumes must be the cause behind these discoveries “God.” The theology of crisis argues that such a God cannot be the Christian God of whom the Bible speaks as the creator for two reasons.

Firstly: I know God as creator not without the revelation of Christ. For God’s being the creator means being the judge and the savior too; and I know all that only in Christ. Secondly: creation means creation by absolute freedom, creation out of nothing. So the relationship of God to the world is completely free, it has been set and is always set anew ‘creatio continua’ by God. Thus God is not the first cause, the ultimate ground of the world, but its free Lord and creator [and] as such he is not to be discovered by any cosmology, but he reveals himself in sovereign freedom wherever and whenever he wants. (DBWE 10: 475)

According to Bonhoeffer, the god of the cosmologists is not the Creator, the Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer rightly ascribes to the Barth of Romans both creatio ex nihilo and creatio continua, and he gives no indication of any disagreement on his part. The creative act of God is always taking place beyond the empirical realm of natural science. God thus remains free with respect to creation, as the continuing creator, and cannot be discovered by means of human capacities and initiatives, whether by Christians or cosmologists. Only in Christ does God reveal Godself to be Creator, judge, and saviour. (In Ethics, Bonhoeffer’s language of Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer reflects Barth’s continuing influence in this matter [DBWE 6: 48, 402].)[1]

This dovetails nicely with a recent post vis-à-vis Bonhoeffer’s rejection of the analogia entis. Evangelicals, in particular, need to come to learn to think Christian Dogmatically about things; they need to understand that there is a theological taxis or order to the way various doctrines relate to each other, with particular reference to a theology proper.

But to the point of what was just said about Bonhoeffer by Puffer, if we think God radically as the God of creatio ex nihilo and creatio continua, we will come to better appreciate just why it is that many of us in this tradition repudiate natural theology at its core. We are contingent beings, as such our knowledge of God, the Creator, is contingent on His gracious willingness to make Himself known. This is why Evangelical Calvinism, as an iteration of this particular tradition, believes that a genuinely Christian theology can only unfold after Deus dixit (‘God has spoken’ [see Barth’s Göttingen Dogmatics]). There is no necessary linkage between our beings and God’s, not if our beings our contingent on His freedom in being for us first. As such this sort of theological ontology, in and order of being to knowing, implicates a theological epistemology. I.e. God first, then us, as He becomes us in Christ, and in this becoming we come to have a knowledge of God as we are participatio Christi (participants with Christ). The crisis of our situation, the anxiety produced by being a Gentile lot separated from God comes to an end, moment by moment, as God breaks down the veil, and makes one new humanity in the new humanity of His life for and with and in us, in Jesus Christ.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God bythe Spirit. –Ephesians 2:11-22


[1] Matthew Puffer, “Creation,” in Michael Mawson and Philip G. Ziegler eds., The Oxford Handbook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 182-3.

The Security of God’s Word: Athanasius on the Created Order

In the context of a discussion on creatio ex nihilo, Athanasius makes the following point about the power of God’s Word to sustain the whole created order from falling into utter dissolution. He writes:

“seeing that all created nature, as far as its own inner principles were concerned, to be fleeting and subject to dissolution, . . . did not leave it to be tossed in a tempest in the course of its own nature, lest it should run the risk of once more dropping out of existence; but, because He is good He guides and settles the whole Creation by His own Word, Who is Himself also God, that by the governance and providence and ordering action of the Word, Creation may have light, and be enabled to abide always securely.” [Athanasius, Against the Heathen, 41 (PG 25:84A), 26 cited by Ian McFarland]

What I find aesthetically pleasing about this, is that Athanasius, even at his early stage in Church history, had the perception to peer deeply into the inner-ground of creation and see the smiling face of Jesus Christ peering back at him. In other words, Athanasius had the theological fortitude to grasp that it wasn’t simply a naked brute power of God holding all of reality together, but instead it was His triune sustenance of it all as that found and finds concrete telos in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

This is a heavy theme that both Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth appropriate from Athanasius, and constructively develop in ways that are consonant with Athanasius’ early perception about the inner-ground of all that is. It is this rather unique Christ concentration that ends up characterizing two moderns’ theology, and for this we ought to be grateful for the prayerful meditation of Athanasius.