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.

Responding to the Christian Despisers of All That Was Good About Notre Dame Cathedral

The burning of Notre Dame is tragic, as I noted earlier on my Facebook account: The burning of Notre Dame Cathedral is emblematic of the Church’s pervasive loss of historical Christianity in the main. There is no sense of the transcendent, or the layered reality of historical teaching (sacra doctrina) found within the halls of the ancient Church. All things have been domesticated, and essentially burned to the ground of our own subjective and culturally conditioned desires as Christians.” And it is out of this overly-domesticated sense of the Gospel that I don’t think many evangelical (and other) Christians appreciate just what something like Notre Dame symbolizes.

But why don’t many Christians appreciate what Notre Dame symbolizes? The branch of Christianity I grew up in is shaped by a commitment to a dispensationalist hermeneutic. This hermeneutic, as many of us know, operates from a dualistic (even Platonic) conception of eternity and time. One impact this has is that ‘this world’ is viewed as a shadowy existence that only shadows forth the really real existence back up in eternal form. The ultimate goal for this perspective is to gnostically escape this world, and start the eternal state [cf. Rev. 21–22] (but only after the Great Tribulation and Millennium). So, if this is the case, we can see why some Christians would have an indifference to ‘these worldly’ sorts of concrete realities; such as we have in the architectural masterpiece of something like the Notre Dame Cathedral. If this world, and all it contains, is ‘going to hell-in-a-handbasket,’ then who really cares if a structure like Notre Dame burns to the ground; as long as no souls are lost in the process, that’s all that matters.

But what if that isn’t the biblical view? What if the biblical view, on the analogy of the incarnation, thinks that ‘this world’ is in fact a good? What if the Christian perspective actually maintains that there is a continuity between this creation and the next? I would argue that based upon the analogy of the incarnation, where “eternity” and time are united in the hypostatic union of Divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, that this creation is good and redeemable. I would argue further, based on the analogy of the incarnation, that there is a continuity between this current iteration of creation and the one to come in the consummate re-creation that will be realized in the eschaton of God’s life in Christ. So, I would argue that Christians need to operate with a doctrine of creation that thinks from the eschatological reality it has in Christ. In other words, I would argue that creation’s ultimate purpose has always already been to be redeemed and recreated in the Christ event. The implication of this, one of many, is that there is purposiveness to this creation—inclusive of art, architectural feats, culture, industry so on and so forth—that finds continuous reality in and through the grace of God in Christ. Meaning that even something like the Notre Dame Cathedral carries forth the ingenuity that God has placed in His good and renewed creation as those who constructed it did so from the resources that God gave them to bear witness to His beauty through the artistry they participated in and from as they sought to glorify God in this architectural wonder. In other words, Notre Dame typifies the sort of good that will be carried into the eschaton, precisely because it is a work of artistry that finds its genesis in image-of the image bearers who did what they did from participatio Christi and as they were seeking to please and magnify the living God.

Just to drive this point home further, let me point us to the biblical text itself. Here is what the Revelator thinks about the continuity between this creation and the one to come:

22 But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26 And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. 27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.[1]

In particular notice verse 24. ‘The kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.’ What do you think that entails? Might the glory of the kings kingdom entail the works of art, architecture, industriousness their respective cultures produced as they participated in and from the glory or weightiness of God’s life for them in Christ? If we were to do a study of just exactly what ‘their glory and honor’ entailed in the Second Temple Judaism that this book was written in, I’d be willing to bet a lot that this honor and glory entailed just exactly what I just noted (indeed, just read the Old Testament, and see what sort of stuff shaped the glory of the various kingdoms therein).

This is what I am getting at. So next time you want to de-emphasize the value of something like Notre Dame Cathedral, and other like realities, think about these things from a genuinely Christian perspective. God in Christ came to redeem not just ghostly souls, but embodied persons who create things as they operate as images of the image of God in Christ. Do people matter more than buildings, ultimately? Yes. But that is a rather weighted and relative scale vis-à-vis God. The ingenuity and work that went into building something like Notre Dame Cathedral didn’t come from empty suits, it came from flesh and blood people working as unto God rather than unto men. As such, it reflects a work of art that magnifies and bears witness to the living God. As such, it has redemptive characteristics that God came to save not destroy. If this is so we ought to ache as God aches when death and destruction rather than life and shalom seem to reign.

There are other ways to look at all of this as well. But this represents one way.

 

[1] Revelation 21, NKJV.

The Ordered Life of God as The Ground for the Ordered Life of the World: The Doctrine of the Primacy of Christ

To be a believer in an unbelieving world, can at points, become a draining prospect; depending upon the level the Christian attempts to live out ‘their faith’ in confrontation of other’s un-faith. There is a spiritual warfare occurring all around us that unless we press into our faith as Christians, we will not become aware of. This warfare occurs at various levels of society and interpersonal dynamics, but its principled reality remains the same: i.e. the kingdom of darkness is constantly seeking to unfurl the invading reality of the Kingdom of the Son of His love (cf. Col. 1.13). But it is just this; the Kingdom of God in Christ (KGC) is indeed an invading reality that the kingdom of darkness cannot possess. The KGC is not collapsed into the materiality (not that materiality is inherently evil, just the opposite in the KGC) of this world (as the kingdom of darkness is); instead the KGC constantly breaks into this world and recreates it moment by moment by the Grace of Christ as its inner-reality and source. The Grace of God cannot be possessed by the kingdom of darkness, insofar as the kingdom of darkness has already been concluded by the ultimacy of God’s invasion in Christ; as God in Christ triumphed over the devil and his minions making a public spectacle of them through His cross, burial, resurrection, ascension and ultimately second coming. The KGC is in fact the extension of God’s dominion as primally realized in the eschatos of His inner life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; in other words, the KGC is God’s telos for the created order, and as such is not ‘under’ the dominion of the evil one, but instead is under the dominion of God’s a se life as the fundamentum of all that is.

All that was just noted is corollary with the Scotist doctrine known as the Primacy of Jesus Christ. According to the Apostle Paul,

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.[1]

David Fergusson gives us greater insight into this doctrine as he writes,

In the prologue to John’s Gospel the Word (Logos) of God is the one by whom and through whom the world is created. This Word which is made present to Israel becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ. In this cosmic Christology, the significance of Jesus is understood with respect to the origin and purpose of the created order. Already in Paul’s writing and elsewhere in the New Testament epistles, we find similar cosmic themes (e.g. 1 Cor. 8:6, Col. 1:15-20, Heb. 1:1-4). By describing creation as Christ-centred, these passages offer two related trajectories of thought. First, the origin and final purpose of the cosmos is disclosed with the coming of Christ into the world and his resurrection from the dead. Second, the significance of Christ is maximally understood reference to his creative and redeeming power throughout the created universe. Writers at different periods in the history of the church would later use this cosmic Christology to describe the appearance of the incarnate Christ as the crowning moment of history. No longer understood merely as an emergency measure to counteract the effects of sin and evil, the incarnation was the fulfillment of an eternal purpose. The world was made so that Christ might be born.This is captured in Karl Barth’s dictum that creation is ‘the external basis of the covenant’ (Barth 1958: 94).[2]

The world order has no order without Christ as its reality. In order for there to be order in this world, this world must be ordered by the Great Orderer of all reality, who is God. Without this reconciliation, between God and humanity accomplished in the hypostatic union of God and humanity in Christ, the world will only experience the waywardness of a world that has been judged. And yet the world, by definition, will repudiate God’s judgment and attempt to make ‘a life’ out of the world system that has no life in it; not in and from its old fallen order. To be in Christ is to be in the ordered life that God is in HisSelf as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We see an origin of relation in God’s inner life as revealed in the Son, and we participate in and from that ordered life insofar as we call Jesus, Lord. But this world does not call Jesus, Lord; as such they can only experience the dregs of a world that has been driven into the nothingness that it is. But the world loves this nothingness rather than the somethingness of God’s life, thus heaping a world of pain and suffering upon itself with no hope. A tragedy I seek to bear witness against.

 

 

[1] Colossians 1, ESV.

[2] David Fergusson, “Creation, in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, edited by John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Iain Torrance, 76-7.

Jesus, God’s Saint for Us: Thinking Dialogical Theology from Canlis’s Calvin and His Doctrine of Creation and Communion

Still rereading Julie Canlis’s magisterial work Calvin’s Ladder. I wanted to share her introduction to her second chapter, which is entitled Creation: The Ground and Grammar of Ascent. Here she is going to develop Calvin’s doctrine of creation and communion, and the way that implicates a doctrine of ascent or koinonia and/or fellowship with God. I’ll share the quote, and then comment a bit further on the other side.

Because ascent has been misconstrued over the years — indeed, the metaphor has been used to devalue and escape creation for centuries — it is essential to begin with Calvin’s doctrine of creation. We begin with concept of the world as a place of communion, the “trysting place” between God and humanity. Creation is revealed to be a space overflowing with the fatherhood of God, the mediation of Christ, and the tending of the Spirit. It is only when this is established that a correct understanding of Christ’s ascent, our incorporation into him, and ascent in the Eucharist can be grasped properly.

Creation, as the sphere of koinōnia, is the ground and grammar of an ascent that is not away from materiality but a deepened experience of communion within it. This issues forth in a concept of creation that is anything but static and impersonal. Instead, Calvin’s theological vision is a dynamic interplay of God, creation, and humanity, where the creation-call on humanity and the delight and communication of God hold center stage. From the proleptic thrust of Calvin’s doctrine of creation, to his projective concept of the imago as “toward” (ad), to Adam’s dynamic koinōnia existence and then the forceful inversion of sin and the metaphor of falling (the Fall), Calvin is anything but amorphous. Communion is the groundwork of creation, the purpose of anthropology, and the telos toward which all creation strains.[1]

When Canlis concludes ‘Communion is the groundwork of creation, the purpose of anthropology, and the telos toward which all creation strains’ it becomes clear why she fits so well with us Evangelical Calvinists. As I’ve noted previously, dialogical theology, or what Barth terms dialectical theology (in his Göttingen Dogmatics), is a sort of touchstone for Evangelical Calvinism’s theological method (prolegomenon). While it seems to be a pre-dogmatic locus, in fact the method itself is given as the material gift of salvation in the concrete reality of Jesus Christ. It is here, and constantly consistently here where God has spoken (Deus dixit), and continues to speak; as such, this is where Evangelical Calvinists intentionally sit still and attempt to listen before we speak.

Of interest, also, is the idea that Canlis draws from Calvin’s theology; viz. the idea that ascent comes to have an aethereal reality and instead a palpable/material reality in the descent and ascent of the incarnated and ascended Christ. This is important in moving beyond an untethered metaphysics that attempts to discursively think God from effects to cause. Instead, as with Canlis’s Calvin, so for us Evangelical Calvinists, we necessarily affirm the goodness of recreation in Jesus Christ; as such our prayers and dialogues with the living God in the risen Christ do not flutter to the heavens on the wings of wistful butterflies, but instead in and through the flesh and blood and risen body of Jesus Christ. It is through the broken body of the lively Christ wherein the veil has been torn, and we come to have eyes to see and ears to hear the Shepherd’s voice. Dialogical theology is one bounded in koinonia, in the communion of the saints grounded in the Saint of God for us who is Jesus Christ. Here we hear God speak. This is the basis of any sound theology; one that listens through the new ears given for us in the recreated ears of Jesus Christ. As God has spoken and speaks in the humanity of Christ we hear God.

[1] Julie Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension(Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), Loc. 582, 586, 591.

Thinking Divine Simplicity from a Grace-Alone-Frame

Thomas Torrance’s project was largely about reifying classical theological concepts under the pressure provided for by a personalist understanding of the Triune life; Barth in his own way obviously reformulates the tradition as well. What I want to do with this post is share a snippet from John Webster and his description of Divine Simplicity vis-à-vis a doctrine of creation, and then suggest a way that this might be reified in a Torrancean or Barthian way. Webster writes:

Simplicity is a broad term for the fact that God is not formed from elements, whether internal or external; God has no career, no process of coming-to-be. Simplicity indicates the intrinsic absence or need for derivation in God and, further, betokens that God is not ordered to anything else, even as the most excellent or supreme being. The world, therefore, is not a concomitant to God. ‘[I]t is absolutely necessary that God should be differently related to his effects than any other possible cause to its effects and that he should possess his nature in a different way from any other possible being. The concept of “incompositeness” enables us to secure the assertion of these things.’

Because God is simple, he is absolutely and not merely contingently other than the world. God’s not being part of the world is not such that he is some reality alongside and contrasted with the world, as if God and the world formed a pair with their respective natures determined in part by their divergence and differentiation from each other. The otherness of God as creator is not an instance of correlativity or complementarity. God is non aliud, beyond relations of similarity or contrast. ‘Creatures are not related to God as to a thing of a different genus, but as to something outside of and prior to all genera.’[1]

I want to affirm, in principle, what Simplicity intends to signify in regard to God’s “antecededness” and otherness. What I have emboldened, I believe, is of the upmost to affirm in regard to recognizing the distinction between Creator/creature in a God-world relation. Both Torrance and Barth also want to, and do affirm this reality about God; this is the orthodox and catholic affirmation that we seen present in the lives and thought frames of all orthodox thinkers in the realm of the church catholic transcending all periods of church history.

Simplicity is an important feature of Christian theology. I think though that while it can be and ought to be affirmed in its conceptuality that there are different ways to articulate it within a Dogmatic frame. Interestingly Webster is largely working from Aquinas’s understanding of Simplicity, but Aquinas held along with the Fourth Lateran Council that while there was certainly an absolute distinction between the Creator and creatures that nevertheless there remained a possibility of ‘contact’ of similarity between God as the first mover over against the moved movers wherein a knowledge of God could be connived by way of analogy [of being]. This is where I demur. With Barth (and Torrance) I maintain that while God is Simple, properly reified, that the divide is so great between He and us that outwith his gracious willingness to step down and come to us in Christ in the miracle of resurrection that there is no way to know God; and this precisely because of God’s Simple nature. Barth, and Torrance following, I believe actually is in a place, with his anti-natural-theology approach, to magnify the Creator/creature distinction much more than even Thomas Aquinas.

George Hunsinger helps us grasp how Barth thought we might know God precisely at the point that God in himself is unknowable. Barth had a way to bridge the gap between God and us without positing, as Thomas did, some sort of innate analogical point of contact between us and God. Note:

Barth solved the problem of analogical discourse by appealing not so much to nature as to grace. Although human language was inherently incapable of referring to God, it was nevertheless made capable of doing so. Human language, as sanctified by grace, was at once affirmed, annulled, and elevated — affirmed in its creatureliness and annulled in its incapacity, in order to be elevated beyond itself. This gracious process of affirming, nullifying, and elevating, of capacitating the incapacitated, was associated with being raised from the dead (II/1, 231). It was therefore miraculous and beyond comprehension. Barth’s controlling metaphor was not creation but resurrection.

Grace made possible, and continued to make possible, what was otherwise impossible. Analogical discourse was grounded not in some metaphysical similarity between God and the creature, but solely in the sovereign freedom of divine grace. Human language, without ceasing to be essentially inadequate, was extended to be made fully appropriate. To be made appropriate despite being inadequate meant becoming absolutely dependent on grace. It was a miraculous dependence that occurred perfectly and perpetually: not statically but dynamically, not merely once and for all, but continually again and again.

Yet in elevating human language beyond its natural capacities, God “does not perform a violent miracle” (II/1, 229). The Creator enjoys an original and proper claim on human language, even though it has no such claim on him. Neither human sin nor creaturely finitude could undo this primordial divine claim. Human language belongs to the good creation in and through which God knows himself as God. When the Lord God graciously elevates human words, concepts, and images to participate in the truth of his own self-knowledge, language is not alienated from its original purpose, “but, on the contrary, restored to it” (II/1, 229).

For Barth, because God and the creature are incommensurable, any ontological continuity between them — not only regarding predicates like goodness, reason, and wisdom, but also regarding “non-agential” predicates like being, beauty, and light — must be seen as miraculously given, again and again, from above. Ontological continuity with the reality of God does not belong to the creature qua creature. It does not belong to the creature as a given endowment or a fixed condition — not originally, and not even subsequently. The continuity does not exist except as it is continually given, and it is not given except miraculously through God’s gracious operation. As continually though miraculously given, the continuity is not merely “occasional” (a common misunderstanding of Barth). It is rather a function of the perpetual operation of God’s grace as grounded and centered in Christ from before the foundation of the world. As such the continuity is always at once real and yet also incomprehensible. Therefore the ontological difference between God and the creature is not seen as “infinitely greater” but as absolute. Any similarities between the creature and God — real though incomprehensible, incomprehensible though real — are not grounded in the creatureliness of the creature, but strictly and entirely (not just partially) in divine grace as a perpetual and miraculous operation from above.[2]

For Barth it is Grace all the way down; grace not a perfected nature is the way Barth traverses the ditch between God and humanity; grace who in fact is Jesus Christ.

While I appreciate Webster’s description of Simplicity I think Barth’s way of thinking it actually magnifies Simplicity insofar as the Creator/creature distinction is honored precisely by radicalizing a concept of Grace by seeing that as the relation that God has always already related to his creation through to begin with; as the ‘first Word’ (cf. Gen. 1.1 / Jn. 1.1). We can all agree that God is incomposite and in that sense ‘untouched’ by his creation, but at the same time we don’t want to soften this (as I believe Aquinas does) in order to think a way for the gap to be bridged, in regard to knowledge of this Simple God, by bridging our apprehension of Him through an intact capacity within an abstract humanity; a humanity that isn’t grounded in the archetypal humanity of God in Jesus Christ.

By the way: to think Simplicity from the ‘Grace-alone-frame’ does things. It implicates a discussion on impassibility/passibility etc.

[1] John Webster, God Without Measure: Working Papers In Christian Theology: Volume 1: God And The Works Of God (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 120 [emphasis mine].

[2] Hunsinger, Evangelical Catholic And Reformed: Doctrinal Essays on Barth and Related Themes, 70-1.

The Meat and Potatoes Behind My Thinking on the Relationship Between Philosophy and Theology: The Analogy of Being and The Analogy of Faith in Juxta

This is a repost, but as I’ve been thinking about it I think my last three posts have much to do with the following issue (the subject of my post here). Because of that correlation I thought I would repost this as it might fill out further what I meant in my last post when I started getting into the relationship of theological anthropology (in a doctrine of creation) to the question: “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” The following post details and explains, a bit, how and why I might approach the answer to the question—on the relationship between speculative philosophy and theology—differently than maybe other approaches might, and indeed have. As you will see in this post (and I don’t make it all that explicit) the way we think of a doctrine of creation/eschatology will impinge upon the way we think of anthropology, soteriology/redemption, and the relationship between ontology and epistemology as we think that from a Christian Dogmatic frame. My thoughts have probably developed a bit since I initially posted the following post (in 2013 as I recall), but the gist is still something that has resonance with my current position.

The title of my personal chapter in our first edited book (2012) is: Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis? Either Through Christ or Through Nature. While a little different from the way I develop this dichotomy for doing theology in my chapter, George Hunsinger helpfully details what the differences are between Karl Barth’s ‘Analogy of Faith’ approach V. a Roman Catholic (and classically Protestant) inspired ‘Analogy of Being’ approach. He writes of Barth:

aquinas

[A]lthough Barth once wrote that “I regard the analogia entis as the invention of the Antichrist” (I/1, xiii), and although he went on to polemicize against it repeatedly, nowhere in the Church Dogmatics does he pause to directly to define what  he means by it. Indirectly, however; what he means becomes sufficiently clear. The analogia entis is conceived as embracing two matters at once: a constitutive state of affairs and an epistemic procedure based on it. (Where I have said “constitutive” and ‘epistemic,” Barth would tend to say “ontic” and “noetic.”) The state of affairs is one in which human beings are in some sense inherently open to and capable of knowing God. The procedure is then one in which this inherent openness and capacity are exercised such that God becomes known, regardless of how provisionally. As the premise behind natural theology, the analogia entis seems to underwrite almost everything Barth takes to be theologically impossible by virtue of the personalist, objectivist, actualist, and particularist motifs (See pp. 96-99, 255-56.)

Barth’s epistemic alternative to the analogia entis is the analogia fidei: The analogia entis, as Barth understands it, posits an analogy between the human being and the divine being by virtue of their sharing a commonality in “being” (even though the two may not be conceived as related to this commonality in the same way). (This commonality is the condition for the possibility of the human being’s inherent openness to and capability of knowing God.) The analogia fidei, on the other hand, posits an analogy between human action (faith) and a divine action (grace) in just a situation where no ontological commonality is conceived to exist. Grace elicits faith, and faith corresponds analogically to grace, but no ontological of any kind mediates between them. Since no inherent human openness or capability exists to be exercised, grace is the sole condition for the possibility of faith. Faith is conceived as grounded in grace alone, and the mediating term with respect to the analogy is conceived not as “being” but as “miracle.” [George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology, fn. 2, pp. 266-67 Nook edition.]

The theology and thought done on this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist, is decidedly done from the analogia fidei the ‘analogy of faith’ as given expression by Barthian formation. There is no common ground, I would argue, between the being of God and the being of humanity; there is no hierarchical and thus necessary interrelation between all being; as if God is the unmoved mover from which all being owes it like being in a graded kind of succession (starting with God’s as the Creator). Instead the succession of being is proper to God’s inner life alone, as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit interpenetratingly coinhere and inter-relate one with the other; it is in this kind of being, a being that is shaped by Divine persons in relation, wherein a Self-givenenss is realized, one for the other—we might call this Self-giveness, Love. And it is out of this Self-sustaining (A-seity) freedom of giveness for the other (in the Subject-Object distinction between the persons of the Divine Monarxia), this eternal choice of life for the other (in God’s inner-life), that He has freely and graciously chosen to create the other (i.e. humanity), in order to serve as a counterpoint (thank you, Habets) wherein He could share this life of Love with the other. The other being created in order to participate in this kind of freedom of life that is sustained by none other than Godself for the other. And in this God-world relation, the nexus between God and humanity finds its ground for being. Not in a necessary relationship between God as brute Creator, and the rest of creation as a necessary relation to this kind of Creator God; but in a dynamic relation, wherein the connection is grounded in God’s freedom to create out of pure unadulterated love for the other, the kind of love that has defined God’s choice to create and then relate to His creation through gracious action inclusive of inviting His creation to participate in His free life of Love on the basis of His gracious action of creation. So the relationship between humanity and God is based upon a relational dynamic of trust (faith) wherein knowledge of God and self is realized through the same Word which upholds all things, and in a continuous state of Event, gives human being its life by graciously sustaining it by His life of Love (so defined). In this relationship, the primacy is not given to humanity’s inherent capacity to possess a knowledge of God upon an extrapolation abstract by the active intellect upon humanity’s being; but instead primacy is given to Christ, and the relation to God therein rests in His very person mediated to us through the humanity of Christ. It is through this relation to God, one that is shaped by the person of God in Christ, wherein the analogy of faith finds its repose; as any conception of necessary being in ourselves, is contradicted by the faith of the Son for us for the Father, wherein the Son receives His being as Son by His Free relation to the Father by His shared nature. So the analogy is one of faith, because there is no other basis upon which creation finds resonance except through the act of God’s grace to create out of Free love for the other, which is first realized antecedently in His inner life which has freely become for us.

How the Inner Life of God gives Structure, Depth, and Purpose to Creation in the Triune Economy of His Life for the Other

I like how John Webster relates a discussion about the inner (immanent) and outer life (economic) of God as Triune, as a kind of telic means for grasping how we conceive of creation itself—and all its contingent and creaturely realities as they find their ontic orientation in and from the ground of all reality in God’s life as Creator as He upholds it all by His sustaining Word—in such a way that creation has depth beyond itself as it is situated in and from the economic life of God and His gracious action upon the surface of the earth. With such understanding we can imagine a Trinitarian structure to creation’s orientation, as creation’s contingency away from God (in her independent integrity), once again, over and again only has resource for understanding her depth as she looks towards God[1]; the non-contingent reality who breathes life into her moment by moment. Webster writes:

How may this economy be described more closely? (1) The divine economy is grounded in the immanent perfection of the Holy Trinity. God’s dealings with creatures, in which he makes possible for them to know and love him, are a second, derivative reality. In more directly dogmatic language, the economy is the field of the divine missions: the Father’s sending of the Son and the Spirit to gather creatures into fellowship with himself and to uphold them on their way to completion. But this outpouring of love in the divine missions is the external face of the inner divine processions, that is, of the perfect internal relations of the triune persons, the fountain from which the external works of God flow. The opera Dei externae are suspended from the opera Dei ad intra. The importance of this is not simply that it respects the divine aseity, and safeguards the distinction of uncreated and created being. It is also that, by grounding the economy in the inner life of God, it indicates that the creation has depth. Creation is not simply contingent temporal surface, arbitrary action. It has a willed shape; it assumes its form under the pressure of the divine intention, and is maintained by unbounded divine benevolence. And so creatures and their acts – including textual and intellectual acts – are referred back to the anterior reality of God, a reference in which alone their substance and continuing operation are secured.[2]

Here we have an occurrence of thinking in a Rahnerian key of the economic is the immanent, but spoken of in such a way that we clearly avoid any worries about entering panentheistic territory; but more importantly, we have a better way of thinking about how the eternally Triune life of God gives creation depth and order in and from the order that co-inheres between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And further, how in the economy, as God’s gracious movement towards the other, the world gains a gravitas that is charged with all the wisdom and bounty of God’s overflowing life of love.

[1] I have taken this thinking of ‘contingency away from God and towards God’ from T.F. Torrance in his book Divine and Contingent Order.

[2] John Webster, The Domain of the Word: Scripture and Theological Reason (London/NY: T&T Clark International, 2012), 117.