Language About God’s Life: How Language Ought to Be Transformed By God’s Self-Revelation in Theological Discourse

As Trinitarians Christians often, and rightly, refer to the inner reality of God’s singular life as his ousia or ‘being.’ The fear might be that Christians might be imposing Hellenistic (i.e. classical Greek philosophical) categories onto God thus morphing him into an tertium quid, or even worse something completely alien to who he actually is. This is the critique I often bring against classical Calvinists in their deployment of Aristotle to articulate their Pure Being theology relative to the Christian God;[1] I don’t think they are successful in allowing the Revelation to determine the language’s shape; I think they carry over too much of the Aristotelian philosophical implications in their endeavor to give grammar to articulating God for human understanding. As such, I think they eschew everything else downstream; i.e. whether that be in the area of doctrine of creation, theory of revelation, theory of history, doctrine of Scripture, soteriology, so on and so forth.

Us Evangelical Calvinists, like classical Calvinists (and other iterations of classical theists), also use the Hellenic language of ‘being’ and ‘persons’ (hypostases), among other expressions. But unlike—and here I’ll just keep picking on the classical Calvinists—the classical Calvinists, or as Richard Muller calls it, the “Christian Aristotelians,”[2] we follow Athanasius’s style and mode in regard to allowing the antecedent and ontological reality of God’s life to give shape and reify the Hellenic language of ‘being’ and ‘persons’; our intention is to allow God’s Self-revelation to retext the Hellenic language in such a way that the language’s meaning itself becomes brand new (recreated even) because of the new context it finds itself in (since context determines meaning anyway). Thomas Torrance explains how this worked out in the Athansian mode:

Athanasius much preferred to use verbs rather than nouns when speaking of God as the mighty living and acting God, for abstract terms or substantives seemed to him (as indeed to the biblical writers) to be inappropriate in speaking about the dynamic Nature of God, or in expressing who God is who makes himself known to us in his mighty acts of deliverance and salvation. For Athanasius, here as elsewhere, the precise meaning of theological terms is to be found in their actual use under the transforming impact of divine revelation. This is how he believed that the words ousia and hypostasis were used at the Council of Nicaea, not in the abstract Greek sense but in a concrete personal sense governed by God’s self-revelation in the incarnation. He preferred a functional and flexible use of language in which the meaning of words varied in accordance with the nature of the realities intended and with the general scope of thought or discourse at the time. Hence he retained the freedom to vary the sense of the words he used in different contexts, and declined to be committed to a fixed formalisation of any specific theological term for all context which might have violated his semantic principle that terms are not prior to realities but realities come first and terms second. This intention is nowhere more evident than in his cautious and differential use of human terms to speak of the Being of God or the Subsistence of Persons in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.[3]

Us Evangelical Calvinists go with TF Torrance and Athanasius; particularly when it comes to the idea that the reality precedes and thus should be allowed to control the terminology in its context and sense.

If you ever wonder how Evangelical Calvinists can use the language of ‘being’ and ‘persons’ and not fall prey to the same temptations as the Christian Aristotelians, refer to this post.

One more important point in closing: If we get our doctrine of God wrong (which includes very much so how we employ theological language), then everything else following will be eschewed. This is why Evangelical Calvinists place such emphasis on our Trinitarian Doctrine of God as the ground and grammar of everything.

[1] See this post.

[2] See Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Volume Three (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2003), 45, 62, 107, 121, 132, 140, 150, 367, 545, 553.

[3] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 117-18.

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The Reason ‘Human Reason’ Should Not Be Trusted: A Christian Dogmatic Account

Here is a post I wrote just over a year ago. It did not get much notice the first time I posted it, so I am going to recycle it in lieu of my inability to write many blog posts at the moment (until I finish my personal chapter for our forthcoming EC book). I think what John Webster communicates here, as usual, is spot on. Apparently I was responding to another blogger with this post, the blogger’s name is John Shore. I don’t recall what he was writing upon, but it must have had something to do with the role reason has in the life of the human agent; particularly Christians. 

In my last post I quickly and from the top sketched the problem that John Shore had in his appeal to reason as if it was a new form or mode
Aristotle Small
of revelation from God, and more importantly, about God and his ways within a God-world relation; particularly as that God-world relation applies to Christian ethics. Fortuitously I just happen to be reading theologian par excellence, John Webster’s little book Holiness; in this little book Webster is discussing, but of course: God’s holiness in its reach into various spheres within the Christian’s life. For the rest of this post I will be engaging a bit with Webster’s thinking about holiness, and in particular, and in dovetail with what I was inchoately talking about in regard to the elevation of reason by John Shore (and many others). That said, I don’t really want to get sidetracked by applying this discussion to closely to Shore, maybe only insofar as his approach serves as a contemporary and popular illustration of what Webster describes in regard to a modern understanding of reason and its elevation.

John Webster writes this of modernity’s understanding of reason:

… Modernity has characteristically regarded reason as a ‘natural’ faculty – a standard, unvarying and foundational feature of humankind, a basic human capacity or skill. As a natural faculty, reason is, crucially, not involved in the drama of God’s saving work; it is not fallen, and so requires neither to be judged nor to be reconciled nor to be sanctified. Reason simply is; it is humankind in its intellectual nature. Consequently, ‘natural’ reason has been regarded as ‘transcendent’ reason. Reason stands apart from or above all possible convictions, all particular, historical forms of life, observing them and judging them from a distance. Reason does not participate in history but makes judgments about history; it is a transcendent and sovereign intellectual legislator, and as such answerable to none but itself.

Such conceptions of reason have become so deeply embedded in modern culture and its most prestigious intellectual institutions that they are scarcely visible to us. But for the Christian confession, these conceptions are disordered. Above all, they are disordered because they extract reason and its operations from the economy of God’s dealings with his creatures. To think of reason as ‘natural’ and ‘transcendent’ in this way is, by the standard of the Christian confession, corrupt, because it isolates reason from the work of God as creator, reconciler and perfecter. Once reason is thought of as ‘natural’ rather than as ‘created’ (or, to put it differently, once the category of ‘the created’ is collapsed into that of ‘the natural’), then reason’s contingency is set aside, and its sufficiency is exalted in detachment from the divine gift of truth. Or again, when reason is expounded as a natural competency, then it is no longer understood as fallen and in need of reconciliation of God. Again, when reason is considered as a human capacity for transcendence, then reason’s continual dependence on the vivifying Spirit is laid to one side, for natural reason does not need to be made holy.

Christian theology, however, must beg to differ. It must beg to differ because the confession of the gospel by which theology governs its life requires it to say that humankind in its entirety, including reason, is enclosed within the history of sin and its overcoming by the grace of God concerns the remaking of humankind as a whole, not simply of what we identify restrictively as its ‘spiritual’ aspect. And so reason, no less than anything else, stands under the divine requirement that it be holy to the Lord its God.[1]

This could bring us into a discussion of how pure nature has functioned in Christian theology, or in secular theologies; or this could bring us into a discussion of Thomas Aquinas’ appropriation of Aristotle’s idea of an ‘active intellect’ and how that forms us as people anthropologically; we also could get into a discussion about how the Puritans, for example, spoke about such things in their appropriation of Aristotle’s tripartite faculty psychology—indeed all of these things are really correlative with and even fund, to extent, Webster’s insights on reason. But let’s not, and say we did, for time’s sake.

What is of import, at least to me, in what Webster is highlighting is how all of who human’s are needs redemption. We are noetically flawed, even in redemption we cry out to Jesus along with the man in the Gospel accounts “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief!” It should be clear though: any appeal to human reason, any appeal to reason embedded in the image of God, as if that sanitizes reason in a way that keeps it untouched by sin is a non-starter for the Christian; as Thomas Torrance has said more than once: ‘We are sinners all the way down, so we need grace all the way down.’

[1] John Webster, Holiness, kindle loc. 122.

*Credit: Image of Aristotle taken from Matt Ryder’s collection here.

Jesus, the Ultimate Question and Questioner for Us: According to Thomas Torrance

As modern and post-modern Christians we are plagued with an impulse, intellectually and socio-culturally, to place the questioner before the object or subject under “question.” In other words in rather Cartesian form we have placed our existence, and thus our rationality and wits before essence, before ‘being’ — as René Descartes was famous for intoning: cogito ergo sum ‘I think therefore I am.’ If we were to reduce modern man and woman to a modus operandi, in regard to a casual, and for some, even an intentional philosophy of life, I can’t think of a better way to frame blackwhitemantegnait than what we find in Cartesianism. The person, in the modern way, is the standard-bearer for creating his or her own reality; once reality is constructed for oneself, then the inquiry process for what life means can begin. But of course this is circular isn’t it? The person serves as the ground of their own reality (even in collectivist and communitarian ways), and once that ground is established, once that context is construed, the modern person can begin the work of establishing their own reasons for being, they can even create a place for God; but of course that ‘place’ is determined to be what it is by the person’s own ‘being’ and not God’s. (sounds like existentialism and idealism in their own ways)

Thomas F. Torrance offers an alternative account for how Christians ought to think about reality in genuinely Christian ways. Contra the ‘modern man’ Torrance identifies the problem as modern people themselves. He would contend that there is no abstract human person, modern or otherwise, but would refer us back to the ancient truth once and for all delivered to the saints in Jesus Christ. He would ask modern persons to look at the cross of Jesus Christ as the indicative of what human beings left to themselves really are; at base. At base, Torrance would contend that persons are contingent beings, who are not only not the Ultimate in their own beings, but that they ecstatically ‘receive’ their being extra nos or from outside of themselves; i.e. that the ground for human ‘being’ is God’s ‘being’ for us in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in His vicarious humanity pro nobis (for us). As such Torrance would ask us to look at the cross of Jesus Christ and call modern and post-modern persons to ponder what God is saying about us through the wisdom of the cross (sofia staurou); that the ground of our ‘beings’ left to themselves in abstraction (i.e. in a ‘Fallen state’) only have one ultimate end: death! Torrance would ask us to repent (metanoia), and understand that God alone has the capacity to serve as the ground of ‘human being’ in the vicarious humanity of His Son, and as such has the capacity to provide the questions – His questions – that are right questions about Him. Torrance would ask us to abandon the Cartesian way, and any other more “sophisticated” ways that terminate upon our abstract selves rather than in God’s concrete self for us in Jesus Christ. Torrance would contend that once we come under the wisdom of the cross that we will finally be in a place to really start doing the work of a Christian disciple; we will be in a place to not only ask the right questions, in echo of God’s questions for us in the Son, but we will be in a place afresh and anew on a daily basis to be interrogated by the wisdom of the cross which reminds us that we are constantly being given over to Christ’s death that His life might also be made manifest in our mortal bodies (II Cor. 4.10). Here’s Torrance in his own words:

That is the way the God of Truth deals with us. He turns to us where we have closed ourselves in him and are imprisoned in our self-will and blindness; he penetrates into our existence and life as one of us in order to open us up from below to the Truth of God and to bring us to acquiesce in the Truth of God. That is Jesus—who stood in our place, the prisoner at the bar interrogated by man and by God, he who plumbed the deepest depth of our questioning of God in order to take it upon himself and receive the counter-questioning of God. Therefore that Man on the Cross, questioned down to the bottom of hell, for our sakes, is the ultimate question that God puts to us.

Unless we recognize that we too are called in question by the Cross, we can neither put our questions to God in truth nor truly hear the answer he provides. Jesus Christ stood in place: that is God’s answer to us. For Jesus stood in our place not to be questioned, but to ask the question in truth as we are unable to, and to give a true and faithful answer to God. He stood in our place and made our ultimate question his own, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ But in taking that question on his lips, he asked it as we cannot, for he altered it from the depths into the cry, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’

What, then, is the nature of true questioning?

A genuine question is one properly open to the object of inquiry, but a question cannot be open to the object of inquiry if it is foreclosed from behind. Hence to be genuine, a question must allow itself to be called in question; it must be ready for reconstruction in the light of what the inquiry reveals. True questioning involves a backward movement of critical revision of its premises and a forward movement of reformulation of its questions. The further questioning, until real listening becomes possible and judgments are formed under the compulsive power of the objective reality. Genuine questioning is a strenuous form of repentance.

Moreover, behind the questions stands the questioner himself. Every question that is raised has behind it the being of the questioner, and it reacts upon him. Really to ask, we have to put ourselves into our questions. If so, then really to ask, we must allow ourselves to be called into question. The questioner must allow his questions to react critically upon himself, if he is to ask them relentlessly and scientifically.[1]

The modern person cannot go for this, since they are the possessor of their own being; or so they think. As a consequence genuine questions about God and life cannot be asked, only superficial ones can be asked. This all comes back to what the author of Hebrews was so keenly aware of when he wrote: “14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” At the very bottom of every modern person there is a fleeting knowledge that at ground ‘death’ is the ultimate for them; but they can’t accept that reality, as such they must continue to assert themselves in the face of that reality, and attempt to hang on to their personal existence, and to existence in general, as the ground of all being, of all reality. Even if said reality is ultimately non-reality, of the sort that can never ask real life questions, because the ground upon which it is situated is sandy-land of its own deluded making.

[1] T.F. Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), 122-23.

Natural Theology for the Post-Reformed orthodox, for Christians in General, and for Bobby Grow in Particular

Staying on the recent theme we will continue to think about ‘natural theology’ ‘natural revelation’ ‘revealed theology’ etc. Full disclosure, the reason I’m focused on this at the moment is that I am currently reading through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1. The section I have been in orbits around this particular issue; although I just finished that section and jesuscreationam moving on to other issues and developments within Post-Reformation orthodoxy. That said, let me close this consideration with this post. I will quote what Muller has to say in regard to a late Post-Reformed orthodox theologian, Cloppenburg, and then with a summary of how, in general all Post-Reformed orthodox thinkers approached natural theology (or maybe should have according to Muller). Here is Muller’s index on Cloppenburg’s ideas about knowledge of God from nature:

Indeed, comments Cloppenburg, the existence of God is known in five ways: (1) from the interconnectedness of all things (compages); (2) from their motion; (3) from the order of causes in the world; (4) from the governance of all things, which points toward the necessary existence of a prime Mover and first efficient cause; and equally so, (5) from the sole rule (monarchia) of the entire universe understood as “the procession of all causality, of secondary causes from the first efficient cause to the final and ultimate cause,” inasmuch as it indicates the existence of infinite being (ens infinitum). All of these conclusions, as Cloppenburg’s subsequent statements indicate, conform to the teachings of Scripture: the necessary existence of God, apart from a prior principle or cause is witnessed by Isaiah who identifies God as “the first and the last,” before whom there is no God” (Is. 44:6, 7; 43:10). Indeed Cloppenburg appears to understand the testimonies of Scripture to the existence and attributes of God as consistently mirroring the logic of the attributes that can be developed from the proofs, pointing positively to the existence and attributes where the proofs had indicated a more negative way, by the removal of imperfection.[1]

Cloppenburg sounds pretty standard fare if we are going to use Thomas Aquinas’ axiom of ‘grace perfecting nature.’ The idea of the interconnectivity of all things back to their Primary Cause, God for the Christian, is pure and unadulterated Thomas Aquinas. My guess is that most people, most Christians would read this and go: “well, yeah, duh!”

Here is how Richard Muller summarizes his development of how natural theology worked, or didn’t, in various prominent voices in Post-Reformation orthodox theology (i.e. there was a range of ways among them to engage with this topic):

The final paradox of the Reformed treatment of natural theology is that the theologia naturalis regenitorum, because it is not saving, can never become a locus of theological system. Although they argue pointedly that the regenerate can look to natural revelation and discern the true God, the Reformed orthodox recognize that this discernment so rests upon the grace of God and the clearer vision of the opera Dei made possible by the general revelation in Scripture that it can never become the basis even of the doctrine of creation. At very best, the theologian naturalis regenitorum belongs to the church’s exercise of praise and to the ancillary tools utilized by theology in its arguments. It can never serve as the basis of an argument or the reason for a conclusion. Therefore, natural theology stands at the edge of Christian thought or, to put the case positively, it exists as a result rather than as a basis for Christian doctrine. The truths of natural theology are not excluded from supernatural theology — they are included in the body of revealed doctrine — not because natural theology is the rational foundation of the system but because its truths belong to the higher truth — in Maresius’ words, “as a greater number includes the lesser.” Natural theology can, in its discussion of divine essence and attributes, gain some knowledge of what God may be (quid sit Deus). It cannot, however, learn who God may be (quis sit Deus), that is, the triune personal God. The system itself rests entirely upon scriptural revelation for its primary content.[2]

What this really can be reduced to is someone’s broader informing theory of revelation, and that is related to someone’s theological anthropology. For me, personally, I hold that the noetic effects of the Fall are total; as such, I hold that for the natural human there is no access to an accurate knowledge of God apart from God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. The only way someone might hold that the natural human might have access to God in nature without the light of Christ is if they hold to an intellectualist anthropology wherein they further posit that at some level, even post-lapsum the imago Dei has retained some intellectual light that remains connected to God by its nature itself (and of course this presupposes something about what said person thinks about knowledge of God and imago Dei pre-lapsum or pre-Fall).

My view is that every aspect of humanity’s connection to God, pre-Fall, is dead; i.e. that there is no connection and that apart from Christ we live sub-image of God. I further hold that because creation is Christ conditioned proleptically (meaning that creation was created for Christ, not Christ was created for creation, or simply came to save creation), that even pre-lapsum knowledge of God was always already mediated through the One mediator between God and man, the Man, Christ Jesus (I Tim. 2:5-6). The implicate of this is that genuine knowledge of God in creation has always already been exclusively through Jesus Christ (who is the prototypical imago Dei cf. Col. 1:15ff); i.e. that creation itself has no reality or telos without Christ. As such it is a non-starter and non-sensical to try and gain any knowledge of God and His Divine attributes through reflection upon nature. In Christ I believe developing a theology of nature is possible, but this is different than what we see from Cloppenburg, but could have some corollary with some of the Post-Reformed orthodox thinking on ‘natural theology’ sub-revelation.

My view, of course, implicates how I approach the locus classicus for those who want to argue for a natural theology of the sort that Cloppenburg exemplifies (along with Thomas Aquinas and others through their theory of causality etc.). The locus classicus of course is Romans 1:18ff, and it is this pericope that I read theologically-exegetically; but so does everyone else. As I just noted Cloppenburg’s approach is heavily weighted by a sense of Aristotelian causality, with the Primary Mover etc. I think it remains post hoc (no necessary causal correlation between ideas) to assert (like Muller commentates on Cloppenburg) that just because we have ‘language’ in Scripture that seems to ‘sound’ like what we get from the classical Philosophers does not necessarily mean they are talking about the same things. At the most, I believe that the grammar the philosophers have developed can potentially be evangelized and retexted in non-correlative ways, such that the grammar itself (like ousia ‘being’ etc.) can be so weighted by the pressure of God’s Self-revelation that it can be used in fitting ways toward articulating a doctrine of God (i.e. what happened in the main at the so called ecumenical councils).

Okay, then.

[1] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725. Volume One, Prolegomena to Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2003), 304.

[2] Ibid., 307-08.

Knowing God: Martin Luther, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance. Theologia Crucis against Analogia Entis

Knowing God, it is what we as Christians all desire; we want to not only know Him, but know that we have a more sure way of knowing God. In the history of the church and ideas there have been multiple ways to try and tackle this. There have been mystical (Platonic) types of attempts at this; there have been chain-of-being attempts at this (Thomism) wherein humans are able to work martinluthermiddleagethemselves back to their final source of causation (God) and know God through the analogy and point of contact between Him as Infinite cause over against us as finite causes (indeed effects of His cause) [think analogia entis]; and another way was simply by understanding that words as symbols within a Covenant relation between God and humanity become the source for knowing God in an authoritative way (Nominalism).

It was this latter convention for knowing God that drove the thinking of the spitfire, the catalyst of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. He repudiated the chain-of-being way, and yet was much more circumspect and concrete than the mystical way would allow for (although influences from this approach are present within the makeup of Luther’s overall attitude and approach to thinking God). As a result, Luther focused on what he called theologia crucis (theology of the cross) not analogia entis (analogy of being)—analogia entis was what gave the Roman Catholic church its authority in a hierarchical scheme for knowing God and mediating knowledge of God (as representative of Christ on earth [i.e. the Papal office] the medieval Roman Catholic church of Luther’s day was a step above [in the chain of being between God and humanity] the laity and regular people, as such they held the keys to knowledge of God). Luther’s appropriation of nominalism (theologically, not philosophically) is what allowed him to forward his idea on a theology of the cross over against the analogy of being (or also what Luther referred to as the theologia gloriae ‘theology of glory’); it cut the link between an analogy to be found in human beings vis-à-vis God. For Luther’s theology of the cross the only way for us to know God was to be found in God’s Self-revelation, which meant the words of Holy Scripture, and more radically the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ on the cross (where Deus absconditus becomes Deus revelatus ‘the hiddeness of God becomes the revealedness of God’).

Richard Muller has written this of Luther:

One of the elements of late medieval Scotist and nominalist theology that had a profound impact on Luther was its denial of any analogy between God and man and its consequent recognition of the impossibility of formulating a rational metaphysic concerning God. All knowledge of God must rest on authoritative testimony, primarily on that of Scripture. Luther not only denied any recourse of theology to an analogia entis between God and man and insisted on the necessity of scriptural revelation, but also argued, in the light of his denial of human merit and his sense of the immediacy of Christ as revealer and savior, against any rational theologia gloriae that claimed to describe God as he is in himself and proposed that our earthly theology be a theologia crucis, conformed to the pattern of God’s revelation in Christ….[1]

Theology of the cross could later correlate to what some have called a theology of crisis (what we find in someone like Jurgen Möltmann, and even in the early Karl Barth). God is known as we meet Him at the cross over and again; as we are depleted of our resources and thrown on the mercy of His resources revealed to us as He freely and graciously met and meets with us through the cross of His dearly beloved Son. The cross is where God’s power and reality is revealed as: God humbled and humanity exalted in the unio personalis (the singular person), Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul was one of the foremost and earliest theologians of the cross, this typifies the attitude that a theologian of the cross thinks and lives from:

Brothers and sisters, we don’t want you to be unaware of the troubles that we went through in Asia. We were weighed down with a load of suffering that was so far beyond our strength that we were afraid we might not survive. It certainly seemed to us as if we had gotten the death penalty. This was so that we would have confidence in God, who raises the dead, instead of ourselves. 10 God rescued us from a terrible death, and he will rescue us. We have set our hope on him that he will rescue us again, 11 since you are helping with your prayer for us. Then many people can thank God on our behalf for the gift that was given to us through the prayers of many people.[2]

Closing Remarks

It is interesting, because when we think of the nominalist/Scotist types of dispositions that Luther had it would seem at odds with the realist/Thomist ones that we find in the theologies of Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance. I think what brings them together constructively is their (i.e. Luther’s, Barth’s, Torrance’s) focuses on a theology of the Word. Barth and Torrance, it can be said, have an a posteriori approach to thinking God; i.e. from God’s Self-revelation in Christ back up to the ontological God (so a chain-of-being way of thinking, but instead of a this chain taking link from a general conception of human being back up to God’s being, it takes link from God’s being given and revealed in Jesus Christ as a center of God’s life). I think if Luther was around when Barth and Torrance came on the scene he would approve of this kind of christologically conditioned chain-of-being thinking, because it takes the christological focus of Luther’s theology of the cross and of the Word and understands that the Covenant between God and humanity that provides genuine knowledge of God is found nowhere else but in theanthropos, the Godman, Jesus Christ. Barth and Torrance actually take the insights that Martin Luther’s via positiva ‘positive way’ (kataphatic) of doing theology emphasizes while at the same time plundering the Thomist way of knowing God non-metaphysically (as it were) from God’s reality given in Jesus Christ. What Barth and Torrance don’t take over, and now in alignment with Luther, is the Thomist chain-of-being separation of cause and effect when it comes to the person and work of Jesus Christ. This might be where Luther, Barth, and Torrance are most closely aligned; for Luther, when we see Jesus, we see God / for Barth and Torrance when we see Jesus, we see God.

[1] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2003), 223-24.

[2] II Corinthians 1:8-11, Common English Bible.

The Tradition of the Church and orthodoxy Need to be Tested by the Rule[r], Jesus: Hilary, Barth, and Bobby

© Ann Chapin 2016 For more info see https://theholyface.wordpress.com/christ/ or email annchapin@annchapin.com

It is right to only attempt to do Christian theology after the recognition that Deus dixit (‘God has spoken’). Herman Bavinck, and Karl Barth after him, in their own ways recognized this reality and proceeded in their theologizing accordingly (if you would like to read where Barth develops this then tolle lege his Göttingen Dogmatics). George Hunsinger, as he is engaging with this theme in general (while sketching the thinking of Irenaeus and Hilary), and doing so while engaging with Barth’s theology in particular provides an excellent quote from Hilary,

Human feebleness cannot by any strength of its own attain to the knowledge of heavenly things; the faculties which deal with bodily matters can from no notion of the unseen world. Neither our created bodily substance, nor the reason given by God for the purposes of ordinary life, is capable of ascertaining and pronouncing upon the nature and work of God. Our wits cannot rise to the level of heavenly knowledge, our powers of perception lack the strength to apprehend that limitless might. We must believe God’s word concerning himself, and humbly accept such insight as he vouchsafes to give. We must make our choice between rejecting his witness, as the heathen do, or else believing in him as he is, and this in the only possible way, by thinking of him in the aspect in which he presents himself to us…. The meaning of words shall be ascertained by considering the circumstances under which they were spoken; words must be explained by circumstances not circumstances forced into conformity with words. (De Trin. IV.14)

For he whom we can know only through his own utterances is a fitting witness concerning himself. (De Trin. I.18)[1]

As Barth himself writes:

§3 Deus Dixit. Christian preachers dare to speak about God. The permission and requirement to do so can rest only on their adoption of the witness of the prophets and apostles that underlies the church, the witness which is to the effect that God himself has spoken and that for this reason, and with this reference, they too must speak about God. This assumption can arise only because they take it that God’s address is directed to them as well. It means that with fear and trembling they recognize God as the true subject of the biblical witness and their own proclamation.[2]

Don’t be fooled, this all sounds too normal and self evident; as a result you might well skim right by the radical nature of what both Barth and Hilary are asserting. It is a radical procedure to actually do what Barth says, and what Hilary speaks; radical because it usually is not done. Too often theological reflection is sublated by and conflated with philosophical theology; of the sort that conceptions about God are conceived of prior to hearing God speak. And then these philosophical conceptions are forced into a conversation with what ‘God has spoken’ about Himself in His Self revelation in Jesus Christ attested to by Holy Scripture. It becomes really hard for us, centuries removed from much of this style of theologizing to differentiate between what God has spoken to us and for us of Himself and what has been conflated with that.

We should be on guard then! If Hilary and Barth are correct then we need to really work at discerning what God has genuinely said about Himself and what the Tradition of the church says He has said of Himself. The trad, at least for Protestant Christians is not our rule of faith, Jesus Christ is (and Holy Scripture as it bears witness and finds its lively reality in Christ). This doesn’t mean that we ignore the Tradition of the church, or that it is all wrong (or wrong at all!); it simply means that like the Bereans we are to test all things by Scripture and hold fast to that which is good (to Jesus Christ). As we operate this way we must do so humbly lest we elevate ourselves over the wisdom and insight of the teachers that Christ has been bestowing on His church (Ephesians 4) ever since His ascension. We are well advised to be in conversation with the Tradition, all along understanding that what counts as the Tradition or as orthodox might well be a contrivance of philosophical conceiving with what God has spoken such that a differentiation needs to yet be made between the two. We need to be critical, and primarily in conversation with the Living Word as He intercedes for us, as He the Great Teacher teaches us. We need to operate as if we have a living moment by moment relationship with God in Christ, and realize that if we seek Him we will find Him because He is love, and because He has made Himself known to us as He has spoken His definitive word to us in His Son. This is radical even if it might not seem like it to some.

[1] Hilary cited by George Hunsinger, Evangelical Catholic And Reformed: Doctrinal Essays on Barth and Related Themes (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 60-1 kindle.

[2] Karl Barth, The Göttingen Dogmatics: Instruction in the Christian Religion, Volume One (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 45.

The Reason ‘Reason’ Should Not Function in Place of Revelation: Against Modernity

In my last post I quickly and from the top sketched the problem that John Shore had in his appeal to reason as if it was a new form or mode
Aristotle Small
of revelation from God, and more importantly, about God and his ways within a God-world relation; particularly as that God-world relation applies to Christian ethics. Fortuitously I just happen to be reading theologian par excellence, John Webster’s little book Holiness; in this little book Webster is discussing, but of course: God’s holiness in its reach into various spheres within the Christian’s life. For the rest of this post I will be engaging a bit with Webster’s thinking about holiness, and in particular, and in dovetail with what I was inchoately talking about in regard to the elevation of reason by John Shore (and many others). That said, I don’t really want to get sidetracked by applying this discussion to closely to Shore, maybe only insofar as his approach serves as a contemporary and popular illustration of what Webster describes in regard to a modern understanding of reason and its elevation.

John Webster writes this of modernity’s understanding of reason:

… Modernity has characteristically regarded reason as a ‘natural’ faculty – a standard, unvarying and foundational feature of humankind, a basic human capacity or skill. As a natural faculty, reason is, crucially, not involved in the drama of God’s saving work; it is not fallen, and so requires neither to be judged nor to be reconciled nor to be sanctified. Reason simply is; it is humankind in its intellectual nature. Consequently, ‘natural’ reason has been regarded as ‘transcendent’ reason. Reason stands apart from or above all possible convictions, all particular, historical forms of life, observing them and judging them from a distance. Reason does not participate in history but makes judgments about history; it is a transcendent and sovereign intellectual legislator, and as such answerable to none but itself.

Such conceptions of reason have become so deeply embedded in modern culture and its most prestigious intellectual institutions that they are scarcely visible to us. But for the Christian confession, these conceptions are disordered. Above all, they are disordered because they extract reason and its operations from the economy of God’s dealings with his creatures. To think of reason as ‘natural’ and ‘transcendent’ in this way is, by the standard of the Christian confession, corrupt, because it isolates reason from the work of God as creator, reconciler and perfecter. Once reason is thought of as ‘natural’ rather than as ‘created’ (or, to put it differently, once the category of ‘the created’ is collapsed into that of ‘the natural’), then reason’s contingency is set aside, and its sufficiency is exalted in detachment from the divine gift of truth. Or again, when reason is expounded as a natural competency, then it is no longer understood as fallen and in need of reconciliation of God. Again, when reason is considered as a human capacity for transcendence, then reason’s continual dependence on the vivifying Spirit is laid to one side, for natural reason does not need to be made holy.

Christian theology, however, must beg to differ. It must beg to differ because the confession of the gospel by which theology governs its life requires it to say that humankind in its entirety, including reason, is enclosed within the history of sin and its overcoming by the grace of God concerns the remaking of humankind as a whole, not simply of what we identify restrictively as its ‘spiritual’ aspect. And so reason, no less than anything else, stands under the divine requirement that it be holy to the Lord its God.[1]

This could bring us into a discussion of how pure nature has functioned in Christian theology, or in secular theologies; or this could bring us into a discussion of Thomas Aquinas’ appropriation of Aristotle’s idea of an ‘active intellect’ and how that forms us as people anthropologically; we also could get into a discussion about how the Puritans, for example, spoke about such things in their appropriation of Aristotle’s tripartite faculty psychology—indeed all of these things are really correlative with and even fund, to extent, Webster’s insights on reason. But let’s not, and say we did, for time’s sake.

What is of import, at least to me, in what Webster is highlighting is how all of who human’s are needs redemption. We are noetically flawed, even in redemption we cry out to Jesus along with the man in the Gospel accounts “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief!” It should be clear though: any appeal to human reason, any appeal to reason embedded in the image of God, as if that sanitizes reason in a way that keeps it untouched by sin is a non-starter for the Christian; as Thomas Torrance has said more than once: ‘We are sinners all the way down, so we need grace all the way down.’

[1] John Webster, Holiness, kindle loc. 122.

*Credit: Image of Aristotle taken from Matt Ryder’s collection here.

What do we know of evil and sin?: A Response to Open Theism from Christ Concentrated Theism

I have been having a quick discussion, once again, around the issue of so called ‘Open Theism.’ I had a “friend” on Facebook who is a strong proponent for Open Theism, so strong that he helped organize (I think) the first Open Theology theological conference (last year) that has ever taken place in the United States. This quick discussion (I really did not engage that much this time, although I have more in the past) is prompting me to write this post. So this post will be briefly sketching and engaging with Open Theism, and its antidote provided through the theological thinking of Karl Barth.

creationgod

For my Old Testament class at Princeton Theological Seminary, we were assigned reading from Old Testament scholar, Terence Fretheim’s book Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters. As is apparent from the sub-title, the theme of the book is to engage with the problem of God and evil (theodicy); more particularly with God and human suffering (vis-à-vis natural disasters, human caused disasters, etc.). I was excited to get into this book, but once I made it through chapter one I quickly realized Fretheim’s method to answering this purported problem (of God and evil, i.e. theodicy) was going to be his employment of ‘Open theology’ categories. Maybe you have never heard of Open theology, here is an example of it from Terence Fretheim applied to answering how human beings relate to God and creation in purely ‘free’ ways (supposedly):

Though human beings certainly need to hear that they often think of themselves more highly than they ought to think, it is also important for them to hear that they often think of themselves less highly than they ought to think. To speak less highly of the human is to diminish the quality of God’s own work. And this is the case not least because of such continuing divine evaluations of them as good. The creational commands in Genesis 1:28 and God’s engagement with the human in 2:19-20 indicate that God values human beings, places confidence in them, and honors what they do and say, though not uncritically. Human words and deeds count; they make a difference to the world and to God, not least because God has chosen to use human agents in getting God’s work done in the world…. We need constantly to be reminded that the godness of God cannot be bought at the expense of creaturely diminishment.

Another word that can be used to designate the goodness of creatures is “free.” One way in which the creation accounts witness to this reality is the seventh day of creation (Gen. 2:1-3); this day on which God rests (not human beings) is testimony to God’s suspension of creative activity, which allows the creatures, each in its own way, to be what they were created to be. God thereby gives to all creatures a certain independence and freedom. With regard to human beings, God leaves room for genuine decisions as they exercise their God-given power (see already 2:19). With regard to nonhuman creatures, God releases them from “tight divine control” and permits them to be themselves as the creatures they are. The latter includes the becoming of creation, from the movement of tectonic plates to volcanic activity, to the spread of viruses, to the procreation of animals. This divine commitment to the creatures entails an ongoing divine constraint and restraint in the exercise of power, a divine commitment that we often wish has not been made, especially when suffering and death are in view. But God will remain true to God’s commitments, come what may.[1]

Further:

And so God creates a dynamic world in which the future is open to a number of possibilities and in which creaturely activity is crucial for proper creational developments. In other words, God chooses  to establish an interdependent relationship with the creation; God chooses to work with others in creating. Certain constants are in place: seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night (Gen. 8:22). But beyond that, the future of the world is characterized by a remarkable open-endedness, in which more than God is involved….[2]

What stands out most immediately and prominently is how for Fretheim in order for creation to be ‘free’ it needs to be independent from God, and so he can conclude that in creation something ‘more than God is involved.’ But this is precisely the point of departure between thinking Christianly or from God’s Self-revelation in Christ, and thinking philosophically about God’s relation to His grace contained creation. By trying to create space for human suffering, evil in the world, etc. Fretheim unnecessarily unhinges God from creation in a way that God is placed into competition with creation; leaving room for creation to act independently from God. Which for Fretheim allows him to leave creation open, not just for human beings, but for God himself; and so this then becomes the way for Fretheim to start thinking about why humans suffer, and in a way that does not implicate God (since there is ‘more than God involved’).

What Fretheim does, though, is in order to explain God and evil (theodicy), he sacrifices orthodox Christian reality for heterodox Christian un-reality. If he was thinking christologically, he is offering us an adoptionistic version by unhinging humanity from God in the way that he does (I will have to get into this further later).

But since I am running out of time for this post, let me get to the antidote to Fretheim’s ‘Open’ thinking. We should not attempt, as Christians, to elevate our own reasoning and interpretive capacities beyond their given reality (especially in light of the ‘Fall’ and the noetic effects of the ‘Fall’). When we attempt to move beyond God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ we indeed are exalting ourselves too much, and at least signaling what kind of theo-anthropology and doctrine of sin we are operating from (and how that shapes our hermeneutic and the confidence we have in accessing reality apart from God in Christ). I believe Fretheim in particular, and Open Theology, in general, move within this kind of analytical philosophical venture of doing theology that thinks beyond and outside of Christ while at the same time trying to work its way back to Christ (which would be Pelagian). But I digress. Here, I suggest, is the proper way to think of God and human suffering; and how to do so from a genuinely Christ-centered way versus the philosophical way that Fretheim and Open Theology gives us.

What does it mean? Is it not the opposite of what we might expect from the news that God became Man? Here there is suffering. Notice that it is here for the first time in the Confession that the great problem of evil and suffering meets us directly. Already, of course, we have frequently had to refer to it. But according to the letter this is the first time we have an indication of the fact that in the relation between Creator and creature everything is not at its best, that lawlessness and destruction hold sway, that pain is added and suffered. Here for the first time the shadowy side of existence enters into our field of view, and not in the first article, which speaks of God the Creator. Not in the description of creation as heaven and earth, but here in the description of the existence of the Creator become creature, evil appears; here afar off death also becomes visible. The fact that this is so at least means this: that discretion is demanded in all descriptions of wickedness and evil as being to some extent independent. When that was done later, it was more or less overlooked that all this enters the field only in connexion with Jesus Christ. He has suffered, He has rendered visible what the nature of evil is, of man’s revolt against God. What do we know of evil and sin? What do we know of what is called suffering or what death means? Here we get to know it. Here appears this complete darkness in its reality and truth. Here complaint is raise and punished, here the relation between God and man is really made clear. What are all our sighs, what is all that man thinks he knows about his folly and sinfulness and about the lost state of the world, what is all speculation about suffering and death beside what becomes manifest here? He, He has suffered, who is true God and true man. All independent talk on the subject—that is, talk cut loose from Him—will necessarily be inadequate and imperfect. Unless talk on this matter goes out from this centre, it will be unreal. That man can bear the most frightful strokes of Fate and comes through untouched by anything as through a shower of rain: that can be seen by us to-day. We are simply untouched either by suffering or by evil in its proper reality; we know that now. So we can repeatedly escape from knowledge of our guilt and sin. We can only achieve proper knowledge, when we know that He who is true God and true man has suffered. In other words, it needs faith to see what suffering is. Here there was suffering. Everything else that we know as suffering is unreal suffering compared with what has happened here. Only from this standpoint, by sharing in the suffering He suffered, can we recognize that fact and the cause of suffering everywhere in the creaturely cosmos, secretly and openly.[3]

There is much to commend here, but I best stop for now. (See footnotes below for further comment)


[1] Terence E. Fretheim, Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 15-16.

[2] Ibid., 17.

[3] Karl Barth, Dogmatics In Outline (Great Britain: The Camelot Press Ltd., 1949), 103-04. This book is an off the top (for Barth) series of lectures that he gave to students at the University of Bonn (Germany) in the summer of 1946. It was his explication of The Apostles’ Creed, and the quote I have from him above is his reflection on the part of the creed that goes: ‘Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell….’

What Barth is taking seriously is the theological/christological and biblical reality that all of creation is within the domain of God’s grace in Christ; and furthermore, that all of creation’s point and purpose, then, is in and for and from Christ. If this is so then what becomes impossible is to attempt to think about anything unhinged, as it were, from Christ (so against Fretheim, Open Theology, et. al.).

 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. ~Colossians 1:15-20

Miracles Can’t ‘Prove’ God: The Evangelical Heritage

I don’t want this post to be another one of those posts that bashes the Christian Fundamentalist and Evangelical past; the past that I was weened in, and moved and breathed in (still do, somewhat!) for my whole life. But, I grunewald_crucifixionam afraid some of this post will have to be just that. I, indeed, grew up under the intellectual and spiritual strictures of what it meant to be an Fundy/Evangellybelly. A essential part of that growing up process was to follow a mode of existence that engaged with Scripture and Christian life in a way that hearkened me to have to conceive of ways to constantly defend Scripture’s viability, and to defend the miraculous stories therein; in contrast to those who were ‘attacking’ it, like the higher critics and ‘Liberals’. And so my whole life, like many of yours, was involved in this task; much of my undergrad and graduate studies involved, in one way or another, a development and sophistication of this kind of way (i.e. being an apologist, before being able to be a theologian).

What I have come to realize over these last 12 years (starting in seminary) is that I have got it all wrong. God does not need me to defend him, I need him to defend me from my incurved self and desires (that are against him, that are anti-Christ). What I have realized is that we cannot and should not separate the work from the person of God in Christ, as if we could talk about his purported works (which are miraculous) in abstraction from the person from whence these works flow; and then use those works in a way that props him up, for ourselves and for the world to see. This is the wrong direction to take, and the wrong way to think by way of order. God precedes us (simply because he created us), we do not preceded him. How we know what we know has an ontic (i.e. the very essence of reality itself, ‘being’) ground supporting that; in other words, we will either ground how we know what we claim to know about God by grounding that from somewhere in ourselves, or we will recognize the actual ground as it is given to us in God in Jesus Christ. And so the consequence of this recognition is that we will no longer attempt to work our way to God by proving his existence by first proving the viability of his works (‘miracles’) in creation. We will instead, stand under them, and allow who he is to contradict our puny attempts to make him known to ourselves and to the world.

There is no one better to confront this kind of problem than George Hunsinger on Karl Barth. The following quote comes from a section where Hunsinger is discussing divine-human agency, in general, and in particular, the reality of ‘revelation’ and ‘miracle’, and the way that miracle functions within the sphere provided it by God’s Self-revelation:

God is not identical with any cosmic process, and therefore God is “not identical with the laws known to us” (III/3, 161). God is identical only with God’s sovereign freedom, “with the free disposing and directing of his own good-pleasure.” God does not overthrow the order of creation when miraculously engaging in self-revelation. “Naturally there can be no question of his contravening or overturning any real ontic law of creaturely occurence. This would mean that he was not at unity with himself in his will and work.” We must allow, however, that our perception of these laws is creaturely and finite. “We must allow that he can ruthlessly ignore the laws known to us, that is, our own perception of the ontic laws of creaturely occurrence…. He is not bound by our human concepts of order, however great may be the noetic clarity and certainty we believe them to possess” (III/3, 161). Everything depends on theology’s offering a conceptual redescription of the biblical narratives that remains faithful to the witness that is found there:

The more definitely the coming of the Son of God is announced in the Old Testament, and the more directly his revelation is attested in the New, the more natural it appears to unprejudiced reason that mention has to be made of events which can be understood only as an activity supra et contra naturam, as an ordering and forming which is beyond the stage of development so far reached by our concepts. And the final revelation of the Son of God at the end of all times was an event of this kind. We must be quite clear in our minds that what is revealed in these events is not a miraculous exception but the rule of divine activity, the free goodwill of God himself, i.e., the law at which we are aiming with our concept of law. And we must also be quite clear in our minds that with all our concepts of law we can never do more than aim at this law. (III/3, 129-30) [George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology, 183-4, Nook.]

It is a constant temptation to feel as if we must rush to the defense of God’s existence, in general, and his reality, in Christ, in particular. But we must submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from us (James 4). Resisting this temptation might cause us to look like fools to the world, we might appear weak (I Cor. 1:17-25); but the message of the cross always does. I am not suggesting that we cannot actively engage the world through proclamation; in fact we are commanded and commissioned to do so (Mt. 28). What we can do, in apologia or in defense of the Gospel, is to call ourselves, and the world to sit under the Self-revealed categories given by God in Christ. What we can do is to argue that if someone is going to think Christianly (even if they aren’t one yet), is to think from the internal and eternal consistency of God’s Self-revelation, and demand that if they or we are going to think Christianity from anywhere, it must be under the constraints and integrity of its own reality found in Jesus Christ; it will only be from this vantage point that the weakness of God will be seen as power, and the foolishness of God as wisdom.

Really, Nash? Ronald Nash’s Attempt to Critique Torrance, Barth and the Whole Crew: My Brief Response

It is always nice when an Evangelical (Reformed) philosopher of religion takes note of Christian Dogmaticians outside of their normal sphere of comfortability, but sometimes this is a dangerous path to travel. Such is the path philosophythat Ronald Nash has chosen to trek.

I was sent some copies of pages (Pdf file) from Ronald Nash’s book The Word of God and the Mind of Man  from a reader of my blog, an MDiv student (just finishing up) at Fuller Seminary—this reader is about to become (Lord willing!) a pastor in a Presbyterian church in the States. Anyway, he has been turned on to Torrance as a result of some exposure that he has received while attending Fuller (which is no surprise). Apparently he was reading this book by Nash (or became aware of Nash’s critique [of Barth, Torrance, and others like minded]), and came across the points of critique that the rest of this post will endeavor to engage. I am not really intending on mounting a defense, but more of a short (bloggy) exercise in providing context that will contravene and contradict Nash’s reading of Torrance in particular. In the following, as we read along with Nash, I hope you will notice how shallow of an attempt Nash’s is to provide critical depth in engaging Torrance’s perspective on reality, theology, etc. Here is what Nash writes (I will offer quote in full, in order to provide the necessary context):

[…] Can a similar distrust for or contempt for logic and reason be found in the writings of Christian theologians [Nash has just finished reviewing a theologian or philosopher with the last name of Stace, who I am unfamiliar with; but Nash seems to think that Torrance, Barth and others are engaging in the same style of mystical aberrant and irrationalist kind of theologizing as Stace, it is just that Nash thinks Torrance is more cloaked in his mode]?  One thing that hinders a simple answer to this question is that few writers are as daring and as explicit as Stace. Discussions about the proper place of reason in religion are frequently plagued by inattention to tow quite different senses the word reason can have. Consider the following claims:

(1) The Incarnation is unreasonable; that is, the claim that Jesus Christ is God in incredible. I simply cannot believe it.

(2) The Incarnation is unreasonable; that is, the doctrine of the Incarnation violates the Law of noncontradiction.

In the second case, a particular Christian belief allegedly violates a principle or law of logic. Anything that is unreasonable or irrational in sense (2) is such in an objective and universal way. But in the first case, a particular Christian belief is called unreasonable simply because some person cannot understand it or believe it. Unreasonableness in sense (1) is person-relative. It should be obvious that all sorts of beliefs that some people cannot accept and thus find irrational are readily acceptable and rational to others.

When religious thinkers [ha, not Christian, eh, Nash?] like Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, and Emil Brunner proclaimed the irrationality of certain Christian beliefs, I suspect that what they really meant to say was that something about Christianity was so shocking and so offensive to the “reason” of many unbelievers that they (the unbelievers) found it irrational. Since the New Testament itself suggest this position, and since it accords with what any observer can detect in the reactions of people to many Christian claims, the view itself is quite unexceptional.

Unfortunately, the extreme rhetoric of some Christian writers suggests that they also mean to say that Christianity is unreasonable in the second sense, that it actually involves violations of the law of non-contradiction. The writings of the Scottish disciple of Karl Barth [which by the way, Torrance was not an uncritical disciple of Barth, see Alister McGrath’s T. F. Torrance, An Intellectual Biography], Thomas Torrance, are a case in point. Torrance certainly appears to claim that there is a difference between God’s logic and human logic [that’s weird!, God forbit it!, you mean I don’t have anything in myself to stand on that provides rational certitude?], and, further, that the forms of “human logic” cannot be extended to a transcendent God. Torrance seems to believe that human “ideas and conceptions and analogies and words are too limited and narrow and poor for knowledge of God.” His suspicions about purely “human” logic are evident in such statements as: “Real theological thinking” should be freed from “imprisonment in timeless logical connections.” Knowledge of eternal truth, he suggests, is hindered by insisting on “fixed categories of thought.” What Torrance seems to give us is a statement that human knowledge about God is impossible and that human forms of reasoning are completely incapable of understanding truth and reason as it exists in the mind of God. [brackets throughout are mine] [Ronald N. Nash, The Word of God and the Mind of Man, 93-4.]

Grr … where do I start? Let me start with Torrance himself; here is a kind of summarizing quote of Torrance’s style of theologizing, and something that directly illustrates the kind of thing that Nash is seeking to critique (in a passive aggressive way, you’ll notice his frequent usage of “it seems” throughout this quote from him, but then he later offers the aggressive side of this in his critique of Torrance as he apparently has moved beyond his perception of “it seems” into “it is” or “this is how it is” and “this is why Torrance and others like him are wrong”). Anyway, here is Thomas Torrance:

[O]ur task in christology is to yield the obedience of our mind to what is given, which is God’s self-revelation in its objective reality, Jesus Christ. A primary and basic fact which we discover here is this: that the object of our knowledge gives itself to us to be apprehended. It does that within our mundane existence, within our worldly history and all its contingency, but it does that also beyond the limits of previous experience and ordinary thought, beyond the range of what is regarded by human standards as empirically possible. Thus when we encounter God in Jesus Christ, the truth comes to us in its own authority and self-sufficiency. It comes into our experience and into the midst of our knowledge as a novum, a new reality which we cannot incorporate into the series of other objects, or simply assimilate to what we already know. [Thomas F. Torrance “Incarnation: The Person And Life Of Christ,” 1.]

In other words, for Torrance, there is no analogy in nature for the Incarnation; I am not aware of any analogies that ontologically correlate to the Incarnation, apparently Nash, though thinks that the Incarnation represents something ordinary and mundane; such that any average sentient person could rationally conceive of such—simply by reflecting on the proclivities of nature, abstracting said proclivities and then using this as the Foundation[alism] upon which we as humans know God through, and by which we justify His existence as God. Torrance, if Nash would have taken the time to actually read or attempt to faithfully understand him, would have understood what causes Torrance to write such as he does in the quote that I just provided from TF. Torrance inverts Nash’s paradigm, and sees our order of knowledge contingent upon an antecedent (or ‘outside of us’) order of ontology. In other words, Torrance believes in what he calls an epistemological inversion (which if Nash really read Torrance’s ‘Theological Science’ he would know) wherein for knowledge of God to be truly determinative of a genuine knowledge of God, that this knowledge is Revealed not philosophically discovered. And so, we can only come to know God under the constraints and categories that are imposed upon us by the nature of the reality with whom we encounter, God in Christ.

There is much more that I need to say about this. And it gets even more philosophical, but of the kind that Nash is not comfortable(it has already been made into a demon by him, in need of exorcism); there is the reality of Continental Philosophy at play in much of what Torrance and Barth are dealing with. But I think I will save that discussion for another day, and another post. Suffice it to say, Nash, and anyone really serious about critiquing Barth, Torrance & co. ought to read the more recently released book (2011)  Karl Barth And American Evangelicalism edited by Bruce L. McCormack & Clifford B. Anderson. Obviously this book post-dates Nash’s book, but in a revision, this could be helpful for Nash and his students. McCormack’s and Anderson’s edited book (which I am still reading) provides excellent background and coverage of the issues that Nash is superficially (without understanding) critiquing in the aforementioned quote from him.

I will close by asserting that it is all about Faith, not of the blind variety, but of the variety that is grounded in the vicarious humanity of Christ. The kind that provides vision of the Father, that outwith all we will end up doing is worshipping the creation rather than the Creator.

I almost forgot; I ran a series of posts that dealt with this kind of issue of Torrance and his purported method before. Here is the link to the index of those posts: Click Here