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It is not always easy to grasp what drives modern theology; indeed, most traditional evangelical theologians have steered away these days, seeking to skip back to the 16th and 17th centuries and back from there—in regard to what they are attempting to retrieve from the classical theistic tradition. But I think this is at their peril, in some ways. Modern theology, one way or the other, impacts the Christian thinker, simply because we are conditioned by our location in the 21st century and the history of ideas (as our context) therein. Sure, we can attempt to distantiate ourselves from our intellectual locations, but to what end? I think it’s more prudent to admit where we are, and then think constructively from there; allow the fruit of the present to help pollinate the past, and at the same time allow the past to contradict any of the rot our locations have presented us with (maybe only realized when placed up against the past).

With that said, I want to help introduce some of the primary soundings of modern theology through engagement with Paul Hinlicky’s analyses; particularly of the impact of Baruch Spinoza, Immanuel Kant, Karl Barth, and Martin Luther’s theologia crucis (‘theology of the cross’) as that is indeed used as a constructive cross-point to enter into a constructive theological project that emphasizes God’s Self-revelation and mediation of Godself to the world—to meet us where we are; to bring His transcendence to our immanence in a broken humanity. Let me quote Hinlicky at some length (of course!), and then close with some reflective comments in response.

Spinoza, not Kant, represents the true antagonist in the story of modern theology’s loss of subject matter and of audience. That is to say, the great role apparently played by Kant masks the real story. The knowledge he putatively destroyed to make room for faith was the moral knowledge of God as Judge through the law inscribed upon the human heart (Rom. 2:15) on the basis of which an acknowledgement is due of God as creative Origin worthy or praise and thanksgiving through consideration of His cosmic works (Rom. 1:20; Acts 17). This inchoate “sense of divinity” becomes a historical possibility in the religions, as Wolfhart Panneberg argued at the beginning of his illustrious theological career. In turn, the philosophical doctrine of the being of perfection inferred from created effects represents a rational critique indigenous to the religions — analogous to the Hebrew prophets’ assault on idolatry — which functions ethically to expose the superstitious manipulation and distorting representation that attend the cults. The “natural knowledge” of God thus acquired in philosophical theology ascertains minimal core requirements for any adequate conception of God as origin and norm of what exists. It is this rational/moral knowledge of God as origin and norm of what exists that Kant destroyed; with Kant God becomes a subjectively necessary regulative idea and as such the practical postulate of a transcendent Guarantor of human moral striving. God as origin and humanity as estranged from this origin in guilt and fallen under the powers of sin and death cannot henceforth emerge for theological thought. Christian theology cannot build upon its ruined foundation; it cannot offer a Cyrillian Christ for Augustinian humanity, since neither the need of such a Christ nor the possibility of such a God can any longer appear. So it appears today.

Once the dominant Kantian narrative of the modernization of theology is deconstructed, however, we are able to see what really has transpired. Karl Barth’s antifoundationalist doctrine of the advent of God’s reign in the act of trinitarian self-revelation accomplished this; it overcame Kant by Kant. John Dillenberger posed the decisive question in this connection in his study on Barth’s revisionist “Lutheranism” a generation ago: “Is the transcendence of God to be defined from the side of man’s inability to grasp God, or is it grounded upon man’s confession of the act of revelation?” Is God’s transcendence something we already know when we know that God is ineffable, beyond words, beyond thought? Or is it something we come to know in its own act and event, and so also in words, something available for thought? Is God’s transcendence God’s inaccessible location, as it were, beyond space and time, or God self-locating into the depths of at the cross of Jesus, there in space and time to win back the wayward creation? What if the transcendence we imagine we know about in our state of guilty alienation merely reflects that alienation back outward and projects to infinity the sinful aspiration for escape? What if the unknown God remains, too, just another idol? What if the unknown God is just another strategy for keeping the true God safely away? If transcendence on the other hand is the eternal life of the Trinity into which we are incorporated through faith in Jesus Christ, knowledge of transcendence is “grounded upon man’s confession in the act of revelation.” The believer comes to ascribe the life that is truly eternal to the love of the Father and the Son in the Spirit. The first possibility of transcendence as professed ignorance or agnosticism but that actually knows how to keep the God of revelation at a safe distance is Kantianism; the second is Kantianism overcome. But, as I have just implied, this latter only awakens us to see what the real problem is.[1]

This is the constant pink elephant in the room that so many of my evangelical ilk don’t ever seem pressed to address; and this precisely because they choose to ‘skip’ merrily over these sorts of dilemmas—even as the ‘dilemmas’ themselves have direct reference to reformational and classical theologies, respectively. But beyond this, what of the import that Hinlicky is identifying materially?

Just from a practical point of view: the continual problem that plagues all theological knowledge is how the potential knower believes it possible to have actual knowledge of God. This process involves a whole complex of various loci, but for my money what is a constant is the relationship between the ontological and the epistemological and the impact that the noetic effects of the fall have had upon that complex. That’s what Luther’s theology of the cross seeks to ameliorate and help theologians come to understand that the bases of their knowledge of God—even, and especially in his transcendence—can only come as our capacities as knowers of God are recreated. This is where Barth’s ‘reconciliation is revelation’ coalesces so nicely with Luther’s theologia crucis, and at the same time turns Kant’s dualism of the noumenal/phenomenal on its head. The veiledness of God (transcendence) can only really come to be known for human agents as God chooses to become unveiled, but only for the eyes of faith, in the sarx (flesh) and the mediatorial humanity of Jesus Christ. In other words, God’s transcendence can’t be connived from a distance, but only as he freely elects to penetrate our fallenness in and through the flesh and blood of the baby in the wooden manger, and in the shed blood of Man on timbered cross.

This is why I constantly have an aversion to the seemingly unvarnished and all enthralled embracement of classical metaphysics when it comes to doing Christian theology. It is not that I think that metaphysics have no place in Christian theology; it is that the Gospel itself contradicts metaphysics only just as they are attempting to get started in the machinations of a fallen humanity. I honestly do not think many evangelical theologians et al. are self-critical enough about these issues, and as such don’t offer theological projects that I find very attractive or even biblical. Hinlicky’s sketch of these things, as I have offered it, only represents the introduction to his chapter; he will develop these dilemmas and theses more. But I hope you can see the dilemma, and why it is important to not skip over modern theology per se. It can help to provide a self-critical apparatus that actually allows us to retrieve from reformational theologies et al. with much more fruitful and evangelistic productions and redressments.

[1] Paul R. Hinlicky, Paths Not Taken: Fates of Theology From Luther Through Leibniz (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 43-4.

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I am about a third of the way through Mark Mattes’ new book Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty, and it is exquisite. His chapter on Luther and philosophy is insightful, and reinforces notions I’d already been exposed to (years ago) in regard to the way Luther saw philosophy’s role in the theological task—as a handmaiden, and as something that has more horizontal value (i.e. related to the biblical analogue of ‘law’) rather than vertical/theological (i.e. related to the Gospel and its implicates). There is a reason why Karl Barth quoted Martin Luther in his Church Dogmatics more than anyone else; Barth and Luther are very like-minded (in their own periodized ways) when it comes to the way they see a usefulness to philosophy. But that’s not what this post is going to be about; this post will refer to the Conclusion in Mattes next chapter: Luther On Goodness. I think, as I share this quote from Mattes, again, anyone who is familiar with Barth will see a likeness and even foreshadowing in Luther’s theology vis-à-vis Barth’s.For Martin Luther, according to Mattes, Luther’s theology of goodness was much more experientially based rather than metaphysically so; Mattes writes:

The doctrine of justification bears on how God’s goodness is to be understood. Unlike his contemporaries and forebears, Luther has no confidence in either metaphysics or mysticism to establish God’s goodness, in spite of the fact that both approaches influenced his theological development. Luther’s is a highly experiential theology—not that experience is a criterion for truth but that sinners can never detach emotionally when doing theology, and at some point in the lives all sinners will do theology….[1]

This resonates deeply with me; and it fits the vector of my own theological development, and one of the primary aims of my own theological blogging and writing. Maybe you haven’t picked this up yet, maybe you’re too ensconced in the current resurgence of classical scholastic Reformed theology to appreciate this type of counterpointing I am attempting to engage in. I want people to realize that not all historical theology is as entrenched in the mathematics and philosophics that we see constantly being “retrieved” over and over again by these Reformed retrievers. In other words, someone like Martin Luther himself, should be understood as, as Mattes reinforces for us, a theologian who sees experience of God, a personal Triune God, at the center of what sound theology of the cross is all about; it is inimically personal, because the God the creature is pushed up against is inimically personal—indeed, He is the personalizing God. So it’s not just the ‘modern turn to the subject’ or German Romanticism or existentialist theology that is to blame for a focus on the personaling  non-metaphysicalizing approach to God; nein, it is a basic emphasis that we can see present in THE magisterial reformer himself, Martin Luther. It isn’t just Søren Kierkegaard, Isaac Dorner, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, and the other modern heretics who want to approach God through a personalist “I-Thou” relational theology; no, as Mattes underscores for us, it is Martin Luther himself. To be sure we wouldn’t want to read each of these folks in absolute ways relative to Luther, but as a thematic, they all share this urge to come before God (coram Deo) on experiential, soteriological terms; and those terms are to be grounded and regulated by the “preached God” in Jesus Christ.

To continue to elaborate this idea that for Martin Luther relationship to God was not of the metaphysical sort (even though he had plenty of the metaphysical categories floating around his theological universe—yet he reified them under the Gospel pressures just as Barth does), let us refer to Mattes at length now (we will see how Mattes summarizes the whole development of his current chapter):

Luther was vitally concerned to address the question of God’s goodness. It bears on salvation. His point was that people do not need merely an incentive and an example to be good. They need in fact to be made good from the core of their being, their hearts. Counterintuitively, God does this by granting sinners his favor and promising them new, eternal life in Christ. As believers’ status with respect to God is changed, so is their identity. The law accuses old beings who seek to be their own gods for themselves and so control their lots and the lots of others to death. Humbled by the law, despairing of self, sinners can look to none other than Christ for salvation. In Christ they have a new identity and a new calling—to serve as Christ served in the world—and so to help especially those in need. The gospel promise unites believers with Christ, and Christ impels believers to serve their neighbors freely.

All this grounded in God’s own goodness. Outside of Christ, God is encountered as sheer power, a terror and threat to humans because such omnipotence jeopardizes sinners’ own quest for power, status, and authority. But Luther admonishes sinners not to neutralize this power by harmonizing it with some modicum of human power, such as establishing a free will. Instead, only God has a free will (though humans indeed make choices with respect to temporal matters). If we are to see the content or center of God and find him as good, then se must cling to the gospel alone. It establishes God as wholly love and goodness, indeed overflowing generosity, and serves as a basis from which to affirm life and explore mystery in the world. Goodness can no longer be established as a transcendental through metaphysics. Instead, goodness as a proper name for God and as a means by which every creature can participate in God is established only on the basis of how God acts in Christ, and that is to reconcile, redeem, and renew. Insofar as beauty is tied to goodness, it too will only be established through the gospel and not through metaphysics.[2]

As we can see there is a lot of good coverage, and various themes of development that Mattes covers in his chapter. But what I want to highlight is this idea of ‘established through the gospel and not through metaphysics.’ I want to press this home because all too often we see the theological metaphysicians of today (largely those young evangelical and reformed theologians retrieving a certain aspect and mode of the history through a certain lens [i.e. provided for by the historiography of someone like Richard Muller et al]) asserting as brute fact that the theology of the past was simply wrapped up in the unadulterated metaphysics of St. Thomas, St. Scotus, and others. The sense we get, if we follow these 21st century retrievers, is that the only heritage, in the history, that evangelicals and other Christian disciples have access to, is a God who is actually only really available to a small egg-headed sector of Christian academics of a certain intellectual aptitude and bent. That if someone wants to know the God of the evangelical/reformed heritage they pretty much have to be trained (or budding) metaphysicians in their own right. But this just is not so; at least not for Luther and many others who operate within his theme and theological disposition. For Luther, the Gospel is visceral and has a grist to it that is palatable for the common Christian; the wisdom of God is to meet all of humanity through the wood of the manger and the cross, with afterbirth and corpse as component realities. There is a realness to the type of theology that Luther presents the church with, and it is real precisely at the point that metaphysics are brought low, and the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ for us is elevated as the boundary point through which all humans, and particularly all Christians are invited to sup from over and over again.

 

[1] Mark C. Mattes, Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2017), 54.

[2] Ibid., 66-7. [emboldening mine]

The first time I attended Bible College was just after I graduated high school in 1992; I attended a small Conservative Baptist Bible College in Phoenix, Arizona, at that time called Southwestern College (it is now called Arizona Christian University). I was a bible and theology major, as such I had an introduction to Systematic Theology class; it was taught by an old school theology standingthomasaquinasprofessor, meaning he was of the very conservative, almost fundamentalist type (and he was also an old guy). The text he had us use for our primary theology text was Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. When the title says ‘Basic’, it indeed is very basic theology, almost completely cut off from any of the confessional riches available in the Protestant past. But what is typical of Ryrie’s theology relative to other “evangelically” oriented theology texts is his appeal to philosophical proofs for the existence of God in the prolegomena of the text itself.

For Ryrie’s part, the first proof for God’s existence he appeals to is the cosmological argument; he explains it this way:

General revelation comes to mankind in several ways.

1.Through Creation

1.Statement. Simply stated this line of evidence (the cosmological argument for the existence of God) points out that the universe around us is an effect which connotes an adequate cause.

2.Presupposition. This line of evidence depends on three presuppositions: (a) every effect has a cause; (b) the effect caused depends on the cause for its existence; and (c) nature cannot originate itself.

 3.Development. If something now exists (the cosmos) then either it came from nothing or it came from something which must be eternal. The something eternal in the second option could either be the cosmos itself which would have to be eternal, or chance as an eternal principle, or God the eternal Being.

To say that the cosmos came from nothing means it was self-created. This is a logical contradiction, because for something to be self-created it must exist and not exist at the same time in the same way. Furthermore, self-creation has never been scientifically demonstrated and observed.[1]

Ryrie goes on and elaborates this further, but this represents a good representation of his line of thought. Clearly there are more sophisticated presentations of this argument, starting with Thomas Aquinas himself, and even by contemporary thinkers like William Lane Craig. But the basic tenets of the argument are presented by Ryrie, and are probably what most young bible college students, seminarians, and pastors have been exposed to in their training.

I open this post up like this to actually transition to a critique of approaching theology proper, to approaching God in this way. For the rest of this post we will consider young Karl Barth and his critique of the cosmological argument for the existence of God.

The Marburg Barth

Karl Barth attended Marburg University in Germany under the watchful eye of Wilhelm Herrmann, among other theology and biblical studies professors. Barth graduated from Marburg in 1908, but did not immediately enter pastoral ministry, instead he stayed on in the Marburg area and wrote for Die Christliche Welt. Kenneth Oakes gives us more background information:

Slow to enter pastoral work immediately after his university studies, Barth stayed in Marburg for another year, working as an editorial assistant for Die Christliche Welt, a journal published under the direction of Martin Rade, a friend and colleague of Herrmann. Thus from 1908-9 Barth was allowed to imbibe more deeply the ‘modern school’ and Marburg theology….[2]

During this time, according to Oakes, Barth wrote two pieces that caused some controversy, at least for some.[3] We will consider the second piece, which has to do with Barth’s critique of the cosmological argument, and that whole mode of theologizing. Oakes details this at length for us:

The second and more revealing piece as regards theology and philosophy is a talk Barth wrote against the cosmological proof for the existence of God. In this piece, Barth begins with an explanation of the argument’s formulations in Thomas Aquinas, the defence of the possibility for knowing God in Vatican I, Leo the XIII’s recommendation of Aquinas in the 1879 Aeterna Patris, and the censuring of the agnosticism of modern philosophy and philosophy of religion in the 1907 encyclical Pascendi. He covers the distinction between the natural knowledge of God and the revealed knowledge of God, along with their concomitant disciplines, natural and revealed theology. He then considers the cosmological argument as found within J.A. Becker’s work and Thomas’ five ways. He defends Thomas against the common charge of pantheism, although he thinks Thomas comes close to such a position at times. Nevertheless, Barth is still worried about the status of God’s ‘Persönlichkeit,’ a good Ritschilian concern, in Thomas’s doctrine of God. Barth wonders whether the free and textured identity and agency of God is lost when God is described in abstract and impersonal terms such as the highest thing, the most necessary being, or the first cause.

The cosmological proof has two serious problems. The first is philosophical. Barth brings the full weight of Kant’s critical philosophy onto the proof. Following Kant, he argues that the cosmological proof tacitly depends upon the ontological proof, and that the ontological proof (or at least Anselm’s version of it) fails insofar as the proposition ‘God is’ is deemed to be analytic (the predicate ‘is’ adding nothing to the subject ‘God’). The cosmological proof fails, as the ontological proof on which it relies is specious. The second problem is theological. Barth argues that even if the cosmological proof were true, what it proves would remain quite different from the God of Persönlichkeit:

Such is clear: the way of the syllogism, of the subordination of individual, empirical things underneath universal concepts, absolutely does not reach a final, real, and in this respect transcendent being, but only to the idea of one, to the idea of a being about whom there is nothing to say other than that he is the negation of his not-being on the one hand, and that he is absolutely prior to everything finite on the other; by its construction and the concepts used such a being remains entirely within the world.

By definition, philosophical metaphysics can neither reach the God beyond the cosmos nor his specific ‘personality,’ and in this judgment Kant and the modern theology are in complete agreement.[4]

Remember, this is the young Barth, barely a college graduate, but this type of critique from him in regard to ‘natural theology’ and knowledge of God given foundation through philosophical proofs, would perdure in Barth’s thought and life throughout.

In a very reduced sense Barth is arguing that the philosophers might be able to prove a conception of godness all day and all night, but at the end or beginning of the day all they’ve proven is something they were able to conceive of through their own intellectual prowess; i.e. they haven’t begun to access the holy of holies and touch the feet of the living and true God.

I agree with Barth, in contrast to Ryrie, Aquinas, Craig, et al., and this of course is what makes Barth such a controversial figure for so many evangelical theologians (young and old) to this day. They fundamentally disagree with Barth’s critique of something like the cosmological argument since they base so much of their theological methodology and approach upon the foundations laid by people like Thomas Aquinas and the rest of that tradition which is imbibed deeply by the post-reformation reformed orthodox theologians.

What This Has Meant To Me

As I noted, my seminal introduction to systematic theology started with Charles Ryrie, and a very basic presentation of the cosmological argument or proof as a credible foundation for how I could know with certainty that God exists, and that he exists in a certain way. But this has never satisfied me. Later I went to Multnomah Bible College, this time I was presented with more sophisticated instruction, but at base the way I was taught to think of God from Ryrie remained the way I was taught to think of God by my professors at Multnomah. It wasn’t till I attended seminary, at Multnomah’s seminary, where I was finally introduced to historical theology, and I began to explore, quite deeply, the history of ideas and how they were given formation. It was a breath of fresh air to realize that there was another way, a way that I believed was more faithful to the God I was encountering over and again as I read Holy Scripture.

I was introduced to Barth and Torrance (a bit), in seminary as well. I graduated from seminary in 2003, but it wasn’t until about 2006 that I started reading Barth and Torrance intensely, and I found what I was looking for in their critiques and way of thinking; particularly as that has to do with this very issue. I had already given up on the idea that God could or should be “proven,” but it wasn’t until I hit Barth and Torrance that I really appreciated how to work that out by focusing on revelational theology; by focusing on Christ as the key. Yes, in seminary, in my studies of John Calvin and Martin Luther et al. I was introduced to what is called kataphatic or ‘positive theology,’ and I relied on both Calvin and Luther, deeply, to enable me to move forward into a revealed theology approach.  But what I found in Barth and Torrance were teachers who took that to the next level, and offered a grammar and way to think that filled out what I only latently picked up through Calvin and Luther.

It is refreshing to know that God cannot nor should not be “proven.” If we think he can be the foundations for how we are thinking of God, by definition and method, are not supplied by God in Jesus Christ, but instead by our own trained wits. Our wits will always let us down, but the Word of God will endure forever.

 

[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (USA: Victor Books, 1986), 28-9.

[2] Kenneth Oakes, Karl Barth on Theology&Philosophy (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 28.

[3] Ibid., 29.

[4]Ibid., 29-30.

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

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

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

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

I: The Analogy as a Principle of Christian Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

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

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

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

westminster

Something that I don’t think most Reformed theologians, whether yet budding, or senior are all that concerned with or cognizant of is the role that their respective anthropology plays in their theological prolegomena. I would say that most if not almost all of North American (and Western) Protestant Reformed theologies are funded by thinkers who are committed, in one form or another, to what is called an intellectualist anthropology. The originator of this type of anthropology, for Christian theological consumption, is most prominently, Thomas Aquinas; indeed Norman Fiering, in his index of medievally derived anthropologies, calls Thomas’s anthropology Thomist intellectualist—which would be a general label for anyone who receives Thomas’s intellectualist anthropology after him, in one way or the other. Here is how Aquinas describes the centrality of the ‘intellect’ or reason as definitive for what it means to be human:

In the original integrated state of man reason controlled our lower powers perfectly and God perfected the reason subordinated to him. This state was lost to us by Adam’s sin, and the resulting lack of order among the powers of our soul that incline us to virtue we call a wounding of nature. Ignorance is a wound in reason’s response to truth, wickedness in will’s response to good; weakness wounds the response of our aggressive emotions to challenge and difficulty, and disordered desire our affections’ reasonable and balanced response to pleasure. All sins inflict these four wounds blunting reason’s practical sense, hardening the will against good, increasing the difficulty of acting well and inflaming desire.[1]

For Thomas, the intellect, in a faculty psychology, is the defining component of what it means to be human. As we can see from his Summa Thomas does not believe that, during the fall, the ‘intellect’ was touched[2], instead it is only the ‘disordered desire [of] our affections’ that corrupts the rest of our humanity; as such the mind/intellect becomes central to what it means to be human relative to God as ultimate mind/intellect and Creator.

Ron Frost develops this further, and the impact this type of intellectualist anthropology had on the theology/soteriology of Post Reformed orthodox theologian William Perkins:

… William Perkins was answering the question of how God reaches humanity—the relation of grace to nature—by reengaging Thomas Aquinas’s thirteenth-century cooperative approach to salvation. Aquinas, with Aristotle, believed that morality is determined by the will, so that virtue is gained by making the virtuous choice. In its Christian expression the human will must be engaged in a saving choice to believe. But Aquinas also held, with Augustine, that the will is crippled by sin. Aquinas’s solution was to synthesize the moral axiom of Aristotle and Augustine’s axiom of disability: God places a newly created gift of grace in the souls of the elect that enables the will to operate once again. By this means of gracious enabling the will receives the necessary power to embrace salvation by an act of faith. This enabling “habit of grace” allows a person to make the saving decision, a decision God crowns with merit.

This cooperative scheme featured the human and divine wills working together, with the mind using the information offered by God. When the will has a set of operations set before it, its challenge is to overcome distracting affections. The greater power of the properly informed will, the greater its ability to defeat faulty passions. The act of believing is thus the premier work of the will, and is only accomplished by the prevenient enabling grace God provides.[3]

It is the mind/intellect that is given primacy in Perkins’s theological anthropology, and we can see (as reported by Frost) how this gets cashed out in Perkins’s soteriology.

Perkins was not alone, he was simply expressing what was common fare among the Post Reformation Protestant scholastic theology he was a part of during his period of history. Richard Muller speaks to the reality of this Thomist intellectualist tradition as he describes Arminius’s context as a theologian of his time:

The enlightenment of the intellect that draws man spiritually into final union with God leads to the “enlargement” of the will “from the inborn agreement of the will the intellect, and the analogy implanted in both, according to which the understanding extends itself to acts of volition, in the very proportion that it understands and knows.” Arminius, in summary, places himself fully into the intellectualist tradition.

What is more, Arminius’ argument for the priority of intellect in the final vision of God perfectly reproduces the classic intellectualist thesis of Thomas Aquinas. For Aquinas, intellect is higher or nobler than will inasmuch as the intellect does not merely address an object that is external to itself (as does the will) but, in addressing the object, also in some sense receives the object into itself and possesses in itself the form of the object. In the final vision of God, according to Aquinas, the soul has direct vision of the divine essence that is higher and nobler than the will’s love of God.

The juxtaposition of an intellectualist philosophical perspective with a practical orientation in Arminius’ theology represents, as noted earlier, a significant departure from the major medieval paradigms and a use of the scholastic past that is best characterized as eclectic. Praxis is, typically, associated with love and will, speculatio or contemplatio with intellect: the intellectualist model will, therefore, advocate a theology that is either primarily or utterly contemplative while the voluntarist model will define theology as primarily or utterly practical. Thus Aquinas assumes that theology is primarily contemplative whereas Scotus defines theology as practical. The Reformed tended toward a compromise that respect the balance of intellect and will but recognized the underlying soteriological issue as voluntaristic and, therefore, defined theology as both speculative and practical with emphasis on the practical….[4]

An Evangelical Calvinist Response

As we have just surveyed—I fear too fragementedly—what was predominate in Post Reformed orthodox theology was a mind/will centered anthropology that reflects (through an analogy of being) upon who God is conceived to be in this frame. The intellectualist tradition presumes that God as eternal ‘being’ implicates (as reflection as it were) what it means to be human being; and thus reasoning from the effect back to the cause, the intellectualist tradition believes that what it means to be God is someone who exists a se as a big intellect. This shapes the way classically Reformed (inclusive of Arminians) thinkers think of God, and it follows then that ‘feeling’ or ‘movement’ in God, which love presupposes upon, is simply an anthropopathism; in other words, love is not real, in an ontological sense. What defines God is something like an ultimate-Spock like being of existence, as such this God relates to humanity in a God-world relation in very impersonal ways (like through decrees).

The evangelical Calvinist after Barth and Torrance, on the other hand, does not think of God from within an intellectualist speculative tradition. Instead evangelical Calvinists along with Athanasius think it is better to think God, and as consequent, theological anthropology, from the eternal relation of Father-Son revealed by the Holy Spirit in Christ in the incarnation of the Son. As Athanasius famously asserts, “Therefore it is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate.” Evangelical Calvinists don’t attempt to think God from an analogy of being (analogia entis) in and from an abstract humanity; we think God from a center in God, in His Self-exegesis in the Son, Jesus Christ.

As we have illustrated in this post, if someone is committed to an intellectualist anthropology and tradition it gets cashed out in interesting ways; particularly with reference to how a thinker conceives of God, and how salvation is understood and given shape after that conception of God. As is the case in all instances, how God is conceived in the first order, will have subsequent and second order consequences for every other theological loci following.

I am afraid I have only started to pull on a whole bunch of threads all at once in this post, but I wanted to start pulling those threads so that maybe someone’s curiosity might be piqued to the point of doing further research themselves. I realize this post has a kind of palpable incoherence to it, but I am simply wanting to provide soundings for you as you come to realize that there are alternative traditions available to you, even in the Reformed world of thought.

What evangelical Calvinism does is to eschew thinking from a center within an abstract humanity; in other words we repudiate the idea that there is an analogy of being between God and humanity. There is no point of contact, then, between God and humanity from whence God can be conceived of apart from God’s own Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. If this is true, evangelical Calvinists have the advantage of the ground of all theological grammar, anthropology, and worship being the Triune life of God itself as ‘mediated’ to humanity in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. We do not have to think God from a faculty psychology as the ground of being from whence we think God. We can eschew thinking God from the accidents and effects that we discover and observe in the created order[5], and instead think directly of God, mediated in the hidden-ness of God in the humanity of God enfleshed in Jesus Christ.

 

 

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Concise Translation, 270-71.

[2] This is an important point because it keeps it keeps the imago Dei intact, and an analogy of being can be interconnected between God’s being (who is ultimate intellect) and human being (who is penultimate intellect).

[3] Ronald N. Frost, “The Bruised Reed: By Richard Sibbes (1577–1635),” in The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics, eds. Kelly M. Kapic and Randall C. Gleason (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 88-9.

[4] Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1991), 78-9.

[5] See Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 7.: “. . . the proposition that “God exists” is self evident in itself, for, as we shall see later, its subject and predicate are identical, since God is his own existence. But, because what it is to be God is not evident to us, the proposition is not self-evident to us, and needs to be made evident. This is done by means of things which, though less evident in themselves, are nevertheless more evident to us, by means, namely of God’s effects.”

This post deals with some technical stuff that might not be interesting for all readers, but I find it quite instructive towards better understanding why it is that Thomas Torrance rejects the determinism that shapes frameworks of thought like that found, theologically, within Arminianism and Calvinism. And it should also help to illustrate an alternative route to thinking about things in causally determinative ways; which implicates the ways that, in the West, in general, we have become most accustomed to think, even though someone like Einstein and his theory of relativity aristotle2has demonstrated that reality, in fact does not work in mechanistically determinative ways. If this is so, then systems of thought like classic Calv/Arm are no longer viable in their classical theistic forms. Here is what Torrance writes about such things—just for a little context, he has been discussing the role of order, and contingency that we experience in creation; he persuasively argues that contingency (like creation presupposes) must presuppose a ‘rational’ ground of order beyond contingency, such that creation and contingency both find their orientation beyond themselves thus bequeathing to us an open-structured mode that only asks us to seek and think in accord with the intelligibility that stands beyond contingency … so contingency then allows for things, like knowledge, to be held in a dynamic relation relative to the personal ground of its reality V. a static relation that requires that we fill in the gaps between an unmoved mover and  what we experience in creation (and us), thus maintaining some sort of necessary constancy between the Creator and the creation (I doubt the context I just provided helps very much; like I said, this is rather technical material). Here is Torrance:

Now let us consider the other concept mentioned above, that of inertia. It is not difficult to trace its source either, in late Patristic and mediaveal theology — not to mention Neoplatonic and Arabian thought — particularly as the doctrine of the immutability and impassibility of God became tied up with the Aristotelian notion of the unmoved mover or a centre of absolute rest which was resurrected and powerfully integrated with Latin scholastic philosophy, science, and theology. In theology itself, it induced a deistic disjunction between God and the world, which scholastic thought tried to modify through bringing into play all four Aristotelian causes, the ‘final’ and ‘formal’ along with the ‘material’ and ‘efficient’ causes. The effect of this, however, was not to overcome the dualist modes of thought inherited from St. Augustine, the Magister Theologiae, but actually to harden the dualism by throwing it into a causal structure. This was particularly apparent in the conception of sacraments as “causing grace”, which was further aggravated (as in the doctrine of “real presence”) by the acceptance of Aristotle’s definition of place as “the immobile limit of the containing body”. In mediaeval science, on the other hand, the conception of a causal system ultimately grounded in and determined by a centre of absolute rest had the effect of obstructing attempts to develop emperical interpretations of nature for it denigrated contingentia as irrational. [Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Frame of Mind, 24-5]

The moral is that we will either operate with something like an Aristotelian static view of metaphysics offers, or we will operate with a dynamic view of reality that is offered through a Trinitarian theology (and illustrated by an Einsteinian theory of relativity). One that is mediated through the contingencies of God become human in Jesus Christ.

I think what often gets lost in the Calvinist/Arminian discussion among many non-specialist thinkers (but specialist thinkers too!) is the idea of ‘causation’. As Western people, especially in North America (but albert_einstein_256515elsewhere in the so called ‘developed’ world as well) we have simply inherited a very analytical and Newtonian mechanical understanding of how things work. We have lost all sense of dynamism in the way things relate, and we have overlaid our personal relationships, whether those take place at home, work, the church, etc., with philosophical baggage. And we attempt to squeeze our relationships into patterns that think of people and relationships more in terms of mathematical equations or logical syllogisms (just think of on-line dating for example; i.e. e-Harmony.com, Match.com, etc; or personality tests that corporations often require their potential or new employees to take; etc.) than in actual personal terms (which cannot be quantified). And so we take this kind of Newtonian or even Euclidian (geometric) understanding of human relationships, and apply that to the way we think about God. But this would be wrong. God, nor humans, created in the image of Christ (imago Christi), are susceptible to being reduced to a mathematical equation or logical syllogism; instead the way God relates, and thus people relate to others is dynamic and truly personal (meaning truly Trinitarian). We can’t measure God’s interaction with His creation/creatures by reducing that to a kind of mechanical matrix of a rigidly conception of cause and effect relationships. And the interesting thing about this, is that nature itself, created by a Triune relational God, bears witness to this dynamic reality; a reality that moves us beyond what we as Western Protestant Christians have inherited through the informing philosophy that guides the classical offerings of Calvinism and Arminianism. Thomas F. Torrance in his book Divine And Contingent Order develops this further, by describing the sea-change that occurred through Einstein’s work on the theory of relativity (don’t let this scare you away), and what this illustrates about the way the universe itself was created, and how this disrupts, or should, our conception of thinking about relationships with other humans, and God in particular, away from a rigid logical understanding of causation. Here is what Thomas Torrance has written:

… Thus Faraday and Maxwell opened the way for a new understanding of nature in terms of field theory which could be set against the Newtonian outlook and which, in spite of Maxwell’s acceptance of Newtonian dualism and mechanism, pointed to a non-mechanical view of the universe in which matter and field are unified.

The decisive step in this direction was taken by Einstein in his rejection of Newtonian dualism and mechanism. Following on clarification particularly by H. Hertz and H.A. Lorentz of difficult problems resulting from contradictions between Maxwellian and Newtonian mechanics, Einstein introduced a fundamental change into field theory, coordinating it with a startlingly new view of the universe and its unitary dynamic order, very different from the Newtonian world-view. He dethroned time and space from their absolute, unvarying, prescriptive role in the Newtonian system and brought them down to empirical reality, where he found them indissolubly integrated with its on-going processes. At the same time he set aside the idea of instantaneous action at a distance, but also set aside the existence of ether (still maintained by Lorentz) and all idea of the substantiality of the field (in Faraday’s sense). There now emerged the concept of the continuous field of space-time which interacts with the constituent matter/energy of the universe, integrating everything within it in accordance with its unitary yet variable objective rational order of non-causal connections. Thus instead of explaining the behaviour of the field and all events within it in terms of the motion of separated material substances characterize by unique unchanging patterns and defined by reference to the conditioning of an inertial system, and therefore in terms of quantifiable motion and strict mechanical causes, Einstein explained it in terms of the objective configuration of the indivisible field and the dynamic invariant relatedness inherent in it–that is to say, in terms of the principle of relativity. It was the radical break with Newtonian mechanics and the Newtonian world-view that made relativity so difficult to grasp, but it was in coherence with this new understanding of the universe and its intrinsic order that Einstein also sought to develop quantum theory, without a duality of particle and field, which, as he believed, calls for the determination of relativistic field-structures in a proper scientific description of empirical reality, rather than a merely statistical account of quantum-experimental events and conditions. If a statistical approach is required in quantum mechanics it cannot rest content with offering an account of how experiments operate, but must offer an account of reality itself. All this implied the unification of matter and field in a dynamic, unbroken continuum–i.e. without the contiguous yet discontinuous connection of particles as in the Cartesian ‘field’–which prompted Einstein to devote so much attention to developing a unified theory and thereby determining the general laws of the whole indivisible filed. Although Einstein himself was not able to achieve this specific aim, nevertheless he succeeded, particularly through general relativity, as the staggering unfolding of its implications and the verification of its predictions have since shown, in opening the way toward a unified view of the universe with a very different conception of order. –Thomas F. Torrance, Divine And Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 77-8.

Okay, much of that may have sounded like gibberish to you (but I assure you, it is not!), but either way, what it should illustrate for you is that the way we think about reality and the way it works should not be something that we superimpose artificially upon it, thus forcing it into the mold we would have it operate in; but instead, we ought to come and accept that the universe itself (contingent as it is directly upon the Word of God, Gen. 1:1; Heb. 1:1-3) has its own given intelligibility, given to it by God, and allow the way it operates to inform the way we think about how God works, and relates to His creation, even in its very composition. In short, if the universe, at a fundamental level, does  not operate in a mechanical logically syllogistic way, then it would be wrong for us to tell the universe that it needs to operate under the conditions that we want it to operate within (Newton, Euclid, et al.).

Bringing this home now: How does this relate to classical Calvinism and Arminianism (among other classical theisms)? Calvinism and Arminianism largely operate from a system of thought about reality (metaphysics), that holds that God relates to creation “mechanically” (like a Newtonian view of the universe); and that God then relates to creation through decrees and built into the creation there are secondary causes that determine how creation itself will operate based upon God’s arbitrary choice. In effect this de-personalizes the relation of creation to Creator, and undercuts the idea that God at His core is Triune and personal. But, as Torrance, through Einstein and others has highlighted, is that the universe at a sub-atomic level is not put together this way; as corollary then, it would be better to recognize that the metaphysics and theory of causation that informs Calvinist and Arminian theology is not adequate, and that we should look for a theological approach that aligns with what is actually revealed and given to us by God; instead of imposing our theories about how God acts toward his creation based upon worn out and out-dated conceptions of metaphysics.

I thought this quote from Paul Molnar on Thomas Torrance’s Trinitarian Theology of Creation would be timely:

Torrance’s view of God the Creator was strictly determined by his Trinitarian theology so that, in order to understand his explication of the doctrine of creation, it is important to realize that his thinking remains structured by Athanasius’ insight that it is better to “signify God from the Son and call him Father, than to name God from his works alone and call him Unoriginate”. What this means is not only that, following the Council of Nicaea, Athanasius stressed the centrality of the Father/Son relation for understanding God the Father Almighty who is the Creator, but that he wanted to stress that this same relation must have “primacy over the Creator/creature relation. The latter is to be understood in the light of the former and not vice versa”. Or, to put it another way, “while God is always Father he is not always Creator” and “it is as Father that God is Creator, not vice versa”. . . .[1]

And then how Thomas Torrance understood theological method as Christological method. This might help, for some, to illustrate how and why Torrance would not be an advocate for what is known as natural theology (knowing God from a naked creation), or an analogy of being (using humanities’ reflection upon itself and as the analogy for what God’s being must be like—this is also extrapolated out as man reflects on nature in general, conceiving of what kind of God it must have taken to create (or what kind of power)—it is through this kind of abstractive reasoning that  concept of godness is constructed (Philosophers like Aristotle and Plato would be prime examples of this kind of work). Instead, Torrance, in the footsteps of Barth (although with his own rationale and emphases) works through an analogy of faith (the idea that knowledge of God, as Athanasius articulates in Molnar’s quote above, only comes through relation to God in and through Christ’s vicarious faith for us). Here is what Torrance conceives:

Our 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 says in his, “Incarnation: The Person And Life Of Christ,” 1

So for Torrance, and me, there is no “natural” knowledge of God available; it is strictly limited to God’s Self-revealed knowledge of Himself in Christ. Just as Jesus said, “Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” As Athanasius and Torrance press, knowledge of God, for the Christian, must be knowledge of God as Triune or it is not truly knowledge of God; nor, is it Christian.


[1] Paul D. Molnar, Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian Of The Trinity, (Ashgate Publishing Limited, England, 2009), 73.

I continue to do the work of an Evangelist; it is a challenge and gift of being a Christian that I thoroughly enjoy, and from which I draw personal telos or purpose in my ongoing adventure as a Christian person soli Deo gloria! One of my most recent contacts has an interesting brew (if I can say it like that) of beliefs about reality and his own personal purpose in this amazing complexity known as life. An aspect that seems to bother, this my interlocutor, is what appears to him to be an over-literal reading of, for one thing in the Bible, the Genesis account of human origins and the related stories therein—namely, and particularly troubling for my friend, the story of Noah and the Ark. He cannot even begin to fathom how any rational (vs. rationalist) person could suppose to believe that any modernly informed person could take this literal—he seems to think that this is not physically possible (see how Ken Ham seeks to answer this apparent conundrum here, this seems to be a very reasonable explanation—proviso, I am not generally a fan of Ken Ham). I would like to expand this conversation out a bit, for my friend, myself, and anyone else who is reading; and I will do this by drawing our attention to a recently released book by Brazos Press entitled: Evolution of Adam, The: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins by Peter EnnsHere is how Enns describes some of his gist in this book:

And here is how Sandra Collins of Library Journal synopsizes the general themes of the book:

“[Enns’s] basic argument is this: modern creation arguments that focus on either the literal historical truth of the Bible or evolutionary perspectives are wrong. The Bible, including its creation accounts, represents a comprehensive theological worldview. It’s neither a literal accounting nor is it science. And it was never intended to be either of these two things. . . . Academically minded Christians looking to bridge this intellectual divide will appreciate the tone and bibliographic references here.”

I have once written on this topic here; and my thesis, taken from former seminary professor Al Bayliss, sound very similar to the way that Collins describes Enns’ primary theses in his book. Yet, my sense is that my conclusions will probably end up differently than Enns; my conclusion would be informed by the idea that a ‘theological worldview’ and ‘literal reality’ correlate with each other. That there is a ratio that  inheres between the rational (and literal) uncreated reality of God, and that which has been given expression in the contingent, and ordered reality of creation itself; so created order and rationality is given its rationality by definition of its contingence upon God’s rationality that he built into creation through Divine fiat. My point, I can’t follow this dualism, that is often posited, between theological reality and created reality; if for no other reason, but because we have these two realities in the conjoined hypostatic union of the Non-contingent/contingent reality of the Divine/human in the person of Jesus Christ—or that I see all of reality conditioned by the primacy of this kind of ‘unioned’ life. I am digressing a wee bit.

So this issue of origins, and the literal nature of the Genesis account, in particular, and for my friend; the literal nature of Biblical accounting in general continues to be an ongoing issue. Enns’ latest book and the work of the foundation of which he is an integral part, Biologos, illustrates the ongoingness of this continued struggle (or not) between modern science and modern biblical and theological studies—in fact Brian LePort, a blogger here in Portland, Oregon has just recently posted on a very related question here.

I write all of the foregoing to come up against the question that prompted me to write this in the first place; do you think that evolution, one way or the other, should be an issue that hinders or in fact fosters the ‘intellectual’ space for someone to have the room to entertain a belief in Jesus Christ as the historic orthodox person of Christian proclamation? In other words, if evolution (neo-Darwinian) stands in the way, intellectually (whatever that means, theologically), of someone being able to give a hearing to Jesus, do you think we should be softer on this issue and allow for the fact that it is possible to both affirm modern scientific theories and claims, and the claims of Jesus Christ? I know of plenty of believing Christians (like Peter Enns, or even my beloved T.F. Torrance) who believe in macro-evolution, and also are thoroughgoing Christians—I shared this, briefly with my friend, I think he was encouraged by this.

Anyway, what do you think?

Warning, academic alert!! I am reading, amongst other things, on Hegel’s thought, and Hegel directly; I thought I ought to do this if I am going to be a student again. Here is what one commenter writes on the difficulty of reading and attaining any kind of mastery (or even understanding of Hegel):

Yet Hegel is awesome as well as difficult to read. The Phenomenology,especially, is an intoxicating mixture of passionate intensity and convoluted obscurity. As Kroner writes: ’The work claims to be rational, but it shows every evidence of having been written under inspiration.’ The source of ’Hegel’s secret’ may remain a matter of faith. But there can be little doubt that the fusion of passion and profound complexity pervading his writings accounts to some extent for the widely diverging reactions to his philosophy. J. N. Findlay’s comment that in reading Hegel one is ’at times only sure that he is saying something immeasurably profound and important, but not exactly what it is,’1’ seems fair and should hearten anyone trying to make sense of Hegel. To quote one of his own aphorisms: ’The condemnation which a great man lays upon the world, is to force it to explain him.’12 This has certainly, in his own case, turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. [Martin Henry, G. W. F. Hegel: A Secularized Theologian?, Irish Theological Quarterly 2005; 70; 195 DOI: 10.1177/002114000507000301, p. 196-97]

I am actually reading Peter C. Hodgson’s account of Hegel’s theology-philosophy entitled: Hegel & Christian Theology: A Reading of the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. In his accounting, it is altogether stunning how similar the virtuoso, Barth, sounds like the virtuoso, Hegel. Hodgson describes Hegel’s idea of God, and God’s movement from absolute substance to particular (or other than substance) subject and back through Spirit (geist)—as I read this I couldn’t get Barth’s self-replicating God of modes of being out of my head; Hodgson writes:

By descending from its eternal simplicity, the absolute being (the ‘Father’) attains for the first time its ‘highest being’—which is not the remote and inaccessible deity of rationalism, but a divesting, absolving, relational being that comes down into history and makes itself manifest (the ‘Son’). Essential being (Wesen) becomes existent, determinate being (Sein, Dasein)—and this is to say that it becomes spirit (Geist), ‘the being that is the process of retaining identity with itself in its otherness’. Spirit in the immediacy of self-consciousness is the particular individual Jesus of Nazareth, as contrasted with the universal self-consciousness of the religious community. But this individual human being, ‘as whom absolute being is manifest’, is subject to the conditions of time, space, and mortality: his being passes into having been and his sensible presence into spiritual presence. This is the passage from the Son to the Spirit.

These temporal and spatial categories, endemic to the representational form of religion, are not adequate to the truth of absolute spirit. Consequently, Hegel moves on to provide a speculative redescription of the central Christian theologoumenon, the Trinity, which contains the true content but in less that adequate form. The three constitutive moments, conceptually expressed, are pure thought, representation, and self-consciousness. Pure thought designates the immanent or intradivine Trinity, which is not an empty essence but already the implicit fullness of absolute spirit. Representation (Vorstellung) designates the second moment, that of creation, fall, incarnation, life and death, symbolically encapsulated in the figure of the Son. Representation is not merely an epistemological category but an ontological one. It designates a divine doing, not merely a human knowing. God sets godself forth (vor-stellen) in and as world; this is an essential element in the process of God’s becoming spirit. The referent of representation is real history, not fanciful myth, although what happens in history is often recounted in mythical form.

The third moment is that of self-consciousness or infinite intersubjectivity, which is associated by Christian faith with the Holy Spirit, resurrection, reconciliation, and the community of faith. Hegel observes that ‘absolute being’ would be an empty name if in truth there were an absolute other to it or an irreparable fall from it. ‘Absolute’ must mean then that there is nothing with which God cannot be related. Within the divine whole there is genuine otherness and recalcitrant difference, but it is only when essential being is reflected back into itself that it is spirit. Hegel launches at this point into a complex discussion of the ontological status of good and evil. Evil seems to take two forms: on the one hand, it is a withdrawal into self, a becoming self-centred, in other words a failure to make the move from the first moment to the second; but on the other hand, it is a matter of getting stuck in the second moment, revelling in separation and estrangement, failing to come back into self. In both cases, it is a stopping short of spirit, a failure in spiritualization. [Peter C. Hodgson, Hegel & Christian Theology: A Reading of the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religon, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 38-9.]

I couldn’t help consider, as I just was transcribing this from Hodgson, that Thomas Torrance was the theologian who personalized pre-modern classical theism and metaphysics (through his onto-relationalism); while Karl Barth was the theologian who personalized the modern post-metaphysics (through his actualism). Or, Torrance personalized the Hellenization of Christianity; while Barth personalized the Hegelization of Christianity. What do you think, my Barthian brethren (and other brethren too)?

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

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A Little Thomas Torrance

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

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