The UnChristianity of ‘Jesus Studies’: He Constructs Us We Don’t Construct Him

Jesus Studies attempts to think the Christ in ways that are necessarily non-Christian; they attempt to think Christ as a profane artifact of human history, and only after the fact ascribe to him his divine qualities (viz. that is if the practitioners are so inclined by way of religious disposition). How in any way is this a Christian exercise?! As Christians our very existence is determined by the confession that Jesus is Lord; the confession itself determined by the subject of God’s life for us in Christ breathed afresh into us by the spiration of the Holy Spirit. In other words, as Christians our existence is not an abstract existence, instead it is either grounded in the life of Jesus Christ’s vicarious humanity, and thus determined thereby, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t then we are not Christians, and thus might engage in the work that Jesus Studies engages in as a career of profane historiography.

Karl Barth rejects Jesus Studies, and as such is one more reason why my spirit continues to resonate with his in so many ways. Paul Molnar, in another context emphasizes these points in poignant ways.

.[1]

I think the Feuerbach link is very telling and important. Jesus Studies is a mostly Feuerbachian endeavor wherein the studier imposes his or her religious affection upon the Christ only after they have established by reconstructing him who he might have been. This is inane and absurd. We don’t prove God; we don’t prove Jesus Christ; he proves us. Without him we are nothing and this world dissolves in upon itself in an implosion of the sort that takes place in gardens, and in Adams and Eves.

[1] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 368-70.

*Please excuse the formatting of these quotes recently. I have found it to be much easier, when I have electronic copies of certain books, to simply use my snipping tool and place them into my posts this way; at least when I want to post long sections like these.

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Is God Really Immutable? If He Is, How Is He? Muller, Molnar, Barth

Divine immutability; it is sometimes thought of as a purely philosophical lens imposed upon the God revealed in Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture (think of people like Pinnock, Harnack, et al.). For some it has functioned very much so in this way. For others, like Richard Muller, he believes that the whence of immutability, from its classically Hellenic sources, has been transmogrophied by the Christian witness such that its good kernel has been retained while the flowery husk has been discarded. But what is a basic working definition of Divine immutability? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it this way:

For one thing, the Scriptural witness is not really so clearly on the side of divine real intrinsic change. Much that Scripture says of God is clearly metaphor. And it is not hard to show that Old Testament texts which ascribe change to God could be speaking metaphorically. As I note later, one can parse even the Incarnation in ways which avoid divine real or intrinsic change. Standard Western theism clearly excludes many sorts of change in God. Western theists deny that God can begin or cease to be. If God cannot, He is immutable with respect to existence. Nothing can gain or lose an essential property, for nothing can fail to have such a property. For Western theists, God is by nature a spirit, without body. If he is, God cannot change physically — he is physically immutable. So the Western God could at most change mentally- in knowledge, will, or affect. Further, Scripture amply supports the claim that God is perfect in knowledge, will, and affect. This perfection seems to rule out many sorts of mental change.[1]

The primary thing that stands out is ‘change,’ or lack thereof. Another attending issue is that of ‘movement,’ which might imply change; i.e. if God is made to respond by something that is a predicate of his life (e.g. something that is contingent upon him rather than vice versa). Richard Muller cites Lutheran theologian Johannes Quenstedt, and provides further theological elaboration thereby:

We can see the attempt to recuperate immutability, or to appropriate it in such a way that it just is corollary with the prima facie teaching of Holy Writ. Interestingly, at one level, Muller himself places Barth on the side of the immutabilitists before he launches into critique of Barth. Muller writes,

While this is interesting, and to the point, I think I’d rather hear from a Barth scholar, like Paul Molnar, as he details just exactly upon what basis Barth thinks God’s immutability from. It indeed coheres with the basic contours of the intentions of classic immutability (that God cannot be moved by something external to him), but then reifies in such a way that the affections of God are not just understood as metaphors or anthropopathisms, but instead as reflective of who God actually is in himself (in se). Here Molnar is responding to the ‘Barth Wars,’ indeed he is contributing to it contra Bruce McCormack’s et al. idea that God’s electing work precedes who God is as triune thus allowing creation itself to determine who God chooses to be for us in the incarnation (Deus incarnandus). This is the context from which I take this quote from Molnar (for full disclosure). For our purposes what shouldn’t be lost is how Barth’s conception of immutability and mutability (or not) function in his theology; I would suggest this is the better way forward. While retaining the important node that God does not change, what is forwarded within that reality is that God does indeed genuinely love and feel; because he wants to; because this is how we know him to be from his Self-revelation in the Son (Deus incarnatus). Molnar writes:

Because it has been said that Barth’s view of God’s freedom changed after CD II/2, it is imperative to note here that Barth wanted to break the spell of an idea of God that was either mutable or immutable in the sense that God could not humble himself in Jesus Christ but that in the “supreme exercise” of his essence he could, as the immutable (constant) God, accomplish reconciliation for us. Nonetheless, Barth insists even here, “It is not that it is part of His divine essence, and therefore necessary, to become and be the God of man, Himself man. That He wills to be and becomes and is this God, and as such man, takes place in His freedom. It is His own decree and act. Nor is there anything in the essence of man to make necessary this divine decree or act” (IV/2, p. 85). What, then, is the divine essence that remains unchanged in all of this, Barth asks? He says, “It is the free love, the omnipotent mercy, the holy patience of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And it is the God of this divine essence who has and maintains the initiative in this event. He is not, therefore, subject to any higher force when He gives Himself up to the lowliness of the human being of the Son of God” (IV/2, p. 86).[2]

We see, according to Molnar, how Barth negotiates his way through the dilemma that has been set up between God’s so called immutability and mutability. For Barth this dilemma really is no dilemma, instead it represents an occasion to creatively construct a way through this apparent morass that recognizes the biblical significance that God does indeed not ‘change,’ but then pushes forward through the usually Ramist ways of negotiating with this, and instead attempts to think these issues through a personalist lens that starts with the hypostasis of the eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ. What bubbles up from this exercise is that God’s triune love grounds the way Barth thinks about ‘how’ God moves; he concludes that God’s movement is Self-determined and located in Divine freedom to be who graciously chooses to be for the other; all implicates of who God is eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

[1] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 04-23-2018.

[2] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 273 n. 14.

*The Muller quotes come from this essay.

The Prius of God’s Life IS God’s Life of Triune Personal Love: An Alternative Account of Predestination Referred to God’s Life

Predestination that shibboleth of Reformed theology; it has been shibboleth to me as well. Predestination is the idea that God arbitrarily elects particular people to eternal life, and chooses that others either remain (passive) reprobate or are (active) reprobate with no actual hope for eternal life. This approach to a God-world relation relies upon a philosophical theory of causation of the sort that we find in Aristotle’s theology; a theory of causation that relegates God’s relation to the world to a set of necessary commitments—primary of which is that God is the Unmoved Mover (e.g. impassibility; immuatability). Without getting into the details of what this theory of causation entails specifically I will refer us instead to the Westminster Confession of Faith’s (WCF) chapter three where it confesses what it thinks about a God-world relation in the doctrine of Predestination:

Chapter III

Of God’s Eternal Decree

I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions. III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death. IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished. V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace. VI. As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. VII. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice. VIII. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel.[1]

For its time and place this might have been the best the Westminster Divines could do; viz. with the theological categories they had available to them—although that is contestable, given the reality that there were counter voices within the Reformed world at that time who emphasized a God of immediate personal love (think, Richard Sibbes). But we live in the 21st century, and time has passed; reflection has been undertaken; theological categories have developed; and I would suggest that the Gospel can be better for it. Thomas Torrance under the influence of Athanasius and Karl Barth (and Michael Polyani, Clerk Maxwell, Einstein et al.) offers an alternative account of Predestination wherein the reference is not individual people scattered throughout the annals of created history, but instead the reference is God’s life in Christ. In other words, Pre-destination, in Torrance’s theology, and Evangelical Calvinist theology after, refers to God’s life in Christ, his choice to be for the world and not against it, his prothesis grounded in who he is as eternal Triune love. For Torrance God’s life of love just is the inner-factor that grounds his choice to be Immanuel, God with us. This is counter the ad hoc choice of God we see orienting the doctrine of predestination in the theology of the Westminsterians; a choice that he makes based upon his secret will hidden in the recesses of his remote life that remains inaccessible (Deus absconditus) even with the revelation (Deus revelatus) of Godself in Christ. In other words, again as both Barth and Torrance would say, there is a ‘god behind the back of Jesus’ in the Westminsterian schema such that we aren’t ultimately sure of why God does what he does; only that he indeed does it. But this isn’t concordant with Holy Scripture or the reality it attests to in Jesus Christ. What we know is that God does what he does because he is love, of the sort that shapes his response to the human predicament by electing to be human, and giving his life in Christ for the sheep. What we know is that God acts in personal and intimately driven ways, filial ways, of the sort that inhere eternally between the Father and the Son by the fellowshipping love of the Holy Spirit. Place this up against the Westminsterian conception of God in the doctrine of predestination and see if it coheres.

Paul Molnar, as he develops Thomas Torrance’s theology (and Barth’s) of predestination offers a wonderful account of all that we have just been sketching. Let me offer, at length, his considerations, and commend them to you. As Evangelical Calvinists, what follows, by way of description of Torrance’s theology, is what shapes our own approach to a doctrine of Pre-destination.

The second important thing to notice is that Torrance insists that in Jesus Christ we are confronted with “the eternal decision of God’s eternal love. In Jesus Christ, therefore, eternal election has become temporal event.” But that means that election is not “some static act in a still point of eternity.” Rather it is “eternal pre-destination, moving out of its eternal prius into time as living act that from moment to moment confronts people in Jesus Christ.” Hence, “the ‘pre’ in predestination refers neither to a temporal nor to a logical prius, but simply to God Himself, the Eternal.” This is a vital insight. For Torrance, while we tend to think of eternity “as strung out in an infinite line with past, present, and future though without beginning and without end, in the form of an elongated circular time,” this must not lead us to suppose that there is a “worldly prius” in God, because that would introduce immediately a “logical one” as well. If and when predestination is brought within the compass of created time, then it would be thought of within the “compass of the temporal-causal series” and “interpreted in terms of cause and effect,” and this would necessarily lead to determinism, which is the very opposite of what is actually affirmed in the “pre” of predestination. Torrance says the “pre” in predestination, when rightly understood, is “the most vigorous protest against determinism” known to Christian theology. Since the “pre” in predestination does not refer to a “prius to anything here in space and time,” it cannot be construed as “the result of an inference from effect to first cause, or from relative to absolute, or to any world-principle.” Rather, because election is “in Jesus Christ,” the “pre” does not take election “out of time” but “grounds it in an act of the Eternal which we can only describe as ‘per se’ or ‘a se.’” That means it is grounded “in the personal relations of the Trinity” so that “because we know God to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we know the Will of God to be supremely Personal—and it is to that Will that predestination tells us our salvation is to be referred.”

But we can make that reference only “if that Will has first come among us and been made personally known. That has happened (ἐγένετο) in Christ, and in Him the act of predestination is seen to be the act of creative Grace in the communion of the Holy Spirit.” Election thus refers to God’s “choice or decision” and “guarantees to us the freedom of God. His sovereignty, His omnipotence is not one that acts arbitrarily, nor by necessity, but by personal decision. God is therefore no blind fate, no immanent force acting under the compulsion of some prius or unknown law within His being.” The importance of emphasizing choice here concerns the fact that election cannot involve any necessity without becoming immediately a form of determinism. Instead, election refers to God’s freedom “to break the bondage of a sinful world, and to bring Himself into personal relations with man”; election refers to a personal action from God’s side and from the human side. Hence it is an act that creates personal relations. While God freely creates our human personal relations, human freedom is “essentially dependent freedom,” while “the divine freedom is independent, ‘a se’ freedom; the freedom of the Creator as distinguished from the freedom of the creature.” In this connection Torrance describes election as “an act of love.” It means that “God has chosen us because He loves us, and the He loves us because He loves us.”

That may sound a bit strange. But it is loaded comment, because what Torrance means is that if we try to get behind this act of God’s love toward us to find a reason beyond the simple fact that God loves us because he does, we will end up turning God’s free love of us into a necessity in one way or another and thus once again compromise both divine and human freedom in the process. So Torrance insists,

The reason why God loves us is love. To give any other reason for love than love itself, whether it be a reason in God Himself, such as an election according to some divine prius that precedes Grace, or whether it be in man, is to deny love, to disrupt the Christian apprehension of God and to condemn the world to chaos! [Torrance, “Predestination in Christ,” 117]

Election is Christ the beloved Son of the Father, and the act of election in him is once and for all, a perfectum praesens, an eternal decision that is ever present. God’s eternal decision does not halt or come to rest at any particular point or result, but is dynamic, and ever takes the field in its identity with the living person of Chirst. [Torrance, “Predestination in Christ,” 117]

Hence it is “contemporary with us” and summons us to decision as to who we say he is. Here we must confront more directly the relationship between time and eternity. How exactly can one maintain that election is an eternal decision without reducing the eternal love between the Father and Son to the love of God enacted in the history of Jesus Christ for us? How can one maintain the strength of Torrance’s insight that creation and incarnation are new acts even for God without obviating the power contained in the assertion that Jesus Christ is the ever-present act of God’s electing love?[2]

Molnar leaves off with some questions that alert us to the discussion and critique he has been making in regard to a McCormackian reading of Barth’s theology, in particular. But that does not currently concern us. I wanted to share this very lengthy quote (and thus risk losing blog readers who typically won’t go beyond 1500 words) in order to provide insight into theology that I rarely see shared online; at least not in the context of Reformed theology. People need to know that Reformed theology is expansive, but they also need to appreciate that Christian theology in general isn’t ultimately about being able to align with that interpretive tradition, or this; but instead what we should really care about is whether or not what is being communicated is most proximate with the Gospel itself.

What I hope you have come to see is that God loves us because he just is, LOVE! I hope you can see that there is a way to think of soteriological issues from within the concrete revelation of God’s life in Jesus Christ; and that from that vantage point how we conceive of the God-world relation ought to be thought of in personal rather than abstract terms. Theological systems are often averse to thinking in personal and relational terms because they are afraid that this reduces God-thought to an existentialist frame of reference (oh no, not that!), or that it so subjectivizes God that theology becomes a form of anthropology (the boogeyman, Schleiermacher). But within the theologies of Barth, Torrance et al. what becomes apparent is that none of those fears are true. If we want to think about Predestination properly then we ought to think it from God’s Self-revelation itself; where the Son of the Father is the primary means by which we understand God to be—in other words in personal terms.

[1]Westminster Confession of Faith.

[2] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 202-05.

The Athanasian God of Love: He Hasn’t Always Been the Creator; But He Has Always Been Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

I think an important reality to grasp when thinking about God’s relationship to us is that there is nothing in that relationship that is contingent upon us; it is all contingent upon who God is in himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This kicks against our natural inclinations, inclinations that remain present even after we are made alive by the Spirit in union with Christ’s humanity; we are still sinners, as a result we will continue to attempt to introduce ourselves into the ground of the relationship that inheres between ourselves and God. Indeed, this attempt will work its way into our theologies, and into the praxis that follows. Paul Molnar has been working against what he discerns as an attempt to ground God’s inner life in his outer life in the economy; this attempt, according to Molnar, has been made by folks like Bruce McCormack, Ben Myers, Kevin Hector, Paul Nimmo, and Paul Dafyyd Jones as each of these theologians have attempted to read the implications of Barth’s theology in rather creative, or constructive ways. The verities of this particular discussion get rather technical, and so for this blog post we will avoid such weeds; but I wanted to note some background in order to make sense of what I will be sharing from Molnar with reference to who God is for us in Christ and what that means in regard to creation and recreation. Most importantly, I simply want to highlight how God is love, and how that love is inimical to whom God is.

Paul Molnar writes the following in regard to who God is, and what that looks like in an Athanasian–Torrancean frame. Maybe after you read the quote some of what I shared above will make a little more sense. After the quote I will reflect more personally on how knowing that God is love makes a difference for me; and hopefully this reality will make a difference for you too.

At this point it would helpful to point out that much of the difficulty surrounding the issues discussed in the last chapter centers on how to relate God’s external and internal activities and on the proper understanding of the relationship between time and eternity. Following Thomas F. Torrance and Karl Barth, I have argued that there is and must be a priority of the Father/Son relation over the creator/creature relation because what God is toward us he is eternally in himself; and in his sovereign actions of love for us in his Word and Spirit, the eternal generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit cannot be confused with God’s actions as creator, reconciler, and redeemer. The ultimate indications of such a confusion would be any idea that the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit might be seen as the result of an act of will on God’s part. God freely willed to relate with us by creating us, reconciling us and redeeming us. But these actions are an overflow of his eternal love and glory, not in any emanationist sense, but as acts of will expressing God’s superabundance rather than any lack; thus they are not in any sense necessary to God. They are, as Torrance often said, acts of amazing grace.

Importantly, then, any idea that what God is toward us is in any sense constitutive of God’s eternal being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be a clear indication of the Origenist confusion of God’s internal and external relations. This is why, following Torrance especially, I have stressed that while God was eternally the Father he was not always creator, and that while God was always the Son he was not always incarnate. Hence, creation and incarnation must be seen as new actions, new even for God. There is a delicate balance that is required here because once the incarnation has taken place, it is impossible to disjoin Christ’s divinity and humanity; from then on he lives as the incarnate Word, and now he lives as the risen ascended Lord of history and interacts with us as the eternal high priest and as the Mediator in both his human and divine natures in virtue of the hypostatic union. It is just at this point in Christology where it is imperative, however, that one distinguish between God’s internal and external relations. Without this distinction in the eternal being of the Son will be thought to be changed or constituted in some sense by his human history. Yet, his human history is the history of God acting for us in the world as the reconciler without ceasing to be the Word through who God created the world and through whom God continues to uphold it in the power of his eternal Spirit. We have already seen that Athanasius insisted on the importance of this point by rejecting any idea that the Word came to exist by an act of will on the part of the Father.[1]

There is a lot going on here, but for our purposes what I want us to notice is that who God is, particularly as he is for us, is something that graciously flows from who he is first in his inner and eternal life. If we can grasp this we will find great stability, not in ourselves, but in who he is. Once we can accept this reality about God we can rest in his eternal life of triune love.

I think that we need to understand all of the above (and more!) so that we are not easily swayed by the winds of doctrine currently blowing around the church. We want to recognize as John does that ‘God is love,’ but we don’t want to work our ‘worldly’ conceptions of what that entails into God’s life; we want to allow God’s life to determine what his love looks like. It isn’t a sentimentalism or a God who is my teddy-bear that we after; instead we should want to submit ourselves to whatever and whomever God is. We can only accept this about who God is if we allow our thoughts to be shaped and reshaped by encounter with him in and through the humanity of Christ by the Holy Spirit; it is here where the type of ‘repentant thinking’ that Torrance was so concerned with will and can take place.

My broader concern is that God is not being presented to the evangelical churches this way; that God instead is being presented in a way where he comes with edges and performance based expectations that in fact he does not have. My concern is that a nomist (law) God, a Wyatt Earp God is who people are being introduced to, such that their understanding of him isn’t really based upon his Self-revelation itself, but instead upon a philosophical conception of God who operates in impersonal and decretive ways towards his creation, toward people.

So, on the one hand, we have the Progressive God, and on the other hand the Puritan God being given to the people. I want to suggest that this introduces conceptions of God into the mix that are not actually contingent upon who he actually is, but instead contingent upon who we have posited him to be; and this positing might be very organic and sophisticated in the way it attempts to imagine its way into how we think God, but in the end I do not believe these approaches, usually, are based upon God’s Self-determination of who he actually is for us from who he eternally and antecedently is in himself.

Once I realized this; once I realized that there was a way to think God from the way God has revealed himself to be in the Incarnation a real peace began to minister to my soul. I am well aware of the piety that many folks, both on the Progressive and Puritan sides have in regard to the way that they attempt to think God, but I don’t think piety is able to cover a multitude of sins; only God’s love can do that.

[1] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 187-88.

The Rock of Israel: The Self-Sustaining Triune Life of God

There has been a controversy or ‘war’ even between George Hunsinger and Bruce McCormack—or that’s how the outside world has labeled it—in regard to how to receive Barth’s doctrine of God. The basic tension comes from the thesis that Barth’s doctrine of election, that came in his Church Dogmatics II/1, caused him to reify his earlier construed doctrine of God which is found in CD I/1. That is, after Barth had his aha moment in regard to reformulating the classical doctrine of double predestination, the argument goes that by time we get to CD IV/1 that Barth had Christified his doctrine of God to the point that he makes God’s being in history (ad extra), in the economy, constitutive of God’s being in his immanent (ad intra) life. The critique of that comes from folks like Hunsinger and Paul Molnar who argue that Barth stayed consistent in his rendering of a doctrine of God, and that, for Barth, there was always already a classical type of doctrine of aseity, and christologically, a Logos asarkos present; that there was no shift to the type of McCormackean and Jüngelian conception of God that ostensibly propounds that God’s eternal life is posited on his economic life.

In developing the just mentioned context, Molnar offers the following quote in order to help substantiate the case that Barth was actually quite ‘classical’, metaphysical, and thus not post-metaphysical in the ways that McCormack, Jüngel, Ben Myers, et al. have wanted to re-present Barth. Beyond the controversy, I think this quote is beautiful in regard to the way Barth speaks of God’s eternally triune love; it is beautiful to me precisely because it is a self-sustaining love (a se) that is contingent on nothing else but the triune persons in interpenetrative relation (perichoresis) one with the other as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

He reveals Himself as the One who, even though He did not love us and were not revealed to us, even though we did not exist at all, still loves in and for Himself as surely as He is and is God; who loves us by reason and in consequence of the fact that He is the One who loves in His freedom in and for Himself, and is God as such. It is only of God that it can be said that He is in the fact that He loves and loves in the fact that He is. . . . God loves, and to do so He does not need any being distinct from His own as the object of His love. If He loves the world and us, this is a free overflowing of the love in which He is and is God and with which he is not content, although He might be, since neither the world nor ourselves are indispensable to His love and therefore to His being. (IV/2, p. 755)[1]

Beyond helping to substantiate his thesis, Molnar’s thesis, more positively this quote in and of itself represents the type of aesthetic quality that was present in Barth’s thinking; a doxological quality.

Personally, I find great solace in the reality articulated by Barth. I like knowing that God doesn’t need me to be who He is; that God doesn’t need the world, or the creation to be who He is; God is God whether we want to acknowledge that or not. There is an objectivity about God’s life that is non-contingent upon my existence and only relates to His Self-existence. The comfort I draw from this, once God’s primary objectivity is identified, is what Barth calls God’s ‘secondary objectivity,’ an objectivity that God allows us to know Him, to participate in His life in and through the mediation of His life for us in Jesus Christ. There is comfort in knowing that nobody can pluck me out of the Hands of such a God; that this God freely loves out of the overflow and plenitude of His inner-love, and that this is precisely the type of love that typifies what Divine love actually is: a love that is Self-given and defined in and for and then from the other. It brings great joy to my heart knowing that I am included in the depth of this kind of love; a love that is genuinely free, and not consumed with the self (cor incurvatus ad se). A love that is immovable and always abounding in the resplendence of an eternal reality that was there before we ever were; no wonder the Apostle Paul (following Moses et al.) called Christ the Rock of Israel.

[1] Karl Barth, CD IV/2, 755 cited by Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 134.

Anonymous Christians and Knowing God

Karl Rahner’s idea of ‘anonymous Christians’ is quite the concept, but it is one that flows organically from his conception of knowledge of God as that is related to moments of existential transcendental experiences that human beings have qua human being. As Paul Molnar explains, this is why, for Rahner, all people, whether they know it or not, are anonymously Christian; because as they look inward and have a sense, a non-conceptual sense of the Divine, they are in fact experiencing or encountering the living God present to each person’s experience as that is extrapolated outward to a transcendental point of contact. Molnar writes this as he is contrasting Karl Barth’s Christ focused aapologetic knowledge of God with Molnar’s transcendental existential:

This is an enormously important point because it is false apologetics that separates the thinking of those who, like Karl Rahner, believe that they can and must begin their thinking about God with our self-transcending experiences. It is exactly for this reason that Rahner believes “we cannot begin with Jesus Christ as the absolute and final datum, but we must begin further back than that.” He thus chooses to begin with “a knowledge of God which is not mediated completely by an encounter with Jesus Christ.” He begins with our transcendental experience, which he claims mediates an “unthematic and anonymous . . . knowledge of God,” which, as seen in chapter one, both Barth and Torrance rightly rejected because such knowledge amounts only to a symbolic description of ourselves in place of the triune God. He thus claims that knowledge of God is always present unthematically to anyone reflecting on themselves, so that all talk about God “always only points to this transcendental experience as such, an experience in which he whom we call ‘God’ encounters man in silence . . . as the absolute and the incomprehensible, as the term of his transcendence.” This term of transcendence Rahner eventually calls a holy mystery because he believes that whenever this experience of transcendence is an experience of love, its term is the God of Christian revelation. It is just this thinking that leads to Rahner’s idea of “Searching Christology,” which, as seen above in chapter one, essentially refers to the fact that anyone who truly loves another, for instance, is already an “anonymous Christian” in that search. In that sense Rahner believer their activity and thinking is in line with what traditional Christology teaches. This approach to Christology presumes that we must find a basis for belief in Christ in a transcendental anthropology. This led Rahner to embrace the idea that we have an obedential potency for revelation and that our lives are marked by a “supernatural existential,” as seen in chapter one. Finally, it led him to the idea that self-acceptance is the same as accepting Christ and God himself. In this context I think one can see rather clearly that the crucial difference between Barth and Rahner is that Barth’s thinking begins and ends with the Holy Spirit as the awakening power of faith—not faith in ourselves (our transcendental dynamisms)—but in the Word of truth, namely, Jesus Christ. And that of course rules out the idea of anonymous Christianity as the projection of an idea that is at variance with what is actually revealed by Jesus himself as the Word incarnate and through his Holy Spirit as the risen and ascended Lord here and now. It also rules out any notion that we have any “potency” or capacity for the revelation of God; that we have an existential on the basis of which we can rely on ourselves in our experience of grace to speak accurately about God; and that we can look to anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ himself to know who God is and what he has done and does for us as the reconciler and redeemer.[1]

What this insight from Molnar helps us to see, beyond Rahner’s logic towards his ‘anonymous Christian,’ is how interrelated things are theologically. We see how theological anthropology is couched in a doctrine of creation, which itself is cradled in a doctrine of God; we see how all of these converge into a discussion about how creatures can have a knowledge of God.

For Rahner the ground of knowledge of God is not the Word of God, and not even the church (which is interesting given Rahner’s Catholic status), but instead it is the shared bond and the experience therein that human beings ostensibly share as they contemplate the deeper things of life. For Barth and Torrance, as Molnar ably develops in his book, if knowledge of God is detached from the concrete given of God’s life for us in Jesus Christ, then we will look elsewhere—if we look at all—for constructing a theory of knowledge of God.

It would not be a reach, I would contend, to extrapolate out from Rahner’s more ‘modern’ Schleiermacherean like turn to the subject theologizing, and ask if other, even more ‘classically’ construed theologies engage in the same type of abstract reasoning when it comes to developing a framework wherein a theory of knowledge of God is developed; I most immediately think of Thomas Aquinas’s analogia entis (‘analogy of being’). Is there a basis, a built in-capacity, or even God-given capacity (post-salvation/conversion) within humanity wherein they can establish a holy ground to think the living God from? It isn’t just Rahner who works things out this way, I would contend that any type of ‘analogy of being’ theologizing equally ends up positing a theological-anthropology vis-à-vis their doctrine of creation that leaves room for an abstractive knowledge of God wherein the human being can habituate in a process of discursive reasoning and reach a point of contact with God that itself is untethered from God’s concrete given in Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. This is not to suggest that Thomists, for example, might arrive at an unthematic non-conceptual knowledge of God, like Rahner’s position leads to, but it is my attempt to draw a point of convergence, thematically, between the types of theological-anthropology that both Thomists and Rahnerians might affirm in regard to the belief that an abstract notion of God can be connived of apart from God’s immediate yet mediate Self-explication of Himself for us in the eternal huios, Jesus Christ.

Are there anonymous Christians? Nein.

 

[1] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downer Groves, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 102-04.

Barth’s No to the Phenomenal

I am reading Paul Molnar’s book Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance, and Contemporary Theology, for a review I’m writing for the journal Cultural Encounters. I’m dreadfully behind on not only finishing the book, but also in writing the review. Yet, I felt I must stop for a moment to write a quick post on a point that Molnar is making in regard to Barth’s rejection of phenomenological theology, and how that plays into his style of anti-natural-theology thinking.

Barth’s context, obviously, was in the German/Swiss world where ‘Liberal theology’ had become entrenched; indeed, his own training was under Hermann, a leading liberal theologian of the day. Immanuel Kant’s thought was very influential, and as such the role of the phenomenal had pride of place for theological developments during Barth’s day. Once Barth made his turn to the ‘strange new world of the Bible’ he developed his theology in such a way that it countered his own antecedents given to him in the voices of Kant, Schleiermacher, Hegel, et al. In the following quote Molnar is discussing how and why Barth rejected phenomenological theology. I found it insightful so I thought I’d share it with you, the reader.

Let us begin first by contrasting Barth’s statement noted above that faith is not a phenomenon that is generally known and can be explained to everyone. Why does he say this? The answer is simple. What is known in faith is that Jesus Christ who is the divine-human Mediator between us and the Father has reconciled us to God and now meets us as the risen Lord enabling our belief in him and in his actions of justification and sanctification for us; he is the one in whom our conversion to God has taken place and the one in whom we can live freely as those who are now God’s friends and not God’s enemies. Since Jesus’ divinity and humanity are not to be confused and since Barth consistently held that Jesus is not the revealer in his humanity as such, Barth concluded that no study of anthropology, of Jesus’ humanity or of the church’s visible structure could possibly disclose the true nature of Jesus as the revealer, the church as his earthly-historical form or the true meaning of faith. The truth of these historical realities can be known in their depth of meaning only by means of a miraculous action of the Holy Spirit enabling us to hear the Word of God active as the man Jesus reconciling us to God from both the divine and the human side. Simply put, no phenomenological analysis of human action, human belief or of any historical actions of church members—no analysis of general anthropology—can yield the truth recognized and acknowledged in faith, namely, that Jesus Christ is God’s Word acting for our benefit as the incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended and coming Lord. Faith is bound to its particular object who gives us a knowledge that simply cannot be gleaned from elsewhere or outside faith itself, because what we come to know in faith is something that transcends the world of experience that can be analyzed sociologically, psychologically, historically and therefore phenomenologically. That is why Barth rejected any notion that knowledge of revelation could be had via any a priori sort of reasoning. That is also why, as we shall shortly see, he opposed apologetic attempts to prepare for the gospel through any such analysis; such preparation is rendered unnecessary and indeed impossible by the fact that Jesus himself is the truth of God and cannot be bypassed in an attempt to know what God is doing now within history.[1]

The phenomenal can only be made known from the noumenal; to use Kant’s categories. But these categories don’t ultimately cut it for Barth, as Molnar underscores. The whole act of God in Christ is a miraculous event of the sort for which there is no analogy or phenomena in history. For Barth the event of creation and recreation in Christ are of such a primal sort that they are only accessible in and through contact with God; or, only God can reveal God. And when I say accessible, I mean that nature/creation itself has no meaning apart from its inner meaning given to it in the covenant life of God for us.

It is at this very point that Barth departs so radically from the tradition; on a doctrine of creation/revelation. He is driven to these lengths because he is attempting make Christ the centrum of all reality. Some would say that Barth hits the breaking point, while others would say he breaks the sound barrier.

[1] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance, and Contemporary Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 51-2.

‘Vicariousness’ in TFT’s Theology illustrated by the Eucharist and Reported by Molnar: Against Dualistic Thinking in Salvation

Here’s a post that I bet none of you have seen; it is from another blog of mine, probably around nine years old.

The following is going to be a long quote from Paul Molnar (the Roman Catholic😉 on Torrance’s theology. I want to quote this for those of you, especially, who are more prone towards a “classically” conceived Calvinism; or even a Roman Catholic perspective. In this piece I hope that you will get a feel for Torrance’s insistence upon a thoroughly Christ-centered, Spirit-centered approach that holyeucharisthe believes we must take if we are going to ground all of life and reality in life — viz. that we must “ground” all of life in Christ’s life (God’s life), or else we will fall into an array of theological problems. Let’s begin this quote:

What can be learned from Torrance’s emphasis on Christ’s high priestly mediation and his rejection of dualistic epistemology and ontology in understanding the Eucharist in a Trinitarian way? First, God gives himself to us in Jesus Christ; the Gift is identical with the Giver. If our understanding of God’s relation with the world is ‘damaged’ because of a dualistic perspective, then we will assume that God has not actually given himself within created time and space ‘but only something of himself through a created mediation’. A dualistic perspective actually divides the Gift from the Giver. The Catholic tendency focuses on the Gift in its concern for real presence, thought of ‘as inhering in the Eucharist as such’. The Protestant tendency focuses on ourselves as receivers over against the Giver. Torrance insists, against both of these tendencies, that because the Gift is identical with the Giver, God is immediately present in his own being and life through Jesus Christ; this self-giving ‘takes place in the Holy Spirit who is not just an emanation from God but the immediate presence and activity of God in his own divine Being, the Spirit of the Father and the Son . . . this is a real presence of Christ to us’.

Second, with respect to the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Offerer is identical with the Offering: what ‘the Incarnate Son offers to the Father on our behalf is his own human life which he took from us and assumed into unity with his divine life, his self-offering through the eternal Spirit of the Father’. Because the historical offering of his body on the cross is inherently one with himself as the Offerer, it is a once-and-for-all event which remains eternally valid. Understood dualistically, the Offerer and Offering are not finally one; ‘neither is his offering once and for all nor is it completely and sufficiently vicarious’. He becomes only a created intermediary and the offering is seen as a merely human offering so that no real mediation between God and creatures has taken place. Torrance insists that if Christ’s human priesthood is seen within a Nestorian or Apollinarian framework ‘then it becomes only a representative and no longer a vicarious priesthood, for it is no longer unique but only an exemplary form of our own’; thus it is no longer uniquely substitutionary.

This directs us to rely on ourselves ‘to effect our own “Pelagian” mediation with God by being our own priests and by offering to him our own sacrifices’. Even if this is done ‘for Christ’s sake’ and motivated by him, since it is not done ‘with him and in him we have no access through him into the immediate presence of God’. If, however, ‘Jesus Christ is himself both Priest and Victim, Offerer and Offering’ who has effected atoning reconciliation and so for ever ‘unites God and man in his one Person and as such coinheres with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the eternal Trinity, then, we participate in his self-consecration and self-offering to the Father and thus appear with him and in him and through him before the Majesty of God in worship, praise and adoration with no other sacrifice than the sacrifice of Christ Jesus our Mediator and High Priest’.

When the Church worships, praises and adores the Father through Jesus Christ, it is the self-offering and self-consecration of Jesus Christ ‘in our nature ascending to the Father from the Church in which he dwells through the Spirit;’ ‘it is Christ himself who worships, praises and adores the Father in and through his members’ shaping their prayers and conforming them in their communion in his body and blood.

T. F. Torrance’s achievement here is immense. By focusing on ‘God as Man’ rather than upon God in Man’, Torrance embraces a high Christology which concentrates on the humanity of the incarnate Son of God and a view of Eucharistic worship and life ‘in which the primacy is given to the priestly mediation of Jesus Christ’:

It is in fact the eternal life of the incarnate Son in us that ascends to the Father in our worship and prayer through, with and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. While they are our worship and prayer, in as much as we freely and fully participate in the Sonship of Christ and in the whole course of his filial obedience to the Father, they are derived from and rooted in a source beyond themselves, in the economic condescension and ascension of the Son of God. The movement of worship and prayer . . . is essentially correlative to the movement of the divine love and grace, from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit.

This leads to a more unified soteirology which views incarnation and atonement as a single continuous movement of God’s redeeming love which accentuates Jesus Christ’s ‘God-manward and his man-Godward activity’. Focusing on Jesus’ vicarious humanity emphasizes that Christ has put himself in our place, experiencing our aliented human condition and healing it. Eucharistic anamnesis is no mere recollection of what Christ has done for us once for all, but a memorial which ‘according to his command’ and ‘through the Spirit is filled with the presence of Christ in the indivisible unity of all his vicarious work and his glorified Person’. . . .[1]

The vicarious point is a very important one for TFT, and his “Evangelical Calvinism.” I hope that you’ve found this quote from Molnar enlightening (I realize Molnar is controversial for some, nevertheless I find his thoughts here spot on, relative to highlighting TFT’s ‘theology of vicariousness’).

[1] Paul Metzger, ed., Paul Molnar, Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology, 184-86.

 

It was once the Companion Controversy, now it is the Barth Wars; but what is it?

Maybe like me you have grown weary of what was originally called the Companion Controversy, but because of a recent First Things article by Phillip Cary has been relabeled bartharmyuniformas the Barth Wars. This controversy first started (in print anyway) when Bruce McCormack, of Princeton Theological Seminary, published an essay in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth entitled: Grace and Being: The role of God’s gracious election in Karl Barth’s theological ontology. In this essay he lays out what he believes Barth intended or should have intended by way of his reformulation of Calvin’s doctrine of election, and how that reformulation implicates Barth’s doctrine of God. At base McCormack believes that Barth in Church Dogmatics IV reverses the usual order of things in regard to a doctrine of God. In other words, McCormack believes that election precedes Trinity, which is inverted from classical metaphysical understanding.

But since I want to communicate McCormack’s thesis as clearly as possible in this post (and thus the point of this post), and since I am currently reading Paul Molnar’s book Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology, I thought I would quote someone that Molnar is engaging with in his book. Yes, Molnar does engage with McCormack, but more notably he is responding to (and quite militantly) Ben Myers’ critique of Molnar’s reading of Barth (from Molnar’s earlier book). Myers is in company with McCormack, and as such offers a very clear presentation of the points that distinguish McCormack, himself and others from folks like George Hunsinger, Paul Molnar, D. Stephen Long et al (the other side of the Barth coin who read Barth as if he is more of a “classical” or “metaphysical” theologian). So I thought it would be helpful to share how Myers frames this, and as a result we will have a better understanding about what drives the so called ‘Barth Wars’. Here’s Myers (cited by Molnar):

(1) “The second person of the Trinity is a human being—or rather, the divine-human history enacted in Jesus”; (2) The “logos asarkos … represents … ‘some image of God which we have made for ourselves’”; (3) “from all eternity, there is really no ‘second person of the Trinity’, but only the divine-human history of Jesus of Nazareth”; and finally, (4) “God’s deity is constituted—through God’s own eternal decision—by the way God relates to this particular human being.”[1]

This is the conclusion that Myers derives from the McCormack thesis that Barth in CD IV reverses Trinity and election in a doctrine of God; i.e. that God elects his own being (inner life) as Trinity, and that this election is ontologically defined by God’s choice to not be God without us (i.e. humanity), but with us. As such there is no other being of God other than what is revealed in the history and event of God’s life in Jesus Christ; and history itself (as a result of God’s election) becomes ontologically determinative for who God is in an exhaustive manner—the resurrection being a capstone of this determination. Paul Molnar further summarizes this as it relates to Myers’ position; Molnar’s summary comes just after he has described what he believes to be Barth’s view of divine freedom and how that relates to what he thinks Myers, McCormack, et al. are attempting to do in what he believes (along with Hunsinger) is a revisionist reading of Barth’s theology. Here is Molnar on Myers (and company):

The above-cited very traditional statements about the freedom of God’s love in himself and in the incarnation have been questioned recently. For example, relying on Rowan Williams and Bruce McCormack, Benjamin Myers claims that Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity offers not just one doctrine of the Trinity but two. And from this he concludes that “God’s being as God is constituted by God’s self-determined relation to the human Jesus” and ultimately that “Jesus is not merely epistemologically significant [which is Molnar’s position], as the one who makes God known; he is ontologically significant, as the one who (so to speak) makes God God.” All of this follows, he claims, from the fact that Barth’s doctrine of God was radically changed with his doctrine of election in II/2, and that the doctrine of the Trinity that he presented in I/1 was formally based on revelation while the new doctrine presented in IV/1 was based on Jesus Christ as, in his mind, making God to be God! Now, from within any reasonable reading of Barth’s Church Dogmatics, it should be quite obvious that these claims not only obviate God’s freedom for us, but they destroy God’s freedom as eternal Father, Son and Spirit precisely by making God’s essence dependent on the historical existence of the man Jesus.[2]

If it isn’t clear yet, Molnar believes ultimately that Myers, McCormack, et al. collapse God into his creation by making God’s inner-life (in se) contingent upon (in a constituent way) his outer life (ad extra) in the humanity of Christ; furthermore, Molnar believes that christologically this leads to Arian or Adoptionistic heresies.

Conclusion

This is the crux of what drives the Barth Wars; whether God elects for himself to be Triune in the incarnation, or whether because God is Triune and gracious in his antecedent and eternal life he elects, as coordinate with that kind of life, to not be God without us; with the understanding that God could have remained who he was as Triune without electing humanity for Godself in Christ.

Hopefully, if you have been wondering about the Barth Wars, that this makes things a little more clear (maybe I have muddied it further, I hope not). I mentioned in the beginning of this post how this was originally termed as the Companion Controversy, but I think it has legitimately expanded into what has now been called the Barth Wars; primarily because it isn’t just McCormack and Hunsinger anymore (which was where the original rift was here in North American English speaking Barth studies), but with lines drawn and castles being built, folks have started to take sides (and I do think this is primarily a North American English speaking battle – as I recall Barth scholar Darren Sumner noted somewhere that this battle is not present in German Barth studies [they simply take the McCormack view as the only possible read], but is just here in the States for the most part).

[1] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downer Groves, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2015), 141-42.

[2] Ibid., 134-35 [brackets mine].

Natural Theology is Untheology, And my Confession

erichprzywara
Erich Przywara – natural theologian par excellence

To inhabit an evangelical world that lives and breathes from evidentiary and analytical modes for knowing God, and developing theological methodology, it is rather hard to function as a theologian who believes that the faith of Christ ought to serve as the basis from whence God is cognized and understood. This is often my experience, and maybe yours, as you sit at the feet of Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance, and learn so many rich things only to be summarily dismissed by evangelicals and Reformed types who, yes, work from very foundationalist and apologetic modes of thinking about God; i.e. from natural theology as special theology’s ground floor as it were. They might look at you as if you are from outer-space speaking another language, when you simply remind them that in fact you are really speaking from confessional Christian norms that actually have precedent from the Chalcedonian past; a past, ironically that many evangelicals and Reformed types have abandoned for more ‘modern’ modes of knowing God. This is the irony, isn’t it? That Barth and Torrance are doing genuine Christian Confessional theology whilst evangelicals and Reformed types engage in a methodology of theologizing that starts with an abstract conception of God (i.e. from natural theology and the general revelation that ostensibly funds it), and only later works its way “progressively” or “linearly” to Christ.

Paul Molnar sketches for us the role that the Holy Spirit plays in knowledge of God within the theologies of Barth and Torrance. This is the correction that so many evangelical and Reformed types need to hear, and then once heard they need to repent of their errant theological ways and come to the light. This is what Molnar writes in summary of Barth’s and Torrance’s view of the Holy Spirit and knowledge of God:

What I hope can be seen from this presentation of the function of the Spirit in knowledge of the triune God in the thought of Barth and Torrance is that all genuine knowledge of the Christian God always begins in acknowledgement in the sense that it can only begin in faith in Christ and not at all in itself. And this beginning is not under anyone’s power because it is itself a miracle enabled by the present action of the Holy Spirit uniting us to Christ and thus to the Father. It involves the very power of the resurrection. When knowledge of God is understood in this way, natural theology is simply marginalized as a way to understand God in truth. And as long as theologians recognize and maintain the importance of the Holy Spirit in knowing God, they will to that extent never attempt to know God outside faith in his Word and Spirit, and so their knowledge will never be grounded in reason or experience but only in grace as it meets us and heals our reason and enables our experience. What I have tried to illustrate here is that any apologetic attempt, outside of faith, to explain who God is, who Christ is or even who the Holy Spirit is must inevitably mean that such an attempt is untheological. Such an approach is self-grounded and does not think from a center in the risen and ascended Lord, as it must if it intends to speak about the truth of the triune God acting and enabling the church to be what it is in its union with Christ through his Spirit. Our focus thus must always be n the God experienced and known in faith and not in our experience and knowledge per se.[1]

This impassions me! This impassions me because it is correct. I continue to see young theologians (and old) dismissively rush right past this reality; as if they ignore it it will go away, and won’t be true. I continue to see evangelical and Reformed types repudiate the idea, that Molnar so eloquently articulates, that if we don’t methodologically start with Christ and from his faith for us, that our knowledge of God will end up being just that: our knowledge of God. The error of natural theology is that it abstracts the person of Christ from the works of Christ; it abstracts the person of Christ from the person of the Father by not seeing Christ as alpha and omega, the first and the last over creation. Natural theology places ‘nature’ before Christ, objectifies creation apart from Christ thus annexing Christ as an ‘aspect’ of nature, as a moment of ‘creation’ (as he entered it in the incarnation); resulting in a diminution of Christ, a marginalization of Jesus as the center of all things creational and historical.

But of course this is a serious problem, since just the opposite is true! As Colossians 1 so elegantly communicates, Jesus is the ‘firstborn of creation,’ he is numero uno, prime over all of creational reality. As such if we are going to have true knowledge of God, and ourselves (as Calvin even understands, just not as radically as Barth and Torrance) we can only think from a center in God, in Jesus Christ. He is the beginning and the end, the very origin of God’s creation (Revelation 4); he is Lord over visible and invisible reality. Natural theology can only come to this conclusion after it has reasoned God from nature rather than from Christ, but this is backwards.

I was just at the Church and Science conference at Multnomah Seminary (my alma mater). One of the issues that someone brought up that hindered discussion between scientists and Christians was the issue of origins. I wanted to pike up and say: ‘that’s because someone is either for Christ, or against him.’ There is no way to find common ground between unbelief and belief, between the faith of Christ and the rebellion of the Serpent. We can talk, we can be humble towards each other, but the only bridge between rebellious humanity and God is the faith of Christ. It is here where the origins of all things can start to be known in truth. And I would submit this is the better way. But I digress.

A Personal Note

I want to give some warning. I have somewhat muzzled myself because of others; this is a confession. I am quite the passionate guy, but over the last few years I have started to worry too much about what others think of me; as a result I have toned down my passion for things. But that’s just not me. Either I am going to be for Christ, or I am not; either I am going to fear God, or fear man. If I am going to be a follower of Christ I am going to be all out, and this will implicate how I communicate, among other things. The Lord grabbed my heart in a deep and trying way back in 1995 (even though I was a Christian for years before that … I had grown lukewarm), and at that point (through much hardship i.e. depression, heavy doubt, anxiety, etc.) I decided I was all in. Well, I have sensed a softening in that resolve; I have lost the vision that I battle ‘not against flesh and blood,’ which has caused me to let me guard down (and this has affected my con-versation among other things). I am just letting you all know that I plan on toning things back up, and that you might see that reflected in my posts and the way I communicate things forthcoming. My heart though is not to be arbitrarily militant, or passionate, but to genuinely be a hard charger after and from Christ. I have recently lost “friends” who I’ve had for years because they think my style is “reactionary” in some ways (although I came to find out they really just don’t like my politics, or their perception of whatever that is; I’m not even sure what my “politics” are). That somewhat hurt my feelings (to be honest), but I realized that has become the problem; i.e. caring too much about what others think (particularly caring about what guys and gals in the academy and guilds think of me, or my perception of that). Indeed, I am pretty sure I have lost quite a few “friends” because of my “passion” in the past. But I have decided that I can’t live a toned down life for Christ. That means hopefully lots of passion, humility, and love demonstrated in what I do. So I’m just warning you. The problem with living from a spot of wanting to be “accepted” is that it keeps me from saying things that I think need to be said, and it unnecessarily de-boldens things where boldness and confidence in Christ needs to be the hallmark. I won’t live like that anymore (not here on the blog, or in real life). pax

PS. I get that Barth’s and Torrance’s (and my) gripe against natural theology is radical, but so is Jesus 🙂 !

[1] Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2015), 127-28.