Still Working on This: My PhD Proposal: The Exegetical Foundations for an Evangelical Calvinism

PhD Proposal: The Exegetical Foundations for an Evangelical Calvinism

Summary of Topic. Evangelical Calvinism offers an alternative reading to Federal theology from within the Reformed perspective. Myk Habets and I have co-edited two edited multi-author volumes entitled Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 1: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (2012) and Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 2: Dogmatics & Devotion (2017) where we identify and develop what we are calling Evangelical Calvinism (per Thomas F. Torrance’s usage) as a mood that has been present in the historical and contemporary development of Reformed theology. As a consequence of this identification we have created fifteen theological theses articulating what we think constitutes the Evangelical Calvinist mood. These theses work constructively from the themes found in the theologies of Athanasius, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Sibbes, Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth, and a group of Scottish theologians. As a consequence of our publications we have received critical response from such scholars as Kevin Vanhoozer, Roger Olson, Scott Swain, and Michael Allen. The response has largely revolved around an attempt by these readers to read the Evangelical Calvinist mood through their broadly classical theist, and mostly classical Calvinist lens (Olson’s reading being an exception as he works from an evangelical Arminian perspective). There are two points that are generated from these disparate approaches: 1) Non-Evangelical Calvinism (i.e. Federal theology) works from a scholastic methodology that begins with the divine decrees in a logico-deductive fashion and then reads texts theologically in that light; 2) Evangelical Calvinism works opposite to that. As a result I want to show the theological starting point for Evangelical Calvinism and then the theological interpretation of scripture commensurate with that, which in turn will show the bases for the theological exegetical foundations for an Evangelical Calvinism.

Proposal. This thesis will attempt to clearly articulate where the differences occur between the exegetical foundations for classical Calvinism and an Evangelical Calvinist approach. I will seek to define what the key theological commitments are that inform the classical Calvinist and Evangelical Calvinist reading and exegesis of Holy Scripture, and attempt to show where their relative points of convergence as well as departure are one from the other. This process will engage in a survey of the history of ecclesial ideas ranging from the patristic, medieval, Reformed, post-Reformed, and contemporary periods of theological interpretive development. The thesis’s primary objective will be to argue that Evangelical Calvinism’s theological exegetical approach has just as much, if not more grounding in the history of the church catholic as does the classical Calvinist reading of Scripture. More than providing an apologetic for Evangelical Calvinism’s reading of Scripture vis-à-vis classical Calvinism’s, this thesis will offer a positive description of the antecedent theological underpinnings that have given rise to Evangelical Calvinism’s reading of Scripture and the Dogmatic loci produced from that reading. The final objective of this thesis will be to provide a cogent iteration of the specific theological entailments and exegetical principles of Evangelical Calvinism’s theological interpretation of Scripture which clearly highlight the Reformed provenance of an Evangelical Calvinist method.

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PhD Proposal, Attempt #2: The Exegetical Foundations for an Evangelical Calvinism

PhD Proposal: The Exegetical Foundations for an Evangelical Calvinism[1]

Summary of Topic. Evangelical Calvinism offers an alternative reading to Federal theology from within the Reformed perspective. Myk Habets and I have co-edited two edited multi-author volumes entitled Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 1: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (2012) and Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 2: Dogmatics & Devotion (2017) where we identify and develop what we are calling Evangelical Calvinism (per Thomas F. Torrance’s usage) as a mood that has been present in the historical and contemporary development of Reformed theology. As a consequence of this identification we have created fifteen theological theses articulating what we think constitutes the Evangelical Calvinist mood. These theses work constructively from the themes found in the theologies of Athanasius, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Sibbes, Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth, and a group of Scottish theologians. As a consequence of our publications we have received critical response from such scholars as Kevin Vanhoozer, Roger Olson, Scott Swain, and Michael Allen. The response has largely revolved around an attempt by these readers to read the Evangelical Calvinist mood through their broadly classical theist, and mostly classical Calvinist lens (Olson’s reading being an exception as he works from an evangelical Arminian perspective). There are two points that are generated from these disparate approaches: 1) Non-Evangelical Calvinism (i.e. Federal theology) works from a scholastic methodology that begins with the divine decrees in a logico-deductive fashion and then reads texts theologically in that light; 2) Evangelical Calvinism works opposite to that. As a result I want to show the theological starting point for Evangelical Calvinism and then the theological interpretation of scripture commensurate with that and in turn which shows the bases for the theological exegetical foundations for an Evangelical Calvinism.

Proposal. This thesis will attempt to clearly articulate where the differences occur between the exegetical foundations for classical Calvinism and an Evangelical Calvinist approach. I will seek to define what the key theological commitments are that inform the classical Calvinist and Evangelical Calvinist reading and exegesis of Holy Scripture, and attempt to show where their relative points of convergence as well as departure are one from the other. This process will engage in a survey of the history of ecclesial ideas ranging from the patristic, medieval, Reformed, post-Reformed, and contemporary periods of theological interpretive development. The thesis’s primary objective will be to argue that Evangelical Calvinism’s theological exegetical approach has just as much, if not more grounding in the history of the church catholic as does the classical Calvinist reading of Scripture. More than providing an apologetic for Evangelical Calvinism’s reading of Scripture vis-à-vis classical Calvinism’s, this thesis will offer a positive description of the antecedent theological underpinnings that have given rise to Evangelical Calvinism’s reading of Scripture and the Dogmatic loci produced from that reading. The final objective of this thesis will be to provide a cogent iteration of the specific theological entailments and exegetical principles of Evangelical Calvinism’s theological interpretation of Scripture which clearly highlight the Reformed provenance of an Evangelical Calvinist method.

[1] H/t: I wanted to thank Myk Habets for offering critical feedback on my first draft of this. He helped provide copy-editing, constructive insights on the material content, and helped with some turn of phrases that were helpful.

Human Agency and Christian Universalism in the Soteriology of Thomas F. Torrance: A Proposal for PhD Research

The following is my very early, brainstorming, just jotting my initial thoughts down, towards drafting a proposal I am working on with reference to Thomas Torrance’s soteriology. Like I said, this is just a first draft (or brainstorm) that I wrote off the top. But hey, I thought I’d share it, because I’m still a blogger and any feedback I might garner from sharing it might be helpful. Just know that the way I have ordered things in this first draft, are not properly ordered, per se. Also, I can already see where I need to spell things out with more clairvoyance. I’m also thinking that I might survey the doctrine of human agency in salvation within the context of Christian Universalism with special reference to TF Torrance. So I will take the focus, a bit, off of TFT, only to bring him into the mix after we have adequately engaged with the issue of human agency in salvation and Christian Universalism. A comparative analysis of Origen and TFT might also be fruitful. But these are my early thoughts.   

Summary of Topic. Thomas F. Torrance’s account of salvation raises a unique problem. He sees salvation tied into an ontological humanity which is universally efficacious and implicating for all humanity, and yet he rejects what would seem to be the logical conclusion: i.e. universalism. If the Incarnation is ontologically and soteriologically actual for all of humanity in Christ’s vicarious humanity, then how canTorrance reject the seemingly logical conclusion of universalism? Torrance maintains that salvation is realized through the faith of Christ, but he remains unclear in regard to why not all ultimately have saving faith. If the saving conditions are fully actualized in the humanity of Christ for all of humanity, then how can Torrance maintain that particular humans will not ultimately be saved? Torrance appeals to the inexplicable nature of sin, he notes the surd reality of sin and the inexplicable darkness of evil, the irrationality of humanity’s darkened heart as his response to this question; in other words, Torrance doesn’t offer a reasoned response to the question of why some people reject their election in the humanity of Jesus Christ. Torrance’s proposal of a universal atonement, grounded in the ontological humanity of Jesus Christ for all seems to make his account of salvation suspect and vulnerable for many scholars and churchman seeking to engage with his offering. As a result of these seemingly competitive trajectories in Torrance’s theology two loci emerge most prominently: 1) Christian Universalism, and 2) Human Agency in the Particularity of Personal Salvation.

Proposal. This thesis will attempt to interrogate how human agency functions within Torrance’s soteriology by probing and developing the informing and latent theological anthropological categories that give formative shape to his understanding of what it means to be both human before and reconciled with (i.e. ‘saved’) God. We will attempt to scrutinize whether or not Torrance has the conceptual tools required to offer a consistent response to those who would charge his soteriology, particularly with reference to human agency, with theological incoherence (as so many do). We will appeal, in particular, to critiques offered by Robert Letham, Kevin Vanhoozer, Donald McLeod, and Roger Olsen in order to place Torrance’s soteriology under the necessary pressures to see if his theology can offer the type of compelling response that one would expect if there is to be a coherent response to such criticisms. Furthermore, we will survey the history of the doctrine of Christian Universalism with particular focus on how human agency in salvation has operated within the various schemata of the universalisms under consideration and use the theological developments therein as foils in comparison with Torrance’s own understanding of human agency vis-à-vis Christian Universalism, and his ostensible avoidance of giving into this doctrine within his own soteriological schematizing.

 

Throwing in the Gown … PhD (barring a miracle)

graduation

I have desired to earn a PhD in Christian Theology for many years, probably ever since I was in undergrad back in 1998. A PhD is obviously and usually considered what is called a terminal degree, since it represents the pinnacle of academic learning and resource. After undergrad I went on to pursue an MA in Biblical Studies at Multnomah Biblical Seminary (the same institute where I earned my BA in Theology and Biblical Studies), I actually was going to do an MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology (we had moved back to my homeland–at that point to do so–but because of finances that door closed–I think the MA in Philosophy of Religion would have served me much better professionally than did the degree in Biblical Studies from Multnomah). Anyway, we went back to Portland, and I did indeed earn that MA in Bib Studies (with a thesis written and defended on I Corinthians 1:17-25). After this, we needed a break from academics (not just me, but my family), and so we kind of stumbled around the West Coast (of America) looking for teaching jobs for me (like High School Bible), or pastoral positions. I was actually hired to be a youth pastor back in 2003-4, but this fell through for some unfortunate reasons; and then I was actually hired in 2004 to teach high school Bible at a school in Vista, California (but the pay was an insult and not sustainable for me and my family). So we came back, once again to the Pacific Northwest. I worked for a few professors for awhile back at Multnomah (was considered adjunct faculty at that point), and then moved on to various jobs, which is the position I am in now.

Anyway, through all of this my desire to earn a PhD has never waned. So after dealing with some health issues (which many of you know about), I applied to a school in South Africa called South African Theological Seminary to their PhD program in Theology which can be done totally by distance. Myk Habets graciously contracted with them to be my primary adviser, and so I was very excited about this (this is all back in 2010)! But the years have gone by since then, and the funding I need to do this program is nowhere available. We aren’t going to take out anymore student loans (we already have massive, and I mean massive amounts of those from undergrad between my wife and myself, and then my seminary degree), and so we have come to a dead end, really. Not only that, but getting a degree from a South African school is not going to set me up well for acquiring a teaching position at a Bible College or Seminary in the States. So these two forces and realities together seems to mitigate my motivation to pursue this degree, at least from South African Theological Seminary. If I am going to spend that kind of time, and money, then I need to get a degree that will at least make me competitive for getting in the door at some American school. Furthermore, having this dangling desire for getting this PhD done, has been a nagging distraction for me. Either I am going to do it, or I am not. And barring any kind of miracle, it does appear that I am not; which is a very very sad realization that has only recently been setting in on me (among some other disappointments—but I’m alive 😉 !). In a way though, I do feel more free by not having this kind of carrot out in front of me. I feel more free to focus on others, and to think about other ministry opportunities (even though to be honest those aren’t really forthcoming either).

Anyway, just venting, and letting you all know where I am at in this process. This is still a dream of mine, but I’m afraid it will only and always remain such. But I do realize that there is nothing too difficult for the LORD!

Has The Kingdom of Christ Really Come?: Thinking About Experience-Oriented Approaches to Salvation

*This is a repost, but one I think most of you haven’t read. It overlaps significantly with the topic that I will be researching for my own doctorate. The following, at least the quote from Kettler, comes from Kettler’s published PhD dissertation, originally published back in the late 80s and recently republished by Wipf and Stock just a couple years ago (thanks to Myk Habets). This post probes the reality of the Kingdom of Christ, and its ground in the objective/subjective act of God in Christ. It offers some antidote to contemporary thinking about soteriology that is too anthropological and not christological enough.

christjesusJust getting into Kettler’s book now; working through the introduction, and I have come across a bit that intends to create hook that the rest of the book (presumably) will seek to provide resolution for.

[T]he historical situation since the Enlightenment has increased the crisis in soteriology dramatically. Previous to the Enlightenment, theology tended to see salvation as primarily an other worldly eschatological reality, “a radically different world in another time and place.” God was “the sole source of salvation.” This changed with the Enlightenment focus on human happiness and social welfare. This change was basic and profound. Braaten is again very perceptive:

The interesting difference in respect between Voltaire and Rousseau, or between Comte and Darwin, or between Marx and Mao all appear miniscule from a soteriological point of view compared to the difference between a belief in salvation based on human power and one that trusts in the power of God.

But existentially, the doctrine of salvation is also in crisis as well. This is what we will term the “reality” of salvation. The question is this: Does the Christian preaching of salvation through Christ really make any difference in a world in which sin, evil, and suffering continue to run rampant? Braaten puts it quite bluntly: “Has Christian preaching of salvation noticeably changed the world?” It is this very existential crisis which has been the source of the modern theological shift in the doctrine of salvation from trust in the power of God to salvation as based on human power. This has had very negative results in the life of the church, according to Braaten:

Is this not why some church groups desparately reach for every modern secular substitute for salvation, whether psychological for the individual person, or more political for the larger collectivities?

As we shall see, we share this negative critique by Braaten. Yet, the question of reality of salvation must be answered by the church, and particularly by its theological community.

Our premise is that the root problem in contemporary crisis of the reality of salvation is found in the anthropocentric, experience-oriented approach to salvation particularly characteristic of Christian theology since the Enlightenment. We may even be bold enough to say that in this theology the gift of God has been exchanged for a bowl of anthropological pottage. Yet the question still remains: How can we speak of the reality of salvation in a world which hardly looks like it has been invaded by the kingdom of God? Our proposal is that the teaching on the humanity of God in the thought of Karl Barth and Eberhard Jüngel provides both a critique of anthropocentric soteriologies, and a positive alternative, but only as it is fulfilled in the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ as particularly elaborated by T. F. Torrance. Our goal is to see the humanity of God as a bridge between the contemporary problem of the reality of salvation and its resolution in the reality of the vicarious humanity of Christ. [Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2011 [re-print]), 12-13]

This gives a feel for the book, and the way Kettler will have us heading in the pages to come.

This hints at what issues are at stake in this discussion; especially within the confines of the modern (and contemporary) theological landscape. And more than just a dry, arid, abstract theological tome; this issue, as we can see, addresses something that is very close to home for each one of us — viz. our own skin! And yet the trick in answering this question, and still remain faithful to the primacy of God’s grace in salvation is to frame the answer to this question with the right dogmatic order and theological optics. Meaning, that while seeking to answer a genuinely human and existential question (like what Kettler has highlighted in the quote); we want to make sure that this human question doesn’t swallow up the divine answer (like the christological heresy of adoptionism does). The remedy is one that God already thought of long before the world was created; that humanity is given its image in the image of His beloved Son. God has humbled himself in Christ, that he might exalt humanity in Christ. It is this humiliation of God wherein the real life rubber meets the road questions of our daily wanderings in life are given concrete paths to walk on. We have a Saviour who can sympathize with our suffering and weaknesses because he suffered the cumulative sufferings of all humanity in our stead and into the ontological depths of his very being (and this for us, because he loves us). It is as we participate in his resurrected humanity that we are given his eyes of faith; the eyes required to move beyond the dilemma that Kettler has set up in the above quote (i.e. that it appears as if the kingdom of God really hasn’t entered planet earth given all of the current and ongoing strife, travail, and suffering that still seems to be marching full speed ahead in an unrelenting world).

Ultimately the way I see it; it is a matter of trusting the LORD! While human suffering is real, it is only real because Jesus suffered it first. This must be the way we think of this (before we suffer [cf. Mt. 7], because if we wait until we’re in the midst of the storm it may well be too late to find hope). If Jesus pentrated the lining of our skin with his life (and didn’t “just” pay a penalty as if he was the Divine debit card); then we are saved from the inside-out, and up.

I think Kettler’s book is going to be good …

πίστις χριστοῦ, ‘Faith in Christ’ or ‘Faith of Christ’: More on the Vicarious Humanity of Christ

I have written, in the past, on the vicarious faith of Christ for us; and also had a guest post, here, by Myk Habets on the same topic. I want to further highlight this reality as it is presented for us in the Epistle of Galatians. This
continues to represent a hot topic in biblical and exegetical studies, and through this post, once again you will understand what I think about this. The issue has to do with what in the Greek is pistis Christou πίστις χριστοῦ –‘the faithfulness or faith of Christ’. So the issue of contention is whether this phrase should be translated ‘faith in Christ’ (the objective genetive in the Greek), or ‘the faithfulness or faith of Christ’ (the subjective genetive in the Greek); I opt for the latter translation (the subjective genetive)—here is a post wherein I deal head on with this issue Galatains 2.20, Vicarious Humanity and Faith, and Interpretive Tradition in Evangelical Calvinist ExegesisJ. Louis Martyn is an exegete front and center in this debate; he writes:

I live in faith, that is to say in the faith of the Son of God. The place in which the I lives this new life is not only that of everyday human existence but also and primarily the place of faith (the stress lies on the end of the sentence). Were it only the former, it would not be life “to God” (v. 19). Were it only the latter it would be a futile attempt to escape the specific place in which one was called (I Cor. 7:20-24).

But what is this newly created faith-place? A linguistic clue is found in the degree of parallelism between Gal. 2:20 and Rom 5:15:

Gal 2:20                                                                           Rom 5:15

(and the life I now live in the flesh)                        (and the free gift abounds)

I live in faith,                                                                     in grace,

namely the faith of the                                                  namely the grace of

Son of God . . .                                                                    Jesus Christ

Just as in Rom 5:15 the life-giving grace is specified as the grace “of Jesus Christ,” so here the life-giving faith of which Paul speaks is specified as the faith of the Son of God . . . . Christ’s faith constitutes the space in which the one crucified with Christ can live and does live. [J. Louis Martyn, The Anchor Bible, Galatians: A New Translation With Introduction And Commentary, 259.

This is in rhythm with Thomas Torrance’s understanding of the Incarnation and what he calls the ontological theory of the atonement; wherein Christ enters into humanity, and acts for us, in a way we would never act apart from participation with his acting humanity for us. Here is how Robert Walker (TF Torrance’s nephew) sketches Torrance’s view:

iv) faith involves living by the faith of Christ — Torrance points out the significance of the Greek wording of Galatians 2:20, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ We have been brought to know God. Our old way of living in which we did not know God has been put to death with Christ. We now live, we have faith, we interpret the scriptures and do theology, and yet it is not us but Christ who lives in us. The real believer is Christ and we live by and out of the human faith of Christ. (Robert T. Walker, ed., Thomas Torrance, “Incarnation,” xlv)

The concern with this is how human agency, in light of this, can be said to retain a subjective and created integrity; so that humanity is not objectified in the humanity of Christ, such that there no longer remains a created contingency known as humanity. Michael Bird, in summary of Ben Myers perspective on Bird’s and Preston Sprinkle’s book The Faith of Jesus Christ, writes:

Benjamin Myers draws attention to Karl Barth’s unique contribution to the debate through his conception of God’s faithfulness as revealed in the πίστις of Jesus. He detects a pervasive Paulinism, running from Barth’s Römerbrief to the Kirchliche Dogmatik, which places God’s operations in the context of cosmic apocalyptic action rather than seeing them as the outcome of salvation-history. Myers shows how Barth regards faith as essentially God’s faithfulness revealed in Jesus Christ, and human faith as the obedience that participates in Jesus’ own obedience to the Father. Myers also regards the construal of the πίστις χριστοῦ debate as a contest between ‘anthropological’ and ‘christological’ readings to be a false dichotomy, since Barth’s own model shows that the human subject need not be erased in order to make room for divine action. (see full post here)

The significance of this is massive! If the grammar and syntax in Scripture supports this reading—e.g. the ‘subjective genetive’ that πίστις χριστοῦ (faithfulness of Christ)—then the view of faith as something that is created and given to us to activate as human agents is muddled. Whole systems of theological construction—like ones based upon substance metaphysics, like classical Calvinism and Arminianism (who operate with concepts like ‘created grace’) are no longer viable alternatives. Further, if this reading is the case, then a personalist understanding of salvation will finally take its rightful place as the touchstone in soteriological discussion and consideration; relational and Christian Triune emphases will be in the forefront when we think of salvation, and Christ will be the center and ground of salvation talk—and we will no longer concern ourselves with how God’s Sovereignty and Human Freedom usually function in a competitive relation, since these two will be understood from within the hypostatic union of the Divine Son with his human becoming. Even further, humanity will understand its freedom for God, and thus its purpose for existence, from the freedom for God that has opened up for us through the gracious faithfulness of the Son in our stead—so instead of objectifying humanity, the vicarious faithfulness of the Son, subjectivizes humanity in the way that humanity had always been intended for; for relation and participation in the life of God, by grace and through the adoption of the Spirit in the Son’s humanity for us.

This is the exciting topic I am very slowly working at for my PhD studies. I wonder what you think …

My PhD Student Status Update

I have just clarified my PhD student status update on my ‘About Me’ page. Check the bracketed clarification on my ‘about me’ page here. I am still in need of funds for the PhD program at SATS (which I have been accepted to); if you would like to sponsor me, please let me know via email (contact at: growba@gmail.com). But yes, check out my update; I am unofficially-officially started 😉 .

Is Barth the Orthodox Hegel?

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)?

“The Humanity of God”

What does the term “Humanity of God” mean to you? Figuring out, developing what this means, for the Christian, is what my doctoral research is focusing on. I am at the very early inchoate stages of my research on the vicarious humanity of Christ. My first focused book on the subject is (a review copy from Wipf & Stock) Christian Kettler’s excellent volume The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation (his PhD dissertation completed at Fuller Theological Seminary in the late 80’s). I am jumping us into a brief synopsis he is providing on the question I open this post up with ‘The Humanity of God’. He is summarising this by sketching Christopher B. Kaiser’s understanding of Karl Barth’s answer to this question, in Kaiser’s The Doctrine of God (Westminster, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), pp. 116-118. This synopsis should help some of you understand better some of things I will be considering in my research for my own dissertation on an overlapping issue (the ‘vicarious humanity of Christ’). Here is Kettler,

[G]od acts because of his desire to be a partner with humanity “though of course as the absolutely superior partner.” This is an expression of God’s freedom, for he is under no compulsion to be in communion with humanity. And this freedom defines the essence of God’s deity. “It is precisely God’s deity which, rightly understood, includes his humanity.” How is this known? This is known only through Jesus Christ, in whom God is not isolated from humanity, nor humanity from God. Jesus Christ as the Mediator and Reconciler comes forward as human being in behalf of God and to God on behalf of humanity.

If Jesus Christ is the only place where both true deity and true humanity are found, then this leads us to another meaning of the humanity of God, according to Kaiser: God himself in Jesus is the foundation of true humanity. That which is hinted at in Barth’s essay “The Humanity of God” is developed further in the Church Dogmatics III/2. In the midst of discussing the nature of the covenant between God and humanity, Barth observes that its origin is in God himself. The covenant is not an afterthought, but is ontological. It becomes “revealed and effective in time in the humanity of Jesus,” but he hastens to add that this is something which “we might almost say [is] appropriate and natural to Him.” In the covenant, God makes a “copy” of himself. “Even in His divine being there is relationship” as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

He is Himself the One who loves eternally, the One who is eternally loved, and eternal love; and in this triunity He is the original source of every I and Thou, of the I which is eternally from and to the Thou and therefore supremely I.

However, Barth does not want to deny that Jesus’ incarnate humanity was creaturely humanity. Since Jesus belongs to this creaturely world, his humanity is like our humanity. This is not an analogy of being, therefore, but an analogy of relationship. The relationship between the being of God and that of humanity, and the relationship in the being of God himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an analogia relationis. Barth puts this in the context of God’s freedom. God is free to posit himself in relation as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from all eternity. So, also, he is free to create humanity in his own “image.” Therefore, we need not look for the meaning of true humanity elsewhere than in the humanity of Jesus Christ. We shall see that this can be the basis for a decisive critique of contemporary soteriologies. [Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, 84]

What do you think?

The Feminist Doctrine of Vicariousness in Liberation Theology

Christian Kettler in his ‘The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation’ has this to say about how ‘Vicariousness’ works in the Liberation Theology of Latin American theologian Leonardo Boff:

Christ is the absolute mediator, being both God and human (I Tim. 2:5) yet this absolute meditation does not rule out “the mediations of his sisters and brothers. Rather it grants them, penetrates them, confers upon them their raison d’ être.” The most immediate mediation in the light of Christ is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She answers the question “How does the feminine reveal God? And from the opposite direction, How is God revealed in the feminine?” As the “Mediator of All Graces” the mediation of Mary has, of course, been prominent in traditional Catholic theology. But because modernity has chosen to define itself as “logocentric”, i.e. “to assign primacy of the spirit to rationality and the power of ideas,” a profoundly masculinizing tendency, the feminine has become “marginalized” along with the distinctive traits of the feminine: “purity, self-sacrifice, and the protection of the weak and the oppressed.” Thus, the mediation of Mary becomes even more important today. Boff declares, “As we see it, each new generation finds itself in Mary, projecting its dreams, its social-cultural ideals upon her.” Today’s society finds Mary its “deliverance from the captivity of a political and economic system that exploits human work.” So Mary is the avenger of the weak and oppressed, although this must not be held in tension with the historical Mary, and particularly her humility. [Christian D. Kettler, “The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation,” (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011), 34]

Aside from the obvious riff on the co-mediatrix of Mary; this makes for an interesting application of the doctrine of ‘Vicariousness’. In this scenario we have “social” categories predicating what humanity entails, and is characterized by. In other words, we have a doctrine of vicariousness that takes shape from ‘below’; so that what it means to be human (and female) is determined by the apparent attributes of what that looks like through the extension of that through female interaction with the world. While there are features of the female sex that are generally identifiable—like maternal, sensitive, compassionate, emotional, etc—these are not hard and fast characteristics. Ultimately, one of the problems with Boff’s proposal; is that its mode of operation moves from below. Humanity is actually given its raison d’ être through the humanity of Jesus Christ (who is the imago Dei cf. Col. 1.15). There is no deficit in the reach of Christ’s humanity that needs to be augmented by a ‘feminine side’, like that puported by the analogy of Mary; NO! Mary’s humanity, like the rest of humanity, needs to be augmented by the humanity of Christ imago Christi.

This scenario helps, though, to illustrate the tension between trying to work out what being ‘human’ actually means in the first place; tension, between the Divine penetration of that in the hypostatic union of the eternal Logos with humanity (enhypostatic). In what way can we understand the Chalcedonian mantra of ‘distinct, but inseparably related’ (as to the natures of the person of Christ)? What does a theological (or christological) anthropology look like? And how would that implicate the vicarious humanity of Christ ‘for us’? The ‘for us’ is where I see the tension. How is the ‘us’ not swallowed up by ‘His’ humanity; and at the same  time, how does ‘His’ humanity make ‘us’ who we are? Mary needed a recreated humanity as much as the rest of us (cf. I Tim. 2.5-6). There is just ‘One Mediator between God and humanity’; humanity remains my question.