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At a personal existential level thought about election and reprobation is no small matter, or it shouldn’t be. It says much about whom God is; viz. the way God works in this area, or at least the way we conceive of God working in this area, indicates how it is that we conceive of God in the first place. This is why, at least for Karl Barth, to think a doctrine of God is not abstract from election/reprobation, but central to it. When we think of election it ought to conjure up the way we think of a God-world relation; i.e. election speaks to, again, the character of God, to the ways of God, and with whom he has to do. It is interesting, then, that this teaching often gets relegated to the bin of abstraction and speculation. True, the technical dogmatic words of ‘election’ and ‘reprobation’ are not found in Holy Scripture; but then again, neither is the word: ‘Trinity.’ So this is a matter of theological import, but not one that is not present in Scripture, rather it is “hidden” within the inner-logic of Scripture and allows Scripture to assert the things it does, one way or the other, about justification before God, so on and so forth.

As noted, for Barth, election became central to his doctrine of God and its development. It has a rather radical edge to it, particularly if we follow Bruce McCormack’s distillation and development of it. Indeed, McCormack’s development of Barth’s doctrine of election vis-à-vis doctrine of God has caused no small controversy. At first this ‘controversy’ was called the Companion Controversy, because McCormack’s chapter offering to The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth was the sort of watershed definitive point wherein McCormack drew out what he sees as the implications of Barth’s reformulation of a doctrine of election (juxtaposed with the classical position found in someone like John Calvin); it more recently has come to be called the ‘Barth Wars.’ George Hunsinger, Paul Molnar et al. have countered McCormack’s proposal, and attempted to keep Barth more ‘classical’ in his orientation when it comes to a doctrine of election. Hunsinger goes so far as to label the McCormack school as ‘the revisionists,’ whereas he calls his position ‘textual’ (i.e. implying that he is faithfully following the contours of Barth’s thought found concretely in the Church Dogmatics). This issue, for those involved in Barth studies, is well worn, and I would say almost passé; but only in a festering type of way. In other words, while this controversy has sort of warmed over, simply because of the passing of time and attention spans, doesn’t mean that anything has been resolved between the two sides. If you aren’t aware of all this, and even if you are, I thought I would share some insight into the history of this debate, as well as some of its material locutions; along with providing some perspective towards the background of McCormack’s own development and reception of Barth’s theology in this area. For help here I will enlist one of McCormack’s former PhD students, David Congdon. In David’s big book on Bultmann he offers the kind of detail I am hoping to provide, and so to his summary of these things we turn:

The debate surrounds McCormack’s now famous argument that Barth’s later theology, if it is to be consistent with his doctrine of election in KD 2.2, ought to make election logically prior to triunity: “The decision for the covenant of grace is the ground of God’s triunity and, therefore, of the eternal generation of the Son and of the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from Father and Son. In other words, the works of God ad intra (the trinitarian processions) find their ground in the first of the works of God ad extra (viz., election).” See Bruce L. McCormack, “Grace and Being: The Role of God’s Gracious Election in Karl Barth’s Theological Ontology,” in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, ed. John Webster (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 92–110, at 103. See also Bruce McCormack, “Karl Barth’s Historicized Christology: Just How ‘Chalcedonian’ Is It?” in Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 201–33, originally published in German in 2002, where he says that “it is precisely the primal decision of God in election which constitutes the event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being. Election thus has a certain logical priority even over the triunity of God” (ibid., 218).

McCormack’s views on this matter find their origin in Jüngel’s  Gottes Sein ist im Werden. In this monograph Jüngel argues that God’s being is a historical event constituted by God’s free decision. “Decision,” Jüngel says, “does not belong to the being of God as something additional [Hinzutretendes] to this being, but rather, as event, God’s being is God’s own decision. ‘The fact that God’s being is event, the event of God’s act, must . . . mean that it is God’s own conscious, willed, and accomplished decision’ [KD 2.1:304/271]. What the doctrine of the Trinity already worked out is now confirmed by working out a concept of being appropriate to God: God’s being is constituted through historicity [Geschichtlichkeit].” Eberhard Jüngel,  Gottes Sein ist im Werden: Verantwortliche Rede vom Sein Gottes bei Karl Barth: Eine Paraphrase, 4th ed. (Tübingen: Mohr, 1986), 80. Later, in a reflection on the significance of Barth’s statement that “Jesus Christ is the electing God,” Jüngel states even more provocatively that “God has thus determined Godself in the second mode of being of the Trinity to be the electing God. ‘Jesus Christ is the electing God’ [KD 2.2:111/103]. In that here one of the three modes of being is determined to be the electing God, we have to understand God’s primal decision as an event in the being of God that differentiates the modes of God’s being” (ibid., 85).

McCormack’s argument in “Grace and Being” has initiated an intense debate within Barth studies regarding the relation between triunity and election, and specifically the nature of divine freedom. Many of these contributions are collected in Michael T. Dempsey, ed., Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011). The most significant critique and response are George Hunsinger, “Election and the Trinity: Twenty-Five Theses on the Theology of Karl Barth,” Modern Theology 24, no. 2 (2008): 179–98, and Bruce L. McCormack, “Election and the Trinity: Theses in Response to George Hunsinger,” Scottish Journal of Theology 63, no. 2 (2010): 203–24. See also Bruce L. McCormack, “Trinity and Election: A Progress Report,” in Ontmoetingen: Tijdgenoten en getuigen: Studies aangeboden aan Gerrit Neven, ed. Akke van der Kooi, Volker Küster, and Rinse Reeling Brouwer (Kampen: Kok, 2009), 14–35; Bruce L. McCormack, “Let’s Speak Plainly: A Response to Paul Molnar,” Theology Today 67, no. 1 (2010): 57–65.[1]

There is much to consider here, but at this point I only want to underscore Hunsinger’s (and Molnar’s) primary critique of McCormack’s thesis. They both hone in on the apparent problem present in McCormack’s thesis: i.e. that he appears to make God’s being (his very inner life) contingent upon creation; upon God’s choice to not be God without his election of humanity for himself in Christ. The critique, ultimately, is that McCormack’s ‘Barthian’ presentation here suffers from a type of panentheism. Not only that, Hunsinger, in particular, goes after McCormack’s placement of election prior to God’s being as Triune; this, suggests Hunsinger, seems even logically (not just chronologically) implausible.

The above noted let me reign this in a bit. I started this post out with noting the idea that the doctrine of election is or should be a rather personal and existentialist reality. I suggested that this doctrine is inimical to one’s understanding of God and his relation to the world (particularly to creatures); that it is ultimately inimical to the way we think of God’s character. I then introduced us to an innovative way that election and theology proper were related in Barth’s theology; further detailing this move by way of introducing us to an internecine debate among Barth scholars involved in Barth studies. I want to now conclude this exercise by highlighting why I think wrestling through these issues remains seriously important; e.g. so engaging with why I think the personal-existential aspect of this doctrine is important for all those who by the Spirit say that Jesus is Lord.

Election is Christological, as such it is soteriological, as such it touches upon what it means to be alive (human) before God; it touches upon every waking aspect of who we are as creatures living before a Holy a God. It is important, therefore, to have a doctrine of election that has the ability to be concrete; that has the capaciousness to recognize how central God is to this reality; and what this doctrine, in particular, says about the character of God. Does God only love a select group of people based upon an absolute decree? Does God have to construct such a mechanism, as decrees, in order to ensure that his Pure Being status remains untouched by his creation; to ensure that he has no passions, that he has no moving parts in his inner life that might be unregulated by his simple being? Or does our doctrine of election start it’s thinking about a God-world relation in and from God’s personal self-givennness for us in the gift of the Son for the World; does our doctrine of election start from a person (and this is personal), or does it start from a set of propositions intended to ensure God’s status as the actual infinite?

I think God is personal; that his inner life is onto-relationally related in such a way that his inner being as God is given shape by his self-givenness (love) for the other in his own life. I think that this is the primal basis from whence we ought to think of a God-world relation; i.e. of election. We ought to think God from the way God decided we should think of him: from his Self Revelation and exegesis in the Son. If tradition gets in the way of that, or thwarts that, then that is bad tradition. Any tradition that nullifies the Word of God is bad tradition (cf. Mt. 15). In these instances the tradition needs to take a back-seat (subordinate) place relative to God’s Word.

What is primarily important to me about Barth’s reformulated doctrine of election—apart from the more technical issues in the ‘Barth Wars’—is how he focuses election (as everything else) in and around Jesus Christ in a very intense and concentrated manner. I.e. For Barth, election means: that Jesus Christ is both the electing God and elected human; that in his election to be human he elects all of humanity in a vicarious way, such that he takes on humanity’s “reprobate” status (cf. II Cor. 5.21). The wonderful exchange takes place (cf. II Cor. 8.9), and we, by God’s grace in Christ, receive his elect status for us as he takes our reprobate status with him into the grave and resurrects us with him in his elect status as the first fruits the first-born from the dead as the human for all of humanity. This says something about God’s character; it says that ‘God so loved the WORLD that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting/eternal life. It says that God loves humanity, and that he loves all of humanity with the same love that he loves his dearly beloved Son. This is meaningful to me.

And this now ends these rather fragmented, but hopefully at some level coherent, thoughts.

[1] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 173 n. 335.

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As you all know I had an interesting engagement with Rachel Held Evans this last week here at the blog; particularly because I chose to write too quickly, jesusteacherand thus not respectfully of RHE. In the aftermath of that I have continued to think about ways to engage with RHE, and her post on Abraham and Isaac (which was really a post on hermeneutical theory). What was more central though to Rachel’s post was actually her questioning of how God is represented as the one who commanded the Israelites to go into the Canaanite nations and slaughter them (Rachel uses the more provocative language of ethnic cleansing, with all of the modern political and ethical connotations attached to that that language conjures for all of us). I want to take another shot at engaging with Rachel, and the content of her post. In particular I want to focus, this time on how she has claimed that she is simply engaging in honest questioning of the text of scripture and its ethical implications. Many others, in Rachel’s defense, also asserted that this is all that Rachel is doing. The post that got me in trouble with many of her readers (whether those readers be fans or not of Rachel’s writings in general) revolved around the fact that I was questioning Rachel’s questioning. Of course the way I came at Rachel, like I have already noted, was disrespectful and not right on my part. But I still think in spite of my foolishness in that first post, there was still a nub of criticism therein that was legitimate. In that sense then, let me focus on one aspect of Rachel’s general and overall mode; i.e. on the way that she approaches just about every issue: She tends to claim that all that she is doing is being a skeptic, a ‘questioner.’ It is this mode that I will engage throughout the rest of this post.

Learning To Be ‘Christian’ Questioners

Is it right to be a skeptic, a questioner, a ‘naked-questioner’ as a Christian; or do we as Christians have a higher calling a more ennobling task set before us? I would argue that we have a higher task set before us, one that we do not get to determine, but one that is imposed upon us. Those of us, Rachel included!, who name Jesus as Lord are not allowed to ask random, or arbitrary questions of God in Jesus Christ; we have been called to submit to the questions and answers imposed upon us by God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. And so this brings me back to Rachel’s mode[1], she claims to be an honest questioner and skeptic, and that she is bringing her experience, science, modern ethics, etc. to God, and asking him to meet her expectations based upon those various loci. Note Rachel as she ‘questions’ God’s apparent ruthlessness (in the story of Joshua toward the Canaanites) based upon the aforementioned loci:

This is a hard God to root for.  It’s a hard God to defend against all my doubts and all the challenges posed by science, reason, experience, and intuition.   I once heard someone say he became an atheist for theological reasons, and that makes sense to me. Once you are convinced that the deity you were taught to worship does evil things, it’s easier to question the deity’s very existence than it is to set aside your moral objections and worship anyway.[2]

But this is not what we have been called to as Christians, as I just noted; with the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ there comes a method, a set of questions that God has determined as the norming questions that he would have us ask of him, conditioned as they are by the center of his life given for us in his Son. Thomas F. Torrance (as he reflects on Karl Barth’s method of theologizing) might counsel us (including Rachel and her readers) this way:

. . . Barth found his theology thrust back more and more upon its proper object, and so he set himself to think through the whole of theological knowledge in such a way that it might be consistently faithful to the concrete act of God in Jesus Christ from which it actually takes its rise in the Church, and, further, in the course of that inquiry to ask about the presuppositions and conditions on the basis of which it comes about that God is known, in order to develop from within the actual content of theology its own interior logic and its own inner criticism which will help to set theology free from every form of ideological corruption.[3]

For Barth, for Torrance there is not an arbitrary way to question God or the way he acts, there is a concrete way that is given to us. It is a way that is not in our hands, not reposing upon our intellectual misgivings; it is a way that is imposed upon us, and thus not in our control – and so it scandalizes us. Torrance comments further on this way as he thinks about the benefits of catechesis and the scientific method (which means seeing Jesus alone as the regulator and giver of the questions that God has given us to bring to him as a freewill offering):

… The really scientific questions are questions which the object, that we are studying, through its very nature puts to us, so that we in our turn put only those questions which will allow the object to declare itself to us or to yield to us its secrets. The more we know about a thing the more we know the kind of questions to ask which will serve its revealing and be the means of communicating knowledge of it. This scientific principle has to be applied to Christian instruction, and it is here that we see the fundamental importance of the catechetical method. The young learner does not know enough as yet to ask the right questions. We have to encourage him to ask questions, but also to learn that only the appropriate questions will be a means of knowledge. This is nowhere more true than in regard to Christian communication. Christianity does not set out to answer man’s questions. If it did it would only give him what he already desires to know and has secretly determined how he will know it. Christianity is above all the question the Truth puts to man at every point in his life, so that it teaches him to ask the right, the true questions about himself, and to form on his lips the questions which the Truth by its own nature puts to him to ask of the Truth itself that it may disclose or reveal itself to him….[4]

Conclusion

I would suggest, moving away from Rachel H Evans, but staying close, that Rachel’s popularity (other than the fact that she is a smart, intelligent, genuine person) has a lot to do with the way people, Christian people in general have been trained to approach God. Christians, especially in North America, have been trained to approach God on their own heart-felt terms, and the questions that arise out of that frame of reference. Rachel Held Evans’ approach, I would suggest, embodies that in a way that gives voice and words to the questions that so many post-evangelicals have. They are questions, I would further suggest, that are hang-overs from their evangelicalism; apologetic questions that arise from an apologetic faith. This remains, among other things, a great irony of the Rachel Held Evans movement (and I am simply referencing her prominence among many many like-minded sojourners), if I can call it that; a desire, in some sense to be “post” evangelical, and yet still operating from the very premises of evangelicalism (as far as the kind of rationalist and apologetic questions that have plagued it for so long).

As an alternative, Rachel Held Evans & companions, all Christians could follow Thomas Torrance’s advice and be ‘schooled in the faith of Christ’ and allow his life to impose upon us his questions (and then answers). This way there will be a ‘rule of faith’ regulating our approach to God that will keep us from asserting a lordship of our own, and allow us to assume a posture wherein we recognize that Jesus is Lord, and that we can only then operate in and from the domain of his Word, instead of in and from the domain of our own words.

 

[1] Why am I focusing on Rachel so much? Because she is high profile, and has massive impact upon a gigantic swath of the Christian church. Her influence is massive! And so she deserves special attention, especially if she is ‘teaching’ people how to think biblically and theologically; and she is!

[2] Rachel Held Evans, SOURCE

[3] Torrance, Theological Science, 7.

[4] Thomas F. Torrance, The School Of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church (Eugene, OR: Wipf&Stock Publishers, 1996), xxvi.

I have really been feeling convicted lately—and I mean this—about getting back to something that I have somewhat abandoned over the last few years in my research and reading. And this something is the very thing that set me on the path, in the first place, to ever become The Evangelical Calvinist. This something, is something that I was really introduced to, for the first time, in seminary, by Ron Frost. It is something that is of utmost importance when working through theological alternatives, and it is the very thing that opened my eyes to the wonderful world of theology, in ways that I never knew were possible; that is until I was first introduced to this thing. It was introduction to this thing that allowed me to start understanding how Calvinism came to be, how it developed; and it was introduction to this thing that gave me a deep appreciation for the Reformed heritage that so many of us Protestants simply take for granted, even though we sup from its table in countless ways (without critically realizing that we do). It was introduction to this thing that kicked me out of the theological doldrums that I had brought from my undergrad training, in regard to systematic theology. If it wasn’t for this thing, I might have ended up becoming an analytical theologian, or philosopher of religion; but this thing kept me from that, and set me on a totally different trajectory—one I have yet to recover from, except for the fact that I have not been paying as close of attention to this thing as I should have been (but there is only so much time). Anyway, after I tell you what this thing is, you might feel let down, or that this build up ends in rather anti-climatic form. But for me it doesn’t; for me this thing is really important, and I will be seeking to recover this thing, once again, in a way that ought to provide me with the critical kind of distance that may have been lacking in some of my thinking over the past few years.

I will let you guess what this thing is. If you are unable to here; in my next post, I will reveal what this thing is, and discuss it further, and what it will mean for my studies moving forward.

Something I have noticed is that being able to discuss material issues relative to Calvinism, Arminianism, Wrightianism, Barthianism, Torranceanism, etc. etc. is really an exercise in political and rhetorical maneuvering more than it is material conceptual maneuvering; in other words, actually engaging material things like: doctrine of God, informing metaphysical schemas, informing exegetical concerns, informing hermeneutical commitments, informing socio-cultural situations—none of these things really seem to be at the bottom of most discussions in this arena. For example, everyone knows me as someone who is predisposed to the teachings of Thomas Forsyth Torrance (and some of Barth), and also of John Calvin (as my header image currently hints at); and so anyone who has only heard funny things about these teachers, or are followers of other teachers who are at odds with the teachers I like, well, then, I cannot really get a good hearing (nor can others, potentially, get a good hearing from me) precisely because of the politics and connotations that have built up around such teachers and their followers over the years.

But, is what I am getting at, is this the Christian and ethical approach to engaging others? I know that there are all kinds of issues driving this kind of political posturing when we engage others within the fold of Christianity (theologically and biblically exegetically, that is). We are busy, we are doing real life, real ministry; and thinking deeply enough about real life exegetical and theological issues requires more time than we have to give to something. So instead of carefully considering other positions, we categorize (caricature) positions (and teachers associated with those); we often times give a yes (from the Lord), or no (demonize) to the category or caricature; and then we use this as a hedge to protect ourselves from actually having to engage other positions, with the posture that we already have, since we can throw out labels and names as if we have actually engaged said position. It is true, no one has the time to sit around all day everyday (unless you’re a PhD student 😉 ), and contemplate every theological position under the sun (with depth); but at the same time, it is never good to simply tar and feather teachers and positions without at least giving something a real hearing (i.e. going beyond the lazy man’s caricature approach).

Just reflecting. And by the way, I write this mostly to me; I am very guilty of doing just what I am writing of at various points. I know some could say that I have done this with my obsessive critiquing of classic Calvinism. Indeed, I will admit, at points, I have been guilty of caricaturing the classic Calvinist, etc. My intention is to give that position, and others, a fair hearing, and avoid caricature. I think all of this just boils down to a posture of humility; that we need to approach positions with this attitude. That is not to say that we cannot strongly disagree or speak against various positions and teachers within the church; but it is to say that we ought to consider what these teachers teach (and even preach) before we offer any kind of critique (or we shouldn’t create straw people).

I’m just a Christian.

What do you guys think about this picture:

I asked the same question a bit ago on my Facebook wall, and a friend quoted this about this picture,

‘”That picture! That picture!” cried Muishkin, struck by a sudden idea. “Why, a man’s faith might be ruined by looking at that picture!” “So it is!” said Rogojin, unexpectedly.’ (Dostoevsky, “The Idiot”)

So this picture, painted by Hans Holbein, has been featured by Dostoevsky in his writings. And it is a picture that almost mesmerizes me; not in some sort of mystical sense, but in the sense that it evokes a depth response in me as it signifies the truth of the Christian kergyma. That is, of course, that God became man in Christ; and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. As the Apostle writes:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~Philippians 2:5-11

And,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. ~II Corinthians 8:9

In the Christian Tradition this is also known as the mirifica commutatio or ‘the wonderful exchange’; and this serves as a central theme for how Evangelical Calvinists think of election-reprobation, viz. through a union with Christ theology.

Anyway, I am preaching a bit (and digressing); so how does this picture strike you? Is it too evocative and brutally scandalous? I know some Christians don’t think we should use images of Christ at all, and so for you (if that’s you), I know the answer to my question already. But I am really curious about how those of you who don’t have as much of an issue with icons like this think of this picture, and my current and recent usage of it for my blog header. It is hard to look at, admittedly for me; but it also conveys something about Christianity that I think has been lost and glossed over about Christianity in at least the American Western church—that is that Christianity and Christ crucified is skandalon or a stumbling block (the matter of my Masters thesis I Corinthians 1:17-25). Jesus is usually not presented in stumbling block kinds of ways today, and I think this picture re-invokes that kind of response. What do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, here we go. I am going to get into this issue, this way; i.e. by having you all watch this video interview with Matt Chandler done by John Piper. My point in sharing this video is not to use it as a piece that I critique materially; instead, I want what Chandler says to take up residence in your heart and mind so that you will be able to recall this as a reference point for some of the things I will be getting at later. What I mean is this; Matt Chandler says something very explicitly and up front that I’ve known to be true for along time, but I am afraid that many who listen to, not just Matt Chandler, but many others in his tribe, are failing to realize that the informing theology behind what Chandler & co. communicate to the masses is plain old 5 point Calvinism. Now, some folk are totally fine with this, but other folk didn’t realize this to be the case (until now); and so my motive is to expose where Chandler and The Gospel Coalition are coming from, and then offer an alternative way to approach scripture through a better Christian grammar and theological grid. Watch the video, please spend the time to do that, and then I will close this video with some brief reflections and set myself up for further posts.

Click Here: John Piper Interviews Matt Chandler on Calvinism.

One thing I don’t want this to turn into is another slam-fest on 5 point Calvinism; I want to take us somewhat deeper than that. I want to take us into the Holy of holies, or into God’s life; since this is where it all goes wrong for a 5 point Calvinist (which I will establish in posts to come). This is, as you heard Chandler mention in the interview, where a need for a God with two wills comes into the picture. Let me just assert right now, if you have a god with two wills you don’t have the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus Christ! And if you don’t have the God of the Bible Self-revealed in Jesus Christ; then you don’t have the full bodied version of the Gospel.

Just be prepared to have your thinking piqued, and maybe your beliefs challenged (which I hope is what happens if you appreciate or are a follower of Matt Chandler’s teaching). Just pray that I communicate in a fair, firm, and then loving way…. thank you!

I just wanted to do a little ground clearing on what you all can expect in regards to some future posts I am going to be doing on Matt Chandler’s and John Piper’s & the whole gang’s Calvinism:

  1. My intended audience is the lay and pastoral thinking person (academics can read and respond too, but I suspect you will be already aware of most things I will be highlighting).
  2. I don’t have any silver bullets, so I don’t want you to be underwhelmed by my observations. Most of what I will say is not original to me, and is already available elsewhere if you know where to look (of course that’s why some might be interested in what I have to say, because you might not know where to look).
  3. My tone will be to be as charitable as possible. I never have looked at this ‘divide’ (doctrinally) as one that questions anyone’s salvation or ultimate Christianity; my concern, while deathly serious, has to do with folk’s Christian spirituality and daily walk with Jesus. So I don’t want anyone to think that I am questioning any of these guys’ salvation—that notwithstanding, I am questioning the Christian moorings that 5 point Calvinism (esp. North American flavor) in the church/pulpit culture actually provides (or does not!).
  4. With the latter point noted, I will be passionate about what I write; I don’t believe in dispassionate scholarship or teaching, and so this passion of mine ought to be evident (even now!). That said, I do believe that we can and should be sober-passionate; meaning that I will seek to be fair and Christian in my characterizations and observations (that’s the benefit, for me, from doing this online … I have you all to keep me honest … of course I reserve the right to keep you honest too 😉 ).
  5. I will end this with a fifth point 😉 … The need I see for doing an observational project like this on the blog; is that there are still much needed voices who will sound off about what in fact is wrong in Evangelicalism, in general, and the impact that movements (within Evangelicalism) like The Gospel Coalition and Together For the Gospel (and to a lesser extent The Shepherd’s Conferences) are having upon my brethren and sistren in relation to the doctrinal trajectory that these movements are charting for all who are participating (whether directly or indirectly). This is my motivation, to simply notice the impact; and then to identify an alternative way to consider how we ought to think about God and the Church and Salvation for Evangelicalism in particular—and to do all of this in accessible, churchy level ways.

Why? Why? Why do I disdain classic Calvinism and Arminianism so much? Do I think it’s a game, and I just like to play “I’ll joust you games on the internet;” does this make my world go round? NO! I disdain classic Calvinism and Arminianism (classical theism for short, and through the rest of the post labeled CT) because it places people in bondage; people I love, YOU! My close family members! My family members in the church (even our local church, and we attend a Calvary Chapel of all places)! Some people must think I have a vendetta against CT; I do! Why? Am I disgruntled with it? Yes! Why? Because there are people I love (both known and unknown) who are trying to live through the strictures that the God of CT (Calvinism & Arminianism) has placed them in; a yoke of bondage (Gal. 5:1), and they’ve been conditioned to think that this is God’s freedom. These people I love live in a matrix that has conditioned them to think that their Calvinist-Arminian God (or maybe just their ‘Evangelical’ God) is a God who is defined by his ‘power’ and by his ‘Law’; and further, they have been cajoled into thinking that God is a navel gazer, or more explicitly that ‘God is for God’—or that God is inward curved, and that this inward curvature (or inward fixation) defines God’s glory. People I love and care for deeply have submitted themselves to this God, and, for some it is costing them their lives, their sanity, their hope. This is why I disdain Calvinism and Arminianism. It’s because I love YOU!

Welcome

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

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A Little Thomas Torrance

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

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