Christology is the via for My Theological Existence

Christology is the via for my theological existence. If the Spirit’s ministry is to point to Jesus; if Jesus thinks Holy Scripture is all about Him; if the very beginning of the Bible has Jesus (‘seed of the woman’) as the protagonist of the whole thing; then it is Christology for me all the way down. I see no other way for actually coming to know the living God, if in fact the Word enfleshed (Logos ensarkos) has come exclusively for that very purpose. If the Son, the One who has always already been in the womb of the Father for us (Deus incarnandus) is said to be God’s ἐξήγησις (‘exegesis’) for us, then who am I, little ole’ Bobby Grow, to impose any other strictures on that. As a Christian, as one who says that Jesus is Lord by the Spirit, I have already acknowledged that I take God at His Word; and His Word, is of course the Father’s Son; it is He who is the res, the reality of the hidden God made visible pro me/nobis. I am willing to be naïve, and take God at His Word; to participate in His second objectivity in His economy for me as that is given ad extra in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. My life knows no other orbit than the one that keeps me in the pull of God’s Son. If He is the ‘firstborn from the dead,’ the ‘firstfruits’ of God, then I am bound to His life as the origin of it all. If Jesus is the reason for all of creation, if ‘the earth was made so that Christ might be born’ (Fergusson), and if I’m part of that creation, my reason for being is grounded in Christ.

My point is simply this: there is no theological theology outwith the Christology of God for us in Jesus Christ. He is the fundamentum of every molecule and atom, even proton, even the invisible elements; as such, I am eternally at his behest. He is Lord, and I am not. I am at His gracious mercy; indeed, I’d rather be a doorkeeper at His pearly gates than a wandering star for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. When a theologian pontificates about grace perfecting nature all I can think is: no, God in Christ disrupts nature to the point of putting it to death, and re-creating. This must be the warp and woof of my theological way, or I have no way; I am like a wandering star at that point.

Solo Christo 

Riposte: The Apocalyptic Paul Against Scott Swain’s ‘god of the Philosophers’

I

I take special care of those who have publicly criticized our Evangelical Calvinism in published form, as Scott Swain has; especially when they promote mayonnaise as a worthy food product. As such, and on this mundane occasion (since this is a blog post), let me alert my readers to a short essay Swain has written for Pro Ecclesia. The title of his essay is: God, Metaphysics, and the Discourse of TheologyThis locus has special place for me precisely because it has to do with a prolegomenological (totally made-up word) issue; as this has been of particular focus for me (even in published form). Here is Swain’s abstract:

Abstract 

In chapter 4 of his book, God in Himself, Steven Duby grounds theology’s use of metaphysical language and concepts in Scripture’s prior usage of such language and concepts. The following article seeks to fortify Duby’s argument by showing how the discourse of the gospel subversively fulfills the quest of Greco-Roman philosophy and religion to ground divine worship in a proper understanding of the divine nature.1

As we can see Swain’s method will be to engage with Steven Duby’s work (also a friend) on theology proper; with their shared focus on arguing for the classical—and Thomistic!—method of deploying and synthesizing the Greeks with Christian Dogmatic development. They both wholeheartedly maintain that the Hellenic grammar and categories are ‘fitting’ and ‘expedient’ for the Evangel’s promulgation. After describing the problem Duby seeks to engage, as that has ostensibly been presented by the ‘liberal’ (my word) theology of the 19th century moderns, in regard to a development of theology proper, Swain summarizes Duby’s thesis thusly:

In chapter 4 of his book, Duby engages modern Protestant theology’s claim that the discourses of theology and metaphysics are ultimately incompatible. Following precedents in Scripture and tradition, he attempts to show why and how theology may use the language and concepts of metaphysics faithfully and fruitfully in speaking of the gospel’s God while avoiding many of modern Protestant thoughts’ deepest worries.2

II

Swain, subsequent to this, parses out the various highpoint themes of Duby’s response in argument (we will not engage with that for space and time limits). As Swain’s Abstract underscores, his aim will be to ‘fortify’ the groundwork that Duby has laid out in his book length treatment of the matter. In nucethey both (Duby and Swain, respectively) maintain that Greek metaphysics ought to be deployed in helping the Ecclesia to think God. For Swain, in particular, this entails an argument from Scripture; with focused reference on Paul in the Areopagus (cf. Acts 17.22-34). But before we get to that, Swain is clear on one basic premise; this is not unique to him. As a preamble to all else that follows in Swain’s argument for the usefulness of Greek metaphysics towards an intelligible proclamation of the Gospel, he is clear that what makes the “two-books” of nature (general and special revelation) corollary is God’s providence. He rightfully makes a distinction between Divine Inspiration and Providence, but then allows the Divine qualification to bring a conselium between the two such that the former might be complemented by the latter. He writes (in extenso):

Evangelical discourse is a “third language” that “inherits two languages,” the primary language of Israel’s scriptures and the secondary language of Greek philosophy and religion. Evangelical discourse claims to fulfill the discourse of Israel’s scriptures and the discourse of pagan philosophy and religion. But it claims to fulfill them in two different ways.

The language of Israel’s scriptures and the language of the gospel are bound together by divine inspiration. These two forms of discourse are authored by one God and proclaim one message of salvation. Israel’s scriptures proclaim this message in the mode of promise. The gospel proclaims this message in the mode of fulfillment. Evangelical discourse announces the surprising fulfillment of the promise of Israel’s scriptures, the revelation of a “mystery” once hidden but now revealed (Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26) and, in so doing, often confounds the expectations of its hearers (Luke 24:25; 1 Cor. 1:23). Nevertheless, evangelical discourse also holds that the mystery it proclaims is hidden within the Old Testament writings themselves and therefore wholly continuous with them as their necessary fulfillment (Luke 24:26-27; John 5:39, 46; Rom. 16:25-27; Eph. 5:32).

The language of Greek philosophy and religion and the language of the gospel are bound together by divine providence. Greek philosophy and religion are not the product of divine inspiration. They are not “pedagogues” (cf. Gal. 3:24) designed to lead the Gentles to Jesus Christ. Greek philosophy and religion are characterized by idolatry, error, and unrighteousness, and the gospel calls their adherents to repentance (Acts 17:30; Rom. 1:18). For this reason, Christian theology cannot hope to find a smooth fit, a hand and glove correlation between evangelical discourse and pagan discourse. The gospel is “foolishness to the Greeks” (1 Cor. 1:23). Evangelical discourse subverts pagan discourse.

That said, there is no absolute metaphysical contrast between evangelical discourse and pagan discourse. Although these two forms of discourse are not bound together by divine inspiration, they are bound together by divine providence. Although Jew and Greek, Christian and non-Christian do not share a common language, they do share a common human nature; both are objects of God’s providential goodness. The existence of Greek philosophy and religion presupposes the existence of God’s general revelation (Rom. 1:20-23). Idolatry is parasitic on religion, error is parasitic on truth, and unrighteousness is parasitic on righteousness. For this reason, in subverting the idolatry and error of pagan discourse, evangelical discourse may also claim to fulfill its deepest, albeit distorted, longings (Acts 17:26-27). The gospel can take up the language, concepts, and even the judgments of pagan discourse, make them its own, and proclaim in Jesus Christ their fulfillment. The word of the cross confounds the Greek quest for wisdom. But in doing so, it also answers that quest. For Christ is “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

In the gospel’s subversive fulfillment of pagan philosophy and religion, we find the evangelical logic for critically appropriating the language and concepts of metaphysics in the discourse of theology. As we will see more fully below, the discourse of the gospel and the discourse of pagan philosophy and religion not only share common language and concepts. They also share a common judgment, namely, the conviction that divine worship should correspond to the divine being and nature. This shared judgment grounds the gospel’s claim to fulfill pagan philosophy and religion and warrants Christian theology’s use of metaphysical language and concepts in speaking of the gospel’s God.3

I shared this in full because I want my readers to understand exactly what Swain’s proposal is (and because by copying and pasting it saves me the time of summarizing his argument in my own words, and thus fulfills the blogger’s dream of covering lots of ground in short amounts of time). So, we can see that Swain presupposes as a basic a priori that a belief in God’s providence is essential in grounding an argument for deploying Greek metaphysics as the most fitting grammar, as a ‘handmaiden’ to the inspired witness of Scripture, in regard to the Gospel’s intelligible and thus kerygmatic proclamation.

Subsequent to this, in the next section of the essay (which you can read for yourself of course), Swain attempts to make his argument by developing an exegesis of Acts 17, and the means the Apostle Paul uses to ‘prove’ to the Greeks that Jesus is Lord; and that the ‘unknown’ god, is in fact the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as revealed in Christ. Whether or not Swain is successful in his argument here, the reader will have to discern (notice his reference to interpretatio). Swain sees what he calls a ‘subversive fulfillment’ in the fittingness of Greek metaphysics for articulating a Christian theological dogmatic. He maintains that while there isn’t a one-for-one correspondence between the Greek god of Pure Being, and the God revealed in Christ, at the same time, as the long quote above reinforces, for Swain, there is a ‘parasitic’ correlation between the Greek gods and the true God such that the latter, through the wisdom of the cross, can in-break and subvert the secular with the sacred; to the point that what the Greeks only grasped in part (by reflecting on nature simpliciter), they might now know in [ful]fill through the ultimate revelation of the God of nature in Jesus Christ.

III

In light of the above (hopefully I shared enough in order for you to get the gist) I only have one question: where does Swain get his understanding of Divine providence from? As noted previously, Swain needs this premise about the commonality that providence provides for shared spheres of knowledge between the Pagans and Christians, vis-à-vis God, in order to argue that Greek metaphysics provides the most fitting grammar necessary for articulating God. What if the concept of providence Swain is operating with itself is Hellenic? How does Swain know that God’s providence functions this way; ie as the ground of shared knowledge about God between the Greeks and the Christians (albeit in an asymmetrically corresponding way)?

Is the Apostle Paul’s intent to show the Aeropagites that Zeus or an ‘unknown god’ is in fact Yahweh? Or is it to show them that their longing for ultimacy can only be fulfilled as they place their faith in a God who is sui generis? Indeed, the Apostle Paul himself didn’t come to know God by means of Greek metaphysics; surely a man of his learnedness (and he was brilliant for his day, in general) would have had recourse to think God along with Philo et alia by way of Greek metaphysics. But that isn’t the correlation he makes in Galatians (1.11-17), instead he writes:

 “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;  nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.”

Should we surmise from Paul that the Greeks provided a framework for thinking the revealed God, as that knowledge-frame is conditioned by a reflection on the natural order of things in the created sphere? Or should we rather conclude that Paul believed that who he encountered in Christ was solely based on a sui generis confrontation such that even his Jewish teachers could never have imagined (like the ones who crucified the Christ)? The Galatian Paul, the epistolary Paul, who by genre is intending to didact his readers and hearers, asserts that he didn’t receive his knowledge of the living God by even his Hebrew fathers, but instead through the revelation of the risen Christ himself. We don’t see Paul affirming the teachings of the Greeks as fitting in regard to coming to a genuine knowledge of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Instead, we see him discomfiting the fittingness of any ‘man’, whether Jew or Greek (see I Cor. 1.17-25), to furnish grounds for thinking the revealed God (Deus revelatus). If anything, according to the ‘apocalyptic Paul,’ as we find in Galatians, there is a discorrespondence between the Greek conception of God, and instead one that is purely grounded in the Hebraic understanding of a God revealed.

IV

In the end, really, I think Swain’s essay is funded by tautologous thinking, and remains petitio principii as far as his major premise on Divine providence. I think that if we are careful to focus on the intention provided for by the literary types found in Scripture, that what we actually get in the didactic (think discourse literature) Paul of the Galatian correspondence is what he wants the churches to understand as sacra doctrinaWhen an argument, such as Swain’s, is grounded in a narrative trope, as we find in the Lukan story of the Acts of the Apostles, it is hard to tell whether what is being communicated therein ought to be taken as prescriptive or descriptive; normative or non-normative. Typically, and I would say always, narrative literature, such as we find in Acts, is descriptive and non-normative. What this means for Swain’s biblical argument is that it doesn’t come with the same force we find in the discourse literature (ie Galatians), which is thus intended to be prescriptive and thus normative, for the Church’s understanding on doctrinal matters. In other words, it would have served Swain better, in an attempt to make a biblical argument on this matter, to do so from an Epistle of Paul’s rather than a narrative account that could be taken in a variety of ways. But then I would argue that the delimiter, in regard to the way that Paul is arguing in the Aeropagus, was purely a situational moment wherein he subverted (or negated) the whole edifice upon which Greek knowledge of the gods was built. Since Paul’s knowledge of God was clearly built on God’s Self-revelation, rather than on Greek metaphysics. That is, he was discarding the bases upon which the Greek’s ‘unknown god’ was built upon, and saying that what they were ultimately seeking for could not be found in the No-God they had left a placeholder for, and instead could only be found in the revealed God that no man had ever thought of prior to His showing up in the face of Jesus Christ.

1 Scott R. Swain, “God, Metaphysics, and the Discourse of Theology,” Pro Ecclesia (2021): 1.

2 Ibid., 2.

3 Ibid., 5-6.

Pelagian Creation and the Regnum Christi

Pelagian Creation is a neologism I just thought of as I was reflecting on the piece we will be reading along with from Barth’s Church Dogmatics. I have written, over the last few months, on the locus of Pelagianism with reference to a particularly popular soteriological movement online. But I don’t want to get swamped down by that focus too much in this post, since functional Pelagianism is a pervasive phenomenon that is present throughout a variety of theological and philosophical frameworks today. I think what Barth is onto undercuts Pelagianism, in all of its forms, even if in this particular pericope from him, it is indirect. In other words, he doesn’t mention Pelagianism here, but if we internalize what he writes, and if we have any notion of Pelgianism operative in our wandering theological thoughts and acts, this should correct that; repentance should be forthcoming; and a freshness of life just around the corner.  

The following is taken from Barth’s CD II/2, which of course is the infamous section where he reformulates a doctrine of Reformed double predestination; more pointedly a doctrine of election. That is the context of this passage, which you will see momentarily. Hopefully what you will grasp is just how central a proper doctrine of election is to a proper Protology and doctrine of creation. It is fitting that with how we start theologically will shape how we end, and all things in-between. Often times people simply start midstream, say with soteriology, without first attending to ‘first things,’ as Barth does here. What I wonder is if the reader will see, as I have, how what Barth is communicating might defeat Pelagianisms and other forms of Pure Nature. He writes: 

Again, if the doctrine of election is treated as something secondary and supplementary along the lines of the three possibilities mentioned, this means that it may well appear as if we could deal at least with creation and sin without any previous consideration of this decisive word, this mystery of the doctrine of reconciliation. But in this case creation takes on the character of a presupposition relatively independent of reconciliation and redemption. It becomes self-sufficient. It has its own reality and must be considered in and for itself. But this makes it appear as if the universe and man might well have been created and sustained without any inner necessity of the continuation and completion of the divine work in reconciliation and redemption. They may, then, be considered directly, apart from the divine election and decision, apart from the kingdom of Christ. But in this case there arises the concept of a realm whose existence allows us at least to question the infinity and divinity of this kingdom, opposing to it the parallel kingdom of nature. But this means that sin, the mishap which takes place in this separate kingdom of nature, acquires the character of an unforeseen incident which suddenly transforms the good creation of God into something problematical, breaking and shattering it in such a way that only a few traces of the original remain and what virtually amounts to a different world is brought into being. On this view God Himself appears in a sense to be halted and baffled by sin, being pressed back into a kind of special “world of God.” From this it might easily appear as if reconciliation is the corresponding escape from this dilemma, a mysterious wrestling with what is almost a rival God, a reaction against a different power, something not at all in keeping with the unity and omnipotence of God. In the whole of the divine work, however, it is really a question of only a single act of divine rule. This act is, of course, differentiated and flexible within itself. But it is not arrested or broken. It fulfils itself step by step, and at each step it is irresistible. We can and should recognise that in his unbroken grace and truth the one and omnipotent God is the One in whom there is neither error nor mistake, neither weakness nor compromise, but who in and through everything lets His own goodwill be done. We can and should recognise that the regnum Christi is not one kingdom with others, for in that case it might well be merely hypothetical. On the contrary, it is the kingdom of all kingdoms. We can and should recognise the fact that however we regard man, as creature, sinner or Christian, we must always regard him and understand him as one who is sustained by the hand of God. Neither in the height of creation nor in the depth of sin is he outside the sphere of the divine decision. And if we see in this decision the divine election, this means that he is not outside the sphere of the election of grace. At no time and in no way is he neutral in the face of the resolve and determination which are proper to the will of God in virtue of the decision made between Father and Son from all eternity. For this reason we must see the election at the beginning of all the ways of God, and treat of the doctrine accordingly. We believe that in so doing we shall not be disloyal to the intention which activated Calvin especially as he drew up those different outlines. We shall rather be taking up and realising this very same intention.1 

For Barth, and I’d suggest for us, the way we approach all things theologically ought to be theological. In other words, we shouldn’t engage in Ramist locus methodology and read and think things theological from logically-deductive schemata; but instead, we ought to allow the whole of God’s organic and triune life to pressure us into thinking things wholistically from who God is as revealed in Christ. This is what we get in the above passage from Barth. He is attempting to show how central God’s inner life and free choice to be for and with us is to the creational matter. Without Christ as telos and protos for all of creation all we are left with is an abstractly hot-mess wherein ‘we’ are left to construct a bridge (metaphysic) between God and humanity wherein God’s life in a God-world relation becomes predicated by our choice to construct said metaphysic—that is methodological Pelagianism.  

Pelagianism, in a theological sense, is the idea that nature has a functional non-contingent independence of its own. That nature has the capacity to be for God or against Him of its own self-determined freewill. To think creation in general, and humanity as a subset and yet pinnacle of creation, in particular, in terms that are outside of God’s primal decision to be for creation, for us (pro nobis) is to operate outside of the confessional norms required by a proper theology of the Word. As Christians, in name even, we are such because we are in Christ by the Spirit; just as Christ was in the womb of Mary by the Spirit. He is the pre-conditioning reality of all that was, is, and ever will be. To think otherwise is to think heretically in quite proper ways.  

1. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §32-33: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 95-6.

Craig Carter’s Arian God Versus Karl Barth’s Athanasian God

Yesterday Craig Carter tweeted the following: “The days of revising & despising CT w/o challenge are over. I’ll be arguing that the proofs are missing from much recent theology b/c of “the Barthian gambit,” i.e. the attempt to do theology w/o metaphysics & ground it in Xology alone. My conclusion: the Barthian gambit failed.”1 I have had a couple exchanges in the past with Carter on Twitter, with reference to Barth’s theology. What stood out in those exchanges was that he is rather clueless about Barth’s theology; the newest tweet above continues to illustrate this. But Carter isn’t alone in his disregard, and even animus toward the Trinitarian theological revolution that Barth was a huge part of in the 20th century; Katherine Sonderegger in her Systematic Theology V1, also takes aim at Barth’s supposedly errant ‘Christomonism’ when it comes to doing Christian theology. The assumption, particularly as evinced in Carter’s mis-characterization of Barth, is that Barth’s mode is purely a modern aberration with no historical or paleo antecedents; as if nobody in the history of the Church operated with the sort of Christ concentration that Barth does in his theologizing. Carter et alia want to engage in a sort of subtraction process by claiming that Barth is simply representative of a modern method of erasing the classical way of doing theology by way of imposing Kantian postmetaphysics on the whole antique gambit of theological reflection. 

But does Carter’s misunderstanding withstand critical scrutiny; that is when he isn’t able to simply appeal to his people? What Carter doesn’t understand is that Barth’s whole program, particularly his Church Dogmatics, only ever took off when he got hold of the Patristic mechanism of an/ -enhypostasis. This gave Barth a way to engage in the sort of Christ concentration that would have made Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria quite proud. Indeed, and I will use this to prove my point about Barth’s classical chops, one of Barth’s best Anglophone students, TF Torrance, developed what might be called an Athanasian stratified knowledge of God that is in lockstep with Barth’s own theory of revelation. Here’s a taste: 

The economic Trinity might well be spoken of as the evangelical Trinity and the ontological Trinity as the theological Trinity. ‘Evangelical’ in this sense refers to the truth content of the Gospel as it is revealed to us through the incarnate or human economy (ἡ ανθρώπινη οικονομία) which Christ undertook toward us, in the midst of us, and for our sakes. . . ; and’theological in this sense refers to the truth of the eternal Being and Activity of God as he is in himself, the essential Deity . . . or ‘Theology’ (Θεολογία, which Athanasius equated with divine worship). While for Athanasius economy and theology (οικονομία and Θεολογία) must be clearly distinguished, they are not to be separated from each other. If the economic or evangelical Trinity and the ontological or theological Trinity were disparate, this would bring into question whether God himself was really in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to himself. That is the evangelical and epistemological significance of the homoousion (‘consubstantial’, of one substance, or of one and the same being with the Father) formulated by the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. If there is no real bond in God between the economic Trinity and the ontological Trinity, the saving events proclaimed in the economy of the Gospel are without any divine validity and the doctrine of the Trinity is lacking in any ultimate divine truth. The trinitarian message of the Gospel tells us that the very contrary is the case, for in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit we really have to do with the Lord God himself as our Saviour. Thus, as we shall see, the designation of Jesus as ‘Lord’, ie Κύριος = YHWH, is found more than a hundred times in the New Testament Scriptures.2 

This is the sort of “Barthian gambit” that Carter bombastically claims he will be defeating in the near term. Barth is part of the Athanasian tradition of Christ concentration, just as much as is his student: TF Torrance. When Carter refers to CT (classical theism) he clearly has something nearer in focus; oh yeah: Thomas [Aquinas], and the Christian Aristotelianism that he thinks serves as a capstone for the classical theistic, so-called, tradition. But I’m afraid that what he doesn’t seem to grasp, Carter that is, is that Athansius would have been on Barth’s and Torrance’s side, and not his. You see, Athanasius understood what a rank Hellenic approach to God does to God. He understood that it didn’t actually get you to the God who is Father of the Son, but instead that it gets you to a notion of godness that is constrained by the rationalist projections of the philosophers and theologizers supposedly thinking this God. Here is how Athanasius would respond to the sort of unbridled and unevangelized Hellenic god that Carter believes classically reflects the true God: 

Therefore it is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate. For the latter title, as I have said, does nothing more than signify all the works, individually and collectively, which have come to be at the will of God through the Word; but the title Father has its significance and its bearing only from the Son. And, whereas the Word surpasses things originated, by so much and more does calling God Father surpass the calling Him Unoriginate. For the latter is unscriptural and suspicious, because it has various senses; so that, when a man is asked concerning it, his mind is carried about to many ideas; but the word Father is simple and scriptural, and more accurate, and only implies the Son. And ‘Unoriginate’ is a word of the Greeks, who know not the Son; but ‘Father’ has been acknowledged and vouchsafed by our Lord. For He, knowing Himself whose Son He was, said, ‘I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me;’ and, ‘He that has seen Me, has seen the Father,’ and ‘I and the Father are One ;’ but nowhere is He found to call the Father Unoriginate. Moreover, when He teaches us to pray, He says not, ‘When you pray, say, O God Unoriginate,’ but rather, ‘When you pray, say, Our Father, which art in heaven Luke 11:2.’ And it was His will that the Summary of our faith should have the same bearing, in bidding us be baptized, not into the name of Unoriginate and originate, nor into the name of Creator and creature, but into the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. For with such an initiation we too, being numbered among works, are made sons, and using the name of the Father, acknowledge from that name the Word also in the Father Himself. A vain thing then is their argument about the term ‘Unoriginate,’ as is now proved, and nothing more than a fantasy.3 

Is Carter’s God the Arian god? No. But not because of methodology, only because of Piety. By way of methodology Carter’s God only gives us a god who is in turn a monad; a singular essence from whence the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit accidently subsist. It is Barth’s and Torrance’s and Athanasius’s God, the One known through the Son (grounded in “Xtology alone”) whom allows us to have actual ‘inner’ knowledge about Who God is. The Athanasian tradition Barth thinks from doesn’t yield a monadic god, as Carter’s necessarily does; instead, it yields a knowledge of God wherein God is God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

Can’t wait to see how Carter defeats the Athanasian conception of God with his Arian methodology. 

 

1 Craig Carter, Twitter.

2 Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 7-8. 

3 St. Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1.9.34. 

Barth’s Extension of Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Contra the Trad’s Theology of Glory

I am attracted to Barth’s theology for a variety of reasons. I am quite minimalist when it comes to theology. In other words, as a Protestant (Reformed) Christian I am interested in doing theology of the Word. This is why I am so acutely allergic to speculative theologies of the sorts that we find under the umbrella of classical theism. I repudiate overly metaphysicalized theologies that take shape after Aristotle/Plato, or any other system that accretes the reality (res) of Holy Scripture with barnacles that are unnatural to its existence as the Christ conditioned text that it is. And yet like a machine theologians continue to retrieve these sorts of theologies in the name of service to the church. That’s not for me; if you like that sort of stuff—i.e. talking about God as if you could so through the categories of the philosophers / talking about God with philosophers even if those philosophers aren’t Christian—then we are on different theological planes. Further, the planes we are on are so disparate that I would contend that theologians who do theology with the philosophers aren’t even engaging with what I take to be genuine confessional Christian theology. And this is why I like Barth (and the after Barth tradition like we find in Thomas Torrance et al.) so much.

With the aforementioned noted let’s read along with Barth as he develops his thinking on knowledge of God and its relationship to his reformulated doctrine of election (which in the Church Dogmatics is yet forthcoming, relative to this reading, in II/2). Barth writes:

It is in His love above all that God reveals Himself as the One who is incomparable and therefore unique; which means that He reveals Himself as the true and essential God. This revelation is of such a nature that He accomplishes at one stroke what the idea of uniqueness is unable to accomplish in any of its various forms and applications. We have referred already to the fact that divine revelation has the character of election, and to the twofold aspect, that as He chooses man in order to reveal Himself to him as God, God also chooses Himself, that He may be revealed to man as God. It is not, however, from the principle or concept of this twofold election that the knowledge of the divine uniqueness comes. It is not unique in this character of election as such. The idea of election itself leads us back only to the idea of uniqueness. Knowledge of this does not give or complete knowledge of the divine uniqueness. This takes place in the actuality of the twofold election as it occurs in God’s revelation according to the witness of the Old and New Testament. It is a choice, but it is a choice as an event. It is in this event as such that the love of God reveals itself and acts with the incomparability to which the only appropriate response is the confession of God’s uniqueness. It is in this event that the twofold choice is made which excludes even the very idea that God may be subject to the rivalry of other gods.[1]

If you are familiar with Barth’s theology you will immediately recognize the strong emphasis of actualism in the above passage. All speculation, according to Barth, is besmudged by the very event of God’s free and lively choice to be God for and with and in us through the humanity of Jesus Christ. Barth sees this scandalous particularity as definitive of the ‘events’ of Holy Scripture itself; insofar as those events find their concretion in attestation to their reality in Jesus Christ. But this is the warp and woof of Barth’s theology; he doggishly attempts to follow the contours of Holy Scripture as Scripture’s ontology is grounded in the Self-givenness of Godself for humanity. In other words, outwith Christ, for Barth, Scripture, as all of creation has no context, no telos, no meaningful meaningfulness towards which it might radiate genuine knowledge of God. An implication of this is that there is no space for discursivity, in regard to the theologian’s own capacity to speculate God. In other words, the philosophers have no meaningful contact with God, for Barth, since they are definitionally delimited by their flatlander horizontality. For Barth (and for me) knowledge of God only always comes from the event of God’s election to incarnate and be God with us, that we might be humans with Him, through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

The aforementioned constraints bother many (most) theologians. It cramps their ability to engage, rather nakedly, with the so-called Great Tradition of the church. Indeed, this sort of Barthianizing, ironically, is too solo Christo for them; or, it is too nuda Scriptura for them. There isn’t much respect among other academic disciplines if the theologian takes Barth’s route. If the theologian takes Barth’s route they might as well admit that they are some sort of Uncle Jed backwater only pretending to talk in intelligible ways about God. At best, if the theologian wants to show any sort of charitableness toward Barth, they will attempt to integrate ‘pearls’ of insight from Barth (i.e. contextless and abstract ‘words of knowledge’) into their broader and speculative theological projects (you know, the classical theistics type).  

I am ultimately hoping, as you have read this post, that among multiple things I am attempting to introduce folks to, in regard to Barth, that Barth’s theology offers a rather radical Protestant prolegomena. In other words, Barth’s offering is greater than himself. He presents the Christian theological world with what I would call, in orientation, a neo-Luther style; not fully in material or even formal substance with Luther, but definitely in spirit. In my view, Barth extends Luther’s theology of the cross (theologia crucis) while contradicting the Tradition’s theologia of gloriae (theology of glory). Just how I see it. Maybe you will better understand why I reject the academic class. I see most of it so riddled with the pockmarks of theology of glory, and smug classmanship, that I have almost no desire to be part of it in any way; life is much too short for such theatrics.


[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 §31: Study Edition Vol 9 (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 12.

Barth’s Covenantal Theology as the Reification of Hegel

If you are familiar with Barth’s Covenantal theology, and how he reifies that in his doctrine of God and election, then the following development, from Michael Gillespie, on Hegel’s view of the state might be rather striking to you. Here is Gillespie:

This reconciliation of natural consciousness and spirit, of natural causality and freedom, of the individual and society is the state. “This essentiality is itself the unification of the subjective and the rational will: it is the ethical whole—the state, which is the actuality in which the individual has and enjoys his freedom, but in which it is the knowing, believing, and willing of the generality.” True freedom for the individual is only possible insofar as his actions are in accordance with the general movement of spirit itself. The “freedom” of capricious natural desires is only license and in truth the subjection to natural causality. Real freedom is thus only possible in an through the ethical life of the political community which unites the natural desires of the individual with the rational objects established by society for those desires: it is only the state that can guarantee a reconciliation of these two through laws and education.

Human beings in Hegel’s view can be truly free only when they live within convention, within the prevailing ēthos, and yet they tend naturally to obey only their desires and to seek only their own satisfaction. The state imposes a necessity supported by force and ultimately by the power of life and death that constrains the individuals to act in accordance with prevailing conventions. The freedom that men enjoy within the state is thus not the freedom that arises from a mutual limitation of their natural freedom but the concord of individual and society, of the subjective will of the individual and the objective general will of the society. “The subjective will, passion, is the motivating, the actualizing; the is the inner; the state is the present-at-hand, actual ethical life. For it is the unity of the general, essential will and the subjective, and that is the ethical community.” The state in Hegel’s view is neither a collectivity of individuals nor a people (Volk) as a whole, but the concrete actuality and ground out of which both arise and within which both subsist. Both the subjective will, i.e., natural consciousness as both consciousness of nature and natural desiring soul, and the objective or general will, as the inner idea or rational form, constitute the twofold that in its synthesis is the state: “For the true is the unity of the general and the subjective will; and the general is in the state in the laws, in general and rational determinations.” What is fundamentally true and real is neither the individual nor the society but the state, which establishes and maintains laws as the expression of its rationality. Moreover, as we saw earlier, the absolute alone is true or the true alone is absolute. The state is not merely the corporeal and therefore ephemeral reconciliation of the individual and society but a moment of the absolute itself, of the ultimately real phenomenological ground. It is in this sense that Hegel concludes, “The state is the divine idea, as it is present-at-hand on earth.”[1]

Some say Barth equally suffers from Hegelianization, as much as the classical theists (who in many ways he is in critique of) suffer from Hellenization. No matter, it isn’t ultimately the form, per se, but how much the form is capable of being evangelized in a way that the pressure of the kerygma is magnified rather than the grammatical form it commandeers.

It is interesting though, when the thinker can see the parallels between Barth’s reification of God’s covenantal relationship to the world, and how that seems to be anticipated in Hegel’s philosophy of the state. For Hegel the inner ground of historic and civil order, per Gillespie is the state. For Barth, the inner ground of creation is the covenantal life of God’s graciousness. In this we can see how Barth was a modern theologian, indeed. Just as he flipped Kant’s dualism of the noumenal and phenomenal on its head, through the Deus absconditus/Deus revelatus combine in the hypostatic union of the singular person, Jesus Christ. Similarly, Barth flips Hegel’s style of immanentized dialecticism on its head by using his categories, and redeploying those in such a way that the creaturely realm is re-creaturized, and God is re-divinized by seeing the divine attributes that Hegel collapses into Geist, as understood as rightfully and always God’s to begin with.

This is how all constructive theology, and its attendant grammars, have always been done; i.e. by appropriating current ideation and philosophical constructs in such a way that the grammar supplied by said constructs is reified or ‘evangelized’ in such a way that the material content of the philosophic is so gutted, so non-correlationized, that the Gospel itself shines as bright as the morning sun shines on our weary and horizontal faces. Solo Christo.


[1] Michael Allen Gillespie, Hegel, Heidegger, and the Ground of History (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), 90-1.

God is Love

Thinking in terms of God’s so-called perfections can actually be a tricky complex. Is there a way to prioritize them; do we think them speculatively (in se), or concretely (ad extra)? Even through the cursory questions I just noted what we quickly come to realize is that what is at stake, in regard to answering how we approach the perfections, vis-à-vis knowledge of God, implicates our prolegomena; or theological methodology. For this Evangelical Calvinist, as many of you know, following both Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth (not to mention Athanasius et al), I prefer to think God from His economic revelation, which I take to be synonymous with His ontological/immanent/antecedent reality as the triune God. As Jesus said to Phillip,

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content.” Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. –John 14:8-11

When we see Jesus [Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν] we see the triune God’s work and person, without remainder, in the Son’s enfleshment. In other words, when the Son incarnate shows up, He comes as Son of the Father, as Athanasius famously emphasized; and He does so by the creative creativity of the Holy Spirit’s activity as the One who works as the bonding agent between the Father and the Son in the effulgence of their three-in-one / one-in-three love. It should be apparent by now what ‘perfection’ I take to be the ground of all others. In other words, it should be clear that I take who God is as Self-revealed love to be the ground and shape of all the other so-called perfections the Christian tradition likes to think God through. Ian McFarland affirms this way of thinking about the primordial perfection of God as triune love. And he thinks that the way we think God ought to come from the primacy of God’s Self-revelation as revealed in the οἰκονομία of His life for the world come in the flesh and bone of Jesus Christ. He writes the following in summary of previous development he has given in the broader context from which this is taken:

In summary, to say that God is love is to confess God as Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is love in that the Father loves the Son in giving all that he is to the Son and confirming this in the Spirit, even as the Son loves the Father by glorifying the Father in the same Spirit, with the Spirit bearing witness to—and thereby sharing in—the mutual love of the Father and the Son. In other words, “love” characterizes God’s concrete existence as these three, traditionally designated as hypostases or “persons.” As realized in the communion of the three persons, the love of God is free, in that it is not involuntary or compelled as though grounded in a reality either logically or ontologically prior to the act of the divine persons’ loving one another. Rather, God loves freely, and thus willingly, since it is integral even to the human love of which God’s is both the ground and goal that love can never be unintended, as though a lover could refrain from acknowledging her love as he own act. At the same time, the freedom of divine love does not make it a matter of choice or decision, as though God’s freedom were to be understood as its cause. If love were in this way the product of some more fundamental divine activity (viz., the divine will), then it would not be strictly true that God simply is love. For us, love is adventitious, in that we are before we love. It is not so for God, since the mutual love of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit is just what it means for God to God: neither relative to or dependent on any nondivine reality, but simply the One who lives in and as three persons.[1]

There are some technical things McFarland is addressing (at least as I read in-between the lines), in the literature, but we won’t let that detain us here. What is instructive for our purposes is to simply press the point that who God is is love; as the epistolero puts it in the starkest of terms: ‘The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.’[2] Per the Scriptural attestation, and the reality it attests to in Jesus Christ, this is indeed the primary perfection by which all other so-called perfections take shape. If this is so, it tells us that at the very heart of what God does, because He never does anything apart from who He is, is that it is shaped by His overflowing life of Triune love.

When we have theologies that take their relative shape from metaphysical and speculative categories—such as we have in Christian Aristotelianism—God is not thought, primarily from His perfection of love, but instead from discursive reasoning that posits God as the necessary Creator; attendant, of course, with all the other speculative perfections such as eternality, impassibility, immutability, the omnis, so on and so forth. When God is thought under these pressures, alien pressures relative to His Self-revelation, in regard to Who God is, it changes how the Christian thinks a God-world relation. In this frame, no longer does God’s relationship to, for, and with us come attenuated by God is [first] love; instead it comes with the emphases that God is sovereign Creator, who now relates to the world, to us through (in the Reformed case) impersonal decrees that come with a juridical frame.

It is best to think God from the centraldogma that He is love. We can think through the other ‘classical’ categories, but not unless we do so first through the lens of God’s Triune love as the ‘ground and grammar’ of all the other attributes that are present within the Divine life; within the mysterium Trinitatis. Love you, Jesus. Love you, Father. I say so by the Holy Spirit who has brought me into Your life through the anointed and vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

[1] Ian A. McFarland, The Word Made Flesh: A Theology of the Incarnation (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 29-30 kindle.

[2] I John 4:8, NET.

The Sobriety of the Thought that We Can Think God

Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen. I Timothy 6.16

The thought occurred to me, just as I’m getting ready for bed; after spending all night under the starry heavens. The idea that any human being has the audacity to think Almighty God is staggering. His majesty is tremendous; His glory in the theater of the heavens is jaw-dropping; His beauty is breathtaking. How can a frail dust-ball, like me / like you imagine that we could ever think God?! We are flatlanders who necessarily view terra firma in exclusively horizontal ways; we look up at the cosmos with all its glitter, light, and darkness and can only observe its fallen majesty as if an ant before its apparent infinitude. Who are we to think that we can rend the heavenly canopy and peer into the unapproachable light of Almighty God?

I often fear that those of us who constantly attempt to think and speak God, particularly in the theological ‘game,’ end up domesticating God; that we capture Him through our own scholastic wits and imaginations. I have concern that we get so bound up in the internecine squabbles held inter/intra-traditionally, that we simply forget that we still stand coram Deo. Even as we might come to imagine that we have become some sort of gatekeeper towards knowing God; even if we fancy ourselves into thinking that we have constructed some sort of apparatus for best knowing God; He remains God before whom we stand as but wanton beggars.

We cannot approach this immortal God. He must unilaterally approach us, and equip us, through revelation which is reconciliation, if we are going to think Him with any modicum of correlation with who He really is. Our only chance to think the living God, for real, is if we intentionally do so after Deus dixit (God has spoken). And the only place God has spoken for the world is in His Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, in His resurrected humanity, is the only One who can approach God’s immortal life precisely because Jesus Christ is God. The Christian thinks God only because the Son in Jesus Christ first thinks Him, ever anew and afresh, for us. As we are brought into union with Christ by the Spirit the Christian now has the ingression point wherein Almighty God can actually be known. At this point, this Archimedian point, we have entered the inner-sanctum of God’s inner-life. This is a sobering thought. Kyrie eleison

A Riposte to Leighton Flowers and Dr. Brian With Reference to Their Video Response @ Me

I think after this post I will quit engaging with Leighton Flowers and crew (but maybe not, that all depends). I just came across a video where he and his friend, Brian (a PhD in NT, not theology, clearly), respond to a critique post of mine directed at Flowers’ approach to interpreting Holy Scripture. Here is the blurb I quickly wrote up as I shared this video to my FB and Twitter feeds:

Leighton Flowers responds to a critique post of mine starting at 7:44 and running through 21:00. He and his friend just talk around what I was getting at. Ironically, they end up illustrating my critique of their approach by reverting to their sort of rationalist traditioned reading of Scripture. It is really strange to engage with folks who are not self-perceptive enough to see their own foibles, esp. when those are being pointed out to them. But then they deflect those back onto their critics (me) Lol. Flowers’ friend, a PhD in NT (not theology, clearly) calls my approach postmodern (very strange). But this is what you get when you engage with low church evangelicals who have no clue about the Christian Dogmatic tradition, and how that has taken form in the Church catholic. They dispense with catholicity in favor of re-inventing the wheel based on their own reconstruction (interpretation) of the Christian faith and Holy Scripture. But, again, this is what you get when you start with a turn-to-the-subject hyper individualism out of touch with the confessional nature of the Christian faith. And this is why I find folks like Flowers and his friend so dangerous to the Christian faith; they are the epitome of what has been dangerous to my own faith in the past. So, when I come across it I seek to alert others to its errors, and hope to provide a way forward that is more in tune with a reality contingent upon a source (Jesus Christ and the triune God) outside of themselves.

You can watch Leighton’s and Brian’s response to me here (it starts at 7:44 and runs approx. through the 21-minute mark). I want to expand a little more on their response to me; more than what I just shared in the aforementioned blurb.

Brian was really hung up on my language of all humanity being ENSLAVED to our interpretative traditions. But as Steve Holmes rightly underscores (Stephen R. Holmes, Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 6-8):

This is not something that can simply be swiped away, as Brian and Leighton attempt to do, unless of course the person is appealing to their people. Ironically, as I alluded to earlier, Brian and Leighton fall right into this point, even as they attempt to criticize my underscoring of it, by going back to “their tradition of biblical theology and soteriology.” This is ironic, indeed, because it is the very point of my criticism of them. The fact that they cannot see that, and then by not seeing it, appeal to their own particular traditioned way of reading Scripture should alert people to how imperceptive their educators are; viz. if they are looking to people like Leighton, and his friend Brian et al., as their teachers.

Further, Dr. Brian calls my approach, that is my approach to focusing on a Christ concentrated hermeneutic: Postmodern. He claims that I end up deconstructing all other traditions, and then presume that my own ‘christological’ approach is the only viable way forward. In a sense, this is true; but it isn’t just true for me, but for Leighton and Brian et al. I would imagine all sentient people have arrived at particular convictions and conclusions in regard to the way that they engage with reality in general, and the Christian reality (for Christians) in particular. There is nothing inherently “postmodern” about that. Indeed, and ironically, this is simply an attempt to “boogeyman” me into a straw-box that Leighton and his friend think they can easily dispense of once they have placed me therein. Unlike these fellas, I am not averse to labels, indeed, labeling is just as inherent to being human as traditioning is. In other words, labeling positions (you know like Leighton’s self-described provisionism) is a shorthand, precision way of engaging with a complex or basket of ideas as those are held within a sort of systematic frame of reference. But the point is here: my approach is not inherently postmodern, instead it works from a Christian confessional background that is grounded in the Christian Dogmatic tradition of the Church catholic.

But this is the point, which I also alluded to previously: Flowers and company, are situated in the Fundamentalist/Evangelical individualist tradition that starts, by way of theological or hermeneutical methodology, in an abstract rationality that is idiosyncratic and original to the individual knowers. This was my point of critique, which Leighton attempted to respond to, when he pushed back against my claim that his approach is: anthropocentric or as he calls it ‘from-below.” Both Leighton and Brian need to do more reading on problems associated with what has been called: solo Scriptura or nuda Scriptura. They both are proponents of this approach, and as such, they communicate this to the people looking up to them as faithful guides into the world of Holy Scripture and systematic theology.

Further, Flowers takes issue with me saying that he speaks from a ‘resurrected voice of Pelagius.’ He cannot stand this charge. But anyone familiar with what he teaches on so-called ‘total inability’ (or more commonly understood in the history: total depravity, and its noetic and moral implications) knows that he is in line, let’s say, rather than with Pelagius full-blown, with someone like John Cassian. Again, because of Leighton’s non-Dogmatic orientation, he cannot fathom where this charge comes from. He believes that he can simply assert away that this charge just is not true; while at the same time advocating for a position that correlates almost exactly with Pelagius’ in regard to the neutrality of the moral agency latent within a broken, but not completely “inable” orientation towards God. I’ve already spilled enough e-ink in other posts, in regard to Leighton’s inchoate Pelagianism, that I will not belabor that further here. He simply does not understand the broad contours and moods that makeup the landscape of ecclesial historical ideas vis-à-vis their ideational categorizations (i.e. the dreaded “labeling” again).

Finally (although I think I’ve missed some of their response to me), Leighton, in general, hides behind this idea that if someone is going to critique him, they need to provide concrete examples or he doesn’t know how to engage with the critique. I think the article he and his buddy are responding to, of mine, offers all kinds of concrete examples that he could respond to; but it, again, this would require that he is versed in the realm of Christian Dogmatics (which he discounts out of hand; for reasons already alluded to). I give plenty of examples, in regard to the way he interprets and approaches Scripture; in regard to the way he approaches history of ideas; in regard to the way that his approach to soteriology is not grounded in a dogmatic ordering of things. I don’t feel compelled to offer exact examples (although I have done that in some other posts in reference to Flowers) all the time, because I figure that anyone who reads something like an article on Flowers, is already aware of a whole stable of examples that Flowers hits upon, thematically, seemingly everyday in his vlogcasts.

Oh, one more thing: Brian (and Leighton) almost seemed dumbfounded by the idea that I said we should think our theologies, and exegetical conclusions, from Jesus. Brian, in particular, couldn’t fathom how that would be possible apart from Holy Scripture. But this, again, illustrates the absolute rationalist approach he (and Leighton), are ENSLAVED to. They don’t think of Scripture, as John Webster rightly does, as if it has an ontology. In other words, they cannot even imagine how we might think Scripture from within a Christian Dogmatic ordering of things (a taxis). As such, just like with soteriology, they think Scripture in terms of an abstraction that only has value insofar as they can mine its data, as if archeologists trying to make sense of an artifact, and construct an understanding of it that fits within the realm of what they have determined biblical theology to entail. But you see who is regulative in this sort of interpretive and value-enriching process, right? It isn’t contingent upon Scripture’s res (reality) being regulated by the catholic Jesus (think the ‘Chalcedonian pattern’ that has served regulative for most of Church history when it comes to interpreting Holy Writ cf. Jn 5.39). No, it is contingent, instead, upon some sort of abstract realm of positivism that abstract wits have the capacity to manage and manipulate, with greater or lesser outcomes, based upon the interpreter’s disposition, training, and aptitude to approach Scripture with a minimal amount of presuppositions and pre-understandings. Because Brain (and Leighton) seemingly are critically unaware of the history and development of modern bible reading practices, as those developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the naturalist bed those were consummated in, they simply cannot imagine what I mean when I refer to: thinking our theologies and exegetical conclusions from Jesus.

My point doesn’t pivot on a competition between Scripture and Jesus—this is the false dilemma and premise Brian critiques me from—but instead, it is grounded in the idea, as John Calvin, Karl Barth, TF Torrance, John Webster, and other luminaries propound, that Scripture is the signum (sign) that points beyond itself to its res (reality) who is the, Christ. In other words, Brian and Leighton fail, in regard to their doctrine of Scripture, and thus hermeneutics, because they essentalize Scripture to the point that it ends in their interpretation of it, instead of being understood as the instrument whereby Christians come to encounter the living God in the risen Christ. I see Scripture from an instrumentalist vantage point, as most  Christians have in history, versus, the Leightonian and Brianian approach, that absolutizes Scripture as an epistemological end in itself; and end that has no idea that there is a theological ontology that stands antecedent to Scripture’s reality as a created medium that serves the instrumental purpose of pointing beyond itself and its many interpreters. Essentially, Brian’s and Leighton’s response to me fails, on this front, because, for at least one reason, they have an inadequate doctrine (and no ontology) of Holy Scripture. This is why Brian (and Leighton) seem so perplexed by my point on ‘from Jesus.’

Again, I would caution folks who are looking to Leighton and company for a healthy theological education. They, in my view, have not done enough homework, particularly in the area of Christian ideas, and the development of Reformed theology in particular, to be of any service to the would-be learner. I know this sounds harsh: but it is my considered opinion after listening to Leighton for about a year and a half now. My reason for saying this about Leighton should be illustrated by the themes I touched upon throughout this post. If someone wants to marginalize the history of Christian ideas, the history of theological grammar, and displace that with their reconstruction of the Christian faith, without engagement with the conciliar faith of historic Christian reality, then you know you are in a hazardous harbor. That’s what I think we get with the ministry of Leighton Flowers. Is he a nice guy? Clearly. Does this necessarily make him a trustworthy guide into the realm of theological and biblical studies? Nein.

 

A Rant on Leighton Flowers’ Rationalist Attempt at Theologizing: And a Correction by Thomas Torrance’s Stratified Knowledge of God

Faustus Socinus

As I drive home from work I continue to listen to this guy, Leighton Flowers; I’m not sure why—I must be something of a theological rubberneck. He continues to push his soteriological framework which he calls: Provisionism. I’d simply call it Calminianism; the lowchurch, baptistic attempt to draw strands from what they take to be fulgent from both Five Point Calvinism and Arminianism. What he is communicating is not something evangelicals like me haven’t grown up with their whole lives; we have! The problem I have with Leighton, ultimately, is that he is teaching young minds how to be rationalist in their approach to Scripture and theology. He appeals to a solo Scriptura mode, denouncing theological exegesis every chance he gets. He thinks, through a series of anecdotes, based in pure rationalism, rather than theological theology, that he has put classical Calvinism to death. I’m all for placing classical Calvinism in its proper place; I think classical Calvinism represents a mode of theological development that ought to be ultimately repudiated; but at the same time it did, in its time, under the material available, forward a theological grammar that can be helpful for the rest of Christendom to glean from and deploy in its attempt to come to the unity of the Faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Unfortunately, Flowers, as I noted, does his thinking from a Lockean-like universe wherein rationality, his, is of a premium; and he fails to recognize that Christian theology, that is genuinely Christian, does it thinking from confessional norms grounded and conditioned in and by the triune life of the living God. In other words, Flowers would be well-advised, and anyone who attempts to do ‘theology’ like him, to do their thinking from the homoousial reality of God’s consubstantial life with us in the Theanthropos, Godman, Jesus Christ. Thomas Torrance offers a better way for Flowers to think, it is what TFT identifies as a ‘stratified knowledge of God.’ Ben Myers offers a helpful and precise sketch of what this entails for Torrance:

Thomas F. Torrance’s model of the stratification of knowledge is one of his most striking and original contributions to theological method. Torrance’s model offers an account of the way formal theological knowledge emerges from our intutive and pre-conceptual grasp of God’s reality as it is manifest in Jesus Christ. It presents a vision of theological progression, in which our knowledge moves towards an ever more refined and more unified conceptualisation of the reality of God, while remaining closely coordinated with the concrete level of personal and experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ. According to this model, our thought rises to higher levels of theological conceptualisation only as we penetrate more deeply into the reality of Jesus Christ. From the ground level of personal experience to the highest level of theological reflection, Jesus Christ thus remains central. Through a sustained concentration on him and on his homoousial union with God, we are able to achieve a formal account of the underlying trinitarian relations immanent in God’s own eternal being, which constitute the ultimate grammar of all theological discourse.[1]

If Flowers were to follow this method of theological reflection he could avoid his rationalist approach to all things ‘theological.’ I keep putting theological in quotes, when referring to Flowers, because I don’t take what he is doing to be actual Christian theology. In order for Christian theology to be genuinely Christian it must be principially and intensively grounded in and from Jesus Christ who is the evangel of God for us. As Torrance rightly understood the Gospel isn’t a concept, but a person; and the Christian can only think God’s thoughts, from a center in God, as they do so in participation with God in the mediatorial and vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

Folks like Flowers fail at doing Christian theology precisely at the point that they don’t start in God’s confession that He is for us in Jesus Christ. Flowers fails at doing Christian theology because he fails to recognize that there is such a thing as a theological ontology—God’s triune life—that comes prior to a genuinely Christian theological epistemology; i.e. there is an order of being that is antecedent to a prior of knowing. To realize this allows the Christian to start their thinking in what Anselm famously identified as fides quarens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). Note the emphasis on faith. A proper conception of Christian faith cannot start its thinking, but from the ‘faith of Christ’ (pistis Christou). As Calvin realized, biblically speaking, faith is knowledge of God. And according to Scripture Jesus is God’s knowledge, God’s wisdom, God’s Self-exgesis for us (cf. Jn 1.18; I Cor 1.30). It is as we are in union with Christ (unio cum Christo), that real knowledge of the triune God can obtain; outwith this union, and the realization that this is the only place wherein genuine knowledge of the living God is realized, all one can do is what Flowers does—i.e. turn-to-the-subject, and rationalize an ostensible theological framework that has its grounding in an abstract conception of humanity that is mondic-like in its day to day existence (in other words, it starts with itself and thinks its way towards God from its own inherent intellectual and spiritual resources—God-given as Flowers is wont to emphasize).

Flowers can signify a multitude of various theological traditions out there; ones that equally claim to engage in Christian theology, when in fact all they are doing are self-projecting themselves onto what they perceive to be the God of the Bible. <rant over>

[1] Benjamin Myers, “The Stratification of knowledge in the thought of T. F. Torrance,” SJT 61 (1): 1-15 (2008).