Does Theology Perfect Philosophy? Barth’s Nein / Przywara’s Ja

Kenneth Oakes’ book Karl Barth on Philosophy and Theology, which I reviewed a few years ago for the blog, presses the same point that Keith Johnson does in his book Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis. The point is the way Barth sees the relationship between philosophy and theology; he doesn’t, not in the way that post-mediaeval classical theism does in its effort to synthesize so-called faith-and-reason. This is one of the primary factors that has drawn me to Barth over the years. His prolegomenon is conditioned solely by what he considers to be both the formal and material principle of a genuinely Christian theology: i.e. submission to God’s Word. The way he does that is different, of course, than the way someone like Catholic Thomas Aquinas submits to divine revelation, and/or the way that scholastic Reformed theologians do that in the Post Reformation Orthodox period of Protestant development. Again, this point cannot be overstated in regard to the work I have been doing for the last many decades; indeed, my work has been driven by this sort of kataphysical, as TF Torrance would identify it, mode of theological development. That is, I see a need, along with Barth et al., to be slavishly submitted to the reality of Holy Scripture’s object in Jesus Christ. Not just in a cursory way, or as Richard Muller might say it, an “extensive way,” but in a principial or “intensive” way, such that Jesus Christ is understood as the warp and woof of every dot and iota within Holy Scripture. To see Jesus as the regnant telos of the heilsgeschichte found in the deposit of Apostolic (depositus per Apostolicum) witness entailed by its canonical reality.

Johnson helps the reader understand Barth’s mindset as he engaged with the analogia entis (analogy of being1) articulated by his theological nemesis (but friend), Erich Przywara. Here it becomes clearer in just what way Barth thought the relationship of the philosopher to the theologian, and how that, at its very principled base, contradicts the way Przwyara understood the analogia entis as that was conditioned by his ecclesioncentric mode of thinking as a Catholic theologian. Johnson writes,

That Przywara was on Barth’s mind is apparent in the first lecture as Barth explains the title and his objective for the talk. The title, Barth explained, refers to the ‘two boundaries of human thought’, realism and idealism, which form the ‘basic problem of all philosophy’. Barth’s goal is to use those “boundaries’ as the framework from which to ask questions about the proper relationship between philosophy and theology. To flesh out his reason for taking up this task, he draws an analogy between the relationship between theology and philosophy and that of the church and the state. Just as ‘the church finds itself in the framework of the state but does not exist in competition with it . . . so theology understands itself as (the) fundamental reflection about human existence as discussed within the framework of philosophy’. Theology is a human enterprise, and as such, is uses the same tools of language, concepts, and categories that philosophers use in their own attempts to describe the human situation. This correspondence leads to a temptation, Barth says, because while the theologian can speak about the human situation only in the ‘crabbed, constricted, and paradoxical way’ forced upon it by its adherence to divine revelation, the philosopher ‘is in a position to say it all so much better, more freely, more universally’. This situation places the theologian ‘under the insufferable pressure of a situation where [he] can speak only humanly and where this occurs so much better in philosophy’. Hence, just as the church must deal with the temptation of trying either to become the state or be absorbed into it, theology must deal with the temptation of trying either to become philosophy or be absorbed into it. The fact that the shift from theology to philosophy occurs by only a ‘few small shifts in accent’ or a ‘few minor adjustments’ makes it all the more dangerous. Theology can avoid these dangers, Barth says, only if it realizes its true task: adhering to God’s Word. He will develop what this means in more specificity as the lecture progresses, but at this point, he simply means that theology proper is that which ‘thinks and speaks not about those boundaries of human thought, but with all possible objectivity about God’.

The fact that Przywara’s project centers upon the relationship between philosophy and theology — and their point of connection in the analogia entis —is working in the background of Barth’s thoughts here, and the way that he frames this relationship points to a key difference he recognizes between Przywara’s project and his own. As we have seen, Przywara’s account of the analogia entis is built upon the notion that philosophical thought about God failed to recognize the proper relationship between the boundaries of divine immanence and transcendence and thus failed to arrive at any true knowledge of God. The analogia entis is then posited as the alternative that resolves the false dichotomy left by philosophy, since it maintains the proper ‘tension’ between immanence and transcendence. This argument stands directly in line with the Catholic dictum that Przywara cited in Barth’s seminar: ‘revelation does not destroy but supports and perfects reason’. That is, Przywara describes the problem of philosophy, which works form reason, and then proffers the analogia entis, which was derived from divine revelation in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church, as the solution to that problem. Revelation, in short, works in concert with reason because the two are engaged in the same basic task, and revelation ‘fulfils and perfects’ reason because the Catholic analogia entis accomplishes, on the philosopher’s own terms, what the philosophers themselves could not.2

What must be born in mind is that Barth was a dedicated Protestant theologian, whereas Przywara was, of course, Roman Catholic. What’s at stake in this tussle, as often is the case, is really an anthropological point. Przywara would have been committed to the Thomist Intellectualist anthropology wherein the intellect remained morally solvent, even after the fall. Thus, the noetic effects of sin weren’t as death-dealing for Przywara as they were for Barth. As such, Przywara could and did imagine a world wherein human beings could still think after God even without the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit; that there was still a ‘spark,’ as it were, of the imago Dei operative that simply needed to be ‘restored’ or ‘perfected’ by revelation. For Barth, not only as a Protestant, but a Reformed theologian, this premise does not work. For Barth, as for any principled Protestant Christian, the noetic effects of the fall were so deep and sweeping that humanity itself, in its ruptured status from God, who is the ground and being of all human being, was plunged into an Athanasian ‘subhumanity’; since humanity, according to Scripture is only humanity when it is in right and reconciled relationship with God. Because of this rupture the only hope for a knowledge of God to obtain was if God unilaterally irrupted into humanity, re-create it in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, and give humanity the capacity to rightly think God as God thought Godself for humanity in the risen humanity of Jesus Christ, as humanity is brought into an actualized union with Christ (unio cum Christo) by the Spirit.

The really crazy thing in this story is that the Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries, namely, the Post Reformed orthodox, took up the anthropology that ended up informing Przywara’s own Catholic anthropology. As such, what has come to be known as historic Protestant Reformed theology, by and large, is really nothing different, in anthropological-principle, than what we find in the analogia entis way of someone like Przywara. I personally know people, Reformed guys, who will argue with me all day about the value and need of some form of the analogia entis. These guys (and gals) are in the process of retrieving the ideational seeds that gave rise to both Thomas Aquinas’ and Erich Przywara’s analogia entis, respectively, as if this is the Protestant way. And so, in my view, they sadly betray the very Protestant principle (the Scripture Principle, and the attendant anthropology with that as far as the extent of the noetic effects of the fall etc.) they say they are intent on retrieving. They ironically operate like Catholic thinkers rather than genuinely Protestant ones as we see in Barth. Przwyara was an intellectualist, just as his counterparts in scholasticism Reformed are, that’s what this is all about in our current theological cultural moment of recovery. But these recoverers don’t understand the sources of their own religion; they don’t understand how they are really just Catholics in Protestant dress.

I digressed, somewhat. But maybe the digression will help the reader see how all of these types of things are related in the end. Maybe the reader will see why I still feel compelled to alert people to what is going on in regard to current theological developments. At the end of the day this isn’t simply a matter of arid academic complexity, ideas have real life consequences that impact real life Christian spirituality.

 

1 Johnson cites Przywara’s basic definition of what he means by analogia entis:

By virtue of the objective and actual ‘God over us and God in us’ of the analogia entis, all aspiration after God, and all experience of God which solves its riddles, is the dynamic and contemplative consciousness of Being described by Paul in the words, ‘He created the human race . . . if haply they might feel after God and find him, though He be not far from every one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17.26-28). Thus all movements towards God, all illumination by God of the human experience which seeks to enlighten itself, presupposes a tranquil condition of ‘God in me and I in God’, because precisely by reason of the nature of the analogia entis, the relationship between God and man is not a function of man’s activity, but of God’s condescension. (Przywara, Religionphilosophie, p. 410)

See, Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis (New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 78.

2 Ibid., 94-5.

 

“Christian Theology” as an Insecurity

The thought occurred to me last night that much of the theological developments over the last many centuries, particularly during and post-mediaeval times stem from personal insecurities. Ludwig Feuerbach famously made the observation that ‘theology is anthropology,’ that it is the self’s projection of its self-perceived notion of virtuousness and greatness. Here’s an anonymous description taken from an anonymous source: “Feuerbach claimed that our conceptions of “god” are always just projections of our own values. God fulfills our need to objectify our virtues, and embodies our values. Thus the essence of religion is human nature, and our Gods tell us about ourselves…”theology as anthropology”. Barth, took Feuerbach’s critique to heart, and I think he was right to do so. And this is probably what prompted my seemingly random thinking about the basis of theological motivation and development stemming from personal insecurities (of the theologians et al). Take this as my psycho-theological analysis.

Human interactions, inter-personal dynamics in societas writ large, outwith the Holy Spirit’s intervening and re-creating work moment by moment, can only be based upon a person’s insecurity coram Deo. People, by theo-biblical definition are born into a functionally abstract relationship towards God; God, the living ground and inner-reality of all humanity, and all other existences. If humanity, apart from subjective entrance into the new creation of God in Christ, are fragmented, abstract shadows vis-a-vis God, they will necessarily operate in daily life from a place of insecurity; this will implicate all endeavors, including theological developments. Someone might say, yeah, but Bobby, most people who do Christian theology do so from an intentional mode of being pro-fessionally Christian, and so would not suffer from this sort of abstract standing before God. I would respond: the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians exhorts the church there, particularly in chapters 1—4, to stop operating with and from the wisdom of the world; to cease operating as if the wisdom of the cross is foolish and weak. He was chiding self-professing Christians, genuine Christians even, to stop thinking from the wisdom-systems they had been inculcated into by fleshy birth. He challenged them to be theologians of the cross, rather than being theologians of glory as that was signified by their adoption of the sophia present in the world writ large; a wisdom built upon the self-projection of an insecure and un-enlivened humanity. In other words, it is highly possible, even probable, for Christians even, to fall prey to wisdom-systems, intellectual-centers that are ultimately at odds with the revealed and apocalyptic reality of the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ. These systems, when adopted and synthesized by Christians, end up distorting, at best, the way the Christian views and thus presents and proclaims God to themselves, and thus to others.

For my money, the aforementioned type of theology—the type based in insecurity and wisdom-systems of this world—is what we get when we adopt what historically has been identified as the via negativa or negative way of doing theology. We see this way most prominently demonstrated in the theology of someone like Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas famously synthesized Aristotle’s metaphysics into his Christian theology, thus producing a theology focused on a God known by a discursive speculative reasoning process from effect to cause within a tightly bound cause-effect chain-of-being hierarchy from below to above. I take this theological methodology, as it is principially formed by adoption of pagan philosophy, to be based in a human insecurity before the triune and living God. As such it suffers from a necessarily faulty starting point in regard to providing capacity to rightly think God. Even so, it has become so accreted in the Church’s Great Tradition, it has become so elevated as the pinnacle of the ‘orthodox’ way, that to point out what should be a simple biblical truth, tends to make the one pointing this out to be considered potentially heretical, at best, heterodox. This is usually how the insecure operate though, so such labeling would be consonant with their mode of function as the so-called orthodox.

On a Knowledge of God: How I’m Genuinely Protestant and the Scholastics Reformed and Lutheran Aren’t!

Knowledge of God, in my mind, remains the obvious cornerstone for all theological endeavor. If theology is the study of God, as an idios of Christian reflection and Christian existence, then how one presumes, or theorizes a knowledge of God (how that obtains) becomes the very fundamentum, the pre-dogmatic grundaxiom (a denotative non-Rahnerian sense) of all subsequent theological discourse. For our Volume 1 Evangelical Calvinism book my personal chapter was on this very locus: viz. analogia entis analogia fidei/relationis. That was back in 2012. I still cannot get over the gravity of this issue, one that most Christians, theologians included, glide right past. Whether it be Calvin’s duplex cognitio Dei (twofold knowledge of God), Luther’s theologia crucis (theology of the cross), Barth’s analogia fidei/relationis (analogy of faith/relation), TF Torrance’s kataphysin (according to the nature of) stratified knowledge of God, or Aquinas’ and Przywara’s analogia entis (analogy of being), respectively, among other theories of knowledge of God, all of these illustrate the significance, and even disparity, of how various theologians, and theological traditions have attempted to, and continue to think God. 

Γνωρίζω γὰρ ὑμῖν, ἀδελφοί, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τὸ εὐαγγελισθὲν ὑπ’ ἐμοῦ ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν κατὰ ἄνθρωπον: οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐγὼ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου παρέλαβον αὐτό, οὔτε ἐδιδάχθην, ἀλλὰ δι’ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Galatians 1:11-12 

For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Galatians 1:11-12 

The way the Apostle Paul received knowledge of God, the Gospel, was not by a discursive route of reasoning towards an actus purus (pure being) God, which is what we get in the so-called analogia entis. For Paul, knowledge of God came to him ‘apocalyptically,’ that is, it came to him as in-breaking/imposing unilateral revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This way of knowledge of God is not unique to Paul’s experience, it is the ‘way’ that shapes all of canonical Scripture. The God of the Bible just shows up without explanation. He doesn’t show up in the philosopher’s mind as a result of logico-deductive postulation, on the philosopher’s part. He doesn’t show up as a philosophical monad, or an Unmoved Mover who is actually infinite. He shows up as a personal God, who Self-reveals and explicates on His terms.  

The classical theistic theologians, who I take to be philosophers of religion rather than Christian theologians, would attempt to characterize the ‘way’ of God’s in-breaking into the world, and the knowledge of God that obtains therefrom in Jesus Christ, as a quaint type of what they identify as theistic personalism. They would, petitio principii, presume that the burden is on anyone who would attempt to think God along the lines of the narrative of canonical Scripture, rather than think God from their self-asserted notion of God as that has taken shape in the antique of the Church’s tradition. Interestingly, I am referring not to Catholic theologians, in the main, but to self-professing Protestant theologians; theologians who claim to be adherent to the ‘Scripture Principle.’ But when it comes to the very ground and grammar for thinking God, they don’t follow the contours of Holy Scripture’s attestation to the way of God, in a God-world relation, vis-à-vis a knowledge of God, instead they think along with Thomas Aquinas and the so-called Great Tradition of the Church. There is nothing meaningfully Protestant about the way most so-called Reformed, and anyone recovering the scholastic methodology of theologizing (whether they be Lutheran or whomever), go about thinking God; it is simply a brute appeal to the Great Trad. In my view, this makes the current “Protestant” recovery movement of “classical theism” (after Aquinas, so a neo-Thomism) what we might call a Gnesio-Catholicism. In other words, I don’t see so-called Reformed Catholics as Protestant, I see them, in theological mode, particularly in regard to its theory of a knowledge of God, as what they seemingly would take to be an ‘authentic Catholic.’ This seems to be built into the Reformed Catholic mode; that is, as a logical conclusion to the Protestant Reformation. A return to the scholasticism of late mediaeval Catholicism, methodologically, while presuming to have achieved reformational status in regard to working and thinking from a self-asserted “biblicism” (‘Scripture Principle’), and its attendant Federal theological themes.  

My approach, contrariwise to the aforementioned Gnesio-Catholics, that is to thinking God, might be characterized as a nuda Scriptura or solo Scriptura rather than Reformed sola Scriptura commitment. But of course, again, this is all relative. Since my approach, in regard to a knowledge of God, as that is focused on some form of an analogia fidei/relationis, remains a constructively Dogmatic ensemble. So, I’m not a Reformed Baptist, or non-Calvinist, as that flutters around in the popular domain, in regard to their type of quasi-Socinian solo Scriptura mode as that is funded by post-Enlightenment rationalist categories. My approach, I take it, is genuinely Protestant, insofar that I think from within the ‘mind of the Church,’ as long as that is understood as oriented by the reality of canonical Scripture as that attests to its gravitas, its res ‘reality’ in Jesus Christ. I take this to be Protestant in the sense that my theory of authority is no longer based on ecclesiastical pronouncements, but instead it is grounded in the Holy of Scripture, it is grounded in the fact of Deus dixit, ‘God has spoken,’ and continues to speak. This is the Protestant way, and the spirit of the ‘Scripture Principle.’ It is the notion that the viva vox Dei (living voice of God) is present in the context of His life and history for the world as that is given afresh anew in His continuous Self-revelation for the world, with particular focus on the Church, through the Christian’s encounter of Him as the communio sanctorum fellowships with Him around and within the confines of Holy Scripture. This is how the Apostle Paul, not to mention Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, the Prophets so on and so forth came to know God. It was as He established and brought them into His Covenant Life of Grace, as mediated afresh anew through the lightning bolt of the immediate mediation of Jesus Christ. This is the Protestant Scripture Principle in action, and actualism (I’m not shy).  

Just some more of my running thoughts, and where I currently stand as a genuinely Protestant Christian.  

Avoiding the Philosopher’s Sandbox: A Word to Budding Theologians

Something I have come to realize over time is that the theological rubik’s-cube will never be solved. In my young theological zeal, in my overzealous idealism, I had the vision that the theologian, not to mention the Greek grammarian, could pierce the heavens and find things never known before; that they could, with all their learnedness, put an end to various theological debates that heretofore had yet to be conquered. As I’ve done due-diligence over the decades I’ve come to realize that these professional theologians are but dust, like me. After spending hours and hours in study, I’ve come to see that the theologian often is simply shuffling various theological loci around per their own unique and imaginative ways of ordering them; and this in itself counts as their respective genius. In nuce, what I’ve come to realize is that most theologians don’t offer anything original to some sort of burgeoning theological discourse. This is somewhat disheartening, to say the least. 

All this does is press me into further Christ concentration. I don’t abandon the theological task. Instead, I look for theologians who have a laser-focus on the man from Nazareth. Most other theology, the theology of the schoolmen, what I am primarily referring to above, is a dead-end. It starts and ends in the theologian’s imagination, and from the philosopher’s sandbox. This is helpful for me in certain ways, it delimits the types of theologies and theologians I’ll spend my time reading. But coming to this realization has been a process. I still see budding theologians with the sort of zeal I started out with. Hopefully the game won’t chew them up and spit them out. Hopefully they won’t find their identity in their CVs, and the chummy-ness they come to experience at the national theological conferences. Hopefully they’ll be quick to the draw, and simply press into the economy of the Kingdom, rather than the institution of the theologians.  

A Talking-Theology Rather Than A Thinking-Theology

Photo credit, Mikhail Shankov circa. 1995

I am a proponent of what we have called Dialogical Theology. This form of theology is given its most pointed development, as far as I’m aware, by Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance. There are different aspects of this type of theology, but the primary point of interest for me, at least in this post, has to do with the conversational nature of theology. For Athanasian Reformed types doing theology as if God has spoken (Deus dixit), and continues to speak with us, is the basis for all subsequent theologizing. We are not theologians of an artifact; we are not archeologists seeking relics to serve as means of grace between us and God; we are theologians first and foremost because we have come to personally know the living and triune God as we have been confronted by Him, and continue to be, afresh and anew, through the voice of the living Christ.

Contrariwise, my sense with much that passes as Christian theology these days doesn’t start with this dialog between the theologian and the LORD in the way I have been describing. This stems, I’d argue, from a theological methodology at odds with the biblical way of engaging and/or encountering God in Christ therein. That is, classical theology tends towards starting with God as object rather than subject; to think What God is rather than Who He has personally revealed Himself to be by the Spirit in Jesus Christ. As such, classical theology, or neo-classical theism, because of its awry taxis vis-à-vis God, starts with their thoughts about God, and bring those to the God revealed in Christ. Once they synthesize their thoughts, or that of the god of the philosophers, with the God revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in Jesus Christ, they feel that they have established a solid foundation from whence the conversation between them and God can get started. This is not the way of the Man from Nazareth.

Jesus, the Son of Man, didn’t approach God through the god of the philosophers prior to starting discussion with His Father. He simply worshipped, praised, lamented, petitioned, and con-versated with the Father, by the Spirit, from the get-go. This is the model of dialogical theology. It is one that starts from within the center of God for us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. The dialog is an evangel-shaped discussion that starts from the within the mysterium Trinitatis, as that is given for us in God’s Self-revelation in the Logos ensarkos, Jesus Christ. This is the condition, the basis of dialogical theology; it is the simple, but profound notion that we have an immediate audience with the triune God through the torn veil, the broken body of Jesus Christ. It starts from the premise that we are co-heirs with Christ, adopted sons and daughters of the living God, and that God is thus our Father. As such, dialogical theology is a talking-theology, it isn’t a “thinking” theology, per se. That is, it isn’t the theology of the schoolmen, but instead the theology of the paideia, the children of the living God.

The above might sound ‘more-pious-than-thou.’ But that isn’t my fault, I am simply pointing out that the theology of neo-classists is not the theological way revealed in Jesus Christ. Dialogical theology is a theology of immediacy before God as that is supplied for through the mediatorial humanity of Jesus Christ. Neo-classical theology, or the speculative way, is a theology of mediacy that comes through abstract human speculation about God, which then becomes the self-proclaimed holy ground upon which the theologian must think God; and at some point, gets around to talking with God. Some might call what I’m referring to as neo-classical theology, as foundationalism, if we were having a discussion about postmodernity; but we aren’t. My suggestion to all, as Christians, those would-be theologians: just start talking to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and authoritatively borne witness to in Holy Scripture. In this discussion, the theologian will be transformed from glory to glory, able to behold the Glory of the living God with that much greater clarity and intimacy. Soli Deo Gloria 

 

 

On a Knowledge of God: Natural Theology and its Antichrist Nature

I wrote the following three years ago. This locus remains my primary point of theological interest. That is, how the Christian claims to know God, under what pressures, has the greatest theological, political, sociological, and ethical implications we could fathom. As you will see, beyond the programmatic entailments engaged with in the following, natural theology, and adherence to it, has clear and present impact on the daily lives of real-life people; whether personally or collectively (as a society). If it is maintained that God and His ways can be known in an abstract ground latent in human reason, consciousness, or brute nature itself, then this will frame the way the Christians under this specter develop their respective ethics and politics; indeed, in light of their ostensible theological soundings. This is why, for Barth, this was all so pressing; particularly as he inhabited the range of two World Wars. In the Reich context it was evident for all to see how a form of natural theology could be deployed for the evilest of ends. In my view, there is no way to massage natural theology into a form that magnifies the name of Jesus Christ. Thus, along with Barth, I believe that the analogia entis (as a subset of natural theology) is Antichrist! We can see how so-called Christian leaders today are equally committed to natural theology, and how that is allowing them to capitulate to the global politics of the day; particularly as that is focused on the politicization of the “health crisis,” so-called “climate change,” and the deployment of critical race theory. All of these things fall under the rubric of natural theology. Confidence in the natural human capacities leads people to the conclusion that we have the powers to manipulate “naked” ideas, or brute natural forces, just the same, to our own beneficial ends. All we end up doing under this sort of posture, though, in my view, is to take by force what alone belongs to God; who alone searches the hearts and minds of all humanity.  

With the aforementioned, we now turn to the body of this post.  

How do we know God? There are traditions for answering that very question; I follow a particular tradition in contrast to another prominent tradition. This post will explore this question by providing some lengthy description of its unfolding in 20th century modern theology. We will read along with David Congdon, at length, as he describes Karl Barth’s relationship to the analogia entis tradition, and the alternative that is situated in Barth’s dialectical theology. After we have read along with Congdon we will bring what Congdon has surfaced for us in Barth’s theology into a brief discussion on a doctrine of creation in general. I recognize that I write about this issue frequently and often here at the blog, and this should alert you to the importance I see in it. 

In the process of developing Barth’s (and Bultmann’s) style of dialectical theology Congdon breaks off in a section and gets into the issue of knowledge of God vis-à-vis the infamous analogy of being; most commonly associated, in medieval theology, with Thomas Aquinas, and in modern theology with Roman Catholic theologian, Erich Przywara. The version of analogia entis that Barth is most animated by is the version of his German theological counterpart, Przywara. Barth’s reasons for being so animated are indeed contextual to the Third Reich milieu he was situated within, and the way that the Volk (national) church deployed things like the analogy of being, and natural theology in general, towards their evil ends. Some want to relativize or marginalize Barth’s animus towards the analogy of being by arguing that that was only a consequent and development per his idiosyncratic situatedness. Thus the marginalization goes, Barth’s stance against the analogy of being may have served his purposes towards an attempt at assassinating the Nazi conflation of church and state, but for our current purposes, theologically, such animus would be misdirected. But what this critique fails to appreciate is that the forces Barth was contesting are the dark forces and principalities and powers that have always already been present in this space-time continuum. In other words, there is nothing idiosyncratic about Barth’s stance against the analogy of being or natural theology in general that aren’t just as prescient and present in the 21st century—look around, we are currently in a corporatist oligarchic globalist state wherein the principalities and powers are just as heavy upon us (in their own expressions) as they were in the Deutschland of Barth and the Confessing Church of Bonhoeffer. 

In the following David Congdon helps elucidate what in fact this whole debate is about; in particular in Barth’s contest with Przywara (and then by application to the German civilization and Emil Brunner). You will also see the way Condgon, per his thesis, ties this particular debate into a theology of mission (which ties into colonialism and nationalism). We will leave that particular discussion to the side (i.e. mission) to focus on Barth’s problem with the analogia. Congdon writes (in extenso): 

The year 1932 marks the climax of the confrontation between Barth and Erich Przywara. Three years earlier, in February 1929, Barth invited Przywara to Münster to participate in his seminar on Thomas Aquinas. In December 1931, Przywara visited Barth again in his seminar on “The Problem of Natural Theology” while at Bonn. These debates, together with Przywara’s request in April 1932 that Barth review his book, Analogia Entis, and the rising political unease in Germany, resulted in Barth’s famous statement in the preface to KD 1.1 that the analogia entis is “the  invention of the anti-Christ.” It was the 1929 meeting that really set the stage for their disagreement, and in particular a comment Przywara made on the morning of February 6. According to the student protocols of the seminary, Przywara began by defending his position regarding the manifestation of God’s revelation in history, including in human consciousness. In his defense he cited the Thomistic axiom “gratia non destruit se supponit et perficit naturam” (grace does not destroy but supports and perfects nature). Przywara understood grace to be both created and uncreated, both native and alien. The justification of the sinner does not annul but rather brings to fulfillment the grace already present in us by virtue of our creaturely participation in the being of God. 

Within weeks after this seminar visit Barth delivered his response to Przywara in the form of his lecture in Dortmund, “Schicksal und Idee in der Theologie.” While Przywara is not mentioned, he is the “silent conversation partner throughout.” This is especially clear when he addresses the Thomistic axiom directly: 

“Gratia non destruit, sed supponti et perficit naturam.” Analogia entis: thus each existing being as such and also we human beings as existing beings participate in the similitudo Dei. The experience of God is for us an inherent possibility and necessity. . . . The word of God does not mean for human beings a confirmation and reassurance of the naïve confidence that the experience of God is, but rather . . . in contrast to the whole range of possible experience it says something new and not merely more strongly and clearly what people could know anyway and even experience elsewhere. Indeed, this is how things always stand between God’s word and human beings, in that it proclaims something new to them and comes to them like light in the darkness. It always comes to them as to sinners, as forgiving and thus as judging grace. . . . Therefore that ability and necessity, that capacity for experiencing God, cannot be understood at any rate as something “natural”—meaning something given with our existence as such or subsequently associated with our existence as such, nor can it be understood by an appeal to a “gratia inhaerens,” by virtue of which the knower and known would simply and in themselves be in the relation to God of the analogia entis. 

Barth explicitly rejects the very axiom to which Przywara appealed to support his position. Grace, Barth says, neither has a basis in nature nor does it become subsequently part of nature. The grace of God is always a judging and forgiving grace, and for this reason it never becomes a “given” (datum) that lies at our disposal. It remains wholly nongiven even in the concrete event of Christ wherein God gives Godself to us. Grace always confronts us as a new event. 

Keith Johnson makes this astute observation that much more is at stake here for Barth than simply the old Protestant-Catholic debate over justification, though that is certainly at the heart of the dispute. What concerns Barth is, in fact, the same colonialist logic of the gospel’s cultural captivity that prompted his dialectical revolt against liberal theology fifteen years earlier. 

The link between humanity and God [Barth] recognized in 1929 followed the pattern he had seen in 1914 when his former teachers enlisted God in support of their own cause by giving their blessing to the war. Barth’s theology, from that moment on, had been driven by his goal of overcoming this mistake. In Przywara’s analogia entis, he discovered a sophisticated version of the same error, and in the Germany of 1932, the political winds were stirring in much the same way they had in 1914. 

Barth’s remark in 1932 about the analogia entis as the “invention of the anti-Christ” is therefore “a direct function of his context. . . . The political turmoil around him had to be on Barth’s mind, and in his view, the church appeared to be complicit in the events that were unfolding.” In other words, the danger in Przywara’s thinking was that he provided a robust theological framework capable of justifying the nationalist propaganda and colonialist endeavors of the German nation. The fact that Przywara’s theology had such a strong internal consistency and grounding in the tradition made if far more dangerous than the liberalism of Barth’s teachers and Protestant contemporaries. It is for this reason that Barth was compelled to sound a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the analogia entis. 

To make matters even more interesting, Przywara developed his account of analogy for missionary reasons. He understood the analogia entis as a “missionary principle” whose purpose is to prompt the church to positively engage German culture as the place where God is presently at work. The analogia entis accomplishes this task because “it attempts to meet the world on its own ground rather than insist that the world move to its ground.” We have to recall that, during these years of conversation with Przywara, Barth was simultaneously engaged in a debate with Brunner regarding the “point of connection” between nature and grace. And like Przywara, Brunner also viewed his account of the Anknüpfungspunkt as a missionary concept. A pattern quickly began to emerge. In each of these three situations—the liberal capitulation in 1914, Przywara’s analogia entis in 1929–32, Brunner’s Anknüpfungspunkt in 1929–35—Barth faced a theological position that claimed mission as its ground and aim, and on the basis of this appeal to mission sought to find a point of connection or continuity between God and humanity. The liberal theologians found it in German civilization, Przywara in human consciousness and experience, Brunner in the faculty of reason. In each case the will and work of God became continuous with what is already given and native to human beings in their creaturely existence, and so in each case Barth rendered a decisive verdict in the form of, respectively, the “No-God” in Der Römerbrief (1922), the “invention of the anti-Christ” in KD 1.1 (1932), and the famous Nein (1934).1 

After this lengthy and enlightening treatment offered by Congdon, I think the primary point of reduction comes to the issue orbiting around a “point of connection” (Anknüpfungspunkt) between God and humanity. As Congdon underscores this has taken various expressions through the centuries, whether that be with Thomas Aquinas, William Paley, Przywara, the German nation (of the third reich), or Brunner; it is the issue of ‘the point of contact’ between God and humanity that is significant. It is significant, particularly in Barth’s context, because of the ethical and theopolitical implications this locus entails. 

If God can be thought from nature (or natural capacity), if the boundaries between God and humanity, God and the nations can be forcefully brought together by identifying an inherent capacity with nature itself that is gestationally waiting for God to activate and give it birth, then who’s to regulate this sort of grounding between God and humanity; the theologians, the politicians? Barth says Nein. He seeks to take away this seduction for the ‘natural’ human heart, and place the ground for “the point of connection” within the life of Godself in the hypostatic union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ. This is why the type of analogical knowledge of God that Barth supports is grounded in what he calls an analogia fidei/relationis (analogy of faith-relation). Barth recognizes the role that analogy plays in the correspondence of our knowledge of God with God’s knowledge of Godself; but again, even as Barth recognizes the ‘infinite qualitative difference’ between God and humanity, and precisely because of that, the shape of analogy he can support is one where it is objectively grounded not in a faceless apophatic God, but only in and from a center in himself that is for us in Jesus Christ. For Barth, within the Calvinian frame, faith is knowledge of God, and faith itself is the bond that God alone in the humanity of Christ has in se but for us as he transcends the ditch between himself and us within a creational nexus wherein all of creation has always already been attenuated and teleologized by Christ who is the Supreme and Firstborn of and for Creation. 

I said at the beginning of my post that I was going to also get into a doctrine of creation. At the close of my paragraph above I start to hint at that discussion, but because of the length of this post I am going to close it now. I hope you can at least appreciate what is at issue in this discussion as a result of reading this post. Indeed, Barth had a context, but so has all of theological development; even so called catholic or ecumenical developments. The contextual and conditioned nature of theological development doesn’t negate its global availability or reduce its force to the period or circumstances of its locational unfolding; instead, the merit and weight of various theological developments, such as Barth’s anti-natural theological / anti-analogia entis posture, are weighed strictly by their proximate value in bearing witness to the res (the reality) and power of God’s Gospel who is Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll consider that if you are prone to writing Barth’s position off simply because Barth wrote his theology in the context and shadow of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. Just maybe Barth’s theology, even though his heretic was partly German nationalism instead of Arius, has angel’s wings under it; in such a way that it might be a ministering spirit to the thirsty souls adrift in the 21st century evangelical theological wasteland (and I’m referring to the lacuna of Christian Dogmatics for the evangelical world). 

 

 1 David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 292-95.

Barth’s Theology of the Cross isn’t PostMetaphysical, it is Biblical

Knowledge of God is not an escape into the safe heights of pure ideas, but an entry into the need of the present world, sharing in its suffering, its activity and its hope. — Karl Barth quoted in Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts, 100.1

Barth’s theologia crucis, his theology of the cross. It isn’t that this is postmetaphysical, it’s that it’s biblical. The biblical theological theology presents God as God presents Himself in the skin and bone of the Son of Man. There isn’t another version of God waiting in the ‘heights,’ one accessed by the philosopher. The only version of God that a genuinely Christian theological theology has access to is the one that it is confronted with in the face of Jesus Christ.

It’s funny to me how many contemporary theologians, often times youngish, want to frame things as if their retrieval of classical theology just is the theological way. They want to merge this type of classical theology with the teachings of canonical Scripture; as if the ‘heights’ they have pierced, through the philosophers, is commensurate with the disclosure of Holy Scripture. Barth knows how vain this approach is all too well; we would do well to follow him in his rejection of speculative theologizing, of the sort that is said to be the Great Tradition or of the consensus fidelium. If we are not to go beyond what’s written, we must stick slavishly to what is revealed, and fixate on that as it is born witness to in [Holy] Scripture.

 

1 Cited by, Center for Barth Studies, accessed 10-20-2021.

Friedrich Schleiermacher is Still On Ice Pro Me

There is a movement among some theologians to retrieve and even recast Friedrich Schleiermacher in a positive and constructive way. I had some vigorous correspondence with a younger Schleiermacher scholar in years past with reference to this very event (of recuperating FS). I’ve had time to reflect further on this; and part of that reflection has been by reading through FS’s Christian Faith (I’ve only nearly completed volume one, and haven’t jumped into volume 2 yet). The two primary scholars I have in mind, in regard to this attempt to retrieve FS, are Kevin Hector and James Gordon (the latter is the one I’ve had correspondence with). I’ve read both of their respective essays on this matter, and they make somewhat of an interesting case for this retrieval attempt. But at the end of the day, I’m still with Barth, in regard to Schleiermacher. While Barth understood that it was impossible to ignore FS, at the same time his critique[s] of FS stand.  

For my money, there is no need to appeal to FS, in order to promote a constructive and deep theological offering for the evangelical churches. He is non-starting for a variety of reasons; primary of which is that he is a subordinationist. The scholars I referred to previously attempt to contest this, at some levels, if not by simply asking people to read FS more charitably than that. I have been attempting that sort of reading, but it still hasn’t yielded an FS who I think presents a theologian who ends up being helpful for thinking actual and genuine Christian theology. If there is even a question about what a theologian thinks about the ‘who’ of Jesus Christ, particularly with reference to his deity, then that ambiguity itself disqualifies said theologian (FS, or whomever) from being an important voice in the theological process. At best, I see FS, as maybe a necessary foil for understanding how modern theology has taken shape in the Western world; so, I’d relegate his import to the history of ideas, rather than to constructive Christian Dogmatics.   

Why Are the Theologians So Quiet?: The Speculated God and His Silent Followers

If your doctrine of God isn’t grounded in God revealed in Jesus Christ in cruciform shape, then you most likely have a speculative/philosophical ground for thinking God. This has implications for ethics, and every day praxis. One way I’ve seen this obtaining among many theologians out there, particularly online, is a deafening silence in regard to the upheaval the world is experiencing right now. What good is a theology that by definition has no necessary interface with the world? This is exactly what the many theologies of glory (theologia gloria) are composed by; a monadic, potentially Aristotelian based notion of God, at least an actus purus (pure being) notion of God that reflects a God who sits, untouched by His creation, up in the yonder heavens; maybe just down the block from Thor.

One thing I respected about my decade or more with the Princeton Barthians, among other likeminded, was their verve for seeing things in theopolitical ways. This is primarily because their notion of God is grounded in God concretely Self-revealed in the afterbirth and timber of Jesus Christ. If a theologia crucis (theology of the cross) funds the way you think God; if this is the sophia you think from, ‘the wisdom of the cross,’ then you will necessarily see God as a God who freely interfaces with the world in concrete ways. There will be no speculation about who God might be; there will only be a reliance upon God’s exhaustive Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. This understanding of God is full of flesh, blood, fingernails, and hair; as we come to see Him in the ad extra economy of His mission (missio Dei) in the world. Of course, the sort of politics all of the Princeton Barthians I’m referring to is ultimately based in evil (like neo-Marxism); but my point is I can at least admire their consistency to see God in the world, as God has freely seen Himself for the world in Jesus Christ.

I am only speculating about why so many theologians of the classical theistic ilk never seem to chime in on what’s going on in the world currently. There is always a correlation though between the way we think God, the way we know God, and the way we “activist” in the world or not. If your God is a Greek God, at base, then you will act like a philosopher. If your God is a Hebrew God, you will act like a theological activist. The next question will be: from whence does the ‘activist’ connive their theopolitical values from; and are we to correlate those (and are they even correlateable) with some political party in whatever country we find ourselves citizens of? I am not seeking to answer that more difficult question in this post. But as a hint: I think we need to be situational and careful in regard to who we ‘sign up’ with when it comes to promoting this or that politician etc. But I think in the end, coram Deo, the theological activist needs to make decisive moves, and take decisive acts when it comes to the sorts of stands, they are going to take. My ultimate criterion is whether or not an action, or word bears witness to Christ or not. I take it that any action or word that bears witness to the truth rather than the false is the way of the theologian of the cross.

There is an interesting irony at play here though: while the theologian of the cross is operating in and from the concrete flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, they are still ‘walking by faith rather than sight.’ The theologian of the cross beholds the things that are invisible, as if they are, and the things visible as if they are not (to paraphrase Martin Luther). In other words, the theologian of the cross lives their life from a physically unseen Kingdom; this is the realm they move and live and have their being from. As such, we are able to operate with a taxis or an order that this world cannot even imagine (and definitely not speculate). This is what we are to bear witness to: the ground and grammar of all reality as that is given in the triune life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When the world sees this type of order and calm in the midst of the storm; when they understand that you are based in another world, the real world; people might be prompted to look where you’re looking. Of all people, theologians of the cross ought to be reflecting a life and reality that this world system could never imagine. Theologians of the cross, as they are participants with Christ, in and from His vicarious life for them, show the world what nail-pierced and wounded-sided life looks like; a life smack dab in the inner-life of the Father and Son in the bond of the Holy Spirit’s fellowshipping love. And so the theologian of the cross must speak of the things they see and hear after Deus dixit (God has spoken). People need to see this world contradicting the evil and malevolent world that is currently ruling and reigning in the hearts and minds of the masses; of the broadway. The world system is grounded in the fear of death; the Kingdom of God in Christ is grounded in the victory of the Life without death—the life of the risen Christ. Solo Christo

 

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