On a Genuinely Christian Theology of History and Apocalyptic Theology

Samuel Adams in his book The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. Wright offers many important insights in regard to ‘apocalyptic theology’ in contradistinction to NT Wright’s ‘worldview’ or what I would call ‘naturalist’ approach to biblical studies and theological reflection. One aspect I want to highlight from Adams’ book (his published PhD dissertation written at the University of St. Andrews) is his point about a theology history (we might also classify this as a theological ontology and its implications for historiographic method and conclusion). What he writes, as the reader will see, doesn’t just contradict Wright’s naturalist approach, but it implicates any historiographical work that appeals to a natural theology in regard to its own historiographical methodology. For my money this implicates the current work being done in the name of ‘theology of retrieval’ by many evangelical Reformed types. I have made this same critique in years past, in regard to the reality of the prior assumptions that so-called ecclesial historians, such as Richard Muller, bring to their work of re-constructing the Protestant history of the 16th and 17th centuries as that developed in what has come to be called Post Reformed orthodoxy. What the reader will see, as Adams so concisely details, is how we all bring informing theological matrices to the task of re-constructing the “recorded” history. As such it is best to be upfront about this, and as a matter of first order importance, be transparent about what particular ‘theology of history’ we are bringing to our historiographical reconstruction. This way we won’t lead our readers to think that we are simply presenting them with the ‘naked facts’ of history. We won’t allow our readers to confuse, potentially, our theological frameworks for the so-called ‘reconstructed’ history, as if the history we are culling comes with its own inherent sacrosanct imprimatur. Adams writes:

From the outset the issue has been the reality of God and the theoretical implications of that reality for the work of historiography—historiography, that is, in the service of theology. A theology of historiography, as I have argued, is not divorced from a theology of history because historiography must assume a narrative, a story, in order to make sense of historical “data.” Bare facts do not exist outside of the complex webs of human interpretation. The stories that make up history are never metaphysically or theologically neutral. Therefore, it is methodologically dishonest not to begin with a theology of history, even if that theology is informed to a large extent by historical events. There is no way out of this circularity, nor should there be. But there is a way into this circularity. This is what is referred to (perhaps ambiguously) as the “apocalyptic event,” the breaking-in from outside that both sets anew the agenda for the story and also maintains at all times a transcendent corrective/critique. This somewhat abstract and theoretical way of speaking of the theology of history is only a conceptualization of the concrete reality of the incarnation and the relationship of the Father’s action in sending the Son, becoming Jesus of Nazareth, living, bearing witness to the kingdom, dying, rising and ascending. This is the reality of God that is given in history but cannot be contained by any one prior telling of history, except to say that the final meaning of all history is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of this same Jesus of Nazareth.[1]

Robert Dale Dawson, as he writes on a doctrine of resurrection in theology of Karl Barth, offers an insight that dovetails nicely with Adams’ point about the analogy of the incarnation as the basis for developing a genuinely Christian theology of history:

A large number of analyses come up short by dwelling upon the historical question, often falsely construing Barth’s inversion of the order of the historical enterprise and the resurrection of Jesus as an aspect of his historical skepticism. For Barth the resurrection of Jesus is not a datum of the sort to be analyzed and understood, by other data, by means of historical critical science. While a real event within the nexus of space and time the resurrection is also the event of the creation of new time and space. Such an event can only be described as an act of God; that is an otherwise impossible event. The event of the resurrection of Jesus is that of the creation of the conditions of the possibility for all other events, and as such it cannot be accounted for in terms considered appropriate for all other events. This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.[2]

Rather than naively assuming that human beings just do have the natural or latent capacity to read history in brute investigative ways, as Adams and Dawson both underscore, respectively, for the Christian telling there is no such natural historiographical capaciousness available. This, in particular, as Adams develops, implicates the type of methodology that NT Wright deploys in his biblical studies mode vis-à-vis Pauline theology; more generally his point, along with Dawson’s, particularly as that relates to the development of Church history, implicates any historiographical work, insofar that that work has prior commitments (those of the historian) informing the re-constructional work of said historian.

The aforementioned tells us at least two things: 1) all interpreters, whether historians or not, bring a priori ideological and ideational commitments to their interpretive work, 2) as Christian interpreters we necessarily work from the new creation of God’s historical life for the world in Jesus Christ. The latter point ought to inflect the prior insofar that Christians, even historian ones, principially, always are bearing witness to the reality of Jesus Christ. If the historian, or interpreter in general, claims to be presupposition-less when approaching their task as a historian, as Muller, and other retrievers of historical theology often claim, or imply, the discerning Christian ought to challenge this with the fact both Adams and Dawson point up, respectively. That is, nobody is a tabula rasa, we are all shaped by some ideation; if we claim to not be, it is this this mode itself, of being naïve to our ideational forces, that becomes the ideological construct that ends up informing our respective tellings of theological history. As such, one consequence, as already mentioned, ends up being that the historian’s prior theological framework becomes conflated with the way they re-construct the history. And when this reconstruction is grounded in a natural theology, as if the Church or Biblical historian is ‘doing theology’ in their historical reconstruction, the historian’s natural theology becomes the very history they are ostensibly reconstructing. But it is this very point that ought to be up for consideration prior to the narrativizing of Holy Scripture’s history, if not the history of the Church and its respective interpretations and dogmatizing.

The final reduction: every interpreter is befuddled by their own ideational sitz im leben. We ought to admit this, and then recognize that God has provided the world with a new history to think “history” from (we could think geschichte and historie at this point) within. That is, the Christian ought to recognize that the ground and grammar of all interpretation, for the Christian, has been provided for and delimited by the God’s new creation as actualized in the resurrection/ascension of Jesus Christ. This is the “ideological” frame the Christian exegete, whether that be of the Bible, Church history, Ethics so on and so forth has been provided with, and is provided with afresh anew, apocalyptically, by the irruptive reality of the Theanthropos, Jesus Christ, who is the reality, the telos and goal, from beginning to end, of all of creation; and thus, all of world history and its developments.

[1] Samuel V. Adams, The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. Wright (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 271.

[2] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 13.

The Personal Kingdom versus the Propositional kingdom: The Spiritual in the Words

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, … -II Corinthians 10:3-5

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. -Colossians 2:8

But I make known to you, 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 it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. -Galatians 1:11-12

Each of the above passages all refer to knowledge of God, respectively. In this vignette of a post, I simply want to register something that I don’t think many a Christian, and definitely not many a nonChristian dwells upon very frequently; viz. that ideas have spiritual backgrounding, they are not merely naked symbols awaiting a purely human input. The way people ostensibly treat ideas, and the words that are used to signify those ideas, you’d think that they are merely feasting on a smorgasbord of utilitarian veggie trays and charcutier bars. But as Scripture rightly points out ideas have concrete consequences; and beyond that, they have antecedent sources, spiritual sources even. This is what I want to alert people to once again: we are in a battle, a spiritual battle, a battle that has been won by the triumphing roar of the Lion of the tribe of Judah; nevertheless, until the last enemy, which is death, is placed under the second Adam’s foot, we inhabit a land pulsated by serpentine ideas given in forked and various expressions all across the landscapes of people’s veritable affections and intellects.

The aforementioned realities are why when I do theology, when I write blog posts, when I walk outside and say hi to my neighbors, I do so fully aware that there is nothing innocent about anything in this world. We are in a raging battle, and the most purportedly dispassionate ideas, the most arcane academic balderdash, the most Stoic of expressions hanging off the philosopher’s beret are chalked full with spiritual ideation. Either an idea correlates with and bears witness to the reality of God in Christ (who is the ground and reality of everything), or it has come to be, instead, from the primordial goo of the satan’s green and stagnate breath of deceit and mischief.

Christian reality finds its genesis in God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ; it is a revealed knowledge enlivened by the breath of God as He hovers over the bosom of the Father for us. It seems, far too often, the theologian, let alone the Sunday Christians, simply presume that we have been naturally outfitted to just know God. As such the procedure comes to be one where the would-be knower of God looks out into the world, with a white slate, simply waiting to discover whatever they can of God by reflecting on His attributes as vestiges hanging in the trees and clouds. But the result of this procedure ends up producing a categorical godness, and a superstructure of ideas, as its consequents, that ends up only having corollary with the would-be knowers’ fertile imagination. It is these discoveries that then become the bases by which purportedly ‘orthodox’ ideas about God, and thus all subsequent theologizing, are developed. The point, either way, is that ideas have a spiritual substructure that most don’t seem to recognize. They simply presume that people are free in themselves to develop ideas from the nudity of their own unimpressed minds.

Rather than getting too deep in the theological weeds, as I noted earlier, I simply wanted to register the fact that ideas are necessarily spiritual. And that said ideas either stem from the Kingdom of the Son of His love, or they do so from the kingdom of darkness. We are involved in a battle, a spiritual battle, at least according to Holy Scripture. We don’t ever take a break from this battle, especially when we are in the business of supposedly developing theological ideas. There is no dispassion or disaffectivity available to the thinker, we are all embroiled in this great flambé of spiritual wane and tribulation. Even so, we live in a world, and from a revelation that has triumphed over the world of dark spiritual realities and ideas, by the personal reality of God in Christ who isn’t simply an idea, but who is a person. Indeed, the kingdom of darkness is disanimated by ‘naked ideas,’ but God’s Kingdom in Christ is invigorated by the personal weight of God’s flesh in the humanity of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of darkness floats and flutters upon the winds of the satan’s propositions, indeed, this was how he tricked himself into Eve’s and Adam’s Edenic world, he propositioned them. God in Christ reverses the proposition by His person, not a proposition. He doesn’t need our permission to, He doesn’t need to trick us with a slithery word, but He simply is and does, and invites us to His banqueting table of ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. -Ephesians 6:12

On Being Child Like, Playful, and Joyous as the Christian’s Life of Theological Existence

All of life is theological, or it should be for the Christian. There isn’t one aspect of life, for me, that isn’t consumed by the love of Christ. And this, I think, is the basis for what ought to count as genuinely theological: viz. a life grounded in the prior reality that God in Christ first loved us that we might love Him. It is out of this constraint that the Christian’s life ought to be compelled to do all that it does and thinks from. Ever since I became a Christian, as a wee lad, I have had this type of ongoing and simple love relationship with the risen Christ in the triune Life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even as things have grown and gotten more “sophisticated” through growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, what has continued to serve as the basis for my ongoing pursuit of Him is indeed this simple ‘child-like’ trust in Christ that has guided my every step every day of my life; and in seasons, particularly in a past season, those steps were only be guarded by Christ’s faithfulness, even as I was faithless (and of course, in moments, I still act in very faithless ways).

But this is what I want to press in this post: Christians need to be saturated in this posture of simple child-like trust and joyfulness in Jesus Christ. Our ways, our theologies (nostra theologia) in this world can often be swayed here and there by the variant circumstances of life; often these circumstances, as we all know too well, can have a sense of death upon them, such that we might become despondent or despair of life altogether. In the face of this it is the simple child-like trust in the living God in Jesus Christ that can sustain us, that can keep things “light” (from His perduring Light) and allow us to push through the most seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Indeed, in the wisdom of the Cross, the wisdom of God, these circumstances, through this sustaining trust relationship with Him, as that is first grounded in Christ’s trust relationship with Him for us in His vicarious humanity, is where the ‘precious gold’ of faith is given an even greater sense of purity, as we live into and from the simplicity of the “child-like” relationship the eternal Son has always already had with the eternal Father by the bonding and fellowshipping work of the eternal Holy Spirit. It is in the wanes and woes, the mundane and pedestrian circumstances of this life that God’s poetry, His rhapsody for us in Jesus Christ is written; this is the theologia crucis (theology of the Cross). Even with the depth gravitas of the matters of life, the matters circumscribed by the ineffable reality of the Incarnation and Atonement of Christ, as that is climaxed in the cross, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and second parousia, there remains this simple child-like joyful trust in our relationships with God; or this is how it ought to be.

As we find renewal, afresh anew, for His mercies are new every morning, this is what brings the Christian existence to elevated levels, such that the whole of our lives become theological; just as sure as the whole of God’s life for us in Christ is theological through and through. It is because we live in and from this Way that the Christian’s life is definitionally and principally theological. It is because the ground and root of our lives, respectively, are given thrust and being in the becoming of God for us in Jesus Christ. The Christian understands that they can do nothing apart from Jesus Christ, as such their lived existence necessitates a theological being that is grounded not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit. And so, when we go to work, to church, to play, to mourn, to dance, so on and so forth the Christian’s life, in an objectivist frame is necessarily theological. But we’ve been called to greater depths than being “objectivist,” we’ve been called to a subjectivist step with the Spirit, which is a full blown participatio Christi (‘participation with Christ’) mode of personal being.

I wanted to register this because I see a lot of Christians failing to recognize these things. 1) We walk with and from a child-like faith, the faith of Christ for us; 2) from this walk we move and breathe in a joyful posture before the living Lord and the world; 3) this walk, because it is full of the joy of the risen Christ, is not burdensome, or something self-fabricated, but a living and breathing reality we have the honor of living into and from as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ; 4) this way is not a performative existence wherein we must strive to generate some euphoric sense of feeling in our lives, but a sober and resident reality that God alone has generated and generates this joy for us by His humanity in Jesus Christ. And so, as we live these lives as Christians we are compelled by the love of Christ. We do what we do because God first loved us that we might love Him. And it is out of His first for us, that we can second all that He has said and done as He first did that for us in the new-humanity of the resurrected and ascended Christ. These things aren’t merely platitudes, or that which hovers above our heads in the yonder, but in fact is the concrete reality of the Christian’s lived and concrete life in this world. But it requires eyes to see and ears to hear if one is going to genuinely ‘experience’ these types of heavenly verities made thisearthly.

All of the aforementioned ought to animate the way we do theology. It ought to invigorate the way that we approach the total Christianus, and the texts that help to cultivate the way of the Christian in the world. Like Barth and Torrance, we ought to see the theological endeavor as the joy of our lives; for indeed, the theological existence is our life in Jesus Christ. I can imagine no other way as a Christian person. I cannot imagine living the Christian life for street-cred, or accolade. I can only imagine living the Christian life as if it is life itself, and in living life this way, as a Christian, it necessarily becomes theological, which is, again, grounded in the simple and child-like joy filled trust of Christ’s faith for us.

Barth’s Christological Novum

Here is Barth talking about event, and how, as Samuel Adams says: “If the event contextualizes us, rather than being contextualized by us, then we can say that it is something new, since its origin is “outside” of us and has the nature of an “event. . . .”:

God’s revelation in its objective reality is the person of Jesus Christ. In establishing this we have not explained revelation, or made it obvious, or brought it into a series of the other objects our knowledge. On the contrary, in establishing this and looking back at it we have described and designate it a mystery, and not only a mystery but the prime mystery. In other words, it becomes the object of our knowledge; it finds a way of becoming the content of our experience and our thought; it gives itself to be apprehended by our contemplation and our categories. But it does that beyond the range of what we regard as possible for our contemplation and perception, beyond the confines of our experience and thought. It comes to us as a Novum which, when it becomes an object for us, we cannot incorporate in the series of our other objects, cannot compare with them, cannot deduce from their context, cannot regard as analogous with them. It comes to us as a datum with no point of connexion with any other previous datum.[1]

This is a profound yet seemingly straightforward point, or it should be! Barth’s point is that God in Christ is indeed the Novum precisely because He is not from us, He is not contingent upon our creaturely modes of signification, but, indeed, He is the living and Triune God who has come near to us (‘nearer to us than we are to ourselves’), and for whom there can be no analogy. For Barth, God is sui generis, or of a classification that God alone maintains singularly. He is the primordial, history de-limiting, and sustaining reality without whom there would be no reality to begin with. And because this is the case, as Barth so eloquently articulates, there is nothing anterior to God, not even, especially not our knowledge of God, and thus of ourselves. The human condition is such, by way of implication, that unless God confronts and contradicts us with who He is, we have no hope of knowing who we are; because we only are precisely as we stand coram Deo before the living God.

If only more Christians could come to know this, and more than that: internalize this reality. People in general, and even malnourished, Christians in particular, are never pushed to think deeply about ‘being.’ As such, they simply operate as if life is their possession. And when God is introduced into this combine, under these false conditions, God becomes a functional possession of the ‘human given.’ This is why I so adamantly oppose so much of the classical prolegomena, or theological methodology. It supposes that human beings, as such, have a givenness, a “possessedness” all their own, as that is ostensibly supplied by God as the Creator waiting to be ‘discovered’ in the vestiges of the created order. It is this idea of the ‘created order,’ or pure nature[2], that funds an analogy of being wherein creatures have ‘natural’ capacity to think God from His purported ‘effects,’ in the created taxis, back to their antecedent ‘cause,’ who is God. And it is this framework wherein God becomes sublimated by His created order, at least epistemologically, insofar that it is maintained that there are analogies for thinking God in the created order, albeit, asymmetric or with dissimilitude, vis-à-vis their ultimate cause.

As Barth has reminded us, God is God.

 

[1] Barth CD I.2, 172 cited by Samuel V. Adams, The Reality of God and Historical Method (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic Press,), 135.

[2] See Matthew Bernard Mulcahy, “Henri de Lubac argues that, in early modern times, a pernicious concept began to become commonplace in Roman Catholic theology: this concept is ‘pure nature.’ Pure nature is human nature, considered without reference to grace or to the supernatural destiny of personal union with God. . . .”

When the orthodox Protestant Theologians Become Recovering Catholics

At the end of the day all theological discourse must reduce to some reality. If the reality isn’t ultimately Jesus Christ, and the triune God He mediates, then you, by definition do not have a genuinely Christian theology. People can spend all their days, all their energies recovering natural law, natural theology so on and so forth, merely because they think this provides for the orthodox way of Protestant theology that history has to offer. Ultimately, though, Christian theology isn’t judged by a historicism like this, for that is what this mode is operating from. Christian theology, instead, is judged by its canon provided for by a person, by the Son of Man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is God’s history for the world. Insofar that theologians attempt to think God from alternative ad hoc histories, of the sort conceived from a ‘pure nature,’ they are no longer operating from within the strictures of God’s primordial and thus delimiting (to His) life for the world in Jesus Christ. Such theologians are merely operating out of the fancies of their collective intellectual wits. It might satisfy their sense of identity within a self-perceived history, and the community attached to that, but it certainly does not achieve peace with God, in the sense that it has corollary with God’s freedom to be for the world in the way He has freely chosen to do that, to be that, in Jesus Christ. TF Torrance summarizes what I’m after well as he synopsizes the spirit of Barth’s theology:

Because Jesus Christ is the Way, as well as the Truth and the Life, theological thought is limited and bounded and directed by this historical reality in whom we meet the Truth of God. That prohibits theological thought from wandering at will across open country, from straying over history in general or from occupying itself with some other history, rather than this concrete history in the centre of all history. Thus theological thought is distinguished from every empty conceptual thought, from every science of pure possibility, and from every kind of merely formal thinking, by being mastered and determined by the special history of Jesus Christ.1

Currently, there is an orgy of so-called Protestant theologians frothing at the idea and practice of recovering Post Reformed orthodox theology. This is a theology funded by a commitment to the Aristotelian, Thomist faith of Catholicism; one that is funded by a pure nature, and the idea that abstract creation just is correlate with God’s economy to be for the world apart from Christ (thus the abstraction). These theologians are more concerned with retrieving an abstract orthodoxy than they are with constructively engaging with the reality of Holy Scripture—to be clear, the reality res of Holy Scripture, according to Jesus (cf Jn 5.39), is in fact, Jesus Christ. For these Protestant theologians, who are supposedly committed to the Protestant ‘Scripture principle,’ you’d think that the magisterium of the Holy Catholic Church was in fact the standard for orthodoxy rather than the reality of Holy Scripture. It is rather disastrous to watch this all unfold.

 

1 Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931, 196.

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