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.  

The Apostle Paul, Feuerbach, and Bonhoeffer in Convo: On a Crucified Knowledge of God

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” -Galatians 1.11-12

“God did not, as the Bible says, make man in His image; on the contrary man, as I have shown in The Essence of Christianity, made God in his image.” – Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion

The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes the aforementioned; the philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach writes the aforementioned under the inspiration of the Spirit of antiChrist. Nevertheless, both identify important aspects about ultimacy, or as Christians we might say: God! Paul understands that knowledge of God is not based on philosophical speculation; whereas Ludwig reflects a person who takes philosophical reflection to its logical conclusion. Philosophical speculation, as it programmatically starts with the self can only end with the self. Thus, Feuerbach concludes that God is only a human projection; a projection of what the self would like to imagine itself to be. Ironically, the self under Feuerbach’s machinations ends up relying on classically understood divine revelational categories, or philosophical categories, and imagines that this is in fact representative of what humanity actually is in se. This is ironic, to me anyway, because Ludwig helps to illustrate just what a god imagined under the constraints of philosophical reasoning naturally reduces to; viz. it reduces or collapses the classically philosophical categories for divinity into the human being as the ultimate terminus for who and what ‘God’ is. I can agree, as a Christian, with Feuerbach. If our notion of God is based upon philosophical speculation, and the subsequent imagining that this speculation fosters, then this God, indeed ends up being a God who “man … made . . . in his image.”

Contrariwise, as already alluded to, the Apostle Paul doesn’t know the God that Feuerbach, or the philosophers in general have imagined. Paul’s knowledge of God is purely based on God’s confrontation of Him, quite literally, on the road to Damascus. Paul’s theological schooling, post-first-encounter, is given to him directly by the risen Christ. Paul doesn’t claim to imagine or construct his notion of God based on philosophical speculation, but he bases his knowledge of God in the category of revelation. Revelation, for Paul, is based on God’s irruption into the world, in and through the risen Christ, and in an ongoing way, as the risen Christ actively and event-ually continues to confront him, and all Christians (and all would-be Christians) through personal encounter; and thus, the disruption of Grace for the world. Paul’s God, clearly, is grounded in a Hebraic understanding, such that God just is the One who freely has chosen, and continues to choose, to confront us with His life of new-creation for the world in Jesus Christ. This notion of God cannot be reduced to a mode of human projection, precisely because it definitionally begins in a question proposed to us from without rather than from within us. Ben Quash gets at it this way as he develops the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes to think God:

[T]he opening up of a ‘third term’ in the confrontation between the recipient(s) and the medium of revelation is something that all good theologies of revelation in the modern period have had to attempt in different ways. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has left us with what is arguably one of the most suggestive and fruitful, with his affirmation of the penultimate (the rational, empirical, social domain) in its intimate closeness-in-distinction to the ultimate. The ultimate opens up within the penultimate in the form of a question, as we confront and examine the phenomena of our earthly existence. It is not our own question—it is given to us. And although it is given to us phenomenally (in the penultimate), its answer is not. The question is “Who Is Jesus Christ for us today?’ (Bonhoeffer 1966: 30: 1971: 279). This question draws us along the way of the cross into dispossessive relationship with one who is the non-circumscribable ultimate of existence. We find him incognito, ‘hidden in empirical history as empirical reality, “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3)’ (Janz 2004: 220). He is the definitive revelation of God by allowing himself to be pushed out of the world onto the cross, in this way showing us the God who is not an agent in competitive relation to other agents in the world—not just one who makes particular differences—but one who makes all the difference, in but not in addition to all the differences that there already are. [Ben Quash, 342.]

This, in my view, represents the genuinely Christian way for thinking God. It isn’t something that we construct, but something we are proposed with, actively, as our very capacity for thinking God is put in its rightful place. The Christian way for knowing God is, we might say: staurological (that is, it is a crucified knowledge). The Incarnation and cross of Christ itself shows us that the human animal, left to its own abstract self, can only arrive at the reality that God is us. This is what we see finally in Feuerbach, and the sort of theological modernity he represents. An uncrucified knowledge of God can only be one that starts and ends in the circle of the self; this, ironically, is the pronouncement of the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ, the ‘wisdom of God’, takes Feuerbach, and the spirit he thinks from, to its ultimate conclusion; it shows how the humanly conceived notion of God finally has an end. It is out of the ashes of this projected god that the living God rises victoriously, and in and through recreation of humanity, in Christ’s resurrected vicarious humanity, human beings have come to have the capacity to think and know God as God genuinely is in Himself for us.

One cash out of the aforementioned, from my perspective, is that what is implied is that any notion of God that is based on our own inner-desires, rather than being based on the One who confronts us from outside of ourselves, even from within ourselves in the humanity of Christ, is as Barth says: the No-God (Isaiah says this too). And so, many unbelieving Christians end up counting on a God who indeed represents a projection of the God that they want God to be. This God allows them to live in any variety of sin that we could imagine; this God, this Jesus Christ, smiles on and affirms them in their sinful lifestyles. This God does not contradict or confront them, or tell them to repent. I would suggest that this is the God who largely funds the American religion known as evangelicalism, progressivism, and mainlinism.

Theological Ontology and Biblical Interpretation: How This Impacts People Like NT Wright, Andrew Perriman, and Everyone

Theological ontology and biblical interpretation are not often paired in the way they should be. Samuel Adams (someone I’ve had correspondence with in the past) wrote his PhD dissertation on this locus; it was published in 2015 with the title: The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. WrightI just happened upon a Facebook thread, based on a post from a friend, wherein a (unbelieving, as I discern it) NT studies guy (someone I have some history with online) falls prey to the sort of naïve historicist epistemology that someone like N. T. Wright promotes. Someone else who falls prey to this, and someone I have had an argument with in reference to the themes that Adams is promoting in his work is a biblical studies scholar named, Andrew Perriman. In order to “de-thread” the argument I was having with Perriman approximately 5 years ago, I am going to share my response to him, where I also quote salient portions of his press-backs to me. I don’t think many have considered the gravity of these things before, and so I hope this brief exposure will at least pique your interest. Here’s the exchange (at least as I frame it in my responses back to Perriman):

Andrew wrote:

If we are then left with a gulf between our understanding of the Bible and dogmatic tradition, then we have to do something about it. My preference is to regard dogmatics as part of the narrative, as much subject to prevailing worldviews (pace Adams) as New Testament apocalyptic. The answer is not to keep allowing theologians to make scripture say what they think it ought to say.

This is quite a negative view of what theologians do! But since you reject (below) the idea of the ‘inner-logic’ of Scripture, negativity makes sense. What’s interesting, though, is that you don’t seem to hold the same view when it comes to the capacity that historical-criticism can and can’t do. Apparently historical-criticism does not attempt to reconstruct the “inner-history” within which the text of Scripture is located and written within. To me your critique is a double-edged sword, and you ought to fall on it as much as any theologian (if they ought to at all).

The history of interpretation is framed by confessional Christian dogmatics; that is undeniable. Yes, post-enlightenment has moved some beyond confessional so-called pre-critical interpretive practices; but that’s a crying shame. At the same time, I’m not totally antagonistic towards what has happened in the critical and now post-critical periods—there is some value there—but I only see that value tempered by also realizing the role and frame that Christian dogmatics offer, with particular reference, again, to the history of interpretation as a resource for the interpretive process. I’m not advocating an all or nothing, but a some here a some there.

Andrew wrote:

I’m afraid that sounds to me like a theological fiction. To ascribe an “inner logic” to scripture is just the same as the old sensus plenior argument—it’s a way of smuggling meanings into the Bible that don’t belong there.

Eh, I’ve just addressed this above. Historians do just as much “smuggling” ostensibly as do the theologians; not buying that response.

Andrew wrote:

Clearly Israel believed it was participating in history with YHWH. This is not conflating two different models. It is simply recognising that the biblical narrative has to do with a historical community’s experience of God. So I would turn it around: the concrete historical experience of the community is the ground for any more abstract notions of participatory history.

I would flip this on its head (your flip) and say: the concrete particularity of God’s life in Jesus Christ enfleshed and those in union with Him by the Holy Spirit is the ground of experience through which God is known, and by which all other historical particularities in regard to Israel make sense (moving from shadow to substance/telos). Participation is not grounded in an abstract historical experience of the “people of God,” it is grounded first in God’s own participatory life for us in Christ, and it is this vertical reality that implicates how linear history (so called) makes sense in relation to Him and His in-breaking into the world. There is no Israel, there is no history, there is no revelation without that first order reality who is God (In the beginning). If you are going to read from bottom-up (i.e. Israel’s experience of God back to God), then I would suggest the better route, as I just noted, would be to start with Christ (as the par excellence particularity of Israel’s history) and work from there (a posteriori).

Andrew wrote:

… how would the ancients have explained their own metaphysics?—but a very difficult one, because they didn’t ask the questions in the sort of terms that you presuppose; in fact, the question may be anachronistic and meaningless.

This seems really rather strange to me, Andrew! You seem to have much more confidence (maybe of the enlightenment sort) to access what in fact the ancients actually thought. And then you seem be building a whole hermeneutic based upon your confidence and ability to reconstruct the ancient near east psyche. I think Adams is critiquing this very notion, and rightly so! This is about theological ontology and epistemology, and your treatment of things doesn’t seem to critically engage with that reality at all (i.e. the noetic effects of sin etc and how that impacts theological enquiry and hermeneutical/exegetical conclusions). You can assert that what Adams, and what I am saying is meaningless and anachronistic, but that fully misses the point here; again, the point has to do with theological/hermeneutical epistemology which is intextricably tied to theological ontology. You can dig your heals in all you like at this point, you claim a certain access to history, etc, but that does not engage with the elephant in the room which happens to be a theological elephant — this is where Adams’ (and of course I haven’t read him so I’m guessing based upon what you’ve written and knowing in general where he is coming from) thesis I think pretty much leaves your position listless. J

Andrew wrote:

… There’s nothing peculiar about it. The problem is that for 1500 years the church forgot what the original context was and assumed that its dogmatic conclusions were all that was needed to guarantee an accurate reading of the text.

No Andrew, I think this is rubbish! The church did not forget anything (your position is starting to sound a little like the Ladder Day Saints!), the mind of the church, if properly conceived, is first grounded in the life of God’s life in Christ by grace. This takes us back to my early response to you about participation (in this comment). Jesus never abandoned his church, but to read what you just wrote (and what many others in your mode do like NT Wright et al) one would think exactly that; i.e. that God’s presence had been absent until the ball got rolling to its current trajectory (in sectors, like yours, in biblical studies) — that just silly and absurd! In fact there is a movement of theological retrieval and ressourcement that is attempting to draw from the riches that lay in the heritage of the Christian church. Now just because you seem to think that that heritage is either not there or defunct doesn’t make it so — God forbit it! — it just means that you have chosen to believe that the enlightened mind is better suited to access the real life categories of Scripture than is the “pre-critical” mind. But I refuse to accept that, in fact I take it as pretty much blasphemous thinking! If we follow through on your logic God had abandoned his church for 1500 years; the years that gave the church the grammar for the Trinity, the hypostatic union, the homoousious, etc. This is why I actually think you do reject the idea of participatory history, because it is that reality that believes that God has always been present in his church providing dialogically conditioned ways of knowing him through Holy Scripture by the Spirit.

Anyway, Andrew, we are on totally different wave lengths here; as I’m sure you and Adams are. But the hurdle that you haven’t overcome or even really engaged with, as far as I can see, is the hurdle of explicating and engaging with the notion of a theological epistemology (which is a very important piece, even fundamental piece of thinking Christian dogmatically — which is maybe why you haven’t really engaged with it). To simply defer to the mind of the ancients only illustrates your disengagement here (with theological epistemology); because you are already presupposing upon an epistemology that believes it can access the ancients mind unabated, at least enough to say with enough certainty that allows for you to develop a whole hermeneutic that ostensibly gets God in Christ more right than does the Trad of the Christian church (in ALL of its history thus far).

To be clear: I’m not saying there is no value in attempting to reconstruct history, ancient minds, etc; but it is dangerous to presume that that is the basis for establishing a robust hermeneutic. It is dangerous because it remains contingent upon you and others’ capacity to reconstruct the history, and as such is susceptible to winds and waves of the historian’s mind rather than the mind of Christ.

Perriman ended up writing a whole long post in response to my pushback here. All he ended up doing was doubling down on his thesis, without actually responding to my points on theological ontology/epistemology.

I am somewhat known (at least in the online theological world) for my intense focus on prolegomena, or methodological considerations when it comes to doing theology and biblical interpretation. The debate between Perriman and myself ought to illustrate why. I will have to get into explicating further what these things entail more fundamentally in a later post. Suffice it to say that if people do not critically attend to these matters, such people could become lost in a suffocating loss of Christian faith and reality; and this, all in the name of critical realism. The basic point is this: the Christian ground for epistemology is not based in an abstract naked self, but instead in God’s fulsome Self and Being for us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. This is where the concrete reality of the real comes to be known; that is as humanity is confronted by the Triune Being who has always already been in the ultimacy of His life as the prius of all that is following.

In nuce: people need to take the noetic effects of the Fall much more seriously. The resurrection says so.


A Theology of Crisis: How a Doctrine of Creatio Ex Nihilo Ought to Lead to Christ Concentration in Theological Reflection

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” –Genesis 1:1

Thomas Torrance makes much of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, as he should! The very freedom of God is at play in this doctrine, such that God remains free from the contingencies of this world, just as He is its Creator; but only first as He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As a result, knowledge of God remains contingent on God’s free choice to make Himself known to the world. Thus, systems of theology that attempt to think God discursively from His effects in nature, like Thomism does, are discounted from the get-go. To appropriate creatio ex nihilo in this way entails a theory of revelation wherein the world, and humanity as part of the world, is at God’s behest, and solely contingent upon its knowledge of Him insofar as He chooses to reveal Himself.

It isn’t just Torrance who thinks this way about God’s relation to the world, but prior to TFT, we get this from theologians like Karl Barth, in his theology of crisis, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who in certain ways, although not in uncritical lockstep, is already thinking After Barth. Matthew Puffer writes the following with reference to Bonhoeffer’s own style of theology of crisis, and how that relates to a doctrine of creation, and more significantly, as this ties into a received doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, and the attending doctrine of creatio continua (God’s continuing creative power deployed in its sustenance from moment to moment).

During the 1930/1 academic year as a Sloane Fellow at Union Theological Seminary, Bonhoeffer’s paper on ‘The Theology of Crisis and its Attitude Toward Philosophy and Science’ introduced American students and professors to recent developments in German theology, including ‘the position of the founder and most original thinker of the theology of crisis, of Karl Barth’ (DBWE 10: 462-3). Bonhoeffer presents a view of science and theology in which the two, properly practiced, cannot conflict due to their differing roles. Science, in this heuristic, is concerned only with what takes place within the realm of the physical world. Theology, on the other hand, is concerned to interpret what takes place in the physical world as science presents it. Bonhoeffer applies this schema to cosmology and creation.

In its pure sense cosmology presumes to know nothing about God and can only speak about the universe on the basis of naturalistic explanations. Cosmology is limited in that it can never get beyond the limits of human thinking and perception, albeit aided and constrained by technology. Cosmology may come to the end of its investigative powers in discovering the foundational principles or the first moments of all that is and, if it so chooses, call that which it assumes must be the cause behind these discoveries “God.” The theology of crisis argues that such a God cannot be the Christian God of whom the Bible speaks as the creator for two reasons.

Firstly: I know God as creator not without the revelation of Christ. For God’s being the creator means being the judge and the savior too; and I know all that only in Christ. Secondly: creation means creation by absolute freedom, creation out of nothing. So the relationship of God to the world is completely free, it has been set and is always set anew ‘creatio continua’ by God. Thus God is not the first cause, the ultimate ground of the world, but its free Lord and creator [and] as such he is not to be discovered by any cosmology, but he reveals himself in sovereign freedom wherever and whenever he wants. (DBWE 10: 475)

According to Bonhoeffer, the god of the cosmologists is not the Creator, the Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer rightly ascribes to the Barth of Romans both creatio ex nihilo and creatio continua, and he gives no indication of any disagreement on his part. The creative act of God is always taking place beyond the empirical realm of natural science. God thus remains free with respect to creation, as the continuing creator, and cannot be discovered by means of human capacities and initiatives, whether by Christians or cosmologists. Only in Christ does God reveal Godself to be Creator, judge, and saviour. (In Ethics, Bonhoeffer’s language of Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer reflects Barth’s continuing influence in this matter [DBWE 6: 48, 402].)[1]

This dovetails nicely with a recent post vis-à-vis Bonhoeffer’s rejection of the analogia entis. Evangelicals, in particular, need to come to learn to think Christian Dogmatically about things; they need to understand that there is a theological taxis or order to the way various doctrines relate to each other, with particular reference to a theology proper.

But to the point of what was just said about Bonhoeffer by Puffer, if we think God radically as the God of creatio ex nihilo and creatio continua, we will come to better appreciate just why it is that many of us in this tradition repudiate natural theology at its core. We are contingent beings, as such our knowledge of God, the Creator, is contingent on His gracious willingness to make Himself known. This is why Evangelical Calvinism, as an iteration of this particular tradition, believes that a genuinely Christian theology can only unfold after Deus dixit (‘God has spoken’ [see Barth’s Göttingen Dogmatics]). There is no necessary linkage between our beings and God’s, not if our beings our contingent on His freedom in being for us first. As such this sort of theological ontology, in and order of being to knowing, implicates a theological epistemology. I.e. God first, then us, as He becomes us in Christ, and in this becoming we come to have a knowledge of God as we are participatio Christi (participants with Christ). The crisis of our situation, the anxiety produced by being a Gentile lot separated from God comes to an end, moment by moment, as God breaks down the veil, and makes one new humanity in the new humanity of His life for and with and in us, in Jesus Christ.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God bythe Spirit. –Ephesians 2:11-22

[1] Matthew Puffer, “Creation,” in Michael Mawson and Philip G. Ziegler eds., The Oxford Handbook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 182-3.

‘In Adam / In Christ’: Bonhoeffer’s Nein to Przywara’s Analogia Entis

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. –John 1:18

For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. –Galatians 1:12

The aforementioned passages point up an important reality in regard to the Christian’s capacity to know God. The ground for a Christian knowledge of God isn’t something internal to the person, rather it is an extra nos (outside of us) reality that is based in God’s free choice to be for and with us in Jesus Christ. Both the Apostles John and Paul knew, and experienced this as they were confronted by the living God robed in the humanity of the man from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. But this isn’t the way the classical tradition for knowledge of God has primarily developed within the Latin tradition of the Western church. Instead, we get something like Thomas Aquinas’ Prima Pars and his five proofs for God’s existence. The typical qualification here is that: Aquinas still situated his proofs of God in tandem with God’s Revelation, it’s just that his proofs become an exercise meeting his prior axiom of ‘grace perfecting nature’; i.e. there is a complimentary relationship between both grace and nature (‘two books of revelation’ as it were). But the above passages militate against this. They assert that knowledge of the Christian God is solely rooted in God’s Word for us, as He speaks that and lives that for us in Jesus Christ. That is, for the Apostles, there was no speculative frame for thinking God; it was purely grounded in the Hebraic concept of the God of Israel revealing Himself now in these last days through the Son.

There are other components involved in all of this; primary of which is engaging with a theological anthropology, and the noetic effects the Fall has had upon the human heart (the heart being the center of all that it means to be human before God, coram Deo). But for our purposes I simply want to refer us to a sketch of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thinking contra what has been called the analogia entis (analogy of being). I have written on this in published form, with some reference to Aquinas. But in this instance, we get a more modern treatment of this locus as 20th century Roman Catholic theologian, Erich Przywara, comes into view. Thus Przywara’s development of the analogy of being is the version that Bonhoeffer (along with Barth) had in mind as he presented his critique against it. If you are unaware of what the analogia entis entails you should get a feel for it as you read the following quote from Matthew Puffer. Here Puffer explains how and why Bonhoeffer repudiated Przywara’s version of the analogy of being in particular, and the analogia more generally. He writes:

In his Habilitationsschrift, Bonhoeffer writes, “There are in theology no ontological categories that are primarily based in creation and divorced from those latter concepts [sin and grace, “Adam” and Christ]’ (DBWE 2:32). The implications of this claim are on display in Bonhoeffer’s critiques of Erich Przywara’s analogia entis, or analogy of being. Bonhoeffer argues Przywara’s interpretation of the image of God as an analogia entis is flawed because it assumes ‘a continuity of the mode of being in status corruptionis and status gratiae’ (DBWE 2:74). Here Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran heritage is evident. As a former Augustinian priest, Luther’s Lectures on Genesis (1535/6 CE) had followed Augustine’s The Literal Meaning of Genesis (c. 401–16 CE) by interpreting Genesis 3 and Paul’s letters as teaching that human beings lost the image of God with Adam’s fall. According to Przywara, ‘[human] being, whether in the original state of Adam or in Christ, may always be certain of its analogy to God’s being (DBWE 2:75). Opposing this view on ontological grounds, Bonhoeffers asks rhetorically ‘whether there is in fact a being of human beings in general that is not already determined in every instance as their “being in Adam” or “being in Christ,” as their being-guilty or being-pardoned, and only as such could lead to an understanding of the being of human beings’ (DBWE 2:75). Bonhoeffer faults Przywara’s interpretation for positing a human nature that reflects—i.e. is the image of—the divine nature, without accounting for the biblical witness’s binary of two human conditions: either ‘in Adam’, a postlapsarian state of corruption, or ‘in Christ’, a state of grace in which the human image of God is renewed as a new creation (2 Cor. 3:18, 5:17; Eph. 4:23-4; Col. 3:9-10). This critique of Przywara would re-emerge in Bonhoeffer’s winter 1932/3 lectures on ‘Creation and Sin’ and ‘Theological Anthropology’ (see Howell, 2016).

According to Bonhoeffer, then, being in Adam is ontologically discontinuous with being in Christ. Those who reject the notion that they are sinners in need of Christ’s reconciliation are ‘in Adam’, whereas those who in faith confess their needed reconciliation are a new creation ‘in Christ’. Furthermore, only by faith in Christ is God recognized as Creator, the world as fallen creation, and human beings as God’s creatures (DBWE 2: 151). That we do not know God as Creator apart from Christ is nowhere more apparent than in Bonhoeffer’s 1931 lecture on the theology of crisis.[1]

As Puffer insightfully identifies in Bonhoeffer, we can clearly see that the analogia entis was anathema for Bonhoeffer. It isn’t difficult to see the role the Luther[an] simul justus et peccator plays in the binary vis-à-vis the ‘two Adam’s’ motif as that functions in Bonhoeffer’s development against a classical or even revised notion of an analogy of being. And this is to the point: for Bonhoeffer, as I think, for the Apostles, there is a discontinuity between the conditions of humanity we find in the first Adam versus the greater and second Adam who is the Christ. This contrasts quite starkly with the classical analogia as we find that in Aquinas; insofar that Przywara echoes Aquinas the same holds true for him.

The reduction is this: if there is a distinction between Adam and Christ, then the analogy of being cannot hold theological epistemological (nor ontological) water. If ‘grace perfects nature’ as it does for Aquinas et al. then an analogia entis not might only obtain, but it necessarily must insofar that a knowledge of God, in a God-world relation, is under consideration. If nothing else we can see how a priori theological commitments impinge on these questions. But I would maintain that the anti –analogia entis posture we find in Bonhoeffer (and Barth) comes not from a speculative a priori theological commitment, but instead from an a posteriori evangelical given as that comes immediately through God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. In other words, I maintain, along with Bonhoeffer (and Barth) that there is no knowledge of God outside of an encounter with Him which we realize by the very faith of Christ. That is, there is no objective knowledge of God apart from His subjective confrontation of us, moment-by-moment, through the ever-present Christus praesens that invades our lives by the Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we call Jesus Lord, and it is by the Lord that we have the liberty to finally see God for who He is in Himself for us; rather than speculating about what and who He might be from an analogy grounded in abstract nature from His (so the analogia entis).

[1] Matthew Puffer, “Creation,” in Michael Mawson and Philip G. Ziegler eds., The Oxford Handbook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 182.

Jeremiah Contra the Intellectualist Priestcraft Beguiling the 21st Century Churches

9 Concerning the prophets: My heart is broken within me all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the Lord and because of his holy words. 10 For the land is full of adulterers; because of the curse the land mourns, and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up. Their course is evil, and their might is not right. 11 “Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their evil, declares the Lord. 12 Therefore their way shall be to them like slippery paths in the darkness, into which they shall be driven and fall, for I will bring disaster upon them in the year of their punishment, declares the Lord. 13 In the prophets of Samaria I saw an unsavory thing: they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray. 14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.” 15 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets: “Behold, I will feed them with bitter food and give them poisoned water to drink, for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has gone out into all the land.” 16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” 18 For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? 19 Behold, the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. 20 The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly. 21 “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. 22 But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.

23 “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? 24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. 25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ 26 How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, 27 who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. 29 Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? 30 Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. 31 Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ 32 Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.

33 “When one of this people, or a prophet or a priest asks you, ‘What is the burden of the Lord?’ you shall say to them, ‘You are the burden, and I will cast you off, declares the Lord.’ 34 And as for the prophet, priest, or one of the people who says, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ I will punish that man and his household. 35 Thus shall you say, every one to his neighbor and every one to his brother, ‘What has the Lord answered?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 36 But ‘the burden of the Lord’ you shall mention no more, for the burden is every man’s own word, and you pervert the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God. 37 Thus you shall say to the prophet, ‘What has the Lord answered you?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 38 But if you say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have said these words, “The burden of the Lord,” when I sent to you, saying, “You shall not say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’” 39 therefore, behold, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your fathers. 40 And I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.’” Jeremiah 23:9–40

I wrote the following on another social media platform with reference to the above passage (although I focused on verse 10): ““Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their evil, declares the LORD.” –Jeremiah 23:11 It is as if Christians could never imagine this. What’s even stranger is that many Christian scholars cannot seemingly imagine this about experts in other fields. There is this pervasive hypermodernist notion that experts have achieved überman critical status. As if the “intellect” really wasn’t touched by the fall, thus allowing natural humanity to be reasonable and ethical in their daily praxis; and allowing them to be of pure intention in regard to their research in whatever fields they may be operating within. Most scholarship these days, whether it is Christian or other, operates off the premise furnished by an anthropological intellectualism. This keeps Christian scholars, pastors, and the laity in general operating with this notion that humanity can still be “good” in its intentions even though the cross of Christ reveals the exact opposite! Let me expand further on this below.

As we read Holy Scripture canonically what we see is that the above sentiment, voiced by Jeremiah as a mouthpiece for the living and triune God, is ubiquitous from the very beginning till now. As a Bible reader, whose spirituality has been formed by the contours of this canonical reality, it is hard to not be cynical about the sphere known as academia. Academia is where our postmodern day priests are cultivated. When they leave the monasteries of their training, they leave as experts in their field. Given the pervasive nature of scientism in our present (and evil) day, no matter what discipline said expert (or priest) inhabits they have been anointed with the imprimatur of the gods (their doktorvaters). In this immanentized world of holiness, the experts have been granted the authority to speak with ex cathedra pronouncements. By their demiurgical standing they can speak reality into existence as if ex nihilo. And all of this from the certitude they have achieved by simply operating from the intellectual capacity they have been born with, and cultivated into by the college of cardinals who hold the keys to the straight and crooked.

I mentioned ‘intellectualism’ in my original commentary. Theologically, particularly with reference to the Latin (Catholic and Protestant) tradition, Thomas Aquinas immediately comes to mind. He offered a theological anthropology, which Norman Fiering has identified as Thomist Intellectualism, wherein the fall of humanity suffered not from a noetic or intellectual impact. In other words:

So three things oppose virtue: sin (or misdeeds), evil (the opposite of goodness), and vice (disposition unbefitting to one’s nature). Whatever accords with reason is humanly good, whatever goes against reason is humanly bad. Human virtue that makes men and their deeds good befits human nature by befitting reason, whilst vice goes against man’s nature by going against reason. Man’s nature is twofold: he lives by his reason and he lives by his senses. It is through sensing that he learns to reason, but many men never mature beyond the level of sense. Vice and sin result from our following of sense-nature against our rational nature. And going against human rational nature is going against eternal law.[1]

This is only a sampling from Aquinas; this sentiment, in regard to the ‘rational nature’ can be enumerated at almost exponential levels. But this should suffice in illustrating the broader point being made: the intellect or ‘rational nature’ has held a primacy of place not only for the profane or pagan scholars among us, it is also primal in regard to the way Christian scholars think and operate. And it is this point of contact, based in natural law, and as a subsequent, a natural anthropology as understood, broadly, from within the Thomist intellectualist tradition (there are other intellectualist anthropologies that parse things from different angles, but typically end up with the same praxis), wherein intellectuals, and the experts in general find their common or ‘natural’ fellowship. But this is a dangerous ‘venture of faith.’

If God is to be trusted, along with His prophet Jeremiah, it is possible, more, it is likely that we all are susceptible to fancies of elevating our imaginations and ‘original and constructive thinking’ to the level of the Divine Word. The priests and prophets of Israel did it; what makes us any better or more ‘critical’ than them? But this doesn’t seem to stop the expert class, in particular, and in whatever field, to speak as if they are speaking for God (or the gods, as the case may be in our hypermodern times). There is this implicit belief that the intellect has the capaciousness to transcend the mundane ‘man,’ and reach into the heavenly certitudes thus transversing the antinomy between the altitudes and the vicissitudes of this fleshy and phenomenalistic world. It is by this transpositioning between the heights and depths vis-à-vis the critical component present within the expert class wherein they lose the capacity to see things as God does. This is the remainder of the serpentine seduction that elusively leads us all to the altar of an abstract human certitude to be slaughtered. It is here where the forbidden fruit continues to poison the gullets of the masses, whether it is the expert or ‘fleshy’ classes, and seduces us to think that we can think and speak as God does from our own intact intellectual capacities; all along under the beguilement that we are only bearing witness to God (or the gods as the case may be).

The cross of Jesus Christ indicts us and puts us to death every single minute of every single day. The resurrection of Christ justifies and makes us alive every single minute of every single day. This is the Christian’s ground, and anthropological basis for thinking the self. It is not to turn to the subject, but instead it is to turn to the new creation of God’s life for us in Jesus Christ. The scholar is either confounded by the foolishness and weakness of the wisdom of the cross, or they only continue on as if they have a natural divinity within and from themselves. It is advisable for all Christians to live a life of ‘repentant living’ (a riff on TF Torrance’s repentant thinking), and only show deference for God and no one else. Herein there is an order and fruit of the Spirit that can genuinely bear witness to the living God. May the Lord have mercy to keep us from seeking the glory of others rather than the glory of God in Jesus Christ.    

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Concise Translation, 270-71.

Grace All the Way Down: Contra Analogia Entis and Pelagian Modes of Theologizing

It is either all of grace, all of God unilaterally for us in Jesus Christ, or it isn’t grace at all. This is what the incarnation declares loud and clear, and thus what contradicts any systems of theological reflection that would attempt to give any place for an abstract humanity to approach God in any way. If it is all of grace, then it is not possible for humanity to cooperate with God whatosoever. This is what a good theological ontology will tell the Christian; but it ultimately isn’t an ontology at all, it really is a sound Christology that informs all else. Without this frame of reference the Christian will be prone toward developing Cassianistic or Pelagian hermeneutics, and this will shape the way they exegete Holy Scripture and do the subsequent theologizing that follows biblical exegesis. Karl Barth saw all of this unfolding in the Catholic church’s systems of both Molinism and Thomism; he saw an analogia entis (analogy of being) present in the midst of both of these systems. He identified in these systems a space for humanity, in the salvific reality, wherein the would-be Christian could cooperate or even compete with God’s own Self-givenness for the world in Jesus Christ.

For an effective denial of Molinism is possible only when we cease to think in a God-creature system, in the framework of the analogia entis. It is possible only when theology dares to be theology and not ontology, and the question of a freedom of the creature which creates conditions for God can no longer arise. But this can happen only when theology is oriented on God’s revelation and therefore Christology. It has to be determined to think and teach about the relation between God and the creature only in the way prescribed by the fact of the assumption of the flesh by the divine Word in the person of Jesus Christ and the consequent assumption of sinful man to be the child of God. Where this is the case, there is no question of speaking of a being that embraces both parties, or creation’s grasping at itself and therefore at God. There can be no dream of a freedom that belongs to the creature in face of God. It will necessarily be seen that the decision about the existence and nature of the relation between God and the creature lies exclusively with God, as does the validity and continuity of this decision. God competes and co-operates with the creature in Jesus Christ. But in Him there cannot be any competition and co-operation of the creature with God. For a theology orientated on God there can be no question of the inversion made by the Jesuits. Everything depends, of course, on whether or not there is this orientation. Only if it begins with the knowledge of Jesus Christ can theology so think and speak that the divine and the creaturely spheres are automatically distinguished and related in a way that makes wholly impossible the replacement of the order A-B by the order B-A. It must be wholly and from the very first, and not merely occasionally or subsequently, a theology of revelation and grace, a christological theology, if it is to speak at this point conclusively and effectively. If it is not this, or not this absolutely, then the protest against the inversion will come too late and can never be effective. It will be forced to admit that within the complexio oppositorum [creative tension] the counter-theory is always possible. Indeed, if it is to speak in wider terms it will somehow have to fit the counter-theory in with its own position.[1]

We can see Barth’s critique of the ‘Jesuits’ (middle knowledge), which he later applies equally to the Thomists; which he argues has taken on the Jesuit character, even while maintaining the Thomist mode. But the point is that any theology, whether Catholic or Protestant (which he is getting to in all of this, as far as critique) that allows for this sort of ‘inversion’ of placing human being before God’s being for us in Jesus Christ will result in a purely grace-less theological system all the way down. To the extent that the Christian thinker appreciates this, is the extent that they will be living genuinely from the Grace of God in Christ, or not.

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 §31: Study Edition Vol 9 (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 151-52.

The Sobriety of the Thought that We Can Think God

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

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

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

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

Reifying an Analogy of Being by the Analogy of Faith/Relation

Ian McFarland, in his book The Word Made Flesh: A Theology of the Incarnation offers a nice little sketch on how univocal, equivocal, and analogical language and thinking works vis-à-vis knowledge and talk of God. Let me share that, and then offer a reification of analogy of being (analogia entis) through referring us to a constructive proposal on an analogy of faith (analogia fidei). McFarland writes:

But Christian Scripture also includes no shortage of positive (or “cataphatic”) claims about God, statements that do not deny but rather affirm definite attributes of God. Indeed, because these attributes are predicated of God, in whom, as the source of all reality, every created good is fully and unsurpassably realized, they are sometimes referred to as divine perfections. And yet it is not immediately clear how the ascription of any such qualities to God can be squared with God’s status as “Not Other.” For if God’s being transcends and exceeds all our categories and concepts, what meaning can be ascribed to the divine perfections? Scripture may not provide the words, but if God is transcendent, then their meaning cannot be such as to subsume God under the same categories that govern their everyday use; the result is that their theological application seems to be hopelessly equivocal. We must say that God is good, for example, but such affirmations can provide no more knowledge of God’s goodness than knowledge of a dog’s bark gives about the bark on a tree.

At one level, Christians will concede the point. That is, based on the witness of Scripture (and thus, so to speak, on God’s authorization), they will want to affirm that certain qualities (e.g., goodness, wisdom, righteousness) are genuinely true of God, while at the same time allowing that God’s transcendence means that they do not know how they are true of God. In short, they will admit that when they say that God is good, wise, or righteous, they do not fully understand what they are saying. But neither will they conclude that those words carry no meaning at all, because Christians maintain that there is a middle ground between predicating qualities of God in the same way that we do of other entities and pure equivocation. This third way is that of analogy. Thomas Aquinas offers the word “healthy” as an example of analogical predication found in everyday speech. He notes that the word “healthy” may be used to describe a person, her diet, and her urine, but that “healthy” is clearly not being used in the same way across these three cases since it is not possible to derive what it means to say that either a diet or urine is healthy from knowledge of what it means for a person to be healthy. At the same time, someone who understands all three uses of “healthy” can articulate the relationship between them (viz., that a healthy diet promotes health in a person, and that healthy urine reflects it) and so explain how these uses, while genuinely distinct, nevertheless stand in a meaningful relationship with one another and so are not simply equivocal. In the same way, terms like “goodness” and “wisdom” apply to God in a way that cannot be understood on the basis of their application in everyday contexts (e.g., it is not simply a matter of a quantitative increase, as though God were wise like Socrates, only more so), but that somehow both encompasses and completes our everyday understanding of their meaning.[1]

We see McFarland briefly refer to Aquinas, who was famous for developing his style of the analogy of being. For Aquinas, and the trad following, this is a method for thinking God, by way of analogical (and speculative) reflection whereby the Christian thinks God, ostensibly, in a sort of combine between absolute univocal and equivocal modes of thought. Aquinas, attempted to think God from effects (in the created order), and negatively infer who and what God is by way of negating finitude in discursion, as that gives way to the way God ‘must’ be as the infinitude of all that is etc.

Evangelical Calvinists, after Barth and Torrance, offer an alternative way to frame analogical reflection. It is a mode whereby the Christian, as they are union with Christ by the Spirit, come to the miraculous sui generis capacity to think God from within the center of His own life in Jesus Christ. This analogical way, as alluded to earlier, is known as the analogy of faith/relation. It is as the Christian becomes participant, by the adoption of grace, with and in the humanity of Jesus Christ, that by way of Christ’s vicarious faith (think knowledge of God in filial relation) there is an ‘analogy of faith’ set up, whereby us ‘adopted children’, by the Holy Spirit, can have a faith that is generated by Christ’s for us, and in this faith there is a correspondence that obtains between Christ’s faith for us and ‘our faith’ as that is generated in and grounded by Christ’s. The point is this: unlike Aquinas, analogy, in the analogy of faith frame, is not something thought of in terms of an abstract being—that is an abstract human being unconnected or ungrounded from Christ’s—but it is only an analogy in the sense that it is a mediating way forged first between the “noumenal” and “phenomenal” in and through the eternal Logos’ transecting the gap between His eternal triune time with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and thisworldly time us creaturely creatures inhabit in a temporal world of woe and wane. It is in this transecting, more concretely, in the hypostatic union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ, wherein an analogia fidei is constructed, such that us ‘adopted children’ can have a genuine knowledge and relationship with the living God; such that ‘our concepts’ of God, have come to have a fittingness for knowledge and relation to Him, insofar as those are given context and meaning in and through the Logo’s commandeering of all things for His eternal life and purpose; just as He is creation’s purpose and reality for all time.

[1] Ian A. McFarland, The Word Made Flesh: A Theology of the Incarnation (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 25-6 kindle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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