Presenting a Genuinely and Radically Word-Based Christian Theology Contra Theologies of Speculation and Negation

Most of what dominates conservative evangelical Reformed theology these days is rooted in the speculative tradition, or what, more medievally is known as the via negativa (‘negative way’). Katherine Sonderegger, as a contemporary thinker, typifies it this way. Here she writes:

Note what I said here! Our reading of the priestly-prophetic visio Dei is not principally Trinitarian in character. We are not hearing and seeking out in this witness of ancient Israel a sign and foretaste of Triune Persons. It is not the Father, say, that we see breaking through the cloud and smoke to descend upon Moses and upon the people Israel. Nor do we look for an intimation of the Son in these royal Appearances in the temple. We do not bring forward first and principally the Holy Spirit as personal disclosure in Dame Wisdom or in the maternal brooding over the dark sea at creation’s dawn. The forward press of so much modern theology—the drive to subsume the doctrine of God within the Trinity and the Triune Persons—does not, I believe, properly attest the Unicity of the God of Israel. The Deity and Nature of God is personal: the One God is a Person; we can dare to put it this way. Monotheism is no shame word! At once God is Nature and Person, and the witness of ancient Israel to its Lord is to an Object inalienably Subject, a Subject lowered and handed over to be Object. This oscillation in Israel’s and therefore our religious life before God—now our experience of the I AM—is the gracious condescension of the Lord God to usward, for these are not two, not distinct or segmented, but One, One Mystery, One God.[1]

There is an ancient pedigree to this approach, one laid down by none other than Peter Lombard in the structuring of his Sentences; we might even call this the salvation-history approach. But inherent to this, as illustrated by Sonderegger, is a need to decentralize the threeness of God over-against the oneness; just because this is the ‘order’ we ostensibly receive in the linear unfolding of the Old Testament disclosure. So, in this sense, in the tradition Sonderegger forays forth for us, we could say she is following the contours of Scripture; but we could also say that she is doing so in an abstract way. Her approach can be characterized as ‘abstract’ at the point that she does not principially ground her ‘Word-based’ theologizing in the Christian understanding of the Logos of God. Contrariwise, what we see the New Testament authors doing, the Gospel of John comes quickly to mind, is a retroactive or recapitulatory reading of the Old Testament wherein the Word of God, who is the Christ, seemingly breaks in and all over the Old Testament and sees Christ as the revelation of God all along. In other words, in light of Christ, we come to recognize, by the Spirit, that the Old Testament was a witness to Jesus the Messiah all along. If this is the case, the so called ‘unicity’ of God is never an abstract oneness, but one that is inextricably understood in the multiplicity of the Triune Life of God as revealed in the Son, who is Jesus Christ.

In contrast to Sonderegger, and the tradition she typifies—which is often considered The Tradition of the Church when it comes to theological endeavor in the Western iteration—I want to suggest that we follow the New Testament authors, and understand that our theological entrée must be grounded in the Word of God alone. What I want to introduce us to is not without controversy though. But, I think we can constructively appropriate ways of thinking from contexts that might not end up correlating with the way we end up recasting them vis-à-vis their original context. Here, Eberhard Jüngel, through the telling of David Congdon, helps typify the sort of Word-based theology I think is more principially grounded in the concrete reality of God for us in Christ. Read with me for a moment, and then we will attempt to provide the constructive appropriation I am referring to. Congdon writes:

Jüngel begins by summarizing the way Bultmann differentiates the object of theology from the fides qua creditur of liberal theology, the fides quae creditur of Protestant orthodoxy, and the unknowable God of mysticism. Each of these approaches in theology either loses the divine object of theology altogether or speaks of God in abstraction from God’s “saving deed” (Heilstat) in Christ. If it is not to be mere speculation, theology can be the science of God only as the science of God’s word, the kerygma, the fides quae creditur. But the kerygma is the concrete event in which God’s saving action takes place: it is the eschatological word of God’s justifying judgment in Christ. One can only speak about this event by participating in it and existing as the object of this divine judgment. That is why “theology is the science of God, in that it is the science of faith, and vice versa.” Or as Luther famously put it in his Large Catechism, “these two things belong together, faith and God.” Theology, according to Bultmann, is a particular understanding of God that arises from the event of faith in the word of God. It is a task “enjoined to faith from faith and for faith,” and thus it does not derive from any general account of science or any human capacity for revelation. The encounter with Christ in the kerygma is the sole basis for theological speech and must occur ever anew. According to Jüngel, “the kerygma that faith accepts thus elicits along with faith a cognition [Erkennen], which is a knowledge [Wissen] that is never separable from the event of the kerygma and from the event of faith, but remains related to the Lord who encounters us in the kerygma.” Put more succinctly: “the truth of faith is the event of truth.”[2]

Sounds “existentialist,” right? The emphasis is indeed on encounter, but not an encounter generated by the “I” instead one that comes from the “Thou,” from God in Christ. Some might be concerned that Bultmann’s breath is too close to this to be of value for the conservative evangelical theology. But we can avoid going all the way with Bultmann, and instead critically appropriate the good in the bad.[3] And what we are really being presented with, through Congdon, is Jüngel’s Word-based basis for doing theology that is shaped by the concrete kataphatic reality of God in Christ.

Maybe you also noticed as you read Congdon’s development, the priority that is given to God confronting us, and giving us capacity that we did not have prior to the justification and reconcilation He brings for us in Christ. This, in itself levels a resounding no to the sort of theological method that Sonderegger, and her tradition, gives us. It says no to the inherent analogy of being and natural theology that allows the theologian to speculate about God in the first place; even if that speculation is said to be driven by the salvation-history unfolded in the Old Testament disclosure. For a genuinely Word-based theology there is no space for speculation about who God is, or what God is just because God’s revelation for us is given without remainder in Christ; and our knowledge of God in this frame is fully contingent upon this ‘without-remainder’ givenness for us in the face of God in Christ.

To summarize: Sonderegger, and the tradition she typifies, is committed to a speculative mode for doing theology; a mode that presupposes upon an inherent capacity within the human agent to discern or discover God simply by reflecting on the ‘nature’ of things as they are disclosed in the fabric of the created order. It is this mode of theologizing that necessarily starts with an emphasis on the oneness or monadic quiddity or whatness of God precisely because it starts by speculating about the singular power that might have been able to ‘cause’ what the thinker is discovering via the negative of the negating process they are enthralled by. Contrariwise, the Word-based tradition that Jüngel can help us understand is one that is based necessarily upon the premise that ‘reconciliation is revelation.’ What comes with this axiom is the notion that human agents have no capacity in themselves to discover God no matter how hard they try. In this Word-based approach, the theologian is fully dependent upon God encountering them, rather than vice-versa. Herein, in the encounter, the theologian becomes capacious to know God, but only as God is made known to them, without remainder, in the face of Christ.

I commend the Word-based approach to you; even if we might have to do some constructive work in order to keep it genuinely in line with orthodox premises. The fear of existential theology is unfounded just as it is possible to critically appropriate themes from existentialism, as it developed in the modern period and retext them under the pressures presented by the encounter of God Hisself. The fear of existential theology is unfounded just as the object of our theology is in fact also the Subject of theology; in other words, just as theology is grounded in the personal and Triune givenness of God for us in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ. This, I contend, is the better way forward for doing a genuinely Christian and evangelical theology. A theology that elides speculation about God from our own resources, and instead trusts the God revealed to have the capacity to explain Himself to us as both One and Three, Three in One in the tremendous mystery of the God who is for us, with us, and not against us.

 

[1] Katherine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology: Volume 1, The Doctrine of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), Loc. 6577, 6584 Kindle.

[2] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 472-73.

[3] The bad being Bultmann’s understanding of the bodily resurrection of Christ and its untetheredness from historical concrete reality. We can follow Barth’s understanding of resurrection while at the same time appropriating some of Jüngel’s Bultmannian-like approach to grounding theological approach in the concrete reality of the Word of God in Christ. Here is Barth’s understanding of resurrection, just for point of reference:

The Easter story is not for nothing the story whose most illuminating moment according to the account of Mark’s Gospel consists in the inconceivable fact of an empty sepulcher, a fact which (in producing atrembling and astonishment) lays hold of the three woman disciples and reduces them to complete silence for they told no one of it, for they were afraid (Mk. 16.8). Everything else related by this story can be heard and believed in the very literalness in which it stands, but can really only be believed, because it drops out of all categories and so out of all conceivability. It cannot be sufficiently observed that in the most artless possible way all the New Testament Easter narratives fail to supply the very thing most eagerly expected in the interests of clearness, namely an account of the resurrection itself. CD I/2 §14, 115

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“Revelation does not link up with a human religion which is already present and practised. It contradicts it”: Barth’s Critique of Religion as Unbelief

Religion, a term bandied around by many. It is a word people use frequently, but aren’t totally sure what they mean by it. It has a cultural context, informed by an “understood” or colloquial meaning that is probably fleeting for most. If we were to go out on the street and survey people, we’d get a variety of responses; probably having something to do with “organized religion,” versus “unorganized” (whatever that might mean). The Epistle of James speaks about a genuine and true religion; which is to pay attention to the poor and widows among us. In this sense, religion is seemingly given shape by a prior ethical demand that is met when the “religious” go and do. But what is it that gives the Christian religion its shape; is it primarily a ‘moral imperative?’ Should we, as Christians, refer to our ‘faith’ as ‘religion?’ Does religion itself contain an a priori commitment to a ‘before’ God; that is does religion inherently operate with a sense of humanity’s own capacity to approach God, whoever that God might be?

Karl Barth is critical of any form of ‘religion.’ He sees religion as unbelief, as an attempt by human communities to reach out to God from their own resource, context, and circumstance. As such, he sees God come in Christ as a contradiction to all religions, even Christian expressions. This, I think, is right! But rather than falling prey to the common evangelical refrain of: ‘it’s a relationship not a religion,’ Barth, unsurprisingly, focuses on God’s Self-revelation; he sees Godself as the contradiction to all forms of human attempts to reach Him from their own capaciousness. There is a subtlety to this that I think might be lost on various Christian traditions. I think it would be safe to say that Christians, of all expressions, in good-faith, believe that they are operating from a place of submission to God; that they aren’t engaging in “religious” behavior, per se. But I wonder if this is actually the case? I mean, when we think about theological methodology, is it the case that the Christian traditions, and the Christian Tradition actually operates in and from a place where they are actually committed to a mode that, de jure, is seeking God’s living voice (viva vox Dei) prior to elevating their own? Barth writes:

The image of God is always that reality of perception or thought in which man assumes and asserts something unique and ultimate and decisive either beyond or within his own existence, by which he believes himself to be posited or at least determined and conditioned. From the standpoint of revelation, man’s religion is simply an assumption and assertion of this kind, and as such it is an activity which contradicts revelation—contradicts it, because it is only through truth that truth can come to man. If man tries to grasp at truth of himself, he tries to grasp at it a priori. But in that case he does not do what he has to do when the truth comes to him. He does not believe. If he did, he would listen; but in religion he talks. If he did, he would accept a gift; but religion he takes something for himself. If he did, he would let God Himself intercede for God: but in religion he ventures to grasp at God. Because it is a grasping, religion is the contradiction of revelation, the concentrated expression of human unbelief, i.e., an attitude and activity which is directly opposed to faith. It is a feeble but defiant, an arrogant but hopeless, attempt to create something which man could do, but now cannot do, or can do only because and if God Himself creates it for him: the knowledge of the truth, the knowledge of God. We cannot, therefore, interpret the attempt as a harmonious co-operating of man with the revelation of God, as though religion were a kind of outstretched hand which is filled by God in His revelation. Again, we cannot say of the evident religious capacity of man that it is, so to speak, the general form of human knowledge, which acquires its true and proper content in the shape of revelation. On the contrary, we have here an exclusive contradiction. In religion man bolts and bars himself against revelation by providing a substitute, by taking away in advance the very thing which has to be given by God.

Non apprehendunt (Deum) qualem se offert, sed qualem pro temeritate fabricati sunt, imanginantur [They do not accept (God) as He offers Himself, but they imagine Him, rashly, to be as they have made him (Calvin, Instit. I, 4, 1)

He has, of course, the power to do this. But what he achieves and acquires in virtue of this power is never the knowledge of God as Lord and God. It is never the truth. It is a complete fiction, which has not only little but not relation to God. It is an anti-God who has first to be known as such and discarded when the truth comes to him. But it can be known as such, as a fiction, only as the truth does come to him.

Notitia Dei, quails hominibus restat, nihil aliud est, qualm horrenda idololatriae et superstitionum omnium scaturigo [The knowledge of God, as it is now among men, is nothing other than an abhorrent source of idolatry and all superstitions] (Calvin, Comm. on Jn. 3.6, C.R. 47, 57)

Revelation does not link up with a human religion which is already present and practised. It contradicts it, just as religion previously contradicted revelation. It displaces it, just as religion previously displaced revelation; just as faith cannot link up with a mistaken faith, but must contradict and displace it as unbelief, as an act of contradiction.[1]

We might say religion was invented the moment Eve reached down to pluck the forbidden fruit. The moment Eve and Adam plunged their teeth into that seductive produce human religion was seeded. It is only the invasion of God’s alien life in Christ wherein this root is dug out, and replaced with the seed of His life; it is here where religion is confronted, contradicted, and displaced with the only reality that can meet the human need for worship and purpose.

Barth’s critique of religion, if ever needed, is now! I write from the North American evangelical context. It feels as if we are so wayward from the living reality of God that we wouldn’t recognize Christ’s voice if it confronted us to our faces. If Barth ever needed an example of the sort of religion he is thinking of, then he needn’t look any further than the American evangelical church. She is awash in the grasping that Barth rightfully identifies as the definition of religion. The evangelical Church in America has lost her first love, and unless she is open to the Revelation of God in Christ she will never find her way back. But she has also lost the concept of Revelation; that concept in itself is ostensibly too deep for the evangelical mind these days. Kyrie eleison!

[1]Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/2 §17: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 105-06.

Bone and Flesh of the Christ: An Imaginary Grounded in the Bloody Cross for Knowledge of God

Something I just tweeted and want to expand upon: “If Heaven and the coming eschaton are pervaded by the face of Christ, all the way through, then what use do I have for discursive and abstract theologies that only attempt to work their way up to Him from other places. Why not start and end with Christ; the Alpha and Omega?” Nothing too off theme from what I often post on, but I keep coming back to this over and again. We live in a barrage of theological methodology—at least we do if we inhabit theological-social-media—that is constantly telling us that the only real, historic, orthodox, and conservative way to do theology is to follow the canons handed to us by our forebears in ecclesial history. We are constantly told that in order to be orthodox—and not heterodox—we must simply follow in the foot-steps of what is understood as classical theism; that we must follow the consensus καθολικός. But why?

As Protestants (sometimes Reformed, or Lutheran etc.) who are committed to the Reformation Scripture Principle, and the attending Theology of the Word, why is it required that we affirm what I take to be a petitio principii? Why must we simply presume that ‘Church Tradition’ just is what God mandates for theological consumption?; as if we can access God’s mind through the panoply of the ecclesial historical offering. Alarm bells usually start going off for folks at this point. If they have insight into the divergencies of doctrinal development in the history, they start to think that I might be veering off into Socinian or Arminian heresy. But in reality, what I am really doing is challenging the common notion that Church Tradition is so concretized that it cannot be challenged, or improved upon in any way. I am not saying that the trad has no value, or that it doesn’t set some sort of baseline parameters by which Christians might move out and in constructively. But what I am suggesting is that tradition, even the ecumenical kind, is purely eschatological. In other words, it is of only proximate value insofar as it represents the machinations of men and women through the centuries as they have been confronted with the living reality of Jesus Christ. In other words, the trad is relative; it is only valuable insofar as it accurately accesses the Holy of Holies of God’s inner life as that is revealed in Jesus Christ. As such, Church Tradition, and the conciliar reality that stands behind that, at least for the Protestant, is not something that has sacerdotal force over the confessing Christian. And this, precisely because we are not bound by the creedal but by the living Christ who the creedal is attempting to grammarize and bear witness to the best it can.

It is this ‘best it can’ reality that my tweet is attempting to draw attention to though. My conviction, as so many of you know by now—and this is why Barth has been such an important character for me—is there is only One possible way to the Father, or to the inner-life of God; and that, is through Jesus Christ alone. I am slavishly committed to the reality that Jesus Christ, alone, is God’s Self-exegasto (exegesis), and that without Him there is absolutely no way for the Christian, or non-Christian to arrive at an accurate or compelling knowledge of who God is. And this is important as well; I am committed to the idea that Christian theology is fully and only circumscribed by engaging with Who rather than What God is. Indeed, this is precisely the point that I go off the rails, just as theologians presume to speak as if they know what God is prior to meeting Him as the who. The moment we start thinking in terms of ‘whatness’ God ceases to be a personal God who can only be known by encounter with Him. To bring whatness to God, and allow that to be regulative for the theologically proper task, from the start, subjugates God to human whims and imaginaries. The God Revealed is a Who; I know Him as my elder brother, and my Holy Father; I know God in and from this filial stand-point. It is because of this stand-point, because God is not simply a brute-being, but my loving Father, that I come to know Him as I speak with Him by the Spirit’s breath as I participate in that from the mediatorial-humanity of Jesus Christ.

Ultimately, I don’t want to imagine God. I don’t think the developers of church tradition ever had that as their goal either. Nevertheless, the metaphysics they had available to them in the past were only of relative value; just as the tools we have at our behest have relative value as well. But I am persuaded that we can and should advance forward in our knowledge of God. That we can learn and retrieve from listening to the past, but at the same token we can do so constructively. There are too many passages in the New Testament that call us to be growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ; to keep pursuing knowledge of God until we are all united in the One faith delivered once and for all to the saints; and to be being transformed from glory to glory as we grow in the eternal life of God which is the knowledge of Jesus Christ as an eternal well-spring that keeps bursting forth with depths of knowledge that cannot be contained by discursive means of contemplation and speculation.

I see so much of what is happening in the sacred halls of the conservative evangelical seminaries and universities as motivated by fear. They seemingly are afraid that we will fall back into the Socinian, Romantic, Rationalist, Enlightened traps and compromise the genuinely evangelical Gospel that they believe was sufficiently cordoned off by our 16th and 17th century fathers. But this is not the way I think. I am just as conservative as these guys and gals in mood and ethos. Yet, I am persuaded that God is bigger than the fear this approach seemingly operates from. I am convinced that God’s Ways are not our Ways, and His Thoughts not our Thoughts; as such, this supplies the ‘orthodox’ Christian with the hope that it’s possible to know Him in greater ways than even our fathers did.

And I happen to think that this quest to know Him in ever in-creasing ways only comes as we are open to seeing Him in the sorts of imaginative and beautiful ways that He alone has revealed in His glory, as that is observed in the inviting Face of Jesus Christ. I believe that only God can reveal God, and that to presume upon some sort of latency or vestiges of God in the created order (taxis) can only lead us to self-project our fancies upon God rather than allow Him to speak to us who in fact He actually is. I don’t think there is any sort of epistemic warrant for humanity to simply come and say ‘well, this just is the way God is … we can know this by observing, and negating the created order, and then use that as the negative mold by which we positively come to understand God.’ Clearly, I am referring us to a theological taxis at this point. I am concerned that we have placed a doctrine of creation/salvation prior to God, through which we subsume God to this order and then assert that the rationality embedded in the created order must be effect[ually] determinative of just what God is as God; as if God left a treasure map in the sand for us to discover Him through. But I am pretty sure that just the opposite is the case.

As far as I’m concerned, the Bible is perspicuous on all of this. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father except through Him. Yes, we have ‘dogmatized’ this verse and sublimated it by our dogmatic category of justification; but I think it attests to something much grander than that (that is, not less than that, but much more and even prior to that in a theological ordo). I think when it says that Jesus is the way, truth, and life that this circumscribes everything! That this means that anterior to any sort of human-cognizing of God, that God in His pre-determined life for us, that His way as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the pre-cognate reality, as that is given ‘whoness’ in His eternal and antecedent (to us) plenitude is the only basis upon which humanity might come to a genuine knowledge of God. Only as God stoops down in the bone and flesh of Jesus Christ and confronts the world, it is here that the scales can be peeled back, and the sons of men can finally see God afresh and anew. I take this to be the Gospel reality; the Gospel reality is a limiting reality, such that it puts humanity in its place with Christ on the cross. And only as such a time as this, as that reality of being constantly given over to the death of Christ might we also know the life of Christ; the life of God. The classical theologies do not give us this God, not in their methods. They have become drunk with the god of the philosophers rather than being drunk with the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph 5.18). Yes, they might say “oh, dearest Bobby, we have heard this all before” . . . okay, then repent.

The Idol-Mind: Barth’s Thinking on A Priori Theologies and the ‘Middle Position’

What do we know of God? Is there some sort of vestiges of God in us, such that contemplation of God is an inherent capacity built into humanity? The Great Tradition of the Church has seemingly operated with a grandiose Yes, to this question. But what about us Protestants? We say we affirm a doctrine like Total Depravity, wherein the noetic effects of the Fall are so great that there no longer remains any basis inherent to humanity to ponder God; instead, at least in some Protestant accounts, at best all we can ponder, even if we desire to ponder God, is an idol (cf. Calvin).

This issue continues to remain of great concern to me. What issue, you may ask? The issue that so called natural theology presents us with. True, many proponents of natural theology maintain that God’s Revelation and Reconciliation are still required in order to come to a real knowledge of God; but at the same time they also operate with this idea that humanity, post-lapsarian, retains a hook or moral capacity to posit God outwith Revelation. They don’t posit this in a fully Pelagain sense, but it is framed, I would contend, at best, in a semi-Pelagian frame. That is, while humanity retains this moral or intellectual capacity towards knowledge of God, these folks would also maintain than in order for knowledge of God to genuinely obtain, that (created) Grace needs to be present in the life of the positer (of God). There is a background anthropology at work here, one that emphasizes an intellectualist anthropology (as in Thomist intellectualism and Christian Aristotelianism); which helps explain why these proponents are so strongly committed to arguing for the viability of a natural theological way. Prior to this anthropology, these proponents are committed first to an Aristotelian/Thomist doctrine of God (as in Thomas’s Prima Pars). In order to maintain coherence and consistency with their commitment to a Thomist doctrine of God, and the hierarchy of being therein, they recognize that this must follow through into their respective doctrines of anthropology and soteriology.

But I don’t think the aforementioned commitments are sufficiently “Bibilical.” In other words, in Protestant form, as one committed to the Scripture Principle, and all that entails de jure, I think scriptural reality negates a slavish commitment to accounts of theological grammar that masquerade as what just is the orthodox reality of the Church of Christ. In other words, I don’t think orthodoxy, for the Protestant, requires that I simply affirm the Tradition, a priori, just because it is the Tradition. As a Protestant my rule of faith is not Church Tradition, but instead, it is Jesus Christ; or the biblical reality. In this alternative frame, then, if I read Scripture without these prior commitments what comes through on a prima facie reading is the reality that ‘no one seeks after God, nor desires to do so’ (cf. Rom. 3). What stands out is that without Revelation there is no genuine knowledge of God possible (cf. Gal. 1; Acts 8 etc.).

Karl Barth appreciates all of this better than anyone else I know. I maintain that there can be no such thing as a ‘natural theology’ precisely because I maintain that there is nothing natural about God. God is super and supranatural, as such any knowledge of Him will be fully contingent upon Him. Knowledge of God will not have any a priori bases in hidden moral capacities latent in the intellects of an abstract humanity; to think such only means that the persons who engage in such abstract positing about God can only be one thing: self-projection. If there is no basis in humanity for knowledge of God, and yet individual humans (even collectively) believe otherwise, then what notion of God are they conjuring if in fact they attempt to so conjure? Genesis 3 narrates this:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

Men and women did not gain a knowledge of God through eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; no, instead they gained a knowledge of their navels—thus recognizing their exposure before God, but only as He first walked among them. Men and women in their ‘natural’ (or lapsed) status, according to Scripture, only have a knowledge of themselves (homo in se incurvatus); as such, it requires God to come down to humanity and pull people out of their navels into the nave of God’s inner life as that is Revealed in Reconciliation in and through His Self-givenness in Jesus Christ. Any attempt to circumvent this way can only leave us in a place of self-projecting, if in fact we attempt to think God at all.

Barth concurs with more eloquence as he writes the following:

The inner necessity of the theological method employed in Holy Scripture and demanded by it can be made clear by following out the contrary method to its consequences. To characterise the latter in terms of the arbitrariness by which man takes liberties with God is hardly sufficient. This arbitrariness is itself obviously just a symptom of a very peculiar opinion which man has formed about himself, about God and about his own attitude to God. In the usual critical way, he thinks that he can set himself over against God as partner and opposite number. He therefore thinks that God and His revelation belong to the sphere of his own capacity, since by revealing Himself God does something which man can foresee and anticipate in its content as well as in its form. To a certain extent God is doing His duty in revealing Himself to man; and, moreover, it is His duty to reveal Himself to man precisely in a way which the latter can foresee and anticipate, and on the basis of such foresight and anticipation understand and appreciate. It belongs to man that God is and is free for him, and so becomes manifest to him. Thus that arbitrariness of his is quite in order. Because of his self-awareness he is also aware of what it must mean if God reveals Himself to him. he should and must measure the so-called revelations that meet him—so many encounter him claiming to be revelation—by the measure of himself, of his thoughts about what is appropriate to God and salutary for man. If this view is valid, that God is originally as bound to man as man is to God, the view that God is not the free Lord, His revelation not free mercy, the fact of His revelation not the presupposition, freely created by Him, of all our thought and language about it—if all this is valid, then arbitrariness must have its place, and the objection that such arbitrariness is illegitimate will be quite incomprehensible. The will it not rather be praised as a fine gift of God Himself and used with the appropriate assurance? But behind this view does there not still lurk something quite different? In the speculative, apriori-aposteriori, critical thought and language about God and man, as it reached predominance in Protestant theology in the period of Leibniz, should there really be only a relation of parity between God and man? Should we rather not posit here a relation of superiority in favour of man? Such thought and language may of course be embellished and justified by the edifying reflection that, to enable man to know Him, God has permanently planted Himself in man’s heart. Yet we are bound to agree with L. Feuerbach in his objection to theology, that the essence of such thought and language consists practically in man creating God for himself after his own image. No doubt this also may be interpreted as a work of serious, sincere piety. But in that case piety must mean a profound meditation by man on himself, a discovery of his inmost agreement with his own intimate and essential being, a disclosure, affirmation and realisation of the entelechy of his I-ness, which constantly asserts itself in natural and historical form, in joy and sorrow, in good and evil, in guilt and reconciliation, in truth and error, and which ought to be addressed as a divine being. The contrast between the conditioning of man by God and that of God by man now becomes, secondary, colourless and unimportant. Are the two not the same thing? Is not the objection brought against the arbitrariness of man quite futile? Have we not control of God, because we have control of ourselves, control of ourselves because we have control of God? Can the second view be avoided, once we have admitted the first?

It is not necessary to pursue these conclusions to their full limit, if the significance and basis of the other method is to become equally manifest. It is not necessary to go so far as to deny the objective reality of revelation, which is apparently the ultimate goal of this other method. It is a long way to Feuerbach from the “reasonable” or “mild” orthodoxy, which consciously and systematically used this method for the first time two hundred yean [sic] ago. But the continuity of the way cannot be disputed. That must open our eyes to the fact, should we fail to see it otherwise, that the way of the prophets and apostles right from the start is quite a different way.[1]

Earlier I referred us to a late medieval iteration of natural theology, and its reception by Post Reformation Reformed orthodoxy; at least in certain situations. Barth refers us to natural theology’s development in the Leibnizian period of thought; but I would contend that there is corollary between the two, at an intellectual level. Albeit the former is a confessional form of natural theology, while the latter becomes a deconfessionalized form; the distinction being on the plane and role that revelation itself plays in the development of the natural theological method and certain conclusions. But at a summary level, I contend, that all natural theology starts on the same plane; all natural theology starts on the premise that there is latent moral capacity in humanity that gives them the capacity to posit God at some level.

Along with Karl Barth, and the Bible, I maintain that such positing about God can only and always be a mode of self-projection and idol-manufacturing.

 

[1] Karl Barth, CD I/1 §13.

Elevation and Apocalyptic Theologies in Con-versation: Reflecting on the Practicality of Grace in the Christian’s Pursuit to Know God

I wanted to, in a bloggy fashion, briefly introduce and touch upon what my friend Myk Habets has called elevation theology. I have written on this before at the blog, but more pointedly, in those instances, I emphasized the related doctrine of the primacy of Jesus Christ over and for all creation. Since I am finally just now reading Edwin Chr. van Driel’s book Incarnation Anyway, I thought it timely to write something up on this theological locus. I will be referring to an essay Myk wrote years ago, and then to Philip Ziegler’s amazing book Militant Grace (2018). What I want to do is bring together a simple point of contact between elevation theology, and the apocalyptic theology that Ziegler alerts people to through his writings. I sort of had one of those aha moments while at work the other night; as I was reflecting on the implications of elevation theology, ‘incarnation anyway,’ and the logic of grace attendant to so called apocalyptic theology. What I put down in this post might not be that meaningful to you, but to me it represents a light-bulb.

Habets introduces his essay On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ, this way:

According to Christian tradition Jesus Christ is pre-eminent over all creation as the Alpha and the Omega, the ‘beginning and the end’ (Rev 1.8, 21.6; 22.13). This belief, when theologically considered, is known as the primacy of Christ. The specific issue this doctrine addresses is the question: Was sin the efficient or the primary cause of the incarnation? This essay seeks to model the practice of modal logic in relation to the primacy of Christ, not to satisfy the cravings of speculative theologians but to reverently penetrate the evangelical mystery of the incarnation, specifically, the two alternatives: either ‘God became man independently of sin,’ or its contradiction, ‘God became man because of sin’. Examining historical responses to the primacy of Christ will lead to a consideration of how some recent theologians have taken up these themes and sought to develop them. This in turn provides resources that contribute towards an understanding of the incarnation assuming that the efficient cause was human sin. Finally, an argument will be presented defending the primacy of Christ and a justification for the hypothesis that there would have been an incarnation of the Son irrespective of the fall.[1]

The thought that hit me had to do with the idea that creation, if the ‘primacy of Christ’ doctrine is true, has an inherently extraneous source to its ‘being.’ If so, creation itself, as a contingent reality (creatio ex nihilo) only has a taxis or order to it as that is supplied to it by the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. As corollary, Apocalyptic theology maintains a disruptive notion in regard to creation vis-à-vis the recreation that takes place in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Ziegler cites Gaventa in this regard:

As Gaventa concisely puts it, “Paul’s apocalyptic theology has to do with the conviction that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has invaded the world as it is, thereby revealing the world’s utter distortion and foolishness, reclaiming the world, and inaugurating a battle that will doubtless culminate in the triumph of God over all God’s enemies (including the captors Sin and Death). This means that the Gospel is first, last, and always about God’s powerful and gracious initiative.” Inasmuch as it is an expression of specifically Christian faith, “apocalyptic theology always and everywhere denotes a theology of liberation in an earth that is dying and plagued by evil powers.

In the words of Donald MacKinnon, its subject matters in nothing less than “God’s own protest against the world He has made, by which at the same time that world is renewed and reborn.”[2]

Following, Ziegler expands further this way:

For my own part, I am certainly drawn to the task of envisaging an apocalyptic theology for “ardently Protestant” reasons. For it seems to me that, understood as it is here, apocalyptic is a discursive idiom uniquely suited to articulate the radicality, sovereignty, and militancy of adventitious divine grace; just so it is of real import to the dogmatic work of testing the continued viability of Protestant Christian faith. . . . The apocalyptic idiom starkly illumines at one and the same time both the drastic and virulent reality of human captivity and complicity in sin, and the extraordinary power of saving divine grace that outbids it, reminding us that things are at once much worse yet also paradoxically far, far better than we could possibly imagine them to be.[3]

Now, I’m leaving many moving parts out of this (because of space constraints), but when you allow elevation theology and apocalyptic theology to implicate each other, what stands out, at least to me, is how if creation itself is fully determined to be what it is, always already in God’s eternal and pre-destined life to be for us, for creation rather than against it, then attempting to find logics and ratio inherent within the created order—like natural law and natural theology do—in an attempt to discover a theological epistemology prior encountering God in Christ leads to a dead end.

What I’m tortuously attempting to draw out is the idea that: If creation never had an absolute or ‘pure’ ground in herself, but instead only finds that ground in the grace of God in creation/recreation as that is conditioned by Christ, then a genuine basis for a theological ontology/epistemology is only given in and through God’s Self-revelation and exegesis in Jesus Christ. Do you see what I’m attempting to highlight? If God’s proton is inextricably bound up in the eschaton of his life revealed in Christ, if his first Word of creation is grounded in his choice to be for the world in the grace of Christ, just as his last Word is indeed His first in the resurrection of Christ, then the only ground for knowledge of God can be found in that grace; in that relation that Jesus is for us as the eternal Logos made flesh. In other words, there is no general or profane logic embedded in the created order awaiting discovery as the bases for doing theological work; there is only theo-logic as that is grounded in the Christo-logic as that serves as the basis for the reality of the world—the world first and last, created and recreated.

What I am simply attempting to say is: if the incarnation was always the plan of God for the world, with or without sin entering the picture, then this at least suggests that there has always been a higher plane, an unattainable plane for achieving a genuine knowledge of God; outwith Christ. Apocalyptic theology helps to reinforce this sort of ‘primacy of Christ’ doctrine insofar as it emphasizes the disruptive nature of the incarnation and resurrection as that has to do with this present world order (in its in-between and anticipatory status). More practically I think it offers the Christian with a theology that fits better with the experience of the Christian life, as that is understood in the light of the cross of Christ itself. In other words, there is a ‘logic’ available to the Christian that reposes in the fact that they, by the Spirit, have become able to call ‘Jesus, Lord.’ It is in this practicality of the Christian life that the normal Christian can live a life steeped in the revelatory reality of Holy Scripture and its reality as that is given in Jesus Christ.

The proposal, if you hadn’t noticed, is a uniquely Protestant one that majors on a theology of the Word as the basis for thinking and living the Christian life. It doesn’t elide the tradition or history of the church’s mind, but it recognizes that the warp and woof of the Christian life is one that is ultimately grounded in a theological reality (ontology) that is always already contingent upon creation’s reality as that is given newness and freshness in the recreation realized in the resurrection and ascension of Christ. It keeps the Christian looking up, and allows God’s grace to supply the sort of optics that it only it/He can as the Christian seeks to know God in ever increasing ways. Theologies, of the absolutely ‘classical’ sort, sneer at this sort of grace only conception of creation, and its impact on a theological ontology/epistemology. But I think such sneer should be repented of precisely at the point that Christians aren’t ultimately or slavishly beholden to the ‘tradition’ of the church, per se, but instead we are captivated by the life of God for us as we come into union with that reality in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

I fear I have failed to really capture the gist I wanted to go after and articulate in this post, but hopefully something coherent made it through. There is a profound idea going on here between what we are given by so called elevation and apocalyptic theologies, and I think further thought needs to be given to this.

 

[1] Myk Habets, “On Getting First Things First: Assessing Claims for the Primacy of Christ,” Journal compilation C _ The Dominican Council/Blackwell Publishing Ltd, (2008): 343-44.

[2] Philip G. Ziegler, Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), loc 162, 171 kindle.

[3] Ibid., loc 214, 224.

Radicalized Christus Praesens as the Alternative to the Natural Knowledge of God Posited by the Dubyian and Thomist Tradition

Not to continue to harp on Steve Duby (I mean, I like him, but that doesn’t have anything to do with this), but let me very briefly respond to another point of his in regard to that rejoinder he wrote to Peter Leithart’s critique of his book. Duby has offered us a service in succinctly spelling out what the logic of a ‘metaphysic’ is, and how that is developed and deployed in the ostensible service of
Christian theology. Duby writes in response to Leithart:

Leithart’s first fundamental complaint is most fully articulated in Objection #3. Here he asserts, “Philosophy bewitches by her rhetoric,” making us “think that speaking in her dialect is more precise or profound than speaking in the poetic dialect of Scripture.” However, according to Leithart, “the Scriptural talk of God is the most precise and adequate language we can have. It’s God’s own talk about Himself.” But did Scripture itself instruct Leithart that precision is a desideratum for theological description? He clearly believes that it is a desideratum, but why? The call for precision is not explicitly spelled out in Scripture. It is a philosophical presupposition (i.e., one discovered by the natural use of the mind, without the mind being directly instructed on this point by supernatural revelation). Is it a good philosophical presupposition? To answer the question, one cannot appeal to particular statements of Scripture. One could argue that the Bible underscores the importance of understanding the truth about God, but moving from there to a call for precision in theological language will require the use of reason. Also, from where has the phrase “poetic dialect” come? Such a phrase cannot be lifted verbatim from Scripture. It is extrabiblical rhetoric. That does not make it bad, but it does not sit well with Leithart’s avowed approach to doing theology. Moreover, it is odd to deem poetic language more precise than metaphysical language. To clarify his meaning here, Leithart would have to explain what the word “poetic” means (and why he’s employing it in an unusual way). Doing this would require Leithart to flesh out his doctrine of Scripture with the use of terms and insights gleaned from the field of natural knowledge, for Scripture nowhere gives us a treatise on the nature of poetry, metaphor and so on.[1]

I have emboldened the part I want to focus on. This is where Duby, and the tradition he thinks from, doesn’t really track so well with Leithart. But I don’t want to speak for Leithart, or give the impression that I am Leithartian; I’m not! Instead I am somewhat abstracting Duby’s points from their occasional context, and responding to the basic premise of his responses.

Duby’s response is funded by a prior theological-anthropology; in the tradition it can be, and has been identified as Thomist Intellectualism. You note how he focuses on a sort of abstract or profane epistemology, one that is not necessarily or intentionally tethered to a Christian doctrine of God? He refers to ‘natural’ knowledge about God-things, without first referring us to God; instead he only offers us an ‘accidental’ relationship between God-knowledge and human/natural knowledge of god-things. But this just is what Leithart, and for my purposes, the Barth-Torrance axis repudiates. In my tradition there is no abstract knowledge of God; there can be no natural knowledge of God, prior to God revealing God. There can be no general conception of godness gleaned prior to God that we bring to God in an attempt to fill/feel God out with our natural knowledge. Even if we qualify this natural knowledge as a token gift from God, as some sort of vestiges of God latent in the created order, this does not help us concretely develop a genuinely Christian theological epistemology; just at the point that it elides a genuine acknowledgement for a theological ontology that is grounded in the Triune life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Gospel is sui generis; it is God’s Grace. The Gospel comes with its own eschatological rationality; rationality not gleaned from the residue of some sort of pure nature. The fact that theologians, even Barth, use ‘philosophical grammar’ does not require a commitment to the sort of abstract theological anthropology, and thus epistemology, that Duby et al operates with. Instead, it simply acknowledges that this world is fulsome with the presence and plenitude in Jesus Christ (Christus Praesens); but not prior to this plenitude, only after (both as protological and eschatological realities). Duby, and the tradition he has committed himself to seem to take this as too naïve to consider viable. As an alternative account they will then continue to posit themselves and their intellects in a sort of pristine mode as the source of their bases for developing knowledge of God.

For further explication of what I’m getting at, read the following post: Defending Barth and Torrance from the Charge of Incoherence.

Duby et al. and the tradition he/they think from doesn’t seem to really understand the bases of what a genuinely Revelational theology entails. It isn’t irrationalism or anti-rationalism, instead it understands that a properly Christian theological ontology/epistemology is one that starts and ends in the Alpha and Omega of God, in Jesus Christ. Sure there is a long standing tradition in the church that is unfortunately enslaved to a philosophical theology (and you must think this in terms of prolegomena in order to avoid this constant confusion of thinking that I am referring us to some sort of blanket fideism or something), but just because this is so, doesn’t make it so; or that it should be so.   

[1] Steve Duby, source.

Barth’s ‘Actualism’, The Fund that Allows His Theology to be Genuinely Protestant versus [c]atholic: The Scripture Principle

The following represents the sort of “metaphysic” I follow, in regard to a God-world relation. It flows from Barth’s style of actualism, and as you will see, it coheres with his stance contra natural theology. If there is anything, beyond election (and these things are related), that has attracted me most to Barth’s theology, it is this actualist alternative to the theological ontology that funds the various classical theisms. In order to understand what I am referring to, if you don’t, we will read along with Darren Sumner, as he describes Barth’s actualism. The following comes from Darren’s published PhD dissertation entitled Karl Barth and the Incarnation: Christology and the Humility of God.

Barth’s methodology thus follows from his doctrine of revelation: there is no creaturely basis for theological speech, which is only speech after God, who summons creatures to an act of repetition in witnessing to His Word. This task thus  begins not with philosophical presuppositions, nor with the creature’s speculation or erection of descriptive categories by which revelation might be understood, but with the event of God’s activity in history—an activity to which Scripture is witness and that has its telos the very presence of God in Jesus Christ. While this may seem self-evident to Christian theologians, Barth’s theology demonstrates the real and radical consequences of strictly adhering to such a method—and thus exposes the tradition’s occasional failures to engage in its task from this starting point and no other.

But because revelation is the utterance of a Word that is God Himself, this epistemology has further ontological implications. Barth’s actualistic ontology describes not only revelation but also the being of God in His activity, over against that which is regarded as a speculative essentialism—that is, a God who exists logically prior to and apart from His works. God is therefore not one who acts, but is His activity. God exists in motion, a motion that springs from the abundance of God’s love and is directed toward creatures. God’s being is pure act—a classically Augustinian way of speaking of divine simplicity and aseity, but which Barth insists is to be anchored in that one event in which God has actually made Himself known to creatures. “God is” means “God loves,” and all further insights about who God is must revolve around this mystery of His loving. Such an ontology suggests that God is the Lord even of His own existence, because God sovereignly wills the activity by which He determines His being. (Thus Barth located election within his doctrine of God, not in creation or reconciliation.) God’s self-determination to be God for creatures—the God of the covenant (Lev. 26.12–13)—has the incarnation of the Son as its fulfillment.

Actualism therefore identifies both Barth’s methodology and divine ontology because revelation and reconciliation are interdependent. Revelation is reconciliation, and vice versa. Revelation is, further, God’s own self-disclosure, which is to say that in Christ God has communicated His own divine life and not merely information about Himself. As Wolfhart Pannenberg put the matter: “The Revealer and what is revealed are identical. God is as much the subject, the author of his self-revelation, as he is its content.” Therefore the Christ event, the divine-human life of Jesus, “belongs to the essence of God himself.” The theological speech of men and women, therefore, must remain continuously attentive to the history of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the covenant. Each aspect—God’s self-giving to creatures in revelation and reconciliation, and God’s own, inner life—is in the dynamic movement of act and giving, never in fixed form.[1]

This articulation from Darren helps to reinforce what I have been presenting here at the blog for many years. This is why it is rather hard to bring Barth’s theology, and the classical theistic theology being retrieved by so many up-and-coming theologians in the evangelical churches into relief. There is a distinct theological ontology—an ontology that is explicitly shaped by dynamic relational characteristics versus those offered up by the ‘substance’ metaphysics imbibed by reference to classical Greek philosophers—that left unrecognized will stymie any sort of fruitful rapprochement, or at least some semblance of dialogue between the theologians.

More applicably: For me personally, Barth’s actualism works much better with the God we come up against in encounter with Him in Holy Scripture. The God we encounter, in Christ, is indeed, the only face of God that the Christian actually knows. We don’t know a prior God to the God that we have met in Jesus Christ. The Christian’s concept of God, particularly the Protestant’s, is grounded in the reality we meet narrated to us through the pages of Scripture. This is why we can say that Barth’s theology is genuinely Protestant in orientation; while he is working constructively with the tradition, and the so called Chalceonian settlement, his primary norm is what is taught in Scripture. But in order to genuinely value this, the Protestant must indeed be committed to semper reformanda in the sense that the organicism of Scripture’s reality (res) gets to shape the categories and emphases through which God is known. All too often, precisely because many Protestants want to cull the ‘catholic’ heritage, what is abandoned, in function, is this sort of principial commitment to Scripture as the norming norm. These sorts of Protestants end up truncating Scripture by reference to the ecumenical creeds, thus disallowing Scripture (signum) and its reality (res) to provide primary shape for how the Christian thinks God.

Much more could be said, but actualism, and Barth’s style of it as applied to a doctrine of God in Christ, undercuts the sort of theological essentialism that defines the various classical theistic traditions and retrievals currently underway. It undercuts precisely at the point that he is attempting to understand who God is by encountering God afresh and anew in Holy Scripture, and allowing that to be the canon by which all other permutations—no matter what their accrued pedigree—are measured by. Barth’s theological approach is indeed Protestant in the best spirit of that Word; i.e. in the sense that his theology is first and foremost committed to the Protestant Scripture principal. When we look around at the landscape of Reformed theologies in the evangelical theologians today, I would argue that the same can’t be said, ultimately.

 

[1] Darren O. Sumner, Karl Barth and the Incarnation: Christology and the Humility of God (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014), Loc. 326, 334, 342, 350.

No to the ‘Just Is’ God: Knowing God in Fulfillment Rather than Promise; Knowing God as Christians Rather than as Pre-Christian Christians

Classical theism, particularly of the medieval and post reformed orthodox (16th and 17th c.) style operates from a rather discursive notion of God. We might come to imagine that we just do know God; that is if we press our powers enough and rely heavily enough upon the yet unintroduced Holy Spirit in our lives. It is from this posture that many classical theists pick up their Bibles, at least of the Protestant sort, and just think that the God they have come to accept as their personal Lord (soli Deo gloria) starts out as God for them in Genesis 1:1 and linearly eventuates through the turns and eddies of salvation-history as the Savior they have met in Jesus Christ. It is upon this type of basis—as I have severely oversimplified it—that many classical theists operate from a just is assertive posture about God’s existence and their relative knowledge of this God (aided by the creative quality of grace each of the elect have in the accidents of their souls).

We have covered this ground on this blog a million times; I know! But I want to reiterate it again. I cannot get over how significant this is; viz. how we have knowledge of God, and which God we actually have knowledge of. If we get this most basic point wrong then everything else following will have the shape of how wrong we are or how right we are; in the sense that the God we believe we’ve come to know is actually the real and living God or not. What I am after—always—even as dramatic as I’ve just painted it has to do with prolegomena (or theological method and how that is given pre-Dogmatic shape by the God we believe we’ve come to know). Do creatures just have an implicit knowledge or sense of God; or is knowledge of God something completely and utterly and absolutely alien to us; is knowledge of God in its most intensive and principial modes something that is fully contingent upon God encountering us? More pointedly, is knowledge of God something that we can principally call Christian Knowledge of God?

Here is what I think (you know this): I only have come to know God, in my Christian experience and realization through the Son, Jesus Christ. As such my knowledge of God, even in the Old Testament, does not have an abstract character to it, instead it always already has a Christ conditioned character to it. My knowledge of God, as a Christian, never was generic; my knowledge of God has always been filled out by the illumination that has come from my position as a Christian in union with Christ (unio cum Christo). So I didn’t come to the God of the Old Testament without the Son; I’ve only come to God, as a Christian, within the fulfillment of the promises made about him as the new creation of God in the vicarious and mediatorial humanity he assumed in the incarnation. As such my knowledge of God is not from a hypothetical space as if I was born a Jew in the ancient near east; my knowledge of God, as a Christian, at a definitional and prescriptive level comes bound up in the man from Nazareth. If this is the case we have, what I would like to call, a ‘retroactive recognition’ and knowledge of God; meaning that as Christians we don’t read God linearly from Genesis 1:1, instead we read God starting in the reality of John 1:1 and understand God, even in the Old Testament, only as the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit.

If the above is true then a just is knowledge of God, of the sort that we find in many classical theisms does not make sense as a genuinely Christian mode for knowledge of God. For the Christian, in principle, there has never been a generic starting point for knowledge of God; there has never been a time where we, as a Christian, would pick up the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible and think of God in any other terms as the Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit, as if we could think of God in a time before (in salvation-history terms) we first knew him as the God who first loved us in the Son, Christ, that we might love him. We wouldn’t have the motivation or care to read the Old Testament and think God in personal and relational terms without first having relationship with this God as the Father of the Son Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit. But this is the route so many classical theists of the classical type want us to take in our knowledge of God. I don’t want to take this route; I don’t think it’s consistent with my position as a Christian. In other words, my knowledge of God as a Christian is necessarily what it is precisely because I am a Christian. As such the knowledge of God I have access to is fully and contingent upon his Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. As a Christian I don’t have another way, no churchly way, and no profane way of knowing God. God is either Self-explicated for us or he is explicated as is by us in abstraction from his Self-explication. There is no just is God; there is only the God for us that we know through Jesus Christ as the Son of the Father Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit. If this is so we can’t have a refracted knowledge of God that beams off of Scripture as if we meet God in the promises; no, our knowledge of God only comes to us in the fulfillment of the promises, in the seed of David, Jesus Christ. This does things to theological methodology, and subsequently to Christian spirituality.