The Mythology of the Academicians: They’re Just Regular People

The following was recently tweeted by Dr. Peter Sloane:

In response to things I see here: academics are no more intelligent than the general population and no more skilled than a plasterer or electrician. We don’t do a PhD because we are super bright, or become so because of it, we just happen to love our vocation as others do theirs. I don’t enjoy the narrative that universities are filled with exceptionally bright people. They are filled with people highly specialised and with time to devote to the intricacies of a discipline and no more.[1]

Sloane is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Buckingham in the UK. I could not resonate more with the sentiment he has articulated above. Indeed, as any reader who has followed me for any amount of time knows, I have oft criticized the theology of glory that often attends theological academia (and all of academia in general). As Sloane rightly notes, the academic is not necessarily smarter than anyone else; indeed, they generally aren’t. Just as any swath of humanity will demonstrate, there are smart people, mediocre people, and dumb people along said continuum of humanity; this holds true among the academic guilds just the same. As Sloane’s tweet also highlights, and rightly so, is that the academic is a specialist; especially in the 21st century (indeed, to a fault these days). And so, when we apply this principle to theological academia what someone can expect is some level of technical and specialized language as that relates to the artistry of theological communique. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the specialists in this particular craft, as in any craft, begin to buy into the idea that their specialization, because of its already limiting and liminal language (and the conceptual matter it symbolizes), by definition narrows the discussion to “them.” That is to say, when the non-specialist Christian attempts to enter this particular fray, what ends up happening is that they might end up sounding unintelligible, maybe even dumb, because they aren’t schooled in the linguistics, logics, and lexical aspects that go into the theological academic game. As such, a type of boundary is set up, such that the academics talk among themselves, using their technical parlance, which necessarily, in a certain way, keeps the laity, in the ecclesia outside of the “deeper” discussions that only the specialists can really have (or so the specialists pride themselves into thinking).

As I have described the above scenario, what I haven’t engaged with yet is what makes theology unique. Theology, if it is genuinely Christian theology, is not for the so-called specialists alone. The specialists, if there are such a thing in the theological sphere, are really supposed to be “doctors for the Church.” That is to say, they have a teaching role to play, a role that really reduces to, as its sine qua non, discipleship. And yet because of the strictures that help define academia in general, and then theological academia in particular, the theological specialist starts to live and breathe in an atmosphere that never “comes down” and attempts to be “non-specialist.” As a result, an ethos of elitism takes hold in the hearts of the specialists, such that they often either retreat back into their ghetto, with “their people,” or they attempt to drop into the fray of “regular church people” only to feel rejected, or so misunderstood that they begin to think that either they are too smart for such people, or that the people they are attempting to engage with in the churches are just too dumb to really understand what they, as the trained specialists, can grasp.

The gap between the academic and the regular church person is reinforced by many variables, a complex that is not easily addressable. Even so, at the end of the day, as Sloane has rightly noted, as far as intelligences go, neither the academic nor the regular church person is necessarily smarter or dumber than the other on a continuum.

Ultimately, it is sin that keeps these seemingly disparate groups from a meeting of the minds and hearts that is supposed to obtain among the fellowship of the people of God. The Lord, ultimately, is not concerned about smarts, but the state of the heart. God wants our whole being (which the heart, in Hebrew and Greek represents in canonical Scripture) to be overcome with the beauty and ways of God in Christ. He loves us as a Father loves His Son. It is this relationship that funds anything following, including intellection. The Father shows no partiality, neither to the smart or dumb person (intellectually). His relationship to, for, with, and in us, in Christ by the Spirit, has nothing to do with what we so often wrongly place priority on. He doesn’t look outwardly, but at the heart; He loves the total person. There is no elitism in the Kingdom. If anything, the elect in the Kingdom are the impoverished, the bruised reeds, the so-called “dumb” among us. When any air of elitism, no matter how that is given expression, enters into the Church as a bad yeast, God is not there. He is with the broken, downtrodden, and humble.

23 Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. -Jeremiah 9:23-24

[1] Peter Sloane, Twitter, accessed 05-30-2023.

Reflecting on Advanced Theology Degrees and a Theology of Glory

I know some tire of me opining on what has been called a ‘theology of glory’ (which is a negative thing), but for me it is seemingly something the Lord always has convicted me on ever since I started radically walking with him. This was of course a theme for Martin Luther who is known for his theology of the cross versus what he identifies as a theology of glory (that of the schoolmen). I believe, ultimately, the Apostle Paul is really the greatest advocate for living a life in the theology of the cross (which of course includes resurrection and ascension). In light of this theme let me repost something I wrote nine years ago for a now defunct blog of mine. You’ll see that I was responding to something a contact of mine, named Brian, was discussing at his own blog at the time. The sentiment in this still holds true for me.

I have had this same kind of tension in my own life for quite a few years now. Different from Brian though, I don’t have the resources to pursue PhD studies right now (even though I have been accepted to a program in South Africa), and even if I did, I’m am not sure at this point that this has ever really been the path for me (even though I read academic Christian theology all the time, and have the gift of teaching and evangelism, and love God’s people); at least it is not apparently the path the Lord has taken me down.

That said, I am not even sure that academics, and the way it is structured is even a viable and fruitful line to take, at least spiritually. Academia, even for Christians, means that you join a guild, and you really must publish or perish constantly to be building up your CV (your name and pedigree). So there is some gamesmanship to the whole affair; and inherent to this process is akin to something like what Martin Luther identified as a theology of glory, which is akin to what Jesus chided the religious leadership of his day of in say John 5. Inherent to the academic game is constructing novel ideas that nobody has noticed before, and seeking to persuade others of this novel idea, with your name tied to it, which provides you status and posture among your peers. I am not attempting to suggest that this is what motivates all Christian academics, but it is inherently hard to not fall into this over the years, no matter how good someone’s intentions are.

Anyway, ultimately, the Lord has worked through the channels of Christian academia through the centuries; but it would be a mistake (of natural theology) to presume and read directly off of this, that God endorses theological guilds (or any guilds, even pastor’s guilds) in a way that would make said guilds the gatekeepers to God’s treasures. Last time I checked Jesus Christ is the gatekeeper and mediator between God and humanity.

Obviously this is just a reflection of mine, and represents a personal struggle I have. Maybe if I was a guilded academic my perspective would be different, although I doubt it; I know one prominent one in my life, who has gotten out of the guild, and has only confirmed my suspicions as more valid (unfortunately) than not. And I have had my own experience, which is obviously what I am speaking from.

Even as I will be awarded a PhD in Systematic and Historical Theology, in the very near future (like maybe days), all of the above holds true. Maybe the way things have come about for me, as far as the “pedigree” of the school, relative to higher more prestigious ones, is by design from the Lord. Somehow, because He is God, He found a way to allow me to achieve a goal (to get a PhD in theology), but in a way that fits within the ambit of a theology of the cross rather than of glory. That is to say, most in the theological guilds, and those aspiring to be in them, will literally mock the PhD I am being awarded. Even though it is fully credible, backed up by guys who have accredited PhDs, there will always be a stigma attached to the PhD I get from this small newish school whose origins are indeed in the realm of the least of these. This seems to me to be the wisdom of God, the wisdom of the cross. How fitting, since I wrote my Master’s thesis on I Corinthians 1:17-25. If what it means to be a doctor for the church requires that you earn a PhD from a secular University with a divinity department, or maybe just a humanities’ department, then maybe I will never be a doctor for the church. But if what it means to be a doctor for the church comes from some type of “institutional” recognition given by people actually doing the work of the ministry in the poorest parts of the world, then maybe after all, I will be a doctor for the church; that is, in that “recognized” sense. Ultimately degrees should be a means to an end. Yes, any particular person who has earned them has presumably put in hard work to earn them, but of course: “what do we have from ourselves, what we have is from the Lord; so where is the boasting?” I am not suggesting that having a PhD in theology from a prestigious (“accredited”) school makes someone automatically a “theologian of glory.” But when in fact that becomes the standard for what it means to be a doctor for the church—that is to be measured by your accolades, your publications, “your work” etc.—then I am suggesting that something has gone seriously awry, and that once again perspective needs to be regained by taking said accolades to the foot of cross, and burying them there. It is at that time we need to re-learn to boast not in ourselves, even if done with great self-deprecation and objectivity, but to boast in the cross of Jesus Christ; as if the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

 

John Calvin’s Theology of the Cross as Theological Theology

Staying on theme from the previous post, let’s continue to focus on the theologia crucis; except this time it won’t be Luther’s, but John Calvin’s. Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics III/1 refers us to the foreword Calvin wrote for his Commentary on the Book of Genesis (1554). Herein Calvin offers something that sounds intimately close to Luther’s thinking on a theology of the cross. So Calvin:

indeed it is vain for any to philosophize in the manner of the world, unless they have first been humbled by the preaching of the gospel, and have instructed the whole compass of their intellect to submit to the foolishness of the cross. I say that we will find out nothing above or below that will lift us to God, until Christ has educated us in his school. Nothing further can be done, if we are not raised up from the lowest depths and carried aboard his cross above all the heavens, so that there by faith we might comprehend what no eye has ever seen, nor ear ever heard, and which far surpasses our hearts and minds. For the earth is not before us there, nor its fruits supplied for daily food, but Christ himself offers himself to us unto eternal life; nor do the heavens illuminate our bodily eyes with the splendor of the sun and stars, but the same Christ, the light of the world and the sun of righteousness, shines forth in our souls; nor does the empty air spread its ebb and flow around us, but the very Spirit of God quickens and enlivens us. And so there the invisible kingdom of Christ fills all things, and his spiritual grace is diffused through all things.[1]

For any theology to actually be genuinely Christian theology, I submit, it must be conditioned and regulated by the kerygmatic reality of the cross of Jesus Christ (think of the ‘cross’ as the Apostle Paul does as a metonym for both the incarnation and atonement in toto). If this is not the basis, both ontologically, epistemologically, and ontically for the Christian disciple to more accurately think God, then we will only be ‘thrown back onto ourselves’ (as TFT would say), thus projecting our images onto God’s image, only to worship an elevated image of our collective selves as God rather than the true and living God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And yet this is precisely what we see happening in much theological programming these days. There is a recovery of a theology of glory wherein the theologian believes they are on solid ground simply because of the vintage of the theology, and theologians they are ostensibly recovering for the purported revitalization and fortification of the Protestant churches en masse.

Contrariwise, as Calvin notes, and as Barth is emphasizing as he quotes Calvin, no matter what period a theology is developed in, no matter what its pedigree and historical pressures, if it isn’t funded by the fount of the cross of Christ, where the Christian is put to death over and again, afresh anew, thus being given over to the life of Christ, that His life might bring life to our lives in the mortal members of our bodies, then there is no savory life, leading to further life in the work and the words the theologians are propagating in the name of Christ, and ostensibly, for the churches. If Calvin, Luther, Barth et al. are to be taken seriously, as they should be, the theologian must constantly cast themselves at the mercy seat of God, which is cruciform in shape, and allow the staurologic (the logic of the cross), the ‘logic of God’s grace in Christ’ (see TFT) to fully condition the theologian’s mode as a theologian indeed. Outwith this wisdom, τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ (‘the wisdom of God’), which is the wisdom of the cross, the theologian is only pushed deeper into the well of their own resources; which of course only leads the theologian into self-congratulation and idolatry, even in the name of Christ.

I know I bang this drum loudly and often, but that’s because I think we are at endemic levels when it comes to what Luther would call theologies of glory. That is, the types of theologies that aren’t submitted to the wisdom of God, in a properly based theology of the cross wherein the theologian can genuinely say: “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me,” and “I have determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” When this ethos characterizes the theologians demeanor (those expressed in the Pauline passages), when this becomes their daily mode as a Christian thinker and teacher for the Church, it is at this point they have something of value to say because they are no longer leaning on the powers of their own intellects, or of those they are ostensibly recovering, but instead they are resourcing the reality of the Gospel as that is the fund and ground of their very being, moment by moment.

[1] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Genesis: Foreword cited by Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §40 [031] The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 31.

Against the Theologians of Glory

I’ve written against theologies of glory ever since (and before) I heard of them. A life verse of mine (among a gazillion) is the following: “For I’ve determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” This typifies the staurological life I live the Christian as, from the cruciformed life of the risen Christ’s (or at least the one I aim for). Because of this I have an acute allergy to anyone who chooses instead to be a theologian of glory. Jesus identifies theologians of glory this way: “I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (John 5.41-4) He also has theologians of glory in mind here: “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” (Mt. 6.1-4) These characteristics, where the person seeks praise from other men, rather than God, these typify theologians of glory. I rebuke that; I say ‘get behind me satan,’ when I encounter such putrid displays of self-seeking and glorification; whether I see that creep in myself or others.  

When this hits close to home, particularly with someone, or others who are supposedly your friends, your colleagues in the theological task, this becomes that much more difficult to stomach. It leaves you feeling disillusioned, wondering just how farcical so much of your time and energy might have been because you were unknowingly associating yourself with theologians of glory. I just had a really hard example of this hit me, one that hit very close to home. I’ve been entertaining the idea of putting a particular person on blast, and I have, in muted ways, on Facebook and Twitter, but putting them on the public and open world wide web for the whole world to see just how gross a theology of glory looks in real life living color. But I have chosen not to do that here now. Some people have been giving me grief, either by omission or commission, in regard to the honorary doctor of theology I received. You see, theologians of glory get really concerned about optics. They think that if you receive an honorary ThD from an internationally based denominational consortium of theological schools, that the degree itself isn’t worth much; that in fact, it is a fraudulent degree not worth the paper it’s printed on. If the school that awards you said degree isn’t a White Euro/Americo/Westerno school with grand tradition, deep funding sources, with name recognition among all the elites in the world, that the school is pretty much worthless. In fact, if you can’t find said school on a superficial google search, then the theologian of glory feels free to call you out for the whole world to see. You see, the theologian of glory knows that they have already been sanctioned to do that, they have all the rich White elites standing behind them; yeah, the paper they have hanging on their wall, and their published dissertations that five people might have read says so.   

Ultimately, the problem with theologians of glory is that they have drunk the theological industrial complex’s kool-aid. Indeed, they are so drunk on themselves, and their various accolades, they think they are so smart and couth, that they believe the whole world ought to simply get down on their knees and kiss their feet with every step taken. In other words, theologians of glory are deluded by their own echo-chambers. They have been called “the Dr.” for so long, they have become the go-to guys and gals so much in their respective institutions of higher learning, that they simply believe everyone ought to worship the ground they stand on; and the amazing thing about the theologian of glory, is that they will take this attitude all in the name of Jesus. They will claim to be doctors in service of the Church. Indeed, this is the most deluding factor for the theologian of glory. Their self-projected, self-elevated statuses have become so conflated with Christ that they can no longer distinguish between the real Jesus, and the Jesus they say they are witnessing for. They believe they can talk skubalon about others who they think are not their equals, and in fact they think they ought to talk about others in service of the Church. Until a person jumps through the hoops they had to, you know, to become a theologian of glory, these guys and gals, in their hallowed halls, look upon the rest of the Christian world as the plebians that they are.  

The moral of this story is this: only be a theologian of glory if you’re interested in receiving all of your praise and rewards and unbelief right now. Once the eschaton hits, and the Bema judgment comes, all of those rewards will be burnt up and judged as the straw that they are. Sure, you’ll be ‘saved,’ but as by fire; and Grandma Ethel’s rulership in the Kingdom will be multiple times greater than the theologian of glory, and his/her rulership. But that’s the sobering thing about everything: we are talking about eternal verities. We are talking about magnifying Jesus, and only genuine theologians of the cross do that; theologians of glory mock the “least of these,” and they do so in the name of Jesus Christ—a stricter judgment awaits.  

“Christian Theology” as an Insecurity

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

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

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

My Mode as a Theologian of Crisis Against Theologians of Glory

I didn’t become a Christian to gain approval from the theologians, the guild, or editors-in-chief. I became a Christian because I recognized my need for a Savior, and I did so because God recognized my need of a Savior first; thus, He elected my humanity in Christ, became me that I might become Him by the adoption of grace. Jesus, particularly in the Gospel of John, chided the Pharisees for seeking the approval of men rather than God; He said that this made it impossible for them to believe. And yet, even today in our post-Enlightenment 21st c context there are academic theological guilds who largely operate with the same sort of air of attitude and superiority that Jesus chided the Pharisees for. Martin Luther’s theologia gloriae (theology of glory) is largely apropos here as well. He critiqued the schoolmen for building on each other’s “approved” commentaries and ‘Sentences,’ thus seeking the approval of their peers rather than God, and God’s Word. Contemporary Protestant theologians, many who I know, can intellectually acknowledge what I’m saying here, and then self-deprecatingly slink right back into the sort of modern-day theology of glory I am highlighting.

My theological mode is grounded, indeed, in a theology of crisis. That is how the Lord got my attention, it is how He got hold of me in radical ways. I went through a decade (at least) of hard Anfechtung (trial, tribulation), in ways that are too hard to express here. But it was that ‘sentence of death,’ a staurological sentence that has shaped my life as a Christian ever since. I read through the Bible, and theology, incessantly so, because that is the response that sustained me through these dark nights of the soul; and continues to. Because of this, my Christian existence is a deeply personal reality, indeed one that is in fellowship with the communio sanctorum, and thus the God I know, and seek to know, has become deeply personal to me. As such, the theology I do, and the theologies that I’ll approvingly read, are focused on God as Triune, relational, and personalist. The guilded theologians have labeled this, by-and-large, as ‘theistic personalism,’ but I name it Deus absconditus is the Deus revelatus in Jesus Christ; in other words: the ‘hidden God’ is the ‘revealed God’ in Jesus Christ. The God I have come to know over and over again, daily, minute-by-minute, is not the God of the schoolmen, it is not the God of the theologians, it is not the God of the guilds, it is not the God who has been institutionalized in various ecclesial expressions, the God I have come to know through lively encounter, is the God who is the Father of the Son by the Spirit; and the Son, is Jesus Christ.

Often the guilded theologians will look at my “blog posts,” and think just that: ah, how quaint, another blog post. They think further: maybe if this guy would spend more time writing essays and getting them published in peer reviewed theological journals, I would show him more respect. And this attitude, the one I have just portrayed is to the point. Contrariwise, I am of the belief that a person can be a theologian, can avail themselves, even of those who operate as a theologian of glory—that is, their respective insights despite themselves—and continue to resist the sort of institutionalized self-glorifying spirit that animates the world of their relative identity as “theologians for the Church” (as they often claim to be). My theology of crisis has led me into the waters of the theologians, but at the same time it has made me an opponent of the sort of quid pro quo spirit that enlivens so much of the theological guild. It isn’t just that I ‘look out’ and thank God that I am ‘not one of them.’ It is that I look out and realize that precisely because I am one of them that I must live in a constant life of repentance; that I must cling to the crisis (or the crucis) that the crucified life of God in Christ confronts me with afresh and anew in my daily life.

I am a sinner. As such my theology (nostra theologia) is indeed a theology of crisis; my theology is staurological (crucifixion-shaped) because I live a life in the realm of the unseen realities of the Kingdom, but as if seen through the faith of Jesus Christ. As a Christian theologian I live a life longing to be saved from this body of death I continuously inhabit, even as justified before God (simul justus et peccator). I didn’t start this walk coram Deo in front of the theologians, or even in front of the Church, per se; I started this walk as the still small voice of the living God called me to himself, awakened me from my sleep at 2am when I was 3 years old. I came to Him that night, and have known His voice, in various ranges of amplification, ever since. It was years later, through deep crises, allowed and used by God, my Father, wherein I came to the realization that the only approval that mattered came from Him, not others. This is the foundation that ‘He’ has laid, and upon which He continues to build as He transforms me from glory to glory. I am only a pro-fessional theologian insofar that the con-fessional reality of God’s life for me in Jesus Christ conditions my life from moment to moment in this rather desolate existence as a Christian person in the 21st c.

I have written this with hopes that anyone who reads it might come to maybe question what their stance and motives are before God. Do they look down on others, or think that they have a special location in the body of Christ, an elevated station, because of their statuses created by publishing and degrees? Or do they see themselves, instead, through the lens of the cross of Jesus Christ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

With Jesus and Paul on a Theology of Glory: Only Blindness Dwells There

I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?  Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” -John 5:41-47 

This is the Dominical theology of glory; Martin Luther has his own, corollary, theologia gloriae. The greatest irony to me is that Jesus is directing this to the theologians of His day. He wasn’t calling out the ‘common people’ who ‘heard him gladly;’ He is confronting the religious, and theological leaders of His day, who of all people should have known better! They should have known that the Christ, that He was the King of kings and promised Messiah of Israel. But because they were so invested in receiving praise from each other, they couldn’t even believe in the God they said they were talking and debating about ad infinitum. The most staggering thing to me is that when, in general, a person is seeking the approval of others, rather than God’s, that they cannot believe in (or trust) God at a primordial level. And yet this is humanity’s basic orientation from conception. We are, by fallen nature, given to vicious and perduring fits of incurved focusedness, and a desire to receive accolades from our peers; and we’ll deceive ourselves, in self-deprecating ways, by using the name of Jesus to glaze our “praises” and “glories” in a way that they might appear to be for Him and not us. This is largely what shapes the spirit of the theological and clerical guilds; it is a praise from others rather than God that funds this universe. 

Au contraire, the Apostle Paul, following His Master, Jesus, writes: 

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. -Galatians 1:10 

This is hard teaching, who can hear it?! This orientation is so pervasive, and collectively present to the human condition, that even when we read posts like this—ones attempting to alert us to the ‘condition’—we can agree, but then continue on performing as if we have somehow transcended the ailments of theologia gloriae. Once we believe that we have a foundation that is genuinely Jesus Christ, even as we have sublated that foundation with a foundation of our own ‘glorious’ constructing, we will begin building that out in the direction it has provided shape for. It is either a foundation built on a theologia crucis (theology of the cross) or a theologia gloriae; really, only time, and more to the point, the Eschatos will reveal which one. Fortunately, cause God is a God of grace, He remembers our ‘frames are but dust.’ As such, He assumed our theologia gloriae, and through His theologia crucis He made a way for us to live genuine lives of belief rather than unbelief; ones of trust of God, rather than fear of others. As Paul notes further: 

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. -I Corinthians 3:10-15 

It is upon this foundation, the one that God has laid, and not us, that us theologians of glory have hope. Even so, we are prone to wander. We are crafty, like serpents at points, to the level that we can delude ourselves into thinking that the ‘work’ we’re doing is the ‘Father’s business,’ when in fact it is actually ours. When this mode of doing business becomes institutionalized into the normal structures of life, it is at this juncture that the persons involved require a radical in-breaking of God’s life for them in Christ. Only Christ, God’s power for the world, has the capacity to collapse such pretenses, and reduce them into the rubble that they are. Truly, as Paul points-up, ‘saved’ ‘redeemed’ people can commit great error and evil, and do so all in the name of Christ; the fire will reveal whether it was straw or gold that was being polished in the mean-time.  

May our lives reflect the gold of Christ’s life for us; and as those who are participatio Christi, may we constantly be reckoning ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ; with hopes that we might indeed transcend theologies of glory, and genuinely live out theologies of the cross. It is in this ‘living out’ wherein we become witnesses to Jesus Christ, and do so as we are cast, daily, upon the One who raises the dead. But there isn’t much self-glory in this, indeed there is none; who can hear it!  

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

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

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

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

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