Erich Przywara’s antiChrist, the Hydra-Headed analogia entis

Keith Johnson continues to develop both Karl Barth’s and Erich Przywara’s theories of knowledge of God, respectively. Currently, he is treating Przywara’s existentialist side towards a knowledge of God, as that is juxtaposed with what he identifies as the essence side (which we will not get into at this juncture). The essence side has to do with the immanent, or the horizontal frame of reference in regard to knowledge vis à vis God; whereas the existentialist side has to do with the order of how vertical knowledge of God obtains vis à vis a God-human relation. Is this order from below to above or above to below? According to Johnson, Przywara maintains that an imbalance to either movement, relative to “above” and “below” knowledges of God, has led to what he calls ‘theopanism.’ Theopanism, for Przywara, is really just code for a complex of an active or passive relation to God, in regard to the direction that knowledge of God ingresses; whether that knowledge starts from above and is active on God’s side and passive on the human’s side, or whether it starts from below and is active on the human’s side and passive on God’s side. Either way this is panned, for Przwyara, it reduces to the problematic of what he, again, identifies as theopanism.

The problem of existence raises a different question: ‘Does religion, as relation between God and humanity, come into being from above downwards, as ultimately an “act of God,” or is it formed from below upwards, from man, and therefore ultimately as an “act of man?” This question has been problematic, Przywara explains, because the tendency has been to choose one answer to the exclusion of the other. Here Przywara follows arguments he had developed in earlier essays and lectures. On the one hand, those who emphasize that the relationship is the result of an ‘act of God’ rob the world of its own reality by making the human relationship with God—and thus human existence itself—an extension of divine action. The result is that creation becomes nothing more an [sic] extension of God’s own life. This is the error of ‘theopanism’, and Przywara associates it with Luther and his modern heirs, including Barth. On the other hand, those who argue that this relationship is the product of an ‘act of man’ commit a form of pantheism because God merely becomes the ‘ultimate basis for all rationality’ and the ‘ideal meaning of humanity’. In the end, Przywara insists, the two errors merge into one as theopanism ‘appears at bottom to be only camouflaged’ pantheism. While pantheism is built on the rationalism of the active human being, theopanism is the rationalism of the passive human being; underneath these surface differences, however, they are nothing more than ‘two forms of one and the self-same rationalism’. God becomes simply ‘the cloak of an inward dialectic’, meaning that once again, any notion of true communion with God has proven impossible.1

Przywara’s critique, as presented by Johnson, is interesting in light of the fact that, with reference to Barth, he sees Barth, not to mention Luther et al., as endemic to the theopanist specter. The issue becomes, for me, not whether or not Barth et al. fall prey to Przywara’s critique, but whether or not Przywara’s premises are sound to begin with.

On face, I would claim that Przywara identifies a potential binary, that is between the divine and human, but this binary seems unremarkable in the sense that it is simply the classical identification of the Creator/creature distinction. To suggest that one side of that equation can be played off against the other, in the way Przywara seems to suggest, seems to presuppose an implicit and inherent dualism that God’s Self-revelation itself vitiates into the dither of no-thingness. That is to say: even with a classical Creator/creature distinction in play, that distinction, by revelational definition (V philosophical) is always already asymmetrical at greatest. God is God, as such, knowledge of Godself will always already, and necessarily be anterior to human knowledge of God; whether or not the latter knowledge be construed in active or passive categories. Thus, from the get-go, Przywara’s premise, in regard to his theopanism, begins to fail precisely at the point that he misrelates a God / human relation in a knowledge of God combine.

Johnson is just about to get into treating Przywara’s solution to this above-below / below-above dilemma vis à vis knowledge of God, as Przywara has presented the supposed problem. But, from the get-go, I have already spied a methodological and definitional problem in the way he has framed this dilemma. God is God is the all-important frame, particularly as that relates to the way humans know God. Jesus is the answer; what’s the question?

 

1 Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analgia Entis (New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 69-70.

Knowledge of God: Irruptive Rather Than Domestic

I think sometimes folks aren’t appreciating the rub between what Barth (Torrance et al.) are doing when they offer an alternative—to classical theism—theory knowledge of God. It orbits around a question; a question Keith Johnson articulates with great clarity:

Romans I

Barth began concentrated study on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans a few months after delivering ‘The Righteousness of God’. The experience was slow-going, at least by the standards of his later output. The extra time spent on the manuscript, however, meant that Barth’s understanding of the distinctions and categories that had been working subtly throughout ‘The Righteousness of God’ had time to develop and mature to the point where they could become more prominent and central to his theology. We see the fruit of this development in the final manuscript of the first edition of Barth’s commentary on Romans. One of Barth’s concerns as he works through Paul’s text is to explain how the relationship between God and humanity can be a relationship-in-distinction. His goal, as becomes clear in the text, is to find a way to remove the human consciousness from the centre of our understanding of the creator-creature relationship while also upholding some way of talking about true human knowledge of God. Barth is convinced that human knowledge of God cannot be conceived as something constant or always available—since this leaves it under human control—but rather, it must be understood as something that comes afresh and anew in each moment. But what does this kind of knowledge look like in practical terms? In other words, how can one see God as, on the one hand, existing prior to and apart from all human knowledge of him, and, on the other, as one who really is known by the human?1

Before further comment, one point of quibble. When Johnson writes: “Barth is convinced that human knowledge of God cannot be conceived as something constant or always available . . .” it almost leaves one with the impression that knowledge of God for Barth, theoretically, isn’t ‘always available.’ Of course, the rest of the context from Johnson helps to clarify, but I think this could “sound” a certain way for the casual reader. It isn’t that, for Barth, knowledge of God isn’t always available, it’s just that the way it’s always available comes from the miracle of God’s irrupting grace into our lives moment by moment, afresh anew. And this gets us to the point: as Johnson is eloquently developing, Barth is intentionally operating with a non-possessive or dispossessive theory of knowledge of God. Instead of the ‘classical’ model wherein ‘grace perfects nature,’ thus collapsing grace into nature, for Barth, and I think the Apostle Paul, grace is a constantly in-breaking reality into the lives of Christians in particular, and the world in general. It isn’t something, but someOne, Jesus Christ, who by the Holy Spirit confronts, contradicts, and challenges the would-be knower of God to know God on God’s terms, and not the abstract human agent’s terms. This is implicit in what Johnson is after: i.e. the critique of the classical theist notion that as corollary with its actus purus (pure being) God, there is a natura pura (pure nature) operative such that grace becomes the natural predicate or end of nature’s perfection independent of the immediacy and agency of God; something like a ‘deistic’ notion of a God-world relation wherein God relates to the ‘pure world’ mediated through secondary and middle causative powers (decrees etc.) at a ‘distance.’ When this is applied to a theory of knowledge of God, knowledge of God becomes immediate and ‘constant’ to the human agent in abstraction from God, per se, and instead in concreto by way of the creature’s active accessing of the created order as a vestige by which God is known (from effect to cause in a chain of being).

Barth, as Johnson is underscoring, is registering a resounding: Nein! For Barth, nature presents no independent access to God, even through a ‘created grace’ provided for ostensibly by God. For Barth, the created order is so befuddled by sin, that in order for it to be redeemed, it must be re-created. But this requires a miracle from the type of resources that only God has available to Him; which we see in creatio ex nihilo. As such, knowledge of God can only be provided for by God of God; not by way of an abstract accessing of vestiges of God woven into the taxis of the fallen created order, but by way of God’s re-created order in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is only through a relation of faith, the faith of Christ for us, that this knowledge of God can obtain. Only after God has thought Himself for us in Jesus Christ, wooed us into His womb through participation with the Son’s humanity, that the human comes into the center of God’s inner-life and theological knowledge of God obtains (from the evangelical to the theological, as TF Torrance would say it). But this an ongoing miracle of God’s parousia, of God visiting us moment by moment in the freshness of the breath of the Holy Spirit as He enlivens Christ’s voice into ours. This naturally leads to witness. Knowledge of God for Barth reduces to witness insofar as this is the organic unfolding of the Christian’s knowledge of God. The point being that human agents cannot think God in abstraction from God on their own created energy, since such energy is fallen energy that required a total scrapping, which occurred in the incarnation and the cross of Jesus Christ. There is a new way, a new creation, a new time that Christian’s bear witness to: the Kingdom has come, is coming moment by moment, and is to come in its eschatological bliss of the many finally seeing their One, the One for them, God in Jesus Christ.

As Johnson leaves us with, what Barth is left with is how to think God, and knowledge of God under his proposed terms, in such a way that the Godness of God’s transcendence, His hiddenness (Deus absconditus), becomes accessible to the creature; accessible in a way that retains the integrity of God’s Godness, and the creature’s creatureliness. The answer is always Jesus; what’s the question?

 

1 Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analgia Entis (New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 21-2.

 

The Seed of the Classical Theistic God Given Blossom in the god of Modern Atheism

I have been an oft critic of the ‘classical theistic’ god. The classical theistic God is typically known by actus purus, ‘pure being.’ I have argued that this conception of Godness as Monad comes to us from the ancient Greek philosophers, and not from God’s Self-revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ. Some would say that my argument is modern, but that would simply be the chronological snobbery fallacy. Truth has no provenance; that is, truth is truth no matter where or whence it comes. Bruce McCormack describes this sort of critique this way (here his comments are in the context of his treatment on Eberhard Jüngel’s explication of Barth’s doctrine of God): 

The term “essence” in its origins is a class term, descriptive of what is common to all members of a class. As such, it is an abstraction from all exemplars belonging to that class in their lived existence. Applied to God, the qualification was traditionally added: “but, of course, God belongs to no class. God is unique.” But the qualification came too late for it did not qualify the definition of divine essence that had been devised by means of negations alone without reference to God’s existence. Jüngel shows that the classical ambivalence in holding and, at the same time not holding the claim that essence and existence are one in God gave rise in the early modern period to Descartes’ insinuation of the cogito (the “thinking human subject”) between divine “essence” and divine “existence” — thereby creating “a contradiction which disintegrates the being of God: namely, into a highest essence over me and into its existence through and with me.” Ibid., p. 126. From there, it was but a short step for modern thinkers to remove the contradiction through surrender of this highest essence. In this way, the ambivalence of classical treatments of the relation of essence and existence in God made a substantial contribution to the rise of modern atheism.1 

Usually, it is the evangelical opponents of modern theology in favor of their retrieval of classical theism who decries anything modern; like Jüngel’s critique of the classical theistic god. Yet, if Jüngel is right, and McCormack’s commentary on him is to the point, then it is these evangelical retrievers of classical theism who, if anyone, should be ‘demonized’; insofar that the God they are introducing the churches to reduces to the god of modern atheism. Just because the evangelical suitors of classical theism (indeed, they have created that designation) assert that modern theology is demonic, doesn’t make it so. The greatest irony here is that in fact it is the god of classical theism who reduces, quite easily, into the “thinking human subject”; or the god of the modern atheist.  

In my experience, nobody really wants to bite the bullet on these things. Most evangelical theologians today (of the Reformed provenance) simply live in a posture of denial. They feel the pressure to think God from antique roots, because they seem to think God spoke more clearly then than now, but then when a modern theologian[s] shows that the way this God was synthesized with Hellenic conceptualities results in the No-God of modern atheism, they simply deflect and claim that it is the modern theologian who is the devil. Both can’t be right. I’ve never seen an evangelical counter the sort of critique made by people like Jüngel, McCormack et al. There are guys like Craig Carter, Matthew Barrett, Scott Swain and Michael Allen, who are continuously pushing the classical theistic god for the massa of evangelicals out there. But again, this simply glosses past critiques like those made by people like EJ.  

 

1 Bruce Lindley McCormack, The Humility of the Eternal Son: Reformed Kenoticism and the Repair of Chalcedon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 170-71 n.41.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Analogy of God

The analogia entis, or ‘analogy of being,’ has been a topic of interest for me almost from the moment I heard the term; linguistically the language itself sounds cool, but that’s where the coolness level leaves off for me. As a general introduction to Thomas Aquinas’ thinking on analogy of being the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy will suffice:

Despite the vast modern literature devoted to Aquinas’s theory of analogy, he has very little to say about analogy as such. He uses a general division into equivocal, univocal, and analogical uses of terms, and he presents both of the threefold divisions of analogy mentioned in the previous section, but he offers no prolonged discussion, and he writes as if he is simply using the divisions, definitions, and examples with which everyone is familiar. His importance lies in the way he used this standard material to present an account of the divine names, or how it is we can meaningfully use such words as ‘good’ and ‘wise’ of God.

The background to this account has to be understood in terms of Aquinas’s theology and metaphysics. Three doctrines are particularly important. First, there is the distinction between being existent, good, wise, and so on, essentially, and being existent, good, wise, and so on, by participation. God is whatever he is essentially, and as a result he is existence itself, goodness itself, wisdom itself. Creatures are existent, good, wise, only by sharing in God’s existence, goodness, and wisdom, and this sharing has three features. It involves a separation between the creature and what the creature has; it involves a deficient similarity to God; and it is based on a causal relation. What is essentially existent or good is the cause of what has existence or goodness by participation. Second, there is the general doctrine of causality according to which every agent produces something like itself. Agent causality and similarity cannot be separated. Third, there is Aquinas’s belief that we are indeed entitled to claim that God is existent, good, wise, and so on, even though we cannot know his essence.[1]

It is true that Barth’s nearest referent when referring to the analogy of being in particular, was 20th century Catholic theologian Erich Przywara; but when thinking these things in general, as he is doing in our consideration of his thought, Thomas Aquinas’ version of the analogy would be in the cross-hairs just as much as Przywara or anyone else.

The Stanford introduction to Aquinas’ thinking does not mention the language of analogia entis, but its description of analogy in Aquinas sufficiently sketches the primary entailments of the entis in the Dumb Ox’s thinking. Of note, for our purposes, is the conception of God that is presupposed in Aquinas’ understanding. For Aquinas, along with Aristotle, God is ‘first cause,’ the ‘unmoved mover,’ the ‘actual infinite.’ We see this being alluded to in Stanford’s when it refers to the metaphysical aspects of God’s being, as if these simply are the standards of who God is. But how are these standards arrived at; are they based on revelation or philosophical reflection? The answer: philosophical reflection. Further, the Stanford description also alludes to a theory of causation inherent to this unmoved mover’s capacity to relate to things (like the world) that are not inherent to its inner being. As the first causer of all that is, in the Aristotelian/Aquinas schema, roughly stated: all of the subsequent causes, vis-à-vis God, can be traced back to the first cause by reference to the hierarchy of being built into the strata of all created reality. This is an important piece of the Thomist analogia being: if all reality is interconnected within a chain-of-being, it is logical to deduce that created being, at some [analogous] level can infer its primary cause from within its own caused-self.

In brief: the analogy of being refers us to the way that some philosophers and theologians have attempted to construct a theory of a knowledge of God that honors the independence of creaturely nature, as that is attenuated by God’s grace in His Self-revelation. In other words: in this frame, knowledge of God can be arrived at by simply reflecting upon the nature of things in the created order; primary of which is reflection upon human nature as the imago Dei, and how its existence finds its being elsewhere in the ‘pure being’ of God. But it is because of these elements, these prior commitments and realities, that Aquinas et al. believed that human beings could reason themselves to some general level knowledges of the Creator’s pure being, as it were.

Along with Karl Barth, I consider this framework for knowledge of God: anti-Christ. Why? Because it presumes to speak of God before God has spoken for Himself to us in Jesus Christ. This is not to say that a participatory knowledge of God is out of bounds (which the analogy of being believes is appropriate as well), but that the way we conceive of God in the first place, at a first order level, must be dictated strictly by God’s Logos for us (cf. Jn 1.1; 18 etc.). The Christian God is not a product of a general human conception of godness; the Christian God comes to us within the scandal of particularity / within the scandal of the cross. Barth points it this way (at length):

We must not overlook the fact that the moderate doctrine of analogy in natural theology, as it has been and is represented in particular in the Catholic Church, stands in the closest material and historical connexion with the Liberalism which, under appeal to God’s omnipotence, affirms all analogies. Even if it is sanctified by the teaching office of the Church, it is still an arbitrariness, grounded only in philosophy, that Catholicism will not allow Christian thinking and Christian language to draw from the analogia entis affirmed by it the consequence of a general analogy of the world to God. On the other hand, Liberalism shows a basic readiness in almost every connexion to discover new analogies in the world, and, whether it knows it or not, it stands in only too great need of the corrective of a philosophical arbitrariness (and a teaching office to sanctify it?), and necessarily evokes at least a desire for it. Genuine proclamation is not possible on the basis of the opinion that we have to reckon with an analogy of human views, concepts and words, which may be established apart from God’s revelation, and therefore on the basis of the doctrine of analogy in natural theology. It is only possible where the analogy is understood as the work and proposition of revelation itself. Genuine proclamation must speak particularly and therefore restrictedly. It must be aware why it says this and does not say that; why it says this in one way and that in another. But is particularity must not be abandoned to an arbitrary philosophy, to the chances and changes of philosophies, and finally to the dictates of a teaching office. If it is going to be proclamation of God, it must rest on the choice made by God Himself. For this very reason it must always be bound to God’s revelation, and must always be the exposition of the revelation of God. Even indirectly it must not become the self-exposition of man, or the exposition of the revelation of God under the presupposition and according to the measure of a preceding self-exposition of man. It is exposition of the revelation of God when it keeps to the human words which are placed at our disposal as we are confronted by God’s revelation, and which are therefore designed as serviceable for this employment; when it follows the freedom in which God bestows His grace upon man generally and therefore upon his human views, concepts and words. It will then have something definite to say, and that with a good conscience, with the promise of relevance, i.e., of standing in a real relationship to the reality proclaimed by it, and with the justified claim and well-grounded prospect of obtaining a hearing.[2]

Folks involved in the theology of retrieval, currently, will immediately balk at this; but ironically, they do so from the very premise under critique: i.e. natural theology. In other words, we notice how Barth takes aim at the ad hoc ‘teaching office’ of the Catholic Church; as he does, more generally, he posits that all generalizations of God in the world at large have some sort of delimiting ‘teaching office’ that sanctions this or that particular notion of ‘otherness’ as an organizing or regulative principle per its broader knowledge-system (for naturalists it would be the ‘teaching office’ of the scientific guild). The point Barth is (rightly!) militating against is that for the Christian there can be no philosophically derived notion of God that serves as God’s posterior in regard to our knowledge of Him.

Much more must and ought to be said, but, alas, this is a blog post! Barth’s battle, and those foolish enough (like me) to take it on as their own, is mostly a loosing battle among the conservative evangelically Reformed communities I inhabit. What this indicates is that such communities are slavishly bound to a natural system of theological discourse that ultimately is tied into the Church’s determination about God rather than being open to God’s disruptive voice and grace confronting them anew and afresh in Jesus Christ. This is a tragedy I hope to teach my children, and all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, to avoid with a hastened repentance. Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[2] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 §27 The Doctrine of God: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 229-30.

Calling Protestants Back to the ‘Scripture Principle’: Always Reforming Per the Reality of Holy Scripture Not The Tradition

The Protestant Scripture Principle remains an important reality for Protestants; or it should! It seems to me that there is a softening of adherence to this principle insofar as Protestants imbibe the theology of the scholastics, and Tridentine-like theology (the theology that is part and parcel with the theology of the Roman Catholic council of Trent). In other words, when Holy Scripture’s reality and interpretation becomes so contingent upon theological paradigms that are ‘extra’ or alien to Scripture itself, then the Scripture Principle suffers and no longer has the ecclesiastic-independence it was intended to have. When creeds and confessions become normative, whether those come from Catholics, Protestants, or even the so-called ecumenical councils of Patristic vintage, Scripture becomes a victim of a foreign invasion that has little to do with actual canonical content and more to do with discursive philosophies developed out of the geniuses of the doctors. The Scripture Principle is intended to quench even the doctors though. The Scripture Principle is intended to allow the alien reality of Scripture itself to have the space to confront its creation in the Church. In other words, the Scripture Principle is supposed to give Protestants space to hear the viva vox Dei (living voice of God) in contradistinction to their own. This is supposed to be the character of the churches who sit under the Scripture Principle: viz. they are to be churches who can hear God’s voice afresh and anew in Christ, and discern what He is saying over against what the Church may or may not be saying at any given time in her history. The Scripture Principle is intended to identify that there is an objective res or reality in Christ who speaks independent of our own voices (thus condemning subjectivism, even in its collectivist forms), and thus grounds the authority of the Church in the Church’s head, who is the Christ. This is the aim of the Protestant Scripture Principle, and I think it is being eroded away by Protestant thinkers who are so taken with the ‘Great Tradition’ of the Church that they are allowing that Tradition to be regulative and allowing it to supplant Scripture’s real reality in Jesus Christ.

Karl Barth writes:

What Catholicism has for the most part done is classically typical of all heresies. In the exposition and application of Scripture it thinks that outside of Christ and the Holy Spirit who can be received and works directly—He may sometimes go by other more secular names. He may even be identical with human reason or vitality or nature or historical consciousness. And where this happens, then Scripture, which is clear in itself and in subject-matter, becomes obscure, the demanded freedom in exposition and application becomes self-will, and a divergence of the various expositions and applications becomes inevitable. There is no more dangerous subjectivism than that which is based on the arrogance of a false objectivity. Not the fact that Holy Scripture as the Word of God is obscure and ambiguous, but the fact that is the Word of God for the Church on earth, and therefore a teacher of pupils who are lost sinners, is what makes the much deplored divergence in its understanding possible, and, unless the miracle of revelation and faith intervenes, quite inevitable. But this divergence can be avoided only by this miracle and certainly not by denying it in advance. It will not be avoided if, instead of accepting in faith the grace which meets them in Scripture, the pupils give way to their own sin, renouncing the relationship as pupils in which all their hope should be set, and each trying to be the teacher of Scripture or at least an equal partner in discussion. But even if in so doing they appeal to Christ and the Holy Spirit, even if ever so many of them should enjoy the finest consensio [consent] among ourselves—on this path they can only increase the fragmentation and make it incurable.[1]

We catch something of Calvin’s autopistis (‘self-attesting’) concept here in Barth’s bibliology. We get this sense, in particular, with his appeal to ‘miracle’ in reference to Holy Scripture’s reality and authority. In Barth’s mind Holy Scripture has objective reality and authority to speak over, against (often), and into the Church precisely because that is Christ! It is the miracle of God become human in Christ wherein, for Barth, Scripture receives its canonical context and force for the Christian. The Church can’t claim this same status since, for Barth, the Church gains her form from the reality mediated in and through the reality of Holy Scripture. For Barth, Scripture has special status because the reality it eventfully bares witness to is the risen and LIVING Christ; it is Christ’s voice that shatters through the human words of Scripture; the Church only becomes the Church, over and again, as she is given birth through contact with these words—and thus the Word therein.

You might be picking up on how instrumental Barth sees Scripture as; something like Calvin’s spectacles, but a little different too. But it is this that I think so many Protestants are losing sight of. Christ is no longer biblically hermeneutically regulative for many Protestants, instead Church Tradition is. These Protestants can no longer critically distinguish between Scripture’s reality and the Church’s tradition, as such they are one in the same for them. It is this that Barth above is railing against. When we conflate our ‘sinful’ selves with the reality of Scripture, or we hermetically seal off Scripture’s reality by collapsing that into the Church’s tradition, or consensus fidelium, Scripture can no longer put us sinners in our place; only our piety can. And our piety, as stellar as it might seem by sight, is only filthy rags before the living God. And so, with Barth, we ought to approach Scripture via analogy of faith, and understand just how it is miracle come afresh and anew as we encounter its ongoing and living reality in Jesus Christ. Herein we can constructively and critically listen to the past, listen to the Tradition; but only as we sit under Scripture, not allowing the Church’s tradition to become the regulator of all that is real in the Christian reality.

As a Protestant Christian, along with Barth, I am not slavishly held captive to the so called catholic Great Tradition of the historical Church. Nein, I am held captive to Scripture’s reality in Jesus Christ. There’s a difference between Christ and the Church. Christ is God in the flesh, the sole mediator between God and humanity in the hypostatic union of His singular person; the Church is not that mediator. We come into ‘contact’ with that Mediator as we dwell or inhabit Holy Scripture. Here we live in the ongoing occurrence of an absolute miracle; the miracle of resurrection where God’s voice speaks to us in Christ from beyond the tomb and from the Right Hand. The Church doesn’t have this as her direct reality, only Holy Scripture does. The Church becomes the Church afresh and anew as she is confronted with and fortified by the voice of the living Word of God who shines through in the canonical black and white of Holy Writ. I am Protestant in this sense; in the sense that I am committed to the Scripture Principle.

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2§20, 101-02.

Engaging With Some Analytic Theology: Ryan Wellington’s Argument for Divine Revelation as Propositional

The following comes from a paper Ryan Wellington recently published through the Journal of Analytic Theology, his essay is titled: Divine Revelation as Propositional. Typically, as an after Barth thinker I am repulsed by emphasizing revelation as propositional; instead, I like to emphasize revelation as personal. But Wellington parses his development on revelation in such a way that he understands revelation as propositional from within what he identifies as acquaintance knowledge. As such Wellington argues the following thesis (and more, but not less): “Divine revelation, as I will argue, cannot be merely propositional if, by it, we are to have acquaintance with the persons of God. Instead, I agree with Wahlberg (2014, 41) that Divine revelation is nothing less than propositional, and as my thesis for this paper, I will defend the idea that the propositional model of Divine revelation deserves renewed attention.”[1] When I initially read the title, particularly as that is situated in a journal called Journal of Analytic Theology, I presumed that Wellington would be arguing for a theory of revelation that was necessarily at odds with the conception of personalist revelation that I am most prone towards. I have not yet finished the essay in full, so my move to laud Wellington’s argument, or least certain lineaments might be premature; but in keeping with the trajectory of his essay thus far, it would be surprising to me if my current impression proves errant. That said, let’s read along with Wellington, and engage with what I take to be at least laudable; if not from a purely analytic mode of engagement. Wellington writes (in extenso):

Second, it would seem that through Divine revelation we come to an acquaintance knowledge of God whereby we know Him intimately; thus, it would seem that acquaintance knowledge is a good candidate for a complete account of knowledge of Divine revelation. However, I think that such an account would be incomplete: although acquaintance knowledge is distinct from propositional knowledge, it seems to me that knowledge by acquaintance of persons (in whatever way one is acquainted with persons through a public means instead of by a private means) is mediated by propositional knowledge. One does not sufficiently possess acquaintance knowledge of another person through public means except by possessing propositional knowledge of that person (e.g., where they are from, what their values and preferences are, what habits they have, what their occupation is, who their friends are, what they possess, what they have said or done, how they have said or done something). Taken in this sense acquaintance knowledge, although distinct from propositional knowledge, supervenes on propositional knowledge.

In this way, knowledge of God by Divine revelation may—and ought—to become an acquaintance knowledge of God, but the type of knowledge of Divine revelation that yields acquaintance knowledge is propositional knowledge. Along a similar line of reasoning, Lamont (2004, 13) writes, “We do not have a self-disclosure of God in revelation instead of a communication of knowledge. Rather it is in part through a communication of knowledge that God’s self-disclosure takes place.” With similar reasoning Abraham (1981, 80) writes:

If God were to communicate certain propositions to an individual then that in itself would normally entail that God has revealed something of himself. Thus if God were to say “I am faithful to my covenant with my people Israel,” this would reveal something about God himself. It is misguided, therefore, to insist that any revelation made by asserting propositions somehow contradicts the claim that the content of revelation is God himself. Indeed such verbal revelation is crucial to our understanding of God.

This emphasis on propositions as a vehicle for God’s self-disclosure is the substance of what I meant in the introduction of this paper by the idea that Divine revelation is not less than propositional: that this propositional revelation is meant to fundamentally unite the human person to God in a disclosure of God that offers a higher kind of knowledge than that of propositional knowledge—an acquaintance knowledge from propositional knowledge. Thus we might say that the propositional model of revelation is the foundation of Divine revelation but that “revelation is a broader concept than divine speaking” (Lamont, 2004, 5).

In this way, Divine revelation offers propositions, but it offers more than just propositions, particularly in cases of manifestational revelation whereby we are even more apt to acquaintance knowledge (Wahlberg 2014):

Revelation is an epistemic concept: it has to do with knowledge, and knowledge is, or involves, a propositional attitude (an attitude toward a proposition). Propositions, therefore, necessarily figure in both propositional and manifestational revelation. God, or any agent, cannot make knowledge of some reality available to a subject except by making knowledge of some proposition available. So even though manifestational revelation does not essentially involve propositions known by the revealer, it still essentially involves propositions as the entities revealed. . . .  In manifestational revelation, therefore, the entities revealed can (and often do) include more than just propositions, while in nonmanifestational revelation they include only propositions. If God appears to a person in a mystical experience, or as the incarnate Son of God in Palestine two thousand years ago (which would be examples of manifestational revelation), then God reveals both some proposition about himself (propositions, as we remember, figure necessarily in any kind of revelation), but also something that is not a proposition, namely God himself (30-31). . . .  [R]evelation indeed is more than a transmission of information. The crucial point is that it cannot be less (41).

In a similar way, St. Thomas Aquinas (ST IIa-IIæ. q.1. a.2. ad.2.) writes that “the act of the believer does not terminate in a proposition, but in a thing.” This is such that God’s revelation always consists in—but offers more than—propositional content. This propositional content is, itself, not the object of the revelation but the threshold that we cross to enter into acquaintance. The object of the revelation—that to which the propositions refer—is God. Thus, by the propositions of revelation we develop acquaintance with God, and this knowledge by acquaintance is itself distinct from propositional knowledge. It “is non-propositional and . . . is not reducible to knowledge that” even though it arises from or accompanies (in the case of manifestational revelation) propositional knowledge (Stump 2010, 51). As Lamont (1996, 407) writes, “Divine revelation is not primarily a set of first aid instructions for dealing with sin, or a set of directions that tell us how to find our way to God.” Instead, it is a means of bringing “us into a personal relationship with Christ. It does contain some first aid instructions and directions, but these are all based on this personal relationship, and presuppose it.” Wahlberg (2014, 14–15) seems to agree here as well:

I do not think that revelation is only, or principally, about grasping propositions. I think that revelation is mainly about getting to know a person, Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I believe that coming to know Christ through revelation requires a graced transformation, which is effected by participation in the sacramental life of the church. Revelation, therefore, involves much more than divinely asserted propositions.[2]

In keeping with Wellington’s intention to prove the soundness of his thesis, that revelation is not less than propositional, he emphasizes the role that propositions mediate as a sort of epistemic bridge between the revelation and revelator. If we were to leave things here I would have found his argument unacceptable. But Wellington doesn’t leave it here, and as we have seen, situates propositional knowledge of God, within a broader category called acquaintance knowledge; and to further specify acquaintance knowledge he qualifies further by distinguishing between manifestational and non-manifestational acquaintance knowledge. For the Christian conception of God, Wellington seems to locate all knowledge of God within acquaintance knowledge as a prius. In other words, Wellington understands that in order for propositions to have referential meaning they must first be grounded in a manifestational mode of God’s acquaintance with the recipients of His Self-manifestation. Even though Wellington seems to be arguing that propositions serve in an epistemically instrumental mode vis-à-vis the broader category of acquaintance, he is not also arguing that revelation can be reduced to propositions themselves; instead, that propositions only have in-formational force insofar as those first come through a participatory involvement with God among those who have become acquainted with Him.

Insofar as I understand Wellingtons’ argument thus far, I don’t think I have a problem with it. Of course, you can see how I am emphasizing the acquaintance structure of knowledge of God. I might be reading my own theological disposition into that, and emphasizing it in a way that belies Wellingtons’ whole argument. Even so, I have no problem affirming the notion that propositions serve as instrumental means whereby God’s voice in Christ comes to make meaning-ful sense; but only insofar that these signs/propositions (signum) find their ultimate reality (res) in the living reality of the mysterium Trinitatis (so the personal and confrontational ground, of course!).

My fear is that if we were to reduce knowledge of God to propositions, as the lead, that might reduce our relationship or acquaintance with God to a structurally linguistic reality that denudes the personal notes that I think our mystical union with God imbibes. If we see propositional knowledge of God as a predicate of God’s speech for us in and through His accommodating humiliation towards us in the Christ, then I am fine with that. As long as we emphasize the instrumental and yet seemingly necessary role that propositions, as informers, play in the process of us coming to know God personally; in meaningful and effervescent ways. I probably wouldn’t argue for the propositional revelational model, per se, but I can see some value in the way Wellington is seemingly arguing for it.

 

 

[1] R.A. Wellington, “Divine Revelation as Propositional,” Journal of Analytic Theology, Vol. 7, June 2019: 156-77. Accessed 07-24-2019.

[2] Ibid.

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