Karl Barth, The Reformed Theologian Par Excellence: Christ Rather than the Confessions as the Canon

This might seem rather pedantic, like at the level of: who cares? But, apparently I do. Others do too, but only those ensconced in the confessional of so called Protestant Reformed orthodoxy; theological identity is important in these sectors. For me it’s mostly important as a matter of fact, rather than proving an identity [for Barth] that in itself does nothing, one way or the other, with reference to his constructive theological offering for the Christian churches. Maybe you are tracking already with what I am referring to. Barth is denied entrée into the genuinely Reformed branches of the Protestant churches, pretty much because those in those churches believe he is still too liberal and modern; that he doesn’t submit, in slavish ways, to the confessional traditions in the purist ways they ostensibly do.

But Barth was a Reformed theologian. He might not fit in with the ad hoc standards the “standardizers” have set, but that’s no matter; that’s ad hoc. As is typical though with Barth his approach to all things, at a formal level even, is always Christ concentrated. Of course when we read Barth, as with any theologian, we must be attentive to their point of maturation. The early Barth, or we might say the Göttingen Barth, was clearly a Reformed theologian; just at the point that demarcated Lutherans from the Reformed, even in the magisterial days—the days saturated with the Eucharistic debates about Christ’s presence. This debate, surely, stemmed from a broader discussion and implication grounded in the Christological quarrels that we can trace into the patristic period.

At the very minimal we can say that the early Barth was a Reformed theologian. But I would contend that he remains largely Reformed throughout his career as a theologian; even after he reforms the classical understanding of election in Church Dogmatics II. Here Darren Sumner notes Barth’s self-conscious Reformed location, contra the Lutherans, as he works out his dogmatics in Göttingen:

Finally, it should be noted that here Barth is self-consciously Reformed. The lectures are given as a contrast to Lutheran Christology—which Barth regards as an innovation (particularly with respect to the communicatio idiomatum) doomed to fail just as Eutychian monophysitism failed. There seems to be no possibility of harmony between these two Reformation schools on the matter of Christology. Both lay claim to parts of the Chalcedonian Definition. One must decide between the two, and Barth acknowledges that the place from which he speaks is Reformed and not Lutheran: “One cannot be both, as far as I can see and understand.” But at least, Barth adds, the decision on the Reformed side has never been understood as exclusive: “Not No, but Yes!” The sense of this is that Barth believes that the Reformed may not have it all right in their Christology, but they did well in maintaining an attitude of theological openness while opposing the errors of their opponents. Theirs is a corrective, but not a replacement of one theological system with another, in a definite and exclusionary sense.[1]

I think this represents a better way towards identifying theological identity. In other words, why refer to the Reformed confessions as the standard for membership in the Reformed faith. Even among those who ostensibly adhere to them as their canons, even they have severe lassitude and disagreement on points of emphasis and articulation. Historically, I think referring to actual theological material as the theological identifier of someone is the better way. The Christological impasse represents an excellent standard for this, in and amongst the ancient and even contemporary Protestants.

Barth self-consciously falls on the Reformed side, particularly given his christological commitments. Even as he became more constructive, moving beyond Göttingen, he still retains his Reformed emphases. Just read his CD, in particular his footnotes and you’ll see his heavy engagement with the scholastics Reformed throughout.

At the end of the day, what Barth offered was a theological oeuvre that is fruitful and edifying because he attempted a theological endeavor that intentionally and obsessively worked from Jesus Christ. Whether or not this meets the standards of what counts as Reformed theology in the 21st century doesn’t ultimately matter. The eschaton will reveal what matters; the eschaton will be the time that shows that Barth’s attempt was the better way, just because he slaved himself to the Christ as the reality and centrum of all theological output for the churches. Even so, Barth was Reformed!

[1] Darren O. Sumner, Karl Barth and the Incarnation: Christology and the Humility of God (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014), Loc. 1965, 1973.

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Karl Barth, The Reformed Theologian Par Excellence: Christ Rather than the Confessions as the Canon

A Response to Peter Leithart and Steve Duby: ‘In Defense [or Critique] of Christian Philosophy’

God and philosophy, and age old discussion; i.e. ‘what hath Jerusalem to do with Athens?’ I want to broach this topic in this post, and with particular reference to an exchange that has taken place between Peter Leithart and Steve Duby; in regard to Leithart’s interaction with Steve’s book Divine Simplicity: A Dogmatic Account. I will not recount everything they have written, but let me attempt to summarize.

Leithart offers, as I recall, eight critiques of Duby’s thinking on the relationship between God and philosophy; or the wisdom of attempting to speak God from philosophical categories rather than ‘biblical’ ones. Here is a helpful nutshell of Leithart’s larger critique[s]: “3) Philosophy bewitches by her rhetoric. She makes us think that speaking in her dialect is more precise or profound than speaking in the poetic dialect of Scripture. I contend, on the contrary, that the Scriptural talk of God is the most precise and adequate language we can have. It’s God’s own talk about Himself.”[1] And Duby’s basic response to this is as follows (also part of his larger rejoinder), at length:

Accordingly, Leithart’s third statement takes us to the heart of the problem with his post: when a theologian tries to claim the high ground by asserting that he or she is simply drawing from Scripture while his or her opponents are indulging in “philosophy,” the theologian is either being naïve or deceptive. Neither Leithart nor anyone else is simply repeating verbatim statements from Scripture. Leithart, along with everyone else, has to engage and draw upon knowledge developed by the use of the natural (and God-given) intellect. When someone is bent on trying to claim the aforementioned high ground, they are misleading their readers. Until someone like Leithart concedes that he is making use of extrabiblical knowledge to articulate his theological position, little can be gained from engaging in a debate about the doctrine of God and other particular topics. The first challenge is to dispel the naivete and establish some initial common ground.[2]

And:

However, philosophy is fundamentally a knowledge or study of things discoverable by natural reason without necessarily being informed by supernatural revelation. It is a setting forth of things typically known implicitly by ordinary human beings (like the difference between an efficient cause and a final cause or the law of non-contradiction). What contemporary Christian theology needs, I would suggest, is a renewal of the traditional Protestant commitment to Scripture as the cognitive principle of theology and to reason or philosophy as a subordinate instrument for expounding what Scripture teaches.[3]

Now, you’re going to have to go and read exactly what Leithart actually wrote (in full) in response to his reading of Duby’s book. As you read Duby’s rejoinder, in full, as I have, he sort of misrepresents what Leithart actually is saying; albeit, the quote I shared from Leithart leaves him open for this sort of misreading. I don’t think, as I read Leithart, that he is actually taking the naïve route, or the sort of fundamentalist nuda scriptura that Duby attributes to him. It seems to me that Leithart is merely pushing back on the idea that biblical language itself isn’t sufficient to explicate and communicate who God is. What I see Leithart, potentially doing, is overreacting to the tradition that Duby represents; i.e. the Thomist/Aristotelian tradition that shapes much of the tradition being retrieved in the 16th and 17th century theological developments found in what has come to be called Post Reformed Orthodoxy. In this sense, Leithart’s critique is not far removed, not at all!, from my sustained critiques of the same tradition.

Further, I am not fully persuaded that Duby has read Leithart all that accurately; and as such, if this is the case, it makes Duby’s rejoinder almost unnecessary (at least in the form it was given). I don’t actually think Leithart is either naïve or attempting to intentionally mislead his readers (as Duby suggestively claims) when he commends people to use the ‘poetic’ language of the Bible rather than the metaphysical language of the philosophers, in order to speak God. I don’t actually think Leithart repudiates the catholic faith represented in the ecumenical councils such as we find in Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon. If anything, what I see Leithart doing is attempting to push church people back to the Bible, but not in a Socinian attempt to undercut the basic theo-logic given grammar by the ecumenical councils; but instead, to redress that grammar with the biblical language and emphases us Protestants are so presumably accustomed to (sola scriptura).

So that is my précis on the exchange, as it stands now, between Leithart and Duby. But what do I think about God and Philosophy? This will represent a summary perspective, and will further engage with Duby’s rejoinder to Leithart.

Let me respond to this part of Duby’s response to Leithart; this large quote from Duby will have to serve, for our purposes, as the sort of distillation of his broader pushback to Leithart, and his larger push back at anyone who challenges an overly analytic or Thomist frame for doing Christian theology. And this is what always piques my interest; i.e. the discussion revolving around how the Christian ought to think and speak God. This quote from Duby gives his general belief about what he thinks represents the best ‘philosophy’ for articulating God, and it does so as he is engaging with some material points about the Arisotelian/Thomist categories of substance/accidents vis-à-vis God and his explication—we will not get into the nitty gritty of those details, but instead focus on the general point about the relationship of God and Philosophy, and what ‘philosophy[s]’ are best suited for the Christian’s explication of God for the church in the 21st century. Duby writes:

However, the fact that the use of the metaphysical language is not absolutely necessary does not mean that the metaphysical resources in question are detached from reality. It does not mean that what they offer us is just a set of coherent rules for saying things – rules that we might either take or leave. On the contrary, the classical metaphysical tradition developed by Christian thinkers like John of Damascus, Thomas Aquinas or the early Reformed theologians and philosophers involves a knowledge of how things are. Indeed, it is fundamentally an exposition of things human beings know to be true prior to engaging in any formal academic work. For example, things do have natures by virtue of which they are similar to other things. There really are substances in which accidents inhere. It is true that a whole is greater than any of its individual parts. The ad hoc nature of the decision to incorporate Aristotelian philosophical resources concerns the fact that explicit use of these concepts is not absolutely necessary for articulating doctrine. It does not concern the truthfulness or explanatory fecundity of the basic natural insights into the created order that are unpacked in the Aristotelian tradition. The notion that a whole is greater than its parts, for example, is true and is implicit in a statement like the one found in Colossians 2:9. As we seek ways to express what God is like according to scriptural teaching, we should look to this philosophical tradition, not Kant or Hegel, because it sheds light on reality. Of course, we will have to clarify how certain things that are true in the case of creatures are not true in God’s case, but that is precisely one of the ways in which someone like Aquinas puts this tradition to good use in saying, for example, that God’s attributes are not accidents but really are just God himself.[4]

As a prius, Duby is committed to the idea that there just is a natural or profane knowledge of how things are vis-à-vis the creation and the Creator, as such he premises from there that this natural knowledge (metaphysically) just is the way we have for rationally (not rationalistically) thinking God. This is what we see him getting at with his appeal to the Aristotelian tradition; the intellectual tradition Duby believes is the best suited for the Christian reality and theological ambition. This becomes his basic or major premise in response to Leithart, and any like detractors.

In further interaction with Steve (on FaceBook), he informed me that his response has nothing to do with whether or not Thomism etc. is the best frame for doing theology, but instead, according to him, his response simply has to do with the idea that we all operate with extrabiblical language and conceptual apparatus when it comes to working out the inner-logic of Scripture. Yet, as I read Duby’s rejoinder, particularly what I just shared from him, this doesn’t really seem to be the case; and it never really does seem to be. When folks like Duby (who by the way, I actually like and appreciate) make the sorts of arguments they do about God and Philosophy, and when they think the Tradition of the church, they have a certain strand of that tradition in mind; again, in Steve’s case it is the Thomist/Aristotelian strand. But at the end of the day I am unaware of an ecumenical church council that has asserted that the Tradition just is what we see climaxing in Thomas (other than say the Catholic Church). I think this is an important piece, and it is one that I would suggest that Leithart himself is pushing; that is, that the tradition itself is very expansive, made up of both East and West, and in-between. In the expanse of the tradition, even in the post reformed orthodox aspect, Thomas and Aristotle are not the crème de la crème that they are for many, like Duby, who are attempting to retrieve the catholic tradition for the evangelical churches. Again, I recognize that Duby is attempting to do more than one thing in his response to Leithart; i.e. 1) To simply argue that all responsible theologians use extrabiblical language and conceptual apparatus to speak and think God for the church, but 2) to also argue that Thomas, and the Aristotelian/analytic frame represents the most responsible way for explicating a Protestant and biblically theological orthodoxy. And I think that these two, rather than being exclusive for Duby, are in fact mutually conditioning, in regard to what he thinks the tradition at its best looks like.

Conclusion

I have already gone too long. I will have to make this at least a two part posting. In closing let me assert that: I don’t disagree with Duby, in toto; but of course I do disagree with him when he claims that only the Aristotelian tradition represents the best (and presumably orthodox) way for doing Christian theology. Along with Barth et al. I maintain that the Evangel does indeed contain its own emphases and categories that come not from an abstract human form of reasoning (which is Duby’s major premise about how we get to extrabiblical language and metaphysics), but instead from the Gospel reality itself Revealed in Jesus Christ. This is where I depart with Duby et al., I reject the idea that the analytical frame (the frame Duby is committed to) is the best suited for providing the Christian with a theological methodology and biblical hermeneutic in that process. Instead, as an Evangelical Calvinist, along with Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance, I am committed to what Barth (in his Göttingen Dogmatics) calls ‘dialectical’ theology, and what Torrance calls dialogical theology. The ground for this approach to theology is in Reconciliation as God’s Revelation, as such it necessarily repudiates any notion that we can do theology from a natural ‘sight’, as Duby’s theological methodology premises, and instead requires that we theologize from ‘the faith of Christ,’ as that is mediated to us by His vicarious humanity and the new creation that He is for us in the Resurrection. It is in this frame that ‘extrabiblical’ language can properly be reified under the pressures provided by Godself, and the center we have to think Him from in His triune life for us in Jesus Christ. This is the fault-line in Duby’s thinking, I contend. And I think, in Leithart’s own way, it is this that he is calling out.

There is a way to redress/reify the “philosophical,” but I contend that that can only happen through an analogy of faith and relation with God in Christ, such that a ‘natural reasoning’ process does not become the basis for our theology; which is Duby’s premise. I ultimately believe that this is Leithart’s push-back to Duby. I think Leithart is challenging Duby’s idea about ‘our capacity’ to think God based on a metaphysic that is formed otherwise from God’s Self-Revelation. I might differ from Leithart in regard to his theory of revelation, but in principle I think we have convergence (but who am I?).

There may or may not be a part two to this post. I already have a million part twos that I’ve written over the years. Pax Christi

 

[1]Peter Leithart,  Source.

[2]Steve Duby, Source

[3]Ibid. The emboldened part from Steve is the common refrain of those who are committed (as Duby is) to a medievally and post reformed orthodoxy mode of theologizing.

[4]Ibid.

A Response to Peter Leithart and Steve Duby: ‘In Defense [or Critique] of Christian Philosophy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Hell’s Darkness Quenched Not By the Apologists But the Christian Dogmaticians

Do you ever read atheist or agnostic authors and start to feel the existential weight of their unbelief? Do you ever follow out the ‘feeling’ that arises when you do that; particularly as you do so as a Christian? I do. Indeed, I just have been experiencing this sensation once again. I am in the process of reading Terry Eagleton (again); he is not even close to being a militant atheist; if anything he is a
soft atheist or searching agnostic. Nonetheless, he operates with machinations that are at overt odds with the Christian reality; particularly when it comes to who Jesus Christ claimed to be. So, just by way of old wounds I have a space to ‘feel’ the angst and utter hopelessness that this sort of agony of thought (ought) to produce; you know: ‘dark night of the soul’ sort of stuff.

My antidote to this sort of stuff, in years past, was to refer to the myriad of evangelical apologists out there; you know: William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland et al. But this isn’t all that satisfactory. The reason this isn’t ultimately satisfactory for me is because they aren’t defending the sort of God I already have a personal and dialogical relationship with. They, instead, are defending the god of the philosophers; the same god most atheists are rejecting. In that sense, if that was the god I was feeling angst about, I suppose what they write would offer assuage. But that’s not the God I know. So what I’ve come to recognize over the years is that there is a misidentification, not just by the atheists, but also by most of the Christian apologists, when it comes to the god they are arguing about.

Because of this, what brings me refreshment—after feeling the loss that someone like Eagleton inhabits, even if he doesn’t ‘feel’ the same loss, currently—is not to go to the “apologists,” but instead it is to go to the Christian Dogmaticians of the church. This is an interesting combine, really, because many of the apologists I am referring to would also refer to some of these church fathers when they are engaging in their defense of God. But again, I think there is a misidentification taking place on various fronts here. The apologists are mostly using the thoughts of some of these church fathers (whether these are patristic, mediaeval, post reformed orthodox, orthodox Lutheran etc.) in abstract ways; abstract in the sense that they are often disregarding the subtleties present in the thought of these various fathers. In other words, the fathers (and mothers) are typically writing for the edification of the church; not attempting to ‘defend’ say, the existence of God. The appeal in the fathers, often at best, is an aesthetic, not analytic one. As such, there is a depth dimension present in their writings that already requires a prior commitment to God’s Divine Revelation; something atheists and agnostics repudiate. In this vein, the fathers have the resource and access to the heavenlies to speak things into my heart that the apologists do not.

The antidote that works best for me these days—an antidote for curing the feeling of hell’s darkness—is not the apologists (who typically push me into this feeling of loss), but the fathers. When I read the fathers there is an encouragement that bears witness with my spirit, such that Jesus comes to be magnified; and God glorified. This is not to say that the fathers all have equal value, but instead to recognize that when I read sound Christian theological reflection there is a fire rekindled that is often quenched when engaging with the atheists (or even the apologists).

Hell’s Darkness Quenched Not By the Apologists But the Christian Dogmaticians

Karl Barth’s Reformulated Doctrine of Election, And Its Implications Towards the Way We Speak of Others; Including Donald Trump

I want to share some quotes from Karl Barth and Tom Greggs. All of these quotes either come from the body or footnotes of my personal chapter for our latest Evangelical Calvinism book (2017). I want to share the quotes, comment a little on their material presence, and then offer some sort of reflective application of them for the churches. In other words, the aim of this post is to attempt to take a technical theological locus and show how it has so called ‘practical’ value; say for human relationships, and maybe even political ones.

Karl Barth writes,

This all rests on the fact that from the very first He participates in the divine election; that that election is also His election; that it is He Himself who posits this beginning of all things; that it is He Himself who executes the decision which issues in the establishment of the covenant between God and man; that He too, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the electing God. If this is not the case, then in respect of the election, in respect of this primal and basic decision of God, we shall have to pass by Jesus Christ, asking of God the Father, or perhaps of the Holy Spirit, how there can be any disclosure of this decision at all. For where can it ever be disclosed to us except where it is executed? The result will be, of course, that we shall be driven to speculating about a decretum absolutum instead of grasping and affirming in God’s electing the manifest grace of God. And that means that we shall not know into whose hands we are committing ourselves when we believe in the divine predestination. So much depends upon our acknowledgement of the Son, of the Son of God, as the Subject of this predestination, because it is only in the Son that it is revealed to us as the predestination of God, and therefore of the Father and the Holy Spirit, because it is only as we believe in the Son that we can also believe in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the one divine election.[1]

And Tom Greggs offers commentary on the sort of sentiment we just witnessed in Barth’s reformulation of election, as a Christ concentrated conception:

There is no room for a prior decision of God to create, or elect and condemn before the decision to elect Jesus Christ (no decretum absolutum); instead, Jesus Christ is Himself the ultimate decretum absolutum.[2]

Further:

Election’s nature is . . . Gospel. The dialectic evident in Romans remains and can be seen between electing God and elected human in its most extreme form in terms of election and rejection. Humanity continues to need to be rescued by God in its rejection of Him. What is new is that this dialectic is now considered in a wholly Christological way which brings together the Yes and No of God in the simultaneity of the elected and rejected Christ. It is He who demonstrates salvation as its originator and archetype. It is, therefore, in the humanity of the elected Christ that one needs to consider the destiny of human nature.[3]

Maybe you can infer how I would use these quotes in the chapter I wrote on assurance of salvation. But the most important point I want to highlight, currently, is that in the Barthian reformulation of election the focus is no longer on individual/abstract people scurrying around on the earth, but instead upon the ground of all humanity as that is realized in the archetypal and elect humanity of Jesus Christ. There is a universalizing underneath in the doctrine of election in Barth’s theology, with the result that our focus is not on ourselves, as if we have some sort of inherent value or worth in se; but instead the realization is always present that we find our life and being in extra nos or outside of us, only as that extra enters into us by the gift of God in the grace who is the Christ.

The shift that happens, juxtaposed with a classical double predestinarian view, is that election first and foremost is about a doctrine of God; but a doctrine of God that can never be thought of apart from or abstracted out of His choice to not be God without us. In other words, in this reified doctrine our knowledge of God and selves is contingent always already upon God’s choice to be with us and for us in Christ. This transforms the way we think humanity, for one thing. In other words, we are unable to think about what genuine humanity is without first thinking about humanity in union with God in the Son’s union with us in the vicarious humanity of Christ.

One immediate consequence of this is that the way we think people is no longer from a class structure, or from the psychological vantage point that God loves some and not others (as the classical notion of election/reprobation leaves us with). As such, we are genuinely free to look out at others and recognize a humanity, in full, that God loves; a humanity, no matter how wretched (maybe as we think of ourselves) that is valuable precisely at the point that Jesus is the Yes and not the No for them and us. This is not to suggest that a blind eye is given to the sub-humanity that people continue to live in—because we love the darkness rather than the light—but it is to alert us to the fact, in the Barthian reification, that all people have inherent value, just because God first loved us that we might love Him. It is to recognize that even if people choose to reject the election freely offered to them in Christ, that because that election is not contingent upon their choice, but God’s, they live in suspension from the imago Dei who is the imago Christi (cf. Col. 1.15), and as such continue to have inherent value, and even capacity to say yes to God in correspondence to Jesus’s Yes for them. Here, we can agree with the evangelist that ‘God so loved the world, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.’

The premise is that there is no person outside the reach/grace of God. A contemporary application of this might be directed Donald Trump’s way. Trump, by many sectors of people, and many Christians in fact, has come to be considered the scum of the earth. He is the target of untold ridicule and vitriolic attack. At base though, it ought to be recognized, that even Trump’s life is encompassed by the life of God in Jesus Christ; which is why we should continuously be praying for him. This is not to suggest that we can’t be critical of Trump’s policies, speech, and other negatives; but it is to suggest that in this critique what should be characteristic is one where we keep on recognizing what God does about Trump. That is, that Trump is valuable to God, as a person. Indeed, that God in Christ pledged His life for Trump’s, and at the very least our rhetoric ought to be seasoned with this reality of Grace; even in our critiques.

I think this represents one possible application of the implications of Barth’s doctrine of election. It ought to cause us to pause in our speech, at the very least. We ought to bear witness to Christ in our speech and act, even when we have people like Trump in front of us, or others we think of in ridiculing ways. We can be critical, like I noted, of Trump’s policies or even personality, but at the same time we can bear in mind that Jesus loves Trump, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. And I’m only using Trump as a symbolic example for anyone else we could fill in the blank with. What Barth’s doctrine of election does to me, in this sense, is it makes me continually cognizant of the fact that I am no different than Trump; or any of my enemies. Without God’s Grace, who is Christ for us, we would all sink into the sub-humanity we were born into. In other words, as Christ is the One for the many, the many come to have that in common; viz. that we are now all grounded in the One humanity of Jesus Christ. This does not mean we have anonymous brothers and sisters in Christ, at a spiritual level, but it does mean at a ‘carnal’ (de jure) level, that we share a universe with every other person who derives their value and worth from the same reality we do—Jesus Christ! This ought to do something in regard to the way we treat others (I’m preaching to myself).

 

[1] Barth, CD II/2:110.

[2] Greggs, Barth, Origen, and Universal Salvation, 25.

[3] Ibid., 26.

Karl Barth’s Reformulated Doctrine of Election, And Its Implications Towards the Way We Speak of Others; Including Donald Trump

Reflecting on the ‘Past Feeling’ Mode of Pagan Existence

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.–Ephesians 4.17-19

There are other like passages in the Pauline corpus, but let’s focus on this one. As of late I have been struck, at empirical levels, by this reality. It is easy to get caught up in the theological world of my own studies, and forget just how pagan people are in this world. You’d think this wouldn’t be the case because I work in the ‘world,’ in part of the world that lives in a sort of vulgar state of existence (spiritually). But I’ve been impressed again by just how ‘past feeling’ the ‘Gentiles’ in fact are.

The Reformed et al. often refer to this ‘past feeling’ as total depravity. The idea being that at a spiritual level (which of course is the level of all levels) the person living in that status is not living at all; instead they are existing in a state of death (or separation) vis-à-vis God. And this would make sense, wouldn’t it? If there is only one ontological category for ‘being’ or ‘life,’ wouldn’t it make sense to think that anyone not united to this Life would be dead? I sometimes forget this though. Recently I was talking to someone at work about God, and for them God, and in particular, Jesus, seemed to simply be an abstract idea that could either be cursed or blessed; it simply depended upon what someone chooses to believe or not. At one level, sure, that makes sense. But what struck me was the cold indifference this guy had when referring to all things divine. For him there really wasn’t much difference between Allah and God in Christ; for him (my interlocutor) they could simply be symbolic figures projected out from varied cultural phenomena. Either way, for him, who Jesus turns out to be, at least existentially (in the moment), doesn’t impact him one way or the other. This is the ‘past feeling’ I think the Apostle Paul was referring to; it has moral implications.

Jesus, in John 3, makes clear that to get beyond this ‘past feeling’ status one must be born again; or in the Petrine voice, a person must ‘be born again of an imperishable seed.’ The Apostle Paul makes clear that Jesus swapped His eternal life for our eternal death, and by this movement He won eternal life by being the One for the many. Paul iterates the reality that we’ve been made rich by Jesus’s poverty for us; by Him becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus told Nicodemus that if he wanted to enter eternal life he had to be ‘born from above.’ These are all themes that are musts in order for the pagan to get beyond the ‘past feeling’ state they continuously live in and from.

It is interesting how self-evident things seem to the ‘natural human.’ They seemingly find it hard to imagine a world that gets beyond their immediate sense experience, as if they can’t imagine it, it can’t be real; as if, they can’t see it, it must be the stuff of religion and fairy-tales. The Christian apologist might think they could somehow reason their way past this sort of non-feeling mode ingrained in the pagan esse; but the problem is deeper than that. Reasons can be given, I mean they’re there, but without the Holy Spirit the pagan can’t call Jesus, Lord. It can become frustrating for the Christian to be continuously confronted with the world of unbelief, but it isn’t as if the biblical reality in Christ doesn’t have explanatory for this. If the pagan had spiritual lights in themselves, then the Dominical teaching, and the biblical reality revealed in the cross of Christ would be proven false. This is ironic; the unbelief of the pagan actually proves, or at least, illustrates what they are denying. If they could affirm on their capaciousness what they deem foolish and weak (the cross of Christ), then what need would there have been for the cross of Christ? The via of the pagan is the Gnostic way. The Gnostic way attempts to elide the need for the Gospel by self-asserting its own abilities to generate lights where there seemingly is only darkness. In other words, the pagan way, like the Gnostic way, believes it can generate its own ‘salvation’ by self-assertion of its own intellectual prowess and reason. This takes manifest forms: for the slack, it simply looks like the person who lives in an unexamined garden variegated pagan mode of existence; for the motivated, it looks like the various philosophies and religions of the world. The conclusion is the same; there is overconfidence in what the self-possessed self can accomplish.

Interestingly all of this plays into the macro-narration of Genesis 3, and the Serpent’s lie to Eve about being able to be like God. That’s where this ‘past feeling’ mode that Paul refers to originated. The word of the Serpent has never left his kingdom of darkness, but his word was neither the first nor the last! God’s Word, the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, is the Word that has invaded our ‘ordinary’ time, and in Jesus’s Yes for us, He has reestablished and elevated the created order to the recreated order that God has always already intended in the Lamb of God even before the foundations of the world. The word of the Serpent has been destroyed by the Word of God, just as the head of the Serpent has been crushed by the heal of the Son of Man.

I continue to pray for people I encounter on a daily basis. I think it is God’s grace that He is allowing me to be surprised—once again—by the ‘past feeling’ mode pagans inhabit. It stirs me up, and motivates me to want to bear witness to the reality of God’s life in Christ that much more. It makes me realize that I might be the only face of Christ these pagans might see, and in that I have a great stewardship; if not a great reward. What I am impressed with more and more in our increasingly pluralist world, inhabited by what Charles Taylor calls ‘buffered selves,’ is that people aren’t progressing or elevating toward a genuinely greater spiritual “consciousness.” Instead, people are digressing further into the abyss of the inner-self that is indeed ‘past feeling.’ I’m afraid people, though, mistake technological and scientific progress with spiritual and moral progress; i.e. that the human species must have an innate evolutionary spirit that is ultimately able to transcend its own present status and reach into the heavenlies through the advancement of material processes (cf. Gen. 11). Ironically, if anything, humanity in the main is worshipping the creation rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1); they are worshipping the ratio and creativity that ought to be bearing witness to the imago Dei that Jesus is for them in their stead. They have misplaced their own faces for the Face of Christ, not recognizing that the Christ has already taken their faces as His own, and given them new faces to the point that they could now resemble His. Kyrie eleison.

Reflecting on the ‘Past Feeling’ Mode of Pagan Existence

Evangelical Calvinism’s Christmas Doctrine of Pre-Destination and Election

In my Bible reading tonight (by the way, I am almost done with my 39th read through of Holy Writ), as I was reading through I Peter, I once again came across the following passage:

“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” I Peter 1:20

This is a sort of sine qua non for an Evangelical Calvinist conception of election. The focus for us is grounded from the homoousion, the idea that God became human in the singular person of Jesus Christ; viz. that He became human pro nobis (for us). Along with TF Torrance, Karl Barth, Pierre Maury et al. we see election focused on the vicarious humanity of Christ; a humanity that God the Son, with God the Father, by the Holy Spirit, elected for Himself so that as Irenaeus says ‘we might become what He is’ (by grace, not nature). As the Apostle Peter writes, this ‘election’ or pre-destination was something that was focused on the Son prior to the creation of the world (so a supralapsarianism), rather than (contra ‘classical’ understandings of double predestination) focusing on individual humans who are thought of in abstraction from the humanity of Christ’s.

But the point I want to mostly focus on is that for Evangelical Calvinists election has to do with God’s inner-life, in pre-temporal reality, as a life that chooses to not be God without us, but with us. So, election in this frame, when referring to pre-destination has to do with God’s life in Christ for us, rather than God’s choice of individual people inhabiting the earth; inhabiting in such a way that they can be thought of apart from Christ’s humanity when it comes to the very ground or esse of election. Election for the Evangelical Calvinist, thusly, has to do with God’s pre-temporal choice, and then its historical (via historia) actualization in the Incarnation—so a Christmas conception of predestination and election. Thomas Torrance captures all of this in the following way:

Eternal election becomes temporal event confronting people in Jesus

Once again, we cannot now pursue this further into the doctrine of the church, which is the doctrine of the corporate election moving into history as the body of Christ. But at this point we must look back again at the incarnate life of Jesus Christ in light of the threefold mysterion, prosthesis and koinonia. The eternal prothesis of God has become incarnate in Jesus Christ, has become history. In Jesus Christ, the prothesis became encounter, became decision in the living temporal relations with which we men and women have to do in our interactions with one another. Election is the person of Christ, true God and true man in one person, the union of the Father and the Son in eternal love incarnated in our flesh, and bodied forth among sinners. And so men and women in history, in their temporal actions and relations, in the midst of their temporal choices and decisions, are confronted by the Word made flesh, with the eternal decision of God’s eternal love. In Jesus Christ, therefore, eternal election has become temporal event.

Election is thus not some static act in a still point of eternity. Election is eternal pre-destination, moving out of its eternal prius into time as living act that from moment to moment confronts people in Jesus Christ. This is living act that cannot be abstracted from the person of Christ. On the contrary, here the person and act of Jesus Christ are one. Election is Christ the beloved son of the Father, and the act of election in him is once and for all, a perfectum praesens, an eternal decision that is ever present. God’s eternal decision does not halt or come to rest at any particular point or result, but is dynamic, and ever takes the field in its identity with the living person of Christ. As such election is contemporary with us, acting upon us and acting upon us through our reactions in the personal relations of men and women which it invades and which it sets into crisis. It does that by facing them with the ultimate decision which God has already taken in his love on our behalf and now sets forth in Jesus Christ, but it confronts us with that ultimate decision in such a way that we are summoned in decision before it. What do you think of Christ? Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am? Who do you say that I am? That is precisely what we see taking place in the whole ministry of Jesus as he penetrated into people’s lives by his compassion, and revelation, and confronted them as the truth in the form of personal being, as election in the form of personal being.

That is the dimension of depth in which we are to see everything that Jesus did and said and was during the three years of his ministry as he pressed toward the cross, and the cross itself we see supremely in its setting in that context of the divine mysterion, prothesis, and koinonia.[1]

Conclusion

You aren’t going to find a more organic or ‘natural’ way of understanding election and predestination than what we are offering in Evangelical Calvinism vis-à-vis our teachers and interlocutors. As you read the New Testament, in particular, you will see this sort of theme emerging over and over again; i.e. the idea that we ‘live through Christ’ (see I Jn), or we have life through union with Christ (see the Apostle Paul’s ‘in Christ’ motif scattered throughout his oeuvre). We can amplify the various examples of this sort of ‘textual’ (versus metaphysical) understanding of election, grounded a posteriori in Christ’s vicarious humanity as it is, as we continue to engage with Holy Scripture in a maximal way. I commend this way of theology and life to you.  

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 179-80.

Evangelical Calvinism’s Christmas Doctrine of Pre-Destination and Election

Christmas Time, A ‘Theology Proper’ Holiday: The Missio Dei as a Naked Theological Concept

Missio Dei, is a Christmas theme. ‘Mission of God’ has a variegated pedigree, as a theological and conceptual apparatus. People like John Flett, more recently, have published on this locus; in Flett’s case in his book Witness of God (which I haven’t read yet). Some want to reduce its modern emphasis to Barth’s theology, but as I understand Flett’s thesis, we are better off by uncoupling this concept from Barth, and instead allow it to be a concept that we bring into critical discussion with Barth’s theology, and its trinitarian character as a whole. But beyond the more technical intricacies of this concept, I simply wanted to lift it up as a pregnant Christmas concept.

The naked picture this locus evokes in my mind’s eye is of God’s election to not be God without us, thus with us (and Immanuel) in Christ. The Incarnation is all about God’s Grace, and free choice to elevate us to where He has always already been as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christmas is about God enfleshing Himself, entering the squalid state fallen humanity inhabits; and by His inhabitation in our status as broken creatures, He recreates a new humanity just at the point that he assumes our humanity. This is something people in the church need to be more cognizant of; there needs to be a greater recognition of the fact that Easter and Christmas, Atonement and Incarnation are of a piece. Atonement starts, as TF Torrance and Barth emphasize (along with Athanasius et al), just at the point that the eternal Son becomes human; becomes Jesus. The cross represents a climax of what began in the manger, but without the manger, and the flesh that God put on therein, the cross, of course!, has no meaning.

The Missio Dei, is about God’s apocalyptic life; His life for us in the baby face of Jesus. It is through His invasion of our alien humanity that Christmas comes to have contextual meaning; where we can genuinely amen that little anecdote of: Jesus is the Reason for the Season. Christmas has to do with God’s Trinitarian life just as this Life has chosen in its plenitude to make His procession in origin of relation as Father, Son, and Spirit, the ground of His mission to be for us and not against us. Christmas time is a ‘theology proper’ holiday; one that is decisively about worship of the living God who always has been in resplendent aseity and inner-joy.

Christmas Time, A ‘Theology Proper’ Holiday: The Missio Dei as a Naked Theological Concept

Some Reasoning On Why I Reject ‘Classical’ Calvinism

Calvinism, I haven’t really offered any posts on Calvinism lately; not of the sort I used to. This will be a brief post on classical Calvinism, and I why I repudiate it.

Before I repudiate it, I ought to provide some of the positives I see obtaining from Calvinism. 1) It emphasizes God’s grace, de jure. 2) It emphasizes God’s sovereignty and providential care. 3) It attempts to be Christocentric. 4) It starts from a theology of the Word. 5) It has roots in the catholic tradition of the church. 6) It operates from the extra Calvinisticum relative to Christological and Eucharistic reflection. So, I see some very positive contours in the Calvinist tradition; indeed, I am a “Calvinist.” These are some of the important loci that keep me Reformed, and ‘Calvinist.’ But the way they are situated, developmentally, or lack thereof, is what also keeps me from identifying as a classical Calvinist; and it is for this reason that I repudiate it.

I repudiate it because it fails to operate in what Barth calls the ‘spirit’ of always reforming, and instead works in the ‘letter’ of always repristinating (even if its proponents reject that characterization). This is a formal reason for repudiation. A material reason is its continued commitment to certain ‘classical’ style of double predestination and the so called absolutum decretum. Indeed, it is this one locus that has kept me from classical Calvinism for the entirety of my Christian life (which started when I was 3). But I have never seen this one locus in isolation, I knew, even tacitly, that there had to be a systemic framework within which this locus took shape. Through study what I came to realize was that, indeed, the framework, or metaphysic which gave this locus development, was the substance metaphysics that the post reformed orthodox imbibed. Sure, this took more forms than just appropriation of Thomas; but someone no less than Richard Muller has labeled what took place in Protestantism in the 16th and 17th centuries as Christian Aristotelianism.

Before I ever got into theology, formally, I was and continue to be a voracious Bible reader. This discipline of Bible reading built into me, not to mention the pietism of the faith of my youth, an attentiveness to relationality and intimacy with God. Yes, in the history of ecclesial ideas even this has a heritage; one that I just mentioned in fact (i.e. pietism). BUT, it was this that kept me alert to the over reading of systems into the texture and reality of the biblical text. What I concluded, rather analytically, ironically, was that reading the Bible, and its reality in Christ, through a system like Christian Aristotelianism, does damage to the text; not to mention that it is eisegetical. Yes, the inner-logic of the text of Scripture needs a grammar to help explicate it (i.e. ‘trinitatis’); but that is not good enough reason to collapse that logic tout court into the medieval iteration and development, and its post developments in scholasticism reformed, as if this is the absolutely ‘catholic’ way to read and understand Scripture and its reality. What is and ought to be determinative of this task, is what the Protestant Reformation so rightfully recognized; that is, Holy Scripture AND its REALITY in Jesus Christ, ought to be determinative for the reader’s task. But this isn’t what has happened. Instead the dialectical tradition of scholasticism, the one the magisterial reformers (and Christian Humanists) protested against, has been re-cycled, and the protestant retrievers of today are simply absolutizing the 16th and 17th centuries of Protestant theological development, as the ONLY way to faithfully live as a Christian Protestant in the 21st century. In other words, the only way, according to this approach, to be a ‘conservative evangelical’ Christian, is to imbibe the thematics of the 16th and 17th centuries, expelling all other offerings—especially those that developed in the monstrous modern period—to the trash bin of devilish and Socinian ideas.

But, I think as a Reformed Protestant evangelical, it is possible, and necessary to be more constructive than that! As Protestants committed to a warm hearted love of the living God in Jesus Christ; as Protestants in love with God; it is imperative that we allow that reality, the reality of Jesus Christ, to shape the way we read Him. As such, our theologies shouldn’t be slavishly bound to certain periods of theological development, or systems of thought therein; but instead we should be slaves of Christ. So: Evangelical Calvinism.

I have more to say, as usual; but gotta run!

Some Reasoning On Why I Reject ‘Classical’ Calvinism

Terry Eagleton’s Jesus Quested Jesus: Responding to an Atheist’s Understanding of the Parousia of the Risen Christ

When you read atheist authors (or at least agnostic ones), and this is surely what Terry Eagleton is—someone recently told me, on FaceBook, that Eagleton had returned to the Catholic church, but clearly from his writing in this book, he is still in the clasped fist of Marx and the Devil—you will assuredly run across things, as a Christian reader, that kick hard against the goads. While I am being enriched by many of the insights Eagleton has written, even in exposition of Scripture, I ran across one of those paragraphs where it becomes clear that Eagleton hasn’t, as of yet, repented and bowed the knee to the living God in the Risen Christ. In the following quote from him you will see his view of Jesus’s ability to predict the future (an attribute of God), and actually what I take to be a very facile reading of Jesus’s voice in the Gospels. I will respond laterally, and point out the sort of petitio principii (circular reasoning) Eagleton engages in. Here he is talking about the specter and reality of death, and how an ethics can be nobly wrought even in its unrelenting teeth.

To take no heed for tomorrow is possible only by living in the knowledge of that ultimate tomorrow which is death. It is an invitation not to forget about time, but to be mindful of the end of time. Jesus, along with some of those who preached his gospel, seemed to have imagined that the kingdom of God was imminent, which proved to be a rather sizeable error. To their mind, history was simply eschatology. The church had simply to stand fast, surrendered in faith to the Lord who was soon to return. Even so, to live as if the Day of Judgement were at hand, and thus as if the only pressing matters were justice and fellowship, is not an ethics to be scorned. If there is to be any eternity, it must surely be here and now. ‘Eternal life’, writes Wittgenstein in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, ‘belongs to those who live in the present’. And since to live in the present, were it possible, would mean to live out of time, it is a way of anticipating one’s death. It is another sense in which, in Eliotic phrase, the moment of death is every moment.[1]

First off, I think Eagleton, just for his own health, would do well to put down his stein of continental spirits, and instead pick up, at first, the chalice filled with the pure milk of the living Word of God; only later to move onto meatier things. But beyond that, let’s respond further.

Clearly, Eagleton is imbibing the Quest for Jesus inaugurated by Albert Schweitzer, back in the day; you know, the eschatological Jesus who was clearly wrong and in ‘sizeable error’ about his imminent return. Further, and this is where we recognize the petitio principii, Eagleton presupposes that Jesus is ‘clearly’ just another [hu]man, which thus delimits the foresight of Jesus’s predictive pronouncements to the ‘near’ future. In other words, since Eagleton starts with his conclusion about Jesus being in ‘error,’ he uses his conclusion about Jesus as his major premise in regard to who Jesus is and his capacities. What these leads to is the conclusion not only that Jesus is just another man, but that because of this, Jesus could err; because to err is human after all. What if Eagleton started with orthodox grammar and premise about Jesus; what if he started with the Chalcedonian settlement and homoousion? If Eagleton started with the premise that Jesus was (and is!) both fully God and fully human, he might not have concluded like the original Jesus Questers did; he might have avoided the very limited notion of ‘time’ and ‘space’ that someone who happens to be God in the flesh could be operating with. This is my response: Jesus wasn’t mistaken about his imminent return, instead his vision of time/space and the future is at least as long as Yahweh’s in the Old Testament. Or did Terry forget that Yahweh had been preparing, through his covenant people Israel, for millennia, with Jesus’s first advent in mind. Do you see the analogy I’m drawing? God took thousands of years, when referring to his covenant people, to layer tradition upon tradition, prophecy upon promise, about the first coming of the Son. If Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh is it strange to think that when he spoke of his near and imminent return, that within his economy of things two thousand years, or a million years, are rather short spans of time for the eternal God; the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever? But that’s what Eagleton gets when he presumes that the Jesus he is looking at looks like him staring back at him in the mirror, rather than the living and eternal God.

It is an interesting corollary, the second part of the Eagleton paragraph refers to eternity being now, and only in the horizontal immanence of the concrete present. I mean what is one to do if you reject any hope in the Risen Christ? You might as well attempt to make the best of now, even live your best life now, and write books about the virtues of Marx’s theology for the masses. I’ve seen this turn made by someone else; David Congdon has unfortunately arrived at this same conclusion about eternity. He has bought into the radically existentialized Jesus of Bultmann, and uncoupled concrete history from any sort of antecedent (eternal) reality in the living God. There are many sophisticated ways to live in unbelief (with reference to the living God Revealed in Jesus Christ), and unfortunately Marxist atheists, like Eagleton, or Existentialist theists, like Congdon, have found those ways. Moral: Don’t follow their lead. God’s Not Dead.

 

[1] Terry Eagleton, Radical Sacrifice (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018), Loc. 1476, 1483.

Terry Eagleton’s Jesus Quested Jesus: Responding to an Atheist’s Understanding of the Parousia of the Risen Christ