A Sketch of Thomas Aquinas’s and Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Creation, Salvation, and Human Freedom: How They Contrast and Its Impact on Just About Everything

I think something that is not talked about much, in regard to Barth’s theology, is how counter it is to mediaeval conceptions of salvation and grace relative to a grace/nature binary. In other words in the major strand of Western conception of salvation/grace we get
something as definitive as Thomas Aquinas’s axiom: ‘nature is perfected by grace.’ So we have this kind of symmetry between the two with a telos (or linear purposiveness) tied into nature by God’s grace coming along, as it were, and completing or bringing nature to where it inherently has been designed to be. In this scheme we have what some have called a ‘pure nature’ (naturum purum); what is implicit in this scheme is that at the fall nature only sublimated into a sub situation relative to its inherent trajectory before God—in other words, nature did not fully self-destruct into demise and utter death through and through; a spark of its inherent determinancy remained hither. It simply needed help-along by way of God adding to it his created grace wherein nature, and the stewards of said nature, human beings, could habituate in this added grace in their lives thus bringing nature to where it had always intended to be at an inherent level (as originally designed by God).

But for Barth this is not how nature/creation is conceived of to begin with. There is no nature/grace symmetry; for Barth it is ‘grace all the way down’ (to use a Torrancism). In other words, the condition for creation itself is grounded in God’s first Word of grace realized in his elected life in Christ to be for us and with us. Grace is the precondition of creation for Barth such that nature has no inherent determinancy or ‘purity’ in itself. We might note something like this, from Barth, as a counter to the Aquinisian axiom we shared above: ‘creation is the external basis of the covenant’ and ‘covenant is the internal basis of creation.’ What this gets at in our discussion is how for Barth, contra Aquinas&co., creation/nature itself is inherently tied into God’s gracious choice to be for us in Christ; Aquinas’s view has nature tied to grace in a kind of complementing sense whereas Barth sees creation/nature as always already a reality that is thoroughly suffused and conditioned by and from God’s life through and through.

I bring all of this up to lead us to a quote from George Hunsinger on Barth’s theology in regard to salvation, human cooperation in that salvation (and not), and human agency/freedom. Maybe you will see how my rough sketches on Aquinas juxtaposed with Barth fits into what Hunsinger is getting at in regard to how distinct Barth is from the trad on this most crucial point. At length, Hunsinger writes this per Barth:

Human Cooperation Does Not Effect Salvation

Barth does not deny that human freedom “cooperates” with divine grace. He denies that this cooperation in any way effects salvation. Although grace makes human freedom possible as a mode of acting (modus agendi), that freedom is always a gift. It is always imparted to faith in the mode of receiving salvation (modus recipiendi), partaking of it (modus participandi), and bearing witness to it (modus testificandi), never in the mode of effecting it (modus efficiendi). As imparted by the Spirit’s miraculous operation, human freedom is always the consequence of salvation, never its cause, and therefore in its correspondence to grace always eucharistic (modus gratandi et laudandi). These distinctions apply both objectively and subjectively, that is, not only to salvation as it has taken place extra nos, but also as it occurs in nobis. Since to be a sinner means to be incapacitated, grace means capacitating the incapacitated despite their incapacitation. Sinners capacitated by grace remain helpless in themselves. Grace does not perfect and exceed human nature in its sorry plight so much as it contradicts and overrules it.

What happens is this: in nobis, in our heart, in the very center of our existence, a contradiction is lodged against our unfaithfulness. It is a contradiction that we cannot dodge, but have to validate. In confronting it we cannot cling to our unfaithfulness, for through it our unfaithfulness is not only forbidden but canceled and rendered impossible. Because Jesus Christ intervenes pro nobis and thus in nobis, unfaithfulness to God has been rendered basically an impossible possibility. It is a possibility disallowed and thus no longer to be realized . . . , one we recognize as eliminated and taken away by the omnipotent contradiction God lodges within us. [Karl Barth, “Extra Nos-Pro Nobis-In Nobis,” Thomist 50 (1986): 497-511, on p. 510.]

In this miraculous and mysterious way, by grace alone — that is, through a continual contradiction of nature by grace resulting in a provisional “conjunction of opposites” (coniunctio oppositorum) — the blind see, the lame walk, and the dead are raised to life (cf. Matt. 11:4).[1]

Do you see the type of discontinuity and asymmetry that is present in Barth’s understanding of a doctrine of creation/nature, and how that implicates the way Barth conceives of what happens in the salvific reality? In the Thomist account grace attends to nature in such a way that nature is prolongated to new heights, but heights pregnant within nature itself. In the Barthian account creation had no such inherence, nature was always already extrinsically conditioned by and for God’s life of grace in Christ. For Barth nature does not simply subsist as inchoate reality waiting to be completed in accord with its own independent ends (i.e. already built-in through secondary causation etc), but instead it has always had this type of apocalyptic eschatological hue to it such that the first creation while anticipative of things to come, heightened and intensified by the fall of Adam and Eve (and thus humanity), was conditioned to be contradicted and recreated in accord with its gracious and given purpose determined by an immediate corollary between its given reality and the reality given to it, always and already, in God’s choice to be for us. In other  words, in the Barthian account, to state it brusquely: creation is and always has been a predicate of God’s gracious and Triune life (insofar as he chose this to be the case). Contrariwise, in the Thomist account we could say that: grace is understood as a predicate of nature insofar as grace is seen as a supplement to expand nature to new heights; that nature came to be, as it were, fitted for grace and grace for nature. In the Barthian account nature has always been inclusiastically situated in and from God’s life of grace both protologically and eschatologically. If this is so, the Barthian account, we can see how Barth could and would draw such a brightly colored line between his own understanding of the nature of salvation versus something like we find in the Thomas Aquinas frame. For Barth first creation and second creation were always and only conditioned by God’s primal choice to be the Yes of creation from the beginning and end in Christ.

Let me close with a quote that I’ve shared before in regard to Barth’s understanding of history relative to resurrection and what that implies relative to all the realities we have just been sketching through:

A large number of analyses come up short by dwelling upon the historical question, often falsely construing Barth’s inversion of the order of the historical enterprise and the resurrection of Jesus as an aspect of his historical skepticism. For Barth the resurrection of Jesus is not a datum of the sort to be analyzed and understood, by other data, by means of historical critical science. While a real event within the nexus of space and time the resurrection is also the event of the creation of new time and space. Such an event can only be described as an act of God; that is an otherwise impossible event. The event of the resurrection of Jesus is that of the creation of the conditions of the possibility for all other events, and as such it cannot be accounted for in terms considered appropriate for all other events. This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.[2]

What is key in this quote is the emphasis placed on the ‘primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.’ Creation/nature for Barth is not a linear thing, it is apocalyptic; as such it is always open, contingent upon God’s own freedom, to be re-ordered and recreated in such a way that it corresponds to who he has chosen to be in Christ for us. In other words, nature for Barth, in an order of consideration does not precede God, and thus determine how it ought to be completed by God’s grace; no, for Barth, God’s choice has always been the Predicator of the predicated and Christ conditioned reality that we identify as ‘nature.’ Human freedom in salvation, in this Barthian scheme, then, can only be construed by thinking it from the conditions of this type of Christic reality in regard to creation; i.e. through its suffuse predication by what it means to be ‘free’ before God as participants in that life, and in that type of freedom, the freedom that the Son has shared with the Father by the Holy Spirit in the Ultimacy and Intimacy of their Divine life. In Barth’s scheme we shouldn’t think of nature being conflated with some sort of created grace from God, by which the elect might cooperate with God in attaining the perfection for which their created natures have always been regnant; nein, we ought to understand that God’s grace is personal and oriented always already encountering us over again afresh and anew in the face of Jesus Christ. We live from the freedom of God’s life in Christ, and this is what it means to be human; to live from the resurrected and vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Nature isn’t being perfected by grace in this scheme, it instead is realizing what it has always already meant to be creatures created in the image of the image of God (who is Christ cf. Col. 1.15).

I left many threads, once again, dangling. But hopefully you’re at least getting a sense a feeling of where things are going here at The Evangelical Calvinist. And maybe you will better understand why I am so resistant to classical theologies, Protestant and Roman Catholic, that work from the Thomist (neo or not) categories of ‘nature perfected by grace’.

[1] George Hunsinger, Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 165-66.

[2] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 13.


A Corollary Between Aryan Nazism and Planned Parenthood’s Abortionism: The Sanctity of Human Life as a Canon of Allegiances

I am reading Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology Volume 2 (I just recently finished his Volume 1), and in his chapter on the imago Dei. In passing, almost, as he is writing on nihilism’s impact on the way human beings view other human beings he references Germany’s National Socialism and its endeavor to cleanse the human gene pool of peoples it determined were sub-human, relative to the Aryan race; it is here he also mentions America’s Planned Parenthood and how it was just as much a part of the research project of eugenics that the Nazi solution was. Jenson writes:

Germany’s National Socialist thought it scientifically established that the Jewish strain degraded the European genetic pool. Setting out to cull their human herd of these threats to its genetic future was only what any responsible farmer would do on such information. They were, indeed, quite explicit in describing the human gene pool as a herd to be genetically improved; moreover, the holocaust of Jews was organized on the basis of an antecedently established program of positive and negative  eugenics that in its negative mode had been directed against defectives of indubitably Aryan ethnicity. We should remember also that the sort of science that obtained these results was also practiced in England, Scandinavia, Italy, and the United States, resulting, for example, in the American Planned Parenthood organization and in Scandinavian state-mandated eugenic sterilization programs.[1]

It is easy to sanitize, for example, American identity through her psyche of exceptionalism; but we play the fool if we do so. American complicity in the evils of the world is well established and pervasive; the example of her reliance upon eugenics given expression in the practices of Planned Parenthood is indicting.

My intention is not to bash America, but instead to draw attention to the fact that as Christians our primary allegiance is to our Lord Jesus Christ and our mode, consequently, is as the agents of his Kingdom. If we tie our identity too closely to our nationality as Americans we, just like the German Christians, will conflate the Gospel with moral proclivities that have more to do with hell than heaven. I think there is hope to be had, at least in and among many younger evangelicals that any type of overt nationalism, for the Christian, can only result in idolatry which further results in untold evils.

It is clear that almost all evangelical Christians find abortion repulsive, as they should! But my concern is that the same evangelicals haven’t thought systematically enough in regard to how the principle that fosters their hatred for abortion—i.e. the sanctity of human life—is not far reaching enough; that evangelicals fail to see how something like the military industrial complex, and its deployment, can and has fostered the same types of violations against humanity as abortion has. What Jenson notes about America’s engagement with eugenic thought ought to serve as a cautionary tale to Americans in general and Christians in particular. The thing is, I don’t think we have extricated ourselves as much as we would like to think from the evils that we think we have; idolatry has this type of blinding effect.

[1] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 2: The Works of God (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 57.

*Image Credit: Mario Mariani

The Mystery of God: Knowing God, the Ineffable One, In the Dialectic of the God-man, Jesus Christ

23 “Am I only a God nearby,”
declares the Lord,
“and not a God far away? –Jeremiah 23:23

Here at the Evangelical Calvinist, personally, I’m inclined to follow what is known as a cataphatic mode of theological endeavor rather than an apophatic one. Be that as it may my cataphaticism is present precisely because of a kind of very thick apophaticism; so thick in fact that I maintain that we can have no knowledge of God without his personal, objective, and particular Self-revelation in his Son, Jesus Christ. In other words, the idea of there being a natural theology of the sort that there is present within nature (including human beings) a capacity for knowledge of God—even a latently graced humanity—this I maintain is absent. As a Reformed Christian I take the noetic effects of the lapse to be absolute; viz. all of humanity, at the fall, in Adam and Eve, suffered such a traumatic de-conciliation between themselves and God, between the Mediator between God and humanity, the Eternal Logos, that any capacity they had, contingent as it was upon their relationship with God was lost. As such, and if so, if this relationship was so polluted, which I think it was, by the rupture that took place in Genesis 3, knowledge of God as their Father mediated through the Son was lost; in other words, I maintain that nature never had latent within it any sort of ‘hooks’ for discursively reasoning oneself back to a God concept—let alone God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The aforementioned noted, realizing that Henri de Lubac, who we will be hearing from shortly, isn’t in line with my own position (although closer in some ways than others), nevertheless offers some good words on how mystery and paradox function in our knowledge of God. I think, even with my medium-well cataphaticism in place, what he notes, at least here, can be resourced or at least imbibed by me in such a way that it turns fruitful towards thinking about how dialogical or dialectical theology vis-à-vis knowledge of God looks. De Lubac writes:

This idea of mystery is perfectly acceptable to reason once one has admitted the idea of a personal and transcendent God. The truth we receive from him about himself must exceed our grasp, simply because of its superior intelligibility: intellecta, it can never be comprehensa. The distinction is elementary, and accepted by Descartes as well as St Augustine and the scholastics. How could one possibly agree with Malebranche that ‘the Word unreservedly communicates all that he possesses as Word and eternal Wisdom whenever we question him with serious attention’? Or at least, how could one believe that a finite intellect could be capable of receiving such a communication in its entirety? Revealed truth, then, is a mystery for us; in other words it presents that character of lofty synthesis whose final link must remain impenetrably obscure to us. It will for ever resist all our efforts to unify it fully. This is baffling to a philosophy of pure rationality but not to a philosophy which recognizes in the human mind both that potential absolute that makes it declare the truth, and that abyss of darkness in which it remains by the fact of being both created and bodily. ‘Either . . . or’, says rationality, believing that it can get to the bottom of everything, because it makes itself the yardstick, and thinks that its own limits are the limits of being itself. It accuses Christian thinking of ‘a kind of hunger for what is absurd and contradictory’; thinking that what is incomprehensible must therefore be unintelligible, it considers the doctrine of mystery to be a ‘sophism’, an unwarranted overstepping of the bounds of common sense and reason. The idea of the Trinity, for instance, or even the idea of an infinite personal God is, from its point of view, a square circle. Throughout it finds ‘wilful contradiction, systematic absurdity, logical errors’, and so on. Or, because of St Thomas along with all Catholic tradition professes that God is present everywhere in his creation, it accuses him of ‘implicit pantheism’. Limited and enclosed, this philosophy of rationality is a philosophy of the dilemma and the univocal statement. ‘Contradiction is not distasteful enough to you’, wrote Renouvier to Secrétan, of problems concerned not with revelation itself, but with the very being of God. His correspondent, he thought, was leaving behind the honest thinking of the philosopher to enter upon the arbitrary ways of theologians who ‘try to lift thought above its proper conditions and look for truth outside the laws of understanding, outside consciousness altogether’. The objection is reminiscent of certain theologians of our own day, who hasten to speak of contradiction as soon as they hear phrases that seem even slightly paradoxical; in so doing they reject any truth that surprises them, without perceiving that to be really logical they should be rejecting numerous other incontestable truths, both of faith and reason, which only fail to surprise them because they are so used to them.[1]

What we get in de Lubac isn’t anything we’d find as lacuna in someone like T.F. Torrance who recognizes that even in the revealed God in Jesus Christ we are up against an Ultimate ineffable God. Some cataphatic theologians, certain types of Barthians et al are so absolute about God’s Self-revelation pressing so hard on theological actualism that there can be absolutely nothing left about who God is beyond what he has revealed of himself in Jesus Christ; i.e. that there is an ontological not just an epistemological givenness to God’s Self-revelation such that God’s very who is constituted by what he has freely chosen to do in the incarnation (and all its entailments). But this gets us further afield than I want to really chop into at the moment (like this would get us into the so called Barth Wars).

I’ve actually broached things in a somewhat fragmented way. I gave you a kind of sketch about my own approach to knowledge of God, and then quoted Henri de Lubac who seems to be talking about things a bit differently. But what I really wanted to highlight is that even for Christian theologians who hold to either apophaticism or cataphaticism the role of mystery must never be lost. Even as we are brought into participation in God’s life through Christ who God is in his inner-life, while not inconsistent whatsoever with who he has revealed himself to be in Christ, is always deeper and always more inexhaustible than the human mind could ever fathom. This is not to say that there is a ‘God behind the back of Jesus Christ,’ it’s just to say that the antecedent life which Jesus exemplifies enfleshed is deeper than our puny minds could ever imagine; which calls for worship. ‘And this is eternal life that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’ What this implies, though, is that even the ‘mystery’ or ineffability of God must always be circumscribed for us in and by Jesus Christ; we must never look outside the parameters of God’s life to think God, but from within as we participate in his triune life revealed and mediated in Jesus Christ. I think this is where apophaticism as a mode has a tendency to stray.


[1] Henri de Luback, The Mystery of the Supernatural (New York: Herder and Herder New York, 1967), 222-24.

Can-o-Worms: Robert Jenson and the Resurrection

As usual I have opened a can-o-worms with my posts on Robert Jenson’s doctrine of resurrection—I say “as usual” in the sense that often over the years I’ve touched upon a variety of controversial issues. So I have been processing all of this out in the open allowing you all to provide me feedback—if you will—and this opening has garnered response from learned people; particularly on Facebook (through contacts there). But let’s be clear, just as is the case for anyone, we all must come to our own convictions and conclusions based upon a best faith effort; that’s the effort I am attempting to put forth in regard to understanding Jenson’s doctrine of resurrection.

I received a copy of an essay/chapter a friend of mine, Oliver Crisp, contributed to the recently released volume The Promise of Robert W. Jenson’s Theology: Constructive Engagements. As Divine Providence would have it Oliver’s chapter just happens to be on the very issue that has been causing me some angst—let’s not be too overwrought, whether or not Jenson did affirm the actual and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ has no long term bearing on what I actually believe relative to the bodily resurrection of Christ as attested to by the Apostolic witness. Nevertheless, insofar as we are beholden—as people of the truth—to represent each other in a more accurate way, it is important to do due diligence in representing the theology of Jenson vis-à-vis resurrection.

I have actually been getting it from both barrels; as is the case in the theological endeavor there are of course competing angles from, it seems, infinite sides of a position or doctrine. Jenson, just as any theologian worth their salt, has presented us with no cause for small polarization; in other words, his offering, theologically, has the potential to divide—I’d expect nothing less from any sober attempt to divulge the implications and inklings produced by the reality of the God of the Gospel, of Jesus Christ. I have been presenting one line in regard to Jenson, that his presentation on the resurrection comes from a Bultmann-inspired angle; one of demythologizing in light of the “modern progress” and scientific age we currently inhabit. One push back I’ve received on this front from someone who has done their PhD work on Jenson went like this (this is from Facebook interaction, I won’t share the name of the interlocutor since I’m not sure he wants me to):

Jenson isn’t saying that the body of Christ remains dead. He is saying that bodily resurrection is a new body, not a resuscitated old one. I don’t know how one could bracket off the sacramental question. His entire understanding of what a body is is central to his interpretation of the resurrection; ie, objective availability. To say that Jesus’ body could have remained in the tomb is to say that it is no longer the way he is available. One needn’t agree with this interpretation, but it isn’t accurate to suggest that Jenson’s interpretation of the resurrection is subjective or beholden to demythologization. I think there’s much to say about the fact that the old body is the object of resurrection, and therefore that it must be related to the risen body. That’s a valid critical question of Jenson’s theology. But I think what you’ve said in this thread misfires a bit.[1]

TheologianJ, just to reiterate says this: “Jenson isn’t saying that the body of Christ remains dead. He is saying that bodily resurrection is a new body, not a resuscitated old one”; and this: “To say that Jesus’ body could have remained in the tomb is to say that it is no longer the way he is available.” There are many thought experiments taking place in all of this; particularly by Robert Jenson. TheologianJ, in his attempt to represent Jenson more accurately, wants to emphasize that for Jenson there is an asymmetrical relationship between the pre-resurrection and crucified body of Jesus, and the post-resurrection and glorified risen body of Christ. And to get this point across, as TheologianJ rehearses Jenson’s point, the hypothetical of a body remaining in the tomb, even after Jesus resurrected, is the idea that presses into the mystery that actually took place at the resurrection. Yet, the image, maybe strangely, that is conjured in my mind as I reflect upon TheologianJ’s words here, is to think of a caterpillar and butterfly; as if the pre-resurrection body of Christ is the caterpillar and the post resurrection body the butterfly; as if when Jesus resurrects he sluffs off the old body (as if a shell or husk), and assumes the new body that has an inextricable relation to the old ‘carrier-body’, but nonetheless is a brand new body of a different sort. Even though this analogy breaks down, especially on the biblical front, at least at some levels, it does have some purchase to it in regard to noting the miracle that the resurrection body entails and the discordant yet concordant relation that remains present between the old and the new.

Okay, I can accept some of this. But I don’t think this line of thought is neither necessary nor required. As I noted in response to another interlocutor on Facebook, the way I’m approaching this is from a pre-modern/pre-Copernican way of viewing the resurrection—like from a cosmology that simply accepts that what Scripture says about the resurrection simply maps onto what actually is the primal reality of all creation (i.e. without reference to modern scientific theories in regard to cosmogony and cosmology). Jenson, on the other hand, feels compelled to work his thinking in and from under the pressures presented by the modern scientific world; a post-Copernican world. This is why I will remain at disparate odds with Jenson. But there is some irony, because even as Jenson is attempting to work his theological project into the modern 21st century world (late 20th century as he wrote his Systematic Theology) he re-mystifies how he thinks resurrection through his Lutheran antecedents found in Swabian Cosmic Christology and in his stylized mode of sacramental theology.

Let me back off the idea that Bultmann is the primary point of departure for Jenson. But let me maintain that I still think that what Jenson is doing is a kind of de-mystifying and then re-mystification of what the resurrection of Jesus Christ entails; so in this sense I think we can at the very least, insofar as both Bultmann and Jenson are modern theologians (to one degree or another), come to the conclusion that while Jenson’s project of “evangelizing the cosmology of the Christ” is distinct, in his own ways from Bultmann’s, there remains an incidental over-lap between the two insofar as they are indeed working intentionally from modern soundings and categories. Note Jenson:

Copernicus’ new cosmology undid this accommodation. The Copernican universe is homogeneous; no part of it can be more suited for God’s dwelling than any other. It can map no topologically delineated heaven. There is in a Copernican universe no plausible accommodation for the risen Christ’s body; and, indeed, within any modern cosmology, the assertion that the body is upper there some place must rightly provoke mocking proposals to search for it with more powerful telescopes, or suggestions that perhaps it is hiding on the “other side” of a black hole. But if there is no place for Jesus’ risen body, how is it a body at all? For John Calvin was surely right: “. . . this is the eternal truth of any body, that it is contained in its place.”

The disappearance of heaven from the accepted topography of the universe has had powerful and destructive impact on the actual theology of believers. It is safe to say that most modern believers, whatever doctrine they may formally espouse, actually envision the risen Christ as not embodied, as a pure “spirit,” or perhaps as embodied in a a [sic] very thinned-out fashion, as—not to be too fine about it—a spook. A body requires its place, and we find it hard to think of any place for this one.[2]

We cannot go back, or maybe we can, according to Jenson. Here it becomes apparent the type of world Jenson believes we must do theology in; the world that has been bequeathed to us as moderns and now post-moderns. He immediately (following the quote I just shared from him) anticipates that folks, like me, might simply fall back to a traditional pre-Copernican position on thinking resurrection and body-place in the heavenlies. He says that’s not advisable, and that even reversion to the past, prior to Copernicus, as far back as the 9th century, we have Christian thinkers attempting to understand how the bodily presence of God in Christ, in the continued reality of the incarnation in the resurrected body, relates to the world of time-space. This is where he refers, and turns his focus to the Swabian theologians, post-Copernicus, who he thinks provides him with the kind of pregnant theological resource to fund his own incarnational theology of sacrament and how the body of God in Christ continues to be mediated to humanity in the “body” of the broken bread and red juice.[3]

I will say that Jenson is a complex; aren’t we all. He is a modern theologian attempting to think modernly about a reality that transcends all analogies and human categories of wit. His modern impulses, or at least the way he self-consciously owns those, drives him to say things about the “empty tomb” and the resurrected body of Jesus Christ that I wouldn’t say in the way he does. I think this is the rub for me, and will continue to be when I read Jenson. I still can learn from him, but I’d rather learn from people like Thomas Torrance, Karl Barth, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Maximus the Confessor, Athanasius, Irenaeus et al. Jenson looks back and listens to the past too, but his impulses are his own (which of course makes some sort of sense if you think about it). I don’t want to misrepresent Jenson, I’m just thinking all of this out-loud; bear that in mind as you not only read these posts on Jenson, but on every single post I have ever written or will write here at The Evangelical Calvinist. Pax Vobiscum


[1] TheologianJ, Anonymous Facebook Source, accessed 11-14-2017.

[2] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God(Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 202.

[3] Ibid., 202-03.

Staying with Robert Jenson’s Doctrine of Resurrection for a Minute Longer

Let me hit on this one more time; i.e. the topic of the last post. Here is the quote I referred to from Jenson in regard to the resurrection of Jesus:

Most of the Gospel’s resurrection stories are of appearances, in line with the tradition followed by Paul. But the other ancient account, transmitted by Mark writing perhaps ten years later than Paul, is of finding Jesus’ tomb empty. The historical difficulties of Mark’s story have, one may think been much exaggerated. It is nevertheless noteworthy that other empty-tomb stories in the Gospels may well be dependent on the single story in Mark, and that the New Testament contains no trace outside the Gospels of a conviction that the tomb was empty, or even of any interest in the matter.

In any case, the two claims are not conceptually symmetrical. The assertion that the tomb was empty could be true while Jesus nevertheless remained dead. But if the claim was true that some saw Jesus alive after his death, then Jesus had indeed been raised. Therefore, whether or not the tomb was found empty, only the appearances could be the actual occasion of the Easter-faith.[1]

The question is basic (I think): Is Robert Jenson waffling some on the actual resurrection, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ? The feeling I get as I read Jenson’s whole chapter on Resurrection is that he remains ambiguous as to whether or not there is a correlation between the pre-resurrection crucified body of Jesus Christ and the post-resurrection body of Jesus Christ. In the quote above it does appear that Jenson affirms the resurrection (and as the other quote I shared from him attests, he does conclude that there was some sort of resurrection), but what remains ambiguous with him is the reality of the bodily resurrection; in the sense that there is a one-for-one correspondence between the preresurrection and postresurrection bodies of Jesus Christ. I can’t help but see, for Jenson, that there is indeed a type of Bultmannian Jesus of history/Jesus of Faith distinction; the Jesus of Faith corresponding to the Easter-appearances and Jesus of Faith that the Apostle’s had some sort of mystical experience of.

Some have wanted to respond that because Jenson is subsuming his doctrine of resurrection (as well as other loci) under his doctrine of the church that his ambiguity on the bodily resurrection of Christ is neither here nor there; i.e. that Jenson has bigger concerns in regard to narrating for the church where her significance comes from—even if for him whether or not Jesus genuinely or physically did raise is an incidental.

I don’t really appreciate posturing types of responses to such things (which is some of what I received). Some people responded to my first post by trying to suspend the obvious observation that there is indeed this kind of Bultmann existentialism attending to Jenson’s own formation in regard to his doctrine of resurrection. Just because someone is a devotee to Jenson’s theology in the main doesn’t mean he didn’t have weak spots, and is not vulnerable to any sort of critique in any way. And yet this is the sense you get when trying to elevate something like this vis-à-vis Jenson’s theology. I’m not interested in subterfuge or suspension. Jenson is a clear and good communicator; he’s not unclear in regard to the types of antecedents present for him when it comes to his developments on resurrection.


[1] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God(Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 195.

A Quick Report on Robert Jenson’s Bultmannesque Demythologized Account of the Resurrection

I just finished Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God; I’d read most of V1 in the past back in 2005, but this is the first time I read it in full. I have mixed feelings about what he communicates via his theological offering; his Lutheran Christology seeps throughout (i.e. communicatio idiomatum), and his writing style is something to get used to. Since I’ve offered two posts that have been on the constructive/positive side in regard to Jenson’s theology, let me, in this post, offer a critical/critique oriented post. It has to do with what some might call Jenson’s Bultmannesque theology of the resurrection of Jesus; i.e. in regard to the bodily nature of the resurrection.

For the remainder of this post we will look at two quotes from Jenson which will help to illustrate why I have serious concerns with Jenson on the issue of the resurrection. He demurs—and this is to frame it collegially—at just the point wherein historic orthodox Christianity finds its juice; he flounders at just the point where you think he would hit his stride—since he sells his theology as one that pivots on the resurrection, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (or at least that’s what a reader would think based upon the way Jenson uses the language of resurrection). Someone I know (Kurt Anders Richardson) “warned” me about Jenson’s Bultmannian approach to the resurrection, but honestly I was a bit skeptical; that is until I read Jenson for myself. What my friend warned me of turned out to be true in the case of Jenson.

For Bultmann in the modern world of science and human progression something like the bodily resurrection of a divine-man kicks against all rational and empirical sensibilities. And so just as we find with Bultmann, Jenson acknowledges the world within which we live, takes his hat off for it, and attempts to make sense of the orthodox and biblical assertion that Jesus rose again bodily from within the modern milieu; so he demythologizes and attempts to give us the essence and existential gist of what the idea of the resurrection implies self-referentially within the Christian narrative. Realizing that this is in the background of Jenson’s informing theology, in general, it rather guts much of the valuable “sounding” things he connives throughout the rest of his theological meandering. I’ll leave us with two quotations from the pertinent section of his ST:

Most of the Gospel’s resurrection stories are of appearances, in line with the tradition followed by Paul. But the other ancient account, transmitted by Mark writing perhaps ten years later than Paul, is of finding Jesus’ tomb empty. The historical difficulties of Mark’s story have, one may think been much exaggerated. It is nevertheless noteworthy that other empty-tomb stories in the Gospels may well be dependent on the single story in Mark, and that the New Testament contains no trace outside the Gospels of a conviction that the tomb was empty, or even of any interest in the matter.

In any case, the two claims are not conceptually symmetrical. The assertion that the tomb was empty could be true while Jesus nevertheless remained dead. But if the claim was true that some saw Jesus alive after his death, then Jesus had indeed been raised. Therefore, whether or not the tomb was found empty, only the appearances could be the actual occasion of the Easter-faith.[1]

I once heard, in person, at a regional Evangelical Theological Meeting in Portland, OR in 2011, Jesus Seminar fellow, Marcus Borg, make almost a verbatim accounting of Jesus’ Easter-faith resurrection appearances. It is something that we might expect from a neo-Gnostic like Borg, or the demythologizing theologian, par excellence, Rudolph Bultmann, but not what I would have expected to hear from America’s best theologian (according to some), Robert Jenson.

He closes this section on Resurrection with this:

. . . The tomb, we may therefore very cautiously judge, had to be empty after the Resurrection for the Resurrection to be what it is. We can, of course, say nothing at all about what anyone would have seen who was in the tomb between the burial and the first appearances. If the tomb marked by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is indeed where Christ lay, then it is empty not by inadvertence but as the Temple of Israel was empty.[2]

It strikes me as rather odd that Jenson, a theologian known for placing such emphasis on the resurrection, per the paces of his theology, is so agnostic and ambiguous in regard to the bodily resurrection of Christ. Even in the last quote from him, we need to read that from within the context set for that in the first quote I shared from him. For Jenson, what is important is the existential Easter-faith of the Apostles rather than the actuality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ; this comes off as an incidental for Jenson, in regard to whether or not it did in fact happen or not.

While Jenson does have some insightful things to say about church history and ideation, at the end of the day, without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ informing his theology, as the Apostle Paul notes:

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.[3]

In an ultimate kind of way I don’t have very much interest in Jenson’s theology precisely because what should be the capstone of his theology—even on his own assertion—is weakly. Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance et al. are all strong on the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and for them it can truly serve of primal import in regard to the development of their respective theological offerings. Because of the waningness of Jenson’s own report on the bodily resurrection he cannot claim the same type of bravado when it comes to offering a Trinitarian theology that has the Gospel of the bodily resurrection at the core of the core of his theology.

I plan on finishing up Jenson’s Volume 2, but only to say that I’ve been there done that. Any kind of abiding interest I might have had in Jenson’s theology has been somewhat quenched by his material lacuna in regard to the necessity of an empty tomb or not.

[1] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 195.

[2] Ibid., 206.

[3] I Corinthians 15:12-19, NIV.

On Being a Liturgical Theologian: The Place of Doxology, Aesthetics, and Narratology in Gospel Reflection: Thinking Along with Robert Jenson

Something I’ve come to realize about myself is that I am very attracted to the aesthetics of theology; or aesthetically driven theology. I say this because I think doxology and aesthetics, when it comes to theology, in my view, go hand-in-hand. We might not think about literary studies, per se, or narratology fitting into this way of conceiving of things, in regard to theology, but as a persistent Scripture reader I can see no other place in the economy of God’s Kingdom wherein aesthetics and doxology are given their greatest expression. I think this comes to pass relative to the way we approach Scripture; i.e. how do we read it? Do we read it dialogically and prayerfully; believing that the symbols of the text press on beyond themselves to their reality in the living and Triune God? If so, I think this is where the beauty and effulgence of the text of Scripture can become the Holy ground God has intended it to be for his church. Some might refer to this way of doing theology as liturgics; maybe at the end of the day I am a liturgical theologian then. What I do know is that getting caught up in the grandeur of God’s resplendent life as I meditate upon the living words of Scripture cause me to encounter a beauty and shalomness that is not of this world; even as it has penetrated this world in Christ.

Robert Jenson really captures, quite well, what I am referring to as he writes on the power and beauty of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He captures how the text itself within the context of the church reposing upon the Triune life of God, in itself, becomes the confessional and doxological basis from whence further theological programmatic and detail can be given. He touches upon how speech-act and the text of Scripture, and its nourishing reality is the basis, the cornerstone upon which the church can simply be the church of God in Christ. Let me share a little:

Let us then indeed begin afresh. And let us first recur to the Gospels’ narrative way of interpreting the cross. Freed by a more daring Christology than is usual in the West, we can say: the church’s primal way of understanding the Crucifixion is that we live this narrative, that we rehearse the canonical story, in the context of Scripture’s encompassing narrative and so that the rehearsing is a word-event in our own lives.

The Gospels tell a powerful and biblically integrated story of the Crucifixion; this story is just so the story of God’s act to bring us back to himself at his own cost, and of our being brought back. There is no other story behind or beyond it that is the real story of what God does to reconcile us, no story of mythic battles or of a deal between God and his Son or of our being moved to live reconciled lives. The Gospel’s passion narrative is the authentic and entire account of God’s reconciling action and our reconciliation, as events in his life and ours. Therefore what is first and principally required as the Crucifixion’s right interpretation is for us to tell the story to one another and to God as a story about him and about ourselves.

That is, what fundamentally must happen is that the passion narrative live in the church as the church’s account of herself and her God before God and the world. One is strongly tempted simply to say: what must above all happen, to understand reconciliation at Golgotha, is that the church recite the passion narrative—traditionally, according to St. John—in a Good Friday liturgy at which the Cross is contemplated, the Old Testament—Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22!—is heard, prayer is offered for Caiphas, Pilate, and their underlings, and the death is recited not only verbally but bodily, by distribution of the Lord’s body and blood. One is tempted to say: what fundamentally must happen in the church, as right interpretation of the Crucifixion, is that the traditional Good Friday liturgy, with its unique prayers and—as the English church called it—its “creeping to the cross,” be celebrated.

Crucifixion is the good that it is only dramatically together with the Resurrection. Therefore its Good Friday representation cannot stand by itself, but can be the church’s primary interpretation of the Crucifixion only in one service with celebration of the Resurrection. Crucifixion and Resurrection together are the church’s Pasch, her passing over from being no people to being God’s people, her rescue from alienation to fellowship, her reconciliation. Only as this is enacted in the church as one event is the Crucifixion understood. One is—again—strongly tempted to say: what must happen as the fundamental explanation of atonement is that the ancient single service of the Triduum, “the Three Days,” the continuous enactment of the Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, covering Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Night, be celebrated.

Readers may take the above mandates as strange systematic theology. Are not these paragraphs instead “liturgics”—and romantic liturgics at that? But if a theological proposition is one that says, “To be saying the gospel, let us say F rather than G,” and if the gospel  is spoken in language and by more embodied sorts of signs, by sacrament and sacrifice, then we must expect theology sometimes to take the form of ritual rubrics, to take the form “To be saying the gospel, let us do F rather than G.” Our commendation of the Triduum simply happens to be the first appearance of such theology in this work.[1]

We can see Jenson, early on, riffing against the Covenantal schema of the pactum salutis (covenant of redemption) and other speculative frames for conceiving of the soteriological reality. And it is this, among other things, as noted, that I find attractive with reference to Jenson’s narratival, and yet aesthetically rich telling of what and who the Gospel entails.

The majority of Jenson’s book has been engaging with the history of ideas, patristic theology, medieval theology, modern and postmodern theology. It is in the section I just quoted from wherein Jenson is finally getting to where I’d hoped he get to; to a kind of post-metaphysical narrativialized telling of the Gospel account and what that implicates towards a theological touchstone for further ecclesiological and personal reflection. There is something about simply reading Scripture—and doing so realizing that you are a part of the communio sanctorum ‘communion of the saints’ in the centuries of the church—and allowing the repose of that and the reality that reposition draws us into as we encounter the living God in the face of Christ that is inexplicable. It’s not that we read the Bible nakedly, but that as we read it in and from its own reception in Christ and then in his body, the church, we come to realize that we are indeed part of the fullness of God that transcends our own immediate situations, but at the same time breaks into them and reorients them to their proper telos in the recreation of God in Jesus Christ; in the resurrection past, present, and to come fully unveiled with great angelic shout as Christ comes again. I am enamored by this type of theological engagement; one that is deeply Word based, understanding that the Word is living and active because the Word is Jesus Christ.

[1] Robert J. Jenson, Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 189-90.

My Status with Barth and A Ramble On Distinguishing Covenant Theology From Evangelical Calvinism: Theocentrism V Christocentrism

My Status With Karl Barth

In some ways I’m still in crisis mode in regard to Barth, personally. I don’t want this whole post to be about this, but I wanted to start off with a word as I continue to think about how it might still be possible for me to be Barthian. The reality is this: in the main I find a large percentage of what Barth teaches to be some of the most compelling teaching in regard to theological method (formal) and theological content (material) that I have ever been confronted with; this is not going away for me. I know for some this isn’t the struggle it is for me, but for me it is a struggle—we’ve already treaded these waters. I have come to the conclusion that I will have to accept the notion that Who Barth bears witness to is bigger than Barth himself, and bigger than any unconfessed immorality he lived within throughout his life-time with Charlotte von Kirschbaum. I remain deeply troubled by the whole ordeal, and so I experience some sort of dissonance as I engage with Barth’s theology; but like I said, I believe that despite Barth God was able to use Barth to point people beyond Barth and to the living Word of God, Jesus Christ and the Triune God. With this caveat in place let’s move on to the rest of this post.

A Ramble On Distinguishing Covenant Theology From Evangelical Calvinism: Theocentrism V Christocentrism

I am continuing to read Michael Allen’s newly released book Sanctification—I won’t be sharing any quotes from it here—and in it he is arguing, really, for the value of federal or covenantal theology as the best hermeneutic for engaging scripture. Further, he is seeking, in mood, to offer a recovery operation wherein he resources the categories offered by luminaries such as Thomas Aquinas, Post Reformed orthodox thinkers, John Owen, et al in order to furnish the 21st century evangelical and neo-reformed landscape with touchstone fixtures by which the Protestant church might better know Jesus through. The reason I bring this up here is because part of what is being retrieved is something that evangelical calvinists are seeking to ameliorate through recovering a different hermeneutic; a hermeneutic that thinks personalistically about how the church engages with God, as if in ongoing dialogue with him. Not through the metaphysics and geometry that funds what Allen is seeking to recover, but instead through understanding that our relation to God is immediately grounded in God’s choice to encounter us in an ongoing basis through the miracle of the Christ-event; the event of the ensarkos, the enfleshment of God in Christ, the assumption of humanity by God for us. And in this event, in the coming of God for us in Christ, the conditions for that coming created by the Holy Spirit, created in the hovering over the waters, over the womb of Mary, becomes the condition by which we come to know God; in and through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, the glory of God in the proposon of the Christ. In other words, what, in accord with folks like Barth, T Torrance, et al evangelical calvinists are interested in developing and pointing people to is that our relationship to God is based upon an ongoing non-analogous miracle. The miracle’s context is given performative reality by the Holy Spirit’s action of uniting the eternal Logos with the humanity of the Son (an/enhypostatic) in the singular person (singular personalis) of Jesus Christ. In further words, what the Holy Spirit accomplishes for the Son in the miracle of the Incarnation is what is accomplished from that first miracle of Incarnation in the lives of humanity simpliciter. What I’m referring to—admittedly I’m not being as forthright as I ought to be—has to do with what traditionally is called the ordo salutis (order of salvation). The entailments of the ordo, doctrinally, are bound up, traditionally, in the theology that someone like Allen is seeking to recover. Grace is typically understood as a created quality, or an abstract quantity that is attached, cumbersomely to the work of the Holy Spirit, by which the elect individual is not only regenerated but enabled by to cooperate with God through fulfilling their covenanted role in the salvific process. In other words, the only thing in this kind of ordo way of understanding salvation that serves as the framework for understanding it in a “personal” way between God and man is the introduction of the covenantal or “contractual” arrangement God has set up between himself and elect humanity in order to bring about salvation (and fulfill the Abrahamic covenant) for the nations. The mechanisms, within this covenantal scheme, that give it energy is not the mystical and personal relationship that coinheres between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; instead, it is a set of Aristotelian properties, quantities, and qualities synthesized with soteriological categories that covenant theology must appeal to in order to offer their theory of salvation.

Contrariwise, evangelical calvinists, at least this one, as noted earlier, seek to understand salvation directly from Jesus Christ; directly from the unio mystica of God’s Triune life in eternal relation. We understand that because we are up against an Ultimate, up against the ineffable God, that we are fully dependent upon what this God reveals about himself; and this implicates everything. This is why miracle is such an important loci for an evangelical calvinist; we are thinking salvation from Christology; we are thinking salvation from what T Torrance calls a novum, the novum of God’s life in Christ. Yes, there are many implications about reality that are given explication and elucidation from there; but in such a way that things remain untidy, and less coherent (by the standards of philosophical endeavor) than the human mind would like. There remains an element of trust, and vulnerability in how the evangelical calvinist theologian thinks salvation. This bothers people. It makes them think that we are engaging in sleight of hand, and magic thinking; but what is really going on is that we are allowing the rationality of our thought to be conditioned by the determination of the givenness of God’s life in Christ; we are allowing the categories and emphases we think through to come to us through God’s Self-exegesis in Christ (Jn 1.18). This doesn’t mean we don’t have to still interpret, but we are attempting to bear up under the pressure of the Revelation itself; we are attempting to allow that Revelation of God to dictate the terms of our interpretive process; allowing God to interpret us, by the Holy Spirit in the archetypical humanity of Christ, prior to us interpreting him; and living in the spiral of this dialogical relationship.

What this gives us, in part (because there are other parts to all of this), is an understanding of salvation that is at odds with the classical covenantal theology that Allen is recovering; it places us at loggerheads with the substance metaphysics that covenant theology appeals to in regard to developing the guts or mechanics of the various working parts of their federal schema. We end up with an emphasis, relative to salvation, that focuses on the agential and personal reality of the Holy Spirit working us into union with the miracle he accomplished, first, in the hypostatic unioning of the eternal Logos with humanity in the womb of Mary. George Hunsinger brings this into clarity as he details how miracle works in the soteriology of Karl Barth:

The work of the Holy Spirit, as Barth saw it, is miraculous in operation. Within the trinitarian and christocentric framework of his theology, this theme elaborates his point that the Spirit’s work is never “anthropological in ground.” The Holy Spirit is seen as the sole effective agent (solus actor efficiens) by which communion with God is made humanly possible. In their fallen condition (status corruptionis) human beings cannot recover a vital connection with God. Their minds are darkened, their wills enslaved, and the desires of their hearts are debased. Through the proclamation of the gospel, however, the impossible is made possible, but only in the form of an ongoing miracle. This miracle is the operation of the Holy Spirit, not only to initiate conversion (operatio initialis), but also to continue it throughout the believer’s life (operatio perpetua). The only condition (necessary and sufficient) for new life in communion with God is the Spirit’s miraculous operation in the human heart (operatio mirabilis). Faith in Christ, hope for the world, and consequent works of love have no other basis in nobis than this unceasing miracle of grace. Faith, hope, and love, in other words, do not depend on regenerated capacities, infused virtues, acquired habits, or strengthened dispositions in the soul. Those who are awakened to lifelong conversion by the Spirit never cease to be sinners in themselves. Yet despite their continuing sinfulness, the miracle of grace never ceases in their hearts.[1]

Do you see what I emboldened in the Hunsinger quote? This is what I’ve been referring to previously; these are the categories that Allen’s theology, in particular, and covenant theology, in general, operate with. They come, as I noted, from an Aristotelian complex of ideas integrated into the medieval church and taken over by Post Reformed orthodox theology; the theology that produced federal or covenant theology. You can see the distinction, I was noting previously, in the Hunsinger quote; the distinction between the impersonal and kind of abstract potentially theocentric theology offered by Allen&co. versus the christocentric concrete theology offered by evangelical calvinists following Barth, Torrance, et al.


The differences here are basic and fundamental. They have their sources not only in and from Barth, but evangelical calvinists appeal to the patristic theology of Irenaeus, Athanasius, and to later Orthodox theologians like Maximus the Confessor. The ontology of salvation for the evangelical calvinist is grounded in seeing the Trinity as determinative for the bases of what salvation entails and what may be said of it. The ground of salvation for the evangelical calvinist is personal, it is Jesus Christ as the mediator between God and humanity in his humanity; a humanity created by the Holy Spirit. We aren’t going to appeal to qualities, the habitus, or created grace when we refer to salvation; we will refer to Jesus Christ and the emphases that come with his coming for us.

Hopefully in my rambling you have come to see, once again, how us evangelical calvinists are different than what you typically will find in what people say counts as “Reformed theology.”


[1] George Hunsinger, Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 162. [emphasis mine]

How Union with Christ and Christian Dogmatics and a Theology of the Word Converge in Barth’s Theology

Adam Neder always has good insights on Barth’s theology. The following from him gets into his elucidating what Christian Dogmatics is for Barth, and what it is based upon (the Word of God). This is all framed by Neder’s interrogation of Barth’s understanding of union with Christ theology or participatio Christi (a la Calvin i.e. ‘participation in Christ’). Neder writes:

Barth’s conception of dogmatics is grounded in his understanding of revelation, which governs his doctrine of participation in Christ as he articulates it in CD I/1. As an ecclesial activity, dogmatics proceeds from the Word of God and remains ever and solely accountable to it. Its task is free speech in obedient response to God’s speech, which is its sole criterion. Responsible to revelation alone, Christian theology hears and bears witness to the Word of God. Therefore, it does not attempt to justify itself through appeals to authorities external to revelation. Dogmatics is possible for one reason alone: because of the speaking and hearing of God’s Word. Thus, all attempts to ground dogmatics in anything other than the Word of God are in fact betrayals of revelation, since there is, by definition, no higher court of appeals on the basis of which revelation and theological speech about revelation might be justified. Genuine knowledge of God and speech about him are possible and actual because God makes them so. Christian theology presupposes this fact and makes no attempt to establish it. Prolegomena, therefore, is internal to dogmatics.

According to Barth, revelation is not merely the offering and acquisition of information. It is rational, to be sure, since it is the divine reason communicating with human reason. But since it is Dei loquentis persona, it is an event in which God establishes and orderly fellowship between himself and human beings. “God’s Word means God speaks,” and since it is God who speaks, to hear his Word is not simply to become aware of him, but to obediently acknowledge him as Lord. Thus revelation is inseparable from reconciliation. Moreover, knowledge of God is communion with God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, and as such involves the death and resurrection of the human knower. To know God is to be joined to him in faith and obedience. The connection with participation in Christ is clear: “As God’s Word is spoken to man, it is in him and he is in the Word.” Barth refers to this union as a “mutual indwelling [Beieinanderseins] of the Word and man….”[1]

Christian Dogmatics, for Barth, and for many of us, is something that is done in the sphere of the church; for its edification. But as Barth emphasizes (according to Neder) the church is simply the context within which dogmatic reflection is undertaken, what serves as regulative for it is the Word of God. Of course for Barth this means Jesus Christ, the eternal Logos (think threefold form of the Word); without Christ, without participation in Christ the church has no life blood and nothing to talk about—without Christ the church is a mute.

But we see, as Neder makes so clear in regard to Barth’s theology, that everything is contingent upon Jesus. Knowledge of God is not a static thing, but a personal reality, as such we must be in union with God in Christ personally if there is going to be any space for genuine knowledge of the true and living God. We can see how this would militate against a natural theology, as the sphere for knowing God is not in an abstract creation, but instead in the particular person of the eternal Son, Jesus Christ.

We can also see how Reformed Barth is. We see the lineaments and emphasis upon a theology of the Word develop early on in the Protestant Reformation; of course what is being referred to by the magisterial and post-reformers is Holy Scripture. This is indeed present for Barth, but again, as is typical he radicalizes things and focuses more dogmatically on Jesus as the Word, and then Scripture follows after; just as creation follows logically after the Creator.

If you haven’t been exposed to anything Barth yet, I think Neder offers a nice and intriguing way in for you.


[1] Adam Neder, Participation in Christ: An Entry into Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics (Louisville/Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 1.

*A repost. One I like. 

A Rare Bird Theologian, Thomas F. Torrance: Reformed, Orthodox, and Ecumenical Impulses all in Christian Complex

Thomas Torrance has been something of a revolutionary figure for me. His approach to Christian theology, inclusive of a general hermeneutic which includes, of course, engagement with and exegesis of Holy Scripture, has been nothing short of ground breaking. From his theology of nature and social coefficients—which is reminiscent of the Patristic logoi; to his kata physin or heuristic science, wherein he seeks to penetrate past what he sees as an inherent dualist Latin way of thinking in the Augustinian West, and by way of contrast he wants to allow the reality under consideration (the Triune God) to unfold and determine its own categories and emphases of inquiry and self-disclosure; to the way he appeals to the homoousion and hypostatic union as regulative towards thinking all things Christological; all of this and more has been at the forefront of what has attracted me to TF Torrance’s theological project. He is a rare bird figure of the type that the theological student will be hard-pressed to find a parallel in the history of the Christian church. His internecine engagement with the Orthodox, Reformed, and the whole range of Christian reality; his ecumenical posture, his catholic impulses are of the rarest sort. Take for example how he opens his book Divine Meaning in the very first paragraph of his Preface. Here he encapsulates in précis all it is that I find so attractive about him; note:


If you still haven’t partaken of the theology of Thomas Torrance, what are you waiting for? Whether you’re Reformed, Orthodox, evangelical, or somewhere in the complex of it all, Torrance is going to be someone who enriches and challenges you; he will take your sacred cows to task, and point you to the living Word of God in compressed and concentrated ways. I hope if you have never found yourself lost (in a positive way) in Torrance’s writings that this post will at least pique your interest enough to crack open one of his books.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995), 1-2.