The Postmetaphysical God: Corrected by Thomas F. Torrance

There are so called postmetaphysical theologians out there who follow in the wake of the mediating theologians of Germany. Some attempt to read Barth’s doctrine of election in these terms; the idea being that in Barth’s reformulated doctrine of election as the Son elects humanity for himself as the electing God in this act, in this being in becoming, in the resurrection of new humanity in Christ’s, God’s very being is constituted. The caveat, at least for some, is that this avoids a panentheistic collapse of God into his creation precisely because God’s life of freedom stands behind this choice to not be God without us, but only with us. But then this is ironic since this caveat, ironically, ends up introducing a metaphysic back into the mix; it’s just that the metaphysic now has to do with Divine Freedom rather than Divine “isness.” Further, the caveat itself doesn’t actually work: God’s being still ends up being what it is by its actualization in the creation; in the miracle of resurrection and the new life therein.

I can’t accept this sort of postmetaphysical approach to theology. I can accept the idea that God has chosen to be for us and not God without us, but I can’t make that constitutive of God’s being. This ultimately makes God as much a predicate of his creation as does God entering the creation under the dictates of the absolutum decretum. Thomas Torrance offers an alternative tradition to the one we’ve just been describing. It still has some common features as far as an emphasis on God’s freedom to be for us, and it takes up much of Barth’s reformulation of the classical doctrine of election, but it avoids falling into the sort of panentheistic collapse that plagues the “postmetaphysical” approach. He writes:

Let it be repeated that the God who has revealed himself to us in the Gospel as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not a God who lives for himself alone, but who lives his all self-sufficient divine Life in love for others and has poured out his love without reserve in the gift of his only begotten Son to us as our Saviour, and in the Holy Spirit who sheds abroad that very love in our hearts. This does not imply, as we have taken care to show, that God is conditioned by, far less constituted through, his relation to us who are quite other than he is, for he is already concerned with Others eternally and inherently in himself, in the three-fold otherness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in their Love for one another and Communion with another. It is from the free ground of that transcendent otherness in himself in his Triune being, that God freely and spontaneously creates others outwith himself for fellowship with himself and brings them into actual communion with himself. This free-flowing unconditioned outgoing movement of his Being means that God refuses to shut off from us in his unapproachable Majesty, infinite otherness and incomprehensibility. He makes himself really accessible to us, and does so not only in communicating himself to us in the incarnation of his Son, but in imparting to us his Holy Spirit in such an utterly astonishing way as to actualize among us his self-giving to us as the Lord and at the same time to effect our receiving of him in his self-giving.[1]

In Torrance we still have a classical conception of God’s antecedent life; his ontological life prior to his outer revealed in the economy. The ‘collapse’ is not present, but there is still an emphasis on God’s being in his inner Triune life being for the other; precisely because this has been the eternal reality of God’s life as Father for the Son, Son for the Father, Holy Spirit for Son and Father as the koinonial reality of eternal fullness. I commend Torrance’s view to you.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark Publishing, 2016), 148.

How Does the Christian ‘Get’ the Holy Spirit; Or How Does the Holy Spirit ‘Get’ the Christian: The Locus: Christ’s Vicarious Humanity

Have you ever wondered how you might construe a Christ concentrated understanding of how the Christian receives the Holy Spirit; how the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ serves as the basis through whom Christians come to participate in the lively reality of the Holy Spirit? Often we abstract the Spirit’s work from the Son’s (and the Father’s) as if the Spirit is the divine agent who imbibes or woos faith into the forthcoming believer, and by this creative act of Divine plenitude the would be believer comes to the confession of faith in Christ. Indeed, the Spirit has his own unique and active work in regard to the salvific reality, but as Thomas Torrance points out it would be wrong to think this work abstract from the person and work of the Son in Jesus Christ, or indeed, abstract from the Triune life itself. But in a very specific way here we see Torrance’s bringing together of the Spirit and the Son as the place wherein salvation first inheres, in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; and as an echo of that reality, we as images of this image (Jesus Christ cf. Col. 1.15), as we are brought into union with the vicarious humanity of Christ, indeed by the Holy Spirit, come to participate in the humanity, Christ’s humanity for us, wherein the Holy Spirit is fully operative as the One who leads and casts out, as the One who directs our steps in the way they should go; to the right hand of the Father. Torrance writes:

Our receiving of the Spirit is objectively grounded in and derives from Christ who as the incarnate Son was anointed by the Spirit in his humanity and endowed with the Spirit without measure, not for his own sake (for he was eternally one in being with the Spirit in God) but for our sakes, and who then mediates the Spirit to us through himself. As one of us and one with us he sanctified himself in the Spirit that we might be sanctified in him and thus be sanctified in the truth. Our receiving of the Spirit, therefore, is not independent of or different from the vicarious receiving of the Spirit by Christ himself but is a sharing in it. Since he received the Spirit in the humanity he took from us, we on our part receive the Spirit through union with him and through him with the Father. This was the point Athanasius had in mind when he wrote: ‘Our being in the Father is not ours, but is the Spirit’s who is in us and dwells in us . . . It is the Spirit who is in God, and not we viewed in ourselves.’[1]

For one thing, just from an identity point of view for the Christian, this should let us know that our salvation is not our salvation, but instead is a reality extra nos (outside of us); a reality that we have no control over, but who is in control of us as we submit to his reality for us in Christ by the Spirit of Christ who is the Holy Spirit of the Triune life. This should let us know that we do not find what we need, as the ‘world’ and liberal theologies call us to, by recessing deeper and deeper into ourselves. The fact that our very ‘being’ is grounded somewhere alien to ourselves, and in Christ’s being as we are brought into union with his humanity by the creative and recreative work of the Holy Spirit in his humanity and now our humanity in union with his, ought to alert us to the reality that there was and is nothing good that dwells here (that is in our ‘old person’).

I can’t help but think of the reality of the cross in this context; in order for us to come to this Dogmatic point of reasoning requires something greater than an abstract or discursive moment in our intellectual lives. What is required for these categories to work is both the Incarnation&Atonement; more pointedly, what is required is a putting to death of our ‘old man’ and resurrecting of the ‘new man’ in Jesus Christ. This is where the ‘being’ of humanity brought to breath by the Holy Spirit comes to reality; as THE man, the mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ, is breathed into life by the Holy Spirit in concert with the Father and in the strength of his own life Divine, and in this reality we can come to speak in the terms that Torrance and Athanasius do.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark Publishing, 2016), 148.

God’s Triune Life as Grace: In Contrast to Latin Theologies of the Catholic and Protestant Varieties

Where was I? Oh yeah, about a third of the way through my friend Geordie Ziegler’s book Trinitarian Grace and Participation: An Entry into the Theology of T.F. Torrance. I’ve had Geordie’s book for probably a couple of years now, and I’m supposed to write a review for it. Well I’m continuing on, and the review is forthcoming. I’ve already done a few posts engaging with Geordie’s book, and this will be another one. I will just say that Geordie has done a wonderful job in exposing what comprises TFT’s theology; particularly as Geordie’s thesis focuses on the Trinitarian nature of Torrance’s prolegomena, and the way that grace is embodied and acted out in the very Triune relations.

In this post I am going to offer a long quote from Geordie where he is discussing how Torrance refers to grace in homoousial terms. This might seem striking to the uninitiated, but Torrance offers a personalist understanding of orthodox Reformed theology—in contrast to the school theology of late mediaevalism and post Reformed orthodoxy that he is reifying in Christ concentrated mode—as such TFT does not think of grace in the scholastic frame as created grace. We won’t venture further into the details of so called ‘created grace’ (which we find in Thomas Aquinas, and carried over in some of the post Reformed orthodox), but it is contrary to this, and from a more ‘Eastern’ approach that Torrance develops his understanding of grace in a personalist Triune frame. As you read Ziegler’s development remember this prior context.

Here is Ziegler at length (I don’t like to offer quotes without length, have you noticed?):

First, in asserting the homoousion of Grace, Torrance is highlighting and clarifying two key aspects of Grace: (1) Grace is intensely personal and implacably objective. In an unpublished response to his critics, Torrance explains the movement of his thought in more detail:

What [the Reformers] did, then, was to apply the homoousion also to the acts of God, to revelation and grace, and to insist that what we have in the Word is God speaking personally, and what we have in grace is not something detachable from God, some sort of created grace or Arian entity, but very God of very God. They emphasized that the Word of God is God speaking Himself to us, that the Grace of God is total, God giving Himself unreservedly to us. This created in the most intense way personal relationships on the one hand—destroying the impersonalism and the objectivism of mediaeval theology—and yet emphasized the implacable objectivity of God on the other hand, for it is the sheer majesty of His Being, His ultimate Self-giving that we encounter in His Word and Grace.

For Torrance, Grace is the personal self−giving of the Triune God through Christ and the Spirit, by which creatures are given to share in the Father−Son relation. Grace is not a nebulous divine ‘good will,’ but has real content: “for what God communicates to us in his grace is none other than himself. The Gift and the Giver are one.” The application of the homoousion to Grace is to recognize Grace as “the one indivisible self-giving of God in Christ.” Grace is not therefore something abstract, an impersonal force, or a generalized divine favor; nor is it a generic term for the gratuitous character of all God’s gifts. Grace is irreducibly personal; in fact, Grace has a name. Torrance writes,

Grace is not something that can be detached from God and made to inhere in creaturely being as ‘created grace’; nor is it something that can be proliferated in many forms; nor is it something that we can have more or less of, as if grace could be construed in quantitive terms. This is the Reformation doctrine of tota gratia. Grace is whole and indivisible because it is identical with the personal self−giving of God to us in his Son. It is identical with Jesus Christ. Thus it would be just as wrong to speak of many graces as many Christs, or of sacramental grace as of a sacramental Christ, or of created grace as of a created Christ.

While Grace is not to be generalized, it cannot be delegated to just one member of the Trinity’s activity either, for that would reduce it to a purely economic and instrumental function. Thus as we have observed and argued throughout Torrance roots Grace in “the living relations of the Persons of the Holy Trinity”; which in freedom and love issue forth through the missions as a movement from the Father, through the Son in the Spirit, and which return in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. Thus,

Between its going forth from God and its coming out upon the creature grace at no point ceases to be what it is within the Trinity, in order to become what it was not, some impersonal entity or causality. Grace can never be regarded in an instrumental sense, for from beginning to end in grace God is immediately present and active as living Agent.

Torrance will not abide any break between the being of God and his activity, for that would involve the trading of impersonal instrumentalities for real relations of communion.

Practically speaking, the recognition that Grace is irreducibly personal and objective and raises strong objections to the “impersonal determinism” of some Protestant doctrines of election. By construing the operation of Grace according to some notion of causality, “the sui generis movement of grace” is converted into “causal terms,” which “can then appear to be only quite arbitrary.” Equally problematic in Torrance’s estimation is the Augustinian notion of irresistible Grace. He suggests that the doctrine deleteriously introduced an internal connection between Grace and cause, which made way for the more general view of Grace “as a divine mode of causation at work in the universe.” Torrance argues that at least partially the development of the notion of irresistible Grace is an anthropomorphic projection of pragmatism upon the Divine: God uses Grace to administrate his salvific agenda for humankind and in that way God’s use of Grace mirrors human means of Grace.[1]

For an elaboration on the discussion orbiting around grace as created, uncreated, and the like refer to my friend and fellow blogger, Fr Aidan Kimel’s post which engages with how grace has functioned for the big three traditions in Christendom: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. As you read Kimel’s post what you’ll recognize, after reading what I just shared from Geordie, is that Torrance’s approach clearly is in-formed by the Eastern trad (if we want to speak cleanly like that). But Torrance’s theology and logic of grace, as Ziegler develops it (and Geordie follows TFT to a T), even counters some of the things that Aidan shares in his post with reference to Augustine (as we see particularly in the last paragraph of the Ziegler quote).

What I want to press is really one thing: As Evangelical Calvinists we are less concerned with where the conceptual matter comes from—in regard to the various trads of the church—and more concerned with the fiduciary nature of the theological material and development itself. As such, when we think of God’s Triune life as a movement of dynamic grace, as he moves in and among Godself, and from there moves out for us, we think this is the right way to think precisely because it coheres and inheres so well with the reality of the Evangel itself. In other words, the God we encounter in Christ, as Athanasius is so prone to emphasize, is a God who is unity of being, which antecedes his will be done; the God we meet mediated through the God-man, Jesus Christ, is always and eternally already the Son of the Father. We don’t meet God as the Creator, first; not as Christians. We come to call God, LORD!, by the Spirit. It is in this onto-relation, as the reality of God’s inner-life, that the sheep come to know their God’s voice. It is in the dynamic of being-in-relation; the subject-in-being relationship (Torrance’s ‘onto-relation’) that has always already been the eternal reality of the Father-Son-Holy Spirit, and then this shared reality in his movement outward (humanward) towards us that we might move towards him in the Godward movement of his life for us in Christ.

You won’t find these emphases and foci in classical Reformed theology, of the Latin sort, precisely because of the type of voluntarist, on the one hand, and Thomist commitments, on the other hand that help fund the way they think of a God-world relation and what that does to concepts like grace in soteriological frame. This assertion will have to suffice for now, but you can peruse my various blog posts or two edited books for further development and substantiation of this thesis. What I do want to leave with is that Evangelical Calvinism works from the sort of conceptual matter that we see Geordie developing in his work on Torrance’s theology of grace.

 

[1] Geordie Ziegler, Trinitarian Grace and Participation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017), 132-34. I copy and pasted Ziegler’s quote from a PDF copy I have, as such his emphases and italicizes were negated in that process.

A More Responsible Way to Think About Biblical Eschatology: Engaging with Karl Heim Through TF Torrance

In North American evangelical circles when you hear the word eschatology your mind typically races to The Late Great Planet Earth or the Left Behind series. Or, if you’re old enough, you might even think about all the artistic charts providing a linear timeline for biblical prophecy and eschatological events. But when we engage with this word from a more historical and Christian Dogmatic frame of reference, indeed, if we engage with this word and its conceptual matter from the New Testament itself (by engaging with its inner theo-logic) a different sense emerges. The ‘end’ is certainly in view, but the way that transposes with the now supplies us with a very different frame for thinking things eschatological. Clearly, for the Christian our hope is that Jesus Christ will return bodily (just as he ascended Acts 1.8), and usher in the new creation in consummate form unending; this is indeed the eschatological hope. What this ought to do for us though, in a broader less idiosyncratic frame, is cause us to ponder the relationship between time and eternity; and maybe wonder what the latter has to do with the former.

This is sort of pondering actually didn’t happen in earnest until the modern period; or at least the modern developments re-ignited a focus on the biblical understanding of the eschaton that was certainly present in the Patristic period. But what happened in the modern period under the pioneering work of someone like Albert Schweitzer and his Jesus Quest was to recognize just how central eschatological thinking was to the whole of the New Testament. It was in fact the rise of historic-critical tools that developed as a result of Enlightenment forces, that caused this focused engagement with the text of the New Testament that made its critics, Schweitzer among them, recognize the lacuna of previous scholarship in understanding just how central the eschatological was to the New Testament project. While Schweitzer was unable to follow through with his identification of the eschatological as the inner reality of the New Testament witness, vis-à-vis the apocalyptic, it was his work along with some others that brought the need to re-examine the New Testament witness in the light of eschatological reality.

Thomas Torrance offers some important delineation of the impact of this re-focused emphasis on eschatology as he surveys the work of theologians following this sort of New Testament studies revolution. He first identifies the early Barth and his commentary on Romans as taking Schweitzer’s insights to their theological conclusion; taking Schweitzer where Schweitzer himself failed to go. TFT then notes how Barth later corrected some of his early thinking as he matured into the Barth of the Church Dogmatics. But I don’t want to focus on TF’s survey on Barth; instead I want to highlight his sketch of Karl Heim’s work. I find the analogy that emerges in Heim’s thinking to be quite compelling in regard to the way we might think of time’s relationship to eternity in a christological frame. Torrance writes (once again at length):

Even more significant that the work of Althaus, however, has been the work of Karl Heim. On the one hand, his significance lies in the fact that he stands in a closer relation to the biblical message, working out an eschatology in terms of justification and forgiveness, and bringing into history the acute tension manifest in the death of Christ in the contradiction between the powers of evil and the holy love of God. On the other hand, Heim’s significance lies in his efforts to break with the idealist conception of time that has for so long done violence to our understanding of the biblical message. For help in his interpretation, Heim turns partly to Bergson and partly to the changes in modern notions of time due to the new physics, and certainly he manages to introduce into his views something of a Heraclitean tension.

Critics argue that this is only to understand primitive mythology in terms of modern mythology, but although it is not always easy to understand or agree with Heim’s notions of time, particularly when they are influenced by transient scientific theories, he has done us great service both in thinking eschatology and soteriology into each other, and in overthrowing what he calls a static (stabil) view of time in favour of a dynamic (labil) view as the time-form of the Ego. The latter means that he works out a view of eschatology in close association with the life of the church, for our Christian view of time must inevitably be bound up with God’s action in history through the church as the place where eternity is so to speak within time. Eternity does not stand forth only at the end of time but is the frontier of time all along the line. It is the other side of time and beyond time, the final reality that bears upon time. That reality is supremely manifest in the incarnation, and through the death of Christ and through the church in her proclamation of the gospel, it gets to grip with time in the matter of guilt. Thus history, particularly history in relation to the church, is read in terms of the contradiction of sinners against the man of Calvary, and the whole panorama of time has its meaning unfolded there in terms of a dynamic tension so acute that every time is seen to be the last time. Heim does not think in terms of alternatives such as realised eschatology or a future coming of the kingdom at the end of time, but in terms of both.

It is characteristic of Heim that he speaks of these difficult matters again and again through illustrations. Thus he likens the church of the New Testament to a vast iron bridge which spans the torrent of time with a single arch supported by only two pillars, the cross of Christ which stands on this side of time and the coming of Christ in power which stands on the other side of time. The church of Christ in history is maintained from age to age by these two supports and its very being is bound up with the essential unity of these two events, the perfected event of the death and resurrection of Christ and the future event of the parousia. It is because the very being of the church is proleptically conditioned by a new creation to be revealed at the parousia, the return of Christ, that she lives in dynamic tension here and now at the very frontiers of eternity.

This tension is through the tension that lies at the heart of justification, the relation that exists in the conflict between guilt and the power of evil (in which Heim sees behind the outward façade of world history the embattled array of Satanic forces) and the redeeming purpose of God. It is because that struggle was supremely concentrated in the cross, and because Jesus Christ emerged there as absolute victor over all evil that God confronts time through Jesus Christ by whom at last the world will be judged and all history brought to its great consummation. But because it is through Jesus Christ that God confronts the world in its history, history will inevitably repeat on the full scale of humanity the conflict of the cross, but it will be a conflict or cataclysm in which Jesus Christ will emerge triumphant with his new creation of heaven and earth. Because we are concerned through all of this with a dynamic or fluid (labil) view of time we cannot think of the consummation by a lengthening of time but in terms only of God’s moment fulfilling and ending our time. Hence we cannot say in what day or hour the parousia will take place. All we know is that we are confronted now through the gospel with God’s will and with eternity as though this were the last time.[1]

The illustration Torrance shares from Heim is instructive in regard to the hangars of time; hangars that pivot on the first and second advents of Jesus Christ. Biblical eschatology in this approach starts with the res (reality) of Scripture, with Jesus Christ; as if there is a cosmic battle taking place, but one that has been won by the risen Christ. The way the eschaton conditions time and our daily nows is through the proclamation of the Gospel by the witness of the church. It is the reality of new creation known by faith, and given power by the resurrection that the church serves as the witness to the mediator between time and eternity in the hypostatic union of God and man in Jesus Christ. There is a great conflagration inhering in the Christian’s life, of an eschatological vector, as the Christian lives in and from the Omega of God’s eternal life as that implicates the Alpha made present in our daily lives in this mundane world as the Christ’s church.

What we see presented in Heim’s thought, according to Torrance, is a better and more biblical-theological way to think about eschatology. The Bible does not lay out a line of biblical prophetic events that must take place in a domino sort of fashion; it does not give us a code waiting to be decoding by the newspapers, per se. Instead, a biblically rich understanding of the eschatological is to think it in the sort of terms that Heim does; to think it in and from the terms laid out by the incarnation of God, and the obedience of that reality in Jesus Christ as he made a public spectacle of the devil and his demons at the cross. The church, as she bears witness to this powerful reality, in union with Christ by the Spirit, is involved in living the eschatological life that is God’s life in confrontation and destruction of the principalities and powers at work in this ‘world system.’ This is what the eschatological entails; not charts.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 312-14.

Torrance’s Demythologization of Bultmann: Re-Metaphysicalizing the Gospel Through the Gospel

Because of David Congdon’s book on Bultmann, his book big which I have been reading, I am here going to continue to throw significant noise back at any sort of positive “retrieval” of Bultmann’s theology. The “noise” will, once again, come from my teacher, Thomas F. Torrance. If you want to read his fuller treatment on Bultmann’s theology then pick up his posthumously published book Incarnation and flip to the end notes; Walker (the editor) included a quite lengthy dossier from TFT on Bultmann in critique.

As becomes clear, as you are reading Congdon’s Big Book on Bultmann, there is a disavowal of the metaphysical God of Christian tradition and classical theism[s]. This is simply in line with the period of theological undevelopment that Bultmann was groomed in; the so called postmetaphysical understanding of God, primarily among the Teutonics. Torrance identifies the ideational genealogy of this line of thinking, and helps to further expose the narrow shoulders upon which Bultmann stood in the development of his own thinking. Torrance writes (in extenso):

This brings us to another important but difficult point: Bultmann’s peculiar understanding of history. That is even more clear in the teaching of Gogarten, especially in his little work Demythologisation and History. This is the view that we are ourselves the real creators of history, and that the existence we know is historicised existence. Here two streams of thought run together, and we may best understand that by looking at those two streams of thought: one from Kant through Dilthey, and the other from Roman Catholicism through Heidegger. In Kant’s famous Copernican revolution, idealist philosophers came to think of the human mind as creating its data out of a formless raw material through certain categories of understanding, so that in the very act of knowing we give shape and form to the chaotic flux of experience. Now this notion was carried over by Dilthey to an understanding of history, and so he set himself to write a critique of the historical reason, parallel to Kant’s critique of the pure reason – for Dilthey, this was necessary if the humanistic sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) were not simply to take their criteria and hermeneutical method from the exact natural sciences.

But there is another line of thought that flows into this from the Roman Catholic notion of tradition, that is, of the real meaning of history in an organically developing tradition. This notion was transferred to the understanding of existence by Heidegger, for whom the real existence of a thing is found in its traditions. A thing is what its tradition is, and beyond that tradition there is no thing in itself. In this way, Heidegger transposed the medieval view of existence and essence by telescoping them into each other. For him, essence is found in existence, and on that ground, existence in essence. In Bultmann and Gogarten both of these lines of interpreting history run together, and for them history is that which we make it to be, so that beyond our historicisation of existence, there is no reality.

Historical existence and the history of existence are identical. Applied to the gospel tradition, that means that what is actually historical is what the apostles made of the raw material in front of them, and behind that there is no reality. The historical reality is what they made it to be – apart from their creation there is nothing, there exists nothing. The only real historical Jesus is what we make of him. That helps to explain why for Bultmann the apostles (from our point of view) had to distort the picture of Jesus in their presentation – there is in fact no other Jesus than that, their creation of him. This view of history destroys what Bultmann and Gogarten call the metaphysical interpretation of the faith or the historical Jesus, and eliminates from the Christ-event anything of an objective, independent, ontological nature. Or to put it in other words, according to Bultmann and Gogarten, modern men and women cannot understand history apart from our own responsibility for it; and apart from our responsible handling of it, there is in point of fact no history, for there is no history apart from the changes human beings have introduced into it. By our decisions we give the world its particular form, so that reality is now this changing history which we create, and beyond and apart from that there is nothing real for us.

Now quite frankly this is the biggest myth yet created by man – that we ourselves are the creators of all history, and that apart from the history created by human beings, nothing else is real! Man is the God of history! In view of this, it is clear that it is not the New Testament that Bultmann and Gogarten themselves that need to be radically demythologised! So long as they work with such inverted conceptions of history, scientific interpretation of the New Testament is quite impossible.[1]

Torrance opines further and latterly in his treatment this way:

In point of fact, then, Bultmann’s demythologization of the kerygma means stripping it of its physical elements – its setting in physical history and the physical world of space and time in which we live. The whole process which takes the kerygma out of that setting and plants it in some setting of existential decision, cuts out of the gospel its historical particularity, and cuts out of the incarnation its ephapax, its ‘once and for all’ finality. It cuts the kerygma adrift from history altogether. Now Bultmann declares that he does not do that, for the existential decision is in historical encounter with the crucified Jesus, but once that decision is made, history as we know it is set aside, and in point of fact he does therefore cut the kerygma adrift from history, for history has no essential relation to the substance and content of faith. The historical event of Christ, apart from the appeal it addresses to us, signifies nothing for our salvation, for it is not a source of salvation independent of ourselves. The historical fact of Christ cannot be the object of the kerygma, since it is the kerygma, says Bultmann, that is, the kerygma as he understands it, that declares its meaning and confers on it its value as saving event. It is only because the kerygma is a function of man’s self understanding that it invests the historical fact of the crucified Christ with a meaning and an existential reality which it does not have in itself.[2]

And in a zinging type of way Torrance offers a final critique of Bultmann’s lack of theologia crucis:

The plain fact is that Bultmann shies away from the weakness of God on the cross, as Paul called it, and so is offended at the cross. The fact that the eternal God is there in all that weakness is a scandal to his ‘Greek’ mind, and the fact that his eternal salvation must repose upon a contingent fact of history in Jesus frightens him – and therefore it is Bultmann himself above all who seeks false security by cutting the kerygma adrift from history and all its weakness, so that it will not be open to the criticisms of rationalism. Or, paradoxically, he deliberately uses all the weapons of positivist science in order to destroy the historical foundations of faith, so that faith may rest on something that is not subject to weakness or change and relativity and contingency. He thus has not the courage to rest his faith upon the weakness of God in the historical Jesus, and so seek falsely to secure himself and his self-understanding within the limits of scientism.[3]

Torrance’s critiques do not fall on deaf ears. As one reads Congdon’s book on Bultmann all of TFT’s points are spot on. It is unfortunate that Congdon didn’t really interact with Torrance’s points of critique, but that does not negate the force of Torrance’s critiques. It is interesting to me, because as I have followed Congdon’s theological development and present conclusions, his conclusions are exactly that of Bultmann’s; and thus fall under the mantle of Torrance’s insights and critiques. Congdon offers certain words of pushback against critiques like Torrance’s, particularly in regard to the idea that Bultmann relied upon Heidegger in paradigmatic ways, but he only asserts that Bultmann arrived at his views prior to reliance upon Heidegger, and that he found in Heidegger a like-minded companion to help round out his thinking. But that’s hardly an adequate response to the sort of penetrating critique that Torrance offers.

When you think about it: If God is the center of your thinking you will not have an aversion to metaphysics, per se; but if you are the center of your thinking you will indeed have an aversion to metaphysics. Metaphysics, in a denotative sense, does not mean that the thinker must be overly committed to Hellenic forms of thinking; indeed, as Torrance intimates, Bultmann himself suffers from this over reliance in his so called demythologized postmetaphysics. The concern that some of us have, myself included, is that metaphysics are not properly evangelized by the Gospel reality; that metaphysics come prior to the Revelation thus modulating the Gospel into something it isn’t. But this concern is different than Bultmann and his impulses. He was under the sway of a humanistic idealism that was attempting to navigate the Enlightenment waters by giving full head nod to them while still attempting to have a lively Christian faith under those constraints. Torrance helps us see how Bultmann’s noble attempts failed radically!

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 284-85.

[2] Ibid., 289-90.

[3] Ibid., 290.

Thomas Torrance’s Warning Against the Existentialist Jesus of Rudolf Bultmann and David Congdon

I’ve been referring quite frequently to Rudolf Bultmann lately because of David Congdon’s big book on Bultmann; which I’ve been reading. I’ve finished about two thirds of the book (500 pp.), and I think I’ve seen enough. It is easy to see how seductive reading large amounts of someone like Bultmann can be; indeed, I found myself getting sucked in at moments myself. But ultimately the existentialist Jesus that Congdon presents through Bultmann is nothing more than a Gnostic Jesus who is generated more by the imagination than by the antecedent reality of the eternal God, the eternal Logos. What takes over in this frame is not Jesus the Lord, but my encounter with an idea named Jesus; and my existential state becomes determinative for the type of response this “encounter” might engender. Jesus, in the Bultmannian frame, has no ontological grounding; instead the Jesus of Bultmann comes to only have an existential grounding, an ontic grounding that cannot ultimately surpass my personal experience with him. In other words, there is nothing transcendent about Bultmann’s/Congdon’s Jesus; only if transcendence means that this “encounter” with the so called kerygmatic Christ results in theopolitical action wherein the eschatological is existentially realized in the concrete existence of my lived life among other flatlanders.

Thomas Torrance, who I consider my primary teacher these days, offers critique of the Bultmannian sort of Jesus; and so I want to share some of that for you. It is no surprise that Congdon would discount Torrance’s understanding of Bultmann and the existentialist Jesus produced thereby. Yet, if Congdon wants to discount TFT’s critique maybe he shouldn’t exemplify the very components of the critique in his own lived life and positions (Congdon, that is). TFT writes:

In both liberalism and existentialism the historical Jesus is expendable

That is the denouement that comes over the idealist and liberal conception of Jesus, in which the eternal ideas mediated by Jesus finally set the historical Jesus himself aside. That is called Liberalism, but today there is a whole school of New Testament scholars who are opposed to that liberal approach to Jesus, and they lay stress not on the ideas that he taught, but on the eschatological event which broke into the world in the historical Jesus. What is this eschatological event? The school of New Testament scholars here would call the eschatological event the act of the divine mediated in and through the historical Jesus, but they deny that the divine event is itself also an historical event. In other words, they have substituted the concept of event for that of idea, and in the same way as the idea passes through the historical Jesus and discards him, so this eschatological event passes through the historical Jesus and discards him. Just as the eternal ideas or truths mediated by Jesus had only a temporal and non-essential relation to history, so this eschatological event has only a temporal and non-essential relation to history. Again, just as the eternal truth  mediated by Jesus, once it was disclosed to our knowledge, appears self evident to us as a truth of our own reason, so the eschatological event, once it is disclosed through our decision, ministers to, or is servant to, our self understanding. What is the difference between this view and the liberal one? The liberal view worked with an idealist philosophy [emphasis on ideas], and this works with an existentialist philosophy [emphasis on courageous existence and decision, personal action and involvement in events]; the liberal view was more concerned with static ideas, and this one more with dynamic events and decisions, but in both the result is the same: the truth of reason or self understanding is the net result, while the historical Jesus is relegated as of no ultimate importance.

All that happened here is that the philosophical idiom has changed, the language has changed to suit the times, but we have the same radical divorce of the eternal from the temporal, the act of God from history – with the result that the historical person of Christ as God and man is no longer central or important. This is simply a new and more subtle form of liberalism. Once again the great dilemmas is: either in Jesus Christ we are confronted by the eternal God in history, so that the person of the historical Christ as man and God is of utmost importance; or Jesus is only the historical medium of a confrontation between me and the act of God which summons me to decision, but in which I reach a self understanding which enables me to live my life bravely. Here christology passes away into some kind of existentialist anthropology.[1]

This is an accurate assessment of the existentialist Jesus that David Congdon presents us with in Rudolf Bultmann’s thought. The historical Jesus is still only an accident of history in this frame, a purveyor of eternal ideas, but nothing more; albeit eternal ideas that have actually been sublimated by the immanent conditions of the 21st century. Worse, this Jesus, while said to encounter us, is given shape not by some real eschatological reality, but the one imagined by an immanenist frame that looks more like the enculturated self-imaginer, and the socio-cultural conditions this imaginer is located in, rather than the eschatological life of God who is characterized by an alien holiness.

You might wonder why I’m picking on Congdon so much. It’s because he is an influential personage among millennial and younger thinkers in regard to who God in Jesus Christ is imagined to be. He is helping a generation slip away from the orthodox Jesus confessed and known by the church catholic through the centuries; and is offering us a latter day Jesus who is more like an ATM machine dispensing values that look more like the cultural moment than the heavenly revolution they purport to be. He is helping young people (and older who aren’t wise enough to see past this) apostatize with intellectual rigor, and leaving them in the dust of their own images.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 261-62.

A Quick Response To Union Theological Seminary’s Recent Anti-Christ Twitter-Storm

The following is a “tweet-storm” that Union Theological Seminary recently posted on Twitter. It is actually prompted as a clarification to another tweet-storm they offered in response to John MacAthur’s Statement on Social Justice and The Gospel. Leaving that issue to the side for the moment, what this tweet-storm reveals, not surprisingly though, is the depths that Union has come to. They have been known since their inception of being a bastion of liberal theology, and so this might seem unremarkable to some. I just wanted to comment a bit on it. So read it in full below, then I will offer a brief comment.

Some people have asked why a Christian seminary would say that Christianity is not the only path to salvation. The short answer is that this in no way violates the Christian faith and, moreover, is integral to honoring and respecting our community. 2. For too long, Christians have misread verses like John 14:6 as implying that God is found exclusively through the Christian faith, many going as far as to say that people of other faiths face eternal damnation. This is an incredibly narrow reading of the text. 3. To box God neatly within the Christian tradition is to reveal a profoundly limited understanding of the divine. Who are we to say that God can’t speak to humanity through a multitude of messengers? 4. “No one comes to God except through me,” is simply Jesus’ prophetic announcement that—to know and enter into relationship with God—emulate Jesus: Embrace folk on the margins, stand against imperial abuses, love one’s neighbor. These aren’t exclusively Christian values. 5. And this isn’t a “good people from other faiths are Christians and just don’t know it” argument, just an admission of Christian humility that the way we’ve come to know and follow God isn’t the only path. Admitting this, however, by no means precludes Christian identity. 6. One can still uphold the Bible’s authority, personally; still believe fervently that Jesus is God-made-flesh; still worship in Christian community; still be a Christian in every meaningful sense, without saying anyone who believes differently is destined for hellfire. 7. Union is by no means disavowing Christianity, only admitting it is not the sole way to know God. And, in doing that, we open the door to genuine interreligious engagement that not only deepens Christian faith, but honors others’ religious experience as equally deep and valid. 8. Union now proudly offers programs in Buddhism & Interreligious Engagement and Islam & Interreligious Engagement. In our classrooms, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian students study side by side—exploring their faith together. 9. This is simply not possible in an institution that believes non-Christian students are destined for damnation. And this dynamic, while particularly acute in an educational setting, is just as true for the world at large. 10. We need faith leaders who can cross religious borders to strive together for God’s justice, not ones who demand everyone believe as they do. The globe is stricken with far too much religious violence: We need to deepen interreligious understanding, not add to this pain. 11. And this begins by letting go of narrow conceptions of salvation that harm others, building walls instead of bridges.[1]

Here is how I responded to it on my twitter feed:

I mean honestly there isn’t much to say other than UTS is apostate. They operate under the mythology of something like John Hick’s pluralistic universalism. They also, as indicated in their twitter-storm only make bald-faced, limp-wristed, snowflake like assertions about the traditional view of salvation being too narrow. So what! Really, what does it matter what they or I think?! Has God spoken clearly with force in and through His living Word or not? Is there ‘no other name given under heaven by which people might be saved’ except Christ’s name, or not? They said reading John 14:6 as presenting an exclusive way to God through Christ alone is too narrow and rigid. Really? How did you come to that conclusion, and who allowed you to crawl into God’s mind and tell the rest of the world, and the church catholic what he ‘really’ meant? Don’t you—the authors of this tweet-thread—see the slippery slope you have slid down? Aren’t you aware, historically, of the ideational antecedents that have led you to the sort of neo-Cartesian/Gnostic theory of authority you are operating from when you presume to speak as God? May God have mercy on your ever-self-loving-souls.

 

[1] Union Theological Seminary, Twitter-Storm, accessed 09-20-2018.

My Unfinished Evangelical Calvinist Confession of Faith, 2010

Evangelical Calvinist Confession of Faith, 2010

[an unfinished confession I once started]

§ God

We hold God to be one and three and three in one, so that His oneness shapes His threeness and His threeness shapes His oneness. This means that God’s life is a plenitude of superabundant love which has always already been the consummate and eternal reality of His life. It is within this dynamic, wherein the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and the Father and Son love in the communion of the Holy Spirit wherein He freely chose to create a mirror of Himself in His image who might further reflect His love for the other; and in so doing created a community of creatures who find their greatest delight and purpose by loving Him — through Him — and by loving their neighbors.

§ Incarnation

We confess that the second person of the Trinity, the eternal logos — the Son —has eternally been for the other, consonant with this His person(hypostasis) within the Trinitarian life has been proleptically towardIncarnation (yet we also confess that the Incarnation, like Creation, is a novum, or something ‘new’ for God — which is based upon and out of ‘who’ He is without proximation). This presupposes that without sin, without the ‘Fall’, His life has been oriented toward elevating His creation to its consummate and eschatological purpose; which is to participate in the union and knowledge of the Father by the Holy Spirit that He has mutually shared with the Father and Holy Spirit from super-time (or eternity). So we believe that the Incarnation was always the intended event for which the Son has been graciously purposed in His intratrinitarian relation; thus the Incarnation was a truly free and sovereign act decided by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which is the antecedent to what we see ‘revealed’ in the economy of God’s life in salvation history in Israel and Christ’s life. We believe that the economic revelation of this eternal reality implies — given such realities as the homoousion, hypostatic union — that all of humanity is carnally united to Christ per His ‘supreme’ (“firstborn”) position over all of creation and that some will experience the full implications of the Incarnation which is to participate in the ‘spiritual union’ that the Son vicariously provides for humanity in and through Himself by the Holy Spirit reconciled to the Father in His life.

§ Creation of Man

We believe that man was originally created in the imago dei (Image of God), which is to say that given the eschatological shape of God’s life in Christ by the Holy Spirit; we believe that man was proleptically created in the imago Christi (Image of Christ) who in fact has always already been the icon or image of God. Man was created for the purpose of spreading God’s goodness and glory by koinonial love with and through God, and thus by communanly loving his neighbor.

§ The ‘Fall’

Unfortunately man ‘fell’ into sin by believing the ‘word’ of the serpent, instead of believing the Word of God. This act separated man from God’s life and introduced an soloptic autonomy into man’s state, so that what once was an unbroken disposition of receiving life from God as ‘gift’ and love, an outward and upward position of doxology; has now become an inward curvature of self-love (concupiscence) wherein man’s life is shaped by holding onto what he perceives to be his — ‘his life as god’ — and for which he will make the ultimate sacrifice which is to give himself as a ransom for himself in order to maintain his position as god — he can do no other, for this is what he is by sinful nature.

§ Election and Reprobation

We believe in a Christ conditioned supralapsarianism. Which is to say that we believe that Christ is the electing God and the elected human who freely elected our humanity (reprobate state) for Himself (our poverty), and His election as the Son (by adoption) for us. We do not believe that this election is constitutive of His life, but instead that it reflects the eternal shape of God’s superabundant life of love in action. So God’s being shapes His action, and His action shapes His being; so that what we see in the economy of election in Christ is what has always already been the reality of God’s life. We believe that the Holy Spirit brings the ‘elect’ into consummate or full election which is to participate in Christ’s life as the elected of the Father. We do not pretend to explain why the reprobate reject the life and gift of Christ which they have been carnally united to; only that this rejection of life in Christ now serves as the ground for their judgment.

§ At-onement

§ Christ’s Death, Burial, and Resurrection

§ The Ascension

§ Faith and Good Works

. . .

The Analogy of Advent Rather Than The Analogy of Being: The “Christ-Myth” Demythologized

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.[1]

The above quote from Robert Dale Dawson captures a significant point in regard to the apocalyptic-dialectical nature of Barth’s theory of history-revelation; particularly this clause: “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.” It fits well with Eberhard Jüngel’s ‘demythologizing’ project—if we want to call it that—vis-à-vis Rudolf Bultmann’s understanding of ‘myth’ and ‘demyth.’

As David Congdon develops Bultmann’s understanding of myth and demythologizing what comes to the fore, particularly as he places Jüngel into conversation with Bultmann, is how ‘myth’ coalesces with what Dawson describes, with reference to Barth’s doctrine of resurrection, as ‘the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.’ Often when we hear “myth” we think in terms of its profane or pagan etiology (or lexical origination, colloquially understood); when we hear myth we hear fairytale. But this is precisely not what Bultmann, Jüngel, or Barth understand as the entailment of myth (Barth’s language is actually saga instead of myth; roughly as corollary with Bultmann’s myth). In order to explicate this further I am going to quote Congdon (again, don’t tell him) as he develops Jüngel’s own understanding of mythos as this relates to knowledge of God. Congdon writes at length:

According to Jüngel, faith as the knowledge of God is concerned with a person’s existential relocation (i.e., knower located with the known) and not with the world’s theoretical explanation (i.e., known located with the knower). The knowledge of God is not a worldview but rather and existential event, as the dialectical revolution in theology discovered anew. Demythologizing is necessary in order to prevent theology from losing sight of its proper task as the articulation of this existential relation to God. In this way it furthers the project of dialectical theology. Demythologizing continually unsettles and reorients theology, and in so doing preserves the practical truth of the Christ-myth. Commenting on Luther’s axiom that “our theology is certain because it places us outside ourselves [ponit nos extra nos],” Jüngel presents the summation of his theological argument for the necessity of demythologizing:

Those who in faith know the mystery of Jesus Christ, who are thus placed outside themselves, find their existential place “in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17). This mythical power to localize the knower anew is the truth of myth preserved in Christianity. But this is precisely what is obscured by the “theoretical” act of knowledge that takes place concurrently in myth, which localizes the known—the God who comes to the world—in the context of the reality of the knower and consequently in the context of his or her world, thus making God a worldly object. . . . Christian theology therefore requires demythologizing. It is necessary in order to expose the eminently “practical” truth of the christological myth: the truth of the divine word that interrupts human beings and calls them outside themselves. . . . Demythologizing therefore serves the truth of myth by destroying the “theoretical” world-explanation of myth in order to expose the “practical” power of mythical words to move our existence and in doing so to impart a new approach to human being-in-the-world.

Demythologizing is nothing less than the necessary entailment of faith in Jesus Christ. The knowledge of Christ in faith not only relocates the believer existentially but also precludes from the start any attempt by the believer to give theoretical certainty to her knowledge. Faith that conforms to the truth of the Christ-myth is, to use Jüngel’s earlier expression, an adaequatio totus homo ad rem—a correspondence of the whole person to the thing. But since the res, the object of faith, is Christ himself, the Lord of all creation, the person who corresponds to this object experiences a fundamental displacement from herself. The “certainty of faith” (Glaubensgewissheit), precisely because it is grounded in the “certainty of God” (Entsicherung) of oneself.” We only participate in the practical truth of the christological myth by being placed extra nos. The stabilization of this myth in the form of a theoretical explanation involves remaining in se, and thus is impossible on the grounds of the Christ-myth itself. This is another way of saying that the myth of Jesus Christ demands the ongoing task of demythologizing.

The Christ-myth radically differentiates itself from every other myth. Because the kerygmatic Christ-myth involves a strict differentiation between creator and creature—between grace and sin, gospel and law—that defies every attempt to systematize it and thus secure one’s place within it, the practical truth it communicates is one that cannot coexist with an abstract theoretical truth or worldview. In this way the Christ-myth fulfills the genuine purpose of myth, which “expresses the insight that human beings cannot secure themselves through . . . reason.” Religious myth in the general sense described and denounced within scientific myth-criticism do not have their basis in this creator-creature differentiation. They lend themselves, therefore, to what Calvin calls the “perpetual factory of idols” that characterizes human nature—what we might call the “perpetual factory of worldviews.” Practical truth takes the form of theoretical truth in the case of myth-in-general, whereas the practical truth of Christ is one that perpetually demythologizes theory. Myth-in-general grants existential relocation by providing epistemological certainty (in the form of Welterklärung or Weltanschauung); the Christ-myth provides epistemological certainty only by granting existential relocation (in the form of faith). The myth of Christ overcomes the subject-object divide not through an explanation of the object but through the justification of the sinful subject. Christian faith is essentially a demythologizing faith or it is not faith in Jesus Christ.[2]

On pace with this, the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) engaged in a type of ‘demythologizing’ project. Without the illumination, and more, in the case of the Apostles, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the evangelists and the rest of the illuminated masses (particularly the five hundred witnesses alongside the Apostles cf. I Cor. 15), would have simply remained at the level of ‘myth’ when it came to the Christ. Even though they had personal experience with Jesus, the Disciples, without “demythologizing” the events of the “Christ-myth” would have simply remained at the level of subjects looking at an object who had no incisive or theological meaning, no gospel (kerygmatic) significance for their lives. This is what the Synoptics and the Gospel of John are engaging in; giving theological significance to the “mythological” events of Christ’s life (events that appear, on the face, to simply have horizontal significance alone). Does this make sense?

The reason I started this all off with the Dawson quote, with particular focus on his language of “the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God” is because I wanted to foreground this discussion with a category that would allow us to appreciate what is meant by “demythologizing” when it comes to Bultmann’s and Jüngel’s projects, respectively. In other words, as is present in Barth, the reality of the Christ-event is a sui generis non-analogous event that has broken into history and set the limits of real reality by his seemingly and merely historical existence. That’s what Bultmann’s ‘Christ-myth’ is intended to signify (as I understand it); that if left to itself, Jesus Christ appears as just another human who comes to signify a personage of theoretical and religious importance within a worldview system that is pinned up by the manufacturing of various proofs and legendary tales. But what encounter with the Christ does in the lives with eyes to see and ears to hear is immediately invoke a process of ‘demythologization’, or the eruption of recognition that this man [of Nazareth] is actually someone greater than mere myth; instead he is the God-man who has broken the surly bonds of this creation and set it anew. It is as the disciple of Christ comes into this realization that they are decentered and recentered only as they find their human being in the new creation of God in Christ. Here, knowledge of God is ‘secured,’ but only in the faith of Christ and not in any theoretical basis constructed by an abstract humanity come to God on its terms.

P.S. I was unable to work the language of ‘analogy of advent’ into this post; but conceptually it is present. We will have to overtly deal with that as Congdon details that in Jüngel’s theology at a later date.

Addendum: Because of some push back from someone I know on FB, and through blogging over the years let me say the following for other’s benefit: I am not becoming Bultmannian. The content of this post moves liberally and freely back and forth between Bultmann, Barth, and Jüngel; without making important points of distinction. I remain committed, at most, to what Hunsinger calls the “textual” Barth, which means I am committed to a pretty traditional mode of theological reflection and consideration. What is in this post represents something very bloggy. My contact was concerned that I was seemingly moving into a Bultmann and Congdon direction. No, I’m not. If I had the space and time and energy I could draw out what I am doing. But this post before this addendum was already 1500 words; which is long for blog reader’s attention spans. It is hard to broach topics like this in the space I have to work with, and make important and clean distinctions along the way. The reason I felt motivated to post this one was because there are, what I think amount to equivocal soundings in Bultmann’s trajectory that correlate with Barth’s analogy of faith approach. But the reality is that Barth grounds the relationship between God and humanity in a heightened emphasis upon the antecedent reality of God which is not reducible to the sort of soteriological-dialectical approach that Bultmann and Congdon are proponents of. In other words, Bultmann and Congdon ultimately reduce God to an extra-mental reality between the knower and God, such that God’s reality is purely reduced to encounter or experience that people have when they are faced with the “kerygmatic” reality of the Christ. And when I say “extra-mental” what that really means is that the Christ event is not contingent upon his objective and concrete penetration into the world in the incarnation, but instead his reality becomes contingent upon existential encounter in the knower. In this sense the Christ could become evaporated to idea, even if Bultmann et al say otherwise. I do recognize this as a serious problem, and it does lead to other deleterious conclusions such as denying the bodily resurrection of Christ (so we have people referring to the “Easter-Faith-Christ” etc.), and denying any notion of the after-life in the eschaton/heaven (as David Congdon does). So my post was intended to help me process this through (you know “write to learn”), but I can see how it makes it seem as if I’ve softened up to a Bultmannian trajectory; that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just to be clear.

Here is something I wrote very recently that attempts to make clear what I ultimately think about David Congdon’s move to a Bultmann mode of theological reflection. Just to reiterate. I haven’t changed on this.

 

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

[2] David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 455-58.

The Impact of the Greek Mind on the Christian Body: The Bread that Binds is the Broken Body of Christ Rather than the Broken Minds of Men

I wanted to press something I haven’t for awhile; the idea that operating from a genuinely Trinitarian doctrine of God means that we will think of a God-world relation (Creator/creature relation) in personalist-relational-filial terms rather than static and necessitarian. The continuous drive of young evangelical theologians to retrieve theology from the 16th and 17th centuries and the developments that happened in Post Reformation Reformed (PRR) Western Europe ends up giving us an understanding of God that fits better with a static and necessitarian understanding of God rather than the relational one that I contend explodes from the Trinitarian reality. Richard Muller calls the type of Christianity that developed in PRR: Christian Aristotelianism. It was Aristotle’s categories mediated through people like Thomas Aquinas and appropriated by post reformed orthodox Thomists wherein a God who looked more like the monad of Aristotle and Plato—a Pure Being—was produced rather than the relational God who would be understood through a properly exegeted understanding of God as Triune. Colin Gunton notes the developments, to a point, in this way:

This takes us to the second point, which is that along with the demystification of nature, there developed a doctrine of the contingency of the world. Greek thought, as Foster shows, tends to be necessitarian: it seeks for forms, that is, patterns in reality that have to be, and that remains essentially the case with Aristotle, for all his naturalism. (Recall that according to the Timaeus both form and matter are eternal, and therefore necessarily what they are.) Scientific enquiry on this understanding becomes the quest for logical rather than factual links between things. In contrast to this, the world that results from a free act of creation does not have to be: it is therefore contingent. This contrasts with most Greek thought, for which contingency is essentially problematic: it is irrational because not necessarily and eternally true. A form of Gnosticism recurs in this context: truth is not to be found in material things, because that is the realm of the contingent. Therefore truth has to be sought somewhere outside the material world, in something or some principles underlying (or overlying) it. On this account, ‘Objects are intelligible in so far as they are informed, sensible insofar as they are material.’ Contingency, and so materiality, is thus a defect of being. In contrast to this, in the words of T. F. Torrance, ‘contingent rationality’ is a quest for a rationality inhering in the order of space and time, not beyond it. This, it is claimed, is the unique gift of the Christian doctrine of creation. The material world is contingent but rational.[1]

I drew a line between late medieval theology, and Thomas’s impact, and the developments of Post Reformation Reformed orthodoxy. It is difficult to generalize the period because it is made up of various characters and personages with just as various perspectives and theological conclusions. But in general, the style of classical theism the reformed orthodox appropriated, and developed, came with the Aristotelian tendencies; even if they wanted to affirm rather than deny (so Aristotle) creatio ex nihilo (‘creation out of nothing’). That’s what this discussion we are engaging with is about: viz. creation out of nothing, and the attendant understanding of contingency that follows.

My contention is that the theologies produced by the Post Reformed orthodox theologians were not altogether successful in emphasizing the freedom and thus requisite contingency that would attend such Divine freedom in a God-world relation. The consequent, one of them, is that the way people understand God’s relationship to the world, in the Christian Aristotelian model, is one wherein we end up with a Decretal God who relates to creation through decrees and the attending doctrine of causality (predeterminism that ends up making God in Christ in the incarnation a predicate of creation rather than its predicator; thus rupturing God’s person in Christ from his work in Christ). This continues to be an issue that plagues the current excavation work that people like Mike Allen and Scott Swain, among other young stalwarts, are engaged in at this very moment. Because folks like this ostensibly spy problems in modern theology they paradigmatically reject the idea that a fruitful or corrective understanding of a doctrine of God might be found there. They’d rather cast their lot with the so called tradition, and appeal to the natural theology required to make such an appeal.

At the end of the day I’m left wondering: what makes an idea about God orthodox? Is it really the period of ideation and development that said ideas developed within; and by whom? Or is there a greater regulative principle we ought to consider? What if Holy Scripture was in fact the norma normans and principium theologiae that so many of these younger evangelical theologians laudably affirm (as good Reformed thinkers). What if Scripture’s res (reality) was in fact the risen Christ, and the viva vox Dei (living voice of God) was in fact greater than the tradition that so many of these theologians appeal to as regulative for their own recovery projects? Some fear a Socinianism, a fallacious biblicism run amok, when they hear such words as mine. But what if the reality of Holy Scripture still speaks fresh and new words today, such that the tradition itself is called into relief when standing in the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? What if theology has an eschatological character to it, such that theology itself is always only a proximate endeavor that requires renovation over and again as it is pressed up and further into the lively reality it claims to be speaking of (rather than about) and to?

These are the kinds of questions and issues that continue to drive me as a Christian thinker. I don’t see a lot of fresh work being done in the theological realm, per se. Instead I see a constant desire to re-iterize what has already been said, a desire to return to the ‘old paths’ to the golden age of a theological yesteryear that somehow eclipses the present and its ability to produce constructive theologies on their own terms in dialogue with the living voice of God in Holy Scripture and its reality in Jesus Christ. This is not to suggest that the categories of the tradition do not offer valuable trajectories and insights, but it is to suggest that a repristination of these periods is of only relative value for the Christian churches catholic. The catholicizing reality that binds the church together is not tradition, but the risen Christ; as we proclaim his coming in eucharistic unity.

[1] Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical And Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), Loc 1581, 1587 kindle.