McCormack on Thomas on Justification

From Bruce McCormack’s essay “What’s at Stake in the Current Debate?”

I do not intend this as a “refutation” of Thomas, nor is this McCormack’s larger goal in his essay.  Thomas is simply too powerful a thinker to be refuted in a 600 word blog post. But McCormack nicely highlights conceptual difficulties in Thomas’s account in particular, and various evangelical-catholic paradigms of “ontological healing” in general.

And to be fair, if one were given the option of choosing between a strong Thomism or the evangelical-catholic goofiness today, Thomas is the obvious choice.  But there are more choices.

(1) For Thomas grace is two things: the work of God upon the soul and the effect of that action.

Two things are considered in the soul: the essence of the soul and the work of its powers.  The form of the soul is intellectual in orientation

The Subsistence of the Soul

Thomas: Nothing acts so far as it is in act, and nothing acts except that whereby it is in act. The soul is the form of the thing.  The soul’s powers are its mind and will.

(2) Form is the act in which a thing has its being and subsistence.

For Aquinas justification, in short, will consist of reorienting the intellect back to God’s proper order.  It is important to keep in mind that the soul is a spiritual substance that is intellectual in character (and this isn’t unique to Aquinas.  This is roughly the historic Christian position).

(3) Grace finds its seat in the essence of the soul, not in the powers.

What metaphor does Aquinas use to explain the nature of this grace infused into the soul?  Light.  Light, however, suggests an intellectual range.  This would place grace somewhere else than the essence of the soul–some place like the intellectual powers of mind and will (87).

This doesn’t mean Thomas is wrong, of course, but it does highlight a conceptual confusion.

 

(4) Justification, for Thomas, is a movement from a state of injustice to a state of justice.

And for those who know their Thomas and Aristotle, this means

(4*) There must be a mover (God), which sets things in motion: the movement itself and the object of the movement.

In short, God moves all things (in justification) according to the proper mode of each.  It looks like this:

Infusion of justifying grace → a movement of free choice → forgiveness of sin

There is one big problem:  infant baptism (89). Infants are not capable of movements of free choice towards justifying grace, and it won’t work, pace Thomas, to speak of this as an exception, since Roman Catholicism practices infant baptism as the norm.

For most of Thomas’s account, justifying grace finds its “point of entry” on the level of the intellectual powers of the soul.  McCormack writes,

“In other words: there would be no need to locate the infusion of grace in the essence of the soul if it were not for the fact that the Church’s accepted practice was to baptize infants.  And that also means that Thomas’s tendency to understand justification as rooted in an ‘ontological healing’ of the soul, rather than in a more personal understanding of the operations of grace, is a function of the fact that the regeneration of the infant is the truly paradigmatic case where that infusion of grace which initiates justification is concerned (89).

Thomas’s project would be largely free from this confusion if, say, he were a Baptist and baptismal justification worked only with adults–but that isn’t the case.  And here is where Thomas will switch metaphors from “light” (which suggests intellectual illumination) to seeing grace as a quasi-substantial “thing.”


Thesis: The work of God in us was being made the basis of God’s forgiveness (90).

And this is what the Reformers rejected and what is at stake.  If imputation holds, then the hierarchical mediations of Rome are unnecessary.  And this is precisely what is glossed over in many “ecumenical” discussions.

 

Are there then two Trinities?

I originally wrote this when some Neo-Torrancians were making hit and run attacks against McCormack, so it was initially a defense of McCormack.  My own position has changed much, so I will go ahead and offer the conclusion:

(5) McCormack’s actualism borders on Origenism.

(5*) Notwithstanding, McCormack read Barth correctly.

The Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner now-famous rule–The Immanent Trinity is the Economic Trinity–has created an uneasy tension in Western theology.  The ontological Trinity is usually defined as “God in himself” apart from any God-world relation.  The economic Trinity is God’s deciding and acting to save the world in Jesus Christ (and it doesn’t matter which confessional gloss you put on this).  

I understand the resistance to Rahner’s Rule.  If we identify the two formulations, then it makes the God-world relationship necessary and this is clearly wrong.  On the other hand, if the E/T and I/T aren’t identical, then we have two Trinities–and this, too, is wrong.  Sure, one could salvage the doctrine by saying that the assumption of human nature doesn’t affect the divine nature (though one wonders if it would affect the divine person?)

Q1: Is God in himself different from God-for-us?

Before we answer that question, let’s look at Leibniz’s Law:

(x)(y)[(x=y)—>(P)(Px<–>Py)]

For any x, and for any y, if they are identical to each other, then for any property P, P will be true of x iff P is true of y.

To put it negatively, if the two entities have different properties, then they aren’t the same thing.  

Q2:  Is there a Property that I/T has that E/T doesn’t?

There is a way to get around this, I suppose.  One could say that the action of begetting the Son isn’t a property.  I don’t think this works, though.  The early fathers specifically defined the identity of the Father (and the Persons in general) in terms of their specific properties.

But this is a definition of the properties of the Immanent Trinity, not the economical.  True, the Father does not beget the Son in time or with a relation to the world.   Thomas Aquinas came close to solving this problem by saying that the missions contain the processions.  This must be affirmed at the very least.  If we don’t affirm this, then the E/T becomes unhinged from the I/T and we have two trinities (and maybe six gods).

Barth took it a step further and said the missions contain the processions because the processions include the missions.

Q3: Does God pre-exist his act?

This is what bothers people about McCormack’s claim that for Barth (or maybe not for Barth; maybe we can just pretend this is a truth-claim) that election constitutes God’s identity.  It seems, so they read, that there is a hidden premise:

Q3*: If election constitutes God’s being, then did God pre-exist his decision to exist?

Admittedly, if this objection obtains it is a devastating one.  But McCormack said if this objection obtains here, then what happens when we apply it across the board

Q3’ Did the Father pre-exist the Son prior to the act of begetting?

Of course, Q3’ is unacceptable in theology.  People will say it is an eternal and spiritual act.  I agree.  This doesn’t mean that the claim election constitutes God’s being holds, but only that it is logically coherent (if you hold to eternal begetting/procession).

There is a precedence, of course, but it is a logical one, not a temporal or causal one.  Thomas Aquinas joins knowing and willing (and in a different way, so does McCormack, 2009, p. 121).  Both Thomas and McCormack join knowing and willing in the divine processions (though McCormack says that God’s self-knowing takes place in the event of revelation).  The only difference is that McCormack gives the missions a heavier logical role than otherwise, but even then he doesn’t actually identify the two (p.122).

Q4: Are my critics more McCormackian than I am? It would appear so.

Frame: Neo-Orthodoxy

I can only deal with Barth in this post. Others will follow.

If there is one single chapter in this book that is just bad, it is this one.  I am not trying to defend NeoO (in fact, I share Frame’s problems with Tillich and I can take it a step further), but he took cheap shots on Barth and failed to get at the heart of the matter.

He says the critics “Must face the task of explaining away what Barth appears to say in my quotations” (Frame 366).  This is easy: we don’t agree with Barth on all points.  Further, we can acknowledge Barth said this, but he said this under specific horizons.

He advances the typical rejection that Barth says the Bible becomes God’s word “from time to time.” Let’s try to look at something first.  When we see the phrase “revelation” or “God’ Word” in the Bible, does it univocally means the enscripturated canon?  Of course not.  This should take some pressure off of Barth.

But here is a bigger point:  Can “God’s Word” be a predicate of a creaturely entity?  No, it cannot it–otherwise you divinize that creature.  Not surprisingly, Barth’s Reformed Christology controls his doctrine of Scripture–as it should.

Frame calls Barth “an extreme nominalist” (367).  This is just false.

When Barth talks about dialectical unveiling, it means that God is indirectly identical with the medium of his self-revelation.  God makes himself present in the Word, but there is also a veiling of God in the flesh of Christ.

Frame writes: “This view of Scripture encourages us to hear  the Bible tentatively, selectively, critically” (370).  This is just silly.  It encouraged Bonhoeffer to die.

When Barth talks about Geschicte, he doesn’t mean a gnostic “not-quite-real” history.  He means that salvation and revelation come from God’s realm of reality and do not arise from within creaturely reality.  In other words, Pelagianism is false.

In conclusion, Frame focuses all of his attention, with a few exceptions, on CD I.1.  This leads to a distorted picture of Barth.  The reader is encouraged to read any random essay by Bruce McCormack for a better picture.

Towards a thesis on election

Not my final views, but moving towards them.

Bruce McCormack notes,

  1. The order of knowing runs in the opposite direction to the order of being.   This means before we “know” God we are operating with some abstract notion of “being” or “person” and projecting that onto God. As McCormack argues, “The consequence of this methodological decision is that the way taken to the knowledge of God controls and determines the kind of God-concept one is able to generate” (187). This leads to:
  2. Metaphysical thinking in “the strictest sense of the term.”  We are beginning “from below” and through an inferential process determining what God can be.
  3. Which means that we have a fully-formed (or mostly formed) concept of what God is before any consideration of his self-revelation in Christ.  As McCormack notes, “the content of Christology will be made to conform to a prior understanding of God” (188).  Natural theology has now given us a definition of God apart from God’s decision to elect, save, create, etc.  There is now a metaphysical “gap” between God in the abstract and the Triune God.
McCormack, Bruce.  “The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism.”Engaging the Doctrine of God, ed. Bruce McCormack, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008.
Does this mean that metaphysics and talk of substance is bad?  Of course not.  I do think, however, that if you remove a robust doctrine of revelation from the picture, you end up with the stale, metaphysical no-god (to allude to Barth).
If we posit a God beyond the God revealed, then we are left with the worst form of nominalism and skepticism.

McCormack writes,

“For Barth, the triunity of God consists in the fact that God is one Subject in three modes of being. One Subject! To say then that ‘Jesus Christ is the electing God’ is to say, ‘God determined to be God in a second mode of being.’ It lies close to hand to recognize that it is precisely the primal decision of God in election which constitutes the event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being. Election thus has a certain logical priority even over the triunity of God. [Quoting Eberhard Jüngel:] ‘Jesus Christ is the electing God. In that here one of the three modes of being is determined to be the God who elects, we have to understand God’s primal decision as an event in the being of God which differentiates the modes of God’s being.’ So the event in which God constitutes himself as triune is identical with the event in which he chooses to be God for the human race. Thus the ‘gap’ between ‘the eternal Son’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ is overcome, the distinction between them eliminated…. There is no ‘eternal Son’ if by that is meant a mode of being in God which is not identical with Jesus Christ” (pp. 218-19).

As Ben Meyers summarizes,

The event in which God chooses to be “God for us” is identical with the event in which God “gives himself his own being.” And this event of election is not located in any timeless eternity. God’s eternal decision coincides with the temporal event in which this decision reaches its goal. This coincidence – this event of utter singularity – is God’s being. Time, then, “is not alien to the innermost being of God” (p. 222). The time of Jesus Christ is the time of God’s decision – it is the primal time, the time of God’s eternal movement into history. There is no still-more-primal divine being which lurks behind this movement into history; God’s being is this movement, this effectual decision.
Bruce McCormack suggests that the best model for understanding Karl Barth’s theology is Realdialektik–God is indirectly identical with the medium of his self-revelation.  It is dialectical in the sense that it posits both a veiling and unveiling of God. God is unveiled in Jesus’s flesh, but since it is in Jesus’s flesh, God is in a sense veiled (McCormack 145).   This is another way of using Luther’s Deus absconditus.  Interestingly, this dialectic solves the postmodern problem of “Presence-Absence.”

What is Classical Metaphysics?

Barth’s project is in many ways an attempt to overcome the limitations of classical metaphysics.  Among other things, classical metaphysics (and it doesn’t matter whether you have in mind Eastern and Western models) saw the essence of God as an abstract something behind all of God’s acts and relations (140).  This view is particularly susceptible to Heidegger’s critique of “Being.”  It is also susceptible, particularly in its Cappadocian form, to Tillich’s critique:

 

Election and the Trinity
 
Barth navigates beyond this impasse with his now famous actualism.  Rather than first positing a Trinity and then positing a decision to elect, which necessarily creates a metaphysical “gap” in the Trinity, Barth posits Jesus of Nazareth not only as the object of election (which is common to every dogmatics scheme), but also the subject of election.  How can this be?  How can someone be both the elector and the elected?
For Barth the Trinity is One Subject in Three Simultaneous Modes of being (218).  To say that Jesus Christ is the electing God is to say that God determined to be God in a second (not being used in a temporal sense) mode of being…this lies close to the decision that [Election] constitutes an event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being (218).  Election is the event which differentiates God’s modes of being…So the event in which God is triune is identical with the event in which He chooses to be God for the human race”

Analytical Outline of Barth Bio

Realdialektik: a dialectic in real relations (McCormack 9).

Part of this book’s thesis is the overturning of Hans urs von Balthalsar’s claim that Barth rejected liberalism in favor of “analogy.” McCormack argues that Barth’s use of the en/anhypostatic distinction played a far greater role in his theology than the analogia fides.  More importantly, the anhypostatic distinction allowed  Barth to use the concept of dialektik until the very end.

So what is “dialectic?”  At its most basic level it means placing a statement in tension with its counter-statement (11).

Problems with von Balthalsar

  1. analogia fide is itself an inherently dialectical term (16).  It is grounded in the veiling/unveiling in revelation.
  2. It confuses two different categories.  The analogy of faith refers to the result of a divine act over which human beings have no control.  On the other hand, “Method” is something humans do.

McCormack rejects the “neo-Orthodox” reading of Barth (24).  

Barth as Anti-Bourgeois

The prayer “Veni creator spiritus” is the prayer of a person who possesses nothing which might be the precondition of doing theology (32).

Barth flirted with socialism simply because he saw the failure of liberal individualism.  Barth was not simply anti-capitalist. He said that socialism and capitalism were created by the modern world under situations that Jesus could not have foreseen (88).  

Barth didn’t reject private property; only private property as a means of production (Barth, “Jesus Christ and the Social Movement”).

However, the Socialist theme had receded from Barth by the first half of 1914. At the same time we see a new theme in Barth: the judgment of the wrath of God.  “That God judges evil tells us something about God himself; it is not simply abstracted from the divine being” (McCormack 94).

“Where the command to let justice flow down like waters is not heard, there a chasm opens up between God and the worship of God” (Barth, sermon, 19 Jan. 1913, Predigten 1913, 220).

Neo-Kantianism

“Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind” (Kant, qtd in McCormack 43).

  • The content of our knowledge is provided by the senses (intuition).
  • The form of our knowledge is provided by thought itself.

Categories without content are formal and empty.

Kant never doubted the existence of the noumenal. However, critics like Cohen pointed out that there is nothing given to thought which is not itself the creation of thought (44).  

The most pressing problem created by the Marburg theologians was where to place religion in the three branches of thought.  

*By the time Barth studied with Hermann, the latter’s relation to Ritschlianism had become attenuated” (54).

Hermann and historical: what Hermann meant by “historical” was that the spiritual cause of historical events was hidden from view (57).

Barth would break with Hermann by insisting that the divine being was real, whole, and complete in itself apart from human knowing (67).  

Belief in a Personal God

Religious experience has the character of an encounter between two persons (I-Thou).

  • Personality and absoluteness are predicates of God which are demanded by the experience.
  • But–the application of the predicate “personality” to an Absolute Subject will dissolve the element of absoluteness (105).  Personality, however, implies growth and change through struggle.  We can’t say this of the absolute subject.
  • Barth argues that this is where liberal theology ultimately fails.

Barth’s break with liberalism is his replacing subjective experience qua experience with the knowledge of God (124-125).

DIALECTICAL THEOLOGY IN THE SHADOW OF A PROCESS ESCHATOLOGY

The Righteousness of God

diastasis: a relation in which two terms stand against each other with no possibility of synthesis.

 

The Theology of Romans I

“World remains world but God is God” (141)

The problem: how are the two histories (Real History and so-called history) related?   Barth’s point is that “salvation history” does not arise from within ordinary history and by extension, as a result of human possibility.  He is not arguing, pace Van Til, that there is a Gnostic-Platonic history that is more important than space-time history.

Origin (Ursprung)

The fall was a fall from a relationship of immediacy to the Origin.   For Barth Ursprung can either be God or the created relation of the world to God.   The presupposition of the Fall is creation.  This allowed Barth to deny a continuum of being between God and creation.  It also fully kept Barth from being an Origenist.

Epistemology

“True knowledge of God is participatory, personal knowledge” (McCormack 159).  This sounds really close to Plato.  However, true knowledge of God can only be given by God himself.  

knowledge and immediacy:  some Germans saw the fall as a fall from direct experiencing into thinking as such.   All thinking is the thinking of an observer who stands against (gegenstand) an object.

God however, does speak to us in an immediate fashion:  he communicates to us and does not rely on objects mediated through a neo-Kantian constructivist epistemology (161).

DIALECTICAL THEOLOGY IN THE SHADOW OF CONSISTENT ESCHATOLOGY

Theology in a revolutionary age

McCormack argues that the crises evoked by Germany’s loss in WWI didn’t fundamentally change Barth’s theology.  Barth opposed the very bourgeois German liberalism that was destroyed.  Further, Barth was in Switzerland, which was neutral.  And Barth always maintained ambivalence towards culture.  It wasn’t evil but wasn’t the Kingdom of God.  

Shift to a consistent eschatology

The problem:  how can God make himself known to human beings without ceasing–at any point in the process of self-communication–to be the Subject of revelation (207)?

  • Barth wanted to avoid saying god was an “object.”

What changed in Barth’s two versions of the Romans commentary was two different eschatologies (208).

 

  • Romans I was a process eschatology.  

The Meaning of Crisis

Def. = an individual recognizes in the Cross of Christ the divine word of judgment–she is placed in crisis.  She is then judged, rejected, reprobate.  But to the extent that she understands this word of Judgment in the light of the resurrection of Christ, she knows herself to be elect.  This “crisis-moment” can happen often in hearing the preaching of the word (212).  

The “crisis” of European culture is not what Barth had in mind.

Factors Contributing to Barth’s Further Development

  1. Heinrich Barth’s Neo-Kantianism: H.Barth took Cohen’s Ursprung and projected its properties onto a real Being (219).  Descartes’ cogito was incapable of grounding itself.
    1. Classical Metaphysics: tendency to see the world of spirit by means of an analogy with the natural world.  God as ding-an-sich was merely another object alongside objects. He is not a metaphyiscal essence alongside other essences (224).
    2. Projected the Ursprung (standpoint outside of every given content)  into the realm of Idea.  It is now the presupposition of all-knowing.
    3. For Barth, God was not simply “pure Subject.”  
  2. Franz Overbeck
    1. Overbeck was heterodox but he did give Barth a de-historicized protology (230).  
    2. This forced Barth more seriously to consider eschatology and further allowed him to sharpen the Creator/creature divide.
  3. Soren Kierkegaard.  Kierkegaard did influence Barth, but to call Barth a Kierkegaardian is a bit much.
    1. Barth said he read SK in 1919, but that might have been a bit too early.  McCormack suggests Spring 1920.
    2. His reception of SK was mediated to him by Thurneysen.
    3. SK’s central aim was to safeguard the thinking individual from the sublimating tendencies of Hegel (Absolute spirit overcomes finite-infinite).  
      1. That wasn’t the question Barth faced.
      2. Barth relied more on the Platonic doctrine of anamnesis (memory).  “What occurs in the revelation-event is an awakening to an original relation long-forgotten” (McCormack 238).  Shades of Origen?

Clearing the Ground: The Theology of Romans II

Thesis:  BM argues that the gains made in Romans II are found everywhere in CD (244).

T₁ : A Person who seeks to know God will, to a large extent, determine the kind of God one arraives, if he is arrived at all (246).

  • Metaphysics, as Barth understood it, refers to the classical attempt in which a human subject observes the world around her.  Usually posits a First Cause.  Barth rejects metaphysics as an order of knowing.  It does not entail the bracketing-off of particular regions of discourse.  

T₂: If God can’t be known by metaphysical speculation, then he must be known indirectly, by means of a medium.  God is not transformed into this medium.  The  revelation is distinct from the medium (249).  

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the revelation, disclosure.
  • So, is it historical?  Well, that depends on what you mean by “historical.”  Barth wants to deny that the revelation arose out of the merely cause-and-effect, fallen human process.  The resurrection is in the world, but not of the world.  
    • historical means “subjected to time.”  “limited, relativized.  
    • Shades of Plato (251).

T₃: Intersection of fallen world and new world.  The resurrection is not conditioned by the historical process (253).  

    • tangent:  the New World touches the Old World at a single point, as a tangent upon a line.

 

  • munus triplex: “darkening and weakening of the…New testament conception.  There is no second or third something which could step forth somehow independently next to this sole, alone, and exclusive meaning of Christ” (Barth, quoted in McCormack 254).

T₄: The relation between the old moment and the new moment is established in a moment of revelation (257).

  • Any “analogy” must go from above to below, never the other way around (260).
  • There are three distinguishable moments in the revelation process: revelation itself, revelation making itself objective (veiling/unveiling in a medium), and the creating of a subject capable of receiving it (262).

EXCURSUS ON ETERNITY

Time-Eternity Dialectic: eternity is timelessness.  It is equally near to and far from every point in time.

T₅: Barth should not have been able to say that revelation and the new humanity project themselves in time, but he did (264).  

T₆:  God conceals himself in a creaturely medium, yet this is not a synthesis (269).  

  • Dialectic could be used in a number of ways and the above way is not the same as the Kierkegaardian dialectic (Kd).
  • Barth’s “dialectical method” was merely a way to bear witness on the difficulty of correct speech about God.  Barth’s so-called “turn from dialectic” should not be overinterpreted (274).  

The Problem of Ethics in Romans II

New definition of ethics: ethic of witness–witness to the divine command contained in the self-revelation in Jesus Christ (275).

  • Ethics is grounded in Christology

E₁: Ethics must concern itself first and foremost with what God has done in Christ.

  • fundamentally anti-bourgeois since it escapes from practical utilitarian concerns.

E₂: The believer should take up an attitude of fundamental distrust towards all things set on high in this world (279).

 

Church as Locus of Judgment

True radicalism understands that the crisis of God’s judgment rests on all human possibilities (284). True radicalism invites the crisis to fall upon itself.

Knowledge of God itself brings on the crisis of judgment.  “The encounter of revelation with this world leaves in its wake a negative image; a copy, an impression, like a bomb crater. Whether that impression is called the law, circumcision, or simply religion is of no consequence” (285).

The church is the locus of divine judgment, positively understood.  Judgment is a gracious act. The church is the locus of judgment because it is first the locus of revelation (286).  

Barth as Honorary Professor

Biographical chapter describing Barth’s years as a professor.  Barth was not prepared for the workload, so he dived into Calvin, the medievals, and the fathers.  His finding of Heppe saved his theology, so to speak.

McCormack/Barth suggests parallels between German liberalism and anti-semitism.  

  • “Throughout his life Barth would regard Ritschl as the prototype of the national-liberal German bourgeois in the age of Bismarck” (299).

Back to the problem of method

von Balthasar argued that analogical method replaced dialectical method.  However, McCormack points out that “while dialectic is a method, analogy is not. Analogy…is a description of the result of divine action…Talk of analogy has to do with what God does; talk of dialectic emerges here in the context of what humans do in light of the fact that they have no capacity for bringing about the Self-speaking of God” (314, 315).

The formal and material principle:  Barth collapsed these two into one principle–only God can reveal God (318).  

Gottingen Dogmatics

In many ways this is the most important chapter in the book and the most important moment in Barth’s career:  he discovered the en/anhypostatic doctrine.  

Thesis 1: This doctrine allowed Barth to replace the time-eternity dialectic with the dialectic of veiling/unveiling of Jesus Christ.

Deus Dixit

Thesis 2: The word of God is identical with God.  This is “revelation.”

  • The Scripture is not Revelation, but proceeds from Revelation.
  • Preaching is neither Revelation nor Scripture, but proceeds from both.  If you want a Filioque, there it is.  
  • The Word of God conceals himself in human words.  A relation of correspondence is established, an analogy between the Word and words (341).

Thesis 3: The Trinity as Self-Revelation and Differentiation: it is God alone and God in his entirety or it is no revelation (351).

  • Therefore, the revealing Subject is not different from the revealed Object.  The content of revelation is wholly God.
  • The Spirit of Jesus is the testimony of prophecy.

Thesis 4: God is subject of revelation in the earthly form, but God does not become the earthly form (354).  

  • The humanity of Jesus is not to be directly identified with the revelation.

The Incarnation of God

Thesis 5: The language of Self-Revelation places 5th century Christology on a modern basis (359).  

  • There is a Hegelian bent to the language, but that isn’t necessarily a problem.  I think Hegel was correct with the language of Self-positing and Self-posited.

Thesis 6: Barth’s use of anhypostasis and enhypostasis means that the human nature of Christ has its ground in the divine Logos (362).  

  • Barth replaced “unhistorical” with “pre-history.”

Thesis 7: Barth affirms the Reformed view of communicatio

  • That which acts is clearly the Person.  The nature can only act as the nature of the person.  
  • attributes and operations can only be predicated of Persons or subjects (366).  

Thesis 8: The dialectic of veiling/unveiling has now been localized in the incarnation and not simply in the Cross.

  • Barth can now speak of atonement in history, pace Van Til.

Predestination and Election

When speaking of “eternal predestination” it is important to remember that “eternal” for Barth did not mean pre-temporality.  

Professor of Dogmatics and New Testament at Munster

Here Barth begins to take Roman Catholicism and the analogia entis more seriously.  Barth saw the problem of analogia entis as unsuccessfully navigating the perils of both realism and idealism (384ff)

  • realism: valid concern that the existence of God doesn’t depend on our observation. The danger when linked with natural theology is that it reads the being of God off of the created order.
  • idealism: correctly puts great stress on the Subject-hood of God.

The rest of the chapter documents the beginning of the break-up of the dialectial theologians and Zwischen den Zeiten. Barth saw Brunner and Gogarten heading towards strong Lutheranism and existentialism.

Fides quaerens intellectum

What’s new in Barth’s book on Anselm?

Contra HuvB, Barth never gave up dialectics, even if he gave a larger voice to analogy.  If HuvB is true, then one must explain why Barth still retained the most fundamental category of his theology: the dialectic of veiling/unveiling.

However, if HuvB simply said that Barth gave up the time-eternity dialectic, that would be true.  Except Barth gave that up long ago.  That happened in 1924.

The Eternal Will of God in the Election of Jesus Christ

Thesis 1: Christocentrism is a methodological rule about the encounter with God who reveals himself in Christ.  (I think Horton reads it as an a priori principle).

  • There is no  independent doctrine of creation and providence.

Thesis 2: Barth’s doctrine of election changed by attending a lecture by Pierre Maury in June 1936.

Thesis 3:  Barth corrected his earlier treatment of election in the Gottingen Dogmatics.  There he tended to leave election as a day-to-day event, which did nothing for the assurance of the believer.

  • Now election and reprobation were firmly rooted in the rejection and election of Christ.

Thesis 4: Jesus is both the Subject and Object of Election

  • All dogmatics say Jesus is the object of election.
  • What do we mean by “subject?”  

Thesis 5:  God’s being is established in the Act of Election.

  • the Logos does not have a fully formed identity in eternity past apart from the decision to elect.
  • If he did, we would lose the doctrine of simplicity.  And there would be a god behind God.
  • Therefore, the being of God is constituted in the concrete event of election.  God is actus purus et singularis.
  • Election in divine eternity is an act of Self-determination

Through Hegel, Fire, and Sword

(With proper acknowledgments to Lewis Ayres for the title).

Consistency in life and doctrine is a mark of the gospel.  The godly man  does not flit from doctrine to doctrine.   That represents an unstable mind.  However, consistency of doctrine is not the same thing as sameness of thought.  God expects us to grow in knowledge.  And there is the danger.  Growing in knowledge means opening ourselves to new situations.  The future is no longer controlled by us.

Have I been consistent in doctrine over the last decade?  Yes and no.  The best way to explain it is by way of an “autobiographical bibliography.”  Books and lectures have more of an impact on me than anything else.   To answer my question I have changed in some ways.  I want to say I stand within the Reformational tradition. Some might question how Reformed I really am.  Fair enough.  

Focal Point #1: N. T. Wright

When I was an undergrad I majored in history and minored in New Testament and Languages.  My school, Louisiana College, was still in captivity to Theological Liberalism.  This is what led me to read N.T. Wright.  In many ways N.T. Wright remained the anchor for the next ten years.  I will go ahead and advance my conclusion:  N.T. Wright and Karl Barth (by means of Bruce McCormack) kept me from fully converting to Eastern Orthodoxy and ultimately brought me back to the Reformational tradition.  

Several points should now be obvious: I was a student of N.T. Wright before I was Reformed.  Therefore, I didn’t leave the Reformed faith for N.T. Wright.  But please do not label me as “New Perspective on Paul.”  It’s a lot more complex than that and there are areas where I think Wright is open to serious critique.  

I graduated from LC in 2005 and went to Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS.  It was underwhelming.  I’ve criticized it fairly severely in the past and see no reason to do so again, except to say I learned very little and didn’t begin to read seriously until after I left.  However, I did come across Oliver O’Donovan.

Focal Point #2: Oliver O’Donovan

O’Donovan was by far the most challenging author I have read.  He wrote in dense but glorious prose. But he was a rigorous thinker, bringing the whole of Western ethical reflection to bear upon any single project.  He was also an Anglican steeped into the High Tradition of the church.  

Exile to the Orthodox Lands

I left seminary disillusioned.  While I had made a lot of intellectual mistakes there, academically it was not the best (in terms of actually doing scholarship).  I didn’t want to say that the Reformed faith was wrong, despite RTS’s best efforts to make it so, but I knew there was something more.

For reasons I don’t entirely remember, I was reading Thomas Aquinas as I left seminary.  I had one foot in the door for medieval and patristic theology.  I am not sure how I first heard of John Milbank.  I do remember reading about him in James K. A. Smith’s Introducing Radical Orthodoxy.  This was late 2006, early 2007.

There is a lot wrong with Radical Orthodoxy, but there is a lot right–and a lot that is just plain fun.  So what that they over-interpreted Aquinas as a Neo-Platonist?  They got all the right people in academia angry, and that is good.  For me they introduced me not only to a wider world of theology but also to ask different–deeper–questions of church history.

I dove right in.  And made mistakes.  But I also latched on to key points: how Christology shapes everything.  (Some Eastern Orthodox guys played that card as a front to justify going to Eastern Orthodoxy when in reality they wanted smells and bells, but that is another story).  Anyway, I realized that Systematic Theology didn’t have to follow the outline of Berkhof (Berkhof is useful but limited to a certain context, namely a seminary classroom).

Before continuing on the RO line, I should probably address a common criticism:  Did RO read Reformation metaphysics correctly, namely that Western theology took a nominalist turn with Scotus and the Reformation crystallized it?  Obviously, anyone who advances that reading today will be laughed at. So we can say RO was definitely wrong on that point.  Further, not all of Milbank’s criticisms in “Alternative Protestantism” hold water (or at least they might attack Reformation ontology but not where Milbank thinks they do).

This was around 2008-2009.  I was able to read the Fathers without pretending that the Fathers were a complete deposit who taught a unified, identifiable theology across time and space.  Moreover, I was able to honestly say, “St ______ is wrong here.  That’s okay.  I can still benefit from what he says elsewhere.”  Side note:  Remember that stupid facebook meme that has the Nicene Fathers pictured and the caption reads, “So these guys are right about the canon but wrong about everything else?”  The epistemological howlers in that statement are too painful to mention.

Back to the Fathers.  Since I didn’t (at the time) believe the Fathers taught a unified, ahistorical body of truth, that meant I didn’t have to play East and West against each other.  I could say guys like Anselm, Aquinas, and Wycliff were good guys.  And I could benefit from the modern John Wycliff, Oliver O’Donovan.  While some Ecumenist Orthodox guys will speak kindly of the aforementioned gentlemen, technically speaking they are heterodox (or heretics!), so good luck with that one.  The harder-line folks will say that they (and by extension, you and me) are deprived of grace.

Towards the end of 2010 I moved into a harder, Eastward direction.  I never officially became Orthodox.  It wasn’t viable for a number of reasons.  While this meant I accepted Orthodox doctrines like anti-Filoque and icons, the main problem is I had to cut off my theological past.  Another problem is I had to place the Fathers within the received tradition of the church.  This implied a number of cognitively dissonant positions:

  • The Fathers are part of Holy Tradition but I must interpret which Fathers are speaking Orthodoxically by Holy Tradition.  I couldn’t square the circle.  All of the Orthodox problems with Sola Scriptura would come crashing down on Tradition.
  • This meant that the Fathers probably didn’t disagree about “big stuff.”  
  • So what was I supposed to do when I came to issues where the Fathers sounded “Western” or were plain wrong?  

The dissonance was building up.  Move on to the end of 2011. I was beginning to be more “Western” in terms of cultural outlook.  I just didn’t feel right “negating” my Western heritage.  I know that no one was “making” me to do that, but the cultural enclave mentality among a certain denomination is just too overwhelming.  I was by no means Protestant, of course, but possibly Western.

My daughter was born in 2012.  My life was turned upside down and I really had to put theology on the side.  And life was hard–all of which made me reevaluate everything.

By May of 2012 I was firmly in the Protestant, even Reformed camp (again).  From 2012-2015 (now) I have been in the Protestant camp and plan to stay there.  There are problems with Reformed theology–some big ones actually.   But there are also key gains that outweigh the problems and the Reformed tradition can be the Reformational Tradition.

The Federal Vision Problem

One of the difficulties that many of us in seminary faced–difficulties that are concurrent with many of these changes–is the inevitable glut of ideas.  Compounded with that  is that seminaries which are denominationally- or quasi-denominationally affiliated are inadequately prepared to deal with these various theological currents.  If your goal is to churn out “preacher boys,” then many cross-currents of scholarship will drown you.

The Federal Vision controversy was raging when I was in seminary, and I confess I did not always make wise choices.  Federal Visionism itself didn’t really make too much of a connection with me, at least not confessionally and ecclesiologically.  What some FV writers did, however, was weaken the confessional moorings, from which I drifted and began reading outside my tradition.

On one hand that’s healthy.  We shouldn’t seek theological inbreeding.   The problem I faced was that no one was capable of guiding me through these issues.  Once I was jaded enough, combined with a lot of real grievances from said seminary (which I won’t go in here, but they do deal with objective, financial realities), it wasn’t hard to seek out so-called “Christological alternatives to Calvinism.”

Many Eastern Orthodox apologists were saying that we should do all our theology around “Christology.”  Translation: the ancient Christological creeds, if interpreted consistently, will lead one away from Calvinism.    I’ll deal with that claim later.

And so for the next few years I read through–cover to cover–about ten volumes of the Schaff Church Fathers series, as well as most of their leading interpreters.  One of the problems, though, was I was unaware of the high, magisterial Protestant tradition.  Of course I had read Calvin.  Three times, actually.  All the way through, even.  Unfortunately, I was not familiar with the second- and third generation Protestant Scholastics.

I suspect most of us aren’t familiar with them, and how could we be?  The average Evangelical publisher won’t touch these writers.   Banner of Truth, specifically, won’t deal with the uncomfortable aspects of Rutherford, Gillespie, and the Scottish Covenanters.  

Taking the Scholastics Seriously

When I was reading through a lot of Orthodox sources, an argument I kept seeing was that all Western traditions hold to the Thomistic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity, which reduces to absurdity; therefore, Protestantism is philosophically absurd.  The problem, though, is that I started to see several things:   a) some fathers held to a similar thesis (Nazianzus, Athanasius), b) some Reformed writers might have held to that thesis, but there wasn’t enough evidence either way to convict them, and c) the Reformed writers who did hold to that thesis had very good reasons for doing so (archetypal/ectypal).

The doctrine of authority was always looming in the background.   Anchorites have several sharp arguments against sola scriptura.  I bought in to some of those arguments, but I had done so without reading the Protestant Scholastic responses to them.   Once I began to see that a) many Protestant Scholastics could not be seen as breaking with the medieval tradition on the canon, and b) the archetypal/ectypal distinction when applied to epistemology, leading to Scripture as the principum cognoscendi, I was then able to embrace sola scriptura with integrity.

Corollary of the above point:  how many convertskii have read Richard Muller?  Once I read Richard Muller I realized that much of what I had been parroting was wrong.  Corollary #2:  How many “Calvinists” in the Gospel Coalition or TG4 have read Muller? Probably the same number.  

The Institutional Problem Reasserted

It is my personal belief that Richard Muller’s four-volume Reformed and Post Reformation Dogmatics will go down as one of the game changers in Reformed historiography.  Unfortunately, most remain unaware.  Bakerbooks should issue this set in singular volumes, better allowing seminaries to use volume one as an introduction to Reformed theology course.  First year seminarians, even the better-read ones, are woefully unprepared.

Barth and Speech-Act

I need to bring this to a close.  So here is where I am now.  I hold to Barth’s view of election.  I hold to it for ontological reasons, though I can point out some exegetical problems with the traditional Reformed and Arminian readings.  But I don’t want to say I am a Barthian.  Why should I?  

Something else happened around 2014:  I discovered Kevin Vanhoozer’s speech-act ontology.  This allowed me to combine the best of traditional metaphysics with Barth’s exalted view of preaching.

I have wandered a bit in my “journey.”  But I never let the anchors. N.T. Wright was too superior a theologian and exegete for me to dismiss him in my hyper-Eastern days.  EO simply had no exegete who could compare with him.  That meant whenever I compared Wright’s analysis with some EO scholars, I usually defaulted to Wright.  That was true in 2008, 2010, and 2015.  

So where was Hegel in all of this?  I’ve been reading Hegel for about six years now. He is so very wrong on so many points, but more people are influenced by him than they realize.  I think Hegel’s discussion of self-positing and self-posited can serve Trinitarian terminology at least on a definitional level.  

Crisis and Judgment, Locus and Place

True radicalism understands that the crisis of God’s judgment rests on all human possibilities (McCormack 284). True radicalism invites the crisis to fall upon itself.

Knowledge of God itself brings on the crisis of judgment.  “The encounter of revelation with this world leaves in its wake a negative image; a copy, an impression, like a bomb crater. Whether that impression is called the law, circumcision, or simply religion is of no consequence” (285).

The church is the locus of divine judgment, positively understood.  Judgment is a gracious act. The church is the locus of judgment because it is first the locus of revelation (286).

There is a connection here with Oliver O’Donovan’s material on judgment.  Surprisingly, there aren’t that many monographs comparing/contrasting O’Donovan and Barth.  Open possibilities for PhD students.