Outline of God, Revelation, Authority (vol 5)

By Carl F Henry.

carl henry

The first four volumes dealt with epistemology.  The final two deal with ontology and the doctrine of God.

“God who stands” = personal sovereign containing in himself the ground of his own existence.

“God who stays” = governs in providence and in eschatological consummation (Henry 10).

Substance language

Does have its uses.  Its basic meaning is “to stand under.”  It is not an essence distinguishable from the divine personality (11).  God stands under, not as an underlying substratum, but as the free originator (12).

“God stands” includes his revelational initiative.

“Secular religion lacks revelational criteria to distinguish the divine from the demonic in its promotion of social revolution” (39).

Chapter 2: The Being, Coming, and Becoming of God

Thesis:  The Bible has no problem with “being-language,” but such language is always conditioned by God’s self-disclosure (48-49).  And this self-disclosure is known to us (if not exhausted by) by valid propositional truths.

Chapter 3: The Living God of the Bible

The ambiguous status of cosmic powers in the Bible is not because of some evolutionary move towards mono- or henotheism.  Rather, it is because that world has an ambiguous ontology of rival spirits (74).

Chapter 4: Methods of Determining the Divine Attributes

Henry surveys the three ways (negation, eminence, causality) and finds them inadequate.  Even neo-orthodox scholars must presuppose some positive statements about God in order for them to posit a crisis-intuitive encounter.

Can we know God “in himself?”  Henry cautiously affirms that.  If our knowledge of God’s nature and attributes comes from cognitive, propositional statements from God’s self-disclosure, then there is no reason why we can’t have metaphysical knowledge about God’s nature (96).

God’s attributes are determined by a logically ordered exposition of scriptural revelation  (100).

Chapter 5: Relationship between Essence and Attributes

Realism: “nonmental ‘substance’ is the ontological core of all finite realities.”

Henry’s position: rejects that there is an underlying substratum in which attributes inhere.  This would make the forms and logic “other than” and superior to God.

Chapter 6: God’s Divine Simplicity and Attributes

Essence or nature of God: a living personal unity or properties and attributes (130).  “Essence and attributes are integral to each other.”  “A living unity of perfections.”

“God’s activities are divine qualities or attributes.”

Chapter 7: Personality in the Godhead

Person: the medievals applied it, not to God’s being, but to the distinctions within the Godhead (153). For us there is both personality of God and personality in God.

 

Chapter 8: Muddling the Trinitarian Dispute

Divine personality is not simply the human self infinitely expanded.

Chapter 9: The Doctrine of the Trinity

Gregory of Nyssa: the Trinity is a Platonic idea where the three persons are subsumed under the one idea of God just as three men are subsumed under the one idea of Man.

Shedd: There is a personality to the Godhead.  This is not the same as the person of the essence.

 

Chapter 11: God the Self-Revealed Infinite

Barth: Infinity is the plenitude of God’s perfections (Henry, 230).

Chapter 12: Divine Timelessness or Unlimited

Thesis:  God is timelessly eternal (239).  This is not the same thing as an “everlasting now.”

Chapter 13: The modern attack on the timeless God

Question: If God is timeless, how does he respond in time to humans? The answer lies in his sovereignty.

Chapter 14: Divine Timelessness and Omniscience

Omniscience: God’s perfect knowledge of all things, actual or possible, past, present or future” (268).   “The biblical view implies that God is not in time; that there is no succession of ideas in the divine mind” (276).

Chapter 15: Immutability not borrowed from the Greeks

The changelessness predicated of an eternal being is different from the changelessness of a being in time (288).

Chapter 16: The Sovereignty of the Omnipotent God

God’s power is not exhausted by his universe.

Chapter 17: God’s Intellectual Attributes (very important chapter!!)

Thesis: God is the source and ground of all rational distinction (334).  The laws of logic are the architecture of God’s mind.  “The divine Logos is creative and revelatory.”

Revelation is divine self-disclosure.

Chapter 19: The Knowability of God

Incomprehensibility does not imply unknowability.

Chapter 20: Man’s Mind and God’s Mind

Our minds “coincide” in certain propositions, but not pantheistically (383).

On not being a Barthian

I get asked this every now and then.  I’m not a Barthian.  The most notable problem is his view of Scripture (at least that’s what alarms evangelicals the most).  Thomas McCall gives a fine presentation and critique of Barth’s view of Scripture.

https://www.amazon.com/Analytic-Theology-New-Essays-Philosophy/dp/0199600422/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491166960&sr=8-1&keywords=analytic+theology+crisp

The Classical View: Scripture has divine properties (holiness, etc) in addition to those properties it has in virtue of having human authors (McCall 171).

Barth’s Actualist Doctrine

“As Hunsinger describes it, actualism ‘at the most general level…means that (Barth) thinks primarily in terms of events and relationships rather than monadic or self-contained substances’.10 Characteristic of Barth’s theology is his repeated (and forceful) insistence that ‘God’s being is in his act and his act in his being.’ (173).

For Barth Scripture has its being in becoming.    But McCall notes some problems with this:

“ Barth wants to say that scripture truly is the Word of God while still insisting on the primacy of divine action, but his actualism actually appears to hurt him here. Taken as a claim to the sober truth, it makes little sense to talk about scripture becoming what it already is, and it makes even less sense to speak of scripture not being or not becoming what it truly is. At best it is both mysterious and opaque” (175).

McCall says this resembles occasionalism, which he defines as one of the following two options (176):

(O1) For any state of affairs p and time t, if (i) there is any substance that causally contributes to p’s obtaining at t and (ii) no created substance is a free cause of p at t, then God is a strong active cause of p at t.

(O2) No material substance has any active or passive causal power at all.

(O2) seems to obtain for Barth, at least in points.  For him the Bible doesn’t have any active power, since God is the acting agent.  And it doesn’t have any passive power, and I am not sure what that would look like.  But there is another problem lurking: Barth’s view of Scripture has parallels to his Christology, and what does occasionalism do to his Christology?  McCall notes:

“The revealed Word is never without flesh, it is never separated from the humanity of the man Jesus. But, on Barth’s account, the written Word sometimes is separated from the humanity of the Bible, for sometimes the Bible does not ‘become’ what it ‘is’. If this is so, then Barth again loses his ability to appeal to the ‘threefold form of the Word’. Moreover, according to Barth’s own Christology, in Jesus Christ the revealed Word the human nature indeed is causally active, for the Word of God is seen in the ‘humanity of God’.28 If the humanity of the God-man is not causally active, then Barth loses his claim to ‘Chalcedonian’ Christology.29 On the other hand, if the humanity of the God-man is causally active while the humanity of scripture is not, then Barth loses traction in his argument for the threefold form of the Word” (177).

Barth wants to avoid saying that the Bible has divine properties. This means the Word of God would be in the “possession” of men and women.

However, Barth’s own Christology cuts him off at the pass:  if God has sovereignly limited himself in human flesh, then who are we to say that God can’t do so in the Bible?  

Barth on the Sacraments

Barth, Karl.  Church Dogmatics IV/4.4

This is Karl Barth’s treatment of the ordinance of baptism.  Like other volumes in this series, it shares both Barth’s strengths and weaknesses.  It should be noted that this only a fragment of what appeared to be a larger work-in-progress.  Still, it seems to contain the mature essence of Barth’s thought.

Barth begins on a promising note:  he grounds his theology of baptism on the decisive act of Jesus Christ in ushering in the new creation (11).  Readers of Oliver O’Donovan will note similar themes.  This means that Jesus is the origin and the beginning of the Christian life.  There are echoes of eschatology here:  Jesus’s resurrection discloses, if only briefly, the coming eschaton of the Regeneration (Mt. 19:28).

From this we see that Jesus is the True Israelite.  In his baptism Jesus takes upon himself, not only the identity of Israel, but also the coming judgment (Barth 56).  This, of course, is heavy with themes of mediation (and as long as Barth stays on these topics, he cannot help but triumph).  There are classic statements that Jesus is the Elected Israelite and Eschatological David (61).  How much better than can you get?

As is often the case with Barth, his historical critiques are always insightful.   He neatly outlines the Reformed view of baptism:  baptism does not cause salvation, but mediates its cognitio and certitudo (105).  He then moves to a stunning critique of hyper-sacramentalist traditions.  At no point in the New Testament is mysterion used for baptism or the supper.   It is an event of God’s positive will in space and time (108).  This is a place where Calvin can be legitimately criticized: he failed to break with the medieval tradition on the use of sacramentum, something Zwingli was much more successful at doing.  At this point in the narrative he praises Zwingli’s work, but he will pull back.   He knows that Zwingli’s theology inevitably led to infant baptism.

More pointedly, he notes that those who say the “water” saves (usually with reference to Titus 3:5), must account for the following:  1) they must make the dia loutro in Titus 3:5 carry the whole weight of justifying action; 2) they must show that the aim of the Savior’s appearing in space and time to save men is actually to illustrate that men are being baptized (LOL!); 3) they must give to the term paliggennesias a meaning quite devoid from Matthew 19:28.

So, do we agree with Barth?  Sadly, from here on we must part ways.  Not surprisingly, given his commitment to crisis-theology and existentialism, Barth champions believer’s-only baptism.  For him baptism is the decision of decisions, something an infant cannot make.  However, Barth is too keen a reader of Calvin to ignore the counters to his position. He then proceeds to critique the doctrine of infant baptism (and here he rehashes the standard baptist critiques).

What do we say in response?  I grant to him that Calvin’s treatment is often less than adequate.  Following Oliver O’Donovan I agree that the church is an eschatological society which is joined by leaving other societies.  However, adult baptism risks confusing the particular decision to be baptised with the ultimate decision that baptism represents (O’Donovan 178).  Infant baptism, by contrast, does not confuse my decision to be baptised with the eschatological decision of following Christ.

At the end of the day it must be acknowledged that neither Barth’s position nor that of the paedobaptist can claim 100% certainty.  This is because, as Barth makes clear earlier, the New Testament really doesn’t say all that much about the theology of baptism.  It is important and people do it, but the New Testament stops there. I believe the paedobaptist position is warranted because of inferences from God’s covenant promises.

Barth and Ramsey on Political Power

This is a summary of Oliver O’Donovan’s essay of similar title, found in Bonds of Imperfection.  What’s important is not so much the conclusions reached, but how they are reached.

Ramsey: The crux of the difference between pacifists and justifiable-war Christians turns on the person and work of Christ (Ramsey, Speak up for Just War or Pacifism 111, quoted in O’Donovan 247).

  • While this sounds pious and truistic, it has a very precise meaning for both thinkers.
  • For Barth it concerns the proper location of the political order within the covenant of Reconciliation between God and man (OO 251).
  • For Ramsey it means that Christ assumed one common humanity: there is no ontological disjunction between homo politicus and any other kind of man/order.

 

O’Donovan summarizes Barth’s ethics in several stages:

    1. Despite some of Barth’s shifts on election, there is a stable stream of ethical reflection–grudgingly acknowledging the state’s right of force but noting the abnormality of it.

 

  • Romerbrief may be discounted as “anarchist” and “backwater” (O’Donovan 249).

 

  1. Barth’s wartime writings veered closer towards a realist use of the State’s force.  His later writings veered towards a more anabaptist view.
  2. This is because of a dialectic within Barth’s thought that is never fully settled.
  3. This is partly the case because Barth doesn’t (will not?) imagine the possibility of both a peace-state and war-state within the same framework.

Here is where possible confusion arises:  Ramsey will critique “liberals” on pacifism and note they follow Barth.  What does he mean by “liberals?”  I don’t think it is simply “those who reject the Bible.”  I think he has in mind Niebuhrian liberalism.

Paul Ramsey

Key Point: The Legitimate Use of Power

  1. The use of power, including the use of force, is of the esse of politics
  2. The use of power is inseparable from the bene esse of politics.

As a foil, Ramsey will have Barth say:

B3: War should not be seen as a normal, fixed, or necessary part of a just state (CD III/4, p. 456).

Back to Ramsey’s theses.  We may add another

R4: The use of power implies the possible use of force.

Ramsey’s argument presupposes a proper ordo of politics, the connections of iustitia, lex, and ordo.

  • Ordo = the disposition of power.

R5: The cross casts a shadow over politics, not pure light (OO 259).  

Politics, community, and the cross should meet in that area where light and shadow meet.  

R6: “The task of politics is to be a sign of the rule of Christ, disclosing right, preserving community and determining the basis of community in right” (259).

Political reflection based on the gospels should not begin with the Advent, as important as it is, but with the fact that Christ has come in history.  O’Donovan: “He [Messiah] has reached for the crown which will allow no rival crowns beside it.  Because he has come, history has divided into two, its back broken on this outcrop of rock which it cannot negotiate” (260).

Corollary: There is a disjunction within the community of election (visible/invisible church), not in the works of God as such.  

Problems with Barth’s Political Ethics

For Ramsey, God accepts Christ’s regnant new humanity.  For Barth, God rejects the old humanity.  This seems to mean that God also rejects extra-ecclesial orders as such.  When Barth comes to war as such, he does not interact with Just War reasoning but simply lists the evils of the Second World War.

Ramsey can point to “monuments of grace” in such a horror, even to legitimate uses of State force.  Barth can only suggest a delaying action (CD III/4, p. 456).  As a result, notes O’Donovan, Barth “ends up precisely in the place he intended to bypass, in a politics that can only be viewed soberly and not with evangelical faith or hope” (O’Donovan 264).

A Way Forward With Ramsey

Ramsey has what Barth needs: a way to bridge the gap between homo politicus which is redeemed in Christ and homo politicus that is in need of redemption. We are back with the distinction between esse and bene esse.  The latter terms also suggests something along the lines of goal or end. Ramsey is speaking of true political activity.  

Is Barth an Apollinarian?

Ramsey offers a model in which political power is both used appropriately and judged:  the Incarnation, homo assumptus.  This means that Christ takes on the fallen order, including homo politicus.  There is no radical “Other” realm to which Christ has no access.  As O’Donovan notes, “Only so can the homo politicus that is redeemed be the same homo politicus that was in need of redemption” (266).

Barth will not grant this.  But in not granting it, he is partitioning off a section of man’s redemption.  To be fair, Barth resists this temptation in Christology but not in politics.

Who is Ramsey’s “Liberal?”

A liberal for Ramsey is one who splits politics and military doctrine.

Liberalism for O’Donovan: the inadequacy of every human attempt to render justice.  A magistrate’s power should be limited.    Therefore, power is suspect but necessary (270).

What does Ramsey mean by Just War and International Politics?  So, O’Donovan: “The international sphere was a constitutional vacuum, but by no means a moral or political vacuum” 271). Ramsey suspects there is a continuum that links violent with nonviolent resistance. Indeed, is not democracy justum bellum (Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience, 126)?  Jesus never said to resist evil by ballot boxes.

 

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.

A Tale of Two Metaphysics

To wax hippie and postmodern for a moment, this is a “journey” of a post, more than a philosophical one.  Every year I go back and forth between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy.  This seems to correlate with my reading of Barth.

Ultimately, I don’t care which school is right.  They are tools, not goals.  Which one advances the kingdom better?  Which one gives a better picture of God (oops, Wittgensteinian slip)?

And I don’t have a good answer. But maybe I can point out strengths and weaknesses and show where the church can be spiritually bettered.

Continental Philosophy

To navigate modern discussions, you have to deal with Hegel.  Plain and simple.  This doesn’t mean you are a “liberal” or a “pantheist.”  It just means you are doing responsible scholarship. And it means you have to engage a certain vocabulary (the “Other,” “positing,” etc).  Nothing wrong with that but not necessarily easy.

One of the advantages is that Continental Philosophy seems to merge easily with other disciplines, like literature.  This gives it an immediate relevance that analytic philosophy seems to lack.  On the other hand, I am not always sure I know what they are saying.30665548

Analytic Philosophy

Analytic philosophy is clear, precise, and similar to doing mental exercise. I just feel sharper when I am done reading guys like Plantinga.  And I didn’t always know that analytic philosophy of today is not the same thing as of earlier generations.  Earlier analytic models thought reality (or clarity or meaning) was obtainable simply by asking the question, “Well what do you mean by that?”  Ask it enough and you arrive at meaning (or get punched in the face).

The more dangerous implication is that things are truly knowable only in the abstract and not in systems of relations.  This is deleterious for Christian theism.

But even guys like Ayer realized that was a dead-end.

After the Plantinga revolution, Christian philosophers started using many of the tools of analytic philosophy, without necessarily committing themselves to earlier conclusions–and the results are often amazing.  See especially Plantinga’s Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil.

One of the problems, though, is that analytic guys are perceived (whether this is fair or not) as having a “take-it-or-leave-it” approach to the history of doctrine.  I will come back to that point.

Biola and Calvin College:  Can They Meet?

I single out Biola and Calvin as two respective representatives of the above tradition.  Biola boasts of luminaries like JP Moreland and William L. Craig.  The “Calvin tradition” is represented by James K. A. Smith.  And both streams have done outstanding work. Even more, analytic guys like Moreland are able to tie philosophical analysis in with the “spiritual disciplines” movement, Renovare.  Here is great promise but also great danger.

Renovare

This is the brainchild of Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline.  On a practical level, much of it is quite good.  The idea that bodily disciplines break bad habits is just good, practical psychology (I got accused by a powerful Gnostic Magus on Puritanboard of denying the gospel for that sentence).

But…there is almost zero discernment in these guys.  They will take handfuls of Pentecostal, Quaker, Catholic, and Reformed spirituality and just mix ’em together.

Nevertheless…My prayer life improved from following Moreland’s advice.

Calvin Cultural Liturgies

James K. A. Smith has found himself the sparring partner of what is known as the “Biola School.”  Smith’s thesis–which I think is fundamentally correct–is that we aren’t simply “brains on a stick.”  We are embodied and liturgies, to be effective, must engage the whole person.  (I also got accused of denying the gospel on Puritanboard for that statement.  )

We will come back to that statement.

Smith, however, takes his apologetic in a different realm.  While I agree with Smith that “postmodernism” doesn’t just mean “Denying absolute truth” (what does that statement even mean?), I fear that Smith’s cultural applications do not escape the worst of postmodern, low-brow culture. Further, Smith is weak on the doctrine of the soul (in some of his cultural liturgies books he uses “brain” when he should be saying “mind”).

Is that evident at Calvin College?  Rumors abound that Calvin is gutting some of its biblical language programs, and Calvin has invited homosexual speakers in the past.  Make fun of Vineyard and Biola all you want, but I don’t think that has happened.

It is not that Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project is wrong.  I think much of it is quite insightful and I eagerly await his volume on Augustine, but I am nervous where the applications are going.

To be fair to Smith, though, and to Continental Philosophy, they have been more attentive to the history of philosophy (and perhaps, history of doctrine)

Possible Overlap

I do see some areas of overlap with Smith and Moreland

  1. Both believe in Jesus’s Kingdom Power for today
  2. Both believe in the body’s importance in spiritual disciplines

What should we do?

In the end, I side with Moreland.  We need analytic philosophy’s discipline and precision.  While both Smith and Moreland believe in Kingdom Power and bodily disciplines, the latter’s “cultural” applications are far more responsible.