T. F. Torrance (Intellectual Biography)

This book is divided into two parts: a brief treatment of Torrance’s life and an examination of his thought. His parents were missionaries to China and fostered a deep piety and evangelistic zeal in the young Torrance. Torrance grew up reading the bible through each year. His dad could repeat the Psalms and Romans by heart.

T. F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography

Of particular interest is Torrance’s lectureships in America, ironically at liberal institutions. They were not ready for his evangelistic style of lecturing. Auburn Theological Seminary (largely liberal) invited a 25 year old Thomas Torrance to guest lecture. He ended up evangelizing his students on the deity of Christ. He was invited to teach at Princeton University but they told him it was to be a neutral atmosphere and that he shouldn’t get involved with the students religious beliefs.
Torrance: I make no such promises. He was hired nonetheless.

McGrath skillfully makes use of unpublished mss and shows us a very interesting side of Torrance. Torrance’s life often borders on a heroism found in novels.

His Thought

Was Torrance a “Barthian?” No. As he made powerfully clear to Donald Macleod he was an “Athanasian” before he was a Barthian. Nevertheless, Torrance’s legacy is connected with Barth’s.

On the reception of Barth

No one is a pure Barthian. McGrath notes the numerous difficulties in Barth’s reception in the English-speaking world. This narrative takes place within Torrance’s “cold war” with John Baillie. McGrath quotes A. Cheyne in suggesting four different ways someone could “receive” Barth’s teachings:

1. Superficial influence, but largely unchanged and staying within the liberal tradition
2. Entire outlook affected but withheld ultimate approval.
3. real but cautious admirers.
4. Uncritical admirers (Alec Cheyne, “The Baillie Brothers,” in Fergusson, Church and Society, 3-37, 33, quoted in McGrath, 89).

McGrath notes that Barth wasn’t well-received in the Scandinavian Lutheran countries, given Barth’s firm commitment to Reformed Christology. Barth took longer to make headroads into Anglican because, as McGrath ruefully muses, Anglicanism didn’t have much of a dogmatic center (McGrath 122-123). This was not the case in Presbyterian Scotland, which in many ways was a dogmatic center!

McGrath lists four criteria that must be in place if a foreign thinker like Barth is to make headway:
1. Competent translations of the most important works into the new language.
2. A journal dedicated to sympathetic viewpoints.
3. A publishing house which is prepared to handle primary and secondary material.
4. A platform where a rising generation may be influenced.

Torrance’s thought is a Reformed reworking of Athanasius’s insight that the homoousion–the oneness of being between Father and Son–means a oneness of Being-in-Act in God’s saving and revealing himself to us. The doctrine of the Trinity is an outcome of an intellectual engagement with God kata physin. “The nature of God was disclosed to be such that Trinitarian thinking was the only appropriate response to the reality thus encountered” (161). Scientific realism allows direct correlations between self-revelation of God and God himself.

McGrath breaks new ground in shedding light on a key tension in Torrance’s so-called “Barthianism.” Can there be a positive relation between God’s self-revelation and a bare natural theology? Maybe. Problem: If all theology proceeds from God’s self-revelation in Christ, then where can natural theology fit (185)?

Early Torrance: “revelation is an act in which God confronts us with his person, in which he imparts himself” (Torrance, Christian Doctrine of Revelation, 32, Auburn lectures). If this is the case, how can man “reason upwards to God?” Again, and as always, the solution is found in Athanasius. Knowledge of God and knowledge of the world share the same foundations in the rationality of God the creator.
1. God is in possession of an intrinsic rationality–the divine logos.
2. That logos has become incarnate in Jesus Christ, so that Christology becomes the key to accessing the inner rationality of God.
3. the divine rationality is also seen in the created order, in which the divine logos can be discerned at work in the contingent yet ordered nature of the world.
4. Creation (1-3) makes natural theology possible.

The book is magnificent. Its rather foreboding price prevents it from being an otherwise perfect introduction to Torrance’s thought

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.

Reading thinkers, not individual books

You will often see it suggested that one is better served by reading the corpus of major thinkers rather than simply individual books.  I think there is some wisdom to that.  So here is my reading list for 2016, Deo Volente:

Barth, Karl.  Church Dogmatics vols II/2-III/4.  If I wanted to, I believe I could finish the whole thing, but I am realistic.

Calvin, John. ICR vol. 1 (Battles Edition).  Commentaries on Acts, Romans, John, Isaiah.

Torrance, Thomas.  Most of his stuff.  I have a friend that has most of his works but not all.

Yates, Dame Frances. Giordino Bruno and the Hermetic TraditionOccult Philosophy in Elizabethan EnglandThe Art of MemoryThe Rosicrucian Enlightenment.

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”

Vindicae Torrance Contra Orthodox Bridge

Normally when I respond to Orthodox Bridge, I am trying to refute them and vindicate Reformed theology.  This post will be different.  Orthodox Bridge, in a move completely out of character for them, examined a high-profile Reformed theologian’s work. I encourage you to read the piece.  True, it does have all of the flaws of an OB post, but it is also quite informative and comes close to getting to the “real issues.”

I say they “came close” to the real issues.  They did not address them. Orthodox Bridge doesn’t like talking about prolegomena, Revelation, or the Doctrine of God.  And that’s where Torrance is most powerful.

We can spend all arguing over Election vs. Works-Righteousness, but what’s the point? I think this topic highlights the fundamental epistemological and ontological differences between the two streams of thought.  Much of the article is informative and needs no interaction on my part.  So let’s begin:

Arakaki is interacting with a Participatio issue on Torrance.

He was also critical of certain elements of Reformed theology, at least of the Dutch variant.

(and he goes to mention Torrance’s rejection of Limited Atonement stems from his Scottish theology.)  Several problems here:  LA wasn’t a Dutch innovation.  It has strong British and even Scottish elements.  

Arakaki writes

 

I would argue that the Nicene Creed emerged out of the interaction between the regula fidei (rule of faith) handed down by the bishops and the Church’s reading of Scripture, that is between oral tradition and written tradition.  I noticed that Torrance made no mention of oral tradition in his essay.  This is a significant omission because it is in oral tradition that the sense of Scripture is preserved.  If one looks at the early patristic writings, e.g., Irenaeus of Lyons, one finds that the rule of faith (creed) was derived from oral tradition, not from Scripture (Against Heresies 1.10.1).

 

First of all, Arakaki isn’t “arguing” anything.  He is asserting.  An argument has defensible premises leading to a conclusion.  Secondly, Torrance didn’t mention oral tradition because oral tradition is impossible to empirically verify. What would have been the point of such a discussion?  Orthodox apologists are big on telling us the “that” of Oral Tradition.  They have never proven the “what” of it.

The appeal to Irenaeus doesn’t alleviate the problem.  If Oral Tradition is simply “the rule of faith,” then a number of key distinctives are ruled out:  iconostasis, incense, prayers to Mary, etc.  I am not saying these are wrong, mind you, but if Oral Tradition = Regula Fide = something like early Roman baptismal creeds, then the above distinctions cannot be part of Oral Tradition.

Arakaki is bothered that Torrance doesn’t view the Nicene Creed prescriptively with regard to the teaching authority of the bishops.  He notes,

So, as much as Torrance is sympathetic to the Orthodox Church’s position, he does not seem to get it at certain significant points of doctrine and polity.

My initial reaction is “so?”  You’ve merely illustrated a difference.  You have not demonstrated Torrance to be wrong.

Torrance on Justification

Arakaki quotes Fairbairn on Cyril defining the Protestant view of justification as

The challenge here lay in finding in Cyril the Protestant understanding of justification as a passively received righteousness and sanctification as a cooperatively produced holiness/righteousness (Fairbairn p. 126).

This isn’t entirely true of Torrance’s position.  Torrance, given his Barthian view of revelation, sees both objective and subjective elements in Justification. The objective element is Christ’s work on the cross.  The subjective element is the faith of Christ in his life, which presents itself to us in an objective manner.

Maybe Torrance is wrong on here, but it is a glaring oversight to ignore Torrance’s most important essay on the topic (“Justification in Doctrine and Life,” in Theology in Reconstruction, pp. 150-168).

Divine Energies

Not surprisingly, Torrance rejects the essence/energies construction.  Arakaki, by contrast, follows the Palamite claim that  while God is unknowable in His Essence, we can know God through his Energies.  Now we are at the heart of the disagreement.  

For Torrance, not only is such a claim unnecessary, it is wrong and un-Athanasian.  To be sure, Arakaki is bothered by Torrance’s pitting Athanasius against other Fathers, but so be it.  Torrance argues that we can know God.  Per Athanasius, there is a mutual relation of knowing and being.  Christ’s being homoousion with the Father means that he really gives knowledge of God to us.  God really communicates himself to us.  He doesn’t hold anything back.  Our knowledge of God is rooted in the eternal being of God himself (Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, 59).  If Jesus really gives us knowledge of himself–indeed, he gives us his very self–and if the Logos inheres in the very being of God, then how can we posit an unknowable gap in the knowledge of God?

Here is another way to state the problem:  Is God the same God in his modes of origination as he is in his modes of revelation?  If yes, then that is Torrance’s position.  If no, you might not have the Christian God.

Didymus rebuts Basil’s distinction between the energies/operations of God and the immediate activity of his being…for it would damage a proper understanding of the real presence of God to us in his Spirit” (Torrance 210).

The Monarchia of The Trinity

What is the causal anchor point of the Trinity?  Does the monarchia refer to the hypostasis of the Father (per Basil and later EO teaching) or does it refer to the Triunity of God?  This is the key moment where Torrance wins the debate.  Well, I say wins the debate.  Arakaki doesn’t really argue the point. But here is the problem:

In order to rebut the charge that their (i.e., the Cappadocians) differentiation between the three hypostases implied three divine principles, they shifted the weight of the term “Cause” onto the Father. This had a damaging effect of seeing the Deity of the Father as wholly uncaused but the deity of the Son/Spirit as eternally derived or caused.  Further, they cast the internal relations between the three Persons into a consecutive structure or causal chain of dependence, instead of conceiving them (like Athanasius) in terms of their coinherent and undivided wholeness (Torrance 238).  Gregory of Nazianzus was probably closest to Athanasius in that he could speak (if somewhat inconsistently) of the deity as Monarchia.

Torrance: “The Cappadocian attempt to redefine ousia as a generic concept, with the loss of its concrete sense of being as internal relations, meant that it would be difficult if not impossible for theology to move from the self-revelation of God in his evangelical acts to what he is inherent in himself.  If God’s Word and act are not inherent (enousia) in his being or ousia, as Athanasius insisted, then we cannot relate what God is toward us in his saving relation and activity to what he is in himself” (246).

Assessment

 

One of Torrance’s greatest shortcomings was his failing to understand or take seriously the conciliar nature of Orthodox theology.  This failing seems to apply not just to Torrance, but to other Protestants as well.

 

And these are assertions, not arguments.  I need not take them seriously.  What you would need to do is a) prove that your approach is correct and b) then show how the Protestant approach entails logical self-refutations.  

 

Until Protestants grapple with the ecclesial and conciliar dimensions of doing theology, theological dialogue between Reformed and Orthodox Christians will be hampered by misunderstandings and people speaking past each other

 

Until EO apologists like Orthodox Bridge move beyond surface-level assertions, theological dialogue will be hampered and we will speak past each other.  Remember, a bridge is a two-way street.  Methinks–in fact, meknows–that Orthodox Bridge has no intention of learning from Protestants in form of correction.  Given their identity as having the fullness of faith, what could they possibly learn from us schismatics?  

 

Protestant theologians need to engage in a critical scrutiny to theological methods, both theirs and those outside the Protestant tradition.

 

Orthodox theologians  need to engage in a critical scrutiny to theological methods, both theirs and those outside the Orthodox tradition.

 

For example, Reformed Christians need to discuss with the Orthodox the importance of the Ecumenical Councils and the patristic consensus for doing theology.

 

You first.  This is a two-way street.  Where are you wrong that we can help you?  If you are not willing to admit that, you are dishonest.  You don’t want dialogue.  You want converts.  That’s fine.  Just say so in the first place.  You see, you can’t say that.  Your tradition is infallible.  

 

All too often one finds Reformed theologians who are quick to stereotype Orthodox Christianity or who fail to read the church fathers in their historical context.

 

All too often one finds Orthodox theologians who are quick to stereotype Reformed Christianity or who fail to read the church fathers in their historical context

Outline Torrance Trinitarian Faith

Chapter 1
1.  Christ is himself the content of God’s self-revelation

    1. We know the Father through his Son.
    2. Christ’s vicarious humanity
      1. he did not come in a man but as man.
      2. Christ ministers the things of God to man and the things of man to God.
  1. The Nicene Ordo
    1. The triune God’s activity
      1. Godward relations: From the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.
      2. manward relations: in the Spirit, through the Son and to the Father (Torrance 5).
  2. Nicene Creed is Kerygmatic
    1. Passed on by faith
    2. Radical shift in the pious’s understanding.
      1. Moved from in-turned human reason (epinoia) to a centre in god’s revealing activity in the incarnation of the Logos (19).
      2. view of faith: not subjectively grounded, but objectively grounded persuasion of mind, supported by the hypostasis of God’s being.   Hilary: in faith a person takes his stand on the ground of God’s own being (De Trin. 1.18).
    3. scientific knowledge: episteme–standing or establishment of the mind upon objective reality.
      1. It is through faith that our minds are put in touch with a reality independent of themselves.
      2. It is through faith our minds assent to the inherent intelligibility of things, yield to their self-evidencing power and are adapted to know them in their own nature (kata phusin).
    4. Faith is not non-cognitive.
      1. it involves the mind’s responsible assent to the self-revelation of God in Christ.
      2. it arises under the creative impact of God’s word (21).
      3. it is listening obedience (upakoe tes pisteos).

Conclusion: we must learn from God himself what we are to think of him (Hilary, De Trin. 5.20).

  1.  Rejection of Dualism: Irenaeus rejected the Philonic aisthetos cosmos/noetos cosmos distnction, preventing the faith from being relativised.

Chapter 2: Access to the Father

  1. Father/Son relation
    1. We approach God as Father through the Son (49).
      1. If we begin, rather, with concepts like “Unoriginate” then we will have a vague concept of God and we know nothing about who he really is.
      2. If we cannot say anything positive about God, then we really can’t say anything negative about him.
      3. Leaving us, therefore, with no point in God by reference to which we can control our assumptions (51).
    2. Scientific knowledge, again
      1. In accordance with the nature of the reality being investigated (kata phusin).
      2. Therefore, we can speak truly about God.
      3. Since there is no likeness between God’s being and the created being, God can only be known from himself.
    3. God’s Communication
      1. In the Incarnation God does not tell us some fact about himself, but he gives us his very self.
      2. By Jesus’s coming to us as man, his humanity reveals the very nature of God (56).
    4. Knowing and Being
      1. Matt. 11:27
      2. The father and the son have a mutual relation of knowing.  Only the Son can know the Father and reveal him.
      3. Therefore, a mutual relation of knowing entails a mutual relation of being.  This gives us direct access to the closed circle of divine knowing.
      4. Our knowledge of God is rooted in the eternal being of God himself (59).
    5. More on epistemology
      1. The doctrine of the Son comes first because he is Logos.  Our knowledge of God is already pre-Worded.
      2. The humanity of Christ is the arche of all of God’s works.
        1. It is a vicarious humanity: the controlling principle by which all of our knowledge of God is tested.
        2. Our knowledge of God must conform to Christ because he is the Eidos of the Godhead.
  2. Contrast with Judaism
    1. Epistemology: we may know God the father in a more positive way.
    2. We have a conceptual grasp on God’s internal relations.
  3. Contrast with hellenism
    1. Priority of Vision
      1. Hellenism gives a conceptual priority of sight.
      2. Modes of seeing: idea, eidos, theoria
      3. Knowledge = vision taking place conceptually through a beam of light directed from eye to object.
    2. The Obedience of Hearing
      1. (hupoke tes akoues)
      2. Are the terms “Father” and “Son” meant to be visual images?   Hellenism said yes.  Hebraism said no.
      3. Images:
        1. For Hellenism images were mimetically related to what they signify.
        2. Hebraism: proper images used in speech and thought refer to God without imaging him.
    3. Activity of God
      1. Word and activity are intrinsic to the very being of God (enousios logos and enousios energia).
      2. The Greek doctrine of Logos was coopted by the Hebrew notion of The Word of the Lord (Debar Yahweh).
      3. The Logos is not an abstract cosmological  principle.
        1. The Logos inheres in the very being of God.
        2. The inner being of God is always an eloquent, speaking being.
      4. Energia refers now to the providential activity of God.
        1. rejected is the Aristotelian energia akinesias.
        2. God is never without his activity.  Being is dynamic.  And so is creaturely being.  Doctrine of motion.  
        3. God’s act is always act-in-his-being.  

The Almighty Creator

    1. Priority of Fatherhood: our knowledge of God as creator is taken from our knowledge of God as Father.
      1. Source and Fount: God is the ultimate source only as he is Father of the Son.
        1. If God is without offspring, then he is without works, for the Son is the offspring through whome he works.
        2. The triune God is the arche: mia theotes kai mia arche
      2. It is as Father that God is the fount (pege) of all being.
        1. Our concept of God must be controlled through the revelation of God as pater of the Son.
        2. The Son’s becoming man links the created arche with the uncreated arche.
        3. Thus, a two-fold, vicarious humanity.
    2. God was not always creator.
      1. Distinction between nature (phusei) of God and the will (Boulesei) of God.
        1. Son is by nature.
        2. Creation by will.
        3. Phusei and Boulesei can’t be identical, otherwise we risk linking the generation of the Son with the creation of the world.
      2. Athanasius: the nature of things that came into existence have no likeness in being to their maker, but are external to him and depend on him for existence.
      3. For God to create is secondary and for him to beget is primary.
        1. God was always Father but not always maker.
        2. In God’s self-communication to us in the Incarnation there is something new to the eternal being of God.  God is free to do what he has never done before.
    3. God does not will for himself to exist alone
      1. Creation out of nothing, part one.
        1. What is the relation of God to the universe?  It is neither a necessary relation nor an accidental relation.
        2. the universe was created by the eternal Word, so it is an intelligible product of the Divine Mind.
      2. The Universe is a temporal analogue
    4. Ex Nihilo
      1. The real starting point of creation ex nihilo was the Resurrection of Christ, for it demonstrated God’s power over death and non-being.
      2. Distinction between Word and Will
    5. Contingence of Creation
      1. creation is suspended and unstable (reustos).
      2. It is sustained by the divine Logos.

 

  • sumbebekos: creaturely events are neither necessary nor random.

 

      1. Thus, they are contingent.
    1. Contingence Proper
      1. creation has a measure of genuine, if limited independence.
      2. However, the independence itself is dependent on God.
      3. Nature has a limited autonomy: “bring forth fruit after its own kind.”
    2. Intelligibility of Creation
      1. Rejecting dualisms of intelligible and sensible realms.
      2. Single rational order pervades the universe.
  1. Relational Conception of Time and space
    1. it relates to God one way in his transcendent nature and to creatures another way.
    2. Within the universe are spatial-temporal structures which are open to the creative and ordering activity of God.
    3. This broke free from the deterministic universe of Greece.
      1. the laws of nature depend on the voice of God.
  2. Freedom of creation
    1. physics of light: created light is a created reflection of the uncreated light of God.
    2. It is contingently related to God’s constancy and invariance.

God of God, Light of Light

  1. Homoousios safeguards God’s Revelation
    1. If Christ were not homoousios toi patri, then he could not reveal God to us.
      1. There is no interval of time, being, or knowledge in the Godhead.
      2. The Father/Son relationship falls within the one being of God (Torrance 119).
    2. Light
      1. Light is never without its radiance.
      2. The Son is proper to the being of the Father.
  2. Homoousios
    1. Always implies another.
      1. Begotten from within the being of the Father.
      2. Implies internal distinctions and internal relations.
    2. Hermeutical Significance
      1. Inner structure of the gospel.
      2. Kerygma of truth = canon of scripture.
      3. The words of Scripture point to realities beyond themselves.
    3. Hermeneutical Instrument
      1. What God is toward us and in the midst of us is what God really is in himself (130).
      2. “ousia” now means more than simply “being.”  It means “being” in its inward reference.  hupastasis means being in its outward reference (or at least it did for Athanasius).
      3. The Being of God is never static.  The doctrine of enousios energeia means that being is dynamic.

Chapter 5: The Incarnate Savior

    1. Divine philanthropia
      1. The mediation of Christ involved a twofold movement: man to God::God to man
      2. Only God can save, but he saves as man.
    2. The Incarnation
      1. Kenosis was not a dimunition of God’s being but tapeinosis, impoverishment and abasement (153).
      2. The notions of servant and priest are tied together in Christ.
    3. The Atonement
      1. The atonement falls within the being and life of God.  It does not take place outside of Christ, but in him.
      2. The traditional biblical language of atonement is connected with Christ’s ontological solidarity.
      3. Deification (166)
        1. redemption and knowledge/illumination were closely connected in Patristic thought.
        2. Redemption is tied to the whole of Christ’s life
      4. Athanasius’s vicarious terms are not merely external to the being of Christ.
        1. They reveal a coherent pattern governed by an underlying unity in the person of Christ.

The Eternal Spirit

    1. Lexicography of Spirit

 

  • ruach carries a connotation that pneuma normally didn’t:  active, concrete presence/force.

 

    1. The spirit of God is not some emission of divine force but the confrontation of human beings and their affairs with his own divine self (192).
  1. Perceiving the Spirit
    1. Spirit is the specific nature of God’s eternal being.
    2. Christ is the only Eidos of the Godhead but Spirit is the Eidos of the Son.
      1. The Spirit himself is imageless.
      2. Epiphanius: we must use our ears rather than our eyes, for we know the Spirit only through his Word.
  2. Function
    1. The Holy Spirit no less than the Son is the self-giving of God (201).
    2. Doctrine of the Holy Spirit is derived from God.
      1. God himself is the content of his self-revelation.
      2. “doctrine developed naturally and properly out of the inner structure of knowledge of the one God grounded in his self-revelation and self-communication as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (202).
      3. Yet, knowledge of the spirit is taken and controlled by our knowledge of the Son’s homoousios, for it is only through this prism is the knowledge of God mediated to us.
  3. Interpretive Account
    1. God is Spirit and the Holy Spirit is God
      1. The Arians equated the limits of their understanding with the limits of reality (207).
      2. However, the Holy Spirit controls the categories for understanding.  He stands for the “unconditionality and irreversibility of the Lordship of God in his revelation” (Barth, CD I/1, 468ff).
    2. Spirit and Homoousion
      1. When the Holy Spirit is given to us, God is in us, and if the homoousion holds true, then Christ is in us.  “It is not merely by his power or operation, but God himself is present to us in his being.
      2. Didymus rebuts Basil’s distinction between the energies/operations of God and the immediate activity of his being…for it would damage a proper understanding of the real presence of God to us in his Spirit” (Torrance 210).
      3. The Spirit is spirit both in his ousia and his hypostasis.
        1. The Spirit reveals both the hypostases of Father and Son, but he is not directly known to us in his hypostasis.
        2. He remains veiled as he unveils the other two (Didymus, De Trin. 3.36)
        3. “He is the invisible light in whose shining we see the uncreated light of God manifest in Jesus Christ, and is known himself only in that he lights up the face of God in Jesus Christ” (Torrance 212).
  4. The Holy Spirit is distinctively personal reality along with and inseparable from the Father and the Son.
    1. Basil drew a sharp distinction between the one ousia of God and the three hypostases.
      1. He drew prosopon and onoma into the range of meaning expressed by hypostasis.
    2. Epiphanius had a more Hebraic slant.
      1. He preferred to see the persons as enhypostatic rather than as modes of existence.
      2. He applied homoousion beyond simply relating to each person, but also to the inner relations as well (Torrance 222).
    3. Personalism
      1. We are personalized persons, persona personata.
      2. God alone is properly and intrinsically Person.
  5. The Procession of the Spirit
    1. Whatever else we may say about the procession of the Spirit, we must ground our knowledge of the Spirit in our knowledge of the Son (231).
    2. Thesis 1: The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and belonging to the Son is from him given to the disciples and all who believe on him (Torrance 231).
      1. The Spirit proceeds from the father and receives from him and gives (kai ek tou autou lambanei); the Spirit receives from the Son (ek tou Hiou lambanei).
      2. If the Son is of (ek) the Father and proper to his being (idios tes ousias autou), the Spirit who is said to be of (ek) God must also be proper to the Son in respect of his being (idion einai kat’ ousian tou Hiou).
    3. Double movement of thought
      1. What the Holy Spirit is towards us, he is in himself AND what he is in himself he is towards us.
      2. the Holy Spirit belongs to the constitutive internal relations of God.
    4. The Cappadocians
      1. In order to rebut the charge that their differentiation between the three hypostases implied three divine principles, they shifted the weight of the term “Cause” onto the Father.
      2. This had a damaging effect of seeing the Deity of the Father as wholly uncaused but the deity of the Son/Spirit as eternally derived or caused.
      3. Further, they cast the internal relations between the three Persons into a consecutive structure or causal chain of dependence, instead of conceiving them (like Athanasius) in terms of their coinherent and undivided wholeness (Torrance 238).  Gregory of Nazianzus was probably closest to Athanasius in that he could speak (if somewhat inconsistently) of the deity as Monarchia.
        1. Nazianzus saw the terms arche and aitia as more likely referring to relations or schezeis subsisting in God beyond all time, origin, and cause.
    5. Beginning the Filioque Problematic
      1. Athanasius had taught that the Spirit is ever in the hands of the Father who sends and of the Son who gives him as his very own.  This is where Trinitarian reflection should have stayed.
      2. Torrance: “The Cappadocian attempt to redefine ousia as a generic concept, with the loss of its concrete sense of being as internal relations, meant that it would be difficult if not impossible for theology to move from the self-revelation of God in his evangelical acts to what he is inherent in himself.  If God’s Word and act are not inherent (enousia) in his being or ousia, as Athanasius insisted, then we cannot relate what God is toward us in his saving relation and activity to what he is in himself” (246).
        1. Cappadocian impasse:

The Triunity of God

  1. Athanasius
    1. God is eternally triune in himself.
    2. The true knowledge of God is knowledge of Him as he is Father and Son in his own being.
      1. The fullness of the Father’s godhead is the being of the Son (Contr. Ari. 3.5).
      2. homoousion carried within it the idea of coinherent relations within the one being of God.
        1. not a mere linking of properties but complete indwelling.
    3. There is a hierarchy of our knowing God but not a hierarchy in the being of God.
      1. We take our knowledge of the Father from the Son and our knowledge of the Spirit from the Son.
    4. Terminology
      1. ousia: lays stress on intrinsic constitution
      2. hypostasis: a reality ad alios, God as manifest.
      3. Monarchia:
        1. The Father is the arche of the Son.
        2. As the Son has the Godhead, he, too, is an arche.  But he is not an arche subsisting in himself.
        3. His view of the complete identity, equality, and unity of the Persons was so strong that he declined to advance a few of the Monarchy with respect to the person of the Father.
        4. He rather prefered to speak of God as Monas rather than Arche.
  2. Basil, The Gregories, and Didymus
    1. Basil: ousia should be treated as an abstract generic term.  This modified the early Athanasian approach.  Ousia was now equated with phusis as the common nature of the three persons.
    2. This is connected with Basil’s sharp distinction between God’s essence and God’s energies.  This also means we can only differentiate the persons by their peculiar characteristics.

Speech Act and Irony

The irony is that people think I am a Barthian because I recommended Torrance’s lectures on the Nicene Creed.  Of course, such a mentality is representative of the Reformed internetskii.  If they don’t want to grow and become mature in knowledge, that’s their choice.  I have to respect that.

True, I like Barth’s view of the exalted role of preaching and the Freedom of God to Act.  Indeed, Reformed people, if you want to hold to the doctrine of the Filioque, you better line up with Barth.  If you don’t, Energetic Procession will eat you alive.

But Barth isn’t good enough.  He needs to be put on stable ground.  Therefore, when I discovered Kevin Vanhoozer’s speech-act theory, that was what I needed.

 

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.