Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought

Anatolios, Khaled.

Broader thesis: “My position is that Athanasius’s theological vision is Irenaean” (Anatolios 4; loc. 126). The distance and (convergence) between God and man: “The theme of the immediate presence of God to creation implies an anthropology that conceives human being in terms of receptivity to this presence of God (23; loc. 477). Further, “to say that creatures are “external” to God means in fact that they participate in God” (107; loc. 2230) This is interesting because his gloss of Irenaeus begins to sound a lot like the Sophiological project of Sergei Bulgakov.

On various Platonisms: He notes on a Scriptural view “there arises no need to set up a kind of buffer zone of mediation to protect divine transcendence” (15; loc. 314). This is a great statement that will eventually run counter to later Ps. Dionysian tendencies to see a hierarchy of mediation. “Athanasius wants to reiterate that the original purpose of creation included the overcoming, from the divine side, of the ontological chasm that separates God and creatures” (42; loc. 880). See Michael Horton’s essays on overcoming estrangement; foreign to a covenant ontology. Anatolios is careful to say that Athanasius doesn’t hold to the neo-Platonic chain of being ontology, otherwise he couldn’t maintain the thesis of continuity between Irenaeus and Athanasius. But on the other hand, Ath. certainly comes close: “For immediately after establishing that the Son’s participation of the Father constitutes an identity of essence, he goes on to establish a kind of chain of participation in which our participation of the Son amounts to a participation of the Father” (111; loc. 2318)

Indeed, while Athanasius rightly rejects the “chain of being” ontology explicitly, he seems to default back to some form of it at times. Anatolios notes, “Thus while it is intrinsic to the definition of created nature to relapse into the nothingness whence it came….” (167; loc. 3463). This is fully in line with the Eastern view’s seeing the problem as ontological, not ethical. Our problem on this gloss is finitude and the perpetual slide into non-being.

The Logos and the Body

Anatolios will take his thesis and apply it to the inter-relation of the Logos and the body. Broadly speaking, and Anatolios does not ultimately challenges this, the Alexandrian tradition saw the Logos as instrumentalizing the human nature. This is beyond dispute. (See Bruce McCormack’s various essays for a lucid discussion). Anatolios, however, cautions interpreters against interpreting this thesis in too literal and crude a fashion, pace Grillmeier. Rather, Anatolios argues that we should see such instrumentalization in an “active-passive” paradigm. Perhaps he is correct but I don’t see how this is really any different materially than the other theses.

Later on in the monograph, though, Anatolios does admit that “the interaction of passibility and impassibility in Christ is conceived not so much in terms of feeling and non-feeling, but of activity and passivity” (157; loc. 3292). If that’s true, and I think it is, then it is hard to see the material difference between his view and other interpreters’ (Grillmeier, Hanson).

Extra-calvinisticum: “in relation to both the world and the body, the Word is both in all and outside all…the Word is outside the cosmos and his human body insofar as his relation to it, while quite intrinsic, is one of activity, not passivity” (80; loc. 1684ff).

Logos as Subject

Anatolios suggests that we see the relation of Word to “body” as one of a grammatical subject rather than an organic model. In a move that sounds almost word-for-word in line with the Westminster Confession of Faith, Anatolios notes that the “characteristics of both humanity and divinity, in Christ, are predicated of a single grammatical subject” (81; loc. 1708). He is not saying (although perhaps not ultimately denying, either) that the characteristics of one nature are predicated to the other nature.

I don’t think that Anatolios fully solves all the problems, and his quite lucid discussion merely highlights a tension in Christologies that operate off of classical metaphysics. On one hand he wants to show that the Word really did take on human suffering as “his own,” even as “His body’s own,” but does this really advance the discussion? There is still a “0” acting as a metaphysical placeholder between the two natures. I am not faulting either Anatolios of Athanasius for that. Impassibility must be maintained, but Anatolios’s reading isn’t as novel as he makes it to be. If he says suffering is “predicated” to the Word (147; loc 3074, and I agree), then one must ask if since there is a unity between the two natures, how does this “perturbation” not flow to the divine nature? To be fair, this wasn’t Athanasius’ main point so one can’t fault him too hard for not really answering it. However, it would be one of the main points in later Alexandrian and Cyrillene debates and it fully impacts the analogy of a fire and iron (in fact, it shows the analogy to be quite flawed).

Anatolios expands on this meaning by saying that the human attributes are “transformed” by the Word (151; loc. 3162). That’s fully in line with later Eastern theology but it does seem to jeopardize the humanity of Christ.

Athanasius and Barth

It is popular among recent interpreters of Athanasius to compare him favorably as the “proto-Barth” (pace Williams). Anatolios puts a stop to this, but he is not critiquing Barth on the lines where Reformed thinkers would. Anatolios notes that Athanasius held to a form of the analogia entis (211; loc. 4409). Barth did not; indeed, he called it an invention of the Antichrist. Anatolios then proceeds to give a fairly accurate exposition of Barth’s theology in contrast with Athanasius. Problematically, we cannot follow Athanasius on this particular point. Whatever Barth’s faults may be, he emphasized preaching, proclamation, and salvation as an “extra-nos” announcement. On Barth’s (and the Protestant’s) gloss, good news is first of all a proclamation. It is in fact, news. For Athanasius (and the later Orthodox) it is something God begins to do in us. True, Anatolios does affirm that God alone bridges the gap between created and Creator, but he doesn’t do it by a proclamation, but by a process of transformation.

Analysis and Conclusion

As a monograph of Athanasius, this is superb. It is well-written and interacts with the best scholarship. I do not think Anatolios’s reading of Athanasius, for whatever merits it may have, is really all that different from Hanson’s and Grillmeier’s. True, he does correct some of the cruder readings, but the fundamental point remains the same: Athanasius saw the Logos as instrumentalizing the human nature. He had to if he wanted to maintain deification soteriology. Further, this places a strain on just how much “activity” Athanasius could logically place on the human side (and eventually this paradigm would “snap” at the 6th Ecumenical Council). For he had earlier written, “The power of free choice (he proairesis) thus conditions the active-passive paradigm model, insofar as it is meant to lead humanity into an active clinging to the prior beneficent activity of the Word” (61; loc. 1287). This may very well be so, but one wonders how it could have been with regard to Christ’s human nature.

The Hum of Angels (McKnight)

McKnight, Scot. The Hum of Angels. WaterBrook, 2017.

Key idea: “The Bible challenges the flat cosmology of moderns with a thick cosmology.”

When we go to the Bible for knowledge of angels, we often conclude from one passage (or maybe a tiny sampling) that that is all there can possibly be known about angels.  That idea is foreign to the entire history of the church before modernity.

Thesis of the book: If you believe in God, then you must also believe in angels.

Objection: “Oh yeah, how come nobody experiences angels today?

Reply: They do. Here are some examples.

Objector: They don’t count.

The Dilemma: We cannot abandon the notion of angels, since the Bible clearly teaches it.  On the other hand, we don’t want to embrace a traditional angelology because that feels too Catholicky.

I found the anecdotes generally uplifting and encouraging.  They won’t convince any deists, so take them as they are.  His take on angels follows standard systematic accounts.  I will repeat that, since I am often accused of promoting wild views on angels:  his account follows standard systematic accounts.  If you want a robust, no holds-barred account of angels, read the late 19th century Dutch theologians.  Bavinck, Kuyper, and Schilder make McKnight seem like a deist.

Every chapter focuses around Christ and is anchored in God’s love. I normally don’t say stuff like that because it is a cliche.  Everyone intends to “point to Christ” or “be biblical,” so by itself that doesn’t mean all that much.  McKnight’s arguments, though, always lead back to Jesus.  It’s hard to fault him on that point. The thrust of his argument is thus:

McKnight begins with an excellent treatment of heaven: Heaven is superior to earth because “God chose to indwell heaven, to make decisions about earth from heaven, and to send his angels to earth from heaven.”  As McKnight nicely puts it, it is “God’s throne room, God’s board room, and God’s courtroom.”

McKnight knows that you really can’t combine all good supernatural beings into the category of “angels.”  A cherub, for example, isn’t an errand boy.  On the other hand, the cultural river in which we float is so strong that we probably won’t get a good taxonomy across the popular level any time soon.

He has a good section on “guardian angels.”  We have to avoid two errors.  On one hand, we have no warrant to say with Rome that we each have a personal guardian angel (or even worse, an angel and a devil on each shoulder).  On the other hand, we can’t simply dismiss the category altogether.  Jesus said angels watch these children.

Granting that, do Jesus’s words mean that each human has a personal guardian angel, or do they mean that each Christian has a guardian angel?  The text isn’t clear.  I think the idea the text (and other texts where God sends an angel to his corporate people) promotes the general context of “guardian” without committing us to a personal guardian angel. 

God’s use of angels is one way he communicates his presence to us.  McKnight has a neat argument.  Angels attend to Christ.  Christians are in Christ.  Therefore, sometimes (at the very least), we participate in the angels’ presence with Jesus.  This makes sense of ancient (and some Protestant liturgies), “Therefore with angels and archangels….”

McKnight missed an interesting opportunity.  Meredith Kline (I think) suggested that God’s glory could is filled with angels and that’s why it looks like a cloud.  Could be.  It’s a neat idea.

He covers other facets of biblical data: angels judging, angels harvesting, angel’s revealing, etc.  This has been covered extensively in good (though not all) systematics.

Even Reformed people can experience angels:

He has a good appendix interacting with Ps. Dionysius’s celestial hierarchy. McKnight correctly notes that Paul gives no such hierarchy.  On the other hand, Paul also doesn’t collapse all celestial beings into “demon” or “angel.”


I’m not so sure about his use of Barth. True, in those passages quoted Barth asserted a belief in angels.  I always got the sneaky suspicion, though, that Barth was far more ambiguous on the topic than was presented here.  It’s the same with any use of Barth: does Barth mean that the angels are in “historie” or “geschichte?”  He never says (and I don’t think Barth really intended to say).

Bonds of Imperfection (O’Donovan)

O’Donovans, Oliver and Joan Lockwood. Bonds of Imperfection: Christian Politics Past and Present.  Eerdmans, 2007.


I’ve read this book more than any other book over the past eleven years.  Each essays is a Master’s course in social ethics.  With all the combined essays, you will know more about ethics than the average seminary graduate. This post is going to be very long, but given the contents, that is unavoidable.

The most important essay, and the one from which most others spring, is Oliver O’Donovan’s essay on Augustine’s City of God 19.4.  O’Donovan is in the very dangerous waters of whether the City of Man constitutes a true res publica.  And if it doesn’t, and if the Church does, does this mean that the Church is actually the only true political society?  If so, we aren’t that far from Yoder.  But I don’t think O’Donovan takes it in that direction.

Some background terms:  A thing’s end is its perfection.  The summum bonum is that object for which other objects are sought, but which is sought only for itself.  

  • each city has its own end.
  • Augustine is not saying that the two cities get along together by having a common use of means towards different ends.  The connective phrase ita etiam connects chapter 16 with the first line of chapter 17:  the comparison is between the earthly city and the earthly household

Consensus of Wills

But what of the obvious fact that the Two Cities do seem to “get along” from time to time?  For one, we note that members of the heavenly city use the earthly as a means to an end; whereas the earthly city sees itself as an end.  There is no tertium quid between the two cities, no neutral space. The agreement can only be on a surface level of means, and only that.

Ius and Iustitia

Augustine notes that “ius” flows from the source of iustitia (19.21).  There can be no iustitia common to the two cities because the earthly city does not deal or participate in the forgiveness of sins (Ep. 140.72; Spirit and the Letter 32.56).  Iustitia, nonetheless, is not at the forefront of Augustine’s concerns.  

If a state does display some virtues but it relates to some object other than God, then it is disorder (19.14-16).  This insight allows Augustine to say that there is some relative order and good in a state, but gives him the space to critique the State. (Interestingly, Augustine has no vision for political programs; sorry, Reconstructionists).  

O’Donovan then outlines a pyramid of ascending orders of peace in the universe (rerum omnium).  I will number them but I can’t reproduce the pyramidal scheme here. The numbers aren’t of greater importance to lesser, or vice-versa.  Rather, beginning with (1) it is a continual movement outward.

(10) ?

(9)  peace of the heavenly city

(8) peace of the city

(7) peace of the household (19.14-16)

(6) pax hominum (Peace of Rome? or basic Peace between men)

(5) peace with God

(4) Body-soul union

(3) rational soul

(2) irrational passions

(1) Body

The relation between peace and order is one of definition.  The peace of any household is the tranquility of order.

Household (Domus)

It is an ordered harmony of giving and receiving commands.  Unlike the City, though, the commands are not given from a desire to dominate, but from compassionate acceptance of responsibility. Augustine does not try to “transform” society.  It is impossible to read Book 19 or the whole City of God that way.  Rather, he “transvalues” society’s structures (O’Donovan 68).  

The Proprietary Subject and the Crisis of Liberal Rights

Key point:  The possession of rights is always proprietorship; all natural rights (for the West) originate in property rights (Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, 75).   This originated with Pope John XXIII (1329 AD).  He saw man as created with full lordship and ownership as possession (dominum).  His point was to discredit Fransiscan theologians who insisted on radical poverty.

This is the rights culture that would spring full-bloom in the modern world.  The problem it created was how to have community if the above take on rights is true.

Patristic Foundations of Non-Proprietary Community

The fathers thought men should share as an imitation of God’s sharing his goodness with us.Augustine’s AchievementAugustine distinguished between two objective rights:  (a) divine right, by which all things belong to the righteous, and (b) human right, in which is the jurisdiction of earthly kings (79, quoting Epistle 93).

  • Justice for Augustine is a rightly-ordered love seen in the body politic, which would mean men loving the highest and truest good, God, for God’s sake.
  • Therefore, the bonum commune is a sharing in a rightly-ordered love (City of God, BK 19.21).
  • Because this sharing is spiritual, it is common and inclusive.  Thus we have a republic in the truest sense of the word:  res publica, public things.
  • Conversely, a disordered love in the soul is the privatization of the good.
  • Therefore, a disordered love will see the destruction of community.

O’Donovan comments,It is the regulated interaction of private spheres of degenerate freedom, secured by the protection of property and enhanced by the provision of material benefits at the hands of unscrupulous tyrants (80).

Fransiscan Poverty: The Evangelical Theology of Non-Possession

  • Renouncing property right means that the viator is not a self-possessor, but rather is possessed by Christ and receives his powers (85).

Wyclif’s Ecclesiological Revolution

Irony: Wyclif’s reform program actually owed a great deal to Pope John XXIII’s reflections.

  • Non-proprietary posession belonged not only to Adam’s original state, but all the way forward to the episcopolate today: this should be seen in the church militant (88).
  • Divine lordship (dominum):  per Wyclif’s predecessor, Fitzralph, God is the primary possessor and enjoyer of creation.  Therefore, his giving of creation to Adam is a communication and sharing of himself, rather than a transfer of Lordship (89).
  • For the church, for Wyclif, this is God’s gift of himself as the love of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13).
  • Therefore, all of the “justified,” who coexist with Christ’s love, share (communicant) in this lordship directly from Christ.
  • Therefore, just dominion involves rightly-ordered love towards these communicable goods, which in turn depends on true knowledge of them available in Christ.

Medieval Theories on Usury

medieval economics: A Christo-centric ethic of perfection that drew heavily upon the Stoic-Platonist tradition.  

  • drew upon the Patristic vision of polarity of opposing loves of spiritual and earthly riches, “viewed avarice as the root of all evil,” property right as morally tainted (Lockwood O’Donovan, 99).  
  • Not fully Aristotelian, though.  The Patristic vision viewed community primarily in terms of a common participation in invisible goods and a charitable sharing of divisible goods by its members.  

Canonical Development of the Usury Prohibition

The church recognized two intrinsic titles to interest (indemnity) on loans in the case of delayed repayment:  the title of damages sustained and that of profit foregone. Further, contracts are distinguished from loans.

  • The locatio: a rental contract on a piece of property
  • The societas: partnership where profit and risk were shared
  • The Census:  sale or purchase for life of a rent-charge (the return varied on the productivity)

The church in fact gave moral license to limited opportunities for investment and credit that favored the welfare of the poor but did not serve an expanding commercial economy (101-102).  However, as contracts became more complex over time, it was really hard to not engage in some form of usury.

The Earlier Medieval Treatments of Usury

God’s original will for human community:  

  • its members make common use of the goods of creation to relieve material want (104).  
  • air, sun, rain, sea, seasons (divinely created as koinonia, unable to be monopolized; cf. modern American government attacking those who store rainwater)
  • Gratian argues this did not mean private ownership and amassing wealth.  It’s hard to see how this squares with Proverbs injunction that a godly man leaves an inheritance.  And if the wealth is to be distributed by the church, it’s hard to see how the church can make any claim to poverty and non-possessorship.

The usurer sells time:  time originally belongs to God, and secondarily belongs to all creatures.  Thus, to sell time is to injure all. Further, time is a koinon, indivisibly shared by all creatures.  

Roman contract of loan (mutuum):  a fungible good is transferred from owner to borrower. Ownership is transferred because the borrower is not expected to repay the exact same item.  The borrower assumes the risk of loss and is bound to repay it. Thefore, Lockwood O’Donovan argues, “The medieval theologians and canonists could argue, in the first place, that the usurer charges the debtor for what the debtor already owns” (107).

The Thomistic Treatment of Usury

Commutative justice (ST 2a2ae. 78)

Usury sins against justice in the exchange, a violation against equality in the exchange

Thomas does presuppose property right

  • sterility of money theory
    • Money is a means of measuring equivalence in an exchange.  It can only establish equivalence if it is formally equal to the thing itself in exchange (
    • the usurer inflicts on the needy borrower a moral violence of making him repay more than he was lent.
    • Thomas also argues that human industry, not money is the cause of profit.
  • to charge separately for a thing

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.

Theological Territories (Hart)

Hart, David Bentley. Theological Territories: A David Bentley Hart Digest. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2020.

This collection of essays reveals David Bentley Hart at his extreme best and extreme worst. In other words, it’s like everything else he has written.

Early Notes

Description of phenomenology: it always evokes a prior metaphysical deduction “because it always already assumes a metaphysical premise: that there is a real correlation between the givenness of the phenomena and the intentionality of the perceiver” (28).

Barthian theology sees God as a “Wholly Other,” thus reducing him to an aliud who is now posed “over against” creation. And if God is always “Wholly Other,” then he is always posed against the Other, which means creation is eternal. This is why Barthianism has always been caught in a dialectic of creation either being eternal or fallen.

Nicene metaphysics: abandoned the Middle Platonic hierarchy.  In this case Logos is no longer a lesser manifestation of a God who is beyond all manifestation. “It is in fact the eternal reality of God’s manifestation of his own essence to himself” (37).  The essence is a movement of infinite disclosure. He doesn’t relate to creation through a hierarchy of hypostases, but he is the “infinite act within and beyond every finite act.”

Bulgakov, Metaphysics, and Christology

This is where Hart’s reputation as a classical theist is on full display.  If Hart’s view of capital punishment is him at his worst. This is him at his best.  Of interest to Reformed readers is Hart’s interaction with Barthian scholar Bruce McCormack. While we have a proper distaste for Barth, McCormack is probably the sharpest Reformed thinker on Christology. The fact that McCormack is wrestling with Bulgakov and has appeared on Hart’s radar is something of note.

Sergius Bulgakov was a Russian theologian who was exiled by the Communists. He was easily the most profound thinker of the 20th century regarding God, creation, Christology, etc. Bulgakov realized that arbitrariness in “our understanding of the relation between divine transcendence and creation’s contingency” threatens both (58). This hinges on actuality and passivity.  God is an infinite God of pure act. He cannot be determined by unrealized potentiality.  

Hart summarizes the divine moments quite eloquently: “that infinite donation and surrender, that infinite receiving that is also the eternal constitution of the giver, that infinite outpouring in the other that is also the eternal being of God” (59).

Hart wants to avoid any conception of God as having a “gnomic” or deliberative will. If God has to deliberate, then creation constitutes for him a real relation, and therefore “a pathos that modifies his nature.”

God is pure actuality. He is “the source of every act of being” (61). “God does not require the indeterminacy of the possible in order to be free because he is not some particular determination of being, some finite reduction of potency to act.” 

Freedom and Universalism

You would expect me to argue against Hart that universalism is wrong.  That’s not my argument, though.  I’ll grant him the point for the time being.  I won’t even say, “Yeah, but what about Hitler?”  I’ll make it worse: will Hart and his disciples concede that Donald Trump will be in heaven?  I’ll take my leave then.

We should look at his comments on freedom, though.  He’s not entirely wrong and despite his sheer hatred of Calvinism, he sounds very Augustinian at times. Hart’s argument is that someone cannot freely and rationally choose the evil.  A purely libertarian act cannot be one of sheer chance or mechanical impulse (this is also Jonathan Edwards’ argument).  A truly free will, by contrast, is oriented towards the good.

Let’s not dismiss this argument too quickly.  While he hates Calvinism, Hart is not giving the same arguments that your typical free-willer does.  Quite the opposite, actually.

Science and Mind

This section is also quite good.  Even if I am a physical system, I am an intentional physical system, which is problematic for hard naturalists since intentionality is not a physical process.  Even worse, assuming evolution to be true, it cannot be reduced to pure physicality.  Evolution is unintentionally (pun, maybe) hierarchical, with more complex systems superimposing on less complex ones.  In short, I have reasons for being here and those reasons aren’t physical processes (131).

Science as science cannot tell us anything about science.  It engages in what Heidegger calls “ge-stell,” or framing: reducing the world to a collection of objects.  There is no ontological participation between the objects.

Intentionality: the mind knows by being actively disposed toward what lies outside of itself (169).

On Capital Punishment

This is Hart at his worst.  His essay is full of invective.  He comes across sneering.  This is doubly unfortunate since he actually scores some points on Greek vocabulary. His main argument is that the Christian is forbidden from retributive justice per the Sermon on the Mount.    That’s just the plain meaning of the passage, says Hart.  He does not allow similar hermeneutical charity to those who would go to the “plain meaning” of Romans 13.  I just want to focus on a few points:

1) I will grant to him that machairos doesn’t mean “sword of capital punishment,” but more like a police symbol.  Okay, that might be true.  The rest of the passage, though, does not admit Hart’s desire for “rehabilitative justice.”  This “state as police” is to be a “terror to evildoers.”  It cannot do that and rehabilitate them at the same time.

2) I can’t find the exact passage, but somewhere Hart says that Jesus never imagined the death penalty being used.  I can only plead Matthew 13.

3) Hart’s petty childishness comes out when Feser quotes Hart’s more Anabaptist view of state punishment: “Again and again, the New Testament demands of Christians that they exercise limitless forgiveness, no matter how grievous the wrong” (Hart, quoted by Feser).  Feser then gives the rhetorical counter: “We also have to refrain from punishing rapists, bank robbers, embezzlers, etc….The jails should be emptied” (quoted on p. 208).  Feser has correctly cited Hart’s beliefs.  How does Hart respond: “Twaddle…balderdash…I don’t need to explain a d*mned thing” (Hart 209).

Does this sound like an adult in control of his rational faculties?

Academic Freedom

Academic freedom should be more than just the negative freedom to say what I want.  It should be the freedom to orient the will towards the Good and True. There is an intrinsic good to which the mind strives.

Beauty and Being

Whatever else Thomas Aquinas meant by beauty, he was correct that Beauty is pleasing just simply by being seen.  A beautiful object must be complete and not lacking, its parts must be in proportion to each other, and it must be radiant (247).

Hart wants to go beyond this, and borrowing from Heidegger, he suggests a distinction between beauty and the event of beauty. Heidegger assimilates the event of beauty to the event of truth (249).  “This is one of those rare moments in Heidegger when the light momentarily breaks through the clouds and he not only asks the right question but comes close to giving the right answer.” We understand beauty in the same way that we understand how the distinction between being and beings is made manifest. Beauty is the excess of Being as being gives itself to us, like in a Bach concerto.  It is “a nimbus of utter gratuity” (250). This is also the language of “gift.” Beauty “shines out” as the sign and gift of that which transcends discrete beings.

This is similar to a Nicene ontology. As the other persons of the Trinity are coequal with the Father, there is no interval or gap that requires the Logos to be a lesser manifestation of the Father (252). “God’s eternal identity is convertible, without any reduction of degree, with his own manifestation of himself to himself.” As a result, creation becomes a free gift instead of a diminished manifestation.

On another note, while I generally don’t approve of Hart’s translation idiosyncrasies, I think he is quite close to the original context when it comes to the spirit realm.  In any case, he is far more accurate than those who think in the traditional manner of “angels vs. demons.”  There is a “realm of powers pervading this cosmos and mediating between it and the exalted, supercelestial realm of the truly divine, to theion.  The secondary, more proximate divine orders of daimones–genii, longaevi, aerial sprites, the ethereal and spiritual forces pervading nature, the rulers of the planetary spheres, the angelic or daemonic governors of nations….composed a whole unseen hierarchy” (365-366). We, on the other hand, are so numb to it we just call everything “angel” or “demon,” when usually they are neither.

I also like “vale of Abraham” (367). Hart runs into problems elsewhere on exactly where the “rich man” is, if not in torment.  Still, he marshals a number of classical sources that translate kolpos as vale or valley. His comparison with the Greek of 1 Enoch 22 is very interesting.  It is a series of four koiloi separated from each other.

Other notes:
Soul–life principle (374).

Spirit–able to exist outside the body.  Hart rejects a pure incorporeality, if only because soul and spirit are irreducibly local.  They aren’t physical, but we need to avoid later Cartesian readings.  It can be spatially extended without having physical magnitude.


This book gives you a “taste” of almost everything Hart has written, both good and bad, very good and very, very bad. Whenever Hart comes against a Christian tradition he doesn’t like, he dispenses with argument and just starts making fun of them. Ironically, this is a caricature of the very fundamentalists he so disdains.

There are some legitimately funny moments.  In critiquing an author for engaging in psychoanalysis, Hart writes, “Dilworth gratuitously [interjects] the observation that, in regard to this or that aspect of Jones’s life, ‘A Freudian might say…’ That is a sentence that need never be completed” (300).

Divine Discourse (Wolterstorff)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas.  Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the claim that God speaks.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Wolterstorff takes the findings in current speech-act theory and applies them to the claim that God speaks.  He insists that his project is not another treatment on theological revelation, but that discourse is different from revelation.  For revelation to occur, not only must must the actor speak, but the actee must receive the propositional content of the speech (29).  However, promises and commands are not (primarily) intended to reveal the unknown to us, but to show us our duties, etc.

This leads to the basics of speech-act theory.  The locution is a meaningful sentence uttered. Moreover, as Wolterstorff notes, “Acts of asserting, commanding, promising, and asking…are all illocutionary acts; by contrast, acts of communicating knowledge, when brought about by illocutionary acts, are all perlocutionary acts” (32; emphasis original).

The Rules of the Speaking Game

Speaking, especially speaking one between another, assumes certain rules that are “given.”  Thus, there is a new relation between the speakers. This relationship has “built-in” rules. Wolterstorff explains, “If I say ‘I saw Jim drive off with your car’…I have not simply transmitted information” (84).  He goes on to say that if you understood what I said–assuming I am not lying–you are now obligated to take me at my word.

It is not that the words themselves are binding, but the conditions attached to them.  The conditions yield consequences of the words being uttered or not uttered (87).  

Can God Speak?

Nota Bene:  Illocutionary acts are related to locutionary acts by way of the counting as relation; perlocutionary acts are related to illocutionary acts by causality.

NB, 2:  Could the conditions attending the “Rules of the Speaking Game” shed light on the nature of imputation in justification?  I think so. If God declares me just on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, is it a legal fiction? The Reformed can answer no on two counts:

  1. If God says something it’s probably best that we not argue with him on that point.
  2. But assuming with the objection that God’s words aren’t good enough, we can go a step further: God’s speech-act “You are righteous on account of Christ” is a real phenomenon because it met real conditions in speech-act theory.  The relations that govern the laws of discourse are real, not legal fictions. God himself is the author of all reality. When I speak in mundane affairs I can create a new relation (I pronounce you man and wife; you’re fired, etc).  If this is true and easy for me to do, why is it suddenly hard for God to do? Because of his speech I have a new relation to him: loving Father. (see p. 97 for more technical details)

Discussions of Barth and Derrida

NW gives the standard criticisms of Barth.  He gives a very careful and clear discussion of what Barth means by Jesus being the Word-as-Revelation of God.  For Barth, Jesus is the medium of God’s revelation, but it is important to note that Barth does not see any revelation of God as being “speech.”  God does not speak, per Barth. NW hovers around the main criticism of Barth but never delivers it: Barth cannot see God as speaking because God, being wholly other, cannot enter the realm of the phenomenal.  In short, Barth is an Origenist. (The only theologian to really make this observation was the fellow-gnostic Hans urs von Balthasar).

I enjoyed the section on Derrida.  NW rightly points out that not everything Derrida said is wrong.  While we must appreciate (and employ!) Derrida’s criticisms of Plato, at the end of the day we must part with Derrida.  If everything is a “trace” of something else, “and meaning is not anterior to signification, but a creature of ‘our’ signification,” then the Bible as God’s speech has no original meaning (Wolterstorff 161).  We must destroy Plato to the hilt, but this is too high a price to pay, pace Derrida.

Towards an Ethics of Belief

At the end of the book Wolterstorff hints towards a future project:  the ethics of belief. Considering that God can speak, are Christians warranted in holding that God speaks?  Yes. It seems a rather simple question, but Wolterstorff uses it to explain how epistemology can work.

Many times true beliefs are formed by “doxastic practice” (269).  

Criticisms and Evaluation

As Reformed Christians we should rejoice in any work that champions God’s word as speech, as speech-act.  Many chapters in this volume are pure gold. The section on John Locke at the end of the book is almost worth the price of the book.

I have some criticisms, though.   This book is not as clear as later works (Horton, Vanhoozer) on the differences between locutions, illocutionary acts, and perlocutionary acts.  Further, and as is often the case with analytic philosophy, some pages tend to go on without any clear purpose.  

NB 3: Token-type language ontology:  in straight-forward language (Common Sense Realism?) words can be “tokened,” some enduring and some perishing in character (135ff).   

NB 4: “Performance interpretation” is analogous to Frei/Lindbeck school.

God of Israel and Christian Theology (Soulen)

Soulen,  R. Kendall. The God of Israel and Christian Theology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

Criticisms of supersessionism must be anchored in Romans 9-11.  Unfortunately, liberals, while rightly condemning the church’s treatment of Jews in the past, tend to posit dual covenants with Israel and the Church.  A better criticism of supersessionism acknowledges that God’s call is irrevocable and the church’s future is anchored in God’s covenant to Israel, not the other way around.

Thesis: Christians cannot claim to worship the God of Israel by making God indifferent to Israel (Soulen 4).  The question of supersessionism hinges on whether baptized Jews must negate their Jewish heritage in order to be Christians?  The post-Constantinian church said yes. The book of Acts appeared to say no.

Israel and Election

Soulen makes the argument that corporate election is just as offensive as “individual election.” What sense does it make for a universal God to elect a minority people?  This is the scandal of particularity. Soulen counters by noting that love can’t be merely abstract. A pure “agape” love abstracted from any particularity is meaningless.  

This determines whether the church will seek an “abstracted” divinity behind God’s election of Israel. Soulen frames his discussion around what he calls a “canonical narrative,” an understanding of “the inner configurations” and “interrelationships” of the canon (14).  All such construals, as in our example of supersessionism, contain their own promises and problems. They have their own “grammar.”

The standard model’s main problem is that it makes God’s dealings with Israel largely irrelevant for how God will deal with creation.  Soulen’s main problem with the standard model is that it makes Israel obsolete (29). This involves hermeneutics as well: on the standard model, do you need the Hebrew scriptures to make decisive judgments on how God deals with creation? Take the four points of the standard model:

1) God creates
2) Adam and Eve fall
3) 1st Advent
4) 2nd Advent

All four of these propositions (or if they are stated in propositional format) are true.  However, with the exceptions of Genesis 1-3, you can formulate this system without regard to the Hebrew Scriptures. We see this early on with Justin Martyr, who advocates what is sometimes called (fairly or unfairly) replacement theology (Dial. 11). 

How biblical is Justin’s Logos-theology?  Despite a surface-level similarity with John 1:1, it doesn’t have much biblical support.   It is “the principle of divine revelation that sprung forth from the transcendent God” at the moment of creation (35).  What it isn’t is the life-giving, creative Word of the Covenant God. To oversimplify, cosmic history replaces salvation history.

Irenaeus’s perspective, on the other hand, is a bit more ambiguous.  He championed the unity between the Old Testament and the New, yet Israel still functions like a 5th wheel.  Missing from Irenaeus’s account, however, is the center of the Hebrew scriptures: God’s covenant dealings with Israel (45).

Christian Divinity without Jewish Flesh: The Legacies of Kant and Schleiermacher

Schleiermacher saw only three true monotheisms.  Of the two, Judaism and Christianity are the better ones.  Since Judaism, though, is still committed to non-spiritual things like land and Torah, they can’t fully develop their “God-consciousness.”  Judaism and its doctrine of election is too particular.

Schleiermacher’s project removes the inner connection between Judaism and Christianity and leaves only an external relation. If Jesus were truly Jewish, he could never bring about our universal God-consciousness (76).

Consummation at the End of Christendom

Barth and Rahner do well to expose the semignosticism within the classical model, yet they never fully escape gnosticism. Barth begins on a promising note as he replaces Schleiermacher’s “God-consciousness” with “creation and covenant.”  Unfortunately, Barth never fully lets the covenant model rescue him.

God’s covenant actions, for Barth, “summon the human creature beyond the dynamism of its natural being” (Soulen 85).  Covenant is the internal logic of creation.  

Barth goes on to say that Israel’s election is the medium for God’s consummating work in the world.  This is a vast improvement over Justin and Irenaeus. Because of God’s fidelity to Israel, we believe he will be faithful to us (89).  

Unfortunately, what Barth gives with one hand he takes away with the other.  His “Christomonism” swallows up his emphasis on God’s particularity with Israel.  Christ isn’t just the center of Barth’s theology. It is the whole field. With the person of Jesus Christ, carnal Israel comes to an end.  So far that’s standard covenant theology. Barth then takes it in a bizarre direction: not only does Israel’s history in particular come to an end, human history in general ends (CD III/2, 582).

Soulen makes the poignant criticism that models of Barth and Rahner (and any such model that downplays “historical particularity”) finds itself unable to speak a new word.

Summarizing the problem: the traditional model makes God’s identity as the God of Israel largely irrelevant.  If Israel is just transient, why does God make a big deal of being the God of Israel?

Constructing a New Model (Or Finding an Older One)

Working Conclusions

1) “The God of the Hebrew Scriptures acted in Jesus for all the world” (178 n3).

2) Consider how the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” reinforce the standard narrative.  The apostles used the term “Scriptures” for the Old Testament. We could probably say something like “apostolic witness” for the New.  While Soulen doesn’t explicitly make this point, neither of these terms threaten issues about infallibility or authority.

3) Israel is the form of God’s intercourse with history.  God’s “history with Israel and the nations is the permanent and enduring medium of God’s work as the consummator of human creation” (110).

4) Instead of an “economy of redemption” where everything is subsumed under “getting saved,” Soulen posits an ‘economy of blessing,’ where Israel will bring shalom to the nations (however we want to frame that around Christ’s mediatorial work).  This blessing is anchored in Yahweh’s gifts to Israel of People, Torah, and Land.

5) God’s historical fidelity to Israel is the narrow gate that opens to the New Creation (133).

Isaiah 19 posits an economy of blessing where the distinctions between Israel, Egypt, and Assyria are maintained, yet all experience Shalom.


While we acknowledge that the standard model has big flaws, Soulen needed an extensive analysis of Galatians 3.  How do we tie in the blessing of the nations from Abraham to the promise of the Seed in Galatians 3? Further, he completely avoided Romans 11, which would have only strengthened his case.  This is baffling. He should have spent more time on Romans 11 and less on Bonhoeffer.

Review: Orthodoxy and Esotericism (Kelley)

My friend James Kelley gave me a complimentary copy.kelley

It is common parlance to say, “We should apply our faith to culture.”  In such slogans the words “faith” and “culture” are never defined and always used in the most abstract categories.   Kelley does us a service by bringing an advanced level of Patristic theology to such wide-ranging topics as history and esoterism.  One can go a step further: Kelley’s insights regarding (Joseph Farrell’s usage) of Sts Maximus the Confessor and Athanasius can provide us a useful compass in witnessing to those trapped in the occult.  I don’t know if Kelley himself holds that view, but it is something that came to my mind.

Ordo Theologiae

The first part deals with rather esoteric thinkers like Paul Virilio, Joseph P. Farrell, and Phillip Sherrard.  Special interest goes to Farrell.  

Here is the problem: In order for the Plotinian one to account for creation, it must already contain within himself all plurality.  Therefore, epistemology and ontology had to proceed by dialectics.  We know something by defining it by its opposite.

How was the Church to respond to this?  The best way was by simply breaking its back.  Kelley shows this by examining Athanasius’s response to Arius and Maximus’s response to monotheletism.  

For Athanasius there are three primary categories that should not be confused: nature, will, and person (Kelley 35).  The person of the Father generates the Son according to essence (since the hypostasis of the Father is the font of essence).  Creation, by contrast, is according to the will.  This leads later fathers (such as Basil) to identify three categories:

(1) Who is doing it?

(2) What is it they are doing? (energies)

(3) What are they? (essence)

The key point, however, is that Person, Nature, and Energy are not to be identified, or we have something like Plotinianism or Arianism.  

Maximus is even more interesting:  the human will cannot be passive nor defined by its contrary, the divine will.  That would mean because the divine nature/will is good, then the human nature must be evil (41). If we define something by its opposite, then we are also saying that said something (God) needs its opposite.  

I must stop the analysis at this point.  But know that the section on Joseph Farrell is a crash course in advanced theology.

Esoteric Studies

Kelley places the Nation of Islam’s cosmogony within the earlier Gnostic myths (89).  He has a fascinating section on Jim Jones.  It almost reads like a novel or a news article.  His larger point is that in these cults (NOI, Scientology, etc) there is a dialectic of a “life-force creating (or self-creating) within a primordial darkness.”

His chapter on Anaximander’s apeiron is worth the price of the book.  But what makes it interesting is Kelley’s tying Anaximander’s apeiron with Tillich’s Ungrund and Barth’s unknowable God.  The problem:  How can this “god” have any contact with creation?  Anaximander gives us a dialectically unstable answer:  this apeiron already contains within it the coincidence of opposites.

Conclusions and Analysis

Like all of Kelley’s works, this cannot help but be interesting.  How often do you read a theology book and you ask yourself, “I can’t wait to turn the page to see what happens next”?  But normally that level of excitement is for fluff.  This it most certainly is not.  Some chapters are very advanced theology, while others, like the one on Paul Virilio, are probably out of my league.

My only quibble is he set up a great dismantling of Karl Barth’s theology and then didn’t do it.  I understand that could be for space reasons.  Is Barth’s Unknowable God the same as Anaximander’s apeiron?  Maybe.  If they are, then one has at his fingertips a very destructive critique.

Aside from that, this book is most highly recommended.

Note: I received this as a complimentary copy and was under no obligation to post a positive review.

Review: Retrieving Doctrine (Crisp)

Crisp, Oliver.  Retrieving Doctrine: Essays in Reformed Theology.

Crisp highlights key (but often marginalized) ideas from several Reformed thinkers.  He is “retrieving” aspects of doctrine that aren’t usually talked about.  He analyzes Calvin on Creation, Providence and Prayer; Edwards on Original Sin; Turretin on sin and necessity; Barth on universal salvation, and others.

The book is a short model on how to do analytic theology.  It mostly succeeds.  There are a few chapters where Crisp either spent too much time with too little payout, or not enough time at all.  Nonetheless, some essays, like the ones on Barth and Nevin, score major gains.

Non-Penal Substitution

Crisp examines the argument of John Macleod Campbell who argues for a substitution but one that isn’t penal.  Christ isn’t punished for my sin, but he undergoes some kind of penitential act.  In response Crisp notes that this view doesn’t remove any of the key objections.  It’s not clear how Christ’s “feeling sorry” for my sin actually removes my sin.  Further, it’s not clear on what ground Christ has any right to “feel sorry” for my sin.  Therefore, in response, penal substitution is a more viable model. Or at least, the main criticisms against PS also obtain here.

Karl Barth’s denial of universal salvation

Barth’s problem was that he posited a model of Christology and election that entailed universal salvation, yet he denied this was his teaching.  Crisp shows that it was. Introductory premises:

A1. There is a domain of moral agents comprising all human agents.

A2. By Christ’s death atonement is procured for the sin and guilt of those for whom he died.

(1) Given A1 and A2, Christ’s death atones for the sin of all human agents.

(2) Christ’s death is sufficient for all human agents (CD II/2, p. 271).

(3) This work is completed at the cross.

(4) This work is appropriated, not on the traditional gloss of ‘repent and believe,’ but by agents coming to realize that ‘this is what God in Jesus Christ has done for you’ (Ibid., 317ff).

(5) Christ is the Elect One.

(6) Christ is the Reprobate One.

(7) All human agents are elect only in a derivative sense of having a saving relation to the set of the Elect and its single member, Christ.

(8)The Sin of all human agents is atoned for by Christ, the Reprobate one.

But (8) seems to entail universalism, which Barth does not want.  So perhaps he means it in this sense: 

(8*) All human agents are reprobate only in the derivative sense of having a relation to the set of the reprobate and its single member, Christ.

But this would entail: 

(9) All human agents are simultaneously members of the sets ‘elect-in-Christ’ and ‘reprobate-in-Christ.” 

But this is incoherent.  Therefore, Barth must mean (8) instead of (8*).  Given (8) we now have: 

(9*) All human agents are members of the set ‘elect-in-Christ.’ 

At this point Barth can escape (9*) by affirming some sort of Libertarian free-will, but Barth doesn’t do this (and he gives good reasons for not doing it).  Therefore, Barth must hold to something like,

(10) All human agents are necessarily (and derivatively) elect-in-Christ by virtue of his universally efficient atonement.

But now we are back at universalism, unless Barth can posit a new way out:

(11) A human agent whose redemption Christ purchased may reject Christ and may ultimately not be saved.

This is fallacious, given (1)-(4) and (5)-(8) and (9*).  Further, (11) is Arminianism, which Barth claims to reject.

John Williamson Nevin on the Church

Instead of the visible/invisible church, Nevin posits the Ideal Church and its manifestation in time.  It is an organic whole springing from a common ground.  While Nevin has much good to say, it’s not clear he can fully escape “visible” and “invisible” categories.  For example, he would rightly want to affirm OT saints as part of the church, yet since they have died they aren’t “visible.”

For all of Nevin’s problems, though, much of his teaching is simple Augustinian realism.  One wonders, though, what it would take to shore up Nevin’s conclusions without using his German Idealism.

Another difficulty: if there is a metaphysically real union with the old Adam and a metaphysically real union with Christ, then how are these two distinct? This isn’t a problem but only a place where he isn’t clear.

Crisp gives a fine summary of Nevin’s conclusions on p. 172:

(1) The Church is mystically united to Christ.

(2) The church isn’t the Incarnation, part two.  Rather it is a continuation of the new creation brought about by the Incarnation.

(3) OT sacraments are largely preparatory (I think Cocceius held to a similar view).

(4)The Church has an ideal aspect and a concrete (externalizing) aspect.

(5) The ideal is perfect in all respects; the concrete is imperfect but gradually realizing the perfect.

(6) Adam and his progeny are an organic whole.

(7) Christ and the church are another organic whole.

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.

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?