Overcoming Ontotheology (Westphal)

Westphal, Merold.  Overcoming Ontotheology. New York, Fordham University Press, 2001.

This is a Christian, albeit sympathetic, reading of academic postmodernism as it has come to us via Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida.  It is not a treatment of the emergent church. That is not academic postmodernism.

Ontotheology is when someone treats God as another datum to be analyzed and uses this datum to explain all of reality.  Like all of Westphal’s books, this is very well-written and learned. Parts are even in German. There is a danger to this book:  both sides, modernist and postmodernist, and the Christians within both camps, might say that this book, and by extension Continental Philosophy, is the true philosophy.  Therefore, analytic philosophy is ontotheology. Even worse, they might argue that Continental philosophy = postmodernism. Westphal himself doesn’t do that, as he notes that some postmodernists like Rorty are closer to the analytic tradition in some ways.

For Heidegger, philosophy starts out as Being qua being, but this needs an Unmoved Mover to complete the system. For Heidegger, if we try to introduce God into this system, we can only do so on philosophy’s terms.

We will have to square up to Westphal’s use of the term “postmodern.”  By it he is simply denying that humans can have a “God’s-eye view” of Truth. He finds this in Plato’s claim of “the unaided intellect” which is purified from the senses (Phae 65e ff). Pure thought meets a pure object. 

What critics like Kant and Heidegger suggest is that we can never escape Time.  Our experience is always temporal. With this in mind, Westphal summarizes the leading postmodernists (Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Rorty, Heidegger, Derrida):

  1. All our experience is linguistically mediated.
  2. Every language is a conceptual scheme that lacks universality.
  3. Every language is contingent.
  4. Every language is a perspective.

Christian Philosophers and the Copernican Revolution

Westphal’s specific argument is that Kant’s claim to a thing-in-itself is not necessarily an anti-Christian claim.  Indeed, Westphal argues that Kant correlates (somehow) the phenomenal and noumenal worlds. For him, the distance between things-in-themselves and appearances is the way the world is versus the way I experience it.

Positive Postmodernism as Radical Hermeneutics

*Foundationalism is a replacing of mythos with logos.

The Hermeneutical Turn in Modern Continental Philosophy

The trace: something at work in my thinking that is not present now yet never has been fully present.

Laughing at Hegel

Mediation: mediation involves otherness.  Immediacy is its absence. At this level Hegel is a philosopher of difference. Hegel does hold to immediacy at one level, though.  Something is immediate in its being “self-evident,” yet it is not self-evident in itself. It is self-evident to us.

Immediacy is abstract self-relation and hence it is abstract identity (EL 74A). Immediacy is a product of social mediation, of our being in history.  Hegel’s argument is that immediacy can never exist at the level of abstraction, for then it would only give you the altar of the unknown god.

Immediacy tries to undo all of the relations that connect to us.

What does Hegel mean by “dialectics?” First, he doesn’t mean what you’ve been told by bloggers that he means.  He never uses that triad (thesis/antithesis = synthesis) in the way that you think he does. For him, and well for all of the philosophical tradition, dialectics is the negative point of reason (EL 81R).  Everything finite is its own sublation. Westphal suggests that this sublation, this aufhebung, is a recontextualization into the whole.

If you want a triad, it is this: abstract self-relation, mediation through another, and the self-mediation of the totality.

The Otherness of God and Ontological Xenophobia

I see where Horton got the “meeting a stranger” motif.  I agree that the Augustinian/Ps.-Dionysian project is more Neoplatonist than classical theists want to admit.  I just don’t think Derrida is the answer.

For the Neoplatonist et al, the goal of religion is “overcoming estrangement,” by which he means finitude.  For Covenant man, it is meeting a stranger who descends to us. In the former we ascend via negation. In the latter God descends to us.


Heidegger himself might not avoid his own criticism, for in saying we must go beyond the horizon of being to understand being, is he not putting being into intellectualist terms?


*He says Husserl’s process of epoche is an attempt to escape finitude.  I’m fairly certain Husserl is not doing that.  

* Westphal takes issue with Plantinga’s attack on Kant’s “creative anti-realism.” This hinges on whether Westphal’s theistic reading of Kant is tenable.  When read in light of Kant’s philosophy of religion, I don’t think it is.

* Finally, the pious churchgoer might wonder if there is any point in reading Derrida.  I would have to say no. Everything Derrida wants the Reformed already have in the archetypal distinction.  Further, while we agree with Heidegger that we should overcome ontotheology, God has already done so in being the God of the Covenant.


Cambridge Companion to Husserl

Smith, Barry and Smith, David Woodruff. Eds. The Cambridge Companion to Husserl. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Husserl is interesting because he was a continental philosopher who believed in universals and a mathematician who rejected later analytic approaches. His thought never achieved the profundity of a Hegel nor the clarity of a Russell.  Nonetheless, his comments on intentionality and essences have potential for a huge pay off in the mind-body problem debate.

Intro and Terminology

Phenomenology: deals with acts of consciousness in which objects are given or experienced (Smith and Smith 3).

Psychologism: the attempt to conceive all sub-disciplines of philosophy as branches of empirical psychology.

Functionalism: the mind is the software to the brain’s hardware.  Husserl would have rejected this (10).

Intentionality: this is the most important of Husserl’s concepts. It is the of-ness.  We are always thinking “of something,” conscious of something. Most importantly, it is not a spatial relation.  There is no “of-ness” you can touch.

Noema: “The sum total of what is thought or meant of an object in an act” (Hintikka 88). Each noema “has a kernel or nucleus which consists of three elements: a substratum, a set of qualitative moments, and modes of fulfillment of these qualities” (Simons 127).

Epoche: we bracket everything in the noema which is not given to us in immediate experience.

Key point: “we grasp in phenomenological reflection that consciousness is intentional in the sense of being directed towards an object: consciousness is consciousness of something” (11).


Knowledge entails fulfilment.  Fulfillment is knowing as finding.  It is the process of “getting a better view” (Willard 146).  We have a structure of the act of knowing: a sequence of representations of the same object in an arrangement of greater “closeness.”

Imagine it this way: you are walking down the road and you see what looks like a tree in the distance.  The closer you get, the more “fulfillment” obtains. You see that it is indeed a tree. Of course, most knowledge-cases are far more complex than this.

The Knowledge Act

A sign appears before me.  This can be an image, word, or physical object.  It exemplifies the property (concept) “to which it directs us” (141). The sign is “given” before us and it  tends beyond itself. We can think of it this way. When I see a tree, the tree is not *in* my mind. It tends towards my mind and my mind reaches out towards it.  This is the process of fulfillment.

Most non-postmodernists hold to some form of representational thinking. Husserl would say these representations “Merely intend a content or object” (145).  Therefore, the act of knowing is a sequence of representations. 


Herman Philipse has a learned chapter arguing that Husserl was not a metaphysical realist, but a transcendental idealist.  I lean towards the realist view, but Philipse makes a number of pointed criticism of traditional Aristotelian thought. One of Husserl’s initial problems was he held to some form of naturalist empiricism.  However, one cannot be both an idealist and a naturalist. You can’t say the world is constituted by our consciousness, yet have our consciousness dependent on part of the world.

I agree with idealists in that mind is the basis of matter.  They just confuse our minds with God’s.

Some metaphysical schemes just don’t work with modern science.  “Because Descartes identified matter and extension, his physics excluded the possibility of a vacuum” (Philipse 291). Enter Pascal’s experiments that barometers implied a vacuum.   Further, it isn’t necessarily true that all scientific laws are a priori and purely rational–science is empirical and hypothetical.


The body is “the carrier of the point of orientation,” the “zero point” which plays “an important role in the constitution of the spatial world” (65). It is the field of my free volition. It is what Dallas Willard calls “our personal power pack.”

David Woodruff Smith argues that Husserl’s ontology is a “monism of substrata and a pluralism of essences” (Smith 323).  Within this monism there appear to me many moments of consciousness. This substrata is the realm of essence. It is a monism because consciousness is spread out, yet not divided up, in the form of a “stream of experiences” (339).  Each experience is intentional. That is the dualism.

Some remaining problems

How much of a Kantian was Husserl?  Pinning down his transcendental idealism is fraught with danger. I don’t think he went the Berkeleyan route and said we create the physical world (if indeed Berkeley said that).  Jaako Hintikka suggests, rather, that for Husserl there was an “interface” of consciousness and reality (Hintikka 82). If we explore Husserl’s thought further, his claim is much stronger.  There is a “level of consciousness in which reality forces itself on us, which is the interface (not to say overlap) of reality and consciousness” (89).

That last sentence is a warning on spiritual warfare.  When we read something, it is a reality that presents itself, even forces itself, upon our consciousness.  If someone was inspired by a demon, say like Crowley, then your mind is in contact with a demon’s mind.


Hegel and Modern Society (Charles Taylor)

Taylor claims this isn’t merely a summation of his earlier tome on Hegel. That’s not really true. A number of pages are lifted but I think he succeeds in succinctly tying Hegel’s ontology to Hegel’s politics and showing the latter’s relevance for the modern age.

Hegel’s Ontology

Hegel sought to synthesize the Romantic desire for freedom and expression with the Rationalist desire for Reason. The Romantics saw Enlightenment science severing man’s unity. Man can only be self-conscious when he abstracts himself from the world. But when he does that, he severs himself from the organic unity of life. Reason and Life are thus opposites. But they are opposites which can’t exist without the other.

This leads us to Geist (God, sort of) as the Embodied Subject. A rational subject must be embodied because their must be an opposite pole in which it may flourish. Hegel rejects both Christian theism (God independent of the world) and naturalism (God as not absolute). Self-positing: God eternally creates the conditions of his existence. Hegel is not so much arguing for an existent reality, but for the conditions that Geist be.

What is the Dialectic?

we start with the most elementary notion of what consciousness is, “to show that this cannot stand up, that it is riven with inner contradiction and must give way to a higher one, which is also in turn shown to be contradictory” (55).

Politics as Alienation Overcome

Modern society has seen the proliferation of Romantic views of life along with the rationalization and bureaucratization of collective structures and an exploitive stance toward nature (71). The adequate form of Spirit (remember, Spirit must be embodied) is social. Man has to be part of something larger than himself, since man cannot exist by himself.

alienation: this happens whenever the public existence no longer has meaning for me: e.g., the perceived futility of voting; nominal religious belief in Church-States. Individuals then strike out on their own to define their individuality. They then (ironically) come together as a new social unit.

Negative freedom would require that the whole outcome be decided by me. Yet, the whole outcome is a social one, so it cannot be decided by me alone. Thus, negative freedom is impossible.

The Modern Dilemma

Here is why modern liberal society is doomed: radical participation in civic structures is only possible if there is a ground of agreement, or underlying common purpose (Augustine’s common objects of love). Democracy and participation cannot create this; they merely presuppose it. The demand for absolute freedom by itself is empty.
Modern ideology and equality leads to homogenization [Taylor isn’t always clear on what he means by homogenization] of society. It is an acid drip on traditional structures, yet it cannot replace them.

Hegel and Marx

This is where Charles Taylor, using Hegel’s analysis, cuts Marxism to the bone. The Soviet view sees the proletarian party as “engineers of building in conformity with the laws of history…[combining] two opposed pictures of the human predicament. It shows us man, on one hand, imposing his will on the course of history…On the other hand dialectical materialism sets out the laws which govern man and history with an iron necessity” (151). “The laws of history cannot be the basis of social engineering and reveal the inevitable trend of events” (152).

Analysis and Conclusion

A Christian cannot accept Hegel’s ontology. It echoes pantheism and is openly process theology. Hegel’s analysis of epistemology on lower levels is sometimes interesting. Hegel’s insights on politics (if not his conclusions!) are occasionally brilliant.

The concepts of social alienation are more pronounced today than ever before. Hegel was spot on. His critique of Negative Freedom of the French Revolution applies equally to Marxism (and its body count) and the Cultural Leninism of today’s America

Early notes on Dugin’s Heidegger


I don’t have the book any more, but these notes are a general outline of it.

Thesis: Heidegger is the transition point between the last of the old philosophy (Greece to Germany) and the new way of thinking (Dugin 18).

Heidegger’s narrative: something was, something began, something ended (31).  Europe is the evening land (Abendland): it is time to put “Being” to sleep (37).

Being and Beings

Differentiation (Ontologische Differenz)

The root of his thought is ontological differentiation (41).

Seiende: beings.

Sein: Being

Noema: does not correspond to beings themselves, but to thoughts about beings.

These two form a dyad.  The formation of the verb is always related to its inflection, its linkage to something (elastic bending, 42).  Sein in its pure form is abstract.  It doesn’t “bend” to anything.

Man already implicitly assumes that beings (Seiende) are. If we reflect upon this, we ask “What is the being (Sein) of beings (Seiende)?  What is common to all beings that makes them beings?

Heidegger reads Heraclitus and Aristotle as saying that Logos = Being = Unity (49).  Heidegger wants to challenge the idea that Being is the foundation of beings.

Fundamental Ontology

Ousia is a particular way to conceive of Being–share quality of all beings (54). If we say that Being is the essence of beings, we establish two parallel levels: the level of beings and the level of essence (ousia).

Main argument: if we differentiate Being and beings through essence, we overlook the difference between Being and beings (54).  Thus, Being is not beings.


Ontic dimension: that which is present to thought.  Thinking about the world.

Physis: the sphere of beings.  This is a collected concept.


The distance that arises as ontics reflects upon itself.  Ontology identifies the Being of beings with the essence of beings.  It attributes Being as an attribute of beings, but also exalts Being to a higher level.  This is what Dugin calls the “double topography” (58).  Greek thought abstracted Being from beings when it should have leapt into the primordial foundation of beings.

Seyn: the kind of Being that eludes ontology and is not grasped by abstracting it from other beings, but rather penetrating to the Nothingness (59).

Toward Fundamental Ontology

Ontology, now seeing Being as an abstract One, overwhelms all.  The One swallows the Many.

Das Seynsgechichtliche

Seyn is the breakthrough into the pure element (67).

Geschicte   sort of the pathway of History.  “Totality of individual abrupt leaps over the abyss” (69).

Seyn ist Zeit

This version of “time” has no independent object (nature) or subject (man).

The Beginning and End of Western European Philosophy

The Greek take on Being leads to the oblivion of Being.

Being–beings-as-a-whole–is replaced by the notion (Vorstellung) of it.  This notion then becomes more disconnected and mechanical (92)

“Thought.”  Differentiation is the main attribute of thought.

Review: Horton, Covenant and Salvation

Horton attempts to give a full-orbed defense of Reformed soteriology, utilizing current scholarship, identifying potential weaknesses, and communicating this in a new and cogent manner. And he has largely succeeded.

Similar to other projects, Horton places salvation within a covenantal framework, drawing largely upon the findings of Meredith Kline. In short, Horton posits a “Tale of Two Mothers,” referring to Galatians 4. After a brief discussion of Ancient Near Eastern Suzerain Treaties, Horton shows that God’s promise to Abraham was unilateral, involving no stipulations nor any potential sanctions on Abraham. This continues through the Davidic covenant and finds its fulfillment in Christ. The Sinaitic covenant, on the other hand, is specifically sanction-oriented. The difference between these two covenants is crucial to Horton’s later argument. Horton asserts: “The deepest distinction in Scripture is not between Old and New Testament, but between covenants of law and covenants of promise that run throughout both” (17).

Horton then responds to the New Perspective on Paul. Contrary to the myths about Lutheran re-readings, Horton demonstrates from Sanders’ own findings that the 2ndTemple Rabbis (and probably Sanders himself) were semi-Pelagian. If they were semi-Pelagian, as Sanders’ own writings attest, then the “Lutheran” critique isn’t eisegesis at all. Horton then advances an interesting critique of N. T. Wright. Horton points out that Wright conflates the Sinaitic and Davidic covenants. So when the covenant “climaxes” for God’s people, is it the covenant of promise (David) or the covenant of bondage and death (Sinai, Galatians 3-4)?

Horton has a sharp section on justification and imputation. Justification, on Horton’s gloss, is not a legal fiction because Christ is the covenant-head, and if the justified are “in Christ,” then they possess his covenant status (105). Horton shows that a lot of Wright’s arguments on covenant and salvation, while sometimes shedding helpful light on the issues, really don’t make sense outside Palestine. When the Philippian jailer asks what he must do to be saved, is he really talking about the end of national Israel’s exile? If works of the law mean ethnic markers, then why is Paul accused of antinomianism?

The second part of the book deals with different ontologies. Contrary to the Radical Orthodoxy group, Horton posits a “Covenantal Ontology” which is focused on “meeting a stranger” rather than “overcoming estrangement.” The latter is an application of almost all descendants of Platonic ontologies of anti-bodiement.

Covenantal Ontology: The pactum salutis is the intra-Trinitarian covenant made in eternity. It is realized in the biblical covenants. See also pp. 182-186.

Horton notes that Radical Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism presuppose something along the following lines: overcoming estrangement. By this he means a paradigm that promises enlightenment and a liberation of nature beyond itself (155).

Several times throughout this book Horton advances a critique of Platonic Divine Simplicity, but never calls it such. He has a section on John Milbank and offers a full-orbed convincing critique of Milbank. As readers of Milbank know, he is strongly committed to the neo-Platonic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity. To put the matter briefly, such a view of simplicity negates or mutes distinctions. Horton then goes on to say, “As speculative metaphysics (specifically ontological participation) swallows up the horizon, Christology is swallowed by ecclesiology, and redemptive mediation has to do with overcoming metaphysical binaries (finite/infinite, material/spiritual,invisible/visible, corporeal/incorporeal, temporal/eternal, and so forth) rather than ethical and eschatological ones (sin/grace, death/life, condemnation/justification…this age/age to come” (165. /END EXCURSUS

The book ends with placing the traditional Reformed ordo in a communicative context. Horton wants to avoid some of the hang-ups the Reformed scholastics had when they used medieval categories to challenge Rome. Instead, Horton argues we should use communicative categories, which makes sense since Christ is the Word. Horton suggests we should see effectual calling as a speech-act whereby God creates a new reality. This isn’t that bad a suggestion, since it mutes the charge that Calvinism forces a God who forces the unbeliever’s will. God does no such thing. Rather, he creates a situation, renewing the will (does renewal = violence? I hope not, 223). Throughout Scripture we see the Spirit “bringing things to life, into existence” (Ezekiel 37). Is it so hard to imagine he can do this to the human will?

Interestingly, at the end of the book Horton employs the essence/energies distinction to critique a number of non-Reformed position. Even more, he draws upon Reformed scholastics who evidently employed something like it.

Horton has done heroic work. Milbank had offered a very challenging critique of Reformed ontology. Horton meets it head-on and and redirects it. He gives the most convincing (and charitable) critique of N.T. Wright.

Horton on Radical Orthodoxy

Horton, Michael.  Covenant and Salvation.

Covenantal Ontology: The pactum salutis is the intra-Trinitarian covenant made in eternity. It is realized in the biblical covenants. See also pp. 182-186.

Horton notes that Radical Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism presuppose something along the following lines: overcoming estrangement. By this he means a paradigm that promises enlightenment and a liberation of nature beyond itself (155).

Several times throughout this book Horton advances a critique of Platonic Divine Simplicity, but never calls it such. He has a section on John Milbank and offers a full-orbed convincing critique of Milbank. As readers of Milbank know, he is strongly committed to the neo-Platonic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity. To put the matter briefly, such a view of simplicity negates or mutes distinctions. Horton then goes on to say, “As speculative metaphysics (specifically ontological participation) swallows up the horizon, Christology is swallowed by ecclesiology, and redemptive mediation has to do with overcoming metaphysical binaries (finite/infinite,  spiritual,invisible/visible, corporeal/incorporeal, temporal/eternal, and so forth) rather than ethical and eschatological ones (sin/grace, death/life, condemnation/justification…this age/age to come” (165. /END EXCURSUS)

The book ends with placing the traditional Reformed ordo in a communicative context. Horton wants to avoid some of the hang-ups the Reformed scholastics had when they used medieval categories to challenge Rome. Instead, Horton argues we should use communicative categories, which makes sense since Christ is the Word. Horton suggests we should see effectual calling as a speech-act whereby God creates a new reality. This isn’t that bad a suggestion, since it mutes the charge that Calvinism forces a God who forces the unbeliever’s will. God does no such thing. Rather, he creates a situation, renewing the will (does renewal = violence? I hope not, 223). Throughout Scripture we see the Spirit “bringing things to life, into existence” (Ezekiel 37). Is it so hard to imagine he can do this to the human will?
Nota Bene: I know longer hold to Horton’s speech-act model, though the criticisms of radical orthodoxy obtain.

Review: Thinking in Tongues

This is from James KA Smith’s earlier days, before he became NPR’s token Christian thinker.  This book is actually good, which pains me to say.  Smith seems unbalanced in many ways since writing this book.  I think it is Trumpphobia or something.

Thesis: Pentecostal worldview offers a distinct way of being-in-the-world (Smith 25). Embodied practices carry within them a “tacit understanding” (27).

Is a Pentecostal Philosophy Possible?

Much of the chapter deals with the relationship between theology and philosophy.   The difference is one of field, not “faith basis” (Smith 4).  Smith gives us Five Aspects of a Pentecostal Philosophy:

  1. radical openness to God, or God’s doing something fresh.  
  2. An “enchanted” theology of creation and culture.   Smith means that we see reality not as self-enclosed monads, but realizing that principalities and powers are often behind these.  this entails spiritual warfare.  I cringe at terms like “enchanted” because it’s more postmodern non-speak, but Smith (likely inadvertently) connected “enchanted” with demons, which is correct.
  3. A nondualistic affirmation of embodiment and spirituality.  Smith defines “dualism” as not denigrating materiality.   Fewer and fewer Christians today do this, so I am not sure whom his target is.  Even chain-of-being communions like Rome that officially denigrate embodiment say they really don’t mean it.
  4. Affective, narrative epistemology.   
  5. Eschatological orientation towards mission and justice.

God’s Surprise

Some hermeneutics: Smith rightly notes that “The Last Days” (per Acts 2) is connected with “today” ( 22; we accept this model in eschatology but abandon it in pneumatology).  Smith wryly notes that Acts 2:13 is the first proto-Daniel Dennett hermeneutics:  offering a naturalistic explanation for inexplicable phenomena (23).   

Following Martin Heidegger, Smith suggests two kinds of knowing: wissen and verstehen, justified, true belief and understanding.  The latter is tacit and is at the edges of conscious action.

Per the dis-enchanted cosmos, Smith astutely points out that “There is a deep sense that multiple modes of oppression–from illness to poverty–are in some way the work of forces that are not just natural” (41).  In other words, spiritual warfare assumes a specific, non-reductionist cosmology.

Promising Suggestions

“What characterizes narrative knowledge?” (65)  

  1. a connection between narrative and emotions
    1. Narratives work in an affective manner
    2. The emotions worked are themselves already construals of the world
  2. There is a “fit” between narrative and emotion

There is a good section on Pauline-pneumatological accounts of knowing (68ff).  Anticipating Dooyeweerd, Paul critiques the pretended autonomy of theoretical thought (Rom. 1:21-31; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16) and that the Spirit grants access to the message as “true.”  

While I found his chapter on epistemology inadequate, he does say that we know from the “heart” as embodied, rational beings (58).  This isn’t new to postmodernism, but is standard Patristic epistemology.  

A Pentecostal Ontology

This section could have been interesting.  Smith wants to argue that pentecostalism sees an open ontology that allows the Spirit to move from within nature, rather than a miracle that is “tacked on” to nature from the outside.  He makes this argument because he wants pentecostalism to line up with the insights from Radical Orthodoxy.

I have between 50-75 pentecostal relatives who “embody pentecostal spirituality.”  I promise you that none of them think like this or are even capable of thinking like that.  I do not disparge them, simply because I am not to sure Smith’s project at this point is really coherent.  He wants to reject methodological naturalism (rightly) but argues for his own version of supernatural naturalism.

If Smith is successful, then he can show that pentecostalism lines up with quantum mechanics.  Okay.  Thus, nature is “en-Spirited” (103).  While I have problems with his “suspended materiality” ontology, Smith makes some interesting points: miracles are not “add-ons.”  They are not anti-nature, since “nature is not a discrete, autonomous entity” (104).  

That’s good.  I like it.

Tongues as speech-act.

We are considering “tongue-speech” as a liminal case in the philosophy of language (122).  Exegetical discussions are important (and ultimately determinative), but we can’t enter them here.  Smith wants to argue that tongues (T₁) resists our current categories of language and emerges as resistance to cultural norms.  I think there is something to that.

 T₁ as Phenomenology

There is a difference between signs as expression (Ausdruck) and those that do not mean anything (indications, Anzeigen).  Ausdruck is important as it means something, whereas Anzeigen serves as a pointer (127, Smith is following E. Husserl).  Husserl even notes that there can be signs that are not Ausdrucken nor Anzeigen.  This turns on the question: can signs which do not express anything nor point to anything be modes of communication?  

As many critics of Husserl note, his account of speech links communication with intention, so he has to answer “no” to the above question.  Or maybe so.  What kind of speech can there be that is not bound up with inter-subjective indication?  Husserl (and Augustine!) suggest the interior mental life.  Thus, signs in this case would not point to what is absent.  

Tongues as Speech-Act Attack

Utterances (of any sort) are performative.  While such utterance-acts do convey thoughts, sometimes their intent is far more. Let’s take tongues-speak as ecstatic, private language.  What does the pray-er mean to do?  We can easily point to an illocutionary act of praying in groans too deep for words.  We can also see a perlocutionary act: God should act in response.

Tongues as Politics

Oh boy.  Smith wants to say that tongues is a speech-act against the powers that be.  I like that.  I really do.  I just fear that Smith is going to mislocate the powers.  He begins by drawing upon neo-Marxist insights (147). However, without kowtowing fully to Marx, he does point out that Marx has yielded the historical stage to the Holy Ghost.

Tongues-speech begins as “the language of the dispossessed” (149).  This, too, is a valid sociological insight.  The chapter ends without Smith endorsing Marxism, which I expected him to do.  While we are on a charismatic high, I will exercise my spiritual gift of Discerning the Spirits.”  The reason that many 3rd World Pentecostals are “dispossessed” is because they are in countries whose leaders serve the demonic principality of Marxist-Socialism.  Let’s attack that first before we get on the fashionable anti-capitalism bandwagon.

(No, am not a capitalist.  At least not in the sense that Smith uses the word)

*Smith, as is usual with most postmodernists, gets on the “narrative” bandwagon.  There’s a place for that, but I think narrative is asked to carry more than it can bear.  In any case, it is undeniable that Pentecostals are good storytellers.  Smith wants to tie this in with epistemology, but he omits any discussion from Thomas Reid concerning testimony as basic belief, which would have strengthened his case.

Possible Criticisms

Smith (rightly) applauds J. P. Moreland’s recent embrace of kingdom power, but accuses Moreland of still being a “rationalist” (6 n14, 13n26).  Precisely how is Moreland wrong and what is the concrete alternative?  Smith criticizes the rationalist project as “‘thinking’ on a narrow register of calculation and deduction” (54).  Whom is he criticizing: Christians or non-Christians?  It’s not clear, and in any case Moreland has come under fire for saying there are extra-biblical, non-empirical sources of knowledge and reality (angels, demons, etc).  

Smith then argues that all rationalities are em-bodied rationalities.  That’s fine.  I don’t think this threatens a Reidian/Warrant view of knowledge.  Perhaps it does threaten K=JTB.  I don’t know, since Smith doesn’t actually make the argument.  Smith makes a good argument on the “heart’s role” in knowing, yet Moreland himself has a whole chapter on knowing and healing from the heart in The Lost Virtue of Happiness (Moreland 2006).

Smith elsewhere identifies aspects of rationality as the logics of “power, scarcity, and consumption,” (84) but I can’t think of a serious philosopher who actually espouses this.

Elsewhere, Smith says Christian philosophy should be “Incarnational” and not simply theistic (11).  What does that even mean?  Does it simply mean “Begin with Jesus”?  Does it mean undergirding ontology with the Incarnation, per Col. 1:17?  That’s actually quite promising, but I don’t think Smith means that, either.  So what does he mean?

Is Smith a coherentist?  I think he is.  He hints at good criticisms of secularism, but points out “that the practices and plausibility structures that sustain pentecostal (or Reformed or Catholic or Baptist or Moonie–JBA) have their own sort of ‘logic’,” a logic that allows Christians to play, too (35).  But even if coherentism holds–and I grant that Smith’s account is likely true, it doesn’t prove coherentism is true.  All coherentism can prove is doxastic relations among internal beliefs, but not whether these beliefs are true.  Of course, Smith would probably say I am a rationalist.

In his desire to affirm materiality, Smith seems to say that any religious materiality is a good materiality.  Smith approvingly notes of Felicite’s clinging to feasts and relics (36).  It’s hard to see how any one “Materiality” could be bad on Smith’s account.  But this bad account is juxtaposed with some good observations on the book of Acts (38) and tries to connect the two.

*Smith says that “postmodernism takes race, class, and gender seriously” because it takes the body seriously (60).  This is 100% false.  If facebook is a true incarnation (!) of postmodernity, may I ask how many “gender/sexual preference” options facebook has?  I rest my case.

*Smith waxes eloquently on the Pentecostal “aesthetic” (80ff), which is basically a repeat of his other works, but one must ask, “How does faith come per Romans 10?”

*Smith doesn’t miss an opportunity to criticize “rationalism” for separating beliefs and faith/practice, yet Smith himself seems mighty critical of those who focus on “beliefs” in their philosophy of religion (111).  Sure, most post-Descartes philosophy of religion is overy intellectual, but I do think the Reidian/Plantingian Epistemology model, integrates belief and faith-practice.


Review: Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa

Continuing in the line of Boersma’s larger “Platonic-Synthesis” project, he explores Gregory of Nyssa’s use of the body in his theology of sanctification. Gregory of Nyssa’s prism of sanctification is the concept of “anagogy,” which anticipates later Medieval hermeneuticsHans-Boersma-Gregory-of-Nyssa

Anagogy refers to the eschatological sense of meaning.  Boersma: “ For Gregory, “anagogical” exegesis refers not just to the end of history; rather, it speaks about the spiritual level of meaning in general” (Boersma 2).

Gregory’s theology is anagogical: “That is to say, for Gregory the purpose of life itself is anagogical in character. We are meant to go “upward” and “forward,” both at the same time, so as to participate ever more thoroughly in the life of God. Anagogy, then, is not just an exegetical practice or hermeneutical approach for St. Gregory. Rather, anagogy is our own increasing participation in divine virtue and thus our own ascent into the life of God” (3).

Boersma’s goal is to demonstrate how Gregory “goes beyond” the body in such a way that neither postmodernists nor those “overly-eager creation theologians” can claim Nyssen for one of their own.  Gregory believes in the goodness of the body, but only as the body serves as a training ground for the eschatological life.

Key to Gregory’s ontology is the Creator-creature distinction.  So far that is standard Christian metaphysics, but Gregory makes several unexpected moves.  For him, all of created reality, time included, is marked by diastesis–interval and division. This is crucial for his anti-Eunomian polemic:  There is no diastesis between Father, Son, and Spirit.

Everything in creation, then, is marked by diastesis. Will the saints’ life in heaven be marked as well? Boersma argues that Gregory would say no.  Key point: “does Gregory unequivocally affirm the measurements of created time and space—the extension of created life—or does he insist that in some ways they are obstacles to be overcome” (19)?

Scholars generally think that since diastema distinguishes Creator from creature, and since there will be progress in the eschaton, that diastema continues to the Eschaton.  Boersma demurs.  Rather, he argues that Gregory makes use of time and space (diastema) in the pilgrim’s ascent, but time and space is not the goal. We will have bodily existence in the eschaton, to be sure, but our bodies, being no longer marked by interval and distance, will be anagogically transpositioned.

How can Gregory say this? He can make this move because he defines matter as “the confluence of intellectual properties.” The general idea is this: If you abstract qualities from a person, the more you abstract, the less there is.  Matter is fluid.  Perhaps this is how the glorified can walk through doors.

The other chapters deal with exegesis (Textual Bodies), gender, death, virginity, and virtue.  A few comments: Nyssen believes gender is unstable.  By this he isn’t endorsing CNN or postmodernism’s anti-essentialism.  He is trying to make sense of the angelic life of believers in heaven in light of Galatians 3:28.

The chapter on social oppression reveals Gregory’s attacks on slavery and usury.


Boersma demonstrates himself to be one of the leading Protestant scholars on the church fathers.  Not only is the book high class scholarship, but the passages on Gregory’s use of the psalms are edifying and beautiful.

Call him not Pseudo-Dionysius

In terms of the developing Christian-Platonic tradition, this book is Plato at his near-finest. It marks a watershed in Christian reflection and will dominate Christian metaphysics for the next thousand years. In terms of authorship, it is certainly not Paul’s traveling companion, given that he quotes Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote after the turn of the century. Further, his discussion of monasticism reflects a reality that wouldn’t have been established until much later.

pseudo dionysius

Argument of book: whatever transcends being must transcend knowledge (593A).

The whole is reflected in the part: “Within its total unity it contains part and whole, and it transcends these too and is antecedent to them” (648C). Every part of the universe reflects God’s oneness. He is replicated and differentiated in the energies (is this the same as saying the Logos is replicated in the logoi?).

The Good shows forth the processions of God (680B). If we say the processions “go out” from God, we are speaking analogically, for the Trinity isn’t in a place, per se. The Good isn’t a being but excess of being. The Good returns (reditus) all things to itself (700A). All things desire it.

The source of every duality is a monad (721D). Every number preexists in the monad (821A). Every number is differentiated as it goes forth from the Monad. Every being derives from the Pre-existent. Being precedes the entities which participate in it. God is not a facet of being, but being is a facet of him (824A). The exemplars of everything pre-exist as a transcendent unity within God.

Mystical Theology

A negation is not simply the opposite of an affirmation, but that which is prior to affirmation (1000B).

Hierarchy = sacred order, activity or understanding (164D). Because the divine realities are invisible, they must be communicated and mediated through symbols.


As is usually the case with Platonic and Neo-Platonic literature, it is often soaring in terms of beauty. Ps. Dionysius’s discussion of the priest-as-hierarch needs to be seen as hyperbole. Few people are at that level of Being.

Further, his discussion of monks, not only reflecting situation that wouldn’t have arisen some centuries later than 70 AD, places the monk at the highest level of being.  But when you read Paul’s comments on the equality of believers and table fellowship, it’s hard to square the two.

Phenomenology of Spirit (Review)

Where to begin a review on a book of this magnitude? While this might seem like a difficult question, the easiest answer is also the most Hegelian: start anywhere, for you will end up in the final moment of the dialectic. (Any parenthetical citations in this review refer to the paragraph numbers in the Miller translation) With that said, let’s begin:

Preliminary notes from Charles Taylor (Cambridge, 1975)

The problem in Hegel’s time:  man as the knowing subject faced a number of divisions.

  • separated from nature, which he now sees as brute fact
  • what can bridge the gap between mind and world?
  • self-consciousness leads the individual to distinguish himself from his community.
  • opposition between finite (free will) spirit and infinite (fate) spirit.

The goal: philosophy is to understand how these divisions overcome themselves. Oppositions arise out of an earlier identity.  An entity cannot be utterly distinguished from its “Other” because it cannot exist on its own.  Taylor:  “It is not related to an other but to its other, and this hidden identity will necessarily reassert itself in a recovery of unity” (Taylor 80).  

Hegel rejects Greek dualism and almost stumbles upon a biblical Hebraism.  He sees the Cartesian project as inherently mechanistic and incoherent (what connects mind and matter?  Cartesians have never really answered this).

Unfortunately, Hegel still sees the idea of a mind/soul in a body as a “dualist temptation.”  He does admit, though, that it is foreign to Greek thought (81).  

Hegel is drawing upon Herder’s expressivism.  Thought, language, etc does not exist without a medium.  Thus for Hegel, the subject, no matter how spiritual, is necessarily embodied.  This is true up to a point, but runs into problems in two areas:  God/Geist is not embodied (at least not God the Father and the Holy Spirit, though Hegel gets around that) and the soul exists in a disembodied state after death.
[1] What does phenomenology suggest? Something like the external world appears to me in a certain way and/or my mind constructs these categories. If so, how would a phenomenology of spirit be possible, since spirit is usually not associated with the external world? This is why Kant’s noumenal distinction is wrong. Just what is it that appears in appearance? Appearance is the showing forth of what something is.

[2] The short answer: Reason recapitulates itself. It doubles back. Take the category of abstract being or reason or spirit. In the abstract it is an empty category. To say that something is says nothing specific about it. Yet, it is not Nothing. Therefore, oscillating between this “Being” and “Nothing” is Becoming, which can account for particularity.

[3] Therefore, Reason must Reflect upon itself and become self-consciousness. As Glenn Magee notes, “Speculative Philosophy holds up a mirror (speculum) to the Idea itself: it allows the Idea to comprehend itself (Magee 88). In fact, following the Kabbalist tradition, the “mirror” allows one to behold the deeper essence of Spirit (120).

[4] This leads to the infamous Master-Slave dialectic: simple awareness of objects cannot produce consciousness of self. We can’t just know objects. We must act and overcome on them. Self-consciousness is only achieved when our desire is directed on other desires: when we see ourselves in the other. The master is actually serving the slave because he depends on the recognition from inferiors. His identity is based on what inferiors think of him.

[5] We come finally to Absolute Spirit. It manifests itself in three modes: Art, Religion, and Philosophy. The first two are inadequate because they use sensuous images and can only approach from finite vantage points. But philosophy is able to give self-knowledge that doesn’t depend on picture-thinking.

[6] Substance becomes Subject. It retains self-consciousness’s own self and can now be a predicate. Spirit is the unity between Subject and predicate. When Spirit remains just substance, it remains an object to itself. Spirit must become subject by uniting and sublating the object.

[7] Being is no longer an abstraction, as in [2]. It is now Being-as-Spirit. Its previous determinations [read: those moments when x is contrasted with y] have since been sublated. Hegel gives us a reversed chain of being (cf Magee, The Hegel Dictionary).

[8] If Spirit is now universal self-consciousness, then it is community (Hegel 781). Logos has now been refracted outward.

[9] If [6] holds then we have something like Gnosticism: Spirit empties itself of itself and falls into substance. As Subject, though, it goes out of that Substance and cancels out the difference between objectivity and content (Hegel 804). Like some strains of Gnosticism, this is a “fall into otherness and multiplicity and a return by means of “finding myself.”

The Good in Hegel:

*He has a good epistemological insight that the knower is always involved in the known object.
*Hegel anticipated all of the good insights made by communitarians. We do not possess our identity intrinsically, but only in relation to something else. Identity will always involve difference because identity consists of relations.
*His stuff on community is very good.

The Bad

~From a theistic standpoint Hegel appears irreconcilable with traditional theism. Much of what he says, if on the level of created reality, is quite good, but when you move this to the nature of God we have all sorts of problems: process theism, open theism, patripassianism.

Works Cited

Magee, Glenn. Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.
—————–. The Hegel Dictionary. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge, 1975.