Chain of Being (Review)

Arthur Lovejoy analyzes a powerful if flawed concept’s “control” over Western mind since Plato. The chain of being is the continuum of “substance/essence/stuff” beginning with God (or Plato’s Good) and ending with either inorganic life or nothingness itself. The chain of being hinges around three concepts: plenitude, continuity, and gradation.

chain-of-being-multicolor
(photo courtesy of Christianciv.com)

Summary of the Idea

At the top of the chain is pure Being. At the bottom is pure nothingness. Further, Good is coterminous with Being. Thirdly, good is self-diffusive. So far this isn’t too bad. It becomes tricky when it becomes “ontologized.” a) the line between Creator and creature is fuzzy; b) if something is lower on the chain, is it less good? What’s the difference between less good and bad?

If there is an infinite distance between God and not-God, and all of this is placed on a “scale” or chain, then is there not an infinite distance between each link in the scale? This was Dr Samuel Johnson’s critique, and it highlighted the problem of the chain of being: reality had to be static and exist all at once. This called creation into question, since if the Good is necessarily self-diffusive, then it had to diffuse into creation. God had no freedom to do otherwise. Ironically, this Idea also called evolution into question: if there is an infinite distance between the links, then there is no changing from one link to another.

Analysis

This book’s value lies in its being a prime example of clear, penetrating thinking. In each chapter Lovejoy presents a new difficulty with the idea of a chain of being and the force is cumulative. The chain functions as a snapshot of the God-world relationship. Since God is perfect, and the chain is a diffusion of his goodness, and since God is eternally perfect, then we must see this eternal perfection. If not, we have to find “the missing link” (and is not evolution a mere temporalizing of the chain?)

Review of Dennison on Van Til

Dennison, William.  In Defense of the Eschaton.  Wipf and Stock, 2015.

This is a collection of essays dealing with Van Til and Education, with a few other themes thrown in.   Some essays are quite good, particularly the one on Genesis 2:15.  Unfortunately, it manifests all the weaknesses of Van Tillian thought:  inability to interact with recent developments in philosophy, attacking other schools because they don’t use the same jargon, refusing to understand what other Christian thinkers are getting at.

Some flaws aren’t as serious.  In the chapter on Plato, much of it was good but I am not sure what the pay-out was.  We got a good summary of Plato’s view on the soul, and we saw that some philosophers weren’t “Platonic” (though he never says who).  But all of this could have been found elsewhere.  Other flaws are found in most Van Tillian works: broad-brushing all of the opposition as “autonomous thought” without always spelling out how it is bad.

Dennison’s first chapter places Van Til (hereafter CVT) within the context of Continental vs. Analytic philosophy and it begins on a promising note. Few of CVT’s disciples are aware of this context and it makes these studies difficult. So we commend Dennison for that. Indeed, he notes the connection between Vos and CVT, and that connection is “the biblical story.”

So how does a “Vosian narratology” influence CVT’s thought? Dennison gives us an interesting suggestion, but only that. For him, CVT places epistemology within the realm of history (Dennison 28), which would be the biblical story. So how does that determine CVT’s apologetic? I think Dennison wants to say it means CVT sees man as either a covenant-keeper or breaker within the respective kingdom. So what does this have to do with Vos? I’m not sure.

Had Dennison stopped there the chapter would have been fine, even perhaps groundbreaking in a few parts. However, hee takes several shots at “analytic philosophy” and “Reformed Epistemology” and fundamentally misrepresents both.

He begins by noting there are two schools of analytic philosophy: logical positivism and linguistic analysis (23). I’m not so sure. Let’s take the greatest Christian analytic philosophers today: Plantinga, Swinburne, Craig. Where do they fit? They do not belong to either category. Even more, what does “Possible Worlds Semantics” have to do with Wittengstein or Vienna? Analytic philosophy today is a tool, not a totalizing approach. Dennison appears to read all analytics as following in Wittgenstein’s footsteps, whether early or late.

He notes some perceived problems with Reformed Epistemology. It doesn’t place Jesus as the beginning of epistemology (28 n69). Well, maybe, and Calvin didn’t use the transcendental argument for the existence of God, either. He criticizes Plantinga for failing to take account of the noetic effects of sin, and notes Plantinga’s Warrant and Proper Function. But Plantinga does take such into account in Warranted Christian Belief (see Plantinga, WCB 214). Did Dennison read Warranted Christian Belief?. Dennison rebukes it for its alliance with Common Sense Realism. Okay, so what is the problem exactly? In fact, what is Common Sense Realism? How are beliefs formed? That’s the issue. Simply chanting “Jesus is the starting point” tells me nothing on how beliefs are formed. And finally, he suggests Plantinga has affinities with Barth, but he gives no such evidence besides mentioning Plantinga’s paper on natural theology.

Criticisms

His review of Keller’s book was fine and I agree with most of his concerns. It was odd at a point. Dennison attacks Keller for holding to the “neo-Calvinist” scheme (168ff). What is this scheme? It is the story-line of Creation-Fall-Redemption. So what is bad about this? I think he wants to say that it makes us lose sight of heaven as our homeland? Let’s look at it.

Neo-Calvinist: Creation-Fall-Redemption and Jesus came to put the world to right.

Puritan Pietist: Heaven is our true homeland.

As it stands there is no contradiction between the two statements. Maybe all he is saying is that some Neo-Calvinists denigrate heaven. I guess. That’s an entirely different argument.

I would take it a step further: what or where exactly is heaven? Is “heaven” the final destination? How does this tie in with the New Earth? Elsewhere Dennison says that we are already in the age to come of a sorts (107). I agree. If that’s so, then there is no contradiction between Neo-Calvinism and Vosian eschatology.

The Good

Despite my criticisms, several essays are quite valuable. His notes on anthropology highlight man as an image-bearer (39). The imago dei is often missing from treatments on man’s essence.

He has some outstanding suggestions on the role of the Reformed apologist in light of his eschatological existence (107ff).

Conclusion:

This collection of essays is strong where Van Tillians have always been strong: eschatology, piety, and culture. It is weak where Van Tillians have always been weak: interacting with recent philosophy, fleshing out their views, etc. This is actually a three-star book, but Dennison’s essay on Genesis 2:15 was so good I bumped it up a star.

Van til and analytic philosophy

This is from the first chapter of William Dennison’s In Defense of the Eschaton.

Dennison’s first chapter places Van Til (hereafter CVT) within the context of Continental vs. Analytic philosophy and it begins on a promising note.  Few of CVT’s disciples are aware of this context and it makes these studies difficult.  So we commend Dennison for that.  Indeed, he notes the connection between Vos and CVT, and that connection is “the biblical story.”  

So how does a “Vosian narratology” influence CVT’s thought?  Dennison gives us an interesting suggestion, but only that.  For him, CVT places epistemology within the realm of history (Dennison 28), which would be the biblical story.  So how does that determine CVT’s apologetic?  I think Dennison wants to say it means CVT sees man as either a covenant-keeper or breaker within the respective kingdom.  So what does this have to do with Vos?  I’m not sure.

Had Dennison stopped there the chapter would have been fine, even perhaps groundbreaking in a few parts.  Sadly, he went on.  He takes several shots at “analytic philosophy” and “Reformed Epistemology” and fundamentally misrepresents both.  

He begins by noting there are two schools of analytic philosophy: logical positivism and linguistic analysis (23).  I’m not so sure.  Let’s take the greatest Christian analytic philosophers today:  Plantinga, Swinburne, Craig.  Where do they fit?  They do not belong to either category.  Analytic philosophy today is a tool, not a totalizing approach.  Dennison appears to read all analytics as following in Wittgenstein’s footsteps, whether early or late.

He notes some problems with Reformed Epistemology.  It doesn’t place Jesus as the beginning of epistemology (28 n69).  Well, maybe, and Calvin didn’t use the transcendental argument for the existence of God, either.  He criticizes Plantinga for failing to take account of the noetic effects of sin, and notes Plantinga’s Warrant and Proper Function.  But Plantinga does take such into account in Warranted Christian Belief (see Plantinga, WCB 214).  Did Dennison read Warranted Christian Belief?.  Dennison rebukes it for its alliance with Common Sense Realism.  Okay, so what is the problem exactly?  In fact, what is Common Sense Realism?  How are beliefs formed?  That’s the issue.  Simply chanting “Jesus is the starting point” tells me nothing on how beliefs are formed.  And finally, he suggests Plantinga has affinities with Barth, but he gives no such evidence besides mentioning Plantinga’s paper on natural theology.  

The recons flee defeated on Christology

Here’s the context behind my recent post on Rushdoony.  I participated on a facebook thread where several kinist-reconstructionists were attacking Eastern Orthodoxy.  That put me in an odd decision, for I, too, have criticized EO.  But their arguments were just bad.  Like if people used these in a debate with a formidable EO apologist, they would get massacred and people would probably leave (rightly) for EO.

So I went to play Devil’s Advocate.  I did this for several reasons. Outside of selected texts from Rushdoony and Van Til, recons read little to nothing outside their own tradition. And also given the current evangelical debacle on the Trinity, I want to show that we should spend more time on Patristics questions than getting angry about big gubbment. So I asked the question:

Isn’t Rushdoony a Nestorian because he separated the flesh of Christ from the worship due to the Divine Person?

Correct Answer: Yes.  Rushdoony said that and Ephesus condemned that.

And this point there answers revolved around several charges:

  1. You are a monophysite for accusing us of nestorianism.
  2. Rushdoony didn’t say there were two dudes in Jesus.
  3. Nestorius didn’t really believe that because Harold OJ Brown said he didn’t.
  4. If you disagree with (3) then that’s just your opinion.

I’m just glad it was me and not Jay Dyer or Perry Robinson.  It would have been a massacre of colossal proportions.  So let’s look at the charges.

~1. I asked them repeatedly to prove where I mixed the two natures of Christ.  No answer.
~2. Never said he did, but that’s not the problem with Nestorianism. Until John Robbins and Gordon Clark, no one thought Nestorius posited two dudes in Jesus.
~3. Brown was a great guy and a fine ethicist.  He just wasn’t a patristic scholar and the guys I referenced (McGuckin et al) have read the original texts from Nestorius and Theodore of Mopsuestia.  Nestorianism posits two acting agents in Jesus.  Not two dudes in Jesus.  It also separates the Person of Jesus, which is what Cyril condemned and what Rushdoony did.
~4. So I asked them to show where my reading of Nestorian sources was wrong and why a non-specialist has them right.  No answer.

So here is what the debate looked like:

Jacob Aitken Okay, tired of defense. Now on the offense: Did Rushdoony worship Nestorian Jesus?

Recon 1: No. Jesus died in His Manhood, not His Godhood. Just like He slept in His Manhood, but not in Godhood.

Jacob Aitken But did not Rushdoony say that you must separate the flesh of Christ from his deity? He writes,

 

<<But the Council made it clear that only God could be worshipped; not even Christ’s humanity could be worshipped, but only His deity. The humanity of Christ is not nor ever could be deified” (Foundations, 41).>>

 

This is precisely what the 3rd Council rejected, as Cyril notes., “he Only-begotten Son, to be honored with one-adoration together with his own flesh.”” Rushdoony unwittingly quoted this on p. 40. But even Berkhof cndemns Rushdoony (not by name) on this point. This means that the human nature of Christ, from the very first moment of its existence, was adorned with all kinds of rich gifts, as for instance…the grace and glory of being united to the dinive nature of the Logos, also called the gratia emenentiae, by which the human nature is elevated high above all creatures, and even becomes an object of adoration…[that’s deification, as we say] (p. 324)

Recon 2.. have you read Harold O. J. Brown’s “Heresies?” He offers a different take on Nestorianism.

Jacob Aitken. Long ago. Prof Brown was my ethics prof. I understand what he is getting at, but the modern understanding of what Nestorius taught is fairly well established. He believed in two-acting subjects in the incarnation. Cyril and the Christian faith believed in one acting agent.

Recon 1. Did Jesus sleep in His Godhood?

Jacob Aitken Question doesn’t make sense. The divine person slept. You can’t abstract the natures, which is what Rushdoony did. And for what it is worth, that’s also Reformed Christology, too.

Recon 2: I think charges of Nestorianism are going to be forever the complaint of those who nestle in Eutychianism.  And Brown tells us that Nestorious was falsely charged though some of his followers may have been guilty of the charge.

Jacob Aitken And with all due respect to my professor, he is incorrect. Nestorius taught two acting agents in the Incarnation. He held that the hypostasis was the synthesis of two prosopa.

Recon 2: Says you. I’ll stick with Brown’s assessment.

Me: Well, it is what every scholar on NEstorius and Cyril says. I don’t know what else to tell you. Brown was a genius at ethics but he is no Patristics scholar. That doesn’t mean the scholars are right. But if someone labors hard in Syriac and such,t hen they probably are.

Recon 2Shrug ^ … you don’t come to truth by counting “scholar” noses.

Jacob Aitken No, but by examining the documents, which is what McGuckin et al have done.

Recon 2: Come on … I shouldn’t even have to type this. Scholars differ and disagree upon examining the texts. It’s why this game is so fun.

Jacob And if you can point out where McGuckin and Fairbairn interpreted the texts incorrectly, and where Brown interpreted the same texts correctly, then I’m open to revision.

Recon 2 I’ll get right on that. Nothing else on my calendar except to rescue a facebook thread.

Jacob: rescue the thread or don’t. You are the one that asserted something. You can back it up or not.

Recon 3:  Jacob: aye, but there is a direct correlation in your wavering between Eutychianism and Reformed theology. Perhaps you can’t perceive it, but it is there. Has much learning made thee mad?

MeWEll, then point it out to me. Because I don’t see you really keeping up with te arguments. Where have I posited a mixing of the natures? Be specific.

Recon 3You might be surprised, but this thread isn’t all I had planned for today. Trying to multitask a bit here. Hyperfocused individuals aren’t the most productive ones, I’ve noticed.

MeYou are the one that accused me of flirting with a heresy.

Recon 3Yeah, well, reading 1,000 books a month, a body has a tendency to float in between doctrines. Ever read Lovecraft? Most of his protagonists were destroyed by their lust for knowledge as well.

Jacob Aitken So I take it you can’t back up your insinuations?

Recon 3Hey, you were the one who came on this thread as an EO apologist, Jacob. If the shoe fits…

JacobSo, no, then?

The rest of the debate is glossing WCF 8, but doesn’t add anything new to the discussion.

Van Til and a “thrown” world

Van Tillians love to say there are no “uninterpreted facts.”  All facts are already “pre-interpreted by God.”

Now, when you get them to explain just what a “pre-interpreted fact” looks like, that ends much of the discussion.  But I think we can take it a step further.

{1}  There is no such thing as a blank world.  Van Tillians have always been good on this point.

{2} Any such world we find ourselves in already has meaning from a host of relationships.

{3} These relationships constitute a finitude of sorts. We can never rise above our tacit assumptions.

{4} This finitude is embodiment.  We are not simply isolated intellects, but situated intellects–situated and embodied.  We are always embodied individuals and we experience the world as being-in-the-world (per Heidegger).  

{5} Worldview talk usually focuses on the intellectual.  And that’s necessary.  But w-v thinkers rarely focus on institutions and cultural practices.   Social structures and our bodily being-in-the-world also function in a “pre-theoretical” (per Dooyeweerd) manner.

Double

As Jamie Smith says, ““Affect and emotion are part of the ‘background’ I bring with me that constitutes the situation as a certain kind of situation” (35)” Antepredicative knowing–the affective register upon which narrative operates–is processed by the body below the cognitive level (Merleau-Ponty).

{6}  Pre-cognitive perception breaks down the traditional epistemology of subjects and objects.  “The world is not what I think, but what I live through” (Merleau-Ponty).  Our being-in-the-world is between instinct and intellect (43).  We aren’t just thinking-things.  “We don’t have being-in-the-world; we are being-in-the-world” (44).  

{7}  Horizon:  background presuppositions and habits.  Horizons operate without our thinking.  I do not consciously invoke my horizons in order to understand the world.  They are social and shared but not a priori or universal.

Recommended Reading.

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time.

Hans-George Gadamer, Truth and Method.

James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom.

Analytical Outline of Barth Bio

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

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

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

Problems with von Balthalsar

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

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

Barth as Anti-Bourgeois

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

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

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

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

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

Neo-Kantianism

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

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

Categories without content are formal and empty.

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

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

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

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

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

Belief in a Personal God

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

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

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

DIALECTICAL THEOLOGY IN THE SHADOW OF A PROCESS ESCHATOLOGY

The Righteousness of God

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

 

The Theology of Romans I

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

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

Origin (Ursprung)

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

Epistemology

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

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

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

DIALECTICAL THEOLOGY IN THE SHADOW OF CONSISTENT ESCHATOLOGY

Theology in a revolutionary age

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

Shift to a consistent eschatology

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

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

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

 

  • Romans I was a process eschatology.  

The Meaning of Crisis

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

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

Factors Contributing to Barth’s Further Development

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

Clearing the Ground: The Theology of Romans II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

EXCURSUS ON ETERNITY

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

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

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

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

The Problem of Ethics in Romans II

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

  • Ethics is grounded in Christology

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

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

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

 

Church as Locus of Judgment

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

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

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

Barth as Honorary Professor

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

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

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

Back to the problem of method

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

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

Gottingen Dogmatics

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

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

Deus Dixit

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Incarnation of God

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

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

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

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

Thesis 7: Barth affirms the Reformed view of communicatio

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

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

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

Predestination and Election

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

Professor of Dogmatics and New Testament at Munster

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

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

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

Fides quaerens intellectum

What’s new in Barth’s book on Anselm?

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

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

The Eternal Will of God in the Election of Jesus Christ

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

  • There is no  independent doctrine of creation and providence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nonexistent interview I did a while back

This interview never happened.  It is between me and myself.  On a more serious note, I have noticed that my philosophical readings do not fit into any specific category.  That is good, I suppose, since “joining a school” is not the best start.

Question: You have read Van Til, doesn’t that make you a Van Tillian?

Answer:  Not really.  I don’t find all of his apologetics convincing, but I do appreciate his reading of Greek and medieval theology.  I think he has a lot of promise in that area.  More importantly, Van Til, better than anyone else at his time, showed the importance of God as a Covenantal, Personal God.

Q.  But didn’t you used to promote Thomas Reid’s Scottish philosophy?  All the Van Tillians I know reject it.

A. There are two different “Van Tillian” answers to that question, and his reconstructionist disciples only knew one of them.  In Survey of Christian Epistemology (p. 132-134) he notes that if the Scottish school takes man’s cognitive faculties as a proximate starting point and not an ultimate one, then there is no real problem.  Further, we see Thomas Reid and Alvin Plantinga saying exactly that.   Elsewhere, however, Van Til was not as careful in his reading of Reid, and the reconstructionists read him as condemning Common Sense Realism.

Q.  So, is there a contradiction between the two schools?

A.  If the above distinction is made, I am not convinced there is.

Q. You keep mentioning Alvin Plantinga.  Are you a Reformed Epistemology guy?

A. I’ve read quite a bit of Wolterstorff and Kelly James Clark.  I like what they have to say.  I am not an expert on Plantinga so I have to demur at that point.  I do think there is a dovetailing between Thomas Reid and Plantinga, and if that convergence holds there is an exciting opportunity to unite Reformed guys along different epistemological and even geographical lines.

Q. What do you mean?

A. The guys in Westminster (either school) claim Van Til.  There is a debate on how well they understand him, but that’s beside the point. I think I have demonstrated above that there is no real contradiction between the two at least on the starting point.  This means that guys who hold to some variant of Common Sense epistemology and/or Van Tillian presuppositionalism do not have to be at loggerheads.

Q.  There is still one other Dutch giant you haven’t mentioned.

A.  You mean Herman Dooyeweerd, right?

Q. Correct.

A.  If you trace the development of the Reformed Epistemology school, you can find something like Dooyeweerd at the very beginning.  When Wolterstorff and Plantinga edited Faith and Rationality, they were at that time strongly influenced by Dooyeweerd. I am not saying that’s where they are today.   However, I do believe that Dooyeweerd’s contention that all men have a pre-theoretical “faith commitment” from the heart is in line with what Kelly James Clark and Van Til say about pretended neutrality.