Towards a thesis on election

Not my final views, but moving towards them.

Bruce McCormack notes,

  1. The order of knowing runs in the opposite direction to the order of being.   This means before we “know” God we are operating with some abstract notion of “being” or “person” and projecting that onto God. As McCormack argues, “The consequence of this methodological decision is that the way taken to the knowledge of God controls and determines the kind of God-concept one is able to generate” (187). This leads to:
  2. Metaphysical thinking in “the strictest sense of the term.”  We are beginning “from below” and through an inferential process determining what God can be.
  3. Which means that we have a fully-formed (or mostly formed) concept of what God is before any consideration of his self-revelation in Christ.  As McCormack notes, “the content of Christology will be made to conform to a prior understanding of God” (188).  Natural theology has now given us a definition of God apart from God’s decision to elect, save, create, etc.  There is now a metaphysical “gap” between God in the abstract and the Triune God.
McCormack, Bruce.  “The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism.”Engaging the Doctrine of God, ed. Bruce McCormack, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008.
Does this mean that metaphysics and talk of substance is bad?  Of course not.  I do think, however, that if you remove a robust doctrine of revelation from the picture, you end up with the stale, metaphysical no-god (to allude to Barth).
If we posit a God beyond the God revealed, then we are left with the worst form of nominalism and skepticism.

McCormack writes,

“For Barth, the triunity of God consists in the fact that God is one Subject in three modes of being. One Subject! To say then that ‘Jesus Christ is the electing God’ is to say, ‘God determined to be God in a second mode of being.’ It lies close to hand to recognize that it is precisely the primal decision of God in election which constitutes the event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being. Election thus has a certain logical priority even over the triunity of God. [Quoting Eberhard Jüngel:] ‘Jesus Christ is the electing God. In that here one of the three modes of being is determined to be the God who elects, we have to understand God’s primal decision as an event in the being of God which differentiates the modes of God’s being.’ So the event in which God constitutes himself as triune is identical with the event in which he chooses to be God for the human race. Thus the ‘gap’ between ‘the eternal Son’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ is overcome, the distinction between them eliminated…. There is no ‘eternal Son’ if by that is meant a mode of being in God which is not identical with Jesus Christ” (pp. 218-19).

As Ben Meyers summarizes,

The event in which God chooses to be “God for us” is identical with the event in which God “gives himself his own being.” And this event of election is not located in any timeless eternity. God’s eternal decision coincides with the temporal event in which this decision reaches its goal. This coincidence – this event of utter singularity – is God’s being. Time, then, “is not alien to the innermost being of God” (p. 222). The time of Jesus Christ is the time of God’s decision – it is the primal time, the time of God’s eternal movement into history. There is no still-more-primal divine being which lurks behind this movement into history; God’s being is this movement, this effectual decision.
Bruce McCormack suggests that the best model for understanding Karl Barth’s theology is Realdialektik–God is indirectly identical with the medium of his self-revelation.  It is dialectical in the sense that it posits both a veiling and unveiling of God. God is unveiled in Jesus’s flesh, but since it is in Jesus’s flesh, God is in a sense veiled (McCormack 145).   This is another way of using Luther’s Deus absconditus.  Interestingly, this dialectic solves the postmodern problem of “Presence-Absence.”

What is Classical Metaphysics?

Barth’s project is in many ways an attempt to overcome the limitations of classical metaphysics.  Among other things, classical metaphysics (and it doesn’t matter whether you have in mind Eastern and Western models) saw the essence of God as an abstract something behind all of God’s acts and relations (140).  This view is particularly susceptible to Heidegger’s critique of “Being.”  It is also susceptible, particularly in its Cappadocian form, to Tillich’s critique:

 

Election and the Trinity
 
Barth navigates beyond this impasse with his now famous actualism.  Rather than first positing a Trinity and then positing a decision to elect, which necessarily creates a metaphysical “gap” in the Trinity, Barth posits Jesus of Nazareth not only as the object of election (which is common to every dogmatics scheme), but also the subject of election.  How can this be?  How can someone be both the elector and the elected?
For Barth the Trinity is One Subject in Three Simultaneous Modes of being (218).  To say that Jesus Christ is the electing God is to say that God determined to be God in a second (not being used in a temporal sense) mode of being…this lies close to the decision that [Election] constitutes an event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being (218).  Election is the event which differentiates God’s modes of being…So the event in which God is triune is identical with the event in which He chooses to be God for the human race”
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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

Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism

These are mostly fine essays illustrating to what degree Barth has been received by the American Evangelical community.

George Harinck gives a fascinating essay on how Dutch and American Neo-Calvinism reacted to Barth. In doing so, he gives new light on Van Til’s own career.

Barth and Van Til

DG Hart has a fun essay on Evangelicalism’s reading of Van Til’s reading of Barth. Van Til’s attack on Barth, at least the later one, was a confessional Presbyterian attack. As such, it was also an attack on Princeton’s modernism. This put neo-Evangelicalism in a tough position. For them, if Van Til offered a good critique of Barth and a defense of inerrancy, fine. If Van Til seemed to be arguing for Presbyterian Confessionalism, then he can take his quarrel elsewhere. (Here Hart explains why the OPC refused to join the NAE, to their everlasting credit). My own concerns with this essay is that I don’t think neo-Evangelicalism was truly enamored with Barth. Certainly not when Carl Henry led the movement. Later neo-evangelicals might have been, but by that time the PCUSA (or what would later become of it post-1967) had already apostasized. Simply tagging them as “Barthians” isn’t entirely accurate.

Barth and Kant

Bruce McCormack responds to Van Til’s reading of Barth. McCormack said Van Til misread Barth’s use of Kant. For Kant, the a priori forms organize our knowledge; they do not determine it (and so it is not true, per Van Til, that a Kantian couldn’t tell the difference from a snowball and an orange). In fact, Kant held to an empiricism as to the phenomenal world.

As McCormack notes, “Kant did not believe that knowledge is simply constructed by the human mind through the use of the categories of understanding. The categories provide the forms of knowing which help us to order sensible experience” (McCormack 369). In this case it’s not too different from Aristotle’s Table of Logic. For Barth, however, Kant ceased to be important after 1924, when Barth discovered the an/enhypostatic distinction.

The one strength in Van Til’s reading, however, is that Barth did admit that Hans urs von Balthasar’s position was similar to his own. If this is true, then it is fatal to Barth’s position. Complicating the matter is that Barth seems to say von Balthasar is correct. I think, however, that Bruce McCormack’s own reading of the two authors (Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology) shows that von Balthasar was wrong, despite Barth’s own views of his own readings.

Theological Issues

Pride of place, not surprisingly, goes to Michael Horton’s essay. Horton correctly reads Barth and focuses on the real issues, and not tired paths like “Did Barth hate the Bible” that we often see in debates with the Torrancian school. Further, Horton highlights the real problem with Barth: his tendency to collapse time into eternity (Horton 125). Barth is an Origenist, in other words. Though to be fair, it’s hard to see how the entire Platonic tradition isn’t prey to this critique. Horton builds on this critique: The Reformed rejected the medieval nature/grace dualism. Barth, himself an Origenist, falls back to it: grace is necessary before the Fall. Grace for Barth is mercy shown to those at fault. If this happens before the Fall, then creation is somehow at fault as well (Horton 133). Creation and the Fall are two aspects of the same event. This is Origenism, pure and unadulterated.

Horton also notes that Barth never actually said “Election constitutes the Trinity.” This is a correct reading, though, tipping my hat to Derrida, I think it is implied in Barth’s theology, pace George Hunsinger. However, I don’t think Horton truly pinpointed Barth’s opposition to the Pactum Salutis. If there is only one mind in the Trinity, as the classical tradition holds, how does it make sense for the Persons of the Trinity to make deals with each other, since they all have the same mind?

Horton rebuts McCormack’s reading of Barth’s objection to “substance” and “essence.” McCormack thinks substantialism implies a “something” behind the entity. When applied to God, this raises the question: so which God is the real God for us? Horton says, by contrast, that a substance is simply thing that can be predicated of (128n72). I think both are correct.

Horton ends with a good observation on Barth’s so-called Christomonism: “When Christology swallows the horizon, Christ is no longer central; he is the whole picture. He is not the mediator…but the Creator simpliciter” (144).

Barth and the Church

The Evangelical group that has been most interested in Barth’s view of the Church is the anabaptistic groups. They fault Barth for either not totally denouncing the “Civil Sphere as a Real Government” (Hauerwas) or not embodying the right practices (various emergent groups). In contrast to this cacophony, Barth appears rather stable. Mind you, I think his ecclesiology ultimately fails at the end of his career when he gives an anemic view of the sacraments.

Barth and Future Issues

There are a few essays summarizing the problems with Barth’s universalistic tendencies. They are fine essays but ultimately don’t advance any new conclusions. I did enjoy the essay on Radical Orthodoxy.

Conclusion

Some essays fell flat but most are quite instructive.