Best of the Blog 2015

Here are some of the most-viewed posts/posts I enjoyed the most that I wrote this year, excluding my note-taking posts (I was going to try and do a recap of the books I’ve gotten/read this year but I really have completely forgotten exactly which ones I’ve acquired in 2015):

It’s technically a series, but for present purposes I’ll count my review of Katherine Sonderegger’s ‘Systematic Theology’: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Final Things. I won’t rehash my review(s), but I’ll simply state that this was one of the most enjoyable and challenging readings I’ve done in a while. On that note, here are two more non-review posts I did interacting with Sonderegger (among others): The Gift of a Name and Speaking of God

Karl Barth was a big theme here as well, and I did two posts putting him in conversation with N.T. Wright: Barth, Wright and Election and Theology’s Biblical Dilemma. I also enjoyed writing on The Prolepsis of the Son and the Eternity of the Hypostatic UnionSome Quotes and Comments on the Natures and Wills of Christ in Barth was also a favourite of mine, written specifically against the accusation that Barth endorsed monothelitism. And finally, A Promise From Time Eternal rounds out the Barth category.

This year I also enjoyed reading David Luy’s ‘Dominus Mortis’, and wrote two posts interacting with it:  The Solidarity of Impassibility and Luther, Nestorius, and Medieval Christology (which was a good deal of fun to write).

Another big theme (though this is kind of broad) was the intersection of reason, logic, science, the emotions and concepts: The Logic of CommittmentTheory-Ladenness, the Given, Intellectual Passion and Theory DevelopmentConceptual Metaphors, Neuroscience and the Structure of Our Experience and Thomistic-Wittgensteinian Concept Formation and a Problem For Naturalism.

General philosophy (mostly philosophy of mind and philosophy of science) were touched on as well: Rational Reality and Inherent IntelligbilityThe Causal and the MentalRussell Against the PragmatistsHumean, All Too Humean and Virtue, Narrative, and the Moral Identity. Since it’s a bit of an oddball, I’ll put The Natural Theology of Negation here as well.

All in all, a pretty decent year for reading and writing. I hope you enjoy, and here’s to a happy and productive 2016.

Sonderegger on God’s Existence

‘Long before Kant, Thomas knew that “existence is not a predicate”. Being is rather the reality of an essence, its instantiation. In this Thomas affirms the fundamental axiom of Anselm’s Proslogion: this very Name is realized, is actual, mens et in res. There is, then, no common class that binds all existing things together as such, as things that are. Rather, each substance is actualized as itself: its essence exists. Now, God is His existence. His essence and existence are one, and God is therefore the Necessary Being. Just this is what it means for God to “have life in Himself”. God’s reality then is utterly unique. God’s Oneness does not add to His unique Reality; it is not “a number” nor an addition or “accident” to His reality. Rather, Unicity just is His being. God does not “share being” with all that is, nor is He supreme among them. God is real, utterly and perfectly and ineffably real. That is what we must say and alone may say of the Living God. God is not a member of genus being, then, in this rich and radical sense.’ (Katherine Sonderegger, ‘Systematic Theology’, p. 34-35)

Strawson on Kant’s Synthetic A Priori

‘Kant nowhere gives an even moderately satisfactory account of the dichotomy between analytic and synthetic a priori propositions; nor can any be gleaned from his casually scattered examples. Among propositions generally counted as a priori there are, of course, many distinguishable subclasses; and in the history of controversy surrounding such propositions, many philosophers have followed Kant at least to the extent of wishing to restrict the title “analytic” to the members of one or more of these subclasses. But it is very doubtful indeed whether any clearly presentable general restriction of this kind would release into a contrasted class of synthetic a priori  propositions just those types of propositions Kant’s epitomizing question was meant to be about. We can enumerate, as belonging to this intended class, truths of geometry and arithmetic and supposed a priori presuppositions of empirical science. But we can really form no general conception of the intended class except in terms of Kant’s answer to his epitomizing question. What Kant means in general by synthetic  a priori propositions is really just that class of propositions our knowledge of the necessity of which could, he supposed, be explained only by mobilizing the entire Copernican resources of the Critique, by appealing to the model of “objects conforming to our models of representation”, i.e. to our sensibility’s constitiution and understanding’s rules. Since, as I have already argued, nothing whatever really is, or could be, explained by this model – for it is incoherent – it must be concluded that Kant really has no clear and general conception of the synthetic a priori at all.’ (P.F. Strawson, ‘The Bounds of Sense’, p. 43)

Theology’s Necessary Propositional Content

Either Gods revelation does or doesn’t have some degree of propositional content. If it does, then it can be ‘analyzed’ if we make that content explicit. From there, we can examine the propositional content in such a way that it can either be rejected or accepted. If it can be accepted, then it is true, and if its true, then it’s a fact. And thus, we can comprehend it. This wouldn’t turn on rationalism vs. empiricism – you’d have to argue that revelation doesn’t have propositional content – which is quite a thing to argue – in order to falsify it. And if it’s argued that revelation qualitativly different, then it’s a stretch, if not entirely false to call it propositional, and if it can be known as true or false, then it’s not qualitativly different.

This Christmas, Seek Barth Where He May Be Found

UPDATE:

Today (13 December 2015) $5 off on all stocking stuffers – mugs, tote bags, phone cases – as well as free worldwide shipping!

image

You’ve skimmed parts of Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Brushed over IV.1 Ignored all of III. Forgot where you were in I.2. But you still can’t find Karl Barth. Well, friends, that’s because you have to seek Barth where he may be found. But where, you ask, can he be found? Look no further!

barth

Perhaps on a coffee mug, which holds the caffienated liquid you need to skim over the small print of the CD!

Perhaps on a clock, which reminds you that it’s time to start skipping over the Latin and Greek quotations you can’t read!

Perhaps on a pillow, where you can rest your head while you anticipate waking up to read more Church Dogmatics!

Perhaps on a smartphone cover, where you have selections from the Dogmatics saved to quote to your friends when they ask you a theological question!

Perhaps on a t-shirt, so that you can proudly spend an hour or more explaining who the guy on your t-shirt is!

The possibilities are almost endless (and you can even get all the same things with Moltmann’s face and a quote on them, but he’s super wrong so you don’t need to bother).

molt

These nifty gifties all feature an image designed by my wife and come in all kinds of colours – more info can be found by clicking one of the links above. Take a look, see what you like, and make it possible for my wife to make more cool theologically themed designs.

Merry Christmas (even if you buy something with Moltmann on it)

– Joshua

A Promise From Time Eternal

A good deal of Barth’s (in)famous thought on election can be seen as an answer to a question that presented itself to both Augustine and Athansius – the question of just how God can promise eternal life from before time eternal. This question is, interestingly enough, not asked in Scripture but simply given as a reality in Scripture in Titus 1:2 – ‘the hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before time eternal.’ The question, then, as it presented itself to Athanasius, Augustine, and Barth, is how can God make a promise to men who did not exist before time eternal?

Barth begins to answer this question by an exegesis of the opening of the book of John. This puzzled me for a while, because Barth moves from fairly standard thinking on John 1:1-2 – affirming that the Word is Jesus, was with God, etc etc – to arguing that if Jesus is the Word, then He is election, the decree of God and the beginning of God’s movement towards man. This is quite a leap, and Barth fleshes it out by moving from John to Colossians, where he notes that the Godhead was pleased to dwell in Jesus, and is the firstborn of all creation:

‘Thus in Col. 1:17 we read that the Son of God – the Son in concreto and not in abstracto, Jesus Christ, who is the head of His body, the Church – this Son is “before all things” and “in Him all things consist”. It was, in fact, “the good pleasure of the fullness of the Godhead” (and here the concept of election is quite clear), to take form, or to take up residence in him…It is, then, only by way of explanation of His being as the God who is conceived of in this primal, original and basic movement towards man that Heb. 1:2 (like Jn. 1:3, 10) says concerning Him that He whom God “appointed heir of all things” is the one “by whom also he made the worlds” and Heb. 1:3 that he upholds all things by the word of his power” and Col. 1:16 that “by him were all things created, that are in heaven, that are in earth, visible and invisible…’ (Karl Barth, ‘Church Dogmatics’, II.2 p. 98-99, emphasis mine)

So Barth here identifies the ‘good pleasure’ as God’s election and movement towards man – but later on he goes further and identifies as not just the object of the ‘good pleasure’ but as the ‘good pleasure’ itself – the very will of God in action is identified with Jesus.

‘If that is true, then in the name and person of Jesus Christ we are called upon to recognise the Word of God, the decree of God and the election of God at the beginning of all things, at the beginning of our own being and thinking, at the basis of our faith in the ways and works of God.’ (p. 99)

Barth has, then, by way of John through Colossians and Hebrews, identified Jesus as the Word of God and the ‘good pleasure’ of God in taking up his residence in him, and thus as the election of God.  Thus, Jesus = Word = election, all of which cashes out to God’s original movement towards man. How, though, does this answer the original question posed? The question we can reiterate in Athansius’ words:

‘…how could He have predestined us to sonship before man was created, unless the Son had been laid as a foundation before time was, and had undertaken to provide a way of salvation for us…and how could we receive anything before times eternal, we, creatures of time, who did not then exist, unless the grace appointed for us had already been deposited in Christ.’ (p. 109)

Augustine’s answer, according to Barth:

‘But Augustine – and in this we must at once follow him – also looked upward to the place where the incarnation, the reality of the divine-human person of Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world and all other reality, is identical to with the eternal purpose of the good-pleasure of God, and where the eternal purpose of the eternal good-pleasure of God which precedes all created reality is identical with the reality of the divine-human person of Jesus Christ. He looked upwards to the place where the eternal God not only foresees and foreordains this person, but where He Himself, as the presupposition of its revelation in time, is actually this person…it is in this Word that before times eternal life could be and actually was promised to man, even before man himself existed at all.’ (p. 108)

‘He (Athanasius) saw that the election of the man Jesus and our election, with all the grace and gifts of grace which this includes, have their “foundation” as he himself says, in the eternity of the Word or Son, an eternity which differs not at all from that of the Father…with Athanasius the decree, or predestination, or election, was, in fact, the decision reached at the beginning of all things, at the beginning of the relationship between God and the reality which is distinct from Him. The Subject of this decision is the triune God – the Son of God no less than the Father and the Holy Spirit, And the specific object of it is the Son of God in His determination as the Son of Man, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, who is as such the eternal basis of the whole divine election.’ (p. 110)

The question is then answered by identifying Jesus as the Word, and the Word as God’s movement towards man and God’s ‘good-pleasure’ in dwelling fully in Jesus. If Jesus is truly the eternal Word of God, then the promise from time eternal is grounded in this reality of the eternal Word in His determination as the Son of Man.