Against Narrativity

In a fascinating essay, ‘Art and the Moral Realm’, Noël Carroll argues that art is a valuable component of our moral reflection, and he argues that in particular narrative works of art shape our moral reflection in a unique and profound sense. This is so primarily because we have to see or configure our lives as narrative in order for them to have any significance:

‘…to answer the question of whether our life is worthy, we need a holistic sense of it, and that holistic sense is best captured by narrative – an incomparable device for organizing or colligating or collecting the diversity of our experiences into a unity. To see our lives as significant requires at least an ability to configure them as meaningful stories. But whence do we learn the skill of rendering or configuring our lives as meaningful narrative?’ (‘Art and the Moral Realm’, in ‘The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics’, p. 133)

The answer to this question Carroll finds in the exposure to other narratives, bildungroman, where we learn how to best how to configure our lives into a meaningful unity:
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Sondergger vs. Barth on the Sinlessness of Christ

In her contribution to ‘Theological Theology: Essays in Honour of John Webster‘, ‘The Sinlessness of Christ’, Katherine Sonderegger looks at a variety of ways of thinking about the doctrine non posse peccare. In its own right it’s a fantastic essay, focusing primarily on Aquinas, with a glance at liberation theology as well as patristic theology. She also sketches out her own approach which closely follows the classical accounts (namely, that Christ did not and could not sin), which she develops in light of and against Karl Barth and Edward Irving’s understanding of Christ’s assumption of fallen human flesh. It seems to me, though, that her own approach is marred by a serious misreading of Barth, and it’s on this specific aspect of her essay that I want to focus on.
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Book Review: ‘The Holy Trinity – God for God and God For Us: Seven Positions on the Immanent-Economic Trinity Relation in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology’

The Holy Trinity – God for God and God For Us: Seven Positions on the Immanent-Economic Trinity Relation in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology‘, by Chung-Hyun Baik

Pickwick Publications, 234 pp. $20.80

The debate surrounding the immanent/economic Trinity is a hot topic right, and will, in all likelihood, continue to be a hot topic for some time.  Chung-Hyun Baik gives us with this volume a solid lay-of-the-land of the contemporary scene with the goal of providing a constructive ay to move past current impasses. Seven positions are examined by way of eleven contemporary theologians: Barth, Rahner, Moltmann, Pannenberg, Jenson, Leonardo Boff, William Norman Pittenger, Joseph A. Bracken, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki,Catherine Mowry LaCugna and Jung Young Lee.

The book is broken up into six chapters, the first of which is centered on ontology, epistemology and mystery in the contemporary debate. Here a brief look is given at these three topics within the contexts of biblical theology, philosophical theology, systematic theology and historical theology. Some well-known names such as Barth, Rahner, Kant, Grenz, Lossky, Jungel all make appearances here as well as Baik fleshes out the extent to which Trinitarian theology has become the focal point of theological reflection and engagement.
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Emergentism and the Problem of Psychological States

Emergence in the philosophy of mind is one of the more popular positions on the contemporary philosophical scene, and I myself have strong sympathies towards it. I’ve considered it to be one of the very rare philosophical doctrines that gives appropriate weight to both philosophical as well as scientific ideas – an example being John Searle’s commitment to seeing consciousness and the mind in general as biological phenomenon (I’m not a naturalist myself but I do think his heart is in the right place.
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Balthasar, Barth, Sonderegger and Divine Spatiality

Hans Urs von Balthasar opens his seminal study on Gregory of Nyssa with a chapter on the idea of ‘spacing’ – or, more precisely, he opens his study with an observation of an apophatic nature: the creature is not God. This seems somewhat obvious and perhaps even trivial, but it’s fundamental in his concept of spacing. Space, for Balthasar, is roughly the character of the creature that establishes quantity and number. It denotes the non-identity of the material world – non-identity being another way of denoting the material worlds created-ness. To think in terms of space is, then, to think apophatically. The world and the creature are created and this is set against God, who is uncreated. This is the sharpest possible distinction that can be drawn. The creator/creature distinction, Balthasar says, is a ‘fact of creation’ that is the ‘limit’, as it were, of finite being:
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Descartes’s Original Sin

In his essay, ‘Naturalism in the Philosophy of Mind’, in ‘The Engaged Intellect’,  John McDowell, drawing primarily on Wilfrid Sellars distinction between the space of reasons and the space of placement in nature, argues that there are essentially) two kinds of naturalism. One is a strict naturalism, committed conceptualizing the mind – specifically, the acts of thinking and knowing – in terms of natural laws . This is set in contrast to Sellars’s idea of the space of reasons, which is a space of justifying and being able to justify what one says. Both of these kinds of naturalism accept, obviously enough, that the mind is natural or a part of nature, but against the strict naturalist view of the mind, McDowell sets thinking and knowing firmly within the space reasons, where he argues that they ‘are concepts of occurrences in our lives’.
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Book Review: ‘Trinitarian Theology After Barth’

Trinitarian Theology After Barth‘, edited by Myk Habets and Phillip Tolliday

Pickwick Publications, 418 pp. $36.80

I love books of essays. Spaces can be opened and explored in a collection of essays in ways that can’t be done in a monograph, and this volume is no exception. Focusing on three main themes – theology with Barth, theology after Barth, and theology beyond Barth – the essays here all engage, in one way or another, the doctrine of the Trinity.

After a brief foreword by John Webster, the first theme, theology with Barth, is composed of four fantastic essays by Paul Molnar (‘The Role of the Holy Spirit in Knowing the Triune God’, which went on to form a large section of his latest book, ‘Faith, Freedom and the Spirit’), Ivor J. Davidson (‘Divine Light: Reflections After Barth), Murray Rae (‘The Spatiality of God’), and Bruce McCormack (‘The Doctrine of the Trinity after Barth: An Attempt to Reconstruct Barth’s Doctrine in Light of His Later Christology).
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A Conversation on Theology Learning From Philosophy

Fellow blogger Kevin Davis and I recently had a stimulating conversation on the Facebook on the very broad issue of theology learning from philosophy – here’s the edited version, with my words in bold:

There’s some tentative steps being taken towards integrating some aspects of Philosophy of mind with theology, with regard to the Incarnation – how, for example would we fit in Jesus and classical two-natures christology into a contemporary understanding of mind – but right now its baby steps. Part of the problem is that PoM is a very, very technical field (and I’m definitely no expert), and the sub-fields can be even more obscure and dense. Especially once to get into the continental stuff, which is just (at times) ridiculous. Even still, granting some work towards getting theology and PoM to talk to each other, its usually not very integrative. It ends up being X theory of mind poured over Y theory of Incarnation – like chocolate syrup poured over vanilla ice cream, instead of integrating the two together or even coming up with an entirely new theory or framework.  I guess, in short, what theologians need to do is actually be able to converse with it in a way that isn’t just theological supremacism, and try to develop, in fluent conversation with PoM, a theological understanding of mind that could be set within the context of Christian doctrine.

The specialization of which you speak is really the culprit for why the two disciplines ignore each other. I had an email exchange with a philosophy of religion guy who was bashing systematic theology guys for ignoring what’s happening in philosophy. That’s a worthwhile criticism, of course, but I basically told him that until philosophy can move beyond its dozen or so impasses and give us a cohesive vision (Hegel and Kant being the last examples of this) then theologians have no compelling reason to move beyond their own confines. Even the recent resurgence of scholasticism is only a historical retrieval, by and large, and not a seriously constructive endeavor in our time.

I think part of the issue there turns on just whether or not theology, or to what extent, theology can be or should be informed by other disciplines. A philosopher of religion may want a theologian to pay attention to developments in philosophy of religion , but most theologians, almost by definition, are going to argue against that kind of interaction. Lots of contemporary Protestant theology is like that. There are exceptions, though. James KA Smith has done some work along these lines, but even he tends to just put out a ‘Christian pragmatism’, which, like I mentioned earlier, isn’t really a method to write home about. 

Are you arguing that philosophy ought to be a more Systematic endeavor than it currently is? I generally tend towards the opposite nowadays. I’m not sure if philosophy is the kind of thing that’s meant to be systematic.

Yes, I think philosophy should be more systematic and wide in scope. As such, it would be far more interesting. Yes, theologians for the last two centuries have worked hard to secure the independence of theology as a science in its own right and with its own objective ground and with its own criteria for making truth claims. So, as for whether theology should be “informed by other disciplines” I would want to know what the object and criteria are for the discipline in question. If it is linguistics, for example, it can be very useful for theology, even while theology maintains perfect fidelity to its object. I would say the same for much of science and perhaps for much of philosophy of mind.

Hm. I guess it would depend on how we mean ‘systematic’ here. If we mean a body of work that is largely consistent in theme, content, method, etc, then I agree. I’m not much for the idea of systematic philosophy in the style of systematic theology, though. I think the two have different subject matter (however this may cash out). Theology has a much more determinate set of answers, whereas in philosophy and metaphysics its a question as to whether or not determinate answers can even be had.

That’s a good point about “determinate set of answers” and, of course, the means by which those answers are given or acquired. It’s true that when it comes to metaphysics, which would surely be a fundamental feature of any systematic philosophy, the theologian has plenty of reasons to worry — especially if that theologian has any gravity toward Barth. Nonetheless, it is surely an impoverishment today that we do not have a Plato, that is, someone who can speak of the “transcendentals” of our being, even if the theologian must come along and revise the material.

To give you another example, Iris Murdoch was very influential for me in my philosophy courses at UNC-Charlotte, especially her book ‘The Sovereignty of Good’, though she is best-known for her novels. Murdoch was an atheist, but she strenuously sought for a credible account of reality. And even under Barth’s majestic spell, I am free to use Dame Iris in my theology, and Barth would approve.

I see part of the issue as being just exactly what we mean by ‘use’ or ‘revise’. Pelikan gives a good account of this kind of revising in ‘Christianity and Classical Culture’, where he examines the Capposicians use, modification and rejection of the philosophy of their day (not entirely dissimilar from what Barth did). I tend to feel that it ends up cashing out to a mostly conceptual use, which is vulnerable to charges of just being linguistic, in which case, I wonder, can we really say we are ‘using’ said ideas?

That’s an interesting question, but I don’t think it reduces to concepts or language. There is “material” in Plato or Murdoch’s concept of the Good that is retained (or, better yet, grounded) in the Christian concept. As I see it, this is what Balthasar was doing with all three divisions of his “trilogy.”

True enough. My objection is overstated. Another significant aspect is that not only does theology have necessarily determinate answers, its answers are also normative and binding in a way that metaphysics and philosophy isn’t (or perhaps even can’t be). The theological judgments of Niceae and Chalcedon are normative and determinative – a theory of the mind or a theory of substance isn’t, at least not in the same way. If it is, then we’ve simply replaced theology with philosophy.

This is the really difficult part of this whole discussion, and I don’t have a ready answer. It relates to my master’s thesis at Aberdeen, where I tried to discern Newman’s claim that dogmatic “certainty” is unique in regard to its object but similar in regard to broader epistemic certainty (e.g., “Great Britain is an island” — Newman’s example) in how the mind is settled or satisfied. Or else, how would we know it is certainty? Or how would we know what “certainty” or “knowledge” (vs. “opinion”) even means? This is still a quagmire for theologians.
A quagmire indeed. One wonders of there isn’t a bit of Cartesian-ism floating about here in the sense if being preoccupied with method (as Francesca Murphy noted in ‘God is Not a Story’).
Both Francesca and Webster — my two professors at Aberdeen — would tell me that. But I still can’t shake it. We do not need to be interested in method as a Cartesian (the self is the basis of truth) in order to be interested in method (knowledge needs subject-critical criteria). How can the object provide the method for this criteria? That’s where theologians are stumbling. Catholics have the advantage of having the church (a magisterial institution) as part of the object; Protestants do not. This is why Gnosticism or something like “radical” “actualism” is always a danger for Protestantism.
As far as contemporary theologians go, this is something that irks me – a failure to actually engage in these distinct fields (I’m not directing this at you or Murphy or Webster). There’s lots of talk about ‘radical metaphysics’, ‘evangelized metaphysics’ and the like. But no one wants to do metaphysics, or epistemology in the way that such radical-ness would require. Because most radical things end up looking suspiciously like ideas that already are common coin, they just come with a side of ‘accept it or your not in line with (my interpretation, usually Hegelian/apocalyptic, of the) Gospel. And that’s not revisionary, its just lazy.
Somebody asked a similar question recently on whether ‘evangelizing metaphysics’ is a legitimate task. I had roughly the same answer:

(1) No, because ‘evangelizing metaphysics’ = accept how I interpret the Bible or you’re an idolator, as evidenced here. Jenson is just as bad. (2) For all the talk about evangelizing metaphysics, no one actually wants to evangelize metaphysics. They want to talk about vague ‘natures’ or why ‘substance’ is the devil. If theology is to evangelize metaphysics, it needs to start by engaging with metaphysics, actual metaphysics, not what theologians think metaphysics is. This means that an evangelized metaphysics would need to be able to answer specific metaphysical questions and problems – for example, what would an ‘evangelized metaphysics’ say about Quines rejection of the a priori? Or identity theory? Or whether metaphysics is a discipline that has determinate answers? Or the ontology of abstract objects? Or problems in modal logic? Answers to these questions have to be more than standard answers with ‘God’ tacked onto them to be deserving of being called ‘evangelized metaphysics’. (3) I’ve yet to see an actual argument for why we need ‘evangelized metaphysics’ that doesn’t turn on prior assumptions that typically aren’t questioned.

I would, however, want to lay some blame on the philosophers, as I did above. You rightly say: if theologians want to “evangelize” metaphysics, they need “to start by engaging with metaphysics, actual metaphysics” — but this is where the theologian is left questioning. Whose metaphysics? (to quip on MacIntyre) Is there such a thing today? Is it coherent and worthwhile or just a flash in the pan? Does it command a following and a school of serious disciples? If philosophy is not a wasteland of reductive strategies to “unmask” power, then what is it in the academy today? There are contrary voices, of course, but the theologian finds it exceedingly difficult to hear amidst the cacophony.
That’s a good corrective. And, of course, there is no shortage of debate as to whether or not metaphysics is worthwhile. And, given dramatic changes in just what metaphysics means over the last hundred years, this makes it even more difficult. There really isn’t an easy answer.

Book Review: ‘Crucified and Resurrected’, by Ingolf U. Dalferth

Ingolf Dalferth ‘Crucified and Resurrected: Restructuring the Grammar of Christology

Baker Academic, 2015, 352 pp. $45.00

‘…it is not the tangible historical Jesus in isolation who is the point of reference, and thus the topic, of christological confessions, but Jesus Christ raised from the dead by God.’ (p. 25)

‘…Christology reflects on the significance of the raising of the crucified one for our understanding of the person of Jesus, and it explicates the basis on which the triune God can be known.’ (p. 36)

‘Trinitarian thinking is therefore essential to christological thinking: in order to perceive the divine basis of Jesus Christ’s being for us, God must be apprehended from a trinitarian perspective.’ (p. 155)

In ‘Crucified and Resurrected: Resurrecting the Grammar of Christology’, Ingolf Dalferth seeks to show that christology is, first and foremost, about God, and not, as has been traditionally assumed, the Incarnation. This is a densely argued volume that requires (but repays) close reading, and even after a fairly close reading I can’t claim to fully grasp every single point Dalferth makes.

The foreword of the book makes it clear that Dalferth sees Christian dogmatics not aiming at knowledge of God but rather as studying the divine action that orients and changes human life. This should be borne closely in mind as the book is read, because to confuse this volume as a work of speculative theology would be to misread it entirely. In a nutshell, this work is concerned with the practical, not the theoretical.

‘Crucified and Resurrected’ opens with a chapter on the Incarnation, specifically within the context of a volume edited by the late John Hick entitled ‘The Myth of God Incarnate’. Dalferth surveys by way of Hick various attempts to fix the referent of christological confession to the man Jesus of Nazareth, and concludes that any such attempt founders for the reason that a fixation on the historical element leads to a minimization of the importance of soteriology and eschatology. Here is where we see a hint of where Dalferth will be going later in the book:

‘The Christian salvation experience does not stem primarily from what the christological confessions declare concerning Jesus; it stems from the fact that they declare it concerning him. Christians confess Jesus as Son of God, Lord, Savior, Word of God, and so on, for this reason: they know him to be  the one who was crucified and whom God raised…this means that, in order to give logical structure to christological confession, their content must always be construed as a statement concerning the one who has been crucified and raised…faith in Jesus Christ focuses not on a figure from the past but on a present person: the Christus praesens [Christ present] of the Christian proclamation’ (pp. 23-24).

Dalferth draws the chapter to a close by noting three steps towards a structure for doctrine: (1) asking what it means for Jesus and our understanding of Jesus that God raised him from the dead (2) asking what the cross and resurrection mean for God and our understanding of the God that Jesus proclaimed and (3) asking what God’s activity in the cross and resurrection means for us and our world as well as our understanding of ourselves and our world (loose paraphrase of pp. 32-35).

The second chapter focuses on the cross and resurrection, and the basic theme here is twofold: (1) the cross is ‘soteriologically silent’ without resurrection (p. 45) and (2) the topic and reality of the resurrection confession is God’s divine action. Key to Dalferth’s second thesis here is that we can speak of God’s activity only via speech models or figuratively, because such divine activity simply doesn’t fit within any kind conceptual descriptions:

‘God’s activity, like God himself, evades all observational assessment and conceptual description. Thus we can speak of him only figuratively, with the aid of images and thought and speech models taken from our experience, in order to render God’s activity intelligible and to make it possible to communicate the experience of his actions verbally.’ (pp. 70-71)

‘In early Christian resurrection confession, God’s action at the cross of Jesus is described figuratively, using words from our experience-based, every day language to say that Jesus was awakened or stood upright. Such expressions suggested themselves because they provided a rudimentary explanation the incomprehensibility of what God had done for Jesus, using the image of waking a sleeper or lifting someone lying down to his or her feet…'(p. 76)

The third chapter focuses on Jesus Christ and what Dalferth takes to be three key issues surrounding the construction of any christology: who is Jesus? What is this Jesus for us? How can he be what he is for us? Dalferth cashes these questions out to mean, respectively, Jesus’ identity, Jesus’ salvific significance, and ‘the divine basis of the being of Jesus Christ for us’ (p. 84)

The first issue is explored by a detailed examination of a number of New Testament texts and biblical themes, the richest of which has to be Dalferth’s foray into Jesus’ identity as the Son of the Father, from pp. 104-120. Two things jump out at me: (1) it’s within this section that we see one of the, if not the most, significant explanation of Dalferth’s hermenutic and (2) we see a concrete payoff of his idea that christology is fundamentally about God. The first can be seen here:

‘It is not the semantic content of the individual appellations, titles and images as such that is decisive christologically; it is their Christian use for confessional purposes, packaging together (semantically explicable) references to Jesus, to God, and to the confession persons.’ (p. 105)

I’d call this a Wittgenstein-ian view of things: the meaning of the terms is their use in the community and not their referring to a given reality. The second can be seen here:

‘First, it must be stated systematically that to speak of the Son (of God) is to speak of God as Father: it is only our designation of God as Father that affords theological significance to our reference to the Son. But if the Son image depends for its substance on the Father image of God, then it is an implication of this particular God concept and, as such, tells us first and foremost something about God himself. The decisive theological factor is thus neither the image nor its application to Jesus in themselves but what is being said about God in applying it to Jesus.’ (p. 108)

The overall point of this chapter and perhaps this entire book is, in my opinion, given expression by the two quotes above.

The second issue, that of Jesus Christ’s significance for us, looks at what Dalferth calls ‘soteriological images’ – Lord, Christ, and Son of God – and concludes that:

‘Jesus’s salvific significance thus consists in the fact that God brings about our salvation through him and his Spirit. God defines himself in him and through him as the one who draws so near to us as love that we are able to live wholly out of his presence and to thank him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (p. 131)

The third issue, the divine basis of what Jesus Christ is for us, explores the truth-conditions for christological statements – basically, rules for ensuring that we are talking about very God and very man in a way that preserves God’s free divine action. Dalferth names three: (1) ‘No statement about Jesus Christ is accurate unless it gives unqualified credence to the fact that this is the story of a real person in a specific and non-negotiable historical situation’, (2) ‘No statement concerning Jesus Christ is accurate unless it unreservedly affirms that the substance and character of God’s nearness, and thereby our salvation, have been uniquely and irreversibly revealed in this particular life story,’ (3) ‘The historical and eschatological-soteriological truth conditions for christological statements are not only paradoxically adjacent; they are interrelated according to a specific order of precedence.’ (pp. 133-134). Dalferth finishes this chapter up with a look at three patterns of christological thought – the temporal, the perspective, and the rhetorical – that he sees as attempting to link these truth conditions together.

The fourth chapter focuses on the Trinity, Christian confession and the idea of God. Here is where Dalferth makes some fairly controversial moves, in my opinion. He defines God’s essence as ‘totality of his potential relationships with the other’, (p. 169) and goes on to argue that we can know God only in an a posteriori manner, which he redefines as a retrospective kind of knowledge since we ‘only gaze after him when he has passed us by’, p. 183). He sees the term Trinity as not denoting ‘the subject matter dealt with by the doctrine of the Trinity; it summarizes the complex of rules that aid this doctrine in explicating the grammar of the Christian use of “God”‘, (p. 222). These are, to me, fairly interesting though as I said controversial theses. It’s never made quite clear, however, just what the content of the idea of God is supposed to be. Dalferth insists that God must give the conditions for his conceivability and knowability (p. 166) – and few would disagree with this – but as far as the actual content of the Christian idea of God, I’m left wondering what exactly it is.

The fifth and final chapter on the salvific significance of the death of Jesus examines the extent to which Jesus’ death can both be seen as a sacrifice as well as the extent to which thinking on the death of Christ is governed by the theme of sacrifice. Dalferth has his sights set those who are willing to only think of Christ’s death within the categories of sacrifice, citing Tübingen theologian Harmut Gese as a representative of this position, and by examining the New Testament texts concludes that no one single theme or category can do justice to Christ’s death, where he draws on Bultmann to make his case against Gese. This seems to be to be a solid conclusion if somewhat trivial. However, Dalferth here makes what I take to be the most controversial move in this book: the elimination of sacrifice as a soteriological category altogether, a category which he argues reduces the crucifixion to a ritual killing to appease God, which he sees being the position of (to cite one example) the Ausburg Confession. In a nutshell, Dalferth argues that the category of sacrifice undergoes a ‘christological revision’:

‘Christ represents the end of sacrifice and the sacrificial cult because he stands for the purification and reordering of the disrupted, damaged fellowship between God and humanity, which should have been restored, purified and reordered through sacrifice but has now been restored, purified and reordered once and for all in an entirely different way that will hold for all eternity: God’s eschatological self-mediation on the cross and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.’ (p. 298)

This chapter, however, is in my estimation the weakest. Dalferth’s interaction with the New Testament is limited to a small handful of verses – what of Revelation, where Christ is explicitly presented as a sacrifice, for example? What of various texts which portray the Christian life as a life of sacrifice patterned after Christs sacrifice? It seems that Dalferth’s methodology forces him to ignore a substantial numbers of texts that would disagree with his thesis and perhaps even disconfirm his thesis.

This last point is something of a troubling trend in methodology in the book as a whole. For example, when discussing the image of ‘inheritance’ with respect to the relation between the Father and Son, Dalferth seems to be somewhat reductionist here: in his explication of the imagery of ‘inheritance’ Dalferth has effectively stopped talking about the actual idea of ‘inheritance’ and cashes it out in terms of how Jesus understood the eschatalogical nearness of God, which, while not wrong per se, does feel a bit thing. Is this perhaps a case the biblical material being forced to fit within Dalferth’s interpretive method? To boil all the biblical ideas of ‘inheritance’ down to the idea of God’s nearness seems to me to be doing violence to the actual text.

Another potential problem looms when one considers the ‘meaning is use’ approach to Christian language Dalferth takes. It’s never made entirely clear, for example why specific images over others are used or should be used – they just are used, and that’s that. And if the semantic content isn’t decisive but just the use of the images, then what does it really mean to say that God is near, or father, other than the terms being rules for how we talk about the nearness of God? It may be objected that Dalferth is sticking to biblical images, but given what I see as reductionist tendencies, couldn’t any term be used, if it can be fit into Dalferth’s method? It seems like a door is opened to a psychologizing of theology, and if not a psychologizing, then surely a functional-ization. Here and there Dalferth will invoke liturgical practice, but the closest I see him getting to a full explanation is on p. 123, where Dalferth states that christological titles such as ‘Lord’, ‘Christ’ and ‘Son of God’ are given precedence simply because they are more suitable as models for preaching and reflection. This seems to be somewhat arbitrary.

A third criticism I’ll offer deals with Dalferth’s concept of the knowledge of God, which, as stated above, is retrospective. If knowledge of God is only retrospective, then it seems that knowledge of God, despite Dalferth’s insistence on the practical implications of such knowledge, is a primarily cognitive activity. If we only know God retrospectively, then is all our knowledge simply self-reflection? Dalferth assures us that knowledge of God is grounded in God through the Spirit, but given the lack of explicit articulation as to how the Spirit enables this knowledge, I wonder how this knowledge of God isn’t reduced to self-reflection.

As a whole, this is, to restate, a very dense and very closely argued book. There is a great deal of solid and interesting material here, especially when Dalferth moves through the logic of the various titles of Christ, for example. There is much to think on – should either the incarnation or resurrection take precedence in theology, or are they two equal events? Just what should the idea of God look like within such a grammar? Is the concept of a God whose essence is a totality of relationships a coherent idea? And herein lies what I see as the great strength of the book: while the constructive proposals don’t seem as strong, the critiques of traditional doctrines and ways of thinking about these doctrines will force those who hold to them to reflect quite seriously on them. Dalferth has written a demanding and closely argued volume that should be read by anyone interested in the grammar of Christian dogma and the role that the Resurrection has and (according to Dalferth) should play within the context of the Christian life.

**NOTE** I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for a review which in no way guaranteed a positive review

The Slavery of Kant’s Maxim

Kant’s Maxim is well known in philosophy – perhaps one of the most well known maxims in philosophy, in fact. Roger Scruton calls the moral philosophy within which the maxim fits ‘one of the most beautiful creations the human mind has ever devised’, (‘Modern Philosophy’, p. 286). And yet, despite the liberating intentions of the maxim, a strong case can be made for the idea that the maxim is a slave-master more than a liberator.

The maxim itself is a short one: ‘Act only on that maxim which you can will as a law for all rational beings.’ Our actions refer to reason alone, discounting any and all empirical considerations. This is how Kant derives the universal validity of his maxim such that by doing what reason demands of us we are doing something that is binding on all rational beings.

‘The demand of reason is a demand that I respect reason – that I allow reason the final say in my decisions. This means respecting reason not only in myself, but also in others. All rational beings have a claim to my respect, and this too is a fundamental axiom of morality. I cannot override another’s reason, as though it counted for nothing. I must try to persuade him, to secure his rational consent for those projects in which we are engaged together.’ (‘Modern Philosophy’, p. 285)

Kant’s moral philosophy presupposes freedom in order to make sense of our fundamental moral intuitions, the most important of which is the idea that something ought to be done – call this ‘duty’. Contained within the idea of duty is the idea of being able to fulfill it. Etienne Gilson notes how this leads to positing some difficult ideas in Kant’s moral theory:

‘Now, to be able to determine oneself according to a certain law is to be free. Consequently, freedom must be presupposed as a property of the will of all rational beings. Moreover, since man is not free as a member of the world of sense, it is to be supposed that man, as a moral agent, is a member of another world, purely intelligible, where no sensible motives can interfere with the exigencies of morality. We are thereby confronted with the necessity of accepting, as inseparably connected with practical reason, certain theoretical positions wholly “withdrawn from any possible insight of speculative reason.” The will to act from pure respect for duty postulates the possibility of a perfect moral order; if that order is impossible in this life, it has to be possible in another; hence the soul is immortal. Again, such a perfect moral life, undisturbed by the ceaseless strife between reason and sensibility, must needs possess happiness – happiness, not as the end of morality, but flowing from it. And what is moral law as cause of eternal happiness if not God? Thus God is posited by practical reason, which means that reason has to posit His existence, although speculative, or theoretical reason can know nothing about it.’ (Etienne Gilson, ‘The Unity of Philosophical Experience’, pp. 188-189)

The difficulties that arise as a result of these postulations are well-known, but the most obvious is that when taken to their conclusion, Kant ends up with a picture of man torn between living in the order of nature and in the order of morality, since both orders are, as Gilson notes, bound to the same man.

The most severe difficulty, though, is that in trying to preserve a freedom for man to act rationally, Kant ends up a victim of dogmatic (in the worst sense) theology, forced by his own morality to postulate things for which there can be no reason other than necessity to believe in.

‘Failing a rational justification of morality, and granting that morality is inseparable from human life, there is nothing else to do but take morality as a self-justifying fact. But when morality does not flow from what we know, it becomes free to prescribe for us what we ought to believe…having refused to hold metaphysical conclusions on metaphysical grounds, Kant had been necessarily dragged from metaphysics, to ethics, and from ethics to theology.’ (‘The Unity of Philosophical Experience’, pp. 187-191)

Thus, by attempting to derive a universal morality grounded in pure reason alone acted on in freedom, Kant, by way of his maxim, is the victim of dogmatism. Such is the slavery of Kant’s maxim.