The Once and Future Verdict



The doctrine of justification is a doctrine that covers a single history with two distinct (but not separate) aspects: the now (the once) and the not yet (the future).  This history is the history of Jesus Christ as it takes up our own history in a mighty act of God. The once refers to the objective reality of justification that Christ has brought about – a reality in which all are dead and risen, accused and pardoned. This once and for all event, this once and for all act of God, is true of us whether we apprehend it and receive it or not. Continue reading


Raiders of the Logos Asarkos

In his review of George Hunsinger’s recent book, Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal, Matthias Gockel makes an interesting comment in a footnote in the context of God’s relation to the world and and God’s being in himself. He says there that:

Occasionally, Barth himself seems to forget his own insight, for example, in the passage CD IV/2, 345–346, where Election is simply an opus ad extra, in distinction from God’s triune being as opus ad intra,while the identity of Election with Jesus Christ is overlooked. (How to Read Barth with Charity, in Modern Theology, p. 265n.13 )

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Moving Some Furniture Around in Mary’s Room

As far as important papers in the philosophy of mind go, Frank Jackson’s Epiphenomenal Qualia and What Mary Didn’t Know are pretty high up on the list of must-reads. They’ve spawned a mass of literature devoted to picking apart just what Mary did or didn’t know made all the more intriguing because Jackson himself later distanced himself from the argument. Every possible response to the argument has been (seemingly) given, and there’s ample reason to regard anyone writing on it the same as someone writing on substance dualism – interesting, no doubt, but somewhat well-worn.  Continue reading

Some Bonhoeffer Reflections

Since today is the remembrance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom, I thought I’d offer a few reflections on his theology – these are all reposts of thing I’ve already written. At any rate, here they are:

This was a fruitful conversation I had on the Facebook some time ago.

These are my thoughts in response to Kevin Davis’s perceptive series on Bonhoeffer.

Here’s one of the first in-depth posts I wrote on Bonhoeffer’s (in)famous ‘world come of age’ idea. Here’s part two.

Here’s why one of my favourite lines from Bonhoeffer is ‘Here, at least, what we call God is needed’

My thoughts on Bonhoeffer’s somewhat ambiguous ‘religionless Christianity’. Richard Beck’s post, with which I interact in my own post, remains one of the best expositions of Bonhoeffer’s theology I’ve found.

I wrote a short post comparing the theological methodology of Bonhoeffer and Torrance here.

I compare Calvin and Bonhoeffer’s doctrine of the knowledge of God here.

And, finally, one of the first things I ever wrote on Bonhoeffer and his christology.

Anyway, that’s all for now. If you know of any more good posts, link them in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Dispatches from the Barth Wars

It’s quiet. Too quiet.’ – Peppy Hare


An uneasy silence broods over the battlefield at the moment. The artillery has quieted, the troops have hunkered down. Those just arriving to the conflict would do well to consult this intelligence before advancing any further. There’s a lull in the Barth Wars, and the best use of such lulls is to regroup and see just exactly where we are.

The most recent book-length salvos in response to the revisionists, Paul Molnar’s Faith, Freedom and the Spirit and George Hunsinger’s Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermenutical Proposal appear to me to have hit their targets right on. For Molnar, everything turns on the freedom of God, a subject which he has written on extensively before (a second edition is on the way). Molnar stakes everything on divine freedom, a freedom which he sees as being obliterated if the revisionists are correct. Molnar’s Barth is a Torrance-ian Barth and an ecumenical Barth right in line with traditional Christian theology.
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Revisiting the Protestant Theory of Religion

Some time ago I wrote on what I called the Protestant Theory of Religion. I won’t reiterate that post here, but I got some pretty good feedback. In fact, in the comments, Derek Rishmawy made some interesting-ish observations and posed a couple of challenges. I want to interact with one of them here and perhaps develop a more well-rounded view of the PTOR – with the intent being to open up space more than defend a hard and fast conclusion on my part. Continue reading

Ruminations on Essences and Modal Epistemology

A neo-Aristotelian account of modal epistemology is one which is built on the idea of essences – that is, prior to both ontology and epistemology is a things real definition:

…one way to understand real definitions is to take them to be expressed by propositions which tell us what a given entity is or would be. (Tuomas Tahko, An Introduction to Metametaphysics, p. 163)

An essence is a things real definition – it is what it is, to put it another way. The cash value of this is basically that to know an essence is simply to know what a given thing is:

To know something’s essence is not to be acquainted with some further thing of a special kind, but simply to understand what exactly that thing is. This, indeed, is why knowledge of essence is possible, for it is a product simply of understanding, not of empirical observation, much less of some mysterious kind of quasiperceptual acquaintance with esoteric entities of any sort. And, on pain of incoherence, we cannot deny that we understand what at least some things are, and thereby know their essences. (Lowe, Two Notions of Being, p. 39, quoted in An Introduction to Metametaphysics, p. 164)

An interesting question for an epistemology of essence identified by Tahko is just how much of an essence do we need to grasp in order to have an accurate picture of its existence and identity? A question I would add is, does this leave room for error if we take ‘grasp’ to have a classical Aristotelian meaning, where the mind abstracts the universal from the particular. Another area where I’d question is exactly what the role of the empirical is here, especially when regarding natural kinds like gold – where does the a priori start and the a posteriori start, or vice versa? The above is clearly a priori and largely rationalistic, and so would bode well for modal epistemologies of, say, abstract objects (as well as counterfactuals, with which most modal epistemology is done), but what of actual, concrete objects, for which empirical data is needed? To what extent are our conterfactuals constrained by the empirical?

I don’t want to go so far as to say that we need an account of essences, at least in Aristotelian terms, because there’s a lot of metaphysical baggage there that can be questioned, but a neo-Aristotelian account of essence may certainly help as far as modal epistemology goes. Tahko goes on to suggest a combination of both a priori and a posteriori but is somewhat pessimistic about how well the distinctions actually serve here. The payoff here, however, is that an account of essences may serve to bolster a modal epistemology by combining the empirical with the rationalistic. Timothy Williamson suggests that ‘constitutive facts’ (basically, background knowledge that stays constant when we consider counterfactuals) may play an important role. Constitutive facts ‘fix’, as it were, our modal considerations by showing that any counterfactual without such a constitutive fact would generate a contradiction (gold having a different atomic number than 79, for instance). Tahko suggests that an account of essences would supplement an account of constitutive facts by showing us just what facts actually are constitutive – thus, we can think of essences as non-modal constitutive facts.