Reading Notes 1/4/2015

I received ‘Paul and the Faithfulness of God’, Christmas eve, and finished the first volume in roughly 7 days – lots to think about. While I’m onboard with most of what Wright argues, I think he seriously overstates the theme of Israel’s national failure – partly because, at a textual level, the evidence he needs just isn’t there. Arguing from the implicit to the explicit is fine – but when every lack of data is brushed off with ‘the implicit narrative’ or ‘every second-temple Jew would have known this’, there’s a problem. Wright’s thesis is strained, at best – the texts he argues from (largely Romans 2:17-23 among others) simply don’t support his idea. I don’t even think he needs it, honestly. I wonder if he’s holding on to said thesis just for the heck of it. For a much more scholarly critique, see Larry Hurtado. It was nice to see him town down some of the anti-imperal rhetoric and relegate it to a somewhat more implicit role (somewhat).

I’ve been reading Pelikan’s Reformation volume, along with various writings of Luther, trying to get a handle of Lutheran dogmatics – christology, specifically (communication of attributes and all that). Christologically, I’d side with the Lutherans over the Reformed (who really do have some Nestorian tendencies), though the Lutherans have their own Eutychian leanings. When it comes to the law/covenant, though, Reformed wins every time. Even allowing for Luther’s rhetoric, I can’t get behind his idea of the law being an ideal that huamnity can’t attain, and in virtue of that, driving one to Christ. Two great web resources on this specific issue: Concordia Theology and Lutheran Theology

I forgot that I had a volume with the major christological dogmatics of Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazanien, and Athanasius, as well as all the major christological documents from the post-nicene controversies – Nestorius/Cyril, Leo’s tome, Chalcedon/Constantinople statements, Arius/Eusebius, etc. I’ve been reading the Nestorius/Cyril exchange, as well as the various christological statements.

My Cambridge Companions to Aquinas, Augustine and Plato have all arrived – I’m about halfway through the Augustine volume, which is fun because I’ve never really read and secondary work on him aside from an article here and there. It’s good to get a better handle of Augustine – though funny enough, as sophisticated as his metaphysic is, his theology is pretty blunt – ‘God damned you. Deal with it.’ But seriously though – good volume. Excellent article on the nature of God – so far that’s the standout. There are essays on his epistemology, philosophy of time, memory, language, cognition, etc. Looking forward to it.

I’ve also been reading a good amount of sci-fi short stories, starting with basic Star Wars (the ‘Tales From’ series) and branching into space opera, reading from this great volume. Lots of great old stories – it’s especially interesting reading the ‘harder’ sci-fi from older periods. In one instance, the ‘ether’ was said to have currents, waves, etc, that spaceships could get sucked into – lots of great fun.

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How I See Barth

This comes in the context of a facebook discussion, where the issues of Barth being a modalist, his trinitarian theology and doctrine of election were brought up.

So the issue here basically gets into to very fundamental aspects of Barth’s theology, election and trinity. Barth locates his discussion of the trinity at the beginning of the Dogmatics, and he very quickly rejects the term ‘person’, because he doesn’t think its possible to define it in a way that doesn’t lead to tritheism. He opts for ‘modes of being’, instead, which is generally recognized as not being a very helpful definition since the first thing anyone thinks of is modalism. He uses this language because he sees it as a way to protect the one-ness of God while at the same time recognizing the other ‘modes of being’ – the Son and the Spirit.

Barth’s overall trinitarian theology follows his theology of revelation closely – there is the revealed, the revealer, and the revelation, which would map onto God, the Spirit, and Jesus. He thinks backwards from the given of God’s self-revealing – for this revealing to have taken place, what must be true of God? From there he arrives at the basic structure of his trintarian thought. Barth is also very big on perichoresis – the inter-relations of the Father, Son, and Spirit – as being constitutive of the being of the Trinity. This can be the source of confusion – since he rejects all the language of ‘persons’, it can look incoherent, as a lot of people seem to have thought.

Now, with regard to election. This is Barth’s most original contribution to modern theology (though there are anticipations of it in the early church) because he completely dissolves the classical problem of the ‘absolute decree’ and completely reverses the typical order of election. Instead of God electing some humans and sending Jesus to save them, God eternally elects Jesus. In Christ, we have the eternal will and grace of God. Jesus is election, predestination – and in him all humanity are elect. So, in a sense, the question of:

‘Does that not posit election of humanity as a necessary part for God to be Triune? ‘

…has a real grain of truth to it, but we have to quickly add this: God does elect humanity from all eternity in Christ. Christ is election, grace, and the will of God. There is no ‘God behind the back of Jesus’, no hidden decree, no secret will – there is Jesus. This election of grace, however, is *free* – a free movement of grace, which has its origin within God himself and is not conditioned, constrained, or obligated by anything outside Godself. It is not necessary but free in the deepest possible sense. There is room in Barth for more Hegelian interpretation – determining, becoming, event, etc – but I don’t personally buy into it, because it does lead to all sorts of things like creation being a necessary aspect of God’s becoming, which is quite problematic.

Notes on the Importance of the Resurrection to Justification

– The importance of the resurrection to justification can be summed up thus: ‘he was raised for our justification.’ Ergo, no resurrection, no justification.

– Justification = the vindication of the crucified son, in which we share as we die, are buried, and raised with him.

– Jesus as representative: what is true of him is true of his people.

– Hence, after we are dead, buried and raised with him, we share in his vindication and new life.

– We thus become (embody) the righteousness of God

– We are justified ‘in Christ’ – we share ‘in his’ vindication so that ‘in him’ we can embody the righteousness/faithfulness of God revealed in Christ and the Gospel

T.F. Torrance on the Unity of the Divine and Human in Christ

”The hyper-Calvinist, however, argues in this that, that in Christ’s life and especially his death on the cross, the deity of Christ was in repose. He suffered only in his humanity. On the cross, Christ merited forgiveness for all mankind. It was sufficient to cover the sins of all, for it was of infinite worth, but it held efficaciously only for those whom the Father had given him. We shall examine later the difference between ‘sufficient’ and ‘efficacious’, but here we must look at the relation posed here between Christ in his human nature on the cross and God in heaven. If Christ acted only in his human nature on the cross and God remained utterly apart and utterly transcendent, except that he agreed in will with Christ whom he sent to die, then all that Christ does is not necessarily what God does or accepts. In that case the sacrifice of Christ may be accepted as satisfaction only for the number of the elect that God has previously chosen or determined. But if God himself came among us in Christ his beloved Son and assumed upon himself our whole burden of guilt and judgement, then such an arbitrary view would be impossible. And we must hold the view that it is indeed God *himself* who bears our sins, God become man and taking man’s place, standing with humanity under the divine judgement, God the judge becoming himself the man judged and bearing his own judgement upon the sin of humanity, so that we cannot divorce the action of Christ on the cross from the action of God. The concept of a limited atonement divides Christ’s divinity from his humanity and thus rests upon a basic Nestorian error.’ (T.F. Torrance, ‘Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ’, p. 184-185)

Thoughts On the Bible As Story

– The first thing to note when thinking of the Bible as story is that, by modern standards, it bears little to no resemblance to a story. Caution is in order, since it is very easy to simply relegate Scripture to the status of ‘story’ and thereby make it that much easier to be held at arms length.

– For example, there is little focus on the emotional/psychological states of the characters – the texts tend to focus on the external actions of the characters and the consequences of said actions. There isn’t a linear plot – while there are indeed large trajectories present in Scripture, these don’t really take the form of dramatic plots (exceptions do exist, of course), they don’t really take the form of a story with a centralized plot.

– In fact, a good deal of Scripture isn’t really narrative in any sense – one would be hard-pressed to fit Leviticus or Paul’s epistles into the category of narrative. Other parts are more easily seen as story – Esther, Ruth and a good deal of the Old Testament definitely fit into some kind of story category.

– It may actually be a bit more productive to think in terms of ‘trajectory’ rather than ‘story’, considering that Scripture has its telos in Christ, a fact which is seen by reading the Bible backwards, as it were.

– This seems to make a good deal of sense to me, since there are multiple trajectories which can be traced in the Scriptures. The Messianic themes, for example, seem better explained as trajectories, paths towards an end, than as stories.

– This raises the issue of the role of canon, which isn’t something I’m really informed enough about to comment on other than I see it being fairly significant.

T.F. Torrance on Personal Onto-Relations

‘Here we have a distinctive element in Scottish and Reformed theology which dates back to Duns Scotus’ development of the concept of the person as it emerged from the Trinitarian teaching of Richard of St. Victor, and was passed on through Duns Scotus’ Commentaries on the Sentences of Peter Lombard to John Major in Paris and then to John Calvin and back, not least through the Syntagma Theologiae Christianae of Amandus Polanus, to Scotland. This was a theological mode of thinking which rejected the analytical, individualist notion of the person that was put forward by Boethius and Thomas Aquinas and was later reinforced and built into western social philosophy through the positivist individualism of John Locke and Auguste Comte who thought of persons as separated individuals connected through their external relations, rather like Newtonian particles. In the Reformed theological tradition the notion of person is held to be controlled b the person-constituting and person-intensifying activity of God in the Incarnation, such that the union becomes the ground for interpersonal relations in the Church. Relations between persons have ontological force and are part of what persons are as persons – they are real, person-constituting relations. That was the theology underlying Clerk Maxwell’s concept of union with Christ and of inter-personal relations in Christ, which it was not his nature to isolate in some compartmentalized way from his understanding of real, ontological relations in the physical universe.’ (T.F. Torrance, ‘Transformation and Convergance in the Frame of Knowledge’, p. 230)

Notes on the Analogy of Being, Barth and Torrance

– T.F. Torrance bases most of his theology on the fact that the Word can’t be divorced from God’s act or being. Torrance also very forcefully rejects any system of theology or philosophy that purports to arrive at God based on study of nature. Torrance rejects it on the grounds that such a system would be independent of any actual knowledge of God as revealed in the Incarnation. However, if the Word became flesh, and it was through the Word that the world came into being, and the intelligibility of creation comes through the Word, couldn’t it be argued that a study of nature is, in a way, a study of God through the Word? Maybe. Maybe not.

– Torrance and Barth both tend to see the goal of natural theology as arriving at God – once you accept the arguments, or the arguments convince you, that’s it – you’re there. But a study of the history of natural theology reveals two things: that God, whether in Scholasticism, Patristic thought, Reformed thought, etc, is never something that can be simply arrived at but something we are continually striving to. Second, natural theology is less about reaching God than it is about exploring the reality of God. Perhaps this is an oversimplification but I see this as an accurate diagnosis of the pathos behind these views.

– A mistake that I see Torrance and Barth making is taking apophatic theology to be a positive statement of what can be ascribed to God (‘nothing’) when apophatic theology is in fact a limitation of what can be positively ascribed to God. It also recognizes humility in theology – the limitations of the human mind. However, as Pelikan notes, this same limitation is also a freedom – it frees the mind to explore the reality of God within the boundaries of apophatic theology. The analogy of being, as well, serves as a boundary:

‘And to this extent, it bears an analogy to the kind of natural theology that Barth rejected. Again, however, anticipating our response to Barth in the final section, the ultimate point of the analogia entis is precisely to humble all natural (and even all supernatural) knowledge of God, to deconstruct every closed system (whether philosophical or theological), in short, to break to pieces every conceptual idol, and to insist that all our knowledge of God, no matter how exalted by grace, is ‘patchwork’ (cf. 1Cor 13:12)—a knowledge in ‘images and likenesses’ that break and fail and thereby point to a God who is beyond comparison, indeed, ‘beyond all analogy’.

– What Barth and Torrance both acutely realize is the effect of mans fallen condition in knowing God – the heart is turned inwards upon itself (as well as the mind) and so any natural revelation can be darkened in a flash, and turned into an idol. This is all too often what happens.