Towards the back end of her Systematic Theology, Katherine Sonderegger attempts to work out a coherent doctrine of divine freedom within her doctrine of God. Her account of God is to a large degree set over against what she takes to be overly-trinitarian accounts: as should be well known at this point, her fundamental starting point is God’s oneness, as opposed to God’s triunity. Much to modern theology’s chagrin, she also enthusiastically embraces substance as a legitimate category for describing God, and she also enthusiastically positions herself against Barth on a number of matters. What I want to do here is draw out what I think are some serious shortcomings over her view here and then see where Barth, something of a bête noire for Sonderegger, can offer a better way forward. Continue reading
At a crucial point in his discussion of the perfections of God, Barth says something which struck me as odd. After tracing what he takes to be nominalistic understandings of God’s essence and attributes – where God’s attributes are really only distinctions in our knowledge of God as opposed to things that God actually has – Barth gives three propositions in which he explains how he understands God’s attributes over against nominalism. While all three of these are important in understanding just how Barth thinks of God’s attributes, the second proposition gave me pause (or, to be more precise the ending of the second proposition):
Deep within his Big Paul Book, N.T. Wright (foot)notes his disagreement with the classic Reformed doctrine of the active and passive obedience of Christ. More precisely: it’s not so much that he disagrees with the fact that Christ was both actively and passively obedient – this is to my mind beyond dispute – but rather that he disagrees with Christ’s active obedience as something which merits righteousness which is then reckoned, credited or imputed to believers. Actually, even more precision is called for here, because Wright doesn’t especially really disagree with the idea that believers are reckoned to be righteous (this is, again, not really disputable). What he disagrees with is how that conclusion is reached, which, for the classic Reformed, is the imputation of Christ’s active obedience.
There is no small chance that Matthew 16:15-17 contains all that is necessary for a theological epistemology. The knowledge of Jesus that is articulated here is a product of nothing else than God’s own activity, God’s own revealing action, within the context of reconciliation. There are a number of things that can be drawn out here. First, the knowledge of God that is articulated here is a product of grace: God’s own free action to reveal himself. It is only through God’s own action that God is revealed. This first point implies a second point: that if the knowledge of God is had by grace alone, it is a gift. A third point: knowledge of God is knowledge of God, and as such revelation of God is revelation of reconciliation. We can even go a bit further than that and say, with Barth, that revelation is reconciliation. Fourth: if revelation is reconciliation, then necessarily the setting for revelation is the covenant within which God acts towards the world (the covenant is the internal basis of creation and creation is the external basis of the covenant). Continue reading
Perhaps the sharpest way to phrase a major difference between Barth and Torrance on the Trinity is that Torrance had no place for the subordination that Barth built into his doctrine of the Trinity. This is, of course, not news to readers of Barth: his understanding of the eternal subordination of the Son is one of the key distinctions of his theology. Torrance resisted this subordinationism on the grounds that Barth had read elements of the economy into the immanent Trinity, and set out to correct Barth on this point. The plainest way to state the differences between the two here is this: Barth follows the Cappodicians in assigning (for lack of a better term) monarchy (or principle of Godhead) to the Father alone, while Torrance follows Athanasius in assigning monarchy to the Trinity as a whole. Indeed, for Torrance, this just is the definition of monarchy, ‘the one ultimate principle of Godhead, in which all three divine Persons share equally, for the whole indivisible Being of God belongs to each of them as it belongs to all of them’ (Torrance, Trinitarian Perpsectives, p. 112) Continue reading
T.F. Torrance followed his mentor Karl Barth in a strident rejection of natural theology as a factor in man’s knowledge of God. While both affirmed that both God and the world he created are perceptible or apprehensible, the way that they affirmed it was a marked departure from how it had been classically conceived. Torrance, in particular, spent a good deal of time working through classical natural theology, both its roots and its consequences, and though he was appreciative of it, he was for the most part quite critical of what he took to be serious problems inherent within it. For Torrance, natural theology as a way of arriving at a knowledge of God via abstracting from sensory experience was destined to die the same death as empiricism and logical positivism. Torrance held that the idea of that scientific knowledge proceeds via the abstraction from sensory or observational data (what Sellars might call ‘observation reports) was roughly equivalent to classical natural theology and so the same weaknesses in empiricism were weaknesses in classical natural theology. Continue reading
The doctrine of the vestigia trinitatis has a long and distinguished history in theology, going back at least to Tertullian and formulated with some rigor by Augustine. The general idea here is that within creation (immanent to it, one might say) there is a kind of ‘trinitarian disposition’ (to quote Barth). Creation in itself and as such is ordered trinitarian-ly. Standard examples include faculties of the human person such as willing, remembering and understanding (Augustine) while Tertullian draws out examples from nature such as fountain, river and stream. All these are traces of the Trinity – examples in nature or in humanity as such of three-in-one-ness .
‘Justification by Christ alone calls in question all systems and orders, and calls them in question because Jesus Christ alone is central and supreme in the one Church of God. In any true theological system, Justification is by reference to Christ alone, for conformity to Christ as the Truth of God for us is the one ultimate principle of unity.’ (Thomas Torrance)
In his gloss on the Scottish Confession of Faith, T.F. Torrance spends a good deal of time on the doctrine of justification. This is interesting, because as Karl Barth notes, ‘the doctrine of justification is never discussed in the Scots Confession,’ (The Theology of the Reformed Confessions, p. 130). What Torrance picks up on is the expression of the nature and consequences of the doctrine. We now will turn to the nature of the doctrine.
I want to sketch here how subordination within the Godhead might be thought of along the lines of kenosis; specifically, Karl Barth’s concept of kenosis. If this is sketch is correct, then to affirm subordination within the Godhead is simply a corollary of affirming kenosis. The questions will then remain if this concept of kenotic-subordination can be accepted on theological grounds, as well as whether or not there is reason to accept it over the older formulations.
One of the things I’ve picked up on in reading Barth and Torrance is that some of the most interesting aspects of their work lies in the areas where they parted ways. Perhaps the place where this departure is sharpest is on the issue of the subordination of the Son to the Father, and the implications this has for a doctrine of God as a whole (I’ve discussed the human aspect of Christ’s eternal obedience before here, and this has bearing on the topic at hand). What I find most striking, however, is the force with which both present their arguments and reasons – there are good and solid theological reasons for following either Barth or Torrance on this.