Why it bugs me, and why I don't think I can use it

"It" being McCormack's (Levering's (Aquinas')) synthetic suggestion that the moment of divine procession, as the mutual self-creation of the Father and the Son, is simultaneously the creation of the creation as the missional object of the procession of the Son (and Spirit likewise).  It's been niggling at the edge of my brain since the first day of lectures, almost two weeks ago, at the Barth conference.  Very elegant, useful as a solution to the philosophical objections of theodicy based on choice of this world over some other, perhaps necessary if one wants to fight "voluntarism" and the play of freedom and necessity in the act of creation, as McCormack expressed that he does.

Races I'm not running in.

To begin with, God here is immutable, or not far from it.  We have let in only those changes necessary to define the being of God as we have come to understand it, exported them back to the beginning of all that is, and locked them down.  This is not what John 1 means to do.  This is not the meaning of the identification of the kaine ktisis with the bereshit bara of Genesis.  Unless, of course, you take it to be a propositional truth claim rather than story.  The truth of story is deeper than the surface of the narrative -- it runs downward to the function of the narrative.

So I have two basic problems, one with the implications for the nature of God, and one with the interaction of this idea with the story-logic of creation narratives.  We'll start with the nature of God and work out to narrative.

Barth's divine command theory escapes voluntarism by grounding the command in the Christ-revealed nature of God.  Which I see also in Thomas, though he's doing virtue ethics.  There is one nature of God, though three persons differentiated on their procession and mission as peculiar actions of God toward creation.  That said, I'm not entirely clear on the "voluntarism of a two-act creation" that McCormack seeks to avoid by making the missional procession of the incarnation identical with the moment of creation.  It seems more as though we here attempt to avoid change in the the Godhead, which is perfectly reasonable from an Aristotelian framework -- but one must remember that Aristotle had different gods in mind.  Aquinas bends Aristotle to Christianity, not vice versa.

Bringing back some of my own Aquinas work, one of the keys to Aquinas' metaphysics is mathematical: the difference between the fractional infinity between 0 and 1, and the integral infinity beginning at 1 and stretching out into plurality.  The logic of composition (including the logic of atomism, by which my wife compares the whole world to a Lego set) is the logic of adding wholes to one another, from one out indefinitely toward infinity.  Leibnizian monads.  It is not a teleologically amenable framework -- one is bound not by a span, but by the basic unit.  Units are free, except as they are bound within non-essential structures.  God is not like this -- when we say that God is one, that God is simple and not composite, we have no intention of making God one unit among many, let alone inferior to greater compositions.  God is not one, next to whom there are others.  That God is simple means that God's nature is one, but as pure form, pure actuality, the ultimate toward which the entire infinite series tends.  God is one, toward which all fractional being tends -- the unity of perfection.  All other being is composed of matter and form, undifferentiated bulk matter being the zero-point of existence, which is gradually and progressively informed by God who is pure form.  Being is bound by this progression, governed by the being of God, and set inevitably toward return to God, the perfect end of every being.

Now, much of this (especially zero) Thomas has acquired from the Islamic scholars who gave him Aristotle.  And it certainly has utility in interreligious dialogue, as it gives a means of defining that God is one in nature, and though we understand three persons within the divine being, we do so without compromising the essential unity of the being of God.  This God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and also of Muhammad.  This is a commitment that I am stuck with as non-negotiable.  And besides the story-logic point, this is precisely where it bothers me to import the trinity into the nature of God from moment zero, especially in such a way as there is no existent deity before the self-creation as Father and Son in the incarnation.

The nature of God is not Father, Son and Spirit.  The being of God is not essentially Father, Son and Spirit.  The being of God for us is certainly expressed and demonstrated in the actions of the Son for us, the actions of the Father for the Son and for us, and the actions of the Spirit with us.  And we express the unity of God across these supposits by a) saying what Jenson does, and remembering that what is revealed of the nature of God in them is not some brightly lit piece of God surrounded by dark, unrevealed nature -- God is, as God is God for us, self-revealed in this trinity of persons -- and b) not dividing the actions of God modally according to persons, but recalling that it is God who does all of these things, and involving our personal understanding of God in every action of the Godhead.  God is God who acts in this way, across all time, in all places, for the sake of creation.  And so God is one, and our understanding of God is epistemologically normed by three persons of the divine being.  Three persons who by agentic relationships and history are not identical and must be differentiated, but who have no independent nature separate from the nature of God.  These persons of God's self-revelation are God, but to say this does not define God -- it points to the nature in which the persons fully participate, just as God is fully present in each self-revelatory person.  At the same time, we say that God is veiled by these persons, which gets awfully close to the meaning of "person" in Greek.  Revealed sub contrario specie.  Hidden precisely as we see the self-revelation in threefold personhood.

Having placed all of God's becoming in eternity is fine, as far as the processions do in fact occur as actions of God who is eternal.  (I'm going to keep using the III.1 definition of eternity as accessible to all times and capably present in all times without itself being either timeless or timebound.)  And to the extent that they are in fact actions of the eternal God, the fact of timeliness of the actions of persons in history is no determiner of any sort of eternal temporal sequence.  So from that perspective it doesn't bother me to say that God proceeds eternally as the persons of Father, Son and Spirit, even if the missional actions of these persons occur in this time and not one earlier or later; this place, and not somewhere else.  God in eternity chooses the locations of the divine agency -- whether it occurs in these guises or others.  The written Torah is full of divine actions which do not occur in these persons -- or which do, but primarily in the person of the Spirit, if we may so recollect them.  As is the oral Torah.  And indeed, God is the fictive father of the covenant inheritance before becoming more aptly the Father of the Son, and by extension our Father through fictive kinship by means of baptismal adoption.  The relationship of fictive kinship of the people of God is not new in Christ -- its scope is.

That said, what bugs me is a) what appears to me to be the implicit assumption that the procession and mission of the persons is component of the nature of God -- that the divine self-revelation is God's being, rather than the obscuring of it in revelation -- and b) what seems to follow, the simultaneity of the creation and the incarnation.  Otherwise, it seems to me that the procession of the Son being separate from the incarnation compels another two-act problem.  Having covered (a) above, let's hit (b).  God is actus purus; the missional procession of the persons and the non-self creation happen as one massive event in eternity.  God's self-knowledge is causative, down to placing the moments of the incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit "in advance" -- determining the creation as receiving object in its history, for all intents and purposes, all the way out.  Because it cannot be responsive -- if the creation is the objective product of God's self-creative action, God does not respond to it except as he foreknows it.  This works great with the trope of response to prayer as built into the instant of creation by divine foreknowledge.  God is indeed responsive because every instant of time in history is the instant of creation of all that is.  Perhaps we're in a time-perspective problem; eternity as defined makes every moment in the infinite series equally present and accessible, such that the moment of creation and the moment of my prayer over lunch are equally accessible and known to God.  Determinism is simply the conception of creation as a singular and originary past event such that the whole progress must be fixed by divine knowledge at the instant of that event.  By contrast, the creatio continua may be seen as a perpetual, responsive tinkering with the origin.  And this, friends, is the reductio ad absurdum that reveals the problem.

The necessity driving the single-act idea is that creation is a single momentary action -- that the oneness of God and the teleology of fractional being require a unique and uniquely powerful moment of origin.  Why?  Because we confuse ktisis with demiourgia -- creation with ordering.  And we combine them into a single action, and usually assign that action to the Genesis framework.  And it's perfectly natural to do so -- because creation stories are not about origin, but order.  And the logic of creation stories is predominantly not about the order that exists around us, but about the order of God's goodness.  About making that goodness the foundation of the world -- not as an explanation or justification of created order, but as an eschatological bracket to be completed in the restoration of that order.  A justification for acting as though this were the way the world works, because it was en arche, and therefore logically primordial.  The logic of the original order is the logic of the kingdom of God, the logic by which God works justice rather than the logic by which we work injustice.  We have no reason, observing the collection of these narratives, to assign any one of them epistemological primacy over the observable facts of the ecology active in creation.  Nor do we have any reason to compel the whole order of the historical sequence to be responsible to a single instantaneous action.  God being eternal is not an excuse to cram all of time into a moment -- that's not how it works.  There is no reason that God's continuing act of creation cannot be, as it seems, exercised in eternal response to time in every moment because God is eternally present and active in every moment of creation's existence.  We do not deny a moment of origin, the making of creation, but I will deny the order of things belonging entirely to that moment -- because it is unnecessary and makes us make up complicated constructs to handle it.  And because it has the persistent tendency to allow us to attribute every moment of our agency to God's agency and destroy our own responsibility in time.

God's ordering happens in every moment, breaks into every moment, as the rightful order of our actions just as it is the order of all of God's actions.  This is also how I read the ut unum sint in John -- unity of intention, phronesis, as the unity of action.  The persons are united in their nature, which is the nature of God seen in every deed of God.  All products of the divine agency, in every one of the infinite plurality of divine acts across all time and space, participate in the nature of God because God does what God intends.  God is what God intends.  God's is-ness is God's agency, is God's accomplishment.  Just as the creative event need not be integrally one, but is freed by the unity of perfection to be integrally plural as time is integrally plural (a sequence of units from one to many), our actions are also free to be non-identical as situations for action are non-identical.  And yet to be one as God is one.


  1. Matt,

    This is a very interesting post, but I can't shake the feeling that you've (a) misunderstood Barth/McCormack and (b) made some dangerous theological errors.

    Regarding (a), it is important to emphasize that McCormack has not collapsed incarnation into creation. What he has instead done is to say that God's will to create is posited or bound up in God's will to become incarnate. "God is what God intends," as you rightly said, and so God is in eternity "the one to become incarnate," even if this event actually follows the act of creation. Maybe you had this in mind, but it's worth clarifying that your statement about "the simultaneity of the creation and the incarnation" is not correct as an interpretation of McCormack. They are simultaneous only as a single will of God in eternity. Put differently, Barth (and McCormack) have a notion of "pre-temporal eternity," such that the Logos incarnandus is onto-logically and even temporally prior to creation. For my own part, I have issues with this language, so I'm more willing to collapse incarnation and creation in a way that you find problematic. But Barth/BLM don't do that, at least not in the flattened way that you seem to describe.

    This, of course, doesn't really allay your concerns, because there is still a single action of God. But I think you've also misunderstood the singleness of God's will in Barth's theology. Barth is not a determinist. The single, momentary self-positing will of God is strictly christological. You've characterized this grounding of reality in a singular event as a speculative presupposition: "God being eternal is not an excuse to cram all of time into a moment." Of course not! But this isn't why Barth makes the move that he does. The doctrine of election is conspicuous by its absence from your reflections, and along with election goes christology. What motivates Barth's move is that Christ is the event of God's self-communication, the exclusive disclosure of who God is eternally. It is this christological-methodological decision that determines Barth's thinking. It's not because of some assumption about how eternity works. In fact, it's just the opposite. Barth's thinking about eternity is determined by his thinking about Christ. This is why I think you've got the whole time-eternity relation mixed up in Barth. The later Barth does not begin with some notion of eternity and then extrapolate creation and history from it. That was the misunderstanding of Brunner, Berkouwer, and others. On the contrary, Barth begins with a single historical event, Jesus, and extrapolates eternity from that point. The singular person of Jesus is the reason why he has a singular event in eternity. Election is simply the description of Christ from the standpoint of eternity, and creation is the theater for the Christ-event to take place.

    To come back to the issue of God's will: the will of God is for this event of Christ to take place, and that's it. The later Barth rejects all determinism about history. In fact, one could argue he's almost a simple secular materialist when it comes to history and the world. His concern is exclusively with the saving event of Christ; God's will concerns that and that alone. Everything else is free worldly occurrence and human action. It exists within the covenant of grace, to be sure, but wholly free within that covenant. God's will is constituted by Christ, and thus it has no interest in the other events of history. All of this can be understood correctly only when we realize that Barth is not moving from eternity to time, but the reverse: from the time of Jesus to the eternality of God.


  2. (Cont'd)

    Okay, so much for Barth. What concerns me far more is the first half of your post on God's triunity. Forgive me, but I cannot help but see modalism in what you've written. I hope you can correct me and show me why that's not the case. I suspect it's due to some slippage in language or a misunderstanding on my part. Let me show why I'm concerned. You write the following:

    "...this is precisely where it bothers me to import the trinity into the nature of God from moment zero, especially in such a way as there is no existent deity before the self-creation as Father and Son in the incarnation. The nature of God is not Father, Son and Spirit. The being of God is not essentially Father, Son and Spirit. The being of God for us is certainly expressed and demonstrated in the actions of the Son for us, the actions of the Father for the Son and for us, and the actions of the Spirit with us."

    Now, taken at face value, this seems to me to be in direct conflict with the creeds of the church. Can we really square your statement that the nature of God is not Father, Son, and Spirit with Nicaea or the Quicumque vult? I suspect you are simply trying to emphasize the conceptual distinction between "essence" and "person," or "ousia" and "hypostasis." But the problem here is that you've gone well beyond the tradition, from what I can tell. When the classical tradition made this distinction, it was strictly logical, not ontological. That is to say, Father, Son, and Spirit are logically differentiated from the one essence, but NOT (never!) ontologically differentiated. It was precisely the latter that was rejected with Arianism. The Son is homousia with the Father, which means that triunity is ontologically basic to God. The one essence is not ontologically prior to the threefold differentiation. God simply IS triune "all the way down." On this point, I think the Greek tradition speaks as one, from Athanasius to Bulgakov and beyond. Your view seems like a hyper-Latin theology that bifurcates essence and person in a way that seems to be without any biblical or traditional support.

    I have to describe your position here as modalism, which is, as you know, the position that the three persons are "modes" or "faces" of the one being of God -- but not ontologically identical with that being. Modalism makes an ontological separation between the one essence and the threefold differentiation. Is this not what you've advocated here? You say that "these persons of God's self-revelation are God, but to say this does not define God -- it points to the nature in which the persons fully participate..." Even more radically and scandalously (in the bad sense), you say:

    "God in eternity chooses the locations of the divine agency -- whether it occurs in these guises or others. The written Torah is full of divine actions which do not occur in these persons -- or which do, but primarily in the person of the Spirit, if we may so recollect them. As is the oral Torah."

    In these "guises"? Is this not full-blown modalism? Each triune person is now a "guise" on par with other manifestations of the divine? Isn't this precisely what the ancients rejected as heresy? Correct me if I'm wrong, but are you in fact saying here that God's manifestation as Father, Son, and Spirit is not qualitatively different from God's manifestation as Torah? Perhaps we could add here the burning bush of Moses, or the pillar of cloud and fire, or the dove at Jesus' baptism, or the fire at Pentecost. Are these just as much part of God as the revelation of Father, Son, and Spirit? This is a very radical and bizarre position to take.


  3. (Cont'd)

    What exactly is motivating this? You made a reference to interreligious dialogue. Is that the motivation? And is the cost worth the potential benefit? I'm doubtful that it is.

    Let me just say, by way of conclusion, that I greatly enjoyed meeting you and getting to know you at the Barth conference. It was a pleasure to finally meet face-to-face. I hope we have future occasions to talk further. Please take these critiques as friendly attempts to gain mutual understanding.


  4. Thank you, David -- having written it, I knew there were holes to be poked, and I'm not entirely clear that I expressed myself in the best way. Nachdenken with respect to the Trinity is a venture fraught with heresy!

    That said, I want first to clarify that I am not attempting to disagree with Barth and McCormack generally. I am, however, trying to work as thoroughly as possible here out of the Thomistic metaphysical world that the solution in the lecture seemed to lean so heavily upon. The trick being that I can only work from what I heard -- but from a student who knows McCormack's mind far better, I am pleased to accept correction!

    So, to begin where you begin, I don't disagree with you on Barth; I think you've hit it solidly. But I'm not clear how I merit the complaints you have in the first part, except as you believe I'm trying to exposit Barth. And in the process, I hear you asserting that I define eternity and time as epistemologically prior to my theological exploration. I won't cop to that -- I have attempted to argue definitons of eternity and time as generated by concern for the nature of God, because I see the problem of McCormack's use of Levering's Aquinas lying precisely in the absence of explicit understanding of the theological impact of these implicit understandings.

    Put less convolutedly, my issue is with necessity and the logic behind McCormack's "recanting." As I say, his solution, using Levering for leverage, sounds like it solves the argument he was having. And the one-act or two-act issue bears upon the concept of time and choice in agency, and so on the relationship of time and eternity. Concepts determined by an argument I'm not willing to define as necessary, hence my problem with Bruce's solution.

    So I'm with you when you go as far as to say that God's will is to be in Christ. And I will go as far as I've seen Barth go with that! But I must depart when you put it that God's will is exclusively to be in the Christ event, and no other event of history. That's over-reacting to determinism. Perhaps I need to telegraph my reductions better, but I thought I was clear that I believe determinism is only a problem if you require the whole order to be established in advance. Which is to say, I don't believe it is a problem that has to be solved, because it proceeds on faulty premises about the relationship of time and eternity and the idea that God is limited by some combination of them.

    This is the interreligious dialogue problem, and we can restrict it simply to our own faithfulness to the Hebrew scriptures. God is a God who saves. This is God's nature as expressed in Christ. But were Christ to be the only point in which God exercised salvation, there would not be a people of God to whom the incarnation might be relevant. The whole complex of Heilsgeschichte may be problematic because it leads us to see ourselves as the telos of a progressive chain of history, but it is based on an actual history in which God consistently acts to save. God is a God who acts throughout history in ways consistent with the logos seen in Jesus as Christ. The Christ-logos is the ratio Dei. It is the ratio Dei in all times and all places.

  5. It's not that Christ is the "only point in which God exercised salvation," but rather that he is the only epistemic norm for what we can say about salvation and God. Barth, as you know, fully affirms that there might be revelation outside of Christ, but this is only known to those who have faith in Christ and who therefore "see" with eyes shaped by Christ's normative narrative of salvation. Wherever God acts, it has to be determined by what God has revealed in Christ. Otherwise it's all speculation and we have no way of ensuring that our talk of God is not in fact talk of an idol, i.e., of ourselves. So I don't take the interreligious point to be all that significant, unless -- and this is crucial -- you want to say that we can have knowledge of God and access to salvation independent of Christ altogether. In that case, I must demur quite strongly.

    I still don't understand what you mean by "an argument I'm not willing to define as necessary, hence my problem with Bruce's solution." What argument is this? Can you specify the issue more exactly?

    Does this go back to your distinction between logic and story? I meant to say that this distinction seems like a red herring to me. First, why is a story only about "downstream" consequences? Why can't it have "upstream" significance for the being of God in eternity? Furthermore, why do you oppose logic and story at all? Isn't that a false dichotomy? Sure, a narrative has more depth than logic, but that does not mean the story does not rely upon some kind of logic or at least imply a logic that those who indwell the story may come to discern.

    I wasn't exactly accusing you of defining time and eternity before theological exploration, but rather suggesting that you were ascribing this to Barth, as if he had a time-eternity conceptuality up and running prior to his exploration of Christ. But that's not really the central issue, it seems to me. What I'm more concerned about is how you actually understand the relation between ad intra and ad extra, between God's being and God's will in the economy of grace. At times (as in the quasi-modalist stuff) you seem to have an ultra-sharp distinction between them. But at other times I get hints that maybe you want to dispense with divine immutability, thus moving in the far opposite direction -- a kind of open theist or maybe process God who progresses freely alongside creation. I'm just not clear what you're attacking and what you're actually arguing for.

  6. Second, I wish to apologize for scandalizing you. As to modalism, it's very, very hard to do Aristotelianism, even as Aquinas does it, without teetering on the edge. And yet all explanation of triunity is teetering on some edge. And I'm not doing it as a native Thomist/Aristotelian, so there are bound to be problems. But: we cannot say that there are three natures in God. As (correctly) asserted several times at the conference, there is one nature in God, and three persons. The modalist heresy is to deny the persistent reality of the persons in favor of the monarchical reality of the one God -- as though it posited a fourth of which the three were merely manifestations.

    But there are a whole lot of manifestations of modalism I'm trying to navigate. First, patripassianism, and any others that involve the confusion of the persons, as though they were the same person seen different ways. The fix is to assert the independent and specific personal identities as revealed.

    The second is to deny that the Father is the only true Godhead, contra Sabellius and Arius. This is also to deny that any one person of God is God in priority over the others. Which is to say that God is the Father, God is the Son, and God is the Spirit, and that these three are God, but that the Father is not God alone, the Son is not God alone, and the Spirit is not God alone. And the Quicunque Vult has said it better than I will and in greater depth.

  7. But the Fathers were uninterested in asserting a Godhead in fundamental affirmation of the Judean history of God's self-revelation. In the failure to rebuild the Temple, the Judeans lost. God abandoned them. It was a mistake, one grounded in self-centered political survival and the Christianization of the Empire. I don't have that luxury, especially reading the New Testament. Christ affirms the saving actions of God without declaring himself to be their origin. So, yes, if you want, I will declare that the presence of God in the burning bush, the presence of God in the sanctuary of the Temple, the voice from heaven at Jesus' baptism -- but the delivery from God of the burning bush as a sign, the pillar of cloud and fire as sign, and the dove as sign. And I will twit you for saying "God's manifestation as Torah." If you read me correctly, I am pointing to the witness to God presented in Torah, both in the writings of the written canon, and in the meditations of the oral canon.

    And so, yes, I will affirm the actions of God across all of what we declare as scripture -- and certain things we don't, but hold up alongside. And to play the game we have traditionally played since the Fathers, I can typologize them as Father and Son and Spirit, but this is not to do the faith of the witnesses justice. It is a radical, but not a bizarre, position. What is more radical, by definition of radix, is to declare that there is no manifestation of God but Father, Son and Spirit. And to declare that these persons are not merely full expressions of God and mutually necessary, but that they are the exclusive being of God. We are then led to deny that God acts as God has been witnessed to act, or to colonize those actions with Christianity.

    The revelations of God as Father of the Son, and as the Spirit of the Father and the Son, occur in time later than this history. It is the declaration of faith made possible by these personal processions of God that declares them to be eternal, and in my own faith I will not deny that the Father, the Son and the Spirit eternally proceed from God into creation and time to perform the actions of God. I will not deny the full and independent personhood which is necessary to belief that these are really and truly the actions of God, nor will I deny the unity of God in the three persons which reveal God's actions to me. Nor yet will I confuse the persons, though I will also not parcel out God's actions as though what the Father did, the Son and Spirit had no participation in.

    But I will not say that these persons are necessary to the being of God, as though it were to say that God's essence were three. God is what God does; God does what God is. Actus purus. There is no potentiality in God which is not actuality. And, properly said, we understand what God does as God has done it for us in Jesus Christ. As Paul says, it is by this means that we have been grafted into the tree of Abraham, a tree which God planted and tends, as he does all of its sundered and grafted branches. We acknowledge that God persistently acts as Father, Son and Spirit, because these are the normative being of God for us. So the economic trinity. But in the grand history of God's witnessed action, it cannot be said inoffensively that these are the normative modes of God's action, period, across the board. The Jews beg to differ. God has acted for others in other places at other times in a consistent way, yet without becoming the incarnate messiah. And taking Barth's humanity of God as radically as he means it, I am still obliged to say that Christ reveals to us the logos of God that was before God became man, the logos of Father and Spirit.

    I am stuck with all of these pieces. We cannot affirm eternity at the expense of time, or time at the expense of eternity, as the dominant perspective. We are stuck with the inconvenience of the interface.

  8. Keep pushing back -- maybe this would be easier in person, but the medium is what it is. And I appreciate the thoroughness of your response, even as I have tried to be thorough in response.


  9. "But I will not say that these persons are necessary to the being of God, as though it were to say that God's essence were three."

    I don't see how one can say this and still consider oneself a distinctively Christian theologian. Maybe that's not a concern of yours, and if so, that's fine -- as long as we're all clear. You seem to acknowledge your departure from Christian tradition (as I do in my own work), but you go further than that, it seems.

    You say, "The Jews beg to differ." I have to retort: "So what?" I take God's self-revelation as the incarnate one as definitive, normative, determinative for what I can say about God. That doesn't mean I am interreligiously insensitive or blind to the claims of others. It just means I am a committed and distinctively Christian theologian. I don't see any reason to water down the claims of Christian faith just because others claim different things about God. I can say, within a christocentric theology, that this God is present and active in other religions and worldly situations. But I can only say that on the basis of my own theological starting-point. It doesn't make sense to me to try to theologize from the starting-point of another faith.

    Here's what I want to know: do you think that God's presence in Christ is *qualitatively* different from God's presence in, say, the burning bush or the Torah or some other religious text/event? Is God ontologically connected with Christ in a way that God is not in these other realities? I suspect your answer has to be No, based on what you've said so far. Doesn't mean I'm going to write you off or something. I just want to be clear about where we stand on these matters.

  10. Okay, having seen your reply to the first, I'll try to get to it without side issues. When you say that Christ "is the only epistemic norm for what we can say about salvation and God," I have the feeling you mean "for what one can say about salvation and God." I mean the same statement to apply quite specifically to Christian faith, to what *we* can say because it is how *we* come to know and trust God. Christ is the ground of Christian faith -- he is not the ground of Jewish faith, but it is not unfaith. And so I will affirm, in distinction from Barth but almost the exact words here, that there is revelation outside of Christ, but it is only known to those who see with eyes shaped by God's self-revelation. And I will fight just as firmly against any notion that God can be known except as God gives Godself to be known -- no natural theology built from nature, but only theology built on trust in God as God has revealed Godself. But you must understand that the limitation to Christ as exclusive epistemology is polemical!

    If God is as we have seen God in Christ (and he is), this same God is as we have come to know and trust him in Christ. But it is a piece of hysteron-proteron to take Christ as our epistemologial norm of faith -- even Christ the agentic norm of human action -- and make that event the fount of Godhead. The nature of God is the normativity of Christ's action, even as the nature of Christ is the normativity of our knowledge of God. I have trouble finding a statement closer to FQI and the analogia fidei than this. If this is so, then no other self-revelation of this God will be in essential contradiction to the ratio Dei seen in Christ. In response to your second reply, I need to ask whether you assert that God's salvation in Christ is an act of a different divine nature than God's salvation in the return of the Golah from Babylon. To assert that they are qualitatively different is no trouble -- to assert that they do not reveal the same God is.

    For me to work from Christ as a committed and distinctively Christian theologian is also to remember Rahner's mistakes, among which was "anonymous Christianity." We cannot pretend that the other is not, that those outside the walls do not hear us, and especially that the other is not neighbor in relationship to God. You wish to blow them off, fine. But I hear you asserting implicitly that theirs is therefore an alien faith in an alien God. And that I cannot do. I do not purport to do Jewish theology. But I will not do Christian theology, especially from scriptures written by Judeans -- including the majority of the New Testament -- as though they had no claim to knowledge of God. I call it epistemological humility. (cont'd)

  11. And so of course, I will tell you that there is a difference in quality between Christ and the burning bush. And of course, I will tell you that God is ontologically present in Christ in an unprecedentedly new way. Unprecedented in time -- the logos has not changed, but God acts in Christ with a commitment unseen before the incarnation, taking up fully the created human nature necessary to universal atonement (however one wishes to theorize it). Enacting salvation in a way which transcends the boundaries of prior actions -- but not their promise. And active in the Spirit following the Ascension in ways which are also temporally unprecedented, but congruent with the promise because God is eternally faithful. It is precisely because these actions of God, these personal processions into time and history, are qualitatively new that they change our knowledge of God. But this is not to say that they destroy the old -- as though we said that God ceased being faithful. That would be unnatural change in God, a violation of the path of God's eternal life. Christ is the fulfillment of the promise of every prior action of God, because he embodies the logos that normed every prior divine act. This is why we cannot translate Romans 3 as though God violated Torah, the consequences of his prior covenantal actions upon that people of God -- God carves out new space adjacent to Torah, to which Torah and the prophets witness, in Christ. God expands the realm of the people of God by making new spaces without destroying the old.

    As to divine immutability, I would like to dispense with it -- but not in favor of open theism or process! Immutability is a crutch to express the relationship between eternity and time, especially to define God's faithfulness in terms of static being. God is not being; God is doing. God's being is in becoming, as Jungel puts it. God is as we have seen God be and do. The witness of faith is our way into that epistemological ground in God's self-revelation. And the scriptural witness posits change in God without diminution of faithfulness -- responsiveness in relationship that tracks with history and operates from eternity into time with no boundary. Natural change, according to the living nature of God and not in violation of it.

  12. Perhaps we don't disagree as much as I originally thought. I'm not entirely happy with immutability either if understood in a metaphysically unflexible manner. But if we understand it as divine constancy, I'm all in favor. And I think we have to maintain that, or else we do indeed have process theology. My concern in your language is that it comes dangerously close to anthropomorphizing God in a way that isn't normed by Christ. I'm sure you don't want that, but when you stress God's living relationship with us, that's the danger we run into. I'm quite prepared to find such bad anthropomorphizing throughout scripture, hence the need for a kind of demythologizing hermeneutic -- something I view as indispensable for reading the Bible rightly.

    As for the whole question of Christ's normativity, I quite agree that my position is polemical. I happily embrace that. Nevertheless, I think the position I heard you affirming is equally polemical, insofar as your interreligious concerns include Islam alongside Judaism. You've dropped the Islam bit, perhaps as a way to soften your position. If we're only talking about Jewish-Christian relations, then we're probably much closer in our positions.

    However -- and this is the important bit -- I think we still differ on the "anonymous Christianity" stuff. On the one hand, I fully affirm that a Jewish theologian knows the true God, that he or she is indeed saved *as a Jew.* But at the same time, I can only affirm this because I believe in Jesus as the Messiah who has established the covenant of grace with the world, that is, with all humanity. In other words, I make claims on a very different basis and starting-point than my Jewish brothers and sisters.

    And so I think that any Christian theologian committed to a kind of cosmic-apocalyptic soteriology -- as Barth is -- has to have some version of "anonymous Christianity." Barth calls it "virtual Christianity." Bonhoeffer calls it "unconscious Christianity." I want to affirm all three in various ways, but with a more Barthian-Bonhoefferian emphasis. In other words, I'm a universalist of a kind, and so I do believe that Christ is exclusive and normative, but precisely in his exclusivity and normativity, he also bears universal significance.

  13. Ah, Bultmann. :) I'm glad my explanations are getting closer to the right set of shibboleths. I dislike working so close to philosophical theism, and no matter how you touch Aristotle, he's perilous that way, even for Thomists. It's what happens when apologetics become dogmatics. But when you're in the Old West, you fight with a revolver because there aren't better weapons.

    As to anthropomorphization, I have no interest in anthropomorphizing God -- that isn't what we mean when we talk about "the humanity of God." Small chance I'll confuse the creator with the creature. But for fear of idolatry, you would avoid saying what must be said, that God and creation stand in relationship, that God is the living and acting God and Lord of the creation, and that God responds to creation as creation first responds to God? If your metaphysics make it a problem, correct the metaphysics.

    As for demythologization, I find that properly understanding the context, rhetoric and oral-written nature of scripture does quite enough. Let scripture say what it says, in the ways and for the purposes that it says it. Trying to break some sort of content out of the mythos destroys the context in which that content means. This is what I'm trying to do with story -- the logic of the narrative is in its function as performative rhetoric in context. Propositions do not mean in the same way. They are disposable in ways the witness of story is not. If the propositions are wrong for the present state of play, we do not blame the story; we return to the source and carve better pieces for today's game. (Which is to say that I'd rather play the changes on Lindbeck and Frei than Bultmann and Dibelius, because the former can be updated with respect to the changing state of critical scholarship.)

  14. And yes, it may become a polemical statement to include in the witnesses to the faithfulness of the one God those who came after us, but whose scriptures speak in compatible ways, and who fail at faithfulness as we do, if in different ways. But, if I may say so, your polemics are older than mine, as old as Christendom. And they began as radical theological difference, without immediately becoming polemical. Resistance creates polemic. I have no intention of being polemical in my insistence upon Islam as a religion of the same God -- merely radical. The position itself makes no war. I do not insist that you accept, but I will refuse for my part to deny.

    If you will note the original title, this entire disagreement is predicated not on the statements being wrong, but on their inutility to me because I have a different working set of theological demands and problems. I accept that the solution McCormack derives from Levering and Aquinas (as a Barthian) does what he says it does. (And that you apparently find great utility in it, or are defending the father, one way or the other.) But as a tool, it is not an all-purpose one, and certainly not a necessary one. I disagree with the notion of its necessity, and along the way have come to disagree with the necessity of the problems it claims to solve. I find the whole question of one-act or two-act plays of freedom and necessity in creation to be little more than an artifact of metaphysical constraints. I can play that game, but it is a game.

    I had no intention of fighting you on it, until you fought me on it. I have every intention of continuing to play a reasonably orthodox and catholic game in terms acceptable to the outsider. My Pauline universalism leaves me with no worry about the salvation of the other. I think Barth, Bonhoeffer, Rahner, Lindbeck, etc. are behaving foolishly here. And the foolishness is in asserting that *Christianity* is the exclusive path to salvation, into which we must include everyone else, because God is God and Christ is unique. It does not follow logically, and makes them say offensive things about non-Christians, and decline to take them seriously as others. Our motivation for proclaiming the gospel is not a misguided attempt to do what God has already done and is presently doing. If the Christ-logos becomes the rationale of my life, I do not go about trying to convince the other of the peril to their soul of not accepting Jesus (along with the boatload of metaphysical concepts necessary to develop that notion). Nor do I assert to myself that they have already implicitly accepted Jesus, or will eschatologically have to accept Jesus. Instead, I accept the Buddhist, for example, as a fellow creature for whom Christ has died, and my neighbor, and behave toward her as such because I am under the compulsion of my own gospel obedience before my own Lord. And if we get to talking about our respective rationales, I will do my damnedest to speak Christianity cleanly, without blame, in such a way that it causes no offense but is what it properly is. And fail, of course, and hopefully learn. I am free in Christ to be so reconciled with my neighbor. I do not worry about what I cannot effect -- the Spirit does its job, and I do mine. Bi-la kaifa. I have enough other "how"s to ask without needing to know that one.

  15. Anything in theology can be called a game and so dismissed. Theology itself is often called a game. But just because a theological or philosophical problem is treated as a game does not mean it actually is one, or at least not merely one. I could just as easily call your emphasis on story and narrative a "game," but that would be just as flippant and unhelpful. If you think the one-act/two-act problem is a game, then so be it. But I would ask you to think about the problem that this discussion is trying to address and take it more seriously, because it has real consequences for how we think about everything else in theology. Waving it aside in favor of "story" is really no answer at all. It dismisses the problem without really taking it seriously -- or at least that's how it appears.

    I fully recognize the dangers with Rahner's "anonymous Christianity," and I'm not prepared to sign my name on the line and affirm those problems. And Barth and Bonhoeffer's accounts are sufficiently different in my mind to account for those problems. But there is still a kernel of truth even in Rahner's version. The truth is, I take it, simply the one you yourself espouse: "I accept the Buddhist, for example, as a fellow creature for whom Christ has died, and my neighbor, and behave toward her as such because I am under the compulsion of my own gospel obedience before my own Lord." If this isn't a description of what "virtual Christianity" is about, then I don't know what is.

    Virtual Christianity simply means that "we regard no one from a human point of view" (2 Cor. 5.16), but instead we regard everyone as a child of God, even if they do not see themselves as such. I take it that this is the essential point of all these accounts: treating the "other" as my sister or brother, because -- in truth -- that persion really is my sister or brother. What makes this ethical point possible is some kind of soteriology that understands Christ to be the savior of all. This may seem like basic common sense to us today, but it is radically discontinuous with the long history of the church, as you well know. Maybe you only want the first half (treating others "as if" they were sisters and brothers) without the second half (because they "really are" sisters and brothers). But then I think we have a serious disconnect between theology and ethics in which the command of God comes as law rather than gospel. The ethical command of God should flow from the truth of the world's reality in Christ. We treat others this way because that is who they truly are in the eyes of God.

  16. Bugger it. a) somehow I missed the last comment in my inbox, and b) I get in the same trouble with my wife over the use of "game" and "play." Heidegger and Wittgenstein. Sprachspielen are not trivial, and I'm sorry if you felt I was trivializing your statements. Of course mine is also a game; I'm playing a different game. A different (if largely overlapping) set of pieces, construed differently, in a different order, with consequently different combinations of necessity and freedom in combination. That they are related games is why we can talk about them.

    As to "virtual Christianity," even if I do agree with the concept as you've described it, I despise the name. The non-Christian is not Christian. No amount of my "generous" inclusivity will be accepted. And there remains the assumption that *Christianity* is necessary, which I do not accept. I have every other respect for your last paragraph, and agree that the reality is the root of the "als ob." I just don't have any interest in saying that the reality need be called "Christianity" -- that the religion is by any means necessary, though Christ be the necessary and sufficient means by which the reality of the situation was created.

    We've smacked each other around pretty good, here, and I can't say I like that. Too much of my scrambling for comprehension and integration got wrapped up in defense. And far too much in offense. Not a great way to treat a new friend, eh? I'm sorry.

    Thank you for driving me back to Barth with a better reason to understand his underlying assumptions. (And for driving me back to Jungel.) I've got a lot of ground to (re)cover, but it may go better with more clarity about whose metaphysics are whose.

  17. No apology necessary. I enjoyed our back-and-forth, and I think it was instructive for me. I agree with you that Christianity itself is not necessary, and in that sense I too dislike the terminology. When I finish the book on the topic that I'm currently working on, I'll be sure to try to find a better description. Thanks for pushing me on that.


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