It's the Anhypostatic–Enhypostatic Christology, Stupid

So I've been fighting Bruce McCormack as a necessary part of my dissertation development for ... oh, let's go ahead and say years, now, but more actively in recent months. Why? Because the Barth I'm working on in CD III and the Barth of the doctrine of redemption that would have gone into CD V is not the Barth he sees—and sees fairly well, actually—in CD II and IV. Or, I should say, not merely that Barth of election and reconciliation. And I've been putting it down to an undue fixation on the doctrine of election—which I still think there is, in the dominance of this II.2–(mostly-skip-III)–IV-and-project-it-all-back-over-the-prolegomena perspective McCormack has been building since the 1990s.

But the problem isn't that McCormack's got election wrong. If anything, in spite of his approaching it from thoroughly Modern Schleiermacher work, he's recapitulating a basic "Barth as Reformed theologian" rediscovery of Reformed priorities that appears throughout the English-language reception history. It's a biased perspective for that reason, it leans too heavily on Barth as reframing Reformed distinctives in basically Reformed ways—which was always the positive end for which the "not truly Reformed-Orthodox enough" protests were the negative—but the pieces it sees are actually there even if the structures are imputed forensically. Formal analysis of Barth's dogmatics has always been problematic, even and especially once we acknowledge that he's doing loci communes and not a linear system, because that lets us off the hook a bit too much. We have to walk a line between making a consistent theological narrative and seeing the larger context through which it is only one path at best.

No, the problem is that his thread makes sense, but it makes so much sense after so much nonsense in the field that we've started thinking of the thread as though it were the tapestry itself. McCormack knows the structure of this thread so incredibly well that he's begun weaving his own, more consistent tapestry around it. (Which pisses off his opponents to no end, especially those who have chosen to weave a more-consistent-with-Chalcedon pattern.)

But the fact that this thread runs from election to reconciliation, and characterizes protology and eschatology in precisely those terms on the basis of the doctrine of God, isn't because of election or reconciliation. It isn't even because of the (still present, if in lesser ways) imputed patterns of Reformed systematics. It's because of what McCormack calls Barth's "anhypostatic–enhypostatic Christology". It's because when the only thread runs along the life-line of the Son, that's where everything has to start and end. Christological actualism on the basis of the Maury lecture finds its fulfillment in a doctrine of reconciliation that ceases to be seen structurally because it now functions as "Barth's mature Christology." And so I am told there is nothing beyond the parousia as coming-in-judgment, in the same way that Kreck thought that Barth's eschatology had to be one of the hic et nunc in 1961, because we lack both CD V and the imagination necessary to see the other threads that determine it. And so I am told that "protology" and "eschatology" for Barthians must simply mean God's pre- and post-temporality, respectively, and not the coming-into-being and fulfillment-in-being of the creature.

No offense, guys and gals, but I'm going to keep working. I'm not convinced. It's a good thing the next Barth conference is on pneumatology, even though I've already seen what happens when an avowed pneumatological Barthian like Aaron T. Smith looks at Barth's doctrine of redemption. (Hint: he reduces it to anhypostatic–enhypostatic Christology, because what else is there? But he could have done so much better, because CD V is pneumatologically controlled! And yes, that should raise problems with McCormack's sense that Barth shifts from pneumatology to Christology. I intend to raise the same problems for David Congdon's "shift from an eschatologically oriented soteriological theology to a protologically oriented soteriological theology.")

And yeah, I suppose them is fightin' words. But the fight is for contextualization, not to lay yet another set of hands on the elephant and say "no, it's this way." If I do that, if all I do is declare another theological through-narrative, I have failed at my job.


  1. Enjoyed this! Fun to hear your gauntlet(s).

    1. Yeah, I'm just throwing gloves everywhere lately. "And you get a duel! And *you* get a duel! ..." ;)


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