John Howard Yoder on the Limitations of Democracy

I am no Anabaptist or ‘Yoderite’, but I thought I would highlight a video that I came across of theologian John Howard Yoder discussing the limitations of the concept of democracy. These “limitations” can easily be illustrated by the so called ‘Arab Spring’, and its aftermath (which is continuing), or they can also easily be illustrated in my own countries’ governmental framework in the United States. He makes some valid points which are worthy of further reflection. Here is the video:

ht: Rodney Clapp

A Response to a Query: Theological Exegesis and ‘Biblical Studies’

I was going to write a post on how I understand a relation between Biblical Studies and Theology, this was prompted by an ongoing discussion that has been happening between a pseudonymed named guy, Bryce Walker and Brian LePort. Their correspondence has spawned other responses; the links below take you to all of them:

And thus far that is it between Brian and Bryce. But then as I just noted above, others have jumped in (like Kirk). Here are the links to those posts, from these others:

Instead of me writing that post this evening, let me provide a transcription of a comment that I just made over at Brian’s to another commenter who was asking me about theological exegesis. He wanted to know how I could ensure that when I “say” we should do theological exegesis, that I am not merely importing my favorite pet theologians (like Torrance, Barth, or Calvin) theology into the text of scripture. Here is how I responded (in a bloggy manner and on the fly):

[...] the theologian—worth their salt—ought to be working at and from a grammar that is demanded by the theo-logic present in God’s life Self-revealed and thus interpreted in Jesus Christ (cf. Jn. 1:18). But of course this is always an open-ended dialectical and spiraling process; and it ought to be no other way, since we know, given the theo-logical implications of God’s Triune life that he is dynamic (V. static) relational, and a God of love who acts in grace (primarily known and exemplified in and through the Incarnation). So I don’t want to collapse the barometer for the meaning (of scripture) into a textual linguistic socio-cultural community (a la Lindbeck), but I see (riffing on the patristic ‘rule of faith’) the analogy or lens or purpose of scripture shaped in and through the life of God revealed in Jesus Christ. I know that seems ethereal, and probably abstract, but what I don’t think is abstract—but instead concrete and particular—is the enfleshing of God in Christ. The theologian’s task is to lay bare the web of beliefs that necessarily flow from this reality; and I take, for example, the so called ecumenical councils wranglings and wrestlings with this, early on, as exemplary of how Christians ought to seek to provide grammar for the theo-logic and christo-logic that scripture is presupposing upon in its occasional writings (which as Torrance would say is its ‘Depth Dimension’). So unlike, Brian (and NT Wright), I am not ready to look at the Patristic era and the theology “started” there as if it is part of some sort of “salad bar” wherein I can choose if I want to take some of this or that; no, I believe that we must listen to the teachers of the Church (the past) as if Jesus Christ himself gave them to her for her edification. But of course I see this kind of “always reforming” principle as something that is an ongoing reality, and thus even the grammar provided in the Patristic era (as formative as it is!) is open to further clarification and critique (but not simple abandonment) as we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, as we are moving toward attaining (finally!) the unity of the Faith. I am not interested in merely repristinating the past (we have the post-Reformed orthodox … and the Eastern Orthodox for that), but I am interested in engaging the past insofar as the rich and deep heritage provided therein fosters a depth relation to and understanding of our Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ. So my question to Brian was in fact really noting something, ironically, that I don’t think anyone can assure; but then, I do think if we are going to be theological realists (which I am, or ‘critical’), and if we are going to do Theological Science(as TF Torrance does it, which also serves as a title for one of his books)—meaning that our categories and emphases for inquiry will be defined as the object of our consideration imposes ‘himself’ (or itself) upon us (Torrance calls this an ‘epistemological inversion’)—then the ground for arbitrating what is true and sure will indeed, and once again, be the theo-logic that is present from the revelation of God in Christ.

So I know that much of my post is repetitive. The moral of my comment and belief can be summed up thusly: The revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the rule of faith by which all of the occasional writings of scripture (given the reality of all of their various types, genres and forms etc.) ought to be framed; because they all (even given their particularities and idiosyncrasies) trade on the same kergymatic reality of God’s life in Christ (or they all presume upon a theological reality about who God is, and that reality is only understood, according to scripture, through the explanation given in Jesus Christ cf. John 1:18).

That is my initial response. I will be working on a post that will hopefully be a bit more nuanced and even more concrete in what I am trying to communicate.

 

 

 

 

Bobby’s Confessions

I never started studying scripture, or thinking theologically because I have aspired to becoming a biblical exegete of note, or a Christian Dogmatic theologian of recognition; I came to reading scripture consistently over and over again because I became aware of my great need for a Savior! I am a sinner, as the Apostle Paul would say, ‘the chief of sinners’, and I need a Savior. There is nothing good that dwells in my flesh, it is altogether wicked and evil, I cannot even understand it. I am a desperate fool who needs saving moment by moment, if I try to do anything apart from Jesus, I can’t; I fall into sin moment by moment when I try, when I think I stand and think I am something when really I am nothing—apart from Jesus that is!— I am prone to make studying the Bible and Theology idols, things that become ends in themselves; things that become my high places; things that I have named Jesus, but Jesus really isn’t present, at least not in his resurrection power. My desire is to be holy as He is holy, and yet I wonder who will deliver me from this body of death?! This is why I ever came to Jesus, not because I wanted to be identified with one badge in place of another, but because at the deepest part of my heart, it is rock hard! I came to Jesus only because he first loved me, that I might love Him; He gave me His heart of flesh that is soft and sensitive to his kind of life, the kind of life that He shares with His Father; so I came to Jesus not out of my own wit—my own wit is what leads me to the depths that I have been describing above—I came to Jesus because He chose to do what I would NEVER do left to myself!! I can empirically substantiate this because the vestiges of this old man of death are still present and haunt me everyday; I can see this old nature, this rock hard heart cold to the life of God still active, at points, in the members of my body, and it sickens me! But this is why I study the Bible and the God who has given us it in Christ; it is because He has convinced me through His Son that without Him I can do nothing; meaning that left to myself I will do everything that my inward curved heart desires!

I am confessing this because the Lord is convincing me once again that I am a sinner in need of a Savior. If this is not at the bottom of what’s going on in our theologies and biblical studies—our desperate and real need for God in Jesus Christ—then it all means nothing!!! Because at the ground floor of all of this is the reality of God’s life of love which He has invited us to participate in through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, grave, resurrection, ascension, and consummation of all things! We need Him, I need Him, because I can only truly love the way I was designed to if I am brought into the life that God had always intended for us to live in and through His Son; the firstborn from the dead! amen.

PS. This picture above was taken of me after I had just had my cancer resection surgery on May 6th, 2010 (I am in ICU recovering at this particular moment in time). We didn’t take many pictures of me during this season, but I like to see this picture of me (now), because it reminds me of just how weak I really am in myself. I don’t have control, and I am fully dependent on the control of Jesus Christ, in this picture, and even in pictures of me now, wherein I look fully healthy (and I am, praise the Lord!). Anyway, I am obviously in a reflective moment as I write this. Peace.

The Evolution of Adam: A Review

I just came across a review of Peter Enn’s controversial book The Evolution of Adam, the review is done by a recent PhD grad from Trinity Evangelical Divinity school; his perspective is from a conservative Reformed vantage point, and while I don’t agree with Hans Madueme, soteriologically (and probably on other fronts), I am partial to his critique of Enns. You can read his full review hereHere is how he opens his ‘review essay’:

The gist of this new book by Peter Enns is that evangelicals should revise their expectations of Genesis and Paul—with reference to Adam and the fall—in order to relieve perceived tensions between Christianity and evolution.1 This thesis turns out to be controversial.

On the one hand are evangelicals who disagree with Enns and judge his basic argument a capitulation to modern science. If Enns is right, then present-day conservative evangelicals are wrong, the early twentieth-century fundamentalists were wrong, pre-nineteenth-century Protestant Christianity was wrong, the post-Reformation scholastic tradition was wrong, the Reformers were wrong, and the entire medieval and patristic tradition was wrong. And why? Because Darwinian natural science and the biblical criticism that emerged with the rise of historical consciousness in the eighteenth/nineteenth century are right.

On the other hand, those sympathetic with Enns are worried that old bugaboos like inerrancy are tearing apart the evangelical movement and bringing unnecessary disrepute to the Christian faith. This also places an unbearable strain on younger evangelicals who seek to cultivate the best Christian minds as they follow Christ: Are they to play the ostrich, bury their heads in the sand and deny what every sane, intelligent person believes in the twenty-first century?

That is the situation—alas—and Enns is brave enough to begin a conversation (p. 112). Taking him up on this, this brief reflection offers a perspective on why many Protestants, myself included, have significant reservations about his arguments. I shall simply assume that readers have already read the book; specific details of Enns’s argument can be found in other reviews (e.g., see countless print, online and blog reviews). 2 Better yet, read the book for yourself. It is well-written, accessible, and provocative. My main purpose is to dialogue with Enns from my location as a Reformed systematic theologian. Like Enns, these reflections “are an outworking of my own Christian convictions” (p. xii, with italics); I have good friends who disagree with some of the claims I make here. Further, this review is not comprehensive since there are vital matters I do not touch on—not even to wave as I drive by.3 Instead, (1) I begin with initial observations before broaching a few areas worthy of discussion: (2) the doctrine of Scripture, (3) natural science and historical criticism, (4) further theological concerns, (5) a methodological aside, and (6) concluding thoughts.

I believe Adam is a real historical person, so I disagree with Enns and agree with Madueme. How about you?

On Reading the ‘Book’ of Revelation in the New Testament Canon

I will continually be engaging that series of Who Is the Christian God? in the days and months ahead, but of course I also have other plates turning (in my reading); and one of those plates is a re-engagement (for me) of Richard Bauckham’s books The Theology of the Book of Revelation & The Climax of Prophecy (I have already, and pretty recently, read both of these works by Bauckham, and I wanted to revisit them in order to continue to meditate and reflect on my own position on such things—which is pretty much in alignment with Bauckham, if not wholesale). So of course, given the nature of my blogging pattern and style, I will also be reflecting upon the theological and exegetical issues that Bauckham’s writing is touching upon—as well as the more applied and correlative issues that Bauckham’s work only implicates, that is, the more popular issues of dispensationalism, amillennialism, premillennialism, & postmillennialism. That said, let me wade us into what Bauckham thinks constitutes the basic trajectory and original purpose for writing the book of Revelation (which will implicate all kinds of things). Here is what Bauckham writes on the original audience and purpose of the ‘Epistle of Revelation’, and then a bit on how Bauckham thinks this reality cashes out in application (theologically and pastorally):

[T]hus it would be a serious mistake to understand the images of Revelation as timeless symbols. Their character conforms to the contextuality of Revelation as timeless symbols. Their character conforms to the contextuality of Revelation as a letter to the seven churches of Asia. Their resonances in the specific social, political, cultural and religious world of their first readers need to be understood if their meaning is to be appropriated today. They do not create a purely self-contained aesthetic world with no reference outside itself, but intend to relate to the world in which the readers live in order to reform and to redirect the readers’ response to that world. However, if the images are not timeless symbols, but relate to the ‘real’ world, we need also to avoid the opposite mistake of taking them too literally as descriptive of the ‘real’ world and of predicted events in the ‘real’ world. They are not just a system of codes waiting to be translated into matter-of-fact references to people and events. Once we begin to appreciate their sources and their rich symbolic associations, we realized that they cannot be read either as literal descriptions or as encoded literal descriptions, but must be read for their theological meaning and their power to evoke response. [Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 19-20.]

We leave off from Bauckham with a bit of a teaser; he goes on and provides some examples of what he describes in the quote paragraph of above. Suffice it to say, it can readily be observed that Bauckham, even in the small notation above (the quote), is getting at two popular, and I would say, erroneous, ways of reading the book of Revelation. Bauckham is getting at a naked idealism way of interpreting Revelation (as it has been in the history) which usually involves a presupposition of dualism; meaning that the book of Revelation is often construed as an ethereal book that depicts a cosmic struggle between good and evil. While there is an aspect where this is true for Bauckham, we can obviously see that he sees much more particularity, unity, and concreteness to the message and theology and history that make up this book than the classic idealism approach does. And then in the next breath, we also see Bauckham challenging what I will call the futurist, premillennial, dispensational reading of Revelation (the kind given popular expression in ‘The Left Behind’ series of books by Lahaye and Jenkins). He thinks it is in error to read Revelation as if its primary semantic and conceptual pool is predictive in nature; in other words, he sees it as highly problematic to read current events (like ours) into the book of Revelation, as if this was what John and the Holy Spirit had in mind when it was originally penned. Bauckham does not see the book of Revelation as a secret code book awaiting the decoder key (current events) to, in fact, decode it. No, he sees all of the events, people, and picturesque language of Revelations as grounded in a labyrinth of inter-related complexities that bubble up from the Old Testament apocalyptic genre (like that found in Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc.); and then he sees this context being applied to the ‘current’ events of the Roman empire of which the seven churches addressed in the Revelation are located.

There is much more to Bauckham’s thesis about the book of Revelation, like; he sees the point of the book of Revelation as most pertinent to the Christians in the Roman empire who were suffering great tribulation and suffering, to the point of martyrdom. He sees the point of the book as primarily something to provide comfort and perspective for those being killed by the Roman persecution of the Christians. He sees the vindication of the Christian martyrs as the crux for understanding the composition of Revelation; and all of the apocalyptic language in the book, as providing God’s perspective over against the secular, mundane Roman perspective which these Christians were inhabiting. Bauckham sees the book of Revelation as predictive, in the sense that God’s people (all of us) will be vindicated at his coming (the second time, based on the first), as he crushes the powers of the nations, but not as the world would think, but as ‘the lamb slain before the foundations of the world’. So we see Bauckham’s vision of Revelation as correlative with the trajectory already set throughout the canon of the Old Testament apocalyptic literature; something like Daniel 2 comes to my mind:

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands —a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.

“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

It is this kind of motif that Bauckham thinks shapes the book of Revelation, but not in light of its promise (like we leave it in the book of Daniel), but in light of its fulfillment, and thus reinterpretation ‘in Christ’. There is much more to say (and I will), but this should be enough for now.

Who Is The Christian God?: Part 1, Towards Thinking About God as Tri-Unity

Epiphanius

Here is a quote from a Patristic theologian (so a theologian from the early church), his name is Epiphanius, and he communicates something about who the Christian God is that will be fundamental for us moving forward in regards to understanding who the Christian God is, and thus is not. I will have to come back an unpack what Epiphanius is articulating later, since the implications of what he is getting at are deep and wide. Here is Epiphanius:

God is one, the Father in the Son, the Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit . . . true enhypostatic Father, and true enhypostatic Son, and true enhypostatic Holy Spirit, three Persons, one Godhead, one being, one glory, one God. In thinking of God you conceive of the Trinity, but without confusing in your mind the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the Father, the Son is the Son, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, but there is no deviation in the Trinity from oneness and identity. (Epiphanius, “Anc., 10,” cited by T. F. Torrance, “The Trinitarian Faith,” 234-35)

As you see in the biblio information, Thomas Torrance is the one constructively appropriating Epiphanius for his own unique way of articulating his Doctrine of God as Triune. We will get into this later, and in fact this quote actually is jumping the gun a bit, as far as how I want to go about this series—meaning that I want to move a bit slower than this, by way of introducing key terms, and providing a grammar through which we as Christians can better grasp and understand who are God actually is. This quote presupposes quite a bit, as far as the definitions and grammar that stands behind it; and it is fleshing out this grammar that we will be engaging in the days to come.

Happy Lord’s Day.

Who Is the Christian God?: Let Us Pray a Trinitarianism … Go ahead, Augustine

To make sure that we enter into our discussion about Who Is the Christian God?, I wanted to offer up an Augustinian prayer to set our hearts and minds in the right direction; we are entering into hallowed ground that ought not to be trampled over as if it is some vain thing, NO!, instead he is our very life—that is God in Christ for us, with us. Let us pray:

O Lord our God, we believe in you, Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Truth would not have said, “Go and baptize the nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), unless you were Trinity. Nor would you have commanded us to be baptized, Lord God, in the name of any who is not Lord God. Nor would it have been said with divine authority, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One God” (Deut. 6:4), unless while being Trinity you were still one Lord God. And if you, God and Father, were yourself also the Son your Word Jesus Christ, were yourself also your gift the Holy Spirit, we would not read in the documents of truth, “God sent his Son” (Gal. 4:4), nor would you, only-begotten one, have said of the Holy Spirit, “whom the Father will send in my name” (John 14:26), and, “whom I will send you from the Father” (John 15:26). Directing my attention toward this rule of faith as best I could, as far as you enabled me to, I have sought you and desired to see intellectually what I have believed….Do you yourself give me the strength to seek, having caused yourself to be found and having given me the hope of finding you more and more….Let me remember you, let me understand you, let me love you. Increase these things in me until you refashion me entirely. [Augustine, De Trinitate 15.28.51, ('altered by substituting "Trinity" for "triad" to render trinitas') cited by Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea, 292.]

Amen, amen.

Who Is The Christian God?: Series Introduction

I have become inspired once again to talk about my God. And so I am going to start an ongoing series of posts under the generic title, Who Is the Christian God? I intend on blog inking multiple posts, on an ongoing basis on getting at this question through a variety of modes; either through patristic theology, reformation theology, biblical theology, systematic theology, Christian dogmatic theology, and devotional/reflective theology. I am concerned that there are many Christians who claim to be trinitarians, but then who do not know what this really means. Or, many Christians follow a certain articulation of what it means to be a trinitarian Christian, but then don’t have the critical resource to appeal to, to check whether or not what they hold to be historic trinitarian theology actually is that. Obviously I will be writing from my own slant of what it means to be a Christian trinitarian thinker, and in the process of this ongoing (never ending) series of posts I will also be learning ever deeper what it means to truly follow a God who is three in one and one in three.

Like I noted in the opening of this post, I am concerned that there is much confusion amongst Christians about what it is that they mean when they say that they affirm the Trinitarian faith of Christianity. So my intended audience through these reflections will not primarily be the specialist, but instead it will be the motivated Christian who would be a so called non-specialist (primarily). This is not to say that what I will be presenting won’t be deep, somewhat technical (at points), and varied. It does mean though that even when some of the material ends up being technical, I will attempt to explain it in a way that is accessible and clear for the “untrained” Christian. I want this series of posts to invoke what any good theology out to; that is, I want this discussion to foster doxology and worship of our true and living God who is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Indeed, this is really what is motivating me to spend time in this area; I feel most passionate about a doctrine of God, about Christology, and then soteriology. I love to think about the depths of my God, and I want to promote this kind of passion for the body of Christ through offering these reflections.

I am just starting a newer book (released in 2011) by Greek Orthodox theologian, Khaled Anatolios, who is Professor of Theology at Boston College. So plan on hearing from him in the days to come. Let me offer a nice quote towards answering the question of this series of posts—Who Is the Christian God?—by Brian Daley (Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame); this quote about God from him comes from his forward to Anatolios book:

[T]he events of Easter and Pentecost … are for New Testament Christianity the beginning of a new depth of human awareness of God’s transcendent, ineffable reality and nearness, working in history to save us from self-destruction. More important, this astonishing revelation is the reason Christians affirm that these three distinct ways our forebears have had of conceiving God’s working are—taken together—a revelation of what God is. God is the invisible presence in the burning bush and on the top of Sinai, the one who guided Israel throughout its history, whom Jesus spoke to as his Father; God is the rabbi from Nazareth who proclaimed the kingdom, who was crucified and then raised from the dead, whom the disciples recognized as “Lord”; God is the sudden, irresistibly, powerful Holy Spirit of Pentecost and of the continuing life of the church, the interior “advocate” sent by Jesus from the Father (John 15:26) to bear witness to him and to guide his followers “into all truth” (John 16:13). For Christians, all three of these figures and voices in the history of revelation remain distinct—related intimately to one another, working along with one another, but not simply the same as one another—yet all, taken together, are what Christians mean by “God.” And salvation for the Christian is nothing less than to be caught up into this manifold divine mystery, this unified yet textured and endlessly reciprocal life of God. It is to be moved by the Spirit to call Jesus “Lord,” to be Jesus’s disciple, to be made part of Jesus’s ecclesial body, and so to walk with him on his way to the Father in obedience and in hope. It is to be identified by the Spirit, through trinitarian baptism, with Jesus Christ; to become “sons and daughters in the Son,” children of the Father with Jesus; and so to be embraced within the life of God. [Brian E. Daley in, Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine, Khaled Anatolios, xi]

I find Daley’s reflection provides a wonderful description of what it is that we are after as trinitarian Christians; and I mean when we attempt to think about the God whose life we have been ingrafted into in and through the humanity of Christ for us. We participate in this life of God by the free of adoption of grace bestowed upon us by the love of God in Christ by the recreative/’resurrective’ power of the Holy Spirit. It is this kind of life of love that I want my brothers and sisters to appreciate. I can’t think of a better thing to contemplate than God. As Daley summarizes Anatolios book, “… The subject, after all, as Gregory of Nazianzus reminds us, is nothing less than God.” (p. xiv)

My hope is that this topic of consideration will provide a deeper appreciation and understanding towards answering the foreboding question of ‘Who is the Christian God?’

Substance Metaphysics … No Such Thing, Really?

I was just thinking about how pivotal it is to get foundations right; that is in regards to doing theological and biblical thinking and work. If the theologian or exegete starts at the wrong spot, then all the subsequent thinking after that is built on a sandy land. This is why I think having a robust doctrine of God is so highly important. If we get our doctrine of God wrong, then everything after that will be side-ways. This is concerning to me, and it should be for all Christians (it’s something worthy of loosing sleep over, at points). I was prompted to think a little more about this because of a facebook correspondence I just read from a friends wall. He had mentioned that he was looking for some resources on a ‘substance metaphysics’, and another friend of his (on facebook)—who happens to be an earth shatteringly brilliant theologian, and well known—challenged him by asserting that there is no such thing as a ‘substance metaphysics’ in the history of Christian ideas and interpretation. And yet, this claim (from this well known Roman Catholic theologian)—that there is no such thing as a substance metaphysics in the ‘history’—runs counter to the claim that there indeed is (such a thing as a substance metaphysics).

The way I have always understood a ‘substance metaphysics’ (and I say ‘always’ relatively), is to appeal to something like Aristotle’s (and Thomas Aquinas’ appropriation of this) ‘essence/accidents’ distinction. The essence being the ‘thing’ that represents an essential thing or cluster of things (like attributes) that defines and makes something what it is—like for Thomas Aquinas, the rationale or intellect (the mind) is what is definitive for his anthropology; and being a theologian, for example, is not (this would fall in the realm of accident, for a person could be a person still, without being a theologian; but that person could not be a person without their intellect etc.). And yet, this big name Roman Catholic theologian (on the facebook wall and thread that I am referencing) is challenging anyone to actually define what ‘substance’ means when the theologian refers to a substance metaphysics.

I have a quote somewhere from post Reformed orthodox theologian and historian, Richard Muller, wherein he defines what so called ‘created grace’ entailed in a Medieval theological context (it’s from Muller dictionary of Protestant Latin theological terms). This is where I would go in illustrating an answer to this challenge laid down by this big named Roman Catholic patristics theologian. In other words (and this is just off the top, for the blog), ‘created grace’ is someThing, like a substance or stuff, placed into the accidents of humanity; it is this stuff of grace that man can cooperate with (the habitus), and thereby appropriate salvation by cooperating with God. Or, in Roman Catholic theology, created grace could be illustrated by looking at their view of the eucharist. In other words, the eucharist (the elements of bread and wine), are actually imbued with the actual corporeal body and blood of Jesus Christ (and thus serve as dispensers of God’s grace). So it is the actual ‘substance’ of bread and wine that convey and become God’s grace to humanity; and yet these things are inanimate things, and not personal.

Anyway, I would love to know how this big named Roman Catholic theologian understands this Aristotelian/Thomist distinction of essence and accident; and how this does not flow from what has become known as substance metaphysical.

Playing God in the place of God

I mentioned in my last post something about Barth’s sketch of modern man; I like this kind of stuff, the kind of stuff that provides historical perspective and description about the forces that have given birth to where we are presently. I think perspective is one of the most important components towards thinking rightly about God and self. We can’t, as Calvin has rightly emphasized, have a right perspective of ourselves and all of created reality without having perspective from God’s eyes in Christ. And it is an aspect of this kind of perspective that I think Karl Barth provides for us as he simply sketches some of the history that has led us to where we are in the Western world today. Here is Barth highlighting the situation of 18th century man, as a man who seemingly has the world at his fingertips, and yet as a man who really is only, in the end, grasping at the wind; here is Barth:

We have considered the political problem presented by the eighteenth century in particular detail because it is from the political angle that the eighteenth century can be seen most clearly as a whole. Let us now proceed to the attempt to comprehend it under two other aspects which present a less definite picture—the inner and outer forms imparted to life by man as he lived at that time.

By that external form which life has in any age I meant that particular element in its cultural aims and achievements which is evinced fairly consistently throughout its various expressions. Consequently it is possible to identify, with some precision, from the documents of any one of the expressions of this element, the tendency, nature and spirit of its other expressions, and so of the culture of the time as a whole. If there is such an external cast for the eighteenth century, and one that we can identify, it is perhaps most allowable to comprehend it in terms of a striving to reduce everything to an absolute form. Inanimate nature especially, in all its realms, but man’s somatic existence too, the sound that could be spontaneously called forth, with all the possibilities for coloration and different rhythmic patterns which it presented, human language in all its adaptability as a means of expression, social intercourse, individual development and the individual in relation to society—all this abundance of things provided is in the eyes of eighteenth-century man a mass of raw material, of which he believes himself to be the master. This material he confronts as he who has all the knowledge: knowledge of the form, the intrinsically right, fitting, worthy, beautiful form for which all the things provided are clearly intended to be the material, for which they are obviously crying out, and into which, as is plain, they must be brought with all the speed, artistry and energy man has at his command…. [Karl Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, 40-1]

I think the thing that stands out most to me from the quote is Barth’s point about man being master over creation. This is different from being a steward, or Thomas Torrance’s ‘Priest’ over creation. It is different because in this account, the one Barth is sketching of eighteenth century man, man believes himself to be autonomous, standing on his own two feet, without any help from a so called god.

We live in a world filled with people seeking to be the masters of their domain—whatever that domain might be—and it is in this pursuit that man becomes entangled with the concerns of this world (and not God’s) in such a way that he or she skips off of the true glory of God (death to self), and instead magnifies his own projected arrogance that he or she thinks defines their existential value in this world.

The bottom line is that we are either for Christ, or against him. If the latter, we will replace the living God and master with the mastering voice of our own head, and our own perceived image. Without God in Christ breaking into this vicious myopic circle, man would be hopeless, left in his sins. We are not the masters …

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