My Blogging: And Barth’s 18th Century Masters of the Universe

I am feeling rather dull (and tired), and that’s why I haven’t been posting as much. I need to get motivated again, somehow, and then I’ll be back to my regular posting self. I have been reading quite a bit, and I have come across quite a few things that I found very interesting. But I am realizing that a lot of what I find interesting many blog readers do not. And so my motivation to take the time to post a reflection on such stuff has been on the wane. I think most of it is because I am just tired. Don’t worry, all three of you 😉 , I’ll have a new post up, really soon (maybe tonight even … besides this intermission post). I have been reading some Barth, and his thinking on the development of Protestant theology in the 19th century. I found something interesting from his thinking about the mood of 18th century man as master of the universe (my terminology). I think it would be enlightening to write a little about, it has legs that get us into theological methodology etc.; alas, that’s why Barth is sketching/developing what he currently is, where he is in this particular volume of his.

The summary of what Barth is communicating is that 18th century man came into his own (so to speak), and as a result, this man began imposing himself upon and all over nature and reality in ways that provided an imprint of man’s own perceived arrogant image, but then this imposition has provided nothing of value towards actually getting at the reality that is there; the reality of God in Christ. Or, the ‘modern’ enlightened man has missed God because of the ways that he has devised to deal with reality in general (in mathematical, scientific [meaning rationalism-positivism]). The modern man cannot meaningfully encounter the God revealed in Jesus Christ, because he has got himself in the way through his methods. Barth goes on to talk about how this attitude began to be expressed in architecture, fashion, etc.

Maybe I’ll provide the quote from Barth, and maybe not. I blog to learn, so maybe I will; we’ll see.

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god of the philosophers

*Repost, comments off on this one.

I am currently reading Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology edited by Oliver D. Crisp and Michael C. Rea. I will be writing a review of it for the Pacific Journal of Baptist Research. I am currently reading chapter 2 entitled Systematic Theology as Analytic Theology by William J. Abraham. The whole book is, as it were, making an argument for the place of ‘Analytic Philosophy’ in Systematic Theology. If you are unaware, there is a schism (of sorts) between Analytic Theologians and Systematic Theologians. Ultimately the division between the two has to do with methodological commitments that impact material theological conclusions. The Analytic theologian wants to argue that their craft (Analytic Philosophy) is a necessary tool for the theologian to wield, in order for said theologian to think with rigor and respectability amongst other academic disciplines. At the end of the day, for the two main camps in this discussion—Analytic Theologians V. Continental Theologians—the question comes back to an issue of how the theologian perceives the role of Revelation. In other words, the question that Barth and Brunner debated over; viz. the question of the viability that a so called ‘natural theology’ (analogia entis) has within a prolegomenon for Systematic Theology. Or, do we start with Christ or Nature. Most Western Systematic Theology (in the Evangelical world) has gone the way of Analytic Theology and starting with Nature, methodologically—this move effects everything (all other doctrinal development).

In the following quote, Abraham describes the scorn that comes from non-Analytic theologians towards Analytic Theologians as he perceives it (as an Analytic Theologian).

Consider how analytic theology might proceed in articulating a robust doctrine of God. At present there is stout resistance in some theological circles to deploying philosophical skill in articulating a Christian vision of God that has multiple sources. There is, at the outset, the long-standing contrast that pits the god of the philosophers over against the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From as far back as Tertullian and at least from Pascal onwards in the modern period we have been told that there is the dead, abstract god of the philosophers and the living God of scripture and faith. Karl Barth’s arguments against natural theology have aided and abetted this contrast sharply and made it the staple diet of three generations of theologians. To read for the god of the philosophers is to seek to justify ourselves by our works; it is to invent an idol rather than turn to the one true God of divine revelation; and it is to make revelation subordinate to human reason. In addition it has been suggested from the side of recent liberation theology that the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god of the philosophers is the top-down god of the masters, the god of empire. An omnipotent god will end up, like it or not, being brought in to support the unilateral omnipotence of empire. Thus the god of the philosophers is, if only by default, in synch with the new North American, neo-colonial empire. From another angle the god the philosophers is a god one comes to know through cold, clinical logic divorced from genuine spirituality and from the special revelation through whom God is supremely known and loved. So the god of the philosophers is really the god of pagan thinking rather than the God known and worshipped in the faith of the saints and martyrs. [William J. Abraham, chpt. 2, Analytic Theology, 61]

[One caveat, Abraham polarizes the characterization of the ‘Liberation Theologian’s’ disdain for the god of the philosophers. In truth, Abraham’s ‘Liberation Theology’ doesn’t just gripe against the god of the philosophers, but against the God of the Christian Tradition—I am assuming Abraham thinks that the god of the philosophers is univocal with the God of the Christian Tradition. In some quarters this may be the case, but not in all, and not in the best of the Tradition.]

In our forthcoming book, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow. Foreword by Alasdair Heron. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications, my particular chapter is entitled: “Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either Through Christ or Through Nature.” My area of interest, in my chapter, revolves around the very questions that Abraham is addressing. I follow the ‘Analogy of Faith’ (through Christ) contra what Abraham would follow the ‘Analogy of Being’ (or through ‘Natural’ Theology). Some would say that this presents a false dichotomy, that a chaste approach would understand that we need both working in tandem with each other. But I would suggest that this fails to understand the critique on theological method that this dichotomy reflects. Do we start with God’s ‘Self-revelation’ and ‘Self-interpretation’ in his ‘Self-interpreting-Word’ (cf. Jn. 1.18); or do we start with seeking the glory of man theologia gloriae (cf. Jn. 5.39-47)?

Book Review, Christian Kettler’s: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation

The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011)  ISBN: 13: 978-1-61097-166-9, Paperback, 338 pp. Price: $29.60

by: Christian D. Kettler

To begin, I would like to say thank you to James Stock of Wipf and Stock Publishers for graciously sending me this review copy.

The author, Christian D. Kettler is currently Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. He earned his PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary under the watchful eyes of the late Drs. Geoffrey Bromiley and Ray Anderson. This particular book, under review, represents Kettler’s PhD dissertation (which was originally published in 1991 by University Press of America) which he submitted at Fuller Theological Seminary in the late 80s. Besides being supervised by Bromiley and Anderson for his doctorate, Kettler also served as Thomas F. Torrance’s teaching assistant in 1981 (when Torrance was at Fuller); it was during this time that Kettler was motivated to research what was a central doctrine for TF Torrance (p. v), that is, the vicarious humanity of Christ.

The book, by way of organization, is helpfully broken down into three parts. Part One is titled: The Problem of the Reality of Salvation in Contemporary Theology. This first part of the book is made up of five chapters: Chapter 1, Salvation as Immanence: Process Theology (John B. Cobb, Jr.) p. 15 & Liberation Theology (Leonardo Boff) p. 25. Chapter 2, Salvation as Eschatology (Jürgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg) p. 41. Chapter 3, Salvation as Universalism (John Hick) p. 63. Chapter 4, Salvation as Humanization (Hans Küng) p. 73. And Chapter 5, The Humanity of God as Critique of Anthropocentric Theologies, p. 81. This section serves as a survey of various theologies, as the aforementioned table of contents illustrates, that will provide a context which Kettler will offer critique of later in the other sections of the book. In fact Kettler moves from this first section by appealing to Karl Barth’s Humanity of God, as offering a critique of what Kettler believes are actually anthropocentric modes of theology in the theologies of Cobb, Boff, Moltmann, Pannenberg, Hick, and Küng. Here is what Kettler writes in summary of this section, “The problem of their anthropocentric approach for the question of the reality of salvation is then critiqued through Karl Barth’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of God, which becomes a bridge leading us into the main body of  our study, Part Two, ‘The Vicarious Humanity of Christ as the External Expression of the Eternal Humanity of God.’” (p. 6) This leads us to Kettler’s ‘Part Two’.

Part Two of Kettler’s work, as just noted, is entitled: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ as the External Expression of the Eternal Humanity of God. This section is made up of four chapters, and they are: Chapter 6, Vicarious Humanity as Theological Reality (T.F. Torrance) p. 121. Chapter 7, Vicarious Humanity as Epistemological and Hermeneutical Reality (John McLeod Campbell) p. 155. Chapter 8, Vicarious Humanity as Soteriological Reality: The Vicarious Repentance of Christ, p. 187. Chapter 9, Vicarious Humanity as Eschatological Reality: The Exalted Humanity of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 205. This section of the volume serves as Kettler’s main body of engagement with the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ. He starts fittingly with Thomas Torrance’s doctrine here, since T. F. Torrance is known as one of the primary advocates for giving this doctrine prominence in his own dogmatic endeavor. Kettler writes as he opens his section on Torrance:

Thomas F. Torrance is one contemporary theologian who has repeatedly in his writings brought up the significance of the vicarious humanity of Christ for salvation. This is a humanity which becomes the basis for a renewed and restored humanity. Certainly such an approach holds promise to help us in our search for “the reality of salvation. (p. 121)

Kettler develops this theme, per the already mentioned break down of the chapter, through the various motifs that make up this theme or doctrine in the theologies of Thomas Torrance, John McLeod Campbell [another Scottish Theologian prior to Torrance’s time], an Anglican named R. C. Moberly, James B. Torrance [Thomas’ brother]; and then Kettler does exegetical work in the epistle to the Hebrews which yields more material for better understanding the scriptural basis for the theologies of the aforementioned theologians (p. 7). After this work is done, Kettler moves the reader to his Part Three.

The third section, or ‘Part Three’ is called: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ as the Locus of the Reality of Salvation in the World: Vicarious Humanity as Ecclesial Reality. This section is made up of two chapters, they are entitled: Chapter 10, Humanity Displaced: The Judge Judged in our Place (Karl Barth), p. 233. Chapter 11, Humanity Restored: Christ as the Last Adam and the Church as the Body of Christ, p. 263. Kettler offers a summary of this section:

[I]n Part Three, the locus of the vicarious humanity of Christ is found in the church, the body of Christ. But this is true only as the church becomes “displaced” by the humanity of “the Judge judged in our place” (Karl Barth) and “restored” as the church becomes “the Community of the last Adam.” The character of this community is not found in itself, but in God,  through the lordship of the Spirit (“the community of the Spirit”) and, then, through the fruit of concrete, often unspectacular, acts of faith, love and hope in the world (“the community of faith, hope, and love”). In all of this, Rashkolnikov’s question, the question of every atheist and agnostic, is never far behind: “And what does God do for you?” — the question of the reality of salvation. (p. 7)

You notice that Kettler mentions ‘Rashkolnikov’, that’s because he opens, in his preface, and closes in his epilogue with a question offered in Dostoyevsky’s novel, Crime and Punishment. Kettler creatively uses Dostoyevsky’s writing to frame the general question that his study is seeking to answer; that is, ‘the reality of salvation’.

What this reviewer found worthy of commendation in Kettler’s book is that he provides a clear organizational scheme to his book. He offers careful and cogent analysis of the various theologies that implicate a doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ. Furthermore, Kettler’s study is rather ground breaking; there has not been many works “published” (to my knowledge) that broach this doctrine, and seek to develop it as a vital doctrine that has dogmatic, ethical, and pastoral reference for the Christian church. Something that stood out to this reader was Kettler’s careful exegesis of the Christology offered in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is not often that one finds exegetical work done in a study that is primarily of dogmatic significance. So this reviewer found this a noteworthy move reflected in the research of Christian Kettler.

While this review has not found anything negligent in the efforts of Kettler, there is some room for improvement. The first thing of note (and this is something that Kettler had no control over at the time, of course not!), is that Kettler’s work is rather dated. And so the theologies he surveys in the beginning of the book may not have the relevance that some readers of dogmatic theology, today, might want. Secondly, having a sense of where ‘Barth’ studies are in their current form (in the 21st century context), this reviewer believes that some of Kettler’s analysis of Barth’s own thought might not prove as ground breaking or pertinent as it once may have in Kettler’s original context in the 1980s and 90s. Ultimately, the only real area for improvement that this reviewer found of note is something that Christian Kettler really had no control over; the material is somewhat dated. That said, there is not a lot of material available in this area of research, so Kettler’s work is a gem if your interests fall in the area of soteriology, Christology, and in particular, the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ.

I would highly recommend this book for researchers in this area, for academics and theologians, for the motivated seminary student, and for the thoughtful and persistent lay Christian. On a five star rating system, this reviewer gives Christian Kettler’s book a four and a half.

‘First Adam’ ‘Second Adam’: And Barth’s Canon within the ‘Canon’

I was just reading Everett F. Harrison’s commentary on Romans in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; in particular I was reading his coverage of Romans 5:12-14, I was motivated to look over some commentaries I have on hand because of the discussion surrounding the historicity of Adam amongst some contemporary biblical exegetes (like Peter Enns and others). Of course, and rightly so, most commentators are not going to be engaging in speculation about whether Adam was a historical personage or not; instead, the steady exegete will seek to lay bare the intent of the particular passage’s message as understood (intra and intertextually) through the theology, in our instance, of the Apostle Paul. In light of this, I wanted to focus on Harrison’s own exegesis of Paul in Romans 5:12-14 juxtaposed with what he thinks is Karl Barth’s reading of this same pericope; in particular, what Harrison thinks of Barth’s understanding of the person of Adam vis-á-vis the person of Jesus Christ as Paul’s ‘second Adam’. Here is the text in question, first in English and then the Greek text:

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned — 13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. –Romans 5:12-14 (NIV)

12 δια τουτο ωσπερ δι ενος ανθρωπου η αμαρτια εις τον κοσμον εισηλθεν και δια της αμαρτιας ο θανατος και ουτως εις παντας ανθρωπους ο θανατος διηλθεν εφ ω παντες ημαρτον 13 αχρι γαρ νομου αμαρτια ην εν κοσμω αμαρτια δε ουκ ελλογειται μη οντος νομου 14 αλλα εβασιλευσεν ο θανατος απο αδαμ μεχρι μωυσεως και επι τους μη αμαρτησαντας επι τω ομοιωματι της παραβασεως αδαμ ος εστιν τυπος του μελλοντος –Romans 5:12-14 (GNT)

The issue I want to consider, relative to Harrison’s reading of this text juxtaposed with Barth’s, is the critique that Harrison offers of Barth’s ‘theological-exegetical’ reading of this passage; in particular the ‘image of God’ in the theology of the Apostle Paul. Harrison, somewhat in passing, notices that Barth understands Paul’s usage of Adam in a way that is only typological of Paul’s real point about the image of God, that Barth thinks should really be in reference to the ‘second Adam’, or Jesus Christ. Harrison summarizes, and questions Barth’s reading in this way:

In his book, Christ and Adam (Harper, 1956), Karl Barth has advanced a provocative interpretation of Adam as a type of Christ. He has attempted to reverse the order: “Man’s essential and original nature is to be found … not in Adam but in Christ. In Adam we can only find it prefigured. Adam can therefore be interpreted only in the light of Christ and not the other way round” (p. 29). It should be evident, however, that Paul’s thought here is not moving in the orbit of man as made in the image of God and therefore in the image of Christ who is the image of God. To import the preexistence of Christ is to introduce an element foreign to Paul’s purpose and treatment in this passage…. [Everett F. Harrison, Romans, in 10 Expositors’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, edited by Frank E. Gæbelein, p. 63]

Harrison may be right, de jure or in principle, that Paul’s own orbit of thought may have not been fully articulated, even to himself, in regards to a full blown, what we might call, Chalcedonian Christology (or even a Johannine one); but, de facto, or in actual fact, Harrison, I think is wrong to suggest that Paul’s own unarticulated theology does not invite the exegete and theologian to step deeper into the theological trajectory that Paul’s occasional writings presuppose. In other words, I think Harrison is wrong to assert that Paul’s ‘orbit’ of thought cannot be driven further than even the Apostle Paul drove it in his own context. I float this, because much of Paul’s own theology, delimited as it is by the type of literature he was inking ‒ Epistle – by definition is going to remain unarticulated and enthymemic (or some of his premises are unstated and just presumed on his part). So for Harrison to suggest what he has in regard to Paul’s thinking about the ‘second Adam’ as primary to the ‘first Adam’ relative to understanding, theologically, the function that the image of God language ought to play in Paul’s accounting; I think is highly presumptuous.

Karl Barth is obviously committed to a theological exegetical approach to interpreting scripture. He is committed to what some have called a ‘principial’ and intensive christocentrism in his reading of holy writ; such that he seeks to ground all of his reading of scripture, as if scripture’s reality (res) only is realizable when couched in its teleological (‘purposeful’) shape provided by Jesus Christ himself.

So the question is: Is Barth playing fast and loose with scripture, imposing his own theological grid and ‘canon’ on the canon of scripture; thus morphing it into a re-imagined wonder world of modern theological impulses? Or, is Barth following the trajectory that Jesus himself set in the reinterpretation of the Old Testament scriptures as if those scriptures were really all about him? Not just about him at a surface glance, but about him in all of his depth and reality as the ‘eternal Logos’, and the second person of the Trinity.

I think Harrison sets up a false dilemma, placing a historical-critical reading (Harrison’s) in competition with a depth theological reading that Barth follows. These approaches don’t need to be seen as discordant, one with the other, but instead they can (and ought to) be understood as mutually implicating and complementing one of the other. Such that the historic-critical realities of Paul’s own textured thought are what lead us (by their own presupposed theological depth and context) to the kind of reading that someone like Barth or even John Calvin have offered in regards to Paul’s letter to the Romans (and elsewhere).

My Baptist and Pietistic Heritage

I haven’t done a post like this for awhile, so let me remedy that. My ‘heritage’ was brought up in a comment meta in one of my recent posts. Let me take this as an opportunity just to share a bit of my background as a Christian person.

I was born in 1974 in the Pacific Northwest of the United States (the state of Washington). My dad, at my time of birth, was an ordained Conservative Baptist pastor; and so I was born into the “ministry” — so to speak. I accepted Jesus into my heart at a very early age, and began to grow in the grace and knowledge of Him. I had my ups and downs as I grew up, and a few years out of high school the LORD got a hold of my life in radical ways — it was this kind of intervention or ‘encounter’ with Jesus Christ that has set the tone of my life ever since. As a result of this encounter with Christ (and in an ongoing way), I entered Multnomah Bible College and then Multnomah Biblical Seminary, and now hopefully (still), South African Theological Seminary to pursue a PhD in systematic theology studying with Myk Habets.

Anyway, I wanted to broach my Baptist background, and the kind of American theology that shaped that background.

  1. As far as my methodological approach (which I don’t think we could really call it that), I would have claimed to be a biblicist (doesn’t every body 😉 ). Meaning that I was happy to simply follow the flow of what I presumed to be a straight forward prima facie reading of the Text — of course, unbeknownst to me at that time, this straight forward reading of the Scriptures was being informed by a particular, and idiosyncratic American approach to doing such reading of the Text.
  2. As a result, my view of salvation could have been described simply as “Once-Saved-Always-Saved” (or a so called Calminian, a mixture of classic Arminianism with Calvinism). And my “straight forward” reading of scripture also suggested to me that a person had ‘free-will’ and a responsibility that allowed them to accept or reject salvation in Christ (so a decision centered salvation — some call this ‘conversionist’).
  3. All of the above was framed from a certain mood or posture; the posture was rooted in an American Pietism that, historically might look back to someone like Philip Jakob Spener. This mood found its contours in an attempt to relate to God through a warm-hearted approach that is bible-centered, and relationally driven — i.e. Pietism of the Spener inspiration sought to transcend what was perceived as the cold, arid, intellectualist mode offered by the scholasticism of the day. Indeed, it is this ‘tradition’ that shaped (and to some extent, still does … although it is waning) the ethos present at my alma mater, Multnomah University.
  4. My biblical interpretive tradition was Dispensationalism (in its various forms). The hallmark of this approach to biblical interpretation is to follow what they call a ‘literal’ method of interpretation. Meaning that the text of scripture should be taken as literally as possible, until taking it literally becomes an absurdity (or some such axiom). This approach leads to a belief in a future, literal, earthly one thousand year millennial kingdom of Christ; wherein after Jesus’ second coming (after the Great Tribulation period, or “Jacob’s Trouble” or Daniel’s 70th Week), he finally brings in the Davidic Kingdom in Jerusalem, finally fulfilling the long awaited ‘Land Covenant’ he made with the nation of Israel. The literal approach also leads to a Pre-Tribulational rapture theory; which is the idea (for those unfamiliar) that Jesus will take his Church out of this earth, which will initiate the Great Tribulation period (or ‘The Day of the LORD’). At the end of this apocalyptic deluge of God’s wrath on the earth (primarily directed at the Nation of Israel), Jesus will come back (his second coming), and set up his millennial kingdom. This was my approach to biblical interpretation for most of my life; that is, up until about five years ago.

This is some of what made up my kind of Baptistic faith.

Blogius Anonymous Maximus Strikes Again: “Sin”

I wanted to respond to someone who continues to defy my wishes by commenting anonymously as Blogius Anonymous Maximus. This blogger has a penchant for editing, particularly me, as you will see in his/her comment to me (I doubt it is a her). But there editing skill isn’t what I want to draw attention to; instead I want to address Blogius’ point about me using the category of “sin” in a reductionistic way when I was reflecting, a bit, on the Colorado movie shooting in this post. Here is what Anonymous Maximus wrote in response to that post:

It’s ‘humanity’s’ not ‘humanities’. Nothing like spiritualising a tragedy, and reducing the complex set of psychological and social circumstances which breed such action.

So I misspelled humanity’s — for perspective’s sake, let’s remember that this is a blog dear Blogius (again, thank you, though for exemplifying your editing skills, they must come in quite handy for you) — but I am not really all that concerned with my spelling in my response to dear Anonymous Maximus. What does concern me is his/her concern that my usage of “sin” exemplifies an issue of “spiritualizing” a complex set of pyscho-sociological circumstances. The way that I understand sin, at its core, is as a privation of relationship with God; and it is in this vacuum (or privation) that self love concupiscence or an homo in se incurvatus takes over through which the dynamics on display in Colorado at the movie theater inhered. In other words, Blogius fails to appreciate, it seems, that “sin” is the very occasion that sets the atmosphere in which a systemic evil through nature and nuture has the capacity to be actualised in the most heinous of ways (like the holocaust, or in Colorado at the movie theater).

It seems to me that Blogius is not thinking that Christianly about “sin” in this instance; since he seems to be thinking in rather dualistic ways, abstracting (presumptuously) the language of sin into some ethereal “spiritual” realm, when as Christians we think in integrative ways; such that when we use the category of sin, we understand that to be a term that identifies that there is no such thing as a disembodied (“spiritual”) notion of sin (at least not the kind that Jesus put to death in his body Romans 8.3).

PS. I intentionally inserted some spelling and grammatical errors into this post to make sure that Blogius could keep his editing skills sharp.

Did Karl Barth Explicitly Reject ‘Universalism’ in CD I/2 p. 37 or [p. 238]?

Karl Barth Smoking a Cigar,
He Was a Pipe Smoker, Really.

I am currently reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics I/2, p. 37 [p. 238]. I have a question for those of you ‘Barthians’ who might be in the know. It has to do with the oft repeated thought that Karl Barth was himself a ‘universalist’. As some of us know, his Scottish student extraordinaire, Thomas Forsyth Torrance followed Barth, somewhat on his view of election, but vehemently rejected universalism (even though he accepted and articulated, like Barth, the necessity for believing in a universal atonement by virtue of the theo-logic that extends from the Incarnation itself). Nevertheless, it is, to reiterate, often repeated that Barth’s theology necessarily led to a Christian universalism (and many of his followers today only help to reinforce this conclusion, but not all!). So in light of this situation, and now to pose my question to the Barthians, in the following passage from Barth, do we have him asserting something that actually should make it clear that Barth, in fact, did not accept universalism (the following sounds very similar to what TF Torrance might say about salvation and eternal judgment relative to a Christ grounded standard)? Here is the snippet of the passage I am referring to (it is in the section where Barth has been developing objective and subjective revelation in Christ):

[…] It is the truth, even if man is not in the truth. It is true that God is with us in Christ and that we are His children, even if we ourselves do not perceive it. It is true from all eternity, for Jesus Christ who assumed our nature is the eternal Son of God. And it is always true in time, even before we perceive it to be true. It is still true even if we never perceive it to be true, except that in this case it is true to our eternal destruction…. [emphasis mine] [Karl Barth, CD I/2, p. 37 (p. 238)]

So is Barth referencing eternal conscious torment here? It seems as if he was that the charge of Barth being a universalist would have long been abandoned, because a passage like this could simply be lifted to demonstrate that Barth did in fact explicitly reject universalism as a viable possibility.

Anyway, Barthians, let my inquiring mind know what you think. Thanks.

Is There a ‘Coherence’ to Eternal Punishment if We Reject ‘Natural Theology’?

Is there an incoherence for eternal punishment without a ‘natural theology’? That is what anonymous commenter ‘ChristianTrader’ believes (which you can see in the comments to this post here).

Here is what ChristianTrader asked me in regards to rejecting natural theology (as I do) relative to his reading of Romans 1, and then his application of his theological exegesis applied to his question of a coherence to eternal punishment. He writes:

3)Without natural theology/natural law, eternal punishment does not make any sense. Contrary Romans 1, people have an excuse. If one has an excuse, then how in the world does eternal punishment remain a coherent idea?

Here is my response to ChristianTrader (and remember, my response is “bloggy” and off the top, on the fly):

People don’t have an excuse because God’s Self-revelation in Christ has already contradicted any ground for people to stand on in their own noetic prowess (which is completely held captive by their own inner longings apart from it being put to death in Christ … at least that’s what Rom. 8.3 implies theologically). Eternal punishment, as I understand it, is grounded in Jesus Christ and in his substitutionary vicarious relationship for us with the Father. It is not contingent upon some sort of ‘absolute’ or ‘pure nature’ (as what you are communicating presupposes) principle that is somehow secondarily (and I mean causally) grounded in itself. But nature is contingent upon God’s own Word upholding it for his purposes, which is and has always been ‘in and for Christ’. So the coherence of eternal punishment, dialectically, can only be maintained when we conceive of it through Christ conditioned lenses; which means, that when the ‘Fall’ happened the ‘fall’ happened in ‘relation’ to creation’s purpose and ‘relation’ to its purpose in Christ for the Father by the Spirit. In other words, the ‘Fall’ signaled a movement in creation which disoriented it from its ground of being in and for Christ; which then this ‘non-being’ (or privation of being) results in a separation from its proper relation to God in a God-world relation mediated through Christ. To be separated from the ground of being (which ultimately is in and conditioned by Christ) is where the coherence for ‘eternal punishment’ comes in (if there is a coherence for such an ab-surd thing!). It is to be eternally separated from the only being who is eternal in himself.

That was my quick response. [And just to be clear in regard to my last clause: I think all of humanity is actually represented by Christ in his humanity for us, and so it would seem inexplicable that anyone would actually and/or ultimately reject the ground of their being (or salvation) in Christ … and yet according to the Dominical teaching this is exactly what has and will happen for some. So as T. F. Torrance would say it, there is a “surdness” to this.]

I think it is important to bear in mind that natural theology is representative of a theological methodology. It is not something we simply read directly out of scripture; instead it is a methodology that can or cannot be (which I think the latter) co-ordianted with a way to read and situate the themes and theology of scripture.

A Brief Christian Reflection on the Colorado Movie Shooting

The shooting in Aurora, Colorado is tragic; as we all know. Of course, in moments like this the question is always ‘why’? I wanted to take a little different angle in broaching this question. There is a movement amongst ‘unbelievers’ in America (and the world, I gather) that believes that the answer to humanities’ problem is education (the more you have the more well balanced of a person you are, and the more you can contribute to society thus “saving” it from chaos and disorder). In light of this context, it baffles the mind (for those who believe this is true) when a PhD student in neuro-science (which I think the shooter was studying, before recently withdrawing) goes on the rampage that he did in the movie theater.

It is when real reality (the darkness of the human heart) rubs up against a system of “betterment” and self-development (like the education equals salvation for society movement holds to), that folk are thrown into a tail-spin.

As a Christian the answer is clear, in general (not particular), why the shooter did what he did; he is a sinner, with a desperately wicked heart. And the answer for this shooter was his need for a new heart (cf. II Cor. 3), and to walk by the power of the Spirit; putting to death the works of the flesh by the power of the Spirit in the resurrected humanity of Christ.

So education, apart from Christ is not the answer for society; salvation in Jesus Christ, which is where the real education begins, is where the answer resides (‘faith seeking understanding’).

Jared Wilson Retracts and Apologizes, But ‘Natural Theology’ Is Still Wrong

Jared Wilson has deleted his post, and offered an apology here (ht: Brian LePort). If you are unaware of what I am talking about, I have his now deleted post offered in full in my first post (of two) on this particular issue here. I then followed my first post with this second post here. Let me provide a little more context on what was fueling my ire on this.

My wife and I, as a recent post makes clear, have just recently watched The Stoning of Soraya M. It was this movie that illustrated for me what an unrestrained so called complementarian approach to gender issues can lead to. I normally would self identify as a complementarian (instead of an egalitarian), at the moment though, I am in a spot of suspension. I am not altogether happy with what I see in the egalitarian movement either (contra complementarianism) — it seems to be charged with all kinds of political over and undertones that make me shy away from wanting to be identified this way. But, I have come to see how complementarianism is also imbued with this same kind of political platform; so, I am suspended. I must be somewhere on these continuums of belief, but at the moment, I really don’t want to identify with either of them.

All of that said; it is a good move that Jared has made, he should have apologized for posting the blather that Douglas Wilson originally penned. There has been some kind of a defense (and critique) made of Douglas Wilson’s quote by a guy named Alastair here. But as far as I am concerned, Douglas Wilson’s language cannot be defended (it can just be retracted as Jared Wilson has rightly done now).

I offered a quick “critique” (not really a critique, but a reflection that could offer the lineaments towards a critique) in my second post on this issue. The reality is, is that Douglas Wilson’s quote exemplifies what happens when a theologian/pastor operates, methodologically from a ‘natural theology’ (what is=ought when applied to ethics). If I were to pursue this issue further with Douglas Wilson, this is the line that I would pursue. The quote from Douglas Wilson is explicitly framed in a way that uses “nature” in a way that it cannot be used apart from explicitly framing it in a Christ conditioned way. Meaning that we cannot simply read our ethics off of the pages of creation without understanding creation’s ‘purpose’ in Jesus Christ, and this is what I see Douglas Wilson trying to do — in the name of Christ, no less.

PS. I realize we are all imperfect, and err. But when someone’s theology (maybe my own too) causes them to write the kinds of things that Douglas Wilson has in the ‘way’ he has, then that kind of error needs to at least receive some push back, it is up to D. Wilson to do with that what he will. J. Wilson has done what he thinks is right by apologizing, and so should D. Wilson (which I haven’t seen him do yet). The reality, though, which I fully realize, is that we all have a web of beliefs that we hold to (in a noetic structure), and at the bottom of those beliefs there is a guiding touchstone belief that is shaping and conditioning the rest. My concern with D. Wilson’s statement runs deeper than even the jargon of the quote that J. Wilson quoted from D., it goes to his touchstone belief about God which flows from his Federal Vision theology. It is his commitment to this touchstone belief about God (that I think is grounded in an inadequate account of who God is as Triune) that allows him to take other postures down line which result in quotables like that that J. Wilson took from D. Wilson’s book.