Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

When you have a 14-month old son, you don't have a lot of free time on holidays for deep theological reflection. So, instead, I leave you with this...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New Look at DET

Those of you who interact with me here at DET solely through a RSS reader will not have noticed, but DET has undergone a much overdue face-lift. I hope you all like it and find it more functional than the previous look.

H/T to Chris for pointing me in the right direction on this stuff.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kathryn Tanner on Condign and Congruent Merit

In this section, Tanner is explicating the theology of Gabriel Biel, and pointing out ways in which he diverged from previous scholastic positions in subtle ways. This whole section is interesting, and I highly recommend you take a look at it for yourself. But, here is a not insignificant portion to whet your appetite a bit more concerning this rather esoteric theological discussion. I find the development that Tanner lays out here to be very important to Reformation history as, if my memory serves me, Luther was trained in Biel's tradition. If Biel is an aberration of a more basic scholastic position, Luther is (perhaps) a corrective rather than an aberration in his own right. Just a thought. :-)

Kathryn Tanner, God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005): 140-1.

“In traditional use (e.g., Thomas), the distinction between congruous and condign merit was a way of considering the same human action performed on the basis of created grace and under two different aspects – from the side of human agency on the one hand and divine agency on the other. Human works performed on the basis of created grace may be said to merit salvation de condigno to the extent that such works are considered to proceed from the grace of the Holy Spirit and to the extent, therefore, that eternal life appears as the fitting completion of the gift of created grace from the side of the divine agency which works both. When the same human action performed on the basis of created grace is considered on its human side, it is said to merit salvation merely de congruo. One can assert this, moreover, only because God is operating as well tom complete ‘his’ own work de condigno. Human acts have no claim in themselves to an eternal ‘supernatural’ life; nevertheless, they may be said to merit salvation de congruo to the extent that God out of free mercy rewards ‘his’ own gifts.

“On Biel’s use, on the contrary, congruous merit is reified as a form of merit really distinct from condign merit, having its ground in human achievement alone apart from any direct operation of divine agency effective of grace. Congruous merit becomes a naturalistically interpreted preparation for the reception of the habit of grace, proceeding apart from any direct establishment of the relevant human operations by divine saving agency. In technical scholastic language, preparation for the reception of created grace is, according to Biel, essentially performed by human power without being itself established either by the very ‘form’ of created grace as its appropriate material condition (Thomas) or by gratia gratis data or auxilium Dei speciale. The traditional scholastic formula facere quod in se est, according to which God does not deny grace to those who do what is in them under the influence of grace, takes on the character of a self-originating human activity conditioning the divine ordination of grace.

“…Condign merit was traditionally based on the free mercy of God who ordains that unmerited created grace should be completed by eternal life; now it comes instead to be attributed at least partially – perhaps even in the main – to the independent efforts of human persons to perform good works. Condign merit no longer expresses the loving largesse of a God who rewards what itself arises only as a free divine gift; it is instead taken to represent the result of the joint co-agency of God and independently operative human beings.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

New Center for Barth Studies Book Review

Jesse Couenhoven has reviewed Neil B. MacDonald and Carl Trueman (eds.), Calvin, Barth, and Reformed Theology (Paternoster, 2008). He does a nice job of parsing out the contents and indentifying their strengths and weaknesses. Of course, readers of DET need no explanation as to why a volume of this might be interesting. Be sure to check it out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Trinity and Christology According to Gunton

****For those of you following the saga, I have passed my oral exam. All that now remains is the dissertation proposal, and that small matter of actually writing the dissertation. While I'm worrying about that, please enjoy the following.****
“What, then, is the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to…christology…? Pannenberg has famously said…that the trouble with traditional christologies is that they make the mistake of presupposing the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather, he holds, any doctrine of the Trinity must be the outcome of christological thought. In a sense, the latter is true. A [proper] doctrine of the Trinity…can only be the result of thought about the economy of salvation through Christ and the Spirit. That is the necessary order of knowing: from God’s relatedness to the world, make known in Christ, to a doctrine of his eternal being in relation. But the order of being must take a different orientation. If there is to be talk of the incarnation, it must presuppose the existence of a triune God, for it holds that the one through whom the world was made has become part of that world in order to redeem it from its bondage to decay. In that respect, the two doctrines, of God and of Christ, offer each other mutual support, or, rather, are dependent upon one another. Without a presupposed Trinity, the doctrine of the incarnation becomes an absurdity. With it, the point of the doctrine of the Trinity comes to be further realised, for it can be understood that it is not absurd that the agent of creation, the one through relation to whom it comes to be, by whom it is held in being, and to whom it is directed, should so involve himself in what he has made.”

Colin E. Gunton, Christ and Creation: The Didsbury Lectures, 1990 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005): 75-6.
I’m very sympathetic with a lot of what Gunton writes here. However, I do wonder about his way of parsing the noetic and ontic orders. For Gunton, these orders run parallel but in contrary directions. I’m far more inclined to side with Barth and see them as parallel and running in the same direction. Gunton’s position here is conceptually rather tight, and that is to be admired. But I wonder if he unnecessarily elevates the doctrine of the incarnation to a matter of faith. Now, I don’t mean to imply that I think the doctrine of the incarnation is somehow less than true – I affirm it wholeheartedly. But, it seems to me that such a conception is a conclusion rather than a starting point. The starting point is the faith affirmation and conviction that Jesus is Lord within the 1st century CE Jewish milieu. From there it isn’t too hard to get to a robust two-nature’s Christology as well as a doctrine of the Trinity – as the early church did.

So, while the doctrine of the Trinity is conceptually bound up with the doctrine of the incarnation in the way that Gunton proposes, the noetic order reaches back a little further. Of course, Barth takes this faith affirmation and conviction, seeing the noetic and ontic orders as concurrent rather than counterveiling. This means that there is no sense in which the Trinity relates to creation apart from considerations of Jesus. In other words: Barth is supralapsarian, and Gunton is not.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

T.F. Torrance on Karl Barth's Significance

This is from the first page of Torrance’s introduction to Barth’s Theology and Church: Shorter Writings, 1920-1928 (Louise Pettibone Smith, trans.; New York: Harper & Row, 1962).
Karl Barth is the greatest theological genius that has appeared on the scene for centuries. He cannot be appreciated except in the context of the greatest theologians such as Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, nor can his thinking be adequately measured except in the context of the whole history of theology and philosophy. Not only does he recapitulate in himself in the most extraordinary way the development of all modern theology since the Reformation, but he towers above it in such a way that he has created a situation in the Church, comparable only to the Reformation, in which massive clarification through debate with the theology of the Roman Church can go on. Karl Barth has, in fact, so changed the whole landscape of theology, Evangelical and Roman alike, that the other great theologians of modern times appear in comparison rather like jobbing gardeners.
Hyperbole at points? Maybe. Crying for further clarification? Certainly. Still, leave it to TFT to write such a sweeping account of Barth’s significance.