Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2010 KBBC: Week 1, Day 2

Karl Barth and Herman Bavinck on the Deus dixit
By Andrew Esqueda

One of Herman Bavinck’s most profound contributions to theology can be found in his prolegomena to Reformed Dogmatics [RD, 4 vols] in which he seeks to bring forth a necessary and fundamental starting point for all further elucidations on the proper task of dogmatics. This starting point begins by affirming that “God has spoken,” Deus dixit (RD I, 30; 46). The significant impact of Bavinck and his exposition of the Deus dixit can be seen in his influence upon Karl Barth. Barth subsequently took Bavinck’s application of the Deus dixit and furthered its use by way of his commentary on the proper task of dogmatics and development of a three-fold Word of God. Barth, in preparation for his Göttingen lectures, read Bavinck’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek closely, and incorporated Bavinck’s understanding of the Deus dixit into his lectures (McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology [CRDT], 337). It is important to note that Barth did not stop with a simple affirmation of Bavinck’s declaration that “God has spoken,” but developed it further, working with and beyond Bavinck’s original scheme. Although Barth’s use of the Deus dixit has been examined in studies by Bruce L. McCormack, (CRDT, 337), and John Vissers, (“What Might Canadian Evangelical Theologians Learn From Karl Barth’s Appreciative Use of Herman Bavinck’s “Reformed Dogmatics”?”, Lecture, CETA, Montreal, May, 2010), it is my intention in this essay to go beyond an examination of Barth’s appreciative use of Bavinck and to examine the differences and similarities in Barth and Bavinck’s dogmatic use of the Deus dixit.

This essay is comprised of three sections. In the first section, I begin with an examination of Bavinck’s use of the Deus dixit (RD I), highlighting its position as the foundation of dogmatics. In the second section, I examine Barth’s use and development of the Deus dixit within the Göttingen Dogmatics [GD]. I will begin with an investigation into Barth’s appropriation of the Deus dixit as it relates to his elucidation of the proper task of dogmatics and his doctrine of the three-fold word of God. In the third and final section, I compare and contrast Barth and Bavinck’s use of the Deus dixit, paying significant attention to Barth’s understanding of its limits.

Herman Bavinck

That God has revealed Himself in His Word means that the Deus dixit has occurred—God has spoken. This assertion is, for Bavinck, the fundamental presupposition of dogmatics. Dogmatics can then be defined as reflection upon the Deus dixit. Bavinck writes, “The task of the dogmatician is to think God’s thoughts after him and to trace their unity” (RD I, 25). It is in reflection upon the Deus dixit that the dogmatician is able to properly carry out this task. But, for Bavinck, dogmatics is comprised of more than ambivalent reflection; there must be a certainty in the speaking of God for dogmatics properly to be dogmatics. Thus, it is only through supreme confidence that the Deus dixit has occurred that dogmatic reflection may be undertaken. As Bavinck saw it, the certainty and confidence that “God has spoken” comes to light in the exposition of Scripture. Therefore, dogmatics is able to proceed with confidence only on account of divine revelation grounded in “sacred Scripture” (RD I, 30). For Bavinck, dogmatics cannot and must not be seen as that which grounds the contours of the Christian faith—it is exactly the opposite. Room is made for dogmatic reflection by divine revelation attested in Scripture and the coming of faith. Bavinck maintained that the proper task of dogmatics can be rooted in none other than the speaking of God. Thus, for Bavinck, “the principle into which all theological dogmas are distilled is: God has said it [Deus dixit]” (RD I, 30).

Karl Barth

It is in the beginning of Karl Barth’s prolegomena to dogmatics, entitled “The Word of God as the Problem of Dogmatics” (GD, 3), that Barth adheres to what he calls an “older dogmatic tradition.” In following this tradition, Barth, defines dogmatics as “reflection on the Word of God” (GD, 8). It is important that dogmatics not be equated with the science of God (GD, 10), which reduces dogmatics to scholarly metaphysics. Barth, wants to make certain that these truths are always governed and “secured by an intervening Deus dixit” (GD, 10). Bavinck’s influence becomes evident at this point. Barth’s use of the Deus dixit, as he learned it from Bavinck (GD, 14; CRDT, 338n), began to shape the way in which he thought about dogmatics. For Barth, the actuality that “God has spoken” makes the dogmatician able to carry out that task properly. Barth, however, does not stop here. He takes the application of the Deus dixit a step further and argues that the actuality that God has spoken becomes not only the foundation for dogmatics, but also the proper foundation for knowledge of God in faith. What this means is that the Deus dixit, for Barth, becomes the bedrock of both dogmatic reflection and the doctrine of the Word of God.

Dogmatics is, for Barth, reflection upon the Word of God, which is revelation in so far as it is the speaking of God. What must be emphasized at this juncture is Barth’s assertion that all “truth” about God is secured by God’s speaking. In light of this assertion, our knowledge of God must be strictly attributed to the Deus dixit. As Barth understands it, knowledge of God cannot be ascribed to experience, the human psyche, or the dogmatician. Rather, it must be attributed to the “speaking of God which is identical with God; identical, because it is a speaking by God” (CRDT, 338). Barth’s emphasis upon the Deus dixit bears substantial implications for his understanding of revelation, which now brings us to his explication of the three-fold word of God.

The Word of God, as Barth explicates in the Göttingen Dogmatics and subsequently in Church Dogmatics I/1, is three-fold. In the first form, the Word of God is the “first address in which God himself and God alone is the speaker” (GD, 14). This first form of the Word of God is not ongoing since it took place at a specific time in history. It is thus important that a strict distinction be made between “The statement ‘God revealed himself’…[and] ‘revelation took place’”(GD, 15). The Deus dixit, as such, has an historical and original occurrence in the strict sense, yet it is still true that it eternally persists for “if the Word of God is to be known, it must be received by us in the present” (CRDT, 338). Holy Scripture as the second form of the Word of God is not ongoing—it is an event in time, which does not occur again. An extension of the idea of Scripture is certainly possible, e.g., if a truly inspired book was to be discovered, but it cannot be true that there is a continuation of the prophets and apostles. For Scripture, and even its possible extension, still belong in the historical past (GD, 15). Holy Scripture is thus, the attestation and witness of the original Deus dixit—it is not revelation, but from revelation. The third form of the Word of God is Christian preaching, which is ongoing in that it proceeds from the original Deus dixit and Holy Scripture. Preaching is ongoing because “It is present,” and “Naturally, in, with, and under Christian preaching, revelation and scripture are present too, but not otherwise” (GD, 16).

Barth’s reading of Herman Bavinck and his understanding of Bavinck’s use of the Deus dixit had a formative role in the way which Barth sets forth his prolegomena and doctrine of the Word of God. Much of Barth’s exposition of his prolegomena to dogmatics strongly echoes Bavinck. But it is also true that while Bavinck takes the Deus dixit in one direction, Barth takes it in another, especially as it relates to his understanding of revelation. It is here that I will show Barth’s development of the Deus dixit, corresponding with his understanding of revelation, as the catalyst for his divergence from Bavinck.

Barth and Bavinck: Diverging Trajectories

The influence of Bavinck on Barth’s prolegomena and doctrine of the Word of God is significant. But the question is not whether Bavinck’s exposition of the Deus dixit had an impact on Barth’s theology—this is quite evident. Rather, the question is this: To what extent does Barth’s developmental use of the Deus dixit set Barth’s theology off toward a distinctly different trajectory than that of Bavinck? Until his exposition of the three-fold Word of God, Barth works primarily within the confines of Bavinck’s understanding of the Deus dixit. But what separates Barth and Bavinck is not their starting point, but their understanding of the Deus dixit as it relates to God’s revelation. What Barth brings to the theological table (so to speak) in his doctrine of the Word of God is an understanding of revelation which brings out the restricted nature of the Deus dixit. This is quite distinct from Bavinck. In order to understand these diverging trajectories, it is necessary to examine the ways in which the Deus dixit impacts their doctrines of revelation.

Bavinck understands the Deus dixit as an event in history. But the trajectory that Bavinck takes toward a doctrine of general revelation (RD I, 301) is interesting in this context. Bavinck sees the Deus dixit as ongoing. That is, the Deus dixit endures qua Holy Scripture and preaching, but it can also extend beyond the confines of the church. This is not to say that Bavinck digresses into a sort of Reformed doctrine of natural theology, but it is to say that he comes quite close. God is thus continually able to speak extra muros ecclesiae (outside the walls of the church). Bavinck understands the speaking of God in the particular sense—that is, the original Deus dixit—as ultimately related to the speaking of God in the general sense—that is, general revelation. Thus, the presupposition underlying Bavinck’s doctrine of revelation is that the Deus dixit extends beyond the original event in history, Holy Scripture, and the preaching of the church. God is, in fact, speaking to the whole of creation—God is not confined to the mediation of the church. Bavinck stresses quite strongly the general over the particular. But they are not to be separated from each other for the original Deus dixit is joined with the general speaking of God. Bavinck’s broad understanding of revelation does not deter from the significance of the original Deus dixit, but it rather affirms the significance of God’s activity in the created order. The Deus dixit is the revelation of God because it is the speaking of God, but Bavinck makes only a slight distinction, in contrast to Barth, between God revealing God-self and revelation occurring. That is to say, the original Deus dixit has obvious priority over all subsequent speaking of God, and the general nature of God’s subsequent speaking is wholly affirmed as revelation. Thus, the special revelation of God and the general revelation of God are truly and utterly the Deus dixit. Bavinck’s theology must not be construed to say that salvation occurs apart from faith—this is not true at all. But Bavinck does affirm that general revelation, although it might be blurry (RD I, 304), is a precursor to special revelation in which the two are ultimately united in faith (RD I, 302). It is quite fair to say that there is a sense in Bavinck’s theology that there is a special Deus dixit and a general Deus dixit. In order to keep Bavinck’s theology from falling under the category of “natural theology,” it might be beneficial to speak of an original Deus dixit and the general “speaking of God.”

Barth takes his understanding of the Deus dixit in a distinctly different trajectory than Bavinck. Barth emphasizes the particular, which constitutes the restriction of the Deus dixit. Like Bavinck, Barth understands the Deus dixit as an event in history. But unlike Bavinck, the Deus dixit happened once-and-for-all (Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1 [CD], 115) and can be actualized only qua scripture and Christian preaching. Barth is unwilling to affirm any knowledge of God apart from scripture and Christian preaching. So, the speaking of God is particular to the original Deus dixit yet, by the work of the Holy Spirit in and through scripture and Christian preaching, it eternally endures such that it is as if the Deus dixit occurs again. This is not to say that God is exclusively confined to the Church. In fact, Barth affirms that if God so pleased He could reveal Himself by way of a dead dog (CD I/1, 55), and Barth speaks of the possibility of the work of the God extra muros ecclesiae (CD IV/2, 724). But these instances are not normative, and must not be universally canonized as the way in which God acts. For Barth, the normative speaking of God is always located in and with the Word of God—so that, knowledge of God never occurs apart from the Deus dixit.

Barth puts a limitation on the Deus dixit. The trajectory Barth takes seems to hinder the ability of God but, in all reality, Barth simply preserves the particularity of God as the subject of the Deus dixit. Barth, over against Bavinck, starts with the particular nature of the Deus dixit, and subsequently stays there. There is nothing about revelation that can be characterized in the general sense. Thus, the only way in which the particularized Deus dixit can endure is by way of limitation through the three-fold Word of God. For although the original Deus dixit has occurred in the past, it is upheld and heard today through the reading of scripture and Christian preaching. What ultimately separates Barth and Bavinck, proceeding from their corresponding conceptions of the Deus dixit and related to the proper task of dogmatics, is their understandings of the particular and general nature of the Deus dixit. For Barth, the Deus dixit has occurred and endures only by way of Scripture and preaching. Any other claim of the knowledge of God is simply an abstraction.

Conclusion

If one were to read Barth and Bavinck casually, it would be quite easy to assume that their theologies would end up in a very similar place. Their theologies are quite similar at times, which is exactly it—similar, but only to an extent. Bavinck, in attempting to affirm the work of God in creation, creates an abstraction in the form of the universal mediation of the knowledge of God. This can in some sense be defended by the titles of “special” or “general” revelation but, regardless of that demarcation, the Deus dixit is relegated to the mediation of something other than the Word of God. Although Bavinck would affirm the work of the Holy Spirit as the acting subject of general revelation, there is no possible way for one to properly discern what is true revelation in that context. It begs the question of who or what is the subject of general revelation. Can one be confident that it is truly the Deus dixit? An understanding of a general Deus dixit, or a general revelation apart from the preceding enlightenment of Christ through faith, is an abstracted revelation whose subject is not God and is, therefore, indistinct from natural theology.

Let this critique of Bavinck not deter us from the merit of his theology and the significance of his influence on Barth. Although Barth and Bavinck diverge, it is Bavinck’s elucidation of the proper task of dogmatics and his application of the Deus dixit that became pivotal to Barth’s understanding of dogmatics and his development of the three-fold Word of God. Barth’s restriction of the Deus dixit does not lose sight of Bavinck’s initial application and its significance for dogmatics. It was my intention to go beyond an examination of Barth’s appreciative use of Bavinck, not for the sake of minimizing Barth’s gratitude toward Bavinck, but in order to show the importance of theological influence as well as dogmatic construction. What can be gleaned from this examination is not insignificant: although Barth’s use of Bavinck beyond the Göttingen Dogmatics was not overly extensive, it remains significant by providing both an historical and dogmatic framework for understanding the foundations and development of particular aspects of Barth’s theology. Apart from critique, there is certainly an affirmation of Bavinck that cannot be overlooked and should be taken more seriously by Barthians. Bavinck’s theology, although sometimes at odds with Barth’s, can provide a helpful theological resource as well as a beneficial interlocutor.
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Response
By Joel Esala

Andrew Esqueda does an admirable job elucidating the little acknowledged relationship between Herman Bavinck and Karl Barth’s theology. While recognizing their differences in methodology, Esqueda does not point out the systemic root of those differences: the identity of the Word of God. My comments are not critical but ancillary in light of Barth’s development in the Dogmatics.

Bavinck and Barth’s differences concerning the Deus dixit center on the identity of the Word of God. Esqueda identifies that for Barth the first form of the Word of God is the “first address in which God himself and God alone is the speaker” (GD, 14). This is true in so far as it goes, of course. If we can know God’s word, this is only because God has revealed it. Without God’s revealing, what we would call “the word of God” would simply be our own idolatrous words, or as Barth would later put it, “a hypostatized image of man” (CD II/2, 4). The key for Barth is that God has not spoken one nugget of revelation here and another there, but has spoken with one voice definitely in Jesus Christ: “For it is Jesus Christ who is God’s revelation” (CD II/1, 74). Jesus Christ is not simply one part of revelation in a series of parts that must be unified into a coherent theological narrative; rather he is the beginning and the end of all God’s revelation, the first and last of all God’s words: “He is the decree of God behind and above which there can be no earlier or higher decree and beside which there can be no other” (CD II/2, 94). To him the apostles and prophets give witness in the second form of the Word of God, and preaching gives witness to Jesus Christ through the apostles and prophets.

While Barth indentifies different forms of the Word of God, that Word is the same in substance. All three forms point to Jesus Christ in whom humanity hears God’s gracious word to all. God does not give mixed messages because in Jesus Christ God’s will is revealed in full and without equivocation. The difference then between Barth and Bavinck’s theologies of the Word is rooted in differing understandings of Jesus Christ, different doctrines of election and, ultimately, different understandings of the gospel. For Bavinck, the distinction between general and special revelation indicates that Jesus Christ is not the beginning and end of all God’s revelation. Instead Jesus becomes the means to some greater end, namely to save some and condemn others. Jesus is instrumentalized and merely plays a part in God’s greater whole, and that whole is ultimately “unknown to us and neither can nor may be the rule of our conduct” (RD III, 466). For Bavinck, we cannot know “the will of God’s good pleasure,” but only “the revealed will” of God (ibid). There is a variance between what God wills and what God reveals for Bavinck, which is why he must affirm two different forms of revelation that – despite his best efforts to hold them together – ultimately cast doubt on the veracity of all God’s revelation. If what God has revealed is somehow different than what God wills, there is no way to trust what God reveals. God may appear to be gracious toward humanity, while in fact God might be hostile. Bavinck cannot state with Barth concerning Jesus Christ, “Before Him and without Him God does not, then, elect or will anything” (CD II/2, 94). Therefore Bavinck’s different forms of revelation, unlike Barth’s, are not the same in substance. God is not of one mind with respect to his creation, and speaks different words for different purposes. Jesus serves to reveal part but not all of God’s will. For Barth this leads to despair, obscuring the true God behind an unknown decree. Such a God cannot be loved, only feared.

Barth’s insistence on limiting the Deus dixit to God’s word spoken in Jesus Christ is rooted in his firm conviction that Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end, not merely the means to the end. Bavinck cannot say the same. Even though their theologies begin with the same idea of rooting everything in God’s speech, they end up in different places because hidden behind Bavinck’s revelation is the unknown will of God. For Barth this was not good news. To limit the word of God spoken in Christ ensures the gospel remain good news for all.
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35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these excellent posts.

A question for Joel Esala, if I may.

Let me cite some of your words:

"For Bavinck, we cannot know “the will of God’s good pleasure,” but only “the revealed will” of God (ibid). There is a variance between what God wills and what God reveals for Bavinck, which is why he must affirm two different forms of revelation that – despite his best efforts to hold them together – ultimately cast doubt on the veracity of all God’s revelation. If what God has revealed is somehow different than what God wills, there is no way to trust what God reveals. God may appear to be gracious toward humanity, while in fact God might be hostile. Bavinck cannot state with Barth concerning Jesus Christ, “Before Him and without Him God does not, then, elect or will anything” (CD II/2, 94). Therefore Bavinck’s different forms of revelation, unlike Barth’s, are not the same in substance. God is not of one mind with respect to his creation, and speaks different words for different purposes. "

My query has to do with the intepretive language you use to gloss some of the Bavinck quotes. He says we cannot know the will of God's good pleasure but only his revealed will, and then you say this shows there is a variance between what God wills and what God reveals. Can you give some evidence that Bavinck would have thought in terms of 'variance'?

Would Bavinck say it is not that what God has revealed is 'somehow different than what God wills', but rather that what God has revealed is not the sum total of what God has willed.

I am guessing that on your theological schema (or from Barth's standpoint) this is still going to be problematic to you, but it does seem to me at least to be a subtle difference which comes closer to reflecting Bavinck's meaning. It does not seem fair to him to say that God is not of one mind with respect to creation. Here the more-than-one-mindedness of God is not something I think he would recognise? Surely Bavinck would say GOD is of one mind but WE just do not know all of it.

And so a question for you about Barth's position:

Your post suggests that for Barth Jesus reveals all and not simply part of God's will. But is this really true even on Barth's own terms? What I mean is this: Barth, it seems to me, simply moves the Deus nudus absconditus from a pre-temporal location (if I can use such clumsy language) to an eschatological one i.e. we cannot say 100% for sure that everyone will be saved because this is to presume upon the freedom of God. God is God. He is free. We cannot say for sure what he may do.

So on this schema, is it not the case that God retains a private life where he is free to do what he wants, the sum total of which has NOT been revealed in Jesus ... and if so how has Barth not come out with some of the same problems which you are suggesting are there in Bavinck?

I hope the above is clear, it probably isn't!

Thanks for your time and once again for the superb material here to engage with.

Stephen Norris

W. Travis McMaken said...

Thanks for another great session Andrew and Joel! My question is much more pedestrian that that already awaiting your response, but do either of you know anything about Bavinck's philosophical background, and how it make relate / compare to Barth's?

@Stephen

I certainly can't speak for Joel, but I have a few thoughts.

(1) The notion of variance arises from the biblical material - we have passages that speak about God wanting all to be saved, or that all have been redeemed in Christ just as all were cast into sin by Adam, and other passages where sheep are separated from goats. Now, how can both these things be true? Its hard to see how they can be at a basic, surface level reading. Now, the Reformed tradition has tried to sort this out by speaking of God's revealed will (Scripture) and his secret will (providence, particulars of predestination). It seems fairly straightforward to me that these often conflict. There are a number of ways to handle this, and Barth's is one.

(2) It is not that something new will be revealed in the eschaton - it will simply be a new form of Jesus Christ, whom we know. As far as eternal mailing addresses are concerned, it is not a question as to us finding out whether in fact all are elect in Jesus Christ, which is sure for Barth, but in finding out the form that this will take for those who reject their election to the end (if this is even possible). Barth's primary concern with universalism, as Tom Greggs has ably shown, is that it reduces Christ's work to being a principle, whereas Barth wants to everywhere and always conceive of him as a living and active person.

As to God's freedom - it is not a freedom to choose between two possibilities; rather, it is the freedom to accomplish what God desires. Sure there is a sense in which, as a limit of what we can say and to safeguard the gracious character of salvation, we can say that God did not have to create, save, etc. In an abstract way, this may well be true. However, given the sort of God we are actually dealing with, which is revealed in Christ, it is not the fact that this God can change his mind at some point in the middle and go another way. The God who has revealed himself to us in Christ is faithful and true, and will accomplish his saving work on our behalf.

W. Travis McMaken said...

Coincidently and FYI: when I posted the above comment, I was told it was too long - but it posted anyway! So, before you immediately repost in smaller fragments, wait a minute or two to see if the first will go through. Also, writing your comments in your word processor will help prevent accidentally losing them to the internet ether.

Nathaniel Maddox said...

Quoting Esala, "For Bavinck, the distinction between general and special revelation indicates that Jesus Christ is not the beginning and end of all God’s revelation. Instead Jesus becomes the means to some greater end, namely to save some and condemn others. Jesus is instrumentalized and merely plays a part in God’s greater whole, and that whole is ultimately “unknown to us and neither can nor may be the rule of our conduct” (RD III, 466)."

I think this really gets at the heart of the distinction, and its fundamental to point this out.

For the sake of both clarity and argument, this conversation could use bit more historical consciousness. To get a real flavor of Barth's interaction with Bavinck, we should look primarily at Barth's theology at the time of his explicit interaction with Bavinck's Deus Dixit in the GD(1924).

Even still, I think Esala's point holds true for Barth even in 1924. Being that I am in class, I cannot dope this out right now, but I think Barth's first reformulation of the doctrine of election, that is, his reformulation at the end of GD(1924) will even further elucidate Esala's point about the dinstiction between Bavinck and Barth on the doctrine of revelation. This is just a hunch, though, and I'll look into it tonight.

Joel Esala said...

Nathan, your questions are good ones. My critique of Bavinck here is quite strong and does not disclose my great love for him. I am intentionally pushing Bavinck where he does not want to go but where I believe his system forces him to go. Surely Bavinck would not wish to submit to my criticism that God is not of one mind with respect to his creation and would probably say something very similar to what you said: God is of one mind but we don’t know all of it. On one level this sounds humble. Is it not the height of arrogance to claim to know the mind of God? The problem here is that what appears to be humble rests on a different certainty over God’s will—to save some and condemn others. Of this, Bavinck is quite sure. This original decree, cloaked in mystery, means that God’s will in Jesus Christ is not clear but variable, at least to the person to whom it is proclaimed. It is my suspicion that Bavinck feels the injustice of this decree and strives to get God off the hook for what appears to be arbitrary and frightening grace. Therefore he needs to expound different forms of revelation to ensure God is just in condemning whomever God chooses to condemn. Natural revelation serves this purpose and illustrates the very point I wish to make. God’s will toward creation is not unified. God wishes to save some, condemn others and Jesus Christ accomplishes the saving end of this purpose.

As I said before, I respect Bavinck and will continue to read and be blessed by him. Yet in making a distinction between what God wills and reveals, he makes the gospel indefinite news. How can Bavinck say Jesus Christ is good news for all? Must he not say from the pulpit, I have indifferent news for you: God might love you and Jesus might have died for you? For Barth this is not good news. By grounding all revelation in Jesus Christ, the preacher can stand and proclaim the gospel. The opening of II/2 says it best, “The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all the words that can be said or heard it is the best: that God elects man."

While Barth leaves open the final outcome of each individual’s salvation, this does not mean he reintroduces uncertainty or variance in revelation. It just means we need to wait and hope while standing on the certainty that God’s will is known and it is good. The reason he can do say this with integrity is that election is not first and foremost about an individual’s post-mortem destination. It’s about God’s will in Jesus Christ into which the community is ingrafted and finally the individual. But there is every reason to hope without presumption because grace is God’s to give, not ours to presume.

Let me just say how honored I am to take part in this conversation. It is an absolute treat as a pastor to step in and play ball with my theo buddies. I was nervous stepping in because I do not have access to the theological libraries necessary to evaluate every possible relation between Barth and Bavinck. This is why I had to interact with Dogmatics and not GD. I agree with Nathaniel that this is where the conversation should go, but alas, I can’t go with you right now!

Andrew Esqueda said...

Stephen, thanks for your questions. I hope my response answers them.

God certainly is free and I don't know to what extent it is beneficial to speculate whether or not all will be saved. But, if we are truly to be faithful to Barth, the only way we can conceive of salvation is by the affirmation, which Travis pointed out, that all are elect in Christ. What God has shown us in Jesus Christ is salvation, and to conceive of salvation or God's will apart from God's revelation is simply an abstraction. So, God is free to do as God pleases, but is it not an abstraction to even speculate that all will not be saved? For Barth, the grace of Christ triumphs over all things, the question is: what does that look like eschatologically?

Second Response: I don't think that God retains a private life that is distinct from God's life in Jesus. For Barth, there is nothing above or behind Jesus Christ; this is a thorough rejection of any concept of a Deus Absconditus. For Barth, God is a being-in-act (CD II/1 §28), thus, a God who has a private life apart from His revelation in time would be a God whose being was abstract from his actions. If God does have a private life, who is above and behind the life of Christ, how would we know this "private God?" And furthermore, how could we guarantee that the "private God" was the acting subject of revelation or reconciliation?

The main difference here between Barth and Bavinck is that Christ is all of God's revelation and the sum of His will. For Bavinck, God's will extends beyond Christ so he can speak of a revelation and will apart from Christ. But this is not the case for Barth. Any such revelation apart from Christ Himself would be a God who can never give an eternal "yes."

Travis,

Bavinck was very well trained in philosophy. He knew Hegel and Kant very very well. It is extremely evident in all of his writings. I enjoy reading him especially for his historical and philosophical knowledge. And I would definitely say that metaphysics proper plays a larger role in Bavinck then in Barth.

It think your second thought was really well said. It raises a good question regarding Barth's eschatology and a good point regarding the living and active nature of Christ.

Joel,
Thanks for you thoughtful response. I am glad that the conversation between these two great thinkers can be given a public forum, and I hope it finds more.

W. Travis McMaken said...

So, Bavinck read Hegel and Kant. Also, metaphysics plays a bigger role for him than for Barth. Does he do metaphysics in an Hegalian way, or does he have some other way around Kant? Or, does he just assume some form of metaphysics on the basis of scriptural authority? How do you see this all fitting together?

Andrew Esqueda said...

Yes, Bavinck read Hegel and Kant, but I am not at all sure to what extent they influence his theology. You may be able to see the influence of Hegel on Bavinck in his use of thesis and antithesis, but I think most contemporary Neo-Calvinist's would say that Bavinck never moves on to synthesis. What I meant by saying metaphysics plays a bigger role in Bavinck than in Barth, is simply that Bavinck is less concerned with separating metaphysics from theology than Barth is. Metaphysics has obviously influenced Barth, but I think the rejection of metaphysics is much more pronounced in Barth. Check out Bavinck's "Stone Lectures: The Philosophy of Revelation." He references both Hegel and Kant, but Kant much more than Hegel. Does this answer your questions?

David W. Congdon said...

It's clear that Bavinck read a fair amount in German idealism, but whereas Barth's encounter with these figures became an impetus toward rethinking the nature of theology itself (i.e., moving in a post-metaphysical direction), Bavinck felt that there was no need to appropriate the views of these philosophers in a constructive sense. Instead, the (Dutch) Reformed tradition, from his point of view, already had all the resources to adequately respond to the challenges of German philosophy. Whereas Bavinck believed that he could remain within the framework of Reformed scholasticism, Barth came to see that he had to make a decisive break with the past. This seems to me to be the important difference between them on this score.

Andrew Esqueda said...

Hey David,
I think that is right on. The main break, as you have noted, is Bavinck's place in Reformed scholasticism versus Barth's postmetaphysical framework. Thanks for your response.

Bobby Grow said...

So as Torrance would about someone like Bavinck, he gives us "a God behind the back of Jesus."

Thanks, this was a stimulating read (informative, never really read Bavinck).

ken oakes said...

As for Barth, metaphysics, and making a 'decisive past with the past,' the early, liberal Barth rejected a priori, pre-critical metaphysics because (1) it was bad theology, and (2) it was bad, pre-Kantian philosophy. Barth's views in this regard were hardly original and hardly constitute a break with the past, as he was simply continuing a good Herrmannian (indeed Ritschlian) move, one which Bultmann would make in his own way. Barth would, of course, see more and more elements of his Herrmannian background that he didn't like in the mid to later 1920's, but he rejected pre-critical metaphysics ever since his university days, and not through a later engagement with the giants of German Idealism, but from the predujices of his liberal background.

If Barth was 'post-metaphysical,' then so was just about every mainline Protestant theologian after Kant.

Stephen Norris said...

Thanks for the come-back - I am learning a lot from your wisdom.

I still think Joel's critique of Bavinck is not one which answers his theology but one which would lead Bavinck to say 'that is not what I am saying'

E.g.,"God’s will toward creation is not unified. God wishes to save some, condemn others and Jesus Christ accomplishes the saving end of this purpose." Wouldn't Bavinck say that a distinction in ends implies no disunity in volition? For one subject to will two different ends for two different objects entails no necessary lack of unity in the willing. God has a unified will for his creation, and that unified will is that some have one destiny and some another. Again, we may still want to disagree with Bavinck exegetically, as I would, but we cannot present his position as we have. Furthermore, and this leads me to my next point, I cannot see that really this is any different from Barth who still retains the possibility that the God disclosed to us in Jesus nevertheless remains eschatologically free, at least in theory, to render some as outside the bounds of Christ's saving being

WTM, if I may, here is what you said:

"As to God's freedom - it is not a freedom to choose between two possibilities; rather, it is the freedom to accomplish what God desires. Sure there is a sense in which, as a limit of what we can say and to safeguard the gracious character of salvation, we can say that God did not have to create, save, etc. In an abstract way, this may well be true. However, given the sort of God we are actually dealing with, which is revealed in Christ, it is not the fact that this God can change his mind at some point in the middle and go another way. The God who has revealed himself to us in Christ is faithful and true, and will accomplish his saving work on our behalf."

I get what you are saying (I think). But is it not the case that Barth is also saying that even given what we know of the God revealed for us in Jesus Christ God does not have to save everyone? His future freedom remains. It's not just that he didn't have to create everything (past); he doesn't have to save everyone (future).

Isn't that what Barth says? And in which case the totality of what God wills simply is not revealed to us in Jesus however much we want to say it is. We may want to go beyond Barth and be more explicit about universalism - this, it seems to me, is what we have to do if we want to safeguard his best insights.

But to try and get my head around a Barth-ian schema here, can I proceed inductively? Can we do a step by step question and answer thing:

If at the end of time the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth where God lives with his people forever in uninterrupted shalom, how can I know that I will be part of it?

SN

W. Travis McMaken said...

I think that part of the problem is that the notion of "saved" operative here (unending duration of time in geographical heaven) is not entirely what Barth has in mind. What Barth says in his doctrine of election is that all are elect in Christ and therefore cannot stand under judgment in an ultimate way; what he says at the end of 4.3.1 leaves open the question as to how this election will work out eschatologically for those reject their election. Its a different set of categories.

Also, I would recommend George Hunsinger's essay "Hellfire and Damnation" in his book Disruptive Grace.

Stephen Norris said...

Ok - thanks

I am guessing we won't get anywhere on this without a face to face conversation which seems unlikely!

I don't intend to sidetrack your excellent discussions here, so last one.

You say: "all are elect in Christ and therefore cannot stand under judgment in an ultimate way" and then say Barth "leaves open the question as to how this election will work out eschatologically for those [who]reject their election"

This is to me is theological cake-having and theological cake-eating. Which is it? No longer under judgment in an ultimate way because of election in Christ, or nevertheless we can't say 100% for sure how it will work out at the end. I am not doubting it IS an open question for Barth, but HOW can it be?

Once we use language like this - 'leaves open the question' - we are back in the realm where not everything has been disclosed and we are back with Bavinck. And that is not where I want to be.

SN

W. Travis McMaken said...

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there are a lot of options in between "eternal torment in hell" and "eternal bliss in heaven." What we do know is that all are elected in Christ, what we don't know is precisely what that election will mean when faced with persistent human rejection. However, I think it fair to say that Barth rules out something like "eternal conscious torment." But, like I said, that doesn't necessarily or automatically mean everyone gets to "heaven" as it is usually conceived.

Stephen Norris said...

"what we don't know is precisely what that election will mean when faced with persistent human rejection"

Yes, exactly. And on these terms if you go with either Barth or Bavinck you choose your poison and you drink it - because both give us forms of the Deus absconditus.

What counts as human rejection? What counts as 'persistent'? Why did you need to add that adverb? What counts as human non-rejection? Where does my assurance come from on this schema? Barth does not really leave me any better off than traditional Reformed theology, I think he is still working with too many of those categories to truly help me move beyond its dilemmas.

If I know that I am elect in Christ, but that at the end of time there may be a form of human rejection of election which may/possibly/maybe/perhaps/open to question count against someone - because God is free to not save everyone - then how do I know that my wayward and constantly stumbling belief in Christ and in my election in Christ is enough? So long as Barth plays the divine freedom card in the way he does, then one has to choose between the basically similar systems of Barth and Bavinck et al (they look radically different but they just put the same problems in different places), or one has to go beyond both to more robust universalism.

SN

dguretzki said...

Thanks for the excellent first paper, Andrew.

There is one additional piece of evidence in the Göttingen Dogmatics that Barth wanted to ensure that deus dixit remained strictly tied to God as subject: Barth developed his doctrine of the Trinity along the same structural lines as the relationship of the threefold form of the Word of God as revelation, scripture and preaching.

Andrew rightly noted this in his paper; I simply add that Barth views the structural relationship between the threefold form of the Word of God (Revelation, Scripture and Preaching) as a kind of analogia Trinitatis—evidence that the deus dixit itself is formally structured analogous to the Trinitarian relations. Barth clearly has the formulation of the so-called Athanasian Creed in mind when he says, “One Word of God, one authority, one power, and yet not one but three addresses. Three addresses of God in revelation, scripture, and preaching, yet not three Words of God, three authorities, truths, or powers, but one. Scripture is not revelation, but from revelation. Preaching is not revelation or Scripture, but from both…Revelation is from God alone, scripture is from revelation alone, and preaching is from revelation and scripture…. The first, the second, and the third are all God’s Word in the same glory, unity in trinity and trinity in unity” (Göttingen Dogmatics, 14-15 – Emphasis mine). It is not surprising, then, that Barth sees the relationship between revelation, scripture, and preaching as analogous to the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the Son comes from the Father, so Scripture comes from Revelation. And as the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son (filioque!), so preaching come from Revelation and scripture (scripturoque!).

W. Travis McMaken said...

Good to see you, David. :-)

Stephen,

It does not introduce the deus absconditus because the God who will be doing the eschatological judging is Jesus Christ, in whom we know we are elected. Not knowing the form that our existence will take after that judgment, or what it will look like for those who persist in rejecting their election (if possible), has nothing to do with a God who is free to go back on the primal decision of election.

Those who affirm their rejection certainly have nothing to fear, and those are the only ones who could possibly be concerned. We're talking about people who reject their election persistently and to the end - not about people who recognize their election (the decisive point of faith, for Barth) but continue to sin (all of us!).

Joel Esala said...

I fear that the discussion has gotten off track, and perhaps I’ve lead it there. Nonetheless, this is where we are. You have good questions, Stephen, and Travis has said better than I much of what can be said. Here's how I've thought about it if it's helpful. There is mystery in both traditional Reformed theology (Bavinck) and Barth. The difference is the location of that mystery. My contention is that Bavinck places the mystery in a location that puts the good news in jeopardy. Is it really good news that God loves some? Ephesians 1 will always strike fear into the hearts of people so long as the mystery is placed here--on God's will for humanity.

For Barth the mystery is not in the heart of God. This is known and revealed in Christ, without a shadow of turning. Ephesians 1 is the word of comfort Paul seems to assume it is because God's arms are open to all, and Christ really and truly died for all. These statements need not be qualified in such a way that they lose all their force. We need not take those texts and force them to submit to others, such that at the end of the day the good news becomes indifferent.

For Barth the mystery lies in how election will be realized in each individual case in the eschaton. He says we have every reason to hope but cannot presume because God's grace is precisely that--God's. But many find this mystery disingenuous and not consistent with what Barth has said, much less with what God has revealed. Therefore many Barthians go to universalism, as David Congdon has aptly exposited in his blog the The Fire and the Rose.

As a preacher, I can say that I resonate with Barth's theology in this matter because the good news remains good, and the future remains that--the future. We have reason to hope but we dare not presume lest grace become our right and not God's free gift. It sounds like this is not satisfactory for you, and of course you are not alone here. But in my reading, though mystery remains for both Bavinck and Barth, the location of the mystery is very different and leads to different responses. One leads to a cowering fear, and the other to expectant hope. There is a mystery that ought to provoke silence in us, but the question is, what is the nature of that silence? If God reveals himself in Jesus Christ, then “We are not bowing before the caprice of a tyrant. Our submission cannot be such that it is accompanied by a still-remaining and ever-increasing inward complaint and resistance…It is not that our mouth is stopped…We are persuaded, and have not more questions to put” (II/2, 22). We do stand in silence before the mystery of God without every possible answer to every question we have, but we sit in silence assured that God’s will toward us is good.

Andrew Esqueda said...

David, thanks for bringing up the parallel between the Trinity and the three-fold word of God. I can certainly see the three-fold word of God as an anolgia Trinitatis, making the Deus dixit itself analogous to trinitarian relations.

In the latter half of the GD Barth says the Bavinck has one of the best modern presentations of the Trinity. I wonder to what extent--if any at all--Bavinck makes a similar analogy The three fold form Word of God is certainly unique to Barth. But I at least wonder if Bavinck's doctrine of the Trinity had any direct impact on Barth's theology.

David W. Congdon said...

In response to Joel, Stephen, et al.,

1. First, a note of clarification: While I still stand behind the general thrust of my series on universalism, I would no longer argue in the same way as I did there. So don't take that series as my current position.

2. We need to nuance the word "mystery." Eberhard Juengel rightly distinguishes between a "negative" and a "positive" mystery in God as the Mystery of the World. A negative mystery is one that requires one to be silent; it is something about which we cannot know or put into words. A positive mystery is rather "a mystery which must be said at all costs and which may under no circumstances be kept silent." A positive mystery wants to be known and makes itself heard and understood: "it reveals itself as mystery."

Now for the payoff: the mystery of salvation (i.e., of election) for Bavinck is a negative mystery; for Barth it is a positive mystery. And that makes all the difference. For Barth, God is revealed precisely as hidden, and God is hidden only in God's self-revelation. The mystery of God is one that is made known to us in Jesus Christ.

For the best discussions of the hiddenness of God in Barth, see Bruce McCormack, Orthodox and Modern, 167-80; and Eberhard Jüngel, “The Revelation of the Hiddenness of God: A Contribution to the Protestant Understanding of the Hiddenness of Divine Action,” in Theological Essays II (T & T Clark, 1995), 120-44.

Phil Sumpter said...

In this fascinating dialogue (thank you!) I identity with Stephen's struggle to see how Barth is not doing what Bavinck is said to do.

My main issue, however, is the way a particular foundational concept is being tacitly defined and then used as a criterion for validating theological statements. If I'm missing the point in the following then I'd be grateful if I could be shown how.

My issue is with how the concept of "goodness" (in the phrase "good news") is being used by some in order to defend a particular concept of election, namely one which eliminates (in practice if not in theory?) the idea that not all human beings will be saved. It is said that a message which does not guarantee my personal salvation, such that I can be certain of it, is not "good news" (the silent "for me" being assumed to inherently belong to this concept). In other words, the assumption in the dialogue seems to be that the Biblical concept of "good news" is one in which humans are told that they are unconditionally saved. The idea that God would judge and condemn particular human beings, then, is held to be inimical to a message that would qualify as "good news." If there is still a possibility that God would judge me, then it is not "good." Is this a fair assessment of the dialogue? If so, the use of the term in the Bible seems to be the direct opposite: i.e. the "goodness" of what God has to say is (almost?) constituted God's judgement of particular human beings. Not only that, the adjective "good" does not reference for whom it is good but rather what is good (cf. Gen 1: the earth was good before humans lived on it; and when God makes "Adam", for whom is that good?). Thus, it seems that a certain pillar of thinking is off course; the concept of Christ has been subordinated to an alien definition of "good."

Phil Sumpter said...

Here's what I see when I look up "good news" in the Bible:

The good news is the good news "of the Kingdom of God," which is God's new creation (a geographical and political concept). The subject of the message is not "you are going to be part of the New Creation" but that this New Creation actually exists. A reality is proclaimed and not my relation to it. The good news is "what God promised to the fathers" (Acts 13:32), which is a land rich in blessing and a people practising justice. Thus, this message is in particular good news "for the poor," because that for which they rightly yearn will one day actually become a reality. Hebrews 11 tells us that the content of our faith is not the certainty that we well enter this reality ("God's rest") but simply that it exists. Faith references this reality and we live in its light. But the logical consequence of this is drawn in chapter 4: we ought to fear, because the good news is something that can be rejected. This contrasts with what I've read in the dialogue: if the good news is that I am saved regardless of what I do, i.e. it is about my status before God, then I can't reject it; Hebrew's threat makes no sense).He draws on Ps 95, which rightly calls on Israel to rejoice because of who God is and what he does in creation, and not because they are "saved." The good news of Ps 95 (and Hebrews) is that of all possible worlds, the one that is truly "good" does in fact exist and is waiting for us. The referent of "good" is cosmological rather than soteriological. In Ps 95 this cosmology - the reason for rejoicing and thus in itself the "good news," provides the very context for the warning which follows: because of this is "good," don't risk losing it! As such, Ps 95's (and Hebews') warning is a real warning.

Phil Sumpter said...

Given that this reality (and not our relationship to it) is the content of the word "good," it makes sense that the Bible includes judgement of people as part of its definition. Thus Isaiah 61:2 defines as part of the content of the gospel "the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn." When Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 to the effect that the "good news" is for the poor, the broader Isaianic context connects this proclamation to one of the most bloodthirsty images of God in the Bible (on his way back from Bozrah, in Isa 63). In the Bible, the destruction of the wicked is a source of rejoicing, in the New as well as in the Old. Again, Isa closes with a confession that the "worm" of the wicked shall not perish, which is a statement about the eternal destiny of the wicked, but the point is that this is part of the very concept of the "good news." The good news is good news for the righteous, and it is good because that which awaits them is "good."



In short: it seems to be that the adjective "good" in the phrase "good news" is less about how this piece of news makes me feel (i.e. being relieved that I'm saved) and more about the quality of a reality that has come into being, regardless of how I personally respond to it (cf. Gen 1).

My copious Biblical citations and lack of philosophical reasoning probably testify to the fact that I'm an OT student rather than a systematic theologian, so I'd be very grateful is someone could point out where I'm missing the point!

Thanks again for a very helpful thread.

Andrew Esqueda said...

Phil,
I don't think that Barth is rejecting individual judgment or that all humans are unconditionally saved. What he saying is that humans do not stand under judgment in a terminal/ultimate way because all are unconditionally elect in Christ. Thus, as Travis pointed out, we cannot say for sure that all will be saved and we certainly don't know what that looks like eschatologically. Election for Barth is good news--it is the best news. And, in response to a decretum absolutum, it is not a mixed bag of fear and terror joy and happiness. This is what is especially different between Barth and Bavinck. I think David's mention of a negative and positive mystery, as Jüngel explains it, is very helpful here. Salvation, for Bavinck, is a negative mystery in that it is a mixed bag of joy and terror. One cannot know if they are elect or a recipient of the good news because it has already been decided in the eternal past. But, for Barth, we have a positive mystery because God has been revealed in Jesus Christ. What has been accomplished on the cross is God's will--that all might be saved (1 Tim: 2). There is no will above or behind Christ that wills the eternal damnation of some and not others; it is only the salvation of all that God wills. Christ has the final say and His declaration is Yes! God's will upon earth is the sum of God's eternal election and God's eternal yes is identical with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died for all and as a result we do not stand under ultimate judgment--God's "no" has been trumped by God's "yes." So a good news that does not will the salvation of all, would be a will that is not in Jesus Himself--moreover, it would be abstract criterion for establishing salvation or judgment. The content of the word "good" and in scripture the content of the "good news" is Jesus Christ Himself. The good news is good for the righteous; and in Christ's once-and-for-all atoning sacrifice all are/will be made righteous. Thus, the good news is not about an emotion, feeling good about one's salvation, rather, it is a reality that all have been elect in Christ for the purpose of God's good pleasure, and will for the salvation of all.

I hope this answers your question. D
I am sure that some other people might have some helpful thoughts as well.

Joel Esala said...

Good questions, Phil. Andrew said it well. An abstract "good" for good news is not what Barth wants. What determines if the news is good is not first and foremost if it is good for me. The key to determine if election is good news is "who is electing God?" For Bavinck this is answered by an absolute decree before the foundations of the world that is unknown to us--a bad mystery which can only provoke fear and trepidation. For Barth the electing God is Jesus Christ, God revealed and known. The goodness of the good news is that it comes from a God we know because this God has revealed Godself truly. There is no other God standing behind the curtain who is different from the one who has come to us in Jesus Christ, judging the wicked and bringing good news to the poor. The news is not good because there is no threat to me. The news is good because God has come to us in Christ, brought the kingdom of God to earth, vanquishing evil and showing pity to his creation, restoring them to life.

This is the question that determines if the news is good, "who is the electing God?" For Bavinck (and most doctrines of election I've seen), the answer is unknown. For Barth, the electing God is the God we know, the God revealed in Jesus Christ. As always, Christ is the key, not abstract, individualized goodness.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thank you Joel and Andrew for your detailed responses and for helping me think about this. I written yet another longish response, and I know that I’m not an expert in this field, so if my issues lie at some kind of foundational conceptual level then I’ll understand if you just point to literature I need to read. I do sense that I’m probably missing something that is generally known to dogmatic theologians. Nevertheless, here are my thoughts:

I have to confess that I do struggle to follow the reasoning. As part of my own process of trying to understand, I’d like to just share what it is that I don’t get:

1. First a semantic question: what is the difference between “not being judged” and “not being judged in an ultimate way,” if the latter statement is not meant to be universalistic (it sounds as if it means that we all go to heaven eventually, but some have to go through some kind of purgatory first in order to finally get there).
2. How can I proclaim that all will be saved and still say that “we cannot say for sure that all will be saved”? I don’t get it. How does God’s “yes” trump his “no” in any meaningful way in the light of this seeming contradiction? I know that this has been discussed, but I just can’t follow the logic. Whenever Barth is contrasted to Bavinck, I don’t see the points of connection in the contrast. Thus, Andrew sets up the following contrast: Bavinck says that some are predestined not to be saved/Barth says “look at Christ.” But what does Barth’s “look at Christ” actually mean? The contradiction (which seems to appear again in the difference between Andrew and Joel’s reponse) between a Christ who wills the salvation of all and a Christ who judges is simply left unresolved. Who exactly is this Christ that Barth is looking at? Which brings me to my next point of confusion:

Phil Sumpter said...

3. Who is Christ? Here, too, I see contradictions (though they seem to be a variant of the contradiction in 1. above). Both Joel and Andrew say that Christ himself constitutes the meaning of “good. That’s all well and good, but the image of Christ that I’m getting doesn’t seem (to me, at least!) to be coherent. Both Joel and Andrew say that the beneficiaries of the good news are a particular type of person (the “poor,” the “righteous”), but whereas Joel adds that there are also those who do not benefit, namely “the wicked”, Andrew says that we are all made righteous, thus defining the wicked out of existence. Can Christ really be a judge on Andrew’s scheme? Is it the case that Barth’s ambivalence about the ultimate destiny of individuals is connected to an ambivalence about the identity of Christ himself? The question remains unanswered as to whether my status as wicked and thus under threat of judgement is a constitutive element of the “good” news or not.
4. I also don’t see how my statements on what (I think) the Bible says have been dealt with. We know who Christ is because of what the Bible says and, according to my last comment, what the bible says is that the good refers to an ontological reality and not a forensic state. When the two testaments are read Christologically (for the Old witnesses to Christ as much as the New!), then the adjective “good” still refers to the ontological reality that his resurrection brought into being and not his personal will for each member of humanity. He is the promised land that we are waiting for. In light of the Biblical evidence (independent of what Barth and Bavinck say), perhaps one could say that what is good about Christ is not his subjective will for us but the nature of the objective flesh he presents to the Father. The advantage of this understanding is that it also allows us to maintain the abundant Biblical language of Christ/Yhwh as judge of the wicked, rather than neutralize it with irreconcilable (as far as I can see, at least!) paradoxes.
5. In short, my issue about the definition of “good” still remains. It’s not enough (is it?) to say that the content of “goodness” is Christ, we have to ask what it is about Christ that is good? Perhaps I’m misreading (or am just ignorant), but Joel seems to isolate Christ’s personal will as that which constitutes the Christ who defines the “good” (and then interprets it along universal lines; contrary to Joel, who sees Christ as judge … [I’m sure I’m wrong here, so please correct me]). Jesus wants us all to go to heaven, and that, therefore, defines the good. The thrust of my argument above is that “good” refers to an ontological state. The “good” is not Christ’s will (what he wants), but his being (what is is). There thus remains a possibility of there being real consequences to rejecting this good news.
6. Finally, I don’t get why fear and trembling is a bad thing. Does the NT not talk about it in possible terms (“work out your salvation in fear and trembling,” Peter talks about confirming our salvation by our lifestyle, Hebrews uses the threat of damnation as an element of message)? Aren’t the fieriest words about Hell found on the lips of Jesus himself? Isn’t “the fear of God” the beginning of wisdom? Maybe Bavinck is wrong to set the mystery of God’s election as the object of our fear, but surely Barth (as I read him here) is wrong too to speak in such a contradictory manner that, depending on which statement one chooses to prioritize, one need not fear at all because we are now all righteous anyway … .

I’m sure I have misread both Joel and Andrew, so sorry in advance for that. Thank your for your patience.

Phil Sumpter said...

Finally: I'm wondering if my issue is at a more foundational hermeneutical level. There is a debate at the moment between "Christological" and "Trinitarian" approaches to the Bible. Seitz goes for the latter, as do I, and I wonder if the problem I sense is that Jesus is being defined first from the Gospel depictions and then to the OT, rather than vice versa. Here is a quote from J. Barr on the matter:

"All Christian use of the Old Testament seems to depend on the belief that the One God who is the God of Israel is also the God and Father of Jesus Christ."
"All our use of the Old Testament goes back to this belief. What is said there that relates to "God" relates to our God. Consequently, that which can be known of our God is known only when we consider the Old Testament as a place in which he is known."

"It is an illusory position to think of ourselves as in a position where the New Testament is clear, is known, and is accepted, and where therefore from this secure position we start out to explore the much more doubtful and dangerous territory of the Old Testament ... [This] is not possible, for quite theological reasons. ... Insofar as a position is Christian, it is related to the Old Testament from the beginning."

"In this sense, if one wishes to express the argument in terms of classic theology, our approach to the Old Testament is Trinitarian rather than Christological. The direction of thought is from God to Christ, from Father to Son, and not from Christ to God."

"It should also be noted that, where we have a Trinitarian structure, we can proceed to a Christological one".

Andrew Esqueda said...

Phil,
I would consider being judged in an ultimate way as an eternal act of judgment leading to damnation. Ultimate judgment also gives the sense that judgment for damnation has the final say. I think one can be judged without suffering the consequence of eternity apart from God. The greater question is what does judgment mean. The NT gives two types, 'krino' and 'dikaios.' The first being more juridical and the second transformative (making just or righteous). Either way, the consequence of judgment is taken up on the cross for Christ has been judged in our place.

One cannot say that all will, without question, be saved simply because we do not have the final say. But if we are to not theologize in abstracto, one can say quite certainly that Christ has been judged in our place and that He will the salvation of all. What I mean by look at Christ is that Christ is God Himself, meaning, there is no will above or behind Christ. He is the sum of God's will and his will, as shown in history, is salvation for God's creation. He is human for humanity.

In terms of your next question. I have no problem with Christ being judge, even if it amounts to the salvation of all. This, again, has to do with what you mean by "judge." Take Isaiah 60 for example. This ships of Tarshish are coming first into the Holy city. These were basically pirate ships yet why are they coming into the Holy City? Why are corrupt kings and vicious nations? They are coming for judgment, but in judgment they are being made righteous. In God's wrath they were struck down, but in His mercy they have been restored (Is. 60:9-10).

Your next question on "good?" I think Joel and I are understanding good in the most ontologically sense. That it, Jesus Himself is the "good," the "good news." It is not a forensic state in which humans are made good, but rather, we participate in the good news thus we participate in Christ. And when I say the content of good news is Christ, I mean Christ Himself is the good news, and he has elected all to take part in the good news.

I don't think fear and trembling is a bad thing,and I think we should take God's wrath to come seriously. What I do reject is the idea that God's wrath is more ultimate than God's grace. We see that Christ's death is followed by resurrection, and we too should see judgment followed by grace.

I'll get to your very last question a bit later. Thanks for the questions, Phil.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thank you, Andrew, for your patience and helpful thoughts. As far as I can see, this means that Barth is ultimately a universalist after all. I think my issue is ultimately exegetical. Not only do I not see that Christ does not will the judgement of some, Third Isaiah is one of the main places I would go to show that eternal judgement is in fact part of God’s “economy” (if that is the right term). Here is an extended quote from B.S. Childs’ commentary on the conclusion of Isaiah (2001, 546-547):

“Finally, a highly important feature of Third Isaiah, which especially takes its shape in chapters 65 and 66, is the way in which the description of the new age has been set over against the continuing opposition of the old. The language of First Isaiah, especially of chapter 1 (cf. 34:2), has been appropriated intertextually to provide the imagery by which to describe the apostates of Third Isaiah. However, there is a major change in the role of the enemies of God. Whereas Second Isaiah tended to describe those opposing God in temporal terms (e.g., Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians), which were then to be overcome in the new age by God’s might, in Third Isaiah the relation of the old to the new age has been construed, not chronologically, but ontologically. In the profoundest of mysteries and with acute tension, the defeated voice of evil opposing God’s rule will be allowed to continue. The enemies of God in Third Isaiah are identified with those of every age—thus the consistent appeal to the enemies of First Isaiah—because they constitute and ontological opposition to God’s will. It is, therefore, not by chance that the book of Isaiah closes on this same note of judgement. Still, it is not wrong theologically when the synagogue chose to repeat the promise of 66:23 after v. 24 in order to bear testimony that the worship of the one true God by his faithful has the last word.
The book of Isaiah ends with this terrifying paradox. Yet it is accorindg to a similar pattern that the New Testament also closes [Childs then discusses, e.g. Rev 21]. …
The Promise of God’s salvation is to all, but it is received by the household of faith. …. .”


Childs also talks of paradox, so perhaps I’m “resolving” it to the end of “judgement.” But I don’t see how resolving it to “no ultimate salvation” keeps that tension either.

I really do wish I could figure this one out!

W. Travis McMaken said...

Bruce McCormack has argued (in a lecture that will soon be published in the proceedings of the 2007(?) Barth Conference here in Princeton) that there is a tension in Scripture - and especially the NT - between the logics of limited atonement and universalism, which is ultimately the tension between the eschaton and the time that remains. As he reads it, the church ought not definitive land on either of these alternatives, although the individual theologian ought to be granted freedom of inquiry. All of this is, of course, a gloss on Barth.

Andrew Esqueda said...

Travis, I heartily agree that there is tension in scripture on the issue, and I think this is a good place to land. Do you know when this will be published?

David W. Congdon said...

As the student editor of this volume, the best I can offer is summer 2011 (hopefully).