A Still Greater Historicity: Hegel, Jüngel, and the Historicization of God's Being

Contributed by Halden Doerge.

Introduction: The Prison of History?

A specter is haunting contemporary theology: the specter of Hegel. The much-touted renaissance of Trinitarian theology has come under heavy critique on the basis of its purported Hegelianism. An exhaustive examination of the theological implications of Hegel’s philosophy is far beyond my competence, and I suspect, beyond the competence of almost everyone. However, in regard to contemporary Trinitarian theology, the key issue regarding Hegel is centered on the question of the relationship between the eternal being of God and the unfolding of human history. Trinitarian theologians who have followed the lead of Karl Barth in stressing a radically Christocentric and revelation-centric mode of doing theology have come under critique on the basis of an alleged Hegelianism. To utterly define God by the historical figure of Jesus seems to be to claim that God’s being is dependent on created history, that God comes to be God only on the basis of creation. It seems that any such theology, insisting in a Hegelian manner that the reality of the human man Jesus is constitutive for the being of God ends up making God dependent on creation rather than its sovereign creator. So it is often alleged.

Due to the limits of space, these broad strokes cannot be substantiated in detail. However, a quick perusal of journal articles that are critical of theologians such as Wolfhart Pannenberg, Robert Jenson, and Eberhard Jüngel bears out the fact that the charge of Hegelianism often functions as a stand-in for substantial biblical and theological engagement. George Hunsinger’s review article of Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology is a pristine example of just such a method of labeling a certain perspective Hegelian and assuming that the simple application of this epitaph constitutes the closure of the argument. The fact that Jenson’s own perspectives have far more weighty exegetical support behind them is never even considered, let alone engaged by Hunsinger in his tirade. The same tendency can be seen in the otherwise very helpful works of Matthew Levering and Lewis Ayres.

This essay seeks to confront the alleged Hegelian problematic of historicist interpretations of the doctrine of God, with particular attention to Eberhard Jüngel’s theological reception of the theology of Karl Barth in his constructive work, God’s Being is in Becoming. In Jüngel’s appropriation of Barth we find an account of God’s being which is thoroughgoing historical. For Jüngel, the being of the Triune God is not merely manifested, but constituted in the history of Jesus. This would seem to land Jüngel squarely in the midst of the alleged problem of Hegelianism, namely of imprisoning God within the machinations of the historical process. I want to argue, however that, in fact, the opposite is the case. Jüngel’s work represents, not the problem of subjecting God to history, but rather the solution thereto (and to the opposite problem of removing the being of God from true participation in human history as in some versions of classical theism).

In an effort to make this case I offer three overtures or excursions into Jüngel’s thought which I hope will demonstrate how he is more of the solution than the problem to the thorny issue of the relationship between the being of God and human history. First, I examine Jüngel’s argument that the historical revelation of the economic Trinity constitutes God’s own self-interpretation. This argument suggests that the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth must be understood as the eternal self-interpretation of the Trinitarian Son of God, the Logos. Secondly, I examine Jüngel’s theological ontology, and in particular his claim that God’s being is constituted by his primal and eternal decision to be God-for-us in Jesus. The eternal event of God’s being God is coterminous with God’s decision to be the incarnate one, Jesus of Nazareth. As such, God’s very being is constituted through the history of Jesus. Finally, in light of the previous two observations, I argue how this radically historicized understanding of the reality of the Triune God does not imprison God within the historical process, but rather liberates history in the freedom of the Triune relations which God opens up to the world in the missions of the Son and Spirit. The radical historicization of God’s being which we behold in Christ does not sublate God in history, but rather reveals the historia praeveniens that both grounds and actualizes the reality of human history within the eternal conversation of the Triune persons. God is perfectly subject to history without being sublimated by it precisely in that the Triune conversation whereby God is God contains all of human history within itself. The being of God is constituted by the history of Jesus, but this does not mean that God is sublimated within history; rather it means that history, in all its dynamism of chance and change, is a predicate of God’s own eternity. God is not a godlet, not a “being” who could be imprisoned within history, precisely because God’s eternal Trinitarian life is the very space in which history takes place. Here the Trinitarian reflections of Herbert McCabe offer a helpful way of further specifying the radical theological ontology that Eberhard Jüngel has offered us in his post-metaphysical appropriation of Karl Barth.

Jesus as God’s Self-Interpretation

One of the central theses of Eberhard Jüngel’s book God’s Being is in Becoming is that the doctrine of the Trinity is our interpretation of God’s own self-interpretation. For Jüngel, God’s revelation perfectly corresponds to Godself. The triune God revealed in the history of Jesus is the one who corresponds to Godself. God’s being is God’s act, and the revelation of the Trinity in Christ and the Spirit constitutes God’s self-interpretation. The economic Trinity is God interpreting Godself before us; it is God’s act of saying who and what God is within the realm of created being.

Jüngel’s construal of the Trinity as God’s self-interpretation offers a helpful way to mediate the various debates surrounding the relationship between the man Jesus and the eternal Trinitarian Son (though even putting the matter this way is already problematic in advance). If Jüngel is correct that the economic Trinity is God’s self-interpretation, it would follow naturally to understand the man Jesus as the self-interpretation of the eternal Trinitarian Son. Thus, it isn’t strictly accurate to speak of the Logos as having an incarnate and an unincarnate state in a static sense. Rather, the man Jesus himself is the eternal self-interpretation of the Son. From all eternity the Son of the Father interprets himself as Jesus of Nazareth. And because God’s act of self-interpretation is identical with God himself (the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity), the Son’s self-interpretation of himself as Jesus means that Jesus simply is the eternal Trinitarian Son without remainder: “The man Jesus is in the beginning with God” (GBB, p. 96).

And thus, as Jüngel says, God’s self-interpretation, the event of decision to be the God that God is is identical with the eternal being of God. God is the event of his own decision and that decision is “not to be understood only as a decision for God, but also . . . as a decision for humanity” (GBB, p. 81). This “decision for humanity” which is eternally included in the event of the Triune God is precisely the decision we see actualized in the man Jesus. A proper understanding of the second person of the Trinity requires us to begin and end on this point. If we grant that the actualistic ontology of Jüngel and Barth is the most appropriate theological construal of being, on the basis of revelation, then we are forced to conclude that the man Jesus is the eternal self-interpretation of the Trinitarian Son. Everything that we behold in Jesus belongs to the eternal identity of the Triune God. The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world is the Nazarene.

The Historicization of Theological Ontology

If, as Jüngel argues, the man Jesus is the eternal self-interpretation of the Logos, what does this mean about the nature of God’s eternal being? If Jesus in some sense defines God’s being eternally, what then must we say about the being of God? Here one of the most important quotes from Jüngel’s God’s Being is in Becoming is supremely helpful:
God’s being in person is in a specific way a free event in so far as it is not only ‘being . . . moved in itself and therefore motivating being’, but ‘being which is self-moved’. That means that, as event, the being of God possesses freedom of decision. Decision does not belong to the being of God as something supplementary to this being; rather as event, God’s being is his own decision. ‘The fact that God’s being is event, the event of God’s act, necessarily . . . means that it is His own conscious, willed, and executed decision.’ What was already worked out in the doctrine of the Trinity is now confirmed from working out a concept of being appropriate to God: God’s being is constructed through historicality. For in its ‘decision, and therefore personal being’ God’s being ‘is the being of God in the nature of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’ in which ‘God live from and by Himself’.” (GBB, p. 80-81; Jüngel is here quoting from Barth, CD 2/1, 271ff.)
What this quote shows is not only Jüngel’s superb exposition of Barth’s actualistic and historicist doctrine of God, but the way in which Barth’s doctrine of God establishes a properly theological construal of being. In contrast to John Milbank’s accusation, that Barth’s work ultimately fails “to redefine being and knowledge theologically” (Milbank, Pickstock, and Ward, Radical Orthodoxy, p. 22), Jüngel shows how Barth’s Christocentric theology of election grounds a radical redefinition of being on the basis of the revelation of God in Christ. For Barth and Jüngel, to be is to be included in God’s primal decision to be God-for-humanity. And, as revealed in Christ, this decision is not something extraneous to God, but is rather identical with God’s very being (for the whole reality of Jesus is “very God of very God”).

God’s decision to be God for us is the very same eternal event of decision by which God is God. As Jüngel points out, “the decision about God’s being is not to be understood only as a decision for God, but also - precisely as a decision for God - as a decision for humanity” (GBB, p. 81). Therefore, being is theologically defined as that which is included in the event of the Triune God’s election of the world in Jesus, which includes all things, leaving nothing out. In contrast to Milbank and others who see the triumph of a sort of post-Kantian philosophy in Barth’s thought, when he is read rightly, as Jüngel exemplifies, his theology offers a profoundly robust theological ontology that is at once Christological, historical, actualistic, and participatory. The being of God is the dynamic event of decision whereby the Trinitarian persons eternally commune and communicate with one another (the Word), and in which created being finds itself constituted as a non-necessary intonation, spoken into being out of nothing.

The radical implication of Jüngel’s notion of the being of God is that God’s being is not something that is only to be understood as internal to Godself, but rather that God’s eternal way of being God includes God’s turning towards us to be God-for-us. “God’s being takes place as historia praeveniens [prevenient history]. In this historia praeveniens God determines himself to be ours as one of us.” Moreover, this eternal self-determination, which is identical with the very being of God is eternally actualized in and as the man Jesus Christ. “The historia praeveniens in which and as which this divine self-determination takes place is Jesus Christ.” For Jüngel, as for Barth, “Jesus Christ is already in the beginning with God.” (GBB, p. 90-91).

However, all of this only takes us to the doorstep of our argument. If the following two points about Jesus as the eternal self-interpretation of the Son of God and the radically historical redefinition of being that takes place in Jüngel’s theology are fair expositions of his and Barth’s thought, where does that leave us with respect to our intial question, namely that of making the being of the Triune God a predicate of created history? If God’s being is constituted through historicality, how can it be that this event can be the event of divine freedom rather than divine sublimation?

Conclusion: The Liberation of History

How can the claim that God’s very being is constituted by the historical person and work of Jesus Christ square with central Christian convictions about the nature of God? It seems prima facie false to simultaneously assert that the historical person and work of Jesus is constitutive for the being of God and to maintain the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo. It seems that either we must imprison God within history as a developing agent alongside of us (process theology) or ultimately sequester God’s being from history – the God of so-called classical theism may intervene in the world, but God’s very being is not at stake in his actions in the world. They may manifest God’s being, but in the end they do not define it. God’s being must, in some sense be prior to God’s act of election in Jesus Christ.

I want to argue, or at least suggest in closing that it is not only possible, but absolutely necessary for us to simultaneously assert that the person of Jesus is constitutive for the being of God, that God’s very being is at stake in the history of Jesus and that only by making this assertion can we rightly affirm the Christian doctrines of creation ex nihilo and divine transcendence. There is a certain prima facie plausibility to the seemingly classical assertion that God’s being must be complete in and of itself, independent of the history of Jesus in order for God to be the transcendent creator and sustainer of all things. Were God’s own being to be dependent on the particular historical reality of Jesus, it would seem that God has been reduced to nothing more than a predicate of history, a developing player within the historical drama rather than the author thereof. Either God must be independent of history or imprisoned within it. There are no other possibilities within inherited Western metaphysics.

However, this is precisely where the conventional understanding of transcendence is flawed, and indeed, potentially idolatrous. The conventional objection to the historicized understanding of God’s being offered by Barth and Jüngel is predicated on a fundamental metaphysical conception of God as an agent alongside other agents. God is ultimately conceived as a being who must either transcend history by not being implicated in it, or imprisoned in history by being so implicated. This is precisely where the inherited metaphysical tradition needs to be subjected to the kind of radical critique offered by Barth and Jüngel. As Herbert McCabe has helpfully reminded over and over again, “God cannot be a thing, and existent among others” (God Matters, 6). The dilemma of conventional metaphysics in which God must either be independent of the history of Jesus or imprisoned within it is predicated upon understanding God as a being alongside of other beings. However this is precisely what the doctrines of creation ex nihilo and divine transcendence deny. “It is impossible that God and the universe should add up to make two” (God Matters, 6). God is not a being who could be imprisoned within history because God is not a being who can be juxtaposed with created existents. The Triune God is rather the reason and ground for all being, existence, and history.

Thus, the story of Jesus is not the story of a being called God involving Godself with other beings in created history, rather the story of Jesus “is actually the story of God” (God Matters, 48). We are able – or rather, are driven – to assert that the historical person of Jesus is constitutive of God’s being because history is not a thing that could be juxtaposed with God as another thing. Rather, all of human history is grounded in the Trinitarian differentiation within Godself. The primal difference between the Father and Son whereby God is God, what Jüngel calls “God’s Yes to himself” (GBB, 117) is the Father’s Yes to the Son in the resurrection. It is not possible to premise an intertrinitarian story of the Father and Son before the story of Jesus and the Father precisely because there is no “before” within the eternal life of God. Ironically, as McCabe, Jüngel, and Barth saw clearly, the doctrine of divine timelessness is what grounds the doctrine of God’s radical historicality in Jesus. There is no “beforeness” in God, because God is not a being alongside other beings. Rather God is the reason for all being. God’s being is ultimately historical, is constituted in and through the history of Jesus precisely because all of history is a predicate of God’s eternity. God is defined by Jesus’ history precisely because all of history is defined and grounded in the eternal life of the Triune conversation.

Thus, the question of whether or not the history of Jesus could somehow imprison God is ultimately absurd. History could not imprison God because God and history are not two things of the same order. History is rather the way in which we talk about how the Triune conversation includes that which is not God within God’s own eternity. There are not two stories of God, one prior to history and one of God’s involvement within history, rather there is only the eternal conversation of the Father and the Son in the Spirit. And that eternal conversation, that eternal “Yes” of God to Godself whereby God is God includes all of history within it. The historicality of God’s being, far from imprisoning God within the world’s fate, rather liberates history within the eternal life of the Trinity. The God whose being is defined by Jesus of Nazareth is anything but a predicate of history. The historicization of God’s being is rather the liberation of all history for eternity. This God is, as Jüngel understood, the mystery of the world, in whose being-in-becoming all of created history finds redemption and transfiguration.

Response to Halden Doerge

Contributed by Adam McInturf.

There was a movie theater down the street from me on 82nd when I was a kid that in recent years went defunct and was bought by a protestant Slavic church of some kind. They kept the old marquee and would rotate the message every month or two, but for at least a year its been stuck on the same one, which reads in huge letters,
I love the audacity of this sign. For this is something we absolutely could not dare to say about God had he not already said it about himself. To be sure, God himself is the ground of his own decision without external compulsion, so that he is the reason he gave his life. But to take what Scripture and the creeds have to say about God being in Christ reconciling the world to himself seriously is indeed to say simultaneously that we are the reason he gave his life. I would like to extend my appreciation to Halden for his excellent explication this notion of Barth’s and Jüngel’s that God has already from eternity willed to be the God who gives his life to be with us in the man Jesus Christ.

I have no substantial qualms with Halden’s exposition of the issue of the historicization of God’s being in Jüngel’s book (it just occurred to me that this response is the 5th order reflection me on Halden on Jüngel on Barth on the Bible!). I might have wished for closer and more consistent attention to the progression of Jüngel’s argument in the text (especially since God’s Being is in Becoming is itself simply a thoroughgoing reading of someone else’s thought). That said, I rest assured that the view Halden sketches is in fundamental continuity with Jüngel (and Barth).

Thus, I would like simply to pose a trajectory for further inquiry into this issue, and hopefully spark some discussion here that might move beyond the stalemates of the recent IJST articles and the ongoing spat between the Molnar/Hunsinger and McCormack/Jenson camps.

Had Halden had the space to provide some Biblical exegesis to substantiate his position, he surely would have attended to the fact that God’s self-revelation to Israel was always an exclusively historical affair. “You will know that I am YHWH your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians” (Ex 6.7). As Robert Jenson puts it, our God is simply whoever it was that led Israel out of Egypt. And it is Jesus Christ who is portrayed at several points in the New Testament as the recapitulation of Israel’s exodus (especially Mt 2.14-15, 1 Cor 10.1-2). God, then, wills to be known by the historical event of his execution of Israel’s liberation out Egypt, and further, God himself is the event of that liberation in his eternal decision to be God for us in Jesus Christ. So what does this mean for our experience of history right now? What does the subsistence of history within the Trinitarian life mean for our actual experience of history?

All this to say that when we start talking about the historicization of God’s being we need sooner or later to put ourselves into dialog with those who have been considering such issues for some time, namely Marx (especially his essay “On the Jewish Question”), the neo-Marxist revivals of “materialist Christianity” (for instance, Slavoj Zizek in The Puppet and the Dwarf), and of course the multifarious discourse of liberation theology which, to put it broadly, understands God to be that which is encountered in the historical event of liberation. In other words, what would it look like to read liberation theology through the lens of Jüngel?


Hello! I found your website. My name is Anders Branderud and I am from Sweden.

You write:” And because God’s act of self-interpretation is identical with God himself (the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity), the Son’s self-interpretation of himself as Jesus means that Jesus simply is the eternal Trinitarian Son without remainder: “The man Jesus is in the beginning with God” (GBB, p. 96).”

Who then is the historical Nazarenes – the Netzarim??
Who then was the historical “Jesus”?

Did you know that the original “Matthew” was written in Hebrew and it’s called Hebrew Matityahu. It speaks about an Orthodox Jewish leader..

I am a follower of Ribi Yehoshua – Mashiakh – who practiced Torah including Halakhah with all his heart.
He was born in Betlehem 7 B.C.E . His faher name was Yoseiph and mother’s name was Mir′ yâm. He had twelve followers. He tought in the Jewish batei-haknesset (synagogues). Thousands of Jews were interested in His Torah-teachings. The “Temple” Sadducees (non-priests who bought their priest-ship in the “Temple” from the Romans, because they were assimilated Hellenist and genealogically non-priests acting as priests in the “Temple”; they were known by most 1st-century Jews as “Wicked Priests.” decided to crucify him. So they did - together with the Romans. His followers were called Netzarim (meaning offshoots [of a olive tree]) and they continued to pray with the other Jews in the synagogues.

Christianity does not teach the teachings of Ribi Yehoshua. Ribi Yehoshuas teachings were pro-Torah.

If you want to learn more click at our website www.netzarim.co.il -- than click at the lick "Christians"; click at my photo to read about what made my switch religion from Christianity to Orthodox Judaism.

Anders Branderud
Follower of Ribi Yehoshua in Orthodox Judaism
Luke said…
That is a hard but interesting exposition. Hegel is still a great unknown philosopher. Jüngel is very indebted to Hegel, as you well shown.

Anders, this rabbi was the same one that said "law is to serve man, and not man to law"??
Joshua said…
thanks for this post. I do appreciate the attempt to get beyond Hegel accusations that end debate (and would love a cessation of Greek influence equals evil). I wonder, though about this section...

"However, this is precisely where the conventional understanding of transcendence is flawed, and indeed, potentially idolatrous. The conventional objection to the historicized understanding of God’s being offered by Barth and Jüngel is predicated on a fundamental metaphysical conception of God as an agent alongside other agents."

It seems to me that the traditional understanding of Christian metaphysics as understood by someone like Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, etc. isn't like this at all. God is not the biggest possible being. Following Tanner's work on God and Creation, David Burrell's work on transcendence and Lewis Ayres' reading of Augustine (at least his class), the claim of transcendence is not meant to cut off God's engagement in the world, but to make it possible. The fact that God is not a being like other beings and transcends categories of being is what enables God to be immanent. Transcendence and immanence are not mutally exclusive. I think this is what you are getting at in terms of Juengel and Barth. However, I wonder if you have misunderstood the traditional account or at least allowed a bastardized version of it to set up your solutions. This isn't to say that I am wholly unsympathetic to your or Juengel's reading, but just that the traditional theistic view is more capable of allowing for God's engagement with the world than you seem to suggest.
Halden said…
Joshua, thanks for the comment. I actually do agree with you, which is precisely why I brought in Herbert McCabe alongside of Jungel in this paper. McCabe offers the same sort of post-metaphysical reading of Aquinas that Jungel offers of Barth. The Barthian solution is not as novel as it always seems, but has heavy antecedents within the tradition as you point out.

However, I still think polemic against what I somewhat awkwardly called "the inherited metaphysical tradition" is warranted if for no other reason than that the sort of imaginination of God as a "top person" continues to dominate the idea of God that is common both in much of Christian piety and in the dispute between atheism and Christianity (see for example Eagleton's review of Dawkins where this whole issue of God as a "top person" comes to the fore).

In other words, even though it is true that the tradition is not simply the hellenic abandonment of the gospel in regard to metaphysics (as some crude narrations put the matter), there is a pervading conflict in the tradition between the metaphysical thought forms that can roughly be called hellenic and the narrative claims about the identity of God made in the biblical narrative of Jesus and Israel. A proper reading of the tradition does indeed show us that the Christian revolution in metaphysics was not simply betrayed by the doctors of the church, but neither is the tradition wholly pure or victorious. As such, constant evaluation of the sort of metaphysical imagination that informs our thought about God will always be necessary.
Anonymous said…
As a total amateur (enthusiast) I found this article incredibly clear and helpful. Thanks so much for it. I can't speak as Luke can to the issues underlying your discussion but the argument you presented helped me to understand the issues at hand a lot better.

With regards to Anders, let me quote Homer, "Your ideas intrigue me. Can I subscribe to your newsletter?"
Shane said…
So, as far as I can make out, there's a couple things J. might be on about.

First, there is J.'s attempt to distance himself from the putatively metaphysical tradition of Christian Theology.

Second, there is J.'s positive proposal.

Regarding the first. The metaphysical version of Christianity was presumably a story that might go like this, for instance: There are all sorts of different kinds of things, which is to say, different essences. The essence determines what sorts of activities the thing is capable of doing. God's essence is to be good and the essence of goodness includes self-diffusion, so God's essence determines that he must create other beings. (Thomas comes dangerously close to making God's creation necessary under the influence of Dionysius for precisely these sorts of reasons.)

J. seems to think metaphysical accounts of God are deficient because they are all going to end up telling stories similar to this one, which seem to impinge on divine freedom somehow.

In response to the second point, J. wants to overcome this "metaphysical" picture by privileging the category of "event" over "essence". For J. God has no "essence"; what determines God is the 'event' of God's deciding what kind of a God he shall be. (And this is an eternal event, which is important because otherwise God might be capricious).

So here's a couple questions we might ask.

[A] Was there ever such a thing as "the metaphysical tradition" of Christian theology and if so, who were its proponent? Is it really the case that Athanasius and the fathers of Nicea and Chalcedon came to the understanding of the nature of the Son and his sufferings because of "metaphysical" commitments about the nature and powers of essences and properties and the like? Or was it the case that Athanasius and co. were simply using greek vocabulary, which the philosophers also happened to use, without necessarily implying that ousia in the creed meant the same thing as it did in Aristotle, for instance? There certainly are metaphysical theologians in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, but I suspect that the greater part of the history of theology was built up by people who were much more concerned with Nazianzus's understanding of ousia than Aristotle's.

[B] We might also question whether a "metaphysical" understanding of God must necessarily lead to the conclusion that God is determined, not free. I see no reason whatsoever that should be the case. It might be the case for particular thinkers that their views imply a perilous reduction of God's freedom, but I don't see why any metaphysical view whatsoever has this consequence. (Perhaps to try to make this case would require the post-metaphysical theologian to clarify just what exactly he means by "metaphysics"--and it might turn out that he is badly mistaken.)

At any rate all the "metaphysical" theologian has to do to avoid J.'s criticism is to agree that God in his freedom, decides what sort of a God he shall be. And I don't see any real reason that the metaphysical theologian cannot in principle say precisely that.

[C] Contra J., I don't think the traditional view of God's transcendence is idolatrous. Quite the contrary, I think J. is flirting with disaster. In Augustine and Boethius, God is said to inhabit a completely different kind of time than we inhabit, called "eternity". Eternity is not extended in duration. It does not mean that God exists at t0, t1, t2 and so on till infinity. Rather, according to Augustine and Boethius, all the temporally extended sequence of time is present to God in one instant, as it were simultaneously.

Now, presumably J. doesn't like that because Augustine and Boethius have philosophical axes to grind and they use this definition of eternity to try to work around some paradoxes about how God foreknows the future and so on.

So presumably, J. means something different by "eternal" than the augustinian tradition did. But what he might mean here is not clear. Does he mean that eternity is just the extended temporal sequence from beginning to end?

If that is what J. means by "eternal" then it seems that his God has indeed "entered into" history. Indeed, it seems like God has entered in too far! For, if God is coextensive with time, then isn't time also coextensive with God?

It seems that in rejecting the putatively "metaphysical" view of God's temporality, J. ends up endorsing a very suspiciously metaphysical-looking claim that utterly undermines God's transcendence.

Timeo Hegelianos et dona gerentes.

Not to be rude, but you're speaking as a philosopher, and we're trying to do theology here. I don't really care one bit about metaphysics in itself. What I and Halden and others do care about is whether we are coming to an understanding about God on the sole basis of God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ. You use all the same words -- transcendence, eternity, history, etc. -- but you don't talk about revelation. As a result, we aren't talking about the same thing. We aren't speaking about the same reality.

Excellent post. I agree entirely with your argument. My only (and very small) problem came near the end when you said, "as McCabe, Jüngel, and Barth saw clearly, the doctrine of divine timelessness is what grounds the doctrine of God’s radical historicality in Jesus."

I think you got a little carried away here. As I am sure you know well, Barth, Jüngel, Jenson, Pannenberg, and many others all reject the doctrine of divine timelessness. The idea of a "timeless eternity" is itself a lapse into metaphysics. It defines eternity as the opposite of history. It is a competitive account of deity, which is precisely what you and all the others you mention seek to overcome. Moreover, your argument is entirely against such a notion.

What I think you meant to say -- and what you say repeatedly elsewhere -- is that history participates in the eternal being of God. God is an historical event, and history flows out of this triune conversation between Father, Son, and Spirit. Barth speaks of the humanity of God: God's deity includes God's humanity. Similarly, we can speak of the history of God: God's eternity includes God's history. Or, rather, God's eternity is itself a divine form of history which does not exist in a competitive relationship with creaturely reality.

Anyway, thanks for a great post.

I think are you being a bit harsh on Shane. He is trying to help us think clearly and responsibly about these matters, and I for one appreciate his reminding us that the story often told about western theology and its dependent upon certain forms of philosophy may in fact be a bit of a stretch.

Furthermore, it is not as though he is citing philosophical authorities to push us off of our theological commitments - he is citing Christian thinkers like Augustine and asking us to read them a bit more charitably, not to write them off so quickly, and think a bit more carefully about what they have to say to us.

Finally, he is asking whether what we have going on here is simply the battle of one metaphysical picture against another and, I must confess, it often looks this way to me as well.

Shane said…

I'm not sure I know what you mean by the word "metaphysics". What I am asking is: Does Jüngel believe that God's eternity is outside of time or within it? I suppose that question is "metaphysical" in the sense that I think there is an exclusive disjunction there and contraries are not compossible. But, if that's "metaphysics" I don't know who is supposed not to be a metaphysician.

You say that I'm using the terms in a different sense, but this sounds almost as if you are wanting to exempt theology from the requirement of making sense. As if we might have all these ordinary notions about time and space and so forth, and theology uses the same words but means something utterly unconnected by them, such that no philosophical criticism could ever in principle overturn a theological claim. That's what it sounds like you're saying, but I hope that isn't really what you mean to say, because it is mistaken.

Here is why. If you use the word "time" in a sense utterly unknown to philosophy, then where in the world did you get that sense from? You obviously didn't get it from your senses or from abstract speculation because those are the same sources upon which the philosopher draws. I suspect you'll say you got it from revelation, but that isn't going to help you. For how did you understand the content of that revelation, except by reference to the ordinary pre-revelatory concept derived from your experience of the world?

Or perhaps you'll say that you have theological knowledge by means of concepts that were given to you directly in revelation, without the mediation of ordinary experience. But in the first place that sounds like special pleading. In the second place, if the concepts are directly put into your head by God then in what sense could they possibly have any significance for you?

Put it this way: If God gives me the concept of a "square" by revelation and no revealed concepts have any creaturely analogues, then what God revealed to me as a square is in fact utterly different than what I understood to be a square based on my previous views about geometry. But what significance could this new revealed "squareness" have for me? It would have no significance at all--it would be purely formal, contentless, utterly disconnected from any possibly understanding of it that I could come to on my own. And if that were the case, in what sense would God have revealed anything to me? It would be like he had given me blocks with strange characters in a language I could not read. I might get a grammar, telling me which blocks go together and which do not, but those blocks would have no significance to me because I could not understand them.
Anonymous said…
David, yes I only put that comment about timelessness in with great hesitation and perhaps wouldn't have included it if I had taken more time to synthesize the paper than I had. However, the thought I was actually trying to get at was really something along the lines of showing how McCabes talk about timelessness functions in precisely the same way as Jenson's discussions of temporal infinity, or Barth's way of discussing eternity as including temporality and history. For McCabe "timelessness" simply means that God's eternity transcends time in that time is a predicate of God's eternity. God is more temporal, not less by virtue of his transcende of the way in which creatures experience time.

I think that "timeless eternity" is a term that should be done away with, but I was trying to get at what is, according to McCabe its intention: namely to state that God in transcending time is at once the source of time and history and more intimately involved in time and history than any creature could ever be.
Anonymous said…
" What I am asking is: Does Jüngel believe that God's eternity is outside of time or within it?"

Shane, I won't try to break into the discussion between you and David at this point, but I just want to point out that what I was trying to do in my essay, via Jungel, was to show how the very askability of this sort of question is problematic. To ask whether or not God is "inside" or "outside" of time is already to concieve God as an existent, a being alongside other beings - the notion which McCabe roundly, and rightly in my jugment, critiques.
Anonymous said…
Adrian Langdon, McGill University (PhD Cand.)

Thank you for the stimulating post!

I will reflect on the following passage, which nicely contains insight but perhaps problems as well:

"God’s being is ultimately historical, is constituted in and through the history of Jesus precisely because all of history is a predicate of God’s eternity. God is defined by Jesus’ history precisely because all of history is defined and grounded in the eternal life of the Triune conversation."

1. I think you are correct in suggesting the idea that creation and its creatures are in God's history, so to speak. (I would prefer to use the idea of containment here, as found in some of the church fathers). This is true since our being is in God's being, our time in his eternity, our space in his omnipresence, etc. As long as God’s being is held in ontological distinction from created being, then this argument does much to solve the immanent/transcendent silliness (its obvious that the God who is truly transcendent is also intimately immanent).

2. I am pretty sure, however, that Barth would not use the word ‘constitute’ the way proposed (I will speak mostly of Barth, since I know him better). God's being is not constituted by creation, as if God somehow needs the world to be complete; this would make God dependent on creation and the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo becomes problematic. To say the Trinity is constituted by creation, or the history of Jesus for that matter, more or less confuses the order of being and the order of knowing. That we know God is triune through the revelation of Jesus Christ is one thing, but to say God is constituted by the history of Jesus is another (which is often the case with Lutheran interpretations of Barth; Jungel and Jenson, for example). While the economic trinity is the immanent trinity, in the sense that God does not deceive us in his revelation, God's triune being is antecedent to his revelation in Christ, and antecedent to the initial act of creation.

3. You are correct to suggest moreover that God's being is historical. But I think it is helpful to think of this in two distinct, though related, ways. First, according to Barth, God's triune life, even before creation, is the perichoretic and differentiating life of Father, Son, and Spirit. Within God's own being, in se, there is truly space, time, and order. Second, this eternal temporality/historicity is the prototype and basis of God's creating and reconciling work in time and history. Thus in an important sense, God’s eternity is timeless (as it is distinct from created temporality), but supremely temporal, as it is the triune life, both in se and ad extra.

Only if put this way, can it be said that God's being is historical, otherwise we do drift into the choppy waters of Hegel. (On a side note, Barth's treatment of Hegel in Theology in the 19th Century, appreciates his view of the 'livingness of God' but critiques him for neglecting the freedom of God).


Adrian Langdon
Luke said…
Without the negative moment, that is without Jesus, God would be something interesting from an intellectual point of view, but without reference to human interests.

Adam: Concerning liberation theology, I can tell that they kill them all at El Salvador. I was there some years ago, and I met Jon Sobrino and Tamayo, the last exponents. Tamayo was excommunicated by Ratzinger because a book about Jesus. They are very interested in Ellacuría, a disciple of Zubiri. In general, there is not a great intellectual force in this kind of theology. It is a very social theology. One thing is clear: they know very well the dark side, or the negative moment. It would be interesting to reinforce their positions through Jüngel.
Anonymous said…
Thanks to all for the excellent discussion.

David, I must agree, your attempt to silence Shane's contribution is out of line and unnecessary. He's really not speaking another language.

Halden, your post made me think of a conjecture of Duns Scotus', one that I've found intriguing and inspiring. If such a thing can be forgiven here, I'll substitute a thought on Scotus (whom I've read) for one on Jungel (whom I haven't).

You write: "From all eternity the Son of the Father interprets himself as Jesus of Nazareth. And because God’s act of self-interpretation is identical with God himself (the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity), the Son’s self-interpretation of himself as Jesus means that Jesus simply is the eternal Trinitarian Son without remainder: “The man Jesus is in the beginning with God” (GBB, p. 96)."

Scotus makes the argument that in a well-ordered action the greater good is willed prior to the lesser, and the end is willed prior to the means. Because the glory of God's presence in human nature must exceed that of other human beings, Christ's human nature is willed prior (logically) to the rest of humanity. For that reason, Scotus suggests that the incarnation of the Son is the motivation for creation in the first place. Creation is the free expression of God's desire for the existence of a "place" from which God the Son, might offer God the Father a sacrifice of praise from a perspective "outside" God. Creation is the immanence which God delights in transcending, and delights in inhabiting.

All that to say that speaking of the historicity of God's being might also reflect on the meaning and purpose of history for all creatures. Scotus thinks of creation as a great Eucharist, matter meant for praise, because the central figure of creation (noun) and the first intention behind creation (verb) is the praise and obedience offered by the Son to the Father, through the Spirit.
All, relax everyone. I'm not trying to "silence" Shane. He and I go way back, so I speak as a frustrated brother-in-arms.

Here's the thing, Shane. Obviously, you and I, Barth and Jüngel, are all using words and concepts that people in any discipline use. In that sense, theology is a "science" like any other. But the fundamental point that Jüngel is making, following Barth, is that such concepts may in fact be radically redefined in light of revelation.

Your attempt to unravel this through your discussion of time does not work. The various possibilities you offered are all wrong. Let's take the word "eternity." Ignoring Scripture for a moment, we could define this word as that mode of existence proper to God. In the era of classical metaphysics, it was assumed that since God was the opposite of whatever creatures were, then the fact that we exist in time must mean that God is timeless. This is the via negativa.

Now, we can certainly think theologically with this concept and get rather far. But it raises the problem of how God can become incarnate and still remain God. On the basis of this problem, we can say that Jesus' divinity is secured from any interpenetration by his humanity. The divinity and human remain distinct. We can speak then of a composite or compound person. So on and so forth. None of this is new to you.

The point that Barth is making is that perhaps we shouldn't begin with the presupposition that God is the opposite of humanity. Where did we get that notion from? We certainly know that God is radically distinct from humanity, but in what sense? Moreover, if Jesus is indeed God in the flesh, then perhaps that reality should be definitive for how we speak about God (as well as of humanity).

If we change our starting-point, and so adjust our method, we are able to rethink our concepts. We don't get rid of terms like "time" or "eternity," but we have to allow for the fact that these terms mean something unique for God -- since, as all Christians affirm, God is a fundamentally unique being. So "eternity" for God would mean that mode of existence which is not foreign to Jesus' mode of existence but rather includes it. Similarly, "humanity" is a reality included in deity, not something foreign or opposed to it. Even the word "being" is unique for God. There's nothing unreasonable about this position. It just means that how we ascribe attributes to God must be filtered through the "lens" of Jesus Christ. We explain God on the basis of Jesus, rather than explain Jesus on the basis of what we (think we) know about God.

Both philosophy and theology use many of the same words, but they have different methods (starting-points and presuppositions) and different texts. No matter how philosophically robust one's theology is, if it flies in the face of reasonable biblical exegesis, it should call such statements into question. The point is that if we are going to speak about the same reality, then we have to (1) presuppose that our presuppositions and concepts may have to be jettisoned or refined and (2) always begin with and return to exegesis.

Metaphysics is thus defined as any attempt to ascribe attributes to God apart from Jesus (as well as apart from Scripture). Do "post-metaphysical" thinkers like Jüngel still think like the scholastics? Sure. But, as the title of McCormack's dissertation describes Barth, Jüngel and Barth are "scholastics of a higher order." Does this mean that we are stuck with one metaphysical account battling another metaphysical account? I don't think so. My more precise definition of metaphysics would simply mean that any theology which does not take the human event of Jesus as the starting-point for thinking about God is metaphysical.
Shane said…

"To ask whether or not God is "inside" or "outside" of time is already to concieve God as an existent, a being alongside other beings - the notion which McCabe roundly, and rightly in my jugment, critiques."

I really don't see why the question is supposed to be unaskable. I mean, I take it that you are saying that asking whether God is inside or outside of time is just a category mistake like asking whether God is salty or blue. But I don't see:
(1) Why asking this question implies that God is a being "just like" every other kind of being. or
(2) What the third option would be.

Take a simpler example and ask "Is God evil or non-evil?" Would you reply to this inquiry that it is already to make God an existent alongside other existents, which must be rejected?

If not, then why is the example of time different?

@ David,

The possibilities I offered are all wrong?

There are only four things you could possibly say, [a] God is temporal, [b] God is non-temporal, [c] God is both temporal and non-temporal, or [d] God is neither temporal nor non-temporal.

[c] is non-sense and [d] is extremely obscure. So, we're left with a dichotomy: temporal or non-temporal (which was my question to Halden).

Personally, I think there are pretty good arguments for [a], but there might be something to be said for [b] too; I don't want to prejudge that question.

There are two ways we might go about trying to figure out which of the disjuncts to endorse. One way would be via metaphysics, the other via theology proper.

The metaphysician is going to approach this problem by pondering the significance of questions like these: Do future events have any ontological status? Are they determined or contingent? How can God have infallible knowledge of contingent future events?

The theologian is going to ask the question you asked above how God can become incarnate and still remain God? That's a good question to ask.

Furthermore, I'll even agree to your methodological principle that we begin and end our theologizing with the exegesis. But I'll add a caveat. You are arguing for a very scholastic position that theology is the higher science and the conclusions of a lower science can never overturn the principles of the higher. I worry that you are neglecting the fact that philosophical (or even 'metaphysical') presuppositions that inform your exegesis. Because you are living on this side of the 16th century, you would never interpret the psalms to contradict heliocentric astronomy. But that's because your understanding of those passages is already conditioned by a slew of prior scientific and philosophical commitments. And that's as it should be.

But, just because the two ways of approaching the question differ does not mean that their answers should not concur. Indeed, if God is the source of all truth, we ought to expect the two disciplines to be consilient.

So, my claim is that if the theologian says something that the metaphysician tells him is stark raving nonsense, it behooves the theologian to pose the question: "Is this claim I'm propounding really shown in my exegesis, or am I eisegeting something into the text because of my philosophical presuppositions that is not really there?"

In my response to Jason at this post, I repeated some of my worries, which I have expressed to you in years gone by, about whether Barth and Jüngel are really getting some of their claims from exegesis or not.

Some of the things Barth says when he's riding his anti-natural theology bandwagon sound like he thinks any metaphysical discussion about God and his properties or attributes is just false and pure revealed theology is the only thing that could ever say anything true about God. But I just don't really see any good exegetical evidence for that.

Perhaps we can prevail on Travis to make Barth's Romans commentary the theme of next year's conference to try to settle this dispute.
Anonymous said…
To imagine Barth as totally bereft of metaphysics is utterly naive. One can't get away from metaphysics, at least in a general sense. The problem rather is: what kind of metaphysics is operative in my thinking? Is it a metaphysics that enables "God" and "God's revelation"? Is it a metaphysics that is humble enough to let "God" rule it and limit it and set it in its right proportion? I never imagined Jungel to have given up on metaphysics altogether; I was rather under the impression that Jungel was allowing metaphysics to be "ruled" (Lindbeck comes to mind, this Lutheran who was a student of Aquinas as well) and "normed" by God's action and God's revelation. An open metaphysics therefore is necessary, even if certainly far from being sufficient, in theological work.
Anonymous said…
"Take a simpler example and ask "Is God evil or non-evil?" Would you reply to this inquiry that it is already to make God an existent alongside other existents, which must be rejected?

If not, then why is the example of time different?"

The example of time is different in countless ways, not the least of which is that one question is about God's moral character and the other is about the mode of God's being vis a vis created reality.

The issue I have is with the whole language of "inside/outside". For us to talk about God as if God could be located either inside of our outside of time is to begin with a conception of God as some sort of being that could be so located. The question of being inside or outside of time is one that could only apply to existents in a way that the question of evil or non-evil does not.

If pressed I would want to say something along the lines of time being "in" God, describing God's temporality and transcendence of time from that standpoint rather than the conventional way of framing the matter which posits time as a reality that God must be either "inside" or "outside" of.
Shane said…
Halden, let's ask the question this way? What is time?

Time is an ordered sequence of events, produced by change. To say that t1 happened 'earlier' than t2 is to say that t1 preceded t2 in the sequence. X and Y are simultaneous if and only if they occur at the same instant of time. From the perspective of t1, t2 does not yet exist.

When I ask you whether God is inside time or outside of it, I am asking whether God experiences this sequence of states of affairs or not.

There are three consequences, if God experiences the sequence of affair in the same way we do.

First, if God is inside of time, then he experiences the world in one way at t1 and will experience it in another way at t2. If you hold that God is inside time, then God must be changing as his knowledge of the universe outside himself is changing.

Second, if God is within this sequence of states of affairs, then presumably he does not have foreknowledge at t1 about what will happen at t2. The only way a temporal God could have foreknowledge would be if determinism were true and he just happened to know all the true laws of nature and all the relevant facts to infallibly predict what would happen, like Laplace's demon.

Third, if God is within time, then finite creatures are responsible for changes within him. I repent and God is presumably pleased. I sin and he becomes angry. And saying this is to make God just one more existent alongside all the others caught in this web of cause and effect.

So, I think those are three powerful reasons to think that God cannot stand in the sequence of temporal events. Rather, I think we can resolve all these perplexities simply by adopting Boethius's definition of eternity; for Boethius God enjoys eternal life all at an instant, as it were simultaneously. God sees me sinning at t1, and repenting at t2, and he can be angry at t1 and joyful at t2 without undergoing change. Moreover, even when it is t1 for me, God knows infallible what I will do at t2, simply because from the vantage of eternity, he sees me doing it. And he can know my actions infallibly without his knowledge determining or causing those actions, so there is no danger of determinism. Nor is there any threat of anthropomorphizing the nature of God's experience or violating his transcendence.

Of course, there are problems with this solution, but it still seems preferable to me to the alternative. I suppose we ought to look at the exegesis to make sure, but I sort of doubt there will be any really important passages that would clearly settle the dispute.

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