Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Natural Theology" formulations of my own theology in light of the debate between Karl Barth and Emil Brunner

It is my objective to formulate my own theological beliefs with a humble voice. Straying away from the chastising of the theological beliefs of either Emil Brunner or Karl Barth. In light of this it is my intention to abide by the teachings of the Reformation and Evangelical theology in my pursuit of theology and the revelation of the will of God. “Natural Theology” cannot exist separately from the true theological task as mentioned before. If we are to exercise true theology we must not appeal to even the slightest hint of revelation on the account of humanity or creation. In contrast it is my prerogative to ascribe only to the revelation of Jesus Christ, which has been revealed in scripture. In doing so I must discuss the depravity of the imago Dei in the theology of Emil Brunner. In the fall of man the imago Dei has been totally lost. Genesis 3 compares man to dust and we see the harsh words of God upon man. What we once upheld, i.e. the perfect imago, was lost due to the sin of man. If we are to hold to the teachings of the Reformation and agree that the imago Dei is totally destroyed than there is no room for a formal and material imago. The image that we were created in, the likeness and the uniqueness, which we once bore has been lost to sin. If our imago, our likeness to God, has been destroyed and humanity is a sinner through and through, than how is it that there is a remnant of the formal imago? We have to make a claim that either the imago Dei is lost or not. In sin our imago is totally destroyed leaving no room for a remnant or formal imago.

On account of the revelation of God, if we are to keep the formal imago and lose the material imago, as Brunner suggests, than we must have a remnant of the will of God in us, which must suggest that we have a minute knowledge of the revelation of the will of God apart from the revelation in Christ. According to the theological task, which Barth ascribes to, we must see revelation as grace and grace as revelation. (“Natural Theology”, 71) If this were indeed the case, than to say that there is revelation apart from Jesus Christ would be to say that there is a second source of grace. Not only would this imply that there is a second grace apart from Christ, but it would also imply that there is a grace that preceded and presupposed the grace of Christ on the cross. There is revelation in nature and creation, but this revelation is non-existent until the eyes of fallen man have been enlightened by the revelation and grace in Christ. A fallen human can know the artist by his artwork, but not by specifics only in a distorted fashion, lest the eyes of sinful humanity be opened by the grace of Christ. Any human can stare at the ocean and proclaim that there is no other explanation for this beauty other than a divine creator. The divine creator realized is none other than an ambiguous contemplation of something greater than oneself. The revelation of Jesus Christ cannot be realized in creation or nature. The only revelation in creation and nature is that, which is illumined by Christ. Apart from Christ there can be no revelation and no grace. If sin makes us blind to the creation of God set before us than how are we to have any revelation in creation? (“Natural Theology”, 26). This revelation in creation, this true “natural theology”, can only come to fruition in the response to the revelation of Christ.

On the matter of grace, as stated previously, we must not stray away from the centrality of the grace of Jesus Christ. Yes, God is present among his fallen creation, but in this I see no form of revelation. God is at work in creation, but once again there is no means by which we can declare this is God working in creation. Once again this is nothing more than a divine contemplation of a greater being by which our fallen minds have convinced us that what is before us was not by chance. In this I do reject Brunner’s theology of “preserving grace”, but I also reject Barth’s notion that “preserving grace” is nothing more than prophecy and fulfillment. Although I reject both Brunner’s view of “preserving grace” and Barth’s view, I have come to grips with another form of Divine preservation rooted in the grace and revelation of Jesus Christ. This grace that I speak of is “common grace”, but a redefined “common grace” consisting of only God’s favor upon mankind and God’s work in both the just and unjust. In this I believe that God has a loving demeanor toward all mankind and that God works in the hearts of both the just and unjust. This “common grace” that I speak of is a grace that is instituted on the cross and revealed only through the grace of the revelation of Jesus Christ. The act of Jesus upon the cross as the atonement for our sins was the eternal will of God, consisting of the forgiveness of sins and God’s grace upon all creation, i.e. “common grace”. God must have favor upon humanity to send his one an only son to die on the cross for the sins of the world and we know from the gospel of Matthew that, “…he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (5:45). This is not a second grace, which Barth suggests Brunner is creating, rather this “common grace” that I speak of is embodied in the grace of Jesus Christ and only revealed through the illumination of Christ. I do not wish to separate from the grace and revelation of Christ on the cross, for no grace or revelation can stand alone or apart from the grace and revelation of Christ. God’s will is set forth in creation, but this will is not one that is made known through creation or “preserving grace”, rather it is only realized on account of the revelation of Christ.

Concerning the atonement, we must once again not stray from the centrality of Jesus Christ. Our self-consciousness is replaced by faith and Christ living in us. In light of this our formal imago Dei, which has been destroyed, has no bearing on the atonement of our sins. The death of our old-self becomes a reality through Christ living in us and through his imputed righteousness. This is not something that we can realize naturally through creation. Brunner makes the claim that our self-consciousness through the Holy Spirit, and our formal imago, makes us aware of the renewal that has taken place in the atonement and gives a sobriety towards what the untainted imago Dei once was. (“Natural Theology”, 33-34). I find no use in man’s formal imago for it was destroyed in the fall and we cannot gain sobriety of what the imago once was naturally. This is a task done miraculously through the atonement of Christ and not by the self-consciousness and realization of the formal imago. (“Natural Theology”, 94). The realization of salvation and righteousness is that which is revealed on the cross. This cannot take place by means of creation and certainly not by any “prevenient grace”. The imago Dei is by no means regenerated to its original state, but rather those who receive salvation are declared righteous through the word of God. This is only done by the miraculous work of God and is an act that no form of “natural theology” can account for. We must continue to rely on Jesus Christ as our soul source of grace and revelation for there is nothing in creation that can stand apart from the one whom created it. The centrality and exclusivity of Jesus Christ on the cross is essential to performing the true theological task.

This theological framework brings about many implications concerning Christ and culture. The question must be asked how are Christians to engage Christ in a culture that is totally depraved and bereft of any form of grace and revelation? We must remember Matthew 5:45 and that the sunrises upon the just and the unjust and that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. We must also remember that God is sovereign over all spheres of creation for he himself created them. And most of all we must remember that Christ died for the sins of the world. These assertions have major implications for engaging culture and evangelism. We live in a culture totally depraved and are ourselves totally depraved because of sin. This speaks greatly for the need of the redemptive work of Christ in creation. We must approach culture with the mindset that culture is sinful yet God still shines upon culture and that God will use culture for his greater purpose. Christ engaged a culture of sinfulness; he ate with sinners and the least of these. Christ knew that they were sinners and even declared them sinners and in light of that he still forgave them their sins and presented them with a spirit of grace and love. As Christ presented the gospel to the culture of his time, we also must do the same as Christ. We must engage culture with an evangelistic attitude. Our attitude must not be arrogant and must not be trite, but rather full of love and the grace that we have received from the revelation in Christ. Our gestures toward culture must match our posture toward culture. If we see Christ as the redeemer and transformer of culture than our gestures must treat culture as if we actually believed in the love and grace of Christ. There is no need for chastising culture and no need for over contextualization of the gospel upon culture. We must remember, as the great theologian Abraham Kuyper would say, that each sphere of creation is autonomous in itself, yet Christ is still sovereign over all. The Church has no business engaging culture with a trite heart as if the Church has ownership of culture. Yet, we must continue to engage culture while presenting the love and grace of Christ as scripture presents it and we must not accommodate Christ to culture.

If the imago Dei is totally depraved and there is no revelation in creation, how much more urgent is the gospel and how much more urgent is the need for Christians to engage Christ and culture? How is any human being able to come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ if the Church is static in the evangelization of culture? Christians must wholeheartedly engage culture now and not later. We must not just be a city on a hill, but rather we must be an example, we must live as a community in the valley. There is no access to a city on a hill, but there is access and even immersion with a community established within culture. We must have a, here and now and not yet, eschatology of the Kingdom of God. As Emil Brunner and Karl Barth were in an Enlightenment culture, we are in a Post-modern culture. Karl Barth was so fierce in his attack on “natural theology” because of his fear of Enlightenment thinking taking over the Church. We must have this same urgency and vividness as Karl Barth has, along with a little more tact, a more dialectical approach, and a less polemical one. Post-modernity has already found itself within the Church walls and it is my fear that it will continue to grow within the Church walls. Post-modernity is the perfect soil for the growth of “natural theology” and other theologies not rooted in the revelation of the grace of Christ, theologies daring to stand alone in dissatisfaction with the cross. In our engagement with culture we must remember that there is no grace in culture and that there is no revelation in culture, only ambiguous thoughts of a divine being. God is not the product of culture and the grace of Jesus Christ is certainly not revealed in culture. Rather, we must engage culture with the mind-set of illumination through Christ. We cannot illumine culture and culture certainly cannot illumine itself, but Christ certainly can illumine culture to his grace and revelation. A culture without grace, without revelation, without “natural theology” is a culture, which is in need of the engagement of Jesus Christ. We often think that since Christ can’t be realized in culture that we have no means of bringing Christ to culture. We must not think as if Christ has no place in the redemption of culture. We cannot know Christ in culture, but in the Kingdom of God culture will be redeemed. Dr. Richard Mouw speaks of this in his book “When the Kings Come Marching In”. He speaks of the future redemption of culture in the Holy City. If we are going to hold to this picture of the redemption of culture in the Holy City than we must be active in the present redemption of culture on account of the grace of Jesus Christ. Culture must know that there is redemption in Christ and that when we are illumined by Jesus there is revelation and grace in creation. Humanity must know that there is redemption for humanity founded in the grace of Jesus Christ and it is the responsibility of the Church to bring that knowledge into culture and creation.

A true theologica naturalis cannot not realized apart from the illumination of Christ, for there is no revelation and no grace in creation. It is the responsibility of the Church to engage Christ and culture because culture cannot engage itself with Christ through creation. We must hold fast to the centrality of Christ and the sole grace and revelation presented through Christ on the cross. The Church must cling to the necessity of Christ. To stray away from the sole grace and revelation in Christ is to contribute to the dilution of the gospel and the emphasis upon man and mind. It is critical that the Church abide by the true task of theology and ascribe to the grace found in our Creator and not in creation.