Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Particularity of God's Knowing

This post has taken a long time to actually finish. Particularly because it's a lot of thoughts that I am still wrestling with. I think that we need to start thinking differently about God's foreknowledge. I have been reading Barth and Bruce McCormack as of late (what's new), and I am grateful for their stimulating thoughts on this issue.

As of recent divine foreknowledge has been on my mind and I've been reading an essay by Bruce L. McCormack titled The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism. I've become less concerned with what exactly God knows, but more so the telos of that knowing. Why does, or must, God know all or certain things? Must we proclaim the exhaustive knowledge of God because we are so afraid that if God does not know this or that he might cease to be God, or God in control of the universe? Or, are we so bent on the idea of human freedom that we label a God who knows all things as a dictatorial "Big Other"? Are we afraid that God might actually have more control than we do, and as a result, we create an analogy between our knowing and God's knowing? What ever the reason may be our view of God's divine foreknowledge must be in accordance with the character and witness of God testified in Holy Scripture, and as a result, any conception of Divine foreknowledge must bear primally on the life of Jesus.Talk of God cannot begin with any form of creation for any subsequent adjudication of the scope of God's knowledge would be grounded in creaturely faculties, not God himself. If this were the case then Feuerbach would have certainly been right for our conception of God's knowledge would simply be our creaturely knowledge projected on the screen of eternity. Thus, any and all God-talk must begin with the witness and life of Jesus Christ attested in Holy Scripture.

If we are now to discuss God's foreknowledge then we must begin with God himself, more specifically, we must begin with Jesus. It is not enough to suggest that when we begin with God we begin with the "divine" for God is not divinity in general, but in particularity. We are not philosophizing or mythologizing, we are reflecting upon God's revelation in history. With Jesus as our starting point, our knowledge of God's knowledge must begin with the truth that God knows God-self; and with that God's primary knowledge of himself is that of the covenant. It is knowledge that He is free to be God in se and God pro nobis--that who God is in his acts is identical to who God is in himself. Moreover, knowledge of God's self requires knowledge of this world, of creation, of redemption; for God knows only of himself in light of his relation to the covenant which was established by way of God's own self determination in eternity. Now, it is fine to say that God could have known himself apart from this world, and it is very true that God knows himself and exists entirely in freedom, but it is also a reality that God chose to know himself by way of the cross and not any other, and as such, it is not beneficial to surmise that God could have known himself in any other fashion for that is simply an exercise in mythologizing. From this standpoint God's foreknowledge is linked, in every aspect, to his covenant with creation; it is linked to a specific event in the life of God himself, an event which finds its genesis in eternity and actualization in time qua the life of Jesus Christ. God's knowledge is thus particular and not general--it has a purpose, it has a determination. This knowledge is not knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but knowledge for the sake of grace.

Because the locus of God's knowledge is contained in the covenant of election, and that covenant is one of self-determination for life, death, and resurrection, it then must follow that God's knowledge is that of persons; it is knowledge not only of Himself, but knowledge of those who are elected to participate in God's self knowledge. This knowledge, however, does not necessitate determinism. It does though contain a certainty that God knows all things before the foundation of the world. According to Bruce McCormack, "certainty is a predicate of persons. Necessity, on the other hand, is (or is not) a predicate of events" (Orthodox and Modern, 223). Thus, God is certain that he is himself, and he is certain of "us", as persons, for he has indeed chosen to be God for "us". God's knowledge is not bound by necessary events for events can only take place in light of the fact that persons exist. In this way God's eternal will can be carried out on account of God's certain knowledge of himself and us. Certainty of God's self and of humans is certainty of God's eternally, and autonomously, self determined existence and humanity's determination for autonomy. Thus, "God's way of ensuring that his eternal will is fulfilled in this world must leave room for the autonomy that is proper to the creature" (Orthodox and Modern, 223).

If God's knowledge is contained in the event of election, and it is that event by which God self-determines God's self then it will follow that God's knowledge is contained in his being, thus, God's being is also his will. God's knowledge is encompassed in God's will. This is the extent to which God knows; and it is not that God knows all things because they have happened, but all things have happened because God knows them (Orthodox and Modern, 223). And, such is the consequence of the truth that God knows God's self, and as a result of that knowledge by way of God's self-determination, God knows us, for God, in the person of Jesus Christ, displays his will to be God for us. God's knowledge is not concerned with generalities, but with the particularity of the covenant, which finds its genesis in God's self-determining and eternal act of election.

Friday, December 14, 2012

With All of your heart, soul, strength, and mind...maybe

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strenght, and with all your mind" (NRSV Luke 10:27). I find it to be an ever present battle in both the Church and the Academy to actually fulfill this commandment. There seems to be every excuse in the book not to. "Why do you want to study systematic theology?"; In reference to theology, "you like that stuff?"; "Pastoral minds are simple"; "That's too basic for me". These are all phrases that I have heard either in regards to the Church being too practical/pastoral or the Academy being too abstract/intellectual.This, is indeed problematic.

If Jesus said that we should love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind, then we very well should! There is no such thing as the Church having no room for theology or the Academy having no need for pastoral care. If God is lord of our lives and being in toto then he is Lord over all of our physical and mental faculties--we were not meant to love the Lord compartmentally or in a vacuum. Herman Bavinck writes, “Precisely because God is God he claims us totally, in soul and body, with all our capacities and in all our relations.” It is by virtue of being God that he claims us entirely, and as such, our being, in response, must submit entirely. There is no place for a preacher to lack theological knowledge or for the teacher to lack even a hint of care for a person beyond their intellectual capacities. There is a strong disjunction between what the Church and the Academy claim as there foreground, as their gospel. If the body of Christ is to be found in uniformity then the gospel by which any form of reflection upon the Christian faith might take place, must indeed be identical to the Word: Living, Written, and Spoken. Piety is not a sufficient ground for practically oriented reflection to take place, nor are philosophically based principles sufficient. Thus, if both the Church and Academy took seriously the fact that they both reflect upon the Word of God, which is the gospel found in the person of Jesus Christ, then they would realize that their mission, although functionally asymmetrical, is identical with one another. The mind and the heart are two sides of the same coin, but what must be gleaned from such a position is that they are the same coin. 

The mission of Christ' church is not about vacuity, but about holism. Loving the Lord your God with only your heart is not wholly loving, and loving the Lord your God with only your mind is equally not wholly loving. There must be another way by which the entirety of the Church can learn to love God entirely. And, it's only by following this commandment that we can actually do so.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Pastoral Conclusion for a Theology of hope

I recently wrote an essay for a journal where I expound upon what I call an "eschatologically realized evangelical theology of hope." Much of the essay is theologically and philosophically abstract, but I ended the essay with a pastoral conclusion in hopes that it might bring the academic intensity of the essay down a notch. I want to write intensely theological and philosophical, but at the same time I want my writing to be accessible--and I am still learning how to do all of this. Anyhow, I am posting the conclusion of my essay. It's my hope that whoever reads this might gain something from it regarding Christ and His Kingdom.

C. A Pastoral Conclusion
           Throughout my studies and ministry I have come to the conclusion that we hope in a redemption freely given by Christ that is already ours and not yet. It is elected for us prior to the creation of the world, it is ours presently, and it will be fully realized apocalyptically. And it is our evangelical mission to spread this good news and proclaim Jesus Christ as the only true object of hope.
            The title of this essay seems a bit conspicuous and has eluded any and all discussion up until now. It is an ambiguous title: Between Two Tides, it is, however, entirely fitting for the topic of this essay. The title here alludes to my growing up as a surfer in southern California. As a teenager and into my twenties I spent a significant amount of time in the ocean. It was my goal on a daily basis to catch the best wave possible because I never knew when it would be my last. I once thought to myself that I better catch as many waves as possible because I wasn’t sure if there would be surfing in heaven. The quality of waves that I was able to surf often depended on the time of day I got into the water—morning and evening were the best. They were the best because it was either high tide, which meant the waves usually had good form and were closer to shore, or it was low tide, which meant the waves were farther out, but probably bigger. Every once in a while you would get caught in a lull; the waves would have just been head high and all of a sudden there’s nothing. The reason that the waves stopped was because the ocean was in-between tides—it was either moving from high to low or from low to high. Although for a period of time the waves would be non-existent, you always knew that either low or high tide was coming, and the waves would once again be good. We currently live between two tides: between the goodness of God’s decision to be God “for us” in the death and resurrection of Christ, and the eschaton in which, in Christ, we too will be redeemed and have conquered death. We live in a world of “nothingness” of evil and despair; there is war everywhere, money is the god of gods, and we have lost any and all notion of loving our neighbors as we would love ourselves. But, as we know, there is a tide coming, a tide where all things will be made right, and all things evil and unjust will be resurrected and used for the glory of God. However, while we are between tides we have a hope that maintains its relation to the scandalous character of the cross, and thereby, gives a guarantee that all things will actually be made well. Nothing sums up this essay better than the words of Julian of Norwich in which she said, “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”[1]

[1] Julian of Norwich, Revelations-Motherhood of God, edited and translated by Frances Beer (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1999), 6

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pacific Northwest AAR Abstract

This is the abstract from a paper that I presented this last week at the Pacific Northwest Regional meeting of AAR. It was a good time. Met some good people and heard some excellent papers.

Metaphysics, Mutuality, and the Suffering of God: An Investigation into the Doctrine of Impassibility and its Implications for the Doctrine of God
            The impetus for writing this paper is rooted in and ongoing interest in the historical development of the doctrine of God. More specifically, my interest is in the problem of metaphysics and its place within a proper construction of this doctrine. With this concern in mind, a specific problem, which arises from the presence of metaphysics within the Christian doctrine of God, is a commitment to divine impassibility. Thus, the purpose of this essay is to address problems surrounding the doctrine of divine impassibility in relation to the doctrine of God. Drawing from the theologies of Karl Barth, Eberhard J√ľngel, and Robert Jenson I will suggest that the problem at hand is in direct relation to an improper metaphysical understanding of the Triune God. What I mean by this is that the Church’s adherence to a doctrine of divine impassibility is rooted in a prior—and historically ever present—commitment to Greek metaphysics over against the witness of the life of Jesus Christ. The first section of this essay will argue that the consequences of such a commitment are the development of a doctrine of God conceived in abstracto, the danger of arriving at a semi-Nestorian division within the person of Christ, and, as a result, the necessary commitment to a disjunction between the immanent and economic Trinity. The second section will argue that in order to formulate a proper doctrine of God one must develop a theological ontology, which incorporates the history of Christ into the very essence of God thereby establishing the suffering of Christ as fundamentally proper to the Triune life. Moreover, I will show that proclaiming Christ as the “Crucified God” is not incompatible with a conception of immutability provided that Christ’s suffering be understood as eternally incorporated into the Godhead. And in the final section I will address a recent article by David Bentley Hart on divine suffering. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Back to Blogging: The Hiatus Ends

It has been over a year since my last blog post. It has been a much needed break and I am glad that I took it. But, I miss the blogosphere and the ability to share ideas with other young theologians. That being said, theo-blogology is back and I look forward to many excellent conversations. It's good to be back.