Wednesday 3 August 2005

Top five countdown: Two

We’re fast approaching the end of this countdown of modern theology’s greatest achievements. I’ve received various suggestions for what Number One might be—but so far no one has guessed it. Is it really that hard to guess? Surely when you see Number One you’ll agree that it really has no competition. Anyway, here’s Number Two:

The triumph of actuality over possibility. The methodological insight that knowledge should proceed not from abstract possibility but from concrete actuality has penetrated modern theology. This development has come about mainly, but not solely, through the influence of Karl Barth. Simply put, Barth’s principle is that God can do what God does—not that he does what he can do. I think this is one of the most staggeringly profound insights in the whole history of theology. It is an insight which radically alters the discussion of any theological problem. We think theologically not by asking whether a certain thing is possible, but by asking how that thing has actually come about.

Incidentally, I think this principle is demonstrably a greater achievement even than the hermeneutical question (Number Three). For Hans-Georg Gadamer revolutionised hermeneutics precisely on the basis of this methodological principle—i.e., he learned to ask not whether understanding can happen but how it happens.

1 Comment:

David W. Congdon said...

Hmm ... while I agree with Barth's doctrine of God's being-in-act, that's substantially different than arguing for the "triumph of actuality over possibility." Eberhard Jungel makes the case for the priority of possibility over actuality, while arguing for God's being-in-act. Check out "The World as Possibility and Actuality" and sections from God as the Mystery of the World.

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