Tuesday 1 August 2006

Three things I do not believe

Again, this isn’t a comprehensive list—but here are three things that I don’t believe:

1. I do not believe that the meaning of the word “God” is obvious or self-evident.
2. I do not believe that God is either self-evidently “transcendent” or self-evidently “immanent.”
3. I do not believe that God’s will and work can be directly identified with anything in our culture, religion or experience.


MadPriest said...

I don't understand number 3. If you reverse it you get: "nothing in our culture, religion or experience can be directly identified with God's will and work." Whichever way round you put the statement it does not seem to relate to the God of the Bible and in particular the God that Jesus related to and encouraged us to relate to. It seems to have more to do with Greek, gnostic and modern metaphysical ideas than the ideas of primitive Christianity or canonical Judaism.

Secondly, it's as if you are saying that to be God you have to be perverse and elusive, that anything that is in part understandable or ordinary cannot be divine.

Thirdly, if it is true there can be no relationship between the Creator and the created. We would be able to relate to Jesus but not the Father, but this contradicts how Jesus tells us to relate to the Father. If the Father is acting a part, is pretending to be something he is not simply to make it possible to relate to us then he is doing something very human, anyway.

Please do not take this as an attack on your faith but I am very worried that the modern concept of God as completely other is not much different to the gnostic concept of the supreme God. Dualism has always been one of the most destructive heresies in mainstream Christianity and I think the only way to counteract its insidious untruths is to emphasise the real physicality of God that scripture points to.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

Ben, I think I would agree if point 3 read, "I don't believe that God's will and work can be FULLY identified with anything in our culture, religion, or experience." THAT would be a true statement and would make a strong reminder against the temptations of idolatry.

But as it stands, 3 seems to make knowledge of God and Christian discipleship impossible.

MadPriest said...

Well done Michael. From now on can I send my sermons to you, before I preach them, so you can cut out all the waffle. My parishioners would be well pleased.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hey, Michael W-W, so that's what you look like! Never would have guessed.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

Anonymous said...

The key words are "obvious", "self-evidently" and "directly". In place, they make the three statements true. More (Duh!) needs to be said - and Ben begins to say it back at "Three Things I Believe".

Again, Ben is not writing a summa - at least, not yet!
But if you want to extrapolate, both backwards and forwards - i.e. as to where Ben is coming from and where he might go - place him (I think Ben will agree) in a Barth-Jüngel trajectory, from a Nein! to all natural theology to a Yah! to a trinitarian Christocentrism that will be "humanist" in the best sense of the word, and will make no sweeping judgements about the zeitgeist, either pro or con, praeter Christum. It will also have the merit of disabusing anyone of the idea that, for Ben, the church and tradition are irrelevant.

Dr. Dave said...

I'd say God's presence in the creation of Dr Pepper is self-evident. Otherwise, you're absolutely right about every other thing in the Universe; God's rather mum. Thanks for having the cojones to put it in print....

Anonymous said...

Hi DM.

Dr. Pepper - and baseball! The Cubs, however, cannot be understood apart from Isaiah 53, while the text of the Mets - vis-à-vis the Braves - can be found at Luke 1:52.

Binx said...

Mr. Myers,

It seems what is at stake in your three points reaches all the way down to the presuppositional structure of Christian thought.

Though I am not well versed in the arguments, are you not very near the early-Barth in his wholesale rejection of the Analogy of Being?

I could better understand the meaning of what you say if you could place yourself more definitely along the path between Barth and Balthasar and their great interchange on the question.

Am I correct in thinking that Barth(or at least the early Barth?) could make the same points as you, but Balthasar would be radically different in his formulations? Wouldn't a thorough discussion of why that would be the case go a long way in helping one to make a truly informed evaluation of your points?


Anonymous said...

Hi Tarwater.

You're right about the usefulness of a thorough discussion of the Barth-von Balthasar relationship.

You know that these fellow Swiss had the highest regard for each other, working cheek by jowl in Basle. In the 1940s Barth remarked that von Balthasar took CD II/1 with him wherever he went, "like a cat carrying a kitten". Von Balthasar benefited from Barth's doctrine of revelation, and paid his Protestant colleague the highest compliment when he called him "a theologian and not a reformer".

Conversely, von Balthasar's critique of the early Barth inspired the later Barth to flesh-out his doctrine of the incarnation. And, of course, Barth profited from von Balthasar ecclesiologically, as he went about shedding the insipid non-doctrine of the church of liberal Protestantism.

For me, however, perhaps their most suggestive differences lie in the area of anthropology. Von Balthasar really does ask some seaching questions of Barth about what Protestants would call "sanctification". He suggests that Barth's anthropology allows neither for real cooperation between the believer and God - which, given Barth's radical Augustinianism, is understandable - nor for tangible progress in the Christian life - which, given Barth's Calvinism, is not.

On the other hand, there is the suggestion that von Balthasar's anthropology is rather otherworldly and lacks an ethical cutting edge, particularly in terms of the Christian's political responsibility. And there is no question that von Balthasar's Christian is altogether a churchier species than Barth's. Cambridge theologian Ben Quash offers "a kind of formula. Barth," he suggests, "wants the creature to have the obedient embrace of freedom. Von Balthasar wants the free embrace of obedience.

In his Romans Barth uses the image of a hair's breadth and a chasm's depth. He might have been describing his future theological relationship with von Balthasar.

Binx said...

Mr. Fabricius,

I am deeply moved by the mutual respect, admiration, and influence these two great men had on one another.

I especially love their intense devotion to Mozart! What a phenomena that Mozart was so central and dear to the lifeblood of each of these men. Stunning.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tarwater.

Please, call me Kim. My father was Mr. Fabricius!

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these thoughtful comments. Sorry if I expressed these points unclearly -- as Kim says, the key words are "self-evidently" and "directly".

Certainly I think that God is active in our culture, religion and experience. But he acts precisely as God, so that the divine action remains always distinct from all creaturely action. Perhaps the language of Chalcedon is helpful here: God acts in our culture, religion and experience "without confusion and without change". God's deity remains distinct from the creature -- there is never a direct identification between the creature and God's work and will.

On the one hand, this means that the creature is dignified with true creatureliness, since the act of God does not undermine or qualify the distinction between creator and creature.

And on the other hand, it means that the act of God is always hidden in the world. God's will and work among us are never "obvious or self-evident", since they are precisely God's will and God's work.

For me, this has very important implications. It has political implications (since the will of God remains distinct from all political positions -- e.g. in a war, neither side is carrying out God's will); and it has religious implications (since God's work is not identified with or confined to any ecclesial institution); and it also has implications for personal spirituality (since in the strict sense there can be no "experience of God", but only an indirect encounter with God through faith).

Anyway, I hope this helps to clarify what I was getting at in #3!

(And incidentally, I definitely wasn't trying to say that God is "wholly other". I think that's a frightfully bad slogan, and I think this slogan is based on the assumption that God is "self-evidently transcendent" -- see #2!)

Patrick McManus said...


is that quote from Quash's new book? Could you direct me to a page #?



Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick.

No, the quote comes from a Barth Studies book called Conversing with Barth (2004), edited by John C. McDowell and Mike Higton. The essay is entitled "Exile, Freedom and Thanksgiving: Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar". There are other contributions by John Webster, Timoth Gorringe, George Hunsinger, et. al. Highly recommended.


Drew said...

'tis interesting how - sometimes - what you don't believe can be as or more controversial than what you do believe.

Anonymous said...

You know its not "What we believe" or think! It's what "Does the Bile"- Word of God say...
The Bible has been written many years ago and all each of us can do is to "believe it or not". It can only be studied, learned, and obeyed!
God bless...

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