Sunday 28 October 2007

George Hunsinger and Kim Fabricius: propositions on the logos asarkos

In one of our recent discussions, Kim Fabricius posted (as a comment) 10 propositions on the logos asarkos. He has expanded his propositions here, and George Hunsinger has responded with his own 10 propositions on the logos asarkos. Thanks to both George and Kim for allowing me to post these together here:

Kim Fabricius: ten propositions on the logos asarkos

1. The issue cannot be a theological “To be or not to be”, i.e. ontology or no ontology. The question is what kind of theological ontology corresponds to revelation, God's self-disclosure in Christ, in the Bible.

2. Bruce McCormack posits the options as “essentialist” ontology (Molnar, Hunsinger, Hunsinger’s reading of Barth) and “actualist” ontology (Jenson, McCormack, McCormack’s reading of Barth).

3. The test case is the logos asarkos. Molnar and Hunsinger – and Paul Helm – insist on it. They are good Niceans – and good Calvinists (cf. the extra Calvinisticum). But by the way, if it is true that the ecumenical road ahead must always return to the town in Turkey, Reformed theologians, at least, cannot make the trip empty-handed – for example, over the issue of bishops as the esse of the church. Why, then, can we not affirm the Creed while arguing against a hegemonic ontology?

4. Barth, however, rejects the venerable theologoumenon of the logos asarkos, as an instrinsic part of his revolutionary de- and re-construction of Calvin’s doctrine of election. So I do not see how Barth can be in George Hunsinger’s corner as he fights for the logos asarkos. If he is right, then Barth is wrong. But then perhaps Barth, like Luther’s scripture, has a wax nose.

5. Professor Hunsinger’s point about the logical status of the logos asarkos certainly has a prima facie plausibility about it. As Paul Helm puts it: “as the cup is logically prior to the rim, but not temporally prior, so the logos asarkos is logically prior to the logos ensarkos, but not temporally prior.”

6. But this (if you like) temporal parity between the logos ensarkos and the logos asarkos, on which Calvin and Barth (and I suppose all concerned) agree, doesn’t it rather put the concept of “logical priority” out of a job? That, I think, is Barth’s conclusion. He thinks that the eternal Agent cannot be separated from his temporal Actions, that the narrative plot of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be separated from the character of the eternal Word, that the incarnation has implications for election, and election has implications for the divine being. But if that is so, what “work” can “logical priority” now possibly do except perhaps to help one live at peace with Aristotle – not something Barth would lose sleep over – while yet turning the Logos (the Son) into an indeterminate abstraction?

7. Okay, that’s not fair. The intention of the doctrine of the logos asarkos is to preserve God’s aseity, I know. But name me a theologian who was touchier about the divine freedom than Barth, who yet concluded that this the doctrine is a “fatal speculation”, a verbo incognito? And what kind of freedom is the doctrine trying to protect? The deity’s decision to elect or not to elect humanity, to enflesh or not to enflesh in Jesus? But what – is God (in Barth’s famous image) Hercules at the crossroads? Only an ontological actualism, I suggest, preserves the freedom of God, which is not a freedom from but a freedom for – for human beings.

8. To put it another way, what might the logos asarkos conceivably look like? Can it not only look like Jesus – who is the logos ensarkos, “the man for others” (Bonhoeffer)? Is it not therefore an otiose category? If we must speak of a logos asarkos, it can only be as a gerund – “the Logos is incarnandus in and for himself, in eternity” (McCormack); and the logos ensarkos cannot be thought of as either contingent or instrumental. Now that would be adoptionism.

9. Ben, I think, is right that the resurrection on the third day, empty tomb and all, must be the determinative category in the structuring of a sound theology. However, I don’t want to drive a wedge between the incarnation and the resurrection. And I would certainly not want to separate the resurrection from the crucifixion. Indeed is not the cross the real furnace for reshaping an ontology of God (e.g. on the divine impassibility), the risen One having a hole in his side and scars on his hands? The suggestion about referring to the “Christ event” might be helpful. But there is no doubt that the resurrection of Jesus as the event’s apocalyptic Event requires radical metaphysical repositioning in that we must think of reality as determined by the eschatological future revealed in the apocalyptic Event of c. AD 30 and made present through the Spirit of the risen and coming One – and think all that back into God.

10. But haven’t I collapsed the immanent Trinity into the economic Trinity? Okay, so sue me. But I advise the prosecution that I’ll be calling the incarnate, crucified and risen One as a witness. Of course there are problems with this account, not least Hegelian problems – Robert Jenson famously wrote that “Hegel’s only real fault was that he confused himself with the last judge, but that is quite a fault” – but Hegel’s own problem was not that he was too historical but that he was not historical enough, failing to focus rigorously on the concrete history of Jesus. I also admire Molnar and Hunsinger as awesome thinkers. But I’ll humbly take my problems to theirs. In any case, who expects closure on this one? It’ll run and run.

George Hunsinger: 10 counter-propositions

1. Here are certain well-known affirmations of the Nicene-Constantipolitan Creed (AD 381): “begotten of the Father before all worlds … true God of true God, begotten not made … of one being with the Father / ek tou patros gennethinta pro panton ton aionon, … theion aletheion ek theion aletheion, gennethinta ou poiethenta, … homoousion to patri / natum ex Patre ante omnia saecula … Deum verum de Deo vero … consubstantialem Patri.”

2. Among the statements anathematized in AD 325 were: “There was a time when he was not”; and “He was not before he was made”; and “He was made out of nothing”, or “He is of another substance” or “essence.”

3. There is absolutely no way to reconcile these statements with the idea that the second person of the Trinity was somehow “constituted” by his incarnation or by his being raised from the dead. To suppose otherwise would be sheer fantasy.

Nor is there any way to bind these normative credal affirmations to any particular “metaphysics.”

5. I do not now, nor have I ever, subscribed to an “essentialist” ontology. The reason is that I have never subscribed to any ontology, whether “essentialist”, “actualist” or otherwise.

6. Following Barth, however, I do affirm that God’s being is in act. I believe that for Barth the terms “being” and “act” are both logically basic, and that for him neither is derived from the other, and that neither is privileged in relation to the other.

7. No doubt can exist that Barth never rejected the idea of the logos asarkos. He in fact never rejected it.

8. He explicitly affirms it, for example, at KD IV/1, pp. 54-56 (ET pp. 52-53). His point in this passage is largely noetic. While assuming the persistence precisely of a logos asarkos, he denies that we can have, do have, or would need to have any access to it apart from the logos ensarkos. In having noetic access to the logos ensarkos, he argues, we have access to the logos as it truly is, both for us and in and for itself. There is no logos asarkos alongside or behind the logos ensarkos that we should seek to gain independent access to.

9. “In the history of Jesus, we have to do with the reality which underlies and precedes all other reality as the first and eternal Word of God [dass wir in der ‘Jesusgeschichte’ mit der Wirklichkeit zu tun haben, die als Gottes erstes und ewiges Wort aller anderen Wirklichkeit zu zugrunde liegt und vorangeht]” (KD IV/1, p. 55, ET p. 53). No amount of tortured exegesis can make these statements (and scores of similar statements) by Barth mean that he does not see the eternal Word of God as logically and ontologically prior to all other reality, including Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection.

10. From an ecumenical point of view, all “post-metaphysical” or “actualistic” attempts to deny the logical and ontological priority of the eternal Son (along with the Father and the Holy Spirit) can only be regarded as hostile to the Nicene faith of the church. Anyone who wishes to adopt such a position is free to do so. But it has no future in any ecumenical theology or church worthy of the name.


Anonymous said...

I've been following the logos asarkos thread, and oh dear! I know it's an important issue, and I respect all the participants in the discussion. But after each new posting, I also find myself wistfully longing to re-read Whitman's "When I heard the learned astronomer..."

How have things become so torturously, so byzantinely, complicated?

Patrick McManus said...

Oh gosh no Kerry! You usually have to pay good money to watch such great theological debate!

Kudos to Ben for running with this...but my money's on Hunsinger and Molnar. I think Ben's love affair with Bultmann underlies much of his critique of Molnar.

Keep it up!

Ben Myers said...

Hi Patrick: ah, you've got me all figured out! Actually, in my review of Molnar I had planned to say some very critical things about the (exegetically indefensible) wedge which he drives between faith (as "subjective" response) and resurrection (as "objective" event). But I thought it would be best to focus the discussion on Barthian issues, and to leave Bultmann simmering quietly in the background....

Anonymous said...

This is an important debate, and one I don't think I quite understand, but it seems to me that the 'actualist ontological' position is based on a mistake: the false idea that the church fathers were too 'hellenistic' and thus must be dehellenized. Somehow we can avoid 'metaphysics', without any analysis of what that term has meant or means. This anti-philosophical move in Protestantism was exacerbated by Luther's hatred of Aristotelianism. Thus he rethought the communicatio idiomatum and tacitly denied a key claim of Chalcedon by confusing the two natures. The result has been deeply problematic in contemporary theology. We not only lose impassibility, but we make Jesus' enfleshment eternal and therefore make creation itself eternal. God is reduced to creature or creature becomes divinity. Doesn't all of this finally lead to Nietzsche?

Steve Long

Anonymous said...

Dr. Hunsinger’s #2 statement, “Among the statements anathematized in AD 325 . . .” is not quite right, is it? The statements were not anathematized, the people holding them were, right? This seems like a big point, because this was not a bloodless thought experiment. It was an act of power. Dr. Hunsinger’s #10 sounds like an anathematizing statement. Would he use it as such if he had the authoritative power to determine who’s in and who’s out?

Dr. McCormack writes (in Grace and Being): “To say that ‘Jesus Christ’ is the Subject of election is to say that there is no Logos asarkos in the absolute sense of a mode of existence in the second ‘person’ of the Trinity which is independent of the determination for incarnation; no ‘eternal Son’ if that Son is seen in abstraction from the gracious election in which God determined and determines never to be God apart from the human race.” Does this statement mean that Dr. McCormack is anathema?

Does the creed have strict, rigid boundary statements? And where do those statements or interpretations of them stop? For example, the Council of Chalcedon stated: “The synod deposes from the priesthood those who dare to say that the Godhead of the only-begotten is passable.” That puts me on the outside looking in, and it is one reason why the choice became for me one of either embracing the creeds (as they are strictly interpreted) or faithfully following Christ.

Anonymous said...

" is one reason why the choice became for me one of either embracing the creeds (as they are strictly interpreted) or faithfully following Christ."

Hence, the crossed fingers.

Dr. Hunsinger’s #10 sounds like an anathematizing statement.

To me, it just sounds like a fact-statement about how this position would fare in ecumenical discussions. It's a non-starter with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. That doesn't prevent someone from holding it if they think it's the right position (I read Hunsinger's "free to do so" at face value--i.e., that person is not anathema), but it is clear that they're giving up something if they do. That marks this as less an "act of power" than a reality-check statement from the ecumenical trenches.

Andy said...

Alright, I've followed nearly all of the conversation. What I want to know is, how does the disavowal of the logos asarkos (even if only known through the logos ensarkos), avoid the charge of modalism (specifically Sabellianism)? Or if it cannot (which seems likely to me), how do we defend modalism?

The answer so far seems to be, "exegesis," as if Ben's comments on Molnar regarding subjective faith/ objective resurrection do not apply to every reading of Scripture. I do not think exegesis can do this heavy lifting. Besides needing to dodge a number of questions regarding biblical authority, we would need to establish why an exegesis that denies a logos asarkos (more than just Phil. 2; how about John 1?) is more valid than one that includes it. This would need to be demonstrated, and I do not think it can, because such authority is granted by reading communities. Who made the historical meaning (which would probably deny pre-existence, incarnation, ascension, and yes, also resurrection--see D.F. Strauss!) primary? Who authorized that model? Or consider Augustine's hermeneutics which prizes, after the literal meaning (syntax, etc.), the rule of faith. The rule of faith, of course is shaped by the lex orandi, in which we praise the eternal Trinity (I hope!). The eternal Trinity (the immanent Trinity) requires a pre-existent Son, a so-called logos asarkos, revealed to us in the so-called logos ensarkos.

The challenge so far presented (especially in Halden's post) is a false alternative: "Basically, the argument is between those who insist that we must find a “logically prior” ontological ground for the resurrection of Christ in a postulated eternal logos asarkos and those who argue that the resurrection is an unassimilable novum which defines the reality of God and cannot be circumscribed within a pre-existing metaphysical framework, let alone one that postulates an abstract de-fleshed Word which is prior to the revelation of God in and as Christ."

I've been trying to offer a third alternative. That is, the resurrection may be a novum that does not require, but does affirm, a "logically prior" ontological ground and gives itself to be assimilated, but only as master. More broadly, I continue my rejection of the division between resurrection and incarnation, and suggest they are part of the Christ event. This means the logos asarkos need not be antithetical to the resurrection, nor vice versa.

Finally, if Christ's resurrection is the revelation of God without preparation of any kind, what keeps us from postulating that this God was only and first revealed in Jesus? In other words, what keeps us from the Gnostic world? God was revealed before Jesus, all persons of the Trinity were active in the world before Jesus of Nazareth. But Christ is the incarnation of God, the logos ensarkos. If we reject this story, this logic, we end up with the God of love only revealed in Jesus. And what keeps us from postulating another god that made the world?

My point is not to finger the heretics, but to show how a radical stance on this small item can distort the entire Christian narrative significantly enough to allow for the deformations the Nicene fathers declared un-Christian.

Hope these thoughts are helpful.


Halden said...

Andy, a few questions.

1. Where on earth do you modalism as coming into this debate? Obviously no one here affirms it, and I don't even see how you're connecting any logical dots from a position opposing the logos asarkos with Sabellianism. Modalism claims that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not "persons", but sequential modes of self-presentation of a mono-personal God. Disavowing the logos asarkos in no way tends toward this, nor does it require one to give up a strong theology of the preexistence of Christ. I think you have to fill in a bit more how you see modalism flowing from non-logos asarkos position.

2. On exegesis, if the reading of texts is wholly determined by reading communities, then this whole argument is moot. There is plenty of good reason to hold that there is a "surplus of meaning" in texts which exerts itself on the reading community in such ways as might require the community to reform its previous interpretations.

3. Regarding your comment about Augustine and the rule of faith presupposing the eternal Trinity, which you claim presupposes a logos asarkos, you're simply begging the question. No one is denying the eternal Trinity, but the issue of whether the eternal Trinity presupposes a logos asarkos is precisely the point under dispute. To simply assert it just begs the question, it does not advance the conversation.

4. I really fail to see how your "third alternative" is any different than the first. Moreover, no one is prying appart the incarnation and the resurrection. The question is which one interprets and grounds the other. You're basically just restating Molnar's position that the incarnation is the ontological ground of the resurrection. That isn't a third alternative, it's just the first one repeated.

5. In your final comments I think your imaginiation is running away with you a bit. Whe ever said anything about there not being any preparation for the revelation of God in Christ? Robert Jenson is perhaps the most radical proponent of the dissenting position on this issue and he spends a lot of time on Israel, the doctrine of Creation etc. He even argues that Christ preexists his human incarnaton precisely in Israel! The idea that the only alternatives are some sort of gnostic postulation of a demiurge OR the logos asarkos is pure hyperbole and without ground.

Perhaps I'll just have to write more about this one my own later. I think, Andy that one of the major issues that you're not seeing is that this debate is not about whether or not the Son is eternal. No one here is an Arian. The question is what the proper understanding of the modality of the Son's eternality is. What I and others are arguing is not that "there was when he was not", but rather that the One who always was is the very Jesus of Nazareth who meets us in the Christ event. What we reject is some postulated other version of the logos which grounds and precedes Jesus. It is Jesus himself who is the eternal God. You can't get more radically Nicene than that!

Anonymous said...

To voice the opinion of the silent masses out there (maybe): I love it, but this is really bloody complicated.

Anonymous said...

Yet,Halden,if the resurrection constitutes the divinity of Jesus, this seems to logically entail that there was a time wherein Jesus of Nazareth was not divine. To say he became divine in the resurrection is to say he is not eternally God because the resurrection is an event after John's "in the beginning". It is not clear to me how to reconcile this problem with the Nicene creed.


Andy said...


Thanks for your prompt response. I'll take your points out of order and in a bit of a nebulous fashion. First let me say that this is not one conversation about one thing. It is one conversation about a host of things.

Regarding gnosticism: I was not making an alternative. If you read more closely, you'll see that I asked how you guard AGAINST gnosticism. I'm not saying that without the logos asarkos you are headed toward gnosticism. I'm saying, it is not hard to get there. It was not an either/or, it was a warning flag.

You are right. I am not getting that the eternality of the Son is not at issue in the logos asarkos debate. I seem to stand in good company since that was one of Dr. Hunsinger's remarks as well (points 2 and 3). I'm glad you have offered (a bit of) an alternative. But I wonder how far your alternative can go. If there was a time when he was not in the world (Jesus of Nazareth qua human is not eternal, he was conceived in Mary's womb at a theoretically definable moment in time), then where was he? Who was he? Was he enfleshed? If so, why do we talk about Jesus as the incarnation of the logos? Why does John so speak? If there is only a logos ensarkos, what sarkos did Jesus take BEFORE the (tautologously nominated) incarnation? I cannot see how you can affirm both THE incarnation and a logos ensarkos BEFORE the incarnation. (Incidentally, radically Nicene is not to say Jesus is the eternal God, but that Jesus is the eternal[ly free] God AND the temporal[ly bound] human!)

So this is also the link with Sabellianism. If the Son is, as Dr. Hunsinger labelled it, constituted by Jesus of Nazareth's incarnation or resurrection, then it is the historical figure of Jesus alone that can properly be called the Son. A better explanation of the eternality of the Son would assuage the charge, but so far we have not seen one. Without it, it is hard not to read your position thus: the Son as the historically bound Jesus as God. This is a modalist move, albeit yours is not a modalist system. My point is your position seems given to modalism, not necessarily that it is a full blown return of Sabellianism.

And so my third alternative is to decenter the Christ event (or if it must be centered, by all means, let's center it on the cross), such that neither incarnation nor resurrection grounds and interprets the other. Rather, we cannot think incarnation without resurrection, and we must not think resurrection without incarnation. In postulating that one must ground and interpret the other we introduce an antagonism that is unnecessary.

The bulk of my comments were directed such that I might see a positive statement of the Son's eternality without the logos asarkos that neither makes the incarnation tautalogous AS incarnation nor calls time eternity or flesh eternal.

I'm afraid I'll have to leave the question of Scripture and interpretation to another time. I don't want to eat up more space and the issues are too complex. My brief answer is that certain readings of the NT, particularly the empahsis on resurrection as novum which is largely a product of recent biblical studies, must conform to the rule of faith in the Creeds. This is certainly one aspect under dispute if I and others have so many questions regarding your and Ben's actual concordance with Nicea. The best way to make it go away is demonstrate how your thoughts align with Nicea, which, again, I have so far not seen.

You have answered my questions with questions. In sum, then, how do you affirm the eternality of the Son apart from a logos asarkos? How do you do so in a way that does not make the being of the Son prior to the advent of Jesus of Nazareth simply a prior incarnation, thus making the incarnation a reincarnation?


Halden said...

Napman, what many of us would argue is that it is the resurrection that establishes that Jesus was, retroactively, always divine. Because Jesus was raised he is, and always was divine. Where we go off the rails is trying to speculate about the "what if's". "What if Jesus did not become incarnate, would he still be divine?", for example. Asking a question like that is to ask one which it is impossible for us to answer on the basis of Scripture, for Scripture is not concerned with what God might have been like, but what he in fact is like. And so, if Jesus is the one who was incarnate and raised, how could we think about him from any other hypothetical standpoint?

Anonymous said...

Is the question of Arianism really out of bounds here? You say that there is no question on either side of this debate of "a time when he was not", but I am not so sure. Granted, all here agree that the Son did not come into being when Mary bore him in Bethlehem (or for that matter ca. nine months before). Yet, if I might put your argument into the language of Nicea, you are arguing that there was never a time when the man Jesus Christ was not, right? Thus, we end up with sarkos being "co-eternal" with the eternal God. If this is true, God would not be God without the world. This either means either 1) God created the world necessarily [unfreely] and it is necessary to God's being, or 2) "God" (whatever "God" would be without from the Son) willed to create (or perhaps vollens to put a finer point on it) and elected to be God co-eternal with the world (McCormack's move?). #1 puts you afoul of both orthodox and heretics in the Arian dispute and #2 sort of slips out of the co-eternality (if I remember this year's Rutherford House Dogmatics Conference rightly, McCormack says something like there was/might have been God apart from creation, but we have no way of knowing who he was/would have been). Thus, there might not be a "time" when the Son was not, but there is a "moment" (albeit logical or non-temporal) when the Son was not. Am I totally mistaken to see that Andy's suspicion of Arianism has some merit? Please give me the decaffeinated version of your response, I don't know that I can handle the lashing you give Andy.

Halden said...

LT, you're right I am arguing that the Man, Jesus Christ is co-eternal with the Father. To say otherwise, to my mind commits one to Nestorianism (the idea that Christ's divine and human natures are two separate centers of action and consciousness).

Now, I don't think this committs me hold that the world is eternal. The reason for this is that I don't beleive that created being possesses any qualities that the Triune God lacks in his own being. God has in himself anything and everything proper to "created being" (and infinitely more!) and as such it makes sense to talk about Jesus possessing an "eternal humanity" without that requiring us to assert that created being is eternal.

I think this accords well with the biblical statements that God intends to conform all humanity to the image of Christ, the last Adam. Christ is the eschatological goal of humanity because he has eternally been the archetype of humanity. In my view claiming that the man Jesus is eternal does not make created being eternal, rather it makes created being radically dependent on and derrived from the free and creative act of Jesus, the eternal Son who creates and redeems the world.

I hope that gives something of an explanation. Thanks for the probing questions.

Halden said...

Also, Andy in response to your main question of how to affirm the eternallity of the Son without the logos asarkos and without rendering the incarnation a reincarnation, I think that is exactly where the discussion must go. In fact, when Ben first started posting on this, I mentioned to him in an email that I thought it would be of the utmost importance for those denying a logos asarks to articulate a theology of the preexistence of Jesus. And I intend to write on precisely that very soon. At this point I'll demur and ask you to keep your eye on my site and see what you think at that time.

Thanks for the dialogue. I do want you to know that I have thoroughly enjoyed it and found it very helpful. I look forward to more in the future.

solarblogger said...

Only the logos ensarkos can deliver us from e-mail. I suspect the logos asarkos would have the power, but not the inclination, as he would not really know how vexing it was.

Ben Myers said...

Perhaps I should add a clarifying comment as well, on the question of "pre-existence": the issue in this debate isn't whether there is such a thing as a pre-existent Son or Logos. Everyone agrees that, in some sense, there is. The issue is this: what is the identity of the pre-existent Logos? Is he asarkos — i.e., does this Logos only subsequently come to be identified with Jesus of Nazareth? Or is the Son of God eternally identified with this human being — so that there is no time at which God was "prior" to being God-for-us in Jesus Christ?

In Barth's words, the question is this: is God really non-human, or does God's eternal deity include his humanity, since the (pre-existent) Son is always already identified with Jesus of Nazareth?

The rejection of the logos asarkos isn't a rejection of eternity, pre-existence, etc (even though I myself think these terms should also be redefined). The rejection of the logos asarkos is simply a rejection of any abstract "deity in itself", any deity which exists behind and apart from Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

"...You [Father] loved me before the creation of the world." (John 17:24)

"The reason that my Father loves me is that I lay down my life - only to take it up again." (John 10:17)

Unknown said...

I appreciate your defense of Jenson and feel that you may be able to help others in understanding a very key point to his position . . . Jenson's view of time.
In particular, it may be helpful to note the way that Jenson conceives divine volition as the unifying element of both time and space. I may be confuse on this point, but it seems that this necessarily changes the language of 'pre-existence' to more fully account for God as event. Our understanding of 'pre-existence' would also need to be reordered around a volitional content.

Anonymous said...

This debate is a little beyond my ability, and I've probably understood neither side correctly. But I wonder whether there is an assumption on one side that a body must be understood to have been created. Ben, Kim, Halden and others disagree with this and hold that God's body, revealed in Christ, is uncreated and yet elected by God. Elected, that is, in time (precisely at the moment of the resurrection) and yet that body is an aspect of the eternal being of God. Am I close?

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a humdinger! Many thanks to everyone participating in this fantastically fecund discussion - without meaning to be invidious, especially to Andy and Halden, for acting (if you like) as seconds respectively to George and me (though George and I just threw down the gauntlet, it's you guys who have been doing all the duelling), and perhaps especially to Andy for his sharp questions goading Halden to his finer precision (though beware over-egging Cartesian clarity and distinction, remember Wittgenstein: "What is ragged should be left ragged" - particluarly when it comes to the fractured thought-forms of theology!).

There is nothing I want to - or could - add, but to clarify a few points of contention...

On the two (potential) heresies hiding in the rejection of the logos asarkos:

Modalism? But the particular man Jesus, who is neither the Father nor the Spirit, is co-eternal with the Logos-Son.

Marcionitism (or Gnosticism)? But as Romans 9-11 makes crystal, Jesus and the Father of Jesus are "cut from the same cloth" (as Jacob Taubes puts it), "namely the God of the Old Testament". Nor is there any wedge here between creation and redemption.

(Interestingly, Barth was tarred with both these heretical brushes, though admittedly not over the logos asarkos.)

Arianism and adoptionism I take to be hallucinations. If anything, the attack should shift to the communicatio idiomatum! And to even more daring suggestions - like pushing Barth's radical and quite unorthodox - un-Nicene? - idea that the Logos assumed sinful flesh to its conclusion.

And that takes me, finally, to the apotheosis of Nicea and belonging to a "church worthy of the name". Which vintage of Nicaea are we drinking, 325 or 381? I mean, what about the filioque? I know that George, with Barth, is a big fan. But presumably, in deference to the ecumenical future, it has to go? But if so, isn't it with fingers double-processionally crossed (we don't say it but we think it)? A church that insists that the logos asarkos is non-negotiable - like a church that insists that a male-only priesthood (ecclesiology), or the exclusion of lesbian and gay people (ethics) is non-negotiable - ancient teachings to be sure - nevertheless if that's the great coming church I won't be waiting for it.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago I did a little work in Barth's doctrine of election. Although, like Jonathon, this debate is a little beyond me, I did find some interesting citations:

In answer to the question, ‘Does the incarnation make a change in the Trinity?’ Barth responded, “No, the incarnation makes no change in the Trinity. In the eternal decree of God, Christ is God and man. Do not ever think of the second Person of the Trinity as only Logos. That is the mistake of Emil Brunner. There is no Logos asarkos, but only ensarkos. Brunner thinks of a Logos asarkos, and I think this is the reason for his natural theology. The Logos becomes an abstract principle. Since there is only and always a Logos ensarkos, there is no change in the Trinity, as if a fourth member comes in after the incarnation” [Godsey, J. D. 1963, Karl Barth’s Table Talk, 49].

McCormack: “(A)s a consequence of the primal decision in which God assigned to himself the being he would have throughout eternity... God is already in pre-temporal eternity – by way of anticipation – that which he would become in time” [Grace and Being, 100].

Thompson: “Jesus Christ as a man is not eternal... (T)he Son of Man in his union with the Son of God existed in the divine counsel as the pre-supposition and condition of creation and time and the being of all men, even before the dawn of his own time” [Thompson, The Humanity of God in the Theology of Karl Barth, 255].

Finally, note that Barth did not equivocate in this matter: “The specific object of (election) is the Son of God in His determination as the Son of Man, the God-man Jesus Christ” [CD II/2: 110]. Apparently the Kirchliche Dogmatik (II/2: 118) reads “der praeexistierende Gottmensch Jesus Christus” [cited by Thompson, 254]. For some reason the translators did not translate the word ‘pre-existent’.

Gunton: is “increasingly unhappy with the replacement of ‘substance’ with ‘event’ language in the ontology of God. Neither is in itself personal, and that is surely the heart of the matter of divine being” (Theology Through the Theologians, 101-104). He suggests that Barth’s understanding of God’s being as constituted by his decision reflects a vestige of the existentialism he sought so valiantly to divest himself of in the decade following his commentary on Romans. Rather, he desires to understand the freedom of God in election as grounded not in decision per se, but in the freedom of the God who exists perichoretically as a triune being-in-communion. It may be that Barth also thought more in this direction than McCormack is willing to admit, for in several places Barth speaks of the being of God preceding the decision of election (e.g. CD II/2: 102, 175). Nonetheless, it is evident that Barth conceives of the decision for election as determinative for the being of God (not the resurrection per se?). For the Son this clearly means his determination for ontological union with humanity. For the Father it implies his self-giving and self-impartation to humanity in and through the person of the Son, in order to be God and Father, not only of the Son, but of all those represented in him.


Anonymous said...

Oh - I meant to post a concluding limerick in my last comment.

There once was a Word without flesh,
anorexic, alone, and depressed;
then he saw in a glass,
looking back bold as brass,
Jesus Christ - who would ever have guessed!

Ben Myers said...

Fantastic, Kim! Actually, this could be a very useful way to settle otherwise-irresolvable theological debates: the best limerick wins.

Anonymous said...

"...How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical, moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars."

Anonymous said...

This one if offered with a smile and a nod to Nicholas Lash:

Some hold their creed like container,
words that couldn't be plainer;
holding each word so dear,
like a bottle of beer,
whose contents remain a no-brainer.

Some find the creed rather steep,
words over time tend to seep;
meaning must be found
in looking all around,
to the company that they now keep.

Anonymous said...

It might be worth mentioning a few statements Barth made regarding the logos asarkos.

First, he wrote: “It has to be kept in mind that this whole conception of the logos asarkos, the ‘second person’ of the Trinity as such, is an abstraction. It is true that it has shown itself necessary to the Christological and trinitarian reflections of the Church. Even to-day it is indispensable for dogmatic enquiry and presentation, and it is often touched upon in the New Testament, though nowhere expounded directly. The New Testament speaks plainly enough about the Jesus Christ who existed before the world was, but always was with a view to the concrete context of the eternal divine will and decree. For this reason it does not speak expressly of the eternal Son or Word as such, but of the Mediator, the One who in the eternal sight of God has already taken upon Himself our human nature, i.e., not of a formless Christ who might well be a Christ-principle or something of that kind, but of Jesus the Christ,” CD III/1, 54. Clearly, the quote from John Godsey is referring to the fact that we cannot use this abstraction in place of Jesus Christ who is the second person of the Trinity. So Barth rejected Brunner’s logos asarkos as a retreat to a kind of natural theology because he was attempting to evade the fact that one cannot separate the form of revelation from its content which is Jesus Christ himself. He was not rejecting the logos asarkos altogether but only if it is used to evade the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Second, he wrote: “The second ‘person’ of the Godhead in Himself and as such is not God the Reconciler. In Himself and as such He is not revealed to us. In Himself and as such He is not Deus pro nobis, either ontologically or epistemologically. He is the content of a necessary and important concept in trinitarian doctrine when we have to understand the revelation and dealings of God in the light of their free basis in the inner being and essence of God. But since we are now concerned with the revelation and dealings of God, and particularly with the atonement, with the person and work of the Mediator, it is pointless, as it is impermissible, to return to the inner being and essence of God and especially to the second person of the Trinity as such, in such a way that we ascribe to this person another form than that which God Himself has given in will to reveal Himself and to act outwards,” CD IV/1, 52, some emphases mine. This is hardly and outright rejection of the logos asarkos. In fact it is a statement that without it one might conclude that it was ontologically necessary for God to create and to become incarnate in order to fulfill his divine being. Clearly, Barth always opposed such thinking because these are free actions on God’s part and they are not demanded by his essence or by anything outside his being as one who loves in freedom. Barth, however, is consistent. He insists that the logos asarkos cannot be used to evade the form that revelation has actually taken in the history of the man Jesus Christ according to God’s eternal will and decree. And thus he rejects the logos asarkos whenever it is so used because it is an “abstraction” required in order to perceive the freedom of grace whose shape is in reality identical with Jesus himself as the Word of God incarnate.

Third, he wrote: “The Son is both logos ensarkos and logos asarkos. Do we not have to say this afresh and for the first time truly the moment we speak about the union of God and man in revelation lest we forget that we stand here before the miracle of God? Can we ever have said it enough?” The Göttingen Dogmatics, 160. This hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement of the idea that there is only a logos ensarkos in Barth’s thinking.

Fourth, Barth wrote: “The Word is what He is even before and apart from His being flesh. Even as incarnate He derives His being to all eternity from the Father and from Himself, and not from the flesh. On the other hand, the flesh not only could not be the flesh apart from the Word, but apart from the Word it would have no being at all . . .” CD I/2, 136.

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, Barth wrote: “We must guard against disputing the eternal will of God which precedes even predestination. We must not allow God to be submerged in His relationship to the universe or think of Him as tied in Himself to the universe. Under the concept of predestination, or the election of grace, we say that in freedom (its affirmation and not its loss) God tied Himself to the universe. Under the concept of predestination we confess the eternal will of the God who is free in Himself, even in the sense that originally and properly He wills and affirms and confirms himself,” CD II/2, 155. Those who reject the idea of the logos asarkos altogether or those who reduce the logos asarkos to the logos incarnandus without remainder cannot, in my view, reconcile their thinking with Barth’s very clearly articulated distinction between God in himself and God for us offered here and in many other statements such as: “the Word of God is properly understood only as a word which has truth and glory in itself and not just as spoken to us. It would be no less God’s eternal Word if it were not spoken to us, and what constitutes the mercy of its revelation, of its being spoken to us, is that it is spoken to us in virtue of the freedom in which God could be ‘God in Himself’ and yet He does not will to be so and in fact is not so, but wills to be and actually is ‘God for us’ (CD I/1, 171-2, emphasis mine).

The ultimate question here, it seems to me, is this: have those who reject the logos asarkos altogether not advanced a view of “God for us” that is in the grip of what Barth called “an untheologically speculative understanding of the ‘for us’,” CD I/1, 420-21. One of the three indicators of this “untheologically speculative understanding” is the fact that “His being God for us” is turned “into a necessary attribute of God” so that God’s being is then essentially limited and conditioned as a being revealed, i.e., as a relation of God to man,” CD I/1, 421.

For all of these reasons I fully support George Hunsinger’s propositions on the logos asarkos.

Anonymous said...

Barth leaves stuff sketchy when he doesn’t want to talk it into independent existence – like the church. So with the logos asarkos, it’s important (because otherwise you risk making the world co-eternal with God), but he doesn’t want to talk it into completely separate existence (because otherwise you risk Nestorianism and run into problems with revelation). It’s a theological crash barrier. You don’t want to get rid of it, but you don’t want to be running into it all the time either.

Bruce Yabsley said...

In my ignorance of Barth I've avoided contributing to this discussion so far, but regarding some recent posts I can't help remarking:

(1) It's nice to see explicit attention being drawn to the role of time in the problem.

(2) Kim the filioque notwithstanding, I find your deflationary remarks about the so-called Nicene Creed --- which I admit were mild --- a little disturbing. One should not worship the thing, but respect for the creed properly goes well beyond its ancientness or its ecumenical implications.

You drew attention to male-only priesthood (ecclesiology), or the exclusion of lesbian and gay people. (I know what is meant by male-only priesthood, but "exclusion" could mean a number of things, and one could easily be for some senses and against some others. But this is another topic.) I'm surely not alone in setting the bar much, much higher for any argument in apparent conflict with the creed, than I do for arguments concerning reform of teaching re orders of ministry, or "lesbian and gay people".

For example: if ordaining women creates an ecumenical headache, well that is a headache, but maybe our brothers are wrong; if [some_doctrinal_move] puts us outside Nicea, that will probably create an ecumenical headache as well ... but maybe we are wrong.

Anonymous said...

Paul Molnar, you actually quoted Barth (some had foolishly tried the Bible) after we had descended to limericks? Why even bother?

Anonymous said...

On Barth and "ontology"

"Barth's Dogmatics makes ontological statements all the way through. But this dogmatics is not an ontology; at least not in the sense of a doctrine of being drawn up on the basis of a general ontological conception within which the being of God (as highest being, being-itself, etc.) would be treated in its place." –Eberhard Jüngel, God's Being is in Becoming (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2001), p. 75.

"... I have come to abhor profoundly the spectacle of theology constantly trying above all to adjust to the philosophy of its age, thereby neglecting its own theme....

"The Platonism and Aristotelianism of the orthodox was not a hindrance to my ... perceiving what was at issue and therefore to adopting the older terminology into my own vocabulary without identifying myself with the underlying philosophy....

"With reference to matters that I saw to be at issue in the Bible and the history of dogma, I have reached out on the right hand and the left for terms or concepts that I found to be most appropriate, ... because my hands were already full trying to say something very specific....

"My own concern is to hear at any rate the voice of the church and the Bible, and to let this voice be heard, even if in so doing, for want of anything better, I have to think somewhat in Aristotelian terms."

— Karl Barth, Letter to Rudolf Bultmann, 12 June 1928

Ben Myers said...

Hi George. Thanks for this excellent quote from Jüngel — and I don't think anyone would dispute Jüngel's point that Barth's theology "is not an ontology; at least not in the sense of a doctrine of being drawn up on the basis of a general ontological conception within which the being of God ... would be treated in its place".

In fact, this is precisely the point that I wanted to make earlier: it's illegitimate to squeeze christology or the doctrine of God into some ontological framework which we've imported (explicitly or implicitly) from elsewhere. Instead, we should be trying to think through the specific ontological implications of our christology. We confess that "the third day he rose again from the dead" — what might this entail for being itself (or for time, or eternity, or history, etc.)?

This is precisely the kind of ontological questioning that takes place at crucial points in Barth's dogmatics — e.g. in the doctrine of election, and again in the doctrine of time, and again in the doctrine of nothingness, etc. To return to Jüngel's statement, Barth isn't trying to think of God "on the basis" of a general ontology — just the opposite: he's trying to think of "being" on the basis of Jesus Christ. And that's quite a difference!

Since we're exchanging obscure Barthian quotes at the moment, here's a nice one where Barth is praising Balthasar's book — just as a side remark, he refers (in CD IV/1, 768) to "the well-known book which Hans Urs von Balthasar addressed to me, in which I find a [powerful] understanding of the concentration on Jesus Christ attempted in the Church Dogmatics, and the implied Christian concept of reality..." (emphasis added).

I'm not trying to make a big deal out of this insignificant remark — but that last phrase neatly encapsulates the big difference between "having no ontology whatsoever" (which is, I take it, what you're advocating), and inquiring whether a "concentration on Jesus Christ" might also "imply" some kind of vision of reality.

Aric Clark said...

Okay, in too many ways this conversation is above my level, but I'm appreciating it.

I have a couple questions/problems for Kim/Halden/Ben...

It seems to me that you are focusing on the Resurrection as "event" or novum so much that you lose sight of the Incarnation as an event or novum as well.

What does it mean to "take flesh" or "become flesh" if not that previously the Word was without flesh?

What does it mean that God is Spirit?

What does it mean to say that God is distinct from creation if flesh exists eternally within God in the form of the Logos Ensarkos?

Why isn't it reasonable to say that Jesus of Nazareth, far from being an addition to or a change of the Word is the perfect expression of that Word so much so that the two are identified wholly one with the other, while still maintaining that Jesus was/is a NEW expression of that Word as opposed to the Word prior to incarnation, or as evidenced in the people of Israel?

Indeed, what the hell does the word, "new" mean in relation to an eternal deity in anycase?

Hope you have time and interest to answer.


Anonymous said...

Ben, I'm not at all clear about what you mean when you write:

"to think through the specific ontological implications of our christology."

Why would we want to do this? To what end?

Barth's whole point is that there is no system, no metaphysics, no ontology by which "our christology" can be contained. We are dealing precisely with the ineffable mysteries of the Christian faith.

I agree with Lewis Ayres: "Ultimate attention must be reserved for the mystery of God revealed in Christ" (Nicaea and Its Legacy, p. 416). Reserved for the mystery, not for its supposed "ontological implications," no matter how jazzy or "apocalyptic" they may seem to be.

The "ontological implications" of our christology all point in the direction of the fundamental inutility of any past, present or future metaphysics as such (or "post-metaphysics").

Ontology is of absolutely no theological interest in and for itself. The only point of interest is whether there are ontological ideas that can be pressed into the service of elucidating the fundamental mysteries of the faith. The venerable Nicene homoousios has done this in one way, along with "before all worlds" (pro panton ton aionon); and more recently, being-in-act has done it in another. But the use of such ideas is — and must be — entirely ad hoc and post hoc relative to the mystery of revelation itself.

Not to put too fine a point on it, any "post-metaphysical" metaphysics that undermines the logical and ontological priority of the Holy Trinity has usurped a position that does not, and could not possibly, belong to it.

Ben Myers said...

G'day Aric: "what the hell does the word 'new' mean in relation to an eternal deity in any case?"

I think that's a terrific question, and it's just the kind of question that a theological ontology would have to explore in detail. I myself don't have any easy answers; but one of the reasons I find Alain Badiou so congenial is that his whole philosophy is oriented around the question, "what does is mean for something new to take place?"

And of course Barth did some very patient thinking about the categories of act/event. Barth's own answer to your question runs along these lines: God's being is event, and therefore it's always new — and eternity is the "time" in which this newness unfolds.

Ben Myers said...

By the way, since this fascinating discussion seems to be drawing to a close, I thought it might be time for another limerick:

There was a blog most academic,
Where debaters were sage and acerbic;
They declaimed and decried
Till they all forgot why,
Then they sat down to tea and wrote limericks.

Andy said...

Hey all,

Just caught up. Been working.

Don't have anything to add. Just wanted to say thanks for the exchange, especially to Halden. Also, thanks for the acknowledgements from kim fabricius, et al. It's been a pleasure. See you all around the theoblogosphere.


Anonymous said...

Hi George,

Trying to tease out what Ben calls the "ontological implications of our Christology" is as different from promoting some new-fangled metaphysics as, well, (your own distinction) thinking systematically is from creating a systematics - or (perhaps even better) the so-called metaphysical poetry of Donne and Herbert is from, well - metaphysics! Otherwise, I think we are in complete agreement about the theological deployment, not only of ontological ideas, but of thought-forms per se, solely in tactical and indeed transformative ways, in semantic worship, not control, of the mystery of God.

Unknown said...

The reg'lars at Faith & Theology
Have a post-ontologic ontology
And a settled insistence
That the Word's pre-existence
Should be stated with much Demythology.

It ain't easy to not be Sabellian
When you're Bultmannesque neo-Hegelian.
It's exciting and fresh
To eternalize flesh
And hear Barth blog with accents Australian.

Here in history God's being finds perfection:
"Son of God," you see, means "resurrection."
And don't tell us the story
That he came down from glory
Or from some other time or direction.

So surprising was Jesus' rising
That all of your thought needs revising.
In the Bible's vicinity
There's no immanent Trinity
(Which is all of Paul Molnar's devising).

So away with all greekified preaching,
The true gospel is this simple teaching:
Jesus rose! This sheer novum
Is the true Easter ovum
And the dissolution and re-creation of the kosmos takes place in the absolutely singular (and therefore absolutely universal) event of the tearing-open of being itself so that it can be reconstituted by the pure actualism of an act which is no mere disclosure of an already-existing state of affairs but rather divine apocalypse, trinitarian becoming, and eternity itself --or is that over-reaching?

Ben Myers said...

Marvellous, Fred — a work of art! Your rhymes of "Faith and Theology / demythology" and "neo-Hegelian / Australian" are sheer genius!

Patrick McManus said...

I think Fred wins!

Anonymous said...

You guys have me in stiches! Yes, theology should be this fun.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Packer always said that theology leads to doxology, and God clearly has a sense of humor (why else the platypus?), so put me in with byron. (And Rich Mullins, for that matter: "It don't do to preach on glory if you never dare to laugh.")

On another note, while I won't claim to be up to the level of this discussion, it seems to me that if one understands God's existence as outside of our timestream (as human authors are outside of the timestream of their books), then there's no problem with denying the logos asarkos; whereas affirming that at a particular point, there was a significant change in the Son of God seems quite problematic to me.

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