Tuesday 23 October 2007

Paul Molnar: incarnation and resurrection

Paul D. Molnar, Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 418 pp. (review copy courtesy of Eerdmans)

Paul Molnar’s work on Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity (T&T Clark, 2002) is well known in Barthian circles. And in this new sequel, Molnar extends his earlier argument: where Divine Freedom argued that God’s action in the world must always be set against the backdrop of an independently-existing immanent Trinity, the present work argues that the resurrection of Jesus must always be interpreted against the backdrop of the incarnation of an eternal Son. Simply put: we must think first of incarnation and only then of resurrection.

Molnar’s argument here is driven by the same fundamental categories which shaped his earlier book on the immanent Trinity. Although these categories are rarely analysed explicitly, everything depends on a sequence of paired opposites: the priority of eternity over history, of the objective over the subjective, of reality over experience, of God-in-himself over God-for-us. These categories are adopted from the work of T. F. Torrance, and they subsequently structure both Molnar’s reading of Barth and his critique of various contemporary thinkers.

The book’s central thesis is neatly encapsulated in the title: “incarnation and resurrection” – in that order! In Molnar’s view, the incarnation – and behind that, the pre-incarnate Logos – is the only legitimate starting point for christology. All christology must begin with “the eternal Word who was with God and who was God from all eternity” (p. 265). As in his earlier book, Molnar’s basic conviction here is that events in history can never be constitutive of God’s being; God is always God-without-us before he is God-for-us. Jesus’ resurrection, then, can be understood properly only when we start with the fact that the Son “actually existed prior to his human existence” (p. 298), before taking on a human nature “in the Chalcedonian sense” (p. 310). Only on the basis of this cluster of metaphysical assumptions can we then also begin to think about Jesus’ resurrection.

The problem with all this, however, is that it represents a complete reversal of the New Testament witness. The New Testament writers knew nothing of an “independent” doctrine of incarnation. They knew nothing of a thought-pattern which begins with a doctrine of pre-existence before moving to incarnation and then finally to resurrection. On the contrary: the early Christians spoke of incarnation (when they mentioned it at all) only as a theological extrapolation of the cosmic significance of the resurrection. Nor did they interpret the resurrection in light of any prior dogma of Jesus’ divine sonship. On the contrary, they knew that Jesus was the Son of God precisely because God had apocalyptically vindicated him by raising him from the dead. In light of the resurrection, it became clear that God had been at work throughout the entirety of Jesus’ career (i.e. “incarnation”) and that Jesus had come from God from the very beginning (i.e. “pre-existence”).

Thus the miraculous birth stories in Matthew and Luke, and the theology of pre-existence in the Fourth Gospel, are strictly indistinguishable from the impact of the resurrection-event – it is this single event which retroactively determines the whole existence of Jesus as the movement of God into our material world. Jesus’ sonship is constituted in the event of resurrection (Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). The resurrection is “the primal mark of his identity” (J. Louis Martyn); indeed, God’s very deity is not only “disclosed” but also “constituted” in this event (Francis Watson), so that all Christian talk about God must take this event as its fundamental point of departure.

To begin christology with any abstract metaphysics of divine being – no matter how “Chalcedonian” that metaphysics might be! – is therefore to fail to allow our talk about God to be guided and structured by the gospel itself.

Of course, Molnar is not trying to interpret the New Testament witness directly; his theological sources are Torrance and Barth. But it seems to me that the Barthian tradition today is faced with a fundamental choice here – I’m tempted to say, a choice between Molnar and McCormack! This is a fundamental choice since what’s at stake is not merely the correct interpretation of Barth, but the whole shape and structure of christology and the doctrine of God – in other words, dogmatics itself.

I can, of course, speak only for myself here. But I believe the future of theology lies not in any incarnational realism or in a scholastic Chalcedonian objectivism, but rather in a radical and rigorous appropriation of Barth’s christological actualism. And the essential resource for this appropriation is, in my view, the category of resurrection.

If we are to pursue theology as a faithful response to the biblical witness, we must seek not merely to defend some particular variety of classical metaphysics, but instead to take our stand on the resurrection itself, and (using whatever conceptual resources we can find) to think the resurrection back into the doctrine of God. This will mean conceptualising the resurrection as absolute divine “advent” (Eberhard Jüngel), sheer “apocalypse” (J. Louis Martyn), pure “event” (Robert Jenson). It will mean thinking an event in which God constitutes his own being (Francis Watson) as a being-for-us in the self-determining movement of Father, Son and Spirit (Bruce McCormack).

Here, the category of resurrection functions as metaphysical critique, or rather, as the ground of a properly theological ontology. The resurrection is not (pace Molnar) merely one occurrence alongside others in a linear “history of salvation” (p. 5). It is the event of absolute singularity and therefore absolute universality, the event which tears open (in order to reconstitute) being itself. It is destruction and salvation, the dissolution and re-creation of the kosmos. Far from being the mere disclosure of an already-existing state of affairs, this event is divine apocalypse, trinitarian becoming – no, it is eternity itself.

Molnar’s claim, therefore, that a prior metaphysics of divine being should “dictate the meaning of the resurrection” (p. 87) has it precisely the wrong way around: any doctrine of divine being or of incarnation must be “dictated” by the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, by the proclamation that God has acted once and for all in the resurrection of the Crucified.

Likewise, I can only conclude that Molnar’s call for a christology “from above” (i.e., starting with a pre-existent logos asarkos) is a profound mistake. Neither “from below” nor “from above,” but from the event – that, in my view, is the way forward for christology today.


Anonymous said...

Man, that is one potent review - thanks for posting it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a brilliant critique. I haven't seen the book yet, but this critique pinpoints some real problems in his earlier book as well.

James F. McGrath said...

Thanks for sharing this! I think the early Christians would have agreed in principle that God interacts with human beings through God's Word/Wisdom/Spirit. And it seems that most Christians would have perceived God to be active in such ways in Jesus. The big question then becomes in what way God is active, and within the New Testament, as well as over the couple of centuries thereafter, a number of different answers were given.

I am starting to think that perhave the internet, or more precisely the blogosphere, is developing a hive mind. I just posted something yesterday on my own blog about the doctrine of the incarnation - the first time I had even touched on that subject for a while!

Anonymous said...

The New Testament writers knew nothing of an “independent” doctrine of incarnation.

Yes, that's an important distinction - it's not just that incarnation plays a relatively minor role in the NT, but that this minor (still important) role was derivative from belief in the resurrection. This makes perfect sense, too: You only go around saying someone is "the Word made flesh" if you discover that he's been raised from the dead!

Halden said...

Brillian review. I couldn't agree more.

JKnott said...

Kudos, Ben. You see the theological landscape very clearly. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Ben, a brilliant piece of work, which is not just a review, it rocks in its own right: lucid, incisive, cogent, and so courteously polemical.

I agree with many things that Molnar says, I respect his intentions, and I share some of his "enemies"; but his metaphysics alarm me, the way they control his reading of scripture puzzles me, and, with you, I suspect the entire project is theology's past rather than its future. But I shall look forward to what George Hunsinger has to say!

Anonymous II's comment about the the resurrection the incarnation - the OT analogue is the genetic relationship between redemption and creation: you only go around saying someone is the creator of the world if he has redeemed it.

Halden said...

The one question I have about tis whole debate, Ben is if it's ok for us to go in the opposite direction. In other words, can we have a metaphysics that is utterly and completely subsequent to the historical event of Jesus?

That's what I see (or would like to see) in von Balthasar. The apocalypse of Jesus looms large in his thought, as does the immanent trinity. But his theology of the immanent trinity, to my mind is totally determined by the reality of Christ's history. The ontological is the historical. And in so being it is no less ontological, true?

Steve Martin said...

Hi Ben,
Excellent review. I couldn't agree more. As one interested in the science / faith dialogue, I like to call the resurrection "The Much Bigger Big Bang".

highestform said...

I'm seeing some similarities between Molnar's christology and David Bentley Hart's? Am I mistaken?

Anonymous said...

The Resurrection is indeed the big, big, big, big bang. However, with all due respect and humility, I believe Myers may be inventing a conflict where none exists. It is true that, as we cannot know the immanent Trinity except via the economic Trinity, and as we cannot know the Creator until we have encountered him as our Redeemer, so we cannot know the Incarnation except via the Resurrection. But it remains the case that, once revealed, the immanent Trinity has a logical primacy that makes it the ground of all our experience of the Trinity. And once understood, the fact of God’s having created, of his being the foundation of our being and the being of this contingent world, in turn backlights who we are and therefore what was taking place in our redemption.

Similarly, the Incarnation, once disclosed by the Resurrection, takes logical primacy (as the whole of which the Resurrection is a part) and informs our understanding of all that Jesus did and its significance—including the Resurrection. And this understanding, having arisen out of the original revelation, is enfolded into it.

In other words, there are two processes in play in revelation and our apprehension of it: first we humans see the action of God in the world, and that is the only way we can be led (by the Holy Spirit) to an understanding of something that turns out to be the ground of what we saw. That is what Ben Myers is talking about. But then, that understanding (also by the Holy Spirit) necessarily illumines, as their origin, all the events we have seen and go on to see. And that is what Molnar is on about. There is no “independent” doctrine of the Resurrection *or* of the Incarnation.

I recently watched the movie Eastern Promises, in which Viggo Mortensen plays an undercover cop infiltrating the Russian mob. There is no way we can know that is his identity at the outset; it is only later events that lead us unmistakably to that understanding. But once we know it, all his prior and subsequent acts arrange themselves in our minds according to that understanding and take their significance from it; it just can’t be helped.

There is another way of looking at it—not as processes but in terms of logical relationship. If we live in a valley, we don’t know anything about the head of a river unless we follow it from the rushing torrent we see outside to the source up in the mountains. But that in no way negates the fact that the river flows from the spring in the mountains, and not towards it.

JKnott said...


With all due respect, I can't see how you can accuse Mr. Myers of inventing the conflict, unless you are also willing to say he has misread Molnar. I haven't read Molnar, but at least according to this review, it is he who says we MUST think of the incarnation first and only then of the resurrection. If he is advocating for only that direction, he must be assuming a conflict between that and other ways of thinking. If you are right in suggesting that both directions are needed or at least possible, then you should say Molnar invents the conflict, not Myers.

As for your main contention, as I see it, it is hard to see what thinking from incarnation to resurrection can get you if you already know incarnation EXCLUSIVELY from resurrection. If it gets you anything, it seems it must be because, in fact, you don't know incarnation exclusively from the resurrection. Again, Molnar seems to think it gets you something, and thus he insists the thought must go that way.

Anonymous said...


Setting aside the helpfulness of your example of "Eastern Promises," I'm a little vexed at your using such a major spoiler while the film is still in the theatre!

Anonymous said...

To be both off the point and quite mischievous, last week, when I was visiting my mother, we saw Eastern Promises. My mother is 80 years-old - and she guessed Mortensen's character's identity within fifteen minutes.

Anonymous said...

It is important to realize that Molnar is not merely relying, as you suggest, on Barth and Torrance. He represents the standard position of Nicene Christianity throughout its long and considerable history. See, for example, Bruce D. Marshall, "Ex Occidente Lux? Aquinas and Eastern Orthodox Theology" in Modern Theology 20 (January 2004). Without reflecting on them directly, Marshall takes Molnar's basic assumptions for granted, as do the theologians he discusses.

There is no future in ecumenical theology for a position that would deny the fundamental distinction between what the Greeks called theologia and oikonomia. To suppose otherwise would be just one more modernist delusion.

Your use of the categories "starting point" and "priority" is naive. There is no such thing as an absolute starting point. As Quine pointed out some time ago, asking about "the" starting point is something like asking about the starting points in Ohio. It depends on where you are and where you want to go.

The term "priority" needs to be unpacked. It is not synonymous with "starting point." The salient distinction is between "logical priority" and "ontological priority."

Logical priority. A is logically prior to B, if A can be defined without reference to B. B is logically subsequent to A, if B cannot be defined without reference to A.

Ontological priority. A is ontologically prior to B, if A would exist whether B existed or not. B is ontologically contingent upon A, if B would not exist without the existence of A.

Furthermore, both logical and ontological priority need to be kept distinct from what might be called the "logic of discovery."

Logic of Discovery. If A cannot be known without reference to B, because B is the means by which A becomes known, that indeed tells us nothing about how they might be logically and ontologically related. A can be logically and ontologically prior to B, even if B is a necessary means to the discovery of A.

Your objections to Molnar fail, in several ways, because they seem confused about these basic distinctions.

For the New Testament (as Barth, Torrance, Molnar and many others rightly see), the deity of Christ is not fully disclosed to the disciples until his resurrection. This is a remark about the logic of discovery. It does not make Christ's Resurrection logically and ontologically prior to his Incarnation -- a position that would be manifestly absurd (which is why the church has always rejected Adoptionism).

The Resurrection reveals the identity of Jesus Christ for what it always was. It reveals but does not constitute him as God Incarnate. Because Jesus Christ was and is God Incarnate, a great number of things follow. He is properly the object of worship, for example. He could and did bear the universal guilt of the human race in our place in order to bear it away. He does not just reveal certain truths about God but is in fact the self-revelation of God.

By definition, however, he would not be God unless he were the incarnation of the eternal Son. The eternal Son qua eternal Son is, necessarily, logically and ontologically prior to the Incarnation.

Anyone who wishes to deny the logical and ontological priority of the eternal Son must face the consequences. These consequences are certainly no secret.

The whole history of Antiochian christology -- from Paul of Samosata and Theodore of Mopsuestia down to Schleiermacher and Tillich -- shows beyond doubt that this model cannot and does not uphold Jesus Christ as the object of worship, as the objective Atonement for our sins, and as the self-revelation of God.

Molnar's book is to be welcomed for its clear affirmation of these points.

Petter Ö said...

Thank you Ben for the review!

A christology “from above” is definitely out of question. I wildly guess (though I haven´t read Molnar myself) that he´s afraid of a christology grounded in the believer's "experience" of the risen Christ and not in the real being of God himself. But please correct me if I got this wrong. It would be nice of you (or someone else) to explain "Barth’s christological actualism", I don´t grasp that.

Much can be said, of course, of the relation between resurrection and incarnation in God's being, of the one event in Jesus Christ of God meeting us and also letting us know him. The Bible verses that first cross my mind, however, are Romans 10:1-13 (though, the exact chapter and verses I found out only afterwards!).

I find this text (in light of the Gospel(s)) very helpful for my understanding of both incarnation and resurrection, and for both these words pointing towards the powerful reality of our living God.

Kind regards

Ben Myers said...

George, thanks for your very thoughtful response. You highlight a very important point (and Debbie makes this point as well): "Your use of the categories 'starting point' and 'priority' is naive. There is no such thing as an absolute starting point. As Quine pointed out some time ago, asking about 'the' starting point is something like asking about the starting points in Ohio."

Yes, I couldn't agree more! I've spoken of "starting points" only as a way of explaining what Paul Molnar is up to (since his whole argument is driven by this category). But I think you're right: it is naive to assume that everything depends on one's "starting point".

For my own part, I'm not trying to advocate some different starting point -- instead, I'm suggesting that we should think the resurrection of Jesus as resurrection, and allow this category to exercise a critical and constructive function in both christology and the doctrine of God.

So to reply to Halden's query as well: my own interest isn't necessarily in a revised form of classical metaphysics, but in a post-metaphysical ontology which takes its cue from the later Barth.

Halden said...

Precisely. I think the point is that we can take the resurrection of Jesus seriously, both as ontologically and epistemologically basic without giving up on ontology, or even on discussions of "the immanent trinity". The issue is how we arrive at such an ontology, and I think arriving at one that is post-metaphysical and throughly historical is precisely the way this must be done.

Anonymous said...

These conversations always make me think that modern theology is a kind of "mathematics."

For example, Theologian X accepts a set of axioms (call this The Creed) and then does one of three things as his/her "project":

1.) Demonstrate the logical consistency of the axioms.
2.) Resolve logical inconsistencies among the axioms (e.g., Jesus is human AND divine).
3.) Via reasoning produce the theorems of the
system (e.g., dogmatics).

I guess the heretics are those who reject some of the starting, "self-evident" axioms. They are the Non-Euclidian geometers among the Euclidian orthodox.

It's all very erudite and interesting in a hobbyish kind of way. I just don't see the point of it all outside of the logical and rhetorical pyrotechnics.

Anonymous said...

Great review, Ben. You're spot on.

scott said...


Thanks for your provocative (and to my mind, provocatively insightful) review. The claim about not being invested too heavily in "starting points" is helpful. But I'm still muddled about one matter: what do you mean by an attempt to "think the resurrection as resurrection"? And what does allowing that to "exercise a critical function in both christology and the doctrine of God" do for dogmatics - especially in relation to Dr. Hunsinger's claim that despite the "logic of discovery", "the eternal Son qua eternal Son is necessarily, logically and ontologically prior to the Incarnation"?


Ben Myers said...

Hi Scott, thanks for your very interesting questions. When I spoke of "thinking the resurrection as resurrection", I was just suggesting that we should be careful not to domesticate this event by incorporating it harmlessly into some broader ontology that has been imported from elsewhere. As Barth perceived so clearly in his commentary on Romans (and as Badiou also emphasises so brilliantly), there can be no continuity between "being" and the event of resurrection — instead, there is radical discontinuity; the event tears a hole in being (thus Barth's famous "crater"!) and creates something wholly new.

So to think the resurrection as resurrection means to take seriously the theological and ontological impact of this event. (A stunning example of this is Francis Watson's essay, "The Triune Divine Identity," JSNT 80 [2000], 99-124.)

In the case of the doctrine of God, this will certainly mean re-thinking some of our all-too-obvious categories like "time and eternity", "ontologically prior", etc. And it might even mean following Barth's shocking suggestion that "the 'God' whom we name apart from resurrection-faith" is in fact always the monstrous "Not-God"! (Romans, p. 43).

So that's why I think Paul Molnar's procedure is (in spite of his good intentions) such a grave mistake. For him, the resurrection is inscribed within a metaphysical system that is always already there in advance. This metaphysical system is fundamentally undisturbed by the resurrection — the event changes nothing (no "craters" here!).

Sorry if this comment is more than you needed, Scott — but thanks again for your helpful queries.

Andy said...

Hey Ben,

Thanks for the review. I'll keep an eye out for this one.

My initial thoughts were very much like George's. But also like Debbie's. I don't think we need to drive the wedge between the two (Debbie), but only because the discourse is more nuanced than you (and perhaps Molnar) make it out to be (George).

To add to the conversation a bit. I wonder if Molnar is reacted particularly against something like a postmetaphysical position, which will easily find a home with the resurrection. Having been an erstwhile NT scholar, I was once very moved by the event of the resurrection as well. But perhaps I can ask you this--if the incarnation swallows up the resurrection in Molnar's account, do not your ideas threaten the opposite tendency to swallow up the incarnation in the resurrection?

First, I get nervous with phrases like "trinitarian becoming," which is not the same as a [the] "divine apocalypse." Maybe I've misunderstood you there. I get nervous because it sounds an awful lot like process thought. Or Zizek. And Zizek is not someone to follow here. (Sorry I can't elaborate.)

Second, what you seem to have a problem with is not metaphysics or ontology, but only classical metaphysics--actually, static metaphysics. You seem to need every event in the sphere of immanence to directly affect the sphere of transcendence. May I surmise this is because you hold to an ontology of (pure) immanence? Halden suggests ontology as/is history. We might emend "history," substituting "event." If the resurrection is an ontological event (we can label it "ontological" whether it is in continuity or radical discontinuity with a prior ontology), does not all ontological gravity fly to that event? And if so, what happens to the incarnation? It becomes tautologous. Will it become expendable?

Third, what if both your and Molnar's discourses falsely ascribe "event" to both incarnation and resurrection. Perhaps (unwittingly) early scholars had it right when they talked of the Christ-event. That is, Christ in his totality is an event, not a collection of events. The Christ event is the totality of Christ within our aesthetic horizon, that is, from incarnation to (not resurrection!) ascension. And he is only within our aesthetic horizon in the first place as apocalypse. Consider the political connotation of Badiou's "event." The event is that to which, in order for it to remain a truth procedure, the subject must remain faithful. Are we faithful to the resurrection? Are we faithful to the incarnation? Or are we faithful to Christ? It seems to me that perhaps a better critique would precisely be not to divide incarnation and resurrection, but to include them both as movements within, as part of the history of, the event of Christ.

At any rate, some thoughts for discussion. I think you are right to want to see the resurrection as ontological event. I think the drama of salvation is in fact a history of ontological events. But I worry that in affirming one partial event, we will lose all events. If we become too myopic with respect to the resurrection (or incarnation!), we will fail to be synoptic with respect to all the acts of God. This is your criticism of Molnar. And I gently urge you to consider its usefulness against your own privileging of the resurrection.


scott said...

Thanks for the clarification, Ben - that helps. I'm still not sure if (or if so, how) that fits with Dr. Hunsinger's claim...but I'd be inclined to nuance what he said along the lines of: Yes to the ontological priority of the eternal Son (in the sense of affirming that A would exist without B), once you have the logic of discovery that is the historical resurrection-faith of the church. And a cautious yes and no to the "logical priority" of the eternal Son over the incarnate Word. Yes to the logical priority, because once you are working in the mode or logic of resurrection-faith, the eternal Son (or "immanent Trinity") can be faithfully thought. No to logical priority because the "logic of discovery" does not give the church an historically "settled" ontology. Resurrection-faith isn't simply new information, and thus Jesus as "means of discovery" isn't simply something that you can "figure out" and then leave it be. Rather, resurrection-faith is a living entity, that requires always thinking from the incarnate Word to the eternal Son and back again. To put it another way, I agree with what Dr. Hunsinger said on the basis of resurrection-faith as the logic of discovery, but doesn't resurrection-faith as a living entity - a way of thinking and being in the world - require an ever-renewed logic of rediscovery that disallows a conceptual system to simply leave the event behind?

Hopefully that made some sense.

Halden said...

Guys, I think the major point that Ben is getting at is that the resurrection is always and ever again disruptive in the theological or philosophical enterprise. The problem with enfolding the resurrection into a metaphysics, even one that takes it's "starting point" in the "logic of discovery that is the historical resurrection", is that the resurrection eludes our attempts to categorize it within a framework of "being". The resurrection is always a complete novum which cannot be circumscribed within a metaphysical system, no matter how dynamic we take that system to be.

None of this should be taken as the denial of Nicene faith, or even of a confession of the "immanent" Trinity. Rather, it is claiming that such statements can never become the criteria into which the resurrection is fitted or by which the resurrection is interepreted.

In other words, the resurrection does not simply disclose to us a new metaphyics. No matter what metaphyic we might have, the resurrection overturns it. It cannot be domesticated or circumscribed into a metaphysical system in which it is rendered intelligible. The resurrection is always subversive, politically, philsophically, and theologically. The moment when we, like Molnar make it simply a part of a larger system, regardless of how "incarnational" such a system might be, the resurrection ceases to be the permanent revolution that it is disclosed to be. It ceases to be apocalyptic.

JKnott said...

Dr. Mr. Hunsinger, if you are still following this:

Even as you (obviously) disagree with Ben, do you agree that Ben's critique of Molnar is similar to what Bruce McCormack would say or does say about the "Torrence-esque" interpretation of Barth?

I hope you are doing well since I chauffeured you to the wedding in Georgia last year.

--Jason Knott

scott said...

Halden said what I meant by "logic of rediscovery".

Anonymous said...


The theology is getting thick, but a reference back to St. Paul might help. It seems to me you are working hard against a temporally prior pre-existence as anything other than a way of talking of resurrection. But note Paul makes the inference that Jesus is a "sent Son" not the incarnate Father.

Jesus had a prior rich status with the Father before becoming poor (incarnate) in Paul's thinking (2 Cor 8:9, Phil 2). Where did this revelation come from? Paul is fitting the resurrection into a prior conception of God, so Jesus is simply a Son (importantly an authentic one PRE-resurrection, unlike us who are adopted). Jesus sonship was emphatically NOT constituted by the resurrection according to Paul, our sonship was! Against your rendering I suppose you could say the resurrection is just an historical step unveiling the prior metaphysical status of Jesus in relation to the Father.

The gospel for Paul and John is not just "the pure event" - resurrection - but the story of the descent and ascent of the Son.


Andy said...


Thank you for your follow-up, but perhaps that's exactly what I'm worried about. By the resurrection, you seem to want to introduce indeterminacy into the whole theological discourse. Yes? In other words, resurrection is differance? If this is what Ben is arguing, then the resurrection is really the negation of everything theological. That is, while you claim one can adhere to Nicene faith under these conditions, I wonder if only by way of nominalism. Does the resurrection really disrupt every metaphysic? Does it disrupt every ontology? Even an iconic ontology? Even a negative ontology? This was my parenthetical point about a disruptive ontological event in my first comment. The resurrection as a perpetual disruption is an ontology of the void (what Conor Cunningham and RO have labeled "nihilism"). In other words, the disruption becomes primary. This squares with Zizek, and to a lesser extent Badiou, but not with the Christian God.

The true mark of apocalyptic is not disruption, but disclosure. The resurrection is apocalyptic precisely because it reveals the power of God and the work of redemption. It is not the apophatic boomerang that perpetually interrupts everything, but the extralinguistic ground and illumination of new life. If anything, given the paradigm creation-fall-redemption, we should see the resurrection as a rehabilitation and correction of ontology/metaphysics.

I want to give the resurrection more ontological weight than simply the starting point for logical discovery, too. But I don't wish to give it so much power that it can veto incarnation (whether its power to do so is used or not).

I hope these are helpful clarifications.

Halden said...

Andy, I wouldn't equate the resurrection with differance at all. The resurrection is actually quite the opposite. It is, rather the overabundant surplus of meaning, not its deferral. The resurrection is not the end of theological discourse, rather it is it center and ever-new beginning. The point about the resurrection being a "perpetual disruption" indicates the way in which the subversive nature of the resurrection can never be transcended in our theologizing. We can never construct an metaphysic into which we can "fit" it. This does not mean the end of ontological pursuits in the least, what it does mean is that any understanding of "being" must always be thought and rethought in reference to the resurrection as the revelation of the Triune God.

Perhaps this will also helpfully clarify the matter. Theological discourse is not supposed to be the exposition of a metaphyisic within which Christian claims (such as the claim that Christ was raised) become intelligible. Rather, theological discourse is a doxological and evangelical practice of bearing witness to the reality of God as defined in Christ. This act of witness is always a stuttering and stammering enterprise which can never have the closure and complection of "metaphysics" as classically understood. Theologians are always limping towards Emmaus, rather than coming in clouds, so to speak.

Your mention of an "ontology of the void" sparked some fascinating thoughts for me, so thank you. However, in my view it is precisely the resurrection that prevents such an ontology. If we take the doctrine of creatio ex nhilio seriously, then the utterly gratuitious and non-necessary event of the resurrection is the only thing which offers an alternative to such an ontology of the void. For if we all come from "nothing", there can be no metaphysic within which we can render a theological account of being, let alone one into which we would fit the resurrection. If there is an ontology that flows from the resurrection is always and only an ontology of grace, where our be-ing is located completely outside ourselves in the sheer gratuity of God's self-giving in the resurrection of Christ.

I won't presume to speak for Ben on any of this, these are just my own thoughts. Again, I'm not saying that the resurrection means we can never talk about "being", rather it means we must constantly learn to speak about it in a new key. The resurrection invites theological-ontological discourse, but it is a discourse that must constantly be refered back to the event which birthed it. That is what I mean by a "permanent disruption" - the resurrection always sends us back to the ontological drawing board, demanding that we constantly revise our notions of being in its light.

Or, to put it another way, the only possible place from which one could truly construct a metaphysic, would be from the standpoint of the beatific vision. Though, perhaps even that is questionable.

Anonymous said...

I would recommend that the word metaphysics be dropped entirely from the discussion. It causes more problems than it is worth and only serves to obscure the real theological issues.

Because Karl Barth was fundamentally opposed to thinking about the Gospel in terms of a "system," he would not look kindly on those who would ascribe a "metaphysics" or an "ontology" to his work. So my word to all would-be "post-metaphysical" metaphysicians is: Beware of the terror barthiani!!!

There is a difference between thinking systematically and thinking in terms of a system. Likewise, there is a difference between an ad hoc use of metaphysical or ontological categories and thinking (openly or secretly) in terms of an independent metaphysical scheme. In each case, Barth engaged in the former but not the latter. It is the difference between system-building and bricolage.

Barth would not want us to bow the knee to any metaphysics, not even under the cunning name of "post-metaphysical" metaphysics. I fear that in this whole discussion the very idea of the post-metaphysical is taking on the visage of an idol.

The ancient distinction between theologia and oikonomia, mentioned in my previous post, points toward the difference between eternity and time. If, as Barth argued, eternity is a predicate of God's triune being, then the immanent Trinity is logically and ontologically prior to the economic Trinity, even though in the "logic of discovery" the former is known only through the latter.

But there is only one Holy Trinity as it exists in these two forms and does so simultaneously -- the immanent (eternal) and the economic (historical). That is why Jüngel observed (rightly) that for Barth, God exists in a "double historicity" and a "double relationality," i.e., in a relationship in and for himself as well as in a relationship to the world.

This unity-in-distinction -- between the immanent and the economic forms of the Trinity -- does not depend on any particular metaphysics, though it necessarily draws upon metaphysical or ontological ideas when it is theologically interpreted in the Nicene tradition.

The real question, I would urge, has nothing to do with any particular metaphysics. It has to do with those who are prepared to affirm the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed without crossing their fingers, and those who are not.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Ben will eventually shut down this comment thread, but please let me invite those who will be in San Diego for the SBL/AAR conference to continue it at the Christian Theological Research Fellowship meeting where Molnar's book will be the subject of discussion: Sunday 11/18, 11:45-12:45pm, Room GH-Madeleine A & B (M18-15=A18-134)

Anonymous said...

George said: "It has to do with those who are prepared to affirm the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed without crossing their fingers, and those who are not."

And that is just the point I made above: This is just a conversation about Euclidian versus Non-Euclidian geometries.

Further, this observation is sharpened if this conversation is decided NOT about metaphysics and ontology.

Halden said...

Prof. Hunsinger, if I may be so bold as to venture a response to your concerns, I have a few thoughts.

1. Regarding the use of the term "metaphysics" in this discussion. Your suggestion that it be dropped is indicative of the nature of the question being debated here. You seem to beg the question in asking for that way of discussing this problem to be removed from the equation. You obviously have a certain way of interpreting the Nicene tradition and trinitarian orthodoxy (i.e. that what is "eternal" is separate from what is "historical", etc.), and folks that would dispute those claims are, in your view simply talking utter nonsense. The point that some are trying to make is that the assumptions about what seems self-evident to you and what you see as essential to Nicene orthodoxy are, in fact metaphysical assumptions that are lacking biblical warrant. That is the burden of the projects of people like Jenson, McCormack, and perhaps Ben and me (lowly bloggers as we are). In other words, for you to simply claim that this is not really a discussion about metaphysics is quite a loaded statement - a cheap way of winning an argument. What you seem to be claiming is that this isn't a discussion about metaphysics but simply an argument between intelligent people who see that obviously history is one thing and eternity another (etc.), and the stupid non-sensical chaps that for some reason cannot see this obvious truth. To put the discussion in those terms is simply to beg the question.

Likewise to say that the debate is really about whom are the true Nicene’s and who are the conniving little finger-crossing rascals who seek to pervert the true interpretation of Barth is uncharitable to say the least. If anything a comment such as this only illustrates that this really is a discussion about different metaphysical assumption and the difficulty of one side understanding the other precisely because the ontological assumptions of the other side are different.

2. Regarding the interpretation of Barth, I don't see anyone claiming that Barth advocated a metaphysical system anywhere. The question rather is about how Barth is properly interpreted. That is the question that McCormack and Molnar are constantly debating. I am not the Barth scholar that you or Ben are, but the issue is not that Barth advocated an "incarnational" metaphysics such as the one Molnar proposes and we thing he's wrong; the issue is whether Molnar or McCormack are right about the proper interpretation of Barth. That is a different question entirely and is far beyond the purview of blog-comment discussion.

3. The ultimate problem I have with the "orthodox" proposal you bring is that it ultimately makes the death and resurrection of Christ instrumental. It is, as you say first point in the "logic of discovery" that is designed to take us beyond it into something else. I fear that on this view, Christ becomes not the power and wisdom of God, but simply an avatar or ikon which opens up the "real" Triune life beyond it in the eternal life of the Logos. The resurrection, on that view seems to simply become a piece of evidence or just one manifestation of the 'bigger' reality of the Triune God. And frankly, I just don't think this is biblical. Francis Watson, in the article Ben mentioned earlier has made this case very well already, as has Ben in his review of Molnar.

The problem ultimately with the "orthodox" proposal is that it inverts the logic of God-talk in the New Testament - I would contend - on the basis of precisely metaphysical assumptions that do not derive primarily from biblical or patristic sources, but from a neo-platonic ontology in which the historical and the eternal cannot be coterminous.

Again, let me qualify all this with the humble admonition that I in no wise consider myself your academic equal, but on this point I don't think you are really giving your interlocutors a fair hearing.


Anonymous said...

And then there was light. Thanks Prof. Hunsinger for taking the time to visit and clarify matters - your presence here, at many points, is most necessary.


Ben Myers said...

Thanks, Andy, for your exceptionally brilliant and important questions, which have really given me a lot to think about! And thanks also to Halden for your brilliant response to these questions.

And George, I certainly enjoyed your witty (mis-)reading of this discussion as a conflict between those who do and don't "cross their fingers"! Naturally I can't speak for anyone else on this score: but, as for me, the only time my fingers are really uncrossed is when I'm saying the Creed. Everything else is half-hearted stammering.

Darren said...

Ben, thanks for linking to this from the new Bruce McCormack review -- I missed it the first time around.

This is tremendously helpful in sorting through the options in christology (and divine ontology). I won't be able to look at either the samw way again.

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