Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thoughts on Barth and the Word of God

Drew Johnson has offered some comments on Karl Barth over at Michael Liccione's blog that echo my own observations of how Barth's view of Scripture offers a serious challenge to the Protestant concept of Scriptural authority. Moreover, Johnson argues that it was probably only Barth's hostility to the idea of the analogia entis (which I will call absolute ontological distinction or AOD) that prevented him from following his doctrine of Scripture to its logical conclusion in relating Scripture to Tradition. I would instead say that Barth has simply pointed out a contradiction in the Protestant monergism, where Barth holds his convictions purely. If there is a contradiction (and I believe that there is), then it is in the denial of the analogia entis, which Barth actually holds more consistently than his Protestant confreres.

The real trouble in AOD is that it entails Nestorianism, be it in Christology, the doctrine of inspiration, or any other matter of theology. One you reject union in being, then you have to cobble together union in some other way, and the only real alternative is some sort of external causal domination of one entity by the other. Historically, that was Nestorian-type monotheletism (aka, monoenergism, one operation), which can be pushed even farther to monergism, the work of only one agent. Even though I have no great love for John Romanides, because I think he misapplies his conclusions to the West more generally, his article tracing the Antiochene origins of this belief in Theodore of Mopsuestia is frankly (*groan*) his best work. The connection between Nestorian ontological convictions and monergism seems too clear to even be debatable at this point.

What Barth observed is that if you really believe in AOD, there's no such thing as a medium, because a medium is necessarily not God. So as Drew rightly observes, Barth must push on to a metaphysics of absolute subject (accusing even Calvin of creating an Arian separation between Christ and the Father), and likewise, he must push ahead to an absolute concept of witness. In this, I think he is completely consistent. If there is an absolute separation between Creator and creature, and if the only union between them can be in the external causal determination of one by the other, then it follows that it must always be immediate, so that revelation must always be the direct causal act of God producing a response. If you really want to see irony, read this article (*), which recounts Donald Bloesch's criticism of Barth as "Nestorian," in turn provoking a criticism from the author that Bloesch is Arian/adoptionist. But the author himself makes this charge in the interest of defending a "truly asymmetrical, interactive, unitary God-world-human (historical) redemptive relatedness," which is nothing other than Nestorian-type monergism! If anything, it proves the point that Barth is simply the most consistent advocate of AOD.

Therefore, I would disagree with Drew that this could ever lead to T3. T3 requires a common ontological union with God, effectively making both Scripture and Tradition the same sort of synergistic operation. Barth's view is effectively even a more pure view than T1 or even T0; it is really S0, in that even the actual text of Scripture lacks authority. Again, given his ontological commitments, I think this is absolutely consistent; only God can speak with the authority of God.

Most Protestants try to escape this necessity by a softer argument from miracles (e.g., God establishes a natural order in some lawful fashion and then breaks this natural order, which shows direct divine causation, making miracles the sign of divine inspiration). The problem is that this isn't direct divine causation on the person, and that is the hole Barth spots. Any merely historical argument of this fashion won't suffice to actually create the causal connection between God and man; what makes the witness is the individually caused response to God Himself. Even if God can be bound by His own covenants, it is only in the sense of the promise to that particular person; for each person, only His personal promise is binding.

Despite my profound disagreement with Barth, I highly commend his work to Protestants, because he is by far the most consistent advocate of what Protestantism entails. Frankly, if all Protestants were Barthians, then we could have a REAL discussion about what separates Catholicism from Protestantism, because then everyone's respective metaphysical commitments would be clearly and consistently articulated. Imputed justification and sola scriptura are both really the same monergistic understanding of the creature/Creator separation, and we could then have an argument over which metaphysical description is true: divine/human monergism (subdivided into the Barthian Nestorian-type monotheletism or the Lutheran Monophysite-type monotheletism) or divine/human synergism (Eastern or Western). Forget the whole question of fathers and councils, to which Protestants don't really give authority even when they read them per Dr. Liccione's argument, and instead have a discussion of what metaphysical commitments regarding God are coherent. If we could have that discussion openly, apart from the historical baggage, THEN we might actually have a meaningful dialogue.

* UPDATE -- I forgot to include a warning about the abominable application on page 17 of Einstein to "the Nicene homoousion, reflecting unitary, interactive relatedness, identity-in-difference. And so too is such a stratified model reflective of the incarnate Word-inscripturated Word relationship." Clearly, this guy has not read David Bohm's Wholeness and Implicate Order and does not fathom the pantheistic implications of what he is saying! Again, sloppy metaphysical concepts lead to sloppy theological applications.


Anonymous said...

To demonstrate further how Barth's presentation is contradictory at certain points (esp. compared to the preface of the Church Dogmatics, where he refers to the analogia entis as the "invention of Antichrist), I offer the following quotation from Church Dogmatics I.2, pp. 250-251:
"In respect of revelation the Western Church did not recognize any Spirit to be the Holy Spirit except the Spirit of Christ. But it also spoke of the God who meets us in His revelation as the eternal God. If it was right in this, then we must stand firmly with it on this particular question of the Filioque.
"The same recognition will also help us to understand the later development in the medieval West of that objectivism in the concepts of both sacrament and the Church, which was upheld successfully and with stern consistency by the Popes, e.g., against the spiritual kingdom of the Franciscans...the threads are visible which lead from Franciscan Pneumatology to the anthropology of the humanistic Renaissance. To that extent the Papacy had the better case theologically in this controversy."
My point in giving this long quotation from Barth is not to make any kind of statement about the procession of the Holy Spirit, but rather to contrast this sentiment of his regarding "ecclesiastical objectivism" that seems to run against the grain of the rest of his thought, which certainly runs in the direction of individualism. Whatever one may think of Barth, I think it could be said with the utmost seriousness that Barth's system is the logical perfection of Protestant theology.
Thanks for letting me post, Jonathan!


Anonymous said...

Are You Romanian? ('Prejean' sure sounds to me like a Romanian name -- am I mistaking?)