Responsibility and Election

October 28, 2007

Salvation small

Here’s my thought/question of the day: Even if we accept the classical Calvinist notion of Original Sin and the federal headship of Adam, such that all humans are responsible for their damnation, does that really help the Calvinist case that unconditional and particular election does not negate our “responsibility” to repent lest we perish? In other words, are the reprobate held accountable for their rejection of faith in Christ? It seems that the Calvinist would have to say “No,” and defer the responsibility to the failure in the covenant of works (Adamic headship). If this is the case, does this cohere with Jesus’ exhortations to repent lest you perish, or, for that matter, the church’s proclamation of Christ and call to repentance and faith? Of course, this is a perennial question posed to Calvinists, but I thought the responsibility question to be a helpful entry-point into the debate. I was prompted to this by Emil Brunner’s discussion of double predestination in volume 1 of his Dogmatics. Brunner believes the inadequate account of responsibility, among other things, in the TULIP schema to require its overhaul in Reformed soteriologies (Brunner being a loyal son of the Swiss Reformed Church).

Even the beautiful must die

October 24, 2007


“According to the self-understanding of Christian faith, there is only one single appearance of truth which – despite all parallels to the beautiful pre-appearance of the truth – follows another law. That is the revelation of God. It is distinguished from the epiphanies of the beautiful in that the origin of all light appears in this event, and indeed appears in such a way that it does not radiate in the light of the world as does the beautiful, but rather appears hidden sub contrario. The event of revelation cannot therefore be subordinated to the category of the beautiful.” …

Eberhard Jüngel, “‘Even the Beautiful Must Die’ – Beauty in the Light of Truth”, in Theological Essays II

Read the rest at Theologia Viatorum. Incredibly interesting quote from Jüngel (and I thank Patrick McManus for posting it). I wonder how this would compare-contrast with von Balthasar, especially in light of his critique of Protestant aesthetics in Seeing the Form, where he criticizes Protestants as too often stuck in a sub contrario dialectic, unable to ground a theological aesthetics.

Emergent Liberalism

October 22, 2007

I’ve been following with some amusement the whole Emergent movement. I went through my postmodern phase in undergrad (it lasted a few months — lots of Foucault — so sad), then I grew-up and moved on to Barth and de Lubac. Anyway, I found this article from The Olive Press, the newspaper of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (an SBC school in good ole North Carolina!), interesting. Mark Driscoll (famed pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and Emergent pioneer) has been attacking, as in this speech at SEBTS, the revisionism becoming prevalent in Emergent circles. He pinpoints, in particular, Brian McClaren and Doug Pagitt. When questioned on homosexual marriage, Driscoll reports McClaren to have told him, “You know what? The thing that breaks my heart is that there is no way I can answer it without hurting someone on either side.” And in regard to Doug Pagitt, “I asked very specifically, ‘Is homosexual activity incompatible with Christian faith?’ His answer was ‘No. Being gay and Christian is not a contradiction in any way.’” Driscoll also cites obfuscation on the Atonement and McClaren’s support of the Jesus Seminar. So, here we go again. Pretentious hipsters with pseudo-theological skill re-imagine the Christian faith to reach today’s generation — and what happens? They become just like today’s generation. I was a little more optimistic in the early phases of the Emergent movement, but I shouldn’t be surprised. By “dialogue with secular, postmodern culture,” the emergents simply filtered Christian doctrine through secular, postmodern categories of thought, a la the constricting of Christian doctrine by the Enlightenment philosophers to their norms of rational criteria. It took philosophy a few hundred years until Nietzsche (and Kierkegaard) showed the whole thing to be a crock. Hopefully it won’t take the evangelical church that long to realize the same thing with the emergents.

Wolfhart Pannenberg

This past seminar on Wolfhart Pannenberg dealt with his section in volume 2 (of his Systematic Theology) on theodicy, pages 161-174. I still don’t know what to make of it. It could be heretical or even the best and only way to do a theodicy? Here are some key quotes (things start getting problematic with the 5th quote, or even 4th quote):

The pitiful suffering and death of children is the most cogent argument against belief in a Creator of the world who is both wise and good. (164)

If the objection is to be met, then it will be met only by a real overcoming of evil and suffering such as Christian eschatology hopes for in faith in the resurrection of the dead. (164)

Even from the standpoint of reconciliation and eschatological consummation, of course, it is an open question why the Creator did not create a world in which there could be no pain or guilt. (165)

Pain and suffering are widespread among other living things in the prehuman world and cannot, then, be the result of human sin. (165)

But even then limiting responsibility for an evil deed to the doer [i.e., humans or angels] is not convincing if another [i.e., God] might have prevented the doer from doing it. (166)

Concern to absolve the Creator has been a mistake in Christian theodicy. …for in and with the crucifixion of his Son God accepted and bore responsibility for the world that he had created. (166)

Responsibility for the coming of evil into creation unavoidably falls on the God who foresees and permits it, even though creaturely action is the immediate cause. (169)

…he [God] bears coresponsibility for their [wickedness and evil] coming and stands by this through the death of his Son. (169)

This points to its [the human will’s] ontological deficiency. That which can turn from the good will at some time really do so. (170)

So, it’s God’s fault; but he sent his Son to fix the mess, so it’s alright. Okay, maybe that’s an uncharitable reading. However, there are some serious problems to be dealt with here. Obviously there’s the abandonment of Original Sin as classically conceived, but where’s human guilt? How on earth are you going to build an adequate atonement theory on this? Perhaps Pannenberg redeems himself a little beginning on page 171:

We are to seek the root of evil, rather, in revolt against the limit of finitude, in the refusal to accept one’s own finitude, and in the related illusion of being like God.

Not limitation but the independence for which creatures were made forms the basis of the possibility of evil. (171)

The source of suffering and evil lies in the transition from God-given independence to self-independence. (172)

That sounds a little better, but if you read the rest of this section (172-173) it seems that Pannenberg defines evil and suffering as noetically-constituted by the human. Our independence means we are bound to the deteriorating laws of nature (entropy), but is this only “suffering” because we are bound by creaturely vision?: “The more continued existence is internalized in the series of creaturely norms, the more painful corruptibility and the experience of perishing becomes….” (172). Even so, it’s still God’s fault, right? Is the answer, “It’ll all be fixed in the end,” compelling? I don’t want to jump to too many conclusions yet. I’ll have to see how this gets worked out in his soteriology sections. I do want to be sympathetic with Pannenberg. After all, how convincing is the classical theodicy of blaming human sin, especially in the face of (relatively) innocent children suffering? And if God is willing to suffer with us, then is that not enough of an answer? Is Pannenberg’s theodicy the way a theodicy must be done?

Nietzsche while you jog!

October 11, 2007

Friedrich Nietzsche 

I came across some downloadable audio files (mp3 and other formats) of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil — the entire book. The sound quality is clear and the reader does a good job of not forcing his (the reader’s) personality on the recordings. This is a great alternative to those who are too busy/tired/lazy to read it. Here’s the link:

Luther stained glass

“If it were a matter of harmonizing [faith and reason], then we wouldn’t keep a single article of faith. My dear fellow! If God is almighty, how can one make sense out of the fact that he doesn’t punish evil, but rather lets it happen? Either he mustn’t be able to punish and resist every evil, or he mustn’t want to do it. If he doesn’t want to punish it, then surely he’s a rogue; but if he cannot punish it, then he’s not almighty as God ought to be. And now make sense out of this: the highest Wisdom behaves as if it were ignorance, and the highest Might as if it were impotent. You won’t find even a Turk who could make sense out of that! And this is why wise people…come to the logical conclusion that there is no God at all.”

Martin Luther, Sermon 8 after Trinity; Torgau, 1531; quoted in Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, volume 1, p. 47

Bethany Dillon 

 In the goal of furthering Christian culture and to show that dogmatics students don’t just listen to Dylan, Cash, and obscure indie artists, I’m going to be spotlighting some of my favorite contemporary Christian artists, some more well-known than others. Up first: Bethany Dillon, on the lesser well-known side but her albums are easy to find in Christian bookshops. Her myspace has a good, brief description of her:

“…an 18-year-old Bethany is releasing her third acoustically-rooted, rock-influenced, pop project, Waking Up. This release finds her venturing into ever-deeper waters musically and thematically, leaning forward into life, and beginning to wrestle with her own shadows even as she celebrates the light that illumines them. The x-factor that informs Bethany’s constantly maturing artistry is the fact that her songs aren’t created in a vacuum. They’re coming from a place of personal weakness and hope that she willingly lives in, in increasing measure. For Bethany, there’s no such thing as an easy song. All of them are hard earned, and fraught with wonder and meaning.”

Here’s her myspace webpage where you can listen to two of her singles: