“Out of My Hands” by The Turning

All my restless heart could do is cry
I stepped on out into the night
The tides turned again and nothing felt right
I searched for truth I sought your light
and all my restless heart could do is cry

Everything I held is out of my hands
Everything you bless is not what I’d planned
Not what I’d seen, not what I’d dreamed

My heart’s hope will rise and fall with the wind
A gentle breeze will blow me over again
I’m walking unstable

And all the things I held
Were dragging my heart so far down
And the things I’d dreamed were nothing,
Nothing as they’d seemed
And then I question you
And doubt you as the God I know
But all over again, you saved me from myself

from Learning to Lose

Young Barth with pipe  HUvBalthasar

            We cannot pursue dogmatics without this standard [Holy Scripture] being kept in sight. We must always be putting the question, ‘What is the evidence?’ Not the evidence of my thoughts, or my heart, but the evidence of the apostles and prophets, as the evidence of God’s self-evidence.

            -Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline

            Jesus Christ is not a “principle” or a “program” but a man of flesh and blood….Jesus does not merely announce a true doctrine as prophets or wisdom teachers did. In his very existence he is Truth revealed by God. His birth is already truth: the Word of God becomes “flesh” and dwells among mankind….These are not mere materially expressed symbols of God’s attitude toward the world; they are his very attitude, which is no mere feeling but purpose, action and commitment.

            -Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Office of Peter

            The purpose of this short sketch is to relate Barth and von Balthasar to Professor John Webster’s introduction to The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, which briefly covers the history of the discipline and the varieties in task, form, and organization involved.  The two above quotes speak especially to the task and form of a dogmatics, as it is oriented to the person of Jesus Christ and his mission as the embodiment of his person.  In a way, the quotes could be interchanged, said by each other, with, of course, von Balthasar closer relating the normative witness of the scriptural authors to an authority abiding in the Church. Still, the dogmatic task as a positive science grounded in that which is anterior takes its form, here, in the covenantal work of a God who speaks his Mercy (and Justice) in Jesus Christ. Webster’s introduction articulates two orientations, not to be too strictly demarcated, found in systematic theologies: the “dogmatic-analytic,” which concerns the inner-logical expounding of Christian doctrine, and the “apologetic-hermeneutical,” which concerns its relation to other disciplines and societal thought forms in general (p. 7). Barth seems clearly to fall under the former category in his concerns (and confidence in the self-evidencing and sufficiency of Jesus Christ), as I would say does von Balthasar as regards priority but expressed with his own confidence in Christ’s (or the Triune God’s) redemptive effects in the world, especially in the lives of the Saints. Neither is want to constrict the doctrines of the faith to currents of contemporary thought, as done with idealism, existentialism, and, more recently, post-structuralism. The problematic here being that the normative or regulatory, to put it mildly, function inherent in God’s revelation is lost or highly relativized, and following upon this is the more fundamental concern that Jesus Christ in his reality, as the Word of God yet “a man of flesh and blood,” is morphed into an idea, a symbol of notional effect.
            This move towards the priority of thought-schemes relates to Webster’s other two categories based upon the way theologians consider doctrinal concepts to relate to Christian reality claims. The first are those who take the reality claims to be “‘symbolic,’ non-final though not, of course, unnecessary expressions of something anterior.” While the second group judges the reality claims to be “irreducible; they are not expressive, and cannot be translated without serious loss, since their content lies on their surface rather than residing behind or beneath them” (p. 10). Barth and von Balthasar would largely be aligned with the latter group, with those who consider decisive world-historical actions of God to involve the very content from which dogmatic statements derive. The former group, those who rework Christian reality claims into notions of, e.g., Ground-of-Being or Omega Point, considered to be more expressive of God’s relation to man and his purpose, consider the task of dogmatics to be more about deriving truth from the revelation of Christ instead of therein; thus, a prior intellectual account of man’s state vis-à-vis God, or reality in general, works as a controlling hermeneutic to which scriptural and creedal claims are subject. To a degree, this may very well be unavoidable, but the so-called “realist” alternative is averse to creating a “principle” (von B.) out of the Christ-event which neatly maps onto man’s consideration of himself. By saying that the birth, life, death, descent, and resurrection of Christ are the attitudes of God to the world, not “materially expressed symbols,” von Balthasar is locating God’s judgment (God’s consideration of man) in these very events as they reveal our abiding in sin and error at the cost of the Son’s sacrifice wherein humanity is redeemed – a redemption effected by the Spirit in the Church. Herein is the creedal confession of true God and true man; not a God apart from this man and thus not men apart from this God. The alternative is to “sin against the homoousian” (T. Torrance) and structure an intelligibility within reality invariably apart from the Incarnation which, through the Death-Resurrection, is the very securing of material reality and the event-principle for avoiding the errors of gnosticism or hyper-apophatic materialism.
            Difficulties remain, however, for the realist position. The “evidence of God’s self-evidencing” (Barth) is given by the attestations of men who are fallible and thus not the absolute to which all is subject. How to get “behind” this witness to the absolute (Jesus Christ) is the problem, which the “historical Jesus” quest has revealed as bearing innumerable difficulties, therefore, seeming to legitimize the contention that all we have is that which is the symbolic expressions of men which in their fallibility can rightly be considered as non-final – epiphenomenal of who knows what and thus of our own determining (e.g., reconstruction of the NT according to existential address and anti-“mythological” presuppositions). How a dogmatician can best go about arguing otherwise is beyond the scope of this short sketch (and my competence); but, in addition to a metaphysics of God’s free action in his creation, a popular, and legitimate, method is an exegesis that reveals the unlikelihood of the NT texts, given their second temple Greco-Roman context and appropriation/dialogue with the OT, arising from any other account than the realist one of classical orthodoxy; however, this method is limited in that Christ cannot ultimately be accounted for as if given by historical processes, thus requiring, for the believer, the witness of the Spirit and the gift of faith. 

Kevin D.

March for Life

January 21, 2008

The annual March for Life, West Coast, was just held in San Francisco. Gerald at The Cafeteria is Closed blog has some pictures here and here of the pro-life marchers, and here are some pictures of the pro-choice protesters (there’s always a few). And, for your moral edification, here are some samples:



And the deluded:


The relevance of dogmatics

January 18, 2008

 St. Thomas

I greatly appreciated this article about churches producing atheists. Here’s an excerpt:

 Horvath, who has taught religion to middle school and high school students, explained that some of the recurring questions young adults struggle with but churches often fail to address include the formation and development of the Bible, the presence of evil and suffering in the world, and the question of inspiration and inerrancy.

“In large part, it happens when the church leadership is completely unaware that their members – and not necessarily just the young members – have questions at all,” explained Horvath to The Christian Post. “And [they] continue merrily along thinking that to retain the youth they just need to be entertained.”

I think he’s saying that Halo 2 game nights and Praise & Worship meetings aren’t enough; kids (some) will actually break free from the Christo-materialist shell you’ve created for them and start contemplating first things. It got tiring as an undergraduate to meet so many Evangelicals and Catholics (mainline Prots were indifferent) who not simply drifted away from their faith but consciously rejected it and for precisely the same reasons that Horvath points out (the problem of evil, Bible difficulties). This is not to undermine the consumerist-materialist-selfish factor, but people really do have intellectual problems not just moral, as much as I believe the latter to be decisive. Common sense words of advice: Teach the faith, addressing these issues, yet not constricting our theology to apologetics but presenting it in all its radiance as the Word of the Eternal, Merciful, Loving, Triune God. There are actually theologians a lot smarter than these know-it-all curious, inquiring young minds who have dealt with these issues and even taken the time to write it out in order to impress their academic peers serve and build the church.


Blog Recommendation

January 18, 2008

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam is the blog of MJ, a fellow young person mastering the liberal arts but who clearly spends more time with her blog — and time well spent and worth checking out. She’s a Roman Catholic of traditionalist convictions and aesthetics, both aptly demonstrated on her blog, but I especially appreciate the lovely photos of fine church architecture throughout her posts. Below are some examples. Dominus vobiscum.

church pic 1

church pic 2

church pic 3

Can we fear God?

January 10, 2008

Here are some somewhat disconnected and probably not very helpful thoughts:

Given the reconciling work of Christ in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” is God’s wrath eternally placated? We can add the conditionals of repent and believe, but the direction of, especially Protestant (and especially Modern Reformed), theology for the last hundred years is that God’s only word to the sinner is “forgiven” and “come into your inheritance.” Contrast this with the development in the Church into the Middle Ages which felt compelled to locate the atoning-substitutionary work of Christ in the eternal cost of sin but still allowing grievances against God to require temporal penalties. In other words, God can still be pissed; even though this wrath may always have the happiness and reconciliation of man as its end. The general mentality of mainline Protestantism, however, finds it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to think of a wrathful God, at least vis-a-vis the repentant (though a logical extension would easily put you in the universalist camp), except perhaps a dialectic of wrath and mercy revealed in Christ’s mission (but wherein God’s Yes overtakes the No in Christ’s redemption of fallen humanity). However, with the eternal-temporal distinction in Catholic thought, the free grace of God’s sacrifice for repentant humanity is still preserved, as is the possibility of God’s wrath and punishment toward these who are reconciled. Given that the end-game, so to speak, for God’s reconciling work is the purification of fallen man, these temporal penalties are naturally assimilated into this work of redemption and given both a negative (e.g., you deserve punishment) and positive (e.g., suffering unites us to God) aspect. This goes a ways to revealing how Catholics have been able to better deal with the problem of evil/suffering in a world already purchased by the blood of Christ, and, to be a little unfair perhaps, why Protestants have easily fallen into prosperity mindsets (and this is hardly a problem only among the evangelicals).