Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Leaching nitrates into theological wells?

OK so the focus is on how a certain philosopher/theologian poisoned German theology, Protestant and Catholic - guess who before reading on!? - but I think this article illuminates a lot of debate hereabouts, Down Under at large, and on ADU in particular.

In this season of electioneering, in which quite rightly we are thinking about the effects of leaching nitrates into water bores, streams and rivers, we need to remain ever vigilant about the quality of our Christian thinking, susceptible as it is to the increasing depths to which the nitrates of heresy and heterodoxy can leach. I include myself in that concern. I know some of you ARE concerned!

Here are the money paragraphs:

"Citing a Lutheran hymn, “God Himself is Dead”, Hegel argues that God unites death to his nature. And so when we encounter suffering and death, we taste the particularities of the eternal divine “history”. As he puts it, suffering “is a moment in the nature of God himself; it has taken place in God himself.” For Hegel, suffering is an aspect of God’s eternal nature. Our sin and suffering is necessary for God to be God.

This heretical view has had widespread influence in modern Catholic and Protestant accounts of God’s nature. It’s often given a pastoral veneer of the God who weeps with us. Yet, tragically unaware of his error, the Hegelian homilist preaches a God who cannot save: a God who is so eternally bound to our tears he cannot truly wipe them away.
Many 20th-century German theologians followed in Hegel’s footsteps. A basic principle was Hegel’s dialectic process itself as revelatory, which is to say they smuggled into their ideas on “doctrinal development” the notion that God was continuing to reveal himself in history, as though there was always something “becoming” in God, and thus, in the Church. Hegel’s spiritual forerunner Joachim de Fiore had predicted a “third age of the Holy Spirit” which would sing a new Church into being, and it’s striking how many German theologians have been entranced by the idea of a future Church very different to the holy and apostolic one of the past.
This is not to say Hegel is the answer to Bismarck’s hypothetical question. There is a great difference between the Left Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach’s idea of religion as projection of inner spirit and the theologies of Karl Rahner or Walter Kasper. But there is nevertheless something deeply Hegelian about making the unfolding of human experience in history a standard for theological development — to which God or the Church, always in mercy, must conform. Unfortunately, this is a terrible standard for change which leads not only to false reform, but to apostasy and desolation."


Bryden Black said...

Wonderful Peter! Two things:

1. A copy of an unpublished letter to The Press (they are suitably biased, hey?!) follows.

"Surely one of the values espoused by Labour would be equity. Then why are they proposing to tax the commercial use of water as a solution to addressing pollution? For what are the real sources of pollution in NZ? Farming? Or cities and city dwellers?

The main sources are firstly road run-off and sewage spills into all our streams and rivers, inlets and bays, as well as then farming. For example, the estimate to ‘fix’ Christchurch alone is (was!) approximately $3 billion—and that’s before the earthquakes. Imagine Auckland’s bill!

Labour’s poorly thought-through idea is prompted by populist, smiling enthusiasm alone. And any attempt at real policy implementation thereafter will have a threefold effect. It will further divide town and country; it will unfairly burden the farming sector, a mainstay of our economy; and it will leave the greatest sources of pollution unaddressed. That sounds like a wise, equitable outcome.

NZ voters need to probe more deeply their politicians’ true values and their effects."

That addresses the analogy head on.

2. Some years ago Maxim Institute published a text for their Interns entitled Silent Legacy. It captures and addresses in a series of chapters from Plato onwards the likes of Hegel's legacy too. That is why I frequently say: “the last creature to ask questions of the water is the fish”, followed by “the first time the fish knows itself to be the creature it is is when it is caught and on dry land.” We Christians need to shout from the roof tops what is hidden and silent. Otherwise we simply get polluted ...

Thanks hugely for this!

Bryden Black said...

For those who wish to see how we might redeem some wee elements of Hegel (seemingly!):


There's a full essay by DBH, “The Angel at the Ford of Jabbok: On the Theology of Robert
Jenson.” In In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments, 156–69. Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2009.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Bryden, your perpetual reference to the fish asking questions of its environment is getting a lttle stale. Could you find a fresh paradigm for what you are trying to delight our intellectual curiosity with? Only asking.

Bryden Black said...

Certainly Ron; if you were to demonstrate your having evaluated the water which passes so easily through your social gills. As in real exegetical engagement with those texts passing between Peter and me, for example.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron and Bryden
Let's engage in issues based comments ... the above is veering slightly off that main road's centre line towards a ditch called "Ad Hominem." You are not there yet ...

It may be worth remembering that Christianity is not made complete by exegesis and nor is it diminished by it!

Bryden Black said...

Surely Peter; what goes a long way towards completion is theological exegesis: that is, a consciously self-reflective 'reading' where we are well aware of both horizons, our own, the matrix of ourselves, and that of the document(s) before us, as much as we are able. Your very opening topic of this thread regarding Hegel is an explicit point in question.

Viewing the Silent Legacy of our own horizon(s) is hard work, requiring precisely the Church down the Ages, in communion with the Word, written and embodied.

In which case, my humble fish analogy is a very powerful hermeneutical model. And one of the nice points about it is this: none of us particularly like being caught (out)!

Of course, TS Eliot put it more eloquently: "we had the experience but missed the meaning" (The Dry Salvages). And four poems later he lands home - and what a home!

Anonymous said...

The Reverend Canon Professor Dr.D. Robert W Jenson fell asleep in the Lord a week ago on 5th September. In *Conversations with Poppi*-- a book of conversations about theology recorded with his very young grand-daughter-- he finally admitted to her what I had been fortunate to discern decades before as an undergraduate: "I'm sort of half Anglican and half Lutheran. You are an Episcopalian." In his Systematic Theology, he had already hinted at this--

"The system here presented is a Western system, and cannot escape identification as such. Nevertheless, some of its key positions are reinventions of Orthodox wheels. Orthodox readers may therefore wonder why these positions are enveloped in long arguments: Why not just start with the truth of the Holy Tradition, since it is available? But the Western church has gone through history the Eastern church has so far missed, and this is reflected in problems that a Western theologian must work through. Nor are such necessities always bad; much has been perceived in the West's conceptually tortured theological history that Orthodoxy also now needs to reckon with.

"The Western church in turn divided at the time of the Reformation, and Protestantism has since been notoriously fissiparous. The ecumenical dialogues have, however, revealed only one functioning line of continuing division between parties of the Western church. It runs between Catholic and Protestant, that is, between the Roman Catholic Church, together with any Protestants who may on a given question side with her, and what is on that question the remainder of the Protestants.

"Insofar as I oversee the questions that now occasion such division, I more often espouse the Catholic side. At the same time, I regard the initial program of the Reformation as mandated, and Protestantism has, in any case, produced a remarkable line of theologians, on some of whom I will depend throughout the work. And here it must further be noted that where typically Lutheran and Reformed positions diverge I am more likely to draw from the Lutheran side."

That is, despite having studied with Karl Barth, who saw his own theology as Reformed, Jenson was given to what he called "doing un-Barthian things with Barth." It is unlikely, for example, that Barth would have advocated episcopacy-- we cannot know because the ecclesiological parts of the Church Dogmatics were never written-- but Jenson's *Canon and Creed* finds the historic episcopate to be necessary to the Reformed and Barthian notion of the Church as the community gathered around the Word. The Lutheran Jenson was often more Anglican than Anglicans themselves usually are.

In achieving such thoughtful integration of the harvest of ecumenism, it did not hurt that "Jens" was also among the most philosophically nimble theologians of the last century, at home with both the analytic philosophy that prevailed at Oxford when he was a tutor there and also the continental philosophy of his Heidelberg teachers, Heidegger and Gadamer. The most Barthian of the many un-Barthian things that Jenson did was to use that nimbleness first to critique and then to complete Barth's appropriation of Cappadocian trinitarian theology as a biblical alternative to Hellenistic categories in metaphysics. If Jenson is still read a few centuries from now, it is likely to be for his daring work in the doctrine of the triune God.

Memory eternal!


Bowman Walton

Jean said...

Interesting article, a bit beyond my historical and theological knowledge, but interesting! A surprising conclusion, not in terms of God in Jesus suffering vicariously with man but death being a part of his eternal nature. Since God did not create death how could it ever be a part of him? And all the scriptural references to God being life. Hard to see where this fellow went off track.

I can relate to the repercussions of such thinking though e.g. Have encountered the ideas regarding God changing or the scripture or its instrinsical meaning changing or needing to be added to as society progresses and developed a number of times from different people. Just recently a person told me we needed a third testament! I wasn't quick enough then but perhaps I should have suggested they contact the author : ) .

I can't quite make that correlation with the election water issues Bryden. Definitely not all pollution is caused by farmers and many farmers I know are as concerned as anyone about the rivers. Yet, some of these have also been involved with court cases against what one could label opportunist farm managers who come into a local area and care little about how the rivers/environment is treated. They are also concerned with too much irrigation, an overuse of nitrogen fertilisers, of previously unproductive land and the intensification of farming, alongside people ignoring measures such as riparian strips which can aid the degree of efffulent going into rivers. At the same time I can understand farmers being concerned about a water tax for commercial purposes, I guess it all depends on what is actually proposed. E.g. Are we talking a tax here for multi-nationals who take water for manufacturing or processing, or farms who use municipal water, or are we talking about a generic tax for any business including owner-operated farms who source water directly from the ground/rivers on or adjacent to their properties. As for cities/towns I guess the fixing of those problems comes down to better waste management and rates payments, or like Auckland charging for water which I am not keen on for social reasons.

Bryden Black said...

Ah Bowman! What a glory you post with this comment on Jens. It deserves of course its own complete thread. Peter was kind enough to draw my attention to his death last week. He necessarily plays a considerable role in my own LDL publication.

If I may, I will recall the first time I came across his writings first hand, and then the consequences. Colin Gunton had already referenced him in his own doctoral studies, published as Becoming and Being(1978). I was intrigued. So when I went into town on the Monday morning, which was my day off, and spied in mambo press bookshop of all places in Harare, a copy of The Triune Identity, I was ecstatic! I devoured it in a few days, and then re-read it with annotations. It is no exaggeration to say that my reading it was what propelled me back to Wycliffe Hall in Oxford for postgrad study. By then of course the two volume Christian Dogmatics, edited by Jenson and Braaten had been published, with Jenson doing the triune God section naturally as well as the one on the Holy Spirit. I sat down with both TI and the Locus on the Triune God open together. The way Jens cut and pasted the latter, moving material around, was fascinating. There was additional material at the end too.

His two-volume Systematics (1997/99) will be read certainly in 100 years, in my view, with great profit. You cite some of the Preface advisedly.

Then I was fortunate enough to meet him in person when he gave the Burns Lectures at Otago Uni in 2009. With additions, they became Canon and Creed, which you mention. The personal conversation did not disappoint; and I am most envious of dear Poppi!

A final comment. In a curious kind of way, Jenson remints both Barth and Hegel. Replace Hegel's "world" with "Jesus" and behold: you get an insight into the Trinity and the triune God's engagement with human history and with the historic person of Jesus. Just so, 'God' is identified byand identifies himself with certain concrete events associated with this Person, Jesus - supremely his death and Resurrection, and thereafter the Sending of the Holy Spirit.

Rest In Peace dear brother in Christ; rise in Glory; and pray for us militants here on earth wrestling still with Jabbok-type Angels. Every blessing on Blanche and their family. Amine!

Anonymous said...

Jean, I cannot guess what Peter sees in the linked article. I do not think that he means to say that the proponents of SSB are keen readers of Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind. But since nearly all things are better in the blessed isles, maybe it is true?

If a truly hegelian preacher said that God had taken death into himself, he would mean that, in Christ, death and life had met and had become something new that had transcended both. From time to time, you may hear pauline preachers saying the same thing.

Bryden, this reminiscence of Jens in his Gettysburg years could have been written by many--



Jean said...

Hi Bowman

Perhaps it is the change aspect, the 'becoming something new' ... indicating perhaps God/God incarnate is open to change over time and history. Hence the looking at current issues with eyes that view biblical scriptures and even God himself being subject to change over time would make one more predisposed to being accommodating to new eventualities. See I would not say death and life had met and become something new; because in the meeting, as I see it, death is to be ultimately destroyed. Death is not therefore transcended or changed but overcome and Jesus and we are transformed. So theologically although I am accommodating towards new insights on contextual interpretations of scripture, and its understanding in the genre written, I am less flexible when it comes to simply writing off bits of scripture simply by deciding because of time passed it is no longer relevant to today.

How that might have crept into current thinking and whether Hegel's thinking was responsible I do not know for sure, I am such a novice in the theological world I had never heard of Hegel : ). I rely on you experts, if I my intellect can keep up.

I hope all is well with you.

Bryden Black said...

Thank you Bowman for Alvin Kimel's Memories. I've read some of his stuff; but what a pilgrimage he's had ...

I'm sorry he found TFT difficult. Rashly perhaps, this how I've employed his Space, Time & Incarnation, where I'm discussing each of the Persons, concluding with Jesus as Recipient, after the Father as Giver, and the Holy Spirit as Gift.

'T. F. Torrance writes, “the relation between the actuality of the incarnate Son in space and time and the God from whom He came cannot be spatialized.” (STI, 3) Again, “if traditional Greek concepts are to be used, it must be said that God is not contained by anything but rather He contains the entire universe, not in the manner of a bodily container, but by His power.” (STI, 11)
“Space,” then, is seen not according to some volumetric view as a receptacle, but in terms of that dynamic sphere in which bodily agents interact and engage with one another. (See M Rae, Spatiality of God) Similarly, the Son of God as Recipient actively engages with his Father through the “medium/sphere/space” (χώρα/chōra) (Basil of Caesarea, De SS) of the Holy Spirit—but in such a way that there is full and free perichoresis among the three identities. There is thus established by the Incarnation–and–Atonement a trinitarian “coordinate system” which is “open-ended,” the Trinity being itself a “field of relationships” which may be depicted according to the model of GGR, “the God in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and where heaven and earth meet together, fulfilling the rich OT notion of Temple (as we saw in chapter 4 above, re John 1:1–18, and thereafter onto Rev 21–22).' LDL, 170-71.

A final step, which I derive from Augustine, and which Jenson uses in his ST to great effect, is to view the Recipient Son Incarnate as totus Christus, Jesus as Head of His entire Body, the Church, the Whole Christ. A beautiful climactic telos!

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

"Just recently a person told me we needed a third testament! I wasn't quick enough then but perhaps I should have suggested that they contact the author : ) "

Brilliant, Jean! :-D So far as I can see, much more theological energy is going into deeper engagement with what a few call the First Testament.

"Hard to see where this fellow went off track."

That's not your fault. Hegel is not simple. The Augustinian Thomist describing him is an unsympathetic polemicist with a conflicting agenda.

"A surprising conclusion, not in terms of God in Jesus suffering vicariously with man but death being a part of his eternal nature. Since God did not create death how could it ever be a part of him? And all the scriptural references to God being life... See I would not say death and life had met and become something new; because in the meeting, as I see it, death is to be ultimately destroyed. Death is not therefore transcended or changed but overcome and Jesus and we are transformed."

The linked article could have been clearer about who exactly said what precisely. And apart from that, Hegel, like all thinkers with grand systems, can be interpreted in more than one way. We cannot get to the bottom of what does not have a bottom.

FWIW, G.W.F. Hegel himself would probably not object to your view. His metaphysical heuristic was simply to note that in any synthesis of two opposites that makes a new third, something of both elements survives, although not necessarily whole and unchanged.

So redeemed humanity is not returning to Eden but journeying on to the New Jerusalem. The Tree of Life will be there, but the scene will not be just as we would have been had Adam bit from it in the first place. Human beings were not meant to be mortal, but given that we are, God works a wondrous change in what we have become.

On Christ particularly, Hegel is nearer to the Lutheran understanding of Act V of the Council of Chalcedon than to the Reformed one more familiar to us. Consequently, it sounds odder to us than to some to hear human experiences attributed to God through Christ's participation in them. Better than Hegel for that is the Isenheim Altarpiece, Bach's St Matthew's Passion, and some Lutheran hymns for Good Friday.

I see merit in Paul Gavrilyuk's conclusion after studying the way church fathers spoke of God's impassibility--

“God, as God, does not replicate what we, as humans, suffer. Yet in the incarnation God, remaining God, participates in our condition to the point of the painful death on the cross. Remaining impassible, God chooses to make the experiences of his human nature fully his own” (In James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, eds. Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. p. 148.)

Even professional Hegel scholars do not subscribe to his philosophy as to a confession of faith, but they are not shy about asking his critics whether they have better solutions to the philosophical problems he identified and addressed. If not his account of change, then which makes more sense? A metaphysic that cannot account for change at all simply rejects the biblical revelation.

Anonymous said...


"I am less flexible when it comes to simply writing off bits of scripture simply by deciding because of time passed it is no longer relevant to today."

Good! I think... Those who just brush away texts are trying to assimilate Christianity to a prior belief in Progress. I do not share it. Those who do not are in two camps.

One approaches the scriptures from cover to cover as law, law, and more law. They reject Progress for the sake of an unchanging law, much as traditional Islam does. Alas, it can be very difficult to tell whether resistance to change is driven by principle or just temperament.

The other approaches the scriptures as the active Word of God in history. Those in this camp have no doubt that perduring law of a sort is in there, but "rightly dividing the word of truth" depends on letting the text open one's eyes to God's story and promise. They are the main thing; the law is important, but derivative and indeed incomprehensible without them.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

Bowman, you said:

"The other approaches the scriptures as the active Word of God in history. Those in this camp have no doubt that perduring law of a sort is in there, but "rightly dividing the word of truth" depends on letting the text open one's eyes to God's story and promise. They are the main thing; the law is important, but derivative and indeed incomprehensible without them." - B.W. -

Magnificent, Bowman! The only change I would make to your statement here might be to substitute the word(s) either 'divining' or 'defining' where you have written 'dividing'. 'Definition', of course, is the work of the Holy Spirit, with Whom we should be in consonance in our 'divination'.

My problem with other, more conservative, theologians is their tendency to foreclose on any definition - except that of their own human intelligence.

Bryden Black said...

"The other approaches ..." I have to confess Bowman this entire paragraph has the ring of Jenson about it. Story/promise/perdure; the quote from 2 Tim 2:15; the role of law within the economy still. Tell me if it is not so?!

Anonymous said...

Bryden, my 8:16 does indeed have, intentionally, the Jensonian echoes that you heard. And Jens would agree with the paragraph. But foremost in mind, I had the writings of Colin Gunton and John Webster, especially the latter's Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch. The three were often allies. The idea itself is in St Irenaeus's refutation of the gnostic heretics.

But, Father Ron, am I not the most conservative of them all? Even the occasional Roman here does not accept the seven ecumenical councils without reservation. But the wedding of heaven and earth has something old and something new, something borrowed and something blue.

You touch on a deep matter. For readers who did not catch the allusion, "rightly dividing the word of truth" is from the AV translation of 2 Timothy 2:15.


Behind the words lurks the interesting and earthy metaphor of a workman who must measure and cut to do his job-- eg leather for tents, wood for houses, butter for croissants, etc-- and who will be embarrassed if his inaccuracy in that leads to a windy tent, a door that does not fit, a croissant that lacks the proper degree of flakiness. So the author is not far from saying, with respect to the pastoral use of the Word, "Measure twice, cut once." The deep matter on which you touch is the question just how we are to make sense of this human business of making sense of the canon.

On that, I may as well repeat here what was missed on another thread. A few decades ago, I asked a Jewish university chaplain, "What does a rabbi do?"

"We try to minimise sin. By the Torah, everybody is sinning. But studying that same Torah enables us to sanctify the Name by finding the ways of life that are the least sinful. Because God loves us, the ways least sinful to him are also the best ways for us."

"If there is only one law, how can there be different ways?"

"It did not please the Creator to make clones. We are all different; we start in different circumstances; we sin through different weaknesses. The path from my sin to the Law is not the same as the path that you should take."

"And why do the paths have to be found? It seems to defeat the purpose of a law if it is harder to know it than it is to do it." I nodded to his two shelves of leather-bound volumes of the Talmud.

"God is with man, but he makes man search for him anyway. The basics of the Law are simple. But beyond that, God wants to speak to us and to hear us-- speaking to him and to each other-- and he does it in law because what we do in our concrete lives is where our hearts are. This evening [at the daily student gathering for study of the Talmud] it will happen. Twenty-somethings will sit with the Chazal [sages from the Second Temple to the completion of the Talmud] and discuss the agricultural law of ancient Israel. None of us are farmers! This is not Israel! But we are all bound to the earth and so we will hear God. I think that is very effective."

"But," I protested, "'Moses says (Deuteronomy 30:12,14) that the Law is not in the heavens [that we should send someone to heaven to get it so that we can follow it] but very near us [so that we may know the Law and do it]."

"For a Christian, you are not such a bad rabbi! Yes, 'near' means that the Law is in principle feasible and desirable for a human being, not that we can just read it off the surface of our minds. 'Not in heaven'-- *lo ba-shamayim hi* is central to rabbinical Judaism-- means that God has fully revealed his law to man so that there will be no other, and that we have the duty but also the authority to interpret it with reason."

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

Postscript-- The rabbi and I had longer conversations after that brief exchange, for at the time, I was working on a project that required a talmudist. In them, we anticipated even then what has become textbook stuff today: in exegesis of the law, the main difference between the rabbis and the fathers is that the latter follow Jesus himself in situating the law in the apocalyptic narrative opened by the prophets and fulfilled in his enthronement in heaven and expected return.

The rabbis could theoretically have tolerated the idea of the enthronement itself-- Daniel 7 supported early rabbinic interest in the angel Metatron and such messianic figures as Bar Kochva-- but Jesus's rule from heaven entailed the Holy Spirit, and a *third power in heaven* (cf Alan Segal) was too much for the rabbis.

So both Christians and Jews read the law, but differently. The overlap of their way of reading it with our way is real-- it goes back to Jesus himself. Different conclusions can in principle be explained theologically.


Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, Bowman, for your scholarly *(and loving) explanation of your thesis on which I made my comment. In furtherance of your tolerance of my maunderings on reading the Scriptures, through the eyes of both Law and Grace; may I offer the following conundrum authored by priest/poet George Herbert:


Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.