A clean dialectics?

Dialectics is the “D” word of theology.  It summons the spectre of Barth.   Reformed theology, though, while not historically Barthian (whatever that means) has always affirmed analogical reasoning (see Bavinck).


Analogical reasoning says a thing is and is not like another thing.   This is a form of dialectics.


God is revealed in the human flesh of Jesus but in a sense he is also veiled in the flesh of Jesus.



Notes on Pannenberg, part two

The world as history of God and unity of the divine essence:

Existence and essence:

~Attributes: in the context of how to relate the unity to the plurality.  Notes that things are different only when external.

~Palamas:  much to commend his project; quite beautiful, really, when we see the energies as the power-glory and the kingdom of God.  Something like that should be retained, whatever critiques may follow.  However,

“how is it possible to ditinguish from God’s essence the light that radiates from it and yet at the same time to view them as inseparably linked, so t hat the qualities which are said to be God’s on the basis of energies radiating from him are really God himself?  The opponents of Palamas rightly argued that we either have (relating to God) qualities that are not independent but belong to the divine essence or we have a distinct sphere which involves positing a further divine hypostasis alongside Father, Son, and Spirit” (361-362).


“How can one speak of uncreated works of God?  Is this idea not self-contradictory?  Not to be created is to be essentially one, as in the case of the Trinitarian persons.  But if there is not to be this unity, and with it a fourth in God alongside the three persons, we must posit a distinction between the effects and the cause” (362 n. 55).

Is there a connection between Dionysius’s construction of the qualities via delimitation and elevation and the critique of Feuerbach that we are projecting our views onto God (363 n. 58; cf. Barth CD II/1, 339).

Notes on Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology (volume 1), part 1

Great comments on the Vincentian Canon.

Decent section on the identity of God.  Gives the standard arguments against liberal Protestantism (See Feuerbach) and shows Barth’s own limitations.  Pannenberg has since been surpassed by his student Robert Jenson on the identity of God (i.e., the Guy that got us out of Egypt and raised Jesus from the dead).

Natural theology:  does a good job in carrying the discussion back to pre-Christ Roman theorists, all of which highlights the various strands of natural theology.  I have no problem with a natural theology of sorts, provided we understand that the term is by no means universally understood as meaning the same thing (of course, which sort of defeats the purpose of modern natural theologies).  Pannenberg points out that older divines, both Protestant and Catholic, saw natural theology as meaning “in accord with the nature of God” and the God-world relation (81).  Now it means in accord with the nature of the world.

Natural knowledge of God:  He is not entirely clear.  WP hovers around Romans 1:20 and suggests something like “infinity” as the natural knowledge of God.  He develops this thought more in Metaphysik und Gottesgedank.

Revelation:  WP tries to steer between the Barthian claim that God reveals himself as revelation and other claims. Eventually settles on the claim that revelation is the announcement and event of the future in the first coming of Jesus.  I have no problem with that–I think there is some truth to it; I just don’t see how that is more plausible than some of the views WP criticizes as “implausible.”

The God of Jesus and the Trinity:  The Spirit is the presence of mediation between the Kyrios and God the Father.  WP notes the very close similarity (yet not identity) of pneuma and Kyrios (drawing heavily on 1 Cor. 15:45 and 2 Cor. 3:17):

The Kyrios is the risen and exalted Jesus whose return the community awaits.  The Spirit is the form and power of his presence and of the relation of believers to him (I: 269)

Interestingly, WP notes that early Christian reflection on the Trinity (though they didn’t call it that) was not dissimilar from late Jewish reflection on God’s transcendence and immanence (277).

Pace the Cappadocians:

Basil distinguished between the fact that the deity is without oriign and the fact that the Father is unbegotten in distinction from the Son, who is begotten, but he did not go so far as Athanasius, who applied the relational conditioning of personal distinction, as mutual conditioning, to the Father as well, so that the Father can be thought of as unbegotten only in relation to the Son.  The idea of the Father as the source and origin of deity  so fused the the person of the Father and the substance of the Godhead that the divine substance is originally proper to the Father alone, being recieved from him by the Son and Spirit.  In distinction from Athanasius this means a relapse into subordinationism, since the idea of mutual defining of the distinctiveness of the persons does not lead to the thought of an equally mutual ontological constitution, of which it can be said that strictly they are constitutive only for the personhood of the Son and the Spirit if the Father is the source and origin of deity (280).

Distinction and Unity of the Persons:  The Son is posited as a self-distinction from the Father (310-311).  Fine, but I don’t see how this is different from Athanasius.  And then, one wonders how stable is Athanasius’s argument.

On another note, WP advances the argument that the self-distinction of the Son is not merely in his being begotten, but in his “handing over the kingdom to the Father.”  This doesn’t solve all of the problems but it is a superior move in that it roots the Trinitarian movement in eschatology.

WP raises a point I’ve always wondered:  can we honestly speak of mutual self-distinction  of the three persons if no distinction is made between subject and object in God (320 n. 184)?

“The monarchy of the Father is not the presupposition but the result of the common operations” (325).

A Convertskii Reading List for Those Leaving

I routinely accuse convertskii of not understanding Reformed theology before they get enamored with high church claims. It is only fair that I offer a survey of texts that one should know before declaring the Reformed faith wrong.  People will say, “But that’s too intellectual.  Christianity is a life.”  Perhaps, but people will always default back to logical decisions, sneers at “Westernism” notwithstanding.  And I have read most of your top guys, so it’s only fair.  And Bradley Nassif agrees with me, so there.

I am not saying you have to read all of these before you go to a different tradition.  What I am saying is if you publicly assert that Protestantism is wrong because of ____________, and the following men have addressed your arguments, and you do not engage their arguments, then you do not have good warrant.

Muller, Richard.  Calvin and the Reformed Tradition.  The high-point of Calvin studies by the world’s leading Reformation scholar.  It will teach readers to stop saying silly things like “Calvinism” or “TULIP is Reformed theology.”

Hodge, Charles.  Systematic Theology volume 3.  If you can give competent responses to Hodge’s defense of justification by free grace, then you know Reformed theology.

Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology volume 2.   Best defense of Reformed anthropology and Christ’s priestly intercession.  If you still believe in talking to dead people after Turretin, then I tip my hat to you.

Horton, Michael.  Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology.  If you still hold to a pure Christus Victor atonement theory, or you still hold to estrangement ontology, then you’ve earned your keep.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology volume 1.  If you believe that the Essence/Energies is logically, biblically, and theologically tenable, you must address Jenson’s critique of it.

McCormack, Bruce.  Orthodox and Modern.  You don’t have to read the whole book–just pages 205, 218-222.  If you can answer McCormack, then you are warranted in believing in a God behind the Persons who are behind the Energies.

Lord and Servant

This is Mike Horton’s second installment in his Covenant series.  He reframes Christology around “covenant” and is stunningly successful.  His genius is in using the covenant to contrast two ontologies:  overcoming estrangement (classical metaphysics) and meeting a Stranger.

Similar to proposals by Robert Jenson, Horton shows how we meet the Stranger by his own revealing himself to us, and doing so “by strong verbs” (23, 55).  The noun (God) is revealed by the verb (his actions).  From this Horton draws the brilliant conclusion about Speech-Act:  speech is an act.  There is no dilemma between word-revelation (Propositional Protestants) and Act-Revelation (the truth at what Barth was aiming, if not fully getting there).

This segues into God’s freedom (and freedom in general).  Horton refuses to see freedom in the abstract.   We do not abstract God’s will from his nature.  Freedom (of any sort) is a natured freedom and if our ousia is a covenanted ousia, then we have a covenantal freedom (this is much more concrete and refreshing than discussions about “Free will,” whatever that means).

The next theological locus is creation.  Contra Anchoretism, the covenant allows us to view creation in its integrity.  It is neither divine nor demonic, rather “Nature has capacities for answering back to the creative speech-act of God” (66).  (While Horton doesn’t draw out the implications, this could explain how the land is said to be defiled by man’s sin).

Horton suggests that the covenant is the nexus between transcendence and immanence.  The God-world bond is covenantal relation (I realize that Aristotle used “relation” as a thinner form of essence; I am not using it in that sense).


Horton does a wonderful job in establishing the “federal-ness” of Adamic humanity.  Horton will contrast his model with the Platonic paradigm (Overcoming Estrangement).  Continuing with the covenantal paradigm, Horton sees the imago dei as:

Sonship/ Royal Dominion:  Adam was invested with kingship as the imaged-son on the Sabbath day.  In Christ this dominion is restored.  Shades of Rushdoony!

Representation:  We are God’s embassy to the world.

Glory:  The glory is ethical-eschatological, rather than essential.

Prophetic Witness:

All of this is recapitulated in Christ.   Interestingly enough, Horton rightly points out that Scripture never speaks of anthropology in the abstract, but always in the covenant.

Christology Proper

Horton gives a brief and lucid description of Reformed Christology against Lutheranism, particularly in the non capax.  He has a very interesting suggestion that the debate between Alexandrians (Divinized humanity) and Antiocheans (Schizo Jesus) is because neither could locate Jesus as he is given for us in the covenant (166).


The basic challenge he gives to anyone who rejects penal substitution:  on said gloss, how is the work of Christ appropriated pro nobis?  How does “defeating Satan” (or any such Christus Victor, political liberation variant) become actual for us?


It’s hard to say which one is better, this book or the one on soteriology.  Both are magnificent.  I think Horton’s use of the covenant model is more tightly argued in this book.

Epistemology and non-being participation

Some of this will be my own reflections on CvT’s A Christian Theory of Knowledge and the rest will be towards a construction of anti-scale of being philosophy.  I am not reviewing the whole book because it’s unnecessary.   Why do a review of any CvT work after Bahnsen’s magnum opus?  Further, the last 150 pages of CTK could have been left off and the book would have been better.

While CvT’s critique of Romanism was good, he didn’t integrate his earlier (and fine) critique of Plotinus, Augustine, and being/non-being into his larger critique of Romanism, which likely could have buried Romanism.  Instead, he got sidetracked on showing how Karl Barth is secretly in line with the nouvelle theologie of post-Vatican II theology.  That simply doesn’t wash.   For all of Barth’s problems, he rejected the analogia entis and the substance metaphysics upon which Rome is built.

CvT gives a fairly good summary and critique of the early church fathers.  There is some difficulty in this, since no one, even anchoretic traditions, are entirely clear on who constitutes (and when!) the ECFs.  Even admitting Tertullian is a heretic, I don’t think you will find many exceptions in the ancient world to the epistemology CvT is summarizing.   The later Palamite epistemology is simply a refinement (and perhaps bungling) of some neo-Platonic themes, so to the degree that CvT accurately summarizes and critiques the being theologies of Augustine, Plotinus, and Eurigena, the criticism applies to Palamas (and Palamas and Augustine are closer than one might suspect).

CvT writes that the early church could not find a Christian view of freedom to coalesce with a Christian view of necessity, with the result the fathers opted for a nonbiblical view of free will.

Non-Christian Continuity and Discontinuity

A non-Christian view of continuity sees an identification of God and man, as seen below:

The higher on the scale, the more real and “true” the thing is.  Van Til notes that Tertullian sees sin as “the opposite of good.”  This sounds correct until we realize that means sin is “lower” on the scale of good.   Sin has “slenderness of being.”

On the principle of continuity it is hard to see how Tertullian (and Justin)’s view of God is different from the Stoics’.  But when he argues against Marcion, he says the Christian God is “Other” than man (107).

Later Platonisms

Moving to the fathers (Origen and Clement) we see the scale of being hardened in place.   CvT quotes Plotinus to the effect, “thought is motion” and this is inferior to ecstasy.   (Rowan Williams has a helpful summary on this point).

Here our chart is modified. God is now seen as hyper-ousia, above ousia.  How does one then get from the highest point on the scale of being to “above being?”   Mysticism, ecstasy.   Van Til can then make the critique that many of these fathers employed both rationalism (scale of being, continuity principle) and irrationalism (ecstasy, mysticism).  In fact, rationalism and irrationalism on this gloss are dialectically correlative.

If man is on the scale of being and participates in good, then consistently we must say he also participates in non-being.

Is Finitude Evil?

This is the key point: on metaphysical accounts (and yes, I used the word “metaphysical”) man is defective because he is finite (he participates lower on the scale of being, even to participating in non-being.   Biblical religion, by contrast, sees man’s problem as ethical:  he is in rebellion to God.   CvT then gives a helpful discussion on “total depravity.”  We are not saying that man’s noetic capacity is ruined.   It is in rebellion.

A Metaphysical Fall from Oneness

Augustine is very clear (City of God section on the Platonists) that One = Truth = Being.   The further away from the One we get, the more irrational we get.   The problem is that historical facts are in the realm of the many (further, since history is contingent).  This is similar to Plato’s problem of learning by experience.  Van Til writes,

When Plato took his line and divided it sharply between eternal being of which there was genuine knowledge or science, and non-being of which there was no knowledge, he was faced with the question of how learning by experience is possible (129).

Back to Augustine:  Eternal Truth and History are dialectical opposites.  If Christ is the Eternal Word (and true) then how could he be historical? If historical, then not eternal, and thus not true, and thus unknown.  This is where one’s onto-epistemology leads.  As Van Til says, “The first option leads to truth without content.”

Van Til has a nice phrase to summarize all of this:  slenderness of being.  (And that is where these traditions find man’s free will).

Other notes:

Rejecting the Augstino-Platonic view of Time:  sheer timeless (moving image of eternity) would swallow up all distinctions.


I almost understand what CvT means when he says pure rationality and pure irrationality demand one another (144).  I wish he would have clarified it.

I understand his criticisms of Barth and some of them are valid.  I don’t think he fully showed how Barth’s actualist ontology is at odds with Rome’s analogia entis.

Barth, the Protestant Scholastics, and a critical appropriation

Last year I was very vocal on the importance of recovering the Protestant Scholastics for today.  Recently, however, many of my posts and much of my reading has seemed slightly pro-Barth.  Does this mean I have rejected the Scholastics and become a Barthian?  Of course not.  One should never reject a foundation (and correspondingly, it is doubtful Barth could provide one).  I remained convinced as ever that the lack of knowledge in Protestant scholasticism represents a gaping wound in Reformed discourse today (not least of all Reformed publishing).

Here is the problem: we live in a post-Kantian, post-Hegelian, post-Heideggerian world.  We have to meet people (epistemologically) where they are.  Barth can do this.  Barth’s strength lies in a philosophical awareness of where modernity was heading.  Barth can guide us in a philosophical critique while while we can simultaneously avoid his theology.   Even N.T. Wright admits that little of Barth’s exegesis has stood the test of time, so we have nothing to fear from that front.

Therefore, for those who can take it, Barth can guide us into a philosophical critique. What I mean by that is Barth does a very good job in clarifying challenges from and to modernity.  This does not mean we should endorse his theology, but neither does it mean we should hysterically over-react.  We live in an age where we can not simply chant platitudes.  This is most evident in my recent conversations on Orthodox Bridge. I try to get behind the discourse of “We have apostolic succession and the church fathers agree with us” and focus on actual logical arguments.  In fact, when I bring up Turretin and Muller, they get very annoyed.  They won’t touch these guys with a ten foot pole.

Engaging the doctrine of God (review)

The underlying theme in this book is how to appropriate the teaching that God is impassible in light of the many Biblical narratives that seem to suggest otherwise, alongside numerous theological reflections.  The contributor fall among the spectrum of those advocating a classical substance-metaphysics (Paul Helm) and those who are quite critical of substance-metaphysics (Bruce McCormack).   Others, such as Oliver Crisp, offer penetrating critiques of several Christian thinkers on the doctrine of the Trinity.  This review will not cover every essay, but will focus on the more notable ones.

Paul Helm (“John Calvin and the Hiddenness of God”) seeks to defend the reading of the extra-Calvinisticum and a contention of classical metaphysics that “God” stands behind, if only logically, the identity of Jesus of Nazareth.   Of interest, though not the central point of the article, is Helm’s fine summary of the “extra calvinisticum.”  Helm is specifically challenging Barth’s reading of Calvin and thus proposes two theses (68):

Is the second person logically prior to the decree to become incarnate?  Helm, pace Calvin, says yes.
Does this necessarily infer a hidden “God behind God”?  Helm answers no.

As an aside, and I don’t think it fundamentally changes his argument, I think Helm is either guilty of ambiguity or the editor overlooked a typo.  On p.68 Helm affirms, as would I, that the Logos is asarkos at the decree.  Yet on the next page he says that Calvin and Barth “held that there was no time when the Logos was asarkos.”   Nevertheless, I get the gist of his argument.
Helm then gives a helpful summary of what the extra-Calvinisticum entails. He develops this as a foil against Barth, yet Barth never fully rejected the “extra.”  He simply says it is very badly phrased, which it is.


I don’t want to seem like I am nit-picking, and I cannot help but note a certain irony:  Barthian scholars like McCormack and Jenson are accused of being soft on divine simplicity, yet I can’t help but think that their readings of Barth best preserve it.   If God is simple, and there is not multiplicity of ideas in the mind of God, since this kind of discursive reasoning implies division (diastasis, to use the Origenist term), then every other idea, and hence an idea to act x, y, and z, must inhere in that one initial idea/act.   The importance of this will be seen later.


Helm’s reading of Calvin rightly wants to preserve the freedom of God against some external force necessitating God.  Hence, Helm argues, “So the Logos Asarkos was free not to become incarnate.  [U] Any additional choice that the Logos was free to make[/U]…is of secondary importance” (emphasis mine 72).  The problem here, as noted above, is that the doctrine of divine simplicity precludes any real talk of the Logos reasoning discursively in pre-temporal eternity.  If by this Helm means by this “logical priority” (which he indeed states on p.68) then he can avoid the difficulty posed by simplicity.  However, terms like “any additional choice” are time-sensitive and seem to suggest otherwise than his argument.  Barth’s model of election as the event of the Trinity’s modes of being, whatever legitimate difficulties it may have, is much closer to preserving simplicity.

Helm rebuts Barth’s charge that this view of God leads to speculation, and quotes Calvin for support (73).  Surely, anyone who has read Calvin knows he is blessedly free from speculation.  For myself, I think Barth is using the wrong term–speculation–and Helm is not seeing the real difficulty.   Per Barth’s reading of Calvin, which I am not necessarily endorsing at the moment, the Logos asarkos already has a fully-formed identity before the decision to save the world.  To be fair, McCormack, whose essay Helm is reviewing, further expanded these ideas in [I]Orthodox and Modern[/I].  This is tied in with Barth’s claim that Jesus is both the Object and Subject of election.    Helm says this is simply “incoherent” (79).  How can an object of an act be present as the subject of that same act?  It is a fair question and probably the best raised against Barth’s program.  Helm notes, “The act of electing is the act of someone; it cannot be the act of no one which, upon its occurrence, constitutes a someone.” By way of response one can ask if the Trinity is incoherent, for how can the Son be present in the eternal generation of the Son?  For Helm would agree that the Son, in the eternal generation, doesn’t come from a state of non-being to a state of being, yet is present in the Father’s very giving of being.

Helm ends his essay with different challenges to Barthians.  Overall, this is a fine essay, even if I have some critical reservations.  I think Helm filled in several lacunae that were missing from his John Calvin’s Ideas.  His discussion of the extra-Calvinisticum was quite lucid.  My only concerns are that he didn’t realize that Barth actually held to the Calvinist line over the Lutherans on this point.   Other good questions he has raised have already been answered by McCormack and Eberhard Jungel.

“The Actuality of God:  Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism” by Bruce McCormack.

McCormack gives us a very interesting critique of open-theism:  open-theism is simply parasitic on the very classical metaphysics it seeks to overcome.   True, it can find texts that posit a “moved God,” so to speak, but its opponents can do likewise to the contrary.  McCormack notes that open theists simply had no way of winning this debate:  they engaged in very little Christology and shared the same metaphysical presuppositions as their opponents.

To begin, it should be helpful to define classical metaphysics.  This these types of thinking “are all ways of thinking which would treat the ontological otherness of God as something that can be defined and established by humans without respect for the incarnate life of God and, therefore, as something complete in itself apart from and prior to all acts of God” (McCormack 201).  And Pinnock is very clear:  God doesn’t change in his essence (Pinnock 119).

The question for both sides to answer, and this is the brilliance of McCormack’s essay, is “Does the Logos undergo change?”  Answering this question is actually quite difficult.   No Christian tradition–even Open theism–is willing to say that the divine nature suffers (though I grant Moltmann and his disciples spoke this way).  This is also tied in with a discussion of claims about “God in himself.”  As McCormack notes, “Classical theologians wanted to say that God would have been the same in himself without his works–a claim that would make sense only if it could be known what God is in himself.  On the other hand, they wanted to say that what God is is essentially unknowable” (McCormack 203-204).  This problem found itself at the heart of the Christological controversies, to which we now turn.

For the fathers working in the Chalcedonian tradition, two values had to be preserved:  divine impassibility and divinization soteriology.  On one hand, God cannot suffer (even Arius agreed with this claim!), so the divine and human natures had to be kept far apart.  The clearest expression of this is found in John of Damascus, who, to borrow McCormack’s nice phrase, used the mind as a mediating principle between the two natures (219).  This is why Lutheran and Orthodox analogies of “fire and iron” fall short:   the fire never becomes “iron-ish.”

McCormack’s conclusion on this reading, which I think accurate, is that this commitment to impassibility inevitably drove even the more Cyrillene theologians to a Nestorian tendency.  Cyril, for example, might want to say that “God dies,” but even he won’t ascribe pathoi and suffering to the divine nature.  All of this reduces back to a classical ontology.  McCormack notes:  “To the extent that human predicates can be ascribed to the Person of the union without ascribing them at the same time to the divine nature, the person is being treated as something that can be abstracted from the divine nature and stand “between” the natures, mediating between them” (220 n.84).

Making it worse for the ancient tradition was its commitment to theosis.  In this model the Logos “instrumentalizes” the human nature and infuses it with life.  The problem, though, on this reading was that the communication goes only one way:  the divine is not humanized.

The above essay was perhaps not immediately relevant to McCormack’s larger argument; however, it does show that the problems open theists faced were there all along.  Even more, it shows that open theism’s project could not have gotten off of the ground without the very system it seeks to undermine.

Other essays:  D.A. Carson’s essay on the wrath of God is a helpful summary of key texts on the wrath of God.  He notes that for whatever problems critics of penal substitution may have, they all collapse on the fact that they really haven’t interacted with the idea of God’s wrath.  John Webster has a nice essay showing how the necessary doctrine of God’s aseity has been warped in recent years.  Instead of it being doxological in focus, it is defended–ironically!–by an appeal to contingent reality.  Donald MacLeod ends on a pastoral note, summing up the themes of the conference.

Thoughts on Realdialektik, epistemology, and church identity

It would seem that most of Barth’s more brilliant insights are actually what he considers tangential to his program.   Barth’s epistemology is one of realdialektik, the indirect identity of God with the creaturely means of his self-revelation. (It is important to realize that Barth is not immediately talking about “the bahble.”  He is talking about the flesh of Christ, to which the Bible witnesses.  Denying this proposition, coupled with an exalting of one’s churchly status with God’s revelation, leads to antichrist.  If God becomes identical with the means of his self-revelation, and one then places the self-revelation within the “Church’s keeping,” then it is hard to see how the church has not already become god.  To borrow Mike Horton’s phrase, “In this case it’s hard to see how the church isn’t simply talking to itself” (and if you listen to some convertskii rhetoric, presumably about how wonderful it is–see Bradley Nassif’s excellent warning).

Review of Church Dogmatics I/2

This is not a full review, since I am not dealing with sections 15-18.  Those are important because of his discussions of asarkos/ensarkos, but since he takes up that theme elsewhere, I won’t worry about it.

I don’t think this is one of Barth’s more important contributions, but it is one on which most Evangelicals think he is “the bad guy.”  It is in this volume where he more explicitly denies that the text in your hands is the revelation of the Word of God.  Rather, it is a witness to that revelation.   What Barth is actually doing is making use of the divine/human model of Christology and applying it to Scripture.   

On other areas he explores how is model impacts dogmatics within the Church and the proper limits of Church authority.  He makes an important point that is often missed by evangelicals:  he is adamant to deny that the church is in any sense the custodian of God’s revelation (and keep in mind on Barth’s gloss, revelation does not necessarily equal Scripture).  When churches do this (EO and Rome), they make themselves above God’s revelation and beyond any real critique.  Barth’s model, by contrast, can assign a lot of authority to the church while never fearing of an abuse of infallibility claims

Barth also advocates a role for the laity perhaps more than other communions.  He doesn’t develop the point, but his model could alleviate a lot of the problems associated with subjectivity in Scripture.  In fact, one can even develop a robust personalism on this point.  If what it means to be a “person” is an opening to the other, and if everyone is engaged in the reading and practice of Holy Scripture, then everyone’s so-called subjective interpretation is taken into the “other’s” interpretation.”

Subjectivity is only a problem when each man is an island unto himself.  This is a problem for congregationalist models.  For Reformed (and Anglican and Lutheran) this isn’t near a problem.  I think Barth makes some valuable suggestions, but they won’t impress everyone.  He talks about fear and bravery at the end of this volume.   If we allow dogmatics to become a lay enterprise, and each one has to bring his interpretation for correction and critique, then there will be the fear of “I don’t have complete control.”  This is perhaps why anchoretic communities love to rail on the “subjectivity” of sola scriptura.   It is scary, but it is also how we grow.  

§19, chapter 1 deals with Scripture as a witness to God’s revelation.   Resisting the urge to attack Barth because he “doesn’t believe the Bible is the Word of God,” let’s actually see what he is saying and what it means for our own situation.   A witness to a thing is not the same thing as the thing (and if anyone maintains it is, he or she will have to explain precisely why transubstantiation is wrong).  Further if we collapse the sign into the thing signified, is this not a movement towards nominalism?  The sign is pointing beyond itself to the “real.”  If we remove the “sign,” how can we have access to the real?  We are then saying that the “sign” is merely a “name” for the thing signified.  

Before people fear too much, Richard Muller, while perhaps not necessarily endorsing this view, does allude to several Reformed scholastics who said something similar.  

For whatever demerits Barth’s project may have, one cannot help but notice Augustinian themes.  If you attack Barth, then you must continue and attack Augustine.  

Chapter 2:  Canon
    Barth gives an unusually careful discussion on the nature of canonization.  Surprisingly, given his anti-Roman polemic throughout this series, he faults the position of Luther and Calvin and gives more weight to the role of the church.   However, this can only work when the Church submits to the same revelation.  

    Towards the end of chapter two he gets into why he doesn’t believe Scripture should be considered “inerrant.” I can’t follow him at this point, though Evangelicals really haven’t reflected hard enough on his concerns.  We believe the Word of God is self-attesting.  If we leave the discussion of “self-attesting” in the arena of the Triune God, well and good.  Because then self-attestation is truly a triune act, and if you deny it then you deny God.  If we maintain, however, so Barth reasons, that self-attestation is an act of the text of Scripture, then we open ourselves to lots of devastating criticisms by Anchorite traditions.  

    Barth tries to play the “Calvin vs. Calvinists” card.  Historically, such a claim is simply false.   However, even Richard Muller admits that the epistemology of later 17th century scholastics was such that they really couldn’t avoid the later criticisms of the Enlightenment.

    We should be all means reject Barth’s conclusions–at least, if we want to stay in good position in conservative, American churches–but be forewarned that Barth’s position can avoid all the pitfalls facing Evangelicals in their debates with anchorites.   The downside, though, is that it is particularly difficult on Barth’s gloss to say, “Thus saith the Lord.”  To Barth’s credit he emphasizes the preaching of the word.  However, at this point in Church Dogmatics Barth is not clear on how his view of the Bible can be authoritative for the church.

In §20 chapter 1 Barth gives a very thorough discussion of tradition and authority and its development in Roman Catholic history (warning:  this lasts for about ten small-font pages).  In the previous section I critique Barth for not giving any reason why one can take his position and say, “Thus saith the Lord” (which Barth admirably wants to do).   He does work out some of the weaknesses and reduces some of the subjectivity in Evangelicalism by anchoring the Bible in the Church.  However, he avoids leading us back into Anchoretic slavery by saying that the Church, like Holy Scripture, is a witness to God’s revelation.  Anchoretic communities make it an aspect of God’s revelation (and hence, above the ability of being critiqued).   This doesn’t alleviate all of the problems, but it is a better start.