A non-Platonic Platonism

I have been a savage critic of Platonism, and I stand by those criticisms.  Still, I fear a rejection of Platonism–which the Resurrection demands at some level–may lead to a reaction against it.  By non-platonic platonism I mean the following in favor of what Plato was trying to get at:

  • The reality of universals.
  • The Mind-Body problem.   In short, the mind isn’t the body.  Notice I didn’t call this the body-soul problem (which is similar).  I believe in the soul, but by phrasing it around “mind-body” I am forcing the discussion at a different angle.

However, here is the non part of the definition:

  • Universals on Plato’s scheme simply can’t work and for largely the same reason as his Being-Becoming dichotomy.  How can the realm of being interact with the realm of becoming?  On Plato’s scheme it’s hard to see.
  • An affirmation of mind-body problem does not mean that the body is a prison.  I am aware of some of Plato’s exegetes’ trying to get around that, but I find their readings unconvincing (as has most of intellectual history, whether Christian or heathen).

And people say I read chain of being into everything

(And lest I am misunderstood, my target audience was not originally the Orthodox, though my comments directly apply to them.  Rather, some Reformed guys took issue with my Covenantal Ontology and didn’t believe that chain of being was a real deal).

“The Old Testament makes the body obedient to the intelligence and raises it up towards the soul by means of the virtues, preventing the intellect from being dragged down towards the body. The New Testament fires the intellect with love and unites it to God. Thus yet Old Testament makes the body one in its active with the intellect; the New Testament makes the intellect with God through the state of grace.”-

St. Maximos the Confessor ( Philokalia Vol. 2, Fourth Century of Various Texts)

But anyone who is a “portion of God,” on account of the logos of virtue that exists in God, as was explained above, and who abandons his own origin, is irrationally swept away toward non-being, and thus is rightly said to have “flowed down from above,” since he did not move toward his own origin and cause, according to which, by which, and for which, he came to be.

“Flowing down from above” in this manner, he enters a condition of unstable deviations, suffering fearful disorders of soul and body, failing to reach his inerrant and unchanging end, [1085A] by freely choosing to turn in the direction of what is inferior. Here the sense of “flowing down” can be understood literally, for though such a person had it well within his power to direct the footsteps of his soul to God, he freely chose to exchange what is better and real for what is inferior and non-existent.

St Maximos the Confessor, Ambiguum 7. Translation by Fr Maximos (Nicholas Constas)

10.74} As for Elijah, he is the image of nature, not simply because he preserved inviolate the principles of his own nature (along with the deliberative frame of mind appropriate to these principles) free from any change due to passion, but because he taught by judging, like a kind of natural law, those who twist nature to unnatural ends. For such is nature, punishing those who undertake to violate it to the degree that they actually live in unnatural opposition to it, by not allowing them to acquire naturally all of nature’s power, for they have been partially deprived of its very integrity and for this they are punished, since it is they themselves who pointlessly and foolishly [1164D] have procured this lack of existence by inclining toward non-being.

Ambiguum 10

>>>>Elijah was free from passions? Didn’t he call down fire on the king’s army?

>>>>Notice how he says “inclining toward non-being.”  That is about as stark an admission of chain of being that I have ever seen.  I did worry at a time that I might be reading chain of being into ancient sources.  That is no longer the case.  You do not get any clearer than that.  In fact, this is far clearer than Plato ever was.

29. Just as evil is a privation of good, and ignorance a privation of knowledge, so non-being is a privation of being – not of being in a substantive sense, for that does not have any opposite, but of being that exists by participation in substantive being. The first two privations mentioned depend on the will of creatures; the third lies in the will of the Maker, who in His goodness wills beings always to exist and always to receive His blessings.

St Maximos Four Hundreds Texts on Love, Third Century. Philokalia v 2


Notes on Hegel

Taylor frames his book in order of several of Hegel’s main works. He does an excellent job outlining difficult terminology and highlighting key points which will serve as hermeneutical loci later.

Front Cover

Self-Positing Spirit

This introduces Hegel’s “identity of difference and identity.” Starting slowly, following Taylor, here is what I think he means. Hegel is trying to overcome the Kantian duality. Hegel wants to overcome this with his notion of “overcoming oppositions.” Therefore, identity cannot sustain itself on its own, but posits an opposition, but also a particularly intimate one (80). In short, Hegel married modern expression with Aristotle’s self-realizing form (81).

Following this was Hegel’s other point: the subject, and all his functions, however spiritual, were necessarily embodied (82-83).

The Contradiction Arises

Contrary to mindless right-wing bloggers, Hegel did not form the “dialectic” in the following way: we posit a thesis (traditional community), then we negate it (cultural marxism), which allows for the “synthesis” (our pre-planned solution all along). Here is what Hegel actually meant: there is reality, but the very structure of reality already contains a contradiction. The subject then must overcome that contradiction.

Taylor notes, “In order to be at all as a conscious being, the subject must be embodied in life; but in order to realize the perfection of consciousness it must fight and overcome the natural bent of life as a limit. The conditions of its existence are in conflict with the demands of its perfection (86).

Taylor has much more to say but that will suffice for now. Of course, I radically disagree with Hegel’s conclusions. That does not mean Hegel is value-less. On the contrary, one can see key Augustinian and Origenist points in his outlook.

Taylor seems to structure his discussion of Hegel along the following lines: Phenomenology of Geist is a sort of preparatory stage for the Logic. At the end of the last discussion, Hegel said that Spirit (Geist) comes to know himself, and that finite spirits are the vehicles of this self-knowledge. This is partly why Hegel says that Geist must be embodied.

We start off with an inadequate notion of the standard involved; but we also have some basicaly correct notions of what the standard must meet. However, we see the inadequacy of both when we try to realize it. Obviously, Hegel is simply following Plato on this point.

What if we are just arbitrarily positing some standard of knowledge? No big deal, for upon reflection we will find out that said standard is likely faulty and we will have to “re-think it.” When we re-think it we get closer to the truth. Thus, “the test of knowledge is also its standard” (136).

Hegel ends this discussion with the suggestion that consciousness inevitably posits self-conscious, which will be taken up in the next chapter.

I’m skipping the section on “self-consciousness” because I really didn’t understand it.

One thing I do appreciate about Hegel is that his worldview really is unified. His discussions on “ontology” (the study of essence) are directly connected to his politics and views on religion (and to show how “real-life” this really is: when Karl Marx read Hegel he kept a few elements but mainly despised the man and his system. He negated Hegel–pun intended. Following his negation, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao took this negation of Hegel and murdered 200 million people. Philosophy really does matter).

In the Formation of Spirit Taylor notes that Hegel idealized the ancient Greek polis: he saw a complete unity between citizen and society (171). Unfortunately (or inevitably) this had to break down. Spirit cannot become universal if it is confined to the walls of one particular city. This is an important, if somewhat abstract point. I will develop it further in my final reflections on Hegel.

Taylor remarks, somewhat side-tracking the discussion, that sin is necessary for salvation in Hegel’s view (174). Of course, as a Christian this is completely unacceptable, but it also shows my appreciation for Hegel. Hegel can be seen as the consistent high-point of a certain strand of Western thought. We saw the same type of thinking in Origen (for God to be Lord, there must be something for him to be Lord “over”).
Essentially, what Hegel is saying is that men feel a basic attitude of alienation–their substance lies outside them and they can only overcome it by overcoming their particularity (donum superadditum? 179). Unfortunately, that is what Hegel calls a “contradiction.”

This part of Hegel’s Phenomenology is dealing heavily with social life, which I will cover in greater detail in the chapters on politics.

This next section of the book, and presumably the logical outflowing of Hegel’s thought, deals with “manifest religion.” I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, partly because it is the most atrocious aspect of Hegel’s thought, and partly because I want to get to the politics. However, Hegel is nothing if not consistent, and it is important to see how one section implies the next (which is exactly how his later Logic is set up). And as always, even when wrong Hegel has some excellent insights on the human dynamic.

Building on Hegel’s premise that God/Geist/Spirit, which is the ultimate reality, must be embodied in history, it follows that one must ask in what manner is it embodied? One of the most fundamental modes, Hegel posits, is in religion (197). Briefly stated, Hegel sees each epoch in human history as manifesting religion, but always in a contradictory way. The Greeks were able to apprehend “the universal,” but they could only do so in a finite and limited way (and thus the infinite/finite contradiction). This contradiction is not a bad thing, though, for it opened up the possibility of the Christian religion (with a detour through the Hebrews). Hegel sees the ultimate religious expression in the Incarnation.

What do we make of this?

Like anything Hegel says, much of the surface-level language is quite good, but once you get beyond that you see the truly bizarre theology. Hegel has a strong emphasis on community and will say that is where the true Christian expression is found. From our perspective, this sounds a lot like saying Christ is found in the church, and that is true. Unfortunately, Hegel was not using that in the same way we are.

At this point in the narrative we are beginning the discussion of Hegel’s two-volume Logic. While this is the hardest of his works to understand (and I certainly don’t understand them beyond a fourth-grade level), it will be easy to discuss them. His main points are clear and tied together.

A Dialectic of Categories

When one is studying reality, Hegel says, one can start anywhere in the system, for each facet is ultimately tied together (226). If we start with “Being” then our method will proceed dialectically. What he means by that is the very structure of reality has a contradiction, and in overcoming that contradiction Being moves forth to something else. Throughout the whole of this discussion, Hegel is starting from Kant and reworking the system along problems he sees in Kant.

To avoid confusion, and to silence the right-wing conspiracy bloggers, Hegel’s idea of contradiction is this: he has a two-pronged argument, the first showing that a given category is indispensable, the second showing that it leads to a characterization of reality which is somehow impossible or incoherent (228).

In developing the above contradiction, Hegel assumes the Plotinian dialectic: a Something can only be defined by referent to another with which it is contrasted (236).

Hegel says a lot more on these topics, but I will not. Throughout Taylor’s analysis he reveals interstesting facets of Hegel’s thought, showing him to be a true heir of Augustine and Plotinus. We’ll discuss these topics later. The next discussion, Lord willing, will focus on the Essence.


Most right-wing bloggers think that Hegel’s view is the Illuminati finding its ultimate expression in world-government. Actually, what Hegel means is that communities become vehicles of the “Spirit.” This can (and has) been taken in numerous ways. I see it as communities organically expressing a common spirit, common values (see Augustine, City of God Book 19.4).

Hegel is trying to overcome the dilemma that social life poses: per man’s subjective life the important thing is freedom of spirit. However, man also lives in community and the norms of the community often bind his freedom of spirit (it is to Hegel’s credit that he recognized this problem generations before Nietszche and the existentialists).

Hegel suggests the form man must attain is a social form (366). It is important to note that what Hegel means by “state” is much different than what Anglo-Americans mean by it. Hegel means the “politically organized community” (387). Let’s explore these few sentences for a moment. Throughout his philosophy Hegel warns against “abstractions,” by which he means taking an entity outside its network of relations. With regard to politics, if abstraction is bad then it necessarily follows that man’s telos is in a community. Man comes into the world already in a network of relations.

Reason and History

Given Hegel’s commitment about the fulfillment of spirit, it follows that communities grow. As seen above, Hegel’s applies to history the problem of self-fulfillment. How does man realize the fulfillment of the Idea?

Jews: realization that God is pure, subjective Spirit. Ends up negating finite reality.

Greek: opposite of Jewish mentality. Harmonizes God with “natural expression.” Ends up with idolatry. Greek polis is pariochial. Each state his its own God. A universal realization of spirit is thus impossible. Men were identified with Greek state. Democracy natural expression. There is a necessary contradiction within the Greek polis: only represents a part of finite reality.

Romans: Origin of the idea as “Person,” bearer of “abstract right” (397).

Christianity: the finite subject and absolute spirit can be reconciled. The task of history is to make this reconciliation public–this is the Church.

Germans: they were to take it to the next stage.

The rest of European history is a working out these processes, a transformation of institutions. It is hear that we see feudalism, etc. At this point we need to correct a mistake about Hegel: Hegel is not saying that world history climaxes with Prussian Germany. There is no sensible way he could have believed that. Germany was weak and defeated when he wrote (it would have been interesting and perhaps more perceptive to say that Russia was the bearer of the World Spirit). Nonetheless, as Hegel notes and as his critics routinely miss, history did take an interesting turn in the 19th century and the force of ideas does not simply stop because the historian wants them to stop.

The Foundations of the Modern State

Monarchy as the Representative Individual: consistent with his earlier points, Hegel notes that there must be some way for the individual to retain his subjective right, yet at the same time freely and fully identify with the community (Staat). This happens by way of monarchy. Beneath the monarchy are Estates, who mediate the King to the people. Nowhere does Hegel mean representation according to our usage today. The King does not “represent” the will of the people, but through his kingly majesty allows the people to identify (399).

The French Revolution: Political Terror

Hegel defines it as “absolute, unlimited freedom.” Complete freedom means that outcome should be decided by me. Of course, since I am in society it is not decided by me alone. Therefore, complete freedom is decided by the strongest individual.

Charles Taylor is embarrassed by Hegel’s rejection of the principles of the French Revolution. I think the reason is that if Hegel is right and one should view the Modern Narrative as a continuation of the French Revolution, then the only moral alternative is to reject said narrative. He notes (if not likes) Hegel’s challenge to modernity: the modern ideology of equality and of total participation leads to a homogenization of society. This shakes men loose from their traditional communities but cannot replace them as a focus of identity” (414).

Translation: all natural societies organically flow from a unified belief system/ethnos (cf. Augustine, City of God, 19.4). Modernity is the negation of this. Without this unified system of belief, men cannot “connect” to one another. Thus, no real community. Thus, no real unity and society is held together by force (ala Hegel on Rome) and terror (ala Hegel on France).

Modernity is nominalism of politics.

Hegel’s conclusion, which Taylor rejects, is a rationalized monarchy. Hegel was a monarchist but he was not a traditionalist, and for that reason he was not a conservative. He agreed with the older conservatives that society must be founded on authority, estates, and a strong monarch; Hegel, however, based these spheres, not on divine right or tradition, but on reason. In this sense Hegel stands firmly in the Enlightenment.

According to Hegel France is utterly lost in terms of a political future. England is better, but she is not far behind in spiritual rot, for England (like America today) is run riot with an excess on particular rights. And in this chaos of individualism, special interest groups backed by powerful elites have taken control (like America today).

Taylor notes that for Hegel,

“The only force which could cure this would be a strong monarchy like those late medieval kings which forced through the barons the rights of the universal. But the English have crucially weakened their monarchy; it is powerless before Parliament which is the cockpit of private interests (454).

I first found this line of reasoning from Fr. Raphael Johnson’s take on Russian history. I guess Johnson got it from Hegel himself since he wrote his Master’s thesis on Hegel.

Taylor continues to the conclusion,

Hence the vehicle by which rational constitution could best be introduced and made real was a powerful modernizing monarchy…Hegel had hopes for the future based on the climate of his times. Germany had been shocked into reform by the Napoleonic conquest. It consisted of societies founded on law in which principles of rational Enlightenment had already gone some way and seemed bound to go further. It had a Protestant political culture and hence could achieve a rational constitution unlike the benighted peoples of Latin Europe, and it was not too far gone in rot like England. It held to the monarchical principle and the monarchs retained some real power unlike England, and yet the societies were law societies (454-455).

This paragraph warrants some reflection:

  • Although I am a traditionalist, and Hegel is not, I agree that a modernizing monarchy is much preferred than unreflected claims to “Throne and Altar.” Many monarchists today naively think that “restoring a king” will return the land to justice. Ironically, this tends to lead to the same problems that Republican government leads: you have the vision of a few determining the fate of the whole. Rather, a strong monarch who enforces Republican structures in the land, arising from the will of the ethnos (shades of Johann Herder), existing primarily to reign in the excesses of the free market, is one who is both authoritarian yet the people are still free.
  • while we are at it, I actually encourage one to read the thoughtful positions by N. T. Wright and Oliver O’Donovan on monarchy. However, most Protestant political forces have been confessedly thoroughly anti-monarchist, and it is no surprise there are few Protestant Monarchies left. Happily, though, there are examples of good, Protestant monarchies.


In many ways Taylor’s book is essential. One has to know how Hegel is using terminology and Taylor is a reliable guide in that regard. Taylor cannot square himself with Hegel’s politics, though, since Hegel is a rejection (negation?) of modernity.

jacques derrida: live theory (Review)

James K. A. Smith has given us probably the best intro to Derrida from an Evangelical perspective.  It is remarkably clear, brief, and fair.  While Smith doesn’t offer anything like a full-orbed critique of Derrida, he shows us why Derrida is important for Evangelicals.  I will end with my own critique of Smith and Derrida.

Americans love to hate deconstructionism–and not simply Christians.  Much of the Anglo-American philosophical academy hates Derrida.  Smith, by contrast, neatly clears up misconceptions.  Smith “demythologizes” deconstructionism for us:

  • It is not a method (9ff).  Each deconstructive event remains singular.  It is not something we do.  It happens in the middle voice.  Ca se deconstruit.  It happens within texts because of the texts.
  • It is not merely negative (10).  There is a “double movement of dismantling with a view to rebuilding.”
  • Deconstruction is not a master name (10).  other possible synonyms are valid: ecriture, trace, differance, supplement, hymen, pharmakon, margin, etc.
  • Deconstruction is not a nihilism (11).  “not an enclosure in nothingness, but an openness towards the other.”  He is not a relativist.  Relativism is referring to the absolute and denying it.


Smith suggests “alterity” is the lens through which we interpret Derrida (13).  Deconstructionism is a response to the “other.”  Sees “reference” as language’s relation to the “other” of language (14).  Derrida’s metaphysical target is Platonism–and by that he means largely the Western philosophical tradition.  “Greek” metaphysics–at least in its Platonic conclusion–sought sameness, reducing reality to the One.    There was always the attempt to get to the “pure stream,” or “pure thought.”  Voice was prized over writing, because voice suggested immediate “presence” (key word for Derrida).  Writing, by contrast, was material and seemed a slave to embodiment.

Derrida’s project shows that there is no pure stream.  “Pure thought” has always been supplemented by arche-writing.  This does not mean, as some of Derrida’s critics think, that Derrida thinks writing came before language.  Rather, thought and language are always “mediated” to us.  All idealities are bound idealities.  The contamination of writing goes all the way down (24). Language is the very condition (incarnation?) for philosophy to assert itself.

Per Levinas Western philosophy privileged “the Same,” the sphere of knowing where Subject assimilates all that is other (31).  That which is absent is that which is other–it is that which cannot appear to the subject (and hence be assimilated).

 Ethics and Politics

Here is where Derrida’s project (and Smith’s comments) are weakest.  My main problem with Derrida is not “deconstruction,” for we have already shown that deconstruction is really not that different.  Consistent with his thesis, Smith shows that Derrida’s concern for “the Other” must allow for the other to visit our countries; thus, immigration.

How do we respond to this?  Smith takes a few potshots at conservatives but really doesn’t get to the heart of the argument.  I do not doubt that a biblical, much less philosophical case can be made for a sane immigration policy.  My concern is that not every “immigrant” is a poverty-pressed refugee.   A Frenchman like Derrida should know this.  Muslims have routinely torched Paris and London  (and in the latter are eating British officers’ organs).

Ironically, and this is my critique, Derrida and Smith are privileging some concepts and texts while ignoring others.  Is this not a similar reduction to sameness?

Was Derrida a Communist?

To this answer we can give a firm “maybe” or “not really.”  That Derrida’s ideas lend themselves to various Marxisms is true, yet Derrida routinely distanced himself from Marxist excesses and in later interviews he realized that “capitalism” was more nuanced than many post-Marxists realized.


Smith helpfully contrasts Derrida with later interpreters of Derrida.  I particularly found his exposition of Slavoj Zizek illuminating.   He points out that Zizek rejects Derrida at the key point:  Zizek champions a unity of sameness.  That Zizek is a Hegelian Marxist should not surprise us.

On why I am opposed to magic ontologies

You might expect me to say, “Because God condemns sorcery.”  That is true.  Or you might expect me to say, “Burning incense to the Queen of Heaven is a sin.”  That is true.  But that is not what I am talking about.  I was in some fascinating Facebook discussions about Greek thought.  Here is a summary of my points:

I do not think there is a dichotomy between Hebrew and non-Hebrew languages. In that sense I agree with Barr’s critique. However, Greek though, influenced by Egyptian magic (Plato studied in Egypt), does have differences with the structures behind the “Hebrew way of life.”

We will say it another way–and this is where Augustine is very helpful, if very wrong: when I ascend up the chain of being, do I gain more being inversely with corporeality?

But if you read Ps. Dionysius and others, one knows God by beginning with abstract concepts of Deity and then rises up the chain of being by negating those concepts. Plotinus, Nyssa, Origen, Evagrius and others are very clear on this. Jesus, on the other hand, descends to us and takes flesh and knowing him we know God.

Footnote: in the eschaton are we going to drink wine on Yahweh’s mountain or achieve hyperousia and contemplate the Empyrean Forms?

when I say thought patterns I mean the way the human brain forms ideas. They most certainly saw the world differently, which might be why God called for war against Hellenism in Zechariah 9.

John Henry Cardinal Newman summarizing the anchoretic life (which is Hellenism applied). 
“Surely the idea of an apostle, ummarried, pure in fast and nakedness, and at length a martyr, is a higher idea tha
n that of one of the old Israelites, sitting under his vine and fig-tree, full of temporal goods, surrounded by his sons and grandsons” (Newman, Loss and Gain).

This is chain-of-being ethics in all of its terrible purity. There is a line in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time where wolves will stop what they are doing, even sacrifice the whole pack, to kill a Myrdraal (think goblin bad guy). That’s sort of how I feel about chain of being ontology.

And it is by no means a Greek thing. I have long maintained that the Greeks–Plato–borrowed from Egyptian magic religion. ANd you can find similar horrors in other Eastern religions.

Once you accept chain-of-being as the normative paradigm for getting our thoughts about God, and we see this same paradigm in other religions (and hermetic traditions), then it doens’ tmake any sense to say, “Well, our’s is different.”

I realize it looks like I am equating neo-Platonic magic with all of Hellenism. Allow me to clarify. I see a continuity between neo-Platonism and earlier Hellenisms. Almost all (all?) hold to an ontology of overcoming estrangement. Secondly, neo-Platonism is simply the apex and most beautiful finale of Hellenistic thought. (When the last Magus, Iamblichus, died, NeoPlatonism and Hermeticism (basically the same thing) went underground until the Templars. This lines up with Justinian’s closing the academies and Damasius’s getting back at him by pretending to be Dionysius the Aeropogatie. I pick on NeoPlatonism because most ancient Christian thinkers drew upon some variety of it.

And by the way: I have read DEEPLY into the ancient hermetic, magical, and neo-platonic traditions from a historical standpoint. You can line up Origen and Trismegestus on ontology and it is basically the same thing. I want to consider myself in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets (no, I don’t predict the future). As a result I violently hate all forms of magic. PM me if you want more details. I don’t want to go into it in public.

Covenant and Eschatology: Book Review

Instead of giving us Plato’s Two Worlds, Horton shows us Paul’s Two Ages.   It is this which structure the rest of theological prolegomena.  Horton is not giving us a systematic theology, but showing what theology would look like using the Covenant.

Eschatology after Nietszsche

Horton does not shrink from the challenges offered by Feuerbach, Nietzsche, and Derrida.  In fact, he mostly agrees with them!  If we see Christian theology–particularly Christian eschatology–as dualistic, then it is hard to jump over Lessing’s Ditch.  Pace Derrida, the theology of the cross demands “deferral” against all theologies of glory, of any subsuming the many/now into the One/not yet (24).

It is with the Apostle Paul and the Two Ages that we are able to overcome these dualities without reducing identity and difference into one another.  Horton points out that “above and below” are analogical terms, not ontological ones (and while he doesn’t make this conclusion, this allows Christianity to avoid the magical connotations of the Satanic “as above so below” formula; covenant is always a war to the death with magic religions).

The Platonic Vision

Further developed in this contrast between is the difference (!) between covenantal hearing and Platonic (Greek) vision.

A theology of glory corresponds to vision (the direct sight of the One into one’s nous) rather than hearing (God’s mighty acts mediated in historical and material ways…Both crass identification of God with a human artifact (idolatry) and the craving for a direct sight of God in majesty spring from the same source:  the desire to see–without mediation–and not to hear; to possess everything now and avoid the cross” (35).

A Pauline Eschatology is able embrace both arrival and differance:  the age to come arrives in the first fruits in Christ’s resurrection, yet it is deferred until the consummation of the ages.  Horton further notes,

The Platonic paradigm of vision is based on the notion that this realm of appearance is a mirror or copy of the realm of eternal ideas…The Platonizing tendency also created a dichotomy between theoria and praxis, the former linked to the contemplation of the eternal forms, the latter to action in the real world (252, 253).

In the covenantal approach, what dominates is the ear, not the eye; God’s addressing us, not our vision of God (134)


Drawing upon Vanhoozer, Ricoeur, and Wolterstorff, Horton outlines the basics of Speech-Act theory. He proposes (correctly, I think) this model as fitting with the covenantal drama he outline earlier.  He hints at how speech-act is able to overcome challenges from postmodernism:  “But unlike deconstruction, speech-act theory locates the activity in actors (sayers) and not in signs (the said) (126).

Horton ends with suggesting how a covenantal, speech-act hermeneutics would be lived out within the church.   This book truly was a bombshell.  If Horton’s arguments stand, the biblical covenantal religion is the only option for man.  Conversely, those traditions built upon Platonic and Hellenic frameworks must fall.

The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative

Frei investigates the breakdown between story and reality, realistic and figural interpretation.  His Yale post-liberal presuppositions aid his analysing German liberalism.  They do not help him construct a coherent alternative.

A realistic interpretation is a strict correspondence between word and reality.  There can only be one meaning:  that of the author.  This is problematic when one approaches biblical prophecy: were the prophets’ intended meanings the same as that of the New Testament readers?  At this point the realistic paradigm breaks down.

A figural reading is close to Reformed typology:  the narrated sequence contains its own meaning (Frei 28).  While Frei doesn’t draw the explicit conclusion, if typology is true, then one must have a narratival epistemology.  One will note this is standard Protestant–especially Reformed covenantal–hermeneutics.  So what happened in history, especially in Germany?  The blossoming liberal schools quite correctly saw that if typology is true, then the bible has a coherent unity.  If the bible has a coherent unity, then it forces a narratival epistemology.  If that is true, then dualisms of a Platonic or Kantian sort are ruled out.

“What if Plato were a German Liberal?”

The development of hermeneutics didn’t take place in a vacuum.  Scholars were interacting with contemporary philosophical shfits.  The liberal schools would not accept a realistic hermeneutics because it was obvious (for them) that miracles and resurrection were not part of “reality.”  They could not accept a typological reading because typology is at war with internalized, spiritual pious gush.

Schleiermacher’s comments are appropriate at this point.  His denial of the Resurrection and the miraculous is well-known, but perhaps not his reasons why.  They are several:  if the truth of the story is in the event, then it stands or falls apart from my internalized spiritualization of the text.  Further, if the goal of Jesus (on the liberal gloss) is his coming-to-realization of God-conciousness, then the Resurrection makes such reading pointless.  Indeed, the cross is an anti-climax.

Lessons to be learned:  A Conclusion of sorts

It’s not clear if Frei himself avoids all of the criticisms of liberal theology.   His distinction between factuality and factuality-like probably won’t hold up under scrutiny (which is why few liberals adopted it).  His understanding of narrative theology is brilliant, but narrative theology only works if the narrative is…well..real. Did it actually happen?

If we do not have eschatology as the corresponding pole to history, as none of the liberals did, then it is hard to avoid Strauss’s criticisms.   If the goal of hermeneutics is eternal, timeless truths (ironically shared by both modern Evangelicals and Schleiermacher), then Lessing’s ditch is insurmountable.  If truth is Platonic and necessary and eternal, necessary because it is eternal, then why bother with historical contingencies like narratives?  If this is the case, Lessing is absolutely correct.