Thursday, June 22, 2006

'My Theology': I believe, therefore I think

I believe, therefore I think. Faith gives itself to be thought. One cannot believe in God without thinking about him. Faith is passionately concerned to understand itself and thereby understand God. Faith is essentially fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding. The extent to which faith is threatened by superstition, and the ease with which God is confused with an idol, are shown by the fact that God is talked about thoughtlessly, and, indeed, by the fact that human reason’s ideas of God, when reason does not let itself be led on to the path of thought by the God who comes to the world, pass God by. ...

The faith which gives itself to be thought attains its idea of God from the harshness of the death of Jesus Christ. It therefore demands that God be thought as the one whose creative omnipotence and freedom are something other than what is prompted by the axiom of divine absoluteness, and as the one whose eternity and activity is something other than what is demanded by the axioms of the timelessness and impassibility of the eternal. If God is love, then truly love is omnipotent, and love is the very core of all true power. And the truth-criterion of power is that it is able to have compassion, and in this way to overcome suffering. God’s being must then be thought as an existence which exposes itself to nothingness, whose richness of being realizes itself as a se in nihilum existere, existing out of itself into nothingness. And God’s creation must then be thought as an act of primordial beginning which implies an act of primordial self-limitation (which Jewish mystics called zimzum). The creator who affirms and calls his creation into being limits himself through the being of his creatures. Accordingly, the idea of God’s omnipresence will need to be re-thought as the concept of the coming of the creator which reaches all creatures and ‘lets be’. In the same sense, all traditional divine attributes will need to be examined critically and, if necessary, re-thought. One can no longer think of God as worldly necessity, or of contingency as inessential. God is more than necessary—as is all true freedom that is the opposite of arbitrariness. God is to be thought out of the event of his advent: as a being who is in coming, and who in himself is the eternal story of God’s richness of relation, God’s coming-to-himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Theological thought follows the coming of God; it is the discipleship of thinking which springs from faith.

—Eberhard Jüngel, Theological Essays II, 9, 10-11

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Request for Help

Some have asked me recently about the possibility of turning this into a group blog. Unfortunately, I do not know how best to go about this. I would like to have a sign-in on the main page like the Gunton Research Discussion Group. Do I just add these people to the blog as team members? Sorry for this rather mundane post, but I would like to allow others to join in the experience of reading and discussing this fine theologian. Thanks to all who help me in this.

Monday, June 12, 2006

GBB. Introduction I: The Situation

God’s being is discussed. (1)
This is the first line of the book, and it properly sets the stage for what to expect. God’s Being Is in Becoming is an exercise in theological ontology. Jüngel intends to elaborate upon Karl Barth’s doctrine of God in order to emphasize one overarching thesis: God in-and-for-Godself is God for us. To use the Latin, Deus pro se est Deus pro nobis.

Jüngel sees himself entering into a dispute—presently embodied in the dispute between Bruce McCormack and Paul Molnar—between the New Testament scholar Herbert Braun and the dogmatic theologian Helmut Gollwitzer. In brief, Braun focuses on how one speaks of God, while Gollwitzer focuses on the being of God. Braun argues for the non-objectifiable character of God, and thus our language conveys only our subjective perspective of God. In other words, for Braun, God is not “out there” as an object, but rather “in here” as the God for humanity. Gollwitzer reacted to these thoughts by strongly asserting that before we can ever speak of God pro nobis, we must speak of God pro se.

While Jüngel clearly agrees with Gollwitzer’s intentions, he raises two objections in this first introduction. First, Jüngel sees the “for us-vs.-for Godself” dialectic mirrored in a dialectic regarding “is” statements: (1) the necessity of such statements in relation to God and (2) the difficulty or “unserviceableness” of such statements in relation to God. Such statements are necessary because the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ makes talk of God’s being possible as well as actual. Such statements, however, are “unserviceable” because, according to Gollwitzer, the idea of being means one thing for God and something very different for created things. If we ascribe being to God, then created things have non-being; if we ascribe being to created things, then God has non-being. If God “is,” then the world “is-not.” If the world “is,” then God “is-not.” This is the dialectical conundrum which Gollwitzer posits regarding the question of ontology.

The second and more serious problem is Gollwitzer’s separation between God’s essence and God’s will. I will quote Jüngel:
Gollwitzer stresses that the mode of being of revelation [. . .] has its ground ‘not in the essence of God but in his will’, so that it is ‘not possible per analogiam to argue back from it to the essence of God in the sense of how God is constituted, but only to the essence of his will, i.e., from his will as made known in history to his eternal will as the will of his free love.’ [. . .] Does not this very distinction which Gollwitzer draws between the essence and the will of God (in distinguishing between the ‘essence of God in the sense of how God is constituted’ from the ‘essence of his will’) leave a gap in a metaphysical background to the being of God which is indifferent to God’s historical acts of revelation? Clearly Gollwitzer does not want to say this. But can this consequence be avoided if the ‘essence of his will’ which is understood as God’s free love is not at the same time understood as the will of his essence? Is not God’s essence determined precisely in his will? Is not precisely God’s ‘eternal will as the will of his free love’ directed towards his revelation by virtue of his free decision as Lord which in such love determines his being and essence? Does not the being of God which becomes manifest in and as history compel us to think of God’s being, in its power which makes revelation possible, as already historical being? And can we think historically of God’s being in its potency which makes possible historical revelation in any other way than as trinitarian being? (5-6)
Jüngel’s concern is wholly justified. Once God’s essence and will are separated, there is no guarantee that what God reveals of Godself in history has anything to do with who God actually is in-and-for-Godself. In other words, Jesus Christ is potentially no longer revelatory of who God really is. This is a return to classical modalism, in which God wears different historical masks—e.g., as Jesus then, as the Holy Spirit now—that are external to the eternal being of God, which remains hidden from creation.

As Webster makes clear in his introduction to the book, Jüngel rightly sees the debate between Gollwitzer and Braun as a continuation of the argument between Barth and Bultmann—Barth is the dogmatician and Bultmann is the New Testament scholar. Barth is concerned with dogmatics, and Bultmann with hermeneutics. Jüngel:
The distinction between the theological starting-points of Bultmann and Barth may thus be formulated in these very rough terms: for Bultmann, speech about God is the proper topic for investigation, whereas for Barth, the question concerns God’s being. In this way, for both theologians speech about God as Christian speech is bound to the Word of God. (2)
And earlier in the introduction he writes:
[Barth] does not ask what it means to speak of God, but, rather, in what sense God must be spoken of in order that our speaking is about God. (1)
Jüngel, as I stated in my earlier post, mediates between Barth and Bultmann, having been schooled both in the hermeneutical school of Bultmann, Fuchs, and Ebeling, as well as in the dogmatic school of Barth. Jüngel allows this situation to set the context for what follows. In his theological interpretation of Barth’s theology, Jüngel shows how Barth provides a way beyond the impasse of objective-subjective, God pro se and God pro nobis. Jüngel does not merely repeat what Barth writes, but he teases out the implications of Barth’s theology in a way that does justice both to Barth’s own thinking and to Jüngel’s personal interests as one feels compelled to offer a way beyond the impasse.

The following is a kind of typology which shows the two sides in the dispute. Placing the different people and concepts into this two-column format obscures much of the complexity, but it nevertheless helps to emphasize the differences. The placement of Barth on the side of Gollwitzer is clearly problematic considering what Jüngel attempts to demonstrate through Barth’s theology, but Barth still falls on that side of the debate.

Barth -------------- Bultmann
Gollwitzer -------- Braun
dogmatics -------- hermeneutics
ontology ---------- anthropology
pro se ------------- pro nobis
immanent -------- economic

The rest of this series will show how Jüngel resolves this debate in a post-metaphysical, trinitarian theology rooted in the identity of the immanent and economic Trinity, and thus the indivisible nature of ontology and anthropology (cf. the later Barth’s theanthropology), dogmatics and hermeneutics, God pro se and God pro nobis.

'My Theology': I believe, therefore I listen

I believe, therefore I listen. Faith comes from the word in which God comes to speech (Rom 10.17). It is a word which is to the benefit of humanity and the human world, a word in which God attests and promises himself: the gospel. The believer knows God as the one who attests and promises himself in the gospel; the meaning of the word ‘God’ is distorted or missed altogether when it is not defined by the gospel. Even as a word of law, the meaning of the word ‘God’ is only legitimate when it is defined by the gospel. But in the gospel God comes to speech as the one who has come to the world in the person of the man Jesus, in order to define his true divinity in unity with this Jew who, after a short but unforgettable public career, lost his life on the gallows. In the gospel, God comes to speech as the one who he is from everlasting to everlasting.

One should note: God himself comes to speech He himself ‘takes the floor’. Indeed, to his eternal being there belongs language that addresses. No human being can speak from him or herself. But God is the one who does speak from himself. His word is the original expression of his being and the original form of address and, in the unity of both, the word that creates out of nothing. Faith hears this word. It knows itself to be created by this word. It owes itself to the word. Hearing, it comes into existence. And it always returns again to the word which created it. I believe, therefore I listen to the God who speaks out of himself.

—Eberhard Jüngel, Theological Essays II, 6

Sunday, June 11, 2006

God's Being Is in Becoming: Preliminary Remarks

I am starting a series on Jüngel's great work, God's Being Is in Becoming, which will take readers through the entire work, section-by-section. I will label each post with a title that begins "GBB: ..." after the English translation, since that is the version I will be using. I welcome any questions or comments along the way. Please refer to the selection I posted earlier from Jüngel's "Foreword to the First Edition," which is the start of this series. I will quote a couple portions from this foreword again:

The title of this book may be off-putting. However, I ask you to read it carefully. It is not a matter of the ‘God who becomes’. God's being is not identified with God’s becoming; rather, God’s being is ontologically located. [. . .]

Theologically, what we call ‘becoming’ should be understood in its fundamental ontology as a trinitarian category. According to this, God does not leave his present behind him as a past in order to proceed towards a future which is strange to him; rather, in his trinitarian livingness he is ‘undividedly the beginning, succession and end, all at once in His own essence’. And so the title of this book tries to indicate what might be called the axiom of the Christian doctrine of God. (xxv-xxvi)