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.


The pastor said...

Just to say how much I appreciate this careful explanation of Jungel. I have tried to read him, honest. And I found, within half a page, that I was thinking about whose birthday was coming up next and what I might have for tea.

So, thank you!

D.W. Congdon said...

You're welcome! Glad I could help make this profound thinker more accessible.