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On the Non-Necessity of God

July 5, 2011

For several months, I’ve been reflecting on the place where God might “fit” in our attempts to think about, and ultimately know, ourselves and the world. Consequently, I’ve come to believe that God is formally unnecessary to such attempts. My thesis is that because the world is a finite and contingent thing, God need not be posited in order to make sense of it.

Now, to be honest, I thought I was pretty clever for happening upon this obviously true insight. And yet, sadly, I’ve discovered that our old friend Karl Barth has beaten me to the punch (he has a habit of doing that). So, to give a sense for what I mean, I’m going to begin by letting Karl do the talking. Here’s a quote from the Church Dogmatics:

 “…God is before the world in the strictest sense that He is its absolute origin, its purpose, the power which rules it, its Lord….Yet even this aspect of the creation dogma is not self-evident….The question of an external world-cause is pressing, but it is not unavoidable….And if it is desired to regard the question of an external world-cause as unavoidable, the answer that God has created it would again be possible, but not so compelling as to exclude all kinds of other answers, or the assertion of other origins or lords. Even the claim that a wild chance, or the whim of a cosmic monster, has given it existence and made it its own master, cannot be described as a wholly unfounded hypothesis.” (CD III/1, p. 7)

As some of you will know, the larger point Barth is making in this section is that the first article of the creed – “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” – is fundamentally a statement of faith, and as such, it should not be recommended on the basis of its explanatory power vis-à-vis the world, but rather on the basis of God’s revelation (i.e., “because He Himself has told us”; p. 8). Hence, Christians should not feel threatened if and when they discover that other explanatory models prove to be just as hypothetically adequate as the supposed event of divine creation. As Barth readily admits, a “cosmic monster” could fit just as well as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We might also say materialistic evolution.

Now, what interests me about all this is the following question: what is the significance of the fact that the world is capable of telling such divergent stories about itself? We are often prone to chalk up such divergences to our own epistemological limitations: our powers of perception are finite, our minds are clouded by sin, our intentions are not really to know, but rather to control, etc. These factors all of course play a part, but I think there’s another factor which we may be overlooking, and that is: the world is just there. As far as we are concerned, it confronts us with the same there-ness as a stone on a path. And this is why the world is so bizarre. Christian orthodoxy holds that the world is different from God. Whereas God’s existence is self-affirming, the world’s existence makes no independent sense, that is, the fact that it is, is gratuitous, contingent, and in a certain sense weird. And being weird, the world can be just as easily plunked into one worldview as another. In fact, inquisitive folks that we are, it practically invites us to do this. And depending on our religious predilections, this worldview may or may not include God. As I see it, the world’s very contingency allows for this, because even if all bases were covered by this or that explanatory framework, the world will always retain its oddity as a strangely existing thing.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that the matter of the real story of the world is irrelevant. As a Christian, I believe that God really did create the heavens and the earth, and my belief in this fact testifies to God’s gracious condescension in Christ. Moreover, I think people like me are entirely within their Christian rights when they begin to see the world as a “theater of God’s glory,” perceiving even God’s “invisible qualities” through the mouthpiece of creation (one example: Friedrich Schleiermacher is always getting flack for chucking God into his epistemology where the “reflective self-consciousness” can do the job just fine – yet such critiques often fail to reckon with the fact that Schleiermacher is a believer, and hence capable of integrating insights from Christian self-consciousness into other disciplines where no contradiction in the terms of those disciplines is introduced…though that may be a discussion for another post). What I am claiming is that seeing the world through Christian lenses is not necessary precisely because of what the world is, that is, something which need not have been.

You might say that I’m smuggling in Christian notions of the world’s contingency into my account – and of course, you’d be right. My thesis that God is not necessary to explain the world stems, perhaps paradoxically, from my conviction that God actually did create the world. If the world were necessary and not contingent, then I can’t see how it could tell another story about itself. But if the world actually is contingent, it can tell us a whole host of stories about itself, even stories which involve, for instance, its eternity (i.e., its forever-backwards existence) and/or its non-relation to God.

Postscript: I gather I’m also supposed to be introducing myself with this first post, so in that vein, let me just say: I really don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m completely insecure about most of the claims I make, and I depend on talking with people to sharpen me up. So have at it, dear readers. I covet your devastating critiques.

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. July 5, 2011 1:55 pm

    Much of this (at the conceptual level) is straight out of TF Torrance’s “Divine and Contingent Order.” Is that intentional?

  2. Justin permalink
    July 5, 2011 2:05 pm

    Nope – never read it. But of course, I’m happy to sit two rungs below Barth instead of one.

  3. July 5, 2011 2:23 pm

    You should take a look. I’d tell you which chapter to look at specifically, but I’m blanking at the moment and the book is at home while I’m in my library office. You might also (warning: shameless self-promotion ahead!) check out my essay in IJST on TFT and natural knowledge of God. I deploy some of his logic from that book that is pertinent to this discussion.

  4. Justin permalink
    July 5, 2011 2:39 pm

    Just read the first chapter of TFT’s book, wherein he writes: “the universe confronts us as an open, heterogeneous contingent system characterized throughout by coordinated strata of natural coherences of orderly connections of different kinds in and through which we discover an uncircumscribed range of rationality grounded beyond the universe itself but reaching so far beyond us that with all our science we realize we may apprehend it only at its comparatively elementary levels.” (p.20) To that I would say: I think the contingency of the “world” (which I consider to be an abstract, philosophical category denoting the whole of finite reality) implies that the universe need not “confront” us in any one particular way. TFT allegedly has the force of modern science on his side (I say “allegedly” b/c I don’t know anything about modern science), but I guess I just consider natural science far more hypothetically than he does. And where he seems to think that the principle of sufficient reason demands an “external” source of rationality in order to make the world intelligible, I’m sure I could hire myself a crack team of analytic philosophers to argue otherwise (=my favorite argument for not arguing).

    That said, the other half of my argument allows me to affirm wholeheartedly that TFT is engaging in a properly Christian project by positing God as the source of the world’s “ordered contingency.” I just don’t think that such a move is necessary is all.

    Feel free to fill me in on the details of where I may be misunderstanding Torrance. I’m definitely intrigued – and I’ll likely have a go at reading the whole thing in the next few days. Thanks for the reference.

  5. Justin permalink
    July 5, 2011 2:42 pm

    And I’ll be sure to read your essay too…

  6. July 5, 2011 2:44 pm

    This is well raised and excellently said Justin. It opens a load of questions for me, particularly as it concerns the differentiation between theology and apologetics, not to mention the legitimacy of (or at least the nature of) the latter. It seems to me really important that they be strongly differentiated.

    But, I wonder, what is the proper “control” for apologetic discourse, if indeed there be any such discourse? If we believe that God offers us the truth about human existence and flourishing in Jesus Christ, should there then be some effort to explain or describe that with reference to other (at least at some point competing) claims? I mean, in Christianity God is incarnate in creatureliness. So the creation may not be necessary, as such, but it gets pretty enfolded in who God is and what God is about. In Christ we see not only very God but very human. Can we make an attempt to explicate this in creaturely terms, without pretending it can be read off the back of creation itself? And if so, Is it just a matter of making a compelling account rather than an evidential one? If one believes God in Christ to be necessary to human (and cosmic) flourishing (in the grandest but also the most “earthy” sense), how might one begin to describe that believed necessity?

  7. July 5, 2011 3:20 pm

    Just to be clear, I don’t think TFT is engaged in apologetic discourse.

    That said, his point about the limits of science (that we only know it only at its elementary levels, and of its rationality being grounded beyond itself) has a double reference: as a Christian, he obviously has God in mind, but the same comments equally hold true with reference to physics and the Big Bang: i.e., we can do a lot of describing of the cosmos after that point, but have had very little luck penetrating into that fundamental event which seems to have established the rules for the game. TFT’s basic point is that creation cries silently for a foundation beyond itself, even while itself telling us nothing about that foundation. This is why he thinks theologians need to pay attention to science and talk to scientists, i.e., b/c theologians know that foundation.

    You can have your crack team of analytic philosophers, and I have a few suggestions as to where you can store them. 😉

  8. Justin permalink
    July 5, 2011 3:23 pm

    Jon – I suppose the first thing that needs to be admitted is that there is such a thing as “creation itself” – i.e., the world comes from nothing, and hence it has a kind of independent integrity. While the world does indeed arise by the will and word of God, it does not emerge from the being of God nor from anything else – it is a unique thing in itself. This means that the world really can be taken out of context, so to speak, and considered all by its lonesome (or even placed in new contexts, as Barth’s cosmic monster example illustrates). For me, good apologetics will admit this from the outset: non-theistic accounts of the universe can be warranted by the universe. Thus, every time we neutralize one antagonistic account, we can be sure that five more will take its place. So, for my part, I think apologetics works best when it 1) plays defense and 2) publicly narrates the world in Christian terms as a form of gospel witness (which, I’m suggesting, the universe will also readily tolerate). As for what might tip the scale of persuasion – who knows. The heart wants what it wants.

    This doesn’t mean that competing worldviews are totally incommensurable, though. We are, after all, reckoning with the same thing. Consequently, Christians can certainly engage freely and creatively with non-theological appropriations of creation (TFT is a good example) – and even learn from and be chastised by them. And maybe that’s where we might make our most compelling case – our doctrine of creation allows us to take seriously the observations and hypotheses of those who do not, like us, presuppose God.

    Okay, that barely makes sense. Am I missing something? Were you asking me to talk about this in christological terms or something?

  9. Justin permalink
    July 5, 2011 3:30 pm

    Travis – “creation cries silently for a foundation beyond itself” – don’t know about that…have to think more about it. But I do agree with you that that’s not necessarily natural theology.

    And I love analytic philosophers – analytic philosophy is like the internet: there’s a page for everything!

  10. July 5, 2011 3:32 pm

    Well, no, I’m not asking a loaded question to which I expect a certain kind of answer, and you’ve answered half of my question quite well, I should think. I guess the other part of my question is whether in its “publicly narrate[d] … gospel witness” apologetics might present the case that the revelation of Christ best explains creation.

    Is such an attempt flawed? If so is it because of the non-necessity of creation, or because of the fallenness of humanity, or only inasmuch as it attempts to make an evidential claim off the back of natural observations?

    In other words, if the incarnate Christ “lights up” creation’s telos for us, is there a kind of apologetics that appropriately plays “offense” without “offending” what you’ve said here?

  11. July 5, 2011 3:40 pm

    Thanks for this Justin. I became especially curious after your comment, “Now, what interests me about all this is the following question: what is the significance of the fact that the world is capable of telling such divergent stories about itself?” And its answer: “the world is just there”, which is a (realist) ontological rather than an epistemological claim.

    I guess I have two (hopefully friendly but possibly incoherent) questions. The first is whether you would be willing to describe the Christian difference here as a difference of seeing “as.” That is, Christians, atheists and Col. Gaddafi all see the same world, the same reality, but Christians just see it “as” creation. This seems to be an extension of your realist ontological claim, es gibt. I wonder, and am not sure, whether Christians can in fact see more of reality (e.g., miracles, providence), or whether we do in fact just see “as.”

    The second is whether the fact that we confess credo unum Deum, etc., and not credo mundum creatum, has anything to do with the fact that the world does not confront us? It’s precisely not the world which has agency here; only the Creator can confront us with the story that the world is creation.

  12. Justin permalink
    July 5, 2011 3:43 pm

    Well, in a sense, the revelation of Christ best explains creation because, in fact, the revelation of Christ corresponds with the reality of what creation actually is. But purely as an explanatory framework, it’s on the same level as other models. So with that in mind, no – I don’t think we can recommend Christianity on the grounds that it “best explains creation” anymore than we can say that the action of the Father best explains the resurrection of Jesus (why not an alien?). I’m with Barth on this one – we believe in such things as creation and resurrection “because [God] himself has told us.” And that’s where we have to bank our confidence in the continuing perdurance and growth of the church in society – in the faith that God still speaks.

    (wow, that was uncharacteristically pious of me to say)

  13. July 5, 2011 3:50 pm

    Justin, try it this way: “the space-time continuum cries silently for a foundation beyond itself.” Until we penetrate the Big Bang (and I don’t think we ever really will – how can creatures determined by space/time know that which causes space/time?), this is a purely scientific statement.

  14. Justin permalink
    July 5, 2011 4:04 pm

    Steve – damn, you’re good at this. Nice questions (though please don’t ask me to converse in Heideggarese).

    First question, on “seeing as.” Here I’d like to draw a distinction between “reality,” on the one hand, and “the world” on the other. I suppose I’m saying that non-theistic cosmologies can justifiably hypothesize concerning “the world,” defined above as the whole of the finite, while not necessarily penetrating to everything there is (reality). You’re right – the whole story that Christians tell does not end with the stuff that sits in front of our eyes. But that said, I still think a) that a one-eyed man still sees the world, even though he doesn’t see the world in all its depth, and b) that the world can be taken out of context and still meet people, in some sense, as a world. I agree with you: Christians see more than non-Christians (if Christianity is true).

    Second question, on being confronted by the world. Yeah – I agree. The world does not have agency – which is why it submits itself to being manipulated by our understanding in a plurality of ways. We really do rely on God to tell us the truth.

  15. Justin permalink
    July 5, 2011 4:10 pm

    Travis – on the Big Bang, I believe that phenomenon was completely explained on a recent episode of Family Guy, so check that episode out, absorb its message, and get back to me.

    Seriously though, appreciate the distinction. I have to read Torrance’s book to get to the heart of it, I think. Thanks for hanging out here, by the way – looking forward to meeting you in person someday at one of the many conferences we’ll be attending together for the rest of our lives.

  16. July 5, 2011 6:17 pm

    Great thoughts, Justin.

    To piggy-back on Travis and TFT here a few articles written by my friend Myk Habets on TFT’s theological science and hitting upon the issues of contingency and creation’s own created independence therein; click here, here, and here.

    Are you saying that knowledge of nature is non-contingent upon knowledge of God–because it is simply there–but at the same time positing, as corollary, that knowledge of God is also non-contingent upon nature somehow because of the thereness of God in Christ? This seems somewhat like an analogia entis, in a cloaked way.

    It seems to me that thereness does not in itself provide its own independent set of epistmeological hooks; that in fact, as Christians, we know that in order to properly interpret contingent thereness that this presupposes its predicate, or its non-contingent sustenance. So there is a coordinated mode of knowing between creation and the Creator, and by way of taxis, the latter provides the former with the rational furniture necessary for us to contemplate upon such things in the first place; i.e. that there are rational structures woven within the creation itself. So to me, while I see what you’re saying, I don’t believe the created independence of nature itself can somehow be said to be “free” in itself; only because in the end it is contingent, and its freedom is given to it, not taken from itself.

    I am just trying to think with you, Justin; forgive my feeble attempt. Thank you for provoking.

  17. July 5, 2011 8:01 pm

    Justin, I’m assuming when you say “we have to bank our confidence in the continuing perdurance and growth of the church in society – in the faith that God still speaks” you don’t mean that we look to the growth and perdurance of the church as being evidential, but simply that you mean it continues to be the manner of God’s self-witness.

    It seems to me that church growth and personal testimony are often used in a “look, only God explains that” kind of way, and I wonder the extent to which you might think that this is an appropriate form of witness, if at all.

    Aside from that, I guess I’ll ask the predictable questions, which is to ask you to comment on what Romans 1 is talking about when it says that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse”?

  18. July 5, 2011 8:56 pm

    Justin, I think your argument has some significant similarity with Jungel’s argument in “God as the Mystery of the World.” Jungel argues that God is not necessary to the world, but “more than necessary” and, conversely, the world does not need God.

  19. July 5, 2011 9:22 pm

    Lost the rest of my comment there . . .

    Any way, for Jungel the freedom of God and the “independence” of the world is the necessary condition of God’s election of the world, and the world’s loving response to God. And on at least this point, Jungel thinks that secularism has lighted upon something significant – that creation is an epistemic vaccuum, of sorts.

    Sometime last year I found Mark Mattes’ description of Jungel’s views on this, and thought they were really helpful:

    “For Jungel, God is not properly in the world with its buzzing, blooming diversity, but solely in a word that evokes a particular meta-experience. The world, for Jungel, is not revelatory per se but is given over epistemologically to scientific dissection. Through science, it is demystified, decoded, and made ready for consumption, though this exactly the kind of relation to the world from which he claims that the gospel can and should deliver us.”

  20. Justin permalink
    July 5, 2011 10:19 pm

    Gang – thanks for the continued discussion. I have some more thoughts, but unfortunately they’ll have to wait until tomorrow (or the middle of the night if you’re in the States). For now, I’ll just say: that Mattes quote describing Jüngel rocks.

  21. July 6, 2011 1:19 am

    This is great stuff. But here’s where I get lost:

    “Well, in a sense, the revelation of Christ best explains creation because, in fact, the revelation of Christ corresponds with the reality of what creation actually is. But purely as an explanatory framework, it’s on the same level as other models.”

    It seems the ‘in fact’ here is a key link in your distinction between an ‘explanatory framework’ that all ‘world-views’ can justifiably narrate in manifold ways, and Christ’s revelation as somehow uniquely disclosive of what is ‘really real’ about the world’s reality.

    But isn’t the ‘in fact’ of Christ’s revelation of the reality of the world code for, “I’m now speaking the world’s own worldliness’ from within a Christian explanatory framework”? In other words, couldn’t we see your ‘in fact’ here — which you’re expounding as a faith-claim in God’s revelation — as methodologically on par with an ‘in fact’ or ‘revelatory’ claim about what’s ‘really real’ from other perspectives?

    I’m basically trying to figure out how the bonus-perception Christians get by ‘trusting God’s revelation’, rather than by thinking more clearly about the world or something, doesn’t still boil down to thinking/speaking from a certain perspective/tradition about the world. (And now I’m suspecting that, given your definition of ‘world’ as ‘the whole of the finite’ — you will reply by saying that the ‘bonus’ comes in the Christian claim that we’re now speaking about bout finite and infinite things, whereas ‘explanatory perspectives’ or whatever only traffic in the finite.)

  22. July 6, 2011 2:52 am

    Justin,
    Good first post. You are thinking towards important claims. Keep at it. I look forward to reading more from you.
    -John L. Drury

  23. Justin permalink
    July 6, 2011 8:09 pm

    Okay – in order:

    @Bobby: I’m not saying that we can “know” the world properly without God on the grounds of its there-ness – but I am saying the world can explained without God to the same level of explanatory adequacy as explanations which include God. No analogia entis here, I’m afraid. And concerning your second paragraph – your claim that God is necessary to provide the “rational furniture” for the “right” contemplation of the world is precisely the account I’m questioning (until maybe that book that Travis mentioned causes me to repent).

    @Jon: no, I wouldn’t point to church growth as evidence for God. In fact, according to my view, even the church can be hypothetically explained from a natural vantage point (as Barth says in I/1, Christianity is in one sense just a Hellenistic offshoot of an ancient near eastern religion). Re: Romans 1 – this passage isn’t really that relevant, since what I’m challenging is the notion that God must necessarily be posited in order to make sense of the world – even if Romans 1 meant that we could pump out systematic theology texts on the basis of a beautiful sunset (which it doesn’t), I still think I could make the claim I’m making.

    @Tim: as I said above, that’s some pretty sweet Jüngel.

    @Scott: I hope I wasn’t giving the impression that belief in God somehow endows us with super world-perceiving abilities. My point was that when the Christian understanding of the God-world relation is reduced to an explanatory framework, or commended on those terms, it loses the authority that it would have had were it to have been received in faith. Of course, I think Christians can and should happily narrate the world on the basis of the Word of God, but by the same token we should not expect the world necessarily to confirm that Word (since, as I’m suggesting, it also has the capacity to confirm the opposite). On your last point – Christians are indeed speaking from a certain perspective – like everything else anyone ever says or does, what Christians do and say is utterly deconstructible. I guess it’s the challenge of faith to just say “what the hey” and believe anyways.

    @John: right on, man.

  24. July 6, 2011 8:34 pm

    @Justin,

    TFT is all about repentant thinking; so that might be fitting 😉 . I see what you’re questioning; I suppose we’ll have to wait a little longer for your answers. Which I imagine is what you intend to continue to flesh out through later posts; so I’ll wait. Look forward to more of your rather provocative thoughts.

    In re. to your response to Scott; I’m curious about your methodological “what the hey” mode. Is this where you see your “paradox” bottoming out?

  25. scottakirkland permalink
    July 7, 2011 12:17 am

    Justin,

    Millbank’s critique of Barthianism at the beginning of Radical Orthodoxy (from memory) is precisely on these grounds, i.e., that the world can be understood independently of its transcendent ground, and that this entails an assimilation of post-Kantian philosophical categories which accept the limits placed on reason with regard to knowledge of God. I hear you trying to slip out of the noose at the last minute with reference to a kind of relativizing of all world-pictures, but I wonder whether prior to this you have divorced reason from faith unhelpfully. I guess my question is how are you considering reason itself and it’s relation to faith? Are we simply to accept an autonomous rationality which has its limits at the bounds of phenomenal reality, or is this not really reason at all in that it does not acknowledge its dependence upon, in Wittgenstein’s terms, the ‘givenness of the world’ and so some kind of faith, even if it be faith in existence itself as real. But then also, is faith simply a leap into the void where we can say “what the hey” in rather Kierkegaardian fashion…

    I’m not at all sure of this myself, so there is no agenda in my questions – just questions.

  26. July 7, 2011 12:48 am

    I have also just been reviewing Ockham and his nominalism; what you’re saying, Justin, sounds eerily similar to this old scholastic. At least as insofar as what you’re saying impinges on a theory of knowledge.

  27. July 7, 2011 7:45 am

    Whoa, good questions Scott.

    Justin – Okay, well, I was somewhat satisfied but then I slept on it and I’m wondering some more. I get how Romans 1 is irrelevant to your basic point because you are talking about knowledge of the world, not of God. But I do think it is relevant. Not because one might propose to rewrite Grudem on the back of a raindrop-soaked magnolia but because of the much more modest claim Paul seems to be making, which is that when you look at creation you don’t really have an excuse for missing the point about “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature” (emphasis, obviously, mine).

    In other words, you aren’t getting content about God but are learning of His transcendence over creation – and you are supposed to get this from observation of the universe. If Paul thinks God holds us responsible to that, doesn’t he imply that there is a certain “necessity” of God that is “clearly seen, being understood from what has been made”? I’m sure there are other ways to take Paul here – relevant to your point, anyway – but I’d like to hear them.

  28. July 7, 2011 8:13 am

    Justin — yes, I think I get at all that. I think my questions stemmed from the fact that I saw a bit of tension, in terms of how to describe the relation between our world-perceiving abilities and our faith/trust in revelation, you say that — revelation (a faith-claim) “best explains” creation itself (which sounds like it’s working on the level of perception/explanation that all other perspectives can appeal to).

    That’s what kind of sounds like saying, I trust my explanatory model enough to grant it that it is, at least ‘in a sense’, a better world-perceiving framework than others. I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with that, philosophically, but putting it that way sounds to me a bit different than how you were describing the distinction between trust in revelation and normal perception.

  29. Justin permalink
    July 7, 2011 3:35 pm

    Yikes – you people are relentless! Okay…

    @Bobby: allow me to respond as a modern Occamist (which I can only assume would be best represented by a picture of Occam wearing shades): it’s not really “what the hey” from a theological vantage point – more like God claiming us in his self-revelation – but it certainly feels like “what the hey” on most days. As for Occam – I read the stuff over on your blog, and I need to think more about that. On the one hand, I’m not really inclined to go all in on the idea that God didn’t have exhaustive knowledge of the world prior to creating it, but on the other hand I still feel that the force of the “ex nihilo” lies with the implication that the world gains its real meaning and significance not from the mere act of creation, but rather by God’s engagement with it in Christ. This means that the real “meaning” of the world has to be given in revelation, and that there is not necessarily a certain God-world relationship implied by its bare existence (even where here “God” might be understood here abstractly – as apparently Torrance’s crying universe allows for).

    @Jon: as I mentioned earlier (between stuffing sugar snap peas in my mouth), I have some alternative thoughts on Romans 1. The first would be to question why you think “transcendence” is particularly in view as the paramount “invisible quality” evident in creation. That strikes me as kind of arbitrary and not a little influenced by centuries of thought on God’s super-goddy attributed (i.e., incommunicable attributes). Right now I’m speculating that God’s invisible qualities might have something more to do with his “worship rights” as the creator – which to me would make more sense given that the context is about idolatry. But that’s just a thought – I could make up other stuff too if you want.

    @Prather: yeah, I think I said things a bit too sloppily there. Maybe instead of saying that the God-world relation suggested by Christian orthodoxy “best explains” the world, I should have said something like: God has the exclusive rights to capital T “Truth” (or something). The point is that we believe that God is right when he tells us about himself – with the caveat that what God tells us about himself cannot really be tested (in the sense of verified), even after the fact. But yeah – good catch.

    @Kirkland: thanks for the insightful questions. My views on the relationship between faith and reason are still nascent at this point, but with regard to the Barth vs. Milbank issue – yeah, I would side with Barth. As I said above with respect to Bobby’s question, I don’t see the significance of creation, simpliciter, in quite the same way as the Milbankian (Augustinian?) tradition. I remember a few years ago hearing David Bentley Hart tell a crowd of Barthians – “you believe in creatio ex nihilo, right? then you believe in the analogia entis!” That struck me as a bit presumptuous concerning the interpretive work that needs to be done on this doctrine. For me, it’s not creation itself that establishes the God-world relation – but creation *for*. The ex nihilo highlights the graciousness of the covenant all the more.

    Also, to be clear – I’m NOT saying that the world can be rightly *known* apart from God. I’m saying that it’s possible to “make sense” of the world (i.e., render it intelligible) without God. But by the same token, God can also be used to make sense of the world, metaphysically speaking – which is why I think Schleiermacher represents a good, Christian departure from Kant. Regardless, though, what makes us Christians is not our ability to render this narrative on the basis of epistemic fit, but rather God’s inscrutable decision to love us in Christ. I don’t think that makes me a Kantian or a modern or whatever – I think that just makes me a Protestant.

  30. scottakirkland permalink
    July 7, 2011 11:36 pm

    I’m certainly not advocating the analogia entis. But, I think Barth was reacting against a certain form of analogy which has more to do with Kant than Thomas (or at least as read by the post-neo-Thomists). Creation is given significance by Milbank because of its participation in it’s transcendent ground for its very being, not simpliciter (this is just straight Barthianism, or as far as my thesis is concerned at least :P). Milbank just doesn’t read Barth well as far as I am concerned. I am a Barthian of sorts, so I would want to place creation itself within God’s electing work. I think on that basis we can then say that creation only really makes sense Christologically, so on that I think we are together. I think that what you are doing opens up a far more conversant, and humble, theology. This perhaps allows us to be a little less cagey in our interactions with alternate world-views. This is good stuff, thanks.

  31. Justin permalink
    July 8, 2011 1:52 pm

    Oh yeah – I didn’t mean to imply that you held to the the AE (though I agree with you that it’s not probably worth getting as worked up about it as Barth did). I know just a little of Milbank, but what I understood still strikes me as a bit less covenantal than I would be comfortable with, as you point out.

    And not that I’m saying what I’m saying just for the sake of fostering better dialogue, but yeah – I think a definite pay-off of this view is Christians taking a far less combative approach to alternative theories. We definitely need to move beyond a posture which assumes that if people would just think more clearly, Christianity would win every time. But that’s not what this thing is all about, is it?

  32. July 8, 2011 5:38 pm

    Justin,

    Thank you. I think that I like what you’re probably saying; it just took me a few days to understand where you are coming from. I don’t necessarily think you’re Ockham with sun-glasses, but that would look cool!

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