News Stand: Scottish Journal of Theology (May 2013)
This year’s second issue of the Scottish Journal of Theology is now available online (login required). As usual there are several noteworthy items in one of the field’s leading professional journals. In this new, on-going Out of Bounds feature, I’d like to point you to the latest Table of Contents and then take a closer look at one selected essay.
Scottish Journal of Theology
Volume 66, Issue 2 (May 2013)
“Law, Lies and Letter Writing: An Analysis of Jerome and Augustine on the Antioch Incident (Galatians 2:11–14)”
(Jason A. Myers)
“Resistance and Romans 13 in Samuel Rutherford’s Lex, Rex”
“Divine Passibility in Light of Two Pictures of Intercession”
“The Trials of Job: Relitigating Job’s ‘Good Case’ in Christian Interpretation”
“Listening for the Lex Orandi: The Constructed Theology of Contemporary Worship Events”
(Stephen R. Holmes)
“Is God Necessarily Who God Is? Alternatives for the Trinity and Election Debate”
Article Review: “The Gospel of Thomas: Gathercole and Goodacre”
Article Review: “Theology in a Subjunctive Mood: Reflections on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age”
(F. B. A. Asiedu)
In this issue I’d like to look a bit closer at Kevin Diller’s essay, a contribution to the Trinity-and-election debate from the perspective of classical metaphysics and modal logic. Diller is Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religion at Taylor University, and did his doctoral studies at St. Andrews on revelation and epistemology in the work of Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga.
The debate over the local (not chronological or temporal) ordering of (1) God’s decision to elect Himself for human beings and human beings for Himself, and (2) God’s own being as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was touched off by Bruce McCormack’s controverted reading of Barth in the 2000 essay “Grace and Being” (The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, ed. John Webster; reprinted in McCormack, Orthodox and Modern). In short: McCormack suggests that an inevitable conclusion of Barth’s theological ontology is that God’s decision to elect logically precedes God’s being as triune. (Note that he is not claiming that this is Barth’s own position — just that, taken consistently, Barth’s work appears to entail this conclusion.) Under some critical pressure over the following decade, McCormack has clarified this conclusion with the reaffirmation that “election and triunity are equally primordial in God” (McCormack, “The Doctrine of the Trinity after Barth,” Trinitarian Theology After Barth, p. 113). Neither have ontological priority, since both election and Trinity “are given together in one and the same eternal event. … But election has a logical priority over Trinity — because decision has a logical priority over being” (p. 115, emphasis mine).
The debate has somewhat stalled out over the past two years, and as positions become more entrenched and more precisely articulated, on-lookers may wonder if there is much left to say. But Diller’s contribution is original: rather than entering the fray as another Barthian fighting over the Swiss giant’s legacy, Diller brings the tools of philosophy to McCormack’s controversial thesis to determine whether it is conceptually possible to maintain without doing violence to the notion of divine freedom. This, it seems to me, is an important task, as McCormack’s critiques have often concluded that his account of God’s eternal choosing in fact rules out God’s enduring freedom from creaturely contingency.
Diller begins by helpfully identifying a number of common values shared by both sides of this debate — especially the importance of divine freedom, and Barth’s Christocentric doctrine of revelation. He then proceeds to distinguish between different “kinds of necessity” in reference to God’s being, in order to demonstrate that McCormack’s proposal does not entail God’s necessary contingency upon His creation:
It seems that granting election as part of God’s essence does no violence to divine freedom. And yet, there seems to be no clear requirement to maintain a logical priority of election over triunity. (p. 218, emphasis mine)
In short: Diller’s work suggests that, despite McCormack’s (and Barth’s) attempt to sustain a “post-metaphysical” doctrine of the being of God, the classical metaphysical tradition has resources at least for clarifying the claims that are (and are not) being made. What Diller is ultimately doing is working out with some precision McCormack’s claim that Barth makes the history of redemption “necessary” to God only by virtue of God’s free self-determination, not by (an absolute) necessity.