Archive for April, 2011

Negotitating Differences between Muslims and Christians


Check out my post at Arni’s blog.

Tracy’s Blessed Rage for Order Part II


I suppose the machinations of theological methodology are a necessary evil of the discipline, an extended prolegomena that precedes actual theological reflection; a sort of reflecting on how one reflects, if you like.

If Tracy’s Blessed Rage for Order is a second order reflection on reflecting about God, then this blog post is a third-order reflection; to put it awkwardly, a reflection on how one has reflected on reflecting (and any comments on this post thus simply become fourth-order instances in this same continuum). The Roman Catholic theologian David Tracy’s Blessed Rage for Order is one of the most eminent and important examples of this type theological methodology, a meditation not so much on theology itself, but on how one should do theology – or, in what context in which theology should be carried out. To this end, as Jeremy helpfully outlines in the previous post, Tracy basically outlines what he sees as five basic models of theology that are presently employed; the orthodox, the neo-orthodox, the radical, the liberal, and the revisionist. I will not so much take issue with how he has labeled theologians so much as with the fact that he has labelled them at all.

While it is natural to try and organize thinkers in thoroughgoing acts of categorization, I think naming in such a manner is part of a power discourse that ultimately seeks to negate what he been named by placing thinkers who share a few superficial commonalties into a group so that they can be dismissed. As Kierkeegard somewhere said, “Once you label me you negate me.” Hence the reason why some scholars deny the existence of the category of Gnosticism, which is really a large and disparate category of various religious tendencies grouped under a model and which the early church dismissed. This is my largest issue with Tracy’s theological methodology. In comparing his revisionist model to others, he hardly seems to be to do justice to any of them.  I have an especial distaste for the term “neo-orthodox” to describe the school of theology supposedly fronted by Karl Barth, as if Barth, Brunner, and Tillich were identical theologically. The category seems woefully inaccurate. The term certainly rpceeds Tracy, and perhaps I am taking out some of my angst at such categorization on Tracy, but I don’t find it helpful. But more to the point, I don’t see how the neo-orthodox as outlined by Tracy is mutually exclusive of his concept of orthodoxy, which as Tracy represents covers quite a wide spectrum (24). (I don’t think, for example, anyone would really question Barth’s orthodoxy.) Moreover, for Tracy neo-orthodox is really a reaction to and part of the liberal model. A “moment” in the liberal model, as Tracy words it (27).  Thus, neo-orthodox can be thought of as part of three of the five models.

His fifth model is, as far as I can tell, really best described as a modification of the liberal or neo-orthodox category, as Tracy spends a great deal of time in the book developing a method of correlation distinct, but not unlike, Tillich’s more famous ‘method of correlation.’ His whole dichotomy of placing certain theological systems into models is for me unhelpful and obfuscating. And because of its general nature, it really does not do justice to the systems it seeks to categorize.

Tracy’s Blessed Rage for Order Part I


I’m going to offer some reflections on Tracy’s Blessed Rage for Order. I’ll admit that I found this book incredibly boring. I understand it is an important work of theology, but the entire work is focused on theological methodology. Not one of my favorite topics. I’m going to focus on the five different models of doing theology that Tracy outlines in Chapter 2. According to Tracy, all theologies must interpret two things: 1) Christian tradition and 2) Human existence. Here are the five models he outlines:

A) Orthodox Theology: Believers and Beliefs – This theological approach ignores the questions of modernity and simply repeats the teachings of a particular church’s doctrine. Tracy believes the strength of this model is the way it develops complex and nuanced understandings of Christian beliefs. However, it suffers from irrelevancy because it is not in conversation with other scholarly disciplines. It can only address the specific believer and fails to take the seriously Tillichian “situation”.

B) Liberal Theology: Modern Secularity and Christian Belief – Liberal theology is convinced that we must “rethink the fundamental vision and values of traditional Christianity in harmony with the fundamental vision and values of modernity” (26).
Schleiermacher. However, Tracy is convinced the project was a failure and unsuccessful.

C) Neo-orthodox Theology: Radical Contemporary Christian Faith and the God of Jesus Christ – Tracy believes that liberal theology begat neo-orthodoxy. We must understand neo-orthodoxy as a reaction against the excesses of liberal theology. Neo-orthodox theology accepted the later critiques of modernity offered by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. They questioned liberal naivety and utopian optimism. Tracy wonders if neo-orthodoxy did not properly criticize its own central convictions concerning revelation, Christology (29).

D) Radical Theology: Secular Affirmation and Theistic Negation – Contra neo-orthodoxy, radical theology proclaimed the death of the Wholly Other God. One should consider these theologians as being radically christocentric (or radical Barthian). Unsurprisingly, Tracy appreciates the emphasis on secularity but wonders if the entire enterprise is impossible. Can one continue to do theology if God has been evacuated?

E) Revisionist Model: A Critical Correlation – These theologians are committed to bring together Christian theology and post-modern thought. It intends to take seriously postmodern values and beliefs that will critique of Christian beliefs. Ultimately, “contemporary Christian theology is best understood as philosophical reflection upon the meanings present in common human experience and the meanings present in the Christian tradition” (34).

Hauerwas and Severe Mental Illness


Good stuff

Altizer Interview


Check it out.

Tillich – Systematic Theology Volume 2


I’m going to offer some brief reflections on Tillich’s Systematic Theology Volume II

1) Atonement – Tillich is right to note “God is the subject not the object of mediation and salvation. He [sic] does not need to be reconciled to man, but he [sic] asks man to be reconciled to him [sic]” (91). He goes on to say that Christ does not represent “man to God but shows what God wants man to be” (91). Tillich criticizes the three major theories of atonement. He rejects Christus Victor because it lacks the subjective response of man’s participation and relegates salvation to a cosmic struggle that does not involve man. For man to be properly healed of his anxiety and guilt, it requires that God’s law and justice are emphasized. Tillich faults Abelard’s theory for not considering the objective aspect of reconciliation. Finally Tillich questions Anselm’s view of the atonement (following Aquinas) believing that the subjective side is de-emphasized. Outlining his own approach Tillich suggests there are five principles to any proper doctrine of atonement: 1) God alone atones, 2) No conflict exists between God’s justice and God’s love, 3) Reconciliation can not simply overlook the guilt and estrangement of man, 4) God actively participated in existential estrangement and self-destructive consequences, and 5) The Cross manifests the divine participation in estrangement.

2) Historical Criticism – Tillich makes the interesting point that only Protestant Christianity, of all the world religions, has had the courage to subject its holy texts to historical criticism and research. Tillich believes this move has enabled Protestants to become more genuinely honest and he criticizes those groups who reject historical research based solely on dogmatic prejudice. This acceptance of historical consciousness has allowed Protestantism to not be forced into irrelevant spirituality (a la Schleiermacher). Perhaps we sense here why Barth’s theology is so awkwardly placed between liberal and conservative theology. He pays lip service to historical critical research but then acts as if the Bible is completely reliable. As much as I respect his effort, one has to wonder if Barth’s refusal to take sides is, in fact, a retreat from the truths of Biblical studies. I completely understand why Harnack et al. were totally bewildered by Barth’s move in Romans. Perhaps Tillich’s somewhat speculative theology is one of the last great efforts to return theology to the ontological task after the Bible had been dethroned in Protestant theology. Rejecting the Biblicism from both the right (infallibility) and the left (Ritschl), he opens up the path for a theology of culture that is fully secular. However, I suspect that Tillich’s legacy will ultimately be forgotten years from now because the ontological architecture he imposes on Christian thinking is bound to become outdated and strange. Although I imagine Tillich would only respond with the charge to “keep theologizing” since his very method of correlation, suggests that theology is a continually creative task that requires constant re-invention and renewal based on man’s current situation.

3) Christology – In Volume I of his ST, Tillich laid out his argument that God is “beyond existence and essence” (147). Given that his definition of divinity implies that God is beyond existence, this raises questions about the Chaledonian definition that describes Christ as possessing two-natures. Christ lived in 1st century Palestine and was clearly not beyond essence and existence. This finite existence precludes a divine nature in Tillich’s theology. Instead, Tillich rejects that God-man idea and replaces it with ‘God-Man-hood”. Unlike the static essence of divinity, this conception is dynamic and relational. Although Tillich recognizes his Christology resembles Schleiermacher’s, he believes his Christology has an ontological character whereas Schleiermacher’s Christology only has an anthropological one.

Quick Announcement


Friends of this blog should be aware that our modern theology project is going strong. Unfortunately, Wes has elected to discontinue the project because he’s lame and married and has a life, etc. Anyway, Kait Dugan has graciously accepted an invitation to replace Wes and become a contributor of this blog. She’ll jump on board sometime this summer and work with us through the rest of 2011. She has her own blog here. Also, I assume my readers regularly check AUFS and should have seen my recent post here. I believe that post is perhaps the most satisfying of my blogging career because I got the great Tom Altizer to say it was “splendid”.

Tillich – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part II)


This post on the first volume Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology will focus on Tillich’s understanding of the arguments for God’s existence, followed by a brief conclusion on this fits with his corollary view that God does not “exist,” as found in the second part of his Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, entitled “Being and God.”

The arguments for God’s existence sometimes employed in theology are hardly Christian in origin, and are found readily in the in the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, and are defended as well by Jewish (Maimonides, Spinoza) and Islamic (Avicenna) theologians. (As an aside, much of Analytic philosophy is to this day concerned greatly with the vicissitudes of natural theology and arguments for the existence of God, such as in the philosophy of Richard Swinburne.)

In what I take to be one of the stronger points in his Systematic theology, Paul Tillich offers a wholly different approach to these argument that moves beyond the bland dichotomy between either affirming these arguments or denying their validity whilst still holding to their intuitive purchase (i.e. thinking the arguments could theoretically be valid if formulated with greater specificity, or even by thinking that there are legitimate theological disproofs for the existence of God).

Paul Tillich begins his discussion with observation that philosophers and theologians have been divided roughly between these two positions, either between those who think the arguments veridical and those who do not (204). This, Tillich says, is because of a fundamental misunderstanding. Those who attacked the arguments were not denying what the proponents affirmed.  Insofar as they are taken as logically assenting propositions, the arguments for the existence of God cannot be considered, for Tillich, as valid examples of reasoning (ibid.). In this sense they fail because they cannot accomplish what they claim, viz. the arguments do not “prove” the existence of God.  But Tillich does think the arguments can be affirmed in another sense, not a demonstrative argument but as questions. For him, “the arguments for the existence of God neither are arguments nor are they proof of the existence of God. They are expressions of the question of God implied in human finitude. This question is the truth; every answer they give is untrue” (205).  For example, the ontological argument demonstrates for Tillich the fact that man has in his actual finitude has knowledge of the potential infinite from which he is estranged (206). In other words, these arguments show that the question of God is implied in the finite structure of being (210). “In performing this function they partially accept and also partially reject traditional natural theology, and they drive reason to the quest for revelation” (210).

Tillich is quite explicit in maintaining, I think rightly, that contrary to most popular religious thought and even some unclear and muddled theological thought, God is not a “being,” especially a being among other beings, or even the highest or supreme being. Philosophical Theism is in this sense un-Christian because, besides not being rooted in any Christology, theism views God as basically a reified person who stands over and above the world. Tillich explicitly states that God does not exist (205). For him, to even claim that God exists is atheistic (ibid.). This is because “God is being itself beyond essence and existence. To argue that he exists is to deny him” (205).

Is it not quite telling that the preeminent complaint among Tillich’s theolgical detractors is how one can worship this “ground of being” or have a personal relationship with something that is impersonal (see, for example Grenz and Olson’s critique of Tillich “radical immanentism”  in his textbook on 20th Century Theology, pp. 126-127). Could Hauerwas be instructive here? Is Christianity really about a “relationship” with God?