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I have no ontology!

In a recent post at Faith & Theology, George Hunsinger and Kim Fabricious go head-to-head in a ‘propositions-off’ about the much-discussed issue of the logos asarkos.  While there is much in that post that I would like, and hope someday to respond to, there was one statement by Hunsinger that particularly struck me.  For his fifth proposition, Hunsinger asserts, “I do not now, nor have I ever, subscribed to an “essentialist” ontology. The reason is that I have never subscribed to any ontology whether “essentialist”, “actualist” or otherwise” [Italics added].  Hunsinger made a similar statement in the 2006 session of the Karl Barth Society in response to David Bentley Hart’s claim that he (Hart) was seeking to explore in his work the metaphysics implied by the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.  Hunsinger insisted, contra Hart that the ontology implied by Christian doctrine is “none whatsoever”.

Now, as I understand it, “ontology” simply means the study of being.  If someone proposes an ontology, they are, as I understand the term, proposing a particular way of understanding the nature of of what it means “to be”.  Unless “ontology” means something very different from what I understand, then it seems to me that Hunsinger’s claim to not hold any particular ontology is incredible to say the least.  Are we to understand that he has no perspective whatsoever on the nature of being, either human or divine?  To even claim such a thing skirts the very furthest reaches of absurdity.  Christian theology has always implied substantial ontological commitments.  Any reading of the creeds and treatises of the church fathers shows how intimately freighted their work is with ontological statements and categories.  The doctrine of the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and especially the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead are radically ontological claims.  They have everything to do with what “being” ultimately means.

Alas, I fear that Hunsinger, in claiming that he has no ontology is really just trying to find a way out of having to have the necessary arguments about theological ontology that would bear on the shape of ones doctrine of the Trinity and Christology.  In claiming that he has no ontology, Hunsinger is trying to insulate his position on central theological issues related to Christology and the Trinity from metaphysical critique.  This is an unfortunate theological move and promises only to contribute to hardened lines and more shrill arguments over the issues in question rather than fostering an authentic dialogue about the ontological perspectives most appropriate to the proper articulation of orthodox Christian theology.

6 Comments

  1. roflyer wrote:

    I noticed that in the discussion too. I was wondering what he meant by not subscribing to any ontology. I guess I figured that he was just distancing himself from either the essentialist or actualist ontology and emphasizing that he does not subscribe to any particular school of thought on ontology. I didn’t take him to mean that he had no ontology, because I figured that was simply absurd. I think your fear is warranted though; he ought to articulate his ontology whether he thinks he has one or not.

    Monday, October 29, 2007 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  2. james wrote:

    Perhaps Hunsinger dispenses with ontological discussion too easily, but couldn’t it be said that Halden-Kim-Ben dispense with the various charges of heresy, crossing fingers or running roughshod over Scripture rather too quickly?

    Something so non-traditional, counterintuitive, almost unintelligible, deserves a little more defense I would think.

    Respectfully,
    James

    Monday, October 29, 2007 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    James, where in Scripture do you see evidence of a logos asarkos? Scripture says nothing about some version of the Logos that is different than Jesus. “Before Abraham was, I am”, remember? Those words were spoken by Jesus, not some other eternal logos without flesh. The only logos we have access to in Scripture is precisely the logos ensarkos. To posit something other than this person Jesus as the “true” eternal Word is the counterintuitive, unintelligible and speculative position.

    Also, have you even read any of the actual writing on this debate outside of blog discussions?

    Just because a position may seem counterintuitive to your mind and unintelligible to your presuppositions doesn’t make it wrong. If you have an argument to make, make it. If not, stop blowing smoke.

    Monday, October 29, 2007 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  4. james wrote:

    “The only logos we have access to in Scripture is precisely the logos ensarkos”

    Doesn’t Paul envision a Son who previously was a person but not human or enfleshed who took on our “likeness”? This Son was sent to become human after his own conscious choice. He was “rich before he became poor (incarnate)”, he took on our “flesh” but can not be measured by it. If anything for Paul isn’t the Son carefully not identified with his fleshly ‘appearance’ but with his identity he had before the incarnation and after the resurrection. Paul explicitly in 2 Cor 5 does not measure the Christ “according to the flesh”.

    Again respectfully submitted,
    James

    Monday, October 29, 2007 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  5. Derrick wrote:

    We had talked about this in the library a little today, but I was as shocked as you were that Hunsinger made such a claim. Even earlier, I believe, in replying to Ben’s review of Molnar’s new book, Hunsinger mentioned something along the lines of using an “ad hoc” metaphysics. He didn’t elaborate on exactly what this meant, but I find that concept to be very unhelpful. It seems just as impossible to have no ontology as it does to have an ad hoc metaphysic. I thought of this quote by Pannneberg:

    “What peope have become accustomed to separate as historical and dogmatic statements are really two moments in a single cognitive process…the point of departure for historical work is constituted by a spontaneous pre-projection of nexuses of meaning which then are tested against observation of all the available individual details, and confirmed or modified in accord with each of these. The dogmatician, however, inquires in the opposite direction, asking how a universal context of meaning arises out of a specific event, the history of Jesus Christ. Both aspects, the universal meaning, and the specific individuality of Jesus’ way, are so intertwined that the process of acquiring knowledge of this always passes from one to the other.” (Basic Questions in Theology, vol.1 p. 199).

    In others words, the claim to have “no ontology,” itself is involved (however implicitly) in projecting “hypothetical nexuses of meaning,” that is, a hypothetical world to fit the “non-ontological,” claims, and hence they are themselves always ontological. There is, like you said, no escaping ontology.

    @ James,

    I have to agree with Halden on this. “Counterintuitive,” is such a relative term that it carries absolutely no argumentative weight. And “unintelligible,” is just an ugly, militant flourish, that I daresay questions the intelligence of all involved in the rejection or modification of a logos asarkos. If you have specfic claims, then you should lay them out and we can all have some fun debating.

    As to your claims of these views regarding no “logos asarkos,” they are not so non-traditional as you think. You should read Robert Jenson’s “The Triune Identity,” for specific sources, but even Irenaeus and Athanasius, while for the most part speaking of the “Eternal Word,” often (and startlingly!) refer to the Eternal Word in such formulas as “The Eternal Word, namely Jesus Christ,” and other formulas that seem to imply this man Jesus of Nazareth as somehow eternal. How this works out, is, of course, debatable (regarding the terms of just what ‘eternal,’ means, etc…) but to call these views as “untraditional,” or “without precedent,” I believe, is false.

    Monday, October 29, 2007 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  6. wtm wrote:

    What I understand Hunsinger to be reacting against in his rejection of espousing any particular ‘ontology’ is this: any independently developed systematic understanding of ‘being’ is not to be incorporated wholesale into Christian theology. This is not to say that certain elements of Christian doctrine do not lead on to certain ontological notions. It is to say that no independently developed ontology – and no dependently developed ontology so long as it purports to be a complete system – is to be associated or identified with Christian teaching.

    Monday, October 29, 2007 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

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