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.