Skip to content

Idolatry and participation

Lately, I’ve noticed several re-articulations of a theological trend we’ve talked about here plenty of times before, namely the position that the church’s practices mediate God’s presence and action in the world, form Christians to be virtuous selves in contrast to the acids of modernity, and make Christ concretely present in the world, when otherwise salvation would be simply a spiritual abstraction of some sort. What is still needed, advocates of this trend maintain, is an ontology of participation which insists that divine and human action are fundamentally noncompetitive, that God’s action for our salvation is not simply God’s but because of the ontological participation between God and the world, it is also our action, and indeed, the very notion of attributing action distinctly to God versus humanity is problematized. God’s action does not “exclude” but rather is mediated precisely through the church’s own social practices and rituals. So the story goes.

Anyways recent work done along these lines (and this post by my friend Robb brought it to mind for me) tends to argue against those critical of this position that somehow such criticisms simply do not take into account the fact that their position views divine and human action as “noncompetitive” and thus as practically indistinguishable. Once we see that point, it’s no longer problematic to have God’s presence and action possessed and mediated through the church’s social practices and rituals. However, this re-assertion is problematic on a number of levels.

Obviously those of us who are critical of the school of thought that articulates what we might call “ecclesial-practices-as-the-direct-mediation-of-God’s-presence-and-action” are fully aware that certain strains of postliberal and contemporary quasi-Catholic theological sentiment believe that divine and human action cannot be seriously distinguished and thus that the church’s practices simply in some sense “are” and “extend” God’s action, make God present, and bind God, making possible God’s concreteness in the world (this is Reinhard Hütter’s way of talking here, and this line of thought is also pretty clear in Sam Wells’ work, and is made very clear in Jamie Smith’s recent books, it is also articulated very plainly in David Fitch’s recent book, The End of Evangelicalism, if folks want to check out some references). Of course we know that folks think that divine and human action cannot be distinguished, are noncompetitive because of a participatory platonic ontology, etc.

However, I don’t see how any of these re-assertions actually substantially criticize or render problematic anything folks like Nicholas Healy, John Flett, Peter Kline, or Nate Kerr, Ry Sigglekow, and myself have argued. It just re-asserts the position we have argued (in our various and distinct ways) against without really attending to any of the arguments in question, or showing how it withstands the critiques made against it. It is argument by re-assertion, not by engagement. It does not show why we ought to believe in a platonic ontology of participation, why we ought to view divine and human action as distinguishable, rather it simply asserts that when you assume a participatory ontology it makes sense to think of the church’s practices as the extension and concrete reality of God’s being and action in the world. Well, of course it isn’t problematic to see ecclesial practices this way when you assume such an ontology, but why should we? These are the questions that I haven’t seen any answers to (unless “because modernity is bad” counts as an answer somehow).

Moreover, these articulations seems to me to often involve a patently false argumentative turn. Namely they tend to insist that there must be “an impenetrable ontological divide” between God and the world (throw in some stuff about Scotus and nominalism and how evil it is here) if there is to be a distinction of divine and human agency. The problem is there is no reason why this line should be thought to be true. Just because human and divine actions can be distinguished does not in any way imply that God is somehow ontologically locked out of the nitty-gritty of human life and action. Obviously God has broken through any and all barriers (sin, death, the Devil, etc) in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It seems strange to me that this radical act of God, the very act of defeating death, sin, and hell somehow is not adequate to bring God and humanity truly together in an unbreakable sense, a sense that we can depend on. That somehow if we don’t have this reality socially possessed and doled out through the church’s rituals and practices, it is simply something “spiritual” and ephemeral.

Moreover, the whole way in which “noncompetition” between divine and human agency tends to be articulated in these accounts rests on a rather odd misunderstanding of what attributing distinction of action means. It seems to be assumed that if God’s action is properly God’s, and thus, fundamentally not ours, that then we have somehow locked God out of the world. As already mentioned, this fear seems to me to manifest an odd lack of faith in the reality of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, but furthermore it seems to rest on a mistake about the implications of distinguishing between agents and their respective actions. I mean, you and I are both human beings but your actions are yours and mine are mine in a unique and irreducible sense. If you murder someone, there must be a real sense in which that is your action and not mine, our common human nature notwithstanding.

It seems impossible to read the New Testament depictions of judgment any other way, for there it is always people’s own unique actions (feeding the hungry, visiting the poor, etc.) form the basis of how they are judged. Likewise the whole logic of salvation in Paul rests on the fundamental distinction between divine and human agency (“this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God, not the result of human works…” etc). Obviously examples of this could be multiplied extensively.

All this to say, being able to attribute a distinction of actions to God and human beings does not create an impenetrable divide between them in any way (any more than distinguishing your action and mine sets us on different sides of an impenetrable ontological divide). It simply recognizes that God is God and human beings are not God. This does not sequester God from the world, but simply recognizes that God is present and active to the world in freedom, not as a function of our “making”. What it refuses to do is amalgamate God, make God some sort of constituent part of the world-event, which is what I think perspectives like the one often articulated by advocates of ecclesial-practices-as-the-direct-mediation-of-God’s-presence-and-action cannot help but ultimately do.

This is why, I fear, in the end such articulations are ultimately idolatrous. In this ontological scheme God becomes the possession of the church, no matter how vigorously this is denied. The church’s practices become God’s presence, no matter how passionately this is nuanced. God ceases to be the free and living Lord and simply becomes the religious commodity that the church dispenses and maintains in its own social rituals and life, despite the pious verbiage in which this is couched. And that is why, eventually, I came to reject this theological trend, at least as an overriding program for doing theology.


  1. Three questions/comments;

    -How would you understand Paul´s language of “the body of the Messiah”? Is that a pure metaphor for something else (without getting stuck in a discussion on what constitutes a metaphor). I ones read Robinsons “The Body” and was surprised/challenged/inspired (in that order) by his suggestion that Paul really intends to say that the church IS the resurrected body of Jesus.

    -Why presuppose a coherent theology in the New Testament or Paul on this “subject”? “Likewise the whole logic of salvation in Paul rests on the fundamental distinction between divine and human agency” seems to overstate things a bit in my mind.

    -I also found your hint at Matthew 25 very interesting. I found the exegesis convincing that says that “the least of these” in Matthew are the disciples/apostles/the church. Those judged in Matthew 25 (compare Matthew 10) would then be other than the disciples, and they are judged on the basis on how they treated the homeless, poor and persecuted disciples because they were (in their mission?) the son of man. It´s hard to say then how this pericope could be an argument AGAINST ecclesial-practices-as-the-direct-mediation-of-God’s-presence-and-action…

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 4:07 am | Permalink
  2. Matt Frost wrote:

    Remember that Matthew is writing as a Jew to Jews about Jews. This pericope cannot stand as an argument for ecclesial mediation, because the community in Christ is not the primary mode of the ekklesia in the text or its situation. It is counter-assembly. The argument iin context would be that Temple practices are the direct mediation of God’s presence and action — how does that seem to you? Does it sound as obviously true?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 5:00 am | Permalink
  3. Matt Frost wrote:

    The problem I see is that the church’s practices — as with the practice of any community of a people of God — should mediate God’s presence and action. They should in fact be means of God’s action in the world. Which never means that any given practice actually does serve as a means of God’s presence and action. It is a standard of judgment against which we see our failure.

    And the post about McCabe serves nicely to illustrate how natural law, as a form of natural theology, tends to make us necessarily proximate agents of God’s action, by default. Compatible with God’s action except for the resistance caused by sin, but inevitably active means under God’s direction. And the problem isn’t so much with the idea that as creatures our agency is naturally compatible with the Creator’s — the problem is with the assumption that God’s order is manifested in human orders, or that the church is in some way exempt from the normal failure of human orders. That the church is a preserve of God’s order — the divinization, not of the creature, but of creaturely self-organization.

    There needs to be a midpoint between the one-agent system in which God does all, and the disjunctive two-agent system in which human and divine action are perfectly opposed. And the two-agent system in which human and divine activity are non-competitive and therefore cooperative is certainly between them, but it is utopian. Edenic. It does not exist. In the realm of two-agent systems, we need a midpoint between necessary cooperation and necessary conflict, one that deals well with sin. And none of the systems that assume that sin is not a serious factor in the distinction between human and divine agency in the church do so adequately.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink
  4. Halden, as usual, I’m sympathetic to your concerns though I think they are overstated, partially as the result of misreading the people you critique. I will post a bit later about that.

    For now, however, I just have one question: what would it take to falsify your account here? What concerns me is your final paragraph where you say, “In this ontological scheme God becomes the possession of the church, no matter how vigorously this is denied. The church’s practices become God’s presence, no matter how passionately this is nuanced.” That comes pretty close, by my reading, to saying there’s nothing your targets of accusation can do to justify their position(s) in your eyes. If the rules of the argument boil down to the equivalent of “When did you stop beating your wife?” then I’m not sure further substantive conversation can be had.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink
  5. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    The construal of divine action and human action as most basically and ontologically ‘non-competitive’ depends on, it seems to me, thinking strictly in terms of an analogia entis. Human being is not in ‘competition’ with God’s being because of a ‘similarity within a greater dissimilarity’ being. It is on account of a dissimilarity of being that ‘non-competition’ gets off the ground. This, it seems to me, is the basis for an ‘impenetrable ontological divide.’ Of course the concept of ‘analogy’ supplies that possibility of language or that ontological possibility that establishes a relation or a mediation between this ontological divide. And it is precisely analogy which functions as the king of all sorts of nuances and theological qualifications.

    The truth of the matter, of course, is that we are in fact *fundamentally* in competition with God. What else is human sin than the competitive desire to be like God? This is Girard’s point about sin and I think it is right on. Theology cannot be about re-asserting that non-competition is fundamentally the basic or most proper relation between God and the world. No. Theology must be about the proclamation that despite the fact that all human action competes for space and power over-against God and is as such *transgression*, we are nonetheless *forgiven* and possessed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is the word of the gospel. And this word of forgiveness encounters us as *judgment* on all of our action, including all of our attempts to carve out, theologically, a ‘non-competitive’ space for us and God. Such attempts are always about self-justification.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink
  6. D C Cramer wrote:

    It seems that in general Yoder can be and has been used to support your perspective. One question, though: How do you take his statements in Body Politics that when the church does these particular practices (e.g., binding and loosing), God is doing them too?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink
  7. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    Brad, in what ways are you sympathetic to Halden’s concerns? What is the cause of the concerns you shared with Halden?

    As to your question, I think the key point is the “In this ontological scheme…”–that is, it is a criticism about starting-points and basic theological frameworks. The way for these thinkers to avoid thinking in the terms Halden is criticizing here is not by nuancing what is said, but in decisively breaking from the whole framework.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink
  8. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    Yeah, I think this is right (though I am not interested in ‘midpoints’). What is needed in theology today is an account of judgment and sin; an account, in other words, of the sense in which divine and human action are fundamentally in *competition.* But such an account is only possible when our starting point is always and at every point the concrete reality of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The central problem is not utopian visions of Eden, but in the lack of belief in the power of the cross and resurrection–that is, in the *forgiveness* of sins. We are, instead, left with a realism about the *given*, of what is, and the sense that we are left to work out how we are to be religiously Christian (how we are to think God and provide a space for God) in light of the given that God is dead. And so the church as a sociality must get on with the task of being God’s presence in the world–and we must provide a theological account for *why* we must get on with this task (e.g., mediation, participation, ontology, sacramentology, non-competition, etc).

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink
  9. That’s not enough, Ry. To not commit a logical fallacy, there has to be a way for them to prove they’re not actually doing what they’re being accused of here (even if, in the end, they are doing it). Based on how Halden’s framed things in this post, I’m not seeing how his own argument is falsifiable. If it’s not falsifiable, then it’s illogical.

    As to shared concerns, I am appreciative of the constant theme of the free action of a sovereign God and concern about any language that would suggest God only operates in certain ways, that he must only ever have human participation to accomplish his intent in the world. I appreciate warnings that remind us that God can act directly without human mediation. I appreciate cautions to the effect that we are not in control of the processes that God uses to bring about “new creation” (however defined). That said, I’m not convinced the targets of this critique are actually doing these problematic things as much as is being alleged. (I also am less sympathetic to a charge of “idolatry” when there was so much wringing of hands over charges of “heterodoxy” in the previous theses discussion. If that’s offensive language there, then idolatry – which is even more strident of a claim – should be considered so here. But that’s really just a quibble.)

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink
  10. Indeed. The difference on this issue between Yoder and the targets of this critique is not that God has allowed Godself to be “bound” in a limited sense to the actions of human beings led by the Spirit, but rather to what situations and actions such an allowance pertains.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink
  11. Matt Frost wrote:

    At which point we wind up with a sort of “Weekend at Bernie’s” ecclesiology, in which we really and truly are the mediators of God’s presence and action, and necessarily so! The pretense of Edenic cooperation between God and humanity erected to cover its genuine opposite.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink
  12. Christian wrote:

    Ry (and Halden), this is exactly the kind of rigorous engagement I think we need to see more of. The problem between the participationists and the apocalpytisists centers in good measure upon what one thinks of the analogia entis. Ry, you’ve done a good job here expanding on the thoughts of Matt above, and I would love to see a continued engagement along these lines (the difference between forgiveness and analogy, who argues for each position and why, what is the historical development of these two lines of thought, are the two mutually exclusive and why, etc.). Often times these arguments seem to boil down to further entrenching one’s position and dismissing those who disagree, which is what I think Robb did, and what I think Halden did in response to Robb’s post; neither really engaged with the claims of the other in a nuanced manner. Anyhow, there’s my 2 cents.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  13. Ry Siggelkow wrote:


    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  14. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    Well, and it may be important to point out to Robb Beck that whatever else Herbert McCabe might mean by ‘divinization’ or ‘participation’ he almost certainly doesn’t mean it in any metaphysical way. He reads Thomas always through the lens of Wittgenstein. A platonic account of participation seems pretty out of the question.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  15. Christian wrote:

    Serious question: Does metaphysics = platonic? Can there be other accounts of the metaphysical?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  16. Kait wrote:

    Would you define the term ‘metaphysics’?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink
  17. mshedden wrote:

    Hey Halden,
    This post is slightly over my head (but I have had a long morning) but I am really interested in the last line, “And that is why, eventually, I came to reject this theological trend, at least as an overriding program for doing theology.”
    I have two questions about that statement. Could it be that (some) of the people who you think aren’t responding to your concerns are not using this “trend” as an overriding program for doing theology but instead have other concerns they think are addressed by this “trend”? Second, for you, what places might this “trend” be useful? I think you leave the door open that this “trend” could be useful in other ways, but I am wondering what ways it is capable of being that.

    The struggle for me is that I am not convinced I am stuck saying what you think I am saying but it is hard to respond to something you don’t think you are saying. Or I am not clearly sold I am walking across the bridge you think I am in respect to God’s action and ours. And that brings us back to the fact that I may not be as up to speed as you are on theology.

    And in honor of something I think you might be doing this weekend: May the odds be ever in your favor.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  18. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    Of course. Just saying that platonic participation is metaphysical and that McCabe saw himself as an anti-metaphysical thinker. Based on a (quick) glance over at “Robb Beck”‘s blog, it seemed to me that he wanted to read McCabe as an RO thinker or something.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  19. Kait wrote:

    I was serious in asking for a definition of metaphysics. I think only one the term is defined and we can see if we are on the same page with a definition can we then proceed to ask whether metaphysical thinking is warranted or desired.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  20. Christian wrote:


    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  21. Kait wrote:

    I was actually asking you for a definition, Christian (if you would be so kind).

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
  22. Good questions that go back to my concern about falsifiability and whether we read each other accurately enough.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  23. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I think Yoder is a very interesting case here. In _Body Politics_, Yoder really doesn’t say that God is “doing” these particular practices as the church does them. What he rather says, is that when human beings do these particular works God too is acting “in, with, and under” the human activity that involves itself in that work. And so there is a “coincidence” of divine and human activity. (As an aside, I think one of the wonderful things about Yoder’s text is how wide open these particular works get thrown–binding and loosing can be one of those particular works, but so also can victim-offender reocinciliation programs in prisons; baptism can be one of those works, but so also can open housing. And while Yoder is certainly concerned with the kind of culture that the church is to become, God is acting wherever this work is happening; there is no clear church-world dichotomy here–if anything, the church does them *as* the world.)

    At any rate, I think it is interesting that Yoder selects a phrase here–”in, with, and under”–that was developed specifically by Protestants (and one associated with Luther at that!) to speak against the transubstantiation doctrine in Roman Catholicism. This is significant, because I think what is at stake here is the question of *mediation*. Participatory ontologies turn on some mode human and creaturely *mediation* of the divine. But Yoder explicitly does not say that God is working and acting *through* these human works and acts. I can’t imagine Yoder ever saying that, because for Yoder it is neither the case that any part of the world at all might come to mediate God, nor is it the case that God needs the church to mediate God’s reconciliation of the world in Jesus Christ.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  24. Nate Kerr wrote:


    What if we defined metaphysics the providing of an account of the whole of being, or realityy, in its relation to whatever we might say is the ground or origin of anything that “is” at all?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  25. Kait wrote:

    Sure, I could get on board with that, I think. I don’t think it needs to be said that I’m not in support of metaphysics or metaphysical reasoning. By that I mean any account of God or reality that is informed outside of the person and history of Jesus Christ as witnessed in the Scriptures. Despite the fact that I think such metaphysical reasoning is idolatrous, I really don’t know how you can have any confidence that such reasoning or speech will actually bear true witness to the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

    The reason I said “I think” is because I would *still* want to speak about the being of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. That is due partially to my own theological interests and concerns. Without speech about the identity of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, I really don’t think we can have much to say to the suffering of humanity (for starters). Thoughts?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  26. mshedden wrote:

    Hey Ry,
    Just be clear I am hearing you right: For Lindbeck, Smith, Hauerwas, Fitch, etc. the given is that God is dead and their project are based around us being this dead God’s presence in the world?
    I don’t want to put words in your mouth but that sounds like what you are saying.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  27. D C Cramer wrote:

    Good points, Nate. But on p. 44 of BP, when Yoder is summarizing the first three practices he’s discussed, on point A, he says the following:

    “Of all three practices it is formally said in the New Testament that when humans do it, God is doing it. Thus would justify our using the word sacrament if the term had not been burdened by mechanical or magical misreadings through the centuries. . . .”

    I’m sympathetic to your reading, but find some tension here. Does he want some kind of participation void of the ontological baggage you and Halden don’t like?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  28. Halden wrote:

    I always assumed there were only three metaphysical options, Platonic, Hegelian, or Christonihilism. (I favor the last one!)

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink
  29. Halden wrote:

    Brad, you seem to be reading that paragraph as me saying “I’ll always think ____ about you even if you prove me wrong, no matter what, forever.”

    I have no idea how you could possibly really think that’s what I’m saying. All I’m saying is that, despite protestations to the contrary, the view(s) I’m critique do in fact suffer from the problems I’ve pointed out. Like, that’s my position and obviously there’s a way to falsify that. Show that it’s wrong. Easy peasy.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink
  30. Halden wrote:

    Christian, to be clear I wasn’t really trying to “engage” Robb’s post, at least not on the question of what McCabe really means. Rather I was just picking up, and analyzing an element of his argument that I take to be problematic, an argumentative turn that I’ve seen used in many places.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink
  31. Evan wrote:

    I wonder how you would respond to Kevin Hector’s article, “The Mediation of Christ’s Normative Spirit”. Hector’s proposal sounds like it has much in common with the sort of thinking you’re critiquing here, although it (importantly) doesn’t appeal to “platonic ontology”, the analogia entis, etc. Could this be a way forward for the ecclesial mediation of the action of God in the world that manages to avoid (or adequately address) your concerns?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink
  32. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Oh, I certainly think there is a tension in Yoder’s work here, and I’ve been clear to say as much with respect _Body Politics_ in particular. What I’m saying is that Yoder is rather careful not to say that God does these actions *as* the church does this, in the sense either of identification or of mediation. And so whatever Yoder means by saying that God is “doing” these actions “in, with, and under” the human doing of them (this word and phrase are actually combined in one sentence at the end of _Royal Priesthood_ if I remember correctly), his talk of the coincidence of divine and human action here does not turn on a participatory ontology. In fact, I find Yoder’s position to be much closer to something like Barth’s, which is to say that God is acting in a manner and at a level qualitatively different than that of humanity in its own active work. God acts here as one whose action is reconciliatory and transformative of the world in the way that the inbreaking of a new creation can be. As I read Yoder, humanity acts here at a more sociologically visible level; the church’s action may be given to become a sign of that world’s transformation, but it is not such in-itself, nor is it such apart from the way God acts independently of humanity in these works. And so I take the “in, with, and under” to indicate something like what Barth calls the “special visibility” of the church, which just is the singular act of God’s apocalyptic transfiguration of the world in Jesus Christ. In this special visibility, Barth can say that Jesus Christ is the church, but not vice versa. It is the independence of Jesus Christ’s action in, with, and under this human work that gives the church to happen there in that work. But the human action here does not mediate God to us. And it is for this reason that we cannot reverse the order of things and say at any point and in any way that the church is Jesus Christ.

    So, whatever Yoder means when he says this, I am pretty sure that he is being careful in a number of ways to foreclose on the kind of participatory ontology that would allow for this reversal as it has occurred within much of contemporary ecclesiology.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink
  33. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    No, I don’t think so. I am very very wary of Hector’s proposals. This is precisely the kind of anti-metaphysical conception of participation and tradition (in a sort of Hegelian/Schleiermacherian/pragmatist mode that must resisted). Hector I think comes very close to affirming something like apostolic succession in his Theology without Metaphysics.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink
  34. Halden wrote:

    I reviewed the article you mention when it came out for Neue Zeitschrift and I tend to agree with Ry here. It is interesting, but I don’t think it’s the same as what I think we need to be after.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Permalink
  35. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    Well not exactly. They certainly have theological reasons for making the moves they make. But I do think that much of the focus on ecclesiology today (and the thinkers you mention are good examples) is at some level an attempt to think *after* the death of God. Of course it is directly a reaction against the modern turn to the subject (which was in its own way an attempt to think *after* the death of God), but the moves made I think often reamin within a distinctly modern framework in that it is really about trying to deal with the fact that not only are traditional Christian claims as such untenable but it isn’t at all clear how to speak of God’s action in the world anymore. So, yeah, the turn to ecclesiology seems to have embedded in it a certain anti-metaphysical tendencies (ironically, if you consider someone like Fitch or Smith) that trades on a notion of the Spirit as inseparable from character and culture formation.

    Of course when it comes to justifying such accounts theologically, appeals to metaphysical accounts of ontological participation are often made. But certain turns in contemporary ecclesiology to Wittgenstein for instance is I think a way to eschew not just metaphysics but the transcendence of God in favor of a turn to language and culture.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink
  36. Halden wrote:

    This is right.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Permalink
  37. Nate Kerr wrote:


    The reason I think that I pretty much attempt to avoid the kind of ontology talk you’re asking for here at just about every turn, is because of the whole history of that little word “being,” *ousia*. I mean, it is a word that is so loaded with notions of “property,” of attending to what is “one’s own,” of order, wholeness, and stability. And I tend to think that the need to ground talk of the crucified one in an ontological account of God’s being can more often than not be a means of precisely securing ourselves against suffering, or of too easily explaining it away, as always-already “overcome” within God’s eternal being. My objection to Barth on this point would perhaps be this similar to someone like Donald MacKinnon’s objections to Balthasar–viz., that by ontologizing the crucified one’s eternal relation to the God he called “Abba” (i.e., ontologizing his “identity”), we evade real contingency, real tragedy, and the way in which the cry of Jesus from the cross is rooted in solidarity with the cries of all those whom he gathers with him on the way to the cross. The fact that the resurrection is a no less contingent happening in which this one human being is raised in all his contingency is, I think, what gives every such tragic cry of suffering to be uttered in contingency with hope.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink
  38. Evan wrote:

    It seems clear, though, that his conception of ecclesial mediation is not based upon the sort of “ontology of participation” that you see as leading to idolatry. He also seems to address some of your concerns in his reply to various objections. If this sort of conception must be resisted, then, it seems like it needs to be resisted on the basis of different concerns than those raised above.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Permalink
  39. Halden wrote:

    I think though, the point is not simply the ontology of participation. It’s rather what the ontology is used for theologically, particularly as this relates to Ry’s comments above about thinking the church after “the death of God.” Hector has a rather different ontology (if he has one, strictly speaking), indeed one far more actualistic. Nevertheless insofar as it functions the same way in his theology (if it indeed does, I’m not prepared to say, having not finished his book), then I think it needs to be opposed for precisely the same reasons.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink
  40. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    Of course. Hector has been too influenced by Stout.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Permalink
  41. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    I agree whole-heartedly with this statement and for the exactly the same reasons.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Permalink
  42. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    That was supposed to be a reference to Nate’s comment about ontology, MacKinnon, and tragedy.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Permalink
  43. Evan wrote:

    And to be clear – the theological function that is idolatrous and that you see as still in play for Hector is that “God becomes the possession of the church”?

    Is the normative judgment of Christ (which, among other things, convicts us of our sin!) a household god that we possess, then? Or by “going in the same way” as Christ (“Go and do likewise”, to quote the gospel) are we actually pulling Christ around by a tether? Where exactly do you worry that the idolatrous possession is introduced?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink
  44. Halden wrote:

    What do you think?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink
  45. Halden wrote:

    Also I was careful to say that I don’t know I can say that about Hector at this point. See the above comment.

    Why do you sound so pissed off? And your second paragraph there makes, like, no sense.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Permalink
  46. Evan wrote:

    I don’t mean to sound pissed off. In my second paragraph, I’m trying to get a handle on what exactly your worry is concerning Hector (granting your tentative stance, etc.). I don’t know what would be idolatrous or possessive of God in his account of the Spirit in the Church… the main objects of mediation that he talks about – Christ’s actions, or normative judgments – don’t seem to offer much danger of the sort of idolatry that worries you.

    As far as what I think about your worries… I suspect that you detect a sort of reduction of the work of the Spirit to human sociality in Hector’s Schleiermacher. But again, I’m just trying to understand concretely what you’re on the look-out for here, and I’m not pissed off about anything.

    I realize that this is something of a side-comment, too, and different than the initial critique you raised. I suppose it’s my way of making a connection and jumping into the conversation.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Permalink
  47. Halden wrote:

    Ok, cool. I guess at this point I’m just not prepared to comment further on Hector’s work, at least until I finish his book. Maybe Ry can say more on it.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Permalink
  48. Mike wrote:

    I wonder if Brad is asking something more along the lines of what the nature of the entailment is that lies behind  phrases like “are ultimately idolatrous”. Presumably ecclesio-types just deny that they are idolaters or that they treat God as a commodity. Presumably they regard, like many do, the avoidance of idolatry as a core component of thier theological projects. 

    So maybe Brad’s question is, how is idolatry entailed by their perspective; is is conceptual/logical, functional/practical, a not necessary but prominent tendency to act in such and such a way, etc? Without that being defined, in some way, is it the case that you just have a claim on the one side and a denial on the other without a way to “show that it’s wrong”?

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 3:53 am | Permalink
  49. Nate, I think you’re parsing words a bit much here. I think the “when” Evan quotes above is much closer to the “as” than you’re allowing. Even then, however, that needs never to be read to say that God’s action is reduced to or confined or contained within the church’s action.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 4:46 am | Permalink
  50. Halden, I read that because of your last paragraph here and because of previous conversations where it seems that no matter what is argued from “the other side,” every speech and action from them (and often I/we are lumped together with them) is interpreted through this same lens of critique. There often seems to be no freedom in your discourse for other motivations and thought to be operating in their work (or, even, for there to be alternative positions to “yours” and “theirs”). What I’ve asked for here is something concrete: what would it take to falsify your portrayal of those you critique? If you can’t name that–especially when those you critique often believe you’ve mischaracterized them–then I remain concerned about this point.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 4:53 am | Permalink
  51. I’d like to ask for clarification on something else, alluded to in the fourth and fifth paragraphs here (“However, I don’t see…” and “Moreover, these articulations…”). Are you arguing that the church and God are not related ontologically, but the world and God are? That seems to be the sense of these paragraphs, and I’m trying to figure out how you would reconcile those claims.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 4:59 am | Permalink
  52. Kevin Hector wrote:

    I was reading this very interesting thread when, lo!, my name appeared in it. I’m a bit surprised to find myself charged here with idolatry–by implication, at least–and would like to hear more about the grounds for this charge.

    It’s an objection that I have in fact raised against my proposal, and tried to address, both in the “Mediation” essay and in my book. I can only assume that you find my arguments on this score unconvincing, and I’d be interested to know why. (You’ll forgive me for not knowing what to make of “Hector has been too influenced by Stout.”) This is obviously a serious charge, so again, I really would like to hear more about why my claims are liable to it.

    Oh, and nice to meet you, if only virtually.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink
  53. Nate Kerr wrote:


    Fair enough. Look, I realize there are tensions in Yoder and that Yoder can and has been read in precisely the ecclesiocentric direction that is being refused here. And admittedly, I’m reading strands within Yoder’s thought in ways that might open what he’s saying to something else, perhaps. Still, as long as the “as” is a matter of temporal concomitance (as in “when”), then I have no problem with it, and I’m not sure how it runs against what I have said above.

    (And to be quite honest, I don’t think I’m parsing words too much here at all. Reading Yoder is all about parsing words, in part because Yoder never wrote without parsing words in this way. He was way to analytically minded not to do theology in that way.)

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  54. Charlie Collier wrote:

    I guess my questions are these: 1) is this a direct attack on mediation as such, so that you (all) are also attacking any account of Christ as mediator between God and humanity; 2) if the answer to the first question is no, what does it mean to say that the church is the body of Christ without participation in that mediation? 3) relatedly, Ry, when you said, “all human action competes for space and power over-against God and is as such *transgression*,” one can only presume, on Chalcedonian grounds, that you were not referring to Christ, or, again, is human mediation such a problem that even Christ’s human action competes for space and power over-against God?

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink
  55. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I can address the first of your questions at least. I think this is a refusal of ontological mediation as such. And I think this holds whatever we might affirm about Christ as the mediator between God and humanity. Christ’s does not mediate the being of God to humanity, or vice versa. That is being rejected, I think.

    But in “No” to the idea of Christ as some kind of mediator between divine and human *being* (however construed) is a loud “Yes” to Jesus as “the one mediator between God and humankind.” Christ is mediator in his singularity, and this directs us straightaway to the historicity of this one. Whatever we say of Jesus as the singular mediator between God and humanity has to be said in the direction of that one, and so without the mediation of another, i.e., without abstraction. That is, it may only be said in faith.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  56. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Thanks, Nate, for the clarification. So what is it that Christ mediates? I don’t think you’re willing to say that Christ mediates his singularity or historicity—this would undercut the independence you’re insisting upon, no?

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  57. Halden wrote:

    Kevin, thanks for your comment. Please allow me to clarify myself if I’ve been misunderstood. When I wrote this post I certainly wasn’t thinking of you at all or your work. Evan seemed to think that your work was doing something fundamentally the same as the thinkers/trend I was focusing on in my critique. Thus my response was purely hypothetical. If you are doing the same thing as the ecclesiocentric trend, then I’d probably have similar concerns. However, as I tried to say, I don’t really suspect that at all about your work, given the little I know of it (which amounts to reading a few of your essays several years ago, and currently needing to read your recent book). So please understand I have no charge of idolatry to level at you, implicit or otherwise. If anything, it is merely hypothetical, and I suspect not the case at all since I don’t since your work to share many, if any of the concerns of folks like Hauerwas, Wells, etc. Anyways, I just want to be clear about that. Thank you again for commenting.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink
  58. Halden wrote:

    Well, I would say that the arguments from the “other side” have been unconvincing in the uttermost, hence my lack of changing my mind.

    But fine, here’s a small sample of things that could falsify my opinion of the theological trend/thinkers I’ve been critical of:

    Show me how the gospel demands that we believe holiness is a process of habit-formation administered by the church.

    Show me how the gospel demands that the distinction between Jesus and the church be denied, or at least downplayed to the point that any real distinction makes no theological sense.

    Show me how the gospel demands that we adopt an ontology of participation.

    Show me how the gospel demands that we affirm the analogia entis.

    Show me how the gospel demands that we should automatically privilege a hermeneutic of “continuity” when considering the relationship of Jesus and all that came before him.

    Show me how the gospel demands that we believe that salvation would be a spiritual abstraction if the church did not make God’s presence “concrete” in the world through their social existence.

    Show me how the gospel demands that we believe that it would, in fact be false if the church is not faithful to Christ.

    If those things were proven, that’d give me something to think about. So there you go. I hope that helps.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink
  59. Kevin Hector wrote:

    Hi, Halden (if I may). Thanks for your gracious reply. I understood you to be saying (a) that you aren’t exactly on board with my proposals (as far as you’ve read them), but (b) that you weren’t prepared to lump me in with the platonic-participation folks. Your response confirms that understanding, but it’s awfully kind of you to make it even more explicit.

    All that to say, I thought the charge of idolatry was being intimated not by you but by Mr. Siggelkow, and I was specifically inviting the latter to say more about why he thinks me liable to that charge. I apologize for not making that clearer.

    Thanks again. I’ve known you virtually for years, it seems, and I always enjoy reading your work.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink
  60. Again, you miss my point (or seem to). This isn’t about who can defeat the other’s argument. This is about whether your hermeneutical lens, when it comes to their work, allows for the possibility that they may not, in fact, be doing all of what you charge here. It’s about whether your portrayal of what they say is accurate. I read several things you list here as overstatements of what I’ve read Hauerwas & Co. to say over the years. They (and I) make qualified statements in some of these areas which you here make into absolute ones (and they may well make unqualified statements in some of these areas, too, but not all, from what I’ve seen). So again, my first concern is not whether your position on these questions stands, but whether they’re as much on the “opposite side” as you think they are.

    I’m sure you think I’m belaboring the point here, but I think it’s really important in the work you three are doing to question whether or not you are actually doing justice to your interlocutors, whether they would recognize themselves in your presentation of them.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink
  61. Halden wrote:

    I don’t know what else to say. You asked me to provide some criteria of falsifiability and I did.

    The question of whether our “lens” “allows” us to really understand their arguments is a red herring. I’ve spent more than 10 years rigorously reading “Hauerwas & Co” and many of those years trying to agree with them, indeed rigorously trying to do so.

    I’m getting kind of tired of being told that I’m somehow constitutionally unable to understand people I’ve read with extreme thoroughness, when no one, yourself included actually engages my arguments, which I’ve made by engaging the texts of the people I disagree with, over a period of years now. Instead you and others seem content to just choose to play with contrived metaquestions like this. Well, I’ve given you the answer you asked for, and as usual you continue to obfuscate.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  62. Halden wrote:

    Also it’s also getting tiresome how you act like you’re somehow an objective arbiter in all this, so supremely capable of seeing clearly how everyone else’s poor hermeneutical lenses are determining everything they think and say. Glad you’ve found such a pristine place above the fray. Oh, wait.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink
  63. Halden wrote:

    Also you keep talking about how I’ve imputed malicious “motivations” to those I’ve critiqued among this school of thought. That’s not true. I have never done so. Please stop saying that.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink
  64. Halden wrote:

    Thanks, Kevin. And I really do look forward to reading your book, which I know I have many common interests with. It was like, the first thing I bought at AAR last fall.

    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Permalink
  65. Halden, I’m evaluating arguments. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m amazed that once again you’ve taken personally what I’ve meant as analysis. It’s not clear to me that you were understanding what I meant by falsifiability, so I explained it further. That led you to points of content in your post above, in which I found examples of statements that I don’t think accurately represent the people you’re critiquing. That told me you may not be allowing these folks to operate outside the box you all have built for them. That was my only concern.

    You’ve clearly built up resentment toward me over time, and I’m not entirely sure why. We’ve disagreed, but I’ve also provided plenty of content-based, substantive critique and questioning of your positions in many, many posts past (in fact, you have yet to answer one of my substantive questions below). I don’t consider myself objective, but rather someone who finds himself somewhere between you and those you critique, and who has all along been trying to understand your (collectively) arguments since you’ve been making them. The claims of your project have been on my mind for a couple of years, and even though I do think you overstate things and that your solutions aren’t biblically or theologically necessary, they do act as a check on my own thought and theological tendencies, for which I am grateful. You are profoundly mischaracterizing me and my intentions here, which is really too bad.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink
  66. Halden wrote:

    It’s weird how you’re “evaluating arguments,” indeed doing “Nothing more, nothing less” than this you seem only able to talk about how obviously all this just my own internal resentment talking. How is that anything other than an ad hominem?

    Resentment is not the same as frustration. You frustrate me at times because you refuse to listen to what I’ve wrote and just constantly keep writing the same thing over and over again after I respond to it. It gets old.

    For the record, your question was “what would it take to falsify your portrayal of those you critique?” Well, in this post I portrayed those I critiqued as having a theology tending towards idolatry, and I saw that trend in the various theological moves I mentioned to you in my response above. So, if you could show me that those theological moves are not a tendency towards idolatry, but are in fact required by the gospel, that would falsify my portrayal of those I’ve critiqued. That is a totally fair and clear answer to your question and I don’t know why you keep ignoring it.

    There is of course another way this could be shown, one I’ve asked for plenty of times (for example in the comments on my Barth/Hauerwas essay), namely by showing, textually that these thinkers don’t say what I read them as saying. So go ahead and do that if you want. I’ve always asked people to do this, but instead all they tend to do is repeat, ad nauseum “Well, I think you’re overstating.” and then never defend or substantiate how I’m supposedly reading Hauerwas et al wrongly. Since I’ve always asked to be shown, textually if I’m reading people wrong, and neither you nor anyone else has seemed overly interested in doing much of that, I didn’t think I needed to restate it here.

    Also, sorry I haven’t had time to attend to every comment in this long thread. I have a job, and it doesn’t allow me to be at my computer all day these days, so my ability to respond quickly to everything is limited. Also I’m heading out backpacking with a teenager from my church for the rest of this weekend, so just so you know, if I don’t respond further, that’s why. We will be having some fascinating discussions of the merits of vagina art vis a vis proper virtue formation, though of course our main conversation topic will be the relationship between violence and nonstop racisim in Mel Gibson’s cinematic oeuvre.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink
  67. mfb wrote:

    Nate’s description of Yoder’s openness regarding ecclesial practices was really helpful for me (“baptism can be one of those works, but so also can open housing”). But if this is the case my question about the purpose of Christians meeting together at all feels more urgent. If nothing I can do will guarantee God’s presence, and if God is just as likely to show up when my yoga class eats at Subway after class as when my church says the words of institution over the bread and cup, why meet at all? Doesn’t the church-on-the-ground itself embody all the distinctions of church/world you seek to overcome? If it’s just another way the Spirit Event happens, why does Acts make meeting, eating, and sharing between Christians so central to the mission of Jesus?

    I also wonder, aren’t there specific times in Scripture when Christ promises he will bind himself to us in certain moments? Like “when two or three are gathered”? Or when Matthew says that when we preach, teach, and baptize Jesus will be there with us? For me this is such a profound example of God’s vulnerability, that the power of Spirit promises to show up even when it is at the behest of sinful people who will always act in irresponsible, oppressive ways. At the same time it is my hope that the Spirit will also transform us in our peccability.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink
  68. Mshedden wrote:

    Thanks for that answer Ry. Just wanted to be clear I am hearing you right.
    What is the role of immanence is the apocalyptic theology that is being advocated as an alternative? Is it not a concern? If this has been answered some place else just point me there.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  69. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Nothing. I say that straightaway. Christ is the one mediator that he is insofar as he mediates no-thing. Christ’s mediation happens as a transgression of the ontologies we have constructed for the purposes of negotiating relations with one another. Christ’s mediation is the breaking down of the dividing wall, the tearing through of the temple curtain. Jesus’ life opens to the possibility of the reign of God by moving into solidarity with those dying under the weight of the powers of ontological necessity (or actuality), by becoming nothing, in a way that subverts the ontocratic logic of the powers.

    To put it otherwise: Christ mediates the possibility of faith. Or, nothing.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink
  70. Halden wrote:

    Amen and amen.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Permalink
  71. Mshedden wrote:

    Melissa, good questions.
    As an aside I would be interested in how the MCUSA process is going for you sometime.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink
  72. Halden. I am not sure why you respond to some comments/questions and not others. Just saying.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 4:49 am | Permalink
  73. I haven´t read all of the comments, and not that much of this blog recently as I did a few years ago, so maybe someone has already responed to this or I am (probably) missing something. But I am not sure if this post by Halden should be read as a critique of only yoderian low church sacramentalism, or also as a critique of a more orthodox understanding of the sacraments. In my mind, the content of the argument sounds as an attack on all sacramental theology, since the sacraments of course is always controlled by the church (via the priest or the gathered community) in every tradition, but at a same time I get the feeling that this is not the intent.

    Or in other words, isn´t this a critique as much of (the theology of) a traditional catholic eucharist as of a yoderian full meal-agape/eucharist with no priest present?

    Please help me out with this one, someone.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 4:59 am | Permalink
  74. mfb wrote:

    I believe Halden is camping this weekend. I expect he will reply to more comments when he returns.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink
  75. Zac Klassen wrote:

    I admit that I am still relatively new to the subject matter under discussion here but here are a few comments (and I realize I am taking things in a slightly different direction than what has been said above):

    The whole subject of mediation is interesting to me, especially as one who finds himself in an evangelical milieu that I feel has much to learn from someone like Hauerwas on exactly the topic of mediation. In an interview with Wunderkammer Magazine, Hauerwas noted his concern with evangelicals was that they thought they could come to faith “unmediated” and his further concern was the the evangelical church not “make God up” and that they realize that they “receive” faith as a gift of 2000 years of history. What I take Hauerwas to mean is that it is an exercise in self deception to take something like the scriptures and come up with an articulation of their “relevance” for today without acknowledging 2000 years of tradition that actually give flesh to the content of the gospel. He acknowledges that of course history is not itself pure and that the tradition has errors, but he further notes that in order to know error, you need to know the tradition.

    So, in light of what I see to be a very appropriate concern of Hauerwas’, I guess some of my questions about the “apocalyptic” mode of speech here are:

    is this mode of theological speech (apocalyptic) assuming that the best way to articulate the gospel is to deny (indeed “tear down”) the need for a mediating community throughout history to stand as a witness to the truth and content of the Gospel? In turn, do I understand correctly that the goal instead is to proclaim the message of scripture with a certain degree of forgetfulness of that history (and if not forgetfulness then at least ambivalence or hostility?) as in any way having been positively formative in allowing folks like us today to even talk about the Gospel? Is this what, Nate, you mean by history needing to be “perpetually conditioned” by the “apocalyptic arrival and inauguration of God’s coming reign (CHA, p.1)?

    I guess I am just trying to understand, if Christ does not mediate some kind of “reality” that is tangible and that can be at least in one way be manifested with continuity throughout history in the lives of real people, then why are we talking at all? Is not then the Gospel itself, as something that we are only aware of by virtue of having had it passed on through mundane realities like text and bodies, precisely the type of “tradition” that we must feel compelled to tear down?

    I realize a retort to this is that the Gospel must NOT limited to text and body lest Jesus become our possession and that indeed Jesus must be viewed as Sovereign over those realities. But what might look like to form a community around a sovereign that must be known only in the negative, if in fact text and body are enemies to the gospel? Said differently, in my small community, how am I, in my preaching and teaching, to serve as a minister of a Gospel that I can only ever articulate in terms that do not apply to the formation and growth of a tangible and particular body of people and their practices (polis). Once again, excuse some of my ignorance in all of this, but these are the questions that come to mind.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink
  76. Wow, Halden. You astound me once again by twisting everything I say into a personal assault upon you. I didn’t ever say this was just your personal resentment talking; I said you have built up resentment toward me, and I based that on your (over-)reactions to me in a number of previous discussions. I’ve certainly not been without fault (since I’ve tended to read you as personally attacking me or others on a number of occasions, even perhaps when you were not—please forgive that), but in this case I really am trying to examine and evaluate your claims. You complained I wasn’t providing questions as to the substance of your posts, so I pointed to a specific question I actually asked—namely why you seem to tie Christ and the world together ontologically while denying such a tie between Christ and church—only for you to respond, “Sorry, I can’t address every question since I’m a busy man.” So what am I to do? Again (with reference to falsifiability) it seems like I can’t breach the box you’ve put me in; there’s no way for me to be framed by you as little more than an arguer of ad hominem and a beater of semantic dead horses.

    To return to my point, you say here, “in this post I portrayed those I critiqued as having a theology tending towards idolatry, and I saw that trend in the various theological moves I mentioned to you in my response above. So, if you could show me that those theological moves are not a tendency towards idolatry, but are in fact required by the gospel, that would falsify my portrayal of those I’ve critiqued.” That is not falsifiability. What I’m referring to in my original question has to do not with the idolatry of their moves, but with whether, in fact, the people you critique are making some of those moves in the first place. If they are doing what you allege, and you interpret that as idolatry, that’s one argument; if they are not even doing what you allege, then your allegation of idolatry is moot. My concern has been that the moves attributed to them are not even always their moves. For example, the use of the word “demands” in your samples above suggests an exclusivity toward those claims—i.e., that God only works through those methods—that I do not find in most of the people you would include in your critique (Ekklesia Project folks, for example). I have never, ever read any of them to argue that the gospel even suggests, much less demands, that the distinction between Jesus and the church be denied or essentially neutralized. It was originally from Hauerwas (along with Yoder) that I learned to critique the church in light of Jesus. I also have not seen, nor have I argued myself, that we should “automatically” privilege a hermeneutic of continuity when considering Jesus. I believe in a balance between continuity and discontinuity, which I think is an accurate characterization of how Jesus taught. However, in my own work, for example, I’m specifically addressing instances where the discontinuity is so pronounced that an emphasis on continuity is necessary in order to correct the imbalance. I think this is true for a lot of these folks, and I think attending not just to the content of their arguments but their contexts is vitally important, and not always adequately attended to in your critiques.

    But let’s take this one: “Show me how the gospel demands that we believe that it would, in fact be false if the church is not faithful to Christ.” You’ve demanded engagement with your argument (apparently forgetting all the engagement I’ve made in the past). Very well. Let’s take your Barth/Hauerwas essay. I was not able to read that essay until a couple of months ago, past the point of the blog discussion, so I said nothing further about it. I’m also considering making these points in a different venue, but for now, since you insist, I’ll make a few of them here in a preliminary fashion.

    As much as I would like to, I will not here go into a review of your essay as a whole. I don’t have time, and this thread isn’t the place. That said, I think there is a tendency throughout to bind Hauerwas with an either/or framework that is neither necessary nor justified by a careful reading of his work. For example, early on you contrast Hauerwas’s claim that “Jesus is the story that forms the church” with Barth’s claim that Jesus names a divine inbreaking into history. You claim here that for Hauerwas, “Jesus simply is the morally formative story the church tells.” This “simply” suggests that Hauerwas reduces Jesus to such a story, which I don’t read Hauerwas doing at all, even in the very quotation you provide. You establish a scenario here where Hauerwas cannot both see Jesus as the divined inbreaking into history AND the story that shapes the church. I don’t see how these are mutually exclusive, and I don’t read him to see that, either. Likewise, you next pit Hauerwas against Barth’s “transcendental Christology,” where in Hauerwas’s alleged view, Barth’s ecclesiology is insufficient. However, the page you cite shows Hauerwas to say, “It remains an open question whether or not Barth’s ecclesiology is sufficient to sustain the witness that he thought was intrinsic to Christianity” (WTG, 39). So not only does Hauerwas not render the verdict of insufficiency on Barth’s part, but what Hauerwas is addressing is not Barth’s Christology and soteriology per se, but rather the connection between ecclesiology and witness, the latter which Barth thought (according to Hauerwas) was “intrinsic for any understanding of what it means to hold that Christian convictions are true to the way things are.” If Barth didn’t actually think that, that’s one thing. But you are misconstruing Hauerwas’s own comments here and basing a judgment about him upon that misconstrual.

    The same thing happens in the rest of your paragraph there where you claim that “Barth’s depiction of Christ as the sole effective agent of the divine work threatens to eliminate any necessary place for the church in the economy of salvation.” You refer to WTG 192 and 203 there, but again, you seem to be relying on a rather loose interpretation of Hauerwas to make your point. On pp. 191-193, Hauerwas refers to Barth’s claim that “The work of the knowledge of God as man’s participation in the veracity of the revelation of God certainly involves a witness, a question and a summons to all other works. But it takes place as such, as human work, with the same unpretentiousness with which they must take place, and alone can take places as good works” (CD 2/1:216). Hauerwas then goes on to question on p. 192 whether Barth’s ecclesiology is sufficient for Barth’s own analogy of witness and its relation to our knowledge of God (not, as you claim, to Barth’s soteriology and Christ’s place within it). The question for Hauerwas (referencing Mangina) is whether there can be an adequate witness without the church as, in part, a constellation of human practices. So Hauerwas’s claim is much smaller than you make it. (And p. 203 is referring to whether Christian theology could challenge false notions of various disciplines and human endeavors. I’m not sure why you cited it there.) Thereafter, you pit Barth’s claim that “‘Jesus Christ, his Word and his work’ alone actualize the world’s salvation” over against Hauerwas’s argument that the church’s witness (manifested in part as a “community of moral practice which forms its members in virtue”) is necessary for the world to know God. You do not offer an explanation as to why the church as Hauerwas describes it cannot be considered part of Christ’s “work” that Barth references. Here is a false choice of either/or tied to a questionable reading of Hauerwas.

    I reference what I consider to be these ongoing, loose readings or misreading of Hauerwas because I think they frame what I read to be a central claim of yours that “for Hauerwas the performance of Christian witness does not point to something beyond itself, but rather is, at least in some sense, reflecive. It is precisely in the church’s own faithful act of witness that the Gospel is rendered true.” Here, you cite Hauerwas’s claim: “Does the truth of Christian convictions depend on the faithfulness of the church and, if so, how do we determine what would constitute faithfulness?…Yes!” (WTG, 231). As you know, Hauerwas is discussing here the link between authenticity of witness and rationality of Christian claims. He argues here that “Christians betray the grammar of the Christian faith” when formal belief is divorced from the way it is lived out. That’s a pretty straightforward and limited claim, and it is NOT a claim of equivalence between the church’s practices and the inherent truth of the Gospel.

    This leads to what I consider to be the problem in your account that ties to the sample in your comment above. Referring to WTG, p. 145, you quote Hauerwas as saying that “Barth cannot acknowledge that the community called church is constitutive of the gospel proclamation.” You then say this: “Hauerwas is quite correct that Barth cannot acknowledge the church as constitute of gospel [sic] precisely in that Barth rejects liberal Protestantism’s commitment to immanence and Pelagianism.” Right at the “sic” is the problem: you’ve left out a word and that word is essential to a proper reading of Hauerwas. Either you missed a simple “the” right before, or you missed Hauerwas’s “proclamation” right after. That “proclamation” makes all the difference because it again attends to the question of the authenticity of the church’s witness in the world. Your move is identical to Nate’s move on pp. 97-98 of his book, where he states that Hauerwas believes “Christ’s lordship, and the account of history that is disciplined thereby, is not only unintelligible and unknowable but also untrue apart from the church’s existence as the community of witness in the world.” But Hauerwas doesn’t say that; he’s referring only to the integrity of “gospel proclamation,” not to the inherent integrity of the Gospel itself. Indeed, even where he refers to Mangina’s strong ecclesial language, the point is made that the “medium” (church) is not the message “Gospel,” but rather the “condition of possibility of grasping the message in its truth” (proclamation). Now, we can certainly argue whether the church is really the only condition of possibility there—I would certainly have trouble with that claim—but that is NOT saying that the church is the condition of possibility for the inherent truth of the Gospel. And even if Hauerwas is saying this, he is only doing so to the degree to which Barth himself does so in the Barth quotation I copied above (from CD 2/1:216). So both you and Nate here have made a move that, as I read it, cannot be justified by the sources to which you refer.

    And this, finally, is why I raise the question of falsifiability. I’m not talking yet about whether the moves of those you criticize are idolatrous as you present them, but rather the antecedent question of whether the way you present them are, in fact, accurate portrayals of their arguments and their thought and life as theologians. I’m not convinced your accounts are reliable, and so I raise the question of what it would take to prove to you that they are not, in fact, making the moves you claim.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  77. I agree, Melissa. What I appreciate about Yoder is his account of, for lack of a better word, the “sacramentality” of the ordinary. But even then, he would define that “ordinary” with reference to particular Christian contexts, so I think your right to ask what you ask here.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink
  78. Kait wrote:

    Hey Nate –

    I would reply directly under your post, but it won’t let me know. I apologize for the very late reply. I’ve been busy this weekend and wanted to give this comment the attention it deserved.

    I’m about as interested in you are in establishing stability, property, and possession especially as it relates to *God* and the being of God. I understand your hesitation in that respect and I do think it is a problem to which must attention should be given. I’m also not interested in securing my life from suffering, for indeed the Christian life promises such in the very truth that what it means to repent is to lose your life in following this Jesus Christ.

    I want to have speech about who God has revealed Godself to be in the person of Jesus Christ so that the suffering, the oppressed, the forgotten, the abandoned, the raped, the tortured, the abused can have hope in the reality that *this* God as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ is the God who is essentially humble, and who has taken suffering into God’s own being in order to reject the evil, the suffering, and the darkness so that it is finally overcome. So that we can say with final word that *this* God has rejected suffering for us by God’s own life. That God, in freely self-determining to be the God for us from all eternity actually vulnerably opened Godself up to this same rejection, abuse, darkness, evil, brokenness, abandonment, etc. This doesn’t mean that somehow suffering and evil are validated — NO — it still remains suffering and evil. But this is the good news, that the God who didn’t have to *intimately know* suffering in God’s own being *freely chooses* to be the God *for* us and *with* us (Emmanuel) and this includes experiencing the very suffering that God’s creatures experience. Yet, Jesus Christ goes beyond this to actually take the abandonment of God into God’s own being as the eternal Son.

    After reading your book, which I thought was truly excellent, I wonder how you could truly have a word to say to the world, to the suffering brother or sister if we can not have any speech about God’s own being who intimately knows suffering and takes suffering into Godself? Somedays I think my work as a chaplain only has a sense of meaning in the face of witnessing such utter suffering and darkness because of *this God* I confess and worship whose being was freely given over to experience suffering before God even created.

    I hope I didn’t talk past you in any of this. Please be honest with me if I did, because I am genuinely interested in having a real discussion about this since this is more than theological speech to me — this is the very hope of the Gospel for me.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  79. Kait wrote:

    M, You know you got me at the words “God’s vulnerability.” I think that is where this discussion needs to focus more. Is this apocalyptic speech about God — that God is completely transcendent, that God is not bound or obligated to be present anywhere, and this emphasis upon the complete discontinuity between God and creatures (all of which I do want to confirm!) — missing the Yes that God reveals to humanity in God’s own vulnerability to be the God for us and with us in Jesus Christ? And what is more, God could do nothing else, but be *this* God as Emmanuel. Can we have true speech about the very profound and almost indescribable vulnerability in this decision of God to be for us before all creation if we never get beyond the NO of discontinuity, the NO of dispossession the NO of speech about God’s being (or any analogous speech), etc.? As someone who shares the very concerns and convictions of apocalyptic theologians, I also have my own very real concerns and emphases namely the being of *this* God who reveals Godself in utterly vulnerability and weakness to save and liberate humanity. I’d like to talk about how those things can come together in a meaningful way. I apologize if that was rambling.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink
  80. Chris Donato wrote:

    “Within that household [i.e., the church] the human spirit has roof and hearth. Outside it is the night.” ~Belloc

    As in weeping and gnashing of teeth, Halden. I’ll take my chances inside.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink
  81. Halden wrote:

    Brad, I’m preparing a full post to address the questions you raise about Hauerwas’s position, since it will be a bit too lengthy for a comment. For now I will just say that your attempt to read Hauerwas in the way you have described is very easily refuted by a straightforward reading of his work, and don’t worry, I’ll spell all this out in the next couple of days.

    But in the meantime, let me ask you, so I am representing you fairly, if this is a fair statement of your position: You believe that Hauerwas does not believe that the truth of the gospel depends on the church’s faithful (and for Hauerwas, preeminently nonviolent) witness, rather the church’s witness lacks “authenticity” when it fails to faithfully embody the call of the gospel. Is that a fair way of stating what you believe Hauerwas to be saying throughout his work?

    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink
  82. Halden wrote:

    “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” – Jesus

    Thanks, I’ll take the night, and those weeping within it.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Permalink
  83. Halden, I believe that is what the sections of his work to which you and Nate point in your arguments argue, yes. My point was not to make a general statement about Hauerwas’s corpus, but rather to say that from what I could tell by reading your essay, you hadn’t provided enough support for your reading of him. In short, what you cited doesn’t do for you what you think it does. That’s all I’m saying.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink
  84. Except that now, with cross and resurrection and Pentecost, there he is in the midst of us.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 5:19 am | Permalink
  85. So you don’t think I’m avoiding your question, Halden, I have mixed feelings about Hauerwas’s work as a whole. As I said above, I find myself somewhere between him and Yoder in a lot of things (not that there’s just a linear spectrum, of course), and perhaps a bit away from both in others. I think Huerwas overstates some things when it comes to the church, and relatedly, I think he relies too much on classical philosophy and not enough on scripture. But that’s clear from my book. Again, my narrower point in my long comment was to address specifically your presentation of him in your essay, which I found to be problematic for the reasons stated.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink
  86. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Thanks for the reply, Nate. I’ll keep chewing on it, however I must admit that my first reaction is not positive. I’ve pressed these christological questions because I believe the people you all are critiquing affirm what they do about the church first and finally because of Jesus. As Rowan Williams puts it in his introduction to Christian faith, _Tokens of Trust_: “we believe these things about the Church not because we have lots of evidence that this is how the Church is, but because of what we believe about Jesus” (128).

    But when you are pressed to affirm things about Jesus, you always seem to affirm by way of negation—Jesus is what we are not. Jesus’ identity seems to be entirely wrapped in his being a not-sinner, in his being not-at-all-like-you-and-me. The only things he gives us is a rejection of our disobedience and idolatry. This is a gift to be sure—we are not left in our sin, at least not unaware of it—but it’s a gift entirely in the mode of deconstruction. It appears to be a gift the contours of which _depend_ entirely on the shape of human rebellion. Hence, mediation as you’ve construed it above is purely about and in response to our idolatrous ontologies. Jesus is evidently not free enough, not independent enough, to give us something else—to give us a humanity that can be understood and inhabited together in a flourishing community (however fleeting and partial and on-the-way that flourishing might be).

    At least, these are the conclusions it is tempting to draw from what seems like an endless series of refusals. I know that you think the Reformation is not over and that you see your work in part as a rearticulation of the ongoing need for and relevance of the Reformation’s insistence on certain matters—here, most clearly, sola fide. But as the Williams comment suggests, there are sola fide grounds from making many of the claims about the Church that are here being rejected.

    I do appreciate how what you, Halden, and Ry are doing will lead me to rethink these matters, however I inclined I am up front to think that I will disagree. One of my favorite lines from Augustine is “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.” It’s not clear to me that you would affirm this, but I’m glad for the opportunity to ponder that too.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink
  87. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    It strikes me that the reverse is the case: that your position/reading of Hauerwas cannot be ‘falsified.’ This is why you have to suggest that Hauerwas is simply hyperbolic when he makes statements that would seem to lend support to our criticisms. The essay I sent you last week is, in part, an attempt to make sense of the hyperbolic in Hauerwas.

    The problem with Hauerwas’s work is not that he pits the church against the world; rather, the problem is that he thinks the church *is* the world. The problem with Hauerwas is not “against the nations” talk but his statements about how the church runs “with the grain of the universe.”

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink
  88. Ry, I’m looking forward to reading your essay, and I’ll get back to you on it when I do.

    On this point, though, I really don’t see how I come across as you suggest. I’m addressing specific uses of Hauerwas’s text in Halden’s essay (again, in an abbreviated format, not a full review). That’s all. And I never said anything about hyperbole. If you’re referring to my use of “overstatement,” that’s rather different than hyperbole and has to do directly with the content of his argument.

    Also, I’m rather confused by your description of Hauerwas’s problem. That seems to contradict things you guys have said in the past about the “ecclesio-centric” position (specifically vis-a-vis the world).

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink
  89. Chris Donato wrote:

    Now for something self-referentially serious: I would not follow this Jesus, that way, if the symbiotic relationship between the head and its body wasn’t demanded by the gospel.

    I think rather you et al., describe the reality well. Yet I do not think it to be the ideal. I’m not here wanting to defend any kind of ontology (I’m far too philosophically disinclined so to do); but I am wanting to suggest that just b/c we’re outside in the night doesn’t mean we’re meant to stay there . . .

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink
  90. This is still a question I would like some clarification on, please.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink
  91. I just don’t see this in scripture, Nate. Along with Charlie’s most recent points, I’m wondering here exactly how Jesus operates as high priest. The veil in the temple is torn because he is high priest; it’s not merely his action as high priest. So that leaves open the question of what he does as our high priest. If he mediates nothing, I’m not sure what that is.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink
  92. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    I am sorry to be so late to reply to this comment. I only just noticed it late last night.

    If my comments sounded like I was charging you with idolatry by implication, I want you to know that’s not what I meant. Allow me to make a few remarks here briefly commenting on what I mean when I say “Hector has been too influenced by Stout.” I worry that you rely too heavily in your book on a certain pragmatist reading of Hegel and language (following Brandom and others) which has become a dominant framework at PU and PTS by way of Jeff Stout and others. Although you don’t deal with Stout much in your book, his Hegelian pragmatism (as worked out in Democracy and Tradition, for instance) seems to be pretty close to the way in which you’re trying to think theological language (without metaphysics) and the Holy Spirit (without metaphysics). Correct me if I am wrong about this. The major difference between Stouts account of tradition and yours is Schleiermacher (that is to say, its *theological* basis). But can Schleiermacher provide you with a truly *theological* conception of the church? (What we might call the church’s “third-dimension,” in Barth’s sense?) I am not so sure that he can. He is rather, it seems to me, much more compatible with the sort of Hegelian pragmatic account of language and tradition that you work out. But are we that far away from George Lindbeck here? Surely you want the question of theological faithfulness to avoid the kind of self-justifying tendencies that we see in Lindbeck, but theological basis (in certain pragmatic account of the discursive production of “truth” and “norms,” etc.) is not too far away from Lindbeck in particular and postliberal concerns more generally.

    So while I am very much sympathetic to your concerns to do theology “without metaphysics” (as are Halden and Nate), I am wary about the pragmatic turn to language. It seems to me to harbor problematic assumptions about what the tradition has called ‘nature’ (if we can use that term) and its relation to ‘grace.’ In other words, it seems that you have a sort of low-flying account of nature up and running about how language and concepts “work” (that you’re getting from Brandom, Stout, and others) and then the operation of the Spirit (or ‘grace’) seems to be limited to building upon this account of ‘nature’ (viz., a certain pragmatist understanding about how language and concepts work and function).

    I cannot fully articulate here the reasons why I am wary about all of this. But, what I will say is that I want the Holy Spirit to do nothing less than *destroy* how language, concepts, and truth work and function.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink
  93. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    So Hauerwas’s isn’t hyperbolic? He simply makes use of “overstatement.” Is there a distinction that I am failing to understand here?

    I hear this all the time: if you take Hauerwas’s statements like “there is no Jesus without the church” literally then you aren’t reading Hauerwas rightly, because this is hyperbole. Of course it is hyperbole! But it is an exaggeration, an overstatement, of a given logic!

    Hauerwas’s is ecclesiocentric precisely in his account of the church as “with the grain of the universe.” Because the church *is* the world–or is what the world was made to be–the world only becomes world (what it most properly is) insofar as it is incorporated into this body, called the church. The telos of the world is the church. But this is only because what the church always and already is–ontologically–is the perfection of what the world is ontologically. This basic ‘onto-ecclesiological’ logic drives everything I think. And I think it is something that critics of Hauerwas miss completely. The problem is that Hauerwas is not against the world enough!

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink
  94. mfb wrote:

    Oh, Kait. You’re such a girl. I mention vulnerability and you’re like putty in my hands.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink
  95. Kait wrote:

    Are we essentializing stuff now?

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink
  96. Kait wrote:

    Also, I would like to go on record for saying that your use of the word “God’s vulnerability” is a totally unfair move! It’d be like me asking about “the eschatological hope of the disabled, orphan, impoverished child.” Yeah, there you go.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  97. Ry, you’re misunderstanding me. I never said Hauerwas isn’t hyperbolic. I said there are moments when he overstates things, which for me means he gets content wrong. I was making a stronger statement than an identification of hyperbole, not a weaker one. Often when I write, use “overstatement” to mean someone may be working in the right direction, but they go too far in what they claim. This isn’t about rhetoric; it’s content. So please back off a bit and give me the benefit of the doubt here.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  98. “the world only becomes world (what it most properly is) insofar as it is incorporated into this body, called the church”

    So what’s the point of church as contrast society?

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink
  99. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    I guess I don’t understand. Your concern seems to be that Hauerwas overstates his position (that is, he is “working in the right direction” but goes “too far”). Right? And you also think that we rightly highlight those points at which Hauerwas “overstates” his position (goes too far). Your concern with us though is that we fail to realize that Hauerwas’s thought doesn’t necessarily lead to his “overstatements.” Right? You think that Hauerwas’s thought should be tempered a bit (thus you find yourself between Yoder and Hauerwas).

    I think I understand you here. Our concern is not with Hauerwas’s “overstatements” it is with the logic that undergirds what you take to be his “working in the right direction.” Does that make sense? We think that the “overstatements” merely highlight what we take to be the problems inherent within the basic logic of his thought.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  100. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    The church is a contrast to society because the world is not yet church. But this is just another way of saying that the world is not yet fully the world. Thus Hauerwas will often say that the church’s mission is to remind the world that it is still the world.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  101. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    The church is the perfection of the world. That’s the heart of the problem.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink
  102. Yeah, I get the direction your concerns, Ry. I’ve never wondered that. I’ve merely wondered to what degree you were reading him and others fairly and accurately to begin with, and whether your sweeping judgments have been altogether necessary or whether smaller adjustments would be sufficient.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink
  103. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Ry, let’s take a non-hyperbolic statement, this one by Yoder: “If it is not the case that there are in a given place people of various characters and origins who have been brought together in Jesus Christ, then there is not in that place the new humanity and in that place the gospel is not true” (_Royal Priesthood_, 75).

    Is it fair to say that this is the “given logic” that Hauerwas hyperbolizes and that you reject?

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink
  104. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    No, I don’t think so. Yoder’s concern here is driven by his critique of infant baptism and Christendom. His point is that the church is a voluntary society (“various characters and origins who have been brought together in Jesus Christ”). The truthfulness of the gospel is not at stake because the church is needed to render it truthful as such. The point is rather that the church has become indistinguishable from the world and in that way what its continued proclamation of the gospel despite what words are being said can be heard only as something other than the gospel, only something that is an untruth.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  105. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    Yoder sounds a lot more like Kierkegaard here than Hauerwas I think.

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  106. Kevin Hector wrote:

    Dear Mr. Siggelkow,

    Thanks very much for taking the time to respond. Returns are rapidly diminishing, I’m sure, but I thought I would reply to two of your points:

    (1) You write the following: “it seems that you have a sort of low-flying account of nature up and running about how language and concepts “work”…and then the operation of the Spirit (or ‘grace’) seems to be limited to building upon this account of ‘nature’.” I understand why it might appear that that’s what I’m doing, but it’s important here to distinguish between the order of exposition and the order of discovery. In the order of exposition, I give priority to a certain account of “nature,” but in the order of discovery–the order in which I arrived at my accounts of “grace” and “nature”–there’s no question but that “grace” came first. I have to assume, then, that your real objection to my proposal isn’t that I put nature before grace, so to speak, but that you and I hold divergent views about how nature and grace should be related (even granted that both of us strive to understand the former in terms of the latter). That brings me to my second point:

    (2) You write: “I want the Holy Spirit to do nothing less than *destroy* how language, concepts, and truth work and function.” Hmmm…by emphasizing the word “destroy,” it sounds as if you’re talking about utter destruction, as in the Spirit’s obliteration of language’s meaning and use. But I have a hard time believing that that’s what you really mean, since that model of the nature-grace relationship leaves no room for incarnation, redemption, etc., and would equate sanctified God-talk with meaningless babble. I have to assume, then, that you mean selective destruction, i.e., destruction of sin coupled with a restoration of creaturely goodness. But if that’s what you have in mind, then you’re within hailing distance of what I talk about under the heading of judgment & fulfillment, in which case you might be able to see my project in a different light. That’s my hope, at least.

    Thanks once again. I’m grateful for your response and your engagement with my book.

    All best,

    Kevin Hector

    Monday, March 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink
  107. Evan wrote:

    To clarify – when Halden says,

    “Evan seemed to think that your work was doing something fundamentally the same as the thinkers/trend I was focusing on in my critique.”

    …I wouldn’t want that to be taken as saying that I would “lump” Hector in with those mentioned in Halden’s critique. I was trying to say that there seem to be similarities in what they are trying to do, but that Hector’s proposal is in fact very different from the others in some fundamental aspects. It was because of this difference that I wondered whether Halden might be satisfied with an account like Hector’s in a way that he wouldn’t be with the others.

    Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink
  108. Ry Siggelkow wrote:

    Thanks for your response and for your willingness to engage in conversation on the blog. I really do appreciate certain aspects of your book and I am certainly sympathetic to attempts to do theology without metaphysics. I do have reservations about making this “doing without” the determinative element of theological exploration. And I wonder why Hegelian pragmatism should really be considered more palatable than the older metaphysical conception of truth. Both seem to problematically determine the form and content of the operation of grace. By the way, you can call me Ry. Most of us try to leave academic formalities (Mr., Dr., Prof., etc.) behind in theological conversations on these blogs.

    Now to respond briefly to your two comments:

    (1) Yes, I am sure we have a different understanding of the relationship between nature and grace. And that’s okay. I am not really sure I understand what you mean by this distinction between order of exposition and order of discovery. I suppose my concern is with the account of language and truth that you provide in your “order of exposition.” Of course you maintain the priority of grace, but grace still seems to operate on nature within the definite confines of a given account of how language, truth, and meaning ordinarily work. Thus grace operates on a given order of nature. And I think this comes close to the way natural law functions in Aquinas for instance (I am following John Bowlin here).

    (2) To respond to your second point: by destroy I simply mean that one must be willing to have one’s language be converted into tongues of praise. I am not interested in making a principle of it of course, but I am not convinced that there is room for such tongues of praise within your account. But my concerns are not so much around language as such but more around the truth of Jesus Christ in relation to the church and how we are to think what constitutes the church’s faithfulness and the truthfulness of our speech. It seems to me that an evangelical theology must seriously entertain the possibility that the Spirit will do a truly *new* work that is disruptive of the norms embedded in our language over time. Does Jesus Christ encounter us today as the singular Jesus Christ by the Spirit or is Jesus Christ only mediated to us by virtue of those claims about him and those norms embedded within the history and tradition of the church over time?

    Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink
  109. Zac Klassen wrote:


    I am not sure why I cannot reply to your most recent comment below (there is no reply button by your latest comment) but I want to comment on your last sentence:

    “Does Jesus Christ encounter us today as the singular Jesus Christ by the Spirit or is Jesus Christ only mediated to us by virtue of those claims about him and those norms embedded within the history and tradition of the church over time?”

    I think that the majority of the disagreements or at least tensions here lie in the fact that you, Halden, and Nate seem to be making these the only two options (mediation or direct encounter). Why is it, for example, that Jesus Christ cannot “encounter us today as the Singular Jesus by the Spirit” through the means of the faith we receive from the history and tradition of the church? And furthermore, I am completely at a loss to understand what it might look like to encounter Jesus without that history providing at a minimum, a framework from within which to judge faithfulness!

    Elsewhere on this thread, I mentioned Hauerwas’ worry that Evangelical’s today think they can come to faith unmediated — that is, without the tradition to at least provide a framework from within which to judge at least a base level of faithfulness. Otherwise, Hauerwas claims, Evangelical’s fall into the temptation to “make God up”. How does your approach not itself fall into this temptation/danger? How does “the singularity of Jesus encountering us by the Spirit” itself not become another way of possessing Jesus? What criteria do you use to judge faithfulness? Would that criteria at all be grounded in a positive account of how Jesus Christ has been at work in the history of the church? Would you not at least concede the point that without the history of 2000 years that have made you possible (as Hauerwas has put it) you would not be able to even dialogue on this thread? What about the biblical texts and their historical situated-ness?

    Of course, to say that 2000 years of history has made you possible as a Christian is NOT to say that history itself is salvific or itself the ground of faith. What it is to say is that the ground of faith, Jesus Christ, has given himself into time in order that we might receive his grace also in time. That this grace is perpetually given means not only that we are disrupted (or destroyed) in the sin in which we all stand, but that we are also established (new creation!) and given a place to belong.

    I am thankful for this discussion and await your response.

    Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink
  110. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Ry, this is well put: “It seems to me that an evangelical theology must seriously entertain the possibility that the Spirit will do a truly *new* work that is disruptive of the norms embedded in our language over time.” Interestingly enough in light of the original inspiration for Halden’s post, I think the best account of the possibility of continuity-in-discontinuity that you’re rightly interested in preserving is Herbert McCabe’s account of “revolutionary continuity.” At the end of the day, even on your own terms, whatever “new thing” the Spirit does must fundamentally be in continuity with the work of the Son—we can be sure the new thing will not involve things that flatly contradict the shape of the life and work of Jesus. So, the new thing will not involve oppressing widows and orphans, silencing marginal voices, or hating enemies. Yet, at the same time, the new thing might be so unexpected and unlikely as to be—just like the Messiah whose glory was compatible with, indeed manifested in, his hanging from the tree—revolutionary from the perspective of current expectations. I suppose the point that you’re attempting to (helpfully!) force with your own hyperbolic appeals to destruction and discontinuity is, Just how seriously are we taking the original revolution if we are not limning in our every theological move with an openness and anticipation of future works by the same God who surprised us in Jesus Christ?

    Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink
  111. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I don’t think you are talking past me at all in what you say here. In fact, I really, really resonate with it in so many ways. Indeed, there is hardly any statement of Barth’s I resonate with more than his statement that “the being of God is the being of one who loves in freedom.” I can affirm that statement straightaway, I think, if you’ll at least allow me to cross out the two uses of the word being and put scare quotes around the “is.” The free love of God: the opening of the flesh of Jesus on the cross, by which he takes in the broken flesh of this world, and gathers it into the hope of resurrection.

    It is precisely because I want *say* that–to confess it, to proclaim it, to live it in solidarity the broken bodies of this world–that I resist what for me is the theological temptation to provide ontological justification for such speech. I’ll try to say two things with regard to this point:

    (1.) The first has to do with my conviction that hope is borne not of knowledge but of love. My main concern is that the kind of ontologizing that Barth is engaged in (and, most notably, Juengel after him) is driven by a certain epistemological insecurity. Barth’s ontologizing still remains trapped within the prioritizing of knowledge with respect to revelation. This becomes explicit in post-Barthians like Juengel, whose main concern is establish a mode of cognition whereby we might, in the wake of the so-called “death of God” atheism, secure speech about this suffering God’s identity. Without that ontologically justified knowledge, speech about this God is meaningless. But to me, that kind of obsessive need to ground the speaking of the Gospel in some kind of ontologically justifiable knowledge of God’s being is really a gesture of mistrust in relation to the future of possibility that is opened up by the event of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Only by refusing such ontologizing is our hope genuinely *hope* in the possibility of resurrection, the *hope* that with God all things are possible. To insist upon the knowledge of a given actuality as grounding that hope, it seems to me, functions more often as a cover for a subjective fear that such hope might yet be in vain. And yet it is love, not knowledge that “hopes all things.” As Kierkegaard puts it, only the love that dares to believe (and not cognition) expels mistrust.

    (2.) This has to do with my second point, which is that the hope of resurrection is a hope that is to be lived into, enacted. In other words, the kinds of confessions, professions, and proclamations we’re talking about above, concerning this Jesus in whom the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, happen *in via*, as one is delivered over to discipleship, as one moves with Christ to the cross and there comes to face the reality of the fact that only in solidarity with the suffering, and dying, and soon-to-be-dead of this world is the hope of resurrection good news. We have nothing to say *to* the suffering and dying of this world prior to our lived encounter of solidarity with them; saying “God” happens as we cry and sigh with these one’s for the coming of the reign of God, the ever-new event of resurrection here and now. It is there that we speak of the hope of resurrection, not as some given actuality that is cognitively guaranteed, but as a future that is promised.

    At the end of the day, my hope is that whatever “theology” I have and come up with is a theology that doesn’t really have any to say *to* the suffering and broken of this world; my hope is rather for a theological mode of speech that cannot happen either prior to or apart from solidarity *with* these suffering ones. It must be speech that comes to confess that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s answer to *these* ones’ cries for liberation.

    Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink
  112. roger flyer wrote:

    Hehheh…Halden cleverly uses Jesus to trump Belloc.

    Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  113. Robb wrote:

    Hey Ry, just got back into town and catching up on this conversation. Thanks for the comment. Just to reiterate my position on McCabe, I think he has been read as being all Wittgenstein and little neoplatonic/premodern/Patristic Aquinas. If we only had the Law, Love and Language McCabe, I would agree. But we also much more McCabe coming out (thanks to Davies) and a nice re-edition of The New Creation which present a much more metaphysical McCabe, though this isn’t saying a lot. This is just a hunch that I’m currently exploring and look forward to getting answered at the conference.

    Saturday, April 7, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  114. Robb wrote:

    No. Just trying to not wash over his surprising amount of language regarding deification and infused grace, as God’s cooperative work, through the Spirit, with our own.

    Saturday, April 7, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  115. Robb wrote:

    This is in response to Ry, by the way.

    Saturday, April 7, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site