Monday, June 14, 2010

Robert Preus on Barth's View of Revelation.

OK. New topic!

I've been reading Doctrine is Life. It's a collection of essays by Robert Preus. I'm currently on a series of essays he wrote on Karl Barth.

Preus seems to interpret Barth's views on the cognitive aspects of revelation both correctly and incorrectly.
On the incorrect side, he doesn't seem to follow Barth's concept of revelation. He puzzles over Barth dialectical concept of revelation in history "God's time for us" which is "real time." There's "God's time," "our time" and then "God's time for us" which occurs in in our time as "real time." When asking "is there a synthesis in the two because of the Incarnation?" Barth's answer is "no." Preus says he doesn't follow Barth's point here.

What Barth is talking about is his analogical concept of revelation. God has time, he's not somehow a frozen being. Nevertheless, since God transcends all time, his time is the unity of all time. It's all happening at once for him. So, he's not timeless, but has the "fullness of time."

I actually think this a somewhat helpful way of looking at eternity.

So, there's our time. Our time is grounded in Christ's real time. God made the world to execute human election in Jesus Christ. So his time is "real time" because it's the basis of all time. Since Jesus is God, his time is "the fullness of time" not only because it is the unity of time which is exists in God, but it is the basis of all time.

Now, Barth says that there's no synthesis between the two because he hold an Leoine Christology like Calvin and Aquinas. In other words, the two nature "do there own thing" as Pope Leo put it back in the 440s A.D. So, Christ's human nature has a unity with his divine nature and echoes what's going on in his divine nature, but doesn't some how "contain" the divine nature.

The whole goal of this is to make God knowable, but still sovereign. If God became knowable as another thing in the world through revelation, then he would be an idol and not be worthy of worship. At the same time, if he wasn't present and knowable in the world, then we couldn't worship him.

The solution is revelation as analogy. Jesus' humanity echoes his divinity. He gives us an opaque copy of what's going on in God's divinity. Now, the copy isn't the thing itself, but it properly reflects the thing in itself. So too the Bible is an even more opaque copy of what went on in Jesus human nature.

This is of course not acceptable to Lutherans since we claim that although language about God very well may be analogical ("begetting" in the Trinity obviously is not sexual intercourse), the finite can hold the infinite and the concrete mediums of revelation are identical with presence of God, they do not merely "echo" him. Hence the Lutheran doctrine of the genus maiestaticum! This doctrine is a yes to Cyril and a no to Pope Leo and most western Christology.

Not quite following what Barth is doing, Preus thinks that this denigrates the cognitive aspects of faith.

Now, this is correct and incorrect. First, Preus is wrong because Barth's whole point is that we really, really can have objective knowledge of God, albeit incomplete, via the analogy of revelation. This solves the problem present in the Kantian epistemology that he inherited and that had found it's theological expression in Schleiermacher, of "knowing things in themselves" (ding-an-sich), rather than just their effects on their consciousness. So, Schleiermacher says, we can know God because we have experiences of him and then we can make inferences from that. Feuerbach pointed our that if we go that direction, then we might as well just say that God is identical with our experiences and not seek any deity beyond ourselves. Barth then inverts Schleiermacher and says that we can have realistic knowledge of God by making inference from the external event of revelation and thereby gain realistic knowledge of God by "nachdenken" (thinking-after) revelation. By thinking "into" the event of revelation, we can really know God.

Preus is on the the other hand correct about Barth undermining the realism of revelation. Barth's starting point is still our experience of the Word, i.e., the fact that God has chosen to make the Word revelation for us.

Also, since Barth doesn't have a doctrine of inerrancy and (as Preus correctly describes it) seems to say that "God gets his truth across" through the errors in the Bible, it's hard to know what sort of intellectual content revelation has. In other words, if that's the case, it seems like revelation is some sort of non-cognitive thing that God can "get through" without correct or true information. This makes one question whether or not there is any actual content in revelation.

In this regard, Preus gives a helpful critique.


  1. Dr. Kilcrease,

    I am an ignorant layman when it comes to epistemology, Kantian or otherwise. Is there someone you would recommend reading for a Confessional Lutheran standpoint on epistemology?

  2. Thanks. I'll have to check out Reid. Another figure that's piqued my interest is Wittgenstein mainly because J. W. Montgomery seems to think quite highly of his work (Montgomery's Tractatus). I haven't been brave enough to tackle that one yet, though.

  3. Yes, I'm some what interested in that book. I've seen it on Amazon and Gene Veith has advertised it as well. So many books!

  4. Basically if you don't assume that Kant is mind-blowing though, most of the post-19the century position don't solve problems that they have, like, I see basically no reason to take the Bible literally and as a straight forward and clear source of revelation.

    Jack, can you clarify if you personally confess the bolded text or are representing the post-19th century position as you understand it?


  5. Phil- I'm not really a philosopher, but I think that I would say that the work of Thomas Reid ("common sense realism") is very good. Also, Alvin Plantinga's work on warranted belief (which I've read a little bit of, but have been busy with other things) is good.

    I tend to find most post-19th century German Protestant theology sort of blah because it works from assumptions in Kant, and I, with the Anglo-American tradition really never thought Kant was much of a response to Hume. I thought Thomas Reid was a good one and Plantinga definitely moves within that tradition.

    Basically if you don't assume that Kant is mind-blowing though, most of the post-19the century position don't solve problems that they have, like, I see basically no reason NOT to take the Bible literally and as a straight forward and clear source of revelation. I mean, of course, you need the Spirit- but in terms of external clarity, competing exegetical claims I don't think are impossible to negotiate.

    Neither do I think the older natural theology arguments are unreliable or problematic. So, for me, the whole structure of Lutheran Scholasticism (with some modifications) can basically still serve us well.

    I have some other arguments in this regard which I'll touch on in a future post.

  6. Brett "mystery man" Meyer.

    I meant to write "I see basically no reason NOT to take the Bible literally and as a straight forward and clear source of revelation."

    I re-posted the response with the correct statement.

    I think that clarifies things. In any case, if you could read the context of the statement (i.e., I was saying I thought scholastic orthodoxy did a good theological job and doesn't need improvement), then you could probably see that I had made a mistake and wasn't leaking out that I was a closet liberal.

    In any case, I'm pleased you called my attention to the mistake so that I could correct it.