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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte


Dempsey, Michael T. [Ed.]


Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology.


Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans 2011. X, 301 S. 22,8 x 15,2 cm. Kart. US$ 38,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6494-9.


Hans Burger

Bruce McCormack’s Barth-interpretation (1995 and later on) ge­-ner­ated a debate among English speaking theologians on the relation between trinity and election in Barth’s theology, and, more generally, in systematic theology. McCormack, professor of systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, not only argued that Barth in his CD II/2 makes an important shift, understanding election as an eternal act of God, determining his Trinitarian being. He moreover suggested that God’s Trinitarian being is the result of his eternal self-determining decision of election. Consequently, in our constructive activity as theologians, we should revise the order of Barth’s Church Dogmatics, dealing with the doctrine of the trin­ity secondarily after the doctrine of God’s election. Paul Molnar, writing on the doctrine of the immanent trinity, was the first to object to McCormack’s proposal (2002, 2006, 2007); others followed. According to Molnar, the doctrine of the immanent trinity and of the logos asarkos have the important function to safeguard God’s freedom. They prevent God from becoming dependent on human­ity and on his creation in a Hegelian fashion.
This book documents the (still ongoing) debate and is itself a new contribution to it. Michael Dempsey, a colleague of Paul Molnar at the Catholic St. John’s University in New York, has brought together contributions from McCormack and Molnar, as well as others like George Hunsinger, Nicholas Healy, Matthew Levering and Paul Louis Metzger. Six of the chapters were published before in different journals, the other six essays were not published earlier.
First of all, the book is of interest for Barth-interpreters. The different options in reading Barth, a left-Barthian (»revisionist«) reading, a right-Barthian (»orthodox«) reading, or somewhere in be­tween, are presented and analysed. Should we understand Barth’s doctrine of God in the light of his self-determination to be God for humanity and in the light of his election in Christ? Or is God’s freedom and his independence as immanent trinity more important to Barth? What is the impact of Barth’s decision to make the doctrine of election part of his doctrine of God, and to designate Jesus Christ not just as object but also as subject of election? McCormack as well as Molnar represent extremes in their interpretation, other authors choose different ways in between. The book shows that Barth, the master, was able to maintain different emphases in an equilibrium that is lost easily by his readers. The Church Dogmatics »is patient of multiple interpretations« (157).
In this respect, the discussion is a hermeneutical discussion concerning Barth’s theology, its development and its unity. As such, it is a book for Barthians. The book deals with problems raised by Barth’s theology and existing within a Barthian framework. Read­ing chapter after chapter becomes tiresome when the same Barthian issues are discussed again.
However, reading the book one understands that the debate has a systematic interest transcending these Barthian circles. Not only – happily – the addition of two articles written from a Roman Catholic (Thomist) perspective, but also the clear differentiation between hermeneutical-interpretative and systematic-construc­tive questions contribute to this wider importance of the book. Whether one is a Barthian or not, one has to choose a position in the systematic-theological field discussed in the controversy. What are the systematic questions addressed in this debate?
First, there is the question concerning the knowledge of God and related questions of method. If one believes that one comes to know God in Christ and not apart from Christ, what does that mean theologically? Where does obedience to God’s self-revelation end and where do the invention of abstractions and the practice of speculation start? What is more abstract and speculative, the idea of a God who determines himself to be God-for-humanity and hence to become triune (McCormack) or a concept invented to prevent God’s freedom, like »immanent trinity« or a logos asarkos (Molnar)? And can one provide good theological reasons to construct such ideas to serve the understanding of God’s self-revelation?
Second, there are questions concerning the doctrine of God itself. What should a postmetaphysical concept of God look like, if one wants to keep the doctrine of God free from an interpretation of immutability in terms of impassibility without losing God’s transcendence? How should we conceive of the relation between God’s will and God’s Trinitarian being: is God’s will the expression of God’s eternal loving Trinitarian being, or is God’s Trinitarian being the expression of his eternal loving will? And on which grounds do we make a choice between these two options?
A third set of questions pertains to the relation between God and his creation. Should we emphasise the freedom of God from cre-ation at risk of creating an autonomous God in splendid isolation? Or the love of God we came to know in Jesus Christ as the love of a God determined to love us for ever, with the threat of a cosy god dependent on humanity? Do concepts like the »immanent trinity« and the logos asarkos serve real theological interests, or do they reinforce a wrong concept of a God, very transcendent but not Chris­tian?
The Catholic contributors add to these questions from their perspective some other problems. Nicholas Healy suggests another way of doing theology which is different from modern theology. Modern theologians start with identifying a problem, of which the epistemological problem of the knowledge of God is a central one. The task of theology is to solve this problem. According to Healy, following Aquinas, God is never a problem. God is a mystery and theology contemplates that mystery to enable believers to live in that mystery. Theological concepts are invented, reading scripture, to offer »explanatory hypotheses … that make God’s actions in Christ reasonable to faith« (241).
Matthew Levering finally relates the discussion to Christological positions in the Early Church. Is McCormack right when he detects in classical theology a form of Nestorianism, separating a divine Son as logos asarkos from a human Jesus? And is his solution an improvement, if it resembles much of what Aquinas would judge as Arian? According to Levering, McCormack makes the will of the Father the source of the Son, which would imply subordinationism.
To conclude, this book documents a debate, sometimes tire­-some, but nevertheless theologically important, because in a much debated field it raises crucial questions that one cannot leave unanswered.