New Publication: Karl Barth on the Extra Calvinisticum

Here’s the abstract for my forthcoming essay in the International Journal of Systematic Theology, which is now available as an online early view and will appear in the print version of the journal later this year. This piece began its life as a conference paper at the Trinity and Christology seminar at the Society for the Study of Theology last April (though it’s doubled in length since then), and will feed into a couple of different chapters in my doctoral thesis.

The aim of the essay is to identify the basic point of disagreement between the Reformed tradition and Lutheranism over the extra Calvinisticum, then to trace Barth’s development on the question and identify his eventual solution to the problem.

The Twofold Life of the Word:
Karl Barth’s Critical Reception of the Extra Calvinisticum

Though the extra Calvinisticum has played an historically important role for Christology, the doctrine has been criticized not only by Lutherans and modern Christologies ‘from below’ but by some Reformed thinkers, as well. This paper examines the place of the extra in dogmatic thinking about the incarnation, viz. Karl Barth’s critical response to his own tradition. After examining the differences between Lutheran and Reformed construals of the relationship of the Logos asarkos to the Logos ensarkos I take up Barth’s views on the extra, which over the course of his career moved from enthusiastic affirmation to a sharp critique. Finally, I suggest that Barth’s mature Christology retains the best of both Protestant positions by correcting a critical inconsistency in Reformed thought. He does not reject the doctrine of the Logos asarkos, but he does suggest a way in which this is related to the life of the Logos ensarkos that marginalizes the former. Barth is right not to reject the extra, but also that it has been misused in how it is deployed in dogmatic theology.

Studia Patristica Volume LII Now In Print

The new volume of Studia Patristica is officially out, according to Peeters Publishers.  This volume includes papers from the Third British Patristics Conference that was held at the University of Durham in September 2010.

The volume includes my paper on the instrumentalist Christology of Athanasius of Alexandria. Check out the abstract here.

The full table of contents are available here.

Book Review: Reconciled Humanity – Karl Barth in Dialogue

The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Seminary has just published my lengthy review of Hans Vium Mikkelsen’s book Reconciled Humanity: Karl Barth in Dialogue (Eerdmans, 2010).  Rather than limiting myself to a standard, 1,000-word book review, I opted to take advantage of the lack of space restrictions afforded by the venue and write a fuller-length engagement with the book.  This is because I find Mikkelsen’s thesis so important: Does the incarnation of the Word touch the inner being of God?  Barth says yes, and Mikkelsen worries 1) that he does not carry this through with full consistency, and 2) that it has negative consequences for other doctrinal loci.  It is important to get Barth right here, particularly because Mikkelsen is rightly attending to the actualist character of Barth’s theology (insofar as he understands it).

Here is an excerpt from the critical section of the review:

The author’s central claim is that Barth thus failed to integrate the incarnation and the being of God because he upheld the doctrine of immutability (cf. 211n15). In Mikkelsen’s judgment, Barth’s actualist understanding of God therefore seems “not to make any major difference at all, as the intention of the incarnation can be traced back to God’s original essence (whether it be in the form of an original being or an original will). Nothing new then has really happened to God in the incarnation” (260). Mikkelsen finally wants to argue against such a hidden God that God’s inner being is “dynamic,” i.e. capable of change, and therefore capable of absorbing Jesus’ experience of death on the cross (157n23). When the Son suffers, “God really suffers in his own inner being; there is no God beyond the God who suffers” (257). This he takes to be contradictory to Barth’s own Christology, despite Barth’s best intentions to allow the life of Jesus to be determinative for God.

It is unfortunate that Mikkelsen successfully identifies the actualist character of Barth’s theological ontology but later fails to apprehend the ways in which this impacts his thought – in areas such as intra-trinitarian relations and God’s relationship to history, for example. Barth insists that the Word’s becoming flesh means that God really has taken humanity into God’s own life, with all the ontological implications that entails. This is a point that Mikkelsen stresses well. But because he has lost sight of the fact that Barth grounds the incarnation in God’s eternal election, the author can only conclude that “one consequence of God’s absorbing of human finitude must be that God not only is able to change, but also that God actually did change during the incarnation” (224). He acknowledges that this thesis contradicts Barth, but he fails to see why Barth could (and, indeed, had to) maintain divine immutability: God’s inclusion of humanity in the divine life viz. the Son is eternal and not merely punctiliar. And so the incarnation, while not excluding God’s being, does not signal a change in God but rather the actualization in history of that which God, by virtue of divine decision, has always been (cf. 224-5, 257). Mikkelsen’s thesis falls apart not so much because he gets Barth wrong as because he has not paid sufficient attention to getting Barth entirely right.

The full text of the review is available on the Center for Barth Studies site.

New Publication: Karl Barth and ‘Common Actualization’

I’ve had a pair of essays recently accepted for publication, the first of which has just appeared in the December 2011 issue of Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie (Volume 53 no. 4 — subscription access here).  Here is the abstract:

Common Actualization:
Karl Barth’s Recovery and Reappropriation
of the Communication of Natures

The doctrine of the communication of natures has played a primarily descriptive role in the history of Christology, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that it has largely gone missing from contemporary theology. This is a serious oversight. But Karl Barth is a noteworthy exception to the reductionist trend, and he provides the Reformed tradition’s most complete and substantive engagement with the communication of natures and its implications for dogmatic theology. Through a close reading of volume IV/2 of the Church Dogmatics, this essay considers Karl Barth’s vital emphasis upon the communicatio naturarum and the role it plays in his actualist Christology. Barth demonstrates that the traditional threefold communication (of attributes, graces, and operations) has material as well as formal importance. According to Barth, we see in Christ not the mere coincidence of two natures, nor an interpenetration, nor the transformation of one into the other — but mutual operation and interpretation, where divinity and humanity each acquires and has its determination in the other.

Book Review: Trinitarian Theology After Barth

The Journal of Theological Studies has just published the online edition of my review of Trinitarian Theology After Barth, a collection of essays edited by Myk Habets and Phillip Tolliday. (I believe the print version is in the first issue of 2012.) The papers in this volume were presented at a 2009 symposium at Carey Baptist College, New Zealand, and include papers from scholars attempting to think “with,” “after,” and “beyond” Karl Barth.

Contributors to the volume’s 16 essays include Paul D. Molnar, Ivor Davidson, Bruce L. McCormack, Murray Rae, Benjamin Myers, Myk Habets, and more.

Fortunately Oxford Journals provides a public link to the online version — no subscription required! So you can read the full review here and find a PDF copy here.

Book Review: The Christ’s Faith

The new issue of the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology (Volume 29 no. 2, Autumn 2011) is out (but unfortunately not online), and includes my view of R. Michael Allen’s book The Christ’s Faith: A Dogmatic Sketch (T&T Clark, 2009).

The book is the published version of Allen’s Wheaton dissertation on the theological ramifications of the pistis Christou debate — a New Testament discussion over whether this important Greek phrase should be translated “faith in Christ” or something more akin to “the faithfulness of Christ” or “Christ’s faith.” Are men and women saved by virtue of placing our faith in Jesus, or by virtue of his faithfulness to us?

Here is an extract from the review:

Allen’s presentation is straight-forward and unambiguous, making this book a challenging entry into a live debate over pistis Christou – demonstrating in particular how the subjective genitive is not only commensurate with traditional theology (‘coherence’) but also beneficial to it (‘necessity’), so that a retreat from the exegetical debate to the dogmatic impropriety of ‘Christ’s faith’ is no longer permissible.  While the hermeneutical debate rages on in the circle of biblical studies, Allen has offered a solid contribution to systematic theology and to the church by rigorously demonstrating the dogmatic import of the question.

It’s an important topic and Allen does a fine job addressing it from the point of view of dogmatic theology. Look for my full review in SBET.

Forthcoming: Studia Patristica Volume 52

Last summer I had the pleasure of participating in the Third British Patristics Conference hosted by St John’s College at the University of Durham.  The papers from this event are currently being gathered and edited for volume 52 of Studia Patristica, due out later this year.

Markus Vinzent, editor of the volume, has posted the titles and abstracts for the volume’s contents (almost 30 essays!) on his blog.  This is my contribution:

The Instrumentalization of Christ’s Human Nature
in Athanasius of Alexandria

Darren O. Sumner, Aberdeen

The manner in which Athanasius conceives of the relationship between the Word of God and his assumed humanity is rightly described as ‘instrumentalist’. The acting agent in the life of Jesus Christ is understood to be the Logos simpliciter, who has ‘put on’ or ‘taken up’ human flesh in order to accomplish the salvation of human persons – but is, in his own eternal person, unaltered. This is striking to a post-Chalcedonian understanding of the Incarnation as a hypostatic union of two natures, divine and human, which results in the Word’s becoming a composite person whose humanity is no less important to his identity than is his divinity. The purpose of this paper is to test the sufficiency of Athanasius’ understanding of the Incarnation for Christian dogmatics. It begins by exploring Athanasius’ interpretation of a number of problematic biblical texts that seem to grant the humanity a higher status in the make-up of Christ’s person – his ignorance of something that God the Father knows (Mark 13:32), for example. Next, it considers three ways in which Athanasius guards against the hazardous conclusions one might draw from a purely instrumentalist construal of the Incarnation. For Athanasius, the humanity of the Word is not merely a tool in his hand. Finally, it considers the broader implications for dogmatics, particularly with respect to the question of divine impassibility, attempting to answer whether or not Athanasius’ safeguards sufficiently compensate for the dangers of his instrumentalism.