Sunday, December 14, 2014

Barthian Actualism in 5 steps

Okay theologian friends, here is my summary of the logic involved in affirming actualistic theology. I've used Nimmo (Being in Action plus his article in the Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth) in the main.

A) is this broadly correct? and
B) if you think this is a faulty theological vision, where does it go wrong?

Actualism, in a nutshell, "conceives of God and Jesus Christ, and (derivatively) of human beings, as beings-in-action" (Nimmo). To get there, it argues (while not pinning anything on the numbering which, to an extent, artificially separates united points):

1. God is who he is in revelation
2.a. This revelation involves events, acts
2.b. This divine "eventfulness" specifically has the name "Jesus"
3.a. So God's being is eventful, active, being-in-action
3.b. As the elect one, and electing God, this divine being-in-action names the event in which God elects to be God for us, and in do doing constitutes himself - his own being - in terms of this particular grace and love.

But actualistic ontology is a christological vision for all of theology, so:

4. This further entails that actualistic theology frames and structures anthropology (which for Barth derives from Christology) —we too are beings-in-action— and thus Barth's theological ethics. It also has ramifications for proclamation and Scripture becoming the Word of God, and the being-in-action of the church.
5. This is to say that actualistic theology resists any being-not-in-action, anything "static", whether it be speech about God, humans, or whatever else. It involves a "Nein", in other words, to substantialistic theology "in which God and human beings would be construed as fixed and determinate quantities in a certain abstraction from their histories, acts, and relationships" (Nimmo in The Westminster Handbook)


At 12/14/2014 12:31 AM, Anonymous Kevin Davis said...

I would hesitate to say that "actualism" frames Barth's anthropology (#4). And for that matter, I would hesitate to make a category like "actualism" a key to unlocking Barth. It reminds me of Barth's criticism of Berkouwer for using "grace" (which at least has theological merit) as the theme of Barth's theology, in Berkouwer's book, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth. Christ is not a category or a theme. This tendency to over-weight Barth's "actualist ontology" is a prominent feature of McCormack's reading of Barth, and Nimmo seems to follow closely, but it has detractors among notable Barth scholars.

Nonetheless, the point remains that God's identity with Jesus Christ is axiomatic for Barth, and the question is precisely how God "constitutes himself" (#3b) in this way. I tend toward those who want to maintain God's aseity, even though this could also be accused of "predetermining" God's being (in the way that I accuse "actualism" of doing so). At the end of the day, maybe this is finally unresolved in Barth.

At 12/14/2014 3:01 AM, Blogger Keen Reader said...

Me and old Mrs. Jones were chatting about this in the back pew last Sunday morning before the service . . .

Personally I think this topic merits at least a dozen 1,000-page doorstops in 2015.

P.S. Nice to see Derek Nimmo get a mention.

At 12/14/2014 10:13 AM, Blogger Doug said...

Too many big words for me, but whether you've got Barth right or wrong with this, I have problems with the position taken. If I dare mis-apply St Anselm, it seems to me that "God as God is in Godself, being-in-relation" is a greater conception than "God as God is in relating to stuff, being-in-action", and therefore the former is a better way of thinking of God.

At 12/14/2014 10:16 AM, Blogger Terry Wright said...

I suspect Keen Reader is jesting, but her/his post made me laugh! :)

At 12/14/2014 1:43 PM, Anonymous Douglas said...

Looks pretty well spot on to me. As Jüngel put it, God's being is in [God's] becoming. Ontology is dynamic, as revealed definitively by Christ's disclosure of the being of God. End of story. (Although perhaps one could add that this dynamic ontology seems to be fundamentally life giving. But then a lot of things ultimately need to be added.) Think about what a difference this realization makes to our definitions of things like "the righteousness of God."

At 12/16/2014 2:11 PM, Anonymous andrewbourne said...

A comment if this is Barth theology I would suggest its heretical. Why? It lacks a Trinitarian basis. If Christ is the fullest Revelation it allows no space for the action of the Spirit and does not consider a basic theological understanding of the Trinity. The Trinity in its actions in the world does not act individually but as one United persons. In Barth his thought of the Son going into the far country lacks the one act of the Trinity redeeming and driving the whole Creation. Theologians I think should look more to Catholic theologians, Orthodox and Latin who have a more Trinitarian focus than Barth whose work is I would suggest is Christomonic

At 12/16/2014 2:13 PM, Anonymous andrewbourne said...

Sorry I meant drifting the whole of Creation


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