Saturday, March 11, 2017

Musings on Causality, Divinity and Resurrection

It took a very long time before I could see things clearly.  

Growing up, I contemplated both God and science.   They always seemed in tension.  It did not help, of course, that my eighth grade confirmation pastor made me recite Luther's explanation to the First Article in from of the church with the prefix added, "In defiance of the theory of evolution, I believe that God has created me and all creatures . . . "

Although I did not know it at the time, I was already struggling with some pretty deep issues in the logic of explanation.   If one could explain why something was the case by pointing to laws and antecedent physical events and processes, what exactly was there left for God to do?  If I explained x both by divine intentionality D and some set of physical events E coupled with physical laws L, then in what sense is D, or perhaps E and L superfluous?  If x would not have happened without D, then surely E and L cannot form a complete explanation of x.   But E and L do form a complete explanation of x, therefore by modus tollens, x would have happened without D, and thus D is causally irrelevant.

The general problem is one of causal overdetermination, and confronts us as well in the philosophy of mind.  If mental event M1 explains M2, and M1 is physically realized by a set of brain events P1, and P1 causes a set of brain events P2, and P2 is the physical realization of M2, then in what sense is M1 qua M1 -- that is, M1 in so far as it is M1 -- causally efficacious in producing M2?  Does not the mental become merely epiphenomenal on neurophysiology, a "wheel idly turning" (Wittgenstein) as it were?  Is this not clearly a situation in which mental explanation fails to articulate the deepest causal map of the universe, and thus is in principle reducible to brain explanation or, better yet, can be eliminated in favor of the latter?

Consider the healing of Mary from stage four liver cancer.  This event -- let's call it m -- is supposedly effected by God's intentionality and power D.  If God healed Mary, then clearly D causally produces m.  But Mary's healing is physically realized as some set of micro-physical actualizations S.   While there was once a time -- e.g., in pre-physicalist ages -- when one might have said that D causally produces S without means, that option is not available to most people today.   Our time assumes the principle of the causal closure of the physical,  for each and every physical event p, there is some set of physical events E that causally produces p, and for each and every physical event p, p cannot and does not produce events that are not physical.  But if D does not produce m without means, then there is some set of physical events that is the physical realization of D such that these events cause m.  

It has been axiomatic in theology since the late Enlightenment to conceive God-talk non-causally.   What I mean by this, is that the giving of an interpretation to theological language such as 'God creates the universe' does not involve one in the drawing of a causal relation across the disparate ontological domains of supernature and nature.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America slogan, "God's work, our hands," nicely captures the situation:  Divine agency is physically realizable!   God's working of Y is realizable through the means of some set of individuals P acting in particular ways -- let's say that the set of individuals P instantiates a complex set of relations Q.   Thus, when P instantiates Q -- or perhaps when P acts Q-ly -- then Y obtains.   But the question is obvious: How is Y qua Y a divine act when it is physically realizable as P acting Q-ly?   More simply put, how is divine agency possible in means, when causal explanations in terms of the means is sufficient?   Do we not have a case of causal overdetermination here when allowing the divine explanation to track alongside the physical?  

The solution to all of this is to offer a model of theological language in which prima facie causal terms are given a non-causal analysis.  This worked very well in ages dominated by idealist pre-suppositions.  Accordingly, 'God creates' is a way of talking about some reality deeper than the causal.  Perhaps there is a reality of "Being-itself" that is deeper than the realm of particular beings, a realm that is somehow more profound than the causal, an ontological depth of being presupposed by the ontic structure of being in which beings are causally related to other beings.  Maybe although causal talk here is in some sense misapplied, the language of the causal somehow illuminates the depth dimension of the human such that the language is nonetheless theologically vindicated.  Thus, while God does not really cause the bringing about of Mary's healing, the saying of 'God healed Mary' does illuminate or make sense out of one's existential situation and the seeming mystery of grace, the getting of that which one is ultimately not earned or deserved.   Saying that 'God healed Mary' seems to say more than there is some set of physical events that occurred -- though they cannot be fully specified -- that when instantiated brought about some set of physical events in Mary such that the term 'healed' could be applied to her.

One might, of course, complain that my concerns with 'God heals Mary' are somehow merely a problem for the philosopher.  While philosophers are concerned with semantics, the meaning of terms and the truth-values of the propositions comprised by them, semantics is not a problem for the believer reading the Bible.  Why allow the abstractions of fundamental theology (proto-theology), a theology that is most immediately relatable to First Article concerns, to transgress upon the hallowed domain of Christology and the proclamation of Christ's life giving death and resurrection?   Why not simply preach Christ and let semantics take care of itself?

Imagine listenting to preacher Pete proclaim that Christ is risen from the dead and that because of this the future has been conquered and that salvation is at hand.   One could, I suppose, simply listen to Pete and not think deeply about what his pronouncements mean and what the truth-conditions of the propositions he utters are.  (The truth-conditions of a proposition are those which must obtain in order for the proposition to be true.)  One might somehow be able to say, "OK, I don't know exactly what Pete's meaning when he talks of Christ's resurrection, but I will regard the resurrection to be true."  But this strategy does not work well when Molly asks what is meant by 'resurrection'.   At this point, one must either give some truth-condition for 'Christ is resurrected', or simply say that one does not know.  But if the latter, then Molly will say, "If you don't know what is meant by 'Christ is resurrected', then you don't know what it would mean for Christ not to be resurrected, and if you don't know that, then clearly to say "'Christ is resurrected' is true" is to say nothing at all."

To this, one simply has to change the subject.   While one might hope that one is meaning something even if one is not sure what one is meaning, there is no basis for the hope: Without knowing precisely what situation must obtain for 'Christ is resurrected' to be false, one knows not what 'Christ is resurrected' means.  Therefore, despite emotions to the contrary, to be told 'Christ is resurrected' is not to be told anything in particular -- and thus a fortiori not anything at all.  Sometimes for the sake of the Gospel one must say things as they are.  What is at stake is too important to do otherwise.

In the early days of Christianity, disciples knew that Christ's resurrection was tied to an empty tomb.  'Christ is resurrected' is false if the tomb is not empty.  The assertion had falsifiability conditions.   While the tomb being empty is not sufficient for Christ's resurrection, it is nonetheless necessary for it.  Christ's resurrection thus had a physical realization, and because that resurrection was tied to both the future and salvation, there was a physical dimension to both the future and salvation as well.   Just as Jesus Christ was physically raised from the dead, so too will all who sleep in the Lord be physically resurrected as well.   The coherence of soteriology depended up the physical realization of salvation.  While death was real, Christ's resurrected life could conquer it.

What I am saying is something quite sensible: Christ's physical resurrection and God's causal action producing it was itself understood in the tradition as causally-productive of human salvation.   Human salvation was an effect of divine agency, a causal action drawn across disparate ontological domains.  After all, there is no physical realization of 'Molly is dead' that in itself can causally produce 'Molly is alive'.  While 'God's work' can be realized perhaps in the work of human hands, 'Molly is being raised from the dead' has no known physical realization.

Simply put, while 'God creates the heavens and the earth' can be given a non-causal analysis it is not clear that a similar non-causal strategy can be given for 'God resurrects Jesus'.  The latter connects with the notion of salvation in a very intimate way -- as long as salvation is thought to be physically realized.  Of course, we are living in a time in which people are increasingly thinking that death is not an enemy.  If 'death' and 'life' are taken as descriptions of how we live rather than the fact that we live, then there may come a time when 'Mary's salvation' in no way depends upon the fact that she will live.  That time, which is increasingly our time, does truly recall the time of the Gnostics and their heresies.  

The first step in seeking treatment is realizing that one is sick.  If we do not realize the importance of semantics in theology, we shall not grasp the important theological work that must now be done.  It is irrational to hope for something of which it can be said that one does not know if one has it.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Studying Classical Lutheran Theology with Vigor and Rigor

I am driving back from the Association of Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) Annual Convention where the Institute of Lutheran Theology (ILT) was just granted candidate status towards full institutional accreditation.  ILT is dedicating all the resources necessary to acquire initial accreditation extremely quickly.

ILT is known, of course, for its innovative pedagogical model that uses video conferencing resources in an on-line format that allows almost all of our M.A., M.Div., STM and D.Min. curricula to be delivered directly into student's own home.  I was a tenured professor for many years at a state university, and often tell people that the only difference between teaching at the university or with ILT is that with ILT I don't have to find a parking place before class.  We do distance education very well.

Just because ILT is innovative pedagogically, however, does not guarantee its long-term success or viability.  Many other schools, even state universities, are beginning to use the technologies we have used since inception.  Lutheran seminaries are getting into the act as well.  So when all the Lutheran seminaries learn to deliver on-line like ILT has done, what is left to be distinctive about ILT?

The answer is easy: ILT is much more rigorous than most Lutheran seminaries now are; we prepare much more deeply in the discipline of theology itself.  The following compares the Institute of Lutheran Theology's Master of Divinity program with that of Luther Seminary's in St. Paul.  Luther Seminary once had a very fine curriculum, but changes over the last decades in the trajectory of theological education in North America have profoundly affected that curriculum.  The ILT curriculum comes from the 2017-18 ILT academic catalog.  The Luther Seminary information can be found in the Luther Seminary 2016-17 academic catalog found at  Below are the classes that students must take at each institution.

Biblical Theology

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Introduction to Greek
  • Readings in NT Greek, Biblical Hebrew 
  • Lutheran Evangelical Methods
  • Lutheran Biblical Interpretation
  • The Pentateuch
  • Wisdom and the Histories
  • The Gospels
  • Paul and His Legacy
  • Epistles and Formation of the NT
  • OT or NT elective 
Luther Seminary
  • Biblical Hebrew
  • New Testament Greek
  • Scripture & Witness I
  • Scripture & Witness II
  • Biblical Exegesis for Ministry 
Historical Theology

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • History of Christian Thought I: Origins to 1500
  • History of Christian Thought II: The Reformation
  • History of Christian Thought III: 1700 - 1900
  • History of Christian Thought IV:  20th Century
  • History of the Lutheran Church
  • The Theology of Martin Luther
  • The Lutheran Confessions 
Luther Seminary
  • Reform and Expansion of Christianity
  • Either History of Christianity since 1800 or Apostles to the Reformers
  • Lutheran Confessional Writings or denominational option
Systematic Theology 

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Creation and the Triune God
  • Christology 
  • Christ, Spirit and the Two Kingdoms
  • Three from the following:  
    • Theology and Science
    • World Religions and Theology
    • Christian Sexual Ethics
    • Philosophy of Religion
    • Religious Interpretation of Films 

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Faith, Knowledge and Reason
  • Critical Thinking for the Theologian (doctrinal track) 
Luther Seminary 
  • None 
Pastoral Theology 

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Pastoral Theology I
  • Pastoral Theology II
  • Pastoral Theology III
  • Parish Administration
  • The Teaching Shepherd
  • Theology and the Practice of Worship
  • Homiletics I 
  • Homiletics II
  • Homiletics III
  • Pastoral Theology elective
  • Internship (no credit) 
Luther Seminary 
  • Christian Public Leader I & II (half courses) 
  • Congregational Care and Formation
  • Foundations of Biblical Preaching 
  • Public Worship
  • Clinical Pastoral Education
  • Internship (counts as two courses) 

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Two courses (OT or NT elective and Pastoral Theology elective, as noted above) 
Luther Seminary 
  • 12 courses 
Notice the difference in the emphasis between ILT and what Luther Seminary now offers.  We don't teach leadership as an end in itself, but believe that if our students humbly know Scripture and the theological tradition profoundly, they will be formed with servants' hearts so that they might preach, teach and lead boldly.  Evangelical leadership is a function of Evangelical servanthood; such servanthood is not a function of leadership.  

Given what I have just said, it might be useful as well to contrast the Institute of Lutheran Theology D. Min. program with that of Luther Seminary.  Here it is: 


Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Reaching the Unreached
Luther Seminary
  • Congregational Mission and Leadership
Residency Requirement

Institute of Lutheran Theology
  • None
Luther Seminary 
  • Total of 38-42 days over four years
Method of Course Delivery

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Live multi-feed video conferencing one evening per week for a total of 45 contact hours per semester
Luther Seminary 
  • On-Campus one-week intensives, with work before and after
Required Courses

Institute of Lutheran Theology
  • A Secular World
  • Models of Engagement
  • Proclamation in the 21st Century
  • Catechesis
  • Methodology and Approaches to Graduate Study 
  • Two student-designed independent projects
Luther Seminary
  • Integration of Theology and Ministry
  • Pastoral Theology, Identity and Spiritual Life
  • Missional Church
  • Missional Leadership
  • Congregational Practices 

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Work independently at own pace
Luther Seminary 
  • Four visits to campus during fourth year for research and guidance
I have made a comparison with Luther Seminary simply because I take what has happened at Luther to exemplify general trends in theological education within North American Lutheran circles.  Please know that I have nothing against Luther Seminary; many of my good friends once received a very fine theological education there.   

Monday, January 09, 2017

Ten Years Ago and Ten Years from Now

It is January 2017 and I just received notification that the video of the Institute of Lutheran Theology's appearance on the "Leaders in the Future of Education" series on the public TV program Voices in America will be distributed to PBS stations across the country at the end of the month.  I was also notified that our first ILT commercials will be run on the Fox Business Network during prime time on January 19 & 20th.  (The commercials are an added benefit in being featured on Voices in America.)  ILT has come a long way.  

As we begin 2017, I am thinking back to 2007.   As many of you know, I am the President of a new educational initiative called the Institute of Lutheran Theology (ILT), a fully-operational seminary and graduate school offering a M.A. in Religion, a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Sacred Theology, a Doctor of Ministry, and certificate programs in pastoral and youth ministry.  ILT is presently on the fast-track towards full institutional accreditation, which we hope to have as early as 2018.   Tonight, however, I am not thinking ahead to next year, but am thinking back to a time ten years before.  What was life at ILT like ten years ago?  Thinking about ten years ago, makes me wonder as well about ten years from now?  Where will ILT be in 2027?  

Before remembering January 2007, however, it might be beneficial to some to review what the Institute of Lutheran Theology is.  A good way to learn what we are about is to visit our webpage.  You will find there that ILT has a nicely elaborated Mission Statement and a number of Institutional Goals.  If you examine the page long enough you will find out about our many programs that still offer something of a theoretical approach to theology.  Graduates of our Masters of Divinity program learn Greek, some Hebrew, some logic, basic philosophy for theology, some ethics, a theology & science course, study the Biblical texts, take 4-5 courses in the history of theology, study Luther and the Confessions, take three courses in systematic theology, have 9 courses in practical theology plus a year-long internship.  We offer this program reasonably (about $30k for the full Masters of Divinity) and almost wholly through on-line video conferencing.  Each student sees and hears the other students, sees and hears the professor, and the professor sees and hears each student.  (Note: Internships are not virtual.  Students must do flesh-and-blood ministry in congregations.)   Though we are very young, we have already had about 40 graduates from our various programs, 16 in the last calendar year alone.  

Our faculty is very solid with several members with long academic records and research reputations.  We are blessed to have theologians from the following Lutheran traditions and bodies teaching with us: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, and North American Lutheran Church, the Association of Free Lutheran Churches, the Augsburg Lutheran Churches, and the American Association of Lutheran Churches.  ILT's students come from many church bodies, but predominately Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), the Canadian Association of Lutheran Congregations (CALC), and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).  In our Doctor of Ministry and Master of Sacred Theology, we do, however, presently have students from the LCMS and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) as well as the Reformed tradition.   

So where was ILT ten years ago today?  

We were nine months forward from our launch at the April 2006 WordAlone Convention in Golden Valley, Minnesota.  We were seeking partnerships when and where we could find them, about to visit Concordia University in Irvine, California and Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  We were eight months away from our first course being delivered over the internet, eleven months away from being incorporated as a non-profit in the state of South Dakota, 13 months away from being granted our IRS 504 c (3) status, and still 32 months away from offering our first graduate course.  (We chose to offer courses to lay people within congregations in our first few years.)   The ILT staff in those days consisted of four people, each having full-time jobs doing something quite unrelated to ILT.  (It would be  42 months before I gave up a tenured full professorship to work to build the Institute of Lutheran Theology.)   Four part-time staff is a far cry from the ten dedicated full-time staff we have now.  In 2007 we raised approximately $30,000; while last fiscal year we raised almost one million dollars.  

People have asked me, "If you knew how hard this would be, would you have done it?"  I always answer, "I always knew it would be this hard, I just did not know we would be this successful."  After all, how does one begin a graduate school and seminary without institutional support and funding?  How does one bring it about ex nihilo?  The answer, of course, is that one does not do such a thing, and cannot do it.  However, by the grace and will of God, with perseverance and patience, things come into being that one could never engineer.  ILT exists by the grace of God and it will exist as long as God graces it.  

So where would we like to be in ten years?  What constitutes the success of ILT going forward?   

We will finish this academic year with a headcount of about 100 students.  It is reasonable to expect that as a fully-accredited institution, we can grow this headcount 7.2% a year to 200 students by 2027.  We think by 2027 that we will have had 8 cohorts of Doctor of Ministry students graduate, as well as a dozen or more Masters of Sacred Theology students, 30 Masters of Arts, perhaps 40-50 Masters of Divinity students, and maybe 125 certificate students.   We hope to grow our tuitional revenue by 200% and our donor revenue by 100%.  In addition, we want to be able to obtain grants to upgrade our programs, our library, and our entire facility.  It is possible that by 2027 we will have both a functioning Ph.D. program and a nascent BD curriculum.  Who knows what God might have in store if we are bold enough to dream?  

All will be for nought, however, if we don't remain true to our Mission.  At the beginning we were wary of locating at a denominational seminary because our experience was that the theological trajectory within the ELCA could not be controlled by traditional affirmations of adherence to Scripture and the Confessions.  We thought that being independent gave us the best opportunity to stay Biblically-grounded and Confessionally-based.   We still think this.  Our philosophical presuppositions and theological affirmations are meant to situate us on the same basic semantic and ontological field as was present within the Reformation itself.  We hold that there really is a God that is causally involved in our salvation, a God whose acts can be spoken about in true propositions.   

If you have not been thinking about us for some time, or have never really heard about us, do some research about us.  Our courses our top-notch.  We teach classical Christian theology from a Lutheran perspective.  We aim a bit higher intellectually than has been the wont within vast reaches of North American Lutheranism recently.  Check us out. You don't have to be Lutheran to benefit from great courses from faithful and competent professors, delivered right to your home computer.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016


Do any of you remember "Imagine," the Lennon tune of September 1971? It is a veritable paean to the end of transcendence, and to the joys of secularity, socialism and globalization. 
Notice how strangely out-of-place talk of God is in the world below. I remember my high school reading of Brave New World and Lord of the Flies. Lennon's world was glimpsed by Huxley and others, but was just "trickling down" to the young in 1971. His world is now metropolitan America; it is the urban landscape of the weary North Atlantic countries. We are jaded and lost. Heidegger thought only a god could save us now. Will the owl yet fly before dusk? 
It is against this background that the Gospel must be proclaimed, and it is into this context that it must again be received. 
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Philosophical Commitments of ILT

As some of you know, I have been at work on the problem of building the Institute of Lutheran Theology (ILT) these last ten years.  It has been an amazing journey, and I marvel at times how we have gotten to where we now find ourselves.

It began as an effort to take seriously again both the Bible and the Lutheran Confessional documents -- as collected in the Book of Concord.  "Taking these documents seriously" can mean, however, a great number of things.  One can take these them seriously by unpacking what it is they meant in the context of which they originated -- the objectivist, archeological project -- what it is that they might mean for me today in my life -- the subjectivist, "reader response" approach, or what it is that the documents truly mean in our time: what do they say and claim of us within our current cultural-historical horizon?   The early ILT attempt to articulate general philosophical lenses to read properly Bible, Confessions and tradition are attempts to uncovering this latter kind of meaning.

About fifteen years ago I came to the conviction that theology was in danger of losing its very language.  Consider the situation in the philosophy of mind with beliefs/desire explanations for human behavior.  What is the best explanation for Bob driving to the airport on April 14th?  A standard philosophical response is that Bob drove to the airport on that date because he believed that Mary was coming in on a plane at the appointed time, believed that his driving to the airport would allow him to see Mary, and desired to see Mary.  The philosophical problem with this standard view is simply that there are neuro-realizers of believings and desirings, brain actualizations that are sufficient for these believings and desirings.  But if particular brain actualizations are sufficient for these believings and desirings, then it is plausible to claim that the deepest explanation of Bob driving to the airport is not found in his beliefs or desires, but rather in the particular neuro-events upon which his beliefs and desires metaphysically depend.

So what of the language of beliefs and desires?  What do belief and desire terms name, and how do these named things relate to the neuro-events that putatively realize them?  There are these general options:

  • Belief and desire terms name incorporeal thoughts or mental events which, though ontologically different from their putative neuro-realizers, are nonetheless correlated with these realizers.  One could say either that mental substances are ontologically distinct from neural substances or that mental properties are distinct from neural properties.  Accordingly, one asserts either substance or property dualism
  • While belief and desire terms refer neither to mental events nor physical events, such terms are applied if and only if certain behavior conditions obtain.  Accordingly, there is a semantic tie such that belief B obtains if and only if some set of complex stimulus-response conditionals hold.  Mental terms thus do not name mental events, but are applied on the basis of the instantiation of some set of dispositions to behave.  Since we can analyze the mental in terms of dispositions to behave, belief and desire terms simply mean this dispositional set.  We might call this a semantic reduction of the mental to the behavioral.  
  • Belief and desire terms name types of putative mental properties which obtain just in case some    type of neural properties obtain.  One might say that the mental just is the physical, and claim a type identity between the mental and physical or a reduction of the mental to the physical.  
  • Belief and desire terms name instances of putative mental properties which obtain if some disjunction of physical property instances obtain.  One might claims that there is a token identity between the tokening of a mental property and some tokening (or other) of a physical property. We might speak here of the weak supervenience of the mental onto the physical, or the physical realization of the mental.  The point is that a type of mental event is multiply realizable in some set of physical events or other.  
Of what relevance are these arcane reflections in the philosophy of mind to our topic?  As it turns out, the philosophy of mind discussion has relevance for what it is we are doing when using theological language.  Since the time of Kant, it has been widely assumed that neither the category of substance nor cause can apply to God.  Why?  Because both are pure concepts of the understanding that are involved in the organization of our phenomenal experience.  When we apply substance and cause beyond the bounds of all possible experience, we commit the transcendental subruption and mistake the regulative operations of reason with an actual cognition of a supersensible world.  From the standpoint of Kant's first critique, God cannot be known; we are unjustified in making epistemically-motivated claims of the divine.  While we can in our practical life assume there is a God that rewards our duty-doing with happiness, there are no epistemic grounds that would legitimate this.

For the subsequent theological tradition convinced by Kant's argument, the task was to think God on the other side of critique, that is, one had to make sense somehow of theological language without asserting that God is a substance causally-relatable to other substances.  They had to think God without asserting that God is an entity having causal powers.  There are many trajectories of post-Kantian theological options, the most famous advocated by Schleiermacher, where God is understood as the whence of Das Gefuehl des schlichthinniges Abhaengikeit (the feeling of absolute dependence).  Somehow, thought Schleiermacher, God language could be applied in the expression of our own piety.  (The problem that individuating piety states, such that what might be called "piety conditions" had to be met before the assertion of particular theological language, seemed not deeply to concern him.)

There were reactions, of course, to the adoption in academic theology of "the Kantian paradigm."  For over a century Roman Catholic theology generally dismissed the Kantian starting point as being inimical to theology.  Thomism was realist in its outlook: The divine exists apart from human awareness, perception, conception and language.  Lutheran thinkers like Harms, Hengstenberg, Loehe, and Vilmar rejected the Kantian paradigm as well, with Hengstenberg trying to repristinate 17th century Lutheran scholasticism.  However, these movements while interesting, did not derail the hegemonic Kantian synthesis in theology.  It was alive an well in the liberal theology of Ritschl, Harnack and Hermann, in the birth of dialectical theology with Barth, Bultmann and Gogarten, in the Luther Renaissance, and in the development of hermeneutical theology generally.

It seems to me that the theological tradition in the North Atlantic countries is more dependent upon 19th century philosophy than is perhaps warranted.  Kantian philosophy is studied in the history of philosophy, but transcendental idealism and neo-Kantianism in general does not currently enjoy heavy subscription within the contemporary philosophical world.  That there is a healthy Kantian influence within the philosophical community is, of course, undoubted.  (One thinks here of Hilary Putnam's "internal realism.")

There is, however, no general consensus against realism -- metaphysical or otherwise -- within the contemporary philosophical discussion.  Realism of various stripes is widely and intensely discussed.  One can be an informed modal realist, a moral realist, an aesthetic realist, a metaphysical realist, an epistemological realist, a mathematical realist, a scientific realist, a naive or critical or representative realist, a semantic realist, a causal realist, or a Platonic or moderate realist.  If all of this is possible, why can one not be an informed theological realist?  The Institute of Lutheran Theology's three philosophical commitments to theological realism, semantic realism and theophysical causation manifest the institution's wariness of an in toto subscription to the Kantian paradigm as a presupposition for its theological work.  It does not specify the determinate contour of the realism thereby asserted.

My own reflections on the current discussion in the philosophy of mind has brought me to the point of thinking that granting to the mental in se causal properties entails that a mental event does not mean a set of dispositional properties, that it cannot be reduced to some set of neural-realizers, and that it cannot either strongly or even weakly supervene on neurophysiological actualizations.   This position betrays my own conviction to a general truth of reductionism: If a domain A is reduced to domain B, then the causal connections within domain A are realized by the causal connections within domain B.  That is to say, the ultimate causal map is drawn within domain B rather than domain A.  In the philosophy of mind, this means that the neural processes realizing mental events are the real causal drivers in mental processes.   While A events can be causally relevant in A-explanations, A events are not causally effective in A-explanations.  (Causal stories can refer to higher-level causal powers without the higher-level events having in se causal powers.  Explanations are intentional, but causes are extensional.)  

So what precisely do these positions in the philosophy of mind have to do with theological realism?

Imagine there exists a divine domain.  What is its ontological status?  Is it something other than nature broadly conceived, that is, the sum total of all physical entities, events, properties and relations?  Most honestly doing theology would answer, "yes."  But is this an affirmation of the existence of a realm beyond nature, a supernatural order?  Most doing theology in the Kantian paradigm would say, "no."  While religion is vitally at the heart of what it is to be human, religious claims, and theological assertions explicating those claims, do not have truth-conditions satisfied by the determinate contour of some supersensible, non-natural reality.  So what options remain?

Analogous to positions in the philosophy of mind, we could assert these:
  • Strictly speaking, theological terms refer neither to divine nor micro-physical entities, properties or events.  Rather, such terms are applied if and only if certain macro states of affairs occur in the world.  Accordingly, there is a semantic tie such that theological proposition P obtains if and only if some set of macro-world dispositions obtain.  Theological terms thus do not name theological events, but are applied on the basis of the instantiation of some set of macro physical dispositions.  Since we can analyze the theological in terms of macro physical dispositions, theological terms simply mean this dispositional set.  We might call this a semantic reduction of the theological to the macro-physical.   (I know of nobody who would actually hold this view, but simply provide it here as a logical possibility.)  
  • Theological terms name types of putative theological properties which obtain just in case a determinate type of physical, psychological, sociological or economic properties obtain.  One might say that the domain of the theological just is the physical, psychological, sociological or economic and claim a type identity between the theological and the physical, psychological, sociological or economic, or a reduction of the theological to the physical, psychological, sociological or economic.  (While I cannot think of a strong reductive program of the theological to the physical, one might claim that Schleiermacher and/or Feuerbach hints that a particular theological term is applied if and only if a determinate psychological state obtains.  Durkheim might be said to strongly reduce the theological to the sociological while Marx does the same for economics.  For a number of reasons, however, the strong reduction of the theological to any of these domains is implausible.)  
  • Theological terms name instances of putative physical, psychological, sociological or economics properties which obtain if some disjunction of physical, psychological, sociological or economic property instances obtain.  One might claim that there is a token identity between the tokening of theological property and some tokening (or other) of a physical, psychological, sociological or economic property. We might speak here of the weak supervenience of the theological onto the physical, psychological, sociological or economic, or the physical, psychological, sociological or economic realization of the theological.  The point is that a type of theological event or property is multiply realizable in some set of lower-level properties.  (This view might better describe the general, though not explicitly or deeply-articulated views of Schleiermacher, Feuerbach, Freud, Durkheim and Marx.  While more needs to be said about this, I cannot say it here.)  
But who cares about the critiques of Marx, Freud, and Durkheim about Christianity?  Was I not speaking of the subsequent theological tradition within the Kantian paradigm, the putative "post-Kantian theological options?"  Why am I not dealing explicitly with theologians and not those wanting to "explain away" the religious by showing that it is really about some other domain entirely?  

Perhaps the reason is because their Kantian starting points do not eventuate in a clear theological explication consistent with those starting points.  Talk of God and God's "mighty acts" on a Kantian horizon demands an explication of the semantic possibilities of that talk.  It is not clear what it is that we are referring to if we deny the existence of a domain of divine entities, properties, events and states of affairs.  (We must be referring elliptically to human thinking, willing or doing, for those seem to be the only options of reference.)  We can use the talk (and might even walk the walk) while nonetheless failing to clearly mean much at all.   

The philosophical commitments of ILT assert that the truth-conditions of theological language demand taking seriously the domain of the divine, ascribing to it ontological status, and granting its denizen explicit causal power.   

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On Theoretical Entities and Causality in Theology

In Chapter Seven of De prescriptione haereticorum, Tertullian declares, "What indeed has Athens to to with Jerusalem?  What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?  What between heretics and Christians?"

Tertullian is not saying that philosophy should be silent when it comes to things theological, or that philosophy and theology are about different subject areas, or that philosophy and theology somehow constitute incommensurate forms of discourse.  He is saying that we should reject attempts to produce what he calls, "a mottled Christianity of Platonic, Stoic and dialectic composition."

In the following reflection I take Tertullian's intent to heart.  I will not thereby produce a mottled Christianity.  It does not follow, however, that not producing a mottled Christianity entails that philosophy has nothing to do with theology.  In fact, philosophy has a great deal of relevance for theology, particularly as both disciplines were classically conceived and practiced.  Since the time of Plato, western philosophy has been profoundly concerned with questions of semantics, with the meaning and truth of its expressions.  Since the time of Aristotle, philosophy has been deeply concerned with logic, with entailments, compatibility and modality, that is, with what propositions follow from others, what propositions can be jointly true, and in what way these propositions are true.  From both men philosophy learned about metaphysics; it learned to reflect upon being and to distinguish the different ways that something can be said to be.  Clearly, talk of God presupposes positions in semantics, logic and metaphysics -- even if these views are not explicitly held or asserted.

Consider the following expressions comprising a primitive theological theory:
  1. God is incorporeal
  2. God is eternal 
  3. God created the universe
  4. God has three persons 
  5. God through Christ redeems fallen creation 
For many Christians these expressions are prima facie quite simple and plainly true.  It seems, in fact, that there is no particular problem with their meaning, truth and entailments, or even the being of those entities and properties referred to.   But looks can be deceiving.   

Think of the term 'God' and compare it with other terms you might use, e.g., 'block', 'bird', 'slab', etc.  Notice that while 'block' and 'God' both are nouns and presumably name some entity, the way in which they do so is markedly different.  Presumably, 'block' picks out a member of a class of particular empirical objects, while 'God' does not.  (Specifying the necessary and sufficient conditions for a particular object to be a member of the class of blocks turns out to be a surprisingly difficult matter.  As Wittgenstein pointed out, there seems not to be definite criteria of application for the word 'block', but rather the members of the class seem to bear some not quite specifiable "family resemblance" to one another.)  The point is that 'block' does seem to refer to an observable object, while the term 'God' does not seem so to refer.  

Once upon a time in the philosophy of science people believed that there was a pretty clear distinction between observational terms and theoretical terms.  The referents of the first could be encountered through sense perception, while those of the second could not.   Unfortunately, the distinction between the two could not be easily maintained.  In what sense is an object observable to sense perception -- with the naked eye or through an electron telescope?  Are the bubbles in a bubble chamber an observation of a moving electron, or a phenomenal event that through suitable "bridge laws" biconditionally ties to a theoretical electron?  

Perhaps it is not the observational/theoretical distinction that separates 'block' and 'God', but a semantic difference having to do with whether or not the term in question has its meaning determined through the axioms of the theory, that is to say, the meaning of a theoretical term depends upon how that term is incorporated into an overall theory.  In a scientific theory, the laws of the theory are essential for determining the extension of the theory's terms.  This means that the meaning of individual terms in the theory are determined within the theory's overall context.   Holger Andreas writes: 
The contextual theory of meaning, therefore, makes intelligible how students in a scientific discipline and scientists grasp the meaning, or sense, of scientific terms.  On this account, understanding the meaning of a term is knowing how to determine its referent, or extension, at least in part.  (See "Theoretical Terms in Science," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013), Edward N. Zalta, (ed.) URL = <>.  
When thinking of theology, it is clear that it too is a theory of a particular kind with some terms that are quite theoretical and some less so.  For instance, the term 'human being' used in theology seems to make easy reference to the world, while the term 'creation' is more problematic.  The first seemingly has a common reference in theology and sociology.  The word 'creation', however, apparently refers to the universe as such within an overarching theological theory, but makes no reference at all within sociology -- unless it perhaps refers to the manuscript the sociologist is writing.

The term 'God' seems to have meaning within a particular theological theory.  In (1) above, 'God' is predicated by 'incorporeal'.  Is incorporeality "present in" God or "said of" God?   If the former, then the being which is God has the property of not having a body in the actual world, but could have a body in another possible world.  If the latter, then it is not possible that any being which is God could have a body.

From the standpoint of the philosophy of science, 'God' is a theoretical term naming a theoretical entity, a term that seemingly has incorporeality as part of its very meaning.  Just as a bachelor is an unmarried male, so too is God incorporeal.

The same might be said about God's eternity.  Perhaps it is essential for God to be eternal, that is, nothing that is God can fail to be eternal.  If both eternity and incorporeality refer to God, then we might speak of a "conceptual tie or law": For any x, if x is God then x is eternal and incorporeal.  But this is not a paradigmatic bridge law because it is not a biconditional; it does state in addition that for all x if x is eternal and incorporeal, then x is God.  In addition, it does not "bridge" from observation events to the exemplification of a property by a theoretical entity.

If we do not, however, think of theological theory as having any bridge laws in the classic sense, but rather as constituted by a group of propositions having terms, many of which appear in a number of the propositions, we can speak of a term's meaning being a function of the way in which it appears in the other propositions in the theory.  (What is predicated of the term and what the term is predicated of.)  This implicit definition of the term then determines its extension.

Within our primitive theory, (1) and (2) presumably has a distribution of predication that differs from (3), for while predication of 'eternal' and 'incorporeal' in the theory does not allow for an x that is God to be predicated by 'not eternal' or 'corporeal', the x that is God can be predicated by 'creates the universe' or 'does not create the universe' because while one can have as a statement in the theory, 'did not create the universe at time t',  one cannot have 'is not eternal at time t'.  That the truth value of 'creates the universe' differs as a function of its temporal index, while the truth value 'is eternal' does not so differ, clearly shows that 'is eternal' means something quite different than 'creates the universe'.

Now consider the predicate in (4), 'has three persons'.  To say that the x that is God has three persons is quite different than saying that the x that is a small company has three persons.  Why?  Because one rarely if ever would say that an x that is a causal agent -- like in (3) -- could ever have three persons.  While a company could be said to be a group of people exhibiting certain relationships among them, God cannot be said to be a group in any sense, for the three persons having relationships among themselves is the simplicity of the one God.

Proposition (5) asserts that the x that is God causes it to be the case that the domain that God creates is now redeemed.  This analysis of 'redeems the world' can be given a temporal characterization like 'creates the world', thus showing that these terms must have different meanings than terms like 'incorporeal' and 'eternal'.  The phrase 'through Christ' adds further complication because it raises the question of whether 'God redeems' if and only if 'God through Christ redeems', and, if so, what does 'through Christ' add in meaning to 'God'.  To show that 'through Christ' has a different meaning, one needs to show that 'God' and 'God through Christ' cannot be substituted with each other salve veritate throughout the entire theological theory.

What I am suggesting here is neither terribly original nor novel.  I am merely suggesting that it might be instructive to look at theological theory with its theoretical entities in ways similar to how we might look at a physical theory having such entities.  We might do this simply to get clear on the semantics of our theological language.   What exactly is meant by a term appearing within a theological theory of a particular kind over and against a term appearing within a theory of another kind?  Since we have fewer empirical moorings in theology than physics, it is useful perhaps to focus more deeply on what it is we might be meaning when employing language of the first kind.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Scandal of the Cross

The Cross has been a scandal in every age.  It subverts our dreams and overturns our idealisms.  Human nobility and spirituality die upon this Cross.[1]  It stands in opposition to the values of the world, the values summed up in the expression ‘theology of glory’.   Because, as Luther says, “Crux sola est nostra theologia” (“the cross alone is our theology”), it follows that the Cross is opposed to all theologies of glory.[2]  But what is a theology of glory, and how does it compare to the theology of the Cross?

The question brings us to other questions.  What is the best of man?   What is it that makes human beings noble?  We might start with the following catalog of virtues: 

Human beings:

·      have an eternal soul
·      are bearers of reason
·      have free will and inhabit a moral order
·      can actualize their potentiality
·      have a taste for the infinite
·      can know the truth, do the good, and appreciate beauty
·      understand justice and law as their highest good
·      know God to be the foundation of truth, goodness and beauty 

Theologies of glory understand that human and divine being stand on a continuum with human being either participating in divine being, or instantiating properties of the divine.  Theologies of glory can be stronger or weaker to the degree to which they instantiate divine being or divine attributes.   My favorite expression of a theology of glory comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson who quipped:

Draw, if thou canst, the mystic line,
Severing rightly his from thine,
Which is human, which divine.

Human beings are the embodiment of the highest aim of God, and God is the projection of the highest sentiments of humanity.  It is difficult to know where the one leaves off and the other begins.  

Human beings are created in imago dei and, although that divine image is now tarnished by the waywardness of sin, it still shines forth weakly, and human beings, through greater or lesser degrees of effort and divine succor, pilgrimage to polish up that which is now tarnished.     

An historically important theology of glory was bequeathed to us by a philosopher living over 400 years before Christ. The Greek philosopher Plato argued that the human soul bears the marks of the divine world from which it fell:  indestructibility, simplicity and eternity.   This soul, whose essence is to be without body, has unfortunately been joined to matter in the veil of tears of life.   At death the sickness of the soul is healed as it sheds its body forever and lives in eternity beyond time.    In vast areas of the ancient world, the Greek idea of the immortal soul formed the intellectual backdrop on which Christ’s death and resurrection were understood. 

While time does not permit me to spell out all the theologies of glory in the western tradition, one must at least sketch the dominant one: Neo-Platonism.  This philosophy held that all things are ultimately ONE and that this ONE in the course of history flows out of itself into the alienated world of matter. Salvation demands that material men and women become more spiritual as they are freed from the corruption of the flesh and returned to the ONE from which they sprang.  Christian variations emphasized that God sends grace which is infused in believers so that they might become more spiritual.   

By the sixteenth century, Neo-Platonism had waned, but the impulse of the theologian of glory remained.  The idea was that God gives human beings particular laws and that humans must act in accordance with those laws.  To act in accordance is to be just; to not act in accordance is to be unjust.  In Luther’s time it was widely thought that just as a person is just when he acts in accordance with divine law, so is God just when he rewards likes for likes.  God’s justice demands He punish sin and save sinless. 

However, because humanity is not sinless, God had to give grace that either makes the believer sinless enough for God not to punish, or which “covers” him such that if he makes some small effort towards God (‘fac quod in se ipsum’), God does not deny His grace (‘facienti quod in se est Deus non denegat gratiam’).  God justly acts to reward the sinner who has worked merit congruent with his ability (meritum de congruo) as if he or she has actually worked a merit worthy of salvation (meritum de condigno). Because of Christ, the wretched faltering steps towards God the believer makes in his life are regarded as if the were worthy of salvation.    

It is not important that we follow all the specifics here.   The theological tradition is rich in reflection on the nature of justification.  Suffice it to say that a person’s justification and salvation are coninstantiated.  Conceptually, it is impossible for one to be justified and not saved, or for one to be saved and not justified.   Accordingly, it is a necessary truth that ‘x is justified just in case x is saved’.

A theology of glory understands that proximity to God is a function of the worldly instantiation of properties that perfectly and properly apply to God.  


What then is a theology of the Cross?  While a theology of glory understands the presence of God as a worldly manifestation of properties like those of God, a theology of the cross finds the divine presented sub specie contrario (underneath its contrary).  Thus, a theology of the Cross finds God where you least expect to find God: in weakness, in suffering, in death, in finitude.  Whereas the theologian of glory locates God in the divine apathei of detachment, peace and impassibility, the theologian of the cross finds God in despair, suffering, and emotional turmoil.  

In 1518, 35 year-old Martin Luther gave a presentation at the Augustinian monastery in Heidelberg in which he provided a classic distinction between a theologian of glory and a theologian of the cross.    

(19) Non ille digne theologus dicitur, qui invisibilia Dei per ea, quae facta sunt, intellecta conspicit.  (20) Sed qui visibilia et posteriori Dei per passionses et crucem conspecta intelligit.   [(19) That person is not worthy to be called a theologian who looks to the invisible things of God as understood through those things that have happened.  (20) But who understands the visible and “back side” of God through having looked at his passion and cross.] 

The theologian of glory in thesis 19 is one who looks at how the world is to get a clue about how God is.  Since God is like the world in that both are measured by goodness, the better the world is, the better or closer the divine source and goal of existence is. This theologian expects to find God where there is maximum goodness.   Luther says that this theologian of glory is not worthy to be called a theologian. 
The one worthy to be called a theologian is he or she who understands that what can be known of God is available only by looking at the cross.  The theologian of the cross finds God precisely where one would not expect Him to be found: in His ignoble suffering and death on the cross.   

The ancient notion of the anologia entis claims that there is an analogy between the being of God and the being of the world.  When the world is a particular way, then God must be a particular way.  But the one who searches for God in this way always misses Him, says Luther.  Instead of moving from how the world is to how God is, the theologian of the cross finds God in how the world is not.  She finds God in how Christ is!  God is not discerned by looking lovingly at the world, but by looking at the One who Himself looks lovingly at us.  God is found in Jesus Christ and only there, and this is precisely not where we would expect to find him. 
Luther says it clearly in thesis 21:

 (21) Theologus gloriae dicit malum bonum et bonum malum, Theologus crucis dicit id quod res est.  [The theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil; the theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.]   
While the theologian of glory sees through creation and finds God at the ground or source of it, the theologian of the Cross finds God revealed in the desolation of the Cross.  While the theologian of glory uses analogy to reason to what God is like, the theologian of the Cross admits that God remains hidden in his worldly actions, and that He reveals Himself only when and where he wills it: on the Cross and in the proclamation of that Cross.  The theologian of the Cross proclaims God’s presence in the midst of His apparent absence.  

Instead of the soul being liberated by divine grace to fly closer to God, the theologian of the Cross declares the death of the soul and the dissolution of the self.  While the theologian of glory assumes some continuity between the divine and human, the theologian of the Cross exploits their discontinuity.  The old being dies and the new rises and takes its place.  It is not that the eternal essence of a man needs readjustment, it is rather that the old Adam in us is put to death and the New man in Christ is constituted in his stead.   There is no perdurance of individual substance across the domains of the old and new.  


So we have now sketched a difference between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory.   What is the problem?   Why is there a “crisis of the cross” in our time?   Is it that we no longer understand the distinction between the theology of the cross and theologies of glory?

I don’t believe that the crisis is found in our not seeming to understand it. Lutherans from many different theological trajectories seem to get it.  The problem, I shall argue, is that certain moves within Lutheran theology have made it difficult to state meaningfully the distinction between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory.  How is this possible? 

Theology is a discourse, and like other kinds of discourses, it is concerned with meaning and truth, the realm of semantics.  Classically, the semantics of theological propositions was more or less realist. Terms like ‘God’ were thought to refer to a determinate being, while relational terms like ‘creates’ would refer to a relation between that divine determinate being and the ‘world’, a term which itself referred to that which is outside of God.   Prima facie, to say that a person does not deserve to be called a theologian who “looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were perceptible in those things that have actually happened," is to deny the statement claiming that there is some divine being such that humans perceive something of the existence and properties of that being by perceiving some set of events within the universe.  

At this point it is necessary to make things very precise.  The theologian of the glory apparently holds: 

There is a divine being and there is a universe that is not divine but created by that divine being, and there are sentient human beings such that these beings can perceive some set of events in the universe, and their perception of this class of events within the universe rationally justifies these human beings to hold that a particular set of properties is instantiated by that divine being.

This way of saying this I term the epistemic formulation because it refers both to events and the perception or the knowing of those events.   Let us see if we can make this more perspicuous: 

(1)  There is some x such that x is God, and some y such that y is the universe and x is not y, and there are some z such that z perceived events in y, and z is rationally justified to hold that x has property set S on the basis of z’s perception of events in y.   

Those holding to (1) are theologians of glory; those denying (1) are theologians of the cross.  This epistemological formulation concerns states of knowing and is a weaker formulation of the theology of glory than the following: 

There is a divine being and a universe distinct from that being, such that a particular class of events within the universe is manifest if and only if a particular cluster of properties is present within the divine being. 

This ontological formulation of the theology of glory can be clarified as follows: 

(2)  There is an x such that x is God and a y such that y is the universe and x is not y, such that property set P obtains in y if and only if property set S obtains in x.  

It is this stronger ontological formulation of which I am most interested.  Notice that the theologian of the cross can deny (2) in either of two ways I will call (3) and (3’). 

(3)  It is not the case that there is an x such that x is God and a y such that y is the universe and x is not y, such that property set P obtains in y if and only if property set S obtains in x.  

(3') There is an x such that x is God and a y such that y is the universe and x is not y, such that it is not the case that property set P obtains in y if and only if property set S obtains in x.  

This formulation does not simply deny the entire ontological formulation, but rather a part of it.  Accordingly, he or she would claim: 
There is a divine being and a universe distinct from that being, such that it is false that a particular class of events within the universe is manifest if and only if a particular cluster of properties is present within divine being. 
Now at this point a dizzying variety of senses of the epistemological and ontological formulations can be investigated as to their meaning in order to make possible precise senses undergirding Luther’s thesis 19.  However, this is not the issue about which I am concerned.  What I am concerned with is that my semantic formulation here presupposes a particular ontological contour, a contour that much of Lutheran theology no longer claims to be true. 


Since the time of Kant academic theology on Lutheran soil has denied the epistemological formulations (and almost always the ontological ones as well) because it has held that God is not a substance that in principle can possess properties or be engaged in relevant kinds of relations: causality is the most important.  If God is not a being having properties, then what is He? 

Schleiermacher famously claimed that God was the whence of the feeling of absolute dependence.  Fichte talked of God as the infinite striving of the ego in positing the non-ego.  Hegel understood God to be the Absolute Spirit coming to consciousness of Himself in time through human consciousness: God is God in Spirit coming to consciousness of itself through relating to what is seemingly other to it.  Ritschl and his school downplayed metaphysical assertions about God and spoke only of the effect of that which is other than the world.  Barth, though strongly opposed to the liberal theology of Ritschl, Harnack and company, spoke of God as the totaliter aliter, the “wholly other” in human experience.   God is thus “wholly other” than being, just as He is “wholly other” than nonbeing.  Other theologians have spoken of God in such ways as the infinite fore-grasp of the illimitability of Being in every act of thinking particular being (Rahner), or as a type of being of God when God is not being God (Scharleman), or as a primal matrix (Reuther).  

The problem here is that even if one could clarify what it is that one is meaning by ”God being God only when God is not being God” or God as Henry Nelson Wieman’s  “primal event,” it is not clear why such diverse referents should be called by the same name, nor is it clear what exactly could be meant by Luther’s thesis 19 when the referent of ‘God’ changes so radically under different interpretations. 

The problem here is that theologians have not paid sufficient attention to the “depth grammar” of their statements.   ‘Julie fishes from a bank’ means quite different things when ‘bank’ means ‘an institution allowing the deposit of money’ on the one hand, and ‘that which abuts a creek’ on the other hand.   While the surface grammar of ‘God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself’ can be held constant in various languages in which the locution is used, the depth grammar, the propositions actually expressed or the states of affairs actually named vary greatly across theological schools. 


Imagine a Bultmannian view of things where there is no being having divine properties or attributes and no being that is the second person of the Trinity that actually has the properties of divinity and humanity.  Imagine the Bultmannian view of things in which the proclamation of certain locutions is itself a performative use of language in which existential empowerment can occur in the listener.  On this view of things, the semantics of ‘Christ is raised from the dead’ is not a state of affairs in which there is a particular being such that this being had the property of death then afterward life.  The semantics instead would have meaning on the basis of transformed existential horizons in its hearing.  While Bultmann could speak of a theology of the cross here, and could even accept Luther’s thesis 19, he would not be meaning by that either the epistemic or ontological formulations given above.  He would be meaning by it something quite complicated pertaining to horizons of expectation and empowerment in a succession of historical beings having particular existential constitutions.  

Time does not permit me to work all of this out here, but the point should be clear enough. In the absence of a traditional, realist semantics of theological language it is very difficult to state clearly the distinction between the theologian of the cross and the theologian of glory.  However, the last 200 years of academic theology has tended not to work with a realist semantics for theological language.  It has indeed tacitly rejected semantic realism, the assertion that theological statements have truth values even when we are in no position evidentially to ascertain their truth.  Semantic realism is a strong criterion of theological meaning: a theological proposition is true if and only if it correctly states what is the case.  Notice that truth here does not connect to epistemology at all.  

Much more needs to be said, but maybe this can get the ball rolling.  My contention is that the distinction between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory cannot be sustained if a realist semantics is not presupposed.  However, for almost 200 years a realist semantics has not been presupposed.  Therefore, the distinction is no longer clear.  This is the scandal of the theology of the cross.  It is a formal, not a material scandal.  The necessary condition for the former scandal is for the latter scandal to be assuaged.  It is my hope to do the latter.   

[1] ‘Cross’ here means the entire narrative of the crucified and risen Jesus.   See Gerhard Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1997), 1.  
[2] WA 5, 176:32 (Operationes).