Saturday, December 26, 2015

Metaphysics and Ontology II

B.  The Question of the Distinction between the Essence and the Existence of a Thing

It is important to realize that medieval philosophers assumed a very large ontological domain.  They needed not only to account for the metaphysical constitution of the material objects encountered in the world, but also incorporeal beings like God, angels and human souls. While God's metaphysical simplicity and His necessary, uncaused character presented a unique challenge to general metaphysical principles, created entities such as angels seemed to cry out for a metaphysical framework of the created order wide enough to include their constitution. The medieval question of the relationship between essentia (essence) and esse (existence) in created beings arose because of the need to cast a metaphysical account broad enough to include both corporeal and incorporeal created beings.

Boethius first suggested that entities had two aspects: essence and existence.  In Axiom II of his De Hebdomadibus, he writes, Diversum est esse et id quod est . . .   In Axiom VIII he opines, Omni composito ilid est esse, aliud ipsum est (Wippel, 392, fn. 38).  These comments seemingly conform with Avicenna's view that existence and existence are robustly distinct. Averroes and followers demurred, arguing that if an object has real being only by virtue of that which is superadded to essence, then why not claim there is something else superadded to existence making it even more real (393)?  Boethius' comments and the differing interpretative traditions of Avicenna and Averroes set the stage for this metaphysical controversy.

Aquinas advocated the real metaphysical constitution of essence and existence, suggesting in his youthful De ente et essentia that essence or quiddity is the potency of any created being which can be actualized into existence by God.  While the first is necessary for understanding of the thing, the second is not, coming, as it were, from outside the thing's quiddity and uniting with its essence in composing the real thing.  In the Summa contra Gentiles Thomas writes, . . . et sic in quodlibet creato aliud est nature rei quae participat esse, et aliud ipsum esse participatum (SCG I, q. 13).  The participating nature is in potential to the actuality of the participated nature. As Wippel points out, over and against Avicenna, for Aquinas, since "existence has no quidditative content in addition to that of the essence which it actualizes," . . . "neither essence nor existence can exist independently of each other"(395).  Thomas writes: Unde patet quod hoc quod dico esse est actualitas omnium actuum, et propter hoc est perfection omnium perfection (q. 7, a. 2, ad 9).  To say that existence (esse) "is the actuality of all acts and the perfection of all perfections" is to claim that ens (a being) participates in esse (to-beness).  Essentia both receives and limits esse and thereby produces ens. Real composition is necessary in a being in order to account for the quidditive limitation of that being.

While Aquinas held to the real distinction of esse and essentia, he did not employ the infelicitous language of Giles of Rome who asserted in his Theoremata de esse et essentia that esse et essentia sent duae res (th. 19, p. 127), and that since res ergo ipsa quod est esse est in genere substantiae, it is per consequens intelligitur quod esse sit alia res ab essentia (Giles, q. 9 & q. 11, in Wippel, p. 392).  Giles clearly is trying to account for all of created being in analogy with the form/matter distinction for material entities: Dicemus ergo sicut generatio facit scire materiam aliud esse a forma, sic creatio facit nos scire essentiam esse aliud ab esse (th. 5, q. 9).  Giles' use of res in characterizing both esse and essentia suggests a very robust, real esse/essentia distinction, and it was his formulation of real distinction that was severely criticized by Siger of Brabant, Godfrey of Fontaines and William of Ockham.

Siger admitted that ens was composite, but instead of construing this composition along the form/matter analogy, he suggested that the analogy between substance and accident is better.  Godfrey claimed the distinction was only secundum rationem (according to reason) and not due to the metaphysical composition of the thing.  Godfrey, in fact, argued for a real identity between esse and essentia, for whatever can be said truly of the first can be said truly of the second and vice versa (Wippel, p. 401).  Essentia has only potential being prior to God's bringing it to be.  Since the significatio of essentia and esse are the same, the two must be identical.  Ockham mounted ingenious philosophical arguments against the real distinction of esse and essentia, claiming that if former were really distinct from the latter, then it would have to be either a substance or accident.  But it is neither an accident because esse is not a quality or quantity, nor a substance because esse is neither a matter, form, their composite, or a separate entity (Wippel, p. 402).  His modal argument precedes thusly:  If a and b are distinct then it is possible for a to obtain without b, or for b to obtain without a.  But it is not possible for God to create essentia without esse or esse without essentia, therefore esse and essentia are not distinct.

Henry of Ghent, James of Viterbo and Duns Scotus sought to establish a position between a real ontological distinction between esse and essentia, and their ontological identity which possesses only a distinction according to reason (secundum rationem).  Henry of Ghent's views, though not widely affirmed in the subsequent tradition, are nevertheless quite interesting.  Anticipating Meinong, he affords a type of being to essences (esse essentiae) that is not existential.  Because God exists and has knowledge of all possible and existing entities, essential being has a type of existence prior to actual existential instantiation.  The divine will thus communicates actual existence (esse existentiae) to a subclass of esse essentiae entities.  Henry ingeniously opts for a new type of distinction, one of intention, in sorting esse and essentia.  While the existence of a thing does not add to its essentia, the external relation of actually being efficiently caused by God in creation marks a third path between a real distinction and real identity.  Esse essentiae is sorted from esse existentiae) by the fact that God has actually created the second.

James of Viterbo apparently tried to distinguish between essentia and esse semantically, according to primary and secondary significance.  While the modus significandi (mode of signification) of an abstract term signifies only the thing's essence, that of a concrete term, while signifying essentia primarily, signifies secondarily the thing having esse.  So existentia signifies essentia primarily and secondarily it signifies that which is conjoined with essentia in an existing subject (Wippel, p. 405).  Finally, and most famously, Duns Scotus searched for an intermediate position by admitting that while esse and essentia are not separable in contingent fact, they are not identical in all possible worlds.  Although oftentimes referred to as the "formal distinction," Scotus scholars have differed on what precisely is meant.  Scotus also opines that while abstract cognition has essentia as its proper object, intuitive cognition has existentia.  Whether either this epistemic point or the modal point legitimately establishes a formal metaphysical distinction between things never found apart is, of course, open to further debate.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Metaphysics and Ontology I

Addressing the issue of “Luther and ontology” requires clarity first on what ‘ontology’ is.  Within Luther scholarship, unfortunately, there has sometimes been confusion on this basic issue.  Thus it is that I will first get clear on the nature of ontology and how it relates to metaphysics.  Only then will I review some of the secondary literature on Luther and ontology, pointing to areas within Luther’s theology where the question of ontology is deeply important for his theology.  Finally, I will suggest areas of continuing research.  For both Luther’s theological predecessors and Luther himself, ontology and semantics are closely related.  Interpreters of Luther sometimes have forgotten this, ignoring ontological aspects of his own thinking, and thus projecting their own ontological assumptions upon the theology of the great Reformer.  
1.1 The Meaning of Ontology and its Relationship to Metaphysics
Many mistakenly believe that the terms 'metaphysics' and 'ontology' are coextensive, referring to the same set of philosophical issues. This is not so.  Both terms have a long and rich history that must be untangled in order to grasp the nature of their connection.  As it turns out, while the term 'ontology' ('ontologia', 'ontology', etc.) generally applies to a sub-region within metaphysics that specifically concerns general questions of being, the discipline of metaphysics is much wider, investigating the general (or universal) features (or principles) of reality presupposed by concrete experience as such.   
Historically, the term 'metaphysics' derives from the collection of 14 books by Aristotle appearing in his corpus after the Physics.[1] Andronicus of Rhodes probably titled these books "Ta meta ta phusika," perhaps thereby warning students that these texts should only be undertaken after mastering the books of the Physics, all dealing with the principle of change.  Metaphysics, on the other hand, connotes the study of those things that do not change. It is the discipline dealing with first causes, with God and the Unmoved Mover.  
Inwagen and Sullivan provide the following list of "metaphysics" according to Aristotle's conception.[2]

  • Being as such
  • The first cause of thing
  • That which does not change
Aristotle, however, also famously believed that metaphysics is concerned with being qua being.  Accordingly, it is not just a study of first causes and unchangeable things, but examines objects "from a particular perspective, from the perspective of their being beings or things that exist.  So metaphysics considers things as beings or existents and attempts to specify the properties or features they exhibit just insofar as they are beings or existents."[3]    Considered in this way, metaphysics is a universal discipline, studying notions such as identity, difference, similarity, dissimilarity, and the categories that grant the possibilities of for being to be.   
Inwagen points out that what we mean by "metaphysics" greatly expanded in the seventeenth century, thereby confusing matters even more.  While older metaphysics dealt with traditional questions of being as such, categories of being, universals and substance, metaphysics since the 17th century became increasingly concerned with questions of modality, space and time, persistence and constitution, causation, freedom and determinism, and the mental and the physical.            
Bruce Aune clarifies the relationship between general and special metaphysics that developed with the expansion of metaphysical questions in the seventeenth century. 
General metaphysics includes ontology and most of what has been called universal science; it is concerned, on the whole, with the general nature of reality: with problems about abstract and concrete being, the nature of particulars, the distinction between appearance and reality, and the universal principles holding true of what has fundamental being. Special metaphysics is concerned with certain problems about particular kinds or aspects of being. These special problems are associated with the distinction between the mental and the physical, the possibility of human freedom, the nature of personal identity, the possibility of survival after death, and the existence of God.[4]

Oftentimes scholars claiing that Luther is unconcerned with metaphysics or ontology are conceiving metaphysics in the later seventeenth century sense of the term, and not according to the concept present in Luther’s own time.
The word ontologie actually develops much later than “metaphysics,” occurring first in the German language only in the work of Rudolf Goeckel (1547-1628) and Jacob Lorhard (1561-1609), and is later defined more fully by Johann Georg Walch (1693-1775) in his Philosophische Lexicon as follows: 
Ontology concerns the doctrine of being, and is understood as a name of a new philosophy of science that treats being in general and its properties (l.c., s.v. Ontologie 1. A. 1726, 2. A. 1733, ND dieser Thoemmes 2001).

Ontology is thereby the study of being insofar as it is possessed by any kind of entity. Christian Wolff (1679-1754) famously distinguishes ontology as metaphysica generalis (inquiry into the general categories of being) from the metaphysica specialis dealing with God (natural theology), the soul (natural psychology), and the world (natural cosmology).[5]  
So in what did the subject of metaphysics consist in the High and Late Middle Ages?  The following is my own (rather incomplete) list of traditional metaphysical questions of the period: 

  •           In what does metaphysics consist?  Does the question of God fall under metaphysics broadly conceived, or is it a question of a "divine discipline" (scientia) falling outside of metaphysics proper? 
  •           What is the relationship between the essence and existence of a thing, and what is the ontological status of the distinction putatively separating them? 
  •           How can the distinction between actuality and potentiality be conceived in spiritual matters where the distinction between form and matter fails to obtain?  
  •          Do universals exist and, if so, what is their ontological status?  
  •          How is individuation possible without matter, and how should identity, distinction and similarity be conceived? 
  •          What is the role of the senses in acquiring knowledge, and can this role be squared with the notion of illumination stretching back to Augustine?  
  •      Can knowledge of God be "demonstrated," and what precisely is the nature of such a demonstration.   
John Wippel points to the two traditions developing after the rediscovery of Aristotle's Metaphysics.  In Book IV Aristotle talks of a discipline concerned with being as being and not with questions about particular attributes of being characteristic in the various other disciplines.[6] In Book VI, however, Aristotle mentions a "divine science" concerned with immovable and separate entities. Presumably, it is precisely because there is a domain of separate, immobile entities that physics cannot be considered the first science.[7]  Reconciling these two conceptions of metaphysics -- first science dealing with being qua being and first science dealing with separate and immobile entities -- spurred lively philosophical discussion in the Middle Ages as to precisely what metaphysics is. 
Wippel points out that Duns Scotus in his Questions super libros Metaphysicorum asks the question as to the proper subject matter of metaphysics by contrasting the approaches of Avicenna and Averroes: 
Is the subject of the Metaphysics being insofar as it is being (ens inquantum ens) as Avicenna holds?  Or is it God and the intellectual (Intelligentiae) as the commentator Averroes suggests? [I. I(1891-5, v. 7, p. 11)]  

After discussing the question of whether metaphysics can have God as its subject, Avicenna concludes that since God's existence can be demonstrated, and since no particular discipline can demonstrate its own subject matter, then only metaphysics broadly conceived, as the study of ens inquantum ens, can establish divine existence. 
While Avicenna placed God under the metaphysics of being qua being, the other great Islamic commentator Averroes disagreed, holding that one does not need to establish God as the subject matter of a unique discipline, for the existence of God can be established by physics.  Accordingly, the subject matter of metaphysics, ens inquantum ens, concerns substance primarily, not God.  Metaphysics properly studies substance, but includes that "separate substance which is the first form and the end or final cause of all other substance" (387).  Physics establishes that there is such a separate substance, and metaphysics examines that substance as well as all other substances.  Most 13th and 14th century thinkers followed Avicenna: Metaphysics concerns ens inquantum ens, not divine being. 
While Sigar of Brabant and Duns Scotus both include the question of God within metaphysics, the latter explicitly denies that God can be its subject matter since metaphysics deals with the universal and the question of God is particular (389).  Scotus writes: 
Even though God, however, is not the first subject of metaphysics, God is nevertheless considered in that science in a most noble way (nobilissimo modo) in terms of which [God's being] can be considered as acquired naturally in another discipline (sciential) (Ord. Pros., pars 3, q. 2, n. 193).  

Is is well-known Aquinas differs from Scotus in his notion that the being of God cannot be included under the idea of ens communes (being in general).  However, despite the controversy on whether metaphysics or metaphysics + physics can establish that the cause of the ens communes, Thomas is certain that the question of God is properly included within metaphysics (390-91).  Ockham differs from all of these thinkers, holding that metaphysical propositions have different subjects, accordingly both ens inquantum ens and God are proper subjects of the objective propositions of metaphysics.         

[1] Aristotle did not call these books by this term, but named the discipline at work in it either 'first philosophy' or 'theology', calling the knowledge to which it aims, 'wisdom'.  See Michael Loux, Metaphysics.  A Contemporary Introduction, 3rd ed., (New York: Routledge, 2006), 2ff.    
[2] van Inwagen, Peter and Sullivan, Meghan, "Metaphysics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .
[3] Loux, 4.
[4] Aune, Metaphysics: The Elements (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986). 
[5] The preceptive reader will recall that Kant subjects all of these three (rational theology, psychology and cosmology) to merciless attack in his Critique of Pure Reason.  As the domain of metaphysics was expanding in the seventeenth century, the term 'ontology' gained currency in dealing with select metaphysical questions directly pertaining to being.  Elisabeth Maria Rompe's Die Trennung von Ontologie und Metaphysik: Der Ablösungsprozess seine Motivierung bei Benedictus Peterius und anderem Denkern des 16. u. 17. Jahrhunderts (Bonn: Universität Bonn, 1967 diss.) provides a valuable insight into the process of the separation of the two terms.  
[6] John  Wippel, "Essence and Existence," in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, edts. Kretzmann, Kenny & Pinborg,(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 385-410. 
[7] Ibid., 385.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Philosophical Issues Undergirding Contemporary Proclamation

Theology was once a lofty discipline whose practitioners were among the brightest and best of their age.  In Luther's day candidates for the Doctor of Theology had first to receive a Masters of Arts in philosophy.  They knew the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric), and they had exposure to the quadrivium (arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and music).  They understood Latin deeply and some learned Greek and Hebrew as well.   Luther knew his Aristotle well enough to realize that the Aristotle he encountered in the text was not the Aristotle that many theologians embraced in the High and Late Middle Ages.  Like in every age, Luther's era was a time in which philosophy and theology were deeply related.

Our age also is a time in which theological and philosophical matters are deeply connected.  The relationship between the two is so profound that many thinkers (often very deep theological thinkers) often overlook or miss it entirely.  But theologians today ignore philosophical issues at their own peril.  Deeply-educated in the Biblical text, its historical and social context, its history of reception, and effective homiletical techniques to proclaim it, theological thinkers often fail to examine and appreciate deeply enough the contemporary cultural and intellectual horizon into which the text is preached.  In failing to grasp the differing philosophical assumptions between textual origination and reception, they overlook the presuppositional issues making it difficult for the text to be properly understood be contemporary readers and hearers. These issues, I believe, our explicitly philosophical.  They involve such traditional and meaty philosophical concerns as ontology (the study of being), epistemology (the study of knowing), and semantics (the study of meaning).

In the following series of posts I will spell out what I believe to be some of the philosophical impediments to Biblical proclamation in our time.  The first series of questions revolve around ontology.

  • Is God a real being, or a projection of human being?  If a real being, then in what sense is God real? Postmodern men and women are likely to have a non-thematized understanding of God's reality that differs markedly from that of the Biblical writers and the early horizon of the Bible's textual reception.  
  • Is God the kind of being that is causally related to other kinds of being?  If God is causally related, then what is the possible mechanism of this relatedness?  Postmodern mean and women are likely non-thematically to assume that God is not a causally relevant entity. 
  • Is God is a real being, then what is His constitution?  Are His properties separable from His being, or is He simple?  Postmodern men and women are likely to assume non-thematically that God is personal, that He "cares" even though He seldom (if ever) concretely causally effects the distribution of worldly properties.  
The next batch of questions concern epistemology.
  • Is there knowledge of God, and how is such knowledge possible?  Postmodern men and women seem tacitly to assume that their own experience is relevant to their knowing God.  
  • Does knowledge of God involve facts or merely values?  Postmodern men and women unreflectively suppose that God is somehow real for those who believe it so, and not real for others -- as if our valuing God affects the factuality of God.  
  • Are there norms that sort proper evidence for God from improper appeals?  Postmodern men and women assume a perspectivalism making problematic any epistemic normatively.  
The final group questions -- the most important, I believe -- concern semantics, the meaning of our assertions about God. 
  • How is the meaningfulness of theological and religious language established?  Does such language state possible real states of affairs, or is it merely expressive of the self?  Postmodern men and women rather unreflectively assume the latter.  
  • Does theological and religious language have determinate truth conditions, that is, are there definite claims made by the language, and is there a definite way the world is, such that these propositions are true or false, and not merely comforting, useful or salutary?  Postmodern men and women non-thematically assume that the purpose of religious and theological language is to do something other than state what is the case with respect to the divine. 
  • Since the meaning of language changes over time, can it be said that a theological claim made by a particular proposition in the fourth century means the same thing as the claim made by the same proposition today?  Postmodern men and women assume that language is unstable and that reference to some non-linguistic state of affairs is problematic.  
The overall semantic question can be summed up as follows: What does (or can) the Gospel mean in an age where the horizon of understanding of the reader or listener is pluralistic, therapeutic, and anti-realistic?  What can God-talk mean to those today (particularly the young) who neither know the intellectual tradition nor are normatively determined by it?      

In the next number of posts I will be exploring some of these issues.  I invite you to think through them with me.  Comments are welcome!           

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

God as an Agent of Theophysical Causation

I. Introduction to the Problem

At first glance, the phrase ‘theophysical causation’ seems a bit abstruse, and the appending of the term ‘agent’ only makes matters worse. Sometimes people criticize me for using locutions not often found in Lutheran theology. There is some justification for that, of course, if one were only wanting to plow the same field. Why use different equipment if one knows one can get the field plowed with what one already has?

What I want to do, however, is not do the same thing that so many capable Lutheran theologians have already done. I want to ask some questions and make some observations that come from a position inside Lutheran theology that nonetheless takes seriously the concerns of philosophy: especially semantics and ontology. The first deals with questions of meaning and truth, while the second is concerned with the question of being. Our first order today is to address the first semantic issue. What is it that we are talking about when speaking about “theophysical causation.”

The phrase ‘theophysical causation’ connotes the putative causal relationship holding between God and the physical universe. A causal relationship is one in which one of the terms in the relation is said to produce, generate, or otherwise bring about the other term in the relation. Moreover, it claims that the second would not have happened had the first not occurred.

Thinking about causality immediately involves one in a complex set of issues, most of which we cannot attend to today. It is important to see at least one thing: Causality is likely a modal relationship. If ‘A causes B’, it is likely that B obtaining just in case A does is not merely contingent, that is, that it just happens to be the case. Rather A has suitable power to produce B in a set of conditions. All of these conditions being the same, A must deliver B. Accordingly, if A were to happen, B would happen, and were A not to happen, B would not have happened.

To say that God creates, redeems and sustains the universe prima facie to use straightforward causal language. To create the universe is to bring about a state of affairs (the universe) that would not have been brought about were God not so to have created. The same causal power is loaded into phrases like ‘redeems’, ‘saves’, and ‘sustains’ and even ‘inspires’. Anything that God really does - - that is any effect of God that is not merely metaphorical - - must putatively be given a causal analysis. Accordingly, to say that God in Christ reconciles the universe unto Himself, is to say that God causally brings about a state of affairs of the universe having the relational property of ‘being reconciled by God’. Simply put, God causes it to be the case that the universe, once unreconciled with God, is now reconciled with Him.

But what does any of this have to do with the question of preaching Christ, the theme of our conference? Clearly, in preaching it seems that we do not attend to metaphysical notions of causality. Why talk about causality here. Cannot we simply preach Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to do the rest?

Of course, we must preach Christ, and surely we say that the Holy Spirit works faith in the believer. But I want to ask a question not asked by Lutherans as directly as I will do so today: Is this true? Does the Holy Spirit do anything at all when He is at work? In other words, does the Holy Spirit truly possess theophysical causal agency? If not, then the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, could not thus bring it about that the sinner hears and does the Word of God as it is proclaimed by fallible lips.

The question of theophysical causality in Lutheran theology has been safely tucked away since the late 18th century. It simply has not been an important question for Lutherans concerned with the theology of the cross and justification by grace through faith. Lutherans have talked a great deal about the salvific significance of Christ without talking much about how God causally brings about this salvation.

Today I want to argue that we Lutherans can no longer afford to keep the causal question at bay, but that we Lutherans clearly have a challenge in articulating a notion of divine causality that is up to the task of undergirding claims of the Holy Spirit’s work and Christ’s real presence in the justification and sanctification of the believer. Before I can specifically address these two issues, however, it is important for us to get clearer on the notion and putative problem of divine causality. In order to do this, I will briefly discuss the so-called mind/body problem as it emerged in the early Enlightenment and developed in the western tradition. This problem, I believe, helps us understand the problem of theophysical causality.

II. The Problem of Theophysical Causation

It is indeed instructive to look to the mind/body problem in order to find an analogue to the problem of theophysical causation. Famously, Descartes (1596-1650) held that there is a domain of physical substance and a domain of mental substance, and that changes of physical substances are caused by physical alterations, and changes of mental substance are caused by mental alterations. For Descartes, the question of how a physical event causes a mental event, or vice versa, is a particularly difficult one.

The problem is that all of nature acts in a deterministic way according to mechanical laws, and that this seemingly leaves no room for the human soul or mind. Descartes wanted to assert that there was such a soul or mind, but that it is not physical. The problem therefore is simply this: How is spiritual human freedom possible in a physical mechanical universe? While Descartes brilliantly laid out the mind/body problem, his “solution” is not persuasive. Descartes claimed that the physical and the spiritual came together at one point; he held that the causal joint between the physical and spiritual was the pineal gland.

His dualism is simple enough. The domain of the physical -- the set of all physical objects, properties, events, relations and states of affairs – is closed, and that of the mental –the set of all mental states, properties, events, experiences, and relations – is also closed except for somewhere in the region of the brain where the mental and physical meet. This is the place where human willing causally affects the movement of the body, and blows to the body are experienced as pain.

While Descartes “solution” eventuated in more problems than it solved, his statement of the problem remains classic. The body (including the brain) is a different thing than the mind (our thoughts and experiences). While the former is public, outer, subject to mechanical laws, the latter is private, inner, and subject only to psychological laws. Because the problem of the causal joint connecting the mental and physical is so intractable, various trajectories of solution were attempted after Descartes.

Leibniz (1646-1716) argued that there could be no causal connection between the inner and outer, and that God was necessary to correlate the experiences of windowless monads. Malebranche (1638-1715) argued that the experience of mental pain was the occasion for God to will the movement of a physical part. Spinoza (1632-1677) claimed that there was a neutral substance (God) that could be understood according to two aspects, or His two attributes: mind and body. For Spinoza, the same event can be described either physically or mentally. The three positions of dualism were known as the theory of pre-established harmony, Occasionalism, and identity or “two aspects” theory.

While Descartes and the subsequent tradition were busy trying to work out the problems of dualism, the German philosopher Kant (1724-1804) made a startling claim that had a very powerful effect on the subsequent tradition. Kant argued that the categories of substance and causality are ways that the mind in a rule-oriented fashion gives definite shape to the world. While there is a realm of the noumenal, such “things-in-themselves” are not knowable as substances causally connected with other substances. While empirical experience is made up of sensibility organized by concepts, putative metaphysical reality has no empirical intuitions attending it that can be organized. Hence reflection on such reality, which takes us beyond the bounds of possible experience, can never give theoretical knowledge. We can know nothing of the noumenal, though we can think regularly and cogently about it. Mental substance, as Descartes conceived it, cannot be known for Kant, because there is no experience of the substance of the “I’. While we have an awareness of a succession of awarenesses, and can thus posit what Kant called the “bare I think,” such a transcendental subject can never be known. The concept of the soul becomes, for Kant, a mere regulative ideal of pure reason.

The problem of mental causation takes a rather interesting form in Kant. While from the standpoint of pure theoretical reason, each and every publicly observable situation can be understood deterministically in terms of previous physical states and events, the same is not true of the mental. Here the categories of substance and causality do not directly apply. Accordingly, one can posit freedom from the standpoint of the noumenal, even though there is determinism from the standpoint of the phenomenal. Human beings are accordingly both free and determined.

While vague dualistic notions survived throughout the nineteenth century, in the twentieth century considerable more clarity was given to the mind/body problem. Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) argued about 60 years ago that talk of the mental and talk of the physical had definite criteria, and the criteria is behavioral. Accordingly, ‘Sally has a keen mind’ is true if and only if when Sally is stimulated in particular ways, she will respond in “keenly” appropriate ways. The attempt therefore was to reduce talk of the mind to sets of stimulus-response conditionals. For Ryle, mental causation is not a metaphysical fact, but rather a way of speaking based upon a set of behaviors. Ryle effectively reduced mental talk to talk of behavioral dispositions.

After Ryle, it became quite fashionable not to be a mind/body dualist. Most theorists chose the road of physicalism. All that exists are physical objects. Eliminativists thought it best to get rid of mental talk altogether if all that exists is the physical. Most physicalists, however, were less demanding. Talk of the mental was useful, and some could even countenance mental properties. Many of these held that the mental supervened on the physical, but was nevertheless not reducible to it. The essential idea is that supervenience offers a constraint in how mental properties are distributed. Two molecule-by-molecule replica brains will be in the same mental state, though the same mental state could be multiply realized in different brain states. There were also identity theorists who held that the brain happening, no matter how described, just is the mental happening, no matter how described. Such identity theorists survive now as advocates of non-reductive physicalism, the thesis that each and every mental event just is some physical event or other, but that the complexity of the mental web cannot be reduced to some set of physical entities.

Advocates of mind/body supervenience oftentimes speak of “downward causation,” the notion that a mental event qua mental event can be said to downwardly cause a physical event or a set of physical actualizations. Much here depends upon one’s views of mereology, that discipline dealing with the relationship between parts and wholes. Just as the whole tornado causes the physical actualizations of its swirling parts, so does a mental state or set of states cause neurophysical actualizations in the brain. Critically important is what is meant by the phrase, “mental state qua mental state.” How is it that a mental event in so far as it is a mental event can cause physical actualizations? This way of putting things does sound dualistic, and if the mind qua mind is supposed to cause the distribution of properties in the brain qua brain, then we seem to be back to the problem of the causal nexus between disparate domains of being. But this is not how theorists in the twentieth century hoped that the discussion would proceed.

The upshot of this is that we have a trajectory of reflection that wants to take seriously the thesis of physicalism and yet find room for a free mind in this physical universe. If this mind is not to be merely epiphenomenal, a set of experiences caused by the physical but not causally able to affect the physical, then it seems like we have to give a coherent analysis of mental causation. But this is much more difficult than it may have first appeared.

It is now time to turn our attention to the main problem, the connection between the divine and the non-divine. As we reflect upon the nature of this putative connection, it should become apparent how helpful our mind/body reflections have been.

III. The God/Universe problem, Causality and the Problem of Divine Causation

Classical theism, like Cartesian dualism, claims that there exist two disparate ontological regions: God and that which is not God. Whereas the problem in mind/body dualism is how the mental can causally affect the physical, and vice versa, the problem in traditional theism is how it is possible for God causally to affect the universe. Where is the causal nexus?

Is it not the case that the universe is causally closed, that is, for each and every event in the universe, it is caused by other events in the universe, and for all events in the universe they cause only other events in the universe? Just as the problem of the conservation of energy and the problem of causal overdetermination - - the problem of claiming that there is a concurrent cause of an event when only one cause is needed to explain it -- arises for Cartesian dualism, so too do both problems arise for classical theism. If the universe is causally closed, no energy seeps in or seeps out of it. But without energy there can be no causal connection. Moreover, each and every event in the universe is causally explained by other events in the universe. How can one hold that God is causing anything in the universe, if other events in the universe explain the event completely?

Spinoza, who, as we have seen, held to the two aspect view on the mind/body problem, advocated a similar view with respect to God and the universe. For Spinoza, God just is the universe, and the universe just is God. However, there are two quite different descriptions of this one thing. Spinoza’s pantheism was clearly not a road that many Christian theologians wished to take, though his work profoundly influenced the great German theologian and philosopher, Hegel (1770-1831).

Hegel assumed Kant’s view that one could not ever know that God is a substance that causally affects other substances in the universe. While Kant had claimed that the noumenal thing-in-itself cannot be known behind the phenomenon, Hegel averred that Kant should give up on the thing-in-itself entirely since it was in principle unknowable. Accordingly, Hegel rejected dualism entirely. Echoing Spinoza, Hegel argued that God was profoundly and intimately connected with the world. However, this connection was not causal. For Hegel, there was nothing in the world that was not God, thought God nonetheless was more than the sum total of the world. This position known as panentheism is not new in the history of theology, and rightly claims that the Neo-Platonic notion that mind, world-soul and the universe emanate from the One is the ultimate precursor to Hegel.

But just as post-Kantian developments in thinking about mind tended towards a rejection of dualism - - even though dualism nonetheless emerged as the default position by the end of the nineteen century - - post-Kantian developments in reflecting upon God issued in non-dualist theological positions that nonetheless by the end of the nineteenth century still found dualism ensconced as the “received view.” With theism, just as with mind/body dualism, the problem of the causal joint arises. How is it possible to connect to disparate ontological domains? Is the connection of the nature of one of the domains, of the nature of the other, or is it constituted as some ontological mixture of the two? How is a causal connection between the divine and the non-divine possible without violating causal closure principles? How is it possible not to commit the fallacy of causal overdetermination?

Contemporary thinking on the problem of the relation of God and the universe oftentimes follow routes eerily similar to Descartes’ positing the pineal gland as connecting brain and mind. The suggestions have not been too promising.

· Perhaps God’s causal activity effects the collapse of the Schödinger wave equation of probabilities into a concrete quantum occasion. This would not violate the determinism of the wave equation but still allow for divine influence at the level of particular concretions. But how would this be possible without introducing energy at the quantum level?

· Perhaps God’s causal activity is found in his effects at the time of the conception of new life. There is, in fact, not a set of deterministic equations that can predict what will be the properties of a baby given knowledge of the relevant properties of the parents. Maybe the seeming element of freedom here is due to God’s introduction of new information. But this limits God’s causal hand to a very limited area of physical reality.

· Finally, one might argue that God can adjust the “boundary conditions” in a system such that a different system trajectory ensues that would not have happened absent the divine’s action. But again it is difficult to see how God can produce a change in boundary conditions without introducing information into the system.

Of course, there remains that hallowed effort of Aquinas and much of the tradition to distinguish primary and secondary causality, and argue that God is the primary cause of everything that is caused, but that God’s causality is mediated by secondary causes. Hence, while it appears that the swinging of the ax caused the vase to break, God’s productive agency is in the axe’s swing, as it is in everything else. The problem with this is that of overdetermination. What added causal power does God’s putative primary causality afford over the swinging of the ax? While it is not inconsistent to say that God’s power is involved in each and every thing, it is incoherent and seeming violates the principle of parsimony: If x can be explained by y, then why explain it by y and z?

We see now the basic outline of the theophysical causal problem. How can an immaterial, non-physical being causally produce event within physical reality without violating conservation and causal closure principles? But there is an even greater problem for a Christian theologian. How is it possible for the Triune God causally to affect the universe? How is this possible when incarnation is central to who God is?

If God is truly three in one, and is present as the transcendent and providential Father, the proximate and historical Son, and the Spirit of subjective agency within all Christians, then God’s causal joint will need to be manifest in three distinctive ways. As the providential Father, God’s causal agency creates the universe and sustains it in being. As the proximate Son, God’s causal agency has saved human beings by bringing about both a change in the Heart of God and an elevation of human existence generally. As the Spirit of subjective agency, God’s causal agency has indwelled within the hearts of human beings and has generated faith in the hearts of man and woman.

In the next sections we will forego investigating the Father’s causal nexus with creation. The causal question, when it arises, does so normally with respect to the order of creation. In what follows, I concern myself much more with the order of redemption. How is divine causal agency possible for the Son and the Holy Spirit?

IV. Preaching Christ and the Problem of the Incurvatus in se

Preaching has always been of critical importance in the Lutheran theological tradition, particularly law and gospel preaching. This has been so in the Lutheran Confessions and in the subsequent tradition.

On one level law and gospel preaching is not difficult to grasp. The presupposed ontology of law and gospel preaching in the sixteenth century include the truth of the following.

· There is a God.

· There is a sinful universe.

· God loves the sinful universe so much that He wants to reconcile it to Him.

· God sends part of Himself, his Son, to effect a “happy exchange:” the sins of the whole world are put on Christ, and the sinlessness of Christ is communicated to everyone in the world.

· God’s law is an original divine intentionality that shows human beings what ought to be the case.

· God’s wrath is a direct response of there existing in the universe that which ought not to be: human sin.

· The gospel is effected by God’s love, a gospel that reconciles human beings to God.

Notice what is presupposed: God exists; God has intentionality; God brings it about that human beings are reconciled with God. Indeed, the sixteenth century theologians would have no problems saying that there is some being referred to by ‘God’, and that this being causally brings it about that human beings are reconciled with God. What they presupposed is that there is a God and that God is causally active in the world.

If both the law and the gospel presuppose the existence of God and His causal efficacy, why are those who would talk about theophysical causality theologically suspect? Why do so many lovers of the traditional distinction between law and gospel have so little time for philosophers and philosophical categories? If proper understanding of law and gospel presuppose a particular kind of ontology, then why do Lutherans not speak openly about this ontology?

The problem, not surprisingly, goes again back to Kant. As we have already seen, Kant holds that we have no epistemic justification to suppose that the categories of substance and causality properly apply to God. Post-Kantian options thus tried to speak of God in non-ontological and non-causal ways. For Schleiermacher, God is the whence of the feeling of absolute dependence. Hegel believes that God is being God where thought is thinking itself. Ritschl and Hermann understood that talk of God is ultimately about the moral dimension of human beings. But what happens to the understanding of law and gospel in these post-Kantian developments? It seems that it is expunged in the face of good moral and ethical teaching.

After the time of Ritschl and his School, the work of Heidegger (1888-1976) and later Gadamer (1900 – 2002) provided a philosophical foundation for a new theological direction. The idea was simple enough: Human be-ing is a particular ontological structure that is filled in ontically for each person. (Ontology deals with the form or structure of human existence, its significance, while the ontic concerns the content or that which is specifiable within human existence.) Heidegger famously argued that humans already find themselves ontologically already in a world, a “structure of significances.” Humans have a particular way of dwelling with their world because human being is being-unto-death. In being being-unto-death, human being can either hide freedom and live according to “the dictatorship of das Man,” of can take hold of being, making decisions freely, and living authentically and anxiously with the results of those decisions.

Heidegger was interested in the phenomenon of the “forgetfulness of being,” and how to live authentically in the face of that phenomenon by “owning” one’s existence. What passes as “salvation,” for Heidegger, is an anxious walk into the future, resolutely holding on to one’s free choices and in this way becoming who one deeply is in the face of the anxiety of death. While there is a type of “fall” and a type of “saving” in Heidegger’s work, he cannot be interpreted generally as offering a Christian problem with a Christian solution. For that we need to turn to the work of Bultmann.

Within the context of his time and culture Bultmann was not a radical theologian. Learning his theology from the great liberal theologians, and thus heavily influenced by Kant, Bultmann searched for a way to give an intellectual undergirding to the preaching of Jesus the Christ. His so-called program of demythologization was not particularly new in Germany. In many ways his was a very confessionally orthodox and conservative program. Turning his back on the moralisms of Ritschl and his School, Bultmann wanted to return to the Reformation’s understanding of the proclamation of the Gospel as offering saving significance. Heidegger’s philosophical analysis of human existence seemed to provide just the ticket. For Bultman, the problem of life is not the “forgetfulness of being” but rather sin, a curvature back in upon oneself that denies the possibility of faith and a future with hope. Preaching the gospel for Bultmann effects a liberation from such sin, and a turning with openness towards God and the future. The preaching of the gospel thus empowers and saves instead of uplifts or instructs.

Bultmann could assume that human existence is indeed constituted by structures of significance that are oriented towards death and determination rather than God and freedom. Living “according to the flesh” is a living incurvatus; living “according to the Sprit” is an ecstatic living outside oneself in freedom and possibility. In the proclamation of the Word something truly happens. The particular content of meanings that is one’s existence shifts. One finds oneself no longer controlled by the past, but now open to faith and future. Gospel proclamation transforms existentiell living.

With this work from Bultmann, the movement towards hermeneutical theology is established. The latter claimed that Bultmann was not concerned enough about history. Hermeneutical theology emphasized that human existence is always situated such that the proclamation of grace from the outside must already have a pre-understanding of being upon which to be understood. While the specifics of how this works takes us outside the scope of this paper, the fundamental focus of hermeneutical theology is this: The Word goes forth in the preaching event, and human beings respond to that Word.

Although German theologians did not make this move at the time, one might call locutions of the preached Word, locutions that do not state what is the case, but rather bring about some effect, perlocutionary or performative utterances. John Austin (1911-1960) very famously used the term - - though he seems to abandon it later on.

Christian theologians who wish to privilege preaching have a penchant to speak of performative utterances. Oswald Bayer’s 2008 book, Martin Luther: A Contemporary Interpretation, makes much of performative utterances, saying that proclamation in this way is at the root of Luther’s theology. The idea is simply this:

1) ‘The cat is on the mat’ states what is the case. It is a constative judgment.

2) “I now pronounce you man and wife’ brings a new reality into being. It is a performative utterance.

While Austin and his student John Searle did not argue the point clearly and consistently, one might hold that performative utterances somehow are of a different order of speaking entirely, an order where, unlike with constative judgments, truth is not an issue. But as I have argued elsewhere, this is chimerical.[1]

It is important to note that while a performative judgment can be felicitous, according to Austin, it cannot be true. Constative propositions can be true, but performative utterances cannot be. Why? Performative utterances do not state what is the case, but brings about the case in their speaking. But here the problem becomes very acute. How can theology survive without stating the truth? How did it ever spread without proclaiming the truth? In an effort to save theological judgments from criticism of the special sciences, the language of theology gets insulated from the entire question of truth. This has had, as we all know, disastrous consequences.

The idea, however, is clear enough: Preaching effects performances that change the life-world of the listener. The person hearing is changed in the hearing not because he or she hears and recognizes the propositions spoken as true, but simply because the proclamations become true for the hearer in the hearing. This way of proceeding presupposes a phenomenology of truth as disclosure or “un-concealing.” When language is spoken, something comes out of the darkness and shows itself in the light. The proclaimed gospel “lights up” our being and changes us as the content of our significations are themselves changed. Preaching effects a transformation of the context of significances that constitute our “world.”

In this way of going about things, the incurvatus spoken about by the Reformers is read phenomenologically. One’s experience is to be turned back upon the self, and not oriented towards God and His grace. What is important to see, however, is that while the Reformers could talk about a unexperienced incurvatus, this makes no sense for twentieth century phenomenological thinking. The incurvatus is finally constituted phenomenologically. There can thus be no incurvatus without human beings experiencing themselves in an incurvatus way.

V. The Problem of an Existential/Phenomenological Understanding of the incurvatus in the Post-modern Context

We live in a time of radical pluralism. Competing religions, value systems, worldviews and even different approaches to truth characterize our time. While philosophers opine that truth has a definite structure and criteria, many simply operate as if truth is simply what people regard to be so. When I began teaching 25 years ago I asked my students three questions:

· If two people disagree on what is beautiful, must one be wrong?

· If two people disagree on what is good, must one be wrong?

· If two people disagree on what is true, must one be wrong?

In the early days, almost all students would claim “no” to the first, about 67% “no” to the second, and maybe a handful “no” to the last. In other words, most of my students in 1987 were relativists (and subjectivists) about aesthetics, about 33% were relativists on ethics, and almost all believed in objective truth. While beauty was in the eye of the behold in 1987, truth was not.

By the time I finished university teaching in 2010, things had changed. Almost all students still denied any type of aesthetic objectivism, of course. But now 85% or more denied ethical objectivity, and almost two out of three denied any objectivity to truth. What happened?

There are many reasons for this, and we can’t enter into the complex issues involved in this paper. Know, however, that the general influence of phenomenology and the social sciences has been important. Heidegger’s phenomenological trajectory began with the assumption that truth is fundamentally an experience, a bringing of something out of concealment. Obviously if A and B have different truth experiences, different things can be true for them. A can have a phenomenological experience of truth with regard to X, but B fails to have it. Thus X is “true for” A, but not for B.

From a sociological point of view, moreover, something can be regarded by a culture as true, but not so regarded by another culture. Thus, two people disagreeing about what is true must not each both be wrong.

We live in a time of confusion with respect to truth, and for many, what truth is simply is what one’s culture or experience say it is. It was Protagoras (480-411 BC) who reportedly said, “Man is the measure of all things; of the things that are, that they are, of the things that are not, that they are not.” What is lost in this, of course, is the classical distinction between appearance and reality, the distinction enshrined in western philosophy a century after Protagoras wrote. Just because P appears to be true for A, it does not follow that A is true. But notice that the phenomenological starting point collapses the distinction: Whatever appears to be true simply is true. The same happens with the sociological starting point. What a culture takes to be true at a time really is true at that time. Accordingly, it was true that the sun went around the earth in the Middle Ages, but not true later on.

Join these confusions about truth with our general pragmatic orientation and all kinds of problems arise. For the pragmatist, truth is “what works.” If a theory has great explanatory and predictive power, if it is useful for human beings in relevant ways, then the theory can be regarded as true. Notice what happens when this orientation is linked to an existential-ontological horizon? What becomes true is what works for the individual at the horizon of his or her existence. If the individual is freed or liberated from the fallenness of his/her existence - - however, such fallenness is defined - - then that which frees the individual becomes “true” for him or her.

Paul Tillich (1885-1965) very famously argued that religious symbols are true to the degree that they existentially empower; they are true when they appropriately determine one’s being or non-being. When one is granted “being and the meaning of being” by a religious symbol, that symbol is true. ‘Jesus is the Christ’ is true in that it existentially empowers the individual in the face of existence.

As I have suggested, good preaching can pass the “truth test” when these underlying assumptions are in play. Accordingly, to say that Christ forgives is not to appeal to any causal agency in Christ, but merely to say that Christ is a symbol that existentially empowers. After Kant, divine agency was figured in such a way as not to assert there is a substance existing apart from us having causal powers. Kant taught us that causality is always a for us affair. Reflecting upon this a moment, one understands that there can be no divine causality without human existence.

Now there is no doubt that the last two hundred years has been dominated by the Kantian paradigm in theology. Within that general paradigm some very good theology has been done. However, for many reasons, both philosophical and theological, I believe that this paradigm is dying. Unfortunately, I cannot address the philosophical problems with the paradigm today.

Theologically, however, it was always problematic to begin with anthropological facts about us, and move to what is possible with respect to God based upon that anthropological/epistemological framework. It is far more in keeping with the Christian tradition to begin with the assertion that there is God, and then to think through human options on the basis of this divine reality. Far too, we have tried to make sense of God on the basis of what we know about ourselves. But what if we were to break through the paradigm and begin with the reality of God, the reality of the Triune God, and then seek to make sense of ourselves on the basis of the reality of that truth?

God is Triune; three persons in one Being. As we have already alluded to, all three persons of the Trinity prima facie have causal powers. God the Father creates, Christ the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies. These are all causal terms. While one could read them metaphorically, there seem to be very good reasons not to. What are they?

With respect to mental causation Jaegwon Kim has appealed to Samuel Alexander’s dismissal of epiphenomenalism in this trenchant phrase he terms “Alexander’s Dictum:” To be is to have causal powers. If a mental state has no causal power then it is not really real. To state that something is, it must make a difference to what happens in the universe. While the nineteenth century’s penchant for idealism would allow thinkers to give ontological status to non-causally real things, this is not possible in the twentieth century. Oddly, the same culture that is pluralistic on truth, believes nonetheless in science, and is quite interested in thinking through causal questions. The natural sciences have given us wonderful causal maps.

As it turns out, people of religious leaning are concerned about causality as well. Indeed, those who are yearning for a Savior are interested in finding a casually efficacious Savior, a Savior who make something the case that would not have been the case without Him so making.

VI. The Importance of Causation in Theology

There simply is no salvation without causation! When one backs up and removes the Kantian lens, it is clearly apparent that this is true. How can one be “saved” from the powers of sin, death and the power of the devil unless there is some be-ing happening that is causally efficacious?

While the causal question in the sciences has always been at the fore, for a very long time in theology -- because of the distinction in Neo-Kantianism between scientific judgments and “value judgments” - - the area of value, which includes the domain of theology, was insulated from the causal questions of the sciences. Jesus’ teachings in Ritschl’s school were certainly worthy of emulation, but the question of the real causal power of the Christ remained marginal and underdeveloped.

However, if we leave behind the landscape of idealism and engage the world as realists - - those who would say that entities, events and causal relations exist outside of us - - we understand that we can no longer regard the symbol of ‘the power of God’ simply as a symbol the can inculcate existential/phenomenological power. So let us return now to the question of preaching Christ: Can one effectively preach Christ without assuming causal agency?

In answering this, we are inexorably driven to ask the question of grounds. When I hear in the preacher’s mouth that my sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, I ask myself, “But is it so?” Now, there are many who would say that this is the wrong response. If I had actually heard the proclamation, I need not ask for grounds. The Word its reality; it donates what is. Moses convicts me of my failings and Christ announces his blessings. It is all first order proclamation. Years ago Robert Schlarleman compared the first-person gospel address to the phrase, ‘Take heart’. This utterance is clearly performative. It liberates and makes free. Is not the desire to seek grounds misguided and ultimately indicative of a loss of faith?

But here is the problem. For many denizens of the early 21st century, one simply cannot hear the pure gospel proclamation without asking the question of truth. In a world of vastly conflicting claims to truth, those truly serious about salvation today are not that much different than their counterparts in late antiquity. Which of the available competing religious claims is true? Which one is worthy upon which to stake one’s life?

But how could one ever know which is true? We could claim that there is a domain of written revelation to which we can appeal that guarantees truth. But this way is not the way of those who have learned, understood and applied the historical-critical methodology. One could simply say that we have an experience of the risen Christ in the preaching, and this experience itself vouchsafes the truthfulness of the proclamation. In doing this, however, we have a problem, for if the proclamation eventuates in a certain experience for A but not for B, we really have no grounds to say that a particular experience should have happened for B as well. If the proclamation strikes one, then it is gospel; if not, then it is not.[2]

It is instructive, I think, to reflect upon the likely causal map that many would draw concerning the claim that the reality of the preached Christ determines the normativity of the attesting text. One drawing such a map would merely point out that person A has a particular genetic temperament that in conjunction with his past experiences has eventuated in him being in a particular causal situation such that the proclamation or declamation of a particular phrase or set of phrases with a particular inflection causally produces a mental state and an appropriate behavioral trajectory in the hearer. That is to say, A stimulated X-ly by words of Scripture or sermon brings it about that were A would respond Y-ly in particular situations. Though theology oftentimes runs from such reductionism, thinking reductionistic thoughts can help theology clarify what claims are actually being made. In the example just given, it would seem that all of the causal action could in principle be specified at the behavioral, mental and finally neural levels.

Now what happens when A becomes aware of this fact, of the fact that the causal chain that can be drawn is a physical one? Would A respond in the same way were he to know that this could be causally explained physically, and that we need not appeal to divine causation? Would A regard the proclamation of Christ as true were he to be able in principle causally to explain his affective and behavioral response to the sermon? What happens to A when hearing the gospel proclamation knowing that the only causal chain at work is a natural one? Does not the realization by A that there is no causal agency outside physical agency change how A reacts to the causal stimulation?

Consider this example: Bob is suffering from terminal illness and hears the pastor proclaim at the bedside that he (Bob) will be resurrected in the flesh just as Jesus was. Bob’s immediate response is an experience of peace in the face of death. But would not the contour of this experience change if Bob were to think through the cause of his experience and conclude that there is only a physical chain of causality here? How could this knowledge not change the contour of Bob’s response?

Lutheran theology since the time of Kant has prided itself in overcoming the dualism of nature and supernature. Compare now the natural causal chain in the above example with the classical, pre-Kantian Lutheran account. The preacher preaches the Gospel and the Word proclaimed. The Holy Spirit causally brings it about that the believer truly hears the Gospel and actually responds in way she would not have done were it not for the case that the Spirit was at work. The Spirit’s causal activity is part of the works of the Holy Trinity outside itself. The effect of this causal activity is that the proclaimed Word produces faith. The Holy Spirit brings it about the hearer of the Word believes the Gospel, the Gospel that claims that Christ has truly bought about the forgiveness of sins through his death and resurrection.

Moreover, this Christ, the eternal second Person of the Trinity, lives even now. This Christ has an existence outside of human awareness, perception, conception and language. If we follow Luther and much of the Lutheran tradition, this Christ is now present in the believer. The Holy Spirit thus causally brings it about that Christ is present in the believer. God’s spiritual agency causally brings it about that a different state of affairs obtains in the hearer than would have obtained without His causality.

If we take very seriously the causal question, then we have to say that the effect of preaching is a divine effect, that the physical causal chain does not determine wholly the state of affairs that obtains. There is no causal closure of the natural when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit. Some account of supernatural agency is finally necessary. While the divine Word is carried on the wings of the human word, the perlocution wrought must make reference to divine causal agency.

VII. A Tale of Three Causal Chains and a Brief Conclusion

A number of years ago Daniel Dennett wrote an article in which he talked about three levels of description in computer systems. He spoke of a physical stance, a design stance and an intentional stance. Different statements are true given different stances - - for instance, we can say that the computer is “thinking” or “wants to do” something - - even though a computer’s deepest causal map is at the physical level. Using mental talk is possible when describing computer behavior, but no “minds” interfere with ultimate microphysical determination. Is this way of looking at things useful when considering the question of preaching?

Accordingly, on one level we could draw a causal map in preaching at the physico-behavioral level. This description would be strongly reductionistic and claim that there is no interruption of causal determination at this level.

On the next level of description, we could talk about the effects of particular language upon the linguistic-phenomenological horizon of the individual. This level would is that which is assumed in hermeneutical theology. One does not do a reduction to the physico-behavioral, but rather speaks broadly as language as the house of being, and the uttering of particular language being capable of changing being.

Finally, one might articulate the highest level of description as the “divine level.” Here the theologian would talk analogously to how computer programmers talk. Theologians would use locutions like “the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens” just as computer programmers would speak of the computer “thinking” or “wanting” to move to the next state. Each would claim that the deepest causal map is at the lowest level, but each would simultaneously countenance genuine higher-level talk, and would be able even to make true statements at these highest levels. What do we make of this putative analogy?

I began this article by talking about the relationship of God and the universe in a dualistic fashion. The divine is the divine and not the universe, and the universe is the universe but not divine. This all seems very good when talking about God’s providential activity. But in thinking about the Holy Spirit, things get much more difficult. This is true for thinking through such Lutheran notions as the ubiquitas Christi as well. In thinking through these issues, it seems like the metaphor of “layers” prevails over disparate “domains.” Does Dennet’s analogy have service in theology?

No. For reasons already alluded to, this analogy cannot work. Why? Ultimately theological assertions cannot be a higher-level description of underlying natural and anthropological processes because the very raison d’etre of theology is soteriological. There is no salvation without causation. The Word is causal. The agency of the Spirit in this “Wording of the Word” is causal. Closing the causal loop at the natural level does not realize theological truth, but contradicts it. Divine causation must, of necessity, have as its relata a divine and non-divine term. I don’t see how divine causation is possible ultimately without drawing a relation between nature and supernature.

This does not mean that when it comes to thinking the causal activity of the Son and Holy Spirit, we would need necessarily to begin with the analogy of mind/body dualism, and try to understand divine causal agency analogously to the pineal gland. This may be the best way to think through the Father’s creation and provident care for the world, but it is not optimal for thinking about the Trinity and incarnation. Once God is incarnated in his Son that is ever present in the world, and once the Holy Spirit carried by the Word is forever working in the hearts of believers attesting to the Word, then we must make sense of the divine bringing about states of affairs in and through the finite. I think the situation here is better conceived through the notion of downward causation. But, as we have seen, the causal map of downward causation is not clear, and it may even finally presuppose the dualism advocates were hoping to escape!

We have traversed much ground in this paper and asked many questions. We have argued that the category of divine causality must be recovered if we are to think through cogently God’s real presence and activity in the world. This is true as well when considering how it is that talk of the Holy Spirit’s activity in preaching is itself true. While we do not yet have an adequate explanatory model how it might be possible for God to be at work in his work in the Trinity through preaching and believing, I have today argued that pursuit of such a model is crucial for a robust theology proclaiming that ‘Christ is the way, the truth and the life’ is true.

[1] Bayer writes: “In contrast to every metaphysical set of statements that teach about the deity, this assertion [e.g. "To you is born this day a Savior"] declares that God's truth and will are not abstract entities, but are directed verbally and publicly as a concrete promise to a particular hearer in a specific situation. 'God' is apprehended as the one who makes a promise to a human being in such a way that the person who hears it can have full confidence in it" [Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation.  By Oswald Bayer.  Translated by Thomas Trapp.  (Grand Rapids, MI.  Eerdmans,  2008), p. 53.]

Bayer clearly supposes that there exists a firm distinction among performative utterances like promise-making, constative utterances which describe or report states of affairs that can be true or false, and imperative utterances.  He further explains:   " . . . one cannot take the promise, which is not a descriptive statement, and transform it into a descriptive statement. Secondly, one cannot take the promise, which is not in the form of a statement that shows how something ought to be done, and transform it into an imperative. . . . The truth of the promise . . . is to be determined only at the very place that the promise was . . . constituted. This means it is located within the relationship of the one who is speaking . . . and the one who hears. . . . If it is correct that the one individual is in the position of hearer in the relationship that is constituted by this promise, and if that is verified, it excludes the possibility that he himself can verify the promise. . . . To seek to verify this oneself would be atheism . . ." (54-55).

It is true, of course, that there are statements such as "I promise to pay you $1000,” and that such statements cannot be given a complete analysis in terms of a set of descriptive statements.  Reporting is a different linguistic activity than promising.  It is also true that such statements cannot be reductively analyzable into a set of imperative statements.    However, one must distinguish between a reduction of the performative and a delineation of its palpable presuppositions, presuppositions that can be stated in terms of the descriptive and imperative.

In "I promise to pay $1000", the following are presupposed: "I exist," "you exist," "$1000 exist," and "I ought to pay you $1000." The first three are descriptive statements and the fourth imperative. Notice that here the verba of the sentence do not themselves constitute the rem, but instead presuppose a set of definite res: the existence of two agents, the existence of money, and the taking on of an obligation. This is not to say that 'x promises z to y' can be reduced to the existence of x, y and z, and a set of imperative statements, for while there is more to promising than the taking on of an obligation, an obligation is nonetheless presupposed in the promising. 

In the divine promise of salvation it would seem that the same structure obtains: God exists, I exist, some state of affairs to which 'salvation' properly applies exists, and God is under obligation to bring about salvation to me. (Admittedly, it is rather jarring to think of God being under obligation, but the logic of promising seems to demand it.)  

Bayer further claims that the "truth of the promise is determined where it is constituted," that is, in the one speaking and hearing. But what exactly is this to mean? Clearly, Bayer is not talking about a correspondence, coherence, or even pragmatic notion of truth. We are told, in fact, that the individual cannot verify the truth of the promise, for to do so would involve one in atheism.  

If 'Bob promises to pay me $1000 on April 1 and does not do so, he has broken his promise.  We would not normally say, however, that his promise is true or false.  A broken promise is, to use Austin's language, an "infelicitous' performative utterance.  Since on Austinian grounds, truth and falsity are not properties of promises qua promises, it is not clear what Bayer means by a promise’s truth.  One might say, I suppose, that some descriptively-stated presupposition for the keeping of the promise did not obtain and thus that statement is not true.  Yet this is not to say that the promise is false, but merely that the falsity of the promise’s presupposition makes it true that the promise is infelicitous.  Statements about promises have definite truth conditions even if the promises do not. 

[2] One must distinguish between the purely descriptive truth that the Bible and many other books can and do strike readers with existential truth, and the normative claim that the Bible ought so to do so.  Until we can give an analysis of why the Bible ought to strike one as salvific truth, we have not engaged the issue which the claim of the formal norm in Lutheran Orthodoxy was trying to answer.
Imagine a time where the Bible does not strike people as giving life-saving existential truth. (This time has already happened in much of the first world.)  In the absence of a formal norm - - either the text bears an artifact/artificer relationship to God or the Holy Spirit causally operates only upon it - - what position is left for the theologian?  Would he not have to say that the Bible is not the Holy Scriptures any longer, for it no longer salvifically empowers us?