Posted by Brad Littlejohn at 10:19 PM
July 12, 2010
There is, I’m afraid, very little to say about this chapter. Actually, I’m not afraid--that is rather a relief, given how much there has been to say about the previous seven chapters. This chapter marks a dramatic shift from the chapters thus far, because heretofore, VanDrunen has been attempting to claim a certain tradition--to say, “Here’s what X said, and here’s why it’s part of the Reformed tradition, and (implicitly) that’s why I’m all for it.” But now, all of a sudden, he isn’t. Finally, our narrative has a solid villain. Barth is the fellow who decisively rejected the Reformed consensus, as VanDrunen sees it, who rejected the notion of natural law, who substituted one kingdom of Christ for two kingdoms, and who insisted on a unified Christology, rather than one bifurcated into two mediatorships.
Now, there is little to say here because I don’t really disagree with this picture; Barth did reject the Reformed consensus, or at least, how VanDrunen has portrayed that consensus, and I have already argued with where I think that portrayal is flawed, so there’s not much point in rehashing it here. I simply think that those points at which Barth does disagree with this consensus are generally healthy correctives, whereas I’m sure VanDrunen thinks the opposite. Moreover, in saying that Barth is the “villain” of VanDrunen’s narrative, I don’t mean to imply that VanDrunen is harsh or unfair to him; he is quite objective and even-handed, so there is not a great deal for me to say in terms of contesting his portrait of Barth. This is especially so as I am, despite spasmodic attempts to reconcile this shortcoming, woefully inadequate in my knowledge of Barth. So there were a few points at which VanDrunen’s summary didn’t entirely make sense to me, but that was probably my fault, not his.
My only big question about his portrayal of Barth is that he sees Barth as rejecting the “commonality amidst antithesis” of the Reformers in favor of much greater commonality between believers and unbelievers. However, my understanding of Barth has always been that he highlighted the antithesis; others that I know have seen his antipathy toward natural law and his Christocentrism to have the result of implying that outside of specifically Christian truth, there is very little discovery of truth, and so as having a sort of “fundamentalist” edge. But perhaps I am mistaken here.
In any case, given that there is little need for extended interaction, I shall just return, like a dog to his vomit, to the question of Christology, for it is Barth, of course, who makes precisely the objection to the dual mediatorship doctrine that I have been making, and it is worth attending to VanDrunen’s comments at this point, given that this is the theological fulcrum underlying this book.
On page 342, VanDrunen says, “For Barth, affirming that God, but not God in Jesus Christ the redeemer, is the creator is tantamount to ascribing creation to a false God.” That is precisely right, I think. Unless the God who creates is the God who is revealed truly and fully in Jesus Christ the Redeemer, unless this work of creation aims toward the same end as the work of redemption and manifests the same gracious character of God in Christ, then the Creator God is not the Biblical God. Another way of saying all this is that for Barth, God is defined by his telos, and all God’s works may be read, nay, must be read, in light of the final end of his works--redemption in Jesus Christ. This endpoint provides the full meaning of all the earlier works, and so it cannot be abstracted out of them. This seems to me to ring absolutely true, and I’d be interested to hear why, for VanDrunen, it does not.
Now, let’s hear how VanDrunen contrasts Barth and the Reformed tradition on the “two reigns of God.” He begins by recapitulating the “Reformed tradition”:
“For the earlier tradition, the two kingdoms doctrine consisted in a distinction between two reigns of God, one a redemptive reign over his church and the other a providential, non-redemptive reign over civil society and the broader cultural realm. This distinction often involved the corresponding distinction between the Son as eternal God (and, as such, the creator and sustainer of all things) and the Son as the incarnate mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ (and, as such, the redeemer of his people). As the eternal Son of God he reigns over the civil kingdom and as the incarnate mediator of redemption he reigns over the spiritual kingdom. Connected to this basic theological framework was the conviction that creation was an act of God, and therefore an act of the Son, but not a redemptive act of the mediator Christ. The older Reformed perspective viewed creation as well as redemptive ‘christologically’ or ‘christocentricially’ in this sense.”
First, I must protest against the continued hypocrisy here. You may recall that at the end of the previous chapter, VanDrunen berated Kuyper for his terminological confusion in using the name “Christ” to refer to the Logos the Creator and Jesus the Redeemer, when in fact the name only applies to the latter. I pointed out, with a bit of annoyance, that VanDrunen himself (like pretty much every other theologian in history, I might add), had used “Christ” and “Christology” to refer to both, earlier in the book. And now we see him again indulging in the same ambiguity: early Reformed thought, we are told, had a “christological” or “christocentric” doctrine of Creation, because it taught that the second person of the Trinity was involved in creation. But, if VanDrunen is to be believed, it taught that, although the second person of the Trinity was involved, He was involved precisely not as Christ, but merely as “Son” or “Logos.” He wants to have his cake and eat it too. And this is not a minor point. VanDrunen seeks to rest a great deal of theological weight on the fact that it was not “Christ” who created, since “Christ” is the Son’s title as king of the mediatorial kingdom, and that kingship has nothing to do with his kingship over creation. The Son creates, and rules over creation, only insofar as he is “eternal God”--he does not rule as the God-man, but only as God. Therefore, what we have is a theological account of creation, and the civil kingdom, and a Christological account of redemption, and the spiritual kingdom. Exactly what we do not have is a Christological account of creation.
Now, I don’t think this is for a moment theologically coherent, because it effectively treats the Logos asarkos and the Logos insarkos as separate persons, but if you’re going to opt for something theologically incoherent, at least don’t make things worse by making it inconsistent too. And it is, so far as I can tell, inconsistent for VanDrunen to claim that the Reformed teach that God did not create as Christ, and then to claim for them a “christological” doctrine of creation.
Second, what is at issue here is not a “distinction” between the Son as eternal God and the Son as incarnate mediator, nor a “distinction” between the two kingships this entails. Distinctions are fine. Distinctions are useful. Not always, of course; often they are harmful. But in principle, there’s nothing wrong with this distinction. The question is: what kind of distinction is this? Is this a heuristic distinction, useful for limited conceptualizing, or is it an ontological distinction, positing separate realities in the life of the Logos? And if it is the latter, then just how separate are these? This, you see, is the problem--not that VanDrunen (or the Reformed) perceives a distinction here, but how much they want to rest on the distinction. VanDrunen at least wishes to use the distinction as the argument for the complete autonomy of the two kingships from one another, so that neither has any effect on the other or any dependence on the other. This is not the same as just making a distinction. For instance, we might want to distinguish between me as writer of my book on the Mercersburg Theology and me as writer of this review. These are two separate works I have done at different points in time, for different purposes, in different manners, etc. And so we can draw some useful distinctions, rather than blurring them together. But you would be foolish to pretend that the one work couldn’t tell you anything about the other, or that they didn’t depend on certain common assumptions or manifest a common set of goals and a common personality. Of course, I might’ve changed my mind a lot in between, but this doesn’t happen to Jesus; he is the same yesterday and today. But, of course, the connection between creation and redemption is much closer than that, because, if Scripture is to be believed, the latter is the restoring and bringing to fulfillment of the former. So the analogy would be more like the distinction between my writing this initial rambly review and my final refined review of VanDrunen.
But with that remark about ramblyness, I should perhaps stop rambling and move on.
Now, I don’t really think that VanDrunen thinks that redemption is the restoring and bringing to fulfillment of creation; but if that isn’t the case, then I can’t really guess what redemption is for him. In summarizing the “Reformed tradition,” he says.” “After the fall, God not only initiated the covenant of grace for the purpose of establishing the spiritual kingdom but also preserved the creation order through the establishment of the civil kingdom” (344). Now, notice this language: God “initiated the covenant of grace for the purpose of establishing the spiritual kingdom.” See, I’d always been under the impression that God initiated the covenant of grace in order to redeem creation, and in particular mankind its head, from the sin and death into which it had fallen, implying a certain measure of continuity with the original creation. But now we learn that actually, God decided to whip up some Plan B--this new thing called a “spiritual kingdom,” having decided, apparently, that creation wasn’t really the best place for man after all. I’m probably distorting things here, but I really don’t know how to make sense of this narrative that VanDrunen is giving me--what is redemption, if not new creation?
To move on, VanDrunen says that, in contrast,
“Barth distinguished God’s work of creation from his work of redemption, but he did so only while insisting that they are both Christological in a way such that they can never be separated. The orders of creation and redemption are united in Christ and to know God as creator is also to know him as redeemer. To deny this, according to Barth, is to speak of two gods, to combine Yahweh and Baal.” (344)
Exactly! Thank you, Barth! Yahweh and Baal--I couldn’t have said it better! Distinguishing without separating--exactly! Now, what part of this does VanDrunen disagree with? I want to understand, but I don’t.
Perhaps this is what he didn’t like: “Barth himself understood that the older Reformed ideas about a pre-incarnate Son (the so-called logos insarkos), the distinction between a protological covenant of works and a subsequent covenant of grace, and the natural law were intertwined and to be rejected together” (345). Now, if Barth really had rejected the idea of a pre-incarnate Son (who, by the way, is the logos asarkos--the logos insarkos is the incarnate Son...this faux pas does not reassure me about VanDrunen’s grasp of Christology), then we should have serious objections. But of course Barth did no such thing, and I’m not sure where VanDrunen got that from. Perhaps all he is saying is that Barth rejected the particular things that the older Reformed said about the work of the pre-incarnate Son, but, if so, the phrasing was rather too ambiguous.
In any case, that pretty much wraps up the Barth chapter. I apologize that this review was not very well-structured, but at this point, I’m just in a hurry to get on to the end of the book. And we’re almost there. Two chapters on the neo-Calvinists, an epilogue on the recovery of a Reformed two kingdoms theory, and then I can go back to the beginning and write the concise review.