Summary of AAR/SBL

As most readers of this will know, the AAR/SBL Annual Meeting was held in Washington, D.C. this year. I went to attend the Karl Barth Society meetings primarily, and whatever else I heard was just a bonus. I left on Friday at noon for the capital. We arrived at the 4 pm meeting a few minutes late but in time to hear Philip Ziegler begin his paper on Wolf Krötke’s theology of freedom and concreteness—free for the movement of Word and Spirit while concretely located in the situation of Gottesvergessenheit, or “mass atheistic indifference,” which currently plagues the land of east Germany. Ziegler is a rising star in the theological world whose presence at Aberdeen alongside John Webster is another reason to study in Scotland. (Those of us who know Mark Husbands of Wheaton College will recall that Husbands and Ziegler co-edited a volume of essays by George Schner entitled, Essays Catholic and Critical.)

Following Ziegler was the much anticipated paper by Wolf Krötke himself in his first ever appearance in the United States. He spoke on Karl Barth’s theology of religions, a subject that has not received the attention it deserves. According to Krötke at the end of his talk, we cannot afford to avoid the subject any longer. He did a very fine job explicating Barth’s understanding of other religions/gods through a careful analysis of the excised paragraph from Church Dogmatics III, entitled “God and the gods” (originally §42, I believe). He explained the removal of this paragraph as evidence that Barth did not think his treatment of the subject was sufficient. He also related that missing paragraph to Barth’s discussion of Light and the “little lights” in CD IV/3, §69: The Light of Life.

(For example, consider the following quote from Barth in the §69, p. 156: “The positive thing which takes place in the confrontation of the little lights of creation with the great light of its Creator is that they are not passed over or ignored, let alone destroyed or extinguished, but integrated in the great light.” Krötke suggests that Barth would have us understand these “little lights of creation” as connected with the gods of religion. They have a real identity, so they are not simply nothingness, and yet they have no identity apart from the Light which gives them their reality. Cf. Eberhard Jüngel, God's Being Is in Becoming, pp. 20-22, n. 25. Jüngel very nicely summarizes Barth’s discussion of the Light and the lights from CD IV/3.)

On Saturday morning, we heard Walter Lowe present a paper on “Apocalyptic and Discipleship – Explaining Christianity.” In this paper, Lowe did a fine job exploring the need for an apocalyptic in our modern age, one that is grounded in Barth’s own theology. Lowe contends that a proper apocalyptic balances the concreteness of the gospel with the contextual-existential situation of the believer. Apocalyptic provides the means by which the gospel carries an existential bite without falling into the existentialism which Barth so harshly criticized. Apocalyptic is the existential contextualization of the concrete gospel which grips us. Faith, Barth says, is a state of “being suspended”—connected with the biblical notion of “the fear of the Lord”—which disrupts us while at the same time offering us the assurance of the good news in Jesus Christ. Lowe concludes by arguing that, for Barth, the apocalypse has already occurred in Jesus Christ, but this apocalypse includes both past and present, both the concrete reality of Christ and the existential reality of the believer. Apocalypse holds these together while adamantly denying the temptation of triumphalism (cf. Left Behind), which rests comfortably in the final conclusion of history while avoiding any kind of contextualization or being-suspended.

Finally, in the grand finale, George Hunsinger and Archie Spencer critiqued David Bentley Hart’s theology of the analogia entis. I will spend more time on this in another post. As Hunsinger said to my friend, Chris, “I think I held my own.” Indeed, he did. But so did Hart, who showed a measure of patience and courage in the midst of a room that without doubt sided almost entirely with Hunsinger. Spencer gave a very fast and complex paper on Hart’s misunderstanding of Thomas Aquinas and his lamentable participation in the “colonization of history,” which characterizes the entire R.O. movement. Hunsinger made the simple yet spot-on argument that Hart’s theology is simply non-christocentric, that the only mediator between God and humanity is Jesus Christ. Hart essentially rejected this claim, though he never said so directly. Hart stated that if we are indeed created by God (creatio ex nihilo), then there is an analogy of being between creation and the Creator—as he said, this is simply a given and we cannot get around this fact. While I hope to spend much more time on this debate, we can see the basic disagreement here: Hart views the analogy between God and creation as one grounded in the act of primal creation; Hunsinger views the relation between God and humanity as one grounded in the act of re-creation or new creation.

After the KBS sessions were over, I went to the book exhibits and purchased some great books. More on that later. We also heard Richard B. Hays give a paper on narrative interpretation of the Bible. He argued for the rehabilitation of the doctrine of Scripture’s unity by arguing that Scripture should be understood as a “coherent dramatic narrative,” in which we understand the unity of the Bible “from the end point.” Finally, shortly before leaving for Princeton, we stumbled upon N. T. Wright responding to two papers for the Evangelical Philosophical Society. I usually do not care much for Wright, but his comments in this session were quite provocative and profound. It was a great way to close out an excellent day.


Anonymous said…
I'm interested in hearing more about why Hart doesn't understand analogy in Thomas. That was my working presumption, but it'd be nice to hear more about it. Strange, however, that Spencer doesn't seem to be a medievalist himself.
GoobyNelly said…
Excellent job summarizing, David. Thanks for posting on this.
Anonymous said…
im not sure hart's position is incompatible with with a christological grounding. the second person, through/in whom creation comes to be is always the person of christ.

the problem with the analogia entis is that it is either just logical non-sense or it is idolatrous. in the thomist tradition it is non-sense, because there is no real analogy between the terms and no prime analogate to guide reason; in the scotist tradition (which governs a great deal of scholastism right up into the 19th century) it is idolatrous because there is a prime analogate, "being", that is not identical with god and thus god is made into a thing.
Anonymous said…


In the first place, I don't think Scotus is an idolater. In the second, I don't think the traditional version of analogy (of which Thomas is merely one example) is nonsense.

Scotus argues that there must be some terms predicated univocally of God and his creatures for there to exist such a thing as a 'science' of theology. (That 'being' is one such term is formulated to answer a different question, namely about the unity of the science of metaphysics.) If it is idolatry to claim that there are true statements about God, then, well every theologian in the history of Christianity is an idolater.

I think Scotus is probably wrong about this. It seems to me that our statements about God and creatures can be analogical without being nonsensical, but showing how this can be done is difficult work, which we ought not to shirk off with casual blanket condemnations of carefully argued positions.

Scotus's univocity theory might impugn God's transcendence (certainly this is what the partisans of analogy will say), but this will be a claim that needs some justification and, more importantly, a demonstration of why Scotus is wrong.

George Hunsinger said…
Hart is definitely an ecclesial theologian with much to offer. His view of the Trinity, of the Incarnation and of creation are often exemplary.

I'm not entirely sure how he understands Christ's once-for-all saving death. Does he think the atonement is in any sense a "social process," for example, a la Milbank? Hard to tell, I would say.

The problem, as I see it, is that he seems to think from a center in metaphysics or in the analogia entis to Christ, rather than strictly from a center in Christ.

This leads to distortions and mistakes in his theology.
D.W. Congdon said…
Prof. Hunsinger,

I'm honored to have you comment on my blog! What a welcome surprise!

I agree with your comment. It seems that Hart's account fails to account for sin or for any real disruption between God and the world. I could not discern from his talk exactly what the relation between metaphysics and soteriology/ Christology. You pointed out that very disconnect in your opening statement, and I did not hear anything from Hart to counter your claim.

Overall, it was clear that Hart understands the analogia entis in relation to the act of creation itself. Presumably, this divine act means that God and creation are indissolubly linked. But then we are back to your question: What about Jesus Christ? What is the mediating principle here, creation or Christology?
Anonymous said…
scotus isnt wrong because he makes truth claims about god, scotus is wrong because his communion of being turns god into a thing. on the other hand, scotus is logically quite right that in order for analogy to have meaning there has to be an underlying univocity.

something vaguely like the thomist claim (since most thomists agree that no worked out idea of analogy is present in thomas) says something like god:humanity::good:good, which is a completely unhelpful statement since the primary terms in the comparison are identical. this is why you get modern thomists like schillebeeckx talking about a dynamic conceptual tendency (back in '52, for instance, when he was still a bit of a scholastic) or marechal, rahner, et al. talking about a non-conceptual dynamism that is indicated by analogy. but in both cases it is a dynamic without direction.

i suppose at this point it will come as no surprise if i say that i think the whole analogy tradition is a dead end.
nola theologian said…
I was at the session as well, and have written a review of Hart's book. I just finished teaching his other book. I was also in a course with Hunsinger many years ago.

It was patently obvious to anyone with ears to hear that Hart completely outclassed Hunsinger. I'm just not quite sure why Barthians can't admit that Barth was just plain wrong, and just didn't understand Przywara. (I also took a class in Tuebingen on Barth and Przywara, and so have read quite a bit of his work).

George Hunsinger is a great reader of Barth and somebody I admire, but let's not pretend that his poor reading of Hart's book, and his presentation, were anything but setbacks for the Barthian cause.
Anonymous said…

The problem here is precision in language:

If 'thing' = some entity which exists as opposed to not-existing, then yes, clearly God is a thing insofar as he is not a non-being.

If 'thing' = a entity ready-to-hand (à la Heidegger), then no, clearly God is not a thing. But, I can't imagine Scotus or anyone else ever saying that he was. Heidegger thought all scholastic philosophy as the reduction of the divine God to a mere conceptual entity devoid of religious significance. However, Heidegger was simply wrong about this. Thomas was a hymnodist as well as a metaphysician.

D.W. Congdon said…
Nola theologian: I do not think one bit that Hunsinger was "outclassed" by Hart. That is simply not the case.

First, Hart never explained how the analogy of being correlated with his Christology. How is the mediation of Christ unique? What is the function of the analogy of being? That is, what does it do?

Second, Hart's theology as he articulated it seems to undermine any sense of the fall or of sin. He never explained why Christ is necessary at all? His doctrine of the analogy of being was one of continuity from creation onwards. He spoke of the indissoluble relation between God and the world, skipping over any discussion of the disruption between Creator and creation which orthodox theology has always posited. Granted, this relation cannot be broken by humanity as if God is not sovereign, but what is the nature of this relation? What is the purpose of Christ's incarnation? What does the analogy accomplish if we are to take sin seriously?

Third, Hart does not seem to give creation its own living integrity. His emphasis on radical dependence upon God is laudable, but it leads him to seek for a concept that will connect God's being and created being -- and that connection is in the analogy of being. This is why I think Hunsinger was essentially correct to criticize Hart for turning the analogia entis into a kind of mediator. The problem is that he has two connections between God and the world: Christ as the mediator between humanity and God, and the analogy of being as the mediator between the cosmos and God.

Fourth, Hart entirely avoided Archie Spencer's analysis, with which I almost entirely agree. Hart is, more than most, guilty of the "colonization of history." In this, he is squarely within the R.O. camp. He misreads Gregory of Nyssa and Anselm in big ways. His readings may be attractive, but that does not mean they are accurate.

Fifth, I agree that Hart did a good job responding, for the most part. But he was very ambiguous about what the analogy of being actually is; he kept saying that it was a logical extrapolation from the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. But unless you are a kind of panentheist, there is no such logical extrapolation, or else I have really missed something here. From what I can tell, he is a panentheist, or at least somewhat close to being one. Hart thinks the analogy of being, metaphysics, and neo-Platonic thought are all necessary and important. But why? He just assumes that this is the case and never explained himself. He never really responded to Hunsinger's main criticism: What about Jesus Christ?

Consequently, I fail to see how Hart in any way outclassed Hunsinger. At the very least, they were both classy, but they were speaking past each other.
George Hunsinger said…
Well, maybe it would be better to put aside the question of who may have outclassed whom.

I don't care whether Hart may have "outclassed" me or not.

The idea of an "analogical interval" clearly involves the view that there is some sort of ontological continuity between God and the world. One doesn't need to exegete all nine famous pages of DBH on the analogia entis to make that point.

Hart conceded as much when he rejected my term "ontological divide," which is a way of saying that God is wholly other than the world (as a matter of kind).

The ontological divide is bridged by the Incarnation alone.

Hart's eschatology is one of eternal striving without any sense of eternal rest.

It is a mistake to see eros as an intensified form of agape (as DBH says), and it is a mistake to let the divine beauty overpower all other divine perfections ("attributes").

Jesus Christ is not just the "form" or "pattern" to which we are restored and to which we must then strenuously strive to conform.

Read Jonathan Edwards on "Heaven is a World of Love" (at the end of Charity and Its Fruits) for a better vision of the status glorificationis.

Let Hart outclass me all he wants. I have no higher aspiration than to be a simple believer, something that I do not consider to be easy.

There are not two mediations between heaven and earth, let alone one that sets the terms for the meidation of Christ.

When was the last time you heard anyone at the AAR say publicly that our Lord is the only Mediator?
Anonymous said…

in all honesty, if i start talking about scotus in too much detail i will get in over my head very very quickly. the only scotus i have read is a bit here and there that is in english (like the hackett press volume). so i will stick with what i do know which is the more contemporary critiques and what i understand them to be saying. to begin with heidegger, i think the influence of aristotle and his scholastic training is actually pretty important to heidegger. but his work in scotus and pseudo-scotus convinced him that the way scholastics talked of god limited them to talking about one being among others. i think heidegger knows that god is not something ready-to-hand, but there is more to extistents than that which is ready-to-hand. the point, relative to the scholastics, is that by setting up some sort of univocity or proportionality between god and every other existent under the broad heading of the communion of being, they 1. avoid a discussion of being-itself and 2. turn god into a being and thus still subject to the question of “why is there something rather than nothing?”. there seems to be agreement on this point among critics like marechal, who likewise complain about the conceptual proportionality, found within scholastic theology between god and human reason, grounded in being. for marechal, god cannot attain representation within human discourse/thought. schillebeeckx, within the dominican tradition, does not actually dispute marechal’s criticisms of the mainstream of scholasticism at the time, but, in a manner that i am willing to grant seems much truer to thomas (and my knowledge of thomas is at least better than my knowledge of scotus) wants to find some sort of unspecifiable intellectual dynamism within human reason towards god.

these are criticisms that catholic theology, thomism and scholasticism have all taken to heart it seems to me, even if taking them to heart in many cases equals: showing that these criticisms do not apply to a “real” doctrine of analogy, i.e., to thomas. i do not think that one needs to, or can, show that these criticisms apply to thomas himself. as i mentioned last time, i think thomism’s problems with respect to analogy are otherwise.
Anonymous said…
Professor Hunsinger wrote: “The ontological divide is bridged by the Incarnation alone…Jesus Christ is not just the "form" or "pattern" to which we are restored and to which we must then strenuously strive to conform.”

Bravo! This is the crux of the matter.
George Hunsinger said…
nola t --

If you're reading this, I'd like to hear more about why I bombed.
nola theologian said…
Dear Professor Hunsinger,

I am glad to know that you enter onto the blogosphere, and even happier that you have been giving Hart's book the important exposure it deserves in your grad. courses.

I never said you "bombed" and I have great admiration for you.

I think Hart's book has a rich and robust Christology. I also think it is impossible to avoid doing metaphysics. Analogia entis seems to be a kind of counter-metaphysics, and one that I hope Barthians (of the spirit, not the letter), would embrace.

The most important point though, is that Barth seems to have misread Przywara. I would recommend J Betz's recent article in "Modern Theology."

Until I see somebody clearly and carefully refute the analogia entis properly understood, then I will lay my stakes with Przywara.

Barth is a great theologian; I have learned a lot from him, and appreciate his Christocentric theology. However, it tends to produces a kind of allergy to certain theologies. This allergy is certianly warranted in some cases, but not in the case of Przywara and the analogia entis.

This is a somewhat elliptical response, and I would have responded sooner had I not been travelling. Perhaps Prof. Hunsinger will put his reservations with Hart in print, and that will clear up some ambiguities.
nola theologian said…
Thank you for your beautiful statement about wanting to be a simple believer, George. It should humble us all.
George Hunsinger said…
Dear nola t,

Thank you very much for your comments.

Yes, I may write up my worries about DBH if I can find the time.

Meanwhile, I would suggest that Barth's reading of Przywara has a major aspect and a minor aspect.

I think it has been known for a long time (i.e., thirty years) that Barth misread him on the minor aspect.

But Barth also objected to the very idea of an analogia entis (the major aspect), no matter how it was formulated, and on that score I think he was correct.

Barth also objected, again I would say correctly, to thinking in terms of a system. Metaphysics would be one such candidate.

Metaphysics is certainly avoidable, though not metaphysical concepts. One would use them in an ad hoc and eclectic way, as Barth always did.

But no metaphysical system can contain the mystery of the Incarnation or any other central Christian belief. When one tries to use a developed metaphysics, it inevitably encroaches on central Christian affirmations, as I think happens in Hart's Neo-platoinc moments, which I do not think are under theological control.

It also happens in what I would regard as his misguided efforts at apologetics, which attempt to defeat other metaphysical systems on their own grounds -- a game which is lost with the opening move.

In short, I think it is possible to think systematically without thinking in terms of a system.

The problem with such systems is that they work with the wrong sort of intelligibility which omits indispensable elements of miracle and mystery in the work of god's sovereign grace.
Dave Belcher said…

I know I am a visitor, so excuse this request, but since you have read Przywara at length, I was hoping you might expound on precisely how it is Barth misread my knowledge, Barth was absolutely right with regards to P's earlier writings--which P then later "corrected" (Balthasar said as much...and by the way, why is NO ONE, especially Hart who relies so much on Balthasar in his book, mentioning Balthasar's book on Barth, here?!). The question is whether P's "God is in and above" does not leave the creature in some sort of capacity to will the good on the creature's own terms (what Lubac would later accuse Cajetan and others of...). In my mind, Hart is doing nothing more than repeating mistakes of the famous scholastic misreadings of St. Thomas...there are even places in his book where one gets the feeling that he is putting forth something like a "pure nature." And I think though Prof. Hunsinger, with all do respect, is wrong in siding with Barth on the caricature of Thomas' analogia entis (particularly in suggesting that the analogy itself is setting up an ontological Ralph McInerny says, the analogy is itself analogous), he is absolutely right in his initial impulse: Hart makes his conception of analogy into an ontological continuity (and this goes for the other twenty pages on analogy, "analogia verbi" as well). Thanks. Dave
Dave Belcher said…
All that is to say, I think that Thomas' notion of analogy is closer to Barth's than Barth is usually given credit for...the entire substance of analogy for Thomas is that it is a relation...and this is exactly what Barth says in III/2 (I think it's in part 2...don't have it ready at hand) in his rejection of the analogia entis in favor of an "analogia relationis"...this would lend further credence to Balthasar's position that Barth sort of opens the way for something like what Thomas originally intended by the analogia entis. This is why I think Hunsinger's rejection needs closer attention to Thomas' writings (or at least, excuse me, a fuller exposition of how Thomas' concept fails...sorry if the earlier statement sounded presumptuous!). Thanks again, and peace.