Metaphysical Misgivings (Reflections on McCormack’s Croall Lectures)

So, over the past two weeks you’ve read more than 15,000 words here about Bruce McCormack’s remarkable Croall Lectures on the person and work of Christ.  But you’ve read only a few hundred words of my opinion about it all; and if you know me, or know this blog, that is quite a remarkable thing.  Many of you may not give a darn about my opinion, given that I’m not only a mere student, but not even a systematic theology student–not nowadays, at any rate.  Heck, I don’t really give a darn about my opinion.  However, it really doesn’t feel complete without some evaluative remarks, does it?  At any rate, I will try to offer a few here, and I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible (ha ha–I’m afraid it turned out to be no such thing); I welcome a free-for-all discussion in the comments section, for those of you who have more to offer than I do.

And once I’ve got that out of my system, I can get this blog back to its usual business of interrogating the theory of private property, of expounding in tome-like posts the wisdom of Richard Hooker, and of occasional intemperate invectives against the American Right.  


First, then, let’s lay out some of the positives.  On the whole, I think McCormack is definitely onto something.  I for one have always been rather uncomfortable with traditional ways of combining divine and human agency in Christ.  McCormack’s concern about infinite divine power “overwhelming” finite human power seems like a fair point to raise.  For me, omniscience illustrates the problem better than anything else, though it isn’t confined to omniscience: how can one person know all things perfectly and infinitely, and simultaneously know as a human knows–finitely, fallibly?  Did Jesus know he was God?  Well, as God he must’ve known, right?  But as man, he didn’t know, strictly speaking, did he?  He had a strong faith in his unique vocation, but as a man, could he have more than that?  Or, more mundanely, Jesus tells us that all the hairs on our head are numbered…well, did Jesus himself know the number?  As God, sure, but as man, no.  How can these things simultaneously exist in one person?  If we solve the problem by a strict bifurcation between two separate intellects and centers of consciousness, the notion of personal unity seems to be in great danger, as it has been in the Reformed tradition.  However, if we solve the problem by emphasizing the one divine person, the infinite divine qualities can as it were crowd out the human, leaving us wondering whether Jesus really was meaningfully one of us.  On the question of omnscience, much of the tradition tended toward such an eclipse of the humanity in favor of an omniscient Jesus. 

McCormack is right also to put all this against a backdrop of soteriology.  The prevalence of more ontological soteriologies in the past has meant a tendency for theology to want to emphasize the influence of the divine nature in glorifying and interpenetrating the human nature (as is made explicit, for instance, in Lutheran theology).  It has been hard, perhaps impossible, for the tradition not to do this at the expense of the full and genuine humanity of Jesus; and if he is not fully and genuinely human, how does he really stand in our place, how is he the last Adam?  The Reformed tradition, in counteracting this and emphasizing Jesus’s full humanity as our substitute in the work of redemption, has often left the divinity dangling there, very valuable for rhetorical effect, but never clearly integral to the redemption of which it is supposed to be a prerequisite.  

Moreover, there is nothing in itself wrong with the fact that McCormack’s revision is driven in large part by particularly modern objections to traditional doctrines.  Although one might dismiss as “liberalism” a desire to emphasize the full humanity of Jesus, his limited knowledge and developing sense of vocation, this concern is authorized by the tradition, inasmuch as that tradition has been unequivocal in claiming to affirm the complete and unabridged humanity of Jesus Christ.  Christian theology is always developing and growing as the Church grows into full maturity, and although there are of course nearly as many steps backward as there are forward, it may well be that it has fallen to the modern period to at last do full justice to a doctrine that remained ever ambiguous and undeveloped in the tradition.  The same could be said of the objections to penal substitution.  Concern about a violent God could be dismissed (and is dismissed by some sectors of American Christianity I know) as just a result of us turning into a bunch of softies with no stomach for divine judgment; however, I’m inclined to think that here again modern scruples represent, not an unalloyed good to be sure, but in many ways a richer grasp of deep Christian truths heretofore marginalized.  If Jesus is the revelation of a God of love, a God determined to have mercy on his creatures, then it seems discordant for this revelation to consist preeminently in an exhibition of God’s wrath poured out on creatures, or worse, poured out on one innocent creature in place of the others.  To seek to provide a new account of Christ’s person and work, that meets both of these concerns without sacrificing orthodoxy, is a worthy goal, and one that I think McCormack has gone a long way to achieving.

Finally, there’s more than a little Barthianism deep in my theological bloodstream, and so some of the key Barthian themes resonate deeply with me: God is so great that he is capable of becoming lowly; God does not become humble himself in spite of the fact that he is God, but because he is God; the revelation of God in Christ is in the fullest sense God’s self-revelation of who and what he’s always been from eternity–He is not merely playing cosmic dress-up.  All these seem like tremendously rich insights that remain faithful to the core of the Christian confession while developing it and stretching it in creative but necessary new ways.  So when McCormack applies these ideas uncompromisingly to our understanding of Christ, when he says (as he did not say in this lecture, but has before) that at its heart, Philippians 2:11 means not “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” but “and every tongue confess that the LORD is Jesus Christ,” I can’t help but cheer along.


No doubt there’s more I could say by way of endorsement, but it’s time to get to the “But…”  So here goes:

But…there are a number of nagging questions that rear their ugly heads, questions like, is he really reading the Church Fathers correctly, or is he attacking a straw man?  Isn’t this kind of tracing a Christological idea out to its logical conclusion the way all the heresies worked?  Is this really “post-metaphysical” or just another kind of metaphysics?  If it is post-metaphysical, is it wise or safe to so thoroughly abandon the historical form of Christian doctrine?  Is the exegesis sound?  Isn’t this all just regurgitated modernism, trying to domesticate God by bringing him down to our level?  

Yowch.  Those are some harsh questions, but I’m going to try to press each of them below, gently but insistently (though not in exactly the above order).  Please don’t forget, though, that I have high respect for both McCormack himself and his work–these are really more questions than they are criticisms.


So first of all, the question of historical accuracy.  A large impetus for McCormack’s project, or at the very least a chief justification for it, is the perceived weakness in Chalcedonian teaching, a weakness that must be remedied, a problem that must be solved, a gap that must be filled.  But what if this is an imagined problem?  A number of people both at the lectures, in the comments on this blog, and privately to me have argued that McCormack seems to be attacking a straw man Athanasius and a straw man Cyril–a straw man orthodox tradition, for that matter.  These people, who know way more about Patristic theology than I do, have insisted that in fact Cyril, Athanasius, and all the rest are quite clear about the suffering and death in God.  The divine Word suffered in and through his human nature; his divine nature itself wasn’t the object of suffering, sure, but he, the person certainly was, through his humanity; he experienced suffering just as truly as we experience sufferng.  Once this is said, what additional gain is there in attributing suffering to the divine nature in abstracto?  Is divine impassibility, simplicity, and all that really the wrench in the gears of Patristic Christology that McCormack has made it out to be?  A number of people have argued, “No.”  Now, McCormack says that his constructive project is unaffected if it turns out that he’s wrong about these guys; heck, he’d be glad to hear they were in fact on his side.  And in one sense, that’s true.  It’s true in the sense that, if I were to imagine that my house’s foundations were collapsing (perhaps because I was drunk and was completely unstable on my feet?  I don’t know, just play along with the analogy), and thus go out and start constructing a new house on firmer ground, the new house could still be a perfectly good house  even if it turned out that the old house was perfectly fine after all.  It might be a perfectly good constructive project in itself, but what’s the point?  What if it turned out that it wasn’t needed in the first place, that the problem it was built to address didn’t exist?  Again, it might turn out that in the end we would say, “Well, even though Chalcedon was a good model, McCormack’s model is even better, so let’s embrace it”–but it’ll take an awful lot to persuade us it’s worth ditching the old model.  Again, I’m no Patristic scholar, so I just can’t say.  As I said above, I do think McCormack’s right when he points out certain tensions and problems that have dogged traditional Christology; it just may be, as some have told me, that the orthodox tradition, if only we listened to it properly, has all the resources necessary to solve these problems.

This leads to a second question–if the critique of the Fathers is possibly overblown, could it be that there are other motivations for what McCormack is doing–distinctively modern motivations?  We’ve heard all this before, after all, haven’t we?  The crucified God, God suffering along with creation, a self-emptying, humanized God?  Indeed, McCormack himself said that this was virtually the theological norm 25 years ago, and he’s simply trying to revive it, after a traditionalist backlash.  Why are we so eager to bring God down to our level?  To claim that he doesn’t really have all these fancy philosophical attributes that make him so different from us?  To insist that he must have suffered just like we suffer–indeed, to insist that he suffered hell so we don’t have to?  Awfully convenient and comforting for us humans, isn’t it?  I speak of course crudely.  I know it isn’t quite like that.  Indeed, as I said above, I think there’s a lot to that Barthian idea that we in fact do God greater dishonor when we make him in the image of our own pride and make him incapable of condescension.  Obviously God did become man, so there’s nothing “liberal” or “modern” about wanting to emphasize this.  But as McCormack himself noted, there is another side to Barth, an earlier Barth that sought to emphasize the Godness of God over against all creatures, unlike the later Barth who emphasized the humanity of God.  I’m a little more comfortable keeping at least one foot in the earlier Barth’s camp, however fashionable the later might be.  Of course, McCormack tries to deflect the “fashionable” criticism by saying that in fact what he’s doing is quite unfashionable–he’s courageously swimming against the tide.  Hmm…I’m just not quite convinced.


So again, why the need for this project?  Let’s turn now to the reasons McCormack himself gave as his chief motivations.  One that cropped up repeatedly was the need to be faithfully and truly Protestant, in an age when genuine Protestant theology seems to be fast disappearing.  Throughout the lectures, we heard an ongoing polemic against the substance-metaphysics of Orthodox and Catholic theology, and an even sharper polemic against the Catholic wannabes populating Protestant theology, who keep trying to meet these older traditions halfway instead of confidently advancing a self-consciously Protestant theology.  Now, in conversations with him, he explained his attitude toward ecumenical theology, toward Catholics, etc., and I was much reassured, and I think there’s a lot of merit in the model he presented.  We must, he says, mine the riches of our own traditions, reconstructing them from within, always faithful to the “core theological values” even if this occasionally means reworking or discarding the historical form the doctrine took (particularly the philosophical categories in which it was expressed).  And this is of course precisely what he was doing with regard to both the doctrine of penal substitution (vis-a-vis the Protestant tradition) and with regard to Chalcedonian Christology (vis-a-vis the whole Christian tradition).  

But is this a coherent stance to take?  First of all, is there not a certain hypocrisy in polemicizing against theologians who spend their time “creating theologies which are embraced by no existing church body,” when to an outsider, that would appear to be precisely what he is doing?  He would say, of course, that the crucial difference is that while they are working in a sort of hybridized no-man’s-land between theological traditions, with no particularly allegiance to any, he is working constructively on the basis of an existing tradition, furthering its agenda.  But who gets to adjudicate what constitutes a legitimate construction within a tradition, involving the abandonment of “historical forms” but not “core values,” and what constitutes an abandonment of the tradition as a whole, “core values” and all?  The problem of determining “core values” looms much larger when we look at the relation of his project to historical Christology.  Christology, he wants to argue, has been the slave of “metaphysics” for nearly two millenia, with “metaphysics” meaning something like Heidegger’s “ontotheology”–the subordination of discourse about God to pre-existing philosophical categories of being in general, or pre-conceptions of what God must be like–rather than confining ourselves to describing God simply precisely as he reveals himself.  Now, when put this way, anti-metaphysics sounds like a good stance to take.  

But it’s not quite that simple.  For McCormack is taking aim at theological categories–attributes of God’s being–that have ramifications throughout the entire edifice of theology, that go way way back, that are shared by Protestants, Catholic, and Orthodox alike.  Perhaps it is true that they were merely taken over from Greek Platonism–I suspect this is an overly simplistic narrative, but there’s probably much truth in the accusation.  That, however, doesn’t make them false, and it certainly doesn’t mean one can cavalierly waltz in and remove them.  The kind of ontologies against which McCormack takes aim have been at the heart of Christian theology for a long time, and it is here that the rhetoric of “replacing dispensable and flawed historical forms” while “continuing to maintain the core values” rings most hollow.  I suspect Cyril of Alexandria considered most of these matters to be core theological values.  Who are we to tell him that they are not in fact?  What determines the criteria of this theological lobotomy that is being performed on the tradition?  I pressed this question privately to McCormack, raising the issue of social trinitarianism (which is to say, most modern doctrines of the Trinity), toward which he is thoroughly hostile.  Why?  Because it describes the divine unity in different terms (“perfect harmony of wills”) than the early Church did (“perfect unity of will”) and thus would be, in patristic terms, tritheism.  Couldn’t we make this argument in reply, though: the Greek Fathers were inheriting a Platonic account of divine ontology–of God as perfect oneness, a monad; they made the necessary adjustments to this doctrine to try to square it with the revelation of Christ, but the basic concept of divine unity remained as an alien philosophical element within their theology, and we must now purge it out in rigorous fidelity to the biblical witness of the three independent centers of activity of Father, Son, and Spirit.  This, McCormack would argue, would be a disastrous move; but to purge out impassibility is for him a necessary move.  How do we decide?

No doubt the answer will be “Scripture,” and here is the rigorous Protestantism of McCormack’s project.  For although Protestantism may have inherited the old metaphysics, it has always stood on the doctrine of sola Scriptura, which seems to have a lot in common with McCormack’s notion of doing theology on the basis of the narrated history of his self-revelation in Christ, instead of on the basis of philosophical preconceptions.   But here the Hooker in me gets suspicious…after all, most everyone wants to claim that they’re basing their theology on the narrated history of God’s self-revelation in Christ, most everyone wants to say that they’re letting the Bible, rather than Plato, dictate their theology.  But the fact is that no one looks at the Bible without all kinds of cultural and philosophical spectacles–the Fathers did, and so do we.  Perhaps our spectacles are better, but that will require argumentation–philosophical argumentation.  In any case, we can’t imagine we don’t have spectacles.  I’ve already suggested one set of spectacles McCormack is wearing–a distinctively modern desire to humanize God, to make him as immanent as possible, not transcendent.  Another set is of course historical criticism, which cannot be taken as simply self-authenticating and self-authorizing.  To commit to a certain historical-critical method of reading the Bible is not simply to take the narrated history of Christ in its pure form, but to subject it to a kind of analysis and rearrangement–this is not illegitimate, but it must be faced up to openly.  The result of this for McCormack is a very explicit favoring of the Matthaean and especially Marcan witness above Luke and John, who are taken to offer compromised and watered-down accounts.  In fact, a very very narrow strand of exegesis, focusing particularly on the cry of dereliction as found in two verses of the Bible, and nowhere else elaborated, is made to be the linchpin of the whole edifice.  Someone else might, fervently affirming their sole attention to the “narrated history of Christ,” decide to take the Gospel of John as their starting point, and I guarantee you they would end up in a very different place–indeed, somewhere rather like where the Fathers ended up.  And of course, a final set of spectacles is the actualistic metaphysic itself–that which authorizes the focus on the narrated history, rather than any pre-existing Being, because God’s being simply is nothing other than his action.  But is God’s being simply nothing other than his action?  How would we answer the question?  Most appeals to Scripture as witness would have a certain circularity to them, and to properly make sense of this claim, we would need some kind of philosophical elucidation, a task that would involve us, it would seem, in the forbidden fruit of “metaphysics.”  McCormack was very prickly about suggestions that he was just engaging in another kind of metaphysics, and to an extent, I thought his protests had a legitimate point.  Nonetheless, it seems hard to get around the fact that “actualism” is not a self-authenticating notion; it’s a philosophical concept that requires some justification beyond itself, that requires some metaphysical reflection.  Thus, to call us to embrace an actualistic ontology of Christ is not ultimately to purge Christology of philosophy or metaphysics, but to replace an old metaphysics with a new metaphysics.  It may be better, it may be more Biblical, it may be more dogmatically successful, but it is not unphilosophical, it is not the pure product of unalloyed revelation.  Hooker would tell us, and I’m inclined to believe him, that there is no such thing in theology.


Reformed Kenoticism and Death in God (McCormack Croall Lecture #6)

In his sixth and final lecture, McCormack’s goal was of course to tie together all the ground he had covered in the previous lectures.  The fifth lecture, he suggested, had adequately shown that the basic paradigm of the Marcan and Matthaean Passion accounts in particular was penal substitution, but not in any of its traditional forms.  He summarized that what he sought to offer was an “ethically-oriented, post-metaphysical theological ontology,” which enabled him to stick within the paradigm of penal substitution while doing justice to the theological values found in moral exemplarist and theosis theories. 

While he did not, perhaps, succeed in tying up all the loose ends in this lecture, he did manage to cover a lot of important ground.  First, he expanded on the actualistic Christological ontology of lecture four via an exegesis of Phil. 2:6-11, against the backdrop of older forms of kenotic theology, seeking to demonstrate how his “Reformed kenoticism” accomplished the goals of older kenotic theology while avoiding its pitfalls.  Armed with this fully-integrated conception of the person and work of Christ, he returned to the atonement specifically to show how his concept of “death in God” successfully avoided what he had in the first lecture flagged as the chief objection to penal substitution–it made God a violent God.  Finally, he sketched some of the implications of this model for ethics, in the process hinting at some ways he thought his conception could incorporate the theological values of ontological and moral theories.


Defects of the Older Kenoticism

The first thing he had to do, though, was to sketch a picture of historical kenotic theology, to show his departures from it.

In its origins, kenotic theology was the creation of conservative Lutherans in the mid-19th century.  They wanted to find a way to be loyal to their confessions while taking into account the attacks on the notion of a divinized Christ in the rising historical criticism.  If Jesus’s self-understanding evolved in time, if his personality developed, as historical criticism was convinced, how could this square with the traditional orthodox doctrine?  This was a particular difficulty for Lutheranism, which posited a perichoresis between the two natures as a result of the hypostatic union.  This peculiarity of Lutheranism emerged as a product of their Eucharistic doctrine of ubiquity: how could Christ’s body be physically present in every Eucharist at the same time?  To answer this question, Lutherans posited a new sub-class of the communication of attributes–a genus maiestaticum which involved communication of the qualities of divinity to the humanity. But shouldn’t the communication go both ways?  The corresponding category was the genus tapeinoticum–the genus of humility–noted as a logical possibility, but dismissed as theologically impossible, since the Logos is simple and impassible.  

By the mid-19th century, the genus maiestaticum was becoming unbearable to maintain for German theologians.  Two solutions were proposed.  

The first was the kenoticism of Gottfried Thomasius.  The word kenosis, of course, comes from Phil. 2:7–the “emptying” of Christ.  Thomasius posited that as a prerequisite to the act of incarnation, the Logos empties himself of his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.  The Logos could do this, he said, because these are not essential attributes of God, but only attributes relative over against the world; they did not define God in his eternal being, but only in his relation to creation.  They could thus be set aside without detriment to what God is essentially.  At Christ’s exaltation–his resurrection, Thomasius argued, Christ reassumed these attributes..  

But examined more closely, Thomasius’s distinction between essential and relative attributes could not be sustained, and was not even by Thomasius himself.  For Thomasius posited a divestment of the divine self-consciousness on the part of the Logos, which would necessarily involve a forfeiture of divine love, an essential attribute by his own classification.  German theologian Isaak Dorner was quick to jump on this line of criticism.  Moreover, he argued, if the kenosis was a prerequisite for incarnation, then what we have is merely the hypostatic union of two human natures.  Finally, and worst, we have in the incarnate Christ nothing but a theophany–God does not reveal himself as he truly is in Christ, something explicitly affirmed in the Gospel of John and regarded as theologically essential by the tradition.

Dorner posited a different solution–a progressive hypostatic uniting, in which it was not until the resurrection when the human nature came to full possession of the divine attributes, including the genus maiestaticum.  (Interestingly, I once tentatively argued something like this in a paper I wrote on the Johannine concept of “life”; at the time, I had no idea whether I was treading on heretical ground or not.  It’s a bit reassuring to have Dorner for precedent).  To this, though, McCormack objected that this makes the resurrected Christ super-human; however, he recognizes that this was not a problem with Dorner’s theory as such, but the genus maiestaticum in the first place.


Now, since kenoticism was developed to respond to a distinctively Lutheran problem, one would think that the Reformed could have safely remained on the sidelines.  The fact that they did not, said McCormack, suggests that they had a rather shaky grasp on their own Christological tradition.  After all, the Reformed had always rejected the interpenetration of attributes, and had in fact argued that Christ’s “super-human” powers were not the operation of the Word, but the created graces of the Spirit.  Nonetheless, many Reformed jumped on the kenotic bandwagon, and indeed Lutheran-style kenoticism was in the ascendancy in Scotland until 1948, when D.M. Baillie revived Dorner’s theophany criticism.  Indeed, the doctrine has died hard, seeing a recent resurgence among American evangelicals, who seem heedless of the devastating critiques mounted by Dorner and Baillie.  

But does this mean that there is no legitimate form of kenoticism?  Might there be a distinctively Reformed kenoticism?  Well, that’s precisely what McCormack intends to offer (note: much of the following material–and much more–can be found in a phenomenal lecture McCormack gave a couple years’ back at an ETS conference, downloadable for only $2 here). 


Exegetical Observations on Phil. 2:6-11

The first question that confronts us in Phil. 2:6-11 is: who is the subject of this self-emptying?  Is it the logos asarkos?  Is kenosis thus a precondition of incarnation?  Or is it the logos ensarkos–the kenosis then being an act of the two natures together?  Or is it Jesus the man, full stop?

While the ancients generally gave the first answer, and moderns the last answer, McCormack suggested that none of these alternatives is correct as it stands, and there is a grain of truth in each.  The ancients, he said, erred by understanding the logos asarkos too abstractly.  The logos is always pre-programmed, so to speak, for incarnation.  He is the logos incarnandus, as McCormack argued in the fourth lecture.  The self-emptying depends on the logos’s receptivity to the man Jesus throughout his life, and is thus a self-emptying that takes place throughout the life of Jesus.  But it also takes place in eternity.  We can understand the human activities of self-emptying and humbling as events in God’s own life, which God makes essential to himself by his determination to receive them in his own being.  God makes this determination with regard to his mode of being as Son in protology, but it is only fully realized in the history of the man Jesus; so the kenosis is begun already in eternity, and consummated in time.  

The key verses in the Christ-hymn are verses 9-11, which Richard Bauckham has persuasively argued have the effect of including the man Jesus in what it means to be God.  Bauckham makes three points: 1) Exaltation refers to an act of enthronement–Jesus is put above all things and given a share in the rule over them.  2) The name which is above all names can only be Yahweh.  It cannot merely be kurios, which is not itself the name which is above all names, but the substitute for it, so the use of kurios in v. 11 is in fact confirmation that the name in v. 9 is Yahweh.  3) The phrase “at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” is an allusion to Isaiah 45:23, where all of this is said of Yahweh himself.  To say all this of Jesus, which should be said of Yahweh, would not be “to the glory of God the Father” unless Jesus were included in the identity of Yahweh.  

If Jesus is God, then, the because-therefore structure of the passage should not deceive us into thinking that an alteration in Christ is being describes,  If Christ is God, since God cannot himself undergo alteration.  What can undergo alteration is our understanding of the divine nature.  Through the life and death of Christ, men and women come to know that self-emptying is proper to God.  The bestowing of the name that is above every name is a universal and public declaration of how things have been all along.  God eternally determines himself for self-emptying–not a protological act of self-divestment, but an act of self-constitution.  

If this is right, we are not forced to choose between a logos asarkos and a logos ensarkos–the subject is Christ Jesus both in eternity and in time, the self-emptying is eternal, as the determination of what he will do, the constitution of himself for that purpose, and the enaction of that in time.  So what does this self-emptying consist in?

The passage tells us: “he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.”  This is best explained as a willed non-use of the powers proper to Christ Jesus as God.  He does not divest himself of these powers, but he does not exploit them, he does not make use of them.  If what the Son is eternally looks forward to what he does in time, if the obedience in time is proper to him as God, then his refusal to make use of these powers is eternal and not merely temporal.  The Son simply is his self-emptying and obedience, it is basic to his eternal self-constitution.  In other words, he has always had freely willed to have these human limitations.

This bridges a divide between Chalcedonian orthodoxy and the Spirit-Christologies of modern liberalism.  Jesus acts through the power of the Spirit.  The Logos is ontologically-receptive, not omnipotently active.  We thus have a pneumatologically-driven two-natures Christology.  This also bridges the divide between the high Christology of John and the “low Christology” of the Gospels.  The human Christology is high Christology.  And what makes this Reformed is the notion of ontological receptivity, which makes room for the Spirit’s ministry in the life of Jesus.  This is nothing new to McCormack, he stressed: Jonathan Edwards himself said that the only act that the Word performs in his divinity is the assumption of the human nature; beyond that point, Christ’s acts are performed in the Holy Spirit.


The Atonement and Violence

So what does all this mean for our understanding of the atonement.  In lecture 5, McCormack sought to establish that Christ’s death must be understood as a death-in-God-abandonment, something the orthodox tradition has always shied away from.  While Hegel sought to give this notion its full weight, he could do so only at the cost of positing a rift within the being of God, thus becoming the father of social trinitarians and destroying divine immutability.  

Can we deny impassibility and maintain immutability?  Yes, if the death-in-God-abandonment becomes an event in God, not between God and God, as in social trinitarianism.  Indeed, while the social trinitarians get around the notion of Christ‘s death as God’s act of violence over against humanity, the “cosmic child abuse” charge still sticks–God is still violent, he’s just violent to another divine person. 

The solution, McCormack said, lies in making the judicial element basic to a post-metaphysical ontology that embraces the ethical.  In the traditional Protestant doctrine, the atonement is the result of a divine verdict, but one that leaves God himself unaffected.  But what if the divine verdict against sin is one that God eternally wills to take upon himself?  God eternally wills to become a human God.  God experiences death-in-God-abandonment as a human experience, but it takes place within his being, his mode of being of God as Son.  God is not thus acting upon another person, a distinct divine or human individual.  God is not, in fact, acting at all, strictly speaking; his power is expressed in sovereignly-willed powerlessness, in a willingness to receive whatever comes to him and happens to him.  However, this does not amount to divine suicide: God gives himself, but he does not give himself away, for he remains himself in his other two modes of being.  The raising of Jesus is an expression of the fact that God remains, unweakened, undefeated.

This experience is judicial, in line with classical Protestantism, because it is willed by God as an imposed penalty, the appropriate response of a loving God to that which he can only oppose and destroy.

But this leaves us with another question.  Isn’t God still violent, if he wills the violence that humans do to Jesus?  He wills this only indirectly, argued McCormack.  For it is not the violence as such that has saving value–that is the God-abandonment and descent into hell.  The mode of death functions only didactically, as a symbol that this is a judicial act, as a way of pointing beyond itself to the reality of spiritual death.  The act of penal substitution itself, then, does not involve the violence, the violence has no saving value.  What has saving value is that Christ gives himself up to it.  Violence is a human affair, the consequence of sinfulness.  It is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.  God gives himself over to the consequences of sin, including violence, in order to overcome sin itself.


Being in Correspondence: Ethical Activity as the Realization of True Humanity

So where do we get the ethics in all this? 

Well, the same way Barth got it, of course.  One of Barth’s greatest contributions to Christian theology, said McCormack, was his Christologically-based anthropology.  True humanity is realized in the obedience of Jesus Christ.  The exaltation of the human to true humanity takes place in the self-same obedience.  What about the rest of us?

We are not what God intended us to be, but insofar as we live in conformity, in correspondence, to Jesus, we become what we truly are in Him.  We become what we already are in Christ and what we will be when we see him as he is.  

At this point, McCormack returned to that tantalizing remark he had made at the end of the second lecture–that one reason for the popularity for various kinds of evangelical catholicism nowadays, for a return to a metaphysical soteriology, is the longing for transformation on the deepest level of human existence.  This longing must not go unanswered.  But can there be an answer on an actualistic ontology?  McCormack suggested there could be, only it could not occur through what he called “some kind of divine surgery.” Bidding farewell to metaphysics means giving up the old Catholic idea of infused grace, and any idea of “ontological healing” of a substantial nature.  What is required is not a substantial change, but a fundamental reorientation of life in response to divine illumination.  But won’t people just object, he said, that this is just a change in behaviour.  His response, of course, is that it is a change in behaviour, but that means it is an ontological change as well, since human beings simply are what they do.  An alteration in lived behaviour is an alteration of being, he insisted.   

Although we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, perfection is never a fixed state of affairs, it is never a predicate of the human in this world.  Rather, it is, he said, a predicate of the divine relation to the human in each moment.  Perfection is possible as a moment in a history of other such moments, an irruption of the future into the present.  How is the actualization of such perfection perceived on our side?  Surrender–unreserved self-giving in response to the self-giving of God in Christ, which Barth makes to be the ground of all ethical activity.  Since the goodness of what we do as Christians never lies in the goodness of our acts in themselves, but in God’s acceptance of them in the moment, we cannot ever absolutize our own constructions of ethical norms.  We may establish general rules, but not absolutes.  For instance, even though the humility of Jesus found expression in nonviolence, and it is highly likely that nonviolent resistance is right in the vast majority of situations, we cannot absolutize nonviolence in a way that levels all other considerations, we cannot insist that it will always be right.

Conclusion: Recovering Our Protestant Heritage

McCormack concluded by returning to where he began–the crisis facing Protestantism.  This crisis, he said, is not merely dwindling membership. This is merely a symptom of a deeper-lying cause–the loss of a shared faith to which the people of God are committed.  We must, he said, reappropriate the riches of our own theological traditions, we must learn our theological ABCs over again, engaging our own heritage with generosity and a willingness to learn, rather than a haste to discard.  We must, he insisted, surrender the anti-modernism that wants to pretend the Reformation never happened.  Finally, above all, we must cease and desist from creating theologies which are embraced by no existing church body, theologies of an idealized Church, a platonic form which exists only within the person devising it.  Instead, we must seek to continue to advance along the trajectories of our own theological tradition, enriching it and reconstructing it from within.  


For those of you who have followed all of these posts, thank you very much.  It’s been encouraging to see the interest, and helpful in forcing me to stick with it–thus enabling me to get much more out of the lectures than I otherwise would have.  Having tried to refrain from adding my own two cents since at least the first lecture, I’ll finally try early next week to offer a few reflections on where I think the promise and the pitfalls of McCormack’s proposal lie.  Thanks for all of you who have commented and carried the discussion forward, though sorry I haven’t had time to engage a lot of these comments.  

The Cry of Dereliction (McCormack Croall Lecture #5)

Perhaps wanting to circle the wagons after his unquestionably daring theological moves in the last lecture, McCormack began Lecture 5 by trying to emphasize the non-novelty of what he was doing.  There was a time 25 years ago, he said, when talk of the “suffering of God” and the “death of God” had achieved something of the status of a new orthodoxy in dogmatics.  Process theologians, open theists, Barthians, Moltmannians–they all had their different reasons for making these moves.  But the conclusions were similar: God suffers not as a mere matter of love and empathy, but as one who takes the suffering of world into his own being.  

Returning to some of the rhetoric of his first lecture, McCormack darkly intimated that the causes of the shift back to the doctrines of divine simplicity and divine impassibility had little to do with theology.  The churches of Protestantism are in decline, he lamented, and its theologians are no longer faithful to Protestant theological distinctives–most now seem intent on trying to synthesize Anabaptist ethical impulses, Reformed theology, and High Church liturgical impulses (which, to be frank, sounds like a jolly good idea to me).  Catholic theologians no longer need to take Protestants as seriously as they once did; the traditionalists are now back in the ascendancy in the Catholic Church, and are trying to roll back some of the gains of Second Vatican.  All this, he suggests, has led to a rejection of the more radical, to his mind more Protestant, accounts of the atonement, and a retrenchment within older metaphysical categories–a trajectory that has not left New Testament exegetes unaffected.

Now, just as a brief side-note, all this is a bit amusing for a sheltered evangelical like myself to hear.  Evangelicals tend to lag a few decades behind the rest of the theological world, and so it is that we are just now encountering these radical Barthian ideas, and just now coming to grips with the fact that the Second Vatican Council happened–for us, a brave new world is opening before us, while for McCormack, that world is slipping away and he is desperate to stop the door from shutting on it entirely.  

McCormack prefaced his exegetical lecture with some words about method.  A Protestant dogmatics must be rigorously grounded in Scripture.  And while, to be sure, a dogmatics must read broadly and synthetically across Scripture, instead of singling out a particular text, this should not be the starting point.  Dogmatics must give due attention to the historical and literary features of individual texts.  In this case, that means that dogmatics may use historical reasons for privileging the Marcan and Matthaean accounts, and must take these narratives with utmost seriousness on their own terms, before attempting to make sense of the other narratives.  The lecture was to be organized in four major sections–first, an initial look at the crucifixion narratives in Mark and Matthew; then, attention to the Gethsemane narratives (again, primarily in Mark and Matthew); then, the Gehenna texts of the New Testament; finally, a return to the crucifixion narratives for reconsideration in light of all this.


1. The death of Jesus in Mark and Matthew–a first look

Mark and Matthew each only have one spoken word from the cross, followed by an inarticulate sound as Christ expires.  The one word is the cry of dereliction–there is nothing present to qualify this darkness, to add a tone of victory.  From the beginning, McCormack said, Christians have been concerned about the apologetic difficulties of this cry–how could a victorious God-man expire this way?  If it is the case, as McCormack thinks, that Luke deliberated substituted “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” then it seems that the apologetic modification began quite early.  Throughout church history, theologians were to continue to express discomfort with the cry of dereliction for various reasons.  

The cry has thus come to be considered something of a scandal, to be minimized rather than maximized.  McCormack wants to completely reverse that trajectory.  Two key questions have been raised about the cry: 1) did Jesus really feel himself to be abandoned?  2) was this feeling well-grounded?  Consensus of theological opinion has generally solidified around a “Yes” to the first question, and McCormack wants to take us further, to a “Yes” to the second question.  

The texts before us are Mark 15:33-34 and Matthew 27:45-46.  

The darkness that comes over the whole land is often recognized as an allusion to Amos 8:9, where this is described as an effect of the eschatological judgment of God.  The other obvious allusion is of course to Psalm 22, from which the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me are taken.”  McCormack criticized the tendency of many exegetes to bring some light into the darkness of this scene by drawing attention to the entirety of Psalm 22, which ends in praise amid the congregation at God’s deliverance.  But this misses the point of our narratives here–God does not intervene, Jesus does not live to praise God amid the congregation, the latter part of Psalm 22 is omitted for a reason.  But, like Psalm 22, this is a prayer, but a prayer that is no longer from a standpoint of intimacy with the Father, as the earlier prayers in Gethsemane were–God is distant.  This is not a prayer for deliverance; that prayer had already been made and refused in the garden; this is an expression of despair at the absence of God.  

McCormack also notes that some exegetes have connected the “loud cry” that Jesus utters at his expiration with the cries of the demon-possessed throughout these Gospels, the only other places this phrase is used. Could this make the cry of dereliction the equivalent of the demons’ “What have we to do with you?”  Not quite, says McCormack, nonetheless, the demonic idea points in the right direction–to the objective, not merely subjective, experience of God-abandonment.

The point of the exegesis McCormack wants to offer is this–in the Matthaean and Marcan accounts, Christ does not die in victorious union with his Father, but under the Father’s eschatological wrath.  These overtones are reinforced by the apocalyptic imagery that follows Christ’s death–the rending of the temple veil, the earthquake, etc.  Jesus thus dies forsaken by God and he remains so until his resurrection.


2. The Prayer of Jesus and Arrest at Gethsemane

The presence of apocalyptic imagery requires that attention be given to the background of Jewish apocalyptic eschatology in the Second Temple period, the study of which has become something of a growth industry.  There are two main patterns of such apocalyptic: cosmic and judicial.  In both, there are two ages of the world, and the move into the new age of glory is inaugurated by the “day of the Lord,” the day of divine judgment.  The first pattern understands the world to have fallen under the dominion of evil powers, and holds that God will invade the world and defeat these powers in a cosmic war.  In the second pattern, the demonic element is marginalized or absent; God’s judgment rests on the evil that human beings do.  God’s remedy in this understanding, the day of the Lord, is a courtroom in which all humanity appears before the judge, and God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.  

Both patterns are taken up in the New Testament and reinterpreted in light of the Christ-event.  So which one is dominant in these Passion narratives?  McCormack will argue that it is the latter–the judicial notion is most prominent.  He unpacks this by attention to the Gethsemane narrative, which comprehends two main events–the prayer of Jesus and his arrest.  The impassioned prayer of Jesus for deliverance was, like the cry of dereliction, an embarrassment to the early Church.  How could Christ have such terror at the prospect of suffering and death when many martyrs faced such torments more bravely?  Hence, we find a softening in the Lucan account and even more in the Johannine.  Modern interpreters, however, have liked to emphasize the humanness expressed in this fear in the face of death.  But both is mistaken.

What Jesus fears is not death as such, but the eschatological tribulation that will accompany it.  The cup is a common Biblical image of the eschatological wrath of God that will be poured out.  The cup that Jesus drinks is the eschatological wrath of God to be poured out on the nations at the end of history.   Joel Marcus tries to read the cosmic dimension into this account by calling attention to Jesus’s warning to the disciples not to fall into “temptation” or “testing”–a word that alludes back to the Lord’s Prayer and has demonic overtones.  But this demonic threat is to the disciples, not to Jesus.  When Jesus is handed over to the authorities in his arrest, the following narrative makes many allusions to Isaiah 53, which employs judicial, not cosmic categories.  Jesus is handed over to bear the eschatological wrath of God against sinful mankind; he is not handed over to demonic powers that they might be destroyed in their attempt to destroy him.


3. Gehenna texts

At this point, you like me, may be wondering just where McCormack is going with all of this.  And why does he bring in the notion of gehenna (“hell”) here?  Well, part of what McCormack seems to be up to is, following from the hints laid down by Barth and von Balthasar in the previous lecture (that the doctrine of hell was a result of the atonement), to subordinate the doctrine of hell to a judicial understanding of the atonement, and liberate it from dependence on a realistic account of the cosmic demonic powers.  One can see how such moves would be very desirable for a theologian speaking to the modern world, for whom both hell and demons have quite lost their appeal.  (Not that McCormack was denying altogether that there was a cosmic, demonic dimension to the world; he may want to deny that, but if so, he certainly didn’t go explicitly in that direction in these lectures.) 

McCormack thus spent a bit of time surveying the various passages in the New Testament that speak of gehenna or of a similar fiery judgment.  He took particular note, as Protestants generally do not, of hints that all who die, believer and unbeliever, will pass through some kind of fire–Jesus’s saying that “all shall be salted with fire” and Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 3.

The various descriptions of hell, he concluded, cannot be readily reconciled into one realistic picture; what does emerge clearly from them is the description of a condition of separation from God and from the righteous, a judicial picture of sentencing to experience the eternal wrath of God.  So it is that we can find a point of connection with the cry of dereliction.


4. The Death of Jesus in Mark and Matthew–a second look

The death of Jesus, we have seen, is the event in which the eschatological wrath of God against sinners is poured out.  Can we say any more than this?  Yes.

If the mission of Jesus was inaugurated by the Spirit being poured out on him, and the Father is mediated to him by the Spirit, then it makes sense to say that it is the withdrawal of the Spirit from Jesus in his passion that causes him to feel abandonment by his Father.  In the moment of death, the Spirit is withdrawn altogether.  Jesus is still the son of the Father, but the abandoned son of the Father.  It is thus in death that Jesus drinks to the dregs the experience of God-abandonment that is the sentence against the sinner.  Jesus experiences hell in our place on the cross.  



In concluding, McCormack turned to give brief attention to the Lucan and Johannine accounts: In Luke, we have “into thy hands I commit my spirit” and “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” and “Today you will be with me in Paradise”; in John, we have “Woman here is your Son”, “I am thirsty,” “It is finished.”  From John it’s clear how we can come to Tertullian’s conclusion that Jesus remains in complete control of his death.  

While the emotions which give rise to these disparate sayings may be compatible, McCormack considered it quite improbable that Jesus could have actually said all these things.  He thus wants to suggest that Mark and Matthew ought to enjoy a certain priority, on the basis of the sound principle that passages that cause serious difficulties for Christians are unlikely to have been interpolated later.  The words of Luke and John must of course be taken into account in a constructive dogmatic proposal, but cannot be taken with the same seriousness as the Marcan and Matthaean. 



In the Q&A, unsurprisingly, most questioners zeroed in on what McCormack had said about Hell.  The upshot of his answers was to say that he believed that Jesus had experienced hell on the cross in our place–he went to hell so that no one else has to.  Like Barth himself, he gestured toward, but did not commit himself to, a doctrine of universal salvation, leaving open the door to annihilationist accounts, for instance.  And he made clear that salvation must always be accompanied by faith, but he did not necessarily confine the exercise of such faith to this life.  He did go so far as to say, in response to a question about the proper pastoral response to a dying person who asks what God has in store for them, that we can confidently assure them that God has already declared his mercy to them in Christ, and they have nothing to fear.  The mere fact that this dying person would ask such a question, he said, is a manifestation of some kind of struggling faith, and we can be confident that God will acknowledge that faith.  


Some remarks

If you’re like me, you’re probably reaching the end of this saying, “Huh, that’s it?  All that wild stuff in Lecture 4 and all that promise of a new reconstructed account of penal substitution, and the only really new thing we get (hardly new by modern standards) is a sweeping of the doctrine of Hell under the rug?”  I must say that little in the exegesis offered seemed strikingly original.  The emphasis on Jesus’s experience of God-abandonment, his consciousness of the divine wrath, as the heart of his sufferings, rather than mere physical torment and death, was certainly valuable, but in my experience, this has been well-emphasized by the best traditional interpreters.  The notion of the gradual withdrawal of the Spirit was new to me, though I doubt absolutely new, and I tend to think this is a very fruitful way of describing it.  I tend to think McCormack is right to foreground the “judicial” rather than the “cosmic” element, but I’m not yet sure why they must be played off against one another–the NT witness suggests that both are present.  Like Larry Hurtado in the previous lecture, I’m uncomfortable with the extent to which McCormack wants to privilege Matthew and Mark, treating Luke and John as revisionists; he repeatedly affirms that their accounts must of course be taken on board as well, but seems awfully hesitant to actually do so.  The emphasis on Jesus experiencing Hell in our place seems like it may be quite a helpful emphasis, and though I want to be more cautious than McCormack in drawing the conclusions he wants to from that, I don’t want to dismiss them out of hand either.  I will return to reflect more on this last issue in my evaluative post(s) at the end of the lecture series.

The last lecture is today, and I should be able to put up a summary of that this weekend, followed by some reflections in response at the beginning of next week.  

“The Generall and Perpetual Voyce of Men” (Hooker’s Doctrine of Law II)

In my first post on Hooker’s view of law, I outlined his basic schema, showing how for him the whole universe was bound together in one architectonic system of law, all depending upon the twofold eternal law in God himself, the law by which he rules his own being and all outside of him.  I summarized the “law of nature”–the law which guides involuntary creatures to their perfection–and its relation to the “law of reason” the law which voluntary beings discern and follow as the guide to their perfection.  Now it is time to explore further how we know this law, what it tells us, and what its limits are.

For, on the one hand, Hooker will tell us that the law of reason encompasses “the generall and perpetual voyce of men” which thus may be taken “as the sentence of God him selfe.”  On the other hand, it seems clear that not all men seem to concur in the dictates of the law of reason.  We must either, it seems, define extremely narrowly the scope of the law of reason, if it really comprises only those things on which all men agree; or we must qualify in some way the requirement that all men at all times concur in it.  Hooker will do the latter.  

The discussion of our knowledge of the law of reason occupies Hooker throughout the lengthy eighth chapter of Book One.  He begins by linking this law to the involuntarily striving after its proper perfection that characterizes all nature: “as every thing naturally and necessarily doth desire the utmost good and greatest perfection, whereof nature hath made it capable, even so man.  Our felicitie therefore being the object and accomplishment of our desire, we cannot choose but wish and covet it” (I.8.1).  We therefore will whatever reason suggests to us to be good.  How do we know what is good, and consequently, what is evil?  There are two ways, he says–by causes and effects: “the one the knowledge of the causes whereby it is made such, the other the observation of those signes and tokens, which being annexed alwaies unto goodnes, argue that where they are found, theree also goodness is, although we know not the cause by force whereof it is there” (I.8.2) The former route is always the most certain but it is much more difficult, so we generally have to rely on the latter.  

So what are some of the signs and effects that we discern?  The most reliable is “the generall perswasion of all men” that it is good.  For “although we knowe not the cause, yet thus much we may know, that some necessary cause there is, whensoever the judgements of all men generally or for the most part runne one and the same way.”  Indeed, the only way reason can only overrule this judgment is by returning to the former route, that of necessary causes of goodness.  Therefore, as I quoted above, “The generall and perpetual voyce of men is as the sentence of God him selfe.  For that which all men have at all times learned, nature her selfe must needes have taught; and God being the author of nature, her voyce is but his instrument” (I.8.3).

What sorts of things are taught by these laws?  Well, the most universal and self-evident of all axioms is “That the greater good is to be chosen before the lesse” (I.8.5).  It is on this basis that we learn to forgo temporary pleasures that will have evil long-term consequences, and to bear with short-term difficulties for long-term gain.  Other less general but self-evident axioms “are such as these, God to be worshipped, Parents to be honored, others to be used by us as we our selves would by them.  Such things, as soone as they are alleaged, all men acknowledge to be good; they require no profe or furder discourse to be assured of their goodnesse” (I.8.5).  But these are mere examples.  To proceed more systematically, we must follow the order of man’s self-knowledge.  The first thing we come to know by reflecting on ourselves is that “The soule then ought to conduct the bodie, and the spirite of our mindes the soule” (I.8.6)  Likewise, by recognizing ourselves as God’s children (for even natural man can come to a basic knowledge of God’s being, power, supremacy, and, for lack of a better word, creatorhood), we come to discern certain basic rules of our relation to him: “That in all things we goe about his ayde, is by prayer to be craved, That he cannot have sufficient honour done unto him, but the utmost of that we can doe to honour him we must” (I.8.7).  The last of these, he says, is the same as the first and great commandment that Jesus gives us.  

Moreover, by discerning the natural equality of all humans, we will necessarily recognize that I cannot expect to receive any greater good from my fellows than that which I give unto them, and can expect to suffer from them in proportion to that which I cause them to suffer–this leads to the principle of the second great commandment, that we must love our neighbors as ourselves, and to all that it involves.


Is it really true, however, that all men at all time have recognized these principles?  Are they really so self-evident?  Given Paul’s affirmation in Rom. 1:19-20 that God’s invisible attributes are made manifest in creation, and in 2:14-15 that the moral law was known by nature to the Gentiles, Hooker would seem to be on safe ground.  But it is doubtless the case that many men, particularly nowadays, do not consider it at all self-evident that we are to seek God’s aid in prayer, or that he should be worshipped–even plenty of people who genuinely profess to believe there is an omnipotent God.  Likewise, even if it be true that a consideration of the equality of men leads naturally to the principle of loving our neighbors as ourselves, haven’t many people throughout history, and even today, managed to persuade themselves that men are not equal–some are naturally slaves, and thus can be treated as we please?  


Hooker goes on to qualify his account in three crucial ways, in order to deflect such possible objections.  First, it is not, he says, that the principles of the law of reason are in fact known to all men, but that they are such that “being proposed no man can reject [them] as unreasonable and unjust” and such that “anie man (having naturall perfection of wit, and ripeness of judgment) may by labour and travail find out” (I.8.9).  They are in themselves knowable by all men, but that does not mean that laziness may not leave many in ignorance of them.  

Moreover, the propensity to such laziness is readily magnified by the force of “lewde and wicked custome,” which, “beginning perhaps at the first amongst few, afterwards spreading into greater multitudes, and so continuing from time to time, may be of force even in plaine things to smother the light of naturall understanding” (I.8.11).  One man may start doing something wicked and unnatural, and others may follow his example, until soon so many people are doing it that men do not stop to think about the unnaturalness of it, but imagine that this is how things have always been and how they’re supposed to be.  Hooker suggests that the practice of worshipping idols falls into this category–clearly absurd and unnatural, but a custom that became so generally rooted that it came to seem natural.  By this means, it would seem, many of the key principles of the law of reason could become almost hopelessly obscured by sinful man.

But the third qualification goes even further:

“For whatsoever we have hitherto taught, or shall hereafter, concerning the force of man’s naturall understanding, this we always desire withall to be understood, that there is no kind of faculty or power in man or any other creature, which can rightly performe the functions alotted to it, without perpetuall aid and concurrence of that supreme cause of all things.  The benefit whereof as oft as we cause God in his justice to withdraw, there can no other thing follow, then that which the Apostle noteth, even men indued with the light of reason notwithstanding in the vanitie of their minde, having their cogitations darkned, and being strangers fromt he life of God through the ignorance which is in them, because of the hardness of their hearts” (I.8.11). 

 Indeed, Isaiah says just this about idol worship–”God hath shut their eyes that they cannot see.”  This qualification is clearly a crucial one, without which we might infer a much more rationalistic picture from Hooker than he intends.  Reason, it appears, is not some independent power that man has over against God (as in the Enlightenment), but is at all times dependent upon the illuminating power of God, enabling it to continue to function rightly.  Should man in his stubbornness reject God, and what his reason tells him of God, then God justly abandons his reason and leaves him to fall into all manner of unnatural absurdity.

Thus, while Hooker clearly provides ground for explaining how unbelievers may attain unto much knowledge and even moral and political wisdom, he hardly provides us with optimism that they will maintain such knowledge and wisdom.  Those in rebellion against God may through this rebellion so lose their reason as to lose their grip on the laws of nature and reason.  To be sure, this is not so dark a picture as Calvin’s, because Hooker does not maintain that this inevitably happens–it appears rather as an extremity into which wicked men may fall, but not as something that occurs universally to its fullest extent.  To most men, God continues to extend enough of his favor to enable their reasons to discern some knowledge of moral laws, though not enough to guarantee them a clear and reliable grasp, particularly of its secondary and tertiary principles.  There will more to say on this and related issues when I come in a later post to explain Hooker’s view of the necessity of supernatural law.

Long Overdue Renovations

The flood of foreign blogsurfers who have strolled in to gawk at McCormack and his marvels has rendered more urgent a long-overdue task–updating this website!  After all, it was intentionally constructed as more than just a blog, but in my incessant blogging, I have left all the other corners of the site unattended so that they are now covered in a thick film of dust and cobwebs.  A glance back at the “About Me” page revealed that I was still apparently only an M.Th. student, and the Projects page was five months out of date.  The Resources page was never completed in the first place, and the Writings page has long needed to be made more secure (that is to say, soon you will not actually be able to download papers from it, merely read descriptions and email me if you want a copy; I am of a naturally trusting disposition, but a friend warned me that making anything and everything downloadable was probably a stupid thing to do).  

So I’ve set to work on a spring cleaning of sorts (mid-winter though it may be), and you can now read an up-to-date account of myself and a proper summary of the projects I’m working on right now.  If you’ve enjoyed the posts here, I particularly encourage you to do the latter–this will give you a good idea of where some of my passions lie right now, and I freely invite the input or suggestions or even collaboration of anyone who has interest or expertise in these areas.  This blog is intended to be more a platform for mutual edification than a platform to disseminate ideas.  Meanwhile, as time allows I’ll be working to spruce up the Resources and Writings pages, as well as various sidebars.