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:: The Archbishop of Chicago Speaks at the evangelical Wheaton College ::

Yes.  You heard it right.  The Archibishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George, will be speaking at Wheaton College next month in an ecumenical dialogue.  Although Wheaton is not sponsoring the event, they have graciously allowed ACT3 (who is sponsoring the event) to gather at the Edman Chapel for this land-breaking event.

My friend John Armstrong (president of ACT3) who recently published a book on Christian unity (Your Church is Too Small) is continuing his conversation with the archbishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George. The only difference is, now the conversation is going public and will be taking place in a public format at Wheaton College on March 26th, 7:00pm at the Edman Chapel.

If I were in Chicago, I would be nowhere else. But since I’m not, I will be viewing the event live from home via the internet by going to WETN, since they are vodcasting it live.

UPDATE: You can now view the dialogue at ACT3.

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J.I. Packer’s Forward to Your Church is Too Small by John H. Armstrong

John H. Armstrong has launched a new website for his life-wrought book, Your Church Is Too Small, and you can actually read the forward (written by J.I. Packer) at this website.  NOTE: This book is going to be huge in its impact; I have blogged about this book before.  

Scot McKnight has already blogged once about this book at Jesus Creed.  He ends with a question addressed to John.

On this new website, you can 1) get an overview of the book and read endorsements, 2) pre-order the book, 3) follow the new blog, 4) sign up for a FREE (yeah … that’s right) Conference around the book’s ideas.

Here is some of J.I. Packer’s forward: 

My friend John Armstrong is a church leader who has traveled the distance from the separatist, sectarian fixity of fundamentalism to embrace the kingdom-centered vision of the church and the call issued by a number of Bible-based theologians and missiologists during the past half century.

What vision is this? It is the one that views the visible church as a single worldwide, Spirit-sustained community within which ongoing doctrinal and denominational divisions, though important, are secondary rather than primary. In this vision, the primary thing is the missional-ecumenical vocation and trajectory crystallized for us by our Lord Jesus Christ in his teaching and prayer and illustrated in a normative way by the Acts narrative and much of the reasoning of the apostolic letters.

Evangelicals have always urged that the church of God is already one in Christ but have typically related this fact only to the invisible church (that is, the church as God alone sees it).  All too often, they have settled for division in the visible church (the church on earth, as we see it) as at least tolerable and at best healthy. The vision Armstrong offers, however, perceives by exegesis that the unity of Christians, which Jesus prayed that the world might see, is neither unanimity nor uniformity nor union (as he neatly puts it) but loving cooperation in life and mission, starting from wherever we are at the moment and fertilized and energized by the creedal and devotional wisdom of the past. Thus the internal unity of togetherness in Christ may become a credibility factor in the church’s outreach, just as Jesus in John 17 prayed that it would.

Embracing this vision will mean that our ongoing inter- and intra-church debates will look, and feel, less like trench warfare, in which both sides are firmly dug in to defend the territory that each sees as its heritage, and more like emigrants’ discussions on shipboard that are colored by the awareness that soon they will be confronted by new tasks in an environment not identical with what they knew before. There they will all need to pull together in every way they can. The church in every generation voyages through historical developments and cultural changes, against the background of which new angles emerge on old debates and truths may need to be reformulated in order to remain truly the same as they were. Not to recognize this is a defect of vision on our part.

You can read the rest of the forward here: yourchurchistoosmall.com.

Karl Barth and Roman Catholicism via Hans Küng

In spite of Barth’s attempt to take a hard-line protestant stance on the doctrine of justification—even going into long polemical tirades in his Church Dogmatics—nevertheless, his doctrine of justification has played a prominent role in ecumenical discussions between Protestants and Catholics. The foremost interpreter of Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification in this regard is the Swiss theologian Hans Küng, who attempted to show that Barth and the council of Trent were in basic agreement on all the crucial questions surrounding the doctrine of justification.  Barth freely conceded that Küng had done justice to all of the contours of his views on justification.  In a letter to Küng, which eventually became a part of the preface to Küng’s book on justification, Barth said:  

I here gladly, gratefully and publicly testify not only that you have adequately covered all significant aspects of justification treated in the ten volumes of my Chruch Dogmatics published so far, and that you have fully and accurately reproduced my views as I myself understand them; but also that you have brought all this beautifully into focus through your brief yet precise presentation of details and your frequent references to the larger historical context.[1]

That Barth’s doctrine of justification would ever be used in such a fashion was baffling to him, yet at the same time, delightfully intriguing.

What I say about justification—making allowances for certain precarious yet not insupportable turns of phrase—does objectively concur on all points with the correctly understood teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.  You can imagine my considerable amazement at this bit of news; and I suppose that many Roman Catholic readers will at first be no less amazed … All I can say is this: If what you have presented in Part Two of this book is actually the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, then I must certainly admit that my view of justification agrees with the Roman Catholic view; if only for the reason that the Roman Catholic teaching would then be most strikingly in accord with mine!

After reading Küng’s treatment of justification, Barth came to believe that he had so strongly denunciated the Catholic position on justification because he had so woefully misunderstood it.[2]  Barth was, however, aware that perhaps in spite of the fact that Küng had flawlessly interpreted his own teaching, the ecumenical discussions would not be received well by the Catholic Church.  Although he was warmly open to Küng’s work, he was not as certain of Küng’s interpretation of the Catholic position as he was of Küng’s interpretation of his own position: “Of course, the problem is whether what you have presented here really represents the teaching of your Church.  This you will have to take up and fight out with biblical, historical, and dogmatic experts among your coreligionists.”[3] 

This Küng did, but the results were disappointing.  The attitude of the Catholic Church up to this point had been to assume that since the doctrine of justification was the main reason for the Protestant split from Catholicism (notwithstanding other disagreements), if one could show that a basic agreement existed between Protestant teachings and Catholic teaching, this would cancel the largest motivating factor for division.  But once Küng had given the most persuasive demonstration of such essential continuity, the Catholic church quickly altered their stance, arguing, in effect, “Only when the church’s claims of truth, leadership, and hierarchy are settled can we then draw consequences from the doctrine of justification.”[4]  When Küng’s hopes for a substantial reassessment of the justification doctrine were largely ignored in the Vatican II council meetings, Küng followed the Vatican meetings with a critical eye.  Disheartened, he concluded that “pope and curia [the papal court] were not willing to accept the critical challenge.”[5] 

In spite of the apparent initial disinterest of the Catholic Church, we can only predict that were Barth alive today he would be pleased to find, like Hermann Häring, that Küng’s thesis has had the last laugh.  Küng’s approach to the ecumenical dialogue over justification appears to have had a major influence in approach to Protestant-Catholic dialogue which has culminated in what might be considered the most significant ecumenical achievement in Post-Reformation times.

So far his book on justification is not outdated.  Better yet, his thesis of that time has received a late justification.  Everyone today agrees that the doctrine of justification no longer divides confessions.  Differentiating exegetical as well as theological and dogmatic research has strongly confirmed that notion, especially the studies about the Council of Trent. … Since 1999, the state of discussion can be easily and accurately shown in the Joint Declaration of Augsburg with its highly detailed style.  … [A]ll seven problem areas, the points of agreement as well as continuing disagreement are meticulously listed.  Each single time, however, the conclusion is drawn that the differences no longer warrant a church division.[6]      

Not everyone, however, has been as optimistic about the viability of the ecumenical discussions that took place over the similarities between Barth’s doctrine of justification and the Catholic position as interpreted by Hans Küng.  Alister McGrath, for example, grants that Küng has at least shown that Barth and Trent are both anti-pelagian, but he censures the hype over Küng’s thesis as reflecting failure to recognize the difference between agreement over how man is justified—by grace through Christ—and what justification actually is.

However, the Council of Trent (1543-63) specifically anathematized a series of propositions which it considered Pelagian.  The result is, as Küng has shown, that both Karl Barth and Trent teach a strongly anti-Pelagian Christocentric doctrine of justification.  Nevertheless, the question of how man is justified before God does not exhaust the question of justification. … [I]t is highly doubtful whether Küng has demonstrated anything other than that Barth and Trent both hold that justification is primarily a divine act arising through the work of Christ.  There are at least four areas in which Barth and Trent are in serious disagreement: namely, the nature of justification ; the freedom of the will; the nature of election ; and the assurance of salvation.  Küng fails to ask the crucial question, which is this: What do Barth and Trent have in common that Calvin and Trent do not also have in common?  The answer to this question is that Barth and Trent have considerable less in common than Calvin and Trent. … What does it mean to say that a man is justified?  It is a trivial matter for Roman Catholic, Anglican and Reformed theologians to agree that man is justified by a divine act of grace through Christ, for to fail to accept this would be to deny the doctrine of their churches as laid down by the Council of Trent, Orange II, the Thirty-nine Articles, and the various confessions of the Reformed churches. … But what is the difference between the unjustified and the justified?  What happens in justification?  What is justification?  It is one thing to agree how something occurs; it is quite another to agree on what the entity in question actually is.[7]

McGrath also believes that Küng “confuses the matter by introducing modern Roman Catholic scholars, whose teaching counts as theological opinion, and not as the authoritative teaching of the Church.”[8] 

It is our contention that Küng, by presenting the more theocentric, Bible-oriented section of opinion within Roman Catholicism, and by presenting only those aspects of Barth’s theology of justification which are capable of harmonization with this section, has not represented the true state of affairs.  This does not mean that Küng has misrepresented Barth’s theology of justification: rather, we are of the opinion that he has been unduly selective.[9]

Because of the prominent role that Barth’s doctrine has played in the ecumenical discussions, Catholics and Protestants argue over whether Barth’s doctrine was more Catholic in orientation or more Protestant.  Bruce L McCormack takes issue with Douglas Harink’s claim that “Barth’s doctrine of justification anticipated in all its essential features Harink’s own version of Paul’s teaching on this subject.”[10]  He argues that the defining element of the Calvinistic Protestant doctrine of justification is John Calvin’s notion of double imputation—specifically the notion of an alien righteousness outside of us (extra nos)—that came out of the Osandrian controversy in 1551.  The intention of this defining element was to free the grounds of justification from anything God does in us (in nobis)—even if it is by grace—under the conviction that it would undermine Christian assurance. 

Barth’s justification is forensic through and through, McCormick argues.  In Barth, justification does not occur through the faith of the one justified but in eternity past and consists primarily, as we have already noted, in acquittal.  Justification takes place in Christ because it is in Christ that God restores his own righteousness by destroying both sin and the sinner.  The justification of man is really Christ’s justification in Barth’s forensic framework.  In Barth faith is merely our becoming aware of our justification, not even an instrumental cause.  Thus, McCormack concludes that Barth’s doctrine of justification is not only protestant, but radically so, for not even our faith makes it effective for us; only Christ’s faithfulness, death, and resurrection makes justification effective.  “Christ’s history is as such our history … [and] participation in Christ is not something that has first to be realized by means of an independent work of the Holy Spirit, but is already real even as the God-man carries out his work.”[11]  Barth sees both our being and God’s being “constituted by way of anticipation” in His eternal decision of the covenant of grace in which the God-man takes God’s reprobation and we get God’s mercy.[12]  Just because Barth does not use the language of imputation does not remove the element from the heart of his doctrine, McCormack argues, only in his doctrine imputation does not occur at a moment in time when the believer puts his faith in Christ.  Rather, it happens in eternity past. 

Although Barth’s doctrine has perhaps caused more openness between Protestants and Catholics towards fruitful ecumenical discussion, this has not taken place without serious controversy over whether this should have ever taken place, whether it reflects true agreement between essentials of Protestant and Catholic teaching on justification or naïvety.  If nothing else, Küng has inspired a new approach to ecumenical theology that relishes in the areas of continuity between Barth (and Calvin for that matter) and Trent.  Whereas Protestants and Catholics in time past were more narrowly aiming their energies at polemical writings that emphasized the areas of disagreement between them, Küng’s interpretation of Barth has caused a shift in focus on appreciation for elements that are similar.       

—————————————–

[1] Karl Barth, “A Letter to the Author,” in Hans Küng’s Justification (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John KnoxPress, 2004), lxvii-lxviii.

[2] “I have been guilty of a thoroughgoing misunderstanding and, consequently, of a thoroughgoing injustice regarding the teaching of your Church, especially that of the Fathers of Trent.”  Ibid., lxviii.  

[3] Ibid. 

[4] Hermann Häring, “Justification: Then and Now,” trans. Katharina Gustavs, in Justification, xxii.  

[5] Ibid.  Häring seems to imply that this was part of the reason Küng ultimately denied papal infallibility, for which the Vatican rescinded his authority as a teacher of Catholic theology.

[6] Ibid. xxv.

[7] Alister McGrath, “Justification—’Making Just’ or ‘Declaring Just’?: A Neglected Aspect of the Ecumenical Discussion on Justification,” Churchman, vol 96 no 1 (1982): 44-45.

[8] Alister McGrath, “Justification: Barth, Trent, and Küng,” Scottish Jounral of Theology, vol 34 no 6 (1981): 525. 

[9] Ibid., 527. 

[10] Bruce L. McCormack, “Justitia aliena: Karl Barth in Conversation with the Evangelical Doctrine of Imputed Righteousness,” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L McCormack (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006), 168.

[11] Ibid., 191.

[12] Ibid. 

Unconditional Pardon in Christ :: Justification in Karl Barth

If not the most important theologian of the 20th century,[1] the case could be made that Karl Barth was at least one of the foremost Christian theologians of modern times.  His attitude toward scripture and scathing critiques of the classical liberal tradition “marked a watershed in twentieth-century theology.”[2]  His first publication, a commentary on the book of Romans, functioned somewhat like a bombshell on the theological playground of his contemporaries.[3]  His decisive break from the school of classical liberal theology spawned an entirely new school of thought: postliberalism.[4]  Although Barth is criticized as never having actually escaped the Enlightenment framework,[5] the Christomonism (or “Christological concentration”) that makes possible a Christian appreciation of the Barthian tradition argued that the truths revealed in Christ were not merely truths ascertainable through general revelation and therefore Christ reveals new and indispensible truth.[6]  Barth in particular took a Christ-centered approach to theology to such extremes he has been criticized for turning “the whole of theology into Christology.”[7]  Nowhere is this Christocentrism more evident than in Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification.

 

This blog series is an attempt to highlight accurately some of the unique aspects of Karl Barth’s doctrine of justification.  Because Barth himself warns that the theology represented in his Romans commentary is only “the beginning of a development,”[8] while his Church Dogmatics[9] is considered his most mature thought,[10] this study will give its attention to the latter.  The study will be at least 6 posts long, and will attempt to show 1) how Barth’s distinctive doctrine of election informs his articulation of his doctrine of justification, 2) how Barth’s Christocentric outlook enables him to see the wrath of God as only a phase or form of the grace of God, 3) why differences of opinion exist on whether or not he held to a position of ultimate universal salvation, 4) what various arguments Barth employs to defend his position that sola fide is not the articulus stantis et cadentis acclesia [“the doctrine by which the church stands or falls”], 5) in what ways Barth’s version of sola fide is similar to classic Protestant positions and in what ways it is dissimilar, and 6) that Barth’s doctrine of justification has played a prominent role in ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Catholics. 

 

Next Post :: How Barth’s Doctrine of Election Bears on His Doctrine of Justification


 

[1] “Karl Barth was without doubt the most important Protestant theologian of the twentieth century.  Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, vol 2: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985), 362.  Alister E. McGrath is more reserved: “Barth is unquestionably one of the most significant theologians of the twentieth century” [italics mine].  Alister E. McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology: 1750-1990, second edition (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1984), 123.

 

[2] W. S. Johnson, “Barth, Karl (1886-1968)” in Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters, ed. Donald K. McKim (Downers Grive, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1998), 433. 

 

[3] Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1968). 

 

[4] B. E. Benson, “Postliberal Theology,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, second edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001), 937.  McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology: 1750-1990, second edition, 123-152, 220. 

 

[5] “Barth’s own theology may be regarded, at least in part, as a reaction against the anthropocentricity of the liberal school – a reaction particularly evident in his inversion of the liberal understanding of God and humanity as epistemic object and subject respectively.  Yet Barth has essentially inverted the liberal theology without fundamentally altering its frame of reference.  As such, he may be regarded as indirectly – perhaps even unintentionally – perpetuating the theological interests and concerns of the liberal school, particularly the question of how God may be known.”  Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, third edition (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 398.

 

[6] McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology: 1750-1990, second edition, 131, 220.

 

[7] McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 401.

 

[8] Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, vi.  Barth even goes so far as to say, “When, however, I look back at the book, it seems to have been written by another man to meet a situation belonging to a past epoch.”  Ibid.

 

[9] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, trans. G. Bromiley et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956-75).

 

[10] David Ford even considers Volume IV of Church Dogmatics in particular—the volume we will be focusing on—as “the crowning  achievement of Barth’s mature theology.”  David Ford, “Barth, Karl (1886-1968)” in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought, ed. Alister McGrath (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1993), 32. 

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