In the famous Brunner-Barth debate on natural theology, Barth issues a sharp, decisive NO! to Brunner’s attempts to make any place for a natural theology. Brunner tried to make an argument for natural theology from there being a distinction within humans being in God’s image between a remaining formal aspect of the image, while the material aspect of God’s image had been erased from humans due to the fall. If some formal aspect remained, therefore some capacity for natural theology could be retained. However, for Barth, this distinction would not do and he tore into his former friend due to the threat he perceived for making any place in natural theology. While the disagreement strayed into various matters, such as an appropriate understanding of John Calvin,
Furthermore, the apocalyptic school of interpretation of Paul has read the Apostle Paul in light of what they label as “apocalyptic” but, as Wright has argued, are using apocalyptic to describe what are ultimately Barthian readings of Paul. While not wanting to oversimplify what the various proponents such as Martyn, Campbell, etc. or overstate my familiarity with their work, it seems to me that the construe the significance of apocalyptic for Paul and the wider Second-Temple Judaism in terms of a discontinuity with the past, much as Barth wants the revelation of Jesus Christ to be distinct from all other forms of knowledge and justifications.
In short, there is a distinctive pattern within Barthan theologies and exegesis to reject any “a priori” concepts that
Now, indeed, there are some similarities between apocalyptic literature and Barthian theological epistemology. What God discloses, either directly or through mediating agents like angels, is often quite portraying as surprising, dramatic, and unlike
Now, the Apostle Paul clearly works from within the apocalyptic mindset and discourse at times, although the apocalyptic mindset is not a fixed, unmalleable thing. Rather, it is could use and appropriate for one’s reasonablycontext, so to suggest Paul is “apocalyptic” doesn’t tell us he is using the apocalyptic ideas and discourses in the same manner as they are in the apocalyptic literature. In fact, I would hypothesize that one of the distinctive differences between the Christian tradition in the New Testament and what is labeled as apocalyptic is that novel way the apocalyptic is used and transformed around the person of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In other words, Jesus and the Spirit do not fit into the apocalyptic mold, but rather the apocalyptic discourses are being
Which leads me to my point that I will then use to bring my narrative up to this point together: nature can reveal God when God acts to make nature reflect God’s will as the Truth-maker Creator and Redeemer that silences and contains all other, lesser truth-making powers. The problem with knowledge about God, and particuarly knowledge about God from nature, is that there are other truth-making powers that alter and change way nature functions, such that it makes nature unreliable and misleading to understanding the will of God.
To make my point, I will gratefully appropriate a wonderful metaphor from a friend from my past and colleague, David Hull, but
However, say this Artist had created His Masterpiece painting, that was the best, most absolute expression of His distinctive style. Now, with this image in hand, someone else could begin to compare the masterpiece with the defaced
This metaphor is used to make a point. God’s handiwork in nature, including us as human persons, are not on their own reliable conveyers of knowledge about God because there are other truth-making forces, whether one considers is demonic powers, political powers, people’s own free will choices, etc., that can distort what nature originally pointed to. One might manage to see some signpost here, some glimpse there, but none of these appearances that stem from God have the proper sense of context to make real sense of what they are about. While we can see God’s style, we can not see God’s meaning and purpose behind it. But, in Jesus Christ, and also the Holy Spirit, God has entirely limited
Meanwhile, one might say it is possible that the nature of the
So, this is what I think is a more fruitful metaphor, analytic framework, and theological paradigm for understanding the epistemic framework of the apocalyptic discourse used in relationship to Jesus Christ for the New Testament, particularly the Apostle Paul. If valid, there are many implications for this framework, such as the relationship between theological hermeneutics and theological epistemology, etc. But at the end of the day, this theology doesn’t entail us relying upon certain ontologies that are more veiled and hard to a get a grasp of and define, such as what it means to be human to be in a (revelatory) relationship to God, but an ontology of agents and causation that is a) more intuitive to understand when you think about it, b) more closely resembles human experience, c) can allow a more synergistic understanding of salvation as in Wesleyan theology, and d) can be circumstantially brought into coherence with other forms of knowledge like empiricism, while e) retaining a role for mystery amidst the conflict, f) assigning reliable knowledge only to God’s action who make sit possible, g) fitting within the apocalyptic-discursive context of the New Testament, h) and employing an ontology of agency which seems to be more primary throughout the Scriptures.
Put differently, given this agentic focus contained in my implicitly personal usage of the Truth-maker ontology, this is a more subject-based epistemology that I referred to in the past, that avoids the problematic distinction between nature and revelation that object-epistemologies directed towards theology have created.