Bruce McCormack, ‘God is His Decision: The Jüngel-Gollwitzer “Debate” Revisited’ in Theology as Conversation: The Significance Of Dialogue In Historical And Contemporary Theology: A Festschrift For Daniel L. Migliore, Bruce McCormack and Kimlym J. Bender eds., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009, pp. 48-66
Gollwitzer was one of Barth’s favorite former students and the choosen man to succeed Barth in Basil upon his retirement in 1961. Jüngel is 26 years young than Gollwitzer. The debate never actually publicized, for Gollwitzer chose not to respond publicly.
Before, Gollwitzer is happy to concede that God does not exist like created things do. The expression that “God exists” must be understood in a symbolic way (per Tillich).The true God remains Subject even as he makes himself the object of human knowing and experiencing in his self-disclosure (per Barth).
What’s special about this self-disclosure according to Gollwitzer is that the encounter with God occurs only in faith. In the proposition “God is” underlies God’s “yes” to us, through which the enmity between God and man is done away.
Our experience of God’s presence in His address to human beings should never be identical with our experience of any object that is scientifically ascertainable. Thus in one sense God is present in hiddenness.
God in Himself vs. God for us
But does this “God for us” aspect exclude the possibility of talking about God himself? If so, on what basis—Gollwitzer asks?
1) on dogmatic and methodological grounds— that the content of the revelation forbid us from doing so, or
2) on an anterior philosophical ground, an existentialist version of natural theology — that we agree to mean by “God” a being totally beyond scientific certainty but can only be a point of reference of our practical reason (Kant), of our moral conscience, which we must conceive, based on our moral needs, in order to direct our actions? This will make God a concept without any objectivity. (Notice here that the phenomenal realm is reduced to the playground of an interplay between moral subjectivity and scientific objectivity! This is to me a categorical failure in classical liberal theology.)
The conflict between Gollwitzer (who first met Barth in 1930 in Bonn and a Lutheran who appreciates justification by faith) and Jüngel (who first met Barth in 1958 in Basel) can be understood as one between early Barth and later Barth. Early Barth’s theology still found its center of gravity in the event in which the word is addressed to the individual whereas mature Barth had his center of gravity in a highly actualistic and historicized Christology.
Gollwitzer insisted upon the necessity of speaking of God “in and for himself”; God has a being “in and for himself (the aseity of God), even though we can say nothing about it [except via negativa— my opinion]. To preserve this element is fundamental because as we human approached Him in freedom, we receive a free unmerited gift which is not grounded in anything that is necessary to God, but is grounded in his free, sovereign decision. To put in a plain way, God “in and for himself” is to safeguard the freedom of God in our theological understanding.
Gollwitzer wants to talk about this God “in and for himself” based on the mode of being with reference to “persons” in general and to the “will of God” in particular. Namely, it is not possible to argue back from it to the essence of God and a sense of how God is constituted, but only from His will made known in history to his eternal will as the will of His free love.
Jüngel in God’s Being is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth, a Paraphrase (2001) reckons this “thoroughly in line with the classical concept of substance” (p.106). But he sought to redefine and the radicalized the basic question with respect to any talk of a being of God in and for himself by emphasizing historicized Christology. Instead of outlining the relation between “God in Himself” and “God for us”, Jüngel asks how is the being of God in and for Himself related to his mode of being as the subject of a human historical life— Jesus? To explain this we need no external power or conditions than those we can find in this “God for us”.
According to Barth, revelation is God speaking in person; “in God’s revelation God’s Word is identical with God himself”; “revelation is the self-interpretation/repetition of this God”. Therefore before history begins, the eternal event of “election” which Barth described with the language of “primal decision” must take place.
Election as a solution to solve the tension between “God as Subject of history vs. God as a being of the Trinity”
Jüngel worries that by distinguishing between the essence of God and the will of God, Gollwitzer leaves a gap in a metaphysical background to the being of God which is indifferent to God historical facts/acts of revelation. He proposes to identify the essence of God as God’s will in the election in His manifested free love, that is, to think “God in and for himself” as “already historical being in advance”, as father, son, and Holy Spirit already “ours in advance”. God relates to himself as the one who elects and to humanity as the one who determines humanity to be the elect.
In short, he advocates corresponding “the being of God in revelation” to “the being of the Triune God in the event of election”. Such a view might imply certain logical (but not ontological) priority of Trinity over election: God appears in the eternal decision of election as Triune. There is no such ontological priority of Trinity over election in Jüngel’s reading of Karl Barth. Thus, God’s being (Trinity) is His decision (election). Being is an event.
This means further that God’s being is constituted through [timeless] historicality.
An Unresolved Problem [and the McCormackian correction]
McCormack agrees with Jüngel’s interpretation of Barth. Jüngel rightly understands the doctrine of the Trinity as the hermeneutical foundation for CD, but in his execution, McCormack finds his insistence on the tri-unity of God already determined by the divine election quite loose, especially when he said “Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity is already Christologically grounded”. It was not. Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity was constructed step by step (p.63). Barth’s early doctrine of the Trinity absolutely does not provide a valid ontological ground for the later Christology.
In sum, it is more precise to say that it is not the doctrine of the Trinity as such that provides the hermeneutical foundation for CD, but rather the tri-unity of God understood in terms of the eternal act of election. Christology is the epistemological ground of election and election is the ontological ground of Christology. There is nothing prior to this event.
- [書摘] Argue Theologically with One Another: Karl Barth’s Argument with Emil Brunner (breath35.wordpress.com)
- [書摘] Christ and Canon, theology and history – the Barth-Harnack dialogue revisited (breath35.wordpress.com)