[書摘] The Time that Remains: Hans-Georg Geyer in the Intellectual Debate about a Central Question in the Twentieth Century

The Resurrection from Grünewald's Isenheim Alt...


Gerrit Neven, ‘The Time that Remains: Hans-Georg Geyer in the Intellectual Debate about a Central Question in the Twentieth Century’ 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. 67-81

My Summary:

Whereas initially Nietzsche and Marx only proclaim the death of God, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze proclaim with equal force the death of a man (cf. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, 1994, esp. the last chapter, and Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, 1993).

Following Barth, Geyer gives the Parousia the determinative role concerning various theological aspects of reconciliation. The Messiah’s having drawn near is the precondition of a future-oriented and therefore a dialogical mode of thinking. The Parousia points to a nearness of salvation that does not supernaturally demolish time and history, but rather breaks open time and history from within [messianically] by turning to the risky expectation of the Messiah, for whom each moment in time is an open entrance.

This expectation leads to intensive forms of discussion and debate with not just  theologians but also with [critical and phenomenological] thinkers like Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger , Horkheimer, Bloch, Sartre, and so on. The focus is the humanity of Christ.

(Hans-Georg Geyer [1929-1999]  studied in Frankfurt during 1950-1954 with Hans-Georg Gadamer, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, and Wolfgang Kramer before he turned to the study of systematic theology (at Gottingen, Berlin, Wuppertal, and Bonn.)

As early as 1962, Geyer declared his agreement with Walter Benjamin’s Theological-Political Fragment. According to Benjamin, only the Messiah himself will consummate all that is happening historically, in the sense that only he himself will redeem and consummate the creation in its relation to the messianic.[1] Therefore, nothing historical can relate itself to something messianic on its own account. With this, he distanced himself from the idea that historical convictions, scientific achievements, or political opinions have in themselves the potential to make “the jump-ahead” to a time which is qualitatively new and different. Our knowledge is determined by economic and political factors. The desire to know is driven by a force consisting only of what can be [pragmatically or in a utilitarian manner] calculated. This [social/structural] force and the history of freedom contradict each other (analogous to the tension between poststructuralism and structuralism/rationalism).

Geyer here introduces the topic of faith in the post-liberal sense. He says, “faith, getting involved with and trusting upon the message concerning Christ, is at the same time radically renouncing the desire to discover the truth of the proclamation and past history”.

This criticism of metaphysics (of absolute certainly) is also part of the thinking projects of Moltmann and Pannenberg, for whom the future became the paradigm of transcendence. But both of them have felt that they have to leave Barth behind for they deem Barth’s system closed and ahistorical. Geyer does not share this view.

Geyer inherits early Barth’s dialectical theology. He is convinced that our time is an implication of the Parousia of Jesus Christ. His intensive debate with Moltmann and Pannenberg  is concerning the epistemology of hope. That is to say, if God’s new coming in the Parousia is an implication of the concrete identity of Jesus Christ, then how do we find his identity? He doubts whether for Moltmann and Pannenberg “the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” are constitutive–and as opposed to merely illustrative— of the exegesis of biblical texts and of the practices of the Christian community. For according to Geyer, Moltmann and Pannenberg’s definition of history and Parousia did not clearly distinguish “the future as an end that we should strive for” (the anthropocentric) from “the future as the goal of God’s exclusive act” (the theocentric). His ultimate criticism is that the theology of Moltmann and Pannenberg is enclosed by a metaphysical correlation between God and the world. Transcendence is devoured by immanence.

To solve this problem, Geyer here uses Husserl’s concepts of protention (the succession of the historical accordance and its end) and retention. The protention in Jesus denotes the continuity between the character of Jesus’ conduct and his fate—death. According to Geyer, this historical fate can undergo an intensification or an ontological deepeningonly by the event of the meta-historical resurrection in Easter” [out of theological necessity].

By retention, it means when we look back, the attempts to ignore this fact or to place this death within an unduly higher framework can only lead to an idealization of his death or a degradation of it to an empirical fact (which is an unduly anthropologized theology full of liberal residues). Namely, the declaration that this historical death implies a [whether phenomenological, hermeneutic, or ontological] jump-ahead should be fiducially rooted only in the meta-historical domain, in [the post-Easter] remembrance, which runs backwards. This solution does not have to leave behind the aporia of this [historical] death. For at any rate, doctrinal or impersonal statements are not possible in the face of this death. Anamnesis and commemoration of this death can only give us non-metaphysical and personal truth. The redemptive history is inherently incomplete if all we have is this death of Jesus.

On the other hand, knowledge concerning the identity of this Jesus can only be acquired by participation in the process of the actuality of this meaning question in the medium of human language. That is why the question concerning the meaning of the cross is characterized by an infinite openness— as opposed to the enclosure of totalitarian metaphysics. For Geyer, the hope is the qualitative feature of faith, which is a prerequisite for new non-metaphysical mode of thinking.

In accorance with the nature of hope, Parousia concerns the future of which no one has sure knowledge of the time and the hour— it is beyond human calculation: Although we are vitalized by images of the future (e.g., Luke 21:7-33), these do not lead us into the future itself.

rhızomıng ındεxatıon dıs-choıcεs . .

There is a remarkable parallelism in the thinking of Geyer and Badiou about metaphysics. Badiou establishes that « the death of God » and « the death of man » go hand-in-hand in the ethos of 20th century philosophy and theology. He calls them “the joint disappearances of Man and God”.

On one hand there is in the 20th century philosophy the movement that radicalizes Kant’s approach by enslaving man in his own emancipation (i.e., German idealism: our [finite] subjectivity creates our world). This line runs from Kant via Fichte and Sartre (man is condemned to freedom; man is programmed to be a man and cannot be freed from this program). On the other hand, there is the way of the radical anti-humanism of Nietzsche and Foucault: the absence of God is one of the names for the absence of man.

As Foucault (he criticizes Levinas and Derrida’s anthropology as religion or theology), Badiou does not think this either or situation leaves room for postmodern thinkers like Levinas or Derrida. For Levinas’ appeal to God’s radical otherness in order to safeguard the otherness of the human other falls short to attest to a radical alterity. (This means that in order to be intelligible, ethics requires that the other should be in some sense carried by a principle of alterity which transcends mere finite experience. cf. Badiou, Ethics [2001], 22). As for Derrida’s deferral of presence (différance), a sort of religion of messianic delay, Badiou sees something too artificial in its ramification upon the relation between philosophy and religion (cf. P. Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth [2003], 157). Postmodernity has become boring.

Badiou searches for what is empty and open in a time when the [human and divine] subject has disappeared. There is no other possibility than to accept this aporia, this emptiness, and to retain a prospect to point beyond death. For Geyer, this means the resurrection and the coming of the Messiah— within the perspective of time. Biblically speaking this is the time that remains, a time of intense expectation (cf. Isa 21:11). [2]

Giorgio Agamben, Benjamin’s disciple, in The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans declares “what remains is what separates us from the Messiah”. More than the Messiah’s coming close is the Messiah himself.

Giorgio Agamben descubre el limbo

[1] The polemical context which Geyer (and possibly Benjamin) set out to argue against includes the following features (i.e., wrong assumptions):

1)       non-realism,

2)       post-structuralism,

3)       the totalitarian features of modernity in the 1960s (for which Geyer thinks Horkheimer’s treatment in the 1930s is exemplary. He lost faith but has not abandoned the project of human transformation of the society into a utopia).

4)       reciprocal freedom: the promises that somebody gives to someone else are ruled by a relationship of absolutely free reciprocity and by a reciprocal freedom.

[2] Here one may become somewhat apologetical over against Badiou. Badiou teaches with Nietzsche that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is dead. According to Nietzsche, faith in God as a supernatural power in general will no longer have any real influence, since God is not ascribed any power anyway. There is no such metaphysical God. However, it is precisely this faith that would be necessary to determine the convictions and the actions of man. This may be the case, Geyer answers Nietzsche. But even if God has lost his power over man and that super-sensual heaven has no meaning for the sensual earth, it does not necessarily follow the death of Christian theology.

Through Barth, Geyer has found a way forward: Christian theology has the task to lead faith out of its dogmatic identification with the concept of religion that is still metaphysically determined. Geyer rejects Nietzsche’s analysis that lumps together the God of metaphysics and the God of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike the metaphysical God, the God of the Bible can die.

On the basis of this God’s death, people in faith received the power to be really earthly finite and to be able to die. In the Christian faith, God’s identity can only be thought of appropriately when we take as point of departure the view that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is God’s act on behalf of all.

The occurrence of cross in history demands remembrance and mimesis: the imitation of God in the praxis of love for one’s neighbor. God is a name that has to be continued in a passionate plea to practice love, as opposed to a concept that asks for ideological representation. Remembrance implies mimesis, through which we anticipate the coming of God in the Parousia.

[書摘] God is His Decision: The Jüngel-Gollwitzer “Debate” Revisited


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

My Summary:

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.

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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


Gerhard Sauter “Argue Theologically with One Another: Karl Barth‘s Argument with Emil Brunner” 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. 30-47

Emil Brunner’s desire was to recover a proper understanding of natural theology, which in modern liberal theology has been derailed into “an unnatural appeal to human nearness to God”.

For Brunner, our [formal] image of God persists even after the fall (though the material image of God has to be restored through union in Christ alone). Therefore, responsible proclamation of the free grace of God must encounter creaturely existence and stand in a critical dialectical relationship with the [relative] ordered-ness of created life. Comprehending this relationship is another important task of theology and must be pursued as complementary to its primary commission.

Barth thought the distinction between the formal and the material image is completely wrong-headed, worrying if the neo-Protestantism polluted by the Enlightenment agenda and the ghost of Thomism is haunting the hall of theology again. Already in CD I/1, Barth issues extremely hard words concerning Brunner’s effort lavished in opinions related to “areas of culture”, which is, deviating from “the area of the church” (CD I/1, p.26).

Additionally, it has to be pointed out that Barth defines his view of natural theology in an ad hoc manner: natural theology is every [positive or negative] formulation of a system that claims to be theological, that seeks to interpret divine revelation whose subject is NOT Jesus Christ and whose method differs equally from the exposition of the Bible.

He believes the task of natural theology is “to bolster the divine revelation anthropologically or by cultural history”, which is categorically wrong and impossible.

Along with this line of debate, there are two issues to be traced in the following:

1)      Barth didn’t get Aquinas right. Eugene Roger in Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth: Sacred doctrine and the natural knowledge of God (1995) has argued this.

First Rogers is showing that Thomas is concerned actually with God’s faithfulness and grace for our theological enterprise: since all true knowledge of God can only be obtained from God, will not God change and transform what we have incorrectly begun (namely, the human quest for God from below)? Thomas is convinced to say yes to this question by proposing the concept of judgment and purification (of our knowledge and intention). God’s grace guides incorrect will of humans, but does not destroy their autonomous will where he desires that the humans should concur with God’s saving grace (Rom 8:28). He is really dealing with the question of the direction of will (intentionality) rather than the question of knowledge.

Thomas was not interested in a generally valid [anthropological] foundation for the knowledge of God outside of Revelation. For Brunner, in the same vein, the human reason needs grace in order to be liberated from sin. Incorrect human reason receives back a sense of direction which God had intended for it when he had created human beings in his image— a precondition by which human beings are able to look responsibly toward God, at the world, and at themselves. (This ideal had been carried out by students of Brunner who formed the conference centers of the Swiss Reformed Church until some deviations in recent years.)

No doubt that early Barth rejected the validity of such inquiry.


2)    However, in the English-speaking world, and particularly Anglicanism, Brunner had been received in a much warmer manner than Barth had, understandably. (The support from the Americas makes Barth’s accusation of Brunner’s ideological bent toward of German nationalism a weaker one.) Carrying on the frontline battle today, Stanley Hauerwas in 2001, at the Gifford Lectures— which were established for the promotion of a natural theology of English origin— regarded Barth’s [Christological] sublimation of natural theology as the decisive theological turn of 20th century (cf. Stanley Hauerwas [2002], With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology).

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According to Hauerwas, later Barth is willing to reserve the phrase “real human” for an anthropology grounded on Christology (cf. also CD III/2 §44.1-3).

Therefore, to deal with the conflict between theology and anthropology, we had only have to confess how a theological anthropology is possible to us. Not only do we have to resist making theology possible by means of an antecedent anthropology, but also have to demonstrate how and to what extent one can speak about the human [existential] standing before God, being derived from God and pointing to God.

For Hauerwas, this Christologically-grounded in natural theology needs not prove itself to be universally susceptible. God himself accomplishes his truth. This does not exclude “naturally”, but it demands that we speak intelligibly for those who disagree with our testifying to the truth.