Thoughts on Divine will and human disobedience

For Christians, if the history of this universe and the history of human are said to be ultimately God’s history, there is yet one problem to be solved: How does human disobedience (sin) form a part of it?

Does God need human disobedience to accomplish His story? Does God orchestrate human disobedience?

As a resolution, in CD II/2, p.663, Barth speaks of God’s all-encompassing will as One, instead of manifold and occasional- under this will there is no caprice left for human being. This will is revealed to us as in Jesus Christwe see how God’s history is perfectly actualized in man  (through Christ’s perfect obedience to the Father). However, it is human disobedience when we falsify God’s history by making our history distinct from God’s willed shape of it.

In most cases, I like Barth, but somehow I think there is a tragic flaw in Barth’s understanding of human disobedience as a falsifying attempt in that it does not really safeguard the « oneness » of God’s will.

For if the history is God’s history, then human disobedience must be sucked into it, as God is both Lord over His story and our story according to His singular will. But this makes God also Lord over human  disobedience and Lord of Evil (such as Hilter’s genocide).

Apparently this does not go.

So other Barthians prefer to understand  human disobedience (sin) in terms of nothingness. This Augustinian apophatic tradition has a long history, but when pressed hard it proves problematic too.

For if human disobedience is ultimately to be denied as a non-history (to be nullified by God as alien to God’s history), the doctrine of providence could revert to a bad dualism: a dualism that completely dissects the integral singular history into « obedience and disobedience », « real and fake », « right and wrong », « divine and secular », and so on, as if God has no (real) dealing with human being’s negative struggles.


Thus, the solution I came up with is a molinist one of « middle knowledge »:

The framework of molinist’s middle knowledge affirms that human makes real decisions with genuine freewill (not to be confused with « absolute freewill ») that constitute what we call « human history » of the temporal reality.

The way God deals with human beings is to first consult his middle knowledge concerning all counterfactual situations, that is, to trace and map out every single possibility of all possible worlds, and He consequently directs His free knowledge (which is about what will be carried out and realized) in determining which universe to actualize (the best among the possible worlds).

God does not engage human beings with mind-control or telepathy, but mostly through the orchestration of objective conditions that are revelatory to us. And He creates us and preconditions us in a way that we can be identified with His Spirit and His heart (calling us His « image-bearers »), even though this allows us also to choose not obey and make ourselves our gods.

The key is, ultimately, the totality of human obedience and disobedience will be proven to be the history just exactly God would like this to be- it is the best of the possible worlds given all what human beings would choose to do as a free response to their surroundings/objective conditions based on their precondition.

It is some time been said (by analytic philosophers) that if God cannot real consult His middle knowledge for His act of creation without undermining the authenticity of human freewill. This is because (as they contend) genuine foreknowledge [of any kind] could not be compatible with genuine freewill. If you genuinely know that I will make pancake for breakfast tomorrow morning, my determination to make pancake for breakfast tomorrow morning cannot be an act out of my freewill but could only be said as a passive obedience to such a foreknowledge.

However, God is God and God transcends time. God’s foreknowledge is based in the future, in the eschatological end-time, and at His location outside of time. Think God as a time-traveler, then you will have no problem conceptualize the harmony between God’s middle knowledge and human freewill.

As such, human is free to obey and disobey. While human obedience manifests his participation in God’s history, human disobedience achieves God’s history, too- all things work together for His own good. Only from God’s eye view, we realize also that some are elected to obey freely, and some disobey freely to nullify and falsify their election.

The former is called God’s true son, while the latter is the prodigal son, who (even though willingly and stupidly falsified his identity) nonetheless cannot erase his intrinsic identity marker as a son of God.




[書摘] Eberhard Jüngel’s theological ontology

The fact that in the incarnation God became man without ceasing to be God, tells us that his nature is characterized by both repose and movement, and that his eternal Being is also a divine Becoming. This does not mean that God ever becomes other than he eternally is or that he passes over from becoming into being something else, but rather that he continues unceasingly to be what he always is and ever will be in the living movement of its eternal Being. His becoming is not a becoming on the way toward being or toward a fullness of being, but is the eternal fullness and the overflowing of his eternal unlimited Being. Becoming expresses the dynamic nature of his Being. His becoming is, as it were, the other side of his Being, and his being is the other side of his Becoming. His Becoming is his Being movement and his Being in movement is his becoming. –T.F. Torrance, The Christian doctrine of God (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996).

Based on John Webster’s translation and introduction of Eberhard Jüngel’s God’s Being Is in Becoming (Eerdmans, 2001):

Jüngel (along with Moltmann though with much more philosophical sophistication) is the early exemplar of what 35 years on has become an established tendency to deploy the doctrine of the Trinity in order to differentiate [Christian] theology from philosophical theism. Jüngel insisted that ontology is properly theological, and ‘becoming’ is a function of God and not vice versa. (On this point, Milbank’s demand has already been fulfilled by Jüngel’s exposition of Barth.)

Jüngel’s study has been widely criticized as Hegelian (McCormack with his postliberal actualistic ontology also suffers from this misconception) by conservative Barthians (typically neo-reformed theologians; e.g., G. O’Collins) who distrust both languages. The experience of being a pupil of Bultmann leads Jüngel to be much more sensitive to the existential reality of God: only when God is perceived in the movement of procession, we can talk about a genuine encounter between God and humanity.

Such a talk about God raises hermeneutical questions— questions concerning God as the quantification of human subjectivity. As such, Jüngel actually offers a dogmatic justification (i.e., his theological ontology) with the hermeneutical problem dealt with under the notion of the divine possession. This should distinguish him (as well as other expositors of later Barth) from other neo-orthodox correlationists (expositors of Bultmann and Tillich), though the latter want to claim Jüngel (and Barth) as their own.

What further distinguishes Jüngel and Barth himself is that Barth is very reluctant to make any concession to existentialism due to his “anti-liberal constraints”. What in Jüngel’s system proceeds hermeneutically tends to be undertaken doctrinally in Barth’s theology (specifically, Christ’s resurrection and prophetic ministry).

For Jüngel though, his Christology has such a narrow focus on Jesus’ speech-acts and his death, as a result of which the presence and agency of the resurrected Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit are not often fully operative. In other words, Barth’s pneumatology left underdeveloped in Jüngel’s system.

Furthermore, he also too often separates God’s [intercepted word of] revelation to human historical process from his practical theology (ethics, ecclesiology, and sacramental theology). Moltmann (and other social Trinitarians after him) might say against him that he still typifies a type of western theism that fails to take the relational (economic) aspects of the Trinity seriously, so as to risk closing all the divine life from human participation and leaving human history as a realm of mere secularity (it makes some sense but not too fair a judgment against Jüngel though IMO).

Concerning these two perceived lacunas (pneumatology and theological ethics) in Jüngel’s Barthian scholarship, the name Paul Nimmo just came to my mind, whose journal paper “Barth and the Election- Trinity debate: a Pneumatological View” ( included in Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology, Michael T. Dempsey ed., Eerdmans, 2011) and Being in Action: The Theological Shape of Barth’s Ethical Vision (T&T Clark, 2007) may supply timely fuel to the ongoing postliberal project of developing Barth.

Book Review: God’s Being is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth

God's Being is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl BarthGod’s Being is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth by John B. Webster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

According to John Webster, Jungel has some major preoccupations other than the exposition of Barth’s Trinitarian topics (such as preichoresis, appropriation as a hermeneutical process, and the inseparability of God’s essence and work).
This is not about the concrete examination of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, either.

Indeed, Jungel’s major concern is about the philosophical/ontological problem of Christian doctrine ( the Christian faith in its dogmatic particularity).
Jungel identifies the problem as resultant from questionable metaphysical presuppositions under which the Church used to speak about God.

Namely, can God be talked about objectively like we talk about a thing? As the late Barthian dogmatician Helmut Gollwitzer sees an over-emphasis on the non-objectifiable character of God prevalent within the Bultmmanian school of demythologizing (existentialism, idealism/anti-realism, and subjectivism) as dangerous, so Barth himself is adamant about the objectivity of God.

Joining their effort, Jungel also attempts a critical/post-critical realism in talking about « God in and for Himself ».

Alternativey speaking, Barthian thinks « we must speak of God », whereas Bultmannian asks, « what dose it mean to speak of God? »

In Jungel’s opinion, he finds Gollwitzer’s is right. But Gollwitzer drives the notion of « God in and for Himself » too deep that it becomes an abstraction/metaphysical speculation. As a result, the radical historicity of God in identification with Jesus Christ is relegated to a mere function of God’s will (rather than God’s essential being).

Such as a concern leads Jungel to recast the all-important insight (along with later Barth) that God is the event of his radical historical presence in Jesus Christ. To spell this out requires mathematics of the triune God and a theological ontology of divine ‘becoming’ which is directed by that dogmatics. This is what Jungel in this book seeks to apply.

It involves the following steps/thematic expositions:

1) language: How can human language ‘predicate’ God?

Barth is unease with the idea that human language by itself is capable of speaking of God; it needs to be ‘commandeered’ by revelation, for language is an interpretation of Revelation, which is free, dynamic, and integral and cannot be ‘captured’ by language.
In other words, God is the speaker of revelation, human the interpreter.

2) revelation: God’s-self interpretation

The event of divine communication- its inception, enactment, and its effectuation [in time]- is a free divine activity whereby God’s whole being is united and made known.

3) The unity of God’s being

The basic principle of God’s self-correspondence means that the being of God is relationally structured in a set of order of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of perichoresis allows us to understand the unity of God as an event of the mutual interpenetration of the divine three modes of being. And the doctrine of appropriation in enables theologically coherent talk about the three persons in majors roles such as the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Reconciler.

4) Christology

The union of divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ has an anthropological significance in that it brings our existence into a definite relation with God. Jungel thinks that for Barth, there is an analogical relation of theology and anthropology (whereas Bultmann dissolutes theology into anthropology).

5) The election

Jungel links the above points made with the doctrine of election, which should be drawn back to God’s own being as His self-election, rather than being relegated to the human scope (as traditionally it was) of God’s saving work of souls.
This means that God elects Himself in eternity to be the relation to us through Christ- who is the man Jesus, the Second Adam and the Head of human beings.

Webster’s translation is superb and does not stop you from reading this book pages after pages.
Jungel is also an excellent writer. In Webster’s words, his writing on Barth « is interpretation of the highest order », with « a keen eye for the details of Barth’s thought, as well as a clear appreciation of its overall shape and the coherence, and an insistence on its thoroughly theological character, which means that he can make constructive use of Barth without simply pondering the Barth corpus for material to press into service in other causes. »

View all my reviews

Book Review: Paul among the Postliberals

Source Link:

Cover of "Paul among the Postliberals"

On, theologicalresearcher « theologicalresearcher » (Canada) has a helpful summarizing review of Douglas Harink’s Paul among the Postliberals. The book contains five long chapters: 1) Justification; 2) Apocalypse; 3) Politics; 4) Israel; and 5) Culture. In each of these chapters, Harink tries to develop how well-known postliberal theologians have understood Paul differently from traditional protestant perspective.

Chapter One: Justification.

Postliberal scholars such as Karl Barth, John Howard Yoder, and Stanley Hauerwas overturns the traditional Protestant paradigms of Pauline theological themes such as the pessimistic anthropology of Lutheran and Reformed thoughts, the « faith IN Christ » interpretation (cf. Gal 2:16), the negative view of the law, and the highly forensic nature of justification.

Postliberals believe that justification has more to do with « empowerment » than « acquittal » [p. 44].


Chapter Two: Apocalypse.

According to Hauerwas, Paul’s main concern in Galatians  was to create a new eschatological people which marks themselves off from the unbelieving world. The contrast between faith and works is not to set them in opposition, but to affirm the « singularity of the gospel » over against all other loyalties (religious or political).

Chapter Three: Politics.

This chapter deals with the political theology of Paul and Yoder. The church by its theological nature is a political body ready for particular action in and for this world. Jesus’ call for cross-bearing is more than personal discipleship; it marks the disciples as a new community.


Chapter Four: Israel.

This chapter deals with the highly controversial issue of physical Israel in the place of redemptive history. Here we have the supersessionist N. T. Wright who thinks the church replaces the Israel and the non-supercessionist Yoder who reads the church and the Israel together to represent the 24 elders in the Revelation vision.

Harink attempts to show the errors of Wright’s supersessionism and its disturbing consequence in which the God of Israel and the Church is a capricious and non-trustworthy God (p. 165). But in many places he parodies Wright and the scholarship seems not fair.

Another Amazon reviewer, Bernard Cross (Atlanta, GA) thinks the author gets Wright wrong. He wrote

Harink is at his best when he focuses on Hauerwas and Yoder; unfortunately, when Harink turns to Wright, his examination… does not display a thorough understanding of Wright’s work. The weaknesses on Wright betray further his inability to comprehend the most important international « postliberal » Pauline scholar forces the reader to question whether he really has a grip on postliberalism (or Paul) at all.

Personally, even for argument’s sake, I would not call Wright a postliberal. He is postliberal only in the widest sense of the term. Wright shares the postliberal (or alternative “neo-Augustinian) vision with Hays and Hauerwas in that they strive to revive the proper place of Old Testament law and the narrative understanding (as opposed to forensic) of salvation in the church. They differ significant as to whether general revelation grounds specific revelation. I believe that given the limited scope of this book, this disagreement cannot be adequately addressed.


Chapter Five: Culture.

The gospel with all its offensive character would, oddly, generates a culture of respect in conformity with the modern (but not the secularist) concept of religious toleration.

It is said that Harink fails to be persuasive in interpreting Paul here (cf. Galatians 1:8-9).



Source Link: 本文原刊載於 臺灣醒報民意論壇 2011.11.02


Forewords: 傳稱臺灣教育部近期一紙公文禁止各級學校師生戀,引發各界討論,故在此列舉一些軼事分享觀點。圖為海德格和鄂蘭

20世紀上半我最欣賞的三位德語系神哲學家:海德格(Martin Heidegger)、巴特(Karl Barth)、潘霍華(Dietrich Bonhoeffer),都有一段令人津津樂道的師生戀。對象都是小他們十幾二十歲,對大師們思想才華無比仰慕、自身也聰明伶俐的小粉絲。



棄神學而轉哲學的海德格只有一個虛化的上帝概念,並沒有所謂的神學倫理。海德格對鄂蘭(Hannah Arendt)的感情,也可說是始亂終棄,但他們的聯繫,卻也透過鄂蘭持續行動的生命,以昇華的學術形式走到人生最後一刻。

鄂蘭(Hannah Arendt;1906-1975)與大他17歲的海德格相遇時只有18歲。當是她是馬堡(Marburg)大學的新生,35歲的知名教授海德格深邃的哲思與講課的魅力攫取了鄂蘭的芳心。


From Drama ‘Hannah and Martin’




巴特和他的學生、私人秘書兼助理可茲包慕(Charlotte von Kirschbaum)長年曖昧的師徒關係幾乎導致他的元配躁鬱成疾-奈莉(Nelly Barth)夫人寬容成全的偉大是被後人所低估的。幾十年同屋而居的三人行,讓人不知道這對他的三一行動倫理算是什麼交代
比巴特年幼13歲的可茲包慕 不論是學術或感情生命都未曾走出巴特,然而她也一直是外界獲致巴特一手思想最重要的文獻渠道。


唯有潘霍華和瑪利亞. 魏德邁(Maria von Wedemeyer)是由女方的祖母所牽線(雖曾遭女方母親反對)。相差18歲的二人正式的師生關係僅限於教會信仰課程的傳遞,私下更多地是導師(mentor)與門徒的關係。潘霍華的神學倫理體系和他全人的生命歷程是聯繫在一起的。 在潘霍華受納粹監禁以致殉道的那段時間中,瑪利亞一直是這位神學家在上帝以外最重要的精神支持。他們對上帝、對家國、對彼此的赤忱,譜成了一封封動人的《獄中書簡》。

聖經上說,愛是不做害羞的事(見哥林多前書十三:5),愛是忠貞(steadfast love;見出埃及記 卅四:6)。




  1. 伊絲貝塔‧愛婷爵(Elzbieta Ettinger)著,蘇友貞譯,《女哲學家與她的情人:漢娜・鄂蘭和馬丁・海德格》(Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger)。台北:麥田出版,1997
  2. Suzanne Selinger, Charlotte von Kirschbaum and Karl Barth: A Study in Biography and the History of Theology. State College, PA:Penn State Press, 1998
  3. Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. NY: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2010

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maria von Wedemeyer