Wednesday, August 09, 2006

a theological blog contest! a.k.a. what's wrong with this?

The perennially lucid, yet pernnially incorrect, Anglican Scotist has responded to an article of Canon Harmon's that appeared in Touchstone some years (?) ago. The Anglican Scotist's entire response is here.

He basically, as far as I can tell, believes that the account of God's creation of man and woman in Genesis does not undergird, or does not primarilly undergird, Christian marriage. This belief of his, of course, is a step in his syllogism concluding with something like "...therefore men may marry men, and women may marry women."

The Scotist takes aim at the following passage from Barth, cited by Dr. Harmon in the original article:
Man never exists as such, but always as the human male or the human female. Hence in humanity, and therefore in fellow-humanity, the decisive, fundamental and typical question, normative for all other relationships, is that of the relationship in this differentiation.
The Scotist helpfully observes, pace Barth and Harmon, that not "ALL" relationships are undergirded by gender difference. For example, the relationship between men and angels is presmuably not so undergirded, and neither is that between men and God (who is essentially not-gendered). Here is my question, and maybe someone with a copy of the Church Dogmatics (III.4, p. 117) can answer it: is Barth not talking about all HUMAN relationships being undergirded by the gender differentiation of Genesis? He starts the sentence, after all, "Hence IN HUMANITY, and therefore IN FELLOW-HUMANITY," etc.

That would be a much more sensible construal of Barth. Of course God's transcendence of gender is not governed by God's having created man male and female. Why should it be? And likewise with angels. On the other hand, God's relating to humans IS governed by the facts surrounding him as they are revealed in Scripture. Just so with Angels. And so too are Inter-human relationships governed by the facts surrounding humans, as those facts are revealed in Scripture. Such a fact is that "male and female he created them." Another such fact is "the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior" (Ephesians 5.23).

But here is the meat of the Scotist's critique:
If our reading of Genesis is to be normative among Christians, it should start with the revelation of the Person of Christ in Scripture.
And skipping down a bit, after a citation from Ephesians 5, we find that
The mysterious eschatological union of Christ and the church is normative for marriage. The Word left the Father to be joined with us, to become one with us, the church. That pattern of action is a model for human marriage...
I would have said "That pattern of action is THE model for Christian marriage," but nevermind. It all seems well and good, but if I haven't given it away already, what do YOU think is the theological error here? Or is there an error? I think there is. Hint: I think this error is one of, if not THE most fundamental Protestant error. The error, in fact, separating Protestants from Catholics, and possibly construable as constitutive of Prot / Cath differentiation itself. Another hint: Cf. John 1.


koenigsfreunde said...

If Karl Barth is making a mistake hence, I am not seeing it here. Nor do I think Anglican Scotist is really replying to KB. The passage from CD IV/4, 117 read in context says:
Reflection upon the creaturly being of man as a co-extence of man and fellow-man confirms this reference [i.e. that male and female are created in the image of God who Himself exists in relationship - Gen 1.27]. There are also other types of differentiation and relationship between man and man. But this relationship [male and female] alone rests on a structural and functional distinction ... Only that between man and woman rests upon a structural and functional difference ... It does not call in question the fact that male and female are both human. But structurally and functionally it is too clear and serious to be a mere variation upon a theme common to both - a neutral and abstract humanity as such, but always as the human male or the human female. Man never exists as such ...

While Barth is fond of pointing out the analogy of human marriage to Christ/church, it looks like in this passage of the CD he avoids the analogy and goes for the more straightforward appeal to "structural and functional distinction." A little bit of Biblical literalism can do one good.

It seems to me that the basic biological difference between male and female is sufficent evidence to infer that something deeper than mere co-existence is part of the fabric of our humanity. If you think about it, trying to understand how Gen 1:27 is relevant for Christian marriage, via the Christ-Church analogy does not need to mention male-female difference. This makes readings like Anglican Scotist possible though wrong. Readings like his are wrong because they obscure important details that a healthy dose of biblical literalism can cure.

So I'm not seeing how his objection really works. After looking at KB's passage in context, it seems to me he's commiting the straightforward fallacy of irrelevance. He's pulled a bait and switch.

father wb said...


Very helpful. Thank you for the KB contextualizing. And I quite agree: a healthy dose of biblical literalism (always, of course, governed by the Church's interpretive parameters) can very often have a salutary effect on theological illness. And I quite agree that it would do so in this particular (i.e. the Scotist's) case.

And you are circling the error that I take to be at the heart of this thing, and at the heart of the Protestant Catholic distinction. This also, I believe, is a clear case of Anglicanism's historically having come down definitively on the Catholic side of the divide.

koenigsfreunde said...

I'm pretty sure I agree with you on why Anglican Scotist's objection to KB is not good.

However, I don't understand what you mean when you write "[a]nd you are circling the error that I take to be at the heart of this thing, and at the heart of the Protestant Catholic distinction. This also, I believe, is a clear case of Anglicanism's historically having come down definitively on the Catholic side of the divide." It's news to this Protestant who accepts the Lutheran doctrine of justification that he would come done on the Catholic side of the divide. Pray tell, please enlighten me!

J-Tron said...

Funny, I thought the Lutheran doctrine of justification was at the heart of the Protestant/Catholic divide. That and, of course, the hatred of women.

MM said...

... A Stab:

The Error could lie in the otherwise laudible tendancies of such contemporary Barthians as Hauerwas and his deputees (aka Rodney Clapp) to re-read and relativize Scripture's "basic" narratives in light of Christ and His Gospel: as Clapp states in his "Families at the Crossroads,"

“For Christians, the primary creation account is not Genesis, but the first chapter of the Gospel of John. There Genesis' opening words are directly quoted, only to be modified in light of Christ: "In the beginning… was the Word." (John 1:1) There we learn that 'all things came into being' through the Word, and that the Word became flesh and lived among us, bearing the name of Jesus.”


On its face, this insistence is great. On the other hand, the same "Christian" reading can lend itself to a destructive relativization of the realities in which God has written His immutable truth, which was present, with the slain Lamb, from the foundation of the world (- IE, cf liberal insistence on reading ALL modern sexual ethics issues in light of Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus...")

The probem is perhaps a Protestant refusal to recognize reality as ontologically located in physical substance. Hence Protestants have symbols instead of the Real Presence, and "attributed" righteousness instead of "infused," etc. etc. Hence, sadly, Protestantism may have also have allowed a view of humanity whererin the physical realities of maleness or femaleness are (falselyl) deemed meaningless, constructed, inessential and non-intrinsic.

... and this is very sad.

koenigsfreunde said...

Thanks for attempting to answer my question. I had a strong suspicion that your worry (and, most likely, WB's) is the old objection that Protestants especially of an evangelical stripe are not sufficently incarnational in their theology.

Unfortunately, the argument you've just offered really leads to the conclusion that you want. Here is my reconstruction.

(1) Many contemporary Barthians have a Christological reading of the Genesis passages about the creation of humanity.
(2) Contemporary Barthian readings exemplify the Protestant tendency to obscure physical properties writ into human creation.
(3) Therefore, Protestants make mistakes such as attributed righteousness, symbolic understandings of the Eucharist, liberalized sexual ethic, etc.

The most charitable interpretation of your argument is that it is supposed to be inductive rather than deductive. If your argument were to be read deductively, any counterexample such as Barth, Calvin, Luther would suffice to deny its validity (remember that arguments are valid if and only if the conclusion is true in the circumstances that the premies are true).

So if we try to read your argument inductively, one of the standard criteria for assessing inductive arguments is to assess the degree of risk that the premises would be true and the conclusion false. Put intuitively, good inductive arguments do not take large risks. A serious problem with your argument (at least the reconstructed version I've offered) is that the conclusion (3) is independent from the premises (1) and (2). Consequently, the conclusion cannot to be conditional upon the truth of the premises, for conditional probability assumes that the two events in question are dependent. A more substantive problem is that the vast majority of evangelical Protestants take it to be self-evident that the liberalized sexual ethic of TEC is wrong. So your conclusion does not follow from the argument that Protestants would buy a liberal sexual ethic because they de-emphasize the body.

Perhaps you mean to argue that the conclusion is an inference to the best explanation for the premises. However, I would point out that many of the theologians who have played up the the *physical* humanity of Christ have been traditional Protestants about justification (e.g. the kenotic theologians of the 16th century, Eberhard Jungel, Jurgen Moltmann, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, etc.). Typically Catholics (except for von Balthasar) have objected that God suffers too much in the Christologies offered by these theologian. It seems that a better explanation looks like this. In order to understand how attributed justification is coherent with the Incarnation, a theologian needs to emphasize the degree to which the Word shares our sinful humanity. Infused righteousness (which I serve to remind you is also accepted by Calvinists and Wesleyans - and hence most evangelicals) seems to be better understood as a work of the Spirit per se, not the work of Christ per se. So if your conclusion is an inference to the best explanation, it does not work for what has been taken to be the main fault line between Protestants and Catholics.

The stuff on the Eucharist is another topic, which I won't address because my comment is already too long (rather than because I do not have things to say about it).

macof said...

"The mysterious eschatological union of Christ and the church is normative for marriage. The Word left the Father to be joined with us, to become one with us, the church. That pattern of action is a model for human marriage..."

My objection is in the line, "The Word left the Father..." Last I checked this "leaving" would imply a separation in Godhead, and therefore, heresy.