Ten (Draft) Propositions on the Missionary Nature of the Church

1. We commend the motivation which grants missiology a prime locus within ecclesiology, and, conversely, understands ecclesiology within the locus of the missio dei.

2. We commend the claim that the community’s task of bearing witness to Christ is of the esse to the missio ecclesiae.

3. We commend the assertion that the missio ecclesiae finds its genesis and telos in the trinitarian relations ad intra and in the missio dei ad extra.

4. But we reject those articulations which suggest that the divine ontology in se is determined in the missio dei ad extra and so undermine the truth that the missio dei is an action of free grace from Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

5. We commend the intention to bring the conversation about the missio ecclesiae into dialogue with divine election, or what we might call ‘missional election’.

6. We commend the determination that understands the missio ecclesiae as an extension of, and witness to, the divine love.

7. We reject the decision to blur the distinction between the esse and the bene esse of the people of God along missiological lines.

8. We reject those theological programs which would reduce the Church’s raison d’être to the functions of mission.

9. We reject any suggestion that the Church is in a position of self-determination. Founded in baptism, called into being by proclamation, ruled by scripture and nourished by the eucharist, the Church is – and remains – a creatura verbum Dei, a people claimed and kept by God and made one by the vivifying Spirit to worship God in spirit and truth. The Church can be faithful or perfidious to its ontology, it can choose to hear or to be deaf, but its hearing or otherwise does not determine its status or its end. Only its Creator can do this. Again, the Church is not the determination of the creature but of the one God of grace. Jesus’ promise to the apostolic community is that he will remain with it until the very end of the age. These are the words of a faithful lover in unilateral covenant which his beloved. That this lover is as good as his word provides the certainty that the Church – like Israel – is neither optional nor independent nor dispensable to God’s purposes for creation.

10. We ought to be able to say all this without resort to Latin.


  1. Prop 9 is well, well put; beautiful, really. But as with Barth, I find claims like these less compelling the longer I think about them — after the initial Wow. I wish you would allow more room for the church to be, well, herself.

    You say, ‘the Church is not the determination of the creature but only of the one God of grace’, and it is that (Protestant!) ‘only’ that raises my concern. I think we have to beware not to let our ‘sola’s’ bracket out human participation (and so created reality) altogether.

    At its best, the Protestant emphasis on God’s freedom and sovereignty delivers us from self-deception (i.e., idolatry) and frees us to live fully humanly (i.e., in faith). At its worst, this Protestant emphasis collapses into solapsism (sorry, couldn’t help myself) and reduces all creation, finally, to nothingness. Monotheism? Yes — But only of a particular (Trinitarian) kind. Monergism? No.


  2. Very interesting comment Chris! I think I agree about the ‘only’. I suspect it is something that flows from the language of ‘determination’ – it produces an either-or that does not allow any serious signifance to dependant action


  3. Jason, these are good and interesting. A couple critiques. First, I think it was a mistake to lose the “only.” I remain steadfastly a Barthian and a Protestant in that sense, as I am sure you know from my response to the “Provisional Theses” by Kerr.

    Second, theses 3 and 4 are very problematic in my opinion. I reject the kind of clean separation you make between God ad intra and God ad extra. That is to say, thesis 3 is, for me, redundant, because the ad intra simply is the missio dei ad extra. And thesis 4 is nonsensical to me. Here you seem, if I am not mistaken, to be reintroducing a bifurcation in God between being and willing, between being and act. (BTW, I take it you reject Eberhard Jüngel’s arguments against Gollwitzer?)

    This is a serious error, and for me it finally undermines the entirety of your theses, as much as I like the rest of them. If mission is not what actually defines and even constitutes the being of the triune God, then we do not have a missionary God, because there is something more basic, more primal, in the life of God than God’s triune mission of reconciliation. This is unacceptable. It finally makes the whole notion of missio dei a nice, convenient addition to theology, but not the indispensable heart and constitutive center of Christian faith and practice.

    For an antidote to the problem I see here, read John Flett’s magisterial new book, “The Witness of God.”


  4. David. Many thanks for taking the trouble to offer a response to my ‘draft’ propositions, and, indeed, for posting your own thoughts on ‘Gospel, Culture and Mission’. I offer the following responses to your concerns in the hope of opening up rather than closing down dialogue:

    First, like you, I want to maintain the ‘only’. I was prepared to remove it here only because I was not sure that it was required in the context of the statement made. As Thesis 9 stands, it is unrepentantly concerned to underscore the very point that the ‘only’ makes, namely the priority of grace. [Perhaps you’re right and it should be re-inserted :-)]

    As for your second objection (regarding theses 3 and 4): that I refuse to collapse the ad intra into the ad extra does not equate, as you charge, with a ‘clean separation’ of the two. To not abstract or separate the ad intra from the ad extra is an essential commitment of Christian theology. (I believe even Rahner understood this point). While the ad intra may be identical in content with the ad extra, to confuse the two is to undermine God’s freedom in se and in God’s works. So Barth: ‘The content of the doctrine of the Trinity which the Church has formulated and dogmatics has to repeat and Church proclamation respect is not that God in His relation to man is Creator, Mediator and Redeemer, but that God in Himself is eternally God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit … God Himself cannot be dissolved into His work and activity … if His work and activity is rightly to be seen and understood as His’ (CD I/2, 878–79). And again: ‘We cannot say anything higher or better of the “inwardness of God” than that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and therefore that He is love in Himself without and before loving us, and without being forced to love us. And we can say this only in the light of the “outwardness” of God to us, the occurrence of His revelation. It is from this that we have to learn what is the real nature of the love of God for us’ (CD I/2, 377). Certainly you are right when you charge me with maintaining that there is something ‘more basic, more primal, in the life of God than God’s triune mission of reconciliation’. Clearly for me, as for Barth, God is neither dependent upon nor indistinguishable from creation’s history. This is not, as you suggest, to reduce ‘the whole notion of missio dei [to] a nice, convenient addition to theology, but not the indispensable heart and constitutive center of Christian faith and practice’. Certainly I am not attempting, as you suggest, to reintroduce ‘a bifurcation in God between being and willing, between being and act’ so much as I am concerned to defend the notion of the missio dei as fully grace. I am yet to read through Flett’s book (it’s on my desk ready to go), but I anticipate that this is where I may find his thesis less than satisfying. I look forward to seeing if and how he interprets Barth’s words here in CD I/2.

    Again, I genuinely appreciate being pressed to clarify my thinking here. There is, after all, a reason I titled this post ‘draft’ propositions. Cheers.


  5. Jason,

    Let me put it this way: I want to pursue a missiological version of Bruce McCormack’s argument regarding election and triunity. I take it that you go with Molnar on that debate. If so, that’s the problem that I was trying to articulate earlier in more words.


  6. I know there is a fundamental disagreement here that will not be resolved by proof-texts from Barth, nevertheless I think David overstates the strength of his case. For example, this rather confident remark:

    “If mission is not what actually defines and even constitutes the being of the triune God, then we do not have a missionary God, because there is something more basic, more primal, in the life of God than God’s triune mission of reconciliation. This is unacceptable.”

    It simply does not follow (whatever you think Barth should have said)that God is not a missionary God because God’s being and act is not constituted by election. Take Barth’s remark in CD II/2, 121:

    “[God] might well have been satisfied with the inner glory of His threefold being,His freedom, and His love. The fact that He is not satisfied, but that His inner glory overflows and becomes outward, the fact that He wills the creation, and the man Jesus as the first-born of all creation, is grace, sovereign grace, a condescension inconceivably tender.”

    Yes, there is no God back and behind Jesus Christ, precisely because God’s being for us reveals the triune One who loves in freedom. In my view it is not the actualism of our redemption that is the frontier of theology – instead our apprehension of God’s immanent being is instead specified and limited by God’s act, supremely in his self-interpretive unveiling in Jesus Christ.

    It is a delicate tension, but I cannot agree that a nuanced distinction between pro se and pro nobis, eviscerates the ‘missio dei’.


  7. I think this word ‘determination’ is a source of confusion. The Cambridge online dictionary indicates some of the ambiguity.
    Firstly we don’t usually use it as an active verb, and this unfamiliarity obfuscates. Secondly, the meaning is profoundly ambiguous as an active verb. There are three options (i) to control something directly (ii) to influence something directly and (iii) to decide what will happen.
    Hence if I as an agent within the event of church perform an action, that means that the triune God as the one who ‘determines’ the ‘being-in-action’ which is church, is determining (controling or influencing or deciding on) that action. To retain the ‘only’ in thesis 9 is to say that God alone is doing this, and thus I am not either controling, influencing or deciding on my action. I presume that this presupposes that agency is mutually exclusive and thus if I (or the church) participate(s) in the being of God I do so purely passively. Thus a protestant (dialectic) conception of church is set against a catholic/orthodox (participatory) conception.


  8. I am inclined to hold that dependence (dependence on the apocalyptic interruption) on divine grace is compatible with a participatory conception of the church. Thus being constituted by the grace of the radically other, is not a view that requires the dialectical protestant conception of church. It seems to me that the person who gets this architypically wrong is Webster in his essays where he defends a non-participable conception of divine perfection.


  9. I’m not sure I fully understand 4. There is surely a positive relationship between the missio dei and the divine ontology. So if it’s not the relationship of ‘grounding’ what relationship is it? After all the divine economy ad extra engages us with the truth about God’s being ad intra. I guess we have to hold together the distinction in which the missio dei is not necessary, with the conviction that it is a positive expression which corresponds to God’s being ad intra.


  10. Andrew (and Jason, but since I’m writing to Andrew I’m going to reference you, Jason, in the 3rd person – apologies for the ensuing awkwardness),

    You’re right, this is a fundamental disagreement about the relation between the ad intra and the ad extra. And we can play the proof-text game all night, but that game has been played — and already won, in my opinion, by McCormack. (Although, I must ask, are you familiar with the literature of this debate? Because if so, then I find it rather odd that you would cite from CD I/2 when McCormack’s argument is that Barth effectively changes his mind starting with CD II/2. The literature from I/2 is more or less irrelevant.) But I want to respect Jason’s excellent theses and not let this thread become a debate over that issue. I was only trying to sharpen Jason’s language so that he doesn’t leave such issues so ambiguous.

    As it stands, I find thesis 4 baffling. Because if Jason accepts Jüngel’s thesis that Barth grounds God’s being in God’s act, such that there is no metaphysical being being the divine willing and acting, then that thesis cannot stand in its current form. (It’s entirely possible that he didn’t mean to imply his acceptance of Jüngel in comment #12, or that he does not understand Jüngel’s argument; but neither option is appealing to me, especially not the latter.) This is something that DBHamill’s comment #17 gets at, when he questions the rejection of the language of “grounding.” Let me follow up that comment with some further thoughts of my own.

    In its present form, thesis 4 says that the mission of God is not “grounded” in the being of God. That is a straightforward rewording of the thesis. I take it there is nothing controversial in that statement. But this begs the question: what does Jason mean? He says that he is “concerned to defend the notion of the missio dei as fully grace,” and he gives a further clue in the thesis itself when he parenthetically adds the word “unnecessary.” So I feel fairly confident that here we see a dichotomy between necessity and freedom being applied to God. That is to say, either God’s acts (the missio dei) are grounded in God’s being ad intra and thus necessary, or they are not grounded in God’s being and thus free and so truly grace. Again, I think all of this is fairly straightforward and non-controversial.

    If the above is true, however, his position is neither Barthian, nor is it, in my opinion, theologically acceptable. The former because Barth rejected, here following Schleiermacher, that the antinomy between freedom and necessity does not apply to God because this is a finite, creaturely problem that God utterly transcends. God is not bound by the creaturely problem of freedom and necessity, in the same way that God is not bound by the antinomies between death and life, between finitude and infinitude, between passibility and impassibility, between … well, you get the idea. Barth goes so far in Church Dogmatics IV/1 as to say that there is no “liberum arbitrium” in God. Barth says that there is an “inner necessity” within the freedom of God, and this “inner necessity” is directly connected with, and we might even say “grounded in,” what God does in time and space (ad extra) in Jesus Christ. The very being of God is mysteriously and necessarily christological and missionary. Here, though, we must reiterate: necessity is not being played off against freedom. Rather, Barth is attempting, within the limits of human speech, to articulate the fact that divine freedom is simultaneously a divine necessity, and vice versa.

    I could say more, but my point is this: taking Jason’s statements at their word requires us to affirm either (a) that he simply disagrees with Jüngel and is fully in Molnar’s camp, in which there is a fundamental bifurcation within the life of God between the being of God (ad intra) and the act of God (ad extra), such that the latter is a secondary and contingent willing after God’s eternal willing to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; or (b) that he actually misunderstands Jüngel and even misunderstands his own position as stated above, so that while he thinks he is closer to Barth, he is actually closer to Molnar (who is not close to Barth, in my opinion). As I said before, I don’t think position (b) is all that flattering or plausible, so I’m going with (a). Moreover, everything Jason has written thus far points in that direction. He seems very consistent and thus not confused about anything.

    What does that mean? Well, for starters, it means that I don’t think he was right above to say that he is not trying to reintroduce a bifurcation between being and act in God, because that is precisely what he has done in thesis 4. There’s simply no way to get around that, unless he has a thesis 4a in the back of his mind where he articulates a positive statement about the relation between the divine mission and the divine being. But so long as he continues to play freedom off against necessity, he maintains the kind of bifurcation in God that Schleiermacher, Barth, and Jüngel (among others) strove to overcome. Also, it means that I don’t think his position is finally Barthian, at least according to Barth’s best insights. It is certainly Molnarian, though.


  11. Hey David,

    It seems like Barth’s “inner necessity” has a nice rhetorical or even tautological force to it — relative to what Barth needs to say — but how does “inner necessity” avoid the same problem it is seeking to avoid; in the sense that it only seems to push the question back to God ad intra, while not really resolving the question or forces of necessity relative to His freedom. It just seems artificial to me, i.e. to say that these categories of necessity and freedom don’t apply to him — but then apply those categories to Him relative to the concept of “inner necessity.”

    So you’re saying that Barth is saying that there is necessity in God’s life; but that this necessity is constrained by God’s own being which is actually shaped by his act (ad extra) which becomes the ‘ground’ for missio Dei. I’m just trying to parse out what you’re getting at; esp. in re. to your usage of Barth’s notion of ‘inner necessity’.

    It doesn’t seem to me that Jason is trying to bifurcate being from act; but that he like you, is grounding it in God’s life (ad intra) which then takes shape ad extra in Christ. Ah, I see, you’re saying that Jason is dichotomizing being from act because the ad extra is determined by the ad intra — and not by it.

    I never really saw where Jason was saying that he was trying to represent Barth or misrepresent him. Maybe what Jason was doing was implicitly critiquing Barth to begin with.

    {Btw, thanks for bearing with me above, I am thinking out-loud, by-in-large — thanks for the exercise}


  12. Two things:

    1. I’ve updated Thesis 4. It now reads: ‘But we ought to reject those articulations which suggest that the divine ontology in se is determined in the missio dei ad extra and so undermine the truth that the missio dei is an action of free grace from Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. To be sure, this will remain just as unsatisfactory to those not already convinced by my theses but I hope that it at least helps to clarify what I’m trying to say, and not say.

    2. Since we’re now also talking about my dear friend Bruce McCormack, it would be good to quote from the man himself: ‘In the gracious election of God, both divine and human being are given their own most essential determination – that which makes God to be God and human to be human. And given that election exists in an eternal decision, there never was a “time” when that decision had not already been made. There is no “essence” of God and no “essence” of human extracted from the concrete determination which gives each its character. For Barth, this means (among other things) that we are forbidden to postulate a mode of being or existence in God above and prior to this decision. “Essence” is to be understood as a function of that original and originating act. So, when in the history of Jesus Christ there takes place the humiliation of God and exaltation of the human, what is taking place is the “making real” in time that which was already real and true of both God and human in the divine decision.” – Orthodox and Modern, 238.


  13. So David is saying that God’s being in se ‘simply is’ the missio dei ad extra. If this is so then surely the very notion God’s being in se is redundant and should be eliminated. On the other hand, if I understand him correctly, Jason is saying the free grace of God requires that we think in terms of dual categories of God in se and God ad extra, but that these are neither dichotomized nor separated, but somehow related, but not in terms of necessity and certainly not in such a way that the relation to the creature ‘ad extra’ determines the in se. These are denials which nowhere affirm (nor imply?) a bifurcation or dichotomy.

    I am puzzled by David’s reading of Jason. He interprets Jason as denying that the missio dei ad extra is grounded in God’s being in se… I quote:

    “In its present form, thesis 4 says that the mission of God is not “grounded” in the being of God. That is a straightforward rewording of the thesis.”

    However, it doesn’t seem straightforward to me since Jason actually denied the converse of this namely that:

    “the divine ontology in se is determined in the missio dei ad extra”

    Now if my reading of David is correct and he identifies the two concepts then there is no place for a determination either way since the two are identical. However, on Jason’s assumptions, I can see why it would be important to see a kind of non-necessary grounding of the ad extra in the in se but not vice versa.

    The problem it seems to me that David seems to read his ‘identity assumption’ onto Jason and thus all distinctions and relations are read by him as a bifurcation. In terms of the question of freedom and necessity I suspect Jason wants to say that God’s acts ad extra are grounded ad intra, but not for that reason necessary.

    Or am I confused?


  14. Bobby:

    You really just have to read the passage I’m referring to to see how Barth is playing with the notions of freedom and necessity. For now, take it from me on this: Barth absolutely rejects playing freedom and necessity off each other, as if God is bound to such creaturely distinctions. I also quoted it because people are fond of citing CD II/1 where Barth defines God as the “one who loves in freedom,” but they overlook that later in his work he is willing to say that this freedom is itself a kind of necessity. Freedom and necessity do not conflict for God; rather, they coincide!

    As for what I am trying to say, I’ll put it like this: God’s being is determined and constituted by God’s self-giving, self-emptying mission of triune love (aka election), such that our theological description of God’s eternal being ad intra is nothing other than the conceptual clarification of who God is in God’s missionary activity in relation with the creation. Put differently, we cannot speculate about who or what God is in eternity apart from God’s electing and reconciling activity. The doctrine of the immanent trinity has absolutely no additional content than the economic trinity; it serves as a dogmatic assurance that what we say about God ad extra (1) is not the activity of an arbitrary god and (2) has decisive consequences for the very being of God.

    I hope that helps.


  15. DBHamill:

    First, yes, there was a typo there. The second “being” should read “behind.” A very important change, but one that should have been fairly obvious.

    Second, your last comment is very confusing. As for why the immanent being of God is not merely redundant, see my response to Bobby. But let’s be clear about this: Barth was always insistent that the immanent Trinity has no further content to it than the economic Trinity. On this point, all Barthians are in agreement. If nothing else, Barth insisted that we have no access to the eternal being of God apart from what God does in time and space. The debate I have been referring to is over whether this activity in time and space is the manifestation of who God already is eternally, or whether it actually determines and constitutes who God is eternally (even if only by way of anticipation, which is McCormack’s view; mine is bit stronger). The charge of redundancy ostensibly applies only to the issue that Barth himself viewed as completely settled: viz. that there is no additional content to, i.e. no new information to be gained about, the eternal life of God behind and above what God does in time. If there is an axiom in Barth’s theology, it is that in revelation, we encounter everything of God. There is nothing of God that remains hidden and inaccessible to revelation. God is hidden in God’s self-revelation, not outside of it.

    The problems mount even higher when you then go on to say: “the free grace of God requires that we think in terms of dual categories of God in se and God ad extra, but that these are neither dichotomized nor separated, but somehow related.” What is this “somehow related”? If this is not very carefully and strictly defined, it easily leads to the notion of a “God behind God” that Barth so adamantly rejected throughout his career.

    But this is where things really go wrong in the comment. And here I must confess my exasperation. You say that my rewording of Jason’s thesis is incorrect. (Funny, Jason himself didn’t seem to think so, which is why he reworded it.) But then you defend your critique of my statement by saying: “it doesn’t seem straightforward to me since Jason actually denied the converse of this namely that: ‘the divine ontology in se is determined in the missio dei ad extra.'” What’s so baffling about this to me is that you are critiquing me on the basis of Jason’s reworded thesis, which he rewrote after and in response to my criticisms! In other words, you are citing as evidence in your favor a statement to which I had no access, because it hadn’t been written. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that the original thesis 4 did state explicitly that the missio dei is not grounded in God’s being in se. Jason rightly and helpfully rewrote it, but it won’t do to criticize me for not knowing the future!

    You write at the end: “In terms of the question of freedom and necessity I suspect Jason wants to say that God’s acts ad extra are grounded ad intra, but not for that reason necessary.” What confuses me is that you are the author of comment #17 above, where you specifically question Jason regarding his rejection of “grounding” the missio dei (ad extra) in the divine ontology (ad intra). If you indeed wrote that comment, then how could you accuse me of misunderstanding thesis 4, where I simply reiterated and expanded upon that statement? It’s all very confusing indeed.

    Finally, you are wrong about my so-called “identity assumption.” I clearly and explicitly do speak of a determination, of the ad intra by the ad extra. They are identical in content, but they are not identical simpliciter. The ad intra is the eternal reality of what God does ad extra. God’s being is God’s act, as Barth says over and over again. God’s act in history is God’s self-determination.


  16. David,

    Thanks. I’ll have to read that section of the CD.

    I like the way TFT articulates the theological/evangelical natures of God in his: “Christian Doctrine of God.” I certainly hold to the idea that the immanent is the economic and vice-versa; and I’m still thinking through the McCormack vs. Molnar/Hunsinger theses. I’ve had some correspondence with Molnar in the recent past, and he offered some salient points for his side; but I certainly respect prof McCormack and his POV as well . . . thus my continued reflection.

    Thank you for the response, it helped clarify what you’re getting at; and I’ll just keep reading (now, to convert you back to inerrancy ;-).


  17. David, three comments,
    1. Thanks for your account of the role of the imminent Trinity in theological discourse. I find it clearer than most of Barth’s language that I can recall. I am not as familiar with these debates as you presume me to be. Your account of the imminent trinity makes it clear why you find my comments exasperating. It also makes your denial of simply identity clear. I can see now how your view makes the claim of simply identity (therefore redundancy) a category mistake.
    2. My apologies for not reading the thread carefully enough. I simply read Jason’s revised version as if it were the original… silly me… even a barthian can’t be expected to have access to the future ;-).
    3. I remain largly confused about the debate, and my final question was serious… but as I read your account of the immanent trinity as a ‘conceptual clarification’ and ‘dogmatic assurance’ regarding God’s action in the missio dei, I increasingly reach the conclusion that you mean something quite different from Jason, who seems to see it as the ontological ground of a non-necessary gracious act of mission ad extra. I’m haven’t worked out if these views might be compatible or not, but as it stands I suspect that you are both referring to quite different entities and therefore, to an extent talking past one another.


  18. Hey David,

    I too add my thanks for the thoughtful dialogue. Sorry for not responding earlier but the discussion had its own life. Like McCormack himself, you do us a service by your clear articulation and incisive clarification. This is something I certainly wish to emulate. But, and I guess you saw it coming … I suppose I’m just not so sure the debate has been as decisively won as you state (by the way I was quoting from CD II/2, although that doesn’t really matter now). I know theologians whom I respect that would not categorically support either McCormack or Molnar. And while our discussion of Barth is surely vehicle in our attempt to speak faithfully of the gospel (as your focus on the mission dei surely displays), in the end whatever we think we have demonstrated he intends (or should say to be consistent) does not necessarily make the right of the matter. Didn’t Israel itself have to hold in close tension the contingency of their election with assurance that this election opens up God’s true heart toward them? Isn’t the likes of Deut. 10:14 – “Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today,” more indicative of a understanding that election itself ‘cannot be absorbed into God’s identity’? (Bruce Marshall)


  19. Yes, when the smoke clears.. were always cast back upon the Text! Note, it is upon, “Yet your fathers (Israel) did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants (seed) -Deut. 4:37- after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.” (Deut. 10:15) And yet note the text of verse 17; see also verses 20-21. But in the end, verse 22…”And now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of the heaven.” It is always “covenant/covenants”, the essential unity of the immanent and the economic Trinity!


  20. DBHamill:

    You’re probably right that Jason and I view the immanent Trinity in different, perhaps finally contradictory, ways. But my view of the immanent Trinity is, as I alluded, stronger and more controversial than McCormack’s. That is to say, my view of the immanent Trinity should NOT be taken as representative of McCormack’s position. On the contrary, McCormack and Jason are probably fairly close, with just a minor disagreement over whether the ad intra or the ad extra comes first in the eternal being of God.

    My own position is quite a bit stronger, more akin to Jüngel’s position in God as the Mystery of the World. If you want to hear more about my view, feel free to email me: dwcongdon at gmail dot com.


  21. Andrew:

    You certainly aren’t alone in feeling like the debate hasn’t been decisively won, and that’s a perfectly fine position to take. I think the more one reads Barth in the later Dogmatics, the more one has to eventually accept McCormack’s basic thesis. I think this quote more or less sums up Barth’s later theology:

    “Jesus Christ is Himself God as the Son of God the Father and with God the Father the source of the Holy Spirit, united in one essence with the Father by the Holy Spirit. That is how He is God. He is God as He takes part in the event which constitutes the divine being” (CD IV/1, 129; emphasis added).


  22. One more point, Andrew. At the end of your comment, you cite Marshall as saying that election “cannot be absorbed into God’s identity.” But my position is not that election is absorbed into God’s being. On the contrary, my position (with McCormack) is much rather the converse: God’s being is absorbed into election. God’s being is defined by election and cannot be posited or known apart from that event.


  23. Regarding Thesis Four, let me add the following both by way of commentary and in an effort to further clarify my point: There is no ontological separation between God in se and God ad extra. The divine economy perfectly witnesses to who God is – there is no God behind the economy – and who God is is made manifest in the divine economy, which is God’s gracious self-interpretation. We can even say that the economy is a ‘happening’ in the divine life, and even that something ‘new’ happens for the God who is eternally the triune One, something which, in Jüngel’s words ‘defines the concreteness of God’s being in relation to man’ (God’s Being is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth, 76). But the economy does not constitute God’s being in se. Rather, it is the perfect expression or reiteration or interpretation or, in Barth’s words, ‘correspondence’, of being. So Jüngel: ‘God’s being for us does not define God’s being but, in his being for us, God does indeed interpret his being’ (God’s Being is in Becoming, 120).

    In the terms of this post, we might say that in the economy, God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – becomes the missionary God precisely in the divine decision to turn and to speak the ‘Yes’ eternally-spoken to himself (and which constitutes God’s being-in-becoming, which, by the way, what I understand Barth to be saying in CD IV/1, 129; namely, that the divine being in constituted in the Father’s decision to be the Father of the Son, and in the Son’s decision to be the Son of the Father, and in the Spirit’s proceeding from Father and Son. ‘That is how [God] is God’! This dynamic of relations is ‘the event which constitutes the divine being’) to something other than God’s self, namely creation. Just as TF Torrance (in The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Faith, pp. 84–9), drawing upon Athanasius, argued that ‘God was not always Creator’, I want to argue that while God’s being a missionary is entirely consistent with who God is in se, God was not always a missionary. God’s being a missionary is a decision that God makes to be God for us. It relates therefore to God’s election. This does not mean, however, that God was not always missionary by way of anticipation, or that the God made known in his self-disclosure is at all other than the God who was hidden. But we must not here confuse epistemology and ontology.

    Torrance, I think, makes the point (and that more clearly) that I am trying to make in Thesis Four. While not all of what he says here is directly relevant to our discussion, I think that the passage is worth citing at length:

    ‘[W]hile God the Father is the Fount of all being, he is not the Fount of created beings in the same way as he is the Fount of the Son. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father within the one being of God, as God of God, while created beings are not begotten of God but made by him out of nothing and as such are external to God. The crucial point here … is the distinction between the generation of the Son by the nature of God, and the creation of the world by the will of God. It became increasingly clear in the early decades of the fourth century that, unless a clear distinction of this kind could be drawn, the Church would finally lapse back into paganism.

    That was the pressing issue that lay at the root of the problems facing the Nicene fathers. The disturbing ideas that irrupted in the teaching of Arius ran back to Origen’s blurring of the difference between the internal and external relations of God, that is, between the eternal generation of the Son within the one being of God and the creation of the cosmos by the eternal Son or Word of God. Origen was unable to think of God as Pantokrator or the Almighty except in a necessary eternal conjunction with all things. Thus for Origen the creation had to be regarded as concomitant with the being of God and as eternally coexisting with him. This failure to give clear-cut ontological priority to the Father/Son relation in God over the Creator/cosmos relation, was aggravated by the fact that Origen was critical of the idea that the Son was begotten ‘of the being of the Father’, and appeared to think of the generation of the Son and the creation of the cosmos as both due to the will of the Father.

    Two basic problems had to be resolved. First, Origen’s monistic view of the eternity of the world had the effect both of undermining the transcendence of God over the creation, for it made external relations necessary for God, and of undermining the unique historical reality of the incarnation, for it implied that historical events are ultimately no more than transitory symbolic representations of ‘the eternal Gospel’. Second, Arius’ dualistic view of God’s relations with the world had the effect of severing the bond of being between the incarnate Son and God the Father upon which the very substance of the Gospel depended, and of including the Son among the works of God brought into being by his creative will. Thus Arius restricted human knowledge of God to his external relations with the creation. Hence for him God was primarily Creator and not Father, and it was only as Creator that he was Father, and not the other way round.

    Once again it was to Athanasius above all that the Church was indebted for the clarification of its apostolic and evangelical faith. On the one hand, he rejected the notion of the eternity of the world and its necessity for God, by showing that according to the nature of things that have come into existence they have no likeness in being to their Maker but are external to him and depend for their existence on his grace and will. On the other hand, he rejected the Arian disjunction between the being of the Son and the being of the Father, and confirmed the Nicene homoousion in showing that the Son belongs to the divine side of the Creator/creature relation …

    The crucial issue was forced sharply upon the Church in the claim that ‘God is always Maker’, since the power to create did not accrue to him subsequently. Here, as Florovsky has pointed out, the Arians had recourse to Origen’s argument but drew from it a very different conclusion. Since all God’s works were eternal, what would be wrong, they asked, in saying that they did not exist before they were generated? That is to say, the Arians wanted to equate the kind of ‘eternity’ attributed to creatures brought into existence by the will of God with the kind of ‘eternity’ they attributed to the Son in the light of their notorious statement that ‘there was once when he was not’. Athanasius argued in reply that there was no likeness between a son and a created thing which might equate the function of a father and of a maker, for there is a vast disparity between a created thing brought into being from nothing by the will of God as a ‘work external to his nature’, and the Son who is ‘the proper offspring of the being of God’ and is internal to his nature. Compared to the Son, therefore, who is as eternal as God the Father is, created things (things made, not begotten) do not eternally coexist with God.

    … Athanasius showed that in virtue of his intrinsic and eternal Fatherhood, God always had the power to create, and did actually create because he was and is the Father of the Son. God is, and always is, Father, but to create something out of nothing utterly different from himself is an act of his will and freely follows from what he eternally and intrinsically is. Hence, for God to create is secondary, and to beget is primary’. In answer to the question why God, though always with the power to make, does not always make, Athanasius pointed to the fact that owing to their intrinsic nature created things could not have existed eternally, for they were created out of nothing. ‘How can things which did not exist before they were brought into being be coeternal with God?’ God’s decision to create things outside of himself had in view what was good for their existence and stability. Athanasius also pointed to the incarnation, for though God was able, even from the beginning in the time of Adam or Noah or Moses, to send his own Word, nevertheless he did not send him until the consummation of the ages, for he saw that to be good for the whole creation. It was the same with created things themselves: God made them when he willed to do so, and as it was good for them. It is only in the light of what God has done in creation and redemption and revealed of his eternal purpose that we may speak of him in this way.

    The truth of the matter, then, is that while God was always Father, he was not always Creator or Maker. This is not to say that the creation was not in the Mind of God before he actually brought it into being, but that he brought it into being by a definite act of his will and thereby gave it a beginning. Quite clearly words like ‘was’, ‘before’, ‘when’ and ‘beginning’ are time-related, and present us with problems when we speak of God, for the time-relations they imply may not be read back into God. These terms have one sense when used of God when they are governed by the unique nature of God, and another sense when used of creatures in accordance with their transitory natures. Thus when the Scriptures tell us that ‘in the beginning God created’ we must understand ‘beginning’ in a two-fold way: with reference to the creating act of God, and with reference to what he has created or his works. Hence Athanasius could say that ‘while the works have a beginning in being made, their beginning precedes their coming to be’. Behind the beginning of creation there is an absolute or transcendent beginning by God who is himself eternally without beginning. This is what makes the creation of the world out of nothing so utterly baffling and astonishing. It is not only that something absolutely new has begun to be, new even for God who created it by his Word and gave it a contingent reality and integrity outwith himself, but that in some incomprehensible way, to cite Athanasius again, ‘the Word himself became the Maker of the things that have a beginning’. God was always Father, not always Creator, but now he is Creator as well as Father. It is in similar terms that we may speak of the eternal Son who became Man. The Son was always Son of God, but now he is Man as well as God. ‘He was not man previously, but he became man for our sake.’

    … If God was not always Creator, the creation of the universe as reality ‘external to God’ was something new in the eternal Life of God. If the Son or Word of God by whom he created all things was not always incarnate, but became man in the fullness of time, then God’s communication of himself to us in Jesus Christ who is of one and the same being and nature as the Father, is something new to the eternal being of God. Thus the incarnation and creation together, the latter interpreted in the light of the former, have quite breath-taking implications for our understanding of the nature of God. They tell us that he is free to do what he had never done before, and free to be other than he was eternally: to be the Almighty Creator, and even to become incarnate as a creature within his creation, while remaining eternally the God that he is’.

    This point, which is precisely of the same genus as that that I am trying to uphold in Thesis Four, is picked up again by John Webster in his ‘Translators Introduction’ to Jüngel’s God’s Being is in Becoming where he cites favourably from Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons (p. 242), the broader context of which is his discussion on time and the life of God. A selection of that passage reads:

    ‘The time of our human life is characterised by finite distinctions and limits between past, present and future, which do not characterise the eternal Life of God. And yet … there is a purpose of love and so a definite direction in God’s eternal Life, marked by distinct moments in it such as that before and after the creation or before and after the incarnation, in which it moves toward the divinely determined fulfilment revealed in Jesus Christ when God will be all in all. There is thus direction and onward movement in the eternal Life and Activity of God. Hence we may well say, in Karl Barth’s startling statement, that God has a ‘history’ – but of course ‘history’ in a unique sense defined by God the unique subject of this history, the one ever-living God. Just as the finite distinctions between word, act, and person that characterise human beings may not be projected into our understanding of God, so our finite distinctions between past, present and future may not be projected into our thought of God’s being and activity which transcend them altogether. There is and can be no conflict between the unchanging constancy of God’s eternal time and the movement and activity of God toward the fulfilment of his eternal purpose of love.

    This must be thought out in the light of the happening of the incarnation when the eternal Word of God became historical event, and the eternal became time. The fact that in the incarnation God became man without ceasing to be God, tells us that his nature is characterised 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 his 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 in movement and his Being in movement is his Becoming in a way which we cannot adequately grasp or express, but which we discern in the incarnate life and activity of God within the space and time of our creaturely existence which affirmed the reality of that space and time for ever in God’s interrelations with us throughout all history. That is to say, we must think of the constancy of the mighty living God as essentially dynamic and never as static, for it is none other than the constancy of the self-living, self-moving God himself revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and for ever, the incarnate ‘I am’ of the eternal Lord God. As our Lord once said, ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’


  24. My comment is more of a side track than the basis of the discussion and it not a criticism of the ten draft propositions. It’s more of a lament really, that the stuff we talk about and value is often communicated in a way that only the more educated amongst us can or want to engage with.
    Recently I was reading the shorter and longer Catechisms and was struck by the simplicity of much of it. Coupled with the fact that ‘theological’ literacy was probably much higher than it is nowadays I wonder if people more generally could connect with it. And I also realise that these draft propositions are aimed at a conference of Church leaders where there is an expectation of understanding. But I can’t help get back to the old saying “if we can’t say some thing simply is it really worth saying”. Because I think if there are common propositions that are going to publicly professed if accepted, they should be able to be engaged with by ‘the public’ not just ‘the academic’. Once again not a criticism, more a reflection prompted by your helpful propositions and an ongoing personal struggle with communicating what we are about to all those around us. For example I really enjoyed prop 10! lol. Pax.


  25. Jason,

    Thanks for that long and very helpful comment. I think you’ve confirmed my comment above that you and McCormack are very close in every way, except on that tiny but all-important ordering of the primal ad intra/ad extra. I can see also why you claim to be following Jüngel. On that latter point, let me refer you to McCormack’s recent essay assessing Jüngel’s magnificent little book, which appeared in the Festschrift for Dan Migliore, Theology as Conversation. My criticisms of Jüngel’s book (and thus of your following of Jüngel on certain points) are perfectly articulated there.

    Now, back to the former point about the ad intra and ad extra. I think everything you wrote comes down to one crucial statement: “I want to argue that while God’s being a missionary is entirely consistent with who God is in se, God was not always a missionary. God’s being a missionary is a decision that God makes to be God for us.

    Let’s parse this statement. The second sentence we both are in agreement about: I, too, believe that God’s missionary identity occurs as a decision that is a divine self-determination to be God for us. The all-important question is whether we can speak about a God behind this decision. That is to say, can we describe who or what God would be without this decision? Can we define a God who is not missionary?

    You stated above that the economy perfectly corresponds or witnesses to the immanent being of God. Fair enough. But this later statement points in a more problematic direction, one that I think is truer to your intentions. Namely, you want to be able to say that God would be the same triune God who articulates the same eternal “Yes” to God’s own self in its thrice-repeated form as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The epistemological question is this: how could you possibly know this to be the case? What noetic access do you have to a pre-missionary God, that is, to a pre-christological God? The ontological question is: what could it possibly mean for God to be triune and not missionary? What is the “Yes” that God speaks if it is not the “Yes” to be the Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer?

    Here is the problem, Jason. It seems to me that you misunderstand, and thus misuse, the language of anticipation, which I take to be an attempt to come as close to McCormack as you feel able. But the fact of the matter is that McCormack understands this to be an anticipation of the eternal being of God for the historical actualization of this divine being in time and space. You, however, are speaking of something quite different. You are speaking of the anticipation on the part of God-before-election for God-in-election. That is to say, you are positing an anticipation by the God of the processions for the God of the missions. Both aspects are in eternity; it is eternity’s anticipation of eternity. The eternal God-without-us anticipates, in your view, God-with-us. But what could this possibly mean? How could God-without-us anticipate being God-with-us without positing some kind of “inner necessity” within the freedom of God, which is what Barth argues for but what you seem thoroughly resistant to? I think once your logic becomes clear, it fails to hold up. You spell all this out in the following statement:

    “God’s being a missionary is a decision that God makes to be God for us. It relates therefore to God’s election. This does not mean, however, that God was not always missionary by way of anticipation, or that the God made known in his self-disclosure is at all other than the God who was hidden.”

    Notice that you speak of God’s decision (in election) to be a missionary God. You then say that, before this decision, God was not missionary; instead, God was missionary by way of anticipation. In other words, you have two very distinct moments in the eternal life of God: a moment in which God is ostensibly triune (insert whatever other attributes you are willing to speculate about), and a second moment in which God “then” (logically and ontologically posterior, if not also temporally) decides to be missionary, i.e., decides to be “for us.”

    I am not interested in whether either of us are the “true” followers of Barth. That’s not my concern in the slightest. I’m interested in which of us is actually right. And finally it comes down to whether one is right to insist that God could have been a non-missionary God. Could God have been other than missionary, other than God-for-us? You say “yes,” but I don’t know how or why you say such a thing. We certainly don’t encounter an abstract deity in Scripture. God’s holiness and otherness in the Bible is always on behalf of God’s saving work of loving, reconciling, and sanctifying the world. God’s holiness is God’s decision to be with us in the “far country.”

    It seems like you are finally driven by the same problem I’ve identified from the beginning: viz. the notion that God’s freedom is somehow at odds with God’s necessarily missionary identity. For you, divine freedom is a liberum arbitrium, a totally abstract freedom to be and do what God arbitrarily wishes. The fact that God has chosen to be and do what is in harmony with who God is from all eternity is a happy coincidence, but that’s about it. God could have chosen otherwise. God could have chosen to be non-missionary. The Son could have been other than Jesus. Can you deny that this is the logic of your position? I don’t see that you can. And yet you have painted yourself into this corner.

    I see one biblically faithful and theologically responsible solution: God is always a missionary God from all eternity, because the event which constitutes the divine being (as Barth puts it) is identical with the decision to be Jesus Christ. That is the real meaning of this statement by Barth. God is determined, in God’s very being, by the decision to be a missionary God. There is no bifurcation in God between the processions and the missions. This is a distinction without any material difference. God’s eternal processions coincide logically and ontologically (and I would even add, temporally) with God’s historical missions. What it means for God to be Father, Son, and Spirit is exclusively and exhaustively known in the temporal event of missionary action by God’s Word and Spirit. We need to dispense with the idea that God once was and could have been a non-missionary God. I find such a view theologically abhorrent. It comes from a misguided attempt to do honor to the freedom and glory of God, but it ends up misconstruing what those terms mean. It is God’s freedom to be free-for-humanity and God’s glory to be lowly upon the cross. There and no where else do we discover who God is from all eternity.


  26. How do we maintain the Immutability of God and also the absolute Transcendence of God, in this whole question, other than the trinitarian event? We don’t and cannot end up in “process”! We need to combine the static with the dynamic, and maintain the ontological. The “Theodrama” can never be separated from the “Theologik”: goodness and truth, with the other transcendentals of unity and beauty. God is always Trinity in unity, and unity in Trinity. And always “Otherness” also.


  27. David. Many thanks again for your comments. There is much therein that I agree with, and that unreservedly. I applaud the statement that ‘we certainly don’t encounter an abstract deity in Scripture’, and what I understand to be your motivation behind making it. And I fully embrace your closing comments that ‘It is God’s freedom to be free-for-humanity and God’s glory to be lowly upon the cross. There and no where else do we discover who God is from all eternity’. But I sense that you too quickly confuse epistemology and ontology: Who is this ‘God’ who elects to be ‘free-for-humanity’? Who is this ‘God’ who in the incarnation reveals himself as God ‘from all eternity’? Finally, I do not believe it is intentional, but you disingenuously represent my understanding of divine freedom with the straw man you set up. Who wouldn’t want to knock that guy over! There is nothing arbitrary, abstract or coincidental about divine freedom.


  28. If I misunderstood you, then please explain. But I do not see how the comments I cited can be understood differently. You have yet to explain your concept of divine freedom in a way that does not make it competitive with necessity in the way I outlined above.

    That said, I do insist that the “order of being” follows the “order of knowing.” That is a very simple rule that follows from the axiomatic conviction (which I think we both share) that God reveals Godself wholly and without remainder. God is what God reveals Godself to be. Perhaps you agree with that much. But then you wish to insist that there was a “time” when God was not such, when God was non-missionary, non-christological. Is that not the case? Do you not posit a rather sharp distinction between the processions and the missions, such that they do not and cannot coincide?

    Your questions (“Who is this God…?”) imply that we have to first fix the subject of the action before we can talk about the action and its consequences. This is an unfortunate anthropomorphizing of God. In the same way that I am a wholly subsistent subject before I engage in an action, so too God (in this view) must be wholly subsistent with all the various attributes in place before engaging in any action vis-a-vis the world. What if the divine subject is itself constituted by the divine action? What if subject and object were simultaneously realized in the divine life? What if the God who becomes missionary and the missionary action itself ontologically occur in the same event? If we want to say, with McCormack, “by way of anticipation,” that’s fine — so long as we realize that this is not God anticipating the decision but God anticipating the historical actualization of the decision.

    In short, I reject the notion that we can identify the divine subject apart from the divine action. Moreover, following Barth, I believe that God’s being is God’s act, and therefore God’s act simply is the actualization of God’s eternal being. I’m not confusing epistemology and ontology, but I do insist that they are identical in content and coincide in every respect. The God that we are given to know is entirely and eternally who God is, because it is who God has chosen to be.


  29. Wow this is a great conversation to keep a track on, even though I may be doing that quite poorly I submit. But I did have one question from your last posting David. In your words

    ‘I’m not confusing epistemology and ontology, but I do insist that they are identical in content and coincide in every respect. The God that we are given to know is entirely and eternally who God is, because it is who God has chosen to be.’

    David does that then mean we know all there is know about God? Does it mean that there cannot be other facets of God’s work happening outside of our understanding?

    I’m a bit confused by that one, I figured we have a certain revealed understanding of God but one that has understandably human limits, not an understanding of God in his entirety.

    Again thanks for the posts, I am ministry intern and theological queries like this are helpful for my formation.


  30. Raz:

    It was central to Barth’s theology that there is nothing of God that remains hidden outside of revelation. What was revolutionary about his theology was precisely the claim that God’s hiddenness is within revelation, not outside of it. The basis for this claim is found in christology: in Christ, we have both the fullness of revelation and the fullness of hiddenness, and the two occur simultaneously (vere deus vere homo). God is hidden because God is transcendent, not because God withholds aspects of God from us. And this transcendence becomes immanent and revealed in Christ, but only when God makes this known to us in the self-communicative event of God’s word of address. That is to say, God is always hidden from creatures, but God makes Godself known to us in revelation; but in the event of revelation, God does not cease to be the hidden God. This is another way of saying that God does not become an object over which we have control. God remains Lord and Master in the epistemic relation with human beings. We come to know God, but we come to know God as the transcendent Lord who remains beyond us.

    For excellent discussions of this point, see Eberhard Jüngel, “The Revelation of the Hiddenness of God” in Theological Essays II, and Bruce McCormack, “The Limits of the Knowledge of God,” in Orthodox and Modern.

    In short, I’m saying nothing new that wasn’t already made very clear in Barth. Certainly, one can disagree with Barth on this issue, and many do. Barth was clearly breaking from the tradition, especially with Luther who established a bifurcation between the hidden and revealed God — between the one who elects and controls the world providentially (hidden), and the one who facilitates our salvation (revealed). I reject such a distinction along with Barth.


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