Bruce McCormack

Bruce McCormack on ‘God’s Gracious Election in the Theology of Karl Barth’

Whether on the subject of beer or theology, Bruce McCormack is always worth listening to (he’s considerably less reliable on the subject of sports), and that not least when it comes to the subject of Karl Barth and the doctrines of election. Here is Bruce’s lecture titled ‘God’s Gracious Election in the Theology of Karl Barth: Musings on a Possible Way to Move Beyond the Calvinist/Arminian Divide’ given last year at the Rethinking Arminius Conference held at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Bruce McCormack’s 2011 Kantzer Lectures now available

Back in September, I posted on Bruce McCormack‘s 2011 Kantzer Lectures on the theme ‘The God who Graciously Elects’. I tried watching these at the time via the livestream, but the stream itself, or something at my end of it, was really quite inadequate. That said, what I did hear of the lectures was, as expected, fantastic. I’m pleased to announce that the lectures are now available for MP3 download:

Lecture One: Tuesday, September 27 |
“Is the Reformation Over? Reflections on the Place of the Doctrine of God in Evangelical Theology Today”.

Lecture Two:  Wednesday, September 28 | 
“From the One God to the Trinity: The Creation of the Orthodox
Understanding of God”.

Lecture Three: Wednesday, September 28 |
“The Great Reversal: From the Economy of God to the Trinity in
Modern Theology”

Lecture Four: Thursday, September 29 | 
“The God Who Reveals Himself: The Mystery of the Trinity in the New

Lecture Five: Monday, October 3 | 
“Which Christology?  Refining the Economic Basis of the Christian
Doctrine of God”.

Lecture Six: Monday, October 3 | 
“The Processions Contain the Missions: Reconstructing the Doctrine
of an Immanent Trinity”.

Lecture Seven: Tuesday, October 4 |
“The Being of God as Gift and Grace: On Freedom and Necessity, Aseity
and the Divine “Attributes”.

The lectures are also available to watch via Henry Centre Media.



By the way, if you’re the praying kind – i.e., if you’re someone who tries to be human – please consider ascending a few breaths for the people of Christchurch who have just, about an hour ago, experienced another earthquake.

‘The God who Graciously Elects’: Bruce McCormack and the 2011 Kantzer Lectures [UPDATED]

The plan is that in just 10 days time, Bruce McCormack will deliver the first of seven of the 2011 Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology. His theme? ‘The God who Graciously Elects’. Few have thought, written and spoken more about this topic in recent years than Bruce has, and even though I’ve now heard Bruce speak to this theme on five occasions across three continents, I’m very much looking forward to hearing him again, this time via the promised live stream.

Here’s the UPDATED lecture titles:

Lecture One: Tuesday, September 27 | 7:00-8:30 pm
“Is the Reformation Over? Reflections on the Place of the Doctrine
of God in Evangelical Theology Today”
Lecture Two:  Wednesday, September 28 | 2:00-3:30 pm
“From the One God to the Trinity: The Creation of the Orthodox
Understanding of God”
Lecture Three: Wednesday, September 28 | 4:00-5:30 pm
“The Great Reversal: From the Economy of God to the Trinity in
Modern Theology”
Lecture Four: Thursday, September 29 | 4:00-5:30 pm
“The God Who Reveals Himself: The Mystery of the Trinity in the New
Lecture Five: Monday, October 3 | 2:00-3:30 pm
“Which Christology?  Refining the Economic Basis of the Christian
Doctrine of God”
Lecture Six: Monday, October 3 | 4:00-5:30 pm
“The Processions Contain the Missions: Reconstructing the Doctrine
of an Immanent Trinity”
Lecture Seven: Tuesday, October 4 | 4:00-5:30 pm
“The Being of God as Gift and Grace: On Freedom and Necessity, Aseity
and the Divine “Attributes”
The lectures are open to all, free of charge. They will also be live-streamed here.


Bruce McCormack Lectures

January 2011 will witness Professor Bruce McCormack give the Croall Lectures (in the Martin Hall at New College) on the theme ‘Abandoned by God: The Death of Christ in Systematic, Historical, and Exegetical Perspective’. The titles are:

  • 17th January – Penal Substitution: Its Problems and Its Promise
  • 18th January – The Cry of Dereliction: The Strange Fate of Jesus in the New Testament
  • 20th January – The Incarnation as Saving Event: Theories Which Order the Work of Christ to a Metaphysical Conception of His Person
  • 24th January – Let Justice and Peace Reign: Theories Which Fail to Integrate the Person and Work of Christ
  • 25th January – After Metaphysics: Theories Which Order the Person of Christ to His Work
  • 27th January – The Lord of Glory was Crucified: Reformed Kenoticism and Death in God.

And later in the year (September 27 – October 4, 2011), Professor McCormack will also be giving the Kantzer Lectures on the theme ‘The God Who Graciously Elects: Six Lectures on the Doctrine of Election’.

Any who have been so priviledged to have heard Bruce lecture before can anticipate a real feast.

Coleridge on the ‘Ground’ of God

After re-reading McCormack and Molnar recently, I began to make my way through Berkeley’s fascinating essay on Coleridge, where I was struck by this claim:

‘The most radical element of Coleridge’s account of the Trinity is the inclusion of a fourth term: the “Prothesis” or “Ground” of God. [Coleridge] insists that this ground be conceived as will, and bases his claims of the personality of God on this subtlety’. – Richard Berkeley, Coleridge and the Crisis of Reason (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 46.

Now I’m no Coleridge scholar (Steve Holmes is my Coleridge man), but might it be that good ol’ uncle Samuel has something to contribute to this debate among Barth’s interpreters?

Cassidy on McCormack on Barth: Election and Trinity

The latest issue of The Westminster Theological Journal includes a piece by James J. Cassidy entitled ‘Election and Trinity’ in which he offers a ‘non-Barthian’ critique of Bruce McCormack’s reading of Barth’s ‘second’ doctrine of election. It’s a predictable argument: ‘… what McCormack has done is conflate the very Creator-creature distinction that he claims to maintain. Or, rather, he has collapsed the creature into the Creator, just as his Christology (with its ‘‘Reformed kenosis’’) collapses the humanity into the divinity of Christ’.

I have neither the time nor the desire to engage with Cassidy here, at least at this stage,  but simply wanted to draw attention to the article.

McCormack lays down the gauntlet

Recently over at aboutlet, Bruce McCormack cleared up a few misreadings and then laid down the gauntlet to Lane Tipton: ‘The issue for me has never been the existence of a Logos asarkos (to deny which would be tantamount to rejecting the pre-existence of the eternal Son). The issue has always been the identity of the Logos asarkos (i.e. whether the identity of the eternal Son can be established on the basis of some form of natural theology or only on the basis of Christology)’. Read the post here.

It’s great to see Bruce entering blogdom.

Great Theologians

Perhaps encouraged by a new leaf of democracy in Australian politics, Ben has resorted to a poll in order to identify the ‘world’s best living theologian’. A harmless enough exercise, I suppose, though thwarted with little promise of edifying anyone – something good theologians ought to be about. [Read: Jason’s just grumpy because Eberhard Jüngel is struggling to not come last]. In something of a response, Steve proposes some helpful comments on what it means – and should mean – to evaluate theologians.

Upon reading these two posts, I was reminded of the recent TF Torrance Lectures by Bruce McCormack and of how Bruce began on the first night by honouring Professor Torrance. He did so by recalling some words from Barth who once said that the phrase ‘great theologian’ was something of a contradiction in terms because worldly notions of greatness require qualities and values in a person which are contrary to the calling of a theologian. A theologian is called to be a witness – one who points beyond themselves – and to do so in service of those called to be ministers of the word.

NB: Ben has since redeemed the dignity of his blog with this post.

Steve Holmes evaluates McCormack’s TF Torrance Lectures

After posting his four reflections, Steve Holmes (who is obviously not lecturing this week and so has more time to devote to blogdom) now stands back and asks, ‘How to evaluate McCormack’s novel account of kenosis?’ He writes:

On trinity: ‘… it seems to me that [McCormack’s] basic position is securely orthodox, certainly much more so than all of the recent theology that, misled by the word ‘Person’, insists on finding three instances of many or most divine properties (will; operation; knowledge; …) within the Godhead.’

On creation: ‘If there is a criticism which is in danger of sticking, I think it is to do with creation.’

On kenosis: ‘McCormack’s account of kenosis is, or at least could easily be rendered, orthodox. Is it, however, compelling? Alongside the constructive work in these lectures was a line of critique of classical Christology which established the need for the fresh construction. Simply and bluntly, I found this critique unconvincing. It was, in essence, Herrmann’s critique of metaphysics: the problem with Christology prior to Schleiermacher was its investment in certain metaphysical commitments that were alien to the gospel. This led to irreconcilable tensions, in patristic Christology, which only Cyril’s (supposed) Origenism allowed him to escape, and throughout the tradition into the nineteenth century, with the incompatibility of the anhypostasia and dithelitism coming to the fore. It is these metaphysical commitments, giving rise to the tensions they do, that drive the need for a revisionist Christology … I don’t feel the pressure that is driving Bruce.’

Full post here.

Bruce McCormack’s TF Torrance Lectures – Lecture 4

Steve Holmes has posted his fourth reflection of McCormack’s recent TF Torrance lectures at St Andrews. He writes of Bruce’s proposal:

Let me approach it like this: it is a standard thesis of classical theology that God’s being is His act; further, God’s act is single, and simple. This is, of course, already a problem, at least if one wants to continue to maintain that God’s existence is independent of the created order: St Thomas devotes considerable ingenuity to explaining how God’s act of creation can happen without any change in God (1a q.45 arts 2 &3). When Barth brings the doctrine of election into the doctrine of God (it is treated in the second part-volume of vol. II, not the first of vol. III), and links election closely to incarnation, the problem becomes acute. However, the gains of Barth’s novel doctrine of election are sufficiently obvious that almost every serious (Protestant) theological proposal of the second half of the twentieth century chose to face the problems, rather than lose the gains.

In general, and in one way or another, the problems were eliminated in the later twentieth century by the simple expedient of losing the axiom of impassibility, properly understood: if God’s life is allowed to be dependent on creation, there is no problem. The single greatest merit of Bruce’s proposal, it seems to me, is that he is not prepared to play this game. Instead, he develops a novel account of kenosis.

Read the full post here. I have linked to all of Steve’s notes here, and I hope to post my notes from these lectures sometime soon.

Also, around the traps …

  • Locke and Mill both believed in being open to the other side’s ideas. Read here.
  • Andy and Jim (part 1; part 2) have both posted reviews on Rob Warner’s, Re-inventing English Evangelicalism 1966-2001: A Theological and Sociological Study
  • Barry Smith of Birkbeck College London gives a lucid account of Wittgenstein’s conception of Philosophy in this MP3.
  • Stanley Fish asks, ‘Will the humanities save us?’. He concludes:

Teachers of literature and philosophy are competent in a subject, not in a ministry. It is not the business of the humanities to save us, no more than it is their business to bring revenue to a state or a university. What then do they do? They don’t do anything, if by “do” is meant bring about effects in the world. And if they don’t bring about effects in the world they cannot be justified except in relation to the pleasure they give to those who enjoy them.

    To the question “of what use are the humanities?”, the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject. Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good. There is nothing more to say, and anything that is said … diminishes the object of its supposed praise.

    Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie

    The latest edition of Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie is out and includes two articles of interest to me:

    ‘Can the Electing God be God without us? Some Implications of Bruce McCormack’s Understanding of Barth’s Doctrine of Election for the Doctrine of the Trinity’, by Paul D Molnar (pp. 199-222)


    This article is the attempt at a dialogue with Bruce McCormack about the position he espoused in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth concerning the relation between God’s Election of grace and God’s Triunity. I had criticized McCormack’s position in my book, Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity (2002), but I did not elaborate on it in great detail. To develop the dialogue I will: 1) consider McCormack’s claim that in CD II/2 Barth made Jesus Christ “rather than” the Eternal Logos the subject of election; 2) consider what Barth means when he speaks of Jesus Christ “in the beginning”; 3) compare McCormack’s thesis that the Father never had regard for the Son, apart from the humanity to be assumed, with Barth’s belief that we must not dispute the eternal will of God which “precedes even predestination”; 4) analyze in detail McCormack’s rejection of Barth’s belief that the logos asarkos in distinction from the logos incarnandus is a necessary concept in trinitarian theology; 5) discuss Barth’s concept of the divine will in relation to the concept advanced by McCormack and suggest that McCormack has fallen into the error of Hermann Schell by thinking that God in some sense takes his origin from himself, so that God would only be triune if he elected us; 6) explain why it is a problem to hold, as McCormack does, that God’s self-determination to be triune and his election of us should be considered one and the same act; and finally 7) explain McCormack’s confusion of time and eternity in his latest article on the subject in the February, 2007 issue of the Scottish Journal of Theology, and his own espousal of a kind of indeterminacy on God’s part (which he theoretically rejects).

    ‘The Difference Totality Makes. Reconsidering Pannenberg’s Eschatological Ontology’, by Benjamin Myers (pp. 141-155)


    Summary Wolfhart Pannenberg’s eschatological ontology has been criticised for undermining the goodness and reality of finite creaturely differentiation. Drawing on David Bentley Hart’s recent ontological proposal, this article explores the critique of Pannenberg’s ontology, and offers a defence of Pannenberg’s depiction of the relationship between difference and totality, especially as it is presented in his 1988 work, Metaphysics and the Idea of God. In this work, Pannenberg articulates a structured relationship between difference and totality in which individual finite particularities are preserved and affirmed within a coherent semantic whole. Creaturely differences are not sublated or eliminated in the eschatological totality, but they are integrated into a harmonious totality of meaning. This view of the semantic function of totality can be further clarified by drawing an analogy between Pannenberg’s ontological vision and Robert W. Jenson’s model of the eschatological consummation as a narrative conclusion to the drama of finite reality.

    Steve Holmes on Bruce McCormack’s TF Torrance Lectures

    Though a newcomer to theo-blogdom, Steve Holmes (not this one, nor this one, and definitely not this Transylvanian Saxon from Sibiu) is no stranger to most of us. He has kicked off his blog – Shored Fragments – with, among other tidbits, a number of helpful reflections on Bruce McCormack’s recent TF Torrance Lectures (formerly the SJT lectures) held at the University of St Andrews. Here’s Steve’s posts:

    Bruce McCormack to Lecture at St. Andrews

    The Frederick and Margaret L. Weyerhaeuser Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Seminary, Bruce L. McCormack, will give the Scottish Journal of Theology Lectures at St Andrews University the week of December 3-6, 2007. His lectureship is titled ‘The Eternity of the Eternal Son: A Reformed Version of Kenotic Christianity’, and will include four lectures. For more information about times and locations, contact St Mary’s College at the University of St Andrews. I know at least one guy in St Andrews who can’t wait. Bring it on Bruce!

    McCormack’s Justification in Perspective: A Review

    JUSTIFICATION IN PERSPECTIVE: HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES. Edited by Bruce L. McCormack. Grand Rapids/Edinburgh: Baker Academic/Rutherford House, 2006. Pp. 277. $24.99, (currently $17.24), ISBN 10:0-8010-3131-1; ISBN: 13: 978-0-8010-3131-1.

    This collection of 10 papers and a sermon from the tenth Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference(2003) seeks to explicate more fully the Protestant teaching on justification. The papers are gathered into 3 sections: (i) Sermon, (ii) Antecedents and Historical Development, and (iii) Continuities and Discontinuities in Current Challenges to the Traditional View.

    The volume’s editor, Bruce McCormack, asserts that the function of this collection is to serve as ‘a progress report on the state of the Protestant doctrine of justification today in the midst of challenge and change’ (p. 9). He also confesses that ‘no effort was made to ensure uniformity of perspective’ (ibid). This is, arguably, part of the collection’s strength. That it is offered as something of an ‘in-house’ conversation amongst evangelicals of a Reformed flavour makes the exchange deeper and more exciting, even if narrower in scope. Contributors include Mark Bonnington, Nick Needham, David Wright, Carl Trueman, Karla Wübbenhorst, Anthony Lane, Andrew McGowan, Bruce McCormack, Henri Blocher, Simon Gathercole, and Tom Wright.

    Some highlights from the menu for this reviewer include Needham’s offering on ‘Justification in the Early Church Fathers’, wherein he convincingly argues that notions of imputed righteousness, penal substitution, and justification through faith alone occur in the fathers. Wübbenhorst’s paper is an impressive reminder of Calvin’s indebtedness to, and critical appropriation of, Luther’s thinking, whilst McGowan helpfully explores the relationship between justification and the ordo salutis, identifying two main streams of ‘union with Christ’ thinking within the Reformed tradition thus reminding us of the tradition’s diversity.

    McCormack’s paper on Justitia Aliena in Barth is an opulent and timely feast. While not all readers will be convinced, McCormack offers not only a faithful exposition of Barth’s doctrine of justification, but also ample evidence that Barth is one who ought rightly be regarded as standing clearly in the ‘Reformed’ stream. In the final essay, Wright responds provocatively and, at times, scathingly to critics of the ‘New Perspective’ outlining the main tenets of the ‘Perspective’ and clarifying his own position within and against the smorgasbord of ‘Perspectives’.

    Justification in Perspective makes a worthy contribution alongside recent works by Thomas Oden (The Justification Reader), David Aune (Rereading Paul Together: Protestant and Catholic perspectives on justification, Alister McGrath (Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification), Tuomo Mannermaa (Christ Present In Faith: Luther’s View Of Justification), and Mark Husbands and Daniel Treier (Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates). While the volume as a whole betrays a dearth of serious exegetical work (a fact that Wright annunciates), it remains a valuable collection from which the undergraduate or informed historian and systematician will glean much.

    A modified version of this review is to be soon published in Religious Studies Review, after which the definitive version will be available from Blackwell Synergy.