International Journal of Systematic Theology

Published by Wiley


Natural Theology in Paul? Reading Romans 1.19–20
  • Article

November 1999


58 Reads

This reading of Romans 1.19–20 suggests that, viewed within the argumentative progression of the letter from 1.18–3.20, these verses are properly understood as a subversion of the premises of natural revelation, rather than an endorsement of them. The traditional account of Paul's argument, in which 1.19–20 announces a theology of natural knowledge of God, is contradicted both by Paul's wider theological commitments and by his attitude to the privileges of Judaism. An alternative construal of the argument considers it as an ad hominem strategy, in which the opening verses serve to recapitulate at the beginning of the argument the presuppositions that Paul seeks ultimately to overthrow.

Barth's First Commentary on Romans (1919): An Exercise in Apophatic Theology?

October 2004


181 Reads

  Barth's first commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Romans is paradigmatic of his use of apophatic language and theology in the development away from the liberal neo-Protestant theology of his teachers. This negation is for a purpose – the assertion of the truths of the human condition and God's solution in Christ that were posited by the apostle Paul. Methodologically this is a supplementary apophatic–cataphatic dialectic (within which is a further dialectic: Diesseits–Jenseits), comparable with the way eternity reaches into and transforms the fallen and broken human world. The evidence for negation in Römerbrief1 is examined, showing how Barth seeks to refute the domestication of God in the self-satisfaction of our language, allowing for biblical-Christian truth to stand.

Creative Reappropriation: Barth’s Use of Calvin in the Münster Ethics (1928/29)

December 2002


18 Reads

This article demonstrates Calvin’s impact upon Barth’s ethics through a close reading of Barth’s MÏnster lectures on ethics. Already in these early lectures Barth insisted on the coherence of dogmatic and ethical reflection, and developed the basic structure and some characteristic themes of his mature ethical reflection in the Church Dogmatics. By showing the ways in which Barth was influenced by Calvin in these formative first ethics lectures the case is made that a thorough understanding of Calvin’s theology is necessary for a correct appreciation of Barth’s ethics and of his theology as a whole.

The Imago Dei and Election: Reading Genesis 1:26–28 and Old Testament Scholarship with Karl Barth

July 2008


76 Reads

Barth's treatment of the imago dei within his interpretation of the Genesis creation story (CD III/1) divides biblical scholars and dogmaticians. In an attempt to bridge the impasse Barth's relational interpretation is re-examined. A narrow focus on the small print exegesis of Genesis 1:26–28 has often led to Barth being misread. In contrast, attention is given to Barth's hermeneutical principles and his exegesis is placed within the wider context of his understanding of the creation story. Even in terms of his own hermeneutic Barth's reading of the imago is shown to be problematic. This hermeneutic can, however, be applied to provide a reading of the imago as a relationship to God and the world analogous to Israel's election. Such a reading is exegetically defensible and theologically suggestive.

Accommodation to What? Univocity of Being, Pure Nature, and the Anthropology of St Irenaeus

July 2006


47 Reads

  This article, the author's inaugural lecture for the J.I. Packer chair at Regent College, Vancouver, takes as its starting-point Karl Barth's penetrating question, ‘Accommodation to what?’ Suggesting that recent evangelical theologies have been too ready to accommodate to the immanentism inherent in postmodern culture, the article traces the roots of that immanentism to Scotus's teaching concerning the univocity of being, and suggests that in St Irenaeus's christologically shaped account of the nature and destiny of human life there is a theologically satisfying preservation of a proper account of transcendence.

A Fuller Account: The Role of ‘Fittingness’ in Thomas Aquinas' Development of the Doctrine of the Atonement

July 2010


43 Reads

This article draws attention to Thomas Aquinas' under-appreciated development of the doctrine of the atonement. I argue that Thomas' pursuit of the ‘fittingness’ of the passion yields an exceptional grasp of the multiplicity of effects accomplished by Christ's death. To defend this thesis, I explore the methodology underlying Thomas' approach to the atonement, contrasting it with that of Anselm. I then follow the implications of Thomas' methodology in his stance toward the diverse atonement theories of his day. In conclusion, I briefly note the significance of Thomas' method and conclusions for contemporary debates concerning the efficacy of Christ's passion.

Stoic and Epicurean? Calvin's Dialectical Account of Providence in the Institute
  • Article
  • Full-text available

November 2003


184 Reads

Calvin's account of providence demonstrates an awareness of the widely differing views of classical philosophers, particularly Stoics and Epicureans, on the subject. His own presentation stresses divine transcendence even more than Epicurean teaching had, whilst simultaneously asserting a more intimate involvement of God in the created order than any Stoic managed. The hypostatic union of the divine and the human natures in Christ offers Calvin a way of holding together the two sides of this dialectical teaching.

Divine Action and the Trinity: A Brief Exploration of the Grounds of Trinitarian Speech about God in the Theology of Adolf Schlatter

November 2002


15 Reads

This article explores Schlatter's doctrine of the Trinity in the light of the contemporary debate, focusing on the relation of the economic and the ontological Trinity. It is shown that Schlatter relates God's triune being and God's trinitarian action through the notion of love – where God's love ad extra as well as ad intra is oriented toward the particular in such a way as to enable true otherness. It will be argued, moreover, that Schlatter's contribution to the contemporary trinitarian debate lies in propounding an applied trinitarian theology which is faithful to its object. When God in himself and in relation to creation is oriented toward and actively seeks the other, then theology cannot talk about God's being apart from the actuality of his actions in this world.

Actualism and Incarnation: The High Christology of Friedrich Schleiermacher

July 2006


215 Reads

  Defining Schleiermacher's Christology simply as ‘low’ is inadequate, and based on a neglect of the crucial role that actualism plays in his theology. However, accounts that see his Christology as so high as to be docetic are equally unhappy. This article shows that there is a different way to read Schleiermacher's theology, one that avoids both views. By looking at how Schleiermacher's Christology proceeds in both ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ directions, it shows that through correctly understanding Schleiermacher's actualism we are able to see that, for Schleiermacher, Christ is the one who reproduces God's pure act of love through his own God-consciousness. Christ, then, exists as pure activity and so, for Schleiermacher, is God incarnate. The article then addresses two common objections to Schleiermacher's Christology: that Schleiermacher's Christ is not fully human; and that, if Christ is pure act, what of the passion? The piece closes with an account of the relationship of Christology and Trinity.

Speculating about Divinity? God's Immanent Life and Actualistic Ontology

January 2010


45 Reads

This article argues that counterfactual statements concerning God's life in himself are both theologically informative and genuinely warranted by Karl Barth's notion of God's ‘being-in-act’ as presented in § 28.1 of the Church Dogmatics. To this end, the proposed reading aims to mitigate recent emphases on divine Entscheidung as the primary category for construing Barth's theological ontology. Without offering a resolution to alleged ‘tensions’ in Barth's doctrine of God, the author nevertheless suggests that there are good reasons to prefer certain streams of Barth's thought to others, with the notion of God's love offered as a test case.

Rehabilitating Johann Adam Möhler's Sacramental Insights

January 2011


29 Reads

The sacramental and liturgical propositions of the German theologian Johann Adam Möhler (1796–1838) have been neglected in theological inquiries thus far. This article attempts to rehabilitate them. Having established a particular perspective on the reading of Möhler's liturgical and sacramental insights, we present each dimension of them separately in order to arrive at a ‘dialectical’ sacramental model. This rereading is an intrinsic possibility stemming from Möhler's theological works themselves. In addition, it is also possible to rehabilitate these insights in interplay with some contemporary developments in liturgical and sacramental theology. In his symbolical understanding, Möhler anticipates the Realsymbol of Karl Rahner, and his understanding of the actual presence of the person and sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist anticipates Odo Casel's Kultmysterium. Therefore, the rehabilitation of Möhler's sacramental insights exhibits its full meaning as the anticipation of a more accurate notion of Symbol.

Merit in the Midst of Grace: The Covenant with Adam Reconsidered in View of the Two Powers of God

March 2008


25 Reads

  The position of Barth and others, that the covenant with Adam is thoroughly legalistic, is based on the incorrect assumption that grace and works cannot coexist as covenant principles. However, the difficulty of seeing the harmony between these principles is real. This article reconsiders the covenant with Adam in light of the medieval concept of the two powers of God, or as we shall argue here, the two perspectives on God's power. These two perspectives, part of the original intellectual milieu in which covenant theology arose, demonstrate that the divine covenant with humanity may include aspects of both God's grace and human merit simultaneously. God's grace is apparent de potentia absoluta, from the perspective of God's absolute power, and God's justice and the possibility of Adam's merit are apparent de potentia ordinata, from the perspective of God's ordained power. Both perspectives, what God could do and what he has in fact chosen to do, are valid and necessary perspectives for understanding God's covenant dealings.

Much Ado about Nothing: Karl Barth's Being Unable to Do Nothing about Nothingness

May 2003


67 Reads

Often a source of concern to commentators about the adequacy of Barth's theology is his treatment of evil, in particular Church Dogmatics III/3 §50 with its depiction of evil as das Nichtige (the nothingness). Against the impression that Barth has little time in his systematic theology for doing justice to evil it is worth attempting a reading that indicates the importance of this section and what it seems that Barth is doing with it. Das Nichtige belongs to a conflictual and dramatic account, and talk of its, for Barth, ‘absurd’‘existence’ belongs there. The dramatic flavour of this discussion further impresses that there is more to be said about ‘Barth on evil’ than any focus on the paradoxical and negative language used to depict it could express – this ‘more’ should come specifically through ethics.

Advent’s Answer to the Problem of Evil

December 2002


15 Reads

Traditional Christian answers to the problem of evil may be identified as either theistic or christological. While theistic theodicies enjoy greater philosophical interest, christological theodicies are more practical, remaining embodied in the semiotics of the worshipping church, and are utimately more successful. The Christian church’s liturgical practice of Advent – where Christology, soteriology and eschatology come together – is a common and coherent response to the problem of evil. The practice of Advent comprises an eschatological ethics of justice and mercy which embraces their evil side-effects and the tension of present and future justice. Advent thus presents the problem of evil as a constructive part of Christian theology and ethics.

The Aesthetic Collision: Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Trinity and the Cross

November 2010


19 Reads

The relationship envisioned by Hans Urs von Balthasar between the Trinity and the events of Christ's passion and death has elicited concern from various theologians that he has muddled the important distinction between God's eternal life ad intra and his interaction with the world through the economy of his actions. This article argues that such a reading of Balthasar's theology is ultimately a serious misconstrual of his work since it overlooks the aesthetic categories established early in The Glory of the Lord through which his narration of the cross-event must ultimately be interpreted. By interpreting Balthasar in this manner, this article clarifies the content of what is perhaps Balthasar's most important theological contribution, and provides a creative alternative for how best to situate the relationship (oft-discussed in twentieth-century theology) between the Trinity and the crucifixion.

Dante, Bunyan and the Case for a Protestant Aesthetics

August 2008


67 Reads

  This article argues that, despite common assumptions, Protestants possess a unique aesthetic framework. Building on seventeenth-century ideas of the ‘Protestant reader’, aesthetic attitudes in Dante's Divine Comedy are contrasted with those in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Dante's emphasis on images which spark desire is contrasted with Bunyan's hermeneutic of suspicion; the role of seeing in one replaced by reading in the other. This leads to an aesthetic framework emphasizing the brokenness of the world and a distrust of earthly beauty; a preference for aesthetic forms whose ‘beauty’ is hidden or allusive; and a prophetic engagement and resistance against the world's brokenness.

Eros and Agape in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics

July 2000


1,141 Reads

This analysis of agape and eros in the Church Dogmatics argues that although there are real difficulties with Barth’s development of these concepts in the Dogmatics, a careful reading of the material suggests that these difficulties are not so serious as may first appear and may be overcome. This interpretative work also facilitates a dialogue between Barth and two contemporary ethicists working on the concept of Christian love, a dialogue in which Barth proves to be a worthy and rewarding partner.

‘The Indivisible Whole of God's Reality’: On the Agency of Jesus in Bonhoeffer's Ethics

March 2010


42 Reads

In conversation with Karl Barth, this article explores Bonhoeffer's account in his Ethics of the character of the agency exercised by Jesus Christ in the world today in relation to the principal task of theological ethics: namely, the engendering of the most humane form of existence possible within the mandates of work, family, government and church. The article argues that the theological work undertaken by the command of God ensures that these mandates remain christologically determined spheres in which concrete obedience is enacted, and thus the places in which the reality that Jesus Christ is achieves social and historical form.

Athens and Jerusalem, Alexandria and Edessa: Is there a Metaphysics of Scripture?

April 2006


52 Reads

  Did the church Fathers baptize Aristotle? Were the classic divine attributes simply lifted from Greek philosophers? This article does not set out to find a single metaphysic advocated by scripture but instead draws attention to the unique ‘unhellenic’ doctrine of creatio ex nihilo found in both Jewish and Christian teaching on metaphysics. Creatio ex nihilo marks a decisive break with ancient Greek cosmology. Philo is used as an example of the influence that creatio ex nihilo has upon his language about God. The essay concludes that the church Fathers did not simply baptize Aristotle but rather that their language is deeply rooted in a particular Judeo-Christian understanding of creation.

Theology and Allegory: Origen and Gregory of Nyssa on the Unity and Diversity of Scripture

March 2002


49 Reads

Origen and Gregory of Nyssa use allegorical exegesis to derive a unified meaning from the diversity of the scriptural text. However, they have different answers to the question of where, or in what, scripture’s unity lies, which lead to different styles of interpretation and which reveal their broader theological concerns. The question of the unity and diversity of scripture is thus not just a textual or hermeneutical one but is related to central theological issues. Furthermore, allegorical interpretation does not obfuscate the text, but aims to relate the salvation-history recounted in it to the history of its reader.

Ambiguity and Undecidability in Fides et Ratio

December 2002


28 Reads

The article offers a response to the encyclical Fides et Ratio, identifying its ambiguity with respect to two issues: the nature of the relation between faith and reason, and the diagnosis of the relation of modernity and postmodernity. The tension between the different accounts in the encyclical is not a flaw but a positive feature of the encyclical as an exercise in catholicity.

Analogia non Entis sed Entitatis: The Ontological Consequences of the Doctrine of Analogy

March 2004


22 Reads

  Much recent theology, influenced by the linguistic turn in postmodernity, has sought to ground a reconnection of God and the world, and thus a rediscovery of the possibilities of theology, in a doctrine of analogy, which, it is claimed, is found in medieval theology. However, a close examination of the doctrine of analogy present in the work of St Thomas Aquinas, his precursors and interpreters, demonstrates that analogy was not being used to do the work it is now called to do, and cannot in fact bear that weight.

The Beauty of the Ugly: Balthasar, the Crucifixion, Analogy and God

April 2007


133 Reads

In the first volume of The Glory of the Lord, Hans Urs von Balthasar asks how the crucified Christ can be considered an icon of a beautiful God. Because the crucifixion initially confronts us as morally and aesthetically ugly, no authentic analogy between worldly beauty and the beauty of divine revelation seems to obtain. In arguing to the contrary, Balthasar presents us with an original interpretation of Thomas Aquinas that yields fresh insights into the Christian doctrine of God. By placing the cross at the center of intramundane aesthetics, Balthasar forces us to rethink, not only the meaning of the divine simplicity, but the relation in God among being, beauty and love.

Analytic Theology

September 2010


35 Reads

In recent years a number of new approaches to theology have emerged. In 2009 a major international symposium was published by Oxford University Press entitled Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology. In it, the editors and contributors set out the prospect of analytic theology — very roughly, a method of doing theology utilising the tools of analytic philosophy. In one sense, this is not new. Analytic philosophers have been doing philosophical theology for at least twenty years. But theologians have been slow to draw on the potential benefits an analytic approach to theology promises. The book is an attempt to stimulate theologians to consider this approach as a theological, rather than philosophical, project. This paper sets out some of the potential benefits of analytic theology. My aim is to give the reader a sense of what analytic theology entails; and to commend analytic theology as a theological method.

Theologizing the Human Jesus: An Ancient (and Modern) Approach to Christology Reassessed

December 2008


72 Reads

Many contemporary Christologies, while paying lip-service to the primacy of the human Jesus, devote little attention to the theological status of his humanity. They may be deflected from this task by such factors as preference for experienced-based symbol; the fragmentation of biblical studies and dogmatics; the imperatives of contextual hermeneutics; and the preoccupation with methodology rather than substance. But the human Jesus is only theologically meaningful when viewed on a larger canvas than that of either idealist metaphysics or historical reconstruction. The classical doctrines of the anhypostasis and enhypostasis of Jesus’ humanity offer a still useful way of highlighting the primacy of grace, and, contrary to common caricature, do not undermine the density of his human experience. Such an account needs to be supplemented, however, with a robust pneumatology in order to specify the relevance of the human Jesus for revelation, salvation, anthropology, ethics and eschatology.

Anselm, Defensor Fidei

June 2007


50 Reads

  Recently, Anselm's treatise on the atonement of Christ, Cur Deus Homo, has come in for sharp criticism as a ‘model of the atonement’ which teaches and subserves morbid, oppressive suffering, and ignores the particular deeds and words of Christ. A close reading of Anselm's treatise suggests another interpretation of Anselm's doctrine, in which ‘restoration’ is the central note, and the exemplary course of Christ's whole life is accented.

Barth and Anselm: God, Christ and the Atonement

July 2010


134 Reads

This article considers God, Christ and the atonement in the work of Anselm and Barth. It identifies key points of agreement regarding God's self-assigned identity and the importance of dyothelitism; it discerns a marked divergence of opinion with respect to the atonement. Anselm construes the atonement in terms of a gift that Christ offers on behalf of sinful humankind. Barth, on the other hand, presents a view of atonement that builds on his revolutionary doctrine of election. He describes the cross as an event in which sin is ‘burned up’, cancelled and overcome within the time and space of God's being.

‘Willing Is Not Choosing’: Some Anthropological Implications of Dyothelite Christology

January 2007


103 Reads

The dyothelite Christology of Maximus the Confessor provides a basis for countering modern worry that an Augustinian doctrine of the bondage of the will undermines human integrity. Modern discomfort with Augustine presupposes an anthropology that equates genuine agency with freedom of choice. In defending the principle that Christ has a fully human will, Maximus challenges this presupposition by denying that a human agent's willing is to be identified with choosing. Thus, while Maximus does not share Augustine's doctrine of original sin, he offers a framework within which to explore possible convergence between Eastern and Western understandings of the will.

Reconsidering Relational Anthropology: A Critical Assessment of John Zizioulas's Theological Anthropology

July 2003


401 Reads

There has been an increasing emphasis in theological anthropology on the constitution of the person through their relation to God, others, self and the world. In focusing on the relational dimensions of personhood other important facets have not received sufficient attention: the doctrine of sin, the discontinuity between divine and human persons and human embodiment in the world. This article offers a critical assessment of John Zizioulas's anthropology which can be considered a paradigmatic example of a relational anthropology. Although the concerns raised are in relation to Zizioulas's work, many of them are instructive for relational anthropologies more generally.