Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Relieving Ontophobia

Ontophobia being the fear that ontology and/or metaphysics are residual pagan pollutants which, when emitted by sacramentally-inclined evangelicals, generate a dangerous greenhouse effect in the Christian theological ecosystem (documentary forthcoming).  Such fears, to be sure, have legitimate targets, but in a nice paragraph from his evangelical appropriation of the nouvelle théologie, Hans Boersma explains that this criticism doesn't apply to Barth, Balthasar, or even Thomas:
For Balthasar the hypostatic union formed the theological fulfillment of the creational analogia entis. Because the Incarnation was the climax of history, the Christological analogy not only fulfilled the philosophical analogy, but also provided the norm for it. There was, indeed, no neutral concept of being, Balthasar agreed with Barth. Thomas had never taught it. Balthasar's rejection of a neutral concept of being resulted in a truly sacramental understanding of analogy. He often referred to Christ as the sacrament of the triune God. Analogical doctrine, theologically understood, meant that in Christ both the similarity and the dissimilarity between Creator and creature found their true expression, so that in Christ we could see not only a pointer to God, but could witness to the actual presence of God himself.
All this is to say, there may be a neutral concept of being that trumps the gospel, or some version of the analogia entis that competes with Christ; but Balthasar's exposure to the Christocentric heat of Barth's theology burned most such vestiges away, a case made a fortiori by Johnson.

Boersma reminds us that it's possible to be respectfully dissatisfied with the thinness of Barthianism as a system, but to be thrilled by the Christocentrizing effect that Barth had on other systems, systems which remain a neglected evangelical inheritance (at least until Boersma came along - more on his new book shortly).  Which is to say, three cheers for inter-Christian dialogue, the continuing progress of which - according to Boersma - "requires Protestants to re-appropriate the essentials of the sacramental ontology that characterized the great Tradition."

Too cerebral for holy week?  Not so.  Recall Maximus' maxim: "The purpose of theology is to safeguard against misunderstandings that frustrate a Christian life of prayer."