Tag Archives: Veli-Matti Karkkainen

CCH – ST – Pneumatology – Major Methodologies

So, what was initially supposed to be a week hiatus turned into roughly 3.  Without further delay, let’s resume by shifting gears to pneumatology, where Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen has provided a helpful typology to survey major “contemporary approaches” in pneumatology, each illustrated by a representative theologian:

  1. According to Kärkkäinen, Moltmann’s Spirit of Life represents the trend of blending traditional and novel approaches to pneumatology.  Moltmann brings pneumatology into conversation with pressing social concerns like “the environment, justice, and equality” while also seeking to deal with “traditional topics, such as the Trinity.”  While this approach may not seem especially provocative initially, what makes Moltmann’s approach interesting is the level of integration he seeks between current and traditional questions.  As Kärkkäinen writes, Moltmann “is in search of a ‘holistic’ pneumatology in which the doctrine of the Spirit encompasses areas that are often left behind in older pneumatologies, such as the human body and the earth.”  Thus Moltmann is not merely trying to apply traditional dogmatic inquiries and answers to pressing concerns, but rather seeks to cast a wider net of investigation throughout the process of theological construction.
  2. In Michael Welker’s book, God the Spirit, Welker makes two methodological moves in developing his pneumatology worthy of attention.  First, Welker attends to the biblical witness, and does so not in the interest of proof-texting, but rather “to discern the patterns and leading themes that emerge from the biblical discussion of pneumatology.”  Second, Welker does not try to systematize the diverse perspectives, but rather “allows the plurality its own witness.”  It is this second move that grants significance to the first, because while Welker has attempted to develop a “biblical theology of the Spirit,” it is one that departs from the normal meaning of that term.
  3. Finally we turn to the late Clark Pinnock, and his Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.  Simply stated, in this work Pinnock “endeavors to construct a full-scale systematic theology from a pneumatological perspective.”  Traditional theological loci are treated in light of “pneumatological foundations.”

While there are other important approaches to pneumatology today (which we will survey in the future), Kärkkäinen believes these to be the major ones; holistic, realistic, and foundational.  Obviously, typology can be a dangerous tool to theological work, being useful primarily as an object of deconstruction once the preparatory service it provides has been rendered.  So, how would you poke, pull, and blur the edges of Kärkkäinen’s typology?  Is there anything he is missing that borders on criminal?  In trying to explain contemporary approaches to pneumatology to a first year M.A. student, what, if anything, would you change or amend?

While interacting critically with Kärkkäinen’s typology is valuable what interests me more is how each approach illuminates a major concern in contemporary pneumatology.  That will be the subject of the next post.


Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti.  Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002.


Contemporary Views of God (2): Paul Tillich on God and Other Faiths


With this post we come to end of our exploration of Paul Tillich’s theology.  We have discussed his methodology, his overall view of God, his understanding of the proper use of language as it relates to “God-talk,” and his understanding of the relationship of immanence and transcendence.  This last post will touch on how Tillich’s view of other religions and his doctrine of God interact.

As Veli-Matte Karkkainen tells it, a few years before Tillich’s death, he visited Japan.  He had never interacted in such a real-life way with another faith (Buddhism) before, and it radically impacted him.  In fact, for Tillich he was so impacted by this experience that he quit believing that Christianity was the “absolute” religion (133). 

For Tillich, Buddhism and Christianity complemented each other.  They both complement each other in their most basic understanding of reality as something that has fallen from an earlier state of perfection and seek to be liberated from this state by the “Ground of Being (133).”  Even though Buddhist and Christian conceptions of how this state of affairs came to be and how it will be overcome are radically different, for Tillich, since the two systems share the same basic concerns, and both offer an answer to modern man regarding how to overcome the threat of “non-being,” then they are both valid faiths or belief systems. 

Let’s sum up Tillich.  We have seen that the strengths of Tillich’s approach is his intentionality of delivering an understanding of Christianity that is comprehendable to modern man.  This comes out of his sincere desire to understand the struggles that modern people face, which is a commendable goal.  His weaknesses have been at times letting that desire dominate his approach to Scripture.  This led to a lack of clarity regarding the relationship of immanence and transcendence in God, and a very limited scope of language to use regarding God.  In my view Tillich thwarted his main goal of trying to make Christianity palatable to modern sensibilities by allowing the concerns of the day overwhelm his understanding of God. 

Up Next: The Great Orthodox Theologian John Zizioulas!

Contemporary European Views of God (2): Paul Tillich and the Problem of Language


In my previous post, i dealt with one of Tillich’s most controversial statements, and how his methodology (which i dealt with in my first post regarding Tillich) led him to (in my estimation) greatly over-emphasize the transcendence of God.  In this post, based on this book, to explore the effects of Tillich’s radically transcendent picture of God.

Since, as Tillich so greatly stressed, God cannot in any way be part of finite existence, then what can be said of Tillich’s “God?”  Not surprisingly, Tillich struggled with the problem of how to speak meaningfully of God.  Tillich decided to view all language of God as symbolic rather than literal.  Even the term “god” is a symbol for God (132).  It is hard to know much about who this God is in Tillich’s view other than He is.

A similar problem arises when trying to understand Tillich’s view of transcendence and immanence.  It seems fairly certain that Tillich was a panentheist.  This view makes understanding his view of immanence fairly simple, in that everything that is “finite participates in ‘being itself (God)’, which is the structure of being in which everything is grounded (133).”  So for Tillich everything literally depends on the ground of being for its current, continued, and eternal existence.  So in a sense for Tillich, the world and God are intimately connected, united even.

That being the case, Tillich still struggled with how to understand how this panentheist view could be squared with the complete and unqualified difference between God and humanity.  Since according to Tillich being itself could not ever participate with non-being (death), then it therefore “infinitely transcends everything finite (133).”  This severely limited how he could speak meaningfully of God’s immanence, even in a panentheistic framework.  I would argue that it led into contradictions.

It seems to me that although Tillich makes a valiant effort, he is unable to clearly demonstrate how his panentheism relates to God’s transcendence.  The reason for this goes back to the fundamental problem that as i see it plagued his work from the outset, that being the problem of allowing man’s central concerns (as Tillich viewed) them set the agenda for his theology.  If in fact man’s central issue is the fear of death, then it is true that being a part of being-itself would calm that fear.  However, at what cost? 

This is an ever-present danger in doing theology.  We want to be culturally relevant, but the threat of distortion looms large when we do.  While we may dismiss the idea that we could fall into some of the problems that Tillich did, integration cannot help but be dangerous.  That does not mean that we should not attempt it necessarily, but that we must do so in a way different than Tillich did.  For some of my thoughts on how to do theology, click here, here, and here.

Any thoughts from anyone else?

Contemporary European Views of God (2): Paul Tillich-Does God Exist?


Well, after about a month hiatus, i am finally getting to restart my doctrine of God overview again.  Usually i leave projects like this behind after some time off, so i’m pretty proud of myself to get going again.  So far i have looked at Karl Barth, and have commented on Paul’s Tillich’s methodology.  Without further ado, lets jump back into the text being used for this adventure by Veli-Matti Karkkainen (hereafter abbreviated VMK).

This section of viewing Tillich will start with one of his most famous (and controversial) quotes: “God does not exist.  He is being itself beyond essence and existence.  Threfore, to argue that God exists is to deny him (132).”

Obviously, if this quote means what it looks like on the surface, then this discussion doesn’t belong in this particular post.  However, as VMK points out “To unpack this compact sentence, we need to be aware of the fact that here–as often–Tillich uses terms in a technical sense, specifically, in the technical sense he himself defined (132).  With that in mind, lets define a couple key terms for Tillich:

1)   Essence is the potential, not-actualized perfection of things

2)   Existence, however, describes something that is actual, “fallen” from essence (132).

So with this understanding of Tillich’s terminology, it becomes evident that Tillich isn’t an atheist, but rather is saying that God existence is qualitatively, wholly different from any created being.  This leads Tillich to hold such a radically transcendemt view of God that he must conclude (according to VMK) that if God were part of existence (as Tillich defines it), there would be a need for another God a “God above God,” which Tillich wants to avoid (132).

One further note on this section before analysis.  We have to remember what Tillich’s goal is in his theology, which is to be apologetic, to answer the concerns of modern man.  This concern, Tillich believed, was found in the philosophical field of ontology. 

Tillich perceived that modern man’s central concern was over the threat of non-being, non-existence.  Essentially, modern men and women feared death constantly, and wanted to find a way to overcome the threat of “non-being” for good.

However, for Tillich, and to tie back into this post, assurance that “non-being” could be ultimately and permanently overcome required that God couldn’t be finite in any way.  He must be completely beyond any form of human existence, so that he could never cease to be.  If God did cease to be, he couldn’t save us from our non-being.  Hence, the famous Tillich descriptions of God were “the ground of being,” and “being itself.”

Since this post is extremely long, let me offer just a few reflections:

1) The security Tillich found in a radically transcendent view of God is interesting to me.  Given the times that Tillich lived in, could this not also serve as protection from the idea that God wasn’t “heavily involved” in the events of Tillich’s time?

2) Along the same lines, many of Tillich’s underlying concepts and motivations find a kindred spirit (in my mind at least) in Reformed thought.  Both positions share:  A central concern for God’s transcendence, the problem of the “unknowability” of God or the “mystery” regarding knowing God, and the problem of meaningful speech about God (more on this in my next post).  What strange bedfellows these two (Calvin and Tillich) make!

3) The Platonic influence here is hard to miss if you are used to looking for it.  The existence-essence (false?) dichotomy of Tillich’s thought seems to be a direct descendent of the Platonic dualism between body and spirit.  This leads to me to my final question: is such a dichotomy inevitable when we purposely let an alien philosophical framework serve as a filter for understandg the Biblical, three-in-one God?  Tillich is very open about using ontology as the gateway to knowing what needs, but does letting man’s worries set the agenda eventually warp the Bible’s answers?  I have been ruminating on this for quite a while, and i’m starting to think so, thanks to this book.    

Any corrections, opinions, qualms, ideas on any of this?

Contemporary European Views of God (1): Karl Barth on God & Creation


When seeking to understand how Barth viewed the relationship between God and creation, one must return to his very unique view of revelation.  God “reveals himself through himself,” which according to Barth is through Jesus Christ alone.   See my former post  (and comments) on Barth and revelation for how this is fleshed out in greater detail here.

Since Barth is very Christ-centered in his theology, it should come as little surprise that Barth believes that the “insight that man owes his existence and form, together with all the reality distinct from God, to God’s creation,” is founded upon the divine self-witness in Christ.  What will probably frustrate many Christian philosophers, particularly those of a more evangelical stripe, is that Barth maintains that even knowing who God is as Creator is not derived from the world but is possible only through in Jesus Christ (128).  This is because for Barth all revelation must be of a redemptive nature, if it is truly going to be called “Christian.”  This leaves little, in fact probably no room for what we call “general or natural revelation” today.

However, why did God create in the first place?  According to Veli-Matti Karkkainen’s (from now on abbreviated as VMK) understanding of Barth, Barth views God’s motivations for creation to center around Jesus Christ.  It appears that God needed creatures in order that there would be the one creature Jesus Christ. 

For Barth creation is the “external basis of the covenant” made with man (or Jesus?) and since it is based on grace, “creation is grace.”    God’s act of creating is a “free positing of reality by the omnipotence of divine love.”  God relates to the world on the basis of love, and binds himself in a covenant with creation freely and willingly.  This leads to Barth’s famous understanding of God as “the one who loves in freedom (128-129).”

Finally, regarding Christ and creation, VMk points out that Barth held that if God is as has been revealed to be in Jesus, then it is inevitable that he would create distinctly from Himself.  In fact, VMK points out that for Barth “Creation and incarnation flow out of God’s self-willed free decision to let the eternal intratrinitarian love extend beyond the triune fellowship.”  This is the God revealed in Christ, and for Barth there is no other (129).

I must say that Barth’s view of creation was difficult for me to grasp, at least how VMK presented it.  Here are the questions i’m struggling with:

1.  Why does God “need” creatures? 

2.  In connection with that, why was it so important for Jesus to be a creature? 

3.  To take a different slant, what does it mean for creation itself to be a covenant? 

4.  Finally, is God’s covenant with Jesus Christ, or with humanity?  I’m sure the answer is both, since Barth takes Jesus’ humanity seriously, but what is the chain of reasoning Barth takes to get there?

Barth lovers come to my aid in my time of intellectually confused need!

Contemporary European Views of God (1): Karl Barth on the Trinity


When discussing Karl Barth’s doctrine of God, one would be remiss if the Trinity wasn’t mentioned.  Here again, Barth was a revolutionary, due more to his reviving of the most ancient of understandings of God, rather than by introducing a theological novelty.  As Veli-Mattie Karkkainen (hereafter his name will be abbreviated as VMK) puts it “Barth can be hailed as the pioneer of the revival of trinitarian theology for the 20th century (127).”

Although the idea of the Trinity wasn’t new, the place Barth put it was a new idea.  Barth changed the way scholars looked at systematic theology by placing the Trinity at the forefront of his magnum opus Church Dogmatics.  In addition to the placement of the doctrine, he also made it foundational to his whole project.  This is found in his famous formula “God reveals himself.  He reveals himself through himself.  He reveals himself (CD 1/1: 296).”  Thus as VMK points out, “for Barth God’s revelation and God’s being are identical.  God is who God is revealed to be.”  That being the case, it is after the Trinity that concepts that usually precede it are discussed.  Barth’s ingenuity is found in the fact that while historically God’s oneness was the starting place for the theological enterprise, he instead began with God’s triunity (127).

Concerning Barth’s particular conception of the trinity, there is much controversy.  Barth is frequently charged with adhering to a heresy called modalism.  Barth often is accused of this because of his disdain for the use of the term “person” when discussing the trinity.  Barth believed that such usage in the modern world was at odds with its earlier intent when used.  In the modern world, Barth argued, person implies three members of the trinity with their own wills and minds.  To Barth, this is tritheism, which is heresy.  Thus, since God is one, Barth preferred the term “mode of being (German: Seinsweise).”  It is easy to see how using a term so close to a previously condemned heresy would put Barth in hot water here (127).

So was Barth a heretic?  VMK thinks not, although he does grant that if all we had were the 1st part of his dogmatics, that criticism might hold to a degree.  However, in his later volumes Barth more than puts this suspicion to rest.  In his last volume of the dogmatics before his passing, Barth “introduces historicity into the Triune God and in doing so ‘revolutionizes so-called classical Christian theism (127-128).”  In his famous (infamous?) section in the CD (IV/1), entitled “The Way of the Son into a Far Country,” He brings the Economic Trinity and the Imminent Trinity together by describing the Prodigal’s journey as the Son’s own journey into a far land.  However, since the Son is also God himself, it follows from this that “the Son’s journey is God’s own journey and that the Son’s self-humiliation is an expression of God’s own transcendance.”  It is clear from this that for Barth that the Triune God has stepped into history and also marks clear distinctions between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (128). 

Of course, for some like myself, Barth historicizing God, so to speak, answers the modalism question but open several new cans of worms.  What, more precisely, was Barth’s view of God’s relationship to time?  It seems like he would be a little more nuanced than to simply say that God is “in” time.  Would He be sypathetic to Open Theism?  How does God actually being intertwined with human history through the incarnation affect our understanding of anthropomorphisms?  How about metaphors as well?  

Let me close by saying that this was a very hard post for me.  It took me quite a while to feel like i was grasping it, and honestly i feel a little confused on some of this still.  However, i throw this out there for all to read, and hope that people more comfortable with Barth can help elucidate this central theme of his for everyone else better.   

Contemporary European Views of God (1): Karl Barth on the Knowledge of God

As Claude Welch put it, Karl Barth ushered in a “contemporary revivial of theology” with his highly influential Epistle to the Romans.  Karkkainen agrees, stating that it is appropriate both “thematically and chronologically with Karl Barth (125).”  Barth was one of those few extroardinary thinkers who possessed such originality while still striving to remain fathful to many (if not all) of the classical tenets of the faith.  He was a “paradigm shifter,” whose influence is still heavy today.

Barth’s theology was born out of historical factors, like all are.  He studied within the 19th centuries’ classic Liberalism.  Such talk about how doctrines like the Trinitarian and Christological assertions of the 4th century church were “hellenistic deteriorations of dogma,” detracting from the pure and simple “gospel of jesus” were unsettling to Barth, as was the Liberal tradition’s overemphasis on the Immanence of God, viewed through experience.  In a revealing quote by Barth regarding Schleiermacher, who Veli-Matti Karkkainen (VMK) informs us Barth saw as the backbone of the era’s “pervasive immanentism,” Barth accuses him of relegating “God-talk” into “man-talk,” at the expense of God–“the God who is sovereign Other standing over against humanity (125).” 

The combination of the human-centered, experiential focus of Liberal theology with the by and large European Liberal church’s wedding with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime drove Barth back to the Bible and forced a rejection of their views.  This foundational shift was made known with his Epistle to the Romans, which was likened to “a bombshell being dropped on the theological playground.”  Now that we have a bit of canvas against which to view Barth, let’s look at the highlights of his understanding of God, at least according to VMK.

  1. In stark contrast to Liberalism’s focus on God’s immanence, in Barth’s theology God is radically transcendent.  In fact, as VMK points out, Barth goes as far as to say that there is “absolutely no way to know God apart from revelation (126).”  So if God is unknowable through practically any means other than His revelation, where do we find this revelation?
  2. The knowledge of God is found in Jesus Christ.  It is important to note that Barth isn’t necessarily referring to Scripture, but rather to the God-man himself: “When holy Scripture speaks of God, it concentrates our attention and thoughts upon one single point . . . And if we look closer, and ask: who and what is at this point upon which our attention and thoughts are concentrated, which we are to recognize as God? . . . From its beginning to its end the Bible directs us to the name of Jesus Christ (CD, 2/2, 52-54).”
  3. This assertion raises some important questions regarding knowing God.  VMK points out that Barth is “skeptical at best” regarding whether or not people can know God apart from the revelation of Christ (126).  Barth went from completely ruling out any form of “general revelation,” to backing off a bit.  However, his fundamental skepticism and position for the absolute supremacy of the living Christ as revelation never changed.  As VMK points out, this is b/c for Barth genuine revelation has inherent redemptive content.  A vague “general revelation” of God, cannot properly be called “Christian revelation.”  “Only knowledge of God that helps us know God as savior can be called Christian revelation (126).”

I think that Barth’s view of God’s transcendence, and hence his doctrine of revelation, gives us many key questions to think through today.  I’m particulary interested in how giving the risen Christ primacy in revelation critiques our modern mind-set’s approach to epistemology, ethics, and the nature and proper interpretation of Scripture.  I hope to blog on each of those subjects at somepoint.

For many this will be your first taste of Barth, particularly if you are an American.  There is much more to talk about, but for the sake of readability, if it isn’t too long already, this is enough for now.  The reality is that Barth literally wrote several thousand pages of work (he was a machine!), so whatever we do here will be a thumbnail sketch at best.  Hopefully however, your appetite has been “whetted,” and you are ready to delve more into the heart of his thought.  Tomorrow, Barth on the Trinity and his revival of the most ancient of Christian views on God.