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“By speaking of reason as a created reality, theology is committed to giving a metaphysical rather than a voluntaristic account: reason acts within an order of being grounded in God himself, and is not simply a tool of the will. But reason’s nature is defiled. In the regime of sin, the structure of human desire collapses, because creatures do not give active consent to their creaturely vocation. And in the general collapse, reason also falls into futility and darkness; alienated from the life of God, it is overwhelmed by the callousness and squalor into which we betray ourselves… Embroiled in the creature’s bid for freedom from the creator, reason loses its orientation or finality, and so compromises its goodness. It becomes ‘pure’ reason, reason on its own; and precisely this is its corruption.”

(Webster, Biblical Reasoning, 17)

We discussed this text in our systematics seminar today, and, as much as I’m all for the centrality of the divine economy in locating the proper nature and usage of both Scripture and Reason, I can’t for the life of me come to terms with why this necessitates a metaphyscial account over against a “voluntaristic” one (I have a feeling the term ‘voluntarism’ is being used somewhat pejoratively here). When Webster speaks of “metaphysics”, he goes to great pains to distance himself from the RadOX crowd (outright refusing methexis language of any kind), so I am unclear as to how “metaphysics” is being used here. Elsewhere, Webster says:

“But this outpouring of love in the divine missions is the external face of the inner divine processions, that is, of the perfect internal relations of the triune persons as the fountain from which the external works of God flow. The opera Dei externae are suspended from the opera Dei ad intra. The importance of this is not simply that it highlights the divine aseity and safeguards the distinction of uncreated and created being. It is also that, by grounding the economy in the inner life of God, it indicates that the creation has depth.”

I have a feeling that this concept is what Webster intends with the word “metaphysics” (especially with the use of suspension language). Why is thsi necessary? In what way does placing the ad intra at the center and origin of the divine economy give creation depth that is to be preferred over more voluntaristic accounts? I am absolutely in favor of recasting the nature and use of Reason in light of the divine economy – a good Barthian move if there ever was one, but why cannot the cross and resurrection, the epitome of the opera Dei externae, be the center and origin rather than the internal divine processions?

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