I originally wrote this when some Neo-Torrancians were making hit and run attacks against McCormack, so it was initially a defense of McCormack. My own position has changed much, so I will go ahead and offer the conclusion:
(5) McCormack’s actualism borders on Origenism.
(5*) Notwithstanding, McCormack read Barth correctly.
The Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner now-famous rule–The Immanent Trinity is the Economic Trinity–has created an uneasy tension in Western theology. The ontological Trinity is usually defined as “God in himself” apart from any God-world relation. The economic Trinity is God’s deciding and acting to save the world in Jesus Christ (and it doesn’t matter which confessional gloss you put on this).
I understand the resistance to Rahner’s Rule. If we identify the two formulations, then it makes the God-world relationship necessary and this is clearly wrong. On the other hand, if the E/T and I/T aren’t identical, then we have two Trinities–and this, too, is wrong. Sure, one could salvage the doctrine by saying that the assumption of human nature doesn’t affect the divine nature (though one wonders if it would affect the divine person?)
Q1: Is God in himself different from God-for-us?
Before we answer that question, let’s look at Leibniz’s Law:
For any x, and for any y, if they are identical to each other, then for any property P, P will be true of x iff P is true of y.
To put it negatively, if the two entities have different properties, then they aren’t the same thing.
Q2: Is there a Property that I/T has that E/T doesn’t?
There is a way to get around this, I suppose. One could say that the action of begetting the Son isn’t a property. I don’t think this works, though. The early fathers specifically defined the identity of the Father (and the Persons in general) in terms of their specific properties.
But this is a definition of the properties of the Immanent Trinity, not the economical. True, the Father does not beget the Son in time or with a relation to the world. Thomas Aquinas came close to solving this problem by saying that the missions contain the processions. This must be affirmed at the very least. If we don’t affirm this, then the E/T becomes unhinged from the I/T and we have two trinities (and maybe six gods).
Barth took it a step further and said the missions contain the processions because the processions include the missions.
Q3: Does God pre-exist his act?
This is what bothers people about McCormack’s claim that for Barth (or maybe not for Barth; maybe we can just pretend this is a truth-claim) that election constitutes God’s identity. It seems, so they read, that there is a hidden premise:
Q3*: If election constitutes God’s being, then did God pre-exist his decision to exist?
Admittedly, if this objection obtains it is a devastating one. But McCormack said if this objection obtains here, then what happens when we apply it across the board
Q3’ Did the Father pre-exist the Son prior to the act of begetting?
Of course, Q3’ is unacceptable in theology. People will say it is an eternal and spiritual act. I agree. This doesn’t mean that the claim election constitutes God’s being holds, but only that it is logically coherent (if you hold to eternal begetting/procession).
There is a precedence, of course, but it is a logical one, not a temporal or causal one. Thomas Aquinas joins knowing and willing (and in a different way, so does McCormack, 2009, p. 121). Both Thomas and McCormack join knowing and willing in the divine processions (though McCormack says that God’s self-knowing takes place in the event of revelation). The only difference is that McCormack gives the missions a heavier logical role than otherwise, but even then he doesn’t actually identify the two (p.122).
Q4: Are my critics more McCormackian than I am? It would appear so.