SYSTEM demands consistency, but one might well ask whether two volumes written seven years apart can be consistent with each other. If the systematic structure of the content is unchanged, they can be, even though the solutions to the spccial problems may differ. The many criticisms that have come and the new thoughts that have been developed in the interval have not changed the basic structure of the system. But they have certainly influenced the form and content in many respects. If the theological system were deductive, like a system in mathematics in which one assertion is derived from the other with rational necessity, changes in conception of thought would be damaging to die whole. Theology, however, does not have this character, and the present system is formulated in a way which expressly avoids this danger. After the central theological answer is given to any question, there is always a return to the existential question as the context in which a theological answer is again given. Consequently, new answers to new or old questions do not necessarily disrupt the unity between the earlier and later parts of the system. It is a dynamic unity, open for new insights, even after the whole has been formulated.
The third part of the system, covered in this sccond volume, clearly shows this characteristic. While the title of the second part of the system, "Being and God," is followed in this volume by that of "Existence and the Christ," there is no logically necessary or deductive step from being to existence or from God to the Christ. The way from essence to existence is "irrational"; the way from God to the Christ is "paradoxical/" The exact meaning of these terms will be discussed later; at this point they only confirm the open character of the present system.
The transition from essential to existential being cannot be understood in terms of necessity. But, in the view of classical theology and of all the philosophers, artists, and writers who seriously look at the conflicts of man's existential situation, reality involves that step. Hence the jump from the first to the second volume mirrors the leap from man's essential nature to its distortion in existence. But, in order to understand any distortion, one must know its undistorted or essential character. Therefore, the estrangement of existence (and the ambiguity of life) as delineated in diis volume can be understood only if one knows the nature of finitudc as developed in the first volume in die part on "Being and God." Further, in order to understand the answers given to the questions implied in estrangement and ambiguity, one must know not only the answer given to the question implied in finitudc but also the theological method by which question and answer arc related to each odier. This does not mean that an intelligent reading of the second volume is entirely dependent upon reading the first; for, as has been indicated, in every part of the system the questions are developed anew and the answers related to them in a special way. Such independent reading of this volume will also be facilitated by a partial recapitulation and by a reformulation of ideas discussed in the first volume.
The fourth part of the system, "Life and the Spirit," will follow the third part, "Existence and the Christ," as the description of the concrete unity of essential finitudc and existential estrangement in the ambiguities of life. The answer to be given in this part is the divine Spirit. But this answer is incomplete. Life remains ambiguous as long as there is life. The question implied in the ambiguities of life drives to a new question, namely, that of the direction in which life moves. This is the question of history. Systematically speaking, history, characterized as it is by its direction toward the future, is the dynamic quality of life. Therefore, the "riddle of history" is a part of the problem of life. But for all practical purposes it is useful to separate the discussion of history from the discussion of life generally and to relate the final answer, "eternal life," to the ambiguities and questions implied in man's historical existence. For these reasons a fifth part, entitled "History and the Kingdom of God," is added, even though, strictly speaking, this material belongs to categories of life. This decision is analogous to the practical reasons which dictated a first part, "Reason and Revelation," the material of which, systematically speaking, belongs to all the other parts. This decision also shows again the non-deductive character of the entire project. While there arc disadvantages with respect to systematic strictness, the practical advantages are paramount.
The inclusion of the non-systematic elements in the system results in an interdependence of all pans and of all three volumes. The second volume not only is dependent on the first but makes possible a fuller understanding of it. In the earlier parts there are many unavoidable anticipations of problems which are fully discussed only in the later ones. A system has circular character, just as do the organic processes of life. Those who stand within the circle of the Christian life will have no difficulty in understanding this. Those who feel like strangers in this respect may find the non-systematic elements in the presentation somewhat contusing. In any case, "non-systematic1 does not mean inconsistent; it only means non-deductive. And life is non-deductive in all its creativity and cvcntfulness.
Was this article helpful?