In this week’s reading of Church Dogmatics Barth works out the nature of revelation in conversation with the identity of God itself.
There were two amusing moments for me in this reading. One was when he said on p. 330:
The statement: Individuum est ineffabile, can indeed be made but characteristically it cannot be proved, whereas revelation is ineffabile which encounters and reaches man and proves itself to be such. From this standpoint, then, we finally achieve full clarity regarding what was said in 1. and 2. about the unveiling and veiling of God in His revelation.
Full clarity? Right…
The other amusing moment came at the end:
Any child knows that [the church's doctrine of the Trinity] uses some of the philosophoumena of declining pagan antiquity.
I confirmed this with my three year old. He said that he did, in fact, know this.
Otherwise, this chapter was a mixed bag for me.
What I absolutely loved:
Barth is insisting in this chapter that we must wrestle first with the question Who is God, first and foremost, rather than the question, What is God.
Abstract categories of God’s identity and philosophical speculations about the necessity of some god’s existence are not the stuff of Christian dogmatics. This is absolutely true. The idea that we can “prove” the existence of some “unmoved mover” (for example) tells us absolutely nothing about Christian faith.
We must begin with the particular God who is revealed in the particular story of the Bible.
The other good things about Barth’s approach is that he is holding the line against those who want to suggest that Christianity is articulating universal truths that are generally experienced.
Barth avoids the temptation of this universalising by saying, no–God does in fact reveal. People in particular times know that in what are otherwise “historical” events God has made Godself known. Ultimately, of course, this is so in the revelation of God who is Jesus.
The place where I am not so happy with this chapter is the overall notion that it’s the Trinity that is the core of our understanding of God’s identity. While Barth is keen to make sure that the “who God is of whom we speak” is none other than “the God who has revealed Godself in this particular story,” the move away from the revelation of the story to the later reflection of the church on that revelation undermines the stated point.
The weakness of the approach is illustrated in the ways that it impacts exegesis.
Throughout the chapter we catch glimpses of where we’re supposed to recognize that it’s this God, this Trinity, who is at work. But all too often, these are not indications of Jesus as divine, or Spirit as divine person. Peter’s confession, even in Matthew, has nothing to do with Trinity. The baptismal formula in Matthew 28 is no more Trinitarian than Jesus’ baptism–and that’s not even getting to the Old Testament.
It’s the OT that creates the most significant challenges here. Can we so tie the identity of God with the Christian story that this same God is recognizable on the pages of the OT? Here is where the loss of narrative categories, and the adoption of the “philosophoumena of declining antiquity” is most unfortunate.
The continuity of God is a question for the NT writers, and we should follow their lead in recognizing that the God we worship is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who witnessed to Jesus by mighty deeds, the Father who did not spare his son but delivered him up for us all, the God who raised Jesus from the dead.