Why Do You Say Such Things?!

Last night I found myself in the happy company of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics once again. And he was, yet again, talking about theological method.

In talking about God, the Christian always begins with revelation as the given. What we mean by God, by salvation, by revelation are all reflections on the actual given of the revelation of God in Christ.

We start with the given. And we attempt to explain.

This is what it means to do Christian theology.

We do not begin with our categories of “God”, and attempt to then describe our God such that our God alone fulfills that category.

We do not begin with our understanding of “the possibility of humanity hearing from God,” but from the given of God’s revelation of Godself to humanity.

At this most basic point of theological method, I find myself in profound agreement with Barth. And, this is why I have been engaging this conversation about Law for the past week.

This is one of the most vexing questions of the NT–What is the relationship of the Law to Christian faith and life? It is one subset of the question that has pressed the church to wrestle within itself for two millennia: where is the continuity and where is the discontinuity between the Old Testament and the New?

For Christians, it is these two “givens” that make the place of the Law so challenging to articulate: (1) despite what we might have thought from reading, say, Exodus or Deuteronomy, Christians must confess that the Law was not what Christ is: the means of righteousness and life in the presence of God; and (2) though some commands are repeated in the NT, the Christ event, not the Torah, is the defining standard for measuring the fidelity of the Christian life.

These are the givens. What, then, about the Law?

Its place in the story is surprising. It is something waiting to be “fulfilled” (Matthew); not the giver of life but what witnesses to Jesus (John); the parental stand-in, the power that ruled Israel until maturity came (Galatians); the thing that is passing away (Hebrews).

And, it is precisely in this temporary place, in this witnessing beyond itself to the coming Christ, that the Law is God’s, and good, and an inescapable part of the story of redemption, and what is required as the penultimate gift of God in anticipation of the ultimate gift of grace–in Christ.

None of this I say because of what I think a Law should do.

None of this I say because of what the Law itself says it should do.

All of this I say because it is what we must say if the revelation of God in Christ is true. Christ is holy, righteous, good, necessary and ultimate. Law is holy, righteous, good, necessary, and penultimate.

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