Either start with Christ and say something Christian, or else start with something else and wind up subsuming Christ into your idol.
That’s the warning Barth levels as he begins his lengthy discourse on Jesus the God-Man (Church Dogmatics §1.14).
A main culprit is Schleiermacher as the father of liberalism, whose paradigm is framed by God-consciousness; there is the ensuing Protestant quest for a historical Jesus who lives up to our dehistoricized notions of what it means to be a noble and fulfilled human being.
No, insists Barth, we must begin with Jesus who is the very revelation of God, or else we end up making Jesus into a savior after our own image.
The chapter has a few particularly memorable moments. In lengthy excurses, Barth rails against Roman Catholic exaltation of Mary–a celebration of her that removes the Christological orientation of her praise by the NT writers. She is moved from one whose value comes from humbling herself, acknowledging her nothingness, and receiving the Lord’s favor, to an active agent in extending the saving grace of redemption to the world. Barth sees in this the epitomization of the Roman Catholic insistence that we cooperate, through prevenient grace, with the work of God in salvation. He sees this as fitting within a larger framework of humans’ necessary participation in God’s grace being realized–be that the church, the infallible pope, or ourselves as individuals.
The other striking section for me was when Barth was insisting upon the absolute necessity of Christ’s participation in our sinful humanity. Jesus’ flesh was sarx, participating in all the world in its rebellion against God. To say he was “very man” is to affirm this–even if to say “very God” is to insist that he is without sin, perhaps even without the possibility of sin.
Of course, with the “without possibility of sin because he was God” piece, I start to find myself less drawn to the picture. That takes the real drama out of the story, IMHO.
Overall, this was a fruitful discussion, not only for trying to make sense of Jesus but also for putting that discussion on a broader plane of theological debate. How we assess Jesus is an ultimate question in many respects.
In going through this chapter, I was struck by the ways in which Barth is still working within a rather Israel-free tradition of Christology. There have been various versions of this: some anti-Jewish, some simply non-Jewish / non-first-century in their universalism.
Barth is striving for a biblical picture of Jesus’ representation of humanity, but fails to put that person with the larger narrative of Israel in any significant sense.
There is Adam and there is Christ.
This takes account, well, of a couple of passages in Paul where Adam Christology becomes the means by which all are wrapped up in Jesus’ work. But in explaining why God became man, there is more than simply Adam at stake. There is an Adam who is Adam, and an Adam that is Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and an Adam that is David–and then there is the Second and Last Adam.
Do these others matter?