Tag Archives: #barthtogether

Jesus, the God-Man

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).

Barth is defending his take on Christology in particular and the Christian narrative in general against numerous fronts. His keeping of those in view helps the chapter hold together.

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?

Time Arcing Forward

The time of the resurrection arcs forward and embraces all subsequent time.

The resurrection is the point in time at which God’s reconciling love for the world, in Christ, is revealed, put on full display. It is the time when the hidden of God’s revelation in the cross is unveiled for the apostles–so that they can proclaim the reconciling work of the Messiah, God incarnate, to the world.

Jesus has been raised.

Perfect tense.

Past action with results continuing into the present.

And so the people of God anticipate a coming reconciliation of all things with God–and are, even now, reconciled with God.

And so the people of God anticipate a coming judgment of the cosmos–and are, even now, justified before God.

This is how Karl Barth draws out his conclusions to Church Dogmatics §14.3: the time of revelation after the resurrection is the time of recollection. But it is not merely recalling an event in the past history of the world, it is recalling the event to which we look back because it introduces a reality that endures into the present.

The resurrection is the advent, for us, of God’s time. The incarnate God is man raised from the dead and eternal with God in the heavens. Humanity has entered the eternal.

And so, looking back, we proclaim and must believe that the death and resurrection together form the right answer to the question asked in the OT: when and how will God save? when and how will the deliverer come?

To look back on the resurrection is to have our eyes drawn to the future.

… this very backward look cannot be cast in such knowledge of faith without the look forwards, without grasping the promise: “Behold, I come quickly!” without the prayer: “Amen, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). (119)

Judgment & the Story of Israel

Atonement is tricky. On Thursday I was wrestling with the giving of Jesus by the Father in comparison to the self-giving God of more developed Trinitarian thought. Part of the challenge is that the language and larger theological framework of God giving God’s beloved for the sake of the world is larger than just Jesus’ self-giving.

Jesus’ becomes the pattern for believers’. And, tying together earlier posts about Romans 11 and atonement, it seem to be the language Paul uses to describe how God is currently postured for Israel: “If their rejection be the reconciliation of the world…”

Karl Barth places the whole idea of judgment on God’s people within a much larger biblical story.

As the bearer of the revelation imparted to it, Israel only too clearly means catastrophe for the surrounding world. But even more clearly Israel itself as the recipient of revelation has to suffer in this world. It encounters in its history incomparably much more evil than good. (Dogmatics 1.2, 86)

Prophets can’t advocate the cause of the nation AND YHWH, but must always advocate for YHWH, and so are rejected. The constant rebellion and rejection of God means that its only hope, continually, is in deliverance and salvation, unmerited, by its God: “Between covenant and its fulfillment there is suffering and death for those in whom it ought to be fulfilled.”

And as if Barth insists on saying in its most dangerous form what is most dangerous to say, he continues about the faithful ones in Israel:

They are themselves the first to have to suffer, and they are themselves the ones who have to suffer most, for the truth of their proclamation, for the fact that the God who has ever loved Israel is such a hidden God. And the same order is repeated again in the figure of the single righteous man, who, without special office, simply lives concretely the existence of Israel before his God… Thus the end of the world, or the judgment of the world, is seen above all in Israel. To it especially God is a hidden God. It especially, the beloved, chosen, sanctified nation, the house of God, must be the place where the old aeon begins to pass in face of the coming of God and His new work. (88-89)

From the NT we might remember the saying that it’s time for judgment to begin with the house of God, or we may think of Jesus’ prophetic ministry about the coming destruction of Jerusalem–and then, also, we must think of the cross.

This is, of course, all quite dangerous. It can lead to the problem of thinking that Israel bears all of this judgment, or is the place of all this judgment, because it is especially bad and thus especially worthy of judgment.

But there are two very good ways of heading this off.

The first is to recognize that in this pattern of giving the beloved in judgment, Jesus does stand at the middle. Jesus becomes the curse of the Law, death, thus ending the reign of the Law as the curse- and death-bringer. Jesus himself stands in this role of judged with death.

And the pattern does continue out into the church. We are summoned to take up our cross and follow. We are called to be the judgment-bearers. We are called *gulp* to fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

This talk of being the place where judgment is made known to foreshadow the final judgment is not only about Israel, it is about the cross, and it is about the church. Perhaps getting hold of this is a first key in getting hold of a more biblical understanding of the death of Jesus and our own participation in it.

Here, in this death, in this judgment, the holy God is revealed. Because the holy God must be revealed in a world of sin and death.

The Christ of Israel

This week we’ve wrestled with a number of challenging issues: how the Father’s relationship with Jesus is played out in the cross; how to read the OT if Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah.

This is a perfect week to stumble upon §14.2 in Church Dogmatics, a section entitled, “The Time of Expectation.”

The time of expectation is the time of the Old Testament. But to say this much is to claim that the OT has its value as part of a narrative of revelation, the narrative of Jesus.

Barth is keenly aware of alternative ways of reading the OT. He knows of historical criticism that would situate the text in Ancient Near Eastern context (merely). He knows of moves to construct and reconstruct the history of Israel.

But he equally knows that none of these things is what deals with and listens to the OT as the revelation of God as part of a narrative that is heading toward its climactic revelation in Jesus. The OT is our sacred text, and word of God, because it is expecting the coming Christ.

Here, I start to get nervous. I am all for a hermeneutic of Christological revisionism–reading the OT in full knowledge that the crucified Messiah is the one who had to suffer, be buried, and rise again. Luke 24 teaches us that this is what the OT speaks about when it looks to the coming Messiah. 1 Peter is remarkably affirming on the same point.

For the most part, I think Barth pulled it off.

The highlight was the second of his three points, where he talks about the Jesus-ness of the OT like this: it is “the witness to the revelation in which God remains a hidden God, indeed declares Himself to be the hidden God by revealing himself” (84).

Barth works through the ways in which those who bear God’s name are always a people judged; they were “death incarnate.” He speaks of them as a people who represent God, but who do as as so fully human that God is always meeting people in sinful humanity that is living in rebellion against the God who continues to meet them. This means that God is rejected as God is revealed in the voice of the prophets; that the prophets are rejected and stoned for speaking the words of God.

There is always, thus, judgment with the appearing of God in glory and salvation.

In the third point of this section, Barth talks about the ways God meets with humanity in the OT. In the revelation of God through people, land, temple, lordship, judgment, and kingship, there is a true coming of God to humanity, but one that hides a truer eschatological future that is not defined by, or confined to, these earthly categories.

This section is great for its refusal to get into atomistic prooftexting, and its focus on the hidden, even cruciform, nature of the God of the OT in God’s revelation.

I was at times not happy with the distance Barth put between God and the people, the covenant, and the OT revelation more generally. I tend to think that God is free, as Barth insists, but that in this freedom God has chosen to bind Himself to Israel and the covenants. Barth thinks God is free to leave them behind, it seems; I think this would make God no longer God.

I also wasn’t entirely happy with Barth relegating all OT covenants to one covenant of grace. But that’s probably just a relapse of an earlier nightmare.

All told, Barth gives very good guidance for starting to plot Jesus onto the map of Israel–and for wrestling with the question of judgment in particular. More on that anon.

Time and Revelation

And by revelation here we’re not talking about the final book in the NT canon, but the larger idea of God’s revealing of Godself to humanity–what Barth summarizes as “Jesus Christ.”

In this, the first of a three week excursion into §1.14 of the Church Dogmatics, Barth brings us back again to his central tenant that what we know theologically we know on the basis of revelation alone. We do not have general ideas of “god” that the true corresponds to, but a revealed God whom we believe.

Similarly, we do not have a general concept of “time” to which the time of God corresponds, but in revelation we learn of a new kind of time that is not defined or measured by the time we inhabit from day-to-day.

Our time, like the rest of the created world which we inhabit, is time created good but fallen.

God’s time is summed up in the person of Jesus. While this revelation enters history, history itself can never be seen as revelatory. Revelation is about the incursion of light that shines in the darkness. The darkness can never be revelation, though it can be the context within which revelation makes itself known.

As so often in the Dogmatics, Barth seems most concerned with theological Liberalism, with its propensity to equate the mundane with the divine, to both strip away the supernatural from the biblical record in order to find what is true and good and the tendency to see all of life and history as culture as revelatory of God.

This dense chapter presents us with a way of beginning to wrestle with some of the most vexing problems of the NT’s depictions of the work of God in Christ. Specifically, it seems that there are many things that are begun, a new age that has dawned, and an immediacy to the consummation of the Kingdom that have failed to materialize.

As longtime readers have heard me say before, one of the most profound issues Jewish people have with Christian claims about Jesus as Messiah is summed up in these words of Martin Buber:

Now to the Christian, the Jew is the incomprehensibly obdurate man, who declines to see what has happened; and to the Jew, the Christian is the incomprehensibly daring man, who affirms in an unredeemed world that its redemption has been accomplished

The unredeemed world. There’s the problem.

But the NT also demands that we recognize a tension between the “now” of God’s kingdom alongside the “passing away” of the world of flesh in which we find ourselves.

Here is where Barth wants us to recognize the advent of not a new era in the sense of the latest in a series, but instead a new kind of time altogether–the presence of God with us. This is a time that can encompass all our times, and will continue as God’s presence to us and for us when time is no more.

And, this unredeemed world can truly be known as redeemed in the suffering servant–but only by means of revelation.

Believe in the Holy Spirit…

…or: 1 down, 14 to go!

The final section of Barth’s Church Dogmatics §1.1 he unpacks the Spirit as the third mode of the divine being.

The first part of this chapter about the Spirit bears some striking similarities to the first section on the eternal Son. In particular, Barth is concerned in both to point out that these modes of divine being are, in fact, realities in God himself and not merely projections of ourselves into our discussion of God.

Christology is not about the on-going experience of the church. It is about the eternal, incarnate, and exalted son.

Pneumatology is not about the believer’s self-awareness. It is about the eternal and sent Spirit.

In other words, when we work out our doctrine of God, we are talking about something–better, Someone, we know through biblical revelation, not imputing to divinity our own human experience. The doctrine of God is no place for “natural revelation.”

Even when at work in us, it is the Spirit of God at work in us, not our own human spirit’s workings, that we are talking about. God must come to us from without in order to turn sinful humans into those capable of the Word of God.

As with his discussion of the eternal son, I found his discussion of the eternal Spirit to be less than compelling. It is clear in this section that Barth, doing an exposition of the Nicene-Constanopolitan Creed, is constrained by that Creed and not being compelled by either theological logic or biblical revelation.

Where this section is strong is at the points where Barth is describing the work of the Spirit in eternity as a true reflection of the work of the Spirit in the economy of redemption.

But this strength also becomes the section’s weakness when Barth tries to deny that the Spirit should be spoken of an agent of eternal filiation–one who makes the Son the Son. Barth’s denials about the significance of the baptism or the resurrection are exegetically sound: these moments are where the Spirit acts on the human Jesus to make him participant in what belongs to the eternal Son. But this is exactly the same sort of data by which we say, for example, that the Spirit proceeds from the Son.

Finally, I’m not all that sure that describing the Spirit as the love between the Father and the Son is all that helpful. In the NT, where we learn that “God is love,” we also learn that this love has a cruciform character. The love of God is none other than the love that comes in the Father’s giving the Son and the Son’s giving himself. I’m not sure that such a historically manifested self-giving translates into eternity, with the Spirit as the love itself.

The #barthtogether posse now takes a week off before picking up with §1.2. This is a great time to take back up your reading. You need not finish §1.1 in order to profit from §1.2. This next, massive volume will take us through the end of the year. The reading schedule is here, and I hope that with the winding down of the spring quarter many of you will join us!

Jesus, God, and Theologial Meandering

I love Jesus.

I even love singing Holy, Holy, Holy on Trinity Sunday.

And sometimes you’ll even catch me reflecting seriously on Colossians, and the Son’s involvement in creation–the preexistent One, through whom all things were made. And I’ll think it’s really, really cool.

But the more I listen to theologians work out issues of Christology, the more convinced I am that the profit to be had in studying Jesus is to be found in figuring out what it means that he was human, not trying to explain how it is that he is God.

I’ve had a couple of encounters with theological Christology this week. One was in listening to the most recent Homebrewed Christianity Podcast. This was a phenomenal overview of recent guests, many of whom are working on Christology as progressive theologians. The worst thing about that podcast was that it added about 8 books to my reading list! I recommend listening to it for an orientation in contemporary Christological study, if nothing else.

But like so many studies of Christology, I was struck, perhaps a bit surprised, by the way that Jesus as God somehow sits front and center in all of their work–even as progressive theologians. Perhaps the reason it made such an impression was in part due to the vast number of things we can then say about Jesus, God, and Christianity. In a sense, the game is much more open when Jesus is God than when Jesus was a first century Jewish Galilean.

And in reading Barth on the eternal Son (§1.11), I again found myself slogging through material where the most compelling thing he seemed able to say was, “Well, the church said this, so even though it’s not really right, we all have to say it.”

The reason why I found the section so disheartening was that the obsession about how to articulate the son’s deity not only relegated Jesus’ humanness to the background, it also caused Barth to say some things about Jesus as redeemer that were wrong, and to misread any number of biblical passages.

When we’re convinced that the most basic thing there is to say about Jesus is that Jesus Christ is God, we render ourselves incapable of reading much of the New Testament (not to mention OT!), where this divine identity is neither argued for, nor indicated, nor assumed.

The history of Christological debate has framed the question like this: why does Jesus have to be God in order to redeem us? Or, what is the significance of Jesus’ deity for our salvation? The alternatives have been positions where Jesus’ heavenly status is not truly divine or the like.

Missing in all this is the absolutely crucial biblical notion that in order for God’s intentions for humanity, the earth, and the cosmos to be realized, all had to be done by a human entrusted by God to rule the world on God’s behalf.

The redeemer has to be Adam.

The redeemer has to be Israel.

The redeemer has to be David.

The redeemer has to be the son of man, the Human One.

Ignoring this prior necessity, we find ourselves saying foolish things such as, “To be lord, one must be none other than The Lord–the God worshiped by God’s people.” No, to be lord is to be entrusted by God to rule the world on behalf of The Lord: The Lord YHWH speaks to my lord the king saying, You are my son.”

Or, we find ourselves thinking someone is being profound, rather than abusing the text, when they say, “‘Today I have begotten you’ means an eternal generation where every day is today.” No, Psalm 2 means that the king becomes, at coronation, what he was not before–just like the human Jesus becomes at the resurrection ‘son of God’ in a sense that he was not before; i.e., as king of Israel.

In the podcast I listened to last night, one of the theologians they described was working on rearticulating what we need to say about Jesus if we want to say in the 21st century that Jesus is God. That route, it seems to me, is a better way to participate in the Nicene-Chalcedonian tradition than to say as Barth does, “Well, they used this word, nobody liked it then, we don’t know what it means now, but surely they were right in saying this!”

Barth is at his best when he is allowing the biblical narrative to infuse his theology with new life. That wasn’t what I read in his outworking of Jesus Christ (not only Christ, but Jesus!) as eternal son.

But then again, that’s my axe. How did you guys find this section?

Barth Reading: Year of Jubilee!

So if you started the year with every good intention of keeping up with the Church Dogmatics reading, but those good intentions have gone the way of good intentions, have I got a deal for you.

Over the next two weeks, we will be finishing up §1.1, taking a week off, and then picking up in §1.2 (see schedule here).

It is perfectly possible, and some would even say desirable, to begin with §1.2. So the first week of May is a great time to get into the game. I hope that even more folks will join the conversation.

“God the Father,” Back to the God of the Bible

When we last left our heroes, they were in despair at the direction that Karl Barth’s discussion of the Triunity of God had taken.

To be honest, I was afraid that the remainder of 1.1 was going to be sheer drudgery.

But when Barth turns in §1.1.10 to “God the Father,” we find ourselves once again in conversation about the God of the biblical narrative as the God of the biblical narrative. In short, all of my warm and fuzzy feelings about Church Dogmatics returned.

Barth is willing to live with the paradox that God is other–not a being like other beings whom we could master, and yet, at the same time, is not a being that remains separate from the created order. To answer the question, “Who is the Good of the Bible?” (notice–he says “who,” not “what,” a telling difference between Barth and some other Western Christian traditions who begin their reflections with the latter question and give answers that have nothing to do with the story), we are not directed to a “sphere beyond human history but rather to the very centre of this history” (384).

Barth goes into a description of God as Lord, kurios, that I found surprising and refreshing. In first instance, says Barth, when the NT is talking about the Lord and God, it is talking about “One who is quite other than Jesus” (385). Jesus as Lord in the NT often sees him as one subordinate to God, θεός.

The great things about this chapter is that Barth, in talking about the Father, is willing to recognize that this is what the Bible most often actually means when it says, “God.” The NT does not talk about Jesus as God in the same way it talks about the Father as God. Jesus is Lord because his ministry is a manifestation of the Lordship of God the father (386). Yes, yes. A thousand times yes. The Son of Man has been given authority.

The final piece I want to touch on is what it even means to say God is “Father.”

Barth rightly cautions against the notion that our earthly understanding of fatherhood is the model on which we build our understanding of God the Father in the Trinity. In fact, the Christ even provides a surprising and paradoxical picture of what God’s fatherhood looks like.

Always on the alert to keep us from building a “natural theology” that has simply written our experience with large letters and called it “God,” Barth maintains that God the Father is not identical with our life, not our “life-giver” in the sense of simply validating and affirming the life we already have.

It is in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that he takes his truest standing as “son of God,” and it is in participation in such resurrection life that God becomes most truly our Father:

God the Father wills neither our life in itself nor our death in itself. He wills our life in order to lead it through death to eternal life. He wills death in order to lead our life through it to eternal life. He wills this transition of our life through death to eternal life. His kingdom is this new birth. (388)

In other words, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that show us God the Father, and what it means for this God of this story to be our Father as well.