Barth wraps up part II of the Church Dogmatics with an exposition of the Christmas mystery: Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
The last two sections of §15 had me scratching my head, saying, “hmmm…”, and generally reflecting on how theological categories control our reading and create rabbit trails that never quite seem to be the rabbit holes their creators promise.
The Christian confession that Jesus the Christ is also the God-Man causes Barth to put too much into the event of the virgin birth–which, for KB, is tantamount to incarnation.
Bart says that this becoming human of the word is God’s revelation and is therefore “the prime mystery” and “our reconciliation” (§15.3; pp. 172, 173).
Barth Experiences God by Listening to Mozart on His iPod
But for all Barth’s insistence that we follow the Biblical testimony, he neglects to see that in the biblical testimony incarnation is neither “the prime mystery” of our faith nor “our reconciliation.” Incarnation is not salvific, not the act of reconciliation.
It is not Jesus’ ontology but the works that Jesus does upon the earth that reconcile God with the rebellious creature. Throughout, Barth insists that the virgin birth is but the sign pointing to the true mystery behind it of Jesus as incarnate God Man. What I think he misses is that Jesus as incarnate God man is but a sign to the true mystery of reconciliation accomplished.
What is “the mystery” in the NT? In the Gospels, the only mention of it is when the disciples are told the mystery of the Kingdom concealed in Jesus’ parables–which parables have nothing to do with Jesus as incarnate God Man. In 1 Cor it has to do with the foolishness of the cross as God’s saving wisdom and our coming participation in the resurrection. In Ephesians it primarily refers to Jews and Gentiles as one people, then also the union of male and female in marriage. In Colossians it’s “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” 1 Tim 3:16 is a holistic confession of Jesus’ life, resurrection, and subsequent proclamation.
Not even the one book that makes much ado about Jesus as God incarnate, John, indicates that the revelation of God in Christ is, itself, humanity’s reconciliation.
I find that all of the focus on Jesus as God-Man ends up detracting, in Barth’s theology thus far, from the significance of Jesus’ life as man on earth. And that can create huge problems down the line.
Here’s an example.
Barth keeps comparing the virgin birth to the resurrection, as though both are revelatory signs of Jesus as God Man.
But if the resurrection means that Jesus is God Man, the rest of us have no hope. The reason why we as humans have hope of resurrection life is because the resurrection of Jesus means that, though human, he has entered bodily into the eternal presence of God. If resurrection reveals that Jesus is actually God Man, then it simultaneously reveals that those who are not God Man have no hope of sharing in such newness of life unless, of course, God chooses to make us gods as well.
No, the resurrection, at least in so far as it is a source of Christian hope, is all about Jesus as human.
Similarly, Barth fails to see where his exegesis points when he associates Jesus as son because of the Spirit with the baptism in Mark 1 and resurrection in Romans 1. Those latter scenes indicate that to be a person to whom the Spirit has come, a person empowered by the Spirit, is to be God’s representative human upon the earth.
Saul receives the Spirit so he can be king. It passes from Saul to David so that David can rule the people in wisdom and power. And the Davidic psalm prays for the Holy Spirit not to be taken away–as it was taken away from Saul when Saul was faithless!
I know that I cause my readers angst at times due to my insistence that no all the Christology in the NT is high Christology. This is not because I don’t believe in high Christology (i.e., that Jesus is truly God incarnate). I do believe in that.
It’s because I don’t think the doctrine of Jesus as God is the presupposition or argument for most of the NT–and that it therefore has the power to make us bad readers of the NT when we bring it with us to every NT text, or when we use it to develop every Christian doctrine.
Barth in this section of CD manifests the problems I’m concerned with.
The heart of the NT is not that Jesus is God. The heart of the NT is that in the man Jesus God was reconciling the world to Himself. When we get the accent wrong, we not only create innumerable unanswerable theological conundrums for ourselves, we also misassign the place of salvation to an ontology that does not, in and of itself, reconcile.