Reflections on CD IV/1 (Part I)


I wanted to offer some commentary on some provocative quotes from CD IV/1. I’ll post Part II later on this week.

In $59, The Obedience of the Son of God Barth writes:

“It is not taken seriously or seriously enough. Yet from this one thing everything else, and particularly what we have just stressed, acquires its contour and colour, its definiteness and necessity. The Word did not become simply any “flesh,” any man humbled and suffering. It became Jewish flesh. The Church’s whole doctrine of the incarnation and atonement becomes abstract and valueless and meaninglessness to the extent that it comes to be regarded as something accidental and incidental. The New Testament witness to Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, stands on the soil of the Old Testament and cannot be separated from it. The pronouncements of New Testament Christology may have been shaped by a very non-Jewish environment. But they relate always to a man who is seen to be not a man in general, a neutral man, but the conclusion and sum of the history of God with the people of Israel, the One who fulfils the covenant made by God with this people” (CD IV/1, 166).

I think this is clearly one of the strongest parts of Barth’s theology. The way he is able to weave the doctrine of election (CD II) in the context of creation and covenant (CD III), which culminate in the doctrine of reconciliation (CD IV). I was also struck by this passage with the way he emphasizes the significance of Jesus’ Jewish flesh. The specific focus on the Jewishness of Jesus and his relation YHWH’s covenant with Israel was also a major stress of Carter’s Race. As Carter tells the story, Christianity’s own anxiety about its Jewish roots aids and abets modern Western racial thinking, which is suggestive of the profoundest theological distortion.

“That God as God is able and willing and ready to condescend, to humble Himself in this way is the mystery of the “deity of Christ” – although frequently it is not recognized in its concreteness. This deity is not the deity of a divine being furnished with all kinds of supreme attributes. The understanding of this decisive christological statement has been made unnecessarily difficulty (or easy), and the statement itself ineffective, by overlooking its concrete definition, by omitting to fill out the New Testament concept “deity” in definite connexion with the Old Testament, i.e., in relation to Jesus Christ Himself. The meaning of His deity – the only true deity in the New Testament sense – cannot be gathered from any notion of supreme, absolute, non-worldly being. It can be learned only from what took place in Christ. Otherwise its mystery would be an arbitrary mystery of our imagining, a false mystery. It would not be the mystery given by the Word and revelation of God in its biblical attestation, the mystery which is alone relevant in Church Dogmatics. Who the one true God is, and what He is, i.e., what is His being as God, and therefore His deity, His “divine nature,” which is also the divine nature of Jesus Christ if He is very God – all this we have to discover from the fact that as such He is very man and a partaker of human nature, from His becoming man, from His incarnation and from what He has done and suffered in the flesh. For – to put it more pointedly, the mirror in which it can be known (and is known) that He is God, and of the divine nature, is His becoming flesh and His existence in the flesh” (CD IV/1, 177).

This is perhaps one of the clearest summations of Barth’s entire theological project. His stress on the Christological foundations for our knowledge of God is of the utmost importance. I’m reminded of a debate I had with a girl three years or so ago back in college. We were discussing Christ, and she shared her idea that she believed Christ could see the synapses firing in our brain because, since he was God, he was omniscient. Hence, she would even go so far to say that Christ was even aware of scientific theories that had yet to be developed. Of course, this view has to be rejected for its obvious docetic heretical underpinnings. More precisely, the problem is that this kind of thinking is still predicated by what I would diagnose as a refusal to take seriously the incarnation, the fact that He was made man. We still have anxiety about what the incarnation means for our doctrine of God, and we strive hopelessly to retain our beliefs in an abstract God derived from classical metaphysics. But as Bonhoeffer would remind us, the story of God is told from the cradle to the cross. I’d suggest reading CD IV/I in tandem with Bonhoeffer’s Christ the Center.


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