Archive for the ‘Barth’ Category

Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 2 (Part I)


Some Thoughts:

1) Creation ex nihilo – Pannenberg is mistrustful of Barth’s use of the nothing that he outlines in CD III/3 as being an antagonism or resistance to God. Pannenberg (14) believes that this sort of reading of creation is not upheld exegetically and fails to do justice to Genesis 1. Ultimately, the decisive power of the Word will not permit any such idea of resistance. He is also critical of Moltmann’s notion of self-withdrawal or self-limitation which Moltmann appropriates from Jewish mysticism (15). This serves to help make sense of the independent existence of creature and Creator. However, Pannenberg is skeptical of this move by Moltmann because it is insufficiently Trinitarian. I’d be curious to hear Pannenberg’s opinion of Keller’s Face of the Deep, which argues, quite persuasively, that creation out of nothing does exegetical violence to the creation narrative.

2) Creation and the Self-Distinction of the Son – Pannenberg argues that the creation itself bears witness to the goodness of God. The Son of God is “the primary object of the Father’s love” (21). The love that the Father has for creation is ultimately mediated through the Son, and it is non-competitive with the Father’s love for creation. Readers will recall that Pannenberg places great theological and Christological significance in the Son’s self-distinction from the Father. Hence, the proof of Jesus’ divinity is manifested his submission to the Father’s will. The eternal Son predates the existence of Jesus and “is the basis of his creaturely existence” (23). Pannenberg puts it quite succinctly that the, “eternal Son is the ontic basis of the human existence Jesus in his relation to God as Father” (23). Later Pannenberg argues that the mediation of the Son in creation not only serves as a structure and the basis for fellowship with God, but also “as the origin of existence of creaturely reality” (29).

3) Theodicy/Creation – Pannenberg acknowledges that meaningless suffering is perhaps the greatest challenge to the belief in the goodness of God. He applauds Barth for arguing against that the natural theodicy of Leibniz that fails to take seriously the suffering in the world. Pannenberg believes that the fatal flaw of Lebinz’s argument is that it simply considers theodicy from creation and fails to consider “God’s saving action and the eschatological fulfillment that has dawned already in Jesus Christ” (165). This question is an open one that will only be fully revealed in the eschaton (164). Pannenberg recognizes that God bears responsibility for evil’s existence. However, for Pannenberg, “God did not shirk the responsibility but shouldered it by sending and giving up His [sic] Son to the cross” (169). Although this does not serve to explain away evil, it does suggest a God who involves Herself in the suffering and contingencies of this world.


Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part III)


There is much to discuss in the final two chapters of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology, Volume 1.  Both chapters involve Pannenberg’s account of the Trinitarian identity of the Christian God including the various attributes of God.  In view of the large amount of material needing to be discussed here, I decided to discuss one section I found most interesting; Pannenberg’s position regarding the place of the doctrine of the Trinity within the dogmatic structure.

After a nicely organized historical account of the dogmatic ordering concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, Pannenberg argues that the ordering is determined by a particular view of the unity and distinction within Godself.  As discussed earlier in the chapter, Pannenberg shows that the early Christian Church struggled to develop the unification between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without losing their distinction.  The doctrine of the Trinity became less emphasized in 17th and 18th century Protestant theology because theologians of this time period struggled to account for the coherence between the unity and differentiation of God’s being as testified in the biblical witness.  Even Protestant dogmaticians who were sympathetic with the idea of the prominent role of the Trinity still believed “that the OT justifies a prior presentation of God as the Supreme Being (Exod. 3:14) and also of his attributes” (281).  Beginning from the Hebrew Bible’s conception of this One Ultimate God encouraged theologians to view the Trinity as a later addition rather than the essential starting point for Christian dogmatics.  It becomes clear (and Pannenberg even admits this) that the construction of the doctrine of God is difficult for any dogmatician given the tension between God’s Triune identity as unified yet distinct.  The most interesting observation Pannenberg makes is when he states that the decision whether to treat the unity or distinction of God first will ultimately be determined by one’s view of metaphysical knowledge.  If the theologian believes that God’s unity can be postulated through the sheer extension of human reason, then unity is necessarily treated first and the distinction between the Father, Son, and Spirit are discussed later since on this view such beliefs arise only through revelation.  Moreover, the statements concerning God’s triunity can only be seen as important if the discussion of God’s unity is not deemed as satisfactory in order to offer a full account of His identity.  Unless the concept of God’s triunity is seen as indispensable, “the Trinitarian statements must seem to be a more or less superfluous and external addition to the doctrine of the one God” (283).

Pannenberg finally divulges his own commitments when he proposes that even the statements about God’s unity are made possible only through revelation: “It is true that Christian talk of Father, Son, and Spirit, and especially Jesus’ addressing of God as Father, must always presuppose a prior understanding of God. This is not, however, the understanding of philosophical theology but that of religion and in particular it is the understanding of the God who revealed himself to Israel as the one God” (299, emphasis added).  All of this is to say that Pannenberg concludes by agreeing with Karl Barth’s ordering of dogmatics and Barth’s recovery of the essential role of the doctrine of the Trinity.  But unlike Barth, Pannenberg prefers to construct the doctrine of the Trinity not from some “formal concept of revelation as self-revelation” but rather through “historical revelation of God as Father, Son, and Spirit” (296).  In Barth’s Trinitarian account of revelation, there is “a subject of revelation, an object, and revelation itself, all of which are one and the same” (296, emphasis added).  Therefore, since Barth sees the subject of revelation as singular, plurality plays no role in terms of the “persons in the one God but only for different modes of being in the one divine subjectivity” (296).  In short, Pannenberg praises Barth’s understanding that God’s unity can not be discussed apart from God’s Triunity, but ultimately Barth “subordinated his doctrine of the Trinity to a pretrinitarian concept of the unity of God and his subjectivity in revelation” thus not allowing Barth to “see what is the function of the doctrine of the essence and attributes of God for the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, that it is only with the question of the essence and attributes of the Trinitarian God that the unity of this God becomes a theme, and we are thus enabled to avoid the confusions which inevitably arise when we try to derive the trinity from the person of the Father or the unity of the divine substance” (299 – phew!).  I would be very interested if anyone had any insights concerning Pannenberg’s criticisms of Barth’s Trinitarian theology along with his own preference for a “historical” account of Trinitarian theology.

Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part I)


I want to offer couple of brief talking points on CH 1-2.

1) The Source of Theology – Pannenberg offers a history about the source of theology for both Protestant and Catholic dogmatics. Early Protestant dogmatics grounded its theology firmly in the Word of God. Of course, the Enlightenment criticism of the unity of Bible “destroyed the biblical statements by drawing attention to contradictions and antitheses in biblical statements” (26). Pannenberg notes that the accommodation theory (the notion that differences in the Bible can be explained by the idea the Spirit adapts to the language and culture of the Bible’s various authors) replaced the doctrine of inspiration. The doctrine of accommodation exposes the true problem of the doctrine of inspiration, which is that it “handled the divine truth of scripture as the presupposition rather than the goal of theology” (35).

2) Barth and Schleiermacher – For Schleiermacher, theology must be grounded in the subjective experience of the believer. He also presupposes that truth was “always decided already in advance” (42). Unlike the inspirationists, scriptural unity is replaced by the “subjective faith consciousness” (42). Of course, this severs theology from the argumentation for the truths of Christian doctrine because what ultimately matters it the subjectivity of the individual Christian. Although Barth was tirelessly critical of Schleiermacher’s project, Pannenberg believes that Barth again committed the sin of “basing dogmatics on faith as risk if not on faith as experience” (44). Barth intended to base theology on the priority of God’s self revelation, but Pannenberg argues if we want to move beyond this fideism ought we not to “abandon the assumption that the reality of God is a presupposition of dogmatics from the very outset?” (45). Pannenberg goes so far to say that Barth “demonstrates the tragic embarrassment of theology at this point. So long as one thinks that the truth of Christian doctrine must be established in advance of all discussion of its content, and given the demise of both the infallible authority of the church’s teaching office and the older Protestant doctrine of inspiration, there is little choice but to appeal to an act of faith, where as experience or as risk or venture” (47). For me, this is Pannenberg at his best. The later Bonhoeffer comes to mind who likewise criticized for Barth’s ‘positivism of revelation’. Bonhoeffer argues that there are degrees of importance and decisions to be made theologically. We have to discriminate and argue without demanding that all of it must swallowed completely.

3) Truth – Pannenberg outlines his methodology as one that will attempt to argue for the truth of Christian doctrine. The real task is not to assume the truth of Christian doctrine, but rather to “face the contesting of the reality and revelation of God in the world” (50). Pannenberg recognizes that it is simply impossible to do theology without presuppositions. Similarly, he understands that the subjectivity of the theologian also comes into play although it does not determine truth. However, the truth will ultimately be determined by God. He considers that doctrines should be conceived of as “hypotheses” (56). Since God is the source of truth, systematic theology “must be a systematic doctrine of God and nothing else” (59). All different doctrines emerge from and “have their truth in God” (59). Finally, a systematic theology must be critical of previous dogmatics, which area incomplete and open to revision.

Tillich – Systematic Theology Volume 2


I’m going to offer some brief reflections on Tillich’s Systematic Theology Volume II

1) Atonement – Tillich is right to note “God is the subject not the object of mediation and salvation. He [sic] does not need to be reconciled to man, but he [sic] asks man to be reconciled to him [sic]” (91). He goes on to say that Christ does not represent “man to God but shows what God wants man to be” (91). Tillich criticizes the three major theories of atonement. He rejects Christus Victor because it lacks the subjective response of man’s participation and relegates salvation to a cosmic struggle that does not involve man. For man to be properly healed of his anxiety and guilt, it requires that God’s law and justice are emphasized. Tillich faults Abelard’s theory for not considering the objective aspect of reconciliation. Finally Tillich questions Anselm’s view of the atonement (following Aquinas) believing that the subjective side is de-emphasized. Outlining his own approach Tillich suggests there are five principles to any proper doctrine of atonement: 1) God alone atones, 2) No conflict exists between God’s justice and God’s love, 3) Reconciliation can not simply overlook the guilt and estrangement of man, 4) God actively participated in existential estrangement and self-destructive consequences, and 5) The Cross manifests the divine participation in estrangement.

2) Historical Criticism – Tillich makes the interesting point that only Protestant Christianity, of all the world religions, has had the courage to subject its holy texts to historical criticism and research. Tillich believes this move has enabled Protestants to become more genuinely honest and he criticizes those groups who reject historical research based solely on dogmatic prejudice. This acceptance of historical consciousness has allowed Protestantism to not be forced into irrelevant spirituality (a la Schleiermacher). Perhaps we sense here why Barth’s theology is so awkwardly placed between liberal and conservative theology. He pays lip service to historical critical research but then acts as if the Bible is completely reliable. As much as I respect his effort, one has to wonder if Barth’s refusal to take sides is, in fact, a retreat from the truths of Biblical studies. I completely understand why Harnack et al. were totally bewildered by Barth’s move in Romans. Perhaps Tillich’s somewhat speculative theology is one of the last great efforts to return theology to the ontological task after the Bible had been dethroned in Protestant theology. Rejecting the Biblicism from both the right (infallibility) and the left (Ritschl), he opens up the path for a theology of culture that is fully secular. However, I suspect that Tillich’s legacy will ultimately be forgotten years from now because the ontological architecture he imposes on Christian thinking is bound to become outdated and strange. Although I imagine Tillich would only respond with the charge to “keep theologizing” since his very method of correlation, suggests that theology is a continually creative task that requires constant re-invention and renewal based on man’s current situation.

3) Christology – In Volume I of his ST, Tillich laid out his argument that God is “beyond existence and essence” (147). Given that his definition of divinity implies that God is beyond existence, this raises questions about the Chaledonian definition that describes Christ as possessing two-natures. Christ lived in 1st century Palestine and was clearly not beyond essence and existence. This finite existence precludes a divine nature in Tillich’s theology. Instead, Tillich rejects that God-man idea and replaces it with ‘God-Man-hood”. Unlike the static essence of divinity, this conception is dynamic and relational. Although Tillich recognizes his Christology resembles Schleiermacher’s, he believes his Christology has an ontological character whereas Schleiermacher’s Christology only has an anthropological one.

Tillich – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part I)


My task is to offer some reflections on the introduction and Part I of Tillich’s ST Vol 1.

A. Methodology – Tillich’s theology is apologetic, an answering theology that responds to the situation of the day with the “power of the eternal message” (6). In this sense, his theology stands firmly in the liberal tradition started by Schleiermacher which tried to make Christianity relevant to modern society.) Tillich opposes Schleiermacher for relegating religion to the merely emotional realm. He views this retreat as essentially a refusal to engage modern thought. Here Tillich is perhaps at his best theologically in the way he easily engages modern psychology, philosophy, and religious studies. He also rejects the Barthian approach to make the Bible the sole source for theology. Instead, Tillich wants to have many sources of theology including: “Bible, church history, history of religion and culture” (40).

B. Christian triumphalism – “Apologetic theology must show that trends which are immanent in all religions and cultures move toward the Christian message” (15). This is perhaps my biggest fear about his theology. Why this method of correlation? I understand the relevance, but there’s an assumption Tillich makes that Christian revelation possesses the truth to the question modern man poses. He’s ruled out, a priori, that modern questions might actually challenge the truth of Christian revelation. Moreover, as much as I find his interdisciplinary approach admirable, I feel as if theology is restored to its place as the “queen of the sciences”. Not in the sense that theology is somehow true and all other disciplines that disagree must be critiqued (Tillich explicitly says it’s not the business of theology to accept or reject, e.g. Freud’s theory of libido (131)), but in the sense that theology is assumed to possess all of the answers. Pannenberg is much better here when he allows other disciplines to actually challenge theological ideas. The boundaries are much more porous. If anything, Pannenberg’s methodology restores hope in the idea that theology could once again exist in the academy as a respectable discipline. Barth’s theology is weakest here with his severe allergy to be in conversation with other disciplines. Instead he returns to the Bible for the timeless truths and completely bypasses the historical criticism of liberal theology, a major mistake in my opinion.

C. Return to ontology – Philosophy must “address the question of reality as a whole” (20). Tillich is critical of current (1950’s) trends in philosophy that refuse the ontological task of philosophy. Neo-Kantians have attempted to reduce philosophy to epistemology and ethics while logical positivists have attempted to reduce philosophy to logical calculus (19). Similarly, Tillich criticizes Biblicists (evangelicals and liberals like Ritschl) for trying to construct a non-ontological biblical theology. I think Tillich is entirely correct here that the theologian must address ontological issues. Trying to avoid the ontological task by hiding in the Bible is ultimately untenable as it weakens the relevance and importance of theological reflection.

Harnack – What is Christianity? (Part 2)


My task is to cover the second part of Harnack’s What is Christianity? I really appreciated Part I and found his interpretation of scriptures to be interesting. I also enjoyed his discussion about the social nature of the gospel. His position is that Christians must be in solidarity with the poor to be true followers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, despite his individualistic emphasis on the gospel being about what happens between God and the soul.

Four observations:

1) Pauline ambivalence and Christological anxiety – I expected Harnack to deride Paul as someone who had perverted the gospel and transformed a living, praxis-based faith into a doctrinal faith, but his stance is more nuanced. On the one hand he praises Paul because he ultimately liberated Christianity from the shackles of legalistic Judaism. On the other hand, according to Harnack “it is a perverse proceeding to make Christology the fundamental substance of the Gospel is shown by Christ’s teaching, which is everywhere directed to the all-important point, and summarily confronts every man with his God” (198). As Harnack had said earlier, the Gospel is about the Father not the Son (154). This is a fairly standard liberal trope that pits the historical Jesus vs. the Christ of faith. I don’t know how Harnack can maintain this position, since Christianity has always been eminently concerned about the Son. In fact the very identity of the Son (Christology) is what gives rise to the consideration about the nature of the Godhead (Trinity). Although Harnack would consider this doctrinal emphasis an aberrant development in the history of Christianity, he has to avoid so much of history to argue for his sublime, simplistic individual religion that takes place between the soul and God. In fact, as much as Harnack wants to argue for some time in the past when Christianity was not ‘perverted’ with a focus on Christ, there never was a time when Christianity was not absolutely centered on the Son. I’m not simply attacking Harnack’s denial of Son’s unique identity with the Father, but the fact that he seems to think Christianity is about the Father (although to be fair many traditions implicitly act as if only the Father is really God). One could potentially deny Jesus’ divinity and still recognize that Christianity is primarily about the person and work of Christ. Instead, Harnack (much like Schleiermacher) seems intent on defending a strong monotheistic reading of the tradition. However, Harnack, unlike Schleiermacher who recognizes that the redemption won by Christ is central, ends up elevating a simple relationship with the Father to be THE essence of Christianity. I have sympathy with Barth’s rejection to Harnack by rightly shifting dogmatics back to the Trinity, which is ultimately grounded in a Christological re-reading of doctrine.

2) Mistrust of dogma – Harnack scapegoats Greek philosophy for being responsible for the corruption of the simple gospel Jesus preached into a complex doctrinal system. Primarily, Harnack takes aim at what he dubs the “intellectualism” of Greek philosophy that threatens to diminish, if not completely annihilate, the zealousness of primitive Christianity.

3) Prejudice against the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church – Harnack is especially critical of “Greek Catholicism”. He goes so far to claim that for over 99% of these believers the Christians religion means nothing more than adherence to “ceremonious ritual”. Harnack goes so far to claim that these Greek Catholics are like the Jews and that “[i]t was to destroy this sort of religion that Jesus Christ suffered himself to be nailed to the cross, and now we find it re-established under his name authority!” (255). He also suggests that the Greek Catholicism is, in actuality, simply Greek religion dressed up in Christian drag. His next victim in this declension narrative is Roman Catholicism. Similar to the way he sees Orthodoxy as being a continuation of Greek religion, Harnack believes Roman Catholicism is nothing more than a continuation of the old Roman Empire, except the Pope has replaced Caesar. He is especially distrustful of Roman Catholicism because it emphasizes the importance of liturgy and sacrament as opposed to the soul’s personal (unmediated) relationship with God.

4) Lutheran leanings – Unsurprisingly, Harnack is a big fan of Lutheranism (I’m sure Luther’s German heritage has nothing to do with this). Harnack believes Luther was both a reformer and revolutionary. He is especially in favor of Luther’s reduction of sacraments down to two (Eucharist, baptism) and his emphasis on the importance on the individual’s faith in God. However Harnack believes Luther was not revolutionary enough because he still was dogmatic in believing the creeds and thinking that “[w]e are the true Church because we have the right ‘doctrine’” (314). One also gets the sense that Harnack’s obsession with his Greco-Roman-Germanic narrative can simply not allow for expressions of Christianity outside of these three national identities. Perhaps this explains why he has no use for Calvin in his chapter on Protestantism and diminishes the significance Reformed thought has had on Protestant religion.

Closing thought: After reading Part 2, I was not at all surprised that he had signed the Manifesto in 1914 since he seemed excessively fixated on the relationship between religion and nationalism.

Looking Back at My Journey through Church Dogmatics in 2010


I’ve noticed a couple of trends over this last year:

1) Volumes get better over time, except for the Doctrine of Reconciliation. I found CD I/2 very fascinating, and it was much more gripping than all of the background work in CD I/1. Unsurprisingly, CD II/2 was one of my favorite part-volumes of the entire dogmatics, and I found it much more interesting than the work on the attributes of God in CD II/1. Finally, CD III/3, which includes a discussion on evil and providence, was leaps and bounds more stimulating than CD III/1 and CD III/2. I found CD III/4 to be a surprisingly delightful part-volume, and I blogged quite extensively about Barth on animals and violence, etc. CD IV was an obvious exception. CD IV/1 was easily my favorite part-volume of the entire dogmatics, especially the first 400 pages. However, I found the other part-volumes to be increasingly less interesting. CD IV/2 had some highlights, including Barth’s discussion of the life of Jesus, and I enjoyed his commentary of Job and the devil in CD IV/3. And as for CD IV/4, let’s just says I’m not a big fan of the church or liturgical church speak.
2) Part-volumes get more boring over time. This was especially manifest in the Doctrine of Reconciliation, but I also found this trend to be the case for I/2, II/2, and III/3. Now, part of this can simply be explained by the fact that I have no interest in pneumatology or ecclesiology, topics Barth usually discusses at the close of each part-volume. Also Barth’s repetitive style likely contributed to this problem.
3) The Doctrine of Creation was painful. First, I spent my entire summer reading CD III and Lacan’s seminars, neither of which are easy reads. Second, I think there was a major hangover after reading CD II/2. Barth introduces the most radical re-reading of the election ever offered, and he dedicates the next 400 pages of CD III/1 to exegeting Gen 1:2! Also, I’d nominate CD III/2 as the least enjoyable part-volume of them all.

Tips for future readers of CD:

1) Read secondary literature along the way. Starting around CD II/2, I began reading current journal articles in Barthian scholarship. Reading the debates between Hunsinger and McCormack made the entire journey more exciting and also gave me more direction whilst reading. I would suggest reading an article or two before each part-volume, which will help focus one’s reading and also help one better process the part-volume.
2) Keep it in manageable chunks. I had intended to read 25 pages/day, but this semester made that practice damn near impossible. Consequently, I would spend some weekend nights reading 200-300 pages. While this was doable, I would have preferred remaining more disciplined during the week so as to not get overwhelmed. Also getting behind made it feels like more of a task than a fun project.
3) Expect to be bored. It’s almost 9000 pages and some parts can really drag.
4) Read the small print. It can be tempting to skip over these parts, but I found some of the best of Barth’s insights to be hidden away in the fine print, especially in CD IV/1 and CD II/2.

Finally, I began wondering if I would ever re-read Church Dogmatics right after finishing. I concluded there would definitely be some part-volumes I might revisit including: CD II/1, II/2, IV/1. Next year I’ll be spending more time reading works by post-Barthians, and I’m becoming increasingly interested in McCormack’s argument about the break that occurs between CD II/1 and II/2.

It Is Finished


So I finally completed Barth’s Church Dogmatics tonight at 3:04 a.m. Praise God Almighty. My eyes were about to fall off straining to read all the small print.

Anyway, I should be more active over the next couple of weeks posting some reflections on CD along with some other books. I’m also planning on reading 3 books over the next week on feminist theology, which should be fun.

Also, the projects of 2011 are beginning next week. Wesley, AJ, and I have decided to centralize the discussion at my blog. Every week one of us will post some short reflections on the reading, hopefully on Saturdays or Sundays. We plan to keep the rotation going all year. Also, I’ll be periodically posting on my other reading projects throughout 2011.

I regret that this last semester I did not post as much as I had intended. I didn’t realize how much time I would spend doing clinic work along with schoolwork and a part-time job.

Looking back at my reading goals for 2010, I’m proud to say that I’ve accomplished 1, 2, and 4. Working through all of Lacan’s English seminars was quite a task along with Deleuze’s work. Also, needless to say, reading CD seemed almost impossible at the beginning of 2010. As I look forward to 2011, I know I have on my reading list 3, 7, & 9.

Anyway, I hope everyone has a great New Year’s and stay tuned as I plan on posting more in the upcoming days.

Reflections on CD IV/2


In $64, The Exaltation of the Son of Man, Barth writes:

“Throughout the New Testament the kingdom of God, the Gospel and the man Jesus have a remarkable affinity, which is no mere egalitarianism, to all those who are in the shadows as afar as concerns what men estimate to be fortune and possessions and success and even fellowship with God. Why is this the case?…But one reason is the distinctive solidarity of the man Jesus with the God who in the eyes of the world – and not merely the ordinary world, but the moral and spiritual as well – is also poor in this way, existing not only in fact and practice but even in theory, somewhere on the margins in its scales of values, at an unimportant level, as the mere content of a limiting concept. In fellowship and conformity with this God who is poor in the world the royal man Jesus is also poor, and fulfils the transvaluation of all values, acknowledging those who (without necessarily being better) are in different ways poor men as this world counts poverty” (CD IV/2, 169).

This quote confused me. Barth appears to be suggesting that the reason Christ cares for the “least of these” is because God is dead. Basically, God has been divested of his importance and now exists on the limits of society as a “God of the gaps”, as an afterthought. God now longer occupies the center of our imagination, and now God is simply a poor forgotten sap. This has to be the fourth or fifth time I’ve been reading Barth discussing Jesus’ ministry to the oppressed (which as he points out is central to Luke and James in the Greek Bible), but the conclusions he draws from this fact are always odd. Before he’s said this Jesus takes care of the poor to remind us how depraved and lowly we are in the sight of God. Now, he appears to be suggesting that since God is neglected (in thought and deed) She has many things in common with the poor (namely society’s indifference to the poor’s plight). While this is somewhat interesting, would it be too much to ask of Barth go ahead and affirm God’s obvious preferential option for the poor that is manifest in both the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Bible?

“What we have said finds its true climax and glory in the fact that – however hard this may sounds – He finally hung on the gallows as a criminal between two other criminals, and died there, with that last despairing question on His lips, as One who was condemned and maltreated and scorned by men and abandoned by God…And in the passion He exists exclusively as the One He is – the Son of God who is also the Son of Man. In the deepest darkness of Golgotha He enters supremely into the glory of the unity of the Son with the Father. In that abandonment by God He is the One who is directly loved by God. This is the secret that we have to see and understand. And it is not a new and specific secret. It is the secret of the whole. Nor is it a closed secret. It is a secret which has been revealed in the resurrection of Jesus” (CD IV/2, 252).

This really captures the entirety of CD IV/1 and CD IV/2. The despised One was condemned and abandoned. The Son of God was humiliated and condescended so that we might be free. What I found most striking was Barth’s suggestion that the resurrection suggests that Jesus’ abandonment on the cross is actually a time of supreme unity with the Father.

“What we have called the way of the Son of God into a far country and the homecoming of the Son of Man, and what older dogmatics called the exinatio and exaltatio of Jesus Christ, are one and the same event at the cross. The humility and obedience of the Son of God, and the corresponding majesty of the Son of Man, coincide as they are represented in the event of Gethsemane and Golgotha. The Word was really made flesh. It was really God who really reconciled the world to Himself – in the One who was the true God, omnipotent in the depth of His mercy, and also (in His death and passion) true man, allowing free rein to this omnipotent mercy of God. There is involved both the depth to which God gave Himself for us in His own Son, and the majesty to which He exalted us in the same Son who also became man as we are” (CD IV/2, 292-3).

Here again the dialectic between the humility and obedience of the Son of God with the simultaneous exaltation of the Son of Man are held tightly together. The power of this formulation is the way in which Barth is able to allow reprobation to be wholly located in the condescension of the Son of God. The good news is that the exaltation of this Jesus of Nazareth is also our own glorification as we participate in his life.

Reflections on CD IV/1 (Part II)


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

“If the Old Testament history was this type, this history has been an additional attestation of its fulfillment in the one Israelite Jesus. The Son of God in His unity with this man exists in solidarity with the humanity of Israel suffering under the mighty hand of God. He exists as one of these Old Testament men…He is silent where Job too had to be silent before God. But, again, there takes place here something quite different from what took place there. In Him God has entered in, breaking into that circulus vitiosus of the human plight, making His own not only the guilt of man but also his rejection and condemnation, giving Himself to bear the divinely righteous consequences of human sin, not merely affirming the divine sentence on man, but allowing it to be fulfilled on Himself. He, the electing eternal God, willed Himself to be rejected and therefore perishing man. That is something which never happened in all the dreadful things attested in the Old Testament concerning the wrath of God and the plight of man” (CD IV/1, 175).

I have a couple of thoughts. First, what does Barth mean that both Job and Christ remained silent before God in the midst of their suffering? Aren’t both profoundly vocal about their own protests? Zizek especially connects both stories together, but in his atheistic theology it is Christ who cries loudest ultimately revealing the inexistence/impotence of the big Other. Also, it is not merely Christ’s cry on the cross, but also his protest in the Garden that suggests anything but silence. In fact, the cry of dereliction almost seems to drown out the “not my will but your will be done” capitulation to God’s will in the Garden. I’m also reminded of the course I listened to at Union taught by Christopher Morse on Calvin’s Institutes. While discussing Barth’s theory of election, Morse poses the question: who is damned in Barth’s theology? Who is not saved in Barth’s doctrine of election? The answer: Jesus Christ is not saved. It is Jesus Christ who is reprobate. It is Jesus Christ who descends into the pits of hell. But it is also Jesus Christ who God raised from the dead and who is the emancipator and victor over evil, Satan, and death itself. This is Barth’s last point in the quote. Namely, that this situation differs drastically from the Hebrew Bible because on the cross God Himself in Christ absorbs his own wrath and becomes the accursed, despised One (Galatians 3:13) so man will be spared.

“The death of Jesus Christ was, of course, wholly and altogether the work of God to the extent that it is the judgment of death fulfilled on the Representative of all other men appointed by God. The way to the cross and death in which the judgment took place is indeed the work of the Son of God obedient in humility. But it is also the work of the obedient man Jesus of Nazareth in His identity with the Son of God, just as his condemnation and execution, although it was determined and willed by God, was also the work of the sinful of men who put into effect the decision and will of God, the Jews and Gentiles into whose hands Jesus of was delivered, or delivered Himself. As the judgment of God, the event of Golgotha is exclusively the work of God. Its fulfilment is ordained by God in every detail. But all the same it has a component of human action – both obedient and good on the one hand and disobedient and evil on the other. In light of this part we can say of the event of the cross that it has a “historical” character, that it can be understood and interpreted in the pragmatic context of human decisions and actions, although, of course, in this case it will be misinterpreted and misunderstood, and its real meaning will not be perceived” (CD IV/1, 300).

Here’s where the rubber meets the road, and this is where I must part way with Barth. His refusal to emphasize the importance of the historical context fails to recognize the theological implications of these historical events. That Jesus of Nazareth was crushed by empire and tortured publicly does reveal very important theological information. I don’t think a focus on this perspective “from below” somehow cancels or diminishes the importance of the view “from above” (I should note, parenthetically, that CD IV/II does take up this view “from below” more rigorously). Basically, the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was tortured and executed politically ought to suggest something about God’s relation to state power and the principalities. This, of course, was the context of the early church. I think it is also why someone like Gregory of Nyssa could understand the atonement as a ransom in which God dupes the devil and ultimately liberates man from his enslavement to Satanic powers and sin. I’m right now reading through Johnson’s She Who Is. She really does a great job of advocating a Christus Victor view in which Jesus in solidarity with oppressed who liberates them from the powers of evil and oppression. Barth’s strong commitment to forensic metaphors and the omission of Satan from this story ultimately weakens the political nature of his doctrine of reconciliation. So while I agree with Barth that one does miss out on the theological significance of atonement if one does not recognize this “view from above”, I think he is wrong to suggest that it will be misinterpreted if “viewed from below”. Jesus the liberator ultimately does get killed, but God’s “Yes” to Jesus at the resurrection is simultaneously a commanding “No” to Satan and death that no longer have dominion over mankind.