Two Trend-Lines in Barth

Below is a paragraph from an early draft of one of the chapters of my MDiv thesis, currently underway. I hope you enjoy!


It should be noted here that through
out Barth's theology, and coterminous with his emphasis on the objectivity of Christ's work, there is an emphasis on the subjective impact of this objectivity and the human response to which it gives rise. That is, Barth consistently turns his attention to the consequences in nobis of what God accomplishes in Christ extra nos. We need not spend much time elucidating this point, but we can provide a quick high-altitude sketch. First, it is the objective readiness of God to be known that establishes the possibility of human knowledge of God.[1] Second, God's election of Jesus Christ means that the "elect man is chosen in order to respond to the gracious God," and it is upon this response that hinges the fulfillment of God's purposes in the space-time existence of the human being.[2] Third, in IV.1, it is the 'Obedience of the Son of God' that establishes the 'Justification of Man', the reality of which finds it fulfillment in the responsive act of faith.[3] Fourth, we see this same pattern again in IV.2, where it is the 'Exaltation of the Son of Man' that establishes the 'Sanctification of Man', the reality of which finds it fulfillment in thankfulness to and love of God.[4] Fifth, in IV.3, it is the 'Glory of the Mediator' that creates and awakens in the 'Vocation of Man' the witness of the Christian and the church.[5] Finally, as we had occasion to see briefly above, it is the divine work of Spirit baptism that accomplishes the transition from 'potential' sharing in Christ's history to 'actual' sharing.[6] The objectivity of Christ's work includes this subjective element and is ordered toward this subjective element as the fulfillment or telos of the objective activity of reconciliation wrought by God in Christ.

[1] Cf. Barth, CD II.1, §26.

[2] Barth, CD II.2, 413.

[3] Cf. Barth, CD IV.1, §59 and §61.

[4] Cf. Barth, CD IV.2, §64 and §66.

[5] Cf. Barth, CD IV.3, §69 and §71.

[6] Cf. Barth, CD IV.4, §75.1.


UPDATE: Some of you know that I have been hard at work this week drafting the second chapter of my thesis. This chapter will provide the foundation of a paper I will present at a conference next week. I am pleased to announce that I have completed an entire draft of this chapter! Just for fun, I thought I would put up a picture of what my desk looked like after I finished the draft and before I cleaned it up. Enjoy!


I'll be heading to all those places in the dogmatics soon, since I tend to be such a worry-wort over human agency.

What can I say? Your desk looks. . . well, beautiful in its chaos. There was definitely work done!
Peter Kline said…
The question, for me, becomes to what extent does God's objective work guarantee, not just make possible, our subjective response? Does Barth hold to irresistable grace? If he does, then in what sense?
WTM said…

It would be very hard to deny that Barth holds to irresistable grace. The material on Spirit baptism (IV.4, 1-40) makes this clear. It is the free activity of the Spirit which accomplishes the transition from our 'potential' to our 'actual' (his words!) sharing in Christ's history.

I have more on this in my thesis, which I would be happy for you to look at (and give me feedback on!) at some point.
Shane said…
Irresistable grace

If I were going to pick one theological doctrine capable of empirical falsification it would be this one.
WTM said…

How would you empirically falsify it? Indeed, how would you even construct an experiment to do so given that no human person controls grace so as to apply it to a subject, and that the result of the application of grace is not empirically measurable but only comes to view with the resurrection and final judgment?
Shane said…
"you will know them by their fruits"
WTM said…

That is a true statement as far as it goes. But, I side with Calvin in all this and would argue that only God knows the condition of the heart. We make judgments based on the fruit of a person’s life for the purpose of church order and discipline, but only God knows the heart. Our judgments in these matters are flawed because we are not working with the definitive material, and because our judgment as humans is inherently flawed.

I would affirm that one who has been made an actual participant in the history of Jesus Christ through the work of the Spirit will express that participation through activity that corresponds to this history as a distant echo, but the forms of this active response cannot be reified, nor can the time lapse between these two things be standardized.

Besides, if you are going to allow for death-bed conversions of any kind, you will have to make similar provisos. And, just to throw it out there, we do not know what passes between a person and God at the moment of death, nor do we have any serious reason to think that death marks the end of the relation between a human person and God. There are way too many unknowns in all of this for us to figure things out precisely.

What we do know is that, on the basis of our election in Christ, God is for us even in our rejection of him.
Jason said…

I'm curious. In the relation of potential vs actual how does universal election play? Is it something like, Because all are elect in Christ, all are participants in Christ's history potentially, and only those who undergo Spirit baptism are participants in Christ's history actually?

Or is it that election is Spirit Baptism?
WTM said…

I'm at the Mid-Atlantic Regional AAR conference in Baltimore right now where I earlier presented part of the paper from which this paragraph was taken. :-)

In answer to your question, the objective pole of Christ's work includes and is ordered toward the subjective pole. In that sense, Spirit baptism is included in election (and vice versa!).

But, it is also true that there is a significant distinction between potential and actual participation. Barth thinks that the absolutely vital thing is that we participate actually not just potentially.

This is really the crux of the universalism question in Barth's work, which I addressed in my paper by establishing what is the proper place for human rationality in theology. I'll share all this with you at some point, that is, if you still want to read my thesis. :-)

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