“Barth…suggests that some biblical texts have been more crucial than others in the history of Christian reading [of Scripture], largely because they are more perspicuous and therefore more conductive to agreed-upon interpretation—or “plain” reading. And chief among these, so that it can serve as a kind of loose organizing center for the whole, is the story of Jesus.
“When Barth turns to that story he simply follows the consensus with which we began; in fact, he confines himself to it with great care. The job of the commentator is to draw attention to the literal, ascriptive sense which serves simply to answer the question Who is Jesus in this text? In other words the commentator’s task is to render a conceptual redescription of those identifying descriptions which cohere because they are descriptions of this particular person, Jesus of Nazareth. Barth almost always proceeds from the priority of the singular and from the particular to the general…Just as he subordinated the general scheme to the specific text, in his hermeneutical priority ordering, so he reversed the logic that mediating theology had introduced in the eighteenth century and followed ever since, the logic which identified the order of belief with that of coming to believe: from the general meaningfulness of sin to that of the general notion of redemption, to the affirmation that the textual and historical individual person Jesus met the specifications of “redeemer.” He reversed the flow of interpretation, claiming that the texts about Jesus were our means of access to incorporating ourselves, or being incorporated, in the world of discourse he shared with us, rather than his specific identity as Redeemer having to be fitted to the criteria of the world of our general experience.
“Barth did not return to the pre-Enlightenment orthodox view that the logic of the gospel story is provided by the eternal, pretemporal scheme in which God predestines some to salvation and others to damnation, foreordaining the redeeming act of Christ in the light of the sin of Adam. Barth did write a long work on divine grace and predestination, but its status, despite its enormous length, is that of a grammatical remark about the language of the Gospel: Given that in the history of Jesus Christ as rendered in the Gospels we are incorporated into the reality he shares with God—and given that this incorporation is not only a possibility but is actualized in what he did for us, that his very being or essence was a being-for-us—what then is the internal logic or grammar of this depiction, not the condition of its possibility, intelligible in abstractions from it? And the answer for Barth is that the internal logic—if you will, the grammatical rule of this story—is the saving will of God, his election of Jesus and of us in him, from eternity. But this is a very different thing from the reverse: founding the story of Jesus on a prior and independent metaphysics of divine predestination, of which the story is only the indispensible source of information. Even here, the general (the scheme) is contained in, subordinate to, the particular (the story). It is the particularity of Jesus, enacted in and inseparable from history that makes him significant for salvation and provides the criteria for what the criteria for such significance are."
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Frei on Barth, Theological Method, and CD 2.2 (?)
The following few paragraphs are taken from Frei’s Types of Christian Theology (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992). They deal with Barth and the way in which Barth deployed philosophical, or non-Christian modes of inquiry in general, to the task of theology or, more specifically, to the task of reading Scripture. I present it here not only because I think Frei gets a number of things right about Barth in this passage, but because the third paragraph is – I think; it isn’t explicitly stated – a methodological gloss on Church Dogmatics 2.2, which is very illuminating on its own. Of course, you will have to make your own judgments, and I would be very interested in hearing your impressions.