So, I decided that the best way to show my gratitude to T&T Clark would be to do not one large review post, but a number of posts, highlighting what I think are important tidbits of this work, and whetting your appetites for more so that you will, hopefully, go buy the book. Or at least check it out of your friendly, neighborhood theological library.
Here is the first installment:
Paul Dafydd Jones, The Humanity of Christ: Christology in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics (London: T&T Clark, 2008): 31-3. The following is my description as well as quotes from Jones, so that you get the idea of what he’s saying, and the best tidbits, without me reproducing a number of pages exactly.Whew! That was still a bit lengthy. In conclusion, I want to say two things: (1) I have little independent knowledge of the material in CD 1.2 that Jones is working with; (2) his interpretation sounds about right to me. In fact, he hits well in this section on the deep motivation for Barth’s anti-metaphysical program – Barth wanted to develop theological concepts out of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ by way of the authoritative witness to that revelation given in Scripture, and not on the basis of any general and/or independent conception of humanity and the world, or even on the basis of some common-sense way of parsing reality analytically. So, when it comes to Chalcedon, Jones points out, Barth quietly shunts a term he thinks has become problematic (or, perhaps Barth thinks it always was problematic) to the side in favor of a more biblical picture of God not as the subject of a catalog of properties, but as the living God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Barth found an affirmation of Chalcedon useful, and it furnished him with the basic grammar of his Christology. But, he also held Chalcedon at a bit of a distance. “Barth’s concern [was] to reorient a theological environment thrown off course by protestant liberalism, not to make the conceptual apparatus of the Definition normative for christological reflection.” This distinction between the Definition itself or, if I may, the truth that it tries to convey, and the “conceptual apparatus” involved is, I think, very helpful. Apparently, Barth thought so too. The particular bit of this apparatus that Barth didn’t like is the notion of “nature” (physis). “Barth’s reticence with respect to this term and its cognates reflects, in part, a context-bound suspicion of physis. But more basic to his marginalization of substantivist terminology is a circumspect attitude towards conceptual abstraction, itself a consequence of a stalwart commitment to the principle of sola scriptura.” This principle means that extra-biblical concepts brought in to do theological work have to be carefully chosen, and “Barth treats all candidate concepts with a selectivity that recalls Calvin’s Institutes.”
Here is the basic conviction with which Barth worked: “The criterion of selection is that concepts must arise, in some way, from scripture…and be conducive to an interpretation of scripture.”
The problem with “nature” (physis) is that “it chafes against [Barth’s] preference for language that conveys the concreteness, actualism and sheer eventfulness of biblical descriptions of Christ; it struggles, more particularly, to depict the integration of Christology and soteriology basic to the New Testament.” It is not that Barth thinks the term necessarily harmful, nor is it that Barth is interested in rejecting classical terminology entirely. “But given a concern to maintain a vital relationship between the dynamic saving reality of Christ’s person, the details of scripture and christological inquiry, Natur and Wesen take up no meaningful role in Barth’s Christology in Church Dogmatics I/2 and thereafter. They go the same way as ‘person’ in intra-Trinitarian discussion, albeit with much less fanfare.”
Given all this, we might well ask Jones for a summary of Barth’s position vis-à-vis Chalcedon, and Jones does not disappoint: “Barth upholds the gist of Chalcedon when forwarding christological claims; [but] he has little interest in retaining each and every component of its conceptual apparatus.”
P.S. Here are pictures of both Jones and Barth. Eerie similarities in posture and expression? You be the judge.