Wednesday, October 13, 2010

2010 KBBC: Week 2, Day 3

Karl Barth in Conversation with Pauline Apocalypticism
By Shannon Nicole Smythe


At first blush, it might appear that putting Paul’s apocalyptic theology in conversation with the work of systematic theologian Karl Barth would be a bit of a stretch—something cooked up to make Paul into a systematic theologian, or perhaps to make Barth Scripture’s version of the “Everyman.” What could there possibly be to discuss between these two seemingly odd conversation partners? According to New Testament scholar, Douglas Harink: plenty. Harink notes that Barth’s work in the second edition of his Römerbrief has a “powerful apocalyptic tone and message.” Furthermore, between Barth’s work in the second edition of his Romans commentary and that of Church Dogmatics IV/1, Harink finds that Barth actually anticipated the “discoveries” of recent Pauline scholarship regarding a more “genuine Pauline theology of justification,” a theology which is quite antithetical to the “usual Protestant story of justification and faith” (Paul Among the Postliberals, 45-46).

Following Harink, this essay builds upon the conviction that there is indeed a conversation to be had between Barth and Pauline apocalyptic theology. It will demonstrate that while Barth’s work in the second edition of the Romans commentary is quite compatible with Pauline cosmic apocalyptism, out of which Harink works, Barth’s later theology of justification – in the fourth volume of the Church Dogmatics – is framed by forensic apocalypticism, thereby rendering it not only inherently Pauline but also deeply Reformational.

To argue my thesis, this essay will proceed in three parts. In the first, I will demonstrate that Barth’s second edition of his Romans commentary is wholly commensurate with the cosmic apocalyptic reading of Paul. In the second, I will delineate the particular features of Barth’s own theological development that occurred after his Romans commentary and made for a change in his apocalypticism from cosmic to forensic. Finally, I will highlight several features of Barth’s forensic apocalyptic theology of justification in CD IV/1, and show how these features are at once both inherently Pauline and deeply Reformational at their core.

A brief word is needed about the phrases cosmic and forensic apocalypticism. Martinus de Boer has argued that there are two different patterns of Jewish apocalyptic theology present in Paul’s letters. The first pattern he names cosmic-apocalyptic. It is defined by the created world coming under the power of evil forces such that God’s sovereignty is seized and the whole world is led into idolatry. The righteous remnant of God’s people waits for the time when “God will invade the world under the dominion of the evil powers and defeat them in a cosmic war” (“Paul and Apocalyptic Eschatology,” 359). The second pattern, de Boer notes, is a modified version of the cosmic-apocalyptic pattern. This is the forensic version of apocalyptic eschatology and, most notably, with this pattern the notion of evil cosmic powers does not play a role. Rather, human free will and individual human decisions are stressed. Sin results from an individual choosing to reject God and death is the punishment. The Law is God’s solution to humanity’s sin, and the final judgment is not “a cosmic war but . . . a courtroom in which all humanity appears before the bar of the judge, God [who] will reward with eternal life those who have . . . chosen the law and observed its commandments (the righteous), while he will punish with eternal death those who have not (the wicked)” (359). De Boer notes that each of these two patterns of Jewish apocalyptic eschatology are present in Paul’s letters although “christologically adapted and modified” (362), but he then goes on to suggest that, following the logic of Paul’s progression in Romans 1-8, it is the cosmic-apocalyptic pattern that circumscribes and overtakes the forensic motifs.

While I propose to use de Boer’s phrase “forensic apocalypticism” to describe Barth’s mature doctrine of justification, the actual content needed to fill out the specifics of this phrasing, as it describes Barth’s work, must be provided by Barth, not de Boer. Indeed, Barth’s version of forensic apocalyptic eschatology looks considerably different from the description de Boer provides of the version found in Jewish inter-testamental literature. First of all, Barth follows Paul in understanding that the eschatological event by which God deals with sin and the sinner to have already happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Secondly, rather than stressing the importance of one’s relationship to the Law in determining one’s final destiny, Barth follows Paul in noting that the important relationship that God establishes is the one between an individual and Christ.

Moreover, on a formal level, Barth’s forensic apocalypticism is not set over against cosmic apocalypticism. Rather, Barth is adapting the forensic approach to the doctrine of justification set by the Reformers by making it more christocentrically focused by way of his theological ontology. It is in this way that Barth’s forensicism gains its apocalyptic thrust. The theology of justification in the later Barth is an integration of Reformational forensicism and Pauline apocalyptic. Again, this means that his version of forensic apocalypticism is not characterized by the same dimensions described by de Boer. Indeed, even as the second edition of Barth’s Romans commentary is apocalyptic in tone and thrust, in a manner consonant with Pauline cosmic apocalypticism, it is Barth’s engagement with the Reformational reading of Paul that introduces the forensic framework into his theology and, coupled with the revision of his doctrine of election, brings a new facet to his own apocalyptic theology.

Part I


Martinus de Boer takes up the question, “how does Paul himself use the language of revelation, what we may call his ‘apocalyptic language,’ the noun apokalypsis and the verb apokalyptō” (“Paul, Theologian of God’s Apocalypse,” 24)? Against Christopher Rowland, he proffers that Paul’s use of the language of revelation is neither focused on human experience of the divine world, nor simply on the revelation of information that a prophet must pass on to others; rather, Paul’s particular form of apocalyptic is centered on “God’s own revelatory action of rectifying a world gone awry” (24). De Boer goes on to clarify that because apocalyptic eschatology contains a cosmic formulation of two world ages, the notion of revelation within apocalyptic eschatology consists of both ages. “It is only through the disclosure of the coming age that the present can be perceived as ‘this (evil) age,’ destined to be brought to an end by God” (22). De Boer argues that, for Paul, apocalyptic properly concerns the action of God, which brings the present world-age to an end and replaces it with a new one.

One way Paul uses apocalyptic language is in relationship to the gospel he has been called to proclaim. While it is true that this gospel had already been promised in the scriptures, Christ’s resurrection from the dead proclaims the good news that he is the Son of God. Thus, God’s revelatory action in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which Paul preaches. De Boer points out that while Paul makes use of the term “apocalypse” in connection with the parousia in Rom 2:5 and 8:18-19, he uses the term in Romans 1:16-17 to describe the gospel he preaches about the death and resurrection of Christ. He directly relates God’s power to the verb apokalyptō: “The gospel evidently involves an apocalyptic-eschatological event in the present” (26). The gospel powerfully reveals God’s righteousness and creates faith. Through faith, the believer can perceive this powerful apocalyptic action of God in the world. “Faith (pistis, pisteuō) is a form of sharing in God’s eschatological revelation, that is, in God’s eschatological activity and movement…The movement and presence of God are to be seen in the crucified and risen Christ” (26). Thus, de Boer aptly surmises that the definitive invasion of God’s apocalyptic action in the world to deliver humanity from the present evil age is seen in Christ’s death and resurrection. For this reason, Pauline apocalyptic eschatology is not concerned with a decision human beings must make, but instead with the decisive action God has already enacted on their behalf.

De Boer’s focus is to illuminate Paul’s apocalyptic understanding of the gospel, centered on God’s powerful rectification revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ, and creating faith in its hearers. Barth’s commentary on Romans 1, in the second edition of his Romans commentary, could not be more complementary. As Barth finds it, Jesus Christ is both the Gospel and the meaning of history.
“In this name two worlds meet and go apart, two planes intersect, the one known and the other unknown…The relation between us and God, between this world and His world, presses for recognition, but the line of intersection at which the relation becomes observable and observed is Jesus…The name Jesus defines an historical occurrence and marks the point where the unknown world cuts the known world.” (29)
Barth’s description of Jesus Christ as the location of God’s self-revelatory event resonates not only with the idea of the cosmic two world-ages contained in apocalyptic eschatology, but also – more specifically – with what de Boer brings out in Paul’s cosmic apocalypticism regarding God’s rectifying action to make right a world gone wrong. “By the Gospel the whole concrete world is dissolved and established” (35).

Furthermore, Barth hears Paul describing the revelation of God that breaks forth into our world through the gospel as an event which remains utterly unique, never becoming part of our world. This event of revelation occurs in Jesus Christ, but “because it is the revelation of the righteousness of God, [it] must be the most complete veiling of His incomprehensibility. In Jesus, God becomes veritably a secret: He is made known as the Unknown, speaking in eternal silence” (98). In other words, God reveals God’s self to us in Jesus Christ only indirectly. This means that for Barth, too, apocalyptic is not simply a disclosure of information to an individual who is to pass it on to others. The singular focus on God’s rectifying action, which de Boer finds characteristic of Paul’s use of apocalyptic, could not sound a stronger note than it does in Barth. God is the sole actor. God does not become a possession of humanity. Revelation is not a predicate of history. Rather, in complete freedom, God makes God’s self known as the Unknown God.

Apocalyptic revelation speaks to God’s action alone. It is action that brings the present world-age to an end and replaces it with a new one. First, Barth understands this event of revelation as concretized in the resurrection. Insofar as the resurrection is the apocalyptic action of God making God’s self known, Barth says it is the power of God to save a world of imprisoned humanity. The gospel of the resurrection reveals God as humanity’s Creator and Redeemer. “It is pregnant with our complete conversion; for it announces the transformation of our creatureliness into freedom” (37-38). Second, just as de Boer emphasized that Paul sees faith as created by the gospel, so Barth stresses that it is the powerful work of the gospel to convert and transform our creaturely existence. De Boer describes faith as the form of a believer’s participation in the eschatological revelation seen in the death and resurrection of Christ. Similarly, Barth defines faith as “the affirmation of the resurrection as the turning-point of the world; and therefore it is the affirmation of the divine ‘No’ in Christ, of the shattering halt in the presence of God” (39).

Part II


As powerfully as the second edition of Barth’s Romans commentary hones in on several defining aspects of Pauline apocalyptic, it contains only half the story. The second edition of the Romans commentary is one-sided in its understanding of the relationship of God to humanity as Paul explains it. This is because Barth was singularly focused on the problem of revelation: on how God could reveal God’s self to humanity in time and space without ceasing to be God. The solution, Barth argues, is that God must only be known indirectly, by way of an intermediary. More importantly, the revelation of God through the intermediary must always remain distinct from the intermediary itself. In Jesus Christ, God veils God’s self completely, in order that God may unveil God’s self only to faith. Thus, in the second edition of the commentary, Jesus Christ is not the revelation of God but only the medium of God’s self-revelation. While Jesus is the locus of revelation in the second edition, Barth’s understanding of the incarnation – and its place in Pauline theology – is largely undeveloped.

Furthermore, when Barth composed the second edition of his Romans commentary, he still possessed no real knowledge of the Reformation and its theology. All of that would change when he took up the post of honorary professor of Reformed theology in Göttingen—a post that he was awarded based upon the first edition of the Romans commentary. His chair required that Barth teach courses on the Reformed confessions, doctrine, and church life. Barth felt unqualified for this task, remarking that he had not even read any of the Reformed confessional writings. He quickly set about to remedy this situation and was soon teaching various aspects of the Reformed theological tradition to his students. Barth thus became well acquainted with the forensic framework the Reformers gave to the doctrines of justification and atonement. This would later shape the whole of his soteriology in CD IV.

In May 1924, Barth happened upon the anhypostatic-enhypostatic Christological dogma of the ancient church while reading in post-Reformation dogmatics. This Christological discovery, with reference to the doctrine of revelation from the second edition of the commentary, allowed Barth to shift away from the time-eternity dialectic – which was his chosen way of maintaining the God-ness of God in God’s self-revelation – while achieving the same results through Christological means. The anhypostatic-enhypostatic doctrine affirms that the second person of the Trinity took on human nature completely and lived a human life in and through it. Outwardly, Jesus is a human just like any other; but inwardly, the subject of the human Jesus is the eternal Son of God. Barth could now preserve the critical distance between God and humanity within his Christology and, at the same time, fully take into account the doctrine of the incarnation. He thus avoided reducing revelation’s location to the single point of the resurrection event, as he had in the second edition of the Romans commentary.

The second occurrence that helped further Barth’s project came during the summer of 1936, when Barth heard a lecture given by Pierre Maury on the doctrine of election. Maury’s lecture was given at a conference of Calvin scholars. Through some twists and turns, Maury’s lecture lead to CD II/2 and Barth’s new conclusion – which is his alone – that the person of Jesus Christ is both the object and the subject of election. This new doctrine of election is the key to Barth’s mature theology. Furthermore, coupled with a new-found knowledge of the key insights of the Reformation, it marks the difference between the earlier cosmic apocalyptic theology expressed in the second edition of the Romans commentary, and the forensic theology contained in Barth’s mature theology of justification in CD IV/1.

Part III


In this final section, we will see the way that Barth’s theological development – delineated in Part II – has paved the way for a forensic apocalyptic theology of justification in CD IV/1. Barth’s doctrine of justification cannot be classified as antithetical to its Reformational roots, even as its fresh hearing of Paul’s witness to the Gospel requires radically restating those roots at certain points.

With only a cursory glance of a section of §59, “The Judge Judged in Our Place,” it is clear that forensic language governs Barth’s treatment of reconciliation. Barth begins by stating that the incarnation is the event that reveals the deity of Jesus Christ. He then poses Anselm’s question: Cur Deus homo? Looking to the history of what God has done in Jesus Christ in order to answer this question, Barth concludes that God freely became human in order not only to save the world, but to magnify God’s own glory. That which “God does for Himself is also done for us. Our answer can only be a repetition of the answer which God Himself has given in this fact [of the history of Jesus Christ], in which He Himself has pronounced concerning the end and scope and meaning of his activity” (214).

Barth’s next question becomes, “How is God for us?” Once more, he looks to the history of the Triune God’s giving up of God’s self in the person of the Son in order to be a human among all humans. He determines that God is for us in Jesus Christ by making our situation God’s own, even to the point of taking our places as sinners and enemies before God. This leads Barth finally to ask: “What is it that takes place when the Son of God becomes flesh of our flesh?” (216). Here he finds Scripture speaking of two things: salvation (“the great positive answer”) and judgment (“the grace of God is not a cheap grace”) (216). These two themes are interconnected: “If He were not the Judge, He would not be the Savior” (217). It is the second theme of Christ as judge of all humanity, “and therefore…the judicial work of the Gospel concerning Him,” for which he proffers, above all, Romans 1:18-3:20 as the “locus classicus” (219). Barth reminds us that Christ executes God’s judgment. In light of Christ’s work as judge, the true reality of the human situation is revealed. But even more than that, looking at what God has actually done in Jesus Christ reveals that the Son of God became human to judge the world in grace. Romans 1:18 tells us that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven in the fact that God gives God’s self not only to encounter the sinner against whom God must direct God’s wrath, but also to take the sinner’s place. “In Jesus Christ we see who we are by being seen as those we are—being seen as God in Him acknowledges what we are, accepting solidarity with our state and being, making Himself responsible for our Sin” (240).

When Barth turns his attention in §60, “The Pride and Fall of Man,” to the examination of the human situation in light of the events of the incarnation and crucifixion, he finds that God’s verdict revealed in Jesus Christ’s resurrection is the standpoint from which the human plight must be considered. In Barth’s words, we are “going back a step behind the knowledge that we have already won of the salvation” made actual for all humanity in the death of Jesus Christ and revealed in the resurrection to “the negative presupposition of this event” (359). And yet this process of going back behind the event of salvation to its negative presupposition is not something that can be done in separation from the history of Jesus Christ for us: “only when we know Jesus Christ do we really know that man is the man of sin, and what sin is, and what it means for man” (389). Barth learned from Paul to work from solution to plight. The reason Barth insists that we must ground our knowledge of sin only in the knowledge of Jesus Christ is because God has judged both sin and sinner in Christ’s death, and revealed in his resurrection that our old selves have been done away with once and for all.

Barth classifies Romans 1:18-3:20 as belonging to this New Testament message. Rather than being a digression, it is “the first and basic statement about the Gospel which Paul has made it his business to expound…The Gospel is God’s condemnation of man, of all men and every man” (392). Taking his cues from 1:18, Barth suggests that the judgment revealed in the Gospel is the judgment of God’s wrath. Yet, because of the threefold ga/r in verses 16, 17, and 18, we see why Paul is not ashamed of this being a core part of the message of the Gospel. The Gospel is the du/namev qeou=, effective for salvation (vs. 16); it is the revelation that God’s righteousness is God’s judicial decision on all humanity (vs. 17). And while God’s righteous judgment aims at humanity’s redemption, it is also revealed as “burning and consuming wrath” (vs. 18) (393). In the first part of Romans, Barth argues, Paul is communicating that sin is the disobedience that must be overcome by the obedience of faith (1:5). Barth calls this the “law of faith” by which human sin is revealed and known. This is the “truth” suppressed in the unrighteousness of humanity (1:18). Romans 1:19-23 demonstrates the progressive guilt of the world before God. However, in 1:24-32, only the light of the Gospel reveals all human sin against God. In view of the corruption of humanity, God must say “No.” In the threefold repetition of “God gave them up,” history is concluded in disobedience. Yet we know that the “history of the world which God made in Jesus Christ, and with a view to Him, cannot cease to have its centre and goal in Him. But in the light of this goal and centre God cannot say Yes but only No to its corruption” (506).

Barth knows, however, that Paul speaks of the No from the standpoint of the cross and resurrection, and so he declares that “God says No in order to say Yes. His Word is the Word of the teleologically established unity of the death and resurrection of Christ” (347). In the same way that the purposes of the judges in the Old Testament was to be helpers and saviors for the people of Israel, so too the New Testament’s reference to Christ as the Judge “means basically the coming of the Redeemer and Savior” (217). Furthermore, the connection between God’s salvation (the “Yes”) and God’s judgment (the “No”) finds its coherence within the concept of the righteousness of God. God’s wrath is revealed against the unrighteousness of humanity (1:18), yet the “righteousness of God means God’s negating and overcoming and taking away and destroying wrong and man as the doer of it” (535). Our sin is abominable to God, and simply cannot exist in light of God’s majesty. It must be destroyed. In the event of God’s righteousness, there takes place the “breaking of a catastrophe” in which that sinner who provokes God’s wrath must die (539). This is the “hidden grace of the righteousness of God” because it “demands this retribution” (540). Barth’s decision to call God’s vindicating righteousness, in Romans 1, a hidden grace is best understood in light of the way he reads the negative divine paradou=nai of 1:24, 26, and 28 in light of the positive divine paradou=nai expressed in 4:25 and 8:32. “The righteousness of God utterly crushes us. In it God asserts and vindicates His own worth over against the creature. Yet in the election of the creature even this righteousness reveals itself as the grace and loving kindness and favour of God directed towards it” (CD II/2, 33). Barth therefore identifies the apostle’s greeting of “grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7) as that which is spelled out in the event of God’s righteousness towards the enemies of grace.

In this short examination of Barth’s treatment of Romans 1 in CD IV/1, we can see that Barth has not abandoned the forensic framework by which the Reformational theologians understood justification. Yet the way in which Barth grapples with the form of God’s judgment is through the lens of Paul’s assertion of the power of the Gospel in Romans 1. Calvin explains “justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, III.xi.3). We see Barth’s own argument mirrored in Calvin’s first sentence. However, he uses the language of Paul in Romans 1 to speak of how, in God’s righteousness, we are justified as God justifies God’s self, how God’s No serves the purpose of God’s Yes. Barth does two things with reference to Calvin’s second sentence. First, as regards the remission of sins, Barth speaks apocalyptically of the destruction of the sinner, the necessity of the in-breaking of a catastrophe in which we are freed by being imprisoned, saved by our destruction. Barth uses this language because he understands Paul’s witness to the in-breaking action of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to reveal not only the solution, but also the nature of the plight of the whole world and all humanity. Second, as regards the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, Barth relocates the concept within God’s own self-determination to be God for us in Jesus Christ. Christ’s righteousness is not something that is applied to us in the first instance, but rather a decision God makes to be God for us in Jesus Christ. For Barth, as for Paul, justification takes place in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Barth goes a step beyond Paul in arguing that God determined God’s being for the incarnation. The Reformation’s emphasis on the “alien righteousness of Christ” as our justification is finally preserved in Barth’s own radical re-centering of Reformational forensicism upon the Pauline proclamation of the power of God’s apocalypse: that in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, we see God’s in-breaking, initiating action to rectify the world to God.
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Response
By Andrew Guffey


In general terms, Ms. Smythe’s essay is provocative and potentially useful. The basic thesis of the paper is best summarized in this sentence: "The theology of justification in the later Barth is an integration of Reformational forensicism and Pauline apocalyptic." The essay attempts to demonstrate a shift in Barth’s theology from essentially Pauline cosmological-apocalyptic thought in the second version of his Romans commentary to a more forensic understanding of justification in CD IV/1. This later view of justification is indebted both to the Pauline apocalypticism of his more youthful work as well as to classic (forensic) Reformation doctrines of justification. This thesis is interesting because it seeks to demonstrate how Barth continued to return to Paul (indeed, Romans) as a theological source throughout his career. The main difficulty with the paper is a lack of clarity on the precise relationship between Barth and Paul. It is not clear from the argument adduced that Paul’s apocalyptic thought continued to pervade Barth’s later work, mainly because it is unclear what constitutes “Pauline apocalyptic,” or how this construct is substantiated.

For a paper that intends to display a conversation between Paul and Barth, Paul's actual writings are barely engaged. The author does not perform exegesis of any of Paul’s writings. When the author does refer to Paul's writings, it is either in the interpretation of Barth or in the interpretation of Martinus de Boer. Thus the conversation ends up as a one between Barth and Pauline scholarship at best. Even with respect to Pauline scholarship, however, the essay is not consistent. In the absence of direct exegesis of Paul, one might hope for either a sampling of mutually reinforcing works of Pauline scholarship, or at least the consistent use of one representative interpretation of Paul.

Martinus de Boer's work is one such useful Pauline paradigm for the thesis of the paper because of his distinction between cosmic-apocalyptic and forensic-apocalyptic eschatology. It is hard to think of a more germane distinction for the purposes of this paper from the world of Pauline scholarship. The distinction could easily serve the purpose of delineating the thought of the early Barth from Barth’s later doctrine of justification, if the themes of each could be traced in Barth’s writings. In other words, the distinction could (and to initial appearances does) serve as a mechanism for showing diachronic development in Barth. But as the disclaimer at the beginning of the paper makes clear, the author is not following de Boer’s use of the term “forensic apocalypticism.” Indeed, the distinction seems almost an accident. The relationship between the distinction in the paper between cosmic and forensic apocalypticism really bears no relation to de Boer’s distinction, connected perhaps only by word association.

In fact, a different facet of de Boer’s work is used throughout the paper, which emphasizes not a duality of apocalyptic perspectives, but rather a consistency of Pauline apocalyptic thought. It may be easiest to discover what this core of Pauline apocalyptic is if we look to the apocalypticism of Barth’s forensic doctrine of justification. What is it in Paul’s thought that has carried over to Barth’s forensic doctrine of justification, and makes the latter apocalyptic? According to this essay, "Barth speaks apocalyptically of the destruction of the sinner, the necessity of the in-breaking of the catastrophe in which we are freed by being imprisoned, saved by our destruction.” Why is it necessary to describe this particular perspective as apocalyptic? On the one hand, in de Boer’s schematization, the destruction of the sinner could be taken as one end result of forensic apocalyptic eschatology. But we have already established that the current essay does not depend on this definition. On the other hand, the point may be the “in-breaking” activity of God: “[D]e Boer aptly surmises that the definitive invasion of God’s apocalyptic action in the world to deliver humanity from the present evil age is seen in Christ’s death and resurrection. For this reason, Pauline apocalyptic eschatology is not concerned with a decision human being must make, but instead with the decisive action God has already enacted on their behalf.” This summary is based on de Boer’s exegesis of Romans 1:16-17(-32), in which he localizes God’s eschatological activity in Jesus’ death and resurrection and postulates the creation of faith as an essentially eschatological event: “The creation of something eschatologically new in the world—faith—entails God’s judgment of a world marked by its absence before, and apart from, Christ.” Thus, in this reading, de Boer supposes the death and resurrection of Jesus to be an eschatological event, the gospel of which creates faith in its audience. This faith, moreover, is the key to understanding both the plight and salvation of humanity.

The finer points of de Boer’s argument must be left aside. Suffice it to say that this part of de Boer’s essay is difficult to substantiate from Romans 1:16-32. First, de Boer relies heavily on the word group apocalypto, apocalypsis. It is not clear that these terms deserve the surplus of meaning de Boer attaches to them in Romans 1. While one certainly can take these terms eschatologically (and thus, apocalyptically), one can just as easily take them in the simple sense of “making manifest” or “revealing.” Second, the content of what is being revealed in Paul’s gospel is “righteousness,” which also may suffer from a bloated surplus of meaning. Why need righteousness mean something eschatological, rather than, say, divine(ly inspired) morality? Indeed, the wrath of God being revealed seems to be indicated only by the wickedness of those apart from the Law and apart from the gospel. One might suspect, then, that the righteousness of God is the opposite of that wickedness, which is to say that righteousness here may be about behavior and the power to behave in a manner worthy of God, rather than an eschatological imputation of righteousness concomitant with the destruction of the sinner. Direct exegesis of this text might have revealed some of these weaknesses.

All of these observations point to the same problem: It is not clear that the concepts of apocalypticism used in this paper are derived from Paul, or from reliable exegesis of Paul’s letters. De Boer is the only authority cited from Pauline scholarship, and his interpretation here is questionable. Barth’s use of Paul both in the Romans commentary and in CD IV/1 is patent, but would it not be just as easy to stipulate Barth’s understanding of Revelation as apocalyptic, but his conception of justification as forensic? To be sure, parsing out the Pauline apocalyptic underpinnings of Barth’s doctrine of justification could be an illuminating study, but it is not established in this essay.

“And now the end has come. So listen to my last piece of advice: exegesis, exegesis and yet more exegesis!” (Karl Barth, in Busch, p. 259).
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5 comments:

W. Travis McMaken said...

Thanks to Shannon and Andy for this contribution. It certainly provides food for thought, and I'm hoping to benefit from a good discussion as well.

I know that Ben Myers of Faith & Theology has done some thinking about Barth and apocalyptic, specifically in conversation with J Louis Martin, I believe. Perhaps he'll drop by with some comments.

Shannon said...

In general terms, Mr. Guffey’s response to my essay side-stepped the forest for a tree. In other words, Guffey seemed excessively preoccupied by my supposed lack of clarity on the relationship between Barth and Paul, and so he neglected to engage with the many facets of argument. This is unfortunate. As Guffey saw it, the essay evinced a lack of clarity over “what constitutes “Pauline apocalyptic,” or how this construct is substantiated.” Guffey’s main contention is that “[i]t is not clear that the concepts of apocalypticism used in this paper are derived from Paul, or from reliable exegesis of Paul’s letters. De Boer is the only authority cited from Pauline scholarship, and his interpretation here is questionable.”
First, as I see it, Guffey was not convinced by Pauline apocalypticism from the start, perhaps especially as it is understood by de Boer, and so remained unwillingly to listen and engage with the heart of my essay. Let me just say this. Barry Matlock has noted that the term “apocalyptic” itself can denote a variety of things, thus lending it an air of ambiguity with such frequent usage. Thus it is important to realize that the Pauline interpreters who undertake an apocalyptic interpretation of Paul’s texts (such as de Boer and Harink), do so with a more focused agenda. First, they are defining themselves in relation to other, different basic approaches to Paul. Second, they are most often influenced by the seminal work of Ernst Käsemann and, more recently, J. Louis Martyn. I did not rehearse this in my essay only for brevity’s sake.
Second, Guffey has either judged my decision, in a short blog post, to engage only with de Boer’s interpretation of Pauline apocalyptic, as indicative of my lack of knowledge of the others out there doing the same thing, or he himself is unfamiliar with this sector of Pauline interpretation, and needs me to spell it out for him. Either way, let me say briefly that NT scholarship focusing on Paul’s apocalyptic theology can be characterized as emphasizing these four notions in Paul’s work: (1) the sovereign, unconditional action of God in the world to set right what has gone wrong; (2) an emphasis on divine revelation which discloses a new reality and age; (3) a Christological understanding that the old age was characterized by humanity’s oppression by evil powers; and (4) an eschatological construal of the cosmic horizons of Christ’s death and resurrection expressed in Paul’s account of the gospel. The aim of my essay, then, was to engage Barth’s own interpretation of Paul in such a manner as to highlight the particularities not only of his understanding of Paul’s apocalyptic thought, but also of his understanding of Paul’s apocalyptic theology in relationship to other understandings of Pauline apocalyptic. While Barth’s cry that we must always return to the work of exegesis will forever be timely, this essay was focused on highlighting the distinctiveness of Barth’s (as opposed to my) exegetical work as well as the distinct Paulinism of his mature dogmatic theology of justification. That being said, perhaps Guffey himself would like to provide us with some “reliable exegesis,” rather than evaluating de Boer and Barth’s interpretations solely on the basis of his own supposed logical inferences on what constitutes revelation and God’s righteousness.
To be continued . . .

Shannon said...

Finally, Guffey seems disappointed that a neat correlation between de Boer’s definition of forensic-apocalyptic theology and Barth’s own forensic apocalyptic understanding of justification was not made. Yet the whole point was to acknowledge that it is precisely because Barth was so intent on remaining a student of Paul that we need to attend to his mature understanding of justification in light of his commitment to Pauline apocalyptic theology. Doing so means we cannot simply map over the picture of forensic-apocalyptic eschatology from Jewish inter-testamental literature onto Barth’s understanding of justification. Instead, we must let Barth’s own understanding of Paul be heard. Doing so reveals that, contra Harink and de Boer, forensicism is neither foreign to Paul’s understanding of justification nor simply overtaken by purely cosmic motifs. Thus, through Barth’s engagement with Paul’s thought, we are treated to a fresh hearing not only of Pauline apocalyptic theology, but also to the forensic elements of justification first heard in Paul by the Reformers.

Peter Kline said...

Shannon,

Thanks very much for your essay. I found it helpful on a number of fronts. I take it that the real upshot of what you are saying here is that a forensic understanding of justification need not be in competition with the cosmic apocalyptic scope of Paul's Gospel. "Forensic" need not mean simply external transactions that happen over our heads and have no real bearing on the embedded fabric of our lived lives. Barth, it seems, has a kind of forensic ontology, stemming from his doctrine of election, which is why categories such a judgement, wrath, substitution, forgiveness etc. do not for him describe divine acts that merely touch us externally but acts that constitute us from within. Indeed, for Barth, the divine act of the justification of sinners is the very possibility of the act of creation. In this sense he has a kind of cosmic forensicism.

The constructive question is whether this cosmic forensicism is an adequate reading of Paul. I wonder, Shannon, if you have anything to say about Barth's reading of Galatians? Do you find Barth reading Galatians apocalyptically? You have focused on Romans here, but it seems to me that Galatians, more than Romans, has been the text for reading Paul apocalyptically. I'm thinking especially of J. Louis Martyn.

Andy said...

Thank you for you rejoinder, Ms. Smythe. The opening line is perhaps correct, but I feel it is a very important tree. Let me say up front that I am perfectly aware of what Pauline scholarship has to say about Paul's apocalyptic thought, and I am by no means in disagreement. Yes, Kaesemann, Beker, Martyn, and now also Douglas Campbell are important interpreters (and among the theologians, Doug Harink, of course), though Troels Engberg-Pedersen is also not to be missed. Indeed, I think de Boer's early work on the topic is especially good. The patient and broad exegesis in his article and monograph combination in the early 1990s yields much fruit. The article from Interpretation is less well substantiated by his exegesis, as I have suggested.

But all of that is really beside the point. The problem that I attempted to highlight (and I apologize if I was not clear) was the question of the warrant(s) for describing Barth as an apocalyptic thinker in the later CD. You write in your rejoinder, "this essay was focused on highlighting the distinctiveness of Barth's exegetical work as well as the distinct Paulinism of his mature dogmatic theology of justification." Is it simply the case that Barth was reading Paul, and Paul is apocalyptic, therefore Barth is apocalyptic? Surely not, for Paul was not simply a monotone apocalyptist, was he?

It is not that I expected a neat correlation, but simply a way to know what work the term "apocalyptic" is doing with respect to Barth's later work. What is it about Paul's thought that is found in Barth's later doctrine of justification and is apocalyptic in character? Relying on Barth's interpretation is a false trail, as (unless I am mistaken) Barth does not discuss or define something called "Pauline apocalypticism." The question is whether Barth's reading of Paul with respect to justification also connects to the apocalyptic elements (however defined--and this should be made clear) of Paul's thought, and it is precisely there that I found the argument insufficiently demonstrated.