Thursday, October 28, 2010

John Flett on Mission, Theology, and Church

This is my final plea (for now): go buy his book.

John Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Eerdmans, 2010): 296-7.
If the community is Christian only insofar as she is missionary, if the missionary act is the concrete form of divine and human fellowship here and now, then the lack of reference to mission at every level of the teaching ministry of the church is a frightful abrogation of theological responsibility. If it is possible for a ministry candidate to progress through academic training – as much within a seminary as a secular university – without any dogmatic attention given to the purpose for which the Christian community exists, then this indicates the community’s own radical disorder. Jesus Christ’s call for the community to be his witnesses cannot be relegated to some derivative status. Because mission is located in the doctrine of the Trinity, it must again return to theological curricula, must become central to the teaching ministry of the local congregation, and must inform liturgical practice. The entire community is to hear of the commission of her being and the declarative nature of Christian fellowship, to repent and intentionally move into the world developing missionary forms as she learns the obedience of the Spirit.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Przywara’s Missionary Interest in the Analogy of Being

This is some very interesting analysis from Johnson’s book. A few comments after the quotes. Bold is mine, italics belong to Johnson.

Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analogia entis, T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology (London; T&T Clark, 2010).
By describing human existence in relation to a God who exists both above us and in us, the analogia entis promotes a view of the Catholic Church whose relation to the world follows precisely the same pattern: it is a Church above the world, in the sense that exists in distinction from the world, but it also is a Church in the world, in the sense that its inner life is bound together with its outwardly focused mission to reach out to the world with the truth of the gospel. (47-8)

Przywara’s vision for the Roman Catholic Church after the war was missionary in nature. That is, his goal in these early years was to formulate a theological framework that could help the Catholic Church engage the world instead of retreat from it, because he believed the Church’s theological tradition had resources that could address the philosophical problems facing German culture…Przywara saw Barth’s theology as a threat to his vision for the church, and…he posited the analogia entis as an alternative to Barth’s construal of the creator-creature relationship. (51-2)

Przywara's move is clear: he has adopted the starting point of general religious philosophical reflection - the human consciousness - but unlike the philosophers, he has turned it into the very place where the transcendence of God is realized. This makes the analogia entis at its core a missionary principle, because it leads the human who recognizes the nature of his true existence to strive towards God who is infinitely beyond him. (78)
Johnson seems to be making the point that at the heart of the disagreement between Przywara and Barth is a divergence in missiological vision. Of course, Barth spends a lot of time working out his own way of thinking about mission, as this indispensible book from John Flett has explained. I suspect that a reader interested in either of these books would be advised to read the other as well.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Calvin the Man: Philip Schaff on Calvin…with some commentary

Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Volume 8, The Swiss Reformation, The Protestant Reformation in German, Italian, and French Switzerland up to the Close of the Sixteenth Century, 1529-1605 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2002 [orig pub. 1892]): §65.
Calvin was twenty-five years younger than Luther and Zwingli, and had the great advantage of building on their foundation. He had less genius, but more talent. He was inferior to them as a man of action, but superior as a thinker and organizer. They cut the stones in the quarries, he polished them in the workshop. They produced the new ideas, he constructed them into a system. His was the work of Apollos rather than of Paul: to water rather than to plant, God giving the increase. (257-8)
Saying that Calvin bequeathed to us a "system" is a bit of a stretch, even if his material is remarkably coherent and consistent. Also, I’m not convinced that Calvin had less “genius,” although I think it demonstrably true that he had more “talent” and was “superior as a thinker.” Which, I ask you, is harder? To stumble upon a new insight, or to wrestle that insight into a coherent position? Or, try the question on this way: which is harder - to come up with a decent thesis for a paper, or to actually write the paper and argue the thesis convincingly? Maybe answers to these questions depend on temperaments. However, my limited experience in teaching theology suggests to me that it is easier to come up with a decent thesis than it is to translate it into a decent paper. For instance, I’ve seen many papers with solid ideas behind them, but I’ve seen relatively few solid papers.
Calvin’s character is less attractive, and his life less dramatic than Luther’s or Zwingli’s, but he left his Church in a much better condition. He lacked the genial element of humor and pleasantry; he was a Christian stoic: stern, severe, unbending, yet with fires of passion and affection glowing beneath the marble surface. His name will never rouse popular enthusiasm, as Luther’s and Zwingli’s did…no statues of marble or bronze have been erected to his memory; even the spot of his grave in the cemetery at Geneva is unknown [WTM note: this by his request]. But he surpassed them in consistency and self-discipline, and by his exegetical, doctrinal, and polemical writings, he has exerted and still exerts more influence than any other Reformer upon the Protestant Churches of the Latin and Anglo-Saxon races. History furnishes no more striking example of a man of so little personal popularity, and yet such great influence upon the people; of such natural timidity and bashfulness combined with such strength of intellect and character, and such control over his and future generations. He was by nature and taste a retiring scholar, but Providence made him an organizer and ruler of churches. (258-9)
Calvin is often viewed, and Schaff furthers this, as a hard-nosed killjoy who loved to crack the whip. I have some reflections on this:

  • This picture of Calvin was first disseminated by his enemies shortly after his death; it has very little basis in more or less neutral sources from his lifetime.
  • During his stay at Strasburg, Calvin served as pastor for the French refugee church there. The congregation was very fond of him.
  • Calvin had a warm an affectionate marriage, and cared for his step-children after his wife’s death as though they were his own (his only son died in infancy). You can’t be that big of a jerk and still love your step-kids.
  • Schaff sort of gets at this when he mentions Calvin’s self-discipline. He never required of others’ conduct something that he did not require of himself. Even if you think he took things a bit too seriously at times, you have to respect him for this. Indeed, he held himself to a higher standard than he demanded of others. As Schaff elsewhere notes, "Severe against others, he was most severe against himself" (837).
  • For all this, Calvin was no stoic, except perhaps in the most formal sense of practicing self-discipline. But, you might as well use the term ascetic instead for it carries none of the philosophical connotations.
  • We must remember that Calvin was often severely ill (migraines, various digestive problem, kidney stones the size of walnuts that had to be dislodged through horse riding…just think about that one for a while), and that would put anyone in a cranky mood.
  • The language of “ruler” in the last sentence can play into the notion that Calvin basically ran Geneva. In point of fact, he was not even a citizen until citizenship was given to him as a gift by the magistrates in 1559, which means he could not vote. He was French, not Swiss, and therefore a stranger in a strange land, and often vilified as an immigrant. He was frequently opposed by large segments of the population. Furthermore, in an age when the upper ranks of society routinely carried swords, and violent riots were a standard way of conducting political business, Calvin went about unarmed and wielded only the power of his intellectual and rhetorical skill. The only influence Calvin ever had on Geneva rested on his ability to convince people. As Schaff puts it elsewhere, "The Genevese knew him well and obeyed him freely" (484).
  • Finally, Schaff hits the nail on the head when he calls Calvin bashful, timid, and by nature a retiring scholar. Note the next phrase, however: “Providence” forced him into a leadership role. Combine this with the above point, i.e., it wasn’t an easy leadership position. Some people like to argue. Among the Reformers, Zwingli, Luther, Knox, and Farel would fall into this category. Calvin disliked being the center of attention, or getting into arguments (except for the cerebral kind), AND YET he was forced to spend his life engaged in precisely these enterprises. Imagine a nerdy sophomore in High School who is very shy and afraid of public speaking, but who's own conviction requires him to stand up and oppose the jock and cheerleader set in front of everyone, repeatedly. The emotional strain that Calvin labored under was immense. Now, imagine that nerdy kid actually facing down those others and sending them running. That’s what Calvin did over the course of two decades.

All of this may sound a bit defensive, and perhaps it is. I’m not interested in whitewashing the problematic aspects of Calvin’s theology or biography. I am, however, interested in getting to know him as a man – as much as I am able these 450 years later. And Calvin the man is very different than his image in popular imagination. He is, in many ways, a tragic figure, far more deserving (in my mind) of pity than scorn, and nonetheless to be admired for his achievements. Calvin – the man, the theologian, and the churchman – still has much to teach us today. The above is an exercise in attempting to gain him a fair hearing.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I’ve been reminiscing lately about some of the stuff that I have posted here at DET over the years, so I thought that I would do a flashback post to highlight some of it. Besides, new readers can’t be expected to dig through the archives on their own without any assurance of benefit. Of course, there is the brief list of “Favorite Posts” in the right sidebar, but there are some other good ones buried in DET’s past that aren’t on that list. Here are some of them in chronological order (oldest to newest). I hope you enjoy this walk down memory lane, as well as find some helpful or entertaining thoughts.
  1. Rules for Reading Week - essential reading for PTS students (I like to think so, at least).
  2. Calvin on Theology and Taverns
  3. Theology, Philosophy and ‘Christian’ Philosophy: A Typology
  4. Barth and Piper on the Relation of God’s Love and Glory
  5. Barth’s “Rules for Older People in Relation to Younger”
  6. Types of Theology
  7. Why I Think…Ben Myers Isn’t Quite Right About TF Torrance
  8. What does “Perichoresis” mean?
  9. T.F. Torrance on Barth, Mozart, and Beethoven
  10. Types of Philosophy: A Serious Jest?
  11. Reflections on my Intensive Reading of “Church Dogmatics” 4 in its Entirety

Saturday, October 16, 2010

KBBC Session 2 Complete

The second weeklong session of this years Karl Barth Blog Conference is now over – at least in terms of new plenary posts and responses. Discussions are still under way, so catch up on your reading and jump into the conversation! Here is a quick outline with links:

The third and final weeklong session of the 2010 KBBC will take place sometime between AAR and Thanksgiving. Stay tuned for precise dates for that. Use the time until then to go back and re-read the contributions, make perceptive comments, or catch up on your KBBC reading – you can access the reading list through the widget in the right sidebar.

Also, remember that we’re going to be making this year’s KBBC into a book with Wipf&Stock. There are some fees associated with this. You can contribute to the cause by donating through Paypal by following this link or clicking the button on the right sidebar, or by using the book widget in the right sidebar to surf on over to Amazon and buy a book. A lot of people have given their time and energy to make this conference possible, and to present it to readers free of charge – why not show them a little support? If every unique visitor to this year’s KBBC had donated 10 cents USD, we’d be sitting pretty. As it is, we’re still quite short. So, throw us some spare change – every little bit helps! Using the Amazon widget to amp up your Barth studies library – or to buy anything you need on Amazon, once you’ve used the widget to surf over – is a good way to support the cause without parting with money you wouldn’t otherwise part with.

See you all soon for another session!

Friday, October 15, 2010

2010 KBBC: Week 2, Day 5

Christ vs. Mammon: Tanner and Barth on Economics and Theological Method
By J. Scott Jackson

In what critical and constructive ways might systematic theology address real world problems of the 21st century such as questions of economic justice? This contentious question excites contemporary theologians in schools of thought ranging from liberation theology to radical orthodoxy. Through more than 20 years of published work, Kathryn Tanner has made substantial contributions to clarifying how traditional Christian claims about God, Christ and the world might be fruitfully integrated with progressive proposals for social justice. She has accomplished this by rigorously engaging such diverse resources as analytic philosophy, critical social theory and postmodern cultural theory to mobilize classic theological motifs – centering, especially, upon divine transcendence and the doctrine of the incarnation – in novel and striking ways. Taken as a whole, this work amounts to a thorough reconstruction of theological method to take account of and empower liberating practices in everyday life, which include ethical actions to reform society. Tanner draws widely from the history of Christian thought in developing her ideas, engaging such diverse thinkers as Irenaeus, Maximus the Confessor, Aquinas and Schleiermacher. One of her most significant theological interlocutors is Karl Barth, though Tanner reuses to label herself as a “Barthian” (BEG).

Tracing Tanner’s relationship to Barth is no simple matter, and I will not try to assess Barth’s stance on political theology as a whole. Rather, I offer three general observations that culminate in a practical example where Tanner would agree with Barth: both thinkers find Christian grounds, though somewhat differently, for criticizing capitalist notions of private property. In an attempt to give readers an overview of Tanner’s work, I suggest some comparisons between the two in the knowledge that these claims require more thorough testing than I can provide here. First, Tanner and Barth agree on the propriety of relating Christian theological claims to concrete questions of social justice (even in 2010, the theologian cannot presume such a connection but must argue for it). Second, Tanner and Barth agree on the proper theological basis for this relationship, namely the transcendent Creator’s free gift of grace perfected in Jesus Christ. Third, Tanner seeks to go beyond Barth in articulating the implications of theology for socio-political ethics more explicitly.

Clearly, first of all, both Tanner and Barth would agree on the propriety – perhaps even the necessity – of linking theology to socio-political concerns; but there are inherent dangers and ambiguities to this effort, as both also would recognize. As Tanner has noted, Barth himself suggests in his 1932 preface to Church Dogmatics I/1, written at a time of dire crisis in Europe, that clarity about theological first principles is essential to responsible Christian engagement with politics (BEG). Indeed, if we take Barth’s words at face value, we might understand the Dogmatics on the whole as a sustained attempt at political theology (for example, to advance a socialist agenda, as Marquardt has argued) or, more plausibly, as an effort to construct an adequate doctrinal basis for engaging politics in sound ways. Of course, Gollwitzer and others have argued that Barth as an academic theologian was less than entirely successful in his endeavor to keep theology politically relevant, radical, and real.

Barth’s critical stance toward capitalism, especially its ideological conception of private property, was never more explicit than in his early days as a left-leaning pastor and labor organizer in Safenwil. In a famous 1911 lecture, he rejects the common claim that the aims of Christianity and of modern social democracy are mutually exclusive, because the former promotes an otherworldly piety that shortchanges the practical agenda of the latter (JCSJ). On the contrary, Barth argues, Jesus himself taught a coming kingdom of God that would establish radical social and economic justice in this world. What stands in the way of this transformed world is capitalism itself, especially what one might call a model of private property based on scarcity (“What’s mine is mine!”). This system pits the capitalists, who own the means of production, against the workers, who must sell their labor at a cost far below its actual value. Barth is a fairly straightforward socialist here: “This system of production must therefore fall, especially its underlying principle: private property – not private property in general, but private property as a means of production” (29). Only state ownership of the means of production will neutralize the competitive class struggle that afflicts capitalist society. Barth quotes, with approval, a secular socialist who named self-seeking as the “original sin” of humanity. Barth appeals straightforwardly to Jesus’ critique of mammon in various Synoptic sayings, but he does so without any clear reference to the broader sort of theological or Christological basis he would later seek to explicate in the Dogmatics.

So just what has Wall Street to do with Jerusalem? As invigorating as the early Barth’s rhetoric is, even a century later, the pertinence of classical Christian theology for modern socio-economic issues is far from self-evident. Tanner wrestles with this ambiguity in her book Economy of Grace, as she offers an alternative proposal for a noncompetitive economics grounded in a theology of divine gift-giving and human sharing. Since the practical economic import of the gospel is so often contested, she seeks to demonstrate explicitly “how every Christian idea about God and the world is directly and from the first an economic doctrine” (1). This means that the economic dimension of theology may not be reduced to the realm of individuals’ personal morality (2-4).

Similarly, in an earlier work on political theology, Tanner demonstrated the potential relevance of classical theism, especially claims about divine transcendence, for Christian engagement with progressive social causes (PG). In particular, she showed how a theology that clearly distinguishes God from creation, and that posits a non-contrastive relationship between universal divine sovereignty and contingent human freedom, can serve as a basis for criticizing oppression and fostering tolerance, a respect for difference, and other progressive social values within a stance of engaged commitment. Still, the liberating power of such doctrines is not self-evident. Tanner notes that, historically, Christians in power have often used notions of a transcendent God to legitimate oppressive hierarchies – for example, by using notions of divine sovereignty to promote absolute monarchy. The point I take from Tanner is that abstract theological principles, in and of themselves, are neither inherently oppressive nor liberating. If I may give an example of my own, both a Thomist asserting a clear distinction between God and creation and an ecofeminist conceiving of the world as God’s body could support the same proposal to slow climate change, and both could do so on theological grounds. The process of linking theological theory to Christian practice is a matter of careful argument, and of a certain social construction of reality. Yet, Tanner suggests, this task of engagement is one that theology should not shirk. Christian communities are inevitably implicated in a complex web of social practices from a variety of cultural influences; in this environment, theologians should carefully explore ways to promote cultural changes that are consonant with central Christian claims and practices (TC, chap. 7).

A second and even more significant parallel between Tanner and Barth consists in a striking agreement about first principles; they share formal theological commitments to views about God and creation, and about the normative impetus for Christology to shape theology as a whole – a view which logically also means that claims about Christ should govern the way theology’s import ramifies in practical applications. In her first book, Tanner articulates and defends the coherence of traditional claims that God is the transcendent Creator who exercises universal providence without detriment to the contingent freedom of finite human agents. This noncontrastive account of Creator-creature relations was a commonplace in Christian philosophical theology from the time of the second century apologists through the medieval scholastics, until it began to break down in early modernity (e.g., in Nominalism). In making her case, Tanner draws extensively from Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth. This noncontrastive paradigm became and continues to be a linchpin in Tanner’s subsequent work. For example, her concern to defend divine transcendence recently has taken the form of an apophatic theology that resists any direct correspondence between human beings, whether as individuals or as communities, and a God who remains ineffable. Humanity bears the imago dei only through the mediation of Jesus’ incarnate humanity (CK, chap. 1). Consequently, and contrary to recent social trinitarians, she argues that it is improper to model human social relations upon the unique inter-communion of persons within the Trinity (ibid., chap. 5).

Elsewhere, in explicating Barth’s accounts of creation and providence, Tanner draws a parallel between the Thomistic notion of divine concursus and Barth’s account of how divine action accompanies the actions of free creatures, a theme developed in CD III/3 (CP, 123-125). For Barth,
the creature’s action is always only a response to what God has already done for it. This sequence, or order of call and response, is irreversible, and in that sense one must say that God’s action is never conditioned by the creature’s action. The creature is, moreover, most itself and properly free only when its actions so follow God’s primary action for it (123).
The most salient feature of Barth’s doctrine of creation, as of all other loci of the Dogmatics, it is framed by the reality of Jesus Christ, the formal and material norm of theology as a whole. Drawing upon Barth – and many other thinkers, from the church fathers to Karl Rahner – Tanner frames her own systematic theology within an account of the incarnation. Both Barth and Tanner construct Christology “from above,” in dialogue with a patristic framework that culminated at Chalcedon. In Jesus, the eternal Son assumes, heals and redeems human nature; in Jesus divine and human natures are joined in perfect unity without mixture or confusion (JHT, chap. 1; Hunsinger).
Still, on the one hand, Barth often frames his Christology within reconstituted Reformed categories such as election, covenant, exaltation and humiliation, the three-fold office, etc. Tanner, on the other hand, tends to focus more consistently on the classic incarnational framework as developed by Irenaeus, the Cappadocians, Athanasius, Cyril, Maximus and others. Thus, for example, whereas Barth conceives the incarnation of the Son in CD IV/1 as the culmination of the one covenant of grace, Tanner criticizes Barth for assimilating incarnation into a covenantal schema. She argues, rather, that “the incarnation is a higher form of unity than fellowship with God, and thereby the closest approximation to the triune life that is possible for a creature” (JHT, 50). I might suggest, without trying to prove the point textually here, that incarnational Christology is more of a fixed point systematically for Tanner than it is for Barth, who freely interweaves a wider variety of Christological motifs from different sources in a more fluid fashion, perhaps not always with total transparency. Thus, Barth seeks to retrieve elements of a Western penal substitutionary atonement soteriology in his discussion of “The Judge Judged in our Place” (CD IV/1, par. 59), whereas Tanner jettisons such a theory completely. For Tanner, atonement occurs not through a perfect human satisfaction for sins, but through the communication of divine blessedness to humanity in the hypostatic union (JHT, 87-88; CK, chap. 6).

Without evaluating this debate here, I suggest that this more rigorously incarnational focus gives Tanner an edge over Barth in terms of just how a christocentric theology might inform ethical and political positions. This broaches my third main comparison between Tanner and Barth. In her book on economics, Tanner seeks to reconstruct economic theory and practice on the basis of a theology of gift, a vision of an overflowing divine beneficence with the incarnation at its center (EG). God, the gracious font of all free gifts, offers creatures a share of the divine bounty in creation, covenant and, above all, the hypostatic union of the Son of God with humanity in Jesus Christ. In light of the sheer giftedness of our status as creatures before God, our common economic life should be characterized by sharing with others what God has freely given us. Because everything comes from the overflowing love of the creator and redeemer, I have no claim to hoard goods that could benefit others and that in no wise belong exclusively to me. Tanner’s strategy, as she lays it out in the preface, is to bring economic and theological concerns together under a more generalized discourse on economy. The third part of the book relates a host of specific proposals (often quite technical) for economic change. What interests me here is a line of critique vis-à-vis capitalism.

Tanner pointedly criticizes a zero-sum notion of exclusive property, which holds that competition drives the exchange of inevitably scarce resources, whether that competitive struggle is adjudicated by the “free” markets of capitalist theory or the government agencies of state socialism (34-40). From a Christian standpoint, the claims that God freely creates and sustains human beings and showers the riches of God’s own being on us in Jesus Christ points to an alternative, non-competitive vision for economics. “The history of God’s relations with us as those have their beginning and end in Christ contain in themselves a critique of competitive relations” (BEG). If God in Christ has freely given us all we could ever need, we might imagine new ways of equitably sharing the goods all people need to survive and flourish. Giving becomes unconditional (based on need and not merit), universal and mutually beneficial for all. Tanner’s contra-example to exclusive property is a lighthouse, common property of the community that benefits all ships equally. There is no need to parse out its beams among ships, but all can travelers may share its rays without draining it (BEG).

Tanner’s alternative to prevalent views of private property has some resonances with Barth’s own reticence to enter the Cold War fray between East and West, and his groping to find a “third way” between free market capitalism and state socialism (BEG). Barth was worried that taking one side or the other would compromise the freedom of theology to witness to the Kingdom of God as a transcendent reality that cannot be instantiated by sinful human agents, but can only be brought about by divine initiative. “Upholding ‘a third way’ in this sense simply signals the need to maintain a distinction between God’s kingdom and any human claimant. God’s kingdom, Barth reminds us, is found already complete in Christ, and therefore one needn’t turn to the church or any trajectory of human history in search of it.” The third way, then, is more of a critical principle of judgment than a concrete proposal or agenda in its own right. Tanner notes:
Christian insistence on a third way becomes the constantly applicable rebuke to any power, human movement or trajectory in the world purporting to be lordless, hoping, that is, to exempt itself from judgment in light of that history of God’s dealings with the world that has its beginning and end in Christ.
To be sure, Barth maintains that Christians are free to engage in concrete efforts at social, economic and political justice on an ad hoc basis as situations demand. Efforts within and without the church to instantiate freedom, justice and peace may serve as fallible yet real “parables” of God’s coming kingdom. Nonetheless, Christian social ethics must remain grounded in the basic story of what God has done for us in Christ.

Tanner affirms Barth’s basic standpoint here, both in his commitment to the integrity of a critical and distinctively Christian discourse on social matters and his intent to frame this discourse christologically. Still, she seeks to go beyond Barth in arguing that a Christ-centered theology should be able to speak more explicitly, more critically and more constructively to economic issues. “The gospel message is of much more direct social and political consequence than the ethical portions of the Church Dogmatics, at least as far as we have them, imply.”

Tanner seeks to articulate a critique of capitalistic assumptions that is more pointed than what Barth offers in the unfinished lecture fragments of CD IV/4 (published as The Christian Life in English translation). In that work, Barth tackles problems of socio-political ethics under the general rubric of his doctrine of reconciliation developed in CD IV/1-3. The framework for Christian engagement in the political sphere is the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Barth’s brief critique of capitalism emerges in a discussion of mammon as one among the “lordless powers,” those created-yet-fallen human capacities and forces that have turned against their human agents because of the fall (222-224). Under the conditions of humanity’s alienation from God, we have lost the freedom to govern our own desires and capacities, and these realities have begun to exercise an almost independent and lawless agency in their own right; they have “become spirits with a life and activity of their own, lordless indwelling forces” (214). Just as humans have rebelled against God, so these disordered forces turn against humans.

Among these powers, the New Testament mentions mammon, indicating “the material possessions, property, and resources that have become the idol of man, or rather his very mobile demon” (222). Material human resources needed to secure a livelihood and human well-being become twisted and disturbed under sinful human alienation. The Synoptic Gospels depict mammon as a second lord competing with Christ for human servitude.

Within a modern context, Barth identifies mammon as money, which does not directly support human need but rather serves as an effective symbol and agent of distributing material resources and negotiating social status. Barth’s insight here suggests an interesting analogy: just as mammon is a natural human power that has become abstracted from its salutary function under human freedom, to secure material wellbeing for humans, money itself has become abstracted from the actual material goods it is intended to mobilize – food, housing, clothing, etc. Money becomes something people crave in and of itself quite apart from the concrete good it can do. As such, mammon – like its cousin, Leviathan (the state) – becomes a prime candidate for idolatry.

Tanner finds this Barthian critique pertinent for the contemporary context. As state socialism seems to be waning today,
Capitalism has become the lordless power par excellence in our day, by seemingly exhausting the field of economic possibility and by conformity to the neo-liberal ideal of markets completely unconstrained by any governmental or social regulation that might subordinate their workings to the ends of human well being (BEG).
Nonetheless, she charges Barth’s critique of capitalism with a lack of specificity, as being “almost entirely formal.” What specifically about capitalism, Tanner asks, tends to foster this distortion from a Christian standpoint? And what would the alternative look like in a human nature redeemed and governed by Christ? According to Tanner, Barth does not draw out the implications of his Christological doctrine of reconciliation. Her assessment at this point is correct, in my view, and her proposal is much better positioned than Barth was to articulate a real critique of private property on Christological grounds.

Nonetheless, and in conclusion, I want to suggest one way Barth’s view might broaden and enrich Tanner’s. A theology of the powers that seeks to relate New Testament insights to a critique of socio-political realities has become a major theme in contemporary theology, thanks to the work of such thinkers as William Stringfellow and, more recently, Walter Wink. Barth’s own work anticipated, to some degree, this powers theology, as was evident in his fascinating interchange with Stringfellow in Chicago in 1962 (Kellerman, 187-191). I wonder how such an understanding of the powers might be integrated with Tanner’s own incarnational framework by, let’s say, a more explicit retrieval of what dialectical theology says about the problem of idolatry (a theme well developed in Tanner’s earlier political theology). I wonder, in short, whether an exclusively incarnational framework, while undeniably crucial for Christian thought, is by itself adequate to convey the fullness of what the New Testament has to say about Christian engagement with economic forces in a fallen world.


Barth, Karl, (CL) The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics IV/4 (Lecture Fragments), trans. Geoffrey W. Bromily (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981).

----(JCSJ) “Jesus Christ and Social Justice”, in George Hunsinger (ed. & trans.), Karl Barth and Radical Politics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 19-45.

Gollwitzer, Helmut, “Kingdom of God and Socialism in the Theology of Karl Barth”, in Hunsinger, op cit., 77-120.

Hunsinger, George, “Karl Barth’s Christology: Its Basic Chalcedonian Character”, in John Webster (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 2000), 127-142.

Kellerman, Bill Wylie (ed.), A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of Wiliam Stringfellow (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994).

Marquardt, Friedrich-Wilhelm, “Socialism in the Theology of Karl Barth”, in Hunsinger, op cit., 47-76.

Tanner, Kathryn, (BEG) “Barth and the Economy of Grace,” unpublished manuscript for lecture given at Princeton Theological Seminary, June 2008.

---- (CK) Christ the Key (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 2010).

---- (CP) “Creation and Providence”, in Webster, op. cit., 111-126.

---- (EG) Economy of Grace (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005).

---- (GC) God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1988).

---- (JHT) Jesus, Humanity & the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001).

---- (PG) The Politics of God: Christian Theologies and Social Justice (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992).

---- (TC) Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997).
Apocalyptic Noncompetitiveness and a Theopolitics of Subversion:
A Response to J. Scott Jackson

By David W. Congdon

Scott Jackson’s lucid analysis of Tanner’s theology in relation to Barth points out the way each theologian, in their different ways, criticizes free market capitalism as an idolatrous worship of mammon. While both ground their critiques in christology, Tanner goes beyond Barth in using her noncompetitive-incarnational model of divine and human agency as the basis for her economic counterproposal to the competitive economics that currently rules the day. Where Barth’s critique of capitalism remains formal and abstract—revealed, as she points out, by the fact that his criticisms in CD III/3 and CD IV/4 are essentially identical despite their location in different theological loci (BEG)—Tanner’s is quite concrete and specific. Her theologically grounded ethics is thus a positive supplement to the dogmatic revolution that Barth began. This view was reinforced by Tanner herself at the 2008 Karl Barth Conference at Princeton Seminary. During her paper, Tanner mentioned that she views her project as an attempt to fill in the “ethics of redemption” that Barth might have written had he lived to write the fifth volume of his Dogmatics.

On all these points of similarity, Jackson’s thesis is on solid ground. What I would like to do, in the brief space that remains, is explore the point of conflict that he mentions near the end and suggest a possible way forward. Jackson rightly points out that Barth views mammon as a “lordless power,” an aspect of the sinful and fallen creation that enslaves humanity in systems of oppression, and which God has decisively judged and nullified in Jesus Christ. What this means, crucially, is that Barth’s “solution” to the problem of mammon is essentially competitive, rather than noncompetitive. Barth locates the source of an anti-capitalistic Christian ethic in the competitive arena of Christ’s crucifixion, where God combats the lordless powers and emerges the victor in the light of the resurrection.

By contrast, Tanner locates the source of her ethic in the non-contrastive, gift-giving union of divinity and humanity in the Son’s incarnation (cf. EG, 64-65). The difference this makes becomes starkly evident in her doctrine of the atonement. She thoroughly rejects the substitutionary and satisfaction models favored by the Reformers and appropriated by Barth, and instead she opts for the Greek patristic (especially Cyrilline) view wherein the locus of redemption is found in the deifying assumption of human flesh. Her view is thus an ontological, rather than forensic, version of the “happy exchange” (cf. ICS, 41). Tanner’s view is attractive because it frees atonement from the legal, penitential, and violent logic that severely hampers most Reformational accounts of salvation.

I bring this up not to engage in a debate about the atonement; that must await another occasion. Rather, I take it for granted that both Tanner and Barth’s emphases are worth retaining: Tanner rightly focuses on the noncompetitive relation between God and the world, while Barth rightly focuses on God’s competitive (and victorious) confrontation with both personal and systemic human sin. To put it another way, in Barth we hear God’s No against the power of mammon, whereas in Tanner we hear God’s Yes toward an “economy of grace.” If there’s anything that dialectical theology has taught us, it is that we need both the No and the Yes. In this case, we need both Barth and Tanner, though that will require finding a “third way” between (or beyond) them—much like Barth’s pursuit of a “third way” between capitalism and socialism.

I suggest here that this “third way” will require thinking creatively about an apocalyptic noncompetitiveness—that is, a noncompetitive theology of God’s apocalyptic interruption in Jesus Christ. This is, obviously, a paradoxical manner of speaking, but only in this way can we bear faithful witness to the God who is present with us as the crucified one. With Tanner (contra Barth), we need to replace the penal conceptions of the atonement with the notion of a superabundant divine self-donation in Jesus Christ which exposes and subverts the fallen logic of debt and redemptive violence. But the Cyrilline notions of assumption and deification—which she admits “trades on a Platonic reification of universal terms such as ‘humanity’” (ICS, 45)—need to be jettisoned. Here I agree with Barth in seeking to overcome the abstract metaphysical language of natura or physis, though I suggest we need to go still further than Barth was able or willing to go.

In my “third way,” God’s self-donation is not an ontic communicatio idiomatum, but rather a kerygmatic event in which the “word of the cross” (1 Cor. 1.18) confronts us with a judgment on our sin that simultaneously grants us unconditional forgiveness. The gift of God is the gift of an apocalyptic interruption by Christ through his Spirit that frees us for a subversive counter-politics. It is noncompetitive in that this interruption is not a miraculous intervention but paradoxically coincides with and occurs within our social historicity. In the modality of faith, we encounter the word of Christ in the word of our neighbor. Christ’s gracious judgment confronts us in our contingent historical situation, disrupting our bondage to systemic patterns of idolatry and opening us up to a new future of freedom from mammon.

In short, I am suggesting that we unite Tanner’s gift-giving focus with a thoroughly non-metaphysical, apocalyptic-kerygmatic theologia crucis. The gift is not an abstract ontological exchange, but rather a contemporary encounter with God that funds a theopolitics of subversion in every new hic et nunc. I take this to be an example of the “more explicit retrieval of what dialectical theology says about the problem of idolatry” that Jackson asks about at the end, albeit in a more explicitly apocalyptic and existentialist vein. Unfortunately, for now these ideas will have to remain only suggestive.


Tanner, Kathryn. (BEG) “Barth and the Economy of Grace.” Unpublished manuscript for lecture given at Princeton Theological Seminary, June 2008. Forthcoming in Daniel L. Migliore, ed., Commanding Grace: Studies in Karl Barth’s Ethics (Eerdmans, 2010).

——. (EG) Economy of Grace. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.

——. (ICS) “Incarnation, Cross, and Sacrifice: A Feminist-Inspired Reappraisal.” Anglican Theological Review 86, no. 1 (2004): 35-56.
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

2010 KBBC: Week 2, Day 4

Barth and Hauerwas in Con-verse
By Halden Doerge

The topic with which I am concerned is what it might mean to bring Karl Barth into conversation with Stanley Hauerwas. As such I will try to avoid simply contrasting the two figures, or lodging a critique of one’s thought based on the other’s. Rather what is vital here is to investigate what it might mean to place these two figures in conversation with one another, and most specifically, as the theme of this year’s conference is “Karl Barth in Conversation,” my central concern will be with determining how we ought to read and appropriate the theology of Karl Barth in light of the work of Stanley Hauerwas. In short, my concern is what impact or opportunities Hauerwas makes for our reception of Barth.

Toward this end I will pursue two lines of inquiry. First, I will examine Hauerwas’s own articulation of his theological relation to Barth, showing how Hauerwas seeks to “place” himself and Barth in relation to one another theologically. As any reading of Hauerwas’s Gifford Lectures, With the Grain of the Universe makes clear, Hauerwas clearly understands Barth to be a vital theological witness in regard to the mission of the church in the world, even as he seeks to, in his view, move beyond Barth toward an ecclesiology “sufficient to sustain the witness that he thought was intrinsic to Christianity” (WTG, 39). As such, Hauerwas understands his own work to exist, in some significant sense, along the trajectory of Barth’s own work, carrying it forward in a way that exceeds Barth’s own limitations. It is this self-perception of Hauerwas’s own project as a further development, or extension of Barth’s project that must be laid to rest before we can see these two figures in their proper relation, a prerequisite for any sustained and fruitful conversation between their particular perspectives.

Secondly, having gestured towards a more accurate understanding of the relationship between Barth and Hauerwas, I will move towards an investigation of what truly reading Barth in conversation with Hauerwas might mean. In doing so I will begin to show the degree to which Hauerwas’s particular departures from Barth help us to see and hear anew the particular challenge that Barth’s theology poses for the task of theology and the faithfulness of the church to its mission in the world.

The Hauerwasian Quest for a Barthian Anchor

In his earliest book, Character and the Christian Life, Stanley Hauerwas engages Karl Barth’s work in relation to the question of growth in the Christian life. In doing so Hauerwas discerns a vital contribution in Barth’s work, namely in Barth’s “attempt to describe the Christian life in terms of the fundamental relationship of the self to God” (CCL, 176). Where Barth falls short according to Hauerwas is in his failure to “exploit the language of growth and character” (CCL, 177). Hauerwas is critical of the fact that Barth “treats the Christian life primarily in terms of events and acts, which, while repeatable, cannot contribute in a theologically significant way to the development of ourselves as men of character” (CCL, 173). In other words, Hauerwas, while appreciative of Barth’s centering of the ethical question on God’s own agency and action, is troubled by Barth’s refusal to find, in the language of character and growth, a point of ethical concreteness.

While it is important to note that as his work developed, Hauerwas has moved away from the language of character and growth in favor of emphasizing the church as a configuration of social practices which form its members in virtue (see CC, 129–52), this initial critique of Barth remains fundamentally unchanged. Barth’s insistence that “the relation between God and man is not that of parallelism and harmony of the divine and human wills, but of an explosive encounter, contradiction and reconciliation, in which it is the part of the divine will to precede and the human to follow” (CD II/2, 644) remains problematic for Hauerwas in that such an insistence on the asymmetry of divine and human action is unable to adequately express the “growth characteristic” of God’s work of sanctification (CCL, 176).

In summary, the central dissatisfaction that Hauerwas has with Barth is that, in his view Barth does not leave enough room for human—and specifically ecclesial—action to contribute to the formation of the good. Barth’s insistence on the radical verticality of grace seems to occlude the notion that the church as a community of virtue can form its members in the way of Jesus. Indeed, for Hauerwas “Jesus” names not so much a historical figure to be reconstructed, or a divine inbreaking into history, but rather the communal story of the church which forms it into a peaceable community. Hauerwas is quite clear on this point, Jesus simply is the morally formative story the church tells: “Jesus is the story that forms the church. This means that the church first serves the world by helping the world to know what it means to be the world. For without a ‘contrast model’ the world has no way to know or feel the oddness of its dependence on power for survival” (CC, 50).

For Hauerwas, the problem with Barth is that his transcendental Christology, which insists that Christ is a sovereignly free actor who breaks into history, who alone is the agent of the world’s salvation, does not allow for what he deems to be a “sufficient” ecclesiology (WTG, 39). For Hauerwas, Barth’s depiction of Christ as the sole effective agent of the divine work threatens to eliminate any necessary place for the church in the economy of salvation (see WTG, 192, 203).

This fundamental dissatisfaction of Hauerwas with Barth is expressed in its mature form in Hauerwas’s With the Grain of the Universe. While the title of this work is taken from John Howard Yoder, interestingly Yoder makes only a minor showing in Hauerwas’s argument. Rather it is Barth upon whom Hauerwas calls in attempting to rehabilitate a (Christological) natural theology. For the purposes of this post I shall leave aside the viability of such an attempt to read Barth in a manner amenable to any sort of refurbished natural theology and concentrate on the primary way in which Hauerwas positions himself relative to Barth.

What is crucial for Hauerwas in With the Grain of the Universe is Barth’s insistence that witness to the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ is the proper form of Christian discourse (WTG, 174–76). Indeed, Hauerwas posits throughout With the Grain of the Universe that the whole project of Barth’s Church Dogmatics is in fact to offer “a manual designed to train Christians that the habits of our speech must be disciplined by the God found in Jesus Christ” (WTG, 182–83). Thus Hauerwas finds Barth to be a major ally against Protestant liberalism in that he insists on the particularity of Christian theology as witness to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. However he fears that Barth’s constant emphasis on the radical completeness of God’s act in Christ eliminates the church’s necessity for the world’s salvation.

This point is crucial, for Hauerwas it is vital that the church, as a community of moral practice which forms its members in virtue, be necessary for the world’s salvation. In contrast to Barth’s argument that the world would not necessarily be lost if there was no church—since “Jesus Christ, his Word and his work” alone actualize the world’s salvation (CD IV/3.2, 826)—Hauerwas insists that “If the world is not necessarily lost without the church, then it is by no means clear what difference the church makes for how we understand the way the world is and, given the way the world is, how we must live” (WTG, 193). Here we come to the crux of the matter: for Hauerwas the church provides an anchor, a fundamental point of theological, ethical, epistemological, and indeed, soteriological concreteness. Were the church not necessary in this fundamental sense we would literally have no place to stand, no way to get our bearings, or even recognize the revelation of God in Christ if such thing had occurred at all (see PK, 99–102; CC, 89–94; CET, 59–62).

Hauerwas finds in Barth the truly praiseworthy virtue of breaking with liberal Protestantism and its individualism and social fragmentation (see WTG, 147–59). With Barth Hauerwas wants to assert the particularity of theology as a specifically ecclesial witness to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. However Hauerwas is dissatisfied with Barth precisely at the point where Barth is most forceful about the fundamental shape of Christian witness itself. For Barth it is axiomatic that the church, as a witness, points to a reality outside itself, the singular and irreducible reality of Christ’s work of reconciliation:
In Jesus Christ the alteration of the human situation did take place, and does take place to-day, the situation of Christians and of all men, the reconciliation of the world with God in Him who is the living Mediator between God and man in the power of His resurrection. What remains for them is high and appropriate and joyful and stringent enough—to welcome the divine verdict, to take it seriously with full responsibility, not to keep their knowledge of it to themselves, but by the witness of their existence and proclamation to make known to the world which is still blind and deaf to this verdict the alteration which has in fact taken place by it. Their existence in the world depends on the fact that this alone is their particular gift and task. They have not to assist or add to the being and work of their living Saviour who is the Lord of the world, let alone replace it by their own work. The community is not a prolongation of His incarnation, His death and resurrection, the acts of God and their revelation. It has not to do these things. It has to witness to them. It is its consolation that it can do this. Its marching-orders are to do it. (CD IV/1, 317–18)
For Hauerwas this insistence on the utter gratuity and completion of the divine work of reconciliation leaves no space for the church. Rather the church’s witness, if it is not to be rendered superfluous and unnecessary, must, in fact be constitutive of the reality of salvation itself. Hauerwas insists that “the truth of Christian convictions requires witnesses” (WTG, 211). Unlike Barth, for Hauerwas the performance of Christian witness does not point to something beyond itself, but rather is, at least in some sense, reflexive. It is precisely in the church’s own faithful act of witness that the Gospel is rendered true:
Does the truth of Christian convictions depend on the faithfulness of the church and, if so, how do we determine what would constitute faithfulness? Am I suggesting that the ability of the church to be or not to be nonviolent is constitutive for understanding what it might meant [sic] to claim that that Christian convictions are true? Do I think the truthfulness of Christian witness is compromised when Christians accept the practices of the “culture of death”—abortion, suicide, capital punishment, and war?
Yes! On every count the answer is “Yes.” (WTG, 231)
Here we see the zenith of Hauerwas’s mature position about the nature of Christian witness vis-à-vis Barth. While Hauerwas has sought to break company with liberal Protestantism’s faith in humanity as an immanent field through which God’s will is achieved in the world, he has regurgitated a vision that is structurally identical to it, simply replacing and immanent faith in humanity with an immanent faith in the church. For Hauerwas it is no longer Christ himself, but the church that is “the subject of the narrative as well as the agent of the narrative” (CET, 59). Or more precisely, in the logic of Hauerwas’s position Christ has become so utterly appended to the church that any meaningful distinction between them is not apparent. The church is no longer a witness in any ordinary understanding of the term, for after all witnesses are, by definition, those who point away from themselves to a reality beyond them. This is fundamental to Barth’s understanding of the church as witness. Hauerwas, in his zeal to make the church’s witness “necessary” rather than a superfluous overflow of grace (see CD IV/3.2, 608) has actually constructed a notion of witness diametrically opposed to Barth, whose very project he claims to be carrying forward. Far from taking up Barth’s impetus and seeking to extend his thought, Hauerwas loops back behind Barth’s critique of liberal Protestantism and recasts it in ecclesiocentric form. Hauerwas’s quest to find in the church a conceptual anchor from which to go beyond Barth has yielded something entirely opposite: a retroactive bypassing of the very challenge that Barth poses for theology and the mission of the church.

Barth’s Witness to Hauerwas

If the exposition of Barth and Hauerwas above has merit, where then does that leave us? If Hauerwas’s theology does not represent an extension of Barth’s thought, but rather its calculated reversal, what might it mean for us to place these two theologians into conversation? What would it mean to read Barth in light of and in contrast to Hauerwas’s rejection of Barth’s theology of witness? There are, I believe two important consequences that would follow from such an attempt at conversation between the theologies of Barth and Hauerwas. I will gesture towards these, albeit briefly and incompletely.

First, reading Barth in light of Hauerwas’s turn to an ecclesiocentric rather than Christocentric notion of witness offers us an opportunity to hear anew Barth’s critique of liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Indeed, as I have argued previously (Ed: David Congdon’s essay and Halden’s complete response from the 2009 KBBC) Barth’s critique of liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are two sides of the same coin (see especially WGWM, 112–15 on this point). For Barth both of these ecclesiastical modes were problematic in that they reduced God to an object within the immanent frame of either humanity or the historical process (Protestant liberalism), or the hierarchical church as the extension of the incarnation (Roman Catholicism). In both cases the diastasis between God and the world is lost and we are left with an ideological rejection of the gospel.

In an interesting way Hauerwas’s move towards an ecclesiocentric notion of witness actually brings together both the Roman Catholic and the liberal Protestant tendencies which were the very objects of Barth’s parallel critiques. Indeed this is born out in that Hauerwas’s own critique of Barth is couched in the assertion that Barth is not “sufficiently catholic,” by which Hauerwas means that “his critique and rejection of Protestant liberalism make it difficult for him to acknowledge that, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are made part of God’s care of the world through the church.” Hauerwas further specifies this lack of catholicity as consisting in the fact that Barth “cannot acknowledge that the community called church is constitutive of the gospel proclamation” (WTG, 145).

Hauerwas is quite correct that Barth cannot acknowledge the church as constitutive of gospel precisely in that Barth rejects liberal Protestantism’s commitment to immanence and Pelagianism. Indeed, insofar as Hauerwas seeks any sort of “catholicity” that finds its constitutive source in the church rather than solely in the death and resurrection of Christ, Hauerwas forsakes Barth at the most fundamental level possible. Indeed, Hauerwas’s mature statement of an ecclesiocentric vision of salvation and the church provides the most perfect crystallization imaginable of the object of Barth’s multifaceted critique of religion:
Religious righteousness! There seem[s] to be no surer means of rescuing us from the alarm cry of conscience than religion and Christianity. Religion gives us the chance, beside and above the vexations of business, politics, and private and social life, to celebrate solemn hours of devotion—to take flight to Christianity as to an eternally green island in the gray sea of the everyday. There comes over us a wonderful sense of safety and security from the unrighteousness whose might we everywhere feel. It is a wonderful illusion, if we can comfort ourselves with it, that in our Europe—in the midst of capitalism, prostitution, the housing problem, alcoholism, tax evasion, and militarism—the church’s preaching, the church’s morality, and the “religious life” go on their uninterrupted way. . . . A wonderful illusion, but an illusion, a self-deception! We should above all be honest and ask ourselves far more frankly what we really gain from religion. Cui bono? What is the use of all the preaching, baptizing, confirming, bell-ringing, and organ-playing, of all the religious moods and modes, . . . the efforts enliven church singing, the unspeakably tame and stupid monthly church papers, and whatever else may belong to the equipment of modern ecclesiasticism? Will something different eventuate from all this in our relation to the righteousness of God? Are we even expecting something different from it? Are not we hoping by our very activity to conceal in the most subtle way the fact that the critical event that ought to happen has not yet done so and probably never will? Are we not, with our religious righteousness, acting “as if”—in order not to have to deal with reality? Is not our religious righteousness a product of our pride and our despair, a tower of Babel, at which the devil laughs more loudly than at all the others? (WGWM, 19–20)
Secondly and finally, reading Barth in light of Hauerwas provides us with the opportunity to appropriate anew Barth’s explicitly missionary vision of the church. While for Hauerwas the first task of the church is “to be the church” (e.g. PK, 100), for Barth the fundamental meaning of “church” to be called and sent out into the world as witnesses of Christ’s death and resurrection. Indeed, one cannot put too fine a point on this difference: for Hauerwas the mission of the church is to be; for Barth the being of the church is mission. For Hauerwas the reality of the church is fundamentally oppositional. It exists as a “contrast model” for the world (CC, 50). This oppositional definition of the church gives rise to a fundamentally concentric notion of mission in which the form of the church’s (reflexive) witness is primarily that of fixating on its liturgical practices which are then asserted to be its “effective social work” (PK, 108). Thusly the church’s central task in the world is to “find a way to sustain its existence generation after generation” (PK, 107). The Hauerwasian notion of mission is thus rendered in a thoroughly concentric mode in which the church’s primary task is to preserve, defend, and prolong itself.

Barth, by contrast understands the being of the church fundamentally in terms of Christ’s sending of the church into the world as the community that witnesses to the resurrection. Indeed, for Barth the reality of the church cannot be grasped except in terms of denying that the church, in any sense, constitutes an end in itself. From beginning to end the church exists as a community sent into the world, for the sake of the world, bearing witness to the world in word and deed that in Christ all creation has been reconciled to God:
As an apostolic Church the Church can never in any respect be an end in itself, but, following the existence of the apostles, it exists only as it exercises the ministry of a herald. It builds itself up itself and its members in the common hearing of the Word of God which is always new, in common prayer, in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, in the practice of its inner fellowship, in theology. But it cannot forget that it cannot do these things simply for its own sake, but only in the course of its commission—only in an implicit and explicitly outward movement to the world with which Jesus Christ and in His person God accepted solidarity, for which he died, and in which He rose again in indication of the great revelation of the inversion accomplished in Him. For this reason the Church can never be satisfied with what it can be and do as such. As His community it points beyond itself. At bottom it can never consider its own security, let alone its appearance. As His community it is always free from itself. In its deepest and most proper tendency it is not churchly, but worldly—the Church with open doors and great windows, behind which it does better not to close itself in upon itself again by putting in pious stained-glass windows. It is holy in its openness to the street and even the alley, in its turning to the profanity of all human life—the holiness which, according to Rom. 12:5, does not scorn to rejoice with them that do rejoice and to weep with them that weep. Its mission is not additional to its being. It is, as it is sent and active in its mission. It builds up itself for the sake of its mission and in relation to it. It does it seriously and actively as it is aware of its mission and in the freedom from itself which this gives. If it is the apostolic Church determined by Scripture and therefore by the direction of the apostles, it cannot fail to exist in this freedom and therefore in a strict realism more especially in relation to itself. And when it does this it cannot fail to be recognisable and recognised as apostolic and therefore as the true Church. (CD IV/1, 724–25).
In the thought of Barth and Hauerwas we are confronted, despite certain affinities and even Hauerwas’s own self-presentation, with two decidedly divergent understandings of the gospel, the church, and the world. From what has been said up to this point it should be abundantly clear that I believe that Barth offers a decidedly necessary corrective to the views exposited by Hauerwas. Whatever else it may mean to place Hauerwas and Barth in conversation it cannot mean less than clearly presenting the radically different theological visions at work in their respective proposals. In so doing we are given the opportunity to see how deeply Barth’s vision of the gospel stands in variance to that of Hauerwas. At the very least such analysis will serve to exemplify the important differences between these two thinkers. At its best, we can hope that such an exercise will spur us on to ever and again fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2).


Works by Stanley Hauerwas:

CCL: Character and the Christian Life: A Study in Theological Ethics. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
CC: A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.
CET: Christian Existence Today: Essays on Church, World, and Living in Between. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001.
PK: The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.
WTG: With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001

Works by Karl Barth:

CD: Church Dogmatics. Edited by G. W. Bromily and T. F. Torrance. 4 vols. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956–77.
WGWM: The Word of God and the Word of Man. Translated by Douglas Horton. New York: Harper, 1957.
By Ry O. Siggelkow

We are not saints because we make ourselves such. We are saints and sanctified because we are already sanctified, already saints, in this One” (CD IV/2: 516).

In this response I will seek only to build on Halden Doerge’s analysis of the relationship between Karl Barth and Stanley Hauerwas. Doerge has properly set the terms of this discussion within the conference theme of “Karl Barth in Conversation.” To the extent that Hauerwas’s work has come to be associated with a form of “Barthianism” in America, Doerge has done us the invaluable service of delineating some of the important differences between the two thinkers. In this response I want to further press the point, already suggested in Doerge’s piece, that Hauerwas’s dissatisfaction with Barth should be viewed as a rejection of central elements of Barth’s theology. I will briefly touch on two interrelated doctrinal loci that I think are particularly at stake in this “conversation” between Barth and Hauerwas: (1) the question of where to properly locate the church’s “concreteness,” specifically with regard to the doctrine of sanctification; (2) the question of the church’s role in the economy of salvation. Both issues raise important questions—which cannot be resolved here—about how to construe the relation between divine and human agency, the nature and function of the church’s “visibility” in the world, and the church’s “mediating” role in the economy of salvation.

If Doerge’s argument has merit, then it would seem that, for Hauerwas, the point of concrete contact between God’s act of justification in Christ and the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification is unequivocally the empirical church defined by its core practices, habits, and liturgical traditions. Hauerwas is worried that if the “concreteness” of the Spirit’s work of sanctification is not directly located in the empirical life of the church, then the “truth” of the Christian gospel would not only lose its “visibility” but also its salvific efficacy. Indeed, such a loss would affect the destiny of the world precisely because the empirical church, for Hauerwas, is an “ontological necessity” (HR, 161), the “condition of possibility” for “grasping” the message and truth of the gospel (WTG, 145), and “constitutive of the gospel proclamation” itself. The “truth” of the gospel, in this framework, is not independent of the church’s mediation.

The attempt to locate the “concreteness” of the Spirit’s work of sanctification in the empirical life of the church is precisely what Barth’s actualist account of the doctrine of reconciliation does not allow. For Barth, the sanctification of the church (and the whole world) receives its “concreteness” not from within the immanent life of the empirically visible church (in abstractio), but from without—in the concreteness and transcendence of the one redemptive act of God in Jesus Christ (CD IV/2: 514-518; 615-616). For Barth, sanctification does not await its completion in a second temporal movement of concretion in the church, nor does it become a stable predicate of the church’s immanent life, providing it with continuity through history (CD IV/2: 507). Instead, sanctification is only properly understood, for Barth, as an operation of God’s transcendence. Sanctification does, indeed, “take place” in an earthly historical form, but this only happens as an event of God’s action in the Spirit for the world (CD IV/2: 511). Certainly, the Christian community is “marked off from all others” as “a special people” “set aside by God,” but precisely as such it exists in order that it may “make a ‘provisional offering’ of the thankfulness for which the whole world is ordained by the act of the love of God” (CD IV/2: 511). That concreteness is only properly located in the Spirit who is the active Subject of sanctification means that Hauerwas’s search for concreteness in the empirical church finally ends in abstraction. In the same manner, the true visibility of the church—what Barth calls its “very special visibility”—is not directly or immediately evident in its empirical institutions, moral life, or liturgical tradition, as Hauerwas maintains, but is hidden and can be seen only in relation and correspondence to the event of the world’s transfiguration in God’s act in Christ, which is the church’s only “living basis” (CD IV/1: 654-658; CD IV/2: 616-619).

To locate the “concreteness” of sanctification and the visibility of the church in the event of God’s redemptive action in Christ occludes any attempt to ground or directly identify sanctification, much less salvation, with the church’s empirical reality—its practices, habits, culture, or liturgical traditions. Contrary to Hauerwas, for Barth, the “truth” and efficacy of God’s act in Christ does not depend on the church’s “mediation” or on its ability to form or produce a “community of character.” Instead, for Barth, the “truth” and efficacy of the gospel is grounded in God’s redemptive act in Christ who is independent of the church which exists only as a provisional witness to what God has done in Jesus Christ and continues to do, in the Spirit, for the sake of the world’s transfiguration.


HR: The Hauerwas Reader. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001.

WTG: With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001.

CD: Church Dogmatics. Edited by G. W. Bromily and T. F. Torrance. 4 vols. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956–77.
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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.
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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