DEFINITIVE, DEFECTIVE, OR DEFT?
REASSESSING BARTH’S TREATMENT OF BAPTISM IN CD 4.4
Few subjects within the field of Barth-studies have been so divisive as Barth’s doctrine of baptism and, specifically, his articulation of that position in Church Dogmatics 4.4. Reception of Barth on this point has been divided into those who support his rejection of sacramental and infant baptism, and those who do not. In what follows, I work through a fivefold thought progression in an effort to reassess this portion of Barth’s theological legacy. First, I identify Eberhard Jüngel and John Webster as paradigmatic examples of those who regard Barth’s treatment of baptism in CD 4.4 as either definitive or defective, highlighting the common assumption that underlies both positions. The common assumption is that Karl Barth changed his mind concerning the relationship between divine and churchly human agency between his treatments in CD 1.1 and CD 4. Second, I interrogate that assumption and argue that although Barth’s mode of presentation changes, he demonstrates a basic continuity of thought on this subject. Third, I will move beyond the confines of the Webster-Jüngel divide on the issue by considering the notion of paradoxical identity as a way of describing Barth’s understanding of how divine and human activity relate. Fourth, I will turn to the text of CD 4.4 to argue that Barth’s understanding of this relation in that material is neither defective in Webster’s sense nor definitive in Jüngel’s sense. Rather, it is deft. Finally, I will conclude with some reflections on how this reassessment of Barth’s account of how divine and churchly human activity relate might provide a background for the advancement of a post-Barthian doctrine of infant baptism.
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