Karl Barth’s Relational Anthropology

Daniel J. Price, Karl Barth’s Anthropology in Light of Modern Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 97-98.
The salient feature of Barth’s mature anthropology is that it is dynamic. Barth’s anthropology is not dynamic merely in the sense that it indicates raw motion as opposed to a static state – but also in the sense that “dynamic” refers to interpersonal relations…The relational implications of Barth’s anthropology are highlighted by his adoption of the Latin phrase: Si quis dixerit hominem esse solitarium, anathema sit. (Note: Price includes this translation in a footnote – “If anyone will have said that man is solitary, let him be anathema.”) This statement comes in the middle of Barth’s volume on theological anthropology and it holds both ends together. This Latin phrase indicates the social character of Barth’s anthropology: to be human is to participate in a shared experience. Therefore, no accurate understanding of the human being can be derived if we look at a person in isolation from God and others. This phrase is the negative affirmation of Barth’s positive insistence that “real man” can only be understood as a being in encounter: a being in covenant relation with God and fellow humans. To find the human essence, Barth insists we must view the person in relation to God, others, self, and time. It is, therefore, the overlapping spheres of relationships that constellate to form a human being. If modern men and women are alienated and solitary it is to their detriment as creatures made in the image of God. Separation is a sign of human brokenness. The purely solitary person is a human being in crisis. Those who attempt to climb up the path of life without a partner tread on the brink of an abyss. Like a mountain climber whose strength wanes while climbing solo, the person who is truly alone stands on a precipice with little hope of reading the summit. The need for an anthropology that is couched in terms of the shared experience of human community is integral to Barth’s discussion of the human beings as a creature made in God’s image and likeness.

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