Friday, April 22, 2011

Barth I.1 §11.1-2

If I had been following Dr. Kirk's schedule for reading Barth's Church Dogmatics, I would now be finished with I.1 and looking at a week of rest, a week off from this discipline.  As it is, I am now a full week behind, so there will be no rest for the weary and Kirk's break in the schedule will allow me a chance to get caught up. 

For those wanting to Jump in on Barth reading with I.2, Kirk offers the Barth year of jubilee, a time of release where those interested can pick back up on this rewarding project.

In §11 I am back to really liking Barth, but with minor reservations (see below).  Barth is now discussing the second person of the Trinity, God the Reconciler, God the Son, the Word of God, Jesus Christ. There are some phenomenal passages in this section where Barth's humility comes through, yet with astounding confidence.  In the previous sections on the Trinity, I have been a little put off by the speculative theology and philosophy in which Barth engages as he strays from the text of scripture.  Yet, I do not begrudge him this task, I do think it is important.  Yet in this section, while still engaging in this sort of theology, Barth is humble, saying that we are here butting up against the limitations of human thought and language in our attempt to understand God.

This section, entitled "God the Son" is broken into two subsections: 1) God as Reconciler, and 2) The Eternal Son.  Both sections further explore the relationship of the Father to the Son, specifically looking at God in his mode of being as reconciler and Son.  Barth places great emphasis on the full divinity of Jesus Christ.  One must avoid the two extremes of adoptionism/Ebionitism on the one hand, and Docetism on the other.  Jesus was not a great human, a superhuman or demi-god who attained deity, nor was he a deity who only appeared human.

Jesus Christ is the true revelation of God.  Jesus reveals God the Father, and God is revealed as the Son.  Both modes of being are proper to God, and both are revealed in Jesus Christ.

In the second subsection, Barth discusses the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ.  In Jesus Christ, we see God "for us."  Yet, this "for us" was not the beginning of the Sonship of Jesus Christ.  Christ is eternally the Son, his Sonship does not consist only in the incarnation of God "for us" but exists as a proper relationship of God to himself in two modes of being.  Christ is the Son of God "antecedently in Himself" before the historical event of the incarnation.

The last 25 pages of this section deal with Barth's exposition of an ancient creed, the Symb. Nicaeno-Constantinopolitanum, which says the following about the Son:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ
The only begotten Son of God
Begotten of the Father before all ages
Light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made
Of one substance (ὁμοούσιον) with the Father
Through whom all things were made

Barth goes through this creed nearly word by word, explaining the significance of each.  For Barth, this creed represents the orthodox dogma of the relationship of the Father and Son.  I must say, that in general I really liked this section.  I found, that though there was much theological speculation, Barth does so with great humility.

My favorite section was when Barth was talking about how this creed is made up of many metaphors, and that in these figures of speech, we have truth, but it is also untruth, it is true knowledge, but not a knowledge that can grasp and fully contain its object.  Once again, the freedom of God is preserved, God cannot be contained in the language or thought of humans.

A couple of quotes about the limits of human thought and language in its attempt to describe God:

In discussing the metaphor of the Son of God being begotten:
"all this may be expressed and on all this we must be able to be silent again.  The knowledge expressed in the metaphor is a non-knowing knowledge.  It should regard itself as a knowing non-knowledge.  Like every human word--though this is seldom so clear as here--it can only serve the Word which God Himself says about Himself.  In this figure, which even in itself and as such denotes the deepest mystery in creaturely life, we can and should think of everything that can be meaningfully thought of in relation to the Father-Son relation in God, and we should then say: We are unprofitable servants, we have only thought and said in figures what we were under obligation to do, but we cannot claim that what we have thought and said is correct." (CD I.1 §11.2 p. 432)
And again, speaking of the metaphor of Jesus as the eternal Word of God:
"Yet we must not disguise the fact that on our lips and in our concepts this way of speaking is also inappropriate.  We do not know what we are saying when we call Jesus Christ the eternal Word of God.  We know no word which, though distinct from a speaker, still contains and reproduces the whole essence of the speaker.  We know no Logos with an adequate Nous-content [mind-content] and no Nous which can be exhaustively expressed in a Logos.  We know no thought or speech which can transcend the antithesis of knowledge and being in triumphant synthesis.  In short, we know no true word." (CD I.1 §11.2 p.436).
Nevertheless, Barth insists that to speak this way is necessary, to try and describe God to the limits of our language and thought is the task of the dogmatician, and I agree.

Here is where my reservation comes in.  It is not that I have a problem of Barth's theological investigation and pressing the limits of human language and thought.  I think it is fascinating, good, and necessary.  Yet, I am a biblical scholar.   My task is to try and become a better reader of the Bible, and to teach others to do so.  That includes teaching people to read the story of the Bible and take from it what that story tells, not to go beyond what the story speaks to us.  Technically, this is called exegesis, or literally, a "leading out" of the scripture what it has to say.  The opposite, eisegesis, or "leading into" the scripture is what I try to avoid and try to teach others to avoid.  When Barth, prompted as he contends by scripture, engages in his theological speculation of what we can and must say about God, that is well and good.  I have no problem with it.  But then, it is all too easy to take this theological system that has been created and read it back into the story of the Bible (eisegesis).  To take this system and impose it on the narrative of scripture in a way that is unnatural to the story itself, that is to me a problem, because it is all to prevalent.  People (including myself) do it all the time unconsciously.  But, I strive to limit my eisegesis and to constantly be on guard against it.  So, herein lies my reservations about Barth's theology.  It is great, but one must constantly be on guard against reading this later trinitarian theology back into the narrative of the Bible itself.  Instead, let the bible speak afresh, and if from time to time that means that the Bible does not have a perfectly orthodox Nicaeno-Constantinopolitanian theology, then so be it.

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