Friday, April 29, 2011

Barth I.1 §12.1-2

In this, the last section of I.1, Barth discusses the third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit.  He approaches this section much like the previous sections, with two subsections: God the Redeemer, and the Eternal Holy Spirit. 

I found myself slogging through this section, getting bogged down again in the philosophical speculation about what must be true about God based (very loosely and derivatively) on the biblical witness. 

Important points: God the Creator has created the World.  God the Redeemer has come in the person of the Son.  Yet, how do we humans come to know this.  How do we come to faith in Jesus Christ as the redeemer.  Enter the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is a third mode of being of God and the person through whom humans can come to faith.  Barth refers to the Holy Spirit as a special element in revelation.  He writes:
"This special element in revelation is undoubtedly identical with what the New Testament calls the Holy Spirit as the subjective side in the event of revelation." (CD I.1 §12.1 p. 449).  
Or more specifically:
"when Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit as an element in revelation we are dealing with an ability or capability which is given to man as the addressee of revelation and which makes him a real recipient of revelation." (CD I.1 §12.1 p.456).
Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the mode of God's being which instills in humans the capacity to receive the revelation of the Father and the Son.

In the second subsection, Barth discussed the eternality of the Holy Spirit.  Namely, God does not take on the character of the Holy Spirit only in revelation, but the Holy Spirit is God "antecedently in himself."  To discuss this, Barth makes the distinction between the immanent trinity (God in himself) and the economic trinity (God in his revelation).  For Barth, there cannot be a tension between these two.  God cannot be different "antecedently in himself" than he is "for us" in revelation.  What God is for us, God is "antecedently in himself." Thus, "antecedently in himself" the Holy Spirit is the mode of being in God as the love that flows between the the Father and the Son.

Here Barth weighs in on the filioque controversy.  Filioque, "and the Son," the type of controversy that just makes my eyes glaze over.  Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son, or just from the Father.  The Western Church went with the Father and the Son, whereas the Eastern Church preferred just the Father.  For Barth, the Eastern formulation, with the Holy Spirit proceeding just from the Father, is a matter of a tension between the immanent and economic trinities.  In the economic trinity the Holy Spirit clearly proceeds from the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit must be "antecedently in himself" what he is "for us" in revelation, so only the Western formulation is proper.

So, the Trinity: what to say?  The New Testament in its totality, I beleive, speaks of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, yet not three God's but one God, the God of Israel, none other than Yahweh.  So, three persons, one God.  Yet, the NT does not explain how this is possible, it does not speak about three persons in one essence (homoousios).  It does not speak about perichoresis or the mutual interpenetration of all three persons of the trinity such that all three persons of the trinity must participate fully in the actions of the others.  These are products of later philosophical speculation on what it means to speak of one God in three modes of being.  Are these speculations, and the conclusions which the orthodox church came to based on these speculations, necessary?  Are they the only way to work out the doctrine of God?  And if so, why so little concern with these questions in the text of the NT itself?  Just curious. 

Well, I.1 is finished.  On to I.2, which is significantly longer than I.1.  I am still enjoying Barth, although he frustrates me at times, as I am sure you can tell if you have been reading my posts.

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.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Barth I.1 §9.3-§10.2

In these sections Barth wraps up his discussion in the Trinity proper and then begins to discuss God the Father (which turns out to be more discussion on the Trinity).

The mystery of the trinity.  God is three in one.  God is unity with distinction and distinction in unity.  All analogies break down.  As Barth writes:
"In the doctrine of the Trinity our concern is with unity in trinity and trinity in unity.  We cannot advance beyond these two obviously one-sided and inadequate formulations." (CD I.1 §9.3 p. 368).  
Barth's term for God is thus the "Triunity" of God (Dreieinigkeit, three-in-oneness).

There are two big concepts that are perhaps helpful to state here.  The first is perichoresis or what could be translated as "mutual interpenetration." That is, when speaking about the different modes of being in the Trinity, while distinct, they mutually participate in all of the actions and attributes of the other.  Therefore, for Barth, the Father is the creator, but so is the Son and the Spirit.

The other is that of appropriation in which we attribute certain aspects of Godhood to one or another of the different modes of being.  Therefore, the Father is the Creator, the Son is the Reconciler, and the Spirit is the Redeemer. This is proper, according to Barth because it is thus in the Bible. 

As an example of this "appropration" Barth writes,
"One cannot say of God the Father that He was conceived and born, that He suffered, died, and rose again.  One also cannot say of Him that there had to be prayer for His coming and that He was to be poured out on all flesh.  For one think all these statements stand in affinity to the relation of the Son or the Spirit to the Father and not vice versa." (CD I.1 §10.2 p. 397). 
To me, these two aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity border on the nonsensical.  It is proper to say that all members of the Trinity interpenetrate one another but at the same time they do not.  Once again, I understand what Barth and other theologians are trying to do (I think), but it stretches logic beyond its breaking point.

My favorite quote, by far, with regard to the Trinity is as follows:
"All theological favoritisms are thus forbidden: the one-sided belief in God the Father which was customary in the Enlightenment; the so-called Christocentrism which Pietism loved and still loves, and finally all the nonsense that is and can be perpetrated with isolated veneration of the Spirit." (emphasis added, please, Barth, what nonsense are you talking about? CD I.1 §10.2 p. 395).
Briefly, in the section on God the Father as Creator, Barth makes some important points.  God is the eternal Father, that is, he eternally has a fatherhood relationship with the eternal son.  God does not become father, but is father eternally.  Perhaps more importantly, the analogy of God as father only works one way.  God is not father like human fathers are fathers, that would be to reverse the analogy.  Instead, any dignity that is found in human fathership is only so derivatively from God's eternal fatherhood.

One of the most interesting sections in this reading was when Barth spoke about Jesus as seen in the Bible.  He goes out of his way to say that the Bible represents Jesus not as God, or specifically as the Lord (i.e., Yahweh), but rather as separate from the Lord and a representative of the Lord. This of course is in the small print section and Barth does not counter these statements.  Here is one snippet:
"What is beyond question is that the κύριος  Ἰησοῦς Χριστός [Lord Jesus Christ] is separate from and subordinate to Θεὸς πατὴρ." (CD I.1 §10.1 p. 385).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Reflection

This poem of G.K. Chesterton was on the cover of my church's worship guide this morning and it struck both me and my wife in a powerful way. 


The Convert

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

--GK Chesterton

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Barth I.1 §8.3-§9.2

The Trinity.  Oh, the perplexing problem of the Trinity. 

In these sections, Barth continues his discussion of the Trinity, and I must say, that after reading his discussion, it is no less a mystery. 

Let us deal with his discussion of the vesigium trinitatis first.  Are there vestiges of the Trinity in nature, culture, history, etc.?   That is, because God created this world, might there not be signs or vestiges, little bits of this world that reflect the trinity of God?  It seems reasonable.  But, according to Barth, the answer is a resounding NO!  Barth is sympathetic with the attempts to use such images as analogies to try and understand the Trinity, but views them as dangerous.  And the reason is that there should only be one root of the Trinity and that is revelation attested by scripture.  Only God can reveal his triune nature.  We cannot first find it in nature and then derive the trinity of God from such.  So, vestiges such as "spring, stream, and lake,"  "water, ice, steam," "Old Testament Age, New Testament Age, Age of the Church" are not really reflections of God's nature, but are attempts to understand the nature of God through more familiar images.

Now, on to Barth's discussion of the Trinity in §9.  I will not rehearse his arguments here.  They are the common arguments used in the Trinitarian controversies in the 3rd and 4th centuries.  Barth is not really positing anything new, but he does suggest the replacement of the term "person" with "mode of being."  That is, whereas the previous formulation was that there was "One God in three Persons,"  should now be "One God in three Modes of Being."

Since the beginning, Christians have attempted to explain two things: 1) they are monotheists, and 2) There is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. 

In trying to explain this, there is always a danger of falling into two primary heretical traps.  On one side, the accusation of tritheism is apparent, namely that Christians worship three Gods.  On the other side, the accusation of modalism is apparent, namely that Christians are speaking of one God who wears three masks.  Barth admits this is a danger.  He writes:
"We, too, are unable to avoid the fact that every step of ours in this field is exposed to danger, whether the threat comes from the tritheistic heresy or from the modalist heresy, or whether there be on either side suspicion of the opposite error." (CD I.1 §9.2 p. 368).
 Thus, in trying to avoid these errors, Barth employs philosophical language meant to steer a middle course, to say God is one essence, but exists in three distinct modes of being, yet at the same time that these modes of being are distinct, the unity is not dissolved, yet the unity does not swallow up the distinction.  What?

The problem here is that the doctrine of the Trinity attempts to explain a mystery that cannot be explained.  Humans have no analogy to the trinity, in fact, the concept of the Trinity defies basic logic.  Three cannot be one and three at the same time.  Yet, nonetheless, Christians profess their monotheism while at the same time professing that God exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

I think the reason that I have never been taken with the explanations of the doctrine of the Trinity has to do with my personality type.   I am an INTJ.  INTJs love deep thought.  We love logic games and puzzles, we love philosophical language and distinctions, so long as eventually we end up with a final product that can be directly applied to our real and concrete lives or the lives of those around us.  INTJs are thinkers, but not thinking for thinking's sake, but rather thinking for the sake of application.  The problem I have with discussions of the Trinity is not that I don't understand all of the philosophical language and the reasons for stating things as carefully as possible, but rather because, at the end of these discussions, I am no closer to actually understanding the Trinity in a way that has application.  It is like a mental exercise with no payoff.  At the end the mystery is still a mystery, and I am OK with that.  As Barth writes:
"On all sides good care is thus taken to see that the mysterium trinitatis remains a mystery." (CD I.1 §9.2 p. 368).
I would prefer to say that as God encounters us in the Bible, he does so as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: One God, three modes of being.  Beyond that, I prefer to think about other matters.

Monday, April 4, 2011

New Ideas

Every year when I teach Christian Heritage at Baylor (Church history and Theology), I always have students who are shocked that some aspect of their progressive church worship that they thought was new and innovative was actually practiced by this or that person in Church history.  Take the small group phenomenon over that past 20 years or so.  Well, sorry guys, John Wesley beat you to the punch on that one with his "classes" in the early Methodist church.

What about loud, free, raucous worship so often practiced in the charismatic movement, sorry, not new either.  Try the camp meetings of the first and second great awakenings in America.

So, here is a good rule of thumb I think:

If you ever think you have a new good idea, search for it in history.  It is not that new ideas don’t exist.  New ideas come about all the time.  But, new good ideas are very rare.  If you think you have a good idea that is new, chances are you can find someone somewhere that has had it before.  If it is truly new, it is probably not truly good, and if it is truly good, it is probably not truly new.

Unfortunately this goes for dissertations as well.