Some Quotes and Comments on the Natures and Wills of Christ in Barth

This post had its origin as a Facebook comment, in the context of a discussion on the divine/human natures and wills in Christ (written very hastily, so I’ll be editing/supplementing this one for a little while):

The first point that should be noted is that Barth did *not* explicitly affirm monothelitism. In fact, he expressly condemned it, on page 158 of I.2 of his Church Dogmatics. Thus Paul Daffyd Jones:

‘…Barth criticizes monothelitism (MO from here on out) and offers a ringing endorsement of dyothelitism (DY). Though proponents of both MO and DY christologies could in principle appeal to the Definition of Chalcedon, Barth notes that ‘one can see the justification of those who, in the so-called MO controversy of the seventh century, defended and finally led to victory the claim that, with the true human nature of the God-human, there must not also be denied his true human will, different from the will of God, though never independent of it’ (I/2, p. 158). Barth’s measured rhetoric at this point ought not to distract: these words form a historical postscript to a section in which Barth thinks about Christ’s human volition in a way that eschews talk about the will as a ‘faculty’

and prefers a more radical affirmation of the ‘unity of act and being’ that characterizes Christ’s divine-human person.

Barth articulates this expansive DY during a discussion of Christ’s humanity as ‘flesh’. Having affirmed the coessentiality of Christ’s huamnity with ours, and having blocked adoptionism with remarks about Christ’s humanity as an individual ‘possibility’ that God actualizes, he launches a line of reflection that continues throughout the entire Dogmatics:

‘God Himself is actively present in the flesh. God Himself in person is the Subject of a real human being and acting. And just because God is the subject, so – and not otherwise – are this being and acting real. It is a real and true human being and acting…(I/2, p. 151)

Barth here adverts the understanding of the concurrence of divine and human action that pervades the Church Dogmatics II, III and IV…Divine action does not displace human action. Divine action grounds and enables human action, making that action coterminous with it, though still ontologically distinctive.’ (‘The Humanity of Christ’, p. 42-43)

And thus George Hunsinger:

‘Barth’s rejection of MO should not be neglected here. In line with the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Barth upheld the abiding distinction in Jesus Christ between his human and divine will. ‘The early Church knew what it was doing’, he wrote, ‘in the MO controversy when it distinguished and juxtaposed the divine and human wills in Jesus Christ’ (II/2, 605)

The assertion that Barth explicitly affirmed MO is without warrant.The divine and human wills in Christ concur, without the former displacing the latter.

This Barth grounds in the election of Jesus by the Eternal Son – in which the Word, unincarnated, elects Jesus. For Barth, the eternal Son elects Himself, in unity with the Father as an active subject of eternal predestination, and by doing so elects the man Jesus of Nazareth, and in doing so ‘has united himself with the man Jesus of Nazareth’ (Barth). This is the prolepsis of the Son – Hunsinger again:

‘The election of Jesus of Nazareth in and with the self-election of the eternal Son is what makes the whole God-Man Jesus Christ present as such (proleptically) at the eternal beginning of all things.

The word prolepsis means ‘anticipatory realization’ as opposed to simple ‘real anticipation’. Through the coinherence of simultaneity aand sequence in eternity, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, is present at the beginning of all things. He is conceived as present by virtue of God’s eternal foreknowledge, in which something is true and real because it is divinely foreknown (not the reverse.)

Note especially that the idea here in Barth is prolepsis, not incarnadus. The claim at this point is not merely that the eternal Son ordained to become the incarnate one. The claim is rather the more radical one that in the mind of God the earthly Jesus is already present as such to the eternal Son and assumed into hypostatic union with him in pretemporal eternity.’ (Reading Barth With Charity’, p. 62-62)

Thus by virtue of the eternality of the hypostatic union, the obedience of the eternal Son is the obedience of Jesus of Nazareth:

‘What is materially decisive here is not the distinction of the operations of the two natures but rather their concurrence. Barth’s concern, after all, is not with the metaphysics of natures and energies but the common activity of the God-human seen in the new testament.

‘When the Son obeys the Father, he is executing the one divine will. And yet Barth insists that this obedience is a genuinely human decision, rendered by the one who in humility does what Adam did not. In his exegesis of the story of Gethsemane, Barth is in fact utterly disinterested in the competitive influence of a divine will in Jesus’ prayer (‘not my will, but yours done’, Luke 22:42). Instead he is concerned to show how this prayer shows that Jesus’ obedience is a ‘genuinely human decision’ and a ‘decision of obedience. He chooses, but he chooses that apart from which, being who He is, He could not choose anything else’ (C/D IV/1 p. 166) The obedience of the Son is therefore also a human obedience; his activity is commonly actualized.’ (Darren Sumner, ‘Obedience and Subordination in Trinitarian Theology’, in ‘Advancing Trinitarian Theology’, p. 142-143)

Thus, the divine and human wills are commonly actualized via the eterntality of the hypostatic union. The obedience of the Son is *also* a human obedience. With regard to the peccability – for Barth, it was sinful, after-the-fall flesh that the sinless Son assumed, not an abstract humanity but concrete, damned and lost flesh.

Two Notes on Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science

– What if instead of a fundamental metaphysical principle, the act/potency theory is just a folk-physics theory? If that’s true, then it wouldn’t serve too much purpose beyond the folk-physics level, since we would be ascribing aspects of our interactions with ‘medium-sized dry goods’ (Austin) to a fundamental metaphysical principle – and how fundamental can a theory be if it only describes our most basic interaction with the world? In other words, if act/potency is a folk-theory about how we interact with objects, then it seems incorrect to incorporate that into a fundamental theory

– I suspect that for the empirical sciences to be possible a version of modal realism must be true, so that the structure of the world must be such that counterfactual can be true or false. Thus, modal realism would be transcendental

Theology’s Biblical Dilemma

I intended this post to be a sequel of sorts to my previous post on Karl Barth and N.T. Wright, this time focusing on their thinking on Scripture. It may prove a bit easier, however, to skip the formal differences and head right into a case study – namely, bringing the two into conversation on the topic of Biblical authority and revelation to see if, together, a view of Scripture can be maintained that respects the actual dynamics of Scripture without relegating it to the status of a lesser revelation than Jesus, as is a common fad right now. The dilemma is this: how can both the Bible and Jesus be affirmed as divine revelation without one taking precedence in quality over the other? If Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, then logically, Scripture’s status is diminished, and if this is the case, how can Scripture be authoritative in any real sense?.

Both Wright and Barth see the authority of Scripture as being fundamentally mediated. Wright is explicit on this matter and frames his understanding of the authority of Scripture as the ‘authority of the triune God exercised through Scripture’.

‘…we recognize that it (the authority of Scripture) can have Christian meaning only if we are referring to scripture’s authority in a delegated or mediated sense from that which God himself possesses and that which Jesus possesses as the risen Lord and Son of God, the Immanuel.’ (N.T. Wright, ‘Scripture and the Authority of God’, p. 23)

He fleshes this out further by locating Scripture not within the context of God’s saving action (the more technical term being ‘the economy of salvation’) in history, but instead locating it within God’s redeeming action for the world (or universe, cosmos, whatever term you prefer) as a whole:

‘”The authority of Scripture” is thus a sub-branch of several other theological topics: the mission of the church, the work of the Spirit, the ultimate future hope and the way it is anticipated in the present, and of course the nature of the church.’ (p. 27-28)

Wright thus secures the role of Scripture and its authority within the whole of God’s redemptive actions, which are fundamentally trinitarian in nature. This is further fleshed out by placing the ‘word of God’ within the life and mission of the church. The word of God in this sense is the story of Israel and God, the climax of which is the story of Jesus. Jesus is, then, in a sense the true story of Israel as well as its fulfillment. Wright further notes that this story carries power – God’s power to save – as the means by which the Spirit worked in the life of the church:

‘Here we have the roots of a fully Christian theology of Scriptural authority: planted firmly in the soil of the missionary community, confronting the powers of the world with the news of the Kingdom of God, refreshed and invigorated by the Spirit, growing particularly through the preaching and teaching of the apostles, and bearing fruit in the transformation of human lives as the start of God’s project to put the whole cosmos to rights. God accomplished all these things, so the early church believed, through the “word”: the story of Israel now told as reaching its climax in Jesus, God’s call to Israel now transmuted into God’s call to his renewed people.’ (p. 50)

We see that for Wright, the concept of Biblical authority cannot be divorced from either the triune God, the place of Scripture within God’s redemptive action, or the life of the church. The Scriptures form the narrative which, fulfilled in Jesus raised by the Spirit, shape and form the church. Put simply, the Biblical story is fulfilled by Jesus, whose story is Israel’s story, which the church is called to live out. There can be no separation of revelation here: everything is here connected, and there is no greater or lesser revelation. For Wright, a simple ‘Scripture is a lesser revelation, Jesus is the ultimate revelation’, won’t do.

Karl Barth’s theology of revelation is well-known (for a brilliant summary head here) and so I won’t recapitulate it too much here – instead I’ll focus specifically on how his notion of revelation cashes out in terms of Biblical authority. Barth, like Wright, argues for a concept of authority that is both mediated and delegated and finds its place in the life of the church. Both seek to avoid a ‘magic book’ concept of authority. Like Wright, Barth does not distinguish between greater and lesser kinds of revelation, because, like Wright, he grounds the status of revelation with the triune God. Kevin Diller expounds this point at length in ‘Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma‘, where he treats Christian Smith’s appropriation of Barth in his book ‘The Bible Made Impossible‘:

‘Barth never seperates or stratifies revelation into kinds. There is no such thing in his thinking as a division between a more real, truthful and authentic revelation on the one hand and a less real, truthful and authentic revelation on the other. Barth is emphatic about this. Revelation is always and only God’s transforming self-disclosure in the gift of faith. We can distinguish aspects to God’s revealing action, but they correspond to the Trinity and are therefore distinguishable but inseperable…it is indeed impossible on Barth’s view of revelation to suggest that revelation in Christ is any different from revelation in Scripture.’ (p. 267-268)

Here we have a potential point of convergence: by grounding revelation and Scripture in the truine God, both Wright and Barth secure a high place for both without resorting to a ‘magical book’ view of authority, inspiration, or whatever. By grounding Scripture and authority in Israel’s story, made true and fulfilled in the life and story of Jesus, the embodiment of God and his redeeming action, raised by the Spirit, Wright can articulate a view of authority that avoids the problems of lesser/greater revelation when it comes to Scripture and Jesus. Barth, by placing revelation firmly within the context of God’s self-revelation and trinitarian life, can affirm the same – that while distinctions in form can indeed be made, there are no distinctions quality when it comes to revelation. While avoiding a ‘magical book’ view of the Bible and a static, overly-propositionalist view of revelation, Wright and Barth are both able to place Scripture in its proper context within God’s triune life and the life of the church and thereby give a solid answer to theology’s biblical dilemma.

There are issues, here, however, for these two ideas which take us somewhat abroad from the immediate topic of the post. For Wright, it can be asked if his scheme really does avoid the pitfall over greater/lesser revelation. Given that Jesus fulfilled the story of Israel, can it truly be said to have a non-lesser status? For Barth, if God’s revelation isn’t in the text but only made known to us by faith, exactly how does that cash out in terms of actual exegesis? If revelation isn’t in the text, does one simply wait to be struck by the Spirit? How would one really know if the Spirit moved/spoke/acted on them? These are two immediate issues that crop up and should be carefully thought through – but the potential for a unified answer from Wright and Barth on the question of Scripture, authority and revelation is certainly worth doing the theological work.

Rant on Youthful Christianity

I have a feeling that if Christianity in America ever decides to stop patterning itself after the youth it generally spends most of its time either converting or trying to keep converted, things might go a little smoother for it. We might have quiet virtue and devotion, instead of having to constantly be in ‘FIRE! PASSION! RUNNING! CHASING! DANCING! YOUTHFUL ENERGY! MORE! MORE! MORE!’ Perhaps we’d have less ‘Acquire the Fire’, and fewer corresponding burnouts because of people being unable to maintain such a level of ENERGY for very long. Perhaps, just perhaps, we might have more focus on doing the will of God in the world and living in faith, instead of having to pursue teenage-esque romance under the guise of A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS, and being burned out when we simply get tired of trying to be teenagers.

Believe it or not, Christianity is not defined by the traits of horny teenagers.

No, this isn’t a false dichotomy, and yes, I know we are told not to despise our youth.

Barth, Wright and Election

Karl Barth and N.T. Wright do not typically make good bedfellows. There are a number of significant and (possibly) insurmountable differences between the two in terms of both methodology and theology. There are, however, at least a few interesting and perhaps not insignificant areas of concord between the two, and it is these that I’d like to explore here – I intend to open up space more than give answers and so my conclusions and ideas are more open-ended.

1.The first thing that comes to my mind is that both Barth and Wright are christocentric in their conception of election. They are christocentric in very different ways – but christocentric nonetheless. Both seek to focus election on Jesus. Barth’s (in)famous redrawing of election completely around Christ is rather well-known and fairly radical, Wright’s less radical. Whereas Barth sees God’s election of Christ in terms of God electing all humanity in Christ, Wright sees Jesus as elect in the sense of doing what Israel was originally elected to do but couldn’t do (there are some serious differences here that I’ll come back to). Jesus’ death and resurrection are his vindication as Israel’s elect messiah. What both accomplish is an object-ifying of election, in the following twofold sense: (1) it is focused on Christ and his person and work and (2) not focused on the individual’s question of how to be saved but on the objective grace of God in the election of Christ. For both Barth and Wright, there is an aspect of election that is true apart from whether or not we recognize it. For Barth, we are all reconciled by virtue of God’s election of all men in Christ. For Wright, the battle against sin, death and the powers has been fought and won and the Kingdom of God inaugurated, apart from what any person believes or thinks about it.

2. A second area where harmonization could happen is in the ecclesiological aspect of election. For both Barth and Wright, election is primarily corporate, and concerned more with the establishment of the Church than with the saving of individual souls. For Barth, the Church is in a sense eternal and hidden within Israel (he spends a good deal of time in CD 2.II on this issue). Further, he sees the role of Israel and the role of the Church as related dialectically – Israel as the witness of God’s judgement, the Church as the proclaimer of God’s mercy. Wright sees election as primarily corporate in the following sense: we are in Christ, in the Messiah, and so form the one body, the one family, the one people of God, the Church. To be one of the elect, then, is to fundamentally be part of a body.

3. A third area where concord can be found is the extent to which both Barth and Wright think covenentally and historically about election, especially in terms of the promise(s) to Israel. For Barth, ‘The Church lives by the promises to Israel,’ (CD 2.II, pp. 203). For Wright, the person and work of Christ is the final climax of the story of the promises made to Abraham. There is a significant difference between the two on this issue, which will again be circles back to.

4. The fourth and final area I see the hope of reconciliation is the identification of Jesus as the True Israel, and the role of Israel as the background or ‘prehistory’ of Jesus.  Barth identifies Jesus as the true Israel on page 214 of 2.II, as well as identifying the community as the environment of Jesus. Torrance would take this a bit further and argue that Israel formed a socio-historico matrix from which the Incarnation of Jesus was made intelligible. Barth also argues that Jesus was elected to assume Israel’s flesh and blood (p. 207). Wright, arguing for Jesus as the climax of the covenant, also identifies Jesus as the True Israel, because Jesus did what Israel was called to do, that is, undo the sin of Adam. Jesus was the Israelite fully faithful to God’s plan.

These are areas of potential harmony between Wright and Barth – they are also, as I said above, broad and perhaps wrong. I hope to fill in the details in the future to see just where this proposal might go, but now I move to areas of significant disagreement.

1. Barth’s concept of election is very much eternally-focused. From all eternity God elects. Wright is, essentially, the opposite, arguing that if Adam hadn’t fallen, God would not have sent Abraham to undo his son, and I suspect there is a methodological reason for this. Wright is thinking in terms of temporal history – a linear progression from Adam to Abraham to Jesus. The temporal sequence, and not eternal status, of God’s call and election of Israel/Jesus is what occupies Wright, perhaps for the reason that historically Wright has tended away from the more traditional grammar and subject-matter of dogmatics (it’s no secret he has a bit of the Hellenization thesis on his mind). By anchoring his theology in history, Wright hopes to avoid speculative theology about eternity, substance, persons, natures, essences, decrees, etc. This has the consequence, however, of making the Incarnation a very, very contingent event and of effectively marginalizing Jesus. On Wright’s account, not only was Jesus’ person and work contingent, it shouldn’t have even been necessary, since Israel, had it remained faithful to its calling, would have been able to undo the sin of Adam. If Barth is guilty of christo-monism, surely Wright is guilty of the opposite.

3. While both Barth and Wright think covenentally, I find Wright more satisfying overall because of what was just a weakness: his focus on history. For Wright, the covenant and corresponding Torah are something like national charters, constitutions and even marriage certificates for Israel. Their very being is tied to these covenental concepts, and Wright spends significant amounts of time tracing just exactly what this means in terms of theology for the Christian. Wright’s seeing the covenant and Law/Torah as historical, contingent things is here a strength. Barth, by contrast, tends away from paying close historical attention to things like Torah and the covenants. Thus Katherine Sondregger:

‘The Church Dogmatics as a whole says remarkably little about Law itself. Even in Barth’s account of the earthly Jesus, the Royal Man, there is little about Christ’s teaching and observing and ratifying of Israel’s Law…There is much about ‘Divine command,’ much about Divine instruction and direction, much about Jesus’ obedience to God’s will and much about the famous, living voice of God, the Deus dixit. And all these of course are in the neighborhood of Israel’s Torah; but they are self-consciously event-oriented, dynamic versions of what Israel and Jews of all ages call the ordinances, statutes and precepts of the Divine covenant with his people.’ (‘Barth’s Christology and the Law of Israel’)

Past these helpful but broad categories, Barth is not really able to make much theological use of the historical aspects of the covenant and the corresponding Torah.

I here will state briefly a joint critique of both Wright and Barth: they are seemingly unable to allow for any role other than failure to Israel. For Wright, Israel failed in their national calling, and for Barth, Israel is not obedient to its election. Thus Michael Wyschogrod:

‘…reading Barth one would gain the impression that there is nothing but faithfulness on God’s part and unfaithfulness on Israel’s. This is not so…Along with the unfaithfulness, there is also Israel’s faithfulness, its obedience and trust in God, its clinging to its election, identity and mission against all the odds. True, all of Israel’s obedience is tinged with its disobedience but all of its disobedience is also tinged with its obedience. It is true that Israel does not deserve its election but it is also true that its election is not in vain, that this people, with its sin, has never ceased to love its God and that it has responded to God’s wrath…by shouldering its mission again, again searing circumcision into its flesh and, while hoping for the best, prepared for what it knows can happen again.’ (‘Abrahams Promise’, p. 223-224)

To bring this overly long post to a close: there are areas of legitimate concord between Karl Barth and N.T. Wright. These areas are neither obvious nor easy and would require both to learn from each other. There are also areas of perhaps-insurmountable disagreement. There are also areas where both Wright and Barth jointly fail. But, with any luck, this bloated blog post can serve in some way towards moving two of the most important Christian thinkers in theology together in a fruitful way.

(The quoted paragraphs comes from this perceptive essay)

Notes on Analogy and Univocity

– Aquinas and Scotus have two different ways of speaking and knowing of God – analogy and univocity, respectively. The former is more well known (and in this old post I give a quick overview of it).

– Scotus is concerned primarily with with developing a concept of being that applies to both God and man, because, as Scotus sees it, unless there were such a concept, we could not have objective, positive metaphysical knowledge of God. We could have negative knowledge of God, but Scotus sees that as empty (if that’s our only knowledge of God). To say only what God is not cashes out like this: we can say that God is not a rock, but we can say the same thing about anything not a rock. All we know, then, is that God, like anything not a rock, is not a rock.

– He holds that if our knowledge of God is equivocal (as Henry of Ghent held), then we can have no real knowledge of God, since our terms would be emptied of all their meaning.

– So what exactly is this univocal concept of being? This: a concept such that it cannot be both affirmed and denied without a contradiction. So, in the case of being, both God and man fall under the concept of being, but not in the sense that they are both under a single genus – Scotus’ univocity is logical, and not metaphysical  concept. Put another way, God and man are both infinitely different in their being – but they are both opposed to nonbeing, though opposed in different ways.

– Scotus and Aquinas are both in agreement that knowledge of God comes from knowledge of creatures – our experience of creatures is the source of all our concepts that we apply to God. They also both agree that these concepts don’t apply to God directly or perfectly. Aquinas holds this by way of analogy, where concepts apply to God in both a similar and dissimilar sense. Scotus holds, however, that analogy is fundamentally a kind of equivocity, and that for analogy to work at all it must presuppose some kind of univocity.

– Scotus holds that our concepts apply to God via abstraction – that is, he abstracts the creaturely imperfections in, say, our concept of wisdom, and them applies them to God with maximum perfection.

Karl Barth on the Covenant

‘What, then, we gather from the Noahic covenant, and everything that belongs to this strand, is that according to the Old Testament conception itself the special divine covenant made with Israel does not exclude the human race as a whole from the gracious will of God towards it. What we find in Isaiah’s view of the status of Israel as a representational and messenger to the nations is that the covenant made with Israel has a meaning and purpose which reaches out beyond the existence of Israel. And now, from the prophecy in Jeremiah of a new covenant of forgiveness and of the Spirit and of free obedience on the part of man, we learn that the Old Testament looks beyond the past and present to a form of the relationship between God and Israel in which the covenant broken by Israel will be set up, that the Israelite, for whom ultimately God has nothing but forgiveness, but does have it actually and effectively, must now take his place directly alongside his Gentile fellows, and that if at all he can hope for the grace and salvation of God on this presupposition. In the light of this passage from Jeremiah 31 we are indeed enabled and summoned to give to the concept of the covenant the universal meaning which it acquired in the form which it manifestly assumed in Jesus Christ.’ (Karl Barth, ‘Church Dogmatics IV.1 p. 34)