Saturday, January 25, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §17.3 "True Religion" pp. 325-361

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §17 states: "The revelation of God in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the judging but also reconciling presence of God in the world of human religion, that is, in the realm of man’s attempts to justify and to sanctify himself before a capricious and arbitrary picture of God. The Church is the locus of true religion, so far as through grace it lives by grace."

In subsection §17.3 ("True Religion"), Barth begins with a reminder and an analogy:
The preceding expositions have established the fact that we can speak of “true” religion only in the sense in which we speak of a “justified sinner” (325).
He reminds us what has been said in the previous two subsections - and defines for us what true religion is:
Religion is never true in itself and as such. The revelation of God denies that any religion is true, i.e., that it is in truth the knowledge and worship of God and the reconciliation of man with God. For as the self-offering and self-manifestation of God, as the work of peace which God Himself has concluded between Himself and man, revelation is the truth beside which there is no other truth, over against which there is only lying and wrong. If by the concept of a “true religion” we mean truth which belongs to religion in itself and as such, it is just as unattainable as a “good man,” if by goodness we mean something which man can achieve on his own initiative. No religion is true. It can only become true, i.e., according to that which it purports to be and for which it is upheld. And it can become true only in the way in which man is justified, from without; i.e., not of its own nature and being, but only in virtue of a reckoning and adopting and separating which are foreign to its own nature and being,   p 326  which are quite inconceivable from its own standpoint, which come to it quite apart from any qualifications or merits. Like justified man, religion is a creature of grace. But grace is the revelation of God. No religion can stand before it as true religion (325-326).
Before the revelation (and grace) of God, no religion can stand before it as "true religion." Barth reminds us that Christianity as religion is not even true religion. It stands under the judgment that religion is unbelief. Christianity is only true religion in as much as it is "justified" by God and is made true by revelation:
We must insist, therefore, that at the beginning of a knowledge of the truth of the Christian religion, there stands the recognition that this religion, too, stands under the judgment that religion is unbelief, and that it is not acquitted by any inward worthiness, but only by the grace of God, proclaimed and effectual in His revelation (327).
As said above, religion in order to be true must be justified. This involves faith - not the faith that lives by Christian self-consciousness (in which the Christian would assert themselves before God in a righteousness and holiness of her own) - but by the faith that accepts Christianity's weakness and therein displays its true power - as Barth says below - "strong human positions are only those which are fully abandoned to God":
It is with this delimiting of the religious self-consciousness that the knowledge of the relativising of even the Christian religion by divine revelation is concerned. We reach this delimiting in faith and by faith. How can it possibly signify a weakening of faith? On the contrary, faith will prove its power, and in the power of faith the Christian will live, in the very fact that faith continuously compels him to think beyond his religious self-consciousness, and therefore constantly to reckon with the relativising of his Christian religion by divine revelation. And, of course, in this light and only in this light the decision for the truth of the Christian religion can be taken with real power. Strong human positions are only those which are fully abandoned to God: that is, positions which are seen to be quite untenable when measured by His will and judgment. Even from the standpoint of our own being and activity, we do not act prudently, but the very reverse, when we entrench ourselves against God in some tiny chink of our own being and activity, and try to secure ourselves. Not only our security before God, but the very security of our being and activity, and therefore our security in relation to men, rests absolutely upon our willingness in faith and by faith to renounce any such securities (331-332).
Barth contends that problems arise when Christianity decides to defend itself against other religions, when it abandons the "apostolic injunction" that "grace is sufficient for us" (see Barth's review of the problematic history of apologetics on pp. 333-337):
We are here concerned with an order which can be forgotten or infringed only to the detriment of a real knowledge of the truth of the Christian religion. Again, to ascribe the demonstrative power for this truth to the religious self-consciousness as such is to the dishonouring of God and the eternal destruction of souls. Even outwardly, in its debate with non-Christian religions, the Church can never do more harm than when it thinks that it must abandon the apostolic injunction, that grace is sufficient for us. The place to which we prefer to look is only mist, and the reed upon which we have to lean will slip through our fingers. By trying to resist and conquer other religions, we put ourselves on the same level. They, too, appeal to this or that immanent truth in them. They, too, can triumph in the power of the religious self-consciousness, and sometimes they have been astonishingly successful over wide areas. Christianity can take part in this fight. There is no doubt that it does not lack the necessary equipment, and can give a good account of itself alongside the other religions. But do not forget that if it does this it has renounced its birthright. It has renounced the unique power which it has as the religion of revelation. This power dwells only in weakness. And it does not really operate, nor does the power with which Christianity hopes to work, the power of religious self-consciousness which is the gift of grace in the midst of weakness, unless Christianity has first humbled instead of exalting itself (332-333).
If such an apologetic task is a contradiction of grace, then the task itself is contradicted by grace.
If this is the case, it might become an ever more burning question, whether from the very standpoint of its existence as such, of its validity and task in the world, Christianity does not have cause to give a body blow to its own secularism and heathenism, which means—for everything else is secular and heathen—to set its hope wholly and utterly on grace. 
We must not allow ourselves to be confused by the fact that a history of Christianity can be written only as a story of the distress which it makes for itself. It is a story which lies completely behind the story of that which took place between Yahweh and His people, between Jesus and His apostles. It is a story whose source and meaning and goal, the fact that the Christian is strong only in his weakness, that he is really satisfied by grace, can in the strict sense nowhere be perceived directly. Not even in the history of the Reformation! What can be perceived in history is the attempt which the Christian makes, in continually changing forms, to consider and vindicate his religion as a work which is in itself upright and holy. But he continually feels himself thwarted and hampered and restrained by Holy Scripture, which does not allow this, which even seems to want to criticise this Christian religion of his. He obviously cannot shut out the recollection that it is in respect of this very work of his religion that he cannot dispense with the grace of God and therefore stands under the judgment of God. At this point we are particularly reminded of the history of the Reformation. But in the very light of that history we see that the recollection has always been there, even in the preand post-Reformation periods. Yet the history of Christianity as a whole reveals a tendency which is quite contrary to this recollection. It would be arbitrary not to recognise this, and to claim that the history of Christianity, as distinct from that of other religions, is the story of that part of humanity, which, as distinct from others, has existed only as the part which of grace lives by grace. In the strict sense there is no evidence of this throughout the whole range of Christianity. What is evident is in the first instance a part of humanity which no less contradicts the grace and revelation of God because it claims them as its own peculiar and most sacred treasures, and its religion is to that extent a religion of revelation. Contradiction is contradiction. That it exists at this point, in respect of the religion of revelation, can be denied even less than at other points. Elsewhere we might claim in extenuation that it simply exists in fact, but not in direct contrast with revelation. But in the history of Christianity, just because it is the religion of revelation, the sin is, as it were, committed with a high hand. Yes, sin! For contradiction against grace is unbelief, and unbelief is sin, indeed it is the sin. It is, therefore, a fact that we can speak of the truth of the Christian religion only within the doctrine of the iustificatio imlii [justification of the ungodly]. The statement that even Christianity is unbelief gives rise to a whole mass of naive and rationalising contradiction. Church history itself is a history of this contradiction. But it is this very fact which best shows us how true and right the statement is. We can as little avoid the contradiction as jump over our own shadow (337-338).
Notwithstanding the contradiction and therefore our own existence, we can and must perceive that for our part we and our contradiction against grace stand under the even more powerful contradiction of grace itself. We can and must—in faith. To believe means, in the knowledge of our own sin to rely upon the righteousness of God which makes an infinite satisfaction for our sin. Concretely, it means, in the knowledge of our own contradiction against grace to cleave to the grace of God which infinitely contradicts this contradiction. In this knowledge of grace, in the knowledge that it is the justification of the ungodly, that it is grace for the enemies of grace, the Christian faith attains to its knowledge of the truth of the Christian religion. There can be no more question of any immanent lightness or holiness of this particular religion as the ground and content of the truth of it, than there can be of any other religion claiming to be the true religion in virtue of its inherent advantages. The Christian cannot avoid abandoning any such claim. He cannot avoid confessing that he is a sinner even in his best actions as a Christian. And that is not, of course, the ground, but the symptom of the truth of the Christian religion. The abandoning and confessing means that the Christian Church is the place where, confronted with the revelation and grace of God, by grace men live by grace. If this were not so, how would they believe? And if they did not believe, how would they be capable of this abandoning and confessing? (338)
But it is not by having gracious character that the true religion - the 'religion' of Christ - becomes true. We must be careful here, lest we think that the truth of religion rests on its being a religion of grace. There are examples of such religions in the world (Barth uses the example of Yodo-Shin or Pure Land Buddhism). Grace does not make religion true. It is no more true than Christianity left to its own devices, even in its claim to be a religion of grace. It only becomes true in as much as its secure foundations are rooted in Jesus Christ:
We describe the victorious grace of God as the mystery of the truth of the Christian religion. But it must again be emphasised expressly that this means something more than that in its Reformation form at any rate Christianity claims particularly to be the religion of free grace, i.e., a religion whose doctrine and life is now directly concentrated upon the reality described in the concept “grace.” When we ground the truth of the Christian religion upon grace, it is not a question of the immanent truth of a religion of grace as such, but of the reality of the grace itself by which one religion is adopted and distinguished as the true one before all others. It is not because it is a religion of grace that this happens, nor is it because it is so perhaps in a particularly insistent and logical way. But conversely, it is because this happens that it is a religion of grace in an insistent and logical way. Of course, in its decisive features, the historical aspect of a religion of grace, even of a logical religion of grace, does not differ from that of other religions. In its immanent constitution it is involved absolutely in the contradiction against grace. Indeed, and at this point we cannot really try to save Protestantism—it may even assume the character of a particularly emphatic revolt against grace. Even the religion of grace can be justified and constituted the true religion only by grace and not of itself. Of course, its election and truth are manifested in the fact that it is the religion of grace, and in consequence always understands and forms itself as such. The symptom of the surrender of every human claim, the confessing that we continually contradict God, will certainly not be wanting. It is inevitable that in contradicting we know that we are thrown upon the One whom we contradict and who in a different way contradicts us, and we cannot fail to thank Him for the blessing of which we are so entirely unworthy. It is in this way, in the very encounter with God, the site of which we call Peniel or, it may be, Evangelical Reformed Christianity, that the face of God is seen, and therefore Peniel or Evangelical Reformed Christianity is the true religion. But we must not forget that it is not the symptoms, and therefore not the site we call by this name, which demonstrate the true religion, but that it is the truth itself which is the basis of the symptoms and distinguishes the site, so that we can call it this without being tied down to the site and symptoms. The truth itself is indispensable if in our consideration of the site and symptoms, however plain, we are not to be deceived concerning the truth of the Christian religion (339-340).
It is of grace that they attain the status of the bearers of true religion. But we can see the concrete significance of this, we can see how different it is from any kind of higher principle of religion, which might be used in the assessment of all human religion, only when we are clear that “by the grace of God” means exactly the same as “through the name of Jesus Christ.” He, Jesus Christ, is the eternal Son of God and as such the eternal Object of the divine good pleasure. As the eternal Son of God He became man. The result is that in Him man has also become the object of the divine good pleasure, not by his own merit or deserving, but by the grace which assumed man to itself in the Son of God. In this One, the revelation of God among men and the reconciliation of man with God   p 346  has been fulfilled once and for all. And He gives the Holy Ghost. It is because of all these things and by means of them that there is in this One a Church of God and children of God. They are what they are, and they have the true religion, because He stands in their place, and therefore for His sake. They cannot for a single moment think of leaving Him with the intention and purpose of trying to be what they are in themselves, or to have the true religion in themselves. When they do in fact leave Him—as they are always doing—the result is that they become uncertain of their existence as the Church and the children of God, and therefore of the truth of their religion. But there can be no alteration in the objective content, that they are what they are, and therefore bearers of the true religion, only in Him, in the name of Jesus Christ, i.e., in the revelation and reconciliation achieved in Jesus Christ (345-346).
Nowhere else, but genuinely so in Him, in Jesus Christ. Therefore by the grace of God there are people who live by His grace. Or, to put it concretely, through the name of Jesus Christ there are people who believe in this name. To the extent that this is self-evident in the case of Christians and the Christian religion, we can and must say of it that it and it alone is the true religion. In this act there are four specific aspects to be considered:

1) It is an act of creation (346-348): "In the relationship between the name of Jesus Christ and the Christian religion we have to do first with an act of divine creation. That means that its existence in historical form and individual determinations is not an autonomous or self-grounded existence. The name of Jesus Christ alone has created the Christian religion" (346)

2) It is an act of election (348-352): "In the relationship between the name of Jesus Christ and the Christian religion we have to do with an act of the divine election. The Christian religion did not possess any reality of its own. Considered in and for itself it never can. It is a mere possibility among a host of others. It did not and does not bring anything of its own to the name of Jesus Christ which makes it in any way worthy to be His creation and as such the true religion. If it is real, it is so on the basis of free election, grounded in the compassion and inconceivable good pleasure of God and nothing else" (348).

3) It is an act of justification (352-357): "In the relationship between the name Jesus Christ and the Christian religion we have to do with an act of divine justification or forgiveness of sins. We already stated that the Christian religion as such has no worthiness of its own, to equip it specially to be the true religion. We must now aver even more clearly that in itself and as such it is absolutely unworthy to be the true religion. If it is so, it is so by election, we said. And now we must be more precise: it is so in virtue of the divine justification of sinners, of the divine forgiveness of sins" (352).

4) It is an act of sanctification (357-361): "In the relationship between the name of Jesus Christ and the Christian religion, we have to do with an act of divine sanctification. We said that to find the basis of the assertion of the truth of Christianity we must first look away from it to the fact of God which is its basis, and that we have constantly to return to this “first.” When we ask concerning this truth, we can never look even incidentally to anything but this fact of God. We cannot try to find the justification of the Christian religion apart from the name of Jesus Christ in other facts, not even in the inward or outward state of justification of the Christian religion. Yet this justification of the Christian religion only by the name of Jesus Christ obviously involves a certain positive relation between the two. Christianity is differentiated from other religions by that name. It is formed and shaped by it. It is claimed for His service. It becomes the historical manifestation and means of its revelation. We have compared the name of Jesus Christ with the sun in its relation to the earth. That must be an end of the matter. But the sun shines. And its light is not remote from the earth and alien to it. Without ceasing to be the light of the sun, it becomes the light of the earth, the light which illuminates the earth. In that light the earth which has no light of its own is bright. It is not, of course, a second sun. But it carries the reflection of the sun’s light. It is, therefore, an illuminated earth. It is the same with the name of Jesus Christ in relation to the Christian religion. That name alone is its justification. But it cannot be transcendent without being immanent in it. For it is only the Christian religion which is justified by it. And that means that it is differentiated and marked off and stamped and characterised by it in a way peculiar to itself" (357-358).

Thus Barth concludes:
The Christian religion is the sacramental area created by the Holy Spirit, in which the God whose Word became flesh continues to speak through the sign of His revelation. And it is also the existence of men created by the same Holy Spirit, who hear this God continually speaking in His revelation. The Church and the children of God do actually exist. The actuality of their existence is quite unassuming, but it is always visible and in its visibility it is significant. It is an actuality which is called and dedicated to the declaration of the name of Jesus Christ. And that is the sanctification of the Christian religion (359).