Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §18.1 "Man as a Doer of the Word" pp. 362-371


The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §18 states: "Where it is believed and acknowledged in the Holy Spirit, the revelation of God creates men who do not exist without seeking God in Jesus Christ, and who cannot cease to testify that He has found them."

In subsection §18.1 ("Man as a Doer of the Word"), Barth begins by reviewing the extensive material he has already covered and reminds us that as a final part of his discussion on revelation, that we are recipients of that Word:
We have come a long way. We asked concerning the Word of God in its original form, and therefore concerning the revelation which is the object of the testimony of Holy Scripture, the source and norm of the proclamation of the Christian Church. Three answers were given, each of them complete in its own way. The first had special reference to the subject presupposed in the concept of revelation; the doctrine of God in His unity and trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The second had special reference to the event indicated in the concept; the doctrine of the incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus Christ. The third had special reference to the effect and goal of this event; the doctrine of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But there is still a gap in the last circle. We began both the christological and the pneumatological sections of our doctrine of revelation with a presentation first of the reality, then of the possibility of revelation, both on its objective side, as it derives from God, and also on its subjective side, as it comes to man. To put it in another way, we began with an exposition of faith, then of the related understanding, in regard to the freedom which God has for us and the freedom which we have for God, in regard to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. There then followed an investigation of the concept of time in the christological section, and a corresponding investigation of the concept of religion in the pneumatological, which we have just concluded. But the christological section closed with a positive description of the real mystery of the person of Jesus Christ as the divine-human Reconciler, and of the miracle to which this mystery points. A corresponding discussion has still to be added to the pneumatological section. And since the section as a whole is concerned with revelation in its manward aspect, it is obvious that the object of this final discussion can only be man himself as the recipient of revelation, i.e., believing and perceiving man. In the true manhood of the Son of God, all those who believe in Him are taken up into unity with Him and into the unity of His body on earth. They become partakers by grace of the divine sonship which is proper to Him by nature. That is the full meaning and content of the revelation made in Jesus Christ as the Word of God by the Holy Spirit (362-363).
Barth reminds us that humanity ("man") cannot be abstracted from a discussion of revelation such that humanity itself becomes the subject of dogmatics. Humanity is the object of divine predetermination and the recipient of the grace of revelation.
At this point we are specifically warned by the last section, in which it became evident that revelation is the removal of all religion, including the Christian. Christianity is the true religion only in virtue of the name of Jesus Christ, in the act and hiddenness of the divine grace, by dint of the divine creation, election, justification and sanctification. It is not the true religion in itself, or in such a way that the Christian is as such the master of truth. If we ignore this warning, if we insist upon the postulate of the Christian as such, apart from the Word and the Spirit and faith, we have to ask ourselves whether by allowing the Christian as such to assume such an unnecessary importance we are not risking something of vital importance: for the Christian abstractly considered is no longer a sinner, at any rate in any actual or serious sense. He is considered and explained only in his antithesis as a sanctified sinner. But the actual revelation which we receive in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit never ceases to tell us that we are sinners, in the strictest and most serious sense. It is only in and with this judgment upon us, not in ourselves but in Jesus Christ, that we are reconciled with God and therefore sanctified. Actual revelation does not know man in a partly achieved state of sanctification beyond the act of divine grace, but only as the object of this particular act, and therefore not in a peace or truce between the spirit and flesh, in which he can, as it were, be photographed psychologically, but only in the midst of the conflict which at no point reflects the predetermined issue to which it moves. If, then, we try to deal with the Christian in abstracto [in the abstract], or even think that we can, we must ask ourselves whether we have not lost sight completely of actual revelation, and whether in these circumstances we can catch any real glimpse of the Christian. For where else can he be seen except in the light of revelation? (363).
That being said, there is a little problem that Barth wants to avoid by writing this section: the Christian in the abstract we must avoid, but the Christian concretely we cannot avoid:
But bearing in mind this limitation of our theme, which is the limitation of all theological discussion, we are forced to concede that man as he receives and believes and confesses revelation does constitute a problem which has to be dealt with if our doctrine of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and therefore of revelation and the Word of God generally, is not to be incomplete at a critical point. According to Holy Scripture, revelation is the incarnation of the eternal Word and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon flesh. But if this is the case, then we must heavily underline the fact that it would not be revelation if man were to remain outside the closed circle of it, if the circle of his own existence were not intersected by this circle of revelation (363-364).
Revelation is the incarnation of the eternal Word and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon flesh, which manifests in us as we become "doers of the Word" (James 1:21-25).
The emphasis is all upon man as the recipient of the Word of God. According to verse 21 this Word has “the power to save your souls.” It is only of itself, only of the One who has spoken it, only “from above,” that it has this power. James does not leave us in any doubt about that. But in this power this Word is “engrafted” in the man who believes and confesses it. It is something alien, the element of a new order. Yet it is as near to him as he is himself: “on thy lips and in thine heart” (Rom. 10:8). But if it is really near to him, that means that it will be “received” by him. But this receiving means a very definite humbling of man. The self-righteousness which corresponds to his old and impure nature is reversed. He is reduced to that “meekness” which alone can do what is right in the presence of God. If the Word is really engrafted in us, this receiving and reversal are merely the self-evident and inevitable consummation of our existence as it is newly posited by God. We merely deceive ourselves if we try to be only hearers of this Word, and not doers because we are hearers (v. 22). As real hearers we are indeed taken prisoner by this Word. We surrender to it. Inevitably, therefore, the totality of our existence is evidence of what we have heard (365).
Once we have heard what this Word has to say to us, we can never forget it. We can only be what it says that we are. If we do not want to fall into the pit of iniquity, we must be doers of the Word. The man who, like Peter looking down into the empty grave of Jesus (Lk. 24:12, Jn. 20:5), stoops down and looks into the mirror of the Word of God, attains, as Calvin said, a penetrabilis intuitus, qui nos ad Dei similitudinem transformat [a piercing insight, which transforms us into the likeness of God]. This Word, this Law lays claim to us, and in doing so it lays claim to our freedom, i.e., our own free and spontaneous obedience. It does not claim individual works. It claims ourselves as the doers of the work which corresponds to its content. That is to say, it demands our confession, the confession of our existence. It demands our heart. It demands that we leave the sanctuary of an abstract “inwardness,” and give ourselves to the decision not merely of obeying, but of obedience, of accepting it as the truth without reserve, of submission to the truth. In this doing of the Word, which is true hearing, we are saved and blessed, the object of the divine good-pleasure—not otherwise: in ipsa actione sita est beatitudo [In that very action is located blessing] (Calvin). A right understanding of this passage in James will show us at once why the concept “work,” so long as it is not an evasion of Jesus Christ and of faith, has a very positive significance for Paul as well. For him, too, God will requite each “according to his works” (Rom. 2:6), and it is not the hearers but only the doers of the law who are justified (Rom. 2:13). Upon the one foundation, Jesus Christ, each individual builds his work, and it is this which will be made manifest one way or the other at the last judgment (1 Cor. 3:13) (365-366).
Because of the discussion of the Christian in concreto (concretely) and the topic of revelation which then makes us beg the question "what are we to do?, Barth (in the next part of this subsection) wants to offer us some first statements and a general outline on theological ethics, Barth borrows a phrase from Adolf von Harnack:
If we remember that man’s self-determination in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit stands under the sign and within the limits of the divine predetermination, we are faced with the problem which is usually described as the problem of theological ethics, or more practically as the Christian life. In this content we cannot do more than give a first and general outline. The fact of God’s revelation as such raises the question what are we to do?—the question of the shaping of our life in conformity with this fact. Better, it commands our obedience. It is within these limits that we are forced to deal with the matter at this point. We will do so under the title “The life of the children of God.” 
I have to thank A. v. Harnack for this title. In 1925 I had a last direct conversation with him, upon the possibility and problem of an Evangelical dogmatics. He told me that if he had to write such a work himself, this would be his title (367).
The life of the children of God, and the claim upon the life of the Christian by God, is for being and doing.
A first thing that we have to say is that if we think of the life of the children of God as a creation of the Holy Spirit we have to do with a determinateness of human life understood as being and doing. And with the necessary caution we can also say that we have to do with a determinateness of the inward and outward aspects of human life: its isolation and-its fellowship (369).
In the revelation of God, man is claimed on the one hand as a specific subject and being. He is not merely newly qualified but really new, because newly made in the relationship created between himself and God. This is the Christian life regarded as being—and it is rightly and properly a benefit of revelation. But we have to remember that this being, as the being of a man, does not subsist of itself, but only in a specific doing on the part of the subject. The claim of revelation comes into force in this doing. In this doing, and to that extent in this being—because it is, of course, the doing of this subject and therefore of this being—we can, repeating the distinction, differentiate between the inward aspect, i.e., its meaning, intention and bearing, and the outward, i.e., the action and its effect, neither of which can exist without the other any more than being without doing, or doing without being (369).
[As a sidebar, I have to note with glee Barth's formulation here because as a pastor I recently walked my congregation through a biblical study about a Christian's vocation and the mission of the church. I summarized our vocation and mission as being, doing, and telling. To find some consonance here with Barth's thinking was a comfort for me].

Barth defines being as the inward aspect of the life of the children of God, which is manifest in our seeking and loving of God.

He defines doing as the social, outward aspect of the life of the children of God, which is manifest in the attesting and praising of God.

Thus Barth concludes:
All things considered, the Christian life, the life of the children of God, consists in these two concepts of love and praise. The children of God are those who seek after God and find their answer in God. It is in this apparently contradictory unity that they are what they are and do what they do. In fact, both sides are true: they ask because they already have the answer; they answer because they themselves are first asked. They are both true in Jesus Christ. And the two concepts together are the principle of what we call theological ethics: the love of God is our only remaining being and the praise of God is our necessary doing. Even in its consideration and doctrine of revelation dogmatics has already to ask what becomes of the man to whom the revelation of God comes? What have we to do who know that we have heard and believed the Word of God? And because it finds the problem of the Christian man in its basic considerations and treats it as its own problem, it takes ethics into itself, thus making a special theological ethics superfluous. For without ceasing to be dogmatics, reflection upon the Word of God, it is itself ethics (371).
The "love of God" and the "praise of God" will be topics for the next two subsections of the Church Dogmatics.

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