Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.1 §26.1 "The Readiness of God" pp. 63-128 (Part 2)

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §26 states: "The possibility of the knowledge of God springs from God, in that He is Himself the truth and He gives Himself to man in His Word by the Holy Spirit to be known as the truth. It springs from man, in that, in the Son of God by the Holy Spirit, he becomes an object of the divine good-pleasure and therefore participates in the truth of God."

In paragraph §26 ("The Knowability of God") and in subsection §26.1 ("The Readiness of God"), we continue from our last post with an important and astonishing question Barth asked yesterday: what accounts for the persistence of "natural theology" thinking? Here's how Barth put it:
Why is it, then, that our statement on the knowability of God is not so simple and self-evident that the question of a basis of our knowledge of God in ourselves and our relationship to the world cannot be settled once and for all, but seems as though it must continually arise again in different forms and phases? (85).
Barth gives four reasons for it. I covered the first point yesterday and I want to cover his next three answers in today's post. Here's the second answer:

2) Second, as Barth puts it, because in natural theology "there are pedagogic and pastoral standpoints from which it is customary to recommend and defend at least a supplementary introduction into Christian theology of the presupposition of a “natural” knowability of God in Christian theology (88)." Barth continues...
We are told that what is in mind is nothing more or less than a common basis of conversation between the Church and the world, between faith and unbelief. This basis is, of course, presumed to be necessary to the existence and activity of the Church. What is in mind is the possibility that the proclamation of the Bible and the Church, which as such is at once alien to man, will “contact” something which is already familiar. What is in mind is the possibility that man can be reminded of his responsibility—and especially of his responsibility for the unbelief which he will perhaps oppose to the Gospel. In this way the presupposition will be created on which he can be addressed to his guilt before God, and told meaningfully and intelligently of the grace of God. In this connexion—in the rather doubtful company of Dostöevski’s “Grand Inquisitor”—it can even be represented as the duty of love consciously to take this step towards the natural man (88).
Barth acknowledges the reasonableness of this line of thinking, but through a series of thought experiments, rejects it (88-97). Here's a little taste of some of Barth's thought:
...if the subject of this educative process [the unbeliever] sees how preliminary and unreal is the action by which natural theology thinks it can point unbelief beyond itself, the effect will necessarily be a hardening, because a faith which obviously treats neither itself nor even unbelief seriously is not trustworthy and can only effect a hardening. But even if the insincerity is not perceived, it will still bring about a hardening, for either it will offer a new home and stronghold to unbelief because its intention succeeds too well, or contrary to its intention it will offer unbelief the possibility of renouncing faith at the same time as it renounces this home and stronghold offered to it. This dilemma betrays the inner contradiction in every form of a “Christian” natural theology. As a “Christian” natural theology, it must really represent and affirm the standpoint of faith. Its true objective to which it really wants to lead unbelief is the knowability of the real God through Himself in His revelation. But as a “natural” theology, its initial aim is to disguise this and therefore to pretend to share in the life-endeavour of natural man. It therefore thinks that it should appear to engage in the dialectic of unbelief in the expectation that here at least a preliminary decision in regard to faith can and must be reached. Therefore, as a natural theology it speaks and acts improperly. And at this point—this betrays the contradiction—it is guilty of definite error, not only in regard to the subject, but now also in regard to man, in regard to the world, in regard to unbelief (94). 
And it is an error which not only injures truth but also and directly love. It is a theological error which reveals itself to be such by the fact that it is obviously a pedagogic error as well. The unbelieving man who is the partner in this conversation is not a child playing games, to whom we are in the habit of speaking down in order the more surely to raise him up. If we think we can play with him, we will get our fingers bitten. And how will that help his education? Unbelief, and therefore ignorance of God (including a knowledge of the false gods who are the indices of the human life-endeavour undertaken in unbelief), is an active enmity against God. It is not in any sense a hopeful and lovable inexperience which can be educated above itself with soft words and in that way led at least to the threshold of faith. Unbelief—just because it is unbelief towards God—is far too strongly and far too inwardly orientated to the truth, and (even if only negatively) interested in it, for us to be able to convince it of its wrongness and confront it with the truth by a skilful handling of what is after all, however preliminary and pedagogic in intention, further untruth (94-95). 
He who stoops down to the level of us all, both believers and unbelievers, is the real God alone, in His grace and mercy. And it is only by the fact that he knows this that the believing man is distinguished from the unbeliever. Faith consists precisely in this—in the life which is lived in consequence of God’s coming down to our level. But if this is faith, and the knowledge of faith is the knowledge of this, the believing man is the one who will find unbelief first and foremost in himself. First and foremost he will find only unbelief in himself; enmity against the truth and deprivation of the truth. How, then, can he have place and freedom to descend to the level of other men, to play that game with unbelief? How, then, can he oppose to his own unbelief, and that of others, anything other than, in the deepest humility and yet at the same time in supreme certainty, faith itself, or rather the real God in whom faith believes? How, then, can he still expect something from the possibilities in the sphere of unbelief? (95).
3) Third, Barth accounts for the persistence of natural theology because there is an ability to appeal to scripture for support.
But we have not yet named a third and most important authority in explanation of the vitality of natural theology. Our thesis, that the knowability of God is to be equated with His grace and mercy in the revelation of His Word and Spirit, is based on the witness of Holy Scripture. We have asked about the knowability of Him whom the Church calls God because He is designated God by Holy Scripture. We have asked about the knowability of the God of the prophets and apostles. We have said of this God that He is knowable to us only through the grace and mercy of His revelation. But supposing Holy Scripture itself authorises or even constrains us to reckon with a different knowability of this God of the prophets and apostles, a knowability which is not given in and with His revelation, nor bound to it? Supposing Holy Scripture itself does to that extent allow and necessitate a genuine Christian natural theology? Supposing Holy Scripture itself lays upon us “another” task of theology alongside the task of expounding God’s revelation—the task of expounding a knowledge about God which has its foundations elsewhere than in Scripture? Do we perhaps stand here before a satisfactory explanation of the question at issue? If so, we obviously cannot withdraw from attempting that “other” task of theology even according to our own presuppositions. The concept of “the Word of God,” from which we must create the Christian doctrine of God as well as all the other doctrines of Church dogmatics, will have to be extended beyond what God says to us about Himself in His revelation. On the very basis of a divine direction in that same revelation, it will now have to include what we have to say to ourselves about Him on the basis of knowledge from elsewhere (97-98).
Barth heavily reviews some of the scriptural texts used for the support of natural theology and his exegesis is not to be missed (Psalm 19, 111, 113-116; Romans 1 and Acts 17). He doesn't dispute that creation is a witness to the supremacy and existence of God. Creation certainly is a witness, even to the gospel. However, due to the passages which make it clear that the human receivers are broken and incapable of a knowledge of God while still a "natural man," (pp. 103-105, 109ff.) he concludes that the witness of creation does not lead natural man to God or knowledge of God.
At this point, too, it is best for us to begin with an open concession. There are not only individual passages, but a whole strand running through Scripture, in face of which we can certainly raise the question whether we are not invited and summoned to natural theology by Holy Scripture itself. Indeed, we must raise it in order that we may give it a correct answer (99).
We have to ask ourselves: Does all this argue the right and necessity of a natural theology because it argues a knowability of God independent of His revelation but affirmed by the Bible itself? This will obviously be the case if what the Bible says on these lines can be separated in such a way from what it says about God’s revelation itself that what is said on these lines receives the character of an independent series of statements (99).
Barth concludes that in the end, there is no knowability of God that is not connected with God and His decision in revelation, to be revealed.
We may conclude, therefore, that Holy Scripture neither imposes the necessity nor even offers the possibility of reckoning with a knowability of the God of the prophets and apostles which is not given in and with His revelation, or bound to it; and therefore to that extent with a “Christian” natural theology. Holy Scripture does not present us with “another” task of theology, nor are we allowed to impose it upon ourselves. Holy Scripture neither urges nor even authorises us to look around for a readiness of God for man which is different from His readiness in the grace of His Word and Spirit. And in the present context this means that even this third explanation of the actual vitality of natural theology is not sufficient. If it were sufficient—and we have acknowledged this already—it would be quite important enough of itself to justify natural theology. We should then have to reconsider what was said on the first two points and form another and better judgment in relation to them; finding some way of bringing them into line with the fact that Scripture itself had now shed a new light on the whole problem. But it is from Scripture that we now hear the very definite command not to ask about another knowability of God than the one bestowed upon us in the grace of His revelation. This means that the earlier considerations which led us to what is substantially the same result are now shewn to be in conformity with Scripture (125-126).
4) Fourth, Barth proffers that perhaps natural theology seems to be viable because these other arguments have not dismissed it, and it's too thorny a problem anyways, making viability an option. No, says Barth. The readiness of man is no option when it is severed from the God who makes man ready. He'll explore that line of thought more in the next section.
We started out from the proposition that apparently nothing is more simple and self-evident than the knowledge that we find God’s knowability only in the readiness of God Himself, that we can accept it gratefully only out of the free grace and mercy of His revelation as the inaccessible made accessible to us, and therefore that a theology which seeks another knowability of God is incontestably impossible in the sphere of the Church; incontestably, because from the very outset a theology of this kind looks in another direction than where God has placed Himself, and therefore involves, from the very outset, a violation of the Christian concept of God. Why, then, is all this not so simple and self-evident? Why, then, in spite of all the refutations like those we have just made, can a theology of this kind continually arise, announcing itself anew in ever new forms (as if nothing had been said against it and as if it had not been refuted), creeping into theological ventures which have quite different intentions, and like a rank weed clinging even to what is apparently the soundest stalk, weakening it and finally killing it? It cannot be disputed—and there is no sense in shutting our eyes to the fact—that it actually can do this. And it can do it to a degree that we cannot rate too highly, and with a weight which, once released, will generally sweep away all opposing considerations and even the most careful and complete refutations (126-127).