March 22, 2017

Barth's Theology of Relations, part 4

This post continues a series looking at Gary Deddo's two-volume book, "Karl Barth's Theology of Relations (Trinitarian, Christological, and Human: Towards an Ethic of the Family)." For other posts in this series, click a number: 1, 2, 3.

Last time in this series we noted two key points in Barth's Christological anthropology:
  • In God we begin to see who we are (beings-in-relation, reflections of the relational, triune God)
  • Jesus' humanity determines our humanity (in his humanity, Jesus is the true imago Dei)
Gary goes on to note five related points:

1. In the person of Jesus there is the co-incidence of act and being

(public domain via Wikimedia commons)
A fundamental truth for Barth is that Jesus does what he is. In Christ, there is perfect unity between his being and act. Who is Jesus?---according to Barth, he is the one who has his being "by virtue of His relationship to God and in relationship to mankind" (p. 45).

As the God-man that he is, and thus in all he does, Jesus is humanity's wisdom, righteounsess, sanctification and redemption. Jesus is who he is in these saving acts on behalf of all humanity. In his own person and thus by his acts, he is humanity's Way, Truth, Life, Light, Door, Bread and Shepherd---all the "I am" designations in John's Gospel. Jesus does these things because Jesus, the God-man, is these things in relation both to God and to all humanity.

2. This Jesus, in the unity of being and act, is a human person

Jesus is a real man (fully human), and remains so in his resurrection, ascension and session at God's right hand as our High Priest. This human person (now glorified) will return to earth one day. The stunning truth of the Incarnation is that the divine Son of God has, in the human person Jesus, the same human nature we have, though that nature cannot be measured by ours for "it is original in Him."

It is Jesus' humanity (not ours) "that reveals what our humanity truly is" (p. 47), or as Barth states: "The nature of human possiblities rests upon and is knowable by the fact that they are realized in [Jesus]" (p. 47). Gary elaborates:
Jesus is "real man." It is not the case... that since Jesus is designated real all others are unreal. It is just the opposite. Our reality is established in Him. For Barth it is misleading to speak only of Jesus as true man, that is as an ideal, as a potential reality which may or may not become realized. There is only one reality of our humanity. It is that established in Jesus Christ. It is that realtiy in which we now live and move and have our being. The only question is whether we will live according to that reality or not. Not doing so does not establish a counter-reality, or a less that ideal reality, but constitutes a denial of the reality of who we actually/really are: those who have their being in relationshipt to God in Jesus Christ. (footnote, p. 47)
Thus we understand that Jesus has his being in real relationship (union) both with God and with humanity. Jesus, who IS our humanity, has this humanity for us. It is ours, though we do not yet fully experience it.

3. The history, action, and work of the person of Jesus has no other reason for being except the Salvation of humankind

Again, Jesus does what Jesus is. He saves us because in his person (the union of God and humanity) he is humankind's salvation. He also judges us because in his person he is humankind's judgment.

4. The life and work of this man are identifal with the life and work of God, yet in such a way that the real humanity of Jesus is confirmed not subsumed

Because Jesus in his divinity is in union with the Father and the Spirit, when Jesus acts, God acts---there is, as Gary notes, "a complete correspondence between God and Jesus" (p. 49). This does not mean, however, that Jesus' person is lost in this union---Jesus' person is not collapsed into God.

The union between God and Jesus is to be understood as "an intimate relationship which may properly be called a oneness... which calls for differntiation with it. It is a relational unity.... The unity does not dissolve the relationship; the diffentiation does not threaten to undo the relationship" (pp. 49, 50).

5. The unity and continuing distinction between the man Jesus and God is ultimately grounded in the intra-triune relations of Father, Son and Spirit

In the humanity of Jesus, as he relates to the Father, we see the triune relations of Father, Son and Spirit. We also see this relationship in the way Jesus relates to humanity. A defining common denominator in these relationships is love, expressed as self-giving.

Next time we'll look further at the humanity of Jesus and what that tells us about our humanity as beings-in-relationship.

March 11, 2017

Bonhoeffer's concept of "place-sharing"

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's concept of "place-sharing" was fundamental to his Christology and missiology (including his view of discipleship). To help us understand place-sharing, I offer below an extended quote from "God is a God who bears: Bonhoeffer for a Flat World" by Gary Simpson, published in the Fall 2006 issue of "Word and World." For earlier related posts, click here, here, herehere and here.

In [Dietrich] Bonhoeffer’s 1927 dissertation, Sanctorum Communio, he had already laid the christological groundwork for the “bearing God”.... Bonhoeffer’s technical German word for Jesus’ bearing is Stellvertretung, translated “vicarious representative action,” or more usably translated “place-sharing.”

Bonhoeffer develops his bearing, place-sharing theology of sociality by exploring Luther’s “wonderful and profound” understanding of Jesus’ “happy exchange.” According to Luther, Jesus’ own place-sharing becomes the very form of the communion of saints through the sacrament of Holy Communion. Thus Luther:
Christ with all saints, by his love, takes upon himself our form [Phil. 2:7], fights with us against sin, death, and all evil. This enkindles in us such love that we take on his form, rely upon his righteousness, life, and blessedness. And through the interchange of his blessings and our misfortunes, we become one loaf, one bread, one body, one drink, and have all things in common. O this is a great sacrament, says St. Paul, that Christ and the church are one flesh and bone. Again through this same love, we are to be changed and to make the infirmities of all other Christians our own; we are to take upon ourselves their form and their necessity, and all the good that is within our power we are to make theirs, that they may profit from it. That is real fellowship, and that is the true significance of this sacrament.
Jesus’ place-sharing generates both the internal form of churchly discipleship and the church’s missional form relative to the world. This brings us back full circle to Bonhoeffer’s “After Ten Years.” He concluded that letter with “the view from below”:
There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled—in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.... This perspective from below must not become the partisan possession of those who are eternally dissatisfied; rather, we must do justice to life in all its dimensions from a higher satisfaction, whose foundation is beyond any talk of ‘from below’ or ‘from above.’ This is the way in which we may affirm it.
Jesus’ place-sharing always desires to take his churchly body somewhere, always surprising his disciples. Neither disciples nor the world assign Jesus his place. Unbeknownst to Dietrich, his early view from below began with the death of his older brother during World War I; continued when the privileged Dietrich met and ministered to unemployed workers on his internship in Barcelona, Spain; intensified when he witnessed racial discrimination against Harlem African Americans during his study year in New York; and culminated in the Nazi nightmare and his own martyrdom. Dietrich’s “view from below” responds to “Are we still of any use?”

Our bearing, place-sharing view from below will be no less “an experience of incomparable value” in an ever-flattening world. God’s now flat world is surely, and sorely, ambiguous. It can easily “loosely connect,” but it can just as readily, and just as likely, flatten those living below. Merely follow international events! In the opening paragraph of “After Ten Years” Bonhoeffer made an admission about the view from below: “There is nothing new about [the things we have learned], for they were known long before; but it has been given to us to reach them anew by first-hand experience.”

What do you think? Where in the flat world will our place-sharing, bearing God place you?

Gary M. Simpson is professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, MN.

March 4, 2017

Barth's Theology of Relations, part 3

This post continues a series looking at Gary Deddo's two-volume book, "Karl Barth's Theology of Relations (Trinitarian, Christological, and Human: Towards an Ethic of the Family)." For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 4.

[Revised 3/6/2017]

In parts one and two of this series we looked at the three primary components of Karl Barth's grammar of intra-trinitarian personal relations:
  1. Theology: the internal and eternal relations of the three Persons of the Trinity.
  2. Christology: the revelation and actualization of analogous relations with creation in and through the incarnate Son of God.
  3. Anthropology: the relation of humans to God and one another (pointing toward ethics). 
In unpacking the meaning and implications of these three components, it will be important to keep in mind two concepts that are fundamental to Barth's thinking, particularly when it comes to his Christological anthropology and so his theological perspective on human ethics.

1. In God we begin to see who we are

According to Barth, each Person of the Trinity has a particular human-ward reference: the Father as humankind's Creator, the Son as the Reconciler of fallen humanity, and the Spirit as its Redeemer. Thus in the three divine Persons we begin to see who humans actually are: creatures of God who as sinners against God have, by his grace, been reconciled and are being redeemed to be his children. Barth comments that this triune Lord...
...can meet us and unite us to himself, because he is God in these three modes of existence as Father, Son, and Spirit because creation, reconciliation, redemption, the entire being, language and action in which he wills to be our God, is grounded and typified in his own essence, in his Godness itself. As Father, Son and Spirit God is, so to speak, ours in advance (p. 36) 

2. Jesus' humanity determines our humanity

Though Barth taught that not all persons are (yet) "in Christ" (Paul's concept of  "union with Christ"), all already are, by virtue of the Incarnation of the Son of God, in relationship with Christ. This relationship, from God's perspective, is "entirely positive, aimed at the completion and perfection of humanity, or rather at a person's participation by the Spirit in the humanity perfected for them in Christ." In line with this viewpoint, Gary draws this conclusion:
Not all people are Christians, not all are filled with and respond to the Spirit. But God's intention for them is maintained objectively in his maintaining their humanity for their participation in Christ's humanity.... This determination, designation, is actual and real for all persons. Barth does not regard this as a [mere] potential. Their purpose, meaning, design, destiny and definition of who they are is established. 
The question [then] is whether persons will participate in this truth of who they are. Their human nature, upheld by grace, points towards the One upholding them. But only in responding to the Spirit who says Yes to [them] a second time in a second way for his redemption into life in God does one enter into Christ, become a member of his Body. Our determination is God's first Yes of grace said in creation and maintained in the face of sin. Our salvation is participation in our redemption, God's second Yes to us in Christ Incarnate. (p. 37, footnote #2)
Barth, emphasizing the Christological orientation of our knowledge of humanity's designation in Christ, makes this basic and essential point:
In Jesus Christ, God, without ceasing to be God, has also become essentially human and has done so for our sakes at an ontological level, that is, in terms of who we, as subjects are. (p. 38)
Thus we understand that Barth, when thinking about anthropology, begins not with How? or Why? questions, but with Who?, specifically Who is God? and Who is Jesus Christ? Why start the exploration of the knowledge of humankind with God, not humanity? Precisely because it is the humanity of the God-man Jesus Christ that establishes then reveals who humans actually are. As Barth notes, "In [Jesus Christ] we see who we are purposed to be" (p. 38).

Barth thus grounds his anthropology (and, as we will see as this series continues, his ethics) in Christology. Through the Word of God (Jesus Christ), true humanity is revealed to be in the image of God who, as a communion of three divine Persons, is a being-in-relationship. Thus, by God's design, to be human is to be a person-in-relationship---humans are not in God's image by themselves! We see this truth clearly manifested in Jesus, the perfect human Image of God---the one who "essentially has his being only by virtue of his relationship to God and in relationship with mankind" (p. 45).

As human,we were created and redeemed by God in order that we might image the true Image of God---the human person, Jesus Christ. As Gary notes, that means that our lives are to "correspond by grace to the life of Jesus, especially in his relationship to the Father and in the Spirit." Reflecting on Barth's logic here, Gary offers this summary observation:
It is here that Barth introduces and develops his concept of analogia relations [analogous relations]. In line with this he also provides a reinterpretation of the imago Dei [image of God]. He shows how Jesus' relation to God and our relation to God in him orients Jesus' relationship to others and our relationship to others. They are analogous.... Barth [thus] attempts to expound his theological anthropology by way of the analogia relationis and imago Dei, as it is most simply, universally and concretely expressed in the marital covenant of man and woman. Here we find Barth's full blown theology of relations confirmed in a particular covenantal relationship. (p. 43, bold face added) 
Don't miss this essential point (it will have a lot to do with understanding Barth's ethics as this series of posts continues): the type of relationship that the human person Jesus has with God the Father, by the Spirit; and the relationship he has with all humanity, is a covenantal relationship---one based in grace and flowing forth in salvation. Thus our relationship, as humans, created in the image of the one, true and perfect Image of God (Jesus Christ), is about relationship---the relationship enacted in Jesus Christ from God to humanity, from humanity back to God (in response), and then from human to human in ethical behavior.

Next time we'll see more about how Barth's Christology shapes his anthropology and thus his ethics.

February 25, 2017

Thoughts about The Shack

[Updated 2/28/17]

We've been hearing a lot of "buzz," both positive and negative, about the movie, The Shack. As you probably know, it's being released in U.S. theaters on March 3.

I find that many of the objections to the movie are based on misunderstanding concerning the nature and content of the book The Shack by Paul Young (the movie closely follows the book). These misunderstandings, I think, have largely to do with a failure to recognize that the book is a work of fiction. I hasten to add, however, that fiction is able to convey powerful truth---that is certainly the case with The Shack, which, I believe, upholds the truths codified for the church in the ancient creeds, including the Nicene Creed.

If you're unfamiliar with the movie, here is one of its trailers:

People who are critical of the book The Shack (and thus the movie) also often fail to account for the fact that The Shack is not only fiction, but is written in the form of an allegory, which is to say that certain things represent other things in unusual, figurative-symbolic ways. Thus Paul Young is not claiming that God the Father is, literally, a black female, any more than Jesus, in his statement in Matthew 23:37, was claiming to literally be a mother hen with chicks gathered round her.

The characters in The Shack all stand (allegorically) for vital truths---first about the nature of the triune God (Father, Son and Spirit) and then the nature of humanity, struggling with its alienation from God (note that it's not God's alienation from them), its suffering due to sin, its fears and anxieties, and its struggles to believe.

To understand the symbolism and thus the underlying theology of The Shack, I highly recommend the book The Shack Revisited by C. Baxter Kruger. I also recommend the booklet, God, the Bible and the Shack  and a Q&A Supplement to the booklet, both by Gary and Cathy Deddo.

For a discussion in which Paul Young discusses The Shack with Baxter Kruger, watch this:

For a blog post from Baxter titled "The Genius of The Shack," click here. For a GCI Weekly Update letter from Joseph Tkach titled "The Shack (the Movie)," click here.

February 18, 2017

Music and Trinitarian Theology

I think you'll enjoy this GCI You're Included interview in which Dr. Jeremy Begbie shares his thoughts on the unique powers of music and how they enrich our understanding of theology.

February 6, 2017

The nature of our union with Christ

This post excerpts Gary Deddo's essay, "The Christian Life and Our Participation in Christ’s Continuing Ministry" (to read the full essay, click here). The portion excerpted here relates to clarifying the meaning of the important New Testament concept of "union with Christ."

The New Testament message is that we are so united to Christ that the core of our very being is changed because it has become spiritually joined to the perfected humanity of Jesus. The apostle Paul writes that we are one in Spirit with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:17). In his letter to the Ephesians he writes that we are presently—right now—seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6). We are so joined that what happened to Christ 2,000 years ago has actually included us. So in Paul’s letter to the Colossians we read that we have co-died with Christ and have been co-raised with Christ (Colossians 2:12-3; 3:1). Paul announces this fact as a completed action that is true of all the members of the body of Christ.

Jesus himself indicated his purpose to unite himself with us. He teaches that our oneness with him is comparable to his oneness with the Father. He declares, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20, ESV unless noted). He prays, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one…. that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:23, 26). Jesus teaches that eternal life, salvation, involves a close communion: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56).

In 1 Corinthians, Paul announces that everything that Jesus has is also ours. He declares that Jesus himself is our wisdom, our righteousness and our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). The New Testament is filled with language that points to a profound reality: we belong in an astounding way to Jesus Christ. We can be said to indwell him and he us. We are often depicted as being “in Christ,” not just with or alongside him. The book of Ephesians is full of this kind of description that frankly blows our minds and fries our rational mental circuits. We have become new creatures “in” Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), because he has made us “his own” (Philippians 3:12) in such a way that there is what Calvin called a “wonderful exchange” at the deepest level of who we are. At that level Christ takes our fallen and broken natures and gives us a share in his sanctified and perfected human nature. Who we are is no longer who we are alone, for we are not alone.

We are who we are by virtue of being united to Christ. As James Torrance tirelessly reminded us, by his grace we are given the gift of sharing in the Son’s union and communion with the Father in the power of the Spirit. As the early church expressed it: He who was the Son of God by nature, became a son of man so that we who are the sons of men by nature might, by grace, become the sons and daughters of God.

In the New Testament, especially in the book of Hebrews, we see that such a union had its beginning in the Incarnation, in Christ’s assuming a complete humanity, from conception to his death. What qualifies Jesus to accomplish this exchange with us is his assumption of our humanity along with its fallen condition. The early church recognized the depths of the incarnation when it declared not only that Jesus was “one in being” (homoousios in Greek) with the Father, but also “one in being” (homoousios) with humanity. His divinity by virtue of his union with the Father is no more true of him than is his humanity by virtue of his union with us. The apostle Paul laid the ground for this doctrinal explication of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) when he identified Jesus with the new Adam (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45). Jesus Christ is united to us even more than we are united to the Adam of the Garden in Genesis. Thus our relationship with Christ puts our very existence on a whole new basis.

Our redemption does not just depend on what Christ did, but on who he is in the depths of his being—one with God and one with us. Our salvation, our life in Christ, was not only accomplished “by means of Christ” but “in Christ,” as Calvin used to say and James Torrance used to regularly remind us. Our new life is not external to us and layered on over us, but is worked out first in the humanity of Jesus and then given to us through his Spirit.

Calvin used to warn that we ought never consider Christ at a distance. We are, to the root of our being, who we are in relationship to him who made himself one with us. This is why Luther and Calvin recognized that our whole salvation was complete in Christ: not just our justification, but our sanctification and glorification as well. To have Christ was to have the whole Christ. Christ could not be divided up into pieces, so neither could our salvation.

What is complete and actual in Christ is truly ours even if it does not yet appear to be so. Our lives are hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3). Our life in him is being worked out in us by the Spirit. This new humanity wrought in us comes through the sheer gift of our union with Christ. It is not the result of us working out a potential that might be true if we properly apply ourselves. Rather, the Christian life is living out and manifesting the present reality of our union with Christ.

Obstacles to grasping the reality of our union with Christ

There are significant obstacles to our even beginning to grasp the truth of our union with Christ. I’d like to give some consideration to those concerns that often have blunted if not obliterated any concerted effort to grasp this profound theological truth.

First is the sheer wonder of the profound depths of such a grace. Would God really go to such lengths, heights and depths for us? It sounds too good to be true. But when it comes to God, shouldn’t we expect the good news to sound like it is too good to be true? Is not God’s grace beyond all we can ask or imagine, as Paul says? (Ephesians 3:20). Certainly this response is no reason to rule out its gracious reality.

Second is fear. Our union with Christ often is avoided because of fear that if we say we are united to him at the ontological depths of our being, we will collapse ourselves into him and confuse ourselves with him. That misunderstanding of our union with Christ is a possibility that could be expressed not just in what we think, but reinforced by how we are taught to think. We learn that what things really are is what they are all by themselves. They are individual substances, all one stuff. So, if two things are truly united, the difference between them as well as the distinction of each must be lost. Either one thing would turn into another, or both would turn into a third thing.

Following this [erroneous] pattern of thinking, union with Christ would mean we turn into Christ or he would turn into us, each ceasing to be what we were. The Torrances were quick to warn that it is this way of thinking about ourselves as individual substances (a way that can be traced back to Aristotle) that leads to such confusion. If we assume that we are what we are independent of anything else, then a relationship, such as union, cannot contribute in any essential way to what things actually are.

But what if Aristotle was wrong? What if the essence of being human is defined by what we are by virtue of our being in some kind of relationship with God? What if relationship is essential to human being and not optional or accidental, but constitutive—such that we would not be what we are except by virtue of the relationships in which we exist, especially in relationship to God? If that is the case, then the Triune God who has his being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit reconstitutes our humanity by forging a new relationship with fallen humanity through his Incarnation and his entire life, death, resurrection and ascension as the New Adam. In that case, Jesus Christ has become our Lord from the inside of our humanity. We are now what we are because of Whose we are!

It was the truth of our union with Christ that led the Torrances to rethink our Aristotelian ontology (the study of the nature of being itself), and conclude that being itself, divine and human, is “onto-relational.” If relationship is essential to who we are, then in union with Christ, we are really united, but remain distinctly ourselves without confusion with Christ. We are most truly ourselves when we are united to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Union is a continual relationship with Christ at the deepest level of our being, not a confusion of ourselves with Christ.

Grasping the truth of our relationship to Christ calls for the renewing of our minds so that we begin to think differently about what makes us who we are. In the end, we even have to approach reading Scripture differently. The challenge becomes not so much taking the Bible literally, but taking it realistically. When Paul declares that we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2: 6), we have warrant, despite our Aristotelian philosophical training, to grasp this realistically.

The good new is that we as Christians are united to Christ in such a way that all that is ours is his and all that is his is ours. Paul refers to this reality when he states, “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

What does it mean to be a Christian? It means by grace we are united to Christ as his true brothers and sisters. Nothing less. That is who we are in him.

No place for us?

Some people worry that any real union must confuse us with Christ. This idea can be reinforced if we feel somehow compelled to trace out a false logic—a third obstacle, which goes something like this: If who we are is who we are in Christ, and our whole salvation is complete in Christ, then there is no place for me and no significance to what I do. This is the antinomian objection, that if we are really united to Christ then there is no reason or purpose for my choices or obedience. I can do what I like.

This might be one of many possible logical implications of our union with Christ. But theology is not the result of strings of logical implications. And simple logical inferences are never necessarily true. Second, everything depends on what we mean by “union.” The New Testament affirms a profound union with Christ, the completed work of Christ, and the wonderful exchange and yet it also calls for our involvement, our activity, our participation. Union in the New Testament sense does not rule out response, obedience, action and decision, but includes them.

Can we make any progress in understanding how these elements fit together? I think the answer is yes, and the Torrances lead the way. Union with Christ in this realist way does not eliminate the trusting obedience of the Christian life, but actually strengthens it!

A personal union

The biblical picture points to the union of persons who remain persons. The union is a personal union, not mechanical or functional or impersonal. Such a personal unity calls for interaction, for inter-relationship. A personal unity means that neither person is lost, but the distinction of persons is maintained while the personal, deliberate and chosen interaction takes place. Unity in this frame means the establishment and fulfillment of the creature in relationship to God through the humanity of Jesus Christ, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. This union is a reflection of the Triune relationships but now mirrored in God’s relationship to us in Christ and through the Spirit. Jesus can pray to the Father in a meaningful way even though he is one in being with the Father in the Spirit. From all eternity the Son can glorify the Father and the Father glorify the Son and yet be one. It turns out that the oneness of God is a unity where relationship is intrinsic to the being of God, so that if God were not Father, Son and Spirit, God would not be God. Aristotle’s presuppositions about what things can be and how they exist are apparently incorrect. Relationship can be essential to who, at least, God is—and who we are.

A saving relationship

Within those relationships there is real interaction, personal activity. So the saving relationship of exchange into which we are taken by grace, calls for interaction, inter-relationship, and responsiveness. Salvation, rather than being an impersonal steady state of being, like a statue, is a relational reality. This is what makes salvation personal and alive. Being united to Christ is not being formed into a perfect, inert statue, but more about living and being in a dynamic relationship where there is intimate giving and receiving in a wonderful communion. That relationship determines the essence of who we are and who we are becoming.

Perhaps we can draw a distant comparison with marriage in answer to the question, “Why should we do anything if we are united to Christ and our whole salvation is complete in him?” Raising the question that way about our union with Christ would be like asking why two people who are married should live together, since they have entered into the fixed state of matrimony. But isn’t marriage by definition a sharing of life together? It would make no sense and be a violation of the logic of relationship to say, “Since we’re already married, there’s no point in living together.” So too, in our union with Christ. As James Torrance used to exhort us, following Calvin, union with Christ and communion or participation in Christ are twin doctrines that can never be separated and never collapsed. Our unity with Christ in a relationship of wonderful exchange is a completed gift in which we personally participate so that the truth and reality of who we are in Christ becomes more and more manifest in our lives as we grow up into him.

We live our lives in union with Christ because we live and move and have our being by being in communion with Christ. It is a personal reality in which we are meant to participate. Neglecting our active participation is neglecting our present salvation established in Christ. What does it mean to be a Christian? It means living daily by the grace that unites us to Christ as his brothers and sisters. Nothing less. That is who we are in him.

The Christian life is nothing but the gracious gift of daily thanksgiving for our real union with Christ, sharing in his glorified humanity and participating by faith in his faithful and continuing ministry to us and all those around us. On this we may surely build our lives in Christ’s name and live to the praise of his glory!

January 27, 2017

Barth's Theology of Relations, part 2

This post continues a series looking at Gary Deddo's two-volume book, "Karl Barth's Theology of Relations (Trinitarian, Christological, and Human: Towards an Ethic of the Family)." For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 3, 4.

[Revised 1/28/17]

Karl Barth
Last time we noted that Gary's goal in writing is to explore Barth's theological ethic, which begins with who God is (Trinity), then proceeds to how God acts in relation to humanity (Christology), leading to an understanding of how we humans act in correspondence with who God created us to be as bearers of his image (anthropology). Gary then explores the application of this ethic to the family, including parent-child relationships, which, according to Barth, are a human counterpart of the divine Father-Son relationship. Gary elaborates:
The divine being in act of God revealed in Jesus Christ is inherently relational, that is, is loving in freedom. In a corresponding creaturely way, our being in act is also inherently relational, first in connection with God and correspondingly with each other and with all creation. We were created, reconciled and redeemed for giving glory to God by having our being in relation reflect God's own character of being in loving communion. (p. 8, emphasis added)

Christology informs anthropology

As Barth notes, "a true knowledge of humankind, like our knowledge of God, is not gained through an autonomous human quest." As Gary notes, "the God-man Jesus Christ is the object of our faith and the object of our anthropological (and subsequently ethical) inquiry" (p. 11). Barth thus understands humankind in its relationship with God, in Christ, being the source of knowledge as to both God and humanity, with Holy Scripture testifying as to who Jesus in his divinity and humanity. In this divine-human union we find the essential basis of our identity as humans created in the image of God for relationship with God and one another. Thus theology (knowledge of God), carries within it an anthropology (knowledge of humanity)---in both instances, this knowledge is grounded in relationship, both within God (as triune), between God and humankind, and between human persons. Gary comments:
Barth's theological anthropology... is a Christological anthropology, which asks who God and mankind are and answers that they are who they are and are truly known only in this relationship. Thus, it is their being in relationship, which constitutes the content of the revelation of God and humankind. (p. 15 emphasis added)
Gary then notes how Barth sees the relational, triune God as a "commanding God" who calls people to live in relationships in ways corresponding with God's relationship with us:
Persons are created, reconciled and redeemed to become in their person those who are like Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate. Our relationships with one another are to become analogous to the Christological relationship of God with humankind and so become analogous also to the triune relationship. (p. 15)

Triune relationality

Rublev's Trinity (public domain)
Barth thus asserts that God is the one God of triune relations (p. 18). The revelation of this truth comes to us in and by Jesus Christ, who attests in his actions and words to the existence of the divine Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Jesus we see both God's being and act (doing), noting that with Jesus (as with God), there is no separation, no conflict between the two. God always does who God is, and God always is what God does.

Barth declares that the triunity of the one God is fundamentally about relationship. But if God is three-in-relationship, what sort of beings are each one of these three? Barth was troubled by the use of the word "Persons" (Persona in Latin) used in the classical definition of the doctrine of the Trinity, feeling that the word Persons implies tritheism (the idea that there are three Gods, not one as Scipture attests). Instead, Barth preferred to speak of God as being One in three ways of being, noting that "the one...personal God is what He is not just in one mode, the mode of the Father, in the mode of the Son, and in the mode of the Holy Ghost" (p. 23 emphasis added). As Gary notes, Barth insists that these three modes of being God must not, in any way, be...
...exchanged or confounded or reduced [for] ...they are essential to God. God would not be the One God were He not God in these three distinct ways essential in Himself and in His relation to the world and mankind. Consequently, what is three cannot be taken either as attributes or acts of God. For these designations apply to each---Father, Son and Spirit---and therefore do not distinguish them at all. Even the fact of the differing actions of revelation does not tell of the actual distinctions between three modes of God's being, for these are also unified in their variety..... He is, as God: Giver (Father), Receiver and Giver (Son) and Receiver (Spirit). For these relations of origin there is no analogy. Consequently, Barth, along with many Church theologians, acknowledges the inadequacy of words in light of the reality to which they point. (pp.23-24)

Perichoresis (communion with distinction)

According to Barth, God is a tri-unity---a being-in-relationship. For him, this reality of God's being is summed up well in the classic doctrine of perichoresis (circumincession, in Latin), which states that in the one God there is difference (distinction), which leads to and facilitates fellowship. That fellowship (communion) is a complete, never-ending participation of each one in the mode of being of the other. Thus in God there is both complete unity of communion  as well as distinction. In this union with distinction, each one "inexists" the other, and thus there is a "co-existence" of each with the other (see p. 26).

In absolute freedom

As a God of fellowship/communion/participation, God is love. But here we must be careful to not read back into God our humanly-derived concepts of love. As a being-in-relation, it is God who defines love. Thus Barth speaks of the three persons of the Godhead, not as isolated individuals (as we tend to think of persons in our modern context), but as a tri-personal communion of love. The love that God is, is expressed both inwardly (among the divine persons) and outwardly (to God's creation) in absolute freedom. As Gary notes (commenting on, then quoting Barth):
God is free to love. He is self-moved and self-determined to love. His Lordship is one of love. His sovereignty is a sovereignty of love. We have here no abstract notion of freedom as arbitrariness. God's freedom is the exercise of his triune life of perichoretic love. God loves in freedom and is free in His love. God is free to love Himself and is freely loving in relation to His creation... [Now quoting Barth] "it is not that God first lives and then also loves. But God loves, and in this act lives." ...God is He who acts to form and sustain a communion or a fellowship of love. This communion-creating action results in a becoming with God and for humankind. It is the action of a love of God's free unconditional self-giving for the sake of love itself, which God is in Himself, that others might be included in His love.... God's loving is unconditioned, it is free, it is unbounded ...It is purely loving. (pp. 31-33)

Barth's trinitarian, relational grammar

These concepts about who God truly is (as a tri-personal communion of love lived out in absolute freedom), and about who we truly are as creatures created by God to image him in and for love (loving relationship), are what Gary refers to as Barth's "grammar of intra-trinitarian personal relations." We'll see how this grammar plays itself out in greater detail as we proceed.