Participation in Christ, part 5 (anthropology)

This post continues a series looking at "Participation in Christ (An Entry into Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics)" by Adam Neder. To read other posts in this series, click on a number: 12, 3, 46, 78910.

In chapter 3, Neder addresses Barth's biblically-informed, Trinitarian anthropology, noting that it views Jesus' humanity as inclusive of all humanity:
The ontological determination of humanity [meaning the determination of humanity's fundamental being] is grounded in the fact that one man among all others is the man Jesus...[he] alone establishes and reveals human nature... Barth's anthropology is an attempt to take this thought seriously, to follow it wherever it may lead, and to resist the temptation to either deviate from it or stop short of saying what must be said on the basis of it (p29, emphasis added).
Accordingly, to know what human nature is, we "look to the place where it has been once and for all enacted and definitively established," namely in the person of Jesus, who himself is fully human, while remaining fully divine.

Said another way, "the irreducible fact of human nature is that Jesus Christ is a human being" (p31). How can this be so? Neder gives Barth's answer:
Jesus Christ's fulfillment of the covenant of grace established the context within which human beings exist, and that context is determined fundamentally by the relationship of lordship and obedience that Jesus Christ embodies... The essence of human life is to be drawn into the covenant, to exist within the sphere of its relationship. Jesus Christ is himself the relationship of the transcendent Lord and the perfectly obedient servant. The occurrence of this relationship constitutes his history. Therefore, human life is life "in him," life in the history of this relationship (p31).
What this means is that God's purpose for humanity has reached its goal in the representative humanity of Jesus Christ. What is our true humanity? It is found in one "place" only: in Jesus.

The apostle Paul put it this way: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). Our true humanity is found in the humanity of the one who stands in and represents us all: Jesus Christ. Here is how Neder, reflecting Barth puts it:
In Jesus Christ, the will of God is already fulfilled and revealed as the purpose for all humanity--indeed humanity is "penetrated" by it... This objective reality takes the form of a "spearhead," an impetus for the rest of humanity "to be a wider fulfillment of the will of God." This fulfillment happens as human beings respond to Jesus Christ's call to discipleship (p32). 
The objective reality of our humanity, which is "hidden in Christ," is subjectively (personally) experienced as we respond in faith to God's summons to "follow Jesus." This life of discipleship makes progressively evident our true humanity.

Barth's point is that our human nature has no nature--no reality--apart from its relationship with God in the person of Jesus. Any other conception of humanity is nothing but an illusion--a lie, if you will. So to "see" ourselves as we truly are, we look to Jesus--"the Creator who has become the creature."

In Christ, God has taken our humanity upon himself, making our cause his own. And now, humanity does not exist apart from the union of God and humanity in the one person of Jesus:
There is no humanity at all apart from the act of this union. Indeed, the hypostatic union is itself the history of the dynamic relationship between God and humanity in one person, a relationship that defines humanity itself (pp34-5).
As we respond to the Father's call, through the Spirit, to follow Jesus--the one who, objectively, is true humanity (humanity united to God)--that humanity is "actualized" (made "real" if you will) in our personal experience. But even then, it remains somewhat "hidden," for we continue to live out of our brokenness even as we learn more and more to believe/receive/experience the truth of our humanity that is Jesus. Only when we are glorified will we see Jesus, and thus our true selves, "face-to-face."

In the meantime, we "see as in a mirror dimly" and who we truly are remains a bit foggy. We continue to sin and thus Paul urges Christians to, in essence, be who they truly are in Christ. As Neder notes, "To sin is to cease to act as a human being and therefore to cease to be human... Sin is...the evil and absurd denial of that reality" (p36). Neder comments further:
There is no human life, Barth is arguing, apart from active correspondence to Jesus Christ. That is the whole thrust of his actualistic anthropology... [Our] humanity... has no independent existence apart from Jesus Christ, and is actualized in faith and obedience (pp38-39).
Through the obedience of faith, we become, more and more, who, in Christ, we truly are.

Comments

  1. Here is a related thought from a leading theologian of the early church:

    “For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole” (Gregory Nazianzen).

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