Participation in Christ, part 6 (reconciliation-salvation)

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, 4, 5, 78910.

In chapter 4, Neder unpacks Barth's view that reconciliation-salvation is a relationship occurring in and through Jesus Christ by which humanity is drawn into and thus participates in the divine life. Neder provides this representative quote from Barth:
....What unites God and us men is that He [God] does not will to be God without us, that He creates us rather to share with us and therefore with our being and life and act His own incomparable being and life and act, that He does not allow His history to be His and ours, but causes them to take place as a common history" (p44, emphasis added).
It is through this "common history," which Barth sees as an ongoing event, that God shares himself with us. Thus reconciliation-salvation must not be viewed (as it often is in Evangelicalism) as a mere legal/forensic transaction, but for what it truly is: a shared life--our sharing in the love and life of God, by the Spirit, in and through Jesus Christ, who through the incarnation has united himself with all humanity. In and through this union/sharing, we humans do not become God--we are not "divinized"--however, by grace, we really do share in God's own life and love--our lives are joined to his (whether we know it or not). Neder comments:
In Jesus Christ, God has made peace between himself and sinful humanity by overcoming sinful humanity and creating a new humanity in its place. Thus, salvation is not a possibility, but a reality, not an opportunity, but the thing itself. God has not merely promised to save humanity. In Jesus Christ, he has fulfilled that promise. Reconciliation is a perfect work (p45)
Neder notes that Barth is often criticized at just this point. Has Barth gone too far? Is he a universalist? Neder replies:
According to Barth, God has saved sinful humanity without its cooperation or consent. God does not ask sinful humans beings if they would like to be saved. In Jesus Christ, he just saves them. In Jesus Christ, the salvation of humanity is objective, real, and perfect. This is so entirely apart from how anyone might respond to this fact. Yet Barth also clearly teaches that there is a corresponding subjective counterpart to this objective fact... Jesus Christ is himself both the gospel of salvation of humanity and the law that summons individuals to realize this truth in their own lives, to be who they are in him.... There is a difference--indeed a real and important difference--between the accomplishment of salvation in Jesus Christ and the realization of this fact within the lives of those whom he represents.... 
Salvation is not first of all a question posed to humanity. It is a truth proclaimed to humanity. But this truth itself poses a question that demands an answer from humanity. Or, to put it another way, Jesus Christ is the answer to the question of human salvation, and as such poses the further question to humanity, Will you be who you really are? Thus, while our salvation is an accomplished reality in Jesus Christ, not merely a possibility, this does not exclude but includes the fact that this reality awaits its confirmation and fulfillment in the lives of individuals by the power of the Holy Spirit. For Barth, reality is the condition for the possibility of real possibility.
...The objective inclusion of humanity in Jesus Christ is not the end of the story, but the beginning. It is the establishment and anticipation of the end, but not the end itself. The only thing brought to an end in Jesus Christ is sinful humanity. The proper response to grace is not finally silence, but praise. Objective participation is a promise, which demands an unconditional response [of faith, hope and love] (pp46-47).
Reconciliation is the free act of God's grace and Jesus Christ himself is that grace. As the apostle Paul wrote, Jesus Christ is "our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). Neder comments:
...Grace is alien to its recipients. They receive it, but they do not possess it. It is given to them, but it never comes under their control because Jesus Christ gives himself without giving himself away. In other words, the gift of grace cannot be separated from the giver of grace, because the giver is himself the gift. Grace is the relationship between God and humanity established, maintained, and perfected by and in Jesus Christ. Grace is thus active (i.e. "historical") personal relationship (p48).
What this means is that Jesus is not merely a step along the way toward salvation--he is the content of salvation. Thus, salvation and reconciliation are not about a mere transaction, but about an enduring relationship--an ongoing sharing in the divine life. Grace, for Barth, is not a "thing" (a commodity) but "a single, acting person." In that sense, grace is not detachable from God's action for it is God's action (p49).

According to Barth, this action of God draws forth human response. However, that response is not detachable from God's action/grace. Rather, it is our participation, by grace, in the ongoing life of God as his covenant partner (p50). This partnership (union and communion) yields transformation as the Spirit leads us to share in the transformed humanity that exists already in the person of Jesus (our life, our true self, is indeed "hidden in Christ"). Through that participation, we become more and more who we truly are in Christ--we realize our true humanity. Barth conceptualizes this process of our becoming as being three aspects of the one grace of God in Christ. We'll look at that next time.

Comments

  1. Good stuff, Ted! The Good News is soooo good! Thanks again for magnifying the Lord (Psalm 34:3 KJV).

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