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, 45.

[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). 
Source
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.

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