Participation in Christ, part 2 (revelation & reconciliation)

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: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78910.

According to Neder, "Barth's conception of dogmatics is grounded in his understanding of revelation, which governs his doctrine of participation in Christ..." (p1). Barth stressed the priority of the Word of God, understood in its ultimate sense to be Jesus Christ, who "establishes an orderly fellowship between himself and human beings" (p1). Thus, "revelation is inseparable from reconciliation" (p1) as "an event of divine-human union" (p3).

This equating of revelation with reconciliation, accomplished through the continuing event of the Incarnation, has significant implications, including that in Jesus, God "speaks to human beings in a creaturely form... through creaturely media" (p3). For Barth, Jesus is both the message and the media of revelation: "This revelation does not differ from the person of Jesus Christ nor from the reconciliation accomplished in Him. To say revelation is to say 'The Word became flesh'" (p5).

Barth views this revelation in the person of Christ as an "event" in that it's about the continuing Incarnation by which "God binds us to Himself in the closest possible communion" (p7). In this union with Christ, we humans do not cease to be distinct, free persons. God grants us freedom either to participate or not. However (and this is vital), God's action (as Lord of this union with its revelation and reconciliation) "always precedes and makes possible the human action of participating" (p7). Neder comments:
This ordering of giving and receiving, preceding and following, lordship and grateful obedience, constitutes the basic difference between the parties within their fellowship... Grace is God's grace, and therefore must never be conceived as something distinct from God's immediate action of giving it. And the whole point is that rather than denying divine-human communion, Barth intends to highlight its intimacy and reality by describing it within a framework adequate to its participants--the utterly free and gracious Lord of the covenant and his correspondingly free and grateful servants and friends (p7).
And so, in this union with Christ, we are free, though it remains "entirely under [God's] control." Even the faith by which we receive the revelation/reconciliation/union is never our own possession (p4) - faith "is not one of the various capacities of man...[rather it] is loaned to man by God" (p8).

And so Barth emphasizes both divine and human freedom: "God's free grace establishes and upholds human freedom... [Here is] the divine determination of lordship and the human response of free faith and obedience" (p11). The mutual indwelling created by this union "occurs not as the actualization of a natural human capacity, but as the liberation of human action by God's sovereign grace, which energizes human creatures to freely do that which by nature is impossible for them" (p11).

Through our freely-given participation in this divine-human union and communion with God, in Christ, we are transformed as covenant partners. For Barth, the nature or content of this transformation is...
...not moral improvement, gradual cleansing, purification of consciousness, or inward transformation of some form or another. [Rather] it is [the] death and resurrection of the sinner. In this encounter, a new creature appears on the scene that did not exist before the event.... Jesus Christ creates human beings by raising them from the dead and giving them faith by which they actively exist in him. Faith is living outside of oneself in Christ... In faith, human beings are united to the Word, elevated outside of their own range of possibilities and potential, and given a share in an event which, while real and determinative for their whole existence, does not involve an inward transformation of their humanity as such.... The new human being exists wholly and utterly by the Word (pp11-12).
In part 3 of this series we'll learn more about Barth's view of this radical transformation as we examine his understanding of our election and being in Christ.