Participation in Christ, part 8 (Jesus is alive, and we are alive in him!)

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, 6, 7, 9, 10.

According to Neder, "the dynamic, active, historical, and covenantal character of Barths' Christology... sets it apart from all others and is its most distinguishing feature" (p58). Rather than seeing the union of God and humanity in the person of Jesus as a "static state," Barth sees it as a dynamic, continuing "event" or "act," which defines Jesus' very being. Indeed, Jesus "became" in the continuing act/event of the Incarnation (p60). Barth's point is that Jesus is alive and through his continuing divine-human life, we are alive in him.

It's important to grab hold of this vital and central truth of Barth's Christology, for it forms the core of his Trinitarian theology and soteriology:
The history of Jesus Christ--his own person and work--is the "mutual participation" of the human essence in the divine and the divine essence in the human. The event of this mutual participation is the event of his person...and the accomplishment of the exaltation of [all] humanity. The participation of humanity in Jesus Christ occurs objectively within this history of mutual participation and subjectively in a way that corresponds to this history (p61).
Neder comments further:
As God condescends and humbles Himself to man and becomes man, man himself is exalted, not as God or like God, but to God, being placed at His side, not in identity, but in true fellowship with Him, and becoming a new man in his exaltation and fellowship.
At the heart of the divine-human communion [participation/fellowship] is an irreducible distinction that will never be overcome because Jesus Christ will always be who he is. The hypostatic union [of the two natures in Jesus Christ] itself is an event of lordship and obedience, the perfect coordination of two distinct sets of actions, divine and human, which are never confused with each other (p62).
According to Neder, Barth emphasizes that the union of God and humanity in Jesus leaves no aspect of our humanity, and thus no individual human person, unaffected. All are included in and with the Son of God in this new humanity:
In the one person Jesus Christ, the Son of God takes to himself everything that belongs to human beings as covenant-breakers. In so doing, and simultaneously, he became the man who receives his being in response to this act of grace, that man whose "being in this exaltation can consist only in an action of the most profound human thankfulness." Thus, the self-offering and humiliation of the son of God is total as this man, and the grateful response of obedience of the Son of Man is correspondingly total. "The mystery of the incarnation consists in the fact that Jesus Christ is in a real simultaneity of genuinely divine and human essence, and that it is on this presupposition that the mutual participation is also genuine" (p63).
Thus Barth tells us that the present, objective state of humanity is exalted--recreated as a new humanity in Jesus. Individuals then personally (subjectively) participate in that new humanity as they walk in a faith (trust) that corresponds with the objective reality of humanity in union with Jesus. This faith (which is Jesus' own faith shared with them), ushers them into a life in which they are free to obey--free to be who they truly are in Christ (p69).

This concept of being given freedom in Christ, bringing forth a life that corresponds to the life of Jesus, is central to Barth's thinking concerning the Christian faith. In Barth's view, humans don't become God (Barth did not believe in deification); rather, in union and communion with Christ (who is the continuing, active, historical union of God and man), they become truly free human persons. It is thus essential to understand that Jesus remains incarnate forever. For it is in this living union of the two natures in Jesus that is "located" our own glorified humanity.

The implications of all this for the church and its mission are stunning. We'll pick up these important topics next time.