Participation in Christ, part 9 (discipleship: the Christian vocation)

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, 78, 10.

Last time we looked at Neder's summary of Barth's dynamic Christology, noting that because Jesus is alive, all humanity (in an objective sense) is alive in him. In this post, we'll examine what Barth says about what this reality means (in a subjective sense) for Christians---those who hear and, in obedient faith, say "yes" to Jesus' call to be one of his disciples within the community of the church.

Barth believed that the call of Jesus "creates a confessing community that witnesses to him as Lord" (p75). Thus the church, formed by this call to discipleship, has its "being in action" (p76). Of course, all people, in an objective sense, have their being in Christ. Through the vicarious humanity of Jesus, all people are united to God; however.... is one thing to be elected for...[fellowship with God] and another thing to be set in it. The latter is the distinctive thing which takes place in the calling of man and makes him a Christian (p76).
Neder notes Barth's view of Jesus' approach in this calling:
The sovereignty of Jesus Christ's action [in calling a person to be one of his disciples] creates the intimacy of koinonia by liberating the individual to be who she is in him. Jesus Christ does not exercise his sovereignty by brute and overwhelming force. He does not coerce his disciples into obedience. Rather, he opens them up from the inside (p77).
According to Barth, this call to discipleship is a Christian's "most truly distinctive feature--the very center and basis of their existence." As Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, encounters those he calls, he...
...illuminates and awakens them to their true being--a being in the freedom of his service. In so doing he becomes the ruling principle of their lives, and as such he awakens them to the freedom and spontaneity of their own truest selves. It is precisely in ruling them in this way that Jesus Christ enters Christians and becomes one with them (p77).
In this way, Barth shows that by responding with obedience to the Lord's call to be a disciple, the Christian becomes subjectively (personally) what they already were objectively---a person in union with God in Christ (see p78). In short, what was true objectively already, is now subjectively realized (or, we might say, actualized). Neder comments:
As Jesus Christ calls Christians, he makes them alive by making them his witnesses. In doing so, he enters them and unites himself to them. Notice that Barth is not saying that Jesus Christ first makes people alive and then makes them his witnesses, but rather that he makes them alive by making them his witnesses. Union with Christ is not merely the privatistic reception of gifts. It is rather the perfect mutual coordination of Jesus Christ's active calling and the correspondingly active human response of witness to the grace and greatness of God (p79).
Thus discipleship is a vital aspect of Barth's understanding of Christian vocation. Indeed, discipleship is Christian vocation, which is our personal, active participation in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Neder comments:
Jesus Christ is the perfect fellowship of...divine giving and human receiving. As such, he establishes the truth of human being and...summons those for whom this truth has been established to embrace it by joining themselves to him. This summons takes the form of God's good, sovereign, and definite command. As this command is heard and obeyed, [true] humanity in realized. And in the fellowship of this encounter, "we are united to Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ to God himself" (p80 quoting Barth).
In concluding his book, Neder makes this comment about Barth's trinitarian, incarnational perspective on discipleship:
Discipleship is a transition from death to life, an event altogether grounded in the objective conversion of humanity to God in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ's history "reaches beyond itself" in such a way that the Christian is now a person to "whom Jesus Christ has given not just a potential, but an actual share in that history." Thus, Jesus Christ's history "is not sterile. It is a fruitful history which newly shapes every human life. Having taken place extra nos ["outside of us" and thus objectively], it also works in noblis ["within us" and thus subjectively], introducing a new being of every man (p82, quoting Barth).
Thus our true humanity, which objectively is in Jesus Christ, is experienced subjectively (personally) in discipleship---a life of active participation, through the Spirit, in the love and life and thus the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ, who is our life.
[Note: to read more about this important topic, check out The Call To Discipleship by Karl Barth--an essay excerpted from Barth's Church Dogmatics.]