Archive for Barth

Atonement I: The person and work of Christ shows us who God is

Posted in Reconciliation with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2011 by stephengardner

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Phil 2.5-8 NRSV)

Way back in November I introduced an introduction to some thoughts on the atonement. This is the first post, in what I hope will be a series of ‘around seven’, exploring the atonement, what it is and what it achieves. The next couple of posts will focus more on what the atonement actually is, but for now let me describe it as this: the saving significance of the person and work of the Incarnate Son of God.

Initially I was going to use this post as a way of finishing off my reflections on the atonement, but I’ve become convinced that this should be the first port-of-call for any consideration of what God has done in Christ. In a nutshell the point of this post is this: the atonement is not contrary to who God is, in fact it is God in his most Godness.

This seems to be what Paul was getting at when he penned his exhortation to the Philippians that they be a community of humility precisely because God has shown himself to be humble in the death of Christ. The NRSV unhelpfully adds the word ‘though’ in v.6 implying that the work of Christ is contrary to who Christ is – God in his fulness.

Speaking of the limitations and weaknesses Christ takes on and what they mean for him ‘being in the form of God’, Barth writes this:

We will mention at once the thought which will be decisive and basic in the section, that God shows Himself to be the great and true God in the fact that He can and will let His grace bear this cost, that He is capable and willing and ready for this condescension, this act of extravagance, this far journey. What marks out God above all false gods is that they are not capable and ready for this. In their otherworldliness and supernaturalness and otherness, etc., the gods are a reflection of the human pride which will not unbend, which will not stoop to that which is beneath it. God is not proud. In His high majesty He is humble. It is in this high humility that He speaks and acts as the God who reconciles the world to Himself. It is under this aspect first that we must consider the history of the atonement. (Barth, CD IV.1 s59, 159)




Reconciliation: the beginnings of a reading list

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , , on November 4, 2010 by stephengardner

Alrighty, I need your help! I’m hoping to do some summer reading on reconciliation: with God and with others. So I need your help in compiling a reading list. What’s the hottest book on reconciliation you’ve read? Who are the people to read? etc…

Below is something to start with:

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1. London: T. & T. Clark, 1961.

Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: a Theologigcal Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.

_____. Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. New York: Zondervan, 2005

_____. The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006.

John Webster. Barth’s Ethics of Reconciliation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

The Presupposition of the Atonement

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 10, 2010 by stephengardner

For Barth, the presupposition of the atonement is God’s original covenant with humanity – the atonement brings this to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. ‘He therefore fulfills and reveals the original and basic will of God, the first act of God, His original covenant with man.’ Because the atonement fulfills this original covenant of God it demonstrates that God has always been for humanity, that ‘God does not occupy a position of neutrality in relation to man.’

That is the covenant of God with man, from which He has bound and pledged Himself always to begin, and in virtue of which He has constituted Himself his God. And that is the presupposition of the atonement as revealed in its actualisation in Jesus Christ: the presupposition whose consequences are deduced in atonement; the presupposition which in the atonement is fulfilled in spite of the opposition of man. We do not postulate it. We do not grope for it in the void. We find it in that which has actually taken place in Jesus Christ. IV.1.2 p38

It is in act of atonement that God says ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’ So, for Barth, this means two things. First, humanity cannot think of God except as the One who has established and fulfilled this covenant. ‘For according to the Word which He Himself has spoken in His supreme and final work, there is no other God.’

Second, this means humanity cannot think of itself except as those covenanted to God. ‘Just as there is no God but the God of the covenant, there is no man but the man of the covenant: the man who as such is destined and called to give thanks.’

All of this means that gratitude is the only right response humanity can make to the presupposition of the atonement – that God will be their God and they will be His people:

Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning. IV.1.2 p41

A stroll through dogmatics: II.2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 3, 2010 by stephengardner

I’m back from my escapades around the middle east and eager to make up for lost blogging time. As per my promise, I’m trying to post some highlights from Barth’s Dogmatics. This last week we read some hot stuff on election, here is some of the gold:

There is no such thing as a decretum absolutum. There is no such thing as a will of God apart from the will of Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus Christ is not only the manifestatio and speculum nostrae predestinationis. And He is this not simply in the sense that our election can be known to us and contemplated by us only through His election, as an election which, like His and with His, is made (or not made) by a secret and hidden will of God. On the contrary, Jesus Christ reveals to us our election as an election which is made by Him, by His will which is also the will of God. He tells us that He Himself is the One who elects us.

For Barth, the fact that our election is not a decree external to His being, but lodged firmly in the Godhead, in Jesus, is grounds for our assurance of its reality:

In the very foreground of our existence in history we can and should cleave wholly and with full assurance to Him because in the eternal background of history, in the beginning with God, the only decree which was passed, the only Word which was spoken and which prevails, was the decision which was executed by Him. As we believe in Him and hear His Word and hold fast by His decision, we can know with a certainty which nothing can ever shake that we are the elect of God.

(Barth II.2 p 115-116)

A stroll through Dogmatıcs: II.2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 2, 2010 by stephengardner

Fırst up, many apologıes for the bad grammar ın thıs post, Im tryıng to kıll tıme ın Istanbul and am havıng much dıfıculty workıng out thıs crazy Turkısh keyboard! A couple of weeks ago I promısed to post some memorable sectıons from Barths Dogmatıcs. Two weeks have passed so tıme for another one…

Barth begıns by drawıng attentıon to the relatıonshıp between the Word of God and the dogmatıc method. The ıntımacy of thıs relatıonshıp, he argues, demands obedıence:

The content of the Word of God ıtself must command, and dogmatıcs and Church proclamatıon must obey. Therefore the content of dogmatıcs can only be an exposıtıon of the work and actıon of God as ıt takes place ın Hıs Word… No work of man and therefore no dogmatıcs can accomplısh thıs work of God. But ın so far as thıs work ıs actualısed ın the Word of God, ın so far as ıt ıs present to the Church ın the bıblıcally attested revelatıon of God ın Jesus Chrıst, dogmatıcs can testıfy to ıt. Thıs means, concretly, that ıt can descrıbe and explaın ıt ın the lıght of ıts pressence. Thıs ıs the one task of Church proclamatıon. (II.2, 856)

Thıs ıs a really ınterestıng sectıon of dogmatıcs for explorıng where Barths doctrıne of the Word takes hım. Because dogmatıcs can only ever testıfy to the work of God ın the Word, thıs means that ıt must always be taught and receıved ın freedom:

Lıke the obedıence of the Church ın general, the obedıence of dogmatıcs ıs obvıously not understood as real obedıence ıf ıt ıs not understood as obedıence gıven ın freedom. (II.2, 857)

And thıs means that dogmatıcs can only ever offer a challenge, not a command:

Under no cırcumstances can ıt (dogmatıcs) present ıtself to others as anythıng but a free decısıon whıch as such can only challenge others to make sımılar free decısıons…ıt ıs ımpossıble for any human person to press hıs own understandıng of the dıvıne law upon others, as though the two thıngs were ıdentıcal. (IIç2, 860)

Barth goes on to say that dogmatıc systems fall ınto thıs trap and by so doıng theır ‘system’ usurps the place of the Word of God:

In dogmatıc systems the presupposed basıc vıew aquıres ınevıtably the posıtıon and functıon whıch accordıng to all our prevıous consıderatıons can be ascrıbed only to the Word of God. But the Word of God may not be replaced even vıcarıously by any basıc ınterpretatıon ofthe ‘essence of Chrıstıanıty’, however pregnant, deep and well founded. (II.2, 826)



A stroll through Dogmatics: I.1

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 18, 2010 by stephengardner

A few of us from MTC have begun a Dogmatics reading group. The idea came from Andrew Errington and its a cracking one! The approach of the group is not to read every single word of the entire dogmatics, but to read key sections.

To help keep me on track I thought I would post what I’ve found to be the most stimulating section, fortnightly, until the group finishes (or I get finished!).

This week we read I.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God.

In all three modes of being God is the one God both in Himself and in relation to the world and man. But this one God is God three times in different ways, so different that it is only in this threefold difference that He is God, so different that this difference, this being in these three modes of being, is absolutely essential to Him, so different, then, that this difference is irremovable. Nor can there be any possibility that one of the modes of being might just as well be the other, e.g., that the Father might just as well be the Son or the Son the Spirit, nor that two of them or all three might coalesce and dissolve into one. In this case the modes of being would not be essential to the divine being. Because the threeness is grounded in the one essence of the revealed God; because in denying the threeness in the unity of God we should be referring at once to another God than the God revealed in Holy Scripture–for this very reason this threeness must be regarded as irremovable and the distinctiveness of the three modes of being must be regarded as ineffaceable.                          (Church Dogmatics I.1 360-361)

This comes at the end of an interesting section where Barth suggests the term ‘modes of being’ as a better category for understanding the distinctiveness within the trinity, rather than the traditional, ‘personhood’ language. Some have thought this sounds too much like modalism, but that is quite obviously not the case, as this section shows. But strikingly, Barth suggests, that the three modes of being in God are essential for Him to be God.

Barth on the constancy and omnipotence of God II

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 23, 2009 by stephengardner


In the last post, I was reflecting on how Barth portrays God’s ‘unchangeableness’. He is the One who exists totally without deviation, and this is in no way being in conflict with his ‘movement’, with his life and freedom. This shows that while God can be unchanging he cannot be immobile. Look at the way Barth puts it:

If it is true, as Polanus says, that God is not moved either by anything else or by Himself, but that, confined as it were by His simplicity, infinity and absolute perfection, He is the pure immobile, it is quite impossible that there should be any relationship between Himself and a reality distinct from Himself.

But Barth goes on to say that there is one pure immobile;

For we must not make any mistake: the pure immobile is—death. If, then, the pure immobile is God, death is God. That is, death is posited as absolute and explained as the first and last and only real. And if death is God, then God is dead.
CD II.1 493-494

If God is immobile  there can be no life, all new things come from him and exist in dependence of him. Can you see Barth’s logic? If God is not mobile, creating and sustaining out of his eternal self-constancy, his life, then the only possible solution is death. And God would be dead.