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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)





The Atonement: an introduction to an introduction

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , , on November 12, 2010 by stephengardner

During study for my end of year doctrine exam today, at Moore Theological College, I did some thinking about the atonement and thought I might blog some initial thoughts. I have (at this stage) seven introductory aspects of the atonement I want to explore – but I’m open to your suggestions too.

But, to kick off, as a kind of introduction, I thought I would post some helpful words from T.F. Torrance. Having argued that the atonement is, firstly, a profound mystery, he concludes that there is ‘no logical relation’ between the cross of Christ and our experience of forgiveness of sins.

There is of course a mighty continuity between the death of Christ on the cross and the forgiveness of our sins, but it is a continuity that God himself achieves and makes through his atoning act and the intervention of his own being. And therefore the cross provides a wisdom that ‘the Greeks’ or humankind in general know nothing of. Thus we cannot begin to understand the atonement by bringing to it principles of formal rational continuity or by adopting an abstract theoretic explanation. In seeking to unfold the meaning of the death of the Son of God, therefore, we must have recourse to putting together conjunctive statements based upon the inherent synthesis to be found in the person of the mediator and not in any logical or rational presuppositions which we bring to interpret what he has done for us. Here above all, then, in seeking to understand the death of Christ, we must follow Christ, and think only a posteriori, seeking throughout to be conformed in mind to Christ himself as the truth. That is the only way to understand and at the same time to reverence the infinite mystery and majesty of this atoning deed on the cross which by its very nature reaches out beyond all finite comprehension into eternity.                                                                                                                              ( T. F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ. 2-3)

Taking on board Torrance’s encouragement to follow Christ as a first and foremost outcome of ‘studying’ the atonement, what would you included as a must have in introducing the idea of the atonement?

Barth on the Two States of Christ

Posted in Theology with tags , , , on October 29, 2010 by stephengardner

In His Godhead, as the eternal Son of the Father, as the eternal Word, Jesus Christ never ceased to be transcendent, free, and sovereign. He did not stand in need of exaltation, nor was He capable of it. But He did as man – it is here again that we come up against that which is not self-evident in Jesus Christ. The special thing, the new thing about the exaltation of Jesus Christ is that One who is bound as we are is free, who is tempted as we are is without sin, who is a sufferer as we are is able to minister to Himself and others, who is a victim to death is alive even though He was dead, who is a servant (the servant of all servants) is the Lord. This is the secret of His humanity which is revealed in His resurrection and ascension and therefore shown retrospectively by the Evangelists to be the secret of His whole life and death. It is not simply that He is the Son of God at the right hand of the Father, the Kyrios, the Lord of His community and the Lord of the cosmos, the bearer and executor of divine authority in the Church and the world, but that He is all this as a man – as a man like we are, but a man exalted in the power of His deity. This is what makes Him the Mediator between God and man, and the One who fulfils the covenant. (Barth, Church Dogmatics iv.1, 135)

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 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.

Barth on the constancy and omnipotence of God

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


Is God’s life and freedom in conflict with his unchangeablness? How does the immutable One bring about genuinely new things?
Some of us at MTC recently undertook an essay (the chief cause of my lack of blogging) dealing with this tension.  I found Barth’s II.1 to be immensely helpful. Look at how he describes the constancy of God:

There neither is nor can be, nor is to be expected or even thought possible in Him, the One omnipresent being, any deviation, diminution or addition, nor any degeneration or rejuvenation, any alteration or non-identity or discontinuity. The one, omnipresent God remains the One He is. This is His constancy.

And this, says Barth, is not in conflict with God’s freedom, life or love.

But as the living God, He is not Himself subject to or capable of any alteration, and does not cease to be Himself. His life is not only the origin of all created change, but it is in itself the fullness of difference, movement, will, decision, action, degeneration and rejuvenation. But He lives it in eternal self-repetition and self-affirmation. As His inner life and His life in all that is, it will never sever itself from Him, turn against Him, or possess a form or operation alien to Him. In all its forms and operations it will be His life.

It is precisely because of God’s eternal self-constancy, self-repetition and self-affirmation that his life brings about newness and change;

His life with its very alteration and movement can, and does gloriously, consist only in His not ceasing to be Himself, to posit and will and perfect Himself in His being Himself. He does not do this of necessity but in freedom and love, or, one may say, with the necessity in virtue of which He cannot cease to be Himself, the One who loves in freedom.
CD II.1 491-492