(This post is inspired by Richard Burnett’s discussion of the release and response to Barth’s commentary on Romans. See,
(This post is inspired by Richard Burnett’s discussion of the release and response to Barth’s commentary on Romans. See,
I think I like Karl Barth best not when he’s a theologian, but when he’s a preacher. There is something about his writings aimed at a general rather than academic audience that draws me in and wants me to become a good charismatic shouting “amen” in response to his witness to Jesus Christ.
From 1926 to 1933 Barth wrote a series of Christmas devotions/meditations/homilies for German newspapers. My favourite is the one from 1926, a reflection on John 1:14 entitled, “The Word Made Flesh.” And as Christmas fast approaches, I wanted to share a few excerpts from it:
It is an event which happened and which is still happening; to the evangelist it is as certain as his own existence, and as self-evident as the truth of an axiom. God has spoken and still speaks. All abstract thought and metaphysics, everything one might know and say of God as Thought, Power, and Deed is summed up and completed by the fact that God has spoken and still speaks. Yes, God! In the verses which precede our text, the evangelist has made it clear what he means by God’s speech: This is a Word which is thought and spoken in the eternal “beginning” of all things, God Himself being present, a Word which unreservedly possesses God’s own attributes, nature and being and which is – really, not parabolically – His Word.
This must be immediately interpreted as: “He came to be flesh then and there,” which excludes any wrong conception the word “became” might suggest. John means not a transformation but an incomprehensible coexistence. Without ceasing to be the eternal divine subject the Word is there in time, concretely, contingently and objectively, recognisable as man’s vis-à-vis, for only man can really confront man. The reality of revelation is according to the general meaning of our text just this: The Word of God to which the Gospel witnesses, is a man. To put it the other way round: the man of whom the Gospel speaks, is neither the “symbol” nor the “appearance” of God’s Word to man, nor the highest expression of the Word in a relative sense, but the Word of God Himself, His one and only, His first and His last Word. This “is” the Christmas Gospel.
Flesh in the New Testament is not human nature generally and ideally, but concretely this human nature in which I find myself, the nature of “Adam,” the nature man possesses under the sign of the Fall, in the realm of darkness and in his principal opposition to God and to his own self. It does not say: the Word became a super-man or a personage…He does not appear in the form of an angel nor of an ideal man (how can anyone who is not as real as we are, address us?) but as Paul writes, in “the form of a servant” (Phil II.7), so that we who ourselves exist in this form, are able to hear Him. He encounters the riddle of our “darkness” on its own ground.
And Dwelt Among Us:
Inasmuch as the Incarnation fulfils the time, it is also limited by time. Inasmuch as it is epoch-making, it is also an episode which points beyond itself to the Holy Ghost who proclaims the Incarnate Word in other ages as well, and to the Resurrection of the body which includes all ages.
(You can read the whole meditation in Karl Barth, Christmas. translated by Bernhard Citron. London: Oliver and Boyd, 1959).
The Undead and Theology. edited by Kim Paffenroth and John Morehead. Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2012.
The Undead and Theology was, I thought, my best find at the ETS book exhibit this year. I was really excited about buying this book. And then I started to read it. My enthusiasm was quickly deflated as I read the first two essays, and I was seriously reconsidering my purchase (which for me and books is very rare). To put it bluntly, the first two essays were dreadful. But, I persevered, and if you ignore the first two essays, this book is fantastic.
The book is divided into three parts or themes: vampires, zombies, and other undead. (For the sake of brevity, I will only be discussing the sections on vampires and zombies. I hope to interact with the “other undead” in a future post).
In the first section there are four essays. The first two essays, “Vampires and Female Spiritual Transformation: Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” by Vicky Gilpin and “Crossing the Spiritual Wasteland in Priest” by Joseph Laycock function no so much as essays looking at the intersection between vampire-lore and theology, but instead are more like essays on religious themes in vampire-lore. These essays were weak, focusing more on describing the story rather than analyzing them in relation to some theological tradition. When they do touch on “theology” it’s more to point out “look here, a religious allusion.” The second essay by Laycock is even worse because on top of it spending most of its time just describing the movie Priest, it is riddled with typos and grammatical errors. The worst example of this, one that calls the author’s expertise into question is his repeated reference to the lead actor in the movie Priest as “Paul Brettany” (his name is Paul Bettany). Frankly put, these first two essays are not even worthy of being published as a series of blog posts let alone being chapters in an edited book.
BUT, saying all of that, there is a dramatic jump in quality in the essays after the first two. Jarrod Longbons’ essay “Vampires are People, Too: Personalism in the Buffyverse” looks specifically at the character of the vampire Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And while I wish he would have included the last of Spike’s arc after Buffy season 7 that occurs in Angel season 5, the essay is strong, engaging and actually engages with theology and not just religious themes.
W. Scott Poole’s “The Vampire that Haunts Highgate: Theological Evil, Hammer Horror, and the Highgate Vampire Panic in Britain, 1963-1974” was a fascinating read. Here, Poole looks at the theological and pop-culture factors that led to the very real vampire panic, including the influence of the rise of British evangelicalism including the preaching and writing of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott, as well as the popularity of the Hammer Studios horror movies that were produced starting in 1957. This essay immediately created a new “to do” to add to my list of further reading, namely to read up more about the events that took place at the Highgate cemetery.
The second section on zombies includes four essays. All of these essays are strong, and starts off with a creative essay by Jessica DeCou “The Living Christ and the Walking Dead: Karl Barth and the Theological Zombie.” Now of course, you may say that of course I’ll like this essay because DeCou focuses on Barth, but it is more than that. Instead of a point-by-point analysis, DeCou chooses to instead put herself into the story of the Walking Dead, creating a first-person narrative of a theologian who is trying to survive the zombie apocalypse and her reflections of the events that have happened. Specifically, DeCou’s narrator explores the ethical implications of killing zombies. Are they human? When did they cease to be human? Is it okay to kill them even though at one point they were fully human?
John Morehead’s “Zombie Walks, Zombie Jesus, and the Eschatology of Postmodern Flesh” looks at the rising popularity of zombies and what it represents for our North American culture that is increasingly secular in orientation. John Morehead suggests that one of the reasons for the fascination with zombies is the sanitization of death, in that “eventually Western culture shifted from a time in which death was an intimate part of daily experience, to the present period, where most people die in sanitized places removed from the presence and experience even of loved ones.” (pg. 109). Morehead suggests that the phenomenon of Zombie walks “represents an expression of the postmodern eschatological imagination. It draws upon the Christian metanarrative…but also subverts it. The result is that the dead reanimate, but the form of resurrection is one in which personal identity is lost…” (pg. 118)
In “When All is Lost, Gather ‘Round: Solidarity as Hope Resisting Despair in the Walking Dead”, Ashley John Moyse looks at the themes of hope and despair as presented in the t.v. show The Walking Dead. Moyse argues that the key to defeating despair and cultivating hope is the importance of community. Moyse looks at despair and hope by engaging with not only philosopher Friedrich Nietzche but also with philosopher Gabriel Marcel, and theologians Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Kim Paffenroth’s contribution, “Apocalyptic Images and Prophetic Function in Zombie Films” is a reprinted essay, which may be familiar to readers, but is still a strong addition to this anthology. Here, Paffenroth focuses on the George Romero zombies of the “Night of the Living Dead” series, and argues that what makes zombies so scary is the fact that they are “overwhelmingly ordinary…they are terribly and fully human. This ultimately, I think, is their appeal, for they seem so much more “real” to us than more superhuman monsters, such as vampires and werewolves.” (pg. 147).
The final essay in this section is J. Ryan Parker’s “Negotiating (Non) Existence: Justifications of Violence in Robert Kirkmans’ The Walking Dead”, where he too looks at the ethics of killing zombies, though here he focuses not on the t.v. show, but on the graphic novels that were the inspiration for the popular t.v. show. This essay is the weakest of the zombie essays, but provides a good overview of the graphic novel series and points the reader to several other essays on zombies and violence that are must-reads.
So would I recommend this book? If you skip the first two essays yes. Though, I will say that, in general, the book is in need a more thorough edit, as I found typos even in several of the strong essays. Stay tuned for a post interacting with the last three essays in this book that looks at other examples of undead.
To say that evangelicals have neglected ecclesiology is not to say that they have neglected the church altogether. What they have neglected, rather, is a rich theological account of the church. An honest evaluation of evangelicalism must conclude that evangelicals have oftentimes conceded ecclesiology to sociology, history, and, in the worst instances, to entrepreneurship. Evangelicalism to a great degree does not have a richly Trinitarian, Christological, and pneumatological understanding of the church (though there are ever-increasing attempts to address this deficiency).
There are at the very least two reasons for this lack of rich theological description. First, evangelicalism is most often understood as a sociological and historical movement. This view of evangelicalism in turn translates into a sociological view of the church rather than a theological one. Second, practitioners more interested in pragmatic and numerical success than theological reflection are often the ones who shape evangelical ecclesiology. In the words of Barth, they are often more impressed with extensive rather than intensive growth, numerical rather than spiritual increase (though, as Barth himself noted, these need not be mutually exclusive). Nevertheless, to treat the church as a society among societies, as an organization among organizations, as a sociological entity marked by visible success accounted for by secular methods, is to take flight into the visible church and sacrifice its theological identity. What is required is a much more robust theological doctrine of the church.
~Kimlyn Bender, “The Church in Karl Barth and Evangelicalism: Conversations across the Aisle.” in Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism, 192-193.
Yesterday afternoon I spent three hours listening to papers on Introducing Karl Barth to Evangelicals. This session was built off of Michael Allen’s new Barth reader (which looks like a much needed replacement of the reader by Gollowitzer), and each of the four presenters spent some time talking about benefits and hindrances of interacting with Barth from an evangelical perspective.
First up was Michael Allen himself. He spent some time talking about the current state of evangelical culture and how Barth can be helpful in addressing some of the theological issues that evangelicals are wrestling with. He started by saying that it’s important for evangelicals to be aware of how our presuppositions are so much different from the presuppositions of much of modern theology. Biblical scholars do a good job of checking their presuppositions, understanding the disconnect between 21st century readers and the original biblical authors, but for some reason theologians don’t apply that same caution and realization when they interact with more modern theology. In relation to Barth, what this means is that evangelicals often fail to grasp Barth’s theological setting which means we will fail to understand what he is about and what exactly he is doing. Indeed, “Most of us [evangelicals] read Barth as if he’s playing in the ETS world, and he’s not.” The other money quote from Michael Allen’s presentation: “Barth’s work serves as a bomb on the playground of theologians.”
Next up was Marc Cortez. His paper was titled, “An Evangelical and a Universalist Walk into a Bar” and looked at the question of whether or not Barth was a universalist, and how the supposed ambiguity about Barth’s universalism makes evangelicals uncomfortable. The short answer to the question of whether Barth was a universalist is, in the words of Barth himself, “I am not a universalist.” But, that said, there are still questions with his presentation of election and salvation. Dr. Cortez’s presentation was humourous and conversational. His section headings had titles like:
Four reasons to allow Barth to hang out with you in public and Three reasons to make Barth pick up the tab.
After a short intermission, we then had the last two papers by Matt Jenson on Barth and Ecclesiology, and Keith Johnson on Nature and Grace. These two papers were theologically dense, and I had to focus on listening and was unable to take notes during their presentations. I’m hoping to get copies of these two papers at some point so that I can spend time in deeper engagement and refection.
The big news from this panel session was that starting next year, there will be a specific session devoted to the theology of Karl Barth. This is an exciting development and I look forward to seeing the session grow.
…or, this is what happens when my brain is fried.
I sometimes dream about doing something very physical, very practical, and something very not academic. It’s my escape, a way to give my brain a break, a way to cultivate my imagination.
I want to open a pizza shop in Caronport. Can you believe that there is no pizza shop in this college town? How great would a pizza shop be?
And so, in my imagination, I open a pizza shop. It’s a one-counter store. No tables, for people to sit it at, it would mostly be a “take away” concept.
I call it Theo Pizza. And the pizzas are named after theology topics and theologians.
The basic pepperoni and cheese is called The Apostolic – the original, basic pizza that becomes the foundation for all other pizzas.
Pizza flavours that I don’t like get to be named after heretics. So the Hawaiian pizza (by far the worst pizza in the world), would be named The Arius.
The meat-intensive pizza, sometimes called the Meat Pizza or the Mega Meat would be called The Karl Barth, because we all know that his Dogmatics are awfully meaty.
A basic super-cheesy pizza could be called The Joel Osteen.
And of course, there would have to be a pizza named after Caronport. So in honour of the long winter, I would create The Caronport — a white pizza with alfredo sauce, cheese, chicken, potatoes, feta and white onions.
Come and join me in the land of imagination. I invite you to imagine yourself at Theo Pizza. What pizzas do you envision on the menu and what would they be called?
Ashgate has announced the release of a new book on Karl Barth: Barth’s Interpretation of the Virgin Birth by Dr. Dustin Resch. Dustin is Assistant Professor of Theology and Dean of the Seminary at Briercrest College and Seminary. Dustin is a great professor, and his new book is a fantastic addition to the world of Barth scholarship.
I recently posed some questions to Dustin about his research, and here are his responses:
CWT: Schleiermacher rejected both the historicity and the theological necessity of the virgin birth, saying that it was a doctrine that did not adequately explain Christ’s sinlessness. How does Barth react to the understanding of the virgin birth in the theology of Schleiermacher and other Liberal Protestants of the 19th and 20th centuries?
Dustin: Would it be too cheeky to ask you to buy the book to find out the answer(!)? Seriously, though, this is one of the central questions that the book aims to address. The really short answer is that Barth doesn’t do too much to rehabilitate the historicity of the virgin birth, at least on the terms of his contemporaries and immediate predecessors. Instead, Barth devoted his energies to examining what it was that the New Testament authors and the early church found compelling about the teaching that Christ took his human origin from the Holy Spirit, rather than a human father.
In order to do that he teases out the “inner necessity” and “appropriateness” of the teaching of the virgin birth within the broader contours of the great themes of Scripture and the Gospel. This involves Barth in re-thinking the Augustinian linkage between Christ’s virgin birth and his sinlessness. It also places Barth in close dialogue with Roman Catholic Mariology. In the end, Barth argues that the virgin birth a sign of the mystery of God acting in the world but a sign that actually expresses something true and profound about the contours of that mystery. What I found so interesting about this topic is that this rather little doctrine of the virgin birth became an entry into some of the most fascinating aspects of Barth’s theology—biblical interpretation, Christology, election, human agency, soteriology, ecclesiology, and even spirituality!
CWT: Will evangelicals find Barth’s understanding of the virgin birth helpful or is it too Barthian?
Dustin: Another great question, but one I’m not certain how to answer. On the one hand, a large number of important evangelical theologians have come out as “Barthian” with regard to the virgin birth, the late Stanely Grenz and Donald Bloesch among them. Others, I think, have found Barth’s lack of willingness really to engage much in questions of historicity rather off-putting. I think that the most helpful thing that Barth can offer to evangelicals is a way of reading Scripture theologically—his use of aesthetic categories in determining the “necessity” of the virgin birth was quite helpful for me.
CWT: How did you become interested in Barth?
Dustin: As a student at Briercrest Seminary I wrote an MA thesis on Donald Bloesch’s doctrine of Scripture, which introduced me to Barth’s view of Scripture and interpretation. When I was searching for a dissertation topic at McMaster University, I wanted to find a way to study the theological interpretation of Scripture, but I didn’t want to get bogged down in hermeneutics. My supervisor wisely guided me to find a topic in which I could see a master theologian’s interpretation of Scripture at work on a live theological issue—hermeneutics in action, we might say. Barth was an obvious choice as a focus for this endeavour because, not only does he read Scripture so deeply and creatively, he does so as a modern theologian in dialogue with the some of the great thinkers of the western tradition—Irenaeus, Augustine, Thomas, Calvin, Luther, Schleiermacher, etc.
CWT: You did your doctorate at McMaster University under a Patristics expert. How did the influence of a Patristics expert influence your reading and understanding of Barth?
Dustin: That is a wonderful question! My supervisor was Dr. Peter Widdicombe at McMaster University who, in addition to having written a landmark book on Trinitarian theology in the work of theologians from Origen to Athanasius, has been working in the field of the patristic interpretation of Scripture. Peter’s knowledge of the texture of patristic theology and biblical interpretation helped me to see both how Barth remained indebted to the modern protestant heritage, but also retrieved ideas and interpretive practices from the early church. One very practical aspect of working with a patristics scholar was that it became increasingly difficult to become overly-infatuated with Barth—a temptation to which I was rather prone! Peter helped me to remember that the Christian intellectual tradition is broad and deep outside of Basel too.
CWT: Now that your dissertation has been officially published, what’s next on your research plate?
Dustin: I think that if there is a dotted line of research that has continued from my dissertation days to my current interests, then that is likely question of the human appropriation of God’s grace. In the dissertation and book I had the opportunity to explore Barth’s view of Mary. I felt like his treatment of her was less than satisfactory and wondered if perhaps there was more to Catholic Mariology than he thought. My teaching load for the past couple of years and the work that I do in the local church have also involved me in exploring traditions and practices of Christian spirituality. I think that some of these things are coalescing as I explore things like traditions of prayer, forms of worship, sacramental theology, the theology of the Saints, etc. I’d eventually like to write some of my reflections in a book on the theology of spiritual formation. I’d also like to re-visit certain Protestant criticisms of Catholic practices to see if perhaps I might contribute to rapprochement on those fronts. My friend, Tim Perry, has done some really important work in his book, Mary for Evangelicals (InterVarsity, 2006). I wonder if I might walk a bit of the trail that he has blazed.
So if you get a chance, check out Dustin’s new book! Also, if you haven’t already, check out Karl Barth on the Filioque, by Dr. David Guretzki, another professor here at Briercrest.
What have you got?
Well, there’s Theology and Biblical Studies,
Theology Philosophy and Biblical Studies
Theology and Barth
Theology, Biblical Studies and Barth
Theology, Biblical Studies, Philosophy and Barth
Barth, Biblical Studies, Philosophy and Barth
Barth, Theology, Barth, Barth, Biblical Studies and Barth
Barth, Philosophy, Barth, Barth, Barth, Biblical Studies, Barth Exegesis and Barth
Barth, Barth, Barth, Theology and Barth
Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Greek, Barth, Barth, Barth and Barth.
(Choir: Barth! Barth! Barth! Barth! Lovely Barth! Lovely Barth!)
Or the dialectical nature of theology with an emphasis on Chalcedon with a little bit of Hegel on top and Barth.
Another Theology Student:
Have you got anything without Barth?
Well, the Barth, Theology, Philosophy and Barth
That’s not got much Barth in it.
Another Theology Student:
I don’t want any Barth!
Why can’t she have Theology, Biblical Studies, Barth and Philosophy?
Another Theology Student:
That’s got Barth in it!
Hasn’t got much Barth in it as Barth, Theology, Philosophy and Barth has it?
(Choir: Barth! Barth! Barth!…)
Another Theology Student:
Could you do me Theology, Biblical Studies, Barth and Philosophy without the Barth, then?
Another Theology Student:
What do you mean ‘Iiiiiiiiiich’? I don’t like Barth!
(Choir: Lovely Barth! Wonderful Barth!)
Professor (to choir):
(Choir: Lovely Barth! Wonderful Barth!)
Shut Up! Bloody Grad Students!
You can’t have Theology, Biblical Studies, Barth and Philosophy without the Barth.
Another Theology Student:
I don’t like Barth!
Shush dear, don’t have a fuss. I’ll have your Barth. I love it,
I’m having Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Greek,
Barth, Barth, Barth, and Barth!
(Choir: Barth! Barth! Barth! Barth! Lovely Barth! Wonderful Barth!)
Shut Up!! Greek is off.
Well, could I have her Barth instead of the Greek then?
You mean Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth,
Barth and Barth?
Barth! Barth! Barth! Barth!
Lovely Barth! Wonderful Barth!
Barth B-a-a-a-a-a-rth Barth B-a-a-a-a-rth Barth.
Lovely Barth! Lovely Barth! Lovely Barth! Lovely Barth!
Barth Barth Barth Barth!
I’m giving a lecture on Karl Barth’s Christology today in class. So, I’m posting a section on Barth and Chalcedon that I’ll be talking about today.
In 451, the Council of Chalcedon was called to re-examine the decisions of the Second Council of Ephesus in 449, which Pope Leo had called the “Robber’s Synod.” At issue was the question: how is Jesus both human and divine? From Alexandria came the Docetists, who emphasized the deity of Christ over his humanity. There were of course mild and extreme versions of this teaching, from the deity being more important than the humanity, to the extreme that Christ’s humanity was merely an illusion. From Antioch came the Nestorians, who emphasized the humanity of Christ over the deity of Christ. In this understanding, the divine nature of Christ came not from his person but from his relationship to God the Father. In other words, Christ’s divinity was external to his nature.
As the council met, they reaffirmed Tertullian’s teaching that there are two natures in the one person of Christ, and instead of formulating a new creed, which they were reluctant to do , they chose to issue a ‘definition.’ This definition affirmed that Jesus was ‘truly God’ and ‘truly man,’ and that these two natures were to be seen “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons…”
The Chalcedonian Definition is characterized by two terms, ‘deity’ and ‘humanity,’ and one relationship, ‘unity-in-distinction.’ It is a statement that is intentionally minimalist in nature, allowing for flexibility and diversity of understanding as the Chalcedonian Definition does not actually define the terms or the relationship. As George Hunsinger notes, this suggests that “the Chalcedonian Definition is not determined exclusively by soteriological interests. It is also largely a hermeneutical construct.” In other words, the definition “merely reiterated that Jesus was both God and man, but made no attempt to interpret the formula.” It functions more as a paradigm rather than a rule of faith, as it is unconcerned with the ‘how,’ but instead emphasizes what ‘is.’ This allows, then, for mild forms of Alexandrian and Antiochian theology to both be considered within the boundaries of orthodoxy.
Ultimately the key to Chalcedon is to affirm that the “whole work of Christ is to be attributed to his person and not to the one or the other nature exclusively.” The work of Christ cannot be attributed solely to his deity or his humanity. In his earthly ministry, both the divine and the human were present; it was not merely his human flesh that suffered and died, nor at his resurrection was it just his divine nature that appeared. As Barth says of Christ’s ascension, when “…the New Testament witnesses look to him as the One who sits at the right hand of God and will come again from the heaven to which he has ascended, this does not mean that they have ceased to think of the real man Jesus.” This, of course, raises the question: is one position more correct than the other in this paradigm? Hunsinger suggests that, overall, the Alexandrian tendency is more correct in upholding Chalcedon than the Antiochian tendency. This is because, while the Antiochian position only affirms one term, ‘humanity,’ the Alexandrian position affirms one term, ‘deity,’ and the relationship, ‘unity-in-distinction.’
That Barth affirms Chalcedon is quite evident throughout the Dogmatics. The question becomes, then, whether Barth affirms the Definition of Chalcedon using the language and philosophical and theological definitions used by the council in 451.
Bruce McCormack suggests that Barth’s overall Christology underwent a profound shift after II/2. While Barth may, in CD I, affirm and use the ontological definitions of person and nature as understood in the original formula of Chalcedon, by CD IV, he only continues to uphold Chalcedon by redefining the terms, moving away from the terms person and nature, and instead focusing on the language of ‘history.’ As McCormack summarizes, “The result is that Jesus Christ is still seen as truly God, truly human, and is both in a single Subject. But he is seen to be all of this under quite different ontological conditions.” McCormack’s thesis, then, is that the statement that Barth is Chalcedonian “has far more validity for the Christological material found in CD I/2 than it does for the material found in the later doctrine of reconciliation.” McCormack argues that many Barth scholars made the mistake of reading and understanding Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation (CD IV) through the “lens provided by the Christology of CD I/2.”
On the other hand, George Hunsinger sees Barth affirming Chalcedon fairly uniformly throughout the Dogmatics. One of the ways Barth does this is by referring to ‘nature’ or ‘physis’ through the use of the German word, ‘Wesen’ rather than ‘Natur.’ Paul Dafydd Jones argues that, even as early as I/2, Barth hesitates to blindly accept the Greek metaphysical meaning behind ‘nature.’ “Indeed, the concept of ‘physis’ plays no significant role in the preliminary Christology of §15 which surrounds the excursion question, or, in fact, in any paragraph of the Dogmatics.” In §44, Jesus Man for God, for example, Barth does not shy away, nor does he fully rest on the language of ‘nature.’ But, in answering the question of whether Jesus was truly human, Barth uses ‘Wesen’ repeatedly to talk about the human nature of Christ. When discussing Christ’s being and oneness of being with God the Father, Barth uses the word ‘Sein.’
The question, then, is whether or not Barth shifts in his understanding of Chalcedon. While it is true that the Dogmatics were written over several decades, and there may indeed be a maturing or even a changing of Barth’s theology over the years, there seems to be, even in the early stages of his writings, an understanding of the fluidity of the Chalcedon formula. Patrick Patterson argues that, even as early as 1928, in corresponding with Rudolf Bultmann, Barth demonstrates “conceptual eclecticism,” that is, while appropriating language and creeds and philosophical constructs, Barth was not bound to them. For example, while Barth did indeed use the language and terms of Plato and Aristotle, “his own use of their terminology [does not] imply his having buckled on the armour of a particular philosophy.”
Indeed, Barth’s interaction with and use of Chalcedon, for all its inherent minimalism, is complex. Jones identifies two components to Barth’s use of Chalcedon. First, Barth sets out to use Chalcedon as a way to respond and react to 19th-century Liberal Protestantism. In responding to the likes of Schleirmacher, Harnack and Ritschl, Barth “argues that ‘nature’ has been improperly misunderstood. Early Christian writers used this term to describe the multi-dimensional totality of an entity…encompass[ing] the ‘physical’ and ‘ethical’ dimensions of the human being.”
Second, Barth’s use of Chalcedon is a vehicle to point to the simplicity and complexity of Scripture. Barth’s Christology is based first and foremost on the New Testament, rather than on a later philosophical or theological construction. Thus, Barth adopts Chalcedon as a “hermeneutical construct.” Following the pattern of the New Testament, Barth holds in tension the teaching that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, and that the Son of God is Jesus of Nazareth. As Jones notes, “the unique name of Jesus Christ functions as something akin to a dogmatic synthetic a priori.” For Barth, the Chalcedonian Definition can be summarized by the simple statement: Jesus is “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14).
Coakley’s analysis of the usefulness of the Chalcedonian Definition and the fundamental difference between how the West and East understood the purpose of the formula may be useful here. While she does not directly reference Barth, it appears that in her description of the use of Chalcedon, Barth would embrace a more ‘Eastern’ understanding of the definition. That is, where the West understood the definition primarily as a rule, the East saw “beyond the limit” and turned the definition into something flexible enough to even be used in liturgical prayer. Barth takes an “Eastern” perspective on Chalcedon, exploring its flexibility and using it to go beyond the basic Christological question.
This can be seen in two ways. First, Barth alternates between an Antiochian and Alexandrian voice in his doctrine of Christology. This of course causes problems for scholars who, without reading all the way through Barth’s extended argument, charge Barth with either being Nestorian or Docetic. Because the definition is a paradigm with flexibility and with ambiguity as to the definition of the terms and the relationship between the two natures, Barth explores the boundaries of the paradigm, and indeed seems to be following the biblical pattern of “employing a diversity of idioms.”
Second, by exploring the flexibility of the definition, and by not being tied down to specific ontological terms, Barth is able to reapply the Chalcedonian Definition to construct his doctrine of vocation in IV.3.2. Here, Barth looks as the relationship between God (divine) and the Christian (human) in the calling to be witnesses. Thus, Barth reformulates the Chalcedonian Definition from being strictly Christological to being a vehicle in which to explore the overall relationship between the Divine and the human. Thus the two terms and relationship (divine, human and unity-in-distinction) can be redefined as ‘asymmetry,’ ‘intimacy,’ and ‘integrity.’
So the question then becomes: is the charge against Barth that he is Antiochian in his portrayal of the humanity of Christ accurate? That Barth is charged with Nestorianism (Antiochian tendency) is often the result of the critic’s “failure to appreciate Barth’s dialectical strategy of juxtaposition.” Of course this is easy to do, given that Barth often takes hundreds of pages to get to the other side of his dialectic. At its core, an Antiochian Christology understands Christ’s divinity coming not from his inherent nature, but from his relationship to God. In this position, Jesus’ relationship with God “is fundamentally extrinsic to the constitution of his person.”
Charles Waldrop argues that, while Barth does appear to take an Antiochian voice at various points in his Christology, the Antiochian elements that he embraces ultimately fit into an overall theological framework that is Alexandrian. Waldrop grounds this in Barth’s theology of revelation:
Just as the human words of Scripture and preaching remain creaturely realities although they become the Word of God when God speaks through them, so also the human nature of Jesus Christ becomes the Word of God in the event of revelation…This Antiochian conceptualization, however, is based upon the Alexandrian claim that Jesus is fully and absolutely identical with the Word of God who speaks through the human nature, Scripture, and preaching.
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