Published October 5th 2000 by Cambridge University Press
To me, this book is quite an achievement and enjoyable to read.
But beginners (and non-professionals) may need some professional guidance to grapple with its advanced content.
For, on the one hand, it assumes basic acquaintanceship with Barth’s work per se and some formal training in the field of systematic theology.
And on the other, the contributors, though all sympathetic to Barth, hold some different perspectives in their approaches.
Painting with a broad stroke, there are four major voices in this book: postliberal, radical orthodox, neo-reformed, and the German tradition.
Personally, I am happy to see that Webster (the most influential Barth scholar in UK) drawing together these Barth interpreters from diverging school of thoughts. But you probably won’t be able to tell and slide through their differences and synthesize their views.)
I recommend ch.1, 10, 14, 15, 18 of this book for beginners that have not completed any single volume of CD themselves. They are accessible and written in good styles.
As for ch.2-9, 11-3, which each takes an aspect of Barth doctrine of theological prolegomena, revelation, Scripture, Trinity, Election, Creation, Christology, Soteriology, Pneumatology, liturgy, and ethics, you will need to be able to contrast Barth against the backdrop of the traditional (evangelical) and liberal understanding of these topics in order to appreciate what Barth is doing. The contributors here do not necessarily help you do this. This is not a problem to me, and some chapters really helped me to set Barth’s CD in order.
But it should be said that the section in this companion is not for any novice who wants to read Barth as their first and primary tutor about how to talk about God systematically.
Apparently, the most seminal and controversial piece in this companion is ch.6 ‘Grace and Being’ by Bruce McCormack, which sparkled a fierce debate over a decade since its publication (on the theological ontology of God’s immanence, aseity, and election).
His chapter is not only important but also very inspirational to read, especially for what is now known as ‘actualistic ontology’ in not just theological but philosophical circles as well.
Personally, I found ch.17 ‘Barth, modernity, postmodernity’ by Graham Ward a very wise inclusion in this companion. For up until now, the solution and inspiration Barth offers for overcoming the epistemological and ethical plight in the secular world are underappreciated by theologians unfamiliar with the larger picture of contemporary critical thinking.
And this is one of the reasons why conservative theology has lost its mic to speak publicly while liberal theology has lost its vowels to speak loudly.
Graham Ward is one among those (along with Stanley Hauerwas, Joseph Magina, Paul Dafydd Jones, Steven Long, Nicholas Adams) who are insightful and capable of bringing out the bearings of Barth’s theology unto this world which has never thought they want or need to think about theology.
In my opinion, these two chapters are for the more ‘advanced’, and they are also the most rewarding chapters to read.
All in all, this book is highly recommended.
Although Barth insists (against Albrecht Ritschl and his followers) that God shows anger against sin and that God’s wrath is something very real and must be reckoned with, Barth denies that this wrath of God is turned away by the reconciliation of Christ . You must wonder why. The reason is that this binds God into an abstract law of necessity and reduces the act of God into a drama between the divine Persons.
Even though Jesus Christ is our Substitute who stands in our place and bears the full penalty of our sin, Barth is hesitant to call this a real punishment (with reference to Isa 53). He states:
But we must not make this [the concept of punishment] a main concept as in some of the older presentations of the doctrine of the atonement (especially those which follow Anselm of Canterbury), either in the sense that by His [Christ’s] suffering our punishment we are spared from suffering it ourselves, or that in so doing He “satisfied” or offered satisfaction to the wrath of God. The latter thought is quite foreign to the New Testament.(CD IV/1:253)
For Barth the concept of satisfaction is « quite foreign” to the New Testament. Though the concept needs not be completely rejected, for him « satisfaction » can only mean that
which suffices for the reconciliation of the world with God has been made (satis fecit) and can be grasped only as something which has in fact happened, and not as something which had to happen by reason of some upper half of the event; not, then, in any theory of satisfaction, but only as we see and grasp the satis-facere which has, in fact, been achieved. (CD IV/1:276)
Barth is adamant that we cannot force what has divinely taken place into a preconceived abstract concept (whether it means ‘legal justice’, ’emotional satisfaction’, or whatever); rather, we can only begin to understand the meaning of God’s act by grappling with the Christ event itself.
For Barth « substitution » has already taken place in the man Jesus Christ before the creation of humanity (supralapsarianism). In his view God’s wrath never precedes man’s confrontation with the gospel, and Christ’s death has not been made necessary by historical sin.
Then if this concept of punishment was to be retained (as it should), it must be bestowed an ‘idealistic sense’ according to which the God-man Jesus took humanity’s place from eternity as an “eternal reprobate from God”.
However, to avoid the feminist’s charge against substitutionary atonement as a ‘monstrous child abuse’, our theological construction must be deep down Trinitarian lest we ‘individualize’ the Father and the Son as if the superior one was abusing the inferior person’s will.
In response to this, Bruce McCormack has Barth’s Trinitarian view on the atonement excellently put:
The problem is that death, however it is conceived, is a human experience. How then could the death of Jesus Christ be an event between God and God, between, that is, an eternal father and an eternal Son who is understood along the lines of a Logos simpliciter [that is, the Divine Logos apart from his identity as the human-incarnated Jesus]? So the logic of penal substitution is not that the Father does something to his « eternal Son » (as the charge of « cosmic » child abuse would suggest). An action of the eternal Father upon the eternal Son (seen in abstraction from the assumed humanity) would require a degree of individuation between the two such that the « separation » needed for an action of the one upon the other becomes unthinkable.
This is a human experience of the Logos. Therefore, it is an event between the eternal Father and the Logos as human. The « object » of the action is, therefore, the Logos as human. What happens in the outpouring of the wrath of God by the Father upon Jesus Christ is that the human experience of the « penalty of death » that humans have merited through their sinfulness is taken into the very life of God himself.
But then we still have to consider the logic of the « subject. » The subject who delivers Jesus Christ up to death is not the Father alone. For the Trinitarian axiom opera trinitas ad extra sunt indivisa means that if one does it [economically], they all do it. So it is the triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who gives himself over to this experience. And that also means, then, that the Father is not doing something to someone other than himself. The triune God pours his wrath out upon himself in and through the human nature that he has made his own in his second mode of his being — that is the ontological significance of penal substitution. The triune God takes this human experience into his own life; he « drinks it to the dregs. » And in doing so, he vanquishes its power over us. That, I would submit, is the meaning of penal substitution when seen against the background of a well-ordered Christology and a well-ordered doctrine of the Trinity. [all emphasis mine]
—Bruce L. McCormack, ‘The Ontological Presuppositions of Barth’s Doctrine of the Atonement’ in The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological & Practical Perspectives, Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James III eds. (Intervarsity: MI, 2004), 366
In this article, Bruce McCormack argues that we should dispense with the apostolic doctrine of divine impassibility, not just because of Adolf von Harnack’s Hellenization thesis (that the apostolic fathers’ exegesis has been contaminated by platonic thoughts), but more so because of Christology.
It is more justifiable to speak of God‘s fidelity and constancy. God’s affectivity is demonstrated in His own free power and His innermost essence, open and ready to co-suffering with alien suffering. Barth criticizes Schleiermacher’s conception of absolute dependence because the source of this absolute dependence has no heart and no soul (KD II/1, p.416; CD II/1, p.370).
For Barth, the human Jesus that suffers and dies is truly and fully God, and this creates two problems concerning the immutability and the impassability of God.
We have only two options. The first is to mystify the relationship between the ontic Trinity and the economic Trinity—that the transcendent God is also the immanent God with us is a paradox, a paradox culminated in Mk 15:34: « My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? » In the incarnation God not only becomes the creature, but gives himself over to the human’s contradiction of him, placing himself under the judgment that rests on that contradiction.
But according to Barth this solution is intolerable in that it sets God in self-contradiction. How can God reconcile the world with Himself if there is any fundamental self-contradiction in His [immanent and economic] nature?
Communication of attributes between Christ‘s two natures is an area of debate between reformed orthodoxy and Lutheran theology. But no one here who holds to the traditional paradox can give a satisfactory single-subject Christological account of the communication of attributes without either drifting into Nestorianism or winding up with greater paradox.
The only remaining option is to affirm that God has completely faithful to Himself. God must be fully committed in being in Christ and must not flirt with other possibilities. We can successfully hold this claim only by beginning with what God does in Jesus Christ, such a God that can be emptied, humiliated, suffer, and die. God’s immutability is preserved by if we speak of the ontology of God first and foremost in light of the Christocentric historical revelation. The Majesty of the father and the obedience of the son are manifestations of a single divine subject in different modes of being, a purposive /willed “self-repetition”. We might say it is precisely the father’s majestic command which posits Himself over against himself in the person of the son that is capable of responding in obedience.
Tweaking Barth’s theology in this actualistic way, there will be no room left for divine impassability.
The homecoming of the son of man” in CD IV/2
Barth and Cyril of Alexander both hold to the conviction that “what the man Jesus does, God does.” Cyril’s solution is to instrumentalize the human nature of Jesus to make it a tool/performative agent of the Logos as the single subject in Jesus Christ.
But to prevent it from collapsing into a Hegelian reduction, the abstractness of the Chalcedonian formula needs some reworking. Classically there is a static center between the great divine acts of virginal conception and resurrection that bypasses the history of Jesus. Barth thinks that we have to ‘actualize’ the doctrine of the incarnation that the traditional concepts of unio, communion, and communication will be all “terms which speak of actions, operationes, events.” (CD IV/2 p.46)
Christ exists in a modality of being in perfect receptivity in a kind of relation of his humanity that is more than merely economic, it constitutes God second mode of being in eternity. That the command and the obedience are the dual aspects of the divine election into eternal processions means the second person of the Trinity is always the “Logos asarkos in anticipation of the Logos ensarkos”. The hypostatic union is not a static state but can only be spoken as hypostatic uniting from a timeless aspect. Barth has set aside the essentialism of the ancient church and rejected that there is a Logos acting in and through and upon the human nature. He exchanged what was essentialist for an understanding that is historicized and actualistic.
Barth is not Arian, but also not a modalist according to the following reasons:
1) Though Modalists (Noetus and Praxeas) and Barth both attributed suffering to the Father in certain ways, Barth has an adequate distinction between the person of the Father and that of the Son. The threes persons for Barth are distinguished not according to temporal or economic phases, but in the decision that takes place in eternity. The modalist thinking has been continued in 19th century Lutheran kenoticism (Wolfgang Gess). (Notice also that Swiss reformed concept of “the genus tapeinoticum” [literally: the “genus of humility”] is the logical contrary of the Lutheran genus majestaticum.)
2) Barth also distinguishes himself from Sabellius. The three persons for Barth exist in their different modes of being, and for Sabellius different modes of appearance.
3) Barth identifies the misguided doctrinal commitment to divine impassibility as the root problem of both modalism and subordinationism. That is to say, God could have remained impassible only if He did not elect Himself to be for us. But since He did and He is completely faithful to whom He is, then there is no place for impassibility.
McCormack’s final suggestion is that Karl Barth has completely moved away and beyond early church fathers, including Cappadocian fathers, in terms of metaphysical framework.
The Scholastic effort to tie them back together is wrong and useless. We have to accept Karl Barth and reject church fathers because their worldviews were conditioned by their Hellenistic world rather than the biblical one. This is inevitable because the Bible simply did not give us a firm and consistent teaching in metaphysics. That is not the concern of the biblical writers. This means today we have to develop a different set of Scriptural ontology according to our best understanding of the conditions of our time- the postmodern, and even the postliberal condition.
Source: DAVID GIBSON, « A Mirror for God and for Us: Christology and Exegesis in Calvin’s Doctrine of Election », International Journal of Systematic Theology Volume 11 Number 4 October 2009, pp.448-465
【Excerpt and Summary】
Calvin’s exegesis yields a view of Christ’s role in election which may be traced across a spectrum: reaching back into eternity there is the pre-existent Son who is the author of election, the active subject who participates in the decree of election, and there is also Christ the object of the decree, the Elect One, both as the pre-existent Mediator and as the Mediator in time. In his role as the pre-existent Mediator, Christ is the ‘Head’ of the elect, the one in whom certain humans are elected.
Christ the subject of election: The electing God
Concerning the election of Judas, in Jn 6:70 he is one of the chosen; in Jn 13:18 he is not (‘I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen’). For Calvin the sense in which Judas is both chosen and not chosen is because two very different kinds of choosing are on display:
First a temporal election is meant by which God appoints us to any particular work – just like Saul who was elected king.
Then Christ speaks of the eternal election by which we are made God’s children, and by which God predestined us to life before the creation of the world.
For Calvin, the eternally reprobate can actually be adorned with God’s gifts which enable them to carry out their office (like Saul or Judas), but this is entirely different from the sanctification of the Spirit. Christ/God in history plays an active role not just in the temporal choosing of the twelve to the apostolic office (and Israel to be His law-keeper and so on), but also according to his divine nature in the eternal choosing of individuals in a salvific sense.
When it comes to Jn 15:16, 19 (‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit’), however, Calvin equivocates between assigning a temporal or an eternal referent to it. He first admits that this passage does not ‘treat of the common election of believers’, by which they are adopted to be God’s children, but of that special election by which he appointed his disciples to the office of preaching the gospel’. But he still wants to affirm the clear parallel between this temporal election and eternal election: both the beginning of salvation (eternal election), and all the parts which flow from it (in this case appointment to the office of preaching), issue from Christ’s free mercy. Christ is the author of both forms of election.
Christ the object of election:
The mediating God-man and preexistent Son; Christ is the object of election in an eternal sense by being the one in whom the elect from the human race are chosen (John 15, 17). Calvin’s description of this love is sharply focused on the economy – it is a love of the Son, but it is a love that must be referred to us. The title of beloved belongs to Christ alone. God loves none but in Christ. For Calvin, it is not that we are chosen by God and, on the basis of that choice, engrafted into Christ’s body; we are too lowly, even in an unfallen state, to merit God’s favor. Rather, God looked upon our head, and predestined the chosen to life only as they were members of Christ. Christ is a mirror in which God looks to see us.
It is vital to note that eternal election is not an end in itself for Calvin, but is merely the structural ground of the temporal work of salvation. For Calvin the title ‘the beloved Son’, at least in election contexts, appears to work not at the level of describing immanent Trinitarian relations, but rather the economic relations of the Father, the Son, and the people who belong to the Son. Christ confirm what the Father has decreed on our salvation by actually effecting it.
Christ the object of our faith, the elected Man and the head/ representative of the Elect.
Calvin is most interested in describing Christ as the object of faith. Depictions such as “author of the great blessing” (Jn 6:26) and “author of life (Jn 6:33) are less claims about Christ’s divine essence than they are claims about his office of Mediator in time (Notice in Jn 6:32 . Jesus says that ‘his Father, rather than he himself, is the author of this gift.). 創始成終 is understood as a historical category.
There is the closest possible correlation between the work of the Father and the work of the Son. The Father wills salvation in the Son, and this is what the Son has come to achieve. By entering the world to execute the Father’s eternal decree, Christ stands as faith’s object in salvation. Our faith is a response to this Father-Son relation.
Faith is the neotic basis for a sufficient knowledge of election. The election of God in itself is hidden and secret. The Lord manifests it by the calling in time.
Whoever is not satisfied with Christ but inquires/speculate elsewhere about eternal predestination desires to be saved contrary to God’s purpose. The nuance is that their election is not the only thing that God has decreed for them; he has also decreed their faith [in Christ]. Christ mediates the salvation that flows from eternal election by being the object of the elect person’s faith.
To be sure, Christ’s eternal mediation is vitally important, but it is so less because of the knowledge it gives about the trinitarian ground of election and more because of the knowledge it gives of free and certain salvation.
Here Calvin speaks of his second distinction of Eternal and Temporal election: The former may be described as election itself; the latter as the salvation that flows from election.
Temporal election: for redemptive purpose in time and sanctification. Election is known in Christ.
Eternal election: timeless; sealed by the Holy Spirit and inscribed in the Book of Life. Election is in Christ.
As one inseparable (where time connects with eternity) reality, election and faith are executed separately –election in eternity, calling to faith in time.*
Calvin’s logical timeline of election:
In sum, Calvin begins in eternity with election in Christ. While election is properly described as decreed by the Father, Calvin is clear that Christ also participates in the choosing [of specific individuals that will belong to Him]. As we move along the line and enter the world of created reality, we encounter a universal calling of the gospel which is made effective in the hearts of the elect. Here they come to faith in Christ, and experience regeneration and adoption into God’s family.
【Further Reflection and Critique】
First, the problem in Calvin’s « faith in time » is that it is a depiction of the cognitive aspects of faith only and falls short of a concrete ecclesial narrative form. Too much weight is given to propositional and forensic account of salvation and too little room is left for collective imagination and praxis.
The dynamic relationship between the « temporal election for divine office » (e.g., King: Saul; Apostle: Judas; Covenant People: Israel; Judge: Samson) and the « temporal election into salvific faith » is underdeveloped.
Calvin only gives us a positive example where the « apostleship as a divine office » corresponds with the temporal coming to faith, which must be correctly understood as the actualization of the eternal decree. But he does not spell out how temporal election for divine office can aslo correspond to the eternal decree in a non-salvific sense: the forever damnation of Judas and forever loss of Saul.
Paul Helm thinks that Calvin understands the incarnate Christ as a ‘fit, consistent, or appropriate expression’ of the character of the Logos asarkos (eternal Son in Calvin’s conception) not merely of his omnipotence but also of his moral character. This move is to maintain the continuity between the incarnate Son and the eternal Son. But in this way Eutychism looms in (i.e., the incarnated Jesus only has one nature and it’s all about His divinity). How we maintain the distinction between Jesus two nature while keeping the ontological continuity the incarnated and the eternal One is the challenge!
On the other hand, Karl Barth and Bruce McCormack’s concern that Calvin’s eternal Son has an ‘identity shrouded in darkness’, though seems to be not completely on target (given Calvin’s commentary on Jn 13:18), must nonetheless be registered as legitimate. For Calvin’s immanent Trinity gives us a weak Son in terms of dramatic personality. He is the electing God, but beyond this affirmation we could only speculate other things about Him.This is because for Calvin the incarnated Son is a mere temporal expression of who He eternally is and not the other way around.
While the economic Son’s role as object of faith is underscored, how this Logos ensarkos would illumine us about the Logos asarkos is not theologically undergirded in Calvinism.
The doctrine that is traditionally called extra Calvinisticum (Lat. « The Calvinistic beyond/outside ») exposes further issue. It claims that Logos was also outside or beyond the physical body of Christ. This was meant to protect the immanent Trinity from being reduced to immanent “Duality” when the economic Trinity is at work with the creation during Jesus’ 33 years earthly sojourn.
To explain the function of the extra Calvinisticum in Calvin, E.D. Willis puts it in this way: While Logos asarkos mediated the divine ordering of the universe from its beginning, Logos ensarkos performed the reconciling work without the cessation or diminution of his mediation of this divine ordering.
‘[T]he Son of God left heaven only in such a way that he continued to exercise his dominion over it; the Incarnation was the extension of his empire, not the momentary abdication of it’.
But for Willis, Calvin jeopardizes his own stance on Christocentric revelation by prioritizing election as God’s eternal will, which is discoverable by us outside the Christ event itself. If this is true, then incarnation is relegated as extension that is only complementary (rather than integral or comprehensive) to a bigger revelation. Then this “bigger revelation”, while still will commit in prioritizing the Bible over human reason, really could not defend itself from degenerating into Biblicism, dominion theology, and/or natural theology.
Thus, it is on the one hand vital to see Barth’s criticism [though ill-informed] against Calvin’s failure to assign the active subjective role to Christ in election in good terms—both Calvin and Barth want to affirm Christ as the electing God who mediates salvation in His free grace and unconditional love. On the other hand it is also crucial to understand the excruciating problem with Logos asarkos and extra Calvinisticum posited in old metaphysical framework. Nowhere in the Bible do the apostles claim to have knowledge about the preexistent (asarkos or extra) Logos apart from what we may know in Jesus’s own being and revealed words.
By consequence, it makes much better sense to speak of the Logos incarnandus (the Logos ‘to be incarnate) regarding to the passages on the preexistent Son, and this requires us to adopt an actualistic ontology that grounds our Christology in history: the historical Jesus Christ.