Monday, January 10, 2011

Church Dogmatics 1.1.2

You say what you are. That’s what Barth is getting at in this section. Perhaps “are” is the wrong term, as it presupposes a metaphysic of being (and the personal jury is still out as to whether Barth’s is a metaphysics of ontology). Nevertheless, Barth’s doctrine of revelation--what you say--is dictated by what you are. Say, then, that you are God, then Truth is what you are. So what you say of yourself, what you reveal of yourself, is Truth. Say, then, that you are a human being. Limited. A created thing. A creature. Your “saying” is also limited and created, encompassing at best only a world of created things.

But when the Church becomes--when it is elected in God’s providence for faith in the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth, then it confesses what it knows to be there, but with created lips. And so Truth erupts eschatologically into the world through its confession--a confession it is given, not one it has appropriated, a confession born of seeking not of obtaining. “It does not have to begin by finding or inventing the standard by which it measures [what is true]. It sees and recognizes that this is given within the Church. It is given in its own peculiar way, as Jesus Christ is given, as God in His revelation gives Himself to faith. But it is given” (12).

There are two levels of knowledge, even as they are two levels of what can be expressed. Because it is Jesus who speaks, and because Jesus is the incarnate Son, and because the Son enjoys the pure agape of trinitarian fellowship with the Father, then his word can be trusted. His word, he himself, is an analogia fidei (τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως) which is a true canon. “He is the truth, not merely in Himself, but also for us as we know Him solely by faith in Jesus Christ” (12).

The one level is a level of perfect comprehension and speech--a “charismatic theology from within” whose characteristic theologian in Paul. The other is steps out after, asking and fumbling according to the ontology of those who ask. “As the Church accepts from Scripture, and with divine authority from Scripture alone, the attestation of its own being as the measure of its utterance . . . (16 emphasis mine). This is a “theology from without” whose characteristic theologians are the second-century apologists. “It alone creates fellowship and can be ecclesiastical and scientific” (22). Nevertheless, it is “always undertaken as an act of penitent obedience” and its chief method is prayer born of faith that the Spirit “will guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16.13 ESV). It believes that “in, with and under the human question [note the inference to Luther’s doctrine of the Eucharistic presence] dogmatics speaks of the divine answer” (12).

I should note, as well, that this two-layered matrix of speech, the Truth and the questions that point to the truth, is very reminiscent of the scholastic argument that the efficacy of the sacrament was not bound to the piety of the officiant, or lack of it.

I like that Barth is not content to set out on beaten paths. He goes to foundations and comes back with a doctrine of revelation that I’ve heard lampooned and spoken against my whole life. Barth’s theology can make a dead dog into divine revelation. He denigrates the scriptures, they say, and dissolves revelation into subjectivity.

Most of these criticisms and the critics that wield them have not read Barth, or, if they have read him, have not attempted to understand him--at least that is my governing hypothesis. I do not think he denigrates church history, the creeds, or the scriptures. They are, in fact, the matrix upon which his Dogmatics is built. So the truth of the matter is more subtle.

I have the feeling Barth is not out to change the accident but the substance of theological activity in the world. And I have a feeling he is wresting the podium from the hands of confident rhetoricians and reminding everyone, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great” (Prv. 25.6 ESV). The self-revealing of the Triune God is a power beyond the epistemological dictates of scientific reductionism, and He is coming into the world.

And I wonder if Barth is reading Calvin better than Calvin has been read in a very long time. I wonder if Barth is breathing the spirit/Spirit of the Reformers and grasping the true sense of ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, the church reformed and always reforming, and therefore calling subsequent comfortable Protestant-scholasticism what it is.

; ; ;