§1.14 Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics concerns Revelation.
Not the last book of the bible (which is NOT called Revelations in the plural, one of my pet peeves) but revelation in the sense of God revealing God’s self to humanity.
How is it, in other words, that the Eternal, Unknowable, Wholly Transcendent God can be known in space and time?
Predictably- or I should say reliably- Barth has one simple answer to that question: Jesus Christ.
Jesus, as the one Word of God, is the revelation by which we know God.
The only revelation.
This is one of Barth’s constant themes in all his work not just the CD. For example, its’ the motivating assertion in the Barmen Declaration, the confession of faith Barth wrote in opposition to the Nazi’s nationalizing of the German Church.
Barth insists: We do not have abstract, universal ideas of “god” which we can deduct from logic or the natural world and which then correlate to the true God.
Abstract, universal concepts of god only lead an abstract, universalizing deity ready-made for idolatry, Barth believes.
They do not, could not, lead you to the very particular God of Jesus and Israel.
As is often the case, it’s theological liberalism that provokes Barth’s arguments.
Barth is wary of the tendency in theological liberalism to see the particularity of Jesus Christ as merely a cipher for more universal principles which we can adhere to apart from Jesus Christ. That is, Barth wants to avoid liberalism’s tendency to say ‘once we get past the particular forms and practices of our religions, we all really believe the same thing.’
While I concur with Barth’s concerns and while I normally enjoy his ballsy rhetoric and sweeping generalizations, in this instance I part ways with Karl.
On the most elementary and obvious level, the assertion that God cannot be known apart from the revelation of Jesus Christ is demonstrably false.
People knew God prior to Jesus Christ, and people do know God today apart from Jesus Christ. A whole lot of people, actually. I’m friends with some of them.
One could argue, I suppose, that such people worship this God wrongly if they do worship in the name of Christ, but if there is only one God then its logically impossible that they do ‘know’ him.
On another, more problematic level for me is that by suggesting the revelation of God happens only through Jesus Christ, Barth disconnects creation itself from God.
Creation for Barth isn’t really any different than how the Deist understands creation:
something which God made at some discrete point in the past and which God now stands distantly apart from or above.
And for Barth, you get the impression that God’s been so long away from his handiwork it no longer bears his fingerprints.
As Barth puts it in this section, Jesus Christ is the ‘light that shines in the darkness’ and the darkness is not revelation the light is revelation.
This world = darkness.
This is where Barth diverges from the ancient tradition and I don’t think I can go with him.
For the ancient Christians, creation itself, including us in it, are expressions of God’s revelation (or contained within it, so to speak).
All the universe, as Isaiah says, is full of the glory of God. Present tense.
Accordingly, said the ancient Christians, to know anything-
1+1 = 2
the wing speed of a hummingbird
hitting a ball on the sweet spot of a bat
the feel of my son’s hand in my own
the scent of my wife’s hair-
is already to know, however partially, God.
Barth’s understandable emphasis on the particular revelation of Christ unfortunately comes at the expense of transcendent reality.
Rather than saying, as Barth does, that Jesus Christ is the only revelation by which we know God, I think it better to say that Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation by which we know God.
Christ is not so much the singular revelation of God but he is the summary of the fullness of God.
That in him is the totality of the One in whom we live and move and have our being.