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Barth Against the Apostle Paul and the anti-Barth Industry

I have been trying to figure out if I should post a long long post on Karl Barth against Pelgianism and semi-Pelagianism mediated through George Hunsinger’s commentary on such things; or if instead I shouldn’t post on a paulcritique of Karl Barth’s theology, and in particular his soteriology. I am opting for my second option, and then in the days to come will provide the other one from Hunsinger in response to said critique of Barth’s salvation. Before I get started, then, let me just make this comment: If someone is going to critique Barth, in my view, they ought to do due diligence in representing him fairly – which really can’t be done by providing a single quote from him, and then a secondary voice provided by one of his primary commentators (i.e. Bruce McCormack). The following critique of Karl Barth seems to fail at properly appreciating Barth’s own nuancing; which then would make the critique one that is based on a straw man V. something substantive. Furthermore, if someone is going to make a critique of someone else’s theology, in general or particular, then that someone needs to make said critique based upon sound theological premises themselves; if said critiquer does not do so, then their critique ends up being a limp-wristed critique that really doesn’t mean much.

Here’s the critique of Karl Barth and his view of salvation:

Affirming that the saving work of God is indivisible, where the moments of redemption are distinct but inseparable, keeps one from falling into two errors:

(1) There is the error of collapsing the moment of redemption applied into the moment of redemption accomplished, as is the case in Karl Barth’s theology. For Barth, God’s act of reconciliation is a grace that cannot be “split up into an objective grace which is not as such strong and effective for man but simply comes before him as a possibility, and a subjective grace which, occasioned and prepared by the former, is the corresponding reality as it actually comes to man.” Writing on justification and sanctification, Barth is at pains to avoid setting up a “dualism between an objective procuring of salvation there and then and a subjective appropriation of salvation here and now.” Such a dualism, according to Barth, overlooks “the simultaneity of the one work of salvation, whose Subject is the one God by the one Christ through the one Spirit—’being more closely bound together than in a mathematical point.'” On the basis of this unitary character of the one work of God in Christ, Barth rejected the concept of a temporal ordo in the divine salus, if by it is meant “a temporal sequence [of acts] in which the Holy Spirit brings forth His effects …  here and now in men….”

Though Barth was well intentioned, his view is seriously flawed for a number of reasons. In exchanging the temporal for the simul, Barth has collapsed redemption applied into redemption accomplished. What Paul holds as temporally distinct-but-inseparable moments on the eschatological canvas of his soteriology, Barth unites together as simultaneously distinct-but-inseparable moments. Barth’s desire to avoid presenting what Christ has done as “proffered opportunity and possibility” is commendable, but the exchange of the temporal for the simul collapses redemption accomplished and applied into one temporal act. In doing so, Barth not only elimimates the Pauline distinction of the here-and-now work of the Spirit from the there-and-then work of Christ, but he also erases in man’s existentialist experience the once-fallen state from the now-renewed state. This is at variance with several Pauline texts…. [Jonathan Gibson, “The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of God in Christ,” in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, 343-44]

Since this is a blog post I am going to fall prey to my own critique above: i.e. that we should avoid simplistic characterizations of certain positions and appraisal of things. But I am already out of space and time for this post. So here is my limp-wristed response to a limp-wristed critique of Barth.

George Hunsinger highlights something that Gibson glibly over-looks (I think); Hunsinger identifies a key to Barth’s theology that every critique I have ever read of Barth and/or Thomas Torrance’s soteriology fails to appreciate or even grasp. The one thing that is ubiquitously over-looked in the anti-Barth industry, the key that is terminally ill-grasped is this: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ! Jonny Gibson, and the rest of anti-Barth barthexegesis can argue all day and all night and still not make any head-way against Barth and his theology. Gibson can argue all he wants about this supposed lacunae in Barth’s soteriology, and try to place Barth against the Apostle Paul; and at the very end of it all, I can say, as can any advocate of Barthian themed theology: so what?! If for Barth, all of this talk about temporal sequenciation in salvation can be located somewhere else other than in individually elect people (as it is for Gibson, which presents us with a deeper theological problem in relation to a doctrine of creation), like in the vicarious humanity of Christ; then we pro-Barth’s can take all of this kind of biblically exegetically pure exposition, of say, the Apostle Paul, and grant it. And then move it to the singular event of God’s life, and see the detailed nuance and temporalization of things therein. Here is how George Hunsinger muses on the vicariousness and saving faith in the theology of Barth:

[…] To say that Jesus Christ is the “pioneer of faith” (Heb. 12:2), Barth suggests, is not to say that his faith is merely the exemplar of ours, but that it is the vicarious ground and source of our faith. “There is vicarious faith,” writes Barth, “… only in the form of the faith which Jesus Christ established for us all as the archegos tes pisteos (Heb. 12:2), who empowers us for our own faith, and summons us to it, even as he stands there in our stead with his faith. Through his faith, we are not only moved but liberated to believe for ourselves” (IV/4, 186). Our faith may be said to exist “as a predicate” of his in the sense that whatever is real and true “in this Subject” is the foundation for whatever is correspondingly real and true in us (cf. II/2, 539). In short, our subjective apprehension of God does not exist independently, but only insofar as its source, mediation, and ground are found in the humanity of Jesus Christ. [George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology, 96, Nook.]

Jonny Gibson and the anti-Barth industry has deeper problems. They make election and salvation a predicator of God’s life, rather than vice versa. They collapse grace into nature, and seek to avoid this by fabricating an abstract conception of decrees and logico-causation that attempts to create a mechanism that keeps God unmoved by his creation. But then the Incarnation happens, and God becomes subject and subserviant to His creation, to the elect he is seeking to purchase, to the elect he is going to die for; and thus God becomes who he is in Christ by meeting the conditions of the decrees, themselves (the decrees) being fabricated in the first place to keep God from becoming a predicate of creation (and this attempt fails).

There is more to be said. But this is too long already. More to come.