Barth’s Orthodoxy and the Resurrection of Jesus as the History of the World

Karl Barth’s theology is often accused of being obscurantist and ‘liberal’, but when the theologian presses further into Barth’s theology it quickly becomes apparent just as any theologian, Barth is working out his theology within his own particular time and context. This holds true when it comes to Barth’s understanding of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The accusations levied against creationcloudsBarth, when read against the actual grain of Barth’s theology just do not hold up. Throughout the rest of this post we will look at a sketch of Barth’s thinking on resurrection, and then offer up some post-reflection.

In Robert Dale Dawson’s published PhD dissertation The Resurrection in Karl Barth he writes this of Barth’s doctrine of resurrection:

Particularly in his early work Barth has been accused of espousing such a diastasis between Creator and creation that any meeting of the knowledge of the creature with that of the Creator is impossible. His thought has been described variously as ‘a deobjectification of theological statements and a surrender of this-worldly reality, into the supraterrestial and suprahistorical world of transcedence’, as an ‘ultra-realism’ with all the character of Heilsgechichte, or even as a form of historical skepticism. Indeed, the view that Barth’s understanding differed little from Bultmann’s seems almost unshakable.

Yet the particular divine-human historicality of the resurrection served an important purpose for the early Barth as he attempted to free himself from the psychologism and historicism of Liberal Protestantism. Christian faith was not primarily to be derived from religious feeling as it was for Schleiermacher. Nor could it be reduced to the moral teachings of Jesus as it was for Barth’s teacher Wilhelm Hermann. Nor could the Jesus of history be abstracted from the Christ of faith as it was for Ernst Troeltsch. Rather Christianity was founded upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the free and real act of God in history and upon history. This decisive and unique action of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, breaking into and transforming the sphere of human history and action, was, for Barth, the great offence and stumbling block for liberal theology, as well as the fundamental content of Christian life and witness.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ for Barth in his The Resurrection of the Dead has to do with the transition, the crossing of the infinite gulf, from God’s eternity to human history – but a transition which involves not merely an entrance into the stream of history (as might be said of the virgin birth) but also a decisive transformation of the whole of historical reality. Whereas the incarnation embraces the particular history of Jesus Christ from Bethlehem to Golgotha, the resurrection is the reality of Jesus Christ which includes and affects all history and every historical moment. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the event of existential import for every other human being. Apart from this transition there is no sure and reliable revelation of God to humankind. Religion and even the Christian witness is pitilessly nothing more than the dream of human wishes, and the whole of the theological enterprise falls to the Feuerbachian critique as being nothing more than a pretence – anthropology in guise.[1]

Barth’s qualitative difference between time and eternity is subsumed by the hypostatic union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ. The “impassible” impasse between Creator and creature is suffused by the life of God elect to be human, in the singular and particular person, Jesus Christ (Deus incarnandus). I love this point in Barth’s theology! The idea that God’s covenantal Triune life of grace precedes all else, and that creation itself is conditioned by this telos by its purpose in Christ is transformative.

God’s elected history in Christ is history. This reorients things away from rationalist and apologetic concerns (concerns that most of Western theology is concerned with – i.e. proofs of God, etc.), and places Christian thought upon a genuinely Christian foundation, ‘in Christ.’ This changes things; we aren’t starting from ourselves as an abstract people, as an abstract creation working our way to a concept of God. In Barth’s framing we are starting with the reality of God that Godself has provided for in his humiliation as God become man. We aren’t starting with a religious experience, or a sense of ‘feeling’ of the transcendent which Jesus captures for us; for Barth we are truly starting with God extra nos outside of us, as both the objective and subjective reality we have to do with as Christians (and non-Christians). For Barth there isn’t a distinct abstract conception of history, wherein it is possible for there to be a ‘Jesus of faith’ versus a ‘Jesus of history’; the Jesus of faith is the Jesus of history, indeed He is history. The resurrection closes any loops here for Barth. How? Creation’s protology in Christ, post-lapsum, is subsumed and given its final word in the eschatology of God’s life as he re-creates creation in the seed of the resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ. The image of God, Jesus Christ, in his vicarious humanity is re-created in resurrection, and now we as images of the image can live life out of his re-created life.

There are many more implications we could talk about, but these are some that stand out to me. I will report back further as I continue to read Dawson’s book.

[1] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 5-6.

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13 thoughts on “Barth’s Orthodoxy and the Resurrection of Jesus as the History of the World

  1. Pingback: Barth’s Orthodoxy and the Resurrection of Jesus as the History of the World — The Evangelical Calvinist | Talmidimblogging

  2. Yeah, I really don’t understand why people think of Barth as a heretic. When I read him, I see a theologian who is committed to proclaiming the Gospel. All of his doctrines seem to me to be expositions of the Gospel.

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  3. Yeah, I thought as much. A close friend of mine (a WTS alum) also seemed to find Barth sketchy due to his doctrine of scripture and his soteriology trending towards universalism. He even questioned why I would study him when the classically Reformed offer much better answers to theological questions.

    Minus Barth’s denial of inerrancy, which was only formal and not material anyways, his theology actually seems to fit well with standard American Evangelicalism.

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  4. Ivan,

    I think you are right! I grew up as an standard American Evangelical and I’d have to say that what you note about Barth is what has resonated so deeply with me. He puts to theology and words so many of the deep impulses that evangelicals want to say but don’t know how.

    And yes, Barth’s denial of inerrancy was only a formal move, at a material level that’s a non-starter; i.e. his appeal to Scripture puts most inerrantists to shame and they should be blushing.

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  5. Pingback: The Doctrine of Re-creation or Resurrection in Christ as the Foundation for Everything in the Theologies of Barth and Torrance | The Evangelical Calvinist

  6. Hi guys
    Similarly to Ivan and Bobby I too had to leave inerrancy behind coupled with nonsensical dogma of a 4000 yr old earth and shackled to homophobic notions of sin until I read Barth’s Dogmatic in Outline, Romans and the Humanity of God. Then it was no turning back because it brought me over time into a deeper intimate love affair. For me niw the Bible has the words about the Word of the Spirit Word of God. However this view presents a (legalistic) minefield to many and unfortunately it hamstrings unified community worship and deadens mission. Many biblicist Christians hunt down the likes of us when we venture into free speech or even exegeted opinion. “Heretic” one identified me awhile ago. Fortunately he was but a very young person in the faith. Bless them all.

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  7. Rein, I’m still very traditional, just to be clear; very Reformed as it were. Homosexuality is sin in my view, and I stand with the biblical teaching on that as well as the trad of the church. So I don’t want to go too far here. My view on Scripture, like Barth’s I think, actually has a heightened place in God’s economy by moving beyond inerrancy (but not leaving behind its intent).

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  8. I’m still a conservative Evangelical when it comes to Scripture and marriage, though I don’t think the Bible necessarily provides journalistic precision in it’s account of history.

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  9. I on the whole agree, but we don’t stone for adultery anymore or burn witches etc. Women now are ministers or church leaders. Science would decree rather than suggest that sexuality can be hormone or DNA driven. So just as with hard driven biblical literalism having to adapt hermeneutically it is the task of the church to make or live the Gospel so it is hearable, cognizable, for it to be acceptable. Our Lord loves the sinner but cannot accept any sense of unrighteousness. Salvation lies at the end of the road of sanctification. We ourselves are a truly convinced hetero couple and frown on voyeurism of any kind but are not going to throw any theological millstones at things or tendencies that are in fact natural to some, but can be abhorrent to others.
    I like your blogs, they stimulate my daily devotions. Have you any leads on Barth’s comments on Job? I find it difficult to interpret the book through a christological lens a/p Hunsiger’s insights on Barth.

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