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Friday, February 12, 2010

Post #6: "The Word of Christ and the World of Culture: Sacred and Secular Through the Theology of Karl Barth


The Word of Christ and the World of Culture: Sacred and Secular through the Theology of Karl Barth

The Word of Christ in Cultural Context
            Paul Tillich believed that Karl Barth failed to properly address the situation of modern culture. Paul Metzger on the contrary argues that, “…Barth is indeed a modern theologian and that one can only understand his theology of the kerygma or Word in the light of the cultural context in which it emerges, and into which Barth is concerned to speak.”[1] Barth was initially engulfed in German liberalism, having been influenced by Kant, Hegel, Hermann, and Schliermacher himself. But, unlike Schliermacher, Tillich, Harnack, Ritschl, and Bultmann Barth sought to redefine the direction of theology.  For German Liberalism “theology is ultimately concerned with the person who believes in God rather than with the God in whom one believes.”[2] There was a progression in which Barth moved from an emphasis on humanity’s ascent to God, to an emphasis on God’s descent to humanity in the historical person of Jesus Christ. “Barth came to see that what mattered were not human thoughts about God, but rather divine thoughts about humanity.”[3] He eventually came to two major conclusions. “First, God’s cause is alone God’s cause. No one can claim to stand on God’s side against all others. Second, the kingdom of God is not of this world.”[4] Although this is true he held that there are things about humanity that reflect and mirror the divine.[5] The stipulation here is that humanity mirrors the divine not when it seeks to be divine, but when it seeks to be human. This allows humanity to live into its objective creaturliness and God to be God. This ideal leads Barth to continue criticize German liberalism and its starting point. For Barth there is no point of contact with God in the human psyche of religious experience, but knowledge of God depends on the revelation of God himself in history (30). Barth is indeed concerned with the relationship between Christ and culture, but unlike Schliermacher, Barth’s priority was on Christ and not culture.
The Word of Christ and World of Culture in Dialectical and Integral Relation
            Metzger argues that Barth begins to engage culture through the Christological dialectic of enhypostasis and anhypostasis and by way of analogy.[6] What he means by this is that God takes to himself something that is wholly other, hypostasizes (for lack of a better word) it, and in it he reveals himself. God reveals himself in history through the incarnation and thus for Barth his dialectical theology of revelation becomes inacarnational (39). This allows Barth to have a Christological model of revelation and a positive view of God’s relationship to humanity. He has counteracted German liberalism’s emphasis on the ascent of humanity, because God has descended and truly assumed humanity. God as divine is a being in him-self, enhypostasis, whereas the human nature he assumes has only potential to be, but is not a being in itself (44). Creation anyhopastis can be creation only because God is enhypostasis. “Thus, to summarize, the divine and human natures relate to one another in “indirect’ (and for Barth, dialectical) terms through the person whereas each nature relates to the divine person directly and undialectically.”[7] This helps strengthen Barth’s argument that the divine can assume humanity, but humanity cannot assume the divine.
            For Barth, the election of Christ constitutes God to be God for humanity, and in this he is God of both the sacred and the secular. Therefore the word is present and addresses both the church and culture. Creation also has the ability to be a sign, or in Church Dogmatics language, a light. But, it is not revelation itself, it only points to the Word as the source of its light and as the source of all revelation. Both the witness of the Church and the signs of culture stand in a distinct but inseparable relationship to each other in and through Christ (53). Barth employs the Extra Calvinisticum, which allows for the Word to be present everywhere filling both the heavens and the earth, including the church and culture. Metzger argues that Barth attempts to reconcile Christ and culture by employing Christological categories, which are both incarnational and dialectic, allowing for the relationship of God and humanity to be one of participation. This also safeguards against the alienation of humanity. Barth’s incarnational and enhypostatic-anhypostatic model does not put God and creation at odds with each other, but it puts God as being for humanity, as existing together with humanity and humanity together with God (70).
The Constitutive Word, the Sacred, and the Secular
            Metzger argues that for Barth the secular is awakened to be itself with the demise of the Corpus Christianum. What this means is that the demise of the Corpus Christianum allows for the secular to be the secular and the church to be the church. They are no longer one, but allowed to be independent in relation to each other. What Barth is in favor of is not the secular spheres rejection of Christ, but of common religion, which for Barth leads to the imprisonment of the Word and culture (87). Metzger moves on to focus on election as the bridge between Christianity and culture. In Christ’ election God seeks to work ad extra, that is apart from his inner being extending to the spheres of both the sacred and the secular. “The creaturely reality known as humanity comes forth through the free act of creation by God and is taken to God in the event in which God takes humanity to himself in and through the eternal election in Jesus Christ.”[8] For Barth election is humanizing in that it calls humanity, in Christ, to be more human (93). Although this is true, Barth rejects the notion that all are in Christ. There is both an objective and subjective sense to his doctrine of election. All are objectively elect, but participate in Christ’s election only in the subjective sense. The election of Christ is significant in that it serves as the telos for humanity, which all humanity is called. This signifies the call for all to be sanctified in Christ, which is, humanization. Unlike Nietzsche’s ├╝bermensch, Barth finds humanization not at the expense of the weak, but in Christ.
            Metzger moves back to Barth’s doctrine of election, but his critique of Barth’s supralapsarianism fails to correctly interpret Barth. There is no ontological fusion in his doctrine of election. The election of Christ merely constitutes all other decrees. The election of Christ is the starting point and ground of both God and creation, but creation is not a part of God’s being, rather it is inseparably linked to Christ because Christ created it. For Barth the incarnation is ontologically linked to the cross and therefore creation to the fall. Metzger again wrongly interprets Barth. For Barth the Word is destined to be crucified. If it were not, his actions would be abstracted from his being lending us to a Christology from above.
The Commandeered Word and Secular Witness
            Metzger points out that Barth says we must be cautious when speaking of the witness of revelation extra muros ecclesiae, but if there is any witness extra muros ecclesiae it must point back to the one revelation in Jesus Christ. One must be careful “not ‘to shut the gate of the castle,’ nor ‘to tear down the gates as though this were always self –evidently the issue throughout religious history.’”[9] On account of this all witness must be attributed to the indirect communication of Christ. This also negates the possibility for human capacity for revelation by way of reason. Accessibility is wholly dependent on the miraculous work of God. For this reason Barth rejects the analogia entis because it permits too much continuity between God and creation and assumes the innate capacity for the divine. Barth instead affirms the analogia fide, which expresses that God, by his grace, creates correspondence between God and creation (123). Christ employs human words, actions, and events for the purpose of bearing witness to the one revelation and one grace in Christ.[10]
 Metzger argues that revelation and reconciliation are one and that they attest to each other. He says that this guards against any form of abstraction for one cannot talk about the revelation of Christ apart from his reconciliation (129). Although Christ’s revelation and grace are particular, according to Metzger, this does not imply prohibition. Rather it is the particularity of the Word that makes any form of witness possible. If it were not for the one Word, no word would be possible at all (136). Grace enables and elevates nature to bear witness, but God alone is the content and subject of this witness. Metzger again engages the enhypostasis-anhypostasis model, but he claims that Barth does not give the human nature of Christ its due. He argues that Christ’s humanity reveals something about humanity, whereas Barth argues that humanity cannot reveal something about humanity because it is not humanity apart from God (150). Metzger makes an important claim about Barth’s view of the incarnation. That is that Christ is enculturated as a Jew in the incarnation. Not only is Christ directly linked to culture but, Christ in his election, transcends all culture (151-152).
The Prophetic Word and the Secular State
            Metzger here presents Barth’s argument for the positive, yet distinct, relationship between the church and state. He starts by criticizing natural law for aligning God too closely with humanity and championing humanity’s goodness (163). He also blames the Reformer’s for not aligning God’s justice with human justice. Metzger rightly highlights Barth’s emphasis on the positive example of the church and state in scripture. Barth makes a great example out of an unlikely situation. Barth says in regards to Pilate, “Failing to be just, Pilate became the involuntary agent and herald of divine justification.” This is a very interesting and intriguing example. Barth also says that the state shall not be demonized because the New Jerusalem is also a state and rejects indifference to the state because both the church and the state are united in Christ (164). There is no sphere of creation that is not under his rule and does not need sanctification and justification. Barth also rejects any identification of the gospel with a particular political party because the gospel is of Christ and Christ alone. This rejection is in direct relation to Barth’s encounter with Hitler and the natural theology of Nazism. He saw German Christian’s champion national politics as their messiah over Christ.
            Barth also believed that theology cannot be separated from politics and that theology cannot be reduced to politics. Both the church and the state are encompassed in the greater sphere of Christ and therefore cannot be separated, but neither the church nor the state is to be identified with the kingdom of God (173). Barth rejects the Lutheran two kingdoms doctrine and instead opts for the language of related, but distinct. The church must allow the state to be the state and the state must allow the church to be the church. Barth also makes the claim that if Christians are to join political parties they should do so anonymously because when in the sphere of the state they must opt for the success of society as a whole and not just the church. When engaging in politics Christians must be sure to remain Christians and at the same time not bring the church to congress.
            Emil Brunner and now Metzger criticize Barth for not speaking out against the Soviet Union. They wondered how Barth could be so active against Nazism and so passive with the Soviet Union. Barth’s response is that God speaks differently in different situations. I understand, but I do not agree with Barth. There are times when ad hoc ethics must become a bit more consistent. Ultimately, get the flags out of churches and the church out of congress.
The Created Word and Creaturely Existence and Activity
            Metzger here affirms that Barth does in fact leave room for the creativity of humanity in culture. Creation bears witness to God and in its creativity testifies to the creativity of God. Cultures creativity is not due to its ontological proximity, but to its ontological otherness (196). “That is to say, the creation glorifies God by being what it is in the freedom of its limits. Thus, truly secular is indeed sacred, or rather, compatible with the sacred.”[11] The ontological otherness of God actually protects the identity of creation. It allows for creation to be what it was meant to be, human. Creation glorifies God because it speaks truth about itself and the cosmos, it speaks about the workmanship of God. Creation is praised in its distinction and through creatio ex nihilo by the Word creation is given its own distinct existence (199). Creation is therefore allowed to be itself, and end in itself, and by being itself it gives glory to God.
            Metzger then directs this discussion toward Barth’s book on Mozart. He says that Mozart glorifies God simply by playing music. This is glorifying to God because music is being what it was created to be, beautiful music. The ontological otherness of God and humanity creates room for creativity, such as music, and this is pleasing both to the creature and to God. Metzger makes a very good point about those who choose the route of pantheism. He says, “The true danger to human culture is the pantheistic doctrine of God in which culture is a manifestation of the being of God, and thus only seemingly human in its origin as distinct from God.”[12] This is dehumanizing because it doesn’t allow humanity to be truly human, but a manifestation of God, and therefore neither human nor God. What must be emphasized is that creation is freely creative within the limits given to it. What is beautiful, creative, and transformative is humanity’s ability to work with its limit, and therefore to be truly human. Barth’s theology is against culture when faced with forms of naturalism, but is for culture when culture chooses to be creative within its limits. Culture is affirmed when it becomes what it was created to be, human culture, and it is rejected when it tries to become what it is not, divine. Unlike Aquinas Barth does not give space for metaphysics and logic, but rather for free creativity. Divine freedom does not enslave human creativity, but allows for human creativity (213). “The Word, who is Jesus Christ, ministers as creation’s radically distinct origin and distinctive whole, center, and telos, granting it freedom within limits in mediating it to God.”[13] What is so unique about Mozart is that he takes full advantage of the limits given to him. His music is fully free in its limited created freedom. This is not to say that one must play music as Mozart did to glorify God. Rather, one must merely work and play, taking advantage of one’s freedom and displaying the workmanship of God. Barth believed that this freedom can be abused and in every instance cannot be canonized as a witness or as glorifying to God. Rather, one who has ears to hear may in fact find a witness to the one Word of Jesus Christ (219).
Jesus Christ as both the electing God and the elect human, as the one who is encultured and transcends culture, and as the one who revealed the being and character of God, is God for humanity, that is God of the church and God of culture, the God of both the sacred and the secular. “In this light, there is enduring hope, hope for the creation, for the church and for broader culture, not because grace as such triumphs, but because Jesus Christ is ‘Victor’.”[14]


[1] Paul Louis Metzger, The Word of Christ and the World of Culture: Sacred and Secular through the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 3
[2] Metzger, 5
[3] Metzger, 13
[4] Metzger, 14
[5] For a further discussion of this idea of the divine-human mirror see Conelis Van Der Kooi As in a Mirror: John Calvin and Karl Barth on Knowing God

[7] Metzger, 50
[8] Metzger, 91
[9] Metzger, 122
[10] This is fully explicated in CD IV/3.1
[11] Metzger, 196
[12] Metzger, 205
[13] Metzger, 214
[14] Metzger, 221