Tuesday, June 1, 2010

An Introduction: Karl Barth, Christology, and History

This is the introduction to a paper I am writing for, the legendary Dr. Colin Brown, on the Christology of Karl Barth.

      When pursuing a theological investigation into the Christology of Karl Barth one must be prepared to encounter the developing nature of his theology. The Church Dogmatics, in their voluminous structure showcase the developing thought of one of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century. Not only was the God of Karl Barth—to borrow a phrase from Eberhard J√ľngel—a God in becoming, but Barth himself was a theologian in becoming. This can be seen precisely in the development of his Christology from CD I to CD IV. Barth, as a result of his theological development chose, in CD IV, to start over at the beginning with Christology; the outcome of this being the creation of a “dogmatics within a dogmatics.”[1] According to Bruce McCormack the key motivation for Barth’s Christological development from CD 1/2 to CD IV has immensely to do with the change experienced in his doctrine of election from 1936-1942.[2] The greatest result of this development can be seen in Barth’s shift from an emphasis on the anhypostasis/enhypostasis dialectic of personhood, to one of history. In light of this development, the thesis I will advance is three-fold. First, Barth’s Christology cannot be sufficiently identified within the categories of “from above” or “from below,” rather it transcends this dialectic. Second,
Barth, in lieu of a classical[3] approach to Christology, opts for a historical Christology whose theological locus centers on a two-fold history of Christ. And third, for Barth, the history of Jesus of Nazareth—the history of God with humanity—is synonymous with the history of covenant.

[1] Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 219
[2] Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern, 213
[3] What I mean by “classical Christology” is the emphasis upon salvation located in God’s history with creation. Barth, however, redirects this emphasis to the history of God, and humanity as it is located in the two natures of Christ. This will be later discussed in the section on “covenant.” For a more in depth discussion see, Robert Jenson, Alpha and Omega: A Study in the Theology of Karl Barth (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1963)