Friday, September 23, 2016

Identifying with Judas as Much as Peter: A Case Study, part 4

The fourth Judas reference Barth makes in the Church Dogmatics seems at first to be a trivial one, situated in its own self-contained excursus. This is the last reference to Judas in CD I.2, and it comes seven whole sections later than the material we last handled, appearing in section 21.2, "Freedom Under the Word." And there are some real translation issues here, over and above those I habitually correct by appropriately neutralizing gender bias and restoring emphasis from the German, so today it's all me for translation.

Subsections like this don't usually get their own big bold thesis statements—and this one actually starts with an excursus rather than a large-print paragraph—but the first paragraph of large print here serves very nicely to meet the need:
"The church as the space and sphere of the freedom of the Word of God is a gathering of people—not of people who have gathered themselves, but rather of people who were and are gathered, yet nevertheless: of people, whereby the Word of God that has gathered them is indeed concurrently a word about people. |

As that freedom in the church pertains now to this divine and human Word that has gathered them, if it is true that this Word has the power to assert itself in the world and to keep itself pure, to prevail and continually to establish itself anew and so to found the church, to maintain and to govern it, then it cannot be otherwise: where this power is recognized and experienced as such, where it is not only endured as judgment but also at the same time is believed as grace and finds obedience, and where therefore the witness of scripture is accepted, there arises and subsists—relatively, indirectly, and formally, completely and utterly dependent upon that acceptance and based entirely upon it, but within these limits also entirely real—a human power and freedom corresponding to the power and therefore freedom of the Word of God. |

Indeed, the people gathered in this space and sphere cannot then escape what by virtue of the freedom of the Word of God happens in their midst. That it should not determine them is impossible. It is about them. It shares itself with them. They may and must for their part say "yes" to it. It will become and has become—in the complete separation of humanity from God and in their complete dependency upon God—not only God's, but as God's business also their own business. |

We saw in the preceding paragraphs that the testimony of scripture cannot be accepted unless the people gathered in the church are each also ready and willing, in its interpretation and application, to listen to one another. Which, correspondingly, is to say that this testimony cannot be accepted unless those who accept it are ready and willing to undertake the responsibility for its interpretation and application themselves. This readiness and willingness to accept one's own responsibility for the understanding of the Word of God is freedom under the Word." (KD I.2, §21.2, 779–80; ET 696)
Freedom and responsibility to the Word of God. That's where we are, and it sounds familiar—but defining it is always a tricky thing, and Barth's approach is far from traditional. And maybe you're asking yourself, where does Judas come into this context? Thus far he's been an agent in his own right: in his own personal relationship with Jesus, in his own encounters with the Word of God, in his own failures. Are we about to talk about Judas as an agent of this human power and freedom, too?

Not exactly. We're about to talk about you as an agent of this human power and freedom, as an agent in the same situation, responsible to God in a relationship God constitutes with you. But you're not that far from Judas—and if you think you are, or should be, Barth is about to try and convince you otherwise.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Judas, Lost Hope, and the Suffering of the Righteous: A Case Study, part 3

So far, tracking Barth's handling of Judas, we've seen his original view of election, pre-Maury-lecture, and we've also seen that just like the later doctrine, it leads directly into reconciliation when it comes to judgment in history. This doesn't take away the still-problematic bit about "the vocatio can take place efficaciter, efficacissime, and yet the electio effected therein may be rejectio," but it does at least remove the notion that such rejection is ultimate or hanging over anyone's head as a future possibility.

In the encounter between God as God is and the world as we have already made it, it should be no wonder that God's choice of us is also effectively a rejection of who we have made ourselves. This choice necessarily results in the death of the savior, and God knows that going in—but it also proceeds along a course of active reconciliation of the creature in the wake of that judgment and God's consequent and gracious forgiveness. We, who have been rejected as we are, are forgiven because God is working to change us back toward the covenant people we should have been.

But what happens when, in the sudden awareness of our sin, we despair? And—because we have always had more ready answers to that question, even if they are false—how does this relate to the unmerited suffering of the just? You can probably guess Barth's answer, since we're still in CD I.2, section 14, and the theme is Jesus Christ as the real center of history and telos of God's work, but let's see how it works out for Judas in 14.3, "The Time of Recollection."

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Judas' Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal: A Case Study, part 2

Our next citations on the trail of Barth dealing with the case of Judas come from CD I.2, section 14, which is about "the time of revelation." And its thesis will help us here:
God's revelation in the event of the presence of Jesus Christ is God's time for us. In this event itself it is time fulfilled. However, as the Old Testament time of anticipation and the New Testament time of recollection it is also the time of testimony about this event.
Of course, the CD uses the word "expectation" where I've said "anticipation," so in the three divisions of this section we get (1) "God's Time and Our Time," disproving a wide range of naturalistic assumptions about the time into which revelation intrudes; (2) "The Time of Expectation," discussing the way the history before Jesus points forward toward the cross; and (3) "The Time of Recollection," discussing the way the history after Jesus points backward to the cross ... or fails to, falling into now-false ways of living toward a future event instead.

The material of the first division of this section remains normative; Barth's attempt to persuade us that our time is stolen, "lost," broken off by the Fall and so not authentically God's time in continuity with creation history, carries forward in the second and third divisions as the thematic hiddenness or otherwise non-intuitiveness of God from the perspective of the world. And that hiddenness plays into the material relevant to our inquiry about Judas, material that connects directly with Barth's insistence at the beginning of CD IV.1 that the ambit of the sphere of reconciliation can't be seen from its edges, as though it proceeded from creation to redemption, but only from its center.

That center is Jesus Christ—born, crucified, and resurrected—but it is also and as such the telos of the acts of God from all eternity, and an eschaton through which the saving grace of God enters our history and constitutes salvation-history over against it (IV.1, 7–9). And it is these things precisely where it is, right smack in the middle, because (per the excursus on I.1, 427) the antecedence of eternity to time is not chronological. And so, for Barth, revelation teaches us that we must count our time differently than we are tempted to do as historical creatures: not from beginning to end, in linear progress toward eventual fulfillment, but by relation to the center in which it has in fact been fuflilled.

If we stick with Judas, the question here is: how do our lives in our times relate to that event? And how should they? It is also, and more directly in Barth's handling, the question of what justice really looks like.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Erasing Calvin's Shadows from the Life of the World to Come

So. I said the other day that "it's intellectually dishonest to insinuate traditionalist shadows on the backsides of every one of Barth's doctrines of economic grace when you could instead go do the research on damnation and judgment as topics in and of themselves." And the fact that this practice is a Reformed predilection, and a conforming of Barth to traditional Reformed theology, has been a nearly constant refrain of mine. I've also been attributing it, in current scholarship, to a hangover from von Balthasar attempting to cast traditionalist shadows back into Barth's doctrine of election.

But let's hear it from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Let's hear Barth talk about "the life everlasting" in the context of the Apostle's Creed and Calvin's commentary thereupon. Because, as I said, the burden of proof is on me that Barth leaves no shadows of damnation behind his doctrines of pure grace. And if one wants to describe the future history of redemption as a thing that is not in any way called into question by human sin, such proof is urgently needed!

So here's a piece of text from a lecture Barth gave six times between the end of 1940 and the beginning of 1943, while WWII was in full swing, in canton Neuchâtel on the border of occupied and otherwise Vichy-collaborator-controlled France. (That being the context for "as though hell and so many horrors were not on earth already!") Watch as Barth calls Calvin out on imposing these shadows on the backside of grace, and strips them off again.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Judas and Election in Barth Before the Maury Lecture: A Case Study, part 1

OK, so it's no secret to anyone who's read me here that I have some significant disagreements with the implications Bruce McCormack has drawn from his insight into Barth's reception of Pierre Maury's lecture on election. But he's absolutely right about the facts of the matter. Or at least, I accept them in a compatible sense, as I see done in Shao Kai Tseng's recent work on Barth's relation to lapsarian theologies, such that this lecture is the last piece of a puzzle Barth has been gathering pieces of and tinkering interestedly with for some time already when he hears Maury deliver it. The change is real and significant.

In the wake of Maury's 1936 lecture "Election and Faith" in Geneva (and with ripples back into the yet-to-be-published materials that would make up II.1), Barth made a radical break with even the most advanced of his own formulations of election, jumping track to the version of the doctrine we see explained in CD II.2. In that version, rather than treating election as though its objects were human individuals in history, Barth redefines the doctrine such that its principal subject and object are identical: Godself, freely choosing in love to be God for us in Jesus Christ.
The doctrine of election is the sum of the gospel because this is the best thing that can be said and heard: that God chooses people and so is for them the one who loves in freedom. It is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, because this one is both the electing God and the elect human being. It belongs therefore to the doctrine of God, because by choosing people God does not merely decide about them; in an original sense God decides about Godself. Its function is to provide foundational witness to eternal, free, and enduring grace as the beginning of all the ways and deeds of God.
That new version of the doctrine would be radically inclusive. The question of the determination of the elect and rejected in the world would become only an apparent problem, a division of humanity in terms of its response to God's total election, resulting in a rejecting population that only appears to be reprobate—who will no less be objects of reconciliation—and an approving population that only appears to be "the elect," who have chosen to respond in faith even as they do also habitually reject God—and who are therefore exactly as much objects of reconciliation, even as they may choose to participate in it actively. And that problem would only be apparent, and not actual, because in Christ God has taken away and destroyed reprobation as a possibility. Rejection is, in Christ, a meaningless choice of response to God—at least, as far as one's standing with God is concerned. It's still a choice fraught with other moral problems, but that's a question for ethics and not soteriology.

Ah, but we still have two part-volumes to cover from before that, since election appears prospectively in CD I.1 and I.2, without having been modified to match the new insight of 1936. And the first mention of Judas in those volumes is about to prove that Barth's shift in election does indeed make a difference!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Case Study in Barth's Doctrine of Election: Prologue

I've recently had an argument with Wyatt over at PostBarthian, and now it's time to put up rather than shut up.

You see, Wyatt undertook to explain how Barth's notion of election in Christ applies to the individual. This is laudable and difficult! Only, he undertook it as though election were the beginning of a process that, continuing in reconciliation, leads onward to redemption as eschatology. Now, where he got such an idea should be obvious; he's agreeing with the field. Ever since McCormack's "Grace and Being" (and in a different form before that, which we owe to von Balthasar), it's been a standard reading of Barth, and the standard method of pursuing Barth's eschatology. It's the same reason the field habitually believes that the fuzzy end of reconciliation, its utter historical indeterminacy, puts Barth's belief in the scope of redemption in question. Put simply: Barth can't be a universalist if history doesn't end well, because if history doesn't end well, the coming in judgment is presumed to involve the damnation of those for whom rejection has been their choice.

Of course, that's not in any way, shape, or form what Barth says! And that's the case, not only (1) because Barth utterly denies human rejection any influence over the choice of God to be for all, and not only (2) because it's intellectually dishonest to insinuate traditionalist shadows on the backsides of every one of Barth's doctrines of economic grace when you could instead go do the research on damnation and judgment as topics in and of themselves, but also (3) because Barth denies all attempts to construct a system of interrelated doctrines that conform to the classical exitus–reditus path from creation to the eschaton through history.

Election doesn't begin the economy; creation does. Reconciliation does in fact bear out election, but so does creation, and so would redemption have, each in their own ways. And the eschaton severs world history, normed as it ought to be by the history of the covenant of grace, from the coming future of redemption and fulfillment just as utterly as the Fall severed it from the prior history of creation. These are separate spheres, three discrete moments that border on one another but do not flow one into another with any reliable continuity. They define each others' boundaries, but reconciliation flows from election and human choice in the Fall, not from creation history, and redemption flows from God as purely as creation itself did.

Ah, but I have to prove all of that. And what's more, I'm having this argument with Wyatt as someone who wants what I also want—to describe the future history of redemption—but who thinks he can get there by the path the field currently accepts. And the problem there, the problem with the field's path before it was ever Wyatt's problem, is that if you go that route and assert redemption as the conclusion to a logical path from election through reconciliation, then the presumed uncertainty that derives from the end of reconciliation in CD IV doesn't just infect redemption. It makes the scope of election itself suspect, as Wyatt has shown. And it does so because, unlike Barth, the traditional through-path views election as in some way to salvation, as a decision God makes about individuals. (For Barth, it is instead God's original decision about Godself, because God has chosen unreservedly to be for us.)

If there are those for whom reconciliation will not finally be true, those that will not finally be reconciled to God and who thus will not be redeemed, were they really elect? And if they were not, and with Barth we hold to the assertion that rejection is not the subject of an eternal decree, that there is no list of the rejected from all eternity, then did not those who are finally reprobate merit their condition? Was it not then a result of their rejection of God? Can we therefore lose our election, for Barth, who on this model would seem otherwise to allow only hope that all will make it through unscathed in the end?

You know my answer is a resounding "Nein!" And maybe you also know that such an answer is all the more appropriate here because letting history determine salvation is a form of naturalism. But what we really need is a case study to show what Barth actually says. And Wyatt has already suggested the most commonly-adduced one: Judas Iscariot, or "Judas the traitor" as Barth habitually calls him. But it's not a simple study by any means, because there isn't a volume of the Church Dogmatics in which Barth failed to mention him in some illustrative fashion. So I have to touch them all, and show the through-line that results from these references in their contexts. And that's going to take a series of posts, so I beg your indulgence as they gradually appear.

In the meantime, you might have a read through this Twitter essay in which I attempt to be more persuasive about my opposition. I'm always up for feedback, and the tweets give great segmentation, so you can respond to individual pieces of the train of thought.