In memoriam Karl Barth
[This is a guest post from Michael Fletcher, a Th.M. student at Western Seminary.]
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”
The genius and theologian, Karl Barth, was asked if he could summarize his Church Dogmatics. He pondered momentarily, then began singing the child’s song: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Can you picture it? Church Dogmatics is 6 million words long, and he summarized it by singing “Jesus loves me,” that is profound. How I long and pray for all of us to truly see the simplicity of the Gospel. Barth (May 10, 1886 – December 10, 1968) contributed so much to theology, and had he been a Catholic or Orthodox Christian, there is no doubt they would already have given him the title of a Saint. He is a blessing to the Church and I thank God for this man, today may we remember this man after God’s own heart. The following is taken for Church Dogmatics:
The first statement, namely, that Christ is in the Christian, has the further meaning that Christ speaks, acts and rules and this is the grace of His calling of this man as the Lord of his thinking, speech and action. He takes possession of his free human heart. He rules and controls in the obedience of his free reason (2 Cor. 10:5). As a divine person it is very possible for Him to do this in the unrestricted sovereignty proper to Himself and yet in such a way that there can be no question whatever of any competition between His person and that of the Christian, whether in the attempt of the latter to control His person, or conversely in its suppression or extinction by His person. It is very possible for Him to do it in such a way that the human person of the Christian is validated and honoured in full and genuine freedom, in the freedom of the obedient children of God. That Christ is in the Christian means, then, that as the Mediator between God and man He does not exist merely for Himself and to that extent concentrically, but that in His prophetic work, in the calling of His disciples and Christians, with no self-surrender but in supreme expression of Himself, He also exists eccentrically, i.e., in and with the realisation of the existence of these men, as the ruling principle of the history lived by them in their own freedom.
The second statement, namely, that the Christian is in Christ, has not only the local but also the higher meaning that his own thinking, speech and action has its ruling and determinative principle and herein it is the work of his gratitude corresponding to grace in the speech, action and rule of Christ. His free human heart and reason and acts are orientated on Him, i.e., on agreement with His being and action. In the power of the Word of God which calls him, and therefore in the power of the Holy Spirit, this orientation is his only possibility, already in process of realisation. Again, there is no rivalry between the human person and the divine. There is thus no danger that the former will be overwhelmed by the latter. There is no danger that it will necessarily be destroyed by it and perish. Rather, the human person, experiencing the power of the divine, and unreservedly subject to it, will necessarily recognise and honour it again and again in its sovereignty, finding itself established as a human person and set in truly human and the freest possible movement in orientation on it. That the Christian is in Christ means mutatis mutandis for him, too, that as one who is called by the one Mediator between God and man in the exercise of His prophetic office he cannot exist for himself and to that extent concentrically, but that, without detriment to his humanity, awakened rather to genuine humanity, he also exists eccentrically, in and with the realisation of his own existence, being received and adopted as an integral element in the life and history of Christ.
This, then, is the Christian’s unio cum Christo. We recall that in this high view and doctrine we are not presenting a climax of Christian experience and development in face of which the anxious question might well be raised whether we have reached the point, or will ever do so, where in respect of our own Christianity we can sincerely say: “Christ in me, and I in Christ.” On the contrary, we are presenting the last and most exact formulation of what makes us Christians whatever our development or experience. We have seen that Paul particularly in the New Testament does not think of restricting his insight in this regard to himself and a few other Christians of higher rank, but that as he speaks of himself he also speaks of the generality of Christians, not excluding the very doubtful Christians of Galatia and Corinth and not excluding the doubtful nature of their Christianity. If, as we have attempted in concentric circles, we think through what it means that the goal of vocation, and therefore of Christianity as divine sonship, is always attachment to Christ, coordination and fellowship with Him, discipleship, appropriation to Him with the corresponding expropriation, life of and by the Holy Spirit, then we are infallibly led at last to the point which we have now reached and described, namely, that a man becomes and is a Christian as he unites himself with Christ and Christ with him. And we remember that from the purely material standpoint this is the starting-point for everything else which is to be thought and said concerning what makes the Christian a Christian.
(Church Dogmatics; Vol. IV, Part 3.2, “The Doctrine of Reconciliation.” Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 1988)
Posted on December 10, 2011, in The Modern Church and tagged Karl Barth. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.
Personally, I think the best thing we can say in rememberance of Karl Barth, is that we simply must read him, ya get your wings, when you plow thru and read the CD! I have just once read the whole, and it took me well over a year, but it was one of my best years looking back theologically. 🙂
Currently enjoying Conversations with Barth on Preaching (Willimon), so this is a timely post for me. Got to ask, though, if we’re recognizing his birthday or death-day?
Thanks for the insights on Barth.
Oops. That was my bad (not Michael’s). I used an older post as the template for this one and forgot to change the title! Thanks for catching that.