Thursday, December 14, 2006

God's Gracious Address to Us

I was reading CD IV/3.1 and came across this creative passage, reflecting God's gracious address to humanity in Jesus Christ. It brought me to tears. I shall quote below (please excuse the masculine language, a poor translation of the German):

We might imagine the conversation to which [the address of God to humanity] gives rise and some of the forms which it necessarily takes.

The man to whom it is said thinks and says that he is not this new, peaceful, joyful man living in fellowship. He asks leave honestly to admit that he does not know this man, or at least himself as this man.

The Word of grace replies: "All honour to your honesty, but my truth transcends it. Allow yourself, therefore, to be told in all truth and on the most solid grounds what
you do not know, namely, that you are this man in spite of what you think."

Man: "You think that I can and should become this man in the course of
time? But I do not have sufficient confidence in myself to believe this. Knowing
myself, I shall never become this man."

The Word of grace: "You do well not to have confidence in yourself. But the point is not that you can and should become this man. What I am telling you is that, as I know you, you already are."

Man: "I understand that you mean this eschatologically. You are referring to the man I perhaps will be one day in some not very clearly known transfiguration in a distant eternity. If only I had attained to this! And if only I could be certain that even then I should be this new man!"

The Word of grace: "You need to understand both yourself and me better than you do. I am not inviting you to speculate about your being in eternity, but receive and
ponder the news that here and now you begin to be the new man, and are already
that which you will be eternally."

Man: "How can I accept this news? On what guarantee can I make bold to take it seriously?"

The Word of grace: "I, Jesus Christ, am the One who speaks to you. You are what you are in Me, as I will to be in you. Hold fast to Me. I am your guarantee. My boldness is yours. With this boldness dare to be what you are."
Man: "I certainly hear the message but..." In this perplexed and startled "but" we see the attack, and who it is that is attacked.

--Karl Barth, CD IV/3.1, p. 250 (emphasis added)


At 10:08 PM , Blogger Tom said...

Well put.

At 7:35 AM , Blogger Carn-Dog said...


Questions on Karl. I'm thinking both about the "righteousness of God" and "faithfulness of Christ" debates, which I see as one in the same. Anyhow, that to say, with out getting into the greek and the consequent language of syntax, do you think Barth would side more with someone like Kasemann, Sanders, Schweitzer and see this ontological change as imparted, that is the both the gift and task to change or more in the Bultmann/Luther camp of imputed, which I understand more as borrowed righteousness (that from the mouth of my reformed friends).

I would kind of assume the former, but I've heard Barth categorized as both in the reformed tradition and sometimes even as influenced by Luther.

At 12:25 PM , Blogger Erik said...


The way you have asked the question makes it difficult to answer because I think Barth stands in neither trajectory, though keeping both in mind. On the one hand the change/conversion has occurred in Christ, and so is a gift. The task, however, is not to complete the change, or let the change happen, but to live in correspondence to that which is really true about you in Christ, and so to fulfill one's task to bear witness to Christ. So, in a sense, there a kind of imputation, but not really. Its tricky to place Barth, then, in either camp completely. Does that make sense? I'm not sure it does to me.

At 1:48 PM , Blogger Carn-Dog said...

not completely, but because it doesn't make perfect sense to you either, I'm good with your reply.

At 1:53 PM , Blogger Carn-Dog said...


I had another throught about this post. I tell you what I like about it-- I like the discussion and caveat that is made about eschatology. I find that all too often we pretend that we have a good deal of faith and like to talk about the future glory of God, but in reality are just too chicken shit to believe that God can actually do something in the now. Good stuff KB.

At 5:30 PM , Blogger Erik said...

Yes Josh, but let me slightly alter what you said. It is not that God can do something in the now, but that God has done something in Jesus Christ, which changes the now. I think you're tracking with him though. And for me, it's not so much that you track with KB, but that this is the gospel that is good news for the world. This is the word of God's gracious self-giving in Jesus Christ. Dare to be who God says you already are. That is faith that lives in the already and not yet.

At 1:55 PM , Blogger Carn-Dog said...


thanks for the response...and now a different question. I know this might sound like a stretch, but hopefully the question is articulated clearly.

Without having read much of Barth I wonder this (my question that follows) by the way I'm hearing you characterize some of his stuff. Isn't the activity of God through Christ in the now almost a bit deistic? I’m not accusing of Barth of being that because I know he would be appalled at the suggestion, but what I mean is doesn't the language he uses promote this type of thinking.

It seems like when Barthian proponents talk about our response to God, it is like it us responding to what has been done… take it or leave it. God salvation through history is the least since the cross...and it's our job to embrace God's yes to us.

Maybe this will make my question clearer. One reason I love Gregs TWTheology is because of what I perceive as a dynamic relationality between God and humans. Where God loves, suffers, responds, woos, etc. people in history. The activity of God--be it essentially through the mediation of Christ and in the end is Christ on the cross--is creative and mutable from day to day. Is this allowed for in Barth?

Let me try one last time. Take the statement…”dare to be what you are.” When I hear this I think of Trinity sitting back on a couch eating popcorn thinking “o.k. I did my part on Calvary 2000 years ago. Your ontologically changed, the fun for me is to sit back and see if you can figure it out…dare to be what you are.” One word here, I don’t think this takes away from what you say. I see the beauty in what is written by Barth on this point, but still I have my question. I hope you don’t hear my characterization pejoratively, it’s not meant to be read as such. Only to give a concrete example.

looking forward to your response

At 2:07 PM , Blogger Erik said...

Good question, but it entirely misses the central point of Barth's dynamic (intentional use of the word) theology. The event of the God's self-revelation in history is on-going through the witness of the Holy Spirit making use of Scriptural witness and the church's witness. The reality is that who you are because of what Christ has done is a covenant partner with God, which means that the essence of your existence is a dynamic relationality with God in Christ through the awakening of the Holy Spirit (faith). The objectivity of what God has done does not abolish the relationality of God, but precisely because God has done it establishes it. God shows himself to covenantally related to us, and brings us into that relationship via what God does in Jesus Christ. That is reality, and since you do not live outside of reality, your task is to bear witness to this by living precisely in light of it, dynamically related to God in Christ. If God's relating to humanity is creative and mutable, as you say, from day one, without any eternal grounding, how is that you can be guaranteed that God will continue to be relational? It seems to me, unless God grounds his relationality, his covenant partnership, in something objective, we have no grounds upon which to say that one can genuinely be related to God. I wrote an okay paper a couple of semesters ago on how Barth's doctrine of election is at its heart a relational doctrine of God. I flesh out some of these questions there a bit more fully. Want me to send it to you?

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