Creation, order, and world -- and far too much reliance on John 1

It's good to get feedback here.  Even and especially when it disagrees with me.  I get to iterate over ideas and throw out the ones that don't work.  And occasionally, like last week's argument with David over the trinity, it compels me to go back and do my constructive work over again and make it tighter.  Unfortunately, I did it offline.  Which means now I have to go through and post up the pieces of it that now make sense.  Given that the base disagreement seems to have something to do with what Barth says (and therefore what a Barthian can say), I'm starting from the middle, with the rereading of the opening of III.1.  And there's some really cool stuff, and some really ugly stuff.

Starting with the cool stuff.  Section 40, pp. 16-17 and 19-22, the small print sections.  What is the world?  kosmos = ktisis + demiourgia.  The world as world is ordered creation.  And yet eschatology speaks of the katabole kosmou -- the destruction of the world, yes, but more properly its disordering.  This is not the undoing of creation; it is the undoing of the ordering by which the creation has become this particular world.


The Greeks understand the demiourgos as the one who makes kosmos from ataxia -- the one who applies order to the orderless.  This action is not ktisis, and it is not ex nihil.  Any created agent may be a demiurge, may taxonomize created matter into some semblance of an ordered world.  At best, it fits with what Hefner says of us, that we are created co-creators.  But this assumes the alignment of our taxis with God's.  The dissolution of taxis -- even up to and including the dissolution of the kosmos -- is only the revelation of the creation in its God-given state.  The world has been shaped, not so much by active sin, as by the resulting lack of relationship between the free agency of the self-ordering creation and the intention of the creator.

And indeed, the book of Job is an extended exploration of this -- that the good of the creature lies, not in the taxis kosmou, but in the taxis theou.  That justice is not ruled on the basis of the order that appears to the natural man, in Job's friends.  That instead the good order of the creature consists in the knowledge that the cosmic order is transient, and yet God's good order persists.  We are not to seek after positive cosmic order for ourselves, nor are we to object against God when the world goes pear-shaped.  But in our faith we are right to appeal to God's good order against this order of the world and its consequences.  We are right to believe in God as the go'el who will deliver us, and to trust his redemption.  Then we are properly creature before the creator.

There is a strong apocalyptic sense here, in which the creation and the eschaton are linked as revelations of God's good order wholly distinct from and other than the world-orders around us.  A sense in which dogmatics deals as a science in data properly its own, data which could be learned from no other object, no other discipline.  This is the ground of the interaction of nature and grace.  It is the root of the apparent -- but only so -- contradictions between grace and nature, the miraculous and the order it violates.  The reason that the judgments of history are not the judgments of God, even if the judgments of God appear as events within history.  I love it!

But that's not where we're going.  No, we're headed toward the ugly, through the still-reasonably-cool.  Having understood creation in the merism of heaven and earth, referring to opposed spheres and therefore all that stands between them, we here understand human being as the secret key to this merism, the linkage of these spheres: man who is on earth and under heaven.  This is why we may speak of the redemption of all of creation by the assumption of merely human being, and fulfill the criteriological statement of Gregory of Nazianzus, "What is not assumed, is not redeemed."  If human being is the secret to the order of heaven and earth, the divine-human being is the revelation of their right order.  If Adam reveals to us the fall of the order of heaven and earth, Christ reveals to us the restoration of their true order.

That's cool, but where it leads is far less so.  When the perfect has come, the imperfect must pass away, apparently.  And in proceeding somehow from Adam to Christ, in the typology of two periods, Barth brings us to the canon, in the same typology.  When the perfect has come, the imperfect passes away -- or we must read into the Old Testament its teleological fulfillment in Christ in order to understand it.  Christ, the end of Torah; Christ, the exclusive unity of scripture.  And the fine print on 24 is the crystallization of this Calvinistic exegetical nightmare.  Christ is the object of witness of the creation accounts of Genesis:

"But even on this basis it will be seen by us only if we halt before this centre of the Bible, directing the question of its basis to Jesus Christ and allowing Him to answer it.
Besides the right and necessary and central biblicism, there is a scattered and peripheral.  This does not know that the Bible is a totality and that it is meant to be read in all its parts in the light of its unity, i.e. of the One of whom it everywhere speaks.  On the contrary, it regards Jesus Christ merely as one object of its witness among others.  It regards the Bible as a repository of all sorts and degrees of pious knowledge.  It knows nothing of the triunity of the God whose revelation and work are attested.  It may also confess a belief in the triunity of God in isolated connexions, but it does not take it seriously.  It thinks it can talk about God the Father and Creator on the basis of Scripture, i.e. in light of this or that passage of Scripture, without allowing itself to be taught by Scripture, i.e. the whole of Scripture, to know the Father through the Son, the Creator through the Redeemer.  It may persuade itself -- with or without the lame hypothesis of the 17th century doctrine of inspiration -- that the peripheral knowledge which it takes from the Bible is God's true and clear and certain Word, but it cannot possibly be obedient to the Spirit of Scripture in this way (because the Spirit of Scripture is the Spirit of God the Father and the Son).  The result is that it cannot possibly see the immovable basis of the statement that God is the Creator.  No insistence on the letter of Scripture can give the one intrinsically necessary and convincing answer to the question how we may know this truth.  Here, too, a word of warning is required against this type of biblicism."
This is not quite what Luther means by scriptura sacra sui ipsius interpres.  And I will not argue against the notion that redemption is the proper epistemological ground of creation story -- but because by it I mean that knowledge of God as creator is not primary knowledge of God.  That in every case, the telling of creation history reveals an order of God that is the order of redemption and salvation experienced as the ground of faith for the people telling the story.  Christ is far from the first redemptive act of God by which a people came to faith.  And yet Barth proceeds as though he has proven that only a reading of scripture that is at all points Christological is capable of doing justice to the integrity of scripture in its witness to God's active intention.

And so instead of pointing to Christ and allowing him to answer, "God," we point to man and allow him to answer "Christ."   Specifically, we point to John, who entirely contrary to intention makes it possible for Barth to deny the entirety of Judean history and witness as a basis for knowledge of God.  We point to John 1, and hang the entire doctrine of God and of the creation upon it. The fine print from 29-31 extends this logic into the active principle of the remainder of III.1.  Following the Anselmian procedure of FQI, John 1 becomes the statement of faith from which all rational understanding proceeds.  From this noema, we proceed upward to the ontic basis of faith.

Barth finds the notion, throughout his scattered Christian sources, that "what was known of God's love, goodness, grace and mercy was used as a key to the understanding of creation" (again, with which I will not argue).  This notion leads Barth to ask of Luther, Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin what is the ground of their equation of creation and grace.  And he gives the simple answer, the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  This is fine, until Barth makes the leap from sufficiency for faith, to necessity for ontology.  And as he asserts at the end of this fine print section, this is Calvin's leap.  A right objective understanding of Genesis depends on John 1.  A right objective understanding of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob cannot be had without the knowledge of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

You may guess that I find this piece of logical hysteron-proteron absurd.  And part of why follows hard on this section.  Who bears the brunt of the accusations of misinterpretation in section 41?  The Jews.  Who cannot possibly understand their own scriptures or know the Lord God who redeemed them and whom they confessed repeatedly in these same scriptures.  Why?  Let's step forward through a couple of examples in the conclusion of section 40.  Galatians -- because when we read that Paul was a Jew, we believe Acts and understand that Paul had been a Jew until his conversion to Christianity.  That he stopped being a Jew, and that there is a clean epistemological line between the confession of the New Testament and the confessions of the Old.  "The Israel of God" not as a term of integration of the Gentiles into a Judean reality, but as a transfer of blessing to the Gentiles, who will confess Christ.  Matthew 8 -- because Jesus found faith in the Centurion and not in Israel.

What does not appear, but upon which these selective readings of the New Testament rely, is the fact that Barth's reading of scripture is profoundly conditioned by his history, the history of Christianity in Europe practically since Constantine and Julian.  The Jews are those who deny Christ.  Having failed to recognize this work of God, they have no share in Christendom.  They are found guilty of unfaith and excluded from the knowledge of God.  Barth does not see the irony in making this sort of argument on this sort of grounds, and publishing it in German in 1945.  He does not see that supersessionism weakens his argument precisely where an emphasis on the continuity of God's faithfulness in Christ would strengthen it.  Having taken fulfillment teleologically, Barth shows a doctrine of grace that begins and ends in Christ and the trinity.  Making the incarnation a non-historical moment, rather than embedding it in the history in which it makes sense as an action of God.

And the absurdity continues outward into the minds of people who can suggest to me with a straight face that there is no self-revelation of God before the incarnation.  That it is a logical necessity that the procession of the Son happened in eternity conceived as time prior to the beginning of created time, in order that John 1 be propositionally true.  That the human doctrine of the trinity is the noema par excellence for determining the ontic reality of God, and that John 1 is the indisputable evidence of it, having priority over all other evidence of scripture, in order to be itself the means by which scriptura sacra sui ipsius interpres.  I can disbelieve all of this without denying the confessions or Christ.

And so the next necessary piece is an exposition of the nature of the scriptures and their logic, most especially of John 1.  That exposition may not be the Grenzfall itself, but it is what I have come to see because of it.

Comments

  1. I swear to God, someone needs to teach you how to write haiku....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Order of the world;
    History of agency.
    Where in this is God?

    Exclusivity
    The last the first becoming
    The last whom we are.

    Barth relies on John
    Ahead of all his fathers;
    God still faithful stands.

    People of the books,
    Children of the divine Word
    Not alone in Christ.

    Salvation remains
    The province of this one God
    Crossing boundaries.

    ReplyDelete

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