Keys to Approaching Barth's Doctrine of Creation

It's becoming increasingly clear to me, at this point, that the dissertation won't just involve Barth -- he's taking over. The topic remains apocalyptic eschatology of creation, which I got from a certain reading of III.1 in the first place. The keys remain 1) theology (including that found in scripture) as oral performative rhetoric; and 2) storytelling as the basis for the given theological approaches of any particular writing. I'm attempting not to fall foul of Derrida here -- I don't intend to read the narrative against its supposed history, but through it as part of the text. Il n'y a pas de hors-texte. Apocalyptic storytelling appears in our scriptural texts as a result of the situation of the community telling the story, against the situation of the world against them. It is not a product of the comfortable or the assimilating, but of those who refuse to be digested. (Unfortunately it also becomes a tool of those assimilated to power, against those who will not.) It is a means of survival by incisive use of history.

And yet, as I say, Barth is quickly expanding to become the major topic, and this the critical proposal drawn out of his reconstructed work on creation. Reconstructed, on the one hand, to deal better with the Jews who remain Jews as authors and characters in our scriptures, and on the other, to deal better with the Jews who remain Judean and stubbornly resistant to persecution outside of the coming Christian world. From that, to deal better with our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters as people with legitimate claims to the God of our fathers. And so the first key to Barth's doctrine of creation is to understand his scriptural hermeneutic at work, and to determine its extent and relationships of dependency within the whole of CD III. And the second is to examine its impact on the form and content of his pervasive Trinitarian assertions throughout.

So before we can get into creation proper, we must get through scripture and the doctrine of God. Unsurprising, given that that basically gets us volume I and volume II as dependencies of volume III. But so far it seems to me that doing creation, especially dealing with Genesis, forces these into a different shape than they have taken from the beginning, and I mean to trace that.

It seems, reading through it, like so much of CD III is virtuosic freehand styling. As if, having gone so thoroughly through the first and second courses on the Word of God and the Doctrine of God, Barth arrived at the third course with basically no sufficient elements of the tradition to fully determine his course. He reached the doctrine of creation and simultaneously the end of the tremendous necessity that plays so thoroughly in the statements of II. From here on, he has to choose and adapt. And so he's playing artistically above the foundation here.

And it's brilliant -- as befits the foundation. But it is profoundly unlike Thomas, whose doctrine of creation is practically the primordial basis for the entire Summa. The consistency of which drives the progress of the architectonic because God is creator. Barth has instead chosen first a doctrine of scripture and a doctrine of the trinity, and they drive the rest -- but once we touch down from the general to the special territory of creation and reconciliation, it seems to be more a matter of celestial navigation looking up from the sea, than of following the path of a clear architectonic.

And so one may trace lines of dependency and map structures in his doctrine of creation -- without quite the same degree of absolute articulum fidei binding character. One may faithfully differ with Barth here, and yet be bound by what he has said and where he has gone -- and where he will yet go! And one may do it on exactly the same grounds, if from a different eschatologically limited Stand in the universe, and not have it turn out exactly the same. Here Weltanschauung truly comes into play, much as Barth attempts to rule it out. He, and we, are products of our environment, components of our world-stories and world-orders, in ways that must be acknowledged because they simply are. They are our limitations, and they are the providence in which we act today. They are part of the text.

And so the question becomes, what are the criteriological components of the doctrine? What make it what it is, once we have cleared the doctrines of scripture and deity? Barth becomes most clearly narrator here, and counter-narrator, and as such his own apocalyptic rhetor for his own world and audience. There remains in this doctrinal exposition much that was key in Romans over several commentaries -- the Yes and the No, Christ and Adam, this side and the other side. It remains a narrative that attempts to stand between, between what so far I am calling "world" and "creation" in order to keep both in view as what they are. But what the particular necessities of the story he tells here are, tells us what the doctrine of creation is for him. And I believe that telling this story, as it does for all such storytellers, has in turn shaped the foundations in its own terms. (Reliance on John will tend to do that -- John of all our authors is perhaps most involved in re-creating the world.)

Sane? Not sane? Obviously a work in progress, at any rate.


  1. Very interesting! I look forward to seeing how it progresses.

  2. Looks interesting man - I'm just getting into vol. III these days myself - way better than most people give Barth credit for.

  3. @Justin, thanks. A big part of the driving logic lies in the same monotheism question you just addressed. I find that having that set of presuppositions causes me to love III.1, and yet be irritated with it at the same time, and to want to push Barth on his exclusively trinitarian monolatry in its mismatch with what I find in both the OT and NT.

    I did my qualifying exams on Barth's dogmatic ethics, and simply fell for the brilliance of III.4 in its reset of the "orders". Between that and chapter 4 in I.2, I had to rework my entire approach to Barth. And now that I've been working my way through all of volume III, I continue to be amazed by it. It's a very sensible whole, but I think the majority of American sentiment about Barth's work -- especially in ethics -- was cemented by volume II, and a broad refusal to fully invest the time in getting what Barth means by the "command of God." It isn't intuitive; he's being contrary in order to change the terms of the debate.

    Part of the lack of reception for III may simply be the delay between I.1, 1936, and the mid-50's crank-up of the translation mill. What came out of that to the English-speaking world first was the catch-up translation of I.2 and all of II, along with the more timely work on IV, but if you look at the dates, III lags behind. And it's all coming out in one or more part-volumes per year, so I think people don't give Barth credit for the quality of volume III because they didn't read it. And when they did, it was so far after the argument that it didn't have the formative impact that belongs to it. The formative impact was made by I.1, and then II, and I don't think IV and III ever got the credit that belongs to them as special dogmatics/ethics, until recently.


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