Tackling Creation: A Flying Leap into #KBCDIII

Over on Twitter, there's been a 5-page-a-day reading group going on, marching through Barth's Church Dogmatics volume III under the hashtag #KBCDIII. I chose (possibly to the detriment of my followers!) to "live-tweet" my way through each day's page count in order to get a more detailed sense of what is going on in my favorite volume of the CD.

I've since fallen off that discipline a bit (because real life), but I've learned a good bit from it, and I intend to get back on the horse. Still, given a bit of breathing space, I want to go back and highlight the most interesting points. Barth pounds the nails in on some very controversial coffins here, declaring quite a few of the perennial (bad) arguments in Religion and Science stone dead, as well as several in the philosophy of religion. I'm going to run a brief series, just on the first section of material, to show off some of those decisive moments. Today, the introduction.

Context

Fortunately, the first section of CD III.1 is a remarkable example of concision on Barth's part ... if you can call 38 pages on the first article of the Creed "concise." It chunked out into 5-page segments nicely, since most of the pieces of the argument are only 2.5 pages long:
  • Creation as an article of faith
    1. Introduction, pp. 3-5
    2. Reason 1: Stuff (unprovably) exists, pp. 5-7
    3. Reason 2: God (unprovably) created it, pp. 7-10
    4. Reason 3: Scripture provides the meaning, pp. 11-22
      1. Reason 3a: the subject "God," pp. 11-13
      2. Reason 3b: the predication "the Creator," pp. 13-15
      3. Reason 3c: the verb "created," pp. 15-17
      4. Reason 3d: the object "heaven and earth," pp. 17-22
    5. Summary, p. 22
    6. Exposition, pp. 22-41

As Travis McMaken commented, CD III is one of the most uneven volumes of the set. I think that has something to do with Barth feeling that if he wants to do creation right, and consistently, he has to do all of the work himself. But he doesn't want to do it at all, yet. It's just time for him to do it. He's reached that point in the structure.

But he also hasn't set up the doctrine of creation in a clearly defined space using the first two volumes. CD I set up the doctrine of God in CD II nicely, using the Trinity to give space for a discussion of the God we are faced with, the God we trust and the reasons we trust. But jumping from there into creation as the first act of the divine economy is a bit like jumping off a cliff. Barth has to write another set of prolegomena to move forward, and so he's doing it right here.

Now, I do think that CD III builds on the material of volumes I and II, and that we can't understand CD III without them. Don't get me wrong. But that's a statement about the material, not the structure. The structure only works because Barth succeeds in building a doctrine of creation on top of the foundation he's already constructed. Volume IV only works standing on top of all three prior volumes, because it demands the work Barth does in creation. (Note: things that are built over time, as a sequence of iterations over the same basic material, are often like this. The next piece rests on all of the previous pieces.)

I've also suggested that CD III is more foundational than many of the elements of CD II as they deal with God's relationship to humanity. And I still think that! But that's because Barth started writing with an implicit anthropology, writing a two-sided theology in which he only explicitly clarified God's side. That's why Barth finds himself having to build new structure, new prolegomena, to clarify his 'til now implicit anthropology.

Next up: Faith and Reason

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