"Creation and Covenant" (CD §41): Justifying Dealing with Creation

It's almost like Barth knows his doctrine of creation is going to get no respect in the field. Really, what he knows is that the doctrine of creation gets little respect in Modernity, as a mythologically-grounded and unscientific depiction of how the world came to be as it is. Once we know that the idea is to explain how the world came to be, and its dependency upon God—so the Modern story goes—we can discard the particulars in favor of rewriting that general story in terms we can respect. And we'll get to Barth's demolition of those arguments in a few posts, once I hit the first excursus of §41.1, but this entire first sub-section will be devoted to establishing Barth's constructive opposition to that view.

Now, to some extent Barth has already made those arguments, on internal grounds. That's what §40 was about, as a demonstration of the ... shall we say, "intrasystematic validity," to lean very lightly on Lindbeck? ... of the doctrine of creation as a necessary component of credal faith. And he's already made the argument there that creation is emphatically not "a doctrine of the world-cause," not a locus involved principally with how we got here from there. The Modernist abstraction of an absolute contingency of the world is basically flawed, because we are products of a double contingency, built out of a history with two fundamental agents involved: God and the non-God creature. We and our worlds are significantly and independently self-contingent, even as we remain absolutely dependent upon God as God's creatures. As I said in a comment thread recently, "It has been common in the tradition to suggest that sin cannot create order, but sin isn’t the agent; we are, and we absolutely can and do!"

But now that Barth is in this new section, and establishing the basis for his handling of the creation stories of Genesis 1–3 as necessary and valid witnesses in their own rights (a profoundly un-Modern assertion made in the best possible Modern critical fashion) he has to justify treating the unique scriptural particularities of the doctrine of creation as necessary. Coming up with his own "the Creator creates the creature" abstraction on the basis of the credal assertions was important, but this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of not merely fighting fire with fire. General statements are only as good as the species that underlie them, the particulars on the basis of which they are valid abstractions.

But even before that, he has to defend handling the doctrine of creation itself as a driving and independent locus, something that can't just be fodder for a larger abstraction about God's more historically relevant acts. He has to have the argument that creation must be treated in and for itself, and first, rather than being left as an appendix or a reference volume filled with interesting supplementary notes that explain why the narrative of the more important doctrines is the way it is. And that's today's text—but it's also an argument the field needs to hear, because we've grown accustomed to treating Barth's doctrine of creation as just such a supplementary volume, relative to the omissive through-line we've been taught to draw across election and reconciliation.

Section 41, part 1: Creation, History, and Creation-history

(I'm going to be breaking this up by paragraphs of the original text, just to find some blog-amenable divisions, but there's really no numbering within sub-sections unless Barth starts making lists. So just take my paragraph numbering as the non-canonical innovation it is. Also, emphasis is original. I'll be doing my "emphasis" in the textual commentary.)

Paragraph 1
Wenn die Bibel und wenn das Bekenntnis der Kirche von Schöpfung redet, so bezeichnet sie damit ein besonderes Werk oder ein besonderes Moment in dem einen Werk Gottes, in welchem er sich auf Grund seines eigenen, inneren Willens und Beschlusses nach außen wendet. Schöpfung ist nicht als solche schon Versöhnung und Erlösung, obwohl Versöhnung und Erlösung in der Schöpfung ihre Voraussetzung haben und insofern schon mit der Schöpfung anheben. Muß man sagen, daß die ganze von Gott gewollte und beschlossene Offenbarung seiner Herrlichkeit schon in der Schöpfung Ereignis wird, so würde man doch nicht umgekehrt sagen können, daß sie auf die Schöpfung beschränkt oder daß aller weitere Inhalt dieser Offenbarung nur als eine Fortsetzung und Entfaltung der Schöpfung zu verstehen sei. Wiederum ist es auch nicht so, als ob die Schöpfung neben den anderen Werken oder neben den anderen Momenten des einen Werkes Gottes nur vorläufige und unselbständige Bedeutung [S. 45] hätte, selbständiger Betrachtung nicht ebenso würdig wäre. Gottes von der heiligen Schrift und von dem Bekenntnis der Kirche bezeugtes Wort und Werk ist artikuliert und will in jedem seiner Artikel und so auch in diesem, als die Selbstoffenbarung Gottes des Schöpfers, mit besonderer Aufmerksamkeit gehört und betrachtet werden.

When the Bible, and when the the creed of the church, speak about creation, they describe thereby a particular work or a particular moment within the one work of God in which God turns outward on the basis of God's own inner will and resolve. Creation is not as such already reconciliation and redemption, even though reconciliation and redemption have their prerequisite in creation and to that extent already commence with creation. While it must be said that the entire divinely-willed and -resolved revelation of God's majesty happens already in creation, one would not be able to say, conversely, that it could be restricted to creation or that all other content of this revelation could be understood as a continuation and unfolding of creation. Nor yet is it as though in comparison with the other works or other moments within the one work of God creation would have only contingent and not independent meaning, as though it would not be equally worthy of independent consideration. The word and work of God attested by holy scriptures and by the creed of the church is articulated, and will in each of its articles—and so also in this one—be heard and considered with particular attentiveness as the self-revelation of God the Creator.
There's a lot here. This is almost on par with the packed depth of the section thesis! But where the thesis stated what's coming in nuce, this paragraph acts as more of a bridge from what came before. The Bible and the creeds (the Apostles' and the Nicene, taken together as confessions of the church, are what Barth means by Bekenntnis here, rather than referring to any of what we call "confessions" in the post-Reformation sense) provide the basic statement of the article of the faith, as in the previous section. They are the source material from which we get the claim that is to be critically evaluated and correctly framed.

And a key part of that framing is that God "turns outward" on the basis of nothing but what is internal to God. This is God as God-without-us, God who does not need us—but who nevertheless creates and sustains and provides for us out of pure, gratuitous self-motivated decision. The canonical English translation imports the Latin ad extra here, but that, too, is gratuitous; for Barth, Gott nach außen wendet. Which is not to suggest that God turns inside-out, colloquially, but rather that the creature's becoming is the origin of an "outside" where before there had only been God. God creates a non-God direction in which to turn, having heretofore been all there was, alone. The origin of a heretofore unknown "outside" in distinction from God is the origin of God having in any sense an inwardness, as opposed to simply existing.

As the origin of that "outside," creation is the point at which everything that follows it begins. But creation is not the same as what follows it, and what follows it is not in any sense creatio continua for Barth. This division is important for every subsequent economic locus. Of course, creation and reconciliation and redemption are in a certain respect the same, because they each work out the logic of God's gracious election. However, whether we look at them as separate works, or as distinct moments in the one work of God, they must be maintained in some distinction from one another because the circumstances of their occurrence from eternity into time are vastly different. They are not, therefore, dependent upon one another, as economic works in a chronological sequence; they are each dependent only upon election as the eternal paradigm of God's economy with us.

Barth calls this the articulation of the word and work of God, and in so doing makes it not merely a question of what divisions we might choose in order to articulate Christian doctrine for ourselves. While every locus in the CD is to some extent, as Hunsinger suggests, a facet of the same crystal, through which we look to see the interior from its perspective, these three are not facets we are at liberty to select or reject. They cannot be rolled into one another, or into other arrangements of our doctrines. We do not get to opt out of the division of protology, history, and eschatology at the points of the Fall and the coming-in-judgment, because we do not get to ignore that God's gracious and normative actions for us are new in each sphere of this economy. And so, before we treat reconciliation and redemption, we must treat creation.

Indeed, as we see at the close of this paragraph and will see worked out in the following paragraph, we must treat creation in order to understand reconciliation and redemption, because God who reconciles and redeems is the Creator, above all else that God will also be, in dealing with the creature. It is the Creator who self-reveals as Lord of the creature, and who will be justified in reconciling and redeeming the creature by this very right as its Creator.