20 July 2007

of barth & evangelicals 2

The talks at the Barth conference continued with Michael S. Horton's presentation “Does the Covenant Have a History? The Logos Asarkos in Karl Barth's Christology.” Horton is a professor at Westminster Seminary in California.

Horton began by commenting on the subtitle of the conference - "Friend or Foe?" - that in his view Barth is very much a friend to evangelicalism and that he's only grown in his appreciation for Barth over the years. Further, Horton admitted that he is no great expert on all the complexities of Barth's theology and he was there so listen and learn, remaining open to correction.

Having said all that, however, Horton's presentation offered a number of questions and criticism's of Barth's theology. After briefly outlining the contours of Reformed orthodoxy on the intersection of the pactum salutis, covenant of nature, covenant of grace, christology, and Trinity, Horton continued by outlining what he took to be the content of Barth's actualist christology.

Over against what Horton sees as a traditional emphasis upon the execution of the divine decree in history, Barth seeks to close any gap between who God is in himself and who God is for us, placing election within the doctrine of God itself.

Thus election is given a thoroughly trinitarian reading in Barth, with Christ as both object and subject of election, so that sin is always already condemned in Christ and God’s forgiveness is complete. Election then, for Barth, is God’s self-ordaining of himself on the basis of which the triune God moves towards humanity, so that we never encounter God apart from Jesus Christ.

While I'm not sure I followed all of Horton's criticisms of Barth, on the whole he seemed to be suggesting that Barth flattens out important distinctions, collapsing time into eternity, undermining any real transition from wrath to grace in history, confusing the accomplishment and application of redemption, disparaging creaturely means of grace, and failing to properly distinguish as he exists in himself from God's works ad extra.

Two places in which Horton's critique seemed to most reveal his own theological emphases were his criticism's of Barth's supralapsarianism and Barth's view of law and gospel, nature and grace. And these are interrelated. Horton urged that only infralapsarian rightly preserves the priority of law over grace by maintaining the covenant of grace as a response to human sin against divine law. In supralapsarianism (Barth's or otherwise), the covenant of grace receives priority, even before human sin, so that grace precedes law and, in Barth's exposition, all theological ethics becomes an ethics of grace.

In his talk, “12 Theses on Election and Eternity,” George Hunsinger of Princeton Seminary was responding primarily to Bruce McCormack's interpretation of Barth on election. But Hunsinger began with some comments on Horton's presentation.

He provided three points of criticism or clarification with regard to the Barthian themes Horton addressed: first, Barth on time and eternity is governed by Chalcedonian formula, but the relation is complex, mysterious, and asymmetrical; second, for Barth the relation between time and eternity are also perichoretic, third, with regard to simultaneity and sequence, Barth's paradigm is Luther’s doctrine of justification.

It would be impossible to do justice to Hunsinger's own 12 theses, but I'll attempt a very brief summation that will remain in need of clarification by reference to the published version of Hunsinger's talk.

[1] Barth nowhere says that God’s being is constituted by his act. Act and being are both ontologically basic in God.

[2] Barth distinguishes between “act” and “work” in God, with “work” only applied to God's relation to the world. “Act” applies to God in himself.

[3] Throughout Church Dogmatics 2.2 the Trinity is determined by the decree of election. That's to say, the Trinity constitutes election so that the Trinity determines himself to be God for us.

[4] God would, nonetheless, be the Trinity whether world was created or not.

[5] When Barth says Jesus Christ is the subject of election he is only speaking in a certain respect (secundum quid), not simpliciter. By analogy, the Queen was born in 1819. But this doesn’t mean she was born Queen, though she was born ordained for coronation.

[6] Jesus Christ is the subject of election in a strong sense because of the Trinity.

[7] From one point of view the cross, last judgment, and election are not three different events but forms of the same event, due to the grammar of perichoresis, involving anticipation and recapitulation participating in one another.

[8] For Barth, the cross in its historicity is present to God in pre-temporal election.

[9] Passages seen as placing election ontologically prior to Trinity aren’t saying this but concern revelation, human relation to God, Trinity, or affirmations of God as actus purus.

[10] Trinity is ontologically prior to and presupposed in the temporal act of election.

[11] With regard to the logos asarkos, Barth doesn’t reject this notion but affirms it, yet denying us any access to him.

[12] Barth maintains God’s independence so that his being in no way depends upon the world.

One should keep in mind that these points are intended by Hunsinger as a rejoinder to McCormack's interpretation of Barth's actualism, which works in somewhat less traditional or scholastic categories and takes that actualism much further.