Home > Karl Barth > Karl Barth – Part 1

Karl Barth – Part 1

As noted earlier I’ve once again taken to reading Karl Barth, who I discovered my first year of seminary and has shaped me in a whole matter of ways. I’ve read the entirety of 4.1, 4.2, and 3.4 and a good chunk of 1.1. But I’ve wanted to read Barth’s Doctrine of God (2.1 and 2.2) for a while and decided that now was a good time to tackle it.

Under the heading of The Fulfilment of the Knowledge of God Barth first addresses “Man before God”.  Barth first addresses is the issue of whether or not God is even knowable, and answers that question that by merely asking that question one is assuming the existence of God.  Rather, the only two questions worth asking are (1) How far is God known? (2) How far is God knowable?  Barth also limits all knowledge of God to that grounded within faith.  For Barth, there is no knowledge about God that is not knowledge through faith.  Barth gives this definition of faith:

“Faith is the total positive relationship of man to the God who gives Himself to be known in His Word.  It is man’s act of turning to God, of opening up his life to Him and of surrounding to Him.” Barth also makes this statement, “But our first task is not to understand the knowledge of God as faith, but the knowledge of God as faith”

Having addressed the nature of the knowledge of God as faith, he turns his attention to the depth and nature of how this knowledge is revealed to us.  Again in his own words:

God is objectively immediate to Himself, but to us He is objectively mediate.  That is to say, He is objective directly but indirectly, not in the naked sense but clothed under the sign and veil of other objects different from Himself.  His secondary objectivity is fully true, for it as its correspondence and basis in His primary objectivity.  God does not have to be untrue to Himself and deceive us about His real nature in order to become objective to us

What Barth seems to articulate is something similar in nature to the position of “critical realism” that I have heard articulated in a variety of forms.  It is not that our knowledge of God is complete as we do not know God unmediated.  But rather God uses other objects and using those objects as “sign and veil” God reveals himself.  Another word might be that God uses “icons” to reveal Himself to us.  But Barth insists that despite this veiled revelation the secondary objectivity is none the less maintained.  In other words, our knowledge of God, while mediated is none the less ontologically grounded.

Barth takes this belief to it’s logical conclusion in his discussion of the early church.  “In their existence as apostles the secondary objectivity of the human appearing of Jesus Christ Himself is repeated.  And hidden with this is the primary objectivity of God Himself, calling to faith, awakening to faith, establishing faith and renewing faith, and with faith the knowledge of God – not by these men’s own strength but by the power of the Holy Spirit communicated to them, in the freedom of grace”  

If one follows Barth’s logic his belief in the “visible church” as the literal ontological incarnation (shall we say?) present throuth the power of the Spirit.  It is not that the church is literally God, but God assumes the church through His Spirit in a way that the church points to and reveals the true and real knowledge of God to the world.

Talk about a daunting thought to think about when it comes to writing a sermon…

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