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Barth, The Trinity, and Human Freedom
By Colin Gunton
"Barth establishes human freedom in the freedom and transcendence of the triune God ... it is a real, though given and determined freedom ... criticisms of Barth, though mistaken if they simply repeat Enlightenment and Pelagian conceptions of human freedom, do have justification in a lack of attention paid by him to the distinctness of the triune persons and in particular to pneumatological dimensions of incarnation and salvation."
"HE who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision." So does the writer of the second psalm depict the attitude of God to the nations. This independence of God, the unique and untrammelled freedom of the Almighty, is the theme of other psalms, too. In face of any suggestion that God may in some way need human devotion, Psalm 50 reproduces the scoffing tones we have already met: "If I were, hungry, I would not tell you; for the world and all that is in it is mine." Not only is God free from such concerns; this is also a positive liberty. "Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases" (Psalm 115:3).
Part of our concern at this symposium is with the vitality of the biblical tradition, and in these psalms we are presented with expressions that sit rather uncomfortably with some of today's currents of thought, which do not like such forthright assertions of the divine supremacy. But Karl Barth knew better, as the following characteristically lyrical passage makes clear. In it, he is speaking of the divine preserving of the creature:
And so "man goeth forth unto his work and to his labor unto the evening" (Ps. 104:23); to which it belongs that he can use his senses and understanding to perceive that two and two make four, and to write poetry and to think, and to make music, and to eat and drink, and to be filled with joy and often with sorrow, and to love and sometimes to hate, and to be young and to grow old, and all within his own experience and activity, affirming it not as half a man but as a whole man, with head uplifted and the heart free and the conscience at rest: "O Lord, how manifold are thy works" (Ps. 104:24). It is only the
Colin Gunton is Professor of Christian Doctrine, King's College, University of London. He is the author of several recent books, including Becoming and Being:- The Doctrine of God in Charles Hartshorne and Karl Barth (1978) and Enlightenment and Alienation: An Essay Towards a Trinitarian Theology (1985).
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heathen gods who envy man. The true God, who is unconditionally the Lord, allows him to be the thing for which He created him. He is far too highly exalted to take it amiss or to prevent it.... There can be no doubt that with an autonomous reality God does give to man and to all His creatures the freedom of individual action (CD III/3, p. 87).
There are two foci to that passage. The first is found in the contrast between the heathen gods and the unconditioned sovereignty of God; the second is the human autonomy it is said to guarantee. Let us look at them one at a time. Both the psalmists and Barth assert in forthright terms what is sometimes called the transcendence of God. It is a word that should be used carefully both because of its inherent ambiguity and because it is used as a label for Barth's theology by those who wish to understand it without the burden of thought. But it has its uses, for it denotes in Barth, without prejudice to God's immanence and indeed as an implication of it, that God is conceived to be other than the world, as creator and as one who acts with sovereign freedom both within and toward it. This otherness, however, is not negative as the denial of relations; it is understood in terms of what has traditionally been called the immanent Trinity.
There can be little doubt that discussions of the immanent Trinity have, in the West since Augustine, worn an abstract air, and, despite recent attempts to defend the tradition, notably by W.J. Hill,1 have appeared to take on a speculative life of their own, divorced from the history of salvation. Among Barth's achievements are the restoration of the link between history and the Trinity and the insertion into the Augustinian tradition of elements from the Cappadocian Fathers. It is at this point that both the strengths and weaknesses of Barth's treatment of God and human freedom are to be found. As we shall discover, there is a continuing tension in his work, and from it flow many of the difficulties of interpretation which have always been a feature of scholarly debates. For the moment, however, we shall concentrate on what he has to contribute positively to our topic.
As is well known, Barth insists that it is a mistake to conceive God, after the manner of much Western theism, in negative terms. To say that God's transcendence should be understood as the absence of space and time from the being of God would be a denial of revelation, of the capacity of God to be present in and to the world. Therefore, there must be in God, despite the apparent absurdity of the claim, a kind of spatiality understood on the basis of becoming spatial in Christ, but apophatically. "God possesses space, His own space, and ... just because of this spatiality, he is able to be triune" (II/1, p. 468f.). Such a concept performs two functions. Although the concept has its basis in the presence of God to space, it serves to maintain the ontological distinction between God and the world-"togetherness [Zusammensein]
1 W. J. Hill, The Three-Personed God: The Trinity as a Mystery of Salvation (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1982).
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at a distance" (p. 468). But, second, it also preserves an important feature of the innertrinitarian being of God: "the togetherness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the distance posited by the distinction that exists in the one essence of God" (p. 468). There is a distance within the innertrinitarian relations, a kind of living space in which God is freely God. This means that from the relations between God and the world Barth has argued to an analogous pattern of relations within the Godhead. But it is analogous. God possesses space "as the being who is completely present in the spatiality that belongs to Him" (p. 470). The being of God is an ordered freedom which is the ordered freedom of God.
Much more has been made of the parallel treatment in Barth of the divine temporality,2 but it is enough for our purposes to realize that the point is similar. There is a kind of temporality in God, which preserves both the ontological distinction of God from the world and the real relation God has with it. God's eternity is not non-temporality, but the eternity of the triune life: "the fact that God has and is Himself time, and the extent to which this is so, is necessarily made clear to us in His essence [Wesen-perhaps better translated as "being"] as the triune God" (p. 615).
What is the point of this talk of divine spatiality and temporality? It is more than a matter of simply preserving ontological relatedness and distinction, more even than being true to revelation. It is a question of the kind and quality of the relations there are and can be. A clue to their nature is to be found in Barth's treatment of the triune eternity: "there is order and succession" (ibid.). Why do they matter? An answer can be sought with the help of some arguments developed in connection with the Pelagian and later Arminian controversies, arguments which are, in any case, of direct relevance to our theme. The Pelagian conception of human freedom, said Benjamin B. Warfield, "scarcely allows for the existence of a 'man'-only a willing machine is left.... In such a conception, there was no place for character.... Here lies the essential error of their doctrine of free will: they looked upon freedom in its form only, and not in its matter."3 The argument can be applied, by analogy, to the conception of divine freedom. God's freedom is not that of an arbitrary willing machine, but that of the triune God, and takes shape in the mysterious life of Father, Son, and Spirit. Freedom, to be freedom, must have a shape, a form. If God is to be free, and free not only in relation with the world but free to set the creature free to be itself, God's
2 See, for
example, R. W. Jenson, God After God: The God of the Past and the God of
the Future, Seen in the Work of Karl Barth (Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill,
1969); and R. H. Roberts, "Barth's Doctrine of Time: Its Nature and implications,"
Karl Barth: Studies of his Theological Method, ed. S. W. Sykes (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1979), pp. 88-146.
3 Benjamin B. Warfield, "Augustine and the Pelagian Controversy," Introductory Essay in American ed. of Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V, Saint Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1971), pp. xiii-lxxi.
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freedom must be conceived to take a form appropriate to its matter. That is the function performed by Barth's conceptions of the trinitarian space and time, the life in relation of Father, Son, and Spirit. Barth is sometimes accused of an arbitrary actualism in his understanding of the reality of God, but such an accusation fails to discern the consistent inner dynamic of the trinitarian life. There is freedom, and it is the freedom of the personal reality of God. But what does that enable Barth to say about the freedom of the creatures that are so utterly other than God and so utterly dependent for their being?
We now come to the second of the foci of the passage cited from Church Dogmatics III/3: "with an autonomous reality ... the freedom of individual action." Barth is widely thought to be weaker here and even to deny human freedom. Yet, liberty was of immense importance to him, and not only in some technical theological sense. One feature of his life that will strike readers of the Busch biography is that Barth's writing and teaching life had a context of active concern for political freedoms of many kinds, including a preparedness to take a part in defending the independence of Switzerland from foreign domination. But whereas the doctrine of the freedom of God is a relatively straightforward, if utterly mysterious, matter, the pure waters of human freedom are muddied for Barth by the slavery that is the lot of those who would unaccountably (or, as he would say, "impossibly") try to live outside the covenant. Therefore, we find a conception in which freedom is given, lost, and restored in Christ. The freedom is the freedom of the creature, but of the creature who is elect, reconciled, and living in expectation of redemption. We begin, accordingly, with the second part of Volume II.
Although Barth's treatment of the Trinity is past by the time the doctrine of election is reached, the conception takes here new form and definition. The triune God is defined as one whose reality takes shape in election: "in the primal and basic decision in which He wills to be and actually is God, in the mystery of what takes place from and to all eternity within Himself, within his triune being, God is none other than the One who in His Son or Word elects Himself, and in and with Himself, elects His people" (II/2, p. 76). In the explication of this election, the characteristically Barthian terms of love and freedom have a central place. Election is good news ("the sum of the gospel," p. 3), the outcome of both the love and the freedom in which "God is what He is." But election, like freedom, is not shapeless and arbitrary; it is to a particular end.
There is a counterpart to God's self-election and election of human beings, and it consists in the fact "that for his part, man can and actually does elect God" (p. 177). This human election which responds to the divine is described as autonomy: "a simple but comprehensive autonomy of the creature which is constituted originally by the act of eternal divine election and which has in this act its ultimate reality" (ibid.). It is an
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autonomy, but it is a given one, shaped and-if we use the word carefully-determined by God. And there is more to be said. In the latter section of this same part-volume, Barth shows that his treatment of autonomy is not confined to a teaching of the human choice of God. Election is not empty, but to something. For the Augustinian tradition, it tended to be to a particular destiny in heaven or hell.
The measure of Barth's originality over against his own tradition is that election has for him a much more this-worldly orientation and is completed by a corresponding conception of ethics. "What is the purpose of the electing God for the man whom He has elected?" (p. 510). Election is to a particular kind of life, but one that is freely chosen; it is, indeed, a determination, but it is not the determination of "a mere thing, a neuter, but a person.... As election is ultimately the determination of man, the question arises as to the human self-determination which corresponds to this determination" (ibid.). Notice again the stress on a kind of autonomy. It is a self-determination, albeit one which takes the form of "responsibility ... decision ... obedience ... action" (p. 511). Human freedom, like God's, must have a shape, and that is why the conception of responsiblity, in which Barth includes the concept of response, is central. "Man is, and is human, as he performs this act of responsibility, offering himself as the response to the Word of God, and conducting, shaping, and expressing himself as an answer to it. He is, and is man, as he does this" (III/2, p. 175).
It has been said of Barth's concern for obedience in ethics that it is "Kantianizing" because, just as for Kant our sole possible freedom consists in absolute obedience to the categorical imperative, so for Barth our sole possible freedom is "the freedom of obedience."4 Whether or not that be so, it is by no means Barth's intention. We are called to obey not the impersonal dictates of reason but one who comes alongside us as one of us. There is, of course, a claim of God over us (without it, God would not be God); but it consists in "the granting of a very definite freedom" (II/2, p. 585). It is here that is to be found the answer to the charge of Kantianizing.
It is one thing to obey power exerted absolutely and impersonally, quite another to obey the kind of personal authority with which we have to do in the gospel. "The command of this Commander is a permission, and in this it is fundamentally and finally differentiated from all other commands" (ibid.). Here there is a distinction in kind drawn between obedience to God and obedience to all other commands, which are "power and dominions and authorities which restrict the freedom of man" (ibid.). All other obedience is servile (pp. 595f.). This command and this alone is liberating, because it is gospel. "Do this, because in Jesus Christ you have been born anew in the image of God" (p. 587).
4 Charles Dickinson, "Church Dogmatics IV/4," Karl Barth in Review: Posthumous Works Reviewed and Assessed, ed. by H. M. Rumscheidt (Pittsburgh: Pickwick Press, 1981), pp. 43-53.
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"The basis of the 'must' which corresponds to the command of God is ... the deepest and most radical 'may' of the man who sees that God is not against him, but for him" (p. 597).
The outcome is that, according to Barth, one must be determined in order to be free. But unless it is God who determines, we are under the power of a demon, not the truth. This determination, because the work of the personal God, is a determination that liberates for true self-determination. The slogan is often repeated that for Barth "God is everything, man nothing." If, however, we examine the christological matrix in which the conception of freedom takes shape, we shall see that Barth in fact asserts the opposite. Quoting that slogan he asserts that "as a description of grace it is not merely a 'shocking simplification' but complete nonsense" (IV/1, p. 89). Rather, "human obedience, too, human constancy and virtue, useful human knowledge, human faith and love and hope, all these are only a standing and walking on the rock which bears him up, the rock of the new being given him as his own" (p. 91). In Volume 4, to which we have now moved, the emphasis is on the freedom deriving from reconciliation: the freedom not only of the elect, but of those who are justified, sanctified, and called. Just as human freedom is based on election, so its renewal is seen to derive from the movement of God into human history in Christ.
This movement, for Barth, has two levels. It is at once the self-giving of God and the elevation of Jesus as true man: almost, we might say, God becoming nothing so that we might be everything. "That God as God is able and willing to condescend, to humble Himself in this way is the mystery of the 'deity of Christ'" (p. 177). Conversely, the mystery of the humanity of Christ is that here we have "royal man," slothful humanity renewed for genuine human activity. Jesus is free "to be in His humiliation as the Son of God the truly exalted and royal Son of Man" (IV/2, p. 311). The link between Christ's royal humanity and free human action is established by Barth by means of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the Spirit of Son and Father who at once "unmasks and rejects man's lack of freedom, but it also discloses and magnifies his freedom" (p. 374). The Spirit grants "a quite definite freedom," the freedom to be what we truly are (p. 363), which is the outcome of the "power which does not merely hold out or describe or commend or command ... but itself makes us free" (p. 305).
As Barth frequently remarks, human freedom is not the freedom of Hercules at the crossroads, the freedom of indifference, in which it makes no matter whether we turn to the right or the left. His is a restatement of the classical Pauline-Augustinian tradition, though his use of the term "autonomy" betrays also an awareness of characteristically modern preoccupations. Whether it does, or would want to do, justice to all aspects of modern concepts of freedom is a question that will be at the center of the next section. This second section, however, will end as the first began, with a reference to the biblical tradition. For Barth's conception of human freedom is clearly not without biblical
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support. Paul, for example, operates with a conception of determined freedom: "I worked harder than any ... though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me" (I Cor. 15: 10). Similarly, his advice to the Philippians, so often quoted only in part, contains a similar conception of a direct relation between human action and divine enabling: "work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, for God is at work in you" (Phil. 2:12f.). In more negative terms, but making a similar point, Paul says that sin consists in human action that is attempted outside the relationship to God that is mediated through Christ: "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). The fact that freedom is a divine gift is also prominent: "the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (II Cor. 3:17). In the Fourth Gospel, too, similar negative and positive points are made: first, that "everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin"; and second that "if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34,36). This is clear evidence against the idea of freedom as independent self-determination, of Hercules at the cross-roads: to choose some roads is to choose slavery. The matter was put with great clarity by Samuel Taylor Coleridge who, like Barth but in a different way, espoused a modified form of Calvinist theology:
Freedom expresses that highest perfection of a finite Will, which it attains by its perfect self-determined Subordination to Reason, "whose service is perfect freedom." ... A will cannot be free to choose evil-for in the very act it forfeits its freedom, and so becomes a corrupt Nature, self-enslaved. It is sufficient to say, that a Will can choose evil, but in the moment of such choice ceases to be a free will.5
However, despite his strong assertions of the autonomy that flows from grace, there are few aspects of Barth's theology which have come in for greater criticism. Why are his words asserting the reality of freedom in the Spirit so widely disbelieved? Is it because they are empty rhetoric, and are overwhelmed by the logic of other things that he says? Or is it that the critics are simply operating with different preconceptions? The answer is, I think, a bit of both. We begin in the next section with a study of some of the charges.
As we have seen, the weight of Barth's conception of freedom, both human and divine, rests upon the doctrine of election, and it is here, too, that the critics have concentrated their fire. Thirty-years ago, G. C. Berkouwer argued that Barth's doctrine of election entailed the eventual salvation of all, and that he was therefore inconsistent when he denied the apokatastasis.6 If all are saved, willy nilly, by election, the fate of all
Taylor Coleridge, Notebook 26, cited by J. R. Barth, Coleridge and
Christian Doctrine (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969), p.
6 G. C. Berkouwer, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, T. E. by H. R. Boer (London: Paternoster Press, 1956).
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would appear to depend on a premundane divine decision rather than on the actual human decisions we ourselves make. The only difference in logic from the old Calvinist double decree is that all rather than some are destined for salvation: the decretum is still absolutum. Although the form of Berkouwer's criticism has been disputed, in my view successfully, by J. D. Bettis,7 its substance continues to recur.8 A similar point is made in studies of Barth's ethics. If, as Barth appears to say, everything has been fixed and determined by God, has not human action been fixed "in advance" and so deprived of genuine freedom?9
There can be little doubt that many of these criticisms derive from a one-sided reading of Barth, on stressing his conception of the pretemporality of God at the expense of what he calls God's supratemporality and post-temporality (II/1, p. 620). God does, of course, precede the creature as creator and reconciler. But we have only to turn to the treatment of divine providence to discover that careful attention is paid also to the concept of the divine accompanying: the presence of God to the creature in the here and now. God "affirms and approves and recognizes the autonomous actuality and therefore the autonomous activity of the creature as such. He does not play the part of a tyrant towards it" (III/3, p. 92). As happens frequently in the Church Dogmatics, the distinctiveness of Barth's treatment of a topic is made evident in his discussion of his predecessors' approach to the subject, in this case the conceptions of concursus and primary and secondary causality in "the older dogmatics." As Barth realizes, it is not necessarily a self-contradiction to hold God to be the cause of free human actions. The problem lies in the fact that the concept of cause has not been adequately christianized. We do not have to do here with "things" that interact as part of some automatic cosmic machinery, but with a gracious and personal divine accompanying of the creature. God is indeed supreme, irresistible even, but "if the supremacy of this work is the supremacy of the Word and Spirit, it does not prejudice the autonomy, the freedom, the responsibility ... of the creature ... but confirms and indeed establishes them. The One who rules by His Word and Spirit recognizes the creature which he rules as a true other" (p. 144). It is not-and here Barth turns the criticism on those who charge him with the denial of freedom-the proponent of trinitarian lordship who takes away autonomy, but the one who, eager for an autonomy of independence, espouses some kind of synergism. "The god of all synergistic systems is always the absolute, the general, the digit 1, the concept" (p. 139). The god who is abstractly single is the enemy of human freedom, for he is not the triune God who because he is
7 J. D. Bettis,
"Is Karl Barth a Universalist?" Scottish Journal of Theology, 15 (1967),
8 See, for example, David Ford, Barth and God's Story: Biblical Narrative and the Theological Method of Karl Barth in the Church Dogmatics (Frankfurt and Bern: Peter Lang, 1981).
9 Robert E. Willis, The Ethics of Karl Barth (Leiden: Brill, 1971), p. 199.
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differentiated in himself is the ground of true differentiation in the creature.
Barth is not, then, committed to a view that everything is decided in advance, preprogrammed from eternity. His God is in the present and future, not simply in the past. The effort that Barth put in throughout the Dogmatics to avoid static patterns of thought about the relation of God to the world should make us beware of the simpler versions of the criticism. Moreover, he makes it quite clear that he is aware that the issue at stake is not whether human action is determined, but by whom or what it is determined, and in what way. Those who reject the notion of the divine concursus, and that includes many of those who believe that Barth's theology entails the abolition of human freedom, do so because their presuppositions are deist or Pelagian. In the former case, by denying a trinitarian conception of the link between creator and creature, they are supposing an impersonal bond, or none at all. Here, as Coleridge saw so clearly, it is not a trinitarian conception of God which entails a denial of human liberty, but all conceptions, deist, unitarian, and pantheist alike, which turn the universe into a network of impersonal cause and effect. In the latter case, the critics are supposing that the only autonomy worthy of the name is to be found in some kind of independent self-realization by the creature. Such positions, however, are not so much criticisms of Barth as root and branch rejections of his view that human autonomy is given by God and remains only so long as God continues to be its support. It is simply to oppose one view of human autonomy to another; to see our autonomy, the law of our being, grounded in ourselves rather than in the grace of God.10
That is the reason why the classical discussions of Pelagianism and Arminianism are of direct relevance to our theme. Pelagianism, as we have seen, depends upon a conception of the autonomous will that tears it away from its basis in formed character. It is surely significant that the burden of Iris Murdoch's complaint against post-Enlightenment conceptions of moral action and reflection is almost identical with B. B. Warfield's characterization of the Pelagian view. In modern existentialism and analytic philosophy, she says, "Immense care is taken to picture the will as isolated. It is isolated from belief, from reason, from feeling, and yet is the essential center of the self. 'I identify myself with my will. "What I am "subjectively" is a foot-loose, solitary, substanceless, will'"11 Here we reach the root of the problem. There is no will that is a room, swept clear and uninhabited-at least, not for long (Matt. 12:43-5). Human character and action is the product of a process of formation; the crucial question is not whether it is formed, but how and by what influences. One thing that can be said against Barth's analysis here is that it is philosophically unsophisticated, and therefore bears a
discussion of existentialist anthropologies in III/2, pp. 117-132 is particularly
relevant to this aspect of the discussion.
11 Iri Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970), pp. 8,16.
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rather abstract character. But it finds plentiful support in the tradition, nowhere more, perhaps, than in the work of Jonathan Edwards. In his polemics against Arminian theories of free action, Edwards attacks the supposition that there are acts which are totally free from any cause or determination. The opening sections of his treatise on the freedom of the the will are a series of arguments to the absurdity of Arminian notions that freedom is the same as complete indeterminacy. To will means to choose, and to choose necessarily involves at least a measure of determination by that which we choose.
This returns us to the central point, that there is all the difference between determination by the triune God, who has space and can therefore give creatures space to live in, and by an abstract, impersonal control, whether that control be a unitary God or a mechanical universe (and, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge saw, they are essentially the same). According to Barth, creation is a giving of space for autonomous human reality, and reconciliation is the work of the omnipotence of the cross within that authentically worldly space. The creaturely person is not violated by the action of God as Son and Spirit. In reconciliation, therefore, we are determined to be children of God, but not, as Peter Brunner showed long ago in one of the first responses to Barth on this topic, compelled. The sinner can set at nought the work of the Holy Spirit.12 But to do that is no longer to be free, because we do something that is foreign to what we are; and that is not autonomy, but heteronomy: the heteronomy of the demonic.
Hegel held that certain forms of theology led to the phenomenon of the "unhappy consciousness" in which the human being is crushed to insignificance beneath the almighty power of God.13 In a characteristic sideswipe at Schleiermacher, Barth made it clear that he shared Hegel's view: the notion that the Christian faith is a special determination of the feeling of absolute dependence "is an outrage to the essence of man."14 We are now, of course, familiar, if not over-familiar, with the view that certain traditional ways of conceiving God are alienating. The historical root of the problem, it can be argued, is to be found in Augustine's one-sided emphasis on the unity of God, and it seems to me no accident that deism and unitarianism, as well as atheism, are more characteristic of the heirs of Western than of Eastern patterns of theological thought. They derive in large measure from a tendency to modalism, in which the unity of God is so stressed at the expense of a revealed threeness that the latter is reduced to epiphenomenal or secondary status. The outcome is
Brunner, "Die Freiheit des Menschen in Gottes Heiisgeschichte." Kerygma und
Dogma, 5 (1959), 238-57.
13 G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, T. E. by J. B. Baillie (London: Allen and Unwin, 1949), pp. 242ff.
14 II/2, p. 553. "It has necessarily to be repelled, for it opens the door to every kind of caprice and tyranny and therefore to the profoundest disobedience to God" (ibid.).
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the tendency to swallow up the reality of the creature in that of God, with ill consequences for human freedom.
Barth's major achievement in this area lies in his inauguration of a decisive shift toward a more truly relational conception of the Trinity, in which greater attention is paid to the being of God as consisting in threeness.15 There is clear influence on Barth (as on Calvin before him)16 from the Cappadocian tradition of trinitarian theology, for example, in his adoption of the expression mode of being from the Greek. But there, also, the problem is to be found. By using that term Barth's stated intention was "to express ... not absolutely, but relatively better and more simply and clearly the same thing as is meant by 'person'" (I/1, p. 359). But the outcome is that Augustine's weakness in this very area is simply repeated. Instead of theologically reclaiming the concept of the person from the individualism that has impoverished it, Barth allows the weight of emphasis to remain on the unity of God. It is as one that God is personal, rather than being one only in what the three persons give to one another. As Pannenberg has written, the weakness of Barth's theology of the Trinity is that God's unity is seen as the ground of threeness, rather than the result.17
It may be held, then, that the form of Barth's appropriation of the tradition prevented him from achieving as complete a recasting of the doctrine as he intended. I have suggested already that Barth's lack of philosophical subtlety prevented him from doing adequate justice to his conception of the free human being whose freedom consists in being determined personally by the triune God. In a number of studies of Barth, it is being increasingly shown that it is more than a matter of a lack of sophistication in the handling of certain tools, but that the lack of attention which Barth gives to the details of creaturely being and freedom derives from a fundamental flaw in his doctrine of God.18 For example, it is not that Barth does not affirm the humanity of Christ as strongly as his divinity; it is rather that because he is weaker in handling the details of that humanity, his theology can take a docetic air.19 The outcome is that when Barth comes to the subject with which we are concerned, the problems come fully into the open. Let us look briefly at the points made by one recent critic.
15 See E.
J�ngel, Gottes Sein ist im Werden (T�bingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1967), and
R. W. Jenson, op. cit.
16 Some of the evidence is reviewed in my lecture, The One, the Three and the Many (King's College, London, 1985).
17 Wolfhart Pannenberg, "Die SubjectivitAt Gottes und die Trinitätslehre: Ein Beitrag zur Beziehen zwischen Karl Barth und der Philosophie Hegels," Grundfragen Systematischer Theologie. Gesammelte Aufsatze 2 (Göttingen, 1980), pp. 96-III. See also R. D. Williams, "Barth on the Triune God," in S. W. Sykes ed., op. cit., pp. 147-193, and J. Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God: The Doctrine of God (London: SCM Press, 1981), pp. 139ff.
18 See, for example, R. J. Palma, Karl Barth's Theology of Culture: The Freedom of Culturefor the Praise of God (Pittsburgh: Pickwick Publications, 1983), p. 78, where it is suggested that Barth tends to be weak on "middle axioms."
19 C. T. Waldrop, Karl Barth's Christology.- Its Basic Alexandrian Character (New York: Mouton, 1984), pp. 172ff.
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Friedrich Wilhelm Graf's paper provides an analysis of the way in which Barth conceives human freedom in terms of its correspondence to God's own self-correspondence.20 We have seen that for Barth the freedom of the creature to be itself is grounded in the freedom of God to be God. Graf holds that despite Barth's own averrals, the actual logic of the theology leads to a denial of human autonomy (p. 108). He believes that one cause of this is Barth's conception of freedom as correspondence to God's "unconditioned Lordship" (p. 88). As already noted, that is not, in itself, an adequate reason for a criticism of Barth, and it must always be asked of criticisms of this kind whether they are simply repeating Enlightenment criticisms of any theologically grounded freedom. But the detail of Graf's argument is more convincing. He holds that the christological determination of Barth's dogmatics leads to an abstractness in the concept of God, and a consequent loss of ability adequately to find room for the particular. The outcome is that all particularity is rolled up to force it into line with the abstract subjectivity of God (pp. 104f.). This, as we have seen, is characteristic of modalist conceptions of God. What Graf's paper suggests is that the christological determination of Barth's theology is in some way related to its trinitarian inadequacy.
On the face of it, the suggestion that christology is the problem seems rather odd. The humanity of God, it will be argued, is one place where we can safely ground a conception of human freedom. As Jesus is the one free creature simply because of his relation to God, so it can be for us. To see where the problem lies, let us return to the theme of the first section of this essay that the true ground of human freedom and of the autonomy of the created order is to be found in the transcendence of God, the otherness that enables God to be free of envy of the autonomy of the creature. The converse of such a contention would be that certain forms of divine immanence result in the denial of human freedom. To relate God too closely to the patterns of worldly causality, to too nearly identify the operations of the world with the operations of God, is to deprive the creature of its independent reality. This is a fairly straightforward matter to understand in the case of outright forms of pantheism like Spinozism; it explains also Barth's opposition to Schleiermacher's absolute dependence (and, we might add, would apply to Pannenberg's conception of God as the all-determining reality). But it could be that there are other forms of immanence which also run the risk of endangering creaturely liberty. Here we reach the question of christology, for it is in Christ that Christian theology, Barth's especially, finds the center of its conception of God's immanence in the world.
Before proceeding any further, however, we must pause to draw a distinction. It is often said that talk of the Holy Spirit is also a way of conceiving the immanence of God. In fact, it has been suggested that
20 F. W. Graf, "Die Freiheit der Ensprechung zu Gott: Bemerkungen zum theozentrischen Ansatz der Anthropologie Karl Barths," Die Realisierung der Freiheit, ed. T. Rendtorff (G�tersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1975), pp. 76-118.
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pneumatology is so attractive an alternative to christology for this purpose that we can dispense with traditional trinitarian ways of speaking of God, confining ourselves to God as Spirit.21 There, of course, lies the way to the unfreedom that is the outcome of all unitarianism, and it is ironical that one scholar has tried to save Barth from himself by this very means.22 But it is a mistake to conceive the Spirit in terms of immanence. The essential distinction is this: in Jesus, God is identified with a part of the world; God becomes worldly. Traditionally, this action has been attributed to God the Son. As Spirit, however, God is present to the world as other, as transcendent. We speak of the Spirit as being present in our hearts-immanent in that sense-but not as them. The Spirit is identified with no part of the world. Though mediating to us God's immanence as Word, the Spirit is God bringing the world to its eschatological destiny.
The significance of this for our purposes is as follows. A conception of the relation of God to the world which ties it too closely to God's (christologically conceived) immanence is in danger of making the world too much a function of God's presence to it, too little its own autonomous reality. Where Philip Rosato is right in his critique of Barth is not in his attempt to replace a Word with a Spirit christology, but in seeing that the work of the Spirit is not given adequate weight in Barth's christology. Here Barth has failed to carry through his critique of the tradition, as his espousal of the filioque makes clear. For Orthodox theologians, the offense of that teaching lies in part in the fact that it prevents us from seeing that Jesus is the gift of the Spirit as much as he is the giver. The Spirit, as a great Calvinist theologian who was deeply indebted to Eastern ways of seeing the Trinity affirmed, is the source of Jesus' authentic humanity, and so the means by which the benefits' of his life are made available to us. It is this side of christology which is underweighted in Barth, with the consequent loss to the doctrine of Christ's humanity that we have noted.
Let me attempt to bring out the point of this weakness by a comparison of the treatment of the doctrine of election in Barth with the function the same doctrine plays in Edward Irving, from whom in other ways Barth was willing to learn (see I/2, p. 154). For Barth, as we have seen, the weight of election rests upon the eternal decision of God to elect Jesus Christ and with him all people into fellowship with God. As we have also seen, the impression, contrary to Barth's intention and words, is given that all has been decided from eternity, for election is universal. Irving approached the matter from a similar context, the dispute within Calvinism about the "double decree." He belonged to that group, among whom also was MacLeod Campbell, who wished to deny the doctrine that Christ died only for the elect. For him, the significance of redemption was universal, and, indeed, rooted, like Barth's doctrine of
Lampe, God as Spirit (London: SCM Press, 198 3).
22 P. J. Rosato, The Spirit as Lord: The Pneumatology of Karl Barth (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1981), pp. 173ff.
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election, in eternity, in the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. But whereas Barth tends to make both reconciliation and election universal for christological reasons, Irving, with a surer instinct, limits the universality to redemption, not because he wished to uphold the "double decree" but for pneumatological reasons. Election has to do, according to him, with the mysterious activity of the Spirit, communicating the benefits of redemption to particular people at particular times.23 The strength of Irving's pneumatological emphasis is that it enables him, first, to pay full and detailed attention to the humanity of Christ, and, second, to balance the teaching of the pretemporal decision of God to redeem humanity with an equally emphatic concentration on the centrality of the historical and particular. The Spirit is God present to the world at particular times and places, giving to it the liberty to move into the future prepared for it. That is Barth's teaching, too. Those who deny it have missed a real part of his theology. Barth's weakness is a weakness of balance; there is insufficient weight given to the distinctions between the three divine persons and in particular to the reality and distinctive functions of the Spirit, with the result that too much is thrown on to christology, too much on to the immanent and eternal; and so too little on the particularities of history. But it is a weakness of balance, of the way in which weight is placed in different areas of dogmatic importance.
We have seen that Barth establishes human freedom in the freedom and transcendence of the triune God; that it is a real, though given and determined freedom; that criticisms of Barth, though mistaken if they simply repeat Enlightenment and Pelagian conceptions of human freedom, do have justification in a lack of attention paid by him to the distinctness of the triune persons and in particular to pneumatological dimensions of incarnation and salvation. We shall understand both his achievement and its limitations if we see them against the background of both ancient and more recent theological debate. The first thing to say is that Barth's emphatic concern for the autonomy of human being and action marks him as one who takes seriously the Enlightenment charge that belief in God is alienating, the creator of the "unhappy consciousness." The second is that, despite his concern for the same thing, he understands both freedom and its source very differently. The difference is in large part, as we have seen, the old difference between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. But it is also a difference in the way that the West has developed its inheritance from the past.
We can illustrate this by comparing the different lessons which are learned from the Reformation. Although it is wrong to see the Reformation as an assertion of the rights of the individual religious judgment against the oppression of the totalitarian ecclesiastical machine, there is
23 Edward Irving, The Collected Writings of Edward Irving in Five Volumes, ed. G. Carlyle (London: Alexander Strahan, 1864), Vol. V.
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no doubt that it did place liberty at the center of its concerns. Not only Luther but Calvin, too, gave it a prominent place in theology. Here again, pneumatology takes us to the heart of the matter. There are those who hold that the Reformation was in large part about the doctrine of the Spirit and its relation to the church. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Western Christendom had tended to restrict the operation of the Spirit to the channel of the official ecclesiastical institution, and so had denied features of the gospel. It is not wrong to see the Spirit in close relation to the church, but that is a different matter from limiting the Spirit's operation to official functionaries or institutions. In that respect, the Reformation was an attempt to set the Spirit free to operate in less restricted ways.
The Enlightenment can in this way be seen as a movement which attempted to liberate the divine Spirit entirely from the trammels of ecclesiastical control. The tradition since Augustine had tended to make the Spirit immanent-within the institution. After the Enlightenment, the immanence was transferred, so to speak, to human thought and action. Spirit, no longer the transcendent and eschatological Spirit, became secularized in human culture. That is why Kierkegaard saw Hegel's near identification of the Spirit with the human mind as a return to paganism, an identification of the human and divine. In Robert Jenson's splendid dictum, "Hegel's only real fault was that he confused himself with the last judge; but that is quite a fault."24 To repeat, the biblical Spirit is the transcendent, liberating Spirit, liberating precisely because transcendent. "When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' it is the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God" (Rom. 8:15f.). The Enlightenment and much nineteenth century theology, with its tendency to locate God in the human spirit, can in this way be seen as a return to a kind of pantheism, the identification of God with the world, and the route to slavery rather than liberation.
Against this background, Barth's achievement is immense. It is a corrective both to the Calvinist absolute decree and to the unhappy consciousness by a return to elements of the biblical tradition that had been lost or overlaid. But because it is only half way out of the modalism that is at the root of all the problems, there is more to be done. The theology we have been bequeathed is a great and liberating testimony to the grace and goodness of the God of the Bible. As we see it against the background of Augustine and Calvin, Enlightenment and nineteenth century, we are aware that it belongs both in the Western, and particularly the Calvinist, tradition, but that in its attempt to correct imbalances, it has inevitably created imbalances of its own. These are real weaknesses, but they do not deserve the harshness of some of the critiques. They rather provide places where the next generation must begin if we are truly to build on the foundations others have laid. I am sure that is the way Barth himself would wish it.
24 R. W. Jenson, The Knowledge of Things Hoped For: The Sense of Theological Discourse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 233.