Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Theology as Divinization?

Karl Barth connects theology with something like divinization or theosis - that is, salvation as involving a kind of union with God. I thought I'd share some thoughts I jotted down on this. I've recently been thinking through the connection between Christology and theosis, a connection that Michael Gorman's recent book Inhabiting the Cruciform God put in my head. What follows are some notes I made on Barth's words in the early part of Church Dogmatics 2/1.

Barth says that in faith, God becomes a new “subject” for the human being seeking knowledge of objects - “knowledge of faith means fundamentally the union of man with the God who is distinct from him as well as from all his other objects” (15). B. says later: “Knowledge of God is thus not the relationship of an already existing subject to anobject that enters into his sphere and is therefore obedient to the laws of this sphere. On the contrary, this knowledge first of all creates the subject of its knowledge by coming into the picture” (21)

Further on in the “small print” section, Barth connects this new subjectivity and new identity for the Christian “knower” in faith to holiness and sanctification: with an emphasis on being “set apart.” Further on, He says that our knowledge of God is a participation in God’s self knowledge, which B. interprets in a strongly Trinitarian way (16, later p.48)

Therefore Barth starts off with an image of theology where human work or human intellectual gifts are subordinated to this transformation which comes through faith. This is why later on Barth will say that theologies which try to explore outward boundaries of theology or to look for the Gospel in alien cultural systems are a problem (see 94-95, for instance). Barth takes very strongly in his theology that theology must begin with the fact that God exists and exists for us as Trinity - and that theology must work in faith to this setting and never doubt it - thus more abstract “religious studies” is not theology, but Barth says a perennial temptation of theologians who want to do work without this intellectual submission to the living God (26). If prayer is unnecessary for one’s academic work, one is no longer doing theology, for Barth. Drawing on Calvin on 1 John, Barth says theology is discipleship: God’s revelation of God’s will and human response to this (28-29).

This all has a Christological spin as well, as the theological knowledge Christians have of God is essentially and solely the “God-manhood of the Mediator Jesus Christ” (20) - something which Barth connects with God’s revelation to Israel as well. Union with God through the knowledge of faith means knowing Jesus Christ, for Barth (see 48). Any Lutheran “veiling” or accommodation in the revelation of God hangs only on the fact that God has mysteriously become so objective in Jesus Christ and not in other ways.

Barth adds an ethical or even “political” aspect to this knowledge as well. He criticizes theological knowledge written in the form of an abstract construal as missing the demands/actions/rhythms that faith demands (like church attendance and prayer) (22). Barth’s reading of “humans before God” is one where God in a way “re-creates” (not B’s term) the human knower into a new form of life determined by trust in the Triune God.

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