Thursday, June 10, 2010

Barth and Evangelical Theology: Part 5, Creation

The chapter in Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology entitled “Creation” is by Oliver Crisp, who teaches at the University of Bristol.  Crisp correctly notes that the center of Barth’s theology is Christology, and thus that Barth’s “doctrine of creation is ‘christologized’” (77).  Crisp does not attempt to exhaustively summarize Barth’s doctrine of creation, but instead to interact with “some of the more controversial issues involved in his doctrine of creation proper in, CD, III/1” (78; CD is the abbreviation of Church Dogmatics).  Crisp focuses in particular on the relationship between Barth’s doctrine of creation and “that of the classical (Western) theological tradition, particularly, the Reformed strand of that tradition” (78), in an attempt to note the similarities and differences.  (Notice any similarities between Chung and Crisp?)

Crisp notes four areas of overlap that Barth and the Reformed tradition share in their doctrines of creation:
  1. The whole of the Trinity is involved in creation.
  2. Creation is a free act of God (see the previous post on Barth’s emphasis upon God as “the one who loves in freedom”).
  3. Barth has a sort of supralapsarianism, though Crisp notes that his “is different from traditional construals in important respects” (80).  In particular, Barth “denies that the divine decrees fork at the point where God elects some human beings and reprobates the rest.  Instead, according to Barth, God elects and reprobates Christ, the Elect (and Reprobate) One, and derivatively elects al humanity ‘in’ Christ” (80–81).
  4. Barth makes a close connection between “the divine act of creation, and the covenant of grace whereby God graciously ordains to elect Christ as the one through whom human redemption is brought about” (83).

Crisp then notes four areas in which Barth differs from the Reformed tradition:
  1. Unlike the Reformed tradition, Barth is critical of natural theology.  Barth remains critical of natural theology because it often results in humans making God in their own image.  According to Barth, “We can only know what God is like where God breaks into our world in an event of revelation and makes himself known to us” (86).  Jesus Christ is the primary revelation in which God makes Godself known.
  2. Barth denies “an apologetic purpose to the doctrine of creation” (88).  Barth, correctly, argues that Genesis 1–3 should not be read as a scientific textbook or an apologetic text, but instead as a dogmatic text.  Crisp, as an evangelical, has some problems with Barth’s views on the matter, but I’m with Barth on this one.
  3. Crisp never says explicitly “third” in between what he explicitly lists as “second” and “fourth,” which is one of my biggest pet peeves when reading an essay/book.  I’ll just assume that the third difference is Barth’s hermeneutical differences with conservative evangelicals.
  4. “Unlike classical theologians, Barth does not believe creation is a timeless act of an atemporal God, whose essence remains unaffected by the utterance of the divine fiat, and bringing into being of the created order” (90).  Barth instead believes the incarnation should control what one thinks of God’s creative act.  For Barth, however, God’s time is different than human time and God is eternal (by which Barth means, “He is simultaneously before time, above time, and after time” (CD, III/1, 67).  Barth’s account of God’s relation to time makes little sense to me, but neither does the classical view, because both views place God as simultaneously past, present, and future.  I do not deny, however, that God created time.

Crisp concludes that Barth’s emphasis upon God creating through Christ is consistent with Scripture at some points, but in others “goes beyond the biblical affirmation that Christ is the agent through whom and form whom all things are created” (93).  Crisp, however, notes that other figures, such as Colin Gunton, are more supportive of Barth’s project.

Crisp is also cautious about Barth’s critique of natural theology.  I have mixed feelings on the matter.  I do think in some ways that Barth over states his case, but in other ways think his overstatement is needed.  (When I finish blogging through Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology, I was to do some work on a paper I wrote a few years ago on Barth’s critique of natural theology and turn it into a short blog series.)  Crisp offers up Nicholas Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga as an alternative to Barth and a way of better utilizing Calvin for a contemporary natural theology.

Crisp, while he has disagreements with Barth, helpfully notes that Barth is still a theologian worth interacting with and worth learning a from.  I greatly enjoyed reading Crisp’s chapter.

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