Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Epistle to the Romans

Karl Barth

Barth = Calvin + Kierkegaard

The book begins with the rediscovery of Paul and a polemic against the historical-critical method of Biblical criticism. The purpose of all historical investigations is to demonstrate the triviality of differences between the present and the past. The doctrine of inspiration is superior, Barth claims, to historical criticism, even granted that the latter has some uses. Thus, the goal of this book is to see “beyond history and into the spirit of the Bible,” with the assumption that what was important in the past remains relevant today.

First Chapter: Introduction
God is absolutely other. The purpose of the Gospel is to proclaim the radical incommensurability between God and man, and to stress the degree to which salvation is unearned and undeserved.

The Gospel is what gives time meaning; it is the “the seed of eternity” and the “fruit of time.” Here Barth adopts the fairly medieval practice of claiming that the New Testament unlocks the Old. He also adopts something like Kierkegaard’s understanding of the paradox and the role of the contemporary witness. Jesus/the resurrection were historical events in one sense, but in a deeper sense, divinity is radically incommensurable with the human.

Jesus gave Paul grace and apostleship. “Grace us the gift of Christ, who exposes the gulf which separates God and man, and, by exposing it, bridges it” (31). Grace means bearing witness to the fidelity of God to man, which is revealed in Christ. It brings with it a demand for obedience.

Personal Matters:
The existence of Christians, even in Rome, proves the power of the resurrection. The existence of this faith sets the “krisis” in motion. In one sense, believers feel a sense of community with each other. And yet, the realized existence of that community is not central to the existence of the Church. Paul never visits Rome, because God needs him to proselytize to the uninitiated.

The Theme of the Epistle
The Gospel is not in competition with other creeds. Rather, it exists above all other philosophies and religions, commenting on their limitations. “It sets a question mark against all truths” (35). IT - and the resurrection - reveal the power of God, which is not set above all other powers, as if it were the sum of all finite powers, but, rather, is wholly other.

The current world is marked by total sinfulness. Our bond with God is shattered and we are totally powerless to revive it. The Gospel does nothing to free us from this world; rather, it points to something we can’t comprehend. The Resurrection is both the forgiveness of sins, and the condemnation of the world. God says “no” to the world, and this is both tormenting and hopeful, because it comes from God. Because Christ both makes clear the gap between man and God, and overcomes it, faith means assenting to both the fallenness of the world, the “no” of God, and the hope of the resurrection.

Everyone is interpellated by the Gospel. The Jew is the first called to hear it, but it is an advantage without precedence. Everyone is equal before the Gospel. The Gospel reveals God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness consists in his harsh judgment on the world. The God which merely affirms creation, without condemning its sinfulness, is “No-God.” the true God must establish the absolute difference between himself and man. He affirms himself by condemning us, and the redeems us via Christ. God is faithful to us; he never forgets us.

The night
We are subject to the wrath of God, insofar as we do not love the judge and accept his negative judgment on creation. Men alienate themselves from the truth by seeking to obscure the distance between man and God. Basically, man deliberately obscures the difference between the two, then becomes trapped in that blindness, in various ways, such as divinizing nature.

Second Chapter: The Righteousness of Men
All humanity - whether righteous by its own standards or not - is subject to the wrath of God. Even men of God know this; they know faith is not an achievement, not part of a system, but, rather, the ground of all perception.

Grace is sight; it is the totally unjustified glimpse of reality, granted to specific individuals by God for literally no reason we can understand. To be this righteous man, to be saved, means to be negated and reformed and redeemed. There is no righteousness or hiding before God.

the Judgment
The law is a sign of God’s presence or a relic. Those who possess the law live their lives around the incomprehensible remainder of revelation. and yet, those with the law may become too reoccupied with it to look beyond it to the God it indicates. The Gentile may also fulfill the law without knowing it. Moreover, the Gentile may have the advantage of seeing more starkly the disintegration and sinfulness of the current world. We can never know who is marked by grace, and who is not; God often levels judgments that seem to contradict the state of facts.

Chapter 3: The righteousness of God
The judgment of God ends history; it doesn’t bring together a new era. The entirety of the world and history bears witness to God, is oriented by reference to the unknown.

God responds to our faithlessness with faithfulness, our evil with good. It would be a mistake, though, to believe then that our actions in the world are indifferent, or that we could cal forth greater goodness from God through evil.

Man’s righteousness is not God’s. Even possessing the law is not a guarantee of righteousness. Rather, the law points toward the abyss between man and God, it makes men aware of their sinfulness, and produces a horror of history.

Grace in this world exists as a promise, which is to say it exists as an indictment of the present, strictly a negative. Jesus

The Voice of History
Reiteration of idea that God is wholly other. Turn to Abraham. Christ encapsulates the meaning of Abraham. History declares Abraham famous for his deeds, but faith means that he is famous for what, in his action, points beyond the temporal, to what is other. While his human righteousness might provide a ground for boasting, faith cannot. At most, God works through Abraham. Man must be broken down utterly before God.

Faith is reckoned to Abraham a righteousness, but such faith is distinct from his circumcision. Circumcision is a sign, pointing beyond; faith is something other. The church likewise possesses the same sort of righteousness as circumcision. They demand promise the the faith that is reckoned as righteousness before god, but they are not faith.

The entirety of Barth’s discussion of Israel can be summed up in this line: “Th Law, the History, and the Religion of Israel are the context in which men can await the heavenly inheritance; but they are not the effective power through which they enter it” (138).
Faith is essentially ahistorical. It provides a point puncturing time, making the past and the present contemporaneous. And yet, particular episodes in history can possess universal importance, precisely by dissolving the difference between past and present.

Faith requires annihilating reason, and making the absurd leap to belief in God. Here, Barth resembles somewhat Kierkegaard.

Chapter 5: the Coming Man
The new man is the subject of which faith is the predicate. Seen humanly he is merely negation. The known, human man, must enter into a state of peace, which is to say a proper relation with God. The new man is a promise, not a reality.
Moreover, the man of faith cannot be recognized, either by his external or internal happiness.

Death enters the world through sin; sin is the negation of the righteousness of Christ. the law serves to draw us back to the sense of sin and, perversely enough, to our relation to God, however shattered. The fall is not caused by a single act; rather, it is the presupposition of all history. Likewise, the revelation of the new man in Jesus is not the revelation of a single individual; rather, it is the revelation of “the” new personality, the new man.

Transformation occurs where sin and catastrophe are present.

Chapter 6: Grace
Everything is transformed in the moment, which is outside of time. However, we live in sin, which is to say that we necessarily level the difference between man and god. Grace is forgiveness of this.

The sacrament of baptism is a means to grace. It points beyond us to another reality. In it, the new man is born. We must die to sin in order to be born to grace; we must utterly negate the present to have a glimpse of the future. Grace is obedience, grace is self-abnegation, grace is the impossibility which is the end of man. Etc.