Friday, June 16, 2006

Barth and Synergism

In response to a question from a reader an earlier entry, I stated that "Barth's actualist soteriology has had such a profound impact on my own approach to theology that, as an Anglican and a Catholic, I find myself SET FREE to entertain and explore more synergistic models as relating to the existential moment of salvation."

Recently I've been reading another work by Hunsinger called Disruptive Grace (Eerdmans, 2000), which is a collection of studies that he wrote on Barth's Theology. In his article, "The Mediator of Communion: Karl Barth's Doctrine of the Holy Spirit" (1999), Hunsinger had this to say about Barth's understanding of human cooperation with divine grace:

Barth does not deny that human freedom "cooperates" with divine grace. He denies that this cooperation in any way effects salvation. Although grace makes human freedom possible as a mode of acting (modus agendi), that freedom is always a gift. It is always imparted to faith in the mode of receiving salvation (modus recipiendi), partaking of it (modus participandi), and bearing witness to it (modus testificandi), never in the mode of effecting it (modus efficiendi). As imparted by the Spirit's miraculous operation, human freedom is always the consequence of salvation, never its cause, and therefore in its correspondence to grace always eucharistic (modus gratandi et laudandi) [p. 165].

In an insightful footnote at the end of this last sentence Hunsinger observes that Barth's position brought about an "implicit resolution of the sixteenth-century 'synergist' controversy between the Philippist and Gnesio-Lutherans." Essentially Barth's position transcends the issue by taking something from each side of the dispute. With the Philippists, Barth acknowledges a true freedom in and the positive nature of the human response to the offer of divine grace, i.e. a "mode of acting" (modus agendi). With the Gnesio-Lutherans, Barth acknowledges the utter incapacity of human beings, in and of themselves, to respond to God's grace. The dispute hinged on whether faith was active or passive. The Philippists argued for a coincidence of the Word, the Spirit, and the human will in not refusing divine grace, which position the orthodox (i.e. Gnesio) Lutherans denied (and thus consequently excluded from the Formula of Concord). Barth's actualist soteriology allows for the Philippist idea of a coincidence of Word, Spirit, and human will by insisting that human freedom "is always a consequence of salvation, never its cause." For Barth, the human response is in nature "eucharistic" (i.e. thanksgiving and praise), not salvific -- thus addressing orthodox Lutheran concerns.

Alas, while I'm simply thrilled with Hunsinger's observation and application of Barth's theology to the Lutheran synergistic disputes, he leaves us begging the question: how might Barth's theology prove itself to transcend other Reformation/post-Reformation debates on these issues (e.g., Calvinist/Arminian; Protestant/Roman Catholic)? I intend to explore this matter more.

Until next time.

P.S. Incidentally, Pontifications recently posted an excerpt from E.L. Mascall's The Recovery of Unity (1958) that brings up this same Gnesio-Lutheran conundrum (namely, how can faith be conceived of as the one human act that is not a work?), attributing the problem to the underlying philosophical Nominalism of Luther's position. Personally, I think Mascall's argument is right on target. But I also happen to think Barth's "realism" addresses the conundrum rather well.

P.P.S. I found my copy of and I'm currently re-reading Hans Küng's Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. I should have some insightful excerpts and/or some of my own reflections up on my blog over the weekend. 'Til then...


Mark said...

This resolution of the Philippist/ Genisio-Lutheran controversy epitomizes what I was striving to articulate in an earlier response to Steve with regard to Barth and synergism. I especially like his point that just as with faith, we must regard human freedom as a gratuitous gift. In a sense, Barth lays out the existential "living into salvation" in terms of what appears to be a synergistic ordo salutis:

The Divine gift of grace begets the gift of human freedom in the guise of different modes: modus agendi or free cooperation; modus recipiendi, receiving salvation; modus paticipiandi, partaking of salvation, and modus testificandi, bearing witness to the gift of salvation as received and partaken of.

He nevertheless preserves the monergistic emphasis by reminding us that the modus effeciendi properly belongs to Christ alone, since salvation resides objectively in Him. Thus Barth has articulated a soteriology that mirrors Augustine's observation-which I can only paraphrase- that God does not save us without us.

In his Recovery of Unity, Mascall quotes Yves Congar on Barth's ecclesiology, which, he claims, is essentially an "ecclesiology of the Old Testament and not of the New; what Barth thinks the Christian Church IS is in fact what Israel WAS.

Dan, if Congar is correct, how does Barth's ecclesiology negatively or positively impact his soteriology?


lexorandi2 said...

Hey Mark,

Thanks for you comment and your question. Ecclesial mediation in Barth's theology is THE question to be asking. In fact, if you're feeling generous, you could buy me John Yokum's _Ecclesial Mediation in Karl Barth_. It's $126 used from Amazon! (Only 200 pages!) Yokum is a fellow in theology at Greyfriars, Oxford.


I'll write more later.


lexorandi2 said...

Here's a description of Yokum's book:

"Karl Barth is widely considered the greatest theologian of the Twentieth Century, exerting a major influence in almost every area of theological thought in both Reformation and Roman Catholic traditions.
Ecclesial Mediation in Karl Barth deals with one of the most important and controversial themes in Barth's theology, the relation between divine and human action. John Yocum argues that Barth's late rejection of the concept of sacrament, explicated in the final volume of his Church Dogmatics, is not only at odds with his account of the nature and importance of sacraments presented earlier in the Church Dogmatics but subverts important elements of his theology as a whole especially the mediation of divine grace in preaching and the Bible. Bringing Barth into fruitful dialogue with Yves Congar, Yocum contends that the notion of sacrament is crucial to an account of the divine-human relation that respects the character of both agents."

Steve Blakemore said...

Mark and Dan,

The point I was making about freedom as a gift in Christ, fits with Pontificators article about Mascall. Years ago I read Mascall's "Importance of Being Human" in which he argued that Occam's nominalism was the culprit in Reformed theology. His argument was that for Luther and Calvin, their nominalism blinded them to the notion of a nature that would underlie all individuals of a particular kind.

That being the case, Mascall argues, the idea of anything one might "do" in response to God's grace would always smack of works righteousness. That being the case along with their being fully convinced of humanity's utter inability to move toward God on their own, they had no choice but to remove all ideas of synergy.

Back now to the issue you mention in our previous exchange, which I think still fits here. If we are able to acknowledge two things -- 1. that there is a human nature that is profoundly marred by the fall in which we all live "by nature," but 2. Christ has assumed all that we are and has, thereby, redeemed our "nature" from a state of sheer depravity or deprivation (choose your Calvinist or Arminian preference), then we establish the Christological foundation for synergism. But it is one that by necessity does not reduce either side of the synergistic equation. Christ's divinity rescues us as Christ's human obedience and perfect faith make a new way of living before God possible for all human beings. No one is born apart from the presence and reality of saving grace, because in Christ grace has begun to save us all. He justifies and establishes a new creation.

There is, in Christ, one could say both salvation from the judgement of sin and the power of the consequences of sin. Hence, we have a powerfully grace-filled, Christo-centric synergism. It serves us well in a way that I think Barth's realism doesn't (although I am open to correction) because it establishes the "how" of the synergism. Barth's realism still strikes me as overly ontological, having everything accomplished in Christ. As you say, "salvation resides objectively in Him." But, my personal response of faith, trust, and obedience (by grace, as outlined above) is not accomplished in Christ. Rather, it is made possible in Him and by the Holy Spirit's mediation (through the Church and in creation -- since the incarnation is a renewal of fallen creation, as well) real in me, as I respond in Christ to God's calling on my life.

Wow, I'm even more verbose than usual. Sorry.

Mark said...


Excellent points, especially the inescapable synergism of objective salvation in Christ, since "the word was made flesh."

I we are in basic agreement on this topic.