Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Truth as Encounter in Barth's thought: The problem of relating the existential and objective moments of salvation

As a prelude to a thread that I want to begin on "Justification and Catholicity in the Third Millennium," I have re-produced the following quote from George Hunsinger's How to Read Karl Barth. This should lay a good foundation for the discussion to follow.

The problem of how to relate the existential to the objective moment of salvation is one to which Barth finds himself returning again and again. Especially because he lays such great stress on the unconditional priority of the objective moment, he realizes that the integrity of the corresponding existential moment is in danger of being underplayed or even undercut. "Reality which does not become truth for us," he writes, "obviously cannot affect us, however supreme may be its ontological dignity" (IV/2, 297). A salvation, an ontological connection of Christ to us, that remained merely objective with no existential counterpart would be a salvation that remained inaccessible and hollow. Yet a salvation whose truth and reality somehow depended on our preparation, reception, or enactment would be salvation in which the existential moment was at some point (whether overtly and covertly) grounded in us rather than in Jesus Christ. When the reality of salvation becomes true for us, Barth argues, then at the same time we recognize that it was already true apart from us (and even against us). Whatever preparation, reception, or enactment may have been involved (and continues to be involved), our recognition is not to be conceived as in any sense constituting the truth or actuality of salvation. Our recognition is simply our awakening to the fact that, in Jesus Christ, salvation's truth and actuality really pertain and apply to us as well, that we are included in them, that they are real for us, precisely by having been established apart from us. Our awakening does not do anything to make salvation as such true or actual. It merely means that we have come to see that we are not outside but inside this saving truth and actuality. But precisely because we are inside and not outside, it is necessary that salvation also take place in our own life. When salvation does take place in our life, however, it is not the existential occurence that brings about the actuality and truth of salvation, but rather the actuality and truth of salvation that bring about the existential occurence. The existential occurence is manifesting, not a constituting, of salvation's actuality and truth.

--George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth, p. 153

3 comments:

Steve Blakemore said...

The crucial issue regarding this question, in my view, is how one views the notion of synergy between God and human beings in salvation. The East has little trouble with some kind of synergy that involves human engagment with God. Also, for anyone who is interested, John Wesley's theology of prevenient grace is a fabulous Christocentric doctrine that allows for God's sovereign initiative, but offers a conctruct for understanding how God's sovereign initiative is not only "objectively foundational" but "subjectively enabling" of human synergistic response to God.

Barth, in my view (I'm a philosopher who has read Barth, not a theologian), fails to grant that an existential re-grounding of our very activity of living before God has taken place in Christ. He is too ontological in his soteriology. Hence, his views often smack (oddly enough) of a rationalistic approach to faith. Or as Hunsinger says of Barth, "It merely means that we have come to see that we are not outside but inside this saving truth and actuality. But precisely because we are inside and not outside, it is necessary that salvation also take place in our own life. When salvation does take place in our life, however, it is not the existential occurence that brings about the actuality and truth of salvation, but rather the actuality and truth of salvation that bring about the existential occurence. The existential occurence is manifesting, not a constituting, of salvation's actuality and truth."

Well, the great commandment is not to manifest the ontological ground of reality, nor to "come to see" that we are inside this saving ground. Rather, the GC is to "Love God." Love entails a response that must be out of the responder. Hence, a synergy is needed. It must be understood as Christocentric, but not Christo-monal. Nonetheless, a synergy is needed to account for the relationship between the "existential and objective moments."

Maybe I need to re-read a little more Barth?

Mark said...

Actually, the barthian soteriology maintains a robustly biblical synergism quite successfully-or so it seems to me. Since for Barth the objectivity of salvation is found in Christ alone, and because all men, even those who have not experienced an "existential turning", are in Him-a truth which follows naturally enough from an orthodox christology- the integrity of redemption as a work of the economic trinity is preserved. Hence, the truth and reality of salvation is grounded solely in Christ Jesus and does not depend on " our preparation, reception, or enactment." On the other hand, the "existential moment" of salvation by faith and baptism, which is not at all a passive event, is the necessary "counterpart" which makes salvation accessible; it is the moment when the reality of salvation, as Barth puts it," becomes real FOR US."

A catholic soteriolgy, of course, will speak in terms of incorporation into Christ, of participating in Him through the power of the Holy Ghost. In that case, the "existential moment" of salvation, defined as incorporation in ( or, in Dan's felicitous phrase, "a living into" )Christ, is a paradoxical existential participation in that which is eternally objective. The existential moment is only existential as it partakes of the objective reality of Christ and all that He has accomplished for us men and for our salvation.

-Mark

lexorandi2 said...

Hi guys,

Steve, you make some great observations. And certainly Barth's emphasis on the objective moment of salvation (i.e., his actualist soteriology) has left him open to this criticism. I suspect that when Barth began to articulate this position that it was such a radical way of doing theology that a study of Barth's existential component was neglected and under-appreciated. I'm also of the opinion that Barth merely scratched the surface of the existential component, and because he was not coming from a Catholic grounding, his attempt to articulate this aspect of his theology, though insightful and instictively correct, was nonetheless anaemic.

Personally, I am very attracted to Eastern synergy (since you bring it up), and yes, I admire Wesley too. The irony is 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. (I suspect that Barth's residual Reformed/Calvinism prevented him from going in this direction; but I thank him for freeing me up to do so nonetheless.)

Mark - The last paragraph of your comment is absolutely brilliant. I love the phrase "paradoxical existential participation in that which is eternally objective," and I plan to steal it!

Blessings,
Dan