I know I said I’d probably blog about the pastoral care course but we’ve just been doing some Barth today and I feel an urge to share.
Actually, I got off to a bad start – I had a cold for most of last week and couldn’t get my head round any of the readings but thought I’d better go anyway. Even if I couldn’t contribute to the tutorial at least I’d learn from the discussions.
Anyway, we only scratched the surface of Barth’s writings (and there are rather a lot of them), concentrating on his Christology. To be fair, this is the very core of Barth’s theology. In Christ we have the full revelation of God, not a subset, not the ‘human’ bit, but God in entirety. We just don’t get it, because we can’t, we’re simply not able to grasp the enormity of God and what His revelation in Jesus Christ actually means. Barth is, first and foremost, a dialectical theologian. Everything is held in tension, there is no yes or no answers – everything has a yes and no answer. The prime example of this is Jesus Christ – a name that implies both fully man (Jesus) and fully God (Christ). This whole dialectic approach shapes the way we can speak about God in the sense that we can speak about God, all the while recognising that what we say is inadequate and, hence, we become unable to speak about God.
That’s all very fascinating but the one thing that caught my attention was his doctrine of election. It’s another area of reformed theology that I’ve always struggled with – the idea of some people being predestined to be saved, others not. The usual answer of, “Well, we just can’t understand God’s ways” always seems to me to be a simplistic cop-out. It just doesn’t square with a loving God. Especially with a loving God who sent His Son, knowing that He would die, in order to bring salvation to all humankind.
Well, I do like Barth’s approach. All humankind is ‘elected’ to be saved. Christ’s death on the cross did bring salvation to all of humanity, indeed all of creation and in all times. But, this is not universalism. It may be God’s desire for everyone to be saved and the cross was an event that made salvation available to all, but we still have the option to reject God. In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus speaks of the ‘unforgivable sin’ of ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which, when read in context, appears to indicate the denial of God’s acts through the Spirit. It is an act of ours to reject God and thereby deny our true self – one of God’s creatures, made in His image, made to be in relationship with Him. It is never an act of God to reject us. God has already rejected Jesus – in the bearing of our sins on the cross. And at the same time, welcomed Him in (there’s that yes and no). And in that denial of all that is God, we find hell – the complete absence of the good, of God (and I suspect we’re straying beyond Barth now). Hmmm… there’s those neo-Orthodox tendencies starting to poke through.
Anyway, interesting stuff and plenty to get to grips with. It’s even got me thinking about doing the Barth course next year (despite knowing that there’ll be a mountain of reading to do). I’ll do a blog on pastoral care next – honest.