Thoughts on Realdialektik, epistemology, and church identity

It would seem that most of Barth’s more brilliant insights are actually what he considers tangential to his program.   Barth’s epistemology is one of realdialektik, the indirect identity of God with the creaturely means of his self-revelation. (It is important to realize that Barth is not immediately talking about “the bahble.”  He is talking about the flesh of Christ, to which the Bible witnesses.  Denying this proposition, coupled with an exalting of one’s churchly status with God’s revelation, leads to antichrist.  If God becomes identical with the means of his self-revelation, and one then places the self-revelation within the “Church’s keeping,” then it is hard to see how the church has not already become god.  To borrow Mike Horton’s phrase, “In this case it’s hard to see how the church isn’t simply talking to itself” (and if you listen to some convertskii rhetoric, presumably about how wonderful it is–see Bradley Nassif’s excellent warning).

Christology Revelation

Summary of notes from McCormack’s Orthodox and Modern.

God is indirectly identical with the creaturely medium of his revelation, the creaturely medium being Jesus’s flesh (110).   If revelation is Self-revelation, then it involves the “whole” God, albeit his whole being is hidden in a creaturely veil.  McCormack is clear there is no impartation of divine attributes to Jesus’s flesh.

  • Principal consequence of indirect revelation: God is both the subject and object of revelation.

  • Two moments:  objective (God veils himself in a creaturely medium) and subjective (God gives us faith to know and understand).  “The objective moment is Christological; the subjective moment is pneumatological” (111).

A word on Kant’s epistemology:

  • a subjective foundationalism

  • Barth was willing to grant this insofar as it dealt with empirical reality.   However, Barth said that God entered into the Phenomenal (143).

Critical Realism

“Critical:”  Going beyond Kant, this would see God as an object to human knowledge without ceasing to be Subject.  “In other words, it is the hiddenness of God who is fully present in revelation which calls into question the constructive activities of the human knower” (159).

“Realism:”  the being of God is something complete, especially in the revelation-process, yet it is only indirectly identical (159).

Theses on Barth’s Theological Epistemology (McCormack 168-180)

Thesis 1:  Trinitarian structure of God’s Self-Revelation

  • The subject of the knowledge of God is the Triune God

  • Revelation proceeds from the Father, is objectively fulfilled in the Son, and is subjectively  fulfilled in us by the Spirit

Thesis 2:  Revelation is a rational event that occurs through the normal processes of human cognition (CD I/1: 135)..

Thesis 3:  If the above thesis is true, then the charge that Barth posits a distinction between “propositional” and “person” revelation must be dismissed.   The Word of God (Jesus Christ) is inherently verbal.  (Evangelicalism gets it wrong by hysterically overacting against Barth, thinking he is denying the Bible.  They forget that Jesus was Logos before the Word of God was conventionally understood as “Bible.”  Anchoretism gets it wrong because they forget the Jesus is inherently verbal, not a wooden two-dimensional figure).

Thesis 4:  Because revelation is inherently verbal, its primary witness will take the form of text.

Skipping Thesis 5

Thesis 6:  God’s revelation is surrounded by an external and internal limitation:  The external limitation is the hiddenness of God in his self-revelation.  The internal is the ultimate inadequacy of human thought to bear witness.

  • Here I add a cautious critique of Barth.  If human thought is inadequate to bear witness to God’s revelation, then what’s the point of even trying?  Even more, Barth himself will reject this line of thought in other theses.

Theses 7-8:  God’s hiddenness is a hiddenness in Revelation.

Thesis 9:  The hiddenness of God in revelation is the hiddenness of the whole God in revelation.  There is no “behind the back” of God when God reveals himself.  He doesn’t hold back.

Thesis 17:  The dialectic of veiling/unveiling is not static.  Veiling is ordered towards unveiling.  The stand together in an “ordered history” (179).