Karl Barth’s The Doctrine of God, CD II.1 (2011)

I like Karl Barth much more than I did before I read him directly. How's that for an honest statement? I'll say the same thing about Schleiermacher's Christian Faith. However much I do enjoy reading Barth, its never without reservation. I would never flip to a page in the Church Dogmatics and trust it with authority like I would with Calvin's Institutes. The great value is his provocative thinking and excellent exegesis. Even when I do not agree with Barth, he has done his homework, and provides copious direct quotations from great authorities such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and other Church Fathers. His arguments are very good, although the flowery dialectic makes the arguments difficult to follow, but that's due to the subjects he's entertaining.

After reading Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics Volume 2.1 The Doctrine of God (the first of two half volumes), I wanted to list a few reflections on the topics in this book. It will take too long to quote the Doctrine of God, so unfortunately I will not be as good of an exegete as Barth himself.

Authorities

There are several authors that Barth quotes often in that I've never heard of before, and they are used primarily has authorities and heirs to Calvin and the original reformers.

  1. Johannes Coccejus (1603 – 1669), A Dutch theologian who wrote a large reformed systematic theology called: "Summa Doctrinae de Foedere et Testamento Dei" (1648)
  2. Johannes Andreas Quenstedt (1617 – 1688) A German Lutheran "Theologia didactico-polemica sive systema theologicum"(1685)
  3. Amandus Polanus (1561-1610), quoted as an authority for the "older" Reformed Theology, especially in his: "Syntagma Theologiae Christianae" (1609)
  4. Franciscus Gomarus (1563 - 1641) A Dutch Theologian, and Calvinist authority. Especially, his: "Opera Theologica Omnia" (1644 posth)

Natural Revelation

Barth is famous for his denial of Natural Revelation, and this argument is fully developed in this volume. As a protestant, I reject Thomas Aquinas and the Roman Catholic's Nature and Grace distinctions, and deny that salvific knowledge may be derived from nature. However, I stand with Calvin against Barth's insistence that no knowledge of God may be known from nature apart from God's word. Romans 1-2 are the clearest texts demonstrating Calvin's sensus divinus that exists in all men. However, Barth makes an excellent counter argument that any knowledge of God obtained from nature (and specifically philosophy) quickly turns into a false-God which stands in opposition to the true God. Much of the debate in the Dogmatics revolves around Psalms 8, 19, 104, and especially Psalms 8 and 104. Additionally, Barth spends copious ink on God's answer to Job in Job 38, and subsequent chapters:  Job 38-42

God's Immutability

Barth insists that immutability does not mean immobility, because he believes a immobile God is a dead God, because immobility is death and death is immobility, etc. And define's God's Immutability in terms of "constancy". Barth argues to the point of saying God does change his mind by quoting an example of David being told by God something would happen, and then it does not happen to him. (I don't remember the reference.) Much is of this concept is the preface to God's freedom, where God is only limited by himself.

Scientia Media (Middle Knowledge)

At the end of Vol 2.1, as a preface to Vol 2.2's extended discussion of Barthian Election, scientia media is briefly discussed. It's difficult to clearly label Barth's beliefs by the way he engages his sources, but much time is devoted to debating against Thomas Aquinas's doctrine of scientia media, with much positive statements about the Jesuit's Molinistic views of Free Will against Thomas. Middle Knowledge refers to God's ability to know every contingency over all time, such that for any choice, God knows the outcomes. Barth gives the example of Jesus saying in Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13 that if Tyre and Sidon had the visitation of Chorazin, they would have repented.. Molinism is Barth's compromise between Semi-Pelagianism and absolutum decretum (ie. Absolute Decree, Double Predestination). And Molinism is defined by attributing scientia media to God, but quickly adding that God knows what man's free will would do in any of those contingencies. It appears to be no more than a glorified "divine" foreknowledge of free will, and a contradiction. This is instrumental to Barth's doctrine of election that leads towards universalism. In some regard, this section is an attempt to reconcile Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed doctrines on Predestination.

Eucharist

Barth compares and contrasts the Reformed verse Lutheran views on communion, and likewise tries to find common ground between this doctrine that divide protestantism. The Calvinist (and Reformed) argument of extra Calvinisticum for Real Spiritual Presence in the eucharist maintained that Christ's Body is in one physical location, and therefore affirm Christ's humanity. The Lutheran ubiquity affirms Christ's divine nature and omnipresence. God is not nowhere, but he is not anyone specific. The Luther's lose the human Christ for the sake of ubiquity but the Calvinists lose the omnipresence of Christ in the extra Calvinisticum by requiring Christ to be limited to the location of the right hand of God. Barth's argument is that the "right hand of God" is not one location.

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