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Christian Politics as Anarchic Liberation

Commenting on Karl Barth’s radical theological politics in the second edition of Karl Barth’s Romans commentary, Paul Chung makes the following argument:

“…Christian politics, which is a demonstration, witness and parable of the eschatology of God as totaliter aliter, becomes meaningful in light of God’s gracious action in Jesus Christ. Theological radicalism of eschatological vigor as seen in [this] christological exclusiveness leans toward an anarchism in its sociopolitical application. Real revolution comes from God, not from human revolt. We have a hope that is the coming world, where revolution and order are one. For Barth, God’s grace is the sign that has the significance of the absolute, the categorical imperative. Barth’s negative dialectics cannot be adequately understood without the principle of the great positive possibility, which is the truly revolutionary action of love. Love sets up no idol, and it is the good work by which one overcomes evil. As the denial and demolition of all that exists, love is the inversion of all concrete happening. ‘Love is the destruction of everything that is—like God [sicut deus]: the end of all hierarchies and authorities and intermediaries.’”

Paul S. Chung, Karl Barth: God’s Word in Action (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, Forthcoming), 227

What do you think of this? Is the radical sort of “anarchic liberation” that is given to us in Christ’s redemption the end of mediation; the transposition of creation into a realm of immediate effulgent love? Or is the freedom of the gospel another sort of freedom, not from mediation and authority, but a radical inversion of the sinful instantiations thereof, consisting of a sort of perichoretic intensification of our mediatedness in relation to God?

It seems to me that Barth’s argument is precisely against the notion that human constructions, intermediaries, and powers are dismantled before the Word of God in Christ which kills and makes alive. This need not mean the end of mediation, per se, as long as we see that the mediated character of our relationship to God is always God’s own self-mediation of Godself to us in Christ in the Spirit. But what does even that mean? What might it mean for God to mediate Godself to us? How is that any different that God being immediately present to us? It seems to me that all this talk of mediation needs to be tempered with an account of divine action. Only then will we really have answers for these sorts of questions.

However, the ultimate question that this quote, and Barth’s Romans commentary advances has to do with Christian politics: is Christian politics best understood as this sort of anarchic liberation? If not, then how should Christian politics be understood? If so, what then does that mean for us?

6 Comments

  1. Halden,

    This is an interesting post. I have no direct comments per your questions concerning the quote. However, your suggestion that perhaps God mediates God strikes me as right minded and important. Indeed, it seems to me that the Christian transformation/subversion of Platonic and Neo-platonic schemes of emanation and mediation did just that. The mediating roles of the logos, nous, soul, of the One beyond being were taken up into God’s own Trinitarian life. David B. Hart has been lecturing about this recently and believe it is likely the topic of his forthcoming book The Christian Revolution. Sorry this is not immediately about the political aspect of the issue. But I thought the theoretical connections to your theo-political reflection were interesting.

    Friday, August 1, 2008 at 5:34 pm | Permalink
  2. Hill wrote:

    I agree. I have been compelled by this question in a vague way ever since I started studying theology, but it has only recently crystallized in my own awareness. I think we have to resist the notion that fallen creation = mediation of God = bad and heaven = “unmediated” access to God = good. The alternative is beyond my ability to articulate clearly, but I provisionally think about it as hypermediation, although the idea of God mediating God to us is appealing or the general idea that “mediation” is an intrinsic part of who God is, which is to say, a deep insight of the fact that God is triune. So rather than God being mediated to us in limited fashion by parts of creation and under a veil, the beatific vision is the perfect harmony of all of creation mediating God to itself in the fullness of the triune life. This requires a very strong understanding of theosis in order to fly. That’s all very crude, but I’m struggling with expressing a lot of what you seem to be getting at.

    Friday, August 1, 2008 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  3. Tim F. wrote:

    Halden,

    I agree with you on mediation here. God truly presents himself to us through himself while simultaneously through other created things, like people, the eucharist, etc. Hence, we can truly claim we encounter God in our neighbor, the poor, bread and wine, etc. Of course, this only makes sense if we have a metaphysic, like a suffering fool points to, that disallows God’s action and human action to be in tension.

    As far as Barth’s politics go, I somewhere (and hence tentatively) recall that he claimed to be a Christian socialist? Do you know if this is accurate? Does Hunsinger write about this? Maybe that’s where I read it; I don’t know…

    Blessings,

    Tim F.

    Friday, August 1, 2008 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  4. Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of mediation talk without divine action as well. Its a two way street and human imagination only goes so far. Not to mention that much of mediation talk, as far as I’ve heard it, is fundamentally Tillichian. Ew.

    As for anarchic liberation. Woo hoo! However, I think rightly pointed out is the notion of sin, but in the end, I don’t see much of a difference between sin talk and other forms of freedom — the inbreaking of the kingdom is a holistic thing.

    Friday, August 1, 2008 at 11:47 pm | Permalink
  5. I’m no theologian, so half of what you fellow have just said went right over my head, but I am a Christian studying to become an economist with a strong anarchic bent partially formed at the feet of Hauerwas.
    Anarchism, or at the most a form of judicial constraint on liberties, appears to be the political philosophy most consistent with the Christian ethic.

    Saturday, August 2, 2008 at 7:20 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    Tim, the book I quote from is one that I just finished final corrections on for Wipf and Stock. In it, Chung looks in detail at Barth’s early development, especially his early socialism and political activism. One of the interesting things about the book is the way in which it explores how Barth’s theology is shaped, from the very beginning by very significant political concerns. In this light, Chung examines Barth’s opposition to the analogia entis, natural theology, his theology of Israel and Jewish-Christian relations, and the issue of Christianity and world religions. A very interesting read.

    Saturday, August 2, 2008 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

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