Skip to content

This happened

Whatever else we may want to say about him, or his theology, I cannot doubt that the God Barth wrestled with was the living God of the Gospel:

God was with us, with us His enemies, with us who were visited and smitten by His wrath. God was with us in all the reality and fulness with which He does what He does. He was with us as one of us. His Word became flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood. His glory was seen here in the depths of our situation, and the full depths of our situation were disclosed for the first time when illumined then and there by the Lord’s glory, when in His Word He came down to the lowest parts of the earth (Eph 4:9), in order that there and in that way He might rob death of its power and bring life and immortality to light (2 Tim 1:10). This happened, as having happened conclusively, totally, and sufficiently. . . . This ‘God with us’ has happened. It has happened in human history and as a part of human history. Yet it has not happened as other parts of history usually happen. It does not need to be continued or completed. It does not point beyond itself or merely strive after a distant goal. It is incapable of any exegesis or even the slightest addition or subtraction. Its form cannot be changed. It has happened as a self-moved being in the stream of becoming. It has happened as completed event, fulfilled time, in the sea of the incomplete and changeable and self-changing.

~ Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1, 115-16.

14 Comments

  1. Joshua L. wrote:

    great quote.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  2. Absolutely!

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink
  3. Thank you for your powerful citation. Christ came to save mankind. As Christ Chosen we have a duty to spread the news. Keep it up

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  4. Aric Clark wrote:

    Barth at time waxes eloquent, but sometimes he ends up saying silly stuff when he does. What does this even mean? What use is an event which is incapable of being added to or subtracted from, changed in form, or leading to consequences which themselves are implicated in the meaning of the original event? It sounds exactly like an event which never happened. In every way.

    On the contrary, if God was actually with us, the way we will know it is so is that it is an event with ongoing, unfolding meaning and import. Which impacts us and which we can in turn impact by our actions and interpretations. It is empirically untrue that the advent of Jesus Christ is immutable in form, since the Gospel is retold by every generation anew and has taken countless forms.

    This quote makes further nonsense of Jesus’ own preaching which makes clear that his mission has a future! He expects his disciples to go out and continue it.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    What disciples go out and continue though is not the event of Christ’s death, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension. What they go out and do is bear cruciform witness to this utterly singular event in word and deed. Our witness to this event does indeed change, but not the event itself. That, frankly, doesn’t make any sense at all.

    I don’t think Barth is being silly here at all, just trying to give due gravity to how radical the Christ event is.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Permalink
  6. Aric Clark wrote:

    I think the disciples continuation of Christ’s ministry is more integral than that, but even if I agreed – there is nothing radical with saying a past event is in the past and unchangeable. How is Christ’s advent different from say, Waterloo? It happened. Even if we change what we say about it in the history books the event itself doesn’t change. There is nothing radical about that?

    There is just too much “past” in Barth’s description here. The incarnation is God’s decision to be with us. He doesn’t reverse that decision. The resurrection (and then his giving his Spirit to the disciples) guarantees its continuation. The ascension isn’t the flipside of the nativity. Jesus Christ IS risen, not WAS. Hence if there is anything radical about the Christ event it is actually that it is less complete than your average historical happening. It is more open-ended. As opposed to Waterloo which was once and for all and never again, Jesus Christ is the eternal event which is always and everywhere transforming.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    I think there’s definitely something radical about saying that Christ’s singular act for us and our salvation, and no human action, no project of divinization, no imperial aspirations, or any human movement determines the meaning of history and human life.

    I don’t think the Waterloo example works because obviously Waterloo makes no claim on us. A better example is say, the founding of the United States and the drafting of the constitution. That historical event requires people to carry it on, to propagate it and make it continue to be a reality in this world that has meaning and importance to the world’s future.

    Christ is not like that. “It is finished.” (His words, not mine.) We can point back to that (in word and deed, in the mode of the imitatio Christi no doubt), but that is far different from the notion that we need to continue Jesus’s death and resurrection. He died once for all. He rose once for all (the NT is, I’d say, utterly united on this point). This has nothing to do with some sort of suspension of the incarnation, rather it refuses to evacuate it of its historical particularity the way you seem to be doing.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink
  8. Aric Clark wrote:

    Human history isn’t over yet and so even if we have the determinative factor in place a final reading of its meaning is premature. Judgment day is still ahead of us.

    But Christ determines the meaning of human history, sure. What do you mean by “singular act” though? The crucifixion? It is what I would presume based on your reference of his quote from John. That quote is vague and can’t possibly mean the entirety of Christ’s work or person, because he gets up 72 hours later and goes about ensuring his work continues. I take it to mean quite simply what it says – the pain of this crucifixion is over.

    The crucifixion is the central revelation of who Christ is, but it is definitely not the sum total of the Christ event. Everything Christ does before and after is just as much a part of God being “with us”. That is the language Barth uses – incarnation language, and the funny thing about the incarnation is that it doesn’t end in death, but in resurrection which makes it more of a comma than a full stop.

    I’m not trying to evacuate the historical particulars of Jesus’ life & death of their historical particularity, but in that sense they are completely conventional. As a historical event if Jesus life wasn’t narrated to us through scripture and maintained by a community of faith it would be exactly as if it never happened. Just like the US constitution. Making a big deal out of Jesus being an “event” in the past is to steal everything that is unique about Jesus.

    It is because Jesus is alive, and ongoing, that he is relevant. It is not primarily that he is something that happened, but that he is something that is happening and will happen that makes him interesting.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Permalink
  9. Aric Clark wrote:

    Whoops. I intended the comment below as a reply. Blogging-fail.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    I do see something of your point here, and one could make the argument that Barth does in some ways tend to collapse the resurrection and the parousia into one event. So in that sense, I agree that Christ certainly is happening (by the work of the Spirit who irrupts into human history, conforming us to Christ, making us one body, etc.) and will happen (in the Parousia). But, the “is happening” and the “will happen” are, I think utterly contingent on the singular and decisive event of the cross and resurrection. They are the ongoing and future manifestation of Christ’s completed work.

    But I would definitely want to push back against the claim that “if Jesus life wasn’t narrated to us through scripture and maintained by a community of faith it would be exactly as if it never happened.” If this is true there is no gospel and no hope, at least in my view. God is able to raise up out of stones children of Abraham. If the community of faith kept silent, or ceased to be, if all Scripture was destroyed and forgotten, the very stones would cry out. That’s where I can’t go. Christ is the author and finisher of our salvation, it is not a synthetic compound wrought by the combination of his action and our work of witness. That, at least is my conviction.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink
  11. Nate Kerr wrote:

    I think perhaps another way of saying what Halden is saying here is that what is constitutive of and “requires” our participation in the Christ event is that it is “open” not by way of some kind of crude incompleteness (that it is somehow “less complete”), but rather that it is excessively complete — it is an event of pleromatic fullness. Hence, the Spirit.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    Thanks, Nate. That’s exactly what I mean.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Permalink
  13. Aric Clark wrote:

    Alright, I’ll take excessively complete. I even kind of like it as a phrase. Though it does seem like a bit of semantic quibbling. The point remains that the Christ event ought not be conceived of as a closed loop. A done deal. A once and for all that excludes the present and future by its resolute pastness.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Permalink
  14. Aric Clark wrote:

    I see why you say what you do, and I share the same conviction, but also think that it is a sort of pointless hypothetical. Surely God could raise children of Abraham out of stones, but God hasn’t. We’ve received the Gospel through the very contingent, very normal mode of transmission that is the Church. It seems to me like that is no accident. Jesus makes founding the Church his business. If there Church suddenly ceased to exist it would mean Jesus’ ministry was a failure and if that’s the case we have no good reason to believe in the God that can supposedly raise Israel from dry bones. The method of transmission doesn’t seem incidental to me, but integral. I mean, we claim that the Church is the Body of Christ… how can it be something other than the extension of the very “event” Barth seems determined to say is done and complete?

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site