Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who is the Subject of Resurrection? Who is the Subject of Vocation?

Who is the acting subject of Christ's resurrection? Short answer: God. But to be faithful to scripture's witness to the risen Jesus, we must be more precise. Such precision requires recourse to some sort of "trinitarian" logic. We must speak of Jesus being raised by God the Father. We must speak of the rising of the Christ himself, the Son. We must speak of the Spirit by whom Jesus Christ was raised and now lives. And these three are one: the living triune God.

I have said all this before, and have shown how Karl Barth has taught me these moves. And I've tried to show some of the significance of this connection between resurrection and trinity. Let me indicate a further point of significance I just stumbled on this week. In his discussion of the event of vocation (CD IV/3, §71.2), Barth asks, who is the acting subject of vocation? Who calls humans to the service of witness? In the course of his answer, Barth draws on the trinitarian grammar of Easter:
If, in those passages which speak more generally of calling, God as well as Jesus Christ is described as the One who calls, this is not, of course, an indication that the New Testament knows two kinds of vocation, the one effected by God the Father, the other by Jesus Christ, and possibly a third by the Holy Spirit. It rather corresponds to, and is even interconnected with, the fact that in the New Testament there are also two ways of speak of the Easter event: on the one side, it is Christ's raising up by God the Father, and on the other it is his own resurrection, and a third possibility may perhaps be seen in Rom. 1:4 with its reference to the power of the Holy Spirit operative in this event. In both cases the statements are complementary. To the question of the concrete form in which God calls, the only answer is obviously that it is Jesus who does it in all the concreteness of his humanity. And to the question of how he does it, the only answer is obviously that in what this man does God is at work in his eternal mercy and omnipotence. The New Testament does not see two or three things here, but only one thing. (CD IV/3, p. 503, rev.; KD IV/3, p. 579)
So Barth argues for the living activity of Jesus Christ in the calling of humanity by reference to the triunity of God in the Easter event. Just as God in Christ is the subject of resurrection, so God in Christ is the subject of vocation. This point becomes crucial for Barth in securing the content of the doctrine of vocation Christologically: namely, that the the goal of vocation is sonship, fellowship, and union with Christ (§72.3), and that the concrete form of vocation is the service of witness to him for the sake of the world (§72.4).

Any thoughts?


Nathan Hitchcock said...

Hi John. Gearing up for Easter already? That, I think, is a seasonal transgression most forgiveable.

You're absolutely right to summarize Barth's view this way, and to point out how he makes triunity and vocation talk to each other. Too often the church speaks of vocation monosyllabically: "God called me to do this..." It is certainly a richer concept to speak of vocation in terms of the Father's will to include us into the resurrected life of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 6).

That praise for Barth notwithstanding, is Easter Sunday really the right theological place to be deriving our bearings about the Subject of vocation?

I ask this because I can't go along cheerfully with this rendering of the resurrection account. Barth wants to answer the divine agency question both ways, that the Father alone acts on the passive Son (IV/1) and that the Son raises Himself and gives us revelatory direction (IV/2). This inserts into the narrative the obtrusive caveat that Jesus was really eternal God - and-God-can't-really-be-dead-now-can-He. Even the early Church fathers, for all their steely protests against docetism, had a hard time affirming an actual and full death. Barth continues a tradition of doublespeak about the Father and Son each raising the Son for his own reason, namely, Barth wants to make Jesus Christ's resurrection about His own active and present Self-disclosure all along the way, even if it means overwriting the utter deadness of the Son in His humanity. And I'm sorry, this just doesn't work if one wants to maintain a genuine humanity or, for that matter, a genuine unity of the person of Christ. The dead do not rise (of themselves), not even the incarnate Son of God, lest He forfeit the kind of total human obedience He offered at the cross.

It's a hard word: God is both dead and alive on that damnable Friday and Saturday. But then, as He does not will to be both alive and dead - praise the Father! - He awakens the Son. And the Son, after the forty days and ten, with the authority given by the Father sends the boisterous and vivifying Spirit of the Father to us deaf, dead folk.

There's an idea or two cooking in my brain about how "trinitarian vocation" works itself out from here, but let me stop by boiling my argument down to one point, namely, maybe Barth is trying too hard to see vocation coming directly out of the resurrection. Dale Dawson has proposed that a distinction needs to be made between the awakening of Jesus and the resurrection-manifestation of Jesus. But I like to push it back a little more, at least when it comes to the calling to the Church: Jesus, fresh from the spiced tomb, needs some room to do His thing before the great vocare is uttered in the three-fold Name (Mt 28; Acts 1). Maybe this whole thing happens at ascension and Pentecost after all.

Jeremiah said...

Good stuff. Barth can always be counted on to bring a valuable perspective. I'm sure there's something in there about being called to be disciples, rather than converts, but I'll let someone better equipped touch on that.

JohnLDrury said...

Thanks for the good, quick responses.

Nathan - You are right that Barth wants to have it both ways (dialectically, that is!), but I am not sure if it is for the reasons you suggests. He says pretty clearly in a number of places that the whole Christ, God and man, is dead and raised by the Father. So I'm not sure he is saying this to protect the divinity of the Son on account of his inherent immortality. I think you are right that is b/c he wishes to link the resurrection to Jesus' active self-attestation. This is probably for anti-bultmanniann reasons, among other things. I think he can do this on the basis of a broad definition of resurrection as including the appearances and not just the moment of being made alive again. The whole 40 days event has a triune grammar, though strictly speaking the moment of raising is attributed to the Father. I think there is something to this, but you are right to warn against tidying up the scandal of the dead Son. I think Barth's line may be followed without this error, but I will need to make that clearer -- so thanks for the thoughts.

Jeremiah - Yes, the call to conversion must be the call to discipleship -- which is an equation Barth makes quite strongly in the course of his exposition. Conversion is not an end in itself; we are converted unto discipleship, following Jesus as witnesses fellowship with him as the prophet of his own self-attestation.

Thanks guys!