Thursday, October 7, 2010

Barth on creation

I had a really nice meeting this week with Oliver Crisp who teaches theology at Bristol University (where I was visiting the physics department). [An interview with Oliver about his latest book is on the exiled preacher blog]. I read with interest Oliver's chapter Karl Barth on Creation, in the book, Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology: Convergences and Divergences.

I was particularly interested in this because I have started work on a paper, Implications of Barth's Doctrine of Creation for the dialogue between science and theology which is outlined in a talk I gave earlier this year.

Here is a brief summary of the chapter and a few comments.
Oliver identifies four areas of commonality (C1-C4) and four areas of disagreement (D1-D4) of Barth with the tradition of  Reformed theology.

C1. The Creator is the Tri-une God.

C2. Creation was a free act of the Sovereign God.

C3. Supralapsarianism
God pre-destined people for salvation before creation. What was God's ultimate purpose in creation? Was it to save people or to glorify himself by saving people?
Crisp  notes that Barth has his own unique views about electrion and raises questions about whether Barth did not emphasize enough God's ultimate purpose of self-glorification.

C4. Creation and covenant are intimately connnected.
Barth emphasized, "Creation is the external basis of the covenant. Covenant is the internal basis of the creation." John Webster says these are really the same thing. I love Webster's summary of Barth, but I disagree with him on this point. I think Barth is intentionally making a valid and important distinction to amplify the relationship between creation and covenant.

D1. The Doctrine of Creation is an article of faith and there is no room for natural theology.

D2. This was not clear to me.

D3. The Genesis narrative is "saga" not history.
I think this is actually one of the strengths of Barth's approach because it liberates the text to speak theologically rather than getting bogged down in discussions about natural science. Many Conservative evangelicals advocate a historical reading claiming that anything else undermines the Gospel. They usually link their interpretation with  "Intelligent Design" and/or young earth creationism. However, it is ironic that in practice these approaches actually shift the discussion away from the text and its theological claims and towards (usually ill-informed) arguments about biology and geology.
In contrast, Barth stays focussed on exegesis of the text of Genesis, a point that Crisp appropriately appreciates.

D4. A "timeless" God created time. Here I agree with Barth, but my view is largely driven by my understanding of physics. General relativity tells us that time (and space) began at the big bang. Time has a direction.

It is a stimulating chapter and it highlights to me just how "orthodox" and "reformed" Barth was. Differences and disagreements with "tradition" to me were minor and of debatable significance.

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