Tuesday, July 04, 2006

GBB. Introduction II: Responsible Speech about the Being of God According to Karl Barth

Barth thinks as a theologian. [. . .] This means, however, that the being of God which is the subject of theological questioning is prevenient. (9)
Jüngel presents in this second introduction to God's Being Is in Becoming a concept taken from Barth’s dogmatics that he unpacks in much greater detail in his great work, God as the Mystery of the World. The concept is Nachdenken, to think after, which characterizes Barth’s method of theology. Theology, according to Barth and Jüngel, is a thinking-after (Nachdenkens) God’s self-revelation. God’s being precedes all human thought, and thus God is the subject rather than the object of theology who gives Godself to humanity as an object for thought. To think “as a theologian” means allowing God to determine how one can and should think of God. God precedes, and humanity follows. All human presuppositions are laid aside. Jüngel writes:
God’s being goes before the theological question about God’s being; it is not in some way presupposed by this inquiry. [. . .] As object of theological questioning, the being of God cannot be such a presupposition. It is much more a matter that the being of God goes before all theological questioning in such a way that in its movement it paves the way for questioning. (9)
What is the significance of this for Jüngel? Two things are worth noting. (1) Human beings do not set the parameters for God’s being; only God determines who God is. From the start, then, Jüngel rules out metaphysical theism as the inappropriate task of defining concepts without thinking-after God’s being, i.e., without following the movement of God’s self-revelation. Classical metaphysics makes God the object rather than the proceeding subject of theology. Theology that thinks-after God means “thinking consistently and exclusively as a theologian,” and not allowing any other discipline to determine how one should think of God.

(2) Jüngel is here setting the stage for his mediation between the positions of Barth and Bultmann—between the question of God’s being and the question of what it means to speak of God. Jüngel brings together dogmatics and hermeneutics by locating them both in the event of Jesus Christ as the focal point for the doctrine of God. Who God is and how to speak rightly of God are both revealed in the person of Jesus. Because this book is an explication of the doctrine of the Trinity, we can use trinitarian terms to express this more accurately. If the immanent Trinity is the being of God ad intra, then the economic Trinity is the being of God ad extra, which Jüngel describes as the being of God that proceeds and thus precedes all human thought. The event of Jesus Christ is the center of God’s economic activity, an activity which corresponds with God’s very being. Consequently, God’s being is revealed as a being-in-becoming in the person of Christ, so that who God is and how we speak of God correspond when we think-after God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. But this is getting ahead of ourselves. For now, it is sufficient to note that, according to Jüngel,
The being of God is the hermeneutical problem of theology. Or, more precisely: the fact that the being of God proceeds is precisely the hermeneutical problem. For only because the being of God proceeds is there an encounter between God and humanity. And the hermeneutical problem is grounded in precisely this encounter between God and humanity which has its origin in the movement of God’s being. The encounter between God and humanity which has its origin in the movement of God’s being is, according to Barth, first and above all the encounter between the electing God and elected humanity, which is an event in Jesus Christ. Thus the existence of the man Jesus confronts us with the hermeneutical problem, both with regard to our understanding of God and with regard to our understanding of the self and the world. (10-11)