Posted by: Billy Marsh | September 22, 2008

Barth on God’s God-Centeredness

For our Systematic Theology Ph. D. reading seminar this fall, we are getting to read a little bit of everything, and although I don’t agree with all that I’m reading amongst the varied theologians in our trajectory, it is clear from everything we’ve covered so far as to why these men have left such indelible marks on the Christian theological world.

In particular, there are moments while reading Karl Barth where I find myself in whole-hearted agreement and then others where I just shake my head and say there’s no way I can believe that. The passage below demonstrates one case in point where, for the most part, I am in agreement with his doctrine and at the same time blown away by how God-centered Barth was trying to be. I’m still very uneducated in the specifics of the Barthian school of theology, but the man seems to be bent on repositioning the theology of his day from being man-centered to being wholly God-centered, or rather, Christ-centered.

Either way, since I have John Piper’s book God is the Gospel on my mind right now due to the fact that our small group is studying it this year, I couldn’t help but post this quote from my recent reading in Barth’s first volume in Church Dogmatics. Much like Piper, Barth is showing that God’s chief end is to glorify Himself, despite the fact that he has created anything else. This obviously flows out of Barth’s doctrine of Trinity (which if the Church in our day would recover the doctrine of Trinity, we’d probably have less trouble keeping the Christian community from being so man-centered). According to Barth, God is the object of his own love and satisfaction, but the amazing thing about the fact that he has created the universe and man is not that he needs us, but rather that he has not willed to be without us. This really is a wondrous and humbling truth. I’d like to hear your thoughts:

God would be no less God if He had created no world and no man. The existence of the world and our own existence are in no sense vital to God, not even as the object of His love. The eternal generation of the Son by the Father tells us first and supremely that God is not at all lonely without the world and us. His love has its object in Himself. . . . God could satisfy His love in Himself. For He is already an object to Himself and He is an object truly worthy of His love. . . . Only when we are clear about this can we estimate what it means that God has actually, though not necessarily, created a world and us, that His love actually, though not necessarily, applies to us, that His Word has actually, though not necessarily, been spoken to us. . . . We evaluate this purposiveness correctly only if we understand it as the reality of the love of God who does not need us but who does not will to be without us, who has directed His regard specifically on us (139-40).

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Responses

  1. Amen! God is the Necessary Being, all the rest is contingent. God is infinite love, and so he freely chooses to love his creation and us in particular.

  2. Ahh, yes.

    The alternation between “aha” moments, and “huh?” moments when reading Barth!

  3. The “Himself within/to Himself” language has Irenaeus written all over it. Barth was quite the historical theologian too.

  4. “Barth was quite the historical theologian too.”

    Yes he was. He interacts often with the primary sources from the early Church Fathers all the way to Schleiermacher. He even does so in the original languages. All in a day’s work for someone who actually never went to school and finished with a Ph. D.


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