Karl Barth's Doctrine of sin in the Church Dogmatics volumes I/1-IV/3
Ellington, William David
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The problem of this dissertation is to present and to analyze critically the doctrine of sin in Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, Volumes I/1--IV/3. First the Church Dogmatics is summarised in terms of the doctrine of sin, and three discernible periods, I/1--II/1, II/2--III/4, and IV/1--IV/3, are found. Following the exposition the teachings on sin for each period are restated, their respective Christological presuppositions shown and compared, and the tensions which exist between them explored. Next Barth's mature conception of sin, period three, is analyzed for its New Testament orientation. Finally, problems in Barth's mature doctrine of sin are presented, and a final evaluation is made. These are the major findings: In the first section, Volumes I/1--II/1, sin is portrayed as an objective reality which has drastically altered man's life. Man is under the judgment of original sin, is spiritually dead, and can know God only through the Word of God coming afresh to him. In Volumes II/2--III/4, there is a de-emphasizing of the nature of sin. Sin is objectively impossible. Jesus Christ is the genuine man who actualizes all other men. As He has already rejected sin, man's sin is rejected. From creation God has denied evil by rejecting certain possibilities. Sin is man's choice for these rejected possibilities, das Nichtige. The emphasis is on God's rejection and not on man's choice. Although man sins by choosing the objectively impossible, sin cannot destroy but only pervert. Jesus Christ is the higher truth. The basis for this new understanding of sin is Barth's Christo-absolutism which declares that Jesus Christ is God Himself, the ontic center of creation. Creation is instrumental to this historic center and is in both noetic and ontic synthesis with it. Creation has already been fulfilled in Him. Thus the following tensions arise. (1) Time has no intrinsic meaning since creation is fulfilled. (2) Creation loses its creaturely dimension in its synthesis in Jesus Christ. (3) Sin, overruled by Jesus Christ, has no intrinsic meaning. This entire perspective is found to be unbiblical. In Volume IV/1--IV/3, sin is re-emphasized. In the light of Jesus Christ's reconciliation, sin is seen to have greater reality as man's other determinant. Sin cannot change Jesus Christ's work for man, but man in sin achieves something powerfully real and brings chaos into creation. He contradicts himself damaging both his relationship to God and man. Only God's grace keeps man from falling into das Nichtige. Sin is overcome in Jesus Christ, but man's sinful past is still with him. This understanding of sin rests in Barth's new Christological emphasis that Jesus Christ still fights evil and suffers for sinful man. With this the categories of time, creation, and sin regain Biblical orientation. Barth's mature doctrine of sin is in the main obedient to the New Testament in teaching the following: (1) An understanding of sin must be drawn primarily from Jesus Christ's reconciling act. (2) Sin is volitional rebellion against God. (3) Sin's consequences are horrible, releasing das Nichtige into creation. (4) Evil is not only a power released by sin but attacks man. (5) Theology cannot give a rational explanation for sin without neutralizing it. (6) Man in sin faces judgment and condemnation. Barth does deviate from the New Testament, however, by not developing the law as a background for Christ's reconciling work. Our final evaluation of Barth's doctrine of sin in the third section is positive. The reader is confronted by such a compelling picture of Jesus Christ the Reconciler of sinful man that he knows himself to be a sinner.
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