Reading Barth Backwards: IV/4, Baptism with Water, #4

In reading IV/4, particularly as the first thing I’ve read from Barth for some time, I’m struck by how friendly God is toward people, despite the chasm that exists between God and creation. Barth’s reading of Jesus’ baptism by John emphasizes his obedience to God precisely in his being baptized in solidarity with people, particularly the people of Israel.

“When He had Himself baptized with water by John, Jesus confessed both God and men. A better way of putting it is that because He confessed God, the God whose will was soon to be done on earth as it is done in heaven, therefore He confessed men, the men who are in view in this doing of God’s will. Because he is committed unreservedly to subordination to God, therefore He is committed unreservedly to solidarity with men.

He who as God’s Son was very different from all men, being one with the Father who sent Him, and therefore Himself God, negated this difference, this distance, this strangeness between Himself and others, even to the last remnant. He became wholly and utterly one of them, not in an act of secret or even public condescension, like a king for a change donning a beggar’s rags and mingling with the crowd, but by belonging to them in every way, by being no more and no less than one of them, by having no point of reference except to them. He became one of them, not in order to renounce full fellowship with them when the game was over, like the king exchanging again the beggar’s rags for his kingly robes, not in order to leave again the table where he had seated Himself with the publicans and sinners, and to find a better place, but in order to be one of them definitively as well as orignally, unashamed to call them brethren to all eternity because he was their Brother from all eternity, a veritable King in the true form of His, and at His place of honor.” (58-59).

With comments like that, I wonder why it is that liberation theologians and others who emphasize the solidarity of God with people have seemingly relied so little on Barth. No less eminent a liberation theologian than James Cone has cited the irrelevance of Barth for the black situation in urban America in the 60s and 70s as a starting point for his exploration of a black contextual theology. Perhaps it is simply the sheer volume or difficulty of the reading which causes this – but the content seems to speak clearly. But then, that’s my $.02.



One thought on “Reading Barth Backwards: IV/4, Baptism with Water, #4

  1. Stephen 1 January 2012 at 12:25 pm Reply

    Just a guess on the liberation theology thing: Liberation theologians have usually (in Latin America, at least; I’m not sure about Cone here) emphasized the social sciences as necessary for understanding the meaning of the Gospel today. Barth, as far as I’ve read, seems to ignore the social sciences at best, and at worst to have an antagonistic attitude toward academic disciplines other than theology. I completely agree with you that Barth’s theology fits quite well with liberation theologies when read charitably, but the correspondences need more work because Barth starts from a different perspective than do most liberation theologians. So they often approach the same truths from different angles (which is also ironic in light of Barth’s political activism that led to him being dubbed the “Red Pastor of Safenwil”).

    Also, I’ve enjoyed these posts on IV/4. Only wish I had more time to comment on some of them.

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