Thursday, January 24, 2013

Faith, Love, Hope, Eschatology, and Life in the Spirit

I am continuing my excursion through Church Dogmatics IV/1 "The Doctrine of Reconciliation."  And today I had an interesting dialog with a believer in my town who I never would have thought would show up in this blog.

I have a believing friend who has become deeply entrenched in the movement known as Hebrew Roots.  If you're not familiar with that movement, it is basically a modern day version of the Galatian heresy.  Adherents of the group believe that there is really not supposed to be anything called "the Christian church," and that gentile believers in Jesus (Yeshua) are supposed to live their lives according to Torah (the law of Moses).  Our conversation today went as most conversations do between him and me.  He said that Christians are inconsistent in adhering to the "moral law" while not observing things like the Sabbath.  I tried, unsuccessfully I think, to explain that the Christian has died and risen with Christ and thus lives in the eschaton (I didn't use that word), and thus are not bound by law.  We live by the law of love because that is how the kingdom of God works.  We no longer need a schoolmaster.  We live, through Christ, in the age to come, where the "forever" of the Mosaic covenant no longer holds.  He wasn't convinced.  Oh well. This, however, showed me something that is integral to New Testament Christianity that both Karl Barth and the best examples of Pentecostal Christianity have managed to understand and articulate in their own ways. 

In his massive work on the pneumatology of the apostle Paul, God's Empowering Presence, Gordon Fee repeatedly makes the case that the presence of the Spirit in the church meant for Paul that believers were already living in the age to come.  In fact, Fee regularly calls the Spirit the "eschatological Spirit."  In his own highly informed and scholarly manner, Fee is articulating exegetically something that is inherent to Pentecostal understanding of the Spirit.  From it's very beginning, the Pentecostal movement understood its reception of the Spirit and the gifts as an eschatological phenomenon.  They Spirit of the Last Days was being poured out to prepare the church and the world for the return of Christ.  Whereas the early Pentecostal leaders may have missed the eschatological significance of Christ's resurrection, and while they may have primarily been working within a dispensational framework, the connection between the reception of the charismatic Spirit and the age to come was not missed.  The pouring out of the Spirit meant that the end of the ages was, at the very least, immanent. 

In Church Dogmatics IV/1, in the section titled "The Being of Man in Jesus Christ" (pp.92-122 in the T&T Clark Edition), Barth applies the fulfillment of the covenant which has taken place in Christ alone to the existence of the believer.  Barth is insistent that salvation is entirely in Christ alone, and he means this in a far more radical sense that traditional Reformed theology.  For Barth, salvation happens there in Christ not here in me.  In traditional Christian theology - Reformed, Pentecostal, or otherwise - salvation is something that is accomplished both there in Christ and here in me.  Even Reformed theology speaks of the application of redemption in the believer by the Spirit.  But for Barth, he has already spent an entire section arguing that salvation has happened entirely in Christ.  He has fulfilled the covenant.  He has been rejected for us.  He is the elect man.  The covenant is fulfilled.  Man is now saved.  And, which will be discussed more in upcoming blogs, what the Spirit does is not to cause salvation to happen here in me, but to bring about realization of the salvation that has happened there in Jesus.  For Barth, the Spirit doesn't so much bring Jesus to me as he brings me to Jesus.  I like that distinction.  (And time does not permit me to rabbit trail into Barth's eschatological view of Christ's resurrection, which has caused un-careful readers to think Barth denied the historical nature of the resurrection.)

But in his section, "The Being of Man in Jesus Christ," Barth makes quite an interesting argument for how the salvation in Christ works within the believer.  He uses Paul's threefold list from 1 Corinthians 13 of faith, hope and love.  However, for his purposes, Barth reorders them as Faith, Love, and Hope.  Faith is, naturally enough, the realization of the reality of Christ and his atonement for me.  This is Barth's section on justification.  Then there is Love, which for Barth refers to obedience to Christ's commands, or his "direction," and is Barth's treatment of sanctification.  What is most interesting, however, is Barth's treatment of Hope.

Hope, for Barth, is eschatological.  And our hope is not in some disembodied beatific vision, but in an eternal service to and partnership with God.  It is the closest thing Barth with get to synergism.  Our salvation is entirely monergistic for Barth, but the life God saves us to is an eternal life of partnership with God.  This is a partnership in eternity, but which spills back and makes all the things we do today and tomorrow hope filled actions, too.  And this too, like Faith and Love, is a work of the Spirit, who makes us realize the truth of who we are in Christ.

For my Galatian friend, our salvation in Christ has almost nothing to do with eschatology.  Sure, maybe he keeps us out of hell and will rule from Jerusalem during the millennium.  But other than that, other than some eternal tomorrow, "Yeshua" has not brought us the kingdom or ushered us into the eschaton.  For Pentecostals, Jesus is the Spirit Baptizer, and the Spirit he pours out on us is the Spirit of the age to come - both equipping us to be witnesses to him as we usher in the end and also placing us into the kingdom that began with Christ but has not yet been consummated.  For Barth, Christ has changed the entire world.  The world just doesn't know it yet.  He has raised man from the dead and justified him before God.  Man is now God's servant and partner.  That is, he one day will be - and that means he already is.


  1. Very good Mike, have you read Myk Habets' book on Spirit Christology? I think you would find him compatible with your work and a deep thinker. Keep up the good work!


    1. Thanks for the encouragement and all the help, Marty! I may need to peruse your library if I'm gonna check out all these titles you tell me about!