Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Person and Work of Christ Revisited: In Conversation with Karl Barth

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Person and Work of Christ Revisited: In Conversation with Karl Barth

Article excerpt

The person of Christ is often equated with his saving work. The problem in immediately identifying Christ's person with his work, I argue, is that it shortchanges what the biblical testimony demands: an account of Jesus Christ as the underlying basis of his benefits. Rather than leading us to seek after a "Christ in himself," however, the immanent perfect being of Jesus Christ renders his salvation effective. Accordingly, what is at stake is the honoring of Christ's person not as something removed from his work but rather as what grounds his work as the revealer of God to humanity and the reconciler of humanity to God.

I

The basic theological issue at stake in this essay, namely a right accounting of the relationship between Christ's person and work, between who he is and what he does, can be best accessed by comparing two statements, one by Colin Gunton and the other by Donald MacKinnon. The former writes, "The person of Christ is his saving work, so that an adequately articulated Christology will also be a theology of salvation."1 The latter states, "He [Jesus Christ] remains not simply the logical subject of this proposition: 'He was incarnate'; but ontologically he is the author of the act."2 The thrust of this essay is to inhabit the latter as what enables a modified and more chastened affirmation of the former. Indeed, it is MacKinnon who identifies Jesus Christ, specifically the very being of the person of Jesus Christ, as that which grounds - or better, underwrites - what he does: namely, become incarnate. MacKinnons intuition is salutary. Distinguishing the person and work of Christ is an important thing to do, MacKinnon reminds us, if each is to be given its proper due. But it is difficult to give each its due, as it might suggest that Christ's person can be separated from his work. This would lead us to pursue a Christ in himself, a Christ who can be contemplated apart from who he is for us. Indeed, to champion such a vision of Christ's person would be to supply, to use Karl Barths language, "an abstract doctrine of his 'person.'"3 More specifically, it would suggest that an ontological gap lies between who Christ is and what Christ does. Accordingly, the "ontological co-inherence" of Christ's person and work would no longer be "a fairly concise affair."4 The unsettling development in all this - it is supposed - is that Christology involves description of One who transcends his history rather than a Christ whose very being is identified with his history.

It is the contention of this essay that the basic issues of Christology as Barth identifies them - for example, Jesus Christ's Godhead and humanity, his work, and his state of humiliation and exaltation - can only be taken up well to the extent one gives "a proper place" to both Christ's person and work.5 In other words, the task of this essay is to inhabit Barth s aversion to the doctrine of Christ's person being "absorbed and dissolved in that of his work, or vice versa," so as "to give a proper place to them both," especially with respect to his person, by which I mean his being as the anterior condition of his atoning work.6 Expressed exegetically, the essay asks who is the "he" "who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30)?' I will unfold this contention with three points. As regards the first point, I will offer a reading of §58 ("The Doctrine of Reconciliation [Survey]") oí Church Dogmatics IV/1 with the intention of indicating how for Barth articulation of a doctrine of Christ's person that is not "abstract" does not mean the positing of a Christ in himself - Guntons fear - but rather a Christ who, even as he "exists in the totality of his mediating being and mediating work," even as he has his being in history, cannot be said to be one whose being dissolved into his history.8 To say that Jesus has his being - his person - in history is not to affirm that he has his being with history.9 To argue so would be to make his identity dependent on what he does. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.