Bloody backward

The book concludes with a meditation on “the blood of Christ.” Though not directly an explication of Barth’s views, it displays his influence even as it captures a thread that runs through the volume as a whole, from political to doctrinal to ecumenical theology. If Jesus Christ is, as Barth urged, the center of Christian theology, Christ’s cross is the center of the center. The Trinity, the incarnation, and the cross are linked, as it were, by a golden chain. Whenever the linkages among them are somehow severed or weakened, as unfortunately regularly happens, abstraction, misconception, and thinness can only be the result. The Trinity deteriorates, for example, to a social agenda, the incarnation to an experiential symbol, the cross to a supposed warrant for abuse. In the end the cross is a scandal because Israel is a scandal, with its ineffaceable particularity of election, expiation, purity, and difference for the sake of the world. The blood of Christ is repugnant to the Gentile mind, whether ancient or modern. This mind would prevail were it not continually disrupted by grace.
   Grace that is not disruptive is not grace — a point that Flannery O’Connor well grasped alongside Karl Barth. Grace, strictly speaking, does not mean continuity but radical discontinuity, not reform but revolution, not violence but nonviolence, not the perfecting of virtues but the forgiveness of sins, not improvement but resurrection from the dead. It means repentance, judgment, and death as the portal to life. It means negation and the negation of the negation. The grace of God really comes to lost sinners, but in coming it disrupts them to the core. It slays to make alive and sets the captive free. Grace may of course work silently and secretly like a germinating seed as well as like a bolt from the blue. It is always wholly as incalculable as it is unreliable, unmerited, and full of blessing. Yet it is necessarily as unsettling as it is comforting. It does not finally teach of its own sufficiency without appointing a thorn in the flesh. Grace is disruptive because God does not compromise with sin, nor ignore it, nor call it good. On the contrary, God removes it by submitting to the cross to show that love is stronger than death.

From George Hunsinger‘s introduction to his collection Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth. (Recommended to me by Princetonian Matthew Milliner.)

8 Replies to “Bloody backward”

  1. Barth’s absence is a deleterious oversight. My experience has been that Xn hipsters start with Barth, then work their way right-wards to Calvin. Whenever that process gets reversed, the hipster is typically one step removed from committing apostasy and declaring himself an atheist.

    But the penultimate comment (so far — it’s early in the day) is right on the money: I think he’s really talking about Episcopalians.

  2. Came across that item via one of Mr. Milliner’s commenters. Not sure what the value of the cataloguing might be, although there it’s obviously gotten some attention. ‘Cool’ layed out for discussion like that has to be in its decline, already being turned over.

    You’re right, anyhow. Maybe talk of Barth is just assumed there — too obviously definitive to be mentioned.

    Interesting, your sense of what going Barth-to-Calvin means, vs. Calvin-to-Barth. In my own case encountered both relatively late, since into my mid-20s, with my family & church, to large degree it was (with a kind of forced naivete) ‘just the Bible’ for us. Perhaps as result, I find in retrospect that I don’t have much native inclination to prioritize one or the other. And it goes without saying that I never had a prayer [ahem] of being hip.

  3. I wonder by the way if O’Connor, contra Hunsinger, wouldn’t have put it ‘Grace, strictly speaking, does not mean . . . nonviolence but violence.’

  4. So far as my theological observations go I would recommend considering them with the same grain of salt required for properly digesting blogular observations re: The Hip.

    As for O’Connor, I have to confess I haven’t read her since university, for an end of term paper. She’s certainly become a sort of shared idea for Xns who write. Well … really for any English speaking North American who writes. I remember being flabbergasted when a fellow bookstore employee who had nothing but impatience for religious matters put his “I Recommend” stamp on one of FOC’s collections. I’m still not entirely sure what accounts for her continued popularity.

  5. I’m not enough in the world of letters (or of religion either, though it concerns me more) to comment on O’Connor’s sustained (recovered?) high profile. I managed not to know a thing about her until somewhat after college, Engl. Lit. degree notwithstanding — not that the opportunity wasn’t there, if I’d been paying attention. I have only finally read her a bit in the last few years, and that’s been just a start, really. But in all things literate & cultured, inside the Christian scene & out, I’ve always been far behind the leading edge. Probably will always be. ‘Sokay, though. The world is wide.

    Would be interested to see you talk further about whether/how she fits with your sense of direction for reading/writing as you look at it now, family & community life, work & play, being what they are for you today.

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