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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte


Worthington, Ethan A.


The Claim of God. Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Sanctification in His Earlier Theology.


Cambridge: James Clarke (Lutterworth) 2016. 262 S. Kart. £ 19,50. ISBN 978-0-227-17589-7.


Joshua Kira

The Claim of God by Ethan A. Worthington is the recent publica-tion of a dissertation out of King’s College, University of Aberdeen. Under the guidance of the late John Webster, W. chronologically traces Barth’s understanding of sanctification in his pre-dogmatic works. W. perceives his project as an attempt to remedy the lack of study of the Swiss theologian’s early work, as well as to counteract some of the misunderstandings of how Barth relates the ethical sphere to the spiritual life of the redeemed. In both of these goals, he is largely successful, though there are a few ways in which his work could have been improved.
The Claim of God begins with Barth’s turn from liberalism and follows the major steps in his transformation, under the influence of Reformed theology, into a dogmatician. W. is concerned with showing how a close exposition of Barth’s actual works prevents extreme views that either depicts him as unconcerned with tem-poral existence, or as overemphasizing his ethical thoughts as to downplay the systematic importance of grace to his theological development. W. echoes Webster’s claim that this was a »period of reinvention« (3) and thus leads to the most helpful aspect of the book, which is its presentation of how Barth variously agrees and disagrees with his theological heritage, especially in his tendency to agree with Calvin against Luther when the two Reformers conflict (e .g. Christ’s presence in the sacraments).
W. begins with Barth’s writings before his serious interaction with Calvin, during which his work begins to react against »modern theology« (6). This moniker covers various positions that minimize the independent nature of God and emphasize human subjectivity. It was some of the more existential strains of theology that had, in the view of W., appropriated pietism, which Barth felt led to a view of sanctification that was about human effort and development. With the help of Calvin’s strong emphasis on the distinction between divine and human nature and actions, sanctification is then understood as the concrete activity of God in His relationship to man, whereby human righteousness is based on divine righteousness. Thus, »sanctification is freedom for faithful human participation in the divine-human relationship« (30). In this way, it is not to be understood as a process that requires coordinated effort between God and man as partners, but as the seminal event coordinated with justification that allows for the freedom to live ethically after one’s reconciliation with God in Christ. Consequently, in Barth’s emphasis on »faith and obedience«, sanctification is not to be identified with the second, but is to be viewed as a complex with justification under the first (84 ff.). Justification brings acquittal, while sanctification brings new life that allows for a life lived before God (154 ff.). W. notes, importantly, how these ideas start to gain a trinitarian exposition, which is significant to relating Barth’s earlier to his later works. Furthermore, W. summarizes the manner in which Barth’s view of sanctification is related to his eschatological perspective, especially in explaining how God as totaliter aliter can break into temporal existence and transform it.
The Claim of God is helpful in providing a survey and exposition of those works of Barth that are rarely read. Furthermore, he helps to clarify how the Swiss theologian understands the eschatological nature of events surrounding Christ’s life, an issue that finds heavy variation between various forms of Protestantism. His explanation of the qualitative difference between the eschatological and the temporal and how they intersect at the resurrection is a highlight of the book. W. is also particularly effective at providing an introduction as to how Luther and Calvin’s differing views of the rela-tionship between divine and human ontology relate to Barth’s view of God’s being and activity. One notable example is his short exposition of the debate on the idiomata communicatio and the sacraments and how this relates to Barth preferring Calvin’s solution as a way of retaining a clear distinction between God and man.
There are certain aspects of W.’s treatment that do make a full endorsement difficult. W. himself recognizes the repetitive nature of his work (XV), attributing it to his chronological method. How-ever, it would have been more helpful if he de-emphasized those areas that are a reiteration of past themes, so that Barth’s development could be seen with greater clarity. The repetition is so heavy, that it is not unusual to see the exact same sentence used four or more times in the book. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that W. is much more at home in theological works, than in philosophical ones. He occasionally uses philosophical terminology (e. g. »critical realism«) in nonstandard ways, with those terms divorced from the issues and arguments they were originally meant to describe. Furthermore, he recognizes that certain philosophers have important influence on Barth’s work, but does not investigate how they affect him. This can be seen in his mentions of Hegel and even more acutely in Kierkegaard. There are multiple citations of Barth where he either explicitly uses Kierkegaardian terminology (e. g. »sickness unto death«, 29), or likely has a reliance on the philosopher. W.’s work would have been helpful to tease out these relationships. In spite of these difficulties, The Claim of God is a work that could be useful if one were to have very specific concerns in the area of Barth’s view of sanctification, especially as it relates to his penchant for interacting with Calvin.