In Auckland Airport today I met two friends who were returning home from a conference on the theology of Karl Barth (tragically I was unable to go). One of them recounted a story of Karl Barth which is most apt as I prepare to join with a host of Anglicans from our Dioceses and hui amorangi at the Hermeneutical Hui next week. I have tracked the story down to here. It is told by Robert C. Johnson and goes like this:*
In one of Barth's seminars in the late 1950s a white hot, long argument erupts among the students over Barth's method. Barth puffs his pipe, sips his wine, and says nothing. Just as the second hour of the argument is about to begin it occurs to one of the students
'that there was a potential consultant present, a resource person who might conceivably be able to shed some light on the problem or adjudicate the dispute. This student turned and ricocheted the original question that had begun the debate to Barth. Not to be dramatic, but simply to report: there literally was a full minute of heavy silence, in which everyone simply stared at the table. And then Barth said, looking across the morass of complex issues that had been spread on the table (and to all appearances he was entirely serious),
"If I understand what I am trying to do in the Church Dogmatics, it is to listen to what Scripture is saying and tell you what I hear".'
A lovely story, and just what I am going to attempt to do at the Hui!
Also this week I have been engaged in a strenuous debate, on a blog thread with some Australians, over the subject of 'eternal subordination'. I have pulled out on the grounds that to convey my position satisfactorily I would have provide a full treatise on the Trinity. But as I made my withdrawal I was prompted to look again at some material in Calvin's Institutes. In 1.13.24 Calvin makes a point about his opponents:
"If they grant that the Son is God, but only in subordination to the Father, the essence which in the Father is unformed and unbegotten will in him be formed and begotten."
A little further on Calvin clarifies the difference between 'essence' and 'person' in this regard (1.13.25):
"The Scriptures teach that there is essentially but one God, and therefore that the essence both of the Spirit and the Son is unbegotten." By contrast "the Father in respect of his person is unbegotten" whereas of the Son he says, "his person has its beginning in God" (i.e. the Son in his person is, as John says, 'begotten').
There are places where Calvin speaks of 'order' between the persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), and this is underpinned by the distinction between the Father being 'unbegotten' (as a Person) and the Son being 'begotten' (as a Person), but Calvin's insight into the glory of Christ as God includes this intriguing description (2.14.3),
"But when, as partakers of the heavenly glory, we shall see God as he is, then Christ, having accomplished the office of Mediator, shall cease to be the vice-regent of the Father, and will be content with the glory which he possessed before the world was. ... God will then cease to be the head of Christ, and Christ's own Godhead will then shine forth of itself, whereas it is now in a manner veiled."
Putting all this together means that Calvin is no supporter of 'eternal subordination'. In this case order in the internal relations among the Persons of the Godhead does not imply eternal subordination; at best it implies temporal subordination.
I intend to post again on this subject, and in particular on the dangers eternal subordination is posing for conservative Christianity.
*Citation above re Barth: from Johnson's article "The Legacy of Karl Barth" in Karl Barth and the Future of Theology, edited by David L. Dickerman (New Haven: Yale, 1969), pp. 3-4, but I am citing from an important new book on Barth, Karl Barth's Theological Exegesis: The Theological Principles of the Romerbrief Period by Richard E. Burnett (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), p. 10 n27.