Thinking humanity, thinking family: Gary Deddo on Karl Barth’s Theology of Relations

gary-deddoGary Deddo‘s doctoral thesis, published as Karl Barth’s Theology of Relations: Trinitarian, Christological, and Human: Towards an Ethic of the Family (New York: P. Lang, 1999), fills a too-much neglected vista of Barth studies – the ethical implications of Barth’s theology for the family. Insofar as Deddo attends to this, his study carries Barth scholarship in a constructive direction, not only for ‘theologians’, but for all who determine to think theologically on issues germane to family life and ministry to/with/for families. Moreover, his essay is in itself a cogent and profitable introduction to the broader, fruitful and creative landscape of Barth’s theological anthropology – that human personhood is determined by and for the Word of grace. According to Deddo, this means at least the following six things:

A) Humanity’s being has the form of relationship to God which indicates that humanity is to, from and with God as Jesus himself has this form of relationship with God and so constitutes the form of relationship with God through Him in which humankind participates.

i) Humanity’s being has the form of a being from God and so a being united to God, but does not be without God, nor is to be confused with God. Because Jesus is both like humankind and yet unlike humankind, persons in general are united with Jesus but are not identical with him.

ii) Humanity’s being is in the form of being differentiated yet determined for communion with God. Because our Brother’s life is in esse koinonia and intra-relatio with the Father and Spirit, humankind too – to which in the incarnation the Father, Son and Spirit have determined to be for – is made to participate in the intra-trinitarian life of communion with the Father through the Son in the Spirit.

iii) Humanity’s being-in-relationship is a being of ordered correspondence of humanity with God and so humanity’s being is an image of and witness to God. Jesus corresponds in his being to God in that he is God’s presence with humanity, embodying in flesh – i.e. from the side of creation – God’s relationship with all humanity. Jesus is the enactment of the will and kingdom of God among us. Human being involves acting in a way which corresponds to who we are graciously made to be – God’s relations, the imago of the Imago, the daughters and sons of the Father of Jesus.

matisse-danceB) Humanity’s being in relation with God has also been given its covenantal content (action) and is so constituted in both form and content as a being for God. Thus, Jesus is not merely the revelation of who God and humanity are, but Jesus is by virtue of that relationship that God and humanity know. He is the one Mediator between God and humanity. He is the ontological reality of the divine-human relationship. Human being is constituted and maintained only by participation in the action of relation that the Son knows with the Father in the Spirit. There is no such thing as autonomy – for God or humans.

iv) Humanity’s relationship with God is a covenantal and so personal relationship of being for God. The life of Jesus – the divinely-elected Son who freely responds to God’s calling in and through the history of his relationship with God – is a life of thanksgiving, obedience, invocation, and freedom for God. The life of Jesus is true human personhood, and revelatory – unveiling for us that God is personal, and that humankind is established in Jesus and corresponds to Jesus who is the imago Dei.

v) Humanity’s being in relationship to God is a dynamic and eschatological history in which humanity becomes what humanity is graciously determined to be – for God. Humanity’s covenantal relationship with God is not intrinsic to human personhood qua human personhood (indeed, there is no such thing), but is the gift of divine grace enfleshed in Jesus Christ in whom – and in whom alone – humanity comes to exist and to exist in relation to God, and to have a future in relation to God. Humanity’s being is in becoming in relation to God.

vi) Humanity’s being in relationship means humanity’s being for God – transcending, proceeding and giving of humanity’s self in perpetual return. So Jesus – the Man for God – is God’s own self-giving and outgoing to humankind that humankind might be included in, and mirror, the inner Triune relations. The relations of God and humanity as revealed in Jesus are not external but internal relationships in which each participates in the life of the other. God’s action in Christ takes place so that humankind might participate in the Triune life – life itself. Humanity is not alien to God’s being, but of its essence.

Turning more specifically to the question of the family, Deddo proposes a ‘six-fold grammar of Relations’:

i. The God whom we worship in Jesus Christ is the Triune God who exists in loving covenantal communion and who has created, reconciled and redeemed us for participation in that very communion of Father and Son in the Spirit. The parent-child relationship is one unique context in which this communion may be communicated and reflected. But families find their true place not in conformity to society in general, but in communion within the Church, a family of families.

ii. As human beings we have our personhood only as a gift of being in covenantal communion with God which calls for our personal participation. This life of fellowship is to be manifested in lives of worship as the Church of Jesus Christ. It is in this context that each one of us, no matter what our family experience, hears and is reminded of our true identity as children of God and finds the norm for being parents and children in right relationship.

iii. The Church is a covenant community and as such can be understood as the household of God with God as our Father and Jesus as our Brother. It is the original ‘Family’ by which all other families are to operichoresisrder themselves in correspondence and witness to it. This is the true source for the renewal and healing of broken family relationships.

iv. Being parents is the divine gift of personal and covenantal participation in that ontological relationship of parent and child. Parents are those who in faith by grace beget and parent their children in terms of both promise and fulfilment. This constitutes a witness to, a correspondence to, an image of, God’s creation of us in promise with a view to our fulfillment. God does this by bringing us up by the Spirit to maturity according to the image of Jesus Christ and through His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, intercession and coming again.

v. Parents are those who order their domestic relations after the pattern of being members of the household of God, the Body of Christ, who acknowledge one Father and one Brother over them all. They see themselves as elder and younger brothers and sisters and all being the children of God, who belong together in a maturing communion with Him by the Spirit, thereby becoming conformed to Jesus Christ.

vi. They are those who, as individuals and as domestic families, are equipped and are sent out, who equip and send out their children to serve and extend their fellowship to others that they too might be included in this one family of God by that same Spirit.

Those already familiar with Ray Anderson’s work will find many echoes in Deddo’s, whose study I heartily comnmend.


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