Following on Kent’s reflections about how to approach Barth’s work, I’ve found myself interested to post on something from Barth’s treatment of divine omnipresence. The discussion of omnipresence in Church Dogmatics is intriguing in its own right (even where one disagrees with Barth) and exhibits the dialectical tack with which, as Kent mentioned, Barth often operates. However, it’s the way in which Barth’s notion of Christ as the focal point, or ‘basis and constituent centre’, of God’s ‘special presence’ might meet current talk of an ‘incarnational’ view of the church and its mission that has caught my eye.
In Barth’s discussion of the difference between God’s presence in Christ and God’s presence among his people, Barth remarks that, since in the Son God personally takes upon himself the human nature of Christ, this union is qualitatively different from our adoption.
But God is himself this man Jesus Christ, very God and very man, both of them unconfused and unmixed, but also unseparated and undivided, in the one person of this Messiah and Saviour. This is what cannot be said about any other creature, even any prophet of apostle. Jesus Christ alone is very God and very man. And it is on the basis of this unio, but clearly differentiated from it, that there is an adoptio (CD II/1, p. 486).
Though not under the rubric of God’s omnipresence, Michael Horton in People and Place strongly criticizes the notion of the church as an ‘extension of the incarnation’ and as the subject of an ‘incarnational ministry’. Horton discerns in the work of Hauerwas, Jenson, and others an unfortunate Hegelian conflation of Christ and the church in one center of subjectivity wherein the ‘specificity and uniqueness of Christ’s person and work’ are easily lost and the church becomes the subject of redemption (pp. 166-7).
The theoretical questions themselves are of interest, but I wonder more practically how this impinges on ‘incarnational ministry’ as a popular phrase in evangelicalism. Can one make the case that materially as well as formally practitioners using the phrase are guilty of subverting the sufficiency of Christ’s work and presumptuously taking it upon themselves and their churches to, among other things, ‘redeem the culture’? Does this warrant sharp theological correction or do most practitioners need only to be made aware of the potential implications of this language, at which time they will gladly choose new language that better encapsulates what they’re more modestly aiming for in what they presently call ‘incarnational ministry’. What do you think?