A personalist doctrine of providence: Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics III.3 in conversation with philosophical theology
Kennedy, Darren M
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In this thesis I present a critical explication of Barth’s doctrine of providence in Church Dogmatics III.3. I argue that Karl Barth’s doctrine of providence developed throughout CD III.3 represents a ‘personalist’ revision of Reformed orthodoxy which can only be understood through his ad hoc use of philosophical resources. I claim that critics and supporters alike have missed the depth of Barth’s revision of Reformed providence by failing to perceive his ad hoc use of contemporaneous philosophical tools of the personal. Barth’s doctrine of providence remains theology proper, and not philosophy, but cannot be understood without philosophy. By setting Barth in conversation with three philosophical theologians, Vincent Brümmer, John Macmurray and Austin Farrer, I attempt to show how far Barth is from pre-modern understandings in his articulation of the doctrine of providence. These conversations equip the reader to discern continuities and discontinuities of Barth’s thought with 20th century personal, relational philosophy, thereby making sense of many of Barth’s counterintuitive claims. For Barth, human life is the continual double-agency of human self-determination and divine determination. This life in covenant before God (coram Deo) constitutes the Godgiven opportunity of human personhood. Seen in dialogue with personalist philosophical thinkers, Barth’s doctrine of providence overcomes problematic aspects of traditional Reformed views and grants limited time and space for personal development. Providence sheds light on Barth’s ‘eternalizing’ eschatology in that election establishes the objective reality of salvation for all creatures, while providence explicates God’s active lordship in the human’s self-determination of personal identity in history (the subjective formation of the person who is objectively saved). Election describes God’s salvific work on behalf of creation solely in the work of Jesus Christ. Providence determines the identity of those creatures in relation with the personal God. The conversations I propose with philosophical theologians enable the reader to discern a greater philosophical coherence in Barth’s doctrine of providence. Through contrast with the philosophical theologians, Barth’s christocentric and Trinitarian articulation gains clarity and significance. Building on these philosophical comparisons, I attempt to assess Barth’s elaborations on entrenched debates concerning history as determined by divine action, human freedom under divine providence, and the problem of evil in world-occurrence. I argue that Barth’s ‘personalist’ post-Enlightenment providence as seen in the whole of III.3 points to absolute confidence in God’s determination of all world-occurrence, limited human autonomy of action under God’s universal providence, and an explication of evil that strengthens the Christian in the face of suffering and injustice.