Simul Santicification

Barth's Hidden Vision for Human Transformation

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Jeff McSwain
Princeton Theological Monograph
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , October
     2018.
     334 pages.
     $39.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532641077.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The 20th century Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) is well-known for having radically reconstructed many major Christian doctrines—Trinity, scripture, election, and Christology—however, his doctrine of sanctification usually does not receive much attention amongst Barth scholars and Christian theologians in general. In this revision and extension of his doctoral thesis, Simul Sanctification, Jeff McSwain argues that the doctrine of simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously righteous and sinful), initially articulated by Martin Luther, is the best framework to understand and appreciate Barth’s revolutionary doctrine of sanctification, especially as it relates to the paradoxical reality of the human as completely righteous and completely sinful, and their hidden spiritual transformation in Christ. McSwain, then, seeks to show how the simul functions as a leitmotif throughout Barth’s Church Dogmatics to elucidate better his mature doctrine of sanctification.

In chapter 1, McSwain delineates how Barth adopts and adapts Luther’s simul not for justification, but sanctification and conversion, and how it shows all humans to be wholly righteous in Christ and sinful in Adam. In chapter 2, McSwain looks at how Barth develops his nuanced Chalcedonian Christology when he adds the reality of a second duality in the one person of Jesus Christ, which is the simul applied to the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. In chapter 3, Barth’s actualism is discussed as a necessary element to understand the movement of humanity’s freedom in the life of the Holy Spirit. In Chapter 4, McSwain clarifies Barth’s Christological anthropology by looking at the concept of participation, and chapter 5 continues this thought by looking at Barth’s non-libertarian freedom in Christ and the Spirit. Chapter 6 examines epistemology and Barth’s attempt to overcome the Cartesian turn to the human self and replace it with a pneumatological paradigm. In chapter 7, McSwain discusses the crucifixion of Jesus as the revelation of the death of the sinful human and triumph of the righteous human inside the one human Jesus Christ—meaning that sinful humanity is rendered null and obsolete by virtue of the resurrection of Jesus.

Chapter 8 continues McSwain’s foray into how Jesus Christ embodies and actualizes the simul by pondering Barth’s Christological exegesis of the suffering of Job in the Hebrew Bible and comparing that narrative with the passion of Jesus. In chapter 9, McSwain turns to Barth’s often neglected doctrine of creation in Church Dogmatics and how the simul has its primal origin in the creation and fall of humanity. McSwain continues and extends his argument by drawing on Barth’s doctrine of evil (“Nothingness”) in chapter 10 and shows how God’s victory over evil in Genesis 1:2-3 points forward to Christ’s victory over sin. Chapter 11 delves even deeper into one of the densest components in Barth’s doctrine of creation, that is, the relationship between time and eternity. Here McSwain contends that a human’s birth (but not creation) is emblematic of the simultaneously righteous and sinful given the pre-temporal, supra-temporal, and post-temporal inclusion of time in the eternity of God as revealed in the two creation sagas of Genesis 1 and 2. In chapter 12, McSwain discusses the difficult doctrine of theosis (“divinization”) as the goal of one’s redemption in Christ. McSwain then argues that Barth’s angelology provides him with a unique perspective on how angels–who, unlike humans, do not experience the simul–are an example of the righteous determination of humans. Having finished his interpretive work on Barth’s theology of the simul in his Church Dogmatics, McSwain engages in more constructive theology in the final two chapters. Chapter 13 examines Johannine literature and its theology of love and obedience as determined by Barth’s Christological anthropology and the Trinity. Chapter 14 is the summation of McSwain’s thesis: though Christians live with the knowledge that they are simultaneously determined by the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the sinfulness of Adam, they can look through the simul toward the eschatological hope that can and must be lived out in their present lives, albeit hidden from natural sight. In the conclusion, McSwain argues for the theme of “consummation” as an appropriate goal for the transitory experience of the simul when Christians will fully experience the redemption that has already been accomplished and objectively applied to every human whether they believe it or not. Following the conclusion, McSwain offers some “final reflections” wherein he looks at various concrete expressions of how the church can live out the sanctifying grace of Christ in all its manifold ministries.

The guild of Barth studies, and Christian theology in general, are grateful to McSwain for engaging one of Barth’s more neglected yet interesting doctrines—sanctification. McSwain has provided a monograph that fills a gap in knowledge of just how innovative, challenging, and resourceful this doctrine in Barth’s Church Dogmatics is. Furthermore, McSwain does not merely provide sound exegesis of this section of Church Dogmatics, but also displays a canny ability to see the simul employed throughout Church Dogmaticsin the most unexpected places, especially volume 3 on the doctrine of creation. From his employment of the creation sagas of Genesis 1 and 2, to the relationship between time and eternity, and even the angels, McSwain demonstrates a commanding grasp and fertile imagination when drawing lines of conceptual continuity between Barth’s doctrine of sanctification and other doctrines in Church Dogmatics. However, as McSwain ventures into the traditionally unchartered territory of Church Dogmatics to buttress his thesis for the simul of the Christian’s sanctification, he unfortunately neglects the more immediate and determinative doctrines that shape and mould Barth’s doctrine of sanctification. It is disappointing that McSwain did not spend more time on the mutual influence of the doctrines of election, justification, and vocation on sanctification. Although McSwain should be commended for eschewing the many intra-Barth disputes, greater engagement with these doctrines rather than those in volume 3, however interesting they may be, would have been helpful. That said, McSwain’s stimulating and edifying work of theology is deeply appreciated and is most appropriate for those engaged in Barth’s theology and Christian theology.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Bradley M. Penner is Adjunct Professor of Theology at Briarcrest College and Seminary.

Date of Review: 
January 5, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jeff McSwain is the founder of Reality Ministries Inc. in Durham, North Carolina, where he is currently Director of Ministry Formation and Theologian in Residence. Reality Ministries is "creating opportunities for teens and adults with and without developmental disabilities to experience belonging, kinship, and the life-changing Reality of Christ's love.”

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