Last week we talked about Barth’s “absolutely other” god. There we noted how Barth begins with an unknown and unknowable god. In other words, he begins with the god of modernism. But, as we also noted, he does not stop there. For Barth God makes himself known, and he does so through revelation. Revelation is found neither in “the things that have been made” nor in Scripture. Rather, revelation is act of God in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus Christ is himself the only revelation of God. And in Jesus Christ God is wholly revealed. Herein lies Barth’s dialectical method. God is at once both absolutely other and wholly revealed. Van Til notes:
On the other hand when the god of Barth does reveal himself he reveals himself wholly. For Barth God is exhaustively known if he is known at all. That is to say to the extent that this god is known he is nothing distinct from the principles that are operative in the universe. He is then wholly identical with man and his world. It appears then that when the god of Barth is wholly mysterious and as such should manifest himself by revelation only, he remains wholly mysterious and does not reveal himself. On the other hand when this god does reveal himself his revelation is identical with what man can know apart from such a revelation. (Christian Apologetics, 171)
In short, if God reveals himself wholly, then what man knows is not God but only “man and his world.” A God who is wholly given over and identified with creation cannot be known. He is as much hidden in his revelation as he is as “absolutely other.”
Some more clarification is in order. Van Til here leaves some important things unsaid which would illuminate his point had he included them here (he does, however, makes these points elsewhere).
First, for Barth God’s revelation only takes place in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is not a medium of revelation – he is revelation. In Christ God is at the same time wholly revealed and wholly concealed. Jesus Christ is the dialectical relation between God’s act of veiling and unveiling. He is both simultaneously.
Second, Barth is known for having said “God is Jesus Christ.” That is quite different, note, then saying “Jesus Christ is God.” In the former expression Barth is identifying God with Jesus Christ such that the incarnation becomes a dialectical relation between God and man – which is quite different than traditional Chalcedonian Christology. In Barth’s theology God then is wholly identified with Jesus Christ. In orthodox Christianity we would say the finite (humanity of Christ) cannot contain the infinite (divine nature). But for Barth God exhaustively reveals himself – in fact, gives himself over – in and by the God-man Jesus Christ.
Third, if God’s revelation of himself is found only in Jesus Christ and not in nature and not in Scripture, that leaves man with a knowledge that is disconnected from revelation. And knowledge which is disconnected from revelation is, according to Van Til, autonomous and therefore rebellious knowledge – and thus no true knowledge at all. At the end of the day we are left with pure skepticism.