Christ Is Time: The Gospel according to Karl Barth (and the Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Written by Mark James Edwards Reviewed By Francis Jr. S. Samdao

Rarely, one finds books on Barth’s theology that are deep, lighthearted, and readable. One exception is Mark James Edwards’s Christ is Time, which displays a rare combination of creativity, joviality, and academic seriousness. Christ is Time contains twelve chapters and an appendix, “The Trinity and Election Debate,” based on a seminar held at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2012.

The first chapter discusses the self-giving God. Edwards exposits Barth’s view of the Trinity as the God who is relational by nature. God chooses to “give Himself away” out of divine love— a revolutionary act given the qualitative difference between the Trinity and humanity. Nonetheless, God has invited humans as covenant partners in Jesus Christ. Edwards juxtaposes this Barthian assertion with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song, “Give It Away.” This chapter is a good partner while reading CD II/1 §25, especially if readers want to understand “objectivity,” a repeated word in §25.

In chapter 2, Edwards focuses on God’s eternity by using Aquinas and Barth as interlocutors. Readers are introduced to Barth’s theology of time: God’s eternality is before time (pre-temporal), above time (supra-temporal), and after time (post-temporal). Chapter 3 concentrates on what revelation is. Humans can only know God in His revelation. But God’s disclosure is a verb, an event, not a list of propositions or statements. God is the Wholly Other who cannot be at human disposal.

In chapter 4, Edwards presents some models of creation in the thoughts of Plato (creation by formation), Meister Eckhart (creation by emanation), and Augustine (creatio ex nihilo). Since this is a book about Barth’s theology, one would expect Edwards to elaborate on Barth’s own account of creation. Surprisingly, this is not the case; the author limits it to include a block quote from CD II/1, p. 648. Edwards discusses the doctrine of sin in chapter 5. Readers will encounter the perspectives of some theologians such as Calvin, James Cone, Augustine, and also Paul’s account in the book of Romans. Augustine’s sin as hereditary, Schleiermacher and the social transmission of sin, and Barth’s ontological notion of sin, may help readers as they reflect on the universality of sin and death.

Christology and anthropology are the focus of chapter 6, which seems to echo a typical Barthian move. Instead of understanding the nature of human beings by defining what it means to be human, Edwards directs us first to Jesus as the “truth about humanity” (p. 72). Barth’s Christology teaches us not to start from a general category of humanity and then ascribe that to the humanity of Christ. Instead, we should begin from the particular to the general. And this particular is Jesus Christ. We do not understand what humanity is by starting from our perspective but by allowing Jesus to explain and define what it means to be human. Edwards’s explanation of humanity here is excellent and it may capture the attention of some Asian thinkers. For example, Edwards’s “a kind of being-with-and-for-others” is captured as “kapwa” (self in the others) in Filipino culture.

Chapters 7 and 8 discuss justification and ecclesiology. Concerning the former, readers will meet Aquinas, Calvin, and Barth. This chapter may encourage readers to go to Barth’s view of election in his Church Dogmatics. Edwards explicates Barth’s view of the church as a witness to Christ, which is never called to coerce and control others. Barth’s cautionary warning is a reminder of the negative effects of a triumphalist attitude when Christianity engages in dialogue with other religions.

Related to ecclesiology is the Lord’s Supper, which Edwards treats next. He uses it to present a brief theological account of the sacrament by using food as an analogy. Again, under Barth’s influence, Edwards writes, “Even salad becomes witness. This means that we can see food, in the here and now, as a concrete real presence of the grace that is complete in Jesus Christ and who is Himself really present ‘wherever two or three gather in my name’” (p. 119). Chapter 10 looks at the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the subject of ethics. We read how Barth inspired Bonhoeffer to risk his life by reflecting on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At last, Edwards brings readers to an interesting discussion about time. Drawing on Barth, readers can learn that time is not past, present, and future, but Christ. This does not mean that created time is Christ per se, but rather time is about the God who meets the world face-to-face through Jesus Christ. Edwards’s book title, Christ Is Time, derives from Barth’s Church Dogmatics: “the presence of Jesus Christ is God’s time for us” (CD I/2, p. 45). Edwards concludes with a deliberation on the possibility of pop culture “becoming” a witness to Christ.

Edwards gifts us with some of Barth’s rich theology with clarity and depth. Using pop culture to explicate matters about life, humanity, time, sacraments, the Trinity, and election is an interesting way of theologizing. I argue that this book is a good supplementary reading for those interested in the intersection between theology and culture. Readers who are not acquainted with the debate between traditionalist and revisionist interpreters of Barth will also benefit from the appendix.

Francis Jr. S. Samdao

Francis Jr. S. Samdao
Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary
Baguio City, Philippines

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