The Theological Significance of Discipleship 
in Church Dogmatics IV/2 §66: Karl Barth’s vision of sanctification as a resource 
for Christian living at the “end of Christendom”

Christopher Swann

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The theme of discipleship has become a significant focus of attention across a range of theological disciplines—from theological ethics to practical ministry—especially in the contemporary social context of the late-modern West, which some have described as the “end of Christendom.” This thesis argues that a properly theological approach to discipleship yields significant resources for Christian living in this context. To this end, I demonstrate that Karl Barth’s “turn” to discipleship, in which he explicitly and extensively develops the image of discipleship as part of articulating his mature theology of sanctification in Church Dogmatics IV/2 §66, establishes the main lines for just such a theological approach. There are two aspects to this argument.
First, I argue that neither Barth’s vision of discipleship nor his theology of sanctification can be properly understood without recognising their integration with each other—co-ordinated as they are by the “lively Christology” that is visible in §64.4 and towers over Barth’s whole treatment of sanctification in §66. Against those who neglect or downplay his “turn” to discipleship, I establish that Barth’s theology of sanctification is distinctively discipleship-shaped. To do this, I highlight its significance in the context of his self-conscious revision of Calvin on sanctification, I analyse its function in giving form to the freedom of sanctification, and I uncover its structuring role with regard to Barth’s crucial notion of “correspondence.” On this basis, I interrogate the consequences of Barth’s discipleship-shaped theology of sanctification with respect to the distinctive account of moral agency, moral activity, and moral passivity (or suffering) that emerges from it. Discipleship enables Barth to keep Christ at the centre of sanctified Christian living (as the Master) while upholding the human reality and integrity of those who are united with him (as his disciples). As such, discipleship is far more than merely illustrative or supplementary. It is integral to Barth’s vision of sanctified community and human life.
Second, I argue that Barth’s discipleship-shaped account of sanctification is theologically significant insofar as it can resource constructive engagement with the contemporary interest in discipleship. I articulate an account of discipleship that moves beyond Barth by working with him, while also mobilising the resources of his theology of discipleship to enable the responsible reception of his theology given his problematic practice of discipleship. This account provides a richly theological, materially christological, and consequently deeply practical resource for contributing not only to the contemporary discipleship conversation but also to equipping Christians to live at the “end of Christendom.”
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Broughton, Geoffrey, Principal Supervisor
  • Cameron, Andrew, Co-Supervisor
  • Neville, David, Advisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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