Karl Barth Conference 2014 Day Two
Today saw 3 plenary sessions and one breakout session. In the morning, we had the privilege of hearing from Peter Ochs, Professor of Modern Judaic Studies at the University of Virginia, and from Victoria Barnett, Director of the Programs on Ethics, Religion and the Holocaust at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Dr. Ochs’ presentation “To Love OT/Tanakh is Love Enough for the Jews” set up a philosophy of language framework in which he compared the Dabru Emet statement on Jewish-Christian relationships with Barthian theology. Ochs suggested that Barthian theology (and he’s coming to Barth via the Postliberal theologians Lindbeck, Frei, and Hauweras) and Dabru Emet are examples of “reparative inquiry.” In light of this, Ochs posed a question to the Barth scholars in attendance at the conference: “Was Dabru Emet a Barthian exercise?” There were several responses from the audience, including Ellen Charry who affirmed that all theology should be reparative. She suggested that this idea of reparative theology in the Barthian tradition is seen not so much in Barth directly, but it is definitely a project taken up by Paul Van Buren (student of Barth, and Charry’s former teacher).
Following Dr. Ochs, was Victoria Barnett. Barnett presented on “Karl Barth and the Early Postwar Interfaith Encounters.” She did this by looking at the Seelisburg document of 1947 which was a statement issued by Christians after World War II. Barnett notes that 1945-1950 represented a remarkable period of transition for Jewish-Christian relationships as it became a time when many Christians began to rethink their teachings surrounding Jews, Israel and the Old Testament. Karl Barth was invited to Seelisburg, but was unable to attend due to scheduling issues. Barnett notes that in the 1940s there were two Christian thinkers who had “street cred” (her term) amongst the Jewish community: Karl Barth, and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple. Barnett also pointed us to the “Auschwitz Protocol,” (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_Protocol) that detailed the atrocities that were occurring in the death camps. When the document was smuggled out, Barth signed his name to a cover letter attached to the Protocol in the hopes that his name and reputation would bring international attention to the document.
After lunch, we listened to the third plenary session of the day, presented by Mark Lindsay. He explored the question of whether or not Barth can be understood as a post-Holocaust theologian. Lindsay explored examples of short-sighted insensitivities in Barth’s writings which could suggest he was not a post-Holocaust theologian, but then turns to ways in which Barth can indeed be seen as a post-Holocaust theologian. Lindsay argued that, at the very least, Barth is not inconsistent with a post-Holocaust theology, and sees Barth’s understanding of the state of Israel, the passibility of God, and the reparative nature of his theology as being in synchronicity with post-Holocaust theology. Lindsay spent most of his presentation looking at the relationship between Barth’s and Berkovits doctrine of revelation, arguing that both emphasize the dialectic of revelation: that is, the hiddeness/presence and veiling/unveiling of God.
For the breakout session, I chose to attend Justin Roberts’ presentation on Barth and Abraham Heschel . Roberts, a PhD student at McMaster Divinity, suggested that Barth and Heschel offer congruent notions of revelation. This was my first introduction to Heschel and his theology, but I did appreciate this nugget that Roberts’ presented from Heschel: for Heschel, the Bible (Tanakh) is not man’s theology, but is instead, God’s anthropology.
The day concluded with a screening of the documentary “Weapons of the Spirit.” (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Sauvage#Weapons_of_the_Spirit )