“To understand the miraculous act of this becoming, we must reach back to what we have acknowledged [earlier], that it is to be understood as an act of the Word who is the Lord. As from its own side the humanity has no capacity, power or worthiness by which it appears suited to become the humanity of the Word, there is likewise no becoming which as such can be the becoming of the Word. His becoming is not an event which in any sense befalls Him, in which in any sense He is determined from without by something else. If it includes in itself His suffering, His veiling and humiliation unto death — and it does include this in itself — even so, as suffering it is His will and work. It is not composed of action and reaction. It is action even in the suffering of reaction, the act of majesty even as veiling. He did not become humbled, but He humbled himself.“ ~Karl Barth, “The Mystery of Revelation” CD 1.2, 160.
For the past eight weeks I have been reading piles and piles of books on Christology. No, not for my thesis (though, technically my thesis is on Karl Barth’s Christology, specifically his exegesis and use of John 1:14), but for my job.
As I’ve been reading, there have been some books that have been hugely helpful, and others that though they came recommended ended up being highly over-rated, boring, or both.
Today, I want to highlight a few of the books that I really like. My research emphasis has been on exploring the theological significance of the major events of Christ’s life (e.g., Baptism, Transfiguration, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, etc.,) rather than on the historical development of Christology.
The Suffering and Victorious Christ is a new book (October 2013) that I had the privilege of getting a sneak peek at thanks to Baker Academic and Net Galley. This book has provided me with an introduction to the broader Christological tradition, through the exploration of the Christus dolor, the suffering of Christ. The authors contrast Western, North American, portrayals of Christ, what the authors refer to as the “masculine triumphalism” to Christ, to Asian (specifically Japanese) portrayals, particularly the suffering and sorrow of the Lord. Of special interest, was the chapter that examines the Christology of 19th century African Americans, for example Sojourner Truth. This book has been helpful as I tackle the question, “Why did Christ die?”
One of the things I have observed in evangelical circles is that the ascension gets overlooked. Either it gets collapsed into the resurrection, or it gets rushed through as a quirky prologue to Pentecost. While I have chosen a chapter from T.F. Torrance’s Space, Time and Resurrection as a primary source reading on this topic, Peter Atkins’ Ascension Now is a fantastic pastoral resource. In it, Atkins not only considers the biblical evidence, and theological implications of the ascension, he also devotes significant time to considering the implications of the doctrine of the ascension for liturgy, prayer, and preaching.
While Gustaf Aulen’s Christus Victor is the classic choice for an overview of the Christus Victor theory of the atonement, it suffers from being dull and boring. In contrast, Greg Boyd’s chapter on “The Warfare Significance of Christ’s Death and Resurrection” in his book, God at War, is an accessible, and non-boring presentation of Christus Victor.
And of course, I can’t not include Barth, so a primary source reading of Barth’s exegesis on the parable of the Prodigal Son in CD IV.2 is a must!
There has been a fascinating discussion going on in the blogosphere this month about reading Barth. It started with Janice Rees talking about her own personal resistance movement where she was deliberately choosing to not read Karl Barth:
“…my commitment to not reading Barth arose because of my concerns regarding the institution of Barthian scholarship and my understanding of identity for theologians on the margins. By not reading Barth I was, and have been, engaging in what I believe is a form of resistance; a small gesture that I could manage as I tried to find a voice and place beyond tokenism. There are several ways in which I have understood this to be resistance.”
Peter Kline wrote about his choice to no longer read Karl Barth and his personal therapy of choosing to not go to Princeton for a PhD program:
“The previous summer I had been invited to contribute to an online blog conference on Barth that would take place in October. The conversation that unfolded in response to my essay was painful for me. People I thought were my friends at Princeton treated me with a callousness and condescension that I found disgusting. But I realized that this was nothing new really, that I had been around this toxicity for years but hadn’t had the distance to see it. This is what talking about Barth sounded and felt like, a pious pissing contest. These are the kinds of conversations Barth’s discourse generates, and I decided that I didn’t want to be a part of them, even if I was good at them. After that essay, I decided not to write on Barth anymore, beyond what was required of me as a grad student. What I decided to walk away from was a whole Princeton-Barth culture that bred arrogance, pseudo-friendships, and a very limited set of theological possibilities.”
Kait Dugan wrote about her reasons for reading Barth:
“I wish there was space within the theological academy for women to critically engage and appropriate Barth in ways that brought him into desperately needed conversation with other critical theologies. And I’m not talking about the token engagement that can pass in certain projects. I’m interested in profound and rigorous bilateral dialogue between Barth and other critical theologians in order to create something new.  The most ironic part of all of this is when I realize just how “radical” Barth is on certain issues and the lines of continuity that can be drawn between him and other theologians who most within confessional boundaries might typically render “not serious” or “unorthodox.”  To my surprise, when I read Barth, I see him as an incredible support and ally for many basic theological concerns within theologies of race, gender, and sexuality.”
Today, David Congdon has weighed in on the conversation:
“But it is has become fashionable to stop reading Barth for other, far less compelling, reasons. In the first of two recent statements on the matter, we discover that “not reading Barth” is not really a rejection of Barth himself so much as a rejection of “the institution of Barthian scholarship,” “a means to resist the production and control of ‘serious scholarship’” in favor of contextual theology, a rejection of “the way in which ‘Barth’ is invoked as the magic word for ‘orthodoxy,’” a way of resisting “institutional powers,” since “Barthian scholarship seems a power unto itself.” These are all different ways of saying the same thing: “not reading Barth” = resisting the oppressive institutional powers of church and academy. We hear more of the same in the second, more personal, statement, in which “not reading Barth” = the rejection of “a pious pissing contest” and “a whole Princeton-Barth culture that bred arrogance, pseudo-friendships, and a very limited set of theological possibilities.” Of course, by the end, we learn that the author has exchanged one culture for another, that of critical theory, which “is every bit as much an industry as the former with unspoken but obvious clubs and entrance requirements.””
And my thesis supervisor made this observation on Facebook this afternoon:
“Telling people why we may have stopped reading Barth (which is, of course, perfectly a legitimate choice) is one thing, but telling others why we may have stopped reading Barth with the strong implication that their readers should ALSO stop reading Barth sounds a little bit too much like a form of censorship for my comfort.”
As an MA student doing my thesis on Karl Barth, I have been reading the ongoing conversation carefully and prayerfully. I don’t have anything profound to add to the conversation, but what follows are a few of the ideas that are floating around my Barth-addled brain.
- I have been edified and challenged by Barth. It was an invitation to a Barth reading group in Caronport when we had just newly moved here, that allowed me to meet people and be intellectually challenged. I would later take a seminar class on Barth that, though it was one of the most challenging classes of my seminary career, was the most rewarding. I have learned that Barth is best read in the context of the church. He was writing to edify the church, not to edify the academy. If a person reads Barth merely as an academic exercise, then they are doing a grave injustice to the writing and spirit of Barth’s scholarship.
- While Barth is a profoundly important voice for Christian theology, he is not the only voice, nor the final voice.
- You don’t need to like Barth to appreciate Barth’s contribution to theology. Confession: I really, really dislike reading Augustine. If I have a choice between reading Augustine and anything else, I will choose anything else (including the dreadful Twilight series). But, I also know that it is important for me to read Augustine as he has (for good or for evil or both) profoundly influenced western Christian thought.
- Peter’s observation of Barthian scholarship being a “pious pissing contest” is spot on. As I read for my thesis I have begun to be able to tell just from the introduction of a book which Barthian “camp” the author identifies with. Too often I have found otherwise intelligent scholars failing to understand, listen to, or fairly represent the arguments from a scholar from the opposite camp simply because they are from the “wrong side.”
- Given the way that Barthian academy works, I am learning (very quickly) that I am not smart enough to be a Barth scholar. As I read “provocative” and “creative” interpretations and interactions with Barth, I find myself asking: “are we reading the same text?!” “is all this academic twisting and interpreting being fair to the spirit and purpose of Barth’s writings?” and “are the “innovative” readings of Barth merely a means for the scholar to get name recognition?”
- Criticizing Barth for not anticipating the conversations or the postmodern assumptions in Christian theology that developed after his time is at best a cheap-shot, and at worst, unethical and sloppy scholarship.
- While it is true that in classes and at conferences, I am usually the only or one of only a few women in attendance I have not experienced any problems being a woman who studies Barth. This is probably due in large part to the fact that I am just a mere student and not a scholar trying to contribute to the academy.
I may never end up in the hallowed halls of the Barthian academy (very probable). I may get to the end of my thesis and not want to read Barth for a very long time (highly probable). I may discover that Barth is not the best dialogue partner for my theological journey (very possible). Or I may discover that Barth is the coolest of all the cool theologians and that my life’s dream is to become a Barthian scholar (unlikely, but who knows?)
Whatever the case, Barth offers all of us, whether we are student or teacher, pastor or teacher, some very wise counsel: the work and call of the theologian is a gift of grace. “To become and be a theologian is not a natural process but an incomparably concrete fact of grace.” While some may say that this idea lends itself to a sort of arrogance, as if the theologian has been endowed, Barth is quick to point out that this gift of grace is a mystery, for “if anyone supposed he could understand himself as such a receiver of grace, he would do better to bid theology farewell.” With this comes the need for humility. All of our theological presuppositions are grounded, not in the logical consistency of a theologian’s argument, but in the “reality of God’s self-communication to us in Jesus Christ.” As such, theological statements, be they from Barth or any other theologian past or present, “are true only in so far as they direct us away from themselves to the one Truth in God” and that Truth is Jesus.
Fun Barth Fact:
It took Barth three lecture periods to get through his material on John 1:14 when he taught through the Gospel of John in 1925. (No wonder he didn’t make it all the way through the Gospel, given that pace!)
A Real Barth Related Conversation:
2 year old — “Help Momma!”
Me — “You want to help Momma do research?”
2 year old — nods.
Me — “Can you speak German?”
2 year old — “…fitzzzzzzzzzzz.”
Me– “Perfect! You’re hired!”
Barth quote that I’m examining in light of the McCormack’s argument that Barth moves from being Pneumocentric to Christocentric in his Christology:
Inasmuch as the Incarnation fulfills the time, it is also limited by time. Insasmuch as it is epoch-making, it is also an epsiode which points beyond itself to the Holy Ghost who proclaims the Incarnate Word in other ages as well, and to the Resurrection of the body which includes all ages. ~”The Word Made Flesh” sermon 1926.
Jessica DeCou is working on a book on Karl Barth’s trip to the United States in 1962. She has launched a Kickstarter project to help fund her travel expenses to several library archives.
“A Fantastic Affair”: Karl Barth in America, 1962 (a.k.a. “KBUSA” – under advance contract with Fortress Press, ISBN: 978-1-4514-6553-2) provides the first detailed chronicle of Barth’s sole visit to the U.S. in 1962. Barth arrived at a tumultuous moment in American history and found himself embroiled in some of the nation’s fiercest conflicts: touring prisons and inner city neighborhoods and meeting with communist groups, State and Defense Department staff, civil rights activists, business leaders, and White House officials – just to name a few. The book, therefore, will not only shed light on Barth’s later life and work, but also provide a snapshot of American culture in the early ‘60s – from the highest levels of government to the tourist cultures built along with and alongside the developing Interstate Highway System; from Seminary campuses to high security prisons; from Napa Valley to East Harlem.
Of course, completing this project requires extensive travel to various institutions around the country where relevant archives are housed. Research funding in the humanities can be difficult to come by these days, but I will not let that stop me!! I’m turning to Kickstarter in the hope that, with your help, my research can continue unabated in order to meet my publication deadline (Summer 2014).
There are gifts for those who contribute to the project (yay for gifts!). You can pledge your support for this project here.
WS 1921/22 Der Heidelberger Katechismus – Heidelberg Catechism
Erklärung des Epheserbriefes – Ephesians
SS 1922 Die Theologie Calvins – Theology of Calvin
WS 1922/23 Die Theologie Zwinglis – Theology of Zwingli
Erklärung des Jakobusbriefes – James
SS 1923 Die Theologie der reformierten Bekenntnisschriften – Theology of Reformed Confessions
Erklärung von 1.Korinther 15 – 1 Corinthians 15 (The Resurrection of the Dead)
WS 1923/24 Die Theologie Schleiermachers – Theology of Schleiermacher
Erklärung des 1. Johannesbriefes – 1 John
SS 1924 Unterricht in der christlichen Religion. Prolegomena – Teaching on the Christian Religion:
Erklärung des Philipperbriefes – Philippians
WS 1924/25 Unterricht in der christlichen Religion I – Teaching on the Christian Religion I
Erklärung des Kolosserbriefes – Colossians
SS 1925 Unterricht in der christlichen Religion II – Teaching on the Christian Religion II
Erklärung der Bergpredigt – Sermon on the Mount
WS 1925/26 Eschatologie – Eschatology
Erklärung des Johannes-Evangeliums – Gospel of John
SS 1926 Geschichte der protestantischen Theologie seit Schleiermacher – History of Protestant Theology
WS 1926/27 Prolegomena zur Dogmatik – Introduction to Dogmatics
Erklärung des Philipperbriefes – Philippians
SS 1927 Dogmatik I – Dogmatics I
Erklärung des Kolosserbriefes – Colossians
WS 1927/28 Dogmatik II – Dogmatics II
SS 1928 Ethik I – Ethics I
WS 1928/29 Ethik II – Ethics II
Erklärung des Jakobusbriefes – James
SS 1929 Freismester – Sabbatical
WS 1929/30 Geschichte der protestantischen Theologie seit Schleiermacher – History of Protestant Theology
WS 1925/26 über Calvin – Calvin
SS 1926 Anselm von Canterbury: Cur Deus homo? – Anselm of Canterbury: Why God became Man?
WS 1926/27 Schleiermachers Glaubenslehre – Schleiermacher’s Doctrine of Faith
SS 1927 Lektüre des Galaterbriefes an Hand der Kommentare Luthers und Calvins – Lectures on Galatians
based on the Commentaries of Luther and Calvin
SS 1928 Albrecht Ritschl – Albrecht Ritschl
WS 1928/29 Thomas von Aquino, Summa theologica I – Aquinas, Summa Theologica
WS 1929/30 Die reformatorische Rechtfertigungslehre – Reformed Doctrine of Justification
Taken from: Karl Barth, Karl Barth – Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel, vol. Band 1921–1930 (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag Zurich, 1974), 741–743.
Theology Round-up will return at the end of April. I’ve taken a fast from blogging, not for spiritual reasons, but for “life has been way too busy” reasons. Between my internship, starting my first chapter of my thesis, and the death of our car, this month has been crazy to say the least. Regular blogging will resume tomorrow.
In the mean time, enjoy this clip of Karl Barth talking about the Confessing Church.
A friend asked me on Facebook how Barth and I are making out. For the record, the only one I make out with is my husband.
That being said, my full thesis proposal is being submitted this week. Once it gets approved my life will be consumed by Barth, John 1:14, and more Barth.
There was a book that I had to read in one of my seminary classes that was an absolute beast. Boring, small-font, tedious. I remember getting to the end of the course and on the class evaluation writing, “The prof needs to replace this book the next time he teaches the course. It is not helpful, and, if anything, will turn students off of Barth completely.” Here I am two years later and I’m about to write my thesis on that very book that I found so horrible to read. What changed?
Well, the big thing was that I re-read it. I was working on a project for another class, and as dreadful a read as that book had been, I knew that it would be useful for the paper I was writing. The re-read, in light of further study not just in Barth but in theology, gave me a new appreciation for it.
David Smith, in his essay “Reading Practices and Christian Pedagogy: Enacting Charity with Texts“, looks at two ways of reading: spiritual reading, and consumerist reading. Spiritual reading does not mean reading spiritual texts, or texts with religious content. Rather, spiritual reading is an act in which “the act of reading seeks personal transformation through attentive encounter with significant texts,” and is characterized by “applying disciplined attentiveness, reading slowly, repeatedly, contextually, and with humble care.” Consumerist reading is the opposite of spiritual reading. Consumerist reading is when “texts are read only once and are disposable after the information has been extracted…The main goal is information or pleasure, and the text should inform rather than transform the reader.”
Smith goes on to suggest that our culture has encouraged and created consumerist readers, and that even in educational institutions, like colleges and universities, the consumerist model is prized. The reading list for class is sometimes so huge that all the student can do is read through the material once, and only pull out the relevant data needed to write the paper, pass the exam, or dutifully swear that they had indeed “read all the course material” in order to get the “reading marks”.
The problem with this, is that then the student is making evaluative statements or critical analysis of a book which he has only superficially read. And that is not the way to shape critical thinkers. Smith spends the rest of his essay talking about how he experimented with fostering an atmosphere of spiritual reading instead of consumerist reading in his survey course on modern German literature.
For my internship, I am focussing on pedagogy, and I’ve been reflecting on Smith’s experiment and wondering how it would apply in a theology class context. The more I think about it, the more I like what he suggests. Theology is a discipline that requires spiritual reading. Especially given how complex and nuanced theological arguments can be, a cursory “for information only” reading not only does injustice to the original author, it actually opens the door for the student to misappropriate and misinterpret the reading to justify his own theological presuppositions.
Smith suggests and experiments with assigning “re-read assignments” in which the student has to re-read the text and write a reflection paper based on the second reading. What a brilliant idea!
Now I will admit, that there are books that I have read for seminary, that I will probably never read again. But, some of the most formative reading I’ve done has been when I’ve had to re-read the texts. Usually, this is done in the context of research for another class. Sometimes I do it voluntarily, realizing after the class that I need to go back and re-read the text in light of what was learned in class. And sometimes, the re-reading doesn’t happen until years later (thinking about some of the college readings I’ve gone back to re-read). What would have happened if this “re-read” was built right into the course?
I think of that Barth book that I hated. Not only has it become a pragmatic tool in my thesis, it has also profoundly shaped my Christology, and my approach to theology in general (that is, even though I am not thoroughly a Barthian, I am almost definitely Chalcedonian). Had that book stayed on the shelf never to be read again, my entire posture, both as a Christian, and as an aspiring academic, would not have been bent and molded and shaped and changed.
Which leads me to reading in general. How much of the contemporary “Christian literature” out there is written for the consumerist reader? I would say the majority of it is meant to be consumed and then discarded. And I think this in turn leads to Christians reading the Bible consumeristically where “I have gotten what I need from the text” is more often the common posture to daily devotional reading, rather than “Scripture is changing me.”