(This post is inspired by Richard Burnett’s discussion of the release and response to Barth’s commentary on Romans. See,
(This post is inspired by Richard Burnett’s discussion of the release and response to Barth’s commentary on Romans. See,
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.”
Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism. Edited by Bruce L. McCormack and Clifford B. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011, viii + 387 pp., $38.00 paper.
This book is a collection of papers presented at the 2007 Karl Barth Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary. The goal of the book is to explore how evangelicals have been critical of Karl Barth’s theology, how their critiques may have been misplaced due to the influence of Cornelius van Til’s critique of Barth, and how evangelicals are re-evaluating their understanding of Barth in the new millennium. As well, this book aims to point out areas in which evangelicals can learn from Barth, or at the very least be sympathetic to his theology. The book is divided into three parts: historical context, philosophical and theological analysis, and contemporary trajectories. The historical context includes two essays that look at how evangelicals have historically reacted to Barth. The first essay, by George Harinck, looks specifically at the influence of Cornelius Van Til, and attempts to answer the question of how Van Til became an opponent of Karl Barth. Harinck argues that Van Til was largely influenced by Dutch pastor-scholar Klaas Schilder’s critique of Barth. The problem, as Harinck sees it, is that Van Til appropriated Schilder’s critique of Barth without understanding the context in which Schilder was writing (namely, a post-Christian European culture), and transposed Schilder’s ideas into an American context without adequately adjusting for the relevant contextual differences. Harinck concludes that Barth became the paradigm for all that Van Til opposed, specifically the theology and trajectory of Princeton Theological Seminary and American Presbyterianism in general. D.G. Hart focuses in on the issue of inerrancy within evangelical circles, particularly in the 1960s and 70s, and how the ongoing battle between the Barthian Princeton and Van Tillian Westminster influenced not only the Presbyterian traditions in the United States, but all of evangelicalism. Hart argues that Barth became an entry point for neo-evangelicals (represented by Fuller Seminary) to explore the issue of inerrancy, providing a middle ground between more fundamental inerrantists and mainline liberal Protestants.
The second section, on philosophical and theological analysis, contains essays on philosophy, Christology, Ecclesiology, and universalism. In each of these sub-categories there are two essays. And while the essays in this second section do not all answer the question of the relationship between Barth and evangelicalism, they look at specific theological and philosophical issues in Barth that can, and have, been raised by evangelicals as being problematic. Both of the philosophical essays focus on the influence of Kantian or neo-Kantian philosophical theology. John Hare’s essay is perhaps the weakest essay in the book, but only in so far as, at the end of his essay, the reader is left with unanswered questions. Specifically, why did Hare only look at one of Barth’s writings (Protestant Theology in the 19th Century), and does his presentation of the differences and similarities between Barth and Kant hold if other works are examined, such as Barth’s commentary on Romans, or the Church Dogmatics? Thankfully, because each sub-section has two essays, the second essay on philosophy, by Clifford Anderson, addresses Barth’s use of Kant in Romans and the Dogmatics. In this case, though, Anderson is not focused on Kant’s philosophical theology, but instead specifically on transcendentalism, that is, the relationship between personal experience and knowledge.
In the section on Christology, Michael Horton compares and critiques Barth’s Christology against the covenant theology of the Reformed tradition. Horton concludes that Barth appears to approach Christology from a central dogma, making the text and stories fit the central dogma, rather than allowing the text to be held narratively, wherein they lead up to, point to, and climax in the person and work of Christ. Horton, while critical of Barth, emphasizes his appreciation for Barth’s contribution to theology. Adam Neder’s essay on Barth’s Christology focuses on the hypostatic union, specifically on the communio naturarum between the divine and human natures in Jesus.
The section on Ecclesiology contains perhaps the strongest and most useful essays of this book. Both essays, one by Kimlyn Bender, the other by Keith Johnson, look specifically at the lack of a developed ecclesiology in evangelicalism, and suggest ways in which evangelicalism can benefit from Barth’s ecclesiological reflections to shape a more robust ecclesiology. Bender looks at how Barth would probably critique evangelical ecclesiology by using Barth’s reaction to the Oxford Group Movement in the 1930’s as a model. Keith Johnson suggests that Barth’s ecclesiology may offer an ecclesiological model that would allow evangelicals to remain evangelicals, and not have to necessary convert to Roman Catholicism in order to discover a robust ecclesiology.
The section on universalism looks at the profound disagreements evangelicals have had with Barth’s doctrine of election and whether or not the conclusions that Barth was indeed a universalist are accurate. Bruce McCormack rightly notes that for many evangelicals, universalism is a “deal-breaker”. McCormack’s goal is to address the issue of universalism from Scripture, focusing on Paul’s eschatology and Barth’s understanding of Paul’s eschatology as he expounded on his doctrine of election. McCormack argues that Barth’s doctrine of election, namely that Jesus is both the electing God and the elected man, is firmly grounded in the story and witness of Scripture, that evangelicals need to be careful that their theology of election does not supplant, but instead continually submits to, the witness of Scripture, and that rather than dismissing Barth on the basis of his doctrine of election and the possibility that he was a universalist, they can learn from his reading of Scripture. Suzanne McDonald looks at Barth’s doctrine of election from a pneumatological perspective, and also offers an “outside” perspective, given that she is writing not from an American evangelical context but from a British one. McDonald suggests that what needs to examined is not the issue of universalism per se, or even the Christological nature of Barth’s doctrine of election, but instead, the Trinitarian and “pneumatological dynamic of election.”
The most intriguing section of this book is the section on contemporary trajectories. Here, the essays put Barth in conversation with Postliberal theology, Radical Orthodoxy and the emerging church. Jason Springs looks at the dialogue between C.F.H. Henry and Hans Frei with regards to the issue of historical reference, asking if and how Frei diverges from Barth on this issue. Springs argues that in actuality, Frei’s understanding of historical reference is consistent with Barth’s critical realism, and he concludes that through an analysis of Frei’s interaction with Henry, Frei is seen to be in agreement with Barth regarding the authority of the scriptural witness. John Franke aims to not look back at historical evangelical understandings and interactions with Barth, but instead consider “future possibilities for fruitful engagement.” As a test case, Franke looks at the Emergent Village, an organization that was at the epicenter of the emerging church movement, and suggests that Barth’s “nondogmatic dogmatics” is a useful resource for Christians who are part of the emerging church. Further academic interaction with Franke’s essay is needed, given that some scholars have argued that the death knell has already been rung for the emerging church, or at the very least the emerging church is no longer in ascendency within evangelical circles. Both of the essays by Kevin Hector and Todd Cioffi place Barth in dialogue with Radical Orthodoxy. Hector looks primarily at John Milbank, and focuses on Barth’s “covenant ontology”, while Cioffi focuses on Stanley Hauerwas and his appropriation of Barth’s theology specifically as Hauerwas develops his understanding of the relationship between the church and the world. Cioffi argues that, while Hauerwas uses Barth extensively, evangelicals reading Hauerwas may not be aware of different ways to interpret and understand Barth, or of how Hauerwas may not accurately present Barth’s theology in his attempt to advance his theology of church and culture.
This is not the first book on the intersection between Barth’s theology and the evangelical tradition (see Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology, edited by Sung Wook Chung) but Barth and American Evangelicalism is the academically stronger work. As well, the overall quality of the essays contained in this work is more even than in the previous book. That said, the weakness of this current book is that, while it devotes an entire section to contemporary church issues, that is, the emerging church and radical orthodoxy, for the most part the contributions come from the Reformed tradition of evangelicalism. There are no essays that, for example, put Barth and the Wesleyan-Holiness-Charismatic tradition together in dialogue. Given the resurgence in the interest in Barth’s theology in this new millennium, this book contributes to the ongoing rediscovery of Karl Barth’s theology, and the influence his theology has had on contemporary Protestant (and evangelical) theology. This resurgence can be seen even in the Evangelical Theological Society itself, with seven Barth related papers presented at the 2012 annual conference in Milwaukee, and the announcement that starting in 2013 there will be a specific session at the conference devoted specifically to exploring the theology of Karl Barth.
To say that evangelicals have neglected ecclesiology is not to say that they have neglected the church altogether. What they have neglected, rather, is a rich theological account of the church. An honest evaluation of evangelicalism must conclude that evangelicals have oftentimes conceded ecclesiology to sociology, history, and, in the worst instances, to entrepreneurship. Evangelicalism to a great degree does not have a richly Trinitarian, Christological, and pneumatological understanding of the church (though there are ever-increasing attempts to address this deficiency).
There are at the very least two reasons for this lack of rich theological description. First, evangelicalism is most often understood as a sociological and historical movement. This view of evangelicalism in turn translates into a sociological view of the church rather than a theological one. Second, practitioners more interested in pragmatic and numerical success than theological reflection are often the ones who shape evangelical ecclesiology. In the words of Barth, they are often more impressed with extensive rather than intensive growth, numerical rather than spiritual increase (though, as Barth himself noted, these need not be mutually exclusive). Nevertheless, to treat the church as a society among societies, as an organization among organizations, as a sociological entity marked by visible success accounted for by secular methods, is to take flight into the visible church and sacrifice its theological identity. What is required is a much more robust theological doctrine of the church.
~Kimlyn Bender, “The Church in Karl Barth and Evangelicalism: Conversations across the Aisle.” in Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism, 192-193.
Yesterday afternoon I spent three hours listening to papers on Introducing Karl Barth to Evangelicals. This session was built off of Michael Allen’s new Barth reader (which looks like a much needed replacement of the reader by Gollowitzer), and each of the four presenters spent some time talking about benefits and hindrances of interacting with Barth from an evangelical perspective.
First up was Michael Allen himself. He spent some time talking about the current state of evangelical culture and how Barth can be helpful in addressing some of the theological issues that evangelicals are wrestling with. He started by saying that it’s important for evangelicals to be aware of how our presuppositions are so much different from the presuppositions of much of modern theology. Biblical scholars do a good job of checking their presuppositions, understanding the disconnect between 21st century readers and the original biblical authors, but for some reason theologians don’t apply that same caution and realization when they interact with more modern theology. In relation to Barth, what this means is that evangelicals often fail to grasp Barth’s theological setting which means we will fail to understand what he is about and what exactly he is doing. Indeed, “Most of us [evangelicals] read Barth as if he’s playing in the ETS world, and he’s not.” The other money quote from Michael Allen’s presentation: “Barth’s work serves as a bomb on the playground of theologians.”
Next up was Marc Cortez. His paper was titled, “An Evangelical and a Universalist Walk into a Bar” and looked at the question of whether or not Barth was a universalist, and how the supposed ambiguity about Barth’s universalism makes evangelicals uncomfortable. The short answer to the question of whether Barth was a universalist is, in the words of Barth himself, “I am not a universalist.” But, that said, there are still questions with his presentation of election and salvation. Dr. Cortez’s presentation was humourous and conversational. His section headings had titles like:
Four reasons to allow Barth to hang out with you in public and Three reasons to make Barth pick up the tab.
After a short intermission, we then had the last two papers by Matt Jenson on Barth and Ecclesiology, and Keith Johnson on Nature and Grace. These two papers were theologically dense, and I had to focus on listening and was unable to take notes during their presentations. I’m hoping to get copies of these two papers at some point so that I can spend time in deeper engagement and refection.
The big news from this panel session was that starting next year, there will be a specific session devoted to the theology of Karl Barth. This is an exciting development and I look forward to seeing the session grow.
The program for the ETS annual meeting has arrived. It was like Christmas as I scanned each page trying decide which presentations to put on my list. Of course, I circled more presentations than I’m actually able to go to, but that’s half the fun! It never fails that there is more than one paper that I’ve circled that occurs in the exact same time slot. Oh how to choose?
Interestingly, there are several presentations on Karl Barth this year, including an entire session of papers devoted to introducing Barth to evangelicals. The problem is that this session of 4 papers on Barth and evangelicals (including a paper by fellow blogger Marc Cortez) is at the exact same time as the panel discussion with N.T. Wright! GAWWWWWWW!
The other Barth presentations that are scattered throughout the rest of the conference include a paper on Barth and Natural Theology, Barth and John Owen on the Forgiveness of Sins, and a cryptically-title paper, “Is it Possible and Desirable for Theologians to Speculate after Barth?”
Also of interest, are several presentations on Henri de Lubac, and an entire session devoted to discussing the legacy of Catherine Clark Kroeger, who passed away last year.
Of course, I’ll have to take in the papers by Francis Beckwith, J. Daniel Hays, and Gene Haas. And there are several Patristic-related papers that look fascinating.
And then, at the back of the program are full page ads by the major publishing houses listing all the new titles that will be available at the conference. I’ve circled and starred so many interesting books! It’s a good thing that they will ship books ordered at ETS, otherwise my luggage would be seriously over the weight limit for the flight home.
My flight is booked, my hotel accommodations have been arranged, and my tentative list of what presentations I’ll attend has been started. I can’t wait for November!
Ashgate has announced the release of a new book on Karl Barth: Barth’s Interpretation of the Virgin Birth by Dr. Dustin Resch. Dustin is Assistant Professor of Theology and Dean of the Seminary at Briercrest College and Seminary. Dustin is a great professor, and his new book is a fantastic addition to the world of Barth scholarship.
I recently posed some questions to Dustin about his research, and here are his responses:
CWT: Schleiermacher rejected both the historicity and the theological necessity of the virgin birth, saying that it was a doctrine that did not adequately explain Christ’s sinlessness. How does Barth react to the understanding of the virgin birth in the theology of Schleiermacher and other Liberal Protestants of the 19th and 20th centuries?
Dustin: Would it be too cheeky to ask you to buy the book to find out the answer(!)? Seriously, though, this is one of the central questions that the book aims to address. The really short answer is that Barth doesn’t do too much to rehabilitate the historicity of the virgin birth, at least on the terms of his contemporaries and immediate predecessors. Instead, Barth devoted his energies to examining what it was that the New Testament authors and the early church found compelling about the teaching that Christ took his human origin from the Holy Spirit, rather than a human father.
In order to do that he teases out the “inner necessity” and “appropriateness” of the teaching of the virgin birth within the broader contours of the great themes of Scripture and the Gospel. This involves Barth in re-thinking the Augustinian linkage between Christ’s virgin birth and his sinlessness. It also places Barth in close dialogue with Roman Catholic Mariology. In the end, Barth argues that the virgin birth a sign of the mystery of God acting in the world but a sign that actually expresses something true and profound about the contours of that mystery. What I found so interesting about this topic is that this rather little doctrine of the virgin birth became an entry into some of the most fascinating aspects of Barth’s theology—biblical interpretation, Christology, election, human agency, soteriology, ecclesiology, and even spirituality!
CWT: Will evangelicals find Barth’s understanding of the virgin birth helpful or is it too Barthian?
Dustin: Another great question, but one I’m not certain how to answer. On the one hand, a large number of important evangelical theologians have come out as “Barthian” with regard to the virgin birth, the late Stanely Grenz and Donald Bloesch among them. Others, I think, have found Barth’s lack of willingness really to engage much in questions of historicity rather off-putting. I think that the most helpful thing that Barth can offer to evangelicals is a way of reading Scripture theologically—his use of aesthetic categories in determining the “necessity” of the virgin birth was quite helpful for me.
CWT: How did you become interested in Barth?
Dustin: As a student at Briercrest Seminary I wrote an MA thesis on Donald Bloesch’s doctrine of Scripture, which introduced me to Barth’s view of Scripture and interpretation. When I was searching for a dissertation topic at McMaster University, I wanted to find a way to study the theological interpretation of Scripture, but I didn’t want to get bogged down in hermeneutics. My supervisor wisely guided me to find a topic in which I could see a master theologian’s interpretation of Scripture at work on a live theological issue—hermeneutics in action, we might say. Barth was an obvious choice as a focus for this endeavour because, not only does he read Scripture so deeply and creatively, he does so as a modern theologian in dialogue with the some of the great thinkers of the western tradition—Irenaeus, Augustine, Thomas, Calvin, Luther, Schleiermacher, etc.
CWT: You did your doctorate at McMaster University under a Patristics expert. How did the influence of a Patristics expert influence your reading and understanding of Barth?
Dustin: That is a wonderful question! My supervisor was Dr. Peter Widdicombe at McMaster University who, in addition to having written a landmark book on Trinitarian theology in the work of theologians from Origen to Athanasius, has been working in the field of the patristic interpretation of Scripture. Peter’s knowledge of the texture of patristic theology and biblical interpretation helped me to see both how Barth remained indebted to the modern protestant heritage, but also retrieved ideas and interpretive practices from the early church. One very practical aspect of working with a patristics scholar was that it became increasingly difficult to become overly-infatuated with Barth—a temptation to which I was rather prone! Peter helped me to remember that the Christian intellectual tradition is broad and deep outside of Basel too.
CWT: Now that your dissertation has been officially published, what’s next on your research plate?
Dustin: I think that if there is a dotted line of research that has continued from my dissertation days to my current interests, then that is likely question of the human appropriation of God’s grace. In the dissertation and book I had the opportunity to explore Barth’s view of Mary. I felt like his treatment of her was less than satisfactory and wondered if perhaps there was more to Catholic Mariology than he thought. My teaching load for the past couple of years and the work that I do in the local church have also involved me in exploring traditions and practices of Christian spirituality. I think that some of these things are coalescing as I explore things like traditions of prayer, forms of worship, sacramental theology, the theology of the Saints, etc. I’d eventually like to write some of my reflections in a book on the theology of spiritual formation. I’d also like to re-visit certain Protestant criticisms of Catholic practices to see if perhaps I might contribute to rapprochement on those fronts. My friend, Tim Perry, has done some really important work in his book, Mary for Evangelicals (InterVarsity, 2006). I wonder if I might walk a bit of the trail that he has blazed.
So if you get a chance, check out Dustin’s new book! Also, if you haven’t already, check out Karl Barth on the Filioque, by Dr. David Guretzki, another professor here at Briercrest.
What have you got?
Well, there’s Theology and Biblical Studies,
Theology Philosophy and Biblical Studies
Theology and Barth
Theology, Biblical Studies and Barth
Theology, Biblical Studies, Philosophy and Barth
Barth, Biblical Studies, Philosophy and Barth
Barth, Theology, Barth, Barth, Biblical Studies and Barth
Barth, Philosophy, Barth, Barth, Barth, Biblical Studies, Barth Exegesis and Barth
Barth, Barth, Barth, Theology and Barth
Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Greek, Barth, Barth, Barth and Barth.
(Choir: Barth! Barth! Barth! Barth! Lovely Barth! Lovely Barth!)
Or the dialectical nature of theology with an emphasis on Chalcedon with a little bit of Hegel on top and Barth.
Another Theology Student:
Have you got anything without Barth?
Well, the Barth, Theology, Philosophy and Barth
That’s not got much Barth in it.
Another Theology Student:
I don’t want any Barth!
Why can’t she have Theology, Biblical Studies, Barth and Philosophy?
Another Theology Student:
That’s got Barth in it!
Hasn’t got much Barth in it as Barth, Theology, Philosophy and Barth has it?
(Choir: Barth! Barth! Barth!…)
Another Theology Student:
Could you do me Theology, Biblical Studies, Barth and Philosophy without the Barth, then?
Another Theology Student:
What do you mean ‘Iiiiiiiiiich’? I don’t like Barth!
(Choir: Lovely Barth! Wonderful Barth!)
Professor (to choir):
(Choir: Lovely Barth! Wonderful Barth!)
Shut Up! Bloody Grad Students!
You can’t have Theology, Biblical Studies, Barth and Philosophy without the Barth.
Another Theology Student:
I don’t like Barth!
Shush dear, don’t have a fuss. I’ll have your Barth. I love it,
I’m having Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Greek,
Barth, Barth, Barth, and Barth!
(Choir: Barth! Barth! Barth! Barth! Lovely Barth! Wonderful Barth!)
Shut Up!! Greek is off.
Well, could I have her Barth instead of the Greek then?
You mean Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth, Barth,
Barth and Barth?
Barth! Barth! Barth! Barth!
Lovely Barth! Wonderful Barth!
Barth B-a-a-a-a-a-rth Barth B-a-a-a-a-rth Barth.
Lovely Barth! Lovely Barth! Lovely Barth! Lovely Barth!
Barth Barth Barth Barth!