Theology Round-Up

Theology Round-up will return at the end of April. I’ve taken a fast from blogging, viagra not for spiritual reasons, sale but for “life has been way too busy” reasons. Between my internship, medical 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.

Spiritual vs. Consumerist Reading

There was a book that I had to read in one of my seminary classes that was an absolute beast. Boring, levitra 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.”



Review: Barth and American Evangelicalism

Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism. Edited by Bruce L. McCormack and Clifford B. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, there 2011, health viii + 387 pp., sickness $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.


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Sunday Meditiation

To say that evangelicals have neglected ecclesiology is not to say that they have neglected the church altogether. What they have neglected, treat rather, medical 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.



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Evangelical Theological Society — Barth, Barth, Barth

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), try 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.

Preparing to Attend This Year’s ETS Conference

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, treat I circled more presentations than I’m actually able to go to, buy 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, viagra sale 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!

See Also:

Encouraging Women to Attend this Year’s ETS Part 1

Encouraging Women to Attend this Year’s ETS Part 2

Encouraging Women to Attend this Year’s ETS Part 3

Barth, Barth, Barth

Theology Student:


Theology Student:
What have you got?

Well, recipe there’s Theology and Biblical Studies, ambulance
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!

Theology Student:
Why can’t she have Theology, Biblical Studies, Barth and Philosophy?

Another Theology Student:
That’s got Barth in it!

Theology Student:
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):
Shut up!

(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!

Theology Student:
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.

Theology Student:

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?

Choir (intervening):
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!

Barth and Chalcedon

I’m giving a lecture on Karl Barth’s Christology today in class. So, capsule I’m posting a section on Barth and Chalcedon that I’ll be talking about today.


In 451, malady the Council of Chalcedon was called to re-examine the decisions of the Second Council of Ephesus in 449, patient which Pope Leo had called the “Robber’s Synod.” At issue was the question: how is Jesus both human and divine? From Alexandria came the Docetists, who emphasized the deity of Christ over his humanity. There were of course mild and extreme versions of this teaching, from the deity being more important than the humanity, to the extreme that Christ’s humanity was merely an illusion. From Antioch came the Nestorians, who emphasized the humanity of Christ over the deity of Christ. In this understanding, the divine nature of Christ came not from his person but from his relationship to God the Father. In other words, Christ’s divinity was external to his nature.

As the council met, they reaffirmed Tertullian’s teaching that there are two natures in the one person of Christ, and instead of formulating a new creed, which they were reluctant to do , they chose to issue a ‘definition.’ This definition affirmed that Jesus was ‘truly God’ and ‘truly man,’ and that these two natures were to be seen “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons…”

The Chalcedonian Definition is characterized by two terms, ‘deity’ and ‘humanity,’ and one relationship, ‘unity-in-distinction.’ It is a statement that is intentionally minimalist in nature, allowing for flexibility and diversity of understanding as the Chalcedonian Definition does not actually define the terms or the relationship. As George Hunsinger notes, this suggests that “the Chalcedonian Definition is not determined exclusively by soteriological interests. It is also largely a hermeneutical construct.” In other words, the definition “merely reiterated that Jesus was both God and man, but made no attempt to interpret the formula.” It functions more as a paradigm rather than a rule of faith, as it is unconcerned with the ‘how,’ but instead emphasizes what ‘is.’ This allows, then, for mild forms of Alexandrian and Antiochian theology to both be considered within the boundaries of orthodoxy.

Ultimately the key to Chalcedon is to affirm that the “whole work of Christ is to be attributed to his person and not to the one or the other nature exclusively.” The work of Christ cannot be attributed solely to his deity or his humanity. In his earthly ministry, both the divine and the human were present; it was not merely his human flesh that suffered and died, nor at his resurrection was it just his divine nature that appeared. As Barth says of Christ’s ascension, when “…the New Testament witnesses look to him as the One who sits at the right hand of God and will come again from the heaven to which he has ascended, this does not mean that they have ceased to think of the real man Jesus.” This, of course, raises the question: is one position more correct than the other in this paradigm? Hunsinger suggests that, overall, the Alexandrian tendency is more correct in upholding Chalcedon than the Antiochian tendency. This is because, while the Antiochian position only affirms one term, ‘humanity,’ the Alexandrian position affirms one term, ‘deity,’ and the relationship, ‘unity-in-distinction.’

That Barth affirms Chalcedon is quite evident throughout the Dogmatics. The question becomes, then, whether Barth affirms the Definition of Chalcedon using the language and philosophical and theological definitions used by the council in 451.

Bruce McCormack suggests that Barth’s overall Christology underwent a profound shift after II/2. While Barth may, in CD I, affirm and use the ontological definitions of person and nature as understood in the original formula of Chalcedon, by CD IV, he only continues to uphold Chalcedon by redefining the terms, moving away from the terms person and nature, and instead focusing on the language of ‘history.’ As McCormack summarizes, “The result is that Jesus Christ is still seen as truly God, truly human, and is both in a single Subject. But he is seen to be all of this under quite different ontological conditions.” McCormack’s thesis, then, is that the statement that Barth is Chalcedonian “has far more validity for the Christological material found in CD I/2 than it does for the material found in the later doctrine of reconciliation.” McCormack argues that many Barth scholars made the mistake of reading and understanding Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation (CD IV) through the “lens provided by the Christology of CD I/2.”

On the other hand, George Hunsinger sees Barth affirming Chalcedon fairly uniformly throughout the Dogmatics. One of the ways Barth does this is by referring to ‘nature’ or ‘physis’ through the use of the German word, ‘Wesen’ rather than ‘Natur.’ Paul Dafydd Jones argues that, even as early as I/2, Barth hesitates to blindly accept the Greek metaphysical meaning behind ‘nature.’ “Indeed, the concept of ‘physis’ plays no significant role in the preliminary Christology of §15 which surrounds the excursion question, or, in fact, in any paragraph of the Dogmatics.” In §44, Jesus Man for God, for example, Barth does not shy away, nor does he fully rest on the language of ‘nature.’ But, in answering the question of whether Jesus was truly human, Barth uses ‘Wesen’ repeatedly to talk about the human nature of Christ. When discussing Christ’s being and oneness of being with God the Father, Barth uses the word ‘Sein.’

The question, then, is whether or not Barth shifts in his understanding of Chalcedon. While it is true that the Dogmatics were written over several decades, and there may indeed be a maturing or even a changing of Barth’s theology over the years, there seems to be, even in the early stages of his writings, an understanding of the fluidity of the Chalcedon formula. Patrick Patterson argues that, even as early as 1928, in corresponding with Rudolf Bultmann, Barth demonstrates “conceptual eclecticism,” that is, while appropriating language and creeds and philosophical constructs, Barth was not bound to them. For example, while Barth did indeed use the language and terms of Plato and Aristotle, “his own use of their terminology [does not] imply his having buckled on the armour of a particular philosophy.”

Indeed, Barth’s interaction with and use of Chalcedon, for all its inherent minimalism, is complex. Jones identifies two components to Barth’s use of Chalcedon. First, Barth sets out to use Chalcedon as a way to respond and react to 19th-century Liberal Protestantism. In responding to the likes of Schleirmacher, Harnack and Ritschl, Barth “argues that ‘nature’ has been improperly misunderstood. Early Christian writers used this term to describe the multi-dimensional totality of an entity…encompass[ing] the ‘physical’ and ‘ethical’ dimensions of the human being.”

Second, Barth’s use of Chalcedon is a vehicle to point to the simplicity and complexity of Scripture. Barth’s Christology is based first and foremost on the New Testament, rather than on a later philosophical or theological construction. Thus, Barth adopts Chalcedon as a “hermeneutical construct.” Following the pattern of the New Testament, Barth holds in tension the teaching that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, and that the Son of God is Jesus of Nazareth. As Jones notes, “the unique name of Jesus Christ functions as something akin to a dogmatic synthetic a priori.” For Barth, the Chalcedonian Definition can be summarized by the simple statement: Jesus is “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14).

Coakley’s analysis of the usefulness of the Chalcedonian Definition and the fundamental difference between how the West and East understood the purpose of the formula may be useful here. While she does not directly reference Barth, it appears that in her description of the use of Chalcedon, Barth would embrace a more ‘Eastern’ understanding of the definition. That is, where the West understood the definition primarily as a rule, the East saw “beyond the limit” and turned the definition into something flexible enough to even be used in liturgical prayer. Barth takes an “Eastern” perspective on Chalcedon, exploring its flexibility and using it to go beyond the basic Christological question.

This can be seen in two ways. First, Barth alternates between an Antiochian and Alexandrian voice in his doctrine of Christology. This of course causes problems for scholars who, without reading all the way through Barth’s extended argument, charge Barth with either being Nestorian or Docetic. Because the definition is a paradigm with flexibility and with ambiguity as to the definition of the terms and the relationship between the two natures, Barth explores the boundaries of the paradigm, and indeed seems to be following the biblical pattern of “employing a diversity of idioms.”

Second, by exploring the flexibility of the definition, and by not being tied down to specific ontological terms, Barth is able to reapply the Chalcedonian Definition to construct his doctrine of vocation in IV.3.2. Here, Barth looks as the relationship between God (divine) and the Christian (human) in the calling to be witnesses. Thus, Barth reformulates the Chalcedonian Definition from being strictly Christological to being a vehicle in which to explore the overall relationship between the Divine and the human. Thus the two terms and relationship (divine, human and unity-in-distinction) can be redefined as ‘asymmetry,’ ‘intimacy,’ and ‘integrity.’

So the question then becomes: is the charge against Barth that he is Antiochian in his portrayal of the humanity of Christ accurate? That Barth is charged with Nestorianism (Antiochian tendency) is often the result of the critic’s “failure to appreciate Barth’s dialectical strategy of juxtaposition.” Of course this is easy to do, given that Barth often takes hundreds of pages to get to the other side of his dialectic. At its core, an Antiochian Christology understands Christ’s divinity coming not from his inherent nature, but from his relationship to God. In this position, Jesus’ relationship with God “is fundamentally extrinsic to the constitution of his person.”

Charles Waldrop argues that, while Barth does appear to take an Antiochian voice at various points in his Christology, the Antiochian elements that he embraces ultimately fit into an overall theological framework that is Alexandrian. Waldrop grounds this in Barth’s theology of revelation:

Just as the human words of Scripture and preaching remain creaturely realities although they become the Word of God when God speaks through them, so also the human nature of Jesus Christ becomes the Word of God in the event of revelation…This Antiochian conceptualization, however, is based upon the Alexandrian claim that Jesus is fully and absolutely identical with the Word of God who speaks through the human nature, Scripture, and preaching.


Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Eds. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010.

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A Few Incoherent Thoughts on Leaving The Church

By now you’ve probably all seen Rachel Held Evans’ two posts on why she left/returned to the church. The conversation over there has been fantastic. One of my favourite reactions/interactions is Hannah’s over at Sometimes a Light. Of Hannah’s 15 reasons to stay, sovaldi sale these three are my favourite:

I believe that there is no such thing as Church (with a capital “C”) without church (with a lower case “c”)–as messy and as difficult as that may be.

I believe that 2000 years of church history holds a bit more weight than my personal experience.

I need the church to regularly remind me about the things that I don’t like in the Scripture. Things like God’s anger and my sinfulness–things that if left to myself, capsule I would conveniently ignore or rationalize.

In the midst of all this talk about reasons for staying and leaving, diagnosis I have also been diligently plowing through Barth’s introduction to his doctrine of reconciliation (section 57 in CD IV/1) for a paper I’m writing for my class on Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

In this section, Barth is discussing how Jesus is Emmanuel, God with Us, and what that means for the Christian message. Jesus, in becoming human, is God with Us. He does not stand apart from us, aloof, or overly spiritual, away from the mess of humanity. He became human. He entered the mess. In becoming Emmanuel, God has covenanted and bound himself to humanity. God is faithful to his promise of covenant, even when humanity is not faithful. And God became human in Jesus precisely because “he cannot tolerate that this covenant should be broken, because He wills to uphold and fulfill it even though it is broken.” (CD IV/1 pg.36)

Jesus came into the mess. That is incarnation. And I think sometimes we forget this. I think we end up spiritualizing the church, in an almost gnostic sense, that it has to be this thing apart from the human mess. But Jesus is the head of the Body. And Jesus was human. He lived in the mess. He covenanted and fulfilled the covenant so that humanity in its very humanity could be reconciled to God. Indeed, Barth says that God’s redemption “does not mean the extinguishing of our humanity, but its establishment.” (CD IV/1, pg.14).

The question then becomes what is the church? Barth’s answer in this particular section is that the church is the witness. Our task as witnesses is to speak “the word of reconciliation” which is proclaiming the reconciliation that has taken place through the atoning life of Jesus, and making it known to the world “which is still in the grip of the most profound and tragic self-deception.” (CD IV/1 pg.77)

In response to ‘God With Us’ we become ‘We With God’ and this is at the heart of the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. ‘We With God’ means “to admit that God is right, to be thankful for it, to accept the promise and the command which it contains , to exist as the community, and responsibly in the community…” (CD IV/1 pg.15)

Even amidst all the funky stuff that the church does, it is still a witness. Even if we don’t like how it’s done, or the human stupidity that comes with it, the church is still witnessing to the gospel and it is still ‘We With God.’

And so, I don’t think we can separate the church (little c or big c) from the event that Jesus is “God With Us”. We can’t say, “I’m down with Jesus but I’m not down with the church.” And I don’t know that we can say, “I am Christian” while denying the Body of believers who are the Body of Christ. I don’t know that we can separate ourselves from the church, as if we are somehow better, or more spiritual than it is. To do so is to respond to God’s event of ‘God With Us’ with ingratitude instead of gratitude. To do so is to deny the reality of the Incarnation.