Welcome to The Karl Barth Society of Amherst, Massachusetts - a local chapter of the The Karl Barth Society of North America. This site is maintained by Chris TerryNelson. Please let me know how I can make this page a better resource for you. Email me, view my profile. You can also visit my new personal website, Disruptive Grace.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Our First Barth Society Meeting

Well friends, we did it! We managed to read pp. 3-11 together in one go. It was not easy, and often when we, as individuals, would read aloud, we realized that we were spending so much time looking for the verb at the end of the sentence that we missed everything Barth had said. Toward the end, we began to stop and clarify terms a bit, and reread any parts where we didn't get it. I am very happy with the turnout: Pete, Pam, Ron, Dave, Scott, Leah, Anneli, and myself. It was the perfect size for our little home. If we add more than 3 others, we might have to move it elsewhere.

Reading aloud, however difficult it is to digest, made for the perfect pace with which to read Barth. This makes sense, given that Church Dogmatics was really his public lectures pasted into book-form. Thus, one can read aloud as if one were preaching. And I personally like pretending to preach someone else's sermon. I could start a new fad: reading the sermons of people who knew how to preach! Now now . . .

I have made copies of the readings, and so if you wish to look them over before next Monday's meeting, gimme a call and I can drop them off for you.

As a way of summarizing and spitting back to Barth what he spat at us, I had us read the headliner on page 3: "As a theological discipline dogmatics is the scientific self-examination of the Christian Church with respect to the content of its distinctive talk about God." We unpacked the terms "theological discipline," "scientific," "self-examination of the Christian Church," "content," and "distinctive talk about God." First, theology is a CHURCH discipline. It is a discipline that has a special object - namely Jesus Christ, who is the "being of the Church" and "God who graciously reveals Himself and reconciles Himself to man." This object, which forms the basis, goal, and content of all Christian proclamation, is not only spoken of by theology. Theology should not be arrogant, thinking that it "holds special keys to special doors."
There were two things that Barth was trying to hold, which made for very complicated reading. On the one hand, Barth is saying that theology is a discipline, a science. It has an object of knowledge that it studies and describes, and often times uses the voices of other disciplines in its own. On the other hand, Barth doesn't just want to baptize the thoughts of others as HE sees fit for theology, but also wants to emphasize the solidarity theology has with the sciences. He says on p. 11 that theology is a SECULAR science." It is a "human" science, in that it is just as concerned with the search for Truth. It is also fallible! Instead of "resigning the title of science to others," Barth is keenly aware that we should not let a "general concept of science . . . which is admittedly pagan" (i.e. Aristotelian) dictate the agenda or define the concept of theology. He was speaking to the Church about how much it had sold-out to the methods of "scientia" (natural science, sociology, history, psychology, education or pedagogics, etc.). While there is no principle of necessity for calling theology a "science," Barth must do so, he believes, out of practical concerns. By assuming the title of science, Barth is both giving theology a solidarity with other disciplines, yet challenging them to be a true science - i.e. (and this is something his student Thomas Torrance picked up on heavily!) by letting the object of inquiry reveal itself, dictate the agenda, form the method, and give us knowledge. The theological revolution that Barth was engaged in was similar to that (and parallel in time-frame) to Einstein's revolution in science. We see in Barth a common move: critiquing the Church directly, thereby critiquing the world indirectly.

There are plenty of things that I haven't covered, but we'll summarize this once more during the next meeting before moving on to Section 2: "Dogmatics as Inquiry," pp. 11-16.

Major props to those who could translate the German and Latin phrases! I'll start brushing up on my Greek for next week!

Have a great evening!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Assigned Pages

For Monday, 11/27/05, we shall read pages 3-8 in Church Dogmatics I/1. Now if people feel anxious to let Barth finish this section, we can go all the way to p. 11. We can actually finish the book by next August if we do it in sections (which tend to be more along 10 pages each). However, 5 pages is a good start.

See you tomorrow!!!

Excited about the group

Hey guys, this group is a great idea, and having the blog makes it possible for people like me to participate at a distance. I hope to be coming out once a month, and on the other weeks keeping up with the readings and posts. I'm looking forward to reading Barth with you.

Getting copies of Church Dogmatics I/1

Besides checking out the volume at a library, I will copy the readings for you and have them ready by Monday. You are more than welcome to study Barth outside of the meeting time, however I am working with the assumption that many do not yet have time to do this. However, I will copy 10 pages each so that people have enough time to work with the text during the next week.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Meeting Time: Monday, November 28th, 7:30-9:00pm

Hey guys,
So if you need directions to my house, gimme a call.
Otherwise I'll see you this Monday night. I'll provide copies of Barth for us to read around together, and my wife will teach me how to make you all some yummy refreshments!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Aha! This makes it so much more interesting!

Now that I know how this audio blogger thing works, it shall allow me to summarize meetings, times, and places. Also, I was considering perhaps even doing audiobook readings for each week through it (though there might be some copyright issues with that). Let me know what you think. Would you dare download a 30 minute audioblog of me reading 5 pages of Barth?

Let me know, and I'll do it for ya.
this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Welcome to the Karl Barth Society of Amherst. We hope to enjoy a long life-span, even as people come and go from our most transient home: the town of Amherst. The churches of the Pioneer Valley are in desparate need of serious theological inquiry, and this society is intended to meet this need in a particular way. We open our doors for public reflection on a Swiss-German theologian (1886-1968) who wrote the longest systematic theology in history (over 9,000 pages). There might be some good concern as to why we should NOT study theology, let alone Karl Barth.

Question: Theology is a wasteful enterprise, filled with arm-chair thinkers in ivory towers. Doing true theology consists of reading one's Bible, right? So why look at another dead white dude when we have so much to learn about God in Scripture? Shouldn't we be doing a Bible study as a mission to the biblically illiterate Valley?

Answer: Theology is a wasteful enterprise only when it fits the above definition. And to be sure, the Bible is the witness of God's Word, the source of theological inquiry of God in Jesus Christ. The Bible should not be side-swiped in any fashion. The importance of the biblical texts are not diminished by theological inquiry, especially when we're talking of Karl Barth. This theologian is Reformed, and thus takes the Bible very seriously! To engage Barth's dogmatics, we shall indeed require the Bible (and our spotty knowledge of it) in the other hand at all times. The mission of theology, as we shall see with Church Dogmatics I/1 is to, as the Church of Jesus Christ, to scientifically compare our own proclamation with that of God, who spoke through and to Israel and the Church. He is still speaking to us this day, and so we must listen. In short, a study of Barth is a way of studying the Scriptures. It shall challenge us to know our Bible better, and perhaps even rebuke Barth for the moves he makes exegetically and theologically. Finally, concerning mission to the Pioneer Valley to increase biblical knowledge, we must realize that this mission is ecumenical, and spans both the Church and the World. All are welcome!

Question: Of all the great theologians (Athanasius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Schliermacher, to name a few), why Karl Barth? Isn't he too dense?

Anwer: The density of Barth is often attributed to both his content and his writing style. Here is a systmatic theologian who, in great continental fashion it seems, does not write theology as a system. Linear Western thought is somehow missing here with Barth, and so there is great uproar at his writings for giving easy and insprirational titles to his excurses (ex. "Christ - The Judge Judged In Our Place") while making the excurses incredibly hard to understand. We shall learn to read Barth in the only way possible - by reading Karl Barth. There is some excellent secondary literature on reading Barth and that interprets and summarizes Barth well, but we should not let this deter us from the text itself (in the same way reading a commentary on Matthew should not engross one to the point of putting Matthew down).

One task still remains: we need to think through what time to meet. I would prefer people either email me at teologia@hotmail.com or respond to this blog below.

I am excited to begin this inquiry with all of you.

We shall use the reading methods of Princeton Theological Seminary by:

A. Reading and discussing together weekly.
B. Reading 5 pages at a time.
C. Reading aloud first, THEN discussing the text, so as to make for a CLOSE reading.
D. Meeting for 1.5 hours.

Any further suggestions are appreciated. We are in need of a specific time to meet. It can be early morning or night-time, and it can be weekday or weekend.

I will keep you posted on what space shall be open to us weekly. This might involve a combination of place, such as The Ark (http://www.thearkcenter.org), Rao's, the Whately Diner, or perhaps our own homes. Wherever we are, we shall need SOMETHING to drink (coffee for morning, beer for night).

The Lord be with you.