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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Book Spotlight: Barth, Israel, and Jesus

I try to keep up with the latest Barth research as much as possible, and found this new book on Ashgate's website.

Barth, Israel, and Jesus: Karl Barth's Theology of Israel
by Mark R. Lindsay

The attitude of Karl Barth to Israel and the Jews has long been the subject of heated controversy amongst historians and theologians. The question that has so far predominated in the debate has been Barth's attitude, both theologically and practically, towards the Jews during the period of the Third Reich and the Holocaust itself. How, if at all, did Barth's attitudes change in the post-war years? Did Barth's own theologising in the aftermath of the Holocaust take that horrendous event into account in his later writings on Israel and the Jews? Mark Lindsay explores such questions through a deep consideration of volume four of Barth's Church Dogmatics, the 'Doctrine of Reconciliation'.

Preface; Introduction; Jewish-Christian relations since 1945; Barth and the Jewish people: the historical debate; Karl Barth and natural theology: a case study of the Holocaust as a theological locus; Barth and the state of Israel: between theology and politics; The function of 'Israel' in 'The Doctrine of Reconciliation'; Conclusion; Bibliography; Indexes.

Very little has been written on Barth's doctrine of Israel in the later volumes of the Church Dogmatics; and Barth's view of the state of Israel is one that will prove timely -and controversial -as it did in Barth's own day. Professor Lindsay's prose is clear and literate, always welcome in this field. Volume 4 of the Church Dogmatics is the major re-statement of Christology in our era and the place Jews and the people Israel have in those volumes should be of interest to all Barth scholars, and theologians who work in Christology.
Professor Kate Sonderegger, Virginia Theological Seminary, USA

'Following his earlier analysis of Barth's theological critique of Nazi antisemitism in 'Covenanted Solidarity', Mark Lindsay turns to examine the significance of the holocaust for Barth's post-war theology of Israel, particularly in the doctrine of reconciliation. Lucidly written, with scrupulous attention to the scope and the details of the texts, this is Barth scholarship of a high order, and will also be read with profit by all concerned for the relations of Christians and Jews.'
Professor John Webster, King's College, Aberdeen

About the Author/Editor:
Dr Lindsay currently works at Trinity College, The University of Melbourne, as Director of Academic Studies and Deputy Dean. He also works as an adjunct lecturer in the Trinity College Theological School, and as a distance education tutor in the postgraduate program of the Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations in Cambridge, UK

Affiliation: Dr Mark R. Lindsay, Trinity College, The University of Melbourne, Australia
ISBN: 0 7546 5087 1
Publication Date: 06/2007
Number of Pages: c. 208 pages
Binding: Hardback
Binding Options: Available in Hardback only
Book Size: 234 x 156 mm

Monday, May 29, 2006

Barth meeting tonight

Hello all.
We'll be meeting at Glen Franklin's house tonight between 8:00pm and 8:30pm, since Scott and Leah can't make it until later. Hope to see you there!

Nicholas Wolterstorff's Commencement Address

One rarely ever hears a commencement speech worth remembering. However, Wolterstorff proved a sage for the thousand students ready to move out into "the real world" of playing off loans AND one-month's rent. His speech, entitled "You Need Both Eyes," touched on the Reformed understanding of the coinherence of our hearts and minds as Christians. For we are called not only to be skilled and knowledgeable in our vocation and witness (the first eye), but also called to "weep with those who weep" (the second eye). Follow the link and read the entire address.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Karl Barth's Review of the Da Vinci Code

Now that I have your attention, while Barth unfortunately never had a chance to read the book or see the movie, I thought you might enjoy this review.

Your Review of the Barth Conference

If you had the chance to be at Princeton this week for the Barth conference, would you mind giving us your thoughts on how it went. I'm extremely bummed out that I had to miss it, as I love Hunsinger, Webster, and Molnar's work. Also, please post at Barthian Milieu.

Your Review of the Barth Conference

If you had the chance to be at Princeton this week for the Barth conference, would you mind giving us your thoughts on how it went. I'm extremely bummed out that I had to miss it, as I love Hunsinger, Webster, and Molnar's work. Also, please post at Barthian Milieu.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Barth and Theological Aesthetics

Over at Faith and Theology, Ben Myers posted the following quote which I absolutely loved:

"It is a feeble view of art that isolates it as a sphere of its own for those who find it amusing. The word and command of God demand art, since it is art that sets us under the word of the new heaven and the new earth. Those who, in principle or out of indolence, want to evade the anticipatory creativity of aesthetics are certainly not good. Finally, in the proper sense, to be unaesthetic is to be immoral and disobedient.”

—Karl Barth, Ethics [lectures from 1928-29], ed. Dietrich Braun (New York: Seabury Press, 1981), p. 510.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Currently Reading:

Karl Barth - The Gottingen Dogmatics
Eberhard Busch - Karl Barth
John Webster - Word and Church
T.F. Torrance - Theology in Reconstruction
John Milbank, Graham Ward - Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology

Currently Listening To:

Kate Rusby - The Girl that Couldn't Fly
Josh Ritter - The Animal Years
The Fire Theft - Fire Theft
Brad Mehldau Trio - Day is Done
Nickel Creek - Why Should the Fire Die?
Garden State Soundtrack (especially Frou Frou)

Check out The Fire and the Rose

Over at the Fire and the Rose D.W. Congdon has written a couple of wonderful posts. One is entitled "N.T. Wright, New Gnosticism, and Apologetics," while the other (which provides a quote by Barth) is called "Further Reflections on Contraceptives and God's Graciousness." I'd like to thank David for his continual guidance in getting me prepared to start at Princeton Seminary this summer. We'll be taking the same Hebrew class, which I'm very excited to do!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Off to Calvin College

Hello all.
There will be no Barth meeting next Monday, as I'll be in Grand Rapids, Michigan watching my new sister-in-law graduate. I look forward to a week's time away from home, and hope that you will all be well. Keep us in prayer as we travel, and I'll see you after I get back on Wedneday, May 23rd. I will not be in contact via email, as this is a great time to fast from the internet.

Off to Calvin College

Hello all.
There will be no Barth meeting next Monday, as I'll be in Grand Rapids, Michigan watching my new sister-in-law graduate. I look forward to a week's time away from home, and hope that you will all be well. Keep us in prayer as we travel, and I'll see you after I get back on Wedneday, May 23rd. I will not be in contact via email, as this is a great time to fast from the internet.

Off to Calvin College

Hello all.
There will be no Barth meeting next Monday, as I'll be in Grand Rapids, Michigan watching my new sister-in-law graduate. I look forward to a week's time away from home, and hope that you will all be well. Keep us in prayer as we travel, and I'll see you after I get back on Wedneday, May 23rd. I will not be in contact via email, as this is a great time to fast from the internet.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Saying Goodbye and Hello to Two Great Men of God

Today I learned from Matthew Palardy that Jaroslav Pelikan, the great historian of the church, has passed away at the age of 82 from lung cancer. You can read his obituary here.

Also, forgive me for not mentioning earlier the death of a man who "spoke truth to power," a preacher on behalf of the poor and oppressed: William Sloane Coffin. He died at the age of 81 last Month. His obituary is available here.

While I have not yet given full attention to these men and their life works, many colleagues and friends have driven me to at least know them a little.

Pelikan's history of church doctrine has been recommended to me over and over, and has apparently bypassed that of one of his role models: Adolf Van Harnack. Jaroslav devoted himself to the past 1900 years, while everyone else was busy debating the present (he called it his "minority report"). Whenever I've gone into bookshelves, I've been amazed by the prolific writing of this thinker. There always seemed to be a new book on the shelf by him! So thank you, Jaroslav, for your good work in the service of the church, and I hope we get to know each other better, as I'm sure we will at seminary.

Coffin's name first popped up as I was reading George Hunsinger's wonderful book of essays, Disruptive Grace. As an orthodox Christian with progressive political convictions, Coffin seems to have embodied the spirit of Hunsinger's two great heroes: Karl Barth and Martin Luther King, Jr. I find myself in a similar situation, wanting neither to truncate the Gospel of its power and its truth, its offensive and gracious work. William, I hope to be as courageous as you, to learn how to walk the talk as you did, and be willing to be a fool in a world so filled with violent wisdom.

May they both rest in peace in our Lord Jesus Christ until we meet in the air with Him.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Worst Part(h) About Barth?

I thought it would be revealing to have a discussion regarding the shortcomings of Barth. However, let's stay close to the discussion of his doctrinal treatments, and far away from how "long-winded" his writing style is.

A quick example:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Where Barth's Christology Goes Wrong

"Bonhoeffer’s own christology began to take definitive shape in his Habilitationsschrift, Act and Being. In this book, Bonhoeffer analyzes the epistemologies of transcendental and ontological philosophies in terms of the problems they pose for an understanding of revelation. Of particular significance is his assertion that transcendentalism is prominent in Barth’s ‘actualist’ theory of revelation (Gruchy 1991, 8). Barth argued that revelation is a product of God’s infinite freedom and thus a purely contingent act. It creates its own response, is not bound to anything, and God is free to suspend it at any time (8-9). Revelation as act means that God is always beyond human knowledge, escaping every human attempt to have God at its disposal. Barth felt that only by affirming revelation as act could one preserve the freedom and majesty of God against human attempts to domesticate the divine. Bonhoeffer criticized Barth’s actualism because it made God so utterly free that God’s freedom became an abstraction (Woelfel 1970, 138). " (taken from B.U. Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology)

So, do you think Barth was too exclusivist? Too inclusivist? Was Barth's treatment of Scripture problematic? Was Barth lacking a satisfactory treatment of the Holy Spirit?

Meeting this monday

Hello all,
We'll be meeting at Glen Franklin's home this Monday night. And we'll be making headway into the question of the knowability of the Word of God.
See you then!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Where's Barth's Christology in the poll?

One person has commented that the poll lacks the opportunity to vote for Barth's christology, which would be number one, I'm sure. Let me suggest that those who want to vote for christology place their vote for "reconciliation," since this is Barth's most direct treatment of christology. The doctrine of reconciliation manages to incorporate plenty of Barth's revolutionary moves which all center on the life, work, and being of Jesus Christ. Barth does not write in linear fashion, so I guarantee you that many of the themes you might have enjoyed in earlier volumes of CD pop up again.
Now you might think I'm biased, but I'm just trying to help out the average joe. I personally voted for Scripture, since it was the middle of CD I/1 that caught my eye at the age of 20. I didn't really understand the rest of it.
Happy trails!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New Book!

Hey everyone,
I just received John Webster's book of essays. I hope to post some notes on it, which will perhaps culminate into a higher form (i.e., an Amazon review!). My wife, Anneli, is sick today, so I'll browse this while she sleeps the afternoon away.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Barth and Brunner on Natural Theology Part 2

Continuing with the account of their correspondence by John W. Hart in For the Sake of the World: Karl Barth and the Future of Ecclesiology, edited by George Hunsinger:

Later, Brunner returns to Switzerland from a sabbatical at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Barth attends one of his church services to hear him preach. He debriefs Brunner rather critically, telling him that he had preached “cheaply, psychologically, boringly, churchly, without distance, etc.” In a letter following up on their visit, Brunner sees problems with Barth’s dialectical expressions, and offers a parable to show just how radical and unhelpful Barth’s dialectical method in its emphasis of the ontological distance between God and humanity. Brunner writes:

"[You have confused] the dialectical No with the critical No. Dialectics is, as is well-known, Hegelian, not Kantian philosophy. For Kant, the No is critical, like the watch-dog who barks at everyone except for the owner of the house. But the dialectical watch-dog barks at everything in principle. You maintain the distance as a dynamic – and thus an unlimited – principle; there is no stopping it, as little as with the Law. The dialectical watch-dog will tear apart anyone who dares to approach God . . . the Gospel ultimately means something positive . . . The question is not whether something positive appears (the dialectical No), but where it appears (the critical No): Christ appears in time, the kingdom of God grows in time together with the weeds, we have this treasure in earthen vessels, faith justifies proleptically and forensically . . . For me, this entire development is an excellent proof that I am correct when I maintain that . . . knowledge and experience, the objective-material and the subjective-personal . . . form an insurmountable polarity."

Brunner clearly does not understand Barth’s radical dialectical method. However, soon after reading Barth’s second edition of the Roman’s commentary, Brunner makes a startling turn by admitting that he finally understands “the encompassing significance of the scandal,” which is the radical distance between Creator and creation and its accompanying comprehensive judgment on humanity and humanism in all its expressions. But he does not continue in Barth’s direction, since he is also reading Ferdinand Ebner’s The Word and Spiritual Realities, adopting Ebner’s “I-Thou,” “divine summons/human response” philosophy. Instead of adopting Barth’s “dialectical No,” Brunner continues looking for divine/human continuities under the concept of “dialogue” rather than “dialectic.”

One can only imagine what it must have been like to preach with Barth in the audience! And then to have him (and Thurneysen, apparently) tell you that you preached "cheaply." Yet, instead of interpreting this as a "cheap-shot," I sense a deep and pastoral concern for truth, one that tempers and disciplines those of us who would become teachers.

Although I have no understanding of the history of dialectics within German philosophy (Kantian or Hegelian), let me instead offer further words by Barth on the distance between God and humanity. They come from the Gottingen Dogmatics which were lectures given by Barth from 1924-1925. This section in on pp. 76-77, "Man as Pilgrim." Barth elucidates how humanity contradicts the Word of God, and that 1.) this contradiction is not just some apparent spoke in the wheel of God's great plans for the world. 2.) This contradiction is not just regarding the relation between God and man, but really exists in us. 3.) Therefore, it is not simply our fate to be sinners, i.e. contradictors of this Word, not just spectators of this sinning, but actual participants in it and therefore responsible for it. 4.) Finally, we are left with no human possibility for hearing God, let alone loving or "being with" God. Only he has possibility and actuality to be "God with us."

1. "Why cannot the Word of God be written very generally, spanning the whole harmoniously like a rainbow? Why the historical contingency of the Deus dixit? Again, why is not that which the Word of God is meant to restore something general and orderly and planned? Unlike speculative thinkers in every age, from Origen by way of Zwingli to Schleiermacher and Hegel, we must not view man's alienation from God as a stage in God's will that man necessarily had to go through, as a process that could not have been different. It is instead the very epitome of the particular that cannot be reduced to a system. It is an episode. Man is not understood, at least in a Christian sense, if his being is as it were sanctioned by theological or philosophical systematizing, even though the concept of God's glory stands at the head of the system, as in Zwingli. God is not glorified by our using the concepts of creation and providence to sanctify that which from a Christian standpoint at least is unholy and has to be overcome. Even as the Creator and Ruler of All Things, God can be praised only by calling upon him in our need. And need means that the thesis and antithesis of the contradiction are not balanced like the arms of a scale. Otherwise it would not be a need and we would not have to call upon God. This leads us to the next point.

2. From a Christian standpoint the definition of man as a pilgrim is a definition of existence, not merely of thought. There is no reason why it should not have also logical, epistemological, and dialectical significance. The whole history of philosophy shows this. But the decisive point for the Christian understanding of this feature is that what is understood thereby is first of all the real dialectic of life. Pilgrim man stands between Scylla and Charybdis [Wikipedia:
Scylla and Charybdis are two sea monsters of Greek mythology situated on opposite sides of a narrow channel of water, so close that sailors attempting to avoid Charybdis will pass too close to Scylla and vice versa. The phrase "between Scylla and Charybdis" has come to mean being in a state where one is between two dangers and moving away from one will cause you to be in danger from the other, and is believed to be the progenitor of the phrase "between a rock and a hard place". The phrase "Caught Between Scylla and Charybdis" has also become synonomus with a popular song title], between two truths that make each other, and man as the third thing between them, impossible. Even in his family and nation and church and culture, man is truly uprooted, no matter how strongly or weakly this may be apparent. He may reflect upon his path, he may find pleasure in the tireless self-movement of the idea, he may erect a system of paradoxes, he may be very comfortable in his humanity. He can do these things, but he is not a pilgrim man as he does so. We reach here a point at which Kierkegaard once thought that he should vindicate the intersts of Christianity against Hegel. The relation of Hegel's dialectic to the real dialectic seemed to him to be like that of Leporello with his record to his master Don Juan, who in contrast himself drinks, and seduces and enjoys life, and hence himself goes to hell. The "himself must be asserted. The Christian concept of man becomes unambivalent only when it ceases to denote a mere relation and begins to denote what happens in the relation, when man is not the subject of mere discussion or clarification but the participant in a battle report who has just emerged from the fray. We may compare this definition, the existentiality of the human contradiction, with that of revelation, which I have called address. God's address is to pilgrim man himself, not to his philosophical shadow.

3. With this is connected the third point. Man cannot view the disorder in which he is entangled as his fate. He must view it as his responsible act, his fault. The element of fate that all of us, parents and children, are human, and that we are thus implicated in the contradiction, in the alienation from God, is beyond dispute. But this consideration cannot be our final one. The rift goes through our existence because we cause it ourselves and are not just spectators of this tragedy. In defining revelation, we stressed the fact that God's address is a miracle, not a marvel. It is an act of God, not a manifest givenness of the divine. In the same way we are not to view in natural or material or static terms the situation of the man to whom this address relates, the hiddenness of God for us if he did not address us, our nonseeing and nonhearing of God were he not himself both eye and ear. Man must not meet God's grace - as we may best describe his action - with a mere insight into his own relativity, finitude, creatureliness, etc., with a mere assertion that he is merely a man, but with shame that he is this man. "Fools and slow of heart" [Luke 24:25] - this is what we are with our nonseeing and nonhearing. Sighing at the plight we are in, if we see things aright, must go deeper and become pain at our sin, without which we do not see that the alienation of pilgrim man is really alienation from God. The final point follows at once.

4. From a Christian standpoint, the human situation is seen to be a final one apart from divine possibility. The contradiction cannot be overcome. This follows from the fact that man msut always view it also and primarily as his own act. Overcoming it would mean removing the subject that causes it, the subject in which it continually has its origin. In keeping with this is the truth that in revelation we always have to do with the fact that God becomes the subject. God overcomes the contradiction by himself becoming man and by creating faith and obedience in us by his Spirit. But because this is exclusively his possibility, to say this is to say that man has no possibilities in this direction. In this final definition we tear up by the roots all the optimism to which people so readily yield in modern theology. It will not do to accept the contradiction and then to give the assurance that something which transcends it, a third and higher thing, a synthesis in which the antitheses can come to rest, presses upon us so ineluctably that we cannot avoid positing it as real and thereby overcoming the contradiction. It is we who (rather boldly) dare to do this. And it is we who still engage in the contradiction as we do so, for in so doing how are we in any position to do anything but posit a new contradiction? Nor will it do to accept the impossibility of overcoming the contradiction and then to make it all the object of a dialectical reversal, attaining in this way to the saving position of making a truly radical negation and then promptly altering the sign, and securing a happy ending, on the ground that because a contradiction that we cannot remove is one side of the equation, its overcoming is its conceptually necessary counterpart. Certainly we can and must think this, but we can only think it. Thinking the possibility that is the opposite of an impossibility does not alter the finality of the impossibility. On the contrary, it confirms it. The signthat we have altered says no more and no less than everyting we do. What hands have built . . . [hands can throw down." - F. von Schiller].
In my view, it also will not do that after perhaps renouncing the two above procedures, at the last moment, when all other lights have been put out, we try to retrieve the lost situation by brining in a visible historical entity, Jesus of Nazareth, in which the contradiction is supposedly overcome. I am not contesting, of course, the material signficance of this final attempt at a solution. It points to the divine possibility of a solution that announces itself in revelation. But we should not introduce this reference as a final human attempt, as obviously happens when an emphasis on the historical entity Jesus approvingly recalls its presence in our own sphere, and an emphasis on the visibility approvingly recalls our own ability to grasp it. As though this entity were not thereby brought into the dialectic of our contradiction! As though by being made an instrument of the human attempt at a solution it could be made to serve an apologetic purpose and be a solution, an overcoming, an answer! As though it would not instead confirm the finality of the judgment thatstands over all things human!
When I say that the contradiction is final, I mean that no word that man speaks as subject is the world of reconciliation, not even the word "Jesus Christ," which is not a magic formula. There is room for this word only when God as subject makes room for it, when he takes it up and speaks it. Only on this presupposition, to which we should not have resort only at the last when we can do nothing else, but at the very outset, only thus is the reference to Jesus Christ anything better than an evasion. In the place which God creates, as God's own Word, this Word can in fact be the Word of reconciliation, of overcoming, of homecoming. But if it is to be such a Word on our lips, we must first learn radically to renounce its compromising use as a Deus ex machina, as a final resort in a not quite hopeless situation.
I hope that you will at least agree with me to the extent of seeing that if we put the concept of revelation at the head, the concept of man necessarily demands with all strictness this final definition, the definitive nature of his being out on the street. It will not have escaped you that with what we have said in subsections II and III we have touched on the basic features of what will call for treatment in dogmatics proper as the doctrines of the fall, original sin, and the bondage of the will."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Great Barth Meeting

I'm glad that we finally were able to meet Tim. Matthew was able to drive out to visit us from the Berkshires, and we're thankful that he invited Tim along! As we read the 2nd subsection in the "Speech of God as the Mystery of God (p.174 - p.181), Tim could hardly control himself. He reminded us of the true revolution occurring in Barth's writing, something that we tend to forget as we slug it out week after week. It seems to be a pervasive problem in our relationships: how to trust people and yet be careful that we do not box them in. How does this "boxing in" occur? For instance, we assume what their response might be in a given situation. We pick up patterns in the behaviour of others, and take short-cuts in our conversations based on our past experience with them. But this has the adverse effect of objectifying the person we are dealing with, as though they are a static being continually reacting with the same "limited" decisions day-in and day-out. We cannot snap a photograph of anyone and say that "That says it all!" No, our picture is a film with no end. It is dynamic. So thank you to Tim for his fresh eyes, and my prayer is that this group will sanctified by the Spirit, leading all of us closer to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

An Ode to Church Dogmatics

Ben Myers has done us all a huge favor and written out an appropriately reverent ode to the most famous of all 14 volume sets. Way to go Ben!

And Chris Tilling, over at Christendom has some thoughts on what books to read alongside the Dogmatics.