Frei on Barth and Barthians
Hans Frei, Types of Christian Theology (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992): 157.I am happy to agree with Frei’s description of Barth, and with his implicit warning to would-be-Barthians concerning the extra effort that should be taken to avoid being boring, but I cannot say that I have myself found reading ‘Barthians’ boring. The only way that I know how to explain this is by saying that the Barthians I read all came along after Frei passed from the scene. Perhaps there were earlier Barthians who were boring in the way Frei suggests, whom history has – mercifully – allowed to pass from the scene such that I have not come across them. Perhaps, also, who Frei has in mind here are the North American neo-orthodox of the mid 20th-century.
“Readers of Barth’s Church Dogmatics usually come up with the same experience: Whether one agrees with Barth or not, and despite the endless repetition of themes and the stylistic heaviness, much increased by the translation, which loses the almost colloquial vigor of the German original, there is an increasingly compelling, engrossing quality to the material. And it is much more accessible than much Modern theology: Even the technical terms don’t lose sight of ordinary language, and Barth possesses astonishing descriptive powers. But then, as one tries to restate it afterwards the material dies on one’s hands. It can be done, but there is nothing as wooden to read as one’s own or others’ restatements of Barth’s terms, his technical themes and their development. It is as though he had preempted that particular language and its deployment. For that reason, reading ‘Barthians,’ unlike Barth himself, can often be painfully boring.”
In any case, may God save me from – among other things – being or becoming a painfully boring Barthian!