Saturday, February 27, 2010

More on Barth & History

I came across something this morning that I wanted to post as a brief follow-up to my last post on Paul Jones’ book. Coincidently, if you haven’t read Paul’s comment on that post, be sure to – he breaks it down nicely into a more digestible form. But, that’s not the point.

The point is this thread on Barth at The Puritan Board. What began as a student at St. Andrews Div asking for clarification on Barth descended rather quickly into hyper-conservative (fundamentalist?) Reformed Barth-bashing bonanza. I’ve never seen such a condensed compilation of misinformation about and misreading of Barth.

For instance, consider the following, especially in light of my post mentioned above. It comes from a commenter who is a student at New Geneva Theological Seminary (which, I would venture to say, does not even begin to hold a candle to Calvin, Beza, and Turretin’s Genevan academy – but I digress): “The Christian religion is historical. Barth's theology is a-historical. Barth's theology is not Christian.”

Aside from the ridiculous question-begging here, and the tone-deaf reading of Barth on Scripture that undergirds the assertion (along with the misunderstanding of Kant’s role in Barth’s theology that surfaces in later comments), this comment is patently false. Aside for the considerable defense that could be mounted for earlier renditions of Barth, how is it even possible to conclude from a reading of CD 4 that Barth is anything less than full-bloodedly historical? In fact, it would not be hard to argue that he is the most historical theologian to date because he makes history – the history of Jesus of Nazareth – internal (!) to the being of God.

Examples such as this could be multiplied exponentially from this Puritan Board thread, but I will stop here with a bit of editorializing: It is immensely demoralizing for someone with an evangelical background and evangelical commitments (such as myself) to come across people such as this, who maintain (for largely polemic and apologetic reasons) a feverish commitment to refusing Barth a fair hearing and to perpetuating less than half-baked misunderstandings of his theology.

P.S. For more unfortunate engagements with Barth from similar quarters, see these posts as well.

P.P.S. Sorry that the link to the Puritan Board thread wasn't working - it should be fixed now. Also, I'm aware that it is possible to find more responsible engagement with Barth from within the denominations peopled by those I lampoon here, but that is certainly - and unfortunately - not the norm. It is not that I have a problem with people disagreeing with Barth; its that I have a problem with them doing so without first having worked to understand him.

7 comments:

mdarcher1 said...

This is something I struggle with...but I've noticed that a lot of the shallower hyper-conservative charges against Barth tend to follow the way Barth is taught in the United States (even in mainline seminaries).

Part of me wants to say in response to those who cut and paste parts of Barth on scripture and so forth as examples of his supposed unorthodoxy to "read and study more of the Dogmatics, then we'll talk," but is this a solution?

Josh said...

You may also like this: http://www.puritanboard.com/f15/rare-karl-barth-english-audio-32353/

Andrew Esqueda said...

Travis, I totally agree! I am sick of people criticizing Barth when they either don't understand him or have not even read him. I have found that this is the case for a large number of Barth criticizer's who I have come into contact with. I constantly hear that Barth has a weak doctrine of creation, a weak Pneumatology, and that he is a liberal universalist. This is just not the case. I think people have an extremely hard time understanding his dialectical theology, which leads to a poor interpretation of Barth. I wish people would take the time to read Barth in depth before they criticize him. At the least consult some reliable secondary sources and Cornelius Van Til wouldn't be one of them.

Bobby Grow said...

Yeah, I've been lampooned in the same way by the "Reformed Orthodox" just because I mention TFT and/or Barth; once they realize that I appreciate these guys I am immediately caricatured or black-balled so that anything I say from that point on is suspect, at least.

I need to spend more time reading Barth (I've been spending reading time I have usually with TFT as of late); but what I have read and know of him is always misrepresented by the "Calvinists."

Anonymous said...

Travis,
I understand your disappointment. I think the best respons to that easy words will be a sound Blog Conference. I am sure you will success.
For the rest, you say well focusing in Barth’s introduction of Jesus history inside God (as Jüngel insists). Indeed this makes of Barth a historical theologian, following the steps of Hegel.
But also makes Barth an accurate thinker of John preface:
1.In the beggining was the Word, and the Word was turned toward God, and what the Word was God also was. 2.He was in the beginning with God. 3. All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made. What took place in him was life, and the life was the light of humankind. 5. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I will not be the one to decide if this metaphysical reflections are historical or ahistorical. Probably both. One thing is sure to me: it is interesting to think about them wihtout simple mind schemes and easy solutions.

Good job, Travis.

Sergi

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
Can you say more about why you think the 21Ref comments from Evans are unfortunate? What is it exactly about them?
Gracia
HJ.

W. Travis McMaken said...

HJ,

They are unfortunate for their less than even half-hearted engagement with Barth and recent Barthian scholarship.