Karl Barth on Eberhard Jüngel’s “God’s Being Is In Becoming” - from a new book by Eberhard Busch
As some of you may already be aware, Eberhard Busch has recently published an incredible new resource for Barth studies, namely, a compendium of his notes from his time as Karl Barth’s assistant (Meine Zeit mit Karl Barth). Those who know the Barth studies landscape don’t need to be told how significant this is; to those of you who don’t know the landscape so well, suffice it to say that this volume will be of great interest.
As a case in point, I present the below. Busch’s publishers have made a tract of his text available as a bit of a sample, and my friend and colleague from Princeton Seminary, Matt Bruce (also, coincidently, a friend of the blog and the Karl Barth Blog Conference), passed along those pages and a rough-and-ready translation of a couple interesting paragraphs. These paragraphs recount a discussion with Barth concerning Eberhard Jüngel’s then recently published, God’s Being Is In Becoming. Barth provides an appraisal (positive, by the way), as well as some thoughts on Jüngel himself and other pertinent theologians like Helmut Gollwitzer and Rudolf Bultmann. So, without further ado, the text:
From: Eberhard Busch. Meine Zeit mit Karl Barth: Tagebuch 1965-1968. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011. pp. 13-15. Translated by Matthew J. Aragon Bruce, 3 September 2011.
I gather together here notes that I wrote down sometime ago without without dates. After Barth had completed all his University activities, he formed a small working group that met at his home in which new theological literature was discussed. In the summer of 1965, we discussed in this group Eberhard Jüngel’s book God’s Being Is In Becoming over the course of three meetings. Barth was present at the first meeting; however Thurneysen presided over the other two meetings because Barth was again laid up due to his illness and also was in the hospital. In that first meeting, Barth expressed the highest satisfaction with the book. Fundamentally, he had no objections to the book, apart from that the fact that Jüngel’s linguistic style was not always accessible to him. In this regard he was of the opinion that in part, “This is his culpability, not mine.” Jürgen Fangmeier on the other hand was of the opinion that something must be wrong with Jüngel because of the strong polemics he directed against Gollwitzer’s critique of Bultmann and his disciples. Barth countered: No, he feels that he has been well understood. Jüngel criticizes Gollwitzer only in order to resist the mistaken account that the being of God “arises (aufgeht)” in the event of a determined relationship. In this manner, Gollwitzer remains stuck in the old thinking of a static concept of substance. Therefore he [Gollwitzer] is not to be spared from the objections that are indicated in the book. But, said Fangmeier: Jüngel still brings Barth into a connection with Ebeling’s statement: God is not an extramundane essence. Barth replied: “Yes, that is factually correct. God is in fact not such an essence. I have not taught such an essence.” In regard to what is at stake in the relationship between him [Barth] on the one had and Bultmann or his disciples on the other, which Jüngel so emphatically highlights, Barth feels that the respective passages are not at all instances of “mediation” or “compromise” in which this or that important insight into the matter has been ceded or relinquished to the other side. But he rather had the impression that Jüngel adhered to his line [of thought] on the whole. By means of these suggested relationships, astute insights are thus attributed to the other sight that in fact run counter to some extent to the direction of their thought. In this way something is served to them on their plate, which they otherwise could not afford. Jüngel’s appeal to Barth is credible, but less so his assertions about cross-connections between Barth and Bultmann and his associates. Ernst Fuchs has written in his copy of the book, under the subtitle (“A paraphrase of the doctrine of God of K.B.”): “A paraphrase – and more than that.” What does that mean? Barth referred to the main title as the most enigmatic part of the book: “God’s Being is in Becoming.” “What is meant by this ominous word ‘becoming’? It is not clear to me, to what extent this word is useful here and much less essential.” He may certainly not approve of Schelling’s discourse about the “becoming God.” Certainly, God is God in movement. If and in so far as it is this that is meant with this phrase “becoming God,” Barth can go along with him. His critique of Schelling begins with the question: Is it not the case with him, that the ground for the movement or for the becoming lies in a lack, in a deficiency in God. Does this mean that the “motive” of his becoming exists in the necessary compulsion in which God wants to satiate and satisfy his need for self-enrichment? However Barth on the other hand would like to emphasize that God is in movement, because he is rich in himself and because he has no need for anything himself, but wants to give something of himself, beyond himself.
Jüngel’s remarks about the doctrine of the Trinity are thus “entirely right.” But Barth would have preferred it if he had presented the argument by means of exegetical and historical-theological investigations, in this case above all with recourse to the theology of the early church. In the form in which Jüngel currently explains it, it seems almost as though the doctrine of the Trinity is “a special invention of Karl Barth.” His “modest contribution” to the churchly doctrine of the Trinity has only been the one that he saw, understood, and developed in close, indissoluble connection with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. “It is the consequence of the christological dogma of true God and true man, and it [the doct. of the Trinity] is so closely linked with it [christology], that it [the doct. of the Trinity] falls if this is contested. Naturally it is not the Trinity that falls but the Church’s doctrine of it [Trinity]. But also this insight is still not simply new compared with the most interesting discoveries in the early Church.
There certainly is a lot there to digest. And just think – there are 760 pages of this (for quite a low price-tag, I must say). We can only hope that this volume makes it into English very quickly – there is no doubt in my mind that it is essential reading for any student of Barth, and that it will be engaging enough to attract comparatively wide reading should the linguistic barrier be surmounted. So if Tom Kraft and any of the folks over at the T&T Clark Blog are paying attention, I have this simple message for you: “Do anything necessary to acquire the translation rights for this book and get it into print, ASAP!”