Here is a glimpse at what David Guretzki got up to in his introductory appendix entitled, “Become Conversant with Barth’s Church Dogmatics: A Primer.” David has made versions of this piece available before, but he revised and expanded for the book. The expansion included a section on Barth as a “fractal” theologian. Here’s a little bit about what that means.
W. Travis McMaken and David W. Congdon (eds.), Karl Barth in Conversation (Pickwick, 2014), 294–95.
Practically speaking, reading Barth the fractal theologian means keeping the relationship of the parts to the whole constantly in mind and therefore resisting the temptation to isolate one small section of Barth from the rest of his dogmatic work. As each pine twig does not stand on its own but is nevertheless representative of the whole tree, so all of Barth’s dogmatic statements need to be understood relative to the larger whole. But note also that just as in the real world (and in fractal geometry) each pine twig is not an exact replica of the whole pine tree in every detail, so too in Barth’s CD we should not abstract a detailed passage from its larger whole—in which case we may be in danger of losing the forest for the trees—and expect that we now know all there is to know about Barth. Nor should we assume that a basic knowledge of the whole outline of the CD is a sure predictor of the minute dogmatic details.
In this regard, I’ve sometimes been disheartened when I’ve heard or read individuals who make a grand statement about some aspect of Barth’s theology based on a detailed reading of a small portion of the CD. While it is entirely appropriate and necessary to make evaluations of these sorts, the fractal complexity of the CD requires a degree of chastening and humility on the reader’s part. Amazingly, looking at one pine twig may give real insight into the shape of the pine tree, but humility requires an examination of all the pine twigs together in their organic unity to make a confident assertion about what the pine tree really looks like. Of course, this is a fundamental principle of any sound hermeneutic employed when reading any large text, and it is a hermeneutic which we do well to heed as we read Barth as a fractal theologian.