Karl Barth in Conversation – Teasers from David W. Congdon

Ever since this publication project got underway, I have described it as the “revised and expanded” proceedings from the 2010 KBBC. So I figured that I would put together a post or two that highlights the “expanded” part of that description. If what you see here sounds interesting to you and you would like to read more, buy the book

Here is a glimpse at what my good friend, colleague, and theologically-conjoined twin – David W. Congdon – got up to in his “Afterword: The Future of Conversing with Barth.”

W. Travis McMaken and David W. Congdon (eds.), Karl Barth in Conversation (Pickwick, 2014), 255–56.

The conversation with Barth is still in its infancy. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that we are closing in on a century since the publication of Der Römerbrief, we are only just now seeing the creative possibilities in Barth scholarship. There are various reasons for this. Besides the sheer volume of his writings, there is the challenge posed by the diverse and complicated history of his reception. For many decades the academic dialogue about Barth focused primarily around the flash points of twentieth-century theology (e.g., “liberal theology,” “faith and history,” or postliberalism) and often labored under serious misunderstandings (e.g., Barth as neoorthodox, as lacking an account of human agency, or as lacking resources for a theology of culture). Certain confessional and ecclesial communities have had their own barriers to understanding Barth. For example, North American evangelicals received Barth initially through the myopic lens of Cornelius Van Til, and the still-ongoing “battle for the Bible” ends up missing the scriptural forest for the inerrantist trees. Roman Catholics, for their part, have to deal with Barth’s rejection of sacramentalism and the analogia entis—to name just two issues of theological conflict—in addition to dealing with the ambiguous legacy of Hans Urs von Balthasar within Catholic theology. The point in raising these examples is simply to indicate how difficult it has been to engage in a truly meaningful conversation with Barth.

The essays gathered in this volume signal the promise of a new generation of Barth scholars. A new generation, of course, does not guarantee superior scholarship, nor is it ever free from its own biases and interpretive blind-spots. But it does offer original vantage points, different angles of approach, fresh contextual concerns, and new dialogue partners. Not all of the dialogue partners in this book are new. Some, like Schleiermacher, are old friends. But the conversations are framed in new ways that will hopefully shed fresh light on Barth’s enduring significance for contemporary theological reflection.

The purpose of this afterword is threefold. First, I will discuss additional conversations with Barth that we as the editors hope to see others take up in the future. Second, I will identify some of the most significant barriers in the current theological scene, primarily within North America, to a responsible hearing of Barth’s theology. Third, I will offer a constructive clarification of three key aspects of his theology—its dialectical character, its understanding of metaphysics, and its basis in a revised supralapsarianism—to aid future conversations with his life and legacy.

David's afterword is full of food for thought. You don't want to miss it!



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