Karl Barth Conference 2015: A Sneak Peak

The annual Karl Barth Conference in Princeton begins this Sunday, and I'm excited to say I will be attending for the first time and also presenting a paper at one of the concurrent sessions. (It's not too late for you to go too. Registration is still open.)
The conference theme is "Karl Barth and the Gospels: Interpreting Gospel Texts."

The Barth Center and other organizers clearly have gone all out this year. The participation of Jürgen Moltmann, in particular, marks this event as a special one.

About 20 years ago, early in my theological studies, I heard Professor Moltmann speak at Emory University. What he said then was prescient for what the churches and organized religious communities more broadly face today. In the mid-1990s, the mainline churches were first beginning to grapple with the decline of denominationalism in the United States. The contours of this downward spiral are even sharper today, as the media analyze the precipitous growth of the "Nones" and sociological studies are confirming the rapid secularization of North American society. What Professor Moltmann told us back then was that the churches needed to quit obsessing about institutional declension and seek first the Kingdom of God.


* * *

As I said, this conference should offer feast of insights for theologians and Barth scholars. Take a gander at the roster of plenary speakers:
  • Jürgen Moltmann—“Predestination: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of the Election of Grace”
  • Eric Gregory—“‘The Gospel within the commandment’: Karl Barth on the Parable of the Good Samaritan”
  • Willie Jennings—“A Rich Disciple? Karl Barth on the Rich Young Ruler”
  • Paul Dafydd Jones—“The Riddle of Gethsemane”
  • Karlfried Froehlich—“Karl Barth and the Isenheim Altarpiece”
  • Bruce L. McCormack—“The Passion of God Himself: the Cry of Dereliction in Barth’s Theology”
  • Beverly Gaventa—“Reading Karl Barth’s Reading of the Road to Emmaus”
  • Richard Bauckham—“Karl Barth’s Interpretation of the Prologue to John's Gospel"
  • Daniel L. Migliore —“Barth, Balthasar, and the Parable of the Lost Son”

I also am exited for the chance to hear Fleming Rutledge preach at chapel service. Sadly, though, I have to skip out of town before Professor Migliore's talk.

* * *

In addition to the plenary lectures, there will be two sessions, on Monday and Tuesday afternoon, with seven concurrent speakers each -- a notion which sort of makes my head swim. Now by popular demand (well, actually, only one person demanded it, but it happens to be a significant person in this particular case), here is the abstract for my paper.

The Good Samaritan as Anonymous Christian:
Barth’s Christological Exposition of Luke 10:25-37

How might Christian ethics today remain Christ-centered while honoring the full humanity of the social outcast or the non-Christian other? This constructive essay explores this question through a close reading of Karl Barth’s exposition of the “Good Samaritan” parable, the capstone of his discussion of Christian life as the “Praise of God” (Church Dogmatics I/2, par. 18.3). Though Barth wrote no complete ethics of revelation that matches the lengthier discussions in vols. 2 through 4, Geoffrey Bromiley notes that par. 18 (“The Life of the Children of God”) foreshadows key themes in those treatises. After discussing the first commandment as the foundation of the Christian life (18.2), Barth explores how believers might fulfill the second commandment to love the neighbor without lapsing into works righteousness or getting enmeshed in the notion of an abstract love imperative. In the Samaritan we encounter the neighbor as an event of grace, who embodies the fallen humanity assumed by the Son of God in the incarnation. This parable, which upends the lawyer’s self-justifying question, presents the paradox of discipleship: God commands what we as sinners are unable to accomplish, and thus personally fulfills the commandment in Jesus Christ. Moreover, as the religious other (not as the ecclesial insiders, the priest and Levite), the figure of the Samaritan suggests a way that those outside the visible churches may become “parables” (to anticipate Barth’s later language) of Christ’s humanity, thus drawing believers more deeply into an authentic life of praise to God. The paper suggests some ways this paradigm might apply to contemporary praxis.

I conclude with a quote from Barth that elaborates the main claim in my paper:

As the Bible sees it, service of the compassionate neighbor is certainly not restricted to the life of the Church in itself and as such. It is not restricted to the members of the Church who are already called and recognizable as such. It is not restricted to their specific action in this capacity. Humanity as a whole can take part in this service. The Samaritan in the parable shows us incontestably that even those who do not know that they are doing so, or what they are doing, can assume and exercise the function of a compassionate neighbor (Church Dogmatics I/2, p. 422).



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