In his relatively recent book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cone criticizes Barth for disconnecting theology from experience, and especially the experience of marginalized peoples: “Unless we look at the ‘facts of experience,’ . . . what we say about the cross remains at the level of theological abstraction, like Karl Barth’s Word of God, separated from the real crosses in our midst.” Cone’s criticism of Barth has stood for at least 30 years. In the preface to the 1986 edition of his A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone makes clear that he has moved beyond the “neo-orthodox theology of Karl Barth.” Such theology is problematic because it appeals to an “‘abstract’ revelation” that is “independent of human experiences, [and] to which theologians can appeal for evidence.” Cone argues instead that “God meets us in the human situation, not as an idea or concept.”
A core aspect of Cone’s criticism concerns the relationship between theory and praxis. While Barth did not approach the issue in these, preferring more strictly dogmatic discourses, certain of those who have sought to do theology “after” Barth in constructive dialogue with his legacy have found it necessary to speak in these terms. Among the most prominent of these are Eberhard Jüngel and Helmut Gollwitzer, who typically represent opposing sides in the reception of Barth’s theology. Providing a comprehensive survey of Jüngel and Gollwitzer’s discussions of the relation between theory and praxis is too large a task to take up here. Instead, I will conduct a case study on the subject by focusing on an exchange of papers between them in the 1970s on the topic of political theology. First, I will explicate the essay from Jüngel that precipitated this exchange with Gollwitzer. Second, I will analyze the discussion that unfolds between the two theologians, highlighting the key themes of socialism and solidarity as they emerge. Third and finally, I will offer a concluding reflection on the distance between how Jüngel and Gollwitzer relate theory and praxis as seen in this exchange. We will see that Gollwitzer binds theory more tightly to praxis than does Jüngel.
[Ed. note: This is the full introduction from the paper that I'll be presenting later today at the Jüngel study group at the American Academy of Religion. Time restraints required that I only present a small portion of it.]
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