Eberhard Jüngel and Helmut Gollwitzer on Socialism and Solidarity: The Full Mon...I mean...Intro...

Something of a love-hate relationship exists between the liberation and “Barthian” theological movements. On the one hand, some proponents of the latter claim that Barth’s theology is not only contextual but liberationist, going so far as to argue that “it is indisputable that a direct line goes from [Barth] to the liberation movements and liberation theology.” On the other hand, some proponents of the former see Barth’s approach to theology as an impediment to contextual and liberationist theological approaches. James Cone is perhaps the most significant voice in this camp.

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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Matthew Frost said…
Well, you know I'm with you on Golli against Jüngel. And as a Barthian, I'm quite fond of Cone's work; it does indeed seem to represent a line drawn from the opposition in the Kirchenkampf to the contexts of liberation. But that line wasn't Barth's; it had to be drawn, and drawn again and again, for the contemporary contexts into which useful ideas that appear in the earlier context could be drawn, out of and abstracted away from their serious racial, sexual, and interreligious failures in Barth's own formulations. Gollwitzer, as much as Cone, is necessary because Barth didn't go there.

On the other hand, and this is a lesser but still important critique, it seems like Cone's cited complaints about Barth are not in fact about Barth—rather, his problem derives from American reception history in which Brunner is the dominant text, and in which Barth is seldom read for himself when there is a neo-orthodox interpreter and critic who could be read to frame him. And those failures absolutely should be opposed!
jonny said…
Will the full paper be published somewhere?
It will come to light in due course. :-)

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