What Am I Reading? George Hunsinger

George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology, (Oxford: OUP, 1991) – available on Amazon.com.

This book is the polished product of Hunsinger’s dissertation under Hans Frei, the last dissertation that Frei ever read (per Hunsinger’s report). It does not represent my first interaction with Hunsinger by any means. I have had the privilege of studying under his tutelage for the past two years and am very pleased to be working with him in the current academic year as well. Also, I have read his other volume entitled Disruptive Grace, which I very highly recommend. However, I found this book to be very illuminating as it gathered up and carefully argued many of the insights that I have learned from Hunsinger through other venues. It is an excellent volume with which to begin one’s study of Barth as in the course of the volume Hunsinger touches upon all the most important aspects of Barth’s work at least once. It is also an excellent volume with which to consolidate what one has already learned of Barth. Hunsinger’s prologue is especially helpful in that he reviews and evaluates previous readings of Barth’s theology ranging from von Balthasar to Thomas Torrance to Berkouwer and others. In contrast to these readings of Barth, Hunsinger proposes that Barth be understood in terms of six interrelated “motifs” that he recognizes to be latent throughout Barth’s mature work – actualism, particularism, objectivism, personalism, realism, and rationalism.

One last point that deserves mention is that, in my humble opinion, Hunsinger does an excellent job of exploring the relationship between divine and human agency in Barth’s work. This concern is the openly alluded to “elephant in the room” throughout the entirely of the volume and it explicitly takes up about 1/3 of the text. In Hunsinger’s analysis it is dealt with in terms of what Hunsinger calls the “Chalcedonian pattern” and the Trinitarian pattern of “dialectical inclusion.” But, for a more robust account, I recommend that you pick up a copy of this book. It is well worth your while. Stay tuned for a couple editions of "Choice Quotations" arising from this exceptional volume.

Table of Contents:

Prologue: Readings Old and New – a Critique

Part 1 – The Motifs in Survey: The Shaping of Doctrine in the Church Dogmatics

Chapter 1 – Four Motifs: A Preliminary Survey
Chapter 2 – Two More Motifs: A Detailed Survey

Part 2 – The Motifs Applied: The Conception of Truth in the Church Dogmatics

Chapter 3 – Truth as Event and as Unique in Kind
Chapter 4 – Truth as Mediated: Revelation
Chapter 5 – Truth as Mediated: Reconciliation
Chapter 6 – Truth as Encounter
Chapter 7 – Double Agency as a Test Case

Conclusion: Christ the Center
Epilogue: Secular Parables of the Truth


I absolutely loved this book! Double agency in Barth was a huge hurdle for me. I found Hunsinger's treatment of IV/3.1 in the epilogue so inspiring that I gave a powerpoint presentation on it back home in Amherst.

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