The First (Annual?) Karl Barth Blog Conference

In anticipation of the upcoming Barth Conference to be held here at Princeton Theological Seminary ("Karl Barth and American Evangelicals: Friends or Foes?" June 24-27, 2007), I thought it would be interesting to put together something of a theo-blogosphere Barth conference.

I will be posting a series on Barth’s Protestnat Theology in the Nineteenth Century: Its Background and History (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002) in the coming days. These posts will be written primarily by theo-bloggers, although there are one or two writers who fall outside this category. Some of the authors are well known to readers of this blog while others are not. All authors are, however, solid theologians in their own ways. They have put much time and care into their posts, and their posts will certainly reward careful reading. And so, I commend this series and these writers to you. This blog conferene will conclude with an index and some final reflections by Ben Myers.

So, treat it as a conference! Leave comments and generate discussion about the various posts. I'll be around to discuss them, and I know that some of the authors will be watching as well. Furthermore, if you would like to be involved if I decide to do this again next year, let me know.

By way of introduction, I would like to offer up a few insights from Barth’s introductory chapter.

We are often told of Barth’s penchant for “beginning again from the beginning.” This could be understood to mean that we cast the Christian tradition to the wind, sit down with a copy of Holy Scripture, and begin theologizing. But, this is not what Barth had in mind. Instead, he tells us that “Beginning from the beginning, however necessary, cannot be a matter of beginning off one’s own bat” (3). The Christian tradition is to be taken seriously as a living and breathing dialogue partner not only because we cannot understand our own historical location without considering those who have come before us, but also because
“We have to remember the communion of saints, bearing and being borne by each other, asking and being asked, having to take mutual responsibility for and among the sinners gathered together in Christ. As regards theology, also, we cannot be in the Church without taking as much responsibility for the theology of the past as for the theology of the present. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Schleiermacher and all the rest [NB: where is Calvin?] are not dead, but living. They still speak and demand a hearing as living voices as surely as we know that they and we belong together in the Church” (3).
It is for this reason that even heretics must be listened to attentively and learned from when appropriate, for “heretics are relatively heretical” (3) and not absolutely so. And, because of this communion of the saints and its implications for doing theology,
“Every period of the church does in fact want to be understood as a period of the Church, that is, as a time of revelation, knowledge and confession of the one Christian truth, indeed as a special time, as this time of such revelation, knowledge and confession…They are in search of the answer to a question that concerns us, too” (13).
For all these reasons, those who have come before us “have a claim on our courtesy” (8). When we study historical theology or theological history (or however we prefer to formulate matters), we are not to approach these figures as those who must be judged or as arrows in the quiver of our own constructive project, although these things can and must come. Barth is emphatic that our first task is to hear these voices, to understand them, and to understand ourselves in light of them. And, while we may quibble with Barth and wonder whether and to what success he practiced what he here preaches, we must not set aside his admonition to attend to the living voices of our forebears.


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