'For the Sake of the World' by George Hunsinger (Ed)

(Update: After 12 days of travel, I am currently enjoying a less than 24-hour layover in Princeton before heading off again. Thanks to those of you who are stopping by even though DET has been inactive. I will soon return DET to its usual standards of multiple thought-provoking and intellectually rigorous posts each week. Until then, enjoy this book review.)


George Hunsinger (Ed), For the Sake of the World: Karl Barth and the Future of Ecclesial Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004).

The Karl Barth conference is recently past, as is the Karl Barth Blog Conference. So, I figured that I should read the volume that was spawned by the Barth conference that inaugurated the Center for Barth Studies here at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1999. (You can read George Hunsinger’s ‘report’ on the conference.) Having read this volume, I thought that I would share its general contours by making some comments on the chapters and responses, etc.


The volume begins with an engaging introduction by George Hunsinger. This introduction should not be skipped because it is, basically, Hunsinger’s response to the various chapters.

The Barth-Brunner Correspondence by John W. Hart

This chapter was quite interesting, not least because it tells the story of the friendship between Karl Barth and Emil Brunner from its conception, to its professional dissolution, to its final hours before Brunner’s death. It also seems to be a good introduction to Hart’s volume Karl Barth vs. Emil Brunner, which looks good if my 15 minute perusal of it while in the Barth Center last week is any indication. Here is an interesting quotation:
The bulk of the correspondence falls between the years 1916 and 1936. In this period there are over 110 letters between the two men. The pattern of the correspondence reveals the unequal relationship between them. Almost without exception, Brunner initiates a topic of conversation. Usually Barth replies, and frequently Brunner follows up with a final comment. There is probably some truth that the Barth-Brunner relationship was like an “older brother/younger brother” relationship, since the correspondence is marked by increasing competition and insecurity on Brunner’s part and increasing frustration and dismissiveness on Barth’s part. Throughout the correspondence Brunner seeks Barth’s approval of his work. And yet, as Brunner’s own son would later write, “When all is said and done, Emil Brunner’s activities were of little importance for [Barth’s] activities.” (20)
Hunsinger says the following of Barth and Brunner in his introduction:
As Brunner lay dying in 1966, Barth was moved to communicate through a mutual friend. “If he is still alive and it is possible, tell him again, ‘Commended to our God,’ even by me. And tell him, Yes, that the time when I thought that I had to say ‘No’ to him is now long past, since we all live only by virtue of the fact that a great and merciful God says his gracious Yes to all of us.” These were the last words Brunner heard before he died. (2)
Daniel Migliore, in his response to Hart’s paper, lays his finger on what does seem to be the crux of the difference between Barth and Brunner, namely the relationship between law and gospel. Brunner is very close to Luther on this point, without the further nuance of Calvin, while Barth is something like Calvin on steroids. (cf. 49)

Indissoluble Unity: Barth’s Position on the Jews during the Hitler Ero by Eberhard Busch

Apparently there have been some in Germany who attempt to sully Barth’s good name on this question and suggest that Barth’s struggle with the Nazi regime was an issue apart from Barth’s feelings about the Jewish people. Busch argues that this is not the case, and in the mean time he provides and excellent introduction to Barth on the topic. Katherine Sonderegger provides a very interesting response, and most importantly (in my opinion) brings up the question of the Jewish temple for thinking about the relation between Church and Synagogue (cf. 83-87). I had not considered this point before and it is well worth your attention, although Sonderegger is unable to say much here.

Freedom for Humanity: Karl Barth and the Politics of the New World Order by Clifford Green

Another fine chapter that treats Barth’s socialism, his activism against German rearmament and for nuclear disarmament. This essay is a fine place to start in exploring Barth’s politics, as well as for thinking about the political role of the church. The response by David Hollenbach (S.J.) is valuable as well, for he points out many of the pressing crises that call for the church’s attention today.

“I See Something You Don’t See”: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Providence by Caroline Schröder

While providing a decent introduction to Barth’s understanding of providence, Schröder argues that it could lead to a Christian hubris over against the not yet Christian who do not discern the providential workings of history. I found this essay unconvincing, and so did the respondant Randall Zachman. Zachman also throws Calvin into the mix to suggest that perhaps the providential working and concern of God not only in human history, but in the movement of the stars and the life of the smallest plant.

What Wondrous Love Is This? Meditations on Barth, Christian Love, and the Future of Christian Ethics by Caroline J. Simon

The bulk of this essay was taken up with a comparison and contrast between Karl Barth and André Trocmé, the Reformed pastor of Le Chambon, a French village that organized to show love to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution during World War 2. Whereas Trocmé understood Christian love to extend to those outside the Christian community, Barth understood Christian love to be extended primarily within the Christian community, although Simon does make a few half-hearted caveats on this point. John Webster responds to this essay by bringing those caveats far more into focus and by insisting that Barth is not interesting in restricting Christian love to other Christians, but by extending Christian love to all people on a teleological basis. Thus Webster:
To love the other as a latent Christian is not to do violence to his or her integrity; still less is it to set up barriers to compassion. It is nothing other than a matter of affirming the other’s teleology, to treat the other as what he or she already is in Christ. (163)
Mysterium Trinitatis: Barth’s Conception of Eternity by George Hunsinger

I know this essay from Hunsinger’s Disruptive Grace, which I have quoted before and which I made use of in parsing the relationship between time and eternity. It is a great essay. The respondent, Brian Leftow, was helpful in that he sought to make precisely clear what Barth had achieved in thinking about time. Specifically, Barth has given a specifically Christian content to Boethius’ conception and thereby significantly moved forward theological understanding of time.

Epilogue: Barth as a Teacher by John Godsey

This concluding material is a very persona and whimsical account of Barth as a human being, as a theologian and as a teacher. Any student of Barth will read it with a smile on their face. Here are a few high points:
Regarding the latter [namely, Barth’s predilection for his pipe], you may recall Martin Niemöller’s saying about theologians: if you were a liberal, you smoked cigarettes; if you were conservative, you smoked cigars; but if you were a Barthian, you smoked a pipe! (204)
I must say that if this is the measure of a Barthian, I fall far short!

Godsey relays the story that Barth told him concerning the writing of the Barmen Declaration. Look for this in a coming post!
[Not long after the birth of Godsey’s daughte] Barth and Frl. Von Kirschbaum paid a visit to our apartment to see this latest addition to our family. Gretchen was lying peacefully in her crib. Barth leaned over and looked at her, then turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and asked: “Do you think she has original sin?!” (210)


Anonymous said…
The report you link to is from the 1999 conference isn't it? Does he have one for this conference?

Yes, that report is from 1999. Hunsinger was then director of the Center for Barth studies, and writing a report came naturally. To my knowledge, he has not written reports of the subsequent conference, including this most recent one.

That said, I imagine that Paul Molnar will publish something in the next newsletter.

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