Reflections on my Intensive Reading of “Church Dogmatics” 4 in its Entirety

As some of you know, I spent 3 1/2 weeks in June reading through Church Dogmatics 4 as preparation to begin work in earnest on my dissertation (which I began writing in earnest today: ~1000 words isn’t a bad start!). Here are some reflections on the experience.

(1) Reading Barth (like Calvin) makes me want to read the Bible. This is about the highest praise one can give a theologian (as far as I’m concerned).

(2) One of the things that drives in the direction of my point #1 is Barth’s own exegesis. Right now I’m thinking specifically of his OT work in CD 4.2, and his exegesis of Job in CD 4.3.1. And who can overlook § 59.1 in this regard?

(3) Barth is incredibly repetitive. This is great if you’re dipping into one § and want to get a sense of the whole, but it is murder when you are trying to blitz through large tracks. It can easily become a tedious redundancy under such conditions.

(4) Barth’s theology is beautiful, by which I mean, the architecture of his thought is breathtaking. It is simply incredible how the various pieces fit together, and do so consistently. This demands that those who aspire to writing on Barth (alas, wretched man that I am!) labor long on this dimension of their own thought.

(5) Barth’s sections on sin might just be the best things to make beginning students read. They are incredibly insightful as far as the human situation is concerned, they come packed with great exegesis (often of the Old Testament, which is a joy to read), they are closely coordinated with his christological sections, and they are a concrete demonstration of his theological method.

(6) I didn’t much like The Christian Life, the posthumously published, fragmentary lecture material that would have been included in a full version of CD 4.4. There are certainly some great sections, but I found it very hard to get through. Perhaps it just needed good revision.



Bill said…
When you say "the sections on sin" would be good for the beginning student, I'm curious which sections in particular you meant. I am on the lookout for some introductory material on Barth and on sin, so this post is very helpful.
Andy Rowell said…
Thanks for the report from Barth's dense thickets.
Bil, paragraphs 60, 65, and 70.
Andrew Esqueda said…
Thanks for the update Travis.
Todd said…

Great reflections and nice work going through so much material. I agree that the sections on sin are quite perceptive. I remember being surprised by how much space was devoted to “sloth” in 4/2 but was very much impressed as I went through that section.
It has been awhile since I read CD 4, but I remember wondering whether or not the structure always held together, particularly in 4/3. The example I recall is Barth’s treatment of justification, sanctification, and vocation across the volumes. It doesn’t seem that the de facto/de jure distinction with the first two works with vocation and vocation seems to really be the subjective side of the other two (perhaps election brings in the de jure side of vocation but election seems to be equally at work in all three rather than in just vocation). I just remember thinking that the material was being forced a bit into his structure at this point.
Hi Todd,

I have to disagree - I think the pattern holds. I'll grant, perhaps, that the accent shifts - Barth is a little more interested now in our human correspondence as opposed to its objective basis - but the former is still present. Furthermore, we might note that 4.3 is geared a bit more toward that correspondence angle precisely because it is concerned with Christ's work as the intersection of the divine and human (4.1 focuses on the divine side, 4.2 on the human side, 4.3 on their unity - you know this).

This explains, I think, the shift in accent. But it also reveals a deeper logic in the structure. Paragraphs 61, 66, and 71 aren't meant to bear the brunt of the objective aspect - the first two just happen to hit that note more because that is the note that needed sounding. The objective work is grounded in paragraphs 59, 64, and 69.
Bobby Grow said…
Travis said:

(1) Reading Barth (like Calvin) makes me want to read the Bible. This is about the highest praise one can give a theologian (as far as I’m concerned).

That is the best virtue one can ascribe to any theologian; for sure. Are there certain parts of the Bible that Barth makes you want to read, in particular; or is this just a general statement?
General statement. ;-)
Anonymous said…

Enjoyed your reflections, and I whole heartedly second your first observation. Very few theologians push their readers back to the scriptures like Barth and Calvin.
Todd said…

Thanks for the reply. I don't get to discuss Barth often (Notre Dame is not exactly filled with people studying Barth!) and noting the shift in IV/3 to the intersection of the human and divine is very helpful.
I will have to go back to my notes and the text of CD IV if I want to pursue this more. Maybe at some point I post my thoughts at memoriadei.
myleswerntz said…
Todd, what do you think of McKenny's new book on Barth?
Yes, I'm curious about that book as well. Haven't gotten a copy in my hands yet.
Todd said…
I have not yet read McKenny's book either. Knowing him from coursework, I would assume it is quite good and certainly worth reading. Of course, I would love to hear what those of you who study Barth think about it.

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