2010 KBBC: Week 2, Day 4

Barth and Hauerwas in Con-verse
By Halden Doerge

The topic with which I am concerned is what it might mean to bring Karl Barth into conversation with Stanley Hauerwas. As such I will try to avoid simply contrasting the two figures, or lodging a critique of one’s thought based on the other’s. Rather what is vital here is to investigate what it might mean to place these two figures in conversation with one another, and most specifically, as the theme of this year’s conference is “Karl Barth in Conversation,” my central concern will be with determining how we ought to read and appropriate the theology of Karl Barth in light of the work of Stanley Hauerwas. In short, my concern is what impact or opportunities Hauerwas makes for our reception of Barth.

Toward this end I will pursue two lines of inquiry. First, I will examine Hauerwas’s own articulation of his theological relation to Barth, showing how Hauerwas seeks to “place” himself and Barth in relation to one another theologically. As any reading of Hauerwas’s Gifford Lectures, With the Grain of the Universe makes clear, Hauerwas clearly understands Barth to be a vital theological witness in regard to the mission of the church in the world, even as he seeks to, in his view, move beyond Barth toward an ecclesiology “sufficient to sustain the witness that he thought was intrinsic to Christianity” (WTG, 39). As such, Hauerwas understands his own work to exist, in some significant sense, along the trajectory of Barth’s own work, carrying it forward in a way that exceeds Barth’s own limitations. It is this self-perception of Hauerwas’s own project as a further development, or extension of Barth’s project that must be laid to rest before we can see these two figures in their proper relation, a prerequisite for any sustained and fruitful conversation between their particular perspectives.

Secondly, having gestured towards a more accurate understanding of the relationship between Barth and Hauerwas, I will move towards an investigation of what truly reading Barth in conversation with Hauerwas might mean. In doing so I will begin to show the degree to which Hauerwas’s particular departures from Barth help us to see and hear anew the particular challenge that Barth’s theology poses for the task of theology and the faithfulness of the church to its mission in the world.

The Hauerwasian Quest for a Barthian Anchor

In his earliest book, Character and the Christian Life, Stanley Hauerwas engages Karl Barth’s work in relation to the question of growth in the Christian life. In doing so Hauerwas discerns a vital contribution in Barth’s work, namely in Barth’s “attempt to describe the Christian life in terms of the fundamental relationship of the self to God” (CCL, 176). Where Barth falls short according to Hauerwas is in his failure to “exploit the language of growth and character” (CCL, 177). Hauerwas is critical of the fact that Barth “treats the Christian life primarily in terms of events and acts, which, while repeatable, cannot contribute in a theologically significant way to the development of ourselves as men of character” (CCL, 173). In other words, Hauerwas, while appreciative of Barth’s centering of the ethical question on God’s own agency and action, is troubled by Barth’s refusal to find, in the language of character and growth, a point of ethical concreteness.

While it is important to note that as his work developed, Hauerwas has moved away from the language of character and growth in favor of emphasizing the church as a configuration of social practices which form its members in virtue (see CC, 129–52), this initial critique of Barth remains fundamentally unchanged. Barth’s insistence that “the relation between God and man is not that of parallelism and harmony of the divine and human wills, but of an explosive encounter, contradiction and reconciliation, in which it is the part of the divine will to precede and the human to follow” (CD II/2, 644) remains problematic for Hauerwas in that such an insistence on the asymmetry of divine and human action is unable to adequately express the “growth characteristic” of God’s work of sanctification (CCL, 176).

In summary, the central dissatisfaction that Hauerwas has with Barth is that, in his view Barth does not leave enough room for human—and specifically ecclesial—action to contribute to the formation of the good. Barth’s insistence on the radical verticality of grace seems to occlude the notion that the church as a community of virtue can form its members in the way of Jesus. Indeed, for Hauerwas “Jesus” names not so much a historical figure to be reconstructed, or a divine inbreaking into history, but rather the communal story of the church which forms it into a peaceable community. Hauerwas is quite clear on this point, Jesus simply is the morally formative story the church tells: “Jesus is the story that forms the church. This means that the church first serves the world by helping the world to know what it means to be the world. For without a ‘contrast model’ the world has no way to know or feel the oddness of its dependence on power for survival” (CC, 50).

For Hauerwas, the problem with Barth is that his transcendental Christology, which insists that Christ is a sovereignly free actor who breaks into history, who alone is the agent of the world’s salvation, does not allow for what he deems to be a “sufficient” ecclesiology (WTG, 39). For Hauerwas, Barth’s depiction of Christ as the sole effective agent of the divine work threatens to eliminate any necessary place for the church in the economy of salvation (see WTG, 192, 203).

This fundamental dissatisfaction of Hauerwas with Barth is expressed in its mature form in Hauerwas’s With the Grain of the Universe. While the title of this work is taken from John Howard Yoder, interestingly Yoder makes only a minor showing in Hauerwas’s argument. Rather it is Barth upon whom Hauerwas calls in attempting to rehabilitate a (Christological) natural theology. For the purposes of this post I shall leave aside the viability of such an attempt to read Barth in a manner amenable to any sort of refurbished natural theology and concentrate on the primary way in which Hauerwas positions himself relative to Barth.

What is crucial for Hauerwas in With the Grain of the Universe is Barth’s insistence that witness to the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ is the proper form of Christian discourse (WTG, 174–76). Indeed, Hauerwas posits throughout With the Grain of the Universe that the whole project of Barth’s Church Dogmatics is in fact to offer “a manual designed to train Christians that the habits of our speech must be disciplined by the God found in Jesus Christ” (WTG, 182–83). Thus Hauerwas finds Barth to be a major ally against Protestant liberalism in that he insists on the particularity of Christian theology as witness to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. However he fears that Barth’s constant emphasis on the radical completeness of God’s act in Christ eliminates the church’s necessity for the world’s salvation.

This point is crucial, for Hauerwas it is vital that the church, as a community of moral practice which forms its members in virtue, be necessary for the world’s salvation. In contrast to Barth’s argument that the world would not necessarily be lost if there was no church—since “Jesus Christ, his Word and his work” alone actualize the world’s salvation (CD IV/3.2, 826)—Hauerwas insists that “If the world is not necessarily lost without the church, then it is by no means clear what difference the church makes for how we understand the way the world is and, given the way the world is, how we must live” (WTG, 193). Here we come to the crux of the matter: for Hauerwas the church provides an anchor, a fundamental point of theological, ethical, epistemological, and indeed, soteriological concreteness. Were the church not necessary in this fundamental sense we would literally have no place to stand, no way to get our bearings, or even recognize the revelation of God in Christ if such thing had occurred at all (see PK, 99–102; CC, 89–94; CET, 59–62).

Hauerwas finds in Barth the truly praiseworthy virtue of breaking with liberal Protestantism and its individualism and social fragmentation (see WTG, 147–59). With Barth Hauerwas wants to assert the particularity of theology as a specifically ecclesial witness to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. However Hauerwas is dissatisfied with Barth precisely at the point where Barth is most forceful about the fundamental shape of Christian witness itself. For Barth it is axiomatic that the church, as a witness, points to a reality outside itself, the singular and irreducible reality of Christ’s work of reconciliation:
In Jesus Christ the alteration of the human situation did take place, and does take place to-day, the situation of Christians and of all men, the reconciliation of the world with God in Him who is the living Mediator between God and man in the power of His resurrection. What remains for them is high and appropriate and joyful and stringent enough—to welcome the divine verdict, to take it seriously with full responsibility, not to keep their knowledge of it to themselves, but by the witness of their existence and proclamation to make known to the world which is still blind and deaf to this verdict the alteration which has in fact taken place by it. Their existence in the world depends on the fact that this alone is their particular gift and task. They have not to assist or add to the being and work of their living Saviour who is the Lord of the world, let alone replace it by their own work. The community is not a prolongation of His incarnation, His death and resurrection, the acts of God and their revelation. It has not to do these things. It has to witness to them. It is its consolation that it can do this. Its marching-orders are to do it. (CD IV/1, 317–18)
For Hauerwas this insistence on the utter gratuity and completion of the divine work of reconciliation leaves no space for the church. Rather the church’s witness, if it is not to be rendered superfluous and unnecessary, must, in fact be constitutive of the reality of salvation itself. Hauerwas insists that “the truth of Christian convictions requires witnesses” (WTG, 211). Unlike Barth, for Hauerwas the performance of Christian witness does not point to something beyond itself, but rather is, at least in some sense, reflexive. It is precisely in the church’s own faithful act of witness that the Gospel is rendered true:
Does the truth of Christian convictions depend on the faithfulness of the church and, if so, how do we determine what would constitute faithfulness? Am I suggesting that the ability of the church to be or not to be nonviolent is constitutive for understanding what it might meant [sic] to claim that that Christian convictions are true? Do I think the truthfulness of Christian witness is compromised when Christians accept the practices of the “culture of death”—abortion, suicide, capital punishment, and war?
Yes! On every count the answer is “Yes.” (WTG, 231)
Here we see the zenith of Hauerwas’s mature position about the nature of Christian witness vis-à-vis Barth. While Hauerwas has sought to break company with liberal Protestantism’s faith in humanity as an immanent field through which God’s will is achieved in the world, he has regurgitated a vision that is structurally identical to it, simply replacing and immanent faith in humanity with an immanent faith in the church. For Hauerwas it is no longer Christ himself, but the church that is “the subject of the narrative as well as the agent of the narrative” (CET, 59). Or more precisely, in the logic of Hauerwas’s position Christ has become so utterly appended to the church that any meaningful distinction between them is not apparent. The church is no longer a witness in any ordinary understanding of the term, for after all witnesses are, by definition, those who point away from themselves to a reality beyond them. This is fundamental to Barth’s understanding of the church as witness. Hauerwas, in his zeal to make the church’s witness “necessary” rather than a superfluous overflow of grace (see CD IV/3.2, 608) has actually constructed a notion of witness diametrically opposed to Barth, whose very project he claims to be carrying forward. Far from taking up Barth’s impetus and seeking to extend his thought, Hauerwas loops back behind Barth’s critique of liberal Protestantism and recasts it in ecclesiocentric form. Hauerwas’s quest to find in the church a conceptual anchor from which to go beyond Barth has yielded something entirely opposite: a retroactive bypassing of the very challenge that Barth poses for theology and the mission of the church.

Barth’s Witness to Hauerwas

If the exposition of Barth and Hauerwas above has merit, where then does that leave us? If Hauerwas’s theology does not represent an extension of Barth’s thought, but rather its calculated reversal, what might it mean for us to place these two theologians into conversation? What would it mean to read Barth in light of and in contrast to Hauerwas’s rejection of Barth’s theology of witness? There are, I believe two important consequences that would follow from such an attempt at conversation between the theologies of Barth and Hauerwas. I will gesture towards these, albeit briefly and incompletely.

First, reading Barth in light of Hauerwas’s turn to an ecclesiocentric rather than Christocentric notion of witness offers us an opportunity to hear anew Barth’s critique of liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Indeed, as I have argued previously (Ed: David Congdon’s essay and Halden’s complete response from the 2009 KBBC) Barth’s critique of liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are two sides of the same coin (see especially WGWM, 112–15 on this point). For Barth both of these ecclesiastical modes were problematic in that they reduced God to an object within the immanent frame of either humanity or the historical process (Protestant liberalism), or the hierarchical church as the extension of the incarnation (Roman Catholicism). In both cases the diastasis between God and the world is lost and we are left with an ideological rejection of the gospel.

In an interesting way Hauerwas’s move towards an ecclesiocentric notion of witness actually brings together both the Roman Catholic and the liberal Protestant tendencies which were the very objects of Barth’s parallel critiques. Indeed this is born out in that Hauerwas’s own critique of Barth is couched in the assertion that Barth is not “sufficiently catholic,” by which Hauerwas means that “his critique and rejection of Protestant liberalism make it difficult for him to acknowledge that, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are made part of God’s care of the world through the church.” Hauerwas further specifies this lack of catholicity as consisting in the fact that Barth “cannot acknowledge that the community called church is constitutive of the gospel proclamation” (WTG, 145).

Hauerwas is quite correct that Barth cannot acknowledge the church as constitutive of gospel precisely in that Barth rejects liberal Protestantism’s commitment to immanence and Pelagianism. Indeed, insofar as Hauerwas seeks any sort of “catholicity” that finds its constitutive source in the church rather than solely in the death and resurrection of Christ, Hauerwas forsakes Barth at the most fundamental level possible. Indeed, Hauerwas’s mature statement of an ecclesiocentric vision of salvation and the church provides the most perfect crystallization imaginable of the object of Barth’s multifaceted critique of religion:
Religious righteousness! There seem[s] to be no surer means of rescuing us from the alarm cry of conscience than religion and Christianity. Religion gives us the chance, beside and above the vexations of business, politics, and private and social life, to celebrate solemn hours of devotion—to take flight to Christianity as to an eternally green island in the gray sea of the everyday. There comes over us a wonderful sense of safety and security from the unrighteousness whose might we everywhere feel. It is a wonderful illusion, if we can comfort ourselves with it, that in our Europe—in the midst of capitalism, prostitution, the housing problem, alcoholism, tax evasion, and militarism—the church’s preaching, the church’s morality, and the “religious life” go on their uninterrupted way. . . . A wonderful illusion, but an illusion, a self-deception! We should above all be honest and ask ourselves far more frankly what we really gain from religion. Cui bono? What is the use of all the preaching, baptizing, confirming, bell-ringing, and organ-playing, of all the religious moods and modes, . . . the efforts enliven church singing, the unspeakably tame and stupid monthly church papers, and whatever else may belong to the equipment of modern ecclesiasticism? Will something different eventuate from all this in our relation to the righteousness of God? Are we even expecting something different from it? Are not we hoping by our very activity to conceal in the most subtle way the fact that the critical event that ought to happen has not yet done so and probably never will? Are we not, with our religious righteousness, acting “as if”—in order not to have to deal with reality? Is not our religious righteousness a product of our pride and our despair, a tower of Babel, at which the devil laughs more loudly than at all the others? (WGWM, 19–20)
Secondly and finally, reading Barth in light of Hauerwas provides us with the opportunity to appropriate anew Barth’s explicitly missionary vision of the church. While for Hauerwas the first task of the church is “to be the church” (e.g. PK, 100), for Barth the fundamental meaning of “church” to be called and sent out into the world as witnesses of Christ’s death and resurrection. Indeed, one cannot put too fine a point on this difference: for Hauerwas the mission of the church is to be; for Barth the being of the church is mission. For Hauerwas the reality of the church is fundamentally oppositional. It exists as a “contrast model” for the world (CC, 50). This oppositional definition of the church gives rise to a fundamentally concentric notion of mission in which the form of the church’s (reflexive) witness is primarily that of fixating on its liturgical practices which are then asserted to be its “effective social work” (PK, 108). Thusly the church’s central task in the world is to “find a way to sustain its existence generation after generation” (PK, 107). The Hauerwasian notion of mission is thus rendered in a thoroughly concentric mode in which the church’s primary task is to preserve, defend, and prolong itself.

Barth, by contrast understands the being of the church fundamentally in terms of Christ’s sending of the church into the world as the community that witnesses to the resurrection. Indeed, for Barth the reality of the church cannot be grasped except in terms of denying that the church, in any sense, constitutes an end in itself. From beginning to end the church exists as a community sent into the world, for the sake of the world, bearing witness to the world in word and deed that in Christ all creation has been reconciled to God:
As an apostolic Church the Church can never in any respect be an end in itself, but, following the existence of the apostles, it exists only as it exercises the ministry of a herald. It builds itself up itself and its members in the common hearing of the Word of God which is always new, in common prayer, in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, in the practice of its inner fellowship, in theology. But it cannot forget that it cannot do these things simply for its own sake, but only in the course of its commission—only in an implicit and explicitly outward movement to the world with which Jesus Christ and in His person God accepted solidarity, for which he died, and in which He rose again in indication of the great revelation of the inversion accomplished in Him. For this reason the Church can never be satisfied with what it can be and do as such. As His community it points beyond itself. At bottom it can never consider its own security, let alone its appearance. As His community it is always free from itself. In its deepest and most proper tendency it is not churchly, but worldly—the Church with open doors and great windows, behind which it does better not to close itself in upon itself again by putting in pious stained-glass windows. It is holy in its openness to the street and even the alley, in its turning to the profanity of all human life—the holiness which, according to Rom. 12:5, does not scorn to rejoice with them that do rejoice and to weep with them that weep. Its mission is not additional to its being. It is, as it is sent and active in its mission. It builds up itself for the sake of its mission and in relation to it. It does it seriously and actively as it is aware of its mission and in the freedom from itself which this gives. If it is the apostolic Church determined by Scripture and therefore by the direction of the apostles, it cannot fail to exist in this freedom and therefore in a strict realism more especially in relation to itself. And when it does this it cannot fail to be recognisable and recognised as apostolic and therefore as the true Church. (CD IV/1, 724–25).
In the thought of Barth and Hauerwas we are confronted, despite certain affinities and even Hauerwas’s own self-presentation, with two decidedly divergent understandings of the gospel, the church, and the world. From what has been said up to this point it should be abundantly clear that I believe that Barth offers a decidedly necessary corrective to the views exposited by Hauerwas. Whatever else it may mean to place Hauerwas and Barth in conversation it cannot mean less than clearly presenting the radically different theological visions at work in their respective proposals. In so doing we are given the opportunity to see how deeply Barth’s vision of the gospel stands in variance to that of Hauerwas. At the very least such analysis will serve to exemplify the important differences between these two thinkers. At its best, we can hope that such an exercise will spur us on to ever and again fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2).


Works by Stanley Hauerwas:

CCL: Character and the Christian Life: A Study in Theological Ethics. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
CC: A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.
CET: Christian Existence Today: Essays on Church, World, and Living in Between. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001.
PK: The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.
WTG: With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001

Works by Karl Barth:

CD: Church Dogmatics. Edited by G. W. Bromily and T. F. Torrance. 4 vols. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956–77.
WGWM: The Word of God and the Word of Man. Translated by Douglas Horton. New York: Harper, 1957.
By Ry O. Siggelkow

We are not saints because we make ourselves such. We are saints and sanctified because we are already sanctified, already saints, in this One” (CD IV/2: 516).

In this response I will seek only to build on Halden Doerge’s analysis of the relationship between Karl Barth and Stanley Hauerwas. Doerge has properly set the terms of this discussion within the conference theme of “Karl Barth in Conversation.” To the extent that Hauerwas’s work has come to be associated with a form of “Barthianism” in America, Doerge has done us the invaluable service of delineating some of the important differences between the two thinkers. In this response I want to further press the point, already suggested in Doerge’s piece, that Hauerwas’s dissatisfaction with Barth should be viewed as a rejection of central elements of Barth’s theology. I will briefly touch on two interrelated doctrinal loci that I think are particularly at stake in this “conversation” between Barth and Hauerwas: (1) the question of where to properly locate the church’s “concreteness,” specifically with regard to the doctrine of sanctification; (2) the question of the church’s role in the economy of salvation. Both issues raise important questions—which cannot be resolved here—about how to construe the relation between divine and human agency, the nature and function of the church’s “visibility” in the world, and the church’s “mediating” role in the economy of salvation.

If Doerge’s argument has merit, then it would seem that, for Hauerwas, the point of concrete contact between God’s act of justification in Christ and the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification is unequivocally the empirical church defined by its core practices, habits, and liturgical traditions. Hauerwas is worried that if the “concreteness” of the Spirit’s work of sanctification is not directly located in the empirical life of the church, then the “truth” of the Christian gospel would not only lose its “visibility” but also its salvific efficacy. Indeed, such a loss would affect the destiny of the world precisely because the empirical church, for Hauerwas, is an “ontological necessity” (HR, 161), the “condition of possibility” for “grasping” the message and truth of the gospel (WTG, 145), and “constitutive of the gospel proclamation” itself. The “truth” of the gospel, in this framework, is not independent of the church’s mediation.

The attempt to locate the “concreteness” of the Spirit’s work of sanctification in the empirical life of the church is precisely what Barth’s actualist account of the doctrine of reconciliation does not allow. For Barth, the sanctification of the church (and the whole world) receives its “concreteness” not from within the immanent life of the empirically visible church (in abstractio), but from without—in the concreteness and transcendence of the one redemptive act of God in Jesus Christ (CD IV/2: 514-518; 615-616). For Barth, sanctification does not await its completion in a second temporal movement of concretion in the church, nor does it become a stable predicate of the church’s immanent life, providing it with continuity through history (CD IV/2: 507). Instead, sanctification is only properly understood, for Barth, as an operation of God’s transcendence. Sanctification does, indeed, “take place” in an earthly historical form, but this only happens as an event of God’s action in the Spirit for the world (CD IV/2: 511). Certainly, the Christian community is “marked off from all others” as “a special people” “set aside by God,” but precisely as such it exists in order that it may “make a ‘provisional offering’ of the thankfulness for which the whole world is ordained by the act of the love of God” (CD IV/2: 511). That concreteness is only properly located in the Spirit who is the active Subject of sanctification means that Hauerwas’s search for concreteness in the empirical church finally ends in abstraction. In the same manner, the true visibility of the church—what Barth calls its “very special visibility”—is not directly or immediately evident in its empirical institutions, moral life, or liturgical tradition, as Hauerwas maintains, but is hidden and can be seen only in relation and correspondence to the event of the world’s transfiguration in God’s act in Christ, which is the church’s only “living basis” (CD IV/1: 654-658; CD IV/2: 616-619).

To locate the “concreteness” of sanctification and the visibility of the church in the event of God’s redemptive action in Christ occludes any attempt to ground or directly identify sanctification, much less salvation, with the church’s empirical reality—its practices, habits, culture, or liturgical traditions. Contrary to Hauerwas, for Barth, the “truth” and efficacy of God’s act in Christ does not depend on the church’s “mediation” or on its ability to form or produce a “community of character.” Instead, for Barth, the “truth” and efficacy of the gospel is grounded in God’s redemptive act in Christ who is independent of the church which exists only as a provisional witness to what God has done in Jesus Christ and continues to do, in the Spirit, for the sake of the world’s transfiguration.


HR: The Hauerwas Reader. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001.

WTG: With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001.

CD: Church Dogmatics. Edited by G. W. Bromily and T. F. Torrance. 4 vols. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956–77.
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Thomas A Price said…
Thanks Haldan and Ry for a great discussion. This topic is especially interesting for me: I was a student of Hauerwas' at Duke right around the time of his Gifford Lectures then I went on to write a dissertation on Barth under John Webster in Oxford. My focus was largely on issues that arrise within the thickets of the theme you're discussing. One of the more fascinating finds of my work on Barth was the way in which he takes up some of the concerns of traditional Protestant habitus but re-configures them within a notion of divine formative action. The human being and actin that accords with divine revelatory action is grounded and centred in divine determination alone. This of course is the rub with people like Hauerwas. However, what gets underplayed by Hauerwas and gang, or gets seen as completely incidental, is the fact that Barth does postit a formative economy within which the church gets its reference ordered by and oriented towards its holiness in Christ. What often gets overlooked is the fact that Barth does posit a creaturely habitus as part of the specific, concrete situation in which the Gospel confronts us. Barth calls this creaturely habitus 'a concrete attitude' and 'orientation' ordered by the church's past acknowledgement of revelation and towards its future reception of it. (Witness to the Word; pg. 7)It is not faith; it is not a spiritual endowment given to the creature; it cannot 'in any way bind' God.(pg.8). However, within the church, it is something 'we can desire and do' in readiness for faith (what Barth calls an openness and readiness to look in the direction indicated by the church's witness and understand this within its own logic and ethic). (pg. 8). Barth considers this habitus a completely creaturely shaping which is related to faith but only as a form shaped by its past reception. It therefore is significant as part of the historical means through which revelation encounters the church but always in a limited, relative and revisable way. In this sense, Barth views it as someting we can 'learn and exercise and study, which we can grow accustomed to'. (Goettingen Dogmatics, pg. 291). However, again, only as a 'relative principle' but nevertheless significant. It'd be interesting to flesh this dimension of Barth's thought out a bit more and bring it into discussion with Hauerwas. I know the same issues and concern will arise, but this dimension of Barth's notion of revelatory-participation within the church will not get overlooked the way it has in much of the work comparing and contrasting the two theologians.
Halden said…
Thomas, thanks for your comment. I don't have my copy of Witness to the Word to hand, but based on what you've said that sounds strikingly like a number of the claims that Barth makes in Romans about the importance of the Law and the History of Israel, for example:

"The law is the impression of divine revelation left behind in time, in history, in the lives of men; it is a heap of clinkers marking a fiery miracle which has taken place, a burnt-out crater disclosing the place where God has spoken, a solemn reminder of the humiliation through which some men had been compelled to pass, a dry canal which in a past generation and under different conditions had been filled with the living water of faith and of clear perception, a canal formed out of ideas and conceptions and commandments, all of which call to mind the behaviour of certain other men, and demand that their conduct should be maintained. The men who have the law are the men who inhabit this empty canal. They are stamped with the impress of the true and unknown God, because they possess the form of traditional and inherited religion, or even the form of an experience which had once been theirs. Consequently, they have in their midst the sign-post which points them to God, to the KRISIS of human existence, to the new world which is set at the barrier of this world. Thus directed, the stamp of revelation appears to them of such supreme importance that they are busily engaged in preserving its impress. . . . But Revelation is from God; it cannot be compelled to flow between the banks of an empty canal. It can flow there but it also fashions for itself a new bed in which to run its course, for it is not bound to the impress which it once had made, but is free." (p. 65-66)

This description seems to me to accord with the material you find in Witness to the Word, that is that there is a sort of "space" created in the world by God's past actions which we inhabit, study, and which in some ways may prepare us to hear God's Word when it comes to us. And it should be noted that while the passage quoted above speaks of the giving of the Law to Israel, Barth very clearly and explicitly describes the church and its ongoing life in the same terms, as a "crater formed by the explosion of a shell [that] seeks to be no more than a void in which the Gospel reveals itself" (p. 36).

In any event, perhaps the material from Romans helpfully dovetails with what you are saying. I don't think that either Ry or myself would in any wise want to deny that the life of the church, its liturgy, history, and traditions can "orient" us toward God's revelation or even prepare us for it. What we are denying, contra Hauerwas and co, is the notion that these historical and religions forms are extensions or mediations of divine revelation itself, which I think your comment parses out in quite the same way I would.

So thanks for that, very helpful.
Halden and Ry:

Superb essays! I might have something to say later, but for now, I just want to say thanks. These are excellent.

In particular, Halden, this line might be the best thing I've read in the conference thus far: "for Hauerwas the mission of the church is to be; for Barth the being of the church is mission." Perfectly stated.
Halden said…
Thanks, David. I will admit that that was a pretty good sentence. :)
Jon Coutts said…
As someone whose current research project aims to assess and appropriate one aspect of Barth's (often slippery) ethics I have found Halden's essay, Ry's response, and Thomas's comments very timely and helpful. My main focus has been in CD IV but I concur with the thrust of what has been said here regarding based on what I take to be Barth's emphasis on the Christian community as the orienting home for Christian living.
Rod said…
Excellent piece, once again Halden. I am not much of a Barthian but I'll take Barth any day over Hauerwas. Especially Barth: the early years.
Peter Kline said…
At the end of the day, isn't the main difference between Barth and Hauerwas that Barth has a doctrine of God and Hauerwas doesn't? Barth talks about revelation and the church by talking about God. Hauerwas talk about revelation and the church by talking about...the church? What does God finally do at the end of the day for Hauerwas? Does Hauerwas really need God? Isn't the church enough for him?
Theological Ombudsman said…
Yes. Dr. Hauerwas really needs God.

No. The church is not enough for him.

Thank you for asking though.

-The Theological Ombudsman
Halden said…
I agree, Peter. For Hauerwas if God ever does anything beyond our outside of the church's own action it can only be something that is always-already embodied in the life of the church, which the church then "overaccepts" to use Sam Wells' term.
Thomas A Price said…
Haldan, thanks for the linkage with the Romans material. It is certainly shaping Barth's later thought on ecclesial participation as 'significant' a part of the divine formative economy. That material began his first steps towards the right kind of theological determinacy necessary for emphasising an ecclesiology constituted wholly as a creature of the Word.
I agree with you and Ry that Hauerwas' ecclesiology attempts too much (and thus accomplishes too little). He burdens the church with that which is God's burden alone to bear (both in terms of capacity and divine decision). I, like Barth, and I presume like you and Ry, agree with Hauerwas that we must have a certain character 'to see rightly' and 'be rightly' in the world. However, this requires, as Barth insisted, the right distinction to reference the right relation. Thus, following Barth, and John Webster on this point, 'human churchly action is derivative, contingent and indicative.... characterised by creative passivity, an orientation twards that perfect work which has been done and continues to be done for the curch and to the church' (Word and Church, pg. 196: Webster). I think Hauerwas clever enough to agree with this, but his hyper-ecclesiology, in my reading, blurs too much the requisite distintion between divine and human action to make this plausible.
David Congdon..glad some of this helped. Work on Barth is never easy...though I'm intrigued by your mention of Barth's ethics being 'slippery'. In my view, his whole enterprise desires a redux in slippery. Although he does this by challenging our deepest cultural habits of expectation. This might account for your reflex. Maybe not. Good luck either way.
Thomas: I believe you mean Jon Coutts, right?
Anonymous said…
I must admit I am way over my head here but I am going to take an attempt at joining the conversation:
Near the End of Doctrine Lindbeck writes: The implications of these observations do not bode well, however, for the future of postliberal theology. Even if it were to become theoretically popular, the result might chiefly be talk about intertextuality rather than more and better intratextual practice.
I think we would use that statement in regard to talk about mission. Even if Halden/Ry O. Siggelkow are right it appears the result will be more talk about mission rather than better missional practice. If we were to look at Hauerwas’ work for the particular implications it has towards mission rather than attempting to theoretical fault his theology we might find that is in fact extremely useful in our context for the exact kind of work Halden and Ry are calling for. That is not to say we should ignore the theoretical faults but I think we might be trying to drive this wedge a little to hard if our goal is better mission practice.
But aside from that Barth does seem to leave room for immanence (one granted by God) appearing in the churches preaching. Would it not be fruitful to explore the ways in which Hauerwas wants to expand that immanence of the word that Barth sees in preaching (a concrete practice of the church if there ever was one) and expand to a more comprehensive notion of witness? If we take seriously Hauerwas when he says Wittgenstein informed his reading of Barth I think we need to explore the notion of how a form-of-life works in Barth’s writings and how Hauerwas is seeking to play (particularly through language) that out rather than look to see if Hauerwas is indeed a Barthian (albeit a particular kind of Barthian).
I think Hauerwas can be read the way the author of Tinkers, Paul Harding, thinks of time:
It makes me think of another quote from somewhere in The Reasonable Horologist, about "banishing the imps of disorder." The clock almost represents man remaking the world in his own image, or distilling the world, precipitating it into a version of the world that he can fix. That doesn't really work, but it's a lovely idea. That it fails is not necessarily a strike against it.
For instance, what's so great about Moby Dick: Melville cuts the whaling ship down the middle and goes deck-by-deck, task-by-task, inflating everything on the ship into a metaphor for the entire cosmos. He gets onto these flights, and gets you believing, Yes, the cooper and his barrel! That really is like the universe! And then he'll say, "Oh, we should stop all this silliness. We're going to fall out of the crow's nest if we go on this way."
These metaphors are going to fail, but that's no reason to stop making them. There's something wonderful about that.
An honest reader of Hauerwas work could admit that these metaphors and language he is using is are going to fail in front of the Jesus that comes to us (and I think Barth admits the same of his theology), it is no fact no reason to stop looking at the immanence that God seems to give (or Barth’s language promise) the church as it is called the “body of Christ” in its mission.
Thomas A Price said…
Sorry David, I did mean Jon. I did this on my blackberry so my frame was certainly too small for my visual competance. That explains the typos too...haha.
Andy Rowell said…
Halden and Ry, I will reluctantly agree that this subtle distinction that you two have named is probably legitimate--Hauerwas himself teases it out in With the Grain of the Universe--and I definitely think the discussion is important. But I would argue it is a very fine distinction--Hauerwas is quite interested in "witness" and Barth is quite "ecclesiocentric."

For the casual reader who is just tuning in to this discussion, I would say two things. (Halden and Ry and others can correct me if I'm wrong on any of this, of course).
(1) As I've said above, in my opinion, Hauerwas and Barth are very close on these issues. This is a very subtle distinction in my opinion--arguably one of semantics. Both Barth and Hauerwas argue for an Christocentric ecclesia in but not of, for the world.
(2) But what Halden and Ry don't articulate (and needn't in this setting) is the possible ramifications that Barth's and Hauerwas's positions might produce and this is why they and I think the subtleties are indeed important. According to the two sides that Halden and Ry have laid out here, those who agree with Barth would emphasize mission and minimize church bureaucracy. Those who would agree with Hauerwas, would tend to stress the church's internal practices that form Christians (catechesis / education and Eucharist). This is why many of us think this discussion matters. But, it is also important to see how conceivably the two "sides"--one more externally focused and the other more internally focused--could be reconciled. (I for one am a student of Hauerwas's and am interested in leadership so I think institutions matter which puts me more on the Hauerwas side. On the other hand, I am a free church person and interested in evangelism and missiology which puts me on the Barth side). These emphases are not ultimately mutually exclusive. Most of our congregations could use better mission AND better formation.

Ok, just a little bit of evidence to counteract the notion that there is a massive distinction between Barth and Hauerwas.

One need only note that theme of With the Grain of the Universe is that of "witness." This is Hauerwas's primary description for the task of the church. I think this means he means more than "the mission of the church is to be."

Some evidence that Barth is indeed interested in the church.

a. Consider his thesis statement of § 72 "The Holy Spirit and the Sending of the Christian Community." in IV,3 (p. 681). (For Barth novices, the 'community' is the 'church'). Google Books Link Cf. To attest the Gospel by portraying Jesus Christ to people is the task of the church. (my paraphrase of "To attest this . . ") IV.3.2 p. 810

b. "It is . . . impossible to be called to be a Christian and . . . not to be called, into the Church." IV.3.2 p. 681 Google Books Link Cf. also "If he were not in the church, he would not be in Christ." IV.4, 188 cited by Hauerwas, With the Grain, p. 198-199. Google Books Link

c. I wonder if Barth's specifying of 12 ministries might mitigate Hauerwas's criticism that: "Barth fails to specify the material conditions that would sustain 'the middle way'" (With the Grain, 202). To the surprise of people who emphasize Der Römerbrief, Barth names 12 forms of ministry that fulfill the task of witnessing: 6 speech. 6 action.
6 ministries of speech:(1) Praise, (2) Preaching, (3) Instruction, (4) Evangelisation, (5) Foreign Missions, (6) Theology.
6 ministries of action: (7) Prayer, (8) Cure of souls, (9) Examples, (10) Diaconate, (11) Prophetic action, (12) Fellowship. IV.3.2 pp. 865-901. Google Books link

Warmly to all,
Andy Rowell
mshedden said…
Sorry my comment got posted while I was still working on it.
I don't think this is quite right though:
IF God ever does anything beyond our outside of the church's own action it can only be something that is always-already embodied in the life of the church, which the church then "overaccepts" to use Sam Wells' term.

I don't remember where but I have heard Hauerwas say that its not that he doesn't think God is active outside the church but what does it mean that God has entrusted himself to the church. Or as he says sometimes what does Pentecost mean if it comes to the 12 not some random location.

Second, his thoughts have plenty to do with how you will see God's activity in the world. One of the concerns he speaks of in public theology is that it often forgets that it is theology, most notably Christian theology, so it end up forgetting the identity it brings. He is all for having Christians work with the Spirit and God outside of the church he just wants them doing it as Christians. What he means by that is obviously open to critique.
Halden said…
@ MShedden:

I'm not really sure how to answer your first comment since the thrust of it seems to be a sort of "why can't we all just get along" sort of statement. I also don't know why you assume that whatever Ry and I are doing will only result in "talk" about mission rather than action. That seems uncharitable and I don't know how you have any warrant for making such a claim.

For my part all I can say is that dogmatic differences matter. They aren't merely "theoretical" blather that is best ignored so as to accommodate as wide a range of views as possible. The task of the theologian and the preacher is to endeavor, failingly and stutteringly to be sure, to articulate the Gospel and proclaim it as true. How we do that and what we think it entails matters. My post which seeks to point out these central differences between Barth and Hauerwas is not just an exercise in academic rigor (I'm really not an academic, as you know) but an attempt to think through the nature of the Gospel from the perspective of these two theologians. In that regard I think Hauerwas's understanding of the nature of the Gospel is mistaken and I think that that, if true, is an important thing.

Finally, I reject and kind of resent being called a dishonest reader of Hauerwas. Since you say you posted the first comment inadvertently, I'm happy to let it go, but I think the charge is false, not to mention unsubstantiated. If you wish to challenge my reading of the Hauerwasian text, by all means do so, but don't accuse me of being dishonest simply because you disagree with my conclusions.

Finally, you mention Hauerwas's claim that God entrusts himself to the church. I think this is precisely the problem and again it plays out the fine distinction I see between Barth and Hauerwas. For Barth, as he says repeatedly in the CD, we are bound to God, not God to us. The idea that the church, in any sense whatsoever possesses God, is, in my view precisely the problem.

@ Andy:

The only part of your comment I want to address is your list of evidences "Barth is indeed interested in the church." I don't see why you construe this as a contrast to what Ry and I have presented here. We are not, in any wise "disinterested" in the church. Entirely the opposite: we are deeply interested in thinking and believing church from the standpoint of the revelation of God in Christ, and in this we are seeking to follow Barth.

The main point I want to make here is that this debate is not a matter of more or less "interest" in the church, but is rather a theological question about the fundamental nature of the church and the gospel. To frame the matter in terms of more or less "interest" in the church is simply wrong and distorts the debate altogether. Not saying you were intentionally doing that, but I feel like too many of these discussions have ended up being framed that way and it often creates confusion.
mshedden said…
Hey Halden,
First off I didn't mean to implicate you as a dishonest reader of Hauerwas. That was more of a general statement to begin my sentence and not meant as an accusation.
Second, because I am over my head I could see how my first part could be seen as saying "why can't we all get along." And I might have meant that way. But what I was trying to point out is that I felt you had a chance here to paint a picture of mission looking at Barth's direction of mission (in Barmen, his jail ministry, etc.) and Hauerwas direction of mission (in the many examples that are found throughout his writings such as Resident Aliens) and how they differ but also run together. After the classes I took with Wilbert Shenk (a Mennonite theologian) I became convinced of much of what you say about mission but I also thought Barth, Hauerwas, and McClendon stand closer together on how they might play out in practice for a 21st century pastor in post-Christendom America. My claim was at this point I don't think I have quite figured out what you guys mean when you say mission in actual practice. Maybe you have pointed that out somewhere and I am missing it.
But that said neither of my comments were meant in the tone that I think you took it and I will attempt to be clearer in the future. Writing is not one of my strong points so please forgive my lack of charitable tone that my comments were meant in.
Halden said…
Matt, I understand your question here, but my topic in this essay was to place Barth and Hauerwas "in dialogue" and I did that in the way I felt most germane to the fundamental features of their theological proposals.

Now certainly the question of what it all looks like "in practice" is an important one, though I don't know that it can ever be "answered" in some total or direct way. What it means to faithfully follow the call of the Gospel into and for the sake of the world means many things and we may not know in advance what it will entail.

That said, it is certainly worth talking about further, I just hope you understand that talking about that was beyond the scope of the work I was given to do here. I will say, though, that David Haddorff's book, Christian Ethics as Witness may provide you with some helpful discussion along these themes, as it states many similar critiques of Hauerwas and others from a Barthian perspective, but is also explicitly bringing Barth's ethics to bear on certain ethical problems of the 21st century.
dbarber said…
Could either or both of you say a little bit about why "mission" is preferable to "church being church"? Perhaps my criteria differ from your criteria, but it seems very difficult to extricate mission from empire. The idea of church being church, on the other hand, would pose a way of maintaining and witnessing to one's commitments without imposing them on others (it would others the freedom to reject them, or to adopt them in alternative manners).

You raise a good question regarding what mission here actually means. I have a few thoughts on the matter that will hopefully be helpful here.

If I had to articulate what the difference is between a postliberal theologian like Hauerwas (Lindbeck being the example par excellence) and a postmetaphysical theologian like Barth, I would put it this way: for the postliberal, we are given a normative narrative or set of practices that defines the visible form of the church in advance of the concrete situation in which the community hears and encounters the word of God (and thus in the abstract); for Barth, by contrast, the actual visible form of the church has to be discovered, in a sense, ever anew as the community is gathered together by the proclaimed word of the gospel. In the hearing of this word, the church is sent into its concrete situation. The church cannot know in advance of this situational-contextual encounter what the content of its mission will be, i.e., what it will look like to be the church. We can know only in the most formal way what the mission of the church is in any particular situation. Barth's 12 forms of ministry in CD IV/3 provide a formal outline for the mission of the church. But what it will actually look like to be engaged in these activities cannot be known in the abstract.

This is precisely what makes Barth a "missional" theologian, whereas Hauerwas is not. Like Lindbeck, Hütter, and others, Hauerwas believes that the NT (and the Synoptic witness in particular) gives us an ecclesiological worldview. That is to say, we know in advance of the situation what the church must be and look like. This is the thrust of Halden's statement that, for Hauerwas, the mission of the church is simply to be. The church's being, its concrete form and practices, are already known apart from the specific hearing and responding to God's word in the concrete moment. The problem is that this weds the gospel to a particular cultural form. To borrow from John Flett, it turns the gospel into propaganda: the mission of the church is to disseminate and propagate a particular cultural ideology. Lamin Sanneh would call this a "mission of diffusion." Barth's alternative is a "mission of translation," in that the mission of the church comes into a being through the event of confronting God's commissioning address and responding appropriately.

One other point is worth mentioning. In CD IV/1, in the context of describing the church's "very special visibility," Barth speaks about the need to distinguish between a two-dimensional and a three-dimensional view of the church. The 2-D perspective focuses entirely on the empirical, historical, and sociological factors. The 3-D perspective recognizes that this concrete community has its true being in a hidden divine reality (viz. Jesus Christ, the elect of God and the reconciliation of the world). Only faith can see and affirm this third dimension. I take the difference between Hauerwas and Barth to be that Barth sees the church in three dimensions, while Hauerwas only sees in two (or perhaps wants to collapse the third into the second dimension).
Halden said…
I think David's comment gets at some of the important features about the difference between "church being church" and "mission" language, as per Dan's question.

I have some other thoughts on the problem of the "church must be the church" language that I've been mulling over for a while, and I'll probably post a separate piece about that soon, so stay tuned for that.

Just a point about the entanglement of "mission" language with empire/colonialism. This is certainly a very real problem. What I mean by "mission" insofar as I'm talking about the being of the church being constituted by mission is that the church exists in and as the event of being conformed by the Spirit to Christ's self-dispossessing love for others. As such "mission" names a being-given-over in self-giving love for any and all of those whom the church might find itself among. As such the language is intended precisely to counter any sort of imperialism as, at least in the way I'm using the term, mission names a way of self-dispossession for the sake of the other, never a domination or an attempt to control or convert them.
mshedden said…
Thanks for your responses Halden and David. I think for Hauerwas Barth's theology of witness is seen in the Barmen Declaration. Is it possible that Hauerwas' work is a Barmen Declaration in our context? Or put another way- is there a place where Hauerwas sets himself outside of the tradition of Barmen?
And I am still early in CD but doesn't his insistence on the preaching moment mean something to a concrete practice of the church or am I miss reading him here? It seems like at times he is suggesting that God has bound (or promised) himself to showing up here.
Chris E W Green said…

Not sure what you mean when you say that Hauerwas doesn't have a 3-D model of the church. Unquestionably Jenson does, and Hauerwas is heavily dependent on Jenson, as you know. Can you elaborate a bit?

Also, Halden and Ry, I wonder if the framing of this discussion (The church's mission is to be vs. The church's being is mission) creates more difficulties than it solves? From my experience, it doesn't so much help to articulate one's position (or to identify others' positions) as it encourages one to overstate it (and misread others'), frequently in ways both uncharitable and fatuous (e.g., the slight that Hauerwas doesn't need God).

Don't think I'm implying that we can't have real disagreement along these lines: David and I have been in an extended discussion, and I think it's clear that he and I do in fact disagree about the nature of the church; and our conversation was initiated originally by my reading of his response to your (and Kerr's) theses. Barth and Hauerwas no doubt disagree, as well. But the difference, as Andy suggested, is slighter than your reading acknowledges, I believe, at least when it comes to the critical point.

For my part, I want to find a way to say both that the church is called to be other than the world and that the church is called to live for the world's sake. To put it succinctly, the church is both a means and an end (as, e.g. Bonhoeffer argues in SC ).

This kind of description of the church's nature and calling can and does work, I believe, and such a description maintains not only the integrity of the gospel (as Barth insists it must) but also makes possible the formation of witnessing communities whose members learn and embody the character of Christ (as Hauerwas claims it should).
Halden said…
Chris, I am heading to bed and so can only make a brief comment at this point. However regarding this section of your comment, which I believe is at the crux of your argument with me and Ry:

"Barth and Hauerwas no doubt disagree, as well. But the difference, as Andy suggested, is slighter than your reading acknowledges, I believe, at least when it comes to the critical point."

If you believe that the difference between Barth and Hauerwas is slighter than I acknowledge, you are welcome to make an argument showing how this is so that is rooted in the material that Barth and Hauerwas offer us. I have made what I think is a textually-rooted, valid, and credible case for reading them as offering very different perspectives. You are of course welcome to disagree and offer alternative readings of them --- you know, the kind that actually engage the relevant material --- if you wish. But until you do so I don't know that we have much to talk about.
Chris E W Green said…
One further thought: What if one were to approach this issue by reading Eph 1.22-23 ('the church... is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all') through Phil 2.5ff -- and vice versa -- so that the church's fulness is understood as the fulness of the one who empties himself even into godforsakenness and the church's emptiness is recognized as the emptiness of the one who fills all in all? In other words, why not take kenosis and plentitude as perichoretic movements of the one Spirit, and so alike constitutive of the church's life?
Peter Kline said…
Just to clarify, my questions about God and Hauerwas were real. Does he in fact have a doctrine of God? If so, what is it? What work does it do vis-a-vis ecclesiology? To the extent that I have read and understood Hauerwas, I don't find in him a doctrine of God. Sure, he says things about God, but this is different from having a doctrine of God that functions normatively and critically in one's theology. One might respond, well, Hauerwas is an ethicist, not a systematician. Fair enough, but if he is genuinely going to offer many of his statements as truth claims, he needs a doctrine of God or they threaten to become simply language games. Robert Jenson actually says this about Hauerwas, that he needs to do more metaphysical and doctrinal work if his project is to stand.
Halden said…
I second Peter's comment. To simply call our questions about Hauerwas's doctrine of God or lack thereof "uncharitable and fatuous" is a lazy sidestep that avoids taking the question head-on.

Chris, if the difference between Barth and Hauerwas is so "slight" and if all we've done here is "overstate" things, by all means show me how this is so, you know, by making an arguement based on Hauerwas's work that shows me where I've gotten him wrong; by providing evidence that I should be reading him and Barth differently. But lets dispense with facile and baseless assertions that bypass the doing of actual theological work and argument.
Chris E W Green said…

Let me be clear: I'm neither a Barthian nor a Hauerwasian -- although I drink from both wells -- and I have no interest in proving that their agendas are in fact compatible. In point of fact, I find Barth's ecclesiology scandalously weak, and incapable of doing justice to either the claims of Scripture or the creed; Hauerwas doesn't so much propose an ecclesiology as champion a peculiar praxis that presupposes a kind of neo-Thomistic ecclesiology, largely indebted to Robert Jenson's work, of course.

In any case, the crux of my former post was not to claim that Hauerwas and Barth are actually saying the same thing after all, but (a) to point out that I suspect the difference you've drawn is an unhelpful one, because it engenders misreadings (in this case, of both Barth and Hauerwas), who for all their real differences (some of which you've rightly pointed out) nevertheless are not holding positions that can be characterized as, on the hand, 'The church's mission is to be', and on the other hand, 'The church's being is mission' and (b) to suggest that it is possible to develop an account of the church that overcomes this dualism you've constructed.
Chris E W Green said…
But since you've challenged me -- and I really don't have a better reason than that -- I'll push back on this point, as well, if only weakly. Here's my contention, in nuce : Although there remains a gap between Barth's position and Hauerwas', they alike are attempting to develop an ecclesiology that does justice both to the church's otherness from and her identification with the world. Perhaps one succeeds where the other fails, but to characterize it as if one hasn't even attempted the task is a mistake.

(1) For Barth, as Hunsinger says, the church is an 'indirect witness' that offers 'secondary testimony'. Hauerwas wants to insist the church is a direct witness whose testimony must be trusted implicitly. But this difference, real though it is, is not the difference you've articulated.

(2) Hauerwas frequently argues that the church's first task is to make the world the world: but notice he does not say that that is the church's only task. Further, Hauerwas is not doing systematic theology; he's a provocateur who's attempting to bring correction to (Protestant) churchly practices. This difference of register must be borne in mind, I believe.

(3) Barth, like Hauerwas, recognizes the priority of Christ's ministry to the church: '[Christ] is the man in whose person God has, of course, elected and loved from all eternity the wider circle of humanity as a whole, but also, with a view to this wider circle, the narrower circle of a special race, of His own community within humanity. He is the man who on this account has offered Himself first for this community of His [Eph 5.25]' (CD IV.3, p. 682).
Chris E W Green said…
Sure, Barth stops short (wrongly, in my view) of identifying the church with Christ, and (again, wrongly, in my judgment) refuses to speak of the church as the prolongation of Christ's incarnation -- his God has no partners -- but he nonetheless accepts that the church 'corresponds' to Christ in his transcendence over against the world so that the community has 'invisibility', that is, it exists in 'real distinction from and superiority to the world'.

This 'superiority' is not its own possession, to be sure, for it receives this as sheer gratuity, but the community nonetheless remains 'unique among the peoples' (CD IV.3, p. 729). It is this very uniqueness that Hauerwas makes use of, even if he sometimes exaggerates it with his (calculatedly) incendiary comments.

(4) Further, Barth, like Hauerwas, avows that the church's being-true-to-Christ is nothing less or other than a form of her witness to the world:

'The community does not speak with words alone. It speaks by the very fact of its existence in the world; by its characteristic attitude to world problems; and, moreover and especially, by its silent service to all the handicapped, weak and needy in the world. It speaks, finally, by the simple fact that it prays for the world' (ET, 32.)

(5) Barth, like Hauerwas, believes that life in the church is indispensable to salvation. So he says, 'Criticism of the Church can be significant and fruitful only when it comes from insight into -- I am not exaggerating -- the necessity for salvation of the existence and function of the Church' (quoted in T.F. Torrance, Karl Barth p. 93).

(6) Hauerwas, like Barth, readily admits that the church does not circumscribe Christ, or control the Spirit: '... the church does not possess Christ; his presence is not confined to the church'. In fact, 'it is in the church that we learn to recognize Christ's presence outside the church' ( PK , p. 97).

I hope this is enough for you to see my point; I've exhausted myself, anyway!
Chris E W Green said…

I agree that Hauerwas' theology is slippery at times, and doubtlessly he would do well to spell this out more carefully; regardless, as I said to Halden, I'm not a convinced Hauerwasian, ready to defend him at any and every turn! I'm only resisting the distinction Halden's drawn (the church's mission is to be v. the church's being is mission) and trying to maintain that it's possible to hold these together in faithfulness to Scripture and the tradition.

I should mention John Thomson's book on Hauerwas' ecclesiology; he gives some attention to the differences between Barth and Hauerwas on this score (pp. 98ff).
kim fabricius said…
Thank you Halden and Ry - and the rest of you guys for a rich conversation. May I make a proposal for futher reflection?

In Barth's ecclesiology, the Word, the pulpit, is central; in Hauerwas' ecclesiology, the sacrament, the table, is central. Discuss.

The question occurs to me after rereading John Webster's essay "On Evangelical Ecclesiology" (in Confessing God) [2005]), which I think you will find very germane to this discussion.

It is simply remarkable to me that anyone could ever speak about the church as the "prolongation of the incarnation." In my opinion, that is quite possibly the single greatest blunder in the history of ecclesiology.

But here's the key point: it is precisely a difference over that point which confirms the entire analysis put forward by Halden and Ry. I don't know if Hauerwas ever explicitly affirms that the Catholic notion of the incarnatus prolongatus, but his ecclesiology demands it or at least something like it. So if you acknowledge that distinction, I would say you end up reinforcing the entire position put forward by Halden and Ry. There is an absolutely fundamental impasse between affirming and not affirming that notion of the church.
Isaac Villegas said…
I don't want to disrupt the conversation that is emerging here, but I thought I should share a textual matter in With The Grain that Halden may find helpful for his argument.

Hauerwas misquotes a passage from Barth that may shed more light on the possible Hauerwas-Barth divide. Citing The Christian Life, Hauerwas has Barth saying, “God is known in the world thanks to the ministry of Christianity” (With The Grain, 195). But Hauerwas leaves out a word that points to the larger context of this passage: Hauerwas forgets to include the word “also.” Barth’s passage reads, “God is known in the world thanks also to the ministry of Christianity” (The Christian Life, 119). It seems like the word "also" is quite significant for Barth's claim. Where Hauerwas wants to say that Christian witness makes God known to the world, Barth only invites such a possibility with “required reserve and caution.” Barth goes on to concede that Christians have “at least a ministering share in the fact that God makes himself known in the world” (120). But he admits this with a “certain disquiet” that sounds like ecclesial skepticism. Barth asks, “Have the church and Christians really been concerned about God? Is it really he whom they have made known in the world? If we simply had the Christian ministry of witness, God could be known to the world only in a very limited, opaque, and — who knows? — perhaps even a very perverted way” (Ibid).
Anonymous said…
It is a misreading of Hauerwas to say that "the church must first be the church" is merely about institutional survival for its own sake. (If that were the case, then I doubt Hauerwas would be a pacificist.)

Rather, if I learned anything from sitting through his Ethics class at Duke, Hauerwas's aphorism that the church must first be the church is his way of saying that the church's visible existence in the world sets forth, for the world's benefit, an alternative, lived reality. That alternative, lived reality is a community of people (alive and dead) shaped by faithfulness to the Gospel who, in turn, help others to shape their lives and characters in faithfulness to the Gospel (and so on, through the generations) so as to witness to the Gospel in the world.

The church's "necessity" for salvation - which seems so offensive to commenters here - is tied to the fact that the Church is the place God, through the Spirit, has chosen for that work to be visibly done. Maybe not the only place, but certainly the place He has promised. This "necessity" of the church for salvation does not replace God (which seems to be what the commenters who critique Hauerwas for "not having a doctrine of God" seem to be implying), but depends on God. Again, I think this is why Hauerwas' pacifism is coherent - he is comfortable with the church existing at God's mercy.

In sum, the church being the church is the church witnessing to the world.

I agree with Chris Green's critique. Aspects of the distinction may have been drawn too sharply to be fruitful.
David Fitch said…
Halden, I just have a couple of basic questions, because I too read your summary of Hauerwas on Barth as too cavalier of a gloss on a few issues concerning what Hauerwas was doing with Barth in terms of ecclesiology. I know this is essentially still a blog entry, but can I push for a few more basic engagements? For one, what about the standard account of Barth? pre-McCormack, that indeed Barth’s dialectic phase reached a crisis and even a turning point towards an analogical phase (which became analogia fidei) with his book on Anselm? I know McCormack has ripped on this von Balthasar account of things, but for many of us McCormack is less than convincing. We’re more convinced by Hunsinger. Why do you reject Balthasar and find McCormack more convincing? Is this just a refusal of Catholic thought in toto? This seems very important because it seems that Hauerwas is playing out the Balthasar tracing of Barth’s development (along with other input), arguing that the inevitable trajectory of Barth’s strategy of a “Church Dogmatics,” his struggle to overcome the problematics within his own dialectic, required a more material account of the church. It seems you have to at least give a nod here as to why you side with McCormack versus Balthasar et. al. on the two phases within Barth’s historical development.
Of course this issue becomes more glaring when David Congdon says "It is simply remarkable to me that anyone could ever speak about the church as the "prolongation of the incarnation." Huh? what about Balthasar's Theo-Drama and the church caught up in the Trinity's mission via the Incarnation? Are we not past the time of reactionary protestantism against all things Catholic? Certainly the Reformation has been revealed with its warts, for instance - left without Christendom, how does protestantism account for political formation? the shaping of individuals into Christ and His mission? Hardly an incidental question eh?
What say you?
David Fitch said…
On another issue, basic to Hauerwas’ move in the Gifford lectures, and I’m over simplifying, is the idea that if indeed Barth is arguing for all knowledge of God to be grounded, not in exterior sources of so-called “general revelation” but the threefold revelation in the Word becoming flesh in history, then it makes all the sense to ask not only what this means for the church, but how such a grounding would take place in the world. i.e., how can Barth’s notion of “witness” bear this load. It seems that Barth naming the bulk of his life work “Church Dogmatics” testifies itself to what Barth saw was inevitable, the church and its language, its history in the world, as the foundation for witness. He just didn’t have time to carry it out. Hauerwas did. And I don't see why there has to be this inevitable division/bifurcation between the church's two-fold existence - community in formation, community in the world as mission. Hauerwas of course repeatedly thinks differently. Can you tell me why these two must be separated like some schizophrenic birth of the Holy Spirit? In fact, it seems Chalcedon Christology makes way for the removal of this bifurcation no? The very thing you reject, "incarnational prolongation" seems to solve your problem? No?
Anyways, Darrell Guder, a Barthian reader if there ever was one, holds together (somewhat) Hauerwas and the dialectic aspects of Barth is his account of witness in ch. 3 of the Continuing Conversion of the Church. I think it's a balanced presentation of these issues. Thoughts?
Peace ...
David Fitch
Halden said…
Chris, thank you for taking the time to attempt to push back. I will respond to your points in turn.

In regard to your initial response you assert a series of claims about Barth's "weak" ecclesiology and the alleged dichotomy I've constructed between Barth and Hauerwas. I will repeat, unless you can actually show me how my reading, which engages widely with the relevant material, is wrong, I don't feel such baseless assertions, as helpful as they may be for rhetorical posturing, merit much consideration as they don't actually serve to do anything other than allow you to keep restating your opinions to yourself. I realize you may think you have provided such an argument in your subsequent "points" however, so allow me to respond to those in turn.

1. The issues is decidedly not that Barth considers the church to be an "indirect" witness whereas Hauerwas considers the church to be a "direct" witness. To try to cast the difference in this way is mistaken at a number of levels. Rather, as I show in my essay above, for Hauerwas the church's witness constitutes the truth of the Gospel. The church's moral life makes the Gospel true for Hauerwas. Barth, by contrast insists that the Gospel's truth is not dependent on the church's witness. Rather the church's witness is entirely non-necessary and points beyond itself to God's own completed act in Christ. This difference is absolutely fundamental in a way you refuse to engage or acknowledge.

2. Your second comment doesn't really argue anything but it makes clear a couple of problematic issues with Hauerwas's work. First, for Hauerwas, what does it mean, specifically to "make the world the world"? Hauerwas certainly never makes it clear. This relates to your second claim that Hauerwas is not doing systematic theology but is rather simply trying to provoke, so we should just not take him too seriously or critically. I hear this all the time, in fact its really the only way to defend a lot of what Hauerwas says. Just tell everyone to stop being so serious and just "go with it". I find that approach to reading a theologians' work to be both lazy and indulgent.

Moreover, Hauerwas has stated many, many times in his writings that he does not consider himself an "ethicist" but rather considers his work to be precisely a work of Christian dogmatic theology (with a view towards overcoming the separation between theology and ethics). So that must be acknowledged; Hauerwas's own, clearly-articulated understanding of his own work directly contradicts the way you characterize him here in order to get him off the hook.

3. Clearly Barth recognizes the church's secondary status under the ministry of Christ, that is, of course central to what I have written above. However nothing in your comment shows that Hauerwas holds a similar position. As such this comment doesn't really serve to augment the point I think you feel you are making.

Moreover, Barth does not "stop short" of identifying the church as a prolongation of the incarnation. This sort of language is precisely the mistake that continually gets made in this discussion. He doesn't "stop short"; he's going in the opposite direction! This again goes to the very real dogmatic differences between Hauerwas and Barth in their doctrines of Christ and the church.
Halden said…
4. Again, the issue is not "being true to Christ" but precisely what faithfulness to Christ means that is at issue here. Certainly Barth and Hauerwas sometimes use similiar language about a whole host of things, but it is of the utmost importance to actually read them with care to see what function such language serves in their theologies. And again, as I have shown what Hauwerwas and Barth mean by "witness" are two very different things. And, as is clear, you haven't in any substantial way challenged my argument or reading on that point.

5. See 4. above. Of course Barth believes that the church is "necessary" for salvation in the sense that the church is the proleptic sign of God's act in Christ. However, as Hauerwas himself makes clear in WTG, Barth explicitly denies that the world "would necessarily be lost if there were no church" (CD 3/4: 826). Thus whatever "necessity" the church has for Barth it is only necessary in the sense that the church, in the election of God, is the gratuitous sign of the kingdom's inbreaking into the world. It is not necessary in the sense that it is a condition of the Gospel being known or true; but that is precisely what the church's "necessity" is for Hauerwas.

Again, you haven't seriously countered any of the argument I've made here, only reinforced it.

6. To be sure Hauerwas, in several places admits that Christ is present outside the church. But there are two elements to this that are vital to keep in mind. First, this claim does no work, has no bearing or significance in Hauerwas's theology as a whole. He admits it because he doesn't feel like he should deny it, but what difference does Christ's presence outside the church mean for Hauerwas's theology? Its impossible to say because it in fact doesn't matter. What does matter to Hauerwas is the second part of the sentence, namely that the church trains us to rightly see where Christ is present outside of it. Thus even Christ's (possible) presence outside the church can only ever be something that reinforces the church's previous apprehension of Christ, from which they are "trained" and "formed."

So despite acknowledging Christ's presence outside the church, for Hauerwas this very act is indeed a circumscribing and controlling of Christ by the church. It is the church's internal life of formative practices that allow us to see and rightly know what Christ might do outside the church. Thus, in the end, whatever Christ does outside the church cannot but be something that reinforces the church's prior understanding of Christ. Again, on this score Barth and Hauerwas could not be further apart.

To sum up, while I appreciate the effort you put into your response, none of it actually calls into question the argument I made in the post, and at many points the evidence you brought simply reinforces my argument. I want to be absolutely clear about this: I have not "constructed" a dichotomy between Barth and Hauerwas. The difference between them is evident in their theological contributions and I have simply recounted it based on a reading of their work. I am certainly open to be challenged in my actual reading, which I offer in the post, but as of yet no substantive challenge along those lines has been forthcoming.

Frankly, it needs to be said: You cannot have Barth and Hauerwas. You have to pick one and reject the other on some very fundamental points if you wish to read them seriously and thoroughly.
Cabe Matthews said…
The contention that Hauerwas doesn't need God, or that he has no doctrine of God, seems to ignore the stated thesis of With the Grain: "…Karl Barth is the great 'natural theologian' of the Gifford Lectures because he rightly understood that natural theology is impossible abstracted from a full doctrine of God" (pp. 9-10). Sidestepping the out-of-scope conversation about the possibility of amiably allowing the phrase 'natural theology' to come within 50 feet of Barth's theology, this quote indicates something crucial about Hauerwas' understanding of his own relationship to Barth, and particularly to the fundamental position Barth gives to his doctrine of God.

Hauerwas rightly values the fact that Barth's prolegomena is already dogmatics - the thing-one-says-before-one-gets-on-with-dogmatics is already itself dogmatics. Barth can't answer the question of how we can speak about God without already speaking about the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And it's exactly here that Hauerwas offers his primary endorsement of Barth.

I think Hauerwas as a theological ethicist assumes the doctrine of God as something fundamental to his work, as something that, in both the Wittgensteinian (e.g. On Certainty, #115 and 341) and in the Barthian (e.g. CD II/1, pp. 7) sense, cannot be doubted. It seems like Halden et al. would fault Hauerwas for leaving his doctrine of God unsaid. But it seems Hauerwas would respond that he is rather attempting to show it rather than to say it.
Anonymous said…
From someone with not enough time to comment formally on this discussion:

I agree completely and wholeheartedly with Cabe.

Missing the Wittgensteinian twist to Hauerwas' method can get one into a lot of trouble. So far no one had mentioned Wittgenstein. I've been waiting and hoping someone with the time would bring this up. I know I will be berated for not taking the time to engage in a close reading, but I would encourage those who are up for it to think critically about how the Wittgensteinian ingredient in Hauerwas could possibly challenge and refute Halden's attempt to make them mutually exclusive.

I remain anonymous because I have not substantiated my claim, take this as a small voice interjecting an idea into the discussion from off stage.
Anonymous said…
and by make "them" mutually exclusive I'm of course referring to Hauerwas and Barth.
Halden said…
If anything, Hauerwas's reliance on Wittgenstein, and Hauwerwas's fundamental misreading of him (See Peter Dula's essay in Unsettling Arguments) only further distinguishes Barth and Hauerwas.
Halden said…
Also, @David Fitch, I don't mean to leave aside your questions, but I don't know if I'll have time to reply in full until a bit later on today. Just didn't want you to think I was ignoring you.
Anonymous said…
"The church's witness constitutes the truth of the Gospel. The church's moral life makes the Gospel true for Hauerwas. Barth, by contrast insists that the Gospel's truth is not dependent on the church's witness."

Isn't the truth of the incarnation dependent on the witness of Mary? Her 'Yes' constitutes the truth of the Gospel. No Mary - no contingent human contribution - no incarnate truth. Christ of course would still exist from eternity, but he would never enter history - never truly become human.

In other words, I smell docetism.
Anonymous said…
To be clear, what I smell is not Christological docetism, but its analogous ecclesiological equivalent. Another example: the church was certainly responsible for constituting the canon of scripture. Does this curtail God's freedom? No, because grace does not destroy nature but completes it.

Perhaps this is really about intonation. The proper response to the incredulous question "You are the Body of Christ?!?!" is not the triumphant "Sure are!" but the repentant "Yeah..." Christ chooses weak and foolish instruments, like always. We are not subjects God has entrusted with an object; we are objects that God is "laying hands on" to make into little Christs. This should scare the hell out of - and the humility and obedience into - us, no?

Barth has a different, more Reformational understanding of how grace and nature interact.
Anonymous said…

R.O. Flyer said…
Thank you all for the good comments. I'm sorry I have not been able to participate until now, but I have been traveling over the past few days. Halden has already done a good job responding to the majority of comments, but I wanted to briefly respond to David Fitch. David rightly suspects that Halden and I follow the trajectory of McCormack's interpretation of Barth; at the very least, we would both follow him on his critique of Balthasar's understanding of Barth's development. With McCormack we read Barth as a dialectical thinker through and through, from beginning to end. Now, David, you also say that you are more "convinced by Hunsinger" on this score. What does Hunsinger have to do with Balthasar's interpretation of Barth? It seems to me that neither McCormack nor Hunsinger would still maintain Balthasar's thesis on Barth's development. In other words, you're actually dealing with fundamentally different issues with regard to McCormack/Balthasar and McCormack/Hunsinger divides. It seems that the substantive relation between these two sets of disagreements, for you David, is the worry of a kind of Barthian rejection of "Catholic thought." You say that in order to understand Hauerwas rightly we need to understand that he is "playing out the Balthasar tracing of Barth's development (along with other input)." The only problem with such a statement is that Hauerwas himself follows McCormack's interpretation of Barth pretty much all the way through (see his section on Barth in With the Grain). So, it is not at all clear to me that Hauerwas "sides" with Balthasar and Hunsinger over and against McCormack in his interpretation of Barth. The way I see it is that Hauerwas is actually mostly convinced by McCormack and as a result he is led to reject Barth at key points--and he does do this, explicitly, following Joseph Mangina and Reinhard Hütter.

David, you then go on to say that all of this is more "glaring" when David Congdon says "It is simply remarkable to me that anyone could ever speak about the church as the prolongation of the incarnation." You think that we must think in these terms and that this somehow solves what you identify as a problematic bifurcation between "community in formation, community in the world as mission." Could I ask you to elaborate on what you mean by the "church as the prolongation of the incarnation" and how this relates to your reading of Balthasar? By "prolongation" are you talking about an ontological prolongation of Christ? His humanity and divinity? Or a kind of recurrent or continual incarnation of the Logos in the history of the church and its practices? It seems to me that however much you want to maintain the so-called "Catholic" elements of Barth (whether this be found in Balthasar or Hunsinger) I think you'll still find it difficult to maintain something remotely like "the church as the prolongation of the incarnation" on Barthian grounds. I would argue that, for Barth, the singularity of Jesus is inseparable from the singularity of the event of incarnation (which is God's eternal decision of self-determination to be God-for-us, as McCormack would rightly put it). It is not that the church is not a "community in formation," but simply that the church's active participation in Christ's living mission for the world is constitutive of its "internal formation"--or better, the church's solidarity with and for the world is its conformation to Christ.

Thanks again for all the engagement on this post. I hope to respond to others soon.
R.O. Flyer said…
Thank you all for the good comments. I'm sorry I have not been able to participate until now, but I have been traveling over the past few days. Halden has already done a good job responding to the majority of comments, but I wanted to briefly respond to David Fitch. David rightly suspects that Halden and I follow the trajectory of McCormack's interpretation of Barth; at the very least, we would both follow him on his critique of Balthasar's understanding of Barth's development. With McCormack we read Barth as a dialectical thinker through and through, from beginning to end. Now, David, you also say that you are more "convinced by Hunsinger" on this score. What does Hunsinger have to do with Balthasar's interpretation of Barth? It seems to me that neither McCormack nor Hunsinger would still maintain Balthasar's thesis on Barth's development. In other words, you're actually dealing with fundamentally different issues with regard to McCormack/Balthasar and McCormack/Hunsinger divides. It seems that the substantive relation between these two sets of disagreements, for you David, is the worry of a kind of Barthian rejection of "Catholic thought." You say that in order to understand Hauerwas rightly we need to understand that he is "playing out the Balthasar tracing of Barth's development (along with other input)." The only problem with such a statement is that Hauerwas himself follows McCormack's interpretation of Barth pretty much all the way through (see his section on Barth in With the Grain). So, it is not at all clear to me that Hauerwas "sides" with Balthasar and Hunsinger over and against McCormack in his interpretation of Barth. The way I see it is that Hauerwas is actually mostly convinced by McCormack and as a result he is led to reject Barth at key points--and he does do this, explicitly, following Joseph Mangina and Reinhard Hütter.
Nate Kerr said…

Just a couple of points in addition to Ry's fine comments in response to David Fitch.

(1.) First of all, as regards Barth's decision to revise Die christliche Dogmatik as what eventually became the massive Die Kirchliche Dogmatik, we must realize that, on Barth's own terms, that this is a dogmatic decision and not simply a methodological one (this is, of course, at the heart of McCormack's reading). What I mean by that is that it is Barth's commitment to a particular doctrine of God -- a particular commitment to understanding the being of God as act/event -- that was at the heart of the shift. If God's Word happens as the dialectic event of God’s “Yes!” and God’s “No!” to humanity and the apocalyptic shattering and re-creation that occur there, then we must indeed speak concretely of that creaturely new creation of which God's act is constitutive. That is, we must speak of the church as precisely that creaturely reality whose event-character corresponds to and witnesses to the truth of the Gospel's ongoing transfiguration of the world. Two points need to be made here. First, as Barth came more and more to realize that God's Wholly Otherness from the world is his Wholly Otherness for the world in Jesus Christ, he came to realize that the free event of God's act vis-a-vis the world dialectically includes the transfiguration of the world in Jesus Christ. The church's analogical correspondence is to this event, and its witness is to the ongoing transformation of the world that occurs within the diastatic movement of God in freedom to the world. Secondly, when understood in terms of dogmatically securing the event-character of the church as witness to the diastatic event of God's being-in-act, the move from "christliche" dogmatics to "Kirchliche" dogmatics can be understood as precisely refusing the positing of any given "Christian" ecclesiastical datum as the condition of possibility of dogmatics itself. No! This would be to submit the reception of and witness to God's being-in-act to the conditions of a creaturely given, whether nationalistic or ecclesiastical, or otherwise. Rather, the church's witness can only ever be "true" as it is constituted ever anew by the free gift -- the dandum -- that God's being-in-act-as-dialectical-transfiguration-of-the-world is, as the ever-new happening that God's Word in the event of Jesus Christ is for the world. This does not foreclose on treatments of the church's "continuity" in history, or of the church as a gathered community, or of its faithfulness to creedal and orthodox tradition. It is only to say that such treatments are meant to be situated dogmaticaly as witnesses to the faithfulness of God's free grace as dandum -- an active giving that is to-be-given -- in Jesus Christ; they are not the condition for receiving that grace, nor or they constitutive of the truth of that grace-as-Gospel, but rather they are witnesses to the fact that without this grace such communities and traditions will have been nothing come tomorrow morning. All of this is to say that, with the shift from Die christliche Dogmatik to Die Kirkliche Dogmatic, Barth was already on the way to his mature understanding of the church-as-event, in which the church itself happens in relation to Jesus Christ as just such a "giving that is to be given," and not just a "given" prolongation of a narrative-historical datum -- the "Incarnation," let's say. It is not that Barth didn't live long enough to develop an ecclesiology more akin to Hauerwas'; it is closer to the truth to say that Barth didn't live long enough to render any considered rapprochement between his and Hauerwas' ecclesiologies dogmatically unthinkable.
Nate Kerr said…

(2.) The second key point I'd like to make, is that on Barth's terms, it is not ever clear that theology done within Hauerwas' narrative ecclesiological context could genuinely be done as dogmatics. That is to say, to the extent that Hauerwas thinks of the Word of God (the Gospel) as something imparted, delivered over as a kind of deposit to the narratival datum that is "tradition," which is made to be a cultural-historical condition for the possibility not only of the knowledge of the Word of God, but of one's encounter with that Word as "reality," then theology cannot but happen within Hauerwas' ecclesiological framework except in the mode of Glaubenslehre. That is, theology would amount to the investigation of the contents of the Gospel as unfolded within the historical ecclesiological narrative, and the intra-textual conditions for the "truth" of that unfolding. Ironically, it is the theological method of Hauerwas and of modern post-liberal ecumenism that is beginning to look all-too-"Protestant" here, in the sense of embodying something akin to the neo-Protestant methodology that Barth was seeking to overcome and that in part drove his shift from "Christian" to "Church" dogmatics.
ken oakes said…
I don´t think the shifts from the Christliche Dogmatik to the Kirchliche Dogmatik are as dramatic or as doctrinally specific as Nate presents it in his last two comments to Ry and David (as part of a conversation which I think is interesting yet far beyond my pay grade).

I would, then, simply like to address the issues of Barth's development in Nate´s comments. For one, there is very little that is different between the ChrD and CD I/1, and the differences that do exist are more about the 'Churchly anthropology' that Barth was worried about being misread (and not necessarily mistaken as such). In this way, it was more his worries about being too closely associated with Gogartent and Brunner (which we could call a tactical shift) as opposed to any 'methodological' or 'dogmatic' shifts (related either to this ecclesiology or his theology proper).

Equally, given that the ChrD is simply the beginning of the Muenster dogmatics, which just about nobody has seen, I'd be hesitant to locate significant shifts in doctrines not covered to any great extent in the ChrD or that are basically rehashings of the corresponding parts of the Goettingen Dogmatics.
Andy Rowell said…
I hear Nate, Ry, and Halden using this "church-as-event" phrasing as Barth himself does to urge the church always to be always reforming.

Barth puts it this way: "His real presence as such is held to become an event in the world in the Roman mass, the Lutheran Lord's Supper, the Reformed exposition of Holy Scripture, the Methodist preaching of conversion, the eloquent or silent testimony of fraternal spiritual fellowship, or practical turning to one's fellows in accordance with His will. What would be the result if His real presence as the living and speaking Lord was genuinely accepted, if it was not merely maintained but allowed to become an event in the form in which it is earnestly believed?" (IV.1 p. 682).

The "event" signifies Christ's presence by his Spirit. Of course there is no church without it. So do we have no idea when church really happens because we have know way of knowing whether the Spirit is at work? In a way, yes. The church must never get complacent and self-satisfied.

But, it seems to me Barth always goes on to nuance or qualify what he means so that he is not misunderstood.

a. The church is concrete and visible. "There is an ecclesiastical Docetism which will not accept this, which paradoxically tries to overlook the visibility of the Church, explaining away its earthly and historical form as something indifferent, or angrily negating it, or treating it only as a necessary evil, in order to magnify an invisible fellowship of the Spirit and of spirits. This view is just as impossible as christological Docetism, not only in point of history, but also in point of substance. For the work of the Holy Spirit as the awakening power of Jesus Christ would not take place at all if the invisible did not become visible, if the Christian community did not take on and have an earthly-historical form" (p. IV.1 653).

b. God has chosen to use human beings. "It never takes place in virtue of the qualities of this people itself. Jesus the Lord, in the quickening power of His Holy Spirit, is the One who acts where this provisional representation takes place, and therefore where the true Church is an event. He does not act directly—without this people. He gives to this people the necessary qualities." (IV.2. p. 623).

c. Worship is where the event of God's presence most clearly happens. "This is where the particular happening of worship is supremely relevant. The event of the community takes place in other ways. And conversely, divine service [worship] in this particular sense of the term is not a continual but a particular event within the total event “community.” As the total event “community” stands out from the world within the world, so divine service stands out from the total event “community” within this event. And it is only as the community has its distinct centre in its worship that it can and will stand out clearly from the world." (IV.2 p. 697). Cf. "It is to be noted how the event of His own life is reflected and repeated in the event of the Supper (as in that of confession and baptism)." (IV.2 p. 703).

d. Christ is present in the church in the way the Bible describes it. "The power of the act thereby denoted, of this dynamic event, of this mighty act of the Holy Spirit, is the power of the being of Jesus Christ in its relationship to that of the community as just expounded. In our statement that the Christian community exists as Jesus Christ exists, we have described the solid sphere and setting in which this act takes place, in which it becomes possible and actual. There is thus excluded any false idea that chance or caprice is at work in this happening. The order which underlies the free event of the grace which calls the community is thereby revealed, namely, the order of grace as the order of being." (IV.3. p. 758-759).
Andy Rowell said…
Finally, let me give a quote about the "prolongation of the incarnation." Barth does not say that but he does say this:

"How else can we describe the relationship between Him and the community but by saying that He exists also in this predicate or dimension of His being, that therefore in this predicate or dimension, without ceasing to be the heavenly κεφαλή [note] in the heights on the right hand of the Father, He Himself is also in the depths of world-occurrence, and that He is therefore σῶμα [note], this σῶμα [note], His ἐκκλησία [note]. Hence it can be said quite clearly and definitely in 1 Cor. 1227: “Ye are the body of Christ.” As this His σῶμα [note], as this His earthly-historical form of existence, the community also exists as He does. It does not exist otherwise. But in this way it exists really, and indeed realissime [note]. As the unus Chrisus, solus [note] yet also totus [note], He is the basis and secret of its existence." IV.3 p. 758
Nate Kerr said…

I think you may have understood me as saying there was a "dogmatic" shift that occurred from Barth in the above comment. No, my point was that the shift from "Christian" to "Church" dogmatics was for Barth a matter of being more consistent to the basic doctrine of God that was already in place before CD I/1. I'm not talking about a dogmatic "shift" so much as I am talking about a dogmatic reason for the shift to no longer speaking generically of "Christian" dogmatics and speaking specifically in terms of "Church" dogmatics. The point is that his distancing himself from Brunner, Gogarten, and others was bound up with his conviction that no anthropological, philosophical, or ecclesiastical datum could remain as in any way a condition of the theological task. And so my point is simply that the shift to "Church" dogmatics was meant precisely to foreclose on the kind of ecclesiastical interpretation of that shift that David F. was propounding. Now, I may have overdramatized this point for rhetorical purposes in what I said in that comment, but my material point still remains the same. And I would go on to say that the only way Barth could re-name his revision of Die christliche Dogmatik the "Church Dogmatics" is because already he had begun to think "church" as an "event" -- an event within (or in correspondence to) the event of God's revelatory Word. Only as such could the shift to "Church" dogmatics foreclose on any sense of an ecclesiastical "Christian" datum as the condition for Christian doctrine. No, theology is done as faithful response to the evernew reception of God's Word-as-dandum, and only as such is theology "a function of the Church" (as he puts it in CD I/1), inasmuch as the church happens as an event of such faithful response.

So, to be clear, I was not arguing for a dogmatic shift from Die christliche Dogmatik to Die Kirchliche Dogmatik, but rather giving a dogmatic reason for the shift in title (call it strategic or whatever you will). This much we have to say: that the diastasis between divinity and humanity entailed in Barth's doctrine of God as revelatory event was a material reason for the shift in title. And I want to add to that, that the dogmatic bases for Barth's doctrine of the church-as-event that he would go on to elaborate throughout the CD were already present in early works such as Romans I, so that the shift to "Church Dogmatics" does not signal the kind of shift in thinking about the church that would more align him with Hauerwas' ecclesiology, as David F. seems to want to argue.
ken oakes said…
That's helpful Nate.

Dogmatically I think you're reading Barth's sensibilities very well, but I still do think that historically (and biographically) the reading is a tad dramatic, and a bit off for a variety of Barthiana reasons, each one more boring than the last (although Barth's very early love of Schleiermacher his work on the Reformed confessions early in the 1920's, and his being a Reformed preacher for 10 years before his move to Goettingen would be in there somewhere): in any case, the former issue, that of sensibilities, is more important and interesting anyways.

I want to respond to your point (c), because I'm afraid you may be misled by the poor English translation. The terms "worship" and "divine service" in the translation are the same German word, "Gottesdienst" (KD IV/1, 790). In other words, "divine service," not "worship," is the correct translation. Whether you knew it or not, you made a serious mistake when you added "worship" in brackets after "divine service." Just the opposite needs to be done: adding "divine service" after "worship"!

I say this because we Anglo-American readers of Barth tend to associate "worship" with a particular liturgical life, a set of religious rituals and practices that set the Christian church apart from the world. But this is a terrible misreading of Barth, in my view. We can't understand what Barth means by Gottesdienst apart from his missiological conception of the church in CD IV/3, his rejection of the church as a "prolongation of the incarnation," his emphasis on the church's "very special visibility" in CD IV/1, and his rejection of the church being an end-in-itself. In other words, divine service takes the form of the church's total self-donation on behalf of the world. It is distinct from the world not because of some religious praxis or some liturgical culture. It is distinct solely because of its knowledge of God's election of humanity in Jesus Christ and its participation in this reconciling grace through living as faithful witnesses.

You cite the passage about ecclesiological docetism in IV/1. But we need to remember what Barth says just a couple pages earlier:

"The Church is when it happens to these men in common that they may receive the verdict on the whole world of men which has been pronounced in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. By the pronunciation of this verdict, which they can receive and have received by the awakening power of the Holy Spirit, they are gathered and they allow themselves to be gathered, they gather themselves, as they have received it and do receive it. ... The Church is when these men as the first-fruits of all creation can know and have to acknowledge the Lord of the world in His faithfulness as the Lord of the covenant which He has maintained and fulfilled, and therefore as their Lord."

In other words, the church is an event that happens whenever and wherever people hear the word of God's reconciliation of the world in Jesus Christ. When the gospel is spoken and heard, there the church comes into being. That church cannot be defined in terms of some liturgical-religious cultus, i.e. some particular sociological form of life; the church is a word-event wherein God's justifying verdict is heard and confessed, and where people know Christ as the savior of the world.

One more passage, a few pages after the one you cited, is worth quoting now:

"There is no direct identity between what the community is and any confession, theology or cultus; any party, trend, group or movement in the being of the community as it may be generally perceived; anything within it which can be demonstrated or delimited or counted or formulated in a purely human way; or, of course, any of the individuals assembled and active within it. ... The gathering and maintaining and completing of the community, as the mystery of what its visible form is on this level, is in the hand of God, and as His own work, a spiritual reality, its third dimension, it is invisible, it cannot be perceived but only believed" (emphasis added).

This is the point of the 3-D view of the church: viz. that the true being of the church is invisible apart from faith. Only faith can see the real community of believers. Only faith recognizes that this community is actually the people of God. Apart from faith, it is completely unknown and hidden. There is thus only an indirect identity between the being of the community and the empirical, visible church.

The problem with Hauerwas and others like him is that they want the true church to be totally visible and recognizable by all; they want the direct identity that Barth rejects. They want the church's witness to Jesus Christ to be something identifiable apart from faith. Only in this way, they say, can the church have a truly meaningful witness in the world. But precisely in making the church's witness directly identical with its institutional form, these theologians lose the eventfulness of the church as an occurrence in the Spirit. Or, more accurately, they make the Spirit directly identifiable with the church's institutional practices, and thus oppose the pneumatology that undergirds Barth's ecclesiology.

So let's just cut to the chase: the difference between Hauerwas & co. and Barth comes down to a different doctrine of God, a different understanding of the trinitarian relations and their relation to the world. This is, of course, Flett's thesis, so if you want more on this, I recommend reading his book.
R.O. Flyer said…

On the basis of some of your comments here, it seems to me that your central worry is that our reading of Barth here does not account for the way in which Barth wants to maintain the importance of the "visible church." You seem to think that we read Barth as wanting to do away with the church's "institutions."

And so you say:
According to the two sides that Halden and Ry have laid out here, those who agree with Barth would emphasize mission and minimize church bureaucracy. Those who would agree with Hauerwas, would tend to stress the church's internal practices that form Christians (catechesis / education and Eucharist). This is why many of us think this discussion matters. But, it is also important to see how conceivably the two "sides"--one more externally focused and the other more internally focused--could be reconciled. (I for one am a student of Hauerwas's and am interested in leadership so I think institutions matter which puts me more on the Hauerwas side.

The point isn't so much to deny a place for so-called "Christian formation" (whether this be understood as the catechesis or eucharist or institutions as such); I don't think Halden, Nate, and I are meaning to call for an end to these sorts of practices. Nor are we out to construct a kind of binary between "formation" and "mission." I take it that the way in which we deal with such "practical considerations" takes a great deal of discernment. So, I would caution you a bit on too quickly drawing conclusions about what this inevitably means for "institutions." Not that these aren't real concerns that demand treatment, but they are dogmatically secondary to what we're dealing with here. Certainly, there are practical implications to our reading of Barth, but such implications must be thought out creatively and, I would say, contextually. (As an aside, this is why I think Jamie Smith's strange suggestion/backhanded critique that our Theses provide the perfect ecclesiological basis for Peter Rollins and the "emergent church" is misguided).

With regard to your last comment, I guess we need to point out the descriptive point about Barth: yes, he believes the church is a "visible" reality--and so do we! As I think my exposition makes clear, however, the visibility of the church for Barth is grounded in the visibility of Jesus Christ. Of course God involves creaturely being! Of course the church is a visible reality in the world! What's at stake here is not whether it is visible, but how it is visible and on what grounds and basis. Our concern is not so much that Hauerwas "emphasizes" church practices over and against Barth's emphasis on mission, but that in rendering church practices as constitutive of the gospel he cannot help but think Christian mission as cultural-linguistic propaganda.

So, we do not question that in Christ God is for creaturely being and for the church. We simply want to say that whatever we say about the church and its practices we can never say that they are the beginning or the end of what God is doing in the world. The beginning and end of what God is doing in the world is Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. This is not to get rid of the church, but to properly situate the church and its visibility within what God has done and what God is doing in the world.
mshedden said…
I know I have made this point before but I don't see how this claim sticks: that in rendering church practices as constitutive of the gospel he cannot help but think Christian mission as cultural-linguistic propaganda.

What practices are Hauerwas/Lindbeck advocating that are cultural-linguistic propaganda? The Eucharist/Communion? The Creed? Preaching? It doesn't seem Barth (or many theologians) is exempted from emphasizing these practices and the question seems to be more about the marks of the church then it being propaganda. And I feel like Lindbeck is pretty clear in the Nature of Doctrine that while dogmatic words stay the same they shift in different contexts.
RO Flyer could you say more about this claim and why you think it fits? Could maybe point to a quote that shows them conceiving of mission this way or is more a concern that stretches from their projects?
Jon Coutts said…
@Chris: It strikes me as odd to hear Barth's ecclesiology called "scandalously weak" when he calls the community the "earthly-historical presence" of Christ right now and does so much in the Dogmatics to put it in front of the personal. Stopping short of calling the Church a sacrament or treating it as a prolongation of the incarnation may give Barth's ecclesiology a different emphasis, but whether this is a stronger ecclesiology or not probably depends more on what we deem strong.
David Fitch said…
Sorry to be absent from this conversation. I was tending to my work for the church yesterday ;) ... I do want to quickly reply to R.O. I agree with you of course that Hauerwas in several specifics was following McCormack in WTG ... so maybe a bit of an overstatement on my part. What I was recalling was Hauerwas' move on the Analogia Fidei section beginning p. 184ff. Also that brief interaction with Hunsinger in that footnote. This leads to eventually Hauerwas saying that Barth's account of the church is not sufficient to display the implications of analogy (somewhere later on).
As to my Hunsinger comment, I wasn't referring Hunsinger's assessment of Barthian development, but rather his assessment of McCormack's most recent work as it applies to McCormack's revisionist (treating it kindly) Chalcedonian Christology. Sorry to mix things and confuse. Yet it is an important issue, for I see poetential in Balthasar's Christological account for directing us to a solution (a better one) to many of the problems inherent in this post.
As for using Barth to substantiate a Catholic view of the church, sorry wasn't intending that. I am merely pointing out that Halden's account of Barth in this post (and for that matter Nate Kerr's account in the comments) is highly disputed and we should acknowledge such.
I continue to ask why we have to bifurcate "the community in formation" from the community in mission. Your last few sentences in your comment to me I find befuddling. What do you mean when you talk of the community's formation in mission? In what way is the Eucharist for instance not the formation of a people as Christ's body in and for mission versus the kind of formation you are describing?
Halden said…
David, if I may jump back in here, finally also finished with my own work at church over the weekend, I just want to make a couple points.

You've claimed a couple of times now that I somehow owe readers and explanation for why my post depends on McCormack's account of Barth's development. Frankly, this is mistaken. McCormack's account of Barth's development has achieved nearly universal acceptance among serious Barth scholars. I know of no serious reader of Barth who defends Balthasar's reading of Barth. The fact of the matter is that Balthasar's work on Barth is half-century old scholarship. It is both dated and refuted, at least by the consensus of contemporary scholarship. Now, of course that does not put McCormack's reading beyond question, but it does put the burden of proof on folks like yourself rather than me. If you want to argue for Balthasar over against McCormack (in regard to this specific issue, mind you) it is you, not I who owe readers an explanation.

Again, as Ry has already pointed out, the disagreements between McCormack and Hunsinger/Molnar over issues involving the doctrines of election, Christology, and the Trinity have no bearing on McCormack's refutation of Balthasar's account of Barth's development in relation to analogy. They are decidedly separate issues.

So again, to be direct, the reading of Barth I have given here, at least in regard to the sources on which it depends, is not "highly disputed" at least not by any serious Barth scholars. The view of witness that I find in Barth is not actually controversial at all if one reads the work of Barth scholars who have done work in Barth's ecclesiology and ethics. See for example John Webster's "On Evangelical Ecclesiology" in Confessing God, Kimlyn Bender's Karl Barth's Christological Ecclesiology and David Haddorff's Christian Ethics as Witness for a small sampling of some the work that has been done in this area.

To be clear, I just feel I need to push back against your characterizations of me that you've lodged here. By any serious scholarly evaluation my reading is not "highly contested", but rather stands firmly in the mainstream of current scholarship on Barth. Though continue to speak casually of "the problems inherent in this post" you have failed to show in any meaningful way that such problems actually exist within my reading of Barth and Hauewas. Now to be sure you could argue that we should adhere to Balthasar's Roman catholic ecclesiology over against Barth, but that would be a different argument altogether.
David Fitch said…
I repent! No offense intended. I'm quite happy that the whole reliance on McCormack has been discussed and will be content for others to quibble as to whether indeed McCormack has achieved "universal acceptance" on said issue. As to McCormack/ Hunsinger/Molnar debates on Christology, election etc.. I propose that indeed these questions of Christology,incarnation and the much disputed (on this blog post)"church as the prolongation of the incarnation"are where we must go, if we wish to play off Barth and Hauerwas towards some resolutions re: a missional ecclesiology. But you are right, it does take the discussion adrift from your original post. Anyways, thanks for the good post, and the discussion here has been helpful. The day's work probably prevents me from further comments.
Peace DF
Halden said…
David, thanks for your gracious response. I agree that these questions of ecclesiology, and particularly the question of the relation between Barth and Balthasar are of the utmost importance.

Depending on how long this year's KBBC continues perhaps a post putting Barth and Balthasar in dialogue will be forthcoming, which perhaps could take up these concerns more directly.
Chris E W Green said…

First, I'll admit that I want to find a way to have both Barth and Hauerwas, at least I want to have them both at the table; perhaps on some points you're right: that simply won't do. For now, at least, I remain convinced that it can be done w/o violence.

Second, I at no point wanted to convey that Hauerwas and Barth don't differ. I meant only to suggest that the way you've framed the discussion is not going to help make sense of Barth's and Hauerwas's descriptions of the church, much less engender the kind of discussion that helps us formulate an ecclesiology that does justice to Scripture and the Christian tradition.
Chris E W Green said…

I hear what you're saying. I meant only to say that I think Barth's account of the church -- although, from my reading, it's something of a mistake to describe it this way, given that he says much in this or that place that stands in tension with his own statements elsewhere -- fails finally to do justice to either Scripture (e.g. Eph 1.22-23) or the creed's third article.

For what it's worth, I have a friend who keeps telling me I'm misreading Barth, so I'm open to correction along these lines. I'm well aware, also, that I"m siding with Jenson, Chauvet, and HUVB, and so moving outside Protestantism. Perhaps this is the real issue of disagreement?
Halden said…

I meant only to suggest that the way you've framed the discussion is not going to help make sense of Barth's and Hauerwas's descriptions of the church, much less engender the kind of discussion that helps us formulate an ecclesiology that does justice to Scripture and the Christian tradition.

You're right you have only "suggested" this. Of course you have given no one any reason to think your "suggestions" have any serious argument or textual base in either Barth or Hauerwas behind them.

Honestly I'm a little tired of such unsupported and lazy "suggestions" that toss around accusations about how I'm incapable of doing "justice to Scripture and Tradition."

Bottom line, you have some work to do beyond "suggesting" things, which is all you've managed to do in this conversation. If you have an argument to make that is more than your own person "suggestions", by all means do so. Until then I do not regard my argument as having received any sort of serious challenge from you.
Andy Rowell said…
In this comment thread, we had been talking about "prolongation of Christ's incarnation," and I just came across this quote from Barth about it so just thought I would post it in case that might be useful for anyone doing further thinking about this stuff.

"Thus to speak of a continuation or extension of the incarnation in the Church is not only out of place but even blasphemous." (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.3 p. 729).
Anonymous said…
I have a question which may take us in another direction from this thread. Basically I want to know why Hauerwas rejects dogmatics (at least that is what I understand he does).

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