Theology out of disagreement: Karl Barth

Just been reading this about Karl Barth by John D Godsey (VOL. 7, NO. 1. SPRING 1987. QUARTERLY REVIEW. "Barth and Bonhoeffer: The Basic Difference. "). 

He [Barth] moved from relative obscurity to become the recognized leader of a new theological movement that firmly opposed the nineteenth-century liberal tradition, and step by step he carved out his own theological alternative: from the dialectical fireworks of Romans to the first systematic attempt of Christian Dogmatics and, finally, with a boost from Anselm's understanding of the rationality of faith, to the full flowering of his Church Dogmatics. 

I think that it is really interesting that most of our theology is borne out of disagreements and when I look at my own blog, I find that many of my posts are motivated by my wanting to address and wrestle with views that are different from my own. It's with gratitude that I reflect on our God who celebrates this amazing diversity in the unity that we have in Jesus Christ. I guess what we have to do is disagree with one another, as we fathom his mysteries, with as much grace and intelligence as we can muster.

Similarly intrigued or inspired by the writings of Karl Barth? This looks to be a very promising blog just begun by a research student in the Church Dogmatics. Check out Michael Leyden's

Theologisches Nachdenken...


Gurdur said...

Do you know if there is a theology of diversity, and if so, which book would be best, please? I'm also wondering if it could be tied in with a theology of enviromentalism -- protecting and promoting different and richly diverse ecotypes would seem to have quite a connection with protecting and promoting diversity in views. There's also the need to set borders; saying what is totally unacceptable (e.g. frank racism, misogyny etc.) and still keeping the range of the acceptable as wide as possible. I'm also wondering if Spinoza is relevant here, given his life; and the theology that helped bring about the end of the Thirty Years' War, the theology of the Simultankirche, the simultaneum mixtum, surely is relevant? But you would know much more than I would on this score.

This, by the way, gets back to your earlier discussion on whether us unbelievers can get it right sometimes when your church/wider communion get it wrong; and it also bears upon conflict resolution and negotiation, all these aspects. What would be your thoughts on all or any of these, please?

Rach said...

Hi Gurdur
Thanks for your engagement with this blog. I would agree with you that where the church seems to be advocating ideas in complete antithesis to the gospel, we need to pray for wisdom, like Barth who responded to Germany's war policies in his Barmen declaration to counteract liberal protestant conspiracy with state support of the Kaiser.

The church is full of fallible human beings in need to God's grace and wisdom. we will only ever see in part.

Your ideas about Spinoza are interesting. I am no expert. However, the churches you cite are all built on the same foundation - the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and so perhaps have more in common than you realise.

Part of the reason that I am an Anglican is because it too holds much diversity together. It is a via media and a continuation of the holy catholic and apostolic church but reformed and so holds together both Anglo-Catholics and low evanglicals under the same umbrella as we all try to work out together what the Spirit might be saying.

The idea of unbelievers and whether they can 'get it right' - I suppose depends upon what we mean by 'get it right' - by whose standards. Currently, I am working on just these issues in terms of a theological disagreement that erupted between Karl Barth and Emil Brunner as they both struggled to grapple with natural theology.

Barth describes natural theology as 'every (positive or nagative) formulation of a system which claims to be theological, i.e. to interpret divine revelation, whose subject, however, differs fundamentally from the revelation in Jesus Christ and whose method therefore differs equally from the exposition of Holy Scripture' (No!, 74-75). Barth was not sure that people could understand 'truth' outside of faith whereas Brunner wondered if we had an ability to do this which had not been destroyed and still functioned to an extent. I will hopefully be clearer about what I think after I have written the paper.

bless you

Rach said...

Thank you Gurdur
Re Spinoza - these churches are built on the same foundation - Jesus Christ and perhaps have more to unite them than we might think.

Anglicanism is the via media holding a lot of different theological integrities together.

Re unbelievers 'getting it right' - depends what 'right' is and by whose standards. I am writing a paper on this at the moment - Brunner would argue man can know truth and have a conscience somewhat independent of God's precise revelation in Christ (sorry, Brunner is actually more nuanced than this). Barth would say that any capacity we have has been destroyed and only the revelation of Jesus Christ is efficacious.
Thanks Gurdur

Re theology and the environment - this is a hugely current and fashionable area of Christian theology and the church regrets having not engaged as passionately in bygone days.

I recommend this from Rocha http://ew.ecocongregation.org/resources/module3

Rach said...

ah Gurdur

thought I had lost the first post so excuse the double -response...

Anonymous said...

Hi Rach again,
first off, you wrote:
"... Barth who responded to Germany's war policies in his Barmen declaration to counteract liberal protestant conspiracy with state support of the Kaiser."

If you will please excuse me, that is not so. The Barmen Declaration was penned in 1934, and was penned against the Nazi attempt to basically take over the German Lutheran church. It was NOT against "liberal protestant conspiracy" and it was NOT against the Kaiser -- the Kaiser abdicated in late 1918, twenty years earlier than the Barmen Declaration.

Then you wrote: "... However, the churches you cite are all built on the same foundation ..."

However, the Simultan model that I blogged about had more than just that; there were atheists and agnostics involved too. You see, it was a social answer to the problem of the Thirty Years' War; and in actively imposing peace (and pluralism), partly through the Simultankirche model, atheists and agnostics were involved too. And Spinoza was of course a Jew.

In any case, eventually you're going to have to decide how you talk with others who aren't Christian in any way. Getting back to that previous exchange, like most everyone, I tend not to share much with people who only want to talk at me, rather than with me; and so your previous exchange with Ould was rather interesting (as was my own exchange with Ould on my blog), since basically it devolves exactly onto that point; are you in reality only talking AT people, or genuinely WITH them?

It also comes round in another way; I saw from your beliefs page you hold we are all made in the image of God, which rather raises interesting theological questions if it is held that the unChristian of us have nothing worthwhile to say to the Christian of you; are we so NOT in the image of God then?

Of course, this doesn't just go for atheists such as myself; this goes for Jews too, let alone everyone else. Bit of a thorny problem when it comes to Yad VaShem, no? So I am kinda wondering what worth Barth is when it comes to visiting Yad VaShem.

It's very possible that I am being unfair about Barth, and I always previously liked him at least a bit even if solely because of the Barmen Declaration (and I live only 40 Km away from Wuppertal-Barmen, where the famous Declaration basically came into existence).

I do see that Barth was not at all in favour of Biblical inerrancy, and that he also made a point of not confusing the map with the territory. Definitely points in his favour. I'll probably get onto reading more of him a while later in order to be able to form a fairer judgment.

Anonymous said...

Ah, my apologies, I forgot to say in my last comment many thanks for the link you gave me, as well as thanks for your rsponses.

Rach Marszalek said...

Excuse the woolliness with Barth. I did not express myself properly. It was not that condensed - yes. He would not support Kaiser Wilhelm II, unlike his liberal professors who shocked him with their support and he penned the Barmen Declaration ultimately in response to the German church's support of the regime that developed and concluded in Nazism saying, "We reject the false doctrine that the Church may and must acknowledge as sources of its proclamation other events, powers, forms and truths as God’s revelation beside this one Word of God."

There are many good reasons for reading Barth Gurdur.

Talking to, not at - I hope so but then I suppose blogging is a bit one-way and only becomes conversation with people like you Gurdur who engage.

How to talk with non-Christians - have been doing that all my life and feel called into what I am called into so I might continue doing it.

Made in the image of God - yes we all are. Turning to God - not all of us. Struggling to understand the mysteries of this life - all of us, the whole of humanity being called home to find its meaning in God - that's how I see it. God loving all his children - whether they acknowledge it or not - I think so. God wanting us all to keep conversing with one another, no matter what - must be so, I reckon.

God bless

Gurdur said...

Please pardon my own tetchiness. It was only later I realized that the Barmen Declaration and Barth's earlier life (vis-รก-vis World War 1) had been conflated; the remarks weren't quite what I thought they were (an attack on liberal theology per se) but instead a simple conflation about two different things. I should have realized that. My fault, sorry.

I'm none too sure yet what you see as the good reasons for reading Barth; perhaps if you don't mind listing them? It would help me to know what to look for.

The rest, made in God's image etc., I think you understand what I am getting at, the argument over whether unbelievers can occasionally get it right and believers occasionally get it wrong. Obviously the God's image part plays into that. If you'll pardon me, it's something you haven't made your own stance clear on, but I'll drop that subject. It is, however, a rather important point in establishing bases for dialogue, yes? But I'll drop it for now.

Michael Leyden... said...

Thanks for the plug Rach! I see Barth is inspiring some useful conversations over here...


Rach Marszalek said...

Hi Mike
Indeed - Gurdur is interesting and it is clever how just as you are reflecting on the whole thesis of the imago Dei and Natural theology/Christological revelation and indeed wondering what the ramifications of all these things are for mission, non-Christian Gurdur should show an interest in the thoughts of Christians and how we approach our non-Christian brothers and sisters - much food for thought.

Think I am finally getting somewhere with the Barth Brunner debate and currently more convinced by Barth than Brunner.

It's all good fun ;-)


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