Since being directed by Princeton Theological Seminary on how to freely access the Moltmann Warfield Lectures from 1979, I did some poking around in their media archive (once you figure out how to find your way around, it’s a goldmine!), and found that Karl Barth’s 1962 Warfield Lectures are also easily and freely available for download. I shared this previously with the Karl Barth Discussion Group (which you should totally join if you haven’t already!) and with my friend Wyatt (the “PostBarthian”), who has already posted the lectures to his blog… We seem to be mirroring each other this week! 🙂
Karl Barth Meets the Students of Princeton Seminary (MP3 Mirror: Part 1, Part 2)
“There are few Christian theologians who refer faith so strictly to God’s revealing work in Christ, who so earnestly try to connect it with Christ alone, as this heretic did.” – Karl Barth on Marcion (Church Dogmatics III/1, 337)
Heretics are usually remembered most for what they got wrong, not what they got right. Their stories are told as cautionary tales of dangerous doctrinal errors. This is certainly the case with Marcion, the early Christian heretic famous for rejecting the God of the Old Testament as evil, and instead embracing only the God of the New Testament (the Father of Jesus Christ) as good (that’s right: two Gods). His error, as Karl Barth reminds us, was basically taking an important insight (the finality of the revelation of God in Christ) to a dangerous extreme, which resulted in a distorted picture of Christ: “He purifies the New Testament so drastically that he cannot appreciate its true Christ, and His existence even in Israel, and the connection of the whole of the New Testament with the whole of the Old. He apprehends the witness of Paul the Jew only in a violently distorted form.” (Barth, CD III/1, 338) Continue reading Defending Marcion: Moltmann on “the New”
Eberhard Jüngel is another one of those theologians whose works have long been on my “to read” list, but I haven’t gotten around to just yet (that list does not seem to be getting any smaller, because I keep adding new names to it!). I was pleased to be introduced to him via his contribution to How I Have Changed (edited by Jürgen Moltmann). Below are a couple paragraphs where Jüngel reflects on the teachers who shaped him, including Bultmann, Heidegger, and Barth. Heiddeger once told Jüngel that God is much worth thinking about but that language fails us. In contrast, Barth’s Church Dogmatics (CD) manages to use human language to talk about God for some 8000+ pages, about which Jüngel is elsewhere famously quoted as saying “the truth can’t be as long as that”. Here Jüngel speaks with deep appreciation of what he learned from CD when he returned to it years after his early encounters with Barth. By engaging with CD, “one could learn that a concentration on the truth attested in the Bible is the best presupposition for giving the present world its spiritual and worldly due and keeping faith with the earth for the sake of heaven.”
Now a few remarks on the teachers who shaped me. There was a philosopher who instructed me in logis and logistics, Gerhard Stammler. There was my New Testament teacher and doctoral supervisor, Ernst Fuchs, who brought me and Rudolf Bultmann together and stimulated me to study Heidegger. In a semester spend ‘illegally’ outside East Germany, commuting between Zurich, Basel and Freiburg, I then heard Heidegger himself lecturing in Freiburg. At that time he was ‘on the way to language’. Towards the end of his life I visited him once again and at the end of a long conversation asked him quite openly whether the condition of thought was not that of being ‘on the way to God’. Heidegger replied, ‘God – that is what is most worth thinking about. But here language fails….’ Now I certainly didn’t have this impression myself. At that time Gerhard Ebeling had introduced me to the thought of Luther, while at Basel Karl Barth made me familiar with his own thought. And Luther’s concern for a new mode of theological language, and also Barth’s theology, which flowed broadly from there and suffered more from an excess of argumentation, did not exactly give the impression of a language which was failing. At first Barth regarded me as a kind of spy from the Bultmann school and for weeks viewed me with undisguised scepticism. But when in an unforgettable session of his small seminar I not only dared passionately to refute his criticism of Bultmann with the audacity of youth but at the same time interpreted a section from Barth’s anthroplogy to his satisfaction, I was invited to another dispute in the late evening over a bottle of wine. And a few days later the whole of the Church Dogmatics appeared on the doorstep of my student lodging – with the dedication ‘For Eberhard Jüngel on the way in God’s beloved East Zone’.
There, in the German Democratic Republic, some years later, when I now had to give lectures on dogmatics myself and was looking round for helpful stimulation, I once again steeped myself in this magum opus of my great teacher. And lo and behold, here within a theological discussion which was becoming increasingly short of breath, I discovered the long breath of a thought which expected something. Barth’s theology was autochthonous. From it one could learn that a concentration on the truth attested in the Bible is the best presupposition for giving the present world its spiritual and worldly due and keeping faith with the earth for the sake of heaven. A new involvement in the tradition opened up for me, which was one neither of disrespectful criticism nor of uncritical respect. And as a result of this I also developed an ecumenical breadth without which I cannot imagine any future theology. Above all, however, I was stimulated to think of God in terms of the event of his revelation, i.e. the event of his coming into the world, and thus of a God who leads us ever more deeply into the world – a God to whom nothing human is alien and who has come closer to humankind in the person of Jesus than humankind can get to itself. How I Have Changed, p. 9-10
I’ve just started reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics II/2. § 33: The Election of Jesus Christ (hey, when Jürgen Moltmann gives you a reading assignment, you don’t waste any time!). As always, Barth is slow reading and difficult to digest; I may try to do a blog or two on it as I find time (or, if/when I find this segment of Barth to be comprehensible enough to publicly reflect on!), but for now I wanted to post this extended quotation, that basically lays out how (reflecting on John 1:1-2) Barth will attempt to tell the story of election as an event in God that takes place “in the beginning” and has Jesus Christ as its focal point. Enjoy!
I’ve blogged before about Karl Barth’s critique of religion in his Church Dogmatics I/2. For Barth, religion is an unbelieving grasping for God, in contradiction to the revelation of God in Christ. Moltmann approaches the subject from a different angle, speaking of the cross as the irreligious or unreligious center of Christianity, which puts to death everything that religious man thinks about God and wants from God:
“God lets himself be pushed out of the world on the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt 8.17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering…. Only the suffering God can help… That is a reversal of what the religious man expects from God. Man is summoned to share in God’s sufferings at the hands of a godless world.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as quoted by Moltmann in CG, p. 47)
I actually finished reading Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968 (translated by Geoffrey W Bromiley) a few weeks ago, but find myself returning to it to reflect on his take on certain topics. Much of it reads like an extended Q&A, so you get clarification on some things that aren’t as accessible in his other writings. You can read other excerpts I’ve shared here, here and here. Better yet, find a copy of the book and dig in! (I believe my used copy was delivered to my door for less than $4, and well worth it!)
Below is from a letter written to Christine Barth (his grandniece), dated February 18, 1965, in response to a letter written to him in December (the delay was because of some health problems he had). Continue reading Evolution and the Creation Story
Below is a portion of another one of Barth’s Letters. A bit strongly worded, but perhaps this is exactly what must be said to those who say many true things, but do not “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15)?
You say many correct things. But what is correct is not always true. Only what is said kindly is true. You do not speak kindly in a single line.You utter a powerful No on all possible sides. It is indeed necessary to say No too. But the right No can only be one which derives from and is upheld by an even more powerful Yes. I hear you say only No. You accuse. That, too, has to be done. But again, if this is Christian accusation, it has to be enclosed in the promise, in the glad tidings of God’s grace. In you it is naked accusation. You demand that others repent. Sometimes one must dare to do this. But only he may do so who himself repents and lives in repentance. You preach down from your high horse, righteous amid the unrighteous, pure among the impure. Continue reading What Is Correct Is Not Always True
It’s always interesting to see how a theologian concisely answers life’s basic questions. Here’s Karl Barth’s one sentence answer to the question of “what is the most important and essential thing in the life of a man”.
You have put to me two questions inexhaustible in scope. Permit me to answer you briefly as follows:
1. What do you regard as the most important and essential thing in the life of a man? That he should use his understanding in such a way as to learn to live responsibly. 2. What do you regard as the most important and essential thing in the life of a theologian?
That he should exercise his responsibility in such a way as to learn to reflect (think after).
With friendly greetings,
Geoffrey Bromily (trans.), Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968, #299 (p. 310)
One of the fascinating features of Barth’s later letters is his ongoing (and increasingly fruitful) ecumenical dialog with Catholics. Here is part of a letter he wrote to some Catholic sisters at the Institute of the Sacred Heart of Mary (Hannut, Belgium), dated February 12, 1962.
You are right to tell me that much of the route to the unity of the church is laid when we come together again in love. Being the friend of many Roman Catholic theologians, I add that I am happy to affirm that in truth as well we have come closer on both sides than could ever have been imagined fifty years ago. One thing is certain: the more both your theology and ours concentrate on the person and work of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, our sovereign Lord and only Savior, the more we shall find ourselves already united in spite of some important differences. Do you not also think the day will one day come when we shall no longer speak of Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians but simply of Evangelical Christians forming one body and one people? Veni Creator Spiritus. [Come Creator Spirit]
Geoffrey Bromily (trans.), Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968, #25 (p. 34-35)
Despite his clear disagreements with the papacy on some very important points (my friend Wyatt posted a different letter of Barth’s which highlights some of them), this letter seems to betray genuine optimism regarding unity within the church…. not a unity that compromises truth (as though the differences don’t matter), but a unity that enters more deeply into the truth, sharing a common Christological center.