[Book Review] The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth

 

 

edition price bookseller updated
The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth Paperback
published by Cambridge University Press (2000)

0521585600 • 9780521585606
Paperback, 332 pages
Published October 5th 2000 by Cambridge University Press

To me, this book is quite an achievement and enjoyable to read.

But beginners (and non-professionals) may need some professional guidance to grapple with its advanced content.

For, on the one hand, it assumes basic acquaintanceship with Barth’s work per se and some formal training in the field of systematic theology.
And on the other, the contributors, though all sympathetic to Barth, hold some different perspectives in their approaches.

Painting with a broad stroke, there are four major voices in this book: postliberal, radical orthodox, neo-reformed, and the German tradition.

Personally, I am happy to see that Webster (the most influential Barth scholar in UK) drawing together these Barth interpreters from diverging school of thoughts. But you probably won’t be able to tell and slide through their differences and synthesize their views.)

I recommend ch.1, 10, 14, 15, 18 of this book for beginners that have not completed any single volume of CD themselves. They are accessible and written in good styles.

As for ch.2-9, 11-3, which each takes an aspect of Barth doctrine of theological prolegomena, revelation, Scripture, Trinity, Election, Creation, Christology, Soteriology, Pneumatology, liturgy, and ethics, you will need to be able to contrast Barth against the backdrop of the traditional (evangelical) and liberal understanding of these topics in order to appreciate what Barth is doing. The contributors here do not necessarily help you do this. This is not a problem to me, and some chapters really helped me to set Barth’s CD in order.
But it should be said that the section in this companion is not for any novice who wants to read Barth as their first and primary tutor about how to talk about God systematically.

Apparently, the most seminal and controversial piece in this companion is ch.6 ‘Grace and Being’ by Bruce McCormack, which sparkled a fierce debate over a decade since its publication (on the theological ontology of God’s immanence, aseity, and election).
His chapter is not only important but also very inspirational to read, especially for what is now known as ‘actualistic ontology’ in not just theological but philosophical circles as well.

Personally, I found ch.17 ‘Barth, modernity, postmodernity’ by Graham Ward a very wise inclusion in this companion. For up until now, the solution and inspiration Barth offers for overcoming the epistemological and ethical plight in the secular world are underappreciated by theologians unfamiliar with the larger picture of contemporary critical thinking.
And this is one of the reasons why conservative theology has lost its mic to speak publicly while liberal theology has lost its vowels to speak loudly.

Graham Ward is one among those (along with Stanley Hauerwas, Joseph Magina, Paul Dafydd Jones, Steven Long, Nicholas Adams) who are insightful and capable of bringing out the bearings of Barth’s theology unto this world which has never thought they want or need to think about theology.

In my opinion, these two chapters are for the more ‘advanced’, and they are also the most rewarding chapters to read.
All in all, this book is highly recommended.

2 thoughts on “[Book Review] The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth”

  1. The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (edited by Kevin Vanhoozer).
    Would you recommend this collection of essays?

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