[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.

[書摘] Eberhard Jüngel’s theological ontology

The fact that in the incarnation God became man without ceasing to be God, tells us that his nature is characterized by both repose and movement, and that his eternal Being is also a divine Becoming. This does not mean that God ever becomes other than he eternally is or that he passes over from becoming into being something else, but rather that he continues unceasingly to be what he always is and ever will be in the living movement of its eternal Being. His becoming is not a becoming on the way toward being or toward a fullness of being, but is the eternal fullness and the overflowing of his eternal unlimited Being. Becoming expresses the dynamic nature of his Being. His becoming is, as it were, the other side of his Being, and his being is the other side of his Becoming. His Becoming is his Being movement and his Being in movement is his becoming. –T.F. Torrance, The Christian doctrine of God (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996).

Based on John Webster’s translation and introduction of Eberhard Jüngel’s God’s Being Is in Becoming (Eerdmans, 2001):

Jüngel (along with Moltmann though with much more philosophical sophistication) is the early exemplar of what 35 years on has become an established tendency to deploy the doctrine of the Trinity in order to differentiate [Christian] theology from philosophical theism. Jüngel insisted that ontology is properly theological, and ‘becoming’ is a function of God and not vice versa. (On this point, Milbank’s demand has already been fulfilled by Jüngel’s exposition of Barth.)

Jüngel’s study has been widely criticized as Hegelian (McCormack with his postliberal actualistic ontology also suffers from this misconception) by conservative Barthians (typically neo-reformed theologians; e.g., G. O’Collins) who distrust both languages. The experience of being a pupil of Bultmann leads Jüngel to be much more sensitive to the existential reality of God: only when God is perceived in the movement of procession, we can talk about a genuine encounter between God and humanity.

Such a talk about God raises hermeneutical questions— questions concerning God as the quantification of human subjectivity. As such, Jüngel actually offers a dogmatic justification (i.e., his theological ontology) with the hermeneutical problem dealt with under the notion of the divine possession. This should distinguish him (as well as other expositors of later Barth) from other neo-orthodox correlationists (expositors of Bultmann and Tillich), though the latter want to claim Jüngel (and Barth) as their own.

What further distinguishes Jüngel and Barth himself is that Barth is very reluctant to make any concession to existentialism due to his “anti-liberal constraints”. What in Jüngel’s system proceeds hermeneutically tends to be undertaken doctrinally in Barth’s theology (specifically, Christ’s resurrection and prophetic ministry).

For Jüngel though, his Christology has such a narrow focus on Jesus’ speech-acts and his death, as a result of which the presence and agency of the resurrected Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit are not often fully operative. In other words, Barth’s pneumatology left underdeveloped in Jüngel’s system.

Furthermore, he also too often separates God’s [intercepted word of] revelation to human historical process from his practical theology (ethics, ecclesiology, and sacramental theology). Moltmann (and other social Trinitarians after him) might say against him that he still typifies a type of western theism that fails to take the relational (economic) aspects of the Trinity seriously, so as to risk closing all the divine life from human participation and leaving human history as a realm of mere secularity (it makes some sense but not too fair a judgment against Jüngel though IMO).

Concerning these two perceived lacunas (pneumatology and theological ethics) in Jüngel’s Barthian scholarship, the name Paul Nimmo just came to my mind, whose journal paper “Barth and the Election- Trinity debate: a Pneumatological View” ( included in Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology, Michael T. Dempsey ed., Eerdmans, 2011) and Being in Action: The Theological Shape of Barth’s Ethical Vision (T&T Clark, 2007) may supply timely fuel to the ongoing postliberal project of developing Barth.

Book Review: God’s Being is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth

God's Being is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl BarthGod’s Being is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth by John B. Webster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

According to John Webster, Jungel has some major preoccupations other than the exposition of Barth’s Trinitarian topics (such as preichoresis, appropriation as a hermeneutical process, and the inseparability of God’s essence and work).
This is not about the concrete examination of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, either.

Indeed, Jungel’s major concern is about the philosophical/ontological problem of Christian doctrine ( the Christian faith in its dogmatic particularity).
Jungel identifies the problem as resultant from questionable metaphysical presuppositions under which the Church used to speak about God.

Namely, can God be talked about objectively like we talk about a thing? As the late Barthian dogmatician Helmut Gollwitzer sees an over-emphasis on the non-objectifiable character of God prevalent within the Bultmmanian school of demythologizing (existentialism, idealism/anti-realism, and subjectivism) as dangerous, so Barth himself is adamant about the objectivity of God.

Joining their effort, Jungel also attempts a critical/post-critical realism in talking about « God in and for Himself ».

Alternativey speaking, Barthian thinks « we must speak of God », whereas Bultmannian asks, « what dose it mean to speak of God? »

In Jungel’s opinion, he finds Gollwitzer’s is right. But Gollwitzer drives the notion of « God in and for Himself » too deep that it becomes an abstraction/metaphysical speculation. As a result, the radical historicity of God in identification with Jesus Christ is relegated to a mere function of God’s will (rather than God’s essential being).

Such as a concern leads Jungel to recast the all-important insight (along with later Barth) that God is the event of his radical historical presence in Jesus Christ. To spell this out requires mathematics of the triune God and a theological ontology of divine ‘becoming’ which is directed by that dogmatics. This is what Jungel in this book seeks to apply.

It involves the following steps/thematic expositions:

1) language: How can human language ‘predicate’ God?

Barth is unease with the idea that human language by itself is capable of speaking of God; it needs to be ‘commandeered’ by revelation, for language is an interpretation of Revelation, which is free, dynamic, and integral and cannot be ‘captured’ by language.
In other words, God is the speaker of revelation, human the interpreter.

2) revelation: God’s-self interpretation

The event of divine communication- its inception, enactment, and its effectuation [in time]- is a free divine activity whereby God’s whole being is united and made known.

3) The unity of God’s being

The basic principle of God’s self-correspondence means that the being of God is relationally structured in a set of order of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of perichoresis allows us to understand the unity of God as an event of the mutual interpenetration of the divine three modes of being. And the doctrine of appropriation in enables theologically coherent talk about the three persons in majors roles such as the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Reconciler.

4) Christology

The union of divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ has an anthropological significance in that it brings our existence into a definite relation with God. Jungel thinks that for Barth, there is an analogical relation of theology and anthropology (whereas Bultmann dissolutes theology into anthropology).

5) The election

Jungel links the above points made with the doctrine of election, which should be drawn back to God’s own being as His self-election, rather than being relegated to the human scope (as traditionally it was) of God’s saving work of souls.
This means that God elects Himself in eternity to be the relation to us through Christ- who is the man Jesus, the Second Adam and the Head of human beings.

Webster’s translation is superb and does not stop you from reading this book pages after pages.
Jungel is also an excellent writer. In Webster’s words, his writing on Barth « is interpretation of the highest order », with « a keen eye for the details of Barth’s thought, as well as a clear appreciation of its overall shape and the coherence, and an insistence on its thoroughly theological character, which means that he can make constructive use of Barth without simply pondering the Barth corpus for material to press into service in other causes. »

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