Thursday, September 27, 2012

Listomania: Theologian Biographies

What would a blog be without lists? Here's my first one.

The topic: My favorite biographies of theologians (note, I didn't say the best available biographies, but rather, the ones that I've most enjoyed).

1. Peter Brown -- Augustine of Hippo: A Biography. This is indeed one of the finest books I've ever read. Simply essential, a masterwork. Since most everyone out there seems to agree with me on this, I don't really need to say more.

2. Roland H. Bainton -- Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. This choice may surprise some Luther aficionados, but in my estimation, this book delivers. The purist would perhaps lift up Oberman's work over Bainton's. Both, indeed, have a privileged place on our bookshelf -- the one in the living room, where most of the really good stuff (excepting Barth) can be found.

I think the attraction of Bainton for me is colored by a positive memory: In 2000 -- back before the terrorists had starting turning all of us into terrorists, torturers and the like -- I took a delightful study trip exploring famous Luther sites in Germany. The facilitator was the New Testament scholar Eugene Boring of TCU's Brite Divinity School. Prof. Boring assigned us two books for background reading -- the Bainton bio and the Dillenberger anthology. This pairing offers what is, probably, the most painless introduction to Luther you can get. I caught a G.I. bug when we were staying in Göttingen and was leveled flat out barfing miserable. You might say it was a bad case of Lutheran Anfectung.

Prof. Boring schlepped out in the middle of the night to the only emergency pharmacy in town to acquire medicine for me. For this virtuous deed, he had to endure the taunt of "Das ist nicht in Ordnung!" from the piqued pharmacist. One appreciates American pragmatism at such moments.

3. David Daniell -- William Tyndale: A Biography. Daniell is virtually a one-man guild of scholarship on the too-little-known English reformer. This book emerges, clearly, from a deep love for and devotion to its subject. It is a delight and a must read for anyone interested in the history of English vernacular Bible translations.

The work has two problems: One is the paucity of actual information we have on the elusive Tyndale. Daniell handles this lacuna admirably by giving quite a bit of background detail on early 16th century Oxford and Cambridge, Erasmus, etc. One also meets Thomas More in these pages (but, if you're a devout Roman Catholic, let me warn you: You aren't going to like the portrayal too much).

The other problem is that Daniell's apologetic fervor for his subject pushes the work dangerous close to hagiography. Now, I'll fess up and say that Tyndale is one of my heroes, so I don't mind it too much. But some of the exposition tends in the direction of suggesting "a greater than Luther is here."

4. William J. Bowsma -- John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait. This very readable book presents Calvin as a man of his own times. The portrait is about one half intellectual history and one half existential psychology. The consensus out there is that Bernard Cottret's biography is the standard work so far in this area (see this Calvin enthusiast, for example). I will admit, with embarrassment, that I had taken a copy of this out of the library but got kind of "Calvined out" that fall and ended up returning it unfinished. But Christmas is just around the corner!

5. Eberhard Busch -- Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts.  I would be remiss not to mention this text. My list was about to give you the false impression that I'm a Reformation historian and not a troubled (post)modernist like everybody else. Not so. The 20th century is my go-to period, for better or worse. This is the standard work for probing the life of the most important theologian since Schleiermacher.

But this is not an easy read. Because of his tremendous archival work, Busch is one of the most important Barth scholars alive today. This is a chronologically ordered rendition of biographical materials drawn, mostly, from Barth's own writings and tied together in a loose narrative framework. It is not a critical biography. Such a work, to my knowledge, does not exist. For my part, I really consider this more of a primary source than a secondary evaluation of Barth. But the material here is crucial for setting Barth in his historical context.

6. Richard Wightman Fox -- Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography.  Who would have guessed that this country's most important Protestant public intellectual of the past century was a driven workaholic with a persistent German-American immigrant's anxiety about fitting into American culture? An amazing, brilliant and (in some respect) tortured figure emerges from these pages: Deeply ethical, with a profound sense of political realism, with an early passion for social and economic justice so vigorous that it is vulnerable to morphing into the disillusioned cynicism of an old warrior. Nieburhr's life story is a window into every important social and political crisis from World War I to Vietnam.

To-Do List

In addition to Cottret, here are a couple other books I have dipped into without having yet finished them (but I hope to remedy that shortly): Diarmaid McCulloch's Thomas Cramner and George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ontotheology* 101

S: "Do you believe that God 'exists'?"

L: "Of course."

S: "I mean, couldn't we say, with Prof. Jean-Luc Marion, that God transcends existence, that the one we call 'God' far exceeds the very category of being itself. That we can talk of God only as pure gift, absolute beneficence, pure self-giving love, utter agape beyond being? Just like some of the mystics of the past and some deconstructionist theologians today say?"

L: "I never bought into that."

S: (Voice rising) "You mean to tell me that we, mere creatures, share with the Creator of the universe the category of 'existence' as a predicate of our reality? Doesn't this subsume God within some overarching metaphysical schema?"

L: "Whatever."

S: "Well, I guess we could go the route of Thomism and say that God is self-subsistent esse, a pure unity of being and action, and that our creaturely existence is a finite participation in God's transcendent esse. But, again, that commits us to some sort of analogia entis -- some notion that there is within our existence as such something that links us existentially to God, by virtue of our very creaturehood and apart from Christ and  historic revelation. And I'm just not sure I'm ready to go there."

L: "I thought you were going to write about William Stringfellow. How's that going?"

S: "I really love this weather we've been having."

L: "Have you paid the phone bill yet?"

(* I haven't found online any clear, rough-and-ready definition of "ontotheology." I take the term generally to mean the attempt to relate the reality of God, the subject of theology, with a general metaphysical account of the cateory of "being" as such.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nevermind. Some Apologies are in Order.

I feel like this blog is starting(!) to lose its focus -- that I'm edging more and more into the "heat" rather than the "light" category.

So let me start today by making some amends, by way of an attempt to get back on track.

First, let me apologize to anyone who works on Hegel (though I doubt such folks would bother to read this blog). Despite what I've been saying, I'm not really going to engage him now. I'm 40 years old and, if I had wanted to seriously engage Hegel, I probably would have done so already. It was intellectual hubris on my part to suggest I can do a whiz-bang refresher course in 19th century philosophy and theology as a preamble to reading Barth. Grad school is over.

There has been a good deal of interesting work in recent years attempting to give a genetic account of Barth's development in relationship to its 19th century intellectual background. Prof. McCormack's work stands out in this vein. For now, I'll content myself with Barth's own book on 19th century Protestant thought and see where I go from there.

Second, let me also apologize for some snarky comments I made about Prof. Pannenberg, especially to any students out there who may be working through his imposing corpus. His work deserves careful and thoughtful engagement, but I'm not going to do that here, at least not anytime soon. So I had best be quiet.

I will admit that some of this snarkiness comes from a sensitive personal spot: The only exchange I ever had with Prof. Pannenberg was brief and did not go very well. During my qualifying exam year, the eminent  paid a visit to the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he gave a couple lectures. At an informal luncheon talk, during the Q & A, I embarrassed myself with a question that he lightly dismissed. Everyone got a good laugh out of it -- at my expense! I still think it was a good question and that he didn't really answer it. But the exchange probably failed because of my own failure to articulate it and to persist with a clarifying follow-up.

Third, and this is the most important point I want to make, let me apologize to the conservative Neo-Calvinists, again targets of my snarkiness. Several of my friends belong to this camp, so this requires eating a particularly bitter bit of crow. There is some serious theology going on in this area, and I might have some cause to engage with it at some point. Actually, some of the Neo-Calvinists have become pretty perceptive readers of Barth.

My undergrad alma mater is Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Down there, among the restive Baptists, some conservative Presbyterian money has built a fine conservative Protestant seminary called Beeson Divinity School. Amazingly, the div. school building was constructed from the ruins of my crappy first-year college dorm. Anyway, when I worked for the Samford student newspaper, I had the privilege to interview its dean, the very fine historical theologian Timothy George: What a kind, calm and reasonable man he is!

Part of my conflictedness, too, comes out of my own Southern Baptist roots. Though I'm a confirmed, prayer-book carrying Episcopalian, I'm still genetically Baptist. That's where the orneriness comes from. My dad has been a Baptist minister since age 17. Can you imagine that! We went to a lot of SBC national convention meetings during the height of the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination, the early '80s. Our side lost: Big time.

The intellectual leading lights of the SBC makeover were and are Neo-Calvinists, including the very prominent president of the flagship SBC seminary, who, through his amazing Internet presence, has himself become something of a phenomenon within evangelicalism today. Is there a little residual pique about all this informing my petulance? Probably. Some folks want to reenact the seventeenth century Synod of Dordt. I'm not sure I'm one of them, but who knows?

But I will say this, for now, about the Neo-Calvinist movement: Some of the rhetoric about gender -- about "biblical manhood" and "womanhood" -- that flies under this banner has me alarmed. I would urge all evangelicals to keep both their minds and their Bibles open. And also, if you want to know where my sympathies in the gender debates lie, please read Rachel Held Evans.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dueling Hegels / Dueling Barths?

So, as I mentioned before, I'm trying to remedy a longstanding neglect of Hegel's philosophy, with a keen sense of my own limitations. Hegel's impact on modern theology is extraordinary (Hodgson, Moltmann, Pannenberg, Altizer, Küng, the list could go on an on).

I have more than a little ambivalence (as you might have guessed) about this legacy, but I want to do a few more soundings to make sure I'm on solid ground.

I've been perusing this fine article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (This is a superb website, and for a couple years now it has been my go-to when I start to explore a new topic in philosophy. The articles I've read are of a manageable length, very readable, written by experts and peer reviewed.)

I'm learning about a significant controversy in contemporary Hegel studies. Some who follow a more "traditional" interpretation of Hegel read his system as being rooted, basically, in a metaphysical conception of God as absolute spirit. Others, though, read Hegel in a more anti-metaphysical sense, in a way that highlights his emphases on the concrete contingencies in the processes of history. The later, more materialistic way of reading Hegel brings him more into line both with Marxist and postmodernist sensibilities. I'm sure I'm not expressing it that well, but you can read the article for yourself.

The field of Karl Barth studies -- in the United States, at least -- has been embroiled in recent years in a controversy that seems, on the face of it, to have some interesting parallels with the debates over Hegel interpretation. Two major readings -- or, I really should say, two strategies of reading, for there is a fairly wide range of Barth interpretations out there now -- have emerged.

The issues are complicated, and I'm not going to name of the principle combatants here. But one of the central disputes is this: What is the proper place of metaphysical (or better, ontological) concerns in our interpretations of and appropriations from Barth? Should such questions be bracketed out or are they integral to a proper reading of Barth?

These issues are not arcane. Some very old debates about the proper relationship between philosophy and theology, about the very nature of God and about the Creator-creature relationship are surfacing within this debate. I became interested in this debate several years ago, but haven't been able to follow everything that has emerged from it.

But I do find the potential parallels between respective debates over Hegel and Barth interesting. In many ways, it seems, theology still lives in the shadows of the 19th century.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hegel, Schlegel!

Caveat (need I repeat this?): This is a blog post, not scholarship!

Let's recap where I'm heading: I started out to write a post titled "Why I'm not a Barthian." Then I decided I needed to check my theses by starting over (yet again) with some intensive reading in Barth. But since I've tried that many times before and tend to get lost in the forest, I decided I better clarify my questions a bit first. Then I thought, to really get at Barth, I had better first reread Feuerbach (then, perhaps, a little refresher in Schleiermacher and Luther).

So I started to read Feuerbach, the 19th century German philosopher who emerged mid-century from the circle of left-wing Hegelians. And there, already in the preface to the book, he's trying to distinguish himself from Hegel's absolute idealism.

I admit that I'm afraid of Hegel. Don't get me wrong: I'm not afraid that I'll ever understand him. Rather, I fear that if I started to trying again to read him I'll get lost forever in the thicket. That I'll become like Pannenberg, except without the brilliance and erudition. That I'll turn into that most dreaded entity, the ontotheologian. So I've tried to avoid Hegel since dipping into the bits required by my graduate education, but it seems to be impossible.

My wife was a philosophy major. But she didn't have to read Hegel, because, as she puts it, her advisor "didn't believe in Hegel." She doesn't read Hegel and absolutely (get it?) refuses to discuss this stuff with me. This is one of the reasons I married her, though certainly not the most important one.

In my view, the trajectories exemplified by Hegel and Schleiermacher represent the Scylla and Charybdis (sorry, I know that's hackneyed, but I just can't resist) of modern theology. I'm trying desperately to avoid being sucked into either of these directions without becoming a fundamentalist. It's hard. That's why I read Karl Barth, even though I'm not a Barthian.

But I'm not sure that Feuerbach's negative characterization of his master is fully reliable. So may I dip into a rough and dirty cram course on Hegel in a pinch, perhaps? I'll lean on an expert, Prof. Peter C. Hodgson. Maybe I can get by for now with his anthology.

This is my second plug in this blog for the Making of Modern Theology series. I'll be expecting my kickback check from Fortress Press to arrive in the mail soon.

Monday, September 17, 2012

It's Feuerbach

I don't have a lot of time. Now, I'm mainly just thinking out loud. I usually try to say something cute or clever, but there's no time for this today.

I think the best book to read at the outset of a thorough study of Barth's work is The Essence of Christianity (Das Wesen des Christentums, 1841) by Ludwig Feuerbach. The translation I'm looking at was done by George Elliot -- yes, that George Elliot -- which, I'm assuming, was the first translation into English.

(Apparently, Elliot enjoyed promulgating controversial texts, for she also translated Strauss' Life of Jesus. There are so many Strauss' out there in our cultural history: This is the one who put forward the idea that the miraculous material in the gospels is "mythological." Interestingly, according to this source, Elliot published the Feuerbach translation under her actual name, Mary Ann Evans. James Luther Adams, more recently, also translated Das Wesen, but somehow it seems cooler to carry around a book with Elliot's name on the cover. No disrepect is meant to Dr. Adams.)

I don't have any new groundbreaking insight into Feuerbach, whom most theology and philosophy students will have encountered, but I am rereading this work to refresh my memory on the basic argument. which goes like this: Theology is anthropology that doesn't realize this about itself. Theology is anthropology, perhaps, with a bad conscience. I think Feuerbach, were he alive, might level the latter against many theologians working today.

Feuerbach offers the classic modern reductionist account of religion. Religious discourse (theology) represents an alienation of human life and thought from its ownmost proper concern -- humankind itself. According to Feuerbach, all religious doctrines are projected from human ideals and from concrete realities, hopes and aspirations of human experience. Christian doctrines have true referents, but the referents aren't what theology claims them to be: "God" is a hypostasized projection of ideal human characteristics. Feuerbach's thought seeded the major 19th-20th century hermeneuticists of suspicion, that trinity beloved by critical theorists and angry undergrads alike -- Marx, Nietzsche and Freud.

A quick trip to wikipedia would yield all this info. So why do I bother with this stuff? Well, like I've said, I'm obsessed with Barth -- who quite possibly was less obsessed with Feuerbach than I'm supposing, but we'll see. And my thesis is that we need to understand Feuerbach's claims, various possible modern responses to his claims and Barth's assessment of these responses, to get a clear picture of some of the bigger moves in Barth's thought. So I'm relaying some groundwork here, hoping maybe to hit some new gem I never saw before in the dirt.

Then, once I get a better handle on Feuerbach, I might proceed thusly: Flashback to (the early) Schleiermacher, then maybe a quick look (if that were possible) at some Luther. It may be, as others have suggested, that there is potentially a problem in how Luther construes the divine-human relationship which Feuerbach has exploited. At this point, just maybe, I could construct a sort of ideal typology of possible reponses to Feuerbach.

I think this may take a little while. But, fortunately, my Christmas bonus is not tied to my theological work.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


So, I'm planning to write a blog entry with the title "Why I'm not a Barthian." And I've come up with four theses. But then I realize: Defending them is going to take some doing, so I better do my research. That entails digging into Karl Barth's work in a serious way.

My grad school advisor one said that beginning a project on Barth always involves starting at the beginning. I've tried that, many times. Why is this so difficult?

So, let's pretend I'm teaching a seminar on Barth (and you half dozen readers are my guinnea pigs: Fortunately for you, it's completely free). Let's make it a five-year seminar to make sure it's adequately thorough. Where would I begin?

How about this question: What is the ONE book I'd assign my students to read as background to reading Barth?

Here are the candidates:

1.) Schleiermacher's Speeches on Religion. After all, Barth's own teacher, Hermann, thought this was the most important theological book since the New Testament, and Barth expends considerable energy refuting the Berlin theologian's classic text.

A schoolmate once quoted Prof. Brian Gerrish as saying: "All roads lead to Schleiermacher."

But I'm not sure Barth was as really troubled by this book as he let own. I think, actually, the early Schleiermacher is something of a straw man for the early Barth (I don't mean the early-early liberal Barth or the late-early German university Barth, but I mean the middle-early dialectical Barth, the Barth of the second Romans commentary).

2.) Maybe, given the overall shape of Barth's Dogmatics, we should look at Schleiermacher's own dogmatic treatise, whose title is anemically translated in English as The Christian Faith. (Incidentally, my favorite conservative theologian, Michael Horton, has written a book with the same title. It's much more readable than Schleiermacher's text.)

Well, I won't diminish the importance of Schleiermacher's dogmatics, but reading that would require a seminar of it's own. Some scholars out there now are trying to show a deeper affinity between Barth and Schleiermacher than has previously been acknowledged. I'm withholding judgment for now.

3.) Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Please, please, not this! I'll quit Barth forever if he turns out to be an Hegelian.

4.) Marx's Capital.  Interesting idea, no? Well, this is probably not the the best choice: I do think, after all, it was God Barth was trying to write about. But we're getting warmer than you might realize. (I just gave you a big hint about where I'm headed.)

4.) Calvin's Institutes. I might be inclined to do this, if only to annoy the Young-and-the-Restless Reformed folk. But I think it isn't the best choice, even though Barth offers probably the most important response to Calvin in modern times. (No, silly you, Barth was a more important interpreter of Calvin than Max Weber was!)

5.) Luther's .... everything! The collected works. The whole 55 volumes (is it?) in the American Edition. See the problem here? There's no single definitive Luther book. "I don't see how anybody works on him," a smart teacher once told me.

Barth liked Luther. We'll just leave it at that.

6.) Aquinas' Summa -- if even the shorter Summa, just to be a little more reasonable. Well, if we went this route, we probably should read Thomas instead of Barth. Just raise the white flag and throw in the towel like Bruce Marshall and so many others have. Swim the Tiber.

But that's not for me. I'll try to read Thomas again only after I have some glimmer of a hope of arguing he was wrong on the fundamental moves. That is, only after I've read Barth, which will probably consume the rest of my natural life. So I'll read Thomas in heaven while he and the angels laugh at me.

Fortunately, my choice for the one book to read in preparation for our Barth seminar is much easier and more straightforward than all these other options. Even a first year undergrad can grasp the basic idea this author had. It's a book one might even potentially plow through in a week, even while riding the bus to work. (If you commute by car, I think you're out of luck, for this one has never been put on tape.) This is the book, I think, with which Barth was most obsessed.

But I better reread it myself before I tell you what it is.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why I am not not a Barthian

The double negative is intentional.  This post is to be followed up (when I get up the nerve) by a post titled "Why I am not a Barthian." My goal here is to briefly signal several significant and common critiques of Barth that, to my mind, are either off-base or, even if legitimate, are not necessarily fatal to his project as a whole.

Three caveats, first.

First, Karl Barth is my favorite theologian. Augustine and Luther are not far behind, but I've been obsessed with Barth, especially, since my early 20s.

Second, attempting to write about Barth is the third hardest thing I've ever tried to do -- and, to be honest, I'm not sure how successful I've really been at doing it.

(The first and second hardest things I've done have been trying to raise a child and going out for junior varsity football in 9th grade after being almost completely sedentary for most of my childhood).

I do not brag, in the least, that I've "mastered" Barth. This comes not from false humility but from a genuine sense of being overwhelmed. But I have been trying to read think about his work for a while now. We've seen more than two decades now of some first-rate Barth scholarship being published.

By the way, if you've never read Barth, several bloggers have given helpful suggestions about how to read Barth (see herehere and here, for starters). If you do want to read Barth yourself, this is the approach I would recommend: Take something, anything, and just start reading. And keep reading. And then read some more.  Reading Barth is more like training for a marathon than winning the lottery (I don't imagine I'll ever experience either of these things).

If you're more of a browser, that's okay too: You might try Clifford Green's book. (There, I've done it: I've blurbed an anthology. That's probably enough for me to be blackballed from the Barth studies guild forever.)

Third, I'd welcome critical feedback from anyone. Please keep in mind that this is just a blog post and not a peer reviewed journal article. These are lines of inquiry, perhaps, for my to explore further. Reading Barth, you might have guessed, is not inlcuded in my day-job description.

Now, several reasons I'm "not not a Barthian."

1.) Barth writes some very troubling things about women and gay people.

I take this criticism of Barth quite seriously, especially with all the misogynistic and homophobic rubbish that is out there today. If Barth's attitudes on gender and sexual orientation are a deal-breaker for you, I respect that decision. But I think it is quite possible to find much in the main line of Barth's argument that can be used to bolster a liberationist agenda.

I have not studied too closely these aspects of Barth's ethics, but what I've gleaned suggests some rather severe limitations in Barth's perspective. Is he worse than other similarly situated white male academics and churchmen of his time? I'm not qualified to answer that.

Nonetheless, while I don't these issues lightly, I hope these passages might be excised from Barth's overarching theological project. That Barth can still speak something to us that helps to free rather than bind is, in my anecdotal experience, borned out by the significant number of social progressives who fruitfully engage Barth's work.

2.) Barth's theology, in its mature form, sidesteps the thorny questions of politics.

At the height of the Cold War, Reinhold Niebuhr criticized Barth as being a political quietist because he refused to enter the lists against Soviet-style Communism. Some have claimed that Barth's silence on Communist totalitarianism was inconsistent with his more activist stance against the "German Christians" in Nazi Germany. From the other side, some left-wing political folk fault Barth, during his academic career, for stepping back from his earlier activist work as a Socialist.

I won't get into it too much here, but I think the criticism of Barth as apolitical is unfounded. In fact, the German thinker Friedrich Marquardt argued that socialist commitments shaped Barth's dogmatic theology as a whole. (George Hunsinger edited a really fine book about this controversy. Timothy Gorringe and others have also examined Barth's political theology, and it is becoming a serious research interest of mine.)
James Cone, in his early work in black liberation theology, put Barth's doctrine of reconciliation to good use, no matter what flack he caught for it later.

Barth, in my reading, tries to engage political questions without having his theology completely subsumed by them. That's a fine line to walk. As he puts it in the preface to the first volume of his dogmatics, he thinks the dogmatic enterprise per se is necessary to give some true grounding to political engagement. Does it really work that way? I'm not sure. At any rate, I don't think it is Barth's intention to exempt theology from the rough and tumble of the real world.

3.) Barth's account of divine sovereignty leaves no real space for genuine human freedom.

I think this charge is just plain bunk, and John Webster's work should have put it to rest once and for all.
Barth stands in a long line of Christian thinkers -- Aquinas and the Protestant Reformers come to mind --who seek to articulate a non-contrastive account of dual causality that upholds both divine and human agency without explaining away this great mystery. Kathryn Tanner, my former teacher, has written some very good stuff on this topic. If you uphold what philosophers call a "libertarian" notion of human freedom -- that is, freedom as an indeterminate choice between alternatives -- you aren't probably not going to accept how Barth tries to frame freedom within the Christian story. But that is not the same thing as saying that Barth's account of divine sovereignty pushes a genuine creaturely freedom out of the picture.

(By the way, if you're a hyper-Reformed monenergist, please read Susan Schreiner's book on Calvin's creation theology and then let's talk.)

4.) Barth's theology sidesteps the challenges of inter-religious dialogue.

It is true that, for Barth, inter-religious dialogue is in no way constitutive for his theological project. He is not a pluralist in the contemporary sense of the term, and he doesn't engage in what we now call the "theology of religions." But this is not really a fatal problem for me.

I think Islam and Buddhism are fascinating, and I've enjoyed learning about even and trying to teach (very inadequately, I think) some things about the major world religions. But I don't expect the Christian theologian as such to try to speak for Muslims and Buddhists: Barth's notion of theology, like it or not, was very confessional. He accepted the risks that such a stance entailed

(Barth does discuss sometimes discuss other religions in the Dogmatics, especially in the excurses. Somewhere -- I forget where -- Barth does offer a brief reflection on the soteriology of Pure Land Buddhism. Sometimes when he talks about non-Christian religions -- as in a discussion of Islamic monotheism in CD II/1 -- one is inclined to wish he hadn't done so).

Overall, Barth was very ecumenical -- a pioneer in ecumenical dialogue, really, as I understand it -- and very interested in the humanities too (the hard sciences not so much). And I also understand, from reading Busch's biography, that Barth did read fairly widely in the field of religious studies. If this topic interests you, there was a whole conference in Princeton about "Karl Barth on Religion and the Religions" several years ago.

5.) Barth's uncompleted(!) Church Dogmatics is just too long.

Yes, it's probably true.

If you care enough to read Barth, you just have to get over it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Add to Favorites

Many thanks to Travis and the other good foks at Die Evangelischen Theologen for allowing me to post a guest reflection on their page.

This is a great site for keeping up with some of the recent highlights in the theo-blogosphere.  While you're over there, check out their extensive archives.  You can also find some great recommendations on how to read Barth, Bonhoeffer, Calvin and other theologians.