When did I last treat myself to a precis of Barth's theology as a whole? Well, I'm doing so now, as I reread John Webster's superb short volume, Karl Barth. (A second edition was released in 2004, but I'm not sure what all changed in it from the original 2000 edition I own.)
One point that Webster drives home particularly well is that Barth is something of a trickster figure in modern theological discourse. That is to say, whenever a topic is up for examination -- be it revelation, the being and attributes of God, election, the "problem of evil", etc. -- Barth is often (usually) subverting one or more dominant paradigms of modern theological discourse. This feature helps make Barth's theology both bedeviling and intriguing.
Case in point: Barth's highly distinctive treatments of the doctrines of creation and anthropology in Church Dogmatics v. III. Barth resolutely refuses to interject modern cosmological and biological perspectives and scientific speculation about human origins at the center of doctrinal reconstructions. His treatment of these topics -- for example, his exposition of the Genesis creation "saga" (in CD III/1) -- is grounded in basic doctrinal claims centered in Christology, and he doesn't get mired in the ongoing (interminable) debates about human origins and evolutionary biology. Nor does try to retrieve ancient-medieval notions of causality as a Thomist might do. (Now that is a rather broad claim that would require loads of unpacking and defending. But I'll just pin it on Webster for now.)
I think Barth's moves here bothered me more than I realized when I was first seriously reading his stuff. You see, I have this cosmological itch. I was attracted to the natural sciences as a kid -- mathematics, not so much (so, of course, I pursued the humanities!). Remember when people thought the Space Shuttle was a good idea? And when Reagan wanted us to develop a special program to shoot down ICBMs? Yeah, that's when I grew up.
And another thing that was happening throughout my childhood was the major conservative turn in my native Southern Baptist Convention. One of the litmus tests of orthodoxy that emerged from this controversy -- as it had in the 1920s -- was whether a seminary prof, missionary, pastor or whomever affirmed the narratives in Genesis 1-2 as (essentially) historical. And you know what I'm not going to do right now? I'm not going to engage those debates here. But I gather that the issue is still (forever) a hot topic -- as one can see in all the books and articles stemming from the "historical Adam" debates. I don't read those books, but occasionally I do dip into Peter Enns' blog posts.
My point, again, is that I've always had this cosmological itch. When I first started studying Barth with some seriousness, I had just finished my master's thesis on Teilhard de Chardin. A thinker more opposite to Barth one can scarcely imagine -- and that applies especially in the area of cosmological speculation. So I suppose I had this (not fully conscious) desire to scratch that itch, but now with Barthian materials. Of course, Barth will have none of that.
So here I am. I can't get anyone to give me a straight answer about what the Higgs boson particle is. I've read (at a very basic level) about two possible cosmological scenarios for where our universe is headed, and I don't like either option. And though curious about all this stuff, I really question what Christian theology can offer up here -- Due apologies are rendered here to all the folks at the Zygon Center, all those at Claremont and the prestigious Templeton Foundation (which will never, never, never in a million years give any grant money for any research project someone like me would pursue). And Keith Ward too. And John Polkinghorne. And Wolfhart Pannenberg. And lots of other very smart thinkers.
My Teilhard books are boxed up in the closet (It was a compromise: My wife wanted me to sell them.) I don't really have anything to add to the religion and science discussion. So I read Barth instead.
When the Gifford committee tagged Barth to give a set of lectures on natural theology, his response was (I paraphrase) "You've got to be kidding me."
So when I get the cosmologo-evolutiono-anthropological itch and my head starts to swim, I just reach for the Psalter or take a walk on the bike path. Always good for what ails you.