Reading Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth

This book is a good compilation for an overview of Karl Barth’s theology

The Mystery of Christmas

In my earlier post Jesus Christ Very God Very Man, I struggled with Barth’s argument about completed event and completed event which are part of the mystery of God’s revelation. Barth notes, “God’s revelation in its objective reality is the incarnation of His Word, in that He, the one true eternal God, is at the same time true Man like us” (CD I.2, 172).

Barth next set forth to examine the mystery of Christmas though the dogma of Christmas in I. 2.§15.3. The Miracle of Christmas. He argues that both the Virgin conception and birth, and ‘being conceived by the Holy Spirit’ represent the miracle of Christmas. That both are a miracle cannot be denied because the normal mode of conception is through the sexual act though nowadays reproductive technologies, like in vitro fertilization (IVF) allow conception without the sexual act. ‘Being conceived by the Holy Spirit’ is a fascinating concept. Obviously ‘conceived’ does not refer to the fertilization of the ovum but the question to be asked is why should the Holy Spirit be mentioned at all? Interestingly, Barth uses this to booster his theological construct of the mystery of God (which is the theme of this section §15 ) by giving two reasons why the Holy Spirit is mentioned. Firstly, he notes that it refers “refers back the mystery of human existence of Jesus Christ to the mystery of God Himself” (199) which refers to the mystery that God himself as the Holy Spirit works amongst his creature as mediator and reconciler. Secondly, it refers to the connection the work of the Holy Spirit.

The miracle of Christmas reveals the mystery of Christmas. The miracle is the virgin birth. The mystery is that Jesus Christ Very God Very Man is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

This is part of the Barth Synchroblog reading  Karl Barth’s Dogmatics

Daniel Kirk on Mystery Christmas


Jesus Christ Very God Very Man

I. 2.§15. The Mystery of Revelation

In this section, Karl Barth writes,

The mystery of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ consists in the fact that the eternal Word of God chose, sanctified and assumed human nature and existence into oneness with Himself, in order, thus, as very God and very man, to become the Word of reconciliation spoken by God to man. The sign of this mystery revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the miracle of His birth, that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.

Barth takes on the challenge of understanding what it means to be ‘fully God, fully human’. He uses the term ‘Very God Very Man’ to describe Jesus Christ, God incarnate and ‘Word made flesh’. He suggests that this may be considered in two ways; as a completed event or as a completed event. In the former, God incarnate in the historical Jesus is a completed event in human history with all its implications for us. The latter shows that the ‘Word made flesh’ is just one of the actions of the Word. The human and divinity is not static but always changing, not fixed by any event in time. Typical of Barth, he raises the question but never offers an answer. With some difficulty, one may perceive both ways to be correct. Again, reading Barth reminds me that God’s way will always be a mystery to me.

Interesting article here about the difference between Lutheran and Reformed Christology as discussed above as a completed event and completed event.

This is part of the Barth Synchroblog reading  Karl Barth’s Dogmatics


Barth for Armchair Theologians

This little book tells the story of Barth’s theological journey from liberalism to a new form of theology. He sought to resist the assumptions and conclusions of liberal theology while at the same time avoiding the temptation to simply return to some supposedly pristine, premodern form of Christian orthodoxy. Instead Barth took the intellectual traditions of the Enlightenment and Protestant orthodoxy with upmost seriousness while at the same time subjecting both to critical scrutiny. The result is an approach to theology that is deeply immersed in the Bible and the faith of the church while also being significantly engaged with the questions and challenges of contemporary life and thought.

Excellent introduction to the man and his theology. I love the way Barth thinks. He writes theology not for the academics but for the church and its members. Theology is for the people and not for some hair-splitting exercises. Unfortunately he is way ahead of his time and very few people understood what he wrote. I believe only now are we beginning to recognize the genius of the man.

As ministers we ought to speak of God. We are human however, and so cannot speak of God, We ought therefore to recognise both our obligation and inability and by that recognition give God the glory…

the impossible possibility…

From the standpoint of human beings, theology is an impossiblity. Theology becomes possible only where God speaks when God is spoken of. Since human beings have no control over this self-revelatory speech, they are always dependent on God in the task of theology.


Reading Barth’s Dogmatic, Volume 2

Finished volume one, now for volume two


The Murder of God

§ 1.11.1 and § 1.11.2 of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics discusses God the Son: “The one God reveals Himself according to Scripture as the Reconciler, i.e. as the Lord in the midst of our enmity towards Him. As such He is the Son of God who has come to us or the Word of God that has been spoken to us, because He is so antecedently in Himself as the Son or Word of God the Father” in the section on the Revelation of God (§11). Karl Barth affirms the New Testament and early church dogma that Jesus is God, the same God who is a reconciler and the revealer of Himself.

As I meditate on this during the Holy Week of 2011, I have this image of God moving towards Jerusalem as Jesus of Nazareth, well aware that he is walking into a trap. Yet he continue to walk to his own murder. The supreme irony of this is the Creator walking towards a murder, organised by his own creations, in the name of a religion based on his revelations about himself.

Unlike many religious traditions where either man is an avatar of a god or man himself becomes a god, the Christian tradition maintains that Jesus is already truly God and truly man. That is Barth’s main thesis in this section. The deity of Jesus is important because it gives so much significance to the horrors of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday.


Blogosphere Karl Barth Blog Conference

Discovered that Travis MacMaken, a PhD candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary has been organizing Karl Barth Blog Conference (KBBC) on his blog Der Evangelische Theologice (DET) since 2007. I am made aware of this by following the links provided by another promising PhD student, Sivin Kit from Malaysia (HT Sivin) who have just started his PhD journey. Since reading this I am looking forward to the KBBC 2011.

Much has changed over the past few years. When I organized the first KBBC back in 2007, it was a much more parochial undertaking. Students at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) have, from time to time, joined together to form “reading groups” as a supplement to the official course offerings. Such groups are comprised of like-minded individuals who want to tackle a certain theological text or thinker, and who expect to come to a better understanding of the material through communal discussion rather than mere independent reading. The first KBBC was simply to be an online, blog-y version of this phenomenon. Thus, a number of my friends and colleagues took turns writing on the various chapters of Barth’s Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century (index).

The second KBBC in 2008 was much in the same vein (index). This time the text up for consideration and exposition was Jüngel’s God’s Being is in Becoming. However, something important began to happen. Whereas the first KBBC was authored almost exclusively by PTS folk, the second KBBC saw contributions from authors from other corners of the theological education and theo-blog worlds. Although PTS folk have remained central to the subsequent KBBCs, I’m glad that this trend toward wider participation has continued. Also, the plenary posts this second year began to be more exploratory and innovative – no longer content to explicate the text in question, KBBC authors were deploying complex arguments, often with constructive goals. Finally, this second KBBC was when the theo-blogosphere stood up and took notice. Traffic increased significantly and, consequently, so did the number of comments.

One of the themes to which the discussion surrounding the 2008 KBBC repeatedly returned was that of natural theology. So, I set the 2009 KBBC (index) theme as Romans 1 and the possibility of natural knowledge of God. For the first time in KBBC history, the theme was not bound to a particular text by or about Barth. Once again, plenary writers and respondents were drawn from various spheres, although some mainstays also returned. The plenary posts and responses were well done, the conversation in the comments section was heavy, and this KBBC continued to surpass its previous records for traffic and comments. It was an unqualified success, and I began to plot and scheme to ensure that the trajectory continued to trend upwards.

read more 
Der Evangelische Theologe: 2010 KBBC: Welcome and Introduction

Karl Barth’s Comic Theology

From Ben Myers’ Faith and Theology blog Karl Barth’s Comic Theology

check out the wonderful essay by Jessica DeCou of Chicago Divinity School: “‘Too Dogmatic For Words’? Karl Barth’s Comic Theology”, Religion and Culture Web Forum February 2011. She argues that Barth’s legendary combativeness and his legendary humour are two sides of the same coin: a “comic” theology. I think Eberhard Jüngel once described Barth as “the happiest theologian of our age” – and this essay shows that laughter and comedy are important for understanding Barth’s thought.

And while you’re at it, here’s another interesting piece on Barth: John Parratta, “Barth and Buddhism in the Theology of Katsume Takizawa”, SJT 64:2 (2011).

read more


Karl Barth, Confucius and Korean Theology

Myers in his blogpost

On Korean theology, and Karl Barth’s reception in Korea

in Faith and Theology gave a fascinating perspective of Karl Barth and his influence on Korean theology.

There’s an extremely valuable analysis of all this in the excellent study by Young-Gwan Kim, Karl Barth’s Reception in Korea: Focusing on Ecclesiology in Relation to Korean Christian Thought (Peter Lang 2003). Kim provides a broad account of the institutional and denominational contexts of Barth’s reception in Korea. He argues that the distinctiveness of Korean Barth-reception has much to do with the culture’s deep Confucian heritage, and with the intimate connection between Confucianism and the rise of Christianity in Korea. (It was Confucian scholars who first translated the Bible into Korean: Confucianism is already entwined with the roots of Korean Christianity.) After tracing the broad history of Barth’s reception in Korea, Kim provides an extensive analysis (pp. 225-324) of the work of Sung-Bum Yun. Although he is critical of Yun’s tendency towards philosophical abstraction (it becomes hard to see where the salvation-event fits into his elaborate system of Tao, jen, and filial piety), he concludes: “we cannot deny Yun’s insistence that Korean Christianity is strikingly a Confucian-influenced Christianity and that therefore the indigenization of Karl Barth’s theology within the Korean Confucian context is a viable theological enterprise” (p. 324).

read more here

What Will Karl Barth Do?

§ 7.2 Dogmatics as Science and § 7.3 The Problem of Dogmatic Prolegomena are the conclusion of Karl Barth’s section § 7 The Word of God, Dogma and Dogmatics. In this long introduction to the series (prolegomena which means long long long introduction) Barth sets out his thoughts on the Word of God and Church proclamation. His concern is how closely does Church proclamation matches the Word of God. He took issue with the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox traditions who presume that both are identical.

Is Karl Barth a mystic? No one who has read his readings will in any way link him with the great mystics of the Church. Yet there is a sense of mysticism in the reverent and distance he places on mystery of the Word of God and how it is inadequately proclaimed and interpreted by the Church. At one stroke he shook the epidemiological and ontological foundations of systematic theology like the recent 8.9 earthquake in Japan.

Barth divides dogmatics into regular and irregular. Regular are the curriculum-based approach in theological schools and colleges. Irregular dogmatics is what happens out of these formal institutions of learning and happens at the grassroot levels. Barth seems to be more sympathetic to irregular dogmatics being done by the people of God in the context of their communities in their space and time.

For example, I wonder what Barth will do concerning the situation in Malaysia. In Malaysia, Islam is the dominant religion while the constitution guarantees the freedom for people to practice other religious traditions. Muslims makes up approximately 70% of the population while Christians about 10%. Most Christians are living in East Malaysia and are mainly of indigenous tribal people. The government is lead by a Muslim dominated political party and its officials are mainly Muslims. There is a steady erosion of the freedom for other religious systems in the years following the nation’s independence.

The Christian community is represented by the Christian Federation of Malaysia (which includes Protestants and Catholics). The Christians is also represented in another multi-religious committee in dealing with the government. The interactions can be described as firefighting. The Malaysian government will propose an action that impinges on the religious rights of others. The representatives respond often by press statements and then some backdoor negotiations. The government offers a compromise which is accepted by the representatives. Often the compromise involves the religious bodies giving up more than they receive.

One notable case is the use of the word “Allah”. For the last 31 years, the Christian community has been fighting for the right to use the word “Allah”. My review of Miroslav Volf ‘s Allah: The Christian Response. The Muslims claimed that Allah refers to their God and no one else can use this term except them. In fact, Allah has been used by Arab Christian before the Islam was founded. This has resulted in the government seizing and impounding Bibles and Christian books with this word. The Malay Bible (Alkitab) uses Allah and all shipments were impounded and detained by the Home Ministry. The matter come a head when the government refused a license for the Catholic Church to print its Malay language weekly gazette Herald which uses the word Allah (see timeline here). The Catholic Church took the case to court. The Catholic Church won, allowing the Herald to use the word Allah.

The government appeals against the court’s ruling and the appeal is still pending. After waiting patiently for another year, the Christian community applied pressure on the government to release the Alkitab. The government responded by releasing it after unilaterally placing a stamp on the inner cover of the Alkitab notifying that is for Christian use only by “order of the Home Ministry”. There are various reactions from the Christian community from “Praise the Lord” to cries of desecration of the Bible (see here and here).

What will Karl Barth do?

I will suggest the following that Karl Barth will advocate for the following:

(1) The Christian community should stand for God
Karl Barth will be careful to point out that a printed text such as what is call the Bible is distinct from the Word of God though it is a means by which the Word of God is revealed. However, he will be the first to point out that any attempt to restrict or insult the Word of God is not acceptable. Note his response to the Bible burning in Nazi Germany.

(2) The Christian community should address injustice
Social justice figured prominently in the Word of God. Though church proclamation has understood social injustice in different ways and hence their different responses, their commonality is to address social injustices. Justice includes the right to choose. The Word of God reveals a God who offers humankind the right to choose even though they may choose to reject him. Though Barth was dealing with the State Lutheran Church in Germany, his principles of social justice is applicable in Malaysia. Citizens of Malaysia have freedom of worship as guaranteed by their constitution and this freedom includes the freedom to have copies of their sacred texts without any addition by the authorities.

(3) The Christian community shall be proactive and visible.
The Christian community is often perceived by the other communities as being negative by usually taking a stand against but rarely taking a stand for. The Christian community must be seen to be united and be proactive in nation building. In response to the Alkitab banning and detention, the Christian community should make visible their protest. While emails and a few blog posts are helpful, a mass Christian prayer rally will make a greater impact and create greater public awareness of the Christians’ plight. The Word of God directs Christians to pray for those who are against them. The Church proclamation should involve not just itself but also the other communities it is part of. Barth’s involvement with the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany is an example of this.

This is how I would envisage Karl Barth’s response to the situation in Malaysia by trying to see his response through the prolegomena of the Church Dogmatics.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.