Longform and the Affections

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Michael Reeves, writing about Karl Barth’s loquaciousness in his new book: Theologians You Should Know: An Introduction: From the Apostolic Fathers to the 21st Century (Crossway, 2016), page 280:

Barth believed that the task of theology is the same as the task of preaching, and thus preaching is just what he does in the Church Dogmatics. But preaching is not about merely conferring information: it is about winning hearts, and thus involves the sorts of persuasion and repetition that take time. Points must be reinforced, the readers won. The result is that Barth can be deeply moving to read. It also means he is peculiarly resistant to being quoted. Context is needed, and this is why, when he is quoted, he usually sounds impossibly complicated and so off-putting. Perhaps most important of all, though, the fact that Barth writes in such a sermonic, almost story-telling style actually means the reader can relax. Failing fully to grasp a few pages really will not matter, for the sweep of the argument is larger than that.

Looking for the bigger picture is the main thing. Colin Gunton put it like this:

Barth is an aesthetic theologian. Barth worshiped before he theologized. His love for Mozart is to be noted here. The structure of Barth’s theology is assertive, it is not argumentative; it can be considered as a sort of music. In the sense that Barth is not concerned to argue any more than Mozart is concerned to argue, Mozart just plays. I think that is Barth’s aim: to play on the revelation of God so that its truth and beauty will shine.

Of course, that does all mean that Barth demands you give him time. He will not dish out theological fast food. But giving him time does make one a more thoughtful theologian.


Related:

What to do with Karl Barth?

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Don Carson edited one of 2016’s essential books: The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans). It releases this week.

The enormous 1,200-page book is the product of a pangraphic team of 37 scholars who address various pressing questions on biblical authority. And the book ends with an absorbing quick-hit FAQ where Carson himself briefly tackles a catalog of common questions on Scripture’s authority. There he briefly addresses Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886–1968) in a format resembling this:

Q: How come Karl Barth’s views of Scripture have come back to be the focus of so much attention today?

There are at least three reasons. First, Barth was certainly the most prolific and perhaps creative theologian of the twentieth century, so it is no wonder that people study his writings. Second, Barth’s thought is profoundly God-centered, profoundly Christ-centered, profoundly grace-centered. And third, his view of Scripture, though not quite in line with traditional confessionalism, is reverent, subtle, and complex, so scholars keep debating exactly what he was saying. (1,162)

The mention of Barth made me wonder, more broadly, what should discerning Evangelicals do with the writings of Barth? I recently asked Carson, and this is what he said (5-minute outtake):

Read the full transcript here.

A Wrong Time for Everything

There’s a right time for everything under the sun (Ecc. 3:1–8). That means, apart from God, we creatures find a wrong time for everything under the sun, too.

Writes Karl Barth (CD IV.2, §65, 413–14):

The stupidity of man consists and expresses itself in the fact that when he is of the opinion that he achieves his true nature and essence apart from the knowledge of God, without hearing and obeying His Word, in this independence and autonomy, he always misses his true nature and essence.

He is always either too soon or too late.

He is asleep when he should be awake, and awake when he should be asleep.

He is silent when he should speak, and he speaks when it is better to be silent.

He laughs when he should weep, and he weeps when he should be comforted and laugh.

He always makes an exception where the rule should be kept, and subjects himself to a law when he should choose in freedom.

He always toils when he should pray, and prays when only work is of any avail.

He always devotes himself to historical and psychological investigation when decisions are demanded, and rushes into decision when historical and psychological investigation is really required.

He is always contentious where it is unnecessary and harmful, and he speaks of peace where he may confidently attack. …

In Eccl. 3 we are given a list of different things for which there is a proper time — in accordance with the fact that God Himself does everything in its own time.

The genius of stupidity is to think everything at the wrong time, to say everything to the wrong people, to do everything in the wrong direction, to lose no opportunity of misunderstanding and being misunderstood, always to omit the one simple and necessary thing which is demanded, and to have a sure instinct for choosing and willing and doing the complicated and superfluous thing which can only disrupt and obstruct.