Barth on Calvin

I love the way Barth describes his struggle with Calvin. I know something of this delightful feeling, when you encounter a new thinker and he blows you out of the water. He wrote in a letter: “Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological. I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this…

Disagreements with Barth

I thought it might be helpful to flesh out what I referred to in my last post on Barth but did not discuss, namely, areas in Barth’s theology which I find troubling. Ironically, I part ways with Barth in many of the very areas I have been most helped by him, and many of the problems I see in Barth’s thought are the very things he himself railed against so often. Rather than provide a list of specific doctrines I disagree with, I’ll discuss some of Barth’s general ways of thinking that are underneath (and often driving) what I see…

Why Study Barth?

People often ask me why I am interested in spending some time studying Barth. This morning in a meeting I jotted out an answer to this question, as best as I am currently able to articulate. Here it is: Barth is a helpful dialogue partner for thinking through how to do theology after the rise of modernity. Since Barth is very conversant with Scripture and historical theology, studying him forces you to interact with the broader Christian tradition. So he is a good person to focus on to learn theology in general. But Barth is also trying to understand the…

The antidote to boring sermons

I am reading William Willimon’s Conversations with Barth on Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), and found this quotation of Barth very provocative: “Against boredom the only defense is again being biblical. If a sermon is biblical, it will not be boring.” Barth speaks of our need to be repeatedly corrected by Scripture in our sermon preparation, to listen carefully to the rhythms and contours of the text and then consign ourselves to say nothing but what the text says. Our best thoughts, our best insights are unworthy of the pulpit – we must lean wholly upon what God has revealed….

Theology is beautiful

“Theology is a peculiarly beautiful discipline. Indeed, at this point we may refer to the fact that if its task is correctly seen and grasped, theology as a whole, in its parts and in their interconnection, in its content and method, is, apart from anything else, a peculiarly beautiful science. Indeed, we can confidently say that it is the most beautiful of all the sciences. To find the sciences distasteful is the mark of the Philistine. It is an extreme form of Philistinism to find, or to be able to find, theology distasteful. The theologian who has no joy in…

Bromiley on Barth

I appreciated these words G.W. Bromiley (Creative Minds in Contemporary Theology, ed. by Hughes, Eerdmans, 1966, pp. 58-9) on assessing Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. After enumerating a number of the strengths and a number of the weaknesses in Barth’s theology, Bromiley concludes: “It is possible, however, to bring out certain more general features of Barth’s Dogmatics which are commendable and exemplary even though they may be applied here in a bad cause. There is, for instance, his steadfast refusal to allow an intellectual or academic abstraction of theology and his determination to relate it strongly and positively to the whole…