Karl Barth I

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I just finished listening to a 3 part lecture on the great Swiss theologian. Go to iTunes store and search Barth and it’s the only one that comes up. Barth’s wiki. I recommend it, particularly Pts. I and II.

The teacher is Dr. W.Andrew Hoffecker from Reformed Theological Seminary. He is from a different theologian strain than Barth (and me); Hoffecker is a traditional (what he calls ‘orthodox’) evangelical. He subscribes to the so-called propositional theory of revelation: i.e. that revelation deposits certain objective”facts” about God, creation, humanity, etc. (Barth did not). But Dr. H does a very excellent job of presenting Barth faithfully.

The first lecture deals with Barth’s biography and his early years (around WWI). Barth wrote in contrast to the then dominant position of theological liberalism (first articulated by the great 19th c. Frederich Schleiermacher).

One lens to see modern Christian (particularly Protestant) theology is in relation to Kant. Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason smashed the Aristotelian framework that guided so much previous Roman Catholic medieval theology (particularly Aquinas). That theology saw the mind as being able to create a natural theology–from reason. Not prove the realm of grace but at least prove a (Deist-like) Creator and the compatibility between nature and grace. They were different orders but reason did not contradict grace.

Kant threw all that into question–(it was already questioned much earlier by theologians like Scotus and Ockham plus Reformers)–but Kant got to the core of the issue. That when the mind reaches up towards the infinite it can not be create contradiction–as it is working from its own subjective categories, which are based on this and that.

So theology post-Kant has this question of what to do with reason/mind and its relation to Revelation/Grace.

Schielermacher and the Liberal Tradition–influenced by German idealism and Romanticism–goes the way of human experiential realities as the link between God and humanity. Often religious feeling or what Schl. called “God consciousness”.

Unfortunately like German idealism, the liberal tradition lacked a complete map and praxis of the higher states of human awareness–plus the distinction between the human-based unconscious (think Freud) and the Ground Unconscious (think: Ramana Maharshi or Meister Eckhart). See Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology for those distinctions.

Which means liberalism often confused pre and trans-rational in Wilber’s language. Therapy became confused with mysticism. (Not that therapy is wrong; it is just not mysticism).

Worse liberalism tended to forget Schielermacher’s God-consciousness–at least he was aiming for some religious awakening–and head towards social gospelism. The social gospel came to see humans as bringing about the kingdom through human action.

As such theological liberalism became tied to and legitimated European colonialism (“converting the barbarian civilizations to Christ”), eugenics, and eventually Nazism. Since it wedded Christianity to Western European culture it was unable to stand in judgment of that culture, when that culture descended into barbarity and senseless destruction.

And this is where Barth comes in. Barth is the first to see the real problems inherent to this theology. Back to the point on Kant. If the human mind can not reach God, then either religious feeling/experience must (liberalism) OR the Divine as Totally Other (i.e. “irrational”) must come down to us.

The second option is Barth’s. More on that option in the next post.

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Published in: on January 1, 2008 at 12:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] January 2, 2008 Karl Barth II Posted by cjsmith under Christianity, Religion | Tags: Dialectical Theology, Karl Barth, Neo-Orthodoxy |   Part I here. […]


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