Holy Spirit (and goodbye I.1)

“That the Father and the Son are the one God is the reason why they are not just united but are united in the Spirit of love; it is the reason, then, why God is love and love is God.”
p 487

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Back on the train

This has been a hard volume to get through. The sailing has been much smoother since we started on the doctrine of the Trinity but the first three hundred pages nearly wiped me out. Here’s why

1. So many other languages and so little time to look up the translation.
2. So many philosophers and theologians referenced! It’s like entering a maze of a thousand minds.
3. I didn’t realize how grating it would be to read this much text where the nouns and  pronouns are exclusively masculine. Is this a German translation issue?

In the past week a few things have helped. The major change is that I’m taking a class on Karl Barth. Part of that class is reading Eberhard Busch’s The Great Passion. I’ve found it extremely helpful for context and biography. I’m also trying to take to heart something Dr. Hunsinger said. He mentioned in lecture that Barth can be read devotionally. I haven’t been thinking about the reading in this way but Hunsinger’s comment made me shift my perspective in this direction.

I end with this quote from Busch (39) for those of us battle fatigued by children, partners, new classes, applications, systematic theologies in progress, roasting giant spits of meat, etc.:

This dogmatic is a gigantic work that can frighten off even the well-disposed and discourage them from reading it (I almost raised my hand as I read this line). Its very appearance often gives the impression of something unapproachably monolithic, a heavenly metaphysics remote from time… It must be said that an age when everything goes by so quickly, when what is desired is a fast-food theology, is not a time when access to a work of this kind is easy. Those who say that they have no time, those who are content with slogans, do best to ignore these volumes.

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Day 19: § 5.4

Yeah, so it has been awhile. That’s what happens when the semester starts. I’m trying to keep at it though… how are others doing?

Anyways, I just finished § 5 today (I’m a bit behind). I’ve reflected on parts of it before, having just “switched” to blogging about sections rather than about a chunk of 15 pages… but I thought I’d offer a few thoughts anyways, mainly on § 5.4 The Speech of God as the Mystery of God.

I found this section to be particularly interesting and insightful, especially the first few pages of it, where Barth focuses on the matter of mastery in the field of theology. Barth begins by cautioning theologians who claim mastery, who are sure of themselves(who have, as he puts it, “a certain assurance of voice, speech, and attitude” (162).) He seems to have such a strong handle on what this looks like in theology, pointing out the ways that “this assurance, confidence, and sprightliness are perhaps all the greater because we are clever enough to include an element of uncertainty or comforted despair or even a line of death or the like in our more or less spiritual calculations” (163). He goes on to explain that the need for humility in our proclamations that stems from the mystery of God.

Like I said already, I was particularly interested in the first few pages, where Barth exhorts his readers of the dangers of mastery because of the mystery of God. This struck me so much because of (surprise, surprise) the overlap I notice with Foucault’s criticisms of the mastery of Western man as evidenced in the reign of European humanism. In courses with J. Kameron Carter and Willie Jennings, Barth (and Bonhoeffer, and others) have been used as a constructive theological response to the theology that undergirds the production of the Western imperial subject. Carter talks about this in terms of the “Western, Imperial God-Man.” In a course last semester on Black Intellectuals and Religion, we explored the way theology operated discursively to produce this subjectivity, and how there might be spaces in theology for it to operate otherwise— a sort of “theology against itself.”

Barth was a key interlocuter in the course, but nonetheless, I was surprised when reading this section just about how overtly Barth acknowledges and resists Western imperialist mastery, and its operations in theology.

“We must accept that fact that only the Logos of God Himself can provide the proof that we are really talking about Him when we are allegedly doing so,” Barth writes (163). “For according to all that we can know of the how of the Word of God, one thing is ruled out. It cannot be an entitity which we can demarcate from other entities and thereby objectify, even though we do wit with supreme humility and discretion” (164). I love how Barth points to our attempts to objectify and therefore control God’s Word “Only God conceives of Himself, even in His Word,” he continues. “Our concept of God and His Word can only be an indication of the limits of our conceiving..”

“It is for this reason and in this sense that we finally speak of the Word of God as the mystery of God,” Barth writes. And then there is the line that is perhaps my favorite Barth quote thus far:

“The issue is not an ultimate ‘assuring’ but always a penultimate ‘de-assuring’ of theology, or, as one might put it, a theological warning against theology, a warning against the idea that its propositions or principles are in themselves like the supposed axioms of mathematicians and physicists, and are not rather related to their theme and content, which alone are certain, which they cannot master, by which they must be mastered if they are not to be mere soap-bubbles” (165).

Throughout the rest of the section, Barth goes on to unpack what he means by “the mystery of God,” exploring what he names as its secularity and one-sidedness….


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Day Eleven: Scaling it Back (Me, not Barth)

So I knew that my current blogging schedule was going to be largely unsustainable. Well, I didn’t know right away, but I figured it out pretty quick. I was just so excited at the beginning, and had a lot to say and reflect on. But, not only am I not going to have the time to blog every day once school starts on Monday and I begin again the utter insanity of taking 5 classes in one semester, but it really is pointless to blog everyday. Barth talks in circles enough, I don’t need to do it too.  Also, I’m beginning to wonder if I am missing the big picture by blogging on every 15 pages. Details are good, but not at the expense of the big picture.

My new plan? Starting with § 6, I’m just going to blog for each section, with maybe some throw ins on other days with quotes I like, questions, etc..

That being said, I did do the reading today, but I am trying to finish an incomplete from last semester and its gotten to the point where blogging on Barth is problematic procrastination rather than welcome procrastination.

So, in light of my new plan, here’s my quote  for the day:

“It is not at all true that the Church is outside with God and the world is inside without God. Things can be seen thus only if the Bible and the Church are seen apart from the revelation that constitutes them” (155).

And, because I can, here’s a second one:

“The Church is the Church as it believes and proclaims that prior to all secular developments and prior to all its own work the decisive word has in fact been spoken already regarding both itself and also the world” (155).


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Day Ten: The Word, Speech, & Act of God

Today’s readings, which, I admit, I didn’t give the full attention or focus they deserved, seemed to have a lot to say about the understanding of the Word of God, as it is mediated through the ways in which it is revealed and through history.

In finishing up the section on the Word of God as the Speech of God, Barth acknowledges that “this being of Jesus Christ is not directly present to us. It must be present to us and can be present to us only indirectly, namely, through the proclaiming of the Word first by Holy Scripture and then also by the Church” (138). Then, in the Speech of God as the Act of God, he seems to take up this question of revelation more directly, addressing how “the fact that God’s Word is God’s act means first its continent contemporaneity” (145).

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Day Nine: The Problems with (Starting with) Theological Anthropology

Today’s reading included a short, small-print laden, section on the Unity of the Word of God, where Barth basically just talks about how it is important to understand the word of God as revealed, written, and proclaimed as unified with one another, challenging any doctrine or practice that elevates one at the expense of the other. He writes: “Protestant orthodoxy, which at the peak of its development had no liking for talk about the distinction between the forms of the Word of God and the fluidity of their mutual relations, emphasized the more zealously something which is equally true and instructive in itself, namely, their unity” (123).

Then, we come to § 5.1 and the beginning of § 5.2., where Barth addresses the Question of the Nature of the Word of God and the Word of God as the Speech of God, respectively. 5.1. is basically one looong section of small-print, where Barth is explaining how the remaining parts of the section differ from its version in an earlier edition. Barth is responding to the critiques of one of his reviewers, F. Gogarten, and takes his critique very seriously, albeit in a very different way then Gogarten intended. He reads Gogarten’s critique of the the first editions lack of “a true anthropology” as a sort of compliment, and goes on to critique what he sees as Gogarten’s natural theology. “Thus to understand God from man is either an impossibility or something one can do only in the form of Christology, and not an anthropology,” Barth writes. “On the basis of all these considerations,” he concludes, “I must not only decline  Gogarten’s invitation to improve my dogmatics by introducing a true anthropology. I must also eliminate all that might seem to be a concession in that direction in my draft of five years ago” (131).

In the beginning of § 5.2, Barth goes on explain that, “God’s Word means that God speaks” (132).

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Day Eight: The Word of God Revealed

I’ve been a bit slowgoing with today’s readings. For the first time in the last eight days, I didn’t do my Barth reading the night before (I was way too incensed over this to sit down with Church Dogmatics), and so this morning, I had both reading and writing to do, and have been distracted worrying about other things that I have no control over. Sigh.

Today’s reading takes us from “the Word of God written,” to “the Word of God Revealed.” As Barth finishes up his discussion on the Word of God written, he seems to return to his earlier claims, before he expounded on proclamation and Scripture as sites of God’s revelation. Here, he focuses on how it is revelation stands at the heart of Christian thought and practice—pointing out that “engenders the Bible that attests it” which serves as the basis for church proclamation. Deus dixit (God said) is what stands behind Christian life and discourse.

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