Reading Barth

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JM

Puritan Board Doctor
I just bought the complete set of Dogmatics brand new for $50 bucks. How should I approach reading the set? I'm not all that interested in neo orthodoxy and see no need to read the entire set, but I should have some kind of first hand knowledge of what Barth wrote.

Yours in the Lord,

jm
 

smalltown_puritan

Puritan Board Freshman
From my reading of Barth, I have found it important to remember that he may be using the same vocabulary, but not always the same dictionary. To be more explicit, he may at times sound orthodox, but the meaning is not really orthodox - which is why he became so 'popular' in more conservative churches that eventually liberalized. A common example of this would be Barth's conflation of revelation, inspiration and illumination into one.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I've read about five volumes of his. 1/1 and 1/2 are fairly problematic, as he tries to reorient revelation around a Trinitarian analogy. Volumes II/1 and II/2 are interesting, especially as the former is fairly heavy on the doctrine of God. I've criticized his take on election elsewhere.

Best thing is to read Barth like you would read someone like Aquinas. Find a reliable guide on what he is saying in order to understand him.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Dennis McFadden, who was force-fed a lot of Barth over the years, recommended vol. IV/I as containing some of the richest fare and more than enough to keep up with conversations about him.

 

PointyHaired Calvinist

Puritan Board Sophomore
Is Barth still as popular among progressive evangelicals after his long-term adultery was revealed? I would think this would be too much even for them.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Is Barth still as popular among progressive evangelicals after his long-term adultery was revealed? I would think this would be too much even for them.

Not really. You might see some evangelical big name say some Barthian stuff, or even quote him, but no one is really Barthian in the pop evangelical world. Barth is like Thomas Aquinas. In order to really get him, you have to logically follow the conclusions. He doesn't really lend himself to sound-byte quips for the growing megachurch.

Further, Barth was (rightly) hostile to social Trinitarianism, which is all the rage today.
 

retroGRAD3

Puritan Board Sophomore
Not really. You might see some evangelical big name say some Barthian stuff, or even quote him, but no one is really Barthian in the pop evangelical world. Barth is like Thomas Aquinas. In order to really get him, you have to logically follow the conclusions. He doesn't really lend himself to sound-byte quips for the growing megachurch.

Further, Barth was (rightly) hostile to social Trinitarianism, which is all the rage today.
Forgive my ignorance, but what is "social Trinitarianism"?
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Forgive my ignorance, but what is "social Trinitarianism"?

Classical Christian theism says God is one essence and three subsistences of that one essence. There is only one mind, will, and energy of operation in the Godhead. Social Trinitarians say there are either three minds or "three centers of consciousness" in the Godhead.

Soc. Trins say the Godhead is a community of persons, even suggesting, ala Zizioulas, that being is communion. Instead of one will in the Godhead, they come close to three different wills, which is tri-theism.
 

retroGRAD3

Puritan Board Sophomore
Classical Christian theism says God is one essence and three subsistences of that one essence. There is only one mind, will, and energy of operation in the Godhead. Social Trinitarians say there are either three minds or "three centers of consciousness" in the Godhead.

Soc. Trins say the Godhead is a community of persons, even suggesting, ala Zizioulas, that being is communion. Instead of one will in the Godhead, they come close to three different wills, which is tri-theism.
Ah thank you. As you were describing it I was thinking tri-theism (the term I have heard before) and then you went ahead and tied it together.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I don't understand why Barth's unrepented-of affair with Charlotte Kirschbaum does not automatically disqualify him from having anything of worth to say to believers. Psalm 50:16-17 and through to 22 speaks to that, "But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee... 22 Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver."

@BayouHuguenot - Jacob, although an opponent of social trinitarianism, I have used the phrase “three centers of consciousness” — is it necessarily soc. trin.? Cannot the three Persons still have “only one mind, will, and energy of operation” in the common Essence? Or must I expunge that phrase from my writing?
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
@BayouHuguenot - Jacob, although an opponent of social trinitarianism, I have used the phrase “three centers of consciousness” — is it necessarily soc. trin.? Cannot the three Persons still have “only one mind, will, and energy of operation” in the common Essence? Or must I expunge that phrase from my writing?

I know guys like Khaled Anatolios, an otherwise outstanding Patristic scholar, has used language like that in the past. I suppose one could use 3 centers and still hold to one mind, but the reason the original social trinitarians came up with that phrase was to get away from one mind in the Godhead.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I don't understand why Barth's unrepented-of affair with Charlotte Kirschbaum does not automatically disqualify him from having anything of worth to say to believers. Psalm 50:16-17 and through to 22 speaks to that, "But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee... 22 Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver."

@BayouHuguenot - Jacob, although an opponent of social trinitarianism, I have used the phrase “three centers of consciousness” — is it necessarily soc. trin.? Cannot the three Persons still have “only one mind, will, and energy of operation” in the common Essence? Or must I expunge that phrase from my writing?

Our tendency to use "centers of consciousness" reflects a modern understanding of what a person is. We can't imagine defining person without mind or consciousness. The Patristics and medievals weren't bothered by that. For them a (divine) person was a mode of the essence.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I don't understand why Barth's unrepented-of affair with Charlotte Kirschbaum does not automatically disqualify him from having anything of worth to say to believers.

Very true, but the people reading him are liberal Protestants, and the adultery wouldn't bother them. Some Catholics read him, to be sure, but at the end of the day there can't be much rapproachment, as Barth thought the analogia entis is the antichrist.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I think some of Barth's ideas live on in Missional Theology.

I have to admit that even though I read a lot of his through many years ago I didn't really grasp a lot of the underlying theology and philosophy that drove him.

It takes quite an investment of time in philosophy and historical theology to sometimes see some of the strands of thinking that permeate thinking around the Church.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
How so? The downplaying of the Bible I assume?

There is no single one area. Barth had a famous quote where he said Jesus was the Mission Dei. Sounds neat but I don't think you can milk a whole theology from it.

Barth used to be hip, and Evangelicals are usually 40 years behind the curve. That's why he is hip now.
 

JM

Puritan Board Doctor
Barth takes up a lot of shelf space but for $50 bucks, the set is in brand new condition, but I don't see myself reading much of it. I guess I'll sell it when I'm finished reading some of the recommended portions.

Yours in the Lord,

jm
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Jacob, although an opponent of social trinitarianism, I have used the phrase “three centers of consciousness” — is it necessarily soc. trin.? Cannot the three Persons still have “only one mind, will, and energy of operation” in the common Essence? Or must I expunge that phrase from my writing?

Hi Steve,

I visited some recent Reformed Thomist discussions on this topic. Long story short, consciousness really doesn't apply to God, as consciousness requires being aware of one thing after another, whereas God knows all things through one divine act.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Hello Jacob,

First, from a class on Hosea I gave (my comment afterward) :
_____

The Reformed doctrine of Impassibility (that God is “without . . . passions” –1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 2.1) is related to the doctrine of His Immutability (He does not change) and the absolute simplicity of His Being, or Essence — which means He is not made of parts or composed of faculties, but is one pure, infinite, and eternal Being. He does not have changeable feelings or passions as humans do. As Stephen Charnock in his book on God’s attributes [vol 1] says,

God knows all things by one intuitive act. . . God knows all things from eternity, and, therefore, perpetually knows them; the reason is because the Divine Knowledge is infinite (Ps. 147:5 “His understanding is infinite”) and therefore comprehends all knowable truths at once. An eternal knowledge comprehends in itself all time, and beholds past and present in the same manner, and therefore his knowledge is immutable. By one simple knowledge he considers the infinite spaces of past and future. (p 323)​
_____

How can it be said that God is not "conscious"? — I suppose it depends on how we define or use the word. For instance, when Charnock says, "God knows all things by one intuitive act. . . God knows all things from eternity, and, therefore, perpetually knows them" — is not His knowing so, exactly equivalent to saying, "God is conscious of all things in one intuitive act. . . God is conscious of all things from eternity, and, therefore, perpetually is conscious of them". There is no progression involved, no "one thing after another". God's consciousness is not at all like ours, His infinite, and ours finite.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Hello Jacob,

First, from a class on Hosea I gave (my comment afterward) :
_____

The Reformed doctrine of Impassibility (that God is “without . . . passions” –1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 2.1) is related to the doctrine of His Immutability (He does not change) and the absolute simplicity of His Being, or Essence — which means He is not made of parts or composed of faculties, but is one pure, infinite, and eternal Being. He does not have changeable feelings or passions as humans do. As Stephen Charnock in his book on God’s attributes [vol 1] says,

God knows all things by one intuitive act. . . God knows all things from eternity, and, therefore, perpetually knows them; the reason is because the Divine Knowledge is infinite (Ps. 147:5 “His understanding is infinite”) and therefore comprehends all knowable truths at once. An eternal knowledge comprehends in itself all time, and beholds past and present in the same manner, and therefore his knowledge is immutable. By one simple knowledge he considers the infinite spaces of past and future. (p 323)​
_____

How can it be said that God is not "conscious"? — I suppose it depends on how we define or use the word. For instance, when Charnock says, "God knows all things by one intuitive act. . . God knows all things from eternity, and, therefore, perpetually knows them" — is not His knowing so, exactly equivalent to saying, "God is conscious of all things in one intuitive act. . . God is conscious of all things from eternity, and, therefore, perpetually is conscious of them". There is no progression involved, no "one thing after another". God's consciousness is not at all like ours, His infinite, and ours finite.

Being conscious of something is always being-aware of it. Knowing one thing after another. God doesn't do that.

Self-consciousness would mean that God is thinking and God is aware of the fact that he is thinking.

This is *not* the patristic and medieval (and even post-Reformation) concept of personhood. Locke defines person as "self as it self, the same thinking thing in different times and places” (1700: II.xxvii.9).
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Jacob,

The Being of God, and our being are not the same, and are not comparable; the consciousness — the knowing — of God and our knowing are not comparable. Our modern word, conscious, deriving from the Latin conscius (to know) can be ascribed to God if divested of its human trappings and limitations, such as "self-consciousness" and "knowing one thing after another" etc.

You can see I am making the words to know and conscious synonymous — and applying them to the simple Essence of the Godhead, apart from any limiting human attributes. I don't understand your objections to this, and what you have said so far has not edified me to see your point. I know you are far more versed in these ancient discussions among the classical authors and fathers than I. But I am a wordsmith, and am careful to craft my words with precision. I don't mind being shown I am wrong (better by a friend and brother than an enemy!) and corrected, if warranted.

Why cannot I, to modify Charnock's phrase above, say, "God is conscious of all things by one intuitive act. . . God is conscious of all things from eternity"? True, such is not as pithy or elegant as Charnock, but nonetheless equivalent, so I think. I would by far prefer Charnock's wording referring to His Essential knowing — this really pertains to using the phrase “three centers of consciousness” as used of the Persons, indicating that They each, though distinct, have the same omniscient knowing, each being God. The same Latin root is common to both — scient, scius.

Is it not only, when bringing human application and usage into the equation, made objectionable?
 
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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
The Being of God, and our being are not the same, and are not comparable; the consciousness — the knowing — of God and our knowing are not comparable. Our modern word, conscious, deriving from the Latin conscius (to know) can be ascribed to God if divested of its human trappings and limitations, such as "self-consciousness" and "knowing one thing after another" etc.

Once you do all of that, then conscious really doesn't mean much to God after all (I agree with everything else you said). That's why I don't see why it needs to be applied to God, given also that no notable person in the Great Tradition ever did that.
Why cannot I, to modify Charnock's phrase above, say, "God is conscious of all things by one intuitive act. . . God is conscious of all things from eternity"? True, such is not as pithy or elegant as Charnock, but nonetheless equivalent, so I think. I would by far prefer Charnock's wording referring to His Essential knowing — this really pertains to using the phrase “three centers of consciousness” as used of the Persons, indicating that They each, though distinct, have the same omniscient knowing, each being God. The same Latin root is common to both — scient, scius.

That's fine if you do that, only that none of the current users of "centers of consciousness" mean anything close to what Charnock means. I'm not saying that "Centers of consciousness" is wrong because all of its adherents are social trinitarians, but there is a reason for it. Charnock, with the Great Tradition, says God knows all things in one divine act. That is the correct view. NONE (or maybe very few) of the current users of "centers of consciousness" mean anything like that. They can't, since the divine knowers are three separate guys knowing and self-conscious of their knowing.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Let's look at it this way. A person is a mode or a relation of opposition in the divine essence. As such, there can't be any "centers of consciousness" because the divine essence itself is the center.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Yet there are distinctions between the Persons in their respective awarenesses, as well as their common knowing in the divine essence.

And then there's this: say a New Ager who holds to an impersonal force being "God", asks of a Christian, "Is there a personal Supreme Being, and is He conscious?"
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Yet there are distinctions between the Persons in their respective awarenesses, as well as their common knowing in the divine essence.

And then there's this: say a New Ager who holds to an impersonal force being "God", asks of a Christian, "Is there a personal Supreme Being, and is He conscious?"

Classical Christianity distinguishes the persons, not on their supposed different awarenesses (which would be tricky, since they all have the same mind), but on the relations of origin.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
How so? The downplaying of the Bible I assume?
Jacob hit it with the Misseo Dei. I spent a number of months last year reading books and some academic articles about Missional theology. It's kind of a hodgepodge of ideas and admittedly has no real systematic theology. If anything, Missional thinkers think that systematizing theology is somewhat illeitimate since true theology is contextual to the believing community.

One thing they do have in common, however, is that the Misseo Dei is seen as inherent in the character of God Himself. That is to say that God (in His essence?) is a sending God. His mission is the redemption of creation and we are caught up in that redemptive work.

In that regard, it is amenable and influenced by the Barthian idea of the Incarnation itself being part of God's very nature.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Jacob hit it with the Misseo Dei. I spent a number of months last year reading books and some academic articles about Missional theology. It's kind of a hodgepodge of ideas and admittedly has no real systematic theology. If anything, Missional thinkers think that systematizing theology is somewhat illeitimate since true theology is contextual to the believing community.

One thing they do have in common, however, is that the Misseo Dei is seen as inherent in the character of God Himself. That is to say that God (in His essence?) is a sending God. His mission is the redemption of creation and we are caught up in that redemptive work.

In that regard, it is amenable and influenced by the Barthian idea of the Incarnation itself being part of God's very nature.

Exactly. Classical theism says the missions reveal the processions, or the economic reveals the ontological. Social Trinitarians and the like say the missions constitute the processions. Big difference.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Jacob, I'm currently reading Matthew Barrett's Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit, and he takes the same stand against the wording "three centers of consciousness" you do (p 56). I expect I shall have to concede to you in this matter!
 

SavedSinner

Puritan Board Freshman
I don't understand why Barth's unrepented-of affair with Charlotte Kirschbaum does not automatically disqualify him from having anything of worth to say to believers. Psalm 50:16-17 and through to 22 speaks to that, "But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee... 22 Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver."

@BayouHuguenot - Jacob, although an opponent of social trinitarianism, I have used the phrase “three centers of consciousness” — is it necessarily soc. trin.? Cannot the three Persons still have “only one mind, will, and energy of operation” in the common Essence? Or must I expunge that phrase from my writing?
Barth was never a communist, but he was buddy-buddy with the Stalinists and favored Soviet-occupied East Germany over West Germany. And why would anyone who believes the bible read someone who did not even believe the bible? Starting in the 1960s, Barthianism became the GDR state protestant religion with the new policy “the Church in Socialism” and nearly every pastor was on the payroll as an unofficial employee of the Stasi.
 
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