The back cover of Sören Petershans’s book indicates that the thinker in question—Dutch theologian Kornelis Heiko Miskotte—remains largely unknown to German-language theology. Germans may dimly recall Miskotte as a mid-century interpreter of Karl Barth and a pioneer of Jewish-Christian dialogue. But beyond that, nichts! If such obscurity obtains in German-speaking lands, it runs much deeper in the Anglophone realm.
Petershans thus faces a relatively uncongested theological arena upon which to stage his thesis: that far from being merely a Barth epigone, Miskotte developed his own distinctive theology, and that its individuality is nowhere more evident than its doctrine of God. Hence the title of Petershans’s book, which in English reads, Revelation of the Name and Reconciled Life: A Study on the Doctrine of God according to Kornelis Heiko Miskotte.
Christian Link and Ulrich Körtner supervised the 2014 University of Vienna dissertation which Offenbarung des Namens und versöhntes Leben, in revised form, represents. The first 96 pages of Petershans’s study provide a bird’s-eye view of Miskotte’s theology and an examination of his three greatest theological influences. These remarks prepare for the longer, more focused, and more innovative second part of Petershans’s book.
Kornelis Heiko Miskotte (1894-1976) was born in Utrecht and studied theology at Utrecht University. After graduating, he pastored for twenty years in both rural and urban settings, completing a dissertation at the University of Groningen while serving as a full-time pastor. His first theological mentor was Johannes Hermanus Gunning, Jr., a founder of the Dutch “Ethical Theology.” The central concept of this theological school was encounter with God. Divine revelation imparted a way of life and not doctrinal content; truth was a matter of ethics and not objective and rational. Miskotte would later call this approach “ethical mysticism.” Above all it sought a synthesis of faith and culture. Although Miskotte would later dissent sharply from this synthesis, his mature doctrine of God nonetheless inherits much from this theological school. Miskotte’s emphasis on experience, even experience of God, and his sense of apostolic solidarity with culture and the world alike trace back to Gunning’s influence.
In 1923, while serving in his first pastoral call, Miskotte read Karl Barth’s Römerbrief. His initial journal entry on it deems Barth’s style expressionist and his thought Marcionite. However, Barth won him over after only a few days. Miskotte began a correspondence with Barth—and a theological friendship—that would last until Barth’s death in 1968. Barth would in 1956 address Miskotte as “the seer and poet among my friends.” Miskotte considered himself a disciple. He wrote several books on Barth, including two on the Church Dogmatics alone, and he became the best-known proponent of Barth’s theology to the Netherlands. Barth’s influence saturates Miskotte’s theology; Miskotte’s understanding of divine revelation is deeply indebted to it. Like Barth and other dialectical theologians, Miskotte renounced any synthesis of God and culture. Instead he upheld the particularity and event-character of God’s self-disclosure. Miskotte also shared Barth’s Christological concentration (as it has been called) and his attentiveness to the theological locus of predestination. For him as for Barth, Jesus Christ is the singular and exclusive Word of God, and God’s initiative towards humanity in Christ coincides with God’s own self-determination from eternity.
The last of Miskotte’s three major influences is the Jewish philosopher, Franz Rosenzweig, whose Star of Redemption Miskotte read in 1928, and about whom he wrote much of his Groningen dissertation. In common with many Christian dialectical theologians, Rosenzweig’s work centers on divine revelation as an event. In distinction from other dialectical theologians, Rosenzweig envisions the proper name of God—the Tetragrammaton—as the event of revelation. Miskotte wholly absorbed this conviction. Rosenzweig also taught Miskotte to prize the Old Testament as a self-standing theological witness. Indeed, for Miskotte the Old Testament already contains “all truth,” and it preaches God’s becoming-flesh (Gottes Fleischwerdung). The unique property of the New Testament is only to name this becoming-flesh as Jesus Christ—and so to foreground divine love. Rosenzweig also confirmed for Miskotte the experiential nature of encounter with God.
The second part of Petershans’s book divides into three sections. The first draws on analytic philosophy of language to streamline and sophisticate Miskotte’s view of the divine name. Here Petershans differentiates between proper names and appellatives (Benennungsnamen). God appointed one proper name to the divine self—YHWH. As a proper name, YHWH refers fixedly to one unsubstitutable individual, even as that individual’s other attributes and forms of address vary. In this way, Petershans layers a more technical vocabulary onto Miskotte’s own comments that the divine name is “a nameless name”—truly empty of content and solely referential—while attracting other names and qualities.
The second and third sections present the heart of Petershans’s book. Petershans engages in close exegesis of Miskotte’s writings, primarily his 1956 book, When the Gods are Silent (English translation, Harper 1967) and his primer in Bible reading, Biblical ABCs, written under Nazi occupation in 1941 and still untranslated into English. These sections also demonstrate Petershans’s thesis that Miskotte’s doctrine of God is distinct relative to Barth. The second section, entitled “Revelation as Revelation of the Name according to Miskotte,” accesses Miskotte’s concept of revelation through his teaching about predestination. Petershans organizes much of his discussion on the basis of a schema he derives from section headings in Miskotte’s Biblical ABCs:
Name = Revelation
Name = YHWH
Name = Jesus Christ
Miskotte identifies the divine name YHWH as the event of divine self-revelation. But he also understands revelation most basically as sanctification (Heiligung), that is, as effecting Lebensänderung—“life change.” For Miskotte, divine revelation as such transforms the participating human subject. This is seen in Miskotte’s treatment of the paradigmatic burning bush narrative (Exodus 3), where God’s communication of a name is at the same time a divine self-determination (Selbstbestimmung) to liberate Israel from Egypt—a Lebensänderung of some magnitude. Miskotte calls this event an Urtat—a primordial act of divine self-demarcation; Petershans glosses it as “predestination.” In the schema above and throughout his writings, Miskotte also equates this event with the Bible’s other proper name: Jesus Christ. Miskotte thus speaks of “one covenant,” “one salvation,” and “oneness of the times,” in that both testaments of the Christian Bible by a “double reference” witness to a single divine self-determination to save. Together but distinctly they testify to a single divine predestination of the divine self for assumptio carnis—“assumption of flesh.” In this way, Miskotte makes revelation of the name and reconciled life to coincide, as in Petershans’s main title.
Miskotte views the two testaments as united in their witness to God’s becoming-flesh, but he also differentiates them, and that difference silhouettes his individuality relative to Barth. The difference—or “surplus,” as Miskotte calls it—of the New Testament vis-à-vis the Old is its clarity in presenting this “one salvation” as justification. The surplus of the Old is its clarity in presenting salvation in its aspect as sanctification. The Old Testament, in other words, articulates the revelation of the divine name within a rich and concrete variety of human experiences—erotic and political, economic and ethical—while the New Testament does not. Because he prioritizes the Old Testament, the human and participatory “side” of revelation is thereby given prominence in Miskotte’s theology. In just this regard, Petershans argues, Miskotte distinguishes his doctrine of God from Barth’s. Barth focuses on revelation as justification, and so seals his theological system off from human experience; Miskotte focuses on revelation as sanctification, maintaining a greater openness to human experience and culture. To be sure, as Petershans observes at length, the two theologians differ in their Trinitarian doctrine: Miskotte hardly speaks of the Trinity while Barth is famous for recovering it. But Petershans locates the more fundamental divide in Miskotte’s view of divine self-revelation as sanctification.
Offenbarung des Namens und versöhntes Leben brings welcome attention to an interesting and underappreciated theologian in the dialectical trajectory. For that alone Petershans’s book renders a valuable service to the theological academy. Petershans also deserves thanks for giving a relatively clear overview of a theologian whose thick prose and meandering presentation one early reviewer described as “stygian” (James Brown, Scottish Journal of Theology, 1969). Also valuable is Petershans’s engagement with other authors who have written about Miskotte, particularly since most of them write in Dutch. Petershans’s frequent translations from Dutch to German in footnotes, for example, are helpful. However, not all the sections of his book are equally successful. Petershans is at his best when he exposits Miskotte—and not when he makes long summaries of secondary literature on analytic philosophy or theologies of revelation. His book will be of interest to Barth scholarship as an example of free-thinking and constructive Barthianism.
My thanks to Dr. Eleonora Hof for her helpful comments on a draft of this review.
Collin Cornell, Ph.D. Candidate, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Emory University
The views expressed here are strictly those of the author; they do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Barth Studies or Princeton Theological Seminary.
Perhaps because the academy views Barth as a systematic theologian, the majority of writing about him directly touches on traditional systematic concerns such as Christology, soteriology, and revelation. Lost is a sense that theological concerns more associated with piety and practice are essential to understanding Barth’s work. In Karl Barth on Prayer, Ashley Cocksworth aims to correct this by placing prayer as one of the constitutive elements of Barth’s theology. To think that one book could suddenly make Barth into a spiritual theologian is naïve. However, making a good start opening up and probing an under appreciated element within Barth is certainly doable. Cocksworth does exactly that. He unpacks Barth’s understanding of prayer and situates it within the overall oeuvre, demonstrating that it is a constitutive element of Barth’s overall project.
This dissertation-turned-book fulfills the intent of the T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology series by constructively engaging Barth through historical analysis and contemporary restatement. Cocksworth presents his own constructive proposal regarding prayer all the while maintaining a close reading of Barth’s thought.
There are a number of arguments at work here: how Barth’s understanding of prayer changes from petition to invocation, the place of prayer in Barth’s ethics of reconciliation, prayer’s influence on understanding Barth’s pneumatology, and the political implications of this understanding of prayer. On all of these Cocksworth remains rooted in textual analysis, not straying too far from the corpus as received, but also not slavishly repeating exactly what Barth said. There is a creativity here and a fresh reading that opens up new areas of thought. The breadth of engagement effectively demonstrates that prayer was a concern for Barth throughout his work; the depth of analysis reveals that prayer is a constitutive element of Barth’s understanding of many theological concerns.
Perhaps the most novel argument is Cocksworth’s intent to situate Barth’s understanding of prayer within what Mark McIntosh calls mystical theology. This argument takes its cue from McIntosh’s observation that “Barth can be read fairly and indeed profitably in connection with mystical theology, not as himself a mystic, but as one whose theology is truly designed to be transformative, to be truthful in orienting the reader towards the abiding mystery of God’s love” (22). Further, Cocksworth picks up on this comment by Barth, “We need not be fanatically anti-mystical . . . there may be a place for a feeling of enjoyable contemplation of God” and takes up the challenge of removing that “may” (emphasis added 25; see CD IV/I, p. 104).
The first step in the argument is to acknowledge that Barth does not develop his theology in line with the contemplative tradition, at least not as understood by McIntosh and others such as Sarah Coakley, David Ford, and Rowan Williams. Cocksworth relies on this contemporary Anglo-Catholic recovery of theology as a spiritual practice to set the criterion of what constitutes legitimate contemplative prayer. Barth is found wanting: “a weakness should also be apparent: what has happened to the tradition of contemplative prayer in Barth’s theology?” (21). Because of this weakness or silence “some creativity needs to be exercised in order to locate and develop positive space for contemplation in Barth’s theology” (22). This kind of announcement, which essentially amounts to saying, “It isn’t in Barth’s theology as conventionally understood but I’m going to argue it is there unconventionally” can strike fear in the reader if the author does not immediately connect the argument to the actual text.
And connecting is exactly what Cocksworth does. As this is one among many arguments he cannot give a thorough going reading of all Barth says about mysticism, but Cocksworth can address “Barth’s critique of contemplative prayer and point out where he might have gone wrong in his reading” (26). Only after connecting his argument to the text does Cocksworth move onto “investigate what a Barthian form of contemplative prayer might look like by attending to neglected areas of the Church Dogmatics” (26). Cocksworth thus connects historical analysis to contemporary restatement.
In places, Barth allows for and understanding of contemplation similar to the classic understanding of purgation-contemplation-illumination. For instance, Barth opens a space to allow the text to speak when one reads scripture. The historical critical reading is secondary to the living word and, in attempting to hear this living word, the interpreter must sit in openness and receptivity. Within this suppliant posture is a kind of contemplation. Cocksworth is certainly correct here. Active contemplatives such as Ignatius of Loyola dwell in this kind of posture when encountering Scripture. There are differences for sure, highlighted by Cocksworth when he uses phrases like “not incongruent with” or “looks like” but enough similarities to make it convincing that contemplation of Scripture is a common element between the tradition and Barth (47, 57).
Cocksworth also notes significant differences between Barth and the contemplative tradition. Where much of spiritual theology might understand the Christian life as a progression or maturing through stages, it is clear in Barth that “there are no stages to pass through or steps to take so that the ethical agents can be or become more than who they already are in Christ” (31). Cocksworth fairly points out that Barth’s two main critiques of contemplative traditions are that they either have “an overemphasis on inner experience” or “an underemphasis on ethical action” (37). Perhaps unfairly, Cocksworth calls Barth’s engagement with mysticism as “appearing anachronistic, largely unsubstantiated, unrefined and inattentive to the particularities of the tradition” (34).
There are at least two paths of investigation that may have helped Cocksworth’s assessment of Barth. To address the charge of anachronism, Cocksworth could have considered Barth’s understanding of prayer in relation to German pietism. The richest tradition of prayer that Barth directly engaged with was not Orthodox or Roman Catholic theology retrieved by contemporary theologians such as McIntosh and Coakley. Rather, it was a kind of German pietism that he wrote from and against. Cocksworth does not address this tradition in any substantial way. Given that part of Cocksworth’s argument rests on Barth “maturing” from petition to invocation it seems reasonable to give some consideration to Busch’s argument in Karl Barth & the Pietists: The Young Karl Barth’s Critique of Pietism & It’s Response (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
Another possible avenue of investigation, one that would help in revealing Barth as attentive to at least one part of the tradition, would focus on Barth’s treatment of the unio Christi. As Cocksworth points out, Barth is critical of the imitatio Christi tradition for the very reasons that make the unio Christi tradition so important (133). When Cocksworth develops the full implications of correspondence within invocation and the agency of the Holy Spirit in relation to the individual prayer, a work like Adam Neder’s Participation in Christ: An Entry into Karl Barth’s Dogmatics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009) would offer further refinement and insight. Neder’s tracing of the unio Christi throughout each volume of the Church Dogmatics could bring the “clarification of the mechanics of that participation” that Cocksworth wants (79).
These criticisms should not discourage the reader. Cocksworth has a great number of insights that further both our understanding of Barth and of prayer. For instance, Cocksworth moves the field forward in understanding how the divine-human relationship plays out in prayer. The old charge against Barth that he has no place for human agency is laid to rest so that “the more prayer is divine does not mean prayer is any less the work of the ethical agent” (70). Or when Cocksworth situates Barth’s treatment of prayer within the ethics of The Christian Life in Chapter 6, there is a new opening created for Christians to understand how prayer and political action relate. For Barth, “in prayer, the Church is given the freedom to ask God ‘what are we to do?’ and the openness to receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit in each new moment (149). These two examples can be multiplied.
In the Conclusion, Cocksworth reflects on Barth’s treatment of prayer in Evangelical Theology, particularly on its implications for “the prayer-theology relation” (171). Following Anselm, Barth ends up where “implicitly and explicitly, proper theology will have to be . . . prayer” (173 citing ET 165). Given that Cocksworth sees a development in Barth concerning prayer and since Evangelical Theology is one of the last writings we have from Barth, perhaps this was the place to begin a study of Barth and prayer? Barth traces his own understanding of prayer in the line of Anselm not in the current retrieval of spiritual theology. The Anselmian themes of “bold humility,” “openness,” “disruption,” and “transformation” are what Barth draws on in both his theological project and in his understanding of prayer. When Cocksworth traces, contextualizes and works with these themes is when he is strongest; when he attempts to measure Barth against a standard Barth rejected, he is less convincing.
Rev. Dr. Blair D. Bertrand, Lecturer, Zomba Theological College, Zomba, Malawi
The views expressed here are strictly those of the author; they do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Barth Studies or Princeton Theological Seminary.
Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth: An Unofficial Catholic-Protestant Dialogue is an impressive ecumenical endeavor. Bringing together a diverse range of both Catholic and Protestant scholars in dialogue, this edited volume reflects upon the lasting legacy of two of the most renowned thinkers in each tradition. In the introduction, Thomas Joseph White observes that putting Aquinas and Barth together in dialogue can and will be a fruitful undertaking precisely because “each offers us a profound vision of reality understood theologically in light of Jesus Christ” (4). Though Barth and Aquinas diverge at crucial points in their theological writing, their Christocentric grounding is the foundation upon which this “unofficial” dialogue builds. Further, this Christocentric grounding informs the ecumenical endeavor itself: “Christian ecumenism is a Christ-centered task” (38). White concludes by reminding the reader that the achievement of this unofficial dialogue rests in the cultivation of Christian friendship, a theme which will resonate throughout the book as individual scholars interact with Barth, Aquinas, and one another. The book is helpfully divided into five major theological themes under which a Catholic Thomist and Protestant Barthian interact. Readers are invited into an ever-unfolding conversation between scholars and friends who are masters of their traditions.
The first section, “The Being of God,” begins with the late Robert Jenson’s reflections on Barth and the being of God. Not only is Jenson’s essay exemplary in the way he describes his reading of Barth as a pilgrimage, but he also masterfully demonstrates the complexity and nuance of Barth’s deceptively simple “God’s being is act.” Ultimately, God’s being in act, for Jenson, is both an “implosion of freedom” and an “explosion of love” as the triune God elects himself in Christ to be our savior (51). Jenson’s essay is followed by Richard Schenk, who reflects upon Thomas’ writings that lend themselves capable of bearing up under the challenge of theodicy. In other words, Schenk’s essay seeks a Roman Catholic theologia crucis within Thomas. Schenk affirms that though Thomas accepted the role of metaphysics and philosophy in revealing the reality of God, these are insufficient for telling us that God is the God of our salvation (58). Seen in this way, then, Schenk affirms that metaphysics, for Thomas, functions more to remind human beings of their finitude, which in turn enables the possibility to have faith in the God of grace and salvation. Rather than providing human beings with every answer to existence and suffering, God’s reality, revealed through philosophical and theological encounter, reminds human beings of their fragility in relation to God.
The second section, “Trinity,” takes up the challenge to define God’s attributes in relation to God’s person and mission. Guy Mansini’s essay, “Can Humility and Obedience be Trinitarian Realities?” puts the Rule of St. Benedict in conversation with Thomas’ insights on the mission of Christ to help us understand just how the virtues of humility and obedience are present within the life of Christ. Following Mansini, Bruce McCormack’s essay advocates for a point of convergence between Barth and Thomas found in their shared understanding of the unity of God’s missions and procession. For McCormack, Thomas and Barth both articulate that the processions and missions form a single eternal act. The main difference between them, for McCormack, lies with Barth’s strongly Christocentric movement from the economy to the immanent Trinity versus Thomas’ speculative approach to the divine essence. The third section, “Christology,” begins with an essay by Keith Johnson on the role of natural revelation in creation and covenant. Beginning with Thomas’ account of natural revelation, Johnson notes that, for Thomas, knowing God through reason is a “preamble and presupposition” to knowing God through sacred doctrine (138). Natural revelation, then, isn’t alone sufficient for revealing God to a human being. Turning to Barth, Johnson points out that because of the reality of sin, the early Barth rejected any possibility of human beings receiving knowledge of God apart from grace. However, later Barth realized that because human beings are created by God, a relationship exists between them that cannot be totally severed by sin. Barth then articulates that human beings were created precisely as a function of God’s decision to reconcile sinful humanity through Jesus Christ. This allows Barth to embrace a qualified natural revelation that respects the relationship between God and humanity while keeping a Christocentric focus: all natural revelation must be tested against the person and work of Christ. Ultimately, though vast differences remain between them, Barth and Aquinas both affirm that God reveals himself through the created order, which is none other than a function of God’s relationship to human beings.
Thomas Joseph White’s essay, “The Crucified Lord: Thomistic Reflections on the Communication of Idioms and the Theology of the Cross” compares Barth’s later Christology with the Christology of Aquinas as a way to move forward in ecumenical conversation. White notes that Aquinas’ Christology actually stands closer to the classical Reformed scholastic tradition than Barth’s Christology, even though Barth is perhaps the most prolific modern expounder of the Reformed tradition. White suggests that, because of this reality, Reformed engagement with classic Thomism might prove to be especially fruitful. And for Catholics, White suggests that the philosophical implications of Barth’s theological positions warrant more investigation.
The fourth section, “Grace and Justification,” begins with Joseph Wawrykow’s reflections on grace in Aquinas and Barth. Wawrykow affirms that both Barth and Aquinas recognize the divine initiative of grace—it always precedes every human activity. Thus, for both figures, anything human beings do is in response to divine initiative. But Wawrykow also points out several key differences between Barth and Aquinas’ understanding of grace. Most notably, Aquinas has an account of merit that Barth does not share. Barth rejects the idea of merit because of its sinful element; it allows human beings to claim too much for themselves. And though Wawrykow affirms Barth’s concerns, he concludes by noting that Aquinas himself keeps the focus squarely on the glory of God when discussing anything about human merit as one lives a life of grace.
Amy Marga’s essay, “Reconciliation in Karl Barth and the New Life of the Justified Sinner in Christ,” argues that Barth and Aquinas converge on their shared understanding of how grace operates in a person’s life. They diverge in how the justified sinner relates to their new existence, mediated through Jesus Christ. Focusing primarily on Barth, Marga affirms that grace, for Barth, is inherently disruptive, annihilating the old self in order to re-create a new self, mediated through Christ. This stands in opposition to Aquinas, who understands grace operating in the life of the reconciled person on multiple levels.
In the final section, “Election, Providence, and Natural Law,” John Bowlin explores Barth and Aquinas on election and requirement in relationships. Bowlin observes that Barth and Aquinas assume a social theory of obligation, defined primarily by the “friendship that God’s gracious love creates” (240). Though Barth and Aquinas will diverge at significant points as to how the relationship between humanity and God unfolds, both assume that obligation is a part of human life, and that it is predicated upon friendship, not coercion, when applied to the divine human relationship. Holly Taylor Coolman ends this section with an essay on divine and human action in Aquinas. Coolman coins the term analogia lex to describe Aquinas’ comprehensive understanding of law through an exegesis of the Secunda pars to argue that the law serves to move human beings toward ultimate happiness with God. Coolman concludes her essay by emphasizing that the law, for Aquinas, has a distinctly Christological and pneumatological focus in the way it directs us toward our eternal end with God.
Bruce McCormack concludes the volume with a brief epilogue on the possibilities of philosophy and ecumenical dialogue. McCormack poignantly observes that the ecumenical endeavor ultimately is one striving toward a faith that does not yet exist. The common faith toward which ecumenism aims can only exist as ecumenical conversations respond to the needs and concerns of its conversation partners. This volume is an excellent example of McCormack’s observations. The scholars engage with one another’s work in charity and with acuity, presenting Barth and Aquinas’ lasting legacy with fresh possibilities for further dialogue and friendship. Surely this book should be a model for “official” Catholic-Protestant dialogues in the future. Those who wish to cultivate friendship across lines of Catholic-Protestant difference would do well to acquaint themselves with the essays contained in this book. It is ideal for those who have engaged either Aquinas or Barth in their studies and wish to expand their understanding of both figures in a distinctively ecumenical setting. One’s theology will be better for it.
Kathryn Bradford Heidelberger, Benedictine University
The views expressed here are strictly those of the author; they do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Barth Studies or Princeton Theological Seminary.
“We would also like to pray with our whole heart, ‘O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD!’ Hear the Word of the Lord that has come so palpably in our reach in the powerful events of this time. With what an awesome responsibility we burden ourselves if we do not listen to God now! Hear the Word of the Lord—not the word of human beings, not even the word of the pastor.” —Karl Barth, Sermon at Safenwil, September 20, 1914 (A Unique Time of God, 125-6)
When humans celebrate violence and racist ideologies, Christians must listen again to God’s call to repentance. In A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth’s WWI Sermons, William Klempa offers a vibrant translation of thirteen sermons Karl Barth preached at the onset of World War I. Distinctive themes of Barth’s theology emerge like prophetic leitmotifs in these sermons amid the cacophony of war and nationalism in Europe: God’s inescapable judgment and mercy, the revelatory power of crises, the immediate claim of the Word of God upon the people of God, the absolute dependence on Jesus and his Kingdom for hope and life.
In the introduction, Klempa succinctly describes how theological luminaries throughout European universities and pulpits embraced jingoist sentiments in 1914. Here readers will find a biographical sketch of Barth’s emerging friendships with fellow pastors like Eduard Thurneysen, as well as Barth’s criticisms of his old professors like Adolf von Harnack, who justified the war. Klempa’s inclusion of these conversation partners furnishes a historical and intellectual context for the evolution of Barth’s own theological convictions, namely that God did not rejoice in this war, but nevertheless would redeem humanity.
The collection of sermons begins amid the tensions of July 1914 and the eruption of war at the end of the month. As early as July 26, 1914—just two days before Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia—Barth preached trenchant criticisms of the ensuing conflict, declaring its potential for death and destruction contrary to the kingdom Christ promised. In his sermon that morning, Barth warns his congregation of the horrors that may soon disrupt or destroy their lives: “barring a miracle, we shall unleash anew hundreds of thousands of men like wild beasts on one another, hundreds of thousands who do not know one another and who have done nothing to harm one another” (52). Barth sets this dreadful scene against the Apostle Paul’s promises of redemption and restoration that rest only with “the living, true God” (56).
In addition to his excellence as a critic of culture, Barth proves to be an adept preacher to the townspeople who gathered in the pews in Safenwil. His sermons include intimate self-disclosure—at times he expresses profound grief about his mentors’ swift acclamation of German nationalism. He also vividly renders contemporary anxieties and God’s enduring faithfulness through the lived experiences of his listeners. We infer from his sermons that some worshippers have come to the church in search of hope after sending siblings and children to the front for Switzerland’s defense. A particularly inspired section is Barth’s plain denial that war is an endeavor blessed by God in a sermon from September 6, 1914:
None of this is God’s will, neither the selfishness and arrogance in human beings, nor the mutual hatred of the nations, nor their anxieties about one another and their threatening armaments, nor finally that they mutually attack life with both precise and heavy firing power at sea, on land, or in the air. All these things are completely alien to the innermost being of God . . . God is as distant from them as from their enemies in the wrath with which their actions fill God. But God is also as distant from them in the love that God wants to bestow to draw both sides out of their confusion. And this indeed remains the same in victory or in defeat (111).
Many of the sermons in A Unique Time of God turn on this axis of God’s judgment and grace amid the unfolding crisis of war. The bellicose nationalism, the arrogance of rival cultures, the confidence in human righteousness, all of it compounds to humanity’s disastrous self-destruction and deserved condemnation. And yet, throughout this conflict, God’s righteousness and steadfast love become known to modern Europeans through the Word of God and its promises.
A few questions remain after reading A Unique Time of God. As a teacher of homiletics, I wonder how unusual Barth’s sermons were at that time. Klempa keeps the introduction moving along instead of distracting the reader with knotty digressions, and yet, I wanted to know a little more about the customs and content of preaching in that day. Were Barth’s denouncements of the war sui generis among Reformed pastors? Was he part of a band of preachers who shared similar misgivings across confessional lines? Did any prominent European pastors condemn the war from their own pulpits? A brief comparison with other sermons—perhaps especially from talented preachers who avidly endorsed the war—might have helped further define Barth’s positions amid the theological and pastoral currents of his day.
Nevertheless, these sermons are a welcome addition to the growing library of Barth’s early work in English. Klempa’s translation is fresh and inviting; he revives these sermons from a century ago with clarity and grace. Barth’s style comes across often as familiar and conversational, elsewhere impassioned, and always brilliant. Each Sunday’s sermon hints at ideas that mature in his Göttingen lectures, and later swell into his grand symphony, the Church Dogmatics.
These primary sources invite us to understand the young Barth and his theological commitments in greater detail. More than that, A Unique Time of God provides examples of how a preacher can allow God’s Word to speak to the great crises of the present day. Klempa deserves our thanks for bringing Barth’s words to life in our own language, at a time when so many of us hope and pray that God is speaking through God’s Word to us, even now.
Andrew Scales, Ph.D. Candidate, Princeton Theological Seminary and Presbyterian Chaplain at Princeton University
Robert B. Price offers Letters of the Divine Word as a companion and guide to Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics (CD) II/1, where Barth outlines his doctrine of the divine perfections. The book is a lightly revised version of the author’s doctoral thesis. It is elegantly written, demonstrates broad knowledge and sharp analysis of the secondary literature, a keen eye for exegetical detail, and fidelity to “the pastoral warmth and kerygmatic urgency,” which characterizes Barth’s own writing (5). Most compelling, however, is its form: Letters of the Divine Word is an exercise in commentary, “a close reading and analysis of a single text, rather than an endeavor to argue a specific thesis” (1). In this respect, it offers not only instruction in Barth’s thought, but also a compelling model for theological engagement.
Until recently, commentary work was widely considered a gold standard for theological reflection. This was for good reason. Not only is commentary of a particular text “one of the great intellectual opportunities” for original thought (1), but it can also render an overwhelmingly difficult text accessible; mitigate some of an author’s prolixity; and thereby transmit works of enduring importance to subsequent generations. Commentaries required on Lombard’s Sentences in the medieval period might be the example par excellence, though the practice itself is much older. Even though commentary is not unknown today in the realm of dogmatics or philosophy—Thomas Aquinas himself will sometimes receive such attention—still, Letters of the Divine Word is unusual. It’s neither a comparative study, like Claus-Dieter Osthövener’s examination of Barth and Schleiermacher, nor is it focused narrowly on a single aspect of Barth’s doctrine, like Todd Pokrifka’s fine book on Barth’s method. Rather, it provides a careful listening to the whole and in this sense, it has no peer.
However, one might ask, does CD II/1 warrant this kind of attention? Price gives two compelling responses in his exposition. First, Barth himself argued that an account of who God is bears basic significance for theology. It provides the truth common to “all other statements which dogmatics or preaching might wish to make” (13). So, for example, an account of the Lord’s Supper is only as good as the understanding of God’s omnipresence that lies beneath it (121). Many similar examples are readily available. Second, Barth was profoundly creative in his reworking of the divine perfections. In Barth’s work, Price points out, God’s wisdom “cannot be separated from Jesus Christ and reduced, for example, to the establishment and maintenance of some kind of universal moral order” (95). This core judgment—that an exposition of the perfections is bound to the particularities of divine action rather than the generalities of speculative concern—operates across Barth’s Church Dogmatics and distinguishes his approach. In a helpful aside, Price remarks there was a time when this vitality might have been swamped by the “famous neighbors on either side” of this part-volume of the CD, namely “the attack on natural theology before and the doctrine of election after” (6). But that time has passed. Barth’s work—as “one long exercise in trying to indicate the wealth and irreducible particularity of God’s identity” (188)—is receiving renewed attention.
Thus, Price provides an attentive paraphrase of the whole. He is alert to the historical and theological background and so to Barth’s theological development. But Price sets for himself the primary task of a clear and transparent description, a contemplative account of the words and their meaning. He wants to accurately speak for another.
In working through Letters of the Divine Word, this reader was reminded of the following quotation:
In the main . . . I will try to engage in a kind of stocktaking and let the man display himself as though I were under his pulpit or his podium, my interest focused not on his external or internal biography but on the things he has to tell us, and within the sphere of our present study on the one question of what he means by what he has to tell us, desiring only to hear more from him for a better explanation of what he means (Karl Barth, The Theology of Schleiermacher, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982, xviii).
These are Barth’s own words, though they are taken from another text. By them, he indicated the program that he himself would follow in composing commentary on the work of another great theologian, whose intellectual powers Barth respected and whose fatal flaws he struggled with immensely. I offer the quotation here because the comparison with Price’s approach is striking. What Barth would extend to others, Price has extended to Barth. Letters of the Divine Word not only brims with quotations drawn judiciously from the CD and others of Barth’s letters, sermons and writings, but Price admirably resists the various temptations that would send theological commentary off its rails: temptations to translate terms rather than instruct readers in a new idiom and discourse; to allow pressing contemporary social and political matters to steer and sift one’s attention; to flatten-out doxology in favor of a supposedly more analytic mode of argument; and so on. As a result, Barth’s voice is indeed dominant, and admirably so, such that at points Price’s text is a splendid mirror of Barth’s own “sober exuberance” (192).
Because of the depth and complexity of Barth’s doctrine of God, the text could be approached in several different ways. One might helpfully work backwards from his conclusions, or perhaps identify the judgments that run across the whole of the volume and provide for its unity. In the most straightforward fashion, however, and despite the regular glances forward and backward within Barth’s argument, Price allows the contours of CD II/1 to guide his progress. The first four chapters are keyed to successive paragraphs in Barth’s own doctrine of God. Chapter one traces the thesis that God’s freedom for the creature and his freedom from the creature are actually one and the same (CD §28). Chapter two turns to matters of definition, derivation and arrangement, offering a helpful account of Barth’s rich dialectic (CD §29). In chapters three and four, the exposition lengthens as Price focuses on the content of the perfections themselves, first as God’s love (CD §30) and then as God’s freedom (CD §31). He follows carefully as Barth moves from “grace to glory, and from gratitude to joy” (170), along the way interjecting valuable observations concerning Barth’s chosen architecture and unchosen conversation partners.
What role, finally, does interpretation play in Letters of the Divine Word? All commentary writing struggles under the possibility of opening as many avenues for reading and inquiry as possible. In some cases, the overall effect can be a frustrating indecisiveness or scattershot critique, the comment wandering too far from the original author’s concerns. Conversely, theological judgment at this early stage might exert too heavy a hand, closing down options the author may not have seen and excluding issues of contemporary interest outside the commentator’s own circle. The line is a fine one. In this reader’s opinion, Price admirably intones his own (often strong) judgments without becoming mired in disputation.
It is notable that Barth himself comes in for minimal critique. Price acknowledges a few points of concern, often stressing that these shortcomings are the result of over-compensation on Barth’s part, the “harmful side-effects” of a strong dogmatic defense. For example, Price suggests that Barth should not have been so wary of nominalism as to attribute mercy and so, presumably, the object of mercy to God’s eternal life ad intra. Grace would have been more adequately handled, he corrects, as a readiness or “capacity to overcome opposition” rather than as an active overcoming (58; cf. 71). Neither should the subjectivism of liberal Protestant thought have pressed Barth to avoid “positive exposition” of the Holy Spirit in his account of God’s omnipresence. Surely, Price suggests, there are better ways “to secure the Spirit’s full reality [as distinct from the human spirit] in a theologically hostile context” (125, 127). In all of this, Price generously keeps to the primary goal of the genre—not to argue with the text but to allow it better to speak for itself.
If Barth receives minimal critique, the same cannot be said of his interpreters. Price, in fact, leaves few stones unturned—large or small. What is at stake is not only the material content of these perfections, but, to reiterate, also the way in which they inform other points of doctrine. Perhaps it is this urgency which sharpens some of the more pointed language in these sections. That said, Price’s substantive concerns stand on their own. He argues, for example, that the charge of modalism that many lay at Barth’s feet is undermined through close attention to Barth’s description of eternity, i.e. “the divine proximity and remoteness by which God is present to himself and coexistent in three modes of being at one and the same time” (117). Likewise, interpretations of Barth’s dialectical method have often failed precisely because they do not follow “the intrinsic order of divine revelation” (46). Other points of concern include contemporary ways of relating immutability and election (141), or omnipotence and human agency (154-155). These are all important and often controversial matters, and Price sheds light on the inadequacies of competing interpretations, while offering his own principled arguments in response.
The final chapter indicates one possible course for future evaluation. Price concludes the book by artfully retrieving three “basic theological decisions” that Barth himself lays down in his exposition of the knowledge of God (CD §27), all of which lie back behind “the details of what [Barth] says” and therefore exert a “determinative influence over the whole” (184, 195). These are Barth’s decisions:
(1) to ground everything he says about the perfections exclusively in God himself, (2) to expound the perfections explicitly as those of the very essence of God, and (3) not to abstract these perfections from their implications for the Christian life (186).
As he proceeds, Price sets each decision in contrast to the theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, whose work runs in quite the opposite direction: from below to above, from the general to the particular. The juxtaposition is startling and provocative, and underscores the sense that much remains to be done in the way of evaluating Barth’s arguments in CD II/1. There is energy, beauty, and economy in this commentary. Letters of the Divine Word has caused this reader to want to pick-up Barth’s doctrine once again and, in light of new insights and vantage points, to read from the beginning, “to marvel with him at the beauty” of God’s glory and live gratefully before the One who “gives pleasure, creates desire, and rewards with enjoyment” (193).
Jeremy Wynne, Assistant Professor of Theology and Director of Graduate Studies in Theology, Whitworth University
Jason A. Fout’s latest book takes its title from an oft-quoted line from Irenaeus’ Adversus Haereses: “the glory of God is the human being fully alive.” While Fout departs from this popular translation of Irenaeus’ aphorism in the body of his text, preferring a closer rendering of vivens homo as “living human,” his argument about the relationship of divine glory to the human creature remains tethered to the word “fully” in the title’s translation. In Fully Alive, Fout considers how the fullness of divine glory might empower a corresponding fullness of human agency. Contesting the terms of “heteronomous” theologies of glory that tend to narrow or bracket human agency, Fout advances a vision of divine glory as a relational overflow, which exercises our creaturely capacities—and specifically, our capacities for interpretation.
Fout outlines the terms of his proposal in chapter 1, arguing for an understanding of divine glory that engenders what he calls a “non-heteronomous dependence” between God and human creatures. “The glory of God, far from dispensing with the self, actually constitutes a self that is capable of glorying God,” Fout writes, “a self which is ‘glorified’ by God in being constituted as an agent” (34). Unlike conventional, heteronomous doctrines of glory that demand “wooden obedience and conformity,” Fout argues that the glory of God enlivens human agency, inviting “conversational, creative response” and making room for the kind of discernment, creative performance, and “faithful questioning” that Fout finds modeled in scripture.
Chapters 2, 3, and 4 take up the writings of two twentieth-century theologians—Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar. These chapters offer a comparative analysis of two promising but, on Fout’s reading, ultimately narrow accounts of the relationship between divine glory and human agency. While both Barth and von Balthasar depict divine glory in relational terms as an “overflow” of divine joy (Barth) or love (von Balthasar) into creaturely life, Fout argues that these kindred accounts of glory often fail to live up to their own best insights on this score. By presenting a form of determinative “straight-line” obedience or pious self-effacement as the proper human response to God, these theologies of glory bracket out or even evacuate human agency.
While Fout’s criticism of these two accounts of glory proceeds along a number of lines, a central theme (and the one I will focus on here) is his claim that Barth and von Balthasar fail to grapple with the complex picture within the Bible regarding the relationship between divine glory and human agency. For example, Fout argues that Barth’s narrow understanding of the forms of divine revelation results in a correspondingly narrow range of appropriate responses to God. If revelation only comes “in the indicative and imperative or nothing else,” as Barth argues, then obedience to God always demands “precise performance or identical repetition,” with no room for discernment, doubt, creativity, or exploration (73, 101).
Although Fout finds much to commend in von Balthasar’s vision of the relational dynamics of God’s glory, he worries that von Balthasar’s model of relational, self-giving love encourages a “hyperbolic self-dispossession” that ultimately effaces human agency (115). “Although the human is active,” Fout writes, “the human activity seems to be primarily one of keeping one’s own agency in check” (123). Von Balthasar puts forth Mary as an exemplar of this form of self-dispossessing love, but Fout argues that Mary’s response to God is not purely receptive or submissive. Instead, the Gospels depict Mary as one who “questions, discerns, and wonders,” modeling a form of obedience characterized by dialogue and interpretive agency rather than passive, self-emptying assent (141).
The book proceeds in its fifth and final chapter by analyzing the shortcomings of Barth and von Balthasar’s accounts of glory to Fout’s own constructive proposal, grounded in a theological exegesis of select scriptural passages. Taking up material from Exodus, 2 Corinthians, and the Gospel of John, Fout draws out what he calls the “relational” dynamics of God’s glory, reframing it as a matter of God’s “honor, praiseworthiness, and (richly specified) identity” that “effects in creation what it is” (146, 191). As figured in the transfigured countenance of Moses, God’s glory begets glory, makes time for questioning and discernment and makes room for “a creative, responsive obedience, which engages human agency” (187).
This is a book about the meeting of divine glory and the human creature, but it is also, implicitly, a book about revelation. Though human agency appears in a variety of forms throughout this text, questions about interpretive agency remain in the foreground and constitute one of the strongest contributions of this work. How do we understand the relationship between divine glory and human agency as it is preserved in the words of the Bible or in the language and images of our theological tradition? Is God’s revelation self-evident and self-interpreting, or does it invite or even demand the creative, thoughtful participation of human interpretive agents?
Drawing on the work of thinkers like Paul Ricouer, David Ford, and Rowan Williams, Fout places himself firmly in the latter camp and offers his readers several suggestive meditations on the creativity, discernment, and human agency that animate all of our attempts to “think after” God.
Readers of Barth will appreciate the detailed analysis of Barth’s account of divine glory in the Church Dogmatics (CD) II/1 and IV/3.1, as well as Fout’s comparison of Barth and von Balthasar’s treatments of glory, which proves to be both illuminating and provocative. Those acquainted with the last decade of Barth scholarship will be familiar with Fout’s questions about human agency, which animate his reading of the CD. These questions have largely been asked and answered by scholars like Paul Dafydd Jones and John Webster in the direction of Barth’s Christology, which take seriously Barth’s claim that Jesus provides the ontological determination of what it is to be a human being. In this text, however, discussion of Jesus’ human agency seems strangely absent—both in Fout’s analysis of Barth and in his own constructive presentation. Given both the scope of this text and Fout’s interest in scripture, I wondered why Fout did not turn to Barth’s meditation on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in CD IV/1. Surely, this is a moment in which Barth’s understanding of obedience makes room for conversation and discernment. Is this event not the very form of “faithful questioning” that Fout has in mind? The omission of any sustained attention to Christ’s human agency seems particularly striking given the fact that the Irenaean aphorism, from which Fully Alive takes its title, appears in context as a statement that primarily refers to the fullness of Jesus’ humanity and then only secondarily to the ways in which God’s glory might be manifest consequently in our own human lives.
There may be reasons, of course, for finding Jesus’ humanity to be an insufficient answer to the incisive questions Fout raises about the relationship of divine glory to human agency, particularly his questions about the human qualities of our theological reflection or the human creativity implicit in the composition and redaction of scripture. Making these reasons explicit would lend further conceptual clarity to Fout’s argument. Even still, Fully Alive is well worth the read—not only for its scholarly contributions to a number of fields (including Barth scholarship), but for the suggestive power of Fout’s proposal that the glory of God might somehow inhere even in our lingering interpretive questions; glory gives rise to thought, and then gives time, and makes room.
Ashleigh Elser, Lilly Postdoctoral Fellow in Humanities and the Arts, Valparaiso University
John F. Kilner’s new study of the imago dei, entitled Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God, is not—to use the classic phrase—reinventing the wheel. The ground Kilner covers is well trod, and there is not much new machinery here. What Kilner highlights, rather, is the centrality of the proverbial wheel itself to the larger history of Christian thought and practice. Kilner shows that the doctrine of the imago dei has the capacity to “foster both liberation and devastation,” since this concept has had both a humanizing and dehumanizing role within Christian discourse (3). The various ways and means by which God’s image has been invoked throughout the history of doctrine are not mere theological curiosities, but sites of struggle, fraught with hidden agendas, cultural preferences, and deep ethical implications. To cut through this complexity, Kilner claims to offer a purely Bibliocentric—and therefore Christocentric—account of the imago dei, which identifies and minimizes historical, cultural, and critical preference insofar as this is possible. Dignity and Destiny is clearly intended to be a teaching tool, and the scope of the book is broad, covering topics and texts that have been exegeted in greater detail elsewhere. Still, Kilner’s central claim and contribution is his forceful identification of the capacity of the imago dei to help and to harm. In this sense, Dignity and Destiny is the story of an idea, offered with suggestions for how we might better ourselves in asking what can only be one of the most central theological questions: what is God communicating by making human beings in God’s image?
Kilner divides his discussion into three parts. Part I concerns “The Human and Divine Context,” which outlines the implications for the discussion of the imago dei as a whole. As mentioned above, this is where Kilner makes his best case for the book’s importance. In Chapter 1 entitled “Much Is At Stake,” Kilner describes the imago dei’s capacity for liberation and devastation, and provides three reasons for why the doctrine occasionally goes awry: poor attention to Biblical texts, the Bible’s own opacity on the issue of God’s image, and the tendency of theologians to import their own doctrinal and cultural commitments into the discussion. Kilner uses Karl Barth as an example in this case, demonstrating that Barth’s understanding of God’s image-as-relationship was indebted to the I-Thou concept within Martin Buber’s existentialism, rather than a biblical account (49). Kilner is not necessarily critical of this evolution since it is unclear how theologians ought to divorce interpretation from contemporary influences. Indeed, Kilner admits that he “does not pretend to be immune from such influences” himself (50). Still, Kilner contends that a heightened awareness of context-specific biases can go a long way in separating the dangerous excesses of the image from its liberative roots. Having laid bare the difficulties of the doctrine, Kilner concludes the first section by offering a bare definition of image as a connection which invites reflection: “Being in the image of God turns out to mean having a special connection with God and indeed a meaningful reflection of God” (54). Human beings’ status as reflections of God is both present (insofar as Christ is the image of God) and ultimate (insofar as humanity will one day perfectly image of God), revealing a tension between likeness-image and imprint-image—to bear God’s image as a human creature is to bear similarity, but to bear God’s image as Christ is to possess God’s very identity. Image thus has immense Christological implications, as well as implications for human dignity.
The second section of Kilner’s book focuses on this latter concern; indeed Part II is simply titled “Human Dignity.” This is the most dense portion of the book, and it is here that Kilner sets out to address his central concern: the image’s capacity for liberation and devastation. Kilner makes clear that the image among human beings is universal, and he gives special attention to biblical treatments of women as equal image-bearers with men to prove this point (85-94). Kilner also separates functional, spiritual, or attributional understandings of the image from the proper ontological one, asserting that the imago dei is not achieved by action or belief, but simply by virtue of being created in the divine image (105). Kilner also addresses sin’s impact on the image here, crucially arguing that there is no scriptural basis for believing that the image of God can be damaged or lost. The consequences of believing the latter is to diminish respect for the dignity of human beings, with implied permission for oppression, discrimination, and exclusion. The damage of sin is to humanity, not the image of God—is damaged creatures that are restored, not a damaged image (141). Kilner is notably running against a number of Christian ethicists and theologians on this issue, particularly figures like Reinhold Niebuhr, Stanley Leavy, Ellen Ross, Emil Brunner and Helmut Thielicke, all of whom described at various turns a “lost,” “bent,” “weakened,” or “fractured” image. Scholars of Karl Barth will note that Kilner explicitly addresses Barth’s affirmation in CD I/1 that the image of God “is altogether lost,” observing that Barth remains in line with other neo-orthodox protestant theologians on this issue (161). It is at this point that Kilner makes his heftiest—and given the theologians he contends with, his most controversial—normative claim, arguing that “the Bible consistently avoids indicating that the image of God is either lost or damaged in human beings—now or in any day” (174). The image has been neither virtually nor actually damaged, and to infer this can have serious consequences. Kilner writes, “while the metaphor of a corrupted or defaced image may be convenient for certain theological purposes, the harm risked by using it far outweighs the gain” (176).
Part III of Dignity and Destiny is titled “Human Destiny,” and it concerns God’s intention for human beings to bear and reflect God’s image. Since the imago dei itself does not need to be fixed or restored—since it was never lost—humanity now becomes the site of renewal in Christ, who is both “the standard and enabler of who people are to be, as created in God’s image” (233). The incarnation and the atonement do not change the image, but rather humanity itself is changed by the unchanging image (234). Kilner identifies this dynamic in three key passages: Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 3, and Colossians 3, and he conflates this renewal of human beings with the restoration of humanity’s original destiny in Adam and Eve. In looking back to Eden and looking forward to the eschaton, Kilner demonstrates the “already-not-yet” nature of renewal in God’s image. The image, essentially, “is about a destiny in which God intends that humanity will manifest attributes resembling God’s, in appropriate measure, to God’s glory” (281). Humanity’s capacity to manifest these attributes is never lost; however, sin’s damage to people —not to the image—requires restoration so that human beings can experience and enjoy the fullness of their similarity to their Creator.
In his conclusion, Kilner recaps all three sections of his discussion with the following: “connection with God is the foundation of human dignity,” while “reflection of God is the aspiration of human destiny,” and finally that “all of humanity participates in human dignity” and “all of humanity is offered human destiny” in Christ (311). Kilner closes his book by revisiting the ethical implications of his argument, and calling for the church to recover the creation of humanity in the imago dei as its rallying cry.
Kilner’s book is dense with biblical exegesis and boasts an immense bibliography, which makes it an outstanding introduction for students who want to dig deeper into the history of the doctrine of the imago dei. Kilner does not contribute anything particularly new to the discussion, but he firmly anchors himself in a specific camp while also articulating the reasoning and rationale of those who would approach the imago dei differently. While Dignity and Destiny is an eloquent account of the doctrine of the imago dei, in both scripture and Christian thought, the book’s greatest strength is Kilner’s powerful invitation to reconsider the ethical and practical implications of Christian doctrine. Kilner’s connection of the imago dei to historic and systematic oppression, while also highlighting its powerful capacity for liberation, demonstrates acute anthropological concern, not only for the veracity of biblical ideas, but for their proper application in both church and society. For this reason above all others, Dignity and Destiny will likely be used as an introductory text on the imago dei for years to come.
Max Heidelberger, Wheaton College
For those of us concerned with the discipline of Christian moral reasoning, one of the great delights of the past twenty-five years has been the introduction of Karl Barth’s voice into ethical discourse. Attitudes have changed towards his moral theology during that time, and scholars have been increasingly open to his distinctive and sometimes contrary understanding of ethics. Broadly speaking there are two approaches in the secondary literature. The first seeks to make sense of Barth’s project and give a coherent account of what he was doing and why (scholars such as Paul Matheny, John Webster, and Paul Nimmo are good examples of this). The second seeks to bring Barth into an existing conversation about particular issues either to clarify, critique, or extend the discussion. The present work by Kirk Nolan, Assistant Professor of Religion at Presbyterian College, adopts the second approach. This is not a book on Barth’s ethics per se, neither is it making the case that he was a virtue theorist (though, in places, it does more than suggest the compatibility of virtue theory and Barth’s theology with varying degrees of success). Rather, the book explores the constructive possibility of a Reformed virtue theory if Barth’s theological concerns are heard and received. As such, this volume primarily addresses an ethical debate in the Reformed tradition, which Nolan thinks will benefit from Barth’s insight that ethics is “grounded in and shaped by a covenant based in God’s free election of humankind” (5). For exclusivist Barthians this may be frustrating, as there is clearly space for a more comprehensive and thorough reading of the ethics of the Church Dogmatics. Yet, it is an interesting and provocative proposal.
Following the introduction, the volume is divided into five chapters: three descriptive chapters and two constructive chapters. Chapter 1 outlines the history of virtue ethics in the Reformed tradition and begins by noting the “the current lack of attention to virtue in the tradition” despite a historic legacy in Calvin’s Institutes, The Westminster Confession, and Jonathan Edwards’ The Nature of True Virtue. Drawing on these three, Nolan explores the contours of Reformed virtue theory, and in particular the natural metaphors used to describe God’s engagement with the world. He concludes by outlining how “Barth’s theology has the potential to make powerful contributions to Reformed moral virtue ethics” by redirecting, re-describing, and reorientating the project “as to the proper source of morality” in God (35). Barth’s emphatic Christological method challenges the natural theology which Calvin and Edwards employ, and replaces it with a more thoroughgoing (and arguably quite particular) Chalcedonianism.
Chapters 2 and 3 take serious note of Barth’s critique of the virtue tradition, whilst also suggesting one possible way in which Barth may be a critical friend of virtue ethics. Barth’s Christocentrism is the basis of the critique, particularly as read from the human-side of the Chalcedonian formula, since, for Barth, “the defining features of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ are also the determinative characteristics of what makes us human beings” (38). Ethically speaking, these relational features determine the shape and content of human agency and the course of ethical deliberation. Furthermore, Nolan observes that Barth’s emphasis on incarnation and revelation undergird his objection to the analogia entis and habitual grace, both of which feature in traditional Reformed virtue theories, and is the basis of his claim that what it means to be human is something we learn only from God who reveals it to us in Christ. Barth has not convinced critics such as Sheila Davaney here: “she argues that . . . Barth’s account of divine and human interaction fails to provide a place for human responsibility and integrity” (39). Davaney’s is an oft-rehearsed retort, initially championed by John Cullberg and Robert Willis; Barth’s emphasis on God is said to overwhelm human capacity and ability, providing no room for the human being to act (and without a proper place for human agency there is little work for the Christian ethicist to do!). However, building on John Webster’s work, Nolan rebuts Davaney’s account of both divine and human agency in Barth for its overemphasis on divine sovereignty at the expense of divine condescension. The latter enables meaningful human action, because the full human Jesus Christ was an ethical agent. His point is that only when sovereignty and condescension are held in balance (and some degree of tension!) can a genuine picture of human agency be offered. It is the humanity of Christ, assumed in the incarnation, which enables us to speak about our own genuine humanity because it holds before us the image of what full humanity is. Here is a crucial part of Nolan’s developing argument: the humanity of Christ is indicative of the kind of moral life other human beings are to cultivate in words and deeds, something to move towards in our decisions and actions. This is not simply by being an example to us of the moral life, but more provocatively by being the directly embodied address and command of God to us. Our humanity is therefore found in response to his humanity. With this in mind, Chapter 3 attends to William Werpehowski’s assessment of Barth’s ethics as a type of narratival virtue ethics — i.e. because Barth thinks each of us has a moral history, in which we are encountered and commanded by God “moment by moment”, all of our decisions in the present also draw upon our decisions of the past — and delineates a series of convergences and divergences between Werpehowski’s reading of Barth and Barth’s objections to virtue theory. While Werpehowski’s insight that Barth can offer something useful to virtue ethics is affirmed, the divergences in detail mean that Nolan must find an alternative way to do Barthian virtue: ”Reformed virtue ethics on Barthian lines will have to part ways with Werpehowski’s reading of Barth” (71). Thus, the task of the final chapters is to outline Nolan’s constructive proposal.
Chapter 4 begins with five (Barthian) theological commitments around which Nolan structures his Reformed virtue ethics: 1) God is the God who has chosen unequivocally to be God for us; 2) our identity in Christ is marked by the struggle between old and new, simul justice et peccator; 3) the relationship between God and us is unidirectional, such that God’s grace is given to us in revelation, not through our own natural capacities; 4) the relationship between God and us is Chalcedonian in character; 5) grace is not separable from the God made known in Jesus Christ but is in fact identified with that person. With these in mind, he offers his critical reading of three of Thomas’ virtues: temperance, prudence, and charity. Attention to specific virtues allows Nolan to show what this ethics would look like in reality. In each case, Nolan argues that Barth’s approach sees the enactment of these virtues as human response to divine command. This places the theological emphasis on God and not human capacity. However, just as Thomas thought practicing virtues makes us more virtuous, so Nolan argues obedience to God’s commands in Christ affects the respondent: “our response to God’s initiating activity strengthens the virtue” (91). Significantly, Nolan argues that the need to cultivate these virtues in obedience is absolutely necessary because of the “marked struggle” mentioned above; since we are justified sinners, our response to the divine command is a struggle for us, in which we must choose obedience not disobedience. As we do, we grow more able to respond rightly in the future. This movement, framed theologically by the covenant of grace and practically by the community of faith, is our personal and corporate history, and the cultivation of virtuous responses to God’s command is our formation as Christian disciples. The final chapter explores what this has looked like in concrete terms in the recent history of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and suggests ways forward.
Nolan’s argument is interesting, and it is worthy of attention. As a constructive work, drawing on Barthian insights to re-envision Christian virtue ethics, it is exciting and provocative. As an account of what Barth is doing constructively with his moral theology, I am much less convinced. The eventful character of divine address in Barth’s ethics in the Church Dogmatics is much more dynamic and surprising than I think Nolan allows. Nonetheless there is much to inspire here too — his emphasis on human responsibility before God is a strand of Barth’s moral theology which is often overlooked. Readers will be tested and stimulated by this book, both ethicists and Barth scholars alike, and will be forced to re-examine and sharpen their own ideas. For this reason they should read it.
Michael J. Leyden, Tutor and Lecturer in Systematic Theology, St Mellitus College
How are Christians to speak about the soul? This is the question Yaroslav Viazovski attempts to answer in Image and Hope: John Calvin and Karl Barth on Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting. For Viazovski, there are four functions of the soul: “(1) the soul makes us distinct from animals and gives us unique dignity, (2) the soul makes us rational and moral agents, (3) the soul is the bridge to the transcendent reality of God, (4) the soul guarantees life after death” (4). Because of both his motivating question, as well as his definition of the soul, Viazovski work is an attempt to uncover an ontological anthropology—a study of what man is—through “a functional comparative study of John Calvin’s and Karl Barth’s ontological anthropologies” (5).
Viazovski’s work is yet another in the comparative studies between the work of Calvin and Barth (See Neil B. MacDonald, Carl R. Trueman, eds. Calvin, Barth,and Reformed Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008; David Gibson, Reading the Decree: exegesis, election and Christology in Calvin and Barth, London: T&T Clark, 2009; Cornelius van der Kooi, As in a Mirror. John Calvin and Karl Barth on Knowing God: A Diptych, trans. Donald Mader, Boston: Brill, 2005. For Barth’s work on Calvin, see Karl Barth, The Theology of John Calvin, trans. G.W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995 ). However, while any student of Barth will know of the influence of Calvin on Barth’s theology, Viazovski’s rationale for placing these two theologians in conversation is more than that. For Viazovski, Barth’s introduction of a relational interpretation of the image of God “may be one of the greatest changes in theological anthropology that has occurred since Calvin” (6).
Another reason for placing these two in conversation is that Calvin and Barth represent opposing theological anthropologies: the dualist and the monist (5). For Viazovski, Calvin’s “axiological dualism” of the separation between the material and spiritual is problematic. Viazovski is uncomfortable about speaking of such a separation in the holistic existence of the human. As a result, Viazovski desires an anthropology that does not result in said axiological dualism. For Viazovski, the way to do this comes through Barth (11). Through placing these theologians in conversation, Viazovski hopes to explicate both Calvin and Barth’s anthropology, how Calvin ultimately comes up short, and how Barth can help offer a corrective to Calvin.
Beginning with Calvin, Viazovski engages with the Institutes, Psychopannychia, as well as a host of Calvin’s commentaries on the Bible in order to explicate Calvin’s understanding of the ontological basis of the human being (8). Weaving together these sources, Viazovski highlights four main themes found in Calvin’s anthropological work: the image of God; the knowledge of God; immortality and the intermediate state; and the resurrection and the ultimate hope.
For Calvin, “to have the image of God is to be human” (15). Furthermore, “humanity is constituted by the faculties of the human soul” (19). Therefore, Calvin finds the ground of one’s humanity in the soul. One may conclude solely on this evidence that for Calvin, all goodness of humanity is found in the soul, and all evil is found in the body. However, Viazovski is careful not to let the reader fall into such a misunderstanding of Calvin. No, he says, for Calvin “there was no part of man, not even the body itself, in which some sparks [of God’s glory] did not glow” (35). Because the body is God’s creation, there is goodness within the body. However, “the soul is superior to the body” and therefore ” ultimately it is irrelevant if the image of God is present in the body in some measure or not” (38). Thus, while having a body is imperative for humanity to live as God’s creatures, and thus carries an intrinsic importance, such importance is dwarfed by the exceeding magnitude of the human soul. Thus, Calvin frames the subjects of the knowledge of God, immortality and the immediate state, and the resurrection and the ultimate hope as treatises on the human soul, with only passing references to the role and function of the body within this divine framework, for it is in the soul that the human finds their worth in God.
Viazovski transitions from Calvin to Barth in a chapter explicating the differences between Calvin and Barth’s method and thought. Showing his indebtedness to Bruce McCormack, Viazovski argues that one of the significant differences between the epistemologies of Calvin and Barth is that Barth is “a modern theologian” (119). Citing McCormack’s work Orthodox and Modern (Baker, 2008), Viazovski lists four characteristics that qualify a theology as modern:  an acceptance . . . of critical methods for studying the Bible;  a recognition of the loss of respect among philosophers for classical metaphysics . . . ;  the recognition of the breakdown of the old Aristotelian-biblical cosmology . . . ;  and acceptance of the necessity of constructing doctrines of creation and providence which find their ground in more modern theological and/or philosophical resources” (119-20). Noting McCormack’s criteria of modern theology, Viazovski claims that what makes Barth specifically a modern theologian is that “Barth apparently accepts the Hegelian presupposition that being is becoming but keeps to a strict Creator/creature distinction” (127). Said differently, for Calvin, there is a quantitative difference between God and humanity in that the finite cannot comprehend what is infinite (122). For Barth, on the other hand, the problem is qualitative: “God belongs to the sphere of the unintuitable therefore human beings . . . cannot know God” (122). All of this is to say, “a comparison of Calvin’s and Barth’s anthropologies is, then, not a simple and straightforward comparison. Rather, it is the putting, side by side, of two anthropological systems which belong to different philosophical contexts” (129). It is with this understanding that Viazovski moves to his engagement with Barth’s anthropology.
Unlike his explication of Calvin, which drew from multiple sources to provide a cogent account of Calvin’s theological anthropology, Viazovski limits his engagement with Barth to Church Dogmatics (CD) III/2, which he describes as Barth’s “systematic presentation of the doctrine of man” (133). By engaging Barth, it is Viazovski’s aim “to analyze how Barth’s relational approach to the image of God overcomes the axiological dualism inherent in Calvin’s view of the image, how he understands the soul/body relationship from a holistic point of view and, finally, what his monism does to the ultimate hope of man” (133).
Viazovski begins his engagement with Barth with the understanding that “if, in Calvin, the starting point was the doctrine of imago Dei, in Barth, it is the Christological concept of the real man” (133). For Barth, anthropology is grounded in Christology (136). The human Jesus is “the ontological determination of all human beings” (137). Thus, for Barth, human ontology is not rooted in something essential to our own being, but rather in something exterior to ourselves, that is, the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, for Viazovski, the heart of Barth’s innovation of theological anthropology is that “humanity must partake of [Jesus] . . . It is to be explained by Him, not He by it” (143). Jesus is “the real man” and therefore Jesus is God’s revelation of our true humanity (163). According to Viazovski, “real man, then, is the fundamental anthropological concept in the thought of Karl Barth. It is the starting point of his anthropology and controls all secondary statements about man” (164). Thus, while for Calvin our ontological status is based in the image of God that has been imparted upon us, in Barth our humanity is not found in our own being, but in the relationship we have with Christ, who is the determination of who humanity indeed is.
As a whole, Viazovski provides adequate accounts of the theological anthropologies of Calvin and Barth that will engage both newcomers and experts of Calvin and Barth respectively. However, the nature of the task as he presented it may have shown its difficulties in Viazovski’s writings. What I mean by this is that in the section of Calvin’s anthropology, Viazovski gave himself the task of synthesizing a theological anthropology through engaging with the Institutes, Psychophannia, and a host of Calvin’s biblical commentaries. Without commenting on Viazovski’s conclusions regarding Calvin’s theological anthropology, there was a rigidity to Viazovski’s work on Calvin that made reading difficult in some sections. At times, there were leaps between claims that could have been smoothed out with greater care.
However, any rigidity present in Viazovski’s work on Calvin disappeared when he began engaging with Barth. Working systematically through CD III/2 allowed Viazovski to create a smoother, cohesive narrative of Barth’s theological anthropology. The reader benefitted from this approach, and what we are left with is an engaging and educating account of Barth’s theological anthropology and how it differs from Calvin.
Additionally, as Viazovski’s goal in this book is to work towards the question of how Christians are to speak about the soul, I would have appreciated more of his own voice in this work. While the accounts of both Calvin and Barth were insightful, I would have appreciated more critical engagement with each author. Viazovski showed a slight amount of personal flair in the final chapter, critiquing Barth’s account of the afterlife (or lack thereof), however, as a reader, I was curious to hear Viazovski’s voice throughout the whole of this book.
Altogether, however, Viazovski’s Image and Hope has provided a helpful engagement with both Calvin and Barth. Theology is always influenced by the philosophical assumptions brought to the discipline, and Viazovski has shown this to be a major difference in the work of Calvin and Barth. Additionally, he has shown some of the benefits and deficits of both authors work, and the consequences of various philosophical assumptions. More importantly, however, Viazovski has assembled a resource that helps human beings understand themselves holistically: body, mind, and soul. While it is not uncommon for theological anthropologies to focus on one aspect of the human person above and beyond the rest—this elevation is usually found in the soul—Viazovski refuses to allow his reader to assume any such dichotomy. Rather, in the unity of the body, Viazovski has shown how human beings can understand who we are in relation to Christ.
Daniel Rempel, M.A. Theology Student, Canadian Mennonite University
In a recent blog post for Oxford University Press, Zachary Purvis describes the dwindling state of European universities at the end of the 18th century:
In the late 18th century, universities as institutions appeared on the brink of collapse. The Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic era subjected universities—and theological faculties in particular—to an unrelenting onslaught of hostility. As the armies of the French Revolution spread across Europe, they seized university endowments for the state and suppressed theological and other faculties in favor of specialized professional and technical academies. (Zachary Purvis, “The University: Past, Present…and Future?” Oxford University Press Blog, October 16, 2016)
Despite the precarious situation of higher education, the simultaneous, emerging phenomenon of encyclopedia (Encyklopädie) expanded academic possibilities. Encyclopedia allowed for a new perspective of the whole. The mass collection of data provided scholars the ability to diagnose knowledge gaps and recognize patterns on a grand scale. The encyclopedia became a vast mirror of not only the nature of the university, but of the sum knowledge accumulated by humans to date.
In brilliant and clear prose, Purvis unpacks the formation of theology as science (Wissenschaft) and modern theological education as rooted in the emergence of encyclopedia. He shows how theological encyclopedia in Germany, pioneered by Friedrich Schleiermacher, provided the model for all major disciplines. Theology, he argues, determined the structure of the modern scientific research university. Schleiermacher’s Brief Outline of the Study of Theology (1811), paired with the work of his contemporaries, served as the leading influences in theological method and training, effecting all corners of academia. Schleiermacher envisioned theology not as closed off from other faculties, but as informed by the higher disciplines (medicine and law) and the lower disciplines (history, philosophy, philology, etc.). His thought brings to light the significance of interdisciplinary study, especially the comingling of the sciences with the humanities. “One of the main results of the transformation inaugurated by Schleiermacher was the upending of theology’s internal and external dispositions, by which I mean the relation of theology’s branches to one another and toward the university as a whole” (5). Purvis offers a significant contribution in both the depth of the historical study and its relevance for the current conditions of decline in higher education. My summary will follow Purvis in distinguishing between three parts of the work. I roughly characterize these parts as: (1) the cause of modern theological encyclopedia; (2) an account of the object, modern encyclopedia; and (3) a description of the object’s effects.
The first part, chapters 2-4, explore the many causes of theological encyclopedia’s emergence and its centricity in German theological education. Purvis traces the concept from the often misrepresented Greek expression ἐγκύκλιος παιδεία, meaning ordinary, all-encompassing training (20-21). He notes the wide-spread influence of Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana (426) for early modern theological compendia. Another source of inspiration, are pre-modern reference works resulting from the Reformation, notably those penned by Erasmus, Luther, Melanchthon, and their successors. Purvis also catalogues the state’s insistence on introductory courses structured under encyclopedia to ensure students a basic acquaintance with the methods of each discipline. This educational reform encouraged reflection on the object of the discipline, the aims of its projects, and relation to other fields of knowledge. While theologians continued to understand their work in terms of scientia and sapientia, their view of its content transformed from “habitus to a deposit or collection of truth.” The emphasis moved away from sapientia to highlight scientia (Edward Farley, Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983, 61-62; cf. Purvis, 63). Giving particular attention to Johann August Nösselt and Gottlieb Jakob Planck, Purvis first shows the influence of idealist and neo-humanist principles, and second the budding separation of theology into subdivisions as the new direction of theological training took shape. In reaction to late eighteenth century secular skeptics of pre-enlightenment theological tradition, Nösselt and Planck provided a defense of modern theological knowledge. They affirmed the possibility for theology to pursue “pure truth.” Thus, the purpose of encyclopedia was to order and unify the diversity of knowledge—“to sift and to supplement (die Reinigung und Ergänzung)” in order to do more than continue the tradition, but to contribute to the field and push it along (Friedrich Schleiermacher, Kurze Darstellung des theologischen Studiums 2nd ed., 1830, in KGA I/6. §19, 333; cf. Purvis, 37). The early aim of encyclopedia was to generate a foundation that would serve as catalyst for efficient intellectual progress. Purvis argues that this shift in how theologians thought about their object of study, particularly its identification as an academic Wissenschaft, led to its historicization: “the recognition that Christianity’s values and ideas are historically conditioned and subject to change” (5).
In Chapters 5-7, Purvis argues that Friedrich Schleiermacher, more than anyone, brought together theology and science. The Brief Outline attests to the new theological programme of the modern world as “historically focused” (140). Purvis shows Friedrich Schelling’s importance for Schleiermacher’s work in two ways. First, Schelling and his Lectures on the Method of Academic Study (1803) serves as a foil to Schleiermacher in that while Schelling emphasized philosophy and “abstract themes,” Schleiermacher argued for Church life as the center of the discipline (108). Wissenschaft was not a detriment to the Church, but rather “held out promise for breathing new life into an ancient pursuit” (9). Second, Purvis’s close study of Schleiermacher and Schelling shows commonalities between the two. For example, both argued for uniting speculative and historical theology. Modern theology has always acknowledged its indebtedness to Friedrich Schleiermacher, but Purvis singles out its indebtedness to Schleiermacher’s engagement with encyclopedic learning and his reflections on theological training.
Chapters 8-9 describe the effects of Schleiermacher’s thought on both theological encyclopedia and the study of theology broadly. To do so, Purvis, like other historians, distinguishes between two groups of scholars, the speculative and the mediating. The speculative theologians follow Hegel and reject both Schleiermacher’s embrace of historicism and his insistence on the significance of pastoral training. Whereas, the mediating theologians found value in a plurality of theological thought and method, using adversaries to complement one another. The mediating theologians were largely responsible for continuing the trajectory Schleiermacher set forth. Purvis emphasizes the contribution of Karl Rudolf Hagenbach and his Encyklopädie und Methodologie der theologischen Wissenschaften. In the end, Purvis touches on critics of theological encyclopedia, notably Karl Barth. Despite his admiration for Schleiermacher, Barth argued that theology is not science, because theology depends on divine revelation. Theology is witness to God’s activity in the world; its referent is “wholly other.” For Barth, theology cannot justify itself in ordinary terms of “academic responsibility” (226; see also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1, 9-10).
Zachary Purvis provides a succinct analysis of theological encyclopedia’s significance for shaping theology as a discipline amidst institutional turmoil. He helpfully reframes the study of the history of theological education in terms of its relationship to higher education. As a theologian with a serious interest in Friedrich Schleiermacher, and because Schleiermacher features prominently throughout the text, my only regret is that Purvis did not include a chapter that dealt in more detail with the influence of theological encyclopedia and the Brief Outline on Schleiermacher’s later work, specifically The Christian Faith (Glaubenslehre). Purvis claims that the Brief Outline (Kurze Darstellung) made Schleiermacher’s major dogmatic work possible, but does not articulate, to my satisfaction, the relation between the two or the influence of the one on the other. Notwithstanding this oversight, the text is a welcome addition to our perspective of the whole. I recommend the work to any student or scholar with an interest in nineteenth century thought, modern theology, or theological education.
Calli Micale, Ph.D. Student, Yale University