Juliane Schüz. Glaube in Karl Barths Kirchlicher Dogmatik: Die anthropologische Gestalt des Glaubens zwischen Exzentrizität und Deutung (Berlin: DeGruyter, 2018), xii + 396 pp. $114.99 (hardcover).

Since the publication of Barth’s Römerbrief in 1919, the critique that Barth subordinates all consideration of the human being has been prominent. The laser-like focus on the objective understanding of God amidst post-war times and articulating an autonomous divine subject to replace the post-enlightenment free and autonomous human subject are just two ways Barth has been seen to overcome theological and philosophical trends from the 19th century. Barth’s supposed attempt to exclude anthropological considerations altogether from theological reflection has been refuted in both German and English speaking Barth scholarship (381-384). Juliane Schüz, currently a pastor at the Protestant Church in Oestrich-Winkel, brings Barth’s notion of human subjectivity to light by focusing on how he understood human faith. Barth built on his earlier work on faith where he described faith as a Hohlraum, Sprung, or Wunder. The progression of Barth’s understanding of faith can be seen as a progressive increase in tempo leading to the crescendo in the locus classicus §63 in Church Dogmatics IV/1 (CD hereafter) where the music of faith finds its rhythm as Anerkennen, Erkennen, and Bekennen.

The work is divided into three parts: 1. Introduction (Die Einleitung) (3-93); 2. The Foundation of Faith and the Essence of the Human (Die Begründung des Glaubens und das Wesen des Menschens) (97-226); and 3. The historical Implementation of Faith (Der geschichtliche Vollzug des Glaubens) (229-296). In the introduction, Schüz clarifies her approach in using the concepts eccentricity and interpretation (Ekzentrizität and Deutung) (43-47). She has built these concepts to overcome the shortcomings of two approaches: hermeneutical and interpretive-theoretical (35-43).  The hermeneutical approach focuses on the eccentric structure (ek-zentrischen Struktur) of faith. The interpretive-theoretical approach does not adequately account for the object-oriented notion of faith Barth develops. Schüz’s constructive proposal is to situate the knowing of faith (das Kennen des Glaubens) between eccentricity and interpretation. In this construal, faith is a new understanding and is both eccentrically related to God and a form of interpretation understood as a human, non-eschatological act (44). Schüz understands Barth’s account of faith as an act fully predicated on the human being between the two poles of eccentricity and interpretation. Chapter two makes up the latter section of the introduction and offers an overview of the entire CD (69-90). For anyone reading Barth’s extensive work for the first time, this overview provides an excellent look at the overall structure of Barth’s work.

Chapters three through five make up the first major part of the work. The overarching background argument of chapter three is the well-trodden path of the point of contact between God and humanity (Anknüpfungspunkt). Shedding light on themes permeating Barth’s understanding of faith in the CD, Schüz addresses his debate with Brunner in the 1930s, showing Barth’s continued denial of the human possibility of faith (116-119). Schüz is careful not to allow the debates surrounding the point of contact, whether positively or negatively construed (109-112), to distract from the purpose of the chapter, which is to provide a clear background for how Barth understood faith theologically. The actualistic point of contact, as well as the imago Dei, are Christologically articulated and conveyed to the human for Barth (134).

A critical piece of Schüz’s work is the differentiation she makes in chapter four regarding the ontic and ontological components to faith (141). The historical and material form of the human de facto (die geschichtliche-irdische Gestalt) is the human’s ontic form as sinner while the human in Christ is how the human being is ontologically determined (141-144). The entirety of the chapter is built around these two notions and shows how Barth holds the two together while also providing a strict distinction and differentiation between the two. Human history is the place for the realization of God’s eternal decree (ewiger Beschluss) to be in a communal relationship with humanity. Barth’s rendering of the analogia relationis, Schüz contends, is the concretization of the ontologically determined human being in the male-female analogical relations (174-179). Here Schüz misses a crucial opportunity to critique Barth’s understanding of gender as will be indicated later in the review.

After determining that Barth rejects any human possibility to realize faith, in chapter five, Schüz discusses his paradoxical conclusion that despite human inability or incapacity for faith, human faith is nonetheless a free human act. Schüz delineates particular distinctions to clarify Barth’s seemingly contradictory position. The sinner does not have the actual possibility (Möglichkeit) to make a decision of faith given the reality (Wirklichkeit) of one’s sin that outweighs the possibility. Thus, Barth can speak of a human-natural impossibility and a spirit-enacting necessity of faith (menschlich-natürlicher Unmöglichkeit und geistgewirkter Notwendigkeit des Glaubens) (205-207). As a free, theologically qualified choice, there is no real decision to believe; rather, it is understood as the first choice of faith to choose God just as God chose humanity (211, note 71). Given Barth’s theological (here, read Christological) qualification of freedom, Schüz determines that Barth is offering a case for a formally understood theologically relational compatibilism of divine-human agency (224). Having correlated how Barth understands human freedom and divine action, Schüz provides a segue into the second main part of the book—chapters six through nine—by defining how Barth’s conception of freedom aligns with the category of eccentricity and interpretation. In so doing, she provides an excellent transition and reminds the reader of the case she has been making throughout the text thus far.

Moving into the second major part of the book, focusing on the historical implementation of faith, chapter six delves into Barth’s understanding of historicity and actualism (229). Schüz turns back to the origins of Barth’s dialectical theology to understand the background for how he developed his understanding of historicity (230-235) into his understanding of faith in the CD as being historical and not only a non-temporal vocational event (239). In conversation with Wolfhart Pannenberg’s critique of Barth’s seemingly plastic and objectified understanding of reconciliation, Schüz unfolds a doubled form of eccentricity. Through faith, the human acknowledges Jesus’ history as being one’s own history. Jesus’ history is always “for us,” such that humans are unable to exist otherwise outside of this involvement with Jesus, while the history of Christ continues to have an effect in history (250). In the “cognitive occurrence” of faith, the human recognizes Jesus’ work while automatically being an “active occurrence” that affects one’s entire life on an existential level (268-269). The existential level of faith, according to Schüz, is to be understood partly as a self-assertion of Christ and partly as an implementation within the life story of the believer, therefore not ahistorical.

Building on the previous chapter’s discussion about human action and participatory existence, chapter seven engages how Barth understands the process of human ethical progression and becoming. Barth’s understanding of Luther’s simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously righteous and a sinner) has to be worked out from an understanding of history as being in becoming (281-284) and correlated to the act of Christ and Christ’s self as a being in becoming (285-290). The human being is included in the continuous unfolding of Christ’s historical becoming such that the human is always receiving the new being of faith as “prinzipiell anfangendes Sein” (290). The event character of participatory faith, conceived as a daily new beginning, does not mean that Barth adheres to a “giving over” of faith completely to human control. The growth of faith is not to be understood as a linearly advancing process, but “geschieht in verschiedensten ‘Einzelgeschichten’” (300). To further Barth’s claim, Schüz takes the categories of hope (311-312) and the continuity in memory and expectation (312-314) to reveal the correlation between Barth’s actualism and continuity. In sum: “In faith, the human is continuously eccentrically (ek-zentrisch) related to Christ, finds certainty in Christ, and, however, remains in a state of hope and does not become the owner of this new reality. Human faith is concurrently only a hoping, remembering and expecting interpretation (Deutung) of one’s personal participatio Christi” (316).

Chapter eight brings Barth’s threefold knowledge of faith to the fore. In some sense, one could argue that the entire book has been leading up to and in conversation with CD IV/1 §63. There is no other section of the CD cited more frequently throughout the work than these forty pages that make up §63 on the Holy Spirit and Christian faith. Schüz explicates these three modes of Kenntnis as they each offer various changes of the human’s life orientation. The Anerkennen indicates the constituting moment of faith where a change of relation from a self-related knowledge to a perspective in correspondence to God occurs (322-335). In the Erkennen the human being interprets one’s self anew in light of the true human Jesus Christ (335-346). The new orientation and relation comes to expression in the Bekennen such that the human being is expressed as witness (Zeuge) in the form of human solidarity (Mitmenschlichkeit) with the church and world (346-360). These three “moments” work together: “The Anerkennen of God, as the Erkennen of God, also changes one’s own self-interpretation, which in turn becomes visible in the life of the believer as Bekennen” (319). In this threefold Kennen of faith, human beings are newly constituted in a differentiated unity in relation to God, self, and the world. If there was a chapter to recommend above all others, it is chapter eight. Here, Schüz is really at her best, integrating difficult Hegelian argumentation and reception, counterbalancing post-Hegelian critics with dialectical nuance, and providing pastoral insight into the God-world relationship.

To conclude, Schüz returns to the central notions of faith as understanding between eccentricity and interpretation (Glaube als Verstehen zwischen Exzentrizität und Deutung). The Exzentrizität is indicated throughout the work as ek-zentrizität to indicate the etymological play on the prefix “ek” (out of) and the root “Zentrum” (center). The center of the human being in faith is located outside of one’s own self, namely, in Jesus Christ. As such, the human center is always enabled from the outside, formed from the outside, and outwardly directed (379). Jesus Christ builds the center of the human self. The Deutung pole of understanding is differentiated in such a way that the understanding of Deutung, as counterpart to religion, does not confuse God with human interpretation (389). The life of the believer, prior to words being confessed, is the focus of the Bekennen des Deutens and is verified by Christ in daily life as witness (395).

Barth’s ecclesiology and pneumatology are not the focus of the work (51-55). Given the seeming lack of differentiation between the work of the second and third person of the Trinity, according to Schüz, the interrelated movement of faith between the work of the Son and the gift of freedom in the Spirit is not brought to the fore. Schüz sets the limits in order to focus on human faith, on the epistemological focus of human existence in faith. To limit one’s work is necessary, but to negate the univocal work of the Son and Spirit does not seem advantageous in this case. One purpose of the book is neither to short-circuit Barth’s Christological orientation nor the anthropological form of faith (93). Both aspects of faith are to be presented in relation to one another where the former grounds the latter and the latter provides the noetic and ontological basis for the former. The Christological focus of faith Schüz claims does not flesh out into the implications for God’s triune identity, even to the extent of explicitly denying an ontological change to the divine-human relation (374).

Two final critical notes are worth mentioning briefly in closing. First, the book offers a very thin account of faith’s relation to love. The relationship between the human’s new understanding in faith and faith hoping for eschatological fulfillment is critically linked throughout the text. Schüz mentions neighborly love (Nächstenliebe) as being tethered to and manifesting the divine inner-trinitarian love relations (175-179); yet the interconnectedness of faith and love is largely left untouched. The correlation of faith working through love and love finding expression in faith is not only Barthian but Pauline. Second, Barth’s understanding of male/female relations is glossed over. Schüz notes that his understanding of gendered relations should not be followed nor agreed with (see note 97 on pages 177-178), but she does not offer an internal critique of Barth in terms of how these relations relate to faith. The implications of a binary structure to the “possibility” of faith could be detrimental and overcoming Barth’s rigidness here would have been advantageous.

To say Barth studies has been a male-dominated field is an understatement. The lack of scholarship from women in the field is a travesty, giving further reason for the wax and wane of productive and constructive conversations with Barth’s life and work over the years. Juliane Schüz’s work is very welcomed as an outstanding piece of scholarship and sustained treatment of faith as a theological locus in Barth’s magisterial Kirchliche Dogmatik. It is also a welcomed addition to the hopefully continuously growing number of women scholars grappling with “dead old white guys.” This work is highly recommended for Barth specialists and theologians interested in how a dogmatic locus such as faith could have gone so long without sustained treatment such as one finds here. The work would likely not interest laypersons or the average reader, yet it still contains current implications for living a life of Christian witness. Nonetheless, the work is a welcome and needed treatment in Barth studies and in theology more broadly. Anyone working on Barth, specifically on faith, will need to engage with Schüz’s work. It will no doubt prove to stand the test of time as a crucial work on Barth’s enduring legacy.

Brandon K. Watson, Doctor of Theology Candidate, Heidelberg University and Wissenschaftlicher Assistent für Systematische Theologie Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal-Bethel.

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.