the bits that Barth left out?

Christmas is coming! And in honour of the annual celebration of our Saviour’s birth, I’m hoping to do some hard thinking about the incarnation.

I’ve set myself the challenge of engaging with Barth’s account of the human life and ministry of Jesus with which he launches the Church Dogmatics IV/2. And I’m inviting you to join me!

Ary Scheffer's 'The Temptation of Christ' (1854)

In the preface to IV/2, Barth describes the significance of his extended ‘reading’ of the NT presentation of Jesus’ life-story with reference to the ‘two natures’ Christology enshrined in the Chalcedonian definition:

Perspicuous readers will surely notice that there is no break with the basic view of which I have adopted since my parting with Liberalism, but only a more consistent turn in its development. To make this clear, I had to give particularly careful expression to the christological section which stands at the head and contains the whole in nuce, speaking as it does of the humanity of Jesus Christ … There is no legitimate way to an understanding of the Christian life than that which we enter there. As I see it, it is by the extent to which I have correctly described this that the book is to be judged.

This is also the point where Nathan Kerr (Christ, History and Apocalyptic) thinks Barth really let the side down, betraying his own best insights about the importance of the concrete flesh-and-blood life of Jesus. According to Kerr, it’s the bits that Barth left out that are most worrisome:

[C]onspicuous by its almost complete absence is any reference at all to the tragic complexities and discontinuities of this life, such as Jesus’ temptation in the desert, his agony at Gethsemane, and the freedom with which he goes to Jerusalem, all of which shape his identity as distinctively human and limited by that humanity.

That’s why I want to read what Barth says and try to work out how it squares with the NT insistence on the non-negotiability of Jesus’ genuine humanity.

Just a bit of light summer reading. Anyone up for it?

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10 comments

    1. Sounds terrific, Dan. I’m not sure how you best operate, but I’m a fan of breaking it down into meaningful ‘chunks’ and meeting up regularly to talk it over (those little deadlines keep my world ticking over).

      Mike, Matt … are those expressions of interest?

  1. Sounds perfect. Do you want to carve out the first chunk and then set a time? I’m around all summer except NTE (5th-9th Dec) and the first two weeks of January (I’m back on the 18th). Other than that, anytime.
    Hey Mike, you know you want to… Get on the B-train

    1. Fantastic! I’ll have a look and get back to you in a day or two. We might be able to squeeze one in before NTE, or else we can do just after.

      Anyone else want to hop on board?

    1. I reckon a cafe — I hear you’re a fan of Shenkin? Say 10am?

      I also realise that I may have set the bar a little low — the 35-odd pages just flew by yesterday. So if you’ve got time to burn, we could aim to reach the end of part II of Section 64.2 (which takes us to page 116 in the edition I’m using).

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