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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte
Krisis und Gnade. Gesammelte Studien zu Karl Barth. Hrsg. v. S. Holtmann u. P. Zocher.
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2013. X, 275 S. Kart. EUR 39,00. ISBN 978-3-16-152498-1.
Michael Beintker is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster. For nearly three decades, he has been one of the leading interpreters of Karl Barth’s theology in Germany. The collection before us contains 14 previously published essays on Barth covering topics ranging from historical theology to political ethics.
B.’s most significant contribution, in my view, is to be found in his contention that the dialectic which provided the impetus and contours of Barth’s »dialectical theology« is a soteriological one, the dialectic of divine judgment and grace, of No and Yes, of death and new life (26). To put it this way is also, at the same time, to insist that the dialectic of time and eternity was never more than a subservient tool (negatively) for clearing the ground of false understandings of the God-human relation and (positively) for bearing witness to a strictly theological state of affairs. And so: the »crisis« motif of the second Romans already contains in nuce a prioritizing of gospel over law and, with that, a predisposition to the christocentricity for which Barth became famous (31–35). This thesis, sustained through close examination of essays written in the years immediately following the publication of the second edition of Barth’s commentary on Romans (1922), contains within itself a larger point, viz. that the transition from Barth’s early dialectical theology to his dogmatics (1924 ff.) was effected without retreat from key insights achieved in the earlier phase.
The connection between the early »crisis« motif and the prioritizing of gospel over law is masterfully traced by B. in a landmark essay first published on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of Karl Barth’s birth (1986). Here he distinguished helpfully be-tween the noetic and ontic levels on which »dialectic« functioned in Barth’s early pre-dogmatic thought and argued for the greater importance of the latter (27). The »ontic« includes not only the just named soteriological dialectic but the divine Self-revelation of which that dialectic was a function for the early Barth. In the second Romans in particular, revelation simply is reconciliation. In that God reveals God’s Self, the sinner as such is put to death and raised to new life. Revelation takes place in hiddenness, through the medium of Christ’s death. The human subject is de-centered, stripped of epistemic mastery over the »object« of revelation which (who!) remains Subject throughout. This is the killing and making alive of which Barth speaks (32, cf. 1 Sam 2:6).
In the Göttingen Dogmatics, the objective side of the revelation event is spelled out in greater detail. The concentration on the death of Christ found in Romans gives way to a doctrine of the incarna-tion. He advances for the first time his notion of the threefold form of the Word. Revelation in hiddenness now means that God unveils Himself in and through a veil which remains a veil during and after God’s use of it in revelation. And the primary medium of this Self-revelation is now the flesh of Jesus.
To put it this way is also to make the objective side of the dialectic more basic than the subjective side of human »perception« in faith. Barth’s theological epistemology was, from the beginning, embedded in the ontic – in principle, at least. Given that the dialectic of veiling and unveiling described the formal structure of God’s Self-revelation, it had a tendency to become a subject of interest in its own right. The knowledge of God (its reality and possibility) maintained a certain priority over divine Reality. And so things would remain for quite some time.
B. is, therefore, right to assign to Barth’s so-called »dialectical method« a subordinate status. Indeed, methodological considera-tions were always something of an afterthought for Barth; a backwards looking reflection upon just completed work. And so it should not be surprising that the dialectical method of pitting of theological statements over against counter-statements and leaving them in an unresolved tension for which Barth argued in his famous Elgersburg lecture in 1922 (»Das Wort Gottes als Aufgabe der Theologie«) was only ever employed in a principled way in the doctrine of God elaborated in the Göttingen and Münster dogmatics and preserved (residually) in Church Dogmatics II/1. For the most part, it was supplemented by analogical and strictly logical thinking from the very beginning of Barth’s dogmatic reflections (starting in 1924). No, it is the ontic which mattered more. And that also means that the Balthasarian formula of a »turn from dialectic to analogy« misleads as a description of Barth’s development since it makes methodological concerns more basic than they in fact were. It also leads to an overestimation of the significance of Barth’s little book on Anselm (1931) where the question of development is concerned. However important it might be on the level of understanding Barth’s theological epistemology, its role in his development is more rightly understood in terms of deepening and clarifying an epistemology which had already been operative since 1924 at the latest (68). And so B. is right to say, »Als Barth sich an die Niederschrift des Anselm-Buchs machte, ging es ihm nicht um einen programmatischen Wurf, sondern um Klärung« (65).
But, then, at what point did Barth’s theology become truly »christocentric«? The answer depends, in large measure, on what is meant by the term and which Christology is called upon to give it content. B. takes Barmen I (together with its Verwerfungssatz) in 1934 as sufficient evidence for believing that »christocentricity« had become basic to Barth’s thinking by 1934 at the latest (156). The problem with this contention is this: preoccupation with the doctrine of revelation (which continues, I would say for some years after Barmen) does not yet yield the kind of »christocentricity« we find in the later Barth. It is still a somewhat formal principle of exclusivity, its ontic anchor notwithstanding; it serves to exclude from consideration other putative sources. It does not yet yield, however, an attempt to make Christology basic to the construction of other doctrines such as creation, anthropology and providence.
My own view is that Barth did not become »christocentric« in the sense of making Christology basic until he had revised his doctrine of election in CD II/2 (work on which was begun in the winter semester of 1939/40). The doctrine of the Trinity in I/1 is not Christologically grounded; it is grounded in a grammatical ana-lysis of the statement »God reveals Himself as the Lord« (CD I/1, 306). And the Christology of I/2 still considers the »person« of Christ in isolation from the lived history through which reconciliation is effected and, therefore, along lines of reflection made possible by the metaphysics of Chalcedon rather than, as later, through a strict focus on the biblically-narrated history of Jesus.
B. takes a somewhat different view. On his reading of Barth’s development, the answer to my questions is that Barth’s theology was already giving evidence of a »growing christocentricity« (53) in his Die christliche Dogmatik im Entwurf (1927). After Barmen, the »christonomic« character of Barth’s theologizing »announced« itself in the treatment of Christology in CD I/2; it »manifested« itself in the doctrine of election in CD II/2 and it reached its zenith in Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation in CD IV/1 f. (156.257–58). Here I must demur.
No one has taught me more about Barth’s development in the 1920s than B. With regard to development within the Church Dogmatics, however, we part ways. Not only does this model underplay the significance of Barth’s thorough revision of his previously held doctrine of election; it overlooks the degree to which the Christol-ogy of CD I/2 takes as its starting-point the pre-existent Logos while the Christology of IV/1 f. finds its starting-point in the event, the history of God’s uniting with the man Jesus (cf. B. Klappert, Die Auferweckung des Gekreuzigten, 136).
I have focused my attention in this essay on only one of the strands of reflection found in this fine collection. B.’s essays on Barth’s political ethics (which make up half the volume) are instructive at every turn and would have merited close attention in a lengthier review. He does not hesitate to be critical, which is a strength of his work. Barth’s political ethics should indeed be supplemented today by greater attention to the empirical research of social scientists. And he is always gracious in his judgments of Barth’s opponents.
This is a splendid collection which offers vivid testimony to a life-time of service to Barth studies. As a regular reader of B.’s works, I am grateful to the editors for making them available to a wider audience.