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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte
Karl Barth in den Niederlanden. Teil 1: Theologische, kulturelle und politische Rezeptionen (1919–1960).
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2014. 412 S. = Forschungen zur systematischen und ökumenischen Theologie, 142. Geb. EUR 99,99. ISBN 978-3-525-56411-0.
This important book gives an interesting overview of Dutch Barth reception from 1919 until 1960. The German author, Susanne Hennecke, has been studying and working in the Netherlands between 1990 and 2009, thus participating in Dutch Barth research. This book, a slightly reworked version of H.’s Habilitationsschrift, is actually the result of a German research project at the University of Bonn: »the theological, political and cultural reception of Karl Barth’s theology in the Netherlands«. With this book, H. wants to add to the international comparison of Barth reception in different countries. According to her central thesis, the remarkable charac-teristic of Dutch Barthianism is the development of an alternative theology of culture.
Two models guide her reconstruction of Dutch Barth reception. The first model is the reception historical model of Hans Robert Jauss (representative of the Konstanzer Schule of reader-response criticism; par. 1.2). In line with this model, she distinguishes sever-al methodological issues: reader interest (choice of themes), reader motivation (the reasons for this choice), the reader’s description of the primary context of Barth’s texts, recontextualisation (descrip-tion of the significance of Barth’s texts for the reader’s context), new experiences generated by reading of these texts, production of new significance, generated debates, and feedback towards Karl Barth himself (21–22). This model proves very helpful in H.’s sketch of an important aspect of recent Dutch history of theology.
H. describes the reception of Barth’s work between 1919 and 1960. Generally speaking, she follows the development of the Barth reception in three groups within the theological spectrum of Dutch theology: on the right the orthodox Neocalvinists, in the middle the Barthians, and on the left the liberal Remonstrants. Separate chapters are devoted to Barthian theologies of culture, as she finds them in the work of Oepke Noordmans (1872–1956; chapter 4), the reflections of Christian artists (chapter 5), the so called »Doorbraak« after the Second World War that created a new phase in the pillaris-ed Dutch politics (chapter 8), and the work of Kornelis H. Miskotte (1894–1976; chapter 9). The result is a beautiful introduction to the history of Dutch theology in the first half of the 20th century.
She convincingly shows the impact of the discussions between Dutch Barthians and the Neocalvinists, whose leader Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) with his version of culture protestantism ini-tiated the pillarization of the Dutch society. She makes clear that whether one is in favour or against this situation of a pillarized society has coloured the Dutch Barth reception and has led to the interest in an alternative theology of culture of the Dutch Barthians.
For her interpretation of the interaction between these three groups and their respective Barth reception, she uses a second model, taken from Charles Taylor. This model is introduced later in her book (205) but is important for her reconstruction. According to this model, two opposing poles in a debate exert a double, contrary pressure on the space in between these poles. This double but contrary pressure generates new creativity. On the one hand, H. sees an orthodox neocalvinist pole, critical of Barth and defending the situation of pillarization. From this pole, his theology was per-ceived as liberal. The second pole on the other hand, was the liber-al reception of especially remonstrant theologians who judged Barth’s evaluation of culture and human autonomy as too nega-tive. They described Barth’s work as moderate orthodox. For both, the existing tradition remained normative and Barth’s theology did not generate new experiences. The double tension between those two poles leads to the specific contribution of Dutch Barthian-ism, according to H. (234–236).
Where the first model proves helpful, the second leads to a simplified reconstruction and to blind spots. First of all, this can be seen in the complete absence of A. A. van Ruler (1908–1970) in H.’s book. He studied with the Dutch Barthian Th. L. Haitjema (1888–1972; par 2.7 in H.’s book) and was deeply impressed by Barth’s work in the 1920s and 1930s. However, more and more he becomes criti-cal of Barth’s ›christomonism‹ and develops his own Trinitarian of theology with a relatively independent pneumatology. He often disagreed with Miskotte and developed his own theocratic, political theology. Still, Van Ruler played a major role in the process of renewal within the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk after World War Two, described by H. in chapter 7. Together with Noordmans and Miskotte, he determined the theological landscape in the Dutch »hervormde« theology. His critical Barth reception is important from an international perspective as well. Both Jürgen Moltmann and Rudolf Bohren mention Van Ruler as an important source for their own theological development, in discussion with Karl Barth. Without any given justification, Van Ruler is simply left out of H.’s book. The work of Van Ruler, however, indicates that the model of a threefold Barth reception is a simplification of reality.
Second, where H. has correctly seen the importance of the Neocalvinist contribution to the Dutch Barth reception, she overlooked the Barth reception in non-Neocalvinist orthodox groups, e. g. the Gereformeerde Bond within the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk and the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk. Between 2011 and 2013, C. M. van Driel published several articles on Barth reception within these circles (now published in his book Het volk zonder applaus: De receptie van Karl Barth in hervormd-gereformeerde en christelijk-gereformeerde kring, Barneveld 2014). They were critical, but at the same time someone like J. G. Woelderink (1886–1956) used Barth’s Römerbrief in his struggle with the subjectivism in Dutch pietistic circles. Again, it is shown that the theological landscape was more diverse than H.’s reconstruction reveals.
Third, the idea of a »Di-Konstellation« implies that both poles, the orthodox Neocalvinist and the liberal Remonstrant pole, were equally important and both exerted their pressure on the middle. I doubt whether both streams of Barth reception were equally important. The liberal group of Remonstrants was smaller and played a less important role in Dutch society than the Neocalvinists.
It seems more justified to say that the already existing plurality of the Dutch theological landscape continued to exist in the diversity of Dutch Barth receptions. However, H.’s book shows very obviously that the reception of Karl Barth is important for the history of Dutch theology and for the development of a theology of culture.
One might also ask whether the focus of the research on the-ological, political and cultural reception does not lead to a relative neglect of theological themes not that important from a political and cultural point of view. Barth influenced Dutch theologians not only in their political and cultural views, but also concerning themes like God’s transcendence, the objectivity of God’s revela-tion, human religion, election, covenant, hermeneutics, church. It is worth further research to investigate how Barthian even his Neocalvinist critics were, where these themes are concerned.
Hopefully H. will first add another part to this interesting book, to further describe Dutch Barth reception from 1960 to 1989.