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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Chia, Roland


Revelation and Theology. The Knowledge of God in Balthasar and Barth.


Bern-Berlin-Bruxelles-Frankfurt/M.-New York-Wien: Lang 1999. 273 S. 8. Kart. DM 79,-. ISBN 3-906763-4607-6.


Mark D. Chapman

In this useful book, Chia offers an intelligent and thoughtful discussion of the epistemologies of two of the undisputedly great theologians of the twentieth century. With two such complex thinkers, however, any commentator is inevitably forced to make long detours through a wide theological landscape. Chia does this well, particularly in his discussions of Christology, as well as creation and Trinity. Although there is much that betrays its origins as a London University dissertation and although there are rather too many references to secondary authors and much that is not strictly relevant, the importance of the book rests in the clarity of the lengthy expository chapters, which means that it deserves to find a place on the shelves both of von Balthasar and Barth scholars.

The author opens with three chapters on von Balthasar, beginning with his understanding of aesthetics and moving on to a detailed analysis of his doctrine of revelation and the human perception of the form of revelation. Barth is dealt with similarly in three thematic chapters which address the knowability of God, the doctrine of revelation, and the limits of perception. Of these, Chapter Four is especially helpful in offering a detailed discussion of Barth's CD II/1, which has seldom been given the attention it deserves, at least in comparison with his doctrine of revelation in CD I. In addition to discussing the subject of knowledge, Chia also offers clear and accurate introductions to the broader range of thought of both theologians, often in dialogue with influential figures in their theological development and from the tradition (especially Thomas Aquinas and Anselm). He is also willing to engage in controversial issues in Barth interpretation, including the role of the book on Anselm (which is discussed at length), where he offers a mild criticism of Bruce McCormack's influential re-interpretation, detecting a genuine move from dialectical theology to the analogy of faith. In his final two chapters Chia attempts the ambitious project of comparison and assessment of the two thinkers.

The main theme of the whole book is naturally expressed in terms of a comparison between the two different (though related) theologies of analogy. This complex subject is explored through the course of the book, but becomes the explicit focus of the last two chapters. The cautious Protestant-Catholic dialogue that emerges makes some interesting conclusions: most important of these is that Calvin's own understanding of knowledge of God, and particularly his doctrine of the sensus divinitatis, is far closer to von Balthasar's theological a priori than to Barth's analogy of faith where the world cannot be the stage for the encounter between God and man. That von Balthasar is in the end to be preferred depends primarily on the superiority of his kenotic Christology, itself rooted in 'the cruciform love of God' which questions all answers.

Overall, what is perhaps most surprising in the book is the openness with which Chia approaches his subject - he is keen to learn from both thinkers and manages to engage critically without too much hagiography or prejudice. Indeed, the usefulness of his approach is that he is able to move beyond confessional differences, a task which is admittedly much easier in a system of theological education which is not divided up unnecessarily into denominational faculties.