Rudolf M. Bisanz, "Jesus is Victor! Karl Barth and Pietism, the Blumhardts and Politics," Journal for Christian Theological Research [http://apu.edu/~CTRF/articles/2001_articles/bisanz.html] 6:4 (2001).
Testing the referents of the title�Pietism, the Blumhardts, Politics�against the facts and data of Barth's life and work can help clarify the larger meanings of his systematics. Polemics that distort his theology could thus yield to fresh insights into his larger thinking as an agent of spiritual renewal and civic empowerment. This account commences by evaluating certain interlocking Barthian positions on: religious enthusiasm versus metaphysical temperance, Evangelical discernment and the nature of Biblical verity, and church governance in relation to matters of ministerial conscience. Using these linked data as a basis of inference and argument, this study continues by examining theory versus practice in the making of theology. It concludes with the affirmation that �God-talk is action�, namely that the science of divinity matters, both theoretically and functionally, especially when the Church is in the line of secular fire.
1. The current subject is presented in accord with the main accents of Barth's work in systematics and religious self-understanding, and in the context of basic Christian tenets. Additionally, a Sitz-im-Leben purview is employed, one that focuses on the innate power of theology to shape the civic presence and public discourse of the Christian. And one that is sensitive to Barth's adherence to the Biblical principle of keeping political dealings apart from the sacred. Utilizing reasonable categories of meaning and frank analysis, in a condensed format, are my additional means of addressing the topic �Jesus is Victor!� I do not seek for inclusiveness or consuming technical particulars. Instead, my aim is to open a discussion that is suggestively eclectic and forthright, as well as, I hope, ministerially apposite and metaphysically and materially to the point.
2. My intermediate steps, leading to a conclusion on the practical power of theology, comprise the following main issues: Barth's complex, multi-layered, lastly censorious approach to Pietism; his involuted, finally reproving attitude toward the Blumhardts, especially their confounding Socialism with the ecclesiastic; and his stern dismissal of National Socialism as a fitting partner in any theological discourse or in Church polity.� His stand on �special revelation�, and above all his position on Biblical exegesis, are of ultimate concern here; these provide crucial links in the Barthian chain of fundamentals, connecting his theological priorities with the lasting consequences of his systematics, especially as this bears on politics.
3. By tracking such overlapping referents, a fair insight into Barth's theological character and thereby our present objective may be gained. As to the overall goal of my enquiry, then, it is to show that the earnest conviction of �Jesus is Victor!� cannot but lead to the exultant realization that �God-talk is action.� The finding that �Christian theology matters� in today�s often blithe, scoffing or hostile cultural matrix is the only rational consequence of Barth�s intellectual presuppositions. Significantly �perhaps paradoxically�theology, even if it is practiced scholastically, as fides quaerens intellectum, enables its faithful adepts to play a decisive role in civic life. It is capable of producing �communally substantive� results, even if it does operate above and beyond politics, in the select sphere of God-infused cogitation. During the most perilous stage of his life, the deadly Nazi era, Barth in his capacity as the �pure,��abstract� theologian, provided heroic proof of the theorem, �theology can and does empower.��
4. The claim that the Swiss, Karl Barth (1886-1968), and Pietism, Socialist politics and the Blumhardts exist in close ideational proximity is not seldom heard. (Several popular reference works and theological dictionaries copy such putative relationships as a matter of routine.) Whatever merit such habitual claims may hold, response to them can elicit fresh approaches to his theology in general, and help clarify specific issues of contention. The various internal contradictions that have crept into Barth's massive writings�as many as five-hundred publications, spread over some fifty years�leave plenty of room for conjecture, and a plethora of divergent estimations of his positions has evolved over time. Likewise, conformity of interpretation is not assisted by Barth's shifts and modifications of his positions in the course of events. Nor is concord among scholars advanced by his taxing parentheses, interminable excursuses, or his notoriously periphrastic style. Not surprisingly, scholars of both right and left political courses have seized on this intricacy as an opportunity to claim him for their respective causes. The result has been classificatory confusion and notional indeterminateness in a sizeable portion of the lettered dialog on the subject.
5. Comment in this study gravitates mostly toward Barth's fundamental work in systematics, some asides and qualifications, to the contrary. Accordingly, my perspective will mostly tend to align with his formed theology. In order not to lose the nuances of Barth's spiraling mode of expression or, perhaps more aptly, not to miss the crux of the matter in the flood of learned data on the subject, it is necessary to proceed�sub conditio Jacobeae� with a mixture of caution and decisiveness.�
Congeniality is not Theology
6. The apodictic position that Barth occupies in the dialogue on contemporary theology seems, to begin with, to contradict his work�s broader coherence with Pietism. Fleetingly summarized, Pietism is �Spenerian,� inward, quietist, literal, latitudinarian, intuitionist, enthusiastic, mystical. By contrast, Barth is �Lutheran,� public, inter-scholastic, disputatious, normative, logical, formal, dialectic. Some imbrication to the contrary, their respective Christian customs seem to diverge. Still, closer scrutiny will reveal a rather more subtle constitution than that.
7. Pietism, the Protestant, anti-Orthodox movement in Germany, features considerable diversity of ideational tendencies, evident along variances of regional pockets, cultural lines and social classes. Its tradition, since its �modern� beginnings with Philipp Jakob Spener�s tract of rulings for proper conduct, his Pia Desideria (Pious Desires) of 1675, generally belongs to the �contextual� branch of theological thinking and religious praxis (recent editions of Pia Desideria include those by Kurt Alland, editor, P.d., Berlin: DeGruyter, 1964; and Theodore G. Tappert, P.d., translator and editor, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964). Pietism is simultaneously Biblical, devotional and self-communing, as well as ethics-bound, moralistic, and social works-oriented. Some of its traditionalist sub-groups to the contrary, Pietism often stands for social engagement�an energetic interlocking of private devotional behavior with political relevance and civic action.
8. Conversely, Barth belongs to the �dogmatic� branch of spiritual cogitation, i.e., his theology is prescriptive, even decretal, and concerned with the articulation of the fundamental tenets of belief. In that connection, he concentrated on elaborating doctrinal complexities, especially those belonging to the domains of �Triunity,� Christology and Justification.� Barth�s compounded relationship to Pietism�his distance from and selective bond with the movement�relates to today�s inter-Church dialogue, a subject for a different article. But the �interface� of his theology with civic authority and state governance, a central issue here, will be discussed anon.
9. Not infrequently, Barth shows tendencies in a direction lying opposite to his usual circumspection, namely toward a heartfelt, devout, even fervent religiosity. I notice this particularly in his homiletic excursus. This circumstance probably accounts for at least some of the claims of his debatable Pietist abidance. Another reason for assuming that such a conformity on his part exists, may be that Pietism�s apologists pay more attention to Barth's sporadic expressions of passion, warmth and caring, than to his customary objectivity, prudence and seeming aloofness. He is known for displaying either face of his persona in his writings, sometimes side by side. Such evidence points to a complex personality, displaying an apparent lacuna between his episodic outbursts of enthusiasm, and his constant and essential life's work, his systematics, as postulated in his Church Dogmatics (Zollikon-Z�rich: Evangelischer Verlag, 1932-1967; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 13+1 Volumes, 1936-1969).
10. A �clan� or �kin-group� resonance, as a matter of a shared ethnic background, cultural tradition and liturgical custom, naturally connects the Germano-Swiss Barth with at least one feature of Germanic Pietism. And that is an intimately heartfelt Christian usage. It should be added that Barth's early personal nexus with Pietism was chiefly with the parochial and provincial, traditionalist variety of the movement. Later, contacts with its liberal components, as well as universitarian influences, upset Barth's early formative mental equilibrium.
11. The insights of Eberhard Busch, Barth's former assistant and widely published Barth scholar, are revealing in this regard. His study of the young theologian's criticism of Pietism contends that the youth�s familiarity with and formative affection for the movement's orientation and values were strong and wholehearted. He grew up in an environment made up of a household, extended family, and cultural surroundings suffused by Pietist sentiments and ministrations (cf., Karl Barth und die Pietisten, Die Pietismuskritik des jungen Karl Barth und ihre Erwiderung (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1978).
12. During his study years in academia, as will be shown anon, the conflict between Barth's intimacy with the movement, on the one hand, and contravening liberal influences, on the other hand, brought on a crisis of conscience in him. Still, Barth's Geistesverwandschaft (congeniality) with Pietism can be detected in sundry discrete corners of Barth's complex�some say puzzling�mature theological persona. But I sense it surfacing especially in instances of his developed homiletic excursus. And there, I believe, it reaches him chiefly via the Sixteenth- through Eighteenth-Century German and Germano-Swiss sermonizers and hymnodists. Among the many whom he cites affectionately in this connection, and who are familiar to those who �sing the faith� in this rich literary and musical tradition, I may mention a few favorites of his (and mine). Decius (e.g., Allein Gott in der H�he), Weisse, Zwick, N. Hermann (Lobt Gott, Ihr Christen), Speratus, Gramann, Schalling, Selnecker, J. Heermann, Rist, Franck (Jesus meine Freude), Schuetz, Neander, P. Gerhardt (Herzlich tut mich verlangen), Richter, Gotter, Schmolck (Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier), Rambach (Dass ich tausend Zungen h�tte), Hiller, and Woltersdorf, etc. (CD, I, 2, pp. 253 f. and passim throughout var. volumes). To the extent that these writers and composers partake of the Pietist tradition, and many of them do, Barth�s fellow feeling for them clearly suggests an inborn impulse to sentimental sharing, or �way of life� kindredness. But his formulated theology is another matter.
�Pious Desires� or �Distorted Products?�
13. Barth was gravely opposed to one of Pietism�s chief traits, its personalist, human-originant approach to God. He understood their members� theology to be an anthropomorphic construal, a �theology from below,� and, as such, self-referential, and unsuited for serious God-talk.� After all, the most characteristic aspect of his theology is his understanding of the point of issuance of revelatory awareness as being transcendent�divine. This gave rise to his �theology from above,� his �God-originant� approach. He reverses the so-called progressive or �humanist� query,� �How can I fit God into my life?,� to the Evangelical Neo-Orthodox ponder, �Will God allow me to enter into his?� The full expression of Barth's right �God-talk� is a corrective to Pietism, and found throughout Church Dogmatics. More narrowly, on specific issues on the human plane�for example, conceptualizing love and marriage, from the Christian vantage point�Barth often contradicts Pietist ethics outright (e.g., CD, III, 4, pp. 215, 223).
14. Barth is likewise averse to �social good works� as a moral precondition to faith. It matters little to him whether such a �principled� dictate comes, as it usually does, from the Socialist inclinations of liberal Pietist sub-groups or, equally frequently, progressive Orthodox or bourgeois Kultur-religionists. Again, it is necessary to interject here, that Pietism's adherents do not, and did not in the past, constitute a consolidated �block.� Rather, they must be understood as a kind of wickerwork of meandering sub-groups, diverging and overlapping along lines of geography, regionalism, and social castes. Eberhard Busch, for example, pays due attention to this circumstance, as when he refers to Pietism as � pluriform � (multiform or multifarious), riven by interior �tensions,� and unable to speak with a clear voice on many matters of theology (op. cit., p. 257 f.).
15. To illustrate a further variance between Barth and Pietism, I may mention his understanding of God's immanence. He deems it to be fully within the realm of God's powers and being, on the one hand, while, on the other hand, pronouncing sharp caveats to any of those who would subscribe to Pantheism. According to his understanding of proper dogmatics, that philosophy, as interpreted and employed by a Christian, is extraneous to God-talk, and therefore impermissible.
16. Pantheistic soundings of the universe were promoted by the celebrated, radical Seventeenth-Century Pietist, Jakob Boehme, among other members of his sect. His widely read tracts had a marked impact on elements of the movement, including its proclivity for mystical contemplation. In a different vein, Boehme also affected Pietism�s progressivist or liberal branches, to move in behalf of education and scientific cognizance, in addition to an incipient form of higher Biblical criticism.�
17. Characteristically, Barth�s position vis-�-vis these endeavors is diverse and heterogenous, e.g., his condemnation of Pantheism is singular and direct (CD, II, 1, pp. 312 f., and passim), while his approach to Biblical exegesis is in part�as will be seen anon��scientific.� With his forthright condemnation of Pantheism (and, equally, of Panentheism), he adds another collateral count to his indictment of Pietism, and its irresolution on God�s outright transcendency� (ibid; and passim throughout CD). Again, though it is difficult to achieve absolute explicitness on all matters in the abundance of his language, a nuanced approach to Barth is needful. If such is followed, it will show his penchant for defining and accentuating the essential with clarity and sharpness, while often agreeably letting peripherals be just that.
18. Donald G.� Bloesch concedes that �Like Barth, I am indebted to the tradition of Evangelical Pietism, but I am not as critical of this tradition as Barth is� (Donald G. Bloesch, �A Response to Elmer Coyler,� [online] Journal of Christian Theological Research, 1:2, p. 2, 1996; cf., Elmer M. Coyler, Editor, Evangelical Theology in Transition, Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1999, pp. 199 ff.).This view, coming from one of America's leading Evangelical theologians and foremost champions of Barth's theology, bears notice. Its consequences illustrate the problems of reconciling Pietism's tenets with either liberal or conservative positions, making it an intellectual Sonderling on the contemporary theological scene. It initiates responses that seem to simultaneously comply with and repudiate Pietism�s beliefs. As with Barth and Bloesch, many churchmen are drawn to Pietism's potentials but do so with qualifications, seeming to struggle with the various theoretical and virtual conflicts posed for them by the movement. Its remarkable features, alternatively perceived as invitatory and recusant, charismatic and heterodox, seem to exclude the possibility of broad intellectual conformance. The massive formative difficulties that Pietism poses for both Evangelical and Neo-Orthodox theology is fully mirrored in Barth's spiraling relations with it.
19. To sort out right from wrong in approaching reflection, Barth puts distance between himself and his proximate theological peers. There were but few with whom he shares basic doctrinal positions. One of his teachers at Marburg, Wilhelm Herrmann, a liberal Pietist, may have triggered his earliest critical reaction to, and initial distancing from Pietism. Additionally, I may mention two conservative near-contemporaries of his, the patristic scholar, Theodor Zahn, and the (incipient) Biblical dialectician, Adolf Schlatter, as conditionally analogous to him. (Both are currently experiencing a robust �renaissance� in Evangelical circles.)�
20. But in his wider search for antecedents to, and confirmations of, his beliefs regarding dogmatic verity, Barth leapfrogs past much of early Twentieth- and later Nineteenth-Century Protestant theology. This includes various orthodox,� �humanistic,� and liberal� branches of the Evangelische Kirche, and Catholicism alike. He is especially indisposed toward the socially oriented perspective of Albrecht Ritschl, the religion-historical plan of Ernst Troeltsch, and the psychogenic patriarchalism of Adolf von Harnack.
21. Scouring the past for agreeable forerunners, Barth delves into the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, finding little to satisfy him there. Here he dismisses� (what he calls) those �distorted products of Pietism,� that were then produced. And he gives vent to his profound irritation with what he perceives to be those periods� grave deficiencies, namely the mystical and rationalist tendencies of the Baroque�tendencies that are often shared by Pietists. He then abrades the early Nineteenth Century, and what he calls �the necessary but misleading reactions to the Enlightenment,� and chases after �false gods.� Accordingly, he casts aside Hegel's absolute idealism, and Schleiermacher's combination of psychologism and Romantic Neo-Pietism, as wrong directions. In short, he nearly empties the preceding three-hundred-and-fifty years clean of much of their scholarly, as well as their �Sunday-go-to-meeting,� theology, and consigns them to oblivion.�
22. Barth's relationship to the Blumhardts was of long duration, complex, progressively changing, and lastly disappointing to him. Over time, his earlier positive stance toward them first yielded to doubts and then, in due course, drifted to incompatibility with his mature dogmatics. The Revivalist Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805-80), and his son and fellow gospeler, Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt (1842-1919), were Evangelical leaders who belonged to a provincial branch of Pietism in southwestern Germany. They practiced a communally �contextualized� Protestantism, and were close to the Socialist workers� movement. As such, they are unrelated to Barth�s mature religious profile. This does not preclude his sympathy for them in his psychological interstices, or a Wahlverwandschaft, or elective affinity for their selfless devotion, especially the elder Blumhardt's deep spirituality. In his younger years, Barth was moved by their sense of civic solidarity, social justice and human rights. Later, he wrestles with their comprehensive roles in the context of� Biblical perceptivity, and rebukes them on doctrinal grounds (cf., e.g., CD, II, 1, pp. 633 ff., and passim throughout volumes).
23. Barth exhibits sympathy for the elder Blumhardt's radical proselytizing, in a movement of Christian awakening, renewal, healing and service to workers. But such quondam expressions of his affection for Blumhardt, or of his civic-minded solidarity with his social, and even political aims, should not be confused with Barth's essential work in systematics. Unlike Blumhardt's functional, ad hoc evangelizing, ministering to the poor, and healing, Barth's larger project is deliberately scholarly, propositional and normative.
24. As I have pointed out before, Barth�s personality (as that of many others) is complex. To the extent that this is revealed in his writings, it has prompted dispute and controversy. This circumstance has encouraged theology�s theocentric �purists� and their antagonists, the sociopolitical �contextualists,� to claim Barth for their respective camps. Even though the current presentation leans toward the former, it bears repeating: a discriminating, prudent, unhurried approach to Barth is needful. As with most subjects worth investigating, stereotyping here is pointless.
25. In the introduction to his Thy Kingdom Come: A Blumhardt Reader (Bruderhof Communities: Plough Publishing House, n.d.g.), Vernan Eller claims that Barth was influenced by the elder Blumhardt, though he neither develops nor substantiates his assertion satisfactorily in the follow-up. However, he does aver that Blumhardt deserves equal credit with Kierkegaard in the pantheon of worthy predecessors of, and influences on, Barth. (Incidently, similar arch claims can be found on the principals named, in some theological dictionaries, and like study aids.) However, on balance, the Danish theologian looms far larger on Barth's intellectual horizon than Blumhardt.
26. Still, even though he was inspired by Kierkegaard, Barth was also ambivalent toward him�perhaps conflicted would be closer to the mark�and he admonished him sternly on specific doctrinal points (e.g., cf., CD, IV, 2,� pp. 747 f.). Though this may or may not belong to another article, the young Barth shares with Kierkegaard certain interests�e.g., in existentialism, dialectic reasoning, anti-Orthodoxy, a �faith-based� apprehension of Christ, and the need for firm decisiveness in resolving questions of faith.
27. It should be noted here, that some important Kierkegaardian traits overlap, conform with, and sustain those of Pietism and the Blumhardts, notably in the areas of personalism, radical decisiveness in Christian commitment, and opposition to establishmentarian practice. Lastly however, Barth's unfeigned conservatism, and categoric theocentric God-consciousness, produced an integrated dogmatic system unlike that of Kierkegaard. It points decisively in a direction away from either Blumhardt's or Kierkegaard's shared modus operandi: habitual reliance on psychogenic and/or sociogenic endorsements of faith. Neither intention can sustain a lasting relationship of trust with God. �Peace with God...is effected by a God-given transformation of man's whole disposition...� (Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 1933; New York: Oxford U. Press, 1968 op. cit., p. 151, italics mine).�
28. The well-known German Protestant theologian, and director of the Ecumenical Institute of the University of Bonn, Gerhard Sauter, negates Eller's position. And he contradicts Leonhard Ragaz's assertion of ideological linkage between Barth and the two Evangelical crusaders, in Ragaz's Der Kampf um das Reich Gottes in Blumhardt, Vater und Sohn (Erlenbach-Z�rich: Rotapfel Verlag, 1922). In the chapter on �Shifts in Karl Barth's Thought: The Current Debate between Right- and Left-Wing Barthians,� in Sauter's recent Eschatological Rationality, Theological Issues in Focus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1996), the author opposes Ragaz's view that Barth and some resolute Pietists drew together under the banner of socialist political activism.
29. Contrary to Ragaz's postulate regarding Barth's putative youthful engagement with socialist-Pietist firebrands, Sauter contends, �Barth never did wish to understand his work or himself in this manner.� Sauter means in the manner, as affirmed by Ragaz, of a Blumhardt-style religio-socialist revolutionary. Quoting from Church Dogmatics, Sauter avers that ��The theologian has no...call to act as a revolutionary in the name of God.� �The real basis of prayer is man's freedom before God� (ibid, pp. 126 ff.). May this be understood as yet another testimonial to Barth's opposition to a politically �contextualized� and publically �engaged� theological program.
30. Sauter appositely summarizes: �This point most clearly marks the difference between Barth and all the left-wing Hegelians� (and, correspondingly, their sociopolitically disciplined, left-wing Barthian emulators), �even within the periphery of Barth�s own theology: Adequate God-talk�with its root in prayer as talk-to-God�is action in the full sense of the word� (ibid, p. 134). Thus, Sauter clearly designates for Barth an apolitical, non-activist �right-wing� outlook. He does so within the synthetic �frame-up� of his polemic, which posits Barth's followers �dialectically� into two� groups, in analogy with the split of Hegel�s successors into right- and left-wing echelons. However, for our usage, �Neo-Orthodox,� a term that is more familiar to American than European students for classifying Barth�s theology, proves to be serviceable enough, even though the designation suffers from severe nomenclatural problems of its own. (Regrettably, Sauter's doctoral dissertation on the theology of� �The Kingdom of God in the Older and Younger Blumhardt� is not available to me at this writing.)������
Miracle Trumps Weltanschauung
31. For Barth, the New Testament is the authoritative guide to thought and action. It is the high road of Bibelanschaung, as distinct from secular Weltanschauung, the �downward slope of this world,� that must be the proper ultimate sanction of personal and civic conduct. He understands justification as a miracle and dismisses as unwarranted attempts at its actualization by either personal will power or demonstrations of public effort. He thus separates himself equally from common Pietist practice as he does from the habits of the Blumhardts. With respect to Eighteenth-Century Pietist activities that anticipate the Evangelical crusading of the Blumhardts�, Barth's comments can be very negative. And he chides �The intimacy of mysticism or of the disciples of� Zinzendorf��he means the Pietist Herrnhuters and kindred devout religionists of the heart�as something that �is� directed toward the No-God of this world and (that) brings men under the wrath of God, as his enemies...� (The Epistle to the Romans, op. cit., p. 151; cf., Ro 1:22-23).� And throughout Church Dogmatics, Barth vents his misgivings and suspicions regarding a personal quietist Pietism, while sometimes also lauding its practitioners� apparent sincerity, directness, and authenticity. But where does he find support to fortify his position?
32. As we have seen, Barth earnestly searched the past three-hundred-and-fifty years for congenial mental antecedents. Eventually he finds a friendly intellectual homeland even further afield than that. It lies in the early Sixteenth Century, where he bonds with the early phase of the Reformation. And there he draws strength from Calvin and Zwingli, but above all from Luther, the constant inspiration of his formed theology. One of the prominent commentators on Barth, the widely published George Hunsinger, emphatically demonstrates the profound breadth and width of his subject�s intellectual kinship with the German Reformer. This includes, inter alia, a shared christocentric awareness, a common focus on the Cross, and an affinitive mutuality in grasping the primacy of the Biblical Word�arguable disagreements between the two protagonists, to the contrary, notwithstanding (�What Karl Barth learned from Martin Luther,� in Disruptive Grace, Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth, Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000, pp. 279 ff.)� Additionally, Barth is attracted to Augustine and Athanasius, and, selectively, to other Patristic literature. But, of course, it is the New Testament in general, and the Pauline epistolary corpus in particular, that form the definitive hypostatic bedrock of Barth's dogmatics.
33. Clearly, Barth's mature ideative stance traces a line that seems to have no meaningful tangent with the Pietists' distant background in medieval devotions. As to subsequent developments of their tradition, Barth's judgment is mixed. This includes his views on Spener's programmed personal piety as institutionalized in his Pia desideria; the ambitious communal good works of such of his heirs as August Hermann Francke, and Graf von Zinzendorf; and, later, the operations of their successors in the domestic and foreign missionary endeavor. He sometimes seems to sympathize with the good intentions, honest bearing and obviously beneficent results in social welfare that agents of that often misunderstood sect, with their scorn for Orthodoxy, had often accomplished. At other times he expresses negative criticism and reservations about them. But in his systematics he flatly diverges from their collective orbit.����
34. Barth's theological presuppositions proceed on the high road of the New Testament, whose eternal verities he cannot conceive as being contingent on external matters, however attractive, for their confirmation. As a matter of principle, therefore, he is unable to step on the downward slope of temporal Weltanschauung, regardless of any one of its manifold orientations in the world at large, to seek for support of his Anschauung. St. Peter assures us that �Salvation is found in no one else...� but �by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth� (Ac 4:10-12). As only one road to salvation is possible, Barth�s theology does not permit of any roundabout or �contextual� approaches to dogmatic truth, and thus multiple roads to redemption.
35. What this means to Barth, is avoiding the following (pace the reader) detours, named or alluded to by him throughout Church Dogmatics�not a few of which are shared by Pietists: gnosticizing tendencies, mysticism, personal self-absorption, good works consciousness, Romantic ambrosial intimacies, Pantheism, Panentheism, process futurism, psychologist vanities, Existentialism, bourgeois statetism, socioreligious operationalism, �hope prospection,� a (liberationist) Church-world hegemony, etc. Temporary palliatives though they may be, Barth believes that none of these will� lastingly enhance man�s peace with God.��
36. To delegate the ratification of faith to external agencies, whatever their kind, is wrong. Faith can only conform to the ontological nature of faith qua faith, and can only be validated by the very referent of faith as such, God. To think otherwise would betray Barth�s theological mission and compromise the centerpiece of his dogmatics, the definition of Christ-initiated justification. �If we try to understand� justification �in abstraction from its reference to the actual execution of the divine judgment, we can only misunderstand it, whether we accept it or reject it� (CD, II, 2, 757 f.). In short, for Barth, no pseudo salvation-conforming referent�selfhood, works, culture, revolution, hope�is either permitted or efficient in justification, other than the Word and Christ alone.
37. We may exert ourselves for the benefit of ourselves or our brethren in the name of �religion� as much as we will, and such efforts may even be noble, in and by themselves. �Good works � can be the result of faith, as a careful tracing of the putative �conflict� of� �works vs. free grace� between Saints James and Paul undoubtedly shows. But Barth's concern focuses specifically on the nature of the grace-and-faith diploid as an absolutely prescriptive norm.
38. In harmony with that presupposition, Barth sees such moral efforts as those exemplified by the Blumhardts as extraneous to the real mystery of the Christian faith, a faith that is anchored in the miracle of justification. In the spirit and word of Paul, and the Reformers, Barth declares that �we have...to consider this act of divine proof (of justification) only as a divine miracle� (ibid). Justification being a miracle, it cannot be made to materialize by an act of volition, however well intentioned, as little as faith can be brought about by the fiat of willpower, however desperate for redemption.
39. According to Church Dogmatics, and in the briefest capsule, then, Barth refuses to make the Christian mystery �palatable,� as if it were medicine that needed sugar to be received. Nor will he indulge any doubting Thomas with �proofs� of its efficacy. Neither ethical nor apologetic debating points, nor �the super- and subordination of viewpoints� in order to �establish and justify the theologico-ethical enquiry� can be used for purposes of arbitrating faith. Any and all foundational �presuppositions and methods of non-theological, of wholly human thinking and language� must be judged wrong responses in the current debate (e.g., cf., CD. II, 2, p. 520 f.). The right answer, according to Barth, is that faith is a miracle, that salvation is an enigma, that Jesus Christ is a human-divine mystery, and that the man or woman who longs to be enlightened and set free, must await the call of God.
40. Martin Luther, following in the footsteps of Augustine and the Paul of Romans and Galatians, believed in� �free grace� as the irrefutable and indispensable warrant in the quest for righteousness (cf., Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1976; idem, Commentary on Galatians, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1979).� Repristinating the course of the Reformist�s dispute on the subject, Barth is convinced that the message of� �works righteousness� is misguided, and that it �actually obscures the Gospel as the message of the free grace of God� (cf., e.g., CD, IV, 1, 523). According to him, such deviations as Kulturreligion, �humanistic religiosity, sacramentalism, liturgism, and even existentialism,� are all to be avoided. All dependencies of Weltanschauung, ideology, history-bound acculturation, and psychology are inappropriate sidetracks, leading away from the true �doctrine of justification� (ibid). Breaking the chains of legalism and dependency, and receiving �free grace by faith,� constitutes the keystone of Barth's dogmatics. It is the Christian�s passport to freedom.�
"Jesus is Victor!"
41. The elder Blumhardt�Suabian Pietist, workers� advocate, revivalist leader, healer of M�ttlingen and Bad Boll, W�rttemberg�was celebrated far and wide as the most sensational Wunderdoktor in the Europe of his days. Mutatis mutandis, nowadays he would be a celebrated TV-Evangelist and faith-healer. While Barth pays sincere respects to the gospeler, it seems to me, that he is less intrigued by him personally, than by what his ministry symbolizes. He is impressed by the outward effects of what Barth assumes to be the robustness and power of a vital faith. But, above all, he is fascinated by Blumhardt�s exultant incantation: �Jesus ist Sieger!� It is mostly by that famous invocation that Blumhardt is remembered nowadays, even though he did not coin the expression himself. (Over time, the phrase �Jesus is Victor!� as book title has attracted the attention of, inter alia, the prolific Corrie ten Boom, as well as of Donald G. Bloesch [Jesus is Victor!: Karl Barth�s Doctrine of Salvation, Nashville: Abingdon, 1976.])�
42. Blumhardt had not learned of that charismatic formulation from the (defeated) demon, who had evacuated a famous subject of one of his adjurations, Gottliebin Dittus, as is sometimes popularly claimed. Rather, he had learned it from her sister, and later associate in his healing ministry. He had cured the possessed woman of her hysteria, by casting out her evil spirit through exorcism (cf., CD, passim, especially IV, 3.1: 168 ff.). Speculation on the origin of the prayer can lead astray. I suggest that a plausible Biblical connection arguably exists, among many other associations, especially with I Corinthians, 15:54 ff. The woman�s evocation can easily be brought into meaningful contiguity with Paul�s jubilancy, �But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ� (I Co, 15:57).
43. Barth's presentations of the issues involved with Blumhardt's enthusiastic revivalist protocol do not lack a trace of the sardonic. However, his focus is centered on that poignant expression, �Jesus is Victor.� He understands it as an axiomatic invocation of a seemingly authentic-sounding Biblical enjoinment. And he appears to argue that, even though the saying itself is not Biblical, it sounds as if it could have been exclaimed in eschatological times.
44. In any event, inasmuch as the saying does not originate with Blumhardt, but with the sister of the person to whom he had ministered, Barth suspects a conundrum. Consequently, he cannot let go without enough qualifications, centering on Blumhardt�s execution of his mission, to obscure the matter in layers of abstruseness. Nevertheless, he holds that Pietistic devotional formula itself in the high regard that it clearly deserves, as an inspiring, auspicious and empowering prayer.
45. Gerhard Busch reasonably contends that Blumhardt suggested to the young Barth new dimensions for religious practice, and communal participation. These include the need to go beyond an individual's personal interface with God, and embrace interpersonal responsibilities. Additionally, Socialist thinking, and public efforts of the religious community in behalf of the commonweal are needful (op. cit, pp. 39 ff.). Interestingly and rightly, Busch claims that Blumhardt the Pietist caused the young Barth, who, as we have seen, was himself brought up in the Pietist tradition, to begin hatching doubts and distancing himself from that movement (ibid., p. 44).
46. I conclude from this chain of presumptions that there can be no question of an actual �influence,� understood as a shaping, regulating and lasting effect of Blumhardt on Barth. What the older man clearly did achieve, was furnish the young Barth with timely insights, perceptions that hastened his process of growing up. Barth was troubled by the conflicting demands on his identity as bookish academic, and aspiring �professional Christian,� and his alternate self as ingenuous believer, shaped, as he was, by his Pietist legacy.
47. In those days, he was predisposed to be excited by�and could only admire and envy�Blumhardt's apparent natural spirituality, intuitionist healing powers, and aggressive biblicism. (No doubt, the healer's great fame must needs have impressed the young theologian, as well.) These traits contrasted sharply with his own �theoretical� Christianity, so detached from actuality, and they became a litmus for his spiritual self-examination. Later, with the benefit of perspective (and hindsight), Barth discusses all matters connected with the Blumhardt affair in guarded, circumspect terms.
48. The pious resonance of Jesus is Victor!, even though the incantation itself is unconventional and personal, strikes Barth as arresting. And he urges his Liberal and Orthodox coreligionists to emulate the vitalism implicit in a robust devoutness�as typified by the conjuration�so as to overcome their spiritual lethargy. In general, while he is guarded about the source whence it came, he is affirmative about the efficacy of that famous entreaty. To be sure then, the prescriptive imperative implicit in Blumhardt's conduct�faith�if not its hypothetical variant�human failings and striving in behalf of a collectivist cause�excites Barth. Lastly however, it appears that Barth's comprehensive theological position vis-�-vis the Evangelist and Socialist exponent, though it seems conflicted and couched in modifying stipulations, betrays intellectual distance.
49.� It seems to me that Barth's highly inflected passages dealing with the elder Blumhardt attest to the theologian's struggle with separating the issue of �das Ding� from �das Ding an sich.� Accordingly, the challenge before him is to distinguish Blumhardt's activity as a human agent, from the �ground�of� his healing powers, that is, telling action from faith. If all this sounds like one of Barth's celebrated Janus-faced perplexities to some, even though the problem as such is properly theological, the prescient reader will reserve judgment. For decisiveness appears as soon as Barth discovers that Blumhardt allows his revivalist movement to condone and promote the political activities of his son and fellow evangelist, Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt. Barth's reaction to this development proves to be the preliminary litmus test of his own politico-religious stance, to be succeeded� by the definitive prove of his orientation at the inception of the Third Reich.
50. The discovery by Barth of the political actions of the Blumhardts shifts his attitude from fair scepticism to plain disapproval. Here, he draws the line of demarcation beyond which he will not, and cannot, step. His mood then presently swings from conditional approbation to censure. It does so, when he addresses the younger Blumhardt�s conflation of theology, with his deputation as a Social Democrat member of the W�rttemberg Diet (cf., CD, II, 1: 633 f). Such coalescing of religion with politics sends a clear danger signal to Barth, alerting him to take appropriate action. His critical mode now shifts from allusive forensic refutation to forthright critical offence.
"A Surprise" and Satanic Confusion
51. �The two Blumhardts,� Barth says, linked �the Kingdom of God�... �with the eschatology and hope of the Socialist Labour Movement,� causing him a jolting "surprise" (ibid). This unexpected turn in the Blumhardt saga alarms Barth to the dangers of Christian intellectual incoherence. He could not abide such a condition, for it could not be made to accord with his rational advance, especially during the Nineteen-Twenties and beyond. As he later comments in Church Dogmatics, this problem then ramified into his dread of the systematic destruction of Germany from within: the cancer of Nazism. This scourge required Barth's strongest and most unremitting Christian antidote.
52.� Did Barth suspect �from the beginning� an incipient stirring of nationalism in some hidden interstices of Pietism�s essential makeup, apart from its expressly politicized sub-groups? Did he sense the danger, however remote, of some kind of Anabaptist-comparable �M�nsterite Rebellion� (1533 ff., instigated by Jan Matthys) and waywardness implicit in the movement�s bent for irrational fanaticism? (Of course, we must keep in mind that those �radicals� seceded from Pietism�s �dulcet� main streams. Still, it is worth remembering, that the larger Gestalt of� �Sixteenth-Century non-orthodoxy does encompasses both conformist and schismatic Pietists alike.)� Did Barth anticipate that the �German-Christian� sect, with its grotesque simulation of a chiliastic mission by the F�hrer, and of Third-Reich propaganda as eschatology, would somehow appeal to the Pietists as compatible, or even fungible, with their ministry? Did he surmise a potential transfer of mystical allegiances from among Pietism�s followers, and from supporters of charismatic revivalists, such as the Blumhardts, to a secular leader�s creeping insinuations of messiahship? Did he sense in the Pietists� anagogic exuberance, idealism and urge for self-confirmation, and the striving for workers� welfare, espoused by many of their number�irrespective of their initial bona fides�an invidious foreshadowing of their bestial doppelgaenger, the program of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party)?
53. Carping aside, the correct answers to all these enquiries should, in all likelihood, be affirmative. Barth commenced his opposition to religion�s subjugation by temporalities in earnest with his response to Blumhardt the Younger�s full stumble from a Socialism-infused Christian Revivalism, into the heathen arena of partisan politics, in the years just prior to the Big War. It culminated with Barth�s personal conduct in the early Nineteen-Thirties, in response to the catastrophic paroxysm of the Nazi take-over, and his personal choice for freedom of conscience over material gain and enslavement. And it reverberates throughout his Church Dogmatics. He witnessed the collapse of reason, both sectarian-Christian and secular, and he reacted wisely.
54. Barth's summary views on theology's relation to the socio-political sphere assert that, while the Gospel has an innate political potential, nevertheless a Christian State as a theocratic construal is an abomination, and the secular business of the State is never to be confounded with the God-given faith of the Christian (cf., K. Barth, �The Christian Community and the Civil Community,� in Karl Barth, Theologian of Freedom, C. Green, Editor, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1991, pp. 265 ff.).
55. The satanic confusion of totally incompatible competencies�theology and political activism�sorely tests Barth's tolerance for their merger, both theoretically and in its practical implications. For him, theology can always only be God- and Word- originant, it can never initiate from either culture or politics. Reviewing the political diatribe of the Nineteen-Twenties issuing from religious sources, Eberhard Busch�s recitation of a baleful litany of ominous signs matches the era�s political disarray in Germany.
56. The short list of propaganda points issuing specifically from certain politically engaged Pietist quarters is amazingly maladroit, if not atrabilious, or, as seen with the benefit of hindsight, extreme. In addition to expectantly decrying Flapper culture, fashions and mores, the list covers hateful criticism of Democracy, quasi-Antisemitic fulminations, noisy endorsements of ultra-Nationalist parties, excoriations of the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic and, as a mental prophylactic against encroachment by foreigners, exhorting deutsches v�lkisches Denken (German ethnic ideology; cf., Busch, Karl Barth..., op. cit., pp. 249 ff.).���
57. The Fascist Gleichschaltung (synchronization of governance and populace) cast a dark pall over a large swath of modern Western Civilization. (A comparison with Bismarck's short-lived Kulturkampf, prior to the Concordat with Rome, while only passably germane, may give some pause for thought in this connection.) More specifically in our context, Nazi regulation of religious life under the regime of a corporate Gleichschaltung, and the devilment of the so-called German-Christians, easily stand out as the prototypic scandals of Twentieth-Century Christianity. The latter cult's absurd �theological� synthesis of select elements of Christianity with the worship of Hitler as surrogate messiah, the dulia of the German nation as ersatz Promised Land, and their gross obeisance to, and intellectual integration with, the Nazi state apparatus, set a new standard of crack-brained banality. They had bartered their God-given humanity for self-imposed bestiality. �Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man...� �They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator...� (Ro 1:22-23; 25)
58. The political scandal of a nation that had lapsed into societal darkness ramifies for Barth into wider theological priorities. It prompts him, in addition to detaching divine agency from polity, to force apart the ecclesiastic from the secular, Church from culture, the transcendent from the immanent, and the spiritual from the material. Above all, he wants to liberate faith from apologetics based on analogic revelation. Collectively, the regulation of these polarities makes up the foundation of his dogmatics. His defense of a �theology of special revelation� declares the sacrosanct efficiency of the Word of God and Jesus Christ as sufficient in proclaiming the miracle of salvation.
59. Barth pronounced a resolute "Nein!" to the theology of natural revelation, advanced by his colleague and direct contemporary, the Swiss theologian, Emil Brunner (1889-1966). This bluff response, besides betokening sundry other reactions on his part, was Barth's answer to what he perceived as the related cardinal error of rationalizing soteriological with political reasoning. His �No� to Brunner�s analogic �supplementary or tangential� apologetics, is but one celebrated facet of this concern, on the abstract level. On the pragmatic level, lies his forfeiture of a sterling academic career in early Nazi Germany, for the principle of the separation, both theologically and operationally, of Church and State.
60. Barth acted in rigorous opposition to Hitler and the Nazi-compliant �German-Christian� movement (his quotation marks), whose program stood in comity, however obscenely and delusively, with certain Pietist interests. Over half of all German evangelische churches during the war were part of that cult, arguably the vilest since Simon Magus. Barth supported the faithful evangelische Bekennende-Kirche (Confessing Church; a.k.a.,� Bekenntnis-Kirche, �Confessional Church�)�of whose charter, the Barmen Declaration, he was the principal co-author. Thus, he was being consistent: any confounding of religion with politics, regardless of labels�Socialist, fractional partisan-allegiant, Communist, Fascist, etc.�is wrong. Of course, according to his stance, the very epigrammatic befuddlement of� �German� and �Christian,� and apart from the fact that the moniker designates a Nazi cult, would by itself represent an oxymoron.
61. But more substantially, the term itself is brainless, not because Germans cannot also be Christians, and vice versa, but because of that cult�s repressive charter. Christians cannot abide Hitler�s conditions for their continuance as believers, however tempting to the more credulous among them, and have any hope for salvation. Autocratic dictates, nationalistic mandates, �patriotic� slogans, and cultist orders for absolute obeisance to a despot, as stipulations for the Church�s survival, cast the so-called German-Christians, as far as Barth was concerned, into anathematic perdition.
62. In the process of overcoming the �na�vet� of the two Blumhardts,� Barth writes, �we attempted to free ourselves from one-sidedness, especially from that of Pietistic and Liberal Neo-Protestantism.� These agencies, he senses, presaged abject things to come. In �pressing beyond all temporal expectations� and� �beyond the elder Blumhardt,� he felt� �compelled to put behind� himself� �the view of the younger Blumhardt ...which combined the Christian expectation of the Kingdom of God and the Socialist expectation for the future� (CD, II, 1, 634 f).
63. According to Barth, the �theology of hope� espoused by the Blumhardts was in reality a theology of Socialism. As such, it was to be eschewed as some kind of� �Pietism of a supposedly higher order� (ibid). And he contends that any talk about Jesus Christ that is�as with Pietism�not eschatological, is not a theology of any kind that he wishes to recognize (ibid). Later on, he reacted to the early National-Socialist (Nazi) violation of national religious life with an identical perceptiveness. Therefore, it was not only a small step for him to arrive at a verdict of condemnation of the Nazi regime, and its sycophant Church, the German-Christians, but one consistent with his theology, and with his longstanding sense of institutional lawfulness and social justness.
64. Those are among Barth's theological judgments. The preceding contains my initial sketch of his reaction to the �new German order,� and the outrage that he felt for its desecration of his most cherished theological values. As to specifics of his personal heroism in Nazi Germany, in pursuit of fundamental principles�civic freedom and religious association�this is not the place to report. But it is suited for an additional review (in the subsequent), of the positive and remedial entailments of his dogmatic, ethical, and Biblical stance, for the outlook of the person of Christian faith in hard times.
"The Christian Expectation"
65. The younger Barth�the Barth of the commentary on The Epistle to the Romans--fervently defended a radically Christo-centric faith. Eberhard Busch�s study deals in its entirety with the younger Barth's crisis of confidence in, and revolt against, Pietism. His work is based on a close reading analysis of Barth's partly retrospective evaluations of his struggle, in the two editions of Der R�merbrief �(op. cit., 1919, 1922). Busch aptly fleshes out the anxiety and inner turmoil that a traditionalist Pietist church tradition, inherited by the youthful Barth, and a contravening liberal theological reasoning, had caused the young man. As he was broadening his spiritual experience and theological knowledge during his inaugural years as scholar in Marburg, and his initiatory service as minister in Safenwil (Aargau), he was especially susceptible to Blumhardt as a potential arbiter of the �right way.���
66. It appears to me in the purview of the current essay, i.e., concerning Barth's settled opinion, that his political�spell socialist�leanings in those early days, ecclesiastically understood, if not in their secular sense, were, after all, quite faint. (Of course, by comparison to the German theologian, and direct contemporary of his, Rudolf Bultmann [1886-1976], who was politically virtually wordless, Barth appears to have been politically more vocal.)
67. During Barth�s later personal growth as theologian, as traced in Church Dogmatics, the main concern of the present essay, a pragmatic nexus with the Socialist political scene seems to have all but faded. However, all along, he continued to castigate the heresy of the Church�s submission to politics, and condemn the arrogation of religion by the state. In addition, he ventilated episodic critiques of the major political systems of our age, from the perspective of theology. It is important to point out, therefore, that, while Barth�s generic political expression was muted, in its explicit form, it was ideologically evocative and politically potent, in its implicit form.
68. Barth's intuitive theological Anschauung, and the dogmatics that result from that awareness, shape his understanding of Church polity. And they order his sense of ministerial duties toward the community, and of the church's ethical obligations toward the state. To the extent that it matters, the genesis of his mature theological positions is apolitical. His reasoning is exclusory, self-governing, and sovereignly �theo-logical.� But the secular consequences of his effort are equally inescapable. He seeks to pre-form the moral sense of a compatible clergy in behalf of an ordained civic path. He proves to be an �activist by stealth,� his �bookishness� mostly an illusion. In Barth�s personality, the scholastic and seemingly retiring cleric, and the decisive man of civic action do not conflict with but naturally complement each other.�
69.� By relinquishing �temporal expectations,� and committing to a course bound for the �Christian Expectation� of the Kingdom of God, Barth's moral authority continued to gain in persuasive force. Simultaneously, his message about life's sustaining spiritual values gained in authenticity. Seemingly paradoxically, a modest apolitical voice thus became one of the politically more compelling sounds to be heard in the Europe of the later Nineteen-Twenties and Thirties. He thereby disproved the common adage, �talk is cheap,� and proved that� �God-talk is action.� Nor did Barth shrink from submitting his theological conviction to the test of real life. His support of the evangelische Bekenntnis-Kirche may appear to stand as the single most apolitical step in his career as theologian. But in fact, it rises as the single most forceful act of resistance to Nazi policy. No other agency of the German population, or any agent of its leadership elites, accomplished more. Rather than letting it be as an untrimmed rudder swaying in shifting cultural and political currents, Barth fashioned theology qua theology into the lodestar that guides the Christian�s ship of life.
70. To rephrase: theology qua theology is political action! One lesson of that insight for our times is that, if properly disseminated and�one can hope�heeded by audiences, theology can empower civic society. Put differently, theology embodies both a way of life and Weltanschauung and is therefore politically potent. Gerhard Sauter qualifies a similar train of thought profoundly: �Jesus Christ...is revelation and action.� �The crucial point...for the political character of theology is the way...(it) articulates that fundamental condition and is determined by that unconditional fact� (op. cit., p. 132). Pressing for a realization of that potential through his life�s work, against the overwhelming odds arrayed against it by the times and place in which he lived, counts among Barth's finest endeavors.
71. Barth's confrontation with the Blumhardt phenomenon may have begun in his early years, the times of his shock-therapeutic �Dialectic� or �Crisis Theology.� But its full accounting clearly ramifies into, and is prologue to, the main event: Barth's mature work on his critical formulation of the �Christian Expectation.� This process was more broadly circumspect, systematic and purposive than what had come before. It was responsive to select aspects of Thomas Aquinas� dialectic, and the ontological method of Anselm of Canterbury, while demurring to aspects of an increasingly ratio-elenctic Protestant Orthodoxy of, e.g., Franz Turrettini's (d. 1687) quality. Intense study of Anselm�s ontological proof of God�s existence, eventuated Barth's reasoned Fides Quaerens Intellectum: Anselms Beweis der Existenz Gottes (1931). Those were among the stronger influences, in addition to Luther and Calvin, and Paul, for Barth�s later, deictic-discursive, neo-orthodox methodology.
72. Church Dogmatics rises from the intellectual ferment thus begun. In most respects that matter, Barth's psychic vitality rivals that of St. Augustine. Mutatis mutandis, Barth's work fulfills a historical role equivalent to the Father's The City of God. The Church Father declares the cultural wake of paganism morbid, and advances the victory of the Christian Way. He forecasts analytically an epic struggle between competing life models as being forthwith won for Jesus. Barth analyzes the intellectual aftermath of Die Aufkl�rung (Enlightenment), and finds virtually all of it in profound theological error. His opus magnum advances a paradigm shift in the structure of modern logic for coping with that desolation. He articulates the �Christian Expectation� and prefigures dialectically the re-establishment of the rule of God on Earth. From neither theologian's vantage point is a return to a previous metaphysical state a reasonable option. Advance is only possible in a forward direction, along the revolutionary path of the essential theological thought that each had staked out for his time.
Biblical Hermeneutics is Final
73. It is necessary now to take up briefly Barth's interpretation of Scriptural texts. This key Christian protocol not only determines the nature of his theology throughout, but also shapes the quality of his worldly ideology and general outlook on life. For this reason, his Biblical hermeneutics inevitably points to a correct final accounting of our subject. To rephrase: my thesis, that the belief in �Jesus is Victor� must lead to a corresponding belief that �God-talk is action,� can only be anchored in, and pivot around, an Evangelical Biblical faith. For Barth that is his arma Christi, equal to �putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation� (1 Th 5:8). Therefore, visiting Barth's hermeneutic inflection of that Evangelical trust is indispensable as a meaningful terminus of the current study.���
74. The New Testament, represented with about twice as much exegetical referencing and commentary in Church Dogmatics than the Old Testament, is the focus of Barth's attention. He contends that, to the extent that his hermeneutics is Jesus-centered, it is lodged in contingent history. To the extent it is concerned with the Christ, it is, in addition to being historically stipulated, determined by revelatory necessity. Collectively, his hermeneutics is a reasoned complex of historical and epiphanic constituents, combining to a comprehensive methodology. Barth discourses at great length on a problem that vexes him more than most, the difference between general (e.g., literary, or historical, or philosophical hermeneutics) and Biblical hermeneutics, without seeming to reach an unequivocal conclusion. Significantly though, he avers that �biblical, theological hermeneutics is not claiming for itself a mysterious special privilege,� but is open to all (CD, I, 2, 727.).
75. Barth's hermeneutic methodology proceeds simultaneously along a miraculous transcendent track, and an earthbound human trail. As to the heavenly convergence, all relevant phases of exegesis are to orient themselves by its divine suasion. As I have pointed out in the foregoing, it was Barth�s consuming passion to translate and condense that heavenly prescript into theological language. As to his understanding of the terrestrial or embodied contingency of Scriptures, with a vital bearing on our theme, only the following supplement.
76. Barth states that �we have to understand and expound the Bible as a human word...� (CD, I, 2, p. 466). Trevor Hart, a distinguished professor of divinity in the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, correctly assesses the nature of Barth�s complex bifold attitude toward Biblical criticism. Under the evidentiary weight of the historico-critical method of Scriptural study, Barth is disinclined to subscribe to Biblical infallibility and inerrancy. This shapes his understanding of the Bible in full �recognition of a genuinely human textuality, with all its attendant weaknesses and problems,� (Regarding Karl Barth, Toward a Reading of his Theology, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999, p. 40).
77. Bruce L. McCormack addresses the issue forthrightly: �The Bible is God�s Word� as a confession of faith.� He then posits a dynamic thesis of advancement as the hypostasis of� Barth�s methodology. Accordingly, the Bible �does not become God�s Word because we accord it faith but in the fact that it becomes revelation to us� (italics mine). Moreover, McCormack stresses his conviction that, contrary to some of Barth�s Evangelical critics, �Evangelicals will find Barth an ally and not a competitor� (�The Being of Holy Scripture is in Becoming: Karl Barth in Conversation with American Evangelical Criticism,� paper presented at the Tenth Annual Wheaton Theology Conference, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, April 5, 2001).
78. Leaving little doubt about his assessment of Biblical truth in balance with contingency, Barth asserts, in his little volume on Evangelical theology, that �the first presupposition of biblical theology is held in common with all historical-critical research, for the biblical texts are subject to the scrutiny of that research� (Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology, An Introduction, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1963; 1996, p.176). Lastly, collectively, and in its entirety, the aim of the Bible is �the name Jesus Christ� (CD, I, 2, p. 727). Moreover, �this insight is not a privilege of the theologian,� by any means, but openly accessible to the general reader (ibid).
79. The complexity and nuance of Barth's exegetical reasoning becomes apparent when one realizes that it can embolden latter-day practitioners of form criticism (e.g., the scholars of the Jesus Seminar), to recruit him to their cause and, by analogy, to some kind of context-driven spirituality, e.g., existentialist, political, liberationist, etc.� But, to begin with, the correctness of such a move seems to be invalidated by the trenchant disagreement between Barth, and form criticism's foremost originator and practitioner, the Biblical theologian, Rudolf Bultmann. It is of signal importance to the concerns aired in this essay, and instructional for fleshing out Barth's interpretational stance, to show how their respective approaches to hermeneutics diverge. Briefly, the following issues stand out.
80. Bultmann's understanding of the Bible is existentialist, individuate, situational. Correspondingly, his concept of faith is psychologically contextualized and, yes, analogous to Pietism. (He is linked to Pietism via a family environment developed by his Pietist minister father, and Pietist minister grandfather; via his [and Barth's] teacher, the Pietist Wilhelm Herrmann; as well as by a form of voluntary diacritic Wahlverwandschaft with Pietism). Because Bultmann's psychologist reading of the Bible neglects the historical humanity of Jesus, and because his theology is �existentialistically� reader-self-referential, his position is principally inclined to accommodate preconditions for a fulfilled realization of Christian dogma and practice. By contrast, for Barth,� �contextualizing� the �miracles� of faith and justification, in order to explain or integrate them into temporal matters, as well as including the famously Bultmannian �psychogenic expectancy� for their discernment, is anathema to his teaching.��
81. With equal weight on the present concerns, Trevor Hart�s reference to �human textuality� in Barth�s hermeneutics, pertains to Jesus� earthly embodiment, and the Gospel record of that event. It clearly does not refer to �contextualizing� faith as being contingent on externalities, whatever their nature. Unlike Bultmann's non-historicist (and �demythologized�) approach to the Bible, therefore, Barth stands in communion with its contingent history. Equally substantially, his reading of the Bible, as his theology, is also ontological, logos-extensional, and theocentric. Inasmuch as �Theology stands and falls with the Word of God� (Barth, Evangelical Theology, op. cit., p. 17), it cannot abide any �contextualizing� hypostasis or rationalizing apologetics for its ontological bearings.
82. To restate, Barth's overall approach to Biblical hermeneutics is twofold: the path of the human, and the way of the divine. Human textuality is ensconced in history, and fixed firmly in the incarnate Jesus. The Godly context is vouchsafed by Christ and His Resurrection. Knowledge of the former is subject to mortal science and research; certainty of the latter, to faith awaiting the Word of God. �There is no divine, eternal, spiritual level at which the Christ-event is not also �worldly� and therefore this human history.� �The humanity of Jesus...like his deity...is integral to the whole event� (CD, IV, 2, p. 35).� Jesus Christ as man and God, as action and revelation, is the institution of the �Christian Expectation� of the Kingdom of God, which holds all of life�s contingencies and all eschatological hope in its sway. Therein lies the crux of the matter: Barth�s hermeneutics, his theology, and his dealings with life.���
Theology: A License to Act
83. Throughout his life, Barth's combative pursuit of doctrinal truth seems to have followed Luther's example, and especially the spirit of the latter's empowering �battle hymn,�
Ein� feste Burg ist unser Gott,
ein gute Wehr und Waffen.
Barth's critical grasp of the issues broached in the subtitle of this essay, grew out of his elaborations on the Living Trinity, and related aspects of dogmatic certitude, as they were given to him to understand and articulate. In due course, destiny was to severely test his abidance to his theological principles. In the process of being tested, Barth refashioned his earlier academic interest into a theology as a license to act, and endowed it with the quality of a �full armor of God� (Eph. 6:11). What ensued is a trenchant metaphor of a theologian's righteous defiance, and the stuff of an individual's larger-than-life history.
84. Confronted with a personal crisis of conscience, and accompanying crises in his academic, pastoral, institutional, civic, and political lives�his �existence� was on the line�Barth forged theological presuppositions into ramparts of a �mighty fortress� for life.� Also, in seeming recall of the Reformer�s conclusive words at the Imperial Diet at Worms (1521), he defended his theological stand as irrevocable: �I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.�����
85. Barth's spirit-infused conscience, the monitor of his theology, does not appear to have been modulated by humanistic eventualities, subject to timely change. Rather, he seems to have acted under license of God's command.� This made his stand unalterable and beyond recall. �The command of this Commander is a permission ...� a license �...to believe in Jesus Christ, and in and with the fact that we live in this faith to do the right� (CD, II, 2, p. 585).
The whole world will not move him
whom truth hath established in humility�
(Thomas � Kempis, Imitation of Christ, , Brooklyn, New York: Confraternity of the Precious Blood, 1954, III, , 14, 4.)
86. Barth struggled �to do the right� by various means but with a surpassing goal in sight: �by stating his plainspoken dedication to the Word and Christ as the foundation of faith; by fighting against general revelation as warrant for the knowledge of God; by upholding special, Biblical revelation as the threshold to the self-disclosure of Jesus Christ. From their compelling, inner numinous coherence, and the authoritative logic present in these commitments, flowed Barth's life's work. From them arose his Church Dogmatics and, yes, his conclusive rationale on Pietism, the Blumhardts and politics. And all along, he held fast the eschatological blazon, Jesus is Victor!
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