Ben De Bono's Reviews > Church Dogmatics 4.3.1

Church Dogmatics 4.3.1 by Karl Barth
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Jun 02, 12

bookshelves: theology
Read from May 21 to June 02, 2012

This volume is stronger than the first two in the Doctrine of Reconciliation. While some of my gripes from those are still carried over here (Barth's theology continues to be more pedestrian than it had been in previous volumes though, again, less so than in the last two), this volume also serves as a fantastic encapsulation of the series as a whole. Barth's elliptical style is on full display here as he returns to themes he'd previously developed in the series and examines them from new angles or places them alongside a fresh context.

As I continue in the series, my admiration for Barth's structure only continues to grow. Theology aside, it's truly one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the series. His ability to weave in old themes without ever becoming repetitive is unparalleled and gives the series an aesthetic quality rarely found in works like this.

In addition, I believe it also makes for better theology. Where a traditional systematic approach examines a topic and then, for the most part, moves on, Barth's method of returning to old ideas and reviving them from new angles better demonstrates the complexity of true theology. It's ironic that one of the major weaknesses of systematic theology is its tendency to systematize. It presents its topic in a manner that is far more linear and neat than what one finds in Scripture. While it's a necessary evil that comes with the field, Barth's approach does a tremendous amount to alleviate the problem. A pity his successors seemed to have learned so little from his structure.

I'd be remiss if I spent this entire review on structure, so let me briefly address a couple of things that struck me from the content. First, Barth's subsection on Christ the Victor is extremely strong and well developed. He's right to show that Jesus' battle is offensive and not defensive. This section also demonstrates Barth's ability (as seen throughout the series) to handle the complexities of the relationship between God and man. He shows how we initially stand as Christ's enemies, thus making us, at least in part, the targets of his offensive. Yet through that very offensive we are reconciled to God and are therefore no longer his enemies. I can't do justice to the argument here but suffice to say it's some of Barth's best work.

The section at the end of the book, where Barth once again discusses damnation and the possibility of universal salvation, ought to show once and for all how simplistically he is viewed by his evangelical critics. Too often Barth is accused of being a universalist plan and simple. But the truth is far more complicated than that. He states clearly that humanity is under the threat of eternal damnation. However, he also states that God is capable of removing that threat and we ought to hope and pray that he does so. Whether one agrees with Barth or not is outside the point. His critics ought to do him the courtesy of understanding the argument they're disagreeing with. I've read too many evangelical critiques (i.e. Norman Geisler) that simply fail to do so. To put it bluntly, if you can't comprehend a nuanced, complex argument and interact with it accordingly, then you really have no business writing theology let alone critiquing the work done by others.
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