I just picked up George Hunsinger’s recently released (February 22, 2012) edited book, Thy Word Is Truth: Barth On Scripture. I am really excited to dig into this! Here is what the blurb says on the back jacket:
Over the past two decades studies on Karl Barth have become increasingly technical. The ironic result is that although Barth wrote chiefly for preachers, scholars have become the primary gatekeepers to his rich theological thought. This collection of essays introduces Karl Barth with both clarity and depth, providing pastors and other serious readers with a valuable overview of Barth’s views on Scripture. George Hunsinger — himself a recognized expert on Barth — and eight other scholars cover such topics as Barth’s belief that Scripture is both reliable and inspired, his typological exegesis, his ideas about time and eternity, and more. Reading this book will whet the reader’s appetite to engage further with Barth himself.
And here is what William Willimon says of the book on the back jacket as well:
In this exciting volume George Hunsinger (our finest contemporary interpreter of our greatest contemporary theologian, Karl Barth) gathers a distinguished group of scholars to assess and interpret Barth as a reader of Scripture. Each of these essays, in different ways, offers fresh insights into the theology of Karl Barth and into Scripture as a living witness to the truth who is Jesus Christ.
The authors and their respective chapters are:
1. Scripture and Tradition in the Theology of Karl Barth, Robert McAfee Brown p. 3
2. The Doctrine of Inspiration and the Reliability of Scripture, Katherine Sonderegger, p. 20
3. Postcritical Scriptural Interpretation: Rudolf Smend on Karl Barth, George Hunsinger, p. 29
4. Scripture as Realistic Narrative: Karl Barth as Critic of Historical Criticism, Hans W. Frei, p. 49
5. “A Type of the One to Come”: Leviticus 14 and 16 in Barth’s Church Dogmatics, Kathryn Greene-McCreight, p. 67
6. “Living Righteousness”: Karl Barth and the Sermon on the Mount, A Katherine Greib, p. 86
7. The Same Only Different: Karl Barth’s Interpretation of Hebrews 13:8, George Hunsinger, p. 112
8. Barth’s Lecture on the Gospel of John, John Webster, p. 125
9. “Thy Word Is Truth”: The Role of Faith in Reading Scripture Theologically with Karl Barth, Paul D. Molnar, p. 151
10. The Heart of the Matter: Karl Barth’s Christological Exegesis, Paul Dafydd Jones, p. 173
APPENDICES: Examples of Barth on Scripture
A. On 1 Samuel 25: David and Abigail, p. 199
B. On the Gospel of John: The Prophetic Work of Christ, p. 213
C. On the Barmen Declaration: How Scripture Continually Saves the Church, p. 223
A Personal Aside on Thinking Deeply & Theologically/Christologically
As you just read in the blurb — “Barth wrote chiefly for preachers, …” — and yet an average (and even above average and highly motivated) preacher who picks up Barth today will most likely be scratching his head a lot; indeed, this has to be the case for anyone who has ever tried to engage Barth at almost any level. But this reality brings me to something that I continue to find evocatively troubling; that is, that pastors and lay Christian people are not availing themselves of the rich storehouse of teachers that Christ has bequeathed his Church (cf. Eph. 4). To try and engage a teacher of the Church, like Karl Barth, requires a tenacity and soul searching that I don’t think most Christians have the time or even the temerity for. In fact I would suggest that at least in the American culture (if not the broader Western one), our microwaved conditioning and sound-bited existence make it that much more difficult for us to clear enough time to sit down and try to wrestle through the kind of thinking that Karl Barth provokes. Beyond this (and this is true to form relative to the American culture), in American Evangelicalism we have been taken captive by what some have termed a solo scriptura; meaning that all we need is the Bible, meaning that all I need is my own personal, introspective and private reading of the Bible for my daily bread. But this seems far from the reality, and my strongest argument against ‘solo scriptura’ (or scripture by itself in contrast to the Reformed ‘sola scriptura’) is that Jesus himself actually reinterpreted the Old Testament scriptures (often times in contrast to the Rabbinic readings of his earthly day) in light of himself. This at the least should underscore the fact that the scriptures have a ‘canon’ or standard by which they themselves are measured; indeed, this canon is none other than Christ in God’s life himself. In short, even Jesus engaged in what today has been termed as ‘theological-exegesis’; even Jesus recognized that you didn’t or couldn’t just read scripture in isolation or as your own private Readers-Digest. No, Jesus understood that the context through which the scriptures made sense was only in light of a theological reality.
So getting back to why reading someone like Barth is worthwhile: Because Barth offers a depth to the Christian grammar (or language through which Christians try to make sense of the reality of scripture; for example, by inventing terminology like Trinity etc.) that has had a substantial impact on large swaths of the Christian church. So we ought to spend the time, at least, thinking through what he communicated. I want to say much more, and maybe I will later in more posts. But I just want to reiterate how important it is to read theological works for Christian growth. I am not trying to suggest that reading the Bible is wrong — God forbid it!— I am suggesting that the thought that reading the Bible without understanding doesn’t make much sense; especially when Jesus has provided teachers for his Church (which we know by reading scripture).