An Index to the Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum Posts: And Some Closing Thoughts on the Whole Ordeal

I have many things floating through my mind and heart right now; particularly because of the fallout produced by me thinking outloud and online in regard to the Christiane Tietz essay on Karl Barth’s and Charlotte von Kirschbaum’s relationship. I’ve already spilled much too much cyber-ink at this point attempting to genuinely work through the dilemma it caused me; and also have responded to a detractor’s post. It has cost me much more than I would have realized to simply raise this issue, and attempt to honestly work through it next to Holy Scripture. This will continue to be an issue for me to deal with, and I’ve already noted how I will attempt to do that; but that’s not enough for my critics, to them I’m as good as a legalist/moralist for even thinking that I should attempt to read Barth’s situation against what Scripture clearly says in regard to the qualifications for being a teacher in the church that belongs to Jesus Christ.

I was going to write a post on John Webster’s discussion on the Trinity; in regard to the relationship between the economic (ad extra) and immanent (ad intra) Triune life of God. But let me just use this post instead as an index for all five of my posts, to date, having to do with the Barth concern. That way, if people want to caricature me in the future, or label me as a moralist/legalist they will have ease of access to all the relevant posts (the posts start from the earliest to the latest in descending order).

Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum: My Response

A Comment In Regard To My Last Post On Barth and Kirschbaum

My Final Post, Ever, On Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum

Wrestling With An Approach To Karl Barth, And Some Advice From D Stephen Long

Am I A Moralist?  I Guess I am: Barth and von Kirschbaum

A Podcast on Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum on my Always Reforming Podcast

I’ve Quit Reading Karl Barth

There’s every address I made on this issue. Hopefully you will appreciate the tone of every single one of my posts. None of it was ever intended to besmirch Barth or von Kirschbaum, but instead it was all a matter of me responding to some news about Barth that honestly shocked and surprised me. It went way more “viral” than I even imagined, and now there are other posts that have popped up online; some are attacking me; some are using this situation to attack Barth; and some just seem to want to get in on the action in disingenuous ways. Whatever the case may be, my intention was to stop and engage with an issue that confronted me square between the eyes. I am willing to almost bet money that I have written more about Barth’s theology, online, in a consistent manner over the last decade than almost anybody online; and I’ve done so in a favorable and positive manner (in regard to Barth’s theology itself). So when I, as a “Barth blogger” (I blog about Torrance and other things a lot too, of course), wanted to genuinely engage with Barth on his relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum, all of the sudden I was supposed to cease being a Barth blogger. I was to be silent, and not be a moralist (a view propagated by a very popular online theological personality); I wasn’t, as an evangelical Christian supposed to follow my conviction and go to Scripture and see what it says about the kind of relationship Barth had with Charlotte von Kirschbaum for most of his adult married life. Bobby Grow is supposed to keep his mouth shut, and his fingers immobile when it comes to this issue. That’s been the impression, and in fact the admonition I’ve received from many who think that I am a moralist in all of this; for going to Holy Scripture to see how I ought to respond to this scenario.

The only way around Scripture on this is to go around Scripture, or make Scripture something else; make it so that it doesn’t impinge on the ethics of Christianity or the church today. The only way around lots of ethical issues today is to reorient Scripture in such a way that it doesn’t speak to us about morality in any meaningful way; unless we want it to. But the bottom line in this approach is that it is contingent on the way that we want to read Scripture rather than how Scripture and its reality in Jesus Christ want to read and confront us. This approach is readily available, and there are some right now attempting to reorient Scripture in this way (and of course this has been going on for a long time); but that’s not the way I have followed, nor ever will. I am genuinely Reformed and evangelical (historically understood) when it comes to the authority of Holy Scripture (and other things too). This indeed is what caused the whole dilemma with Barth (and von Kirschbaum) for me in the first place; and now this is what is causing the rub and fallout between me and those who would rather skirt Scripture and read it in a way that is malleable to what they think ethics should look like.

Like I have already noted in my “Wrestling With An Approach To Karl Barth” post, there are still themes in Barth’s theology (particularly when it comes to election) that I don’t think I could ever really abandon. I do think Barth’s Christological concentration, as far as prolegomena goes, is the best way; and yet of course this way is not unique to Barth as TF Torrance points out in his referral to Athanasius and others in the history of the church. Like I’ve noted, going forward, my engagement with Barth will be from a different perspective, and more critical (meaning more in terms of engaging with a scholar rather than an “Uncle”) than it was before. But some of his themes have most likely made a life-long impact on me; so you’ll still be seeing that in my posts and writings going forward.

One last point: I will say something very interesting happened as a result of this. Most of the people who I have been most critical of (not personally), theologically—those who affirm some sort of Westminster styled Calvinism, or who are Thomists, etc.—have shown me the most support in this; which really surprised me. And the people who are for Barth, in the main, have shunned me; and now labeled me a moralist (not all, but many!). That says something to me; and it makes this whole thing that much more enlightening.




22 thoughts on “An Index to the Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum Posts: And Some Closing Thoughts on the Whole Ordeal

  1. I struggle to see not only how you are a moralist/legalistic for having issues with this, I equally struggle to see how anyone can have any issues calling sin sin…this sounds more like others are committing a form of idolatry of Barth or some form of antinomianism to deny that violation of the Law is not sin.

    I’m not a Barthian by any stretch, but even I can recognize many of the theologians I draw on and venerate were sinful (St. Cyril of Alexandria was a jerk, St. John Chrysostom most likely was an anti-Semite, etc). Jesus Christ is the only sinless one.


  2. Hello Christopher,

    Well you’re probably a moralist yourself then; I think that’s how you’d be tagged too. 🙂

    Yes, we’re all sinful, but that is irrelevant in a certain nuanced way (a way that folks want to gloss right past over and over again) in this specific situation.


  3. This dilemma you are talking about in connection with Karl Barth’s relationship to Charlotte von Kirschbaum is similar to the biblical witness of King David’s relationship to Bathsheba. When we read of the adulterous affairs of both men, it does not make them any less but also neither more than men and servants of the Lord God. Neither man is held less or more accountable to their Lord Jesus Christ for their acts committed in this flesh. This is also an encouragement for us today, who also believe the gospel that our old sinful and adulterous self has been crucified according to the witness of scripture and that we have been raised from the dead with Christ according to the testimony of scripture to a new man in Christ, who is obedient and serves God. That our minds are renewed in this thought pattern every day anew is the gracious work of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Spirit we are permitted to receive.


  4. 2chalcedon,

    It’s not in anyway parallel; except for the adultery. David repented Barth lived into it. Why people can’t or won’t see this hampers this whole discussion to a non-go.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good for you Bobby. Your critics from the left are good examples of what Bonhoeffer would call “cheap grace” ….grace without repentance…grace without obedience. Many of them would wink at adultery just as they wink at homosexual practice. They don’t like what the Scriptures consistently say. They know better. Barth, Bonhoeffer and the Torrances all point us back beyond themselves to Scripture and the Lord of the Scriptures! We are ALL called to repentance and obedience…whether we like it or not. And being faithful does not make one a moralist or a legalist!


  6. Hi Don,

    I agree w/ you. Barth, Bon, and TFT do indeed point beyond themselves to Christ; which has always been their appeal to me. This has just made me more critical in regard to focusing on who Barth is pointing to, and thinking about how he’s doing that; and making sure he is consistently doing that and not subconsciously doing it in a way that might allow any type of space for a life lived that is not accountable to the reality of the witness itself.


  7. I had the same question bareknuckle! I thought it was a very thoughtful article. I look forward to reading Galli’s book. It all goes to prove the old maxim..”corruptio optima pessima.”…corruption of the best is the worst. I had a very deep discussion with Markus Barth about sexual ethics (including adultery, of course) many years ago. I thought at the time that he did not say much…now I know why. Karl Barth really must have created a very painful home for his wife and children. All in all, it may help us see that not only our theology…but our ethics…must be grounded in the Word of God…and not in our pathetic subjectivity.


  8. And while I appreciate what Mark is saying I don’t actually agree with him in identifying Barth’s dialecticism, as a theological method, as the rationales upon which Barth rationalized his relationship with CvK. If anything my critique would be that the way Barth thought of humanity as objectified in Christ’s might allow him to have a serious hole in regard to how sanctification looks. So the “subjective” point Mark highlights might be more on point. But that said, I’m not exactly sure, at this point, that I want to tie Barth’s theological insights into this CvK relationship. I think it’s more complex than that, and too post hoc to attempt to identify these things given the complexity of what it means to be human with all the mixture that entails between us living in 1st Adam 2nd Adam verities.


  9. It’s looking like the old Rick Warren adage has some substance to it: that pastors, leaders, influencers, etc., have to deal with either Gold (greed), girls (lust), or glory (fame), if not all three.
    I had to process some disappointment last year myself when I heard allegations made about a man who shaped a great deal of my own early Christian thought. I can’t be sure he was guilty of the charges, since he died in the early 70’s, and there is nowhere near the amount of certainty about his case as with Barth. Still, it made me wonder about the hidden corridors of men’s hearts, and how little we know of one another. It also warned me and ignited a resolve about not becoming a disappointment to others (If that is possible). Maybe Paul was aware of this danger, coveting the prayers of the believers in Philippi that he would not be put to shame (1:20).


  10. BB,

    I agree with you. There is a kind of disillusioning effect that happens in all of this, but I think it can be a healthy thing. It has been for me in this situation, but I’ve had other experiences with not so prominent people (i.e. relative to Barth’s status); as you’re mentioning. It is disheartening. And you’re right, it really points me back to my own walk and my own need to rely on God’s grace and mercy that much more. Thank you.


  11. Don,

    You say you studied with Markus Barth; where at? A daughter of a colleague of M Barth’s commented on my first post in this whole string of posts I did. She said her father recounted something M Barth had told him about K Barth and CvK.


  12. Bobby,

    I took a course from Markus in In Vancouver Canada (the real Vancouver). My wife and I hosted Markus and his wife at our home…and it was there that we discussed human sexuality. Before the discussion his wife was very perceptive and observed that I seemed very stressed. I told Markus that she was insightful…as I was in the midst of defending traditional biblical sexual ethics against the liberal approval of the homosexual ideology in a very liberal denomination(UCC) In the conversation I mentioned that I felt that many liberals also approved of adultery….frequently because of their own behavior. He said nothing about his family experience. But he did encourage me to continue.
    And by the way I also studied with James Torrance in Richmond Virginia(Union Seminary) and with TFT in Edinburgh where he and John McIntyre were my PHD thesis supervisors. I have the greatest respect for James and Tom and hope and expect never to be disappointed by their personal failures. I have had many conversions in my life…and certainly one was having my eyes opened in TFT’s lectures. I know some felt angry and confused by what he was teaching…but I left his lectures afraid I would hit my head on the door-frame(they seemed to very small doors in New College!) I was so excited!
    We all are tempted…and the knowledge that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have made their home in my heart has been a source of strength for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Bobby,

    My last name is Faris. My fathers family were Presbyterians in Killeshandra and then Dublin Ireland…..who moved to North Dakota and then to Vancouver. Faris is an anglicized form of the gaelic Fergus…the first Christian king of Dalriata.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I am certain that Her Britannic Majesty would be pleased to know that even rebellious colonies name their communities after Her Britannic Majesties Captain Vancouver.

    Liked by 2 people

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