Saturday, 13 November 2010

Quote of the day: Gunkel/Barth

Daß es sich im Alten Testament um eine bewegende Sache handeln möchte, fing mir erst in Berlin bei Gunkel aufzugehen (Nachwort 190f.; Busch, Leben 51; cited in Bächli, Das Alte Testament in der Kirchlichen Dogmatik von Karl Barth, 3.
What was it that Barth saw in Gunkel? I won't share my thoughts here, as my own answer constitutes part of my thesis (though see Bächli on pp. 324-325). I just wanted to share this quote as a witness to the fact that Barth, and Childs, never intended or wanted to escape the challenge of either the Enlightenment or historical-criticism. Their approaches go through it and thus result in a vision of Scripture and God which, as far as I am concerned at least, makes my heart burn. I worry that the contemporary growth in "theological exegesis" hasn't fully grasp the move made by Barth and then Childs on this score.

Otto Bächli's book is awesome (I'm surprised Childs' didn't cite it in his Biblical Theology). Incidentally, he was born in Switzerland in 1920 and there a section on him on this amazing website by the Swiss Reformed Church dedicated to the memories of Swiss pastors during the war. Here's the reason he got into Old Testament:
Wir hatten ein Bauernhaus mit vier Wohnungen, und in einer lebten Juden. Wir sprachen auch Jiddisch im Umgang mit jüdischen Kindern. Wohl aus diesen Erfahrungen heraus wurde später mein Hang zum Alten Testament und zum Hebräischen sehr stark.

10 comments:

Andrew Esqueda said...

Phillip,
Paul Dafydd Jones in his book "The Humanity of Christ," has a footnote regarding Barth's relationship to historical critical method (55n). Basically, Barth saw some merit in historical criticism, but, like his concerns with the historical Jesus, did not want to reduce Christ nor scripture to mere historical phenomena.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Andrew,

I'm currently writing on Barth, though no where near in depth as your own studies! I've limited myself to his Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, which I find very helpful. As I read it, I can't help but feel that for Barth it was no so much a matter of wanting to be a little historical critical and then supplement that with theology, but that his theology was so comprehensive that that historical critical methods and conclusions were subsumed within it. I feel like he took a look at the criticism of his day (I see affinities between his thought and form criticism) and then went through it rather than around it, even while remaining committed to a concept of authorial intentionality! My key text here is on pp. 192-193 of the German edition (1962), the bit where he talks about the exegetical task of theology. I think one reason why Barth is seen as being anti-critical (which you rightly say is wrong) is because the actual exegesis he produced seemed to pay to attention to criticism. But that is a separate issue to the question of how he grounded his approach, which was "critical" (albeit in a confessional framework). Can you recommend any other good secondary literature?

Phil Sumpter said...

I just came across this comment in Webster entry on Barth in the Dictionary for the Theological Interpretation of the Bible: "Barth considered historical criticism necessary but insufficient. It is necessary because the interpreter must seek to grasp the biblical text as what it is, in all its historical contingency. It is insufficient because the contingent text is defined by its function within revelation … Barth’s critics considered his exegesis to be mere practical or spiritual theology; yet this hardly met his challenge that exhaustive historical explanations of the text fail to treat Scripture in accordance with its objective character as an instrument of revelation.” (p. 82). I would prefer to re-define "historical criticism" itself, as the claim that the question of the reality of God is irrelevant to historical analysis is, in my (and evidently Barth's/Webster's) opinion misguided (if understandable in the light of plenty of ecclesial abuse).

Phil Sumpter said...

Sorry, another quote, this time by Childs (unpublished paper, 1969): Barth is postcritical in that he "had gone through the challenge of the Enlightenment and proceeded beyond it. He had been trained by the historical critics of Marburg and Berlin, but he sought to overcome this legacy, not by denying it, but by transcending it. I recall a conversation that I once had with Paul Hanson of Harvard in which he argued that Barth was simply a latter-day Fundamentalist. I could not have disagreed more. No one who has read a line of Barth could ever have thought this. His stance toward Scripture was radically different." [Given that this is a public forum, I should thank Daniel Driver more making this paper available to me].

Andrew Esqueda said...

Hey Philip,
Bruce McCormack has an excellent essay you should read. Here is the reference

Bruce L. McCormack, “Historical Criticism and Dogmatic Interest in Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis of the New Testament” in Biblical Hermeneutics in Historical Perspective: Studies in Honor of Karlfried Froehlich on His Sixtieth Birthday, eds. Mark S. Burrows and Paul Rorem (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991)

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks Andrew, that looks good! I read a footnote on McCormack in which said similar things. He also apparently made the (in my eyes) fatal mistake of lumping Childs in with the "Yale school" :)

Andrew Esqueda said...

If Child's is not within the Yale School. Does he fall within any particular school of thought?

Bobby Grow said...

It does seem clear that in many ways Barth's working out of things was clearly right through and not around His Liberal heritage. I think his belief that Scripture has errors, or acceptance of "Higher criticism," makes this point quite clear. He just uniquely, through his theory of revelation, figured out a way to get deal with higher criticism in Evangelical ways.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Andrew,

I'm not sure I'm well enough informed about the history of thought to make an authoritative statement about whether Childs stands in a school. Is there are "Barth" school? There adjective "Barthian" can mean different things because Barth himself has been variously interpreted (cf. McCormacks "Forward" to Burnett). Childs is very Barthian, but in his own interpretation. I actually started reading Barth after Childs and I did it through the lens of my understanding of Childs. I've found this incredibly helpful for interpreting Barth and I do think that Childs should be respected on this. Unfortunately, Childs' explicit interaction with Barth is either unpublished or not easily available. I've e-mailed you a couple.

I think Childs' thought ought to start a school. For now, Seitz would be the main "follower."

Bobby,

I do think his theory of revelation is important here. Which one do you have in mind? I'm thinking of the "three forms of the word."

Nida said...

i love this post….!!!
its is so awesum…….i ws lost in a trance while i ws readin it……
gr8 wrk !!!!

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