Karl Barth and the Incarnation

Jim Cassidy discusses Darren O. Sumner’s book, Karl Barth and the Incarnation: Christology and the Humility of God. Dr. Cassidy wrote a review article on the book in the Fall 2017 issue (Vol. 79, No. 2) of the Westminster Theological Journal.

Participants: ,


Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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Sandro Plenta

1 year ago

It hurts, but I think I have to address the following facts about Karl Barth..

Now that it has been made public through the recent publishing of Bart’s private correspondence that he lived in bigamy, we should consider reviewing our assessment of his writings.
I guess you did not have the opportunity to read the latest revelations about his private life. See the serious NZZ newspaper article: https://www.nzz.ch/das_strengste_urteil_wider_mein_irdisches_leben-1.1415546

Having a wife and five children, he introduced his beloved secretary Charlotte von Kirschbaum (his Lollo) in his conjugal home and lived in bigamy. It is impossible that such a life in rebellion against God’s Spirit had no influence on his formulated theology. He may have been very smart and have made many theological connections through his intellectual capacity, but there is a great probability that his theological treaties are just his own opinions, but are far to reflect God’s truth as revealed to pious souls by the Holy Spirit.

Darren Sumner

3 months ago

Gents: Thank you kindly for the conversation and the attention to the book. I’m only now discovering this podcast episode, and I’m most grateful for the engagement.

One comment I will leave here (in lieu of a longer conversation we should definitely have in a dimly lit pub one day) pertains to the question of Barth’s orthodoxy vis-a-vis Chalcedon, which you turn to at the end of the discussion. The final two chapters of the book are preoccupied with this question. Barth wishes to affirm the substance of Chalcedonian orthodoxy — very God and very man, without division or separation, confusion or change, etc. — while articulating that substance in ways that make use of a different “metaphysical” (McCormack would say “post-metaphysical”) apparatus. This is his actualism. So rather than metaphysically construed “natures,” for example, Barth opts for categories like “history”: As the incarnate Son of God Jesus Christ has an authentic human history, and also an authentic divine history. (Why he does this, and what he thinks he gets out of it, are of course also taken up in the book … which is now in the ever-so-affordable paperback.)

In my judgment this sort of modern restatement is entirely in-bounds with respect to the question of whether one’s theology ought to be adjudicated as orthodox. It is a matter of form, if you will, rather than content. And while it is the case that the ancient church operated within the metaphysical parameters of its own cultural moment, and affirmed terminology (“person” and “nature”) that would be interpreted in some metaphysically specific ways (though cf. Sarah Coakley’s “What Does Chalcedon Solve and What Does It Not?”), it is NOT the case that Chalcedon or any other council affirmed a particular ontology (read: metaphysic) as orthodox.

There is no such thing as a single “orthodox” metaphysic.

Also, briefly, on the question of whether sixteenth-century Lutherans got the Reformed right — especially on the question of the extra Calvinisticum: I don’t think that they did. I am sympathetic with the Lutheran critique (that in practice the extra is vulnerable to Nestorianizing tendencies) … but largely for different reasons than those articulated by any sixteenth-century Lutheran I have read. That is because they, like the Reformed, were operating from within the same (classical) metaphysical frame of reference. Within that frame, in my judgment, the Reformed have the better part of all the arguments.

But this, once again, is not Barth’s frame of reference. And so one cannot understand Barth’s dismissal of the extra Calvinisticum properly without understanding his actualism. His critique here has little to do with the Lutheran critique, and everything to do with the intimation that (as I put it in the book) there is some sense in which the living Word of God is NOT Jesus Christ, the God-human.

Once again, my thanks.

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