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Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal Paperback – April 21, 2015
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"Hunsinger demonstrates that the revisionist view of Barth offers only a partisan and historicist position that will not bring Christians together in faith in the triune God. ... He demonstrates, in ways that I believe are simply irrefutable to any reasonable person reviewing the texts, that such views are definitely not Barth's. ... This book is must reading not just for Barth scholars ... but for any Christian interested in understanding ... divine freedom ... as it is grounded in the eternal Trinity." -- Paul D. Molnar, Journal of Reformed Theology
"Lutheran teaching about the Trinity per se historically matches Hunsinger's. ... [Contrary to Barth-revisionists] traditional Lutherans have never thought of God in such voluntaristic terms as to reduce the triune life to God's decision to become incarnate. Instead, with Nicene faith, Lutherans have always believed in the eternal nature of the triune life." -- Mark Mattes, Lutheran Quarterly
I judge Hunsinger's book a success and side with him in judging the revisionist interpretation of Barth to be mistaken. ... Contrary to the McCormack thesis regarding Barth, God's election of Jesus Christ does not constitute God's being as the Trinity. -- J. Mark Beach, Dean of Students, Mid-America Reformed Seminary
From the Back Cover
"George Hunsinger has been in the front ranks of the traditionalist reading of Karl Barth over against revisionist interpretations. In this masterful book, he gives us a spirited, rigorous, and comprehensive presentation of the traditionalist tenet that Barth considered God's antecedent trinitarian perfection to be the ground for the divine acts of creation and election. The brilliance of this account extends beyond internal Barthian debates and illumines crucial issues incontemporary Christology and trinitarian theology."
- Khaled Anatolios, professor of historical theology, University of Notre Dame
- Paul L. Gavrilyuk, Aquinas Chair in Theology and Philosophy, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota
- JosephL. Mangina, Professorof Theology, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto
- Martha Moore-Keish, Associate Professor of Theology, Columbia Theological Seminary
- Christiane Tietz, Institute of Hermeneutics and Philosophy of Religion, University of Zurich, Switzerland
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In his introduction, Hunsinger summarizes what he means by reading with charity. What he is arguing for is a reading which seeks to understand Barth's point of view, starts with the assumption of truth and internal coherence, seeks to resolve and seeks to resolve apparent contradictions (xii). Hunsinger identifies the following critera to assess the revisionist position:
Does it seek to understand Barth's theology in its strongest form before subjecting it to fundamental criticism?
Has it truly sought to understand Barth before picking out supposed difficulties and contradictions?
If apparent contradictions are discerned (as they are), has an active attemt been made to resolve them in Barth's favor?
If no such attempt has been made (as it has not), does not a certain presumption exist against this interpretation?
Finally, do the revisionists honor the principle of humanity, or do they seem to adopt an attitude of condescension toward the writer whose views they are considering?
In short, are the revisionists entitled to their key claim that Barth's view on election and the Trinity, when taken as a whole, are "inconsistent"? (xiii-xiv).
One major point that Hunsinger demonstrates is that the textual Barth (what Barth actually wrote) contradicts the revisionist claims about the Trinity and election. Hunsinger documents repeatedly statements from Barth as early as 1932 and as late as 1968, when Barth died, evidence that in Barth 'election presupposes the Trinity, rather than constitute it (52). The claims that the revisionists make of Barth's inconsistency, seem to be (at least in how Hunsinger presents it) ways of dismissing the claims of this actual, textual Barth.
Hunsinger identifies several points of agreement with the revisionists. He reads them charitably, though he vehemently disagrees with their reading of Barth and identifies points of sloppy reasoning. He praises them where he thinks they read well and sensitively (especially Jones, who advocates a soft revisionist position). Hunsinger also demonstrates Barth's metaphysical eclecticism. Barth held, at least in some form, an Anselmian 'Perfect-Being' theology. However he also draws on the actualistic Hegelian model. He affirms a classical Chalcedonian account of the Incarnation, but not in way that made the incarnation 'static and immobile.' There was an ongoing process of incarnation (162-63)
This is a book of analytical theology and the ordinary reader may wonder why it matters at which point in eternity God elected Jesus Christ as the savior of humanity. I think Hunsinger frames well what is at stake. If the election of the Son dictated the make up of the Trinity than the constitution of the Godhead is subsequent to the plan for human redemption. If the Trinity is presumed first than the Godhead acts in freedom to redeem humanity. This seems to be a more consistently Barthian claim and have a better rational basis. The Son exists in eternity as the logos asarkos before he is the incarnate one (logos ensarkos).
I give this book five stars because I think that it is a important scholarly book for clarifying Barth's theology. No doubt the revisionists named by Hunsinger will make a response which will further the debate and clarify it further. If you are not aware of at least the broad contours of the debate you will find this book difficult despite its brevity (about a 180 pages). So I recommend this only for the serious student of Barth.
Notice of material connection: I received this book from Baker Academic in exchange for my honest review.