Book Review: Reading Barth with Charity
Author: George Hunsinger
Publisher: Baker Academic
Reading Level: High
The subject of “systematic theology” can be an intimidatingThroughout church history there are remarkable theologians that leave their stamp on the church and its theology. In the rising German liberalism of the 20th century, Karl Barth was such a theologian. Though conservative Reformed and Lutheran traditions have engaged Barth peripherally, the major engagement with Barth has occurred in the academic halls of Princeton Theological Seminary. There the professors and Barth scholars Bruce McCormack and George Hunsinger have engaged in what many have joking titled the "Barth wars."
Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal is the latest installment in these wars from the pen of Geroge Hunsinger in defense of the "traditionalists." These traditionalists read Barth as orthodox with the ecumenical creeds of the church. Hunsinger labels his opposition the "revisionists" who seek to read into Barth a something foreign to his thought via philosophical reasoning and deductionism. Hunsinger's premise is simple. Applying a hermeneutic of charity to Barth's theology requires that one a document as internal cohesive and consistent unless proven otherwise.
For Hunsinger, this hermeneutic demands that quotations from Barth be read in their context and not abstractly as appropriation of philosophical arguments.
Specifically, the "Barth wars" exists over how to render Barth's theology of the logos asarkos (the word pre-incarnation) and logos ensarkos (the word incarnate). To many this is an argument of semantics. But within the theology of Karl Barth, this distinction separates orthodox or non-orthodox variants of theology and doctrine. Barth affirms that systematic theology cannot use philosophical extractions (assertions and deductions) to speak about God in a way which He not revealed (in Scripture and through Jesus Christ)—Barth wishes only to say what Scripture says. But neither can theology simply conflate the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ with the externally existent Trinity (e.g. God became man in Jesus but the Eternal logos is not eternally a man). Within Reading Barth with Charity, Hunsinger shows how the "revisionist" understanding misunderstand Barth and puts his Christology and Trinitarianism at odds with the ecumenical tradition of the church.
As an increasing number of conservative seminary students and the evangelical community continue to learn from Barth, it is important for all Christians to be aware of how Barth's theology stand up with church history. It is unfortunate that the study of Barth has fallen largely into an academic exercise since the outcome of these "Barth wars" will determine if Barth holds any true value to the conservative churches.
In conclusion, Reading Barth with Charity provides the latest stepping stone in scholarly work on the theology of Karl Barth. With the increased interest in Barth's work, the discussion over his ecumenical Christology is valuable to Christians who study theology. Hunsinger's career and publication of Reading Barth with Charity redeem Barth for the traditionalist paradigm if only until the next response from the revisionists.