Thursday, May 28, 2009

Barth on confessionality: I

If the public, ecumenical, dogmatically permanent creedal nature of the Augustana is a poor representative of what the Reformed confessionality looks like, here's what Barth poses as better. Barth sees the myriad of Reformed confessions as local and contextual, binding at the moment of confession as a communal act, but always a witness to the truth of God in scripture as understood at that time, in that place, and for that church. It is always the faith confessed, not the confession in itself, that is declared true. This is the reason that Barth can jump off from the myriad confessions and discuss the Scripture Principle as the core of Reformed belief and confession. These confessions do not stand next to the Bible; rather, they point to it, and through it to the revealed truth of God.

There's a lot to this that rings true with the way I've learned my Lutheran heritage. Heck, with as well as the Concord is taught in the congregations of my acquaintance, the scripture principle had as well be all that's holding the church together. And at that, I'm real glad that we're teaching Book of Faith! But setting aside the present realities of American congregational Protestantism, it is certainly true that the confessors at Augsburg were making a very contingent, contextual confession of their faith. They were making it in light of the opposition of a church claiming universality for itself, and so many of its claims are to a universal Christian faith. And the ground on which that stands is the faithful exposition of scripture. Provided consensus on what the ground rules are for exposition of scripture, you have a confession in the making.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Barth on confessionality: prelude

(erratum: yesterday I seem to have forgotten about Munster. Many of the Bonn references actually should be Munster, because he was there from '25-'30. GD finishes up there in '25 and Barth publishes the abortive CD, as prolegomenon, in '27. KD is Bonn.)

As Lutherans, we're very inclined to place the Concord and the Bible next to one another and confuse which of them is the norma normans and which the norma normata. When we call ourselves catholic, it is the fact that we start from the Ecumenical Creeds that founds that claim. We confess the faith of the church, and are therefore of the church. The Augustana is grounded in this as a socio-political reality of the Holy Roman Empire. "Don't shoot! We're one of the good guys!" Or, more accurately, "Quit shooting at us, we're as catholic as they are."

Barth, teaching in Gottingen, is stuck resurrecting what it means to be Reformed out of a Union church that never stopped being Lutheran. Which is to say, by way of oversimplification, that Lutheran confessionalism remained solid against the "Calvinists," while the Reformed were willing to grant place to the Lutheran position. Culturally speaking, while it may not have been so gnesio as to please the Old Lutherans, Gottingen is as German Lutheran a faculty as can be found. Heck of a place to be the new Reformed professor, and it makes you wonder how the sponsoring US Presbyterians settled on Gottingen.

Anyhow, in Gottingen Barth gets to teach Reformed theology. So along with specific courses on Calvin and Zwingli, he teaches a course called "The Theology of the Reformed Confessions," or something appropriately similar. And here Barth busts assumptions about what it means to have a confession. And what it means for the Lutherans looks an awful lot like having a fourth Creed. The Augustana as a public ecumenical statement holds far more universal force than any particular Reformed confession or statement ever did. It certainly was local and limited at one point, but this is really where Lutheran and Protestant Orthodoxy start to diverge in the 17th c.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Early Barth list

If you're looking to get into the KD, there are ways and ways of getting there. And if you're looking to study Barth, reputable work studies the KD. But how did it get there?

We're in a period of time when early Barth work is being made available, especially in translation, especially since the Gesamtausgabe started rolling out of TVZ. (I love having a carrel only two stacks away!) As John Webster points out, Barth's theological formation started well before he wrote the KD, and we have some basic stages: 1) GD: the Calvin-titled Instruction in the Christian Religion taught at Gottingen (and finished at Bonn); 2) CD: the abortive Christian Dogmatics (Bonn); 3) KD: the Church Dogmatics begun in the 30's and spanning the remainder of his life. To some extent, Credo and the post-war Entwurf make a primer for the theology and method of KD. Otherwise it's a common move to take the CD and Anselm's FQI as a theological grounding for the start of KD.

Ah, but I was mentioning *early* work. And I don't mean Romerbrief. Sure, you can study the Barth-Thurneysen correspondence and his Safenwil sermons and the lectures in Das Wort Gott und Die Theologie along with R to get an idea of how he got to Gottingen, but nothing shapes him for the Dogmatics like teaching. And if you're reading the BT correspondence, you'll hear him talking about Gottingen to Thurneysen. In my new round of studies, I've hit on three books in ET that give this early period some flesh:
  1. I've been recommending the "Gottingen Dogmatics" for some time now to people who want an intro to Barth without climbing the Matterhorn. It's great for teaching Barth to Lutherans, since Barth is teaching his own early perspective on dogmatics in Lutheran terms to Lutheran students. Eerdmans split the three-term course in half, and only got to publishing the first half in ET, but it's good.
  2. The Theology of the Reformed Confessions, which he taught before GD, is a very nice companion to GD for the confessional side of things. Also starts in Lutheran terms for Lutheran students, but sheds so much light on his later work -- especially the arguments of Nein! against Brunner's (mis)use of Calvin. A must-read before his Gifford Lecture on the Scots Confession.
  3. The Resurrection of the Dead, which was likewise a course on 1 Cor 15, and the only original book of the three. If you keep Romerbrief in the running, you must pair it with this and the Philippians Erklarung. Always remember that, while doing "theology," Barth was always doing exegesis, and he often taught both kinds of courses in the same term. In his mind, you can't be a Reformation theologian without having a scripturally-literate theology, and if you miss his theological exegetics, you will not get Barth.
John Webster, in Barth's Early Works (good companion volume), also talks about the Calvin course and the Zwingli course, both of which are worth reading if you've got access to the Gesamtausgabe and German proficiency. Haven't found them in ET yet, but there's wealth of Barth to go around, and if they don't exist, perhaps someone will yet translate and publish them. But Webster's point, with which I find myself agreeing after the readings, is that KD didn't spring fully formed from the head of Zeus. Just as the intro to GD suggests, Barth's early work retains continuity with his master dogmatics (which should be said the other way 'round!). There are ways in which Barth certainly develops after Gottingen -- would you want to be pinned down into the shape of the courses of your first university teaching gig? Bonn and its opportunities for exposure to active Catholic theology had remarkable influence on Barth's work. But the real point is that if you want early Barth, read Romerbrief for its introductions, along with the Thurneysen letters, and let them help you map out stages to follow in his real development. This has been one.