Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bruce McCormack on Why Barth is Orthodox and Modern: 2nd Part on Orthodox

Now we come to the subject on why McCormack thinks Barth is orthodox.  First, I should add that McCormack's view does not fit under the stereotypical view of some kind of neo-orthodoxy to describe Barth's position.

Instead Barth is positioned as a child of the Protestant Reformation (specifically the Reformed position).  That means that Scripture is authoritative for him and the creeds and church confessions are helpful guides to understanding theology not as universally binding.  However, our understanding of Scripture is not fixed and so we must continually go to the Bible to be challenged theologically by it.  McCormack writes: "Orthodoxy is not therefore a static, fixed reality; it is a body of teachings which have arisen out of, and belong to, a history which is as yet incomplete and constantly in need of reevaluation."  As McCormack also points out, this understanding of dogma is eschatological.

All in all, Barth is a theologian who struggled to understand the Orthodox-Reformed tradition in the modern era.  Unlike some of his contemporaries who abandoned the classical Christian tradition, Barth attempted to read it again in the present; by doing this he taught us a method as we try to understand the Christian tradition anew.


  1. Mike,

    I'm coming to this conversation late, but I have a few thoughts that are relevant to both of your most recent posts.

    It seems to me that Barth was modern in a way you don't mention, but that is important for understanding him right (esp. in McCormack's reading as I read it). Barth, as opposed to most "orthodox" thinkers, but like many modern ones (including liberal protestants like Schleiermacher) saw the subject matter of theology as an integrated whole, a "singularity," and (and this is the most important part) this subject matter was knowable as such. Orthodoxy has usually insisted on the doctrine of divine simplicity, but this is something true of God in his essence, NOT something we necessarily can understand about God. So practically speaking, there has usually been no insistence that we understand the unity of theology. Barth, on the other hand, had no use for any idea about God's hidden being, the deus absconditus.

    But, as you say, Barth differed from most modern (i.e., liberal) theology in his commitment to scripture and the relative authority of tradition, coucils, etc. And the linch-pin, or the idea that allowed Barth to (uniquely, perhaps) hold these two emphases together, I think, was his doctrine of election.

    Anyway, that's what I've been thinking lately.

  2. Thanks for chiming seems like the idea that separates most interpreters is the question on what we can possibly know about God and ourselves...this is probably not ground breaking thought here but in a simplified way I see pre-CDII/2 Barth as a Kantian of limits whereas post CD II/2 (especially CD IV/1) as a Hegelian of Christ in history (so by focusing his whole output on the movements of God in Christ, he then determines backward about the being of both God and humanity...I think this helps explain the difference between for example the postmodern readers of Barth and the modern: the postmodern are all about the limits, whereas the modern follow his "Hegeling" of Christ's being-in-act in history...