Saturday, 23 May 2009

The best bits of Barth's dogmatics: or, how to read the CD on your holiday

A friend recently asked if I could suggest the best bits of Barth’s Church Dogmatics – the sections you could read on your summer holiday, if you can’t quite muster the energy to attempt an assault on the whole 31 volumes.

So I suggested the following five sections – for me, these are the great peaks of the CD, the sections where you meet Barth at his very best. And these are the bits that I tend to revisit most often myself:

  • from II/2: §33 (on election)
  • from III/2: §47 (on time)
  • from III/3: §50 (on the nothingness)
  • from IV/1: §59.1 (on the Son in a far country)
  • the IV/4 fragment (on baptism)
So, what have I forgotten? Any other sections that stand out for you? Anything else that can be mentioned in the same breath as these great meditations?

17 Comments:

David W. Congdon said...

For me, the heart of Barth's christology is IV/2, §64: the exaltation of the Son of Man, where we find the pivotal section on "the royal man." In many ways, this section supercedes parts of IV/1 in brilliance and importance, though IV/1 remains my favorite volume overall.

Ben Myers said...

Yeah, §64 would be the next one on my list...

Chris TerryNelson said...

§71: The Vocation of Man in IV/3.2, would be at the top of my list.

Jason Goroncy said...

I remember my first encounter with the CD, and the 'revelation' that attended my reading of § 4 (The Word Of God In Its Threefold Form) and § 8 (God In His Revelation). While I/1 is in some respects my least favourite of the CD, it indispensably helps Barth virgins to get used to the terrain upon which they are being invited to tread. There must be no easy ride to the heights of §§ 59 and 64.

TG said...

Is there a way to buy individual volumes? I'm not confident yet that I'd read enough to justify buying the whole collection, so I'd like to try my hand at just one volume.

c collins winn said...

I'm probably partial, but "Jesus is Victor" in IV/3.1 to my mind captures the essence of Barth's entire theological project. This watchword, and this section, simultaneously refers to the concise expression of the electing decision of God; the historical-dramatic shape of the history of the crucified; the resurrection as the overcoming of the limitation of death; the ongoing presence of the living Christ in history which is an apocalyptic inbreaking of the Crucified; and the telos under which history is to be understood and towards which it is moving. In fact, IV/3 as a whole really captures the final integration of Barth's doctrine of revelation, historicized doctrine of election/God, pneumatology and narrative/concrete Christology. But, IV/2's "The Direction of the Son" is also primo!

kim fabricius said...

Summer holidays? Read some novels, biographies, poetry, comics - anything but theology! - you sad bastards!

JohnLDrury said...

I wholeheartedly endorse Ben's entire list. I just recently recommended to a friend §33 and §47.1 as two of the peaks of the Dogmatics. And reading IV/4 was and is life-changing for me.

II/1, §28 "The Being of God as the One Who Loves in Freedom" is also pretty fantastic and on the level of the others Ben listed in terms of beauty and significance.

Per the conversations above regarding Vol. IV texts, I think it is safe to say that the three christological paragraphs (§59, §64, §69) read together in their entirety are simply Barth's greatest contribution. They mutually complement each other in such important ways and express the christological heart of his theology.

-John

Dave Belcher said...

John Drury is a scholar and a gentelman! I was coming here specifically to see if anyone as yet had mentioned the paragraph from II/1 on the being of God who loves in freedom...and if not I would mention it...no need to now! Thanks John! Excellent section of the CD.

And dude, Ben, no III/1?! All that wonderful stuff on creation and covenant is some of my favorite stuff of all the CD! So let me add to your list especially § 41...I'm actually really surprised no one else has mentioned it yet.

I also wonder about the silence with respect to I/2...is this considered (here at least) to be the worst Barth volume of CD? I'm just curious, not adding any opinion here.

Dave Belcher said...

Let me frame my last question a different way for fun (I could do this at my own blog, but I'm being sort of lazy right now): Given the preference in the post and comments for the later Christology of Barth in CD IV, what do we make of the early Christology of I/2? I'm especially interested in how this preference links up to the genetic development of Barth's thinking on Christology as Prof. McCormack (and now also Gockel) have traced that out after CD II/2...any thoughts?

c collins winn said...

I would also have to concur on the significance of IV/4, if it includes the postumously published lectures on the Christian Life. In terms of I/2, the first volume of the dogmatics that I ever owned as a poor seminarian, my favorite part of that volume was para. 14 on scripture; very helpful for one existing in an evangelical atmosphere.

Skip said...

Don't forget to add #29 on the Perfections of God (Very short and a great follow up to #28 on God as the One who Loves in Freedom) and #49 on The Divine Concursus, a frequently neglected gem.

Maximus Daniel said...

so far IV/I has been a blast, also poking around Gottingen Dogmatics. Worth the time?

thanks for the suggestions Ben!

Ben Myers said...

Daniel, yeah the Göttingen Dogmatics is great — very punchy, very colloquial, very readable, often very funny. I actually think the opening chapters of the Göttingen Dogmatics serve as a better intro to Barth's thought than CD I/1. In these earlier lectures, you still get most of the core ideas of I/1, but in a much starker, simpler form.

Mark Stevens said...

The first pericope of CD 1 caused me to fall in love with his writings and particularly his methodology - it is the best introduction to a book I have ever read.

Jason Goroncy said...

Ben, this 'Reader's Digest' approach to the Church Dogmatics, and to theological reading generally, really bothers me. Why not advise your friend simply to start this summer with I/1, and then to devote the next 12 years working through the CD one volume every summer. (It's extremely unlikely that the next 12 years will witness the birth of any more important theological work anyway, so I reckon that it would be 12 summers well spent.)

Think in centuries, young man ...

Andy Rowell said...

Ben, I have posted a bit of German translation practice from the summary statements of the sections you recommended.

German Translation Practice--Church Dogmatics by Barth - Sections 33 47 50 59 Fragment



andy

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