Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Was Karl Barth really a Neo-Orthodox Theologian?, AGAIN

I was reminded, by my friend, Travis, of what prompted me to even think of the question of my last post in the first place. This question (which is really quite technical, and not totally of lasting import, except for the fact that pressing definitional precision on this might result in bearing fruit toward a deeper understanding of who the theologian and man, Barth, were) has been percolating ever since; ever since, Travis mentioned, in what I am going to share from him below, that Barth might have out-paced what it actually means to be neo-Orthodox. Here is what Travis wrote (in this regard), oh so long ago:

Karl Barth
[...] The language of ‘neo-Orthodoxy’ is often used but little understood. My personal take on it is that it most properly refers to the North American appropriation of European dialectical theology. The early Barth was a member of this dialectical theology movement, but he was certainly not the only member. Emil Brunner is perhaps the next best well known of this group and – in fact – his work had a much wider impact on North American theology in the first half of the 20th century than did Barth’s. As to its theological fingerprint, neo-Orthodoxy was concerned with finding a way to reclaim the patristic and Reformation creeds and confessions for their own time. There certainly was a period when this was also Barth’s program, but it is also true that Barth’s work grew, evolved, and took on other aims and emphases. Finally, neo-Orthodoxy can tend to be more existentialist than Barth finally was. In all these ways, the neo-Orthodox movement must be considered sub-‘Barthian’ in the sense employed by Myers. With reference to Torrance, the only way that he can – in my opinion – be classed as neo-Orthodox is with reference to the point concerning the reclamation of patristic and Reformational orthodoxy. Like Barth, however, Torrance finally did not go about this in a simplistic or flatfooted way. [Original posting here, from Travis McMaken, 2008]

Do such questions really matter? Like I said above, if they produce movement that causes us to ask more penetrating questions about Barth's theology---which then ultimately ought to cause us to ask more penetrating questions about Jesus Christ (the material and formal reality of Barth's theological focus)---then yes, seeking to understand Barth's placement within the history of ideas and theological movements can bear fruit (just ask Bruce McCormack if he thinks questions like this matter ... he wrote his PhD dissertation on Barth entitled Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development 1909-1936, engaging in the kind of historical/theological work that seeks to place Barth's theology on a continuum of a period's theological movement).

I realize, in the grand scheme of things, thinking about this kind of stuff might not matter to some; but then, it is probably thinking about this kind of stuff that differentiates someone from being a formal V. informal theologian (take those designations however you like, in a dialectical sense). Or it is thinking about this kind of stuff that differentiates someone from being a geek V. normal ;-).

[So for Travis, being neo-Orthodox means to place the emphasis on Orthodox; and of course the method of being Orthodox in the Neo mode---which is what makes it 'Neo' relative to its "perioded" context---is to reclaim Patristic and Reformed categories and emphases through a Continental/Dialectical & Modern set of expectations. And I agree with this definition.]

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