Friday, 15 July 2011

Bonking with Barth

Two Kiwi bibliobloggers have recently dealt with the Holy One of Bern's take on marriage.  Not just Kiwi's, y'know, but Dunedin-based Mainlanders.

Deane Galbraith has been drawing attention to the interesting relationship Karl Barth had with Charlotte von Kirschbaum, using a very amusing speech bubble innuendo-type method.  Who'd have thought such light-hearted creativity was even possible in sub-antarctic latitudes?  For some reason unfathomable to those of us who use the (ahem) superior technology of Blogger, WordPress blogs don't seem to let you link to all the thematically connected posts in one hit, but a stroll through the last few weeks' worth of Deane's fine work is time well spent.

Now Jason Goroncy has a post up called Barth on Marriage.  This is a heavier, more sober piece redolent with the kind of insightful (if sometimes opaque) discussion to be expected from a knowledgeable Presbyterian scholar.  No mention of 'Lotte' here.

Coincidentally, as mentioned earlier, I've been on a bit of a Barth binge.  Why?  Something to do with prolonged exposure to viral Barthian presuppositions while "doing theology" through Dunedin's Otago University.  Being from beyond the walls of the Reformed ghetto, I found this the most puzzling, downright irritating and frequently off-putting part of those studies, and yet Barth himself was never subjected to any kind of sustained critique in the courses I took.

A second reason is the capitulation of the fringe faith community of my salad days to Barthian influence since its much overstated and overblown "reformation". The result has been - at least as I see it - almost complete incoherence in that church's theology.  A good heresy at least provides coherent fantasy!  Incoherence may try to pass itself off as profundity; but it's just another variation of 'the emperor's new clothes'. Be warned, if you read The Surprising God blog regularly, your brain might well turn to mush.

I began the 'binge' thinking that Barth might only make sense if you first bought into the whole darn Reformed package.  In other words, you'd need to buy the clunky, obsolete Calvin software before you could apply the Barth upgrade.  And, well, with all due respect to anyone who owns the Geneva operating system, that simply wasn't going to happen!

Having now tackled Barth in greater "superficial depth" than previously, I'm approaching the stage where I kind of admire the guy for some things, while being violently repelled by others.  Over the next couple of weeks, with a break from routine, there's an opportunity to work on the promised podcast, which will hopefully be neither hatchet job nor hagiography.  Barth's thought, being as willfully obtuse as it is, can't of course really be covered by this kind of light once-over.  After all, his English publisher, SCM, once described the man himself (with absolutely no sense of dry humour, wit or sarcasm) as "the Einstein of twentieth-century theology."

An assessment which Charlotte von Kirschbaum would probably have agreed with.


  1. Hmm, so why hasn't Ted Johnston's inane, insane, and profane babble-on said anything about this take on marriage, given he's so enamoured with Barth Vader here?

    Oh, that's right, hearsay has it that, back in the day, Grace Communion International encouraged its male members to take up with Promise Keepers, so of course they're not going to want to go to Barf for marriage advice...