December 6, 2010
Two Comments on Reading Barth
I left these comments a couple of months ago on a post that cautioned people not to read Barth. I stumbled on them again today and thought they were worth sharing here. In this first comment I address Wally, who too easily dismisses Barth:
Wally – You are going to Barth with your set of categories and forcing him to answer your questions. That’s not fair, especially when you don’t want to take the time to listen to him. Barth is not the kind of theologian you can approve of or dismiss by “quoting verses” from his corpus. You have to get the ideas. If you get to that part, you get that he is very much worth your time. His Romans is a poor book on which to judge him as it is his first work and lacks the depth of his later books. Try reading Evangelical Theology. I think you will be surprised and encouraged!
In this second comment I address Tony Reinke, the author of the post, who is apparently writing a book on how to read literature as a Christian.
Brother Tony – You are writing a Christian guide to reading literature. It seems a bad sign that you are recommending people NOT read the books of a major thinker. Is your agenda really “how to read” or “what to read and what to not read?” Christians need to learn how to read critically, by which I mean with the mind engaged, in dialog, accepting the good and setting aside the bad, being appreciative of what others have said even when it is not correct. You can’t protect people from ideas, specially in this day and age. Rather, we have to teach them to think. Barth himself can show us the way forward, who has been described as a thinker “generous with both resonance and critique.” When Barth critiqued a position he knew it inside out, and he also learned from its good points and affirmed them. Evangelicals today just want to be told what is right and what is wrong, if it’s absolute truth or heresy, whether the author is a hero or a heretic. I think we have to do better than that. So, instead of saying “don’t read Barth” why not say, “here’s a good book by Barth.” Obviously most non-theologians aren’t going to get much out of Church Dogmatics anyway.