WSC Graduate Defends Oxford DPhil on Barth

Congratulations to Westminster Seminary California (’04) alumnus and sometime lecturer in Historical Theology at WSC, Ryan Glomsrud (MA, Historical Theology), on the successful completion and defense of his Oxford DPhil thesis on Karl Barth. Here’s a précis:

Ryan D. Glomsrud, Karl Barth Between Pietism & Orthodoxy: A Post-Enlightenment Ressourcement of Classical Protestantism (D.Phil. diss., Pembroke College, University of Oxford, 2009).
This dissertation evaluates Karl Barth as an intellectual historian of classical Protestantism and a constructive Christian thinker in the context of the Weimar Republic.  I explore his interpretation and appropriation of the sixteenth-century Reformation (especially John Calvin) and key Protestant scholastic texts of systematic or dogmatic theology, all as part of his project to construct a viable alternative to certain varieties of post-Kantian Christianity.  I argue that this ressourcement was mediated by the same neo-Protestant tradition of nineteenth-century pietism and historicism that Barth was seeking to overcome, a point which is important for understanding his somewhat idiosyncratic reading of the pre-critical tradition.  Clarifying the nature of his relationship to the religious subjectivity of Friedrich Schleiermacher and the modern age generally, I show that Barth was also an heir of what could be called a German-Romantic tradition of intellectual dissent, thus relating him to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Franz Overbeck, and Dostoevsky, figures who were dissatisfied with the reigning academic and bourgeois approach to religion, culture, and intellectual life in the modern world.  The interdisciplinary nature of this project requires that I reposition Barth as a mediator between orthodoxy and pietism, the Reformation and Protestant liberalism, with the help of early modern scholarship and contemporary historical theology.

Ryan D. Glomsrud, “Karl Barth Between Pietism & Orthodoxy: A Post-Enlightenment Ressourcement of Classical Protestantism” (D.Phil. diss., Pembroke College, University of Oxford, 2009).

“This dissertation evaluates Karl Barth as an intellectual historian of classical Protestantism and a constructive Christian thinker in the context of the Weimar Republic.  I explore his interpretation and appropriation of the sixteenth-century Reformation (especially John Calvin) and key Protestant scholastic texts of systematic or dogmatic theology, all as part of his project to construct a viable alternative to certain varieties of post-Kantian Christianity.  I argue that this ressourcement was mediated by the same neo-Protestant tradition of nineteenth-century pietism and historicism that Barth was seeking to overcome, a point which is important for understanding his somewhat idiosyncratic reading of the pre-critical tradition.  Clarifying the nature of his relationship to the religious subjectivity of Friedrich Schleiermacher and the modern age generally, I show that Barth was also an heir of what could be called a German-Romantic tradition of intellectual dissent, thus relating him to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Franz Overbeck, and Dostoevsky, figures who were dissatisfied with the reigning academic and bourgeois approach to religion, culture, and intellectual life in the modern world.  The interdisciplinary nature of this project requires that I reposition Barth as a mediator between orthodoxy and pietism, the Reformation and Protestant liberalism, with the help of early modern scholarship and contemporary historical theology.”

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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43 comments

  1. Sounds very interesting, thanks for the heads-up. I wonder if Ryan is going to have this published. I also wonder if you have his email, so I might email him, and see if he won’t send me a copy of his diss.

    Could you let me know how I might get in contact with Ryan, Scott?

    Bobby

    • Dr. Clark,

      This might seem tangential to the conversation: I am currently working through the Psalms and I am using Hans Joachim-Kraus’ commentaries and theology of the psalms. He is heavily influenced by form and historical criticism (Von Rad and Mowinckel are key in his analysis). He also extensively quotes Luther, Calvin and Barth. I was listening to The Reformed Forum the other day about “The Young Bultman” and I was wondering if you could direct me to any resources that could condense the relationship between Barth, Bultmann, and mid twentieth century biblical theology.
      The only aspect of teology that I have some amount of proficiency with is OT Biblical Theology, and Kraus seems to me to be Barthian in many ways, and I want to further understand their historical connections. Any help would be appreciated.

      • Hi Jed,

        I wish I could help you but I’m not competent here. Sorry. Maybe Ryan or Mike Horton or someone else who knows something useful will see the query and take pity on you.

      • Jed,

        I’d be interested where you see Barthianism in H-J Kraus. Feel free to post the page numbers as I’ve his commentaries (excellent IMO).

  2. Thanks Dr. Clark. Pity is well in order any layman trying to make sense of Barth. Maybe that’s what makes Ryan’s thesis so laudable – it just might take a doctorate to make any sense of Barth and his far-reaching influence. From my minimal exposure to Barth what I find most confusing is how he had such amazing insight from his crazy assumptions about truth and Scripture.

        • I never said that, my response was in the context of Jed’s assertion that Barth’s theology flows from crazy assumptions about truth and Scripture. My point was to counter by asserting that Barth’s assumptions were no more crazier than any other Christian’s assumptions.

          • Would that were so.No serious Barth scholar (e.g. Bruce McCormack and many others) would agree with such a naive assessment. Not even Barth himself would agree with such an assessment. Only American evangelicals (and perhaps some Scottish mainliners) dare read Barth thus. The Germans certainly don’t nor do the English.

            • What assessment is that?

              That’s interesting, I hang around Princetonians all the time, and they would certainly agree with what I’ve said here. All that I’ve said thus far is that Barth sees Christ as the center — metaphysically/epistemologically and otherwise.

              • I understand that, but the story is MUCH more complicated than that. Which Christ? The center of what kind of history? I still think Van Til’s critique has validity.

                • Well, exactly, Scott. I know it’s MUCH more complicated; and that was really the point of my original response to Jed.

                  The actualised Christ. The center of God’s life. Election. Etc.

                  I don’t really like Van Til.

                  • Have you read Van Til on Barth? Have you read Berkouwer on Barth? The title I had in mind earlier was David Gibson and Daniel Strange, eds. Engaging With Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques (New York: T & T Clark, 2008).

                    The point I’m trying (not very well) to make about the evangelical appropriation of Barth is that they tend to flatten him out. They treat him as if he went to Wheaton or Moody or Multnomah and not as if he was trained in Berlin with post-Kantian assumptions.

                    I like this passage from Henri Blocher’s essay in the Gibson and Strange (eds) vol, “If the analysis is right, that Barth appealed, after the Second World War, to liberals because he enabled them to recover the themes of the Christian tradition without renouncing [higher-rsc] biblical criticism, and to conservatives because they felt they couldremain faithful to the gospel and yet escape the rigidity and isolation of their training, the current Barthian ‘revival’ among a yoiunger generation may raise interesting questions.” (pp. 21-22). This is exactly right. As a dialectical theologian, Barth is often read with one side of dialectic omitted. Naive evangelicals omit the critical side of the dialectic and liberals omit the more traditional aspects of Barth’s theology. Van Til’s “sin” (his analysis is hard to read but important nevertheless, is that he refused to allow Barth to “get away with” (if I may use prejudicial language) the dialectical game, e.g., of having a selectively historical Christian faith.

                    Those of us who still believe the historic Christian faith as confessed by the fathers, the medievals, the Reformation, and post-Reformation, have to live with the consequences of that confession. We are necessarily marginalized by Modernity. Being a “Barthian” allows one to affirm the faith (as Blocher says) without paying the price for making that affirmation because the implicit message of dialectical theology is, “I know what I said, but I’m kidding.” I think the European readers of Barth tend to understand that better than America (evangelical) readers of Barth.

                    • I’ve read a bit of Bruce McCormack and I’ve had deal with those really trust this guy’s work on Barth. Both McCormack’s work and those who trust his work struck me as pretensious. Wouldn’t McCormack have his readers believe that there never was any such movement as neo-orthodoxy? Also McCormack seemed to fail in inform inghis English speaking audience that dialectical thought doesn’t fly in the Anglo-American academy. For example, check how famous philosophers like Karl Popper have negatively critiqued the “dialectic” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectic#Criticism_of_dialectic ).

                    • Disclaimer: Outside of electronic engineering, everything I do is pretty much avocational. My matter of fact style (potentially border-line arrogance) may sometimes belie this, but my poor spelling should not. 🙂 But somehow I’ve happened to interact with professionals whose vocations cover the academic spectrum (e.g., Dr. Clark on this blog).

                    • SWJHTRTB:

                      You should read this An Introduction to ‘Neo-Orthodoxy’, my friend Kevin Davis penned it — hopefully it will clarify more on the language of ‘Neo-Orthodoxy’. Whether or not McCormack is pretentious, or those who ‘trust’ his work are really is moot relative to its validity or non.

                    • Thanks for the suggestion. Yet as a Christian, I think this work along with McCormack’s is divorced from reality. Neo-Orthodoxy exists merely as a sociological phenomenon that, in my mind, can only be validly studied by sociologists such as Rodney Stark.

                    • That’s fine . . . but you haven’t interacted with any of the material theological points that so called ‘Neo-Orthodoxy’ speaks from. It sounds like your not actually engaging what Barth has said, instead your thinking through the caricatures that have been developed about Barth through ‘fear’.

                    • I don’t think that neo-orthodoxy ever had any valid theological points. Dialectics per leading secular authorities (i.e., Karl Popper) is not a valid mode of scholarly discourse. This criticism isn’t specific to Barth. Anyone including Barth was wrongheaded to use them.

      • Bobby,

        Like I said earlier my greatest interest is in OT theology. So many 19th and 20th century OT theologians approach their theologies in such a way that salvation-history and real history have little correspondence. Now I am not a trained theologian or philosophers but this seems crazy to me. It is crazy to build an entire system of faith or understanding of life’s most important questions based on truth that is not real.
        Maybe I am reading Barth wrong but this also seems to be the fallacy in his thinking. He nails so many of the “truth” issues, but they aren’t necessarily nailed to anything real. So seeing “Christ as the center of truth or as truth” in such a way that he doesn’t even have to be real is to me completely unconscionable.

          • You guys see my long response just below here (for some reasons comments jump when submitted sometimes, it ended up here somehow, oh well).

            Jed, thanks, but to compare Barth to history of religions guys seems off the mark. For Barth the ground of knowledge of God must be through our participation with God, which is what the Incarnation is all about. It is to get rid of the binary dualism embedded in the rationalism you speak of (i.e. liberalism), and see this ‘dualism’ united in the one person of Jesus Christ (i.e. homoosious/hypostatic union — see Kevin’s comment). The appeal is made to Chalcedonian Christology, respecting the two natures, yet inseparably related in the One Person, Jesus. This is to undercut and avoid the Nestorian christologies, that Liberal approaches work out of (the dualism).

            I just don’t understand what you’re saying when you say “that he doesn’t have to be real;” everything, for Barth, rises or falls on the reality (or he likes actuality better) of the ‘historic life’ of the man from Nazareth (he has a robust doctrine of the an/enhypostasis).

            I can be sympathetic to your concerns, Jed; I had them myself before I actually read Barth, and read on Barth . . . you should do that sometime yourself. A great place to start “on Barth” is: The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth
            .

            Peace.

            • Bobby,

              Thanks for your reply. Like I said my experience with Barth is through OT
              scholarship. The scholars here that would be more closely associated with Barth
              were definitely of the higher criticism approach, but I would not lump them into
              the history-of-religions school. Now I would not want to debunk everything
              that OT historical criticism or form criticism have to offer. There is value in their
              scholarship, I especially enjoy Eichrodt, Von Rad, and Krauss, all of whom would
              in my estimation reject many of the tenets of hardline German liberalism. But
              their fundamental assumptions enable them to amend the text at will, and to
              use Bruce Waltke’s oversimplification “stand over the text”. They may not be
              as insistent on the absolute disjunction between history and salvation
              history, but they still make little if any firm commitments here.
              With that said, I like some of what I have read of Barth. His emphases seem to be
              more oriented to his work in Dogmatics and the NT rather than the OT. I frankly
              do not have enough exposure with Barth here to speak to it. However Kraus’
              reliance on Barth’s theological assumptions in his Theology of the Paslms and his
              commentaries lead me to believe that he is at least soft on his historical
              commitments. I know there is some debate as to whether or not Barth was fully
              committed to the historical resurrection. Regardless of where he actually stands,
              why would there be any controversy here on something that is a cornerstone of
              Orthodoxy?
              Hopefully I will one day get the chance to read Barth myself. However time limits
              me from that now. However my suspicions remain due to his rejection of
              biblical inerrancy as a governing theological principal regardless of how insightful
              he might be.

  3. Does he disenchant some of Van Til’s criticisms of Barth? I would like to see how he handles the sensationalism that is associated with Barth in classical Reformed circles.

  4. No, I’ve wanted to read that book since before it came out; but because of money and time strictures haven’t gotten to it yet. I’ve read bits of Van Til and Berkouwer on Barth (not much though).

    But do Princetonians flatten Barth out? I realize folks from schools like mine indeed ‘flatten’ him out (how else do you expect profs to keep their jobs at such institutions ;-); but I don’t see him from this ‘flat’ perspective at all. Instead, as you already know of me, I like the way TFT “flattens” Barth.

    Have you read?:

    Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth by Bruce McCormack

    This is part of what informs my understanding of Barth, besides Barth himself of course ;-). I realize Kant is at play in Barth, so is Schleiermacher’s Kantian response.

    • Nope. I don’t teach the history of modern theology so my reading in Barth and Barth studies is mostly avocational. I’m mainly interested in the way Barth re-interpreted the Reformed tradition.

      I still think that Muller’s essay, “What I Didn’t Learn from Barth” in the old (now defunct) Reformed Journal is one of the best pieces ever written on Barth. It’s heresy in Barth studies but it’s a good sort of heresy.

  5. Jed’s comment, above, about Christ “not being real” or not having a real history is the classic mistake of those who lump Barth in with other dialectical theologians (Bultmann, Tillich, etc.). For Barth, the purpose of Christ’s existence is not to serve as a catalyst for my existential resolve to have faith; rather, it is to be in his very person the reconciliation of God and man — to effect this through a new and fully real ontology (Incarnation).

    • Kevin (or Bobby),

      Clarify for me: did Barth believe in the real historical Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, died, and rose again as a matter of fact in real history? Is he explicit about this in his theology? Please indicate where I could find this in Barth and I will make the drive to WSC’s library and search it out myself. I am already clear that he doesn’t go nearly as far as Bultmann. I am only familiar with Tillich by name. Classic mistake of lumping Barth or not, I am still not clear on how he views the historicity of Scripture as the Word of God given the fact that it becomes the Word through the Kerygma. As a somewhat informed layman I cannot see this as anything as an ideological pipe-dream that isn’t worth basing a life in the real world on, where numbers must add up, medical diagnoses must fit physical symptoms, and death isn’t real simply because it exists in my mind or someone proclaims it in a way that it only becomes real in proclamation.

      • In the 1983 book After Fundamentalism, Bernard Ramm insists that Barth did unequivocally believe in Jesus Christ who was crucified, died, and rose again for a redemptive historical purpose. Bernard Ramm also studied under (or with) Barth at the University of Basel in its 1957/58 school year.

        Since Ramm quotes Barth’s work to establish his points, this might very well allow one to efficiently make up one’s own mind.

        Ramm writes elegantly and simply in his later work and After Fundamentalism is no exception, so I can at least recommend it as an enjoyable read in terms of esthetics. Be warned though, there are those who have said that Ramm’s approach to theology is predisposed to error and I would add that from a Reformed perspective his quest for an “evangelical theology” seems quixotic.

  6. Scott asked? Which Christ? The center of what kind of history?

    For the benefit of those who read here and aren’t familiar, here is how Barth scholar Bruce McCormack would answer Scott’s questions:

    For Barth, Jesus Christ is his history. He is the history set in motion by an eternal act of self-determination; hence, the history that he is finds its root in election. This is what he is “essentially.” Jesus Christ is what he is in his eternal act of self-determination and in its outworking in time. The implications for a putative divine timelessness should be clear: Already in Church Dogmatics, II/1, Barth had treated “eternity” as something that is defined by God’s being. The concept is used illegitimately where it is filled with content drawn from some other quarter and then applied to God. Moreover, Barth had already claimed that eternity is that which founds time, that which provides time with its basis. And it would be hard to see how it could be anything else. If God’s eternal act of self-determination is a determination for existence as a human being in time, then it is the eternal decision itself which founds time. And if God’s being is, on the basis of this decision, a being-for-time, then clearly God’s being cannot be timeless. We would do better to understand the decision in eternity and its outworking in time to be a single activity, one which originates in eternity and is completed in time. But this then also means that time is not alien to the innermost being of God. (Bruce L. McCormack, ed.,”Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives,” 222)

    Now, within Barth studies there is a debate that surrounds the reading of Barth, McCormack (from Princeton) represents one side; and George Hunsinger (from Princeton) the other side. It revolves around the very issue of God’s determining to be Trinity and how this relates to God as the electing God and the elected God in Christ that McCormack articulates here; i.e. whether the election is pretemporally or logically ‘odered’ in relation to God’s being in becoming. I go with Hunsinger (Molnar is another one on this side, but he’s RCC, so I didn’t want to mention him here ;-).

    The point, on either side though, is that the ground of God’s life disclosed in Jesus Christ is the basis from which we ‘know’ God (Jn 1.18); so that who God is in eternity (ontological nature) is who He is in time (economic nature). This presupposes a ‘single-will’ of God; which is contrary to the ‘double-will’ embedded in Trad Calvinism. This really is THE critique from Barth that is spot on relative to the Trad framing of election and a Doctrine of God. In the double-will approach (Trad Calv) we have Jesus and the shape of His life ‘determined’ to be what it is by the decree (in abstraction from God’s life) — so the order is: Creation, Covenant, Fall. In this approach creation determines the shape of the covenant (i.e. Federal Theology), which then ultimately determines how Jesus needs to ‘act’ in response to the Fall (which may or may not reflect how God looks in eternity). Barth’s approach and order goes: Covenant, Creation, Fall; so that God’s intratrinatarian relations (Grace/Love) determine the shape of creation (not vice-versa) and thus His ‘free’ act to respond to the Fall (based upon His overflowing life of love).

    Anyway, I think both Jed and Scott are mistaken to make the claim that Barth/Torrance give us a Jesus who doesn’t reflect the real Jesus. Given the single-will assumption, I would suggest that Barth/Torrance give us a Jesus who can truly be said to be: “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” This is unlike the Jesus of the ‘double-will’ who just might have ‘a God behind His back’ (as TFT would say).

    Scott said:

    Those of us who still believe the historic Christian faith as confessed by the fathers, the medievals, the Reformation, and post-Reformation, have to live with the consequences of that confession. We are necessarily marginalized by Modernity. Being a “Barthian” allows one to affirm the faith (as Blocher says) without paying the price for making that affirmation because the implicit message of dialectical theology is, “I know what I said, but I’m kidding.” I think the European readers of Barth tend to understand that better than America (evangelical) readers of Barth.

    Nice. I guess it depends on which European and which American readers you’re referring to. I don’t accept Barth’s bibliology, but that is not to say that he doesn’t also provide a corrective to the positivistic readings that reduce scripture to a source book for doctrinal loci (I’ve already interacted on this with Dr. William B. Evans: William B. Evans Comments on Karl Barth, Bruce McCormack, and the Neo-Barthian View of Scripture). Maybe some Evangelicals do naively engage Barth (for their purposes), but not all.

    Okay, this is long-winded, enough :-).

  7. Jed,

    If you’re interested in OT and Barth then read Brevard Childs; he was rather Barthian.

    I’m not into ‘higher criticism’ either, and reject Barth’s approach at this point; but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have valuable insights. As far as Barth’s problem with the history and the resurrection, I’ll admit he spoke differently than much of Christendom; but his point was not apologetic, but like Calvin in the ‘Institutes’ to confess the ‘Christian’ faith. Of course Barth was speaking within Liberal circles, and this no doubt shaped the way he did his theology, informed the answers to the questions that he thought had purchase (or not); thus he is misunderstood if his historico milieu is not understood. His approach was to present a Christian theology not a Christian apologetic (which he believed the typical historicist approaches aimed to do). I don’t agree with Barth in whole, that’s why I say that I like Thomas F. Torrance much better, I like “his Barth” better. Anyway, just do a google search and you’ll find a couple of “Google books” that should help clarify how Barth engaged history and the resurrection.

    peace.

    • Thanks Bobby,

      Childs is on my reading list right now. My only exposure to his work so far has been through Gerhard Hasel’s book on OT theology, and some of James Barr’s writings. So I will look him up sooner than later.

      • Great, I would be interested to see what you think of him once you’ve engaged him a bit. Like I’ve said, I find value in Barth/Childs et al; but I’m not completely on board with them either. My man is TFT, but I’m critical with him as well 🙂 .

        Hasel’s book on OT theology is helpful.

    • Assuming this isn’t a rhetorical question, I would say that in general one must simply adopt who or what one allows to shape their thoughts and discourse. Others can and will judge if one has done so wisely.

      • Indeed. This really isn’t a fruitful line of thought, IMO . . . I’m not really interested in discussing anecdotal generalizations. If you want to make some material points about what Barth’s theology has to say, great; if not, this is just a waste of time.

        • Actually, even Popper left open the possibility, though quite remote, for the existence of a real dialectic. And it is perhaps only slight exageration that the uniqueness of Christ as the door in John 10:6-10’s (not that Popper was a confessional Christian as far as I know) fits Popper’s opening. Barth and the other dialectical neo-orthodox might have uncovered or made some value theological point that even Popper could get on board with.

          Here’s the quote from Popper’s What is Dialectic? (pp. 15-16 of the essay): “From all this I think it is clear that one should be very careful in using the term ‘dialectic’. It would be best, perhaps, not to use it at all–we can always use the clearer terminology of the method of trial and error. Expceptions should be made only where no misunderstanding is posssible, and where we are faced with a development of theories which does in fact proceed along the lines of a triad. … As opposed to this, a theory of dialectic has been put forward for example by Hegel and his school, which exaggerates its significance, and which is dangerously misleading.”

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