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As we begin our new blogging venture, I am thinking about why we all ordered Barth’s Church Dogmatics and why we want to read them. Marc has spoken his mind. Here are my reasons. (Bear in mind, I haven’t read much Barth, so what follows are my impressions of Barth. Actually reading his books might clear some of this up.)

1. Barth Is Important. Yes, I know this sounds like a pompous reason, but it can’t be denied that Karl Barth was probably the biggest theological mover and shaker of his century. He has joined the ranks of Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, and Schleiermacher in terms of changing the landscape of theology. Theology could never be the same again after Barth. For this reason alone, Barth is worth reading.

2. Barth Is Christocentric. This is something I first learned to appreciate in Bonhoeffer and Torrance, but they both learned it from Barth. His theology strikes me as a profoundly Christian theology, because he reads everything we can know about God, what God has done, and who we are in relation to God through Jesus Christ. He was even occasionally accused of collapsing all theology into Christology (which isn’t true, but the accusation indicates what his focus was).

3. Barth Is Biblical. But he’s not biblicist. His CD are full of small-print exegetical sections, but one need not read far to realize that his method of exegeting scripture is different from that of a staunch biblicist. He doesn’t simply rip sections out of context, read them literally for their face-value meaning, and pass them as a rigid objective law or truth for all time. Having said that, he doesn’t follow the Bultmannian programme of demythologizing, where all the ‘facts’ need to be stripped away to get at the kernel of truth behind them. His mantra is not “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it” but rather (as Marc mentioned in his previous post), “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” In other words, the Bible is the written basis for everything we know about God, but only because it bears faithful witness to Christ, who is the Word of God incarnate and the primary source for all our knowledge of God. So even his reading of scripture is Christocentric, and his way of reading scripture helps us read scripture better.

4. Barth Is Impactful. By this, I mean that theologians who have deeply engaged Barth seem to become better theologians. Even if they move beyond him or disagree in certain ways, Barth makes us all better. It seems to take a few centuries for a seminal thinker to alter the collective common sense of the church, but as Barth’s influence spreads throughout the world of academia, through the pastorate, and into the pulpit, Barth is slowly permeating the way we think about God. It’s a good thing.

5. Barth Is Awesome. Let’s face it, this is the real reason we all want to read Barth. Ordering CD was not an entirely selfless matter. Yes, we want to be enriched and hopefully enrich others, but we also want to have those 14 volumes on our shelves and to say, “Yeah, I read those.” Theologians love Barth, and they love to love Barth. “St. Paul makes a good point here,” we might say, “but have you read what Karl Barth has to say on the matter?” If Barth himself didn’t abhor idolatry, we probably wouldn’t have much reason to fight the urge to light a little pipe-shaped candle before an icon of that joyful and thoughtful old face beneath those thick glasses.

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I realize I’ll be preaching to the choir–that is, the guys who will participate in this blog are the only ones who know about it at this point–but I have an urge to write something, because I’m excited about this new venture. I hope none of the guys mind.

T & T Clark, the original publisher of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, has reissued those volumes and sold the rights to the old printing to Hendrikson Publishers. Earlier this year, Christianbook.com listed the 14-volume old edition of CD for $99, which was a mark-down of some $900. On the campus of Providence Seminary a brief and mild panic ensued. Theology students approached one another like drug dealers or gossips with an offer that they knew many could not refuse: “Pssst–hey buddy! Yes, you! Are you looking for some Church Dogmatics?” and “Did you hear? Church Dogmatics for $99!”

Initially I didn’t think it was a worthwhile investment for me. When, quite frankly, would I find the time to read such dense and lengthy material? I mentioned the deal to Dr. Chris Holmes–at that time the systematic theology professor at the seminary–and he not only suggested I purchase the set, but implored me to do so. Even if I only use it as a commentary on scripture, he said, it would provide a lifetime of material. And so I purchased it. Many others did as well.

After months of receiving emails from Christianbook.com, telling me that the set is back ordered and won’t be available until November, last week I finally received an email confirming that the books had shipped! They’ve been sitting in Mississauga, Ontario for a couple of days now, according to Canada Post’s package tracker. I imagine they will remain there until I’m surprised with a package pick-up notice in my mailbox.

* * *

Joel, Rick and I had a brief exchange at Joel’s blog about doing a joint Barth blog for those people on campus who bought CD. That was earlier this morning; now here we are with a blog, with a clever name that Joel came up with. Technology!

I’m quite excited about this little endeavour, but I have some confessions to make:

1. I can’t honestly say that I heart Barth–at least not yet.  All I’ve read of Barth so far is a few sections of  Evangelical Theology, and, quite frankly, I was in a hurry when I read them, so not much has sunk in. On the other hand, I have very much enjoyed the writings of those who have been influenced by Barth, such Thomas Torrance and Eugene Peterson. I’m sure I will grow to heart Barth. Rick and Joel assure me that I will.

2. I’m afraid I won’t contribute as much to this blog as I would like–at least not in terms of Barth specifically. I’m a wandering and non-committing reader. I’ve had a half-read copy of The Evangelical Universalist sitting on my night-stand for two and a half years now, with every intention of finishing the book at some point. The Grapes of Wrath, one-eighth read, joined it last summer. I at least had the honesty to put Theroux Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China back on the bookshelf (but my bookmark remains in place).

Will I read Barth? Yes.  Will I read him as much and as quickly as these other guys?  No.  They’re all probably going on to Ph.D.s. I will be but a humble pastor, slowly turning Barth’s pages as the years go by. But I’m consoled by this: Dr. Chris Holmes, when I spoke to him about CD last year, had only read about 60% of it. So I don’t feel too bad.  I will contribute where I can.

But Barth won’t be the only theologian mentioned here, of course. Bonhoeffer will unquestionably come up (I’m looking at you, Jeff and Joel–and I hope to read Ethics again soon), as I’m sure will N.T. Wright and a host of others. “I Heart Barth” is both a literal and symbolic name for the blog.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this. Hopefully you’ll forgive me for the first post not actually being theological, but it is, after all, introductory. But, to assuage any concerns, I will mention Barth’s (possibly mythical) summary of CD, as told by Chris Holmes:

Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.

And, friends, he spends 14 volumes telling us this. Happy reading!

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