Karl Barth Conference – Day 2


The second full day of the Karl Barth conference at Princeton Theological Seminary again had a very good slate of papers and presentations.

Mark Lindsay – “The Abandonment of Inauthentic Humanity: Barth’s Theologies of Baptism as the Ground and Goal of Mission.” Dr. Lindsay, visiting from Australia, addressed the relationship of Barth’s doctrine of baptism (especially as outlined in CD IV.4) to the question of mission. Rather than defending or criticizing Barth’s move away from a sacramental position on baptism, Lindsay argued that Barth’s view of baptism is consistent with Barth’s theology of mission, and baptism is the grounding event of the Christian participation in mission.

John Flett – “‘I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25): The Resurrection from the Dead as the Declaration of God’s Eternal Being and the Christian Community’s Eschatological Reality.” I was very much looking forward to Dr. Flett’s paper, especially in light of several previous speaker’s recommending his book, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth and the Nature of Christian Community. (Yes, I bought a copy!) Flett argued that the categories of “church” and “mission” are so deeply embedded into Christian theology as “binary” categories that it will take a tremendous amount of theological effort to redress the issue. He argued that the significance of Karl Barth’s ecclesiology is that it is grounded in the eternal witness of God in his triune revelation most fully shown in the resurrection from the dead. Or in short, “Missioning Witness is God’s simple being.” Or, “Witness is God’s own Proper Being.” Flett argued that “witness” is the completion of the doctrine of reconciliation in which the asymmetrical relationship of the divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ who is, as such, True Witness. Witness, in other words, is the proper “form” of the Christian community grounding in the completed reconciliation of the world to God in Jesus Christ. Conclusion: Resurrection is the declaration of the nature of God as he lives his own proper life as a missioning God.

Paul Chung: “Engaging Karl Barth’s Missional Church and Hermeneutics: Evangelization, Reconciliation and Diakonia. (I had some difficulty following much Dr. Chung’s paper (largely because of his soft voice and strong accent), but I did manage to catch in particular about the relation between Karl Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation and its reception in Korean “Min Jung theology.”

After evening prayers and a meal, we heard Dr. Eberhard Busch share some personal “Reminiscences of Barth.” What a highlight of the conference! Dr. Busch read expressively for an hour from portions of his extensive personal diary that he kept while working for Karl Barth from 1964-68, the year of Barth’s death. The diary is slated to be published by Eerdman’s in the future (translated by Dr. and Mrs. Darrell Guder of Princeton). Some highlights from Busch’s reading:

  • A recounting of an extensive conversation Dr. Busch had with Karl Barth about the difference between  Mozart (whom Barth characterized as one who “heard” and lived selflessly) and Goethe (whom Barth characterized as one who “saw” and who lived selfishly)
  • Reports about Barth’s reading of Shakespeare’ sonnnets, his visit to Florence art displays, and Barth’s viewing with his wife the movie The Taming of the Shrew
  • Barth’s reflection on his visit to the Vatican and his personal meeting with the Pope
  • Barth’s reflections on preparing a text to be preached in prison, then to have the sermon cancelled, and then to Barth express his relief because he realized that he had understood the text completely wrongly!
  • An anecdote illustrating the Barth’s “thrifty ways” (Karl and his wife once debated for some time about whether to heat up an old jar of dried out glue to get out the last drop, only finally to conclude later that they had better get a new bottle from the shop across the street!)
  • Barth’s final visit just shortly before his death with his friend Gollwitzer, who knew he would likely never see Barth again–a really touching account!

The publication of Busch’s diary will provide some major new biographical insights in the biography of the last years of Barth. I can hardly wait to see it!

All in all, another great day!