A Cheesewearing Theologian on Barth

This is the third in my series of guest post, commemorating 10 years of my Karl Barth Reading Group here in Caronport. This week, I’m pleased to have Amanda MacInnis-Hackney provide her perspective. Amanda is a gifted writer and blogs occasionally over at her blog called “Cheesewearing Theology.”  (I’ve noticed she doesn’t post as often since being a PhD student…I wonder why? [Grad students: Insert knowing smile here.]) Be sure to check some of her posts out.

1)      Who are you? When did you attend the Barth group? And what are you doing right now in terms of vocation, family, church, etc.?

My name is Amanda MacInnis-Hackney. I moved to Caronport, SK on January 1, 2010. It was cold! Very, very cold! Thankfully, the people in Caronport work hard to take the edge off of the cold by being a warm and welcoming community and the first example of this was Dr. Guretzki inviting me to the Barth Reading Group that met weekly at the local coffee shop. That little group was my introduction to life in Caronport. I attended faithfully for a year, and then sporadically for the next couple of years (chalk that up to having three kids in four years). It was because of the Barth group that I signed up to take Dr. Guretzki’s graduate seminar on Barth’s theology the next year, and from there I ended up doing my M.A. thesis on Barth’s exegesis of John 1:14.

This introduction to Barth, through that weekly study group, continues to impact my life, as I have just completed my first year of PhD studies at the University of Toronto (Wycliffe College), where I am preparing to write my dissertation on Barth’s lectures on the Gospel of John under the supervision of Dr. Joseph Mangina.

2)      So far, do you have a favourite section of the Church Dogmatics? Why?

My favourite section of the Dogmatics is anything in IV. I spent this last semester in IV for two different classes: a class on atonement, and a class on Barth’s doctrine of the Church. In the opening paragraphs of IV/1 he writes, “To say atonement is to say Jesus Christ.” It is a short but powerful sentence that he then proceeds to unpack in a beautiful and rich way.  A brief example of one of the ways he unpacks the atonement: “The very heart of the atonement is the overcoming of sin: sin in its character as the rebellion of man against God, and in its character as the ground of man’s hopeless destiny in death. It was to fulfil this judgment on sin that the Son of God as man took our place as sinners. He fulfils it-as man in our place-by completing our work in the omnipotence of the divine Son, by treading the way of sinners to its bitter end in death, in destruction, in the limitless anguish of separation from God, by delivering up sinful man and sin in His own person to the non-being which is properly theirs, the nonbeing, the nothingness to which man has fallen victim as a sinner and towards which he relentlessly hastens. We can say indeed that He fulfils this judgment by suffering the punishment which we have all brought on ourselves.” (IV/1, 253).

3)      What are one or two things that have been impressed upon you—theologically, spiritually, pastorally, literarily, vocationally, whatever—in your reading of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics?

I’ve been a pastor. I’m a mom. I’ve taught college freshmen. In all of these situations, I have had to find a way to present the Good News of the Gospel in way that captures the imagination and can be understood clearly. Reading Barth has helped me with this. Whether I am writing a sermon, or helping my six year old work through her Bible memory verses, or teaching eighteen year olds about spiritual formation, I have regularly benefited from Barth’s work. I think this is largely due to his emphasis on exegesis. All of his theology flows first and foremost from a close reading of the biblical text. Sometimes it feels like modern/contemporary theologians do theology and then, to make it Christian, seek out scriptural support. Barth does not do this. He starts with Scripture first. This rootedness in the written Word is what makes Barth’s work (including not just the Dogmatics, but also his sermons and essays) relevant, useful and edifying.

4)      If you wanted to convince someone with why they might benefit from also reading Barth, what would you say?

When people ask me where they should start if they want to jump into Barth, I point them to the little collection of essays in the book “God Here and Now.” It is in this volume that the reader gets a clear sense not only of Barth’s theology, but also of Barth’s deep love for the Church, and a feel for his pastoral drive to do theology. Reading Barth answers the practical question: why theology? In Barth’s work the reader quickly sees that theology is not an abstraction of the Gospel, nor is it a specialized “add-on.” It is not just for academics in their “ivory towers.” Instead, theology is an integral task of the Christian community. Theology is totally dependent on God’s living Word and teaches the Church how to respond to the work and event of the Divine Word: Jesus Christ.

5)      Anything else you want to say?

Let’s have Barth have the last word: “To become and be a theologian is not a natural process but an incomparably concrete fact of grace.” (Evangelical Theology, 73).