Supporting Theological Reflection and Conversation that Strengthen the Ministry of the Church
Hunsinger’s new book, Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth, is a fine collection of essays written over an extensive period in the distinguished career of one of the foremost Barth scholars of our day. His sustained reflection on the theology of Karl Barth has yielded an interesting and useful resource.
The essays are arranged under three broad rubrics: political theology, doctrinal theology, and ecumenical theology. Certain conclusions concerning Barth’s work shine forth from Hunsinger’s responsible and incisive essays under these topics. That there must be these three rubrics of presentation reveals the breadth and multifaceted nature of Barth’s work. Not only was Barth an immensely productive doctrinal theologian, he was also a leader in church affairs and a political activist. He provided leadership to the confessing church and was politically active in his socialist involvement, his protest of the “cold war,” and his antimilitarist, antinuclear stance. He was a public intellectual embroiled in ceaseless controversy. Hunsinger’s work on Barth’s political theology reads Barth as a “Christ transforming culture” theologian rather than as a “sectarian protestant” (Yoder’s view). Although Barth moved in an increasingly anti-militaristic and pacifistic direction, he remained committed to contending not only with cultural accommodation but also with anti-cultural exclusivism.
In the doctrinal theology section, Hunsinger offers wide-ranging essays exploring Barth’s christology, pneumatology, trinitarian theology, methodology for scriptural interpretation, and reflections on eternal destiny. Along the way, Hunsinger regularly illustrates Barth’s creativity and originality. He shows how, while being thoroughly modern, Barth rejected modernism, and while being deeply traditional, he left no stone of the tradition unturned. We see a fully differentiated intellect at work. The relevance of Barth’s contributions for contemporary church life and especially for crossing present divides becomes evident as Hunsinger articulates Barth’s distinctive combination of progressive politics with traditional faith.
In the section on ecumenical theology, Hunsinger observes that Barth knew the difference between vague ecumenical tolerance and genuine dialogue. He was willing to confront deep differences head on. Hunsinger illustrates Barth’s ecumenical theology with two different approaches. First, he works with conversations across traditional denominational separations (one conversation with Roman Catholic theology and one with Luther’s theology). Second, he engages conversations across the deeper divides that exist even within denominations (liberal and post-liberal, evangelical and post-liberal). He reads Barth as offering a promising post-liberal option that can overlap modernism and conservatism, learning from and yet transcending both.
In several of the essays, Hunsinger makes important connectionsexploring both points of agreement and points of differencebetween Barth’s thought and other perspectives (i.e. John Howard Yoder, George Lindbeck, Hans Frei, Adolf Harnack). Each one of these efforts not only casts new light on Barth, but also shows the flexibility and fruitfulness of Barth’s work for such interaction.
The book concludes with an epilogue “Meditation on the Blood of Christ” that offers Hunsinger’s own reflections on the importance of reclaiming the rich metaphor of Christ’s blood as a way of thinking about divine suffering love, the magnitude of sin, and the costliness of grace.
Disruptive Grace is a substantial contribution to Barth studies offered by a thinker who seems able to understand and interpret Barth “from within.” In reading, one is convinced of importance and continuing relevance of Barth’s theology. The articles invite one into deeper exploration of Barth’s multifaceted work. This book is can be valuable not only for Barth scholars but also for all theologians of the Reformed tradition and for any laypersons who have an interest in connecting theology with life in the church and in the wider world.
PUBLISHED IN THE BULLETIN OF THE INSTITUTE FOR REFORMED THEOLOGY, WINTER 2003, VOL. 3, #1.
The Institute for Reformed Theology is an Associated Program of
Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Richmond, Virginia
All materials on this site are © The Institute for Reformed Theology, unless otherwise noted.