The PostBarthian

The Myth of the Unincarnate Word (logos asarkos vs logos incarnandus)


Eastern Orthodox Icon, Resurrection: Harrowing of Hell (source: wikipedia)

The Johannine Prologue (John 1:1-18) is a purple passage of the bible, and "In the beginning was the Word (λόγος), and the Word (λόγος) was with God, and the Word (λόγος) was God." (John 1:1 RSV) is among the most famous verses in the entire bible. The original Greek of John uses the ancient Stoic term λόγος (logos), which is translated as 'Word' in most all modern English translations, and occasionally as 'Speech' in some older translations.  A myriad of books have been written on John's use of this Neo-Platonic and Stoic term.

John's employment of λόγος (logos) in John 1:14 is especially signification for the Christian formation of the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation. "And the Word (λόγος) became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father." (John 1:14 RSV). A surface reading may suggest that the second person of the Trinity (i.e. the λόγος) existed in a pre-incarnate and eternal form, and then at some point in history the second person assumed a human nature at the Incarnation.

The older orthodox Reformed Theologians saw a two phase life of the Second Person of the Trinity, first existing as the eternal λόγος and then a temporal appearance of the incarnate word. In a famous commentary on the Johannine Prologue in Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics Vol IV/2, Barth shows that there is no such thing as a λόγος ἄσαρκος (unincarnate Word). There is no such thing as a pre-incarnate or un-incarnate Word, and the most we may speak of an unfleshed Word is a logos incarnandus, which means 'a Word that will be incarnated'.

Karl Barth's brilliant exegesis has demonstrated that there is no "God behind God" that is unknown to us in the logos asarkos myth. The image of the invisible God, as Paul spoke, has always been the Crucified and Resurrected Jesus Christ, and if we imagine any logos asarkos, we must quickly speaks of it only as a logos incarnandus. Barth's following quotation has the great benefit, in that it does not fall into Lessing's Great Ugly Ditch, like the older Reformed explanation. Barth places the incarnation before all history, rather than being merely a contingent historical datum.

He "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible ... all things were created by him and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Col 1:15f.). It is to be noted that the One of whom all this is said is called "the head of the body, the church" and " the first-born from the dead" in Col 1:18, and that according to Col 1:20 it can be said of Him, this autos, that it pleased the Father in Him to reconcile all things to himself, "having made peace through the blood of his cross." But there could obviously be no sense in talking of the blood of the eternal Son of God as such, or of this Son as the firstborn from the dead. The declarations of predestination from Col 1:15 onwards cannot, therefore, relate only to the Son of God, to a logos asarkos.

But, again, the statement in John 1:2: "The same (autos en) was in the beginning with God," would be a meaningless repetition of the second statement in John 1:1 if it were not an anticipation of the incarnate Logos attested and declared by John the Baptist in the words: "This was he (outs en) who coming after me is preferred before me, for he was before me" (protos mou en). The result is that we cannot possibly refer abstractly to the eternal Logos either John 1:3: "All things were made by him; and without him (chorus auto) was not anything made that was made," or John 1:10 : "The world was made by him." The event attested in John 1:14 is one to which the whole Prologue looks back. So, then, the whole Prologue (with the possible exception of the first phrase of John 1:1) -- although it certainly speaks of the eternal Logos -- speaks also of the man Jesus. The saying in John 8:58, which reaches back to the Prologue: "Before Abraham was, I am," must be understood in the same way. And nothing could be more explicit than the way in which, in John 6:51, "the living bread which came down from heaven" is equated with" my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

But the same is true of Heb 1:2f., where it is said of the Son that by Him God made the aeons (the worlds), that He is "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person," and that He upholds "all things by the word of his power." For immediately after we are told that "when he had by himself purged our sins, he sat down on the right hand of the majesty in high," and (in Heb 1:4) is "made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they." This and the many statements which follow concerning his superiority to the angels would be quite inexplicable if the reference were only abstractly to the eternal Son of God, and He were supposed to stand in need of this exaltation and the inheritance of this more excellent name. Indeed, how could the eternal Son as such be put (in Heb 1:1) in the same series with the fathers by whom God spoke at sundry times and in divers manners? How could it be said of Him as such that God "hath in these last days spoken unto us" by Him? This is only explicable if, as is expressly emphasised in Heb 1:6, the reference is to the One who is brought into the world of men, the oikoumena, and therefore to the One who is both Son of God and Son of Man He as such is the One by whom God made the aeons, and who upholds all things by the Word of His power.

And so the One who (in 1 Pet 1:29) "verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times," is obviously the One of whom it is said to the readers in 1 Peter 1:18-19 that they are redeemed with His blood "as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." Again, the One of whom it is said in Eph 1:4 that God "hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him" is the One of whom it is said again in Eph 1:7 that we have redemption through His blood. Again, in Rev 13:8, the book of life written before the foundation of the world (which does not contain the names of those who worship the beast) is called the book of the Lamb slain. In all these predestinarian passages the emphasising of the blood, of the putting to death, of Jesus Christ is obviously inexplicable if they are referred to a logos asarkos, and not to the eternal Son of God and therefore also to the Son of Man existing in time.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics Study Edition 24. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 33-34. Print.

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The Legacy of Hans Küng’s Doctrine of Justification

Hans Küng (1928—) was ordained in 1955, and his doctoral thesis, Justification: La Doctrine de Karl Barth et Une Réflexion Catholique was published in 1957 (Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection1964 ET). Justification was Küng's first book and was a study of the Protestant and Roman Catholic teachings on the Doctrine of Justification with a special emphasis on the Reformation and Counter-Reformation conflicts that lead to the schism of Western Christianity. The remarkable conclusion of Justification is that the Protestant and Roman Catholic differences in Doctrines of Justification are only imaginary, and there is no longer any 'justification' for Protestants and Roman Catholics to remain separated brethren. I've assembled the following quotations as a brief survey of events that followed the publication of Justification.

"Trent's teaching on justification can be correctly understood only in the context of history of dogma. In this context, however, it can and must be understood correctly. This, for the time being, is our preliminary answer to Karl Barth's polemic against Trent. Protestants speak of a declaration of justice and Catholics of a making just. But Protestants speak of a declaring just which includes a making just; and Catholics of a making just which supposes a declaring just. Is it not time to stop arguing about imaginary differences?"

Küng, Hans Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 144-45. Print.

Hans Küng on Karl Barth

In Justification, Küng had chosen Karl Barth as his representative of the Protestant Doctrine of Justification (primarily using Barth's Church Dogmatics Vol. IV/1 and IV/2.) Küng (a recognized teacher in the Roman Catholic Church at that time and later a petrus at Vatican II) represented the Roman Catholicism counterpart to the Doctrine of Justification.

The question to why Küng had chosen Barth as his provost for Protestant may be partially explained by the following quotation from Hans Küng's essay, Karl Barth and the Postmodern Paradigm. If Karl Barth does not represent some Protestants, I hope that the following discourse would consider a second look at Barth's Doctrine of Reconciliation due to the hope of reunification of the divided Western Church may be found in it.

Let me begin on a personal note. I cannot, and will not, speak of Karl Barth as I would of any great theologian or philosopher of the past, Hegel, for example, Schleiermarcher, Kierkegaard, or Harnack. I cannot, and will not, pretend to a lofty objectivity and neutrality, least of all in the case of Barth. Talking about him means for me, now as ever, talking about a person and theologian who has remained alive, who was combative--and pious precisely because of this--a man whom I met in a crucial phase of my life and to whom I am indebted for basic insights into theology (without ever becoming an uncritical Barthian). I have no intention of providing an academic (in the bad sense) abstract of our common history, nor of course will I deny the fact that I disagreed with him then, as I do now. In this retrospective I should like to follow a difficult via media between sympathy and distance, as I try to convey something of the vitality of this theologian and his theology, as I have seen it not only in Barth's work but in a great and many encounters and conversations.

Küng, Hans. "Karl Barth and the Postmodern Paradigm." Princeton Seminary Bulletin (1988): 1. Web.

Council of Trent

Council of Trent

Karl Barth's Response to Justification

Karl Barth was no Roman Catholic sympathizer when Küng had chosen him. In the first part of Justification, Küng summarizes Barth's Doctrine of Justification, including Barth's criticisms of Roman Catholic. I have already written about Küng's summary of Barth's criticisms of Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification in a previous post. The following quotation is an exemplary representative of Barth's criticisms.

[Karl] Barth reacts very strongly against the decree of [the Tridentine] Session VI: “The decree itself is theologically a clever and in many respects a not unsympathetic document which has caused superficial Protestant readers to ask whether there might not be something to say for it. But if we study it more closely it is impossible to conceal the fact that not even the remotest impression seems to have been made upon its exponents by what agitated the Reformers or, for that matter, Paul himself in this whole question of faith and works" (IV/1, 624f.)

Küng, Hans. Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 75. Print.

Hans Kung and Karl Barth

Hans Kung and Karl Barth

Hans Küng's response to Karl Barth's criticisms of the Council of Trent

The genius of Küng's Justification is in the way Küng demonstrated that the Roman Catholics were not condemning what Protestants now believe, and also that the Protestants were not condemning what the Roman Catholic now believed regarding the Doctrine of Justification. Küng is convinced that these two parties were talking past each other as the previous quote exemplified.

Karl Barth's response to the Tridentine Canons represents the way that all Protestants have responded to the 16th century Council of Trent's Anathema sit! (anathematizing) of the Reformers doctrine of "Justification by faith alone".

"If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified: let him be anathema." (Council of Trent, Session VI, Canon XII.)

Schaff, Philip. "Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume II. The History of Creeds.", Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2009. 113. Web.

Is any Protestant 'unjustified' for reacting in such horror as Barth when they read this Tridentine anathema? This Tridentine Canon and those others like it, especially throughout Session VI, are horrifying to all Protestant ears? Küng's surprising solution does not reject the Council of Trent, but instead he explains that these anathamas do not represent a complete and systematic doctrine of the Catholic Magisterium or apply to Protestants today. Even if the statements claim to be the teaching of the Magisterium, Küng explains that in fact they are only a reaction against events that were convulsing the entire Church that no longer are in effect. Consider Küng's explanation of these events:

In similar discussions about Trent one is likely to be asked with a malicious grin whether such explanations do not produce "a bad historical conscience" among Catholics--the point being that Trent did after all wish to present a comprehensive theology of justification. It is true that Trent was not simply a discussion among confessions or simply a controversial theology but rather a cohesive, positive presentation of Catholic truth. And the Council, especially in Session VI de justificatione, did not limit itself (as it did in Session IV and for the most part in Session V) to restudy and refining texts already promulgated nor did it simply list errors in order to judge them (as did Session VII), but rather dealt directly with the problem of justification as such.

All this is true and indicates the noble and objective spirit of this ecclesiastical assembly, yet we have here no reason for historical pangs of conscience--because the point of departure and the target Council discussions, as well as the never-absent shadow over them, was clearly the Reformation teaching. The decree on justification too, was motivated not by the desire for an unbiased scholarly peace-time declaration but by heresy convulsing the Church. The introduction to the decree notwithstanding its irenic style, is clearly polemical in purpose: "Since at this time a certain erroneous teaching about justification is being broadcast with the consequent loss of many souls and serious damage to Church unity . . . this Council of Trent . . . intends to set forth for all the faithful of Christ the true, sound doctrine of justification" (CT, V, 791; D 792a). 

Küng, Hans Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 107. Print.

Karl Barth's commendation of Hans Küng's Justification

Karl Barth was a life long friend of Hans Küng, and he responded to this young theologian with a remarkable letter endorsing Justification, and this letter of retraction, in Augustinian fashion, was included as a preface to Justification. Here is a quotation from Barth's letter:

3. The negative conclusion of your critique is this: Due to my erroneous (because unhistorical) evaluation of the definitions and declarations collected in Denzinger and of the statements of the Church’s magisterium in general, I have been guilty of a thoroughgoing misunderstanding and, consequently, of a thoroughgoing injustice regarding the teaching of your Church, especially that of the Fathers of Trent. Quid dicemus ad haec? If the things you cite from Scripture, from older and more recent Roman Catholic theology, from Denzinger and hence from the Tridentine text, do actually represent the teaching of your Church and are establishable as such (Perhaps this single book of yours will be enough to create a consensus!), then, having twice gone to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Trent to commune with the genius loci, I may very well have to hasten there are third time to make a contrite confession—“Fathers, I have sinned.” But taking the statements of that Sixth Session as we now have them before us—statements correctly or incorrectly formulated for reasons then considered compelling—don’t you agree that I should be permitted to plead mitigating circumstances for the considerable difficulty I had trying to discover in that text what you have found to be true Catholic teaching? Imagine! So unexpected a view of freedom, of grace, of juridico-real justification and its realization and foundation in Christ’s death, of the and sola fide, and so on! How do you explain the fact that all this could hidden so long, and from so many, both outside and inside the Church?

Küng, Hans. Preface. Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. xl-xli. Print.

Thus we have the genesis of the healing of the rift between the Roman Catholics and Protestants by Hans Küng and Karl Barth. The question immediately arises whether this is only a compromise among friends, or truly a solution to the Roman Catholic and Protestant schism? The answer is Nein! In 1962, Pope John XXIII appointed Hans Küng as a peritus (expert) in Vatican II. Hans Küng has a significant role in the Second Vatican Council, and worked in a similar capacity to Joseph Ratzinger (who would later become Pope Benedict XVI).

Karl Rahner in 1974

Karl Rahner's commendation of Hans Küng's Justification

In 1962, Karl Rahner published an essay titled, "Questions of Controversial Theology on Justification" in Theological Investigations Vol. 4, that was an assessment of Küng's book Justification and Karl Barth's response. Karl Rahner's writings may be considered opinion or speculative, but he is no Barthian, and he is certainly well respected in Roman Catholicism. Rahner's conclusion was that Hans Küng had represented accurately the Roman Catholic view of Justification, and he also agreed that Küng's description of Barth's doctrine of Justification was compatible with the Roman Catholic view. Rahner raised some concerns regarding whether Barth's doctrine was represented accurately by Küng in Justification, but recommended that Barth's approval and affirmation Justification should be accepted from Barth over the opinion of those who say that Barth's system does not harmonize with Catholicism.

"One can be a Catholic and hold this doctrine of justification, which Karl Barth has declared to be the same as his own." [...] The history of theology is "not simply the history of the progression of dogma, but also a history of forgetting (Probleme, 126)"

Küng, Hans Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 106-7. Print.


"Thinking as we do, as we shall shortly explain, that we do not understand Barth's doctrine better than Barth, and that Küng propounds on all essential points a doctrine of justification which is in accord with Catholic doctrine, nothing very noteworthy can be said here on the actual theme of the book. Our considerations are therefore marginal notes with regard to the object and contents of the book, and we wish them to be understood as such."

Rahner, Karl. "Questions of Controversial Theology on Justification." Theological Investigations Volume IV: More Recent Writings. Vol. IV. Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1966. 189. Print.

1999 signing of the Joint Doctrine of the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) with Bishop Dr. Christian Krause (left) and Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy (right) (source:

The silencing of Hans Küng

Hans Küng's Justification (1957) was his doctoral thesis and first book, and such a successful book that it resulted in Küng being made a peritus (Latin for 'expert') at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). However, Küng wrote another controversial book, Infallible? An Inquiry (1971)  that criticized the Roman Catholic doctrine of Papal Infallibility and subsequently lead to his right to teach being revoked by the Vatican in Dec. 1979. It's important to know that the removal of Küng's right to teach was long after Justification and Vatican II, and that it was Küng's success in his book Justification that lead him to address other dogmatics, but unfortunately, Infallible? An Inquiry, did not receive the same reception as Justification. It's unfortunately that Infallible? An Inquiry left such a dark cloud over Küng.

Hans Küng's Justification and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

The Joint Doctrine on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) was a controversial ecumenical statement in 1997 and 1999 that forged agreement between the Federation of Lutheran Churches and the Roman Catholics Church. The JDDJ was approved by a supermajority vote but not unanimously (124 in favor and 35 opposed). The JDDJ was a monumental eccumentical statement of unity between the Lutherans and Catholics, but many today deny that Hans Küng work in Justification germinated the JDDC, yet the JDDC is remarkably similar to the writings of Küng's 40 years before:

1. On the basis of the agreements reached in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JD), the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church declare together: "The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this Declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics" (JD 40). On the basis of this consensus the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church declare together: “The teaching of the Lutheran Churches presented in the Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration" (JD 41).

"Official Common Statement #1" The Holy See. Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2014.

The JDDJ did not settle all the issues dividing the Lutherans and Catholics, but laid the blue print to rebuilding the broken foundation of the divide Church. The Official Common Statement was put forth showing an unprecedented unity between Catholics and Lutherans unseen since the Reformation. Additional statements were put forward by the Vatican about the remain questions as well as by conservative Lutherans on the work left unresolved by the JDDJ.

Was Hans Küng the Forgotten Founding Father of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification?

"I know today that an agreement could have been arrived at over the matter of justification, as I argued in my doctoral dissertation, Justification, in 1957, and as has been confirmed in 1999 by the Roman Catholic-Lutheran consensus document."

Küng, Hans, and John Bowden. The Catholic Church: A Short History. New York: Modern Library, 2001. 125. Print.

In Hans Küng's Memoirs, in reference to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) [mirror], he wrote:

"It will take around 40 years, until 1999, for the breakthrough already achieved in 1957 to be officially sanctioned by the church. I once read in C.G. Jung that it takes 40 years for an idea from the higher levels of the clergy to get down to the men on the street.

Did the prelates also count on that? At any event, first of all there was some undesirable theological haggling: instead of taking the results of the book Justification, the subsequent discussion and the Malta document as presupposition of an official recognition of the consensus, the Vatican, playing for time, set up year another ecumenical commission with the Lutheran World Federation which for years had once again to chew through all the statements in the Tridentine decree on justification. Galley slaves’s work.

Küng, Hans. My Struggle for Freedom: Memoirs. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003. 144. Print.

There's a remarkable silence in the JDDJ regarding Hans Küng, especially since the JDDJ repeated the same ingenius arguments that Küng provided forty years before in Justification. In the following quotation that extends the previous quote, Küng explains this extremely awkward situation, where the the JDDJ is formed due to his ground-breaking research, yet he remains uncredited, and how others give him recognition when the ancient Catholic Church does not (forgive my protestant slant):

It goes without saying that I remain excluded from such official discussions by commissions under the conditions of an all too eternal yesterday — at the wish of Rome and with the assent of Protestants. And I’m pleased: what a waste of time! Here of course the Roman infallibles attach importance to every statement of Trent: these cannot in any way be false or even wrong, but were ‘fundamentally’ correct or were at least ‘meant to be correct’ (otherwise ‘everything would collapse’). But of necessity Lutheran biblical scholars respond to the Roman tactics accordingly: they are concerned to demonstrate that as many formulations as possible in Luther or the confessional writings are irreformably correct and, where they can be, are to be pressed into the categories of law and gospel. In a neurosis over confessional profile, some remain caught in the mediaeval paradigm, others in the Reformation paradigm. And so they lose opportunity of making clear to people in a competitive society in a quite concrete and convincing way how important it is that human beings as persons are not justified by God on the basis of achievements, successes, works of all kinds, but happily by God himself, who expects only trusting faith.

Be this as it may, finally in 1999, despite some shady moves and Luther counter-moves and after further additional declarations, on 31 October, the anniversary of the Reformation, a declaration of agreement will be signed in Augsburg. When this happens, vigorous applause spontaneously breaks out in the church and goes on for an astonishing time. For me — watching it on television — is a great delight. For the applause shows those in church and those watching on TV how great the longing is for such an ecumenical agreement. A late triumph. No doubt about it. But should I conceal the fact that at the wish of Rome the name of the author of the 1957 book Justification, which was originally top of the list of those to be invited, was again deleted — and as so often without a protest from the Protestants involved? Certainly this pettiness niggles me a little, but I can easily get over it, and in any case I am no friend of long church ceremonies. Did my former assistant and colleague Walter Kasper, now a Curia bishop, no doubt informed about the deletion of my name, perhaps sign for me in spirit? At any rate, to conclude from several reactions, including those of Bishop Karl Lehmann, I am not forgotten by the well informed. The best sign comes a few weeks later at the ‘Cape of Good Hope’, on the occasion of my lecture to the Parliament of the World Religions in December 1999. On the stage, the Lutheran Bishop of Cape Town, Nils Rohwer, gives me the fountain pen, beautifully engraved by the city of Augsburg, with which he himself signed the Augsburg document: he says that I deserve it more than he does. The Lord Mayor of the city of Augsburg is kind enough later to send him another jubilee fountain pen at my request. This is practical ecumenism in small matters."

Küng, Hans. My Struggle for Freedom: Memoirs. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003. 144-45. Print.

The Legacy of Hans Küng's Justification today

The Justification is a ground breaking event in the reunification of Western Christianity, and despite that laudable success of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, Protestants and Roman Catholics remain 'separated brethren' and the uncrossable chasm between the two branches of Western Christianity remains for the foreseeable future. It is understandable that a five hundred year family feud would not heal overnight, and that the opposing sides desire to see more resolution on other disputed dogmas than 'justification by faith alone'. We may hope that further work would continue to be done now that Küng's Justification has let forth the floodgates.

The JDDJ was a productive test case of Küng's Justification, but some of my Reformed friends have expressed that it does not address the particular Reformed criticisms of Roman Catholicism, and suggest that the JDDJ was another incarnation of Andreas Osiander's doctrine of 'Essential Righteousness'. John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion III.XI.5-13, contains Calvin's extended criticism of Osiander's Doctrine of 'Essential Righteousness.'

After contacting every Lutheran and Reformed with a Ph.D. that I could find on twitter, I received a consistent response that the JDDJ departed from Küng's Justification to the degree that they would accept Küng's Justification but not the JDDJ. And almost every person I spoke with, and there were many, referred me to Eberhard Jüngel's book, "Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith" as the most important response to the ideas Hans Küng proposed fifty years ago.

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Sign of the Gospel: A Post-Barthian Doctrine of Infant Baptism


The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth by W. Travis McMaken

Karl Barth's rejection of infant baptism is as infamous as it is controversial. Opponents of Barth's doctrine of baptism have defended infant baptism with the historical, covenantal and sacramental arguments, with Oscar Cullmann's Baptism in the New Testament being among the best representatives of these arguments. George Hunsinger recommended to me in a personal correspondence,  W. Travis McMaken's book, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth as a post-Barthian solution for affirming infant baptism.

In The Sign of the Gospel, Dr. McMaken begins by assuming that Karl Barth's critique of infant baptism was correct and forges a new path for affirming infant baptism by using Barth against Barth, and therefore he goes through Karl Barth to a new and surprising solution to this ancient debate. McMaken's post-Barthian solution for affirming infant baptism may best be introduced in the following quotation from The Sign of the Gospel:

By way of recapitulation, perhaps the best way to describe my understanding in this volume is with reference to a quotation by Eberhard Jüngel. He claims that Barth's 'doctrine of baptism is . . . not an appendix to the Church Dogmatics, but rather . . . a test-case' such that anyone who 'wants infant baptism should not seek nourishment for the pulpit from Barth's doctrine of election. . . . It is one or the other—one must decide for oneself.' This volume has sought to demonstrate the former aspect of Jüngel's declaration while controverting the second. In other words, it defends two claims.

First, it demonstrates that Barth's doctrine of baptism in CD IV/4, and his rejection of infant baptism in particular, is not a final aberration of his theology but is deeply consistent with his mature theological commitments.

Second, it argues that Barth's theological commitments do not necessarily terminate in this fashion; that is, it is possible to advance a doctrine of baptism that is both consistent with Barth's mature theology and affirms infant baptism as a fitting form of baptismal administration.

McMaken, W. Travis, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013. pg275, Print. (formatting slightly modified)

I am surprised and impressed by The Sign of the Gospel because this book thoroughly defends the Barthian doctrine of baptism, and then moves through it and onward to a post-Barthian doctrine of infant baptism. McMaken demonstrates that there has been a superficial rejection of Karl Barth's arguments against infant baptism, as if the CD IV/4 fragment was only an appendix, rather than a test-case (as the previous quotation described). He has also shown that Markus Barth's works rejecting infant baptism were unjustly ignored or rejected in the same way that Barth's CD IV/4 fragment has been dismissed. (Markus Barth is Karl Barth's eldest son and accomplished theologian).

The Sign of the Gospel also contains excursuses explaining Karl Barth's rejection of the traditional prooftexts for infant baptism, and helpful explanations of Karl Barth's negative assessment of the sacramental and covenantal arguments based on these texts. Instead of these traditional prooftexts, McMaken points to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 as the post-Barthian scriptural foundation for infant baptism. The Sign of the Gospel was able to explain Karl Barth's scriptural criticism in a way that I did not fully understand the first time I had read Karl Barth's CD IV/4 fragment on baptism. McMaken also demonstrates an excellent ecumenical stance on the doctrine of baptism, where those whom do not administer infant baptism and those whom do, may recognize each other's baptism. Also, I love that this book is titled, The Sign of the Gospel, which is from Calvin's commentary on the Great Commission in Calvin's commentary on the harmony of the gospels. The following second and longer quotation is a helpful overview of the arguments presented so far in The Sign of the Gospel:

I have endeavored in this chapter to construct a doctrine of baptism on the soil of Barth's mature theology where infant baptism is a legitimate form of the gospel proclamation by which the church discharges its missionary task. Although the decision for or against infant baptism must be a contextual one made by each church in its particular time and place, it is an inherently fitting mode of baptismal administration. To make this case, I undertook a reconfiguration of Barth's doctrine of baptism founded on critically assessing how he conceived of baptism's basis. By dismissing Barth's historical conjecture concerning Christian baptism's origin, and recovering the importance of Matthew 28:18-20 on Barthian grounds, I argued that baptism is best understood as a mode of gospel proclamation whereby the church discharges its missionary task, which exists in a close and mutually implicating relation with the church's instructional mode of the gospel proclamation. Jesus' baptism by John retains importance at this point insofar as it provides baptism's content, as well as its dimension of depth in Jesus Christ's saving history. With reference to baptism's goal, I argued that water baptism's primary goal is Spirit baptism and that it is thereby implicated in a stratified multiplicity of goals. The saving history of Jesus Christ grounds this relic complex, extending to the active discipleship of individual human beings that necessarily results from the Spirit's awakening work. I also argued here that the holistic particularity or objective-subjective character of water baptism when conceived as a mode of the church's gospel proclamation helps to make sense of the ethical force with which baptism is deployed in the New Testament. In terms of baptism's meaning, I argued four points.

First, Barth conceives of witness as the mode of the church's mediation, and he believes that the church's mediating witness is given a share in Jesus Christ's self-mediating self-witness in the event of awakening to conversion or, alternatively, Spirit baptism.

Second, how Barth conceives of this participation by the church's witness in Jesus Christ's self-witness is not accurately described by notions of parallel activity or of instrumentality; rather, Barth's far more radical conception of the relation between divine and human activity proposes their paradoxical identity. He arrives at this conception by rejecting the sort of causal thinking that depends on an analogia causalis between divine and human action. Instead of God simply extending his causality through the church's instrumentality or parallel with its activity, Jesus Christ himself encounters particular human beings in and as the church's proclamation.

Third, I understood to reread Barth's doctrine of baptism in order to demonstrate that such a position is not foreign to Church Dogmatics IV/4.

Fourth and finally, I argued that identifying that church's baptismal gospel proclamation as fundamentally an event of epiclesis allows for the church to administer baptism in confident and expectant hope that its prayer for the baptizand's Spirit baptism will be fulfilled, even though the church cannot say how or when that fulfillment will occur.

The doctrine of baptism that I have advanced is open to infant baptism insofar as I have argued that infant baptism is a fitting form of baptismal administration. This mirrors the New Testament witness in neither requiring nor forbidding the practice. Reading Barth against Barth, I argued that the most responsible theological position with reference to the New Testament witness requires that the church make a decision in every time and place concerning whether the baptism of infants is a proper application of the baptismal mode of its gospel proclamation undertaken in service to its missionary task. Further I argued that infant baptism practiced on the bias of the doctrine of baptism I advanced here avoids many of the dangers against which Barth warns.

McMaken, W. Travis, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013. pg273-274, Print. (formatting slightly modified)


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Karl Barth on Jesus Loves Me and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Twinkle, Twinkle, little star.

Twinkle, Twinkle, little star.

In the lore of Karl Barth, are two nursery rhymes that Barth used his great wit to respond to questions.

Jesus Loves Me

According to the best accounts of the incident I have heard (many have taken on weird additions), Karl Barth was at Rockefeller Chapel (really a Gothic cathedral!) on the campus of the University of Chicago during his lecture tour of the U.S. in 1962. After his lecture, during the Q & A time, a student asked Barth if he could summarize his whole life’s work in theology in a sentence. Barth allegedly said something like “Yes, I can. In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That is the simple, unadorned story. Many tellers have adorned it with additions of their own (in sermons, etc.).

(source: Roger E. Olson, "Did Karl Barth Really Say “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know….?”")

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

After the service in a parish church where Barth had been preaching one Sunday, he was met at the door by a man who greeted him with these words: "Professor Barth, thank you for your sermon. I'm an astronomer, you know, and as far as I am concerned, the whole of Christianity can be summed up by saying, 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.'" Barth replied: "Well, I am just a humble theologian, and as far as I am concerned, the whole of astronomy can be summed up by saying, 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.'"

(source: John D. Godsey, ed. George Hunsinger, "For the Sake of the World: Karl Barth and the Future of Ecclesial Theology")


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Top 10 Inspirational Quotes of Karl Barth


Karl Barth (Old Age), source:

Karl Barth is notoriously difficult to quote. Is this bad? Nein! Karl Barth won the Sigmund Freud Price in 1968 for his literary style. Barth's literary genre may not easily lend to quotations, however the following ubiquitous quotes appear again and again and attributed to Karl Barth. After scouring the internet, the following quotations are the top ten most frequently quoted online. Were these quotations ever spoken by Karl Barth or Pseudo-Karl Barth? You decide!

1. Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.

2. Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.

3. Take your Bible and your newspaper and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.

4. To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world

5. The best theology would need no advocates; it would prove itself.

6. Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is himself the way.

7. Courage is fear that has said its prayers.

8. Preachers should have the bible in one hand and newspapers in the other

9. [To a student] I haven't even read everything I wrote.

10. When the angels sing for God, they sing Bach; when they sing for themselves, they sing Mozart and God eavesdrops

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Karl Barth’s Letter Endorsing Hans Küng’s Justification

Hans Kung and Karl Barth

Hans Kung and Karl Barth

Karl Barth responded to Hans Küng's book, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. in the follow letter with this remarkable endorsement of Hans Küng's book! Karl Barth had written in his Church Dogmatics Vol. 4 that only a superficial Protestant would be able to accept the Canons of Trent that condemned Justification By Faith Alone (especially Canon 12.) Yet, in the following letter, Barth changes his position after reading Küng's Justification and declares that he approves of Küng's assessment of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Justification, and Trent was no longer a barrier for him in terms of reconciliation between the separated Churches.

Justification has tremendously influential over the last fifty years. Karl Rahner wrote about Justification in an essay in Theological Investigations Vol. IV, that Karl Barth's approval of Hans Küng's Justification should be accepted despite critics that believed that Barth's Church Dogmatics could not be harmonzedrather than those who say that Barth's Dogmatics is not correctly represented by Küng. Karl Rahner also provides an amazing endorsement of Hans Küng in heological Investigations Vol. IV, when Rahner wrote, "One can be a Catholic and hold this doctrine of justification, which Karl Barth has declared to be the same as his own." Continue reading...

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Hans Küng explains Karl Barth’s Rejections of the Tridentine Teaching on Justification

Barth with his brother Peter, his son Markus and Ernst Wolf in Florence, on a happy trip to Italy in September 1934. In Rome Barth wrote his No!, attacking Emil Brunner, and arguing that 'natural theology' was the chief cause of the present confusion in the church. (source:

In this quotation from Hans Küng's book, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic ReflectionKarl Barth's criticisms of the Council of Trent are presented, and later in the book, Küng responds in an excellent show to Barth's critiques. So much that Barth writes an amazing letter of approval to Küng's book. I previously shared a letter containing a summary of Barth's criticisms of catholicism, but the following quotation gets to the heart of the matter, and that is the question of Justification.

Why are Catholics and Protestants separated brothers and sisters? What is the one issue the divides us all? Is it not, as Martin Luther said, that "justification by faith alone" is the "doctrine by which the church stands or falls"? Marian Dogmas or Papal Infallibility are contentious debates, but Justification is the central doctrine of the Reformation that separates Protestants and Catholics from one another. If it is justification that separates us, what is it specifically about justification that divides the Church?

Küng's Justification is a miraculous answer to our divided Church! In this book, the question of Justification is answered in a way that may unite the global church, and find fulfillment to Jesus' prayer that we would be one as he is one with the Father. Continue reading...

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Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Baptism and Rejection of Infant Baptism

Karl and Nelly Barth with Markus (aged 1) and Franziska (2) in 1916, just as he was beginning work on his commentary on Romans.

Karl and Nelly Barth with Markus (aged 1) and Franziska (2) in 1916, just as he was beginning work on his commentary on Romans. (source:

Karl Barth's rejection of Infant Baptism is infamous, yet gravely misunderstood, because he also rejected rebaptism. Karl Barth was baptized as an infant, and refused to be rebaptized as an adult, even after he had rejected the practice of Infant Baptism. Barth seconded Augustine's affirmation of heretical baptism that improperly performed baptism were to be accepted as true baptism and for this reason, those who have been Infant Baptism likewise should not be rejected or rebaptized. This is an incredibly helpful and ecumenical solution to the pathology of rebaptism in American Evangelical Churches.

I am a Presbyterian and Infant Baptism is a normative practice for me and Barth's rejection of Infant Baptism is problem for me! I've discovered an excellent book, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward and Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth by W. Travis McMaken to help me sort through Barth's rejection of a baptismal practice I dearly love. Continue reading...

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Jürgen Moltmann on Homosexuality vs Fundamentalists

1024px-Rainbow_flag_breezeIn the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversations conference, Jürgen Moltmann made several statements on Homosexuality:

TONY JONES: There's a lot of strife in the American Church, and as I look at it, it almost all boils down to biblical hermeneutic. You may say its about gay marriage, you may say its about whether women should preach, and you may say its about different denominations, and you may peal away the layers andyou get down to 'we just read the bible differently than you do' and different camps all read it differently. You've answered it already, but I just want to hear it reiterated, you are advocated a hermeneutic, a biblical hermeneutic, that is reading what's closest whats closest to Christ, reading a passage as it can be closest to Christ. The next question is, how do you, by what criteria, do you determine what is closest to Christ? In what I appreciate, even in the title of your book, 'Experiences in Theology', you don't discount personal experience in developing that hermeneutic.

JÜRGEN MOLTMANN:Well, my question to some of the Fundamentalists is "Do you really read the bible?" and the second questions is, "Do you really understand what you are reading?" Just to quote the bible on so-called homosexual-persons is wrong because the term does not appear in the original hebrew words, and so I can go on into that debate, but so we should not leave biblical hermeneutics to Fundamentals who only believe in the fifteen fundamentals and not in the rest."

Jurgen Moltmann, 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversations Conference, session 2, 41h00m

The @Moltmanniac has an additional audio clip/transcript on the topic of homosexuality that is related to this discussion:

Continue reading...

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Jürgen Moltmann on Unfinished Summas and Natural Theology

Unfinished Barcelona Cathedral (Sagrada)

Unfinished Barcelona Cathedral (Sagrada)

Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics is 8,000 pages and unfinished. Thomas Aquinas' great theological system, The Summa Theologica, is unfinished too. All the medieval summas are unfinished in the same way as the medieval summas are unfinished. The post-magesterial reformers of the 16th and 17th century also produced summas during the Protestant Scholasticism period and they are unfinished as well. Why is this? In the following audio clip (and transcript), Jürgen Moltmann answers this question. Completion is an attribute of God, not of Man.

The audio answers a second question of Natural Theology. Karl Barth's Nien to Natural Theology, is among the loudest No's in the history of Theology. Yet, in CD IV/3, Karl Barth finds a hidden Yes to Natural Theology in his No to Email Brunner. Jürgen Moltmann explains how the ecological crisis has driven him to find a secret Yes to Natural Theology in the way that a car's headlights illuminate the reflectors of the car they shine upon.

There two excellent answers by the greatest living theologian are well worth hearing:

Continue reading...

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