Monday, May 12, 2014

Barth and the Bible

I appreciated this reflection on the importance of the scriptures and biblical theology for Karl Barth's project, written by Francis Watson in an essay titled "The Bible" in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, ed. John Webster. Watson writes,
From beginning to end, Barth's Church Dogmatics is nothing other than a sustained meditation on the texts of Holy Scripture, in all the richness and diversity with which these texts elaborate their single theme: a divine-human action that is nevertheless all-inclusive in its scope. There are, of course, many parts of the Church Dogmatics that practise an 'explicit' biblical interpretation or hermeneutics: from passing references to particular verses to extended expositions of whole chapters or books, from consideration of particular concepts such as 'witness' or 'saga' (or 'legend'), to the construction of what might be called an 'ontology' of Holy Scripture. This material can be roughly differentiated from other material where the biblical texts appear to be in the background, or are perhaps absent altogether. Yet to regard biblical interpretation as just one among a number of items on Barth's agenda would be to allow the seamless garment of his theology to be torn to pieces. Barth's biblical interpretation is not a particular item, but the foundation and principle of coherence of his entire project, and interpreters who overlook the biblical foundation, or who refer to it only in passing, will radically misinterpret that project. What will be lost or distorted is the 'ec-centric' character of Barth's theology, its orientation beyond itself towards scriptural texts that themselves point beyond, to the prior reality of the divine-human being-in-action. In failing to grasp that Barth's theology is from first to last biblical theology, one encloses it within itself and characterizes it instead as Barth's theology, centered now not on the biblical witness but on the impressive and problematic figure of the 'great theologian.' It is (or so one would have thought) impossible to miss the foundational and central significance of biblical interpretation for Barth's theology.