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Have you Barth in your Hart or vice versa?

December 12, 2010

The Karl Barth internet conference had a fascinating paper on a (hypothetical) conversation between Karl Barth and David Bentley Hart. As you can imagine this was the one that interested me immediately. It’s the kind of conversation that you might imagine would not be the friendliest… but Starkenberg sees some interesting commonalities. Here’s his final paragraph,

If Hart and Barth agree that trinitarian theology is the heart of a peaceful ontology and a workable analogia, then it is unclear whether Barth’s trinitarian theology can achieve what he sets out to achieve. As Barth often does, in II/1 he describes the unity of the triune God simply in terms of the Holy Spirit (660). This sort of trinitarian theology will not work as a description for the Trinity’s glory because glory is God’s self-illumination or self-declaration. Barth specifies that creatures receive God’s self-illumination, as they participate in God’s self-glorification. But, if God is to be free to self-illuminate, and is to be able to share that freedom, then God would need to be God’s own audience. As Barth says, God is inwardly what God is outwardly (667). The immanent God must be fully externalized, fully shining outward and fully receiving that shining. But, Barth does not clearly specify the receiver of this shining in terms of the divine ways of being, because he cannot do so. The Holy Spirit is the relationship between the Father and Son: the Holy Spirit is their unity; the Holy Spirit exhibits no agency within the Triune life. If he had been able to maintain the Holy Spirit’s immanent agency, his theology would have enunciated a God who loves in freedom more successfully. That may be where Hart offers Barth an important corrective, given the similarity of their work.

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