Coming From T&T Clark: ‘Karl Barth and the Incarnation’

Karl Barth and the IncarnationT&T Clark has added to their website the official listing for my forthcoming book Karl Barth and the Incarnation: Christology and the Humility of God.  I stumbled across the listing last week while looking up another book in the Studies in Systematic Theology series, and was surprised to see that the book has made it up and already has a shiny purple cover.  Only the eBook formats are listed so far, but rest assured … there will be a hardback, too.

I was surprised only because the manuscript isn’t actually in yet.  It’s due to T&T at the end of this week, and I’ve been burning the midnight oil to complete the final revisions.  It will be on time (knock on wood) and hopefully arrive on or around the publisher’s anticipated September release date. So please, if this is a topic that interests you, be a mensch and look for it at AAR or ask your library to acquire it.

This is a revised version of my PhD dissertation at the University of Aberdeen (2012). It’s been a little strange to revisit this work after a full year away from it.  It was pretty much my life for 36 intense months. Of course books are “never completed, only abandoned,” but I am very grateful to have the opportunity to revisit the project and (I hope) make some improvements.

I’ll have some things to say and some previews to offer in the months ahead, but for now let me reproduce the table of contents (which is on T&T’s site, along with a description) with a wee bit of commentary:


1. The Identity Problem: Tensions in the Christological Tradition
The basic case of the book is that the merits of Karl Barth’s Christology may be seen in sharpest relief when contrasted with certain conceptual limitations in the Christology (or Christologies) of the classical tradition. Chapter 1 lays the groundwork by narrating that history and identifying four problematic areas for the church’s doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ: his identity with the pre-existent Word, divine immutability, kenosis, and divine impassibility.

2. Barth’s Response to Logos Christology
In the second chapter I examine Barth’s regard for the Christology of the ancient church and the Reformation, tracing its development from Barth’s lectures in Gottingen to CD IV.

3. Barth’s Positive Doctrine of Christ
If the first chapter provides context and the second chapter does the ground-clearing, Chapter 3 lays out Barth’s positive presentation of the doctrine of Christ.  The focus is on CD II/1-2 and CD IV/1-2, taking up four pairs of themes that best display what Barth is up to in his actualist Christology: election and covenant, time and eternity, the communication of natures, and the status duplex.

4. Barth and the Question of ‘Chalcedonianism’
With the positive presentation on the table I turn to some critical analysis, examining the relationship that Barth’s mature Christology has to that of the received tradition and engaging a somewhat controverted question of whether it ought to be regarded as “Chalcedonian.”

5. Barth’s Christology and the Challenge of Incarnation
The final chapter contains the real pay-off, as I line up the four critical issues outlined in Chapter 1 and discuss how Barth’s Christology offers resources for thinking through and beyond them — while yet remaining faithful to the orthodox tradition.



Coming Summer 2014: Galatians and Christian Theology

galatians-and-christian-theologyI was privileged to be able to participate in the most recent conference at the University of St Andrews on Scripture and theology, sponsored by the Institute for Bible, Theology, and Hermeneutics. This event, held in July 2012, engaged the epistle to the Galatians. These conferences take place every three years, with the proceedings published in a volume of collected essays. Past installments have included Genesis, Hebrews, and the Gospel of John.

The details and cover image for the conference volume Galatians and Christian Theology are available now, and you can head over to Amazon to pre-order the book. Mark Elliot, Scott Hafemann, N.T. Wright, and John Frederick serve as editors.

The marquee contributors include John Barclay, Beverly Gaventa, Richard Hays, Bruce McCormack, and Oliver O’Donovan — but you can also find essays from a number of short paper contributors, including myself. My essay is titled “Karl Barth and ‘the Fullness of Time’: Eternity and Divine Intent in the Epistle to the Galatians,” and covers pretty much what the title says. In the essay I take Galatians 4:4f as a starting point, and run through Barth’s notion of eternity on the way to an account of the incarnation as God’s gracious manner of relating to creatures in both God’s time and given, creaturely time.

Baker Academic has taken over publishing from Eerdmans. Amazon lists July 15, 2014, as the official release date.

Plans for AAR in Baltimore

BaltimoreWe’re now three-quarters of the way through the fall semester, and I’m having a great time teaching Church History I (up to the eve of the Reformation) at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. This is a remarkable young school that is doing some interesting work in downtown Seattle, and I’m glad to have a chance to be a part of it.

It’s just about AAR time again, and I’ll be trekking to Baltimore for this year’s gathering of some 10,000 scholars and students in religion, theology, biblical studies, church history, and all points in between. I gave a paper at the national conference last year when it met in Chicago, but this year I’ll be cruising the book exhibitor’s hall, looking for interesting people to talk to, and with a bit of luck enjoying a few job interviews.

And, of course, I have my eye on some interesting-looking sessions:

    Karl Barth Society of North America (Friday, 4:00-6:30pm)

      – My friend Travis McMaken will present “A Barthian Case for Infant Baptism,” the subject of his Princeton Seminary dissertation (just published by Fortress Press). Hanna Reichel will also give a paper I’m looking forward to, on Barth and the Heidelberg Catechism.

    Karl Barth Society of North America (Saturday, 9:00-11:30am)

      – “Ronald F. Thiemann in Memoriam,” including a paper on the theologia crucis from the excellent Paul Dafydd Jones

    Eastern Orthodox Studies Group and SBL Development of Christian Theology Group (Saturday, 1:00-3:30pm)

      – This is a book review session on Christopher Beeley’s The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition (Yale University Press, 2012). Thought the book has been in print for a year I’ve just discovered its existence, and will be making a B-line to the Yale book stall to find a copy. It appears to be a significant rethinking of the whole of the development of patristic Christology, and at first glance I think my own reading of the tradition — which I try to summarize in the briefest of ways in the first chapter of my dissertation — runs parallel to Beeley’s work.

    Reformed Theology and History Group (Saturday, 4:00-6:30pm)

      – “Sanctified by the Spirit.” I presented with this group last year and am hoping to get more involved in its annual goings-on. This session will focus on critical issues in the doctrine of sanctification according to the Reformed tradition, with Richard Mouw (Fuller Seminary) and Philip Ziegler (University of Aberdeen) among the presenters.

    Reformed Theology and History Group (Sunday, 3:00-4:30pm)

      – “Holy Spirit and Spiritual Practices.” A couple of Scotland friends will present here: Christina Larsen on Jonathan Edwards, and Timothy Baylor on John Owen and Barth.

    Bonhoeffer: Theology and Social Analysis Group (Monday, 9:00-11:30am)

      – “Contextualizing Bonhoeffer as Preacher.” Aberdeen’s Joseph McGarry will razzle-dazzle us with a paper on Bonhoeffer’s preaching.

There are several others that I have my eye on, but I hope to be able to make these sessions a priority.

If you are at AAR this year and want to chat about theology, church history, doctoral studies, et al, I hope you will drop me a line (darren -dot- sumner -at-

Adjuncting in the Pacific Northwest

SPUThough I grew up in Oregon it’s been nearly 15 years since I last lived here.  Moving our family back from Aberdeen, Scotland at the end of 2012 certainly been a significant homecoming — in more ways than one.

While I continue to surf the job market for full-time employment in higher education, I am of course doing what every self-respecting recent graduate does: trying to get work adjuncting.  There are a decent number of Christian institutions in the Pacific Northwest, so I’ve been knocking on doors.

During the winter quarter I’ve been blessed to return home to my undergraduate alma mater, and teach an introduction to theology course at Seattle Pacific University.  UFDN 3100 is a foundations course required of all undergraduates at this Free Methodist liberal arts college, and my class this term was filled with 50 non-majors from across the university’s disciplines: psychology students, biologists, music majors, and many more.  The course is wrapping up now (only final exams left to grade), and it has been extraordinarily rewarding.

I had planned to try for more work in the fall, but circumstances have allowed me to step right into another very exciting role.  Starting April 1 I’ll teach a course in systematic theology for the spring quarter at Fuller Theological Seminary.  The Northwest extension campus is here in Seattle (actually just down the block from SPU).  This course, on ecclesiology and eschatology, is the third in fuller’s sequence of basic ST courses.  With a full-time position still waiting down the road, I’m hoping to stay on with Fuller next school year.  It’s a tremendous institution that is certainly unparalleled on the West Coast, and I’m thrilled to be a part of its work training ministers for the service of the gospel.

All that, and I’ve just signed my first publishing contract for a new book project (more on that later).  2013 is turning out to be an exciting year!

An Aberdeen Graduate!

Christmas in AberdeenJust a quick and much-overdue update on my status … and availability for hiring, for weddings, and Bar Mitzvahs:

In December I successfully defended my doctoral thesis at the University of Aberdeen, with a terrific and detailed examination of the research by Prof. Tom Greggs (Aberdeen) and Dr. Paul T. Nimmo (Edinburgh). After a few minor corrections the thesis was officially handed in last month.

I have since moved my family back home to the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where this term I am teaching an introductory course in Christian theology at my alma mater, Seattle Pacific University. We are two-thirds of the way through the term and it has been extremely rewarding. I am (still) on the job market, hoping to find a full-time teaching opportunity soon.  The kids are adjusting well, including my youngest — now seven months old, who was born in the throws of the final weeks of writing up the thesis!

The thesis has been submitted to a publisher for review and consideration, which means the time has come to officially let some details fly. Here is the title and abstract of the dissertation version:

Karl Barth’s Critical Appropriation
of the Doctrine of the Incarnation

This work demonstrates the significance of Karl Barth’s Christology by analyzing it in the context of his orientation toward the classical tradition – an orientation that was both critical and sympathetic. To compare this Christology with the doctrine’s history I argue that the Chalcedonian portrait of the incarnation is conceptually vulnerable at a number of points. By recasting the doctrine in actualist terms – the history of Jesus’ lived existence as God’s fulfillment of His covenant with creatures, rather than a metaphysical uniting of ‘natures’ – Barth is able to move beyond problems inherent in the tradition. Yet, despite formal and material differences, Barth’s position coheres with the intent of the ancient councils and ought to be judged as orthodox. His great contribution to Christology is in the unapologetic affirmation of ‘the humanity of God.’