Karl Barth and the Incarnation In Paperback This Month

Karl Barth and the Incarnation (Book)My book on Karl Barth’s Christology has been in print for a little over a year now, though the price tag has put it out of reach for the ordinary theologian on a budget.  But, thanks to the wonders of the paperback, that’s all about to change.

The paperback edition of Karl Barth and the Incarnation will arrive at the end of this month! So if you have interests in Christology, the history of doctrine, or Barth’s theology, I hope you will give the book a look.

Amazon currently has the book listed at a pre-order price of $29.95.  Preview the book there.

Here, again, is the overview of what’s going on in these pages:

This work demonstrates the significance of Karl Barth’s Christology by examining 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, Sumner suggests first 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.

Despite a number of formal and material differences, however, Barth’s position coheres with the intent of the ancient councils and ought to be judged as orthodox. Barth’s great contribution to Christology is in the unapologetic affirmation of ‘the humanity of God’.

Endorsements For Karl Barth and the Incarnation

Karl Barth and the Incarnation (Book)

The revised version of my dissertation will be available in November (look for it at the T&T Clark booth at the AAR/SBL meeting in San Diego), though the publisher is now taking orders for the digital edition. They have also slashed the price in anticipation of the release — now on sale for a mere $78 for the hardback edition.

I am very grateful to have received endorsements for the book from three scholars who are at the top of the field in Barth studies. From the back jacket:

In this first-rate study of Barth’s Christology, Darren Sumner argues convincingly that Barth stands in continuity with the intent and direction of the orthodox Christological tradition, but at the same time transposes it from a static to a dynamic form more faithful to the scriptural witness to the living God who freely determines to be God with and for us in Jesus Christ. The material focus of the volume is on what Sumner calls the ‘scarlet thread’ that runs through the Church Dogmatics: that from all eternity God has chosen to include the humanity assumed by his Word as integral to his divine identity and that misuse of the doctrine of logos asarkos subverts this truth. Sumner’s bold defence of this claim and his analysis of the disputed issues related to it, such as divine immutability and impassibility, make this volume a solid contribution to Barth studies.

Daniel L. Migliore, Princeton Theological Seminary, USA

In this carefully argued book, Darren Sumner advances our understanding of Barth’s Christology. He discusses Barth’s later work in Church Dogmatics only in the light of his earlier writings. He delves into important topics like Logos Christology, kenosis, the extra calvinisticum, and divine impassibility. This is definitely a book to be reckoned with, not only by those who will agree with it, but also by those who may see things somewhat differently. The argument is fair-minded throughout.

George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary, USA

Historically informed, interpretatively judicious, and systematically discriminating, Karl Barth and the Incarnation is a terrific contribution to Barth studies. Those seeking to understand Barth’s complex relationship to his forebears and those looking to appreciate the innovative christological perspective of the Dogmatics will profit greatly from Sumner’s elegant and suggestive work.

Paul Dafydd Jones, University of Virginia, USA

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:

Introduction

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.

Bibliography

Index

Book Review: Reconciled Humanity – Karl Barth in Dialogue

The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Seminary has just published my lengthy review of Hans Vium Mikkelsen’s book Reconciled Humanity: Karl Barth in Dialogue (Eerdmans, 2010).  Rather than limiting myself to a standard, 1,000-word book review, I opted to take advantage of the lack of space restrictions afforded by the venue and write a fuller-length engagement with the book.  This is because I find Mikkelsen’s thesis so important: Does the incarnation of the Word touch the inner being of God?  Barth says yes, and Mikkelsen worries 1) that he does not carry this through with full consistency, and 2) that it has negative consequences for other doctrinal loci.  It is important to get Barth right here, particularly because Mikkelsen is rightly attending to the actualist character of Barth’s theology (insofar as he understands it).

Here is an excerpt from the critical section of the review:

The author’s central claim is that Barth thus failed to integrate the incarnation and the being of God because he upheld the doctrine of immutability (cf. 211n15). In Mikkelsen’s judgment, Barth’s actualist understanding of God therefore seems “not to make any major difference at all, as the intention of the incarnation can be traced back to God’s original essence (whether it be in the form of an original being or an original will). Nothing new then has really happened to God in the incarnation” (260). Mikkelsen finally wants to argue against such a hidden God that God’s inner being is “dynamic,” i.e. capable of change, and therefore capable of absorbing Jesus’ experience of death on the cross (157n23). When the Son suffers, “God really suffers in his own inner being; there is no God beyond the God who suffers” (257). This he takes to be contradictory to Barth’s own Christology, despite Barth’s best intentions to allow the life of Jesus to be determinative for God.

It is unfortunate that Mikkelsen successfully identifies the actualist character of Barth’s theological ontology but later fails to apprehend the ways in which this impacts his thought – in areas such as intra-trinitarian relations and God’s relationship to history, for example. Barth insists that the Word’s becoming flesh means that God really has taken humanity into God’s own life, with all the ontological implications that entails. This is a point that Mikkelsen stresses well. But because he has lost sight of the fact that Barth grounds the incarnation in God’s eternal election, the author can only conclude that “one consequence of God’s absorbing of human finitude must be that God not only is able to change, but also that God actually did change during the incarnation” (224). He acknowledges that this thesis contradicts Barth, but he fails to see why Barth could (and, indeed, had to) maintain divine immutability: God’s inclusion of humanity in the divine life viz. the Son is eternal and not merely punctiliar. And so the incarnation, while not excluding God’s being, does not signal a change in God but rather the actualization in history of that which God, by virtue of divine decision, has always been (cf. 224-5, 257). Mikkelsen’s thesis falls apart not so much because he gets Barth wrong as because he has not paid sufficient attention to getting Barth entirely right.

The full text of the review is available on the Center for Barth Studies site.