Hunsinger responds to Rose

In the “letters to the editor” portion of the latest issue of First Things (October 2014), George Hunsinger responds to Matthew Rose’s attempted take-down of Karl Barth in the June issue. Among others, I wrote a response, “Barth’s failure?” Within Barth studies, I am close to Hunsinger’s interpretation of Barth, so we both highlight similar points, namely Rose’s unacknowledged indebtedness to a particular reading of Barth, which was itself not very well presented.

After Hunsinger’s letter, there is also a brief response from David Congdon, unfortunately not available online without a subscription. Congdon rightly challenges the claim that Barth depended upon “Kantian epistemological concepts” that are grounded in “secular axioms regarding human reason,” ignoring the Scriptural warrant that was Barth’s only justification for proceeding forth with his project.

Rose responds to Hunsinger and, very briefly, to Congdon. His response is also not available online without a subscription. In response to Hunsinger, Rose basically says that the ambiguity in Barth’s doctrine of God is the problem. But this is not the thrust of Rose’s essay, where he is quite confident that Barth was a disastrous anti-metaphysical plague in the bloodstream of modern theology. In regard to Congdon, he has the odd reply, “David Congdon insists that Barth finds his epistemology in Scripture. Here we have another version of the same problem. I don’t think Barth was unsuccessful in doing this. I think it cannot be done” (p. 11).

Huh? If it cannot be done, then Barth was unsuccessful in doing it.


      • Interesting that Rose’s errors are so…simple. I mean, Barth definitely did not think that Jesus’ humanity was eternal – Torrance really develops that idea in his volume on the Incarnation – but that seems like a pretty silly error to make. I was also pleased to see Hunsinger affirm Barth’s connection to the classical tradition.

      • There is a highly complex debate surrounding Barth’s handling of the logos asarkos, related to this question of whether (or how) the humanity of Jesus is “eternal” — which would take too long to delineate. But, yes, I agree with you. I also appreciate Hunsinger’s reading of Barth as heavily patristic in orientation, which complements Webster’s reading of Barth as Reformed scholastic in important respects — both of which underscore the woeful inadequacy of Rose’s simplistic reading.

  1. Simplistic indeed. I guess its fashionable to see Barth as ‘capitulating to modernity’ when in fact he simply took it seriously instead of retreating to the fundamentalism that modernity called into question.

    • Yes, that’s right. In the frantic desire to see Christianity restored to its place of prominence in the culture and the academy, someone like Barth is seen as the enemy.

  2. Kevin, I think you are right to say that, with respect to the eternal humanity of Jesus in Barth’s Christology, the question is not “whether” but “how.” I don’t think it is controversial to say that Barth advocates this in some way (Hunsinger acknowledges as much here). The debate is in the “how” and the significance drawn from this for the being of God.

    • He has already invested his reputation in this, and it is enormously rare to find a scholar who admits he was wrong.

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