Reading Barth Together: Session V

We had our fifth Reading Barth Together webinar yesterday. Stanley and I invited Justin Coleman and Jason Micheli to join us on the panel with the intention of talking about Barth and the local church, though we ended up talking more about what it means to be the church during the mess we’re in. You can watch it here on my YouTube channel.

Reading Barth Together: Session 5: Barth and the Local Church

You can read the compiled questions here:

History Repeating Itself

When I was one, a young black man Willie Earle in my home town was taken from jail and tortured to death on a highway not far from my home.  Growing up in Greenville, I never heard about the lynching nor heard his name mentioned.  A few years ago, I finally undertook the project that I had promised the Lord I would do: I spent a year researching and writing Who Lynched Willie Earle? 

Donald Trump is not the first openly racist president nor the first to appropriate the Christian faith to support his power and acts of racial violence will not end with him. 

President Trump outside St. John’s Episcopal Church, which was damaged during a night of unrest near the White House.
Credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times

Before Ahmaud Arbery, there were countless acts of violence against African Americans by white Americans.  Before George Floyd there were many Willie Earles.  Truman established the first Civil Rights Commission in great part as a response to the lynching of Willie Earle; the present President has stoked the fires.  He is sure to do as little to address America’s original sin as he has done in the face of the pandemic.

But it’s important for people like me to remember that racial violence will not end when Donald Trump is finally removed from office.  Christians must act like Christians in the present moment.

I wrote Who Lynched Willie Earle? as my little act of remembrance of the name of a black man whose life was cut short by racial violence.   

Yet I wanted to do more than remember history and to tell the truth about it, though that’s a start. I also hoped to encourage naming names and addressing the sin of racism from the pulpit.  Preachers like me must speak up and speak out, letting our congregations know that we can’t be Christian without naming the sin of racism and the harm inflicted upon its victims.

If you are looking for help with this vocation that Christ has laid upon us, I hope you will take a look at Who Lynched Willie Earle? Some associated links:

Christ has made our history his. He has changed and is changing our histories.  We are not fated to live out the lies we have been told. Preachers have been commissioned to speak up in the name of Christ. The continuing, unabated history of violence against people of color by people like me are a call for more faithful preaching, more determined naming and action.

Will  

RBT Email 4

Our fifth and last session of Reading Barth Together on Dogmatics in Outline will be tomorrow morning (6/2 @10 AM EST); you can log on here, and we’ll be posting it on my YouTube Channel where the first four session are already posted as quickly as we can.

This is the newsletter I sent out this week along with a few additions for the blog:

(If you would like to receive these, check out the Contact page.)


The first four Reading Barth Together sessions are posted on my YouTube channel. This week Stanley and I finished Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline with the third article of the Apostles Creed which also led us into questions about his universalism, his pneumatology, and the politics of the Gospel.

Reading Barth Together: Session 4: Spirit et al.

The Zoom link for this week (5/26 @ 10AM EST) is the same as last week. You can also find the zoom link and more on the Reading Barth Together post. For this week, we’ll expand our panel to include Justin Coleman and Jason Micheli to talk about how Barth has figured into their ministries and what he has to say to the church today with the panel also opening up for a longer Q&A time when we’ll try to catch some of the persistent questions we haven’t gotten to yet.

Justin Coleman is the Senior Pastor of University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A native of Houston, he is a graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, and Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina.  Rev. Coleman has also served as the Chief Ministry Officer for the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, TN, as Lead Pastor of the Gethsemane Campus of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, TX, at the SMU Wesley Foundation, and in other college and youth ministry settings.

His ministry at University UMC includes leading the church as it seeks to live into radical kinship by loving God, serving others, and building Christian community. Rev. Coleman is married to Dr. Chaka Coleman and they have three sons.

Rev. Coleman is the author of Home for Christmas: Tales of Hope and Second Chances and is the Old Testament presenter on Disciple Fast Track: Becoming Disciples Through Bible Study.

Jason Micheli is the Lead Pastor at Annandale United Methodist Church. He also has the Crackers & Grape Juice podcast on which I regularly appear and the You are Not Accepted podcast where he discusses Stanley’s essays with Johanna Hartelius. His most recent book is Living in Sin: Making Marriage Work between I Do and Death, and you can find more about him on his website.

Andy Rowell will be having the discussion group as usual immediately following the conclusion of this week’s webinar. This is the link for that group. If you’d like to continue the discussion (perhaps about Barth, COVID, and God) after the webinar, that forum may be the perfect chance for you to do so.

We’ll be making an announcement about what will follow this series during the webinar this week, so make sure to tune in to find out!

In Christ,

Will

Mentioned Last Week

Mentioned the Third Week

  • Given that this Sunday is when many congregations will be remembering the Ascension, it’s worth pointing to Douglas Farrow’s work around the significance of the Ascension for Christians and their theology. Farrow’s original book Ascension and Ecclesia is longer and more technical, but he also published a more accessible volume, Ascension Theology. In time for Sunday, you might read Wesley Hill’s review of the latter volume at the Christian Century.
  • If you’re curious about Bultmann’s (misguided) “demythologizing” approach to Christianity, you might look at his collection of essays New Testament and Mythology.
  • As we’ve said before, when you want to read Karl Barth’s Christology, you read Church Dogmatics IV.1-2, and you may well skip straight to §59ff.
  • It’s hard to talk about Barth, election, and the relation between God the Son and the man Jesus of Nazareth without finding yourself running into the McCormack-Hunsinger debate over how all that shakes out. While it’s a bit arcane for my tastes, if you’re curious, you can look at Philip Cary’s “Barth Wars” piece from a few years ago for a succinct introduction.
  • For my treatment of election and what it has to do with Methodist preachers, see How Odd of God and its companion piece “Homiletical Implications of Barth’s Doctrine of Election” which I put on my blog recently.
  • Y’all wanted us to talk about Barth, the Church, and Israel, so we did. If you want more, you might take a look at Eugene Rogers’ reading of Barth on Israel in his Sexuality & the Christian Bodychapters 6 & 7, Kendall Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology or Abraham’s Promise: Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations, or Sonderegger’s That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew: Karl Barth’s “Doctrine of Israel,” though I can’t say that I’m necessarily endorsing every sentence of each book.
  • As we noted, Barth reports being quite fond of Dorothy Sayers. Though she’s best known for her mysteries, it was one of her religious plays which gripped Barth.

Mentioned the Second Week

  • Above Karl Barth’s desk hung a representation of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. You can get my perspective on what the masterwork means for Barthian preachers in my Conversations with Barth on Preaching (see the Introduction, specifically the “Two Portraits of a Preacher” section), and you might pursue Andrée Hayum’s The Isenheim Altarpiece for the best treatment of the altarpiece by an art historian.
  • Stanley and I also talked about the work of the great Hans Frei on theology as narrative. Take a look at Frei’s Theology & Narrative collection or The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative to see what we were talking about.
  • Finally, Stanley’s Gifford lectures With the Grain of the Universe popped up again.

Mentioned the First Week

  • Stephen Mulhall, the Oxford Wittgensteinian
  • The Barth in Conversations series being published by Westminster John Knox:
  • My Conversations with Barth on Preaching
  • Alasdair MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality?
  • Eberhard Busch’s introduction to Barth’s theology The Great Passion
  • Barth’s Christology in Church Dogmatics IV.1 §59ff “The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country” for which the Leitsatz reads:”That Jesus Christ is very God is shown in His way into the far country in which He the Lord became a servant. For in the majesty of the true God it happened that the eternal Son of the eternal Father became obedient by offering and humbling Himself to be the brother of man, to take His place with the transgressor, to judge him by judging Himself and dying in his place. But God the Father raised Him from the dead, and in so doing recognised and gave effect to His death and passion as a satisfaction made for us, as our conversion to God, and therefore as our redemption from death to life.”

Crisis Preaching for Barthians

You will likely not be surprised to hear that I have been talking again with the Crackers & Grape Juice crowd (specifically Jason and Johanna), this time about Karl Barth’s Homiletics book which emerged from his lectures on preaching during the Nazi rise to power in the early ’30s. We talk about the tension between the human subjectivity-worshipping Schleiermacher and the Christocentric Barth.

What folks need to hear from their preachers right now is not navel gazing and back patting: what they need to hear is the Word of God by the power of Holy Spirit. You can listen here, embedded below, or wherever else you prefer to listen to podcasts.

Listen to “Episode 260 – Will Willimon: Karl Barth's Emergency Homiletic” on Spreaker.https://widget.spreaker.com/widgets.js

Coronatide Resident Aliens

I appeared on the Just Us. podcast to talk about Resident Aliens. They describe this episode thusly:

“It’s day __? of the pandemic, and the future is still very uncertain, giving many of us a great deal of anxiety. So we felt like everyone could use a bit of a break on this episode by listening to an interview we did with UMC Bishop, theologian, and pastor Rev. William H. Willimon at the end of 2019 (we planned to release normally until COVID-19). In it, Trevor discusses with Willimon about arguably his most well-known book (along with his colleague Stanley Hauerwas), “Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony” and how it can be relevant to the current social and political climate Christians in America find themselves in today.”

You can listen below, on their site, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Just Us. Podcast: “World on Fire: Taking a Break with Will Willimon”

Reading Barth Together: Session III

We had our third webinar this morning, covering Barth’s discussion of the second article of the Apostles Creed—”I believe in Jesus Christ…”—in chapters 10-20 of Dogmatics in Outline. If you were not able to attend the live stream, you can now watch it on my YouTube channel:

Reading Barth Together: Session 3: Christ

And here is an updated document with the questions asked during the first three sessions:

Stanley closed us out with this prayer:

Lord of Time,
We feel we live in an uncertain time,
But then we are no longer sure we know
What a certain time may be.
That your Son ended up on a cross
Should have made us think twice
About our assumption
We know where we are in time.
In the meantime,
We ask for your guidance
That we may know how to go on
When we're not sure where we are.

We give thanks for your giving us
Karl Barth whose witness stuns us,
Making possible a recognition that we are
Creature that need one another.

Draw us close to You,
As we are distant from one another:
So drawn, let the world see
That we are not abandoned.
Amen.

RBT Email 2

We’ll be starting our third session of Reading Barth Together shortly (5/19 @10 AM EST); you can log on here, but we’ll be posting it on my YouTube Channel as quickly as we can. And this is the newsletter I sent out this week:

(If you would like to receive these, check out the Contact page.)


Thankfully, we didn’t encounter the same difficulties with folks not being able to get into the webinar and everybody who wanted to join was able to join! I’ve enjoyed seeing such a large response from folks: who knew so many people cared about Karl Barth? If you’d like to watch the first or second session, they’re both up on my YouTube channel. The last three sessions will also be posted there.

Reading Barth Together: Session 2: God

The Zoom link for this week (5/19) is the same as last week. You can also find it on the Reading Barth Together post on my blog where I’ll continue to post related resources and updates. 

Andy Rowell reports that the discussion group is going well. This is the link for that group. If you find that you’d like to talk about Barth, COVID, and God after the webinar, that meeting may be the perfect chance for you to do so.

The third webinar is this Tuesday (5/19@10AM EST) with a focus on Barth’s doctrine of Christ (Ch.10-17 in Dogmatics in Outline). Hope you can join us then.

In Christ,

Will

Mentioned Last Week

  • Above Karl Barth’s desk hung a representation of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. You can get my perspective on what the masterwork means for Barthian preachers in my Conversations with Barth on Preaching (see the Introduction, specifically the “Two Portraits of a Preacher” section), and you might pursue Andrée Hayum’s The Isenheim Altarpiece for the best treatment of the altarpiece by an art historian.
  • Stanley and I also talked about the work of the great Hans Frei on theology as narrative. Take a look at Frei’s Theology & Narrative collection or The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative to see what we were talking about.
  • Finally, Stanley’s Gifford lectures With the Grain of the Universe popped up again.

Mentioned the First Week

  • Stephen Mulhall, the Oxford Wittgensteinian
  • The Barth in Conversations series being published by Westminster John Knox:
  • My Conversations with Barth on Preaching
  • Alasdair MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality?
  • Eberhard Busch’s introduction to Barth’s theology The Great Passion
  • Barth’s Christology in Church Dogmatics IV.1 §59ff “The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country” for which the Leitsatz reads:”That Jesus Christ is very God is shown in His way into the far country in which He the Lord became a servant. For in the majesty of the true God it happened that the eternal Son of the eternal Father became obedient by offering and humbling Himself to be the brother of man, to take His place with the transgressor, to judge him by judging Himself and dying in his place. But God the Father raised Him from the dead, and in so doing recognised and gave effect to His death and passion as a satisfaction made for us, as our conversion to God, and therefore as our redemption from death to life.”

Reading Barth Together: Session II

We had our second session of the Reading Barth Together webinar series today, covering chapters 5-9 of Dogmatics in Outline. You can watch it on my YouTube channel here.

Reading Barth Together: Session 2: Dogmatics in Outline Ch. 5-9

Here is a document of questions submitted for consideration during the webinar:

Stanley closed with this prayer which I share with you now:

God of Time,
Lord of Creation,
We feel lost in the cosmos,
We are not sure what is happening to us,
We are not sure how to respond.
Help us receive you as
The Lord of all that is,
Making it possible for us
To rejoice in your befriending us
So that we might befriend one another
In times of loneliness and isolation.
Make us love one another
And even ourselves,
So that we might see
In a world that seems lost
That we are in contact 
With one another
Being made in your image.
Thank you for this time together:
May it feel as though we are
Enjoying one another in You.
In the name of your son Jesus Christ, Amen.

RBT Session 2 Preparation

The second Reading Barth Together webinar on Dogmatics in Outline with me and Stanley is Tuesday morning (5/12@10 AM EST). We’ve been able to increase the capacity to 1000 participants, so I hope that there will be enough room for everyone. We’ll be covering Barth’s Doctrine of God which is in Chapters 5-9. You can find more information about the Barth webinars here.

For all you Barth hogs, you might be interested in this piece on the implications that of Barth’s doctrine of election that I did a few years ago as a series of lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary (which you can watch by clicking through to the videos here).  The lectures were derived from my book, How Odd of God: Chosen for the Curious Vocation of Preaching (Westminster John Knox Press).


Homiletical Implications of Barth’s Doctrine of Election

Preaching’s great challenge came into focus for me during a rereading of Barth’s doctrine of election. Barth’s fourth volume (II/2) has been called by his student, Eberhard Busch, “the highlight of the Church Dogmatics.[i] Writing during 1940–1941, the apex of Hitler’s power, when the sky turned dark, “Barth believed that all our comfort and all our defiance depends on our understanding anew that . . . God bound himself to [humanity], and specifically to sinful [humanity]. . . . God determines himself free for fellowship with this [humanity] and thereby determines [humanity] to be in fellowship with him and with all whom [God] loves.”[ii] Barth could have spoken judgment and condemnation of Hitler; he chose instead not to mention Hitler and to speak with unreserved affirmation of the gracious divine determination radiantly revealed in Christ.

God’s election of grace is “the sum of Gospel. . . . [It is] the whole of the Gospel, the Gospel in nuce . . . the very essence of all good news.”[iii]  All we preachers know for sure about God is that in Jesus Christ God is the one who has eternally determined to be for us and has elected us to be for God…


[i] Eberhard Busch, Barth (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), 17.

Election is at the heart of Barth’s “revolution” as Bruce McCormack (our best interpreter of Barth on election) puts it. Bruce McCormack, “Grace and Being: The Role of God’s Gracious Election in Karl Barth’s Theological Ontology,” in John Webster, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 93–97. “I am confident that the greatest contribution of Karl Barth to the development of Church doctrine will be located in his doctrine of election.” Through his surprising reworking of election, Barth brought about “a revolution in the doctrine of God.” (Ibid., 223).

[ii] Busch, Barth, 17.

[iii] Ibid., 13–14.