A Response To Travis McMaken’s Five Reasons To Go Barthian

BarthTravis McMaken is a published Barth scholar and blogger. Last week he featured in a one hour interview with Tripp Fuller from ‘HomeBrewed Christianity‘, answering the question: ”Why Go Barthian?

For which McMaken gave these five reasons:

1. Barth’s reform of the doctrine of election. Where the reformers didn’t develop a Christocentric double-predestination (putting Christ at the center of God’s election, electing and who He chooses to elect) Barth does.

2. Barth was not a fan of mixing philosophy with theology. Speculation is the cardinal sin for theologians. Theologians deal in the tangible “what was, what is and what will be”, not “what in ifs?”

3. Barth’s reassertion of the Doctrine of the Trinity and his rejection of natural theology as being another means of God’s revelation.[i]

4. Barth’s anti-nazi theology, as expressed in letters and manifested in the Barmen Declaration.

5. Barth’s early involvement with socialism due to his pastoral experiences in Safenwil, Switzerland, between workers and factory owners.

I agree with the first three of the five points. I am in cautious agreement about the fourth and consider the fifth debatable.

My cautious agreement with point four is justified by the fact that any new anti-nazi theology, if it’s to be true to Barthian anti-nazi theology would have to include a a declaration against,

‘Islamists and their own manifestation of the doctrine of “blut und boden – blood and soil” and Leftism’s selective outrage.
Both of which do violence to classical liberal rights, such as free speech, freedom of religion, and, in the case of the Left, families and thousands of unborn children every day. It’s concerning that academics are falling over themselves to denounce Trump. Yet fail to acknowledge the more pertinent historical parallels, which share a closer affiliation with a Nazified Germany and the compromised Church [and theology] of the 1930s and early ’40s.
Outrage that is often positioned between one selective set of protests and another. The targeted call to inclusion, for instance, shows up as a front for the more sinister goal of picking and choosing those who will have to be excluded; which is potentially those who disagree. It’s not far to jump from this to the assumption that such selectivity could result in the doctrine of “Lebensunwertes Leben – life unworthy of life.” (or in a more milder dosage, people unworthy of an opinion)’ [source]

Such an anti-nazi theology must have at it’s end a solidarity against servitude to any ideology, not in masked conformity to one:

‘From the bullied youth, to the oppressed members of a family, there is a resonance that moves from the suffering of African-Americans out to all the down-trodden. From this resonance comes a basic solidarity of suffering. It’s from here that we arrive at a point, where understanding the pain of others, helps us understand our own.
In recent months we’ve seen the rise of #blacklivesmatter. A cause not without justification, but its presence has always coincided with the caveat from those who’ve read history and heed it. It’s a cause that must have as its inevitable conclusion, #humanlivesmatter.
If it doesn’t, the movement slides into a kind of reverse racism. It fails to mature beyond protest to justice to reconciliation. If this happens, “black lives matter” will inevitably morph into “only black lives matter,” and the positive aspects of the movement’s cause will be lost.’ [source]

These are counter-points that I’m sure Barth would agree with. In his long discussion on the Omnipotence and Constancy of God, this shines through:

‘If we abandon and pay no attention to the question of obedience to God’s Word, but try to seek the limit of the possible in an absolutised system of relationships alongside or in place of God’s Word, we discover and imaginary God and an imaginary world, the fundamental dissolution of all systems of relationships and therefore complete sceptisim and anarchy in the realm of creation, the irruption of a Third Reich of madness.’    (CD.II:I p.537)

Any new anti-nazi theology from Barthians would have to reject the ‘legalistic coercion, control of the narrative, excessive political correctness, excessive shaming, blurred distinctions, a forced allegiance to false ideologies, gods, political systems and totalitarianism’ (source). Subjects that would necessarily also involve the push back against the imposition of new cultural laws such as the redefinition of marriage and the reckless rush into un-democratically erected laws pertaining to the entire spectrum of gender/identity politics.

As Barth, and even George Orwell wrote:

‘It is only wantonly and irrationally that we can aspire to the statement that two and two are five.’ (CD.II:I p.538)

Barthian theology might advocate protest in true Protestant form, but in and of itself Barthian theology is not a perpetual protest against whatever the Leftist disagrees with.

It’s not Barthian theology that exists as the perpetual protest against politics and disorder, it’s:

 ‘prayer, [which is as Barth states, is] the beginning of an uprising, [a revolt] against the disorder of the world’ [ii]

Such prayer would include a revolt against the oppressive and regressive elements of progressivism, not just that which progressives order us to protest against.

Point five on McMaken’s list is debatable. Barth may have danced to the socialist jive in Safenwil, but his life shows that he was far from a propaganda poster boy for any “Red” movement.

For economic reasons, Barth was a member of the Social Democrats, who opposed the National Socialists. Although he firmly opposed the Nazis, Barth never fully tied himself into the politics of the Social Democrats. Which, just like his (failure) to openly criticize the Soviet Union, annoyed people.

That silence should not be taken as a license to assume he was for the communists. Whether that be Bolshevik, Stalinist, Maoist, or the KPD (1930s, German Communists).

He was not a Leftist and, his very own anti-nazi stance, tells us that, were he  alive today, Barth would push back hard against any attempts to force him into such a box. Just as he distanced himself from being owned by American Evangelicals.

Therefore, I reject Travis’ closing remarks, that

“those Barthians who didn’t support‪ #‎blacklivesmatter‬ or ‪#‎occupywallstreet‬, may want to question whether or not they are Barthian, and even may have to repent”

Overall, Travis is to be applauded for the way in which he communicated the Barthian position on election, philosophy, the trinity and for parts of his discussion on anti-nazi theology. However, the applause should stop there.The remainder of the interview becomes a bitterly sour education in what happens with the Left assert their assumed ownership of Barth.

This kind of muscling shows that at its worst the Left have no problem with overlooking some aspects of Barth’s theo-political action and thought. Bypassing these in order to conscript Barthian’s and Barthian theology into the service of Leftism by way of the modern political trend to argue half-truths against balance, for the side of the story that sells best.

Whilst I recommend the interview, as with most video mediums: if you’re really interested in Barthian theology, check out the book before you see the movie.

For the best place to start reading Barth, I’m with Travis in his recommendation of  Evangelical Theology.


[i] A rough summary of Barth’s “Nein” to natural theology: in this sense Barth freed theology from any attempts within science and the theological sciences to undermine and over-rule knowledge about God, that He has Himself given to the world through revelation. That knowledge confronts us. We are faced with only responding to it. Humans don’t determine such knowledge and cannot summon it, or as ideologies can go, build a religion around claims to own special knowledge of God (as in gnosticism); building God in our own image around human knowledge (as in Nazism). Rejecting who God is and has identified Himself as, for example: As father who enters into covenant, in Jesus Christ, through His Spirit.


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