‘But I was never as ironic as I tried to be.

Really, I just wanted to be the girl who got into the boys’ club’.

I am sure I am not the only woman in theology who resonated deeply with Brandy’s most recent post.  That Brandy raised the obvious similarities – of discerning the depths of sexism and patriarchy – of women across various fields highlighted the manner in which ‘excellence’ or even ‘appropriate development’ in professional  environments is entangled by the patriarchal paradigm; a patriarchy that goes all the way down.  As I have previously shared, all of my post-graduate study has occurred in an environment where I have been the sole women studying systematic theology. I have enjoyed genuine friendship with all the men in my program, and to be honest, in the latter stages of thesis writing these men provided solidarity that I was quite literally desperate for. However, it has always been hard for me to express something of my experience as (what often felt like) the ‘token women’, and as a feminist trying to find a path in the cultural landscape of systematic theology.  It has been even harder for me – and has taken years finding a way – to critique the field of systematic theology among those who I have hoped and needed to be my friend, especially when that critique involves an area of research they are involved in. For that reason I have often kept quiet about my concerns regarding the culture of scholarship in systematic theology (and especially the particular sub-cultures that I have found myself ‘lucky’ enough to engage with). It has been far easier to offer substantive feedback regarding a theological argument than to confront the broader institution. Often this has meant engaging in private – secretive, even – strategies of resistance.

Four and a half years ago I made the decision to not read Karl Barth. It was a personal and private commitment that I felt I could not really share with anyone.  The reasoning seemed (and still does at some level) naive and rather embarrassing, and I was sure that the men around me would not understand. Certainly my ‘not reading Barth as a matter of principle’ has been a strategy built upon various personal experiences that are obviously far from universal. karl-barthAnd to be clear, this strategy has very little to do with my taste or distaste for Barth’s scholarship (a theologian I felt deeply drawn to in all my undergraduate studies). Nor do I simply ignore how large his figure looms, or the enormous influence of dialectical theology per se. Rather, my commitment to not reading Barth arose because of my concerns regarding the institution of Barthian scholarship and my understanding of identity for theologians on the margins. By not reading Barth I was, and have been, engaging in what I believe is a form of resistance; a small gesture that I could manage as I tried to find a voice and place beyond tokenism.  There are several ways in which I have understood this to be resistance.

First, this has been a means to resist the production and control of ‘serious scholarship’. It is no secret that systematic theologians have consistently critiqued contextual theologies for lacking rigor. I learned very early on in post-graduate studies that if I were to be a feminist that distanced herself from contextual theology my male counterparts would (instantly) take me more seriously.  In the canon of Protestant scholarship, the rigors of Barth studies and Hegelian philosophy serve as a green card into the world of serious scholarship.  I clearly remember thinking that I too could dive into the Dogmatics and carve out an identity as the ‘woman Barth scholar’ (keep in mind that the theological community in Australia is rather small) who is a ‘serious theologian’. And yet my identity as a young woman feminist demanded that I critique these claims of ‘serious scholarship’.  This has been a difficult journey, especially as I have found myself drawn to women scholars who have  become the litmus test for serious feminist scholarship (Sarah Coakley and  Kathryn Tanner for example). And of course, to be published and employed one must prove themselves to be rigorous in their approach. Still, the further I became engaged in circles of systematic theology, it was Barth who was proven the definite voice in the major issues of Protestant scholarship.  It was clear time and time again that many around me felt a failure to consult Barth in numerous areas of doctrinal debate was a failure to engage in serious scholarship. I felt (and still feel) that it was not only legitimate to, but also that I had to, resist this.

Second, by not reading Barth I am attempting to resist ‘confessional identity’. By this I am referring to the way in which ‘Barth’ is invoked as the magic word for ‘orthodoxy’. I am both tired and bored of the liberal /conservative melodramatic critique of modernity in which Barthian orthodoxy gets to play the tall, dark, and handsome hero in every single performance (I have deployed this all too easy tactic myself).  Not only has this typology become an almost crude cliché, the claims to orthodoxy continue to function as a silencer of the radical, and nearly always a silencer of those speaking from the margins. Consequently, systematic theology continually evades the challenges raised by those outside the guild and status quo is maintained through the hyper-control of orthodoxy. Feminists have been silenced and ignored by these tactics for decades. Of course there are feminist Barthians, and there are minoritised scholars working with various forms of Barthian theology. However, nearly every time I have read Barthian scholarship and glanced over the footnotes I have seen been struck by how (obviously) this culture of systematic theology supports white men talking about what other white men have said. Even those I know to support feminism in general largely fail to consult non-white men in their own scholarship (and yet strangely become defensive when questioned about this). It is as if ‘orthodoxy’ really has nothing to do with the concerns of non-white men and those in the know don’t care. Yes, one could argue ‘all the more reason to get involved’, but I have felt it even better to simply resist furthering the conversation.

pronoun she

Third – and perhaps this is really the best way to make the first two points – by resisting Barthian scholarship I have hoped to resist ‘institutional powers’. From my perspective, Barthian scholarship seems a power unto itself. Actually, it seems an American Protestant power unto itself. When I attend conferences in America it is the Barthians who stand out, who have the large crowds, who have the ‘big names’. What stands out is in fact the white man’s club.  It is like watching the powerful movement of Patriarchy – striding confidently with long able legs while wearing leather patched tweed jackets. You often hear the lament of the poor white scholar: ‘it is so hard not to be a queer, black, disabled, liberal Biblicist’ we are told.  It is the trump card of all institutional powers: ‘what momentum, there is no power here, we are now the minority!’ Last year while attending the AAR I slipped off to a session at the SBL to hear some ‘legends’ of minoritised biblical scholarship. There were 14 people in the room, including the five panelists. Don’t believe the hype; the man is still the man and the institution holds all the cards. In systematic theology American Barthianism epitomizes this.

So I think for now I will go on not reading Barth. It is a measly form of resistance; I know that.  But it seems for those on the margins to resist the lure of the centre, there at least needs to be some recognition of how any theological culture defines the centre and locates the power associated with serious scholarship and the enormity of claims pressed upon ‘orthodoxy’.  I don’t expect to have too much influence, and in all my hypocrisy I know myself not to be a great revolutionary. But where I have the energy to resist I will, and I might not keep it a secret next time.

58 thoughts

  1. I like this, Janice. Three and a half years into a PhD working with Barth (though, I refrain wherever possible) I wish I had resisted too. Not that I don’t have a broad affinity for Barth, but the culture is just so very ugly. Not only that, but, like no other theological cul de sac, you are squeezed by the scholarship into doing a very dry kind of expository work (and can be savaged in reviews for not doing things how they are meant to be done). It is deeply unimaginative work for the most part. I’m over it.

  2. As a complete outsider, I read your not reading of Barth as a healthy moment in both private and public discourse. Of the two best theologians I know, one of them is a strict Barthian and the other a philosophical ironist and pragmatist who is a theologian but not a systematic one (which means today, not a theologian proper at all.) I find great joy in loving them both and a sublime peace in the wonderful me loving them is creating. I wish and pray for you this same sort of peace that I hope such a courageous essay and path of thought suggests you have found at least a part of. I see with in your struggle the same contrapuntal struggling that animates scripture itself, that courage to be inspired and re-inspired by painfully engaging that which challenges us without dismissing the humanity of its authors, and the chance that there is something life-giving in the challenge it represents. Most folk that I think you are calling patriarchal here are really just idolatrist, “makers of graven images,” and you are a seeker of meaning that has used those idols as blaze markers to a place where you must now find your way, seemingly alone…but never alone. Every great theologian, philosopher, invented, trailblazer finds her way here…from Eve to Jesus to you, transgressive and loving readers find their “way,” and we are all enlarged by this effort. Godspeed.

  3. This reminds me of my teaching stint in Notre Dame in 1981-2. I tried to expound Barth on Revelation but my students insisted on going to remote corners of the Church Dogmatics to pin patriarchalism and sexism on Barth. I detest this sort of childish, adolescent, immature, negative, resentful, and profoundly stupid attitude to the greatest theologian of the 20th century. Not reading Barth is a bit like book burning. Sarah Coakley’s name is taken in vain here — I am sure that she, as the author of an outstanding book on Troeltsch — has studied Barth as well.

    1. Joe, how did you handle your students’ concerns about Barth? Also, your complaint against this blog post might make more sense if you indicated even a minimal understanding of Janice’s reasoning.

      1. Joe, I want to make sure I understand.

        You had students come in with questions — questions that, by your own account, required them to have gone to “remote corners of the Church Dogmatics” — and you took umbrage with them for doing so because you’d come in intending to “expound” on something else?

        Further, you understand your students’ behavior to be the mark of a “childish, adolescent, immature, negative, resentful and profoundly stupid attitude”; but deriding curious students, insulting the author of a blog post in the comments to said blog post, and likening *not* *reading* something to book burning — these are all marks of the mature, positive, charitable and intelligent attitude you wish others possessed?

        Is that indeed what you are saying here? Thanks in advance for your clarification.

    2. “I detest this sort of childish, adolescent, immature, negative, resentful, and profoundly stupid.” Seriously? Is this how you responded to you students in 1981-2? You have learned nothing since then?

  4. I keep mulling this over, and I’m really not sure that Barthianism exists as the type of institutional power you say it is in the post. First of all, are there any places spoken or written where a “Barthian” actually says you *have* to read Karl Barth before you’re a real or serious theologian? I’ve just never heard anyone say that. Also, I’ve never read or heard anyone invoke Barth as “the magic word for ‘orthodoxy'”. It is common for a theologian or theorist to be referred to as an explicit or implicit authority, but this is done amongst a group of people already convinced of this thinker’s central principles. Yet, I have never seen heard or written by a “Barthian” that one has to agree with Barth or else is to be regarded as “heretical”. Have you?

    Without specific references to objective statements, you have a *perception* of power–you perceive that these people are denigrating yours or others’ work, or writing off non-Barthians as heretics. That’s fine: perceptions are often valid, but we should be critical of our perceptions and those of others. So what is it that provides warrant to your perceptions about Barthians? What is it that they *do*? How–concretely–do they exercise this power that you are resisting?

    1. Matt: Not to be harsh/come off as rude, but I sincerely have no idea how to begin to respond to your comment…. First of all, I think there are a ton of places where you *have* to read Barth to be considered a “serious theologian–on the most basic level, most doctoral programs in theology have Barth on their required reading lists for comprehensive exams… I, for instance, *have* to read the following writings of Barth: ““Fate and Idea in Theology”, “The Humanity of God”,“Concluding Postscript on Schleiermacher”, Church Dogmatics I/1, plus sections 57 and 58 from IV/1, The Epistle to the Romans, Church Dogmatics III/2, Church Dogmatics, vol. III/1 (§41, subsections 2 & 3)” … But I don’t think that is exactly what Janice is talking about, and I think your reading of “have to” is a bit flat..Put another way, unrelated to the Barth I “have” to read, I guarantee you that I would not be taken seriously if I didn’t read Barth and at least be a little bit conversant–and I go to Vanderbilt, hardly the bastion of Barthian scholarship….

      1. I guess in one sense you’re right; you “ought” to read Barth because Barth has become one of the most influential theological voices of the past century, and if you don’t, you’re in a sense cutting yourself off from all those who do read Barth. But my point is that the exclusion that occurs is largely an accident of interests–you’re not interested in something that many, many other people are interested in. It’s right for you not to adopt a new theological interest if the only reason is that other people are interested in it. That’s great. I can even understand how you’d feel like an outsider if you aren’t interested in it and a good portion of your colleagues are.

        What I object to is the notion that, because a lot of people find Karl Barth helpful, and because he’s something of a common denominator in certain theological circles (by no means all), that this necessarily amounts to some sort of “institutional power”. This is especially true when we step back from our very small, insular academic world and consider that the percentage of people who list Barth as a primary theological influence (or even read him at all) is minuscule. I think it’s a bit of a straw man to make those who do read Barth into an “institutional power” that needs to be resisted. You’re taking them far too seriously!

        (Of course if there are concrete things that Barth or Barthians say or do which are dangerous or oppressive–and of course there are–then by all means, those things should be resisted.)

      2. Matt, I am pretty disappointed that you are taking the line that ‘because a lot of people find Karl Barth helpful, and because he’s something of a common denominator in certain theological circles, that this necessarily amounts to some sort of “institutional power”. That is clearly not what I have argued and it seems like you are unwilling to even try to understand my position. I can’t respond to that.

  5. Long time reader, first time commenter.

    I got my M.Div at Iliff and a PhD in practical theology at Boston Univ. who is this Barth guy anyway? *wink*

    In my own experience, I’ve never encountered any outright hostility or dismissal as a theologian who has never read Barth closely or taken his work into my theological dialogue. I do encounter a lot of raised eyebrows though when I mention the fact that I’ve never read Barth. But the focus quickly moves to the theology in constructing. But because I am Deaf, and deal with contextualizing theology in dialogue with Deaf studies, it tends to either 1) distract people from whatever their complains were and fixate on this ‘new thing’ or 2) dismiss me as a Deaf person and thus dismiss my theological construction with me.

    However, I am male. I do know a woman who had her ordination in a Protestant demonization deferred for a year to, “read more German theologians,” while her husband, who had the same theological training, sailed through.

    So I’m wondering if the ‘You must read Barth to be serious’ is a standard that is held up to women more than it is to men as the existing sexism within the theological academy already sets up more hurdles for women to ‘prove themselves serious’ than it does for men.

    1. I have heard of this kind of thing many times before Kirk – more being demanded of women in the same position as men. Your suggestion may well be right. As of course, women not only have to prove themselves serious but also unemotional. Getting upset with how you are being treated only confirms your incompetent status in the eyes of many men.

  6. Wow. Some nice auto correct errors there…

    I particularly like how Protestant denominination became Protestant demonization.

    I hope the main meaning of the post comes through though and I’ll attempt to refrain from ‘tapping out a response on the iPad while riding the train.”

  7. I must confess that, to my dismay, I am implicated as guilty by so much in this post. And yet what you say is profoundly liberating in so many ways.

  8. Janice, thank you for sharing this, and there was a lot for me to relate to. In my own institution and Roman Catholic faith community, for example, Thomas Aquinas carries a lot of weight, but I also know that a lot of the time people using Aquinas as a blunt instrument are misreading/misappropriating Thomistic texts. I find myself caught between wanting to engage with Aquinas to correct these misconceptions, but also wanting to step outside Aquinas altogether, start looking to other resources (as I sense you’re doing by stepping outside Barth).

    In a more general way, I guess I often feel caught between a sense of sense of reforming from within a dominant system, but also recognizing a kind of (daresay prophetic) power that comes from standing outside a dominant system and rejecting it’s claim to sole legitimacy. It seems like there are occasions for both, but I’d love to hear more about how you might approach these different tasks?

  9. In the Catholic world, I’ve had the same experience. The Barthian equivalent is Karl Rahner or Ratzinger or Von Baltazar. I was initially interested in feminist theology as an undergrad and was told that most of feminist theology is “shrill.” As a result of being an insecure 21 year old and having no female teachers/mentors I picked the guy that I thought would make anyone take me seriously as a theologian…Karl Rahner. (which later on I found out isn’t true because Rahner doesn’t legitimize you anymore either) I deliberately picked Rahner to make other people take me seriously. To “Joe” I’m really sorry that you have no compassion/understanding of this situation. No one is saying that you should cherry pick through a text. As someone who takes reading very seriously I take offense at that comment. What many of us are questioning is the normativity of these types of figures in the academy, i.e. studying Barth/Rahner/Thomas/Augustine legitimizes you as a Systematician…contextual studies (which is a stupid phrase because Thomas did his theology in context as well, it’s just that his context as a white male is taken as the primary referent for humanity) delegitimizes/makes you seem shrill/not taken seriously by the academy. It always advocate reading of things I don’t understand/understand and disagree with but Janice I think it’s really important to raise the issue of not reading someone as an act of resistance in the academy.

  10. For at least the past 3000 years Western culture has been essentially patriarchal in its disposition, becoming more and more so as time went on to the degree that the Western male gaze has now become completely solidified. That is why it is now saturated with pornography, both the pornograpgy of violence against womens bodies and the pornography of violence as pure principle.
    Have you really read the “news”?
    This patriarchal culture and its male gaze has effectively been involved in a relentless war against the Feminine Principle or everything that is represented by the Goddess, Shakti or She.

    Put in another way men are angular and women are spherical. In the domain of the visual arts if you paint women you paint the whole universe. Every woman is a particularization of the one thing – the She or the Universal Power.

    A woman’s body rotating expresses the unity of existence. It is all just She.

    That having been said does anything think that the entirely angular Barth with his left-brained thinking which immediately slices the indivisible unity of existence into fragments or separate “things” could have even come anywhere near to incorporating either the Feminine Principle into his grand over-blown dogmatics. Or even worse, incorporated a world-view based on the indivisible unity of our existence-being.

    Furthermore Barth was also essentially a drug (tobacco) addict and therefore engaging in self-destructive behaviour. Every time that he sucked on his pipe he was drawing toxic chemicals into his lungs and therefore via the blood stream into every cell in his body or the temple of his incarnated spirit.

    Would a person who was in any way sensitive at a deep feeling level to the “feather of the breath of God” (Hildegard of Bingen) do such a thing, especially for an entire lifetime?

    So too with all of the left-brained spirit killing Calvinists who want to convert or bring all human beings to “Christ”. Indeed even the action or desire to “convert” another human being to your way of thinking is an act of agression against that person.

  11. I understand the reasoning here, but there really is only one proper criterion for reading or not reading a theologian: whether or not he or she speaks faithfully of God and illuminates the Gospel. Influence, taken seriously in the academy, privileged or ‘on the margins’…what does that matter? Why should it matter? Those don’t seem to be truth-tracking considerations.

    1. Um, do you really believe that faithful witness to the Gospel in theological speech is possible if one doesn’t take seriously (in various forms) one’s own privilege and those ‘on the margins’? To imply that such concern and attention does not matter and should not matter reveals that you have *fundamentally* misunderstood the essence of the Gospel as liberation for the oppressed.

      1. Don’t read into my comment what wasn’t there. I didn’t say that taking privilege and those on the margins seriously doesn’t matter period, it just shouldn’t matter in deciding which theologians to read. That academic politics have swirled up around Karl Barth or that he is a litmus test for respectability are NOT good reasons not to read Barth. A good reason not to read Barth would be if his exegesis were sloppy, his argumentation invalid or he did not in any way deepen and extend our understanding of the Trinity, Sovereignty, Atonement or the other great loci of theological investigation.

      2. “I didn’t say that taking privilege and those on the margins seriously doesn’t matter period, it just shouldn’t matter in deciding which theologians to read.” When does it matter? Why doesn’t it matter in picking the theologians you read? And if it doesn’t matter, why does Janice have to read Barth if she is reading and doing great work with other theologians?

        I believe that one of Janice’s assumptions in writing this post is that she can find excellent, provocative, theologically rigorous work from marginalized, explicitly contextual theologians, and that it is, furthermore, specifically important to do so given the institutional asymmetries at play that make Barth the “good” theologian” and these others the “irrelevant/sloppy” theologians. (Janice, please correct me if I am wrong.) To give an example, I would say that you can find a superb–perhaps unparalleled–theological and Scripturally-rooted articulation of how it is that God loves not only humanity in general, but the poor and the downtrodden specifically in the work of various (non-white…) liberation theologians (see Gutierrez, for example). But, as Janice has pointed out, the deck is stacked so that we don’t see the rigor and insight of these marginalized approaches. Your distinction between the realm of pure theology (which can be good or bad depending on its treatment of certain theological categories that you happened to list) and its reception in the theological guild aspires to a level of hermetic separation not possible and therefore naive.

    2. But this is of course, how privilege and marginalization reproduce and reinforce themselves. One disavows the relevance of social positions, thus re-enshrining the white, cis, straight man as the neutral zone from which all “contextual” approaches can be judged for hewing or deviating from the appropriate yardstick: in this case, “whether or not [the theologian] speaks faithfully of God and illuminates the Gospel.” One

      So one is personally never racist, sexist, etc., but racist and sexist structures are maintained anyway. Isn’t it convenient that the feminist or black liberation theologian is going to be always inferior to their white, male counterparts because the white man, unlike the rest, understands what the “proper criterion” for theology is?

  12. As a person of color, I know well the feelings you express, Janice.

    But I wonder if not reading Barth is the best way to go about things. If we want to change the state and tenor of theological scholarship (and the church), then we need to bridge the chasm between “conservative” and “liberal,” “tradition” and “innovation,” “systematic” and “contextual.” These are false dichotomies; we can have both! We need both. But ignoring each other isn’t the best way to achieve conciliation.

    What we need are decent, thoughtful human beings willing to engage each other in vigorous and respectful deliberation, with open minds and caring hearts. The theological academy (and the church) should be ashamed of itself for being unable to generate reasoned discourse between these warring camps.

    Where are the virtuous people of faith? I think we’re much more likely to find them in the pews and streets than in pulpits and lecterns. Academic theology has gotten so caught up in methodological disputes and trying to justify its place in the academy that it’s completely overlooked the lifeblood of the church and theology’s reason for being: lives and communities transformed by God’s gracious love. So much theology — on both sides — is caught up in pedantry and sophistication that it’s lost sight of what matters, at the end of the day, for most Christians trying to live faithfully in the contemporary world.

    Christians want to know how to lead faithful and flourishing lives, how to form just and loving families, how to form just and loving societies, what to believe about God in light of scientific progress, and how to make sense of the world they encounter on a daily basis, to name just a few concerns. It seems to me that Barth might help us but so can Tillich, Daly, Ruether, Cone, Gutierrez, and many others. We need people who can synthesize their insights — inheriting strengths and overcoming weaknesses — and translate them into concrete practices and actions.

    It’s time to move beyond old impasses and to take the discussion to the next level. But that is going to require people with virtues like courage, justice, prudence, moderation, faith, hope, and love. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but we need to get started.

    1. Thanks Gustavo,

      I guess I am suspicious of the ‘we’ need to bridge this chasm claim – especially when this requires that we play by a set of rules that controls conversation. Putting that aside, I never meant to suggest that all people should not read Barth, or that Barth may not be helpful. But lots of folk are helpful and I can’t read them all. So really there is no logical reason for me to accept that I have to go on reading Barth. In any case, this post was more about a ‘Barthian’ culture that I have found myself in, and why I have felt it best to resist.

      1. Thanks, Janice, for your response.

        I’m suspicious of your suspicion. Genuine, positive change will only occur through the hard work of courageous people who envision a better future, of people who see the potential of what might be. But we can’t wait for others to do it. I say “we” need to bridge this chasm — “we” as in those of us who are unsatisfied, bothered, and angered by the state of theological scholarship — because in doing so we assert our agency and power. Resistance is great for a while, but it eventually needs to give way to more positive social strategies and affirmations of agency. In “The Politics of Piety,” Saba Mahmood misunderstands Western women’s agency solely as resistance, as if resistance exhausted women’s social and political agency in the West, and I don’t want you to make that same mistake. Resistance is just the opening move to a much longer game; it doesn’t end the game. A strategy that only consists of resistance will lead to dejection and despair, without something more positive to give one hope. That’s why I made the comments I did previously. If you want an example of what I’m thinking about, take a look at Jeff Stout’s “Blessed are the Organized.” There, he provides concrete examples of grassroots democracy in action, of ordinary people organizing, developing their potential, and demanding change. I think it provides a model for organizing and developing power that might work here, too.

      2. Gustavo, it does feels like you are telling me that I need to take some responsibility in fixing a sub-culture that, in the end, I am not all that interested in being a part of. Can you explain your motivation for this some more?

      3. Janice, I don’t think the problem is confined to this particular theological subculture; it’s endemic to academic theology as a whole. There’s no retreating from it. So, we either try to help make things better or we don’t. I’m not saying you have a responsibility to fix the Barthian culture, but strategies of resistance will only go so far until something more is needed.

      4. I agree that we are talking about an endemic problem. However I think I need to clarify a couple of things about the post. That is a) The post was not intended to be about resistance per se, but rather a discussion of a specific culture in which little has changed and I think needed to be called out . And b) I did not really give an exposition of what I am thinking of regarding the resistance. I like Jeff Stout, but i think I would like to say some more about the complexities of resistance, complicity, and the location of power (and by the sound of your earlier post, I think much more about ‘agency’). I am thinking of both Foucault and Butler.

      5. Gustavo, given that Janice has written a dissertation in systematic theology and works as an academic theologian, it’s odd to me that you’re assuming she’s doing nothing other than resistance.

      6. Janice, thanks for the clarification. Foucault and Butler are the usual suspects when discussing these topics, but the standard criticism I’ve heard of their work is that, although they offer the resources for resistance and critique, they don’t offer the resources for a positive political vision. In other words, what replaces critique after it’s done its job? But I’m not familiar enough with Foucault or Butler’s oeuvre to take a stand on whether that criticism is justified or not.

        Bridget, I’m not assuming that, although that is all the original post offered. But as Janice has clarified, her main objective was to name and call out a certain, unjust power configuration.

    2. “But I wonder if not reading Barth is the best way to go about things.”

      As Hauerwas once said, “best” is not a theological category.

      1. How original. It’s not as if every other smug white male who’s familiar with Hauerwas hasn’t at some point quoted that line in a display of pedantic condescension, repeating it to the joy of other smug white males. Thank you, Micah Weedman, for enriching the discussion.

  13. Unlike your reference to Stout, which of course was completely original, and unlike your dismissal of Hauerwas, which also was very original. Please continue to tell me how you liked Hauerwas in seminary, but now that you are in the real world…

    You responded to the utility of the OP’s resistance. I was not attempting to display a “pedantic condescension,” I just didn’t need 250 words to display why I thought your reliance on utility was unfortunately dismissive of the OP’s point. “Best” is a utilitarian category. Defend it if you wish, but don’t dodge it with with tired knee-jerks.

  14. Janice,
    Thank you for this post. There are so many items, relationships, and matters that you’ve hit on that have both encouraged me and chastised me in some remarkable ways.

    Although I’m not a Barthian, and likely have read less Barth than you, pretty early on as an MDiv and now a PhD student in missiology, I’ve sensed that Barth has relatively limited influence in the pew and in the streets. Not so in the Academy, as you observed at AAR last year.

    I also attended that AAR (Chicago, right?), and I attended one seminar that in hindsight, if I had read the title more carefully, and who the panelists were, I might have passed it up. Seemed like everyone had to do homage to Barth, and that includes the audience Q&A. Besides the irrelevance of Barth to the topic, I stayed because everything else was superb. But, your observations about the “institution of Barthian scholarship” are spot on. It made me reflect upon some of the reading I’m now starting on TF Torrance, as well as Barth’s personal history of his household. Naturally, as some of the other commenters have done, I’m asking questions of influence. For those looking in, don’t read into this some dark or sinister pre-conclusions: I’m just asking the questions.

    But, I will make a few suggestions that Gustavo entered into, and I as I look around at the rest of the blogosphere, others have attempted to weigh in on matters from what I will loosely call: theological attempts to describe and narrate social change in the academy. Except in my case, I’m neck-deep in Margaret Archer, and I can hardly resist making a few suggestions.

    First: the state of affairs of the “institution of Barthian scholarship” are static; the relationships in the largely white-male systematics guild are tight and subsequently lead to reproduction, and the doctrines and ideas that are admissible contribute to systemization. In short, the logic here is one of protection. Your observations regarding what others claim constitutes serious scholarship is one example of the protection that has that logic in action. I’ll add that this group resists any attempts to change their inventory that might admit anything that contradicts any other item, their pleas regarding dialectics notwithstanding!!!

    Next, while I sense that you are correct in that some identification of the institutional center of the theological academy needs to be made, I would also suggest that your developing theology probably has more people than yourself, and from my limited vantage point: hosts greater opportunity for specializing as well as nurturing and growing others like yourself as a section of systematics awaiting the fulfillment of fresh creativity: as the logic of the opportunity would expect. It is of course possible that the inventory of people I am proposing is neither as close to each other as I imagine, nor do they have sufficient integration of the ideas and methodologies that fund your systematics. The logic of that opportunity is one of elimination; historically the kinds pluralism that exist tend towards increasing contradiction and that simply polarizes the group: and it’s not that either end of the pole gets totally eliminated so much as groups like the Barthians continue to prevail.

    To all of my Barthian friends who might stumble into reading this from me: mea culpa. I’m still a closer reader of Torrance and Flett than Barth. Maybe I’ll come around to reading Barth beyond dabbling, but don’t expect me to show up at a Barth seminar or conference. Yet, I’m convinced (read below, as well) that theologians like Janice not only deserve to be listened to, but also encouraged to dissent from Barth and his commentators–including a refusal to read him–without dismissing her or her theology.

    Too much information? My bad. But, my last comment is this: If I read between the lines here-always a sketchy matter-I surmise that your theology, Janice, will serve the mission of the church. All of the interesting theologies that really engage the imagination of pastors and missionaries come from the margin. It’d be another post to make this argument. So, please continue with your approach toward Barth. I’d imagine that you did not enter theological studies with this agenda, but you’ve had it thrust upon as much as you’ve discovered it and now live into it.

    Thanks again for this post: I’m encouraged by your transparency and powerful commitment to good systematic theology. And, I’m alerted and chastised to make sure my life does not collude with institutions and ideas that exclude or disenfranchise my colleagues and friends.

    Pax tecum,

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  16. Dear Janice,

    I enjoyed your blog.

    Three years into my doctorate on Inclusivity, I have certainly found the need to quote Barth . . . if only to disagree with him. There is a Barthian culture across European theology, But I don’t think it holds the power it once did. I also find here (I’m in the UK) a clear scholarly journey towards later established theologians without the need to establish a Barthian outlook beforehand and I’ve not been pushed towards a priority of refering to doctrine as instituted by Barth before offering my own contribution.

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